Ross M. Miller
Miller Risk Advisors
November 12, 2007
The pod invasion started simply enough. When I am not coaxing my two Rokus
to work as Internet radios, I use them to listen to the music and podcasts
residing on my server/PC. Getting this all to happen involved installing
some "music server" software, where is not something that the
Roku people provide; instead, it comes bundled into various media players
or as a separate "service" that runs in the background. After I
unsuccessfully tried to upgrade from Windows Media Player 10 to 11 (which
has a media server built into it), I settled for installing the
now-obsolete Windows Media Connect on my machine. It works, but is
primitive. Eventually, I broke down and installed iTunes on the PC just
for its server capabilities. It was the first Apple software that I had
installed in ages because of bad experiences I had with QuickTime
attempting to take over my computer in the past. Of course, in typical
Apple manner, as part of installing iTunes you must also allow QuickTime
to invade your machine. So far, it hasn't taken over, so someone at Apple
must have heard all the angry Windows users.
Well, iTunes worked much better than Windows Media Connect. It does
appear to have broken Windows Media Connect, but after a reinstall of WMC
the two now peacefully coexist. Although iTunes does not follow Windows
user interface conventions (no surprise there), iTunes is worth it for me
because it does some things that Windows Media Player and WinAmp do not.
In particular, podcast support is excellent and smart playlists are
useful, especially as a way of directing podcasts to the Rokus. Since I
live in an MP3 and WMA only household, there were no iPods hanging around
to hook into iTunes, but I got the impression from looking at iTunes that
it did a good job of managing music with iPods.
Let me get one thing straight: I am not a pod person in the sense of
one who walks around in public with earphones, white or otherwise, stuck
into my ears. I still have several Walkmen stashed away in the basement (I
don't have the heart to toss them out) and even carried around a portable
CD player long before they become a commodity. My travel habits have
changed, however, and even when I am "on the road" I can get
music without hauling around another device. My wife, however, is a pod
person and since her birthday was coming up and everyone was talking about
the iPhone, I figured I'd get her the new iPod Touch. (There is no way
that I'm signing up with AT&T, at least not until I move out of
I originally ordered the iPod Touch in early September through Amazon.
Then I started to stake out the local Apple Store, snagged a
"pre-release" Touch, and canceled my Amazon order.
I took custody of the iPod for much of the first week it was in the
house to "set it up," which included getting iTunes running on
her Dell (the last computer from that company that will ever come inside
my house). At getting the exploding USB ports on the Dell into a seemingly
stable configuration, she was ready to use it without my involvement.
Things worked as planned and she is now addicted to podcasts, which still
require some user intervention to update.
The iPod Touch, like its big brother the iPhone, is an impressive piece
of technology. Many reviews have focused on how it's merely a
"crippled" iPhone, but it has a much more pleasing and svelte
form factor and uses a normal headphone minijack. Personally, I cannot see
talking into a small brick to make phone calls; however, the one
smartphone owner that I am in communication with tells me that one is
supposed to use a Bluetooth headset with such devices.
The iPod Touch works nicely with iTunes even if synching requires the
manual intervention of going to the proper screen in iTunes and pushing
the "Sync" button. The Touch could be more responsive,
especially when being turned from portrait to landscape and vice versa,
but the overall experience is wonderful. The iPhone not only deserves Time
of the Year award, it is on track to be the invention of the decade,
especially if the FCC set the iPhone free by forcing
AT&T and its ilk to unbundle their phones from cellular service.
As pre-Linux Unix user turned Windows guy, the iPod Touch got me to
thinking that maybe I should drink some of the Jobsian Kool-Aid and buy an
Apple computer of my own. I am one of the many Windows folk who's stymied
by this whole Vista thing. I want each new generation of computer I get to
run faster than the previous generation, not slower. I dropped into the
local CompUSA and ventured for the first time into its Apple section.
All but two of the Macs on display were either laptops with the
standard Apple toy keyboards or had the processor bundled into the
monitor. I like my monitors; indeed, I
believe that the more monitors (and the more monitor real estate), the
better. CompUSA only had two units made for external monitors, a Mac Mini
and some kind of Mac Pro, and neither of them were hooked up to anything—not
a keyboard, not a monitor, not a dimwitted single-button mouse, nothing.
I did, however, end up getting a new computer (of sorts). Inspired by
the iPod Touch and lured in by a TigerDirect e-mail flyer, I purchased a Nokia
N800 at a hefty discount to its original $399 list price. It runs an
obscure flavor of Linux and I named him Tux,
after the self-satisfied, overweight penguin. I haven't had that much time
to play with Tux, but he's no Touch. Tux's browser is not as good as the
Touch's and in just about every way Tux is clunkier—he
weighs more and is not of uniform thickness. He does accept stylus input,
something the Touch, which seems to require human warmth to operate,
cannot do. Tux sucks in WiFi much better than the Touch and Tux also works
as a WiFi phone with Skype, Google Talk, and the like, which AT&T
would never let the Touch, as a downgraded iPhone, do.
Tux does have a gorgeous screen that is much sharper and somewhat
larger than the Touch. Photos from a 5-megapixel camera look great on Tux.
I haven't done an audio comparison with the Touch, but Tux sounds great
for his size. Unlike every other small audio device and laptop computer
that I've ever used, Tux pumps enough juice out of his headphone jack to
just about drive a big pair of Sennheiser cans.
The Nokia N800 (or the new N810 that includes a keyboard at roughly
double the price) is not about to take over the world any time soon, but
serves as an interesting contrast to Apple's vastly more successful
offering. Apple represents the totalitarian approach to computing. You get
what they give you, which is admittedly clever stuff much of the time, and
that's it. If you want what Apple has to give, then you are all set. If
you want something else, like flexibility, you can forget Apple. The Nokia
N800, in contrast, is theoretically infinitely adaptable because it is not
an appliance, but a real computer. Of course, one is stuck using the sort
of software written by guys who make Sheldon
Big Bang Theory" look like Ashton Kutcher, who needs no
The Nokia definitely provides the true Linux experience. I tried to
install the freeware periodic table program for Tux and got a bunch of
"library not found" error messages. (You never know when you'll
need to know what the orbitals of Gallium look like.) Eventually, I'll
find something useful to do with Tux and I may even learn Python or wait
until some flavor of LISP is ported to it. If I don't find something to do
with him, Tux can join the other gadgets in the basement that I haven't
the heart to throw out.
This is my last commentary for 2007. In an effort to be more
productive, I'm taking both December and January off from commenting this
time around. I will be back with 10 new commentaries for 2008.
Appropriate for February, my first commentary is about Cupid. It looks to
be a random year, deal with it.
Copyright 2007 by Miller Risk Advisors. Permission granted to
forward by electronic means and to excerpt or broadcast 250 words or less
provided a citation is made to www.millerrisk.com.