More from: office depot

Consumer tablet avalanche is coming

Last fall Hewlett Packard decided to end its consumer computer line and focus on commercial computers. At that time they also decided to liquidate their inventory of HP TouchPad tablets at $99 each which detonated a market response loud enough to awaken every potential tablet maker on the planet. The philosophy before that time had been that “People just don’t want tablets”: at that moment they all simultaneously realized “People do want tablets, they just refuse to pay $600 to get one.” It is pretty much as Henry Ford observed: “If you build a product that people know they want, and sell it for a price they can afford to pay, they will buy it.”

At that time I began telling people that by 3rd-4th quarter 2012 — after manufacturers had time to get a design and start production — there would be a large increase in availability of tablets at much more competitive prices. Netbooks would also decrease in visibility — we’ll see tablets and notebooks with desktop PCs for syncing and “real” work — mobile devices are OK in the field but inadequate for standard office work such as typing and web page development.

At this point in time Best Buy and Office Depot adds in the Fort Wayne Newspapers Sunday paper both had several tablets on sale — ASUS has the most expensive one: the TF300 Transformer Tablet: at $399.99. It has a keyboard/dock available to mitigate the irritation of typing: the TF300 Transformer Doc: for another $149.99. Acer also has an entry, the A100 Icona for $259.99. Other Best Buy entries include a Kindle for $79.99, and a PanDigital Nova Android Reader for 139.99. They also had a Brother HL-2270DW Laser Printer for $99.99 and a bunch of Droid phones. Office Depot has a Brother HL-2240 Laser printer on their cover for $69.99 and also has the ASUS Transformer for $399.99. I also noticed at Barns and Nobles this week they were aggressively promoting their Nook Color for $249: their web site currently prices Nook Color and Nook Tablet respectively at $169 and $199. I have a Nook Color and an HP TouchPad. They are both great: my only irritations are 1. inability to take notes as I could on older PDAs, and 2. uncooperative on-line store bickering that requires me to load Android to read the Kindle or Droid stores from my Nook. CM7 “Gingerbread” works nicely. Ice Cream Sandwich (CM9) is available but it is still experimental, and possibly dead. I have considered doing Nook Color development to fix some of my irritations but other projects are still higher priority right now.

My take on this is that we are beginning to see the snow wrinkle up in the mountains but the landslide has not reached us yet — prices will be lower and selection will be more like the selection for mobile phones is now — many possibilities in several price brackets. I think some of these tablets may even include telephony with a small BlueTooth remote with the requisite SIM card and 1-2 year contract. I am thinking the price will be around $150 or less in most cases with high end tablets being closer to $250. I see Apple has a niche market who will pay for art, so I am not thinking they will discount whatever version of the iPad is current much lower than today’s $499, however they may very well add a killer feature or two — HUP in eye glasses with a BlueTooth connection for example.

Where I think the technology is going:

  • Docking / sync stations will be an add-on at first as was the number keypad for the IBM PC keyboard, but eventually they will be expected as a part of the tablet. BlueTooth could be used to allow use with an external BlueTooth keyboard and mouse instead.
  • Telephoney will be included. My HP 6910p already has it with a SIM card slot under the battery, and that is an old notebook. More popular however will be tablets which are “unlocked” — those which will allow the owner to control who s/he chooses for his or her business partner (wireless vendor).
  • Handwriting mode will be added with some kind of office apps built in — not via “the cloud”.  It will become possible to take notes in meetings without a big effort.
  • There will be a decent real leather case that can be carried elegantly on your person — not like the awkward bump that gets stuck on things as you walk past. There will be more accessorization and as the price drops at the low end people will be thinking more in terms of the color or art on the plastic, assuming all the electronics works about the same with about the same capabilities.
  • Competition will heat up pretty good 3Q2012 with explosive deals on Black Friday to hit the Christmas season. Unemployment dropped to about 7% in Indiana last month so more people will have money to spend. Hopefully.
  • The itty-bitty-breakable tiny USB micro jack for power charging and linking will go away. It will be replaced by magnetic charging and wireless link for both customer satisfaction and hardware cost reasons.
  • Barns and Nobles, Amazon, Apple, and others will quit bickering over “stores” and trying to prevent their customers from benefiting from media sold by other stores, and tablets will all run all the major store apps so customers can buy where they see fit. I say “all the major store apps” because the market is always right and those who won’t play nice eventually won’t play much. The Customer May Not Always Be Right, BUT THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS THE CUSTOMER!
  • Multi-core processors will be included with decent RAM and other resource allocations in the design. While you are out you will use the tablet as a mobile device but when you get home you will slide it into a slot/dock and it will become your PC. Ubuntu has already announced they *have* done this for multi-core phones running Android — a version of Ubuntu installs on the phone alongside the Android: docking the phone turns it into a satisfactory PC. Bill Gates foresaw this two decades ago and wrote about it in his book. Microsoft has redesigned the Windows 8 “Metro” to look and work like a mobile device instead of the desktop — I wonder if someone is awake there too.
  • Pricing: single-cores that can’t turn into a PC by docking: commodity $20-$89, mid: $149, high: $249 and up. Pricing multi-cores that can actually do a passable job as a generic office PC:  commodity $250-$350, mid: $450-$689, high: $700 and up.

That is the thought for the day — hold your plastic a couple more months unless you are dying to own a Nook or Kindle, and have plenty of cash ready to go for Black Friday sales right after Thanksgiving Thursday. Also when you buy watch for features and hardware composition: especially at first things will not all be compatible or equal.


Tax Software

Tax time is fast approaching. There is info on how to file US and State taxes for free, without buying any tax software at all just a bit further down this page.

We used the Intuit TurboTax and Quicken products basically since their creation but a few years ago we ran into what we considered irreconcilable differences(Note 1) and had to fire Intuit. Since that time we have purchased the new H&R Block Tax Cut software each year.

H&R Block changed the product name this year to H&R Block At Home. It comes in several versions, Basic, Deluxe, and Premium. We priced the product on H&R Block’s web site, via a CD H&R Block mails to their past customers to recapture their business for this year, and through web sites for three large office supply chains: Office Depot, Staples, and Wal-Mart.

If your taxes are pretty ordinary (no special business forms or such) then just go to Wal-Mart and buy the $15 ‘Basic’ package. OR skip buying software at all and just use the Free IRS web site.

The benefit of buying the software is the additional safety of having someone besides Big Brother look over your taxes as you work on them and then tell you what to change *before* you file it, the ability to start your taxes on your notebook right away and come back later to finish, for example if you still need some information that is missing when you start, and also the ability to print nice copies of your tax return for all those situations that demand them through the year: your return stays on your computer so you just start the program and click print. If you like the program and buy another one next year, then your work from this year should be automagically sucked into next year’s program for you, so you can skip some typing (such your name, address, ssn, and how much your refund was for 2009).

We looked at the prices (to nearest whole dollar) in each case, and the results are as follows:

Basic Deluxe
w/o State
Deluxe
with State
Premium
H&R Block Web Site $35.00 $45.00 $60.00
Office Depot $20.00 $20.00 $35.00 $50.00
Staples $20.00 $30.00 $45.00 $60.00
Wal-Mart $15.00 $40.00 $50.00

Office Depot advertised the Deluxe without (w/o) State but they were sold out (obviously people know they don’t need State in Indiana because they can file for free on the IN.GOV web site). Why Office Depot is stocking Deluxe with State in Indiana is beyond me. Maybe they are just hoping people will not know about filing for free on IN.GOV and buy the State anyway.

If your income is less than $57,000 you can probably copy the resulting forms right onto the http://www.irs.gov/ on the IRS “FreeFile”, which I think is about everyone. If you actually snookered more than $57,000 last year you can still use e-File on the IRS site. OOOHHHH and remember Adult Life Training has been doing wonderful work helping displaced older workers update their job skills and so they can get re-employed and reduce your tax burden for this year. Send your tax deductible donation to Adult Life Training, c/o Abundant Life, 3301 East Coliseum Blvd, Fort Wayne, IN 46805 or click the button at top left of their page to Donate with PayPal. (end of shameless promotion of my charity)

If you use Free File or E-File the refund should be in your bank account in 10 days or less. Ditto for the Indiana Personal Income taxes — just copy a few numbers onto the IN.GOV tax form, without paying big ‘electronic filing’ fees to some corporation. There might be a filing fee of say $2, Indiana tends to do stuff like that.

Prices are shown to the nearest dollar. We ended up buying at Office Depot. We wanted the package without the State capacity because Indiana provides free income tax filing to their citizens via their IN.GOV web site — no eFiling fee, no extra charge for preparation, no third party collecting your financial data and then forwarding it to Indiana for you: we just type the numbers from our federal form onto Indiana’s web form and file. We like that.

Photo H&R Block At Home Premium
Photo H&R Block At Home Premium

As it turns out, the Office Depot folks explained that I needed the Premium version because the Deluxe version will not let you fill in a Schedule A or C. This seems like a rather unexpected limitation — a call later to H&R Block busted this claim: Deluxe will do the Forms A, C, and many others.

H&R BLOCK At Home Premium Package contents
H&R BLOCK At Home Premium Package contents

The prices for Intuit started at $24.95 and went up to $129.95. I felt that their web site was also a bit confusing because they advertised “Start for Free” but they didn’t really describe when they get my money or how much of it they expect to get in a way that I felt was obvious — money details should be on the first screen. Apparently Intuit’s Home and Business (compares to Block’s Premium) is $74.95 PLUS $36.95 more if you want the State too.

Guess H&R Block is the competitor this year.

The competition considered, $50 for H&R Block At Home Premium (their Home & Small Business version) isn’t so bad, even if I would have liked to escape paying for the State that I did not need or want. In H&R Block’s defense, they do include five (5) eFiles with that package, except there is only one of me so you go figure. Maybe 4 more people would like to eFile their Federal Return with my tax package. Hmmmm. Wonder if I could soak ’em each for say, $12.50?

Our test system is a VMWare virtual machine (VM) with dual core CPU and 4 gig of RAM running Windows 7 Ultimate. We copied our data from last year into the VM and let Windows 7 update itself before we began. We converted the CD to an .iso  to serve the VM as a CD for the install. Installation was straight forward with nothing to see: we started the CD and clicked seven times. Done. Maybe 2 minutes total.

Operation of the software is straight forward. You just follow the screens and type in the numbers it requests. The software will ask you questions to discover which forms to use to your best advantage, then finally it will test your return to be sure there is nothing in it to trigger an audit and send it electronically to IRS. To make extra copies later you just start the program again and click print.


Notes:
1. For years we used the Intuit Turbo Tax, and then a few years ago we black listed Intuit over what we felt were several ethical and security issues: we do not like their installation of the “Content Guard” copyright protection software on our computers because we had very bad experience using it with Zinio some years ago (it kept forgetting we were allowed to use our subscriptions, which we simply cannot afford to have happen with our financial data), and we had a major dispute with Intuit over their demand that we pay them $200 every year to buy the same information contained in the (free) IRS Circular E, even though we prefer to do our own payroll and their QuickBooks product represented that as one of three ways we could use our copy of QuickBooks to do our payroll.
Intuit literally told me that business persons are not capable of typing in the three or four numbers from the Circular E, so it is in our best interest that they force us to pay them to do it for us instead, and to enforce that position by deleting all our payroll multipliers (withholding rate, etc) every time we try to run payroll. We had been buying their new version of Turbo Tax and the accompanying consumer accounting software Quicken for more than a decade — from Quicken version 2.0 on up.
So that is how we started using an alternative tax preparation software, Tax Cut by H&R Block. Not that it was all that different to use: H&R Block simply seems to understand that their customers do not want their financial secrets potentially compromised by malfunctioning ‘copy protection’ software and so far as I have detected, they have not followed in Intuit’s steps to so disrespect their paying customers.
Note: this article is the writers personal opinion. It is based upon almost 40 years of experience in small computers and communications, but it is still an opinion.It is presented AS IS. All use is at your own risk.

Notebook for Christmas

A friend recently asked me about buying a notebook computer for Christmas. This is a good question, so I will answer it here. This is strictly opinion: constitutionally protected free speech. Use at your own risk. I haven’t mentioned Apple notebooks in here but they are my favorite for the “over $1,000.00” category. Please comment to share your shopping experiences.

I look on NewEgg.com, ZipZoomFly.com, or TigerDirect.com among others for pricing and features. Frankly I buy a lot of stuff from NewEgg: for one thing I really like the fact that I can see how many people bought Readmore..