Technology news and commentary by the staff

Archive for February, 2008

Do you Twitter?

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I know I’m months behind the trendy web, but just recently I thought I would try one of these micro-blogging platforms, and Twitter is by far the most popular out there, so I opened an account and I have been micro-blogging since yesterday.

So far so good, although nobody is reading my stuff but me for now :). I’ve heard numerous stories of how people are connecting using Twitter just because it’s an open and flexible platform, so you can update from your cell phone, and it integrates very well with other web services like Facebook.

We will see how it goes a week or a month from now… if you Twitter, feel free to add me to your friends list.

Written by Julio Franco

February 26th, 2008 at 9:24 am

Apple prepares new MacBooks, release set for tomorrow

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Edit #2: Announcement made, full story here.

Edit: Forgot to mention this story from the Financial Week on how Apple is currently sitting on a pile of cash estimated at $18.4 billion.

There is an inexplicable enthusiasm for whatever Apple has to announce next, and while the hype behind products like the iPhone is more than justified, sometimes a mere speed bump on its laptop line can produce massive amounts of rumors on the web, but hey even I’m writing about it as a confessed Vista lover, perhaps because my MacBook Pro will no longer be part of Apple’s latest line of products.

We have to hand it to Apple though, ever since they joined the leagues of the PC (using Intel CPUs), they are always using the very latest mobile technologies on its laptops. The rumor is, new MacBook Pros are coming out tomorrow, with the possibility of more model revamps as well. Watch our frontpage news coverage tomorrow for details.

Also here’s another good resource for everything Mac rumor related, and their nicely put buying guide.

Written by Julio Franco

February 25th, 2008 at 11:10 pm

Interesting poll results on PC gaming and sales

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When time came to think about a new topic for TechSpot’s biweekly poll, I thought that doing something about the state of PC gaming and how sales are being generated was very timely considering the many recent headlines about just that…

The results have been very surprising to an extent:


The poll is not over yet and we are not closing it until later on, but there are a few things that I wanted to point out based on the results already in from 3,000+ voters:

+ First big shock, 30% are not PC gamers. Wow. So, TechSpot is about more than just PC gaming, I get that ;). But still quite a large number of people that are simply stating, “no, we are not here for the games.” And to be completely clear about it, this doesn’t imply that these people are gaming on consoles either.
Even when I consider myself a PC gaming evangelist, I have to admit I’m very happy to see this trend going on here, as it describes in part a prominent future outlook for TechSpot with or without gaming built into the equation… it’s also about the technology, the hardware, and the innovation on the field.

+ The largest group of people (36%) still prefer to buy games at the store, hmm?

+ A minority of 7% buy games through digital distribution. I expected something in this range considering the many, many games not using this medium yet, however for a PC enthusiast site it could still be considered a low share. Personally, I don’t belong in this group either, although I bought the Orange Box through Steam, I still prefer to keep around my shiny box of Crysis and physical DVD just because…
This also gives some weight – even if minor – to the select few who pointed out a few weeks ago how PC game sales are not being measured correctly because those don’t include digital distribution. Agreed on that, also for non-hardcore casual games that are very much ignored despite of growing sales. The pain is still felt however when major development studios focus more on consoles than the PC.

+ 10% do online and boxed. Here’s where I stand, although for the Crysis case above I ran to the local BestBuy on the launch date.

+ 15% pirate games, most likely using BitTorrent. Thank you for your honesty! And no, we don’t collect your IP addresses or anything like that =)

Written by Julio Franco

February 21st, 2008 at 6:29 am

I’m a Windows power user

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For all the criticism Vista gets, I happen to be one happy Vista user. Sure, I do have complaints about it, and even with all the patching and SP1 fixes, I still believe the OS has to improve considerably in areas like power consumption, waking up from sleep as quickly as OS X (two critical improvements for building the ultimate laptop-optimized OS), and excessive HDD thrashing, however after some frustrating trial and experiment with the very acclaimed OS X Leopard… I have concluded it’s just not for me. And that’s what this post is about.

Ironically, I happen to be writing this on a MacBook Pro that I bought back in November, but from a Boot Camp Vista install. For me, Vista marries the eye candy of OS X – that XP has lacked for a long time – with all the Windows app compatibility and the environment I have grown to appreciate and customize to my very needs.

To tell you the truth I’m trying to be as neutral as possible here, just because my needs do not reflect everyone else’s. I bought the MacBook with the sole intention of having more current experience with the Mac and being able to give a good assessment on either system when time came, and so far I wouldn’t even go as far as saying OS X is superior to Vista, or vice versa. I have noticed however that the Mac is too strict on the way it wants you to work, I found the system to be too intrusive, sitting between me and the applications I’m working with rather than easing the way along.

Perhaps I’m just too used to Windows… that’s a thought I have had wondering in my mind for the past month, while I concluded that OS X was just going to sit there unused in my brand new laptop. However, during that time I also sat back and put myself on observation mode, looking at how people interact with Windows. I found it extremely impressive how different all people find their way around the OS. Opening files, browsing the web, searching for something, you name it, there’s at least 3 different ways for doing each. In the other hand, I always hear from hardcore OS X users how their system is more streamlined, more consistent and intuitive. Well that might just be the problem for me…

But while on the topic, let’s also consider the audience.

I have to admit I’ve been simply stunned by the mainstream media reviews on either operating system – usually concluding OS X is better – measuring things like boot time as an excuse for a real assessment, or praising the OS for its built-in newbie applications. What’s worse, usually these people use the latest Apple hardware (great hardware ever since they use Intel platforms) against some horrible pre-configured OEM Windows installation from Dell, or whoever. And I guess that makes for a huge difference, where I consider myself a power user, I would never buy an OEM desktop system but build one myself, and I would never use a pre-installed Windows configuration on a laptop without messing around with it for a few hours before finding my place. Finally, if I came across a problem with my OS installation I know I could figure it out myself without ever having to call tech support (never had, never will). For some this may be complete annoyances, but just like any good Linux user loves his ways around the less consumer-oriented OS, for me that’s just part of the ride and part of being a PC enthusiast.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the OS that fits you and your needs. In my case, I’m the most productive under Windows by far, and Vista is in my opinion the best version released so far if you have a speedy-enough system.

Written by Julio Franco

February 18th, 2008 at 4:46 pm

Posted in apple,blog,windows

POPFile, the best free spam filter bar none

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While I find Gmail’s spam filter pretty adequate, for people with POP email accounts, or even worse, POP accounts that have to be visible on the web (like my address), fighting spam can become quite the nightmare. Even with some server-side software setup, spammers can learn the software’s filtering behavior and bypass it easily. Just the same thing happens with blacklists.

Say hello to POPFile, an open-source automatic mail classification tool that just works (after some training).

I can’t remember why exactly, but I stopped using POPFile sometime in the last two years, perhaps spammers stopped liking my address and I saw no use for it anymore. Digging out through TechSpot’s archives I found that I first recommended POPFile back in 2003. Now, I have been using it again for the past few months and after 3-5 days of training, the software is smart enough to tell between actual email from spam around 96% of the time.

In fact, POPFile works in such a way that you can configure various “buckets” or categories so it can classify your email in Outlook or any other desktop application you use upon delivery. Did I mention it’s cross-platform, too?

Out of the dozens of spam filters out there, only a handful are free and look trustworthy enough to me. POPFile has not changed much in the last few years, but that’s not a bad thing necessarily. Even with its rudimentary looks and slightly documentation, it’s a huge time saver once set up. Give it a try, put it to work, and let me know if you like it.

Written by Julio Franco

February 11th, 2008 at 2:58 am

How to run Windows Live Messenger on Windows XP x64 and Server 2003

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Sorry, Windows Live programs cannot be installed on Windows Server, Windows XP Professional x64 Edition, or Windows operating systems earlier than Windows XP Service Pack 2.

Being a new user of Windows XP x64 that message puts me off quite a bit, apparently Microsoft wants you to install the old and ugly MSN Messenger instead of Live Messenger if you happen to run the state of the art version of Windows XP. However, as you will see, Windows Live Messenger can be used in full, but Microsoft in its infinite wisdom just made the installer incompatible!

Live Messenger 8.0 seems to be the latest version on the Microsoft Download Center where support for Windows XP x64 is specifically mentioned. In version 8.1 only Server 2003 is mentioned. If you download v8.5 you will receive the message above during installation… Notice also that the size of the file is reduced considerably because this is just an installer that then downloads the features you choose to install.

On the official download page for Windows Live Messenger you can read this under requirements:

Windows 2003 Server and Windows XP x64 are not supported.

What is so ironic is that Windows Live Messenger is fully compatible with XP x64, as a matter of fact I’m using it right now. So what you have to do is download the file I mentioned that the unsupported installer downloads. Take note though that you will not get any prompts during the install, it is silent, since you are supposed to make those choices in the unsupported installer… What this means is that you are saved the trouble of unticking the boxes about installing MS toolbars and changing your browsers home page to the dreaded MSN sites.

Also worth mentioning is that Windows XP x64 shares its codebase with Windows Server 2003 x64 and even uses the same service packs!) So this should apply to Server 2003 as well, just like drivers for either OS work fine with each other.

You can download the bare MSI file of Windows Live Messenger v8.5.1302.1018 here. While you are at it check out A-Patch that allows you to disable many annoying features of MSN like advertising – it’s beyond me why MS advertises in their own client. And when you have come to your senses you can may as well download a decent chatting client instead ;).

Oh, and here is the command to uninstall the Windows Messenger (not the same as MSN Messenger OR Live Messenger) that is bundled by default with the OS. Just copy and paste the following into Start > Run and Windows Messenger will be gone: RunDll32 advpack.dll,LaunchINFSection %windir%\INF\msmsgs.inf,BLC.Remove

Written by Per Hansson

February 4th, 2008 at 11:55 am

Incoming: Dell 2707WFP 27″ LCD monitor

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There is no better advice to give than one you follow yourself… That’s what I was thinking when I finally bought a Dell UltraSharp 2707WFP monitor last week to use as my primary monitor and replace my older but still trusty Dell 24″ screen. Back in November I was the one who recommended to include this 27 incher in the holiday gift guide. This is what I wrote:

You can upgrade every single component in your PC but at the end of the day if you are still living with a crappy 19″ monitor or generic input devices, you are simply wasting your money and effort. Now, you may be asking yourselves why a 27-inch monitor and not 30″?

Well, bigger is not always better, and leaving all technicalities aside, many of today’s 27″ monitors are using a 1920×1200 pixels native resolution which is comparable to that of a typical 24″ monitor. The idea is that by upgrading to a 27″ screen you will get bigger text and icons, in the other hand 30″ monitors usually use a higher resolution of 2560×1600 which gives plenty of extra desktop space but makes stuff even tinier, so it’s up to you to decide what you prefer.

I know there is people that don’t have any problems at all with small fonts in large displays (24″ and up), so you may attribute my advice to premature eye problems on my part, though I don’t wear any glasses and last time I checked (a year ago or so?) I had near flawless vision. The thing is, I spend countless hours in front of a computer screen and I definitely think going up in dot pitch (what this 27″ monitor essentially does to keep the same resolution in a larger space) could have a very positive impact to my eye strain in the short and long run.

Add to that the fact that the monitor is currently on sale with $200 off, the $999 price tag is not a bargain but every bit helps. I actually ended up buying it from eBay (new) for $959 which is only slightly less money but it includes shipping and taxes, so that saves around $200 extra.

While on the topic, the latest 30″ monitors like the Gateway XHD3000 and Dell’s own 3008WFP, partially solve this problem by offering a built-in scaler chip. The panels’ native screen resolution is still set at 2560×1600, however these don’t rely anymore on videocard processing which reportedly reduces image noise considerably when not using the native resolution, as well as offers other benefits like no longer requiring dual link DVI. The feature obviously adds up to the price (think $1700+), making it a less attractive option today but a good hint of better things to come nevertheless. In the meantime, I can’t wait to receive my new 27″ monitor later this week and pair it up with my current 24″ for total desktop space that will measure 3840×1200 pixels.

Written by Julio Franco

February 4th, 2008 at 3:50 am

Posted in blog,deals,hardware