Monday, October 27, 2008

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Joost: A Eulogy


I know, I know. I swore I would never mention Joost again. But they made some rather radical changes, which I thought merited a *new* final blog. Joost launched a year and change ago, promising to revolutionize television over the internet for ALL computer users (read: Windows, Mac and Linux). Unfortunately, their freshman effort produced a Windows-only client that was a disappointment even for it's target audience. The program, which utilized P2P technology similar to Skype, was plagued by stuttering video and audio, frequent crashes, and sometimes you couldn't even connect! All the meanwhile, Mac and Linux users waited patiently for a promised beta-version of the client, so we could have..... something. Multiple broken promises and disappointments later, Joost has returned to the internet TV game with a flash-driven browser client. This time, Mac and Linux users can join the party. But there are still problems...

First off, Joost still sucks. I click on 30 Days of Night-Episode 1, and Episode 2 plays instead. Also, the same lame shampoo commercial plays the SECOND you click on ANYTHING! And finally, they don't actually have any mainstream TV or movie content. Everything is either 20 years old, or ridiculously obscure. The user-interface also leaves something to be desired.

Second, Joost is a day late and a dollar short. While they were trying to put the wheels back on their Windows client and designing a Windows webbrowser plugin (which also failed), Hulu was amassing a HUGE user-base by bringing users EXACTLY what we were asking for. Easy-to-access and decent quality TV over the internet. Hulu's flash-based service works for Windows, Mac and Linux, it's reliable, the ads are less frequent than TV (although somewhat repetitive), and there are even some social networking features that are being worked in. Best of all, it has CONTENT! Heroes, Burn Notice, Terminator, Family Guy, The Office, you name it. And if you want older shows, look no further. While Joost has a bunch of old crap like Starhunter that no one watched when it first aired, Hulu has got stuff like Miami Vice. I just watched half of Season 2! On a sidenote, that was a STARK reminder that fashion has changed A LOT since the 80's. Whew!

Final word: Joost should pack it in. They made critical errors and seem not to have learned anything from the experience. They broke promises to the early adopter community. They oversold the capabilities of their Windows client. And in the end, they took too long to course correct. In the words of my little sister when she was 8-years-old, "too bad, so sad." Vive le Hulu!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

On a roll tonight

I had to post this.  It's too funny!



More internet radio choices

Caution: There's some geek-speak ahead.  Skip ahead if you're a noob.  I'm too tired to translate right now...

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Man, sometimes I wonder how Windows users tolerate the lack of good media players for their operating system.  I mean, seriously, you've got Windows Media Player which is a complete pile.  Then you've got Winamp, which only marginally sucks.  After that you're on to iTunes, which is only useful if you pledge allegiance to the Cult of Jobs.  Your only truly good media player is VLC, but that's only good for videos.  I have yet to find a really robust audio/music solution for Windows.  Thankfully, Linux has some really good choices.  Banshee and Exaile are absolutely top-notch for Gnome users and they are both installed on my laptop.  Depends on my mood as to which one I'll use.  But for my KDE desktop, AmaroK has clearly distinguished itself as the best of breed.  It's polished, intuitive, fast, and executes it's feature-set WELL!  Last.fm support, internet radio plugins, you name it.  Which brings me to the point of this post...

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End of geek-speak...

Internet radio has got something for everyone.  Sometimes, I want to discover new stuff, so I listen to Last.fm.  Other times, I want a reliable mix of underground and I end up on Smoothbeats.com.  But today I got the itch for some quality old-school.  It was probably because I just watched that VH1 "100 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time."  VH1's hip-hop retrospectives are so tight, they sometimes brings a tear to my eye.  Anyways, I had this old-school itch, so I did some channel-surfing with AmaroK, and ended up at 1club.fm - old school.  Hmm, let's try that again:

1Club.FM - Old School

There's the occasional commercial, but the stream is high-quality, and zero interruptions over the nine or so hours I've been listening.  Give it a try.  Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

World's finest airport

As an avid traveler, I am disappointed in our nation's airports, from a tech-head perspective. LAX is tore up from the floor up. Ohare and Midway are in the same state of perpetual construction. Milwaukee rolls up after 7pm. Cinci and Nashville are overpriced and under-equipped. My current faves are Las Vegas and Atlanta. But today, they were unseated by the mighty Charlotte. With rocking chairs, a great restaurant selection, cheap drinks, wi-fi, strong mobile phone reception, and friendly staff, a tech-head can't go wrong.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Do you...... Hulu?

Man, who says that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. The recording industry was torpedoed around the turn of the millennium because it CHOSE not to deliver what its consumers were asking for. Consumers asked for a cheap and easy way to download music. When the recording industry turned up its nose, the market delivered a solution: Napster. When a legal solution was finally made popular by Apple years later, the genie was already out of the bottle. The music industry is now in free-fall having missed its opportunity to course-correct.

Over the last couple of years, Hollywood has been feeling some of the same market pressures. As mobile devices have become more popular and laptop prices have fallen, consumers have increasingly demanded a cheap and easy way to watch TV online, and on-demand. Until now, broadcatching via usenet or bittorrent has been the only option. An illegal option, I might add. But one that has become increasingly easy using programs like Vuze and T.E.D.

But just when it looked like Hollywood was about to be Napsterized, along came Hulu. If you've never visited, take a peek today. It's a service that streams current TV shows (as well as a surprisingly wide selection of movies!) in full-screen 480p resolution, with only 1/3 of the ads that you would see on television. It's as easy as finding the show you want to watch, clicking on it, and reclining...

Today, I discovered something unprecedented. Hulu has the live, streaming presidential debate. Yes, I said live. By the way, I don't care who you support, but you should educate yourself about the issues. Apathy is the greatest destructive force of a democracy.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The gPhone Cometh!

Well, folks, the other shoe has finally dropped. Google has entered the mobile phone space. And the iPhone has it's first serious competitor. Allow me to introduce you to the HTC G1.


What's that you say? You haven't seen or heard anything about it? Not surprising, as Google is easing into this market. If the iPhone was the shot heard 'round the world, the G1 release was the equivalent of a BB-Gun. First of all, they launched with T-Mobile, the bastard red-headed adopted and later abandoned step-child of the mobile phone industry. Second, they partnered with handset manufacturer HTC, which is not exactly a household name these days. And finally, Google itself is not really promoting the phone. If there is such a thing as under-hyping a product, that's what Google is doing.

Critical error or clever tactic? To understand Google's angle, we first need to look at what Google has invested. Unlike Apple, who branded their entire phone as an Apple product, Google is clearly okay with T-Mobile and HTC having branding rights. And in reality, Google didn't have the kind of creative influence over the G1 that Apple had over the iPhone. That's not Google's game. The search giant doesn't want it's own phone. What it really wants is to *be* on EVERY phone. That's why it bought the Android operating system in the first place.

Hmmm, I guess some background is in order for those non-geeks among us. The operating system of a phone is essentially its brain. It controls the all-important user-interface. You know, that menu structure and application list that you either hate or are in-love with? That's the operating system, or O/S in geek-speak. Google, in it's neverending quest for new strategic directions, decided to pursue ad-revenue via mobile phones. And to that end, it figured the most efficient course of action was to own an operating system that could be deployed on ANY mobile phone. Thus, a couple of years ago it purchased Android, a small company with a slick mobile phone O/S. And in the meantime while the O/S was marinating, Google perfected a suite of mobile applications that can be accessed from ANY mobile phone. Seriously. Any mobile phone. Point your mobile browser at http://m.google.com. Go there right now. I can wait. No, really, go right now. You'll thank me later. Cool, right? Search, Maps, Gmail, Calendar, Docs, News, Photos, etc. All tailor-made for mobile phones. It turns any phone with a data connection into a smart-phone. Yes, even that $14.99 Pay-Go phone from AT&T. Google's throwing a party and EVERYONE'S invited, not just those who can afford $300 for an iPhone and a $100/month phone bill. (You can see where this is going, right? I struggle with concealing my bias.)

So, even though the HTC G1 seems like a half-hearted release into a space that Apple is dominating, it is only a first step for Google. Soon there will be an army of phones running Google's Android O/S. And the true beauty of Android is that, unlike the iPhone, it is an open platform. Anyone can develop an application without paying the Apple tax. So, while you can still shop on the Android marketplace for vetted, proven apps, it will only be a matter of time until FREE (ad-driven, ironically) or cheap application stores open and begin to spread. Google's plan is that you'll either have a Google phone, or you'll have a phone that can run Google apps. Market dominance built on top of an open platform. Can it really happen? We'll see. Google is running a marathon, not a sprint. So it could easily be another year until we see a critical mass of gPhones. At the same time, Apple's a one trick pony. It's the iPhone or nothing...

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there's still the G1 that T-Mobile just released. Is is it worth your dollar? With a touchscreen and a full QWERTY keyboard, it had me at hello. Those on-screen keyboards (ala iPhone, Instinct, Dare, et al) all SUCK! But, alas, the G1 is still on T-Mobile's network. In all seriousness, I have a soft spot in my geek heart for T-Mobile. They are the "Little Engine That Could" of the mobile industry. But they need some more freakin cell towers, plain and simple. Until then, much like the Lakers, all the G1 will do is get you excited, and then disappoint you when you give it your full attention. Don't get me wrong, it is a geek's wet dream:



But, regular folks should wait till next year. By early summer 2009, the mobile phone game will have changed. Permanently. A Storm is coming. A Blackberry Storm.