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Old 03-05-2009, 12:36   #1
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The Utopian Laptop Software.

I'm setting up a new network and looking for the current optimal software. Whilst I'm sure there is no panacea, I'm hoping there is a consensus out there on two or three packages that offer simplicity as a one stop shop, the full Monty feature wise, ubiquitous and seamless integration to all communication systems, user friendliness and of coarse, friendly on the wallet.

My considerations so far:
  • Mac or PC/Windows. Windows is less stable and more likely to crash exactly when I need it. That being said, it has the majority of apps written for it. Mac is basically Unix and more stable, but less choice of apps. PC's are cheap as chips and one can buy three cheap ones for the price of a Mac, so redundancy/back-up is cost effective.
  • Salty air life span and marine durability.
  • Of course I want it all and that means an application that can integrate sonar, radar, mapping, plotting, auto-pilot, NMEA and other protocols, load any vendor's vector maps, listen to wind speed and other sensors, allow me to program alarms, like drift when at anchor, alarms for vessels approaching within 30km like the somali pirates, and lets not forget nicities like muting the HiFi system to alert me of the alarms...... Ok, asking a little to much, but, as always, one should aim for the stars and then shoot higher, or more realistically, bite of more than you can chew, and then chew like hell......
  • Integration for DSC transmit and receive.
  • AIS integration
  • Avoid vendor lock.
  • Go best of breed and still be able to integrate all those great features.
  • Common bus and not be forced to duplicate hardware.
  • Not switch between apps for example, between a radar app and the mapping software.
As I've been mulling over this for a few weeks and still no conclusion, I'm reaching out for some wisdom. I haven't put all my real thoughts, as after three glasses of shiraz, it could turn into a ramble.

Appreciate your thoughts.

Cheers.

Ben.
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Old 03-05-2009, 14:46   #2
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Apple’s “Boot Camp” free download program allows you to run Windows applications. I've heard it's even faster than on a PC.
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Old 03-05-2009, 16:08   #3
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Originally Posted by bbhflts View Post

Mac or PC/Windows. Windows is less stable and more likely to crash exactly when I need it.

Ben.
Hi Ben,

I have always had PC's and the last crash I had was many years ago.
I have had a Vista laptop on the boat for the last year and it has NEVER crashed once.

If you are cruising then I would be recommending PC as it integrates with more nav software, more on board systems, and will be easier to integrate things you buy in some weird place in the world
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Old 03-05-2009, 16:18   #4
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I concur with Mark. The Macintosh advertisements are pretty much false. I have been using Windows XP since it came out and it is rock steady for running Nobeltec and other software I use onboard. I don't want to get into a Mac versus PC flame war. Thats just been my experience with my four computers onboard plus the laptops that others bring onboard. All the research that is done onboard is done with Microsoft. Thats the OS that all this sofware is written for. Its the industry standard.

BSOD's are pretty rare thing these days.
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Old 03-05-2009, 17:31   #5
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As others are saying the pragmatic approach (other than the romantic approach ) is go with PC and MS Windows. We have 7 PC's here, mixture of notebooks and tower, with a mixture of XP and Vista, networked over a mix of cable and wireless, on board and ashore, and running a wide variety of applications including for business, internet connectivity (ADSL, and GPRS via fixed cellular terminals and cell phones as modems), marine and radio and we have no problems whatsoever with crashes, viruses, connectivity, etc.

As to survivability on board, you should have no problems unless the boat is a damp one. Notebooks will stand anything that the boat will stand with respect to shock loads (and console PC's will too).

As to nav, AIS, radar, integration there are a variety of applications available pulling them all together and the choice is personal. For myself I tend to prefer less integration and so less clutter at the user interface.

I doubt very much that you will get any application for "Integration for DSC transmit and receive" as the DSC functionality is bound within the radio's type approval and so should not be controlled from externally.
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Old 03-05-2009, 19:23   #6
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I have been doing computers (Professionally) for more than 30 years and all the statements about Macs being more stable than PCs' is pure bunk. I kept stats on them for years, and Macs until they switched to Unix were much less stable than even the early DOS and Windows PCs. Now that the operating system is UNIX they are roughly comparible. What is different is security. There is a global massive effort to attack PCs probably because they are so much more ubiquitous than Macs or UNIX systems. If your PC is open to the internet you will have to mind your security measures.

With regards to salt air, try to put the computer in a place where it won't get splashed. One of the major things is to not let the computer get cold in a warm moist environment. Having it turned on will generate enough heat to keep it dry, this is likely to be a problem in the morinings if it has been off all night and the cabin warms up quickly. Moisture will condense on the cold surfaces including the circuit boards. This is not good for it. I have a PC mounted about 10 feet from my companion way and I have not had any trouble. It's now about 2 years old.

As for software I use Coastal explorer from Rose Point Navigation. It will do most of what you want with the exception of the DSC integration. I think Midlandone is correct about the reason.

The biggest issue I think you be surprised at is the amount of power it takes to run any computer. PC's or macs have way more power and speed than needed to run these navigation systems and use many times the power of most purpose built nav systems such as Garmin or Raymarine. Those systems run at lower speeds and lower power. I recommend that if you go the PC route to take advantage of the solid state disk technologies and forego the traditional hard disk. They take a lot more power to run and are much slower. Also typically a slower processor consumes less power so don't necessarily go for fastest one you can get. If your on a sailboat and are power limited you'll want to be careful about your selection. Leaving a PC on all night for an anchor drag alarm can easily consume 10 or more times the power of a GPS with an anchor drag alarm. My PC in this mode consumes about 1.5 amps of AC power, which I get of of an inverter. That is essentially 15 -16 amps of 12V DC power and that is with the monitor turned off. My Raymarine GPS and chart plotter draw about an amp. Needless to say I use the Raymarine to monitor my anchor position.
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Old 04-05-2009, 01:49   #7
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Thanks Guys.

All very valid points. So the concensus on the platform is Windows, likley XP due to it's maturity and my familiarity.

RE the DSC integration, I didn't mean to imply that the DSC would be sent or received by the laptop through the radio, but that it can monitor/display incoming/outgoing DSC that the radio handles.

Re mapping/plotting/radar/sonar/passage and environmental reporting software, what's the concensus?

Cheers.

Ben.
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Old 04-05-2009, 03:26   #8
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RE the DSC integration, I didn't mean to imply that the DSC would be sent or received by the laptop through the radio, but that it can monitor/display incoming/outgoing DSC that the radio handles.
What type of content in the DSC messages would you be interested in seeing on screen?
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Old 04-05-2009, 04:06   #9
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All very valid points. So the concensus on the platform is Windows, likley XP due to it's maturity and my familiarity.

.

Ben.
LOL Ben. Go the Vista. Its much better
XP is obselete and has been for years
Would you buy a mac an run an old OS?
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Old 04-05-2009, 06:24   #10
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I thought I’d chime in on the merits of PC or MAC onboard a cruising boat.

When properly setup and operated, the two are roughly equal as far as stability goes. Windows runs into problems because:

1. Most malicious code is designed for Windows (the price of being market leader) - but proper security software (even free stuff), combined with conscientious operation should yield a machine nearly as stable as any MAC. I can’t speak for VISTA, but XP (and earlier versions) still benefit from a yearly hard-drive format and OS reinstall. This is particularly true for machines connected to broadband as the junk seems to collect so much faster.
2. Windows use of a common registry, IMO, is a serious design flaw. It is all too easy to inadvertently ‘break’ other programs by installing over a common component. This is compounded by the practice of many programmers to include unneeded DLL’s just-in-case (it being easier to include it in the install package then QA without it). So, you install application X and get it to work flawlessly. Sometime later you install application Y - suddenly app X stops working because app Y changed a common file in Windows (which may not even be used by the two apps!). If you pay attention to what you install this problem can be avoided.

I would still recommend some flavor of Windows onboard due to better software selection and cheaper hardware (less tears when things stop working). With the following suggestions:

1. Set up an administrator account and separate user accounts. Only use the admin account for installing apps and system maintenance. Setup the user accounts with the minimal permissions to operate the required functionality and appropriate power saving settings. So, maybe a NAVIGATION account w/o internet access and a WEBSURFING account. Perhaps even an ANCHORMODE that shuts down everything but the anchor alarm. Also make guests use a GUEST account. Yes it’s a pain to switch user accounts, but it adds additional protection. Given how cheap PCs are, I’d even suggest separate machines for navigation and more general use.

2. When installing new applications pay attention to what’s happening. If you get some type of warning concerning a DLL, research it!

3. Get your machine working properly and then back it up. If anything funky starts to happen a clean re-imaging with this fallback should solve your problem. Also save all your user files to a common location (including email client datafiles, pictures, music, etc.) to make a separate backup of those easier. When you install new software, get the system working the way you want and then make a new fallback disk backup. If possible keep a copy of the backup both onboard and somewhere safe on land.

The above all applies to a MAC as well. Though an advantage MACs have over PCs is the ability to restore backups seamlessly between any MAC hardware (laptop or desktop). MAC #1 dies, simply restore your backup to MAC #2. Everything will be the same - including internet history, passwords, wireless internet settings, everything.

By way of disclaimer: I was a Windows developer for 12+ years, but use MACs exclusively for personal/family use. I do have XP running via BOOTCAMP, but only use it for Income Tax software. My experience with VISTA consists of fixing just about every computer owned by family and friends after they downloaded or installed something.
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Old 04-05-2009, 07:18   #11
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With Windows 7 due this fall it makes no sense to lock yourself in to XP unless you have software you know for sure won't run on anything but XP. Have had Win 7 under daily use since the Beta came out and it is everything Vista was supposed to be and more. Rock solid stable, 1 blue screen in hundreds of hours of use, Vista drivers work on it, comparison tests between it and XP show Win 7 is faster, noticeably so. Runs on way less hardware than Vista needs. Worth waiting for, IMHO. Release candidate came out last week, will be installing it today.

BTW, I refused to use Vista, only had it on one machine because clients were sucked into getting it and I needed to test on it. Pure junkware.
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Old 04-05-2009, 07:37   #12
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I agree with Amfivena on setting up a separate account with admin privileges and everyday working accounts without them. I even do this on my home computer. With regards to the navigation account keep in mind that account will be suspended when using another account.

With regards to a separate computer for navigation, this is something I have been recently considering. The new netbook computers offer a reasonable level of capability, at least for navigation purposes, and at a very reduced power consumption level. The bricks of a netbook are rated at about 30 watts, far less than a desktop PC and substantially less than a regular laptop. They are also available with solid state disks. You would not want to be editing video on such a machine but they might just do for navigation. Has anyone out there tried a netbook running something like Coastal Explorer?
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Old 04-05-2009, 09:03   #13
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I suggest a Panasonic Toughbook running XP. The thing is almost bulletproof as regards to weather and "adverse conditions". I agree to the solid-state HDD as regards power, but like the "First Rule Of Govt Spending" why have one when you can have 2 at twice the price! ;0)
Have 2 drives identically formatted and programmed and put one away in a box with foam rubber. Short of a PC hardware failure(mobo), yer butt's covered. JMHO

BTW as for Vista...remember Millenium? Utter crap.

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Old 04-05-2009, 20:32   #14
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Hey Fishman.

You just kicked off another tangent, but hey, I couldn't help myself.

Conclusion - Review Tom's Hardware : Six New SSDs: Can Intel Be Dethroned?


I looked at some of the "hardened" manufacturers products, but don't see that they are worth the cost. Also have a look at the wiki on SSD drives: Solid-state drive - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Interestingly only Windows 7 will be optimised for SSD:

SSDs and Microsoft Windows

Windows is optimized for hard disk drives rather than SSDs.[48][49] Microsoft created ReadyBoost to exploit characteristics of USB-connected flash devices, but Windows operating systems are not optimized for use of SSDs. Microsoft's latest OS Windows 7 which is still in beta, is optimized for SSDs[50] as well as hard disks.


Cheers.


Ben.
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Old 04-05-2009, 21:10   #15
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I've made my decision on the platform. OLPC XOXO. They are cheap, tough, can run windows and you can benefit children in poverty stricken countries via the Give 1 Get 1 program. http://laptopgiving.org/

Just need to understand if one can upgrade the hard drive for something like the Intel’s X25-M SSD.

Gizmodo - OLPC XO Laptop 2.0 Has Dual Touchscreens, Looks Amazing and Future-y - Gadgets

Lower Power Consumption - While the first generation XO laptop already requires just one-tenth (2-4 watts versus 20-40 watts) of the electrical power necessary to run a standard laptop, the XO-2 will reduce power consumption even further to 1 watt. This is particularly important for children in remote and rural environments where electricity is scarce or non-existent. Lowering the power consumption will reduce the amount of time required for children to generate power themselves via a hand crank or other manual mechanisms.
Smaller Footprint - The XO-2 laptop will be about half the size of the first generation device and will approximate the size of a book. The new design will make the XO laptop lighter and easier for children to carry with them to and from school or wherever they go. The XO-2 will continue to be in a green and white case and sport the XO logo in a multitude of colors that allow children to personalize the laptop as their own possession.
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