Friday, March 30, 2007

Cool Tech: Touchscreen on Steroids

This is just plain cool... a completely new interface without the WIMP. Look forward to seeing this sort of thing show up for game designers , animators and artists. Soon. YouTube - Jeff Han on TED Talks. Seriously, just go watch this now. You'll be impressed.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

VIC is a GIM?

VIC CRM was designed for SFA (Sales Force Automation) and it's billed as a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system.

Around here, though, we also use it as a Personal Information Manager (PIM) except that it's used for an entire group of people. Does that make it a GIM? (Group Information Manager)

Bottom line is, I think, that it is what you want it to be. What do you think?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Novell Releases Linux Videos

Like many companies, Novell has a page devoted to marketing videos. There's the usual collection of boring case studies, but also a few that you might want to check out.

First up, is a series called "Geek my Sled". This is a spoof of "American Chopper" where the O.C. Choppers gang is tasked with building 10 custom laptops. A note about the title: Novell owns the SUSE Linux distribution. Its mascot is a lizard named "Geeko". "SLED" is the SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop. Though the characterizations are spot-on, the production is pretty cheaply done (with the possible exception of the laptop Paul, Sr. smashes because the boys installed Windows on it.) I would have like for them to have showcased the product a little better: the best (and very understated) display of SLED comes when Paul, Sr. flips between virtual desktops on his desktop computer. Linux clearly does what Vista doesn't.

Next, "Samurai Gecko", in which Geeko trains to be Novell certified. The concept of the ads here are weak, but they're worth watching for the training montages featuring homages to Rocky, Star Wars, and The Karate Kid.

Best of the bunch, IMHO, are the spoofs of the Apple "I'm a PC / I'm a Mac" ads featuring a newcomer: Linux. In these, the PC is the usual stodgy dweeb and the Mac is the same human hamper we're used to; but Linux is portrayed as a stylish, attractive young woman. The casting gets the message across: Linux turns heads. You'd rather be with Linux. And Linux gets along great with others. For creativity I give them low scores (after all, it doesn't take much to expand somebody else's idea), but as spoofs I rate them highly, particularly ad #2.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Silverbrook's new printers. Wow.

Silverbrook's new inkjets are blazing fast. There's a video on the Texyt site that's unbelievable.

OK, so it's not entirely unbelievable when you realize that they're using a print head that spans the entire width of the page. It's similar to the technique used for the ultra high speed "greenbar" printers that we used in the USAF back in the 80s. As print quality has risen, print speeds have dropped dramatically and we've lived with it so long we've forgotten what fast really is! Here's a video of the new Silverbrook printer to refresh your memory:

Also, it looks like these printers revive the concept of continuous feed paper. I miss the ability to print banners. Taping together a ream of A4 just isn't the same.

Best of all, it looks like they're pricing the A4 printer at around $300. Wow. Now that's unbelievable.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

FoxPro is dead. Long live FoxPro!

eWeek is reporting that the current version of FoxPro, 9, will be the last. Normally this would be terrible news except for this: Microsoft has decided to move FoxPro to CodePlex. Well, "core portions" of it, anyway. And this is great news, assuming that it's the language itself that will be released.

Now, you may have read elsewhere that FoxPro is being Open Sourced. That's not entirely true. Oh, c'mon, let's face it, that's not true at all. This won't be an OSI-approved license; rather, it will be under some Microsoft Shared Source license. Nevertheless, this is more open than before, and may bode a better product than under Microsoft.

I've long maintained that FoxPro is the best product Microsoft ever bought. I've used it since it was FoxBase (and came on a single 1.2MB floppy, with room to spare!). It is the premier XBase language, and I'm sorry, but server software such as mySQL doesn't fit the same niche. I've been hoping for an open alternative to FoxPro for 10 years. Ever since Microsoft bought it in the mid-1990s they've been threatening to kill it, and have been thwarted by the aggressive and loyal user and developer community. In my humble opinion, if there were a competent brain in all of Redmond they'd kill Microsoft Access instead. But they haven't, and you can draw your own conclusions from that. As it is, I'm gratified that they recognized that VFP's value as a tool would have been decimated had they attempted to draw it into the .NET fold with the rest of their languages. As a result it's the only Visual Studio offering that's not .NET based.

Speaking of VFP and CodePlex, Microsoft has for some time hosted a group of projects, formerly called SednaX and now known as VFPX, to provide Open Source components for Visual FoxPro 9. You'll find it here.

Retiring to CodePlex, there's a good chance that VFP will survive its own death. My immediate concern on that front is the phrase "core portions". Does that or does that not include the IDE and GUI builders, or simply the compiler? It's tough to say with Microsoft. VFP's GUI is no good to anybody else, so it's hard to see why they'd exclude it. On the other hand, we're talking about Microsoft. They may offer crumbs. Let's wait and see.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Products you should consider.

I'm doing a little catch-up today. Trying to get some backlogged development done, as well as put a little update here. Today I've got several products that I've been evaluating, and which belong on anybody's short list of products to consider.

Lotus Notes 8
I've said over and over again how there is nothing whatsoever on the market that compares to Notes, and IBM has really taken this to a new level. If you're a Notes user on release 6.x or prior, don't bother with release 7. Hannover has a radically improved user interface that is second to none (hear that, Outlook users?). In addition to making standard features out of enhancements that folks like me have been adding for years, Hannover adds built-in Word Processing, Spreadsheet, and Presentation capabilities. The document format is ODF, so it's completely compatible with every major office application on the planet, save one. This is in addition to the document management, database, workgroup and email capabilities that already made it superior to the combination of Outlook, Access and OneNote . This is no Microsoft Office wannabe with a bunch of disparate applications. Your document stores can now include any sort of productivity documents you like.

This Computerworld article pretty much tells the story, but IBM's put together this slideshow to really highlight the new features of Lotus Notes 8 ("Hannover"). From a user's perspective it's more consistent than MS Office 2007. From a developer's perspective, too. This product really rocks.
You've seen all the ads for GoToMyPC. Well, to my way of thinking this is better. The basic product (with remote control) is free. It's extremely easy to use with either the Java client or the Firefox plug-in. You install a little helper program on the machine you want to control. From then on, logging in to your PC is simply done by securely logging into with any browser. The machines you've placed on your account will show up on a list. You select it and you're there. You can view your screen full-size (and scroll around if necessary) or have it scaled to your available screen real-estste.

The "Pro" version includes file transfers, etc. as you would get with PCAnywhere. This is a normal two-pane file transfer screen... you can test it yourself, as all of the Pro features are available for the first 30 days to the free users.

One of the nicer features for my purposes is being able to invite someone else to share my screen. The invitation is delivered via email. A link in the email takes the invitee to my screen (I have to be present to authorize access), and allows them to see what I'm doing. It's great for demonstration purposes. Optionally, I can allow them to take control of my screen.

This works through the even the most draconian proxy servers, and is as secure as it gets.

This little product lets you edit RSS feeds for your website without any complicated software. I use Blogger for portions of this site, but RSSeditor/Win allows quick generation of those portions that I've posted with Nvu. It's great for Frontpage users, too.

D-Fend and DOSbox
From the DOSbox Wiki:
DOSBox emulates an Intel x86 PC, complete with sound, graphics, mouse, modem, etc., necessary for running many old DOS games that simply cannot be run on modern PCs and operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows 2000, Windows XP, Linux and FreeBSD. However, it is not restricted to running only games. In theory, any DOS application should run in DOSBox, but the emphasis has been on getting DOS games to run smoothly, which means that communication, networking and printer support are still in early developement.
This lets you breathe new life into older software that no longer runs under XP. Games, etc, that just plain don't run, will. Not only that, but they'll run in Linux or on MacOS using this emulator.

D-Fend provides a front-end for DOSbox so that your DOS programs are accessible from a user-friendly picklist. All of the configuration options for the various programs are managed by D-Fend, leaving you to just click and run your applications. This is a huge plus, highly recommended.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Welcome to the Future

One hour in the future to be precise, thanks to the re-positioning of Daylight Saving Time. Although DST is ostensibly to save energy, I think it's really interesting that the California Energy Commission's position is that DST "really helps to save daylight." (

Wow. So where is all that daylight? Why do I not begin the day with the daylight I saved from the previous day? The horrid fact is that we're not saving daylight at all. In fact, we've been incurring a daylight deficit for some time now, and it's to the point where the government has had to add four weeks of DST to make up for it. Just think of it... it now takes a full additional month to get to "Daylight Freedom Day" (that's the day of the year when we've saved enough daylight to see us through the rest of the year).

This is an international embarrassment for the United States. Did you know that in Russia, they save twice as much daylight as we do? That's right, according to the same source, "During the winter, all 11 of the Russian time zones are an hour ahead of standard time. During the summer months, Russian clocks are advanced another hour ahead." That's two hours per day, and they're saving an hour per day, even in the winter months! Let's face it, Americans are facing a daylight deficit of monumental proportions!

The extra weeks aren't going to do it, though; we still don't have anywhere to actually store the daylight we allegedly save. That's why we should institute the First National Daylight Savings & Loan.

At the FNDS&L, shareholders can deposit their extra daylight in the Summer for use in the Winter when it's really needed. This is an idea whose time has come. It's a much better alternative to the current process of paying lip-service to saving daylight while simply letting it spill away unused and unnoticed. And Federally insured accounts can guard against losses from flares, sunspot activities, eclipse or heavy cloud cover.

There are other benefits as well; for instance, socking away that extra daylight rather than letting it spill into the environment may be the most effective way to combat global warming! Write your Congressmen! Don't vote for a presidential candidate who hasn't formulated a clear position on this most important topic.

In the meantime, and more seriously, if you haven't done it yet, this article explains how to apply DST fixes for your computer. By now you probably realize that it's not the end of the world.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Real Must Have Firefox Extensions

Computerworld has recommended 20 "must have" Firefox extensions. While the concept is good, I can't say I agree with their choice of extensions. The Computerworld recommendations that make my list are Greasemonkey, Firefox Showcase, Foxmarks bookmark synchronizer, IE Tab, and FireFTP. That makes 5 out of 20.

Other things, like colored tabs, are nice, but they're not not really "must have"... after all, you can tell your tabs apart easily in Firefox simply because they're labeled with icons. So what are the real must have extensions missing from this list? What's cooler and more useful than Computerworld's recommendations? Try these on for size:

6. Adblock Plus. I have no idea how Computerworld missed this one. Adblock allows you to block all those stupid flashing, blinking, animated, thoroughly annoying ads on a page. Believe me, once you've gone back to browsing without those distractions you're never, ever going to want to go back.

7. Image Zoom. This allows you to zoom in on images on a page using a menu or your mouse wheel. As screen resolutions increase, thumbnails and small images appear ever smaller. This is really a must-have.

8. Linkification. This very handy utility converts text links like into clickable links, even if the web page author didn't put a link there, and even if you're viewing a plain-text file. If you had Linkification installed you'd be able to click right through to my personal blog.

9. McAfee SiteAdvisor. This doesn't appear on the Firefox add-ons site. So what? It's a fantastic addition (and incidentally, there's a version for MSIE in case you're bogged down with a "legacy" browser. Firewalls are useful, anti-spam and anti-spyware programs are useful. But what if you could know before you visit a site whether it's dangerous or not? That's what SiteAdvisor does. When you're using the Yahoo! or Google search engines, SiteAdvisor places colored icons next to your search results to warn you of dangerous sites or reassure you about sites that are OK to visit.

10. NoScript. While we're thinking about security, it's a fact that many of those dangerous websites are dangerous because they exploit the scripting capabilities of your browser. NoScript closes that hole while still allowing you to easily select those safe websites for which you want to allow scripts. Once again, anti-malware programs are good: not getting infected in the first place is even better.

11. Sage. This really improves Firefox's ability to organize and update your RSS feeds. Don't simply poke around to see if your favorite blogs have been updated! Sage will let you know.

12. Video Downloader. Downloads videos from Google, YouTube, iFilm, and over 60 other sites. Now you don't have to watch these films in that little box in your browser. You can watch them full-screen, with all the capabilities of your media player! And you won't have to worry whether a link has been removed.

13. DownloadThemAll. This is great for pulling a batch of files from a website. Some great uses are pulling all of the wallpapers linked to from a page, or all of the .OGG or MP3 files from a free music site. And since you can tell DTA to limit itself to a single connection, the site's security won't freak out and block you for hitting it too often at once. It also allows you to pause and resume downloads at any time!

14. Launchy. Simply, Launchy will open links and mailtos in external applications rather than using plug-ins. This is great if you want a full-featured program to handle the link.

15. Google Toolbar for Firefox. What can I say? It's Google. This allows you to quickly search other sites, selectively block pop-up, enhance your Autofill capabilities for web forms, and quickly access your Blogger or Gmail site. Again, this one's not on the Firefox add-ins site, but who cares? It's too good to pass up.

16. PDF Download. This allows you to choose whether you want to view a PDF file in your browser, in your full-featured PDF viewer (I use Foxit Reader), or whether you want to download it. Choice is good.

17. Permatabs. This is a bit of major coolness. It turns tabs of your choice into permanent tabs, meaning that you can't close them by accident and they'll always be loaded and available when you start Firefox. With more and more people turning to Web 2.0 apps like Google applications or Thinkfree Office, this gives you a great way of getting straight down to work in your browser.

18. Quick Preference Button. This adds a menu that allows you to quickly change some of the more frequently used Firefox preferences, such as browser spoofing or cookies.

19. SwitchProxy Tool. This one's not for everybody. But if you're like me and you work on a laptop from both home and client sites, then it's an absolute must have. This allows you to have multiple network configurations so you're browser's able to adapt to any situation. I've tried more full featured proxy tools, but I like this one. It's got the "Goldilocks factor" (not too much, not too little... it's just right).

OK, so I'm one short. So I'm going back to Computerworld's list and giving you a choice for number 20. If you're a web developer, then Firebug is certainly a must-have tool. But we're not all web developers, and for those that aren't, Chromatabs do ease the eyestrain. If you want ease of use then iMacros may replace Greasemonkey in your toolkit. Personally, I find mouse gestures and page previews annoying, so I'd stay clear of those.