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   
 

Why is it becoming so acceptable to totally throw proper etiquette out the window just because things are done on the Internet?

As someone who writes for numerous blogs, I get a ton of press releases each day. Some interest me, most don’t, but one of the quickest ways to lose my interests is to start off an email to me in one of the following ways:

“Sean …”

“Dear Sean …”

“Hey Sean …”

Let me give you a hint folks, until such time as we have a familiar working relationship, or you give me permission to do otherwise, I will address you as “Mr.” or “Ms.” followed by your last name.  I will never call someone by their first name in an initial contact email with someone I hope to have a working relationship with.  This is an old business rule, and one that is still followed in most parts of the business world … it’s just the Internet that seems to think it is to “hip” for it any more.

This was all brought back to my attention this week when a press agent contacted me about doing them a sort of favor, and even though we had never talked before, nor been formally introduced, they called me “Sean” in their very first email to me.  After our business dealing was over, I e-mailed them and let them know what I thought of their practice of doing such.

I have had it.

I have worked in many industries over the years, and I continue to work with Japanese companies extensively.  If I was to ever demonstrate such a lackadaisical attitude in my dealings with them, I wouldn’t so much as get a rejection letter informing me of how disrespectful I was.

And in other industries I am associated with, people still expect to be addressed by their last name until such time as they say otherwise.  This is just how business is done, but yet, if you work on the Internet, somehow you are beyond all this.

Well, newsflash folks, I’m not.  And from here on out, I’m calling people on it.  I’m tired of it, it’s rude and it is disrespectful of the traditions of business.  I show you the respect of addressing you properly, I would ask you do the same for me.  I will probably give you permission to call me “Sean” soon enough, just don’t assume you may from step one.  Is that so much to ask?

Categories: Communication, Opinion   
 

Have you ever wished you could rent eleven books at a time through the mail? Well, now you can … and we’re still trying to figure out why you would.

The concept of BookSwim is exactly like that of Netflix in that you pick a plan for the number of books you would like to check out at any given time.  You can choose 1 book, 3 books, 5 books, 7 books and 11 books, and all of them offer free shipping both directions except for the one book at a time plan.  If you find you really enjoyed a book, and would like to keep it, you do have the option of purchasing the book without having to send it back.

While we understand the lure of Netflix, and have a subscription here at the office that  we love, your average movie is two hours in length, you can quickly turn over your rentals to get the most out of your subscription.  Unless you are a speed reader, getting the maximum return on investment out of your subscription would be difficult at best.  There are advantages in instances where you are in situations like being a student and you need a certain book (BookSwim also offers textbook rentals via a partnership with Chegg.com), you live in a small town with no library, you are shut in for some reason and so on.  Even at this though, the monthly memberships range from $9.95  a month to $59.95 a month, so it still seems hard to believe that very many people will ever be able to use this service enough to get their monies worth out of it.

With the explosion of e-readers that allow for instantaneous book delivery, and even some allowing for you to loan books to friends, as well as huge collections of free books you can read, this service is just a bit lost on us.  We see a lot of value in the textbook rental service for college students, but as we said, that is done with a partnership with Chegg.com, so you can just go through them directly.

If you love BookSwim, and find it useful, more power to you, but we have to say we don’t picture this site having an extremely long life.

Categories: Opinion, Reviews, Site Reviews   
 

It isn’t just computers any more that is leading to children being molested by strangers they meet online.

Edward Stout, a 27-year-old man from Richmond Heights, Missouri, has been sentenced to ten years in prison for engaging in sexual relations with an underage California girl.

Mr. Stout and the underage girl met on X-box Live in April 2008, and in Jan. 2009 he drove non-stop for 30-hours to California to meet the girl.  Upon meeting they engaged in a sexual encounter.  There is no indication of how the relationship was discovered, but Mr. Stout plead guilty to an “illicit relationship” and will now spend ten years in prison.

We have said many times here on StarterTech that you need to keep computers where they can be monitored for usage by your children, but that goes for any device that allows them to communicate with the world.  We’re all for them being online, but would you let them hang out with adult strangers in person?  Then why should you let them do it online?

Categories: Opinion, Video Games   
 

seniorcomputerThe number of senior citizens, those aged over 65, has risen more than 55% over the past five years.

According to a report from Nielsen, the number of senior citizens on the Internet has grown from 11.3 million in 2004 to 17.5 million in 2009.  And they aren’t just hopping on for a second, they are spending an average of 58 hours a month online.

So, what are they doing with their time? Here are the top 10 ways they spend their time:

  1. Checking Personal E-mail
  2. Viewed or Printed Maps Online
  3. Checked Weather Online
  4. Paid/Viewed Bills Online
  5. View/Posted Photos Online
  6. Read General/Political News
  7. Checked Personal Health Care Info
  8. Planned Leisure Travel Trip Online
  9. Searched Recipes/Meal Planning Suggestions
  10. Read Business/Finance News

In other words, they appear to be all about using the Web as a utility.  Whether it be communicating or keeping current, they seem to be finding ways to bring more of the world into their home, saving them the time and trouble of going out.  While it is always wise for seniors to stay physically active, at least this allows them to spend their time out of the home on more leisurely pursuits than running all those sorts of little errands that do nothing more than annoy a person.

It also looks like they are looking ways to cut expenses.  Who needs to mail payments any more when you can pay your bills online and know instantly that your payment has been received?

What is also intriguing is the way they are engaging the Web when they aren’t doing the more practical activities:

  1. Google Search
  2. Windows Media Player
  3. Facebook
  4. YouTube
  5. Amazon
  6. Yahoo! Mail
  7. Yahoo! Search
  8. Yahoo! Homepage
  9. Bing Web
  10. Google Maps

Yes, there is a whole lot of searching going on there, but social network Facebook rose from 45th position last year to 3rd position this year.  With YouTube in 4th place, they are looking for entertainment, and Amazon in 5th means they are shopping or researching possible purchases.

Apparently they really like Yahoo! Mail for all that email they are doing.

StarterTech was started with the idea of making the Web simpler for people such as senior citizens, and apparently we were correct about them wanting to use it!

Categories: Internet, News, Opinion   
 

microsoftI hate being right some days, but this isn’t one of them. I’m loving being right this time.

The other day I wrote up a post here about Windows Systems Suffering Black Screens After Security Update, and I stated:

What seems odd about this whole report is that the supposed guilty security update was sent out Nov. 10th, but the first reports came in last week from a security firm named Prevx.  Prevx says they have a tool that will fix some instances for users, and at this point Microsoft is simply stating that they are investigating the situation and have no official word on it.

The reason I find this whole thing a bit questionable is how as someone plugged in to the technology world such as I am heard no complaints prior to a third-party company I’ve never heard of suddenly saying they know how to fix it.  True its solution is being provided for free, but the amount of publicity more than makes up for it.  I have heard no independent verifications of something being wrong with the update, and believe me, something like this happens, you’d hear all about it on Twitter.

There is every chance this problem is real, but it does seem a tad odd at the moment.

Well, according to Ed Bott at ZDNet, I was right to say it smelled fishy because it was.

… on Tuesday evening, Prevx backs down completely from the story, publishing a formal retraction and apologizing to Microsoft. Another follow-up post the next day from Prevx CEO and CTO Mel Morris tries to deny any responsibility for the damage. He includes this hilarious bit of understatement: “Regrettably, it is clear that our original blog post has been taken out of context and may have caused an inconvenience for Microsoft.”

What a shock.

What was disturbing about this whole thing (and according to Steven Hodson at Shooting at Bubbles, I deserve the right to pat myself on the back for this one), I was one of the very few tech journalists who called it suspicious.  As Mr. Bott chronicles the whole debacle in his post, he points out time and time again how all of the major tech blogs went nuts reporting it, but yet no one seemed to question it or research it.

While I did look around unofficially online, I admit I did not contact Microsoft.  Why?  Because I fully admit I knew I would get an empty answer with no substance to it, and lets face it, StarterTech isn’t exactly a leading tech blog like the big boys.  If they weren’t getting quotes, neither was I.

What I did do was to use this amazing resource called “the Internet”, perhaps you’ve heard of it?  We are sitting on top of the most powerful research tool ever invented and apparently most bloggers couldn’t be bothered to head to a search engine and do some basic research.  Where were the cries of outrage from users?  Why wasn’t this a trending topic on Twitter?  Where were the Apple Fanboys crowing over their superiority?  Instead what I found was tech blogs writing the same headlines over and over with nary a question in sight as to why we were the only ones talking about it.  Would it have really been that difficult to do a search and go, “Wait a minute … something doesn’t smell right here …”

If the Internet has proven anything, it is that people will not hesitate to complain about the smallest irritation.  Do you really think if black screens had been happening the entire Internet would have been silent about it?  Of course it wouldn’t have been.

So, yes, for once I am going to pat myself on the back for calling this into question from the start, and I echo Mr. Bott’s questioning of the tech blogosphere at large.

At the same time, I join with Mr. Bott for calling for Prevx to be laughed out of the security field.  Honestly, I’d go even further and wonder when the lawsuits will start.  Was this a marketing gimmick?  If so, good job, you’re going to get more press coverage than you know what to do with … and none of it is going to be good.

Categories: Microsoft, Opinion, Windows 7, Windows XP   
 

ftc_logoThe Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines for bloggers regarding disclosure of “material connections” to companies take effect today.

Back in October we wrote up the news and questions about the new FTC guidelines for bloggers that were coming into being, and today is the fateful day those take effect.  Sadly the questions we put forth in that original post have still not been answered, but no matter, you have to begin disclosing all relationships with blog post subjects today.

Actually, let me rephrase that: If you interact anywhere online, you must disclose any relationships you have with the subject or face the possibility of fines up to $11,000.  This includes becoming a fan of a company on Facebook, talking about them on Twitter, sharing a link to their site and even having verbal communications with people on the street.  You can read the full guidelines from the FTC (PDF link) for yourself, but essentially if you talk to anyone in any way about a company or product, you must disclose your relationship to them.

The problem is, as I have written about endlessly on my personal blog, is that the FTC has done nothing to tell us what form these disclosures must take.  Can we make one post and just continually link to it?  Must we put it at the end of each post?  Must we update old posts?  No one knows, and the FTC isn’t saying.

If you have a blog, and anyone pays you in any way, or gives you a product for review, you must add a disclosure to the end of the post for now just to be safe.  Personally I feel this will end up in court, and I feel the FTC is going to discover the rules are not clear enough, and that they are possibly over reaching.  Until further notice, just be careful and try to make sure you keep your nose clean unless you really want to be the test case for these guidelines.

Categories: News, Opinion   
 

microsoftIf you’re suffering the black screen update problem that is reportedly striking some Windows systems … you probably aren’t reading this.

Kidding aside, reports have come in that some Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 systems are suffering “black screens of death” for some reason after the latest Windows security update.  Here is the explanation from PCWorld:

Microsoft apparently made changes to the Access Control List (ACL), a list of permissions for a logged-on user. The ACL interacts with registry keys, creating visible desktop features such as a sidebar.

However, the latest patches appear to make some changes to those registry keys. The effect is that some installed applications aren’t aware of the changes and don’t run properly, causing a black screen…

In short: your system may be messed up.

What seems odd about this whole report is that the supposed guilty security update was sent out Nov. 10th, but the first reports came in last week from a security firm named Prevx.  Prevx says they have a tool that will fix some instances for users, and at this point Microsoft is simply stating that they are investigating the situation and have no official word on it.

The reason I find this whole thing a bit questionable is how as someone plugged in to the technology world such as I am heard no complaints prior to a third-party company I’ve never heard of suddenly saying they know how to fix it.  True its solution is being provided for free, but the amount of publicity more than makes up for it.  I have heard no independent verifications of something being wrong with the update, and believe me, something like this happens, you’d hear all about it on Twitter.

There is every chance this problem is real, but it does seem a tad odd at the moment.

Categories: Microsoft, Opinion, Windows 7, Windows XP   
 

hulu_logoWell, this isn’t the least bit surprising, but it seems three television networks trying to work together on one video site may not have been the best of ideas.

According to Mediaweek, things are not going swimmingly over at Hulu, which is jointly owned by the television networks ABC, Fox and NBC.  The short version of the story is that the advertising sales teams for the networks are locking horns with the team at the online company, and neither side is playing fairly.

It seems the network teams have never liked the fact that Hulu has its own ad people, and in turn, Hulu ad people keep breaking the company rules to keep ad slots from going to the network people.  Hulu will promise better performance than the network guys will, and while they aren’t supposed to promise which shows or networks an advertisers ads will appear with, they keep doing just that.  Supposedly it is all of this in-fighting that has kept CBS from putting its shows on the popular site.

So, why should this concern you, the common viewer?  Well, this bickering between the two ad teams is leading to confusion in the marketplace, and the less ads on Hulu, the more likely it is the site will finally go to some form of subscription basis.  The article also says that Hulu’s ad revenue is not keeping pace with its growth, another marker against the site continuing to be free.  Add in the fact that Comcast is looking to buy NBC, and this could mean the network would leave the site, and things aren’t exactly looking up for Hulu at the moment.

In general it seems that the attitude towards free streaming television sites is changing, and this could be a very bad thing for the consumer.  Being able to watch television on the Internet has become the staple of viewing for many people, some going as far as to give up normal television in their homes, so this could be a major blow to many people.  Sadly it doesn’t look like something the consumer can do much to fix, but it is better to be fore warned.

Categories: News, Opinion   
 

playfishIn case you’ve ever wondered if your favorite game on Facebook is making any money … it is.

Electronic Arts (EA), a major gaming company for game consoles, computers and mobile devices, has decided to enter the social media gaming space in a major way. It was announced today that EA would purchase Playfish, the company behind games such as Restaurant City, Pet Society and more, For $400 million.  The deal is structured as $275 million in cash, $25 million in stock options to help retain current employees and $100 million in earnout bonuses for company targets through Dec. 31st, 2011.

It is estimated that Playfish is currently earning around $75 million a year from traditional advertising, in-game sales of digital items and through offer advertising.

So, the next time you fire up one of those addictive games on Facebook, believe us, you’re helping someone make money.  Sure it looks like you’re not doing anything, but click an add … buy something for your farm … click on one of those offer ads that will give you game items in exchange for doing something, and well that suddenly turns into a multi-million dollar business.  This isn’t to say this is a bad thing, it’s just shocking to see how much all of that really adds up to.

And remember, Playfish isn’t the biggest company in the market, that would be Zynga … anyone want to guess how much they are making per year?

Categories: Opinion, Social Networking   
 
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