Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Windows Vista Ultimate: $450 US? - Engadget

All I want to know is this: is anyone going to shell out this much money for any OS? I know this is the Ultimate edition, afterall, but when is too far? What is the most you would pay for an OS, regardless of platform, etc.? I'd love to hear opinions on this. Leave a comment.

Windows Vista Ultimate: $450 US? - Engadget

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Microsoft Office 2007 Beta 2: User Interface Review

As I mentioned several days ago, Microsoft publicly released the second beta of Office 2007 last week at their WinHEC conference. I, like many of my early-adopting, sneezing peers, raced to download, install and test some or all of the components of the coming Office suite. I wrote that my early impressions were those of amazement. After having spent considerably more time with the suite, my thoughts are the same: Microsoft Office 2007 is going to blow away anything that has come before it. The more I use it, the more I seem to like, maybe even love, about it.

So what has me, and many others long-time Office users I’m sure, so impressed with the next Office offering from Microsoft? User interface. For the first time that I can recall, Microsoft has actually put thought into the user interface. Not only have they put some thought, as well as myriad resources, into the user interface; they’ve delivered some real results, which shows that they’ve gone further than they ever have before to execute on what the users need rather than what they want users to need.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll devote this review to the broad and sweeping changes to the user interface that permeate most of the Office 2007 Beta apps I’ve tested so far. I’ll write app specific reviews separately. As an aside, can anyone tell me what the plan is for apps such as Project 2007 or Visio 2007, which, as of Beta 2, do not implement the new “Ribbon” interface?

Upon starting any of the basic Office apps (Word, Excel, Power Point, Outlook) the user is greeted with an interface that probably looks very foreign to veteran Office users.

At first glance, it might appear that the Office dev team has simply grouped different functions of different existing toolbars together into buckets below the toolbar. This is partially correct, but there is so much more to the interface that to imply that this is the extent of the changes would be completely missing the point. A closer look at the “Ribbon” interface, as it’s being called my Microsoft, reveals the task-oriented nature of the new interface. While in previous versions of Office, one could wade through menu option upon menu option looking for the appropriate command, the Office team has brought the most pertinent functions to the user based on what they happen to be doing at the time or on the task they want to perform.

For example, when I wanted to insert the above graphic into my writing, I clicked on the “Insert” tab of the Ribbon interface, just as I have down in earlier versions of Office apps. The Ribbon interface then updated to show me the most useful command available to me for inserting an object into the document.

All of the old Insert commands we’ve come to know and love, such as: Shapes, Table, Picture, Clip Art, Chart, Hyperlink, Header and Footer are there. One thing that immediately stands out in the Ribbon interface are the large iconic illustrations that accompany each command. This, in and of itself, is a huge visual improvement over the cascading menus that have plagued recent versions of Office. However, the next example illustrates the simplicity and beauty of the interface created by the Office team. Below is the Ribbon for the Insert command when writing in “blog” mode in Word. (Yes, Office 2007 will include a mode in which users can create, edit and upload blog posts. More on this in the Word 2007 Review).

Notice the absence of the Shapes, Pages and Header & Footer groups of commands in the Ribbon? This, of course, is because I can’t insert any of those objects into a blog post. While seemingly simple, and maybe insignificant, this contextually sensitive interface is light years beyond anything Microsoft, or most any company, for that matter, has ever created. It is this simplification of the user experience that I believe so many users will come to appreciate, whether they know it or not.

Of course, each app in the suite has different commands and works slightly differently, which is to be expected considering these applications are still in beta. However, this great turn to usability is one that I have not seen Microsoft take at any time previously with the Office suite. Obviously, there is much, much more to cover in the Office suite. However, I will cover these in the individual application reviews. Needless to say, I am incredibly impressed with the work the Office team has done to create a better experience for the majority of their users and will try to show some of those things in each application review.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

First Impression of Office 2007 Beta 2

My first impression of Microsoft Office 2007 Beta 2 is actually really positive, despite the fact that I had very low expectations. I’ve now been playing with Outlook, Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Access and Publisher and am amazed at what they’ve done with the user interface. I never expected to see something like this from Microsoft. I don’t know where to begin, except to say that I definitely need more time to wrap my head around what I’m seeing before I can write any review. By the way, I’m writing and posting this from Word itself. Remember my post about blogging in Word? Well, it’s true. Much more to come this week. All I can say right now is AWESOME!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Microsoft Office 2007 Beta 2 released

Earlier today, Microsoft, during their annual WinHEC conference, release a public beta of Office 2007. I tried to download it earlier today, but the servers were predictabely getting slammed. I'm downloading the installers now and will post a review later tonight or tomorrow. I'll focus mostly on what's going to matter to the average busines user.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Skype not Aftraid of Net Neutrality?

According to an article over at ars technica, a Skype executive mentioned that he has no worries about ISPs charginga premium to carry Skype traffic over their pipes. He believes that the Skype user base will cause an uproar with the ISP(s), such that the ISP(s) will have to reconsider their decision to cash in on Skype's hard work. To quote the article:

Skype's battleplan is simple. If their user base is large enough, companies will think twice about tampering with Skype traffic. When Brazil's biggest telecom pulled the plug on Skype, the outcry in the country was big enough that the decision was soon reversed. Bilefield said, "The community has the power to change things."
While I don't know whether or not that is a sound strategy, it got me thinking about this whole "net neutrality" argument.

As I posted on the thread at Digg that referenced this article, I believe the ISPs are in a bit of a pickle if they think they can do whatever they wish with content providers. Unfortunately for them, the relationship between ISP and content provider is symbiotic. The ISP needs them to provide compelling, rich, bandwidth-hungry applications as much as the content providers need a pipe over which to provide the service or application. Would anyone really need a 6 Mbit connection (my current RoadRunner connection) if all they were doing was emailing and surfing CNN.com? As with most established monopolies, the ISPs will never innovate and/or change over time to stay relevant. Instead, they will focus all of their efforts on fighting the inevitable and piss off a lot of customers along the way, never giving thought to what was best for those customers.

Since the big Skype announcement this week of free Skype Out calling services, I have been trying to convince everyone I know to drop their land lines in favor of a Skype solution. I really hope it catches on in this country as it has in others and that we can, as Mr. Bilefield said, "have the power to change things".

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Google Notebook is Live

Google Notebook is live, which we knew would happen. Here's what was somewhat of a surprise to me: it's a Firefox extension. I certainly didn't see that one coming. Did anyone else? It's late, but I'll give a short review here.

First, a "Note this (Google Notebook)" item has been added to the Firfox contextual menu as pictured below.

Basically, anything you can get in your browser window can be "Noted". Google is also adding "Note this" links to your Google search results. Note the link in the picture below.

The Notebook lives in the lower right of your Firefox window and can be minimized or restored. Maximizing it open a new browser windows with a full-screen view of your notebook.

Notes can be manually added and you can create multiple notebooks with the click of a button on the aptly named "Actions" drop-down menu.

I'm sure the blogosphere will disect this thing tomorrow, but, on the surface, it seems easy enough. I'm sure we'll all put it through its paces tomorrow.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Free calls to all landlines and mobile phones within the US and Canada - Skype Blogs

Can it possibly be true? Even though this is only guaranteed to run through the end of the year, this is a big announcement. With everything that's happening with the NSA and telcos, there couldn't be a better time to offer someone an alternative. There were already over 6 million people on Skype as of this writing. I wouldn't be surprised to see this number increase dramatically very soon. Even if it does go back to a pay service in January, many people will continue the service. Brialliant move by eBay-Skype's marketing folks.

Free calls to all landlines and mobile phones within the US and Canada - Skype Blogs

Saturday, May 13, 2006

AMCP Tech Blog: Word 2007 to support Blogging

You know blogging has hit the mainstream when the the largest software company in the world integrates blogging support into the most widely used office application suite in the world.

AMCP Tech Blog: Word 2007 to support Blogging

Mashable* » Coming Soon: Paypal Payments via Skype

Pete Cashmore from Mashable has posted an blurb via Skype Journal regarding the integration of PayPal into the Skype client. There was a discussion over at either TechCrunch or GigaOm about the disaster that was the Skype purchase by eBay. I had, and still do have, a very different feeling about the purchase. I think it was a great idea for two reasons.

First, eBay charges small, nominal fees to enahnce a seller's listing such as bold listings, picture galleries, top of page listings, highlighted listings, etc. Many people participate and eBay has numbers to support the investment. Now then, large numbers of people were putting "Skype Me" buttons in their listings well before the buy out. However, it requires the editing of HTML, which is more than some sellers can handle. So eBay make a "Skype Me" button a $.50 option when the listing is created. They may even already do this, it's been ages since I've used eBay. No fuss for the seller and they get to keep up with the more technically savvy users already doing this. One thing about eBay is that people will mimic anything they see being used successfully. If one seller with a really high feedback rating has a "Skype Me" button in all of his listings, you can be darn sure that everyone else will want to do so as well. All of those small $.50 transaction start to add up quick when you do the volume that eBay does. Eventually, eBay will start to earn that money back.

The second, and more exciting, use of Skype on eBay will be voice services. Ether already does this, although they have not publically launched yet. Pete, from Mashable, is the only person I've actually seen who uses it and has commented on his experience. Read his post here to get his thoughts. The general idea is that a seller sells his time rather than a tangible good. For example, I create a listing on eBay for technical support on Apple computers. I set my rate at $20/30-minute increment. Someone has a question about their iLife software. This person doesn't have the time or knowledge to peruse forums on the web to find and answer to their question, but they know they can jump on eBay and find someone to answer for a decent price. They search on eBay just like they do for goods and eventually find me. They see my rate and my excellent feedback from people whom I have helped and decide to call me. They call, through Skype, and I walk them through the solution to their problem. Once we have finished, $20 is sent to my PayPal account and I have another satisfied customer. The same use case scenario could be made for any number of services in which people interact and communicate. Tech support, business consulting (which is Pete's specialty), relationship advice, home repair advice, blogging advice, it could really be anything.

What happens when you're so successful that you can't possibly answer all of the calls you have? Why you just join forces with some of the other highly rated experts in your category or hire knowledgeable people like you would any other business. With Skype's real-time presence abilities, you can have a virtual call center of people ready to answer questions and help your customers. If you're not available, the buyer can see that and go to the next available expert. If that person takes the call, you give him a cut of the revenue and keep a bit for yourself for doing nothing but letting him use your good name and reputation. If eBay and Skype are smart, they will build group presence into Skype presence at some point to simplify this process for the users.

So now, you have just exposed your "business" to millions upon millions of potential customers and eBay has tapped into a whole new revenue stream, which investors really like to hear about. Because Skype's communications are encrypted, users can rest easy knowing private conversations won't be compromised. Can't guarantee that with a phone call, especially in light of the recent NSA fiasco. It's a win win situation for everyone. The question is when and will it happen?

Mashable* » Coming Soon: Paypal Payments via Skype

Friday, May 12, 2006

Yahoo CEO laments not buying Google | News.blog | CNET News.com

Ya think? Of course, hindsight is 20/20. I admire the confidence Brin and Page had asking for $1 billion at a time when things were really bad and no companies were selling for any amount of money. They obviously knew what Google would become and saw immense value. I'd say they made the right decision.

Yahoo CEO laments not buying Google | News.blog | CNET News.com

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Adventures in MySpace

Without getting into too much detail, I've been arduously studying social networking for "research" for "projects" I "may or may not be working on" at "work". It has been quite interesting, to say the least, and I've learned quite a bit about behavioral patterns of people of varying general demographics. Because I follow technology so ardently, I have, of course, heard of the king of social networks, MySpace. I've also heard of several others such as TagWorld, Bebo, Orkut and the recently launched AIMPages.

Up to this point, I have resisted getting involved with any of these networks for two reasons. First, I don't have a whole lot of time to devote to contributing relevant content. Second, I've been literally disgusted at the abominations called MySpace pages I've seen from friend and co-workers. As a designer, I die a little bit each time I see a MySpace profile.

Unfortunately for me I have come to the point that I need to actually participate in one of these communities to further my understanding of their operations. For this purpose, I have decided to join the established leader (MySpace) and the up-and-comer (AIMPages). I can summarize my brief experiences with both thusly:

MySpace's strength is in numbers. Chances are anyone who might join the network already knows several, if not many, existing members. I counted at least a dozen on my first perusal through the alumni from my graduating class. MySpaces' weakness is, of course, it's horrid collection of pages. I can't write further of it for fear of getting sick.

AIMPages has impressed me despite it not playing well with Firefox on my Mac. Most of the pre-designed page templates have a clean layout. They're also promoting an open architecture by using web services widgets based on existing services such as Flickr. Widgets are easy to implement into a page; simply drag and drop them from the gallery onto the page. Ultimately, I think AIMPages will gain some ground on MySpace based on it's ease of use and cleanliness. Having a tie in to the most popular IM client and established advertising infrastructure doesn't hurth either.

I will post further on my experiences with the two services.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Longhorns to snatch "world's biggest HD display" title from Dolphins?

The guys over at Engadget have the scoop on the "biggest HD display in the world". It will reside in Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium, which just happens to be the home of my beloved Longhorns. Now, if only they could replace the "Running of the Horns" video while they're at it.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Much Ado About Squidoo

I recently covered Squidoo and mentioned that I had set up a "Lens" to see what kind of response I would get out of it. Within the last couple of days, Michael from TechCrunch wrote an article predicting its demise. Today, Pete from Mashable picked up the discussion. The census seems to be that Squidoo will die if they remain a "walled garden", or closed service. Their other hinderance is that they don't allow for community interactions around the "Lens". Of course, I already wrote this in my previous post.

Syndicated at Last

I don't mean to toot my own horn, but check out what I saw when I logged into my FeedBurner account today.

That's right, I've got a subscriber. Look out!

First Impressions: Drupal

Working for a small business (I hate the term start-up) I am, understandably, often asked to wear multiple hats. My title is Art Director, but I am asked to do much more than direct art. One of the things I've been working with my colleague Chris on is finding a suitable intranet/wiki/cms system for us to use. I have spent a resonable amount of time searching the interweb for a cheap (preferably open source) solution that we can implement without having a PhD. I may have found a strong contender in Drupal.

I could tell from perusing the Drupal site that it would probably meet most of our needs. My only concern was the setup. Neither Chris nor myself have gobs of time to devote to a project like this. I decided to give it a try over the weekend. Much to my surprise it wasn't very difficult at all.

First, I must disclose that drupal required Apache, a database backend (MySQL, etc.) and PHP. Fortunately for me, XAMPP did all of that heavy lifting for me. I could do a whole post on XAMPP, but just know it's all of the backend stuff you'll need to run a server in a simple installer package. Definitely check it out if you're thinking about running your own server.

On to Drupal. Setup was fairly straight forward. I followed the instruction found on the drupal site. It was quite painless, actually. I was up and running in about 10 minutes. One of the great things about Drupal is the modular plug-in system they've implemented. I was able to download and install several useful plug-ins (I believe they're referred to as modules) very easily and in very little time. Visual themes are similar in nature; very easy and quick to install. Now, I have not yet put Drupal through its paces to really ascertain its viability for us, but, if first impressions are an indicator, we've got a winner on our hands.

Based off of my limited exposure to Drupal, I would still recommend it to anyone in the market for an intranet/wiki/CMS. Of course, I'd love to hear from people who may have had better experiences with another package or didn't find Drupal useful at all. Leave a comment and let me know what you've found.

Playstation 3 to cost more than my PC?

So, today at E3 Sony announced details of the Playstation 3. Read Engadget's write up for all of the info. Here's the part that gets me: $499 for the 20GB HD version and $599 for the 60GB HD version. My incredibly useful MacMini cost me $425, although, in the interest of full disclosure I should mention that I purchased it as a "refreshed" product from the Apple Store. Still, between $500 and $600 for a gaming device? Sure, it will play Blu-ray movies, but what else? On the other hand, I do realize how powerful it theoretically is and how much Sony will be losing on each unit sold. I still have to wonder if the arms race between Sony and Microsoft will really pay off for either of them. I think Nintendo has a great opportunity with the Wii, simply because they're trying to innovate their way through the market, rather than spec through it. Will you pay for the PS3? Leave a comment and let me know. Maybe I'm all wrong about this.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Ode to Taco Town

In honor of one of my favorite SNL skits, I had some office mates make a Taco Town taco, replete with pancacke and qucamalito sauce, at our Cinco de Mayo party on Friday. "Pizza! Now that's what I call a taco". Posted by Picasa

Thank you BlogMad

Last night I signed up on BlogMad, a blog traffic exchange site. Through the last few hours of the night and early this morning, my traffic has increased tremendously. I'm impressed, to say the least. Definitely check them out if you're looking to increase traffic and find new and interesting blogs. I'll put a full review up later.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

BlogCounter.com - Easy Counting

I stumbled upon a fairly easy-to-use and straightforward service today. BlogCounter does what it sounds like it should - provide a hit counter and statistics for your blog (although, technically, any site in which you can edit the HTML can be tracked). I had to insert a small snippet of JavaScript into my Blogger template, but it was easy to do. I like the fact that their stats are simple. They tell me how many people have hit the blog and where they came from. I've made their Top 100 list, so I guess I've got that going for me. Anywho, if you're in the market for a simple hit counter for your site, check out BlogCounter.

Lonestar Showdown - Game 1

The game between the Spurs and Mavericks certainly lived up to the hype; coming down to the final seconds. The Mavericks had a chance to tie or win as time was expiring, but Jerry Stackhouse got caught in the corner and had to jack up a three-pointer as the clock ran out. It was certainly a good showing by the Mavs, considering the game was played in San Antonio. The experience and toughness of the Spurs prevailed, though. This should be a good series.

Sphere Blog Search

There's a new search engine in town. This one, however, is different. Sphere, which just recently launched, is a blog-only search engine. That's right, blog only. Why would anyone need search results only from blogs? It makes sense, actually.

As a result of the increased popularity of blogging, there are probably multiple blogs touching any and all topics anyone could ever want to know about (and probably many they don't). My thinking is that people can find whatever they want whenever they want through the major search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and MSN. News and information is syndicated from a small pool of sources and the story is pretty much the same regardless of the source you pull it from. Here's where blogs come in. People now want to discuss the story with other people. Go to any number of news sites and read the top headlines. They're all essentially the same. Go to any number of blog posts about a particular story and, most likely, they will all be very different.

Sphere has a chance to become a very relevant threat to the traditional serach engines in the "information gathering" space. I can't wait to see how it grows.

TechCrunch » Rapleaf is Now Live

Michael over at TechCrunch just reported on RapLeaf, a portable commerce feedback system a la eBay reputation. The big difference between eBay and RapLeaf is that RapLeaf isn't tied to any service. In other words, you can use your RapLeaf reputation rating on a Craigslist listing and use the same reputation rating in an email response to someone selling something in your local newspaper classifieds or a ticket exchange forum on your favorite sports team's website.

Technically, any electronic communication which supports HTML should support embedding of your RapLeaf reputation "badge". RapLeaf has, or will have, an API, which means this can be integrated into other apps or web "mashups".

eBay really missed an opportunity here and I'll be interested to see if RapLeaf can really catch on with the masses. I didn't see anyting on their site that talked about money and I would be curious to see their business plan (assuming they are indeed trying to make money). Read Michael's write-up at the link below.

Read more at TechCrunch » Rapleaf is Now Live

Lonestar Showdown

Two of my favorite teams begin what should be a great NBA Playoff series today. The San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks play two very different styles of basketball, which should make for an interesting series. I've got to give the edgo to the Spurs, however. They've got home-court advantage and their defense can stifle any offense. Either way, I'll have one of "my teams" in the Western Conference Finals, which is more than most fans can say.

Read more at sportsillustrated.cnn.c...

Texas Longhorns - Zimbio

I created a Zimbio portal for my beloved University of Texas Longhorns. It will be interesting to see if I can get any user participation. I'm curious to see just how useful other people will find this type of resource.

Read more at www.zimbio.com/portal/T...

A New Kind of Portal II

No sooner than I post on Zimbio do I find yet another interesting take on "portals". This time it's called Squidoo and I think I like it too, albeit for different reasons. Squidoo does things a bit differently than does Zimbio. First, Squidoo portals, or "lenses", are maintained by a single person and not by the community at large. Second, Squidoo earns revenue from Google AdWords and shares that revenue with the Lens Masters (those "experts" who have made Lenses on various topics). Both models are unique and interesting in their own ways. I'm very curious to see if these can pass the "wife test". Will they become simple and useful enough to catch on past the early adopters? Squidoo's problems are that it's a "walled garden" (as far as I can tell) and that it doesn't open communication lines between users. These two factors might seriously hinder its potential.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

A New Kind of Portal

I recently was turned on to a really interesting "Web 2.0" site named Zimbio. Zimbio has taken a very unique spin on web portals. Basically, they've given users the ability to create their own "portals" on a wide range of topics. The cool thing is that any user can contribute to the portal in a number of different ways. There is a group blog, forums, links, blog rolls, picture galleries and more. Each portal has an AIM-driven chat room as well as IM presence indicators for each contributing member of the portal. I believe this is the future of "portals": online communities of people aggregating relevant content around a certain topic. This blurb certainly hasn't done the site justice. There is much more here than what I have covered. The community seems to be relatively young (I believe they just left private beta) so go visit and find a topic to contribute to and discover the future of information portals on the web.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


I'm writing this from a Starbucks in San Jose, California. I must say I can see why people love to live here. The weather is beautiful, and that might be an understatement. Of course, the cost of living would be tough do deal with, which might also be an understatement. The high temperature today in San Jose is expected to be 74 degrees whereas it will probably reach 95 degrees in Austin. I just wish I could bring some of this weather back home.