Tag Archives: Free software

Is Microsoft Censoring Windows 7 Tweets?

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Intrigued to see that Microsoft has turned a page of its website over to “What people are saying about Windows 7”:

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The page is designed a bit like twittefall: a cascade of seeminlgy “live” tweets (their dates and times of posting cleverly removed from the cascade.)

Amazingly, 99% of the comments are positive, or at least neutral:

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So I thought I would check to see whether the feed has some filtering. The feed seems to include comments going back several days (the one above is six days old), so I thought it fair to search over that same period. A more nuanced picture emerges. “Windows7 sucks,” for example, throws up at least 20 tweets in the past week, none of them visible in the cascade.

So clearly some sort of filtering is going on. To check I sent out this faux tweet from an unused account and haven’t, 30 minutes on, seen anything:

#windows7 win7 is a disaster. uninstalling it right now

As Lydia Pintscher points out at Amarok Blog, this filtering and pseudo-conversation is all quite unnecessary. It’s clear the majority of people actually quite like Windows 7 (though I’d be interested in their reactions in a few months; my experience down the track has been less impressive.)

The point is that Microsoft would be foolish to allow an unfettered feed—people would quickly cotton on and put all sorts of rubbish in there.

But if it tries to pretend that the page is somehow live, and that it’s a conversation, then they also need to be smarter about reflecting the full range of views out there.

They also need to understand the organic nature of hashtags. The Microsoft website asks users to “join the conversation” by including hashtags #win7 or #windows7 in their tweets—which many were already doing, it’s an obvious step to make—but they also asked those who had bought Windows 7 to include the hashtag #igotwin7.

So far, the number of people who have is, er, two; one of them is Microsoft itself:

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Social media lesson #4: You can start a conversation but you can’t control it. Try and you look silly. 

An Index Of Blogging Clients

July 2009 Update: added BlogDesk. So far I’ve not been able to find anything apart from Windows Live Writer that works with WordPress page for Windows. (Ecto’s latest release apparently does support it.) 

Blogging clients allow you to prepare posts and then upload them directly. Useful for

  • composing drafts of posts offline
  • easier editing of HTML
  • easier inserting and handling of photos
  • easier editing of existing posts

Here’s a list of the ones I know of. Any additions welcome.

  • Qumana include easy text formatting and image insertion, simple Technorati tagging, and advertising insertion with Q Ads. Make money from your blog content by inserting the ads of your choice with the built-in Q Ads tool. (free: XP/Mac)
  • ecto a feature-rich desktop blogging client for MacOSX and Windows, supporting a wide range of weblog systems, such as Blogger, Blojsom, Drupal, MovableType, Nucleus, TypePad, WordPress, and more. (free; thanks Joost)
  • w.bloggar  The tireless Marcelo Cabral who runs it constantly updates the software to work with new blogging sites. It’s free, but he welcomes donations.
  • Post2Blog handy blog editor with live spell-checking support for pro-bloggers. ($40, Windows only)
  • SharpMT good for MovableType and TypePad. Windows only; free.
  • Windows Live Writer “makes it easier to compose compelling blog posts using Windows Live Spaces or your current blog service.” Free, XP only
  • Zempt Offers a lot of useful features, including assigning more than one category to a post. Zempt is also free but would be happy to get donations. Works with all Movable Type compatible sites. (Windows, Linux, Mac.)
  • BlogJet a new version, 2.0, is out that supports YouTube and Flickr. I used to use this all the time, and plan to try this one. $40, though, is still $40. Windows only
  • BlogWizard allows you to create, edit and publish your blog entries to the server where your weBlog is located. BlogWizard works with all major weBlog services that support the Blogger xml-rpc engine. BlogWizard has an easy to use WysiWyg interface, in which you can manipulate the text anyway you want, make it bold, bigger, smaller, insert images and hyperlinks. Costs: $23
  • Blogger for Word Blogger toolbar will be added to Word allowing you to publish to your blog, save drafts and edit posts (Free; XP and Word required)
  • MacJournal lets you publish your work as a blog to any of the popular blogging services, including your .mac account. Also possible to keep your journal at your fingertips, even when you’re on the road. (Macs only; $35)
  • BlogDesk BlogdDesk BlogDesk is free, works with WordPress, MovableType, Drupal, Serendipity and ExpressionEngine.
  • MarsEdit: Mac only, but very capable, according to Mike Rohde (thanks, Mike)

Also note that Microsoft Office 2007 lets you post to a blog, and include some pretty cool features.  So does Flock. There are also some Firefox extensions:

  • Performancing Heavy duty extension with all the bells and whistles
  • Deepest Sender instead of having to go to the Update page on LiveJournal/WordPress/Blogger/whatever, or loading up a separate client program, all you have to do is hit Ctrl+, or click the button in your toolbar, and you can start posting.

Links

WordPress has a list of blogging clients here. No mention of support for pages.

Another good list here.

The Thin Yellow Lines of Innovation

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Maybe you’ve already noticed this, but I very much like this feature in Google Chrome that lets you see at a glance matches for a search term within a page. The matches appear as yellow lines within the scroll bar (see above) so you can easily access them by dragging the scroll bar itself.b

Another nice twist with Chrome is that it will tell you how many matches there are on a page, and tell you which one you’re currently viewing:

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Nice touch. I still think the Firefox search trick of being able to highlight all instances of a search term within the page is very helpful:

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Which helps to make the matching words stand out on the page (along with the extra option of matching case:

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What’s interesting here is the innovation in a feature that has, elsewhere, become largely moribund. Check out the search box in Microsoft Word 2007:

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You can choose the Reading Highlight button to, well, highlight those terms you’re looking for, but frankly, I only just found that feature and I’ve been using Word for years. The features in Chrome and Firefox I found pretty much straightaway.

And the feature doesn’t really detract from the fact that the Find box itself is pretty poorly designed, and short of features. Surely in a program that is about processing words, this would be a feature you’d have a whole team working on to improve?

Bottom line: While old software stands still, we’re seeing a lot of incremental but valuable improvements in the new software—browsers, basically—and I think therein lies a lesson. Microsoft et al, you need to turn your attention to these small things, that may not be very belly or whistly (sorry, just wanted to use the word ‘belly’) but which we all use. A lot.

Loyalty to a program, whether it’s a browser or a word processor, may often come down to these small things.

Updater Fever

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I sometimes wonder what software companies—Apple, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, they’re all the same—want from their customers.

I spend enough time with novice users to know how confusing using computer software can be. Especially online: It’s a scary world out there (they’re right to be scared) but these companies, which should know better, make it more so. By trying to hoodwink into using their products they are undermining users’ confidence in using computers in the first place. If they keep on doing this, expect more people to use computers less—and certainly to install less software, or experiment in any way online or off.

Take what just happened. I use Windows Live Writer to blog: it’s an excellent program, by far the best things Microsoft has done in years, and today it prompted me that an update was available. I duly clicked on the link to download the Writer beta installer:

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Only, of course, it wasn’t the installer but The Installer From Hell:

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Prechecked are six programs, none of which I have on my computer right now. There’s no single button to uncheck those boxes, and most novice users may not even know they can (note the confusing text above it: “Click each program name for details” and “Choose the programs you want to install”—nothing to explain to novices that these choices have already been made for you, and how to unchoose them.)

It’s not as if Microsoft is trying to sell us smack. This is free software. But it’s very damaging in ways only someone who spends time with real people can understand. Even when the software is installed for example, you get this last little twist of the Knife of Befuddlement:

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This might not seem like much, but if you’re an ordinary user, finding your home page all different and your search engine altered to something else can be as disorienting as coming home to find someone’s moved your furniture and the cooker is now in the bathroom. Well, not quite that much, but you get the idea.

Of course Microsoft’s not alone in this. Even Google’s been playing the game, and Yahoo! tries to bundle the toolbar in with pretty much every piece of software that’s ever been downloaded–which also alters the homepage, and default search engine, and probably moves the fridge around as well.

The problem is that the more these companies try to fool us, the easier it is for real scammers to scam us—because what they both do starts to look very similar.

Take this scam that I came across this morning. A splog (spam blog—a fake blog) had used some of my material so when I tried to access the page to find out why, I instead got this believable looking popup

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This without me doing anything other than clicking on a link to a blog. A graphic in the background appeared to be checking the computer for viruses, and of course this window is nigh on impossible to get rid of. Try clicking on the red cross and you get this:

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Try to get rid of that and you get this:

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And then this:

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It’s obviously a scam (it’s adware), but it’s darned hard to get rid of. And to the ordinary user (by which I mean someone who has a real life, and therefore doesn’t see this kind of thing as intrinsically interesting) there’s no real difference between the trickery perpetrated by these grammatically challenged scammers, and the likes of Microsoft et al, who try to inveigle their software and homepage/search engine preferences into your computer.

Either way, the ordinary user is eventually going to tire of the whole thing and say “enough!” and go out fishing or, if it’s that time of year, wassailing.

Let’s try to avoid that.

(And yes, the latest version Live Writer is good, though don’t use the spellchecker. Just a shame that it’s made by Microsoft.)

Learning in the Open

Here’s a piece I wrote for the WSJ on open source education resources. It’s part of the free section of WSJ.com.

A revolution of sorts is sweeping education.

In the past few years, educational material, from handwritten lecture notes to whole courses, has been made available online, free for anyone who wants it. Backed by big-name universities in the U.S., China, Japan and Europe, the Open Education Resources movement is gaining ground, providing access to knowledge so that no one is “walled in by money, race and other issues,” says Lucifer Chu, a 32-year-old Taiwanese citizen and among the thousands world-wide promoting the effort. He says he has used about half a million dollars from his translation of the “Lord of the Rings” novels into Chinese to translate engineering, math and other educational material, also from English into Chinese.

The movement started in the late 1990s, inspired in part by the “open source” software movement, based on the notion computer programs should be free. Open-source software now powers more than half the world’s servers and about 18% of its browsers, according to TheCounter.com, a Web-analysis service by Connecticut-based Internet publisher Jupitermedia Corp. Behind its success are copyright licenses that allow users to use, change and then redistribute the software. Another inspiration was the proliferation of Web sites where millions share photos or write encyclopedia entries.

Free Online College Courses Are Proliferating – WSJ.com

Bye Bye, Laptop?

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The day seems to be getting closer when we can do something that would seem to be pretty obvious: access our pocket-sized smartphone via a bigger screen, keyboard and a mouse. Celio Corp says it’s close.

Celio Corp have two products: their Mobile Companion (pictured above), a laptop like thing that includes an 8″ display, a full function keyboard, and a touchpad mouse. At 1 x 6 x 9 inches and weighing 2 lbs, the Mobile Companion promises over 8 hours of battery life and boots instantly. After loading a driver on your smartphone you can then access it via a USB cable or Bluetooth. (You can also charge the smartphone via the same USB connection.)

Uses? Well, you can say goodbye to coach cramp, where you’re unable to use a normal laptop. You can input data more easily than you might if you just had your smartphone with you. And, of course, you don’t need to bring your laptop.

The second product might be even better. The Smartphone Interface System is, from what I can work out, a small Bluetooth device that connects your smartphone, not to the Mobile Companion, but to a desktop computer, public display or a conference room projector  — these devices connect via a cable to the Interface, like this:

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The important bit about both products is that the Redfly software renders the smartphone data so it fits on the new display (this will be quite tricky, and, because it will carried via Bluetooth, would need quite a bit of compression. The maximum size of the output display is VGA, i.e. 800 x 480, so don’t expect stunning visuals, but it’ll be better than having all your colleagues crowding around your smartphone.)

The bad news? Redfly isn’t launched yet, and will for the time being be available only for Windows Mobile Devices. Oh, and according to UberGizmo, it will cost $500. The other thing is that you shouldn’t confuse “full function keyboard” with “full size keyboard”: this vidcap from PodTech.net gives you an idea of the actual size of the thing:

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this is the keyboard size relative to Celio CEO Kirt Bailey’s digits:

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Until I try the thing out and feel sure that the keyboard doesn’t make the same compromises as the Eee PC, I’d rather use my Stowaway keyboard.

For those of you looking for software to view your mobile device on your desktop computer, you might want to check out My Mobiler. It’s free software that purports to do exactly that for Windows Mobile users.

Directory of RSI Software

This is the first in a number of posts about RSI, or Repetitive Strain Injury, the subject of this week’s column, out tomorrow. Here is a collection of software designed to ease RSI. RSI software tries to help in a number of ways:

  • working out how long you’ve been at the keyboard and reminds you to take breaks;
  • suggesting exercises for you to perform while you’re taking those breaks;
  • records macros (shortcuts) to specific tasks you do a lot so you don’t have to use the keyboard as much (especially keystroke combinations);
  • reduces mouse usage by allowing you to control the mouse from the keyboard (including dragging)
  • reducing mouse clicks by automating the process (move the cursor over something you want to click on and hold it there, and the software figures out you want to click and does it for you)

Here are some programs I found. I’m sure there are more. Let me know!

RSI Shield provides breaks, records macros and controls the mouse via hovering or via the keyboard. For Windows only. About $40 from RSI-Shield.

RSI Guard includes a break timer that suggests breaks at appropriate times, mouse automatic-clicking option and shows animations of exercises. Windows only. £81 from Back in Action, or $40 for the Standard and $65 for the Stretch Edition from RSI Guard.

Workrave frequently alerts you to take micro-pauses, rest breaks and restricts you to your daily limit. For GNU/Linux and Windows (can be run on a Mac using Fink). Free from Workrave.

WorkPace Personal charts your activity, reminds you to take breaks and guides you through exercises. For Windows and Mac. $50 from Wellnomics.

AntiRSI forces you to take regular breaks, yet without getting in the way. It also detects natural breaks so it won’t force too many breaks on you. For Macs, free (donations welcome) from TECH.inhelsinki.nl.

[resting]

Xwrits reminds you to take wrist breaks, with a rather cute but graphic graphic of a wrist which pops up an X window when you should rest. For Unix only. Free from Eddie Kohler’s Little Cambridgeport Design Factory.

OosTime Break Software for reminding yourself to take rest breaks from your computer. For Windows only, from the University of Calgary. Another break reminder: Stress Buster for Windows, £10, from ThreadBuilder. Another break reminder for Windows, also called, er, Break Reminder for $60 a year (that can’t be right) from Cheqsoft.

Stretch Break reminds you to stretch, then shows you how with Yoga-based stretches and relaxing background music. For Windows only, $45 from Paratec.

ergonomix monitors keyboard and mouse activity and helps structure computer use. For Windows only, $50 from publicspace.net.  (A Mac version called MacBreakZ is also available for $20.)

ActiveClick automatically clicks, drags content and makes you stretch. For Windows only, $19 from ActiveClick.

No-RSI monitors keyboard and mouse activity and suggests you to take a break regularly. For Windows only, $15 from BlueChillies.

Also check out the Typing Injury FAQ for some more RSI software. A more recent collection can be found in a piece by Laurie Bouck at The Pacemaker. A good piece, too, by Jono Bacon at ONLamp.com.

There are also mice that try to help counter RSI. The Hoverstop, for example, “detects if your hand is on the mouse. It then monitors if you are actually using it (clicking, scrolling). If you are not using it for more than 10 seconds, it will vibrate softly to remind you to take your hand away and relax.” About $90 from Hoverstop.

My favorite? Workrave, though I must confess I often ignore the breaks. More fool me.

Directory of RSI Software

This is the first in a number of posts about RSI, or Repetitive Strain Injury, the subject of this week’s column, out tomorrow. Here is a collection of software designed to ease RSI. RSI software tries to help in a number of ways:

  • working out how long you’ve been at the keyboard and reminds you to take breaks;
  • suggesting exercises for you to perform while you’re taking those breaks;
  • records macros (shortcuts) to specific tasks you do a lot so you don’t have to use the keyboard as much (especially keystroke combinations);
  • reduces mouse usage by allowing you to control the mouse from the keyboard (including dragging)
  • reducing mouse clicks by automating the process (move the cursor over something you want to click on and hold it there, and the software figures out you want to click and does it for you)

Here are some programs I found. I’m sure there are more. Let me know!

RSI Shield provides breaks, records macros and controls the mouse via hovering or via the keyboard. For Windows only. About $40 from RSI-Shield.

RSI Guard includes a break timer that suggests breaks at appropriate times, mouse automatic-clicking option and shows animations of exercises. Windows only. £81 from Back in Action, or $40 for the Standard and $65 for the Stretch Edition from RSI Guard.

Workrave frequently alerts you to take micro-pauses, rest breaks and restricts you to your daily limit. For GNU/Linux and Windows (can be run on a Mac using Fink). Free from Workrave.

WorkPace Personal charts your activity, reminds you to take breaks and guides you through exercises. For Windows and Mac. $50 from Wellnomics.

AntiRSI forces you to take regular breaks, yet without getting in the way. It also detects natural breaks so it won’t force too many breaks on you. For Macs, free (donations welcome) from TECH.inhelsinki.nl.

[resting]

Xwrits reminds you to take wrist breaks, with a rather cute but graphic graphic of a wrist which pops up an X window when you should rest. For Unix only. Free from Eddie Kohler’s Little Cambridgeport Design Factory.

OosTime Break Software for reminding yourself to take rest breaks from your computer. For Windows only, from the University of Calgary. Another break reminder: Stress Buster for Windows, £10, from ThreadBuilder. Another break reminder for Windows, also called, er, Break Reminder for $60 a year (that can’t be right) from Cheqsoft.

Stretch Break reminds you to stretch, then shows you how with Yoga-based stretches and relaxing background music. For Windows only, $45 from Paratec.

ergonomix monitors keyboard and mouse activity and helps structure computer use. For Windows only, $50 from publicspace.net.  (A Mac version called MacBreakZ is also available for $20.)

ActiveClick automatically clicks, drags content and makes you stretch. For Windows only, $19 from ActiveClick.

No-RSI monitors keyboard and mouse activity and suggests you to take a break regularly. For Windows only, $15 from BlueChillies.

Also check out the Typing Injury FAQ for some more RSI software. A more recent collection can be found in a piece by Laurie Bouck at The Pacemaker. A good piece, too, by Jono Bacon at ONLamp.com.

There are also mice that try to help counter RSI. The Hoverstop, for example, “detects if your hand is on the mouse. It then monitors if you are actually using it (clicking, scrolling). If you are not using it for more than 10 seconds, it will vibrate softly to remind you to take your hand away and relax.” About $90 from Hoverstop.

My favorite? Workrave, though I must confess I often ignore the breaks. More fool me.

Loose Bits, Nov 7 2006

  • Bleeding Edge, always worth a look, points to a new Firefox extension for saving material off the web: Zotero. It not only does a great job of storing globs of web pages or the whole thing but it has an academic bent too, allowing you to store bibiographic information too. That said, it’s not musty: It lets you assign tags to stuff you’ve saved, lets you relate one item to another, and makes exporting everything you’ve saved pretty easy too. Reminds me a little of the excellent ScrapBook, another clip-saving tool. Full, updated Loose Wire list of them here.
  • Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine pours a little cold water over Boratmania. Part of me agrees with him; I’ve only been able to take Ali G and Borat in small doses (though we do have all the DVDs.) The best bit is actually watching my wife laugh at his antics. Trust me: Cohen crosses most cultural boundaries.
  • Playing around with a newsreader called Omea, which I like. I have stuck with FeedDemon, but its lack of support for Firefox and memory appetite, has pushed me to find alternatives. What’s your favorite aggregator?