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New blog location… March 15, 2013

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Government, Hardware, Internet, IT Services, Outsourcing, Software.
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Thank you for visiting the Thomas Eggar technology blog. We have moved the blog to our main website – please click here to be taken directly to the latest version of the blog!

Southamptons Itchen Bridge

 

Photo by Steve licensed under Creative Commons

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The British 4G auctions are underway December 13, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Government, Hardware.
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And so at last the 4G auctions have begun in the UK. There is some 4G available already via Everything Everywhere (EE), but none of the major operators are able to offer the service yet.

The applications will be considered before the end of this year with the winning bidder chosen by the end of Q1 2013. This means that 4G services should roll out to the public in general by May or June next year.

Many have asked about the importance of 4G and whether we need the service at all. After all 3G already allows most web browsing and email activities to function perfectly well.

I believe that the difference will be related to video and audio, specifically movies, TV shows, and streaming music. Services like Spotify are getting increasingly popular – you pay a fixed monthly subscription and can then play almost any music. However the big downside to Spotify is you need a computer and Internet connection for it to work. There is some offline functionality, but it’s all clunky and not easy to use.

Imagine if the Internet speed on your phone was so fast that you could stream any music anywhere? There would no longer be a market for iPods for a start.

The same applies for TV and movies. It’s possible to watch video on the move using 3G, but it’s usually a bit slow, the image can be buffered and delayed. The experience is not usually very good – if you want to watch a movie on a train journey it’s easier to download the video file first, not attempt to stream something big on 3G.

Putting data limits to one side, if there is no issue over speed then the phone will almost certainly become the most popular viewing platform for movies and TV shows.

I wonder if that will change how they are produced – filmed with the expectation that they will be viewed on an iPad Mini or iPhone rather than a cinema screen?

Rear of the Year

 

Photo by Scott Wills licensed under Creative Commons

Samsung v Apple: The fight goes on August 31, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Hardware, Software.
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Who would have thought that intellectual property law could suddenly become so interesting? Two of the biggest tech brands in the world – Samsung and Apple – are slugging it out in courts across the world.

An American court awarded Apple over $1bn in damages when it declared that Samsung had infringed several key aspects of proprietary software and technology design.

Subsequently a Japanese court awarded Samsung victory in a battle over the way their phones synchonise data with personal computers. It’s going back and forth as the giants argue over design issues and who is copying who.

Of course intellectual property needs protection, but the real loser at the end of all this is going to be the consumer. Take cars as an example. You can go out and buy a Ford, VW, or GM vehicle and be able to drive it immediately. You don’t need to spend a day learning how it all works before you are familiar with the controls.

Isn’t this analogous to mobile phones now? They are complex devices, but there are many basic controls that are the same; settings, web access, email, apps. I just moved from Android to an iPhone and it took me a couple of days to become familiar with the environment – even though I use several other Apple products. What if I move to an Android phone in two years? Will I have to learn everything again to get it to work?

We need phone companies to innovate and not just to copy each other, but the consumer will end up paying all these damages. It’s time the phone companies started talking to each other and pooling technologies in the same way DVD and similar technologies are shared between manufacturers.

A slight difference (phones)

 

Photo by Tomi Tapio licensed under Creative Commons

Laptop thief caught by technology November 15, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Hardware.
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This story in the Daily Mail demonstrates a couple of interesting principles, that your hi-tech equipment is never really offline and just how easy it is to control a device remotely across the Internet.

Analysts call this concept of everything being accessible, the Internet of Things. It refers to almost any electronic device having an Internet Protocol (IP address) so it can be uniquely identified, and of course to also be connected.

In this case, the man who lost his laptop computer to a thief was able to connect to the computer and use the built-in webcam to take a picture of the thief. After this was sent to the police, he ended up being able to recover the stolen equipment. Of course the newspaper presented it as a good news story – all the more remarkable as distances of thousands of miles were also involved.

But we don’t think of distance when sending an email. Using the Internet is not like the old days of making a fixed line telephone call, with a different price depending on the physical distance between the two fixed points.

Thanks to tools such as Slingbox, it’s becoming fairly normal for many to access their own TV and video collection from anywhere. Your TV might be in London, automatically recording shows you like while you are away in Hong Kong on business. With remote access enabled, you can use a laptop to hook up to the TV allowing you to watch your recorded programmes.

This is all normal now. But the Internet of Things goes far beyond just being able to access TV programmes remotely. Imagine if every lock in every door was IP-enabled, if every security access in every office was IP-enabled, if every financial transaction was made on an IP-enabled device… the list goes on.

Soon, almost every electrical product will be IP-enabled and the possibilities for applications are endless. Soon the newspapers will be full of ads for fridges that can let you know whether you need any butter or not, not just computer engineers getting their stolen computers back. What may seem fantastic is about to become normal.
Laptop stolen

Turn off the networks – says who? October 21, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Hardware, IT Services.
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A recent poll by the BBC found that most British citizens would like to the see the police respond to riots with water cannon, tear gas, curfews and even a third suggesting the police should be firing rubber bullets.

With the British riots still quite fresh in the mind of most respondents and the police being criticised for a soft approach, it’s no surprise that the average man on the street wants a tough approach – regardless of how all these measure might appear to be the beginning of a police state.

But it was interesting to see that 55% of the people polled by the BBC also believe that the police should have the power to close down social networks such as Twitter, Blackberry BBM, and Facebook.

It seems like one thing for the public to be asking the police to take tougher action on rioters, but if the public are now asking for the police to have control of the Internet then will the politicians respond? It would clearly be popular with the public, but is it right?

Those in favour of this measure are clearly arguing that many of the riots were arranged or exacerbated by communication on social networks. The one to many broadcast ability of these networks and the ability for messages to be passed on and re-broadcast makes them far more powerful than the telephone or basic text messaging.

But did the police ever turn off the telephone network in the past when there was a riot, and where would this power stop? Who would give the command to suggest that a minor civil disturbance has gone past the line and now all social networks need to be closed?

In my own experience, the messages I was seeing on the Monday night of the London riots were mainly councillors and local businesses, all out there on the street and sending messages to help people stay safe. All of this would have been impossible if the networks were down.

This is one of those moral questions that make people realise the power of blogs and microblogs – instant, available to all, and easy for others to pass on. The world has yet to really absorb the power of one to many communications, but I hope the positive outweighs the negative in public perception soon as the measures being proposed are dangerous for democracy itself.
London Flames

Better to be safe than Sony October 17, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Hardware, Internet.
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The last few weeks have featured one technology disaster story after another and two of the big ones involved Sony – no stranger to controversy after their Playstation network was hacked earlier this year and the personal payment details of about 77m users were compromised.

Even worse, none of the data was encrypted – a basic error for a company with so much personal data.

Their latest woes surround the recall of around 1.6m televisions because of a fire risk, more of a smoking set than smoking gun. The incidents are clearly not connected, but it is causing immense damage to the brand itself, once the very measure of global quality and expertise in electronic products.

And if Sony are feeling the heat then think of how the executive team of Research in Motion are feeling. The makers of the Blackberry smartphones are recoiling from the pain of tens of millions of their users losing all Internet access (including email) for several days last week.

Blackberry has been suffering for the past few years anyway. The traditional corporate users have been switching to iPhone and Android handsets and the brand has failed to resonate as ‘cool’ with the young. Couple this gentle descent with the recent outage and they might be facing a tailspin – certainly in confidence if not in actual user numbers yet.

Most users – personal or corporate – are locked into contracts, but at the contract expiry they are free to explore other options and this could be extremely damaging for the company in a year or so.

The old expression about capitalism coined by Marx was that ‘creative destruction’ ensures that older ways of doing things get destroyed by the new. We always expect new innovative companies to come along and shake up the world of technology, but when the giants of technology start shaking the ground through their own mistakes and errors many would suggest that they deserve to suffer.
Broken TV

Switching to the cloud March 15, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Hardware, IT Services, Outsourcing.
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The cloud causes a great deal of confusion.

There is little consensus over what the term really describes. Data centre vendors will tell you how you can buy storage from the cloud, with servers switched on and off effortlessly and remotely. Software vendors will tell you that it is all about access to centralised software via the web, allowing you to use complex software without installing or maintaining a single package. Security vendors will tell you that it is an accident waiting to happen.

In many ways, the cloud is really a bit like the computer system represented in Hollywood blockbuster ‘the matrix’ – though without the Neo sunglasses.

The concept is that services should be accessible remotely without the customer needing to understand or care about the exact resource required to deliver it. It should also be possible to pay for only the services you use – for example, just paying for the storage you actually use rather than paying for a server and paying someone to maintain it.

The point is that you don’t need to understand the cloud as a new business concept to use it because consumers inherently understand how it works. When I switch on a power socket at home, I expect electricity to flow. I have no idea how many people worked in the power company to ensure that happened, but it happens and I pay only for the power I use.

When I turn on a tap, I get water and I similarly have little understanding of how much effort goes into ensuring that this tap produces fresh water, but it does. I also pay only for what I use. Apply these concepts from the home into the world of business and suddenly it looks a bit silly to buy banks of servers that are redundant 99% of the time, tying up capital in the equipment and needing to spend on facilities to house it all and people to maintain them. Or buying software that needs to be installed, maintained, upgraded, and paid for whether users are actually using it or not.

When the business users or technology services start thinking about the cloud in the same way they think about their utilities at home, then they will understand not only what it is, but also the immense potential.