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Technology, Writing

The iPad is here!

The iPad arrived by UPS at about 2 PM yesterday so I have had nearly a day to play with it.  If you don’t want to read the whole review then I can just sum this up with one thought – If you don’t have one get to an Apple Store and buy one.

Why? Well here is why I think so.

The Hardware

What can I say. This is a typical Apple Inc. product. Well built, aesthetically beautiful, and feels great to hold and use.  The new A4 processor is very snappy and seems to be able to handle any application or task I throw at it.  The display is bright and colors are vibrant.  The touch screen works just like an iPhone/iPod touch and is sensitive and responsive.

  • Hardware Pro’s
    • Very well built – all aluminum and glass with a few buttons for volume control, home screen, sleep, and sound mute.
    • Typical Apple design – beautiful and minimal
    • Fast processor and 64GB of storage (avail in smaller storage sizes) handle every task thrown at it
    • Display is bright and colors “pop” – it is really beautiful
    • Touch screen is sensitive and works very nicely
    • Speaker is reasonably loud and sounds decent
    • Battery life seems great. I believe the 10 hour use estimates.
  • Hardware Con’s
    • Heavier than expected.  It’s fine for holding in a lap or resting on a table but I wouldn’t want to hold on to this thing for extended periods while reading a book or watching a video.  I haven’t tried reading books in bed with it yet but I can imagine I would not want to do this while laying back – it is quite a bit heavier than my Kindle
    • No Camera!  I’m still scratching my head about this. This device is clearly capable of some great video chat and other video/photo applications.
    • The display is really glossy so it is quite reflective and is not usable in direct sunlight or bright lights for video (books seem to fare much better)
    • The iPad requires a LOT of power to charge.  While plugged into the USB port on the front of my Mac Pro (running Windows 7 at the time) the display indicated “Not Charging” while syncing.  Using the included power adapter charges the device however.  I often like to charge my devices from a laptop when traveling so I don’t need to carry lots of power adapters – it looks like this is NOT possible with the iPad for many.

Operating System

The OS on the iPad is the iPhone OS version 3.2.  For the most part it works as you would expect – like a large iPod Touch.  There are some new User Interface (UI) elements that take advantage of the larger display.  iPhone features/apps often start with a larger Index screen that slides to the left as you make selections – the iPad approaches this with a two pane approach – showing the index on the left part of the screen while the “content” area is displayed to the right.  There are also some new pop-up type menus that appear in some apps which seems efficient for navigating.  The on screen keyboard has changed a bit from the iPhone – it is definitely MUCH easier to type on than the iPhone/iPod touch.

  • OS Pro’s
    • iPhone OS will be familiar to many
    • New UI elements and features take advantage of larger screen
  • OS Con’s
    • No multi-tasking! This device has plenty of speed and multi-tasking would be quite useful.  Maybe in OS 4.0?

Included Applications

The iPad comes with a few applications (apps).  These include “Calendar”, “Contacts”, “Notes”, “Maps”, “Videos”, “You Tube”, “iTunes”, “App Store”, “Safari”, “Mail”, “Photos”, and “iPod”.  It is notable that these apps for the most part are not just up-sized versions of their iPhone counterparts and in some cases they have completely new UIs for the larger display form factor.  The UIs for the iTunes and App Store applications behave much more like iTunes on the desktop.  Mail has a multi-pane UI that makes it much easier to move around and manage e-mail.  Contacts looks to be a different application with an address book metaphor.    I was able to sync Mail, Contacts and Calendar with my Google Apps Premier hosted account without a problem.  The larger form factor and keyboard certainly make e-mail a pleasure to do on the iPad.  The iPod app has a new UI that clearly takes advantage of the screen real estate and feels more like desktop iTunes.  The version of the Safari browser on the iPad is very fast – it was able to download and render pages over an 802.11n network quickly and moving around pages is effortless. Safari on the iPad is a fantastic browsing experience.

  • Included Apps Pro’s
    • New designs take advantage of screen real estate and faster processor
    • Stable and fast
  • Included Apps Con’s
    • No Adobe Flash support in Safari. Maybe time will make this irrelevant but as of now there is a lot of content on the web in Flash and it can’t be viewed on the iPad!

Downloadable Applications

The App Store is already full of applications for the iPad.  Developers have had access to the SDK (Software Developer’s Kit) for 3.2 for about 6 weeks and many have been frantically writing and porting apps to take advantage of the iPad.  Apple has released version of iWork (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) for $9.99 each – I have purchased all 3 but have yet to try them.  Apple has also released iBooks for free – iBooks looks to be a great book reader application – the color and UI are visually beautiful and the store is full of free books from Project Gutenberg.  Books can be purchased in iBooks and the collection seems to be fairly extensive though not as extensive as Amazon’s Kindle library (for now).  Viewing books on the iPad is a joy though I can’t really imagine holding this device by hand to read a book for extended periods because of its weight.  There is a good selection of 3rd party applications available for the iPad and this is sure to grow rapidly.  Of course all existing iPhone apps seems to work on the iPad though the experience of running them in a small window or through pixel doubling seems quaint after seeing native iPad versions of applications.  One item of note is that I had a fair number of crashes with 3rd party applications – certainly way more than with the iPhone.  Of course this is most likely due to the fact that the iPad has only been available for a day and the majority of developers didn’t have access to a device on which to test their code – they relied on the less than perfect iPad simulator in the SDK.

  • Downloadable Apps Pro’s
    • Apple apps seem polished and stable
    • 3rd party apps are showing innovative uses for the new screen real estate and OS features
  • Downloadable Apps Con’s
    • iPad apps seemed to be priced a fair bit higher than their iPhone counterparts.  $0.99 apps are popular on the iPhone whereas apps seem to be more like $4.99/$9.99 for the iPad.  Time will tell how this all shakes out. I certainly don’t begrudge developers from trying to make money from their hard work so if higher prices mean more quality apps then I am all for it.
    • A number of magazines have come out with interactive versions, including Time, Men’s Health,Popular Science etc. They seem to be pricing these at $4.99 per issue which seems a bit too high in my opinion.
    • Stability of the early apps seems to be less than stellar. I had quite a few crashes in some apps.  I’m sure this is because developer’s did not have access to an iPad during development and bet we will be seeing lots of updates in the coming days to fix the crash problems.

Must have apps

I found a few apps which are “Must Have” apps for me. These include (in no particular order):

  • iBooks – Free – and there are lots of free books to get started with. This one is a no-brainer.
  • iWork (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) – $9.99 each but seem quite worth it
  • ABC Player – Free – Great UI and ability to watch ABC television shows – crashes occasionally
  • Netflix – Free – I haven’t tried this yet as I don’t have Netflix but I think this will push me to subscribe
  • Kindle – Free – I already have quite a bit of Kindle content so this is a must have.  One caveat though is that this seems to only work for books as of now – Kindle magazine subscriptions did not appear in this app for me.
  • Diner Dash: Grilling Green – $4.99 – Fun and addictive game that is nice to use with a touch UI
  • Flight Control HD – $4.99 – another addictive fun game
  • BigOven iPad Pro – $4.99 – a great recipe app (There is a free Lite version too)
  • X-Plane – $9.99 – slick flight simulator makes use of the accelerometers
  • GotoMeeting – Free – Great if you use Gotomeeting for on-line screen sharing/meetings
  • Harbor Master HD – Free – addictive fun game
  • Tap Tap Radiation – Free – fun game – though it costs to buy more songs
  • The Weather Channel Max for iPad – Free – great access to weather channel resources
  • USA Today for iPad – Free – nicely done app for reading USA Today content
  • AP News – Free – nice news app
  • IMDb Movies & TV – Free – access to IMDb movie database – great for resolving those movie time debates over who an actor is
  • Evernote – Free – I use Evernote on my iPhones/Macs/PCs so this was a no-brainer.
  • Pandora – Free – great streaming music app
  • Dragon Dictation – Free – nice mobile port of the Dragon voice recognition software

Summary/Surprises/Disappointments

The bottom line for me is that the iPad is a great device.  Overall I don’t view it as a “laptop replacement”  though I can certainly see plenty of occasions where taking only the iPad on a trip would be feasible. I think for many people who are not regular computer users the iPad will be “just enough” of a device to browse the web, access e-mail and other content on a regular basis.

  • Some things that surprised me
    • The display is really colorful and beautiful.  I expected it to look great but I was really blown away by the colors and clarity of the display.
    • Watching video content on the iPad is a pleasure.  A lot of this is due to the beautiful display but the size is just right too. I see myself watching lots of video content on the iPad.
    • There are lots of apps available on day one that take advantage of the form factor and UI.
    • Web browsing on this form factor and using touch gestures is quite nice.
  • Some things that disappointed me
    • This thing really needs a camera. Enough said.
    • The weight. The iPad is heavier than I expected and I don’t think I will be able to use it in some of the ways I use my Kindle for reading books. I am sure I will figure out how to use it effectively but I will probably be keeping my Kindle for bed time reading.
    • The lack of charging the iPad from laptop USB ports. I will have to carry the charger on trips. Not a huge deal but on international trips its nice to use the laptop to charge most/all of my USB devices.
    • The glossy display is very reflective and picks up fingerprints like crazy
    • While videos are beautiful on the display it is a 4:3 aspect ratio display so widescreen content will either be letterboxed or chopped at the sides
    • Still no Adobe flash support in Safari. I expcted this but it was still a disappointment to see some sites render with missing content.
    • Third party apps seem to be crashing much more than I am used to. I’m sure this will be resolved quickly now that developers have access to the actual iPad hardware.

Ultimately I think its important to think of what the iPad is capable of and what the future holds for devices like it. Slate/Pad devices really have the potential to transform the way we do computing and use the net on a casual or mobile basis.  I am not as excited about what the iPad means today as I am for what it’s potential is for changing the way people will access content, entertain themselves and get work done.  I’m off to dig into the new SDK and Ansca Mobile’s Corona development tools…..

Technology, Writing

Living a Second Life

Many of you know that I am an avid user of the 3D virtual world called Second LifeTM (SL) by Linden Labs.  I first heard about SL from the This Week in Tech podcast in the spring of 2006 though I have been most active with the system in the past 6 months or so.  I realize many people think of it as a game and put it in the same category as Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) but I think it is something different – a platform for building interactive 3D virtual technologies.

 What is Second Life?

SL is basically a virtual 3D interactive world rendered in a computer application (called the Viewer – now fully open source which I find encouraging) that runs on personal computers running Windows, OS X and Linux.  The virtual world is simulated on a grid of thousands of servers (each called a “sim” – short for simulator) that together along with a number of other servers (which manage the inventory of virtual objects, virtual money, etc.) provide a fairly immersive simulation of a virtual world.  The Second Life system means different things to different people – some use it as a role playing game for fun, others use it explore facets of their own lives that they are unable to experience in real life because of social stigmas or laws in their country.  Others, like me see Second Life as a very neat platform for building and developing virtual technology.

There has been much hype in the press over the past year about SL.  Some of it positive such as real life bands like Duran Duran coming into Second Life, IBM’s presence in the virtual world, or Sun Microsystem’s holding a press conference.  Some of the press has also been negative – focusing on the “adult” imagery and activity in SL (yes – like many emerging technologies – some of the first adopters of it are from the pornography industry) or the fact that there are a disproportionate number of virtual shopping malls within the SL world.  The reality is somewhwere in the middle.  Reuters has established a virtual bureau within SL and provides news from within the virtual world.

Second Life is a 3D virtual world that has:

  • Facilities for real people represented as “avatars” to interact with a simulated environment and with other avatars.  Avatars can communicate by typing to each other (voice chat is in beta testing) or by activating gestures that cause the avatar to animate and make audible noises (my second life avatar can dance significantly better than my real life body!).  Avatars can explore the virtual world by walking around, flying (yes you can do this), or riding in virtual vehicles.
  • Virtual land consisting of virtual parcels of real estate that are simulated and rendered by servers. These land parcels can be bought and sold.  Each land parcel represents a slice of land within the virtual world and controls how many objects you can have on the land (the larger the land, the more objects you can place on it) to control the load on the servers.
  • A platform for creating virtual content using building tools to create objects.  Objects are made out of geometric primitives (called “prims”) and can have textures (JPEG images) applied to them.  These objects have digital rights to control copying, distribution, etc.   These objects interact with each other and avatars through a physics engine that is part of the simulation.
  • A scripting language called LSL (Linden Scripting Language) that is very PHP/C like and provides a means for giving interactivity and “intelligence” to virtual objects.  The language has a extensive library of functions for interacting with the virtual world, other objects, avatars, etc.
  • A virtual economy with a currency called Linden Dollars. This economy facilitates in-world businesses that can sell virtual objects they create and provide services to other avatars and businesses. Linden dollars can be purchased for real currency or can be “converted” back to real currency. It is possible to make real money in Second Life this way.

What do I do in Second Life?

Well Corey and I have a private island which is basically 65,536sm of land (and allows us to have 15,000 object primitives) simulated on a dedicated CPU core in the SL grid (info on private islands – yes, they’re expensive).  To give you an idea of the capabilities of the technology here are some pictures of some of the things we have built or arranged on the island:

And some pictures inside the house:

Obviously the concept of a house in Second Life is rather superfluous because avatars have no need to eat, sleep or take care of other biological functions but building and arranging this house shows the power of the technology and tools to mimic the real world. Many of the objects in this house are “functional” – doors open and close, the television can display streams of video from the internet, chairs can be sat upon, the globe in the Library room rotates, the fish in the fish tank swim, etc.

For fun I have been building a replica of a certain cartoon house on a Fox television show. Check out these pictures of my virtual 742 Evergreen Terrace:

Here is a video tour of the island in a virtual helicopter (excuse the quality – it’s hosted on YouTube):

Why am I doing this?  Well partly as a hobby because it’s fun (its a lot like model building without the stinky glue and broken pieces) and mostly because I think its a really neat emerging technology.  Will technologies like Second Life become Web 3.0 and create a 3D web?  Time will tell but for now I am enjoying it and even exploring some possibilities for using the technology within the healthcare field for serious purposes. If you want to join me in Second Life – download the viewer and send me an email for my details otherwise stay tuned and we’ll see where it all goes…..

Technology, Writing

Trials and Tribulations of Windows on the Intel Macs

As previously reported, I have been playing with a MacBook Pro for the past few weeks.  One of the first things I wanted to try was running Windows XP since I had heard that a group had successfuly created a hack to get it installed and operating on the new Intel Macs.

 The first method I tried was the free and open source bootloader that was featured on the OnMac site.  The install procedure is not for the faint at heart since it requires repartioning the hard drive (destroying its contents in the process), re-installing Mac OS X in the first partition, replacing/blessing the OS X bootloader with a special dual-boot bootloader that could boot either OS X or Windows XP, and installing Windows XP in the second partition.  Once XP was installed and booted it then needed to have a number of drivers installed to utilize the hardware in the MacBook Pro.  I was able to get Windows loaded but after playing for a couple of days I became disillusioned with the solution because:

  • By default the Mac Keyboard’s “Delete” key is mapped to Backspace in Windows XP. This meant I could not issue a CTL-ALT-DEL to log on to Windows.  There are ways to remap the keys but I didn’t bother trying.
  • There was no right-click support using the MacBook Pro trackpad. Having to lug a mouse around wasn’t very exciting.
  • There were no video drivers (at the time I did the install).
  • The sound drivers would only work through the audio out port. The internal speakers were silent. (this is also resolved now).
  • The real time clock displayed different times in OS X and Windows – so when booting between environments the time was wrong.

After a few days I repartitioned the machine for OS X only and figured I would just wait until a better solution came along.   Within a week Apple announced it’s Boot Camp beta which is an Apple supported method for installing Windows XP on Intel Macs.  Boot Camp appeared to have several advantages over the open source solution, namely:

  • A firmware upgrade for machines that provided the necessary boot functionality for Windows to boot on the Mac.  This means no more having to replace the OS X boot loader with the open source dual-boot bootloader.  The advantage is that applying OS X upgrades or going into the Startup Disk preferences panel wont blow away the boot loader (which required a manual re-install and blessing of the open source boot loader).
  • A dynamic re-partioning capability that didn’t require destroying an existing OS X installation.
  • Drivers for video, audio, ethernet, wifi, etc that worked as expected.
  • Support from Apple!

Within hours of the Boot Camp release I had installed it and found that I had a decent Windows XP system running at blazing speeds.  However some problems lingered:

  • The Delete key mapping still made CTL-ALT-DEL impossible “out of the box”.  I still didn’t bother trying any of the remapping solutions.
  • The right-click problem persisted.  Someone of the Apple support forums suggested a utility that allows using CTL-Click to emulate right click. This sort of works but required selecting an item with left click before trying to right-click on it. I found this annoying.  Plugging in a USB mouse works as expected but wasn’t the solution I was hoping for.
  • The real time clock problems persist.

After a couple of days I decided to take advantage of another the Boot Camp utility’s functions: Removing the Windows partition and restoring the machine to Mac OS X only functionality.  At this point I started thinking about what I really wanted on my Intel Mac.  The main issue for me is the inability to run 3 key applications that are not available on OS X, specifically, Groove from Microsoft (formerly Groove Networks), Microsoft Project, and Microsoft Visio.  There are applications similar to Project and Visio for the Mac but as a consultant I need to have the same tools as my clients.  If I could use these under OS X I wouldnt really need Windows.  Either something like the Darwine project which provides a WIN32 layer under OS X (meaning you can run Windows Applications under Mac OS X) or a virtualization product similar to VMWare workstation that I use on my PC.  Darwine is still a work in progress and doesnt yet meet my needs and VMWare is currently only available for Windows or Linux. Microsoft says it is investigating bringing Virtual PC to the Intel Macs but has made no commitment to doing so as of yet.

I was about to give up on the Windows on Mac idea for a while and revisit the issue in a few months when I read an article last week on a new beta product for Intel macs (as well as other Intel machines) called Parallels Workstation.  A quick look at the web site for Parallels revealed what appeared to be a product very much like VMWare and there was an OS X for Intel version available for free beta testing.

I downloaded the beta version and tried it out. Within an hour I was able to create a virtual machine, Install Windows XP, and have a running XP environment.  There was no sound support initially (this has been implemented in Beta 3 released 12-April-2006) and a colleague reported some crashing issues when running an XP guest when a MacBook Pro goes to sleep (also corrected in Beta 3).  The speed of Windows XP under Parallels is impressive – largely because Parallels leverages the dual core processor and doesn’t have to perform any CPU instruction translation (the reason behind slow performance of Virtual PC on the older G4/G5 series Macs).

Is Parallels the holy grail I have been looking for?  Its alot closer to what I want but still not totally ideal.  It DOES solve the ability for me to run OS X as the primary operating system but have the capability to run my critical Windows applications when I need them.  I think ideally I would still like something like a Windows emulation layer in OS X that just allowed Windows applications to run but I think that is some ways off.  Darwine looks promising though a supported capability from Apple would be even better.

My conclusions on the three solutions:

  • Open Source Bootloader from OnMac
    • Pros: Open Source, Great for people who like to tinker with their machines
    • Cons: Unknown support, difficult to install, quirks in support right-click, etc.
  • Apple’s Boot Camp
    • Pros: Supported by Apple, Full set of drivers, Easy to install, Very Fast
    • Cons: quirks in support right-click, etc.
  • Parallels
    • Pros: Easy to install, Pretty Fast, Supported by Parallels, Inc.
    • Cons: Takes time to boot Windows XP under Mac OSX, requires more system resources, limited hardware support within the virtual machine

    The open source solution is best for those who like to play and understand what they’re doing to their machines.  Apple’s Boot Camp is great for those who can live with the quirks and who need a high performance dual boot OS X and Windows machine (XP is FAST on the Intel Core Duo processor, and the supported video drivers enable gamers to run their PC games on a Mac). Parallels is great for someone who wants OS X as their primary OS and occasionally needs to run Windows applications and doesn’t mind waiting for windows to boot under OS X, etc.  Parallels is also great for developers because MULTIPLE virtual machines are supported at the same time – you can run virtually any version of Windows, Linux, etc in a Parallels virtual machine under OS X.

    For now Ill keep my eye out for the holy grail. I will report back when I know more!

    Technology, Writing

    Playing with Apple’s New MacBook Pro

    For the past few weeks I have been playing with my new MacBook Pro (MBP) from Apple.  Its the 2.16Ghz model, with 1GB of RAM, 100GB 7200RPM Drive, etc.  I wanted to get my hands on an Intel Mac because of my incessant need to play with new toys.  Luckily I have received a model with the Revision D system board which is supposed to fix many of the earlier problems people have been having (flickering displays, overheating, buzzing noises, etc).  I have not had any problems at all with the MBP so far though I at least perceive the machine to be running a bit warmer than my old G4 PowerBook.  Many apps are now being released as Universal Binaries – and for the few apps that are not, the PowerPC binaries I use seem to run just fine under Apple’s Rosetta technology.

     Some thoughts on the MacBook Pro:

    • This display is a bit smaller than the old G4 PowerBook.  To be more precise its 60 pixels shorter vertically.
    • The Airport Extreme support (i.e. 802.11g wireless) seems to be better than in the G4 PowerBook. I seem to get a stronger signal in the same locations.
    • This thing is FAST. Applications that are Universal binaries scream on this machine.  Even apps that run under Rosetta run OK (they’re tolerable) though I have seen Microsoft Office exhibit some quirkiness on occasion that I don’t recall ever seeing on a PPC machine.
    • It may just be my perception but the MBP seems to run a bit warmer than my G4 PowerBook did.
    • I really wish Apple had used a standard PC Card slot instead of the ExpressCard slot. As of right now I don’t have a Wireless WAN connection because my Verizon broadband card is PC Card only. The lack of PC card support may diminish over time as more ExpressCard devices are shipped but for now this is a bit of a handicap.
    • The lack of “Pro” apps is a bit of an issue but Apple has promised to release Universal binaries of the Pro applications any day now.  In particular having a higher end video application such as one of the Final Cut series applications will be important as I start to use this machine more for video.
    • FrontRow is pretty slick.  The idea of sitting back and using a remote control to access my media files is a great idea.  Its still an early product but I think it has real potential – particularly if Apple can open it up to 3rd party plug-ins such as TV tuner applications, etc.  Playing with FrontRow and the remote makes me want to go out and buy one of the new Intel Mini’s for the living room!
    • The built in iSight camera and photo booth software are cute.  I probably wont use this much. I have pretty much accepted that most people barely want to hear me let alone ever see me if they can avoid it!
    • The ability to run Windows is intriguing. I have played with it a bit and will document my findings in another posting soon.

      So the $1,000,000 question – should you buy a new Intel Mac? Well that depends on your needs.  If you’re a total tool like me and buy every Apple product because its cool – then by all means get a MBP or one of the new Intel iMac or Mini machines.  If you already have a decent G4 or G5 machine and don’t need a new laptop or machine just yet I would wait. Apple seems to be refining the Intel machines and I would expect to see lots of new systems and capabilities being shipped in the coming months.  If you’re new to the Mac but want to get one – definitely go for an Intel machine – you will be better positioned for the future of the Mac technology (though if you really need the Pro apps you should wait a while until they’re all shipping as Universal binaries).  Enjoy!

    Technology, Writing

    The Cisco/Linksys Skype Phone

    I have been playing with the CIT-200 Cisco/Linksys Skype Phone for a few months.  Its an interesting device and hopefully an example of things to come in extending Skype functionality beyond the PC/Mac or Pocket PC World.  So what is the Skype Phone?

    CIT200

    The Cisco/Linksys Skype Phone is:

    • Compatible with the Skype P2P Telephony Service
    • Compatible with Skype IN – phone calls to your Skype number (available in lots of cities/countries around the world) ring on the phone
    • Compatible with Skype OUT – most direct dial phone numbers can be called from the phone at rates as low as ~$.02/Min
    • A combination of hardware (a  USB connected Base Unit and a Wireless Handset) and software (a “shim” application that allows the USB Base Unit to interact with the Skype Software on a PC) that extends the use of Skype voice functionality beyond the PC wirelessly
    • Reliable
    • Sounds Great

    The Skype phone is not:

    • A standalone wireless handset that can utilize a home/office Wifi network to access Skype
    • Macintosh Compatible (Windows on PC Only)
    • Able to function without the PC turned on and the Skype software running
    • Able to send/recieve Skype text messages

    With that said – it is still a great implementation of what it promises to be.  The phone extends Skype voice functionality beyond the PC allowing you to use it more like a telephone. It is compatible with Skype voice chatting (including presence – you can see which of your skype contacts is online, available, etc) and works well with Skype IN and OUT provided you pay for the Skype IN/OUT services.  The phone uses the DECT protocol for its radio communications and in my testing I have had nothing but extremely clear calls that work anywhere throughout the 3 levels of my house.

    While its a great device and works well it’s still not the nirvana of Skype phones. I am still waiting for a Wifi (802.11b/g) compatible Skype phone that will allow me to use my skype account and features without the need for a PC to be running with the Skype client software.  There are several in the works and even some plans to include Skype functionality in upcoming mobile phones from company’s like Motorola.  I know that some folks are using the Pocket PC version of Skype on Smart phones with Wifi but I still consider that to be an interim solution to a real “Skype Phone”.  I will be sure to let you know when I find one!

    Technology, Writing

    FIOS Rocks!

    OK today was installation day for Verizon’s FIOS service.  There was a pretty big snow storm coming through the Boston area today so I wasn’t sure this was going to happen but the technicians arrived at 9:30AM and said we were on for today!  One of the technicians had to install the fiber drop from the pole across the street (in the snow!) and they installed a large Optical Network Terminal (ONT) on the side of the house.  Inside the house they installed a power supply, backup battery, and an RJ45 data jack.

    By Noon the technicians indicated that the data service should be functional and that they were working on moving the telephone lines from copper to fiber.  The technicians both admitted that they had never installed a 30M/5M FIOS connection before, and neither had ever performed an installation with static IP addresses.  I told them if they could get me info on the IPs, Gateway and DNS I should be able to do the rest.  They were able to call a colleague and get my IP Address block, default gateway and DNS information.  All I had to do was plug my corporate firewall into the data jack conveniently labeled with FIOS and I had connectivity. I fired up my browser, connected to the speakeasy.net speed test site and ran a speed test against their NYC and DC servers.  Performance was a BLAZING 27.8Mbps download speed and 4.5Mbps upload (latency is also excellent but I will do more testing on that in the future)!

    Bandwidth!

    The phone line install has been mixed.  The business and fax lines were eventually moved to the fiber successfully after being put on the wrong cable pairs within the house.  However as of 8:30PM Scott’s residential line still had no dialtone (Verizon said there was some problem processing the order to move his line and they were still working on it).

     Synpopsis:

    • FIOS is FAST! Probably the fastest internet connection available without going to a DS-3 or OC type circuit which are prohibitively expensive.
    • FIOS is a good deal.  $389.95/Month for 30M/5M service with static IP addresses (residential service is MUCH cheaper but Verizon blocks ports 80, 25, etc so you cant run your own servers on the non-business service).
    • The Technicians are pleasant and helpful but they’re not properly trained on Business Class FIOS services.
    • There are glitches in the order process.  My order for the service took several days to get into the system because Verizon’s system thought some of our phone numbers were eligible for Fiber and some weren’t (even though they were all installed in the same house!).  The problems with getting Scott’s line working on the fiber also seem related to glitches in the system that determine what lines can be moved to fiber.
    • Did I mention Its FAST?!?!.  Verizon seems to have invested heavily in their infrastructure and backbone network.  Throughput is as close to the possible maximum available as I would expect and latency is excellent (tested with SSH, Telnet and also looking at traceroute timings). Downloading a CD-ROM Image (~600MB) took about 3 minutes.

    If you’re lucky enough to live in a location served by Verizon’s Fiber To The Premises (FTTP) service named FIOS and like having lots of bandwidth order away!

    Technology, Writing

    VOIP – The Plunge is Complete

    My residential line is now fully converted to VOIP. After clearing my home phone of some RingMate numbers (distinctive ring numbers from Verizon) I initiated a port request with Galaxy Voice by faxing in a Letter of Authorization. Approximately 5 business days later they informed me by e-mail that the port was complete. I verified that my residential line went dead and the number was now ringing on the VOIP line.

    Some interesting items of note:

    • Sound quality is excellent. Virtually indistinguishable from the land-line it replaced.
    • I had a couple of glitches completing a call to the UK. After re-trying later it worked fine though.
    • When I call people they get my phone # on their caller ID but no name (this isnt such a bad thing!).
    • Im loving the ability to tweak my features/settings via the web.
    • The VOIP line is FREE!

    Bottom line: Im glad I did this. I was paying $60/Month for a land line that I rarely used. This has been replaced with a free line with more features. For $20/Mo. I can get unlimited calling to just about anywhere I care to call (US plus about 20 countries). 911 supposedly works (hopefully I never get to test it) – however I am still glad I have some traditional land lines in the house for my business. I don’t think I would be totally comfortable having VOIP as my exclusive phone service – Im just not totally trusting of the public Internet when it comes to 100% reliability. A land line phone just works when you need it.