Category Archives: backup

Yikes, Microsoft’s Time Machine clone leaves out tons of important stuff

(Updated to include a way to unhide files and add them to a “library” for backup)

Basically, this post is a warning to anyone using the new File History backup program in Windows 8. The program is severely limited because it will only back up files in a few preset locations that can’t be expanded. If you have almost any third-party program that saves its own data, File History is leaving you exposed. There is a fix, but it takes a little mucking around.

In my case, for example, I have gazillions of email messages stored by the program Postbox. The mail is kept in a huge folder in my personal Windows user folder under PostBox’s own folder in the application data area. None of the stuff that your applications have saved here is backed up by File History — none. And you can’t add it, either.

Update: As several commenters have noted, there is a way to get this data added to the backup set. In the Windows File Explorer, navigate to your personal directory and under the View section of the ribbon bar, click for a check in the box called “hidden files.” Then a folder in your directory called AppData should be exposed. Right click on the folder and choose “Include in library…” and add the folder to one of the libraries which is backed up by File History. Phew!

All that File History will save by default are “files that are in your libraries, contacts, favorites, Microsoft SkyDrive and on your desktop,” according to Microsoft. That is a huge hole, especially if you don’t rely on the My Documents, My Pictures and other “library” folders set up in Windows. Even if you do, third-party programs that store their data exactly where they are supposed to will not benefit from File History unless you use the trick above to add them.

That’s a shame because File History is supposed to be Microsoft’s version of the drop-dead easy to use Apple backup program Time Machine. Both work behind the scenes to back stuff up on an automatic schedule without the user having to remember. And both give quick access to old versions of files within the File Explorer/Finder program. But you can set Time Machine to backup anything from just a few files to your entire disk.

Online storage prices come down slowly — Apple still the max

Drastic price cutting has hit the online storage space, or so you may read. But, unfortunately, most of the price cutting is for big time corporate users not us little guys. Well, that’s not completely true. There have been some serious price cuts on online storage for us ordinary users since I last wrote about this back in May.

That was when Google switched from super cheap prices to only sort of cheap prices — and you had to sign up to pay monthly instead of paying once a year. Big drag. Google’s prices remain unchanged, starting at $1.20 per GB per year (excluding the free space you get).

But, the competition is heating up some. In July, Dropbox effectively halved its prices by giving you 100 GB, not just 50, for $99 a year. Excluding the 2 GB they give you free, that’s 99 cents per GB per year. And ahead of the updated Kindle Fire tablets, Amazon made a similar move, halving the price of its Cloud storage to around 56 cents per GB (excluding the 5 GB you get free).

Sugarsync has not reduced its prices since May and still sits at $2 per GB per year for starters, falling to $1.02 if you buy the maximum 250 GB plan $1.58 if you buy the maximum 100 GB plan. Apple, too, remains stuck at the high end, charging $2 per GB for additional space on iCloud (excluding the 5 GB free) — and up to a maximum of only 50 GB.

So, slight improvements — I’m not complaining — but not the all-out-war that’s taking place in the enterprise online storage market.

Finally, I’ll add that I have sampled services from Dropbox, Google Drive and Amazon Cloud on Mac and Windows computers as well as on iOS and Android devices. And I’ve used iCloud on Macs and iOS. I like Dropbox best because it just works so reliably and in the manner you expect. But there are benefits from the more integrated services. Dumping photos into my Amazon Cloud drive as a back up and seeing them sync automagically into my Kindle Fire’s photo gallery app is pretty cool. And you retain more control, or a finer level of control, over the process than with iCloud’s photostream and other Apple syncing practices.

UPDATE: Here’s a table comparing the major services

Service Free (GB) Added data (GB) Prices per year Price/Gb/year
Apple 5 10/20/50 20/40/100 $2/$2/$2
Amazon 5 15/45/95/195 10/25/50/100 $0.67/$0.56/$0.53/$0.51
Dropbox 2 98/198/498 99/199/499 $1/$1/$1
Google 5 20/95/195 30/60/120 $1.49/$0.63/$0.61
Microsoft 7 20/50/100 10/20/50 $0.50/$0.50/$0.50
SugarSync 5 25/55/95/245 50/100/150/250 $2/$1.82/$1.58/$1.02

Notes: “Added data” and “Price/GB/year” exclude free space. Prices have been rounded in some cases. Amazon and Google offer even higher data plans up into the terabytes.

How to delete the horrid sparsebundle from your Time Capsule

Short version: Here’s how to actually delete a sparsebundle Time Machine backup file from a Time Capsule — use Windows.

Long version: We have an Apple Time Capsule here at home and it’s almost always been an incredibly great wifi router with built in storage. The kids, especially, benefit from having all of their laptop files auto-magically backed up via the Time Machine app without me needing to do much of anything. Sweet.

But even a big, fat Time Capsule hard drive eventually gets full. I was looking at the drive on our capsule tonight via the Apple Airport Utility. Each computer backup shows up as a single file that starts with the computer’s name, adds a bunch of junk and ends with the special file format, .sparsebundle. Under the drive tab, there’s just one option to delete and it deletes everything on the disk. That’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to keep the kids’ laptop backups, stored in the wacky sparsebundle format, but delete some extra folders and an old backup of a computer we don’t use anymore.

So I flipped over to the Finder and down in the “Shared” section I could click through to see the full contents of my Time Capsule’s hard drive. The old sparsebundle was right there so I right clicked on it and choose “delete.” Super. A dialog box asks if I want to permanently delete. I click ok. Then nothing — scrolling bar of nothing that will literally stay up for hours with nothing happening. Yuck.

I tried two solutions I found online but neither worked. One was to right-click on the sparsebundle, choose show package contents, go inside the folder called “bands” and delete bunches of the files in there. Nope — same freeze up.

Another online suggestion recommended doing the show package contents trick and then right clicking on the file called “token,” going to the “get info” screen and unchecking the “locked” check mark. But my token lock box was already unchecked. No dice.

Eventually I found the solution to deleting the unwanted sparsebundle by reading an Apple support board post. The trick is to use Windows. Or, in my case, use VMWare running Windows 8. Open the Windows Explorer and navigate to your Time capsule via the IP address — in the address bar you just type \\ and then the address which for most folks starts with 192.168 and then has two more bits, like 192.168.1.15. A dialog box asks you to log in. I have a password on my Time Capsule but no log in name. I just put anything into the log in name field and typed in my password. Once I was in, all the sparsebundles were displayed and a right click and delete worked in under a minute. So awesome:

using windows to delete a sparsebundle

UPDATE: In the comments, there’s also a way to force the Finder to connect to the Time Capsule the same way Windows connects via Microsoft’s SMB (Server Message Block) protocol. No Windows required. I haven’t tried it myself, however.

 

The great Google storage price hike of 2012

(I wrote an updated discussion of online storage prices on December 18, 2012)

The other day, I finally saw a unicorn crossing my lawn — no, not quite. Another almost as mythical a creature appeared on my computer, however: the Google Drive. It’s a long-rumored online storage space for any kind of digital files that lives on Google servers and syncs up with a designated folder on any computer of yours that you’d like. Like Dropbox. Or Sugarsync. Or Amazon Cloud drive. Or…many others. It is Google and that’s cool.

But one less than cool bit? Since Google started letting us upload almost any kind of file you wanted to an online storage bin associated with your Google Docs account, Google has had the most amazing prices on earth. With Google Drive, prices skyrocketed overnight. And even worse, there’s no longer an option to pay for a year at a time. Desperately in need of more customer credit card numbers to feed into its Android Play store and other new services, Google Drive’s extra space can only be paid for on a month-to-month basis. That may be a smart way for Google to catch up with Amazon and Apple in the paying customer accounts department, but for me it’s just blah.

I’m probably a little extra sad because at the instant the Google Drive was announced, I looked at the pricing for extra storage and it hadn’t been changed yet. When I returned a day later, however, I saw this:

Prices for extra storage on the Google drive

Under the old system, 1 GB of extra space cost 25 cents per year no matter how much you bought. Simple and cheap. As you can see, for just $5 I had 20 GB of extra storage. But from now on, storage is about 10 cents per GB per month. For 25 GB of extra space, I’m looking at an annual cost of $29.88, or $1.20 per GB per year. For 100 GB of space under the new plan, you get a better rate — four times the space at double the cost. That’s $59.88 or about 60 cents a GB per year.

Still, it’s cheaper than what others offer and that may be why Google saw room to hike its prices. You start with 5 GB free at Google. Dropbox gives you only 2 GB free and, if you pay annually, another 48 GB for $99 a year, or $2.06 per GB. SugarSync has an annual option for 25 GB in addition to the 5 GB free that’s $49.99 a year, or $2 a GB a year for the extra storage. They go to $1.81 a GB if you buy 55 GB and $1.58 if you buy 95 GB. Amazon’s Cloud Drive gives you 5 GB free. Then it’s smoothly increasing at $1 per GB per year if you ignore that first 5 GB. If you want to be as annoying as I am and exclude that free bit, it’s equal to $1.33 per GB per year at 20 GB, $1.05 at 100 GB and $1.01 at 500 GB. Apple’s iCloud is at the high end, scaling up from 5 GB free at exactly $2 per GB per year but only up to 50 GB extra.

And of course everybody EXCEPT Google lets you pay once a year.

Two small hardware updates are game changers for Macbook Air and Mac mini

New macbook air and mac mini

Apple massively upgraded two of its best hardware products today, the Macbook Air and the Mac mini. There are loads of changes and improvements. But only two are real game changers to me:

1. The addition of a Thunderbolt port on MacBook Airs means you finally will be able¹ to connect external hard drives and get good performance. Until now, the Airs’ combo of small on-board hard drives and only super-slow USB 2.0 ports for external drives was a killer. Consider me in the market.

2. Offering a Mac mini with a real video card option, the AMD Radeon HD 6630M graphics processor with 256MB of GDDR5 memory. Until now, you could only get the minis with horrific integrated graphics chips that shared the system’s RAM, meaning what might otherwise be the perfect gaming computer (especially with the HDMI port for connecting to your giant screen TV) was useless for high-end games.

Note:
¹That is, when some Thunderbolt-capable external drives hit the market, which is expected real soon now.

Android reinstall not as easy as can be

Samsung Nexus S phoneIn the midst of a very fun evening in New York City the other day, I dropped my Nexus S in a cab and lost it forever. After a bit of research and due consideration, I decided to replace it with an identical model. The upcoming Android phones don’t have anything on the Nexus S that really matters to me and most appear to be bulkier. The iPhone 5 is too far off and the Nexus S is vastly preferable for my needs than the iPhone 4.

So I went to a local Best Buy and got a new Nexus S, booted up and logged into my Google account, expecting almost everything from my old phone had been backed up to the “cloud.” That turned out to be just the case for all my personal data — contacts, email, notes, passwords, stock portfolios, RSS feeds and the like.

But it was decidedly not the case for apps, contrary to what I had expected. Yes, you can re-install any app you’ve previously bought from the Android app market for free onto a new phone. And you can order up the downloads from either the market app on your phone or the Market web site. However, the re-downloads have to be done one at a time and you have to click through the permissions and disclosures screen for each one individually. That’s not nearly as handy as the restore from backup option available for iPhones and iPads in iTunes.

Even worse, the list of installed apps in my account on the market was missing dozens of apps I had previously downloaded on my first phone. Some, like the FiOS home voice mail manager, seem kind of obscure and may be limited in their distribution. But lots of mainstream apps like the super-excellent WordPress (which beats the pants off the iOS version) or Angry Birds or Twitter were also missing. When I searched for them, the amrket did have them listed as “installed” so it clearly had kept an accurate record of my previous downloads.

Definitely an aspect of Android that needs improvement as the platform ages and more and more people face the need to transfer their apps from an old phone to a new one.

I’ve also just finished the exercise of changing dozens of passwords for all the web services and apps I use that were signed in on the old phone. Phew.

For Nexus S the Sequel, I’m investigating some better backup apps and remote find and wipe programs. I’ve already installed the useful “contact owner” app which shows my name and contact info (and the phrase “Reward for safe return”) on my login screen.

Amazon’s cloud drive pricier than Google but cheaper than others

Amazon announced a cool new service, or combination of services, really. The new cloud drive stores your stuff in an easy-to-access online “locker.” A related cloud music player lets you upload and download music to the locker as well as live stream any songs you’ve already uploaded. Streaming is limited to web browsers on computers and an Android phone app so far — no iPhone or iPad app.

But as far as the cloud storage goes, Amazon’s prices aren’t that great. You can get 5 GB free, but for more you pay $1/GB per year ($20 for 20 GB, $500 for 500 GB).

Google’s cloud storage, which can also hold all kinds of files, is much, much cheaper — 25 cents/GB per year ($5 for 20 GB, $125 for 500 GB).

Amazon is cheaper than some. Sugarsync is over $1 per GB unless you opt for the $250 for 250 GB plan. The cheaper plans are $50 for 30 GB ($1.67/GB), $100 for 60 GB ($1.67/GB), or $150 for 100 GB ($1.50/GB).

Apple’s MobileMe is also pretty bad, even if you exclude the $99 you pay for just 20 GB to start. Another 20 GB costs $49, or $2.45/GB — ouch.

What about DropBox? It is more expensive even with the annual payment discount. 100 GB costs $200 and 50GB cost $100. You can do the $/GB math on that one yourself, I think.

UPDATE: Michael Robert’s MP3tunes music locker service starts at $20 for 20 GB and slides down to $40 for 50 GB (80 cents/GB) and $140 for 200 GB (70 cents/GB).

Rock, paper scissors: Should I get a Kindle, iPad or MacBook?

Well, we’ve been Amazon Kindle owners for almost four years now at our house, we’ve had Apple’s iPad for almost a year and we’ve had Mac laptops since too long ago to remember. So we’re getting asked a lot now: Should I buy an iPad or a Kindle? Can I use an iPad instead of a laptop? Do I need a computer to use my Kindle? With all three products hot right now, the answer is sort of like the old game of rock, paper, scissors. Each has different strengths and weaknesses not to mention very different prices. Let’s review some of the basic strengths of each, starting with the cheapest.

Amazon Kindle  (3rd generation)

$139 with wifi or $189 with free mobile wireless for life

You are a reader. You always have at least one book on hand, sometimes several. When you finish a book, you simply move on to the next. The Kindle has been carefully honed to meet your needs.

You use it to read in any place you would read a book in the way you would read a book: hold it in one hand, read outside, read inside. There is no backlighting, so if you are in bed at night, you need a lamp. The black and white screen is incredibly easy to read and easy on your eyes — you will never feel the eye fatigue you get from staring at a computer screen all day. And when your eyes are already tired after that long work day, you can adjust the size of the Kindle’s type on the fly.

You want a bring it and forget it device. The Kindle fits in a purse or jacket pocket, weighs practically nothing, the battery lasts for weeks on end. You never need to sync it to a computer ever. Because the wireless connection is built-in and free (it runs on Sprint’s network but you don’t need to know that) you can access the bookstore anywhere, anytime. You can also grab any ebook you’ve ever bought any time from your personal online library maintained by Amazon. Any ebook you buy can also be read on other Kindles you own or on special apps available for most smart phones and computers — or the iPad.

The Kindle has a primitive web browser that works on the free wireless connection. It may be perfect for catching up on news, blogs or other text content but no video or complex stuff at all. There is also a mini-sized built-in keyboard. It’s handy for searching for ebooks in the store, taking a few notes but not much more. Your fingers would cramp and die trying to write the great American ebook novel on this thing.

New versions of the Kindle have historically come out around the holidays so you’re safe buying one now.

Apple iPad 2

$499-$699 with wifi, $629-$829 with mobile wireless (plus monthly contract)

You want to enjoy digital entertainment like music, movies and web sites when you’re not sitting at your desk. The iPad loves to be in the family room, the living room, on the train, at the coffee shop. Its crisp full-color screen, much larger than the Kindles’s and fully back lit,  is great if you like watching a lot of video. It also works as an ebook reader with apps for Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Apple’s iBooks (though there is some danger Apple is going to banish its competitors later this year). The back lighting lets you read in bed with no lamp, a feature much appreciated by sleepy spouses.

The iPad is perfect when you need to pull it out quickly and use it for 15 minutes here or 30 minutes there — waiting at the doctor’s office or to board a plane, say. There is no boot-up time, it’s instantly on and, with the mobile wireless models, connected immediately almost anywhere. Great for taking the train to work, waiting at the doctor’s office, 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there.

There is a full strength web browser built in. It’s absolutely great at almost everything but won’t play Flash content (more on that below). You will pay extra, considerably extra, over a Kindle for the iPad models with a mobile wireless connection. You can choose AT&T or Verizon but monthly plans are going to add several hundred dollars a year at least to your total cost of ownership. AT&T’s plans start at $15/month and Verizon’s at $20/month. One way to avoid the bill is to buy the wifi-only model and use your smart phone’s tethering capability or a mobile hotspot like the Verizon mifi.

The iPad can be used like a computer with its on-screen keyboard but it’s best for writing short notes or emails. There is no feeling of physical feedback from pressing each key on screen as there is with a normal keyboard, of course.

The iPad is great with web-based email services like Google’s gMail or Apple’s MobileMe. The built-in iPad email app for old-fashioned email accounts where you download all your mail, however, remains rather limited. Compared to Apple’s desktop email, the iPad version lacks basic features like spam filtering and folders.

The iPad is a great device to review or present large documents, spreadsheets or PDFs. It’s not bad for typing documents but has only limited formatting options, which can cause huge problems if you are planning to move files back and forth with a PC. And it is pretty darn horrible for spreadsheets, which cry out for a mouse and full keyboard.

The iPad is at its best showing off personal photos and home movies to friends, offering amazing slide shows anywhere you happen to be. I mean really great. The feeling of pulling up photos, zooming in and out and flicking around your albums all with your fingers in comtrol is constant fun. The iPad is less great for organizing or editing photos but you can do that on your computer and sync them over.

The iPad is part of Apple’s vast and growing iOS app ecosystem. There are thousands of great games and zillions more apps to do all sorts of things, guide you through the Louvre, track your eBay bidding, download digital comic books and on and on.

We have found that the iPad is the perfect second computer if you already have a computer for work. Get your personal life off your company’s computer (really, you should!). The iPad is light enough that you can travel with both. It now has a built in camera so you can do video chatting on the go, too.

The iPad is also kid-proof and there are lots of kid friendly games. It’s like letting the kids play in a sandbox — they can’t mess it up the way they inevitably seem to mess up full-powered computers.

There are a few weaknesses versus the Kindle or the MacBook Air. The iPad is too heavy to hold in one hand so it doesn’t work if you’re standing up on the subway or trying to use it in a cramped space where the Kindle is great. Also unlike the Kindle, the iPad does want to be synced to a computer. That’s the only way to back up your stuff and the only sane way to re-arrange your app icons if you have more than a few. And storage space can easily get tight, requiring that you sync big files like movies or TV shows back and forth with your computer.

The battery lasts for a day, maybe even for two, but then needs to be recharged. And, without getting too deep in a matter of some controversy, the iPad is not compatible with Adobe Flash so there are web sites that you cannot see (like those for some high-end restaurants and hotels) and you cannot view flash videos or play flash games (hello Club Penguin). And Apple does not let you add your own favorite web browser to your iPad.

The updated iPad 2 came out almost a year after the first iPad and while there are some vague rumors of an update in the fall, again I think it’s a pretty safe time to buy now.

The 11″ MacBook Air

$999-$1299

Another contender in the mobile and useful computing category is Apple’s new MacBook Air with an 11″ screen. It is about the same size as an iPad though almost twice as heavy (2.3 lb versus 1.3 lb).

The MacBook Air is one of the most powerful and capable laptops in the history of the category we used to call ultraportable. It has a full-size keyboard and is ready for serious writing, document creation, photo editing, pretty much any task you want to throw at a regular computer, all in a super-portable package. Load up a full copy of Microsoft Office, Adobe Lightroom or Apple’s Garageband and get to work. Spreadsheet jockeys will be happy with the trackpad. You can easily do serious emailing using Apple’s email or whatever software you like.

The web browser on the MacBook Air is a full-powered browser capable of displaying, with the correct plug-in, all flash-based web sites. You can also choose to add any browser you prefer like Firefox of Chrome.

But it’s also small enough to make for a fine movie player on the couch or in bed. You can run the Kindle ereader app for Mac and use it as an ereader, too.

Battery life is reported at 5 hours. There are no built in mobile wireless options but it’s easy enough to get a mobile wifi hotspot like Sprint’s Overdrive or Verizon’s Mifi for on-the-go connectivity.

MacBook Airs have gone a long time between updgrades so even though the current model came out almost six months ago, I’d also put this in the safe to buy now category.

Rock, paper, scissors:

As you may have gleaned from the above discussion, there is plenty of overlap in the uses and capabilities of these three great gadgets but also some major gaps for each. The Kindle may be the “paper” covering the iPad “rock” if you want to read on the subway, but that same iPad “rock” may break the Macbook “scissors” if you want to watch YouTube videos instead. Hence, if you have the budget, you might be well-served with more than one or even all three. And remember, a family with kids that owns an iPad is a family shopping for a second iPad. And a family with kids and two iPads is a family shopping for…well, you get the point.

Additional links of interest:

CNet’s Brooke Crothers has a good piece looking at an iPad2 versus the Macbook Air for all his mobile computing needs.

Leaving Mozy’s online backup and switching to CrashPlan

What do you think you’ll do then
I bet that’ll shoot down your plane
It’ll take you a couple of vodka and tonics
To set you on your feet again
Maybe you’ll get a replacement
There’s plenty like me to be found
Mongrels who ain’t got a penny
Sniffing for tidbits like you on the ground

-Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

I just ended a four-year relationship and I’m feeling wistful in an Elton John sort of way. You may have seen the announcement yesterday from EMC’s online backup service Mozy that it was ending unlimited storage plans. We paid about $150 a year to back up three computers and some 300 gigabytes of data to the cloud with Mozy. Under Mozy’s new pricing structure, which starts at $6/month for one computer and 50 GB of storage, we’d have to pay almost $400 a year. Ouch.

Coincidentally, Ars Technica’s John Siracusa and Dan Benjamin of the awesome 5by5.tv podcast network were just discussing the options for cloud-based backups on their past two shows. They and others seem to favor CrashPlan as the best cloud-based backup offering for Mac users (it also has clients for Windows and Linux users).

CrashPlan still offers unlimited plans. For 1 computer for one year, it’s $50 with discounts for ordering more years at once. For two to 10 computers, the family plan starts at $120 for a year. And as often happens in situations like this, CrashPlan saw an opening and they’re offering a 15% discount to former Mozy users.

The future of Apple computing isn’t all led by Apple

There’s a great video up on Macworld’s site of a conversation between four highly knowledgeable Mac pundits about the “future of the Mac.” The participants were Daringfireball’s John Gruber and Tidbits’ Adam Engst along with Jason Snell and Dan Moren from Macworld. The discussion was interesting and worth the 48 minutes or so of my time, but I was struck by one kind of shocking oversight or blind spot demonstrated by all four panelists. In looking to the future of the Mac, there was hardly any mention of any products, services or software besides Apple’s. I think Dropbox may have been the only non-Apple company mentioned in a forward-looking way.

That’s a real shame because while Apple has led the personal computing revolution for pretty much the last decade, whether it be via Mac OS X, the iMac, the MacBook, the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad etc, there have been plenty of important developments from others and plenty of misfires from Apple. And Apple is far too smart to ignore what others are doing well. The future of the Mac will most likely involve a fruitful and innovative mash-up of the best ideas both from within and without Apple.

Start, at the top, with Google. Clearly the future of the Mac is going to be more cloud-based. Apple has built a huge and mysterious server farm in North Carolina, principal purpose TBA. The newest MacBook Airs are also clearly intended to be more cloud-connected. But Apple is not a pioneer in cloud services — the opposite in fact. There’s no Apple cloud video or music services yet and its MobileMe offering is so overpriced and lacking as to be a joke to even many of the Mac faithful like me.

I’ve been a paying MobileMe subscriber for many, many years. In the beginning, I used web hosting, web-based email, web bookmarks list, syncing of data across multiple Macs and even paid for extra space to use for cloud backup and file sharing. In the past few years, though, competitors have surpassed MobileMe in nearly every area and I find the only thing I really need it for anymore is automatic syncing of my Mac address book. Gmail is the best web mail, Firefox syncs my bookmarks, Dropbox and Mozy do cloud-based file storage and backup and Bluehost and WordPress do my web sites. If Google improved its Contacts service, which needs a HUGE amount of improvement, I might not rely on MobileMe for anything anymore at all.

A second area of focus for future computing developments will come from cloud-based entertainment. For a while, Apple seemed to be almost purposely ignoring the potential. The second-gen Apple TV finally seems to be a recognition that streaming video is the best option for many scenarios but Netflix, Amazon, Xbox, Tivo and others have been here for a while. Streaming music from Spotify, Rhapsody, Napster and others also beats iTunes in some ways. I love the model popularized by services like Amazon’s Kindle and its online video store, where the company maintains all your content in the cloud for download to your various devices whenever and where ever you want. And it’s galactically simpler than maintaining an iTunes server in your home. Don’t even get me started on the mess Apple made of our various iTunes libraries with the iTunes Plus upgrade program. Blech!

In the Amazon model, if I want to read a new book on my Kindle on the train to work, I buy it and download it there. Later in bed, I have my iPad and I download it there. A few weeks later, I need to quote a passage at work so I fire up the Kindle for Mac program and access it there. I wish iTunes worked the same way for all the zillions of dollars I have spent on movies, TV shows, music and, now, apps.

Finally, not all hardware innovation arises out of Cupertino’s labs. As I blogged about yesterday, I think the new Motorola Atrix 4G smartphone is the first step towards a promising converged computing future. The Atrix has a speedy dual core processor, up to 48 GB of storage and fourth-generation mobile connectivity (I know, I know, AT&T’s 4th gen network is kind of bogus, but roll with me). Its HDMI port is capable of outputting high-definition video. A notebook shell dock turns the Atrix into a laptop and a media dock and wireless remote connect it to a TV.

(Update 2/3/11 – oops, Motorola seems to be way overpricing the laptop dock)

Once upon a time, laptops were so underpowered and expensive relative to desktop computers, few people could really function with just a laptop. But Moore’s law and all that has brought us such ultra-powerful laptops that it’s now the norm. Personally, I rely on my 13″ MacBook Pro Mac PowerBook as my sole machine (with external storage and the fantabulous Apple LED Cinema Display as my dock at home). In a few more years, with super-powered smart phones, proliferating docking options and cloud-based storage and services, the Atrix model will predominate. Peter Rojas’s great proposal to standardize docking interfaces also makes a lot of sense in this future.

And just as a final aside on the Macworld panel, I think the future of desktop computing will not be the iOS “every app in full screen” model, which the panel seemed to think was a real possibility. Lots of research has been done showing people are more productive using larger screens and multiple screens to keep more of their work in front of their eyes. Right now, I have MarsEdit open to write this post, two browser windows for finding links and background material and a Skitch window for grabbing screenshots. If I had to hit control-tab or something every time I wanted to remember what i had just read or to see the web page I needed to reference in this blog post, I think I’d go batty.

I found it a little condescending the way the panel seemed to assume the most important or most common user of the future would be the your-65-year-old-mom type. In fact, if anything, I think younger generations are more comfortable with all things computer-y, even the wild and crazy practices of having multiple windows open on-screen and having files stored in a “documents” folder.

NB This essay was inspired in part by that kitschy, trashy 1990s television show Time Trax. You remember, the one with the future cop who traveled back to 1993 with a super-computer-powered credit card.

Your thoughts, arguments and corrections, as always, welcomed in the comments.