After complaints by the Writer’s Guild of America, Amazon has caved in and left the text-to-speech feature of their portable book gadget at the discretion of the book’s author and publisher to decide whether the machine is able to read their book aloud to the owner or not.
The Kindle, which is not currently available in the United Kingdom, is a portable e-book reader which was originally released in 2007. The second version, which was released on the 23rd February, is more portable, has a longer battery life, in addition to the most talked-about new feature: the ability to read books aloud. This feature was going to be available for all books on the Kindle, however following complaints from the aforementioned Writers Guild, Amazon changed the feature to be optional for all books. This has prompted complaints from the hard of sight, for which a major appeal of the device is the ability to enjoy books through audio whilst travelling. The Authors Guild’s reasoning for the complaint was that there was a potential for the device to become the de-facto in audio-books, which may reduce the profit that publishers and authors make from releasing their books as audio-books themselves.
Apple’s Safari browser, originally a Mac OS only product, has been released on the Windows platform for some time now. However, a new version has been released for testing, and it’s pretty polished for a beta. Its speed is astonishing – slightly faster than the other front runner for speed, Google Chrome, and astonishingly faster than the most widely
used browser, Internet Explorer 7. It also adds some nifty new features: ‘top sites’ appears in an aesthetically pleasing
showcase when opening a new tab; a cleaner and more complementary interface has been donned, replacing the awkward-looking brushed aluminium of its predecessor; and the ability to flick visually your bookmarks in a similar way to Apple’s famous Cover Flow on their iPods and Operating System is a welcome addition.
The new look for Safari sees an end to the somewhat obtrusive Mac-style appearance which the previous versions forced into Windows. Instead, it has a much more ‘Vista-ish’ appearance, allowing the glass of Vista in the title-bar to shine though. It’s also used Chrome’s bright idea of moving the tabs to the top, making good use of the title-bar; therefore allowing more room for the webpage to be viewed and wasting less on the browser’s frame. As mentioned, it also ports Apple’s trademark flair for visuals: Safari greets the user with a sleek grid of their most commonly used websites when a new tab is opened. It also allows the user to search through their bookmarks and history using a Cover Flow type interface, where each page is represented by an image of it, rather than just the name or address, as in most browsers.
However, it’s still lacking in some features which you might expect. There is no ability to add custom search providers: this means you’ll have to navigate to the site you want to search in order to use the search box there, rather than simply using the search box built into the browser. I was quite startled to see that this feature had not been included in this release, as it’s commonplace in all other modern browsers, greatly saving time for the user. There is also a lack of customisation options: the user is limited to a very small number of buttons which can be added to the toolbar. It also currently to lack the ability to save tabs when closing it and have them reopen when next using Safari – a must for anyone who wants to quickly get back to the websites they were using last time. The new look also seems somewhat out of place on Windows XP; the baby-blue of XP’s default theme do not work well with the new use of the titlebar.
A pleasing sight for all web developers is the 100/100 results on the Acid 3 Test. This means that it should have no problem handling the modern coding standards – allowing it to display modern websites seamlessly and quickly. It also aces the CSS3 Selectors test. By comparison, Microsoft’s latest offering, Internet Explorer 8, comes nowhere near to Safari’s results in either of the tests.
It’s certainly worth trying out, but I’m not convinced that it’s worth the switch for most users. However, it does seem to go a long way to helping dissolve a lot of the bad press and opinions which are often vented about this browser. It’s still in beta so I hope to see the fairly minor issues ironed out by the time of its full release. Why not check it out and see what you think?