Software

Google+

Google+
Posted by David G. Paul

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Google+ is yet another foray into the social media market for Google. Although there were previous communities (mainly what Google had bought up), its first attempt was with Google Wave. When Wave first appeared on the scene it gained a lot of people quite quickly but was hampered by performance as conversations got larger and more people joined. Eventually its popularity waned, and what was a unique and interesting concept for social interaction on the web started to die out.

Google Buzz was another attempt; one that is still around today and is integrated with Google Mail (and now Google+) was a way of bringing a minimal degree of sharing between contacts. With Buzz you had the option of posting to it with links and/or photos and could even connect other sites to it so any updates from you elsewhere on the web would also get posted to Buzz.

Now, with Google+ they're setting themselves up as a direct competitor to Facebook. This is a comparison that is unavoidable, ever since Facebook became the most well known social media site any that have launched since no matter what their intentions, they have been compared to it. Whist there are a number of similarities between Google+ and Facebook there are also a number of differences (which I'll come back to shortly).

This being a Google project it is fairly obvious the focus will be on information. Once you're signed up to use Google+ the "Google bar" (I don't know it's official name) changes to include extra options to show the number of notifications you have on Google+ and a link to quickly share "stuff" with people on Google+.

When you share something you can type a message and then, like Buzz, you can attach a link or photo too it, though in this case you can also attach video or your current geo-location. Once shared this then appears in your stream and will be visible to those "circles" that you've chosen to allow the post to be seen by.

A circle, in Google+ terms, is a collection of people that have been grouped for easy categorization for when you want to communicate with multiple people. By default you have circles for Friends, Family, Acquaintances, and Following; but you can also add your own. To add people to a circle they have quite a nice interface where you visually see circles and thumbnails of people that are available to add/invite to join a circle. When you hover over the circle it expands out show who is in the circle and includes a nicely styled tooltip explaining the circle. To add people to a circle you can either drag and drop them in, or click on a circle and add them by searching for a name or email address.

The next new concept for Google+ is a "Spark" - this is a way of displaying news from popular sites based upon your interests. Each spark you add can then be viewed individually from the left-hand navigation and can be used to share posts with your circles.

Finally, there are hangouts. A hangout is where multiple people can have video chats using Google Talk - this does however require a plugin to first be installed to allow the use of your webcam and microphone. This currently supports up to 10 people in a single conversation.

Overall the design of the interface is nice and is a huge improvement over what Google Wave was. It's also similar in layout to Facebook which means anyone who has already used Facebook should find using Google+ to be a fairly familiar experience. The user experience when using the mobile application is actually even better though - it takes the familiar elements of Google's other mobile applications and builds upon them making the interaction feel smoother and easier.

When registering it will ask you to join your account with a Picasa account - this is what it will use for sharing your posted images with others. Hopefully there will also be a way of using Flickr, or at least automatically streaming from Flickr in the future.

From the point of view of a developer there are several key areas where you could potentially have API access for, and hopefully it won't be long before Google release an API for it. To some degree it is already possible to post to it due to the use of the Google +1 button but this is only for sending links to posts on other sites.

Over the coming few weeks as the site grows and evolves I'll carry on using this new site to see how it compares and to better determine what advantages and disadvantages it has.

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iCloud

Posted by David G. Paul

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As part of the press release announcing the agenda for the WWDC event next week Apple have not only confirmed that cloud based services will play a part in it, but that the name has been confirmed as being iCloud. Over the past few months there has been a lot of speculation about this and even sightings of trademark applications and domain registrations to confirm suspicions. A lot of music labels have reportedly already signed up to the new framework, but I would doubt it will yet cover the full extent of the library available in the iTunes store.

Both Google and Amazon have recently announced cloud based services for storing and listening to music so it would come as not surprise that the long anticipated offering from Apple would be imminent. There are also a lot of rumours flying around that Apple is also trying to sign up for distribution of TV episodes and films using the iCloud service as well. With the big push for digital distribution (which even DC Comics is getting in on the act with) it is starting to seem more likely that we'll see the end of physical media within the coming years.

So between iCloud, OS X Lion, and iOS 5 it sounds like WWDC 2011 is going to be good whether they announce an "iPhone 4S" or not.

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Hidden.app

Posted by David G. Paul

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There are quite a few anti-theft solutions out there for many types of devices and there have been many success stories from people using the one that's part of MobileMe to locate iPhone thieves. In the case of Macbooks they're probably a little more desirable and tend to be worth a bit more but there hasn't really been anything on par with what MobileMe gives iOS devices.

That is until Hidden.app; a similar solution which will help you locate your OS X based device should it be stolen. Over the Christmas period it had an introductory special offer at a reduced price which has helped to gather a lot of attention to this new application/service but even now it's only $10 so it's still not a bad price!

When you activate tracking, Hidden will locate your stolen computer anywhere on the planet, collect photos of the thief and screen shots of the computer in use. (We also collect lots of nerdy network information, but we won’t bore you with the details!)

Once you've bought the software you will be asked to register your device during the installation process and this will add your device to the Hidden.app website (you can change the name of the device once you're signed in there). After restarting your Mac the application will be more or less invisible (you could always view the process list from the bash prompt) and will be ready for use. In the online interface you're then able to put your device into test mode, or state that it is stolen and it will begin to gather network information, screenshots and image captures from the built-in iSight if it's a Macbook or Macbook Pro. With the network information it gathers it is then able to pinpoint the location of your Macbook on a map. It is however possible to fool this but viewing the full network information will help to identify when this is the case.

Remember though, this only works if it has an internet connection and doesn't stop people stealing it in the first place so it is recommended that it is used in conjunction with other security measures if necessary.

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phpBB v3.0.8

phpBB Community Forums
Posted by David G. Paul

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The developers of the forum software phpBB have released a critical update that fixes numerous issues including a vulnerability in the CAPTCHA implementation. The most important part of the update however is to fix an XSS vulnerability on boards that allow Flash to be embedded using BBCode.

On WebKit based browsers like Safari or Chrome, as well as Opera, the flash BBCode can be used to execute JavaScript causing a cross site scripting vulnerability.

The fix they detail for 3.0.7 users is to go to line 354 of includes/message_parser.php and to add the following code:

$in = str_replace(' ', '%20', $in);
// Make sure $in is a URL.
if (!preg_match('#^' . get_preg_expression('url') . '$#i', $in) &&
    !preg_match('#^' . get_preg_expression('www_url') . '$#i', $in))
{
       return '[flash=' . $width . ',' . $height . ']' . $in . '[/flash]';
}

immediately before:

// Apply the same size checks on flash files as on images

As this is not a retroactive fix it will require owners of phpBB forums to scan previous posts for any that may be affected by this. In order to help with this task they have provided a handy script for uploading to your server which when run will display affected posts.

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Facebook Mail

Facebook, social network
Posted by David G. Paul

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There have been rumours about Project Titan since around February 2010, but today Facebook have unveiled their own email system which according to TechCrunch they have spoken of internally as being a Gmail killer. Now I'm sure Facebook would like to think they can beat Gmail, but even with the saturation of their current user base they may struggle to compete considering many people who have a Google Accounts email for work are likely to have at least one Gmail account for personal use as well. Also, it would have to have some pretty killer features in order to beat what Gmail provides.

Mark Zuckerberg at a press conference in San Francisco has spoken of how it provides seamless integration across all the different ways people communicate". What he tried to make clear was that this was not an email service, at least not an ordinary one at any rate. What this does is it links Facebook chat, social events from your timeline, and text messages in one interface. All people who use this service will be able to get their own @facebook.com email addresses. He also made a point of saying that this service is not an email killer (obviously referring to previous comments regarding Gmail) as email is only part of the service.

We are also providing an @facebook.com email address to every person on Facebook who wants one. Now people can share with friends over email, whether they're on Facebook or not. To be clear, Messages is not email. There are no subject lines, no cc, no bcc, and you can send a message by hitting the Enter key. We modeled it more closely to chat and reduced the number of things you need to do to send a message. We wanted to make this more like a conversation.

So what this basically means is that it's not email, it's actually just a form of offline messaging similar to what is available with most IM mediums. 

Many people on Twitter have commented that they would not trust Facebook with their email, and I do understand where these concerns are coming from. Considering Facebook's history of having serious privacy issues it's fair to assume that these concerns are also going to expand into this new service. This being said, I think I will at least try out this new service when it is launched.

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Adobe HTML5 Video Player widget

Posted by David G. Paul

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Just days after it is revealed the new Apple MacBook Air doesn't include Adobe Flash initially, Adobe unveil their HTML 5 video player widget which is available via their widget browser.

However, the limited browser support for the HTML5 <video> tag has forced web designers to scramble for a solution that would work across platforms as well as browsers. To help customers overcome these challenges, Adobe has released an easy-to-use, totally CSS-customizable solution that shifts gracefully from the HTML5 <video> tag to the Flash Player when the tag is not supported. The shift takes place regardless of the screen—from phone to monitor to TV.

The widget is based on the Kaltura open source library and reportedly works in unspecified versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Opera and Chrome. To download this widget you have to either have Dreamweaver CS (which they seem to think most people should) or use their AIR powered widget browser. Either way they force you to install some Adobe software before you can use their HTML 5 widget.

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The (Lion) King of Operating Systems

Apple Computers,. The maker of Macs.
Posted by David G. Paul

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Apple's "Back to Mac" event kicked off with the normal statistics showing how well their products have done - it's something you always expect from their marketing team. Amazingly it is only 33% of their revenue for the past year that came from the Mac. What is even more surprising was them giving Microsoft a pat on the back for their work on the latest version of Office for Mac. Another interesting fact is that they are #1 for consumer satisfaction by ACSI for 7 years in a row, #1 in Consumer reports for the past decade and #1 from PCWorld for reliability.

So, moving on to their announcements the started with announcing the release of iLife 11 with new iPhoto, iMovie and Garageband (iDVD and iWeb were there but not mentioned). The three applications now all support full-screen views (which they revealed more about later) but have only minor changes to them. iLife 11 features new book making options, new sharing options and new slide shows. iMovie has added a few features such as instant replay, "movie trailers", and new sharing options including the ability to send to Vimeo. The movie trailers feature includes movie studio logos (surprised there aren't any legal issues with this), a new project view, and music tracks performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. Garageband 11 has new features to help fix tracks, new training videos, and a "How did I do" feature for seeing how well you're learning to play the guitar or keyboard.

FaceTime has also been released as a Beta for the Mac and will work seamless with iPhone 4 and the latest range of iPod Touch devices. I've downloaded and tried it, but it's nothing special really and by not releasing it for Windows as well it's not as versatile as Skype. 

The event, "Back to Mac", referred to how features from iOS are going to be finding their way back into OS X for version 10.7, titled "Lion". This new version will have "many features" but they've not yet all been announced. The main focus of the announcement was:

  • Multi-touch gestures,
  • App Store,
  • Full screen applications,
  • Application home screens,
  • Auto-save,
  • Resume application on load.

The App Store for the Mac will have free and paid for apps where developers get a 70/30 split. Probably the best feature for App Store is the ability to update all the applications (downloaded from the App Store) on your Mac to the latest versions. To easily see these applications you now have the "launch pad" which is the application home screen in OS X Lion. The paging for Launchpad is pretty much the same as on iOS and support multi-touch gestures and folders.

The dashboard has now moved and can be accessed by swiping to the left, similar to accessing the search page on iOS - with these changes Dashboard, Spaces and Fullscreen are now a unified feature they call "Mission control" (which is basically Expose). The expose view did look a little clumsy to operate using multi-touch gestures and at one point the demonstrator even had slight problems using it.

Their current plan is to release OS X Lion in the Summer of 2011 with more features being revealed over the coming months. The App Store will open in 90 days, but developers will be able to submit applications as of November.

Their "one more thing" was a new Macbook Air which resembled some photos leaked recently - it's small, light weight and features "instant on", a SSD for storage, and 30-day standby time.

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Google's "Bad Luck"

Google
Posted by David G. Paul

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It's not just Apple having potential legal problems at the minute, Google are also having a particularly unlucky time too. For starters they have angered many people with their stance on net neutrality - a document was leaked which stated Google was in favour of a verified name service for Government to track anonymous usage and for their to be different tiers of internet access.

On the Android front they're also being attacked by Oracle who have laid claim that Google infringed on some of their Java patents in the creation of their Android operating system for mobile devices. It seems well timed considering the recent news that Android has become the market leader in the US meaning that if Oracle were to win this claim it could seriously hurt Google with their apparent desire to stop stop Google distributing Android.

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Fake.app

Posted by David G. Paul

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Testing of software is a big business and there are many tools for automating the process. In the field of web development and design there aren't quite as many tools but still a fair selection. Fake is a Mac based application that simulates normal browser usage and works in a similar fashion to Apple's Automater app.

Fake is a new browser for Mac OS X that makes web automation simple. Fake allows you to drag discrete browser Actions into a graphical Workflow that can be run again and again without human interaction. The Fake Workflows you create can be saved, reopened, and shared.

I wonder how the app compares in the real world to other testing based applications as Fake seems pretty easy to use and uses AppleScript for coding scripted tasks for Fake to perform. It also includes a library of functions to help make repetitive tasks easier.

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Firefox 4 Beta

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

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I'm a bit late reporting this one, but Mozilla have released the first beta of Firefox 4. With this new version comes several noticeable changes. The most obvious change is one which is only present in Windows as of yet, but is a change which moves Firefox's UX closer to that of Google Chrome. The tabs no longer appear underneath the address bar, but above.

Along with this change, in Windows 7 you also get a "Firefox button" which is a replacement of the menu bar - thus further reducing the real estate required by browser elements. The Awesomebar has also been renamed the "Smart Location Bar" and allows users to search for open tabs and to switch to them easily. The stop and reload buttons have also been merged into a single button - again similar to Google Chrome.

The crash protection we saw added for plugins in version 3.6.6 has been expanded upon and improved in Firefox 4.

Support has also been added for WebM (HD HTML 5 video format), WebGL (OpenGL-like standard for using 3D with the HTML 5 canvas tag), and further improvements to it's support for HTML 5.

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The Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE)

The Photographer's Ephemeris - iPhone
Posted by David G. Paul

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I guess this should really be an "App of the week" post, but this one is aimed more at the photographers amongst you. Often when I'm out and about visiting other countries I'm keen on getting twilight and sunset shots, but don't always remember to look it up on the internet before I make my visit. This can cause problems with trying to guess the timing, and asking locals doesn't always help.

The Photographer's Ephemeris is an iPhone application which will provide the user with information for sunset, sunrise and more based upon the user's current locale. The application features:

  • Time and direction of sunrise and sunset
  • Time and direction of moonrise and moonset
  • Phase of the moon and % illumination
  • Times of civil, nautical and astronomical twilight
  • Graphical display on a map
  • Save any location you want - no fixed lists
  • Automatic time zone detection for any location on earth
  • Determines elevation above sea level
  • View azimuth and altitude of sun/moon for any time of day/night
  • Distance, bearing and elevation angle between any two points
  • Find when the sun/moon will appear from behind a hill
  • Compensation for atmospheric refraction
  • Compensation for elevation above the horizon
  • Does not require network connection for rise/set times and azimuths. (Note: maps and elevation do require a data connection)

That is some pretty essential information for providing you with the perfect lighting for your intended shot. The iPhone application costs £5.49 but if you're in front of a PC or Mac you can download and use the AIR application for free. I think the desktop application is okay if you're somewhere with a network connection and can predict where you want to be attempting photographs from, but I think when you're out and about you can see some unexpected shots from different positions you haven't planned for (and hence making the iPhone application useful).

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HTTPS Everywhere

Posted by David G. Paul

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Security is something pretty much everyone is keen on improving - you don't want to risk your private details falling into the hands of someone who would use them for fraud. Whilst a lot of sites have HTTPS servers not all traffic goes encrypted over HTTPS.

Many sites on the web offer some limited support for encryption over HTTPS, but make it difficult to use. For instance, they may default to unencrypted HTTP, or fill encrypted pages with links that go back to the unencrypted site.

This new extension for Firefox, HTTPS Everywhere, works with a number of major sites to force traffic to be sent encrypted over HTTPS. The main sites this plugin currently works for include: Google Search. Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Paypal, EFF, Tor, Ixquick. It's also been built in such a way that you can write your own rulesets for the extension to get other sites to work with it.

In some ways I can see how this would be a useful feature for browsers to have built-in, but I'm not sure all site owners would be too happy with forcing this traffic primarily due to the extra load that HTTPS traffic puts on a server. 

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Flock switches to Chromium

Flock: Social browser
Posted by David G. Paul

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For years, the social web browser Flock has been based upon Mozilla - the same code-base that Firefox is built from. For a while I made Flock my primary browser when interacting with social sites however after a while decided it was too slow and buggy. I'm sure many of those problems have been fixed since I last used it, however there may soon be a reason to try it once more as the developers have announced they switched to Chromium for the latest development version.

A switch from Mozilla to Chromium is likely to mean a complete rewrite of the code they use to modify the browser due to differences between how extensions can be written for the two browser platforms. I am however starting to struggle to see the relevance of Flock - what can it do that Chrome with extensions can't? At least Chrome is now available on both Windows and Mac OS X, but to start with Flock will be Windows only.

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Another Apple App Store Failure

Posted by David G. Paul

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Once a week I have a look at the "Top 50 Paid Apps" and the "Top 50 Free Apps" in Apple's app store. Most weeks I'll find there is at least one application of interest, or at least sounds interesting enough to get me to read the description further. Today I noticed at position #26 in the paid applications list is "Cell Phone Tracker Pro" which claims to use government technology to give a geographical location for any mobile in the world. This in itself seemed a bit odd to me - I didn't think it was something which was legal to do in this country at the very least so I thought I'd have a read of the application's description. Surprisingly there is no mention in the description of that the application is a joke so seeing that it averaged 3 stars I thought I'd see if it shed a little more light in the reviews. Sure enough the 60 reviews which I read all had a single star and commented that the application was a rip-off and didn't work. Most wanted their money back, but some commented that not only were they surprised it was in the Top 50 applications but that Apple would not do anything about it either as they considered it to be "not their problem". I also wonder how it can get 3 stars when the 60 reviews that are displayed (out of 70 total) are all 1 star reviews.

I see this as an example of where a broken application has been authorised by Apple so that the developers can con money out of people yet perfectly working applications (such as emulators) get rejected. Sooner or later things like this are going to cause Apple big problems. 

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Transmit 4

Transmit application by Panic
Posted by David G. Paul

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One of my favourite file transfer clients on the Mac has always been Transmit, probably because it's the first one I used and was instantly better than any PC client I'd used before. Panic have now released the fourth version of their software with a new interface and plenty of new features.

The first thing you'll notice about Transmit 4 are the changes they've made to the UX and the subtle change to the application icon. The interface still has the option for tabs underneath the toolbar, but somethings have changed a little such as the removal of the "next" and "back" buttons when navigating through folders, and the disconnect button is now part of another new UI element, the breadcrumb bar. This breadcrumb bar also includes a dropdown menu for quick access to favourite locations and can be configured to show the number of files in the current folder. As you'd expect clicking on a folder in the breadcrumb will switch the current location to that folder.

It does have some new features as well such as the ability to mount favourites as removable drives so you can navigate through the contents of a remote drive using Finder, or the file browsing component of any piece of software. It's also possible to synchronise local and remote folders and to "link" a local folder to a remote one so that they navigate at the same time. When navigating the file systems you can now pick from the same choices you have in Finder: thumbnails, list, columns and Cover Flow. Where the file transfer window used to "slide" out of the bottom of the window it now slides up from the bottom to replace the navigation area and must then be hidden before you can continue using the navigation. I'm not too sure if that's a good idea yet as it's sometimes useful to carry on navigating around to add files to the upload/download queue whilst keeping an eye on what is being transferred.

There are a few other slightly less noticeable features such as being able to add Transmit to the menu bar, bandwidth limiting uploads and downloads, ability to exclude "checkout" files (i.e. .svn folders for Subversion, etc.),  and the ability to send custom headers for the Amazon S3 cloud.

Quite a few nice changes and in my opinion was worth the upgrade fee. 

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iPhone App of the week: Comics

Comics by Comixology (for iPad and iPhone)
Posted by David G. Paul

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I first came across this application on my iPhone when trying to find a suitable application to read comics in - I was also curious as to whether or not there were any applications out there capable of purchasing comics online with as well. That's when I came across "Comics" by a company called Comixology.

On the iPhone you have 5 tabs for:

  • My Comics
  • Featured
  • Free
  • Top 25
  • Browse

The first of these is very simple, it is a screen where you can view comics you have previously viewed and ones you are downloading. You also get the option to view comics by series, creator, publisher and genre. Selecting any of these options will show you all the relevant comics ordered alphabetically with a "manage" option where you can manage how much space can be used for your comic collection and how old ones are removed when you reach that limit. You can also delete comics from this screen though the interface is very slightly different to what you'd normally expect.

When you tap on one of your downloaded comics you get a run down of the details about the comic complete with rating, recommendations based upon other people's purchases, a link to delete it, and a link to buy it in print. When you read the comic the comic will rotate with your screen and for some comics this is a necessity due to "two-page spreads" which would other wise make the text hard to read on this small screen. Due to the iPhone's full screen you can't really see an entire page at once either, it has to dart around from text to text in order for you to read it. Not ideal really. For navigating though it does work similar to most e-readers where a tap on the right will go to the next page, and a tap to the left to the previous. Tapping at the top of the screen will bring up the controls.

The "Featured", "Free", and "Top 25" tabs all offer you different ways of navigating the comics which are available for download. Most are either $0.99 (59p) or free so it's not like you're going to break the bank in downloading your favourite comic series or one you'd like to try out. A lot of the series do include a free issue #0 to help introduce you to the series.

This same application is also compatible with the iPad without having to download a second one - it simply detects your device and displays the appropriately sized screen. This is of course a lot better than it scaling the device at 2x as you're seeing the interface at a higher resolution. This change allows for other minor changes in the design of the UI such as the "lightbox" effect for viewing comic details and the way you can navigate through the comics using a "coverflow"-like effect. Due to these improvements it merges all the tabs into 3 simple ones:

  • My Comics
  • Store
  • Settings

Under the settings page you can set up you Comixology account to ensure that purchases are available on both your iPad and iPhone.

This has to be one of my favourite and most used iPad applications at the minute though so far my reading has been mostly limited to the "Voltron" series. I think this particular series of comics shows off the resolution available quite well. With most of the major comic publishers onboard (including Marvel, but excluding DC) it's likely that this will be the way forward for the digital distribution of comics.

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iPhone App of the week: Carpool

Carpool for the iPhone
Posted by David G. Paul

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One of Britain's most prolific of famous tweeters is Robert Llwellyn of Red Dwarf and Scrapheap Challenge fame. Over the past year or so he has been running a video podcast called "Carpool" where each week he drives around in his car with another famous person as his passenger. It's a rather unique format for a "chat show" and has been increasing in popularity as it's gone on, attracting new passengers such as the world-famous Sir Patrick Stewart and his fellow tweeter Stephen Fry. It's popularity has soared so high that it's even been featured in the iTunes email at least once.

Today he has launched a Carpool application for the iPhone which is there to aid keen followers of his work. The application has four tabs for "Boos" (clips of audio from AudioBoo), Tweets, Videos, and News from his blog. It might not sound like much, but as it's free it does become a convenient way to follow several different media sources he uses at the same time. When you start the application up it does play an animation from his Carpool series which means the application has a startup time of around 10 seconds which would get quite irritating if you saw it every time it loads; it would probably have been better to only show it the first time it is launched as I find it hard to believe it really takes that long to load the application in. It's doesn't seem to be a case of it connecting to sites to get the content which makes you wait either as this is loaded as you change tabs. I have tried to watch one of the videos using this application but so far I've not had a great deal of luck - it just sits there with the QuickTime logo and the controls and pressing play doesn't do anything. I'm hopeful though that these are just teething problems for a new application that is getting an awful lot of downloads already - the video problem I'm experiencing for example could just be because of the number of people trying to use it.

What Carpool does show though is an interesting new trend where sites and individuals are producing their own applications to allow others to see their sites content in the same place as other media produced by them in a single application. What applications in this vein need are push notifications for when new content is added as this would then prompt you to return to the application to catch up on what you may have missed though it does raise a question of whether or not that would be overkill.

I'd say the application is a good effort and it will be nice to see where this application goes in the future.

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Google Follow Finder

Google
Posted by David G. Paul

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Google are certainly quite keen on Twitter - to start with they change search results to include recent tweets in the results, and now from Google Labs they have produced the Google Follow Finder. This is actually a very simple site where you type in your Twitter username and then it will produce a list of Twitter users it thinks you may like, and a list of users with similar followers.

Unsurprisingly I already follow everyone on the list it gave me for "Tweeps with similar followers", but a little more surprising was that the suggested Tweeps list was filled entirely with Google Twitter accounts - most of which I already follow. I'm guessing this is one Google app that still has some way to go before it's ready.

UPDATE: It seems I might just be unlucky - other people seem to be getting proper results from it!

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iPhone App of the week: Opera Mini

Opera Mini for the iPhone
Posted by David G. Paul

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Since it's release the iPhone has been a one browser mobile device - no other vendor have been able to get their browser on there in order to rival Safari. This has all changed now though as the approval and release of Opera Mini for iPhone changes the game. The features of Opera Mini aren't really anything special compared to their desktop browser, but as they mentioned on Twitter it was more of a test to see if it would be accepted by Apple before committing major resources to it. This does suggest that their innovation for the mobile browser is likely about to begin (if it hasn't already behind the scenes) which could mean a new type of browser war. The difference with this browser war though is that Apple could just pull any competitors from the store if they chose to.

When you open Opera you are presented with a home screen similar to what you get on the desktop version - you get a thumbnails of pages you've visited recently so that you can quickly go back to them. I did find the load time for the browser to be slightly longer than Safari, but it does seem to be quicker at loading pages once it's open. The adress bar has a few nice touches to the UX - when you tap into it it expands to fill the full width and as expected will help by showing a list of URLs as you type. As the page is loading the address bar remains full width and once it's done the search box slides in from the right. 

The tab navigations is cool though it looks like it should start to become difficult to add new tabs once you reach about 7 as the space for adding new tabs gets increasingly smaller. I think it's a shame the stack of tabs is limited to one row as by the time you get to 15 or more tabs you can no longer see the thumbnail views and will have a small space for tapping to select the tab you want. If you drag your finger across the tabs it will however move the tab your finger is over to the top of the pile to try and combat this problem. What is useful here is that the button for accessing the tabs does list how many tabs you currently have open.

One interesting UX choice I noticed was when zooming into a page so you can actually read it the backwards navigation button changes to show that tapping it once will zoom out, and then after that it continues to behave as normal. I like the way this works though I do wonder why they've steered away from what people expect from an iPhone interface - maybe in time it will prove to be a better method however (though the normal pinch gestures do work).

I really like the design of the settings menu when it slides up from the bottom of the screen with it's nice looking icons. Even the way the bookmarks and history work and look are nice touches though I think it would be even nicer if these could be synchronised with your desktop browser in a future version (maybe via some tighter integration with your My Opera account). Also, when choosing a thumbnail from the start page the rest of the screen "greys out" to put focus on the one you have tapped - even something as simple as that shows the amount of thought which has gone into the design.

On the technical side of things it may seem strange that when the SDK says third-party applications can't execute downloaded scripts that they have gotten around this. The way they've done this is to use their own servers as a proxy server which pre-renders all content and compresses it before sending it to your phone to be rendered locally. What this means is people using Opera Mini for iPhone cannot access sites locked down by IP address as their external IP address will be misreported as being Opera's servers. 

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Apple blocks Adobe on the iPhone

Apple Computers,. The maker of Macs.
Posted by David G. Paul

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I think it's fair to say that considering Steve Jobs remark about Flash and the persistant lack of support for the technology that Apple are not particularly big fans of Flash being used on Apple hardware. Their continued stance against having Flash support on the iPhone was even reiterated again yesterday when the company announced iPhone OS 4.0 as a developer preview.

You might be aware that in Adobe Flash CS5 that Adobe have been working on a feature to compile Flash applications so that they can be run on the iPhone natively. It didn't sound like too bad an idea and I'm sure people wanting to create iPhone versions of their applications quickly would find this quite useful. However it seems that this will not come to pass, at least for now. With the developer preview of the iPhone OS 4.0 came a new SDK agreement from Apple stating the updated terms and conditions of using the SDK.

Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).

If the code that Flash CS5 produces is Objective-C rather than a pre-compiled binary then I think they may actually get away with it - if not then they may have to seek special approval from Apple. Sadly these terms still mean that emulators will not be allowed in the App Store; though I guess they worry that people would find exploits in emulator code if people could add their own ROMs.

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WebKit2

Apple Safari
Posted by David G. Paul

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This new branch of Apple's WebKit project aims to bring the "split process" model that Google Chrome uses into the standard featureset for WebKit based browsers such as Safari. The purpose of such a model is to ensure that if one tab crashes it does not crash the entire application so that your other tabs can remain intact. With this extra robustness it sets itself above the current version of Firefox (although this is planned for the next version also).

WebKit2 is a new API layer for WebKit designed from the ground up to support a split process model, where the web content (JavaScript, HTML, layout, etc) lives in a separate process from the application UI. This model is very similar to what Google Chrome offers, with the major difference being that we have built the process split model directly into the framework, allowing other clients of WebKit to use it.

They're also trying to be kind to developers as well by providing easy access to this new API layer in such a way that they can receive notifications from WebKit views as well as a host of other new features. 

  • Notification style client callbacks (e.g. didFinishLoadForFrame) These inform the embedder that something has happened, but do not give them the chance to do anything about it.
  • Policy style clients callbacks (e.g. decidePolicyForNavigationAction) These allow the embedder to decide on an action at their leisure, notifying the page through a listener object.
  • Policy settings (e.g. WKContextSetCacheModel, WKContextSetPopupPolicy) These allow the embedder to opt into a predefined policy without any callbacks into the UIProcess. These can either be an enumerated set of specific policies, or something more fine-grained, such as a list of strings with wildcards.
  • Injected code (e.g. WebBundle) Code can be loaded into the WebProcess for cases where all the other options fail. This can useful when access to the DOM is required.

In this new framework the WebKit layer has been split into two - a UI Process, and a Web Process. By splitting this into two they have provided a more robust solution that is also more secure and should hopefully help to make better use of multi-core CPUs.

Looking at the current timeline for WebKit 2 they are very active in making bugfixes and improvements to it so I imagine we'll see an actual roll-out of this in the coming months.

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Save Wordle

Tag cloud produced by Wordle
Posted by David G. Paul

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For a while Wordle has been a popular tag cloud generator, but it has recently come under attack for allegedly infringing on an existing trademark filed by Mark Koeff of California. Whilst I know very little about IP law, I'm fairly certain that for a trademark to be infringed it has to fall under the same category and the Wordle website does not fall under "Paper goods and printed material" so is unlikely to cause any sort of brand confusion either. I have a feeling if the plaintiff's claims make it to court they will be dismissed as soon as the filed trademark is brought up.

As you'd expect from the online community these days it has not taken long for the news to hit Twitter and has now started a #savewordle campaign which hopes to raise awareness for the creator's plight and hopefully an IP lawyer who can defend the site pro bono. It's good to see communities rallying around individual developers to defend them and I hope this is one battle which is won by Jonathan Feinberg and the community supporting him.

UPDATE: The Wordle website is back-up, and on the Wordle blog the author mentions that a lawyer is now helping him to resolve the issue - fingers crossed!

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BBC to release iPhone apps

BBC iPlayer; TV-on-demand
Posted by David G. Paul

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BBC are planning to start releasing mobile applications starting with a BBC News application for the iPhone followed by applications for Blackberry and Android devices. Once their first application is released they are planning on developing further applications for Sport news and iPlayer.

The problem however is that most newspapers are opposing the plan and are petitioning to the BBC Trust to cancel their plans. From the newspapers point of view they get their revenue by charging people for the news and have not yet managed to find a suitable business model that works in a digital world. There are already iPhone apps for news such as the free on from the Daily Mail, and the paid-for one from the Guardian. I think the newspapers are worried that people associate the BBC brand with good quality and so think that if they can get good quality and up-to-date content for free then why would they want to pay for it. That is a good question though, in a connected world why pay for news when you can get it for free?

Personally I don't see their problem - most people have a web browser on their phones these days and could easily access the BBC's data using either RSS or by visiting their site. By making an iPhone application they are making it easier to access, and hopefully will be enriching it with better search options at the least.

Interestingly, overseas I think it will be possible for BBC to charge for their applications which could be tricky for them to deal with if they chose to. The argument for charging for the apps in the US and other countries if they are made available is that in the UK the BBC's programming is covered by the license fee and so are not allowed commercials or paid-for content over the air.

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iPhone App of the week: ASBOrometer

ASBOrometer (iPhone)
Posted by David G. Paul

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It's not been that long since data.gov.uk was opened for all to use and already an iPhone application has made it to Apple's App Store which utilises a small portion of this data. The ASBOrometer uses data from the 2009 Place Based Survey to which is a record of the percentages of people who think anti-social behaviour is a problem in that area.

After downloading the application you are then asked whether you agree to let it use your current location. If you do then it will show a report for the current constituent based on the aforementioned report. My current location was detected as "Oadby & Wigston" which is in the East Midlands and reported this as 14.9% which is a low-level of anti-social behaviour. It also provides simple statistics for the area such as the population (reported as 56,800), the police force, and the number of ASBOs issued. You can then view further statistics for categories such as "Eviction Orders issued" and "Demotion  Orders issued" which show a nice quarterly graph to show how these have changed over time. The way these statistics are named it kind of makes me feel like they're computer game statistics for a game like Grand Theft Auto.

In addition to these location-aware statistics you can also use a built in Google Maps tab to view all the data on a map which can then be viewed by selecting push-pins. If you're not very good at knowing the geographic location of places you want to check then you can also view a list of searchable areas which show the percentage score in the list also, and a tap goes to the detail view.

In a strange sort of twist it also features a leaderboard which shows them in descending order with the top one being the one with the highest percentage of ASBOs. Overall the application may seem quite strange, but it does two things. Firstly it demonstrates practical usage of open data provided by the Government in a fairly detail application. Secondly it is useful for those who are moving home and want to see what the area they're moving to is going to be like in terms of the level of perceived anti-social behaviour. The application is also available for Android phones.

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iPhone App of the week: EveryTrail

EveryTrail (iPhone)
Posted by David G. Paul

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There's a lot of iPhone applications for keeping track of fitness and for keeping track of where you go. Applications such as Runkeeper keep track of your activity on a map and will produce handy statistics about your run or bike ride. On the other side of the spectrum you can get hiking applications such as Trailguru which is orientated more towards people who are out and about and wanting to keep track of where they've been rather than how quick they've done it.

EveryTrail is another application in this vein and comes in both Free and Pro versions. The website for this app also lets you manage trips from there and there are versions available for other platforms: Android, Blackberry and Windows Mobile so no matter what smart phone you have you're bound to be accommodated.

When you open the iPhone application for the first time you will be asked to either register for a new account, log into an existing one, or to just try the application without storing the details online. With the free version, once you've done this you will see the "Home" view with options to track a trip, to upgrade to Pro (to remove ads) and a view of popular nearby trips. I think "near by" has to be a very relative term as it's second trip listed was one from London to Bath, but I live 100 miles from London. Using the search tab yields far better results for nearby trips and will allow you to order results by rating, journey length, and proximity after having the choice of searching what the proximity should be relative to (default is current location), the radius from that location, and the type of activity.

There is also a map view which is handy should you need to check your current location, and a saved tab for storing your trips in. The settings tab has various settings such as associating the application with your EveryTrail account, social media options for sharing on Twitter and Facebook, GPS configuration for distance threshold and  accuracy threshold, the unit of measurement, and picture taking options.

When you start tracking a trip it does warn the user not to close the application down (since Apple doesn't support background tasks in their iPhone OS) and will then show updates on the map view as you move. If you tap on the details navigation button you can enter further details such as a story, any tips you may have for people using this trail, and the option to take pictures to associate with the trail.

It's one of the best applications in this style that I've used and has many nice touches which make it all the better for using and so far I've not been able to fault it as a lot of common faults with these applications have been thought through and dealt with. It even works with other trip applications such as Trails, Gaia GPS, TrailCompanion and EasyTrails GPS.

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Opera Mini for iPhone

Opera browser
Posted by David G. Paul

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Since the iPhone's release the only real choice for browsing with has been Safari. If Opera get their way though this may soon change as they prepare an iPhone version of Opera Mini. An official announcement should be made this weekend at the Mobile World Congress.

Opera's plan is to include their tabbed browsing amongst other features such as their password manager and the "Speed Dial" for quickly accessing favourite and frequently visited websites. The Speed Dial feature is one which has also been copied by Google for their Chrome browser and is certainly a nice feature to have.

If Apple accept this browser into the App Store it opens the way for other browser developers to do the same which means we could see Fennec, the mobile version of Firefox following suit before long. At the minute I think it's unlikely that Microsoft would produce a mobile version of their browser to run on the iPhone due to them not having a current Mac version of their browser. It may also change the course of the current round of browsers wars so that their resources may become further divided between their desktop and mobile versions (with the exception of IE which is bound to stay behind the pack for some time yet). I think it will be interesting to see how mobile browsers change now and how they will converge towards their desktop counter-parts.

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Google Buzz

Google Buzz
Posted by David G. Paul

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Today's announcement from Google was the unveiling of their new social networking tool, Google Buzz. This new tool is available for use inside Gmail (though has only been rolled out to a small number of accounts so far) and from your mobile when visiting the Google Buzz website.

Google Buzz is a new way to start conversations about the things you find interesting. It's built right into Gmail, so you don't have to peck out an entirely new set of friends from scratch — it just works. If you think about it, there's always been a big social network underlying Gmail. Buzz brings this network to the surface by automatically setting you up to follow the people you email and chat with the most. We focused on building an easy-to-use sharing experience that richly integrates photos, videos and links, and makes it easy to share publicly or privately (so you don't have to use different tools to share with different audiences). Plus, Buzz integrates tightly with your existing Gmail inbox, so you're sure to see the stuff that matters most as it happens in real time.

What this means is that it is treating your email client as a social network platform and the people you email the most will be the ones who you connect with automatically using Buzz. You can share whatever you want to with either everyone (the world) or just people on your contacts list and works with existing platforms such as Twitter, Flickr and Google Reader.

When you use this from your mobile phone you can also use Geo-location services to see what Buzz's are near your current location which brings a similar location-aware social networking feel as programs such Tweetie do for Twitter. It's also possible to comment and "like" people's Buzz's similar to how you can do this with RSS items in Google Reader. It also expands out to having a custom layer for Google Maps and appearing as a shortcut on all your Google pages though at present you can only use the full range of features on the iPhone and Android phones.

Unfortunately I've not yet been able to try this in Gmail as I'm not one of the fortunate ones who has had it enabled, but I've tried it on my iPhone. I haven't been able to do much on my iPhone either as it can't find anyone using it nearby, it's not bringing up anyone talk to using Gmail (and won't let me add new contacts to it), and won't let me post anything new to it. These problems are likely to be because my Gmail account doesn't have it, so now I just have to eagerly await it's activation before I can see if I can find a use for it.

I've seen people comment that it's trying to be the next Twitter and that there are already a large number of social networking aggregators out there that pull in feeds from different networks. I disagree with this - why does it matter that there are already alternatives out there? With more alternatives to chose from it breeds competition and with Google entering the social networking game it means that we're likely to see a pretty heated competition. I don't think Google want to replace Twitter either though, what they want is for emailing to become a social experience much like what they're trying to achieve with Google Wave.

UPDATE: Last night I was finally able to get access to Buzz from my Gmail account and at the same time was able to use the mobile interface. To start with it tells you which people you are auto-following and which ones are following you and then suggests you review these.  The interface for adding and removing but it's disturbing that it auto-follows people. I know Google are trying to be helpful but I don't think it's a particularly nice feature. Some people have commented that this breaks privacy laws because of this initial setup but I think the real problem is that you can't block users from following you which means the difference between a private buzz and a public buzz is essentially just trivial.

The interface for viewing buzzes can also contain feeds from other places and looks like a combination of Gmail and Google Reader due to the way the messages can collapse and expand, and the way the like / comment feature works. One annoyance though is that when people reply to any of your buzzes you get this appear in your inbox. So if like me you have IMAP set up on your iPhone to synchronise with your Google Mail account then it could mean a lot of email alerts on your phone. Fortunately there is a way of avoiding this and that is to set up a filter which automatically archives messages containing "Buzz" in the subject so they "skip" the inbox (thanks for the suggestion Lena!). 

The mobile interface isn't too bad but it could certainly be a lot better - I think the main problem is that difference in the way it is displayed making it harder to track what you have and haven't already read.

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Firefox 3.6 released

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

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Mozilla today release version 3.6 of their popular Firefox browser. Included in this new release was the former Mozilla Labs development, Personas which allows you to customise your browser easily skin your browser with thousands of pre-made skins and to develop your own. At the minute my favourite Persona features Totoro from the Studio Ghibli film, "My Neighbour Totoro". One thing I like about the way Personas works is you don't have to apply a Persona to test it - you can just hover over it on the Personas website.

In addition to a brand new feature is a small increase in JavaScript performance, but no where near as big an improvement as the one made between version 3 and 3.5; but any improvement is a positive move. Here are some of the other improvements they've made:

  • Protection from out-of-date plugins to keep users safer as they browse.
  • Open, native video can now be displayed full screen and supports poster frames.
  • The ability for web developers to indicate that scripts should run asynchronously to speed up page load times.
  • Continued support for downloadable web fonts using the new WOFF font format.
  • Support for new CSS attributes such as gradients, background sizing, and pointer events.
  • Support for new DOM and HTML5 specifications including the Drag & Drop API and the File API, which allow for more interactive web pages.

On the subject of out-of-date plugins I was expecting there to be some of the ones I use that would not be ready for the new release as there always are a few. Unfortunately, despite hoping otherwise, I was right and a number of plugins did indeed fail to work. Amongst the ones I use which don't work in Firefox 3.6 are:

  • Gmail Manager
  • Google Gears
  • Html Validator
  • Live HTTP Headers
  • Page Speed
  • SEOpen
  • Tamper Data
  • TAW3 en un clic

Some of those plugins I'm quite disappointed to see weren't ready, especially considering the release period for 3.6 was extended. Of course it's possible to edit the plugin to change the maximum version number they can be run on but it's not something you should really have to do. So because of third parties, and not Mozilla, I'll now be putting off upgrading Firefox on my Macbook Pro as I use some of those for debugging purposes.

UPDATE: One annoyance I've found is that I can no longer paste into Google Wave, presumably because Google Gears no longer works.

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Is Internet Explorer still viable?

Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

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In the past week it's been a tough time for Internet Explorer. It all started when it was revealed that there was a critical vulnerability in the browser which meant applications could be run remotely. This flaw was revealed after Google's were attacked and this was shown to be the likely culprit. Such an announcement from a rival browser manufacturer is never a good announcement to be made, but it's also one which will prove hard for Microsoft to fix due to it's tight integration with the Windows environment. So, ironically it's the same thing Microsoft were originally brought up on for unfair practices that is now causing them further pain. Due to the nature of the flaw it is one which is not present in rival browsers.

Following that announcement came another from the German government (from their Federal Office for Information Security) advising their citizens that they should not use any version of Internet Explorer and should instead use an alternative. I think when this announcement was made it brought a ray of hope to those web designers and developers who shun the browser's quirks which normally causes more development time. Swiftly following this initial announcement was another announcement from the French government department CERTA was a similar sort of message and to also disable JavaScript and ActiveX.

TechRadar have reported that this was then followed by contact from Microsoft UK's Head of Security and Privacy whom stated that users who switch will risk using a less secure browser.

The net effect of switching [from IE] is that you will end up on less secure browser," insisted Evans.

The risk [over this specific] exploit is minimal compared to Firefox or other competing browsers… you will be opening yourself up to security issues.

He then goes on to say he thinks IE8 is a more secure browser than Firefox and that they're only talking about one vulnerability - granted that may be the case at the minute but it is a pretty major vulnerability. If Microsoft are going to start pointing fingers at other browser manufacturers they should back up their accusations with proof and should do something about fixing their own browser.

In light of these recent announcements I don't think it's going to make a major difference - most users who know about other browsers and may want to change most likely have already. If the UK government was to follow suit and issue a recommendation it is likely that although some users may make the switch that the government itself would delay a browser switch themselves due to the logistics of rolling out a browser to all their systems. Fortunately some of the government is ahead of the curve and have already made the jump to an alternative, more secure browser.

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iPhone App of the week: OffMaps

OffMaps (iPhone)
Posted by David G. Paul

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Google Maps when used with GPS (and the built in compass of an iPhone 3GS) is a brilliant application, but it lacks an offline mode for times when you're in an area without a signal. If you're planning on going somewhere where you can't get 3G or EDGE then the application is pretty much useless. The only way it would be made more useful is if there was some way to cache a viewed map area at different zoom levels so you could peruse it at your own leisure - it is after all only a series of images that fit to specific geographical locations. This is where the application OffMaps comes in.

When I came across OffMaps it was purely by chance - I knew I'd need some mapping software that cached map images to use with GPS, but I thought it meant I'd have to write an application to do it. I chose to search the App Store for "offline map" and thankfully I found this application that fit the purpose. Rather than using Google Maps for providing the maps, they instead opted for OpenMaps but still has some familiar features such as being able to automatically locate where you are and to rotate as you turn round so that the map lines up with what you can see (iPhone 3GS only). If you use this feature then you can download a map of where you are automatically, and also download a "guide". These guides allow you to search the map whilst you are offline for various types of location such as restaurants or hotels. For example, if you download the guide for Sydney it contains 2347 points of interest, 69 restaurants, 197 bars, 137 hotels and fits into a 8.8Mb download. When you download the application you get to download two of these guides for free, after that you have to pay for them. It's not really that big a deal either as you can buy additional downloads at £0.59 for 3 of them which is nice and cheap and can be bought using in-app purchases.

The guides can also be accessed when not using the feature by tapping the same button on the tab bar and navigating through the places. I've found these guides to be quite useful as if for example you want to see the Sydney Opera House and you have already bought the guide then you can type it in the search and click on the entry, or click on the blue icon in the search box, switch to guides, navigate to the Sydney guide, and then find the Opera House under the list of sights. Once you've found it you see a small map showing where it is, a category in which it falls under (Theatre, Attraction) and then links to get from there to somewhere else, the route to there, or to add it to your favourites. I don't think the UX is the best in the world as it takes some getting use to in order to make the most of it (some of the features aren't obvious on how to find them).

When you want to download an area of map you click on the same icon as the guide, click on "Only Download Map" and then you drag out an area of the map you want. You then get the choice of how many zoom levels to obtain the map images for. If you've already downloaded the map at that zoom-level it does tell you at that point, but it would have been nice to have a way of browsing a list of what places you have cached (by giving the ability to name them).

The only problem I've really found with this application is that although you can see what filesize your cached maps have reached, there is no indication of what areas and zoom levels you have cached. Even if you've bookmarked several places you can't tell which of those are cached and that I think is it's biggest flaw.

Generally speaking it's a useful application and can save you money since you don't need to worry about getting data plans for abroad (it can stop you getting lost too!) and is certainly worth the download if you're going to a different country or somewhere without a signal.

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Google Mail hacked

Google
Posted by David G. Paul

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By now you've likely seen the news which has plastered almost every technology site and news site on the 'net. After reports that Chinese human rights activists Gmail accounts had been hacked Google are now reconsidering their position in China, and whether to go on serving results but in an unfiltered state, or to pull out entirely. Google have reported that information from at least two accounts have been accessed, but not the contents of the emails.

sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China

Although their allegations are not aimed directly at the Chinese government and their practices, it is implied that they believe the government was involved. Due to seriousness of such allegations this has meant further involvement from US officials in order to get answers to the serious questions that these actions pose.

Once the news was announced Google's shares dropped by 1.1% which means no matter what they decide to do it has already cost them. It is estimated that if they do pull out of the Chinese market it will be costing them $600 million for 2010 which personally I think is an awful lot to lose! If they decide to go ahead with pulling out of the market then they are taking a stand against the Chinese government's policies - but I don't think they're going to actually pull out of that market, even if they don't manage to negotiate a way to legally unfilter the results. When Google initially entered the Chinese market they did so under extreme fire from people who thought it was wrong for them to be negotiating a filtered engine, but they did it anyway saying that it would benefit people more for Google's search engine to be available. If they were to remove it now, although justified and understandable, would be to go against what they had said to convince people they weren't evil.

I guess all we can do now is to watch eagerly as to whether the great firewall of China finally crumbles...

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Google are "Near me now"

Google
Posted by David G. Paul

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Google like to release new technologies for their search that push it just that little bit further in helping people finding what they want quicker. It's understandable really as the quicker it is to find what you want with a search engine the more likely you are to use it again. What Google have now done is to take their mobile homepage and to add a new feature to it which they call "Near me now".

"Near me now" is a way to use your current location to find the nearest restaurant, ATM, etc. by combining the geo-location reported from your browser (which could be obtained from the network or from a built-in GPS device) and then using that to search geo-coded businesses of that type within a particular radius. There are already a lot of applications out there that searches local directories such as Yelp and Local Picks, but a Google branded product is likely to get more coverage and is always something to keep an eye on for exciting new ideas.

Whilst this feature has already been rolled out to Google.com for iPhone and Android users it seems you can only see this new option if you are in the US - it doesn't make a difference for UK users whether you visit the .com or .co.uk addresses.

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iPhone App of the week: Momento

Momento (iPhone application)
Posted by David G. Paul

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Momento at it's simplest is a diary application (do Americans call them Journals instead?) for the iPhone which allows you to create new entries. The difference to a normal diary (other than the obvious fact it's on an iPhone) is that it encourages smaller individual entries referred to as moments - but you can post multiple ones for each day. Each moment can not only be rated out of 5 stars, but can also contain attachments such as places (which supports GPS), pictures, people, events, and keywords meaning it produces a very media rich diary entry.

Where Momento is made even more useful is that it also aggregates feeds from other sources that you post to such as Facebook, Flickr, Last.fm, and Twitter in such a way that it can download old posts and will continue to add new posts to Momento as you post in these places. When I associated my Twitter account with the app I was able to import 3,200 tweets immediately (it is limited how many you can import due to API restrictions); it does the same for the other services just so it doesn't import too many. From the settings view you can also add a 4-digit PIN to lock the application so that your entries remain private should anyone else use your iPhone or iPod.

I think the interface is really well designed, especially the design for the dates markers and the PIN screen in cases where you've locked the application. Even little touches such as the textured background for the title bar and tab bar make it a visually pleasing application. The default tab is the "Days" tab which produces a nicely styled summary for each day going back as far as your first entry (which can be a massively long list, but has a handy search option). The second tab shows a calendar view which uses little blue "blobs" to indicate which days have moments recorded for them. The third tab is for listing tags you've used on entries (with a nice wooden texture for the background), and the final tab shows which feeds you're currently importing entries from.

I'm not yet sure how often I'll use it, or how much use I'll have for it as I don't really keep a diary - but it could come in useful when I'm out and about and have a need for recording pieces of information. Even at £1.79 I thought the price was worth it just to see an example of an app that keeps the UX simple in clean and yet elegant design.

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Voddler

Voddler
Posted by David G. Paul

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Voddler is a content delivery system for videos much akin to what Spotify is for music. It is an advert supported service that provides films (and eventually TV episodes) to the masses for free, though newer films are ones you have to pay for to "rent". So what is this brand new service like?

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Adobe BrowserLab

Adobe BrowserLab
Posted by David G. Paul

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In order to use Adobe BrowserLab you must have an Adobe account you can sign in with - which isn't a big deal as you can register for free anyway. Once you're signed in you get an address bar where you can type in the URL of the site you want to analyse. Once you have typed the URL of your site it will then start to generate previews of the site as it will look in different browsers. The default setting will get it to load previews for Firefox 3.0 (Windows XP), Internet Explorer 7 (Windows XP), Safari 3.0 (Mac OS X) and Firefox 3.0 (Mac OS X).

You also get the option to generate views for:

  • Chrome 3.0 (Windows XP)
  • Internet Explorer 6.0 (Windows XP)
  • Firefox 2.0 (Windows XP)
  • Firefox 3.5 (Windows XP)
  • Internet Explorer 8.0 (Windows XP)
  • Safari 4.0 (Mac OS X)
  • Firefox 2.0 (Mac OS X)
  • Firefox 3.5 (Mac OS X)

If you find the default ones aren't the ones you want to use the most often then you can create a new "Browser set" to include the ones you want from the button at the top of the screen labelled "Browser sets". With these views loaded you can then view them with or without rulers as 1-up (one on the screen at a time), 2-up (two on the screen side by side), and Onion view.

The onion view is there for those who want their site design to be pixel perfect between browsers as it will overlay the views over each other so you can see where the design is off slightly. This view is also aided by the rules I mentioned previously as they work in a similar fashion to Photoshop where guides within the rulers move as you move around the image meaning that you can get precise measurements too.

For speed and accessibility they also provide a number of hotkeys that replicate some of the common features such as wanting to zoom in and out of the screenshots, and to navigate around the site with.

It may still be in the Adobe Labs section, but I find this new product to be very promising and a valuable tool in any designers arsenal.

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Silverlight video streams it's way to the iPhone

Microsoft Silverlight
Posted by David G. Paul

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Microsoft have announced that it is now possible to stream Silverlight-powered videos on your iPhone.

To be honest though I don't know of any sites that use Silverlight in such a way - all the ones I know use Flash. Of course though Flash still doesn't work on the iPhone and is unlikely to until either Adobe or Apple concede and release it (okay to be fair it is Apple and not Adobe holding it up).

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Google Chrome OS, not yet...

Google Chrome browser beta
Posted by David G. Paul

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In a world dominated by Apple's Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows there has always been other contenders, mostly in the form of many different distributions of Linux. Google, best known for it's search engine has long been one to put their own spin on technologies and applications to dare people to think different are well on their way to releasing their own.

Ahead of Google's event they released the source code and design documents for Chrome OS using a git repository pre-empting their announcement that as of today Chrome OS is now open source and the community will be working on the same development tree as Google. The announcement also included that the OS will not be available today, which does follow with the previous speculation that it would be released in 2010.

 They then took a diversion to talk about Chrome (the browser) and how far it has come over the past year in terms of the growth of it's user-base and it's development and how they plan on continuing to improve it into 2010 with HTML + JavaScript based extensions and a focus on web based applications working well within the browser.

For Chrome OS they are focusing on:

  • speed - they want it to be "blazing" fast, Chrome on Chrome OS will be even faster,
  • simplicity - all data will be stored in the "cloud" so that you can log in to any Chrome OS with a roaming profile,
  • security - very vague, but will function in the same way as browser security.

In their demo it took around 7 seconds from a cold boot to the log-in screen - quite impressive! Once logged in you can see that it looks very much like a normal Chrome browser window.

The Chrome OS interface

As you can see it is pretty much just a browser with tabs across the top and a Chrome OS logo which when clicked will open up the application menu. Interestingly this does like strikingly similar to a leaked screenshot that made it's way around the internet over the past few weeks so it seems that the person who leaked it really had seen what Chrome OS looked like at that time.

The Chrome OS application menu

All of these applications are web based applications and are not stored locally - everything is in the cloud as the operating system is designed to be run from the "cloud" so that the OS itself can be installed onto Flash based storage without much available space. This means if you manage to get it installed as a Virtual Machine (which they do say should be possible with the current source code) then you're not going to need a great deal of space to get it installed. The user data which does get stored is actually all encrypted so if anyone swaps out the SSD all the personal information will not easily be readable.

Any files you have such as Microsoft Office files will be able to open automatically using the Office Live web application as well since it is one of the many web applications that work. The point in them demonstrating this is that it and many other non-Google web applications will just work if they already work in the Chrome browser as there is no proprietary technology used in getting applications added to the menu - it is like having bookmarks for web apps.

Second, because all apps live within the browser, there are significant benefits to security. Unlike traditional operating systems, Chrome OS doesn't trust the applications you run. Each app is contained within a security sandbox making it harder for malware and viruses to infect your computer. Furthermore, Chrome OS barely trusts itself. Every time you restart your computer the operating system verifies the integrity of its code. If your system has been compromised, it is designed to fix itself with a reboot.

You're not stuck to just one set of tabs either, Chrome OS has a feature very similar to "Spaces" in OS X to provide multiple desktops that you can switch between using the "overview" screen which also provides an easy way of creating a new instance of the browser. In addition to this it is important to note that every tab is a separate instance which is "sand boxed" and totally protected against each other tab, and the OS itself is protected on a read-only partition that can only be written to by the root user.

The Chrome OS overview screen

The new browser based operating system isn't entirely tab based either - it includes these things they're going to call "panels" (which hopefully they'll improve the styling of) which are persistent across all tabs. These panels are for things like Chat and viewing contacts, and will also appear when connecting external storage devices so that you can open up content from them easily.

Looking back at security again they have gone with a silent automatic update system similar to how Chrome OS updates itself at startup if it needs to, but in the case of the OS it will also validate itself to ensure that no malware has infected the system. If something is detected with an invalid security certificate it will revert itself to a "clean" version and will automatically fix itself. The technology behind this is what they call the "verified boot process" and is quite an interesting concept. It is particularly good to see that it can fix itself should it go wrong.

Their aim is to release the operating system by the end of next year in time for the holiday season, but apparently it will only run on Chrome OS approved devices that use solid-state drives - it will not work on a hard drive. I'm sure someone will get it working as a VM or on a HDD sooner or later though.

This is not intended to be run on people's main machine, but on an accompanying netbook which is used primarily for Internet based work as there are applications that cannot run on this. It does however have a good number of video codecs already included which means most video should be able to run off the bat and is hardware accelerated.

One of the questions people have is what do you do if you have no internet connection? This is something Google have thought about and a lot of content will have the ability to be cached, such as books and videos. I imagine as HTML 5's web application cache support is adopted on more sites it will probably improve what can be used offline.

After having seen this I do find it very tempting to see how I'll get on using it for all web based tasks for the foreseeable future though I imagine without a netbook it will not be the same experience as it will have to be run in a VM. The UI does have some bits that look quite nice, though some of the UI I think is also incredibly ugly which hopefully will be improved so that it doesn't have a negative impact on the user experience. What I'm asking myself now is what this will mean for other operating systems. Google have clearly stated it's not intended to replace your primary machine, nor are they saying they want to replace HDDs in machines with SSDs as it is primarily a machine for net access. What it does mean however is that companies like Apple and Microsoft may see the silent updates, the self-repair, and the certification of root-protected operating system files as something they could mimic in future release of their own operating systems. Google have once again raised the bar, and I wonder what Apple will do to beat it should they release a netbook or tablet of their own.

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Blade Runner

Blade Runner movie poster
Posted by David G. Paul

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Whether you loved it or hated it, there is no denying the fact that Ridley Scott's Blade Runner had a lasting impact on the world of science fiction. The book it was based upon, Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" is a respected novel which many say was superior to the film. What is it that people love and hate about the film though?

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Chrome OS, coming soon...

Google Chrome browser beta
Posted by David G. Paul

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It seems there isn't anything Google can do wrong, and maybe that is why so many people are eagerly anticipating the launch of Google's Chrome OS. Personally I'll be installing it on a Virtual Machine as soon as I can get my hands on it as I can't wait to see what it's like (and of course a review will follow!), how it performs, and what it's differences are to other operating systems.

Google have left us pretty much in the dark since announcing it, and since then we've even seen a fake release which was actually a Suse 10 release; and we've been promised it by the end of the year. Though if Tech Crunch's source is correct, then it looks like we'll be seeing it on Thursday this week (tomorrow) during an event which is likely to demonstrate it's features and quite possibly end in a release - even if it's only released to a small number to start with.

I do wonder what Google will be able to achieve in the Operating System market as it is already saturated with a phenomenal number of choices (many of which are Linux distros, same as Chrome OS) with obviously the most used ones being various Windows and OS X releases. The place where Google could really take the market by storm is in the Netbook market and would also mean user's would expect the OS's focus to be around browsing the web.

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Google goes SPDY

Google
Posted by David G. Paul

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Google have announced a new protocol named SPDY (which we're supposed to pronounce as "speedy") which is supposed to help speed up webpages. This new protocol interfaces with the existing HTTP protocol when installed on servers and reportedly can speed up page load times by up to 64% which is pretty impressive, though I'd prefer to see what this figure is like in "real world" examples.

The way SPDY works is it sits in front of the HTTP protocol (imagine the ISO OSI 7 layer network model if that helps) and acts as an intermediary level that affects open connections and the way the data is transmitted across them. This protocol can apparently open an unlimited number of connections over the same TCP session due to the way requests are interleaved, but I think in reality there will be a limit imposed by the CPU time available on the server and the available bandwidth. The reason I suspect this may be the case is that it having to compress all requests, similar to how using mod_gzip works, means that it is more processor intensive.

They're obviously quite keen to speed up the browsing experience as they've also prepared a special version of Chrome that uses this new technology. It will of course only make a difference when browsing sites running of webservers using the SPDY protocol. What would be nice is to one day see this transferred to the mobile browser as this is where it could benefit from the technology the most. Though it's possible the additional work required by the client after receiving the data could cause shorter battery life due to using more processing power.

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The Google Wave manual

Google Wave
Posted by David G. Paul

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Now it's actually possible to say RTFM to people who don't understand Wave (if you don't feel like being polite and showing them). Unfortunately I don't think it's so much as people not understanding how to use it, but what the point in it is. I've been pretty vocal over my enthusiasm for this latest piece of Google technology and I hope more people I know will start actively using it. To try and explain to people how to use Google Wave and what it's all about a new book by Gina Trapani and Adam Pash has been released titled "The Complete Guide to Google Wave".

The preview version of the book's 8 chapters and 2 appendices are free to view online, but it will be possible to buy the book as a DRM-free PDF later this month. The final edition will be released around January as a PDF, softcover and hardcover releases.

Personally I don't think I'll bother reading the book as over the past few weeks using Wave it's proven itself to not be that difficult to use. I have seen some people take a while to get to grips with the UI (suggesting it may be a bad interface), especially with not understanding how to reply in-between other replies and how to create public Waves - but all this information is available on their help page.

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Mozilla plans for Firefox 3.6

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

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Mozilla are ever working towards building a better browser and to keep up (or stay in front) of it's competitors. For most Windows users if you've got a browser other than IE it's likely to by Firefox and with good reason - it's got some great features, it's reliable, and secure. In recent months though it hasn't been the fastest of browsers with competitors such as Safari and Chrome pushing in front of the performance war. Mozilla are hoping this will change when version 3.6 is released, but Beta 1 is already showing some promise.

Firefox 3.6 Beta is built on Mozilla's Gecko 1.9.2 web rendering platform, which has been under development for several months and contains many improvements for web developers, Add-on developers and users. This version is also faster and more responsive than previous versions, and has been optimized to run on small device operating systems such as Windows CE and Maemo.

In addition to this the Mozilla Labs product, Personas, is now built into the browser so the ability to apply themes to your browser is easily within reach without having to know about Mozilla's side projects. This move is probably to directly compete with Google Chrome's ability to easily skin the browser. There are also the following improvements:

  • Notification for out-of-date plugins detected in use on a page,
  • Native video can now be displayed full-screen or inside "poster frames" (HTML 5),
  • Supports the Web Open Font Format (WOFF) for using your own TrueType or OpenType fonts,
  • General performance increases (including to JavaScript engine),
  • Improves support for new CSS, DOM and HTML 5 technologies,

It'll be interesting to see what the use of WOFF does to the internet and how designers use this to replace the sIFR methods they used previously. Of course though if everyone started using fonts similar to Comic Sans then it wouldn't be particularly good (though I'm sure most designers wouldn't use that!).

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Google Wave opened up for Federation

Google Wave
Posted by David G. Paul

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Barely a day goes by at the minute where someone in the tech world isn't talking about Wave, or something new about Wave is being released. This is one of the days where there is something to talk about! Most of the recent noise has been about gaining access to Wave, and the various API's that people now have access to. Those who have access to the Sandbox however, get a something new to experience as Google have opened up Wave for "Federation".

The open source Wave Federation Prototype Server is delivered as a Java application that conforms to XEP-0114, the Jabber Component Protocol. In the examples below we show how to install the Wave Federation Prototype Server as an extension to the Openfire XMPP server, but it should run against any XEP-0114 compliant server. We also have instructions for using Prosody.

The release of Google Wave Federation Prototype Server means is that Google no longer have to worry about their infrastructure being the sole bearer of all the new Waves being created as people can now set up their own Wave servers to share the load. Apparently this is a long way from being the final release and they are asking developers to help them reach this endpoint. In doing this they are effectively taking into account the communities needs, and they are also letting their users finish their software for them which does cut costs. I expect what the result of Federation means is that you'll be able to brand your own Wave servers.

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Google Wave to get an app store?

Google Wave
Posted by David G. Paul

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In a day where most companies have an application store for one product or another it should come as no surprise that Google, a long time innovater, would also want in on the action. According to numerous sites on the net it seems Lars Resmussen (@larsras) has more or less announced that a Google Wave app store is something which is inevitable - it's going to happen.

How an app store for Google Wave will work is pretty much just speculation at the minute but I would hope that there will be several tiers, including a free tier so that open source developers can show their wares to others for free. For the extensions that are in paid-for tiers this would generate more revenue for Google, possibly enough to offset some of the cost that the development and implemention of the required server infrastructure will have cost.

Once this App Store opens I think I'll have to write a few open source ones for people to use.

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Amazon to serve Databases

Amazon
Posted by David G. Paul

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I'm sure you'll have heard about Amazon Web Services's storage cloud (S3)and most likely their EC2 cloud as well, but now they're adding what they're calling RDS to the mix - a Relational Database as a Service. I think this is something Amazon will make an absolute fortune on as the reports are showing that costs will vary depending on storage space and the data transfer costs. On top of this they will also have an optional charge for backups, which can be retained for as long as the user wishes.

The way this works is a front-end layer which the user interacts with which makes calls to a MySQL 5.1 backend - each of these requests is also something which is chargeable by Amazon. If they do charge for reads and writes to the database on top of the charges for data transfer and storage then I think it's going a bit far as you're basically paying for the same thing twice. Hopefully that report will turn out to be incorrect though when their official announcement goes out later today.

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Raindrops keep falling on the web

Mozilla Raindrop
Posted by David G. Paul

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Mozilla Labs are at it again - they seem to be in the mode for churning out communication applications at the minute and from the looks of this one it seems they might be a little jealous of the eager anticipation from people wanting to use Google Wave. From the looks of this product it does seem that way, though if you look a little closer it does a little more than it seems. Whereas Google Wave is primarily a medium for communication to take place on, Raindrop is more of an aggregator similar in some respects to Friendfeed.

At present Raindrop can take feeds from Gmail, Skype, email (using IMAP only) and Twitter and collates this information into a single stream in what they hope is an easy to use, extensible environment. So although initial screenshots are reminiscent of Wave it is in fact nothing like it. What you'll also find is that it's not hosted service either - it's something you have to run locally which means having Apache, IIS, etc. set up on your system is likely to be a requirement unless the it uses it's own inbuilt fileserver (preferably with the ability to change the port number).

The whole system is built using modern technologies such as Dojo (a Javascript library) and CouchDB. I'm quite interested in seeing where this goes, but I'm afraid I can't really see a massive use for this at the minute though maybe this will change as their development continues.

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Windows 7

Microsoft Windows 7 logo
Posted by David G. Paul

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After the generally considered failure of Windows Vista, Microsoft is depending on Windows 7 to be favourable in the eyes of those who shunned their last offering in favour of sticking with XP. The question though is what changes have they made, and is it really a better experience than the last upgrade.

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Surf Google Wave with Waveboard

Google Wave
Posted by David G. Paul

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It was only a matter of time before people started writing their own applications based around Google Wave and the first one that's come to my attention is Waveboard. Waveboard is an application for Mac OS X (and soon the iPhone as well) that puts your Google Wave account into an application.

What I don't yet understand is the point of it - anyone who has Fluid installed can just create their own Google Wave application using that which makes some dedicated software seem overkill. Even the iPhone application is no different really to just opening it in Safari on your mobile (since you can create a homepage button to it too). Maybe eventually they'll add a feature or something that will make these applications worthwhile, but until then I'm a little sceptical.

A more useful tool I've been using is the Wave notifier extension for Firefox. All this tool does is periodically check to see if there are updates to any of your Waves and will display a count of the number of Waves with updates. On hovering over the indicator it will then list each updated Wave with a timestamp of when it was last modified.

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Tweetie 2 is out!

Posted by David G. Paul

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The first Tweetie application for the iPhone, and indeed the one for Mac, gained a lot of popularity despite it being one of the paid-for Twitter clients When the second version was announced by atebits, it did create a lot of noise, some of which was aimed towards it being a paid-for upgrade. Personally I disagree with those that think the price is outrageous - it's a £1.99 app and if you won't pay that for a worthwhile upgrade that developers have laboured over then there are plenty of free Twitter apps out there.

Tweetie 2 when you first launch it will ask you for your Twitter login - once provided it will add this account to the account list as it also supports multiple Twitter accounts using a iPhone Mail app style of navigation. The first thing I did after this was to see what settings were available. You can configure:

  • Display name
  • Date format
  • Font size
  • Image service 
  • Video service
  • URL Shortening
  • Read Later
  • Quote syntax
  • Auto rotate
  • Text expander
  • Sound effects
  • Tweet blocker
  • Follow cost
  • Favstar.fm
  • Favrd
  • Tweeteorites

You can also configure your login for using bit.ly's API service so that you can see the stats for your shortened URLs as you can for Tagal.us as well. In addition to this you can also configure alternate URLs for the Twitter API should you be behind a proxy server or if Twitter is down. The image services include: yFrog, TwitPic, TweetPhoto, Mobypicture, Twitgoo, Posterous, img.ly, and Custom (provide an API endpoint). The available video services are to upload to are yFrog and Twitvid. URL shortening is provided by: j.mp (bit.ly), TinyURL, is.gd, l.pr, u.nu, Linkyy, and Custom (provide an API endpoint).

When you open your account in Tweetie 2 you'll then see the tweets from the people you follow, and the tabs for @replies, Direct messages, searches, and more. If you want to refresh your tweets manually then you can drag the list down and then release it. A second or two later your tweets in that view will be updated. It's nice and easy to do, and isn't that hard a feature to find either but I did kind of like the "flick to refresh" feature TweetDeck for iPhone has.

Moving on to the searches tab you will find that there are a list of trending topics (which can be navigated to), saved searches, nearby and search. The nearby search is actually quite cool - when you tap it you will be presented with a map view and the request to use your current location. After agreeing to this the map will then zoom in to your locale and you will see tweets appearing all over your map. Clicking in the tweet will show a summary and the tweeter with an arrow to view the tweet. You will also see RADAR like waves pass around the tweet as it gets updates for the surrounding tweets. If you don't like the map view you can also view them as a list.

Composing a tweet is pretty much like any other twitter client on first inspection, but if you tap on the character counter it will flip round and the keyboard will be replaced by a 3x2 square of icons for inserting a picture from your camera, a picture from your photo roll, a geotag, username, hashtags, or the option to shrink URLs in the tweet. Tapping on the character counter again will return the view to the keyboard.

When viewing the list of tweets, if you swipe your finger across the tweet you get the option to reply, attachment options (open link, mail link, repost link, read later, etc.), view the profile of the tweeter, mark it as a favourite, or to repost it. Tapping the tweet will load the tweet up in a full window with more details.

The only thing so far I've not liked about this app are the available retweet formats - my preferred format of "RT username: message" is not in the available list of options which is slightly annoying - even their desktop version supports that.

Overall I quite like the interface and can tell that a lot of time and thought has gone into each of the design changes they've made. For the time being I will continue using this app instead of the iPhone version of TweetDeck just to see how it goes after a few weeks of usage. If you're looking for a Twitter client this is a great one to use, but there are many options out there to also consider.

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VMware Fusion 3

VMWare logo
Posted by David G. Paul

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Coming at the end of the month, just a week after Windows 7 is released into the world, is VMware Fusion 3. What is pretty amazing about this new release that makes it worth the upgrade is that it now offers native 64-bit support which means it should bring a small performance increase with it along with the ability to run 64-bit VMs. It also claims it should be able to support all the features of Windows 7 when run on your Mac. Sounds good to me!

I used to use VMware Fusion 2, though I did find on my poor old work Macbook it didn't run that well, certainly not as well as on my home, 1st gen, Macbook Pro. Due to this I switched to Virtualbox instead and have not had any problems since - I might give VMware Fusion 3 a go though to see what it's speed improvements are like. Fingers crossed.

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Flash for iPhone with Adobe CS5

Posted by David G. Paul

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Only yesterday I last wondered how long it would be before we see Flash support get added to the iPhone. It's been a popular request from iPhone owners, but this feature has remained ever elusive until now. Adobe Systems have announced that Flash developers will be able to create applications for the iPhone using their newly-arrived-in-Beta Flash CS5.

It's a shame you still won't be able to view Flash applications in the mobile Safari, but being able to create Flash based applications to run on the iPhone is a positive step forward, and not one I expected.  To actually have the ability to build iPhone Apps outside of Xcode yet still have them appear on your home screen is quite amazing and I'm intrigued about how they've gone about getting it to deploy to the iPhone and whether they'll also be possible to be submitted to the Apple App Store or not. I guess these questions will be answered in time though.

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Google Wave

Google Wave
Posted by David G. Paul

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Few products get as much hype surrounding them as Google Wave did around the time it entered into a "invite only" beta phase. For Google I think they couldn't have hoped for a better reception or for better marketing as thousands of people all eagerly awaited their own invites - some even making it onto eBay for silly prices. The question though of how good Google Wave is remains, and whether it can be a revolutionary product.

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Twitter will soon get lists

Twitter
Posted by David G. Paul

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Twitter will soon be adding something I've wanted them to add for ages - lists. In TweetDeck you can create groups, but most other Twitter clients don't support this. With the addition of this new feature I imagine most clients will begin to add support.

Lists are public by default (but can be made private) and the lists you've created are linked from your profile. Other Twitter users can then subscribe to your lists. This means lists have the potential to be an important new discovery mechanism for great tweets and accounts.

What they don't say is whether or not you'll be able to message a list - that would be useful, especially if you want to Tweet all your work colleagues for example in one go. I can't imagine they'll allow this though as it would also "encourage" Twitter spam.

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Google Sidewiki

Google
Posted by David G. Paul

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Google Sidewiki isn't a new concept, it's something that many have tried before. The concept is that you could be visiting a webpage and then you feel you've got something to add to the topic or to comment on the site and you can then do so by using SideWiki to leave comments that others can view. Being able to comment on a site from your web browser (specifically Firefox) is something other plugins have been able to do before, and what people using Google Friend Connect can already do.

So instead of displaying the most recent entries first, we rank Sidewiki entries using an algorithm that promotes the most useful, high-quality entries. It takes into account feedback from you and other users, previous entries made by the same author and many other signals we developed.

What they haven't mentioned in their blogpost is that it also provide Google more information about a site when it comes to displaying the site in the search results. I'm half expecting them to change their search results page slightly to show which pages have comments left on them, similar to how it's done in Google Reader. Also, as a site owner you can leave a comment using Sidewiki that is kind of a like a "sticky" in forums - it will remain at the top of the list of comments if you want it to.

In principle, and in these early days as it's first released it looks like a cool concept that may well add value to sites. I think it could provide valuable feedback for both site owners and for people visiting the site who are interested in more information and it could be a step forward in this area for Google. Though for businesses I can imagine the worry this could create - if some disgruntled employee or client decides to be constantly inflammatory about your site or business using this then it depending on whether it will filter abusive comments could well affect your business. If you're trying to win a big contract then chances are your prospective client will visit your site to find out more about your company, if they see many abusive or unsatisfactory comments in SideWiki it could well put them off even if it's only down to a "one off". In all fairness though I can't see this happening too often without it being deserved to some degree.

So far it's only available for Firefox and Internet Explorer but they intent on having it ready for Chrome soon. If you're interested in accessing SideWiki data to use elsewhere then they do also have an API available with documentation for JavaScript and Java.

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Google ChromeFrame

Google Chrome browser beta
Posted by David G. Paul

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It's no secret, or no surprise, that many web developers dislike Internet Explorer 6 and wished it would disappear. As it turns out Google agree with you and have actually taken steps to help people who are frustrated at being stuck with the browser by offering an in-browser alternative in the form of Chrome Frame.

ChromeFrame is an addon for Internet Explorer which will then allow pages to be viewed using the Chrome engine inside IE so that sites actually look and work as they should in other browsers. To allow users to see your site using Chrome Frame you need to add the following line to the head section of your pages.

<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="chrome=1" />

What this does is tell the plug-in that you've specified users of Chrome Frame should automatically see your site in Chrome Frame. If I hadn't specified this on my site then you'd still be able to view it using Chrome Frame by typing the following into the address bar:

cf:http://www.newearthonline.co.uk

So it is fairly straight forward to use, you just add cf: to the front of the URL you want to view. They also have a method for detecting and prompting users whether Chrome Frame is installed in IE and if not it can direct them to a download page for it.

As cool as it might be there will still be some problems - in some cases where newer versions of IE or alternative browsers can't be rolled out easily (such as at Local Authorities) there is a fair chance that their ability to install plugins will also be blocked. It also has a couple of features missed from the implementation of the plugin such as printing and file downloads.

Overall though it's a great innovation from Google and it could be a way forward for many who are currently unable to upgrade or switch. Nice work there Google.

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Locate Wi-Fi using Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality
Posted by David G. Paul

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Since the idea of Augmented Reality (AR) on mobile phones was unleashed upon us it's been almost impossible to escape it. Even the iPhone is showing early signs of support as iPhone OS 3.1 includes some very basic support. Previously we've seen applications that helps us find out about where we are, or how to get to an underground station - but now we've got a way of easily locating and reading reviews of Wi-Fi points near where we are.

When WorkSnug is released it will work initially in London and then later in San Francisco. The idea is that when you're out and about and in need of somewhere to work you can use this application to see visually where cafes with Wi-Fi and any other work space which offers Wi-Fi connectivity to the public is complete with reviews of how good the coffee, and whether there is a power point available for charging, etc.

I quite like the idea, but until it expands out to other cities I don't think I'll have a great deal of use for it. What would help is if they crowd source the data so that other cities get data filled out fast - with scores averaged out across different peoples findings.

If you live in San Francisco or London and find yourself out and about and in need of Wi-Fi then it could well be a useful App for you to try.

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Snow Leopard

Apple OS X Snow Leopard
Posted by David G. Paul

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Apple's OS X operating system has been updated once more to version 10.6 and with it comes a variety of performance and usability improvements with no real feature additions. Is it worth the £25 price tag, and what difference does it make to the average user?

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IE8 - Browser for the Better?

Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

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This morning whilst browsing RSS feeds I noticed a post about Microsoft starting a new Internet Explorer 8 advertising campaign called "Browser for the Better". This one is slightly different though, what they have said is that they will donate 8 meals to "Feeding America" in support of the Hunger Action Month.

Only complete downloads of Windows Internet Explorer 8 through browserforthebetter.com from June 8, 2009 through September 30, 2009 qualify for the charitable donation to Feeding America. Microsoft is donating at least $1.15 per download, with a maximum of $2.30 per download by  users of Windows Internet Explorer 6 after August 24, 2009, to Feeding America up to a maximum of $1,000,000. Meals are used for illustrative purposes only. Meal conversion is effective until June 30th, 2010.

What Hunger Action Month is all about is to raise awareness for the number of Americans who do not get enough food to eat, and Feeding America is the US's leading hunger relief charity.

It's a worthy cause and it's good to see that Microsoft are willing to help people in need, but using it as a marketing tool for getting more people to download IE8 does seem a little underhanded as it seems like they're doing it purely for their own gains. Of course though there is a big difference between downloading the browser and actually using it so if you haven't already downloaded it and you use Windows you may as well download it (but not use it) in support of their efforts.

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Opera 10 is out!

Opera browser
Posted by David G. Paul

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Today Opera Software have released the final version of their Opera 10, their latest iteration of a browser with a long history. It's initial release includes versions for Windows, Mac and Linux and is available in 43 languages - that should be enough to cover most people!

Amongst it's features is Opera Turbo, a web accelerator-like technology design for those with slow connections (such as people browsing using 3G) where it compresses the pages so that less data needs to be transferred - also saving you money if you happen to be on a contract that is priced per megabyte.

You'll also notice a number of GUI changes in the style and behaviour of the tab bar, and a customisable "speed dial". It has finally followed in the footsteps of Firefox by including a dictionary to show spelling mistakes as you type as well.

Other features include Opera Dragonfly - a web development tool, and Opera Mail.

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a tiny thread

Posted by David G. Paul

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The creator of delicious, Joshua Schacter has released his latest creation into the world - a tiny thread. The idea behind this is that tweets on Twitter can sometimes be seen out of context due to not having the full conversation, and what this does is to aggregate those conversations into a single threaded view. This view of course is very much like Delicious before it and contains very little styling (none in fact) which seems to be the way the creator likes it.

To start a new thread you simply log in via your Twitter account (giving it authorisation to have access) and then you type what you want you thread to be about, or you can click on an existing thread to continue a conversation. When you reply to a thread it does not tweet your message, but instead it will tweet a link to the thread you are currently active in. I guess if you become quite active in a thread that could mean an awful lot of spam-like tweets. Oops.

There's already a wishlist and hopefully it will help shape the future of a tiny thread into something which is also searchable - it could become the future on forums!

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Internet Explorer 6 will live on

Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

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For a while now there has been a campaign by web developers everywhere to try and kill the Internet Explorer 6 web browser. It seems however that these attempts are in vain as Microsoft have been reported as stating they will continue to support the aged web browser until at lest 2014, 4 years longer than previously reported.

"Friends do not let friends use IE6," said Amy Barzdukas, Microsoft's general manager for Internet Explorer.

"If you are in my social set and I have been to your house for dinner, you are not using IE6," she said. "But it is much more complicated when you move into a business setting."

"It's hard to be cavalier in this economy and say 'oh it's been around for so long they need to upgrade,'" Ms Barzdukas told journalists in San Francisco..

Web monitoring firms estimate that 15-20% of people still use IE6 to browse the web.

In some ways it is clear that what Microsoft is doing by continuing to support IE6 is to alleviate the costs of a forced upgrade by not forcing the issue. Most PC's running IE6 should be able to cope with running IE7 or 8 with no additional hardware of software costs, but in businesses and organisations the rollout of any software whether it is free or commercial will often incur a labour cost.

One example might be the use of Internet Explorer 6 in a hospital. If IE6 was no longer supported, they would eventually be forced to upgrade. Now take into account that most hospitals will have proprietary software to handle patient data (most of which I imagine would be built on Access), but lets just imagine their software interacts with IE6. By forcing an upgrade to IE7 they would have to divert resources in order for someone to go round updating their machines with the IE7 or 8, but before this they would have to do extensive testing to ensure that their software would not break under the new browser. So it's a process which could be quite pricey for some organisations.

So whilst I do despise Internet Explorer 6 I do understand why it is essential for Microsoft's support for it to continue. Whilst that is important, what I don't see as important however is for websites in general to develop with IE6 in mind due to the wasted time in getting your site working in it for the small percentage of your target audience who uses it. Of course though, there is the feeling that you don't want your site to look broken, even on an archaic browser such as IE6, as they could be a prospective customer and may be put off by a broken site. The problem here however is that business designing website then have to spend more time getting the site to work which does of course cost money also.

Probably for now one of the best courses of action to take is to alert users of IE6 on your sites that they are using an out of date browser and that they need to upgrade (as has been covered before). This way over time you may get to a point where when you look at your statistics you no longer have an IE6 users.

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Facebook buys FriendFeed

Facebook, social network
Posted by David G. Paul

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Facebook and FriendFeed have both released press releases to announce that Facebook has bought FriendFeed. At the minute there has been no mention of cost or what this means for the future of FriendFeed's service but it will likely mean that we see more features from FriendFeed absorbed into the timeline view of Facebook. On their website they have stated:

FriendFeed.com will continue to operate normally for the time being. We're still figuring out our longer-term plans for the product with the Facebook team. As usual, we will communicate openly about our plans as they develop — keep an eye on the FriendFeed News group for updates.

I guess this purchase is most likely Facebook's attempt at fighting back at Twitter and to show that it is still relevant and can provide what people want. The biggest problem with Facebook however is the way the applications work and how many requests you constantly get for stupid little applications that serve no purpose other than to waste a few minutes and to irritate you.

The problem most existing FriendFeed user's share is what will happen to this service once Facebook has finished copying the features it wants? If it is eventually disbanded altogether this will leave a large number of unhappy people who like using it for feeds from Twitter, etc. but have no interest in Facebook.

Interestingly it does seem to have sparked a renewed interest from some people as within hours of the press release, after having no new requests on FriendFeed for ages, I got two new subscription notifications. I know it's not exactly a niche service, there are a lot of users using FriendFeed however I think it will remind some users who have forgotten about it that it's there which means it's probably not a bad thing in terms of marketing for either company, but whether it becomes a PR disaster for Facebook a few months down the line remains to be seen.

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Microsoft and Yahoo join forces

Yahoo
Posted by David G. Paul

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I doubt it will have escaped your attention that yesterday the Internet was full of talk about Microsoft's deal with Yahoo to use Bing on their homepage in exchange for 88% of the ad generated profits for 5 out of the 10 year deal. If this deal passes the regulation of anti-trust investigators in the US and EU it will mean that the number 2 search engine powered by Yahoo will join with the number search engine, Bing in what is obviously an attempt to take on the giant which is Google. Now, they say it will provide "better choices for consumers and advertisers", but I'm not quite sure I see it their way really. Combining two of the top search engines into one sounds more like it is less choice as instead of two different search algorithms you'll be getting one, and that means the same ordering of results.

Yahoo seems to be the source of a lot of controversy when it comes to them trying to actually succeed. They've been in talks previously for a possible take-over by Microsoft, and have also had a failed partnership with Google after anti-trust concerns. I think this latest partnership will prove to be just as unsuccessful as I can see it raising serious anti-trust claims again.

Microsoft never really got off on the right foot when it came to web search engines and now they're trying to do whatever it takes to muscle their way into the number one spot. Rebranding their search engine as Bing has helped to pique interest in what most people thought of as a poor search engine and web portal. I think their rebranding and re-engineering has really revitalised it though and even on their own they'll probably gain ground over Yahoo eventually anyway, but it still doesn't seem right that these two giants should work together and remove choice from the user. It will mean the main options are either Google or Bing, it's pointless to see Yahoo as a separate entity.

In reality this will mean only two companies are competing and driving forward innovative new ways of searching, and it could spell disaster. A two horse race is not always a bad situation to be in though as it can sometimes mean a fiercer competition; the example I'm thinking of is actually quite topical for this month too - the space race. Whilst it's true other agencies looked at space travel, it was the United States and the (then) USSR which drove forward advancements in rocket technology as neither wanted to come in last. It could well prove true here, but it will depend on how dedicated Microsoft really are to advancing their own technology and whether they are willing to pour a lot of funding into this endeavour.

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Dopplr iPhone application

Posted by David G. Paul

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A couple of days ago I was thinking how useful it would be to have a Dopplr iPhone application, and sure enough today I found there was one! Considering the fact that this application is free, just like their service, it doesn't harm to try it out.

You don't need an account to try Dopplr out on your iPhone. To start with their are 5 tabs across the bottom for:

  1. Places
  2. Cities
  3. Trips
  4. People
  5. More

The places tab is the default and displays a map. It will also ask your permission to show your current location - this will appear as a blue flag with a "+" symbol. Surrounding the map are 4 large icons - I had no idea what these were for at first, although the symbols are recognisable their purpose was not. The four icons when tapped will display hotels, restaurants, sights and favourite places on the map around you and tapping on any of these pins it creates will allow you to say if you've been there, whether you liked it, and the option to get more information on the place. You can also zoom in and out of this map however it is a little flakey as if your fingers brush a marker then it will open the information up for that marker. There is a list view, however for Leicester it doesn't display anything so I'm not sure what it's supposed to list. You can also type in a location if you want to search elsewhere.

Using the cities tab will display a list of the "Top 250 cities" and clicking on any of these cities will switch you back to the "Places" tab with this city focused. The "Trips" tab will display nothing unless you're signed into Dopplr - to do this you have to browse to the site and Grant access to the application. For some reason I had to do this twice before it finally worked. Once you're in it will display a list of your upcoming trips with the dates of when you'll be there, a description, and links to view the trip in a browser or to see places in that city. The "People" tab displays a list of people who you share trips with, and the "More" tab just allows anonymous usage feedback and the option to sign out.

Unfortunately, if you live in the UK it doesn't seem a great deal of use other than to see where friends are and where you're going to be.

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Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality
Posted by David G. Paul

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Augmented Reality (AR) is one of the biggest buzzwords of today as we move towards what was previously only in the dreams of science fiction novels and movies. Augmented Reality is the technology which enhances our view of the world with useful information about what we see, similar to how a HUD works in military aircraft and in FPS video games.

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Gmail tackles phishers

Google
Posted by David G. Paul

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Google Labs have taken it upon themselves to better protect users of the popular webmail site, Gmail. Anything which reduces spam I'm all for, not that I get much these days. This what they say about their new protection:

We do that by looking at the "From" header, and when it says "ebay.com" for example, it means it really did come from ebay.com. Anything else is rejected; it won't even appear in your spam folder because Gmail won't accept it.

So what they're doing is to check the sender to make sure they are who they say they are before accepting the email. Any emails which are from a verified sender will have a little key next to the senders name. To start with these super-trustworthy senders are limited to just eBay and Paypal due to the intensity of which they are targeted but other high-profile targets are likely to follow shortly.

Initially I did have my doubts about this though as anyone who is a web developer will know that you can modify the "From" address in the email header to anything you want so you could actually make it look like the emails had come from ebay or Paypal. However it is not just the headers it looks at, it also uses DKIM (which uses cryptographic authentication) to further identify the sender.

If you want to give this feature a try you have to enable it via the Labs tab on the settings page.

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Google Chrome OS

Google Chrome browser beta
Posted by David G. Paul

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Long before the browser Google Chrome was released there were many people that speculated about Google releasing their own operating system. There was even a number of screenshots that claimed to be of this mythical creation. Now it's happened, Google have announced their operating system will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010.

Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We're designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don't have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.

They've also stated that they're working with OEM's to release a number of netbooks next year and that the OS will run on the x86 architecture and on ARM. I'm quite surprised they haven't skipped past x86 and gone straight to 64-bit. From the sounds of it Google Chrome is becoming like IE in that it will become the windowing system and the applications will be web applications (meaning they'll run on Windows, etc. as well). Hopefully they won't have any anti-trust issues rise from this just as Microsoft had.

It does sound fairly innovative, but I wonder how they'll fair against the giants - Windows, OS X, Ubuntu (and the other distros such as Red Hat) as essentially it will still be just Linux distribution and probably won't be able to target the larger audiences due to most games being unable to run on it.

I'm also quite surprised they've called it Google Chrome OS though I can understand why they've done it. I guess further down the line the line between OS and browser will become blurred and so they'll be able to just drop the OS part of the title and people will still recognise the name as being an Operating System.

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VirtualBox

Sun VirtualBox
Posted by David G. Paul

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This program was recommended to me after my Macbook at work started to struggle with the memory hogging VMware Fusion. Don't get me wrong - I like VMware fusion, and it has a nice interface; but it was so slow. I don't think my Macbook Pro has ever had an VMware Fusion related slowdowns, so it could just be processing power that was the cause of the problem.

Anyway, I decided to give VirtualBox a try; the installation was the usual simple method of dragging and dropping an icon from a DMG into your Applications folder which these days is pretty much what you expect. Once done it does ask you to register your name and email address but you do get the choice to not provide these details.

What I find amazing about the program is it's simplistic design is instantly recognisable as being by Sun Microsystems and that put me off to start with. I don't know what it is about their UI's but I find them horrible, I wish I knew why. The program itself is straight forwards and speedy, and installing a new virtual OS is as simple as clicking new, going through a wizard to decide exactly what you want, and then to boot with either an installation ISO image mounted as a drive, or the installation CD in a mounted drive.

Unlike VMware Fusion it does not automatically do all the installation work for you, it's not that sophisticated. Instead you have to follow the normal installation instructions as though you were installing it on a real machine. For my virtual PC I decided to install Windows XP as I needed access to Internet Explorer 6 for testing purposes. The installation process was exactly the same as if I was installing it on a PC and was really easy.

Another similarity VirtualBox has with VMware Fusion is that you can save snapshots of your machine states so that you can revert to older versions of your machine should any changes cause the OS to go wrong, etc. There are many other common configuration settings such as 3D acceleration, specifying base memory and video memory sizes, clipboard sharing configuration, and remote displays.

For the past few days now I've been running Windows XP from this virtual machine with no serious slow down to my machine, and inside the VM itself it's still pretty responsive despite only allocating 192Mb RAM to it. One thing I've also noted as a useful feature is it's ability to have variable sized HDDs.

For those of you who have used VMware and need to convert your existing images there is documentation on the Ubuntu site on how to do this. 

If you're in the market for some new virtual machine software to be run locally then this is a good alternative to try.

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Opera Unite

Opera browser
Posted by David G. Paul

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Opera Unite is coined as being a web server in a web browser, but it's a actually a lot more than that - it brings a community to your browser. To start with you need to download a Beta of Opera 10 which includes this new feature and then when you're installed and ready you'll get a new icon in the status bar and in the side panel (if you use it). If you click this icon you can then add your current computer to Opera Unite by simply registering a new Opera account or logging in with an existing one, followed by specifying a name for what computer you're using.

Once you've done this you will get a new panel appear with the following sections:

  • File Sharing
  • Fridge
  • Media Player
  • Photo Sharing
  • The Lounge
  • Web Server

The file sharing section sounds straight forward enough - you specify a folder and you immediately begin sharing files in  that folder. It's not open to the whole world either, the security settings default to being "limited" - a password must be entered when accessing the files via a specific URL. It does sound like it might be fairly secure, but I'm yet to hear about any weaknesses in it. It's also possible to make all files in the folder public, or private depending on what you prefer. If it's private then only you can access them; unlike the limited option there is no way for other people to be allowed access.

The fridge is an interesting concept, and could probably be considered a more localised and personal form of Twitter. It allows you and others to leave small Post-It notes (limited to 40 characters) on a fridge. When I tried it from my Mac it worked great and I was able to post on colleagues fridges as well. However when I got home and installed it on a Windows machine I found it wouldn't work for me. Every time I click "Add note" and then start to type it would just scroll down the page and nothing would appear in the new Post-It note.

The Media Player works similar to the file sharing option - you specify a folder to share and then you get the same privacy options as before. In this mode you also get useful filters and sort options to easily navigate through your shared music. You can also play your music straight from the browser using this page as well. It's also clever enough to know if you add files which aren't music to the folder as well and will ignore them. Photo sharing is a similar sort of thing except it shows thumbnails of the images and when clicking on them you can view a larger version and also email them to a friend.

The Lounge is basically a chat room where you are the host, and you can invite people to chat with you. If you're discussing anything which is private, or you just don't want anyone else to join then you can also enable a password for it.

The final option, the webserver, isn't really any different to the Media Player, the Photo sharing, and the file sharing in terms of how you use it. The difference however is that once you've added an index.html it will then start serving the webpage from a different URL.

Personally I think there are a few things I'd change with it given the option - photos, media and file sharing I think would have been better off all in a single interface where what interactions are available differ depending on the media type. In terms of collaboration I think it will be an amazing tool for companies to use, however I don't think an average user will reap the same benefits.

I think the file sharing part of it I could occasionally find useful if I need to share files between home and work but don't have a USB memory drive on me at the time (though normally in that circumstance I'd just email it) or if I want to transfer larger files to friends. The fridge I don't currently have a user for - I use Twitter instead (@jedi58). Media Player I doubt I will use at all, nearly all my music files cannot legally be shared over the internet as they are ones purchased over iTunes or have been ripped from a CD I own. For photosharing I use Flickr and Facebook, so again no personal need for that. I'd be interested to hear what uses for Opera Unite people have found so far, so please feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments.

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Google Wave

Google
Posted by David G. Paul

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I've been so busy lately it's taken me a while to get round to posting about this one. Now that the web development news is quietening down a little I thought I'd take a look at this new Google product. I have heard people refer to it as being pipped to the post by Opera Unite, except I see Google Wave as a very different product. Where Opera Unite is about social browsing, Google Wave is more about collaboration on work.

How Google Wave is similar to Opera Unite is that they both exist as extensions to their browsers and provide a new way to interact with other people. Google Wave brings chat, email, web feeds, and document sharing into the Chrome interface to make it easier for people to collaborate. Okay, they do sound incredibly similar, and Google Wave may have come first, but what features they bother cover I think Opera Unite does better. For the time being the only advantage that Google Wave holds over Opera Unite is when it comes to multiple people needing to work on the same document - however this can already be achieved using Google Docs.

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7 days of iPhone Day 2: Delicious Library

Posted by David G. Paul

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Now don't worry I'm not going to make a habit of creating articles that span 7 days, it's just I'm quite looking forward to buying my first iPhone on Friday and I thought I'd cover as much as I could before getting it.

Today let's look at Delicious Library. For those who are not familiar with the desktop version of this software it is a program that allows you to easily catalogue your collection using manual input, or barcode recognition via a barcode scanner or your Mac's iSight. It will then complete the details by connection to Amazon's service assuming the barcode can be found on there.

In the last few days they have now released an iPhone application which allows you to browse your library, however it doesn't include the scanning part of it unfortunately. Still, it's free so you can't expect too much for that though I do hope they produce a paid-for version which uses the camera for scanning barcodes. Well, it's nice to live in hope!

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Facebook adds "vanity" URLs

Facebook, social network
Posted by David G. Paul

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Finally Facebook have added username for profiles so that instead of having to bookmark a long URL with numbers in it you can now register a username and have that as your URL. Some people have commented on how this is a feature Facebook should have added from the start, and there are others who see it as clever marketing on Facebooks part as thousands flooded in and registered over 200,000 usernames in the first 3 minutes of them being available. From now on anyone wanting to find me on Facebook can do so by using http://www.facebook.com/davidgpaul/  (no guarentees whether I will add you to my friends list there though).

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7 days of iPhone Day 1: Travel applications

The Apple iPhone
Posted by David G. Paul

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Every time I go on holiday abroad there is always something I can think of which I could have come in useful, and many of these things are available for the iPhone whether it be a map, a translation service, or even a way of tracking your itinerary. What follows is a short list of useful, but free, applications which you may find useful when planning or going on trips.

TripIt

The TripIt website is a great way of planning an itinerary and I used it to record as many details of my recent trip around Europe as I could. One of it's best features is that you don't have to fill in all the details yourself - you can forward booking confirmation emails to a special TripIt email address and it will add it to your itinerary if it's from a supported source. As an example I forwarded hotel and flight booking confirmations and it didn't just add the details from the emails it also added routes automatically using Google Maps. Just recently they added an iPhone application to access this information easily.

Evernote

If you've got a lot of notes to store about your trip such as flight numbers, confirmations, or even just a packing list and you think TripIt is a bit too much for your needs then the alternative is to use the popular note taking application, Evernote. You can also use it to make notes which will be synchronised with their server so they can be available from a web browser or even a desktop application.

GPS Tracker / Trail Guru

Both of these applications are quite similar - they use the GPS to record information about where you go with your phone. So with either of these applications you can track your journey, something which is especially useful if you use a camera other than the one on your phone and want to get a rough idea where a picture was taken from.

Where / Local Picks by TripAdvisor

Where is quite a popular application and can help you find local places such as fuel stations and restaurants so that you always have a rough idea of where to go. TripAdvisor's Local Picks is a similar application and provides reviews for places in it's recommendations list.

Translate

Communicating with people in a foreign country always goes better if you know some of their language - they become more receptive to helping you if you show an effort in using their language. With this little application powered by the Google Translate site you can attempt to blend in using the local language!

Well that's a very quick rundown of the applications, but since they're all free applications you may as well try them next time you're on a trip!

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Windows 7 without a brower

Microsoft Windows
Posted by David G. Paul

1 comment

In a surprising move Microsoft have removed Internet Explorer from Windows 7 for it's European release to comply with EU regulations that resulted from various anti-trust cases that have been filed against them over the years. Apparently the intention is that PC manufacturers install one or more browsers themselves when building computers using Windows 7. This has been confirmed as being the case by Microsoft and was reported on the cnet News website.

Microsoft doesn't plan to offer the browser-less "E" version outside Europe, but is also offering an option in all regions in which users can hide IE 8, as part of a control panel that lets users turn on and off various operating system components.

This report also shows that the previously argued issues with removing Internet Explorer from the OS were not strictly true or at least have been worked out for this new release dubbed Windows 7 E which is reminiscent of the Media Player-less "N" versions.

The question is though, is it a good thing or a bad thing? For people who are new to computers they're not necessarily going to know about different browsers or even where to get them from and it is those cases where it is good to have a browser pre-installed - even if it is one as dire as Internet Explorer. Of course though it is intended that OEM system builders choose what browser their customers will get and so doesn't make a huge difference to the end user. Other versions of Windows 7 such as the Ultimate edition will continue to include the browser with it.

There may be interesting times ahead for the web browser market. 

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Is Vlogging the future?

Posted by David G. Paul

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Amateur video to start with had been something of a fad - only those who could afford expensive equipment got to try it. Over the past 10 years we've seen an increase in the popularity of amateur video with the advent of cheaper camcorders and webcams; amateur video is now available to the masses. One the internet the first signs of using video as a medium for blogging came about around the same time as YouTube with what seemed a peculiar method of using video at the time. Previously people had embedded AVIs, MPEGs, and other formats in their pages though this often caused problems when using different browsers as the same method would not always work in every browser. YouTube's solution to this was to have a video player written in Flash and to convert the videos behind the scenes to a format it could use meaning a single method for embedding content was now possible and had been made easier for everyone to use whether a developer or not.

YouTube's popularity exploded and Google soon bought them out. We then started to see people using webcams to record their own weblogs and the birth of video blogging had truly begun. Where previously we had seen only audio podcasts we then started to see video podcasts, and even short interviews in the format of a podcast such as Robert Llwellyn's fantasic "Carpool" series. Twitter has even played it's part in changing the face of blogging with it being single handedly responsible for "micro-blogging" and for the current AudioBoo craze. All of this has transformed blogging from being something you type and post on your blog into a complete multimedia experience akin to watching reality TV shows. Video has given the blogger the tools they need to entice a much larger audience in what I've seen referred to occasionally as a meritocracy - someone who is good at "vlogging" stands a good chance of getting their message across.

I believe Wordpress might just be the first Open Source CMS to provide a tool dedicated solely for vlogging with their newly announced VideoPress. However VideoPress isn't a standalone product, you still need to have a WordPress blog already, but it's like having Vimeo or YouTube built directly into your blog. You can upload and embed videos with very little ease. The only tool more powerful, yet still intuitive and easy to use that I know of is Jadu CMS (a commercial CMS aimed at Enterprise) which has fantastic management of multimedia content and has a really nice interface for doing so.

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Opera "Freedom"

Opera browser
Posted by David G. Paul

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The Opera web browser has been around for a while, and I think I'd compare it to Marmite - you either love it, or you hate it. They've made good progress with their browser since it's conception, and with the Opera Labs working hard on developing exciting new features it will be interesting to see where they go with it in the future and whether it can one day rival the take-up of Firefox (I'm ignoring IE here) on the desktop. When it comes to mobile devices the Opera browser reigns supreme and is one of the most popular mobile browsers with the only real competitor being Apple's Safari browser on the various iPhone and iPod Touch models.

Opera Software currently have a page on their site which states:

15 years of browser innovation. On June 16th at 9:00 a.m (CEDT), we will reinvent the Web.

It's a bit cryptic but that doesn't stop the internet being rife with speculation. One possible clue is the imagery - using a cloud suggests it may have something to do with cloud computing. My guess is that it's going to be either a web-based storage or office system similar to what Google already has. If it is the case then saying it will reinvent the web could be just an attempt to generate publicity.Another possiblity is it's something to do with Opera Turbo and it possibly coming out of Beta due to the lighting bolt in the graphic. No matter which one of these it is, or whether it is something completely different then there is one thing which is for sure - all eyes (at least web developer / designer eyes) will be on Opera on Tuesday 16th June (8am BST).

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I'm back, and Windows 7 is coming soon

Microsoft Corporation
Posted by David G. Paul

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Well I'm back in the UK after my trip around Europe. During this two week break from blogging I visited Berlin, Naples, Pompeii, Vesuvius (yes, the volcano), Ercalano, Rome, Venice (and the smaller island of Lido), Milan, and Athens. You can expect a book and a short video to follow shortly. In the meantime you can peruse through my new Flickr set - "Europe 2009" or watch the slideshow.

In other news Microsoft have announced the release date for Windows 7 will be October 22nd 2009. If you've been following the events of E3 or my tweets you'll also notice that Microsoft have been busy in the world of the Xbox Live and have many new titles (some of which are exclusive or have exclusive DLC) and some new XBLA titles such as a new Monkey Island game and a special edition of the first game, a new method of controlling games using body motion, and a skateboatd controller. They also have announced a partnership with Sky, Facebook, Twitter, and Last.fm which will bring television, music, and social media to the XBLA experience as of the Fall update (that's Autumn for us British).

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Mozilla Prism and Weave

Mozilla Weave
Posted by David G. Paul

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The Internet is continuously transforming and adapting to become what people need it for and what they want to use it for whether they know they want it for that or not. Mozilla Labs is department of Mozilla dedicated to coming up with new ideas and developing new features for the Firefox web browser.

Anything goes here. Crazy ideas and inspirations are encouraged as we all explore and experiment with brand new ideas in whole new ways. Mozilla Labs is about inspiring and harnessing the intelligence, wisdom, and energy of the Mozilla community; let’s imagine the future of the Web, and then let’s build it together.

Prism is one of their projects which aims to bring web applications to the desktop. It's a lot like the Fluid application which available on Macs. What this means is that it customises it's own "copy" of the browser to be used solely with a particular site such as Google Docs for example so it doesn't make it available offline like Google Gears does - you still need an internet connection. However, offline storage is something which they have in their roadmap so it will be interesting to see where they go with it and whether it will have the same sort of power that a Google Gears powered application has.

Weave is another one, an extension which makes it easier to maintain different identities for the browser complete with automatic login to sites and synchronisation of bookmarks and saved passwords with other Weave-enabled versions of Firefox which you log in to. At the minute I don't think there is much use for Weave unless you use it to synchronise between a desktop and a laptop or between a work and home machine - until it's installed on more machines it will be a little hard to use it as something you can use for roaming. The ideas behind it though are well thought out and may turn out to be a very useful application once it's finished.

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Windows 7 Release Candidate

Microsoft Windows
Posted by David G. Paul

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Microsoft has sent emails out to Beta testers of Windows 7 to announce that the Release Candidate will be available via their Customer Preview Program on May 5th. It will be an unlimited release available to anyone who wants to try it with any number of allowed product keys but it will only be available until June 30th 2009. Past that point the product keys will expire. Microsoft also provide the following information:

IMPORTANT: If you are running Windows 7 Beta you'll need to back up your data (preferably on an external device) and then do a clean install of the Windows 7 Release Candidate. After installing Windows 7, you will need to reinstall applications and restore your files. If you need help with the installation process, please see the Installation Instructions.

If you're running Windows Vista, you can install Window 7 RC without having to back up and reinstall your programs and data. But to be on the safe side, please do backup your data before you start.

Please note: All users of the Windows 7 Release Candidate (including Windows Vista users who have upgraded to the Release Candidate) must do a clean installation of Windows 7 RTM. Please keep this is mind as you consider downloading the Release Candidate as opposed to waiting for the general availability release.

The RC has actually been available to MSDN subscribers since April 30th, but is now getting opened up to the public after 5 days. More than 10,000 companies have signed up to have access to a breadth of helpful tools and resources needed to prepare their products and services to take full advantage of the innovations in Windows 7 - how this compares to Microsoft Vista and previous versions of the operating system I'm not entirely sure.

I'll report back once I've tried the Release Candidate!

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The Slow Death of IE6

Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

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Internet Explorer is still one of the most used browsers on the planet with it having a bigger chunk of the browser pie than any other browser. The main reason for this of course is that it comes with Windows, so for many they won't know of the alternatives and for a long time there was no real alternative until Firefox came along. As much as I hate to admit it, back then when version 6 of IE first came out it was the best browser to have at the time.

These days Internet Explorer is lagging behind so far that even in the most recent IE8 there are still divergencies where Microsoft have not conformed to the standards set by the W3C. Of course, IE6 being long in the tooth now was far worse than this and had many nuances where IE6 has just done it's own thing instead of what it was supposed to. This has plagued the browsers very existence and  has caused many a lost hour for web designers and developers alike.

It's time now for people to move on past IE6 - it is true there are still some people using it, but with a gentle push they can be convinced to move forward to "proper" browsers; even if it is only IE7 or 8. It is this ideology, a world without IE6, which has spurred on a number of new sites to spring up in the past couple of weeks such as ie6update.com and the ie6-upgrade-warning submitted to Google Code. Of the two I actually prefer the former as it will still allow the user to browse the site and I think it's more subtle and stands a better chance of it convincing users to upgrade as it's styled like the alert bars you normally see in IE.

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The Future of MySQL

Rack-mounted server
Posted by David G. Paul

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Yesterday it was confirmed that Oracle has acquired Sun Microsystems, the people behind Java and the recent owners of the MySQL platform, for $5.6 billion as a cash deal. The deal is currently appending approval from the stockholders of both companies but is likely to move ahead as planned as it will also consume the debt that Sun currently have.

As you know Oracle have their own database system, and Sun who recently acquired MySQL were already a major contributor to the PostgreSQL project. This means that Oracle now own two DBMS's and have stakes in a third. In their statement they state that they will remain dedicated to performance and quality.

The acquisition combines best-in-class enterprise software and mission-critical computing systems. Oracle plans to engineer and deliver an integrated system—applications to disk—where all the pieces fit and work together so customers do not have to do it themselves. Customers benefit as their system integration costs go down while system performance, reliability and security go up.

This does make me wonder if they will merge the Oracle and MySQL platforms into one product with different tiers for open source and private/public sector clients. Considering that MySQL is already split into two tiers with a free version and an Enterprise version it does seem likely that a possible combined product would also follow this pattern. After further consideration it seems more likely that for the time being Oracle and MySQL will run side by side with support and further development on one of them being dropped further down the line - suddenly having to support multiple products would increase their overheads so they'll want to cut costs.

The big opportunity for Oracle here is in it acquiring Sun it will now be able to offer full database solutions to it's Enterprise customer base whilst still being able to expand upon it's brand recognition through the distribution of MySQL.

Could it be a purchase they've made to get rid of the competition? Who knows, but whatever the uncertain future is for MySQL and Oracle what remains in further doubt is whether they will continue their contributions to the PostgreSQL development.

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TripIt goes mobile

Posted by David G. Paul

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For a while I used Backpack, an application for the Mac, to record my trip itineraries but soon got fed up of it's lack of features and actually used Google Docs in it's stead. That is until I discovered TripIt which provided an amazingly great service which could update your itinerary by forwarding confirmation emails to it. Absolutely brilliant. The only thing it really lacked was an iPhone application to allow easy offline viewing of your itinerary  which meant you had to resort to printing a copy of it... which kind of made it pointless; however I still planned my upcoming holiday using it.

Now they've finally released an iPhone application to make itinerary viewing that much easier! TripIt for iPhone gives you...

Easy Access: See all the details of your TripIt itineraries, whether you’re online or offline.

iPhone Integration: Link to airlines, hotels, restaurants and more, right from your itinerary.

Maps and Directions: Get maps and directions straight from your itinerary at the tap of a finger.

Quick Phone Calls: Direct dial phone numbers from your itinerary on your iPhone.

Personally I can't wait to try out, although I'm waiting for the next generation of iPhone before I get one so it may be a few months yet (assuming these rumours of a 32Gb model with video recording ability are true)!

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Google's an April Fool

Google
Posted by David G. Paul

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Every year Google like to take April 1st like any other fool, with a good, well thought out joke. Their joke this year is "Introducing CADIE - a singular upgrade to your online life". However, at the time of writing their joke doesn't actually work as the link is dead (unless that of course is the joke!).

UPDATE: Okay the link is working now! CADIE stands for Cognitive Autoheuristic Distributed-Intelligence Entity

Since then progress has been rapid, and tonight we're pleased to announce that just moments ago, the world's first Cognitive Autoheuristic Distributed-Intelligence Entity (CADIE) was switched on and began performing some initial functions. It's an exciting moment that we're determined to build upon by coming to understand more fully what CADIE's emergence might mean, for Google and for our users. So although CADIE technology will be rolled out with the caution befitting any advance of this magnitude, in the months to come users can expect to notice her influence on various google.com properties. Earlier today, for instance, CADIE deduced from a quick scan of the visual segment of the social web a set of online design principles from which she derived this intriguing homepage.

Not as fun as their previous April Fools jokes.

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XSLT Vulberability in Firefox 3.x

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

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A vulnerability has been discovered by security experts in the Firefox 3 browser which can cause a DOS. At the minute it's only a theory that it could also execute arbitrary code, but considering it can cause the browser to crash it is a possibility. The issue comes about with XSLT causing a stack overflow during the transformation of XML. At the time of writing this has not yet been patched (Firefox 3.0.7) but unless code execution is proven it's not that big a risk or problem.

UPDATE: Mozilla have now released Firefox 3.0.8 which fixes this vulnerability, so be sure to update!

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IE8 Released Today

Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

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Well I hope you've all managed to get your site(s) tested in either the Beta or RC1 of Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 because Microsoft have announced at MIX09 that IE8 will be released in 25 languages at 12 noon (EDT) today. So for those of us in the UK that will be at around 4pm. At the minute it's not available to users of previous Windows versions (in other words it's Vista only for now).

What amuses me about their release statement is that they say:

In addition to offering improved security and privacy protections, Internet Explorer 8 is one of the fastest browsers on the market today, beating other top browsers in page load time on almost 50 percent of the 25 top comScore Inc. Web sites.

And then in a footnote they mention that the data is from December 2008 which would mean that it's not counting any of the browser that are faster than it; i.e. all of them.

It should soon be available from the Internet Explorer 8 website.

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Google release the App Status Dashboard

Google
Posted by David G. Paul

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Whenever you have trouble accessing a Google application such a Docs or Mail, you will no longer have to wonder whether it's your internet connection or Google. Google have now launched the "App Status Dashboard" which is a list of most the Google applications and their status over a 6 day period. Any current outages are represented by a cross, and when resolved are replaced with blue "info" links.

Hopefully they'll also use this page to inform user's of maintenance ahead of any scheduled downtime.

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Opera Turbo

Opera browser
Posted by David G. Paul

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Fresh from Opera Labs is their latest innovation that is attempting to speed up webpage loading for those who have limited bandwidth by using server-side compression technology to compress all network traffic. Installing Opera Turbo will add a new icon in the bottom left corner of Opera's status bar and will display information on how much bandwidth has been saved and what the current "speed" is.

It's already available for both Windows and Mac OS X versions of the browser. It will be interesting to see if they also make it available for Mobile versions of the browser where it can do the most good.

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End of the road for IE

Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

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The big rumour going around today is that after Internet Explorer 8, Microsoft will be putting the browser's engine to rest. This has started further discussion as to what engine will be it's successor for IE9 with some far fetched suggestions that Microsoft may adopt WebKit - this I seriously doubt. In the same article that initially reported the rumour they also mention that they may use Microsoft Research's Gazelle engine due to it's amazingly tight security (allegedly). This would make far more sense, and if a new engine for IE is in the works then this one is bound to be their solution. I can't imagine Microsoft ever adopting another companies browser engine.

Slashdot also mention that one of the major deciding points for Microsoft will be compatibility with ActiveX components - obviously any engine produced by Microsoft will have the best support for these! 

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Mozilla release Firefox 3.0.7

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

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The latest release of Firefox fixes another 47 bugs. Amongst these issues is a fix for cookie related problems where they would suddenly go missing for some sites.

  • Fixes several security issues
  • Fixes several stability issues
  • More languages supported

The vulnerabilities that have been patched are as follows:

  • Arbitrary code can be executed after multiple errors have occurred in the layout and JavaScript engines resulting in memory corruption,
  • Freed memory can accessed due to an error in the garbage collection system whilst handling cloned XUL DOM elements linked as a parent and child,
  • XML can be read from another domain using an exploit from using the nsIRDFService and a cross-domain redirect,
  • Arbitrary code could again be executed when handling out of memory conditions from the libpng module

For full details you can check out the release notes on Mozilla's site.

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Spotify security risk

Spotify
Posted by David G. Paul

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Over the past few months the big craze has been around Spotify, a streaming music service that is ever growing in popularity. Their basic service is free, but ad-supported, and and allows you to listen to thousands upon thousands of tracks without paying. They also have various premium services to remove ads that are at different price rates.

It has just come to light that they have had a breach of security where users details such as email address, billing address, date of birth, etc. have been obtained through a vulnerability. Apparently they would not have been able to get hold of credit card details, but they have been able to get hold of hashes of the passwords. Whatever form of hash they use (such as MD5 which has been hacked in the past, or SHA) they were able to use these to gain access to accounts they also knew the usernames for.

The affected users are those who registered on the site before December 19th 2008 - which apparently only amounts to 10,000 are at risk of being compromised despite the fact the service has millions of users and has been running since 2006. Apparently although the issue with their protocol had been patched months ago it only came to light last week after the hackers supposedly contacted them via a third party announcing that it was a deliberate and targeted attack at Spotify.

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Mozilla Weave

Mozilla Weave
Posted by David G. Paul

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Another of Mozilla Lab's projects have hit a milestone. Mozilla Weave, which is their experiment to provide richer experiences on the web has reached it's "M4 Development Milestone'.

The focus of development so far has been on enabling Weave Sync to encrypt and securely synchronize the Firefox experience across multiple browsers, and more specifically between the desktop and mobile devices.

The major differences in M4 include basic support for the Mozilla Fennec browser (remember that failed pre-Alpha?) so that you can share bookmarks, etc. with it, changes to the synchronisation protocol and their own server architecture (which is now a cluster to make the services more robust), as well as optimising the code.

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Safari 4 Beta released by Apple

Apple Safari
Posted by David G. Paul

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Some browser news today - Apple have released the first Beta for the fourth version of Safari. It's new features are listed as:

  • Top Sites
  • Cover Flow
  • Full search history 
  • "Tabs on top"
  • Nitro Engine
  • Windows native version for Windows platforms
  • Developer tools

Top sites is kind of like the bookmarks toolbar - you get a limited space to display some favourites in, except the difference here is that you get previews of the sites. Could be a useful feature if it does actually show live previews. Cover Flow is great in iTunes - it's the right place for it when you've got album covers, DVDs etc for it, though I disagreed with them putting it in Finder as it seems pointless - now they've gone and included it in the browser for going through favourites - what's next? Cover Flow for switching between applications? Tabs on top is relatively wierd concept... the tabbed browsing appears at the very top of the window...and I mean the very top - they appear where the title bar usually is, though I do kind of like this design concept.

Nitro is their new rendering engine and it really does seem quite impressive. The example for their HTML rendering a page was as follows:

Safari 4 Beta benchmarks
Browser HTML iB JavaScript Sunspider JavaScript
Safari Beta 4 1.06s 0.14s 657.07ms
Chrome 1.0 1.38s 1.0 - 2.0s 1.0 - 853.13ms
Firefox 3.0 3.11s 0.76s 3.0 - 2399.20ms
Firefox 3.1 Beta 2 3.16 1.04s 1034.47ms
IE 7 3.25s 1.81s 19902.20ms
IE 8 Beta 4.71s 0.73s 4137.80ms

You should only take those figures with a pinch of salt though - you can get statistics to show almost anything so you should judge speed for yourself from using it. I also quite like the look of the developer tools so far, but I still need to use them for a while longer before I can make my mind up on whether I'll find them useful (since I'm primarily a Firefox user) but for those who develop for Safari I imagine this must be a very welcome addition.

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Mozilla unveil Bespin

Mozilla Bespin (Open Web framework)
Posted by David G. Paul

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With a name like Mozilla Bespin you'd be forgiven for thinking they're referring to a certain planet in the Star Wars universe (the one where they mine Tibanna gas, and where Han was frozen in Carbonite).; but they're not - it's their new framework for a code editor.

Just as Mozilla enables massive innovation by making Firefox open on many levels, we hope to do the same with Bespin by developing an extensible framework for Open Web development. We're particularly excited by the prospect of empowering Web developers to hack on the editor itself and make it their own.

They don't really refer to it as an editor you'll notice, but rather an Open Web development framework. The aim of this framework is to make the editing of code easy, collaborative, accessible, fast and extensible. The idea is that it should help to move code editing away from the desktop and onto the web for what they refer to as cloud computing - so you can edit your code on any computer (there are obviously limitations here such as needing Firefox and Bespin installed, but they don't talk about them).

Your browser does not support Flash, or you do no have it installed.

As you can see from the video they have a prototype ready that demonstrates the concept with a few implemented features such as syntax highlighting, support for large files, previewing and undo/redo. One of the key features that I like here though is that it's extensible and customisable, and it's done in such a way that you can share your customisations with other people and can easily switch back. Here's the big thing though, it's done entirely using web languages - they made it using the Canvas element from HTML 5.

I wonder how long it will be until Lucasfilm come knocking at their door for using a copyrighted name. 

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Google unveil two new products

Google
Posted by David G. Paul

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Google PowerMeter sounds like quite an odd name for an online application, but as it happens it also seems quite an odd application for them to make. The purpose of it is to allow people to monitor how much electricity they are using in their household or business via a handy webpage. It sounds quite a novel idea, but it relies heavily on companies producing devices that can provide the data - something which no hardware manufacturer has yet agreed to.

"We can't build this product all by ourselves," said Kirsten Olsen Cahill, a program manager at Google.org, the company's corporate philanthropy arm. "We depend on a whole ecosystem of utilities, device makers and policies that would allow consumers to have detailed access to their home energy use and make smarter energy decisions."

"Smart grid" is the new buzz phrase in the electric business, encompassing a variety of approaches that involve more communication between utility operators and components of the grid, including transformers, power lines, customer meters and even home appliances like dishwashers.

If no hardware manufacturers take it up then it won't be that useful, and even more importantly it means it will be very hard for you to track your electrical usage accurately unless you replace all electrical appliances (including light fixtures) with devices that support PowerMeter. I can't really see this one taking off and more than automated homes has - it will only be for a very small niche market.

The second of the two new Google products is Google Sync. The technology behind this one was licensed from Microsoft's ActiveSync and is being used to allow Google to synchronise contacts from Gmail and Google Calendar events to iPhones and Windows Mobile devices. It still has a few issues to work out, but hopefully they should have these resolved soon. For pushing the data onto the devices they use SyncML meaning that they will eventually be able to include the ActiveSync feature on other Symbian based handsets in the future.

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Roaming Profiles in Windows

Rack-mounted server
Posted by David G. Paul

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A roaming profile is a type of user account that stores all your settings and documents in Windows that can follow you from machine to machine on the same network. It's quite easy to set one up too if you're using Windows 2000 or later.

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When Windows 7 isn't Windows 7

Microsoft Windows
Posted by David G. Paul

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I was thinking today about the various user-agents that IE8 will use depending on the operating system it is on. According to the IEBlog it will vary depending on the version (Vista or Windows 7) and whether it's 32-bit or 64-bit including whether it's a 32-bit IE8 running on 64-bit Windows.Now what I didn't spot at first was that the user-agent for Windows 7's IE8 is Windows 6.1. It's perfectly acceptable that the next version of Windows is 7 as I understand that Windows 95 (version 4) was pretty much the same as 98 and ME's code bases. Which is why I found them calling it Windows 6.1 in the user-agent to be quite odd. They do provide a link to the Windows blog however to explain this. The key to their reasoning behind calling it 6.1 comes from just two paragraphs:

That brings us to Windows Vista, which is 6.0.  So we see Windows 7 as our next logical significant release and 7th in the family of Windows releases.

We learned a lot about using 5.1 for XP and how that helped developers with version checking for API compatibility.  We also had the lesson reinforced when we applied the version number in the Windows Vista code as Windows 6.0-- that changing basic version numbers can cause application compatibility issues. 

It's a bit mad in my opinion, if something is version 7 then it's version 7 - not 6.1. They should pick one or the other and not both. It should be the job of application makers to not rely on Windows version numbers.

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Ma.gnolia bows out?

Posted by David G. Paul

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I've used ma.gnolia for quite some time and was one of the first social networking sites I actually got to use. It was very useful for sharing links with groups and it built up a very good sized user base. However all good things must come to an end, and as of now, ma.gnolia has ceased it's services but not out of choice, they had catastrophic data loss of some sort.

So far, my efforts to recover Ma.gnolia's data store have been unsuccessful. While I'm continuing to work at it, both from the data store and other sources on the web, I don't want to raise expectations about our prospects. While certainly unanticipated, I do take responsibility and apologize for this widespread loss of data.

It may not be the end for ma.gnolia though as it may yet return in some form, or as M2. Larry from ma.gnolia recommends people following their twitter account to keep an eye out for updates on their progress with the recovery or any decisions they make.

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Google introduce Latitude

Google
Posted by David G. Paul

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There is no stopping the social network bandwagon these days - everyone and their dog wants to jump on it, including Google. Google have introduced a new social networking service for Google Maps called Google Latitude. Here is a brief summary according to Google's blog:

Latitude is a new feature for Google Maps on your mobile device. It's also an iGoogle gadget on your computer. Once you've opted in to Latitude, you can see the approximate location of your friends and loved ones who have decided to share their location with you. So now you can do things like see if your spouse is stuck in traffic on the way home from work, notice that a buddy is in town for the weekend, or take comfort in knowing that a loved one's flight landed safely, despite bad weather.

And with Latitude, not only can you see your friends' locations on a map, but you can also be in touch directly via SMS, Google Talk, Gmail, or by updating your status message; you can even upload a new profile photo on the fly. It's a fun way to feel close to the people you care about.

Also, here's a short video from them:

Your browser does not support Flash, or you do no have it installed.

In my opinion it's a pretty good idea, and one that's already been done by BrightKite.

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Useful tools for Twitter

Twitter
Posted by David G. Paul

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I thought I'd post a list of some of the Twitter tools I regularly use - feel free to add your own favourite tools to the comments!

Snipt
If you've got a piece of code you want to tweet about then Snipt is the ideal site to use to do it. To be able to use this service you don't have to have an account - you just post code to it and it displays nicely with syntax highlighting and line numbers. It's not secure really as it means anyone can view your code so you should make sure there isn't anything sensitive you use this for. It's easy to confuse this with another service of the same name that is secure though, in this version of Snipt you can't just use your Twitter account like you can with Twitpic- you have to register separately. Once you do so you have the option to make your code snippets either public or private - so you don't have to worry too much about security.
Twitpic
If you've got an image to share with the world of Twitterites then Twitpic is the service to use. All you do is login using your Twitter username and it'll allow you to post an image to it and will provide a short URL to use in your tweet. Handily, this is one of the services built into the AIR application, TweetDeck.
TweetDeck
This is one of my favourite places to tweet from, but it's not always convenient to. My only complaint about TweetDeck is that on the Mac version if you close it, it does stay running in the dock like many other programs do - it'd be nice to be able to get it away from the desktop without having to minimize it (and making the dock bigger). However, it's a very nicely styled AIR application that has integration for Twitpic and Bit.ly. What I usually post from for convenience whilst working is TwitterFox.
TwitterFox
TwitterFox is a handy extension for Mozilla Firefox that creates an icon in the status bar of the browser - this makes it very quick to check out the latest tweets from the people you follow, and to post new tweets as well. It couldn't be any quicker really. It's very basic and doesn't integrate with any other service, but most the time it doesn't matter too much. It would be nice to see integration in it for Twitpic and Bit.ly one day though.
Bit.ly
Since you're limited to only 140 characters any one of saving characters is a plus. The Bit.ly service will allow you to create nice short URLs from longer ones leaving more space for your important messages.
BrightKite
If you want people to know where you are then there's also BrightKite. This allows you to "check in" and has the option of automatically tweeting an update for you. It also has the ability to store images of your current location too which is useful.

That's all I can think of for now, though one other place I tweet from is entity - which is the CMS I use for my site.

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To Err is Google

Google
Posted by David G. Paul

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It didn't go unnoticed when Google, provider of one of the most widely used internet services, made a mistake on Saturday with their search engine. For about one hour every search result had a "This website may be harmful" message and would redirect the user to a warning page before allowing them to continue.

Apparently Google do have humans working for them, and one of them made a mistake - when upgrading their list of malware sites someone had mistakenly added / to the list so that ALL sites would be treated as malware. It took a whole hour for them to realise it had been caused by an update they'd only just applied (you'd think an update is the first place they'd look for problems!) and once reverted to the old version they quickly added file checks to ensure it doesn't happen again.

Guess we'll have to wait and see if they do manage to repeat it again...

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Recovering an SVN repository

Subversion
Posted by David G. Paul

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It is inevitable that at some point you're going to run into problems with SVN, whether it be from upgrading it to a newer version that runs a later version of the Berkeley database or if you move your repository. Here we look at how you can recover from this.

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Apple iLife '09

Apple iLife '09 logo
Posted by David G. Paul

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The new iteration of Apple's iLife product adds a whole host of new features, but is it worth the price? That's what this review aims to look at, the features, the ease of use, and value for money.

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Google are having a spring clean!

Google
Posted by David G. Paul

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It seems Google are having an early spring clean of their applications and projects. As a precursor to Google making staff cuts they have started to shut down a number of projects. Google Video is the first of these - something which has become redundant since Google bought YouTube. The services did get merged, but the Video team is no longer required, nor is the separate project - so it's been culled.

The next one, Google Mashup Editor was designed to enable users to create mashups of services quickly and easy though it never really took off and wasn't as popular as Yahoo's "Pipes".

Jaiku is a pretty obscure one, it was a start-up that Google bought out early on before they could release a beta. The idea behind it was very similar to the status updates you now see on many sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Dodgeball is one that does have a fair sized user-base, which is why I find it odd that Google chose to close this one - especially in light of recent start-ups such as Brightkite. With the advent of the iPhone, GPS, and micro-blogging it is one that if marketed correctly could have really taken off, but no, Google messed up with this one.

Google Notebook's intention was to enable users to take clippings from any page and have them available on any machine that is signed in to Google Notebook with your account.

Google Catalog Search is one that has already gone, with it's functionality absorbed into Google Base.

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Mozilla release Snowl 0.2

Mozilla Labs - Snowl
Posted by David G. Paul

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Mozilla have released an update to Snowl. With it's release they do have a warning that it is still experimental and may break functionality and delete all your messages - but hey, at least they warned us. For those that haven't heard of Snowl before, it is an experimental extension from Mozilla Labs for Firefox that integrates messaging into the browser no matter whether it's from an RSS / Atom feed, forum, or social network. The importance of this release is that it adds support for Twitter.

This version of the messaging-in-the-browser experiment builds on the first release with an updated river view, a new stream view for keeping track of messages in a sidebar while you do other things, the ability to send tweets, and support for multiple Twitter accounts.

Version 0.3 is expected to be released on 9th March 2009, with a further release in both April and May.

Download: Snowl 0.2

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Google on the way to Chrome 2.0

Google Chrome browser beta
Posted by David G. Paul

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Just months after the release of the Chrome 1.0 browser to a mixed reaction, Google have started tagging their weekly releases with Chrome 2.0 meaning that the work they are doing now is working towards a second version. The biggest difference is in the change of version of WebKit that it is based on. The updated WebKit includes increased support for CSS 3 and various bug fixes. In addition to this, they have now allowed bookmarks to be synchronised with Google Bookmarks, docking of tabs, improved security. Finally, there is also support in Chrome for GreaseMonkey scripts allowing some degree of customisation to the browser - it's still got a long way to go before it's even close to Firefox, but it's getting better.

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QuickFocus On... Windows 7 Beta

Microsoft Windows
Posted by David G. Paul

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At CES 2009, Microsoft's keynote speech provided by Steve Ballmer announced that Windows 7 Beta has now been released to MSDN subscribers, and will be to the rest of the world shortly. It took a bit of work, but he managed to get the audience to applaud that fact, even though it wasn't a huge reaction. The next few announcements he made, whilst attempting to do his best Steve Jobs impression, just weren't really that impressive - a Windows Live partnership with Facebook so photo's can be shared between the two, and a partnership with Dell to install Live Search and Live Essentials on all new machines. Big deal.

Windows 7 Beta will have most of the final features there, but Microsoft are not allowing it to be benchmarked for the time being and insist that they shouldn't be put off by the bugs as they'll be gone by the time it reaches the final release. There have been some concern from users who complain that it's as bad as Vista. Personally I don't have any problems with Vista, so I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. Some of the features of Windows 7 did get applause - such as the "snap to focus" to allow windows to easily sit side by side to make comparisons easier, for example. The "jump to menu" is another new feature that allows you to jump straight to places within an application, such as in Word it will list your most recent documents, and in Media Player it will list places such as your most recent music.

Think I'll install it on a Virtual Machine later...

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QuickFocus On...DivX 7

DivX 7 Video codec
Posted by David G. Paul

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Officially released at CES 2009 today was DivX 7 - the latest version of one of the most popular video codecs you will ever come across. The biggest addition to the codec is the inclusion of a HD H.264 version which will play .mkv files. Past that there aren't really any new innovations that they've made - but I'd say the addition of HD is a big enough addition to warrant a new version number.

To coincide with it's release they've also redesigned the logo and their site. I think it's a positive step forward both for the codec, and for design of the site as it is now far more appealing. Only negative I can think of about the over-all design change is that the links in the top right corner are too dark and blend with the background too much.

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Server status monitoring

Posted by David G. Paul

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Downtime means loss of traffic, which can mean losing your audience or prospective buyers (if your site is a shop) which means if your site goes down you want to know about it. There are a number of online services that provide such information for you.

One new contender is Are My Sites Up? which is a nicely designed site and easy to use - however it seems a bit useless at the minute. I've registered four sites with them and chose to have updates to notify me when the site goes down and when service is restored by email and SMS. Today two of my sites went down, but didn't get an SMS or an email. When they came back up I got two emails for both sites (yes, four emails) to say they were back up. I wouldn't say that's much use really but I'm guessing as they're relatively new they're still having issues with emailing and SMS. Definitely one to keep an eye on as once they've got the issues worked out (assuming there are other people experiencing the issues too) it'll be a good tool. Until then, I've disabled my alerts from here.

So, onto the next service - mon.itor.us. This one has been around for over a year now and it seems pretty reliable. Their site is a little busier in terms of it's design, but it does actually work. They also have a lot more features as it's not just testing to see if the site is up, but also provides detailed reporting on uptime and advanced connection settings so you can specify different ports to test, etc. You can also setup multiple emergency contacts in the case that your site goes down. For these you have the option of providing and email address, IM account, and/or a mobile phone number for SMS.

The third option is for more technically minded folk, as it's an Apache module called Nagios. This one is intended more for Enterprise clients - it isn't pretty and it's something you have to install yourself on the server so isn't something you can get installed on shared hosting packages, etc. it has to be a dedicated server or one you root (super user) privileges to. Another advantage of Nagios is that it has a developer community who work on making extensions for it - very useful if you want to customise it to suit your needs!

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iPhone gets Tweetie

The Apple iPhone
Posted by David G. Paul

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Are you a Twitter fanatic who has to twitter about everything you do, every minute of the day? If so, and you own an iPhone then you might be interested in a new iPhone application called "Tweetie". It's what most people are calling the best Twitter application for the iPhone so far. It's got an amazing featureset too:

  • Handle multiple twitter accounts.
  • View your timeline, replies, direct messages and favorites.
  • Browse your friends and followers.
  • Post new tweets, retweet
  • Reply directly to tweets and send direct messages.
  • Follow and unfollow people.
  • Mark tweets as favourites.
  • Navigate reply chains.
  • Inline web browser.
  • Post links with automatic link shrinking via bit.ly.
  • Upload pictures to twitpic.com.
  • Update your twitter location.
  • View twitter trends and perform custom searches.
  • Save your favorite searches.
  • Implements the full twitter API.
  • Uses secure connection (https).

I guess that's pretty much all you'd want out of a Twitter application really, so I think I'd clash that as a good application!

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Google Chrome out of Beta

Google Chrome browser beta
Posted by David G. Paul

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It's not every day a new browser comes out of Beta and is ready to be released into the wild as a fully released product. In this instance it's Google's very own Chrome browser. Although it's Beta period has been short and troubled with bugs and security concerns, Google are confident that now, after 15 releases, it is ready for general use. More than anything I think it's just so they can say they went from Beta to released in 100 days.

I think it's time for me to start using it again... maybe this time it will be a little less troublesome!

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Beginners Guide to UNIX

Javascript code
Posted by David G. Paul

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Not everyone has used UNIX before, and as web developer there's every chance that at some point you'll want to use UNIX commands to perform tasks such as changing the permissions of a folder or file. This is where this guide comes in handy - it should help give you the commands you need for basic tasks, with a description of what they do in an easy to understand way!

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Python 3.0 and Python 2.6.1

Posted by David G. Paul

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Yesterday the Python Software Foundation released the long-awaited Python 3.0 and not willing to rest on their laurels, today they released Python 2.6.1. Of the two releases, 2.6.1 is nothing major - it is mostly bug fixes (see their release notes for more details).

Python 3.0 (a.k.a. "Python 3000" or "Py3k") is a new version of the language that is incompatible with the 2.x line of releases. The language is mostly the same, but many details, especially how built-in objects like dictionaries and strings work, have changed considerably, and a lot of deprecated features have finally been removed. Also, the standard library has been reorganized in a few prominent places.

So it's not a straight-forward upgrade path to the latest version - this may cause problems for some developers and projects, especially if Python is being used on a large scale. Fortunately they have a page describing common stumbling blocks for people familiar with Python 2.5 and 2.6 that also describes what's new. On top of this they have also released the full online documentation.

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IE8 Delayed

Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

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Microsoft have confirmed that the next iteration of it's "popular" web browser, Internet Explorer 8, will not be released until 2009 with it's first release not arriving until Q1 2009. This also means that what we see now in Beta 2 will not be far off the final version that will be released sometime next year.

We will be very selective about what changes we make between the next update and final release. We will act on the most critical issues. We will be super clear about product changes we make between the update and the final release.

There are still plenty of things for them to fix, but most of what is broken has been broken in every previous version if IE too.

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Mozilla's 3.1 Compatibility Report

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

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In an attempt to push developers forward with getting their extensions ready for the upcoming release of Firefox 3.1, they have started a new page dedicated to reporting on the current status of compatibility with addons, and information for developers detailing how they can get their addon compatible.

So far it's not looking good:

  • 54% of addon's are not compatible with any version of Firefox 3.1,
  • 14% work with Alpha versions of Firefox 3.1,
  • 3% work with 3.1 Beta versions,
  • and 29% work with the latest nightly.

If you're interested in seeing how this progresses, go and check out their Compatibility Centre.

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Mozilla Geode - GPS meets browser

Posted by David G. Paul

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Mozilla Geode is a new development from the Mozilla Labs that implements the W3C Geolocation Specification in Firefox. In future versions Geode will actually become a part of Mozilla (in version 3.1), but for now it's just an extension. Now let me explain what it does.

The JavaScript, navigator.geolocation can be used to identify where you currently are - so for example a mobile device running Firefox might have built-in GPS and this would be made available to the browser so that Geode can use this to tell sites this information. It's best explained through the example Mozilla use:

You've arrived in a new city, a new continent, a new coffee shop. You don't really know where you are, and are looking for a good place to eat. You pull out your laptop, fire up Firefox, and go to your favourite review site. It automatically deduces your location, and serves up some delicious suggestions a couple blocks away and plots directions there.

It does seem like a brilliant concept - something I believe the iPhone is already doing with Safari. There are however still a few things to work out - such as the use of geolocation service providers. One thing they've already thought of is privacy concerns - if you don't want a website to know exactly where you are you can instead just send the neighbourhood, the city, or no location at all. Here is an example of retrieving the information on a site:

navigator.geolocation.getCurrentPosition(function(pos) {
  alert( pos.latitude + ", " + pos.longitude );
})

As you can see it is actually fairly straight forward. Now I just need an excuse to try it out!

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Chrome is slipping

Google Chrome browser beta
Posted by David G. Paul

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Early reports from various sites are showing that after Google Chrome's good start at taking just over 1% of the browser market, it's hold has begun to slip and could now be down to as little as 0.7% of the browser usage. Considering it's initial problems, and the desired features that are missing people don't want to stick around until it offers the features that they want and the bugs in it are resolved. Maybe by the time the final release comes out they will have taken back some of the marketshare. Here on my own site I'm currently getting just over 2% of traffic coming from users using Chrome - but due to the nature of this site I'm not too surprised it's higher.

Do you still use Chrome? Or have you used it and abandoned it?

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Adobe Creative Suite 4

Posted by David G. Paul

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Adobe have today unveiled their latest version of the creative suite of products, named CS4. They'll be releasing this as at least 6 different collections:

  1. Design Standard
  2. Design Premium
  3. Web Standard
  4. Web Premium
  5. Production Premium
  6. Master Collection

The Master Collection will feature all their CS4 products, and will consist of:

  1. InDesign CS4
  2. Photoshop CS4 Extended
  3. Illustrator CS4
  4. Acrobat 9 Pro
  5. Flash CS4 Professional
  6. Dreamweaver CS4
  7. Fireworks CS4
  8. Contribute CS4
  9. After Effects CS4
  10. Adobe Premiere Pro CS4
  11. Soundbooth CS4
  12. Adobe OnLocation CS4
  13. Encore CS4
  14. Adobe Bridge CS4
  15. Adobe Device Central CS4
  16. Dynamic Link
  17. Version Cue CS4

Let's start off by looking at Dreamweaver as some people still insist on using it. The first of the new features is the code hinting for Ajax and JavaScript frameworks - this means when you're writing JavaScript using jQuery or one of the other supported frameworks it will provide a dropdown list to help auto-complete function names as you're typing and show the syntax for the function you're trying to use. There is also the new "Related Files and Code Navigator" and a few other minor changes to the UI but nothing special really. Dreamweaver now supports AIR and Subversion, as well as helping you with CSS best practices.

Photoshop CS4 Extended has changed quite a bit since CS3. It now sports "revolutionary 3D painting and composition" with it's new ray-tracing engine and support for common 3D formats. Another new feature is the "content aware scaling" - this is a way of stretching an image without it stretching everything within in. It's a hard feature to explain, but once you see it in action you'll understand what I mean.

Flash CS4 is another application to go through major changes. One of the changes is 3D animation for 2D objects (which I suppose means the 2D object is actually 3D) with various translation and rotation tools. Another amazing new feature is the Bones tool which offers a great way to get linked models to interact correctly. It is now also possible to add XMP metadata to SWF files for better accessibility and I guess to also aid Googlebot in indexing your SWF files. There is now support for Adobe AIR and H.264 as well.

On the video side of the creativity suite, After Effects CS4 can import 3D objects from Photoshop, a new cartoon effect for making video instantly look cell-shaded, author video for mobile devices, and finally supports XMP metadata. Premiere Pro CS4 adds supports for new tapeless formats such as AVCHD, P2, XDCAM EX, and XDCAM HD without the need for transcoding the video. Another great new addition is the support for burning to Blu-ray discs, and 50GB dual-layer Blu-ray discs. This same enhancement has also made it's way into Encore CS4.

So another great product update for Adobe; we'll have to see how well these features are received when Adove release the final version.

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VMWare Fusion 2

VMWare logo
Posted by David G. Paul

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Those ever-so busy people at VMWare have released the final version of VMWare Fusion 2. For those who are using the original version of VMWare Fusion it is a free upgrade, but otherwise it's $79.99 (about £49.99). If you're interested in knowing what's changed, there's this list:

Multiple Snapshots and AutoProtect

  • Save your virtual machine in any number of states, and return to those states at any time
  • New Snapshot UI to help you manage all the snapshots you have saved
  • Automatically take snapshots at regular intervals with AutoProtect

Shared Folders Improvement and Mirrored Folders

  • Shared Folders are easier to discover. New Shared Folders option in Status bar and Virtual Machine menu. Can open all Shared Folders or just a specific Shared Folder in the virtual machine
  • Greatly improved reliability of shared folders - now compatible with Microsoft Office, Visual Studio, and QuickBooks
  • Improved compatibility running Java applications from a Shared Folder
  • Map key folders in Windows Vista and Windows XP (Desktop, My Documents, My Music, My Pictures) to their corresponding Mac folders (Desktop, Documents, Music, and Pictures)

URL Handling

  • Click on a URL in a virtual machine and open it in your favorite Mac browser, or configure your Mac to open its links in a virtual machine
  • VMware Fusion supports opening URLs of the following types: Web pages (http, https), Remote Sessions (telnet, ssh), Mail (mailto), Newsgroups (news), File transfers (ftp, sftp), and RSS feeds (feed)

Application Sharing

  • Allow your Mac to open applications in the virtual machine - Finder can now open your Mac's files directly in Windows applications like Microsoft Word and Windows Media Player
  • Allow the virtual machine to open applications on your Mac - VMware Fusion can configure virtual machines to open their files in Mac applications like Preview and iTunes
  • VMware Fusion can directly open Windows programs (.exe) and installers (.msi) in a virtual machine just by double-clicking on them in Finder

True Multiple Display Support

  • VMware Fusion automatically detects multiple displays by default
  • Your virtual machines will recognize each display you connect to your Mac as a separate virtual display
  • Handles changes to resolution and display orientation automatically
  • Option to use one or all screens in Full Screen mode
  • Unity windows can be dragged between displays, and will maximize correctly to just the display they're on
  • Correctly handles plugging and unplugging displays
  • 3D supported on primary display when using multiple displays

Unity Improvements

  • Virtual machines resume and start directly in Unity view
  • Run Linux applications directly on your Mac's desktop under Unity view (experimental)
  • Switching between Spaces desktops while in Unity view no longer causes Mac OS X to jump back and forth between Spaces
  • Quit Windows applications from the Dock icon
  • Unity windows now respect the Dock location and won't maximize underneath the Dock
  • Expose now filters out non-application windows
  • Drag and Drop to overlapped Unity windows now works
  • Cursor not hidden while typing in Unity view
  • Handle Unity windows without titles better

Graphics Improvement

  • Greatly improved 3D performance and compatibility with DirectX 9.0c and Shader Model 2 software and games. (VMware Fusion runs best with the latest graphics hardware, like the NVIDIA 8800 GT, ATI Radeon HD 2600, and ATI Radeon HD 3870.)
  • When playing high-definition video (720p, 1080i, 1080p) in a Windows XP or Windows Vista virtual machine, VMware Fusion now uses hardware acceleration for smooth video playback
  • Freely resize your virtual machine's window and enter and exit Full Screen view while playing games

Experimental Support for Mac OS X Server Virtual Machines

  • You can create Mac OS X Server 10.5 virtual machines (experimental support). Due to Apple licensing restrictions, the standard edition of Mac OS X 10.5 is not supported in a virtual machine

Virus Protection and Firewall Included for Windows XP and Vista Virtual Machines

  • To keep your Windows-on-Mac experience as safe as possible, VMware Fusion includes a complimentary 12-month subscription to McAfee VirusScan Plus to protect your Windows investment

UI Enhancements

  • Fully localized in six languages: French, German, Japanese, Simplified Chinese, Italian, and Spanish
  • Install Linux painlessly and automatically with Linux Easy Install in the New Virtual Machine Assistant (Note: Not all Linux distributions currently support Linux Easy Install)
  • Cut and paste text and styled text up to 4 MB
  • Status icons glow when there is activity
  • A screen shot of the last suspended state of a virtual machine is displayed in Quick Look and Cover Flow
  • You can remap keyboard and mouse input
  • VMware Fusion's keyboard support is now compatible with Quicken, Google Earth, last.fm, and other software that previously could cause a "beep" each time a key was pressed
  • The vmrun command line interface is available for scripting

New Virtual Machine Library

  • Provides greatly improved management of virtual machines
  • Shows screen shot of last or active states
  • Option to set a virtual machine to be started automatically when VMware Fusion is launched
  • Easily find your virtual machines on your hard drive with the Show in Finder option
  • Menus now act on whichever virtual machine is selected in the Library window
  • You can move old and unused virtual machines to the Trash directly from the Library

New Settings Editor

  • Provides quick overview of all virtual machine settings
  • Works just like System Preferences
  • Works in Unity, Full Screen, and Single Window views
  • Add existing virtual hard drives to virtual machines and even optionally copy them into the virtual machine bundle

Integrated VMware Importer

  • Just choose File > Import to import your Parallels Desktop and Virtual PC for Mac virtual machines
  • Outputs a completely new VMware virtual machine based on the input virtual machine
  • Importation process is nondestructive, so you can continue to use the original source virtual machine with the product used to create the source virtual machine
  • Import your Boot Camp partition to a true virtual machine and take advantage of suspend/resume and snapshots

Driver-less Printing

  • Virtual machines automatically pick up your default Mac printer and all configured Mac printers. No need to install drivers in the virtual machine

Broader Hardware and Software Support

  • Support over ninety operating systems
  • VMware Fusion supports 64-bit Vista Boot Camp; handles activation for Microsoft Office 2003 and Office 2007
  • Experimental support for 4-way SMP (note: Windows Vista and Windows XP limit themselves to two CPUs)
  • USB Improvements
    • Allow USB mice/tablets in a virtual machine without custom configuration
    • Faster USB Storage performance
    • USB devices are recognized by type in the Status bar
    • Improved USB robustness including:
      • Canon DR-2580c no longer hangs after scanning documents
      • Now able to sync BlackBerry Pearl devices
      • Able to print from Kodak AiO 5100 in Windows virtual machines

Networking Improvements

  • Virtual machines in Bridged networking mode know when your Mac's network connection is available or become unavailable, and will refresh their network address automatically
  • DNS and WINS server pass-through with NAT networking
  • Browse for Bonjour printers with NAT networking
  • Improved performance when using NAT networking
  • Manual option to override the MAC address to any MAC address in VMX settings file, previously limited to VMware-specific MAC addresses
  • Automatically obtain a new DHCP lease when switching between NAT/Bridged networking
  • Windows guests now able to join Active Directory domain with NAT networking if WINS is enabled on Mac OS X
  • Improved compatibility with wireless bridged networking and certain DHCP/routers

Full Screen Improvements

  • Virtual machines resume and start directly in Full Screen view
  • Full Screen can use one or all displays on the Mac
  • Supports super large displays that are over 2048 (MacBook and MacBook Air) or 4096 (iMac, MacBook Pro, Mac Pro) pixels wide

Support for Virtual Hard Disks

  • You can mount the virtual disk of a powered-off Windows virtual machine using VMDKMounter (Mac OS X 10.5 or higher)
  • You now have the ability to resize virtual disks

Wow, that is quite some list! The very last point about resizing your virtual disks is a very handy one - just three days ago I had to use the command-line to resize my virtual disk and now it's there in the new version!! Anyway, I'm going to go and try it now...

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IE8 and searching

Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

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It seems pretty common nowadays for a week to not go by where we don't hear something new about Internet Explorer 8, or a new search idea that someone has had (usually not Microsoft). Yesterday the latest news from the IEBlog was on what IE8 has in store for searching. Now to quote their blog, the following changes have been made:

  • Search Suggestions present you with suggested queries as you type which help you compose and research your query.
  • Visual Search Suggestions are suggestions which include an image and additional text. These can help you visualize what you are searching for and sometimes even get you the information you need without even leaving the search box.
  • The QuickPick menu enables you to easily switch to your secondary, non-default, Search providers allowing you to search with the right provider every time.
  • History results, directly accessible from the search box, show you pages you've already visited and save you a click or two.
  • Automatic Search Accelerators allow you to send selected text on a webpage to any of your search providers skipping the cumbersome copy and paste step.
  • Search query synchronization keeps the search box up to date with your most recent query term even if you search within a webpage instead of the search box. You can quickly edit or redirect your searches.

Not bad really - some of these are important usability fixes. "Search Suggestions" is a very Microsoft approach to auto-completing what you might be searching for, but it is kind of useful to see where it's suggested completions for the term come from I guess (not sure why yet though). What is really cool though is the way this feature works with 3rd party search plugins such as the one from Amazon they demonstrate on their page; just imagine if they'd done this for auto-complete as a thumbnail of the site - would it have been useful? Maybe, but it would be something people should have the choice of turning on or off. Switching to alternative search engines is done using their "QuickPick" menu. History results is basically just part of the search suggestions - I'm not sure they really needed a second bullet point for it, <sarcasm>but more bullet points makes it better doesn't it?!</sarcasm>

What do you think to Microsoft's changes?

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More on Chrome

Google Chrome browser beta
Posted by David G. Paul

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So little time since I last blogged about Chrome, but already there is more to say. Ars Technica have been told by Google's Rebecca Ward that they will be removing the offending wording from the section of the EULA that basically made all your content posted by Chrome belong to them. Jolly good! Also, if you insist on continuing to use Firefox (as I will) but like some of the features from Chrome then be sure to try out the following extensions:

Locationbar2- Puts emphasis on the domain to reduce spoofing risk, linkifies URL segments (press Ctrl, Meta, Shift or Alt) and has more URL formatting options configurable.

Prism - Refractor creates a Prism web application from within Firefox. Users can manually create web applications using "Tools > Convert Website to Application". The extension can also detect embedded web application bundles on web pages and prompt the user to install the bundle.

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Talk of Google Chrome

Google Chrome browser beta
Posted by David G. Paul

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After the first day of Google Chrome there is still a lot of noise on the Internet with various reports about how it performs, it's adherence to standards, security concerns, it's fore-casted market share and any issues people have found so far.

There's been various reports on the performance of Chrome when it comes to using JavaScript as it's big claim was that it is faster than other browsers currently available with it's V8 engine. Cnet offers a report based on a series of scores that are determined by a series of tests:

  • Richards: OS kernel simulation benchmark, originally written in BCPL by Martin Richards (539 lines),
  • DeltaBlue: One-way constraint solver, originally written in Smalltalk by John Maloney and Mario Wolczko (880 lines),
  • Crypto: Encryption and decryption benchmark based on code by Tom Wu (1,689 lines),
  • RayTrace: Ray tracer benchmark based on code by Adam Burmister (3,418 lines),
  • EarleyBoyer: Classic Scheme benchmarks, translated to JavaScript by Florian Loitsch's Scheme2Js compiler (4,682 lines).

The results of their tests puts Google Chrome at a score of almost 2,000 whereas IE7, IE8 beta 2, Firefox 3.0.1 and Safari 3.1.2 score significantly lower with the best of them scoring around 200. Now if we look at the results on another site, Lifehacker, they provide a more intelligible set of results scored in seconds. In these results you should note that a smaller value is a higher score.

JavaScript

  • Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 - 600 ms
  • Firefox 3.1 Beta - 300 ms
  • Chrome Beta 0.2 - 350 ms

Okay so not quite as Google claim... according to Lifehacker's tests we can see Firefox is faster than Chrome when running their JavaScript tests though the Firefox and Chrome are close enough for Lifehacker to call it a tie (statistical analysis should have some margin of error to allow for inconsistent results so they're right in doing so). They also report Firefox 3 winning when it comes to memory usage from startup and with 8 open tabs too.

Another site, Simple Thoughts, have voiced similar concerns with memory usage. During their tests they opened a 16.5Mb PHP manual page over their local network and found it took 2 minutes to load in Firefox (they didn't say which version) and was still loading after 20 minutes in Chrome. Also, they found that Chrome having just that tab open with the 16.5Mb PHP manual page loaded caused 576Mb RAM to be used. That's pretty ridiculous really, I don't think Firefox at it's worst would manage that. The memory usage was also increasing for them everytime they refreshed the page meaning that there is a serious memory leak. So they've turned the tap off for any JavaScript memory leaks, but seem to have sprung a leak elsewhere. There's also the fact that their Garbage collector for JavaScript is intensive enough to cause unresponsive script problems in some cases due to the way they've implemented it.

Another important issue with the browser I've read about on Neowin. The first of the points they raise is that the "carpet bomb" vulnerability still exists in Chrome. Apparently this issue exists in Chrome as they're using a release of WebKit that was released prior to them fixing it for Safari 3.1.2 and so wasn't updated before being released to the public. They've also quoted an issue with the EULA.

By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any content which you submit, post or display on or through, the services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the services and may be revoked for certain services as defined in the additional terms of those services.

Hmm, I think not. I won't be using Google Chrome again until they revise their EULA. I didn't realise anyone actually read software EULA's but in this case it's a good job someone did!

So overall it's looking like a pretty bad start for Chrome.

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Google Chrome beta released

Google Chrome browser beta
Posted by David G. Paul

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As they promised yesterday, Google have now released a beta of their new browser, Chrome, though so far it can only be run on Windows XP and Vista. I haven't actually installed it yet, but I can't wait to do so. Part of me wonders what it's going to look like as traditionally Google haven't been very good at designing although their products always seem pretty solid.

Link: Google Chrome

UPDATE: I've now installed it and tried it. I'm actually pleasantly suprised. The interface in Vista has a similar feel to IE7, with the majority of the little used features being out the way accessible on 2 menu's that are openable from two icons. The address bar is context sensitive and will of course help auto-complete any Google services, and anything from your history or bookmarks. It's also borrowed a feature from IE8 / Firefox where it's easier to see what server your on by it putting emphasis on the styling of the domain name. Another pleasant suprise is that this site didn't need any tweaks to get it working either which is actually quite good news as it might mean that if you know your site works okay in Firefox and IE then it's going to work in Chrome. There's also an "Incognito Window" which is a mode where no cookies, history, or temporary internet files will be stored - so it's basically the same as the new mode in IE8.

Another feature also lends itself from Fluid on the Mac. "Create application link" will create a link that runs a site as a separate application with it's own customisable icon. Right clicking on the title bar will give you a task manager where you can see information on the usage of each tab and process Google Chrome is running. There is also a handy button, "Stats for nerds" that provides even more information. There are also some cool developer tools built in to it to help with debugging.

I may try and use it as my primary browser for a few weeks to see how I get on with it, hopefully I won't find any annoyances too quickly.

It passes the Acid2 test okay, and does a very quick job of it. However, the Acid3 test runs very slowly - probably from the thousands of people rushing to test the browser themselves to see how it conforms. When it does finally run though it manages to get as far as 63% and fails on the LINKTEST. Apparently someone else I know tried the test and they got as far as  76% on Windows XP (I'm using Windows Vista 64bit). I've also heard a few reports of that some sites aren't quite looking right in it - so I guess I got lucky.

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Much Ado About IE8

Posted by David G. Paul

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There's been quite a bit posted in the IEBlog about Internet Explorer 8 over the past couple of days, and with all the time I've been spending on redesigning my blog I've not until now had the time to post about these.

The first one I want to comment on is about the fuss they're trying to create around IE8's privacy features. The main point of this article is that they've added a number of features that make it easier to stop pages you've been browsing from being traceable. Now there's only two reasons I can think of that would make you want pages to be private - one of them is the case where you're on a public machine, the other I'll leave to your imagination. These two new features are:

  • InPrivate Browsing lets you control whether or not IE saves your browsing history, cookies, and other data
  • Delete Browsing History helps you control your browsing history after you've visited websites.
  • InPrivate Blocking informs you about content that is in a position to observe your browsing history, and allows you to block it

"Delete Browsing History" sounds to me like a feature that's been in IE for a long time, but it could be they've added more settings to control this. While InPrivate Browsing is active, the following takes place:

  • New cookies are not stored
    • All new cookies become "session" cookies
    • Existing cookies can still be read
    • The new DOM storage feature behaves the same way
  • New history entries will not be recorded
  • New temporary Internet files will be deleted after the Private Browsing window is closed
  • Form data is not stored
  • Passwords are not stored
  • Addresses typed into the address bar are not stored
  • Queries entered into the search box are not stored
  • Visited links will not be stored

Apparently these new features will make their way into IE8 Beta 2, which they also say is due to be released shortly.

The next post I want to talk about is what they say about IE8 Performance. Whilst Mozilla have recently claimed that their JavaScript performance is now 26 times faster in a version they're currently working on, Microsoft claim that JScript (their implementation of JavaScript) is 2.5 times faster than in previous versions. Although they can talk about performance increases all they like it doesn't really mean anything until the FINAL release of IE8 is in user's hands. Between now and it's release there could be any number of changes that they make that cause the browser to be slowed down. I'm sure some of you may remember that Firefox 2 Beta's were in some cases faster than the final release of Firefox 2.

As we started building IE8 it was clear that we could do more to take advantage of the increasing prevalence of high bandwidth connections. Two key improvements we made with IE8 were to unblock downloads in the presence of external scripts and to increase the number of parallel connections per server that we support.

Can that be clashed as cheating? I'm not sure, but I think some servers won't allow more than two concurrent connections per user anyway. Still, as I said we'll just have to wait and see what difference this makes - if any.

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New tabs in the future for Firefox

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

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It wasn't that long ago Mozilla Labs was talking about the Aurora concept browser that they envisioned for the future. Now they're talking a little more short term, with something they're planning to add to Firefox in the very near future. This is the idea of "contextual tabs". What they mean by this is that when opening a new tab it will give a search box on the page as this is what most users open a new tab to do, but it will also provide additional information based on any highlighted text from the last tab. So if you highlighted an address on the previous tab then on this new tab it will provide an option to see that address on a map.

Your browser does not support Flash, or you do no have it installed.

The other new concept that they're talking about is providing news in the tab area - this concept I'm not so keen on but it's still worth watching the video on it.

Your browser does not support Flash, or you do no have it installed.

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New Firefox likes Javascript better

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

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The current nightly build of Firefox has made a bit of noise around the internet in certain circles due to the new optimisation techniques Mozilla are using to greatly increase the performance of JavaScript. Previously, performance concerns have often been mentioned with regards to Firefox, but now it looks like at least once performance issue will no longer be a problem in Firefox 3.1 when it is released.

Ars Technica has posted a number of graphs indicating the performance differences between "Tracemonkey" and Firefox 3 when using various JavaScript. One example of the improvement is for function calls. If Firefox 3 was benchmarked at 1.0, then Tracemonkey is 26 times faster. I'd say that's pretty impressive, but when you look at the performance increase for global loops it's even better!

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(X)HTML Validator for your Mac

Posted by David G. Paul

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I came across this really useful application a few days ago that you can download and use on any Mac. Validator S.A.C. is a Mac application that is based on the W3C's (X)HTML Markup Validator so you can easily validate local pages, or even remote ones. I guess it's useful if you don't use Firefox - as there it's easier just to use the web developer toolbar, but I guess it's handy if you're somewhere without a net connection.

Link: Validator S.A.C

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Help with Subversion

Data / CDs
Posted by David G. Paul

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If you're new to using version control, or want to give Subversion (SVN) a try, I've now finished writing an article on using many of the features of the popular version control software.

Keeping code safe is important for any project whether it's big or small, and it can sometimes be important to revert changes - this is where version control comes in. Subversion is one of the most popular version control systems available and this article shows you how to use it in *nix or Windows.

Hopefully it should be nice and easy to follow and you'll be using SVN in no time.

Link: Subversion - Managing your code repository

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Microsoft introduce Windows 7 blog

Microsoft Windows
Posted by David G. Paul

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In preparation for the long (very long) run up to Windows 7, Microsoft have started a blog to let the community know what they're up to with it, and to get meaningful comments back.

So far there isn't much there, just an introduction to the blog and a few comments on what the posting of comments should be used for. It might be worth keeping an eye on though to see what innovations (if any) they make. Oh, and by the way they've not yet got an RSS feed - pesky Microsoft programmers.

Link: Engineering Windows 7 blog

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Buggy VMWare update stalls servers

VMWare logo
Posted by David G. Paul

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I'm not sure how many times I've mentioned VMWare now in previous articles and news posts, but I've always been pretty fond of it. I think system admins are pretty fond of it too since it sure does make managing multiple servers that little bit easier. Unfortunately those that are eager to install every new patch as it comes out may have experienced issues yesterday due to a bug introduced into the ESX and ESXi Server versions licensing model that stopped their corporate users from starting their virtual servers. Although this only started happening yesterday, the update was released a few weeks back but contained a bug that caused the user's license to expire on August 12th 2008. This update has since been removed from their site and they say they'll have a patch available shortly.

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Mozilla Snowl

Mozilla Labs - Snowl
Posted by David G. Paul

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Mozilla Labs have unveiled Snowl, their experiment with messaging for Firefox.

It doesn't matter where messages originate. They're alike, whether they come from traditional email servers, RSS/Atom feeds, web discussion forums, social networks, or other sources

They have a working prototype at the minute that only supports RSS/Atom feeds and Twitter but they are planning on more universal support including popular platforms such as Facebook, AIM, and Google Talk. This Snowl prototype extension is also available from their site.

If one day this also incorporates emails then there may no longer be a need for Thunderbird or Outlook - everyone could just collect their POP3 emails in Snowl/Firefox!

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Adaptive Path - Aurora concept browser

Posted by David G. Paul

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The following video is the last part in Adaptive Path's browser concept series developed for Mozilla Labs. In this part they look into gestures, and general usage of the browser at home.

Your browser does not support Flash, or you do no have it installed.

The idea of gestures for interaction really does make the history view so much more like Minority Report. In the past we've also seen the concept of control by gestures in games such as Black & White which used the mouse to control the gestures - in this case I think there is a camera that records the actions made by the users arms so that the appropriate action can take place in the interface.

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SSH from the iPhone

The Apple iPhone
Posted by David G. Paul

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If you're a web developer who has to deal with UNIX servers, or are a server administrator, and you happen to own an iPhone, there is a useful little application available for it from the Apple AppStore called pTerm. pTerm is an application that allows you to use a SSH connection to servers just like you would from Windows with PuTTY, or from Linux distro's and Mac's with Terminal.

Already they're on version 1.1, and have the following features:

  • SSH, Telnet, and Raw Socket (TCP) support
  • xterm terminal emulation
  • 80x24 standard unix terminal window
  • Pinch to zoom in the terminal
  • Landscape and Portrait modes
  • Support for CTRL keys
  • Works over Edge, 3G, or WiFi connections
  • Entirely based on PuTTY; if the features are in PuTTY, we can proably provide them on the iPhone!

They're not resting there either as they've continuing work on it, adding new features and fixing any bugs that early user's are finding. Apparently they're also planning on adding the following features in the near future:

  • tab, function, numpad, arrow and pgup/pgdwn keys
  • key-based authentication
  • support for multiple simultaneous connections
  • custom terminal sizes
  • custom foreground and background colours
  • customizing TCP behaviour (TCP Keepalives, etc)
  • port forwarding
  • scroll-with-cursor
  • ... and many more!

I think if I had an iPhone I'd probably use that App as I do like to SSH into servers and work on them that way, it's so much quicker than downloading copies of files and re-uploading them when you're done. By the way if you don't have an iPhone, but do have a Windows Mobile device (like me) you can use PocketPuTTY to achieve the same thing.

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More of Aurora from Adaptive Path

Posted by David G. Paul

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I'm finding it interesting following the videos from Adaptive Path that are detailing their concepts for a future browser. This video concentrates more on mobile interaction.

Your browser does not support Flash, or you do no have it installed.

The workspace feature that uses some sort of RFID on products kind of reminds me of being able to use the camera on a Macbook / Macbook Pro to scan barcodes to add products to your library by looking up the information on a list of provided sites such as Amazon. So this idea is nothing new, although they're taking it one step further and integrating it with the browser experience on a mobile device.

It also sort of asserts that in the future it is likely that mobile devices such as PDA's and mobile phones will be pretty much the same device - such as we're already starting to see with the iPhone and iPhone 3G.

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Aurora - The Future of the Web?

Posted by David G. Paul

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There's been a lot of buzz around the internet over the past week over concepts produced by Adaptive Path for Mozilla Labs that look at a possible future interface for their web browser.

Aurora is a concept video presenting one possible future user experience for the Web, created by Adaptive Path as part of the Mozilla Labs concept browser series. Aurora explores new ways people could interact with the Web in the future based on projected technological trends and real-world scenarios.

In terms of interaction they are looking at context awareness, for the interaction to feel natural, continuity between platforms and devices, and for it to be a collaborative experience. The following two videos are the first one's in their series that describe the concept that they've envisioned.

Your browser does not support Flash, or you do no have it installed. Your browser does not support Flash, or you do no have it installed.

It's a nice idea, but how well would it really work and how much power would your PC need in order to cope with it's demands? I also wonder how many home users would use the collaborative features that the browser is based around. The idea of the 3D interface for history is quite a nice idea and totally had me thinking of Minority Report.

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Quake Live

Quake Live
Posted by David G. Paul

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Quake 3 was always a good fun game for deathmatch, and the developer, id, certainly seem to agree. Quake Live is a new development by id that is basically multiplayer Quake 3 Arena via a website where you can view statistics, and play against other players of your level. What's even better about it is that it's going to be free! It's been in progress for quite some months, but finally they've started accepting registrations to sign up for beta testing. Whilst you wait to see if you've been accepted into their BETA program, or waiting for it to be released, there's a gameplay trailer to watch!

I can't wait for it's release, it should be good fun. It's a shame they don't release it for the XBox Live Arcade too!

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VNC from your iPhone

The Apple iPhone
Posted by David G. Paul

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This year is definitely the year of the iPhone. It's a great platform and already there is a phenomenal amount of applications available for it. Today on TUAW they've reviewed Teleport - a VNC client for the iPhone. Having such an application, although it costs $24.99 (£14.99), means you could be out on the road somewhere, but in need of a file on your PC or Mac at home that just happens to be running a VNC server and you'd be able to connect to it from your iPhone and email yourself the file - there's so many other possibilities too. If you support Windows webservers that are running VNC then it also makes life easier there as you can look into problems whilst you're away from your desk as well.

Teleport automatically detects VNC servers on the local network, and catalogues "saved" servers for easy access on the main screen.

TUAW also has a handy gallery of screenshots from the App so that you can see what it's like. Although the App is a little pricey for what it is, so TUAW have also mentioned an alternative - Mocha VNC Lite; which is a far cheaper option at only $5.99. They also have a gallery showing what the App is like, but I'm sure it should be enough for most people!

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MobileMe - The Windows ME of the Apple world

Apple Computers,. The maker of Macs.
Posted by David G. Paul

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You know there's a problem when a product actually needs a blog to report on it's current status; but that's exactly what MobileMe has received after a troublesome launch.

As you know, restoring full email access to the remaining 1% of MobileMe users is our first priority. We turned on web access to their current email yesterday and the feedback has been cautiously positive. Since then, we've restored full email history (minus the approximately 10% of mail received between July 16 and July 18 which may have been lost) and the ability to access email from a Mac, PC and iPhone, to over 40% of these users, and expect the remainder to be restored in the next few days.

A note of clarification to these 1% of MobileMe users - all of the email you received between July 18 and July 22 was placed on our new server on July 23 and was stamped with that date as a result. If you need the actual date for particular messages you can take advantage of the ability to view long headers in MobileMe Mail (via Preferences) to peer into the log and find the actual mailing time and date.

We'll report again on our progress in another post early this week.

Well, them treating it as a priority is good, but it's a shame they couldn't anticipate the issues beforehand. I'm not sure how many people are going to be happy with the solution they have with the emails that have changed server having new timestamps - this is probably going to inconvenience a number of people, though I doubt it'll be less of a problem for them than the initial bout of problems.

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DNS Cache poisoning attacks

Posted by David G. Paul

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Macworld have recently commented on an article that was released on the 'net a few days back about a flaw in DNS that could leave many servers vulnerable to attack (see US-CERT's Vulnerability Note VU#800113).

The issue exploits the DNS cache with "poisoned" data and so far it is believed that no one has been able to make use of this vulnerability; however it is only a matter of time and it is advised that system administrators update their DNS software with the recently published fix.

The attack can be used to redirect victims to malicious servers on the internet by targeting the DNS servers that serve as signposts for all of the internet's traffic. By tricking an internet service provider's (ISPs) servers into accepting bad information, attackers could redirect that company's customers to malicious sites without their knowledge.

What remains to be seen however is how quickly people (mainly ISPs) will patch their servers in order to stop any potential problems. The likely scenario is that the first attacks will be from people testing out the vulnerability.

There is more indepth information on the issue on Wired, and apparently you can use DNS-OARC to test your DNS for the vulnerability.

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Google set to buy Digg for $200 million

Google
Posted by David G. Paul

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According to an article on TechCrunch, there has been a lot of activity over the past 6 weeks regarding Google's proposed acquisition of the social networking site, Digg. Apparently they've gotten as far as signing a letter of intent which means the deal maybe closed within the next few weeks.

If this deal goes ahead it means the 3 year advertisement contract recently signed with Microsoft will be terminated early, no doubt to be replaced with Google AdSense, etc.

The combined power of Google and Digg would mean that the company would not only have the largest and most used search engine, but also one of the biggest social networking sites to date. I would estimate that within six months of the acquisition the userbase from Digg will be shifted over to use Google logins.

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First Firefox 3 patch released

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

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The first patch for Firefox 3 has been released by Mozilla, fixing:

  • MFSA 2008-36 Crash with malformed GIF file on Mac OS X
  • MFSA 2008-35 Command-line URLs launch multiple tabs when Firefox not running
  • MFSA 2008-34 Remote code execution by overflowing CSS reference counter
  • Fixed several stability issues.
  • Fixed an issue where the phishing and malware database did not update on first launch.
  • Under certain circumstances, Firefox 3.0 did not properly save the SSL certificate exceptions list.
  • Updated the internal Public Suffix list.
  • In certain cases, installing Firefox 2 in the same directory in which Firefox 3 has been installed resulted in Firefox 2 being unstable. This issue was fixed as part of Firefox 2.0.0.15.
  • Fixed an issue where, when printing a selected region of content from the middle of a page, some of the output was missing (bug 433373).
  • Fixed a Linux issues where, for users on a PPP connection (dialup or DSL) Firefox always started in "Offline" mode (bug 424626).

Hopefully it won't introduce any more JavaScript bugs like the upgrade from 2 to 3 did.

Link: Mozilla Firefox 3.0.1

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Notepad++ 5.0 Released

Posted by David G. Paul

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One of my most used text editors is Notepad++; true I only use it when I'm not SSH'd into a server with a decent install of vim, but I do use it and I'm sure others do too otherwise the people that develop it wouldn't continue developing it.

On the brink of being officially released is version 5; which contains the following improvements:

  1. Improve Notepad++ performance - on startup and on exit.
  2. Add Calltip capacity.
  3. Add HTML/XML tag match highlighting.
  4. All the menu commands can be added in context menu, including plugins' commands, macros and user defined commands.
  5. Add bookmarked lines operations : delete all marked lines, copy all marked lines into clipboard, cut all marked lines into clipboard, paste from clipboard to replace all marked lines content.
  6. Add rename and delete current document features.
  7. Fix crash bug : Open files with date pre-1970.
  8. Fix clone mode bug : now the actions done in one view will be synchronized in the cloned view.
  9. Add tooltips in document tab to display the full file name path.
  10. Change hide lines behaviour : Hide lines now saved during switches.
  11. Change file history list behaviour : Most recent closed file is on the top. Add number on list.
  12. Caret width and blink rate are customizable.
  13. Add asterisk in title bar if file is dirty.
  14. The bookmarks' look & feel are improved.
  15. Add "Select all" and "copy" context menu items in Find in files results window.
  16. Fix goto line with command line bug.
  17. Improve smart highlight / mark all / incremental search highlight all visibility
  18. Tabbar's coulours is configurable via Stylers Configurator(Active tab Text, Inactive tab text, Inactive tab background, Active tab focused indicator and Active tab unfocused indicator).
  19. Add the smart highlight file size limit - 1.5 MB in order to improve the performance.
  20. Add exception handling (dumping filedata).
  21. Fix go to line command line bug.
  22. Enhance Find in files and Find in all opened files features' performance.
  23. Fix dialog off screen problem under multi-monitor environment.
  24. Add 2 plugin message for v5 : NPPM_GETFULLPATHFROMBUFFERID and NPPM_GETPOSFROMBUFFERID.

It feels more like a point release than a new version, but anyhow, there are some improvements so I guess that's good enough (it is only a text editor after all).

One thing worth noting is that if you use the FunctionList plugin you will need to redownload it as it's not compatible with this version. Also, I'm not sure if it's an official release or not as it's started to appear on mirror sites, but not on their own. When you install it, you get the above changelog appear in an open tab. Anyway, nice work guys on the new release.

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Firefox sets World Record

Firefox 3 Download Day 2008
Posted by David G. Paul

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Those who took part in the Firefox download day will have now received an email from Mozilla confirming that the Guinness World Records have accepted the new record of the most downloads for an application over a 24 hour period.

We set a Guinness World Record for the most software downloads in 24 hours. With your help we reached 8,002,530 downloads.

You are now part of a World Record and the proud owner of the best version of Firefox yet!

Don't forget to download your very own certificate for helping set a Guinness World Record.

Well done to Firefox and all those who participated! It's good to know there's a lot of people out there using a decent browser.

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How to use vim

vim - The Editor
Posted by David G. Paul

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No, I'm not telling you how to use a cleaning product, it's an article on how to use the editor of the same name that is commonly installed on *nix boxes.

This brief guide shows you all the most common controls and uses to aid you editing files directly on a *nix webserver.

Article: Using vim for Development

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Invalid SSL certificates and Firefox 3

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

There are legitimate reasons for having an invalid SSL certificate. If you are a developer and have a development environment that is a copy of a secure environment you may also have a self-certified SSL certificate to simulate the live environment. In the case of IE7 this would warn the user, advise against it, but provide a link to continue anyway or cancel. In the case of Firefox 3.0 they try to deter users more by giving them the option to, then having to confirm and then going through a dialogue box to further accept that you are about to use an invalid certificate. For those who are unsure how to do this I've added an article to help.

Article: Firefox 3.0 and Invalid SSL Certificates

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Firefox 3.0 Portable Edition

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

If you're not yet ready to replace your Firefox 2 with version 3 then there is still an easy way to test your pages in the new browser. That is to use the Portable Edition of Firefox 3, released by PortableApps.com.

Mozilla Firefox, Portable Edition is the popular Mozilla Firefox web browser bundled with a PortableApps.com Launcher as a portable app, so you can take your bookmarks, extensions and saved passwords with you.

What I've done to be able to test in both version 2 and 3 is the opposite - I've upgraded to 3, and then downloaded one of their "legacy" downloads of version 2. There's no real argument as to which way is better, though if you do choose to do it the same way as me then I recommend checking that your favourite Firefox addons are supported first!

Link: Firefox 3.0 Portable Edition

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Firefox 3 D-Day

Firefox 3 Download Day 2008
Posted by David G. Paul

3 comments

Today is download day for Firefox 3.0 - they hope to set the World Record for the most downloaded application in 24 hours.

I personally can't wait to see how the final one compares to the release candidates and the betas. When Firefox 2 was released a lot of extensions weren't ready - but hopefully the majority of extensions will be ready by now.

Even though it's 9am BST, it's still not available - I guess we're waiting for the Americans on this one. Once it's out though, make sure you go get it!

UPDATE: The release time will be 10:00am San Francisco time, which means in British Summer Time that is 6:00pm.

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Flock 2.0 currently in Beta

Flock: Social browser
Posted by David G. Paul

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I've mentioned before that I really like Flock, but don't use it as a main browser - I just use it for social stuff like Flickr due to it's cool features. Now it's due for an update which brings it up to the same level as Firefox 3.0 (due tomorrow) which means it will have improved security features (should help protect against phising), better performance, improvements to the media browser (okay not a feature of Firefox 3 but it's still been improved), bookmarks have been replaced with "Places", and the "awesomebar".

So far I've liked the new Beta and nothing's gone drastically wrong. If you're feeling lucky I recommend trying it too! Just remember to take a backup before you do though just to be safe.

If you're a Mac user then you'll probably get on better with the new Beta as there's less to worry about.

Link: Flock 2.0 Beta 1

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Pledge your allegiance to Firefox

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

With the new version of Firefox being just 2 days away now from being released, Mozilla are trying to get the popular web browser into the record books. Their aim is to get it into the Guinness Book of World Records as being the most downloaded piece of software in a 24 hour period. As an indication of how many downloads they're going to get they've asked people to register on their site as a pledge of support to show how many individuals will download it.

On their "Spread Firefox" site they've added a map showing pledge density and a total number of pledges. At the time of writing they've already reached 1,233,362 worldwide. I wonder though what the record is that they need to beat, as there doesn't seem to be any indication of there actually being a record already.

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Flock version 1.2.1 released

Flock: Social browser
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Flock has not long been updated to version 1.2.1. The new features this time include:

  • Pownce and Digg have been added to the People Sidebar.
  • Media Bar IconDiggman: Click to Digg the current page or to see the Top 5 articles on Digg.
  • AOL Mail has been added to the Webmail feature.

Link: Flock 1.2.1

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Google Browser Sync to be "phased out"

Google
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Reports are starting to appear that Google's Browser Sync extension for Firefox will be starting to be phased out over the remainder of the year and as of next year will no longer be available. In it's place Google recommend using one of the following:

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Mozilla already planning Firefox 3.1

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

With Firefox 3 being released in just a few days it should come as no shock that the team at Mozilla responsible for the development cycle are already looking ahead to what will be implemented for the next version. Mozilla Links, speculates that the next version they will be working towards is 3.1 (codenamed Shiretoko) - that does kind of make sense based on the evidence that they will be implementing features that didn't quite make it into version 3. Though saying that, features such as "Places" that are in 3 were originally going to be in 2 so it is possible they may be planning to go to version 4 next in what seems like a mad rush to try and catch up on version numbers with other popular browsers.

The main feature currently being talked about is the Ctrl-Del replacement so that when you use the key combination to change tabs it no longer changes tabs instantly but switches between previews of the tabs similar to what Windows users experience in Vista.

Add these to previously announced support for <video> tag, cross site Ajax requests, more power for the location bar, and some recently added support for CSS 3 selectors (which will improve Firefox score in the Acid3 test), and we can already foresee an interesting update.

Also being improved is the addition of smart folders for Places (similar to what Mac users get in programs such as Mail.app) and bulk-tagging bookmarks.

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Apple releases a security document

Apple Computers,. The maker of Macs.
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Apple have a released a guide in the form of a PDF that describes different ways of securing OS X "Leopard" using the Terminal.

This guide is for users of Mac OS X v10.5 or later. If you're using this guide, you should be an experienced Mac OS X user, be familiar with the Mac OS X user interface, and have some experience using the Terminal application's command-line interface. You should also be familiar with basic networking concepts.

Some instructions in this guide are complex, and deviation could cause serious adverse effects on the computer and its security. These instructions should only be used by experienced Mac OS X users, and should be followed by thorough testing.

Link: Leopard Security Configuration

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Firefox 3 RC1

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

The people at Mozilla have released the first Release Candidate of Firefox 3. Amongst it's many changes are security improvements, optimisations, GUI changes and tweaks, and major changes to their bookmarking system (now known as Places).

  • One-click site info: Click the site favicon in the location bar to see who owns the site and to check if your connection is protected from eavesdropping. Identity verification is prominently displayed and easier to understand. When a site uses Extended Validation (EV) SSL certificates, the site favicon button will turn green and show the name of the company you're connected to.
  • Malware Protection: malware protection warns users when they arrive at sites which are known to install viruses, spyware, trojans or other malware.
  • New Web Forgery Protection page: the content of pages suspected as web forgeries is no longer shown.

Link: Firefox 3 RC1

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Opera Dragonfly set free

Opera browser
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Opera Dragonfly is the Opera teams latest developer tool intended for people that need to debug Javascript, inspect CSS code and the DOM, and view Javascript errors. So it sounds like it's their own version of Firefox's Firebug, or the Web Developer Toolbar on Internet Explorer. Can't really say much about it other than it does most what Firebug does, but is for Opera and works with their Mobile browser too. If you use Opera, or develop for Opera, then this is going to be the perfect tool to help you. If you don't use or develop for Opera then I guess this won't be much use.

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Notepad++ version 4.9

Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Notepad++ can be quite a useful application for editing code since it has syntax highlighting, it's quite small, and doesn't use much memory. There have always been a few problems in terms of the UI being buggy, but all that now seems to be sorted in their latest version 4.9 release. They list the following fixes:

  • Add smart highlighting feature (double click a word to highlight all the same word in the document).
  • Enhance visual effect of Mark all feature.
  • Enhance Incremental search dialog docking.
  • Enhance Incremental search : add Highlight all feature.
  • Add auto-hide menu feature (IE7 style menu - Alt or F10 to toggle).
  • Enhance tool bar GUI usability (display a chevron while some tool icons hidden).
  • Add style transparency feature, right click on color to enable.
  • Fix the files not opening by DnD bug.
  • Enhance Find Replace dialog : Add "Extended" option - search (and replace) for tabs(\t), newline(\n\r), and a characters by it's value (\o, \x, \b, \d, \t, \n, \r and \\).
  • Bug fixed : Find dialog always scrolls text into view now.
  • Add places bar in save as dialog.
  • Fix non-recognized relative path bug in command line mode (under Dos prompt).
  • Add 2 messages for doc monitor plugin.
  • Fix the transparency bug (in Styler Configurator).
  • Make search in hidden directory (for Find in files) optional.
  • Fix the replace bug while replacing nothing.
  • Fix the F3 searching direction bug.

I've been using it all day and so far so good, no problems with the UI.

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Yahoo Analytics Suite

Yahoo
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Back on the 9th April, Yahoo bought themselves their very own Analytics company - IndexTools. Probably as part of their "we want to be like Google and not get bought by Microsoft" strategy. What this means is that the 3 biggest search engine powers: Google, MSN, and now Yahoo each have analytical tools for seeing how many visitors sites get, and what popular search terms were etc.

At present IndexTools charge a princely sum for their services as opposed to Google Analytics which is free. This could mean that IndexTools may end up offering a cut-down version free to Yahoo! users. Normally their prices range from £26.95 to £139.00 per month. As with Google and many other analytic packages it involves adding some JavaScript to every page that you want to be tracked; the results of which can then be viewed from one central location. Comparing it to Google Analytics though I really don't see what the point in paying for the same statistics is though.

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Safari no longer an update for iTunes

Apple Computers,. The maker of Macs.
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Apple does seem to be making a few strange moves lately. First they release a "Time Capsule" that uses an Hitachi "Deathstar", and then they decide to get people to install Safari on Windows by including it as an update. Neither of these moves were particularly clever, but at least they're doing something about one of them. As of version 2.1.0.110 of their Software Updater tool, Safari will be clearly labelled as a separate download so as to not confuse consumers.

Whilst on the subject of Apple has anyone tried the Time Capsules? The place where I work got a couple of them earlier in the week and are already sending them both back for a full refund as they just don't work! I think it would be interesting to see what percentage of people that have bought them are actually pleased with them.

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Security updates to Browsers

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

It seems Firefox has had some issues with it's JavaScript garbage collection (issue MFSA 2008-20), as Firefox 2.0.14 has been released solely to deal with that.

In other news, Apple have released Safari 3.1.1 which also deals with a few security issues:

  • CVE-ID: CVE-2007-2398 - A maliciously crafted website may control the contents of the address bar in Safari
  • CVE-ID: CVE-2008-1024 - Visiting a maliciously crafted website may lead to an unexpected application termination or arbitrary code execution in Safari
  • CVE-ID: CVE-2008-1025 - Visiting a malicious website may result in cross-site scripting in Webkit
  • CVE-ID: CVE-2008-1026 - Viewing a maliciously crafted web page may lead to an unexpected application termination or arbitrary code execution in Webkit

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IE8 and the DOM

Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Standards compliancy of browsers is essential for web developers and for people using the sites. For people visiting the site they'd expect it to look and function the same no matter what browser they used, they shouldn't have to think about what browser they need to get the optimal experience of a site. Likewise, developers and designers shouldn't have to think about what will work in some browsers and not in others because one browser does something one way and another a different way - that is what standards are for, so that things like accessing the DOM are done the same way no matter what browser you're coding for.

The people developing IE8 are starting to make headway in getting the latest iteration of the notorious browser to better support the DOM which is a huge relief for those that like a bit of JavaScript (JScript in the case of Microsoft's implementation of the ECMAScript standard). Some of the details of what has been improved is listed on the IEBlog site.

  • button element defaults to submit action
  • setAttribute changed to use HTML attribute name (fixes setting of style, class, and for issues)
  • getElementById no longer does the stupid thing of including the name attribute, and now does it only by id
  • button when submitted submits the value instead of the innerHTML, now matching behaviour of other browsers and the standard

There are quite a few other fixes they've made, and some issues they've noted as still being outstanding - if you want to see the rest of them then head over to their blog to find out.

Link: IEBlog - HTML and DOM Standards Compliance in IE8 Beta 1

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The Tale of a Spider

Robots and spiders
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Most "spiders" (otherwise known as crawlers, robots, etc.) such as Googlebot index your site without too much hassle, others can be a nuisance. Just lately I've found Baiduspider to be incredibly annoying since it seems to be almost permanently crawling my site meaning that every now and then it stops the database from being accessible. On this site whenever a database connection fails I've set it up to redirect to an "offline" page and to email details of what happened, which means with this spider crawling I'm getting something like two dozen (24) emails a day which is starting to irritate me a little. So I decided to investigate and find out what this spider is. Fortunately the user-agent provides a URL to where details on the spider can be found - as all good spiders should. However it's in Japanese so has to quickly be run through a translator such as Google or Babelfish. Once done we can see what it has to say for itself. Apparently it's supposed to ajust it's self to only put the server under as much pressure as it can take - ooookay, well that's not happening. Further down the page it says it will only crawl once a week, okay that's not happening either - try twice or more a day. Even more useful - they provide people with what's needed for their robots.txt in order to stop Baiduspider crawling the site, however after adding the following code it made no difference - the spider still crawls my site.

User-agent: baiduspider
Disallow: /
User-agent: Baiduspider
Disallow: /

I've got it in there for both upper-case and lower-case due to inconsistencies on their site - on the spider details page it says it should be an upper-case B and the rest lower case, on the examples page it shows it with lower-case. Whichever way, the spider still ignores it. Looking at the Apache log file it shows that it's not actually shifting a lot of files, but is creating a large number of hits in a short time which seems to be what causes the problem. Google and Yahoo crawl my site daily, and shift about 10Mb each a day, but they don't cause me any problems. Anyone had any trouble with the "BaiDu spider" or any others?

Update: It took around 24 hours, but it seems the Baidu spider is now ignoring my site! Yay!

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Mozilla Firefox 3 on the horizon

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

It won't be long now until Mozilla Firefox 3 is in the hands of enthusiasts everywhere. Earlier this week Mozilla released Beta 5 and apparently the first Release Candidate will follow around April 8th - which isn't far off!

Although there are improvements to security, stability, and performance, there are UI changes to make the various platform specific versions look like they fit in with the operating system, and Places. Places is a new way of managing favourites and looks like it might be quite effective - something worth having a little play with if you download the Beta or the forthcoming RC.

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A perfect 100

Opera browser
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Yesterday the Opera browser was the first to reach 100/100 on the Acid3 test in their nightly build. However it does still have some rendering issues, but the team hope to have them sorted soon so that their browser is the first to be 100% compliant with the Acid3 test. At the time Webkit, the renderer for Safari was at 95%, but in the hours since then they too have reached 100/100 and also have a few rendering issues to resolve. It's good to see a little competition between rival browsers to help speed up browsers becoming more standards compliant. I guess we could do with Firefox 3 and IE8 trying to aim for the same really.

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IE8 has Improved Zooming. Apparently

Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

The latest from the IEBlog team is that IE8 Beta 1 has better zooming (called "Adaptive Zoom") for webpages. The example they show is a screenshot of a page at 150% in IE7, and the same page at 150% in IE8. What they say here is that there are no longer any horizontal scroll bars as the zoom now takes into account relative sizes, etc. but if you look at the two screenshots carefully you'll notice that they don't actually look that different. The main difference you can see is that the image on the page that was forcing the scrollbars before is now being cropped (yes there is a very small difference in text size too) - is that advancement? I don't think it is somehow, it's just using overflow:hidden - no magic there, they're just trying to make the feature sound better than it is.

Link: IE8 and Adaptive Zooming

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Is Safari an update for iTunes?

Apple Computers,. The maker of Macs.
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Whilst Apple seem to think it is, the answer is quite clearly a resounding 'no'. One of the biggest problems I see about this is deception. Your average home PC user, and I'm not including about developers, when a window appears unexpectedly telling them there's an update available for something most will think it's a good thing and agree to it. So in this case that gets them a new browser. Fortunately though installing Safari using the updater does not make it the default browser - if it did I wouldn't be surprised if Apple got into a lot of trouble. A lot of people for the past few days have already been crying foul, and others see it as a good thing - it's giving the users a browser that's better than IE6 and 7 to use. How effective can that strategy be though? If someone falls for Safari being an update then they probably won't know it's a browser and will leave this new unexplained icon alone in fear of breaking their PC. That's still the way it is with a lot of users, if they don't know what it does they won't touch it. So it's kind of pointless making Safari get added to the update list for iTunes in my opinion.

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Firefox 3 Screenshots

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Network World have a selection of images of the new Firefox 3 that should be out later this year, showing off some of it's new features such as "Places" (the new favourites) and enhanced security features.

Also out now are updates for Apple Safari 3.1, and Opera 9.50 Build 9841 Beta. The Safari updates features improvements to JavaScript performance, adds support for CSS 3 web fonts, CSS transforms and transitions, HTML 5 video and audio tags, and SVG, as well as various other improvements for developers and for Windows users.

For Opera, the following changes:

  • Fixed inline find.
  • Fixed downloading attachments in the new Yahoo! mail.
  • Fixed async XMLHttpRequest to never be blocked by a slow script.
  • Fixed internal plugin methods not accessible from javascript engine when data attribute defined.
  • Fixed an issue where new mail messages would not be detected.
  • Opera Mail now handles mailto links with encoded characters correctly.
  • Improved handling of subscription to temporary subscription to news groups.
  • Fixed some offline mode issues.
  • And lots more of stability fixes!

March has definitely been a good month for browsers.

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Microsoft update Vista to SP-1

Microsoft Windows
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

The first service pack for Windows Vista has now been released to the public over Automatic Updates. There are unfortunately certain circumstances it will not appear in the updates list for, as the Windows Vista Team have blogged about:

  • You have a driver installed that is not supported
  • You have a pre-release of SP-1 installed
  • You already have SP-1 installed
  • Your operating system is running a language it's not been released for yet. So far it is available in English, French, Spanish, German, and Japanese

For me it's the first in the list that is causing me issues - SP-1 is not compatible with early Creative drivers, something which they've not updated to many peoples dismay since early last year! I'll be installing SP-1 anyway, and will report back with anything I notice about it.

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Rendering Modes in IE8

Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

1 comment

As I've mentioned in a previous post, and as you may have noticed from using it - IE8 has a button to switch the browser into IE7 rendering mode with just the click of a button. Definitely a useful feature if you're a developer or designer as you can test your design in IE7 and IE8 in the same browser window. I do wonder if they will keep that button there in the final version, or if they'll move it to somewhere else. From a developers point of view it kind of feels like they'd be doing something like:

if (IE7Button.state) {
   ...
}
else {
   switch (viewport.doctype) {
      ...
   }
}

Although that probably isn't how they're doing it, it kind of gives an idea of how the rendering engine probably switches "under-the-hood". What would be kind of cool is if they decided to also include the rendering engine from IE6 - true it'd add a little bloat to the browser, but if they did that just for an IE8 "Developer only" version it would still be very useful and very cool. It would mean that developers and designers alike wouldn't need to install a virtual machine running XP, or a second machine in order to test their sites in IE6 and IE7/8. If they did this I imagine it'd be either done from the "View" menu, or from a special IE8 web developer toolbar. Anyone else think it'd be a good idea for them to include other rendering engines too?

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JavaScript debugging in IE8

Javascript code
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

The ability to debug JavaScript (known as JScript in the Microsoft implementation of it) has always been troublesome in Internet Explorer. There have been tools released to help with it, but none as good as Firebug for Firefox - and I've never been able to install the IE web developer toolbar on an Windows XP system without it killing the browser totally and having to uninstall the toolbar. The developer preview of IE8 shows how JScript debugging can be done in Internet Explorer when things work right. Just as the IE team have their own blog, the group within Microsoft responsible for JScript have their own blog too.

The latest post from the JScript team talks about the JScript Debugger that is included in the beta, putting emphasis on it being a light weight JScript debugger - isn't that just a way of saying the debugger isn't as fully featured as others or are they talking about it's memory footprint? That aside, the debugger does handle a little like the Visual Studio suite with it's ability to pause execution of code, step over a line, and step into and step out, as well as being able to continue after you've paused so that it can continue with any dynamic changes you've made - such as in the immediate window for example. The code view area has 3 tabs; one for HTML, one for CSS, and one for Script. The script tab also has an area for monitoring watched variables (handy for doing a trace), all currently local variables and their values (which can have their values changed here too), monitoring of breakpoints within the code (places where the execution will cease when it hits those lines of code), an immediate window, and a view of the call stack (which allows you to see what functions have been called to get to where you are).

As far as their blog is concerned that is pretty much all they cover - a pretty quick and basic overview really, but they do provide a link to the Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1 Whitepapers - maybe something worth reading.

Link: JScript Blog: JScript Debugger in Internet Explorer 8

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IEBlog explain the new Favourites toolbar

Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

It's not everyday you find a developer has to explain changes to a favourites bar - but that's what the guys at Microsoft, busily working on IE8, have done. Of the changes they've made to the Favourites toolbar (formerly the Links toolbar), the WebSlices is starting to seem one of the cooler changes. The IEBlog demonstrates the use of WebSlices with an eBay auction to show how it works with monitoring a small portion of HTML just like you would an RSS feed. Now that it can be seen working we can see how it might be used on sites that are regularly updated such as monitoring responses in a forum thread or whatever you can imagine. These and RSS feeds being accessible form the favourites bar is a step forward from earlier iterations where you could only add links - this adds an extra dimension now for better organising and viewing your favourite links, 'Slices, and feeds. Any updates to Feeds or slices show as bold in the toolbar - a good change from a usability point of view.

Anyone else have any opinions on the new IE8 toolbar?

The IE8 Favorites Bar

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Silverlight Goes Mobile

Microsoft Silverlight
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Microsoft have signed a contract with Nokia to get new mobile phones from the handset manufacturer to include Silverlight - the Microsoft competitor to Adobe Flash. Apparently we'll start to see it included with their new S60 (Symbian) based range coming soon with it hopefully being released for Microsoft's Windows Mobile platform shortly after.

Silverlight allows designers and developers to produce rich web applications that are independent of browser, operating system and handset.

Over the next few months I expect we'll see if Silverlight can really compete against a product that's stood on it's own for as long as Flash has, but with it breaking through into the mobile market it may just stand a chance of getting sufficient people using it.

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IE8 to use standards by default

Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

The title says it all really. Microsoft have back-pedalled and have decided that maybe it is best after all if Internet Explorer 8 uses it's best standards compliant mode by default without having to add any extra code to the page for it to "opt-in". Anyway, probably best to read it straight from the horses mouth as it were.

Link: IEBlog: Microsoft's Interoperability Principles and IE8

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Internet Explorer 8 Beta on the Horizon?

Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

It seems that maybe IE8 isn't that far off being ready for eager web developers and designers to sink their collective teeth into. Apparently the first beta is aimed at exactly that audience to try and see what sort of reaction it gets so they can use that feedback to improve it further. Nice idea! This "Technical Beta" is currently by invite only so very few people will actually get to see it just yet - but good things come to those who wait. Let's hope Microsoft get it right this time.

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Flock 1.0.8 Released

Flock: Social browser
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

This time they've changed:

  • The default home page will now import correctly on Macs when the Netscape is run from the installer DMG image.
  • On Macs, if Netscape is set to be the default browser, Flock will now default to import that from that browser.
  • In general, when importing into Flock the default home page import selection is from the browser being imported into and not Flock.

Not much really, and most of it for Netscape users. Do many people still use Netscape? Even though it's no longer supported?

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Custom Apache .htaccess Made Easy

Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

I've run article in the past to help people write their own .htaccess files for use on Apache webservers. However wouldn't it be easier if there was a way of doing most the basic stuff without having to think how to do it? Luckily there is an online .htaccess editor by Ryoken & Mannen called .htaccess Editor that can help create .htaccess files containing rules for password protecting files and/or folders, permanent redirects, custom error pages, canonisation of URLs with/without WWW, IP restrictions, and what filenames to look for as a default page.

Link: .htaccess Editor version 1.0

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Adobe's Buzzword

Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Adobe love to use Flash for everything - and when they decided to make a web-based word processor that was no exception. Buzzword is their Flash-based attempt at producing a fully featured, online word processor that comes with all the usual features you'd expect to see in a word processor.

  • Ability to change the look of text - font family, size, bold, italic, underline, strikethrough, foreground colour, and background colour.
  • Spellchecker with ability to add words to the dictionary, or to just ignore the word always within a document, or correct it with a variety of suggestions. A running count of spelling mistakes is kept on the bottom status bar and seems to be the only way of brining up the contextual menu for correcting errors.
  • Paragraph options to change alignment, spacing, and indentation.
  • Bulleted lists, numbered lists, and checklists.
  • Insertion of images.
  • Insertion of tables.
  • Ability to add comments and to then show/hide them.
  • Sharing of documents.
  • History of changes to the document.
  • Page headers / footers.

It looks quite nice too, and doesn't take too long to load. Some of the interface does feel a little sluggish though which can be a little irritating; and you have to register in order to try it out.

Link: Buzzword

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PostgreSQL 8.3 released

Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

It seems there has been a lot of interest in PostgreSQL lately - probably because of it's sheer flexibility, and some of the speed advantages it has over MySQL. The new release, version 8.3, is a massive improvement over previous versions and as they state in the changelog it is because of the growing community that have helped to dramatically increase the speed of development. Listed amongst the added feature are:

  • Full text search is integrated into the core database system
  • Support for the SQL/XML standard, including new operators and an XML data type
  • Enumerated data types (ENUM)
  • Arrays of composite types
  • Universally Unique Identifier (UUID) data type
  • Add control over whether NULLs sort first or last
  • Automatically re-plan cached queries when table definitions change or statistics are updated
  • Support Security Service Provider Interface (SSPI) for authentication on Windows
  • Support multiple concurrent autovacuum processes, and other autovacuum improvements

The addition of enumerated types I imagine will be a welcome feature to many people - something us MySQL users have had the benefit of for quite some time. Now PostgreSQL users can enjoy the fun with them too! On top of these and other feature additions, they've also made a number of performance improvements such as improving disk usage efficiency, and the reduction of overhead.

PostgreSQL 8.3.0 Documentation - Release Notes

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Cairo - Revolutionising the Windows UI?

Cario - Windows Shell Replacement
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

For years there have always been attempts at making decent shell replacements for Windows - some successful, some not so quite. Out of all the ones I have seen so far, none have really sparked my interest. Cairo is the latest one I've noticed, and it does actually look quite nice. Certain aspects of the new UI are very "mac-like" in appearance and that certainly doesn't have a negative effect - it's a really nice looking UI.

Link: Example of the Cairo UI from their features page

Unfortunately it's impossible to try it just yet though as it's not yet available for download - but it might be worth keeping an eye on if you're a Windows user.

Link: Cairo

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Google afraid of the Microsoft bid for Yahoo?

Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

You may or may not have heard of Google's Blog, but I have absolutely no doubt that you have heard of Google. It's everywhere from TV to Films, so it's no surprise that it is the most popular search engine on the planet. Though despite their popularity they are still prone to a little worry. With the recent bid from Microsoft to acquire Yahoo they seem to have got their feathers ruffled that maybe the combined power of Microsoft and Yahoo might usurp their position as the kings of search.

Could Microsoft now attempt to exert the same sort of inappropriate and illegal influence over the Internet that it did with the PC?

Is it fair to say Microsoft have exerted an illegal influence over the PC? I don't think that's quite fair to say. Microsoft gained their position today by creating products like Windows that were unlike anything most people had seen before. It was easier to use and less daunting than using DOS, so people were bound to flood to it. Nowadays it is still the operating system that most people refer to when thinking of PCs. People who are not particularly computer minded if given the option between Windows, Linux, or OS X would be likely to go for Windows just because they've heard of it. That's the power of bran recognition. Google has that same power with their search engine. If a Microsoft/Yahoo partnershop was to produce an engine that become more popular than Google then it would most likely be because it's a better product - though in all honesty I can't see that happening, I don't think Google will lose their crown just yet.

Google then finish their public address on their blog with:

This hostile bid was announced on Friday, so there is plenty of time for these questions to be thoroughly addressed.

Is a bid hostile if the company being taken over doesn't want it? If Yahoo don't want to be bought out by Microsoft they don't have to be. Very paranoid of you Google.

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Microsoft sets it's eyes on Yahoo! (again)

Microsoft Corporation
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Microsoft, never one to like competition, has made another attempt at buying Yahoo! This time they have offered $31 a share, which values the company at $44.6 billion. An absolutely amazing amount. If this is accepted and is passed by the US and EU authorities, what will this mean for the myriad of services that Yahoo! currently provides? I think it would be safe to say that they'd utilise what technology they could, re-brand, and absorb the rest over a period of a few years. I hope this doesn't happen as it would be a shame to see Flickr get Microsoft-ified as it's already a great user experience that doesn't need turning into ASP.net and turning into an Office looking application.

No, I don't hate Microsoft - I actually like Vista, but I'm not sure the consumption of Yahoo! would be a very good idea for web users and web developers alike.

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New Opera 9.5 Beta 1

Opera browser
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Opera is a browser that some love to use, and for others it's the browser that they love to hate (though not as much as Internet Explorer). Whatever your view of Opera it does get updated fairly regularly and they've released Beta 1 of the new version 9.5 build. Amongst the many changes are:

  • Even more Gmail2 fixes, getting closer to working
  • More presice rounding of HSL values in CSS
  • Playing video on CNN works again
  • Adding links to walls on Facebook now works
  • Login to Open-Xchange now works
  • Fixed various issues on Windows Live Mail
  • Saving playlists on YouTube should now function correctly
  • User style mode no longer applies to Mail or IRC tabs
  • Several favicon fixes
  • Fixed the line below dialog tabs in native skins
  • Tweaking and improvements to Windows native skins (both themed and classic) based on feedback and bug reports
  • Fixed a problem with wrong handling of some filetypes, including messed up display of MHTML. This was actually fixed in the last weekly, but we forgot to mention. If you upgrade from an older snapshot using the same installation directory, you must remove the [File Types] section in opera6.ini.
  • Mac: Fixed color corruption when copying images (and preserve the alpha channel)
  • Mac: Possibly fixed printing crashes on Leopard
  • UNIX: Plugins in symlinked directories should now not be listed twice

So if you want it, go over to Opera's site and get it!

Link: Opera v9.5 BETA 1

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IE8 - Compatability over Enhancement

Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

The latest post on the IEBlog talks about the decisions that were made when releasing IE7, why it broke so many sites, and what they're doing to stop that happening with the release of IE8. One of the key points that indicates the direction that they are going in came from:

The answer is that developers of many sites had worked around many of the shortcomings or outright errors in IE6, and now expected IE7 to work just like IE6.

Even if you don't read past that point you get a sudden feeling of dread that they're going to start undoing some stuff that they did in IE7 - thus creating a problem of having to have rules to detect changes between IE6, IE7 and IE8. That then gets further backed up by:

We realized that "Don't Break the Web" should really be translated to "Don't change what developers expect IE to do for current pages that are already deployed."

This kind of reaffirms that the IE team regretted decisions that they thought were good and should have made sure that what looked right in IE6 standards mode should also have looked right in IE7 standards mode. People are up in arms over whether or not this is right, but I agree with those that believe making it more standards compliant is right - once IE6 and eventually 7 are gone it would be nice to be left with something that presents the markup as close to how Firefox and other browsers do as possible. It's good that they worked with WaSP on coming to a decision over this point as it's a show that they really do care about people who develop for IE and other browsers and they want to do something to make IE8 better and something web developers can approve of. Eventually they talk about the simple statement that they presented to WaSP at the beginning of their discussion:

We started from a simple statement of "enable (and encourage) interoperable web development, but don't force IE to break pages that work properly in IE today."

Now that does sound more promising - that simple concept if used means that web developers will not have to revisit old projects to make sure that they now work in 3 iterations of Internet Explorer, but just that they work in IE6 and 7 - if it works in either of those it will work in IE8. Excellent idea. Of course though we also know they've done a great deal of work towards making the browser more standards compliant with the earlier news of it passing the Acid2 test. This at first thought seems to create a paradox - how can it be more standards compliant and not break IE6 and IE7 sites; the answer has to be with some sort of trickery. What they then confirm as the solution is to add a new meta tag into the header of sites which gives 3 options:

  1. Quirksmode: all current content remains compatible
  2. Standards mode: same as was in IE7
  3. Adding a meta tag to state a higher level of standards compliance for IE8

As IEBlog state, an article on the use of this new meta tag were added to A List Apart today. For pages to render optimally in IE8 we would now use:

<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=8" />

ALA also offer an example piece of how we can guarantee being able to use this tag without having to keep updating the version number, and that is to use:

<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=edge" />

It is however highly discouraged as it can't guarantee decisions that are made with future versions of IE. Overall I do like the idea of this, and I think I will make use of it as soon as I can - most likely once the Beta is available for public consumption!

Link: IEBlog: Compatibility and IE8

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IE6 Beware!

Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Some big news from Microsoft (okay not news as it was announced months ago, but the deadline is now looming with just over 2 weeks left) - they're going to start automatic roll outs of Internet Explorer 7 to it's business customers using Windows Server Update Services on February 12th. So if your a business user, you use WSUS and you want to keep IE6, you will need to turn off auto-approval of downloads for the time being.

There's more information about this over on Computer World.

Link: Microsoft warns businesses of impending autoupdate to IE7

Link: Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 Blocker Toolkit

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Windows Mobile 7 = Cool

Microsoft Windows
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Microsoft are one not to be outdone by improvements to the way users interact with mobile devices. Last year we saw the Apple iPhone showing gestures are a viable way for users to interact with a GUI on a mobile device. This year Microsoft shows that they can do the same with the changes to Windows Mobile 7. It looks very different to the previous iterations of the mobile operating system with vast improvements over the look and feel when using it for everyday tasks such as reading emails.

UPDATE 27/06/2009: Link removed due to missing host

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The bell tolls for Netscape Navigator

Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

After having been forgotten about by the masses for many years now, AOL have finally stated that Netscape Navigator, one of the giants in it's heyday, is to be discontinued from February 1st 2008. It was the first non-IE browser I ever used back when it wasn't owned by AOL, but when IE6 was released I switched to that as did many other people. Since then I've not even gone as far as having installed it. Will Netscape Navigator be missed? I don't think so, but it has secured it's place in the history books.

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Mozilla Weave

Mozilla Weave
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

The Mozilla team are never one to rest for very long, if at all. To keep them even busier they've now launched a side project called "Weave". Weave is Mozilla's attempt at giving the user a richer experience by allowing it to connect easier to online services such as social bookmarking sites for example. At present though the only online services you can use with it are Mozilla Labs run ones, and registration is at this time disabled - probably due to high demand. This could mean a decentralised version of bookmarking, etc. and similar functionality to Flock, but it being entirely portable. Mozilla Weave requires the latest beta of Firefox 3 to run.

Link: Mozilla Weave

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Opera cries foul of Microsoft

Microsoft Corporation
Posted by David G. Paul

1 comment

Not content with their current (low) marketshare, Opera have filed a lawsuit with the EU citing that Microsoft's Internet Explorer 7 browser does not support open Web Standards and that they should give users the choice. This ultimately means more marketshare for Opera as it will mean either bundling other browsers with it too, or removing IE from the operating system like they once were forced to do with Media Player (because of Real not liking that no one liked their software - boo hoo).

"Our complaint is necessary to get Microsoft to amend its practices," said Jason Hoida, Opera Software's deputy general counsel.

I feel that this is a worthy goal to make IE more standards compliant, however I think Opera are just doing it to increase market share and awareness for their browser - something Mozilla have managed with Firefox without any of these underhand tactics.

The dominance of Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser has been dented in recent years by the success of other net surfing programs such as Firefox.

This very point alone shows that anti-competition from Microsoft with web browsers is not a problem - if Firefox usage can rise to be around 30-40% then Microsoft bundling their browser with their operating system just as they have done for the past 10 years isn't a problem. Further proof that Opera are bitter about their 1-2% of the market share.

From another point of view, if Microsoft can't bundle Internet Explorer with Windows, why should Apple be allowed to bundle Safari? Just the same as if Apple can bundle iTunes with OS X, why should Microsoft be told they can't include Windows Media Player (remember Windows XP N)?

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Internet Explorer ACA Update Preview

Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Back on the 9th November I mentioned that Microsoft had struck a deal with EOLAS, licensing their software so that they could remove the pesky "Click to activate" from ActiveX controls such as those used when embedding video clips. The actual patch to remove this will be released in April 2008, but a preview of this patch was released sometime yesterday. This patch affects the following versions:

  • Internet Explorer 6 for Windows XP SP2
  • Internet Explorer 6 for Windows Server 2003 SP1
  • Internet Explorer 6 for Windows Server 2003 SP1, Itanium-based versions
  • Internet Explorer 6 for Windows Server 2003, x64-based versions
  • Internet Explorer 6 for Windows XP Professional x64 Edition
  • Internet Explorer 6 for Windows Server 2003 SP2
  • Internet Explorer 7 for Windows XP SP2
  • Internet Explorer 7 for Windows Server 2003 SP1
  • Internet Explorer 7 for Windows Server 2003 SP2
  • Internet Explorer 7 for Windows Vista

The question is though, is this still needed? To combat the issue originally more Flash players for videos were used as they didn't need activating.

On a side note, I saw an amusing signiture yesterday - it said about viewing a website that said "requires Internet Explorer 5.5 or better", so they installed Mozilla. Excellent.

Link: IE ACA Update Preview

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First news of Internet Explorer 8

Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Microsoft's naming conventions have always been a little controversial due to the sheer size of some of the titles such as "Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium Edition". Doesn't exactly roll of the tongue does it? Dean Hachamovitch, the General Manager of the IE team, has been poking fun at themselves over this with the naming of their latest web browser offering. So far we've heard very little about what fanboy's are referring to as IE.Next, but yesterday at the Mix 'n' Mash event Bill Gates confirmed that the new version will be called IE8. Hmm, no surprise really - I couldn't imagine them going for "IE Desktop Online Web Browser Live Professional Ultimate Edition for the Internet". So that's it, it's official - Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) is on it's way and the IEBlog team will be likely to post more on it's features soon (I hope).

Link: IEBlog: Internet Explorer 8

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Coda Version 1.1

Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

If you're a Mac developer then you've no doubt heard of Panic's Coda application for developing your websites, and you're probably using it too. A few days ago they released version 1.1 which is a pretty major update in terms of fixes and changes, and fixes an incredible amount of issues when running it under Leopard.

  • Leopard time! Includes lots of improvements for Mac OS X 10.5.
    • Improved overall Leopard visual appearance
    • Coda now uses a "real" toolbar and thus can be customized
    • Now correctly supports Spaces
    • Line numbers no longer potentially jump around as you type
    • Auto-complete window will no longer close inadvertently
    • Slider in Sites view no longer has cosmetic issues
    • CSS controls now use correct control style
    • CSS error animation is improved
    • Now uses the system-supplied source list style
    • Creating a split with inverted colors now correctly focuses the new editor
    • Line marker no longer disappears if cursor is at end of file (or past)
    • Crash reporter now works properly in more cases
    • Dragging color swatch to editor now correctly creates the hex code
    • Improved Site flip animation on some machines, esp. MacBooks
    • Worked around a bug in which Coda would crash when switching modes while DOM inspector is on
    • Dragging remote files to the trash now works more reliably
    • No longer shows Time Machine backed-up applications in "Edit With..." menu
  • Added new CSS bookmark symbol: /* !bookmark */
  • Fixed possible exception when closing / opening tabs in some cases
  • Fixed exception in CSS editor after changing values in filtered mode
  • Fixed possible exception when canceling an operation in the queue
  • Fixed more exceptions in a wide variety of situations
  • WebDAV relative login paths now work as expected
  • Preview: DOM inspector bounds clipping now works better with Flash & iframes
  • In some cases, tab tooltips would not disappear after clicking the mouse in the tab header
  • Bracket matching ping no longer shows if you press return on a blank line after a close bracket
  • Improved Site selection when clicking with the mouse
  • Renaming no longer selects the file extension if it's visible, like the Finder in Leopard
  • Coda now detects network loss and attachment
  • Opening a terminal in a new window now respects current mode
  • Clone tab now respects current mode
  • Tooltips added to toolbar buttons
  • Clicking a tab or toolbar button now shifts focus
  • Now shows a temporary progress dialog if trying to close a site while transfers are happening
  • Fixed various missing pages in Books
  • Renaming local symlink reliability has been improved
  • Inserting clips now respects current file line endings
  • eList window no longer crashes Coda if you quit while the window is open
  • Mark for Upload contextual menu item once again works as expected
  • Improved remote symlink behavior on some servers
  • Double-click to select a word, then shift-arrowing now correctly selects words
  • Preview: Console now correctly remembers its size when re-opened after being closed
  • Improved subroutine recognition in ASP-HTML mode
  • Now hides warnings button if activated and the split is too small to fit the button
  • Preview: Remote server-side-includes are now loaded if local URL is not set
  • Autocomplete: Can no longer drag scroll horizontally
  • Autocomplete: The autocomplete window now closes if the window/app doesn't have keyboard focus
  • Creating a new document with Coda minimized now un-minimizes the current window
  • Added Dutch localization

See what I mean? That's a pretty amazing set of changes for a point release.

Link: Coda Version 1.1

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PuTTY Tray 0.60 (r3)

PuTTY - SSH Client
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Connecting to a UNIX server from a Windows machine can be a pain since it doesn't have a proper xterm client like OS X and Linux which has meant that the only alternative has been PuTTY - a free tool that connects over SSH just like xterm can. This however has not been updated in ages and is still quite buggy. Fortunately a new development has been released called "PuTTY Tray" which takes PuTTY and improves upon it.

  • High color icon
  • Minimizing to the system tray (on CTRL+minimize, always or directly on startup)
  • Customizable (tray) icon
  • Blinks tray icon when a bell signal is received
  • Configurable window transparency
  • URL hyperlinking
  • Portability: optionally stores session configuration in files (for example: on a USB drive) like portaPuTTY
  • Easy access to the 'always on top' setting (in the system menu)
  • Reconnects when your PC wakes up from stand-by
  • Attempts to reconnect when the connection fails

If you use PuTTY then I recommend trying it out. Note: The latest version was released just over a week ago which shows it's still being maintained.

Link: PuTTY Tray

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And another quick patch from Mozilla

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

It seems like Mozilla might be rushing a little too much right now, twice in the past couple of months they've released updates to Firefox, and both times there has been a quick patch to patch the patch.

Concentrate more on quality control Mozilla!

Oh well, they won't listen to me will they?! Better go and get the version 2.0.0.11 patch from their site.

Link: Mozilla Firefox 2.0.0.11

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Firefox 2.0.0.10

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Just thought I'd quickly mention that Firefox version 2.0.0.10 was released today by Mozilla, with the following fixes:

  • Referer-spoofing via window.location race condition
  • Memory corruption vulnerabilities (rv:1.8.1.10)
  • URI scheme XSS hazard

Link: Mozilla Firefox 2.0.0.10

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Flock 1.0.1 released

Flock: Social browser
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

As of this patch release Flock is now up to date with all Mozilla security patches and enhancements up to 2.0.0.9. It really is a good browser if you use a lot of social sites such as Flickr, Del.ico.us or YouTube.

Since the previous release so much has changed in Flock since version 0.9 with it's addition of the People bar that makes it easier to access Facebook, Twitter, etc. - really cool.

If you've not used Flock before I recommend giving it a try, if you have used it before then go update!

Link: Flock

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Firefox patches the patch

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Not a great deal has happened this week in the world of web development other than a couple of new releases and the Microsoft publication of a JavaScript compatibility report by their JScript team (see previous post).

Firefox very recently released version 2.0.0.8, and now 2.0.0.9 is already out. This patch release contains the following bug fixes that were introduced with 2.0.0.8's release:

  • Bug 400406 - Firefox will ignore the "clear" CSS property when used beneath a box that is using the "float" property. There is a temporary workaround JS/CSS code available for web developers with affected layouts.
  • Bug 400467 - Windows Vista users will get "Java not found" or "Java not working" errors when trying to load Java applets after updating. To fix this, users can right-click the Firefox icon and "Run as administrator", then browse to a page with a Java applet - doing this once will fix the problem and permanently restore Java functionality.
  • Bug 396695 - Add-ons are disabled after updating. Users can fix this problem by opening their profile folder and removing three files (extensions.rdf, extensions.ini and extensions.cache)
  • Bug 400421 - Removing a single area element from an image map will cause the entire map to disappear. There is no workaround available at this time.
  • Bug 400735 - Some Windows users may experience crashes at startup.

Let's hope this release hasn't introduced any more bugs!

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Micrsoft update Remote Desktop Client for Mac

Microsoft Corporation
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Remote access to other machines can be very useful - especially if you're in a development environment with Windows based servers. To aid you in this Microsoft have released a new BETA of the new Remote Desktop Connection client software for the Apple Mac. The updates are listed as:

  • Universal Binary - Runs natively on both Intel-based and PowerPC-based Macs.
  • Remote Desktop Protocol 6.0 - Provides better compatibility with Windows Vista, improved security features, and many other improvements.
  • Improved User Experience - Provides a true Mac experience and improved usability.
  • Improved Customization Options - Lets you change application preferences, including keyboard shortcuts, while you are running a session. Changes take effect the next time that you connect.
  • Dynamic Screen Resizing - Lets you resize your session window or switch to full-screen mode during a session.
  • Improved Printing Support - Supports all configured printers on your Mac. No longer limited to PostScript printers.
  • Multiple Sessions (Improved in Beta 2) - Improvements to File menu commands and connection files let you connect to multiple Windows-based computers at the same time.
  • Network Level Authentication (NLA) Support (New in Beta 2) - Helps provide greater security when connecting to computers running Windows Vista.
  • Auto Reconnect (New in Beta 2) - Supports automatic reconnection when a network connection to a remote session is lost.
  • Wide Screen Support (New in Beta 2) - Supports optimal resolution settings for wide screen displays.

This BETA expires at the end of March 2008 - gives an indication of the sort of time we should expect to see a final version of 2.0 in 2008 (probably late Q2, early Q3).

Link: Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac 2.0 (Beta 2)

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Firefox 2.0.0.8 released

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

It doesn't seem that long since the last release of Firefox came out, but already there is a new version, 2.0.0.8. This new release consists of a fix in the Mac OS X version that improves compatibility with OS X Leopard (10.5) and in all versions there are the following fixes:

  • URIs with invalid %-encoding mishandled by Windows
  • XPCNativeWrapper pollution using Script object
  • Possible file stealing through sftp protocol
  • XUL pages can hide the window titlebar
  • File input focus stealing vulnerability
  • Browser digest authentication request splitting
  • onUnload Tailgating
  • Crashes with evidence of memory corruption (rv:1.8.1.8)

Interesting to see that the last item on the list (crashing with evidence of memory corruption) was also "fixed" in 2.0.0.5 - must be a problem they think they've fixed that won't go away. Another problem that isn't fixed in the release is one that has been fixed for ages now internally, and that is the computedStyle bug where it cannot return the background position of an element's style.

Link: Mozilla Firefox 2.0.0.8

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IE7 for All

Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

It seems Microsoft are so keen to push IE7 that they have removed it from the WGA program. This means even users with pirated installs of Windows XP and Vista can "enjoy the benefits" of having IE7 installed.

They've also made a small update that makes the menu bar visible by default, a bit of extra help, and an MSI package for network administrators. I think the biggest news really is that Microsoft might not condone software piracy, but they'd rather pirates used their software than a competitors. Not the first time they suggested that.

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Apple iTunes + Vista 64bit = Bad

Apple Computers,. The maker of Macs.
Posted by David G. Paul

2 comments

It seems that the recent release of Apple's iTunes 7.4 has caused some major problems for systems running it in a 64bit Windows environment as it's no longer supported. This is a problem I'm experiencing first hand with the dreaded "iTunes was not properly installed" message. Apple have an article titled iTunes for Windows not currently supported on any 64-bit editions of Windows in their support area detailing how users can check if their operating system is 64 bit. Now it's a shame they've not said why support has been removed, or when/if they're going to fix it.

I also wouldn't be surprised if iTunes running in Leopard still supports 64-bit processors - almost seems like a cunning ploy to turn people away from Windows don't you think?

UPDATE: The new release 7.4.3.1 that patches problems with the touch based iPods still has this problem.

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New Eclipse

Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

A new release of Eclipse is now out. Version 3.4 Milestone 2 brings with it a host of new features:

PDE

  • Plugin Spy
  • PDE Quickfix for Java file issues
  • Drag and drop in plug-in manifest editor
  • Highlight externalized strings in XML editors
  • Simple cheat sheet editor 2.0
  • Improved management of PDE shortcuts
  • New projects can now be added to working sets

JDT

  • Unused declared thrown exception warning enhancement
  • CLDC 1.1 class file compatibility
  • Highlighting matches in "Find Occurrences"
  • More quick assists
  • New cleanups for indentation and unimplemented methods
  • SWT templates
  • Extended template variables
  • Add pages to Javadoc export wizard
  • Wait for remote debug connection

Platform

  • SWT right-to-left support for Linux GTK
  • SWT inline input method
  • SWT features in TextLayout and StyledText
  • SWT full screen state
  • New projects can now be added to working set
  • Remove items from launch history
  • Edit configuration from a launch shortcut

Link: Eclipse 3.4 M2

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Mozilla Firefox 2.0.0.7

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Another small release of Mozilla Firefox - this new patch release includes a single security patch that prevents code execution via QuickTime Media-link files.

Link: Mozilla Firefox 2.0.0.7

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IE6 does it again...

Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

It seems bugs in Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 run riot - there is no stopping these "quirks". The latest one for me to run afoul of is one concerning the submission of forms on pressing enter. As I've got a solution to the problem I've done a little article on it.

Article: Internet Explorer on Form

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Facebook too successful?

Posted by David G. Paul

1 comment

For the past 24 hours I've been unable to log in to Facebook, with it giving the message:

Hey, your account is temporarily unavailable due to site maintenance. It should be available again within a few hours. We apologize for the inconvenience.

After it being that way for more than 24 hours I'm starting to think there's something wrong with one or more of their servers. After a quick browse round the net it seems I'm not alone either - whilst some people can still log in, others cannot.

Could this be that Facebook has succumbed to it's own success and can no longer cope with the load?

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A Brief History of Browsers

Mozilla Firefox versus Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Some may not remember the early days of the Internet, I myself never used the really early browsers such as Lynx or Mosaic back in the days when they were new. Since then we've been fortunate(?) enough for browsers to become far more sophisticated, enriching the user experience, and providing a need for sites to have a design. If you're interested in the brief history of the web browser then take a look at the timeline image linked to below.

A Timeline of Web Browsers

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Images issue in Firefox

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

I had a very strange problem with Firefox this morning. When browsing sites not all the images would appear, like screenshots and logo's would be missing - anything bigger than a few pixels mostly. So, since it wasn't all the images I check the Adblock plugin hadn't somehow decided to block them; no such luck. Next I decided to try going directly to one of the images by checking the properties and copying and pasting the URL. This didn't work either. As it turned out the cache in Firefox was full (set to 50mb) and wasn't replacing existing contents of the cache!

At least after clearing the cache it is working again.

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Visual Basic 6 and the Windows registry

Microsoft Visual Basic 6
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Usually articles here are on web development, or something related to web development - but now I've done a new article in a slightly different thread, and that is about using the "ancient" Visual Basic 6.

If you're a developer who uses Visual Basic, and have not yet moved over to the .NET framework, then chances are you are using Visual Basic 6. One thing that is always useful to be able to do for storing settings for applications is to be able to read and write to the Windows Registry.

Might be something you find useful, or not.

Link: Registry values in VB6

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Microsoft Falling Behind

Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Since the release of IE6, Microsoft have been releasing special Virtual PC images of Windows XP installs containing either IE6 or IE7 so that you can test your web applications in both browsers without having to have a complex setup. The previous image expired on 17th August 2007, but there was no update ready for the next period. Finally, 3 days after the previous one expiring, Microsoft have released the updated one that will now expire in December 2007. Could this delay in updating be a sign that Microsoft could be losing interest in this and might just drop it in the near future? Only time will tell.

Until then you can download the latest VPC image from Microsoft.

Link: Internet Explorer Application Compatibility VPC Image

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ComputedStyle bug in Firefox

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Mozilla Firefox uses the W3C method of accessing the DOM to retrieve the computed styles of an element. A computed style refers to styles applied to an element that were not from JavaScript or inline; instead from a stylesheet. As you would expect, the method for doing this varies between Internet Explorer and Firefox and both methods for the most part work. Though the problem is that it doesn't work properly in Firefox; the background-position property is not accessible using the following code:

var elem = document.getElementById('test');
document.defaultView.getComputedStyle(elem, null)
    .getPropertyValue('background-position');

True enough, IE can not get the background-position either, but it can get it as seperate components backgroundPositionX and backgroundPositionY, which Firefox cannot.

Looking at Bugzilla they have fixed the problem, though it's not in a release yet; not even the 2.0.0.6 that was released today which is just the following security updates:

  • MFSA 2007-27 Unescaped URIs passed to external programs
  • MFSA 2007-26 Privilege escalation through chrome-loaded about:blank windows

Maybe it will be fixed in Firefox 3, I've not tried the Beta for that yet. As it happens, Safari is still incapable of supporting either method.

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Flock 0.9.0.1 released

Flock: Social browser
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

It sure seems a popular week for browser updates. First Firefox, then Opera, and now the Flock Beta has been updated from 0.9 to 0.9.0.1 - though they have not said what the fixes are. They are however likely to be mainly security fixes, and many outstanding issues still remain in the Beta. Hopefully it won't be too long before the final version is out as the Beta is looking quite nice.

Link: Flock Beta 0.9.0.1

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Opera updated to 9.22

Opera browser
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

It was only yesterday there was an update for Firefox to 2.0.0.5; now today there is an update for Opera up to 9.22. The following fixes have been made:

  • Fix to allow toolbars to use bold fonts again.
  • Tabs can be dragged between windows using the Windows panel again.
  • Info panel title now correctly displays Web page title and mail subjects that contain HTML.
  • Scripting and display fixes for the Silverlight plug-in.
  • Multiple stability fixes.
  • Improved stability and performance of BitTorrent.
  • Fixed an issue that could occur when removing a specially prepared torrent transfer, as reported by iDefense. See the advisory.
  • Prevented an issue where data URLs could be used to display the wrong address in the address bar. See the advisory.
  • Improved the display of long domain names in authentication dialogs. Long domain names will now scroll instead of using ellipsis. See the advisory.
  • Added Trustcenter class 3 G2 root certificate.
  • Fixes for a problem with certificate import from PKCS #7 Signed and Netscape Multicert files.
  • (Windows Vista only) Fix for accessing certain Web sites using Windows Vista.

Link: Download Opera 9.22 for Windows

Link: Download Opera 9.22 for Mac OS X

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Firefox 2.0.0.5 released

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Another month, another new patch for Firefox. This time they patch just security issues, most notable the execution from IE one that has been mentioned a lot the past few weeks.

  • XPCNativeWrapper pollution
  • Unauthorized access to wyciwyg:// documents
  • Remote code execution by launching Firefox from Internet Explorer
  • File type confusion due to %00 in name
  • Privilege escallation using an event handler attached to an element not in the document
  • Frame spoofing while window is loading
  • XSS using addEventListener and setTimeout
  • Crashes with evidence of memory corruption

Link: Firefox 2.0.0.5

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mozilla Firefox: eBay-Edition

Mozilla Firefox
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Maybe a more appropriate title for this post would have been "The Art of Marketing" or "Finding as many ways as you can to get more users". Now don't get me wrong, I'm not having a go at Firefox here - I like Firefox. It is my browser of choice, but the powers-that-be releasing an eBay edition seems like the only purpose of doing so is to try and tap into the massive user base that eBay has. eBay is household name, it's mentioned in films and TV show, and is even advertised on the TV; Firefox is not. The joining of these two names for this eBay edition has the potential to dramatically increase the user base of Firefox so that it may well rival or overtake the IE user base if they are lucky. More people using Firefox does of course mean that more people are using a browser that closer meets W3C standards. Nice job there on the marketing.

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IE turns the tap off!

Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

After reading a news article on Ajaxian I was shocked to see that Microsoft has finally patched the memory leak in IE6 that was caused by the garbage collector not freeing up resources after the page has been closed (down to the use of closures). It's about time this was fixed, just a shame people are moving on to IE7 now!

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Another new Safari

Apple Safari
Posted by David G. Paul

1 comment

So quickly after Apple's last beta release comes version 3.0.2 that offers the following fixes for Windows:

  • Latest security updates
  • Improved stability
  • Fixes for text display, non-English systems, and start-up times

And for Mac OS X:

  • Latest security updates
  • Improved stability
  • Improved WebKit support for Mail, iChat and Dashboard

Despite their changes it still doesn't work on many Windows Vista 64-bit versions. Works for me though, so I'm happy. I guess for those unfortunate 64-bit users it crashes for, it is a shame they don't get to click the bug icon to send an error report.

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Safari 3 Public Beta and Windows

Apple Safari
Posted by David G. Paul

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It's been awhile now since the Safari 3 public beta was released for OS X and Windows and now the dust kicked up from the suprising Windows release is now starting to settle. Okay, so maybe a Windows release wasn't totally unexpected, but what was unexpected was that Apple didn't hint at it before it actually was released. They've also shown browser usage between Safari and Internet Explorer, expressing the wish to remove Firefox and other browsers as competitors. This however is very unlikely to ever happen due to the sheer popularity of Firefox, and the freedom of being able to choose. Any attempt by Apple to do such a thing should surely cause some company to file an anti-competitor lawsuit just like all those that get filed against Microsoft.

Safari 3 does make many promises, some of which are quite suprisingly untrue (to some degree). Firstly, Safari claims to be "blazingly fast" - okay so it does load pages fast, fair enough. However, what they neglect to mention is the amount of memory used by each tab compared to Firefox and IE7 is much greater and so will eat up system resources faster.

Integration with Bonjour is quite good, and could prove to have it's uses in the future for things such as integrated IM, though at present it's only used for network device discovery. I'd still rate this as a reasonably good feature though.

With this third release Safari now includes a popup blocker - which helps it catch up with IE and Firefox in that area.

SnapBack is one of those features that I don't believe is any good. It's purpose is to help a user navigate back to the root of a site, or to return to their search results - but any well designed site should help the user with this any way. This is totally lost on me I'm afraid.

One potentially annoying feature is the ability to resize textareas - this means that dependant on your site design, the user may be able to break your layout. Great - means extra consideration to be taken when designing forms.

All in all Safari 3 isn't really that bad, it's an improvement over Safari 2, and it is nice to have it on Windows so that more people do testing of their sites in Safari (rather than leaving it out due to lack of a Mac). There are still problems though with the DOM and the way events are fired, but maybe they will be fixed by the time a release candidate is available. It will also be interesting to find out how Safari 3 handles ContentEditable and Xinha.

Link: Safari 3 Public Beta

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Server on a Stick

Posted by David G. Paul

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Portability of a webserver is never really something I have thought about, other than the fact it would be nice having a quick way of transferring development environments between machines, and even between installs when reloading by Operating System. Today I've read an interesting site about a project to actually make this possible by allowing a web server to be run from USB flash memory.

Server2Go is a Webserver that runs out of box without any installation. That means it is a webserver that can run directly from cdrom, usb stick or from any folder on harddisk. Server2Go allows you to create a standalone working web site or PHP application on a CD-ROM.

What this means is that database driven applications could use PHP/MySQL from a CD-ROM and be distrubuted like that rather than having some compiled executable that is specifically for one platform. It also makes it easier to demo sites to people that do not have an available internet connection without having to bring your own machine with installed server software.

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StarCraft 2 has landed

Blizzard StarCraft 2: Screenshot of a firing Battl
Posted by David G. Paul

2 comments

StarCraft 2 is possibly one of the most anticipated sequels of all time, and Korea is the source of the worlds biggest StarCraft fans. So it comes as no surprise that Blizzard have made an announcement there at their WWI 2007 that they are working on StarCraft 2. Looking at the screenshots it looks like they've kept faithful to the original - hopefully it will be as good. As of yet there is no expected release date, but my guess would be 4th quarter 2008.

The long-awaited return of StarCraft has been rumored for years, and now is finally official -- Blizzard officially announced on May 19, 2007 the sequel to its incredible strategy title Starcraft.

Designed to be the ultimate competitive real-time strategy game, StarCraft II features the return of the Protoss, Terran, and Zerg races, overhauled and re-imagined with Blizzard's signature approach to game balance. Each race will be further distinguished from the others, with several new units and new gameplay mechanics, as well as new abilities for some of the classic StarCraft units that will be making a reappearance in the game. StarCraft II also featurse a custom 3D-graphics engine with realistic physics and the ability to render several large, highly detailed units and massive armies on-screen simultaneously.

UPDATE: They've now also added a few videos for you to enjoy, and a list of new unit types as they currently stand (things in the game may yet change before it is released).

Link: IGN's StarCraft 2 report

Link: Blizzard

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Apache in Vista

Apache Webserver
Posted by David G. Paul

1 comment

Something I've found whilst setting my Vista machine up as a web development environment is that Apache isn't straight forward to install. My first attempt was with UAC turned on - this was a disaster as it doesn't allow the writing of the httpd.conf file, or to add the service, and the service can't be started either!

The solution to this is to turn of UAC during the setup of Apache so that you don't experience any troubles.

"You moved the mouse, are you sure you wanted to do that?"

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Vista - The first few days

Microsoft Windows
Posted by David G. Paul

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It's been a few days now since I installed Vista on my main machine. So far it's not been a great experience. So far I've found:

  1. the Audigy 2 doesn't work properly in Vista, nor is it likely to any time soon - if ever,
  2. my ATi card will no longer allow me to use my TV as a monitor without reducing the supported resolutions on my Neovo - and I've heard clone mode isn't going to work either,
  3. think my system may be overheating now it's running Vista, although it was fine in XP - not been able to tell for certain though due to difficulty in finding programs that will actually read the sensors (so far only SpeedFan has)

Not the best first impression.

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IE6 Virtual PC Refresh

Posted by David G. Paul

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If you're a regular reader to my blog then you may well remember that a while back I blogged about Microsoft releasing a Virtual PC image containing an install of Windows XP with Internet Explorer 6 for those users upgraded to IE7 so that they could continue to test in the older browser. IEBlog at the time stated that the image would only be usable until April 1st 2007, and that a replacement would be available during the March 2007 - and now it is available.

Apparently there are very few changes between this version and the last, other than it's 100Mb smaller, and more security updates have been applied. This version is set to expire July 23rd 2007. Other information they divulged was that there will be more releases of the image for as long as the usage figure for IE6 is high enough and therefore required - similarly they stated thats the reason there won't be an image with IE 5.5 or other earlier version.

Source: Microsoft IEBlog

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OpenID - Is it Good Enough?

OpenID - Distributed, lightweight ID system
Posted by David G. Paul

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OpenID is a relatively new buzzword in the world of web development, but it has still gotten a lot of publicity and for good reason too. OpenID is a new open standard of authentication for websites, though has yet to have any widespread adoption, at least amongst big players like Microsoft, Google, etc.

What I see as the biggest problem faced by OpenID at present is how easy it would be for credentials to be spoofed, or for sites to steal your login (think phising). That is the main problem with authentication being done from a 3rd party site.

What thoughts does everyone else have?

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Vista First Impressions

Microsoft Windows Vista on an Apple Mac
Posted by David G. Paul

1 comment

After having looked around Vista for a few days now I'm starting to wonder what it was that made it take so long to develop. Ok, so I know it was probably Vista's "improved security", but it seems there's very little other than that and a reskinned interface.

I think until I find something better about Vista, I'll keep with the trusty Windows XP on my desktop for now.

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Windows MacVista

Microsoft Windows Vista on an Apple Mac
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Well I finally did it, I've installed Vista Business Edition on my Mac...using Parallels it really is quite cool, it means I can now test my code and styling on both Mac browsers and Windows browsers easily on the same machine. Testing Zen has now been reached - maybe it will be easier now to get everything working in multiple browsers without too much "guess work".

I'll post about my Vista experience once I've had some times to explore...but so far the "Wow" hasn't started.

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Photoshop Brushes

Brushes
Posted by David G. Paul

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Many web designers use Adobe Photoshop as though it was another arm, or maybe even a leg. Even those people are always looking for more they can get out Photoshop. One site I noticed listed on Digg today has a blog post listing quite a few sources of brushes you can use for free on your site, or other work.

Every good designer needs an arsenal of brushes to use within photoshop, whether its a grunge effect or some tehno swirls that are required there is sure to be a brush that fits your needs. Here we have dugg out the very best we could find. If there isn't a suitable brush, we have also included some links on how to create your own.

Makes me think that the next Photoshop tutorial here could well be on how to make your own brushes.

Source: TutorialBlog

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Deliberate delay?

Apple Computers,. The maker of Macs.
Posted by David G. Paul

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Now who would have thought that Apple would tell it's customers of products such as iTunes and iPods not to upgrade to Vista yet due to compatibility problems. It seems like it's an unfair stalling tactic - they've had plenty of time to make sure their software and other PC related products would work on Windows Vista; yet they haven't made the effort. Could this be a stalling tactic, telling people not to upgrade to Vista until the new version of iTunes is out so that they can get OS X 10.5 released before Apple products will work on Vista? Who knows? Oh, and don't get me started on I'm a PC and I'm a Mac adverts - they seem a little unfair too. (Note: I am both a Mac and a Windows user, so no real bias here, just the fact that Apple are employing unfair tactics against their main rival)

What are your thoughts?

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Got a Widget?

Apple Computers,. The maker of Macs.
Posted by David G. Paul

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I've been wanting to try writing a widget for Mac OS X for a while now (relatively new Mac user so wanted to see how easy it is to do) but can't settle on what to make the widget do. Does anyone have any requests for widgets they'd like? If so I'll make them and put them on this site for downloading. Thanks.

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PuTTY 0.59

Posted by David G. Paul

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A new version of the popular SSH client, PuTTY (developed and maintained by Simon Tatham) was released a few days ago - it's a tool I find very useful when developing on UNIX servers. There are plenty of new features and also bugfixes. See the Changelog for more details.

Download: PuTTY 0.59

Also out is a new version of TortoiseSVN, now up to version 1.4.2 and is linked to SubVersion 1.4.3 with auto-updates for existing checkouts and repositories. It does warn however that once the upgrade has been made there is no going back, so be warned. Please view their changelog for more details.

Download: TortoiseSVN 1.4.2

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Out of Bounds

Posted by David G. Paul

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Whilst browsing the "Upcoming" section of the technology news on digg, I come across a very cool tutorial titled "Out of Bounds". The article is targeted at Photoshop users of pretty much any skill level and shows how to make it appear like a subject is coming out of the photograph. Take a look, it's a very cool effect despite it's simplicity.

Source: Out of Bounds

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Creating a Postmaster in Microsoft Exchange Server

Email - A postbox and an opened letter
Posted by David G. Paul

1 comment

In another article I spoke about how to create a mailbox in PHP - this article covers how to setup Exchange to have a shared mailboxes so that the same account can view all - including calendars.

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htaccessible

Apache Webserver
Posted by David G. Paul

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In previous articles here, such as "Understanding Apache htaccess" I've tried to explain how .htaccess files can be used in different ways on your site. Now I've found a really cool application for htaccess newbies - it's a little tool by TLHouse that helps you create your .htaccess file by editing it visually in a nice and easy GUI. Definately a good place to start if you're finding learning it a little daunting.

Screenshots: Codejacked

Download: TLHouse Software (scroll to bottom to see link to FREE download)

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Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 woes

Microsoft Windows
Posted by David G. Paul

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Some software just never seems to work right, and Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 is one of those I'm finding is more troublesome than a bull suffering from bovine spongiform encephalopathy in a china shop. I'm fairly certain the problems I'm having are down to software configuration problems, but still it's a pain in the neck.

In this instance, Outlook users that create Calendar information on an account that is associated mailbox on the Exchange server, are not publishing their Free/Busy information. Manual attempts at getting it to publish it causes a replication problem that says either there are not enough replica's, or the user doesn't have sufficient permissions. Strangely enough even the administrator account doesn't have permissions to do this - so it's just utter crazyness in my mind.

I've tried using GUIDgen to generate a new GUID, tried changing permissions via PFDAVAdmin, removing all adminstrative restrictions so that any user can do anything, none of the mailboxes are in the Domain Administrators group - so there's no blocking going on there.

Anybody have any suggestions what the problem / fix might be?

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Parallels is awesome

Apple Computers,. The maker of Macs.
Posted by David G. Paul

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I was at first a little dubious about buying a Mac notebook instead of a familiar Windows based one; but I needed a Mac for testing sites in Safari, and with the release of Bootcamp it didn't seem so bad. So I got myself a nice Macbook Pro when they came out. Now, I'm really glad I did - Parallels in recent months has grown in leaps and bounds and is now a really great piece of software for running Windows and OS X simultaneously. Just take a look at the video of Coherence mode over at Creative Friday to see for yourself.

Source: Parallels Coherence Mode

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IE6 and IE7 on one machine

Mozilla Firefox versus Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

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Previously, to have Internet Explorer 6 and Internet Explorer 7 running concurrently on the same machine, you had to use evolt's standalone version of IE6 - though this had problems with sessions, and htpasswd logins. Now, by a suprisingly kind move by the IE team, they have released an image for Virtual PC that has IE6 on it so that testing can be done in both browser with not too much hassle. Awesome.

Source: IE6 and IE7 Running on a Single Machine

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Trillian Astra

Trillian Astra
Posted by David G. Paul

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For years now I've used Trillian Pro as my main form of communication over the internet due to having numerous IM accounts. Finally, Cerulean Studios have released a preview site demonstrating their latest version of the popular Universal client, Trillian. Looks very cool in my opinion and is pleasing to see that they have also taken improved performance into account as well as better styling and more networks to choose from.

Source: Trillian Astra (ALPHA)

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Its got a widget!

Posted by David G. Paul

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W3C today released the working draft document for Widgets 1.0 covering the packaging format and manifest file format. Whilst things are still likely to change, it is another standard being put in place - one that for now is mainly for Windows Vista, although to some degree it would be good to be adopted for homepage widgets.

Link: W3C: Widgets 1.0 Working Draft

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Protecting your email identity

Padlock for Security
Posted by David G. Paul

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An interesting article I read this morning talked about how to "protect your identity" when it comes to emails. Although the article says it's aimed at OS X, it does actually work in Windows too, and using the free thawte certificate it still allows you to use IE / Outlook combination. Probably best to read the article for yourself though.

What a security certificate does is let's the recipient know that you are really you. This is done through a 3rd-party service, a sort of insurance company for identities. The sender signs up for a certificate (supplying enough information to prove who they are to the 3rd-party), and then that certificate is transmitted with your e-mails to the recipient, acting as a digital signature.

Link: Protect your Identity in OS X

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Internet Explorer 7 is here!

Mozilla Firefox versus Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

It seems IE7 has beaten Firefox 2 to be being released. Microsoft now have the FINAL release of IE7 available for download from Microsoft.com.

IE7 will not be added to Microsoft Update just yet, and should be there within a week or two - so that gives designers and developers just that little bit more time before IE7 starts to rapidly replace IE6.

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Firefox 2.0 and Internet Explorer 7

Mozilla Firefox versus Microsoft Internet Explorer
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Both of the giants in web browsing were in the "news" today. Firstly, the bloggers over at IEBlog have reported that IE7 will be released as the final version by the end of the month - that makes it in the next week or two. So now that the release is looming close it leaves developers and designers with a more finite schedule for getting IE7 testing complete. IE7 will be automatically distributed as a security update approximately 2 weeks after it's initial launch.

Also, Firefox 2.0 RC2 has now been released to the public which means this too is in the final stages of development. This could mean we will also see the final of the new Firefox by the end of the month.

Be prepared.

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Transforming 2D into 3D

Posted by David G. Paul

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I was recently emailed a link to a video on YouTube that demonstrates some really interesting technology - transforming 2D photographs and other stills into a 3D environment.

YouTube: Transforming 2D into 3D

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Seeing the world in Black and White

Posted by David G. Paul

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Okay, so not quite black and white, more grayscale. Graybit is a site I've recently discovered that will take a URL and output the page in grayscale.

New Earth Online in Graybit

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Woes of Windows XP Automatic Updates

Microsoft Windows
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

Work on new content has not gone as swiftly as I would have liked this week, but rest assured there will be plenty of new content over the coming days and weeks, with plenty of new tutorials. The reason for the slow updates is a thing called Microsoft Windows XP Automatic Updates.

Every now and then it decides that the best time to install updates is when you shutdown (for Kernel access, etc.) though this is not always a good thing. A couple of nights back I was working late into the early hours of the morning on some new content and decided it was time to shutdown - too tired to continue. Windows decides it is time to install some updates, so I decide to not wait and turned it off. Wrong! When Windows says "Do not turn off your PC.", it really does mean it. The following morning when I come to boot, it boots, but no programs would load. One attempted repair install later I decided all was lost.

Now due to no recent backups I had to make sure I could recover the files first before formatting and reloading. Luckily I found a neat little trick - pressing Shift and F10 during the second phase of the Windows XP install will give you administrator privileges and a command line interface for backing up anything important - xcopy time!

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Latest Tutorial: Reflections in Photoshop

Reflections in Adobe Photoshop
Posted by David G. Paul

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The latest tutorial has now been released. This one is aimed at users of Photoshop who are eager to learn a simple method for creating reflections on text or other images. Although the tutorial has been done using Photoshop CS2, it should also work with earlier versions on both the PC and Mac.

If anyone has any suggestions for the next or any future article in this series, then please contact me from the contact page.

Article: Reflections in Photoshop

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Neverwinter Nights 2

Forgotten Realms : Neverwinter Nights 2
Posted by David G. Paul

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I've just noticed that Obsidian are doing a limited edition version of the forthcoming Neverwinter Nights 2 RPG (sequel to the best selling Neverwinter Nights by Bioware, obviuosly). This limited edition in the states is called Chaotic Evil, though over here in the UK, Play.com are offering a version exclusive to them, Lawful Good. It comes with loads of goodies such as an A3 map! Oh, joy. Think I'll no doubt be writing an article on it once I've played it. Of course.

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Shades of Microsoft

Microsoft Windows
Posted by David G. Paul

0 comments

I was thinking today about all the bad hype that Microsoft get, and I'm not sure it is entirely deserved. In some cases, it is almost like they are being punished for doing so well. If you consider the trouble Real Networks caused Microsoft over the bundling of Windows Media Player with Windows, or the court order to make Internet Explorer removable, it leaves you wondering how Apple get away with bundling Safari with OS X, or forcing iPod users to use iTunes - there are no real differences between the two cases. So the moral of the story is, how can Microsoft get filed with Anti-Trust suits when Apple does the same, and does not?

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