September 26, 2008

WTF? Blackberry Storm to have revolutionary new....clock!

Why the hell are RIMM spending so much time working on a clock application for their new Storm smartphone? If I was them, I'd put more effort in to the new Mac sync application, a better keyboard, and designing an interface that doesn't look like it's been lifted from a 20 year old pager.
(photos courtesy StormReview.com)





September 24, 2008

Windows Mobile 7 delayed

What a joke.

CS4

Nice write up by Macworld about what's new with Photoshop CS4
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.

First Android handset, G1 launches


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

Doctor on the net

If you are like me, the first place you probably go for a 'medical diagnosis' is Google. But it won't surprise you to know that there are now many web sites devoted to health and well being. It's also critical therefore to know where to look and who to trust on the Internet. As well as plenty of competition for your eyeballs, both Google and Microsoft have also recently launched portals that allow you to save your personal medical history on secure web pages.

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.

Be a savy buyer

Choosing a brand and style of computer is only the first step when deciding to buy a new computer. Another, choosing the software you need, is as important, and can potentially change the amount you spend more dramatically than choosing to upgrade the RAM, processor or the hard disk.

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.

Plant trees for free

Offsetting your carbon emissions is a serious business, with lots of competitors in the space. While using the Internet to offset your emissions is relatively easy, doing it for free is much harder.

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.

gorogsguide.blogspot.com

visit >
www.clickgreen.com.au
www.greenfleet.com.au
twurl.nl/zcjbee
www.carbonneutral.com.au

September 22, 2008

Google takes aim at Wikipedia

Recently, Google launched a new site called Knol, designed to compete with Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia of the web. According to Google, a Knol represents a 'unit of knowledge', and, like Wikipedia, the site is designed to let users share information.

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.

visit >
knol.google.com
wikipedia.org
tinyurl.com/5anaqx

Alternatives to Google Search

It's a Google world, at least that's what most pundits would have you believe. It's certainly true that by most standard metrics, Google do have the largest share of web search market, with some estimates pegging it at over 75 percent. While that figure is large and growing, there are other search engines that rival Google for speed and accuracy.

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.

visit >
www.google.com
www.yahoo.com
www.live.com
www.picsearch.com
www.dogpile.com

Toys are Electric

Do you remember the toys you had when you were growing up? If you're my age or older, they were probably wooden, and didn't require batteries. Fast forward thirty odd years and my son, who is about to turn three has the most wonderful array of toys. For better or worse, the ones he loves the most all need power, and they're powered by electronic chips that put some early computers to shame.

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.

visit >
www.leapfrog.com.au
www.wowwee.com
tinyurl.com/6exl3z

Chrome

Let the browser wars begin, again! That's the message that came out of Google last week when they launched a new Google browser, called Chrome.

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.

Chrome is based on the WebKit rendering engine that powers Apple's Safari browser which means it loads pages quickly, very quickly. Google also added a new Javascript engine called V8 which processes code (the programming language behind many web 2.0 sites) 10 times faster than Firefox and Safari, and a staggering fifty-six times faster that Microsoft's Internet Explorer 7.

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.
I've been testing Chrome since its release and have been very impressed. It's the fastest browser I've used, especially with web-applications like Google Docs, Gmail and sites rich with Javascript. For a first release it's stable too.

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.

visit >
www.google.com/chrome
www.firefox.com
www.microsoft.com/ie
www.apple.com/safari

September 21, 2008

Google takes aim at Wikipedia

Internet favourites (sometimes known as bookmarks) are shortcuts to web pages that you want to return to easily and quickly. All browsers (including Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari) have favourite functionality built-in. In most cases adding a favourite simply requires that you navigate to the website you want to remember and go to the Favourite (in Internet Explorer) or Bookmarks (in Firefox and Safari) menu and select 'Add Bookmark'. Like files, you can organise your bookmarks in to folders - each program handles this differently, but generally you'll be able to access your favourites and then drag them into folders as required.

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.