Digital innovation at the seaside

Kind of Digital have a team (made up of me, Fraser Henderson and Tim Wilson) working with Lincolnshire County Council on an ERDF funded scheme to bring the latest digital technology to small businesses in rural and coastal locations. This has taken two main forms: firstly the provision of digital business support through conferences and workshops – the latest is on 12 July in Boston, on cloud computing – and secondly the establishment of the Technology Hubs.

These are physical locations, where we have budget to invest in hardware and software to make technology available to businesses, communities and individuals that they might not otherwise know existed, and probably couldn’t afford. Our first hub opened a couple of weeks ago, in the Coastal Centre – a community multi-use building in Mablethorpe, by the seaside. It’s a town that has suffered a certain amount of decline, understandable when you think that it used to be a major tourist destination for the miners from Nottinghamshire and elsewhere.

We have kitted the Coastal Centre out with  a 3D printer, a 3D hand held scanner, and a laser cutter and engraver:

Already we have had people coming into to find out more about the technology. We were taken aback by one visitor, who turned up, USB stick in hand, from which he downloaded a 3D model of a part for his bicycle, printed it out on the 3D printer and then left as abruptly as he had come!

It’s clear that while some of the technology is new to many, there will be people in pretty much every community who will be itching to get their hands on the kit – and often have the zeal and desire to teach and support others. What’s more, it’s fascinating how quickly people can pick up on the potential applications of these tools.

We’re really excited about what we are doing in Mablethorpe, and will be opening new hubs soon in Boston, Louth, Lincoln and Horncastle – each with a slightly different focus. If you’d like to know more about how we made this happen, just get in touch!

Nexus 7 first thoughts

Last week I took delivery of a Nexus 7 – the new tablet made by Asus for Google to show off the new version of their mobile operating system, Android.

There was quite a lot of buzz about the device, partially because it marks a new high in terms of build quality of Android tablets, but also because of the form factor. Rather than matching the size of the iPad, the Nexus 7, with it’s 7 inch screen, takes a slightly different road.

The other, potentially killer, feature of the Nexus 7 is its price point – about £160 for the cheaper 8gb model.

Anyway, I’ve been playing with it for a few days, and here are some early thoughts:

  • The size is really interesting. Definitely feels like a massive phone, rather than a tiny computer. It’s easy to carry around the house or office with you, making it more handy than an iPad, which I feel still remains a bit heavy
  • There’s no slot for a sim card, so no built in cellular data connection. Means you need to be near a wifi connection at all times. Not a problem for me as I have a portable 3g wifi thingy, and as I already pay for three different mobile data plans, I didn’t really want another. However, this may be an issue for those without.
  • No camera on the back, just a front facing one for video calls etc. People taking photos with a tablet look like doofuses so it isn’t really an issue, although I’ve always liked the idea of the iPad as a great all-in-one social reporting device – it’ll record video and audio, let you take photos etc; then edit them and upload them. Can’t do that with a Nexus 7.
  • Google Reader on this thing rocks! I love scanning through stuff, starring the interesting bits so they post to Twitter, saving others to read in more depth later. Again, the weight and form factor makes this a comfortable experience.
  • Surprised at how bad the official Google Drive (was Docs) app is – I had to buy QuickOffice to make editing Google documents a bit easier.
  • The Nexus 7 really does look exactly like a huge Galaxy Nexus phone (which is the smallest device in the photo above). Not a problem, although I do feel like a massive twerp owning both.
  • Playing games is easier on the Nexus 7 for me than the iPad, again because of the size and weight. I’m not a big game player, having no ability to concentrate for more than a minute at a time, so the little time waster games on the Nexus work quite well for me.
  • The Android store does feature apps like the excellent iAnnotate PDF which is a blessing for those who like to go paperless into meetings – and is a potential winner for councillors and indeed officers
  • However, there are apps that won’t run on the Nexus 7, for whatever reason.

So, overall? It’s not as good as the iPad. Android isn’t as nice as iOS, the build quality isn’t up to the same standard and the range of apps on iOS is still better.

However, the form factor is interesting and there are times when using the Nexus 7 is a better experience because of the size and weight.

The other thing though is the price. This thing is seriously good value. It puts very usable, high quality tablets at a very affordable price into the marketplace. For those that baulked at paying £400 or more for an iPad, the Nexus 7 could well be a very attractive option.

Go off grid but not offline

That nice Mr Briggs has been encouraging me to post some stuff about hardware.

As it happens I’ve been trying out a new piece of ultra-modern hi-tech digital equipment.

No it’s not a MacBook Air, ChromeBook or even one of them new Google tablets.

It is… drum roll… The PowerMonkey Extreme.

Which is basically a back-up battery.

Photo of a Power Monkey battery charging

Bear with me.

The use case for this bit of kit is for situations when you find yourself some distance from a power supply and need to charge your device.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: how often does that happen in this modern age? And the answer is: surprisingly often. For example on a train journey from Hereford to Sunderland (it happens) you will be six hours without an onboard power supply and because of the patchy mobile signals your tablet and mobile phone will be exhausting themselves screaming at non-existent cell stations. Even a day in London can be frustrating when every Starbucks you pop into is full of Apple-heads sucking lattes and hogging the 240volts.

Of course other backup power supplies are available. The Power Monkey was attractive because it is capable of delivering the 5v 2.1 Amps necessary to charge an iPad or Galaxy Tab. The Extreme bit seems to refer to its general resilience, waterproofness and separate solar panels.

The battery itself is pleasingly compact. It can be charged from the mains. This takes a reassuringly long time. It seems to hold two & a bit charges for my tablet and a large number of charges for my LG mobile. It can charge both devices simultaneously. It charges around as fast as the mains.

I’ve tested the device completely off grid (a week in a sailing boat and camping in the rain).

A stream leads to a misty estuary

The solar panels are slow to charge in the rain and I did have to ration my device use to conserve battery. That said it beats all other options and will now join my short list of never travel without items.

I’ve also used it on a variety of day trips. Such as a 13hr visit to London yesterday. When I start a meeting I can pop my devices on charge and use them with confidence in the gaps. The solar panels are less useful while travelling on the underground of course.

It seems to me that it would also be a useful piece of resilience kit for public information officers and other people who might want to keep their mobile devices working in a power failure or while temporarily off-grid.

New Chromebooks – worth the bother?

Google have announced a new model of their Chromebook – the web only laptop that runs their Chrome operating system, which essentially consists of a browser and not much else.

As well as the laptop, there’s now a desktop machine too – which is rather reminiscent of the Mac Mini.

Both look like nice bits of hardware – but just how useful is a computer that only runs web based apps? ReadWriteWeb featured two contrasting views recently – one for, one against.

I’ve never actually seen a Chromebook, and am pretty sure I don’t know anybody that owns one (this in itself is probably telling). I do however have a bit of experience with something similar.

A while ago I blogged about my investment in a Lenovo S205 netbook. After a little while I got bored with it, and decided to replace Windows 7 with Ubuntu as the machine’s operating system. I probably should have been mowing the lawn or something at the time.

Anyway, as part of setting up the machine, I made it boot up Chromium (the open source cousin of Chrome that ships on Linux based systems) automatically, and so I pretty much just use the machine within the web – I don’t run any native programs at all.

The truth is, it’s pretty handy and I reckon I can get 80% of my work done on there. Thanks to Gmail, Google Docs, Evernote, Xero, Basecamp, Google Reader, Tweetdeck, WordPress and so on, I can get an awful lot done within the browser.

The downside comes when I need to do something with an actual file – such as using FTP to get a file online, or formatting a document in Word (Google Docs is fine for bashing in text and sharing notes, but not so good for well presented documents, I find). Editing images is another example of a common activity that right now isn’t fun to do within the browser.

(The other downside of using the Lenovo as a Chromebook-like device is the slow boot time – unlike the official ones, it doesn’t feature a solid state drive, which enables the Chromebook’s to boot in less than 10 seconds. I have, however, ordered an SSD for the S205, so we’ll see if it makes a difference!)

However, when I think about it, there could well be a role for Chromebook style devices, not necessarily for person use, but maybe within an organisational context. I could imagine a company’s sales team, or a group of field workers, having access to all the apps they need through a browser: email, docs, CRM etc, without any of the clutter of a traditional machine that in their roles they just wouldn’t need.

I’d probably prefer to have an iPad though. What do you think?

Ideapad S205

For the last couple of months I’ve been playing around with a Lenovo Ideapad S205. It’s a slightly bigger than a netbook machine that runs Windows 7.

s205

I’ve been a pretty dedicated Mac user for the last five years or so, but have been tempted to switch back to Windows for a couple of reasons. One is I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the way Apple is starting to make decisions for me in terms of how I use my computer, and what services and software I should be using. I’m quite happy with this sort of control on my phone or tablet, but it feels wrong on a more traditional computing device – I don’t want an iOS type experience on my laptop.

Secondly, all my customers are in the public sector, and they all use Windows. Even though I can use Microsoft Office on my Mac, there are still loads of problems in opening and editing documents with clients, and it’s a real pain. As well as that, I kind of feel a duty to share the same platform as my customer base.

But, I didn’t want to spend a load of money on a new laptop that I hated, so I decided to get something cheaper that would nonetheless help me make a decision as to whether I would want to return to using a PC rather than a Mac. The machine I went for was the Ideapad S205.

Firstly, it’s cheap – less than £300 from PC World the last time I checked. It has a screen that’s 11″ – so slightly bigger than your average netbook. This extra space also means a larger keyboard than you often get on these small machines, and it’s a lovely thing to type on. Not only that but the screen has a decent resolution on it, so it isn’t filled up with enormous icons that makes it impossible to use.

The other winning thing about the S205 is that it has a pretty grunty 4gb of memory. Often these smaller machines have only around 1gb and that makes running big applications, or several at once, pretty slow going.

There are a couple of downsides to the S205 though and these make it unlikely to become my everyday computer. Firstly, the 320gb hard drive is spacious (not that I really need that for a work laptop) but it’s an old school drive with actual moving bits. Once you have had a machine that just runs off a solid state drive, as I have with the MacBook Air recently, you don’t want to go back to the old, slow way of doing things.

The second issue is one of processing power, and while the memory on the S205 is good, the processor is not exactly rocket-powered. Fine for word processing and browsing and so on, but video calls on Skype slowed things down to a crawl and it really struggled.

A couple of things I noticed about the difference between the Windows and Mac platforms. One is the sheer amount of crud that comes pre-installed on a Windows machine – it took me over an hour to delete all the demos and trials of software I didn’t want from the machine, and removing all the unnecessary icons from the desktop. A real pain!

Secondly, software on Windows just isn’t as easy to use as that on a Mac. I’m still to find, for example, an FTP client on Windows that doesn’t have 3,000 icons on the screen. My Mac equivalent, Transmit, has a beautifully clean interface, which gets out of the way and lets you get with with what you want to do. This is true of lots of apps, and even the Windows interface itself – which to be fair in version 7 is much improved on Vista, etc.

So overall, for most folk who want a cheap but good performing laptop, the S205 is an excellent choice. It’s no replacement for my Mac, but then at less than a quarter of the price, you wouldn’t expect it to be. It also hasn’t quite persuaded me to switch platforms either, just yet.

My setup

One of my favourite bits of technology porn is Shawn Blanc’s series on sweet Mac setups. It basically just gives dorks like me an opportunity to drool over other people’s kit.

But there’s another purpose to this, which is that it makes you think about the technology you use, and how it might be improved, in terms of fitting it in around the way you work.

Here’s my setup.

At home:

24″ iMac with another 24″ monitor (a Samsung SyncMaster P2450) on dual screen. Wired Apple keyboard and a Magic Mouse.

This is the beast which sits on my desk in my office at home and is where I spend most of the working day, when I am not on the road. It’s super fast and has plenty of storage (1TB hard drive) so it’s where all the electronic media the family owns lies – ie music, photos, video etc.

Having two screens is great productivity wise, though I do find myself wasting it at times, by having just Twitter on the second screen, for example. I often find myself wishing I had three screens, which is absurd.

Even just having the one big screen is a massive bonus though, just being able to easily have two documents open next to each other to work from is a revelation – especially compared to what I had to work with when I worked in government.

I also have a Kodak ESP 9 all-in-one printer and scanner thing, but I hate it like I do all printers. Frankly it only really gets used for printing boarding passes these days.

On the move:

My portable machine is a MacBook Air, with 2gb RAM and 120gb solid state storage. It’s isn’t particularly quick or grunty but is spectacularly light and small. I try to keep the number of applications and files stored on it to a minimum, and the Air does tend to slow down quite badly at times – especially when playing video for example.

As a travelling machine, though, it’s fabulous. Previously I had a 15″ MacBook Pro which could handle pretty much anything thrown at it, but was just too big and heavy to lug around all the time (maybe I’m just lazy).

The solid state drive is awesome too. No moving parts like a traditional hard drive, it’s quick and silent – and robust too. I should think every laptop I buy from now on will have this.

Other stuff:

Phone is currently a Nexus One, as described here. I also have a Dell laptop running Windows 7 and a desktop PC which dual-boots into either Windows 7 or whatever the latest version of Ubuntu is – this machine rarely gets turned on though.

Backup:

I backup both the iMac and Air using Time Machine on a 1TB Apple Time Capsule, which also acts as a wireless router at home. I’m not actually convinced this is working terribly well, however, but am too scared to fiddle with it in case it breaks completely.

I also backup the iMac to the cloud, using Carbonite, and of course important stuff sits on Dropbox too.

Software:

Here’s a list of the bits I am using most often at the moment.

  • iWork – Pages is a lovely word processor and Keynote a delightful way of throwing presentations together. I don’t do spreadsheets.
  • Chrome – My browser of choice since it became stable on the Mac – so much quicker than Firefox.
  • Evernote – I’ve written about this enough, I think.
  • Dropbox – a vital tool for anyone who regularly uses more than one machine, it’s also an awesome tool for sharing large files with anyone
  • Parallels – great bit of software for running virtual machines on a Mac. I use it rarely, mostly for running Windows XP for testing stuff in IE6
  • MarsEdit – A blog post editor that lets you compose posts offline before publishing them online. Nice keyboard shortcuts makes editing in source code view quick and easy.
  • NetNewsWire – I flip flop between this and Google Reader all the time. NNW is currently winning because of the lovely user interface.
  • iTunes – sucks, to be honest, but it’s where all my music and podcasts sit
  • iPhoto – sucks, to be honest, but it’s where all my photos sit
  • Transmit – an FTP client that works just fine
  • Pixelmator – I have Photoshop (Express) but find this cheaper alternative does what I want it to and quicker, too
  • TextWrangler – serves all my text editing needs. Would love to have an excuse to buy TextMate, but haven’t found it yet
  • Skype – invaluable for keeping in touch with colleagues, and I use it for most of my landline calling too, nowadays.
  • Skitch – screengrabs made easy
  • Screenflow – screencasting tool. Need to use this more often.
  • MindNodePro – mindmapping, simple and easy.
  • Tweetie – prefer this to the Adobe Air based apps.
  • Safari – find myself needing another browser open a fair bit, usually just to be able to use two Google accounts at once
  • MS Office – I do my best not to. But sadly, so many other people do that it’s almost imposible to avoid it entirely. Word in particular on a Mac is a total dog.

If I could have my time again…

Whilst this setup works pretty well, in terms of having processing grunt on the desktop and lightness on the move, it isn’t perfect.

The main problem is keeping software and files up to date across the two machines. Tools like Evernote and Dropbox help massively with this – in fact I think I probably would have gone mad by now if I didn’t have them.

For instance, having to buy two copies of every bit of software I use is a pain and an expense I could do without. Likewise, knowing there are some files on another machine – and not saved to Dropbox – that I need can be a real pain if I can’t access them.

So what would I do if I had some money to recreate my office IT? I think I would go for a one machine solution. Probably a high spec 13″ MacBook Pro which is still fairly small and relatively light, but which packs a bigger punch than the Air.

When at home, I would plug it into my Samsung screen and use it with a wireless keyboard and mouse thus giving me the solidity of a desktop type experience. I’d probably get some sort of stand or riser for the MacBook so I could use it as a secondary screen without breaking my neck.

What’s your setup (Mac or otherwise!)? How would you improve it?

John Naughton on the iPad

John Naughton‘s Observer piece on the iPad is well worth reading in full:

It’s when one tries to use the iPad for generating content that its deficiencies become obvious. The biggest flaw is the absence of multitasking, so you have to close one app to open another, which is a bit like going back to the world of MS-DOS. Email, using the on-screen virtual keyboard, works fine, and if you buy Apple’s text-processing app, Pages, then you can create documents. But the hoops one has to go through to pull existing documents in for editing are ludicrously convoluted and there’s no way one can easily print from the device.

Further, his week long diary is also a great bit of writing about what this device is actually for:

  • The week has reminded me of how much I value my laptops (MacBook Air and Hackintosh netbook)
  • The iPad is primarily a consumption device — and is very good for that. But it’s hopeless for originating or editing existing stuff. It doesn’t fit into my personal workflow. At the moment, it can’t handle digital cameras (though Quentin tells me there’s an optional USB-type connector available) and doesn’t have an onboard camera, so much inferior to iPhone in that respect.
  • The huge sales of the iPad suggest that Apple has discovered another profitable market niche — between laptop and smartphone. If so, then it isn’t the elderly, PC-less folks of this world. To make use of the iPad you need (a) access to a machine running iTunes; and (b) access to a wi-fi network.
  • For me, the iPad turns out to belong to the category “nice to have but not essential”. It’s beautifully made, but overpriced (esp in UK) and heavy.
  • I can see that I might find it useful in some circcumstances — e.g. a day spent travelling away from base when all I need is email, web browsing and small amounts of writing. For some people, that may be all they need.
  • Finally, I can’t see it making big inroads as an eBook reader, somehow. Of course the big screen is an advantage. But it’s offset by the increased weight, and the poor performance in bright sunlight. And it’s too bulky to carry around. When I compare it with the Eucalyptus App on my iPod Touch — which enables me to carry, for example, the entire text of Ulysses in my pocket. Given that the iPad is only marginally heavier than my hardback Everyman edition of Joyce’s novel — and I don’t carry that around — well, you can see that the Pad is no competition for the Touch.

This pretty much matches my experience. The iPad is wonderful for informal consumption of content quick browsing whilst sat on the sofa, scanning through PDFs and other documents, chatting on Twitter etc. But trying to create anything significant on it is presently a nightmare, and it’s not a Kindle-killer for me.

Update: Andrea Di Maio has posted his thoughts too:

What the iPad has turned into is a compelling professional device. I use it to take notes during meetings, to show slides to small groups around the table, as well as to do formal presentations (I bought the dongle to connect to VGA projectors). Most of my blog posts are now drafted on the iPad, an so are my research notes. When I find a wifi hotspot I just send those as attachments to my Gartner email, where I import into the relevant tool.

iPad therefore I am

OK, so I said I probably wasn’t going to get an iPad. On Friday I bought one. I admit it: I’m pathetic.

Dave and his iPad box

My thing with the iPad before I got it was that I wasn’t sure where it really fitted in my life – what would I use it for?

A lot, it turns out.

I went for the cheapest option: a 16gb model without 3g mobile internet access – I have to rely on getting a wifi connection. That’s ok though, because I’m not planning on taking the iPad out of the house much.

The iPad is a simply wonderful device for consuming content. The web browsing experience is superb – quick, beautiful to look at, and the screen size makes it easy and comfortable to browse. It’s also great for watching video content, whether purchased and downloaded through iTunes or watched on YouTube through the dedicated app.

It’s also great for reading other stuff, like PDFs and other documents. They’re presented really nicely and it’s much better to flick through on the iPad rather than either stare at a bigger screen or print stuff out.

The form factor is excellent, pretty light and comfy to hold. I tend to keep mine in landscape mode and find myself sat on the couch with my legs crossed and with the iPad wedged into my knee-pit. This is where I see it fitting in – not replacing my laptop or desktop, but being a comfy thing for checking email and reading stuff when I’m not at my desk. Whenever I’m watching TV these days I’ve invariably got a laptop balanced on the arm of the chair and the iPad will suit this casual use really well.

One thing that is missing is a decent RSS reader. There are problems with all the ones I have tried so far (see below). What I really want is a decent iPad interface to Google Reader – in other words, not an app but a website that renders nicely. For example, Google have created a wonderful interface for Gmail on the iPad, but Reader is stuck with the one that regular mobile devices use – which doesn’t transfer well to the larger screen.

I’ve installed a few apps so far. Here’s what I think of them:

  • Pages – Apple’s Mac word processor redesigned for the iPad. Lovely to look at, and ok to use, though I can’t see myself typing for long periods on the on-screen keyboard
  • MindNode – a great mind mapping app which I have on iPhone and my desktop and laptop Macs. You can share mindmaps across devices if they are connected to the same wireless network, which is neat
  • Kindle – despite having iBooks, the iPad will not replace my Kindle as my e-reader – the screen is just too bright, and it’s the wrong size. But for quickly accessing books for a quote or a reference, having access to my Kindle e-books on the iPad is great
  • Huddle – a really nicely done version of the Huddle iPhone app on the bigger screen. Sweeping and swooshing round projects is good fun
  • Bulletin – an RSS reader. Syncs with Google Reader and allows for sharing of items on Reader, as well as via Delicious etc. It’s ok but not the best looking or the most user friendly
  • Articles – a Wikipedia client. Looks lovely and is quick and easy to use
  • iBooks – Apple’s free app for e-books. Comes with Winne the Pooh for free, and is beautiful. See Kindle above for why I won’t use it much though
  • Dropbox – brilliantly done – excellent for accessing and reading documents. Only downside is getting stuff onto Dropbox from the iPad – easy enough with photos, but what about documents created in Pages? Haven’t figured this out yet
  • Twitterific – the best Twitter client I have found so far
  • GoToMeeting – not used this yet, but Learning Pool have recently switched to GoToMeeting for their webinars and online meetings – apparently the iPad experience is really good
  • WordPress – quick access to editing content on a WordPress site, does the job adequately
  • Evernote – enables me to access my Evernote notebooks and add new notes. Read about what Evernote does here
  • NetNewsWire – another RSS reader. Had high hopes for this, but the sharing options just aren’t nearly comprehensive enough
  • TweetDeck – the columns view is very nice, but I couldn’t access individuals’ profiles or Twitter streams. Very weird.
  • Instapaper – a site for saving items to read later. Never really used it a great deal, but the option’s there if I need it!

I think overall, it’s just a different way of looking at an internet-enabled device. It isn’t a computer, and a lot of the criticisms of it – around the control of the app store and a certain lack of openness around the iPad – is missing the point. Your average person can’t programme it, but so what? If you want to programme your device, get a laptop or netbook.

The iPad is a great living room device. It’s not a piece of office equipment.

Using a PC

I’ve had a pretty settled tech line-up for a while, which works really well for me. Essentially – 24” iMac on the desktop, MacBook Air for the portable and an iPhone for the really portable.

The iMac is fine for the grunt work, sitting at the desk ploughing through pretty much anything – with 4gb RAM and a 3.06ghz Core 2 Duo crunching through video doesn’t present too many problems (though I am at times tempted to up the RAM to the full 8gb).

The Air is not a performance machine, but it handles the web ok as well as basic stuff like Word, and is light enough to lug about and use on trains etc without too much bother. The battery life on it is disappointing, I only get between 2.5 and 3 hours out of a full charge. It’s limited to 2gb RAM, which isn’t that much these days, and things can slow down when you have a lot going on – Flash content can be a problem.

Some stuff you need Windows for, so on the iMac I have a virtual Windows XP machine, which I tend to use for testing stuff in Internet Explorer 6 and the odd bit of Office work which, for whatever reason, Office on the Mac can’t handle (sometimes it does very odd things with formatting).

This setup has done me proud, and with the brilliant Dropbox providing the glue that keeps all these machines stuck together, it’s been easy to work on stuff whichever device I’m using.

Sadly though, my Air has had to go into the Apple shop for repairs – the iSight webcam stopped working, and that means the whole screen-half of the machine needs replacing, and it will be gone for a week at least.

This left me laptopless, which given that I am out of my office a few days a week, would cause some major productivity problems. Luckily team Learning Pool came to the rescue and kitted me out with a new laptop.

It has Windows on it.

To be precise, Windows 7 running on a Dell Vostro v13. It’s a lightweight portable laptop, a step above a netbook, but no workhorse machine. My model has 2gb RAM and a 1.3ghz Celeron processor – plenty for web browsing, emailing and Office stuff, but not a machine you’d want to do any video editing on, for example. Also, if you have too many apps open at once things do slow down quite  bit. In other words, it’s a bit like the Air.

Like the Air, it’s also a lovely looking thing, thin and light and perfect to carry around a lot. I’m finding Windows 7 a real improvement on Vista, but it still takes too long to boot up, shut down and wake up after going to sleep.

The battery life on the Vostro is as awful as it is on the Air, if perhaps a little worse. 2.5 hours seems to be the best it can do. Carrying a power lead will be necessary.

Most of what this review on Engadget says is about right, I think. What I have found I miss most from the Air – apart from all my favourite apps (see below) – is the trackpad. Using multitouch has just become second nature to me, and as I tend to do a lot of scrolling – in Google Reader, for example, or on general web browsing – having to constantly switch between trackpad and cursor keys is incredibly annoying and counter-intuitive.

In terms of software, the Learning Pool guys installed Office for me, and Skype, which is handy to have. Of course, with the Windows version of Office I get Outlook and I’m giving it a go (we use Google to handle our email and calendar at Learning Pool, and it seems to play pretty nicely with Outlook. On the Mac, I stick to the web interfaces). It’s not as bad as I thought it would be.

Bits of software I have added include my favourite RSS aggregator, FeedDemon which is superb, especially with the Google Reader synchronisation. NetNewsWire, the Mac equivalent, has nowhere near the richness of features sported by FeedDemon.

I installed Dropbox, so all the files I have shared using my other machines are now available on this one too.

I found that Live Writer was preinstalled, which is cool as it is a neat offline blog editor (I’m using it to write this post) and probably better than any of the Mac options.

I need an FTP client, and for that I downloaded FileZilla, a free open source cross-platform application that seems to work nicely enough, but doesn’t have the great usability of Transmit, which I use on the Mac. Any suggestions for a better app are welcome.

I’m using Notepad++ at the moment as a text editor, which is useful enough but I am yet to find a genuine equivalent to the likes of TextMate or BBedit on the Mac. If anyone has a recommendation, do let me know.

For Twitter, I installed the native Windows app by Seesmic, so as to avoid having to install Adobe Air, which can be a bit resource intensive on these less well-powered machines. I didn’t like it though, so also installed Air and Tweetdeck. Paint.net is a good little free image editor, and I downloaded Chrome for a browser – I couldn’t contemplate using IE, and I find Firefox is a bit slow and bloated these days.

Windows 7 comes with something called the ‘Snipping Tool’ which may replace Skitch on the Mac – if not then there is always the likes of SnagIt. The way Windows handles archive files like .zip seems really slow, and doesn’t match the speed that OSX seems to handle these things. I suppose something like WinZip would solve this.

Generally I would say Windows 7 is pretty good, probably the best version I’ve ever used, but it doesn’t come close to the ease of use of OSX. The system is often a bit sluggish to react and sometimes it isn’t terribly obvious to know what to do to accomplish certain tasks.

Kindling

My Kindle arrived today.

I can haz Kindle

For those that don’t know, it’s Amazon’s own e-reader, a portable device that can hold around 1,500 books in its memory which can be read by turning pages using the buttons.

Even though I knew the screen was 6 inches, it still seemed smaller than I was expecting. The device is also a lot thinner than I thought it would be:

Thindle

The screen is really weird, it’s like nothing you’ve looked at before – other than the page of a book. Very odd.

Another interesting thing is the wireless – the Kindle uses the cell network, the cost of which is covered by Amazon and is presumably a part of the cost of the device.

Anyway, I can buy and download books from Amazon.com – not from the UK store yet (which may mean spelling issues…), or add books or documents from my computer. This can be done either by plugging the Kindle into my computer with the supplied USB cable (also my only way of charging it, since the plug supplied is US only too), or by sending a file by email to a special address, which is pretty neat.

You can also use the keyboard to add annotations to documents or books, so this could be really useful for students.

As well as established e-readers like the Sony Reader, the Kindle also has competition from Barnes and Nobles’ new Nook. Crunchgear has a useful comparison chart.