December 6, 2007

Amazon Launches Kindle

If you thought the humble book was safe from the digital revolution, think again. Amazon.com last month launched their much-anticipated e-Book reader called Kindle (US$399). The Kindle device, in development for three years weighs just under 300 grams and introduces what Amazon are classifying as a 'convenient, portable reading device with the ability to wirelessly download books, blogs, magazines and newspapers.'

While the Kindle isn't the first mass e-Reader product on the market, it is the first to operate without the be tethered to a computer. Kindle relies on the Sprint Evdo network to gain access to the Web, and importantly Amazon.com where you'll buy most of the content for your Kindle. Amazon have partnered with major US publishers and have over 90,000 books available, including 100 of the current 112 New York Times bestsellers. Amazon have also partnered with top international newspapers and magazines like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Time and Forbes, and have also made 250 top blogs available under a subscription model as well.

To simulate a book-like experience, Kindle uses technology called Electronic Paper Display (EPD), which according to eInk 'possess a paper-like high contrast appearance, ultra-low power consumption, and a thin, light form, giving viewers the experience of reading from paper, while having the power of up-datable information.

Content for the Kindle is reasonably priced with bestsellers and new releases starting at $9.99, while other books can be more or less expensive. Books that are purchased come with proprietary Amazon DRM and can't be shared between Kindle users or printed. The files can however be backed up. All Kindle users are assigned an email address, where for a small fee they can transfer their own files (Word and picture files) to their Kindle, and the Kindle can hold approximately 200 titles internally with SD card support for expansion.

While books are well suited to the reading experience I'll bet that the Kindle is the start of a transition from paper form to electronic. It might take thirty years, but you can bet that eventually physical paper will be superseded by something digital, just like stone tablets and papyrus gave way to paper.

November 21, 2007

Android

Google this week did as most predicted and released details of it's new mobile software platform called Android. At the press conference Google said that ' Android will deliver a complete set of software for mobile devices: an operating system, middle-ware and key mobile applications.'

Android is built on the open Linux Kernel, which means the project is open source, so can be extended to incorporate new cutting edge technologies as they emerge. Android, according to Google, 'was built from the ground-up to enable developers to create compelling mobile applications that take full advantage of all a handset has to offer. For example, an application could call upon any of the phone's core functionality such as making calls, sending text messages, or using the camera, allowing developers to create richer and more cohesive experiences for users.'

Along with Android, Google also announced the Open Handset Alliance (OHA), billed as 'a group of mobile and technology leaders who share this vision for changing the mobile experience for consumers.' With 34 members like HTC, LG, Motorola, Samsung, Google, Intel, Sprint, T-Mobile and NTT DoCoMo Google has lined up some serious industry players.

Google has convinced some of its partners that including a Google OS on their mobile phone is a good idea because it means they can focus on designing and marketing the phone, while Google takes care of the user experience. Partners in the OHA like it because Android will be available to them for free.

Importantly for Google, a play into the mobile phone space means that more consumers will have access to Google technologies, and hence Google advertising. Remember, the more traffic Google gets, the more it can charge its advertisers. And if Google are behind the operating system then all of its programs, like Google Maps and Gmail will be included in the Android platform.

Google plan to make an early software developers release of Android available in the next month, however the first devices that will ship with Android will be available from mid 2008.

A wall-mounted computer? Perhaps.

If you're not ready to buy an Apple yet, but place lots of emphasis on style, form and function then you'll want to pay close attention to Sony's latest range of Vaio notebooks. At a recent press launch, Sony unveiled the newest models in their ever-expanding Vaio range which not only includes laptops, but a newly defined segment of the PC market called Panel PCs.

The Panel PC concept is all about better blending the computer into the home environment. It's no wonder then, that the new LM series of Panel PCs is modeled on Sony's design leading Bravia LCD TV. In fact, most consumers could hardly tell they were actually looking at a PC rather than a TV. And that's where Sony is starting to blur the lines between TV and PC. Who knows, maybe in the future all TVs will be PCs, and vice-versa?

The Vaio LM18G ($3499) has been designed from the ground up to be the entertainment hub of the home. The LM comes with a built in TV tuner, high-quality speakers with subwoofer, 1.3MP camera, remote control and a stunning 19" LCD display. There's also an option for a wireless mouse and keyboard too.

Having a computer as beautiful as the LM series means you'll want to keep the computer on display somewhere prominent in your home. That's why the LM can also be wall mounted and is VESA compliant.

Sony also took the opportunity to introduce the NR series Vaio which combines entertainment with serious functionality. The NR series is a perfect computer for students, or to keep at home. The NR17G ($1599) features a large, bright 15.4" LCD screen, full pitched keyboard and an Intel Core 2 Duo processor (1.6Ghz) with enough grunt to get through most tasks. The 120GB Hard disk should also be plenty big enough for most users.

The NR series also features a new AV mode button for quick access to entertainment programs, and the usual assortment of connectivity options, including WiFi.

Sony, taking a page out of Apples book are also shipping the NR with two interesting pieces of bundled software. The first, called VAIO Movie Story is an attempt to 'borrow' functionality from iMovie (Apples successful movie making software) and automatically assembles a movie for you from your images and video. The results in the demo were good, but not great.

The second, more interesting feature is called Vaio Music Box. Music Box works with your existing music collection, which can be in any of the popular library formats, like iTunes or Windows Media Player. Music Box analyses your music and then presents you with smart playlists depending on the style and genre of the music. In the demos I saw it worked well.

While the software is a step in the right direction it doesn't add much to the overall selling proposition. The Vaio range is now broad enough that even the budget conscious shopper shouldn't pass it by. But with products like the LM series Panel PC Sony are still leading the way in terms of fresh innovation and smart design.

November 7, 2007

Leopard by Danny Gorog http://gorogsguide.blogspot.com

Apples latest and greatest operating system, codenamed Leopard hit the streets running this week. In the life of an Apple fan, there aren't many bigger events (maybe the birth of a new child, maybe) than a new system release, because, in essence what you are getting is a completely new Mac for your money - in this case $158 (or $249 for a five-user family pack).

Leopard, or OS X 10.5 is Apples fifth major release of OS X, and while not revolutionary like the first release was a little over five years ago it's still a major achievement. Leopard continues the OS X story and adds over three hundred new features, and refines some existing features. From a user perspective there is something for everybody; from developers of applications to regular mums and dads who just want to edit photos, check email and surf the web.

While Vista took Microsoft over five years to release, its taken Apple less than two to develop Leopard. Vista, in case you've missed all the news, hasn't been well received by the computing public. In fact, many manufacturers are still offering Windows XP as an option on new machines sold. Leopard, in contrast is shipping on all new Macs today. Apple is also offering a discounted upgrade ($12.95) to any users who purchased a new machine after October 1st.

If you've got a Mac that's less than four years old and has a DVD drive upgrading to Leopard should be easy. Specifically, you'll need a G4 (867Mhz) or better, 512MB of ram and about 9GB of free disk space. However, OS X loves memory, so the more you've got the better Leopard will perform. If you are planning on running Leopard on an older machine consider upgrading your memory. Also, some features of Leopard will only work on the latest Intel Macs such as Boot Camp.

If you're comfortable using Tiger (10.4) than Leopard will already be familiar to you. In fact, at launch the only thing you may notice is the semi transparent menu bar and the new look dock that looks like it floats on a three-dimensional platform. But dig a little deeper and you'll find plenty of enhancements that make the $158 price tag look like the deal of a decade.

Take for example a new feature in the Finder called Cover Flow. Now, browsing files in Leopard is as easy as browsing through albums in iTunes. Say for example you've downloaded lots of images to a folder. Instead of manually opening each image in Preview, simply change to Cover Flow mode and you'll be able to identify the image you want in a second. An extension of Cover Flow is called Quick Look which lets you quickly open any file in the Finder before you launch it in an application.

But the biggest and most important new feature for Leopard is the built in Windows support, called Boot Camp. Boot Camp lets you run Windows, and any Windows programs natively on your Mac. When you use Windows on your Mac, your Windows applications will run at native speed. Windows applications have full access to multiple processors and multiple cores, accelerated 3D graphics and high-speed connections like USB, FireWire, Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet. That means if you've been delaying the purchase of a Mac because you still have a program that you need that's only available in Windows you can now run in a fully native Windows environment. The only downside with Boot Camp is you'll need to purchase a copy of Windows separately.

From a developers perspective Leopard sets the foundations for the Mac for the next decade. Tools like Core Animation, Unix, 64-bit and Multicore support will help developers leverage their existing applications and improve them further. Core Animation technology, for example is a framework that makes it simple for Mac developers to add visually stunning user interfaces, graphics and animations to applications.

Leopard installation in most cases will be straight forward. You will however, need to decide whether you want to completely replace your existing system folder, or simply upgrade your current system. I chose to completely replace my system as this means you start fresh. It also may mean you need to reinstall some applications. Before you do that I'd recommend checking whether your existing applications are compatible with Leopard as some programs may not function correctly under the new OS. I'd also recommend doing a full backup as well because its better to be safe than sorry.

The installation usually takes around an hour, but in some cases can be longer. Once installed you should find that the new Desktop environment is familiar to you.

In my testing I've found Leopard a pleasure to use. While so much of the system is familiar there are small improvements that add up to an improved experience. Time Machine for example is just fantastic. It's backup that takes five minutes to setup, works well and is actually fun to use. I found overall responsiveness has also improved on the small things, like running a Spotlight search. Visually, the interface feels a lot cleaner, and a lot more consistent.

There aren't many tech products you can buy for $158 that do as much as a new operating system. As Steve Jobs recently said 'everyone gets the ‘Ultimate’ version' in a dig at Microsoft who sell more than six different versions of Vista, with the most expensive costing more than $600. Now that Leopard is in the wild, there's not much keeping consumers from buying a Mac. With one hundred percent Windows compatibility through Boot Camp, Leopard really is the killer operating system, and will see the Mac continue its rapid growth in the personal computing space.

Top Ten Leopard Features

1. Boot Camp - Boot Camp lets you run Windows on your Mac. Simply create a new partition, install Windows and then install the included drivers and you'll be up and running. Lots of computers run Windows, but only a Mac can run Mac OS X and Windows.

2. Time Machine - This is automated backup, Apple style. Time Machine automatically backs up changes to every file, and easily and quickly lets you restore. Let's say for example, you delete a contact by accident. Simply start Time Machine and you can search your history to find that contact. Hit restore and your contact will be back in your address book.

3. Mail - The updated Mail client is now full featured and includes Notes and To-Dos (also accessible in iCal). But better than that, Mail now comes with stationary. Stationary lets you create high quality HTML compatible email, so making your email stand out just got a whole lot easier.

4. Parental Controls - Leopard now features advanced parental controls that give parents greater abilities to control what their kids do on the computer. With simple setup, you can manage, monitor and control the time your kids spend on your Mac, the sites they visit and the people they chat with.

5. Spaces - Have you ever run out of room on your screen? Spaces to the rescue. Spaces allows you to group applications and work on them with a single screen focus. You can create as many spaces as you want, and easily move between them with a mouse click or a keyboard shortcut.

6. iChat - iChat, Apples easy to use audio/video chat program just got a whole lot more exciting. With better audio quality (AAC-LD) iChat chats will sound much clearer. Also, iChat now lets you change the backdrop of the chat, so you can pretend you are somewhere more exciting then the office. iChat also now supports multi-tabbed conversations, animated buddy icons and multiple logins.

7. iCal - iCal, Apples calender application just became a whole lot prettier, with in-line appointment editing and a whole new look.

8. More security - With tagged application downloading any application downloaded to your Mac is tagged. Before it runs for the first time, the system asks for your consent — telling you when it was downloaded, what application was used to download it, and, if applicable, what URL it came from.

9. Quick Look - Quick Look lets you look most common documents without opening the program first. Simply select the document and press the space bar for a full size preview of the document. This feature is a real time-saver.

10. Front Row - Front Row gives you instant access to all your media in a full screen interface. Front Row works just like Apple TV and you control it from a distance using the Apple Remote that came with your Mac (if you don't have a remote you can still use it with the keyboard).







October 24, 2007

Keeping up-to-date with the election

Keeping up-to-date with the upcoming Australian election should be easier than ever with the latest tools provided by Google. Google Australia's Federal election site (www.google.com.au/election2007) is a world-first for Google and was developed here in Australia.

The site is aimed at voters who want to learn more about the policies of government and contains a number of innovative online tools that can help you keep track of election issues. It's also a great platform to view current information and one that should encourage political debate.

Google's site features special Federal Election information viewable in Google Maps that can give you information about electorate boundaries, sitting members, candidates and margins. This information can also be added as an additional layer in Google Earth, Google's virtual atlas application that is a must-have for all computer users.

All six political parties that are represented in Federal Parliament (Australian Democrats, Family First, Greens, Labor, Liberal and Nationals) have also established their own dedicated YouTube channels accessable via the special election site. The YouTube channels contain lots of great information, including messages of support for the new site from the Prime Minister and Leader of the Federal Opposition, Kevin Rudd.

Google have also created a number of election gadgets that users can install on their own iGoogle page. These include an 'On the Record' gadget that allows users to research all 226 Federal MPs’ past statements on any given political issue, by searching Hansard and their personal web pages and a Google News gadget that allows users to search Google for relevant political news by Federal seat.

If you'd like more information about how to use the new Google election site it's probably easiest to watch the Google demo located at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxilCZWXyd0. If you're new to Google then you can sign up for your own customisable Google homepage at www.google.com/ig which will let you install gadgets, and is a great start page for all your surfing activities.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going by Danny Gorog

If you've ever let your young child play around with your laptop you'll know how fragile they are. I've seen kids flick keys off keyboards, snap screens off their hinges and try to insert more than a CD into a slot loading drive. And so it was with great excitement that I received Panasonics latest Toughbook, the CF-19 to test.

If you haven't heard of the Panasonic Toughbook range of laptops that's probably because you don't work for the military. You see, the Toughbook line is designed to be rugged and durable, and means you can take your laptop pretty much anywhere and expect it to work. The trend towards rugged laptops is now filtering down to large corporations who are realising the rigours of moving around consumer grade laptops eventually costs them more than they expect. IDC proved this in a recent study that found the failure rate of non-ruggedised laptops was twenty five percent per annum over a four-year period compared with a failure rate of just one and a half perfect for ruggedised devices. With those kinds of numbers, businesses are now sitting up and taking notice of the Touchbook product line.

So what makes a laptop rugged? For one, all Toughbooks come with a Magnesium alloy case that is twenty times stronger than ABS plastic. Add to that water-protection for fifteen minutes (military certified no less) and dust protection. If that's not enough Toughbook's are also certified for operation in extreme temperatures, and are tested to operate from -51° to 60°C. They also come with shock mounted hard drives and LCD screens, which means that when the unit is dropped the shock absorbing dampeners absorb up to seventy percent of vibration. So, there's a good chance that even your child couldn't damage one of these.

Normally in a tech review the specs of the unit are presented in the first paragraph. Yet in writing this review I've just realised I'm at paragraph four without a mention of gigahertz or megabytes. And there's good reason why that's happened. In this day of modern, disposable PCs there really isn't too much to get excited about when a new model is released. You know the latest release will come with a faster processor and more memory. But the selling proposition of the Toughbook line isn't that you'll get the biggest and best, but you'll get a laptop easily capable of coping with the stress of a corporate lifestyle. Perhaps that's why some of Australia's leading businesses, like Coca Cola Amatil, Telstra, Mitsubishi Motors Australia and BlueScope Steel are Toughbook customers.

Although the Toughbook is the most rugged laptop on the market it still manages to pack a punch in terms of computing power. The CF-19 comes with a 1 Ghz Core Duo processor, 512MB of RAM and an 80GB hard drive. It's also got the standard assortment of networking and connectivity ports as well so it will cooperate nicely with all your peripherals. The CF-19 also incorporate a “wireless-ready” design that allows users to purchase, or upgrade to, embedded access to next-generation 3G data networks.

In my testing the CF-19 performed flawlessly. Everything from its long eight hour battery life to the bright 10.4" TFT Active Matrix Colour worked well. I even gave it to my son to see if he could destroy it (sorry Panasonic!) but alas the CF-19 won every round.

So, what's not to like about the CF-19? The only glaringly obvious problem is the price. At $6249 the CF-19 is one of the most expensive laptops on the market. For that money you could by nearly four 'regular' laptops. But as I stated earlier, the value in the Toughbook is in its longevity and reliability. If those two things are critical to you or your business, then the Toughbook line is worth a closer look.

CF-19 At a Glance.

Manufacturer: Panasonic
Model: CF-19
Price: $6249
Phone/Web: 02 9986 7418 or www.toughbook.com.au

Part of Panasonics Toughbook line of super strength laptops. Clad in Magnesium alloy so you know it will take whatever you can give it, which includes computing underwater or in the Kalahari desert. It's no slough on performance either. With a Core Duo processor, 80GB hard drive and 8 hour battery life this is a computer that keeps on computing. No matter what or where.

October 22, 2007

New iPods by Danny Gorog http://gorogsguide.blogspot.com

If you can't wait until next year to get your hands on an iPhone then Apple's latest iPod called the iPod Touch might be of interest to you. It's one of four new iPods Apple released last month, to much fanfare and hype.

The iPod is already the leading digital music player in the world (and has sold over 100 million units in its short five year lifetime), and in most markets commands more than a seventy percent market-share. Coupled with iTunes Store the iPod is still the best choice for a digital music player hands down. The new iPod lineup has something for everyone - from the budget conscious occasional music listener to the serious roadie who needs to carry around their entire music collection in their pocket.

The Shuffle kicks off the revamped iPod range and keeps its diminutive good looks and price. At $99 and in five different colours the Shuffle is the perfect music player to throw in your bag and use during your commute to work or at gym. It's so small you hardly realise you're wearing it and with 1GB of storage and twelve hours of playback time you can have your favourite 240 songs with you where ever you go.

Next in line is the third generation Nano. Shorter and wider than the previous model the new Nano now does video as well. With a new high resolution 5cm (2 inch) display that is sixty five percent brighter than before the new Nano is perfect for watching video podcasts or other videos you find on the Internet. It's also sports a completely new user interface that now includes Cover Flow, Apples ingenious way of browsing your music with album art.

The new Nano comes in two different sizes (4GB and 8GB), five different colours and starts at just $199. You don't need to worry about battery life either. With twenty fours hours of music playback and five hours of video playback the new Nano will get you from here to just about anywhere else in the world on a single charge. In a first, the new Nano also supports video out, so you can plug it in to your TV and use it to display video and photos on your big screen at home.

The regular iPod which used to be the flagship of the iPod family takes a step back and has been re-badged the iPod Classic. The iPod Classic is the only iPod that still ships with a hard drive, and now comes in 80GB and 160GB varieties. It's been given the same metal casing of the Nano but retains the original form factor and familiar 2.5 inch display (with the same 320 x 240 resolution in the Nano). Like the new Nano, the Classic also receives the new user interface that supports Cover flow and generally enhances the visual experience. The 80GB version ($349) now provides 30 hours of audio and 5 hours of video playback, while the 160GB version ($479) has a whopping 40 hours and 7 hours of video playback.

Last, but certainly not least is the iPod Touch. It's a great compromise iPod for people who want can't wait for the iPhone experience, or who don't want the phone functionality. The iPod Touch comes with the same high resolution 3.5 inch wide screen display as the iPhone and includes WiFi and Mobile Safari and ships in both an 8GB and 16GB variety and starts from $419. It works exactly the same way the iPhone works with a multi-touch UI and finger flicking action. You've got to see it to believe it.

Along with new iPods, Apple also introduced the new iTunes WiFi store for the iPod Touch, which lets you browse and buy any music from iTunes over a WiFi connection. If you purchase music on your iPod Touch it automatically gets synced back to your computer when you connect it.

All of the new iPods except the Shuffle contain the standard 20 pin dock connector which ensures compatibility between third-party accessories and the new iPods. However, if your accessory is designed to provide video-out functionality then chances are it won't work as Apple have changed the way this feature works on the new iPod line. If this is an important feature for you you'll need to buy a $79 dock from Apple. Also, if you've invested in games for the previous generation iPod (with Video) you'll need to repurchase these, at full price as the old ones won't work on your new iPod.

If you've been hesitant about jumping in to the digital music age now is the time. With an iPod that suits any budget you are sure to find something that fits your requirements. If you already have an iPod now might be the time to consider an upgrade. The new iPods have been completely redesigned from the ground up and are gorgeous to look at and even better to use, and put the competition to shame.

September 19, 2007

Alternatives to Microsoft Office by Danny Gorog

Microsoft Office is a suite of productivity applications that let you perform common tasks like produce documents, spreadsheets and presentations. While Office is usually bundled with new machines buying it as a stand-alone product can be very expensive. That's why you should consider other alternatives before you make your decision.

One free alternative is called OpenOffice. OpenOffice is available as a free download from www.openoffice.org. It runs on all platforms (Mac, PC and Linux) and can talk the same language as other office suites, including Microsoft Office. That means you can exchange files, including those with .doc, .ppt or .xls extensions with others who are using Microsoft Office. As well as the regular office features, OpenOffice features also features a database program called Base and a program called Math that easily lets you create mathematical equations.

Another free alternative to Microsoft Office is called ThinkFree (www.thinkfree.com). Like OpenOffice, ThinkFree features a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation applications. ThinkFree is also compatible with Microsoft Office. Another nice touch with ThinkFree is the ability to save any ThinkFree document in to PDF format. You can do this with all the other packages as well but it requires installation of extra software. ThinkFree also offers ThinkFree Online which is an online version of its ThinkFree package and includes all the main packages.

Lastly, if you don't need a presentation package (like PowerPoint) then I suggest you try Google Documents and Spreadsheets. You don't need to download any additional software, just go to docs.google.com, sign in with a free account and start your document or spreadsheet. While Google Docs isn't a full featured word processor or spreadsheet program like ThinkFree Online I think it does most of the basic functions well enough, and you get the benefit of having all your documents backed up online all the time. Also, if you've already got a Google account you can access your docs by clicking the docs link at the top of any Google page.











Internet Media

If you're an Internet regular you'll know how much multimedia content is out there. Most of it plays nice with Quicktime or Windows Media Player, but often you'll find stubborn files that refuse to play with either. That's where VLC from VideoLan comes in.

VLC (available from http://www.videolan.org/vlc/) is a cross-platform media player and streaming server designed to play various audio and video formats, as well as DVDs, VCDs, and other streaming protocols. Because it's cross platform you can download a copy for Windows, Mac and Linux. VLC started as a student project at the French École Centrale Paris but is now a worldwide project with developers from 20 countries contributing to the code.

Using VLC is easy. Simply download and install it as you would any other program. When you are ready to play a media file click on the File menu and select 'Quick Open File' instead of 'Open File'. This gives you direct access to your hard disk where you can point to the file you want VLC to open. Once VLC has opened the file you can fast forward , rewind, play and pause like any other media player. VLC also lets you open multiple files at the same time, and presents you with a 'Playlist' in the Playlist window (select the Window menu and 'Playlist' to access this.)

VLC also supports 'skinning' - the process of changing the graphics interface to the program so you can customise it to suit your style. Skinning is supported in Linux and Windows but not Mac OS X at the moment.

I've been using VLC for a few years now and have generally been impressed with its performance. Its ability to open all the files I find on the Internet always astounds me. This sort of compatibility however comes with stability issues and VLC does suffer from the occasional crash. However, you can't argue with the price, and having the program ready to use when needed makes it an essential tool for any Internet surfer.

Sony. Experience more

At Sony's recent 'Experience more' expo the message from Carl Rose, Sony's MD was clear - The future is High Definition (HD), and the future is now. From the new line up of 1080i HD Bravias, HD Blu-ray players, Playstation 3, HD camcorders and laptops the High Definition experience is taking the market place by storm. Consumers thankfully, seem to be responding well, with sales of HD related categories representing over two-thirds of total spending, and increasing over 80 percent year on year.

The expo showcased over 1200 of the latest and greatest Sony products. This, coupled with their recent quarterly financial results, where profit doubled to a staggering US$554 million highlights why Sony are still a dominating force in the consumer electronics market.

The latest Benchmark released by Sony Australia reveals that Blu-ray is comfortable leading the HD DVD format in Australia. Of the nearly 6,000 HD movies sold in Australia in Q1 2007, 90.8% were in the Blu-ray format. With the release of the BDP-S300 Blu-ray player Sony intends to take it up a notch. While still on the pricey side ($1099) the S300 is $300 less than the first generation BDP-S1E player and puts Blu-ray hardware in reach of the consumer. With the number of Blu-ray titles doubling by Christmas 2007 and the S300 capable of up-scaling your existing DVD titles a Blu-ray player might be on the top of the your wish list.

Sony are also making a big play in the portable audio space by introducing a compact Bluetooth USB DVD mini system ($799). You can stream music to this system from your mobile phone by using the in-built Bluetooth connection. If you're already happy with your existing audio setup but would like Bluetooth compatibility Sony have also released a Bluetooth adaptor that supports the A2DP profile.

The top selling Bravia TV series has received an overhaul but the press couldn't keep their eyes off the prototype OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) displays. These displays comprise 'Super Top Emission' technology which generate better levels of brightness and high-resolution. The Connect team first saw OLED displays at the Samsung conference earlier in the year. With Sony on board the OLED train expect the technology to go mainstream in the near future.

Product Highlights

Vaios
The new Vaio series of laptops comprises the TZ18 ($4299) - the first notebook from Sony to incorporate a flash-based HDD (32GB), allowing for faster boot-up times and operating speeds. Other benefits include a reduction in read/write speeds for the system, better battery life and a reduction in weight.

The FZ18 ($3999) is the 'must-have' notebook for the HD enthusiast. With a built-in Blue-ray burner you can watch the latest Hollywood blockbusters, and then use your Blu-ray burner to archive up to 50GB of data on one disc.

Camcorders
Sony have just created the worlds smallest compact HD camcorder, called the CX7K. This state-of-the-art camcorder fits in the palm of your hand and records HD footage (with the AVCHD codec) on to Memory Stick media. At a mere 450 grams the CX7K can shoot continuously for six hours and comes with a 4GB Memory Stick PRO duo which stores up to 1.5 hours of full HD 1080i footage.

Along with the CX7K the SR8 features a built in 100GB hard disk that can record an incredible 38 hours of 1080i HD content. All new cameras feature Sony's latest 'Face Index' technology that uses face detection to search for 'people pictures'. There's also a new Film Roll Index that automatically breaks footage down into chapters for easy accessibility.

Cyber-Shot
The new range of T-Series Cyber-shot cameras all feature BIONZ advanced image processing technology which enhances processing speed and automatically optimises exposure and contrast settings for your pictures. As in the Camcorder range, Sony have included face recognition technology that recognises up to eight faces within the frame, and ensures they are always in focus.

The on-screen graphical user interface has also been improved and makes the process of taking great shots even easier, while viewing your shots on a full HD TV is made simple with integrated HD still image output.

iLife '08

iLife '08, released earlier this month is an upgrade to Apples media software suite and includes upgraded versions of iPhoto, iDVD, iMovie, Garageband and iWeb. iLife 08 ships free on all new Macs or costs $99 to upgrade. That probably makes it the best value Mac software on the market today.

iPhoto, iLife's photo management software has received a major overhaul and introduces a new feature called Events. According to Apple, users take an average of 50 photos per event (birthday parties, weddings, etc.) and have around 5000-6000 photos in their libraries. Grouping photos into events means you only have to sort through 100 events rather than 5000 individual pics to find the one you are looking for.

Events make managing a large number of photos easier. However, if you're already comfortable using albums these still function as well. Apple have also beefed up the editing tools in iPhoto 08 and it's now possible to apply colour corrections to a group of photos rather than one at a time. iPhoto '08 also simplifies sharing your photos with family and friends through the new .Mac Web Gallery feature that gives users the ability to create rich Web 2.0 sites with a single button.

iMovie '08 is a complete overhaul of iMovie '06 and is a new paradigm in video editing. iMovie is aimed at users who want to make a simple video quickly. It my tests it worked a treat, cutting the time to make a ten minute video of my family holiday by half. iMovie '08 also introduces support for the latest range of AVCHD video cameras and lets you send your finished videos direct to YouTube.

Garageband, iWeb and iDVD also received minor updates that add polish to the suite entire suite and make it a must for any Mac user. For more information on iLife '08 go to here.

The case for Flash memory

In case you hadn't noticed, the IT world is in the middle of a fundamental industry shift that will seriously effect all of the gadgets and computers you buy in the future. It's not, as some would answer the gradual move away from Windows to other platforms like Mac OS X and Linux, but the shift from spinning media (like hard drives and CD/DVD's) to Flash based media.

Hard drives store information on spinning disks. The disks (or platters) are mounted on a spindle and are read by a electro-magnet assembly (or head) that moves across the platter at high speeds. While hard disks are very common, have large capacities and are a cheap medium for storing computer data they are notoriously unreliable, heavy and consume more than their fair share of power.

The alternative, and one that you'll be seeing more and more of in the future is called Flash based memory. You've probably already got some Flash media at home - in fact, it's already ubiquitous. Flash memory is used in digital cameras, mobile phones, USB memory sticks, and even in the latest line of iPods.

The reasons are obvious. Flash memory is silent, doesn't consume much power, and is a lot smaller than a hard disk. It's also more resilient to knocks and damage which means your data will be safer for longer.

As more and more devices begin to use Flash media expect prices to tumble. In fact, next year, Toshiba plan to release a 32GB Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) card and the newest iPod Touch comes with 16GB. At this rate, Flash memory will be cheap and small enough to rival the largest hard drive within a few years.

If you are in the market for a new laptop you can already buy them from Sony and Toshiba with flash-only based hard drives. These new laptops, while still very expensive are the lightest and quickest on the market and are trail blazers for where the industry is heading.

August 1, 2007

iPhone in Australia

I've got an iPhone! I asked my sister to post it to me from Los Angeles express, because I knew until I got it I wouldn't sleep well. It finally arrived on Monday and to be truthful I haven't been able to focus on anything properly since then. Buying the iPhone was a calculated risk for me here in Australia but I figured even if I couldn't get it working as a phone at least I'd be able to activate it and use it on my home WiFi network, and as an iPod.

To say the iPhone is one of the most amazing consumer electronics devices ever released is spot on. It makes all other phones on the market look prehistoric. Think about it like this. Your normal phone is like a skateboard missing three of its wheels, and the iPhone is like the latest Ferrari. Sure, the broken skateboard will let you get from point A to point B but you'll be well shaken by the time you get there.

It's not the features of the iPhone (2 MP camera, WiFi, 8GB memory, iPod, Stereo headphone jack, large 9cm display, Google Maps, YouTube, Desktop class web browser and email client) that make it phenomenal, it's the completely radical new interface that puts it on another level. You do everything on the iPhone with your finger. To scroll up and down a list you simply flick your finger, to select an item you tap it with your finger, to zoom in on a photo you place two fingers together and then spread them apart. You have to see it to believe it.

You've also got to remember that this thing is the latest generation iPod. It makes the older style iPods with the scroll wheel look ancient. Now, you browse your music in CoverFlow mode with album art. Tap on the album you like and the cover swings around to reveal the track listing. Tap the track and the built-in speaker comes to life. Plug in the iconic white headsets that comes with iPhone and you are good to go.

At $500 USD the iPhone isn't cheap, but costs about the same as equivalent smart phones like the Blackberry Curve or the Motorola Q over the course of a two year contract. There has also been some discussion on the merits of the on-screen virtual keyboard. In my testing typing has been at least as fast, if not faster then on my Blackberry.

The iPhone however is not without it faults. For instance I don't think die-hard Blackberry users will want to wait until the email program is improved. You can't mass delete a group of emails for instance. Also, if you like installing third-party software on your phone forget the iPhone. It's a closed system at the moment. The only way developers can take advantage of iPhone is to write web 2.0 style applications that run it the browser. Luckily, I expect most of the short-comings to be fixed in subsequent software up-dates. It's also important to remember that this is a first generation product. Just imagine how good the iPhone will be in three or five years time.

Unfortunately the iPhone won't be available in Australia until 2008. While you are waiting for it check out the latest group of smart phones on the market. Most offer similar features to the iPhone, but lack the sophistication, elegance and thoughtful design that only Apple seem to be releasing these days.

Motorola Q 9h

This is Motorola's second generation Q and runs the latest version of Windows Mobile 6. It's claim to fame is its fast HSDPA connection that delivers true mobile broadband. The Q9 has a great keyboard with one glaring problem. The delete button is in the top set of keys (grouped with the answer and end call buttons) and not where it should be. This creates confusion initially, and then frustration when you realise the delete key also functions as the back key as well. It's schizophrenic. Also, the lack of WiFi is to be expected in an HSDPA phone, however data plans remain too expensive in Australia and will limit the usefulness of the Q. The Q 9h is available exclusively on Vodafone for $799.

Pros
Bright Screen
HSDPA
Stereo Bluetooth
Smooth syncing with your PC
2.0 MP Camera

Cons
Delete key in the wrong spot
Windows Mobile still too slow
No WiFi
No bundled Mac support
Proprietary charging/data cable

Samsung BlackJack

This is Samsung's first foray in to the smart phone market and it's a success. The BlackJack manages to cram a full size qwerty keyboard in to a device that only weighs 105 grams and is 11.8mm thick. The BlackJack runs Windows Mobile 5.0 (with talk of an update to version 6 in the works) and also runs on the HSDPA network. Like the Q you can read Microsoft Office documents but can't edit them. WiFi is also standard on the BlackJack which makes the browsing experience more tolerable when outside an HSDPA zone. The 2.3" screen is bright and crisp, and the keyboard has a great tactile feel with positive feedback and the predictive text function works a treat. The BlackJack retails for $899.

Pros
HSDPA
WiFi
Great keyboard
Comes with two batteries

Cons
Proprietary charging/data cable
No Mac support
Battery life with Bluetooth on limited

BlackBerry Curve

The Curve is like the BlackBerry curve with a full size keyboard. Unlike the 8800 (BlackBerry's business grade phone) the Curve's keyboard is easily the best to have ever shipped on a BlackBerry. The Curve also features a 2MP camera and a 3.5mm standard headset for using regular earphones. The Curve has a large, bright screen and features BlackBerry's market leading push-email solution that neither the BlackJack or the Q 9h can beat (nor the iPhone for that matter). The speakerphone is loud and clear and the battery life with Bluetooth enabled is excellent. The Curve retails for $739.

Pros
Great keyboard
2.0 MP Camera
Standard headphone jack
Built in Maps application can use a Bluetooth GPS module
Mac support

Cons
Multimedia functionality still too slow
No HTML email support

Alternatives to Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office is a suite of productivity applications that let you perform common tasks like produce documents, spreadsheets and presentations. While Office is usually bundled with new machines buying it as a stand-alone product can be very expensive. That's why you should consider other alternatives before you make your decision.

One free alternative is called OpenOffice. OpenOffice is available as a free download from www.openoffice.org. It runs on all platforms (Mac, PC and Linux) and can talk the same language as other office suites, including Microsoft Office. That means you can exchange files, including those with .doc, .ppt or .xls extensions with others who are using Microsoft Office. As well as the regular office features, OpenOffice features also features a database program called Base and a program called Math that easily lets you create mathematical equations.

Another free alternative to Microsoft Office is called ThinkFree. Like OpenOffice, ThinkFree features a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation applications. ThinkFree is also compatible with Microsoft Office. Another nice touch with ThinkFree is the ability to save any ThinkFree document in to PDF format. You can do this with all the other packages as well but it requires installation of extra software. ThinkFree also offers ThinkFree Online which is an online version of its ThinkFree package and includes all the main packages.

Lastly, if you don't need a presentation package (like PowerPoint) then I suggest you try Google Documents and Spreadsheets. You don't need to download any additional software, just go to docs.google.com, sign in with a free account and start your document or spreadsheet. While Google Docs isn't a full featured word processor or spreadsheet program like ThinkFree Online I think it does most of the basic functions well enough, and you get the benefit of having all your documents backed up online all the time. Also, if you've already got a Google account you can access your docs by clicking the docs link at the top of any Google page.

July 25, 2007

Alignment, Justification and Bullets

Microsoft Word (and many other programs) let you justify, bullet and align text throughout your document. However, sometimes doing so can be confusing, and sometimes you'll feel like Word has a mind of its own.

The first thing to remember with alignment is that you can only apply an alignment command (like left, center or right) to a paragraph of text. So if you want to apply an alignment command like 'center' to a heading you'll need to make sure it is its own paragraph. Creating a paragraph is as easy as inserting a line break by pressing the 'Return' or 'Enter' key. One common mistake I see a lot is when users artificially create a new line when they don't need to. In the old days of typewriters you used to have to wind the typewriter back to start a new paragraphs. Modern word processors like Word automatically wrap text for you so you don't need to worry. You only need to use the 'Return' or 'Enter' when you want to force a new paragraph.

This leads me to the justify command which lets you align text along the left and right margin. This is useful when working in a column layout but sometimes leads to odd spacing between words. The odd spacing is often caused because of extra spaces or other formatting elements. If you notice the spacing looks strange make sure you don't have any spaces after the end of the text.

Bullet points and numbering is another source of confusion in Word but doesn't need to be. To create a list of bullet points or numbers in word simply go to the Format menu and select 'Bullets and Numbering' (rather than clicking the shortcut icon). In this window you can choose a bullet style or a numbered style. If you select a numbered style you'll also have the option of restarting the numbering or continuing from a previous list (somewhere else in the document).

July 11, 2007

Web 2.0

Next generation web sites, referred to as 'web 2.0' are springing up all over the Internet and changing the way we interact with the humble web page. A recent study by web audience measurement firm Hitwise showed that Web 2.0 style sites now account for 12% of US web activity, up from just 2% two years ago.

Where first generation websites were static and provided static information, next generation web sites let users interact with the page, often without the need to refresh the pages as the user makes changes. Web 2.0 sites rely heavily on programming in AJAX. AJAX sites make web pages feel more responsive by exchanging small amounts of data with the server behind the scenes. The result is increased interactivity, speed and usability. So much so that often with a web 2.0 site you feel like you are using an application, running locally on your computer.

In fact, in writing this story I am using Google Docs, a web based word processor. Google Docs lets me type as I would into a word processor, like Microsoft Word but instead of running a large, memory and processor intensive application on my computer I am typing into a web browser. Google Docs automatically saves my work every time I type a letter. If my computer was to crash now I'd lose nothing. Apart from this aspect using a web 2.0 site like Google Docs also lets me easily share my work with others. I simply add them as collaborators and they too can add to my story.

Other web 2.0 sites like Geni.com let users from around the world build family trees together. At Geni.com you enter your immediate family details, including email address of everyone and Geni.com automatically emails them and asks them to do the same. Within weeks you can have a family tree that stretches for many generations. And like Google Docs, everything is backed up online so if your computer gets stolen or your hard disk fails you don't need to worry.

Probably the most popular web 2.0 site is wikipedia.com. Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia entirely built from user content. Users create topics by adding pages and then other users add to these topics. Any user can edit any information in a web-based text editor. Users are also free to add links to other articles in Wikipedia, or to link to external websites. Wikipedia has become so dense with information a new online game has sprung up called 'Six degrees of Wikipedia' where you try and navigate through Wikipedia articles to get from one random word to another, with the shortest amounts of clicks (if you need help check out http://tools.wikimedia.de/sixdeg/).

The advent of Web 2.0 sites is tied to the increasing prevalence of broadband Internet connections. Without broadband many of these Web 2.0 sites wouldn't function quickly enough to create the 'local' application feel that they do. As broadband penetration and speeds increase expect Web 2.0 sites to become more powerful and feature rich.

Top Web 2.0 Sites

Property.com.au
Search Australia's largest list of properties for rent and sale. With interactive maps and photo galleries finding the home of your dreams has never been this easy.

Myspace.com.au

If you haven't heard of MySpace you must be living under a rock. MySpace virtual community site allows users to network, meet people, browse their profiles, and make friends from all around the world. Also contains spaces for bands to share their music and communicate with their fan base.

Docs.google.com
Purchased from writely.com Google has managed to create the best Free web-based word processor and spreadsheet. Users can share and collaborate easily. It's my word processor of choice.

Maps.google.com.au
Another Google property, Maps.Google provides directions, interactive maps, and satellite/aerial imagery of the whole world. You can also search by keyword such as type of business. In the US they have just introduced Street View that gives you images at street level - scary!

Omnidrive.com
Need to backup your computer but don't have an external drive. Omnidrive is an online storage platform that allows you to edit, share and store your files online and access them from anywhere with the speed of desktop storage.

Gnoos.com.au
A search engine focusing on Australian blogs and media, Gnoos lets users tag results and vote on them. Results can be commented on or expanded to read the full post without leaving the site.

Last.fm
Last.fm taps the wisdom of the crowds, leveraging each user's musical profile to make personalised recommendations, connect users who share similar tastes, provide custom radio streams, and much more. Check it out, you'll be amazed.

A Product a Day

Buying online is pretty popular these days. Virtual stores like Amazon.com carry many different items and choosing something to buy can often be confusing. Well, to solve your confusion and give you a great deal at a great price check out the new breed of online stores that offer only one product for sale every day. Zazz, Woot and Catch of the Day are three online stores dedicated to giving you the best possible deal on one product a day. Woot, the most popular and longest running site claims to have over 700,000 users and recently sold its millionth item.

The idea behind these 'one product, one day' websites is simple. They buy products in bulk (they never tell you how many they've got) and sell them on the website at a discount rate. I've been checking out these sites over the past week and the stuff you can actually buy ranges from practical and useful (like a kids toy from Fischer Price for half price to the completely useless, like an After Party Bundle USB Light and USB Fan kit). The trick is to join the their mailing lists so you can quickly check the product of the day and determine whether you need it.

After you've decided to purchase buying is easy. In most cases you enter your personal details, credit card information and a shipping address. I've tried out all three websites and all deliver the product as promised. Both Zazz and Woot specialise in gadgets, while Catch of the Day offers a variety of products including homewares, Manchester and electronics as well. If you're a bargain hunter these websites offer a great alternative to eBay and you can take comfort in the fact that when you purchase your items are new and ship with a guarantee.

July 9, 2007

Sandisk Cruzer Contour

I've had lots of USB memory sticks in my day. I remember my excitement when I got my first 128MB stick almost 4 years ago. Those were the days when almost anything fit on 128MB. Since then I've had numerous USB sticks but all of them have been badly built. My last one was beautifully small, but within a week of using it I'd managed to rip the back plastic attachment clean off, exposing the circuit board and all!

My latest USB stick is the Sandisk Cruzer Contour. Available in both 4 and 8GB varieties the Sandisk is unique in its build quality and clever mechanism that lets you hide the USB stick away when not in use. This is a real convenience as I was constantly losing those small caps that covered my other sticks.

If performance is what you are after the Cruzer delivers. With a write speed of 18 MB/sec2 and a read speed of 25 MB/sec. The Cruzer Contour also supports the ReadyBoost feature in Microsoft Windows Vista, which taps unused storage space on USB flash drives to improve system performance – especially when several applications are running simultaneously.

The Cruzer is at the pricey end of the scale, with the 4Gb costing $145 and the 8Gb cost $245 and available from most good retailers and online.

July 4, 2007

Apple TV

Apple TV is Apple's most recent foray into the consumer electronics market and is billed as the last piece of the 'media' puzzle. With Apple TV your iTunes content moves from the computer into the living room where it can be controlled with a simple 6 button remote and a gorgeous visual interface.

The best way to think about Apple TV is as an iPod that you plug into your flat screen TV. Instead of syncing with a USB cable however, you transfer content on to Apple TV via a wireless network. In typical Apple fashion Apple TV isn't a product that does everything, but everything it does, it does well.

Setting up Apple TV is marginally harder then syncing an iPod for the first time. Firstly, you'll need a wide-screen TV that has either composite, DVI or HDMI inputs. Secondly, the only cable that is supplied with Apple TV is a power adaptor so you'll need to make sure you buy the cable you require before you leave the shop. Lastly, to get content on to your Apple TV you'll need to have the latest version of iTunes running on your computer, version 7.3.

Configuring Apple TV is easy. Simply plug it in, select the resolution that suits your TV (Apple TV presents you with a list of 'recommended' options) and then set your sync preferences. Apple TV comes with a 40GB or 160GB hard drive that is designed to store your media locally so you won't need to have your computer running when your using it. It took me just over 2 hours to sync all of my content to my Apple TV using a standard 802.11G network. Apple TV only 'syncs' with one computer (like an iPod) but can 'stream' content from up to five additional Macs or PC's on your network. That means if your friend comes over with his laptop you can listen to his music, or watch his movies with a couple of clicks.

If you've played with Front Row on a Mac you'll be familiar with the Apple TV interface. The slick graphics zoom in and out as you press up and down on the remote. While most consumer electronic interfaces leave a lot to be desired Apple TV delivers the goods. The interface is silky smooth and never stutters. The fit and finish is pure Apple quality.

So how do you get content for your Apple TV? Ideally you buy it through the iTunes store. In Australia iTunes has the largest selection of music and podcasts but try to buy a TV show or movie and you'll be disappointed. Apple Australia hasn’t officially announced availability of either yet, but if the latest version of iTunes is any indicator it is coming soon.

In the meantime there are other ways of getting video content on to your Apple TV. You'll need to arm yourself with a piece of software called Visual Hub that lets you convert any video on your computer (including DivX files) to the correct 'Apple TV' format. Once you've made the conversion syncing video content is a cinch. Simply drag it in to the iTunes window and Apple TV takes care of the rest.

It's exciting to see a new family of product from Apple and Apple TV makes a lot of sense for those that have invested in some part of the iTunes ecosystem. Like other Apple products the thing you notice most about Apple TV is that it just works. There are other devices on the market that let you transfer content from your computer to your TV but they are complicated and more expensive (and they don’t work with iTunes). While Apple TV is a first generation product watch its maturation carefully. When iPod was launched critics damned it for being too expensive and basic. Yet 6 years later Apple has sold over 90 million of the players. Look for similar success from Apple TV.

Remote Control Computer

Did you know you can access your home computer from anywhere in the world? All you need is a little piece of software from Log Me In. Once installed, LogMeIn lets you literally take control of your computer from any PC anywhere around the world. All you need to do is make sure your home computer is connected to the Internet.

Installing and setting up LogMeIn is easy. Simple go to the website, register and then download the software. Once installed you'll need to enter your user name and password in the software so it knows who you are. When you log back in to Logmein.com you'll need to click 'Add Computer' and tell LogMeIn to look for your computer. Now you are set to remotely control your computer from anywhere.

LogMeIn works on Macs and PCs and you can control both from either platform. LogMeIn also offers 'premium' products that let you do more than just control your machine, including file sharing, guest invite and remote printing. The premium version costs $70 per PC per year with volume discounts available.

LogMeIn's Mac software is still in Beta so can be a bit buggy. If you need a more robust solution consider Apple's Remote Desktop 3. ARD lets you observe, control and manage the Macs and PCs on your network.

Setting up ARD is equally easy, in fact the software is built-in to most Macs, while the standard VNC software can be installed on all other platforms. Once you launch ARD all the computers that can be controlled appear on your network. To observe any machine just double click on the computer name. ARD can also be used to update software remotely and can generate software and hardware reports for each machine you monitor.

June 28, 2007

Product RED

It's not often you see technology products from different companies banding together for a common cause. But that is exactly what has happened over the past 12 months with the advent of a global initiative to fight Aids called (PRODUCT) RED. (PRODUCT) RED is an initiative founded by Bono, U2's lead singer, and Bobby Shriver. The idea behind Product Red is simply for consumers to choose a (PRODUCT) RED branded item over a regular one. (PRODUCT) RED items cost the same as their regular counterparts, but companies that join the (PRODUCT) RED cause donate a percentage of the sale proceeds to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria which was established in 2002.

The first two technology companies to join the fight are Apple and Motorola. Choose the iPod nano (PRODUCT) RED Special Edition or the Motorola RAZR and both Apple and Microsoft will give a portion of the purchase price to the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa. Both products look great and are finished in a rich red metallic case.

The (PRODUCT) RED iPod Nano comes in both 4GB ($279) and 8GB ($349) varieties. Like other Nano's it comes with a great 1.5inch colour display, up to 24 hours of battery life and simple integration with iTunes. It is simply the best portable music player on the planet.

The (PRODUCT) RED Motorazr is the first in a series Motorola plans to launch in Australia this year. At only 13.9 mm thin, 53 mm wide (the width of a credit card) and 98 mm long, the Motorola RAZR V3 is still one of the slimmest phones on the market. As a bonus, Motorola are also bundling an H500 Bluetooth headset with the (PRODUCT) RED RAZR. The package is available exclusively through Optus prepaid for $249, $19.80 of which goes direct to the Product RED cause.

June 24, 2007

Online DVD Rentals

Have you ever wished there was an easier way to rent your DVD's? A way that meant you didn't have to leave the comfort of your warm home and wait in line, only to discover the DVD you were searching for wasn't available? Well, now there is a far easier way to get your DVD's, and, as if from heaven they are delivered to your mailbox and you can keep them as long as you want.

The phenomenon of online DVD rentals started in the US with NetFlix. NetFlix pioneered a system where users kept a list of the DVD's they wanted to watch, and sent them out one or two at a time. When you sent back the DVD they sent you a new one from your list. This system has many economic and practical advantages from the traditional 'video library' format. Firstly, users don't get slugged with late fees - they only get new movies delivered when the old, watched movies are returned. Secondly, the company doesn't need hundreds of locations, everything can be managed from a central warehouse.

NetFlix isn't available in Australia but there are many other providers offering this service. Take a look at QuickFlix, WebFlicks and BigPond Movies. All provide a similar service and most offer a free trial where you see if online DVD rental suits you. Plans start at around $10 per month which gives you access to one DVD at a time and up to two DVD's per month. If you think you want more you can try the the $60 per month plan that gives you five DVD's at a time and unlimited during the month.

June 21, 2007

Safari for Windows

The browser wars just stepped up another notch thanks to the release of Safari for Windows. If you haven't heard of Safari before that's OK, neither have 95% of the computer-using public. That's because Safari is the web browser that Apple include as standard when you buy a Mac and hasn't actually been available for Windows. Now it is and I suggest you try it here.

Safari has been out for over three years on the Mac platform and was the first browser to bring innovations like tabbed browsing, pop-up blocking and Snapback to consumers. Since its release it has matured in to a very stable and secure browser. In fact, according to Apple, Safari is also the fastest browser for PC. That's right, faster than Internet Explorer 6 and 7, and faster than Firefox.

The thing I've always loved about Safari is it's intuitive bookmark management features. Bookmarks are easy to organise using a single-window interface that will be familiar to you if you've used iTunes. And don't worry about importing your bookmarks from your other browser, Safari does that automatically on its first run. Other features like SnapBack and built-in RSS support help to make Safari a compelling proposition.

Some pundits have questioned Apples motives for porting Safari to Windows but I think it's for a combination of reasons. Firstly Apple are good at making software that consumers love to use, with Safari on Windows it's just another reason for people to experience the 'Mac' way before investing in Apple hardware, and, secondly Apple make a lot of money from search referrals to Google and Yahoo. Some analysts put the number in the order of $20 million, with a larger base of users running Safari this number is expected to at least double or triple.

May 23, 2007

Nortons for Windows Mobile?!

This post here is as good a reason to NEVER EVER get a mobile phone with Windows mobile. Seriously, can you believe Norton's is pimping anti-virus software for a mobile phone. If consumers start getting bugs on their phones you can kiss Windows Mobile good bye. Maybe Apple is justified in keeping the iPhone platform closed?

Vista versus Mac OS X

Windows Vista, Microsoft's long awaited upgrade to Windows XP is finally here. Vista has been over 5 years in the making and Microsoft have rewritten millions of lines of code and spent over $6 billion dollars getting it ready. The marketing budget for Vista has been reported to be over USD $500 Million. With those sort of numbers Vista will be the most successful version of Windows ever. In fact, as it will ship as standard on most new PC's Vista's market share next year will make it the second most popular operating system, only lagging behind Windows XP. Do you need to upgrade your PC to Vista today or should you wait? Is there anything else on the market that is as good as Vista or better? Five years ago there weren't any serious competitors to Windows but now there is, and it's called Mac OS X. The release of Vista has flared up the old Microsoft versus Apple rivalry again, and this time it's Apple that comes out on top, by miles.

The first point of comparison between Mac OS X Tiger and Vista is pricing. Not only will this give you a indicator of value but it will also demonstrate Microsoft's view of its consumer as compared to Apple's. Vista comes in four different varieties; Home Basic ($385), Home Premium ($455), Business ($565) and Ultimate ($750) with 'upgrades' costing around about 30% less. Mac OS X Tiger comes in one version and it costs $199. If you choose to buy the 'upgrade' version of Vista you'll need to ensure that you have Windows XP or 2000 (not Windows 95, 98 or ME) running on the computer you'll be upgrading. In the past just having the CD was sufficient - during the upgrade Windows would prompt you to insert it, validate that you had a genuine copy and then let you proceed with the installation. Now, with Vista you'll need to have the version you are upgrading from running. That means if your computer crashes and you have to reinstall you'd better find that old version of XP and install it before you install Vista - In my rough estimation this new 'twist' on upgrading will add around 2 hours to your total re-installation process. With Mac OS X there is no upgrade version, just the full version that you install. Apple makes it easy for its customers, and Microsoft makes it difficult.

The basic hardware requirements to run the two operating systems are also different. To run either Home Premium, Business or Ultimate you'll need a minimum 1GHz processor, 1GB of memory, a 40GB hard drive and a graphics card that supports DirectX 9 with a minimum 128MB ram. Mac OS X Tiger runs on any Mac that has a G3, G4, G5 or Intel Core Duo processor, built-in Firewire (on all Macs as standard for the past 5 years), 256MB RAM and at least 3 GB free disk space. That means if you want to upgrade to Vista and it is more than about 12-18 months old it's time to go and buy a new one. If you've had a Mac since 2001 chances are you can use Tiger. Apple supports old hardware, Microsoft doesn't.

Two major new features introduced for Tiger eighteen months ago were Spotlight, Dashboard and Expose. Spotlight provides an 'instant search' from anywhere on the computer. As you enter your search term Spotlight automatically finds what you are looking for in real time. It searches emails, contacts, documents and even the contents of documents. Vista also introduces a new feature called 'Instant Search' that is very similar. From the new Start menu you can enter a search term that lets you find the same content. The Spotlight icon appears in the top right hand corner of the screen and Vista Instant Search is in the bottom left hand corner.

Tiger's Dashboard feature hosts mini applications called Widgets that appear instantly and can keep you up-to-date. You can view share pricing, local or international time, exchange rates etc. In fact there are now over thousands of Widgets that Tiger users can download. Microsoft's version of Dashboard is called the Windows Sidebar and its widgets are called gadgets - they serve the same purpose as widgets. Expose helps users navigate open windows or view their desktop. Microsoft's new Flip 3D presents all open windows as cards in a floating deck, you can navigate back and forwards through them but you can't get them to disappear so you can see the desktop.

Also new to Vista are a group of productivity application like an email client (this used to be called Outlook Express), Windows Calendar and Windows Contacts. Microsoft have also added some better digital media features like Windows Photo Gallery, Movie Maker and DVD Maker. Mac OS X has iCal, Address Book, iPhoto, iDVD and iTunes - all standard, on all versions of the OS since 2003.

On features alone it's easy to conclude that Vista and Mac OS X are now on par but this overlooks two important elements. Firstly, the feel of both products is very different. In my opinion Mac OS X is unobtrusive and its interface intuitive and clean. Vista on the other hand makes you work for it. Take for example another new feature for Vista called User Account Control (UAC). UAC presents an intrusive dialogue box that warns you whenever you try to make a system wide change or install a new application. This will annoy most users however and you can just switch it off. But doing so overrides all of the new security measures Microsoft have built into Vista and makes the threat of infection from viruses or malware more likely. In contrast Mac OS X generally still remains virus and malware free.

Secondly, Apple have just announced that it's new version of Mac OS X, called Leopard will be shipping by this Autumn. Apple have already announced some new Leopard features like Time Machine (simple backup), Spaces (multiple desktops) and iChat at last years developers conference but held back on announcing all the new features for fear of plagiarism.

Vista takes Windows to the next level, and adds a level of 'fit and finish' lacking in XP, however in my opinion the steep price and complicated upgrade procedure should be reason enough to wait until you upgrade your PC before using it.

The New Floppy Disk

Remember the old floppy disk drives? They came in two varieties, 5.25 and 3.5". They were standard on most computers for 20 years and let you easily backup a file and take it with you where ever you went. The first computer to do away with the floppy drive was the original Bondi Blue iMac. The world thought Apple had gone made.

Over the nearly eight years since the original iMac was released we have come along way and now most computers ship without floppy drives. They have been replaced by something far more durable and easy to use - the USB flash drive or thumb drive. If you don't have a USB flash drive I suggest you get one and attach it to your keyring so it's with you all the time.

Flash drives are small pieces of solid state memory that you simply insert into the USB slot on a Mac or PC and copy your files to. Flash drives aren't new, I got my first one around 4 years ago. However as memory prices have fallen you can now get a 512Mb flash drive for around $20. As a comparison, you can fit about 500 old floppy disks worth of information on a 512Mb flash drive. And 512Mb is the minimum you should buy. I've recently seen 4Gb and 8Gb drives which will be the standard in about a year.

Flash memory is also quickly replacing the the standard hard drive as a better storage medium. There are no moving parts, no noise, and flash memory is a lot more durable. That means the laptop you buy in 3 years time could be half the size and have a battery life of more than six hours.

April 11, 2007

DRM and Apple

DRM stands for Digital Rights Management and is a means by which content owners and distributors restrict the use of their digital content. DRM however isn't a new concept and has been used to protect software installations for many years. When you enter your serial number to activate Windows for instance you are using a form of DRM.

The issue of protecting content is now the subject of a heated debate between content creators, publishers and distributors and is coming to a head thanks mainly to the market dominance of Apple's iTunes music stores, by far the largest distributor of DRM'd content.

Presently many different distributors use different DRM systems, most of which are incompatible with others. For example, if you buy a song from iTunes it will only work in iTunes and on the iPod and if you buy a song through a Windows based music store it won't work on the Mac or the iPod, or many other digital music players like Microsoft's newly released Zune.

DRM is confusing for consumers and is being blamed for the slow growth of digital content sales. In an effort to grow the industry Apple, in partnership with EMI have announced they will begin selling DRM free music beginning in May. The new DRM free music will be 30% more expensive however will be encoded at a higher bit rate, providing consumers with higher quality downloads.

Other content publishers however take comfort in DRM as it lets them control who listens to their music. In practice however media piracy is so prevalent that DRM hasn't decreased it, in fact some believe it has had the opposite effect. Additionally, the anti-DRM lobby makes the point that CD's don't have copy protection, so why should digital music.

As a consumer it's fascinating to watch this debate from the side lines. It's also interesting to watch the shift in power from the incumbent content publishers to the new age distributors who deal directly with their customers.

April 4, 2007

MySpace for Comedy

You might have heard about MySpace from your kids. It is one of the most popular social networking websites and attracts millions of visitors every day. MySpace is a place where users 'hang out' and post information about themselves, what they do and meet new people. Traditionally MySpace attracted lots of musicians, keen to promote their music but now MySpace is attracting a new and funnier section of the community - comedians.

If you log on to MySpace and click on the 'Comedy' link in the top menu bar you'll get to Comedy homepage where you can find information about your favourite acts. In Australia popular comedians like Adam Hill, Dave Hughes and Wil Anderson all have their own pages while lesser known acts like Alison Bice, Amelia Jane Hunter and Justin Hamilton also have a MySpace presence.

Like musicians before them MySpace helps comedians stay in touch with their fans by providing a central place to host information about upcoming gigs and events, and even host videos and audio recordings of their acts. Adam Hill for example chats with his MySpace audience between his shows and has even begun to incorporate the trials and tribulations of his MySpace followers' stories into his shows. Similarly, Dave Hughes (who currently has over 36000 friends) put up pictures of his recent wedding on his MySpace homepage.

With over 760 comedians on MySpace you are sure to find your favourite act. And if your favourite comedian doesn't have a MySpace page make sure you heckle them at the next performance.

A Scanner Sam I Am


About once a week I have nightmares. Not about monsters in the cupboard or falling off a cliff but about filing all the paper that lives on my desk. I've got paper bills, paper notes, dockets, sticky notes - you name it, if it exists on paper then it is on my desk. That's why when I heard about Fujitsu's new ScanSnap range of desktop scanners I got excited.

Paper is public enemy number 1 for me. There is always too much of it in my life. Think about this; My average mobile phone bill is 10 pages long. I get one invoice a month, and I have to keep the invoices for 7 years (as per government regulations). An A0 sheet of paper weighs about 80 grams (80gsm) and there are 16 A4 size sheets per A0 sheet. So each A4 sheet of paper weighs about 5 grams. That's 840 pages or close to 5kgs of paper! I know that sort of analysis is purely analytical but for me there is also the question of filing. Does the telephone invoice go under "T" for telephone, "P" for phone or "V" for Vodafone. I don't know and I never will.

With the ScanSnap S500M (or fi-5110C for Windows XP) on my desk all of these worries are behind me. The ScanSnap is the first fully functional desktop scanner that literally changes the way you manage your documents. The ScanSnap is compact with a tiny footprint (29x16x16cm) and runs over a USB connection.

When you have a document to scan you simply place it in the document feeder, press the button marked 'Scan' and within 20 seconds a PDF with your document pops up on your computer. That's it. No cropping, scaling or working out the resolution - it's all automatic. Was that invoice double-sided? Don't worry, the ScanSnap is duplex. It scans the front and the back at the same time. The S500M is capable of scanning 18 duplex full colour pages per minute. That's fast, very fast. The only thing you'll need to do is give your file a relevant name like 'ANZ Statement Dec 06' and file it in the correct folder.

Out of sheer excitement I created my own script that launches each time I scan a document and forces me to file it correctly. With Mac OS X (and now Windows Vista) you also have the option of adding meta-data to the file. Meta-data is information you can attach to the file that isn't included in the file name. It might be the bank account number, the date you paid the bill and the receipt number. The benefit of adding this information to the file is it can make it easier to find in the future.

Fujitsu have also added some other great features to the ScanSnap like auto size and blank page detection. If you scan a business card for example the PDF ScanSnap produces will only be as large as necessary. Likewise, if you scan a bank statement and one page is blank ScanSnap excludes the blank page when creating the PDF. ScanSnap can also differentiate between colour and black and white documents. As a sweetener Fujitsu bundles the full version of Adobe Acrobat 7 with the ScanSnap however I still prefer to use Preview, Apple's built in PDF software as I think it is faster and more efficient.

In my testing the ScanSnap performed admirably. I experimented with mixed scan jobs, from a small receipt to an A4 sheet in one scan session and the ScanSnap figured it out every time. I even tried scanning photos with great success. On occasion the ScanSnap hit a snag and jammed. After some practice I worked out this occurred for two reasons; the paper wasn't 'flat' enough or I had placed it in without setting the guides correctly. When a jam does occur the software politely pops up and asks you to either correct the problem (a simple task of lifting the lid and removing the jam) or cancel the scan. When the ScanSnap did scan a document crooked the built-in corrected the rotation almost perfectly every time.

At $899 for the fi-5110C and $1199 for the S500M document scanners aren't cheap. However, if you have an urge to purge your home of paper then the ScanSnap is for you. You'll get a reliable, fast and small desktop scanner that will give you extra desk space and less clutter. And isn't that what everyone wants?

March 28, 2007

Panasonic’s New Camcorders

The rapid growth in flat panel TV sales (both Plasma and LCD) is the driving force behind next generation high definition AV technology like Blue-Ray, HD-DVD and Digital TV. The next line of consumer electronics to receive the HD treatment is the humble camcorder. With the release of the Panasonic HDC-DX1 and HDC-SD1 high definition video recording has just landed in Australia.

The HDC-SD1 ($2419) is the first and smallest HD camcorder on the market to take advantage of SD card technology instead of tape or hard drive. You can record up to 90 minutes of high definition footage on a standard 4Gb card (included). Panasonic expect SD cards to reach capacities of up to 32Gb within 2 years. That means potential recording times of up to 12 hours on card. The HDC-SD1 also has a 1.7 second quick start mode so you won’t miss action.

The DX1 ($2199) is the SD1’s bigger brother that records on to mini-DVD discs. DVD camcorders are super-popular with consumers, mainly because the content can be easily viewed on a regular DVD player. The catch with the DX1 however is that footage is recorded in HD so you’ll need to upgrade to a new Blue-Ray DVD player before you can watch any of your recordings. Try putting a mini-HD DVD into your regular player and you’ll be disappointed.

Both new HD cameras use the new AVCHD format (a format jointly developed by Panasonic and Sony). AVCHD uses an MPEG-4 codec for video compression and a Dolby Digital for sound and enables high picture and sound quality in compact sizes units.

While not the first to market with a consumer line of HD camcorders (Sony has had models available for over 12 months now) Panasonic is leading the way by integrating it’s award winning technologies like Optical Image Stabiliser (OIS), 3CCD and Dolby 5.1 Channel surround sound to both new HD camcorders.

When shooting in HD a small .3mm hand shake can result in up to 50mm shake when viewed on a 50” flat panel screen. That’s why OIS is critical. OIS minimises the hand-shake effect and is extremely effective in situations where slight movements are notable, especially in zoom conditions. The OIS system is optical, so you won’t lose picture quality when it’s turned on.

Like professional quality cameras Panasonic have adopted the 3CCD system in the DX1 and SD1. 3 CCD technology excels at processing light information and according to Panasonic results in better picture quality. It works by breaking light up into its component parts (red green and blue). Both new cameras also come standard with Leica lens that helps reproduce HD images in accurate colour.

Along with the HD models Panasonic has also refreshed its camcorder line up by adding the SDR-H250 ($1319) and SDR-H20 ($989). Both models have internal 30GB hard drives that will give you up to 27 hours of recording in LP mode. Like the HD models OIS image stabilisation and Leica lens are standard.

The quality of the picture on both new HD cameras is simply superb. Colour reproduction is accurate and sound equally good. Both cameras come standard with HDMI (High Definition Media Interface) which means one cable transmits both the audio and video signal to your flat screen TV. They also come with a USB connector to allow downloading the movie on to your computer.

SD technology is the future. With fewer moving parts and smaller cameras on the horizon Panasonic have taken a brave step into the future. While the SD1 is a revolutionary new camera it will take more time for SD card pricing to become as cheap and ubiquitous as DV tapes. In the meantime you’ll be able to enjoy near perfect picture quality on your flat screen TV today.

March 7, 2007

Property.com.au

If you've ever had to search for a property online you will have noticed how difficult most websites are to use. I've just gone through the process of buying a house and found the process of searching online time consuming and difficult. The most popular websites such as www.realestate.com.au and www.realestateview.com.au have all the right information but getting to it can be tedious.

Now www.realestate.com.au have just launched their next generation website at www.property.com.au and taken online property searching to a new level. The best thing about the new website is that it only takes one click to get to actual listing information. Simply start entering the name of the suburb you are interested and a dialogue automatically completes it for you.

Once the suburb is entered you only need to click on the 'buy' or 'rent' buttons. You'll be presented with a map that highlights all the available properties. Now you'll have the opportunity to customize your results by using the sliders on the right hand side toolbar. If you need a house with 3 bedrooms simply slide the 'bedrooms' slider to the right. If land size is important choose that slider. Property.com.au is based on Web 2.0 technology that means the page is updated without needing to refresh.

When you have your requirements sorted you'll notice the listings of the actual properties on the left side of the map. From here you can click on the property listing for a closer look. To view additional photos simply slide your mouse over the first image and you'll be presented with additional images of the property. In this detailed view you also have the option of emailing the agent for more information.

Property.com.au is a great innovative new approach to online property searching. It's only in 'beta' at the moment so you may come across bugs or problems but in my testing it worked flawlessly.

The State of 3G in Australia

Australians are well known for their appetite for new technology. Yet four years ago when 3G (third-generation) finally arrived here we sat on the sidelines and scratched our heads. We already had phones that were really useful for making voice calls and sending SMS messages. Now, here were the phone companies trying to tell us that we should also use our handsets to watch TV, download music and take the Internet with us wherever we went.

Four years later the 'killer application' is still voice and SMS but with pricing of data services finally becoming competitive, and with the advent of 'call caps' (where you pay a set monthly fee and receive a generous allowance of call credits) 3G is here to stay. Some data is still too expensive (like $4.95 music downloads over Next G) but slowly the carriers are reducing the prices of data on their networks as they see usage increase.

The Telstra 'Next G' network is the biggest 3G network in Australia and covers 98.8% of the population with it's latest technology based on the HSPDA standard (High Speed Packet Data Access). Next G offers true broadband speeds (up to 14.4Mbps) to mobile devices including phones and laptops. Other providers like Vodafone, Optus and 3 have also recently launched their own HSDPA products. HSDPA's primary benefit is broadband speed but it also offers other advantages like better long distance coverage and building penetration. That means less call drop-outs in elevators.

The 'killer application' for mobile phones is still voice - it's still what most people use their phones for most often. But over the last four years, since 3 switched on its network consumers have been steadily increasing their appetite for mobile content. For example, over 70% of 3's customers have accessed some form of content on Planet 3 (3's mobile Internet) while their 24/7 cricket channel recently passed the million view mark.

All of 3's customers (one million) are on the 3G network already but for Vodafone, Telstra and Optus 3G adoption has been slower. Vodafone and Optus recently passed the 250,000 customer mark while Telstra has signed up over 400,000 customers to Next G since its October 2006 launch. The driving force behind 3G adoption is handset upgrades (these occur every 2-3 years) rather than customer demand for new data services. However with recent changes to data pricing uptake for 3G services is increasing.

Content is king on 3G phones with all the telcos looking to squeeze more money out of you by offering additional data services. When choosing a 3G provider it's important to pay attention to pricing and content availability. For example, if you are in to the cricket 3's network will be most attractive to you with their 24/7 cricket station. If you like music you should consider Vodafone Live with the largest range of tracks to choose from (over half a million). If Mobile TV is your thing you can't go past Telstra's Foxtel offering where you can access 12 stations for $12/month.

If you are looking for mobile broadband (to use on your computer) the choices are equally confusing. All providers offer 'data' bundles and access to high speed networks. If you are confined to inner city check out 3's and Vodafone's new range of data cards. Both offer access to HSDPA at a reasonable monthly fee. If you live outside the city choose Telstra's Next G network as it offers the largest coverage in Australia.

You'll also need to invest in a new handset to take advantage of 3G features. The Motorola Motorazr V6 maxx ($729) is a great looking phone that works superbly on the Next G network. It is easy to use, sits well in the hand and eats multimedia for breakfast. Streaming Foxtel is truly watchable and it's camera works well. If you are into music choose the newly released Sony Ericsson W880i - the latest line of 'Walkman' branded phones. It's 3G enabled and comes with 1GB memory card that means you'll be able to store hundreds of songs in your pocket. Best of all it's super thin and weighs only 71 grams.

The carriers are quickly realising that data is becoming an important part of their business. For true take-up of 3G data services need to be cheaper. Consumers shouldn't have to worry about the cost to access 3G content. Alongside this change manufacturers like Sony Ericsson and Nokia need to keep producing phones that are easier to use while adding additional functionality. When both these changes occur 3G services will move from 'nice to have' to 'can't live without' and will become a reason to upgrade, not just an extra perk.

February 28, 2007

What are Wiki's?

A Wiki is the term used to describe a document that is a collaborative work between many people. The word 'Wiki' (according to Wikipedia, the web's largest Wiki) means 'fast' in Hawaiian and stands for 'What I Know Is'. The first Wiki was developed in 1994 and the technology is increasingly recognised as a robust solution to develop a knowledge base.

Unlike standard web pages that are created with HTML Wiki's are created with natural language. Wiki sites allow contributors to make changes easily and without the need to learn programming languages. Most provide an easily recognisable icon based editing environment.

The largest and most popular Wiki started as the Nupedia encyclopedia project but is now known as Wikipedia. Wikipedia now claims to have over 1.55 million articles that anybody can add to or edit. Anybody is welcome to edit or add to Wikipedia and editing a document is easy and doesn't require a user account. To edit a page all you need to do is click the 'Edit this page' link at the top of any page (or above any section) and add your changes. Once you have finished editing click the 'Save Page' button and your changes are saved. Wiki entries can also include images and other forms of media as well as text. Contributors to Wikipedia are called 'Wikipedians'. Inappropriate changes or edits are usually removed quickly and repeat offenders can be blocked.

Wikis are also gaining in popularity in organisations where knowledge sharing is important. There are many different sites that offer a free hosted wiki solution including wikidot.com, wikispaces.com and wetpaint.com. All of these sites give you access to wiki functionality and allow you to create either a private or public wiki. Public Wikis are accessible by anyone on the Internet while private Wiki's are only accessible to those you invite.

Geni Us


Putting together a family tree is a time consuming past time. Usually, there is only one family member committed to the pursuit. Genealogy software is very popular and can help you piece together your families roots but a new website called geni.com has made building your family tree even easier.

Geni is part of the new generation of websites that falls under the category 'web 2.0' - a second generation of websites that is interactive, almost like you were using a desktop application however all the data and interaction occurs within a web browser. Geni.com also harnesses the power of the Internet to make your job of constructing the family tree easier.

To get started on your family tree simply go to geni.com and enter your name, email address and select your gender. You then add family members to your tree by clicking on the arrows to the left and right. You are asked for the family members names and you can also submit their email addresses. This is where Geni really takes off. If you do choose to enter family email addresses Geni will send them an email asking them to contribute to building your family tree.

When your relation receives your email they see the family tree from their perspective and can add to it like you have. When you go back to Geni your family tree is updated with their new information.

Geni also gives you the ability to add and view other information besides name and email address. By clicking on your relatives name you'll be able to see photos, biographies and history about your relations. Geni is a private network so only the people you invite (your family) have access to your tree. I used Geni to set up my own family tree and it worked well however sometimes the website was slow to respond when using Firefox, forgivable considering Geni is still in 'Beta' mode. Setting up the tree was easy. After emailing my parents and sister we'd all put together a family tree that spanned 6 generations. Not bad in less than twenty four hours.