Blog of a Long Distance Worker Tech

The blog about mobile tech for the mobile worker/consultant

Blog of a Long Distance Worker Tech - The blog about mobile tech for the mobile worker/consultant

Dead Netbooks … what is a netbook anyway

Asus PC701 4G NetbookI first started this blog around the time that the first netbooks appeared, and I must say I went with them in much gusto. I went quickly through the little 7″ Asus eeePC, through MSI devices and the Asus Seashell line. They were very good, ultralight laptops that did the job for me. One thing though did impact their success and that was the artificial limitations that people placed on them, through limiting them to 1GB RAM or the 1024×600 pixel screen. Now it seems that people are pronouncing them as dead…

Netbooks – those compact, underpowered, inexpensive notebook PCs once hailed as the future of mobile computing – are set to disappear from retailer shelves in 2013, as the last remaining manufacturers of the devices prepare to exit the market.

via 2012: The year that netbooks DIED • The Register.

In some ways this article (and others) are right in that Netbooks in their limited form are dead. However the original intention of these devices was to create a small, low cost, lightweight and effective portable computing device and it is in this respect that they have had a major success. Laptops in 2007 were big, heavy devices with limited battery life that cost upwards of £600. Today laptops are lighter, with much longer battery life, and cost between £300 and £500. Additionally back in 2007, the screen size that people craved for was 15″ whereas it is now 13″ or even below.

Netbooks, in my view, are not dead. They have evolved and what we call a laptop today is in fact a Netbook evolved away from artificial limitations of stupid low memory or low pixel number screens. Maybe one of the reasons that I found the netbook so useful is that I made use of upgrades on the hardware and software to make them ultralight laptops. Hey the Ultrabook and Sleekbooks are their logical conclusions in my view.

Asus S200ELong live the netbook as it is today, a small and ultralight, reasonably powerful, long battery lifed laptop… like my Asus 1225B and my Asus S200E devices.

Where are the HD Screens?

I had hoped to see a full HD screen on an 11.6″ laptop by now and I have … sort of. On an Android Tablet. I can only agree with Linus Torvalds…

Now a £300 slate carries that resolution, theres no excuse, he argues

via Linus Torvalds calls for 2560 x 1600 laptops | Techwatch Tech News.

At least, when we are talking about a reasonable price point for that HD screen they are missing. There are HD and above screens on laptops but these top £1000 to £1500, a price range that I must say is not realistic. It looks like I will be putting off a new laptop purchase into the new year, when the price points will be down in the £600 area.

Free Airport WiFi

It looks like the business traveller is starting to get good levels of Internet access when transitioning through airports in Europe… at least in Ireland.

Eircom and Dublin Airport Authority are to begin offering free unlimited Wi-Fi at Dublin Airport for all users without registration

via Eircom deploys unlimited ‘free’ Wi-Fi at Dublin Airport – Ireland’s communications news service – Siliconrepublic.com.

This one is unlimited, but a perfectly good service is also available from Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, where KPN is offering 2 x 30 minutes of WiFi access that is great for Internet browsing and email.

We can only dream of this spreading throughout every European main airport (and even beyond).

Passport (un)control

We all are now acquiring RFID based ‘secure’ passports which are supposed to increase the security of our flying experience. Others have gone on about how these passports have actually given a false sense of security and in some respects have reduced the security of getting into and out of the country but this post is not about that.

I have now transitioned to one of these through an extremely annoying and overly expensive experience with the modern ‘passport office’ which has given me a chance to use one of the automated passport checking services on one of my regular trips. To be precise, I have used it twice. The first use simply failed to work at all despite multiple retries over a three minute period before I was ushered through the normal manual method. As I was travelling with a colleague with an old style passport, I came through to find him waiting after passing through the long queue on the old style person at a desk method. I put that down to a one off event.

The next time was also when travelling with a colleague so we could measure the effectiveness and efficiency again. This time I can say it worked without retries, although it still took almost 2 minutes to get through the face recognition and passport reading process, and still my colleague was found waiting for me at the other side despite there being a large queue on the manual approach. So in conclusion the RFID and Facial recognition mechanism is too slow and clumsy to ever work more quickly or even at the same speed as a person processing you.

So this is just a bad experience? No, it is demonstration of government inefficiency and waste with appalling technology choices. After all, I operate facial recognition to unlock my Android tablet (with blink detection) which operates in less than two seconds compared to the almost 1 minute that the facial recognition at passport control took to do EXACTLY the same thing with a better error rate. So much for picking the contractor with the lowest bid rather than the one that can actually do the job. Thankfully the British Government doesn’t put men in space (to their certain death).

Next time I will pick the queue to see the nice people at the desks and I recommend you do to :-)

Essential Cloud Services for the Mobile Worker

I loved this post by Laptopmag, mainly because I use so many of them…

You’re almost to the office and realize you left your presentation on the laptop at home and have no choice but to turn around. You end up 15 minutes late and without coffee for the boss since you entered the task into Outlook but nowhere else. If the above scenarios don’t sound like fun, there are a number of available tools to help sync your life. When you update something on one device, it will automatically change everywhere else. You’ll always have the most current to-do list and web bookmarks, and all your important files will always be in the palm of your hand. Once you get started syncing your life, you’ll wonder how you survived before.

via 8 Essential Cloud Services to Sync Your Life.

I use Evernote (instead of Simplenote), Chrome sync (instead of Xmarks), Google Calendar through my Corporate mail (it is hosted Google Apps for Domains), Google Drive (as for Calendar), Dropbox (as some stuff just syncs better with this than with Drive), Remember the Milk, Lastpass (not Keepass) with a sync’d file in Google Drive, but not Amazon Wishlist. What do you use?

Multi-Device Enablers or how Steve Wozniak can work

I saw the post on Engadget showing what Steve Wozniak carries around in his backpack.

Steve Wozniak reveals contents of his backpack, has a lot of stuff — Engadget.

It brought to mind that the reason he can do this is because of the deft application of cloud services in the modern nomenclature. He does not have to worry about which device he has because they all support Exchange Activesync for mail, calendars and contacts, or at worst a combination of IMAP4 and iCal/vCal.

As a mobile worker, I pride myself now that I can have multiple devices kept perfectly in sync or, more spectacularly, I can be back up and running within an hour for the bulk of my live data on a new machine or one of my spares. One thing though… I am definitely not as extreme as the Woz.

Ultrabooks are go!

Just like netbooks before them, it seems that Ultrabooks have caught the public need just right for an ultralight, reasonably powerful laptop that does not cost a fortune. These laptops though are not chasing a loss, they are there to make money for the companies concerned, unlike netbooks before them. I cannot wait for the Ultrabook that has a 1920×1080 pixel resolution in an 11.6″ package (my dream machine!)

We’ve seen so much Ultrabook news recently we’re beginning to think they’re catching on. Market research firm the NPD Group has stepped in to confirm our suspicions, reporting a 39 percent jump in sales of premium Windows laptops (900 bucks and up) during the first five months of this year, compared with the same period in 2011.

http://www.engadget.com/2012/06/29/ultrabook-sales-up/

 

Google Apps for Domains Problems for the Enterprise and Business

Google Apps for DomainsIn my business we are a heavy Google Apps for Domains user with several domains setup, some business and some free. I moved across from hosted Exchange a few years ago and everything has been pretty great until the last few weeks which caused me to question whether Google Apps for Domains was suited to Business in general.

The start of my problem was the in my use of Google Sync for Outlook, a tool that gives almost native desktop integration for the Google mail features. This has worked great and I noticed no problems until about three weeks ago I noticed that my laptop was sucking battery and ran hot all the time that Outlook was open. A little investigation found that the Sync of Notes was always running and syncing despite the fact that I don’t use the Notes feature of Outlook or Google at all (I prefer Evernote). Further checks found that I had a significant amount of Notes that I discovered was actually all of my .txt files that I had stored in Google Docs/Drive (I use Google Drive desktop sync and Insync to sync my main files, something I had added a load of files to about three weeks previously). The penny dropped, that because Google Apps Sync for Outlook syncs all ‘notes’ found in Google Docs to Outlook, all of the many text files (many GB by the way) that I sync were between machines and the cloud using Insync were also being synchronised into my Google Mail and because there were many GBs, it was taking a very long time and killing my laptops in the meantime.

I had to stop the synchronisation of Notes and contacted Google Apps Enterprise support for help (because I could not find anything online about how to do it). Their response was sort of expected and not expected… Google Notes sync is beta and the disabling of the sync was not supported. The last point is the killer for me, and what led me to think that Google has a big problem. They activated without my control a Beta feature (Notes Sync) but don’t provide a single way for me (a Live user) to disable a Beta feature, at least they don’t support it! Not Enterprise friendly and that has to change Google.

Anyway, they did provide some ‘unsupported’ registry settings to disable it in the end, so fine I used the settings but unfortunately it did not work – in fact the modifications were supposed to allow me to disable the sync of one or all features of Google Sync for Outlook but NONE of the changes did anything. I contacted Google again but their response was that they could not provide support on the unsupported registry modifications and I was ON MY OWN! Not friendly at all, they effectively hung me out to dry to a problem caused by their enforcement of the use of a Beta feature AND providing a fix that simply did nothing. Google, you have a problem right there in the use of your services with the Enterprise and you need to fix it right now. Don’t deploy Beta features without the ability to enable/disable them, and don’t leave businesses high and dry without a resolution caused by your own ineptitude otherwise you will LOSE to everyone else. I had to consider stepping back from Google Apps for Domains, back to a traditional hosted Exchange solution before I found the fix (we also considered stepping back from Google Docs/Drive as a smaller step).

Anyway, for those who need the fix I hunted over several nights through multiple Google Groups looking for a solution and finally found it, but that was no thanks to Google. For those who are looking to be able to enable or disable individual syncs in Google Sync for Outlook you need to modify the follow the instructions:

1. Go to http://support.google.com/a/bin/answer.py?answer=1041455 , go to Enable/Disable Import Options.

2. Follow Step 1 to Create the “SyncFlagsEnabled” value with DWORD value set to 1.

3. Skip Step 2 because it is redundant to what you want to do

4. Follow Step 3 for each of the services you wish to control (NotesSync in my instance) but add the following to the registry key for the service:
registry key:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Google\Google Apps Sync\NotesSync

Modify HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Google\Google Apps Sync\TasksSync by adding the following DWORD Values: 
DWORD Value: UploadEnabled 
Modify the DWORD Value as follows: 
Set the Value data = 0 

DWORD Value: DownloadEnabled 
Modify the DWORD Value as follows: 
Set the Value data = 0

All I then had to do was remove the almost 3GB of notes from my Notes folder and then compact my PST to get everything back to where it needs to be, and then go an provide a registry import for these settings to provide to all of my users so that they don’t have the same problem of the laptop whizzing about synchronising a whole load of nothing, using processor and bandwidth a plenty. All I need to do now is watch Google for the next Enterprise mess up with Google Sync for Outlook.

Changes afoot with mobile data?

Speeding off into the distance on the train

Time was that I either had to hunt out the Wifi or figure out how to get a local SIM or take a roaming SIM with me, to get connectivity when travelling overseas. This still is the case right now for PC usage in the main, but there are changes afoot caused by the EU restricting what mobile providers can charge for roaming data for mobile phone usage. Some providers like Vodafone had already made some changes and offered 25MB of data a day for £2 per day (and £1 per MB after that), and now O2 in the UK is also making changes which seems to offer exactly the same thing.

In the spirit of these changes, I signed up for a Vodafone SIM (O2 does not makes its changes for month or two more, and they are my home network) and inserted it into a little Android unlocked mobile phone I have, and suitably added some credit. By default, the £2 for 25MB data is activated on PAYG/Pre-pay SIMs so I was ready to go. Rather helpfully the Android phone offers a 3G data usage tracker that is easily accessible from the notification drop down, so I could keep track of my usage as I went.

I set off on my travels by train this morning and ended up in Belgium, where I turned the phone on for the first time. I then began using the phone for email pickup, some very light twitter use, a look at Facebook once and about five Foursquare checkins covering me from Brussels to the border with Luxembourg… and then all of a sudden I had used half of my allowance. I had been careful to turn off my data every single time I stopped using it so that there was no ‘leakage’ from the phone. Then I arrived at my destination and a single check (unsuccessfully) on Google Maps took me to 23MB of my 25MB and then I turned it off because even at £1 per MB, charges would rack up pretty quickly at that rate.

So all in all, I am glad that some new tariffs are coming through however they do not reflect anyone’s usage of a smartphone and I hope that things will go further still in enforcing a reduction in the ‘banditry’ that is roaming mobile data very soon. 25MB for one day is insufficient for ANYONE, who really wants to use a smartphone in a realistic way, how about 100MB or even 150MB for £2 for one day? That would be a little more realistic for £2 and not the £125+ that it would cost today on Vodafone PAYG (note that would be £450 on my CURRENT O2 tariff).