Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Latest from CES 2013

For those not familiar, CES, the Consumer Electronics Show is an enormous convention in Las Vegas each January where manufacturers showcase the latest technologies for the upcoming year. While each year the trade journals parade the latest and greatest, the big news this year is what's missing. The headlines this year proclaim "3D is dead," and for me it's no surprise. Perhaps this is why the number of 3D systems Winter Solutions has installed is 0, and here are the reasons why:

  1. The technology is only as good as the content, and 3D doesn't do much to tell the story better. The immersive experience comes primarily from great storytelling combined with the highest quality picture and sound. While 3D may add to that experience when used by a talented filmmaker, much of the 3D content on the market is 2D content that was converted to 3D as a gimmick to increase sales.
  2. 3D can be an incredible experience in an IMAX theater, but the effect is limited if the screen fails to fill your entire field of view. If even a small local theater doesn't cut it, how can your living room TV? Even as common screen sizes reach 60 to 70 inches, they're still not large enough.
  3. Even if the content is available, it has to get to you. 3D requires at least twice the amount of information and today's cable and satellite networks still have limited capacity and Internet connections struggle enough carrying basics from Netflix and Hulu. I can't see providers making 3D a high priority when most of the content  isn't even high-definition. (... and what's the last time you went to Blockbuster to rent a BlueRay DVD?)
  4. 3D isn't for everyone. While this may make this the 2nd article in a row in the "I must be getting old" department, I noticed this issue as an undergrad at Brandeis when I got motion sickness from paying Doom (officially known as the DIMS). I was also so overwhelmed by Avatar that I slept through  two-thirds of it. Teenagers who have grown up with 3D may love it, but they're not the ones making the purchasing decisions.
  5. There's nothing new about 3D. I remember seeing Jaws in 3D as a kid and mother certainly remembers 3D going back 20-30 years before that. It was a short-lived fad then as it clearly is now. 3D  may continue to become a ubiquitous feature of televisions, but apparently most people aren't willing to pay more for it.
Bottom line ... if it's only a few bucks more for 3D, it can't hurt, but unless 3D is important to you, don't worry about leaving it out.

PS The related technology that piques my interest is simultaneous viewing. Imagine ... no more fighting over the remote as two people watch different shows on the same screen and head-to-head gaming without a split screen. The technology is here, it may just be a while before it comes to your TV.

Dovid Winter is Principal Consultant of Winter Solutions and has been providing hands-on IT management services to small-business, non-profit and education since 1986. In addition to custom AV and conference room, Winter Solutions' offers an array of managed IT services. Whether you are looking for assistance with a single project or to outsource your entire IT department, Winter Solutions has a solution to meet your needs. Contact us at 781 821-0000.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Trying new things ...

I'm trying out new things today. I moved the iMac to the middle of my desk and am finally forcing myself to switch from my old buggy Windows 7 64-bit box to a less old Dell box running Windows 8 and Office 2013. My clients know that I have really strict policies about replacing old equipment proactively, but as they say, the cobbler's children have no shoes. (Actually, the cobbler's children do have shoes,  they're just previously worn and resoled.)

As a techie, it's fun to play with new toys, but don't try this at home kids … or rather, do try this at home, just not in the office. As a general rule of thumb for business, I strongly suggest holding off on the latest and greatest unless there's a really strong need. Even then, it's a great idea to wait until the first major set of fixes (i.e. service pack) is released. At some point, the changes will be inevitable, but that usually takes at least a couple of years. New software can be taxing on old hardware and compatibility issues take time to work out. Part of my job is to be the guinea pig, so I'll share a few of my initial impressions and follow-up to see how things progress over the coming weeks.

The Windows 8 Start Screen … [scratching my head] … It might look great on a smartphone, but do I really want this on my computer? Alec, one of my computer repair technicians, thinks it's "awesome" on his 15.5" touch-screen portable computer. I'm not sure if I'm getting too old for awesome or just don't want to be treated like I don't know how to use a computer. (That's what my Mac's for.) My brother Bryan, who's only a few years younger, has gotten used to it and says he's starting to like it, but I couldn't run fast enough to install Classic Shell, a free 3rd party application that puts back the Start menu and Windows Explorer I'm used to. It reminds me of the switch from Office 2003 to Office 2007, when the ribbon was introduced. At first, most people hated it  and I installed an alternate menu for people, but over time people got used to it, it was certainly easier for users new to Office, and finally the ribbon improved significantly with Office 2010. It seems like Microsoft gets things right every other time. Windows 98 was great. Windows ME, not so much. Windows XP was great. Windows Vista was avoided like the plague. Windows 7 is solid. Windows 8, we'll see.

Microsoft Office 2013 – For most serious business users, Outlook is a major part of your day, so I'm starting there. It connected to the Winter Solutions Exchange servers with no problem, but again, I'm really wary about the new look and feel. For the most part, things are where I expect them to be, but the modern clean look means that there's less contrast and things can be subtly more difficult to find. In web design, I welcomed the move away from the pastel websites reminiscent of 80's Miami Vice, and as I type this on my iMac, it's clear to be that the bold use of color does a lot to improve usability for both MacOS and Windows 7 users. It's disappointing to see Microsoft moving away from this. Rather than the familiar yellowish color, Outlook carries a dark blue theme that's easily confused with Word. I did a scan of Microsoft's What's New. Having the weather at the top of Outlook Calendar is nice, but not enough to make me switch. I think it will take time for me to really see the benefits.

So is there any reason to actually upgrade? New look and feel is easy to sell, but its not as easy to push all of of the stuff that happens under the hood. It will take time to really get a sense of that piece. Whereas past upgrades have been focused on embracing the Internet, new software releases are tasked with embracing social networking and the cloud. While the Chromebook and tablets such as the iPad are certainly works in progress, they certainly open the discussion about what computers and software will look like in the next few years and the role of the desktop operating system and office suite may be a diminishing one. To answer my own question above,  I don't know yet. For now, I'll stick with my usual advice. Proactively upgrade your computer every 3-4 years and don't upgrade your operating system until you get a new computer. Even still, I'd hold off on buying a new business computer with Windows 8 until the first service pack is released and you're sure it's compatible with your business applications and the devices you use. If you're running Office 2007 or older, it's certainly worthwhile to go to Office 2013, but I don't see any reason as yet for Office 2010 users to rush. While Apple and Google are certainly dominating the consumer and handheld marketplace in many ways, and I think that Microsoft is legitimately afraid. The reality is that they still have a strong hold on both corporate and small business computing. Innovation breeds competition, and even though it's sometimes hard to see it in the short run, I I'm confident that even the kludgy Windows 8 and Office 2013 upgrades will contribute to a exciting progress in the months and years to come.

- Dovid

Dovid Winter is Principal Consultant of Winter Solutions and has been providing hands-on IT management services to small-business, non-profit and education since 1986. In addition to website development and hosting services, Winter Solutions' offers an array of managed IT services. Whether you are looking for assistance with a single project or to outsource your entire IT department, Winter Solutions has a solution to meet your needs. Contact us at 781 821-0000.