September 3, 2004
Nothing succeeds like excess
That was the maxim held dear by Sammy Davis Jr. But he wasn't building a PC, he was either at the bar or at Sy Devore's.
Rafe Needleman, on the other hand, was building a PC--big bore, high powered, and a flamethrower in every sense of the word.
He dropped by to tell me how fast his new Athlon 64 is.
I told him how quiet my 1GHz PIII is.
And unless you're editing video or playing serious games, my machine is as good as his. I can process words, navigate the Web, and field e-mail and IM virtually as fast--except I have a bunch of extra ducats in my checking account because I haven't bought a new PC since Clinton was in office.
And I work in near silence, since my computer isn't powered by the equivalent of a very small nuclear reactor.
I don't begrudge anyone their high-powered toys. But I will advise 9 people out of 10 to buy a low-end PC, which will still be more than they need. So-called low-end desktops are typically 2.2GHz these days. Running Office or IE on that is like crop dusting with a B-52. But it's as low as you can go.
So, if you're computer shopping this Labor Day weekend, buy a solid low-end machine and spend a little extra RAM'ing it up. And with the few hundred you'll still have left over, do something outdoors away from the keyboard.
September 2, 2004
C'mon, IM, grow up
Why do IM clients have to look so goofy? It's as if the companies behind them (MSN, AOL, Yahoo, and so on) haven't even noticed their product is no longer the province of teens and workplace clock-watchers. It's starting to edge out e-mail for some daily communication.
Yet we're still presented with IM clients that beg us to put up goofy avatars, send sound effects, or play online games. I don't recall Eudora or Outlook starting that way.
The other day the big boss sauntered into my office, and I instinctively tensed up simply because I had an IM client open. I believe most people think you're goofing off when they see an IM session on your screen. I mean, come on: as soon as you see an avatar, it's a fair hunch ya ain't exactly looking at an Oracle 9i query tool.
Yahoo Messenger has perhaps the best interface--at least it looks like it was designed by professional developers. AIM has the worst--the product of a high-school C++ class. The rest fall in between, with the exception of Trillian, which can look however you want, thanks to a great array of skins.
Here's what I really want: plug-ins for Outlook that let me embed my IM functionality inside that app with the same look and feel. I don't know of one, do you?
Talk to your car
People have been doing this for decades, but now it will finally be a rational act.
Honda is going to embed IBM's ViaVoice technology into some of its Honda and Acura cars when the 2005 models are ready. They'll be the first cars with natural speech-recognition technology tied to the in-dash navigation system--a real breakthrough. OK, even I am scared of the idea of people driving while typing on their in-dash navigation unit. That's saying something.
Having just spent a few days in L.A. driving a Town Car with Lincoln's admittedly slick factory navigation system, and finding even that to be tedious, I have my doubts about the Honda/IBM gear. First, it boasts 1.7 million street and city names; that doesn't sound like a whole lot to cover the nation? I live on a tiny little street with three houses on it. I wonder if it's in there? Second, how do they handle mispronunciations? There are at least three ways Angelenos pronounce "Los Feliz Blvd.," a major street in L.A.
Perhaps the most delightful feature is that the Honda IBM package will also feature a built-in Zagat database, so your Acura RL can tell you that the best steak in L.A. is at Dan Tana's.
August 31, 2004
Microsoft always wins
As we await the debut of the MSN Music store this week, I'm amused by the mental hoops the tech press jumps through to manufacture a genuine possibility that Microsoft could lose the music wars.
It's all part of the objectivity and professional skepticism that goes with the job, but come on. In the end, Microsoft's strategy for the music wars should simply read like Reagan's plan for the Cold War: they lose, we win. Then, you just spend your competitors into a hole.
Apple's iTunes store and iPod players have been earning a 4.0 grade point average. But Microsoft merely has to get a 3.0, multiplied by the Windows user base, and it wins. All of the online music stores sell the same music from five major labels (and a handful of indies who don't make or break anyone's business). And even if Apple does have leverage with the labels now, I can assure you that all five of them will throw Steve Jobs under the bus when the Windows music store starts heating up.
Am I arguing that Apple needs to open and license its music platform? Nah. Wouldn't matter. iTunes and iPod should stay proprietary to Apple to keep them both insanely great--while Microsoft takes over.
More on iMac
Whew, it wasn't totally a hoax. The new iMac is an all-in-one flat-panel computer. Right on. And by the looks of it, Jobs & Co. took a long hard look at the Gateway Profile and the Sony VAIO W series, and when they stopped laughing, they got it right.
As with all Macs, the new iMac costs more than it should to do what it does, but we're used to that by now. The bigger issue is that it won't ship until mid-September and Apple discontinued the previous iMac back in July--that adds up to quite a gap in their back-to-school sales strategy.
Programming note: We'll be getting one of these in soon, so keep your eyes open for a First Take.
August 29, 2004
One for the boys
After scouring conflicting posts for hours this weekend, it seems clear to me that the "spy photos" of the new iMac are indeed a hoax. That's a shame. Because while I'm the first to admit the iMac is a nice piece of industrial design, it's also a sissy box--kinda rounded and unintimidating, with nice light colors and that damned "happy Mac" face. I know I'm being superficial and guilty of stereotyping--but also dead-on accurate--when I tell you that most guys see the iMac as the new Beetle of computers. They may appreciate its specs, functionality, and value, but they'd sooner prance into a bathhouse than buy one.
That bogus "new iMac" had a look that would have been a hit with guys. It was handsome and technical-looking. But alas, I fear we're about to get another iDoughball. We'll find out shortly.
Can you think of any other global manufacturer that gets this much fanfare over a new version of its low-end product? When was the last time the world held its breath for the new Toyota Corolla? Did you lie awake at night the last time Sony updated the basic Trinitron CRT televisions? Or when Dell rolled out its latest $699 utility PC? I doubt it. We do it only for Apple, because its products are stars, with personality and irritating quirks. So we follow them like we do Jessica Simpson.
What do you think? Do you love the new iMac design or find it unbearably wimpy? What do you think about my new format? Talk back to me!