One of the most annoying things about buying a new computer is all of the trial software you will have to deal with. You know all of those, “Try our security program for 90 days! And then we’ll annoy you to subscribe for an eternity!” Sure you can remove it all, but it’s a pain. Don’t you wish you could buy a computer that didn’t come with any of that stuff? Well, there is a solution, and it’s called the Dell Vostro line.

Last night I ran into an old acquittance while I was out shopping, and he started telling me about his computer woes. He had been out shopping that day for a new computer and was lamenting all the trial software he would have to deal with.  I told him about Dell’s Vostro line, and it was then I remembered this has only ever really been marketed to small & medium businesses, but to the best of my knowledge, anyone can order them.

The concept of the line is simple enough in that the only software it comes with is what you request.  In other words, if you order Microsoft Office with it, it comes with that, if you don’t order it, it does not come with a trial version.  Don’t order security software?  No trial of that either.  There is absolutely nothing on this system except for Dell diagnostic software, the operating system of your choice and other miscellaneous little tools that help run the computer.  There is absolutely no trial software anywhere on the system.  Period.

The Vostro line has existed for a couple of years now, and I now have two desktops and three laptops from the Vostro line (one laptop is semi-retired), and not a one of them came with any trial software.  It isn’t a gimmick, it isn’t a trick, it just is.  The systems are solid, and while I’ve had an issue here or there, Dell has fixed them all.  Why and how Dell can do this, I have no idea, but I’m sure never going to argue with it.

So, if you need a new system, and have no desire to deal with all that junk software, give the Vostro line a look.

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 

Come April 6th, there will be much to rejoice about for Xbox 360 owners as we finally get support for USB drives.

It was announced today that the April 6th console update for the Xbox 360 will finally allow you to use the USB drive of your choice for storing game saves, demos, profiles and more.  While you will have option of using an external hard drive, the announcement does stress that flash-based devices will be the better option.

You will need to configure any device you plug into the Xbox, or you can wait until May when SanDisk will release pre-configured thumb drives you can use right out of the package without having to do anything.  Any thumb drive you choose to use will have to be a minimum of 1 GB, and you can have two thumb drives connected at any time for up to a maximum of 32 GB of storage.

This is a welcome addition to the console as no one really thrilled to the Microsoft produced memory units that only had 512 MBs of storage, meaning they weren’t even capable of storing most game demos.  This will greatly free up space on crowded hard drives, or if you choose to go for the Arcade version of the console which does not come with a hard drive, this could be a much cheaper alternative for saving game data.

Thumb Drive prices are constantly dropping, and this is something Microsoft has needed to do for some time now.  It will also give you the option of properly backing up your data in case of a hard drive crash.

We can’t wait for April 6th now!

Categories: Video Games   
 

Netflix has finished its goal of making sure every current video game console can access its Watch Instantly streaming content now that it is shipping the activation discs for Nintendo Wii consoles.

The Xbox 360 has been able to stream Netflix for a while now, and eventually the Sony Playstation 3 was able to do it via an activation disc that you have to put in the console each time you want to use the service.  While not as convenient as the Xbox 360 method, it still works well.

Now Nintendo Wii consoles will be able to use the same method as Sony has.  You can request the free disc at the Netflix site, and they will ship them out as soon as possible.

While the disc itself is free, do remember that you need to have a subscription to Netflix to use the actual service.  Without the subscription, the disc is kind of pointless.

Categories: Video, Video Games   
 

That scream you heard this afternoon was millions of high school and college students crying out in pain as they realized that Wikipedia was down.

Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, crashed this afternoon when its European data center overheated.  According to the site’s technical blog, once one of its data centers has a failure, all traffic is supposed to be automatically routed to another center, in this case Florida, via a “failover” device.  This will cause the DNS — the file that tells a domain name where to go — to automatically reroute to the secondary location.  The problem today was that Wikimedia, the company behind the site, discovered that the failover was also broken.

The problem has now been fixed, but domain name servers the world over will now have to play catch up with where they are supposed to direct your traffic.

Wikipedia is one of those sites you take for granted because it’s always “there”, so understandably some people are shaken by this.  We do however have a solution for those of you trying to finish term papers and essays right now … there’s this magical place called a “library” …

Categories: Internet, News   
 

ShopSavvy may be the greatest mobile application ever.

Having just gotten a new HTC Hero running the Google Android operating system, I’ve been playing with the Market to find more apps. I came across ShopSavvy, which I had heard of, and opted to install it.

This may be the single greatest tool ever invented for the comparison shopper.

The application is available for iPhones, Android-based phones and Nokias for free, and it could change everything about how you shop.  Ever found a “deal” at a store, but wonder how it compares to the prices online?  You simply turn on this app, point your camera at the UPS bar code, the app reads it and then searches the Web for it.  You are then shown the name of the item to make sure it is correct, and it shows you results of where it found the item online and how much they are charging.  It will also aid you in going directly to that seller’s Web site.

For years my family and friends have called me while they are out shopping since they know I’m always near a computer.  ”Can you look this up on Amazon for me and tell me how much it is?”  Why bother any more with this handy little tool.

I tested it our with random items on my desk, and every item showed up properly and gave me prices I could find online.

The app itself is free, and I imagine they make some money on the links if you should happen to buy anything, but who cares?  If you have a phone that will support it, this is a must have application.

Categories: Cell Phones, Mobile Phones, Shopping   
 

Want an iPad, but can’t bring your self to plunk down all that money? Got a ton of CDs, DVDs or Blu-rays sitting around you want to get rid of? iPodMeister has the solution for you.

Since 2004, iPodMeister has been taking trade-ins on various physical media for iPods and iPhones, but with the release of the iPad on April 3rd, the company will start doing the same with the new tablet computing device.  The CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays must be original copies and include all of their inserts in cases, but beyond that, it sounds like a fairly good deal.

The company pays for shipping both ways. however, you are going to need a truckload of CDs laying around to get the device.  Here is a chart of what each version costs, the second column is if you want the company to convert the CDs to MP3s for you:  (warning, we’re not sure on the legality of them converting CDs for you that you traded away as some judges have ruled it is only legal to do this if you have the physical CDs in your possession as well)

CDs Required CDs Required with Ripping
iPad w/ Wi-Fi
(16 GB)
600 770
iPad w/ Wi-Fi
(32 GB)
700 880
iPad w/ Wi-Fi
(64 GB)
800 990
iPad w/ Wi-Fi + 3G
(16 GB)
950 1200
iPad w/ Wi-Fi + 3G
(32 GB)
1050 1300
iPad w/ Wi-Fi + 3G
(64 GB)
1150 1400

If you send in Blu-ray discs you get double credit, and each disc of a multi-disc set counts as one (i.e. a five disc set counts as five).  No porn, no garage bands or compilations you made and no scratched discs.

While we have been down on buying a first generation iPad, we have to admit this offer is tantalizing as it is a great way to clean out part of your life.  If you have tons of CDs laying around, why not turn them into something you might actually use?

Categories: Apple   
 

After three BlackBerry models, I have to say I’m giving up on the platform.

I just got my BlackBerry Tour in Aug. of 2009, and I have pretty much given in two to three months ago that this would be the phone that would be the albatross around my neck until June or 2011 when I was eligible for another upgrade.  What was wrong with it?

  • The trackball was a nightmare to get to work properly
  • Slow to respond
  • The trackball was a nightmare
  • Seemed to take forever to download any applications or access any Web content
  • Have I mentioned the trackball was a nightmare?
  • E-mail was a pain to keep up-to-date with, and I rarely had less than a thousand e-mails I needed to be cleaning up
  • No Wi-Fi
  • No touchscreen
  • Laughable Web browser
  • Hey, did I mention the trackball was a nightmare?

I started off with a BlackBerry 7290 several years ago, moved on to a BlackBerry 8830 eventually and when the Tour was announced, I was more than a bit excited.  The problem was it arrived just as I was leaving for a vacation, and it’s slowness and lack of features quickly got annoying when trying to navigate around a city you aren’t wholly familiar with.  When my friend I was visiting asked to borrow it to look at a map and tapped the screen to expand it, I had to explain that it wasn’t touchscreen.  This was then I realized I had saddled myself with antiquated technology out of brand loyalty.

Thinking I would stick it out, I made it to Feb. of this year before I just finally had had it with the issues.  When it mysteriously nuked itself last month, I really was getting annoyed, but when my Mother’s BlackBerry Pearl nuked itself beyond repair this week, and it is only 18-months-old, I really had had it with the BlackBerry brand.

To replace her now dead handset,  she picked up an HTC Hero running Google’s Android OS, and long story short, my own Hero is on its way to me now.  (I was able to swing an upgrade by using one of our other lines with Sprint)  I was thrilled with the responsiveness, it has Wi-Fi, touchscreen, a healthy (and responsive) app store and just the overall feel of the phone was more what I was looking for.

The other thing that puzzles me is the seeming lack of app development.  Yes, there are apps coming out for the BlackBerry, but they always seem to be an after thought by developers to the iPhone and Android platforms.  For as big as the brand is — it is still the second largest platform in the smartphone market — it sure seems to get overlooked a lot.

It’s kind of sad I got fed up with BlackBerry, you would think with its enormous market, and huge brand recognition, that they would be working faster to innovate rather than trying to catch up to everyone else.  The quality of the phones seems to be dropping, and although they have released a couple of touchscreen phones, they haven’t received the best reviews.  I know they are switching out the trackball to a trackpad, but is that really going to matter?  I also know they are working on a better Web browser, but at this point the company is playing catch-up with just about every other phone out there.

I really have to wonder how much longer the BlackBerry can continue in its current format.  Yes, the physical QWERTY keyboard is a bonus over a touchscreen keyboard, but is that going to be enough to save it?

I don’t think the phones are going to disappear any time soon, but this week alone, the platform has lost at least two users.

(By the way, if you’re wondering why I didn’t go with the iPhone … as much as I love the iPhone, and would love to have one, my hatred of AT&T far outweighs my love for the device.  Sorry Apple, but until you get away from one of the worst phone companies ever, you won’t ever get my business.)

Categories: Cell Phones, Opinion   
 

Over the past few days it has become pretty clear that the Palm company is doomed.

Palm, the maker of such phones as the Palm Pre and Palm Pixi, has had some analysts change its stock status to “Sell”, while at least two others have changed the value to $0.  This follows a 19% plummet in share prices yesterday, and a less than stellar earnings call on Thursday.

The company has been around for years, and for a long time was a staple of the business community, but its adherence to sticking with the original PalmOS was part of its downfall.  Once it finally came out with a new operating system, the webOS, they slapped it in to two very odd phones, and went exclusive with Sprint.  They also made it overly difficult for application developers to build for the new system, and while iPhone app developers could easily port their work over to Google’s Android OS, the same couldn’t be done with webOS, meaning entirely new development time.

In short, everything Palm could do wrong, it did.

Seeing as the current CEO, Jon Rubinstein, claims he has never even used an iPhone, something you would expect a competitor to have done at least once, you have to wonder about the entire thought process of the company.  You never once check out your main competition’s flagship product.  Seriously?

During the earnings call it was revealed that in the third-quarter of Palm’s financial year, 57% of their phone stock was left sitting on carrier’s shelves, and before any new shipments can happen, they need to help them lower those inventory levels.

In short, if you’re in the market for a new cell phone, I wouldn’t be looking at Palm handsets right now, because there is no guarantee they will be around to give service in a few months time unless something drastic happens.

Categories: Cell Phones   
 

Getting all excited about your company working on developing an application for Apple’s iPad tablet? Think you might get to try it out before its April 3rd release date? Think again.

BusinessWeek is reporting that before an iPad is sent to a potential software partner, they must set up a room with blacked out windows, and it must be tethered to a stationary object to ensure that doesn’t leave the room.  After all of this is set up, photographic evidence of the preparations must be sent to ensure that all measures have been accounted for.

All told, there are 10-pages to the agreement that developers must sign prior to receiving the tablet, which, honestly, makes no sense to us.  The iPad was on display at the public announcement of the device, and I know at least two people without invitations found a way into the room to play with them during the hands-on portion of the presentation.  Apple’s continued adherence to archaic secrecy rules seem more like marketing ploys than actual attempts at any type of security.

Don’t believe me?  Dozens of blogs, including us, have written up this story, adding even more mystery to this device before it launches, and also gets them a tremendous amount of free advertising.

We have no one to blame but ourselves for continually taking the bait, but, seriously, how could you not write up a room with blacked out windows for a product that will be released in two weeks?

Categories: Apple   
 

Google is deeply entrenched in the Web, and it has its claws in the mobile device market, but are you ready to see it on your TV?

According to The New York Times, Google is teaming up with Intel and Sony to come out with a new product called Google TV.  Planned as either a set top box, or as software and parts built into certain TV sets, Google TV will be an open source platform that uses a version of the Google Android mobile operating system platform and the  Google Chrome browser to allow users to browse various Internet applications directly from their televisions.

While some services such as this already exist, they have been limited in what Web services they deliver; the new Google TV platform will be open to any developer that wishes to work on it which means it would be like an application store for mobile devices.  You could see things such as YouTube or Hulu being delivered to your television, as well as being able to check your Twitter stream and Facebook wall with just a few clicks directly from your couch without needing a laptop or tablet computer.

Logitech has also been tapped to develop a remote control with a miniature keyboard that will allow users to type out messages without clicking some form of online screen.

There is no word when we might see this hitting the market place, but sources familiar with the situation say that the project has been under development for several months now, and this appears to be a high priority project for all the parties involved.  If I was a betting man, I would say this holiday season might see the first releases, and at the latest I would say the technology will debut to the public at the Consumer Electronics Show in Jan. 2011.

Categories: Google, Home Electronics   
 
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