Monday, December 25, 2006

More Online File Conversion Services

Having featured some free media and file conversion tools and services in a few earlier posts…

…this is a round up of a few more that I've come across lately…

Zamzar Online  Service

A free file convertion service that will handle files up to 100Mb in size. It can convert a fairly large range of document, image, music and video formats.

All you do is pick the files you want converted, select a format to convert them to, enter your email address and hit the Convert button. Within a few minutes you'll receive an email containing a download link for your converted file(s). You can convert up to five files at a time and Zamzar will hold the converted files for 24 hours before deleting them.

I tried it out with a 4.8Mb PDF and it converted it to an MS Word .doc file very quickly. Okay, it wasn't exactly spot on with the page layout but all the elements were there and I could edit them all easily. I also converted a Flash movie (FLV) to a QuickTime MOV file and it did it perfectly.

ConceptDraw Visio File Converter Online  Service

This is a free web service that is available to anyone who uses diagramming software and has a requirement to open Microsoft Visio (VSD) documents. This service was been created because Visio users often don't save their drawing into Visio XML (VDX) file format, which is more portable. They typically send files as VSD documents, often making it difficult to read them by other diagramming software packages such as ConceptDraw, which is quite popular with Macintosh users as Visio isn't available to them.

Xconv Online  Service

Converts a small range of audio, video, MS Office, image and text file formats. Not an all-encompassing service but there are a few useful converters in there. For example, you can convert AVI or WMV files to an animated GIF.

A maximum file size of only eight megabytes makes it a bit limited though.

Vixy FLV Converter Online  Service

This one can convert Flash movies (FLV), like those you'll find embedded on video sites like Youtube, to another MPEG4 format - AVI (DIVX + MP3), MOV (MPEG4 + MP3), MP4 (MPEG4 + AAC), 3GP (MPEG4 + AAC) and MP3.

All you do is submit the URL of the web page with the embedded movie and it'll convert it for you and then offer you a link to download the converted file.

iConv Online  Service

A mixed bunch this one. There's a collection of various converters for text file end-of-line characters (Unix2DOS, DOS2Unix, Mac2Unix), PDF text and info extractors and some data file format converters (.xls to CSV, fixed record length to delimited and vice versa and CSV to delimited).

So, to sum up, I'd definitely recommend Zamzar and Media-Convert for general file conversion services. The others listed are more niche or specialist focused but could be useful if the need arose.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Free PDF Creation

PDF logoPDF or Portable Document Format is the recognized industry standard file format for distributing or sharing documents of almost any kind across mixed operating systems. It's actually an open standard format and you'd think it'd be easy to get hold of PDF creation utilities without it costing an arm and leg, but it isn't. Well, actually Apple built PDF output facilities into Mac OS X so it comes as standard on a Macintosh but if you're a Windows or Linux user, then it's not as straightforward.

Microsoft had initially wanted to include PDF creation into Windows Vista but withdrew it after a complaint from Adobe, who make a great deal of money selling Acrobat. Owners of Microsoft Office 2007 can download a Save as PDF add-in but everyone else has to find an alternate solution.

There are quite a few free or low cost utilities that'll install a virtual PDF printer out there but they mostly rely on Postscript to PDF converters like Ghostscript to do the job and these are pretty large installs. Still, if you want an installed solution that lets you output to PDF from any Windows application, then here's a a few free ones to check out…
Online productivity applications like Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Zoho, ThinkFree and gOffice and some of the bigger free office suites like OpenOffice and KOffice come with PDF output capabilites too so I'm not sure why Adobe jumped on Microsoft at this stage of the game.

Linux users might want to check out CUPS-PDF, It installs a GPL virtual printer and, although a bit on the basic side, it provides basic PDF output.

On top of these there are a few free, online PDF convertion services…
  • PDF Online - converts MS Word, MS PowerPoint, MS Publisher, MS Excel, HTML, Text, JPG, GIF, TIFF, BMP, PNG, EMF and WMF files.
  • ExpressPDF - converts MS Word, MS Excel and HTML files.
  • PDF Converter - converts 58 file formats, including MS Office, MS Works, HTML, Lotus 123, JPG, GIF, TIFF, BMP, PNG, EMF, WMF, SVG, Photoshop, AutoCAD and many more. There are some limitations ot the free service like a 30 minute delay between convertions and you can only convert up to seven files a month but it handles many file formats and can even reverse convert from PDF to MS Word or MS Excel.
  • Document Converter eXPress - converts an enormous range of file formats to PDF, PostScript, EPS, BMP, JPEG, TIFF, PCX, PNG and GIF. However, it only converts files up to 1Mb in size.
  • Another useful site that I've mentioned before is Media-Convert, a free service to convert web pages or files up to 50Mb in size. It can handle a vast range of formats and PDF is listed in both input and output so you can even reverse convert from PDF back to lots of other formats.
As you can see from the lists above, if your PDF needs are fairly basic, then there's no need to buy Microsoft Office 2007 or Adobe Acrobat.

PS Adobe Acrobat Reader 8.0 is now available.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Easy GPS Tracking

If you've got GPS capabilities on your phone or PDA, then you might be interested in having a look at 3dTracking.

It's a novel (and free) way to use the Internet to either monitor the movements of a GPS receiver or to display a previous route that's been travelled. So, depending on where you put the receiver, you can follow the progress of a moving vehicle or person and watch the points appear on the map as the receiver moves. Alternatively you can view a previously recorded path that a vehicle or person moved along.

You'll need a GPS receiver, either integral or connected to a PDA or phone capable of running the application and an internet connection. The data can be transmitted live to the servers via any means available to the device so if it has GPRS, 3G, etc., then you'll get the data live but you could also wait until it syncs with your computer.

Once the data is on the server, you can monitor the route via Google Earth or Google Maps. Just select your starting date and time, as well as your end date and time, and the system will show you exactly where you travelled and your speeds along the way.

Currently the software only runs on devices running Windows Pocket PC or Windows Mobile 5.0, and there's a Java version for mobile phones running on Java, Symbian or Microsoft Smartphone operating systems.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Online Office Tools

Online productivity tools for such things as word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, project management and graphics are now getting to the stage where they are getting really useable. If you've got a broadband connection and only need basic features in these categories, then these are fast becoming a serious alternative to the more traditional installed applications.

On top of that, there are some real benefits in using online productivity tools…
  • Files are stored online so they don't take up any space on your hard drive.
  • Files can be accessed via any system capable of running a web browser and connected to the internet.
  • Documents can be shared with others or published online.
  • You can allow others to collaborate in your projects.

This is probably the highest profile online word processor and spreadsheet application suite at the moment, even if it is still in beta. The word processor was inherited when they took over Writely, the spreadsheet came from their own Google Labs and I've just read that they'll be taking over iRows, another online spreadsheet, in January next year. Here's what you can do with the Google offering…
  • Upload Word documents, OpenOffice, RTF, HTML or text (or create documents from scratch).
  • Use a simple WYSIWYG editor to format your documents, spell-check them, etc.
  • Invite others (by e-mail address) to edit or view your documents and spreadsheets .
  • Google Docs & SpreadsheetsEdit documents online with whomever you choose.
  • View your documents' revision history and roll back to any version.
  • Publish documents and spreadsheets online as Web pages or post documents to your blog.
  • Download documents to your desktop as Word, OpenOffice, RTF, PDF, HTML or zip.
  • Import and export of .xls, .csv, and .ods formatted data (and export functionality for .pdf and .html).
  • Use formatting and formula editing in spreadsheets so you can calculate results and make your data look the way you want it.
  • Chat in real time with others who are editing your spreadsheet.
Of course, Google isn't the only option and the following are all free as well…

This is a fantastic set of free, open-source, online office suite and productivity tools.
  • Zoho Writer - Online word processor with collaboration features.
  • Zoho Sheet - Online alternative to traditional spreadsheet applications with powerful features like charting, collaboration & more.
  • Zoho Show - Online presentation tool to create, edit, publish, and show presentations.
  • Zoho Projects - Project management software to create, manage & collaborate online.
  • Zoho Creator - Online database applications manager.
  • Zoho SheetZoho Planner - Online organizer to maintain your todo’s, reminders, notes, attachments etc.
  • Zoho Chat - Unique and intuitive way to make group decisions faster.
They also have a few extra free utilities such as web site monitoring, polls and candidate evaluation. On top of that there are plug-ins to allow you to view Office files available online directly and you can even edit documents online and offline with a plug-in for Microsoft Office.

thinkfreeAnother online office suite that gives you 1Gb of storage free and allows you to create Microsoft Office compatible word processing, spreadsheet and presentation files or edit existing documents. Basically…
  • Create, view, and edit Microsoft Office compatible files over the web.
  • Collaborate using group editing and file sharing. Share folders where others can post files for you to review and you can allow them to read or edit these too.
  • Publish documents to their Doc Exchange, your web pages, blogs, bulletin boards or Internet applications.
  • Tracks previous versions of a document and roll back through past versions to see how the file has been modified over time.

BasecampAn award-winning web applications suite with project collaboration, group chat, information management, collaborative writing and shareable to-do lists. It's aimed more at business users and for them there are commercial rates for more functionality but it's free for personal use.
  • Basecamp - a project management tool designed entirely around the concept of open, centralized two-way communication using simple tools such as message boards, to-do lists, painless file sharing, and flexible scheduling.

  • Campfire - a web-based group chat tool that lets you set up password-protected chat rooms in just seconds. Invite a client, colleague, or vendor to chat, collaborate, and make decisions. Set up a room on your intranet for internal communications.

  • Backpack - an organization tool with to-dos, notes and a calendar.

  • Writeboard - create shareable, web-based text documents that let you save every edit and roll back to any version and even compare different versions.

  • Ta-da List - keep track of all the little things you need to get done and then share them with anyone you like.
Obviously some of the above tools like the to-do list, group chat and writeboard are incorporated into some of the more complex ones like Basecamp and Backpack but if all you need is the simple stuff then it's nice to see them unbundled like this.

Ajax 13

These are a collection of online applications that work through the Firefox browser but they don't offer you any online storage or collaboration features.
  • Ajax WriteajaxWrite - a web-based word processor designed to look like Microsoft Word that can read and write Microsoft Word and other standard document formats.

  • ajaxSketch - a web-based drawing tool designed to look just like Illustrator or Inkscape that provides a familiar environment for diagramming, creating flow charts, free hand drawing and more. You can perform functions such as resize, rotate, change background or pen colors, and alter opacity.

    It and uses the SVG format natively, which is an illustration format that's both powerful and open — complex gradients, compound shapes, and dynamic content are all managed easily in ajaxSketch. Since SVG is an open standard, any files made with ajaxSketch can be brought directly into Microsoft Visio, Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, Macromedia Freehand, and other illustration programs.

  • ajaxPresents - a web-based presentation editor that lets you read, edit and save Microsoft PowerPoint files (.ppt) as well as Open Standard Presentation files (.odp).

    Also on offer is a facility to share your presentation with others. In addition to viewing your presentation, your visitors will be able to submit comments, edit the presentation and save a copy of the file on their local machine.

  • AjaxXLSajaxXLS - a web-based spreadsheet viewer designed to look like Microsoft Excel that allows you to easily open any .xls file within your Firefox browser. Compatibility with Microsoft Excel and OpenOffice allows ajaxXLS to preserve all your common cell formatting categories such as text styles, decimals, currencies, dates, and times as well as formulas, backgrounds and borders from the original documents.

    Currently this is still only capable of viewing XLS files and the editor version is still in development.
Another site worth considering, but not free, is gOFFICE. It's an office suite with word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and desktop publishing facilities. It used to be free but now costs just $0.99/month. Apparently, they were hoping to be picked up by Yahoo! but that fell through, hence the need to pay for themselves via subscriptions and ads.

It seems heavily weighted towards the publishing side as output is either high-quality PDF or HTML so if your needs lean in that direction it may well be worth considering for such a small outlay.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Which Earth?

Now that there are several options for viewing online global map data, which one is best? Well, I'm not going to answer that at the moment as it really depends on what you want out of the service as some are better at some things than others.

So, what's available? Well, the main players for online aerial data maps are Microsoft Virtual Earth and Google Maps but there are others such as Yahoo! Maps and Ask Maps & Directions. These are definitely the big four in the field at the moment with probably Virtual Earth leading by a nose.

If aerial data is what you're after then Flash Earth is well worth visiting as it allows you to view maps from Google Maps, Virtual Earth, Yahoo! Maps, and a few others and you can switch between those providers at the click of a button. This is great for comparing the services as each has its strengths and weaknesses and sometimes you'll find one has better map data for a particular location.

Flash Earth
Flash Earth also uses a consistent interface for all provider maps so you don't have to change how you use it. e.g. you move the map by clicking and dragging, pressing the arrow keys or clicking on the compass points. Zooming in and out is done by dragging a slider up or down, using the + or - keys or your mouse scroll wheel and rotating is as easy as dragging the compass edge around.

Still lurking on the sidelines are the more traditional mapping sites like Mulitimap, and Ordnance Survey Get-a-map. These are all fine for street maps in built up areas and they all use Ordnance Survey data for more detailed maps, which is invaluable if you're into a bit of hill walking like me. Of course there are loads more, especially if you're after driving directions or specialist weather conditions. Have a look at my map tagged links for loads more map related sites.

Snap Preview Anywhere

I've just added Snap Preview Anywhere to this site. It's a free service from internet search engine that can display a small preview of any site linked to from a page. Just hover the mouse over the link above and you'll see what I mean.

Just thought I'd try it as it looks like a good way to get a quick glimpse of where a link is going before you actually bite the bullet and click on it.

The preview window can be enabled for all external links on a page or you can pick which ones you want previewed (like here) and you can also enable or disable a search box to allow users to search the net using Snap.

Snap bills itself as "The other way to search" and offers an alternative to the more traditional text-in, text-out search engines as it shows a preview image of each found query. For example…

Snap Preview AnywhereThe previews aren't created on the fly but are held from previous search results on Snap's servers so all you get is a small image download. You can open a selected site directly in the preview pane (or in a new window) and they also offer an ActiveX plug-in to allow that to be the normal way to interact with your found sites.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Download Thousands Of eBooks

I came across the Open ebook site while hunting around the net for books on photography and was amazed to find it offered thousands of freely downloadable books in a wide variety of categories.

I'm not sure if it's all above board or not and the site is also a bit slow and clunky (the search didn't work) so the category listing is the best way to browse it. The categories on offer are ASP & ASP.Net, CGI & Perl, PHP, Jsp, Database, WebPage, Design, Server, Office, System, Network, Game, Magazine, Exam, Comic, Development, Communication, Society, Business, MultiMedia and Other. Okay, they're a bit weighted towards the technical side but there are magazines, comics and even some works of fiction in there too.

The files come in PDF or CHM format and Mac users should get hold of Chamonix, which is free, to read the CHM files.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Campaign For Free WiFi

Channel Five's Gadget Show are running a campaign to try and get free WiFi in every major town and city. To quote the site directly…
This week on The Gadget Show, Jason explored a pilot scheme which supplies the city of Norwich with free WiFi internet access for its people.

A great idea, but not enough. We want to see free WiFi in every major town and city in the UK; for business, for tourism, for the future, and for anyone and everyone who relies on the internet.

While it sounds like a great idea for us consumers, I'm not overy optimistic that there wouldn't be some serious opposition to it from some of the major commercial WiFi providers like BT OpenZone or those that premium connections for hotel guests. I can also imagine tax-payers living in rural areas not being too keen on subsidising us "toonies" either.

Still it can't hurt to try so if you want to join in, please sign up to their online campaign here.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Free Anti-Virus Tools

With my Symantec Anti-Virus for Macintosh about to expire and, having never had it catch anything even slightly contagious since it was installed, I decided to have a look around for an alternative and preferably free solution. I mean, why should anyone profit from a computer virus?

While we Mac OS X users might feel a bit lucky by not having been the target of many virus or trojan attacks that's no reason to get too complacent as some day it'll be our turn and besides, we can do our bit to keep infections down by scanning files we pass on to others.

Anyway, that's enough waffle from me so on to the free tools…

Clam AntiVirus Apple CompatibleLinux CompatibleWindows Compatible

First up is the open-source Clam AntiVirus, which is a GPL anti-virus toolkit for UNIX that has also been ported to Windows and for which some nice soul has written a Mac OS X GUI front end. Apple are even shipping it with their Mac OS X 10.4 Server. The Mac OS X version is ClamXav and the Windows port is ClamWin.

Most important with a virus checker is that its database is updated as soon as possible when new threats emerge and being an end-user, collaborative effort, Clam AntiVirus certainly seems to be regularly ahead of the commercial vendors in doing this. Scans and virus updates can be scheduled and it can scan the more common mailbox storage formats

What it lacks on UNIX and Windows is an on-access real-time scanner but the Mac OS X version has a helper application that has the ability to watch specified folders for newly added items and scan them as they arrive or scan newly connected volumes or disks.

Where it doesn't score so many points is in its ease of use, speed and looks but if you're looking for free protection it's well worth considering. I think I'll give it a workout on the Mac and see how it does.

AVG Free Advisor Linux CompatibleWindows Compatible

AVG Anti-Virus Free is an excellent, free anti-virus protection tool developed by GRISOFT for non-commercial home use and I've been using it very happily for some time now on my old Windows 98 system and on my kids Windows XP system. The latest version is also Windows Vista compatible.

It has regular database updates, realtime protection of files and e-mails and scheduled and manual testing. They also a offer a commercial version if you need more detailed control of settings and technical support but for most home users, the free version offers a pretty good level of protection and they do offer good discounts to education, government, charities and churches.

Avast! Home Edition Windows Compatible - another free and well-established anti-virus tool for home and non-commercial users. There is a commercial version available but if all you need is protection for home or school systems, then this looks well worth trying out.

It offers protection for Instant Messaging (chat) and P2P as well as the usual real-time, file-system and e-mail protection and it can scan network and web traffic as well. Another bonus is automatic virus definition updates, which is a feature often left out of free packages.

Comodo Antivirus Windows Compatible - This is a fully free product with no limitations on who can use it. It offers real-time protection, automatic updates, scheduled scans, e-mail scanning and it can scan network and removable drives too.

Comodo also offers free Firewall, Backup, Secure Password Management, Anti-Spam and Anti-Phishing tools.

Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic Linux CompatibleWindows Compatible - Another, free for private use tool that protects against viruses, worms, Trojans and dialers. There's not a lot of information available on this tool but they also have a premium edition for personal systems and solutions for business use so maybe worth a look if the others don't satisfy your needs. They also offer a free unerase tool.

Panda Antivirus for Linux Linux Compatible - a free antivirus tool for Linux servers and desktops. It's designed to be managed from the command line or console.

Free Online Scanners

There are a number of free online virus and trojan scanners available and these can be pretty useful but bear in mind that most of them will be trying to sell you their commercial end-product in order to clean any found infections…

McAfee FreeScan Windows Compatible - based on the award-winning McAfee VirusScan engine, FreeScan searches for viruses, including the latest known "in the wild" viruses, and displays a detailed list of any infected files. Should viruses be found, it provides links to more information and what you can do to clean your system.

Trend Micro HouseCall Linux CompatibleApple CompatibleWindows Compatible - scans for viruses, worms, Trojans, and spyware infections. It requires the installation of a browser plug-in to do the job but it will repair and remove infections.

Panda ActiveScan Windows Compatible - scans, disinfects and eliminates over 110,000 viruses, worms and Trojans from all system devices, hard disks, compressed files and e-mail. It also detects spyware, dialers, hacking tools, jokes and security risks but won't automatically eliminate these for you.

Symantec Security Check Linux CompatibleApple CompatibleWindows Compatible - tests your exposure to a wide range of online threats and then no doubt tells you what you need to fix any found problems. It worked on my Mac and said I was safe, sigh!

eTrust Antivirus Web Scanner Windows Compatible - scans your system for virus infections and, going by the on-screen controls, allows you to cure or delete infected files.

F-Secure Online Scanner Windows Compatible - will scan your PC for infections and disinfect if required.

I've only listed the mainstream anti-virus tools here but there are quite a few more of these online scanning services. If you want to search for more just search for free online virus scan or something similar.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Free Online File Storage

I've been a fan of online storage for many years. The simple benefits are that they provide a means of backing up personal files and also making those files available from anywhere. Some services will allow you to share files or folders with other users so it becomes another way of distributing files that e-mail systems can't cope with. With broadband speeds ever increasing, it makes using these services even faster as well.

NB: I'm not going to cover image hosting services here. Although you could store images in any online storage service, there are some specifically tailored to suit sharing out or publishing image collections and I'll get to them another day.

Here are some of the better known free storage providers…

BT Digital Vault - 2Gb Free

Offers a free, basic service with 2GB of storage. Pay £5 a month for the full package and you'll get 20GB and a Backup Manager application that will automatically backup any new or updated documents on your system. The Backup Manager isn't yet Macintosh compatible but they're working on it. Be aware that, if you’ve subscribed to the free Basic service, your files will be only kept for 90 days from your last visit. - 1Gb Free

Offers 1Gb of storage for free and you can share your files with any other user. Sign up for a premium or pro account and you can also get more space, public and workgroup sharing and blog posting. They're working on PC and Macintosh applications to allow automatic file synchronization. The only negative I can see is that the free service has a file size limit of 10Mb.

XDrive - 5Gb Free

Get 5Gb of space for free that you can share or even publish online. You can also allow others to access and even edit your files. Their Desktop Software for Windows allows your XDrive storage to be mounted as an external drive and schedule automatic backups and there's even an interface to allow access from PDAs. You'll need an AOL or AIM account to get an XDrive space but they're free too.

MediaMax - 25Gbs Free

Offers 25Gbs for free with options to upgrade to a range of paid services with up to 1000Gb of storage. It comes with a pretty good set of tools for uploading, sharing and hosting files, music, photos and movies and you can send e-mail links to facilitate sending large files to others.

While 25Gbs is the largest free offering I could find, there are a few limitations for free accounts. You can only download up to 1Gb/month and you can't download any file larger than 25Mb. Same goes for e-mail links.

myDataBus - 5Gbs Free

Another good looking free storage provider, offering 5Gb for free and the only limitation I could see was a 500Mb limit on file size. All files are virus scanned, it comes with group collaboration tools and you can share music, photos, videos, etc. as well as mail links to large files.

There are a host of others offering lower capacity free storage so here's the best of the rest that I could find…

There are even a couple of services offering unlimited free storage but with some conditions worth taking into account. Here's a couple as an example…

KeepMyFile - Unlimited Free

A completely free service that allows file and image hosting but with some major limitations. Uploaded files have a maximum size of 20Mb each with image formats limited to 2.5Mb. They make no guarantees as to file availability and reserve the right to delete or disable access to any file without notice and if a file does not get accessed over a period of 40 days it will eventually be deleted.

MediaFire - Unlimited Free

Offers unlimited uploads with no file size limitations and unlimited bandwidth restrictions on downloading. However, it is fully ad-supported so be prepared to be bombarded with ads while you're using it. They make no guarantees as to availability and reserve the right to change, suspend or discontinue all or any aspect of the services at any time.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Playlists? Na, Life's Too Short!

I've never been a fan of building playlists for my music player, it's just too time consuming. I'm not a DJ and life's just too short to bother having to sort out what I want to listen to so what I do is either just play an entire album or select a genre or artist and then select the shuffle option. But now, there's another way to do it…

The Filter Apple CompatibleWindows Compatible

The Filter is a free plug-in for iTunes that will create playlists for you. All you need to do is pick a few tracks in iTunes and The Filter will build a playlist to suit the mood and tone of the selected tracks.

The iPod Filler function will also create playlists for specific activities, such as getting to work or going to the gym and it'll refresh those playlists each and every time you sync your player. Creating these mixes is easy, all you need to do is plug in your music player and press the iPod icon in the bottom left hand side of The Filter. This will bring up a window where you can control how you want your mixes built.

iPod FillerWhen you first install it, it cross-references its index of your music collection with other behavioural data it has online. Based on this, it uses a magic algorithm to produce playlists as required. Obviously it will have some trouble with untitled tracks and those with no ID3 tags but those are pretty rare nowadays.

Versions for Mac OS X iTunes and Windows Media Player are due for release in December but you can download the Windows iTunes version now. There's also the possibility of a Winamp version in the future too. They recommend that you have at least 200 tracks in your library to get the best out of the system and you'll also need a broadband connection.

Audiobaba Apple CompatibleWindows Compatible

Again, this one's still in development and Audiobaba is also a free plug-in for iTunes and Media Player. It uses music analysis technology to improve three of the main issues pertaining to your music experience. First, it generates instant, personalized playlists based on your existing music collection. Second, it provides an AutoGJ auto dj function that actually learns about you as you listen to your music. Third, it provides you with relevant, personal online recommendations for other songs based on the song currently playing in your media player.

AudiobabaAlthough other solutions have addressed these issues in the past, they say their Triple Play Analysis™ technology takes into account the underlying acoustic wave pattern of music, what the software has learned about you while observing your listening habits, and various subjective "Human Factors".

It's Windows only at the moment but they're working on a Mac version - no known release date though.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

AppleStore Comes to Glasgow

Glasgow is finally getting its own AppleStore! The company have filed a planning application to renovate 147 Buchanan Street, which housed The Pier furnishings store.

The building itself is 165 years old and sited on a particularly busy corner of the town so it should be an ideal location. Apple’s proposal includes removing the existing mezzanine level, constructing a second floor, installing an elevator and spiral-glass staircase, and renovating the existing basement. The 7,800 square-foto store would include a Genius/iPod bar but no theatre. Exterior work will necessarily be limited to restoration, since the building is protected by a Category A listing. Apple says the work will cost just over £1.1 million, could begin in Feb. 2007 and be completed by July 2007.

See ifoAppleStore for the full story.

Im wondering how Scotsys, Scotland's largest Apple reseller, will welcome the news of this store opening. They've just spent a fair deal on refurbishing their Great Western Road store, which is due to re-open today on the 4th of November as Scotland's first Apple Premium Reseller Store.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Windows Media Player 11 Released

Microsoft have released version 11 of Windows Media Player, which now offers new ways to store and enjoy digital media beyond music. Access all of your video, pictures, and recorded TV on your computer - play it, view it, organize it, sync it to a portable device for viewing on the go, or share with devices around your home, all from one place.

Billed as the "most-used media player in the world", Microsoft claims that with version 11 you can now access music "faster than on any other media player". With the upcoming release of their Zune portable media device, Windows Media Player will also act as the conduit for sharing media files between devices and Microsoft claims support for more than 200 devices through the new software as well as access to hundreds of online music and video services and radio stations.

Windows Media Player 11 also features integration with the MTV URGE music service, which gives it access to over two million tracks and MTV exclusives. URGE also includes hundreds of playlists, radio stations, music blogs, artist profiles, and feature stories and URGE Feeds keep new music flowing straight to your PC and portable music player. Of course it'll connect to lots of other online music stores as well.

In addition to the current format options for ripping your music—Windows Media Audio (WMA), MP3, Windows Media Audio (Variable Bit Rate), and Windows Media Audio (Lossless)—Windows Media Player 11 introduces two new options: Windows Media Audio Pro and WAV (lossless). It also comes with Advanced Audio Fingerprinting, which helps ensure that album art and track information gets added as you import music. And then there's Instant Search, which allows fast access to your digital music collection. Just type in the track, album, artist, or a keyword or even part of a name and results are returned with each keystroke, narrowing down the choices as you type, and providing lightning-fast response time, regardless of the size of your library.

Obviously version 11 has been developed as a means of competing with Apple and to help get their Zune player quickly accepted by the masses and this upgrade looks like a major step forward. I love Apple but with iTunes and iPod they've dominated the downloadable music market with no serious competition for a long time now.

Google Acquires JotSpot

I've just noticed on the Google Blog that they've acquired JotSpot, a company that develops collaborative wiki-based applications. JotSpot's wiki allows you to create rich web-based spreadsheets, calendars, documents and photo galleries. It's as easy as using a word processor and no web programming knowledge is required.

The details about the deal are on the site and are as follows…

Google shares JotSpot's vision for helping people collaborate, share and work together online. JotSpot's team and technology are a strong fit with existing Google products like Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Google Apps for Your Domain and Google Groups.

We believe that joining Google will accelerate our team's vision of offering users the best collaboration platform on the web. Google shares our vision and presents us with the world's best environment for delivering on it.

Both Google and JotSpot are committed to continuing to support customers, and we know our users have invested a lot in JotSpot. Existing customers of the wiki, family site and class reunion site will continue to have uninterrupted access to their accounts and their data will not be affected. In the future, we'll work hard to move as seamlessly as possible to Google's systems so that customers won't be inconvenienced.

Existing users will also be pleased to note that they will no longer be billed for using the service. However, don't all rush to sign up as registrations are currently suspended until the service is integrated into Google's systems.

I'm still on the fence regarding wikis. The idea that I could publish a site and then let others edit that site just doesn't sit well with me but then I'm a control freak when it comes to things I've created.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Inkscape - A Free Vector Graphics Editor

If you need something capable of drawing vector graphics diagrams and can't afford the likes of Adobe Illustrator, Freehand or CorelDraw, then take a look at this open-source solution…

InkscapeInkscape Apple CompatibleLinux CompatibleWindows Compatible - This is a vector graphics editor using the W3C standard Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) file format. Supported SVG features include shapes, paths, text, markers, clones, alpha blending, transforms, gradients, patterns, and grouping. Inkscape also supports Creative Commons meta-data, node editing, layers, complex path operations, bitmap tracing, text-on-path, flowed text, direct XML editing, and more. It imports formats such as JPEG, PNG, TIFF, and others and exports PNG as well as multiple vector-based formats.

Like a lot of other open-source applications, the Mac OS X version requires the X11 windowing system so it won't win any prizes for interface usability but it does work. The developer's main goal was to create a powerful and convenient drawing tool fully compliant with XML, SVG, and CSS standards and it does that pretty well. On top of that, the web site has a pretty good set of documentation, galleries and tools.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Windows Defender Ships

Microsoft have finally shipped a release version of their anti-spyware utility, Windows Defender, their free antispyware solution.

The user interface has been tweaked to be more in line with the upcoming Microsoft Vista and automatic updates for both the software and spyware definitions are issued via Microsoft Update. The warning system has been updated to adapt the alert level depending on the severity of threat and a new engine promises to provide better detection and removal.

Windows Defender is based on the well-established Giant Antispyware, which was acquired by Microsoft back in December 2004. Windows Defender replaces the Microsoft Anti-Spyware, which was an earlier incarnation of the product so, if you are upgrading, then please make sure you install any beta versions first.

While corporates will either have an anti-spyware solution built into their security suite or will use something stronger, if you don't currently have any anti-spyware protection on your home PC, then this is well worth installing. Mind you I still also use the excellent (and also free) Spywareblaster and Spybot Search & Destroy to keep my system free of bother.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

End Of The Road For The Hard Disk Drive?

Given the way the price of flash memory has been dropping lately with capacities increasing, a couple of us in the office were thinking that the logical way forward would be to start using it for more main-stream purposes like backup storage or even active storage.

So, when I spotted the fact that Samsung are planning to release a couple of laptops next year that have no hard drives at all and use NAND flash memory instead, we knew our prediction wasn't so far away at all.

The Samsung laptops will have 32GB of embedded NAND flash-based, memory disks and the benefits of replacing traditional hard disk drives are many indeed and they're ideal for portable systems…
  • Solid state flash memory is less prone to external shocks, being able to withstand double the impact that would clobber a disk drive.
  • Liquid spillage damage shouldn't be a terminal condition and you're much more likely to be able to retrieve data in such cases.
  • Systems will be quieter - no hard drive whirring or clicking ever again.
  • Systems should be lighter as solid state memory weighs less than traditional hard drives.
  • Data access will be faster - the devices Samsung plan to use can read data 300% faster and write data 150% faster than normal hard drives.
  • Flash memory uses less power so we should see increased battery performance.
These systems will be released in Korea next Summer but if they're successful, then I don't think it'll be too long before solid state drives become much more widespread.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Firefox 2.0 Released

Firefox 2.0 Apple CompatibleLinux CompatibleWindows Compatible has finally been released and I've installed it to see what the benefits are.

Tabbed browsing has been improved - new web pages are opened in tabs by default; each tab has its own close button and a button on the right side will always show you a list of all your open tabs. When you have too many tabs open to fit on screen, scroll arrows appear on either side and if you accidentally close a tab, just go to the History menu to bring it back from the list of “Recently Closed Tabs.”

There's loads more enhancements like spell checking, search suggestions, Live Titles, Live Bookmarks, RSS feeds, phishing protection, stronger security, session restore, better accessibility support and an improved interface.

The only downside I can see is that a couple of the extensions I use are incompatible with the new version and have been disabled. This is a pity as one of them adds some seriously useful functionality for my bookmarks so I'm hoping they update it soon as I miss it already.

Given the release last Friday of Microsoft Internet Explorer 7, it was inevitable that Mozilla would pull out all the stops to get their browser update out too so I'm hoping that this release hasn't been rushed and there aren't any major flaws lingering for us to trip over.