Friday, June 22, 2007

Thinking Of Changing Your ISP?

If you're thinking of changing your broadband provider or finally upgrading from a dial-up service, then this may be of some interest to you before you take the plunge. I've been broadband enabled for almost two years now and when I decided to make the leap, I did a fair bit of research on availability, prices and the reputation of the ISPs of the time.

As with most things in life, you usually get what you pay for but there are bargains to be had depending on what kind of package you're looking for and some of the bundled broadband and phone deals look very attractive at the moment. Depending on what you want out of your broadband connection, things to take note of when rating a possible contender are…
  • What bandwidth or connection speed is offered?

    What you want to do with the Internet will probably determine how fast you need to doing it at. Heavy downloaders and video browsers will benefit from faster speeds while light surfers and email users will easily get by with lower speeds. The technology is advancing all the time and so are the connection speeds so, while basic ADSL used to offer speeds of "up to 2Mbps", most providers are now offering ADSLMax speeds of "up to 8Mbps" and there are even faster options of up to 24Mbps available.

  • What contention ratios are offered?

    Contention ratio is basically a count of how many other users are sharing your connection to the exchange. 50:1 is common so you could be sharing your "up to 8Mbps" line with up to 50 other surfers at the same time. That's why you might experience slower performance during "peak" times and why ISPs aren't very happy with users that saturate the line with continuous downloads. Some ISPs offer packages with reduced contention ratios so you get a bigger slice of the bandwidth.

  • What's the minimum contract length?

    If you want to able to jump ship to another ISP at a moments notice, then this is a crucial factor. Most ISPs will tie you down to a 12 month or even 18 month contract if they can but there are some that don't and offer one, three or even six month contracts. It usually all depends on what incentives are part of the package as the ISPs need to try and recoup that initial outlay. Of course you can migrate at any time but you could be charged a penalty for leaving before a contract ends.

  • Do they provide virus or spam checking?

    If you don't have (or don't want to have) virus and spam checking software installed on your computer, then whether or not your ISP offers this service may be important to you.

  • How much data can you download a month?

    Most ISPs put a quota on how much data you can download or upload per month. Even those that don't cite "fair usage" as a means of limiting how much traffic your connection will be allowed. Obviously if you're into downloading movies and music or playing online games, then you will need a more meatier package than, for example, my mum.

  • What happens if you exceed your monthly download quota?

    Some ISPs use what they call traffic shaping so they can effectively reduce the speed of downloading certain data packet types at certain times of the day. They can also apply this on a per user basis so, if you exceed your quota, then they can reduce your download speeds of certain packet types or even your entire surfing experience. I once had my downloading reduced to 256Kbps for a wee while but it was Christmas and I went a bit mad. Others may allow you to continue downloading but will charge you extra by the Mb.

  • Can you get a fixed IP address?

    Most standard connections come with a dynamic IP address, which means it can change everytime you connect, but a fixed IP address is required if you want to host your own server or connect to a VPN and it's also useful for accessing your own home network from another site.

  • How much web space, if any, do they provide?

    This is important if you want to develop and run your own web site. On top of that there are several add-on services for web developers like database and CGI scripting additions that could also be useful.

  • What's the bottom line and how much is all of the above going to cost?

    What you can expect to pay will depend on what kind of package you opt for but comparing similar packages should help keep costs down. Some ISPs will charge for setting up your connection but many now offer this for free. Others will charge you for providing connection hardware like an ADSL modem or router but again, some don't. Others offer introductory lower prices for several months so take note of the real price you'll be expected to pay.

At the time I upgraded, I used a site called, which has evolved into, but the market and technology has changed and there are now several other sites worth checking out as well…

Broadband Internet UK

This is designed to make comparing the prices of broadband provider packages and bundles containing different mixes of broadband, phone, TV & mobile connections quick and simple. All you need to do is enter your post code and it'll list the current best deals available to you.

On top of that. the site has guides for beginners, buying broadband, choosing the best deal and switching ISP and also includes a section with ISP reviews.

The Broadband Resource

This site is aimed at bringing you UK broadband availability information. It originally started out providing information on BT exchange upgrade progress and to submit pre-registrations for connectivity for those desperate to get onto the broadband ladder but it now contains much wider information on UK broadband availability.

Availability is still its key thing and it provides an availability checker and UK coverage maps but you can also search out your local exchange and find out a great deal more information on how your broadband is supplied. With this you can easily find out if your local exchange is enabled for ADSL, SDSL, Cable or Wireless and which ISPs are operating on LLU in the exchange.

There's also lots of league tables, statistics, news and FAQs.


Formerly known as, this is one of the best ISP review and comparison sites and it's been around a long time. It has news, guides, FAQs, ISP lists, comparisons and reviews so almost everything you need to choose and ISP is here.

They provide independent advice and details on the services offered by broadband service providers so you can make an informed decision as to who to use as your supplier.

ISPReview UK

This site has been around since 1999 and it has a very good newsfeed and discussion area and a fair number of useful articles on broadband issues. Along with those, there's the ISP related stuff like lists, reviews and complaints


Another older site thta used to be called Net4Nowt when getting free internet access was the thing. However, it's now a more mature site that has changed with the times and lists a great deal of information on ISPs, broadband (and even narrowband) package deals, news, features and FAQs.


A broadband availability checker. Enter your postcode and phone number and it'll return a list what services are available in your area along with a list of the best offers or deals in your area.

Broadband for Scotland

A service from the Scottish Executive, providing information advice of getting broadband in Scotland. It's a bit narrower in scope than some of the sites above but if you live in a broadband starved area in the highlands or islands, then this site does have a good deal of information and news on exchange activation, etc.

It also provides a of of basic information of broadband, security, answers to common questions, how to complain to your ISP and details of initiatives to bring broadband to every community in Scotland.


Another useful site that's been around since 2000. It has lots of information on availability, ISP comparisons and reviews, news, etc.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Data and Photo Recovery

TestDisk & PhotoRec are a useful couple of free, cross-platform data recovery utilities bundled together in the same download.

TestDisk Apple CompatibleLinux CompatibleWindows Compatible - a free data recovery application, primarily designed to help recover lost partitions and/or make non-booting disks bootable again when these symptoms are caused by faulty software, certain types of viruses or human error (such as accidentally deleting your Partition Table). It can…
  • Fix partition table and recover a deleted partition.
  • Recover FAT32 boot sector from its backup.
  • Rebuild FAT12/FAT16/FAT32 boot sector.
  • Fix FAT tables.
  • Rebuild NTFS boot sector.
  • Recover NTFS boot sector from its backup.
  • Fix MFT using MFT mirror.
  • Locate ext2/ext3 Backup SuperBlock.
PhotoRec Apple CompatibleLinux CompatibleWindows Compatible - a free file recovery application, designed to recover lost files including video, documents and archives from Hard Disks and CDRom and also lost pictures (thus, its 'Photo Recovery' name) from digital camera memory.

PhotoRec ignores the filesystem and goes after the underlying data, so it will still work even if your media's filesystem has been severely damaged or re-formatted. For more safety, PhotoRec uses read-only access to handle the drive or memory support you are about to recover lost data from.

Related Posts: Recovering Lost or Corrupt Camera Images

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Few More Useful iPod Utilities

Further to my earlier post on how to access your iPod music directly, here are a few more useful bits of free software for iPod owners…

Pod PlayerPod Player Windows Compatible

Pod Player is a freeware application that allows you to play music from your iPod while it is connected to your PC and with with no requirement for iTunes or any of the restrictions that places on accessing your iPod from different PCs.

You'll then be able to views your songs in a similar way as in iTunes (by artist, genre, album, playlist, etc) and you can also extract songs from it. There are a few little extra features such as iPod Hacks, checking for duplicates etc.

Similar utilities worth checking out are Yamipod, Floola, MediaChest Apple CompatibleLinux CompatibleWindows Compatible and gtkpod Linux Compatible with Floola probably being the best of the bunch and still undergoing continuous development. You might also find it worth keeping an eye on development of Songbird Apple CompatibleLinux CompatibleWindows Compatible, as it can also access your iPod files. It's based on Firefox and is really a web browser, player and digital jukebox all rolled into one and looks very promising.

Pod PlayervPod Windows Compatible

vPod is a program for transferring music to your iPod from Windows. It presents a unified view of all of your music and lets you see what is and what is not already on your iPod.

Similar utilities worth checking out are Ollie's iPod Extractor and Podview Apple Compatible.

Wikipedia has a decent comparison table of iPod managers and there's a review of free iPod managers here as well.

CDex Windows Compatible

CDexCDex is a CD/Ripper music encoder. CDex can extract the data directly (digital) from an Audio CD, which is generally called a CD Ripper or a CDDA utility. The resulting audio file can be a plain WAV file (useful for making compilation audio CDs) or the ripped audio data can be compressed using an audio encoder and it supports loads of these.

The thing most in its favour is the fact that you can install it on your iPod and run it directly from there so you can use your iPod as a portable CD ripping tool. If used in conjunction with one of the iPod managers above, it'll allow you to transfer the ripped tracks into your iPod music database or you could just copy them onto your PC once back at base and then import them into your music player.

Related Posts: Access Your iPod!, Handbrake Lives Again

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

GMail Users Can Now View PowerPoint Files

While it was widely mentioned about a month ago that some GMail users discovered that they had the ability to view PowerPoint attachments without having that application installed, it seems that Google have now enabled this feature for all GMail users.

Now, If someone sends you a PowerPoint presentation, you'll see a "View as slideshow" option beside the normal download links. Sounds like they've got at least part of the rendering side of their own, upcoming online presentation application sorted then, doesn't it?

Safari 3.0 for Mac OS X and Windows

Apple have released a public beta version of Safari 3.0 for both Mac OS X and Windows.

Safari 3.0Touting itself as the fastest web browser on any platform, Apple claims Safari loads pages up to 2 times faster than Internet Explorer 7 and up to 1.6 times faster than Firefox 2 and they also claim it executes JavaScript up to 2.8 times faster than Internet Explorer 7 and up to 1.6 times faster than Firefox 2.

Safari is based on the open-source WebKit rendering engine, also used by the KDE desktop environment for Linux and Unix systems. Safari will also be the application platform for the upcoming iPhone so a Windows version might prove useful for web developers looking to test on iPhone, Mac or Linux platforms without actually having these to hand. Other than that, I can't see any sensible reason why Apple would want to throw such large amounts of developer funding into providing a Windows version of what is essentially a second-rate browser and then trying to get that to penetrate a market dominated by Microsoft. Statistics averaged from several sources put Internet Explorer usage up at over 75% compared to about 3% for all WebKit based browsers so I can't see the logic behind this move.

I gave up using Safari some time ago, when it consistantly failed to display various web sites correctly, and moved on to using Firefox, which has been a solid companion ever since. Safari may well be faster than other browsers but at least they render more pages better than it does, even if it is the only broswer to pass the Web Standards Acid2 Test. It also has problems with lack of support from the growing list of web 2.0 applications that we're seeing popping up all the time so until it gets better at that, then I can't see a Windows version catching on.

Personally, I think Apple would have been better pouring their money into the Gecko engine -based browsers like Firefox, Flock or Camino but, if you fancy having a look at the beta version of Safari 3.0, then it can be downloaded for both Mac OS X 10.4.9 or later and Windows XP/Vista here.

Related Posts: Why Firefox Is My Browser Of Choice!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Mac Browser Updates

Camino logoMacintosh exclusive internet browser application Camino has been updated to version 1.5, which comes with a raft of new features…
  • Now incorporates the built-in Mac OS X spell-checker on every text field.
  • Support for “session saving”, or remembering what pages you were visiting when you quit and automatically loading them the next time you start.
  • An improved pop-up blocker user interface, making it more visible and giving you the option to show the pop-up, whitelist the site, or never get prompted again.
  • The ability to keep Flash animation from loading until you’re ready (Flashblock) as well as the ability to disable all plug-ins.
  • Automatic detection of RSS/Atom feeds in web pages.
  • Tooltips help you keep track of all your tabs when you can’t read their titles.
  • “Single window mode” tames sites that insist on opening new windows by forcing their new windows to open in tabs, keeping window clutter to a minimum.
  • “tab jumpback” - when a site opens a new tab, you can “jump back” to the page you were viewing simply by closing the new tab.

Netscape Navigator
Remember Netscape Navigator, one of the leading browsers back in the nineties? Well, after the disasters that were versions six and seven and a no show for the Mac with version 8, we're going to get a version nine. Netscape used to be my browser of choice back in the days when there was really only a choice between that and Internet Explorer so it would be nice if they brought back something of value to the market.

However, Netscape version nine is based on Firefox 2 and supports themes and extensions for that platform so I don't see it storming the user-base of confirmed Firefox fans but you never know. That also means that extensions developed for Netscape Navigator 9 will also be compatible with Firefox (and other such Mozilla based browsers).

It's compatible with Mac OS X, Linux and Windows (even Vista) and has a large number of new features, which might prove useful to some users.

Related Posts: Which Internet Browser?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

X11-Free OpenOffice for Mac Released

OpenOffice Mac LogoAt long last, have released a first version of OpenOffice that doesn't require Apple's somewhat shaky X11 environment to run.

It's a very early, alpha release and it comes with a list of known issues but it really needs the Mac community to download it and give it a test as it'll help further the development and bring a full release to us sooner.

It requires Mac OS X 10.4 and there are separate installs for PPC and Intel systems.

Get it here.

Related Posts: Microsoft Free Word Processing, OpenOffice Goes Native On Mac OS X

ThinkFree Teams Up With EditGrid

ThinkFree, the free, online alternative to Microsoft Office is to partner with online spreadsheet provider EditGrid. You might think this odd when ThinkFree already has a spreadsheet component available. EditGrid bills itself as an online spreadsheet service with real-time-update and extensive collaboration features and a good Web 2.0 counterpart of Microsoft Excel or OpenOffice Calc.

However, EditGrid will be replacing ThinkFree Quick Edit Calc and EditGrid’s focus on real-time collaboration and innovation is complimentary to ThinkFree’s focus on feature compatibility so ThinkFree get a more powerful spreadsheet application and EditGrid is reaching out to 300,000+ additional users.

Related Posts: Online Office Tools, Publish Your Documents, Spreadsheets and Presentations Online

Flickr Upload Plug-In For Picasa

If you use Google's Picasa to organize and manipulate your digital photographs and have an account on Yahoo's photo storage and sharing site Flickr, then you'll probably wait a very long time before either of those worthies delivers a simple method of uploading images from Picasa to Flickr since Google's Picasa Web Albums is a direct competitor to Flickr.

Picasa2FlickrPicasa2Flickr Button

So, install one little Java applet called Picasa2Flickr and you're now cooking with gas. Picasa2Flickr installs a button into Picasa, allowing you to upload any selected images to a Flickr account. You can assign tags and privacy and even resize images before uploading and you can add those images to an existing or new set on Flickr. It's a Windows only plug-in at the moment but the author is hoping to get it working under Linux.

Google's Picasa is an excellent, free application for organizing and photo retouching digital images and pretty much a must-have for any PC owning digital photographer that doesn't have the cash to shell out for a commercial solution so this is a really welcome addition to have for it.

I use Apple's iPhoto and upload images to Flickr using an old, free version of FlickrExport, which works very well. FlickrExport is an iPhoto plug-in that is now distributed as shareware for current versions but you can still find the old 1.3.4 version out there if you look hard enough.

Related Posts: Google Picasa Web Albums For Macintosh, Low Cost Windows Image and Photo Editing.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Better Flickr Firefox Extension

If you're a fan or user of photo sharing site Flickr and use the Firefox internet browser, then you might like a look at the Better Flickr Firefox extension, created by's Gina Trapani.

It's basically a compilation of work done by several Greasemonkey scripters, which adds a menu of optional extra features to Flickr that allows you to…

  • Add more user links to photo pages.
  • Use a rich-text editor for comments.
  • Display EXIF information on a picture.
  • Have a drop-down, All Sizes menu.
  • Have an "Instant Zoom" button on photo pages.
  • See an image of the camera used to take a picture.
  • Reply directly to another commenter using their linked name or avatar.
Being a Flickr user, I think some of these could be very useful and I really like the idea of a rich-text editor, quicker access to all sizes and more links. It's a fairly early revision so maybe we'll get a few more bits of functionality added over time.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Work Offline With Web Applications

While the current trend to move and host business and productivity applications online is a great idea, it doesn't take into account that you might find yourself on a wireless-free train or in some god-forsaken backwater and temporarily without a connection to the internet.

Well, those very nice people at Google have come up with a solution - Google Gears. Google Gears, which is still in beta development, is an open source browser extension that enables web applications to provide offline functionality using following JavaScript APIs:
  • Store and serve application resources locally.
  • Store data locally in a fully-searchable relational database.
  • Run asynchronous Javascript to improve application responsiveness.
To quote Google's Aaron Boodman and Erik Arvidsson's on the Gears API Blog
There are many ways to approach offline web applications. The Gears team believes in the open web and the simple technologies it is built on, and we didn't want to change that. So Gears is an incremental improvement to the web as it is today. It adds just enough to AJAX to make current web applications work offline.

Gears today covers what we think is the minimal set of primitives required for offline apps. It is still a bit rough and in need of polish, but we are releasing it early because we think the best way to make Gears really useful is to evolve it into an open standard. We are releasing Gears as an open source project and we are working with Adobe, Mozilla and Opera and other industry partners to make sure that Gears is the right solution for everyone. We also want to get early feedback, community involvement, and rapid iterations.

One of the first projects for Google Gears is a new version of the Google Reader but I suspect they'll soon be turning their eyes on their big applications like Docs & Spreadsheets or even GMail.