Posted by: David Stewart | July 10, 2010

Shiny new toys to play with double your pleasure, but where’s my Google Earth?

I can’t remember which insurance company advertises with the tag line “Life comes at you fast.” Their adverts would show a series of disasters happening to unsuspecting souls, making them glad they had insurance. “Bad things happen in threes” means that we have all noticed this apparent discontinuity in the experiences of life.

Not to focus too much on the bad, I’ve also noticed that good things seem to bunch up in life as well.  I almost wish they could be spaced out a little more evenly, like national holidays.

In particular, last week I got a couple of new toys to play with: an update on my laptop to Windows 7 and on my telephone to Android. As a professional who makes his living making operating systems, it’s nice to get two new spiffy upgrades at once to play with.

  • Windows 7 upgrade on my work laptop was executed by my company’s IT department. My laptop is an aging Centrino Dual Core system, which is a couple of years old.

    Sometimes reinstalling Windows, even if it’s the exact same version, will give an apparent speed up. This is like moving all of your stuff out of your house or apartment, then moving everything back in again. It’s painful, and you may lose some things, but at least everything starts out being a lot more organized.

    The good? When I use an alternative browser like Google Chrome instead of Internet Explorer, I no longer need to retype my login name and password every time I access an internal website. This is a major time improvement for me, and I think I need to thank our corporate IT department.

    Microsoft has been touting its improved simplicity; for me, it means learning a new set of steps to access these features, which counters simplicity a bit. So I would consider this a wash for now.

    Besides needing to find most of my applications and reinstall them, there are a handful of apps which don’t install or work correctly. Each version of Windows has had these compatibility issues, and I upgraded from Windows XP, so these were to be expected. Having worked on operating systems before, sometimes there is simply no way to avoid an incompatibility, particularly when trying to address security holes. But the upshot is, I can’t install Google Earth! That’s a huge loss.

  • As part of the upgrade, I also got my disk replaced with a Solid State Disk (SSD). From the 1980s, personal computers have used “Hard Disk Drives” or HDDs for permanent storage. This is basically a magnetically recorded disk which spins madly with a set of tiny heads floating over the surface to read and write information like recipe files, emails and the latest jokes. Sometimes you will hear a little clicking sound from your computer when it is booting up or when it is working hard. That’s the HDD at work.

    The SSD is the next step in the evolution of computers: replacing this whirling dervish of a disk with chunks of memory which don’t move and don’t forget. 

    Since there is no spinning disk to crash on an SSD, so it should be a little more reliable. Also, since there is no head to move around on the disk, it tends to be much faster, particularly in reading data.

    The combination of the SSD and Win7 has been a huge boost to the apparent speed of my system. It’s just a lot snappier and quicker to boot up, shut down, launch applications and the like.

  • I also have a Nexus One telephone and at roughly the same time, I got the new Android 2.2 operating system downloaded to my phone. This is the version dubbed “FroYo”; each of the Android releases are nicknamed for a desert, and “Frozen Yogurt” was too long to type, I guess.

    Upgrading was a snap – I was informed that I had a new update, and asked if I wanted to install it now. When I affirmed my desire to upgrade (“Heck yeah!”) the whole operation only took about 7 minutes. (I have since heard that users with 500 contacts in their phone book might be slower to upgrade, since all of that information needs to be reloaded over the internet.)

    The feature most widely touted in FroYo is the addition of Flash to the web browser. Flash has become the standard way that web designers add fancy things to web pages like animation and games. In particular, this would make a lot more web pages visible and useable on Android than on the iPhone.

    But in practice, I have found that most of the web sites I visit which use Flash are still inaccessible to me. This is because the Flash used in FroYo is not totally compatible with the full version. (So don’t throw away your PC just yet).

    There are a few aesthetic improvements, but by far the best feature on the phone is called “USB tethering.” Have you ever been in a restaurant or airport terminal and really needed to get your computer online at any speed, but there is no Wi-Fi hot spot in range? I have run into this so many times – driving around trying to find a way to get access, buying unwanted coffee drinks just to use the Wi-Fi. All the time, my telephone is connected to the cell network, mocking me with its internet access.

    With tethering, I simply connect the USB charging cable between my Nexus One and computer, type a few clicks, and SHAZAM, I’m on the net. Everything works as expected, albeit a bit slowly since 3G networks are not as fast as Wi-Fi. But sometimes, you just need to get on without any excuses. (In fact, I’m using it now to send this post because I can’t get on the local Wi-Fi network.) I’m also free from needing a separate dongle or device to connect my PC to the cell network.

    A related feature, “Portable Wi-Fi hotspot”, enables your mobile phone to become it’s own access point for other PCs, cell phones or other gizmos which can operate on Wi-Fi.

    These two features are extremely useful, particularly if you have an unlimited data plan. But note that some mobile carriers may force you to pay an additional fee for this convenience, since they know they are forgoing the revenue from a separate account for a PC network connection. (Truly short-sighted in my opinion, since it will encourage cost conscious geeks to switch to unlocked phones to get access to this feature).


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