Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

  • Why Subversion is not a complete way to update WordPress

    Date: 2012.01.29 | Category: How to, Reviews, Trends, Wordpress | Response: 10

    While WordPress offers the functionality of upgrading core files, themes and plugins via the Dashboard, this feature cannot be used with some webhosts who are keen on security. Upgrading via FTP is time-consuming and error prone. FTP is also not very secure. To quote one webhost, “Its 2012, and you shouldn’t be using FTP for anything.” Subversion offers the promise of one-click one-command, lightning-fast, server side upgrades. Is Subversion the way to go or has Subversion yet to grow up for the casual WordPress user? Please note that this posting is more of a documentation of experiential learning in an area that really needs documentation. This is not to be read as a manual. And I am not in a position to offer support.

    Note: For an Introduction to Subversion, please read my article on its promises and challenges for the casual WordPress user.

    What is Subversion?

    Subversion is a version control system for software. The basic concept is to host the most recent copy of the software on a publicly accessible web server, known as a repository. Using a few shell based commands, a user can download or upgrade to the latest version of the software. A user can also downgrade to a previous version of the software if he or she finds that previous release more stable. A developer can also access the latest “nightly build” of the software for testing purposes (referred to in subversion as the “trunk” version). All approved developers of the software can commit changes to the trunk version of the software in real-time, making the trunk version of the software a working copy of latest code changes. This is especially helpful for software like WordPress, whose total developers number in four digits.

    For a long time, repositories were the only painful way to get software and patches for Linux (in the interest of security). Later distributions of Linux added GUIs to make this process more interactive. However, Linux now allows downloading and installing software from websites, provided the installer file has a .apt extension.

    How is subversion different from FTP?

    FTP involves dumping files from your own computer onto the web server. Subversion works strictly on the web server side (and must be supported by your web server). You issue shell commands to the web server to download software onto your web server.

    There are complex ways to make Subversion work locally as well. For example, you could download and install the Tortoise SVN client, which creates a repository of desired software on your hard drive. And this in turn, is synced with your web server. The Tortoise SVN client provides a very intuitive interface for Subversion. We won’t be using it because it is strictly a client. It can be used for browsing Subversion repositories and downloading them to your local hard-drive. And one WordPress user has managed to find a convoluted way to automate WordPress updates using Tortoise SVN. He created his own Subversion repository in his webspace, which in turn downloads wordpress as well as select themes and plugins from the official WordPress Subversion repository. And by doing this, he updates a customized WordPress installation. However, this requires creating special folders for WordPress in the root, and enaging in .htaccess acrobatics to deal with these folders. And Tortoise SVN can only be used to download repository files to your hard drive (its a client, remember). It cannot be used to directly transfer/FTP them to your webspace. This means that your updated WordPress files will have to be FTP’d back to your webspace from your hard drive. And this defeats the purpose of making installation and upgrade strictly web based. And its not as simple as it sounds. Certainly, Tortoise SVN’s interface is very alluring, especially the ease with which svn:externals can be modified. But until FTP is integrated with Tortoise SVN, I would not recommend it for automating WordPress updates. It is a tool for committing code to projects, and thats what its best at.

    How is a Subversion WordPress Installation different from a Traditional FTP one?

    A Subversion WordPress Installation has a folder called .svn in the main root directory. Similar .svn folders can be found in the Themes and plugins directory, as well as for each and every theme and plugin folder.

    The .svn folders store files with the extension of .svn. They contain version information about WordPress and its components. This information is necessary for future Subversion upgrades or downgrades.  These files can be downloaded via FTP and viewed with an editor such as Notepad++. But it is not possible not recommended to edit these files in any way. Doing so can “break” Subversion upgrades. It is also not recommended to move them around using FTP, as they store path information which may not be correctly updated.  These files are only meant to be handled using a shell-based command line interface. Removing these files makes your WordPress installation identical to a traditional FTP one.

    A Subversion WordPress Installation is expected to be only upgraded through subversion. Later doing an FTP upgrade of the Subversion WordPress installation will not impact WordPress functionality in any way. But Subversion will get broken and may not be used again. Installing themes and plugins via FTP on a Subversion WordPress installation will not impact the functionality of these components in any way. Neither will it break Subversion for the core WordPress installation. And neither will such themes and plugins be lost when WordPress is upgraded via Subversion. Likewise, such themes and plugins can only be updated via FTP, not Subversion.

    What are the advantages of Subversion

    The primary advantage of Subversion is for developers, who need access to latest “bleeding edge” versions of WordPress, WordPress plugins and WordPress themes. There is no other way of accessing this stuff.

    For the casual user, WordPress can also be installed for the first time using Subversion. Compared to an FTP install, a Subversion install takes only a fraction of the time (around 15 seconds). Upgrading WordPress via Subversion also takes around 15 seconds. And requires only entering a command. This means your blog will be offline for a lot less longer. And this can be done remotely, as long as you have the right credentials. Upgrading WordPress via FTP requires care. The latest version needs to be downloaded and unzipped. Some files and folders in the existing installation have to be deleted and new ones are then uploaded to replace them. There is always the danger of deleting the wrong files, which can jeopardize the blog.

    How to Install WordPress via Subversion

    Once you have made sure your host supports Subversion, all you need to do is to connect to your FTP account using a terminal. A free software such as Putty can be used for this purpose.

    1. Connect to your website by typing your FTP credentials into the terminal window
    2. In a browser, go to WordPress.org and note the version number of the latest stable release (in this case, it is 3.3.1).
    3. Go to your root folder using the cd (change directory) command.
    4. If you want to install WordPress into a folder such that your blog will be accessible at example.com/blog, type
      • mkdir blog
      • Then navigate to it by typing cd blog
    5. If you want to install WordPress to the root directory, ignore the previous step.
    6. Type svn co http://core.svn.wordpress.org/tags/3.3.1 .  Note the trailing dot preceded by a single space.
    7. Files will start being downloaded and unzipped. You should be done in less than a minute.

    Needless to say, Subversion is not the only way to make a fast install of WordPress. A non-SVN version can also be installed via command line using the following procedure,

    1. Connect to your website by typing your FTP credentials into the terminal window
    2. In a browser, go to WordPress.org and note the version number of the latest stable release (in this case, it is 3.3.1).
    3. Go to your root folder using the cd (change directory) command.
    4. If you want to install WordPress into a folder such that your blog will be accessible at example.com/blog, type
      • mkdir blog
      • Then navigate to it by typing cd blog
    5. If you want to install WordPress to the root directory, ignore the previous step.
    6. Type wget http://wordpress.org/latest.tar.gz
    7. Files will start being downloaded. To unzip them, type tar -xzvf latest.tar.gz
    8. Then remove the zipped file typing rm latest.tar.gz

    Once you are finished installing via Subversion, wget or plain old FTP, make sure you are in the WordPress directory, and type the following commands to set up permissions properly:

    • chgrp web index.php
    • cd wp-content
    • mkdir uploads
    • cd ..
    • chmod -R 775 wp-content
    • chgrp -R web wp-content
    • mkdir tmp
    • chgrp web tmp
    • chmod 775 tmp

    To enable media uploads via the WordPress Dashboard, you will need to change some group ownership permissions

    • chgrp web wp-admin/async-upload.php
    • chgrp web wp-admin/media-upload.php

    Further information on activating your WordPress install and connecting it to your MySQL database can be found here.

    How to convert an existing WordPress Installation to Subversion

    This is beyond the scope of this article. Please note that converting existing blogs to Subversion can be nightmarish if WordPress was installed in the root folder of the public directory. Although WordPress provides detailed steps and further information can be found, some web hosts do not allow renaming/swapping of the root directory.

    How to upgrade WordPress via Subversion

    Only a WordPress Installation that was installed via Subversion can be upgraded using Subversion.

    1. Connect to your website by typing your FTP credentials into the terminal window
    2. In a browser, go to WordPress.org and note the version number of the latest stable release (in this case, it is 3.3.1).
    3. Go to the folder that contains the WordPress installation using the cd (change directory) command.
    4. Type svn sw http://core.svn.wordpress.org/tags/3.3.1/ . Note the trailing dot preceded by a single space. Note that this is slightly different from the earlier install command.
    5. Files will start downloading and unzipping. You should be done in less than a minute. Unlike an FTP upgrade, an SVN upgrade only downloads and updates specific files and components that have been upgraded, and is therefore less time consuming.
    6. Login to your WordPress Dashboard using your browser and make sure everything is OK.

    How to install additional plugins via Subversion

    This is the part where Subversion falters. The WordPress Subversion installation comes bundled only with the Akismet plugin. To install additional plugins, you have to engage in command line acrobatics.

    1. Go to WordPress.org and note the latest version of the plugin (In this case, 1.6.13.8).
    2. Go to the WordPress plugin Subversion repository and note the name of the plugin. For example, the plugin All in One SEO Pack will be listed as all-in-one-seo-pack.
    3. Download and install Vim on your computer. Installing text editors on your computer will do no good because the text editor must run within the shell environment. Find out from your webhost what shell-based text editors he/she has installed on the server. If Pico is installed, your are in luck as it is fairly intuitive. On the other hand, Vim is fairly difficult to understand. Don’t bother learning to use it because we will only make use of it in an indirect, limited way.
    4. Connect to your website by typing your FTP credentials into the terminal window
    5. Go to the folder that contains the WordPress plugins using the cd (change directory) command.
    6. We need to set Vim as the command line text editor. Type export SVN_EDITOR=vi (Or export SVN_EDITOR=pico if you are using pico).
    7. Type svn propedit svn:externals . Note the trailing dot preceded by a single space and the single quotation marks.
    8. This will open an editable file in command line. Interestingly, a graphical FTP program like Filezilla shows that a new .tmp file in the plugins directory is created when this command is typed. This file can also be edited from within Filezilla (using Notepad++), but it will disappear when the edit is finished (either through Notepad++ or command line). This confirms that a graphical FTP program is indeed unsuitable for Subversion. Before you proceed, please note that you will have to use Vim-specific (or Pico specific) keyboard commands. The mouse will not work. A handy guide to Vim-specific commands can be found here.
    9. Go to the line below it using Vim-specific (or Pico-specific) commands and type
    10. all-in-one-seo-pack http://plugins.svn.wordpress.org/all-in-one-seo-pack/tags/1.6.13.8/
    11. Save the file by typing Vim-specific commands ( : followed by x followed by [return]). Or type Pico-specific commands if using Pico.
    12. Type svn update
    13. Go to your WordPress Dashboard and activate the plugin.

    How to install additional themes via Subversion

    This is another part where Subversion falters. The WordPress Subversion installation comes bundled only with two basic themes. To install additional themes, you have to engage in command line acrobatics.

    1. Go to WordPress.org and note the latest version of the plugin (In this case, 1.2).
    2. Go to the WordPress theme Subversion repository and note the name of the theme. For example, the theme Coraline will be listed as coraline.
    3. Download and install Vim on your computer. Installing text editors on your computer will do no good because the text editor must run within the shell environment. Find out from your webhost what shell-based text editors he/she has installed on the server. If Pico is installed, your are in luck as it is fairly intuitive. On the other hand, Vim is fairly difficult to understand. Don’t bother learning to use it because we will only make use of it in an indirect, limited way.
    4. Connect to your website by typing your FTP credentials into the terminal window
    5. Go to the folder that contains the WordPress themes using the cd (change directory) command.
    6. We need to set Vim as the command line text editor. Type export SVN_EDITOR=vi (Or export SVN_EDITOR=pico if you are using pico).
    7. Type svn propedit svn:externals .  Note the trailing dot preceded by a single space and the single quotation marks.
    8. This will open an editable file in command line. Interestingly, a graphical FTP program like Filezilla shows that a new .tmp file in the themes directory is created when this command is typed. This file can also be edited from within Filezilla (using Notepad++), but it will disappear when the edit is finished (either through Notepad++ or command line). This confirms that a graphical FTP program is indeed unsuitable for Subversion. Before you proceed, please note that you will have to use Vim-specific (or Pico specific) keyboard commands. The mouse will not work. A handy guide to Vim-specific commands can be found here.
    9. Go to the line below it using Vim-specific (or Pico-specific) commands and type
    10. coraline http://themes.svn.wordpress.org/coraline/1.2/
    11. Save the file by typing Vim-specific commands ( : followed by x followed by [return]).  Or type Pico-specific commands if using Pico.
    12. Type svn update
    13. Go to your WordPress Dashboard and activate the theme.

    How to upgrade additional themes and plugins via Subversion

    When you upgrade WordPress via Subversion, only the Akismet plugin and the two default themes will also be upgraded. The additional themes and plugins have to be separately upgraded via command line acrobatics.

    1. Login to your WordPress Dashboard. Your dashboard should indicate which plugins/themes are out of date and what are the version numbers of the new version. Alternatively, this can be done by checking the WordPress plugin and theme Subversion repositories (which is safer, because Subversion can only update to version numbers listed in the repository; For example, the WordPress Dashboard may indicate the new version as version 2.31 whereas the correct format (as listed in the repository) is 2.3.1.
    2. Download and install Vim on your computer. Installing text editors on your computer will do no good because the text editor must run within the shell environment. Find out from your webhost what shell-based text editors he/she has installed on the server. If Pico is installed, your are in luck as it is fairly intuitive. On the other hand, Vim is fairly difficult to understand. Don’t bother learning to use it because we will only make use of it in an indirect, limited way.
    3. Connect to your website by typing your FTP credentials into the terminal window
    4. Go to the folder that contains the WordPress plugins (or themes) using the cd (change directory) command.
    5. We need to set Vim as the command line text editor. Type export SVN_EDITOR=vi (Or export SVN_EDITOR=pico if you are using pico).
    6. Type svn propedit svn:externals .Note the trailing dot preceded by a single space and the single quotation marks.
    7. This will open an editable file in command line. This is the same .tmp file you previously edited to add additional plugins (which should be listed in the file). Or if you are updating themes, it is the same .tmp file you previously edited to add additional themes (which should be listed in the file). Before you proceed, please note that you will have to use Vim-specific (or Pico specific) keyboard commands. The mouse will not work. A handy guide to Vim-specific commands can be found here.
    8. Go to the line on which your plugin/theme is listed using Vim-specific (or Pico-specific) commands. Then move your mouse to the version number using Vim-specific (or Pico specific) commands. And replace the existing version number with the new version number, using Vim-specific (or Pico-specific) commands.
    9. Save the file by typing Vim-specific commands ( : followed by x followed by [return]). Or type Pico-specific commands if using Pico.
    10. Type svn update
    11. Go to your WordPress Dashboard and make sure everything is right.

    Conclusion

    While updating WordPress through SVN is a breeze, the same does not apply to updating (or installing) additional themes and plugins.

    Nowhere is the casual WordPress user near the dream of updating WordPress and all plugins/themes using one command. Rather than a step towards automation for the casual user, SVN as it stands today, is still a developer tool that is best suited for updating to the “trunk”versions. Updating to latest stable releases requires manually entering the version number of the latest stable release. There is no command for automatically updating to the latest stable release.

    Clearly, Subversion for WordPress has a long way to go before it can truly replace FTP as a solution to update WordPress. In fact, installing/updating additional themes via FTP may be less time consuming in certain cases (Putty does not remember login credentials). Also, there is quite a margin of error when typing in text via command line, using the convoluted Vim (or Pico) interface.

    The precarious typing also takes out the joy of trying out new plugins on whim.

    There are of course, complicated ways to create a unified update process for both WordPress and additional themes and plugins. These are clearly beyond the scope of the casual user.

    But until Subversion for WordPress grows up, a hybrid solution can be pursued. While WordPress may be be installed and updated via Subversion, additional themes and plugins may be installed using FTP. The two can coexist, and even updating WordPress through Subversion will not affect the functionality of the additional themes and plugins installed via FTP.

    Further Reading (Subversion How-To’s)

    What WordPress has to say on Subversion

    Upgrading WordPress via Suubversion

    Useful SVN Commands

    Installing additional plugins via subversion

    svn:externals command line wizardry (1 & 2)

    What is your stance on Subversion for Wordpress?

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  • Piwigo and Zenphoto; a Comparative Review

    Date: 2012.01.15 | Category: Reviews, Wordpress | Response: 17

    Open Source Software for web-based photo galleries has been around for a very long time. Web based photo galleries mean different things for different people. The casual user feels no compulsion to go Open Source and host his or her own photo gallery, thanks to Flickr®, Picassa®, Photobucket® and Facebook®. But apart from  privacy and ownership issues, these services are fairly limited when it comes to integration with blogging platforms. For example, Photobucket® only allows its users to post a slide show of their photos in a blog post. A clickable thumbnail gallery cannot be inserted into a blog post as of now. And Photobucket® has the annoying tendency to automatically resize images to save bandwidth (at the expense of quality). For example, a 1.5 MB DSLR image will end up becoming a 70KB image once its uploaded to Photobucket®.

    For me, experimenting with Open Source web-based photo galleries began when I began to realise the limitations of WordPress when it comes to photoblogging.

    When WordPress started off, photos were more or less an afterthought. Photos on WordPress were given some advanced functionality by plugins. The best I could find was the nextGEN gallery by Alex Rabe of Germany, which seems to be partly inspired by oldtime photoblogging favourite, Coppermine.

    Everything was great with nextGen gallery, until I wanted to add just a little more content to photo descriptions. I discovered that it was impossible to add a hyperlink into the image description field (unless I was willing to hack some components). For those interested in pursuing this path, here’s a link.

    Even WordPress admits its helplessness when it comes to photos, suggesting that users change their site theme to a photoblog theme, or use a WordPress plugin that is compatible with an outside web-based photo gallery.

    Since I am an occassional photoblogger, changing the site’s theme to a photoblog theme was not an option. Therefore I started on my quest to find an ideal Open Source web-based photo gallery. I had some very specific criteria.

    1. Maximum compatibility with WordPress, especially when it came to inserting image galleries into a blog post.
    2. The ability to add HTML content to a photo’s description.
    3. The ability to add Copyright info to a photo’s description.

    With these criteria in mind, I found Wikipedia very helpful in narrowing down on Piwigo and Zenphoto. Apparently, these two Open Source web-based photo galleries have the most features. A close third would probably be Coppermine.

    Please note that my comparative review is based on Piwigo 2.3.2 and Zenphoto 1.4.1.6. Things are changing fast in this area and this comparative review should be considered outdated in a few months.

    It is interesting to note that while WordPress development has diverged from photoblogging, Open Source web-based photo galleries now draw cues from Wordpress’s famous “five minute install” and theme/plugin architecture.

    Piwigo and Zenphoto; History

    Both Piwigo and Zenphoto have been around for more than five years. Zenphoto is relatively newer (they don’t have a Wikipedia page). Zenphoto developers appear to be based in America while Piwigo developers appear to be clustered in France. It appears that Zenphoto is more small scale than Piwigo, in terms of code volume. This is quite surprising because I found it more feature-rich and more sophisticated. Both Zenphoto and Piwigo have had security vulnerabilities in the past (all appropriately patched). But Zenphoto appears to have had more than its share of bad press.

    Piwigo also offers full fledged photo hosting service (in the fashion of WordPress.com).

    Piwigo and Zenphoto;  Installation

    I ran into installation issues related to PHP on my host server and file permission settings with both Piwigo and Zenphoto.

    Preinstall Screen of Zenphoto
    Zenphoto gives a thorough preinstall analysis

    In the case of Piwigo, I had to shoot in the dark because there were no preinstall checks. In the case of Zenphoto, a preinstall screen pretty much summed up all of my issues, giving me specific pointers on troubleshooting.

    Newbie Tip: Never Install Piwigo or Zenphoto onto your existing WordPress database. Create a new database. And better yet, install on a subdomain instead of your WordPress domain.

    Piwigo and Zenphoto; Support

    I consider support for Open Source software as a courtesy and therefore my expectations were low.

    But within a day of posting my problems on Piwigo and Zenphoto support forums, I recieved direction from their support staff.

    Zenphoto appeared to have some (non-impacting) technical issues with their forums. They also have a system of moderating newbie posts.

    Piwigo and Zenphoto; Features

    Both Piwigo and Zenphoto were able to superbly meet requirements 1 & 2 (adding html content to individual images). But I found Zenphoto to be more sophisticated and advanced (detractors may use the word “dizzying”). There is the ability to fine tune everything. For example, Zenphoto has the option of enabling secure logins, (provided the server supports OpenID) whereas Piwigo does not. In addition, the bundled themes that come with Zenphoto are very clean and sophisticated. Zenphoto even has special themes that can replicate your original WordPress blog themes!

    When uploading image files via FTP, Piwigo requires that thumbnails be also created and uploaded to a subfolder with the prefix TN-. This requires batch processing of image files by a local image editor such as Adobe Photoshop Essentials. The alternative is to avoid uploading images via FTP and instead use a special upload program (Ploader) created by Piwigo. Zenphoto has no such requirements.

    Piwigo and Zenphoto; WordPress Integration

    Zenphoto initially appeared promising when it came to WordPress integration. After all, there were four WordPress plugins for Zenphoto, compared to just one for Piwigo.

    But the first Zenphoto plugin for WordPress is no longer under active development. Another one “may” support Zenphoto later on. One plugin (ZenphotoPress) that appeared promising works as intended, but only if zenphoto is hosted on the same site as the wordpress blog. Another plugin allows Zenphoto integration on another blog by reading the public RSS feed of the Zenphoto gallery (provided that it is enabled). But it does’nt appear compatible with the latest release of Zen photo.

    Piwigo Button in WordPress TinyMCE
    PiwigoMEDIA WordPress plugin allows easy insertion of images in a Piwigo Gallery, as well as entire thumbnailed albums.

    This left me with no way to go but Piwigo. The Piwigomedia Plugin utilizes the TinyMCE interface and works exactly as intended. It does not duplicate images in the Piwigo gallery. A demonstration can be found at the bottom of this page.

    Conclusion

    While Zenphoto clearly has sophistication and features, Piwigo has best managed to achieve WordPress Integration while offering an impressive, yet not dizzying array of features.

    What web-based PhotoGallery software do you prefer?

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  • Buying Norton 360? Read the fine print

    Date: 2010.05.18 | Category: Reviews, Shopping | Response: 7

     

    Norton 360 is considered to be the top ranked security suite for computers. And one that impacts system performance in a very minimal way.   

    But here’s what the “fine print” on a retail box of Norton 360 reads like:

    ‡1 Year Protection: With this service, you receive the right to use this product on one PC or on the specified number of PCs during the service period, which begins upon initial installation and activation. This renewable service includes protection updates and new product features as available throughout the service period, subject to acceptance of the Symantec License Agreement included with this product and available for review at www.symantec.com. Product features may be added, modified, or removed during the service period.

    In other words, Norton 360 is not software. It is “rentware.” You get to use it for a specified period of time. After that, it becomes the software equivalent of a paperweight. To make sure that it does so, Norton comes with a comprehensive online license activation service, that $tart$ a countdown to the next renewal date.

    This is a departure from Norton’s previous policies. For example, previous versions of Norton Internet Security allowed to software to still be used after the license had expired. Only the customer’s access to updated virus definitions was disabled after the license expired.

    In Norton 360, once the one year license expires,

    1. The antivirus protection ceases downloading updates (obviously).
    2. You can no longer run scans on the computer (But I should be able to using my previous updates).
    3. The antivirus protection ceases to protect the computer (Antivirus protection can still be very potent without updates).
    4. You can no longer run backups on the computer (using Norton 360).
    5. You can no longer set Norton parental controls.
    6. You can no longer run the Norton start-up manager (which is a bundled utility).
    7. The Norton firewall turns off (Back to Windows Firewall!).
    8. Nearly all product functionality is lost.

    Even non-security items, such as a password manager that comes bundled with Norton 360, denies you access to the website passwords you have stored in it. Bear in mind that this is a local utility that does not use Norton’s network services.

    When purchasing boxed versions of software at retail outlets (at a premium price) it is assumed that the customer is taking ownership of the software, not “renting” it. And even if the terms of the fine print are to be applied, the customer does “own” the updates downloaded over the subscription period, and has the right to use them even after the subscription period has expired. And of course, he or she still has the right to use the software as it came, minus any new updates. For example, if you purchased a boxed version of Windows 95, you can still use it on a computer, even though that may not be a good idea. And you don’t expect Microsoft to disable the product.

    Norton 360’s “rentware” agreement enforcement ironically endangers the security of computers it vouches to protect. For example, lets suppose that you cannot renew your subscription because you are in a foreign country and do not have access to your credit card. Or lets suppose you don’t want to pay the full price for a new subscription, and instead you are waiting for retail stores to slash prices on the boxed versions of Norton 360. Until you renew the subscription, your computer will be left vulnerable, without any kind of antivirus protection.

    Depending on how angry this post makes you, you may switch to a free antivirus software. Or you may abandon Windows altogether, given the fact that when you pay Norton, you are paying for covering Windows vulnerabilities even though Windows is offering free antivirus to cheer you up.

    What will you do?

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  • Techtangerine reviews the Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1a

    Date: 2010.03.28 | Category: Reviews | Response: 1

     

    Sony_Ericsson_XPERIA_X1a 

    Sony Ericsson’s first attempt at a Windows Mobile smartphone may have not garnered much fanfare. But for those who do not live on planet iPhone, it remains a significant development. The XPERIA X1a brings out the best in Sony Ericsson hardware, while also highlighting the limitations of Windows Mobile 6.1 (and the XPERIA’s valiant efforts in overcoming them).

    The Good

    To start with, the XPERIA X1a is not a smartphone. Its more like a micro-netbook. It comes with a 528MHz processor (iPhone: 412MHz) and 256MB RAM (iPhone: 128MB). Its beautiful 800 x 480 resolution display (iPhone: 320 x 480) uses WVGA technology that is used in netbooks to render pages on small screens. Unlike the iPhone, the XPERIA X1a can be considered very well suited for multitasking.

    One of the main attractions of the XPERIA X1a is a keyboard that has not gone to the touchscreen. The phone features a thoughtfully crafted keyboard, complete with backlighting. In my opinion, a touchscreen keyboard can never fully substitute a physical keyboard, no matter how brilliantly made. And the XPERIA keyboard is near identical in layout to laptop keyboards (except for the numbers). There is nothing like the feeling of your fingers tapping qwerty while you only look at the screen. For basic functions, sliding out the keyboard is not necessary. The 6 buttons on the phone’s face, the “optical joystick,” and the touchscreen are more than sufficient.

    The Panels, which have been a major selling point for the XPERIA X1a have a lot of potential. Simply put, a panel is a fully customizable home screen. By default, Windows Mobile offers a customizable “Today” screen. But the customization options are limited. The XPERIA X1a comes loaded with several panels, and even more are available for download. Since the phone screen is the first point of interaction with the phone, using panels can change the way you interact with your phone. Panels allow creation of shortcuts to commonly used programs, display of RSS feeds and weather updates, display of calendar entries as well as unlimited color and wallpaper options. Sony Ericsson offers its Panel SDK for third party developers, which means a wide variety of panels will continue to be offered. The Panels have now ported over to other HTC WinMo phones too! The Panels allow overcoming some of the limitations of Windows Mobile 6.1. For example, instead of diving through a dizzying array of menus and windows to find different communication options, they can be made to appear on your panel/home screen. Initially, there was some lag when the panels were switched or when they changed to landscape mode when the keyboard was pulled out. But this appears to have been corrected in a Sony Ericsson update.

    Sony_Ericsson_XPERIA_X1a_Panels

    The Goodies

    The XPERIA X1a comes loaded with Microsoft Office Mobile 6.1 (2007) which includes Excel, OneNote, Word and Powerpoint.  

    The XPERIA X1a also comes with Adobe Reader LE for mobile, that allows all the functionality of the standard Adobe Reader.

    For PIM fanatics, the XPERIA X1a allows for seamless synchronization with a Windows PC (Sorry Mac users). This can be even done over Bluetooth. Bluetooth on a typical Windows computer has the ActiveSync provision used by WinMo smartphones, allowing exceptionally seamless Bluetooth synchronization.

    A generic microSD card can be separately purchased to increase onboard storage space (Not possible on the iPhone).

    The XPERIA X1a can undergo a SIM unlock at the electronics boutique in your local Chinatown. Typical of GSM phones, the XPERIA X1a’s SIM locking mechanism is a hardware based permutation of the IMEI number. And I have been told that even a firmware upgrade does not revert the SIM lock. In contrast, the mean people at Cupertino have put a SIM lock on the iPhone that requires the original software to be “jailbroken” by a third party software, and re-jailbroken when a firmware upgrade is applied to the iPhone. There have been cases where jail breaking has caused the iPhone OS to act buggy. Initially, the XPERIA X1a was offered on Sony USA’s website unlocked! But this quickly came to an end, possibly from pressure from carriers.

    The 3.2 Megapixel camera comes with flash! Video recording capacity is only limited by the size of the storage card. Since Sony’s primary business is its Cybershot cameras, the camera has superior image quality. To catch a glimpse of the exceptional video quality produced, check this Youtube video.

    The bundled Opera browser allows for full screen browsing, and computer-like rendering of complete web pages. When browsing, tapping the stylus or pressing the volume button allows one to zoom in and out of web pages.

    The Not-so-Good

    Windows Mobile 6.1 was built for styluses and keys, not human fingers. And thus, the XPERIA X1a also comes with a stylus. This drawback is exceptionally noticeable when searching for contacts. You really need to whip out the stylus for performing this feat unless you are used to using the “optical joystick.” (The fix: purchase and download Touch Contact from the Windows Mobile Marketplace).

    Detractors may argue that a stylus has its own merits, and can save more time than thumbing a touchscreen. I would agree when it comes to taking handwritten notes. Nothing can be as fast as the stylus on a touchscreen. The XPERIA X1a features Microsoft Outlook Notes, that can be used to jot down freeform handwriting, sketches and diagrams.

    The XPERIA X1a can synchronize emails, contacts, notes, calendar entries and tasks ONLY with Microsoft Outlook, that is NOT included in the economical student edition of Microsoft Office. Unless you have Microsoft Outlook for Windows, you may be bereft of key synchronization options. Although you can still “browse” the phone from your computer (which iPhone won’t allow).

    When taking still images with the camera, the lack of a software based image stabiliser becomes apparent. Still images often turn out shaky. Lets hope they fix it in a software update.

    It should be noted that the XPERIA X1a comes with A-GPS, that is dependent on having a network based data connection. This is not an independent GPS device.

    The XPERIA X1a deserves care. While I do not have lab tests to supplement my claim, I am sure that Sony Ericsson, and its XPERIA maker, HTC, do not have as much of a reputation for ruggedness as Nokia. But with its replaceable battery, an XPERIA X1a may outlast an iPhone.

    Must Gets (and not-Gets) for new owners

    Windows Mobile 6.1 does not come with Windows Mobile Marketplace. You must manually download and install it to take advantage of Microsoft’s answer to the iPhone app store.

    The XPERIA X1a has an annoying tendency of its screen shutting off to save power, even during calls (ROM version 1.05.631.10; 04/23/2009). This can be corrected by installing a third party application called XperiaTweak, and customizing some options within XperiaTweak.

    WiFiFoFum is a free Windows Mobile application that estimates the approximate location of Wi-Fi networks in the vicinity.

    Do not uninstall the Windows Live program from your XPERIA X1a in favour of the one available on Windows Mobile Marketplace. The later versions no longer carry instant messaging because of carrier restrictions. Greedy carriers want you to use their own IM applications so that they can charge SMS rates per IM, even though IMs are not SMSs.

    The Wish List

    Without the bundled Opera browser, mobile browsing would be pretty much dead on the XPERIA X1a (Internet Explorer Mobile is suited for WAP sites, and cannot do the full page rendering Opera does). It would be great to use Firefox Mobile on the XPERIA X1a when it comes to Windows Mobile. 

    Given its premium price, users may expect Sony Ericsson to offer timely updates to the XPERIA X1a. While Sony Ericsson does provide timely updates to firmware, XPERIA-specific add-ons and Panels, they won’t be facilitating an upgrade to Windows Mobile 6.5. This is the part where you will miss the iPhone, which allows its all of its users to upgrade to the latest iPhone OS. Windows Mobile 6.5 will only be coming to the XPERIA X2. But why settle for Windows Mobile 6.5 when Windows Phone 7 is on the Horizon? Sadly, an XPERIA with Windows Phone 7 may never be (unless you know how to hack ROMs). Sadly, the XPERIA X10 has switched to Android because Google has managed to cuckold Sony Ericsson wireless carriers into doing so. In my opinion, Android has yet to grow up. And Android uses the controversial cloud computing model for PIM synchronization with Google’s online services.

    The Verdict

    The Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1a is an ideal smartphone for anyone that has a beef with the iPhone’s smartphone capability. It has high performance hardware, boasts a physical keyboard, and according to some, is a stunner. The Panels are indeed a revolutionary concept that can change our interaction with smartphones. Because of its superior hardware, even the outdated Windows Mobile 6.1 fails to turn everything sluggish, and instead exceeds performance expectations. But it would be a delight to have Windows Phone 7 on the XPERIA X1a.

    Essential Links

    These are the links that both XPERIA X1a owners and potential owners can’t do without.

    The Official XPERIA blog: Finally, an official blog to refute/confirm claims of all the other blogs.

    PlayNow: Sony Ericsson’s website for its phone users, which features additional XPERIA panels available for download.

    The XPERIA X1a product website: Straight from the horse’s mouth.

    Freeware PocketPC: Tonnes of freeware for Windows Mobile.

    Jenn Lee’s 15 tips for new XPERIA X1a users: Covers some essential tweaking.

    Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1a @ Wikipedia: Nothing to be said.

    EPILOGUE

    Sony Ericsson has pretty much forgotten the XPERIA X1a after it moved to the Android platform. The much promised panel updates are no longer being seen. But again, it was the XPERIA X1a, that kick-started the XPERIA line. And it was only this success that made Sony Ericsson realise the revenue drain for using licensed Windows software (and therefore its switch to the Android platform). On the other hand, the abandoned panel feature may have inspired the new Windows Phone 7 interface.

    For those of you still clinging to your XPERIA X1a, there are still some redeeming features of the phone. Windows Mobile 6.1 had more security features, allowing seamless enterprise use, which even Windows Phone 7 does not.

    And if you managed to grab the Skype panel for the X1a, then you have a very rare gem indeed!

    What do you think of the XPERIA X1a?

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  • What is a Creative Commons License and why you should use one

    Date: 2009.12.03 | Category: How to, Reviews | Response: 0

    According to Canadian Copyright Law, any piece of writing you produce, any photo you take, or any image or video you create becomes copyrighted to you automatically. No formal copyright notice or a © is required, although it does help to include one. Neither are you required to submit a formal claim of copyright to a state agency.

    The purpose of the Copyright Act is to protect the intellectual property of the Copyright holder. The Copyright Act also has a “Fair Dealing” clause that allows limited reproduction of copyrighted work, provided that the reproduction does not border on infringement. This “Fair Dealing” provision is situation-specific and technically difficult to enforce.

    With the rise of digital media and the Internet, reproducing copyrighted material has become stupendously easy. A photo posted on Facebook can find its way all across the Internet. A video posted on YouTube may spur several remixes when it gets popular. A well written blog post may be extensively quoted by other bloggers, sometimes in its entirety.

    The creators of such digital content generally frown on any kind of reproduction whatsoever as it can open the possibility of copyright abuse. On the other side, those that seek to reproduce copyrighted digital content clamour around the Fair Dealing clause, sometimes stretching it into a wormhole when their purposes go beyond “Fair Dealing.” 

    If you create digital content, and if you acknowledge (and maybe appreciate) the easily reproducible nature of digital media, you can modify your traditional copyright to be less adversarial towards those who will share your content by using a Creative Commons License. There are several reasons why you may want to use this tool.

    1. Outlining the rules for reproducing your content can give your content more exposure. This can be critical to if your profession depends upon exposure of your content, such as the profession of photography and blogging. Google® Image Search and Flickr® have the ability to restrict searches to content that is licensed under Creative Commons. This gives people immediate access to content that they can readily incorporate into their work.
    2. Being vague about the rules for reproducing your content can scare people from making “Fair Use” of it. People may assume that you intend to bring down the hammer of the Copyright Law on any kind of use, and may avoid your content altogether. It is not prudent to assume that most people have the time to email you for clarification.
    3. Setting out the rules for reproducing your content under a Creative Commons License can inhibit misuse of your content in some situations. While a Creative Commons License does not override the Fair Dealing provision of the Copyright Act, it makes your specifics clear for those intending to use your content. For example, if you use a Creative Commons license that prohibits commercial reproduction and reproduction without attribution to your name, those that intend to use your content will have clear guidelines to go by.

    A Creative Commons License can be applied to almost all kinds of digital content, and even software code! But for the sake of example, we will assume that we intend to use a Creative Commons License on a digital image that accompanies a blog post.

    The Creative Commons website gives us a tool that allows us to generate a snippet of code that can be placed in the blog post. You get to choose a number of variables that make up the license. Specifically, you get to choose

    1. Whether or not you allow commercial reproduction
    2. Whether or not you allow others to make derivative works
    3. Whether or not you demand an identical Creative Commons License for work created through reproducing or modifying your work (if you chose to allow so)

    You can choose from a combination of these factors to create a license that fits your needs. And you can always create a new one for new situations. Regardless of which Creative Commons License you create, use of a Creative Commons license implies that you wholeheartedly allow reproduction for non-commercial purposes. All Creative Commons Licenses insist on attribution to the original author though. Though there is a special Creative Commons License called CC0 that allows you to waive all your rights, should the rare need arise.

    A Creative Commons license reduces the anxiety associated with sharing, allowing you to share your digital content online while protecting your rights.

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  • Which smart phone OS gives the best local PIM synching?

    Date: 2009.11.21 | Category: Mobile, Reviews | Response: 2

    For many people, a smart phone also doubles up as a personal information management (PIM) tool. A typical smart phone is expected to have at least an address book, a calendar, email storage and the ability to configure alerts and reminders.

    Many students and employees also use their email client software as a personal information management tool on their computers. Such smart phone customers want their smart phone to wholeheartedly synchronise with the personal information management software on their computer. But here’s where the limitations of the smart phone OS, the computer OS and the computer email client come into play.

    This table is meant to compare the PIM synching capabilities of different smart phone OS’s across different platforms and different email clients. Please note that PIM synching is different from a backup. A backup produces a single fat file that is meant to restore data back to the phone or another phone, in case the original is stolen. Also note that it is possible to carry out PIM synching using third party software not supported by the phone manufacturer, in addition to various hacks and tweaks. But this table is limited to computer software provided by the phone manufacturer. Because the aforementioned alternatives are generally beyond the means and capability of the average user.

    Online PIM synching that uses the cloud computing model is included in the table for reference purposes. In some cases, online PIM synching can in turn be synched with a local computer application. For example, An email message on a Windows Mobile smart phone can be synched with a Microsoft Exchange server via ActiveSync. And an email client on a Linux computer can download the message. Or, a calendar entry on a Blackberry can be synched with a Lotus Domino server and a Windows computer with Lotus Notes can download the calendar entry. Or, a contact entered into an iPhone can be stored online through the MobileMe service. And an Address Book on a Mac computer can connect to the Internet and download it. But unless the smart phone OS manufacturer specifies that this can be done with a particular program for a particular operating system, it will be considered unsupported and will not be given a check mark. Our focus is on one step PIM synching with a local computer (docking), which I consider true PIM synching.

    Some smart phone OS’s allow direct synching of files stored in the phones internal or external memory every time the phone is connected to the computer. But in most smart phones, these files are meant to be manually copied to the computer.

    Please note that the specifications listed in the table are based on a cursory review of information on the manufacturer’s website. Errors and Omissions are very likely (And I would appreciate if you bring them to my attention). In order to verify for accuracy, we did try to contact the manufacturers before publishing this post. This table is no substitute for an exhaustive analysis involving actual lab tests. And the specifications listed below tend to change by the month. Please consult the manufacturer before making any critical decisions.

    All cell phone OS names, symbols and logos are registered and copyrighted trademarks of their respective owners. They are reproduced here under the Fair Dealing provision of the Canadian Copyright Act.

      iPhone OS Windows
    Mobile
    RIM OS Android WebOS SymbianOS
    Local Computer Synching Platform    iTunes
    Windows Mobile Device Center
    Blackberry Desktop Manager 
    File:BlackBerry logo.svg 
    Some smart phone makers provide custom
    software but there is no consistency.
    Palm suggests purchasing  third party applications for Windows and Mac. Some smart phone makers provide custom
    software but there is no consist
    -ency.
    Windows 
           windows-logo
    image image image exclamation   exclamation  exclamation
    Mac
           apple-logo
    image image image exclamation  exclamation exclamation
    Linux
           linux-online-inc
    image image image exclamation exclamation exclamation
    What Gets Synched & which Desktop application it gets synched to?            
    Emails image imageOutlookwindows-logo imageOutlookwindows-logo
    Lotus Noteswindows-logo
    Mail apple-logo
    Entourageapple-logo
    exclamation exclamation exclamation
    SMS image image image exclamation exclamation exclamation
    Contacts image imageOutlookwindows-logo imageAddress Book apple-logo
    Outlookwindows-logo
    Lotus Noteswindows-logo
    exclamation exclamation exclamation
    Calendar Entries image imageOutlookwindows-logo imageiCal apple-logo
    Outlookwindows-logo
    Lotus Noteswindows-logo
    exclamation exclamation exclamation
    Tasks /To-Do image imageOutlookwindows-logo imageOutlookwindows-logo exclamation exclamation exclamation
    Stickies/ Notes imageMail apple-logo
    Outlookwindows-logo
    imageOutlookwindows-logo imageOutlookwindows-logo exclamation exclamation exclamation
    Bookmarks image image image exclamation exclamation exclamation
    Music & Video imageiTunes apple-logo
    iTunes windows-logo
    image imageiTunes apple-logo
    iTunes windows-logo
    Windows Media Playerwindows-logo
    exclamation exclamation exclamation
    Files image image image exclamation exclamation exclamation

    The table below indicates online PIM synching that in turn can be synched with Desktop applications (where officially supported by the manufacturer). Please note that with the exception of the Blackberry Enterprise server, online PIM synching is done through unencrypted transfers via the Internet. Cloud computing has its dangers.

      iPhone OS Windows
    Mobile
    RIM OS Android WebOS Sym-bian
    Online
    Synching Platform
    MobileMe(sub-scription based service) My Phone

    (free and premium)Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync
    (requires an exchange server)         
    Blackberry Enterprise Service
    yellowbox
    (Paid service geared for a corporate IT department)
    Android provides built-in synching functio-nality to several online Google services. But there is no emph
    -asis on desktop clients.
    Palm allows users to export PIM information from their desktop applications using its Synergy feature. This information, along with information from several other major online services can then be accessed on the phone. The focus is on keeping information in the cloud, not getting it synched back to the computer. Some smart phone mak-ers provide special servi-ces but there is no consis
    -tency.
    What Gets Synched & Which local application it can  be down-loaded to?            
    Emails imageMail apple-logo
    Outlookwindows-logo
    imageMy Phone offers online access & backup only. Exchange ActiveSync allows emails to be 
    synchronized to:
    Outlookwindows-logo
    Outlookapple-logo
    imageOutlookwindows-logo
    Lotus Noteswindows-logo
    Mail apple-logo
    Entourageapple-logo
    NA NA NA
    SMS image imageMy Phone offers online access & backup only. image NA NA NA
    Contacts imageAddress Book apple-logo
    Outlookwindows-logo
    imageMy Phone offers online access & backup only.Exchange ActiveSync allows contacts to be
    synchronized
    to:
    Outlookwindows-logo
    Outlookapple-logo
    imageAddress Book apple-logo
    Outlookwindows-logo
    Lotus Noteswindows-logo
    NA NA NA
    Calendar Entries imageiCal apple-logo
    Outlookwindows-logo
    imageMy Phone offers online access & backup only. imageiCal apple-logo
    Outlookwindows-logo
    Lotus Noteswindows-logo
    NA NA NA
    Tasks /To-Do image imageMy Phone offers online access & backup only. imageOutlookwindows-logo NA NA NA
    Stickies/ Notes image image imageOutlookwindows-logo NA NA NA
    Bookmarks imageSafari apple-logo imageMy Phone offers online access & backup only. image NA NA NA
    Music & Video image imageMy Phone offers online access & backup. Files may be individually downloaded to computer. image NA NA NA
    Files imageiDisk apple-logo
    iDisk windows-logo
    (all files)iPhotoapple-logo(photos)Apertureapple-logo(photos)iMovieapple-logo(personal videos)         
    imageMy Phone offers online access & backup. Files may be individually downloaded to computer. image NA NA NA

    Conclusion

    The iPhone OS gets commendation for its versatility. Apple has done an uncharacteristically good job at reaching out for the needs of non-Apple users.

    Windows Mobile is still trying to stick to Windows, and is truncating its user base in the process. And in typical Microsoft boorishness, Windows Mobile will only synch PIM information to Microsoft Office Outlook (NOT Windows Live Mail or Outlook Express). Mind you, Office Outlook is not included in the economical student edition of Microsoft Office.

    RIM OS is emerging as a force to reckon with, considering the fast developmental response of the people at Blackberry. Let us not forget that this is a relatively new company. I would not be surprised to see RIM OS to be the first smart phone OS to offer PIM synching compatibility with Linux, in the near future.

    Other small players have tried to sidestep local PIM synching by wholeheartedly adopting the cloud computing model. Cloud computing has its risks.

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  • What to consider before buying a GPS device

    Date: 2009.08.31 | Category: Reviews, Shopping | Response: 0

    Not all GPS devices are created equal. Some will give you seamless service for years to come whereas others may end up in an Kijiji fire sale, a testament to your lack of diligence.

    Before buying a standalone GPS, ask yourself whether you really need one. Are you looking for turn-by-turn directions or do you just need general directions? If you just need general directions and you already have an Iphone, Blackberry or a Windows Mobile Smartphone, you can download and install Google maps to the device. Even without an inbuilt GPS or a separate “navigation plan” from your wireless service provider, Google maps can give you a rough approximation of your location using “My Location,” a technology that uses cell phone towers to determine your approximate location. This can be done without your phone being “GPS capable” or a separate “navigation plan” from your wireless provider. You still need a data plan. Though the amount of data transmitted using “My Location” amounts to miniscule Kilobytes per use.

    “My Location” may not be feasible for turn by turn directions while driving, which requires the use of GPS for more accurate positioning. Should you choose to use the phone’s GPS, remember that you are not restricted to the “navigation add-on plan” provided by your wireless service provider. Your phone’s GPS will still require the data plan of your wireless service provider. But it can operate on GPS services independent of your wireless provider. For example, you could install Wayfinder Navigator to your phone and pay a subscription fee for their service. Wayfinder offers near global coverage (which most standalone GPS units don’t). The best part is that you get to update the maps for free.

    Obviously, a smart phone can never substitute for a standalone GPS unit. But a good dashboard mount and a car charger can get you going. Nevertheless, 98 per cent of smart phones use A-GPS (short for Assisted GPS) rather than standalone GPS. A-GPS utilizes data connections to location servers over the wireless network. These servers are in turn, connected with satellites, that use information transmitted from the cell phone to inform you of your position. The entire operation is dependent on the wireless network, and therefore, A-GPS is also dependent on wireless network coverage (read: urban areas). The very term A-GPS  is somewhat of a misnomer, as there is usually no GPS receiver on the cell phone. Just some technology capable of better handling cell tower telemetry.

    If you really need a standalone GPS unit, make sure you get your homework done.

    Check out ConsumerReports.org for results of lab tests conducted on popular GPS units (requires subscription).

    Should you ever choose to use the unit abroad, make sure the unit is capable of being used as such, and that the manufacturer provides maps for the country where you intend to use it (without charging the price for another unit).

    Compare additional bells and whistles provided by different manufacturers (real-time traffic info, number of points of interest, ability to share and update points of interest etc.).

    Make sure your GPS unit allows you to upload additional data to it through the computer. For example, many parks are now providing files that can be uploaded onto GPS units to better feature these areas on the device.

    Lastly but not the least, check what it takes to get the maps on your GPS device to be updated. If updates are available at half the cost of the device, try another manufacturer. The manufacturer’s website can give you a good idea of how seriously they consider updating their maps. For example, Nextar, a little known brand sold by the Canadian retailer Canadian Tire is as pricey as its major league competitors. But as of this date, its website displays map updates only for a few select models. Where are the map updates for the remaining products? Here’s what Nextar had to say in response to an email inquiry regarding a GPS device purchased a few years ago:

    do_not_want_catWe are sorry, but there are no updates or upgrades for this product at this  moment.  We are currently working on updates but do not have a scheduled release date.  When available, the update/upgrades will be posted on our website (listed below) . For now, please do not use any upgrades other than Nextar upgrades, or the product will malfunction and your warranty will be voided.

    Such DO NOT WANT moments can be easily avoided with diligence on behalf of the buyer.

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  • Which Inkjets Give The Most Cost Efficient Printing?

    Date: 2009.04.22 | Category: Inkjets, Reviews, Shopping | Response: 1

    HP Photosmart D7560

    Picture 1 of 4

    The HP Photosmart D57560 gives efficient text and photo printing. Its sibling, the D5460, looks exactly the same but lacks a touchscreen display, along with a few minor differences. HP Photosmart D7560 Thermal Inkjet Photo Color Printer @ Newegg.com

    While there are tonnes of reviews available on inkjet printers in general, there is limited online information about which inkjet cartridges provide the most cost efficient printing in the long run. The purpose of this post is to focus on just that. Therefore other factors, which are very relevant to some users, such as the cost of the printer and its features, are omitted. Please note that this post is to be considered as an informed comparative review, and is no substitute for a rigorous lab test.

    The three things I intend to focus on are:

    · The cost per page for printing black and white text and the cost per page for printing an 8×10 photo. The lesser the better. These metrics are probably the most helpful in determining the cost efficiency of the black and color cartridges.

    · The cost of replacing both the cartridges with new ones made by the printer company.

    · The quantity (in ml) of both the cartridges. The more the better.

    Cost per page

    As per current ratings published by Consumer Reports.org (requires subscription), the Lexmark Z1420 produces the most cost effective text printing @ 3.7 US cents per page. This cost is supposed to represent both ink and ordinary paper expended. Two other runner ups are the HP Photosmart D7560 and the HP Photosmart D5460

    The HP Photosmart D7560 produces the most cost effective 8×10 photo printing @ US$1.2 per page. It is followed closely by the HP Photosmart D5460 and the HP Photosmart D7460. However, the D7460 appears to have been discontinued by HP, and therefore will not be of much use in our analysis. In its place, we will select the next runner up, the Canon Pixma iP4600. Please note that ConsumerReports.org’s cost per page for printing an 8×10 photo also includes the cost of glossy photo paper, along with the ink expended. And therefore this may be slightly higher than pure “ink” cost.

    However there are some caveats to be taken with these ratings. They take into consideration current testing conducted by Consumer Reports.org of 8 out of the 47 available inkjet printers. And this post focuses on only “pure” inkjet printers, not multifunction devices or snapshot printers. Since even though some multifunction printers can secure lower costs per page, their generally small sized cartridges make them less cost efficient in the long run. And the multifunctions are relatively more expensive.

    Cost of replacing cartridges

    As per current ratings published by Consumer Reports.org (requires subscription) the Canon BCI-3e black cartridge @ US$12 and the Canon BCI-6 color photo cartridge @ US$44 are the lowest priced manufacturer cartridges among the cartridges compared. But again, this report takes into consideration only the cartridges of three specific printer models, made by Canon, Epson and HP respectively. There are many more cartridges out there.

    The aforementioned Canon cartridges are used in the Canon Pixma iP4000. This specific model does not figure in the cost per page ratings published by Consumer Reports.org but its sibling, the iP4600 does. As you have followed, we selected the iP4600 for having a reasonable cost per page for photo printing. And like its sibling, the iP4000, its cartridges are reasonably priced, as we shall see.

    The price of cartridges for the top three in text printing is given in the following table. The prices are in $USD and were taken from the manufacturer’s website. Note that cartridge prices can be subject to change.

    inkjet-table-1

    The price of cartridges for the top three in photo printing is given in the following table. The prices are in $USD and were taken from the manufacturer’s website. Note that cartridge prices can be subject to change.

    inkjet-table2

    Quantity of the Cartridges

    We originally intended to determine the quantity of the ink (in ml) in the ink cartridges. However, manufacturers no longer offer this information unless they are relentlessly probed. Of all the manufacturers we contacted, only Canon offered to share with us the volume of their ink cartridges. But of course, this refers to the volume of the ink cartridge tank, and not necessarily the ink inside. Back in 2001, the HP DeskJet 842C Inkjet came with a black cartridge that had more than 40 ml in ink. Over time, the quantity of ink in cartridges has steadily been decreased by manufacturers. For the printers selected, we guess that the quantity of ink in the black ink cartridge varies from 15ml to 20ml. And we guess that the quantity of ink in the color cartridges varies from 8ml to 12ml. Comparing cost per ml, printer ink definitely exceeds the price of champagne!

    Instead of offering the volume of ink in cartridges, the manufacturers offer a page yield, which gives us ample hints about the life expectancy of the cartridge. The figures for Canon were obtained after contacting their Technical Support. The figures for HP were obtained from their website. There was no information available for Lexmark and neither were their Technical Support able to furnish any information in this regard.

    The page yields given below were obtained using the ISO 24711 testing guidelines, which do not reflect everyday use.

    inkjet-table3

    inkjet-table4

    Conclusion

    While the Lexmark Z1420 gives the most economical text printing, it does not have separate color cartridges, which can increase the cost of replacing the color cartridge when just one color wears out. But this is the only printer among those compared that offers WiFi printing. The HP Photosmart D7560 and D5460 offer economical text and photo printing at the same time. The Canon Pixma iP4600 offers fairly economical color printing.

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