February 2007

Outlook 2007 sinking Office?

by george on February 27, 2007

I (briefly) installed a trial of Office 2007 on my work box, to get a glimpse of the future (since it appears that my business unit is in upgrade Siberia, it’ll be years before we see IT put it on our machines). While the wisdom of completely changing Office’s UI to the new “ribbon” device is debatable, I actually had no show stopping issues with Word, PowerPoint, or Excel.

Outlook, on the other hand, was a totally different issue.

I thought it might just be the poky Pentium M in my ThinkPad, but Outlook 2007 was significantly slower than its predecessor. So much so, I cracked about 30 days into the 90 day trial and uninstalled whole suite. It would appear I’m not alone in this experience:

The problem — which is absolutely inexcusable — is that Office 2007 (Outlook, specifically) crawls, even on this superfast machine. The hard-drive is also constantly in motion, slowing things down even more. I’m not alone in these observations. You can read other Office 2007 horror stories here and here. Despite a small .PST file — I reduced mine from close to a gig to less than 150 MB — my Intel Centrino Duo-driven notebook chugs along like a 386 trying to run an application originally written for a mainframe system. Even such tasks as composing a simple email are delayed by a few seconds before my typed words ultimately appear on the screen (and send / receives and related activities take an eternity).

The curious thing is that nothing very significant seems to have changed with Outlook 2007. Certainly nothing of the magnitude of the UI overhaul that the rest of the Office suite got, or the changes that Outlook 2003 delivered (such as the vertical right-hand reading pane). This makes the crummy performance particularly unacceptable.

I open Word, PowerPoint, and Excel to do specific things, but Outlook’s always open. Next to the browser and IM clients, it’s one of the indispensible tools of my workday. If Outlook 2007 really performs this badly for everyone else, Microsoft is going to have a big mess on their hands once customers start rolling this thing out in a big way.

Source: SpendMatters: Vista, Office and Outlook 2007 are a Nightmare

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“Achewood” comic for February 23, 2007
Click to see the comic on its original page.

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RAR Trumps ZIP

by Joey deVilla on February 23, 2007

RAR file iconA number of my (ahem) file sharing enthisiast friends tend to favour the RAR compression format over ZIP, since the “word on the street” is that it makes for smaller files. This is particularly handy for all sorts of uses, from creating archives of version-control repositories of your code to say, passing around copies of the leaked Arcade Fire album, Neon Bible.

Jeff Atwood, author of the “you must read this if you code” blog Coding Horror, has gone beyond accepting the prevailing wisdom and done the legwork. He took the data from a page benchmarking a large number of file compression tools, fed the data into Excel and produced some charts which make it easier to interpret. The practical upshot of all this is that your best bang-for-the-buck compression tools in terms of output size (smaller is better) and speed (faster is better) are WinRAR and SBC (which neither he nor I had heard of before). He writes:

RAR offers a nearly perfect blend of compression efficiency and speed across all modern compression formats. And WinRAR is an exemplary GUI implementation of RAR. It’s almost a no-brainer. Except in cases where backwards compatibility trumps all other concerns, we should abandon the archaic ZIP format– and switch to the power and flexibility of WinRAR.

(Before you start complaining that recipients won’t be able to uncompress RAR files: you can create self-extracting RAR file for Windows with a sub-100K overhead, StuffIt Expander does just fine uncompressing them on the Mac, and if you’re on Linux, you should have the chops to locate the RAR unarchiver for your particular distro.)

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Steve Jobs and Bill Gates: Fill in the Blanks

by Joey deVilla on February 23, 2007

Don’t you think that the photo below screams “Caption contest!”?

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates at dinner.

More photos here.

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Screencasting: Where Windows Clearly Spanks Mac OS X

by Joey deVilla on February 23, 2007

Camtasia Studio box.

(I was strongly tempted to reference the Pussycat Dolls song and give this post the title Don’t You Wish Your Mac Did Screencasts Like the PC?. That damned song seems to have crept into every movie or trailer I’ve seen in the past week.)

You’d think that with its serious “creative cred” that someone would’ve developed a killer screencasting application for the Mac, but I agree with the folks over at 37 Signals: there just isn’t one. The 37 Signals folk are pretty hard-core Mac fans — it’s reflected in both their design aesthetic as well as the preferred platform of Ruby on Rails developers (RoR was developed by 37 Signals’ David Heinemeier Hansson) — so it’s pretty safe to assume that they’ve hunted high and low for a reasonable scrrencasting app that runs on their platform of choice.

The closest candidate is Snapz Pro, written by Ambrosia Software, creator of some really great Mac games and utilities. I use Snapz, which is probably the best screen-grabbing utility I’ve ever used as well as WireTap Pro, which is equally excellent as an audio capture tool.

The pro version of Snapz does a decent job of capturing screen movies, but therein lies the problem: there’s a difference between “capturing movies of the screen” and “producing a screencast”. When it comes to producing a screencast, the editing process tends to take up far more time than the recording prcoess, and that’s where Snapz Pro falls short. To do editing, you’ve got to go to iMovie, and to produce title cards, you’ve got to fire up your favorite image-editing software, and so on. There’s a lot of “legwork” involved. As the 37 Signals people put it:

Here’s what I’d like to see. Basic screen video capture with a few simple compression options, audio recording, caption/graphic overlay support, simple video editing (cut, duplicate, slow down, just the basics), and export to Quicktime or Flash. All wrapped up in a nice UI too, of course. The biggest downfall of the current options is editing — there’s no way to preview the screencast you just created, overlay some captions, intro and outro text, and cut out some of the dead video).

Can I get an amen? Better yet, can I get a product?

I’ll agree that using separate tools is probably the better way to go if you’re producing a film, but if you’re trying to quickly produce a screencast (or several screencasts) demonstrating a UI for your customers with voice-over narration that also lets me do a little editing, make titles and throw in some transitions, I want a tool that’s a little more monolithic, a tool that — dare I say it? — takes a more “Microsoft Office-y” approach like the 37 Signals people suggest. That tool is Camtasia Studio.

Camtasia Studio supports all sorts of output formats, from QuickTime and Windows Media to what seems to be the preferred format these days — Flash video with an integrated player, a la YouTube. Adding titles, transisitons and text captioning is easy, and there’s a pretty decent edit suite in there too. For the videos you output in Flash, there’s the option of adding interactive “call-outs” (highlighted areas of the movie) and “hot spots” which when clicked take the user to a predetermined point in the movie or a web page. I’ve already used it to create a couple of screencasts for use by Tucows’ sales team, and they love the results. I’ve already committed to creating some screencast tutorials for end users for some of our Tucows services. And yes, they’ve got a version that runs under Vista — I run it on “The Taint”, the Acer laptop sent to me as part of a Vista promo. Call me a happy (and completely unsolicited) user of Camtasia Studio.

So c’mon, Mac developers — where’s the Mac equivalent of Camtasia?

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Kiss Your Open WiFi Goodbye if the RIAA Gets Their Way

by Joey deVilla on February 23, 2007

“When you pirate MP3s, you’re downloading communism” posterBack in July 2003, someone who read the Wired article titled Giving Sharers Ears Without Faces wrote to our pal (and former boss) Cory Doctorow over at Boing Boing:

One issue that I have not seen addressed in the RIAA vs. P2P front relates to the potential for an unsupecting home PC user who just happens to have an open WiFi router being used by a neighbor to share files to get sued by the RIAA when their IP address shows up on the RIAA’s list. From the surveys I’ve done, there are a lot of open WiFi routers a file swapper could easily use to both serve and download files. So, is the RIAA going to have to shut down open WiFi to get its way?

A year later, Boing Boing ran an article titled Open WiFi for plausible deniability, which cover’s Micah Joel’s running of “an open WiFi network in order to give himself plausible deniability for bad acts that can be traced to his IP address”:

I’ve already composed my reply in case I receive one of these letters someday. “Dear Comcast, I am so sorry. I had no idea that copyrighted works were being downloaded via my IP address; I have a wireless router at home and it’s possible that someone may have been using my connection at the time. I will do my best to secure this notoriously vulnerable technology, but I can make no guarantee that hackers will not exploit my network in the future.” If it ever comes down to a lawsuit, who can be certain that I was the offender? And can the victim of hacking be held responsible for the hacker’s crimes? If that were the case, we’d all be liable for the Blaster worm’s denial of service attacks against Microsoft last year.

Well, we’re now a few years and two generations of 802.11 down the road, and the RIAA has finally done it. Cory writes:

The RIAA is asking a judge to rule that anyone who provides bandwidth should be responsible for all the activities of his users. This would doom open WiFi — and all other public networking efforts. But who needs anonymous speech, anyway? After all anonymity fuels irresponsible behavior, like founding the United States.

The RIAA just wants to stand up for freedom. First they convinced Russia to force licensing and 24-hour inspection of presses, now they want to eliminate anonymous speech here at home.

Record companies are quick to cite the First Amendment when someone suggests banning music with “suggestive” lyrics, but they’re not so big on free presses and anonymous speech. It’s like they love free speech, but not enough to share it with the rest of us.

It’s all part of their “rabbit hunting with Howitzers” legal strategy. It stems from the case of Debbie Foster, who was being sued by Capitol Records, a part of the RIAA cartel, for allegedly sharing copyrighted material on a P2P network. It turned out that she wasn’t the culprit; it was someone else using her account. The case was dismissed last year with a filing that gets pretty damned close to calling out the RIAA as extortionists — or at least as close as you can get outside of a TV or movie courtroom drama. Foster didn’t stop there; she filed a motion asking the court to make the RIAA compensate her for her legal fees and got that compensation in the form of a $50,000 award earlier this month.

This award creates a legal headache for the RIAA. As Listening Post puts it: “If the ruling stands, the RIAA will have to be much more careful about who it sues going forward, adjusting its scatter-shot approach to filing such lawsuits in order to avoid suing the wrong people”.

Hence the RIAA’s latest move: filing a motion for reconsideration that forces them to pay Foster’s legal fees, a key point of which is that they’d like a ruling that the owner of an ISP account is responsible for all activity on that account.

James “Smalltalk Tidbits, Industry Rants” Robertson makes a couple of interesting observations:

  • He points to an Ars Technica story that says that the RIAA, in their motion, “lay out their disagreement with the judge’s reasoning while taking time to point out that the fees awarded far exceed any damages they could have recovered should their suit have been successful”, to which he quips “What, you mean there are risks in this strategy?”
  • He points out that it’s not just the individual running an open node at home or the small cafe running an open node to get customers who are in trouble:

    …any entity that offered a net connection – Starbucks, a hotel, a municipality (etc) – would have a huge potential liability on their hands. They might well decide to just discontinue in order to not expose themselves. Yeah, there’s a world I want to live in.

Links:

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Can Microsoft build a "web platform?"

by george on February 22, 2007

In additon to fending off challenges to Office from Google, a lot of people (myself included) think that Microsoft’s facing a challenge to their platform dominance from the internet. If you buy the World of Ends-style idea that “the internet is a platform that nobody owns,” that’s a pretty big, amorphous blob for the guys in Redmond to wrestle.

A lot of startups today are creating software that doesn’t target a specific operating system. They’re developing software to run on the internet; on stacks of free and open software (ie, LAMP), and using browsers’ HTML and JavaScript rendering capabilities to be the client side of their applications. In another era, they might have been developing Windows software, writing to the Windows API, and delivering their apps as Windows binaries. So what’s Microsoft to do to keep developers focused on platforms they control? Robert ScobleizerScoble thinks he’s seeing the patterns in Microsoft’s tea leaves:

Adam Sohn (he was the PR guy in our group when I started at Microsoft) is quoted on Redmond Developer saying that Microsoft is preparing a Live Development Platform. Ahh, an API that’ll do it all? Hmmm. I’m worried about the boil-the-ocean approach.

Scoble’s concern is that web developers like (or are at least used to) their pieces loosely joined; trying to create an all-singing, all-dancing API runs counter to that. Microsoft, on the other hand, has built their fortune around making developers productive, so it would be a mistake to underestimate their ability to understand the needs of mainstream programmers.

One thing’s for sure, it’ll be interesting to hear what Microsoft has to say at Mix this year.

Source: Microsoft trial balloons Web strategy? « Scobleizer – Tech Geek Blogger

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