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    Cisco’s new Flip and Valet models keep it simple

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business in Vancouver August 31 - September 6, 2010 -  issue #1088

    High Tech Office column

    Trick question: what’s the biggest Internet corporation you’ve never heard of?

    With a 2009 market cap of US$108 billion and revenue of $36 billion, the answer may be Cisco Systems, which provides much of the hardware that, behind the scenes, keeps us connected. The odds are high that Cisco routers and switches are sitting in racks in your organization’s server room.

    In 2003, Cisco bought Linksys, a company whose home and small-business wireless routers seemed a natural fit. In 2009, when it acquired Pure Digital Technologies and its line of flip pocket digital camcorders, I wondered why.
    Recently, I’ve had my hands on a newly updated Flip MinoHD camcorder and Cisco’s new ValetPlus wireless router and the connection has become clear.

    The new Flip MinoHD, like its predecessors, is a pocket-sized digital video camera with a flip-out USB connector. The new model ($239) features a solid-feeling aluminum case, a larger display, an HDMI port for connection to a high-definition TV and eight gigabytes (GB) of storage for up to two hours of 720p video.

    What really separates this camcorder (and the rest of the Flip product line) from competition from Kodak, Creative and more, though, is the built-in FlipShare software. The software is stored on the camera and installed onto a Mac or Windows computer the first time the camera is plugged in. After that, video stored on the Flip can be easily emailed, uploaded to Facebook, YouTube (etc.), iPhones, BlackBerrys and Android phones. Users can edit movie clips, extract still photos and burn the movies to DVD.

    More powerful video editing tools are available and many users will prefer to use them, but the straightforward FlipShare software is the biggest reason many customers will want to slip a MinoHD in their pocket.

    Fast-forward to Cisco’s new lineup of wireless routers aimed at home and small- business users. Walk into a large retailer and you’ll still see boxes bearing the Linksys brand. New Linksys E-series models are described as “wireless-N routers,” with the E1000 ($80) running on the “2.4 Ghz Band” and offering “fast ethernet ports.” The higher-end E2000 ($120) is “selectable dual-band (2.4 or 5 Ghz)” with “gigabit ethernet (10/100/1000) ports.”
    Are your eyes spinning yet?

    Next to them on the shelf: Cisco’s new Valet models. No mention of Linksys. Two models: Valet ($99) and Valet Plus ($150). Look at the box. What’s most interesting is what isn’t there. No word “router” for instance. Also missing: “ethernet.” Instead, the box promises “home wireless made easy.”

    Cisco cites IDC Canada research suggesting that even though broadband Internet is widespread in Canada, only about one-third of homes have wireless networking set up. With the increasing number of notebook computers, game systems and smartphones that can use Internet access, there is room for a wireless product for users who don’t really care what wireless band is being used or what speed ethernet is built in.

    For the new Valet models, Cisco teamed up Linksys and Flip developers to simplify the setup process. The Valet models ship with a USB memory key. Plugging it in loads the installation software and stores the user’s settings. Plug it into additional computers to easily add them to the home wireless network. (And yes, it will work with both Windows and Mac systems.)

    The Cisco Connect software can also be used to set parental management controls, letting parents restrict children’s access to specific times of the day. Each connecting device can have individualized settings applied – limiting game player access, for instance. Also nice: the ability to create a wireless network for guests, separate from the main network.

    Like the FlipShare software, the Cisco Connect software is simple and straightforward, while allowing advanced settings for those who want it. If your eyes roll when you hear words like router and bandwidth, one of these Cisco Valet models may be for you.  Favicon

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. Follow azisman on Twitter to receive regular notifications of these columns.  E-mail Alan
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