Friday, January 22, 2010

Kogan Netbook Failure

The AC Adaptor of my Kogan Agora Netbook Pro failed yesterday. I tested it with a multimeter and the power supply reads zero volts. The computer is still working fine.

The adaptor is rated at 20 Volts, 2 amps DC (model: 20K70LF-C201). It happens I have a compatible unit from another computer to tide me over. That unit is a few years old and is twice as large and three times as heavy as the Kogan unit. I suspect it has a large old fashioned, inefficient transformer in it (it gets warm), unlike the electronic modern power sup-plies. But the old transformer still works.

The Kogan was purchased six months ago and so is still under warranty. The adaptors are not repairable so there does not seem much point sending the old one back. So I have written to Kogan asking them to simply send me a new adaptor.

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Apple iSlate/iGuide may be a Smartbook

Rumours continue as to if Apple will be releasing a tablet computer called the Apple iSlate or iGuide. This is generally described as a large iPhone, but may be better thought of as a Smartbook. These are a new class of lower cost lower power netbooks being readied for sale in 2010. The distinguishing features of the smartbooks are that they use low cost processors as used in smart phones and so can cost about US$200. As a result they don't run the Microsoft Windows of most netbooks, instead some form of Linux or Microsoft Windows Mobile/CE. Most will be a traditional laptop clam shell design with a keyboard, but some may be touchscreens or have rubber keyboards (like the OLPC). It is likely that many will include wireless Internet and be sold on a plan like a mobile phone. These devices are the 21st century equivalent of pocket computers.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Acer Google Android Netbook on sale in Australia

The Acer AOD250 10.1 Inch Netbook is on sale in Australia at Office Works for $AU527. The unit features both Microsoft Windows 7 and the Google Android (Linux) operating systems. The logic behind this seems to be that Android provides a quick way to do casual email and web browsing, but the reviews of the implementation on the Acer are not that positive.

Office works also have the Hewlett Packard (HP) CQ2350AN Desktop PC & 18.5" Wide LCD for $AU599. This could be considered a "NetTop" as it has the same Intel Atom N230 processor as many netbooks. But it comes with a larger case than the average NetTop, including a DVD burner. Performance of this PC would not be spectacular and it comes with Microsoft Windows XP.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

University Students have Laptop Computers

The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2009 is available from EDUCAUSE. This is the results of a survey of 30,000 students at 103 US universities. As well as Australian universities, this has some interesting implications for secondary schools.

The study found that almost all students have computers, mostly laptops. Almost all students were using course management systems at their university and most were happy with these.

Less than half of the students thought their teachers had adequate IT skills, nor provided adequate IT training for the students. Just over half the students had an Internet capable mobile phone and of those two thirds had used the Internt on their phone. For those not using the Internet on the phone, cost was the most common reason. Few were using the mobile phone for course related purposes and the phones were see as largely a distraction from study. One use favoured by students was to use the SMS function of phones for emergency messages from the unviersity.

If the results are applicable to Australia, which I suspect they are, then this would suggest:
  1. Campuses should be equipped to accommodate laptops, with less provision for desktop computers. As an example, power points and network access for laptops would be desirable. Some way to provide a larger screen and keyboard interfaced to the student's laptop would be desirable (perhaps using a desktop or thin client computer)
  2. Learning/Course Management Systems should be used for course administration, and where applicable, course delivery.
  3. Mobile phone Internet access should not be assumed, unless the unviersity provides some sort of low cost or free access (for example WiFi for smart phones).
The federal government is funding the provision of computers for schools. However, it is being left to school systems as to if the students get laptops or desktops. The university research would seem to favour laptops. With the cost of netbook coming down, this suggests that some of what is happening in universities is now applicable to secondary schools.


Since 2004, the annual ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology has sought to shed light on how information technology affects the college experience. We ask students about the technology they own and how they use it in and out of their academic world. We gather information about how skilled students believe they are with technologies; how they perceive technology is affecting their learning experience; and their preferences for IT in courses. The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2009 is a longitudinal extension of the 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 studies. It is based on quantitative data from a spring 2009 survey of 30,616 freshmen and seniors at 103 four-year institutions and students at 12 two-year institutions; student focus groups that included input from 62 students at 4 institutions; and review of qualitative data from written responses to open-ended questions. In addition to studying student ownership, experience, behaviors, preferences, and skills with respect to information technologies, the 2009 study also includes a special focus on student ownership and use of Internet-capable handheld devices.

Table of Contents

  • Entire Study: The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2009
  • Foreword
  • Chapter 1: Executive Summary
  • Chapter 2: Introduction: Higher Education—A Moveable Feast?
  • Chapter 3: Methodology and Respondent Characteristics
  • Chapter 4: Ownership of, Use of, and Skill with IT
  • Chapter 5: IT and the Academic Experience
  • Chapter 6: Undergraduates and the Mobile Revolution
  • Appendix A: Acknowledgments
  • Appendix B: Students and Information Technology in Higher Education: 2009 Survey Questionnaire
  • Appendix C: Qualitative Interview Questions
  • Appendix D: Participating Institutions and Survey Response Rates
  • Appendix E: Bibliography
  • Online Supporting Materials: Key Findings: Roadmap & Survey Instrument

    From: The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2009, EDUCAUSE, 2009
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    Thursday, August 13, 2009

    Kogan Agora Netbook now under $500

    A few weeks ago purchased a Kogan Agora Netbook Pro, for $569 delivered. The machine has worked well (see my blog posts) and I have adapted to using Linux in place of Windows XP. But perhaps I am one of the few, as Kogan have reduced the price by $100.

    About my only complaints with the Agora were:
    1. No printed installation guide and no electronic user manual on the disk (I had to download the manual from the web),
    2. WiFi is difficult to set up and seems slow,
    3. Have not been able to get a USB 3G mobile broadband device to work,
    4. Shiny black top.
    What works well:
    1. More than fast enough for email, web browsing and office applications,
    2. Open source office, email and web applications work well,
    3. Updating of software online works better than on Windows XP,
    4. Works well with USB flash devices, printer, DVD drive and external hard disk,
    5. Looks at home at the cyber cafe amongst much more expensive netbooks,
    6. It is is an understated black, not white, or pink.
    The Agora works well as my main computer. In the office I plug it into a large screen, keyboard, mouse and Ethernet. The unit fits comfortably on the desk between the external keyboard and LCD screen. When out of the office it is adequate to use with the 10 inch screen and undersize keyboard.

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    Wednesday, August 12, 2009

    Netbooks on Wireless Plan

    Optus, Telstra and Vodafone now all offer a netbook with 3G wireless broadband access on a monthly payment plan (usually over 24 months with 1 to 5 MB of data a month). Optus offer the Samsung NC10, Telstra the Acer Aspire, and Vodafone the Dell Mini 9.

    This is a very convenient way to get Internet access for email and casual web browsing. But you need to be careful not to exceed your monthly download limit on those plans where you are excess for excess data. It would be very easy to download a movie and end up with a large bill. Also the bundled deals usually cost more than buying the netbook and data access separately.

    I use Virgin Mobile Broadband at $39 a month postpaid with my Kogan Agora Netbook Pro. This is not as convenient, as the Kogan does not have the 3G modem built in. I use an external HUAWEI E169 3G USB modem, which came free from Virgin. The Virgin plan reduces the data rate to 64 kbps when the 5 Mbyte monthly limit is reached, rather than imposing additional charges.

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    Friday, August 07, 2009

    Kogan Agora Netbook Pro Updating Software

    There not being FTP software apparent on my new Kogan Agora Pro netbook I started the "add/remove applications" utility to get some. It at this point I started to realise what my Linux using colleagues had been talking about with the ease of Linux maintenance for all these years. I simply selected the gFTP client and it was downloaded and installed in a few seconds.

    Emboldened by this, I started the "Synaptic Package Manager" and instructed it to update all of the software installed on the system with any needed updates. This resulted in several hundred files totaling several hundred megabytes being downloaded and installed, taking about 20 minutes. The download and install proceeded with no problems, but afterwards the system did not respond and I had to turn the power off and on, at which point everything seemed to be fine. This was comparable to the process for the Microsoft Windows computer I borrowed recently which had not had any updates installed for about a year.

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    Kogan Agora Netbook Pro Video

    My Kogan Agora Pro netbook was not playing video: it didn't work and locked the system. But after a few days, without having done anything to fix it, the video is now working. I can use Skype video conferencing (well I could if Virgin Mobile Boradband could supply broadband) and can play Youtube videos. The system now also passes the Ubuntu hardware test utility.

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    Thursday, August 06, 2009

    Kogan Agora Netbook Pro WiFi

    With the aid of the manual and a few minutes thinking, I was able to get the wireless Internet access working on the Kogan Agora Pro netbook. For the last few days I have been trying to get it to work from the system administration network utility. After reading the Manual, it turns out that all I had to do was click on the network icon on the top of the screen and select a WiFi network from the list, to connect to. This still took some deductive work, as the manual shows the icon as a radio antenna (pointed), whereas the screen shows it as a computer terminal (a square box). Only after I connected to a wireless network did the square box change to the pointed antenna shape, as shown in the manual.

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    Wednesday, August 05, 2009

    Kogan Agora Netbook Pro manual

    The Kogan Agora Netbook User Manual gOS Edition is on the web. I came across it while looking on the web for how to connect an external monitor. The manual is a 44 page 1.7 Mbyte PDF file. It is a good manual, but a shame it is not provided on the netbook (at least I couldn't find it on the Netbook). The manual told me what I needed to know: to have an external monitor recognised, I had to first log out and log in again to Linux. With this done my 24" Dell 2405FPW displayed what looked like an enormous desktop, after having looked at the 10 inch screen.

    My next problem is to work out how to get the WiFi to work, which the manual has a good section about.

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    Kogan Agora Netbook Pro with external DVD Drive

    After six days with the unit my impressions of the Kogan Agora Netbook Pro are still mostly good. The unit doesn't include DVD drive, so I purchased a $99 external unit. This comes with two USB plugs: one for data and a second one for addiditional power. I found the Agora supplies enough power thwough the first USB plug not to need the second cable.

    When I plugged the DVD drive in, it appeared as a device in the file manager and I could make a data DVD simply by dragging and dropping a file to it and pressing "Burn". There was no need to install any software. The Agora includes Braseo Disk Burning software, but it is not really needed for simple functions. Also I found I could create a Zip archive with a few mouse clicks.

    There were some frustrations with the DVD, a faulty old disk caused the drive to continually attempt to read and I could find no way to stop this apart from unplugging the drive and ejecting the disk with a paper-clip.

    The problems I have had with the DVD need to be seen in proportion, being no worse than a laptop running Microsoft Windows with a bult in DVD and supplied software.

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    Sunday, August 02, 2009

    Kogan Agora Netbook Pro mostly good

    After four days with the unit my first impressions of the Kogan Agora Netbook Pro are borne out: it is mostly good. The unit with 2 Gbytes of memory appears faster than many desktop computers. In terms of styling it stood up to all but the HP and Dell units on display at the Slug meeting at Google Sydney on Friday.

    The unit did not come with a carry case and really needs some sort of rubberised slip cover for protection and to make it easier to carry.

    The 10 inch screen is very bright and readable and I am able to sit in the library in full sunlight at a window and still read comfortably. With the fonts adjusted to a larger size, the screen is still adequate for typing text into email and blogs. It is not big enough for desktop publishing, but I can comfortably use Moodle for updating student assignment material and mark forum postings from my postgraduate students.

    I am not able to yet get the WiFi to work reliably. In the networking utility there is a pulldown menu which should display WiFi units in range but seems to flick up one for a moment and then disappear. As a result I had to use the supplied Windows computer for my SLug presentation at Google Sydney.

    The Linux boot sequence is very fast and it is almost as convenient to boot on the Kogan as it was to resume from hibernate on my old Windows XP laptop.

    I have adjusted the sensitivity of the tack pad, so it works as expected most of the time. It is still prone to jump the pointer to the left side of the screen occasionally.

    An MP3 player plugged into the USB port flawlessly. I am still working on the intricacies of getting the Virgin 3G wireless USB modem to work (but that was always a difficulty with the Windows XP laptop).

    The one genuine fault with the Kogan I have found so far is playing video: it doesn't work and locks the system. When I attempted to test Skype video the screen locked up and I have to power off and on. When I tried the Ubuntu hardware test utility, the system locked up on the video test. At some point when I have a high speed Internet connection I will upgrade the operating system and see if that fixes the problem.

    Overall the Kogan Agora Netbook Pro is very good (and excellent value for money). Kogan should perhaps consider a desktop version: leaving out the keyboard, touch pad, screen and battery and adding a clamp on VESA mount. Please note that I am aware that some manufacturers make desktop "nettop" computers with similar configurations to net books. But these tend to be over-specified, overpriced and sufficiently different to the netbooks to eliminate potential commonality.

    Netbooks and nettops with common hardware and software could make an attractive package for educational institutions: they could issue netbooks to students and support the same hardware and software on desktops. Netbooks with broken screens (a common problem) could even be recycled as nettops.

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    Thursday, July 30, 2009

    Kogan Agora Netbook Pro first impressions

    My Kogan Agora Netbook Pro ordered at about 12 noon yesterday arrived at 7:30 am today. This is an impressively quick delivery (even if I may have expedited it by saying I would be demonstrating the unit at the Slug meeting at Google Sydney on Friday). First impressions are good.

    The unit is surprisingly understated: inside the courier envelope was a plain white cardboard box smaller than a briefcase. Inside the box was one thin sheet of closed cell foam. Impressively the rest of the packing was with recycled paper, not plastic.

    The box contained the computer, power supply, battery and a very small bluetooth dongle. There was no printed manual at all. The only difficulty was installing the battery pack. The unit comes with a high capacity six cell battery pack which is an odd double cylinder shape. It took several attempts to work out how this was attached and a photo would have been helpful. When installed the battery pack sticks out of the back of the unit at 45 degrees. This doesn't look very elegant, but makes a handy grip for carrying and also makes the unit very stable on a desk and raises the bottom for ventilation.

    The unit is entirely black, which I prefer to white or brightly coloured netbooks: white units show dirt and also are more conspicuous when blogging at odd locations. The screen cover has a very glossy patterned surface (I would have preferred a textured mat finish as for the rest of the unit). The keyboard is average for netbooks and not as good as the Tohsiba and HP ones, but is adequate. Otherwise the unit has the usual 10 inch netbook layout.

    One surprise is that the small screen. I am used to a 12 inch narrow screen. The 10 inch Agora screen is much smaller, being the width of a sheet of A4 paper, but slightly less than half the height. The wide format seems to work well for entering text.

    There being no manual, I plugged in all the cables, plugged in an Ethernet connection and turn the unit on. There are two buttons on the unit: the smaller has an antenna symbol and I assume has to do with WiFi. Powering up produced the usual Linix boot sequence. I was first asked to a user id and password and there was a delay of less than a minute while the system sorted things out. Of the usual questions I was then asked the only problem was with the location, where I had difficulty selecting "Sydney". I tried clicking on the displayed map but kept ending up in Antarctica, due to the touch pad being too sensitive. But that was about the only problem. A gOS log on screen was then displayed.

    Entering my newly nominated user id and password, I was presented with gOS's attractive Apple Mac-ish desktop interface. Some of the desktop icons were perplexing, such as a vase of flowers and a snow dome which seemed to be displaying a weather forecast for Texas.

    Most useful is the set of cons across the bottom of the screen. Putting the pointer on an icon enlarges it. By default there is the Firefox browser, Open Office, Skype and a set of Google tools. As with other netbooks, the Google tools are a bit of a cheat, as they just open the browser and take you to the web site of the Google tool.

    The Internet access worked flawlessly and Firefox brought up the Yahoo home page for UK by default (perhaps these units were intended for the UK?). Apart from the home page a few other defaults will need to be changed. The default text size is too small and the sensitivity of the tack pad needs to be reduced, but that is about all.

    Apart from setting up email, here will be a challenge in finding replacements for the few Microsoft Windows specific applications I use. One of these is accounting software for my business. I noticed that Google accounting is one of the functions on the Kogan, but does it do Australian BAS statements?

    ps: One curiosity is the name of the unit: "Agora", which was a town square in ancient Greek cities. Perhaps this suggests the netbook is the place where you now interact with education, government, business and society, as was done in the Agora of the ancient world? I have often walked past the marble block set into the floor of the National Library of Australia, which is from the Library of Pantainos in the Ancient Agora of Athens. The word agoraphobia derives from this. Makers of larger, more expensive and not so functional computers way well suffer from fear of what the Agora may do to their business. ;-)

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    Wednesday, July 29, 2009

    Kogan Agora Netbook Pro

    I have ordered the Kogan Agora Netbook Pro, 10.2 inch. This is $569 delivered. It is essentially a colne of the MSI Wind (which Aldi also were selling). The Kogan has been configured with a larger 6 cell battery and 2 Gbytes of RAM (the Aldi unit had only a three cell battery and 1 gbyte RAM like most netbooks). The Agora has gOS Linux in place of Ms-Windows XP. This is a bit of a shot in the dark for me: my Twinhead laptop failed and I decided on a replacement in a hurry. Other netbooks I looked at were the Levono Ideapad s10e, Acer Aspire One, MSI Wind U100 and the Benq U101 (all of which are between $640 to $699).

    One issue I have is the transition from Windows to Linux. Already I use Firefox and Open Office in place of IE and Microsoft Office. But I had not made the transition of my email from a very old Eudora and my accounting software is still on Windows.

    Kogan have a very good e-commerce web site. But I needed telephone sales support (which was also good), because I could not find the button on the web to enter my credit card details. Using Firefox, the button at the bottom of the order form, where you enter your address details, was covered by a "comment" box. I found if I turned off styles, I could then see the button. Kogan need to make a change to the web form to fix this, as this netbook is likely to appeal to open source enthusiasts, who prefer Firefox to Internet Explorer. It would be a shame if the people the netbook appealed to couldn't order it.

    ps: One advantage the Kogan Agora has it is only available in black (like a Model T Ford), other units are in a range of colours and often you can be stuck with a garish colour you did not want. My Tiwnhead laptop was white, which drew more attention to it that I wanted. In an extreme case someone in a Greek cafe saw me using it and rushed up to give a monologue about the value of computers in education (thinking the Twinhead was an OLPC).

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    Sunday, March 29, 2009

    The Wired effect

    In "The Netbook Effect: How Cheap Little Laptops Hit the Big Time" (Wired magazine, March 2009), Clive Thompson describes how Mary Lou Jepsen in designing a low cost screen for Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop per Child computer started the netbook computer craze. It is a good story, but like much of Wired (the dolly magazine of the computer industry) it is not quite true. Perhaps we need a new term: the "Wired effect": where you notice something happening and reach for the nearest media release to explain it, without giving the issue much thought.

    I have been buying small, low cost disk-less computers for about a decade, long before the OLPC was started. These computers came from UK, Japanese and Taiwanese firms. They were not popular in the USA, because of their small size, limited performance and non-standard software. What changed in the last few years is that the performance of the electronics improved to where these little computers could do a good job of running office applications and at the same time wireless Internet access provided a viable alternative to on-board disk storage. With web based applications added into the mix, a netbook became a viable alternative for most personal computing.

    Thompson's article does go on to give a reasonable analysis of the reasons for the netbooks success and the problems it is causing for the computer makers (how to sell a $1,000 laptop when the $300 model is good enough). ASUS deserve the credit for starting the current netbook boom with their EEE PC.

    What the author fails to mention is that ASUS is trying the same success at the desktop with their nettop models: desktop PCs using similar low cost components to the netbooks. If successful, this will drive down the cost of desktop computers to lower than that of the netbooks. The nettops do not need their own keyboard, mouse or screen as they use standard desktop PC ones. Nor do they need a battery. If you take a $US300 netbook and remove the unnecessary components you end up with something between $100 and $200. As well as a desktop PC, ASUS are adding a PC built into an LCD panel to their EEE PC lineup. If you build the computer into an LCD screen, or an LCD TV, then the computer does not need a case, power supply, or some of the display interface components. That should take about $50 off the cost of the nettop, bring the effective cost of the unit to between $50 and $150 (not counting the LCD screen, keyboard or mouse).

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    Thursday, January 15, 2009

    Android Desktop Phone

    NIMble Concept Desk PhoneProduct design company Touch Revolution has displayed the "NIMble Concept Desk Phone", a computer with a 7 inch touch screen running Google's Android. Similar to other Internet Appliances, such as the 3Com Ergo Audrey the NIMble is intended to be given away with a monthly phone contract. The unit is shown with no keyboard, relying on its touch screen, which Touch Revolution specialise in. Previous Internet appliances failed in the market, but NIMble might have more of a chance as it uses now well established Linux software and can use the brand recognition of Google's Android. However, the unit has a non-adjustable screen (dictated by the touch interface) and no keyboard and is likely to cost more that the numerous models of netbook computer.

    Main Processor Minimum 600MHz StrongARM
    Memory 128 MB DDR RAM, 512 MB NAND Flash
    Expanded Storage SD Card Slot
    OS Included Embedded Linux
    Middleware Included Android Application Framework
    Screen Type TFT LCD
    Screen DIMENSIONS 4.3”, 7”, 10” Diagonal (Other custom sizes supported)
    Resolution 480 x 272, 800 x 480 and higher
    Touch Sensor Type Multi-Touch Projective Capacitive Glass Surface
    Connectivity 802.11 b/g WiFi, Bluetooth, USB 1.0/2.0, Ethernet
    Audio Stereo Speakers, Stereo Headset Jack, Directional Microphone,
    Bluetooth™ 2.0/2.1 + EDR stereo (A2DP) range of 10 meters
    Camera 2MP CMOS Camera, 15fps full resolution video, 30fps 1MP video

    From: Platform Sheet, Touch Revolution, 4 January 2009

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    Saturday, December 13, 2008

    $100 Netbook With Mobile Broadband Subscription

    According to InformationWeek (Antone Gonsalves December 12, 2008) from 14 December 2008, Radio Shack will offer an Aspire One laptop $US100, with a $US60 a month wireless broadband contract from AT&T. The netbook has a 3G wirless modem built in. The ACER has a 9 inch screen and could also be used for VoIP phone calls.

    This is a similar arrangement to mobile phone contracts, with an intial purchase fee and then effectively paying the hardware off over two years. The ACER unit costs about $US500, so that works out at about $US17 a month. The broadband service is effectively costing $US43 a month. There are no details as to how much broadband you get, but this seems a little high for a wireless broadband plan in the USA. But the offer is likely to be popular as it is an easy way to get Internet access.

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    Wednesday, October 29, 2008

    E-books for the Australian Army

    The Australian Department of Defence has issued a Request for Tender for "Provision of Computer Based E Books for Health Services at Army Logistics Training Centre". These would be used for medical training. An electronic book (e-book or ebook) is an electronic document designed to replace a printed book. The RFT does not make clear if it is for e-books, or e-book readers, the specialised tablet computers used to display the books. E-books are typically formatted in PDF and some type of HTML.

    Apart from specialised e-book readers, small notebook computers (such as netbooks), PDAs and smart phones can be used. A good example of this is the OLPC, which has a rugged case, low power transflective screen which can be read in sunlight and which can be folded back over the keyboard to format a tablet computer. The OLPC would make a very useful semi-rugged and low cost e-book readers for the military.

    See also, from

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    Saturday, October 18, 2008

    Aldi Netbook Computer

    Aldi supermarkets in Australia are offering the Medion E1210 (know in Europe as the Medion Akoya Mini) small laptop ("Netbook") computer for $AU599 from 23 October 2008. This has an Intel Atom N270 1.6 Ghz processor, 1 Gb RAM, 160 Gb disk, 10-inch LCD screen, webcam, Wireless LAN, bluetooth (via a dongle), SD card reader, 3xUSB. It runs Microsoft Windows XP, and Corel WordPerfect. Smarthouse have a review of the unit and suggest it is from the same maker as the MSI Wind, which has been well recieved. One problem is that the Aldi unit has only a smaller three cell battery, with less than 90 minutes running time.

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    Quicktop instant-on operating systems for green ICT

    Splashtop, BlackTop and Windows PE are cut down operating systems being used to provide quick access to a few frequently used applications on desktop and laptop computers. The could be a much more energy efficient computers. The idea is that you can quickly browse the web, play a video or check your email without having to wait for the main operating system to boot. On some laptops, such as Dell's, a separate low power processor is used, which greatly increases battery life. If such applications prove popular, then the main computer and operating system could be left unused most of the time.

    It may seem bizarre to have a computer with a powerful processor and hard disk left unused, but is much the same as is done with high performance motor vehicles. The four wheel drive mechanisms of most four wheel drive vehicles are not used, as they drive on sealed roads. However, the drivers still value the availability of the system. Similarly some car makers have introduced systems for shutting down cylinders in car engines, so for example an eight cylinder engine operates as a three cylinder engine. It would make far more financial and environmental sense to simply buy a two wheel drive car, with a small engine (my car has a 1 litre three cylinder engine for example). Buying an off road vehicle with a large engine and then drive it on suburban streets makes not practical sense. However, people still buy these vehicles and use them. So it the manufacturers try to make them as efficient as possible. In the same way it may make sense to provide notebook and desktop computers with instant on operating systems and processors, which are what is used most of the time.

    It may be feasible to retrofit desktop computers with low power instant on functionality. This would consist of a small nettop PC which was inserted between the peripherals and the main PC. The screen, keyboard, mouse, printer and other devices would be plugged into the nettop and then than would be plugged into the main computer. Most of the time the user would be interacting with the nettop computer and operating system. On those rare occasions when they wanted to do something it was not capable of, the nettop would start up the main computer. In reality this would hardly ever happen. Also, of course, it would make more sense to use a shared central virtual computer, not have one on every desk. But in many cases it is not possible to convince the user, or their ICT staff to give up the desktop PC.

    For offices, one workable arrangement might be to build the nettop computer into a VoIP telephone handset. This would then have perhiperals, inlcuding a screen, keyboard and mouse plugged into it. An optional desktop computer could also be connected.

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    Tuesday, September 09, 2008

    Dell Inspiron Mini 9 Netbook

    The Dell Inspiron Mini 9 "Netbook" low cost sub-notebook computer is due out in a week in the USA for $US349. This is a similar low cost low power device to the MSI Wind, Acer Aspire One and ASUS Eee PC. Dell offer the lowest cost version of the Mini 9 with Ubuntu Linux installed and Windows XP on the higher optioned units ($15 extra for Windows XP). It will be interesting to see if Dell bring out a desktop version of the Mini 9, as ASUS did with the E-Box.

    One option is a white, rather than the standard black case, for $US25 extra. This seems a odd sort of extra cost option. The Eee PC was made available in a range of colours. Notebook makers might be better off making a coloured consumer installable cover available, is is done with some mobile phones. The Wikipedia has a good comparison table of netbooks.

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