Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Web-based Telepresence from Vidyo

Telepresence, the latest hot thing in video conferencing, is one of those confusing buzzwords the tech world coins from time to time, and then mucks about with. Is it a brand name or a generic term? And what exactly does it mean?

Telepresence is in fact both a trade name, for Cisco Systems’ high-end room video conferencing systems (TelePresence), and a generic term for any system that delivers very high-quality audio and video for teleconferencing.

But the quality standards for telepresence are apparently dropping, with even Web-based systems such as those from Vidyo now claiming to offer ‘telepresence’ experience. I wrote about Vidyo recently for VoIP Planet. It’s actually pretty impressive, but telepresence? We think not.

The original idea, developed by Hewlett-Packard for Dreamworks and 'productized' as Halo systems, was that participants sat in specially-designed mirror-image conference rooms to create the illusion of sitting across a table from colleagues.

The early Halo rooms and systems were tremendously impressive, with multiple large flat screen monitors showing participants life size in smooth, high-resolution video with life-like audio. And the room designs did foster a powerful illusion of being in the same space with remote participants.

Trouble is, telepresence systems cost in the $300,000 range per room and the bandwidth required to carry such high-quality audio and video costs tens of thousands a month. Which is where Vidyo comes in. It’s ‘telepresence’ on a budget – not the real thing but worth checking out.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Windows 7 dilemma: switch or don't switch

I hated Windows Vista. There, I said it.

Actually, I initially liked it – for the silly reason that it looked nicer than XP and had the sidebar for displaying online gadgets. But then when it started behaving badly, I grew to loathe it.

So my decision to move to Windows 7, which I took almost instantly after test driving the release candidate, was a no-brainer. Windows 7 is a long way from perfect, but I still like it after a few months of use. It appears to be a better mouse trap.

That doesn’t mean that switching is the right decision for everyone. In fact, there is no one easy answer, as I discovered while researching “Should You Upgrade to Windows 7?” a recent story for Small Business Computing.

I’m not sure the article will make it easier or more difficult to decide, but at least it gives you information you can use to weigh the pros and cons yourself.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Industrial strength backup for the little guy

Fact: small companies that suffer major data disasters – eg. office and computers burn down – often fail as a result.

Surely to goodness it goes without saying by now that protecting data with regular backups is an essential business function. But we know many smaller companies put their survival at risk by not implementing adequate backup strategies. Scary.

For reasonably tech-savvy firms that need to pull their socks up in this vital area, storage specialist Iomega, now an EMC company, has a big biz solution – which I reviewed here for Small Business Computing.

The Iomega StorCenter ix4-200d NAS Server is a network attached storage (NAS) device with four drives – up to 8 Terabytes (TB) of storage – configured for RAID 5. It comes with EMC Retrospect Express backup software. It can deliver e-mail alerts if backups fail. And it can be set up for remote access.

The ix4-200d is also surprisingly compact, quiet and easy to set up and use. It’s not perfect – what tech product is? – but this NAS is definitely worth investigating if you need to beef up data security.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Palm Prē: on the come-back trail?

Remember Palm, the original maker of PDAs and PDA phones – Palm Pilot, Palm Trēo, etc.? The company kind of faded away for awhile, put in the shade by Windows, iPhone, Android, etc. Now Palm is back with its radical webOS mobile operating system and two new devices, the Prē and the Pixi.

I reviewed the Prē recently for Wi-Fi Planet. It’s a very cool device, combining an iPhone-like touch interface (better than iPhone’s in some ways) and slide-out QWERTY keyboard for easier text input.

But Palm wants you to change how you store and synch data to your mobile. Instead of synching with your desktop over a USB cable, now you’re going to synch to the cloud – to Google, Yahoo or whatever, or to Exchange if your employer has a Microsoft e-mail server – over the wireless network.

Will BlackBerry and Symbian users buy into this new paradigm? (I can’t see iPhone or Android users changing horses again so soon, but you never know.) Palm software partner Chapura does provide a safety hatch for those who like everything about Prē but the cloud synch strategy. The company’s $30 PocketMirror package lets you synch the old fashioned way.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Best Kept Web Secrets: CBC Concerts on Demand

A new series begins at AfterByte! Woo-hoo! Heck, I might even continue this one past the first installment.

The CBC is Canada’s public radio network, equivalent to NPR in the U.S. and BBC in the UK. Like some other public radio services, the Corp. regularly records and broadcasts live concerts.

Unlike other services, it now posts those recordings online, almost immediately after the broadcast. With the exception of Wolfgang’s Vault, arguably another best kept secret, this must be the largest cache of live concert recordings available online. And the CBC service is superior in some ways to Wolfgang’s. The concerts are all contemporary for one thing. (Wolfgang’s are mostly archival.)

The CBC concerts are also streamed at 128 kilobits per second (Kbps). Now, audiophiles will turn up their noses (ears?) at the notion of 128-Kbps streams. When they rip music from CDs, they use lossless modes that rip at between 400 and 900 Kbps and deliver CD-quality sound. But 128 Kbps is about the limit of what you can reasonably stream over the Internet. And to my ears, these streams sound as good as FM radio, better in some ways - no interference and distortion.

Mind, if you listen on your computer with its crappy sound system and crappier speakers, CBC COD titles won't come across much better than most online audio streams. Which is why you need to invest, if you haven't already, in a wireless digital music player such as one of Logitech's Squeezebox products. They let you play Internet music (and music stored on your PC) through a stereo system.

With my Squeezebox Duet, I can add the link to a COD stream to my list of Favorites and play it in the living room anytime I want. And it sounds great.

Okay, sound quality: pretty good, great if you use a digital music player. Music? There’s the rub for many netizens.

The CBC records mainly Canadian acts. Many, while good, are not well known outside the country. Not that little-known Canadian music stars are necessarily a bad thing, of course. Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, The Band, Oscar Peterson and Celine Dion (sorry) were all little known outside Canada at one point.

And you will find international stars, just not top pop music names. Recent examples: 80s British alt rocker Elvis Costello, bluesman John Hammond, archetypal 60s folkie Arlo Guthrie (pictured courtesy CBC), alt country singer Neko Case, country legend Loudon Wainwright III, classical pianist Emanuel Ax – and that’s just in the last month and a half or so.

There are also lots of gems from the Canadian music scene. If you’re feeling adventurous (or actually like the same kind of weird stuff I do), check out the following:

There ya go - no longer a secret.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Is it time to ditch IE for Chrome?

I may be the last tech writer on the planet to test drive Google’s johnny-come-lately browser, Chrome. My response when it launched a year ago was, ‘Do we need another browser?’

But IE8 has been driving me crazy – reasonably quick connections but lo-o-ong delays in displaying all the ad content on pages, which momentarily freezes the browser window – and I happened to stumble on a TechCrunch post on Chrome. So, what the heck.

First impressions? Yes, Chrome is way faster, and that goes a long, long way. But feature-wise, it can’t touch IE8.

Some minor irritants encountered in the first hour using Chrome:

  • In Win7, when you mouse over the IE icon in the task bar, Windows displays good-size thumbnails of all your open tabs strung out above the bar. So you can go directly to the tab you want. With Chrome, you only see the currently open tab. You have to activate Chrome and then select the tab you want from within the app.
  • In IE, you can choose to open new tabs to your home page. Not with Chrome. When you open a new tab, your only choice is a page showing recently closed and most visited pages. Not a bad idea, and of course your home page will almost always be there (and you can tell Chrome to keep it there always), but it means one more click before you get what you want.
  • Speaking of home pages, mine has links that aren't underlined. Chrome kindly added the underlining for me. (Except I didn't want it.)
  • To search using your default search engine (Google by default naturally), you type search terms into the address field rather than a separate search field. This is not entirely intuitive (coming from IE) and it means you get a mish-mash of saved search terms and visited pages in the drop-down. I could probably get used to this one, though.

Could Google fix the others? Probably not on the first one. IE8 is tightly integrated with Win7, virtually part of it. (Remember the anti-trust case against MS?)

The second one: I can’t see why they couldn’t at least make it a user option. Third one: a bug to be fixed possibly?

Still, did I mention that Chrome is really fast?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Managing customers

Though I don’t always think of myself this way, I am a small business owner. Freelance writing is a business. I have customers – if fewer now than a year ago - and I have relationships with them that I have to manage.

Which is why I was intrigued recently when one of my best customers, Small Business Computing, asked me to look into the state of the art of computerized customer relationship management (CRM), especially as it relates to small businesses.

CRM is no longer, as it was when I first heard the term a decade or more ago, a bleeding-edge business application for big corporations only. Today it’s recognized as a core, mission-critical business function, and the technology for automating it is increasingly available to companies of any size. As I show in the article, which is here.

I was particularly interested, though, in comments from a consultant I interviewed, Linda Daichendt, whose company, Strategic Growth Concepts, helps small businesses in the Detroit area.

Linda is a marketing and strategic planning consultant, not a technology wonk. But she understands her clients and she understands very well the value of CRM to them. She was especially clear on its value in helping small businesses not only manage customers in the administrative and sales-process sense, but also in analyzing and understanding their customer bases so they can generate the most revenue with the least effort and cost.

And the strong impression I got from Linda is that too many small businesses are missing the boat on CRM. They’re not implementing readily available and inexpensive – in some cases, free – tools because they’re too harried, too focused on winning new customers, too lacking in vision, or just not sophisticated enough to understand the value. Too bad.

Not that I use SugarCRM or the free version of or even the venerable Act! myself, but my business is so small and so simple I can easily make do with Microsoft Office Outlook. And do.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Self caricature?

My goodness, long time, no blog. You can see I look a little put out by it.

I sometimes while away long but enjoyable hours (I’m embarrassed to say how many) playing with Photoshop, tinkering with photo images or, as in this case, engaging in little experiments.

This project began as an attempt to replicate the effects achieved by online services that create a cartoon image from a photograph. I consulted online tutorials and borrowed techniques from some. I was ultimately unsuccessful (as were other tutorialists) in producing an image that really looks like a cartoon drawing. (I suspect it takes a little more manual effort and drawing skills than I brought to bear on the project.)

But after some experimentation, I was able to produce images that I think are kind of cool, using fairly simple Photoshop techniques. The results remind me a little of etched and hand-tinted 18th century caricatures.

Here are the Photoshop commands I used (the name/name format refers to menu, followed by menu item or submenu and menu item):

· Crop tool
· Image Adjustments/Brightness-Contrast
· Filters/Artistic/Poster Edges
· Image/Adjustments/Posterize
· Image/Adjustments/Curves
· Selection tools (Magic Wand, Lasso, Rectangle)
· Edit/Cut
· Edit/Transform/Warp
· Filters/Distort/Spherize
· Filters/Distort/Pinch
· Filters/Liquify
· Layer/New Layer/Solid fill color
· Layer/Arrange/Send to back

Most are fairly simple and self-explanatory, but if you’re not familiar with them, you might want to consult the Photoshop Help files first.

Okay, here we go.

1. Select an image in which the main subject is well and evenly lit against an uncluttered background. My source images (an example is posted here) were not optimal but worked okay. I shot outdoors in daylight using flash with a bouncer. This inevitably created some shadows. Because the background is so far away, it’s virtually unlit, so comes out almost black. This made it easy to select later.

2. Crop the image to isolate the main subject. The simpler the composition the better.

3. The process seems to work best on bright images with minimal contrast, so use the Image/Adjustments/Brightness-Contrast to turn brightness way up – don’t worry too much about burn outs – and contrast way down.

4. Apply the Filters/Artistic/Poster Edges filter. This is what creates the hand-tinted etching look. You can play with settings, but I had best luck with Edge Thickness set to 0, Edge Intensity to 1 and Posterization to 2.

5. Use Image/Adjustments/Posterize to further reduce the number of tones. Setting levels between 12 and 16 seemed to work best for me, but it will depend on the original image – and the effect you want.

6. Use Image/Adjustments/Curves to further blacken blacks and saturate colours. I found the Moderate Contrast preset worked well for my images.

7. Select the background using the Magic Wand tool. You may have to experiment with the Toleranace setting (in the status bar at top of screen) to get it to select mostly background. And you will probably have to use other selection tools – Lasso, Rectangle – to fine tune the selection. (Use the Add mode to select parts of the background that weren’t selected initially, and Subtract mode to unselect parts of the main subject that were inadvertently selected.)

8. I would normally use Selection/Modify/Feather, but for this, I wanted a hard-edged cartoon-like look. If you do use Feather, keep the number of pixels low. Otherwise edges will look fuzzy. (The optimal number will depend on the size of the image and selection.)

9. Use Edit/Cut to remove the pixels from the background. You should now have a transparent background (grey checker-board pattern) around your main subject.

10. The next step, distorting the subject to make it a little more like a caricature, is the creative part. Experiment with Edit/Transform/Warp as well as Filters/Distort/Spherize and Filters/Distort/Pinch. I found these enough, but you could also try Filters/Liquify. I didn’t like the way Liquify smears pixels to create its distortions, which to my eyes destroyed the integrity of the image. However, if you use it carefully, it can produce amusing effects.

11. Now you want to add a background. I liked the look of just a bright, electric-coloured solid fill, but you could try patterns or even scanned cartoon images. To create a solid fill background as I did, use Layer/New Layer/Solid fill color. The dialog lets you pick a colour, but you can always go back and experiment with different colours later.

12. The new fill layer will initially cover the image. You need to use the Layer/Arrange/Send to Back command (with the new fill layer selected). Now it will be behind the Background layer and will show through the transparent area around the main subject.

That’s it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Found on the Web Dept.: Gmaps Pedometer

If you can think of an idea for a Web application, chances are it’s already out there. This might be frustrating if you're an aspiring Web entrepreneur, but for the rest of us: fabulous.

I’d been trying to figure out a way to check the mileage on routes I bike and jog - without getting in the car and using an odometer (and gas). I was pretty sure I’d find something on the Web, and pretty sure it would be something built around Google Maps. I was right.

A simple Google search turned up a few sites offering map-based tools that looked like they'd do the trick, including Gmaps Pedometer, built by Paul, a marathon runner, using Google Maps. Paul calls it “a little hack” but in fact Google welcomes this kind of hack and makes it easy to incorporate the mapping system in Web sites and Web-based applications.

Gmaps Pedometer presents Google Maps in a large section on the right of the screen with the pedometer control panel on the left. You can enter your starting address in the search field to zoom in on your locale. Then you plot the route by double clicking along the way you went, or intend to go. The program draws blue lines to mark the route and posts flags at each mile or kilometer. A running tab of the distance also appears in the Total distance field.

Gmaps Pedometer will trace routes along streets even if you double click at a point around the corner – or around a few corners – from the previous point. But if you jog through parks or other places that only pedestrians can go, you’ll have to use the Manual mode. It only draws straight lines, so you have to click at each turning, however slight. This could get tedious, but you can switch to Manual mode in mid-route, then switch back to Automatic when you move onto the street again.

If you’re going and coming back by the same route, click the ‘Complete there and back’ link when you’ve reached the furthest point. Gmaps Pedometer automatically plots the return route and calculates the final distance. If it's a loop route, just keep double-clicking until you're back where you started. You can then print a map of the route, or save it to your Favorites. Very cool.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pet Peeves Dept.: Opting In - or Out

Everybody has had this experience. You’re signing up for a new online service or installing a program, and as part of the process, filling in a form with vital information the company claims it needs.

At some point, the form asks if you want to receive e-mailed "information" (read: advertising) from the company, or sometimes from its partners. Or download and install a browser toolbar, or some other useless piece of software. Or make the company's page your home page.

Are the check boxes already checked so that you have to uncheck them to stop the company sending you spam or installing unwanted software? Or are they left unchecked?

It’s important. If you’re rushing through the sign-up process – and who doesn’t rush on their one-millionth online form - you may not notice and click the Next button without unchecking the boxes. Result: spam attack.

Companies that have thought through the kinds of relationships they want with customers – or, in the case of free online services, hoped-for customers-to-be – always leave the boxes unchecked. They know that to do otherwise is exploitive and, more to the point for them, may royally piss off prospective future customers.

But some don’t get it. They present the check boxes already checked. In hopes of what? Snaring the unsuspecting? Now there’s a customer service philosophy to live by.

I came across one recently: ooVoo, an online video conferencing and chat service. Let's be clear: ooVoo appears to be a good company with a very impressive service. But if I hadn’t learned from bitter experience to pay attention when filling out these forms, I would have ended up with more adware cluttering my computer and spam flooding my mailbox.

OoVoo also wanted my birth date. It claims it needs this information so it can enforce a policy barring those under 14. As if any 12-year-old who wanted to use the service couldn’t just select a bogus birth date. (I am now officially 109 years old btw.)

I’ll be writing about ooVoo, along with similar cloud-based video conferencing services, for SmallBusinessComputing. I interviewed the company's CEO, Philippe Schwartz, today. He comes across as a smart and sincere guy. So we’ll be generous for now and say that the way the ooVoo install program is set up is a minor lapse.

But our recommendation to ooVoo: change it.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Canada Computes in the Cloud

IDC Canada, Canadian subsidiary of the Boston-based IT market research and consulting firm, released a study recently in which it profiles 10 Canadian Cloud Solutions to Watch (IDC #CA4TIW9).

The report profiles some interesting companies with interesting products, including Rypple, which offers an online service for gathering instant and anonymous feedback on just about anything from networks of friends, employees, clients, suppliers, etc.

Cloud computing is of course enormously important, not least because everybody believes it’s important. Never mind that it may raise dire security and privacy concerns and that some of the supposed economic advantages may prove illusory over time.

IDC estimates that by 2012, 9% of spending on IT services worldwide, “including business applications, application development and deployment, system infrastructure software, storage and servers, will be in the Cloud.”

Note that the cloud has now been dignified with capitalization – at least by IDC.

Most of the 10 Canadian Cloud Solutions I’ve checked out so far appear to have some merit, but Rypple stands out. It’s simple, elegant, well presented and – at least to my knowledge – innovative.

The first thing journalists want to know about ground-breaking products like this one is, who if anyone is actually using them and do they deliver the claimed benefits. Rypple can actually answer those questions. It recently posted a bunch of testimonial videos from customers at Vimeo, a – hmmm – cloud-based video distribution service.

Heck, if AfterByte had any followers, I might Rypple them to ask for suggestions on how to improve the blog.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Annals of VoIP Dept.: Selling IP Short?

I’m currently researching a story for VoIP Planet about home cleaning franchisor MaidPro. Cleaning ladies on the cutting edge of technology? Not quite. (The story has now posted at VoIP Planet here.)

Two years ago MaidPro signed a preferred supplier agreement with TalkSwitch, a maker of small business IP PBXs. The idea was that MaidPro would recommend TalkSwitch’s phone systems to its 100-odd franchisees. So far, over 40 have purchased TalkSwitch systems.

What’s striking, though, is that few are actually using them as IP PBXs. The TalkSwitch products support POTS lines and analog phones too – and that’s how most of the MaidPro franchises are using them.

MaidPro is not pushing IP because it believes owners will be intimidated by what to them is a radically different approach to telephony. It also worries about call quality with VoIP – and what customers might conclude about the company if quality is occasionally poor.

Even TalkSwitch recommends a POTS/analog configuration to most MaidPro owners because it simplifies the sale – eliminating worries about having to tune or possibly upgrade a franchisee’s LAN.

Recently, the more technically savvy owners have chosen to go with IP, and both companies believe most will eventually follow their lead. But in the short and medium terms, it seems, the old ways will prevail.

I’ve been writing about the IP revolution in telephony for over ten years. This is not the first time I’ve slipped into thinking that IP had finally wiped out the last pockets of resistance - only to be reminded that it just isn't so.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Windows 7 - the little things add up

Back to Microsoft Windows 7, which is still performing better and with fewer problems on my main desktop PC than Vista ever did. (I’m holding my breath.)

In this first in an occasional series of updates on the experience with Win7 Release Candidate 1 (available for another couple of weeks as a free download), I want to take a closer look at the new taskbar, which I mentioned in a previous post. It’s significantly improved.

Under Vista, when you mouse over an icon for a program in which one document is open, you see a thumbnail of the document, but it's really too small to be useful. If multiple documents are open, you see a not very useful stack of thumbnails, with only the top one visible. (Tap the icon and you get a pop-up list of document names.)

Windows 7 improves on this in a few ways. When you mouse over a program with multiple open documents, a row of significantly larger thumbnails appear side by side above the taskbar. You can see enough to, for example, distinguish Outlook Inbox from Outlook Calendar, making it easier and faster to select the document or activity you want.

Furthermore, when you mouse over a thumbnail, the document moves temporarily to the top of the desktop and appears full size. (Microsoft calls this taskbar peek.) So you can easily read or see information without having to switch to a different program or document.

This is a real convenience if, like me, you’re constantly being interrupted in a task and forget information in another open document that you need to complete the job at hand.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Flexible OLED - dream on

Like Baldrick in Blackadder, I’ve come up with a cunning plan – to design the ultimate mobile computing device and win fame and fortune.

What we need is a device for all situations and applications. Laptops? Too big to pull out in an elevator. Smartphones? Screen too small for – well, anything. Netbooks? Is that a netbook in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

No, we need radically new technology and design.

My idea: a modular device with separate flexible OLED screen (robust, easy to stow), paperback-size (or smaller) CPU/storage unit, keyboard (flexible?), phone with Wi-Fi and small touchscreen, all communicating over Bluetooth, ultra-wideband or whatever.

Just want to make a voice call? Pull out the phone. It communicates with the CPU/storage unit (tucked in pocket or briefcase) to find the number. Need to check your e-mail or make a video call in the back of a cab? Pull the phone (it works as a wireless controller) and screen.

Need to respond at length to an e-mail? Pull the keyboard and screen. And back at the office, all the pieces fit into a docking station. It’s your smartphone, laptop, desktop, netbook – in one. Or four.

We might need to design new apparel to house the gear when you're mobile. And a viable FOLED (see videos re: Sony and Samsung flexible OLED prototypes here and here) is still some years away – despite recent news from the University of Arizona of advances that could hasten commercialization of the technology.

I did say, “like Baldrick in Blackadder.” Those who know the show - possibly the greatest sitcom of all time IMHO - will understand this is not the highest recommendation.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

ViewSonic builds in a PC

ViewSonic, the monitor and TV company, has jumped into the PC business – just when it’s getting really profitable (not). The new VPC100 All-in-One, a 19-inch widescreen LCD monitor with a PC CPU and DVD drive tacked on, is the company’s first crack. It sells for $599. (See the press release here.) I’m reviewing it for Small Business

So far, so good. It sets up easily and looks kind of cool – all sleek and piano black. The monitor (1366x768 pixels, 1000:1 contrast ratio) certainly looks better than my aging Dell screen, but the keyboard and mouse (wired, not wireless) feel a little flimsy, and the sound is barely better than a laptop.

It’s also underpowered, with an Intel Atom N270 (1.6GHz single core) processor running XP. Think of it as a stationary netbook. Who would buy this? Very light users. The style conscious. Someone looking to equip the office nook in their condo kitchen.

Look for my full review in a couple of weeks here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Windows 7 - Microsoft Gets It Right

Act soon if you want to test drive Windows 7, Release Candidate 1, the almost-final version of Microsoft’s new Windows operating system. The shipping version is due out in October. RC1 will be available as a free download for a couple more weeks. After that, you’ll have to wait until October and pay full price.

Win7 offers no earth-shatteringly new features or functions, but does have a few nice enhancements, such as the improved task bar with its big, pop-up preview windows that go to full-screen when you mouse over them. This is also a smaller, more efficient – installs and starts faster – and less problem prone operating system than Vista.

If you’re fed up with Vista, as I was after months of seemingly insoluble performance problems, you might even want to make the permanent switch to Win7 now. If not, you can set up your system to boot with either Vista or Win7. For a discussion of how, when and why to switch, see this story I wrote recently for SmallBusinessComputing.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Poof! You're an iPhone

Comparisons are odious, but while testing the new HTC Magic smartphone (aka T-Mobile MyTouch 3G) for Wi-Fi Planet recently, it was hard not to think of the Apple iPhone. All the time.

Magic is an iPhone wannabe, with a touchscreen interface you can swipe and flick, just like iPhone. But the HTC phone uses Google’s open source Android mobile operating system and comes preloaded with Google apps (mail, calendar, maps, YouTube, etc.).

My first thought was, why bother? Building a better mousetrap is one thing, building the same mousetrap and just putting a different name on it is another.

Magic is in many respects as good as iPhone, but I couldn’t find a lot about it that is better. It might be a little easier to master typing on its virtual keyboard. How can HTC and T-Mobile hope to overcome the marketing juggernaut that is iPhone? (The same could be said of any iPhone knock-off, of course.)

One thing you can say: the phone is available to any GSM carrier who wants to sell it, not just the anointed one in each market. Magic at least gives consumers in the U.S. a choice of carriers.

Not so in Canada, however, where Magic is available from Rogers, which also sells the iPhone. Why bother indeed?

See my full review of the Magic/myTouch here.