• A Week Without Apple - Day One, A New Hope.

    Day 1 - It is lonely here on this island. I feel as if the world has forgotten me and I am stuck here forever. There aren't even any cool adventures or monsters like on that island in Lost. Oops, wrong journal.

    What the hell am I doing? Read this post for the background.

    The beginning of my experiment, ditching Apple products for a week, has been rather uneventful. Everything works (well, except one thing, which is probably my fault). My sanity is still intact and no-viruses have plagued my computer, causing me to cancel all my credit cards. I was also stuck, I mean, enjoying and celebrating, my sister's university graduation (another Arts student going to the dole queue, ho ho ho). Because of this, I will recount my experiences setting up the various products rather than their actual use of today, because they weren't really used that much today and I think this a a good introduction to the products - first impressions last.

    TiVo



    [caption id="attachment_1133" align="aligncenter" width="575" caption="A TiVo in its natural habitat."]A TiVo in its natural habitat.[/caption]

    The TiVo arrived on first, so that's what I'll begin with. If you don't know what a TiVo is, I don't know how you manage 21st century life, but, I will explain anyways. TiVo is basically a box of magical silicon chips and such, that plugs into your TV and TV antenna socket, and records TV shows to its storage medium, based on a schedule you decide. It also automatically records suggested programs you may enjoy, based on what you already watch and record. It does a couple of other things (on-demand video rental, podcasts and media streaming), but this PVR functionality is the core feature and why you would buy a TiVo.

    Upon ripping open the box, it is clear that the TiVo is designed for your mother. Big, clear diagrams. Simple language. Colour coded everything. This isn't your generic Chinese knock-off, it's a consumer grade gadget made by Westeners and aimed at the remote jockey, who presumably is a technological moron. This technological genius (me), was impressed. I plugged TiVo in to the TV via the component cables, inserted an ethernet cable, jammed it into the power outlet, slapped some AA's into the remote control and turned the TiVo on. It made me wait a little while with an orange screen and some extremely legible text. The TiVo takes a little while to boot up, but it doesn't really matter - how often do you turn it off and on anyways?

    Once on, a setup guide appears and aides you through the mundane process of tuning TV channels. The TiVo has dual HD tuners, so you can record two glorious HD channels at once. After it does that, it checks your Internet connection, and asks you to visit tivo.com to set up a TiVo account and to activate your device online. This is relatively painless - if you've ever signed up for anything online, this process is no different. On the screen there's your TiVo's unique ID which you pop into the website you just signed up to. This tells TiVo's online service that this TiVo is yours and any settings you change online, apply to this TiVo. One can have many TiVo's in one account, hence the unique ID thing.

    So you've got your stations tuned and your online account set up - TiVo now guides you through all the things TiVo can do. Again, this is a mum feature. I presume there are people out there that spend $699 on a plastic box full of circuitry and go "umm, what does it actually do and how do I use it?", hence why TiVo put all this effort into the guide. It felt demeaning to me, explaining concepts like storage (you have a finite amount of storage, the laws of physics apply) and pause/fast forward/rewind (yes, I can control space and time), but this isn't aimed at me, the technological master. I will assume it is effective and move on, applying my usual method of learning a gadget's uses and functions - prodding through all its menus, clicking everything.

    Once the guide is over, you're plopped in to the main TiVo menu and you can go for your life. Set up all your recordings, watch live TV, pause live TV, watch previous recordings, rent some videos off Blockbuster direct to your TiVo or even listen to some Nova podcasts. TiVo is set up. Total walk in the park. I don't know how they could make it any easier unless they included a trained puppy in the box to plug everything in for you and then conduct a paw-led tutorial of the TiVo's functions.

    Linksys WRT610N



    [caption id="attachment_1134" align="aligncenter" width="575" caption="The WRT610N emerging from a cardboard birth."]The WRT610N emerging from a cardboard birth.[/caption]

    I wasn't expecting much hassle from this wireless router, so I decided to set it up with only 30 minutes to spare before I had to leave the house. Plug it in, fire up the software off the CD, *boom* all configured. Unfortunately not. I took it out of the box, saw the CD dangerously labelled "RUN CD FIRST", so that's what I did. The CD autoplays the "Linksys Easy Link Advisor", which has little animations on how to plug everything in.

    I already have a router & firewall (I pack a Smoothwall), I just want this device to act as a wireless access point, no routing or anything, pass along the DHCP leases from my already existing DHCP server. So it should be as simple as plugging the WRN610 into my switch and then into the power. Easy. I do that, return to the Linksys Easy Link Advisor and it can't detect the WRT610N. I unplug it from the power, leave it 30 sec, restart the Linksys Easy Link Advisor, plug it in when it tells me and try again. No dice.

    My time was up and I had to go out, so the WRT610N sits atop my bookshelf, unplugged. I will try again tomorrow when I have more time and report back.

    Blackberry Bold



    [caption id="attachment_1135" align="aligncenter" width="575" caption="A Blackberry Bold, on Optus with very little 3G signal."]A Blackberry Bold, on Optus. Ugh, Optus.[/caption]

    I was lucky with the Blackberry - the nice people from RIM (Hi Antoinette and Curtis) actually came down from Sydney, met me in a cafe and spent an hour talking about the Blackberry with me and guided me through its setup. I don't think I would have received the same handholding if I had purchased a Bold via Optus for example. Actually, with Optus, I'd be lucky if they spelt my name correctly, but that's a whole other rant.

    So I met the guys from RIM, we took it out of the box, inserted an already set up and Blackberry enabled Telstra SIM. Curtis then instructed me to set up a Blackberry account, which will suck all my email from Gmail and pump it via RIM's servers and onto my Blackberry. There's a built in wizard to set all this up, so it's quite straightforward. There we go, I was up and running. But I wanted to use my own SIM. I wanted a smaller font. I don't like the notification alerts. I want more apps. I want some music on it. Gotta add all my contacts and sync my calendars. Thus the tedious process of customisation and setting up begins.

    The Blackberry is a unique phone. It's heavily tied to backend servers, controlled by RIM all the way in Canada. I thought, "sure, that's cool if you want it, but I'll just bypass all that" - bzzt. I was wrong. You can't really work around it without a bit of trickery. If you want to use the built in mail client & web browser, they won't work with anything other than the official Blackberry servers. Unless you have Blackberry Internet Services (BIS) on your SIM, or have a Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) to hook up to, these features, which really, are the main selling points of the Blackberry, will not work. Most 3rd party apps can use a TCP connection and bypass the Blackberry servers, but if you're on a specific Blackberry plan, will not be included in your cap and you will be charged insane excess, or, if you are on a BES, will probably be locked down by your Nazi sys admin, so you don't go leaking company secrets or something. Luckily for me, Optus were able to bolt on a BIS pack to my existing iPhone plan (after about 3 hours of explaining and cajoling), so I slid in my Optus SIM - now I can use my same number and use the Blackberry as my main phone.

    The Blackberry's email client is, well, err, lame. First of all, it doesn't sync between Gmail and itself, so when I read an email on the Blackberry, it doesn't mark it as read on Gmail. I can't archive or delete email on the Blackberry and have it reflect in Gmail either. The Blackberry client doesn't adhere to any of the rules & filters I have set up either. It just dumped everything into the inbox. I ended up with 350 emails just shoved in my inbox over the period of 24 hours with no organisation. My elaborate Gmail rules usually sort everything out and leave my inbox only with items needed my attention, so the rest I can read at my leisure or just ignore completely. You can't even create folders on the Blackberry to sort email out. I don't know how it works if you sync your mail to an Exchange server or whatever, and it does adhere to folders, rules and read/unread status, but for me, as a solitary no-fancypants-enterprise-email user, it is not suitable. Luckily for me however, Google have a Gmail app specially designed for the Blackberry and it works a treat. It's just like the Gmail web interface, with the same functions, same colours, same rules and so on. The Blackberry is supposed to be all about email and the first thing I did was avoid it's email client. This can't be good.

    The next thing was my contacts and calendar. All my contacts live in Address Book on the Mac. My calendar lives in iCal. They both sync between my iPhone and Mac just nicely with iTunes, but I needed to get the sweet, sweet data out of Address Book and into the Blackberry. Thank Christ for Google Sync. Apple included the option to sync your Address Book to Google. I enabled that option. It worked. I exported my calendars to an ICS file and imported it into Google Calendar. So now all my contacts and calendars reside with the big G, up in the cloud. Nice. Enter Google Sync. It's a little Blackberry app that you install on your phone and it, surprise, syncs between your Google stuff and your Blackberry. It worked a treat.

    So thanks to Google, I was content. Now onto some apps.

    I mainly wanted a Twitter client. I heard Twitterberry is good, so I snagged it. Installing apps on the Blackberry is pretty trivial. Visit the site containing the app you want in the Blackberry Browser (3rd party browsers like Opera won't let you install apps), click the "Install" or "Download" link and away you go. It's shoved into the Downloads folder, and from there, you can move it where you like within the main Blackberry menu structure.

    Now I have Twitter and I can tell the world what I am eating for lunch. Joy.

    I wanted to get on to customising my profiles (silent mode, loud ringing, etc), but when I gazed upon the options, couldn't be bothered fiddling with them. I'll save them for another day.

    I needed music in order to make public transport tolerable. This is also pretty easy. Plug the Blackberry into your computer via USB and it will appear in My Computer, just as a removable storage device. Grab your MP3 files, copy them into the "music" folder and you're done. You can use a RIM provided app, that acts as an intermediary between your BB and iTunes, porting across your music and playlists, but I am avoiding Apple products, so that's no good to me. Either way, I prefer managing my music this way - I manually manage my iPhone's music, dragging music direct from the Finder onto it, so this is no different really. I fired up the music player on the Blackberry and away she goes. All my music is correctly tagged and has proper files names, so it all appeared nicely on the Blackberry's media player.

    Email? Check. Contacts & calendars? Check. Twitter? Check. Music? Check. I think we are done here gentlemen - this Blackberry is ready for some use.

    HP Pavilion dv6-1143tx



    [caption id="attachment_1136" align="aligncenter" width="575" caption="HP Pavilion dv6-1143tx with external display and stolen mousemat."]HP Pavilion dv6-1143tx with external display.[/caption]

    The biggun'. The true test of my resolve. Windows Vista. Out of the box, the HP came with Vista Home Premium. I intended to use it as is, but, unluckily for me (or luckily), CNet Australia had this laptop before me, and they did a clean install of Vista, then installed heaps of their apps (SQL Server 2005, huh?). I didn't even know the password they set, so I figured I better do a clean wipe. Who knows what sort of keyloggers those devious geeks at CNet have installed! Everyone kept telling me Windows 7 is the best OS Microsoft's ever made and I figured if Microsoft is washing their hands of Vista, so will I. Straight to the future, straight to the next generation - no busted, old, buggy OS for me. Windows 7 is available for anyone to try out, and if I was actually a PC user, being a geek, it's what I'd be using anyways, not Vista.

    The actual laptop was easyto set up. Take out of box (the cardboard box that is nowhere near as pretty as Apple's, but just as functional). Plug in to power adaptor. Turn on. Place in Windows 7 DVD. Change BIOS to boot from DVD before it boots from the HDD. Install Windows 7. The install process of Windows 7 was very streamlined and a piece of cake. I wiped the HDD clean, installed Windows 7 and within 45 minutes or so (I wasn't really counting), I was thrust into the desktop. All the devices in the HP had drivers already installed and everything worked except for audio. I went to the HP website, went to the downloads area, typed in the model of my laptop, downloaded the audio drivers, installed them, rebooted and went to YouTube to see if it worked. It did. Who said drivers are a pain in the arse? I installed better video card drivers (the official ATI ones) and they worked well too.

    I had a working, clean install of Windows, with all the latest drivers complete in under an hour, with no drama at all. This isn't supposed to happen. Where's the frustration? Where's the DLL hell? Why wasn't I throwing chairs across the room in fits of rage? Why wasn't I infested with viruses? This will be an interesting week indeed my friends.
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