computing ecosystems

using the term ‘ecosystem’ to describe a range of computing devices running the same brand of operating system and talking to each other is becoming more common in the mainstream media.  personally i like this term; i think it describes quite well the interrelationships between devices and software that is becoming more common with the advanced devices we now have and the advent of the cloud.  and clearly there are some devices that will talk to each other and others that won’t.

as you will have noted in previous posts, i currently have devices straddling two computing ecosystems, a laptop and a media pc running microsoft’s windows and a smartphone running google’s android.  so here are my thoughts on some of the main ecosystems out there and where i am (for the near future anyway) heading.

Image representing Microsoft as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

my relationship with microsoft’s ecosystem goes back a long way.  my parents’ first pc ran windows 3.1.  at the time i could even use ms-dos to do some basics.  windows has moved on and i have had significant experience of all versions with the exception of the infamous vista.  i really like the current iteration, windows 7.  it looks great and is fairly easy to use, but you can still get down into the bowels of it when required.

my other attachment to the microsoft ecosystem began in 1998 when i created my hotmail account.  like windows, hotmail has developed over the years, and now is just one of a number of web-based or cloud services microsoft offers under its windows live banner.

microsoft has also been in the mobile computing arena for a number of years, longer than most others in fact.  i have had a number of smartphones running their windows mobile platform, before i jumped ship to android.  these were great phones, at first ahead of their time, but they were suddenly left for dead with the development of the iphone and then android.  that said, although my windows mobile OS was completely outdated in terms of user experience, it provided heaps more functionality and connectivity than the original iphone (3g data connectivity for example).  microsoft has now of course ditched windows mobile and developed windows phone 7 from scratch to replace it.

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

i have had limited direct experience of apple products over the years.  my secondary school had early macintosh computers, but apart from learning some

basics, including a little CAD, we didn’t use these very much.  so apple stayed in the distant background for many years, emerging with the success of the ipod.  i was occasionally tempted to get an ipod, but was always put off by the price when there were always far cheaper rivals on the market.  as such, i managed to avoid the itunes trap.  so when the iphone emerged, i was thinking what does this give me that i haven’t already got?  it didn’t even have 3g.  apple have capitalised on their success though, and have over the years improved the iphone.  while not always leading in terms of hardware, i think there are few out there who would say it isn’t top or near top of the pile in terms of user experience.  but now there is competition; windows phone 7 has an innovative approach and android has continually improved its user interface.  however i feel on the phone front, iOS is now starting to slip behind the others.  to me, the forthcoming release iOS5 doesn’t seem to be adding anything that’s not already in windows phone or android, and i’m not the only one who thinks so.

but what about the ipad?  apple sure has made the tablet market its own.  despite a slew of android tablets and even some running windows 7 (which it must be pointed out was not designed for a tablet interface), the ipad is still by far the biggest player in this market.  in terms of features, the one that stands out for me is the 10 hour battery life.  that is way ahead of the competition in one area that a tablet really needs to perform in.

in my mind apple’s greatest strength is the support it has from developers and companies.  all sorts of apps, potentially even including ones for use in a smart home which are of key relevance to this blog, seem to emerge for iphone/ipad well before any other platform, if they make to the other platforms at all!

Image representing Android as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

my current phone is a htc desire running google’s android OS.  being from htc, the stock android user interface is overlaid with htc sense, but everything under the bonnet and all the apps available are the same.  android brings benefits in terms of endless customi

sation and a huge range of free apps.  it has come from nowhere just four years ago, to become the best selling smartphone OS in the world.  my biggest problem with android goes back to the creation of my hotmail account in 1998.  my phone just doesn’t handle my hotmail email well enough and i am not willing to switch over to gmail.  i have the phone set up to check my hotmail account hourly for new mail.  i can then read that mail on my phone and it comes up as read if i then access it on the web or a pc.  the problem is when i read new mail on the web or on a pc it doesn’t update the inbox on the phone to show it as read.  worse till, if i delete mail using the web or pc interfaces, it doesn’t delete it from the inbox on the phone.  this is a major flaw when a must for any smartphone is to handle email effectively.  maybe i’ve missed something in the settings, but i don’t think so.  microsoft, probably to promote their windows phone OS, haven’t brough out any useful apps for accessing their services either, so that’s no help.  i’m afraid for a smartphone this really is a deal breaker, and come august when i am due to upgrade, i think it will be over to windows phone for me.

The Start screen of Windows Phone 7

Windows Phone 7 - Image via Wikipedia

so my computing ecosystem of choice going forwards is microsoft’s offering.  as well as getting functioning email on all my devices, i see the following benefits this will bring to make my life smarter, if not my home too:

  • windows phone will provide easy access to skydrive, which i already use for uploading, downloading and sharing photos and other files.
  • i already have my contacts in pretty good order and linked between my phone and my outlook contacts at work.  windows phone will (i hope) allow me to extend this through hotmail too.
  • windows live mesh – i already use this to synchronise files across my two home pcs.  unfortunately they won’t let me use it at work (something to do with ports and network vulnerability that i don’t fully understand), so i’ll have to stick using memory sticks for now.  i haven’t heard anything of this on windows phone, not even with the mango update; but seeing as the whole point of mesh it so make your files accessible across windows devices this is clearly something that should be in place.  i should note that as well as synchronising files, mesh synchronises your internet explorer bookmarks which is very useful on PCs and something i would also like on my phone.
  • work email is another thing i already have access to on my phone and although you don’t want to be harassed by work email in your time off, it is extremely convenient at other times.
  • one of the most important things my phone provides for me is a calendar.  i don’t have a paper diary so this is indispensable for keeping track of work and personal appointments.  as with contacts, i look forward to having my calendar accessible through hotmail as well as my phone and work outlook.
  • i used to use the tasks in outlook as a to do list as it synced with my old windows mobile phones, but that is not the case for android.  android does not include any task management so you have to use a third party app.  i currently use astrid, but i look forward to having outlook integration again with windows phone.
  • i don’t have a separate music player, so i depend on my phone for listening to music on the move.  i currently have nearly 10GB of music so I need a device with at least 16GB of storage (or upgradable storage) to handle this.

so as you can see, the choice of ecosystem is rather important to me to have a number of services available at home, at work and on the move.  the forthcoming ‘mango‘ update to windows phone promises many new features, and combined with third party apps, i am looking forward to many possibilities for making home and life smarter.

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my current home – tech

my current network

my current network

getting over to the smart home side of things, admittedly i don’t have a huge amount going on right now but what i do have has grown in scope, sophistication and complexity over recent years.  i am slowly building a network around my home.  at the heart of this is my wi-fi router; a livebox supplied as part of my orange home broadband.  despite this promotional animation which shows a seamlessly connected home, it has been quite problematic, with poor range, and problems serving up ip addresses requiring it to be regularly rebooted.  but i do get my broadband for free (long story, but i can summarise it as being a legacy-legacy customer) so i can’t complain.  last year i bought a couple of homeplugs which have helped deliver a more consistent, faster connection to my main computer, a home-build media pc.

i built my media pc around three years ago.  at that time i considered it pretty state-of-the-art.  it combines features of being a blu-ray player, a tv tuner providing access to hd tv broadcasts under the freesat hd banner, dvr providing recording of tv, and a media hub for storing gigabytes of photos, music, video and recorded tv.  all this was built around microsoft’s windows 7 operating system.  initially i started off using a pre-release test version of windows 7, and i liked it so eventually purchased a licence.  one of the most used features in our home is windows media center, which is pretty good for viewing and managing all media via a remote control rather than keyboard and mouse.  windows 7 also introduced homegroups, allowing easy communications between computers running windows 7.

so my second windows 7 device is a hp laptop.  this was bought less than a year ago to replace my old desktop, my first home build originally constructed in 2004 but upgraded at various intervals.  it is used primarily for internet browsing, email and office applications, but i also wanted a machine capable of some graphics grunt, so here i am with a dm3.

the third ‘computer’ i have is a smartphone.  my current model is a htc desire, on the android platform.

apart from speaking to each other to a greater or lesser extent, that is it in terms of the smartness of the system.  they handle my home media, but otherwise do not interface with the fabric or content of the home.  so as you can see in the diagram at the top of this post, there is a lot of potential in future to get things speaking to each other.  there’s a lot of research and planning ahead to make my home a smart home and get to a point where everything is talking to everything else!