Technologizer: Dell’s Streak–Is It a Huge Smartphone or a Tiny Computer?

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By Harry McCracken

The time I’ve spent with Verizon Wireless’s Droid X has made one thing clear to me: I like great big smartphone screens. As impressively elegant as the iPhone 4′s 3.5″ retina display is, the X’s 4.3″ superscreen makes for larger type and easier tapping. It’s like the difference between a highly refined sportscar and a roomy SUV. I hope phones in both sizes flourish.

And then there’s Dell’s Streak…which makes the Droid X look like a pipsqueak. At five inches, its screen is so expansive that it’s not clear upon first glance whether this device is a phone. It is. Or at least it can be one: The Dell executive I spoke with at a demo yesterday described the Streak as being “capable of making phone calls.” In other words, Dell sees it as a data device that does voice rather than a phone that does data.

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Technologizer: How to Control Your Facebook Privacy

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By Harry McCracken

If you think the whole Web is suddenly looking more like Facebook, you’re not imagining things. At its developer conference last week, the 800-pound gorilla of social networks made a bevy of announcements — and all the biggies involved intermingling your life as a Facebook user with other activities around the Internet.

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Technologizer: The Secret Origin of Windows

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By Tandy Trower for Technologizer

Few people understand Microsoft better than Tandy Trower, who worked at the company from 1981-2009. Trower was the product manager who ultimately shipped Windows 1.0, an endeavor that some advised him was a path toward a ruined career…Trower recounts the inside story of his experience in transforming Windows from vaporware into a product that has left an unmistakable imprint on the world, 25 years after it was first released.

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Technologizer: Revamped IE 9 Platform

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By Harry McCracken

What’s Microsoft planning for Internet Explorer 9? There’s a lot the company isn’t ready to talk about, including what sort of new features it’ll have and when it’ll be available. But at the MIX10 conference in Las Vegas, Microsoft is telling Web developers about the new capabilities that IE9 will provide, and it’s giving them the ability to get some hands-on experience with them for the first time. (Along with other tech journalists, I was prebriefed late last week.)

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Technologizer: 15 Gadget Ideas Ahead of Their Time

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By Harry McCracken

The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” So said legendary tech visionary Alan Kay. He was absolutely correct. But he might have added that inventing the future is anything but a cakewalk. Even though everyone who does it has the luxury of learning from predecessors who tried and failed.

The brightest inventors on the planet keep coming up with ideas that never amount to much–even when they set out to solve real problems, and even when their brainchildren foreshadow later breakthroughs. And professional tech watchers have long proven themselves prone to getting irrationally exuberant about stuff that just isn’t ready for prime time.

Thanks to Google Books’ archives of Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, LIFE, and other magazines that frequently reported on futuristic gizmos, we have a readily accessible record of technology that failed to live up to the initial hype–including random notions that never got off the drawing board, startlingly advanced products that didn’t find a market, and very rough drafts of concepts that eventually became a big deal. The best of them are fascinating, even when it’s not the least bit surprising that they flopped.

Herewith, fifteen inventions–not that all of them ever got built–that were at least a decade ahead of their time. They’re in chronological order, starting with the inspiration that gave this article its title.

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Technologizer: This Dumb Decade -The 87 Lamest Moments in Tech, 2000-2009

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By Harry McCracken

If ever a decade began dumb, it was this one.* When clocks struck midnight on January 1st and the dreaded Y2K bug turned out to be nothing but a mild irritant, it proved once again that the experts often don’t know what the heck they’re talking about.

Which was a relief–and a fitting way to kick off the technological era we’ve lived in ever since. Yes, it’s been an amazing time. But it’s also seen more than its share of misbegotten decisions, bizarre dramas, pointless hype, and lackluster products and technologies–often involving the same people and companies responsible for all the amazing stuff.

So–with a respectful tip of the Technologizer hat to Business 2.0 and Fortune’s 101 Dumbest Moments in Business and, of course, to Esquire’s Dubious Achievement Awards–let’s recap, shall we?

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Technologizer: The State of Windows 7 Satisfaction

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By Harry McCracken

Windows 7 is scarcely more than a month old. Most of the people who will eventually use it haven’t gotten around to trying it yet; those that have are still settling in. And the Win 7 experience will change rapidly as remaining bugs are squashed, missing drivers arrive, and compatibility glitches are ironed out. Even so, it’s not too early to start gauging what real people think of Windows Vista’s replacement.

So to riff on Ronald Reagan’s famous question from his 1980 debate with Jimmy Carter, Are Windows users better off today than they were a few weeks ago, back in the Vista era? We decided to ask the Technologizer community, a group of tech enthusiasts with a high propensity to acquire new operating systems quickly and push them to their limits. Starting on November 16th, we surveyed our readers (and Twitter followers) about their experiences with Windows 7. Our goal: to do a reality check on the mostly favorable initial reviews of the new OS (as well as our own survey of largely enthusiastic Windows 7 beta testers back in March).

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Technologizer: Classic PCs vs. New PCs: Their True Cost

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By Harry McCracken

You’re familiar with Moore’s law. You know all about the accelerating pace of information technology. Regardless, you’re still amazed at how many gigabytes you can fit in your pocket these days. Remember how your first computer’s entire hard disk only held 20 megabytes? You could accidentally swallow a thousand times as much data now if you weren’t careful.

But how much did that old hard drive cost? I mean really cost?

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Technologizer: Worst PC in America Slideshow

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By Harry McCracken

Some PCs are born crummy. Some achieve crumminess. And some have crumminess thrust upon them. Those are my conclusions after judging our Worst PC in America contest, in which we asked you to tell us about really rotten personal computers–with the lure of a snazzy HP Envy 13 laptop to be awarded to the most outstandingly awful entry. Herewith, some highlights lowlights, including both once-decent machines that have fallen upon hard times and some systems that were kind of terrible and/or just plain odd from the get go.

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Technologizer: Worst PC in America Contest

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By Harry McCracken

Attention, computer owners! Some of you own some really lousy PCs–either ones that were dogs in the first place, or which have gotten so roughed up over time that they’re just plain sad. Maybe most of these machines aren’t in active use–I sure hope not–but if they aren’t, they’re lurking in closets and attics across this great nation. I just know it.

And we want to hear about them, since the one type of computer more memorable than a great one is a bizarrely terrible one. Here’s your incentive to spill your guts: Courtesy of HP, we’ll pick a winner from among all people who tell us about their bad PCs–and that person will receive HP’s extremely slick, feature-laden Envy 13 notebook as a prize. (Thanks to HP for providing it.)

Entries must be submitted no later than 5pm PDT on Friday, October 16th. Use of photos (one of ‘em, at bare minimum) and videos is encouraged.

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

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Technologizer: Microsoft Does Tablets. Yes, Again

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By Harry McCracken

Gizmodo is reporting on what it says is Microsoft’s prototype for a new sort of tablet computer – one with dual screens bound up like a book, and an interface that involves both multi-touch (like an iPhone) and a stylus (like a Tablet PC). It’s supposedly code-named Courier, and Gizmodo has a video walkthrough–which is done in animation, so this could be a concept rather than a product that’ll ever be available for sale.

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Technologizer: World’s Weirdest Portable Computers

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By Harry McCracken

There aren’t many pieces of technological design that simply can’t be improved upon, but the clamshell-style laptop computer case–introduced by Grid Systems in 1982–may be one of them. That’s why the vast majority of the portable computers built ever since have used it. But for more than a quarter-century now, inventors have been trying to top it, with folding screens, screens on stalks, folding keyboards, two-screen clamshells, tri-fold clamshells, and more. Most never even get off the drawing board. Herewith, a gallery of designs from Google Patents (click the filing dates to see the patents). There’s only one in here I might have considered buying, but on some perverse level I admire them all.

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Technologizer: Technology’s Most Magnificent Failures

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By Harry McCracken

Life, as John F. Kennedy once helpfully pointed out, isn’t fair. Neither is the market for technology products. There’s no law that says that the best products win: The history of tech is pockmarked with breakthrough hardware, software, and services that were dismal failures in the marketplace. (It’s also rife with mediocre products that became massive bestsellers, (insert your own example here.)

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Technologizer: Office 2010 ‘The First Look’

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By Harry McCracken

Microsoft is starting to let folks in on the Webbiest, most collaborative Office ever. But it’s not all there yet.

Today at its Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans, Microsoft is announcing that it’s distributing a Technical Preview version of its upcoming Office 2010 suite to tens of thousands of testers. It won’t be a public beta that’s open to everyone who wants a sneak peek; that will come later this year, and the final version of Office 2010 isn’t due until some time during the first half of next year. But for the first time since it demoed some features last October, Microsoft is showing off the new Office and providing more information about its plans. And it’s briefed reporters and provided them with early access to the Technical Preview (including me).

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Technologizer: Firefox 3.5 Review

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By Harry McCracken

Was it really fewer than five years ago that Firefox 1.0 debuted? Its arrival ended the dismal period in which only one browser–Microsoft’s mediocre Internet Explorer–seemed to be viable. With Firefox, Mozilla proved that millions of people were itching to adopt a better browser. And today, we find ourselves with multiple better browsers: Not just Firefox, but also Google’s minimalist Chrome, Apple’s flashy Safari, the ever-inventive Opera, the highly social Flock, and even the no-longer-calcifying Internet Explorer 8.

All of which means that Firefox 3.5–which Mozilla plans to formally release today–is no longer a shoo-in for the distinction of being the favorite browser of browser fans.

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Technologizer: Patentmania! Personal Computers of the Early 1980s

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By Harry McCracken

The first few years of PC history were its stone age–the era when any signs of life whatsoever were history-making. The period from 1985 to the present, as amazing as it’s been, has been one of consistency and compatibility. Which is why I think of 1980-1985 as the most interesting half-decade in PC history. Almost every new system (including some that debuted in 1979) was still an experiment–and even flops could be fascinating. Herewith a gallery of notable examples, illustrated with evocative drawings from Google Patents.

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Technologizer: Questions for AMD?

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By Harry McCracken

I’m happy to announce that we’re cooking up a new Technologizer feature that will let members of the Technologizer community pose questions to tech companies–and I’m equally happy to report that the first company that’s agreed to field your queries is chipmaker AMD.

SUBMIT YOUR QUESTIONS HERE

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