Tuesday, January 31, 2006


In other news today, Google confirmed the long-held belief/suspicion that it is working on a desktop OS. Called Goobuntu, the OS will be based on Ubuntu, an increasingly popular Linux Distribution, with extra google-bits added on top. In my view, there are two points which it would be crucial for the Google engineers to work on in order for there to be wide take-up of Goobuntu having just downloaded Ubuntu and had a look at it (I should add that I really know very little about Linux):

1. Hardware support
The average user does not expect to have to trawl support forums to find drivers for their hardware. It would have to 'just work', straight out of the box, without any tricky work for the user. For example, I ran Ubuntu, and was unable to connect to the internet because I could not make it recognise my USB broadband modem. This would be unacceptable for the non-computer geek, and the Windows CD would be re-inserted in seconds (I have given up with it as well, the 'instructions' for making my modem work are here. I have very little idea of where I would start). It is also notoriously difficult to install Linux on a laptop, with problems such as 'win-modems', whatever they are, not working properly. It would be difficult to persuade every device manufacturer to produce drivers for Linux, until Goobuntu had a major market share, and it could never achieve a major market share if it did not have very good hardware support.

2. Ease of use
This is linked in with the hardware support issue, but whenever I have tried Linux in the past I have not been able to use it properly as for any task slightly complicated, it seems that you have to use the command prompt. I, like many other people, have neither the time nor the inclination to learn how to use a 'shell' (I think thats what its called) in Linux. Google would have to make there a GUI way of performing just about every single function. This is something Mac OS X and Windows do very well, and is no doubt a major factor in their prominence, whatever gripes people may have with Windows every so often.

Goobuntu could be a runaway success, with people seeing it as a way to leave Microsoft, which the vast majority of people seem to believe is the embodiment of all evil, but only if it moves away from the model of an OS which only geeks can use, towards a system which anyone between the ages of 3 and 101 can operate.

I should add that Google has given very little detail on Goobuntu, and has not even said that it will be made available to the end user. There is a remote possibility that it is only designed to run at the Googleplexes around the world.

UPDATE: Turns out that this is all an unfounded rumour, even though the Register reported that it had been confirmed by Google. Apparently, Google use ubuntu internally, but have no plans to make it available to non-Googlers. Just think of the post as what Linux needs to do before it can reach widespread home desktop use!

Of all stupid things

With the new IE7, which I have already fallen out with, I have just discovered an absolutely ridiculous flaw with it. MSN (part of microsoft) UK portal development teams have obviously not yet tested their site with IE7. It completely fails to render properly, as can be seen from the screenshots below.

I maintain my belief that the UI is odd, unintuitive and probably buggy (I hope its current state counts as buggy, because otherwise IE7 is going nowhere). For some reason, the menu bar (File, Edit, View etc) appears below the top fixed bar, and the Google Toolbar 4 Beta does not show up on new tabs, as it won't appear on about:blank pages.

I have, however, managed to get IE7 to connect properly every time now, although it still seems incapable of rendering Blogger's 'create post' page properly. All I can say is, by the time Firefox gets to Beta 2, it is certainly at a much more mature level than this program, which at the moment is completely worthless.

First impressions

My first impressions of IE7 are not good. I wanted them to be, I really did, but they’re not.

First of all, it refused to connect to the internet. It would ‘dial up’ my broadband connection perfectly successfully, but then once it had connected it denied any knowledge of the event, asking me to connect again, which obviously didn’t work. When that failed, instead of trying to connect, it just gave up and decided to give me the option to go through that cycle again, or ‘work offline’, in which case it decided that it couldn’t connect and so that didn’t work either. It also refused to recognise any pre-existing connection that I set up before I opened the browser.

However, I did manage to make it connect eventually by clicking the right combination of ‘connect’ and ‘work offline’ buttons. I then decided to go to Blogger to post this post, which was already going to be negative. However the ‘create post’ section of Blogger did not work. The text appeared as white (well actually it didn’t appear at all, not even when I highlighted it or changed the colour) and all that happened was the cursor moved forward, as though I was typing spaces.

On the good side, however, subscribing to feeds worked very well and it presented the XML of the RSS/Atom nicely, so that is a good point. It does have a weird UI though.

I’ll do a proper review when I can bring myself to open the stupid program again.

IE7 Beta 2 released to the public

Microsoft has just made IE7 Beta 2 available to everyone who wants it. It is available here for download. I am just downloading it now, and will report back with my opinion on it.

If you don't already know, 'Beta 2' means that the program should only be installed by people who are prepared to risk potential computer problems. Before it is released to everyone, it will go through the 'release candidate' stage, and then released for everyone.

Features that IE7 include are:
  • Tabbed browsing
  • Phishing filter (tells you if you visit a fraudulent website)
  • Improved rendering engine
  • Lots of other stuff as well.
The installation has finished so I'm going to restart my computer now.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Hack Google China

It turns out it’s entirely possible to hack Google China, and remove censorship. By replacing “&meta;=” with “&meta;=cr%3DcountryBR” in the URL. This removes all censorship and allows full access to all search results. It will be interesting to see whether Google responds by removing the ‘bug’ as quickly as possible, or drags its feet in creating a fix. It is clear that there will be many cases like this, with people finding ways to circumvent the system or there being doubt about what to censor. As I discussed here, if Google does slow down the process of rectifying these ‘problems’, they will be doing the chinese people a great service, and could concievably render censorship unworkable.

Google Toolbar 4 Beta Released

Google Toolbar 4 Beta was released today, promising features such as:
- Custom buttons to provide access to services such as Gmail, Google Video and other non-Google services. They are downloadable from a button gallery, and apparently site owners will be able to produce their own buttons for download in less than 10 minutes.

- Integration with the bookmark system, currently only available through the 'personalised search' page. This actually makes the bookmark system useful, as they are readily accessible. It is possible to tag the bookmarks, in a similar way to other services such as Delicious.

- Google suggest-type feature, including not only suggestions for complete searches, but also 'did you mean?' and history suggestions.

- 'Send to' feature. It is possible to send any webpage to Gmail, Blogger or to a phone via SMS, although I suspect that won't work in the UK.

They have also announced a new 'enterprise edition'. Precisely what that means I'm not sure, but I expect it allows computer network administrators to manage all of the toolbars on their network from one place, and support for different user profiles on the same computer.

My major gripe with the Beta is that it has not been made available for Firefox yet. This seems odd, considering that Google itself distributes Firefox as part of the Google Pack. However, it does look like a substantial release with some potentially interesting new features.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Windows Vista videos

I would personally love to get my hands on one of the CTP (community technology preview) releases of Windows Vista, the next version of Windows due for release in the Autumn. However, I don't have the thousands needed for an MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) subscription, and so I can't have it.

The next best thing is to watch all the videos available on the web about Windows Vista at the moment. And believe me there are loads. First of all, the Windows Vista Weblog has links to a whole load of videos about various features in Vista:

  • New TCP/IP network stack - Video
  • New Audio stack - Video
  • New Aero user interface - Video
  • New integrated search and file management - Video
  • New fonts ans readability technology - Video
  • New Kernel changes - Video
  • New features for international users - Video
  • New print technology - Video
  • New installation technology - Video
  • Sidebar and Gadgets - Video
  • Sideshow - Video
  • New applications like Windows Mail - Video
  • New crypto technology - Video
  • Windows as RSS platform - Video

  • I have to say the videos I found most interesting were the Aero UI video and the Sidebar and Gadgets one. There's lots of detail there.

    There's also a video from Bill Gates CES keynote on the new features provided in Vista on the Microsoft website.

    On a lighter note, going round the web recently have been a really funny set of videos comparing Windows Vista, due out in 9 months time to Mac OSX Tiger, which was released a few months ago. It has a guy talking about the new features in Vista whilst demonstrating the features on OS X. If you're only going to watch one, I'd watch the first one as I think it's probably the funniest, although they're all very funny.

    Episode 1

    Episode 2

    Episode 3


    Friday, January 27, 2006

    Official Google Blog: Google in China post

    A post arrived on the Official Google Blog on the decision to provide a local service in China, and therefore censoring results, as reported here. The post is actually very persuasive to Google's point of view. I've quoted it here with some of the waffle cut out:

    Our executives have spent a lot of time in recent months talking with many people, ranging from those who applaud the Chinese government for its embrace of a market economy and its lifting of 400 million people out of poverty to those who disagree with many of the Chinese government's policies, but who wish the best for China and its people. We ultimately reached our decision by asking ourselves which course would most effectively further Google's mission to organize the world's information and make it universally useful and accessible. Or, put simply: how can we provide the greatest access to information to the greatest number of people?

    We aren't happy about what we had to do this week, and we hope that over time everyone in the world will come to enjoy full access to information. But how is that full access most likely to be achieved? We are convinced that the Internet, and its continued development through the efforts of companies like Google, will effectively contribute to openness and prosperity in the world. Our continued engagement with China is the best (perhaps only) way for Google to help bring the tremendous benefits of universal information access to all our users there.

    Our launch of google.cn, though filtered, is a necessary first step toward achieving a productive presence in a rapidly changing country that will be one of the world's most important and dynamic for decades to come. To some people, a hard compromise may not feel as satisfying as a withdrawal on principle, but we believe it's the best way to work toward the results we all desire.

    The full post can be read here.

    There continue to be demonstrations against the decision, and there have been Tibeten Independence campaigners protesting outside the Googleplex as well as the various rants online, but perhaps surprisingly, it has become clear that there is significant support for Google's decision.

    Bill Thompson, a technology commentator for the BBC News website, is also pro-Google.cn.

    On the practical side, he makes an interesting comparison to the situation in the UK:

    If you use BT's net service and type in the web address of a site believed to contain images of child abuse you'll get a "site not found" error with no indication at all that the site has been censored by the Cleanfeed service - and of course, you have no opportunity to question the censorship or have a site removed from the list because you aren't ever told it is on a list.

    At least if I search for "democracy" on google.cn I'll be told that the results have been restricted by local law.

    He also believes that politically, Google's decision is ultimately the best for China:

    But if we in the West, with our liberal political culture and our attempts to build open societies, do not engage with China then we lose the opportunity to influence them and convince them of the benefits that this brings. If the Chinese government fears instability then we should offer help and advice and support, not closed borders and locked doors.

    Different circumstances require different responses, and just because sanctions were the right way to put pressure on apartheid South Africa does not mean that a technology blockade is the way to influence China.

    Constructive engagement in a way that respects but also challenges local law seems a far better option, and that, for all its risks, is what Google is attempting to do.

    They may make some money out of it, but that's fine, because they may also show the Chinese leadership that openness can bring benefits as well as pose threats.

    My personal opinion is fairly neutral. On the one hand, I feel an enormous empathy for the Chinese people, that they are unable to enjoy the same rights to free speech as I do, and that I take for granted. Any policy which supports or strengthens Chinese censorship is therefore distasteful to me to say the least. However, the view that we should refuse to provide Chinese people with any decent access to the internet at all just because they are not allowed to view all of it seems illogical. I suppose that my gut feeling is that Google has made the right decision, but with it they should constantly push the boundaries of what they are allowed to show on their search results, in the hope of sliding down the slippery slope (a very good slippery slope) to freedom of speech on the Web, which is a goal to surely work for.

    Thursday, January 26, 2006

    Google China Logos

    A few anti-censorship people have come up with some funny ideas for Google to use as logos on their new China service. It doesn't look like Google's move is very popular with the blogging community.

    Google China Logos

    UN backs $100 Dollar Laptop

    I posted a little while ago about Nicholas Negroponte of MIT's plan to produce laptops for $100 each for children in poor countries under his One-Laptop-Per-Child scheme. Today the UN gave important backing to the project, providing financial help to the project alongside existing donors including Google.org.

    The debate as to whether this is a useful project continues to rage, but with the number of organisations supporting the initiative rising almost daily, Negroponte's dream looks set to come to fruition, whoever wins the debate.

    Nintendo announces 'DS Lite'

    Nintendo have announced today that as usual they will be releasing a redesign of their handheld players. The DS is the latest to have the pleasure (recently a second redesign of the GBA was released, named the GameBoy Micro), and apparently the unit will be significantly thinner and lighter, and have a brighter screen.

    This redesign does make sense commercially for Nintendo, as by releasing a redesign they can sell a 'new' device which will increase their sales, without significant R&D costs as it is essentially the same product. You have to question the whole DS idea though. The user experience between the on the PSP is much better, with many people finding the touchscreen a gimmick and clumsy. The PSP offers significantly more features, including playback of video stored on both memory sticks and UMDs and a much larger, better looking screen. I know several owners of the Nintendo DS who are unhappy with it. I do not know a single PSP user not completely satisfied.

    I used to be a big fan of Nintendo, and I bought the GameCube on its second day out in the UK, and before that the N64. However, they have been suffering a major decline in recent years, and it looks like this will continue with their apparent refusal to incorperate home media centre features into the Revolution, as Xbox 360 have and Sony will do with the PS3. I also found this video on Google Video of a programme on BBC3 about the questionable ethics which Nintendo has worked in the past and is continuing to operate. It's not particularly good, but it raises some interesting points.

    Wednesday, January 25, 2006

    Google caves in on Chinese Censorship

    Google has agreed to censoring the search results obtained using its Google China search engine in return for being allowed to host their service on local servers. The Chinese Government is often criticised for setting up the 'Great Firewall of China', and has warned Google that it may be blocked before now, as Google serves up results relating to sensitive subjects for the Communist regime, including those relating to the events in Tiananmen Square.

    MSN and Yahoo! are among the international search engines to have already pandered to China's demands to help censor the internet, as well as Baido, the local market leader. Today, Google released a statement to CNN saying:

    In order to operate from China, we have removed some content from the search results available on Google.cn, in response to local law, regulation or policy," a Google statement said.
    While removing search results is inconsistent with Google's mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission.

    As an emerging economic powerhouse, China is developing rapidly, thanks in no small measure to the Internet," Google said. "We firmly believe, with our culture of innovation, Google can make meaningful and positive contributions to the already impressive pace of development in China.

    I can understand Google's motivation for agreeing to censor their Chinese search results. According to Google Blogoscoped, Google already blocks Nazi websites in Germany, where they are illegal. If Google want to operate within a country that has censoring laws, no matter where they lie on the spectrum of curbing freedom of speech, they have to follow them. The question for me is whether or not they should operate from countries such as China with laws clearly designed to keep the existing government in power, and to inhibit dissent from the 'party line'. It is a grey area, as on the one hand they are indirectly supporting the policies of the Chinese Government, yet on the other hand, they are providing a very useful service to the Chinese people.

    I really have no idea what the right thing to do is, but there will be many people questioning whether Google has adhered to its motto of 'Don't be evil' in this decision.

    Macbook Pro Demonstration

    I was looking on the YouTube website, and came across this video of a demonstration of the MacBook Pro at Macworld. I thought it was quite interesting.

    Tuesday, January 24, 2006

    Disney takeover of Pixar

    It has just been confirmed that Disney will buy Pixar for $7.4 billion. Steve Jobs (yes, that Steve Jobs) founded Pixar in the 1980s, and it has now become the leader in computer animation, with films such as the Toy Story franchise and Finding Nemo. These have been produced with funding and distribution from Disney, and since Disney stopped producing old-fashioned cartoon films a few years ago, many have seen this takeover as making good business sense, if not inevitable.

    All this means that Jobs pockets a good few billion bucks, but it does have possibly more important repercussions for the film and digital media industries. Some Pixar content is already available on iTunes for purchase and transfer to the 5G iPod, but Jobs will almost certainly use his place on the Disney board to argue for Disney blockbusters to be added to the collection, which would give a significant boost to iTunes and also encourage other studios to follow suit.

    Opera Mini 2 Released

    Opera Mini, Opera's free browser designed for Java-enabled phones was released today. It aims to replace the often less than perfect default browser that comes with mobiles, by using rendering techniques which optimise the viewing of ordinary webpages on a very small screen.

    I downloaded it and installed it on my reasonable Sony Ericsson K700i. It worked fine, except when I tried to visit the new Google Mobile personalised homepage and Gmail. At that point, I was hardly delighted to get an 'xml parsing error' or something sounding equally irritating. This problem, despite the fact that Opera has just done a deal with Google to put a Google search box on the browser homepage. You would have thought the two could talk to each other to make sure that one's service was compatible with the other's browser. The end result of this problem is that I will now probably not be using Opera Mini.

    So the whole thing is a bit pointless really. Still, if you don't use those Google services, it's probably worth a go.

    Google News leaves beta

    Google seems to have a thing about leaving things in beta for years, no matter how popular they are or any other factor. Founded in 2002, Google News must be used daily by millions of people, and Google has finally decided that it can leave Beta. If you don't know what it is, Google says:

    Google News is a highly unusual news service in that our results are compiled solely by computer algorithms, without human intervention. As a result, news sources are selected without regard to political viewpoint or ideology, enabling you to see how different organisations are reporting the same story. This variety of perspectives and approaches is unique among online news sites, and we consider it essential in helping you stay informed about the issues that matter most to you.

    So there you are. They added a new feature today; individual recommended stories, using algorithms similar to their personalised search feature. The Official Google Blog has more details on the new feature and Google News here.

    Monday, January 23, 2006

    Phone with tiny (I mean, absolutely minute) hard disk

    Toshiba has created a hard disk so small that six could fit on a business card. They plan to implant it into phones, giving them greater scope as music players. (picture from vnunet.com)

    At the moment, its not actually that exciting, as the capacity is only 4GB, which is no better than flash memory chips which have no moving parts, so are more robust. However, with perpendicular recording techniques coming in for hard disks, Toshiba reckon that they will be able to fit 10GB on the tiny device. That would make it a great option for phone music players.

    While we're on this subject, I thought I would share my views with you on the subject of phones with mp3 playback. The only way that this particular convergence is going to have great success is if the phone is implanted into the music player rather than the other way around. In the age of bluetooth headsets, it would not be necessary to clamp the entire mp3 player to your ear.

    For example, think how desirable an 'iPod Nano Mobile' would be (certainly much more so than their feeble ROKR). Just a little suggestion to Apple, why not use the click-wheel to dial, as on the old fashioned phones with the dialling wheel? If they did that, I'd be their first customer.

    Sunday, January 22, 2006

    Google Programme

    The BBC had an interesting program on Google on last Friday, called 'The World according to Google'. It is now available on the BBC website here. It doesn't have much new material in it, but it has some interesting talking heads, including Marissa Meyer, a Google Executive, talking about the challenges that Google faces, including click fraud. A good introduction for those people not already abreast of what Google's exponential expansion entails, both for itself and for the rest of the world.

    Wednesday, January 18, 2006

    Million Dollar Homepage DoS Attack

    It turns out that the reason the Million Dollar Homepage has been down for the past week is that it has been hit by a massive DoS attack. The BBC has details.

    This is my original post on the subject:

    The Million Dollar Homepage
    has been much covered in the media recently. Founded by skint British student
    Alex Tew as a way to fund his university education, it sold pixel space on the
    site for the rate of $1/pixel with a minimum purchase of 100 pixels. It worked,
    and Tew made his million dollars, selling pixels to companies such as The Times
    and Orange.However, I have noticed that the Million Dollar Homepage has not been
    online of late. This could make some advertisers very angry, considering they
    have paid for their adverts to be on the site for at least three years. This
    could be just a temporary outage (although it was down yesterday as well) or it
    could be that Tew has made his quick buck and has now gone to do something
    else.I admire him for the idea, but there could be an awful lot of trouble if he
    doesn't manage to get the site back up and running.

    I hope for his sake he can sort it out.

    Monday, January 16, 2006

    EU developing search engine

    Jacques Chirac, everyone's favourite French president, has announced something interesting.

    No, that's not the news.

    In a speech, he referred to an EU search engine in development, known as Quaero (latin for I seek). It will be able to 'understand audio' and have advanced translation technologies. Chirac sees it as a European answer to the 'challenge' posed by Google and Yahoo. It is funded by a combination of governments and companies, including Thomson, France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom. It will function on many different platforms, including computers, handhelds and even TVs.

    I'm not sure its as interesting for us Britishers as it is for the rest of Europe. It's obviously designed with a heavy focus on translation, presumably to open up the US web to non-English speaking Europe. We don't have that problem, so I expect I will continue to Google along with the rest of Britain for at least the forseeable future (not that I have much choice - any alpha let alone beta looks a very long way off).

    Clever credit card

    Well, its not clever really, just Avesco Inc. who invented it. It's a smart card with a display and buttons. This gives it lots of extra features. For example, us Londoners have oyster cards, which are smart cards. You put money on them via the Transport for London website, and then to pay for a ticket you just touch them onto a reader. Using a card like this, the display could show the balance on the card, and the buttons could be used to enter a password, to ensure that a stolen card would be useless. Apparently they will also be able to provide a One Time Password for use with ecommerce. This would greatly improve security as you would actually need the card to buy something, rather than the card number and some personal details of the person you intend to rip off.

    I like clever ideas, and I think this definitely counts. Lets hope lots of financial services companies see the benefits and take this technology up.

    [story and picture thanks to newlaunches.com]

    Million Dollar Homepage

    The Million Dollar Homepage has been much covered in the media recently. Founded by skint British student Alex Tew as a way to fund his university education, it sold pixel space on the site for the rate of $1/pixel with a minimum purchase of 100 pixels. It worked, and Tew made his million dollars, selling pixels to companies such as The Times and Orange.

    However, I have noticed that the Million Dollar Homepage has not been online of late. This could make some advertisers very angry, considering they have paid for their adverts to be on the site for at least three years. This could be just a temporary outage (although it was down yesterday as well) or it could be that Tew has made his quick buck and has now gone to do something else.

    I admire him for the idea, but there could be an awful lot of trouble if he doesn't manage to get the site back up and running.

    Sunday, January 15, 2006


    They're often hailed as a 'revolution in radio', but I just think they're a good listen. I thought I'd put down the ones I listen to regularly, and it would be interesting to see what other people listen to as well.

    Engadget Podcast
    Really good analysis of the tech (particularly gadget world). My enjoyment of it is limited somewhat because I spend most of the podcast filled with immense jealousy that the US is about to get all of the technology being discussed, but that I'm going to have to wait for ages until a) its brought out in the UK and b) I can afford it!

    The World Tech Podcast
    This is probably my favourite podcast, for two reasons. The first is that it is a co-production of some US public radio stations and the BBC, and so it achieves a good balance of not being too US-centric. The second reason is that it has great variety, so one report might be on stem cells, the next on Web 2.0, the next on portable music players. All in all, very enjoyable.

    BBC radio podcasts
    I've lumped these together as I rarely listen to all of them, because there are so many. There are sometimes some very interesting programmes on, and they publish a major interview in the Today Programme every day. Other programmes include In Business, From our own correspondent, Go Digital and In our time.

    NPR Technology
    Quite an interesting set of reports on various different up-and-coming technologies, although not quite as good as the World Tech Podcast in my opinion.

    ABC Science Show
    Much more interested in science than technology, but it has some very interesting pieces on it sometimes. It is, inevitably, quite Austrialia-centric though. Good for Austrialians I guess!

    The feeds for the podcasts are below:

    From Our Own Correspondent
    In Our Time
    The Science Show
    In Business
    NPR: Technology
    Engadget Podcasts
    The World: Technology from BBC/PRI/WGBH

    Saturday, January 14, 2006

    Goowy - a new widget-based virtual desktop thing

    Thanks to Google Blogoscoped I discovered a new, very interesting site today (always nice). Its called Goowy.com, and this is what the homepage says about it:

    goowy (re) is a rich experience site which helps you manage your digital lifestyle. We provide you with a fresh and powerful environment for managing your webmail, contacts, calendar, rss, widgets (search, bookmarks, photos, weather, stocks, quotes, scores, etc.), and fun flash games.
    Once you've signed in (and opted to import contacts from your Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo! account), you are confronted with an entirely flash-based 'virtual desktop', with various widgets on it.

    I chose some widgets to go on it, and set up some RSS feeds. I then had a pleasant surprise of noticing that they had provided me with a 2GB mail account! Again, the webmail interface turned out to be flash-based, equipped with a preview panel and some ready-set up folders.

    The UI looks really nice, and works very well. When email arrives the page does not have to be reloaded. Fortunately it appears, present and correct, in the inbox.

    I suppose the best comparison for this service is Google's personalised homepage, although there are significant differences, given one is flash-based, and the other is a mishmash of different techniques such as AJAX which together create a very cool effect. The fact that Goowy is flash-based does give it an advantage over the Google service, as it allows for a smarter-looking and and more swish design. However, I do like Google's relatively lightweight approach, and there is also a mobile version available, which I think is quite cool. I shall certainly give this Goowy service more than a cursory glance though in my quest to have all my information available at any computer.

    PS: Microsoft has a Window's Live service which is similar to Google's, but I really don't like it at all (especially because it doesn't work properly with Firefox), which is why its not mentioned here!

    Google mobile offerings

    Google has brought out two new products for mobiles in the past week, designed to make browsing the internet from mobiles easier and cooler.

    First up, the mobile version of the google.com/ig personalised homepage. Same content available as on the computer version, except obviously without all the widgets. Google Blog had this to say about it:

    Anyone who's ever tried to browse the web on their cell phone knows that it isn't always the best user experience. That's why I'm excited to tell you about Google Mobile Personalized Home. We've designed a way for you to view the things that you really care about, from your Gmail inbox to news headlines, weather, stock quotes, and feeds (Atom or RSS). The interface is optimized for small screens, and we've arranged things so you don't have to click on a bunch of links to locate what you're after -– your personalized content appears on top, right where it should be. Give it a try, and let us know how you like it.
    It looks quite good, and I reckon its quite useful to have all the feeds, particularly, as sometimes when I'm bored on the bus or something its nice to have something to read.

    Next is a product that could have been around for a while, but I've certainly not seen it before. I heard about it on Google Blogoscoped. Its simply a proxy that converts any webpage into an optimized version for mobile. Just point your mobile's browser to http://www.google.com/gwt/n and type in the web adress. It also gives the option to not download images, which will certainly help to curtail bandwith costs.

    Google also have Google Local for Mobile beta running, although that's only available to US users at the moment. They've obviously decided that their mission is not only to organise all the world's information, but to make it available on mobiles as well! Obviously no matter how much great technology they develop, mobile web browsing will always be inherently limited because of the relatively tiny screens on which all the information has to be squeezed. Still, I'm certainly not complaining.

    Friday, January 13, 2006

    Free ipods for all UK citizens!

    I just saw this on Real Tech News. It is a joke proposal by some civil servant at the Department for Trade and Industry about the proposed ID scheme. Apparently it could cost £500 for an ID card, including integration costs, so this guy has suggested giving everyyone an iPod Nano! At £139 they're much cheaper, and it would reduce mugging, since there would be no point in stealing them, as everyone would already have one.

    I think this is the solution the government has been looking for. If they adopted it, I think all those civil liberties concerns would go out the window pretty fast!!

    Thursday, January 12, 2006

    Windows on Macs

    Everyone was aware that it would be possible to run Windows on the new intel-based macs, unless Apple deliberately stopped them. Loads of people thought that they would stop windows being installed. But they haven't!

    Apple has confirmed that they have not added any security which means that anyone who wants to can install windows on a Mac. This is highly unexpected, and potentially could increase take-up of Macs drastically.

    The question is, will it be possible to install Mac OS X on a PC, now that they both run on the same architecture. I guess this is very unlikely, as Microsoft would not appreciate that as an idea, and Mac rely on Microsoft's goodwill to produce products for Mac such as Office, without which there would be very limited take-up of Macs because of compatibility issues.

    Wednesday, January 11, 2006

    Why we should all use Firefox

    I know it has become customary for all technology blogs to rant about how it is crucial that everyone switches to Firefox right away, to prevent their computer being rendered unusable by vast amounts of spyware flooding onto their computer, to stop supporting the evil monster of Redmond, and to experience the nirvana of tabbed browsing. However, I do believe there is a very strong case to justify switching to Firefox, even if only until we’ve all had a look at the new IE7, due to be released about the middle of this year.

    The first reason is extensions. I think that they improve my web browsing experience and increase the things I can do drastically. The extensions I use include Mouse Gestures, which allows me to perform functions like going forward and back, opening new tabs and almost anything else by moving my mouse in a particular way. Providing another way to do something already possible can only increase browsing speed and the browser’s usability. Viamatic Foxpose is an extension that allows me to view all the tabs tiled on one screen, Mac OSX style. Other extensions include Google Suggest, Blogger Web Comments, GreaseMonkey and StumbeUpon. Together they provide a level of functionality one could only dream of on Internet Explorer. More importantly, Firefox’s ability to support extensions empowers users to create the functions they need, and if they don’t have the ability to do that, the chances are someone else has.

    Critics of Firefox say that if Firefox is so usable, why does it need all these extensions to improve its usability? However, Firefox without extensions is still significantly more usable than IE6. It has tabs, which mean that a user can see all the websites they have open at once, and quickly choose which one they need, rather than being forced to struggle through the multiple instances of browser windows like those unfortunate IE users. Just recently I discovered another innovative feature in Firefox; caret browsing. If it exists in IE, I have never seen it, and it allows the user to easily select text onscreen without the use of a mouse by having a moving cursor controllable with arrow keys. It may sound simple, but it’s the accumulation of these many ideas of Firefox developers that makes it better, in my opinion, than any other.

    A problem that Firefox users have to contend with regularly is websites that are designed badly, and that only work with IE. Although with the growing market share of Firefox, this problem will diminish rapidly, there is now a solution which means that there is no excuse at all not to switch to Firefox. It’s called IE Tab, and its an extension for Firefox that allows you to open any website using the IE rendering engine, but in a Firefox tab. Although this exposes you to all the security issues with IE6, it does allow you to take advantage of all the other features that Firefox has and IE does not.

    Firefox can be downloaded by clicking the Firefox button on the sidebar of this blog. I urge you to do it, if you haven’t already, now. Go on – you know you want to!

    Tuesday, January 10, 2006

    Macworld Expo in San Francisco

    Just a quick post to outline what was announced at this year's expo.

    FM radio remote control for the iPod
    Fairly self explanatory - it is a remote control that adds FM radio to the 5G iPods. It is controlled via the screen of the iPod itself, and stations can be saved etc. This kind of functionality has actually been around for quite some time with third-party accessories.

    MacBook Pro
    Intel-based dual-core beast of a laptop. It looks amazing! It replaces the Powerbook G4, and is 'up to 4 times the speed' of it. The MacBook Pro also sports a built in iSight camera and the website talks about the use of an apple remote with Frontrow.

    Intel iMacs
    Much anticipated, and widely expected announcement. The iMacs are based on an intel processor, but otherwise remain much the same, costing from £929. They're supposed to be twice as past as their predeccessors.

    iLife 06 and iWork 06 released
    Upgrades to the iLife creativity suite and iWork productivity suite were announced. iLife has a new addition - iWeb - designed to allow easy publishing of blogs. Garageband 3 also has features designed for podcasting. iWork has no particularly exciting additions, just a few extra features here and there, and general improvements.

    Thats about your lot - no iPod Nano-esque 'one more thing!' announcement this time in Job's keynote. Most of the stuff here was anticipated. However, there were still lots of interesting announcements though, and Mac fans seem quite happy.

    Google Book Store?

    According to BBC News, Google is considering creating an online digital bookshop, that would integrate with the existing Google Book Search. Book Search (formerly known as Google Print) has been very controversial, with many publishers starting class actions against Google in the US. This is a potentially very shrewd move, with the advent of devices such as Sony Reader using the E-ink technology developed by MIT. Providing the equivalent of iTunes or Napster for books could both give the technology a boost and create another growth area for Google to satisfy its shareholders, although Sony is already providing such a service.

    In order to make it happen, Google would have to go on a charm offensive to persuade the publishers it has angered to cooperate with this idea, as copyright agreements would have to be signed before any store could start operating.

    Google Video Store goes live

    Google Video Store, as announced by Larry Page in his keynote went live today, and the good news is that UK users seem to be able to download video from it with their visa or mastercard credit cards. There's quite a good selection of content, although its pretty US-centric. However, there are some ITN news reports of important events, like the 7/7 London Bombings. Full list of content providers is in this Official Google Blog post.

    Monday, January 09, 2006

    Messenger 8.0 Beta AKA Windows Live Messenger

    I have finally managed to get my hands on an invite for the new MSN Messenger 8.0 beta. It's being included as part of the new Windows Live brand of products, along with Mail Beta (formerly Kahuna), an AJAX webmail program that can rival Outlook in some areas (such as usability).

    At first glance, the UI has changed quite strikingly in appearance:

    When you look closely, however, there aren't that many obvious new features, although for those of you who don't like orange, there is an option to change the colour of that header. The real additions to the features come. There is the ability to send offline instant messages that appear when the recipient signs onto their account. There are also 'shared folders' which, as the name suggests, you can put files in and then anyone who can access you can see your files while you're online.

    MSN are also going into competition with SkypeOut, Skype's service to allow you to call normal phones from a computer, by providing a very similar service. Apart from the much slicker user interface, those are about all the extra features coming with this version.

    In conclusion, I don't think it quite lives up to all the hype, but it's definitely a good product with some welcome features, and it looks set to secure MSN's place in the future of IM for at least a little longer.

    PS: I don't have any invites at the moment, but I'll probably get given some soon, so comment below to get them. I'll just go down the list, emailing them.

    Nicholas Negroponte's $100 Laptop

    You've probably all heard about the $100 one-laptop-per-child scheme from MIT Media Labs. If you haven't, its a scheme to provide laptops to children in third-world countries. It's the brain child of Nicholas Negroponte, head and co-founder of the Media Labs.

    The debate has been raging about whether these laptops will actually be any practical help to the children, many of whom will be living on less than a dollar a day. To date, we had been hearing that they would not be commercially available, but I read an article in which Nicholas Negroponte said that they would allow a commercial version, to support research into ways to make production cheaper for the not-for-profit version. I think that's incredibly great news for the hardware market in developed companies, as the competition will force conventional hardware providers to reduce their own prices, which can only be good.

    Sunday, January 08, 2006

    Optimus keyboard

    I've just seen this Optimus keyboard (on engadget), coming out on the first of February. It's unique because each key has a built in colour screen on it, instead of the usual letter or symbol. The advantages of that system are clear - functions of some keys can change depending on the program being used - ie. Word or a game. It also looks fantastic, although they may well not release in the UK, and even if they did, I wouldn't be able to afford it!

    OQO releases tablet version of model 01

    OQO has released a tablet pc of their unique 'ultra mobile' computer form factor. The units run Windows XP, but are remarkably small. The spec is:
    • Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 software
    • Intuitive touch screen capabilities
    • 1GHz processor
    • 30GB hard drive (shock-mounted)
    • 512MB RAM
    • 4.9" x 3.4" x .9"
    • 14 ounces
    • 800 x 480 W-VGA 5" display (indoor/outdoor readable)
    • 3D accelerated graphics with 8MB video RAM
    • QWERTY thumb keyboard with mouse buttons and TrackStik®
    • WiFi®
    • Bluetooth®
    • USB 2.0
    • FireWire® (1394)
    • 3.5mm stereo headphone jack
    • Microphone
    • Pen-based digitizer
    • NEW support for screen rotation
    • NEW support for network boot (PXE)
    • Removable lithium polymer battery
    • Battery life up to three hours, depending on usage
    The unit can be connected to a normal screen and keyboard when at home or in the office, and can be used with the built in sliding keyboard. The addition of tablet PC technology will no doubt vastly increase the usability of it (previously the only way to use it was a small built in trackball). It looks like this innovative idea could go from strength to strength.

    Further details here

    Larry Page's Keynote at CES video

    Google's Larry Page Keynote at CES Video | CNET News.com

    I found this video on CNet News.com of the keynote, and I thought I'd put it up here for your delectation. Engadget also has a blog entry on the keynote, that it updated live throughout the event. It can be found at here.

    Product roundup - Media players

    Media players are a massive sector of the consumer electronics industry, and there have been countless releases of new models at this year's CES.

    The Toshiba Gigabeat S-series is a new series of hard disk media players that were announced in the run up to CES. They are based on Microsoft's Portable Media Centre, and are therefore compatible with Play-for-sure technology. Bill Gates showed it off in his keynote:

    So I also want to show you another new device that is now becoming available this spring, and it's kind of small so I'm going to walk up here and try to give you a reasonable view of it. This is the Toshiba Gigabeat. There we go, you can kind of see it there.

    Now, I actually have small hands, so in my small hands this is a really tiny device. This particular model has a 30 gig hard drive and when playing videos you get about four hours of video playback time on the battery.

    And as you can see, it's really little, and one of the cool things about it, of course, as a Media Center guy, if I turn it this way and hit the Windows Start button, you can see that in its up and down mode you get the familiar Media Center user interface, which lets you sync all of your music, all of your pictures, all of your personal videos, broadcast video like my recorded TV shows, and of course videos that I might download or load online from service providers like this one that I have running here.’

    On the hard disk front, a new Creative Zen Vision M player has been announced (below_. It has video capability, FM recorder, plus everything else you would expect. Again, its based on play-for-sure. A problem that lots of people have been pointing out is how thick it is, and the fact that it is not any cheaper than an iPod. Phillips are also introducing two new players. the GoGear HDD6330 has 30GB of space, and the HDD1850 8GB. They are expected to be released in the US in the summer.

    The Pioneer Inno XM2go was shown off at CES. It has 1 gig of memory, and is primarily designed to by a radio recorder. It is also based on play-for-sure. Sony is bringing out a new walkman phone, the W810. No information yet on what its capabilities will be, but it is supposed to be their 'best yet'. Samsung are bringing out another media player, the YP-Z5 that looks a bit like the iPod Nano. However, it is also able to play video. Sandisk's e200 also looks like a nano killer, as for a similar size it has 6 gig space, as well as video functionality.

    Saturday, January 07, 2006

    Product Roundup - Blu-ray and HD DVD

    I thought I’d do a series of roundups of some of the vast number of new products being debuted at CES in Las Vegas in categories. For those who don’t know, CES is basically the trade show for the Consumer Electronics industry, and any company worth their salt is there, showing off their brand new products and attempting to predict what the ‘next big thing’ will be.

    HD DVD and Blu-ray
    These are the two new DVD formats that will be released during 2006. The industry looks set for a format war, similar to that seen between VHS and Betamax all those years ago. Ringleaders of the HD DVD camp are Toshiba, and significantly Microsoft is also backing the new format. Toshiba have been showing of their new HD DVD players, the HD-A1 and the HD-XA1, below.

    They look set for release in the US in March 2006, but no word yet on release dates for Europe. Toshiba also released a new laptop in their Qosmio line equipped with HD DVD drive. Microsoft have announced a few days ago that they will be shipping an external HD DVD drive for their Xbox 360, although not whether they will be supplying games in the new format.

    The backers of Blu-ray at CES include Sony, Pioneer and Samsung. We have known for some time that Sony will be including a Blu-ray drive in their Playstation 3 console, due for release at some point this year. This will no doubt have been one of the reasons for Microsoft deciding to produce their external HD DVD drive for the Xbox 360, to avoid being surpassed by their competitor. Both Pioneer and Samsung have introduced their Blu-ray players. Pioneer’s is called the BDP-HD1, and they are also producing a burner, the BRD-101A. Samsung’s BD-P1000, pictured below (picture from http://www.i4u.com/article4841.html) will offer backwards compatibility with many of today’s DVD formats, which is a significant advantage.

    With both sides so seemingly well balanced, with potentially very strong products on both sides and big backers, this format war could go on for some time.

    Larry Page's Keynote at CES - introducing Google Pack and Google Video Store

    Google Pack

    Google announced at CES last night that they had produced a collection of programs for free download. The programs are:

    -Google Earth
    -Google Pack Screensaver
    -Google Desktop
    -Google Toolbar for IE

    plus some non-google programs:

    -Mozilla Firefox with Google Toolbar
    -Norton Antivirus 2005 'special edition'
    -Ad-Aware SE Personal
    -Adobe Reader 7

    Although this collection of programs is nowhere near the long-rumoured google OS, it does present a direct challenge to Microsoft, in competition with Redmond's new security products (OneCare, Windows Defender), IE, MSN Desktop Search as well as its online maps service.

    Google Pack has had a mixed reception, with many people seeing little significance in the announcement, as all the programs included, with the exception of Google Pack Screensaver, are already available. However, the inclusion of an updater element that automatically updates all the programs centrally will certainly be welcome.

    Larry Page also used his keynote speech to introduce Google Video Store, which enables the addition of pay-for content to Google Video. CBS is contributing content, as are NBA. Google takes 30% of all sales. Unfortunately, us UK users won't be able to download content just yet, although Larry said that we would 'eventually'. Something to look forward to.

    First post

    Well, this is the first post on this blog. Its going to be all about technology - gadgets, computers and other random things of interest. I'm using Blogger until I get proper hosting and content management systems set up. So watch this space!