Monday, November 29, 2010

Say "Goodbye!" to Vonage

We knew this day would come.

If ever there were a reason to cancel your Vonage service, you need look no further than what a respectable SIP provider plus a soft client can bring you.

For those just tuning in, the digital voice revolution is in full swing, and by now even the TELCOs have gotten the message that voice over plain old telephone sets is just so twentieth century. A telephone is just hardware. And telephone service is what people really want. And to the extent that you or I can use that service in any manner we want, the happier we will be.

Around 2004, in rushed Vonage to a market space that promised cheaper US calls from anywhere in the world. Just add IP. And what a wonderful thing it was to be able to plug in a plain-Jane telephone into a voice telephone adapter and get phone service just the way we were used to: A dial tone, familiar re-purposed hardware, and voice quality that no one would confuse with having originated at a computer. No goofy headsets, no CRTs. Just dial like your mamma taught you, and all was well with the world.

But then sometime between 2004 and 2010 things changed. Suddenly, and for no justifiable reason, I was paying more for Vonage phone service than I had ever paid for plain old wired phone service. 50 USD or more per month was starting to beg the question as to what I was getting out of this deal--other than the ability to put my phone about anywhere in the world that there is an Internet connection.

Well, enough is enough. I cut my Vonage service, saved buckets of loot, and now can make calls from the comfort of my hacienda or from the convenience of my iPhone. All in three easy steps:

  1. Choose a VOIP provider, such as VOIPo

  2. Install GroundWire from Acrobits on the iPhone

  3. Pull the plug on Vonage

Why put up with the hassle?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Cloud Desktop

I've taken my time to get familiar with the Gladinet product offering, and there's a lot worth talking about. For one, the product does setup and execute with minimal fuss. The setup and configuration is straight-forward and intuitive.

As for the functionality of Gladinet, it can be overwhelming. Although not to the level of bloatware, mind you; it does endeavor to fulfill a multitude of functions: mirroring, backup, cloud-to-cloud backup, and the like. But for me, where Gladinet shines is its ability to intermediate between the Windows environment and third-party cloud-attached storage, such as that of Google Docs, Google Apps, Amazon S3 and WebDav services.

In my case, I have a couple cloud-based storage providers. MyDrive, my preferred platform for document filing, has been managed transparently by Gladinet for about a month now insofar as its connection to my Windows desktop environment is concerned. Although I am mapped via UNC path to MyDrive via Windows Explorer, I am also mapped via the Gladinet software.

Why? Well as it turns out, it is difficult to edit Microsoft Office 2010 documents directly from the Windows desktop. That is, the Windows implementation of the WebDav specification seems to differ from canon. That being the case, saving and updating from the Windows desktop is problematic at best, and downright infuriating at worst. But proxy the Windows Explorer mapped drive with that of a mapped drive through Gladinet, and those frustrations are much allayed. And while I can't say that updating documents via Gladient is flawless, (one must save over a document, vice update a document), it does get the job done.

Of course, the utility of working in the cloud is greatly enhanced when all one's documents are already residing there. This situation opens the question of how to move one's local files on disk to the cloud--which is worthy of separate discussion. More on that later.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Elusive Google G-Drive

Where is the Google G-drive that we’ve all been waiting for?

After a perusal of the Google Apps Marketplace, it becomes apparent that there is yet no standard tool whose primary purpose it to give us that “connected” feeling we get when we map network drives to our local machines.

Yes, if we’re looking for a Google App that mysteriously and magically keeps a copy of our file on the local workstation and another copy in the Google Cloud, there’s an app for that. And if we need to share documents among collaborators via the services that Google Apps and the Google Cloud provide, there’s an app for that, too. But for vanilla file access and storage to the Google Cloud, via webdav, I guess we’re forced to look elsewhere.

And elsewhere it is.

Gladinet has positioned itself as the integrator of not just the elusive G-drive, but of all cloud-based storage and access solutions. Gladinet makes the software behind its Cloud Desktop Service, which does the heavy lifting for those less-than-stellar WAN link connections.

As a regular user of other webdav services, I’ve experienced the pain associated with large files or multiple files that I access and edit via mapped drives using webdav. As such, I’m intrigued with the possibility of letting the Gladinet’s Cloud Desktop Service smooth out the fits and starts associated with webdav.

I’ll give it a try and report back.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tablet PC Software, Installment 3

One of the more challenging areas of slate tablet pc usage is navigation. Transitioning from the keyboard and mouse to stylus and hardware buttons is not as natural as it could be. Moving up and down in a document or in a webpage can be painful when searching for that narrow scroll bar or that teensy scroll arrow. Moreover for left-handed users, reaching across the page with your arm, thereby obstructing one’s view of the contents of the page can be downright frustrating.

So what choice do we have?

Scroll Control.

Scroll Control is really merely a component of a larger program—InkSeine, by Microsoft Research-- which attempts to capitalize on the merits of stylus-in-hand tablet computing. The genius of the Scroll Control executable is that rather than confine your stylus to one are of the page (for instance, the scroll bar), the stylus can actually initiate a scrolling action from the scroll control, but control the scrolling activity from anywhere. The beauty of this refinement is the user can control the scrolling of his pages from where it is comfortable to do so—anywhere on the screen.

Like so many other tweaks to a power tablet user’s pc, the trick is to avail the utility when you want it, and with minimal fuss. Normally, Scroll Control will load whenever InkSeine is invoked. But I prefer to just pin a shortcut to the Scroll Control executable to the Windows task bar. Another option is to drop a link to the executable in the Windows Startup folder, whereby it will already be running soon after loading the Windows environment.

Give it a try! Scroll Control is available in InkSeine from Microsoft Research and is free for download.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tablet PC Software, Installment 2

This post is a continuation of our look at tablet software.

One of the first things a tablet user contends with when he makes the switch to pen-computing is the elimination of the optical drive. Well, to be precise, one of the things that the slate tablet pc user gives up when he makes the switch is the readily available optical drive. Years ago during my foray into the realm of the HP TC-1100, I can remember thinking that that was a limiting feature—a tradeoff of weight savings for convenience. Yet somehow from TC-1100 to Electrovaya’s Scribbler SC-3100 to my current Fujitsu ST-5112 twins, the elimination of the optical drive has proven to be more of an emancipating feature than that of a limiting one.

How so?

For one, I save weight, gain form factor and reduce battery use. What this means from a business perspective is that I am more apt to carry the tablet with me, and that it is more than likely going to have ample juice to perform as it was intended—outside the dock and comfortably cradled in my lap.

For two, I have ridden myself of the need to pipe software from CDs for loading large programs such as Microsoft Office or any of its complementary productivity software. Frankly, if not for my move to the slate tablet pc, I’d probably still be loading things off CDs and DVDs.

So what do I use to move ISOs onto my machines? My software of choice is Power ISO.

With a simple right-click of the mouse, an ISO is now mountable as a virtual drive in the Windows Explorer environment. The time

savings is immediately noticeable, in that files run off the hard drive, and best of all the capability is always available in the Windows Explorer environment, and yet is light and unobtrusive-the way good utilities should be.

Of course, I have managed to accumulate CDs, but those are stored safely in a physical storage container. But before stowing away those pesky CDs, I make a point of burning their ISO images, so that I may pull them on demand from my software library, as needed.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tablet PC Software, Installment 1

Let’s talk tablet software.

There are manifold aspects to the automation that I’ve experienced over the past few years in part due to adapting a Tablet PC to my daily workday, that I’ve come to take my tablet for granted. Today I want to take a moment to recount my experience with some PDF annotation software that Grahl introduced some years ago called PDF Annotator.

Prior to my foray into the tablet workstyle, my day was speckled with the occasional paper-to-pen-to-scan-to-print-to-sign-to-scan-to-send cycle, that I had accepted it as the de rigueur behavior for standard forms and paperwork. Receive a form, print it, fill it in, sign it, scan it and send it was just how business was done. And woe be to the hapless intermediary who also has to chop on a work-in-progress. Now it’s his turn to initiate another iteration of the print it, fill it in, sign it, scan it and send it cycle—which only serves to further degrade what was once a pristine electronic version of a form.

Enter Grahl’s PDF Annotator.

The cycle was broken with the ability to fill in a PDF with my TC1100 or Scribbler SC-3100 or Stylistic ST-5112. I can obtain the form electronically, fill it in with a stylus and the tablet pc, and then email it straight away for action. No printing and scanning. No fuss, no mess.

During the course of a normal business day, any number of correspondence requiring my signature and remittance comes and goes electronically, without so much as paper and pen coming between me and its ultimate recipient. This represents a real dollar savings in toner cartridges and paper not bought. But the value I see every day is the time savings I realize by being able to turn around routine paperwork in seconds what takes the conventional manager literally minutes to accomplish. This kind of automation really adds up during the course of a workweek.

So how does it work?

From this side of the tablet, it’s pure magic. The PDF comes in via email or file server, I open it with PDF Annotator and jot and sign away. I then save over the original (or save as a copy) and forward or file a copy of it to its intended recipient.

How many times have I been away from a printer, but tethered to the Internet, when I received a file for signature? This simple but powerful piece of software actually obviates pen and paper for routine forms and remittance. And if I had to rate the bang for the buck when it comes to tablet software, this little package from Grahl takes the cake.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Take 2 and Call Me in the Morning

Pardon my disinterest in Apple’s latest creation.

You see, I’ve been using tablets for about five years--since the heyday of the TC1100--so there’s not a lot for me to get excited about, here.

The TC1100 was of course a full-fledge computer, subject to the tribu

lations of the whimsical and vulnerable Windows operating systems. It, too

, did mail, web and eBooks. Yeah, it cost about four times the stripper model price-point of the iPad, but unlike the iPad, I could actually use the TC1100 as a work and school machine.

Oh, but then there’s that stylus. Frankly, I like the stylus. Try discreetly taking notes in a meeting and you’ll immediately embrace the natural feel of a penning device and notepad in your lap. I’ve actually been to meetings in which colleagues have brought laptops—not a pretty sight, folks. Two hands clanking on keys and head buried behind a screen is no way to commune with one’s associates.

Come to think of it, since my brush with the tablet, all my windows boxes since have been of similar lineage. Following the outgrowing of my TC1100 (it never died) I opted for the Electrovaya Scribbler.

A sturdy machine, it further broke down the barrier between me and it with the incorporation of a fingerprint scanner. At the time, this was a big deal, as I could actually authenticate with the device without even having to whip out the stylus from its silo to do so. The Electrovaya excelled in battery life, but

met its untimely demise due to some moisture collecting under its digitizer screen. (Lesson learned: do not leave a tablet in your car over night, folks).

I replaced the Electrovaya with my current tablet, the Fujitsu ST5112.

In fact, I have two. More on that in a later post. Suffice it to say that although I will continue to buy and bask in the glory of Apple iMac desktops, (my current model is the old white plastic 24 inch variety) I can’t see myself sporting an iPad in the work environment in the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Trifecta

Well, we're about a week away from the much ballyhooed introduction of "Apple's latest creation", and I for one am looking forward to viewing the keynote. (Why don’t presentations at my workplace look like Steve’s?) There's no shortage of rumor mills out there, so my $0.02 probably isn’t even worth that, but I can't help but ask myself the obvious:

1. Given that Apple has re-invented the personal music player by dethroning Sony from its once lofty WalkMan perch, and installing its iPod in its stead;

2. Given that Apple has re-invented the telephone, and banished Nokia to its rightful place as a reliable-yet-uninspiring relic;

3. Given that Apple has begun revamping the media distribution business a la iTunes;

Doesn't it stand to reason that the next big game changer is the distribution of the published word, vis-à-vis the iTablet aka iPad?

I wonder.

On the one hand, Apple already has its media clearinghouse in place. Apple has become the world's largest retailer of music. And within it vast warehouses of silica are also movies and TV shows. So it’s pretty obvious what Apple needs to round out its media megastore is the printed word. Music + Video + Print is after all the elusive Trifecta.

But just how does Steve think that a bottomless well of books and magazines is going replace True, the Kindle is not an inspiring gadget, but it does sell a lot print. And it has one distinguishing characteristic that isn’t getting a lot of press: e-ink.

Let’s face it; there aren’t many of us who enjoy the LED-induced eyestrain associated with reading words off a computer monitor. And for those lucky enough to be working for a living as information workers, after 12 hours of quality time with the workplace machine, who is really itching to spend his leisure hours looking at a hand-held one?

Would l love to see Apple re-invent the printed word? Absolutely! Can it do so without merely porting an oversize iPhone to handle printed content? If it cannot, that’s ok. But unlike my first experience with the iPhone, I have no intention of lining up for one.