New Palm Centro

For years I used Palm devices, starting with an IBM Workpad provided by my employer back in the 90s, a Palm III, some Palm that I got for free for opening a online stock account, and finally a Handspring Visor Edge that has served me faithfully for several years without rebooting once.  I’ve been itching to get a Treo smartphone for years, but held off since I couldn’t get one cheap as an upgrade from Sprint.   I was unsuccessful in getting Sprint to give me a Treo 650 when I moved to the SERO plan, but the transition was bungled by the wonderful Sprint CSRs and the inflexible computer system which they use.  Finally I got a mailer from Sprint offering me a Palm Centro for $99 if I signed a two year contract.  My SERO plan, especially with corporate discount, is too good to lose, so I went with the upgrade.

Palm Centro Smartphone

There are so many reviews on the phone since it was release 4Q07, so no need to give another one here.  Let me just summarize the pros and cons of the phone as I see it.

Pros:

– It’s very small, not much bigger than a traditional phone

– Reception seems to be quite good, better than my old Samsung A620, almost as good as my Sanyo MM8300

– The Palm OS is fast, especially compared to Windows Mobile, and seems to be pretty stable.

– There are a plethora of applications, some free, others paid.

Cons:

– Battery life is nothing to write home about.  I can barely get a day’s worth of use without recharging.

– The keyboard is small and the alternate characters, accessed by pressing the white key in the lower left corner, are even smaller.  I’m having a tough time reading them with my Lasik corrected near vision.

– The power connector is different than all the other Sprint phones that I’ve had.  They do provide one adapter with the phone, but it makes it difficult to use all the accessories that I’ve accumulated over the past decade or so with Sprint.

So far, I like it a lot.  I’ve upgraded to SplashWallet v.7 from the old V.2 on my Visor, so I can can carry my passwords and account numbers with me securely.  In subsequent posts, I’ll describe the applications as I add them in.

My new Windows Home Server

I was on the beta program for Windows Home Server and ended up loving the product.  I ran the beta on an old PC that I had with a Via C3 processor, but it was a real dog performance-wise.  For my finished home server, I built up a new machine consisting of:

  1. AMD BE-2300 45W TDP CPU with ECS Geforce6100SM-M motherboard from Fry’s ($88 when I bought the combo months ago.
  2. Earthwatts EA-430 (I wish it were a 380W unit for better power conversion efficiency at the low powers that is being drawn from it) for about $20 after rebate
  3. 1GB HP DDR2 ($15 after rebate)
  4. Ultra MicroFly case (need to quiet down the rear exhaust fan though) for $40 after rebate
  5. 500GB WD RE2 HDD that was a spare.  I wish it weren’t such a power hog, but it was available.  I’d rather get a more efficient Hitachi P7K500 or WD GP2, but I wanted to save money for the holiday.
  6. Windows Home Server operating system for OEM builds (paid about $160 or so)

It’s ironic that the OS costs about the same as the hardware.  I would love to have used an open source build of a home server with the functionality of WHS, but unfortunately it doesn’t exist yet.

The build was easy, and I simply “dragged and dropped” my shared folders from the old server to the new one over the network.  The ECS motherboard isn’t GbE Ethernet, but neither is the rest of my network.  I reinstalled the WHS Connector on each client PC and all the backups are working fine.

With AMD’s Cool’n’Quiet software reducing the voltage and clock during periods of low load, the new WHS runs at 37-38W most of the time, which is about what the old Via machine used, which is a pleasant surprise.  If I get around to it, I’ll try a PicoPSU to lower the power draw even more.

How to add a printer to Windows Home Server

This post is more of a reminder for myself. I spent about an hour trying to figure out how I did this before and I thought I’d document it for other people. My Samsung ML-2010 crapped out… the Error is stuck continuously on. Adding new toner didn’t solve the problem and there isn’t any paper jam that I can find. So, I guess I’ll just chalk it up to a crappy Samsung product that didn’t even outlast the starter cartridge. I ended up buying a refurbished Brother printer from Fry’s for $50 AR. Maybe I should have bought an HP instead. In any case, the Brother HL-2040 is my new printer attached to my network via my Windows Home Server.

These are the steps that I followed when installing the printer:

  1. Install the printer driver on the Windows Home Server. I still have an optical drive and monitor hooked up to my WHS. Others with a pre-built home server will probably need to use remote desktop connection and a networked optical drive to do the driver install.
  2. Hook everything up to the server according to instructions and make sure that the test page can be printed.
  3. On the client computer, install the printer drivers as well (this step may be optional, but it worked for me).
  4. On the client, click Start | Run and enter the path to the server: \\servername. Click OK to browse resources on the server.
  5. Right-click the network printer and choose “Connect”. The printer will be installed.

This will install the printer on the proper port on the client. I had already installed the drivers on the client PC, but that may not be necessary with this method.

How low can you go? (Power that is)

I’ve always been interested in helping to save the environment. I know my gadget purchases aren’t necessarily good for the environment. At least now Costco is recycling many technology items for free. But I’ve always been interested in how low you can go in power consumption. My Windows Home Server is running on a Via C3 at 1.3GHz that pulls about 39W idle out of the wall outlet, and that’s with two HDDs. The Everex gPC being sold at Walmart for $199 uses the carbon-neutral C7-D processor running at 1.5GHz. What’s really intriguing to me is that the gOS that it runs might as well be called the Google OS in that the apps that are installed are really links to

  1. Firefox
  2. Google Mail
  3. Google News
  4. Google Calendar
  5. Google Maps
  6. Google Docs and Spreadsheets
  7. Google Product Search
  8. Blogger
  9. YouTube
  10. Facebook
  11. Faqly
  12. Meebo
  13. Rythmbox
  14. Skype
  15. Wikipedia
  16. Xine

as described in this blog entry which has an interview with David Liu, the founder of gOS. The beauty of having all the applications and even data in the Google cloud is that you may be able to get away without a hard drive in the system, booting off flash and storing all data either on the Internet or on a network share in the home, like a Windows Home Server.

So the purpose of this blog entry is to state that, time and money allowing, I will see how low a power PC I can construct that can perform the functions of a typical PC. My initial plans are

  1. Try the gOS, which is a Ubuntu derivative, on one of my regular machines, just to see how well it works. Unfortunately, the torrent download is taking forever. I’ve only been able to download less than 1MB out of the 728MB over the past hour or so.
  2. Buy a developer board from ClubIT that has the same motherboard as the Everex PC. Build it up with a 3.5″ HDD, then with a 2.5″ HDD, and then with either a CF card or a USB flash drive as the boot drive. Problem for the latter will be to figure out how to successfully boot off a USB drive or to hook up a CF card to the PATA interface.
  3. Get the gOS to be able to save files to my Windows Home Server as a network share. This way I can use the big hard drives on my WHS in place of a native hard drive or the limited storage available from Google.

This may take a while to work through but I’ll try to blog my progress.

New toy – the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet

Nokia 770 Internet TabletI remember looking at this a year or so ago when it was $350.  I picked one up at Woot a few weeks ago when they had it for only $130 plus $6 shipping.  I guess Nokia is blowing out their old inventory since they’ve come out with the replacement model, the N800, In January 2007 at CES.  More than $300 is too rich for my blood, so I naturally grabbed one of these at the closeout price.  Now it turns out that this is pretty much the going price as they’re blowing out inventory.  It’s also on sale at buy.com for $140 and was available at Amazon for the same price, but now seems to be out of stock.

So what can you do with this toy?  Well, it’s called an Internet Tablet so that should give you a hint.

  • Web browsing using the Opera broser
  • Email (although the application is dog-slow)
  •  Internet Radio
  • VOIP calls (built-in application, but no Skype, unfortunately)
  • Internet chat
  • RSS reader
  • 802.11b/g connectivity or through a network-connected Bluetooth phone
  • A few games, PDF reader, sketch utility and more.

What makes the 770 even more appealing is that it runs Linux and Nokia is openly assisting the open source community in developing applications (see http://maemo.org/intro/).  So many of the applications that have been developed for PCs under Linux are being adapted to this platform as well.  these applications can be added through the Application Manager interface.  For example, I’ve added rdesktop which allows me to “remote desktop” into my Windows Home Server.  Some are developed by Nokia themselves, like Media Streamer, which is a UPnP AV control point and media player.  This little application works well for playing MP3s from my Windows Home Server with built-in Windows Media Connect, although I read that the Twonky Media Server works as well on other devices.

As cool as this little device is, in many ways it’s really hard to figure out how to use.  Well, at least for me it is.  For example, how do you select text on a web page to cut and paste without a right mouse button?  (Answer:  double tap, but leave the stylus in contact with the the screen at the beginning or end of the text to be selected, then drag the stylus to select the desired text, then tap the top frame of the browser, tap on edit, and copy).  So for the readers’ sanity, as well as my own, I’m going to create a separate page on this blog to hold tips, techniques, and links for future reference.

A part of the future of mobile computing? The Asus Eee PC 701 starting at $199

Asus Eee PC photo from Engadget I didn’t make it to Computex so this post is based on the news reports. Probably the most interesting product shown, at least to me, is the new, 2.5 lb Asus Eee PC 701. Based on an Intel processor, a small LCD display, and 2GB flash drive, the $199 notebook PC is targeted as a second notebook. The idea of the Ultramobile PC never made sense to me; why pay 1.5 – 2.5 more than a base laptop for a smaller PC with a ton of compromises? The Eee PC has a reasonable size keyboard, a small, but apparently usable display, and what appears to be a Linux OS. The only compromise is in the amount of storage. Now if they would just implement good utilities to allow you to access Internet-based storage like Amazon S3 or a Windows Home Server, as long as you’re connected to the Internet you could have access to all the storage that you need. And with online apps like Google Apps and Documents and Google Gears, it looks possible that you could do a lot of work whether connected or not. Suddenly 2GB of onboard storage doesn’t seem so restrictive.  Now as long it has built-in wifi or accepts a 3G card.
I’m looking forward to buying one of these when they launch in the retail channel in 3Q07. Now the only question is which one to buy… the 7″ model for $199 or the 10″ model for $299. 😉

Minimum hardware requirements for Windows Home Server

I was at WinHEC 2007 a few weeks ago and Windows Home Server was one of the hot topics of discussion. On the show floor, there were two speakers talking about WHS and demonstrating the product, and there were typically five to ten people in that part of the Microsoft booth at all times. One of the staff demonstrating the product was Chris Gray, the project lead, who was extremely knowledgeable about the product, as one might expect, and very friendly.

Charlie Kindel, General Manager of Windows Home Server, gave an overview talk about WHS. One of the key attributes of WHS is that it is designed to be a plug and play, headless appliance, as easy to install as possible. The hardware concept is described as

  • Small form factor
  • No monitor / display
  • Low cost x86 CPU
  • Rear connectors: Power, USB, Gigabit Ethernet
  • Two to four internal drives
  • Storage expansion options
  • Affordable for consumers

With these attributes in mind, the minimum requirements are:

  • ≥ 1.2GHz equivalent x86 CPU
  • One internal hard drive (80GB min.) with tool-less expansion
  • 512MB RAM minimum
  • 1GbE network card
  • Four external USB ports
  • ≤30dB acoustics

Explicitly disallowed are:

  • Wireless network adapter (too hard to configure without a display and keyboard)
  • Video connector (since designed to be a head-less appliance)
  • Optical drive (restore over the network)
  • Keyboard and mouse ports
  • RS-232 and parallel port

Microsoft has done a good job identifying their target market and defining an appliance that will serve that market well. One or two more posts on WHS to follow.

Disclaimer: I am NOT a Microsoft shill, just an enthusiastic beta tester. I do not work for Microsoft and only use a few of their products (XP, Office, Streets and Trips, Hotmail, TellMe, and that’s about it). I’m dual booting Ubuntu with XP on most of my home computers and am evaluating Open Office as a no-cost alternative to Office. Not being a fan of bloated software with way more features than everyday users need, I’m really impressed that Microsoft has decided to keep WHS simple and to allow third parties to write applications and develop hardware solutions rather than doing everything themselves. I hope that this is an indicator of things to come from Microsoft.

Windows Home Server – Microsoft has a winner on their hands!

I’ve been using the Windows Home Server beta for a couple of months now and I’m really quite impressed. There are sites that describe the features in great detail… no need for me to repeat this list here. As usual, the Wikipedia description is quite good and complete. My favorite features are:

  • Automatic or manual backups – your PCs will wake up from suspend or hibernation and backup automatically.
  • Single Instance Store – it makes backups more compact by saving only a single copy of a file if there are multiple copies on the machines on your network (like MP3s, photos, program files, etc.)
  • File duplication – rather than keep redundant copies of all files, it backs up selected shared folders on multiple hard drives.
  • Easy expandability – no need to buy identical disk drives… just add new drives to the server and they get added to the storage pool. They can either be mounted internally via PATA or SATA interfaces (or SAS if you’re hardcore) or externally via USB or Firewire.
  • UPnP media server via Windows Media Connect. I have it streaming my MP3s to a new SMC SWCWAA-G digital media adapter.
  • Remote access over the internet, directly accessible via dynamic DNS at a domain that Microsoft provides free of charge.

In my opinion, the Mirra used to be the best backup solution available, but it drove me crazy by backing up my entire Outlook Express email every time I received a new note or deleted one, which drove me crazy and hurt performance. Here is my comparison of Windows Home Server, the Seagate Mirra, and the WD My Book World Edition (the latter is based on available product literature, not first hand experience):

Feature Windows Home Server Seagate Mirra WD My Book World Edition
Automatic backup PCs “wake up” each night and backup over LAN Continuous backup (can affect performance) Continuous backup? (EMC Retrospect)
Multiple versions of files Yes, through Volume Shadow Copy Ten versions kept ?
Number of HDDs One to “unlimited” (limit is by PC case, # of SATA/PATA ports on motherboard, and USB expandability) One One (World Edition) or two (World Edition II)
Expandable capacity Yes, just add internal or external drives No No
Print server Yes No No
Data redundancy Yes, optional copies of folders on multiple HDDs No Optional internal mirroring
Remote access to home PCs Yes, but only through IE, not Firefox. No No
Remote access to data Yes, through Dynamic DNS with a domain name provided by Microsoft Through Seagate’s servers on Internet Through Mio Net’s servers
UPnP media server Windows Media Connect No No
User replaceable drives Yes No Yes
Data de-duplication Yes (Single Instance Store) No No
“Bare metal restore” Yes No (only data files backed up) Probably (depends on Retrospect)

More posts will follow on what I really like about Windows Home Server.

No more posts about Windows Home Server beta – confidential

It turns out that the EULA will constrain me from providing useful feedback on the Windows Home Server application since screen shots, features, documentation, etc., are confidential.  I’m afraid I won’t be able to blog about this for a while until it comes out of beta.  Sorry.

Downloaded WHS software and documentation

I just finished downloading the Windows Home Server software and am backing up my Via machine to a USB hard drive right now. I’ll be busy this weekend so I won’t be able to post any more until early next week. I browsed the documentation and the software looks really good.