Author Archive | Harry McCracken

Operation Foxbook: The Wrap-Up

The experiment known as Operation Foxbook–in which I dumped my fancy MacBook Pro and desktop apps like Microsoft Office and Photoshop for an HP Mini-Note netbook and Web apps running in Foxbook–is officially over. Actually, I wrapped it up about a week ago, but I thought it made sense to take the time to reflect a bit about what went right, what went wrong, and what I learned.

Here are previous installments of this series, in case you want some background:

Introducing Operation Foxbook
Operation Foxbook: Life Inside the Browser, So Far
Operation Foxbook: Livin’ Small With the HP Mini-Note
Operation Foxbook: More Fun With Web Apps

And here (after the jump) are some overall lessons…

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The T-Grid: BlackBerry Storm vs. iPhone 3G

Another week, another new touch-screen phone that has an awful lot in common with the iPhone 3G. But the most interesting things about RIM’s BlackBerry Storm aren’t the ways it’s similar to an iPhone–it’s the ways it’s different. Starting with the fact that it’s a BlackBerry, with all the wireless synching goodness you’d expect. It will be on Verizon–a major plus for lots of folks–and will be a world phone that does CDMA at home and GSM around the world.

The Storm is the first touchscreen BlackBerry, but its screen features haptic feedback that gives a clicky feel as you type on the virtual keyboard, which sounds interesting, at least. (Most of the BlackBerry fanatics I know are e-mail warriors who really, really want a phone with a physical keyboard–it’ll be fascinating to see if the Storm’s simulation of one is good enough to convince them to go touchscreen.)

I’m also happy to hear that the Storm comes with DataViz’s Documents To Go Office-compatible suite preinstalled–though I’m also curious to see just how easy it is to edit documents on a phone without a real keyboard.

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RealDVD: Still in Limbo

Here’s a ZDNet story which nicely summarizes what’s up with RealNetworks’ RealDVD DVD-copy software, which was released last week only to instantly become the subject of legal warfare between Real and Hollywood. The basic question: Does RealDVD’s copying, which duplicates a DVD’s contents to a PC’s hard drive while maintaining all copy protection and adding an additional layer to prevent piracy, violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act?

RealDVD has been unavailable since Friday, when the studios won an emergency restraining order which forced Real to stop sales. A Federal judge is hearing arguments on RealDVD’s fate today. I hope the restraining order is lifted; more important, I hope that RealDVD’s legal status is cleared up quickly, and in Real’s favor. The manner of copying it provides is fundamentally limited: You can’t put a movie onto an iPod or a home network, let alone release it to BitTorrent. It’s designed to let consumers get a little more out of the entertainment they’ve already paid for. And if even that runs afoul of current copyright law, it’s pretty darn depressing.

So I’m hoping for the best today. But for the moment, the RealDVD site‘s smiling lady is still the bearer of bad news:

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AMD Splits in Two

It’s been a possibility for a while, and now it’s a reality: AMD, the perennial number-two CPU company to Intel and one of the few chip companies that both designs and manufactures processors, plans to break itself up. The company behind Phenom, Athlon, Opteron, and other CPUs will become two companies: one that designs chips, and one that makes them. The design company will end up partially owned by Mubadala, a company which is owned by Abu Dhabi; ATIC, another company owned by Abu Dhabi, will own the majority of the manuacturing company. Both of those Middle Eastern investments will provide an infusion of cash which is designed to help AMD with its next-generation chips and therefore its overall competitiveness with Intel.

Emotionally, the move may be a big deal for AMD, which has spent decades taking on Intel by, essentially, trying to be Intel. But nearly everyone else involved in the designing and building of processors has decided that financially, it makes sense to separate the building part–which involves massive, massively expensive plants–from the designing.

I’m neither an economist nor an expert on chip manufacturing, so I can’t judge the deal on its merits. But if it helps the two new companies produce more advanced chips more quickly, it’s a good thing for consumers. And, of course, a good thing for AMD, which has struggled to stay even vaguely competitive with the products from its much larger competitor in recent years. (The golden age of the Intel-AMD wars were back around the turn of the century, when AMD rolled out the excellent original Athlon CPU, giving every PC user a reason to consider an AMD-powered computer–and giving Intel a scare that ensured it wouldn’t spend the next few years resting on its technological laurels.)

The chip wars matter to most consumers only because they’re a driver of healthy competition that results in faster, cheaper CPUs that power faster, cheaper computers and other devices. For that reason, I’m happiest when AMD is at its most competitive versus Intel–and hope that this corporate breakup makes as much sense as AMD thinks it will.

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The 13 Other Greatest Error Messages of All Time

People just love error messages. Love ’em, love ’em, love ’em. At least that’s the conclusion I’m drawing right now: “The 13 Greatest Error Messages of All Time” is by far the most popular story in Technologizer’s short history. And hundreds of folks didn’t just read the article–they shared their own favorite errors in the comments, with at least as much passion as the community brings to burning subjects such as the iPhone NDA or the fate of Windows XP.

I thoroughly enjoyed delving into all that feedback and learning about errors which I’d never heard of…and in some cases, being reintroduced to ones which I’d managed to block out of my memory. If you don’t have time to burrow through nearly 400 comments’ worth of conversation like I did, I understand–and I’m here to help. Here are some truly outstanding error messages, selected from all the ones mentioned in comments by a blue-ribbon panel which consisted of…well, me. I focused on ones that were verifiably real, and mostly on ones mentioned by multiple contributors. And I ended up with a bakers’ dozen of them, just as in the first story.

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100 comments A Search Engine in Search of Character

Observant readers may have noticed that my look at the new version of contained no mentions of the fact that Ask used to be known as Ask Jeeves, pining for that old name, or clever butler references. That was intentional. There oughta be a statute of limitations on clichéd references to things which are no longer true about technology products and services. And it’s been two and a half years since dumped Jeeves, so I figured it deserved to be judged on its current merits rather than obsolete branding.


After I finished up that post, I happened across an article in the UK’s Guardian about a new ad campaign that coincides with the update to the search engine, and it got me thinking. Ask is far from the largest search engine, but it may be the most heavily-advertised one–for years, it’s attempted to make inroads against Google in part through multiple barrages of TV spots. But Ask, which in its Ask Jeeves days at least had a distinct personality, leaps from advertising message to advertising message with abandon, always in search of a new way to differentiate itself from the crowd but never holding onto a message for long. After the jump, a retrospective.

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The New A Little Less Distinctive

I really liked the new version of that arrived back in June of 2007–in part because it was so clearly not Google or a shameless Google wannabee. That version sported a three-pane interface that divvied results up into discrete sections for Web pages, news, images, video, and more. It was a strikingly different approach than Google’s Universal Search, which weaves results of all sorts into one list.

It would seem that consumers didn’t greet a radically different as warmly as I did–Comscore data for August 2008 shows Ask with 4.5 percent of the search market, down from 5 percent in May 2007, right before that redesign. Fifteen months later, Ask has released another new version, and it’s dumped the divvied-results feature in favor of something that looks a lot more like Google, previous versions of Ask, and most every other search engine on the planet.

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The T-List: RIP, iPhone NDA

Last week was one of comings and goings. iPhone NDA? Gone! Windows Cloud? On its way! RealDVD? Here, then gone! Windows XP? Six more months before it might be gone! And iTunes? Still here, thank heavens!
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Is Apple’s “Brick” a Breakthrough Manufacturing Process?

[SHAMELESS PLUG: Technologizer will be liveblogging the Apple notebook event on 10/14/2008 @ 10am PT. Please join us.]

For the last few weeks, lovers of Apple gossip have been having fun speculating about an alleged Apple project supposedly code-named “Brick.” Most assumed it was a new computer or device of some sort. But now Seth Weintraub of 9 to 5 Mac is asserting the “Brick” is actually a revolutionary new manufacturing process that lets Apple use lasers and jets of water to carve seamless, “super light, super strong and super cheap” MacBook cases out of aluminum.

I have no clue whether there’s anything to this. (There are at least three possibilities here, judging from past Apple rumors: It’s either precisely true, totally false, or somewhere in between.) But I want it to be true, for several reasons…

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