Sunday, February 24, 2008

SkyDrive goes Live

Microsoft this week fully launched Windows Live SkyDrive, the final piece of the Windows Live range of services.  SkyDrive, a free online, secure storage product allocates anyone with a Windows Live ID 5GB of storage to do with what they wish.

SkyDrive has been in an Extensive Beta testing stage for several months, offering 1GB of storage.

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The service is simple enough to use once set up and cleverly uses ActiveX to let you upload files by the magic of drag-and-drop.  Uploading files is nothing special when it comes to speed, a word document takes around 10-15 seconds and you can expect times of 1-2 minutes for a music file.

This is in no way a professional back-up service but instead a very convenient and useful way of transferring files to and from work or school in the same way you would have used a USB flash drive previously and with 5GB of storage most people can store all their documents comfortably.

The best thing about SkyDrive though is that is from Windows Live, currently one of the best areas of Microsoft.  That means it can integrate seamlessly with Hotmail, messenger and everything under your Windows Live ID.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Futuris-tech

I was recently directed to a cool competition Microsoft is running to find the best designs for the future computer by my good friend at Tech Techo

and there was one design there which particularly intrigued me.

This folder-esque product, named (rather poorly I think,) the T-Horizon doesn't seem that logical on the face of it but I believe could have some serious potential.

Bill Gates is famous for (amongst other things) using a tablet PC and I often feel tempted to do the same but I see two main disadvantages currently.  Firstly they are too bulky and secondly the just feel unnatural to hold, both of which the T-Horizon attempts to address.

What will ultimately set this product aside from other tablet PC's is it's more intuitive folded layout which makes it much easier to carry around and gives you more options when using it.

The most logical use for this device would be note-taking however I can also see designers utilising this on the move but could even make it's way into our home lives, particularly with its built in, flexible webcam.

Though this is only a very early idea which may never even get manufactured I feel myself getting very excited.  Don't expect this anytime soon but give it a few years, who knows?

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hip, Hip Blu-Ray!

At last, the day many, including me, have been waiting for.

Toshiba have today officially withdrawn their support for the fatally wounded HD-DVD in the high definition content format war, Toshiba president announced today.

"It was an agonising decision for me, but I thought if we kept running this business it would have grave ramifications for the management of our company."

Toshiba President Atsutoshi Nishida

Blu-ray has been edging ever closer to becoming the winner in since the new year after Warner Bros. announced they would turn Blu-Ray exclusive at the beginning of June.  Since then. announcements from retailers Wal-Mart in the US and Woolworths in the U.K. confirming they will switch to Blu-Ray exclusively later this year have further enforced Blu-Ray's dominant position.

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The 2 formats are very similar in terms of specification.  The main difference being the storage capacity, whilst HD-DVD can hold 15GB of data per layer Blu-Ray can 25GB per layer though the HD-DVD discs can be manufactured for a lot cheaper.

It is generally considered that the Sony's Playstation 3 was the main factor that the format war was won.  The PS3, itself a fully capable and (most importantly) fully upgradable Blu-Ray player has sold over 10 million units to date while Toshiba have shifted only 1 million HD-DVD players.

But is there a new competitor standing in Blu-Ray's way.  Apple TV has been launched at a perfect time, just before Blu-Ray has fully taken off.

Only time will tell which will win.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

iPhone SDK will be out in a "Flash"

With the iPhone SDK expected this month there has been much speculation about its very nature with many rumours that the SDK will simply be support for Adobe's Flash technology.

Should this indeed turn out to be true we can expect to see a slew of rich applications almost instantaneously.

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Knowing Apple this will not be the case however as they will likely put some sort of copy protection on the completed applications so they can be sold through the iTunes store.

Thoughts?

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Microsoft Excel 2007: Top 5 Features

Here are my top 5 tips in the new version of Microsoft Excel which help you to better display your data.  It is surprisingly helpful in displaying stats about your web traffic.  Services like Feedburner will export your data in an .xls/.csv file format and it is worth checking out.

1.  Data Bars and Colour Scales.  This new feature allows you to apply colour scales to large blocks of data in order to scan it easily.  It is found under the Home Tab of the new ribbon in Conditional Formatting.

The Data below on the left has been formatted with a colour scale and shows how my web traffic has increased gradually from red to green which corresponds to increasing numbers.

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2.  Icon Sets.  Similar to the above feature this feature ranks data using a scale of icons by simply highlighting an area of data and applying the formatting.

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Again this is found under the home tab and conditional formatting.  There are a number of icon sets available, ranging from 3 to 5.

3. Cell Styles.  Just like the new cell styles in word and powerpoint.  You can now apply styles to the text in cells to make them easily stand out.  This is great for presenting your data and even better is that it is relates to the built-in colour schemes and fonts.

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4.  Sort & Filter.  This highly useful tool allows you to sort data into an ascending/descending order.

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This tool can be activated under the home tab, sort and filter button.

5.  Charts.  Though charts have been around for a long time in Excel but the new revamped chart system in Excel 2007 is much simpler and effective and definitely worth a mention.

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Again the charts fit in with colour schemes of Office 2007 so that the charts fall right into place with the rest of your project.

I do hope you have found these tips useful.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Press Play.com!

Online retailer Play.com has began challenging Apple's iTunes in the digital download market by offering DRM free tracks which can be used on any MP3 player.

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EMI are the first major label to sign up their artists and the site are still in talks with Sony BMG, Universal and Warner which will inevitably results in deals within 6 months, though they could well come through.

The deal provides much needed competition in the online music market in Britain as the tracks are being priced at from 65p, 14p less than standard iTunes tracks.

Play.com follows Amazon, who also recently the online music market in the US in providing DRM free tracks to compete directly with the dominant  iTunes.

Finally, we have some genuine and much needed competition for online music in the UK and from a British based company. 

Play.com have been a very reliable service to UK customers and no-doubt their downloads will follow in the same way.  The site's design is not the most appealing though that hasn't inhibited Amazon's success America.

As soon as they sign on the remaining major labels we can expect a fresh, competitive service at last.

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Has Sony gone sensible?

Earlier this week I reported on the new and unexpected partnership between Sony Ericsson and Windows Mobile.  In an interview with The Register Sony Ericsson Chief Technical Officer Mats Lindoff explained the deal.

"We need products in all categories, maybe not in the ultra-low segment, but a broad portfolio. Windows Mobile in the US and in Nordic countries is the IT manager's choice."

Sony Ericsson is one of the more sensible of Sony's businesses but this latest deal goes against everything Sony believes in.

Proprietary formats, exclusivity.  These are things we have come to expect from Sony, are things finally starting to move in a new direction?

The Sony Vaio Computers are a prime example of what all of their product lines should resemble.  Instead of coming up with their own stupid operating system they stuck to Windows and that enabled them to concentrate on making the machines themselves as great as possible.

Sony has the technology to make products better than any other company anywhere, so why aren't they sticking to what they do best.  If only the Sony Executives would talk to the heads of each division and calculate the best strategy they would probably be as loved as Apple.

Then again where would we be if we couldn't laugh at Sony.

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The Difference between Apple and Microsoft

Apple has just released a software update for leopard (10.5.2) which has addressed some of the new improvements that some Mac didn’t approve of.

Most notably users can now make the menu bar opaque, stacks can now be viewed in a List view, a Folder view and there is an updated background for Grid view.

Many high-profile Mac users had been unhappy with the transparent menu bar and curved stack view which contributed to a less simple interface.

One new feature of leopard which hasn’t been reversed in the update is the 3D dock, showing Apple’s continued belief in it.

The whole principal at Apple seems to be that what the user wants; the user gets really setting it apart it from most corporations who continue to think they know best.

This is definitely one of the factors which is leading so many people to switch to Macs.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

MyView: Microsoft Office OneNote

Following on from my highly popular (lol) review of the LG Viewty I thought I would treat you to a review of Microsoft's note-taking products.

Onenote was first seen as part of Office 2003 where the idea was that it integrates fully with the whole Office suite to make easier, the processes of taking, managing and then using your notes.

In theory, it's a fantastic idea.  A product which eliminates the annoying bits of paper everyone uses once in a while and then saves you time in writing up your final article. In practice, it doesn’t let you down.

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For example, here is a OneNote page I recently created for a post I was planning on the recently released Sony Ericsson Xperia X1. In the end the post morphed into a slightly more general look on where the partnership between Sony and Microsoft was leading. (The post can be found here.) That didn’t matter though as simple notes you have created can be copied and pasted between pages.

The layout is well organised and feels natural to navigate through. On the left hand side of the window is a list of all your notebooks, (here is minimised view,) I have two, one for my School Notes and one for my Blog Notes.

Then along the top of the page are coloured tabs, known as sections. These are used to divide the contents of the notebook and so for my Blog notes I use a different section for each post I am planning and some others.

Finally down the right hand side are the pages. These are a subdivision of sections and each corresponds to an .one file your documents.

The interface is very intuitive because it has been modelled on a traditional bound notebook which makes navigation simple and easy to pick up.

One really innovative feature is autosave. There is now absolutely no need to save anything and when you open OneNote back up you will find it just as you left it. Neat!

Notes can be recorded by practically any means including typing, writing, audio and video and you can also import colour printouts of documents to notate them. Something that is really embarrassing for Microsoft is that the screen clipping tool in OneNote is superior to Vista’s ‘Snipping Tool’ in that it doesn’t leave you with an annoying red border. (Compare the image above with the one below.)

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Integration with Microsoft Outlook is a real selling point for the product. You have the ability to create a task/appointment from within OneNote or to import the information about one which saves you having to open up both applications fully.

In Conclusion, I think you will find OneNote very useful if you take notes on a regular basis, perhaps even just for organisation of a project. It packs great and innovative new features which make it simple and fun to use.

This video demonstrates the ease with which you can move about all of your notes within OneNote:

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There's life in Yahoo yet.

Yahoo and T-Mobile announced a new deal this week at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona in the 3rd story of the event.

The deal sees Yahoo become the preferred search engine on T-Mobile devices and though this is not the most significant deal in itself, what is significant is that T-Mobile is dropping it's previous mobile search provider, a certain Google.

The deal also sends out a strong message to Microsoft and though this new deal won't have a lasting impact on the companies fortunes, it marks a step in the right direction.  Maybe they will take the hint and back off.

Google will lose around 90 million mobile users of its search engine through the deal but ironically T-Mobile will continue to collaborate with Google on their Android platform.

Yahoo is certainly serious about the mobile Internet business with 5 deals signed already in Europe alone and 16 in Asia.

Yahoo also launched a new mobile service called oneConnect, a new part of their Go 3.0 widget platform which was announced at CES in January.

This new market could provide a new lease of life for Yahoo and a chance to start making up ground on Yahoo.  I still can't call how the situation will unfold but it will certainly be an interesting one to follow over the coming months, what are your thoughts on this latest development in the Yahoo saga?

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Android is Coming!

Don't be scared though!

Second big story of the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona.

Android, the up-coming mobile platform from Google has been shown extensively this week at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona.

To many, the thought of Google on their phone is a strange one as we are so used to their presence on our PC's, but they believe that the mobile advertising market has such great potential that they are already laying the foundations for the next generation of Mobile Phones.

The platform is a direct competitor to Windows Mobile though is much more centred around 'the person' than 'the businessperson'. 

The system itself is based on open source code including html so you can expect plenty of 3rd party applications and hacks and since the SDK is already out there, you won't have to wait very long.

Android phones are set to go on sale in the second half of 2008 when they will immediately begin to make up ground on both Windows Mobile and the iPhone.

As for the user-experience well, the Operating system is incredibly simple to use, as the video below demonstrates, and I think it will appeal to lots of people.  It is easy to navigate through and users will very quickly get used to it and I'm sure enjoy it.  At first it seems almost prehistoric when likened to the new user interface of the recently demonstrated Sony Xperia X1 and the overly complicated Windows Mobile platform, though if history has taught us anything Google is probably taking the right route.

 

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Mobile Internet gets going!

Wow! I am officially excited.

This week the wind of change was blowing very strongly through the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona where there are signs of real development in the Mobile Internet sector.

I have picked out (what I think are) 3 of the most important stories of the event and how they will revolutionise our mobile world.

Here is the first.

The Sony Xperia X1 is a brand new take on Windows Mobile in a surprising new imagepartnership.  Surprisingly, Sony has decided to side with Microsoft as they move forward into the next generation of mobile devices.  The device is a revolution in itself, primarily because of a truly next-gen user interface comprised of 9 panels, each of which is also a homescreen.  The idea is that when you arrive home from work you can conveniently switch to the entertainment panel and the phone has been completely transformed.

You can't really get away from the fact the phone is above all a smart-phone as beneath its large touch screen is concealed a full QWERTY keyboard.

This is a really interesting development from Sony who had previously been Symbian focused.  Though these companies have not worked well together in the past this intriguing product certainly looks a promising start.

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Can you Help?

I have been blogging for little over a month now and could still do with your help.

Hopefully you have a flavour for what to expect in the future but do you like what you see?

How can I improve this site?

  • Design (I will require some help with this)

  • Content (would you like tips, guides, news, reviews or something else?)

I understand I don't have that much traffic at the moment so if you can help spread the word or even advise me on how to?

When I get more traffic I will run similar polls on the site.

 

Thank you very much for all your help, (I'm sure)

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Monday, February 11, 2008

MyView: LG Viewty

It's no iPhone, but it comes close.

I have had the new LG Viewty for a couple of weeks now and I must confess it's nothing too special.  Having said that this phone is very much living under the shadow of Apple's rather special new product. 

You get the impression this phone had been rushed somewhat which really kills what would have been a really innovative product, but as the mobile phone market is evolving so rapidly it kind of got left behind.

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The phone's menu is convenient.  When I began to use it I half-expected to discover a deeper sub-menu somewhere within the phone but realised soon after that I had uncovered everything already (and it's certainly not a bad thing).  It is organised in a system identical to the LG Prada where there are 4 tabs along the right hand side of the screen, each uncovering 4 to 8 functions.  The system, though very different to the traditional 3x3/3x4 grid seen on Nokia's and Sony Ericsson handsets, is surprisingly simple to use.

Many other great innovative features are packed into the Viewty.  While composing a message the input can be switched to a keyboard by turning the phone on it's side and it is here that the touchpad comes into its own, 95% of the time the correct letter is selected.  The media player is sophisticated, with the ability to playback DivX files which look great on the 4" screen, the music player is very powerful and the sound is of a high quality, particularly though the headphones supplied.

Finally, the Phone's organiser, A feature I have been investigating for a period of time.  The organiser works well when synchronised with Outlook, though I would recommend creating the events on your PC as opposed to the phone.  Whilst it's no Windows Mobile, it does a good job of alerting you of your schedule, and to-do list.

In Conclusion: Not quite a smart-phone, nor an iPhone, but plenty of effective and useful features for most users and the touch screen provides a short-term gimmick to keep you amused.

Did you find this post useful?  If so please leave a comment below or alternatively e-mail me here

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

What are Microsoft playing at?

I recently noticed this video on Microsoft's website and was really surprised.  Office for Mac looks so much cooler than Office for Windows.

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The graphics in Word and Powerpoint seem so much better than anything you could design in Windows and My Day is such a great feature, why haven't they made it for Windows?

The product wouldn't appear to be so focused on the businessman and this would suit the many home/student users of the Windows product.  Microsoft currently release numerous different suites of Office for Windows but strangely all contain the same versions of the programs.  A more simple edition of Office for Windows could prove to be very popular  for the scores of home users when Office 14 is released in 1-2 years time.

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Where has the PS3 Gone?

I own a PS3 and quite honestly, I'm beginning to get bored. 

The PS3 has been out for a year now and its gone very quiet on the old excitement front.

The Console launched strongly last year with opening titles Motorstorm and Resistance: Fall of Man but since then things have never really picked up as they promised.

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Part of the reason has to be the price.  I know very few people who own a PS3 for the simple fact they can't afford one and it's such a tragedy for Sony because it's a better console than the Xbox 360 and surely (in the long run) than the Nintendo Wii.

I remain adamant that the PS3's fortunes will improve in the 2nd half of 2008, primarily because of the launch of Grand Theft Auto 4 amongst other exciting titles to come, (and even the long awaited Home if we're lucky!) but also because of Blu-Ray's certain victory over HD-DVD.

Indeed some have argued that Blu-Ray capability was the factor keeping the PS3 afloat in the early days.

Perhaps the PS3 could be likened to the original Apple TV in that the Sony overestimated what the typical customer is ready for, but give it a year or two and it will be a great success.

Is it possible that this is a trend we can look forward to in the future.  As companies develop new products quicker than the average user can adjust to, (or afford)  they may be released over a period of a few years, rather than in a big bang.

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Synchronisation Tribulation

I just really began to use Outlook and as can be expected from the majority of Microsoft products I had a few teething problems.

To be fair to them, I do think that for 95% of users will be fine.  It is clearly and well thought out and integrates well with the other Office products.  The display is pretty good, particularly with the colour categories and I also found some really useful add-ins.

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What I couldn't quite manage to work out was how to properly sync it with Google Calendar as I was using some of Outlook's more sophisticated features.  Ideally I wanted to organise everything centrally from Outlook and have it sync to Google and also to my Phone.  Google Calendar is a great service I have also recently started using, the great thing about it is that you can set it up so that you get SMS updates direct to your phone.

In the end I settled for SyncMyCal, a lite version of which is available for free download and it is working pretty well.  I still have to check that the notifications are added correctly to some of the events from time to time but aside from that  things work great.

It really annoys me that things like this won't just work, but on the other hand if everything worked perfectly there would be nothing to write about.

 

Incidentally, the Facebook add-in I am also using is FBLook (Facebook + Outlook) which allows you to change your status and receive notifications from within Outlook, cool!

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

What does the Mega-Merger Mean?

Life after Microhoo

It appears to be pretty clear that Yahoo's takeover is imminent, but what does this mean to me and you in the future.

microhoo

The merger is not necessarily a win-win for Microsoft and Yahoo, indeed many analysts are predicting another AOL/Time-Warner-esque flop and given Microsoft's track record this is certainly a good possibility.  Few would be able to effectively merge 2 such well-established brands.  It would be impossible to merely re-brand Yahoo's products under the recently successful Windows Live umbrella but illogical to keep them separate.  In all honesty I don't know how they will play it and I'm not even sure if the guys at Microsoft even do yet.

However there are many thing to look forward to, should the deal be a long-term success the domination of Google in the search market can be forgotten.  That means a much better service for everybody along with more and improved supplementary services. 

 

Don't expect these changes too soon though, it will be 6 months to a year before we see even the first alterations and even longer before major changes.

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What's up with Microsoft?

We all know that Microsoft is the big player is computers, but why is this.  Almost everything it touches turns to, well...it's not Gold.

The most resourceful company in the world can hardly keep up with anyone and if you look closer, it's hardly surprising. 

Companies like Apple and Google, (the quickly growing companies) are well known to operate in a much more laid-back way than the more traditionally orientated Microsoft and this is surely causing them to lose touch with the needs and desires of the end user.

Sure, Microsoft has it's strengths in business/enterprise software where it is the only choice for the majority of organisations but I feel that these more modern companies offer far superior solutions for most people.

I have recently started to organise my calendar on my PC and though I was able to learn to cope with Outlook it seems obvious that most would prefer a simpler program such as iCal.  Indeed the more I investigated this program of Apple's the more and more I desperately wished I could afford a mac.

But what they need more than anything at the moment is to concentrate on their strengths to improve them and then to simplify things for the user of they may face becoming the next Yahoo.

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Posts to Follow...

I have a lots of free time and so you can expect to see a couple of new posts this week including a (sort of) review of my brand new LG Viewty.

See you soon!

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