j5 create’s Wormhole Station

j5create logoj5 create‘s background in USB display adaptors means they know a thing or two about using both hardware and software to create unique solutions. j5 Create’s Wormhole cable is one such solution as it joins two computers into one…and they don’t even have to be running the same OS. Fred shows Jeffrey and Steve some of the benefits of this innovative technology, which won a CES Innovation Honoree award.

At its most basic the Wormhole switch is simply a USB 2 cable that connects between two computers, but clever software allows the computers to work together, with one keyboard and mouse being shared between the two. The OS of the two devices doesn’t have to be the same and an Android tablet being controlled by a Windows PC is perfectly possible. Files can be seamlessly transferred between the two machines as well. Pretty smart.

Moving on to a second product, j5 create has a very desirable line of small docking stations for laptops that are little more than foot-long shiny tubes with a plethora of ports. Branded “ultrastations” and connecting via USB 3, these take full advantage of the faster data rate to provide a myriad of connections, including HDMI, through a single USB 3 cable. Nice.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of The Geekazine Podcast and Steve Lee of Netcast Studio.

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J5Create’s Wormhole Station

j5create logoJ5Create may be familiar to Apple Macintosh users as they’re designers of aesthetic Mac accessories, but their latest gadget will be of interest to those of us with a foot in the PC camp. Here Todd talks to John about their new Wormhole Station.

The Wormhole Station combined with the Wormhole cable creates a keyboard and mouse switch which not only controls both a PC and a Mac from one mouse and keyboard but also moves files seamlessly from one computer to the other. Even cooler, you can set the configuration up so that moving the mouse cursor off one side of Mac screen transfers the cursor to the PC screen. It’s a bit like having a dual monitor setup, only with two OSes!

If you like the sound of this, it’s available in both laptop and desktop configurations. Available now, the Wormhole Station will set you back $109.99 and the cable is $39.99. The CES folk like it so much, they gave the Wormhole Station an Innovation Honoree Award.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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SurfEasy On-line Privacy Debuts at CES

Canadian firm SurfEasy will debut their eponymous USB key-based private Internet browser at CES, Las Vegas, next week. The portable USB key launches its own web browser which uses strong encryption to keep your surfing habits secret and holds all your personal information such as bookmarks, history and web passwords on the password-protected key itself. Nothing is left behind on the computer itself.

SurfEasy Secure Internet

When you stop and think about it, we use many different networks and computers to access our online lives. Whether it’s connecting from the office or using a Wi-Fi hotspot, we’re providing a lot of personal information to computers, networks and websites that are not designed with our personal privacy in mind,” said Chris Houston, founder and CEO of SurfEasy Inc. “SurfEasy lets people take control of protecting their online privacy and security by simply plugging in a USB key.

One of the biggest potential benefits is when using unsecured WiFi in places like coffee shops. As SurfEasy creates an encrypted tunnel from the SurfEasy USB key across the Internet, no-one can see any detail about your browsing. All they can see is the encrypted data and the volume of data. SurfEasy encrypts the web traffic using SSL and passes the traffic through its own servers, stripping the client IP from the data stream.  The proxy network is hosted in Canada and the US, with other international locations to come soon.

As the data stream passes through SurfEasy’s servers, SurfEasy publish a Customer Bill of Rights which is upfront about what you can expect from the company in terms of keeping your activities secret. Basically, unless you come to the attention of the legal authorities, no usage data is held.

The SurfEasy browser is powered by Mozilla and is compatible with Microsoft Windows XP, Vista and 7. Apple users needs to be on Mac OS X 10.5 or later. The SurfEasy USB key costs $60 and this includes 2 GB per month of encrypted traffic through the SurfEasy network. Additional data costs $5 per month for 25 GB and $10 for 75 GB. Product delivery is expected in February.

I can see this being very handy for backpackers and other travellers who have to use Internet cafes while travelling and are rightly concerned about security. Plug-in the SurfEasy USB key to a public computer and you’re instantly secure wherever you are.

Android Causing WiFi Router Lockups

I’ve had an Android phone for about a year and a half (the HTC Evo from Sprint) but primarily because of battery use issues I’ve never used it on my home WiFi network.

In the interim, a few months ago I purchased a Barnes & Noble Nook Color, which runs a custom version of Android. I’ve also experimented with dual-booting the Nook with CyanogenMod 7, an open-source version of Android. When I dual-boot into CyanogenMod 7 and connect to my Apple Airport Extreme router, the router will loose Internet connectivity after only a few minutes, requiring me to cycle the router’s power off and back on to restore connectivity.

Now that I’ve been able to install the authorized version of Netflix onto the Nook after Barnes and Noble’s latest Nook OS update, I tried running Netflix on the Nook on my home network. After watching video for 15 or more minutes, my Apple router loses Internet connectivity.

My youngest brother has a newer HTC Android phone, and after he connected to my local WiFi network almost immediately the Apple router lost connectivity. It happened so frequently at one point that I was beginning to think the router was dying.

However, after futher experimentation I’ve determined that if I don’t connect any Android devices to my WiFi, the router seems to work as flawlessly as ever.

Time to check Mr. Google. Using the Google-suggested search term “android crashes router” (the term pops up immediately after I start typing “android cras   “ so I know plenty of other people are looking for a solution) 4,730,000 results come up. After reading through a number of posts by people experiencing the same issue, I have yet to come up with a definitive answer. What is it about a variety of versions of Android connecting to WiFi that is causing many different brands of routers to lose Internet connectivity? The problem is by no means an Apple Router/Android WiFi incompatibility – it therefore seems more likely an issue with Android itself, or at least certain Android builds.

The suggested fixes range from people suggesting that they try to update their router’s firmware to trying to confine the router to Wireless “G” only.

Ironically my HTC Evo phone can also be used as a WiFi hotspot. I can connect any Android device to the Evo’s WiFi hotspot feature and transfer all the data I want without issue. In other words, Android cannot cause my Android phone’s hotspot feature to lose Internet connectivity.

It would be logical to assume that this problem is an Android software issue. The problem seems inconsistent, most probably because of the patchwork-quilt variety of Android hardware and custom OS builds.

So far, the problem hasn’t even seemed to be officially acknowledged as an issue. I suspect that bad Android battery life has prevented a lot of people from trying to connect their Android phones to their home networks via WiFi, so mass numbers of people likely haven’t experienced the potential WiFi router crashing problem.

Of the people that do connect their phones to home WiFi routers, some people never have a problem, while others are constantly plagued by it.

Android crashing WiFi routers is enough to cause me to veer away from future Android devices, unless and until the problem is solved. Phase one of the chaos of the Windows desktop has spread to smartphones.

Welcome to the new Windows fractal – it’s name is Android.

Ubuntu Linux Heads for Smartphones and Tablets

ZDNet is reporting that Canonical is intending to make the next release of Ubuntu, 12.04, a LTS (Long Term Support) release with intention of then expanding Ubuntu beyond desktops and laptops into smartphones, tablets and smart TVs, with a target of 2014 for an all-platform release.

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, in an interview said, “This is a natural expansion of our idea as Ubuntu as Linux for human beings. As people have moved from desktop to new form factors for computing, it’s important for us to reach out to out community on these platforms. So, we’ll embrace the challenge of how to use Ubuntu on smartphones, tablets and smart-screens.” The full announcement is expected at the Ubuntu Developer Summit, which starts tomorrow and runs for a week in Orlando, Florida.

Having already been in discussions with partners for around 18 months, it seems that this is more than wishful thinking, but one can’t help feel that the whole Palm-HP-WebOS debacle bodes badly for any company wanting to get in on the smartphone and tablet space. If HP can’t make it happen with a solid OS and Zen of Palm, what hope has Canonical? When quizzed about this, Shuttleworth said that he saw “Android as its primary competitor…..We’ve also already heard from people who are already shipping tablets that they want Ubuntu on the tablet.” And of course, “Ubuntu already has a developer and customer base.”

While there’s no doubt that the mobile space is still maturing and there’s plenty of change still to come,  I have a hard time seeing Ubuntu on anything but a small niche of tablets and an even smaller niche of smartphones. iOS and Android have their foothold and Microsoft will be a solid third if Windows Phone 7 continues to deliver and Windows 8 delivers as expected. A fourth player is going to have difficulty making inroads, especially one as relatively unknown as Canonical and Ubuntu.

Smart TVs are a more plausible destination as the internal software is of less concern to the consumer. Most people buying a TV are looking at the exterior brand such as Sony, Samsung or LG, and not what’s inside, although this may change if a “Powered by Roku” or “Google TV inside” campaign runs. Plenty of change to come in this space too.

I wish Ubuntu every success.

iTwin – Reinventing Mac, PC USB Drive as Cloud Device

itwin

itwin

I have looked at this interesting product called the iTwin for a few weeks now. It’s a dongle for your computer that pairs two machines together – no matter where they are located. As long as they are on unrestricted WiFi, they can talk to each other.

Using military-grade encryption, the iTwin is pretty easy to use. Plug in one USB dongle into one computer, the other USB dongle into another computer. Connect up to an internet connection, then pair up the machines. When paired, you can pass information between the two. There is no storage limits (besides what the computers can hold).
The system comes with a “Remote Disable Code”, which you get via email. If your machine gets stolen, then initiate the code and your iTwin is disabled.
The main advantage to using the iTwin is you can have a machine with little or no data on it. Your other computer could become a cloud source only you can access. If you have PC or Mac, you can use this system.
“We are excited to be able to offer iTwin to both OS X and Windows customers,” says Lux Anantharaman, co-founder and CEO of iTwin. “We are confident that Mac users will be satisfied with the features iTwin offers, and which both consumers and small businesses have come to enjoy.  Now both Macs and PCs will have full, cross-platform capabilities with this revolutionary device that is perfect for their sensitive file sharing needs.”
The iTwin is available for $99 on their store or through Amazon.

Is Snow Leopard The New XP?

Like a lot of people, I purchased the Lion upgrade on the first day of availability from the Apple App store.

I upgraded two late-model Mac Minis along with an older 17” MacBook Pro. The Lion upgrade solved a freezing problem on the Mac Mini I use as an HD-DVR. However, it created a number of serious problems on the MacBook Pro – Lion would not work with my Verizon USB aircard, it would not back up to my HP Windows Home Server, and it would not work properly with the Ubercaster podcast recording application.

After living with these Lion-induced problems for more than a month on the MacBook Pro, I downgraded it back to a prior (and fully functional) Snow Leopard backup image. Everything is now back to normal, with everything once again functioning the way it should.

My MacBook Pro is no slouch, yet it seemed a bit sluggish running Lion compared to Snow Leopard.

If you have a Mac that’s more than a couple of years old, and/or you are running a variety of software and hardware that Lion likely won’t support and/or that may never be updated to run properly on Lion, I would strongly suggest skipping the Lion upgrade.

I found the Lion interface changes mostly annoying. On a computer (as opposed to an iPod), I prefer normal scroll bars. In Lion you can turn the scroll bars so that they remain on, but they are thin little gray lines that I have a hard time seeing and grabbing with the mouse. I don’t like the changes Apple made to the Finder in Lion, nor do I like the changes they made to the Spotlight Search functionality. I found the changes to the Mail program to be of dubious value, as well as the cosmetic changes to the Address Book adding no functionality.

Snow Leopard runs perfectly well and just might be the new XP.

Is Apple Turning Into Microsoft?

I’ve been a fairly happy Apple/OS/X user for the past three to four years. Before that, I was a Windows user that finally became disgusted enough to finally make the jump.

Most computer users are well aware of the arguments, both pro and con.

Up until now, I’ve been happy. Up until now, everything simply worked. Ahem, up until now…

What is different now? It’s called Lion. Depending on what you use your machine for, Lion can be great. However, there’s a dark side to Apple’s latest feline incarnation. If you use a wide variety of software with your particular Mac, chances are Lion is going to break things – perhaps things that you rely on. Say, a podcasting application called “Ubercaster” that no longer functions 100% for starters, or how about a Verizon USB 3G aircard that worked fine in both Leopard and Snow Leopard, but Lion somehow just cannot recognize?

Being a long-time Windows user, I’m used to the new version of the O/S screwing things up, sometimes royally. However, that bad Microsoft habit of releasing half-baked, buggy operating system updates seems to have migrated from Redmond down to Cupertino.

It wasn’t as if I expected something like this might happen. I’m prepared – I have a backup machine in the form of a 13” white plastic Macbook that I purposely kept on  Snow Leopard. Unfortunately, the most recent Snow Leopard updates Apple has sent out have broken Ubercaster entirely on that machine, rendering the backup machine rather useless at the moment for podcast recording. The Ubercaster application will no longer load, even the latest updated version.

Ubercaster still works on my Macbook Pro running Lion, but the setup is now unreliable.

Also, Lion seems to not even work properly with Apple’s own hardware. When I touch the touchpad on my 3-year-old Macbook Pro 17 it no longer makes the screen wake up after it has turned off – it’s now necessary to hit a key to make the screen come back on.

What was Apple thinking? Probably of money.

Microsoft Kinected Technologies Evening for Techsumers

Back with Microsoft for a more consumer oriented evening. This time it’s going to be Windows Media Centre, Home Server, Xbox, Kinect and more on the phones.

First up is Microsoft Home Server 2011 – every house should have one. As standard it’s a media server, dishing out photos, music and videos. Usual DLNA stuff.

Microsoft provides a remote site which in turn can connect to the home server across the Internet. Great if you travel and you need to get at your stuff.

But when you are at home, any PC can connect to the Home Server to configure. Normally the Windows Server works headlessly i.e. without a monitor, so this is how the Server is manager.

Great news – the Drive Extender feature is going to return in 2011 courtesy of a community plug-in which appears to be endorsed by Microsoft.

Not sure if this new news, but they’re saying here that a Nokia running Windows Phone 7 will be out before Christmas, perhaps in October.

A quick demo now using Sonos to play music.

Now it’s the turn of the Xbox and Kinect. He’s playing Kinect Sports. Everything’s been done waving his hand. Ok so it’s a game but the possibilities are there in say, sterile environments. No touch, no cross-infection.

They’re now showing off a Kinect controlling the cursor on a PC instead of a mouse. Flicking through a Powerpoint presentation with your hands rather than a controller.

A video of win&i is being shown – it’s a product from a German company which shows the Kinect interacting with various apps including Media Center and Google Earth.

Microsoft sees Kinect being built directly in TVs and monitors. Several OEMs already have plans (allegedly).

Windows Phone 7 integrates with Xbox Live, pulling in avatars, badges and messages.
The next generation of games will bring the phone together with the Xbox and Kinect. Imagine a game where one player is on the phone flicking footballs at a goal and the other player is on the Xbox and is the goalkeeper. He’s saving the footballs as seen by the Kinect. Tres cool.

That’s it for now! Goodnight.

TechNet Live Tour: Cloud for IT Pros

Microsoft’s TechNet Live Tour is giving a half day seminar on the cloud and what it means for the IT professional. I’ve been invited along so, for a change, I’m going to try a bit of a “live blog” approach, just typing as I go. It’s going to cover Windows Intune, Small Business Server 2011, Office 365, Dynamics CRM 2011, Azure, Windows Phone 7 and IE9.  Could be a long afternoon.

The event opens with a keynote on the Cloud for IT Pros given by Dave Northey. The cloud and the consumerisation of IT are the big impacts of now and Dave will cover them both. Dave suggests that business led technology a decade ago. But today consumers lead. The average home PC is more powerful than work PCs. Most consumers use Windows 7, yet XP is still used extensively in business.

The three big cloud providers are Microsoft, Amazon and Google, with room for a fourth. Cloud computing is Internet-based computing whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices on-demand like the electricity grid – Wikipedia.

Cloud Data Centre
Shared resources – stability, security, reliability, QoS, SLAs

On-Demand – pay as you go, no upfront investment, instant access, scale, no money wasted when projects fail

Public Cloud v Private Cloud
Private cloud uses own data centre. Control over data but less scale.

Regardless aim is for capacity to follow demand. What workload patterns are suitable for cloud?
– On and off, e.g. Batch jobs, video transcoding
– Growing fast, e.g. Unexpectedly successful services
– Unpredictable bursting, e.g. Spikes caused by natural disasters
– Predictable bursting, e.g. End of month for finance.

Type of cloud services
– Software as a Service (SaaS) for users
– Platform as a Service (PaaS) for developers
– Infrastruce as a Service (IaaS) for IT

Datacentre evolution
– Traditional datacentre
– Virtualised datacentre
– On premises private cloud
– Off premises cloud
Virtualisation was a pre-requisite for the cloud.

The private cloud is virtualisation plus self-service, scalability and automation.

Azure is Ms’ platform as a service. It’s a developer offering linked into Visual Studio, .net, PHP and so on. Three components – Azure AppFabric for access control and comms, SQL Azure for database, Windows Azure for compute and storage.

Dave then gives a demo of some of the features of Azure including simply connecting to a folder stored in the cloud but the most impressive part was the management of all the virtual machines. In the (short) demo, a cloud-based server was provisioned with web services.

Cloud services are coming, with private clouds first followed by the move to the public cloud.

Ooh, they’ve announced a Surface device is here.

Surface1

Surface2

Surface3

Surface4

Dave also gave an inpromptu demo of Windows Phone 7 which was as much a selection of soundbites as it was a demo.
– Microsoft expects to be #2 behind Android and ahead of iPhone.
– Multiple forms factors from HTC and Nokia who make over 100 million phones per year.
– It’s a consumer device first
– Marketplace will have quality, tested apps.
– Try before you buy option available to all developers but only one version required – that’s clever.
– Average app lifetime, i.e. Find, download, try, delete is 5 mins.
– Expected that a developer wil earn 10 times as much from Windows Phone app as from iPhone.

Next up was Office 365 by Patrick Herlihy.

Office 365 is the new Software as a Service offering which includes Office, Exchange Online, Sharepoint Online and Lync Online.

Office licensed on a pay as you go per user. Full and latest version of Office. Lync will offer IM, presence and web conference from the start. Voice will arrive later.

Different licensing options for different types of users, e.g. Kiosk worker for basic options, Information worker for more. There are lots of different licensing options depending on your organisations need.

The process to moving to the cloud and using Office 365 goes through standardisation, deployment, service change and includes privacy & security considerations. In particular, most ActiveDirectories will need a good tidy.

Regarding sign on, there are two options – Ms Online IDs or new Federated IDs which allow single sign-on from existing credentials. The latter will need an internal deployment of ADFS.

DirSync synchronises the organisation’s internal ActiveDirectory with the version hosted in the cloud for Office 365. This is needed to keep online permissions etc in step with the organisation.

Exchange Online can co-exist with in-house Exchange and there are tools to move mailboxes between the two systems.

Patrick gave a quick on-line demo of the product. The on-line versions were all very similar to their Windows-based equivalent. Firefix, Safari and IE are all supported. The management tools were comprehensive as well.

The public beta of Office 365 is available now.

Patrick continued to Microsoft’s Intune, a cloud-based PC management service. It offers malware protection, alert monitoring, patch management, software and hardware inventories and remote assistance / desktop sharing. He then gave a demo of the system and it was competent enough. I could certainly see it replacing a number of separate tools. However you got the feeling that it was version 1 and version 2 would be much better. Probably best suited to SMEs with hundreds of PCs rather than thousands.

As proceeds were running late, I had to leave, missing some of the subsequent sessions. But I’ll be back…

Overall, a useful introduction to Microsoft’s vision of a cloud-based future.