After 119 monthly issues and roughly nine and a half years (3,474 days, according to Wolfram Alpha), this is my last issue as Editor-in-Chief of Maximum PC. I’d like to pretend it’s been grueling work—from the crazy costumes to our intern-torturing escapades to the great smoke alarm incident of 2000—but, I can assure you, it’s been a blast.
Most importantly, I’ve enjoyed working for you guys over the last decade—a decade that’s been chock-full of amazing technological triumphs, as we accelerate ever faster toward the Singularity. To give a little perspective to that decade, here are the four achievements (presented in no particular order) that I think have made the biggest impact on the world, during the time I’ve been at Maximum PC.
Sure, losing weight and spending more time with my family would both be great New Year’s resolutions, but let’s face reality: I’m not going to do either of those things. Instead, I’ve made four tech resolutions—I call them “techolutions”—that I earnestly pledge to follow in 2010 (or at least until the next time I have something more fun to do).
Back Up All of My Data
Right now, with the Windows Home Server I’m rocking at home, I have a pretty reliable, idiot-proof way to back up all the PCs in my house. But these PCs don’t hold all my data. I have gigabytes of stuff stored on computers that are beyond my home server’s reach, in the cloud and on my work PC. This year, I resolve to back up everything at least once a month—this includes everything from my Outlook archive at work to the contents of my Dropbox folder. Just in case.
Take Better Care of My Batteries
Battery maintenance should be much easier, but sadly, it isn’t. This year, I pledge to keep a partial charge on all my Lithium-ion-powered devices—never overcharging, never draining completely, and always unhooking my batteries when I’m not going to use a device for a while. I resolve to do everything reasonable and within my power to extend the life span of my batteries.
Read the rest of Will's New Year's resolutions after the jump.
There are dozens of different computing devices in my home, ranging from the common—TVs, PCs, smartphones, and digital picture frames—to the unusual. Some of the more eclectic gizmos, like smart alarm clocks and various types of music streamers, deliver kick-ass functionality on their own, but there just isn’t much communication between these devices. There are dozens of different protocols and software interfaces designed to foster communication betwixt electronics kit, but none of the manufacturers use them. Seems like all the cutting-edge hardware we buy these days uses proprietary cables, software, and communications protocols.
Sometimes propriety is the price of progress: A product includes some new functionality that requires more than existing technology allows. Sometimes a vendor chooses one standard over a different competing standard. And sometimes it’s just sheer bloody-mindedness on the part of the manufacturer. But regardless of the reason, it’s unacceptable.
Apple does a great job of integrating its gear with other Apple products, but is notoriously bad about integrating with third parties. For example, I still can’t pull photos from my Flickr account into my iPhone without using a third-party app. Likewise, there’s no way to stream the music collection stored on my Windows Home Server to an AppleTV, unless I use Apple’s proprietary iTunes software.
If I asked you in 1993, “What’s a PC?”, you’d probably have pointed to the beige box sitting under your desk at work. In 1999, if I asked you the same question, the odds are good that you’d have shown me a grey box in your den. In 2005, you would probably have shown me a shiny new notebook. But, as I sit here in 2009, I’m finding it difficult to answer this seemingly simple question.
Sitting on my desk, I have four extremely powerful computing devices, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Let’s decide which of these are personal computers together.
Machine A features four CPU cores, and a host of GPUs and coprocessors. Machine B is more modest, with three CPU cores and a decent GPU. Machine C is even more modest, with a dual-core CPU, but a woefully inadequate GPU. Machine D pushes a lot of its workload onto dedicated processors, but still sports a dedicated GPU.
So, what’s all this powerful hardware? A home-built gaming PC, an Xbox 360, a Lenovo X200s notebook, and an iPhone 3GS.
It all started with a phone call from my mom. While she’s not a regular Maximum PC reader, she read my Windows 7 review online, and called me because she was worried about the, umm, “colorful” comments. I told her not to sweat that feedback—that those folks are fanboys, people who suffer an excess of product-focused enthusiasm.
The conversation got me thinking, though. When I posted my positive review of Win7, I expected a strong response from the fanboy contingent. I expected people to accuse me of being a fanboy (that happened, check), and I expected my critics to attack my opinions (checkerino), expertise (Chekov), and moral turpitude (ditto).
I wasn’t surprised by the Windows XP fanboys, who let me know that their intractable world lacks a place for any new versions of Windows. Also not shocking? That the Apple fanboys are convinced that Snow Leopard is faster, better, and cheaper than Windows 7. And I would have been disappointed if the Linux fanboys didn’t tell me that I’m a dumbass for paying for an inferior, closed-source OS. What I didn’t expect? Well, what I couldn’t prepare myself for was the Windows Vista fanboy.
You may not have heard of it before, but “augmented reality” is coming, and it’s more than just cool tech—it will change the world.
Augmented reality has been a Hollywood staple for the last 30 years—although it’s more commonly associated with robots and cyborgs than people or PC enthusiasts. Put simply, it’s a technology that overlays a real-world scene with relevant contextual information, directly from a computer. In Robocop and Terminator, augmented reality was used by the movie’s eponymous characters to overlay friend or foe info. In Minority Report, it was used to display targeted ads, unique to each individual, as they walked through a city landscape.
I suffered a loss recently: My trusty, first-generation iPhone’s touch screen gave up the ghost. On a sunny day in early June, it let loose this mortal coil. And, like every other piece of technology I’ve ever owned, the touch screen stopped responding at the worst possible moment—as I was in a cab on my way to the first leg of a two-week trip.
Upon landing in Los Angeles, my first stop was an Apple store, where one of the Apple-proclaimed “geniuses” explained my options. My first choice was to get a replacement phone for a mere $200 (I hadn’t bothered to buy the extended warranty). My other option was simply to pound sand. I took my busted phone and bid the Apple store and its smug “geniuses” farewell, vowing to never buy another iPhone.
Next stop was AT&T to purchase a new, non-iPhone phone. I put my name on the we’ll-help-you-when-we’re-good-and-damn-well-ready list, and started looking at phones. After an hour or so of waiting, I walked out of the building with a new Blackberry Bold and considered my mission accomplished.
We computer nerds all have our favorite applications and utilities—you know, the software we absolutely cannot live without. You’re certainly already familiar with many of my personal faves (I always install Firefox, Digsby, and Dropbox), but developers are constantly releasing new software, so my list is always evolving. And so, without further delay, I give you my favorite apps and utilities, as selected during the first half of 2009.
See Will's favorite apps of early 2009 after the jump!
After 15 years of building and upgrading PCs, I’ve made some awesome upgrades to my own PCs. These hardware updates either opened the doors to exciting new functionality, or served as force multipliers, greatly increasing my rig’s performance in one fell swoop. Best of all, a killer upgrade can even revitalize a tired old rig.
Now, there’s a subtle difference between upgrades and a complete system overhaul, but for my purposes, an upgrade is anything you can do without reinstalling Windows. Here’s my definitive list of My All-Time Top Five Greatest PC Upgrades:
Battery-life claims never seems to line up with reality. You’d think testing battery life would be straightforward, but benchmark results rarely jibe with real-world results—in part, because there are an infinite number of potential workloads (each tapping power differently), and battery life decays over time. Both Intel and AMD make mobile CPU platforms designed for low power consumption, but due to the massive number of variables involved, I’ve found it nearly impossible to determine which architecture sucks the least juice.
Think about it. There’s a lot of hardware in a laptop that can affect battery life besides the CPU and the battery itself: the LCD screen and backlight, the optical and hard drives, the GPU, chipset, and memory config—to name just a few. The upshot is that if you want to fairly compare Intel and AMD hardware, you really need to test what we’ll call core power draw, isolating all the other variables. There are just a handful of ways to do this fairly, and each comes with its own problems.