Down the memory lane with Digit

My tryst with the modern PCs started in the mid 90s when the internet was almost non existent in India. At the time, software and games were not easy to come by and magazines like Chip which have away trial versions and freeware in CDs along with their copies were quite sought after. Chip later became Digit in India but the freebies continued.

Digit magazine July 2019

It was with this thought that I attended the Digit Squad Tech Day in Mumbai today and it was fun to see all the colourful assembled desktops, consoles and mobile phones placed around the venue and fellow Digit Squad members participating enthusiastically in the different contests. Felt quite nostalgic to soak in the geeky environment.

Didn’t sit around idle of course and instead captured a few videos of the front camera fall detection in action for the smartphones on display. You can catch the video here.

OnePlus and Oppo seem to be catching on quite soon and they flash a dialog on screen while Samsung seems to be partially retracting their module. The Redmi K20 pro is similar in terms of responsiveness to Oppo and OnePlus but it closes the camera app instead of showing any alert. The Asus Zenfone 6z provides an interesting experience where you can see the arc on screen as the module rotates to its resting position.

And here are a few more shots from the event

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Apple doing to software what Microsoft did to hardware?

Now that Apple has announced that OS X updates will be free going forward, and many of its first party apps like iWork are going to be free with new devices, Microsoft seems to have its task cut out. Many people seem to think that this move by Apple will really hurt Microsoft. In some ways Apple is trying to commoditize software the way Microsoft commoditized hardware over the last 2 decades. However, there are a few key points that not many have mentioned:

  1. Microsoft has given away major OS updates for free. E.g. Windows XP SP2. In a way, the Apple move was preempted by the free Windows 8.1 update.
  2. Microsoft is a past master of bundling free software with its OS. Remember Internet Explorer vs Netscape? Or more recently, Office being given away with Windows RT.
  3. Apple hardware remains luxury items, and free OS upgrades are not going to make budget conscious people switch from Windows to Apple devices. That said, the real threat comes when people realize that a tablet meets their requirements and is probably cheaper than a PC (desktop\laptop) when it is time to get a new device.
  4. The real threat to Microsoft comes from Android, as OEMs are gradually warming up to Android as an alternative for Windows for laptops. Since the market is undergoing a major shift in the kind of personal devices being used (desktops to laptops to mobiles & tablets), there is a big scope for a free OS. Android has been successful on mobiles while Linux failed on PCs due to this very reason.
  5. OS development has an associated cost even if you do not pay a third party for it. Apple is just subsidizing the software costs through hardware margins. Even if OEMs decide to opt for Android or Chrome OS, they will need an in house team to customize the OS. Of course, OEMs probably already have an in house team developing software for Windows given the typical bloatware that comes pre-installed on PCs.

The bottom line is that Microsoft has to continue to woo its OEM partners who bring in the OS revenue, while at the same time transform its revenue source to hardware. The Nokia acquisition becomes even more important now.

2012: The right time for Windows 8 tablets

Windows_8_Developer_Preview_Start_Screen

That is of course if the world doesn’t end. Jokes apart, the reason I think that the second half of 2012 is the right time for Windows 8 tablets is that it’ll guarantee the right mix of hardware will be available around that time. Quad core & higher ARM tablets would be the norm then with pretty powerful graphics (which would be a must if display resolutions hit the 2Kx1K levels with the iPad 3). Intel would also be closer to providing a compelling x86 based SoC in the tablet space. In fact, the tablet hardware is going to continue to scale up in leaps & bounds over the next 2-3 years before we reach a level of acceptable performance (just look at the roadmaps of the major SoC makers).

 

Apart from the hardware angle, the software landscape and usage model on tablets is also evolving. At the moment people are trying to mostly replicate the desktop or smartphone UI paradigms on the tablet. For Windows 8, it all boils down to how well Microsoft is able to adapt their MS Office UI to the tablet. Then again, we could also be looking at tablets being used as a laptop\desktop replacement when docked – Apple seems to be heading that way with their Thunderbolt display (MacBooks for now).

So, don’t fret over the timelines, and instead be excited over the emerging paradigms over the next couple of years.

P.S. Extremetech has a nice how-to for building your own Windows 8 tablet (you will need an existing Windows 7 tablet of course)

Computers I’ve used – The Spectrum

My experiences with computers has been largely restricted to micro computers (considering the fact that I was born in 1983). There’ll be lots of people who would have dealt with all kinds of machines I have never even seen (maybe heard of), but let me do my best.

One of the first computers that I happened to work on was the Spectrum (Sinclair – wikipedia entry) which belonged to my grandfather, which he had purchased around 1987 (PCs were quite expensive then, especially in India). There were quite a lot of varieties of the Spectrum available (started from 16K and went up to 128K), with this one being a 64K db Spectrum model. Some of it’s contemporaries would be the BBC, Atari, Commodore 64 and quite a few others (I hope I’m right). The machine used ordinary tapes/cassettes for storage, and you had to wait for 3-5 minutes to load a program from them. There were floppy drives for the Spectrum though (in fact the person from whom my grandfather used to purchase software for the spectrum had one.

The machine itself was just a basic keyboard cum CPU unit to which you had to attach the tape recorder, joystick and other peripherals. The machine used Sinclair BASIC for programming, and the keywords were typed from preset keys and other special keys (not sure if I explained it properly – maybe this picture will help). What made the Spectrum special was probably it’s graphics capabilities. I used to play a lot of games on it, ranging from Arkanoid to Batman, tennis, cricket and lots more. We had quite a few books with programs for the Spectrum, and I wrote & stored a few of them with some help from my father and grandfather. My grandfather used the machine primarily for storing his contacts, journals etc (writing programs for each).

It’s been a very long time since I last worked on it – my grandfather gave the machine away to one of my cousins when he bought a new PC (as late as 1998). With that he also had he give up all the daat stored on the old tapes.

However, it’s still possible to go back to the spectrum environment right on our PCs using emulators. I’ve tried out a few of them. Some of them even seem to have support for reading tapes (I had tried it a long time ago by hooking up the tape player to the PC’s line-in without much success though). So, if you are one of the persons who used the Spectrum, do check out the following sites (in fact you might have already):

There are quite a lot of others available containing both emulators and tape images (not sure about the legal issues though, if any). Also in case you want to have a look at old computer photos, if those old computer names made you nostalgic, check out the following links (all from TechRepublic – might require you to register):

So, what are the computers you’ve worked on?

A little bit of desktop hardware for a change

I purchased a computer over a month ago, and its been performing quite well. I used to like looking at hardware reviews, but it had been a long time since my last look at a review (around 4 years). However, I did quite a lot of catching up during the course of my computer purchase, and got updated on the latest specs. Techreport and Anandtech were quite useful during my market survey, and have quite a lot of reviews on different hardware.

Interestingly, the time of my computer purchase coincided with the announcement of the launch of the new Core 2 processors by Intel. Going by the reviews I came across, these processors have a totally different architecture from the Pentium 4 series, and are more closely related to the Intel mobile processors. The processors are really top notch performers and score well in all the three main P’s for processors – performance, price and power consumption. This in fact seems to have given back the performance crown for destop processors to Intel from AMD, whch had been doing very well for the last few years. Here are a few of the reviews on the Core 2 processors:

Coming back to the specs of my machine, it would have been good to have a Core 2 based machine, but they were ruled out due to the budget and availability. In fact the one of the best available here in Kolkata was the AMD Athlon 64 3200+, and given it’s price along with the corresponding motherboard, that’s what I opted for. So, here are the specs of my machine:

To go with them I have 1 GB RAM, 160 GB Hard disk and a Sony DVD writer, along with a Lacie 80 GB USB hard disk for portable storage which I purchased 3-4 months ago. All in all, the configuration would have been a high end one over two years ago, barring the graphics card, but now is a pretty average one. However, it meets my basic requirements, including that of playing games. In fact the onboard graphics is quite decent, having DirectX 9 hardware support, and can play 3-4 year old games at the highest settings quite comfortably. This chipset would be quite well suited for office users, mainly due to its onboard graphics which should be able to handle Windows Vista’s high graphics requirements.