Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pick An Office, Any Office

"Psssst... buddy.... you wanna' use our version of Office?" With everyone and their dogs getting into the already-crowded Web/Offline/Open Source Office lately - it will be interesting to see who comes out on top.

Just in case you haven't updated your scorecard lately - here's some of the offerings:
  • Sun Microsystems - Star Office. $69. This is the granddaddy in terms of "open" productivity software*

  • Open Office Org - Open Office. Free. This is an off-shoot (open source) version of Star Office*

  • IBM - Lotus Symphony. Free. Based on Open Office 1.0 code - supports Microsoft XML as well as Open Office XML and PDF.

    *Share the same file format

On the Web 2.0/SaaS side we have:
  • Google - Google Docs. Free. Basic word processing, spreadsheet, email (gMail) - although a presentation package is rumored

  • Yahoo - Zimbra. Messaging and collaboration, email (Yahoo! Mail) - still hasn't really jumped in yet - but it looks like they are testing the waters with the Zimbra acquisition.

  • Zoho - Zoho Office. Free. Full featured word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, pro jets, collaboration, etc.

  • Thinkfree - Thinkfree Office. Free. Looks a lot like MS Office - includes word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications.

Most of the online/web solutions allow you to save/upload/import/export into any of the Microsoft formats (which are read by the offline Office versions - more or less). So, you have a bunch of companies who are trying to get you to dump MS Office with free or low cost versions of their open source or hosted software.

Which one will you choose? Personally, I use OpenOffice (as I have said here many times). I just got fed up at paying Microsoft thousands of dollars in licensing for Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The results have be generally good - I use the suite on a regular basis, and have hardly any complaints (it's harder to bitch about something if it's free and you're not contributing to making it better).

I must say that the Thinkfree folks absolutely BLOW AWAY Google Docs and Zoho on their implementation - IF you're looking for a free, online replacement - that's where you want to go. It has really, really advanced functionality in the word processing department, and very good support in the spreadsheet arena. The online version is free (for now), they have a desktop version for $49 and a mobile edition for playing slides shows on iPods as well as the full suite for a Windows Mobile device. Thinkfree also has a Premium edition that will allow online/offline synch of documents.

If you don't already have a Microsoft Office bias - any of the tools - including any Open Office variant - will be fine - as they have all the stuff you really need (although the feature sets vary). The best idea is to download one or two of them and compare them with their online cousins and find the one that's best for you.

Hey, let's face it. In today's world - 85% of people just need a simple word processor with spell checker, a basic spreadsheet, and a decent slide presentation application. For years I've used notepad (and BBEdit on the Mac) to write HTML and create database-driven websites.

I used to manually type stuff on a typewriter and then use call outs to specify the font, size, leading, and kerning so a typesetter could set the type, so that I could WAX it to a board and shoot negatives so I could then have it published.

If you need more than what the free/online tools offer above - shouldn't someone else be fidgeting with that stuff so you can concentrate on the business?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sort Attention Span Theatre

I think Americans are coming down with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). For years, all the news clips on TV and the Internet have been 15-30 seconds (max). Don't believe me? Time them yourself tonight when you get home.

USA Today has become the #2 newspaper in the US by trimming out all the "yucky journalism" stuff in regular, longer articles in favor of short pieces with lots of pictures - oh yeah, and that really relevant and "cool" graph on the front page!

Don't even get me started on the YouTube generation. Useless clips of people doing truly stupid things for one or two minutes - the max that people seem to watch (unless some no-talent freak is doing a lip synch to a song they like).

I found a product the other day that will now enable more and more people to put up useless crap for all the world to see.... introducing the new Flip Video Ultra personal camcorder - with editing and upload software built in.

This $149 device (8GM with a $119 4MB cousin) is available from big box retailer and online. The camera is by Pure Digital Technologies, the makers of those "disposable" cameras and has OK specs for such an inexpensive item.

The camera features 2x digital zoom, 1.5-inch display on-camera playback and delete, one-click video e-mailing or video “greeting cards,” custom editing of movie mixes, capture of still frames from video, and DVD processing at more than 9,400 labs nationwide.

The picture quality - if the online videos on their site can be trusted - looks pretty good. It's a helluva lot better than trying to capture stuff with your cell phone. It's got a built-in USB 2.0 thingie that will connect right up to your computer, and built-in software that will let you upload directly to YouTube, AOL Video, as well as other sites.

For more "upscale", but still cheap video - I came across the Aiptek A-HD 720P camcorder. It shoots in HD at 30fps, had an expandable memory slot, 4x zoom with auto-focus, 2.4" reversable LCD viewfinder, red eye reduction, HDTV component output, night shot feature, 8 mega pixel still camera, and records directly to the QuickTime format (.mov). Price? $170. Really.

The Flip Video Ultra looks like a very interesting product, and if you're just into sharing some video online with your family, or the world via YouTube, then it might be a good option. I'm sure it doesn't have the video quality of more "upscale" recorders - but hey, do you really need that for the 475 x 350 format of most online videos? Probably not.

The Aiptek camera seems like it's getting closer to a "real" camera - although I must admit that I haven't personally tested either model - so I can't attest to the image quality (or lack thereof).

However, if I ever get my mom a video camera - it'll be the Flip Video Ultra... then it will only take me 4 hours to explain how to find the USB port on her computer.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Shock and Awe

I was working at home on the computer early in the morning when my friend from the UK sent me an IM message saying "i'm so sorry, mate." I wrote back - "...ummm, it's OK... sorry about what?"

"plane just hit the twin towers"

"ha ha ha :-)"

"no, really - turn on the tele"

So I did. Lots of smoke and fire. Obviously lots of people dead, and you could almost see people jumping out of the windows (or what looked like it - and later was confirmed that's what it was). I was really shocked.

Then - I watched on live television as the second plane hit the second tower. My mind simply couldn't contain what it was seeing. It was like I was watching a movie with really terrific special effects.

It was no movie. It was real.

As the drama unfolded - I was glued to the TV as was most of America (and indeeed, most of the world). Then the really unthinkable the #$%@* building just collapsed! Then the other one!

Then the rubble. Standing like a bombed-out cathedral circa 1945. Thousands of innocent lives lost. Dozens of firefighters lost.

Absolutely unbelievable.



Here's to all of the innocent people, courageous first responders, and the thousands of family members who will never the same again. Along with you - we will never forget. God Bless You All.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Is That A Web Browser In Your Pocket?

So the latest interesting vapor-hardware from Apple is the iPod Touch. This $299 (8GB - $399 for 16GB) device that's based on the iPhone (minus the phone) - looks pretty interesting.

The thing isn't even shipping until later this month - and already I can hear all the non-early-adopters ripping plastic from their wallets in anticipation. It's a pretty interesting idea - take the iPhone - take out the proprietary AT&T part that doesn't work in Europe and pisses everyone off here, then add WiFi connectivity - and shebang - you have a wireless mobile platform.

Apple realizes now that it really blew it by going exclusive with AT&T with the iPhone (for "visual voicemail" capabilities) - as the many recent splashes about "unlocking" the iPhone can attest. However, the real interesting bit is having a web browser in your pocket.

What in the hell would you do with such a device? Well, it's pretty interesting to have a device that allows you to check web mail, view/edit your Google calendar and docs, get directions, and have a data-entry device (not to mention music player) all-in-one.

Not to mention that you're not tied to the crappy Edge network - but you get the full benefit of b/g WiFi at much better throughput and way less latency - and the device is about 1/2 as thick as the iPhone. There is even rumored to be a Bluetooth chip in there - although Apple has not activated it. This could, in theory, lead to Skype-like telephony applications - which I'm sure is part of the reason why it's turned off (AT&T must be sh**ting bricks at the though of free calls on an Apple device!).

I will be interesting to see what happens with the iPod Touch - hopefully it will turn into more than just an under-capacity iPod.

NOTE TO WHINY EARLY ADOPTERS: The capacity will increase and the Bluetooth chip will be turned on in future versions! So if you can't deal with it - DO NOT BUY IT yet. If you DO buy it - DO NOT WHINE when it's cheaper, better and faster in 6 months.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Earlier Adopter Tax: $100

So you bought an iPhone at the top of the hype -- or you even stood in line to get one of the first ones? Well, that'll cost you $100.

Seems that since Apple dropped the price of the iPhone by $200 yesterday (the 8GB version) - people have been ... um... really pissed off. So, Apple said that anyone that ponied up the full amount up to 14 days ago can get $200 back in Apple credit.

Not good enough for the hard-core Mac/iPhone folks - they still put up so much of a stink that Steve Jobs himself apologized and agreed to give everyone who bought an iPhone $100 in Apple credit. OK, good PR move - and they still have to buy Apple stuff with the credit (probably iTunes stuff, no doubt).

Apple credit costs Apple a whole lot less than the venerable "real" buck that was spent by the early adopters - but hey, it's better than nothing.

And to the early adopters - what the hell did you think would happen? That there would never be a price decrease? Never be newer/better/cheaper versions of the iPhone?

OK, I'll give you the fact that it's only been 9 weeks since the introduction of the iPhone - but did you really think that Apple wouldn't try to capitalize on the early holiday season rush? I'll also wager that the early adopters of the iPhone (read: fans) - are the same type of people that bought the original iPod, the original iMac and probably the original MacBook. All of which are smaller, cheaper, more powerful and "better" than the originals.

So, folks, stop the bitching and either: A) take a pill and actually WAIT for the 2.x or 3.x version of a device - or B) shut the hell up and write off the $100 (roughly $2.40 per day - or the Starbucks equivalent of a grande drip) as the tax for being an early adopter.
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