I have lamented in the past about RIM’s Blackberry OS and how serious changes are needed to compete effectively with Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.  The latest iteration, Blackberry 6.0 is improved, but I questioned whether it is enough to compete.  Recently, rumors have surfaced of a new iPad-like device from RIM called the BlackPad which brings the OS question back to the forefront.

The first assumption by most experts is that the BlackPad would be powered by RIM’s Blackberry 6.0 similar to how Apple leveraged iOS for the iPad. This made sense from a time to market and ease of implementation perspective, and is the only choice if RIM is committed to Blackberry OS over the long-term.  However, the latest rumor is that the BlackPad will be based on an OS created by QNX Software. (RIM acquired QNX back in April.) If true, this is a major shift for RIM and potentially represents the long awaited OS rewrite.  If RIM does release the BlackPad with QNX technology then I believe that the smartphones must follow.

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Set-top boxes: is simple better?

I blogged a few weeks ago about my positive experience with my new Roku, and it appears that the battle of dedicated Internet connected set-top boxes is starting again.  (Note that gaming consoles such as the XBox360 or PS3 could also be considered competition in this space.)  Specifically, Apple has announced its newly updated AppleTV, D-Link will soon be launching their Boxee device and Logitech will be releasing the Revue based on GoogleTV.  All of these boxes are designed to dominate your living room by providing access to rich Internet content.  However, the strategies used by these vendors vary.  The Revue and Boxee bring a full Internet experience while the Roku and AppleTV focus on a streamlined approach.

The living room has always been a consumer electronics battleground.  An early company targeting the space was WebTV who sold a set-top box that accessed the Internet and provided a web browsing on the TV.  WebTV’s devices were relatively complex and included a dial-up modem (limited broadband back then), a traditional remote control and a wireless keyboard.  The company was not successful and was purchased by Microsoft for very little.  I believe that the device was overly complex for the living room and did not provide a quality Internet experience.  Ironically, Logitech and D-Link appear to be following a similar path. (Read More »)

I recently decided to enable WordPress multisite support on this blog.  For those who are unfamiliar, multisite is a new feature in WordPress 3.x that allows for the hosting of multiple blogs in one WordPress instance.  Previously, this functionaly required separate installations.  I have always wanted to try out the new feature and the request by a colleague to host their blog seemed like an ideal opportunity.

Enabling multisite is relatively complex.  It requires manual editing of WordPress configuration files.  However, once enabled, the configuration process is relatively easy and I had no problem maintaining my existing content and graphical layout.  The installation did request that I change the blog URL from www.livens.org to livens.org, but this did not have a meaningful impact.  However, a URL issue shortly emerged. (Read More »)

Roku: So simple and yet so useful

I am a techie and love buying new gadgets.  However, every once in a while, a device comes out that makes you think, “how could something so simple be so useful,” and this describes Roku perfectly.  It is a single purpose device designed to stream audio and video from the web.  There are no fancy LED displays or LCD remotes or flashing lights; it is a small black box that just sits there and does its job consistently and effectively.


My interest in the Roku stemmed from a desire to watch movies on TV.  My cable company, Comast, offers video-on-demand, but I had been frustrated with the lack of choice and particularly in the area of children’s content.  At the same time, I had also recently become entranced with Pandora.  It is an amazing service that does a great job streaming a customized mix of music over the Internet.  The combination of these two requirements originally drove my search for an appropriate device.

My first thought was to put a computer in the entertainment center which could meet both of the above requirements and more, but the thought of having to boot something and then manage a keyboard, mouse and potentially a complex remote control was too much.  Another option I considered was a videogame system.  Most of today’s consoles serve as portals to the Internet and can stream audio and video, but the problem was cost and functionality.  These systems can be expensive and bring a whole range of videogame features which I would love , but currently have no time for.  It rapidly became clear that I needed a dedicated device, and I wanted something that would pass the wife test meaning that it was unobtrusive and easy to use. (Read More »)

One of the biggest challenges for many computer users is data protection.  With the explosion of low cost and high-density disk drives, it has become easy to store massive volumes of data in a very small footprint.  However, many people forget that disk drives fail and the data loss is usually catastrophic.  I always recommend friends and family plan for the worst and develop a backup strategy.  It is like insurance, hopefully you will never need it, but if you do, you will be thankful that you have it.

There are many approaches to backup and recovery, and my favorite is online backup.  There are a variety of services that do this including Mozy, Carbonite and, my favorite, Crashplan.  All of these services work pretty much the same.  You install an agent on your computer and it transmits your data over the Internet to the service provider’s datacenter.  The services will typically require you to initially send all of your data which can take weeks and after the initial transmission only changed or new files are sent which reduces the transmission time.

The biggest initial challenge with these services is getting your data transmitted.  If you have large amounts of content then it can take weeks of constant upload.  The length of time will vary by the amount of data and the speed of your Internet connection.  However, some ISPs (like Comcast) specifically limit your data usage in their Terms of Service (ToS) and you could violate this during the initial transfer.  The penalty varies from a simple threatening letter to a complete service cancellation.  Obviously, this is frustrating and can be avoided with careful management. (Read More »)