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Archive for February, 2009

Amazon Kindle setback

February 28, 2009 Leave a comment

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.

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Windows Mobile 6.5: new interface, old browser

February 28, 2009 1 comment

It’s been seven years since its first release, Microsoft nudges its users to upgrade, developers shove users to upgrade, yet it’s still going to be included in the latest offerings from Windows Mobile.

The Microsoft Windows Mobile platform has been allowed to lie dormant for quite some time, being vastly overshadowed by Apple’s iPhone offering. However, Microsoft is now trying to claw back this lost platform with the release of Windows Mobile 6.5. It sports a more modern and approachable interface, but with largely the same codebase as version 6.  Internet Explorer is also being upgraded in their mobile platform. Don’t get too excited.

Smartphones are increasingly used for their ability to connect to networks as well as the 3G world-wide services. A modern browser is needed to get the best out of the modern Web. However, the scourge of web-developers everywhere, Internet Explorer 6, is being put into the Windows Mobile update. First released in 2001, the browser is now hugely out of date, resulting in it being unable to handle modern websites and web technologies well, causing many hours of tweaking and fiddling for web developers to try to get their site working well on it. The announcement was made in late 2008, but the new browser will not be rolled out until version 6.5 of Windows Mobile is released. If Windows Mobile takes off, developers may find the browser that they love to hate sticking around even longer. With an update to the browser not expected until version 7 of Windows Mobile, we may just see this outdated browser sticking around for even longer.

Vista Service Pack 2 on its way

February 28, 2009 Leave a comment

Windows KeyOh, poor Vista. It’s had a lot of bad press – it seems to be presented as XP’s younger brother who has special needs. However, Vista is a very different beast to what it was when first released: Service Pack 1 fixed many of the problems that had plauged it. Whilst nowhere near perfect, it’s much, much better than it was at its release. Like it or loathe it, it did a great deal to push Windows forward to be something more modern and user-friendly.

Now, as Vista gets ready to step aside to make way for the much-talked-about Windows 7, what is likely to be its final service pack is almost ready for release. Now in its final stages before release, developers are being allowed to sample it in an early download before its expected release in early to mid March. Blue seems to be very much a focus of the update: two of the main features added are the ability to record to blu-ray disks and support for the new 2.1 blue tooth technology. The new version of Windows Search – Version 4 – is also included, which should spell more accurate and faster searching when looking for your files. It also wraps up all previously released updates, so if you’ve missed any, you can get the whole lot at once.

Safari 4 beta released

February 28, 2009 Leave a comment

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

The Safari history cover-flow

The Safari history cover-flow

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?

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