Monthly Archives: March 2011

Retail Stores Now Rocking the Roku

For a while now, the Roku box has been an excellent option for those looking to set up a cost-effective home media system with access to streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu.  However, unlike other more popular products such as the Apple TV, the Roku has – until now – been marketed to what one could easily consider to be a “niche” market consisting primarily of the “geeky” types.  There was no wide-spread advertising for the device, and an individual looking to purchase one was only able to do so online.  Yesterday, however, the Roku made its official retail unveiling and is now available for purchase at more “traditional” retail outlets such as BestBuy and RadioShack.

In all honesty, I am a bit taken back by this somewhat sudden development.  You see, even with the new $99 price-point, the Apple TV (which offers a very similar overall functionality) hasn’t been flying off of store shelves despite being one of Apple’s lowest-priced products.  The Logitech Revue – a device that sports Google TV – seems to have done even worse after Google ran into a number of issues with their software backend, only to disappoint what seems to be a very small market of potential customers.  So, knowing this, why is the Roku going mainstream?

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Review: Able Planet NC200b True Fidelity Noise-Canceling Headphones

If you are a frequent traveller, whether that be by plane, train, or bus, you know that one of the most annoying and distracting drawbacks to travel is the noise. Whether that noise be from the engines, crying infants, or just the hustle and bustle of a commute, it is always nice to have a pair of noise-canceling headphones to hiss away the sound. Unfortunately, active noise-canceling headphones can run a pretty steep price. That is a dilemma Able Planet has set out to fix.

The NC200b headphones are their $100 model and feature their patented ‘Linx’ audio. This means the audio you find on these NC200b’s will not be onboard any other sets of cans. The audio quality is about average for the price in my opinion. There are certainly better sounding pairs of earphones in the price range, and there are definitely much worse sets of headphones. But in the $100 range, you will not find as good noise canceling sets as these from Able Planet.

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Amazon Releases Cloud Drive

Just a week ago today, I wrote an article about Amazon – one of the biggest players in the online sales arena – and how they could hit major pay dirty if they were to use their existing Amazon Web Services (AWS) infrastructure to create a consumer-focused service similar to Apple’s MobileMe product.  In this article, I discussed the fact that Amazon could significantly expand their web services department to an audience outside of the developers and other savvy individuals that they currently cater to, and that by making products that everyone could use, the company would have such a greater potential.  Moreover, I came to the conclusion that for a company such as Amazon that already has the staff and engineering backend in place, creating a rock-solid MobileMe competitor wouldn’t be nearly as big of a feat as some would imagine.

When I wrote this article, I was speaking purely hypothetically.  While I honestly did want to see a MobileMe competitor, I doubted that Amazon would act on such plans for at least a matter of months.  So imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning and read that Amazon released a new consumer-based service dubbed “Cloud Drive” early this morning.

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iPad 2 Unboxing

It was just under a year ago that I unboxed the original iPad live on stream and now almost one year later I’ve unboxed the iPad 2.  I know I previously stated that I probably wouldn’t be buying an iPad 2, and well, I ended up doing so.  How did it end up happening you ask?  Well, to put it simply, I rolled out of bed, reminded myself that the iPad 2 went on sale that day and promptly sat down in front of my computer and clicked “Buy.”

I don’t really recall many of the other details, like how I decided which model to go with or what color I wanted, and that’s partly due to the fact I was still half asleep and partly due to the fact the reality distortion field of Steve Jobs had taken full affect over my body.

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Why Linux Distributions Will Never Be Mainstream

Throughout the history of software there has always been people who prefer customization over simplicity. In the more modern era of computer software the most evident example of this phenomenon is Linux distributions. A distribution of software cobbled together into one massive bundle that seems to be held together by an elastic band. Normally these operating systems are outdated and are almost always neglected by mainstream software developers. For example, Adobe Flash on Linux seems to only work if you pray to the Adobe gods before loading any flash content.

I’ll admit over the years this cobbled bundle has become more refined and in rare cases Linux distributions like Ubuntu can actually be useful. However, many issues still exist that make it impossible for a mainstream user to ever become familiar with the complexities inherit in all open source applications. This is caused simply by the unorganized method in which open source software is created. Imagine writing a letter, then giving that letter to your neighbor and allowing him or her to edit the letter along with adding their own letter to the same paper. The person who eventually reads this letter might end up being somewhat confused. Now imagine allowing thousands of people to edit the letter and add their own. By the time someone finally reads the finish product it would be total chaos.

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Comodo Data Breach Gives Web Users A Slap of Reality

As Internet users, we have always been taught to be mindful of the sites we visit, as some of them may very well be designed specifically to lure unsuspecting visitors into a fraudulent trap.  Asides from checking the URL of the site that one is on or logging into, one of the biggest “rules” for web safety is to ensure that you are connecting security to a website.  This can be seen when one visits a page that begins with “https://” instead of the traditional “http://”, and in many cases (depending on browser) sports an animated lock.  What this does is verify that the connection between you and the server is free of eavesdroppers, and that the server that you are connecting to belongs to the company, group, or organization that you intend.

In order to verify the identity of servers for these secure connections, large organizations known as “certificate authorities” (CA’s) sell certificates that the server/site administrator configures on their end to establish their identity during secure data transactions.  However, to ensure that your average shmuck can’t write his or her own certificate, these certificate authorities must validate the certificates as connections occur.  To do this, the vendors of modern web browsers allow the certificate authorities to check the validity of a secure certificate with the authorities server via the browser itself.  In essence, the browser reads the certificate provided by the website and “phones home” to make sure it’s legitimate.

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Will the PlayBook Be Successful?

A little more than a year ago when Steve Jobs first unveiled the Apple iPad many saw the device as revolutionary; not only in terms of grandfathering the tablet industry with previously unheard of features, but in terms of the price as well.  With baseline models starting at just $499 (16GB, WiFi), the iPad was definitely competitively priced; especially for an Apple product.  The iPad’s price-point, in my opinion, is one of the reasons that the iPad came to be as successful as it was.  Now that the second-generation iPad has hit the open market sporting more features than one could have previously imagined, the iPad’s pricing scheme is more competitive than ever.

With that in mind, pricing is one of the biggest aspects in making another tablet product competitive on the mobile market.  Because let’s face it; with the current state of our economy, people sometimes often evaluate price more than the quality or feature behind a product.  Recently, Research in Motion (RIM) formally announced the pricing structure for the BlackBerry Playbook; a device that hypothetically speaking could take the once-prestige mobile giant in a whole new (and profitable) direction.

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What Is OAuth and How Can it Make the Internet Safer?

Over the last few months I’ve been working on discovering the functionality of the OAuth standard. OAuth (Open Authorization) is an open standard for authorization. It allows users to share their private resources (e.g. photos, videos, contact lists) stored on one site with another site without having to hand out their credentials, typically a username and password.

So lets assume some third-party website like Dropbox wants to import your photos from Facebook. The way this would work is Dropbox would first redirect you to Facebook.com. If you had been logged into Facebook already it would ask you to allow the Dropbox website access to your Facebook information, in this case your photos. If you had not been logged in it would ask you to log into Facebook as usual and then would continue as stated above. Once you had allowed Dropbox access, Facebook would redirect you back to the Dropbox page and the download of your photos would begin.

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Color.com Sold for $350k

After doing a little research I discovered that Color.com was acquired by Color Labs in December 2010 for $350,000.  After hearing about the new photo sharing social network which raised $41 million dollars (pre-launch) from several venture capital firms (which is more than Google raised), I wondered how much of it they used to acquire the domain name Color.com.  Well, it appears, not that much of the $41 million was spent on the domain.

If you look at the site DN Sale Price, you can see for yourself that the domain sold for 350k according to DN Journal (the source it lists).  I’ve included a screenshot below.

 

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EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Nico Westerdale (BitsDuJour Founder)

I recently got in touch with Nico Westerdale of BitsDuJour.com for our continuing interview/Q&A series.  I met Nico this past summer at Affiliate Summit East (2010) and was lucky enough to have dinner with him one night.  That’s when he introduced me to a website he runs which hosts awesome software deals (for both Mac and PC) and I thought this interview series would be a great opportunity to tell everyone about it.

So, let’s see what he has to say.

Can you tell us a bit about what BitsDuJour is?

BitsDuJour.com is a daily deals website for software. Every day we have both a Mac and a PC application, or a cross platform app, available at a huge discount often up to 90% off the regular price. We partner directly with Independent Software Vendors to get the best possible software that’s out there. We provide all the information you need to evaluate the software before you purchase, with license details and a download link. The really great thing about BitsDuJour is its community. You’re able to ask the Software Vendor any question you want about the software on our comment threads before you purchase and you should be able to get an answer in a very short time. You can also see what other users are saying about the software and really get a feel for how the product is supported, something that’s often impossible to do before you buy through a regular software website.

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RapidWeaver Review

In this day in age, small businesses and organizations need to have a company website in order to maintain their professional image and attract new clients and customers.  Personal websites – biographies, portfolios, resumes, etc. – are even becoming a standard for professional individuals as well.  However, the sad reality is that websites can be quite a challenge to build, making it difficult for small businesses and individuals to attain their own home on the vast Internet.  Sure, one can easily learn various web technologies such as HTML/PHP, CSS, and JavaScript to build a site from the ground up, but the fact of the matter is that many people simply lack the time to follow through with such a project.

This is where the concept of WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) web utilities emerged from.  By allowing less technically experienced users to build sites with a simple graphical-based utility, these utilities aim at making it easy for end-users to develop their own websites with minimal time or effort.  While this sounds like a great concept in theory, one of the big problems that I have seen with such websites is that they often-times are either overly complex for those without previous web design experience, or as a polar opposite do not give the user the level of flexibility or control that he or she needs to design a meaningful website.

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Amazon, I Want to See a MobileMe Competitor

Previously, BestTechie contributor Adam Landreneau wrote an overview on Apple’s synchronization and data-management service, MobileMe.  While Adam recommended MobileMe for Macintosh and iOS users because of it’s ability to store, synchronize, and share data there were still a number of things that continue to hold MobileMe back to this day.  To start with, the service – while available for Windows as well – is targeted mainly towards users of Apple products, leaving Windows users out in the dust.  Second off, the entry-level price-point of $99/year for a basic individual account makes it a bit difficult to justify the product, regardless of its potential benefit or value.

Even as we’re amidst rumors of Apple potentially unleashing a free MobileMe tier, one has to admit that Apple does indeed have a chokehold on the consumer “cloud” industry.  Sure, there are ways to achieve many of MobileMe’s features using free products such as Google services and Dropbox, but these “hacked together” solutions are not anywhere near as user-friendly as MobileMe and take a much more significant effort to setup.  With this in mind, I’m honestly surprised that we have yet to see someone come up with a more cost-effective yet simple MobileMe alternative that worked just as well for Apple users as it did for non-Apple users.

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EXCLUSIVE: Interview with David Ulevitch (OpenDNS CEO)

As part of our continuing interview/Q&A session series, I got in touch with David Ulevitch, the Founder and CEO of OpenDNS.  If you’re not familiar with OpenDNS, I’d recommend you check out the review I wrote (video included) a while back.  However, in short, OpenDNS is company which provides DNS (Domain Name System) services for the Internet.  They offer several useful features and tools which you can’t get with boring old ISP DNS or even Google DNS.

Let’s see what he has to say.

Just a few days ago OpenDNS hit a new milestone and successfully resolved over 31 billion DNS requests in a single day (congrats by the way).  Can you describe how that makes you feel?

It’s very exciting to watch our company grow. DNS requests is just one metric we watch. Others are how many customers we have, how many Fortune 500 companies are using, our attrition rates and many of our customers who are using us like and would recommend OpenDNS to others. Hitting the milestone was fun, but there’s much more work to be done.

Also, while it’s accurate in the sense that it’s the number of queries we resolved, it’s a bit of a red-herring at times in that our operations and engineering teams have some influence over that number when they make changes to how we respond to DNS requests, retries, routing, abusive traffic, etc. – though that’s a whole different discussion.

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Why the Possibility of an Amazon Tablet Intrigues Me

Last week I discussed Amazon’s rumored entry into the mobile software field and how the Internet giant’s involvement with the Android OS hinted at the possibility of the company releasing their own Android-powered device in the near future.  While Amazon has yet to publicly confirm anything, recent actions seem to at very least back all of the rumors that I am reading about Amazon’s involvement with the application marketplace, and it wouldn’t be at all far-fetched to believe that they could be working on a tablet or mobile device as well.

While I am not sure exactly how well Amazon would fare with this type of venture, I do know that they wouldn’t be starting off cold, but rather building on the success of he Amazon Kindle, which has already proven itself as an excellent eBook reader.  However, having purchased the device for someone last holiday season, I was actually surprised to find that the device supports games (as of August 2010) and documents as well.  With this in mind, it almost seems like Amazon has been trying to expand the Kindle’s features and usability across different groups, but has yet to be able to take their work to the full potential because of the simple limitations of the device.

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