Monday, June 27, 2005

Finally ! Tabs in IE

the one thing that Firefox and Safari could really claim as a killer feature over IE has now gone away. IE has added tabs (okay, while there have been third-party add-ons, these are from Microsoft and they are free)

While it's a free add-on, it's not however with a little baggage.. although good, the implementation does have a few missing features at the moment (maybe we'll have to wait for IE7 for that) and it comes bundled with MS Search - something I've avoided (like Google Desktop Search) while I wait for the search wars to stablise and products to mature (I know where I put things most of the time !) - but I'll give it a go.

So, the flaws;

It's greedy it is on screen real-estate... as well as the big NineMSN butterfly logo, I want to put the toolbar on the same level as the back/foward/home buttons but as soon as I lock the toolbars it moves down to a line of it's own. Would like to see it better integrated into the browser chromoe.

Tabs don't have an individual 'close' button on them (really annoying, means an extra right-click !) - Safari and Firefox manage this, as does Maxthon

Theres no option to make it obsessive with tabs - What I want is new requests for a browser window open as a tab in the same instance... I specifically don't want 5 IEs running, I want one with 5 tabs. Sadly Instances still open as they used to, and there's no way to combine them.

Also, I'm not sure if it's the pop-up blocker or something else, but scriptlets like Bloggers BlogThis don't seem to be working right any more. The pop-up blocker doesn't seem to integrate very well with WinXPsp2 - there are some duplications with both the toolbar and then the IE native blocker trying to be helpful (in reality often just getting in the way - If I tell one pop-up blocker I trust the site, I'd expect it to share that information)

On the whole though it's a great step in the right direction.... here's hoping there's a v2 pretty soon, or IE7 surfaces with all this, and more !

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

who wants a set-top tower ?!

Am I asking for too much ? I've got a VCR and a DVD player, and I was thinking that maybe I needed a PVR to make life easier as there's a lot of shows I'm watching delayed these days with work committments. Then I thought that maybe a HD Digital TV box would be good. Then I started looking at how it would all cable up to the TV and the number of remotes I'd need....

And it was just too scary !

So I started thinking about what I really wanted... and that's my challenge to go searching for.... an IP addressable remote managed dual tuner HD HDD PVR and attached DVD+/-RW (of course upgradable for Blu-Ray or HD DVD, whichever wins) that will let me record two channels to the HDD while watching a DVD, or watch one channel while checking (via Picture-in-Picture) another channel to be ready to start recording.... and it needs to be simple enough that my 6 year old can pop in a DVD and watch it, or my partner can record Desperate Housewives if I'm late home (or I can connect in from the office and check the programming)

So, does it exist ? Is it out there now, or tomorrow ? I suspect my answer is going to be a PC based solution with a bunch of incompatible hardware and software hacks which I'll spend a lot of time and money making work right. And then explain to her indoors why we have yet another PC chewing up electricity and taking up space !

Update (August 2005): slowly, but surely it starts to come together....

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Those terrible clever folks at Microsoft....

have been very busy on some new toys to delight developers and arty folks...

I've been playing with a couple of new beta releases of upcoming Microsoft products aimed at very different types of people but which as a web developer are going to have an impact on my workflow...

The first is Code Named Acrylic - in actuality version 3 of Expression, a Photoshop type tool Microsoft recently acquired and have been working on. It's still a bit rough around the edges but quite usable. As it's still in beta at the moment it's not too late to make your 2 cents be known via the feedback forum.

The second is Visual Web Designer a stand-alone Visual Studio subset aimed at ASP.NET web development. VWD is a complete environment for the creation of fully former ASP.NET 2.0 applications (needs ASP.NET 2 so remember, at the moment it's Beta only). Again, it's early days for the product, but it's incredibly stable and capable. If you've not tried ASP.NET development yet this is a very good heads-up on what you can do and how easy it can be....

WhyBother with WiFi when there's 3G-PS ?

I've got a 3G (WCDMA) phone at the moment thanks to the nice folks at Three who are sponsoring BigBrother. It goes everywhere with me with it's handly little USB cable and my shiny Vaio.

Before I had it if I was out and about and needed to get online to fix an emergency (or use Google to win an argument !) I had to try and find a WiFi hotspot which either only demanded I buy a cup of coffee or had a roaming agreement that would bill it back to me (why is that so hard people ?! Half a dozen competing schemes with no clear advantage for any of them - so I end up using none of you) or resort to using my Optus GPRS phone (a really nice SE T610... the bluetooth is great)

Now... I've never had a problem getting a signal or a connection that's fast enough to watch video over. I get coverage where iBurst or UnWired don't go (I'm sure there's a reason that one block from where I live there is coverage, yet no plans to move it that one extra block any time soon - why not share infrastructure guys, Three and Telstra are doing it with 3G towers and the rollout is ramping up... so there must be advantages that outweigh the egos) and it's reliable.

But... the downsides are two-fold.

The first... it's not cheap. Those MBs rack up quite quickly and each one costs $s... and for some reason Three with their capped plan don't have one that caps a mix of voice and data at $99/mo yet (that would get me to switch in a heartbeat !)

The second... that handset.... It's ergonomic and quite well thought out but.... I need to carry a seperate charging brick (as it won't charge from my Vaio even when that is running on the mains) and (and this is the killer for all the LG Clam Shell phones at the moment)... it's got no Bluetooth so if I've forgotten that aforementioned little USB cable I'm up the creek without a dongle.

The former problem... well, that may go away as the competition grows and the other carriers start competing for customers (and WiFi PDA VoIP phones start eating into the profits !) and the latter... well, there are other handsets (the SE Z800i looks like a good all-rounder)

So for now... 3G-PS with someone else footing the bill is a very good option, and I can live with the cable. When the phone goes back at the end of BB05... I'll be back to my trusty SE-T610, but the flip-side is I won't need quite the amount of online connectivity as I do during the season

Friday, June 17, 2005

Am I a DSL addict ?!

We've just moved. It was all a bit of a hurry with not much chance to plan ahead so hardly surprising that some things about it have been less than optimal.

The worst one, for me, is the two week between asking to get the DSL moved and them getting it done.... you suddenly realise just how used to being connected you become.

I'm sure in a decade it'll be an instant process (with whatever ubiquitous high-speed, always-on, meganet connection it prevelant then) but right now... I'm experiencing dial-up again and I just don't like it !

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Should networks make abandoned shows available for Download ?

Recently there has been a bit of a surge in "abandoned" shows here in Aus, with poor performing content either being dropped our bounced about the timetable (often with little or no warning) so it's impossible to keep up.

Luckily a lot of shows are already available here in Aus thanks to BitTorrent and similar distribution mechanisms, but recently there have been calls for the networks to organise a licencing model to allow viewers to download the "missing" episodes of abandoned (and possibly even old shows that are not scheduled for re-runs)

Despite my reluctance to provide the television networks with a mechanism to “blackmail” viewers into parting with cash simply by not showing the last few eps of a season, or holding them over until they are really old news I think there is a possible model here.

However there are a couple of provisos;

  • Quality should be acceptable… no low-quality dubs from a VHS, the content should be broadcast quality (including if available HD and WS versions) and in a range of formats (some people like WM, some Real, Some QT, including H.254, and some DivX)

  • No additional payload…. If I’m paying for it I don’t want advertising, either in-stream or top/tail (well, maybe tail is acceptable)

  • DRM while understandable should not be onerous. If I want to burn it to DVD to watch on my Sony Wega in the lounge-room I should be able to, not be stuck with watching on a 14” monitor in the back room. If I want to loan in to a friend (or make a permanent gift of it) I should be able to. And if I move to the UK or the US some magic flag should not make the recording useless (my biggest gripe about purchasing legitimate DVDs)

  • Download bandwidth pricing in Australia has to change. I don’t mind paying a reasonable sum for the episode to either an ISP or the Network, but when I have to pay what the Network thinks is reasonable and then factor in the cost of downloading it (either as a straight per MB charge, or the risk of hitting a bandwidth cap) then the value to me starts to diminish rapidly.

For too long the Australian FTA networks have got away with treating the viewers with contempt. If they can’t respect the viewers (who in turn provide the Networks with the reach that they charge the advertisers and show sponsors for access to) then they should not be surprised that, if technology provides a more user-friendly alternative, viewers take their eyeballs elsewhere. As to the legality of this…. it’s pretty much un-enforceable. The ‘arms race’ of protections vs hacks is never going to end until the demand for content wanes below the “too hard” threshold. And if the networks keep increasing the pain threshold then the barriers will be surmounted.