Tag Archives: computer

Windows MCE Remote + Windows Media Center + Media Browser

I hooked up my old computer to the TV in the living room to watch downloaded movies and TV. For a very long time, I used it like a normal computer with keyboard and mouse. However the typical computer user interface is not designed for a dad holding a baby. I need a more user friendly solution to use the computer on the TV. I bought this generic made-in-China Windows MCE remote on eBay for $12. Any MCE remote properly works or less the same. I like this one because it is cheap and I can control the mouse cursor and buttons through the remote.

The MCE remote works with the Windows Media Center (WMC) comes with Windows 7 installation. It is pretty much a full screen media library browser and multi-media player. WMC on its own is pretty useless other than showing baby photos. With the help of just a few plug-ins and free software, I can turned my download library into something looks like Netflix.

First, I installed K-Lite Codec Pack, both the 32 bit and 64 bit version, since WMC in runs 64 bits. This Codec allow me to play pretty much any media files inside WMC. Then I installed Media Browser, so WMC can display files in my media library. The WMC built-in movie library only recognize Microsoft file formats and ripped DVDs. However, it can only display the filenames and directory by default. It does not know which file is what movie. To add the final touch, I ran Media Scout to set up the metadata for my media files. It pulls the movie title, description, poster and all sorts of information from imdb.

Now I can sit back and relax in the couch, browse my movie library at ease while holding the baby with one hand.

Crucial M4 SSD (256MB with data transfer kit)

I just upgrade my old computer with a SSD drive and 16GB of RAM. It is the best upgrade I have ever had, I feel like getting a new computer. My 2 years old i5 is performing faster than a brand new i7 with old fashion hard drive. After installing the SSD, Windows boot up in less than 20 seconds, much faster compare to 2-3 minutes before I got the SSD.

The Crucial M4 SSD got a very good rating from Tom’s Hardware SSD review. Although it is slightly slower than Intel or Samsung, but it deliver the best value for the money. Actually, there isn’t much noticeable difference in all the latest generation SSD from the big brand names. Most of them use the same controller from Sanforce and the same NAND flash technology. I bought the Crucial M4 only because it is on sales at NCIX.

I am too lazy to reinstall my Windows, so I bought a SSD big enough to copy all the files of the OS and the installed programs. My SSD comes with a data transfer kit, it is just a USB to SATA cable with the hard drive imaging software. You cannot just copy the files from your old HDD to SSD directly, because SSD use 4k partition. The transfer is pretty simple, shrink my original hard drive to less than 256MB by moving music and video files elsewhere, then run the program to clone the remaining files. With the USB transfer kit, I can make sure the is new SSD is alive before I open the case and messing around with cables.

Windows 7 boots up without any trouble in the new SSD. However, my Windows was installed on a HDD, I have to change a few settings to optimize the OS for SSD following the easy steps in SSD Optimization Guide. The general idea is pretty simple. SSD is flash memory, it has a limited write life cycle, so you have to limited unnecessary write operations to extend its life span. For example, the optimization includes disable disk defrag utilities, get more RAM and turn off the page swap file, enable TRIM to mark delete data, move the indexing file to a HDD, etc.

I am very happy with the new SSD. My computer is running lightening fast. If you haven’t got a SSD, I strongly encourage to get one. Price of SSD had fallen a lot in the past year, it is now within an affordable range. Upgrading to a SDD will be the best upgrade to your computer ever, you will get more performance than any other upgrade.

LapGear Deluxe Computer LapDesk

Since I have hooked up my old computer to my big screen TV in the living room, I have been facing a problem, how can I use the wireless keyboard while sitting comfortably in the couch. If I put the keyboard on my lap, I have to sit up tight or the keyboard will move around. Moreover, the position of the keyboard is too low to type and there is no place for the mouse. An alternatively solution is put the keyboard and mouse on the coffee table, but I then can’t lay back on the couch and defeat the purpose of setting up the computer in the first place.

Then I come across the LapGear Deluxe Computer LapDesk in Staples when it’s on sales for $24.99. The LapDesk is very comfortable, it has micro-bean pad on the bottom and the lap desk sits comfortably and stable on my lap. It has a large surface big enough for the wireless keyboard and a mouse. It also come with mouse pad on both side for right handed and left handed mouse users. It has two small pockets to store the mouse and some pens. Now I can sit back and relax on my crouch while I am surfing the net on my big screen TV.

In fact the LapDesk is so comfortable that when my friends visiting my place who has a similar setup at home, not one but two friends like it so much that they went out to buy one for themselves.

Product website

My New Computer

I have being using my old computer for almost 4 years, it is about time to retire. It took me a while to put together the specification for my new computer. The new branding scheme of Intel processors is very confusing. I had to read a lot to understand what’s the difference between i3, i5 and i7. At the end, I figure that I don’t really need hyper-threading, so I am OK with a quad core i5.

I picked i5 760 based on the review on Tom’s Hardware. It suppose to give me the most bang for the buck. I picked a medium range graphics card, AMD 5750, base on Tom’s review as well. I do not play much games so I don’t need a high end graphics card and save my budget. I am big fans of Asus motherboard, I forgot how long I have been choosing Asus, probably since high school days when I built my own computer. I got a Asus P7P55D-E which support RAID, SATA3 and USB3. Motherboard is something too much trouble to upgrade, so I better pick one that can address the need in the next few years.

Since I got a SATA3 motherboard, I get a Western Digital SATA3 hard drive as well. It seems SATA3 is still pretty new, WD is the only manufacturer has SATA3 offering. I settle for a 1TB hard drive since I can reuse my two 500GB SATA2 hard drive, run a RAID0 and turn it into another 1TB hard drive. My computer has 2TB internal disk space, plus an external 1TB hard drive for backup, that makes it 3TB in total. Moreover, hard drive is pretty easy to upgrade in the future if I need more disk space. I also have another 2TB backup drive connect to my router and three hard drives with a total of 800GB in my old computer. I have almost 6TB of storage in my house.

I go cheap on RAM this time and only got 4GB. The moment I installed Windows 7 and virtual PC, I regretted my decision and wish I had bought more RAM. My major concern is there is virtually no 4GB dimm on the market. If I want to get 8GB of RAM, I will have to buy 4x2GB dimm and used up all my RAM slot in the motherboard. I will just wait a bit and get another 8GB of RAM when 4GB dimm is more common.

I was talked into getting a pretty good computer case. I used to get the cheaper case on sales, but this time I got a Fractal Design R3 computer case. It looks really cool with the shinny pearl black look. Other than the looking good, it is very functional. It has air filter to prevent dust building up inside the case. All screws of the case has padding so the case is very quiet, it won’t have the annoying humming sound when the parts gets loose. The internal design is very smart, the opening of the hard drive bay turned 90 degree and facing up instead of facing the mother board. The wiring is a lot more tidy and make changing hard drive very easy. I keep my old mouse and keyboard, but I get rid of my old 4.1 speakers and get a pair stereo speakers. My old 4.1 speakers just has too many wires.

I have to install drivers and software for both my new and old computer. I reformatted my old computer and put it in living room using the LED TV as a super size monitor. It is nice to have a second computer in the living room so I can use the living room space as well. The two computers are hooked connected in home network and all the hard drives are mapped. I set up VNC for them so I can control one machine from another. The living room computer is connected to my Wii USB hard drive, so I can use it to transfer downloaded Wii games. Setting up my two computers took up all my free time in the past 2 weeks, that’s why I am really falling behind in my blog update. The old computer is up and running with essential software, I can focus in finishing setting up my new computer, so my life can go back to normal.

Google vs Microsoft vs Apple

Who will dominate the computer industry and the up-coming cloud computing in the future? I want Google to win, but I think Microsoft is very likely to come out on top again, just like it did many times before. Apple could be a dark horse, but the question is can it survive on its own without Steven Jobs.

Oct 15th 2009 – The Economist
The launch of Windows 7 marks the end of an era in computing—and the beginning of an epic battle between Microsoft, Google, Apple and others

DO YOU have plans for next weekend? If not, don’t worry: perhaps a friend will be throwing a party to celebrate the launch of Windows 7, Microsoft’s new operating system, on October 22nd. You’ll get help installing the program and be shown how to use the new features. To maximise the fun, your friend will get tips from the “HostingYourParty” video on YouTube or go to the dedicated website, complete with downloadable party favours and a trivia quiz (sample question: “The Microsoft Pretzel Hunt is an annual pretzel hunt held at the Redmond campus. True or false?”).

This is not satire. It is a toe-curling attempt by Microsoft to create some buzz for its new software. Fortunately for the firm, it will hardly matter, because Microsoft dominates the market for operating systems. After the let-down that was its predecessor, Windows Vista, Windows 7 is certain to be a success. There is plenty of pent-up demand, because Vista’s aged predecessor, XP, is still widely used. Reviews of Windows 7 have been positive, some even glowing, although the software is sometimes hard to install.

Windows 7 is not just a sizeable step for Microsoft. It is also likely to mark the end of one era in information technology and the start of another. Much of computing will no longer be done on personal computers in homes and offices, but in the “cloud”: huge data centres housing vast storage systems and hundreds of thousands of servers, the powerful machines that dish up data over the internet. Web-based e-mail, social networking and online games are all examples of what are increasingly called cloud services, and are accessible through browsers, smart-phones or other “client” devices. Because so many services can be downloaded or are available online, Windows 7 is Microsoft’s first operating system to come with fewer features.

The launch of Windows 7 coincides with the closing of the book, after more than a decade, on Microsoft’s antitrust woes. The company got into hot water in America and Europe mainly for abusing its dominance of PC operating systems to promote its web browser. On October 7th the European Commission said it had all but reached a settlement with Microsoft. The firm has agreed to give Windows users in Europe a “ballot screen” that allows them to choose a rival browser in place of its own Internet Explorer.

Windows is not going to disappear soon, but cloud computing means it is no longer so important. Other products, some being launched this autumn with less fanfare than Windows 7, represent Microsoft’s future. Last month the company opened two data centres that between them will contain more than half a million servers. This month it released a new version of Windows for smart-phones. And next month it will launch Azure, a platform for developers on which they can write and run cloud services.

The rise of cloud computing is not just shifting Microsoft’s centre of gravity. It is changing the nature of competition within the computer industry. Technological developments have hitherto pushed computing power away from central hubs: first from mainframes to minicomputers, and then to PCs. Now a combination of ever cheaper and more powerful processors, and ever faster and more ubiquitous networks, is pushing power back to the centre in some respects, and even further away in others. The cloud’s data centres are, in effect, outsize public mainframes. At the same time, the PC is being pushed aside by a host of smaller, often wireless devices, such as smart-phones, netbooks (small laptops) and, perhaps soon, tablets (touch-screen computers the size of books).

Although Windows still runs 90% of PCs, the fading importance of the PC means that Microsoft is no longer an all-powerful monopolist. Others are also building big clouds, including Google, a giant of the internet, and Apple, renowned as a maker of hardware, with a market capitalisation that now exceeds those of both Google and IBM, its original arch-rival (see chart above).

Granted, there are hundreds if not thousands of firms offering cloud services—web-based applications living in data centres, such as music sites or social networks. But Microsoft, Google and Apple play in a different league. Each has its own global network of data centres. They intend to offer not just one or two services, but whole suites of them, with services including e-mail, address books, storage, collaboration tools and business applications. They are also vying to dominate the periphery, either by developing software for smart-phones and other small devices or by making such devices themselves.

These three giants (for their vital statistics, see table) are already preparing for battle. In July Google mounted a direct attack on Windows by promising to launch a free PC operating system, Chrome OS. Rumour has it that a basic version may hit the market on the same day as Windows 7, or soon after. Microsoft’s new operating system for smart-phones represents its latest effort to catch up with Apple’s iPhone and Google’s operating system for handsets, called Android. On October 12th Apple and Google severed a tie when Arthur Levinson, a member of both boards, resigned from Google’s. In August Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, had quit Apple’s board because “Google is entering more of Apple’s core businesses,” in the words of Steve Jobs, the gadget-maker’s boss.
A taxonomy of giants

Despite the growing similarities among the three, each is a unique beast, says Michael Cusumano, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. They can be classified according to how they approach the cloud, how they make money and how openly they approach the development of intellectual property.

Google, you might say, has been a cloud company since its birth in 1998. It is best known for its search service, but now offers all sorts of other products and services, too. It has built a global network of three dozen data centres with 2m servers, say some estimates. Among other things, it offers a suite of web-based applications, such as word processing and spreadsheets. Lately it has branched out, releasing Android for phones, and its Chrome web-browser and operating system for PCs.

It took Google a while to come up with a way of making money, but it found one in advertising, its main source of revenue. It handles more than 75% of search-related ads in America. Worldwide its share is even higher. Google is also trying to make money from selling services to companies. On October 12th it said that Rentokil Initial, a pest-control-to-parcel-delivery group, would roll out Google’s online applications to its 35,000 employees, making it the biggest company to do so.

Google’s reliance on advertising explains its open approach to intellectual property. Giving Android and Chrome OS away as open-source software not only makes life difficult for rivals’ paid-for products but also increases demand for Google’s services and the reach of its ads. Its openness has limits: Google says little about the architecture of its data centres and search algorithms, because they give the company its competitive edge. The way it organises R&D internally is open and decentralised: self-organising teams come up with ideas for most new services.

If Google was born in the sky, Microsoft started on the ground. Office, its bestselling suite of PC programs, is almost as ubiquitous as Windows. But the company is less a stranger to cloud computing than it may seem. It has built a network of data centres, and is starting to gain traction after losing billions developing online services. Its Xbox games console has powerful online features. Bing, its new search engine, has gained a shade in market share (though it is still miles behind Google). It is even preparing a stripped-down web-based version of Office, and it now offers much of its business software as online services.

However, most of Microsoft’s revenue and all of its profit still come from conventional shrink-wrapped software. But the company cannot leave online advertising to Google, because consumers expect cloud services to be free, financed by ads. Hence Microsoft’s efforts to convince Yahoo!, another online giant, to merge its search and part of its advertising business with Microsoft’s. The deal, sealed in July, means that Microsoft will handle 10% of searches, against Google’s 83%, says Net Applications, a market-research firm.

Given Microsoft’s history, it is hardly surprising that its treatment of intellectual property differs from Google’s. It gives other software firms the technical information they need to write programs that run on, say, Windows. Otherwise, it guards the underlying recipes of its software jealously. That said, the firm now supports many open standards and has even started using bits of open-source software. Internally, its R&D is somewhat more centralised than Google, at least in its online division: teams are bigger, work with more co-ordination and get more guidance from above.

Apple, too, came from outside the cloud. Online services have always been a bit of an afterthought to what the company excels at: pricey but highly innovative bundles of hardware and software, of which the iPhone is only the latest example. Its online offerings—the iTunes store for music and video, the App Store for mobile applications, and MobileMe, a suite of online services—were all originally meant to drive demand for Apple’s hardware, but the firm’s interest in the cloud has grown. It is building a $1 billion data centre, possibly the world’s largest, in North Carolina.

Still, Apple’s financial health thus far has depended mainly on selling hardware. Gadgets generate most of the firm’s revenue and profit. The firm does not reveal its revenue from services separately, but it is not to be sneezed at. Apple accounts for 69% of online music sales in America and 35% of all sales, more than Wal-Mart, reckons NPD Group, a market-research firm. Apple has so far forgone advertising revenue: its services are ad-free, but most of them require payment. Apple’s services are aimed at consumers, not businesses.
Illustration by Ian Whadcock

Apple is also the odd one out when it comes to openness. The word does not appear in its vocabulary. It does not allow any other hardware-maker to build machines using its operating system. It blocks iPhone applications it does not approve of from appearing in the App Store. Apple is also secretive about the way it conducts its internal R&D. Mr Jobs clearly calls most of the shots. But insiders say that there is a system of teams that pitch projects to him.

How will this three-way contest play out? The last similar war was in the 1980s and early 1990s, when Apple, IBM and Microsoft fought for mastery of the PC. After much fire and smoke, Microsoft was victorious. Thanks to what economists call strong network effects, which allow winners to take almost all, Windows relegated its rival operating systems to mere sideshows, securing fat profits for its owner.

Such a lopsided result is unlikely this time. One reason is that the economics of the cloud may be different from those of the PC. Network effects are unlikely to be as strong. Much of the cloud is based on open standards, which should make it easier to switch providers. To underline this point and to counter arguments that it is trying to lock users in, Google has set up the Data Liberation Front, a team of engineers whose job is to devise ways of allowing people to transfer their data.

Unfortunately for Google, it is equally unclear whether the most open player will win, as Microsoft did last time. Many of Google’s new services have failed to take off. Having control over the software on the PC, smart-phones and other client devices, Microsoft can more easily create what it calls “seamless experiences”, for example by keeping a user’s address book and other personal information in step. Consumers may also prefer Apple’s tightly integrated, easy-to-use devices and services, despite the restrictions they impose. Lots of people buy iPods and download music from iTunes even though it is difficult to play the songs on other devices.

Second, all three giants have reliable sources of cash to sustain them. Windows may be under attack, not least because of the boom in cheap netbooks, which has forced Microsoft to reduce prices, says Matt Rosoff of Directions on Microsoft, a newsletter. Even so, the operating system will keep on giving for some time. Microsoft has other strong divisions too, including business and server software. Google may lose some market share in search (and some advertising) to the combination of Bing and Yahoo!, but it is unlikely to be dethroned. Apple is still able to command premium prices, although others make hardware just as slick.
Full war chests

This means that all three will have ample resources to spend in the main areas of the fight: data centres, cloud services and the periphery. In data centres, Google is ahead, but Microsoft is catching up in size and sophistication. Apple has most to learn, but this, too, seems only a question of time and money. Just as much of hardware has become a commodity, knowing how to build huge data centres may not be a big competitive advantage for long. And data centres can get only so big before scale ceases to be an advantage.

In services too, Google is ahead. But in Bing Microsoft may at last have created a worthy rival. The “decision engine”, to use the company’s term, does a good job of helping people choose a new camera or book a holiday. The big question is whether Apple can catch up. Its iTunes and App stores are successes, to be sure, but for now they are highly specialised. Its broader suite of cloud services, MobileMe, is nothing to write home about.

At the cloud’s periphery, however, Apple has a strong position, thanks to the success of the iPhone. More than 30m have been sold so far, 5.2m in the quarter ending in June. Its share of the American market is pushing 14%. The App Store now boasts 85,000 applications and a total of more than 2 billion downloads. But recently Google’s Android has gained momentum. Several handset-makers have released smart-phones based on it, or will do so in the next few months. In early October it received the backing of Verizon, America’s biggest mobile operator. At the end of 2012, predicts Gartner, a market-research firm, Android phones will have a bigger share of the market than iPhones.

Microsoft’s mobile strategy, though, is in disarray. This could prove to be a serious weakness, as people increasingly use mobile devices to reach online services. Plans to build smart-phones of its own seem to be going nowhere. Its music player, Zune, will remain just that, Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s boss, said recently. Pink, a project to develop phones based on technology from Danger, a start-up acquired by Microsoft in 2008, is said to face death by cancellation—even more likely after Danger lost personal data belonging to tens of thousands of its customers earlier this month. And the latest version of Windows Mobile is no match for the iPhone and Android. Some handset-makers, including Motorola, have ditched the software.

However, as with Bing, Microsoft has only recently been getting serious. It has put Windows Mobile under new management. Another version is expected by the end of 2010. Some analysts fancy Microsoft’s chances. According to iSuppli, a market-research firm, “Reports of Windows Mobile’s death are greatly exaggerated.”

What could disrupt the three-sided struggle? The antitrust authorities, possibly. Now that Microsoft has made peace, the other two are likelier targets. Most observers imagine Google would be first, pointing to the hullabaloo caused by a settlement with book publishers that allows Google to create a vast digital library. But Apple may beat Google to the dock. The firm’s tight control over its technology is no problem in markets where its share is small (in PCs, it is a mere 7.2%). But in mobile applications and digital music distribution Apple is by far the market leader. America’s Federal Communications Commission is looking into its refusal to carry Google Voice, a telephony and messaging application for the iPhone. Its bar on rivals’ devices connecting to iTunes may cause trouble too. Tellingly, Apple recently hired a lawyer with antitrust experience: Bruce Sewell, the former general counsel of Intel, the world’s biggest chipmaker, which the European Commission wants to pay a fine of more than €1 billion ($1.5 billion) for abusing its dominance.

Then there are market forces. One of the three may come up with something “insanely great”, an expression used at Apple in times past to describe the original Macintosh computer. Apple itself may do so with a tablet computer, rumoured to be ready for release as early as January. Others have built such a dream device, but none has yet overcome the problem of input: typing on a screen is difficult and handwriting recognition has never really worked. If Apple has cracked it, it could upend the PC industry, as the iPhone did the handset market. If the tablet is also a good substitute for paper, the publishing and newspaper industries could be in for more upheaval. The blogosphere is abuzz with rumours that Apple is talking to publishers about offering their content on its device.

The final possibility is for another contender to emerge. The obvious candidates are Amazon, the world’s biggest online retailer, and Facebook, the leading social network. Amazon already has a cloud of sorts. It offers cloud computing services to other online firms and has developed the Kindle, an electronic reader, which is due to be available worldwide from October 19th. Facebook runs what is arguably the most successful cloud service, with more than 300m registered users. It provides a platform for people to communicate, share information and collaborate online—all things that businesses want to do, too.

Only one thing seems sure about the future of the digital skies: the company or companies that dominate it will be American. European or Asian firms have yet to make much of an appearance in cloud computing. Nokia, the world’s biggest handset-maker, is trying to form a cloud with its set of online services called Ovi, but its efforts are still in their infancy. Governments outside America may harbour ambitious plans for state-funded clouds. They would do better simply to let their citizens make the most of the competition among the American colossi.

Consolidate hard drive.

My Lasallian bought me a Seagate 1TG external hard drive as a wedding gift.  It is a prefect gift for me because I can consume any amount of hard drive space I lay my hand on with all my downloaded mp3, anime and movies.  I already have many hard drives at home.  My main computer has a 300GB drive for Windows and Applications, two RAID-1 500GB drive to store backup data, two RAID-0 120GB (240GB) for download and nobackup data.  I have two 300GB eSATA and 200GB IDE external hard drive for data backup.  On top of it, my secondary computer has a 300GB drive.  In total, I have almost 3.5TB raw hard drive space in total!

It is time to consolidate my hard drive space and use them more effeciently.  I plan to donate my secondary computer away, since Pat’s place has last space.  It is a waste give away the good 300GB drive, so I will swap it with the old 200GB IDE.  That leaves me with two 300GB drive.  I will replace the RAID-0 stack with the two 300GB drive, then swap a 120GB to the external drive for mobile use.  I am still thinking should I re-image the two 500 GB drive into a 1TB drive.  Maybe I should keep it this way to provide extra redundency for my most important data, namely my documents, my photos and my mp3s.  This will leave me with a 120GB SATA drive without a host.   Anyone wants a old 120GB hard drive?