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November, 2009

The 10 free programs I can’t live without

Monday, November 30th, 2009

I had the delightful task of rebuilding my working life last Monday, as my hard disk decided that would be the perfect time to die. And I realised I hadn’t actually synchronised my online backup system since I last tested a new service. Clever. With time against me – the magazine went to press on Wednesday night – it quickly became clear which programs I desperately needed to install.

1. Paint.NET

paint.net in action Windows 7 may now include a version of Paint complete with a fancy Ribbon interface, but it still doesn’t offer the features I need to quickly enhance photos and mould screenshots to my whims. Paint.NET does, and it also supports plug-ins for RAW files (and more), making it my top photo-editing choice. (more…)

Britain’s broadband leaders: arrogant and ambitionless

Friday, November 27th, 2009

British Flag on MapHow is Britain going to get the next-generation broadband network it desperately needs to compete in the modern world? That was the question posed to a panel of more than a dozen industry leaders and experts at the latest Westminster eForum, but convincing answers were desperately thin on the ground.

Instead of courage, creativity and innovation, the mood coming from Britain’s broadband leaders was complacency, resignation and a weary confession that we’re “still going round the same issues time and time again”.

The half of the country that’s connected to fibre provided by Virgin Media, BT or any number of local projects can almost certainly look forward to download speeds of 40Mbits/sec plus in the next few years. But what about the other half – the half living outside of the big cities that are already struggling on sub-standard connections?

(more…)

Big developers on Android – who needs ‘em?

Friday, November 27th, 2009

AndroidThe Android market copped some flack last week as developer Gameloft “significantly” cut its investment in the platform after the firm’s finance director claimed that the store isn’t neat enough – and that Android just isn’t lucrative enough for big businesses.

The burgeoning Android app scene, though, suggests that Gameloft and its ilk won’t be missed.

After all the market, as deficient as it is, still offers hundreds of applications made by talented individuals and fast-moving small companies, and the growth of the store – which has seen 94% more app projects started in October than in September – almost certainly has more to do with them than with the occasional big company, like Gameloft, gracing us with its presence.

(more…)

Posted in: Rant, Software

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Microsoft’s XPS missing in action?

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

binary filing

Somebody reminded me about the XPS format from Microsoft. This is the XML Paper Specification thing which Microsoft released to be a spoiler to PDF.

Now, I must confess I find Adobe’s pricing model evil. And the PDF format can operate in weird and wonderful ways. But for most people, most of the time, PDF works very well indeed. There was no need for XPS, when Microsoft announced it. There’s still no need for XPS, and I doubt there ever will be a need for XPS.

It has been around for a while now, so you would think it would have gained traction? Out of sheer naughtiness, I visited Microsoft’s homepage and searched for “XPS”, returning 154,000 hits. Search for PDF: 582,000 hits.

(more…)

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Posted in: Software

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Need a bit of extra Christmas cash? Grass up your boss, says BSA

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Whisper“Research released today by the Business Software Alliance (BSA) reveals that nearly three quarters (70%) of London workers are willing to shop their bosses for improper business practices and one in five (20%) London workers would be even more willing to report their management for extra cash in the run up to Christmas,” states the BSA press release that landed in my inbox today.

Which is handy, because the dear old BSA would like nothing more than for employees to shaft their bosses in the run-up to Christmas, launching as it has “an advertising and marketing campaign to encourage employees in London to report their companies if they think they are using illegal software.”

Is it me, or is there something deeply unsavoury about the BSA trying to claim the moral high-ground on the use of illegal software on the one hand, and then using Christmas and the recession as bait to encourage employees to grass up their bosses on the other?

(more…)

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Posted in: Newsdesk

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Photoshop Mobile on Android review: first look

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Photoshop MobilePhotoshop Mobile has been available on Windows Mobile devices and the iPhone since the beginning of October, but the release of the software on Android is sure to attract thousands of new users to the service.

The Photoshop brand, though, is synonymous with top quality photography products – and we’ve been hands-on with the Android version to see if it’s fit to carry on this legacy.

First impressions are good, with the sleek interface responding well: the left-hand tab shows pictures stored locally, with the right-hand panel displaying images stored on your Photoshop.com account, which offers 2GB of free storage unless you’re willing to pay for the premium 20GB service.

(more…)

Posted in: Just in, Software

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ATI Radeon HD 5970: 42% more expensive in the UK

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

ATI Radeon HD 5970The ATI Radeon HD 5970, aside being from the fastest graphics card in the world, is several things: hot enough to sear the skin off your fingers, for instance, and so huge that it’ll barely fit inside the average ATX case.

At £520 inc VAT for a stock version, it’s also one of the most expensive graphics cards available in the UK – and, when the same card costs $599 in the US, that seems like a tremendous rip-off.

We’ve asked ATI to clarify exactly how it arrived at this price – after all, a straight conversion of the American price would see the HD 5970 costing around £360 – but the firm’s replies have only consisted of the usual corporate excuses, with VAT, shipping costs and exchange rates all blamed for the 42% price hike.

So, how likely are these oft-used excuses?

(more…)

Posted in: Hardware, Rant

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Office 2010 Beta – 32-bit or 64-bit – The Choice is Clear

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Microsoft Office 2010 Beta comes in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions and this is the first time that a 64-bit version of Office has been available. 64-bit processing brings some advantages but are they outweighed by the disadvantages of being on the bleeding edge of technology?

If you’re running 64-bit Windows Vista or Windows 7 (or Server 2008 or Server 2008 R2), you can choose whether to the install 64-bit version of Office 2010 beta. (It is not compatible with 64-bit Windows XP.)

The advantages of the 64-bit version are that it lets you use additional memory installed on your computer – for example Excel 2010 workbooks can be bigger than 2GB. Project 2010 can work with very large projects consisting of many sub-projects. You also get enhanced security through Data Execution Prevention (DEP) by default.

But, not many people will actually need Excel Workbooks bigger than 2GB. If you ever made one, you could not store it in SharePoint – 2GB is SharePoint’s limit for any file – and you could not share it with anyone who wasn’t running 64-bit Office 2010 because they wouldn’t be able to open it.

Access databases with their code removed (split data & code in separate files) can’t be shared between 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Office and any VBA code may not be compatible between 32-bit and 64-bit versions, particularly where the code declares API calls to Windows or uses the new LongLong or LongPtr data types introduced in the 64-bit version.

Graphic elements may render more slowly in the 64-bit version of Office because 64-bit CPUs may lack MMX support for multimedia and communications.

The biggest problem by far is that ActiveX controls Add-Ins and COM DLLs written for 32-bit Office will not work with the new 64-bit version. Microsoft are due to release a new VSTO (Visual Studio Tools for Office) runtime which will bridge this gap for DLLs and Add-Ins written using VSTO but it isn’t available yet. Other manufacturers will have to test, possibly change, and re-issue their DLLs and Add-Ins in 64-bit versions to get them to work.

There are yet more problems if you try to work with web based solutions that use ActiveX controls. For instance SharePoint uses an ActiveX control to render SharePoint lists in Datasheet View. This view is not supported if you install the 64-bit version of Office 2010.

All in all, the 64-bit version of Office is useful to very few people and has many limitations. The vast majority of people will be much better off sticking to the 32-bit version.

Why Britain’s watchdogs have fewer teeth than goldfish

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Sleeping DogIf there’s one thing that makes me angry, it’s other people not getting angry enough. Britain has swathes of so-called regulators and “watchdogs” monitoring everything from advertising, to telecoms, to the protection of our private data, and they’re all about as much use as a toaster in a bath.

Take the Information Commissioner, for example. Christopher Graham may have started talking tough about cracking down on data leaks when he waltzed into his six-figure salary job this summer, but his feeble actions speak far louder than his fighting talk.

It was the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) who revealed that staff at a UK mobile network had illegally sold thousands of customer account details to brokers. That data was used to cold-call customers nearing the end of their contracts, in a bid to convince them to move to a rival network.

(more…)

Tabbed documents: how to make Office 2010 great

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Office 2010

Online-overlord Barry Collins has been fiddling with the Office 2010 beta for the last couple of days, and his reaction to it has been terrifying. Barry greets technology in only two states: the apoplectic fury of a man for whom every hollow promise is the death knell of another dream, and the rapture of somebody who’s just discovered that Nirvana’s a theme park with a £35 admission price.

What terrifies me is that he’s greeted Office 2010 with an almighty ‘meh’. There’s been bafflement and a few half-hearted jokes, but not once has the office fallen still at the ominous ticking of the Barry bomb which sits at the core of his being.

(more…)

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