August 30, 2006

Pushing email



Push email as the name suggests describes an email system where, whenever an email message arrives it is 'pushed' or sent to your email program. This is quite different conceptually from ‘pull’ email, where your email program (like Outlook) actively pulls email from your server (Bigpond) at either a repeating schedule or manually. ‘Push’ email has recently gained notoriety due to the success of RIM’s BlackBerry - a system designed in Canada that lets mobile users receive email instantly.

In a normal 'pull' scenario the email client, like Outlook connects to your mail server and says 'Do you have any mail for me?' If email is present the server replies and the email client 'pulls' the mail from the server. This is the most common form of email delivery as it relies on the user instructing the mail program to get the mail. This system was designed when permanent network connections didn't really exist. Remember the days of dialup when you weren't always connected to the Internet? Previously it made no sense for the email server to deliver mail to your program whenever it was received, as you might not have been connected to the network.

Now and in the future you are and always will be connected to the network - take the example of your mobile phone. Whenever your phone is switched on you are connected to the network, and the network knows this. That’s why you might receive lots of SMS’s when you turn your phone on in the morning. That’s also why you receive SMS’s instantly. ‘Push’ email is delivered in the same way as SMS. The network knows your phone is on and therefore you are connected and sends you emails whenever they are received without the need for you to ‘manually’ check.

‘Push’ email is a ‘hot’ topic at the moment, due mainly to the success of the BlackBerry – now companies like Microsoft, Nokia and Sony Ericsson offer their own ‘push’ email solution and this format will become standard across all mobile devices in the near future.

Get Smart!



For years now technology pundits have been talking convergence between PDA's (electronic diaries) and mobile phones. Traditionally PDA's have excelled in keeping track of appointments and contacts and mobile phones have been used for keeping in touch and actually talking to people. It didn't take a wise man to predict that these two products were the most likely candidates to converge and become one.

Not surprisingly that is exactly what has happened. Before I even begin talking about smart phones it is worth noting that about 90% of mobile phones on the market today are actually smart phones. They do a great job of storing contacts and an okay job of storing appointments. Most of these phones even ship with synchronisation software so that you can move the data from your computer on to your phone and back again. At first thought this may not be a useful feature, but if you do keep your phone in sync with your computer and you happen to lose or damage your phone it is a simple task to restore all the data.

Smart phones take this convergence to the next logical level and in some instances can actually become a replacement for your laptop or desktop computer as a whole - and certainly when you are away from your desk. Like computers and phones there are many different makes and models of smart phones on the market, each has it's own strength.

When deciding on a smart phone you'll need to consider things like form factor (size), operating system, brand and input method. Do you want a smart phone that fits in your pocket or are you happy carrying it in your bag. Are you happy inputting information with a stylus and a touch-screen or would you prefer a keyboard (full-size or half-size). What sort of networking do you need? Will GPRS be enough or would you like WiFi to connect? Most importantly you'll need to decide which operating your smart phone uses. A large majority use Windows Mobile - a stripped down version of Windows that is 100% compatible with Windows XP, but doesn't work well with other operating systems like Mac OS X or would you prefer to go Symbian - an operating system designed that is fast and open. If neither of those suit you can choose also choose between a BlackBerry or a Palm Treo.

Here are a variety of different smart phone options, each with their own advantages:

Nokia 9500 Communicator
Size: Large
Best Features: Large screen, easy wifi setup, compatible with MS Office, nice keyboard, can be used as a regular phone when flip closed
Worst Features: Too big, doesn’t sync with Mac OS X
Price: $1100

Nokia E61
Size: Medium
Best Feature: Bright clear display, intuitive interface, good speakerphone
Worst Feature: Joystick hard to operate, doesn’t sync with Mac OS X

Nokia N91
Size: Small
Best Feature: Large hard drive, 3G means fast internet access, good speakerphone, great camera
Worst Feature: Slow to access hard drive, slow interface, doesn’t sync with Mac OS X

O2 Atom
Size: Small
Best features: Built in Wifi, Voice dialing, 2MP camera
Worst Feature: ActiveSync 4.1 doesn't work correctly with third party firewall software, contacts could be better integrated with phone.
Price: $1029

K-Jam
Size: Large
Best Feature: Sound Quality, Built-in keyboard
Worst Feature: Size and weight
Price: $1029

Palm Treo 650
Size: Large
Best Feature: Fast, built-in keyboard
Worst Feature: Requires frequent restarts, ageing operating system, external aerial
Price:$799

BlackBerry 8700v
Size: Medium
Best Feature: Integrated email client, Fast, clean operating system. Very stable
Worst Feature: Not compatible with standards like vcard and vcal

Sony Ericsson M600
Size: Small
Best Feature: Compact Size, bright screen, simple user interface
Worst Feature: No Wifi, No camera, Not yet released
Price: TBA

August 16, 2006

Taking a shot at Leopard


I've just finishing having a play with Leopard - OS X (10.5) WWDC Beta.

My honest opinion (and anybody that knows me knows that I'm a BIG Apple fan, in fact I can't remember the last time I was disappointed by Apple) is that Leopard is really boring. I read John's post over at Daring Fireball, taking a shot at Leander Kahney for complaining about how boring the WWDC keynote was, but seriously, the WWDC release of 10.5 is not worth playing with for more then 2 minutes. There's nothing in it that I can honestly say to myself I'm excited about. I digged and digged and digged. I opened EVERY System Preference in the hope of finding something new, something to get excited about but alas.

Before Tiger (10.4) was released I got hold of a beta copy and installed it. I was really excited, and stopped anyone who would listen to tell them about Spotlight and Dashboard - two key features you could explain to the average user and get 'wow, that looks cool'. With Leopard I wouldn't dare bother. Only the nutter Mac enthusiast (and maybe some developers according to John) would raise an eyebrow at the new features. Core animation might be great but DO something with it!

Time machine - great idea and I'm sure lots of users will appreciate all the special effects. But seriously, how exciting is restoring a lost file. And is it worth the $150 that Leopard will cost when I can either subscribe to .Mac and get 'Backup' or buy another of the many great options out there.

Ok, so lets move on to the 'New' features in Mail. Notes, To-dos and 'Stationary'. Yawn, yawn and yawn. All nice to have but certainly not 'Killer'. Make Mail 3x quicker at accessing large mailboxes and you might get my attention. Add some more sophistication to its rule filtering and I might get excited. But stationary? Seriously, I think Outlook had stationary back in the late 1990's.

The last 'GUI' feature that Apple is raving about is 'Spaces'. Again, interesting but not a show stopper. How much excited can you get from moving screens from one virtual window to another. I know, great productivity improvement - Still, it gets a big 'Whatever!' from me. And to top it off there are about 5 apps already available that do it now. Of course Apple do it better but it's hardly 'innovation'

So, what about those 'Top Secret' features that Steve didn't preview. Well, all I can say is they better be exciting and worth shouting about. In fact I hope they are so good that the 10 or so you've previewed this month actually drop off the 'Leopard Features List' - In my opinion they should.

Zipping Files


The Zip file is a popular archive and data compression format that is gaining popularity as downloading files over the Internet becomes more mainstream. Developed in 1989 the Zip file was designed to allow easier access to archives or groups of files and could be accessed by graphical applications as opposed to the ‘PKZip’ protocol that required a command line application for use.

A Zip file is a simple archive in which each individual file gets compressed separately. Compressing files separately allows two things; each individual files can be retrieved without reading through other data and, it allows better compression by using different algorithms for different file types. The Zip format also supports a simple password system however this has known security holes.

There are many applications that can be used to create and open Zip files. The most popular is WinZip with over 160 million downloads but others like BOMArchiveHelper and PicoZip can also be used. Recent versions of Windows XP and Mac OS X have basic built-in Zip applications however using a dedicated Zipping program will give you more flexibility and control over your Zip archives.

Zip files make it easy to keep related files together and make transporting, e-mailing, downloading and storing data and software faster and more efficient. Zip files can be useful in many different ways – if you want to email a group of files you can ‘Zip’ them up and then send the individual Zip file. When the file arrives the recipient simply ‘unzips’ it and all of the files appear as they were with their original structure.

Other formats for archiving files do exist for different platforms, including ‘GZip’ for Unix and ‘Sit’ files for Macintosh. However the Zip format is the most popular and universally used amongst PC users.

August 4, 2006

Online Directories


The time has finally come to dump your phone books and replace them with one favourite in your browser. Sensis.com.au is all you'll need to find any directory related information in Australia. Finding directory information this way is much easier then any of the alternatives including a phone call to directory assistance. There are many parts to the Sensis web properties but sensis.com.au is the central domain and probably the best place to start. Also, becoming familiar with online directory searching is advisable as printed phone books will go the same way as dinosaurs in the near term.

To begin exploring Sensis and all of its properties click here and simply enter your search term. If you are looking for a business enter the business name and click 'Search'. You'll probably come up with lots of different results but if the company you are looking for has an entry in the White Pages you'll get a link to that listing at the top of the search results. Once you have your search results you also have the option of doing the same search on any of the four main Sensis websites (Yellow Pages, White Pages, City Search and Trading Post) by clicking on the different tabs at the top of the page.

If you do find a listing in either the White or Yellow Pages you can also get a map of the location by clicking on the 'Map' link. Clicking on this directs you to another Sensis website called Whereis. Whereis is another useful websites to add to your favourites as it can provide you with map and detailed routing information to get to anywhere from anywhere.

If you prefer a more 'advanced' search try going here. This gives you more options with searching and allows you to search particular Sensis properties and not others and exclude or include specific words in your search. Sensis.com.au also offers a web search. In my testing this performed specifically for local Australian websites. However, when looking for international websites Google always gave better, more relevant results and has far more powerful advanced searching options.

The new MacBook


Apple’s move to a completely Intel based portable family is now complete with the recent introduction of the MacBook. The MacBook replaces the familiar white iBook as Apple’s entry level laptop – however there isn’t much that’s entry level about MacBook except for the price ($1749).

The base model MacBook sports a 13.3” glossy wide screen display that is 70% brighter and has 30% more viewing area then the previous model. It also comes with a 1.83Ghz Intel Core Duo processor (5 times faster then the G4), 512Mb RAM, 60Gb Hard drive, CD burner (with DVD read capability), 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 Firewire port, Built-in Airport (802.11g), Built-in Bluetooth, Ethernet, Audio In and Audio Out (Optical), Built-in iSight and comes with Apple’s remote control for $1749. An extra $350 gets you a 2.0Ghz processor and a Superdrive (DVD burner). If white isn’t your colour you can spend an additional $650 and upgrade to Black casing, an 80Gb Hard drive and a 2.0Ghz processor.

The MacBook picks up where the iBook left off. Most importantly the MacBook falls in line with the rest of the Apple range by getting a 13” wide screen display. A wide display makes viewing today’s HD content better as the content is pre-formatted to the wide screen 16:9 format. The MacBook’s battery life remains at 5 hours when power saving is turned on and wireless networking is turned off. With wireless networking on and usage of the optical drive expect this to dip to between 3 and 4 hours.

Another major change on the MacBook is the newly redesigned keyboard. Don't worry, you won't need to re-learn the keyboard layout but the feel of the keyboard is slightly different. The keys are now inlaid meeting they can't come loose as only the top of the key is visible. The new keyboard feels great to use and is also now recessed so that the keys don't touch the display when the lid is closed.

Two other important features of the new MacBook are the completely latch-less display closing mechanism (fantastic as no moving parts means nothing can break) and new MagSafe power adaptor. The MagSafe power adapter magnetically binds the power cable to the computer meaning that any sudden movement of the cable or computer automatically releases the cable. This means less damage to both the power adapter and computer.

The MacBook differs from the MacBook Pro in two main areas; screen size and graphics capabilities. The MacBook's memory is shared between the main system and the graphics system. The MacBook Pro employs a dedicated graphics processor with it's own memory. The MacBook Pro also comes in two screen sizes, 15" and 17". Additionally the MacBook Pro range comes standard with a back lit keyboard - great for working in a dark room.

In my testing I found the MacBook was very comfortable to work on. Compared to the last model iBook it screams along and feels much faster then any G5 I have used. The new 13" glossy screen is bright and displays colours vividly and accurately. My only concern was the heat generated by the machine. Apple have said this is normal and has been present in the recent range of laptops.

The MacBook is a fantastic entry level laptop and the only laptop on the market that can run Mac OS X and Windows XP nativley. With Boot Camp (a free download from www.apple.com.au) you can nativley run all of those Windows applications that haven't been converted to Mac. Boot Camp opens the MacBook up to a whole new market of buyers and now competes directly with the Dells, Toshiba's and HP's of the world. Do a side-by-side feature comparison and you'll find the MacBook is more feature rich for about the same money. Plus, it's the only laptop that comes with Mac OS X and a standard suite of great applications including iPhoto, iWeb and Garageband.