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Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Disaster-relief efforts...

Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Apple are all helping out by setting up donation pages for various tsunami-relief funds.

Please contribute if you can.

posted at 12:08:00 PM
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Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Anyone need a Gmail account?

Just saw Dave's post and realized I have some Gmail invites to give away as well. So if you still don't have an account and you'd like one, leave a comment under this post with your full name and email address. If you want the information to remain private, send it to me via the Contact page.

6 invites remaining.
Update: All gone! Dave and Peter might still have some. Check with them if you need an account. :)

posted at 10:42:00 AM
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Sunday, December 26, 2004

Back from Phoenix...

Just got back about an hour ago. Most relaxing time I've had in a while.
Didn't touch a computer while I was there, so I have to catch up on all the emails and RSS feeds now. :)

Will post details later.

posted at 7:44:00 PM
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Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Leaving tomorrow...

We're heading off to Phoenix, AZ tomorrow afternoon. Will be spending a few days there, but we'll be back before New Year's eve. Should be a nice change. :)

posted at 5:17:00 PM
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EU ruling against Microsoft disappointing and unfair...

I have been following the EU case against Microsoft for a while now, and I have to say I was very disappointed by the outcome this morning.

The EU court turned down Microsoft's appeal for reprieve, and ordered for a separate version of Windows XP that excludes the Windows Media Player application. Contrary to what it aims to do, I strongly feel that the ruling is both unfair and against the interest of end-users.

Why is it against the interest of end-users?
Would you give grandma a computer that did nothing when she put her favorite audio CD in the CD tray?

Well, any modern OS should come with a basic set of tools and applications that make the out-of-the-box experience easy and convenient. This includes a web browser and email client, an audio and video player, and other useful utility applications like text editors etc. Removing such basic applications that almost everyone uses inconveniences the average user who expects to be able to use a computer that he purchases without much ground-work. In this case specifically, removing WMP from the OS means that the end-user is now expected to download software that he/she can use to listen to music or watch movies. But then, what if the computer in question isn't connected to the internet at all?

Now, one can argue that the integration of WMP with Windows has given Microsoft an unfair advantage over competitors. In theory, this might be true (but read the next section on why I think it's unfair to target just them). But looking at the real world scenario, this is simply not true. Winamp was once the ubiquitous media player on the Windows platform. iTunes is an even better example - look at the success the iTunes Music Store has had on the Windows platform. It's blowing the MSN Music Store away. The point is people are already using what they want. If that happens to be WMP, so be it. Legal action was absolutely unnecessary because some failing company decided to whine about it.

Why is the ruling unfair?
Basically, all this ruling is doing is putting Windows at a disadvantage compared to other systems, rather than making it a "level-playing field" as it claims to be doing. Let's say Joe User wants to buy a new computer. Is he going to buy a stripped down version of Windows that does absolutely nothing out-of-the-box, or a Mac with the iLife suite that does everything he needs right after he opens it? The choice is obvious.

Every new Macintosh ships with a whole suite of applications, including Safari, Mail, iTunes, iMovie, iDVD etc, even apps that have no bundled equivalents in Windows like GarageBand and iCal. What makes Apple immune to such laws? The fact that it owns a miniscule fraction of the market? Why should that even be a criterion? Personally, I don't agree with the ruling at all (for the reason I mentioned in the previous section), and I feel that both Apple and MS should be allowed to include what they feel is appropriate. But if the courts are going to restrain, make it universal. Don't just aim for the biggest fish because that's where the money is.

What does the court ruling say to me? Don't ever become big and successful, because the underdogs will always be bitching and trying to pull you down.

posted at 4:44:00 PM
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Microsoft's Peter Torr on Firefox...

On Monday, Peter Torr, a Program Manager at MS (although unrelated to IE), posted his thoughts on the topic of security and trust in Firefox. The post made its way to Slashdot, and I'm sure you can predict the outcome. :) There was a deluge of hate-mail and remarks under the comments section on Torr's blog. I was actually reading it while this happened, and I could see the comments flowing. Getting Slashdotted is seriously scary (and even more so if you've made them angry) :P

Anyway, back to the point. Admittedly, Peter was a little on the harsh side in his initial post, and not everything he said was true. But right after I finished reading his post on Monday, I knew he had brought up some very valid points, and I hoped that the Firefox devs would read it and take note of the core issues that he brought up, rather than nitpicking at the minor details that almost everyone else who commented was doing.

Today, I noticed a post on the frontpage of mozillaZine, acknowledging Torr's second post (in which he clarifies some things and responds to comments), and admitting that these are, in fact, genuine issues that need to be addressed. I was really glad to see the mature response, and I hope it reflects the collective response of the Firefox dev team as well (I haven't seen direct responses on their blogs).

After all, think of it this way - Torr's constructive criticism is actually helping them to correct some important issues and make the Firefox experience better than it already is. :)

posted at 1:54:00 AM
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Monday, December 20, 2004

MSR and digital photography...

Take a look at some of what MSR is doing with digital photos. Some very neat stuff in there, and they even mention Wallop. :)

posted at 11:57:00 AM
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Sunday, December 19, 2004

Learn something new everyday...

So I was looking through my RSS feeds today, and while reading Jon Hardwick's latest blog post, I found a link to this this post by Raymond Chen from back in 2003.

Apparently, the correct term for the area next to the clock where all the little icons reside in Windows is "Taskbar Notification Area" and not system tray, or systray, for short, which is what I've always called it. I've always heard everyone use the term system tray too. Raymond explains the possible origin of the misnomer - it comes from the days of Windows 95.

Raise your hand if you knew about the organizer tray metaphor. :)

posted at 9:35:00 PM
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Ocean's 12...

Just watched it last evening, and like the first part, it was a fun, engaging and entertaining movie. I'd have to say I liked Ocean's Eleven more, but that's just usually how it is. Still thought this was worth watching though.

And the catchy tune that plays while the French guy does his dance through the laser field is now stuck in my head. :P

posted at 2:46:00 AM
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Scoble talks about iPod marketing...

Robert Scoble, tech evangelist at MS, posts some of his thoughts on what Creative, iRiver and others in the portable music player market need to do to offer any serious competition to Apple's hottest-selling product.

I agree completely with the points he brings up. The largest part of it all is marketing and being able to build a culture around your product. That's what attracts the largest number of people, and as I've mentioned several times before, Apple's marketing campaign around the iPod and iTunes has been absolutely fantastic.

At least Robert was lucky enough to see two Zen Micro billboards in addition to the four iPod ones. I have yet to see a billboard advertising any of Creative's or iRiver's products. Yet I see those brightly colored iPod ads all the time, everywhere. The iPod has become a synonym for HD-based music players - just like Sony's Walkman was in it's day and age, just like how Windows is synonymous with operating systems today, as is Xerox with copy machines. :)

posted at 12:28:00 AM
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Saturday, December 18, 2004

Thunderbird an Outlook-killer? Not even close...

I've seen this topic come up so often, I decided it's time to get some facts straight. Ever since Thunderbird hit the milestone 1.0 release, people have been portraying it as some kind of Outlook-killer. Even the Mozilla Foundation's developers (I read several of their blogs on a daily basis), who should know better, are telling people it's better than Outlook.

Thunderbird is NOT an Outlook replacement.
Thunderbird isn't even close to being a replacement for Outlook. It kills Outlook Express hands down, but Outlook has always been a full-featured personal information manager, not just a simple mail client. Those who switch from Outlook to Thunderbird because they think Outlook is "too bloated" were just using the wrong tool for the job in the first place.

Take this article by Steve Segal, for example (got the link from a Mozilla dev's blog). All through the review, Segal mentions the simple mail-client features of the two apps. Funny there's no mention of any PIM-specific features in there. What about the advanced calendaring, scheduling and task management features that Outlook offers? What about things like PDA and cellphone synchronization? Clearly, Segal needed just a mail client but paid for something that offered much more than what he needed. It's like buying Word for plain text editing and then claiming that Notepad is better because it's free; or claiming that MS Paint will give Photoshop "a run for its money" because Paint can save your desktop screenshots for free.

On the other hand, this PC Magazine review of Thunderbird is much more reasonable and well thought out. Notice how the reviewer correctly compares apples to apples (Tbird and OE).

As much as I like Thunderbird, I simply can't see it replacing Outlook for me in its current state - there are things Outlook can do that Thunderbird just can't, even with all the third-party extensions available, and I use a lot of these features frequently. Thousands of business folks and large companies use this functionality on a daily basis. My mom, on the other hand, just needs an easy-to-use mail client that works well, and Thunderbird was the perfect fit for the job.

So quit deceiving yourselves and misleading others. The key is using the right tools for your purpose.

posted at 11:45:00 PM
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Spyware: what should Microsoft do?

...or rather, what can they realistically do?

Brandon Paddock talks about Microsoft's latest acquisition of GIANT's anti-spyware product, and asks Microsoft to make it part of the OS. He says:

Develop this technology into a “Windows Cleaner” product. Make it integrate with Windows XP SP2 and the Security Center, and distribute it as part of a “security pack” over Windows Update. Then… keep the program up-to-date using WU.

Brandon, I had the same idea as you when I heard about the GIANT acquisition. Making a constantly updated anti-spyware solution a part of the Security Center would be the ideal thing to do. But it's a very difficult situation for Microsoft here. They have to handle the possibility of anti-trust lawsuits (for example, from companies like LavaSoft and others) very carefully.

I see two possibilities here:
1. Microsoft introduces a new standalone product that end-users can download and install. This could be free, or a commercial product like the one GIANT has been offering all this while.
2. Microsoft plugs into the Security Center a cut-down version of the product. This would be something like Windows Firewall, which handles basic inbound protection nicely, but lacks the more advanced features like outbound monitoring of third-party firewalls; or something like the defragmenter in XP which is just a lite version of Executive Software's Diskeeper.

I think there's a greater possibility of #1, although I would really like to see #2 - at least a basic solution built into the OS for non-techies who sometimes don't even know what spyware is. It's going to be interesting to see what finally happens.

posted at 3:41:00 PM
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Friday, December 17, 2004

Blogroll is up...

As I had promised last month, the old 'Friends' and 'Links' sections have been merged and updated with lots of new blogs and other links.

But it's still incomplete. I still have more blogs and sites that I regularly read which I need to add. They'll be there soon, but until then, take a look and see what you like. Lots of very smart people blogging and several very cool sites, so there should be plenty of interesting information, especially for the tech-inclined. Enjoy. :)

posted at 9:45:00 PM
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DoCoMo tests 1 Gbps downloads...

NTT DoCoMo, Japan's mobile phone giant, said Friday that it has achieved a 1 Gbps download rate for mobile phone data on a laboratory 4G (or fourth generation) network. The company says it will take the technology into field trials next year.

Figures like this are a little misleading, but still somewhere in the realm of jaw-dropping. Most United States phone operators have yet to reach 3G network speeds of a few hundred kilobits per second. For that matter, most U.S. DSL and cable operators only offer a few megabits per second over their broadband services, as compared to 10 mbps, 25 mpbs, or even 100 mbps common in Japan and Korea.

Japanese regulators are paving the way for commercial 4G service by 2010. If this kind of technology becomes feasible, we can say goodbye to wired broadband.

Source: c|net News.com

Damn, I want to move to Japan. :P

posted at 3:59:00 PM
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Monday, December 13, 2004

MSN Desktop Search Beta unveiled...

Just released this morning. I was never able to try out Google Desktop because of known incompatibilities with NOD32, so I had been waiting for this.

First impressions - this thing is great...works just as advertised. I haven't had a chance to look deeper (finals start today, remember?), but I'll test it out some more and post something more detailed this coming weekend. Let's see if it's good enough to replace my current Ava Find and Copernic Desktop Search combo. :)

In the meantime, take a look at some screenshots that I posted at OSNN. Also head over to Channel9 for a couple of videos with the Redmond and Silicon Valley teams, and an in-depth demo.

Update: Wow, the MSN Search team guys seem to be very responsive to feedback. I had a small issue with the app not recognizing Outlook although it was set as the default mail client. So I posted a comment on the MSN Search Blog and got a quick response that fixed the problem. A few other people also had questions, and they were answered promptly too. Nice! :)

Update: For Michael and anyone else with the Outlook problem, here's the fix, thanks to Bubba Murarka of the MSN Search team:
- Open up a Run dialog (Start>Run) and enter:
reg delete HKCU\Software\Clients\Mail
- Enter Y in the command prompt window that comes up.
- Restart Outlook and the MSN Search Toolbar Suite, if needed.

posted at 11:49:00 AM
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Friday, December 10, 2004

Google Suggest - very cool!

What is Google Suggest?
As you type into the search box, Google Suggest guesses what you're typing and offers suggestions in real time. This is similar to Google's "Did you mean?" feature that offers alternative spellings for your query after you search, except that it works in real time. For example, if you type "bass," Google Suggest might offer a list of refinements that include "bass fishing" or "bass guitar." Similarly, if you type in only part of a word, like "progr," Google Suggest might offer you refinements like "programming," "programming languages," "progesterone," or "progressive." You can choose one by scrolling up or down the list with the arrow keys or mouse.

Auto-complete suggestions for your search queries - what a great idea! I also like how it displays the number of results before you hit enter (or the search button). Try out the beta.

posted at 10:40:00 AM
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Monday, December 06, 2004

Grouper - secure, private P2P...

In August this year, I made a post about a private P2P application called FolderShare.


Well, here's another similar app that I recommend trying out. It's called Grouper, and it's a secure, private file-sharing app that uses the .NET framework. Unlike FolderShare, Grouper includes some other nice features that are quite handy for a private P2P app. There's a built-in chat system that you can use to talk to individual buddies or to the entire group, a built-in media player (seems to use the Windows Media Player controls), and a very effective search system.

Check it out if you've been looking for something like this, or if you've been using FolderShare like me.

posted at 5:30:00 PM
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NEW Longhorn, MSN/Hotmail concepts...

Some really interesting concept shots have been surfacing recently. I've started a thread on OSNN to keep track of them for now.

Just some of my observations:
- Longhorn Live: This seems like it will be based on a fusion of the newly launched MSN Spaces, and Microsoft Research's Wallop project, which is open only by invitation at this time. It has the same kinds of building blocks as MSN Spaces - a blog, music playlists, photo sharing, contact cards. The UI in the concept shot looks less static though - it seems like you would be able to move things around, which is why it reminded me of Wallop.

- The 3D media view: I nearly fell off my chair when I saw the eye-candy in this one. The first thing that came to my mind was the MSR Next Media group video I had watched on Channel9 several months ago. I'm almost sure the Next Media group will have a part to play in this aspect of the UI.

- MSN Hotmail concept: This is one huge improvement in the Hotmail interface. I've always liked the way Outlook 2003 works, and this new concept shot makes Hotmail look like a webmail version of Outlook 2003. I'd love to see something like this, although I no longer use my 5 year old Hotmail account, or an webmail service at all, for that matter.

- MSN Messenger concepts: There were some really nice ideas here, but all-in-all, the UI looked a little too cluttered. Of course, since all of these are just concept shots, I'm sure they'll go through a lot of changes and polish before they make it into the final products.

posted at 3:28:00 PM
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Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Incredibles...

Just went and watched it this afternoon, weeks after everyone else. :P

Anyway, I think my response to the movie won't come as a surprise to anybody who has watched it - I loved it. The great animation, the story, action, humor...there was something for everybody. I loved the creativity that came through at so many points in the movie. Absolutely entertaining flick. :)

posted at 10:02:00 PM
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Saturday, December 04, 2004

Maxthon is quite nice...

Despite Firefox's growing market-share, we still live in an IE-dominated world, so there are some occasions when using IE is most practical thing to do. The trouble is after you've used Fx for such a long time, some things become second-nature to you. Even when using IE once in a while, I find myself doing Firefox-specific things (middle-clicks, for just the simplest example).

I had installed Maxthon while it was still called MyIE2, just to see what it was like, and I wasn't very happy with it. So anyway, I decided to give it a second chance today for the aforementioned reasons. Straight after install, I have to say, it's very badly laid out, especially compared to Firefox's focus on simplicity and just giving you the essentials. While I find myself adding items to the Firefox toolbars right after install, it was the right reverse for Maxthon - the toolbars were so overwhelmingly cluttered, that I really had to remove almost everything to make it useable.

With that said, it's quite nice once you finish customizing it to your liking. I also felt that the default skin wasn't very polished, so I proceeded to download a Camino skin that I saw on Neowin. Ultimately, my Maxthon setup looks, feels and behaves a lot like my Firefox setup, but it runs the IE Trident engine at the backend. This should work well for me when I have to visit some of those IE-specific sites. I have now replaced the IE icon in my quick-launch bar with the Maxthon one.

Here's what it looks like.

posted at 11:55:00 PM
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Fun with feeds...

As you may have noticed, Google syndicates Blogger content in the Atom 0.3 format. Now some people still use feed readers that support only RSS, so I have now enabled an RSS 2.0 feed in addition to the Atom one.

While I was on FeedBurner, I noticed another nifty little service - an animated image that pulls content from the RSS feed and displays the most recent post titles. I'm now using it as my forum signature on OSNN. :)

e-piphany: My latest blog posts

posted at 7:27:00 PM
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Winter theme is up...

Check it out. :)
Fortunately or unfortunately (I'll leave that to you), there's no snow in Los Angeles...ever.

posted at 5:16:00 PM
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CNet reviews the SMT5600...

Common wisdom states that a jack-of-all-trades tends to be a master of none. With this in mind, we expected the Audiovox SMT5600 to be able to do a lot of things--just none of them too well. But after spending some serious time with this Windows Mobile 2003 smart phone, we're terribly impressed. Not only is the GSM SMT5600 a great PDA, but it's also a great cell phone and multimedia device. Road warriors will love being able to access e-mail, the wireless Web, and PIM data on the go, while the more gadget-oriented will welcome the SMT5600's ability to seamlessly integrate with Windows Media Player (WMP) 10.0 for synchronizing multimedia data such as songs, pictures, video, and recorded television. At $319, you'll pay more than a few pennies, but you should be able to find it cheaper with service.

Read full review: c|net Reviews

Notice that the overall rating is the same as what my Nokia 3650 received when it was first introduced. And to think the SMT5600 was available for $25 on Amazon with a 1-yr AT&T contract. Oh T-Mobile, when will you give me the chance to upgrade? The Nokia 6600 was the last phone they offered that caught my eye, but it's not a substantial enough upgrade from my 3650 to justify the cost. And so the wait continues...

posted at 5:00:00 PM
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Thursday, December 02, 2004

Customizing MSN Messenger...

Graham Tyler shows how you can convert Messenger into an email, calendar, and tasks management client.

I just noticed this while looking through my RSS feeds, and thought it was really cool. I wish there was a way to implement it without the need for Outlook Web Access though, since I don't have access to an Exchange Server with OWA.

posted at 1:21:00 PM
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Wednesday, December 01, 2004

MSN Spaces launches...

MSN Spaces, Microsoft's new blogging service was just launched a few hours ago. Channel9 has a couple of videos:

Michael Connolly and Jim Horne - Talking about MSN Spaces.
Michael Connolly and Jim Horne - Demo of MSN Spaces.

Apparently, the new service will integrate with the upcoming release of MSN Messenger (due later tonight, according to Scoble), and includes features like photo sharing and moblogging (i.e. posting pictures to your blog directly from your camera-phone). Microsoft has been into the corporate blogging scene for a while (see blogs.msdn.com), so it's not unexpected to see that they've decided to come out with a public offering now.

Wonder how Wallop is going to tie into all this. :)

posted at 9:50:00 PM
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December is here...

Wow, the year has gone by so fast. We're almost into 2005 - the year of the Longhorn betas. :)

Ocean's Twelve releases on December 10th. I've been waiting for this ever since I knew it was coming. This quarter's finals begin on the 13th and go on until the 16th, so I'll probably catch it on the 17th, the Friday of that week. Anyone else interested - let me know.

No real plans for winter break this time. Will just spend those three weeks relaxing and doing the stuff I enjoy doing.

posted at 5:11:00 PM
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Yeah, can't believe December is here so quickly.
Bilal, 12.01.2004, 7:19 pm
I nearly shat my pants when I realised it was December, I have NO idea where the hell this year has gone.
SPeedY_B, 12.02.2004, 5:16 pm
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