CES Keynote: Promise at the Margins

HP slate PCThere was a day when Steve Ballmer’s keynote to the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show would have been truly exciting.  Now, it is just more stuff.  Do we really need the PC to take over the driving experience?  The range of computing devices is truly impressive, and the success of Windows 7 is well deserved, but what are people doing on those devices and this great OS?  Something they could just have easily done on the telephone two decades ago?  We still have phones.  The enabling technology is in place, and at no small cost, but what is being enabled?

It’s true consumer electronics help drive the economy and every speaker at CES is going to say 2009 was a very rugged year economically but not as bad as could have been expected and, 2010 projects to be much, much better.  But we’re still talking superficials.  Can the real good to come out of all these devices be only at the margins?  Are the sales taxes and the philanthropic giving of a Bill and Melinda Gates and other large minded enterpreneurs be the real social value of the consumer electronics?

Not at all.  The benefits may still be on the margins, but they are not just financial.  My candidates for prime beneficiaries are students and scholars, which, in the longer run, are the same people.  Scholars for the unprecedented opportunities that are being forged by open access to intellectual resources that have been locked away in libraries and museums.  Students for the same,but even more for the speed and power with which basic learning can now be facilitated,and advanced learning can be undertaken.  Time magazine recently ran an article on teenager Magnus Carlsen, the world’s youngest No. 1 chess master, of the first generation of chess master’s to have been trained by computers.  Carlsen doesn’t even know if he owns a physical chess board.  The opportunities to engage traditional knowledge in new ways, and transform it, are what is so exciting about educational technology.

The new surge, illustrated by Ballmer’s demonstration of the new HP slate product (though it was announced in advance of specs or price point information–just for the sake of beating Apple’s announcement of a similar device, one suspects) is for knowledge and knowldge workers to move onto the portable, small screen.  Not the phone, necessarily, though much of this is already occuring.  The phone may be too small to act as anything as a way-station to the larger footprint device.  Size does matter in the human-machine interface.  The tablet-sized footprint seems about right, and record sales of the Kindle, Sony eReader, and Nook prove it.  Amazon reports that for the first time in history, more ebooks were sold on Christmas day, 2009, than physical books, and that the Kindle was their most gifted single item this holiday season.

What these small devices need are more power–and that is not far away with the new slate devices running grown-up operating systems like Windows 7 rather than the lame iPhone OS or the very limited Kindle functionality.  They also need  realistic price points that will get them into the hands of a large number of young consumers.  If the consumer electronics industry can achieve this over the next three years, the impact on research and education will be enormous, if we are wise enough to engage with it and take advantage of its potential.

Ballmer Keynote to CES

Tonight a 6:30 PM PST Steve Ballmer will keynote the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show from Las Vegas:

Click here for streaming video.

The New York Times is reporting that Ballmer will preview a slate tablet from HP with multi-touch, e-reader, and multimedia functionality:

“This product better be good because Apple is expected to unveil its take on the slate/tablet form factor later this month. If history holds, Apple will issue a product that surprises people in a few ways and that stands out from the crowd.”

Tablet technology, much like voice recognition technology, has loads of potential, but for various reasons, mostly having to do with the final inch problem, remain on the periphery of mainstream technology use.

Google Acquires DocVerse

Doc to Web graphicOffice 2010 will allow users to collaborate, or simply individually work, on Office documents online using Office Live Workspace, something Google users could do all along with Google Docs.  Microsoft still has an enormous edge because Office is entrenched on a gazillion desktops.  For most users, “the cloud” holds promise, but why learn something new, and trust your most important assets, to something that can be interrupted by a snow storm?

Now Google has taken the next step to take the title from the productivity apps champ.  They have acquired 2-year old San Francisco startup DocVerse.   DocVerse lets users collaborate online with Microsoft Office documents.  Google has sweetened the offer just a little in their effort to win over users.  Now–once DocVerse is integrated into Google Docs– you should be able create your docs in the desktop environment you are familiar with, and easily port them to Google Docs in the cloud, losing none of the Office-style functionality.  At least, one assumes that this is the theory.

In boxing, when a challenger meets a champ,the challenger must take the title away unambiguously,not simply fight a close fight.  Google has just landed the next blow…

Source:  TechCrunch

SnagIt for Mac Beta

Techsmith has announced a beta, at long last, for a Mac version of SnagIt.  SnagIt is, without doubt, the premiere screen capture utility around, and bringing it to the Mac platform is long overdue.  Remember, it is a beta program.  If you want to participate, here are the key URLs:

I have installed it on my Mac and it seems to work well.  Once installed and invoked, it lives as a little screen-edge rollout or can be activated with a hot key.  The editor is elegant and useful.  Mac users should give it a try.

Snagit for Mac (Beta) requires an Intel Mac running 10.5.8 (Leopard) or 10.6.1(Snow Leopard).

Monday Tech News

Here is a rundown of the latest that might affect us at Palomar in world tech news on this Monday, December:

  • It seems the rumors of a Google phone are true.  According to ars technica, Google may begin marketing the phone  next year.  The phone, according to NY Times, would be sold directly to consumers by Google, and come unlocked.  That is, it would work with any cooperating service rather than being tied to a single service.  The phone will be manufactured by HTC.  Much will depend on price point and feature set.  Stand by…
  • Adobe has warned that the next version of the Adobe Flash Player will be the last to support the Apple G3 PowerPC processor.”The Adobe Flash Player 10.1 release, expected in the first half of 2010, will be the last version to support Macintosh PowerPC-based G3 computers. Adobe will be discontinuing support of PowerPC-based G3 computers and will no longer provide security updates after the Flash Player 10.1 release. This unavailability is due to performance enhancements that cannot be supported on the older PowerPC architecture.” (Adobe security bulletin)Those of you with those old Mac G3s (and there are not just a few of you), it’s time to upgrade.
  • Image of book coverMicrosoft is giving away it’s anti-malware software Security Essentials.  The product is super simple to use, and may meet the average user’s anti-virus needs.  If you want to know all about it and the threats it is designed to counteract, we have a new book in the Safari Tech Book online library titled Microsoft Security Essentials User Manual by Michael Miller.  (You must have a Palomar College username/password to access our subscription to this service).
  • The City of Los Angeles and its 34,000 employees have made the switch to cloud computing using Google Apps.  “The cloud computing system will improve the security and reliability of city email,transitioning from servers in the City Hall basement to hosted, secure data centers. Employees will also have a new avenue for collaboration with Google Apps in the cloud: sharing docs, sites and videos and editing them together in realtime as they work on making the city run more smoothly and efficiently and thus better serving Angelenos city-wide.”  (The Official Google Blog).  The team evaluating IT solutions for the city looked at 14 different systems, and chose Google.  Increased security and overall lowered IT costs were important factors.The argument that licensing Microsoft products to train college students for real-world jobs is becoming less tenable.  At the least, we ought to be considering course offerings in Google Apps or, more broadly, “cloud computing.”Here is a YouTube video on the LA decision.