February 24, 2006

I heard it on the Newsvine...

Newsvine is a new collaborative news site that lets you do three things: Read news, Write your own news (or keep a blog) and Seed News. It is one of a new generation of websites that aims to let news become more interactive and collaborative. Newsvine’s philosophy is simple; let the story be a starting point for conversation. A kind of Amazon ‘user-reviews’ for news.

Other news aggregation sites like Google news exist but Newsvine is the first general purpose news site that puts the users in control.

Newsvine is an invitation only website – the idea behind this approach is that people who are interested will invite others of the same ilk – rather then letting in a raft of people who aren’t interested.

I’ve been testing Newsvine over the past week and am very impressed. If you have a preference for just reading the news you’ll find that Newsvine is updated and indexed constantly. They have a direct feed from Associated Press articles meaning you get the latest news as it is published.

Like talk-back radio Newsvine lets you discuss news you are interested in. If you want, you can add comments to each article you read. Other users can then respond to these comments meaning the news becomes interactive rather then static. Newsvine also lets you create your own blog (not new) however if your site becomes popular you can earn advertising revenue from those that view it.

Newsvine is similar in approach to other collaborative news sites, like digg.com and slashdot.org however the approach and interface are very different. For one, most other news sites require users to report in on news they find. Newsvine gets its news directly from an Associated Press stream – and also includes the ability to add other sites. Newsvine also lets users ‘tag’ content, a del.icio.us concept that gives users extra searching capabilities. Lastly, Slashdot and Digg have a technology/science focus while Newsvine has something for everyone.

For those that like their news local you can view news from particular regions. I tested this feature and was a little disappointed with the quantity of news from AP. As the Newsvine user base grows this problem will disappear as more people ‘seed’ news and therefore create a richer experience.

February 18, 2006

The Incredibles

I just noticed something cool while re-watching the Incredibles - it seems there is a subtle reference to Apple after all. Check out bottom lefthand key on the keyboard in the screen grab...

What to Look for in a laptop

Buying a laptop is a challenge - there are so many different makes and models it's hard to choose. Instead of thinking about brands and prices, I suggest you begin by analysing your laptop needs. In my mind, the most important things when buying a laptop are (in no order): Screen Size, Reliability / Ruggedness, Weight, Battery Life, Networking features and Processing requirements.

If you plan on using your laptop at your desk most of the time, then things like weight and battery life won't be important, as you are going to move it infrequently and it will mostly be plugged in. In which case I'd recommend buying a larger unit where you'll likely get a bigger screen and won't pay a premium for portability. If on the other hand you will be travelling with your laptop frequently I'd sacrifice screen size for weight and battery life. Additionally, moving a laptop around a lot can strain many of its part like the screen hinges and casing. If this is your situation I'd go for a 'premium' brand laptop.

Any laptop you have should have built-in wireless networking. Whether you have access to wireless now is irrelevant, eventually you will want to use wireless networking so having it built-in is essential. I'd also get a machine with built-in bluetooth - this way you can take advantage of this other wireless technology without spending extra on dongles. The majority of laptops these days also come with built in Ethernet and a modem (both essential)

Along with good networking I suggest getting a DVD writer, preferably double layer. This will allow you to backup all of your important data - DVD's hold about 5 times as much as CD's and shouldn't set you back too much.

Lastly, when choosing a laptop make sure the warranty is solid - the longer the better. Laptop's have a horrible habit of breaking in the 13's months and are very expensive to repair - an extended warranty can often be a lifesaver. My preferred brands of laptops are IBM/Lenovo Thinkpads or the Apple iBook or Powerbook (now MacBook Pro) - both of these computers are solid, reliable and have good brand support. They also come with most of the features I have discussed above as standard.

February 9, 2006

A new partnership for Apple

For many years the words Intel and Apple were hardly ever mentioned in the same sentence. But since January at Macworld in San Francisco the two words and the two companies are now invariably linked in a long and hopefully fruitful partnership. Apple has just announced its first computers that use Intel's new Core Duo processors. Not only did they release two computers that contain the chip (the new iMac and Macbook Pro) but they did so a full 6 months ahead of schedule. The stock market agreed that the news was good and sent the stock soaring to a record high of over $85USD.

So what is so special about this Intel announcement? The PowerPC G4 chip that has been in Macs for over 4 years now is a great processor and was recently superseded by the G5, a super fast chip, but one that consumed a relatively large amount of power for its performance. Putting a G5 in a desktop was easy, putting one in a laptop (where power consumption is critical) was impossible. Apple needed another solution and looked to Intel for it.

The Intel Core Dup chip is around four times faster then the G4, and approximately twice as fast as the G5. In terms of performance per watt the new Core Duo blows away both the G4 and G5. The Core Duo ship produces more computing performance per watt of power - and that is the main reason why Apple decided to switch.

There has been speculation about Apple going to Intel for years, and at last years Worldwide Developer Conference Steven Jobs announced the switch - and said that Mac OS X, Apple's next generation operating system had been running on both platforms since its inception. The difficulty for Apple was getting its developers to re-write their applications to be compatible with the new Intel architecture. Instead of forcing their hand Apple leveraged an on-the-fly translation technology in to the new Macs called Rosetta. Rosetta technology enables current PowerPC compiled applications to run smoothly, and at around 60-80% of their native speed on Intel machines.

So far reports about the new Intel Macs have been largely positive. Most Apple software has now been converted to the new Universal Binary format (these applications can run natively on both PowerPC and Intel chips) with Apple promising that their Pro applications (like Final Cut) will be Universal Binary by March. When running natively speed increases have been as promised - 3-4 times as fast as a G4 and 2-3 times as fast as a G5. In the recent Macworld keynote Jobs used the machines throughout his presentation to demo the new iLife and iWorks software package. In iPhoto - a resource hungry and sometimes slow application the Core Duo iMac Jobs was using flew through the 250,000 photos it had in its library.

The question for consumers is, “when is the right time to buy a new Mac?”. Well, if you are in the market for either a new consumer desktop or pro laptop now is the time. These new Core Duo Macs are the first glimpse of the future - and they have arrived about 6 months early. If you were thinking about an iBook or a Mac Mini I'd probably wait till the Intel ready versions of these products are released - likely to be within the next 3-4 months. If you are a Pro, the Dual and Quad G5's are still impressive machines and run all of the current Pro software well - these machines are likely to be the last to receive an upgrade, but even then Jobs has promised that the transition will be complete by the end of 2006.

Either way, the future is looking bright for Apple - The new Intel chips are first class and very fast, Mac OS X (Tiger) has been voted numerous times as the best, most stable, secure and easy-to-use operating system on the planet (and version 10.5 should be out by the end of the year) with a growing market share, iPod + iTunes continues to be the market leader (by a staggering 80%!) in the digital music world, and as Jobs always says at the end of his famous keynotes, there is always 'one more thing' to come.

Berry Nice!

For most the thought of a BlackBerry conjures up an exotic summer fruit – but mention the word to a business executive and they will almost certainly think about a portable device that lets you take your email on the road. In the world of portable email BlackBerry rules the roost.

BlackBerry is a portable device – about the same size as a large mobile phone with a full size keyboard that allows you to view your email as soon as it is received. There are many devices on the market that allow you to view portable email but BlackBerry uses ‘push’ technology, meaning email comes to you as soon as it is received, rather then you checking for it. BlackBerry also functions as a phone and has a basic contact management system and calendar.

One of the main reasons that Blackberry enjoys success in certain industries is due to its secure encryption of emails transmitted to and from the handheld. BlackBerry encryption is so secure that it is the only portable email solution approved by parts of the US government. For most individuals this level of security is not required, but it’s nice to know that it is available.

The other benefit of a BlackBerry is the convenience of having your email with you wherever you are. Your whole inbox – even the messages you send are stored on the BlackBerry and can be accessed very quickly and efficiently. If you are using the BlackBerry in conjunction with BlackBerry enterprise server (something your office IT department will need to organise) then every time you make a change on your computer (using MS Outlook) the change will be reflected on your BlackBerry, and vice versa. This means that BlackBerry is an extension of your desktop computer. A very convenient service for people who are out of the office a lot and need to stay connected.

There are also solutions available for individuals who would like the convenience of BlackBerry but don’t have the support of an IT department. In Australia you can choose between Vodafone, Telstra and Optus. I have been testing various BlackBerry models from Vodafone, Optus and Telstra for the past month and have been very impressed. Setting up all BlackBerry’s has been easy. You simply logon to a web site, enter your details plus the specific details about your BlackBerry. All the providers will assign you an email address but if you already have an email address you can also use that. Once it’s configured you’ll start receiving emails instantly.

If you decide to go for a BlackBerry there are three different models to choose from. The 7100 series has a reduced sized keyboard with 20 keys and uses SureType technology that is similar to predictive text. The 7200 series has a reduced size but full qwerty keyboard and has a larger screen. Both offer identical functionality but the 7100 is smaller and more ‘phone’ like. BlackBerry also offer the 7250 unit that runs on 1xEV-DO high-speed Telstra network. The 7250 is also capable of been used as a modem in conjunction with a computer. In my testing the results were excellent, especially in city centers where EV-DO reception is best.

The BlackBerry user interface is remarkably simple – you navigate around the device using a jog-wheel located on the right hand side. Scroll to select the option and then click it in to view a list of options. All of the standard email options are available (like reply, reply all, forward) plus if you sync up your BlackBerry you can use your contact to list to find email addresses. Plus, BlackBerry doubles as a mobile phone with all the features you’d expect. Both series have built-in Bluetooth so you can pair the devices to portable headsets or other Bluetooth devices. In my experience the phone functioned well and was easy to use. Dialling contacts from the built-in address book was as easy as finding the number – plus when the BlackBerry is in the ‘home’ screen pushing any of the buttons automatically takes you in to ‘phone’ mode where dialling begins. Voice quality and coverage with the Vodafone network was also excellent.

Individuals can also synchronise their BlackBerry with their PC. BlackBerry ships with Windows sync software that lets you transfer contacts and calendar appointments to your BlackBerry – syncing each day will keep both systems up-to-date. If you are using a Mac you’ll need to buy PocketMac for BlackBerry. This software lets Mac OS X users sync as they would any other device as in a small download from the internet.

BlackBerry pricing is dependant on the network – most networks offer an all-you-can use email package. Vodafone charge $29.95 for up to 500 emails per month (assuming each email is about 2Kb) or for larger limits - $49.95 for unlimited emails (based on their fare-use policy), Optus charge $99 for talk, text (up to $500) and up to 50Mb of emails per month while Telstra offer an unlimited email plan from $40 excluding phone calls.

If email is an important part of communications routine I can highly recommend the BlackBerry – the convenience of having email ‘pushed’ to your phone rather then ‘pulled’ to your phone alone makes it an asset. Other smart-phones on the market can send and receive email – but none as elegantly and as intuitively as BlackBerry.

February 4, 2006

Google Pack

At the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas there was much talk about Google releasing their own PC - together with a Google operating system. Google quickly denounced those rumors but during their keynote presentation - the last for the CES and perhaps the most anticipated they did release a collection of 'essential' internet software that they labeled Google Pack.

is a set of software containing what they believe is critical for today’s modern, internet enabled computers. Google Pack contains the following Google software:

Google Earth: a 3D earth browser that lets you zoom from space to street level, and if you are in the US find driving directions, hotels, restaurants and other points of interest.

Google Desktop: A desktop companion tha lets you find all of your emails, files, web history with a single search bar

Picasa: A first class photo organiser that lets you find, edit and share your photos. Picasa also lets you easily remove red eye and fix other blemishes with your photos

Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer or Firefox blocks annoying pop-ups and lets you do a search from any web page.
Google Pack Screensaver lets you use your own photos as a screen saver or a great looking collage.

Google pack also includes 3rd party software including Firefox (a great alternative browser to IE that is safe and faster to use), AdAware SE (a great anti-spyware utility from Lavasoft), A 6-months free subscription to Norton Antivirus 2005 and Adobe Acrobat Reader 7 (an essential piece of software that lets you view PDF files)

Google Pack contains an impressive array of free software but is extra impressive due to the mechanism that Google created to deploy and install the various components. Google Pack downloads and manages all of the software for you, lets you uninstall different pieces, resume downloading if your internet connection is lost - and also keeps all of the software up-to-date. If you don't have the time or expertise to install of these components separately I'd highly recommend getting Google Pack. Its simple interface, auto download and install functionality will prove a huge timer saver for many.

Google Pack beta is available in English, runs on Windows XP, and supports Firefox 1.0 and higher and Internet Explorer 6.0 and higher. More info on Google Pack is available at http://pack.google.com.