Avast! Antivirus – Free Windows Anti-Virus Software

I avoided the “Must Have” label for this one but it was tough. If you don’t like your current AV software or are about to spend money on some you should look here first. Avast Personal Edition is free (for home/non-commercial use) and is complete anti-virus software that does well in independent tests. I use it on all my Windows machines and recommend it whenever I can. When I was looking for AV software a couple years ago Avast came to my attention because it had scored 100% in Virus Bulletin testing and had gotten good reviews elsewhere. The clincher was that it was free for me to use.

You need to register to get a license key which is then good for 14 months. I’ve used the product for over two years and re-registering wasn’t a problem. They sell a full line of AV products so I assume they consider this a marketing expense. I give them credit and my thanks for making such a full featured product available for free.

They do offer a “Professional Version” for sale but the free version is not at all nagware or a severely limited product. A comparison with the Professional version is here. I’ve never run into a “You need the pro version for this, buy it now” type message when using Avast. The only mention is a “Buy Professional” menu selection. The online help does mention Professional only features but they aren’t identified as pro only which can be confusing.

Features includes:

  • Resident scanner for for checking files and programs as they are accessed
  • On-Demand scans of hard drives, network drives and removable media
  • Resident scanners for E-Mail (Outlook, Outlook Express and others). Instant messaging, P2P, Network shield (protects against internet worms) and Web browsing.
  • Scans inside .zip and other compressed files.
  • You can’t schedule scans but there’s an anti-virus screen saver that will scan when the screen saver is activated.
  • Virus definitions and program updates are downloaded automatically.
  • Scans can be run a boot-time. They use the term “schedule” but this really means “set to run at next boot”.
  • A virus recovery database is available. This collects information about your files (when your PC is inactive) on the theory this information may help repair an infected file.
  • There’s logging and most other features you’d expect to find in a commercial product.
  • Skinnable interface

The best thing I can say about this is that it works without being noticed. There’s no impact on performance which isn’t something I could say with Symantec when I used that. I don’t typically run into viruses but Avast successfully detected the Eicar test virus and then aborted the connection with the web page. It also correctly identified it as a test virus and not a real virus.

Check out Avast before spending money for AV on your home PC. Just because Symantec (or something else) comes with you PC doesn’t make it the best, just willing to pay your PC vendor the most for the privilege.

Links:
Avast (Alwil Software) Web Site: http://www.avast.com
Avast Personal Edition Page: http://www.avast.com/eng/avast_4_home.html

Quicksilver – [Another] Must Have Mac App

Quicksilver is is even more a “must have app” than Pathfinder, because it’s FREE and just as great. There is a bit of a learning bump to get into it but it’s well worth it. Look at it this way, you’re not spending any money for it so the time to learn it is the only cost, and it’s still a great bargain.

The simple description of Quicksilver is that it’s an application launcher (simple, but also too simplistic). It also understands data files and the data in them and streamlines working with them. Frequent actions can also be set up as triggers to further streamline things.

As I mentioned there’s a bit of a bump to get into it so I committed to force myself to use QS for three days. I did spend some time looking at the tutorials to learn how to use the features I wanted but it was less than three days before my muscle memory was QS enabled.

I’ve barely scratched the surface but here’s what I was doing within those first three days:

  • Created triggers to open (or activate if already open) mail and iTunes.
  • Used QS to open my website admin console and several other frequently used sites.
  • Created triggers to append lines to several text files. For example, I have a file called “rememberthis.txt” and if I come across something I want to remember I hit the trigger key (^R) then type the text and it’s added to the file. If you prefer you can add the line at the beginning of the file. I have numerous text files covering different topics. I use triggers for the most common and use the regular QS interface for the rest.
  • Like any app launcher, I start all my apps through it. Just start typing the name, QS will create a list of matches with it’s best guess at the top. I can keep typing or arrow down to the one I want. I’ve noticed it tends to keep recent apps at the top of it’s guesses which is a real time saver.
  • Starting to typing a file name will also open it or make it available for other actions such as copying, deleting, e-mailing, compressing it, copying it to the clipboard and more.

One of the things I did stumble over at first was the use of plug-ins and actions. Not so much the concepts themselves, but some of the things I was trying to do from the tutorials required me to install plug-ins that weren’t there by default and some of the actions I needed were off by default. So when you install QS go into preferences and check out the Plug-ins selection of preferences and select the ones you’ll want to get started. Then head into Preference->Actions and make sure the actions you’ll want are enabled.

The developer of Quicksilver is a guy calling himself Alcor who’s active in Quicksilver related forums. (At least the claim is Alcor is one guy and the Alcor handle is active on the forums). The Quicksilver website has the beginning of a user manual but it also has an active forum and links to numerous tutorials and tips that others have done. Quicksilver is a app that skips the bells and whistles, keeps the user interface to a minimum and increases productivity.

Links
Quicksilver website: http://quicksilver.blacktree.com/
You should check the tutorials on the QS website, but I found Dan Dickinson’s tutorial to be a good start, it’s at http://vjarmy.com/archives/2004/03/quicksilver_a_b.php and still useful even though it’s a couple of years old.

TV Shows as Podcasts – Thanks PBS

PBS is doing something which I hope will catch on. They are piloting three science shows on their TV stations (of course) and also making them available as free video Podcasts. You can visit the PBS website to watch the shows or subscribe to the podcast feed using iTunes or any other rss aggregator/podcatcher. They’re looking for feedback about the shows to help determine which one to keep.

I like the concept of making the shows available for free and hope to see more of it. PBS also has several other podcasts available through iTunes and their website which are worth checking out. Several of these are audio versions of their broadcast shows while others are short video or audio supplements which are more like trailers or ads.

I’ve been a fan of The Newhour with Jim Lehrer (and the previous McNeil/Lehrer Report) for years and now listen through the podcast. It’s a hour news show built around longer news segments, usually three a show. The podcast drops the “new summary” and occasional lifestyle or commentary segments and publishes the in-depth news segments as separate recordings (at least that’s the way it’s available through iTunes). This makes it easy to pick the segments that interest me if I’m pressed for time, no need to fast forward. It’s TV that’s audio only but usually that’s not a problem since the content usually isn’t very visual.

The Nightly Business Report is also an audio podcast of the entire show although it’s not one that I listen to. NOW and Washington Week also appear to be full length podcasts of their show based on the length, but I haven’t listened to them.

There’s numerous other podcasts available although most are supplements to their shows. I’ve downloaded some of them tagged with their Nova brand to give a try. If your into any PBS shows you should check out their website or your favorite podcast directory to see what’s available. iTunes already has a section for PBS podcasts so they’re easy to find.

Pathfinder – Must Have Mac App

When I first fired up Pathfinder I had a flashback to my DOS days using XTree Pro. Now, DOS flashbacks would normally be considered a bad thing, but XTree was an absolutely great file manager and one of my all-time favorites. Pathfinder gave me the same impression, it’s a Finder replacement and so much more. It hasn’t disappointed me.

Since Pathfinder has so many features and is so customizable there’s a bit of a learning curve but it’s easy to get into and start using. I didn’t find myself wanting to go back to Finder to make thing easy. As time goes one I’m exploring more and more added features. It’s $35 and I’ll be buying it when my eval period nears it’s end.

You can check out the Pathfinder page and the other links at the bottom of this post for more information, but here’s what I like so far:

  • Tabbed browsing & breadcrumbs – The main file window looks a lot like Finder but supports tabs and displays a breadcrumb trail along the top to make it quick to go up to a higher level directory.
  • A “Get Info” window (no right-click menu) with tons of information. It also allows managing access rights and creation/modification dates along with numerous other attributes and properties.
  • Drop Stack – This is a temporary storage space I use several ways. Rather than having to multi-select files from among a long list they can simply be dragged to the stack one or two at a time (no more errant clicks screwing up the selections) then dragged from there to their new location. Instead of having to drag files around Finder I can place them on the drop stack then go to the new location and pull them off.
  • Drag a folder to the toolbar and it adds itself as an icon for easy browsing access.
  • Drag a folder to the tab bar and it opens in a new tab for browsing.
  • A resizable preview panel that shows previews of many file types.
  • Bookmarks and Favorites for frequently used folders
  • Customizable context menus (right or control-click menus) with many available actions such as “Compress” and “Compress and e-mail”
  • A slick search tool that’s independent of spotlight (or can use spotlight) that has numerous features. This is one of the things I’m still getting used to.
  • If the breadcrumbs aren’t enough for you there’s a folder history drawer to make it easy to go back to a folder you visited earlier.
  • Easy one-click access to the console
  • A terminal drawer that drops down to provide easy access to the unix command line
  • And a pet peeve that drove me crazy in Finder – the main “Finder” window displays the amount of fspace used on the drive rather than just the available space. Don’t ask me why, it just makes me happy to see both free and used space.
  • Once click access to burn a directory tree (or any selected directories/disks) to DVD or CD. No burn folders needed.
  • The desktop can be hidden, making for a nice clean desktop, while the files on the desktop are still accessible through Pathfinder.
  • Integrated file viewers so other apps don’t open up when I want to view files such as PDFs or text files.
  • There’s a panel that shows running process. Clicking on the process makes it active. Process can also be ended from the panel.
  • It seems like everything is customizable
  • Commands are available in multiple ways – menus, key shortcuts, toolbars, etc… and they’re all fully configurable.

Pathfinder is a Universal app. If you find Finder lacking then head over and download the evaluation. You’ll like what you see. If your someone who likes the “one-button” approach to the Mac then you probably won’t like Finder.

Links:

Cocoatech Website (Publisher): www.cocoatech.com There’s a 30-day eval available. It’s full featured, just a bag screen at startup. If your like me you’ll only see the nag screen at boot up.

I first came across Pathfinder at 43 Folders so you can head out there and search on Pathfinder for more information.

Tech Related Podcasts (aka netcasts)

Just prior to the holidays I got into listening to podcasts big time when I was looking for things to keep me occupied when I was out of the house. While I’d listened to some podcasts in the past, this is the first time I really looked at what’s out there and actually subscribed to any. I spend anywhere from 1 1/2 to two hours a day in my car and have kept right on listening during my commute. Which could bring up a new question for pundits: “Will podcasts kill morning radio?”

You don’t need an iPod or iTunes to listen to podcasts, despite the name. Although, in my case I use both. Most podcasts have MP3 downloads available on their website and have feeds available outside of iTunes (all the ones I checked out do). If you don’t want to use iTunes use your favorite search engine to look for “podcatcher” or you can use any RSS reader. I did a quick test and found I could download podcasts from iTunes without logging into the store, so it appears no music store account is needed. There’s also a website, www.podcastready.com which seems to provide the same podcast integration as the iTunes store, but without limitation to iPods as the destination. It does require a free account, which I haven’t done so I can’t say how well it works.

These are the tech podcasts that caught my attention (click on the podcast name to visit their website)…

The Digital Story
This is easily my favorite podcast proven by the fact that I went out to the website and downloaded all the episodes so I could listen to them in order. I’m up to ep 60. Each podcast is about 30 minutes long. The podcast is by Derrick Story who’s a working photographer, has written several books, and does training for digital photography software.

One of the things I like about the podcast is the way it’s used as the basis for a larger experience. He has the concept of a “virtual photo club” and the podcast is simply the starting point for it and the club extends to his website. He posts “grab shots” that listeners send in. He also has a monthly “assignment” where he sets a generic theme (like “Pool of Light”) and people send in theme related photos which he then posts them in a gallery.

Derrick obviously enjoys the podcast and takes it seriously. I found I wanted to listen to all the podcasts, even ones where the topic didn’t interest me (such as “Wedding Photography) because there was usually be good info there anyway.

TWIT.TV
Leo Laporte’s TWIT network (TWIT = This Week in Tech) has numerous podcasts. These are the ones I listen to…

The flagship podcast is This Week in Tech. It’s an hour long (sometimes a bit more) where Leo, John C. Dvorak (usually) and others sit around talking about the week’s tech news. It’s an entertaining hour, but since it’s a “what’s in the news” type podcast it may be a re-hash of what you’ve seen and heard elsewhere.

Security Now! is hosted by Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte. The weekly podcast time varies from about 30 minutes to over an hour, with most being around an hour. Steve is the guy who did Spinrite. This is another podcast where I went back and downloaded old episodes. Basically Steve is the content expert leading the discussion and Leo asks questions or for clarification. This avoids the feeling of it being a classroom lecture and helped to keep my attention.

Windows Weekly is hosted Paul Thurrot and Leo Laporte. The format is the same as Security Now with Paul leading the discussion. Paul is a well known reviewer and author of The Supersite for Windows and magazine articles related to Microsoft products. Podcast times run between 40 minutes and an hour. This is a fairly new podcast (currently on episode 10) so most of the discussion has been Vista related. This is another one where I went back a listened from the beginning but mainly because it was new. It’s mainly targeted to techie’s as it concentrates on the technologies and not on how to use Windows itself. But, it also cover Windows related news that may appeal to everyone.

MacBreak Weekly is another round table format podcast. Hosts can vary but can include Leo Laporte, Alex Lindsey, Merlin Mann, Scott Bourne and others. This podcast runs about an hour and is an “in the news” type podcast. Guests can include people knowledgeable about a topic in the news and in those cases the discussions can be very involved and informative.

FLOSS Weekly (Free Libre Open Source Software). Despite the name, this is rarely published weekly and there hasn’t been a new episode published since November 10th. It’s hosted by Chris DiBona and Leo Laporte. The format for this is a bit different than the other “weeklies” that twit does. Typically they have someone involved in open source, either as part of a project or as a heavy user, and talk to them.

Daily Giz Wiz is hosted by Dick Debartolo and Leo Laporte and runs 15 to 20 minutes. Dick writes for Mad Magazine and has had other writing gigs. It’s an entertaining podcast (usually – humor is subjective) where they discuss and review a gadget. Usually Dick picks it, one day a week Leo picks one, and on Fridays they usually go to the warehouse to look at a failed or obsolete gadget.

KFI Tech Guy is a podcast of a weekend radio call in show that Leo Laporte does. It’s typically an hour and forty five minutes long. It’s just the radio show, minus commercials. The ones I listened to were more tech support than anything else. Probably not the best use of a couple of hours but not a complete waste either. I’m still downloading new eps on the theory they may be used as background noise during the week, although so far I’ve been deleting them at the end of the week when the new download arrives and I haven’t been listening.

MacBreak is a video podcast that runs about 10 minutes but can go longer and is another one of my favorites. First there’s the coolness factor in that the video is high def. (They include a series “The Road to 1080p” that shows how they do the video cast in high def which is a good how-to overview.) A typical show centers on a demo of one app or feature although during MacWorld they did “news” videos from the MacWorld show. As the name implies it’s Mac related, but specific topics and styles do change.

iLifeZone is hosted by Scott Bourne and Derrick Story along with frequent guests. As the name implies, the subject matter is Apple’s iLife Suite with some diversions into general Mac info. Extremely informative and chock full of tips which makes it another one of my favorites. It’s published on the 1st, 10th and 20th of each month.

net@nite is hosted by Amber MacArthur and Leo Laporte. This used to be called “Inside the Net” and concentrates on web sites and web apps. They frequently have guests joining them and it runs about an hour. There’s a lot of interesting information and I subscribe and listen regularly but it hasn’t risen to the level of favorite where I go out to download and listen to the old eps.

The VFX Show is about Movie Visual Effects. It’s hosted by Rob Brinkman, Alex Lindsey and others which work in the movie special effect business. Typically they talk about the effects in a specific movie. Sometimes they branch out into TV (Battlestar Galactica) or discussions in more general topics (like DVD extras). I find it interesting but have only listened to the discussions on movies I’ve seen and interest me. I would think anyone interested in making movies at any level would find this interesting. Since these are working VFX people it’s an insider’s look, rather than a fan discussion.

This Week in Media is a podcast that’s movie related (not “media” as in newspapers and television). It’s hosted by Alex Lindsey and always includes other guests. They talk about movie media related topics such as special effects, software, news, DVD formats and more. I find it to be an interesting listen even if I won’t use the info directly. Some discussions do impact me as a consumer (like copy protection) but those of you more involved in making movies, at any level, will find this more interesting than I do.

This finishes the Twit network podcasts, so on to the non-Twit podcasts.

Buzz Out Loud is a daily tech podcast from CNET and is another in the tech news genre. With three hosts and a fairly short duration it’s worth listening to. It tends to be balanced since each host has different opinions. I just started listening so I may find there’s some overlap with other tech news podcasts.

CommandN is a weekly tech video podcast with Amber and Jeff MacArthur that’s usually less than 15 minutes. They cover tech headlines , have a “web picks” section where they pick web sites they like, and sometimes have a tips type segment.

GeekBrief.TV is a daily tech video cast hosted by Cali Lewis who’s also appeared on other podcasts and TV shows. It typically runs less than 5 minutes. Topics are usually gadgets but there is a wide variety. It’s short, interesting and entertaining.

Mac OS Ken is a tech news podcast that concentrates on the Mac and the host is Ken Ray, which explains the name. It’s daily and typically runs 10 to 15 minutes and covers Apple related news. Another one of those short, informative and entertaining podcasts.

MacCast is a podcast hosted by Adam Christianson. It’s Mac oriented of course and covers news, tips and other Mac related topics. There doesn’t seem to be any specific schedule although is seems to be weekly with a few extras occasionally released.

Any finally, two tech podcasts I didn’t like and don’t subscribe to.
Slashdot Review is not related to Slashdot.org. It’s a news oriented podcasts that regurgitates posting on Slashdot, Digg and Reddit. My main complaint is that I rarely hear anything new here and what is new doesn’t interest me. A second (albeit subjective) complaint is this has to be the most monotone and boring podcast host I’ve listened to. I suppose it’s worth a listen if you don’t browse any news aggregation sites.

Cranky Geeks is hosted by John C. Dvorak. It’s a round table discussion format where John is joined by other guests. A lot of people don’t like Dvorak and that would be enough to turn them off. I don’t fall into that category but I still didn’t like it. Almost all the podcasts have a sponser but this is the only one I listened to where the ads ruined the podcast for me. They use the broadcast television format of numerous commercial breaks, which is really interesting when a video only (no sound) ad is playing on an audio podcast (video versions of the podcast are available). If their talking about something they may hold it up, so if you do listen you’ll probably want the video version. I actually did listen to the video version once to see if it was different and the only time I looked at the screen was to see what the silence was (the previously mentioned video only ad).

Well, this posting is already too long so it seems like a good idea to do this in parts. All my tech related podcasts are covered here but there’s a lot more out there. I’ll cover the ones I listen to in future postings but you can check out iTunes or other podcast directories to see what’s available in your areas of interest.

Comments and Comment Spam

In the recent past a couple comments posted to this site have been incorrectly flagged as spam. This means I actually have to log into the WordPress admin console to even know they exist and then to release them. I had been considering turning off the spam filter since I hadn’t received any real spam. Well, that changed this weekend. There were a couple dozen spam messages caught over this weekend. So the spam filter stays on and I’ll have to start checking the console regularly to process the spam. All in all, not a lot of work (yet) but still a hassle that could delay comments appearing.

I’ll still try to tweak things, but my apologies in advance if there’s a delay in seeing your comments, or the reverse, if a bunch of spam gets through.

Website Update – Frustration then Satisfaction

[Updated Jan 20, 2007 – I no longer use Durable. I found that the drop down menus didn’t work in Safari so I swapped it out. I went out to the WordPress Theme Tester for Durable and found they didn’t work either.]

If you’ve been here before you know the site has a new design. I haven’t been happy with the categories and the way static pages aren’t included in searches. So I spent most of the weekend looking at and testing options, with a side quest into a failed WordPress upgrade.

The bottom line on on the WordPress upgrade is I think my ISP is doing something to prevent it although I can’t figure out what. WordPress was installed by the ISP (I ran a wizard). While I could follow the WordPress directions for the upgrade I ended up only displaying blank pages. So I bailed on that pretty quick.

I had been using K2 as my WordPress theme and I really liked it. But as I looked at plugins and options for handling categories or tags it added a level of complexity. The plugins I looked at didn’t work right and my lack of knowledge of PHP and HTML made it tough to troubleshoot since K2 added a layer of complexity. Rather than try to edit the K2 PHP and CSS files I decided to look into simpler theme. While I still have to edit php and css files, I figured it would be easier if I could use the standard WordPress documentation. I spent a little time at WordPress’s theme respository and found Durable from Blaze New Media.

[Updated 10 minutes after the original post.] Figures, right after submitting this post I figured out that it was only my ability to save the colors as the theme default generated an error. Once I logged off everything worked. So if you don’t like these colors, head up top and click on “Options”.

I also added a plugin called “Search For Everything” that allows searching of static pages, comments, drafts, attachments and metadata. I worked fine with the K2 theme. As previously mentioned, it doesn’t work with the default search of the Durable theme but does work with the detailed search.

Visit my Durable page for info and links related to the Durable theme and my WordPress page for info and links related to WordPress and the plugins I use.

Knox – For OS X

Knox, as in Fort Knox, is Mac software that manages encrypted disk images. I came across Knox while looking for a replacement to Stuffit Deluxe. I’d been using Stuffit to create an encrypted archive as part of my backup process. This was the only piece of Stuffit Deluxe that I used and I don’t want to install it on my new Mac.

Knox is used to manage OS X encrypted disk images. At $30 it’s targeted to people who use a lot of encrypted disk images but don’t want to use FileVault to encrypt their entire home directory. I only have one encrypted file and wouldn’t use more than one or two more, so it’s not worth the price for me, but it’s still potentially useful to others.

Knox can be displayed in the menu bar or the dock and there’s an option to keep Knox running after restarts. Open vaults can also be automatically opened with restarts. Vaults can be opened from the Knox menu rather than hunting for them on disk and having to manually open them.

When you create a new vault you’re prompted to name the vault and provide a password. There’s an option to save the password in the keychain. You can optionally set a maximum vault size, select a location, allow Spotlight searches withing the vault and select files to be added at creation. The vaults use the “sparseimage” format so they can expand as needed and can be compacted when space is freed up.

One very nice feature is the ability to schedule vault backups to disk, network drives, iDisk or iPods. The vault won’t be backup up if it’s in use at the scheduled time. You can also manually trigger the backup and configure how many historical backups you want to save.

If Pathfinder is present Knox will use it instead of Finder.

Knox is useful for managing encrypted disk images but $30 seems a bit much for how little I would use it. It doesn’t really do anything you can’t do manually since it uses the encryption from OS X. If, like me, you only have a couple encrypted disk images which are already part of a backup plan then it’s probably not worth the expense. If I start using more encrypted disk images I’ll revisit Knox.

Links:
Knox website: http://www.knoxformac.com/ (You can download a 30 day evaluation from their website)
Macworld – Mac Gems article on Knox: http://www.macworld.com/weblogs/macgems/2006/10/knox/

More Security Patches (OS X and Java on Windows)

My PCs got security patches for Java and Mac OS X this past week.

My Windows machine got update 10 straight through the Java Runtime update tool. The release notes are here: http://java.sun.com/j2se/1.5.0/ReleaseNotes.html.

My Macs got two OS security updates and an update to iChat.
Security Update 2006-07 is described here: http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=304829.
Security Update 2006-08 is described here: http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=304916.
I also got a security update to iChat which updates some certificates. While searching for documentation on this I found it’s caused a bit of speculation with Macworld just around the corner. It doesn’t do much so what’s really the point? Speculation is that it includes features for upcoming products. If I actually used iChat I’d me annoyed if I heard they slipped in some undocumented changes.

Is Cable TV Obsolete?

Ok, I guess the obvious answer is no. But I began to examine whether or not I really need cable TV. I’m not talking about switching to satellite to save money to get the same stuff, I talking about dropping the whole concept. This was driven by three main events.

First, I’ve been getting more and more of my entertainment from my PC and the internet. This includes content on my iPod which I can take almost anywhere. I’ve also been watching DVDs on my computer while I do other work.

I’ve been spending less time in front of the TV. In the past I would work on my laptop while watching TV. Now that’s reversed and I’m at the computer while running a DVD, playing music or watching video. My time in front of the TV now is mostly when I want to actually watch something, and that something is usually a DVD. A lot of the TV I do record gets transferred to DVD to be watched on my computer but that’s extra effort so I do that less and less.

Second, the “Now Playing” list on my Tivo became empty. Everything that was worth watching had been watched. It’s true I’ve been more aggressive in deleting marginal shows I don’t want to waste my time on, but the fact is there just wasn’t much there. TV shows used to be my background noise, they no longer are.

Third, Comcast will be raising rates again in February. According to the paper it’s about 3%. My cable rates keep going up and I haven’t received anything noticeable in return. Cable TV has always been one of those utilities I just pay for and take for granted. It’s time to see what I get for the money and what my options are.

So do they deserve the entertainment dollars they get from me? The answer is “No” (at least for me) and here’s why…

I pay $50 a month, $600 a year, for cable TV. This is before taxes, fees and the coming rate increase. So this is the starting point to see if their worth the money. I made a list of all my season passes and wishlists in Tivo. To keep things simple I’ve assumed everything with a wishlist or season pass is something I wanted to keep watching.

My intent was to see how much alternate (and legal) sources for this programming would cost and to see if it was worth using. Worth is determined both by cost and ease of use. But after going through the list it was apparent most of the programs I watched were on broadcast TV. For me, Basic cable is under $13/mth (before taxes, fees and the rate increase). So while I could look into how well rabbit ears would work on my TV and to see what channels I could pick up it just wouldn’t be worth it. So a quick decision to keep at least basic cable was made.

This left me with a much smaller group of shows which I could drill into.
I’m a fan of the Sci-Fi shows Stargate SG-1, Battlestar Galactica, and to a lessor degree Stargate Atlantis. The remaining SG-1 shows (this is it’s last year) would cost me $20 on iTunes. Season passes to the other two would be $35 each. To keep things simple I’ll price SG-1 as a season pass at $35 to allow a replacement when it’s off the air. So we’re talking $105 a year here.

The Daily Show and Colbert Report are each $10 for 16 episodes which is about a month’s worth. So we’ll figure $240 for the year.

I’ll lose three shows: The Closer, Mythbusters and Dr. Who. The Closer and Doctor Who currently come out on DVD which I could rent through Netflix, I’d just be waiting longer. I wouldn’t go out of my way to find any of these three shows so it’s not a major loss.

While having to pay for each show would make me re-evaluate if I actually want the show I’ll assume I want to replace each show. I would save over $100 a year by switching to a “Basic” cable plan and buying the missing shows from iTunes. I’d save $445 with the switch and spend $345 on iTunes. Another way of looking at this is cable is costing me about $8/month ifor ad-hoc viewing of non-network TV. To be fair, It would also be eaten up with three additional iTunes season passes (which is the number of shows I’m losing) so you could say I was getting my monies worth since replacing everything would cost me the same amount as I’m paying now. For me, I’d rather pay the cable company less of my money while paying for (and directly supporting) the specific stuff that I do like.

Having to pay for each show makes really consider how much I like it (which is why cable companies will do anything to avoid ala carte pricing), so I’m likely to save even more by waiting for the DVDs to come out (for a Netflix rental) or just not watching that particular show anymore and getting entertained elsewhere.

As for watching the TV Shows via iTunes, they’re surprisingly watchable. It’s a given that the video quality is less than TV and especially DVD so I wasn’t expecting much. Watching on the iPod isn’t bad either, again with the small screen size I had low expectations so was pleasantly surprised with the result. This is especially true for story driven TV like Law & Order or Dragnet. Now, if you watch something like Battlestar Gallactica specifically for the special effects or action your not going to want to watch it through iTunes. I do find it hard to watch something action oriented like BG on the small iPod screen. I started with free video and became a convert that’s willing to buy TV through iTunes. (Although I’ve yet to consider buying a full length movie through iTunes.)

In short the iTunes video quality is good enough for a lot of what I watch and I value the portability and ease of use.

So I called the cable company and dropped my plan down to Basic cable. To their credit it wasn’t a painful experience. I did sit on hold awhile and they did try to change my mind and also to sell their phone service. But that’s expected and was brief. The final hurdle is a $12 charge and I was tol I had to be home for a tech to visit and put a filter on the line. So wile the service was cut during the appointed time, no tech ever showed up. I guess they wanted to reinforce to me that paying them less was a good idea.