Gadget speak

Our new section helps resolve your gadget queries.

Separated at birth

Mac OS X leopard & Windows vista

Long-term Apple Mac users could be forgiven for stifling a smug yawn when perusing the 'new features' list for Windows Vista, much of which plays catch-up with Apple's OS X 10.4 (aka 'Tiger'), released three years ago. Microsoft has always been an unabashed student of the Mac OS and the evolution of Vista is no different.

For example, Vista's much-touted Aero GUI - all glassy transparency and slick window animations - looks eerily similar to OS X and the introduction of Gadgets (mini web apps) in Vista is a wholesale lift of Tiger's Widgets Dashboard concept.

Still, if talent imitates and genius steals, Vista probably falls somewhere between the two. All-round improvements are rife: security is tougher (if maddeningly intrusive at times); Instant Search is efficient; the Ease of Access Center and parental controls are important; and personal data is safer, with Windows BitLocker Drive Encryption and the Windows Backup and Restore Center.

Somewhat cruelly, though, just as Microsoft's OS caught up with Tiger, Apple released OS X 10.5 ('Leopard'), with a 300-strong list of eye-catching new features, such as Time Machine, file Stacks and Quick Look, plus myriad refinements to existing Tiger innovations.

Microsoft's option to release multiple versions of Vista is also unnecessarily divisive, with only the Ultimate Edition containing all features. By contrast, there is only one version of OS X 10.5, which includes everything. It's also 64-bit by default, throttling back to 32-bit where appropriate, is a true multi-threaded OS and it's a heck of a lot easier to install.

In Microsoft's defence, it is providing software for an infinite combination of hardware. However, with so many of our day-to-day tools and services now web-based, the choice of operating system is increasingly irrelevant. Therefore, the smart thing to do is to buy a new Mac with Leopard preloaded and then use Apple's Boot Camp software to install Vista. Voilà - one dual-boot machine, two operating systems, the best of both worlds.

Technology clinic

Enhanced 3G data

I entered into a 3G broadband contract with a mobile service provider with the promise that I could download data at rates up to 7.2Mb per second from my USB 3G modem attached to my laptop. However, I have not even come close to this. How can they hold up such a claim?

T Carlyle, by email

Your modem uses an enhanced 3G wireless standard known as High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA). The figure the mobile service provider is quoting is the theoretical maximum speed that can be reached in ideal conditions. The reality is that you are unlikely to ever reach this maximum. The mobile service providers and hardware vendors have been criticised for over-emphasising theoretical maximum speeds of their products ever since the introduction of packet data services. However, with HSDPA reception you should still be able to download at rates of 1Mb per second.

In the next couple of years the HSDPA roadmap promises theoretical speeds of up to 42Mb per second. Although consumers are unlikely to experience this throughput, it still means faster mobile broadband that could compete with home and office broadband solutions. However, you will most certainly have to purchase a new modem to take advantage of these speeds.

Communicating with my car

My daughter's car is Bluetooth compatible, which ought to allow her to connect her mobile phone to the inbuilt hands free kit and listen to songs stored on her handset, but how do we set this up and are there any security implications to consider?

Russell Earl, by email

Without knowing the make and model of the car and mobile handset, it would be difficult to provide a definitive answer, but the principle would be same with all the systems currently out there.

Bluetooth is a personal area network (PAN) open standard. Most people are familiar with Bluetooth as the standard which is used when pairing a wireless headset with their phone.

The same principle applies when connecting your handset to the car. Both devices need to be put into discovery mode to allow the vehicle to hunt for Bluetooth signals in the vicinity. Once your car device has found your mobile handset, select it and decide whether you would like to enter a pass key. The mobile device will then confirm that a connection is trying to be made and you will then choose 'yes' and enter the pass key if it has been specified. Then you will have a secure connection.

Securing the connection is important, as there have been reports of 'car whispering'. This is where a hacker takes advantage of Bluetooth connections to a car with a non-existent or weak pass key (such as '0000' or '1234'). With this, the attacker is able to stream a message through the car's audio system and potentially eavesdrop on the occupants' conversations.

The real cinema deal

How does high-definition TV compare to the real cinema experience?

M Arnold, London

Full high-definition displays refer to a pixel resolution of 1920 x 1080 with an aspect ratio of 16:9. However, the consumer electronics industry has to go far to catch up with current Hollywood blockbuster resolutions.

The most common acquisition medium for digitally projected features is 35mm film scanned and processed at 2K (2048 x 1080) or 4K (4096 x 2160). However, most digital movies to date have been shot at nothing higher than full HD.

However, 2k cameras are now available and 4k ones are in the pipeline. Therefore, 4k capture and projection is the standard that cinemas are working to. This is equivalent to an eight megapixel image that is four times more detailed than full HD on a television set.

More questions will be answered next month. Send your queries to ce.editor@theiet.org

Going, going, gone...

Mutoscope

Mutoscopes are usually associated with bawdy seaside entertainment epitomised by 'What The Butler Saw', but this one, manufactured in the 1920s by the International Mutoscope Reel Company, features a movie reel which is more on the gruesome side. It features a re-enactment of a prisoner being led to the electric chair at America's Sing Sing Correctional Facility, located 30 miles outside New York City.

Past Sing Sing prisoners include the con artist George C. Parker, who sold the Brooklyn Bridge; Earl von Brandenburg (pen name Broughton Brandenburg), formerly a well-known author, imprisoned in 1932 for fraud; Charles Becker, the first American policeman executed for murder; and the first woman to be executed by electric chair was Martha M. Place on 20th March 1899.

The Mutoscope worked on the same principle as the flip book. The individual image frames were conventional black-and-white, silver-based photographic prints on tough, flexible opaque cards. Rather than being bound into a booklet, the cards were attached to a circular core.

Although the last Mutoscopes were manufactured in 1949, they were still in popular use at UK seaside coastal resorts until they were also killed off by decimalisation and risqué 'Carry On' movies in 1971.

Estimate: £1,800 - £2,500
Auction Date: 19 March
www.bonhams.com [new window]

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