So what do you regard as the most important tech story of 2011? Certainly the passing of the torch from Steve Jobs to Tim Cook as Apple CEO, and the former’s passing a few weeks later, rates quite high. It’s fair to say that there will be lots of speculation in the months to come how Apple might change now that the co-founder is no longer at the helm. Or was his DNA so tightly ingrained within the company that little is going to change, at least for a few years?
Of course, when it comes time for Tim Cook and other key executives to leave, new generations of leadership might change things far more significantly. But the industry as a whole will also be different, and the question remains how Apple will respond to such changes. Of course, there’s no way to know. If Apple continues to be hugely successful, the media will say it was all because of Jobs’ efforts to provide ongoing training to incoming executives to follow in his footsteps. If the company doesn’t do well, they will conclude that Steve Jobs failed to properly embed his vision into the company, or they simply ignored his advice.
Now on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, from Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider, covered Apple’s recent patent victory against HTC before the International Trade Commission, and also offered some surprisingly frank comments about AT&T’s failed attempt to merge with T-Mobile.
Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine, offered a long-range view of the failed AT&T/T-Mobile merger and suggested possible suitors for T-Mobile, such as Wal-Mart and perhaps even Dish Network. He also focused on some of the top tech stories of 2011, and offered projections for industry trends in 2012.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris introduce futurist Gary S. Bekkum, an independent occasional “rogue journalist,” author, and a researcher of material that blurs the distinction between fiction and reality. We’ll cover the bases, including “higher intelligence,” UFOs, advanced government research and lots lots more.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt — Now with New Design! We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show, along with a redesigned storefront.
When it comes to printing, an all-in-one or multifunction printer is often your best choice. Such a device will incorporate printing, faxing and copying, but will often add faxing, assuming anyone cares anymore.
At one time, an all-in-one represented a huge compromise. By sticking a bunch of separate components into one box, something invariably got lost in the translation. That’s what they used to say about audio receivers too. So print quality would be subpar, not close to that of a standalone. And don’t expect miracles from copying and scanning, although it seems as if the faxing functions would usually be decent enough for home and small business use.
These days, it seems that printer makers have improved things quite a bit. The print function on the all-in-one will often deliver terrific results, even for photos. Copying, though not as swift as on one of those humongous machines you see at the copy or mailing store, will get the job done. As to scanning, a graphic artist will still prefer separates.
Now at one time, an all-in-one device, particularly the better quality models, would routinely cost two or three times that of a regular inkjet printer. And, yes, there are laser-based all-in-ones too, but I’m going to focus strictly on the more affordable variety. Well, inkjets do cost less to buy, but if you do a lot of printing, you will be overwhelmed by the cost of consumables compared to laser.
As all-in-one quality has improved, the cost has come down. These days, you can get a perfectly usable model for $100 or so, and $200 or higher will yield the very best a particular manufacturer has to offer. Some are priced right in the middle, which takes us to Brother’s $149.99 MFC-J825DW.
From the specs alone, this printer seems to do just about anything you expect in an al-in-one. In addition to the usual print/copy/scan/fax functions, the MFC-J825DW offers both Ethernet and Wi-Fi networking, in addition to the standard USB, printing on both sides of the page, an automatic document feeder, and the ability to print to both CDs and DVDs. There’s also an iOS app that handles photo printing and scanning.
The spec sheet is amazingly comprehensive. It’s hard to find something the Brother doesn’t support from the bill of materials. Output speeds are rated at 35ppm for black, and 27ppm for color, on the higher end for such devices. Faxes supposedly speed through at roughly three seconds per page. The scan feature promises an optical resolution of up to 2400 x 2400 dpi.
In practice, the MFC-J825DW is actually quite a decent value, particularly if you were able to take advantage of the recent $50 “Instant Rebate.” But even at the full price, this is a printer that is not expensive to use. The high capacity, or “XL” ink cartridges, and you need four of them, promise 600 pages each and cost a little less than, for example, the Lexmark cartridges that advertise a similar output capability.
The setup process is simple enough. Brother offers software for the Mac and Windows, and it does work properly under Lion, at least based on my testing.
Before you begin to wonder just how Brother manages to deliver the capabilities of a more expensive printer in such an affordable and relatively compact package, I have to tell you there is evidence of a few shortcuts. The onboard LCD display, for example, looks so 1990s with thin, blocky lettering and an overall clunky look and feel, tough it does get the job done. But I think Brother ought to recruit better interface designers, as the setup routine, though not difficult to master, speaks cheap.
While I didn’t attempt to measure the number of pixels in the output, nor the actual print times, my subjective feel is that the Brother is as speedy as the higher cost models. Print quality is decent enough. At the higher quality settings, text is reasonably sharp, with just a slight fuzziness at the edges that makes it less than laser-like. Photos are quite good, but the colors seem just a tad light. Clearly packing all those features, and meeting a specific price point, entailed a few tradeoffs. But if you’re not in search of perfect photo quality, it won’t matter.
Adding paper is also a mite awkward. The output tray also contains the paper supply, with a capacity of 100 sheets, but there’s also support for legal-sized paper, which is not altogether common for such a low-cost product. The Brother, rated at 2,500 copies per month, is not intended for heavy-duty use. But I don’t think many home and small business users will care.
Quibbles aside, the Brother MFC-J825DW is a perfectly good all-in-one device. You’ll certainly appreciate the two-year warranty, twice what you get with many higher-cost competitors, not to mention Brother’s well-known reputation for reliability. While I’d like to see a more elegant user interface for the LCD panel, I would be quite happy with one of these in my home office. I expect many of you will agree.
The other day, while migrating messages to a new email system, I realized that I have over 100,000 messages in storage strewn among several accounts. This despite the fact that I occasionally rummage through them and delete stuff that I no longer need.
Now since I’ve been online since the 1980s, I suppose that humongous stash makes sense, except that my collection actually starts in 1999. Before then, I mostly used AOL, which didn’t afford adequate email storage tools at the time. Regardless, I’m sure that I’m going to need some of those older messages someday, or maybe once I’ve passed, my family will go through all this material and reach a sensible conclusion about my life. Or just erase them all.
Overall, I require reliable email, with good spam protection. I do not like to see my Junk mailboxes littered with dozens of unfiltered messages, having to rely on an email app to do the heavy lifting. Since I spend a lot of time checking messages on my iPhone — and iOS Mail doesn’t offer spam filtering — I don’t want to see the Inbox polluted with junk when my Mac isn’t running.
More to the point, I’m not going to use my ISP’s email. Not because it’s necessarily bad, but I use several business domains and hence do not need a @cox.net or similar address.
Over the years, I’ve tried the email systems offered by the various Web hosts I’ve dealt with, not to mention a few standalone services. When it comes to the former, the email systems offered in such Web control panels as cPanel and Plesk Panel are totally inadequate. If you’ve used one of those cheap hosting plans that are powered by either, you know what I mean, although you can get better spam protection on a dedicated or virtual private server (VPS) if you buy a third-party add-on. But some hosts, such as DreamHost, 1&1 and even GoDaddy, have their own system-wide email systems with adequate levels of junk and virus protection.
After struggling with the poorly designed email systems on the various servers I’ve used, I’ve decided to rely on a dedicated email hosting service. Now there are quite a few out there, many costing just a few dollars a month for a small number of home and business users.
Certainly GoDaddy’s email gets a fair amount of coverage, the result of their heavy-duty promotional efforts. Their top-of-the-line Unlimited package, at $2.99 a month (annual contract required) offers 10 addresses, unlimited storage, and full support for the most popular mobile gadgets, such as the iPhone and all those Droids. At the same time, however, you cannot use an email forward or alias (where a message sent from one address goes to another) without registering your domain with GoDaddy, or paying extra for a special forwarding package. You’re also limited to 250 SMTP Relays per day, meaning the number of messages you can send from an email app. If you want more, you can buy a Relay bundle that will add another 100. While I suppose that’s enough for most users, it’s only another example of GoDaddy’s nickel and diming you to death.
And don’t get me started about GoDaddy’s questionable support for SOPA, the “Stop Online Piracy Act,” which they promptly withdrew in the face of a public outcry and the loss of a bunch of customers.
Another large Web host, 1&1.com, also offers a cheap email package, 1&1 Instant Mail, at $1.49 for five accounts, but you’re limited to 2GB mailboxes. That may seem like a lot of storage until you realize you have 20,000 or 30,000 messages, plus a bunch of attachments that you want to retain. Suddenly 2GB isn’t so large, in which case I suppose they can upsell you to 1&1 Mail Exchange, a Microsoft Exchange alternative based on Open-Xchange, a Linux-based email system.
Another host, Namecheap, is in the process of setting up an Open-Xchange system. It’s in beta, so some features aren’t available, but they are offering free 30-day trials for the high-end packages, and a free one-year offer for the Personal package, which again limits you to a 2GB mailbox.
Yet another business email system is Rackspace Email, at $2.00 per 10GB mailbox, with a minimum order of five. On the whole Rackspace offers a useful bundle, with great reliability and daily backups, but their Web interface is pedestrian, and mobile support is bare bones.
A surprisingly strong competitor is Google Apps, a full package that offers not just email, but online calendaring, the Google Docs office suite, contact manager and lots more. Yes, you can use your personal or business domain with Google Apps, which means you aren’t saddled with an @gmail.com address.
The free version includes the same level of service you receive from the standard Gmail system, with a mailbox that’s close to 7GB in size. For $5 per user per month, you get 25GB email storage, push email for mobile phones, a 99.9% uptime guarantee, and real 24/7 email and telephone support.
The main advantage of these hosted email solutions is spam and virus filtering. They all do a credible job, with Rackspace and Google among the best. You can also manage your email direct from a desktop app on your Mac, PC, or Linux computer.
I discovered one curiosity, though, when I set up a Google Apps email account on Microsoft’s endlessly buggy Outlook 2011 for the Mac. When configuring an IMAP email account, you need to link (or map) your sent, junk, drafts and trash folders to the ones used on the email server. This is usually done during the initial setup process, and is a trivial setting under Apple Mail. You just select the mailbox, choose Use This Mailbox For from the Mailbox menu, and select the type of mailbox you’re mapping. Outlook has the same feature in the Account setup menu, but with a Google Apps account, it mistakenly sets up duplicate folders for these purposes. That may not make a difference if you’re creating an email account from scratch. But if you want to retrieve your sent mail and other messages that are already on Google’s servers, you’ll be out of luck unless you change the setting. Is this curious behavior the result of Microsoft and Google being rivals? I hope not.
All in all, you may find that Google Apps is your best hosted email alternative. Even better, the free Google Apps bundle, which supports up to ten users, may be all you need; that is, if you can put up with the text ads.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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