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May, 2009

The brilliance of Gnome Do

Friday, May 29th, 2009

It’s great being an Ubuntu dabbler, as every time I come back to it I find a new app to play with. Or something old that’s had an interesting overhaul. This time around it’s Gnome Do – which just keeps getting better every time I revisit it.

The basic premise of Gnome Do is to reduce the entire desktop experience to natural-language text commands. So instead of opening the browser, heading to Gmail and typing your email, you just type “email mum” and your message into Gnome Do and away it goes.

Want to update your Twitter status? Install the Twitter plug in for Gnome do, and just type “Twitter” and your message into the application. Anybody’s who played with Ubiquity will be on familiar ground, but instead of being hedged in by the browser, Gnome Do’s tentacles stretch into all aspects of the desktop – allowing you to search, run apps and set preferences. In fact, pretty much anything you can do on the desktop is accessible through Gnome Do assuming somebody’s written a plug in, and given that it’s an open-source project they’re appearing at a rate of knots. (more…)

Are netbooks really “better with Windows”?

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Better with WindowsAsus – the company that started the netbook phenomenon with the Linux-based Eee PC 701 – has apparently decided that the open-source OS isn’t so spiffing after all.

The company has teamed up with Microsoft to create the rather prosaic It’s Better With Windows website.

“Windows helps you quickly and easily get online and connect to your devices and services – without dealing with an unfamiliar environment or major compatibility issues,” the site proclaims. It then shows a series of videos, with Eee PC-wielding people going about their lives in blissful harmony.

(more…)

First look: four brand new Sony Ericsson phones

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Sony launch At a lavish event last night at London’s Sketch Bar, Sony Ericsson unveiled four new phones, all with the focus squarely on entertainment, gaming and multimedia.

While they may have unusual names – only one of the four new products has the traditionally impenetrable code – Sony Ericsson see this is a positive move, replacing the older names with more memorable phrases.

We’ve been hands-on with the quartet of new phones to find out if they’re up to the job – or if they’re all mouth and no trousers.

(more…)

First look: the new 11.6in Packard Bell netbook

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Packard Bell\'s latest netbook Netbooks have fallen into a steady routine since their 2007 debut: get a small chassis, cram it with an Intel Atom processor and integrated graphics, and watch them fly off the shelves. However, Packard Bell’s latest attempt to crack the lucrative netbook market, the 11.6in “dot m”, is a little different.

A glance at the exterior suggests that little about the classic netbook formula has changed: the 11.6in screen has a native resolution of 1,366 x 768, the trackpad is small but has a decent pair of buttons and supports multitouch functions, and the keyboard is reasonably spacious but also felt quite spongy. Three USB ports, an Ethernet socket and D-SUB output aren’t exactly groundbreaking, either.

Peek under the hood, though, and Packard Bell’s latest looks far more interesting than the average Atom-based products that have flooded the netbook market.

(more…)

Those Intel wags!

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Perhaps it’s because it’s (relatively) early in the morning, but Intel appears to be making light of its €1 billion fine, levied for not playing fair with AMD. Or am I just reading too much into a feeble marketing line?

Posted in: Random

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Living with an eBook reader

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

As PC Pro’s resident book fiend I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing nearly every eBook reader released on these shores. I popped my eBook cherry reading “Farewell, My Lovely” on the Sony PRS-505. This was followed by “Moby Dick” on the Cybook Gen 3, “The Jungle Book” on the BeBook and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” on the Cool-er – which takes the award for most disturbing book I’ve ever read.

I know some people are sceptical about this technology, but while I love paperbacks, eBook readers perfectly suit my reading habits. Just to establish those habits, I read two-to-three books a week and probably buy six or seven every fortnight. About half of those books I’ll give away, lose, or destroy while the other half slowly take over whatever house I happen to be living in. The ability to stick 850 books on a device smaller than a single paperback means that when I finally do buy a house I won’t need to worry about hiring the Royal Navy to ship my entire library for me.

(more…)

A Vista SP2 warning

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Vista SP2Just a quick warning for anybody thinking of updating to Vista SP2. Our very own Paul Ockenden subjected himself to this supposedly painless process only recently and discovered that when it’s done installing, SP2 automatically reboots the machine without any warning.

Now, as Paul notes “at the start of the install it does warn you that this will happen, and suggests that you don’t use the machine while the update is taking place. But it’s on one of those screens that no-one ever reads!”

Needless to say, we highly recommend that you don’t begin patching in the background if you’re halfway through writing your War and Peace rivalling masterwork.

Given the fuss Microsoft’s been making in its Windows 7 promotion about listening to the customer and making life easier for them, there’s something particularly fitting about the gnashing of teeth likely to be caused by Vista SP2. On the bright side, it looks like Vista’s going to go out in much the same way it came in, against a chorus of complaints.

Microsoft to scrap three app limit for Windows 7 Starter?

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

Windows 7It appears Microsoft has come to its senses and decided to remove the completely arbitrary three app limit from Windows 7 Starter edition. Word of the U-turn comes via the normally reliable Paul Thurrott, who makes the claim in the briefiest of blog posts on his SuperSite for Windows, although there’s no official word from Microsoft yet.

Why the about face? Perhaps Microsoft has recognised what we’ve been telling them publicly and privately since this ridiculous announcement was made: limiting netbook owners to three concurrent apps is hugely frustrating. Open your email, web browser and IM client, and you’ve got to shut down one of them before you can fire up Media Player to watch the video clip you’ve just clicked on.

With competitors such as the Ubuntu Netbook Remix, the Intel-backed Moblin and Google’s Android all looming large, Microsoft probably decided it couldn’t afford to give PC manufacturers any excuse to look elsewhere.

So well done Microsoft. Now if you can see your way clear to putting BitLocker To Go into the Professional edition, we can all rest easy…

Microsoft attempts to clean up its cloud

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Better than a picture of a serverYou may have read my not-terribly-polite post about the astonishing restrictions found inside Microsoft’s terms and conditions for its hosted services. Well here’s the follow-up.

Because yesterday, I (and a couple of colleagues) had an hour-long “full and frank exchange of views” with four senior Microsoft Redmond people responsible for the hosted services offering: Eron Kelly, Senior Director, Microsoft Online Services; Kore Kourbourlis, Senior Director, Compliance and Privacy; Brendon Lynch, Director, Trustworthy Computing; and Mike Ziock, Senior Director of Operations, Business Online Services.

We went through our concerns regarding data movement, implications for data protection issues under EU law, SLA, the sign-up process, terms & conditions and so forth. (more…)

My first-hand experience of a first-class IT education

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Sacred Heart PC Pro’s had a fair bit to say about the standard of IT education over the years, not least the shambolic ICT GCSE examination papers that thousands of pupils will be sitting this summer. Good luck with those, kids – even our IT experts were baffled by some of the poorly-worded or just plain wrong questions.

Yesterday, however, I had the pleasure of visiting Sacred Heart High School in Hammersmith – a refreshing example of what can happen when a school gets IT teaching absolutely right.

IT clearly isn’t just another subject that’s taught in the computer rooms at Sacred Heart. It’s intelligently woven into the entire school curriculum and is an everyday part of school life.

I saw how a class of 11-year-olds were practising their French by recording themselves on  pocket Flip Mino camcorders, and then editing the footage on Dell’s new Latitude 2100 netbooks. It didn’t matter if the netbooks didn’t have video-editing software installed, because the pupils could log into their virtual Windows desktops and access the required software over the network.

In fact, virtualisation is second nature to these children. Work completed in school is saved to each pupil’s virtual hard drive, which they can remotely access from home to complete their homework.

(more…)

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