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Personal Tech: Macworld 2009

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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, January 8, 2009; 12:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, Jan. 8 at Noon ET to discuss recent reviews and answer your questions about this year's Macworld Conference and Expo.

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The transcript follows.

Read Rob's latest tech tips in his blog, Faster Forward.

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Rob Pegoraro: Good morning! (Or, for those of you back East, good afternoon.) I'm typing to you from Las Vegas, where I arrived yesterday to cover the Consumer Electronics Show. Before then, I was in San Francisco to cover Macworld. And before then, I was sleeping in my own bed and eating meals I'd cooked myself... but that seems like quite a while ago now.

So anyway, I welcome your questions about CES, Macworld, or any other tech topics on your mind. Let's go!

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Washington, D.C.: Rob -

Bottom line, do you think the new features of iLife '09 make it worth an upgrade from iLife '08?

Thanks for your chats!

Rob Pegoraro: I'll start with a Macworld question. If--and that's the most important word in my answer, if--it lives up to its billing, I suspect it will be. The Faces and Places features in iPhoto alone could be a huge help, and iMovie '09 looks like it restores enough of the features taken out of iMovie HD to allow users to stop keeping that old version around. Garage Band's music lessons could be neat as well, although my own musical talents may be beyond its capacity for salvage.

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Baltimore, Md.: I have been hearing only good things about Windows 7. Have you gotten a chance to try it out? Any ideas on a release date? I'm trying to completely skip the Vista life cycle.

Rob Pegoraro: And here's a similar type of question about CES. I have yet to *see* Windows 7 in any capacity outside of the demos I watched at Steve Ballmer's keynote last night, plus various screenshots and movies online. But I will throw a copy on a review laptop I have sitting around at home and see how it works

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arlington, va: Rob,

Have you run across any portable digital TVs yet at CES? I would love to have one for my small arlington kitchen, no point in running fios to another room. And how dumb is congress for not anticipating that tons of people would want coupons for DTV converter boxes before the end of the year! (this is really a rhetorical question). DUH Congress...

Rob Pegoraro: Nope--but remember that, technically, the show floor hasn't opened yet. When I walked across it yesterday afternoon to get to Sony's press conference, a lot of booths were still being put together. But I have seen at least a couple of PR e-mails announcing upcoming portable DTVs (that's not counting the 45 or so unread messages that have piled up overnight). And Radio Shack has been selling a portable model for most of this year.

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Bethesda, Md.: Rob, thanks for the chats. Two of the competing rumors leading up to Macworld were that Apple would update AppleTV, and that Apple would drop AppleTV altogether. I have one (40GB) that I'm very happy with and am considering getting another, but with the advent of Web-ready TVs, I'm also wondering whether it wouldn't make more sense to wait for that, or pair a Mini with EyeTV and an LCD monitor. Whither AppleTV?

Rob Pegoraro: I wish I knew. It's a little odd that Apple didn't say anything about the Apple TV, which now desperately needs an update (for one thing, where is this company even finding 40-gig hard drives for the thing?). I can only guess that such an update is coming, but that Apple will ship it when it's ready, since it no longer has to worry about the artificial deadline of a Macworld keynote.

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Bethesda, Md.: Rob, I passed on an electronics (HTIB) purchase over the holidays and, now that prices have jumped back up, have non-buyer's remorse. Did you get any sense at CES that prices will dip again? I guess a lot depends on the particular item.

Rob Pegoraro: I know what you mean--I was all set to pull the trigger on a 40-in. LCD HDTV, and then price jumped by $200 right after Christmas. (It's fallen back $100 since then, so I hope that Super Bowl sales will finish undoing that price hike.)

I think that prices will have to fall back--the economy is not getting any better, and these things should continue to get cheaper to make thanks to the normal workings of the electronics business. In the meantime, you can put the cash you were going to drop on that home-theater-in-a-box in the stock market... oh, wait, never mind :(

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Princeton, N.J.: I have recently purchased a new apple macbook. If I try to run windows emulation through vmware or some other product on the macbook, will I need to purchase anti-virus software.

Rob Pegoraro: You'll need AV software, but you won't necessarily have to buy it--VMWare and Parallels include a year's worth of virus protection and will prompt you to install it, and you can also load any of the free AV programs: Avast, Avira, AVG

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Detroit, Mich.: Rob,

Love your chats. I'm looking for a PDA or small tablet device along the lines of the Nokia N810. I already have a cell phone that I have to carry for work (Nextel, unfortunately!) and they're too cheap to spring for a smart phone or a data plan; I don't need another cell phone or want to pay for a plan. I'm looking for a secondary device that's small enough to carry in a large cargo pocket that has a PIM application, GPS, camera, WiFi, and the ability to view and maybe some light editing of spreadsheets and word processing doc's. Bluetooth, SD slot, slide out keyboard, and audio/video player would be nice, but I'd like to keep the cost under say $400 or $500. The N810 comes close to what I need but, would require a lot of tinkering to get the full functionality I'm looking for. Anything at CES or on the horizon that fits my bill? I've heard rumblings that ASUS might have an offering in this category soon - have you seen anything?

Rob Pegoraro: Not as yet. I'm not sure that the device you describe is a viable category of product at all--smartphones seem to be taking over the lower end of the portable-Web-access market, while netbooks are eating the higher end. The N810 might be your only choice--though y'all in the audience are welcome to suggest alternatives for Detroit.

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Burke, Va.: Rob:

Any news on the new (allegedly) Palm phones? It'd be good see if they can get something out there . . .

Rob Pegoraro: We'll find out starting in an hour and 40 minutes, when Palm will unveil whatever it's been working on for the past year or so. (I'll have a blog post up about the news ASAP afterwards.)

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Washington, D.C.: In your opinion, will Windows 7 be a close GUI to Leapard's OS? Is this the idea behind MS's new Windows? If so, seems that all MS would need next is a state of the art laptop to compete with the MacBooks...

Rob Pegoraro: No, Windows 7 doesn't look that different from Vista in the shots I've seen. It appears to adopt some window-management features from OS X's Expose, but it's still got a Start menu and a taskbar and all the other Windows elements you're used to.

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Washington, D.C.: Exactly what does the removal of DRM restrictions mean for the average iTunes user?

Rob Pegoraro: If they don't pay to upgrade their library, nothing at first. But from now on, every song they buy will be theirs to use as they wish. They'll be able to play it on any device that supports the AAC format--non-Apple smartphones, Zune players, the Sonos digital-music system, the Logitech Squeezebox media receiver. This will be A Good Thing.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Any news on any new Sprint phones? Say a new Blackberry or Android phone?

Pretty please?

Rob Pegoraro: Too soon to tell--but I will be surprised and disappointed if there aren't some new Android phones on the show floor. (My plan next week, BTW, is to do another chat on Thursday to cover all the things at CES happening between now and my return home Sunday.)

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Bowie, Md.: Rob -- In shopping for a new home PC (not a Mac), what's your current opinion of getting a 32-bit Vista operating system versus a 64-bit Vista operating system? In the retail chains like Best Buy, an increasing number of new models have the 64-bit OS with added memory, but I'm concerned about the compatibility problems that I've heard about between the 64-bit OS and some software and hardware. Also, if I will be using the PC for pretty standard stuff (no gaming or video editing), would I really notice much difference between a 32-bit Vista OS with less RAM and a 64-bit Vista OS with more RAM? Are there current or future advantages to the 64-bit OS?

Rob Pegoraro: Do not get a 64-bit edition of Vista unless you're sure that all your existing and prospective hardware and software will run in it. If you can't make that determination or don't even know how to, stick with the 32-bit version. The performance improvements that Vista x64 offers aren't big enough to justify losing access to a program or peripheral you use all the time.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi Rob,

The array of products to collect and stream home media is staggering and rapidly evolving.

I'm looking at a Sonos ZonePlayer to pull my ripped music collection over my home stereo, but I think the ability to discover new music via Internet radio and the likes of Pandora may be the real payoff. Any experience with Sonos? I'm especially interested if anyone who has looked both at Sonos and the Squeezebox Duet has an opinion.

Thanks...

Rob Pegoraro: I've tried the Sonos system and an earlier version of the Squeezebox. Both were easy to use, but the Sonos is *much* more expensive and caters to a distinct, high-end use case: when you need to be able to play your digital music collection in multiple places across the house, with different soundtracks in each location. The Squeezebox simply brings your digital music to one stereo system.

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Chicago, Ill.: This isn't about Macworld, so I understand if you don't take the question!

I am something of an insomniac, and like to listen to soothing movies to fall asleep. I don't have a tv in my bedroom, so I've been using my laptop. I cannot dim the screen entirely, and I prefer not to use the computer in the bedroom, so I'm looking for a new solution. iPod with video capabilities? Portable DVD player? Important factors are easy to make dark, can listen to with or without headphones (okay with using speakers if necessary), and can play my DVDs either directly or easily through some type of conversion process. I don't particularly care about image quality, since I only listen. Is there some possible solution I'm missing?

Thanks so much Rob - you're always a great help!

Rob Pegoraro: If you spent a week covering Macworld and CES, I'm sure your insomnia would go away quickly :)

The iPod touch or portable-DVD-player approaches sound like the right idea to me, but with the iPod you do need to get conversant with DVD-ripping apps like HandBrake.

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Ft. Wash, MD: Did the windows folk say anything about whether current windows mobile users will be able to upgrade to the next generation of Windows mobile without buying a new phone?

Vista users be able to upgrade to Windows 7 without buying new computers?

Rob Pegoraro: They didn't--I'm supposed to get a detailed briefing on this tomorrow from Microsoft--but in the past, each new major release of Windows Mobile has required buying a new phone.

Windows 7 (which I should also get a good look at tomorrow) should be able to run on anything that handles Vista today.

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Clifton, Va.: Any info on 4k and Sony's larger OLED and a price.

Movie downloads in what they say is HD take way to long even with midlevel FIOS and the quality isn't Blu Ray or anywhere close to 1920x1080. And I like to have hard copy that wont be wiped out if my HD or backup crashes.

Rob Pegoraro: Sony hasn't announced any new OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screens, just a few new prototypes it will have on display. 4K--i.e., 4x HD resolution--is something only relevant to movie theaters. Even for somebody as nuts about electronics as you, Clifton :)

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Washington, D.C.: So, Rob, do you think Steve Jobs bowed out of the keynote because (i) he is not well; (ii) they're dumping Macworld anyway and he figured it isn't worth his trouble; or (iii) the "announcements" were so lame he couldn't talk about how amazing they were with a straight face? Color me disappointed with the keynote announcements.

Rob Pegoraro: There's three distinct puddles of tea leaves to read here:

1. Why Apple bailed on Macworld entirely.

2. Why Steve Jobs didn't lead the keynote this last time.

3. Why it was announced so late.

The first one is, I think, pretty obvious--the timing is lousy and screws up product-development cycles. The second, since Jobs' announcement last week about his health, seems reasonable too. The third is still a bit of a mystery; was Jobs hoping to rally and do the keynote after all?

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Brookland - Washington, D.C.: Hey Rob,

I was disappointed that there was no new Mini announced at MacWorld, especially given that all of the rumor sites seemed to think that it was a sure thing. I kind of believe that with all the smoke, there is a fire somewhere. Do you think that Apple is saving up a bunch of goodies to have their own show in the near future that has a lot more "Bang" than the MacWorld did, in essence saying "see, we don't need MacWorld at all"?

Rob Pegoraro: If you remember, the last update to the Mac mini was announced solely with the posting a press release on Apple's site--there was no launch event for it at all. I agree with your thinking that there must be some Mac mini update in store, but the timing of that was decoupled from Macworld at some point in the not-distant past.

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Atlantic Beach, Fla.: I heard a rumor that the new 17" mac book pro would have a fixed internal non-removable battery. For those of us who travel across country, this is not an acceptable situation. Is their truth to this rumor?

Rob Pegoraro: That's no rumor, it's a fact. Apple says they did this to pack in the most efficient battery available; in return, they say the MBP 17-in. will run 8 hours on a charge, and the battery will be good through 1,000 recharge cycles--or about five years of consistent use.

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Baltimore, Md.: Do you think it is likely that Apple will, say 2 or 3 years from now, announce that any iTunes songs that still have Fairplay DRM will no longer be supported and will stop working at some future date?

Rob Pegoraro: No. It still uses FairPlay to "protect" iTunes movie and TV downloads, plus there are all the promotional iTunes song downloads that can't be upgraded to iTunes Plus. (I will probably go through them, delete the ones I don't like, then buy real copies of the ones I do, just so I never have to think about DRM issues with my music ever again.)

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Arlington, Va.: Rob: Thanks so much for doing these chats; they are invaluable. I have a question about Windows Media Center. I use a digital tuner to record over-the-air TV to my computer through Windows Media Center. What are my best options if I want to watch those recorded programs on my actual TV as opposed to on my computer screen. My current system of converting the WMC file to something playable on the video ipod and then plugging the ipod into the TV is cumbersome, time consuming, and sacrifices video quality. Any advice? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: You should be able to burn them to DVD on your Media Center PC. Another, more expensive option would be to get a small-form-factor PC and plug that into the TV (though in that case, you could record everything on that computer and not have to worry about moving files anywhere).

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DC: Can you keep an eye out for dvd ripping software or devices? I refuse to pay for a digital copy of a movie/show I already own on disc, but it is maddeningly difficult to get anything off a dvd. With all of the video enabled media players and netbooks out there, you'd think there would be a plethora of readily available solutions. You'd think the movie folks would have leaned from the RIAA.

Rob Pegoraro: I do, but I don't think you'll see them on the floor at CES--just on the laptops of a lot of CES attendees! (Disclosure: I watched a movie I'd ripped from DVD using HandBrake on the flight from Dulles to SFO on Monday.)

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Odenton, Md.: Rob-

Any word from Apple on how it's going to take them to let us upgrade our music to "iTunes Plus"? About half of the songs I've purchased through iTunes became available for upgrade after the Tuesday announcement. But I'm still waiting for the other half to show up as available.

Thankfully I won't be stuck paying hundreds of dollars to upgrade, like some people I know. Once iTunes Plus and Amazon MP3 came out, I stayed away from DRMed iTunes music.

Rob Pegoraro: Apple said they'll have everything available in iTunes Plus by the end of March.

Good thinking with your purchases--I've been giving that same advice for a while now myself.

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For Bethesda, Md.: Take a look at the Kodak HD Theatre Player. Check it out at Kodak's website.

Rob Pegoraro: Good idea (should've have thought about that, since I saw a demo of it last night; it uses an interface by a Rockville company, Hillcrest Labs.)

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Clifton, Va.: Rob,

I demoed a prototype of a 4k projector by Meridian the video processing capabilities were incredible. You need to see Blu Ray and regular DVD upscaled to 4k. Bigger difference than going from VHS tape to Blu Ray by a significant margin.

Rob Pegoraro: Seriously, Clifton, you're insane :)

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Houston, Tex.: How much, do you think, will it cost me to upgrade my entire iTunes library? It's well over 6000 songs.

Rob Pegoraro: 6,000 songs x $.30 each = $1,800. Apple is going to love you!

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Bethesda: I recently started to think seriously about getting a Blu-Ray player, and after a little research, decided that I want one of the models that will stream Netflix. That narrowed it down to two (an LG and a Samsung). But neither has wifi capability and my TV is nowhere near my dedicated internet line (and though I'm sure there's some kind of workaround for that, I'm not interested in spending even more money and time and further cluttering my entertainment center). As companies increasingly add internet features to Blu-Ray players, surely someone will add wifi. Have you heard anything about that?

Rob Pegoraro: Not much, but I'll be keeping my eyes open. In some cases, manufacturers sell WiFi adapters, but it might be cheaper to stick a separate WiFi access point behind the TV or Blu-ray player, which you can then connect via Ethernet to the device in question.

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Rockville, Md.: New Year's resolution: Get an external hard drive and actually start doing regular back ups. So, what do I need to know? Does XP have built in back up software that I have never bothered to find? Can I just hook up the external drag my hard drive icon over the new one, click copy and let it go? Should I only be backing up the data files? Don't some of the external hard drives have their own back up software? Is it better to use that?

Oh, and my computer has been much slower since I added the Comcast MacAfee security suite. Would upping the RAM fix this, or is this more of a processor thing and I should just give up and get a new computer.

Thank you so much...

Rob Pegoraro: Here's a comparison of backup programs that I wrote a few months back: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward/2008/10/baby_got_backup.html

If you only have 512 MB of RAM, then upgrade it by all means. Even if you have a gig, doubling that would be worth doing, because memory's so cheap. Or you could dump the McAfee software for one of the free anti-virus apps I mentioned earlier in this chat.

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Temple Hills, Md.: Rob, know of any programs where folks can donate DTV converter boxes that they won't be using after all? Seems a shame to send those unused units to recycling facilities when there are still folks trying to get the coupons for those boxes.

Rob Pegoraro: I don't. Might I suggest you try The Post's classified ads to unload the thing? :)

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Itunes - Lyrics: Hi Rob,

This is probably a very basic question, but I can't seem to find the answer anywhere. Does itunes now add the lyrics to songs when it is available or is that something you still have to do manually?

Rob Pegoraro: You have to do that yourself, although there are some apps that can do the job for you. I'll try to write up a Help File on this sometime... thanks for the suggestion.

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Washington, DC: I have spybot, AVG and Commodo on my home computer (Windows XP) and spyware blaster, all free. Are all of these necessary?

Rob Pegoraro: That really depends on how often you run random programs you find on the Internet, doesn't it? Remember that spyware, if you're running a good browser, doesn't just install itself: *you* have to do that work for it.

(Note: Internet Explorer 6 is not a good browser. Running multiple anti-spyware apps won't fix that; upgrading to Firefox or IE 7 will.)

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Carrboro, N.C.: The rough thing about the DRM-free iTunes is the price. Back when DRM-free music was introduced under the "iTunes Plus" label, there was a thirty-cent premium for the plus tracks over the normal (DRM) tracks. That was short-lived, and both DRM and DRM-free tracks sold for the usual ninety-nine cents.

HOWEVER, that thirty-cent premium lives on in the per-track charge for "upgrading" already-bought tracks to iTunes Plus. And the upgrade process is all-or-nothing. There is no way to select certain songs for upgrade--you can only choose to upgrade ALL DRM songs in your purchase history for which non-DRM versions are available, or to leave all songs in their current versions.

I don't think of myself as that heavy a user of the iTunes store, though I've used it for a few years now, and I checked today and found that the all-or-nothing upgrade as of today will cost me something on the high side of $80.

This seems excessive, particularly with no way to do it piecemeal.

Rob Pegoraro: I've gotten a couple of questions like this--plus, my next-door neighbor complained about it in his status update the other day.

I don't have a problem with the upgrade fee itself, since you are getting a significantly better product--not just the removal of DRM, but a much higher bit rate. You can say that the charge should be less, but I don't buy the argument that it should be zero.

As for the rule about upgrading every purchase--well, I have to ask why did you buy the song in the first place if it's not any good? (Here I'm thinking of my neighbor... dude, Ashley Simpson?! Were you downloading under the influence at the time?) Apple has been known to back down on iTunes policies if enough people squawk, so if you don't want to pay to upgrade everything now, don't. It's not like this is an exploding offer that won't be valid after next week.

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Toldeo, Ohio: Regarding the question on watching Media Center recordings on TV...

I use a kit sold by myavcast.com to watch both Tivo and my Media Center PC recordings on all the tv's in my house. It is a modulator that lets you distribute the signal(s) over your existing coax line. Video is SD and audio is not stereo, but works great. Remote extenders are options for the system, too. Simple system starts at $100.

Rob Pegoraro: Hadn't heard of this option... thanks for the suggestion.

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Kinko's on Paradise : Hi, Rob--Six or seven years ago (pre-wifi), I was passing through Vegas on business and stopped at the Kinko's on Paradise to check my email.

Little did I know that the CES and the adult video conventions were both in full swing. I had to wait an hour for a laptop station, and never before or since have I seen an odder collection of people.

Is it still crowded, or have you managed to avoid the busiest Starbucks in the world?

Rob Pegoraro: CES doesn't have as many people showing up as in prior years (the estimate I saw was 130,000 attendees, down from 140k last year). But it seems crowded and busy enough as is.

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Rob Pegoraro: OK, gang, I've gotta sign off so I can answer some e-mails and get to this Palm event. Thanks for all the questions; we'll do this again next week, when I'm back in D.C. and, I hope, recovered from my sleep deficit.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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