Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

Vye S37 Review – WMP, Origami Experience, Media Center

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

In previous posts, I’ve promised that I would continue my review of the Vye S37 with a discussion of music players.  Although I started working on the post quite a while back, I’ve held off on completing and publishing as I realized that I really needed to spend more time using the various players.

In this post, I am going to talk about Microsoft’s Windows Media variants: Windows Media Player 11, Origami Experience, and Windows Media Center.  For many UMPC owners, I’m sure these are essentially the default choices for music playback.  On my eo v7110, I pretty much exclusively used a combination of WMP and Origami Experience and they were the first players that I tried on my Vye as well.  In time, I found them to fall short of many of my needs, though.  I eventually tried a few other products and ended up selecting Media Monkey as my preferred music player.  In the near future, I will write up a separate post entirely about that product.

Finding the right music player for use on my Vye was essential as it is one of my key uses.  I have a big CD collection that I have accumulated over many years and have put a lot of time and effort into ripping them all to digital copies.  My wish to have my whole library on my UMPC was a major motivator in buying the Vye and upgrading it to a 250GB hard drive.

Part of the reason for the large size of my collection is that only a fairly small percentage of it consists of typical 10 track or so pop albums.  Instead, I have a very extensive collection of film scores and compilations as well as quite a bit of classical, Broadway and film musicals, and other similarly specialized music.  In those genres, many of the CDs approach the 75 minute maximum and frequently have large numbers of fairly short tracks.  My collection includes over 1,400 albums with over 26,000 separate tracks.

When I first started the process of copying my CDs to digital files, hard disk space was a lot more expensive than it is now.  In order to limit the space needed a bit, I stuck with MP3 files at 128 kbps.  The sound quality on that isn’t bad, but certainly could be better.  Now that you can get a terabyte of storage for not too much more than $200, I’ve been re-ripping the entire collection in the lossless, open-source FLAC format.  Obviously, those files are still too big to be practical for the Vye.  For the portable use, I have converted each of the FLAC files to 128kbps WMA files, which are roughly the same size as the old MP3 versions, but with a better sound quality.

A music library this large does tend to be a bit of a challenge for most digital jukebox software.  That is a lot of meta data to keep track of and I also need a user interface that doesn’t make it too overwhelmingly difficult to locate whatever particular music I am looking for at any given time.

After the jump, I go into a more in-depth discussion of the 3 Windows Media based music players.

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Organizing Music for Origami Experience

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

Along with the release of Windows Vista, Microsoft introduced Origami Experience, a new media player and program launcher specifically designed for touch-screen UMPCs. Since upgrading my eo v7110 to Vista Ultimate, I have been using Origami Experience as my primary music player.

As I have mentioned in some of my previous posts, the large hard drive capacity on the v7110 was a big motivator for me when I choose that model. With a 160GB hard drive, I actually carry around my entire, rather extensive music collection on my eo. My music collection (mostly MP3s at 128 or 192 mbps) takes up nearly 85GB on my hard drive and represents around 1,500 different albums.

In this article, I’m going to share tips in a couple key areas for effectively managing a music library to make it work well with Origami Experience.
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Ultra-mobile Blogging

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

I think that yesterday’s post to the News & Information site sharing initial photos of the eo v7110 extended battery provides a great example of using a UMPC for blogging on the go. This post is going to be essentially the story of the “making of” yesterday’s post.

For convenience, my wife and I rent a mailbox from a shipping store fairly close to my office. This allows us to receive packages without having to worry about one or the other of us being home when they are delivered. Since the FedEx tracking provided by TabletKiosk had shown the package as delivered, I headed over to the store during my lunch hour yesterday and picked it up.

The photos that were included in the post were all actually taken on the front seat of my car while still in the parking lot of the shipping store. I used the built-in camera on my Motorola v551 cell phone to take the photos. The camera on this phone generally isn’t all that great, but it does take photos that are acceptable for that kind of quick web posting, as long as the photos are being taken in fairly bright lighting. This is the main reason why I took the photos right away in the car.

Next, I drove to a McDonald’s near my office for lunch. I selected McDonald’s not for the food (who goes there for the food???), but for the fact that they offer a couple hours of wi-fi access for $2.95. After getting my burger and fries, I found a table and powered up the eo. I loaded up Firefox and entered my credit card information to purchase the block of time on the WayPoint wi-fi service offered at the restaurant.

I transferred the photos from the cell phone via a retractable USB cable that I keep in the carrying case with the eo. I could have also used Bluetooth for this, but since I had the cable and was in a location where I had plenty of room to connect the phone in this way, I took advantage of the somewhat faster USB 2.0 transfer speed.

I reviewed the photos on the eo using the standard Windows XP photo viewer application and quickly narrowed it down to the 5 photos that I had ended up posting. I simply deleted the rest of the photos (which didn’t look very good) and renamed the ones that I intended to use to something more descriptive than the time/date stamp filenames generated by the phone. Although I do have Adobe Photoshop Elements installed on the eo and have found it to be usable for light photo editing, these photos didn’t really need any touch-up. Since the file sizes were all fairly small, I decided it wasn’t even necessary to re-size the images, even though I would be displaying them on the post at only 50% of their normal 640×480 size.

I then used the standard Windows XP FTP tool to transfer the photos to the images directory on my website. This file transfer was the main reason that I went to a restaurant with a wi-fi hotspot instead of simply using the slower Cingular EDGE connectivity with my cell phone. Since it was still my lunch hour, I was on a bit of a tight timeline to get this project completed.

I then browsed to blogger.com to actually type in the post itself. Since I can still type on a keyboard faster than I can use any of the built-in input methods on the eo, I used my ThinkOutside folding Bluetooth keyboard to type in the post. With the eo propped up on its stylus and the keyboard sitting in front of it, the little workstation fit easily on the restaurant table. The post wasn’t very lengthy, so it didn’t take very long to type it in and publish it. The only real mistake that I made was that, in my haste, I didn’t think to add “href” tags to allow readers to click on the photos to see the full-sized images. This is a correction I went in and added this morning.

With that, I had completed the post. The whole process took less than an hour, including travel time and the time to pick up the package from the store.

Data synchronization and the UMPC

Saturday, June 10th, 2006

Around the same time as this week’s release of the first public beta of Windows Vista, a ZDNet article reported that the previously-announced features designed to facilitate synchronization between multiple PCs were being removed from the list of included features planned for next year’s initial full release. This strikes me as an important and very disappointing bit of news for UMPC owners, as this promised Vista feature could have filled a fairly glaring hole in the current set of tools provided by Microsoft.

One of the most appealing aspects of a UMPC is that that it is a fully-functional Windows XP (and eventually Vista) PC without the dependency on a tether to a larger desktop or notebook system. Palm or Windows Mobile PDAs typically require such a tether for software installation, data initialization, or other similar tasks, but I think the greater power of the UMPC led Microsoft to the mistaken impression that synchronization tools were not really a requirement.

In reality, though, I strongly suspect that the majority of UMPC owners are going to experience a need to keep a lot of data synchronized between home and/or work systems and the UMPC. I find myself regularly copying documents, application data and settings, music, photos, and video from my home or work PC in order to maximize the mobility of all my core information. Since a UMPC is a more full-featured computer, a peer-to-peer style of synchronization makes more sense than the master-slave type used with PDAs or other similar portable devices (such as music players), but it still is needed.

Out of the box, readily available methods for transferring data between my TabletKiosk eo and other systems include shared drives over the wi-fi connection or the file transfer services that are standard to Bluetooth. The Samsung Q1 does provide a couple other file transfer options via the built-in CompactFlash slot and their inclusion of a USB 2.0 file-transfer cable (and software). Either of those options can also be available on the eo with additional $20-$30 purchases. I already picked up an inexpensive USB CF reader for my eo at the local Staples store and have ordered a file transfer cable as well to simplify transfers with my work PC, which doesn’t have Bluetooth or wi-fi available.

What is missing is software that automates the synchronization of data between the UMPC and the other systems. Without some form of third-party software, you can only manually copy files from one system to the other. I think this was a major omission in the design of the standard set of tools supplied by Microsoft for inclusion in every certified UMPC. Ideally, what is needed is a mechanism where, once appropriate data pairings between the UMPC and another PC have been set up, the synchronization would happen invisibly in the background while the system is idle. There probably would be a need for some kind of a notification mechanism for conflict situations (such as data modified separately on multiple systems), but most of the time it should work in a “set it and forget about it” manner.

Considering the high mobility of a UMPC, one key issue that any synchronization mechanism needs to deal with is that not all remote locations will be available at all times. In my own case, I can only access my home system while actually connected to my home network and can only access my work system after running a VPN client. A lot of the currently available solutions, including Microsoft’s own Foldershare synchronization service, seem to be very focused on overcoming this issue by creating ever-present accessibility via the public internet. This may be through the copying of files to a remote server or though special clients that run on each system and maintain a connection to a central server.

I can see the merit in these types of solutions under some circumstances, but there also need to be options that take into account that security needs very often dictate that data not be accessible outside of the local network. Corporate users, in particular, really are not going to be comfortable with potentially sensitive and confidential data being stored on someone else’s server or otherwise being made accessible out of the direct control of the company’s employees. In fact, the company that I work for has issued some pretty specific policies banning the use of remote data accessibility tools on systems connected to the company network. A complete synchronization solution needs to be able to detect whether or not a remote resource is actually available at any given time and handle either situation appropriately. (more…)

Music on the eo

Friday, May 12th, 2006

Over the last few days, one ways that I have been using my eo has been as an audio player while at work. The large storage capacity, network connectivity, and ubiquitious compatibility with file formats makes it a pretty much ideal portable digital audio player for use on an office desktop or other location where you don’t really need a pocket-sized device.

One of the biggest problems plaguing most portable digital music players is the fact that the industry has yet to standardize the file formats or, particularly, digital rights management schemes being used. Music purchased from online stores generally will only work on certain brands of portable players. For example, without additional conversion (usually involving loss of quality) an iPod can only play music purchased from iTunes, which itself won’t generally play on other brands of players.

Out of pure business necessity, every format and DRM scheme is compatible with Windows XP. That makes a UMPC into a universal portable music player. All you have to do is download and install the software that is required for playing whatever music you want to play. It is a bit of an irritant having to install a bunch of different music players on the device in order to get the widest compatibility, but it is certainly preferable to not being able to play some types of music at all.

The first music player that I installed on my eo (other than Windows Media Player, which comes with it) was Apple’s iTunes. Its online store has the best selection and it also has an exceptionally good podcast manager. Most importantly, since I have a Creative Labs portable player instead of an iPod, music purchased from iTunes wasn’t previously available to me on the go. (more…)