Thursday, September 21, 2006

Nintendo Wii Out For Christmas

Nintendo have confirmed the 8th of December as the European launch date for their next generation games console - Wii

Nintendo WiiPrices are estimated at £179 or 249 € and it will be bundled with one wireless Wii Remote, one Nunchuk and Wii Sports, a collection of five different Wii Sports games on one disk that anyone can play using simple physical movements.

Accompanying the console launch will be around 20 software titles including Wii Play and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Others are Ubisoft's RED STEEL, EA's Need for Speed: Carbon, Activision's Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam, THQ's Disney/ Pixar's Cars and Sega's Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz.

The Wii sees Nintendo getting up on a par with its competitors, which it never has done in the past. The console can connect to the internet and has 802.11b/g wireless networking, which will also allow it to connect to a Nintendo DS. It uses Bluetooth to connect up to four remote controllers

Unlike Sony or Microsoft, Nintendo haven't gone down the DVD route for games media, opting instead for a proprietary 12cm optical disc while still being compatible with the older 8cm Nintendo GameCube discs. That means that they don't have the capability of playing DVD movies, a deliberate move on Nintendo's part but, in my opinion, a mistake that could cost them dearly in sales once Sony and Microsoft get competative on pricing.

It's expected that you'll be able to buy Nintendo games for the Wii at the estimated retail price of between £34 … 39 (49 … 59 €). Additional controllers will also be available from launch at the estimated retail prices of: Wii Remote - £29 (39 €), Nunchuk - £14 (19 €) and the Classic Controller - £14 (19 €).

With Sony's Playstation 3 European launch delayed until March next year, these might shift very well indeed over the Christmas break.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

More On Microsoft's Zune Player

Zune LogoMicrosoft has now announced a U.S. launch window for the Zune, its potential iPod killer, of the "holiday buying season", which roughly translates to the run up to Thanksgiving Day on the 23rd of November.

Microsoft ZuneI'd already mentioned the spec in an earlier post except now I know it'll be available in black, brown or white. I can't say as brown would be a colour I'd choose for a piece of supposedly leading edge technology. If it proves a miss with buyers, then that colour may be well be more descriptive of the image it conjures up.

Some more information has emerged about the wireless, Zune-to-Zune sharing capabilities and it now looks like, while users can connect to each other and share tracks, playlists or pictures, anything commercial is restricted to being playable only for up to three times over three days. Once that time limit has expired, the track can be flagged for later purchase via the Zune Marketplace, which will sell tracks individually and offer a Zune Pass, allowing unlimited downloads for a flat subscription charge.

Microsoft have also announced that it will be offering three accessory packs to accompany the Zune…

  • The Car Pack comes with everything you need to hit the road with your Zune device - the FM tuner with Autoseek and the Car Charger.
  • The Travel Pack includes the Dual Connect Remote, Premium Earphones, Gear Bag, Sync Cable and AC Adapter - everything you need to travel with your Zune device in style.
  • The Home A/V Pack includes everything you need to amplify your Zune experience. This set of five products integrates Zune with your big-screen TV and the best speakers in your house. And the wireless remote puts you in control from virtually anywhere in the room. It consists of the AC Adapter, AV Output Cable, Dock, Sync Cable and Wireless Remote.
Obviously the Zune Marketplace will be Microsoft's online music store, designed to relieve you of your hard-earned cash like all the rest of them. However the player will also be able to import music existing music, pictures and videos from iTunes and Windows Media Player in a variety of formats, including your existing playlists and song ratings, with the obvious limitations imposed by any digital rights licenses.

Will it kill Apple's dominance in the media player business? I doubt it! If the press images are anything to go by, the iPod is still the best looking player in the race and Apple's recent upgrade to their iPod range proves that they're not just sitting back and raking in the loot.
No prices from Microsoft as yet though so it may all be down to where they pitch in at!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Apple Upgrades The iPod Range

Apple have this week introduced the new range of iPods and, along with a new version of iTunes offering the ability to purchase and download movies direct from the iTunes Store, the entertainment experience moves up yet another step.

iPod range
We didn't get the larger screen, touch sensitive, FM radio and wireless network capable iPod that was much rumoured before the announcement so I'm a bit disappointed as I'd quite fanced that idea. Anyway, what we did get was…

iPod ShuffleiPod shuffle

The new 1GB iPod shuffle now resembles a finger clip. It's only 1.62 inches in size, weighs about half and ounce, has a 12 hour battery life and can hold about 240 tracks. It's so small, you can clip it to your pocket or even your collar.

iPod nano

iPod nanoThe iPod nano gets a colour makeover. It now comes in five colours, very like the iPod mini but it's also thinner. Other improvements are a 40% brighter display and up to 24 hours battery life.

It comes in three capacity models - 2GB, 4GB and 8GB. However, the 2GB mode only comes in silver and the 8GB model only comes in black, while the 4GB model comes in silver, green, pink and blue.


5th Generation iPodThe flagship of the range is still labelled as the 5th Generation iPod but it comes with some major improvements…

As before, there are two models but hard drive capacities are now 30GB and 80Gb. Like the nano, it's got a brighter display but this time it's 60% brighter and battery life is now up to 20 hours (on the 80GB model).

The big extra feature they've added is the ability to play games and you can download a range of these from the iTunes Music Store - Bejeweled, Texas Hold ’Em, Vortex, Mahjong, Mini Golf, PAC-MAN, Tetris, and Zuma. No doubt there'll be more along real soon.

There are a few more handy items, for example. Spin the Click Wheel to choose a four-digit combination and protect your iPod from prying eyes or use the built-in Stopwatch to log your best times while you're jogging.

Last, but not least, with up to 20,000 songs, a brand-new, built-in search function lets you use the Click Wheel to type out the name of the song, artist, album, audiobook, or podcast you’re looking for.

Given the specification listed for the upcoming Microsoft Zune, I think I'll wait a bit yet before splashing out on an iPod as there may be more to come from Apple before that baby hits the streets.

Flickr Gets Geotagging

Online photo management and sharing site Flickr has just added the ability to GeoTag images. This is basically a means of identifying where a picture was taken by encoding the latitude and longitude in the image EXIF data. It was only a matter of time before Yahoo! added this into Flickr as arch rivals, Google have it running on the new version of Picasa and Picasa Web Albums.

Geotagged Images in Flickr!It's a very easy process. You just select one or more images from your collection and drag and drop them onto a location on the map provided from Yahoo! Maps. The only negative point is that Yahoo! Maps is not anywhere near as detailed as Google Maps or Windows Live Local, especially outside the U.S. Maybe this is the kind of exposure to public use that'll stimulate Yahoo! to improve it.

Still I've got over 700 images to tag, if I can find the time or inclination, so I'll be pretty well tagged out by the time I'm finished.

NB: While GeoTagging allows for altitude to be included in the data, it isn't part of the deal here and it would be pretty difficult to do on a two-dimensional map. If you really want to have that functionality, then go get yourself a GPS tracker or a GPS enabled camera.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Microsoft Free Word Processing

First, let's clarify the title of the post. This is not about free word processing software from Microsoft but rather it's about word processing software that doesn't involve you giving Microsoft, or anyone else, any of your hard-earned cash.

While Microsoft Word is the de facto industry standard in word processing and has an almost exclusive foothold in the business market, it costs a fair chunk of money to own and keep up to date. There's no denying that it's an excellent piece of software, I use it at work almost every day, but it's not the only option available. There are other commercial offerings out there and the best known, WordPerfect, now owned by Corel is still on the go as part of their Wordpefect Office suite. But we don't want to give anyone money and besides, we might not be running Windows so what are our options?

I've already mention Writely, Google's online word processor in an earlier post but there are some good, installable packages available…

OpenOfficeOpenOffice Apple CompatibleLinux CompatibleWindows Compatible

OpenOffice is probably the best known, free office productivity suite. It runs on all major operating systems and comes in a vast selection of languages. Designed as a suite of integrated, open-source applications, it consists of a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation tool, drawing tool, equation editor and database management system.

It can read and write Microsoft Office Word, Excel and PowerPoint formats and output as PDF. The recently released version 2, is receiving excellent reviews. The Mac OS X implementation requires Apple's X11 environment but a native version is due very soon.

KOfficeKOffice Linux Compatible

KOffice is another open-source, integrated ofice suite and an excellent option for Linux users. If comprises applications for word processing, spreadsheet calculation, presenting, drawing, painting and image editing, diagramming and flowcharting, project management, chart drawing, formula editing and database management and reporting.

It can import and export a good range of other application formats, including Microsoft Office, and can print to PDF.

The database management too, Kexi, is being marketed as a competitor to Microsoft Access, Filemaker Pro and Oracle Forms and versions are planned for Mac OS X and Windows.

AbiWordAbiWord Apple CompatibleLinux CompatibleWindows Compatible

AbiWord is a free word processor available in many languages and most major operating systems. It's able to read and write all industry standard document types, such as OpenOffice, Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, Rich Text Format, HTML and many more. Like most word processors, it comes with a range of document layout facilities like tables, bullets, lists, images, footnotes, endnotes and styles.

It supports right-to-left, left-to-right, and mixed-mode text, which means that it supports languages like Hebrew and Arabic as well as standard Western scripts and also has spell checking dictionaries for over 30 languages. It's extendable via plug-ins and has mail-merge and command macro functionality.

NeoOffice NeoOffice Apple Compatible

NeoOffice is a port of OpenOffice aimed at Macintosh users that don't want to have to rely on Apple's X11 environment. It's a native Mac OS X application suite with word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and drawing programs.

Like most of the other packages mentioned, it supports multiple languuges and can import, edit, and exchange files with other popular office programs such as Microsoft Office. It's also integrated with the Finder and Mail applications and, unlike OpenOffice, it uses Mac OS X fonts and native clipboard and drag-and-drop functionality so you can cut, copy and paste between other Mac OS X applications.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Draw And Share Diagrams Online

Anyone that needs to draw descriptive diagrams such as network designs, company structures, flowcharts, floor plans, etc. usually has to use Microsoft Visio. It's the industry standard application for the task but it is expensive and only runs under Windows so Macintosh and Linux users have to go down other avenues and, while there are solutions out there for those platforms, they are pretty proprietary. For example Kivio on Linux or ConceptDraw on Mac OS X. However, there is another option and it's free! Online  Service is an online diagramming tool that works entirely in your web browser so there's nothing to install. It comes with symbol libraries with basic shapes, flowchart symbols, network components, UML symbols, user interface objects and floorplan shapes and all are customizable with placement, rotation, size and colour, etc. On top of that you can place text objects to annotate the drawing and you have control over font, colour, size, etc. of any text object on the drawing.

Gliffy Sample
Where it scores highly is its ability to allow you to publish your design online or you can even share a design and collaborate with others on it. Another plus point is the fact that you can rollback through saved revisions of your design if required.

At the moment it's free and that should continue, although it may be supported by ads in future, but they do plan to offer a premium version for business users.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Free Online Media File Converter

I came across a free audio file conversion utility the other day and, given that it was available in both Windows and Mac versions, I thought I'd share it with a wider audience. Then I thought I'd have a sniff around the net for something similar as an online service, no apps required, and I hit this site…

Media-Convert Online  Service - This is a free service that will convert any file up to 50Mb in size, The range of file types it will handle is pretty impressive - documents, text files, movies, sounds, images (including vector types), ringtones (mono and polyphonic) and even compressed archives.

I could list all the convertion possibilites but that's a load of filetype tables. For example - you could convert all Open Office filetypes to their corresponding Microsoft Office equivalents, convert files into universal formats like Adobe PDF, PS (PostScript) or CSV to print, fax or simply read them, insert a PDF into your web site by converting it into an SWF Flash file, export a Microsoft Access database to an Excel table, capture a website as an image, encode a text file with UTF-8 codes or with one of 900 other charsets or even learn morse code with the text to morse converter.

It also offers some extra editing possibilites for sound and image files. For example you can resize an image and, if you're outputting GIF, JPEG or PNG, then you can choose the compression level and number of colours. As for sound files, you can crop a sound file by giving a start and end time for the conversion. Depending on the sound format, you may also change other options like method, quality, bitrate, encoding, sample rate, channels, noise filter, bits per sample, etc.

I almost forgot! Here's the free audio file converter I mentioned at the start…

Switch Sound File Conversion Apple CompatibleWindows Compatible - This is a free audio file format converter for Mac OS X and Windows. It can convert a variety of audio file formats such as wav, mp3, ogg, flac, aac, wma, au, aiff, ogg, msv, dvf, vox, atrac, gsm, dss, plus more.

Basically, Switch on a Windows computer can open most other formats which can be decoded by Windows Media Player and Switch on a Mac computer can open most other formats which can be decoded by QuickTime. It can save files in wav, mp3, au, aif/aiff, gsm, vox, raw, ogg, flac, aac, m4a and .mov (Mac only).

Now you can always use Apple iTunes to do a bit of audio file conversion but, as well as converting a large range of formats, Switch can batch convert up to 32,000 files at a time.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Google Book Search Offers Free, Dowloadable Books

Google Book Search is now offering the ability to download PDF versions of out-of-copyright and public domain books.

This is done in association with a range of partner organisations such as the New York Public Library, Oxford University, Harvard University, Stanford university, the University of Michegan and the University of California.

As a result of the Google Books Library Project, the aim of which is to make it easier for people to find relevant books, Google Book Search allows you to search the full text of books. If if finds a book whose content contains a match for your search terms, it'll link to it in your search results. Click on a book title and you'll see, like a card catalog entry, some basic information about the book. You may also see a few snippets of text from the book showing your search term in context. If the publisher or author has given Google permission, then you'll see a few full pages from the book and if the book is out of copyright, you'll be able to page through the entire book and download it in PDF format. Of course, always open to opportunity, you'll also see links that lead directly to online bookstores where you can buy the book.

Obviously, the range of free titles on offer isn't going to include any current bestsellers but it does contain a huge number of classics and older volumes and as Google finds more willing partners, the numbers should increase. You can read the full text (sorry) on the official Google Blog.

CrossOver Mac Goes Beta

CodeWeavers have released a free, time-limited beta version of CrossOver Mac for public testing. CrossOver Mac is yet another way to run Windows applications on Intel based Macintosh systems but it doesn't follow the virtualization formula used by the likes of VMWare and Parallels Desktop. It's based on Wine, which is an Open-Source implementation of the Windows API and provides a means to run Windows executables on top of X and Unix systems.

Microsoft Visio running under CrossOver MacMicrosoft Visio Running Under CrossOver Mac

That means that you don't need to buy and install a copy of Windows, with all of its inherent faults and vulnerabilities. However, CrossOver Mac requires the Quartz Windows Manager, which is part of Apple's X11 implementation. However, you don't need all of that somewhat unstable package installed and CrossOver will copy the required files from your Mac OS X install disc if required.

Be aware though, that CodeWeavers are shipping this as an "early" test release so there will almost certainly be bugs and the final version may well undergo substantial changes. If that hasn't dampened your enthusiasm any, then you can download the 30MB, 60-day beta here. They're also a offering a substantial discount for pre-orders.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Google Apps For Your Domain

Google have launched a custom branded, integrated interface for some of its online productivity applications - Gmail, Google Talk, Google Calendar and Google Page Creator. It's primarily targeted at small business that don't have the resources to deploy and maintain stand-alone software or host server hardware and it could also easily be used by families, clubs, community groups and schools.

Access to the applications is controlled by a web-based control panel through which an administrator can manage user accounts, aliases, distribution lists and services. The only requirement is that you need a unique Intenet domain to qualify but that's hardly a restriction these days given that you can get one for under £3 a year.

The service is currently a free beta and interested organisations or groups can apply at Google Apps for Your Domain. However, it's unlikely to remain as one of Google's free offerings once it comes out of beta testing but organizations accepted during the beta period are eligible for free service for their approved beta users even beyond the end of the beta period so it might be worth getting your name down while you can.

If they add Writely and Google Spreadsheets into the suite, it'll be a pretty well muscled package of applications. Of course Microsoft, always guaranteed to copy the real innovators, have their own online office offering in beta as well, Office Live, but more about that later.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Microsoft Zune Details

Some details about Microsoft's impending "Zune" media player have emerged.

Apparently it'll be being manufactured by Toshiba, who have filed it with the US Federal Communications Commision, and it will have…

  • a high quality FM tuner with RDBS
  • a 3 inch TFT LCD screen
  • a 30GB hard disk drive
  • 802.11b/g wireless networking
  • USB 2.0
  • short range, Zune to Zune networking that also allows sharing music, photos, playlists, etc. with up to four other Zune players.
…and all this supposedly in time for Christmas.

The FCC filing can be found here and it contains photos of what the device might look like.

OpenOffice Goes Native On Mac OS X

OpenOfficeA native version of OpenOffice for Mac OS X will be unveiled at Apple Expo Paris later this month.

Until now the open source business software suite has required Apple's X11 environment, which enables Unix applications to run within the Apple OS but is well known to be unreliable. X11 no longers works at all on my system and cannot be re-installed without a complete rebuild of the machine.

No final release date has yet been announced but futher information can be found on one of the developer's blogs - EribB's Place

NeoOfficeIf you can't wait that long for a native Mac OS X, open-source office suite, then have a look at NeoOffice. It's based on the OpenOffice suite and includes word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and drawing programs.

Version 2 is in Beta testing and has also dropped the requirement for Apple's X11 environment.