Robert’s Ramblings

Robert Alonso’s Thoughts on Technology and More…

Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

July-14-10

Enabling the Partner Repository in Ubuntu 10.04 (Linux)

Posted by Robert Alonso under Advice, Software

I am in the process of setting up Alfresco Community Edition on Ubuntu 10.04. In case you don’t already know, Alfresco is an open source collaboration suite that is a replacement for the Microsoft SharePoint offering. It requires that you install the Sun Java Development libraries. These are not a part of the Ubuntu repository. You must update a file called sources.list and run a command to obtain access to the partner repository which includes the Sun Java JDK. Here’s how you do it:

1. sudo su root

(enter password)

2. vi /etc/apt/sources.list

3. Uncomment the two lines that I have bolded and italicized below:

## Uncomment the following two lines to add software from Canonical’s
## ‘partner’ repository.
## This software is not part of Ubuntu, but is offered by Canonical and the ## respective vendors as a service to Ubuntu users.
deb http://archive.canonical.com/ubuntu lucid partner
deb-src http://archive.canonical.com/ubuntu lucid partner

(save the file)

4. apt-get update Once this update is finished, you are ready to install the Sun Java JDK and all the other components that are required.

(I know that is entry is a bit more technical than most that I write about, but it is something that I am sure is holding up a lot of people. It took me a little while to figure it out.)

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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May-7-10

iPad is Awesome! (and fast too!)

Posted by Robert Alonso under Hardware, Software

On April 5th, 2010, I was one of those so called “early adopters” who went to a BestBuy early in the morning to buy an Apple iPad. It is bad enough that I woke up early on a Saturday to do this, but I also had to endure a great deal of sales incompetence at the BestBuy, a long line and product shortages that cleared up as I made the line to make my purchase. (Supposedly, a truck pulled in with more units while I was on line.) News reports have indicated that 300,000 iPads were sold that day. I purchased two of them, a 64GB and a 16GB WiFi models. The latest sales numbers that Apple has released show that over 1 million iPads have been sold in one month.

The iPad is a device that I have wanted for over two years. I own Sony’s e-reader, but have always been disappointed by the black and white screen and speed. I wanted a supercharged e-book reader that could also be used for other purposes. In my opinion, the iPad was a dream device. I envisioned it as a large iPod Touch or iPhone and in many ways it is. There is one way, however, in which it is drastically different—it is blazingly fast. Yes, super fast. The new processor that Apple designed and put in the device is super charged. When you move your finger across the screen, it responds instantly. This makes the iPad a joy to work and play with.

Much has been made about the 150,000 iPhone apps that are available. The iPad will let you run these, but they look horrible. Apple doubles every color dot on the screen to make it bigger on the iPad screen. The graphics and letters look terrible in this mode. Fortunately, there is a mode that lets you run these apps in the original size. This gives you an app centered in the iPad screen with a huge black border. This being said, I do not think that this is a major problem for Apple or for iPad buyers. The reason I don’t think so is that there is so much money to be made in making iPad-specific applications, that many developers are hard at work on these. Some of the early iPad apps that I have tested are elegant and useful, others are just spectacular. I recommend GoodReader for storing documents, photos, PDFs, ZIP files and any other type of data that you want on the iPad and need to have password protected. GoodReader does an excellent job at file management and at connecting to a variety of servers using a multiple protocols. It is $.99 well spent. Two free apps that are spectacular are Yahoo! Entertainment and ABC Player. These are just beautiful apps that can be used for obtaining entertainment information or watching ABC shows in gorgeous quality.

If these first apps are any indication, the iPad will have hundreds or thousands of applications that will make the device even more useful over time. I am so convinced of this that I have created a new company called, AirSplash, Inc. just for the development of applications for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. You can visit the web site at http://www.airsplash.com. This is a preliminary web site that will be enhanced over time. Our first application for the iPad is out in the App Store now. It is a simple, easy-to-use and graphically stunning calculator. (Yes, it is weird that Apple chose not to include one with the iPad.) It has been on sale for four days so far and the sales results are encouraging. You can view it (or buy it for $.99) by clicking here.

AirCalc by AirSplash, Inc. - buy it for under a dollar AirCalc iPad Calculator Portrait AirCalc iPad Calculator Landscape

 
We are working on many more apps. This one was our way of testing the market.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting &
AirSplash, Inc.

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I have not written about Windows 7 Phone because I have been contemplating its implication to the advancement of computing, telephony and gadgetry in general. Microsoft wiped the slate clean with Windows Phone 7 and acknowledged that its previous offerings were less than stellar. I never thought that the Windows Mobile platform was undesirable, it had just become very dated compared to offerings from Apple, Sony, Nokia and Google. Windows Phone 7 may just be Microsoft’s lucky seven that wins back some of the phone users that have moved on. It may also lure in a new set of consumers. I can easily see it as very appealing to two sets of customers—the very young, hip social crowd and the serious business user. You may not think that this is possible, but it is because of the magnificent user interface that Microsoft has designed (and is still improving).

The user interface is no longer an underpowered version of the Windows desktop with a “Start” button and menu system. Instead, it is a series of large colorful tiles that expand into spaces. Each of these spaces is a window into a large pane that is full of information. Some of these spaces are dedicated to People, Music & Videos, and Pictures. Others are more business oriented like e-mail, search and office connectivity. The People space includes information gleaned from Facebook and presents a constantly updated view of your friend’s updates and profile pictures. This will attract the socially voracious younger crowd. The Xbox Live platform that is integrated into the device will also appeal to the younger user. Everyone loves Music, Videos and Pictures so these spaces will have broad appeal and are so well designed and tightly integrated with the phone that they surpass the iPhone. The business oriented space contains sophisticated Outlook-like e-mail that is constantly synchronized with Exchange server. It also synchronizes with Microsoft Office OneNote and SharePoint Server. These business functions put it ahead of all other phones and makes the Microsoft server offerings even more appealing.

The hardware that is planned for the Windows Phone 7 must adhere to a hardware specification that Microsoft has created. All the phones must have multi-touch screens, a powerful processor and three buttons for navigation. This is a departure from Microsoft’s laissez faire attitude from the past. Fortunately, it should help create a Windows Phone 7 experience that rivals Apple’s iPhone experience. The viewing spaces are all larger than the viewing area of the screen and are navigated by dragging them across the viewing area with your finger. Responsive hardware is critical to making the Windows Phone 7 navigation work well and feel like a quality product.

I am excited about Windows Phone 7, but not because it is a new generation device that integrates personal and business information seamlessly. I am excited about it because it is a new software platform that demonstrates Microsoft can still be creative when challenged. It has the potential to be much more than a phone platform. I believe that Microsoft could use it as a new tablet operating system. I can see it being more useful on a tablet form factor than the iPhone (or iPod Touch) operating system. It is more intuitive, more beautiful and encompasses everything that the vast majority of people would want to do on a tablet. I also think it is better than having Windows 7 on a tablet. It is perfectly geared for touch computing. I give Microsoft an A+ for Windows Phone 7 and for the potential that it has on other form factors.

To see demos of the user interface: http://www.windowsphone7series.com/

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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February-22-10

CardScan 800c = Excellent Support

Posted by Robert Alonso under Advice, Hardware, Opinions, Software

I purchased a CardScan 800c based on a recommendation from a colleague. I saw him scanning a stack of business cards effortlessly and asked him what he was using. He told me that he was using a scanner called “CardScan Executive.” He stressed the “Executive” part because he said that he had purchased a lower end unit from the company that he did not like. The “Executive” version is also known as the CardScan 800c.

The scanner is extremely easy to use. You connect it to your computer, load the software and start placing your business cards into it one by one. The unit will scan the card, save the image of the card and then recognize the relevant company, address, phone, fax, web site and e-mail fields. The data is automatically entered into the included organizer software. You can then verify that it has obtained the correct data by looking at it and the image of the card on the screen. From experience, I can say that it is over 90% accurate. It sometimes gets confused with elaborate logos that are placed on cards in lieu of the spelled out company name.

Once the data is in the organizer software you can have it synchronize with Outlook manually or automatically. This is a great feature and a time saver. I have it set up to automatically sync with

Outlook. Since I have my iPhone automatically synchronizing with my Outlook contacts, all it takes a simple and quick scan of a card to get all its data into my iPhone. This is how gadgets should work.

I am very happy with the scanner and with the results. I am even happier with the customer service that the company provides. Dymo is the company that sells the CardScan. My unit would not work after an upgrade to Windows 7 on my machine. I am not sure what happened to it, but after suggesting I try a new driver, reinstalling the USB cable and other things that I had already tried (I am a computer consultant.), the customer service representative thought that it might be a hardware failure. He sent me an RMA number so that I could return it to the company. Being without the unit for a few days and having to pack it up and send it were not an exciting prospect for me. However, the next day I was pleasantly surprised to receive a box from the company with a replacement unit and a prepaid Fedex slip to use for sending the defective one back. I unpacked the new unit, plugged it in and it has been working perfectly. I sent the other one back in the new unit’s box. That is what I call excellent service. I will buy products from Dymo before I ever buy from a competitor based on this excellent experience. Kudos to Dymo!

I wholeheartedly recommend this product.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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January-28-10

iPad? Does Apple Marketing Employ Any Women?

Posted by Robert Alonso under Hardware, Software

After waiting more than a year for Apple’s entry into tablet computing, I was not disappointed or surprised by the device. It is simply a larger form factor iPod Touch or iPhone without the phone functionality. Apple took existing technology and made it bigger and in many cases better. The only aspect of the device that is puzzling is the name. I understand the connection between iPad and iPod, but why did Apple executives not realize that the first thing that came to mind to three women that I spoke to is a feminine hygiene product. I’m sure that this is not exactly the association that Apple wanted for this product.

Despite the strange name, the device is desirable. It comes with a 9.7 inch screen, runs all existing iPhone applications and comes with direct iTunes and App Store access. Even more exciting is the iBook application that allows the reading of books in ePub format and that integrates into a new on-line book store. The application looks very polished and easy to use. It even has animated page flipping and a book shelve for the books that you have already purchased. You control it using the multi-touch technology. Slide your finger across the screen and you are on the next page. Take that Kindle and Sony Reader.

The iPad is half an inch think and weighs 1.5 pounds. It runs up to 10 hours on a charge and can be purchased with a case that doubles as a stand. Also available as an option is a stand that includes a keyboard. The hardware and software looks very slick and will probably draw a lot of attention from gadget lovers as well as productivity seeking executives. Apple will also release $9.99 versions of the applications in iWork. You will be able to create documents with the word processor, spreadsheet or presentation application without having to take a laptop on your trip or without using a desktop computer. It also has a slick version of the Safari web browser that is a larger version of the one in the iPhone. Unfortunately, it still does not have support for Flash.

During the introduction, Steve Jobs showed off mapping, video playback and a new slick iLife-inspired photography application. You can now see albums easily and group them according to people, events or even locations. You can show the photos off in slideshow mode and can even use the iPad as a photo frame when it is not being used for some other productive task. Since I am an amateur photographer, I loved this functionality. I also have to admit that I saw great promise in the e-mail, calendar and contact applications. I can see this becoming my primary computing device around the house and on trips.

The iPad will be available in 60 to 90 days. The Wi-Fi only version will come out first with a price of $499 for the 16GB version, $599 for the 32GB version and $699 for the 64GB one. The Wi-Fi and 3G (unlocked) version arrives thirty days later and costs $130 more for any of the memory configurations. The plans are through AT&T and require no contract. They are $14.99 for 250MB or $29.99 for unlimited data. Plans include free AT&T Wi-Fi and are activated directly from the iPad.

That’s it for now. I’ll tell you more once I buy one in 60 days…

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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There are many reports that Microsoft and HP will introduce a tablet PC way ahead of Apple’s rumored iSlate. If the reports are correct, then Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, will use his keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) tonight to make the announcement. The current thinking is that the device will be much like the Courier prototype that was leaked to the press a few months ago. You can see a video of it in a previous entry to this blog.

Once the announcement is made tonight, I will report the details here.

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December-17-09

SkyGrabber – Satellite Stream Capture Software

Posted by Robert Alonso under Hardware, Opinions, Software

It was reported today that the Taliban in Afghanistan are using inexpensive software to view video from United States drone airplanes. The software is called “SkyGrabber.” It can capture picture, video and audio streams that are downloaded from satellite Internet connections. You do not even need an Internet connection to have this work for you. All you need a satellite dish. The software can then let you select what you want to capture. You can do it by by file type, IP address, by the hardware MAC address of the source, or by send or receive port. You can download the software from http://www.skygrabber.com.

You would think that the United States military would be smarter than sending live video streams from multi-million dollar aircraft without encryption. Unfortunately, they are not. You can see the unencrypted, live feeds using this inexpensive software.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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October-22-09

Happy Birthday Windows 7

Posted by Robert Alonso under Service, Software

Microsoft’s Windows 7 was released today and the consensus is that it is a great new operating system for PCs. It is fast, elegant, stable and even visually appealing. Windows 7 has plenty of features, but features are not its claim to fame. Microsoft is stressing the fact that it is a streamlined piece of software that works well. After its Vista debacle and the bad publicity that it garnered for the company, I am very heartened by this new release and can recommend it unequivocally.

Unlike its predecessor, Windows 7 works well with almost all hardware and even has functionality built in that will enable you to see a picture or drawing of new hardware that you connect to it. Next time you buy a printer or digital camera and plug it in via a USB port, you may be surprised when you see a picture of the device on your screen confirming that it is recognized and working.

I am very fond of the BitLocker technology that is included with the Windows 7 Ultimate Edition. With it, you can encrypt and password protect your computer’s hard drive. This protects your data in case your machine is stolen or lost. It is particularly useful for laptop and netbook owners since these are often stolen from hotel rooms. The BitLocker To Go technology makes it possible to also encrypt removable hard drives and USB thumb drives.

The Libraries feature allows you to group related folders together under a category like documents, music or video. This simplifies the task of backing up groups of documents or creating music playlist from music that is stored in multiple locations. You can use the new Windows Backup utility to create those backups and even schedule complete backups of your PC. I love this new backup tool because it will also create a system repair disk for you that you can use to restore your machine after a catastrophe.

It is important to note, that some older versions of software do not work with Windows 7. Two that I know won’t work are Norton Ghost and the various versions of Microsoft Fingerprint Reader software. Symantec is working on an upgrade for Norton Ghost that will be compatible and Microsoft is offering rebates to owners of the Microsoft Fingerprint devices and software.

Perhaps the only real issue I have with the new release is that it comes in too many versions. Microsoft is selling a Starter, Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise version. It is also selling versions that are for 32 bit and 64 bit computers. It is confusing as to which version is good for office, home and notebook use. It is also unclear whether a machine can handle the 64 bit version. It is so confusing that Microsoft has put up a web page that compares the versions.

Alonso Consulting can help you decide if upgrading is the right move for you. If you decide to upgrade your existing machines, we can guide you through the planning process, back up your existing data and then upgrade you to the correct version. Users of Windows XP do not have a direct upgrade path with Windows 7, so all data and applications have to be backed up and reinstalled.

If you prefer to buy new machines, we can provide you with a great deal* on Dell computers preloaded with Windows 7 Professional. Once we install the new machine and port your data over, we’ll erase your old PC’s hard drive, remove it and give you a $100 credit for it that you can use towards additional support from us. We will also provide you with a pass-along gift certificate worth $250. It is our way of saying thank you.

Call us at (973) 575-1414 to start upgrading to this excellent new version of Windows.

Thanks,

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

 

* Here’s the deal:

clip_image001You get a Dell PC with Windows 7 Professional worth $765. You also receive up to two hours of service to install your old applications and data. We will remove your old PC and give you a $100 credit for future support plus a pass-along gift certificate worth $250 so you can share our services with a business associate. The total value is $1,365. If you decide to upgrade and pay on our web site by October 27th, you will receive the PC, our service, a $100 credit, and the gift certificate which is a total value of $1,365 for only $899 per PC. Here are the specs on the PC:

 

Processor

Intel® Core™ 2 Duo E7500 (2.93GHz, 3M, L2Cache, 1066FSB)

Operating system

Genuine Windows ® 7 Professional 32 bit

Monitor

18.5 inch E1910H Flat Panel Monitor

Memory

3GB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHZ – 1x2GB 1x1GB

Optical drive

Single Drive: 16X DVD-ROM Drive

Hard drive

250GB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM) w/DataBurst Cache™

Video card

Integrated Video, Intel® GMA X4500HD

Security software

Norton Internet Security™ 2009 30 Day Trial

Sound

Integrated 5.1 Channel Audio

Keyboard & mouse

USB Keyboard and USB Optical Mouse

Adobe software

Adobe Acrobat Reader

Resource DVD

Resource CD and DVD

Setup guide

System Quick Reference Guide

Network interface

Integrated PCIE 10/100/1000

Warranty & service

1 Year Manufacturer’s Basic Limited Warranty and 1 Year NBD On-Site Service

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October-20-09

BitLocker To Go on Windows 7

Posted by Robert Alonso under Opinions, Software

The clock is ticking towards the release of a faster and generally more robust operating system for PCs. As many of you know, Windows 7 will be released in two days. What does this release mean to you? The most immediate impact is that it will become increasingly difficult to find any machines with Windows XP. Vista was so unpopular that Microsoft allowed Dell and other PC makers to offer downgrades to XP. Most of my customers chose that path and paid an extra $100 for the privilege.

Once Windows 7 is released, Microsoft will try to never talk about Windows Vista again and will instead tout the great new improvements in Windows 7. This is not without precedent. The same thing happened with Windows Millennium Edition (Me). Most people have forgotten about Windows Me but it was the worst operating system that Microsoft has ever sold—far worse than Vista. It followed the successful Windows 95 and 98 and preceded Windows XP which was arguably the most hardy PC operating system produced by Microsoft so far. Maybe magic will strike twice and Windows 7 will be a huge success and, more importantly, be a solid replacement for Vista.

If you are a reader of this blog, then you know that I have been testing Windows 7 for some time. I have also been reporting about features that I find useful or interesting. I have found one that makes Windows 7 worthwhile to me. That is the “BitLocker To Go” feature. This is an extension of the BitLocker functionality that Microsoft released with Windows Vista Ultimate. BitLocker is still only available on the Ultimate version, but now comes with this additional feature that enables the complete encryption of external hard drives or USB thumb drives. I find this extremely useful because I am always worried about losing a USB drive with important documents or pictures that I would not want a stranger to have. With BitLocker To Go, I can live in peace knowing that my data is secured.

You enable it by inserting the removable device into the computer and then starting the BitLocker application. Once it is started, you tell it to encrypt the USB drive and give it a password. It takes care of the rest. The next time that you insert that USB drive into the computer it prompts you for the password before you can access the data on it. If you provide the password and check off an option on the screen, the PC will recognize that drive and make the files available each time that you plug it into that specific machine without you having to retype the password.

If you are wondering if that USB drive will then work on an XP machine, you are in luck. It does. When you insert the USB drive into the XP machine, it prompts you for the password and loads an application that lets you copy the data off the device and use it. However, one of these encrypted drives will not work on Apple Macintosh computers.

If you are like me and are worried about your laptop being stolen or lost, you can use BitLocker to encrypt the entire drive of your machine. The process is straightforward and works automatically. It takes a long time to process initially, but once completed, you have peace of mind. That hard drive’s data will be inaccessible without your password. This is the case even if the drive is removed and put into another machine.

To me, these two related data security features are enough of a justification for upgrading to Windows 7.

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October-12-09

Windows 7 Libraries – An Awesome Addition to Windows

Posted by Robert Alonso under Software

Everyone is so concerned about Windows 7’s stability and performance that little has been said about the user interface improvements. I have been using the final code now for a couple of weeks and have begun to notice some of these easily overlooked and misunderstood improvements. For now, I will only discuss one that I really life.

Windows 7 introduces a new user interface concept called, “Libraries.” When you first install Windows 7, there are four default libraries. These are:

  • Documents
  • Music
  • Pictures, and
  • Videos

Anyone who has been using Windows for a while will recognize these types of files as being part of My Documents and other like named folders. What makes this a different type of structure is that a library can contain multiple folders on your machine that contain whatever file type you designate. For example, the Music library on my machine contains three folders that have music. One is the folder “My Music” on the “C:\” drive, the other is the public folder for music on my machine and the third is a network location where I store some music. Windows 7 determined these locations from my usage of them in Vista prior to the upgrade. It could not have been from scanning my machine because it missed a large amount of music on my “D:\” drive.

Far more interesting than what Windows put into my library for music is that I can tailor it to my needs. I can add and delete folders that contain music. When you use File/Open or other file based tools including Windows Explorer you are presented with the libraries as if they were folders. You can thus manipulate and use related file types from one location regardless of their real location. The allowed folder locations are:

  • C:\ Drive
  • External Hard Drive
  • Additional Internal Drive
  • USB Flash Drive (as long as certain conditions are met)
  • Network (as long as the location is indexed or has been made available offline)
  • Homegroup

Please note that removable media like CDs and DVD are not supported. Libraries can contain up to 50 folders from the allowed locations (above). You can set the default save location for new items that you save to the library and you can also change the type of file that the library is optimized for. This makes for a very easy-to-use way to categorize your files, access them and save them.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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