Eyespot

The latest announcement from Michael Robertson’s Ajaxlaunch is eyespot – an online AJAXy video editing service. Sounds cool, though I don’t have any video clips to hand to try it out on.

Seems a departure from the other Ajaxlaunch stuff though, and it doesn’t fit in with the style of the other apps.

[tags]eyespot[/tags]

Zoho

Zoho looks like it offers some interesting online applications, the word processor looks especially good as is an alternative for those who can’t get Writely accounts at the moment because of the post Google purchase embargo on new users.

[tags]zoho[/tags]

IRows

IRows is an online spreadsheet, a competitor with NumSum, in other words. One of the criticisms I have always had with NumSum is that it is just so damn ugly. Not something that IRows can be accused of, which is much prettier:

IRows screenshot, thumbnail

As you can see from the crappy test sheet I created, it’s easy enough to enter data and tot columns of numbers up with a SUM function. There are a load of other functions included too, which should serve for most people’s needs in a portable spreadsheet.

File exports come in three flavours: Excel, .csv and HTML. Of these, the Excel one works fine – it keeps formatting; the .csv seems ok though it obviously loses the formatting; and the html one looks pretty good and is the only one that keeps the graphs. There is no provision though to export to OpenOffice.org which seems a shame.

IRows, then, is very easy to use, easy on the eye and features most of the functionality one might expect from an online spreadsheet. Like Writely – with which IRows has much in common, not least in its interface – it offers a useful alternative to a desktop app, especially for the casual user and for those who need to collaborate over the web on a single sheet. Unlike Writely, it isn’t (yet) owned by Google, and so I don’t have to feel guilty about using it.

So the two main parts of the traditional office suite are now online and usable. Given the plethora of calendars and webmail systems out there, it should be possible for a user with a reasonable internet connection to get by without needing to buy or install bloated office suites. The one issue remains in getting them all to talk together. This could be solved in two ways: by one large company buying up a selection of these tools and forcing them to work together exclusively; or by some open standards being developed and adhered to by all concerned. No prizes for guessing which is the most likely.

What I use (at the moment)

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about the applications I use on a regular basis. This was obviously on the Windows laptop I am using right now. This is going to change in a major way pretty soon, when I make the big switch to Linux.

So, I thought it would be pretty interesting to make a quick list here of the desktop apps I use on a regular basis, and then in a few weeks time I can compare back. There may be fewer changes than you might think, as I have stuck to the open-source option more often than not anyway!

Stuff I use now:

  • Openoffice.org
  • Firefox
  • Thunderbird
  • FeedDemon
  • BlogJet
  • Gaim
  • Filezilla
  • 1st Page 2000
  • The GIMP
  • Limewire
  • ITunes

…and I am bound to add more when I think of them. Of course, one type of app I am certainly going to be using a lot less of are anti-virus and -malware programs.

Qumana

Well, this is my first post with Qumana (Version 3 beta 1), a free desktop offline blog post editor. It’s pretty cool, though I do have some issues with it.

Feature wise, it does everything you would expect, offering a basic editor with the ability to format text, add links and images and so on; as well as more blog specific stuff like adding categories to posts and trackback URLs, etc.

Setting it up is very easy, and BlogJet could learn a thing or two from Qumana on this aspect. There’s no need to tell it what platform I am using, nor the location of my xmlrpc.php file. It sorts all that out for me. Cool. Also, the speed at which posts are visible on the blog is a lot quicker than BlogJet – which for some reason takes ages to appear.

Two features of Qumana stand out. One is the ‘droppad’ which sits on the desktop while Qumana is running, and onto which you can drag text and images. Then, the next time you create a new blog post, all that stuff appears automatically. Fairly cool idea, but in reality you are going to spend more time sorting out the formatting and layout of all this stuff you have dumped than you would if you had don it manually from the off. Second, Qumana offers a bespoke blog advertising programme called AdGenta which fills your blog posts with contextual adverts. Hmmm. Not one for me, I must admit.

The main problem for me with Qumana is the speed. It takes too long to load in the first place and then there seems to be some sort of weird delay when typing, which may have something to do with the spell checker. Also, for some reason, ctrl-backspace doesn’t delete a whole word. Grrr.

Overall, it’s interesting. For those who aren’t sure whether they need an offline post editor it is a good bet to try first, as it’s free. But BlogJet will still be my number one choice for speed and simplicity.

Powered by Qumana

OpenOffice.org better than M$ Office?

Good article on choosing Openoffice.org over M$ Office (from http://www.pc-tools.net/comment/openoffice/ ) :

There are some very good reasons to use OpenOffice.org instead of Microsoft Office, and the best reasons have nothing to do with cost of the software.

Although I have regularly used Microsoft Office in the past, I haven’t even had it installed on my system for over a year. This is despite completing a thesis, working with legal documents, exchanging business documents, writing academic papers for publishing as well as creating software based presentations.

I have NOT needed MS Office to do any of these things. OpenOffice.org is adequate – it has all the essential features, including style list functions for real publishing, document comparison capabilities and import/export abilities, a capable spreadsheet, and a presentation program that does its job while importing and exporting PowerPoint.

But it’s not just that OpenOffice.org is “adequate” for the job. As a software developer and long time computer user, I think OpenOffice.org is superior in several important respects. I would like to describe these points, because I think that others will also understand the issues better
when they recognize the implications for themselves:

OpenOffice.org runs on multiple platforms. Currently: Windows, Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, Mac OS X. This is important because I use several operating systems, including Linux. It is a huge advantage for me to be able to work on the same documents under the same interface whether I have booted Linux, Windows, or whether I am using a thin Solaris workstation.

OpenOffice.org is stable, and runs smoothly. It has not crashed on me under Windows or Linux, and does not do wacky things. MS Word has scared me in the past with some of its flaky behaviour.

I trust the OpenOffice.org software and its developers; I may even contribute to the project myself! The office suite is open source, and the Internet community is heavily involved with improving Sun’s original software. You’re guaranteed to never experience licensing-related hassles (expired licenses, product registrations, lost keys, forced updates) which have occasionally caused much aggravation and lost productivity for MS Office users.

Data longevity: this is an important point, which is often overlooked because it’s really only an issue in the (distant?) future. Microsoft has made it clear that it wants proprietary document formats, and inconsistent ones at that. This may work as long as Microsoft is around and developing software that supports files created by outdated products. Personally, I’m more comfortable with my OpenOffice.org documents in XML format because I know that in the worst case scenario, I can unzip the document structure and easily extract text from the XML components. This is technical, but what it comes down to is: my data is easily accessible in the future. It is also easy for third party developers to write tools for OpenOffice documents.

Data interchange: this builds on the previous point. MS uses proprietary document formats and seems unwilling to allow seamless data flow between different software from independent vendors. It’s just not in their best interest. OpenOffice.org uses data formats designed to be easily interchanged (OASIS specification), and other projects are cooperating with the vision of open document interchange – e.g. Abiword, and KOffice.

Now, given the rapid worldwide growth and popularity of open source software, including OpenOffice.org, do you really think you’re better off locking your documents into an inflexible, non-interchangeable format (MS Word version X)? I would argue that for anyone who values document longevity and interchange, it’s in their best interest to use software based on open
data formats.

After all: software companies die, but information lasts forever. If a company takes the secrets of unlocking your data to its grave, where will that leave you?

PC Security on Windows

My sister has just bought a laptop and she wants to go on Broadband with it. She asked for a bit of advice, and I might just have gone over the top a bit on the security issue…

I’d seriously recommend using the following software – I have most of it on disk although all is ree to download. Especially vital if you have broadband.
1.Service Pack 2 – this is an update for Windows XP which tightens up an awful lot (but not all) of the security problems with XP. I have the CD – but it takes a while to install.
2. Firefox – A web browser to replace Internet Explorer. IE is evil and lets in all sorts of viruses and other nasty things. Firefox won’t, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to use, too. This is possibly the most important change to make – if you have any sense you really will use this rather than IE.
3. Firebird – An email program to replace Outlook Express, if you use it. It’s more secure and all round better. If you just use Yahoo mail on the web, then there’s no need to bother with it. If, though, you’re like me and have about 5 different personal email addys, it is vital.
4. AVG Anti-Virus – A free virus checker, which I have and is easy to use and pretty comprehensive. Scans all files coming in and out of your PC. You may already have something by Norton or McAfee pre-installed on your system. This is fine for the period you can download updates for free, but at some point they will want £30 – £40 off you. Better to remove it and add the free options you can keep up-to-date for no outlay.
5. Zonealarm – free firewall. Limits the programs that can run on your computer. Absolutely essential. I don’t actually use this myself as I get a free McAfee firewall with AOL, but this is just as good, apparently.
6. Spybot – Search and Destroy – This scans your computer for ‘spyware’: malicious little programs that get on your system despite all the above protection, then deletes them.
7. Ad-aware – another spyware programme. I have (and use) both.

I didn’t mean to scare her at all….