Newton Magic

As part of my larger efforts to clear out my Office and reduce clutter (which is turning more like shuffling clutter to other parts of the house) I came across a couple of Newton
Message Pads from the mid-90s including the fabulous Newton 2100.

On a whim, I popped in 4 AA batteries and hit the power switch… Brrrring, she came to life with the familiar Newton trill and even more amazing woke up with all her data intact. Yep; everything. All my calendar entries from 1997, my contacts, every application installed and working just fine and all my scribbled notes. All exactly the way I left it so many years. What a stunning example of elegant technology and engineering. Newton was flawed in many ways but in many others, no product on the market has ever matched her elegance, style and techno-wizardry.

Historical note; Newton shortly after its release was lampooned in a famous series of Doonesbury cartoons which led to Steve Capps wife conspiring with Gary Trudeau to create the famous egg freckles Easter egg.

The intellectual avocado-colored kitchen appliance

The biggest competition to Microsoft on the desktop is not Linux or any other product. It’s past Microsoft products and to some degree future ones that are the real threat. XP is what Microsoft needs to worry about with Windows 7, not Mac OS or Linux.

Windows 95 finally added a GUI to Windows that was workable. Win2k and XP refined that usability with the stability of the NT kernel. I am still not sure where the overall value of Windows 7 will come into play. I was reminded of a comment in Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs, where one of the characters says somrthing along the lines of “The current GUI desktop metaphor is the intellectual avocado-colored kitchen appliance of the 21st century.” AMEN.

Adding UI tweaks and glitzy effects doesn’t change the mix that much. It’s not just about simplicity or even reliability. Show me some new things that will empower us in new ways and I’ll buy. Show me cool new apps that take advantage of the OS and can’t be had anyplace else (there was exactly one app that required Vista to use until it was killed. Bonus points if you know what it was) Otherwise, what we have today might just be good enough. Even more interesting is the window of opportunity for Apple that has a real alternative platform to Windows to gain market share while Windows 7 comes to market.

Microsoft needs a more compelling OS story and soon.

Off Road Lessons

It’s been a busy summer for folks who cover the tech industry and I’m off the road the road for a week or two. Some quick thoughts;

1. My iPod lasts the entire plane flight from NY to the west coast and is the perfect size. Any less would not due and more would not be necessary. Vendors who continue to attempt competing products should reconsider unless there’s some way to really differentiate.

2. I fly Continental a lot. Mostly because Newark is a Hub and flying out of Newark saves me the hassle of shlepping to JFK or LaGuardia. In the course of an average year I fly over a 100,000 miles with them. I only have two requests, a bulkhead aisle set (to accommodate my 6’’4”” frame) and a fruit plate. I never get either unless I put a ridiculous amount of effort in. They recently priced a fare out to San Francisco for my next trip at $2,000. Jet Blue will cost me $300 for the same trip. I probably won’t get a bulkhead aisle or a fruit plate on Jet Blue but at least I won’t feel like an idiot either.

3. Marriott hotels have free high speed internet access and several power outlets at the in room desk. W Hotels charge you $15 a day for the privilege and have one outlet. But they do have a heavenly bed.

4. A Starbuck’s Mocha is a wonderful travel companion. Peet’s is still my favorite coffee if I can find it. Fortunately there’s a Peet’s across the street from the Westin on Market St. in SF (which isn’t really on Market St.) and there’s one at SFO.

5. Watching Casablanca on the flight home on your laptop is far more enjoyable at 1:00am than watching “whatever Continental has been showing for this month” for the 10th time.

6. Some companies forbid their employees to have dinner with analysts unless they have gone through analyst training (presumably to avoid any of our analyst Jedi-Mind Tricks). To my dinner companions over the last month, your secrets are safe with me and let’s do it again soon.

Oh, and if I have to sit on the runway for two hours after you close the door and prior to take-off, i do not think of it as an on time departure!

Win 7 upgrade pricing is a missed opportunity

I’m looking at Microsoft’s Win 7 pricing that they’ve announced today and have to wonder what they were thinking. Here’s what we’re looking at.

$119 for Home Premium
$199 for Professional
$219 for Ultimate

Oddly, Microsoft is doing a limited promotion where you can pre-order a “full” copy of Windows for less than the upgrade price. Home Premium is $49 and Pro is $99. Of course, these are only available for a limited time and to limited numbers. Good luck trying to snag a copy :) BTW, the European situation is even more odd, where Microsoft views one dollar as equal to one pound.

The reality of it is Windows 7 is not a major update to Windows. It is Windows Vista done right and what Microsoft customers should have delivered a long time ago. The $49 initial price is nice reward for loyal customers but the “real” upgrade pricing is way off for what the market will likely bear, especially during these economic times. Of course the irony is that most corporate customers won’t pay anything near these prices thanks to things like volume license agreements so it’s small business and the consumer that’s going to get pay the higher costs. My advice, if you really want 7, try to get pre-order before “supplies” run out (Microsoft isn’t saying how many copies they’re making available at this price, perhaps we are seeing the great Windows 7 shortage of 2009).

This is a case where Apple showed the way. Snow Leopard is also not major update but rather an enhanced version of Leopard. With an upgrade price of $29, that’s about where MSFT should be for the Home Premium version of 7. This is a missed opportunity that could have catapulted MSFT into the spotlight. For now, I expect a lot of Windows consumers are going to just stay where they are.

Can this Hero save Android?


It’s the mobile platform with the might of Google behind it, but with only a few devices on the market Android’s hardly been a stellar success. While the G1 and the new myTouch from T-Mobile are both excellent, both have a lot to be desired from a UI and feature perspective. The Android native UI wasn’t overly interesting and the devices were missing basic features like a standard audio jack. With the introduction of the Hero this morning, HTC offers a compelling Android design along with some very nice UI enhancements. (HTC for the last two years been working on taming Windows Mobile with some excellent UI features called TouchFlo, it’s excellent to see them at work on Android).

Specs include a GPS, digital compass, a gravity-sensor, 3.5mm stereo headset jack, a 5 mega-pixel autofocus camera and expandable MicroSD memory. The Hero also has a dedicated search button that allows search through Twitter, locating contacts, find emails or search for any data that’s on Hero.

Most important though is HTC’s UI for Android called HTC Sense. The Ui is fluid and worked well in hands on and really updates the rather dull Android UI into something that looks and feels modern. The ability to set widgets to display “glanceable” information screens is both useful and powerful. It was easy to switch between things like Twitter views, weather, calendars and time zones. It’s the home screen concept for information done right. The Sense UI also allows for integration of data stream into one view (not unlike Palm’s Synergy in concept). HTC showed Facebook status updates and photos along with Flickr photos alongside text messages, emails and call history in a single view. Excellent and nicely done.

Downside? The Hero will be available to people across all major European carriers in July and in Asia this summer. A North American version won’t be available until later in 2009. That’s a shame because this is the Hero looks to be the first device that really begins to unlock the Android potential. Full hands on once I get some quality time with a device in the near future.

What do you get when you cross a T400 and X300?

Lenovo met the ultrathin challenge with their X300 machine and has also delivered a great 14″ device with their larger T400 series. What if you combined some of the best features of both? The result would be something that weighed less than four pounds, still offered and integrated optical disk, got six hours of battery life and was less than an inch thick. That’s exactly what Lenovo delivered today with introduction of the ThinkPad T400s. I’ve been huge ThinkPad fan since the first devices came out and with this new model, Lenovo has once again delivered a great new product to the ThinkPad family.

The answer is the Lenovo T400s, a new thin and light ThinkPad that delivers a powerful package in a very think body. I’ve been using one for a few weeks with a 2.4ghz P9400, 2GB of RAM and a 128gb SSD. The machine also has 1 USB/ eSATA, 1 USB 2.0 (which will charge devices even when turned off), VGA and Display Port (for up to two additional monitors.).

The excellent ThinkPad keyboard has a slight facelift with slightly better key spacing and size and as will all ThinkPads, was a delight to type on. New are dual microphones for cancelling echoes on VOIP calls and a very handy mute button. Lenovo’s taken a page from Apple’s playbook with a multitouch trackpad with functions such as zoom in/out and scrolling with two fingers. While not as smooth as Apple’s latest offerings, Lenovo’s does come in second and is the best I’ve seen any vendor deliver on a PC platform.

Windows Vista Business ran well, even with the integrated graphics but this isn’t going to be a great gaming rig (nor was it designed to be). Casual games run fine but higher end gamers should look elsewhere. Productivity apps worked well and load times along with suspend and resume were excellent. Battery life was great and I had no problems getting six hours of battery life with the screen at mid brightness. I could easily get across country this machine. (I’m looking at six hours as minimum for new machines going forward. Just not worth trying to use machines that can’t get me from NY to SF on single charge)

Configs start at $1,599, which is a little on the high end but given the performance, feature set and form factor make for a pretty compelling package. If you’re looking for a thin and light PC, the T400 should be on the short list.