Is it any wonder there's computer piracy in Romania?

If the US and other Western countries are looking at Romania and shaking their heads while wondering why there’s so much computer piracy there, perhaps this will help them get the picture.

In 2008, the median monthly salary in Romania was €285, or $353, as another source quotes it. The same source says that by 2014, the median salary will grow to $1,400, but that’s another story. I’ve heard a number of such predictions in previous years, none of which have yet come true.

Let’s look at Microsoft Windows, probably the most pirated piece of software in Romania. Vista Home Basic, which is really just XP dolled up a bit, is 325 RON, or around $101. The decent version of Vista, Home Premium, is 434 RON. When you convert the median monthly salary to RON, the Romanian currency, it comes out to about 1,120 RON.

Now, when you keep in mind that most people make less than 1,120 RON per month, do you think they’d give up a third of their gross monthly income (before taxes) so they can buy an operating system legally? Would you do it?

Say you made $40,000 per year in the US. Wikipedia says the median income for men in 2007 was roughly $45,000, and the median income for women in 2007 was roughly $35,000. If we use $40,000 as an example, that works out to $3,333 before taxes. If Windows Vista cost you a third of that monthly income, or $1,111, would you pay full price to get it?

Don’t think only software costs this much in Romania. I have on my desk right now two inkjet cartridges from HP, one color, one black. The black ink cartridge, a 338 Vivera, cost 67.75 RON, and the color cartridge, a 342 Vivera, cost 73.05 RON. Those prices are in line with what these cartridges cost in the US, but that’s the problem, isn’t it?

People in Romania don’t make the same salaries as people in the US or in Western Europe. Since the 1990s, prices in Romania have risen to match those in Western Europe, yet salaries have risen at a much, much slower pace. Romanians have to contend with paying Western European prices for food, clothing, utilities and fuel, yet they make a mere pittance compared to their European counterparts. It’s simply not fair.

When you have to decide between buying food or paying all your utility bills in the winter, or when you can’t buy adequate clothes or shoes because you have to pay your rent and other expenses, paying for software is the least of your worries. I for one don’t blame Romanians one bit for using pirated software. Considering the amount of money they’re making, I completely understand why they turn to cheaper solutions.

UbuntuDo you know what I advise my Romanian friends and family when they come to me for help? I tell them to use Ubuntu. It’s free and it’s legal. I’ven even installed Ubuntu recently on two computers, one for family and one for an acquaintance. So far, the reaction was positive. They’ve been able to work with their Office documents on Ubuntu thanks to Open Office, and they’ve been able to view and play their photos and movies as well. For most people, the Linux platform is the way to go, especially when you consider that they can’t afford to get the faster and more expensive hardware that’s needed to run Windows Vista.

How To

A new lease on old hardware

In 2003, I bought an HP OfficeJet 7110 all-in-one, a big, boxy monster that did (and still does) printing, scanning, faxing and copying. I’ve barely ever used it to fax, but the feature is there in case I need it. Now I’m using it over our wireless network with an Apple AirPort Express, and it works great.

HP couldn’t wait to retire this model. A year after I’d bought it, I had a hard time getting support for it, in spite of the fact that I’d bought an extended support plan. Less than two years after I’d bought it, HP had already discontinued it. They stopped developing the drivers for it sometime in 2003 or 2004. The development for Mac drivers stopped at 10.4 (officially) but more likely, at 10.3. I used their drivers on 10.4 and there were serious problems. Switching accounts, for example, disabled printing, and it couldn’t be re-enabled unless one restarted the computer. I complained numerous times to HP, via tech support, via messages to their executives, but no one cared. Basically, HP’s support is horrible, and my experience was no different with the OfficeJet 7110.

Fortunately, I found a way to get more use out of this dinosaur without needing to buy a new printer (yet). Back in 2005, I purchased an Apple AirPort Express, a small device that does quite a few things. One of them is printer sharing. You plug in a USB printer, and it will share it wirelessly.

I’d wanted to do this ever since I’d bout the AirPort Express, but there were no usable Bonjour/network drivers for the 7110. With the introduction of Leopard, however, the story changed. Quite a few CUPS drivers came pre-loaded with the OS, and one of those drivers was built exactly for the 7110.

A couple of weekends ago, I took a half hour to relocate our printer and its stand, plug it into the AirPort Express, and install it on both our Macs via Bonjour. This was after I’d joined the AirPort Express to our existing WiFi network through the AirPort Utility. The whole process is fairly easy to do, except changes to the AirPort Express may require a reset or two before they commit properly. This may only be a bug with the older version that I have (from 2005), and it may not affect the newer versions of this device, like the 802.11n that just came out.

Now our printer is networked reliably and it’s usable immediately from both our Macs, which is something that wasn’t possible before. It’s not tethered via the annoying USB cable, and we don’t have to deal with its bulk next to our desks. Although the drivers are print-only, when we need to scan something, we simply take my laptop over to it, connect it via USB, and scan to my Windows XP virtual machine, which runs on VMware Fusion on top of Leopard. This is because the XP drivers are the only ones that still work reliably for this printer.

What also satisfies me is that I get a new lease on old hardware. I don’t have to go out and buy something new to get the functionality I need. I already spent good money on working hardware, and thanks to Leopard’s built-in printer drivers and AirPort Express, I get to use it years after HP decided to discontinue it and force people to buy new printers.


Hardware review: HP Pavilion m7480n desktop

I’ve been using the Pavilion m7480n desktop for the last 2 and a half months, and I’m pleasantly impressed. This is a great desktop system, it’s fast, stable, packed with great features, but most of all, it’s well designed, and that’s what sets it apart from other desktops on the market.

HP Pavilion m7480n Desktop

HP Pavilion m7480n Desktop

I have never seen so many great and useful features packed into the desktop form factor. Let’s start with the front side of this computer, which is, as far as I’m concerned, fantastic.

HP Pavilion m7480n Desktop

HP Pavilion m7480n Desktop

A lot of computers have flash memory readers, but not a lot of them have them custom-built into the desktop case, located right at the top for easy access, and have so many choices when it comes to card formats.Want an all-in-one solution for writing DVDs and CDs? The LightScribe drive is it. Not only will it write single- and double-layer DVDs, DVD-RWs, CD-Rs and CD-RWs, but it will also print your label for you. Also included is an extra DVD-ROM/CD-ROM drive, just for fun.

See the two panel doors? One of them is for the Personal Media Drive Bay, which is hands-down, the coolest feature you’ll find in any desktop computer. Want extra storage? Just slide in a Personal Media Drive. Want to add another hard drive? Just slide in another Personal Media Drive. Seriously, it’s that easy! The drive slides in, and automatically connects to the computer through USB, and is also powered by a special connector, no wires required. I don’t know about you, but I’m really annoyed by the extra power cords and power adapters that come with external storage drives. Sure, the drive may look nice by itself, but when you add the bulky adapter and power cord, it’s suddenly not so nice and neat. So the great thing about HP’s Personal Media Drives is that there are no cables and power adapters – you only need the drive, which is a beautiful thing.

HP Pavilion m7480n Desktop

You’d think HP would charge you a ridiculous price for this extra convenience and the custom form factor, but they don’t, which is also nice. Currently, they come in three sizes: 160GB, 300GB and 400GB. The 160GB PMD is $149.99, the 300GB PMD is $249.99, and the 400GB PMD is $319.99, which runs a little above the low margin of the market for personal storage, but not by a lot.

Let’s look at the other useful front panel: the Connectivity Center. Tell me honestly, have you seen such a thorough front panel on any other computer line? I haven’t. There’s an S-Video port, composite video ports, the standard headphone/microphone jacks, two USB ports, and — a really nice thing — a Firewire (1394) port. Finally, a computer manufacturer gets it, and puts a ready-to-use Firewire port on the front of a computer.

HP Pavilion m7480n Desktop

Also on the front side of the desktop, let’s not forget the little things, like the sliding doors that hide inside the chassis for the front panels (the Personal Media Drive Bay and the Connectivity Center). They’re very useful because when you don’t use the panels, you can close the doors and hide away the ports. And, you don’t have to flip them up, like on a Dell desktop (yuck), or you don’t have to slide them up and have the door fall back down after it’s gotten a little used — no, you simply slide them to the side. It just works. An added bonus on the front is a Wireless Lan light that turns on when a connection has been established — this is a great visual indicator for those of us who are less tech savvy.

It isn’t just the front of the desktop that’s interesting. I like the side cooling grille as well. One small note: although the finish of the desktop case looks like plastic, it’s actually metal. Only the front and top side of the case are plastic — the sides are metal. Another useful feature is that this desktop runs very quietly. I’ve had desktops in the past that really made a lot of noise, so I can readily appreciate the silence in the room when I use this system. The only sound I can hear out of it is the hard drive — and that only when I really push it.

HP Pavilion m7480n Desktop

Another notable feature is the dock for an HP Photosmart printer right on top of the computer. Like the Personal Media Drive Bay, this is a feature that’s unique to HP desktops, and I really like it. Who’d have thought of building in a dock for a photo printer on top of the computer — but it makes perfect sense. You have the card reader right on top as well, so you simply slide in the flash card containing your photos or you connect your camera, and print your photos right away. You don’t have to worry about where you place the printer, because it’s right on top of the computer. This is beautiful, functional design.

HP Pavilion m7480n Desktop

The cover for the dock is easily removed, and the really nifty thing is that HP designers included a slot at the back end of the dock for the printer wires (USB, power). That way, you can slide them right through the case and out the back, easily connecting the printer to the computer and the power supply. Very, very nice! For example, I used the dock to sit my wireless antenna in it, and I slid the antenna cable through the very same slot, pulling it out through the back of the case, as you can see below.

HP Pavilion m7480n Desktop

The back panel itself is also very useful. Besides the usual connectors and ports, it has digital sound in and out, connectors for 5.1 speakers, 4 USB ports and another Firewire (1394) port, a video card with S-video and RCA video out ports, and an input slot with the following ports: composite A/V, S-video, TV/Cable antenna and FM antenna. I would have liked to see a DVI-out connector on the video card, but other than that, this is a pretty good collection of connectors and ports.

HP Pavilion m7480n Desktop

This system comes standard with a wireless keyboard and mouse, and they both work great. The battery life is as expected or longer: I only had to replace the batteries in the mouse after 2 months, and the keyboard batteries are still going strong. The only thing that could be improved on the keyboard are the keys. While they work fine, they’re a bit loud, and could stand to be made quieter. The multimedia controls on the keyboard also work all the time, which, at least for me, is a departure from the norm. I’m used to seeing multimedia keys on other laptops and desktops be unreliable, so it’s nice to see them working non-stop for a change.

The HP Pavilion m7480n is one great desktop. It comes with an Intel Dual Core chip, which clocks in at 3.00GHz for each core. My system had 2GB of RAM in it, and it ran wonderfully on that. The hard drive was 300GB, and HP reserved 10GB of it for a separate recovery drive that can be used to restore the OS and applications when needed. But what sets this desktop apart isn’t necessarily the specs (which are top of the line anyway) but the amazingly useful design. Serious thought was given to functionality and ease of use when it came to the case of this desktop, and that’s what impresses me and really counts.


Two great bargains: HP Pavilion dv2000 and dv6000 series laptops

As detailed in my last post, I’ve been scouring the market looking for laptop deals, and I found two that were really good. After I compared the specs for these two laptops with similarly equipped laptops, I found them to be hundreds below comparable models, and on top of that, well-made – at least when it came to their exterior.

The HP Pavilion dv2000 and dv6000 series laptops are part of HP’s re-design of its Pavilion laptop line. They feature upgraded hardware and beautiful exteriors. I can’t speak about their reliability, since I only got the chance to use them for a few minutes at a computer store, but when it comes to looks and features, they’ve got it! From the moment I touched the keyboard and used the trackpad, I could tell HP invested serious attention to detail when they made these laptops. If you’ve ever used a Dell laptop, then you know what I’m talking about. The keys are so thin, that your fingers sometimes get pinched inbetween them. Not on these two HP laptops! The keys are thicker, smoother, and have better action. The trackpad is responsive, and the left and right mouse buttons are soft to the touch. I thought the travel could be shortened a bit, but other than that, it’s a very good experience. The lines are well defined, the color tones are well chosen, the overall thickness is kept to a minimum (around 1″ height for either one) – what can I say, they look good!

A well-equipped dv2000 series laptop features Windows XP Pro, a dual core Intel 2.0 GHz processor, a 14.1″ BrightView wide screen, integrated 802.11 a/b/g and Bluetooth, an integrated webcam with dual noise-cancelling microphones, a 120GB SATA hard drive, a 128MB NVIDIA(R) GeForce(R) Go 7200 video card, 2GB of RAM, a LightScribe Super Multi 8X DVD +/- RW with Double Layer drive, a 12-cell battery that lasts up to 8 hours, a 2-year HP Accidental Damage with Express Repair extended service plan, a credit-card sized remote control for the InstantOn feature that lets you play DVDs and CDs without turning on the laptop, an HP Silver Messenger Bag, HP Mobile Noise Cancelling headphones, a retractable phone, ethernet and USB cord kit, and a FREE printer. The price for the whole set is $2,051.93 ($1801.93 without the extended service plan). Try matching these specs with another laptop (Lenovo, Sony, Dell, Acer, Asus) and see if it’s still that low. Go ahead, I’ve done it, and it isn’t.

How about the dv6000 series? A well-equipped dv6000 includes the following: Windows XP Pro, a dual core AMD 1.8 GHz processor, a 15.4″ wide screen, a 256MB NVIDIA(R) GeForce(R) Go 7200 video card, integrated 802.11 a/b/g and Bluetooth, an integrated webcam with dual noise-cancelling microphones, a 120GB SATA hard drive, 2GB of RAM, a LightScribe Super Multi 8X DVD +/- RW with Double Layer drive, a 12-cell battery that lasts up to 8 hours, a 2-year HP Accidental Damage with Express Repair extended service plan, a credit-card sized remote control for the InstantOn feature that lets you play DVDs and CDs without turning on the laptop, an HP Silver Messenger Bag, HP Mobile Noise Cancelling headphones, a retractable phone, ethernet and USB cord kit, and a FREE printer. The price for the set is just $2.111.94 ($1,861.95 without the extended service plan). Again, I dare you to match these specs and see if you can get a similar price.

I have only two bad things to say. I haven’t heard good things about HP reliability from my friends and contacts. I also know from personal experience that once HP decides to discontinue a product, their interest in supporting it goes downhill, and it’s basically forgotten. Perhaps that’s changed now that they’ve re-designed their laptops, but still, I’d recommend getting the extended support plan. The one I mentioned above includes two years (there are 1 and 3 year options as well) of Accidental Damage (in case you drop it or spill something on it) and Extended Repair (when your hardware just plain fails). I would actually recommend getting an extended support plan for any laptop or desktop you purchase, because you don’t want to be left stranded when you’re in a bind.

The second thing is more like a wish, and that is for the dv6000 line to include dual core Intel processors. It currently doesn’t. Although AMD may beat out Intel with its recent line-up of dual core processors, the Core Duo 2 line of processors, code-named Merom, that Intel will come out with in August, are already beating AMD’s line-up. Plus, they’re readily interchangeable with the current dual core Intel chips. That means you can get a laptop now, and upgrade your processor to a screaming fast Merom chip when the price for those goes down.

At any rate, I can’t find a better deal for the specs and looks that these two laptops, so if you’re in the market for a Windows laptop, get your hands on one of these!


HP to cancel telecommuting for its IT division

In a move that stunned its IT workforce and the public, HP’s new CIO announced it will eliminate telecommuting for most of its IT folks. They’ll be forced to come to work at some 25 offices in various locations around the world. If they don’t, they’ll be out of a job without severance pay. Due to its previous policy of encouraging telecommuting, HP now has employees spread as far apart as the East coast when the job is on the West coast. If such employees want to keep their jobs, they’ll have to uproot their lives and families, which is just plain silly.

As a past IT Director with change management experience, I can say the following:

  • 180-degree turns are traumatic, and don’t turn out well. This is one such change, and it will be messy and painful. It will alienate a lot of bright folks. From a management standpoint, it’s not right. Change is best done gradually, and by co-opting people.
  • Making the bright people come into the office in order to straighten out the poor performers, as HP’s CIO hints, is yet another silly decision. Yes, I can tell you certain IT personnel should be on-site, but not everyone needs to be there. If HP’s IT workforce is peppered with poor employees, this is a recruitment/management issue, not a telecommuting issue. The decision is a non sequitur. If your tire is flat, plugging the exhaust pipe won’t solve the problem. Seems to me a much better solution would be to pair up the poor performers with good performers who live in the same area, and have them work together on issues, whether it’s at someone’s home or my IM/phone. Training would also be another solution.

Overall, I think this is a pretty rude change in policy, and not well thought out. It was done namely for the sake of shaking things up, not because a specific goal needed to be accomplished.