Tag Archives: Computer file formats

Everyone Wants To Be a Player

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Still the big players don’t get it. Still they drive people like me nuts, and confuse ordinary users, with their sly tactics that confound and bewilder.

Above, for example, Microsoft’s Windows Media Player provides a list of files that it will play by default. All are checked automatically, including DVD video, midi files, WAV files and MP3 files. Nowhere is there a button for deselecting all of them. Weirdly, at the top is a message that says

Window Media Player 9 Series will be the default player for the file types that are selected in the following list. You must be logged on as administrator or a member of the Administrators group to change these settings.

Microsoft’s way of confusing users who think this is something that they can’t control, and intimidating them into not trying. Nowhere does it say “You can uncheck these boxes if you like; of course you’ll have to do it one by one, which we’re hoping you won’t have time to do.” (I timed it; it took about 10 seconds. That’s ten seconds of my life I’m not going to get back.)

RealPlayer is notorious for this kind of thing. I installed it the other day. The Media Types window, steers the unsuspecting user to signing away all their rights with a big obvious option and one lesser option:

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If you are stupid enough to ignore that, you can try figuring out which files you want RealPlayer to deal with, which of course, has everything checked by default:

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There is, however, an “Deselect all” button. And alongside each format is a helpful note about what software that file type is currently assigned to. Their sneaky trick, however, is to hide the important one, the reason you presumably installed the player, so that you have to scroll down below the visible list to find the Real file types. There’s no button marked “Just let the Player handle the things it’s supposed to handle, and leave me alone, OK?”

Actually, this whole thing is a kind of battle, a bit like the default browser battle. Everybody seems to play the same game, with varying degrees of sneakiness/sleaziness. Back in the Preferences window of RealPlayer is a checkbox that lets RealPlayer fight back, in case you’ve decided against allowing it to play everything. Although in its defence, the first time it notices you’ve left the reservation, you get a warning, which says “RealPlayer is no longer the default player for some audio and video files:

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Still, the wording is sufficiently cheeky to confuse the more casual user: “Do you want to keep RealPlayer,” it asks, as the default player for these file types?”

I like the word “keep” instead of “revert” or “return”. Most users are conservative. They don’t want to change things. RealPlayer execs probably sat in an office all afternoon thinking about the wording to that little message. This message will keep popping up, by the way, each time you change one of these file types until you tell it to stop.

Window Media Player, meanwhile, is a bit weirder. Windows’ file system will acknowledge that control of the file type has passed hands, but WMP won’t. Instead, in the file types options window, the checkbox will be ticked but “dimmed”:

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The help file helpfully says:

If a selected check box is dimmed, Windows Media Player has only partial ownership of the file type. Multiple file extensions are assigned to the file type, but the Player only plays some of those extensions by default. To give the Player full ownership of a file type, double-click the dimmed check box.

I’ve read that second sentence a couple of times, and still don’t know what it means. But to me the implication is clear: It’s virtually impossible for Windows Media Player to surrender all rights to a file type unless you actually uncheck the right box in the options window. And you may notice that the only way into the options window is through a menu that can only be accessed on the default Windows Media Player skin by a little arrow in the left hand corner:

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The bottom line: I can understand that control of media is valuable real estate for these guys, but I really feel for the poor folk who are trying to just play music, or videos or whatever. There must be a better way of doing this.

How to Convert Word 2007 Docs for Macs

A few readers have asked how to convert Word documents created in the new Microsoft Open Office XML Format with the docx extension so they can read them on a Mac. The answer: awkwardly.

Windows users have a converter they can download.

The Microsoft Mac team promised something similar back in December and yet haven’t, as far as I can see, delivered.

Into the gap have stepped some third party developers:

  • Docx Converter will convert a Microsoft Office .docx file into a simple html file. (It strips out some of the formatting, but now supports bold, italic, and underlined text. Left, right, center, and justified alignment etc.) A Mac widget is also available.
  • docx2doc allows you to upload a docx document It was free, but apparently seems to be in such high demand it now costs either $1 or $2 per document converted. Payment is via PayPal; upon payment you’ll receive a download link via email.  
  • Panergy’s docXconverter sounds more straightforward, but will cost you: $20 or $30 for two years of maintenance and upgrades. We should hope Microsoft won’t be that long to come out with their own converter.

None of these is perfect; we shouldn’t have to hand over money just to read a document. Of course the best solution is to save documents in the old doc format if you’re going to share them with other people.

Thanks to these sites, and the comments on them, for pointers: CreativeIQ, APC Mag an Lifehacker.

Podcast: Escape Your Gadgets

Here’s something I recorded for the BBC on how to escape from your gadgets by climbing a volcano. Not an option for everyone, but it worked for me. If you want to subscribe to an RSS feed of this podcast you can do so here, or it can be found on iTunes. My Loose Wire column for The Wall Street Journal Asia and WSJ.com, on which this piece is based, can be found

here (subscription only; sorry.)

Thanks for listening, and comments, as ever, welcome.

Podcast: Backing Up I

Here’s something I recorded for the BBC on backing up (a topic I revisit in later columns and broadcasts.)

If you want to subscribe to an RSS feed of this podcast you can do so here, or it can be found on iTunes. My Loose Wire column for The Wall Street Journal Asia and WSJ.com, on which this piece is based, can be found here (subscription only; sorry.)

Thanks for listening, and comments, as ever, welcome.

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Podcast: Instant Messaging

Here’s a podcast of a piece I did for the BBC World Service on instant messaging, based on a blog posting I made here. If you want to subscribe to an RSS feed of this podcast you can do so here, or it can be found on iTunes.

Thanks for listening, and comments, as ever, welcome.

iTunes 5 and the Ordinal 21 Error

Anyone having problems installing iTunes 5.0 and encountering the error message The ordinal 21 could not be located in the dynamic link library MAPI32.dll might try the following. It worked for me:

  • Locate Fixmapi.exe (it’s usually in the C:WindowsSystem32 folder. More details here and here.)
  • Run it (double click on it).
  • Not much visible will happen but next time you load iTunes you should not have any problems.

A New Version Of Awasu, The Innovative RSS Reader

One of the more impressive RSS readers, Awasu, has a new release out —– 2.1 — with some interesting new features:

  • archives feed content.
  • search of your archived content.
  • search agents that constantly monitor your feeds for content of interest.
  • support for podcasting (enclosures) and
  • native support for Atom feeds.

Awasu is available in free, advanced and professional versions. It also supports several plugins which let you monitor individual pages, see your email, scrape parts of pages to make a feed and combine several feeds into one. More RSS readers here (sorry for the weird formatting on that page; scroll down to see the directory).

I have great admiration for awasu, but I’m not yet a full convert. But Taka, the guy behind it, definitely has a vision and you’ll be surprised by the innovative features he’s packed in there.

Getting To The File You Want

Been playing with an interesting variation on the ActiveWords/SureType theme whereby you type what you’re looking for, not go trawling through submenus and whatnot. It’s called 1st TurboRun from Green Parrotts Software, and it allows you to just type the first few letters of whatever file or program you’re looking for, and will offer matches as you type. No remembering file names, locations or whatever. Neat.

It doesn’t seem to suck up too much memory and runs pretty smoothly, except when you assign it too many folders to look through, then things slow to a crawl. Another downside is that you can’t specify what kind of files 1st TurboRun should remember — not much point in storing lots of small txt files, for example, but every Word file it comes across it should make a note of.

1st TurboRun doesn’t have any of the extensibility of ActiveWords, and none of the text-storing functionality of SureType and other text storers. And if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t remember what they name files you’re probably better off with the excellent TaskTracker, which remembers what files you’ve been working with and stores them by file type and date in lists you can access easily.

But 1st TurboRun is neat because it works not just with files but with programs, meaning you can launch any program stored on your hard-drive with a couple of key strokes. It’s also is useful for those times when you kind of know what you called the file but aren’t quite sure. 1st TurboRun costs (I think; the website says the offer’s only good to June 31) $20.

The Klip Marches On

Serence, the company behind the RSS-like Klip, is about to launch a new version, which offers some interesting new features that could well give the standard a bit more edge in the face of the RSS revolution. Indeed, given that practically any RSS or Atom feed can be read in Klip form, one could argue that Klips are just a better way to read RSS. (Here’s an earlier posting on Klips.)

KlipFolio version 2.6, to be launched today (no URL available at time of writing), will include the following new features (I’m quoting from an email from Serence’s Allan Wille here):

  • Networked and Local Data Access. A Klip can monitor an accounting database over a local network for changes, a shared network directory for updates, a remote directory via FTP, and a POP3 server for new email.
  • Real-Time Push. Klips can now receive updates via a real-time push from a remote server.  Real-Time push is vital for weather warnings, earnings alerts, stock trades, sports scores or any type of live-data. KlipFolio is now able to handle both push and pull depending on application.
  • New Mini-Toolbar. KlipFolio’s L-shaped Toolbar can now be collapsed to a small square … less intrusive and more flexible when placing it on the desktop.
  • New Klips. In concert with KlipFolio 2.6 comes a Hotmail inbox watcher, a POP3 email monitor, an FTP directory Klip and a Klip to keep an eye on local or remote file folders.

What does all this mean? Well, I guess Serence sees Klips as more flexible than RSS and other kinds of feeds, as well as being more secure. The press release, for example, portrays KlipFolio as “a world leader accessing and monitoring networked or local data-sources or applications” where “unlike other news and information monitoring applications that are limited to specific data formats, KlipFolio is an open platform that is extensible through thousands of pluggable, task-specific information services called Klips”.

This extensibility is backed up by what Serence bills as a as “Enhanced Security Model”, where “Serence can now certify and digitally sign Klips to enable advanced functionality … to prevent tampering by 3rd parties and provide end users with increased security.” So anyone can make a Klip but for them to be ‘official’ Serence would have to review them before any “digital signing”.

All this makes sense, although I can hear some folk complaining about the idea that the manufacturer of the software positioning itself as the authenticator of Klips. But so long as RSS feeds are easily absorbed into the KlipFolio world I can only see good things happening for both formats if a company like Serence is trying out new ways of pushing and pulling different kinds of data to the desktop.