Flash on the Droid

In the past few weeks Verizon pushed out an Android update to Droid users that allowed the installation of Adobe’s Flash Player for the Android browser. I received my update about a week ago—the first update that actually pushed to my Droid properly. While the Flash Player application/plugin is still installed on my Droid, I have already disabled it in the browser.

If I were to sum up my opinion on Adobe Flash player on Android in one sentence it would be: “You forget how much you did not miss Flash until you install it.” Flash in itself is not too slow, or so bad (when used correctly). However, the constant misuse of it makes it more of a liability than asset.

The Good

The best thing about Flash player is that the Android browser lets you selectively disable it—oh wait, that’s an Android feature not Flash feature. Ok, so you can now play those flash games, see the flash charts (e.g. what WordPress.com stats use), and visit the flash based video sites that don’t have a native app. All of these are nice things. Finally, you now technically get a “full” web experience on an Android device—unlike the fruitier phones out there.

The Bad

Many websites with multiple flash objects run very slowly. Scrolling around on the page is slow on these sites. Thought, pages with a ton of animated GIF images are no different.

The Ugly

Advertisements. I understand that content producers need to get paid, and that advertisements provide this income. However, I can not stand intrusive advertisements. There are so many poorly written, flash advertisements on many websites. The browser feels lethargic on these websites.

Flash, in general, is a victim of its own success. It is so popular that it is frequently misused (and attacked), which is the source of many of my gripes against it. Admittedly, this is better than people abusing CSS and JavaScript, as I can actually disable Flash (websites can be quite bland without CSS). The verdict? As I stated in the beginning, I have disabled Flash on my Droid. I feel it is worth keeping installed, but it is not worth having it enabled all the time.

-John Havlik

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Froyo on the Motorola Droid

So, Motorola and Verizon rolled out Android 2.2 onto the Droid at the beginning of the month. My Droid never received the update. This did not surprise me much—I had to do a forced 2.1 upgrade earlier this year. Motorola’s Froyo mix brings some some cool new things and some pitfalls, and at the same time, it is missing some features.

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Product Coherency

One of the leading reasons, other than it’s the de facto standard, to use Microsoft Office is its coherency between member products. Work, Excel, Powerpoint, etc. all have a similar look and feel. When Microsoft released Office 2007 with the ribbon interface, they chose not to migrate to this interface for all of the member products. In particular Visio, which makes it feel like an outsider. In a way it is, Visio 2007 is not included in any of the Office 2007 packages. However, the old interface makes it look dated in a Windows 7 environment, where all of the included applications use ribbon. If Microsoft seriously want’s everyone to migrate to the ribbon interface, they should use it on all of their new products (well, maybe where it works, Visual Studio may not be a good candidate for it, but who knows).

Notice the lack of content in the peek view?

Notice the lack of content in the peek view?

Powerpoint 2007 seems to have a few bugs in Windows 7. The first is that if there are two documents open, it will not open two concurrently open windows. Thus, it’s impossible to do a “two up” with two different presentations, which is possible in Word and Excel. The second bug, illustrated in the above image, is Powerpoint does not render a scene for the Windows Taskbar peek feature. This makes it a royal pain for switching between two open presentations. Again, the other Office products exhibit the correct behavior.

-John Havlik

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Truly Addicting

Once you have a HTPC you’ll never go back to regular television. The media center features of Vista were a component one never tested three years ago in the Vista Beta/RC rounds. At the time one did not have a TV tuner. This time around, with two tuners at hand (the HVR 2250 and the PCTV 800i) one is much better equipped to test media center.

On Saturday, one built a quite modest HTPC setup with a Celeron 430 (OC’d to 2.4Ghz), Intel’s DQ45EK motherboard, 2GiB of ram, a Western Digital Scorpio 120GB hard drive, and a 150W picoPSU. The ram was temporarily robbed from one’s desktop as the other sticks of DDR2 sticks would not work (Intel motherboards are picky about speed and voltages). A full 2x2GiB DDR2 kit is on its way, hopefully it’ll be here on Thursday. The HVR 2250 was placed in this computer as it has dual built in MPEG2 encoders (also it is the only one that is a PCIEx1 card).

After installing Windows 7 RC, about a 30 minute process, one fired up Windows Media Center. Setup of the TV tuner was pretty automated, a few clicks here and there and it was ready to go. Scanning the cable connection for channels took the longest amount of time, a good 15 minutes. At this point all of the analog cable channels worked perfectly. However, Mediacom simulcasts the local channels in 720p or 1080i in unencrypted QAM256. Media Center did not immediately acknowledge the existence of these channels. They were not even in the TV Guide configuration menu. However, there is a manual channel adding option, which is what one had to use. After adding the channels, and associating them with the proper channel listing in the TV Guide everything was a go.

Well, almost everything, the local NBC affiliate does not come in (at this TV it’s channel is usually 112.2, everywhere else in the house it is 112.4 neither work for the HTPC). Regardless, the Celeron and Intel GMA4500 graphics are sufficient for HD decoding and display on a 720p screen (actually a tad bigger pixel wise) while simultaneously recording an analog cable program. At this point one realized more disk space was necessary, and attached an empty 250GB Western Digital Caviar RE in an external enclosure (now that’s about half full).

On to the PCTV 800i. For the last year-and-a-half it has been sitting on the shelf. Sadly, it is only a single tuner, and does not have a hardware MPEG2 encoder for its analog tuner. Thus, it requires a beefier processor to work. Hence, it went in one’s desktop, even though the E8500 is overkill for it. Unlike the HVR 2250, which was literally plug-and-play, the PCTB 800i drivers that Windows 7 installs do not support Clear QAM. Instead, for the digital tuner an unsigned driver must be installed. This means for the digital tuner to work on every boot one has to press F8 and tell Windows to load unsigned drivers, a royal pain.

The upside to the PCTV 800i is once the driver situation was ‘resolved’ Media Center found the Clear QAM channels right away. One still had to associate them to the proper listing, but it was one less step. At this point everything was working as expected.

The only time one has had Windows 7 crash is with Media Center. Both boxes have had their video drivers crash and recover due to Media Center. This occurs occasionally when playing recoded TV and skipping around too fast (more likely to happen if skipping about 10 minutes or more of video right after opening the file). The Celeron box actually presented the BSOD tonight, after being on for about 36 hours. Again, one was trying to skip around recorded TV too soon after opening the file.

TV Guide Background Image Corruption

TV Guide Background Image Corruption

Additionally, the image overlays for the TV Guide occasionally get corrupted. This occurs more often on the Celeron box, but both have exhibited this problem. Since Windows 7 is only a Release Candidate, bugs are to be expected. Hopefully, Microsoft fixes this by the time Windows 7 hits the shelves in early October.

-John Havlik

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Windows 7 RC 1

Of course, Windows 7 RC1 is already installed on one’s desktop. This time around, Microsoft used the Java applet download manager, the same Adobe uses for CS4 trials. Downloading was a breeze, one was able to pull through 800KB/s the entire time. Installation went just a smoothly as before. Getting the Netgear WPN111 to work required the same steps as before.  Battlefield Heroes works fine, as does Test Drive Unlimited. Other than not being able to play any game that relies on PunkBuster, one finds little reason to hate Windows 7 (and even there one blames Even Balance for their own incompetence).

Again, PunkBuster is not working. Some are claiming success by scattering the PnkBusterA.exe and PnkBusterB.exe files in various folders and modifying the registry. It also requires a reboot and running a script after rebooting, and after each subsequent reboot. Now that Windows 7 is in the release candidate phase, hopefully Even Balance will get their heads out of the sand and get to work (one expects PunkBuster to work perfectly on the day Windows 7 is available in any form at a retail store (be it new computer or retail software)).

The mouse gestures for expanding windows is very handy, especially the ability to make a window open to half the screen width on one’s LP2475W. It’s not the only thing one really enjoys about Windows 7, but it is one thing that really makes XP painful to use after becoming accustomed to Windows 7.

-John Havlik

[end of transmission, stay tuned]