Tag Archives: Software

Google’s Presentation Software Comes Up Very Short

There’s a nice article over on Slate (via Slashdot) about how Google’s presentation software doesn’t even come close to the much loathed MS PowerPoint.   The biggest reasons behind this are the following:

  • Google’s software only works with an active internet connection.  While you can save them as HTML files, you can’t edit them.  This means that you can’t edit them on the plane when flying to a customer to make a sales presentation.
  • PowerPoint offers a whole lot more in the way of customization, including animations; drawing on the slides; custom templates, fonts, colors, etc.; different types of slide transitions.

The only thing that Google offers that PowerPoint does not is live collaboration.  However, as I reported before, MS is releasing something in the near future that will allow for that.  While I said it comes up short, that only applies for people who aren’t already using MS Office.

However, the ultimate presentation software, according to the article is Apple’s Keynote.  The reason being that it offers even more fine tuning over PowerPoint.  While I seem to be an Apple hater based on previous posts, that is very far from the truth.  Keynote is a pretty impressive piece of software.

Google’s Still All Over the News

Google is still popping up on the news sites. The first thing is that they’re very slowly (much slower I would assume than the IMAP rollout) rolling out a new version of the Gmail interface. The differences that I’ve read about are an improved contacts management page and more integration and improvement of Google Talk/chat. It’s also supposed to make Gmail faster. Now I don’t know how anyone will notice it since Gmail is already very responsive and smooth, but faster wouldn’t hurt.  Screenshots are here.  Official word from Gmail Blog.

The second thing they’re in the news about is about an open social networking API, which they are expected to announce tomorrow. It’s not a social network, like Facebook, Myspace, or Google’s own Orkut. Instead, it’s a set of API’s designed to make writing applications and tie-ins for the social networks more accessible using JavaScript and HTML.  It will create a single API for several social networking sites, leaving developers responsible for learning only one new language rather than several.  And since it uses JavaScript and HTML, there’s probably not a whole lot of new learning for most web developers.  It’s called OpenSocial.

Finally, this popped up on Slashdot as I was writing this.  The GooglePhone has long been rumored to be in the making.  Google has said it isn’t, others have said they’re lying and there is one.  Apparently, it’s not actually a phone, but a mobile operating system for a phone.  This, unfortunately, does not tie together with their interest in the 700 MHz spectrum.  However, there is now talk of Google talking to Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile about providing phones that run their mobile operating system.  This would give Google a large established customer base.

GIMP 2.4 Released

After 3  years, a new version of the GIMP was released.  As I’ve said before, it’s my favorite image/photo editor.  All the images I made for this site (the header images and a few of the little banner/buttons on the right sidebar) were created using the GIMP.  Along with the new version, they also redesigned their website (which I really like by the way).  I can’t wait for version 3 to be released.  Visit the GIMP website for more info, read the release notes to see the changes, and download it.  You won’t regret it.

OpenOffice.org Wants to Compete with MS Outlook

There was a heated discussion on Slashdot regarding OpenOffice.org including Mozilla Thunderbird with the Lighting plugin in OpenOffice.org 3.0. They are looking to compete with Microsoft Outlook with their own PIM. As a user of both Thunderbird and Outlook user, I can say for certain that unless Microsoft opens up the proprietary protocols that Exchange uses with Outlook, this will never come close to replacing Outlook. It might make for a nice PIM, but it will not make a suitable Outlook replacement.

I have used Lightning, and everytime I tried loading it, it would cause Thunderbird to crash on me. It was so annoying that I gave up and stopped using it. I was looking to do just this and replace Outlook with Thunderbird as I do prefer free and open source software. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. I will admit that this was using Thunderbird 1.5 about a year ago. The problems I experienced might have been resolved by now. However, Mozilla seems to be dropping Thunderbird to concentrate solely on Firefox. It leaves me to worry that Thunderbird might get lost and rarely updated. I am also not completely happy that the only way to turn Thunderbird into a full featured PIM is through plugins and extensions.

To fully explain myself, there are features of Outlook when using Exchange that Thunderbird just won’t be able to do, such as syncing the calendar and contact list with the server so that you have all entries automatically in Outlook and on Outlook Web Access. It won’t allow for sharing of calendars or contacts unless the user sends the event or contact to others. I love Thunderbird, but the functionality I get from Outlook when using Exchange is too great to switch back to Thunderbird, at least for work. For home, I just use Gmail and occasionally Thunderbird (though I rarely open Thunderbird).

Flame away, but nothing will sway me on this one. The only arguments I saw on Slashdot about the possibility of this being possible were those people who either did not use Exchange or did not use it for everything that it offered. Yes, I am saying their opinion didn’t matter because they didn’t have all their facts right.

Tech Support “Professionals” Over-charging and Mis-diagnosing

I recently came across a “sting” piece from the CBC about the various computer repair people over-charging and giving wrong diagnoses of the issues with computers.  While I don’t necessarily agree with using a sting operation to determine just how bad the problem is (they could’ve just gotten the worst techs the various companies have), this isn’t the first time I’ve seen something like this.

Slashdot has some good discussion and some of the comments to the original story are pretty good.  Here’s my take on the issue:

When I was growing up, computers were an investment.  If you have one, you were lucky.  They have grown to be a more necessary part of our daily lives and, as such, we rely on them and their ability to store and preserve our data.  In some cases, they have become so prevalent that for people with enough disposable income, computers are just a commodity.  If one breaks, you buy a new one without worrying about fixing the other one.  I see that regularly at work.  It’s very unfortunate.  Computer viruses are usually pretty easy to clean and prevent.  I like to think of computers as a car.  Most people don’t think twice about performing regular preventative maintenance on their cars.  Oil gets changed every 3,000 miles or every 3 months, whichever comes first.  The minute something sounds funny or starts acting weird, the car is taken to a mechanic to look at.  Diagnosis fees are normal for your car, but people expect them to be free for computers.

Computer technicians can’t tell exactly what is wrong with the computer or what the solution might be simply by looking at the computer.  That’s just not how it works.  It’s very similar to auto mechanics.  They aren’t able to tell what’s wrong with your car simply by hearing a sound or by you trying to tell them what it sounds like.  They might have an idea, but it could be a number of things.  The same goes for computers.  That being said, computer technicians should be trained to diagnose problems correctly.  You wouldn’t trust just any guy that calls himself a car guy with your car.  Most people bring them to certified mechanics.  Unfortunately, while there are professional certifications for certain aspects of computer support, there’s no good measure of how good a tech is.  If he can memorize things and take a test well, he gets certified.  There’s no hands on aspect to it.

The video from the CBC shows several techs completely failing to properly diagnose the issue.  In fact, many of them seem to just be going through the motions and then taking a completely wild guess at what’s wrong.  I take offense to what most of them did, being a computer technician myself.  One of them went so far as to tell the woman her hard drive was dead and she’d have to take it to a special data recovery place for about $2,000, but then he started copying her data to his laptop without a problem (and without asking permission).  I’d say that’s a pretty bad mis-diagnosis if you ask me.  I also find it extremely unprofessional the way he left the data on his laptop saying “I’ll delete it later”.  Under no circumstances should a tech be copying anyone’s data to their own device unless specifically asked by the client to backup their data.

The moral of the story is if you are looking for computer tech support, get referrals from friends.  Chances are, the local hole in the wall independent computer store knows more than the big box, make as much money as we can place.  The local stores are all about customer retention.  The big boxes are about the bottom line.  It shouldn’t be hard to figure out which one will offer you the best service for the best price.

The one other thing I want to point out is buying hardware from the techs.  If you have something wrong with your car and need a part installed, that part is going to cost more coming from the mechanic than if you went out to buy it on your own.  The same holds true for a computer technician.  If they give you the parts, you’re probably going to pay more (after all, they do have to acquire them somehow, whether it’s keeping a stock, going out and buying them for you, or ordering them online for you).  Their determination that the techs were giving them ridiculous prices for the parts is just wrong.  First of all, the parts bought at a big box store are going to cost more than buying them online anyways.  Then there’s the markup for buying the part from the tech.  For example, the battery in my car died.  I considered going to an auto parts store to buy a new one myself.  However, it was about 8:00 pm on a dark cold January night.  I decided to just let AAA come and install the battery.  They came and the batter cost about $30 more than if I had bought it myself, but I didn’t have to leave the comfort of my home and install the battery in the below freezing weather.

So I guess the real moral of the story is that while some of what those techs did was unprofessional, the sting operation on them didn’t prove much more than the fact that there are some bad apples out there.

GIMP 2 for Photographers

Being a GIMP user and an aspiring amateur photographer (just for fun in my spare time), I found this book review pretty nice. The book is called, obviously, GIMP 2 for Photographers. While most photographers, professional and amateur alike, use Adobe Photoshop and most photography magazines and books refer to Photoshop, GIMP provides a nice alternative with almost all the features for 100% less than the cost of Photoshop (which costs more than most digital cameras, even some digital SLR’s). Yes, GIMP is free software. It’s available for Windows, MacOS X, and Linux, giving you nice cross-platform availability. It’s my photo/image editor of choice (I gave up on pirated copies of software when I was had the money to buy them or found free and open source software to replace them, GIMP is one of them). GIMP is released under the Gnu Public License, meaning you can download the source code and edit it if you want, so long as you include the source code if you ever distribute your custom coded GIMP. I may have to go find myself a copy of this book (which includes the GIMP software). It’s about $20 at Amazon (a lot cheaper than the cost of Photoshop, which starts at $100 for the cut back Photoshop Elements and goes to $650 for Photoshop CS3).

Microsoft Announces Attempt at Competing with Google Documents

Yesterday, Microsoft issued a press release announcing web-based versions of it’s Office software designed to allow users to collaborate live in an online workspace. Unfortunately, potential users will be required to have Microsoft Office installed on the computer they wish to use Office Live Workspace. I can understand Microsoft wanting to keep being able to sell copies fo MS Office. And I can also understand Microsoft wishing to compete with Google, as Google Docs can be considered a reasonable alternative to MS Office, so long as you don’t need any of the more advanced features. What I don’t understand is the need for the MS Office requirement to use it. If Microsoft truly wants to compete with Google, they would release a web-based version of the basic MS Office products (Word, Excel, Powerpoint) for free, cutting out some of the more advanced features, but leaving in some of the features that would make them better than Google Docs, starting some real competition.

I applaud Microsoft for making the attempt, but it falls short of actually being a useful attempt. I don’t see this getting Microsoft anymore business. The only thing it really allows for is easier online collaboration for people who already own MS Office. As some of the tags say in the Slashdot article below, this is too little too late.

Microsoft Prepping Browser-based Word and Excel (Slashdot)

Microsoft punts web-based apps to the masses (The Register)

CNet Blog Suggests MS Abandon Vista… Huh?

So a guy from CNet decided that he knows best and that Microsoft should just abandon Vista and move on.  His reasoning behind it is all the “inexcusable issues” and “features taken from Mac OS X and Linux”.  I wonder if he realizes that many of the features of MacOS X were taken from Unix and Linux windowing systems.  Borrowing concepts and ideas and making them into something your own has long been the way of software and operating systems.

As I posted a while back, I have been using Windows Vista since January.  I reported some issues, but they were in no way the fault of Microsoft or Vista.  The problems I reported were the fault of incompatible memory and HP’s driver for their fingerprint reader (which added a lot of time to system startup).  After the memory was removed and those drivers were removed, I had no issues.  Many of the issues I’ve seen reported were due to driver problems and incompatible hardware and software.  Microsoft did almost everything they could to make sure people were ready for an upgrade to Vista.  They released the Vista Upgrade Advisor that searched your computer’s hardware and software to determine how compatible your computer would be with Vista and inform you of any software to remove prior to upgrading to Vista.  If the customers ignored that and just went for it on an older computer with older software, they might’ve been in for a surprise.  I can’t blame Microsoft for that.

Much of his reasoning sounds to me like personal issues with Microsoft.  It sounds like he just plain doesn’t like Windows and prefers MacOS X.  That’s fine, but offering suggestions to Microsoft when you generally don’t like their products and can’t give concrete reasons why is just silly.  He speaks of the increased cost of Ultimate and how you need it to burn DVD’s.  He’s wrong on that part because Home Premium will do DVD’s.  He ignores the general extra expense of buying an Apple computer, which “just works”.  That could be in part because you can’t run MacOS X on just any hardware.  It has to be hardware from Apple, which doesn’t allow for competition and allows Apple to charge a premium for the same hardware found in just about any computer.  The cost of buying a laptop that comes with Vista Ultimate is still generally less expensive than buying a similarly spec’d Apple laptop.  Apple doesn’t have to worry about drivers.  Microsoft does their best to include what’s known to them in the operating system, but because of the way of hardware, they can’t possibly include it all unless they lock down what their operating system will run on.  That would end competition and be just plain stupid on their part.  As I have said many times, I would love to have a computer with OS X, and I have a computer that could run it, except it wasn’t built by Apple, so I can’t.

He suggests that the UAC is flawed.  The problem he’s having is not Microsoft’s fault, but the fault of software developers who have gotten used to allowing their software to access (read and write to) the system directories rather than stay only within the user profiles.  It’s for this reason that the UAC pops up when running certain pieces of software all the time.  It’s the software developers that need to take a lesson from this and write software the same way they would for a Linux/Unix environment when you can’t access the system directories.

Then there’s this (and I had to quote it because it’s just so ridiculous):

Much talk has been given to Service Pack 1 and how this update should address many of the issues users have with Vista, but I simply don’t agree. Will SP1 eliminate the ridiculous Microsoft licensing schemes? Will SP1 drop the price on the higher-end versions? Will SP1 eliminate the need for users to buy a new computer just to use the faulty OS?

SP1 will do nothing but fix the holes and issues we currently know about and create even more. As we all know from the days of Windows ME and even XP, Microsoft is not the best company at finding and addressing security issues, and chances are, Vista will be no different.

Of course SP1 will not lower the price or eliminate the hardware requirements.  OS X has hardware requirements as well.  I have OS X 10.3 on an old G3 iMac at 433 MHz.  It runs, but most of the pieces of software won’t upgrade (like iTunes, that “just works”, for example) and take forever to load.  The same is true of every version of Windows.  There comes a time when you just need to suck it up, bite the bullet, and buy modern hardware.  If you have legacy applications, run a legacy operating system.  It’s just that.  You can’t expect a company like Microsoft to continue to allow legacy applications running on legacy hardware on their new state-of-the-art operating system.  That’s just ridiculous.  Service Pack 1 may not make Vista 100% perfect, but is OS X or Linux without flaws?  It’s laughable to think that any piece of software is flawless.  What SP1 will do is fix the current known issues.  The fact that some guy, who more likely than not uses MacOS X and Linux predominately, is saying (as if it’s fact) that SP1 will do nothing for Vista is just silly.  He has no idea what it will fix or not fix and won’t know until it’s released.

He uses excuses like the fact that many companies and businesses are slow to adopt Vista as a reason to abandon it.  Name one version of Windows that businesses were quick to switch to.  It doesn’t exist.  Businesses need to have their software tested thoroughly to be sure that they can meet their needs on any major operating system upgrade.  Of course they’re slow to adopt it.  With Vista being that much different, it’ll be slower than most, but the difference is, Vista fixes many of the problems that sat in the other versions and just got passed on from version to version.  It took 5 years to release because it was built from the ground up rather than simply patching holes and adding features to an already bloated system.

You may think I’m just being a “Microsoftie” here, but that’s not the case.  I’ve used all 3 of the operating systems mentioned and they all have their pros and cons.  I use Windows primarily because I work in a Windows environment and have to support it.  It makes my life easier.  Of all the versions of Windows I have used (everything since Windows 3.1 for Workgroups), Vista is definitely my favorite.  You will also find a lot of comments to the blog post linked above that mirror my thoughts and a lot of comments on the following Slashdot discussion doing the same.  The reason for that is because this article is just flamebait.

Microsoft Should Abandon Vista? (Slashdot)

My Thoughts on Apple Written Much Better than I could Write

Sorry for the long title, but I recently came across a post on Boing Boing Gadgets that discussed exactly how I feel about Apple, and why anyone who read my previous posts about Apple shouldn’t consider me an Apple-hater.

iPhone & iPod: contain or disengage?

That’s the direct link to the blog in question. It’s a long read, but well worth it for anyone who cares about Apple, technology, or portable music and movies. It’s exactly how I feel, but put to much better words that I could have ever written myself. The gist of it is that Apple needs to quit the anti-consumer crap or else they’ll lose their consumers. They can only go so far on the people who blindly follow their every move before those people lose the blinders and realize that Apple is screwing them over big time, which is what Apple has started to do, though it first started with the iPod/iTunes thing when they first released the iPod. I won’t call it anti-competitive behavior, though some of it is. I’ll call it anti-consumer behavior.

The long version of this is the following… Things like locking out third party apps from the iPhone and iPod Touch (though you can write them if you’re close to Apple) are what I’m talking about here. Preventing people from playing DRM’d (but something other than FairPlay, such as PlaysForSure) music and movie files on the iPods. Preventing people from playing FairPlay songs on other portable devices. It sounds like I hate Apple whenever I complain about their products and the tight grasp they hold over all of it, but the fact remains that I want to like their products. I think the iPod is a cool looking device and the iPod Touch is a great device (though I will never buy an iPhone because I wouldn’t be able to dial with one hand while not looking at it because I can’t actually feel the “buttons”). I think MacOS X is a kick ass operating system and their computers have a great design. I don’t like that you can’t replace the battery in the iPods or iPhone yourself, that it has to be done by an authorized technician. I don’t like that MacOS X will not run natively on hardware that was not approved by Apple. I don’t like that Apple hardware is so closed. You buy an Apple computer and it’s a very closed proprietary system even though the operating system was based off one of the most open operating systems in existence. While it’s nice that if something goes wrong with the computer, it’s either really easy to fix or you know it has to go back to Apple. But that’s the problem, it has to go back to Apple. There’s no real customization. For all the proprietary crap in Windows, it’s a more open system. It runs on all sorts of different pieces of hardware (so long as it’s all x86 architecture). It allows all sorts of different drivers and software. With Apple computers, it’s Apple’s hardware and software or nothing.

And the biggest thing that I don’t like about Apple is that they’ve seemed to have left their computer division in the dust. They’re ignoring the people who kept them from folding… the people who religiously bought Apple computers regardless of how bad they sucked. They’ve become a gadget company.

So for all you people who have read my blog and though of me as an Apple Hater, that’s just not true. I want to love them, but I can’t because of the company. Steve Jobs is great at marketing, but he’s arrogant and soon enough that arrogance will catch up with him.   Apple has become just like Microsoft, the company everyone loves to hate.  They’re in it for the money and nothing else.  They just don’t care about their consumers, and why should they when their consumers swoon over everything that comes out of Steve Jobs’s mouth?  So again, it’s not Apple that I hate, it’s the uninformed consumer who thinks Apple is and never will be (or never could be) an evil corporation like Microsoft.

Great Geek Dinner Tonight

I went to the Providence Geeks Geek Dinner tonight. There were 2 presentations (normally, there’s just 1). The first, and in my opinion the better (if only because it interested me more), was by Geeks co-founder, Jack Templin, regarding RI Nexus. It’s a new organization/website put together in collaboration with the RI Economic Development Corporation to help bring people, organizations, and companies involved with information technology and digital media (ITDM) together to build the ITDM sector in RI. I just registered on the site tonight when I got home and created my profile. It looks very promising, especially to recent college graduates who might want to either move to Providence or elsewhere in RI or stay here after graduation and work in the technology sector. I plan on informing all my student employees about it and urging them to check out the site and register as well, especially the ones who are majoring in engineering or computer science.

The second presentation (not to give too much attention to RI Nexus) was by Traction Software about their wiki/blog combo system. They went into a whole introduction to the company, but the interesting part of their presentation was the demonstration. The software is basically a content management system that brings blogging software together with a wiki to allow for quick and easy editing, linking, posting, etc. Having created this blog (though I did not do a whole lot, or any, PHP customization) and my other site in Drupal (again without any major customization short of installing plugins and themes), it was pretty interesting to me. I do plan on looking into it as it looks like it could be a pretty nifty web editing system.

I just want to thank the Providence Geeks for another great Geek Dinner and great presentations (and RI Nexus for the free pint glass). Check out both RI Nexus and Traction Software.

Update: RI Nexus Launched at Last Night’s Geek Dinner