Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Do You Use Google Documents?

Google documents is a great web alternative to using Microsoft Word. Its free and it works great for basic documents. Plus, its fully compatible with Word and even gives you the ability to save your document as a pdf file.

If you are a google docs user, there is now a great firefox extention that allows you to access all of your google docs in a sidebar. Pretty cool. If you haven't tried google docs yet, give it a spin. If you have a gmail account, you can access google docs right from your email.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Don't Buy Itunes: Free Your Music with Amazon Mp3

For iPod users, Itunes has always been the music store of choice because it was the only store that offered a wide selection of music compatible with the iPod. However, that's about to change. Amazon is unrolling its DRM-free music site with a wide selection of mp3's from all 4 major music companies. I've tested tracks from the store over the past few months and I have been very pleased. Here are a few of the advantages of switching to Amazon from Itunes.

  1. DRM Free - There are no restrictions to how many times you can burn or copy your music files unlike Itunes.
  2. Mp3 format - Mp3's are compatible with any digital audio player, including the iPod. Itunes uses a protected AAC format which can only be used on the iPod. Buying in mp3 format ensures that you are not locked into the Apple system for life.
  3. Ability to purchase CD's. Unlike Itunes, Amazon also has a phenomenal selection of new and used CD's. CD's still offer the best quality sound and you can make your own high quality mp3 files as well.
Itunes still offers great convenience and a great selection of music. But until they remove the restrictions, you will always be locked into the Apple system. There are lots of disadvantages to this because many devices such as music streaming systems are not compatible with Itunes files. So, buy from Amazon mp3 and ensure that your music stays free.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Skyfire Browser: The Internet on your Phone?

Up until now, the iPhone's Safari browser was the closest you could get to literally brining the Internet onto your cellphone. That may be changing soon.

The Skyfire mobile Internet browser is entering beta stages. The company has released a video of the browser and it looks fantastic. Unlike Safari, it supports all of the modern Internet technology like flash and Ajax. You can literally surf the same web pages on your phone that you do on your computer, and at similar speeds. This clearly looks like a next-generation mobile web browser. You can sign up for the Skyfire beta here.

Tweak Windows - Improve Performance

Looking to make Windows run better. PC world has come up with 31 tweaks to improve the performance like speeding up your startup by disabling unused drivers or speeding up your web surfing.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Throw All of Those Remotes Away

If your sick of sorting through 5 remotes just to watch some television, then you (and your spouse) will definitely appreciate the Harmony remote control system from Logitech. Its an all in one remote that is easy to set up and will eliminate all of your remote clutter. In fact, this remote will turn on and off all of your necessary equipment with the push of one button.

I've tried this out at home and I'm hooked. You set up the remote by plugging it into your computer and entering the model numbers of all of your equipment (TV, Receiver, Cable/Satellite box). Once it downloads the codes for your equipment, you simple follow a simple wizard to set up "activities." The activities show up on a screen on the remote as "watch tv," "watch movie," "play xbox," "listen to music." You just let the remote know what devices need to be turned on for each activity and what input they need to be set on (AV1, AV2...). The wizard will load all of these activities onto your remote and your ready to go. Just press "watch tv" and each device will turn on in seconds. Press the "off" button and everything turns off.

I've been using it for months and it works great. For each activity the screen will display relevant buttons like guide, menu, etc. You can customize buttons on this screen using the software if you would like to add some features that do not automatically appear when you set the system up. It controls nearly everything, including light dimmers if you have a home theater. And its available in various price ranges from the $100 Xbox Harmony remote to the touch screen Harmony 1000. They all get the job done.

Its a great system and I highly recommend it. Your home theater experience will be much more enjoyable and pain free. Even guests will be able to control your home system without any instructions.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Netflix Streaming Home Movie Theatre

Netflix recently made a change to its monthly subscription that allows you to stream unlimited movies from their website at no additional charge. I've tested this service out and I was mostly impressed with the results. Although the selection is somewhat limited, you can stream DVD quality movies within seconds on your computer, or connect your desktop or notebook to your TV to create a Netflix streaming home movie theatre.

I tested this service out using season one of Heroes. I was immediately impressed by the quality of the picture. After a quick install, the show started playing within seconds inside of Internet Explorer. A click on the full screen button enlarges the video to fit your screen in widescreen format. Though 10 episodes I saw no stoppage in play. The quality resembled that of a DVD and overall I was impressed with the picture quality.

I hooked my laptop up to a 24" monitor that I use as a small TV. A VGA connection will produce a much better picture than S-Video if you have this option on your TV or monitor. Apparently, Netflix is developing a set-top box built into a blu-ray player to make the TV connection easier in the future. Most people may have difficultly setting this service up for your TV without a set-top box. Connecting a laptop to a TV is not ideal, however it works.

Its a great service overall and I only wish they supplied more movies. If Netflix worked on building up their catalog, I may never rent another movie on disc again. It simply works that well.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Save Hundreds of Dollars by Reinstalling Windows

Ever have Windows crash on you? Or, run into a serious error that you can't seem to fix? Sometimes, its much easier and quicker just to format your hard drive and reinstall Windows. I've spent days looking for a solution to a problem that I couldn't find. Reinstalling Windows takes just a couple of hours and can usually fix many problems. It can also save you hundreds of dollars in computer repair costs from places like Geek Squad (click for price list.....wow). And when your finished, it will feel like your computer is brand new again.

But what about all your files? The easiest solution for this is to install a second hard drive in your desktop, or buy an external hard drive for your laptop. If you have a desktop, you can make this second drive your primary drive for all of your files like music, documents and videos. Then, you can format and reinstall windows on your first drive without having to worry about losing your files. You can also keep a copy of all of your drivers on this hard drive too which will save you some time reinstalling them after Windows has finished installing. If you can't find copies of your drivers, many computer manufacturers like Dell keep them available to you on their website. You can also check the manufacturers website for updated drivers as well.

The only other step is to reload all of your programs. This isn't usually a problem if you have the disk, but if you downloaded software from the internet, make sure you have your original setup file or you may lose the program. Some software download services offer you the ability to re-download the software at any time. Make sure you check this before formatting your hard drive. I find that its always easiest to have a backup disc of any program for this very reason.

If you have days to spend looking for a problem, or you are a windows expert, then this may not be your best solution. However, reinstalling Windows usually fixes many problems and gives you a clean slate, and it can save you hundreds of dollars in computer repair costs.