November 21, 2007


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

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).