The Good, The Bad and The Pricey

Reporter’s Notebook: Yes it’s that time of year folks, as news announcements wind down and reporters try to stay busy and show they know what they are talking about. It’s time for year-end lists. For my part, I’m doing a Top Ten ‘Best of the Year’ list as relates to my wide swath of product coverage, including a few items from the lighter side of things. I’m not sure all the winners will be happy with their awards, but it was fun handing them out.

1: Most Overrated Technology – Quad-core for the desktop.

Some time over the summer I had a little too much money for my own good and decided to upgrade from an E6400 Core 2 Duo to the Q6600 Core 2 Quad. This has turned into a monumental waste of dinero (it wasn’t just a CPU upgrade, I needed a new motherboard, memory and case) because there are next to no apps out there that take advantage of it.

Multi-core is great if you are doing several things at once. I can run three instances of the game EverQuest and a browser and other apps all at the same time with minimal impact. That’s what makes quad-core ideal for servers. But on the desktop, there are few instances when I put that much load on my computer, other than gaming. Most apps do not utilize the multiple cores, and I can see that in watching the CPU usage window.

I’m hoping that by this time next year, several of the apps I use regularly will be multicore. It will be nice to have my video encoder of choice whip through a video file at full CPU utilization, not 25 percent. Until then, my home computer is a race car with 87 octane gas.

2: Most Annoying Security Trend – Six degrees of too much security.

Does this sound familiar to you? My computer here at work is running:

  • Symantec Antivirus.
  • Microsoft Windows Defender.
  • Windows Malicious Software Removal tool.
  • LinkScanner Lite
  • HP ProtectTools Security Manager

At home, it’s worse.

  • Avira AntiVir
  • Webroot Spy Sweeper
  • Windows Defender
  • Windows Malicious Software Removal tool
  • Prevx CSI
  • LinkScanner Lite
  • Linksys router firewall

This is insanity. Why do we need countless tools to cover for each different form of malware? Imagine having to wear one condom for each type of STD you could catch. That wouldn’t sit very well with anyone and you can guess the reaction of most people if they had to do such nonsense. But that’s what’s going on here. I need one product for viruses, one for spyware, one for rootkits, one for link checking…

The security industry has long defied the trend toward consolidation that hits every other sector. It’s high time we had a few more key mergers like AVG-Exploit Prevention Labs so I can install, use and worry about updating one security application, not seven.

3: Best use of Adobe’s Flash – Desktop Tower Defense.

This game is the most maddeningly addictive game I played all year. I seriously doubt this is what Macromedia had in mind when it created Flash but it certainly is an effective use of it.

There is a whole cottage industry around the game now and videos of high scores are all over YouTube. The game has drawn a legion of addicts, which really makes wonder if Flash is or is not the most popular game development platform out there.

4: Biggest Shift In Online Sales: From eBay to Craigslist.

This is a peculiar development that has become more and more apparent. eBay used to be the community garage sale, but this year, it really has become an outlet for merchants, resellers and liquidators. Individual sellers, it seems, are flocking to Craigslist, and why not? A CL sales means a local buyer, so no shipping, you can meet, thus avoiding fraud (you hope) and it’s an easy way to sell heavier items.

eBay needs to get its act together quickly. The Skype purchase is as pointless now as it was when they first announced it. CEO Meg Whitman is apparently more interested in former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign than her company and its users are in open revolt. Things can’t continue like this for very long.

5: Best Spillover Trend From Gaming – The Guitar Hero effect

In case you missed the mania, Guitar Hero is a game for PS2/PS3 and Xbox/Xbox 360 that allows you to play a plastic guitar, with a switch for the guitar pick and five colored buttons in place of strings, along to hit songs. As the game gets harder, you have to pick faster and hit more notes. The knock on the game from real musicians has long been that if kids were to put as much effort into a real guitar as this plastic one, they might learn how to play.

Well, the stories regarding that are anecdotal, but growing in frequency. Parents are reporting on message boards that their kids are asking about the bands they are playing along to (from Cheap Trick to Primus) and want to hear more music from said bands. The result is the teen set rediscovering the music their parents grew up listening to: “Heart-Shaped Box,” “YYZ,” “Carry On, Wayward Son” and of course, “Freebird.” This might explain why bands that initially shunned the game are now falling over themselves to license their songs for the game. Some parents also say their kids want to learn how to play a real guitar, too.

Meanwhile, on that channel formerly known as Music Television? They’re playing fake reality TV shows. That’s why the music business is imploding.

6: “Doh!” Moment Of The Year – Virtualization starts to slow server sales.

All year long, Intel, AMD and the tier one computer makers were flogging the idea of virtualization every time they opened their mouths. I kept wondering how long these guys could keep pushing the notion of one server doing the job of ten without it resulting in more IT shops, in fact, buying one server instead of ten.

Well duh, that’s happening now. Perhaps I should say “doh!” With 32-bit computing consigned to the ash heap, servers can now load up with much more than 4GB of memory. The result for the last two quarters, according to both IDC and Gartner, is fewer machines going out the door, but they are more decked out.

That’s great for memory companies like Micron and Hynix, and also great for storage firms like EMC, but for Intel or Dell or AMD or HP, that might not necessarily be such a good a thing. Some analysts believe that the ever-growing demand for capacity will offset softness brought on by virtualization, but even if it does, double digit growth rates in servers is not likely for the next several years.

7: Most Shameful Moment For Tech – Electronic voting.

I have owned an ATM card since 1985. Not once has a machine failed to give me the proper amount of money, eaten a card, lost money or a deposit or been compromised. So why in the blue hell can’t these giant companies like Diebold make electronic voting machines that work? It’s a disgrace.

I can check purchases at the supermarket or Home Depot or Wal-Mart, pay with a credit card and be on my way without any human intervention without a hiccup, but this most vital element of our democracy is operating on a Keystone Kops level of incompetence. Just this week, Colorado became the latest state to ban electronic voting because it is unreliable.

The suspicious libertarian in me thinks this is what you get when there’s federal dollars and no accountability behind it. A voting system should be a simple matter of +1 to a variable and then secure transmission. It’s certainly easier than a point of sale system with a bar code scanner and card reader. The failure to create a working electronic voting system is a real technical black eye for every party involved.

8: Biggest Waste Of Money – Incessant virus conferences.

Look at the events calendar on Virus Bulletin. That’s what they have for 2008 so far, and you have to figure more will be added. Of all the analysts I routinely chat with, the antivirus ones are the absolute hardest to reach because they keep up travel schedules to rival Beyonce. Anti-malware companies are typically the hardest to reach and schedule some time.

Meanwhile, the crooks who gave us the Storm Worm and MPack are holed up in their apartments in Russia, cooking up the latest bit of malicious code to drop on us. While the “experts” sit around talking about how bad the threat is from malware, the threat gets worse because the bad guys are hard at work.

Guys, enough with the meetings. You don’t all need to sit around telling each other how bad the problem is. You won’t fix this problem until you put in more hours than the bad guys you’re fighting.

9: Most Mixed Message – Power use at home vs. the datacenter.

On the one hand: Intel and AMD repeatedly beat the drum about their low power CPUs and data efficiency in the datacenter.

On the other hand: AMD Spider and Intel Skulltrail reference designs allow for up to four video cards to run in parallel for optimal gaming, with each card sucking up 200 watts of power.

Right hand, left hand. Left hand, right hand.

The same holds true with the consoles. The PS2 and Xbox drew about 50-60 watts of power while playing and dropped to about half that while idle. The PS3 and XBox 360, on the other hand, top 200 watts of power while playing and drop to around 160 watts while idle. Only the Nintendo Wii is a good power citizen, drawing around 20 watts of power.

Video cards continue to get worse in their power draws, topping out at nearly 300 watts of power for the top end cards. Gamers, unlike datacenter administrators, are not concerned with the electric bill (probably because their parents are paying it.) Now they want to put four video cards in tandem in a PC to play Crysis. Replacing the lightbulbs in your home with CFLs isn’t going to be enough to offset that draw.

10: Best Argument Against DRM: Pandora/

Growing up, most of us found new music through the radio. For a time, MTV was instrumental in breaking out a new artist as well. These days, though, both are utterly useless for finding new music, and as the industry collapses under its own weight, new artists can’t get the exposure they need to capture public attention.

The Pandora Project and LastFM have become sanctuaries for those tired of radio that’s boring, conservative, and based on what label paid the most bribes for airplay, and MTV’s total lack of music. Simply enter in a band or genre you like and they pump out music of that similar style with no commercials or silly DJs. This couldn’t have been done with the restrictive DRM many labels want if they got their way and is the best argument for letting music be a little freer than it has been in the past.

Andy Patrizio is a Senior Editor for in the San Francisco office.

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