What Light Through Yonder Window Breaks

And so it is, opening with yet another horrible Shakespeare pun, that I pen this first post of 2013.  Happy New Year to you all.

Amazing, really, how the years go by.  It had been five years since my last custom PC build, and with the release of Windows 8 back in October 2012, I started getting the itch.  The casual browsing of PC components quickly turned into hours of research.  Today, I write this from an all-new custom rig, and yes, it’s running Windows 8.  Let me begin by stating I am a huge Windows 7 fan.  That was Microsoft’s flag-ship OS, and anyone who claims NT or XP hasn’t spent enough time on Windows 7.  There is no comparing the products.

So it was that after the first 20 minutes or so on Windows 8, I was pretty sure that it was going to have to go, and I would install 7 back on my computer.  No “Start Button” threw me.  I just couldn’t get over it, and the inability to close the Windows apps was mildly infuriating.  In other words, it was totally new, and I’m getting old and change is bad.  Fast-forward a few hours later…

I can’t imagine ever going back to Windows 7.  I’m not saying 8 is better, since it’s far too early in my experience with it to make that sort of a claim.  I am, however, saying that I’m enjoying several of the new features Windows 8 brings to the PC, and that even though I’m by-no-means a master, I’m enjoying learning about them and exploring once again.

Test

In summary, here’s a few reasons why – so far – I think Windows 8 is awesome:

  • Live Tiles: Far more visually engaging than an icon, and less obtrusive than push notifications.  They’re basically little RSS feeds encapsulated in small graphical tile.  Basically, when aggregated on the Start Screen, you get a nice real-time dashboard.
  • Social Integration: Much better than in previous versions of Windows or Office… Suppose I should mention I’m using the Office 2013 Customer Preview.  Basically, your contacts are pulled directly from your social networks (Twitter, Linkedin & Facebook).  Even the messaging is integrated with folks who may be online in various social sites.  The Outlook integration with LinkedIn and Facebook is also improved and easier to configure than in previous versions.
  • Desktop: Yep… Pretty much the same, with the notable absence of the “Start Button”.  Otherwise, everything that made Windows 7 great has been kept with Windows 8.  Been running for a week now, and no stability or performance issues.  Fingers are crossed here.
  • Cloud: Okay, I admit SkyDrive doesn’t have the press that iCloud has received.  Although, based on what I’ve seen so far, cloud integration with this OS blows anything else on the market away.  Even your Photos app pulls from social and SkyDrive.  All Office Documents automatically get kept in SkyDrive, and it appears as just another “Favorite” (along with Downloads and Desktop) in Windows Explorer, as well as having a custom app in the Start Screen.

PRO TIP – I know the graphic is abysmally small when viewed natively.  Just click for an enlarged image.

More Matter With Less Art

I suppose the easiest posts are those when you slam something.  Criticism comes pretty naturally to many of us (myself included), but I think this time I’ll buck the trend.  My past few posts have hit on some pretty deep topics.  Video game violence, Google’s data-monopoly, Web 3.0, etc.  I wanted to kick it old school, for a change, with a simple product review.  Over the past few years, my router has arguably become the most important piece of hardware in my home.  Someone, or something, is always connected.  Unfortunately, for the past few years my router has also been one of the crappiest pieces of hardware in my home.

A couple of months ago, that all changed.  After years of my better-half complaining about the shoddy wireless range, strength and stability, I decided it was time to invest.  The debate was between the Apple Airport Extreme and the Linksys E4200 Maximum Performance Dual-Band router.  After checking out gdgt and cnet, I decided to give the E4200 a shot.  Turns out, I had chosen wisely.

Linksys E4200 Maximum PerformanceI suppose when you live with a shoddy router for a long enough period, perhaps one’s standards begin to erode.  Frankly, this is not the case with this router.

Ultimate speed & range: This router connects and can stream 720p video at well over 100 feet, with walls, mirrors, a microwave, and all sorts of other bullshit in the way.  The range is unparalleled, and if you own a larger house, and range is an issue, this is definitely the router for you.

Idiot-proof software: On July 19, 2011, DRYNET launched…  The new “Cisco Connect” software that’s bundled with the E4200 is leagues apart from that old “LELA” offal they employed with their previous generation of routers.  The interface is simple and intuitive.  It allows you setup your wifi network, plus a guest network in a matter of clicks.  If you want to go with more advanced stuff like QoS and setting wifi channels, etc, you won’t do it from Cisco Connect.  Most people, myself included, don’t need to.

Design & Function: Is pretty elegant.  No, it’s not designed by those hipsters at Apple, but I’ll take function over fashion anyday, when it comes to a router.  The E4200 no longer employs the array of flashing blue and green lights, but opted for a softer white Cisco logo that glows when the router is on, and functioning normally.  In terms of stability, many people need to boot their router every week or so.  Not this one.  I’ve had it running non-stop with over 9 devices connected and it has never quit once.

I’ve noticed only two issues.  One, it didn’t come with a wall mounting bracket, and two, it’s expensive.  Perhaps the most expensive home-grade router available right now.  Your call on whether you’d be prepared to pony-up nearly $200 for a router, but if you’re anything like me, and you have numerous computers, a tablet, a couple of phones, your tv’s and gaming consoles hooked up to the internet, all of a sudden a decent N-router becomes a priority.  Any questions, feel free to post!

Hail Mary, And Megan

Tell the truth.  You’re a nerd, and you watched the Super Bowl because of the commercials.  It’s okay.  Apparently, you’re not alone.  Tech advertisers were pretty well-represented yesteday, and I just wanted to share a few hi-lites for those of you who may have missed the commercials… I mean, er, game.

There were more tech commercials, of course.  Google, E-TradeIntel and even Dante’s Inferno all had purchased spots for the most-watched television event in history.  At $3 Million USD for a 30-second spot, you better believe tech is where the money’s at… Although, apparently chips and beer companies do okay for themselves.  Let’s face it, that Dorito’s commercial is hilarious!!

Logitech’s Almost-Universal Harmony Remote

There’s a lot of mixed feelings about Logitech out there.  Me?  I’m sitting firmly on the fence when it comes their products.  Especially their Harmony remotes.  I bought the Logitech Harmony 880 remote during a promotional offer at Dell.ca for $99 CDN.  At the time, it retailed for around $300.  A pretty good deal, but I certainly would not want to pay any more for the device.  There’s a few things I like about it, but there’s also several inherant flaws with the overall Harmony system.  Take a look.

The Good…

  • The process of downloading the appropriate coding for all applicable devices over the internet is a cool idea.  The old method of punching in a code, and pairing the device with different remotes is significantly optimized with Logitech’s approach.
  • The embedded rechargeable lithium-ion battery, with a AC docking station is great.  The charge, under farily rigorous usage, lasts a little over two weeks.
  • The customized preset configurations are a great touch.  You have a button to “Watch TV”, “Watch a Movie” or “Listen to Music”.  By selecting a given option, all devices are simultaneously updated to perform the requested action.  No more selecting one device at a time, followed by a series of commands to change activities.
  • Overall, the remote is pretty rugged.  I have a 3-year-old boy, and twin 10-month-olds.  All of them have an unholy fascination with remotes, and more specifically, beating the hell out of them.  So far, the Harmony has endured.
  • Backlit buttons in the dark are a real nice touch.

The Bad…

  • It’s not a universal remote.  Why?  Because it doesn’t natively support the Sony Playstation3.  Logitech sells a Bluetooth adaptor that can convert the infrared signal from the Harmony to bluetooth commands understood by the Playstation.  NEWSFLASH – Logitech, the whole idea of a universal remote is to rationalize devices, not force me to buy more.  Plus your adaptor retails at $70!  Here’s a novel idea, build bluetooth support into the Harmony remote natively, and you’d be able to control a whole host of devices that were previously not supported!  Wii isn’t supported either.
  • While downloading firmware and coding from the internet is cool, it also means your reliant on Logitech’s ongoing offering of the web-service.  Hopefully, they don’t ever go out of business.  Additionally, Logitech keeps a database of device numbers, etc.  They could conceivably deactivate your remote, or not allow further updates, if they thought something about the request was not legitimate.

The Ugly…

  • Seriously, who designed those buttons?  Some of them are small enough to make me want to use a pen or something to select them.
  • Logitech’s software design needs to be improved.  The developers are lazy and don’t allow the windows to be resized, etc.  Furthermore, they have a nasty habit of launching on startup, despite being inactivated and the software upgrade process can take ages.

The Harmony 880 is now one generation old, and replaced with the newer series.  The Logitech Harmony One Advanced Remote is probably its newer counterpart.  Many of the concepts are really neat, but I still think there’s a lot of room for improvement if they’re asking that kind of money.  For more reviews and discussions, check out the GDGT product page.