Monday, December 20, 2010

Why Netflix is still the best.

As a Linux user and Open Source advocate it would be easy to come down hard on Netflix because they don't support Linux. However in this post I would like to explore why Netflix is still the best option out there for streaming content.

First, I want to quickly cover the drawbacks of Netflix from a Linux Users perspective. Firstly, they picked Microsoft's Silverlight as a basis for their DRM platform and that DRM platform hasn't been ported to Linux. There for you can't watch the content on a Linux machine. That of course is a big non starter. Second they don't carry all the content that you want when you want it.

As a Linux advocate there is one big way to get over the "no Linux support" hump, namely Roku. I have had a Roku box for just over a year and wouldn't trade it for anything. The price is right, they support HD formats and serves content from a number of providers. The box runs Linux and decrypts DRM on chip. So there you go.

Ok, now let's dig into why they are better than other services.


Netflix competes heavily with these services on cost. An $80 service vs an $8 service can make up for not having as much content pretty quickly. I've used Netflix for years and their content gets better and better and the price has stayed dead steady. Right now I watch more of Netflix's content than any other provider and I don't see that changing in the negative any time soon. In fact it would take very little added content for me to dump my satellite service all together.


I was ecstatic when Hulu launched and I got in on the private beta. It seemed they got everything right. Well, at least most of it right. As time has worn on, however, they haven't panned out to be as good as I would have hoped. They launched their Hulu+ service at $12 a month which only offers full season of current show and doesn't get you out of adds. When Hulu+ showed up on the Roku, Hulu dropped the price to $8 a month and I signed up immediately and promptly canceled after encountering the fact that certain content, such as "The Simpsons", isn't available on hardware streaming devices. You are still saddled with commercials which have now gone from a single 30 second add to multiple adds per break. Also, Hulu+ still doesn't support Android for streaming. Also, Netflix and Hulu+ are now the same price and I see very little advantage to Hulu+ over Netflix. Netflix over all still has substantially more streaming content that I want to watch over Hulu.

The rest of the web:

What does Netflix have that the rest of the web doesn't? For starters they have most of your favorite movies, legal and available right now. You don't have to mess with illegal downloads or wait for the show to download to get it. If you like following shows the second they come out then the a lot of content providers offer it on their website to watch over the web. However, sitting in front of my computer screen for hours at a time is a PITA and I would rather sit at my TV and watch my shows. This is really more of a plug for Roku than Netflix but I think they go hand in hand nicely.

I would love to hear feedback from people so feel free to comment and let me know what you agree or disagree with.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why I map.

I've been an Open Street Map contributor for over a year now and I wanted to write a post talking about what it is and why I love contributing to it.

What is open street map you say? I'm sure you have heard of Wikipedia, a place for the users to edit an online encyclopedia. Well, Open Street Map (OSM) is a wiki for map data where users can map the world. Satellite imagery provided to OSM Bing and Yahoo! maps makes it so you can map based on those images or by taking traces using a GPS. There are also many other ways to map but those are the main two.

Maps have a major impact on our lives. You can't leave your doorstep without know where you are going and how you are going to get there. From GPS navigation to maps at events know where things are makes everyone's life easier.

Why contribute to a map.?

The first reason to map is to get a better sense of the community around you and allows you to contribute to the greater knowledge of your fellow-man. It's sad to me how little people know the world around them and contributing to the map gets you out of your house and discovering wonderful things about your locality. I like to map with the family, it makes a nice outing and the kids have fun getting the information and seeing their work on the map.

The second reason to map is that you need map data that doesn't exist in a way you need. I'm a bike commuter and accurate maps of the trails in Colorado are hard to come by. I love finding new and quicker ways of getting where I need to on my bicycle and OSM gives me a place to put this data and get it from others who share my interests.

Another reason to map is that you need map data that you can use legally for an event, a website ect., and you don't want to pay for the map data. If you are a real estate agent who wants to highlight the amenities around a property you could make legal, free use of the OSM data. If you are a business having an accurate map to your business location is very important and again you can use OSM data for free. So, if you are using the data you might as well spend a little time giving back by adding the address of your business and making sure the locations that are important to you are where they need to be.

Lastly if you have a humanitarian heart you can map to help disaster workers. During the crisis in Hati volunteers as OSM created the most accurate maps available and coordinate disaster relief efforts. Even the us military was using the OSM data. Map data has a huge impact on impoverished areas that don't attract commercial mapping.

So get out there and map, it's fun, it's social and it helps everyone.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Droid 2 Review

It's been almost a month since I got my shiny new Droid 2 at the Verizon store so I think I'm qualified to offer a pretty comprehensive review of the phone.

Obviously this phone has some serious horse power when compared to my old Droid Eris and it's nice to have such a snappy UI and the ability to play any 3D game I wish.

When I first got my Droid Eris I felt I made a sacrifice over the Motu Droid because the Eris didn't have a hardware keyboard. As I got used to the touch type on the Eris I actually came to like some features that you don't get with a hardware keyboard, namely when typing into certain fields you get an appropriate keyboard layout, e.g. number field gives you a number pad ect.. So, it took some getting used to with the hardware keyboard. The hardware keyboard has some advantages too, such as, you get a tactile feel for the keyboard, you save screen real estate and overall you have a more complete keyboard for using when typing text. I think overall I'm happier with the hardware keyboard and closing it to bring up the software keyboard when I need to. Options are always nice.

Another thing I felt I got shorted on with the Eris over the Motu Droid was the LED flash on the camera. Overall the camera on both phones where decent at snapping pictures but having the flash is nice in darker environments even though it does introduce a bit more grain in the pictures than I care for. Another fantastic feature is using the flash as an LED flashlight. For a musician and general hacker it's like aving a flashlight with you wherever you go.

I will have to say that HTC's Sense UI is a bit better than Motu's Blur. Motorola loads substantially more crapware that makes doing certain things on the phone a bigger PITA. For one if you double tap on the home button it brings up a horrible voice command program that take forever to load and works about 1% as good as Google's Voice Search. That being said I really miss the UI that comes with Cyanogen Mod and can't wait to get it on the Droid 2. If carriers had even a bit of brains rattling around in their head they would hire Cyanogen to do their UI.

I rooted the phone in the first 24 hours I had the phone and would have done it the night I got it but I didn't have the time to sit down and follow the instructions. It was fairly straight-forward for someone reasonable comfortable with the command line but not the one click experience I had for the Eris. Rooting your phone is now considered fair use under the DMCA and I consider it a must for any android user.

I find certain things a little buggy on the phone. I experience crashes now and then and some time I get hangs. I think a good ROM will solve all of this but for the average person it would be considered a huge annoyance to watch your phone reboot while using the navigation to get somewhere. I had similar issues with my Eris till I got a custom ROM on it. Also, some times Android will crash and restart and upon reloading the desktop the accelerometer will not rotate the screen or pull up the on-screen keyboard. The only fix I've found for this issue is pulling the battery and restarting, which is a huge PITA.

Overall I think this is a pretty fantastic bit of hardware with a lackluster Android implementation that I can't wait to correct with a good ROM. I'll report back after I make it so.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Google eBooks Rant

Google recently launched their eBooks product that allows you to buy books and read them on a multitude of devices. I've taken a look at the service and felt compelled to make a few comments.

First, google is offering book optionally(it's up to the publisher) using Adobe's DRM system. I understand that this is what most publishers are requiring before releasing digital versions of their product. However, some smaller or more independent publishers might like to offer more flexibility to their customers by not locking them into a DRM scheme. I applaud Google for making this an option but the fact is they don't let the user know what titles have DRM and what titles do not. I would appreciate them letting their consumers know when they get locked into DRM. That being said a nice feature of buying from Google eBooks is being able to read the book across a multitude of devices. You can read a book on the web, on a tablet or eReader, and on an iOS or Android device. They also offer the ability to download the book in ePub or PDF format. Having your book in an open format such as ePub without DRM is really where I would like to see the industry moving towards and informing consumers of what titles have DRM would allow me to better vote with my dollars.

Second, the Android app is pretty bare-bones and now at all close to my favorite mobile reading app Aldiko. It doesn't support landscape mode or changing font colors which make night reading a bit harsh. I would use this service without reservation if I could be sure that the title I'm purchasing could be used in the reading software of my choosing.

Lastly, I can appreciate Google giving new life to older titles as well as offering new and public domain titles. Cross platform usability is a shure plus of the service. I just wish that Google had been able to put more pressure on publishers to stop using DRM in their business model as Amazon was able to do with their MP3 service.