December 16, 2008
November 20, 2008
November 15, 2008
Notable is that functionality of the iPhone has been artificially restricted in the country, as the Egyptian government has placed a ban on GPS devices. The country is not the first to offer iPhones with limitations; in India the phone lacks 3G functionality, and it is believed that a Chinese version could be stripped of both 3G and Wi-Fi.
October 31, 2008
Looking just at the unplanned outages that catch IT staffs by surprise, these results suggest Gmail is twice as reliable as a Novell GroupWise solution, and four times more reliable than a Microsoft Exchange-based solution that companies must maintain themselves.
October 7, 2008
Up here, I am in ensconsed in my own private cocoon, one where gourmet food from a seven-course menu is rushed to your linen-draped table at a whim, a James Bond-style minibar rises from your armrest at the push of a button and the bubbly flows like Kakadu in monsoon season.
October 4, 2008
John Gruber wrote an insightful piece yesterday called The Fear. His theory; the four apps in the iPhone dock are sacrosanct and that's the reason the two high profile apps, Podcaster and MailWrangler were rejected. He say:
Taken together, these three factors lead to The Fear, which is that developers cannot trust the App Store process. You can spend all of the time and effort it takes to build an app, follow every known rule, and still get rejected.
But that theory falls apart when you note that there are now more than three VOIP apps available via the app store. Could it be perhaps that those two apps just weren't good enough, didn't meet the HIG that meet Apple's exacting standards?
And all of a sudden, when we step back and look at the facts, and the whole picture, we see that the truth is far less dramatic than the hysteria that has driven tens of thousands of page views.
No doubt Apple can improve their processes, but just remember the App Store is still in its infancy. Let's give Apple some more time to nut out the issues, and some breathing space before wishing it the kiss of death.
October 3, 2008
Look at the problems in Windows Mobile and you’ll see a lot of the problems intrinsic to Android as a platform. Now consider that iPhone developers aren’t abandoning the iPhone for Windows Mobile due to Microsoft’s lack of restrictions relative to Apple, despite Windows Mobile currently having a larger installed base and, at least until recently, greater worldwide market share than Apple among smartphones.
October 2, 2008
A couple of paragraphs standout. This one about the elegance of Apple's solution for loading apps:
The illusion starts right when the application launches. Each app is expected to come with an image that is supposed to look like the application's first screen. The operating system displays this image while the application is launching. Even though the user can't interact with this image, it essentially cuts a single wait period—from application launch to a data-filled screen—into two: the wait for the appearance of the interface, and the wait for its population. This trick just helps foster the illusion that the device is more capable than it is. It may seem like a little thing, but a collection of little things like this adds up to a more satisfying user experience.
And this one at the end of the piece:
the foundation is in place to scale the OS up to devices in the space between the iPhone and laptops. Game consoles, improved versions of Apple TV, and tablets have all been kicked around, and the new OS appears to be more than capable of handling any of these. If Apple senses a profitable market in any of them, the barrier to exploiting it will consist only of hardware and end-user applications—the OS is clearly ready.
September 26, 2008
(photos courtesy StormReview.com)
September 24, 2008
Photoshop CS4 sports an overhauled workspace, OpenGL features like a rotating canvas, new panels for Masks and Adjustments, on-image controls for some adjustments (a la Photoshop LightRoom), a 3-D engine, and that’s just for starters.
It's hard refining an already market leading product, and like everything Adobe, CS4 gets an extra dose of Flash everywhere. It's tough if you don't like it or want it, because starting in October, it's all you'll be able to buy.
Oh, and it's also more expensive than the last version, and is Intel only for Mac users.
G1 is here.
It ticks all (well most) boxes and is being wildly revered as the first 'true' iPhone killer. But a few things strike me as being odd about this initial play - and it smells a little like the Zune. Android and Google were aiming at where the iPhone was at launch, not where it is now.
Critics panned the iPhone for being locked to AT&T - but G1 is locked to T-Mobile (for the first 90 days, at least).
G1 is bigger than the iPhone, has less memory, and doesn't do multi-touch. It also costs about the same as the iPhone, and is available from far fewer outlets than iPhone (now available globally).
So, if you're a consumer, not a high end geek which will you choose? Do consumers care about 'open-source'? My parents certainly don't and I think they are a good representation of the 'average' consumer. What about your wife? Does she care about 'open-source'? Doubtful. She wants her email to work, and to access her address book.
Don't get me wrong, I think G1 and Android are great for the future - the industry needs competition to keep moving forward. But a feature set that is barely better than the iPhone from 18 months ago, a bigger device, expensive plans and a limited distribution network will mean the G1 will be a niche product for the short term, at least.
September 23, 2008
At the top of the list for informative sites is WebMD. Rated as the 23rd of '25 Sites We Can't Live Without' by Time magazine, WebMD 'blends award-winning expertise in medicine, journalism, health communication' to provide a rich and informative experience. A related site, MedicineNet.com gets content from '70 U.S. Board Certified Physicians' and has built a reputation online for being trustworthy and reliable.
Another site, Revolution Health (www.revolutionhealth.com) has similar content to both WebMD and MedicineNet but also lets users create a 'My Revolution' page - a personal space where users can keep track of their own medical records, access support network and contribute to website content.
But the real battle in the online health space is just heating up with the recent launch of two competing products from Google and Microsoft that let users take charge of their own medical records - think Facebook, but with your medical information. Both companies offer almost identical products - not surprising given that the two heavyweights lock horns in other areas like search and productivity apps too.
According to Google, Google Health 'allows users to store and manage all of your health information in one central place.' Like other Google products, Google Health is completely free, and can be accessed by anybody with a Google login. The Microsoft equivalent, called Healthvault also lets users store health information in one central place on the web, but additionally acts as a 'hub of a network of Web sites, personal health devices and other services that you can use to help manage your health.' Microsoft envisage that devices, like heart rate and blood pressure monitors may in the future be able to transmit data to Healthvault, as an example.
Of the two sites, only Google Health is available to use in Australia. I logged in with my regular gmail address and setup my account easily. In typical Google fashion, the site is laid out plainly and logically. As a test, I entered my knee reconstruction under the 'procedure' section. Google Health let me select the procedure from an extensive list. I was then able to add additional detail like the dates of the operation to the procedure record. Google Health also lets you create multiple profiles under the one login, so, for example, you can track the health record of multiple family members.
But usability concerns are largely irrelevant in this discussion. The proverbial 'elephant in the room' is data security; who do you trust with your precious medical information?
According to Peter Garcia-Webb, Chair of the AMA's Expert Advisory Committee on Information Technology, The AMA 'supports individuals taking responsibility for their own health through the use of an online health record portal.' However, the AMA would 'prefer to see a national electronic health record implemented', but maintains that the 'use of online health portals could be a stepping-stone towards a national electronic health record.' Because both solutions are hosted in the US, Garcia-Webb also warns that 'online repositories in the US are not subject to the security laws that apply to other electronic records, leaving personal health information open to misuse or exploitation.'
While security concerns are important there's also the issue of data portability. If users invest the time building an online health profile in Google, data should be easily portable between competing sites. While both sites are encouraging developers to build applications both use a different language and are therefore incompatible.
Nevertheless, with demand for these services growing quickly (Google's pilot was limited to 1600 patients and was quickly oversubscribed, according to C. Martin Harris, the Cleveland Clinic’s chief information officer, involved in the project) it may be a case, like in other online situations, that whomever builds a critical mass of users first comes to define the industry standard, and ultimately controls your personal health records.
Before you head out to the shop to buy your computer you'll need to decide whether you want to use Mac OS X or Windows Vista. This software is referred to as the operating system. While both operating systems perform similar functions, Vista and OS X differ in their appearance and their functionality.
Most pundits agree that Mac OS X is more stable, secure and easier to use than Windows. However, if you opt for Mac OS X you're also locking yourself into one brand of computer - A Mac.
But if you choose Vista, you'll need to choose the version of Vista that suits you best. For consumers, Vista comes in in three different varieties; Home Basic ($149), Home Premium ($199),and Ultimate ($379) with 'upgrades' costing around about 30% less. Mac OS X Leopard, as a comparison comes in only one version and is included with all Macs (you can also upgrade an older version of OS X to Leopard for $158).
As you move from Vista Home Basic through to Ultimate you'll get different features. For instance, Home Basic doesn't come with the new 'Aero' user interface that you find in the Premium and Ultimate versions. Likewise, only Vista Ultimate ships with Windows BitLocker Drive Encryption which lets you encrypt your private data in case of theft, and Shadow Copy for easy backup.
Luckily, when purchasing a computer, most manufacturers allow you to upgrade the version of Vista at OEM pricing - special software pricing that you can only access when you actually buy a computer.
Another program that you'll likely need for your new computer is Microsoft Office. Office includes Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and in some cases Outlook (or Entourage if you're on a Mac). Buying an OEM version of Office 2007 Professional edition, for example costs approximately $383, while buying the same package at retail costs $758 - an instant saving of $375 for the exact same product.
If however, you don't want to spend extra on Microsoft Office or other software, there are plenty of free applications that can do a similar job, some of them are even online. OpenOffice for example, is a free office suite and comes with a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation program. The documents it creates are compatible with Microsoft Office.
For email, and as a replacement for Microsoft Outlook you can use Vista mail (this is included with all versions of Vista), try another free alternative program like Thunderbird (from the same people that make Firefox) or even use web based email like Gmail.
You'll also need to decide how you want to backup your computer. Most commonly, backups are done to an external hard drive. When buying one, it's a good idea to choose a model that is at least as big as the internal drive on your computer - that way, you can backup everything on your hard drive. You should also consider an off-site backup solution too, in case your external drive is lost or stolen.
If you're buying a new PC, one area not to skimp on is virus protection. While many manufacturers ship computers with trial versions of virus software, they often expire after a few months, leaving you exposed. Spending on good solid virus and spyware protection is therefore a smart move. You should also be able to buy this software at OEM prices.
Thinking about the software you need on your computer is an important first step in the purchase process. Getting it right can potentially save you money and lots of hassle down the road.
In a typical scenario, you log in to a website, estimate your carbon footprint (based on things like how much you drive, where you fly, and your typical home usage) and then pay a set amount annually to offset it. In my household of two adults and two young children for example, I calculated the average cost to offset our carbon footprint per year as $719 per year (49 tonnes).
But a new approach, which seems like a win-win for consumers, trades the typical 'pay-for-service' approach to something much more 'Web 2.0'. Instead of paying to offset your carbon footprint, you click your way through to Green heaven.
ClickGreen, an Australian owned business will offset your carbon emissions by planting trees on your behalf. And all you've got to do is either click on relevant ads that are emailed to you, or invite friends to join the site.
The concept is simple and easy to follow. ClickGreen send you emails from their advertisers. If you click on them, ClickGreen give you 'offset credits'. During the sign-up process, ClickGreen ask you a number of questions that helps them target particular ads to your tastes.
Once you accumulate 21 offset credits (21 clicks) ClickGreen plant a tree on your behalf (through a third party called GreenFleet). ClickGreen estimate that to offset 1 years worth of carbon emissions from your car you'll need to click once a day (the equivalent of 17 trees).
So far, the ClickGreen concept seems to be successful, with the website reporting that the equivalent of 4282 trees being planted already.
September 22, 2008
But Knol is different from Wikipedia in a couple of ways. Firstly, articles that appear on Knol aren't necessarily a collaborative effort as Knol authors can mark their work as 'read only'. This differs from Wikipedia, where most articles are open to input by anyone. Authors of Knols also have more options in terms of copyright of their work.
Secondly, Knol authors have the ability to include advertising with their articles through the use of Google's very successful AdSense (a free advertising program that automatically links the content of the page with the advertising it displays.
Like Wikipedia, Google index all of the pages on Knol so that results show up in the regular search engine. Many pundits wonder whether over time Google will preferentially display Knol articles over their Wikipedia counterparts - a move that could see Knols popularity grow very quickly.
If you're interested, creating your own Knol is easy. If you've already got a Google account all you need to do is click the 'Write a Knol' button and start adding information. The interface is much cleaner and more accessible than Wikipedias and uses a familiar WYSIWYG style editor. Preferences for sharing and adding ads are also easy to find.
Because Knol is just new, the discussion as to its merits are just beginning. A good analysis of the potential of Knol, and the threats it poses to Wikiepedia and other free web based encyclopedias are, ironically, being discussed in a Wikipedia article.
The second most popular search engine is Yahoo. Yahoo use a different methodology to Google in assembling their results, relying on a 'web crawl process'. 99 percent of web pages that Yahoo index are included free, however some results might also include links to sites that participate in the Yahoo's content acquisition program that lets content providers pay Yahoo to 'index' their content.
Another serious competitor in web search is Microsoft. Microsoft's search product is called Live, and it's located at live.com. Live Search offers regular text based searching (alaGoogle and Yahoo), but Microsoft are also making an effort to include other media, especially video, in their search results. A new 'inline preview' feature enables you to view videos without leaving the search results.
It's also worth remembering that there are also search engines for different kinds of media. If you're searching for an image for example, a popular image search engine isPicsearch.com, which searches two billion images.
If you can't decide which search engine you prefer you can always find a search aggregator (sometimes called a metasearch), where all search engines are available from one search box. A good example of this concept is Dogpile, where you can search Google, Yahoo, Live Search, Ask, About and Looksmart in one interface. Dogpile does the work for you and sorts out the results based on relevance.
Whichever search engine you decide to use, you should be comfortable that between Google and the rest you'll likely to find the results you are looking for.
Lots of manufactures make toys that flash and beep but only some do it in the right combination that capture your child's attention.
Leap Frog as an example, make a range of toys for children aged from 12 months to 9 years. Their claim to fame is called the Tag Reading System ($99) and it has just been awarded Toy of the Year.
Your child uses what looks like a large green stylus to tap on any part of a special Tag story book. They can tap on pictures or words to make the pen start speaking. Each book (there are over ten in the range and they cost $21) tells a story and has games they can play using the Tag pen, which works by reading a set of invisible dots that have been printed on the books.
While Leap Frog focuses on educational toys, another company called WowWee designs and develops 'hi-tech' consumer robotic products. The WowWee range has everything from a robotic junkyard dog built from discarded mechanical and electrical parts, called 'Wrex the Dawg' to the popular 'Robosapien', a fully programmable remote control robot that walks and even talks in fluent international 'caveman' speech.
WowWee also produce a range of flying robots called Flytech. As you'd expect, there's a flying robot for everyone, from a Flytech Bat, to the Bladestar, an indoor helicopter with sensors that make sure your kids don't fly it into walls or ceilings.
My wife keeps telling me nothing's a substitute for an old fashioned story book, but by the look on my sons face when he plays with these toys, I reckon she's dreaming.
The name Chrome (in recognition of the chrome borders that adorn a standard browser window) is somewhat ironic, given that the emphasis of Chrome is to get out of the way of the user. It's minimalist interface (there's no top menu, status bar, search box or bookmark window) means that users see more of the web, and less of the application.
Tabs play a big part in Chrome - but unlike other browsers, each tab that you open in Chrome runs as a separate process meaning that if one tab stalls your others remain open and active.
Navigation has also been revamped in Chrome. Common elements like the back and forward buttons remain, but Chrome does away with a standard address bar, for something Google are calling the Omnibox, a combination search and address box that you use to access bookmarks, search engines and websites. It's similar to the smart location bar found in Firefox 3.
However, Chrome comes with some early caveats. Firstly, Mac and Linux users are left in the dark for the moment . Google won't be pinned down on a launch date, but expect them by the end of the year. Those who like plug-ins and extensions will also be disappointed by their exclusion, however Google promise to remedy this in the short term too. Other issues like a rudimentary spellchecker and only basic bookmark management may disappoint.
Chrome's introduction means that all browser developers, including Apple Microsoft and Mozilla will need to step up their effort and improve their offerings. And with more focus on performance, next generation web-based applications will run better, faster and more securely. Whether you like Chrome or not, it's great for the industry.
September 21, 2008
Another way to organise your favourites is to do it online in a trend that has been labelled 'social bookmarking'. A popular site called del.icio.us (http://del.icio.us) lets you bookmark sites and share those bookmarks with others. The idea behind del.icio.us is simple; the more people that bookmark a particular webpage, the more likely that page is to be interesting or useful.
But if you're not interested in sharing your bookmarks with others, you can simply use del.icio.us to access your favourites from any computer with an Internet connection. The other great thing you can do with del.icio.us is ‘tag’ your bookmarks into different categories – like computers, entertainment etc. And even if you don't want to join you can go to http://del.icio.us/popular/ to view popular bookmarks on the site.
There are also lots of other social bookmarking sites that cater for different communities. Another locally developed social bookmarking site is called Batamo (www.batamo.com). Instead of relying heavily on text, Batamo lets users add favourites as live images of the website which are referred to as portamOs. Each time a user logs back into Batamo they are presented with a graphical representation of all of their favourite websites. And like del.icio.us, Batamo members can access their bookmarks from any connected computer.
July 29, 2008
June 27, 2008
The upcoming launch on July 11th of the next generation iPhone, iPhone 3G won't be any different. Today for instance we've heard that iTunes 7.7 is coming, and it's going to support some kind of Remote Control capability, available, for free, via the App Store.
Now that Apple have an easy way to distribute app, it makes sense for them to distribute their own apps via the App Store too.
I think what you'll see in the lead up to iPhone 3G is Apple making a number of announcements around 'free' iPhone apps available to all iPhone owners - including iChat, MMS, and, as we've already heard, a remote control app too.
If you think about this strategy, it makes complete sense. Many will want to upgrade for the new features already announced (like MobileMe and contact searching), but to get all users to see the true value of the App Store, Apple have to give something away. And what better apps to give away then those that should have been there in the first place (according to consensus).
I can't wait!
June 10, 2008
There are two main categories of sports computers - those that you wear on your wrist, and those you attach to your bike. If you're an occasional cyclist, there are watches that can be mounted to your bike, but they don't provide as much functionality as specialised bike computers. For a good general sports watch check out the Polar and Suunto ranges. Both companies have watches that give you basic heart rate information from under $200. The base models (the Polar WM21 and Suunto t1) also let you keep track of your fitness by providing in-built fitness programs. The Polar WM21 for example has a personal weight management program, which helps you to lose and maintain your weight.
For more advanced users there are very sophisticated watches like the Polar S725x and the Suunto t6c, that, as well as providing basic heart-rate functionality also come with an altimeter and can be customised to adapt to different conditions. The more sophisticated ranges can also talk to other sensors, like a foot sensor that can measure how far you've run, and a bike sensors that can measure your speed and cadence. In Suunto's case, there's even a GPS sensor (called a Pod) that can talk to the watch. These watches generally start above the $400 range, and can cost as much $1000, once you factor in all the extras.
If you're a serious cyclist there are also custom computers designed especially for the bike. Garmin, for example sell a GPS bike computer that measures your speed and distance via GPS satellite. The latest model, called the Edge 705 even has a colour screen to show you where you've ridden, and different modes that help you train better.
Once you've finished your exercise, most advanced devices will even let you download your data to the computer for archiving and analysis purposes via wireless or Infrared.
May 20, 2008
And this is what you get when you search for '1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino' in Google Maps:
April 20, 2008
While the iPhone is slated to go on sale in Australia sometime this year (Apple won't say when) that hasn't stopped thousands of Australians from importing and hacking them for use on Australian networks. Like Apple, the telcos won't tell you how many iPhone are being used here, but according to Bernstein Research analyst Toni Sacconaghi at least one million iPhones, or 27 percent of the total sold until January 2008 had 'been "unlocked" so they could work on non-AT&T networks.' That's a lot of demand for something as common as a phone.
But the iPhone isn't just any phone. It's the first true portable computer that's small enough to fit in your pocket and follows in the footsteps of some other truly remarkable devices like the revolutionary Handspring Treo, that helped converge three distinct devices (PDA, Phone and media player) into a new category now recognised as smartphones.
Pundits often compare the iPhone to other smartphones on the market - but spend even a few minutes playing with an iPhone and you'll quickly realise it's in a class of its own. It's the only phone for example, with a desktop class web browser (mobile Safari) which makes surfing easy, plus the built in applications range from Google Maps, world time, YouTube browser to a weather widget that can give you the current weather in any country in the world (These features are available on other smart phones but don't come as standard. You'll also need a programmers certificate to work out how to install them).
The secret to the iPhone (and iPod Touch, an iPhone without the 'phone') is its operating system. It's called OS X (pronounced 'o s ten')- the same operating system that runs on the Mac but Apple redesigned the interface to work with your fingers rather than a mouse. The new interface is called Multi-touch, and in many ways it's as revolutionary as the first Mac graphic interface was back in 1984.
Multi-touch lets you control everything using only your fingers. That means you move through album art with your finger, scroll through photos or contacts with a flick, and even use two fingers (hence Multi-touch) in a manoeuvre called 'pinch' to zoom in or out of photos or a web page. The iPhones interface is so responsive that the gestures quickly feel second nature (even my two year old has mastered them).
The iPhone is also the first phone to ship with a built in 3D accelerometer which detects when you rotate your iPhone from portrait to landscape and automatically changes the content of the display. There's also a proximity sensor built-in to the speaker at the top of the iPhone which senses when it's close to your ear and turns off the display to save power - this also prevents inadvertent touches while your on a call.
In other ways though the iPhone is very familiar. Take syncing for example, if you know how to sync your iPod with iTunes you'll instantly know how to sync an iPhone because it works exactly the same way.
On a spec sheet the iPhone isn't actually the strongest performer. Undeniably, its biggest weakness is its lack of a 3G or HSDPA high-speed radio. That means the iPhone accesses data on the slower 2.5 (or EDGE) GPRS network. It's also missing a 5 Mega pixel camera, built-in GPS and the battery can only be replaced by an Apple technician. Then there is also the question of keyboard. While other manufacturers use physical keyboards Apple chose to create a virtual keyboard. The virtual keyboard appears on the screen when needed (for example, when writing an email) and disappears when its not. While this method optimises screen real estate when a keyboard isn't needed the lack of tactile feedback from the keyboard can be daunting at first. But I've tried lots of keyboards (from BlackBerrys to Treos) and think the iPhone keyboard is easily as good - it just takes getting used to.
'Push' email (the ability to receive email in real time, as it arrives, rather than a regular interval), the only advantage BlackBerry users still have over their iPhone wielding rivals will be available in June thanks to the inclusion of ActiveSync in the next version of the iPhone OS. The free software upgrade will let small business and enterprise users with Microsoft Exchange push data, including email, calendar and contact information to the iPhone wirelessly, whenever a change at either end is made. ActiveSync also provides a 'remote wipe' function that lets administrators remotely clear an iPhone of its details if it becomes lost or stolen.
There's also been criticism over Apple's business practise of locking the iPhone to one carrier. In the US for example, you can only buy the iPhone if you commit to a 24 month AT&T contact. Local rumors place the iPhone with Telstra due to the carriers EDGE network (Telstra are the only Australian carrier to offer EDGE, an upgraded version of GPRS) and Apple's seeming preference to partner with the largest national carrier in markets it enters.
If you can't wait till the iPhone arrives here you'll either need to source your iPhone from somebody in the US ($550+) (actually, you can buy an iPhone in the UK, Germany, Ireland and France but the cheapest is the US due to the exchange rate) or you'll find lots for sale on eBay. If you decide to buy your own you'll need to 'Jailbreak' and 'Activate' it (a straight forward process that requires the use of freely available software from the Internet) but buyer beware. While Jailbroken iPhones function perfectly you'll need to be careful when applying Apple updates (like the update due in June) as they caused headaches for iPhone users. Also, Apple Australia don't officially support the iPhone so any problems you encounter will need to be routed via Apple in the US - including any warranty or repair issues.
What happens if you need a new smart phone now and can't wait for the iPhone to become officially available? My first suggestion would be to look at the new BlackBerry Pearl 8120. The 8120 is even smaller than the iPhone and uses a special keyboard which makes typing and dialling super easy (some argue it's even better than the iPhones on-screen keyboard). It's also got best-of-breed BlackBerry email (which currently provides better email functionality than the iPhone), voice recognition and a 2 megapixel camera. BlackBerry have enhanced the visual interface on the 8120 and it's now starting to look good - but BlackBerry still have a long way to go before it's good enough. The 8120 though, is a great phone that is quick and easy to use, and will keep you connected at all times. It's what I'd use if I didn't have an iPhone.
If you're used to Nokia the latest N95 8GB might be up your alley. It features the Series 60 user interface which is common on many Nokia phones. While it's easy to use for basic functions anything more sophisticated will require a thorough read of the manual. With 8GB of memory there's plenty of room to take lots of high resolution photos with its 5 mega pixel camera. You can also load up on lots of media. The only catch is that listening to music, and watching movies on the N95 is a painful experience at best.
For those that fancy Windows Mobile there are a variety of phones available. One of the most popular models is the HTC Touch Dual which features a touch screen and TouchFLO technology - fancy software which makes Windows Mobile slightly more bearable. HTC Touch Dual is available on the Telstra Next G network and features fast mobile Internet and access to applications like email, video calling, video messaging, and Foxtel. Still, using Windows Mobile can only be described as second rate at best. The interface was old and slow when Windows CE was released in the late 1980's and has only seen marginal improvements since then, despite new look themes and a name change to 'Windows Mobile'. In my opinion, beginners should steer well away from any phone that uses Windows Mobile.
At a Glance.
iPhone is a revolutionary new smartphone due out in Australia this year. It's everything in one, including an iPod, PDA and phone. It's got the best web-browser on any mobile device and features a state of the art interface called multi-touch that makes using it easy.
Easy to use, works with iTunes, small and light, scratch resistant screen, WiFi, Bluetooth, 8GB built-in memory (with a 16GB option), Built in speaker, 3.5 inch screen high resolution multi-touch display
Keyboard takes getting used to, non-user replaceable battery, not 3G, 2 megapixel camera not good in low light
Model: BlackBerry Pearl 8120
The 8120 improves on the original Pearl 8110 by adding WiFi and an improved user interface. The 8120 now comes with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack making its media functionality more useful but still limited without iTunes syncing. If you need mobile email, BlackBerry is still the way to go.
Model: Blackberry 8800
While the 8800 BlackBerry shares the same software as its smaller 8120 brother it features a full qwerty keyboard for fast text input. It's also got a bigger screen which makes the whole device much bulkier than the 8120. Because it's been designed for the business market the 8800 doesn't feature a camera either, but does have built-in GPS plus integrated BlackBerry Maps software.
Model: Nokia N95 8GB
The N95 was the benchmark smartphone until the iPhone arrived in June last year and will appeal to users familiar with Nokia controls. Now, compared to the iPhone it looks like a horse-drawn carriage does parked next to a Ferrari. Still, it's got all the ticks on the specs list and even has an FM radio, built-in GPS which lets you use the N95 as a sat-nav device, assuming you've got the maps.
Model: HTC Touch Dual
The Touch Dual features a touch screen and TouchFLO technology that lets you manipulate some information easily with your finger. While TouchFLO works reasonably well it's like putting lipstick on a pig (In this case the pig is Windows Mobile). As soon as you want to access a regular phone function (say finding a contact) you'll need to pull out your little stylus and start pecking away. The Touch Dual also features a standard phone keypad for easy dialing. But it's the only phone in this bunch that takes advantage of the Telstra Next-G network to provide high-speed broadband to the phone, and syncs well with Windows thanks to ActiveSync.
In case you haven't been paying attention, the fight is on for your mobile broadband dollar. A mobile broadband connection comes in the form of a USB dongle or a card you insert in to your computer (Express 34 card) and lets you access the Internet from just about anywhere in Australia (and overseas if you pay excessive roaming charges). The latest generation of mobile broadband uses a technology called HSDPA (High Speed Data Packet Access). But don't worry about what the letters stand for, all you need to know is that you'll get really fast Internet. Most mobile broadband packages are pitched at business users, but with some of the latest pricing options they'll appeal to home users as well.
All major telcos provide a high speed wireless broadband service including Telstra (Next G), Optus, 3 and Vodafone, and all rely on similar HSDPA technology. The challenge then, is to figure out which gives you the best value for money, and whether the service you choose will be available in the area you need it, for example Next G covers 98% of the population, while Vodafone HSDPA covers only major city centres.
While Vodafone doesn't offer the most extensive coverage it currently offer the best value mobile broadband in Australia. For $39 you'll get 5GB of data a month, and a free USB or ExpressCard modem when you sign up on a 24 month contract. Vodafone customers also enjoy the benefit of Vodafone’s tried and tested optimisation software that compresses around 30 per cent of data throughput. Optimisation helps to reduce costs through increased efficency and delivers data faster to customers.
3 also have pretty compelling plans and have just launched their 'half price Mobile Broadband offer' which is available now until the 15th of Janurary. That means all of 3's mobile broadband plans are half price for the entire length of the the contract, not just for a limited period as other telcos offer. 3 offer a range of different plans to suit different budgets and even offer a 'bundling' plan where, assuming you have another 3 service (like a mobile phone) you'll get 1GB of data for $14.50. For comparison however, their 5GB costs $49.50 or $10 more than the equivalent Vodafone plan, and only comes with a USB modem, where Vodafone give users the choice between two modems.
A comparable Optus plan will get you 2GB for $40 per month and is only available to existing landline or mobile subscribers. Their 'Turbo-G' network (not be mistaken with Telstras 'Next G' network) runs at the same 3.6Mbps HSDPA speeds as Vodafone and 3's. While Vodafone and 3 provide modems for free Optus charges customers an extra $5-$10 based on the contract length and device, and maintains ownership of the modem and continues charging you a fee, even once your contract expires.
If you're looking for more speed and better coverage than the standard HSDPA that Vodafone, 3 and Optus provide look to Telstra's Next G network. With the latest '7.2' data card you'll be able to get speeds of 7.2Mbps but for more money. First off you'll need to purchase a 7.2 data card which will set you back $349 and then choose a plan, the cheapest being $34.95 for 10 hours of access. As a comparison, the 'best' plan is a 3GB plan which will set you back $114.95 per month. Bigpond have a special promotion at the moment where you can get all plans half price for the first six months and a $299 rebate off a modem when you commit to a three year plan.
I've tested most providers cards and services and have found very little difference in terms of speed or setup in city areas. All the software you need is supplied for both Windows and Mac (although most providers haven't updated their software for Leopard, the latest version of Mac OS X). The ultimate decision then is really about value, except if you need the coverage and extra speed offered by Telstra (I'd expect the other providers to 'bump' the speeds of their networks some time next year). The $39 for 5GB from Vodafone is unbeatable at the moment and is the best way to jump in to the mobile broadband revolution.
Best plan: 5GB for $39/month, 24 month contract, Free USB or ExpressCard modem
Best Plan: 5GB for $49.50/month, 24 month contract, Free USB modem
Best Plan: 3GB for $57.47/month (for first 6 months, then $114.95), 36 month contract, $349 for modem ($299 rebate available)
Best Plan: 2GB for $49.99 (or $39.99 in a bundle), 24 month contract, $5/month for modem (or $120 over two years) plus $5 per month after your contract expires.
March 31, 2008
I frequently get asked the question 'How do I get my old videos and home movies on to the computer?'. The answer depends on who you are, and how technical you want to get.
If I'm talking to somebody like my aunty the answer is easy - just pay somebody to do it. You'll be able to find lots of businesses that will happily convert your old movies into either a DVD that you can stick in your player, or files that you can load on to your computer.
When I talk to some of my more technical friends, I suggest a product like an ADS Tech PYRO AV Link ($469). The PYRO is an external video capture card that lets you import any composite, S-Video or component video into a DV stream on your computer. You then need to use software like iMovie or Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0 to edit your movie, and some other software to burn it to DVD. You'll need to be competent to use the software, and to edit the resulting movie.
For those of you stuck in the middle there's a new product that just been released called the Pinnacle Video Transfer ($249). Pinnacle Video Transfer is a small black box that simply lets you record analogue video onto any USB 2.0 storage device without using a PC. In fact, only thing to configure on the Pinnacle Video Transfer device is the quality of movie you want to output, and your options are good, better or best ('Best' mode specifies a 720x480/576 (NTSC/PAL).
Capturing video is as straight forward as plugging in a TV, DVD player or video camera at one end, and a storage device at the other end. The storage devices can be anything from a video iPod (including a 3rd generation iPod Nano), a Sony PSP, USB hard drive or even a USB thumb drive. Depending on your output device you'll either be able to access the converted file on the device as a data file directly, but if you use an iPod you'll be able to view the file through the video menu, so you can watch it without using your computer at all.
Have you ever wondered how much power your computer uses while it's switched off? What about your printer that sits idle with its little green light casting an eery glow in the study when it's late in the night. And how much does it cost you for the convenience of using 'standby' mode on your TV and DVD player?
According to Jeremy Faludi from Worldchanging.com, $250 billion per year is spent on powering computers worldwide with 85 percent wasted on idling computers that could have been turned off, while locally, Byteback, a Victorian Government recycling initiative estimates that around 1.5 million of the approximately 14 million computer are not in use and hence are candidates for recycling. The good news is that a large percentage of old computer and printers can be recycled thus saving valuable resources including precious metals which can be re-used.
As the Western world becomes ever more focused on 'going green' it's important to understand how much of an impact your computer usage has on the environment and how to make an informed decision when purchasing new equipment. But choosing green doesn't just include understanding how much power a device uses, but also how responsible the manufacturer is in the design, manufacturing and packaging process, and how willing they are to help you recycle your product when it reaches the end of its useful life.
According to Energy Star, compliant devices consume around 75 percent less energy when standby mode is activated - a significant saving when you realise that most of these devices spend up to 60 percent of their lifetime in standby mode. Energy Star also estimate that the 'savings across operating modes is expected to save consumers and businesses more than US$1.8 billion in energy costs over the next 5 years and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equal to the annual emissions of 2.7 million vehicles.
Home electronics, like TVs, DVDs and Stereos that are Energy Star compliant have energy saving features already enabled. But for computers the picture is a little bleaker. While manufacturers can display their equipment as being Energy Star certified, it's up to you as the owner to actually enable power saving mode. In some cases, this can be as simple as turning on 'energy saving' mode at a software (system preference) level or as hard as altering settings in the BIOS prior to boot.
If you do need to alter your BIOS settings (only required on PCs, not on Macs) it's important to know that computers generally have three 'power saving' modes; doze, standby and suspend. Doze reduces the power while the computer is sitting idle by lowering the speed of the processor and powering down other components like the memory and graphics card. Standby mode results in the monitor turning off (or dimming) and the rest of the components powering down. Suspend is the deepest level of power saving and generally results in the monitor and main logic board powering down.
Luckily, most modern computers support these commands through software. In Windows XP, Windows Vista and Mac OS X you can adjust individual power settings to fit it with your computer usage habits. In the Energy Saving control panel you'll find different options to power-down the monitor, put the computer to sleep when it's idle and even settings that let you turn the computer off after a certain time.
While only buying Energy Star and EPEAT rated products is a step in the right direction, owning the most energy efficient hardware is also important. According to Justine Hofman who writes a popular e-newsletter called 'Green Tips' laptops 'use less than a third of the power of a typical desktop PC and are therefore significantly cheaper to run, produce less heat and are often quieter.' Additionally, the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) recommend unplugging appliances that are not in use, and are raising awareness of climate change by running 'Earth Hour', an initiative that will see a list of international iconic buildings and landmarks (including the Melbourne Rialto and Federation Sqaure)veiled in darkness for one hour on March 29.
When you're ready to recycle your computer most major PC manufacturers offer recycling programs. Dell for example will arrange to pick up your old equipment at your home for a flat fee and dispose of it thoughtfully. Other manufacturers like Lenovo and HP are founding members of the Byteback program (http://www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/www/html/2045-byteback.asp) - a free initiative run in conjunction with Sustainability Victoria that provides consumers with locations around the state to safely and responsibly dispose of computers.
According to Byteback most parts of older computers can be efficiently recycled. Plastics that represent over thirty percent of scrap generated by computer waste can be granulated and converted to pellets for easy reuse. Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) are shipped to Noranda Recycling in Canada where a treatment facility extracts valuable metals from them. Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) commonly found in older style computer monitors are carefully recycled and reused in the manufacturer of new CRT displays, while nickel metal hydride, nickel cadmium and lithium batteries are sent to France for recycling. Simple lead batteries are recycled in Australia. Byteback even recycle old packaging material and reused in the manufacturer of new cartons.
A cottage industry of green electronics products has even sprung up in the past few years. Products like the Solio universal hybrid charger can provide enough power to charge up your handheld computers, MP3 players and GPS devices. Other devices like the Wattson can show you how much electricity your home is using at any given moment by transmitting information wirelessly between your electricity meter box and the Wattson receiver unit.
But it's not only left-of-field manufacturers that are taking the environment seriously. In the past month both Dell and Apple have released ultra-portable laptops that have a number of significant environmental breakthroughs. The ThinkPad X300 and the MacBook Air get a EPEAT ratings thanks to their environmentally-conscious technologies such as energy-efficient SSD and arsenic-free LCD glass and mercury-free LED displays. The MacBook Air also receives a big tick thanks to its recyclable aluminum enclosure, and PVC-free internal cables.
As a consumer you're now in the drivers seat to choose the best green computer you can find. Manufacturers know that by producing environmentally friendly computers they can better differentiate themselves from the competition, while helping you become a more responsible global citizen, and reducing your power bills and carbon footprint at the same time.
- $250 billion per year is spent on powering computers worldwide
- The average desktop uses between 60 – 250 watts.
- When used eight hours a day, the average desktop computer generates over 600kg in greenhouse gases each year.
- The average laptop uses 15 – 45 watts.
- Putting a computer in standby mode uses 1 – 5 watts, but turning it off at the power point uses zero.
- Dell Recycling - www.dell.com.au/recycle - 1800 465 890
- Byteback Australia - www.bytebackaustralia.com.au - (03) 9614 205
- Recycling Near You - www.recyclingnearyou.com.au
- Energy Star - www.energystar.gov
- Electronic Environmental Assesment Tool - www.epeat.net
- Sustainability Victoria - www.sustainability.vic.gov.au
This years Australia F1 Grand Prix introduced Australia to a new technology called Kangaroo TV that is set to change the way spectators view live sporting events in the future. Kangaroo TV is a system that employs both mobile media devices and broadcast technology to deliver TV directly to the palms of viewers hands.
The Kangaroo TV device that spectators use to watch an event is a rubber-clad TV which is operated via an integrated five way control pad. The control pad and an additional four shortcut keys provide easy access to common functions. When setup for the Grand Prix the shortcuts allow easy flicking between on-board cameras and the main race feed, but in other sports like Golf or NFL they can be configured for different functions.
Kangaroo TV runs on the on the UHF band and video is encoded in MPEG4 format. The device weighs 400g and comes with two Lithium Ion batteries which provide up to six hours continuous usage.
At this years Melbourne Grand Prix, Kangaroo TV provided spectators with access to the international F1 broadcast (as seen on TV), in-car cameras, local and international commentary, official race timing, scoring, leader-boards and real-time stats. Because the unit is dummy-proof, it has appeal to all race goers who want a better view of on-track activity.
I tested the Kangaroo TV at this years race and was impressed with the reception quality and the way that it improved my understanding of the race. While the super-screens around the track display the main race feed, having the ability to change channels, listen to alternate commentary and watch live-timing right in the palm of your hands is something that feels like it's from the future.
Kangaroo TV was developed in conjunction with the Champ Car World Series in 2002, and has since expanded its repertoire to include NASCAR Sprint Cup series, NFL Sunday Ticket and now Formula One. A six-year agreement will see Kangaroo TV coming back to Australia for next years Grand Prix, and possibly for the V8 series as well.
February 15, 2008
The last bastion of analogue started to crumble today with the launch of Amazons 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.'
The Kindle isn't the first mass e-Reader product on the market. That credit goes to the Sony PRS-500 Portable Reader System. Both devices use 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.
According to Amazon, Kindle has been designed to operate without a computer. Instead, 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. And that's where Amazon have added plenty of value, where Sony couldn't. Amazon have partnered with most major publishers and have over 88,000 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.
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 (unless the Kindle's share an Amazon account) 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.
The Kindle is already being touted as the 'iPod' of books however that metaphor doesn't quite hold. True, the only place to get DRM'd music for your iPod is iTunes, however iPod's also play non-DRM music that is freely importable through iTunes. According to Gizmodo, the Kindle only supports books in its '.azw' format, and the only files you can transfer on without getting 'taxed' (Amazon charge 10c per email attachment) are image files.
Sadly, I can't see Kindle coming to our shores anytime soon. So, for more information, and to find out what we are missing check out the Amazon.com information page. What do you think? Will Kindle be a hit or is paper still king?
If you're reading this article on a computer, chances are it's using an Intel processor. With a reported market share of over seventy five percent, Intel are the dominant player in the microprocessor space and have been an integral part in driving the IT boom for the last fourty years.
In 1965, one of Intels founders, Gordon Moore observed that the number of transistors that could be put on a microchip would double every two years. When he made this obersavtion Moore was reasonably confident that his observation would hold true for at least ten years. Well, that was more than fourty years ago, and while it's getting harder and harder for engineers to keep up, the wizards at Intel have done it again with thir new line up of 45 nanometer chips, code named 'Penryn'.
45 nanometer transistors, when combined, produce a microprocessor with very low current leakage and record high performance. The new 'Penryn' chips deliver energy-efficient, low-cost, high-performance computing products for both laptops and desktop PCs.
With roughly twice the density of Intel 65nm technology, Intel's 45nm packs about double the number of transistors into the same silicon space. That's more than 400 million transistors for dual-core processors and more than 800 million for quad-core. To put that into perspective, you could fit more than 30,000 45nm transistors onto the head of a pin, which measures approximately 1.5 million nm.
Intel are also putting the spotlight on environmental issues with the launch of their new 45nm platform. The new chips for example are one hundred percent lead free and halogen free. So, not only will you get more processing power but the environment will be better off as well.
So how does this effect you? Well, if you buy a new laptop with Intel 45nm technology chances are it will run faster, but also produce less heat, and therefore consumer less power - that means you get better battery performance. If you use a desktop computer you'll be able to get faster chips that make doing complex tasks like editing videos or transcoding music even faster than before.
1953: The first commercial device to make use of the transistor is put on the market – the hearing aid.
1961: The first patent is awarded to Robert Noyce for an integrated circuit. Original transistors had been sufficient for use in radios and phones, but newer electronics required something smaller – the integrated circuit.
1965: Moore’s Law is born when Intel’s Gordon Moore predicts that the number of transistors on a chip will double roughly every year (a decade later, revised to every 2 years) in the future, as stated in an article in Electronics Magazine.
1968: Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore resign from Fairchild Semiconductor, and start a new company named Intel, short for integrated electronics.
1971: Intel launches its first microprocessor – the 4004. The 4004 was 1/8 of an inch by 1/16 of an inch, contained just more than 2,000 transistors and was manufactured with Intel’s 10micron PMOS technology.
1982: The 286 microprocessor, is released. It utilizes 134,000 transistors and has a maximum speed of 12.5MHz.
1985: The 386 microprocessor is released, featuring 275,000 transistors. Multi-tasking, the ability to run multiple programs at once becomes a reality
1993: Pentium Processor is released with 3 million transistors.
1999: Pentium III processor – a 1x1 silicon square containing more than 9.5 million transistors manufactured with Intel’s 0.18micron manufacturing process technology
2002: The latest version of the Intel Pentium 4 processor is introduced at 2.2 billion cycles per second for high-performance desktop PCs. It is manufactured using Intel’s 0.13 micron process technology and has 55 million transistors.
2005: Intel’s first mainstream dual-core processor, Pentium D debuts with 230 million transistors and manufactured with Intel’s 90nm process technology.
2006: Intel Core 2 Duo makes its debut. These processors have more than 290 million transistors and are built using Intel’s 65nm process technology.
2007: Intel reveals breakthrough transistor materials called high-k and metal gate, that it is using to build the insulating wall and switching gate on the hundreds of millions of microscopic 45nm transistors.
The original transistor built by Bell Labs in 1947 could be held in your hand, while hundreds of Intel’s new 45nm transistor can fit on the surface of a single red blood cell.
The price of a transistor in one of Intel’s new 45nm chips will be about 1 millionth the average price of a transistor in 1968. If car prices had fallen at the same rate, a new car today would cost about 1 cent.
You could fit more than 30,000 45nm transistors onto the head of a pin, which measures approximately 1.5 million nm.
A 45nm transistor can switch on and off approximately 300 billion times a second. A beam of light travels less than a tenth of an inch during the time it takes a 45nm transistor to switch on and off.
Streaming or Internet Radio is the term given to live radio that is delivered via the Internet in one continuous stream. Some Internet Radio stations operate only via the web, while other traditional terrestrial radio stations also offer an Internet Stream. Occasionally, Internet Radio is confused with Podcasting, however a Podcast is a distinct audio file that is actually downloaded to your computer rather and therefore can be listened to offline, while Internet Radio requires a persistent ant Internet connection.
Internet Radio has many advantages over traditional terrestrial radio but the reason it's become such a sensation is that you can tune in to a radio program that's being broadcast from the other side of the world. For example, when my father-in-law came over we tuned in to Cape FM - a local FM station in Cape Town, South Africa. And sometimes even if you want to listen to a local radio station (that you can tune in to on the dial) you'll find that tuning in on your computer means you'll get a static free sound.
Finding an Internet Radio station is as easy as visiting radiotime.com and either searching or browsing for a station. Once you've found the Internet Radio station you'll need to make sure you have the right software. In most cases you'll need either Windows Media Player (which comes standard in Windows but Mac users will need to download a copy from microsoft.com) or Real Player (www.real.com).
If you find yourself listening to lots of Internet Radio there are even programs that let you time-shift - or 'record' and listen to the programs when you want. If you're using Windows check out Red Button (http://radiotime.com/downloadcenter.aspx), or Radioshift (http://www.rogueamoeba.com/radioshift) for Mac OS X.
Internet Radio has become so popular that Grundig have even produced a product dubbed 'The Wireless'. It's a small radio like device that connects to your WiFi signal at home and lets you stream Internet Radio as if you were tuned into a terrestrial signal. At $499 it's a bit pricey, but if radio is your thing, then why not?
January 10, 2008
Some of the latest mobile phones these days don't just make calls, they also act as GPS devices that can help you navigate from here to just about anywhere. My favourite 'mid-level' phone with built-in GPS is the Nokia 6110 Navigator. It's got a one-touch navigation button that makes it easy to access GPS functions and maps, features an HSDPA Internet connection for fast browsing and downloading of maps, a great 2.2" screen and 2MP camera, and features message reader technology that lets you listen to your messages.
But most phones don't come standard with GPS but that doesn't mean you can't add it as an option. Vodafone for example, just recently launched their GPS Navigation Pack which adds the popular Vodafone Compass service to a range of Nokia and Blackberry devices. At $149 the pack includes a portable GPS receiver that communicates with your phone to provide mapping information. The pack also comes with three months free access to Vodafone Compass (afterwards the service costs $79 per year, $8 per month, or $2.50 for a day pass).
The GPS receiver is a puck shaped unit, about 60mm in diameter that can easily clip on to your belt or car sunvisor. It uses Bluetooth to communicate with your phone and syncs with the Vodafone Compass service that offers users a complete navigation experience either in the car or by foot. Compass provides moving maps that like the bigger car-mounted GPS units switch directions when you do. Compass also provides well timed voice instructions and the ability to recalculate routes if you go the wrong direction. The latest additions to Compass lets users find the cheapest petrol prices on route, and also locate the cheapest parking facility that's nearest to their destination.
Before the release of the Bluetooth GPS receiver the Vodafone Compass service was only available to phones with built-in GPS but now lots of other phones like the BlackBerry Pearl and Curve plus the Nokia N73, N80, N70, N6680, N6120 and E65 can also use the service.
In what has now become a tradition, leading search engines like Google and Yahoo release a 'what people were searching for' at the end of each year. These lists often give a nice summary of what made the year that has passed memorable, highlights issues and show cases the hottest and most desirable product releases. Google calls these lists 'Zeitgeist', or 'spirit of the times'.
In Australia, the top ten fastest rising searches on Google Australia were: Facebook, YouTube, Summer Heights High, Tiger Airways, iPhone, Rugby World Cup , MySpace, Heroes, Bebo and Transformers. This year however, Google went further and broke searches in to categories like 'Top 10 on TV' or 'Top 10 Celebs'. It's no surprise that Big Brother topped the TV list, while Paris Hilton is the most searched for Celebrity.
Other notes of interest were the Packer wedding that was the most searched for nuptials (including divorces) and lots of interest in social networking like MySpace and Facebook. For more results go to http://www.google.com.au/intl/en/press/zeitgeist2007/index.html
Yahoo's (http://au.docs.yahoo.com/top2007/) most popular search overall was for Britney Spears who also scored the top celebrity search as well. 'Lost' scored the number one slot for top entertainment searches while local show 'Dancing with the Stars' was in the number two spot. The Federal Election was the most popular news search and the top gadget search was the iPod Nano. Other topics that fascinated Australia during 2007, according to Yahoo were the fluctuations in weather, climate change, interest rate increases, Anna Nicole Smith, Bebo (the social networking platform) and the death of Pavarotti.
Both Yahoo and Google calculate their lists by looking at the aggregation of the most popular and fast-rising search queries being typed into the respective search boxes. Regardless of which search engine you prefer they both provide a good measure on what interests the Australian population.
What: Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac
When: Available from 31st January
How Much: Standard Edition $649 or $399 for upgrade, Special Media Edition $849 or $549 for upgrade, Home and Student Edition $229 and includes three user licenses.
Office 2008 for Mac is a must-have upgrade for Mac-using Office junkies, especially if you are using one of the latest Intel Macs. You'll appreciate the smart new graphics engine and simplified toolbars that makes it easier to create better-looking documents. If you use an Exchange server you'll benefit from the updates to Entourage and the new 'Mac-only' My Day widget that helps keep your schedule in order.
It's been four long years since Microsoft released a new version of Office for Mac. During that time the Mac market and Apple have undergone dramatic changes - from a niche player in the media and desktop publishing space back to a serious contender in the PC world. While some believe the change has been a result of the iPod's 'halo-effect', the transition on the Mac from PowerPC to Intel processors can't be underestimated.
When Apple announced the shift to Intel at its World Wide Developer Conference in 2005 they also made provisions within the current Mac operating system, called OS X, to run applications written for older PowerPC Macs in a seamless emulation environment called Rosetta. The inclusion of the Rosetta environment smoothed the transition and meant two things for Apple.
First, customers who bought new Intel Macs could still run their existing software without the expense of upgrading (although with a reasonable speed hit), and second, application developers could take their time rewriting applications to take full advantage of the new Intel architecture.
Since WWDC all major Mac developers, including Adobe and Quark (and thousands of Indie developers) have updated their software to take advantage of Intel processors on the Mac - except for Microsoft. It's not surprising then, that in this time both Apple and Google have slowly been launching their own productivity suites.
Apple’s, called iWork ($99, or $129 for family pack), contains presentation software called Keynote, a word processing/layout package called Pages and a spreadsheet program called Numbers.
Google have been constantly upgrading features to its own office suite, called Google Docs, which is available for free to anyone with Internet access. Other web-based competitors include ThinkFree and OpenOffice.
Even though Microsoft has come late to the party, it's not like they've been standing still. In fact, 2007 was one of the busiest years for product launches at Microsoft with the release of Office 2007 and Windows Vista. Sporting a brand new interface known as Microsoft Office Fluent, the Office 2007 user interface 'centres on the principle of helping people focus on what they want to do, rather than bothering with the details of how to do it' according to Wikipedia. In English, that means giving users access to features they want with fewer mouse clicks.
While Microsoft has taken a similar 'task-oriented' approach with Office 2008 it hasn't received the same radical toolbar overhaul as Office 2007. However, there is still a high degree of overlap between the two systems, in particular with the support for the new XML file format, and the 'Escher' graphics engine which provides improved graphics capabilities and makes it easy to apply high-production values to any file you create.
Office 2008's biggest claim to fame, though, is that it has been re-written and now ships as a universal binary application. That means it will run natively on most PowerPC (500MHz-plus G4 or G5 models) and Intel Macs. For PowerPC users that's not a big deal because Office 2004 and Office X before it ran perfectly well on those systems. However, the new code makes a big difference for owners of Intel Macs to application launch times and performance.
The open XML file format included in Office 2008 helps 'reduce the risk of lost information due to damaged or corrupted files and also results in smaller file sizes — up to 75 per cent smaller than comparable binary documents', according to Microsoft. If you plan to share files with users who don't have the latest version of Office, don't worry because Office 2008 is also backwards-compatible with earlier file formats like .doc and .xls. Microsoft also have released a free file converter for Microsoft, available at www.microsoft.com/mac.
Apart from enhanced compatibly Office 2008 also puts the spotlight squarely on design, with the introduction of a new elements gallery which makes creating better looking documents, spreadsheets and presentations even easier. In Microsoft Word, for example, clicking on the 'Document Elements' button just under the main toolbar reveals various different templates and provides easy access to traditionally difficult tasks like adding headers or footers, and adding a table of contents to a document. Another nice feature is the single-window design, where toolbars are attached to windows rather than floating free.
Microsoft Word has also been given a new 'Mac-only' publishing layout view which lets users drag-and-drop visuals on to the page for easy desktop publishing. The new view puts Word up against other consumer-centric desktop publishing applications like Pages and to a lesser extent InDesign. In my testing the new publishing view worked well and made adding and manipulating images easy. The publishing view also exposes the new object palette toolbar, which gives easy access to the large clip-art library Microsoft supply and to your own images thank to tight iPhoto integration.
Excel junkies will have mixed emotions for the new version. On the plus side, the size limit of spreadsheets has increased to 16,000 columns and more than one million rows, and for more basic users there is a new formula builder and formula auto-complete that presents a drop-down list of available formulas as soon as you start typing. But Excel 2008 loses macro and Visual Basic (VB) support. While this isn’t a show stopper for novice users it may be for advanced users who rely on cross-compatibility scripting on a daily basis.
Powerpoint users have also been rewarded with the addition of SmartArt Graphics, which converts bulleted lists to graphical slides with a click of a button. Full compatibility between Office 2007 and 2008 is assured, thanks to the shared graphics engine. There are more options for exporting your presentation, including a 'Send to iPhoto' option which saves your presentation into a series of JPEG images that can then easily be added to your iPod for viewing.
As with previous Office for Mac releases, Microsoft have included a number of Mac-only features in this version. A new widget-style applications called My Day interfaces with Entourage and other Office applications to easily track to-do and calendar activities in an easy-to-digest interface.
Entourage is the Mac equivalent of Outlook. While it’s still not as competent as Outlook for connecting to Exchange servers, it has been substantially improved under the hood and now supports Kerberos Single Sign-on Authentication, out-of-office assistant and managed folders. The visual appearance of Calendar data has also been updated and provides better support for to-do items, including the ability to mark emails as 'to-do' items with one click.
Like previous versions, Entourage also supports Apple sync services which means iCal and Address Book can always stay in sync with information in Entourage, however compatibility between Outlook PST files and Entourage is still something that you’ll need to rely on third party solutions like Export-Import Entourage 1.3.10 (scriptbuilders.net/files/exportimportentourage1.3.10.html) or O2M (www.littlemachines.com) for. If you’re new to the Mac platform and don’t need Exchange integration I’d recommend trying Apple Mail (included with OS X) as it’s provides better compatibility with OS X, especially with Time Machine, Apple’s automated backup solution.
In my month long test of Office 2008, all common tasks and applications worked well. Files created in Office 2007 worked perfectly in Office 2008 and vice-versa. Boot time on my Intel Mac was substantially improved over Office 2004, and the new toolbars have a much neater, cleaner 'Mac-like' appearance. For new users the simplified toolbars and task-based support are appealing. Advanced users will appreciate the added flexibility provided by the new file formats and the more powerful graphics engine, while systems administrators and workers that need to plug into Exchange networks will appreciate the improved compatibility in Entourage.
But each new release of Office for PC or Mac begs the question whether the upgrade is worth the cost. Unlike typical Apple products, where a one-size-fits-all approach makes choosing a product easy, Microsoft make you work for it. There's a basic Office 2008 for Mac standard edition ($649 or $399 for an upgrade) and an Office 2008 for Mac Special Media Edition ($849, or $549 for upgrade) which comes with a full version of the Microsoft Expression Media (a digital asset management system that lets you visually catalog, organise and present all of your digital assets) and more advanced Microsoft Exchange Server support, for those that need to plug Entourage into an Exchange server. There's also a Mac Home and Student Edition ($229) that includes three user licenses for consumers and students at home, but doesn't include the added Exchange support.
If you’re consider upgrading your version of Office I’d take the time and try one of the free or cheaper Office suites that are available before dropping the money on Office 2008. If you’re a PC user that’s considering switching to the Mac platform then rest assured, Office 2008 is as good as Office 2007, and both are seamlessly compatible. Still, I’d urge you to also try iWork or Google Docs before jumping in as both packages may satisfy your needs. But for everybody else, the rich features of Office for Mac 2008 including better integration with Exchange server, the new graphics engine and refined user interface don’t disappoint.