June 29, 2006

A Switch Moment!

It's nice to see progress in the flesh. It took a G5 iMac to convince my client that Windows XP sucked but now with the new Intel iMac they can finally dump the PC they 'had to have' and use Boot Camp whenever required. Before I took the PC off the desk I had to shoot 'the line-up'.

June 22, 2006

Skype In

Skype have just launched SkypeIn, their latest value-added service in Australia. The SkypeIn service takes Skype to the next level by giving you a local number attached to your Skype account. If people call your local SkypeIn number (a regular, local phone number) they can contact to you anywhere around the world via your computer and Skype account. For example, if you live in Melbourne but are overseas on business with your computer, friends in Melbourne can dial your local number and contact you on your computer for the price of a local call. If you aren't online they can leave a voicemail that you can access when you get online.

To get going you'll need to download Skype and signup for a free account - if you don't already have one when you first launch Skype you will be prompted to get one. Once you've set up Skype attaching a SkypeIn number is easy. Just log in to your account at www.skype.com and select 'Buy Now' under the SkypeIn button. You'll need to select the country you want your SkypeIn number to be in - if you travel a lot and have friends all over the world you can subscribe to at least 10 local numbers. After you have selected your country you'll need to select your state. Once you've selected your state Skype provides you with a list of numbers to choose from. If you'd prefer to pick your own just enter the combination in the box and Sykpe will automatically tell you if it is available. The last step is payment. A local SkypeIn number costs just $16 for three months and $50 for 12 months.

I tested SkypeIn with my sister who lives in Los Angeles. She applied for the SkypeIn service and was up and running in under 10 minutes. The quality of the calls has been excellent. At times of high bandwidth usage (like when she was downloading a file) voice quality suffered slightly but was still clear. When she didn't answer her computer I simply left her a voicemail (a free extra with a SkypeIn account). With SkypeIn you also have the option to forward calls to any number (using SkypeOut credits) when you are offline. Beware as forwarding calls costs per minute diverted.

The SkypeIn service is currently in beta testing which means that the service may not always be stable but Skype maintains it is improving quickly. Additionally, SkypeIn is not available from all countries yet but Skype have plans to extend the service to more countries quickly.

Buying Blank Media

Now that most computers come standard with a disc burner choosing the correct media to use for burning is important. The type of burner you chose when purchasing your computer will impact your choice of media. Lower end computers generally ship with CD-RW/DVD drives. These units are capable of writing to CD-R and CD-RW media but not DVD’s. CD-R’s can hold around 700Mb of data and are compatible with CD Players. Higher end computers now come with DVD-RW drives – these drives are capable of writing to DVD media and can hold a maximum of 4.7Gb. Some DVD-RW drives also come as DL (Double Layer) meaning you can write 4.7Gb of data to each side of the DVD. This effectively doubles your storage capacity.

Some media is ‘write’ once ‘read’ many (R) and others are ‘write’ many ‘read’ many (RW). RW media is always more expensive then R media – typically 40% more, so deciding on the purpose of the burn is important. If you want to keep re-writing data on to the same disk you’ll need to choose RW. If you just want to archive data you’ll only need R media. If you plan to use your burnt DVD’s in consumer players always use DVD-R’s not RW discs.

The brand of media and storage are also critical. Better brands are more expensive however the disks are more durable and last longer. Again, you’ll need to determine how critical the data is that you are burning. If your disks are stored in a case in a cool dark place they will last longer. Also, try to limit the amount you use the disk as frequently ejecting a disk from a drive can cause scratching to the disks surface and ultimately make it unusable.

When buying blank media you’ll also need to decide about buying in bulk. For example, if you purchase 50 blank DVD-R’s on a spindle you’ll pay around 0.70c per DVD. If you buy them in a 5 pack expect to pay $1.00 per DVD. Individually DVD-R’s can cost $2.50. DL media is more expensive at around $6.00 per disk.

June 2, 2006

Internet Explorer 7

It's been many years since IE 6 was released. During its heyday IE 6 commanded a 95% share of the browser market, largely at the determent of Netscape, partly due to its automatic installation with Windows. Since IE 6 Microsoft has stood still while other free browsers have started to erode market share, the two most popular being Firefox and Opera. As Microsoft prepares for the transition to Vista in early 2007 they have made available a public release of their new browser IE 7.

IE 7 is the first upgrade to come out of Microsoft in the last 5 years that is actually worthwhile. Feature for feature it is now on-par or better then Firefox. Not surprisingly, Microsoft have chosen to also focus on security in IE 7 and the results are impressive.

First IE 7 has a brand new look and feel. Unlike other Microsoft products the toolbars in IE 7 take up considerably less space then before, allowing you to view more of any particular webpage without scrolling. Also, for beginners there are less buttons to get confused over and a generally more streamlined look and feel.

Probably the biggest change is the addition of tabbed browsing. Other browsers have offered this feature for many years but IE 7 does it better then most, and enables it by default. Tabbed browsing allows you to open many webpages within a single window - making information easier to find and causing less stress on your computer. Additionally, when you have tabs open in IE 7 there is a single button that will display a thumbnail of all open windows in a single view. This is a handy feature if you need to know the pages you have open.

IE 7 introduces some smarts around printing as well. IE 7 will now automatically shrink text in order to fit a whole screen on one page. You can even customise margins, page layouts and add ot remove headers and footers.

Lastly security has become a major focus and IE 7 is the first browser to introduce security features that aim at keeping your personal data safe and saving you from online phishing scams.

To use IE 7 beta you'll need Windows XP and Service Pack 2. For now it is a free download here.