Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Amazon - Cloud Computing Colossus Has Arrived

I have been following Amazon ever since the company was formed some 15 years ago. In their very early years, their initial goal was to build a company that could deliver books to the masses in a very cost effective but profitable way. They took a lot of criticism at first spending millions and millions of dollars building out their computer infrastructure to handle the order fulfillment and advanced supply chain mechanism that has served them so well over the years. They re-invested virtually every dollar they earned into building a data center and network infrastructure that could easily handle their current and future (10 years down the road) computing and network requirements. I remember many Wall Street analysts chastising and publicly criticizing the delay of profitability when Jeff Bezos stuck to his guns and continued to heavily invest in technology and computing infrastructure. Well today, Amazon sits atop the heap of computing companies that has the best cloud computing services and is the go-to leading edge company for outsourcing IT, web hosting, order fulfillment and now platform media services. Amazon counts amongst its current Cloud Computing Services Customers: NASA, Foursquare, PBS, Harvard Medical School, Yelp, Newsweek, Netflix, Virgin Atlantic, and Newsweek. With the impending shipments of the new Amazon Kindle E-Book Readers and the revolutionary new $199.00 Fire Tablets, Amazon is poised to make a ton of money streaming video content and delivering e-books through the cloud faster than any other company that offers those services. They have figured out how to build a tablet that offers users almost 80-90% of the functionality of an Apple iPad with half of the memory required (8 GB vs 16 GB) while offering faster performance as the readers and tablets have been optimized (read perform much faster) to work with Amazon Cloud computing services. Their razor and razor blade model is brilliant and although seems to have lower profit margins, the pricing scheme and volume of users that will buy the Kindle and Fire will more than make up for it. This is a huge wager Bezos is making and believe me, he has pulled out all the stops in stacking the cards in Amazon's favor to win this bet. Apple is taking the totally opposite approach where 90% of their profits come from selling expensive Mac hardware platrforms, both mobile and desktops. Only 8% of their profits come from iTunes. Amazon will sell millions of their Fire tablets with only 8 GB of memory on board and the user will experience faster streaming and performance as each Amazon Fire will be hardware and software optimized to take advantage of the super fast Amazon Cloud computing engine. They came up with a hybrid Android based browser where half of the browser code resides on the Amazon Fire Tablet and the other half is embedded in the Amazon Cloud Computing Services. Since movies will be streamed, there is no need to store the movies on your Amazon Fire Tablet. With iTunes, you download the movie to your local hard drive and that requires a much larger storage capacity. Bezos claims that the Amazon Fire Tablet will easily outperform other computing devices with traditional client based browsers found on Mac, Windows and Linux PCs with traditional operating systems. This is no small feat and in some ways represents the holy grail of distributed computing. For a company like Amazon to pull this off with a pricing and business profit model that makes most software companies envious Bezos and his engineering team is to be congratulated for executing this plan in such a short time span. I really think that Amazon has paved the way for media distribution model that works for all economic classes and delivers affordability and computing functionality to the masses.

Amazon is the tech company to watch as it is really focused on doing things differently and changing the way media content can be sold and delivered over the internet. It is also bringing tablet computing to the masses with a full function Tablet that retails for less than $199.00 which is pretty amazing. The overall impact on the consumer and business computer markets will be positive as an entirely new level of price performance will be introduced into the marketplace and will drive down hardware and software costs once people figure out how great Amazon's streaming delivery service works. It will also add additional validation proof and competitive differentiation for Amazons Cloud computing service as they can point to the fact that millions upon millions of users are streaming high definition videos to their tablets

If you want to read the detail on how Bezos achieved what amounts to total domination of streamed and e-book content delivery please read the excellent cover article just published in the January 2012 issue of Wired Magazine written by Steven Levy; Amazon Owns The Internet "Jeff Bezos Started With Books. Now His Company Dominates The Web in More Ways Than You Think".

Anyone who thinks that US companies today lack vision or innovation are dead wrong. Amazon is just one example of thinking out of the box and coming up with a way to deliver innovation and services using a whole new paradigm that is not only insanely efficient and cost-effective, but brings some of the latest and greatest computer technology to the masses who previously could not afford it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ultrabook Trade-Offs & Ultrabook Alternatives

Intel had a pretty good idea when it came up with a development fund and specification for the new Ultrabook PC Computer class. The idea was pretty well received by most of the PC notebook manufacturers as they are still recovering from the Netbook sales shortfall. They watched as Apple cleaned up with the Mac Book Air and took copious notes. Thin, sexy designed notebook computers like thin fashion models never seem to go out of style. The thinner the better is now the mantra and battle cry. The commoditization of notebook PCs has now established $1,000.00 as the magic price point for which consumers are budgeting their well earned dollars on spending for a brand new latest and greatest notebook. As we rapidly approach Black Friday and the 2011 holiday gift giving season approaches, I felt it would be important to explain the trade-offs of buying an Ultrabook versus buying a less expensive notebook PC.

Form Factor
It's all about the form factor of the notebook chassis in terms of figuring out what feature set you can include or exclude. The majority of notebooks measure at least and inch 1/2 thick and follow the usual 8.5" x 11 " form factor for a 13.3 inch screen. The solidity of the chassis and construction materials ultimately determines what the chassis of the notebook is made of. Is it plastic, metal, a combination of both, or some form of aluminum, titanium or even carbon fiber?. All of these materials or combinations of them go into the construction of the notebook chassis, covers and LCD frames. To design and engineer a notebook for mass production you need to take into account: power consumption, heat generation by the CPU, cooling requirements, ergonomics, and durability requirements. Making the notebook thin introduces many more challenges from the design perspective.  How do you keep the notebook cool when you cannot have a huge honkin fan? How do you design a keyboard and touch pad that allows you to touch type error free at a decent clip? Is 2 USB ports enough? How about a built in HDMI port and a SD-HC-XC card reader writer? Forget about including an optical drive as the real estate on a.5-.75 inch thick notebook is extremely limited and fitting a battery that will offer 5 or more continuous hours of run time becomes even more of a challenge.

In summary, buying a new Ultrabook will leave the buyer with the following trade-offs or feature shortcomings:

1) Limited to just 2 USB ports
2) No Dedicated ATI or Nvidia Graphics Cards - You are limited to the latest Intel HD internal Graphics chip that limits game play to less than 30 frames per second at 800 x 600 resolution for games like Halo and Call of Duty.
3) No user removeable battery - Battery is integrated and can only be swapped out by a trained PC technician
4) No HD LCD display. Most right now is 720i or 1600 x 900 resolution.
5) Proprietary connectors that require conversion dongles for modems, ethernet and standard monitor and projector connections.
6) Price- Most Ultrabooks are well over $1,000.00 in price, more like $1299.00 with a 128 GB SSD drive.
7) No internal optical drive - but you can pack a portable external drive for those times when you need to read or write an optical disk when on the road.
8) Good fitted cases (that actually fit the new Ultrabooks) are hard to find. You need to settle for MacBook Air Apple Notebook cases and bags which surprise cost twice as much as the cases and bags made for PC notebooks. I guess that Apple tax has really caught on with the accessory maaufacturers (InCase, Kensington, etc.)

If you are looking for a good thin notebook computer that is not as thin as an Ultrabook but is much thinner than the average notebook, we're talking any notebook that is thinner than 1.25 inches....and will not break the bank; then you will find a bunch of computers out there that can be had for well under $800.00. Lots of models from Lenovo, HP, Sony, Acer, Asus and Samsung. Samsung has a value line of notebooks that start at around $599 called the Princeton Series 3. These notebooks are all less than an inch and 1/4" thick and have the latest Intel Core i3 Sandy Bridge Processors.

The market for used, refurbished or last year's models notebooks is more robust than ever.You can find many deals on Ebay, at Office Depot, Office Max or your local Staples Fry's or Best Buy Store, and mail order companies like Newegg, B&H Photo, J&R, Buydig, Buy.com and Amazon are all blowing out notebooks at up to 50% off the original retail prices. There are so many options now for a consumer to purchase notebooks. One thing is for certain. The rapid acceleration of new models like the Ultrabooks brought into the market will ultimately lower the cost of buying a really good used, refurbished or older model new PC notebook computers for everyone.

 It's a great time to snag that notebook you've always wanted but couldn't quite afford.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Samsung Series 9 13.3" Notebook Review - Mr Darth Vader-You're Notebook is Ready!!!

Samsung Series 9 Model Number 900X3A-A03 Notebook Review - REVISED 11/17/2011

Paging Mr Darth Vader....Your notebook is ready to go!!!!!!
Greetings! Yours truly just received a Samsung Series 9 13.3 Notebook and I have to say, this notebook is about as close to notebook perfection.....at least for my requirements and what I've seen from the competition so far. This notebook comes with a super speedy 128 GB SSD drive, Windows 7  and a gorgeous ultra bright and sharp matte anti glare LCD screen that is backlit by LEDs and is rated at 400 Nits of Brightness which is brighter than most desktop LCD monitors. It measures about .62" thick and weighs a tad less than 3 pounds with the 6 cell Lithium Ion Battery installed. The entire notebook is constructed and finished with a material used on aircraft called duralumin which is at least two times stronger that aluminum. This notebook does not exhibit any flex when touch typing or just holding the notebook. The hinges are smooth and the display screen is so thin but solidly constructed where it does not bend or exhibit any tendency to flex or change shape. The entire keyboard is back lit by LEDs which is a very nice touch and the finish does attract fingerprints as the black surfaces are like magnets. I suggest that you keep a microfiber cloth packed in the computer bag as this is one of the few shortcomings (read design flaws) of this notebook. It runs cool with zero fan noise and the second generation Sandy Bridge Core i5 Intel processor is plenty fast for most business applications.

Thin is In!!! or.....Cuts Like a Knife!
Samsung named it the Series 9
But they should have named it the Katana (Sword in Japanese)
IMHO & with apologies to Bryan Adams

What about battery life? I ran it down with surfing, WiFi and Bluetooth on and MS-Word and Excel open (4 GB of RAM installed and the LCD brightness set to about 33% or 1/3 of the brightest setting and I got about 5 and 1/4 hours of continuous run-time on the battery before it shut down. For an Intel equipped Core i5 notebook weighing just 2.9 LBs  that is a little more than 1/2" thick, the battery performance numbers are very impressive indeed.

Pay attention 007!!! Samsung also got the back-lit keyboard right.
Q wants his Samsung Series 9 returned from the field
 in the same condition as when it originally left...
Got that Bond?
Bond to Q...You must be joking?
Q to Bond... I never joke about my work 007!
I do not foresee any problems carrying this notebook anywhere as it is built to withstand the rigors of day-to-day business travel and usage and is supremely use-able. I am averaging a boot time from power off to the windows desktop in about 18 seconds. It comes to life after sleep mode in a few seconds and sips battery power when in the sleep mode.

The only knock I can see on this notebook is the omission of a USB 3.0 port and having  a built in micro SD memory card slot instead of a standard SD-HC-XC memory card slot reader writer. It just means you need to carry a USB SD card reader when you travel if you need to download photos from your digital camera.

I also like the fact that this notebook on average is about two to three hundred dollars cheaper than a comparably configured MacBook Air.

Samsung even figured out how to take the flex out of the chassis and LCD frame.
The entire notebook feels substantial......almost as if it was carved out of a solid block of titanium.
I can attest to the fact that it is a helluva a lot stronger and durable than it looks in the photos.
I really believe this is what Intel had in mind when they came up with the design specification for the Ultrabook. Take the Samsung Series 9 design and see if you can come with a package that can retail for under $1,000.00 with some design and material construction trade-offs.

I call the Samsung Series 9 Notebook the uber Ultrabook much in the same way the original Audi Quattro was affectionately nick-named the uber Quattro.

Audi S1 World Rally Champion Car 1981
Driven By Walter Rohrl
aka Uber Quattro

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Asus UX31 Ultrabook Glitches and Teething Pains

The Asus UX31 Ultrabook, one of the most promising ultra thin notebooks released to market in October has some serious useability issues right out of the box and the early reviews have identified two problem areas with the notebook that I believe should be corrected before it is released for mass distribution. The trackpad driver does not work properly and you need to download the updated trackpad driver from the Asus web-site to fix it. Testers and early adopter/users have complained that the fixed driver is very rough around the edges and still needs work. The keyboard was also identified as a potential deal-breaker as it requires more than average pressure to engage the keys forcing key-stroking errors as you need to press down with much more force to make sure the keys register. I believe Asus will do the right thing and suspend shipment of these notebooks until the problems are corrected. The standard for thin notebooks is the MacBook Air and the Samsung Series 9. Both of those ultra-thin notebooks have smooth trackpads and keyboards that allow touch typists to type normally without having to worry about abnormal keyboard pressure.

In early test reviews the Asus UX31 Ultrabook garnered praise and high marks for its sleek design, classy textured surface and the overall strength of the chassis, lid and covers using a reinforced aluminum unibody design.Weight is a shade under 3 pounds and is as thin or a little thinner than a Mac Book AIr. Performance is also one of its strong points along with a longer than normal battery life topping out at around six hours.

You can have the coolest and best styled notebook on the planet or universe but if you cannot type or use the trackpad for normal operations, then it pretty much is nothing but a cool looking gadget with no useable functionality. The whole idea is to preserve and extend the portability of the desktop computing experience without sacrificing the input method. I think the other notebook manufactures are taking a very close look at this situation and are taking more steps to test their product very thoroughly before releasing it to the channels. The pre-announced Toshiba, Sony and Lenovo Ultrabooks all promise to deliver very thin (about .6 inches thick) powerful notebooks with great battery life (more than 5 continuous hours of run-time) with the latest generation of Intel Sandy Bridge Core i5 and i7 Processors).. I hope that they do not make the same mistake of releasing product before it has been thoroughly tested in the field.