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July, 2009

The scandal that is Microsoft’s Windows 7 pricing in the UK

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Rip-off Britain and Microsoft Windows 7: here we come againSo, how much bad news can you take in one lump? Because we’ve just received news of Microsoft’s Anytime Upgrade pricing for Windows 7 in the UK, and it makes for about as much jolly reading as a Stephen King novel.

And just to make things even worse, we’ve now had confirmation there will be no Family Pack of Windows 7 until “at least” 2010. So, if the worst comes to the worst, that means it could be 2011. Or later.

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Britain’s scandalous upload speeds

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Down arrowsA letter to The Times this morning makes a spectacularly good point about British broadband. While the mainstream media has (rightly) been roasting the broadband providers for delivering only half the download speed advertised on the tin, “the real scandal is… that the upload speed may be only a thirtieth of this [headline download speed] figure”.

The Times’ correspondent is bang on the money. Ofcom’s broadband speed report claims that: “overall the average upload speed received by UK consumers is 0.43Mbits/sec, less than 10% of the average download speed”.

While that sounds a little sunnier than The Times man suggests, the report goes on to state that “even consumers on higher speed packages (20Mbits/sec cable and 16-24Mbits/sec DSL packages) receive an average of less than 0.7Mbit/s.”

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Silverlight not so Flash for Microsoft

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

When Microsoft announced it was launching an iPlayer rival I could barely hear the words over the onrushing sound of catastrophic failure. If you listen closely, you can hear it too…. Huuuluuu, Huuuluuu, Hulu.

Having used Hulu, I can testify that it’s brilliant and now its flame-filled eyes of domination are on the UK. If the whispers are true it’ll stride into the UK next month, laughing maniacally and kicking its competitors in the crotch, I’d imagine. It’s going to be a bloodbath and if I were Microsoft I’d take Windows 7 and Office 2010 and hunker down in my fortress made of £100 notes. Instead it’s tying itself to the tracks. Unfortunately, stubbornness has never derailed a freight train.

So, that’s that. What really baffles me about MSN Video Player (yes, beyond its very existence) is that Microsoft’s chosen to roll it out on Flash. That’s Adobe’s Flash. That’s Adobe, the next-door-neighbour with the bigger garden, prettier wife and stranglehold on the internet. Microsoft’s been trying to unseat Flash with Silverlight for the last couple of years, ushering developers towards the platform with big smiles and over-elaborate tech demos. And now, confronted by one of its biggest web rollouts for years, it expresses its confidence in Silverlight by sidling into its rivals garden and groping his wife. (more…)

Why OpenStreetMap is brilliant

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Open Street Map

We all know about Google Maps and how brilliant it is. It’s gone from simple online mapping website, to an essential tool for mobile phones, complete with satellite photography, your friend’s location (Latitude) and, of course, the extremely groovy Street View.

But it’s not the only free mapping tool around, and not even the best, as I’ve been finding out over the past few months. The OpenStreetmap is a venture, started in 2004 by Steve Coast, similar to Wikipedia, only with maps.

His idea was that rather than rely on corporations with big budgets and teams of cartographers, or national institutions to generation mapping data, he would get the internet community to build up its own using GPS traces and donated satellite imagery.

I remember looking at it three years ago and being distinctly unimpressed at the level of detail. But, it’s improved beyond recognition, with maps of London, in particular, that are just as detailed, if not more so, than Google maps. And as time goes on, its accuracy and usefulness can only increase.

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Why you’re better off on LLU than BT broadband

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Belkin routerOfcom’s latest research into broadband speeds might have been spectacularly indecisive on the surface, but when you start digging through the 113 pages of the full report, some interesting nuggets of information begin to emerge.

One of the most noteworthy of these is that broadband customers on local loop unbundled (LLU) lines – where the ISP has put its own equipment in the telephone exchange – are generally on much faster connections than those with connections delivered by BT Wholesale.

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Firefox 4 looks awfully familiar…

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Firefox 3.5 is still fresh, but Mozilla has been busy mocking up its early concepts for the big move to version 4. Now, these images come with a great big disclaimer that “These are NOT FINAL! THEY ARE ONLY FOR BRAINSTORMING/EXPLORATION!“, but it’s interesting to see which direction Firefox could be taking. Take a look for yourself and form your own opinions, but from where I’m sitting it looks like a certain other browser seems to have had an influence on Mozilla’s designs.

The first design is fairly typical Firefox, with the tabs beneath the address bar (click to enlarge):

Firefox 4 concept (tabs on bottom)

The Aero effect looks nice, and it’s a very clean interface, with only minor changes from the Firefox 3.7 concept images which Mozilla recently released. But there’s also a mockup with the tabs – unusually for Firefox – moved above the address bar: (more…)

Recommended software at recommended prices

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Two money-saving opportunities have come to my attention today for software that I have recently reviewed and recommended. As they just might save you £1,500, I thought I should pass them on…

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Microsoft, Windows 7, the EU and common sense

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Windows 7 with or without browsersThe world’s gone crazy. Surely Microsoft can’t have decided to do what’s been blindingly obvious to the rest of the world for eternity and – gasp – offer users a choice of web browsers when they install Windows 7? And thus, in one fell and seemingly easy swoop, appease the EU and its browser-producing competition?

But by jingo it has, at least if today’s news story (Microsoft to offer browser choice with Windows 7) is to be believed. During installation, you’ll get the choice of five (Internet Explorer, Opera, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Apple Safari), rendering the EU’s objection of Microsoft exploiting its monopolistic position irrelevant. (more…)

How to keep the kids entertained during the summer holidays

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

PC Pro Scratch gameTypically, the heatwave of early summer has disappeared just in time for the school holidays. But if you’re scratching around for something to do with the kids on a rainy day why not try, well, Scratch.

Scratch is a brilliantly simple programming language designed for kids. Instead of relying on lines of intimidating code, it uses a colourful, building-block style interface to introduce children to the basic computational concepts.

We’ve written a Scratch tutorial as part of our Give Your Kids the IT Edge feature in this month’s magazine (on sale now). Our tutorial shows you how to make your child the star of their very own computer game, in which they have to try and escape from a crab that keeps nipping at its toes. Your child does everything from programming the movements of the characters, to recording sound effects, to creating the scoreboard. Best of all, the software is completely free – just download it from the Scratch website.

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Silverlight 3 and Expressions 3 have escaped!

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

SilverlightYesterday Microsoft announced the release to manufacturing of their web design suite Expression version 3. This means that the development tools for Silverlight 3 will be available for developers.

Although Silverlight 3 is, according to Microsoft’s own figures, only installed on one in three internet-connected computers, several big players such as Tesco and NBC are developing with this technology. We shouldn’t get too excited to hear that the big boys are developing with any one piece of technology as they have the resources to try out most things.

The choice if your company wants to produce a slick web application with smooth, high-quality video still comes down heavily in favour of Adobe’s Flash/Air/Flex framework, mainly because of the true multi-platform capabilites and the large installed user base (Adobe claims over 95% of browsers have flash installed) .

But it is obvious that Microsoft is putting its considerable weight behind Silverlight and the next year or two will determine if it sinks or swims.

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