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Thursday, 20 October 2011

Ubuntu 11.10 brings Ubuntu Unity closer to fine

Ubuntu 11.10 brings Ubuntu Unity closer to fine
Takeaway: With the release of Ubuntu 11.10, Ubuntu Unity makes some progress on the desktop front. Is it enough? Here's the take on the state of the desktop from Canonical.
If you’ve been following me long enough, you know since the inception of Ubuntu Unity my relationship with that new desktop has been one of love-hate. When Unity was first rumored and the designs and philosophy were made known, the relationship was one of love. But when 11.04 was released, that relationship quickly shifted to hate. But now, 11.10 is out and Ubuntu has had a chance to make good on their Unity promises. I have to say, after upgrading to 11.10 … I’m pretty impressed with the improvements.
I’ll preface the rest of this by saying it’s not perfect, but it’s closer to being a fine desktop than it’s previous iteration.
Now … just what has improved? Let’s take a look. I am taking this from the perspective of an end-user, so there will be no talk of development this or power-user that. What I am interested in is whether or not Unity has come far enough along for the average end user.

The Good

Figure A
The Unity Dash has had a bit of overhaul, making it easier to access various pieces. Figure A shows the Dash in action. Click on the Dash icon to reveal a new overlay that allows you to do the following (via icon):
  • Open up various categories of apps (Media, Internet,  and More).
  • Open up default apps (as configured within System).
  • Find files.
You will also notice, at the bottom of the Dash overlay, a row of tabs. These tabs are (from left to right):
  • Dash Home
  • Applications
  • Documents and folders
  • Media
Figure B
So what the developers of Unity have done is make it incredibly easy to get to various applications, files, and folders. This is a big plus for not just average users, but for any level of users. Another nice addition to the Dash is the ability to quickly filter results by categories. Take a look at Figure B (sorry, wallpaper is set to randomly change.)
Click on the Applications Tab in the Dash Overlay and you can then filter by various categories, making the search for that specific file or application much easier.
It is also possible now to eject external discs and USB devices from the Launcher. Simply right-click the device to reveal a menu offering:
  • Open
  • Eject
  • Safely Remove

The not so good

The Metaphor is still the big issue. Most end users do not like change — of any kind. They don’t like drive letters to change, they don’t like the look and feel of things to change. This is the one glaring problem with driving such a grand, sweeping change such is Ubuntu Unity. New users will take one look at it and say “Where’s my Start button? Where are my icons?” There is no way around this and new users will just have to accept that change is an inevitability with the PC desktop. Even with Windows — change happens and users have little to no choice but to move on. Eventually the touch-screen friendly desktop interface such as Unity and Gnome 3 will be less a shock to users (granted it would help if Canonical would come through on the promise of touchscreen hardware to happily marry with the interface).

More not so good

Why is it the developers of Ubuntu Unity have decided that configuring the desktop is just not something we mortals need. Sorry people, but I am a serious tinkerer on the desktop. I want my desktop cake and I want to eat it too! But alas — configuring the Unity desktop is just not meant to be (outside of changing your desktop background.) This does need to change. People (even new users) want to configure that desktop!

Even more not so good

I’m still not sold on the Apple-like application menu. No more do applications have their own menu. You want to access an application menu, you have to have that application in focus and then go up to the main bar at the top of the window. This isn’t terribly efficient when you have many windows open.
And speaking of many windows open — I want, nay need, my sloppy focus. I do not like to have to click on titlebars (or any location within the window) to give a window focus. I am all about making as few clicks and points with the mouse as possible. Give me sloppy focus and auto-raise back!
The conclusion thus far
Okay, so Unity is beginning to show promise. I have two suspicions here:
  1. Given time Unity will finally become a legitimate player on the average user desktop field.
  2. Given the proper touch-screen hardware, Unity will finally be able to show just how user-friendly it can be.

Monday, 17 October 2011

The top five alternatives to the iPhone 4S

The top five alternatives to the iPhone 4S
Takeaway: If you’re feeling left out because you’re not getting an iPhone 4S, here are five other great phones to consider if you’re looking for an upgrade.
iPhone 4S
Despite the initial cries of disappointment from the tech press, the Apple iPhone 4S is reportedly almost sold out heading into its official launch on Friday. If you’re ready to upgrade your phone but can’t get a hold of an iPhone 4S on Friday, don’t forget that there are plenty of great alternatives in the smartphone market right now.
I know that there are also plenty of you out there who are tempted by an iPhone but want to avoid getting locked into the Apple ecosystem or simply don’t want to give up your loyalty to Android or BlackBerry. So, for those of you who can’t (or refuse) to get an iPhone 4S but are looking for a phone upgrade, here are five devices worth considering.

1. Droid Bionic

Droid Bionic

This is arguably the best Android device on the market. It’s not the coolest looking or feeling device. It has a similar odd shape to the Motorola Droid X with extra thickness on the side of the phone that has the camera. But, it’s a sturdy device and it’s wicked fast in hardware, software, and the Verizon 4G LTE network. It also has much better battery life than the HTC Thunderbolt (the former Android king) and Motorola’s Webtop software lets you use this device like a computer using the desktop or laptop dock.

2. Samsung Galaxy S II

Samsung Galaxy S II

If you have iPhone envy because of the svelte design, then the Samsung Galaxy S II is the phone you should consider (see below). It is thin, well-designed, relatively powerful, and has a brilliantly bright screen. It doesn’t feel nearly as cheap as the plasticy first-gen Galaxy S phones. Plus, the Galaxy S II is available across lots of different carriers in the U.S. and internationally (unlike the Droid Bionic) and it’s less expensive than the $300 Bionic.

3. Motorola Photon

Motorola Photon

This is a cousin of the Droid Bionic mentioned above, only this one has a better hardware design and it runs on Sprint instead of Verizon. It’s another speed demon. It has a dual-core NVIDIA Tegra processor and runs on the Sprint/Clearwire WiMAX network for 4G. Like the Bionic and Motorola Atrix, the Photon includes the Webtop software and the ability to dock into a PC-like experience on the desktop or into the laptop dock. You can’t do that with an iPhone.

4. HTC HD7


Don’t forget about Windows Phone 7, especially since its big upgrade to 7.5 “Mango” is happening this fall. WP7 offers a solid experience, especially for smartphone novices, and the number of apps available are climbing rapidly. The best WP7 device I’ve used is the HTC HD7, which reminded me a lot of the HTC Thunderbolt, in terms of hardware design. There are also similar models such as the HTC HD7S (AT&T), the HTC Trophy (Verizon), and the HTC Titan (in the U.K.).

5. BlackBerry Bold 9900

BlackBerry Bold 9900

Since some of you are still loyal to BlackBerry and even more of you are still locked into using BlackBerry because that’s what your company uses, I have to mention the BlackBerry Bold 9900. As far as BlackBerries go, it’s the best one yet. It doesn’t have the versatility of iPhone and Android, because of the lack of apps, but it still does email and messaging really well, the web browser has improved immensely, the display is great (albeit a little cramped), and it has most of the biggest mobile apps (Kindle, Twitter, Foursquare, etc.). And, if you still prefer a hardware keyboard, it’s got the best one that RIM makes.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

What you need to know about iOS 5

What you need to know about iOS 5
Apple iOS 5

Takeaway: The fifth generation iOS, the engine that powers Apple’s popular iPhone and iPad devices (among others), introduces several important changes and refinements.
Apple’s iOS, though only four years old, has changed the way users connect, purchase and maintain applications, collaborate, and more. The fifth generation iOS, the engine that powers Apple’s popular iPhone and iPad devices (among others), introduces several important changes and refinements. Here are the top 10 things you should know about Apple’s new iOS 5.

1: Requirements

The fall 2011-release iOS 5 upgrade works with a variety of current and legacy handsets, tablets, and devices. iOS 5 is compatible with the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4. iOS 5 is also supported on the 3rd and 4th generation iPod Touch as well as the original iPad and iPad 2. There is no cost for the upgrade.

2: PC Free

One common complaint prior to iOS 5 has been that a computer was required to fully utilize and back up new iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touch devices. No more. iOS 5 severs the tether and makes it possible to activate and configure new devices without having to tie them to a computer. Further, with iCloud support, iOS 5 devices can be backed up automatically without having to use a computer.

3: Mail improvements

iOS 5 also introduces overdue Mail improvements. The new iOS provides indentation support, enables rich text (bold, italic, and underline) formatting, and can even flag messages. iCloud, meanwhile, helps ensure email accounts stay synchronized across multiple devices. As email’s importance continues to grow, such refinements on the iPhone and iPad platforms are a necessity.

4: Tabbed browsing

A seemingly minor innovation when originally introduced on computers, tabbed browsing enables users to maintain multiple active Web pages within a single browser instance. The feature has proven popular, especially as users have become more dependent upon Web-based applications and Web-based email. iOS 5 updates the Safari browser to bring tabbed browsing to compatible iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads. This enables multiple concurrent Web page sessions and considerably simplifies the process of switching between open pages,.

5: Reminders

A cottage industry of iOS to-do and task list application providers has arisen over the past few years. That’s because Apple’s iOS didn’t previously do a very good job natively managing or synchronizing organizational tasks. Reminders is a new iOS 5 feature that addresses that shortcoming. With iCal, Outlook, and iCloud integration, changes automatically synchronize across multiple devices. Better yet, users can associate due dates and locations with the tasks they set. Productivity and efficiency result, while dependency upon a third-party application decreases or is eliminated altogether.

6: iCloud support

iCloud support within iOS 5 means applications, photos, music, settings, and other data isn’t lost if a compatible Apple device goes missing. Because iCloud stores data on the Web, files, configuration information, and even applications previously purchased on one device can be pushed to a replacement or other authorized device wirelessly. Calendars, contacts, and mail benefit from iCloud, which powers wireless synchronization between devices, too. iCloud even enables synchronizing iOS data with a PC, so Windows users benefit from iCloud/iOS 5 integration. And 5GB of free storage means the price is right.

7: iMessage

The simplicity and immediacy of text messaging has fueled its meteoric popularity. One can hardly even visit a neighborhood grocery or airport without hearing others’ text alert beeps. Built into the Messages app, iOS 5’s new iMessage feature enhances traditional messaging by adding support for sending photos, videos, locations, and contacts for iPad and iPod Touch users. iMessaging includes group messaging support, too, which better enables team collaboration and communication. iMessage also synchronizes iMessage conversations across multiple devices.

8: Notification Center

As iPhone and iPad use has grown within businesses and as users have loaded a veritable cornucopia of applications on those devices, mobile users sometimes feel assaulted by the number of updates, new email alerts, unread text messages, and other notifications.
Prior to iOS 5, all these different updates lived in different locations and sometimes proved distracting. iOS 5 users can take advantage of the new Notification Center to select which notifications they receive. And copping a popular feature I associate as being introduced with Microsoft Outlook 2003, new notifications appear briefly (in this case at the top center of the screen) before fading out of view. The Notification Center presentation of these messages is less distracting and doesn’t require switching applications, yet it still communicates the same information quickly.

9: AirPlay

Many users will find iOS 5’s new AirPlay innovation a critical component of the new OS. Others may never use it. But those who do will find the video mirroring feature an intriguing and convenient improvement in the mobile OS.
AirPlay enables presenters to wirelessly stream their iPad 2 display information to an HDTV via an Apple TV device. Attendees see exactly what’s on the presenter’s iPad, meaning iPads can fully replace desktop or laptop presentation systems in boardrooms, classrooms, conference rooms, and other presentation areas.

10: Calendar improvements

Calendar operations receive a needed boost within iOS 5, too. iOS 5-powered Calendars now synchronize across multiple devices leveraging Apple’s iCloud technology. Further, iPad users can display year views of their Calendar, while iPhone and iPod Touch users can display a weekly view of their calendar — previously unavailable options. Individual calendars can now be added and edited directly from iOS 5-powered iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches. Possibly most important, though, is the fact that Calendar attachments are now viewable on compatible iOS 5 devices without having to switch applications.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Top IT skills wanted for 2012

Top IT skills wanted for 2012
Takeaway: A new Computerworld survey indicates the nine IT skills that will be in demand in 2012.
Nearly 29 percent of the 353 IT executives who were polled in Computerworld’s annual Forecast survey said they plan to increase IT staffing through next summer. (That’s up from 23% in the 2010 survey and 20% in the 2009 survey.)
Here are the skills that the IT executives say they will be hiring for:
  1. Programming and Application Development–61% plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months, up from 44% in the 2010 survey. This covers the gamut from website development to upgrading internal systems and meeting the needs of mobile users.
  2. Project Management (but with a twist)– The twist is that they’re not going to just be looking for people who can oversee and monitor projects. They also want people who can identify users’ needs and translate them for the IT staffers-the increasingly popular business analysts.
  3. Help Desk/Technical Support–Mobile operating systems have added a new dimension to help desk and tech support.
  4. Networking-This demand is being fueled partially by virtualization and cloud computing projects. The survey also revealed that execs will be looking for people with VMware and Citrix experience.
  5. Business Intelligence-Computerworld interprets this uptick to a focus shift in many companies,  from cost savings to investing in technology. That will be nice if it pans out that way.
  6. Data Center-Virtualization and the Cloud could also be behind the increased need for IT professionals with backgrounds in data center operations and systems integration.
  7. Web 2.0-Tech skills centered around social media will be in demand, with .Net, AJAX and PHP as key back-end skills, with HTML, XML, CSS, Flash and Javascript, among others, on the front end.
  8. Security-Although down from 32 percent in the 2010 survey, security stays a top concern of IT executives.
  9. Telecommunications-The survey indicates a demand for people with IP telephony skills, and for those familiar with Cisco IPCC call center systems.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Steve Jobs has passed away, tech world mourns

Steve Jobs has passed away, tech world mourns
Takeaway: Steve Jobs, the long-time CEO and co-founder of Apple, has died. Here is the official statement from Apple, a note from Bill Gates, and more.
Apple co-founder and long-time CEO Steve Jobs has passed away today after a long fight with pancreatic cancer. Jobs resigned as CEO in August and didn’t appear yesterday at Apple’s launch of the latest edition of the iPhone - iPhone 4S.

Statement from Apple

Here is the public statement from Apple’s board of directors:
We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today.
Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.
His greatest love was for his wife, Laurene, and his family. Our hearts go out to them and to all who were touched by his extraordinary gifts.

Tribute on

Apple has placed a simple tribute to Steve on its homepage:

Statement from Jobs’ family

The family of Steve Jobs released this statement:
Steve died peacefully today surrounded by his family.
In his public life, Steve was known as a visionary; in his private life, he cherished his family. We are thankful to the many people who have shared their wishes and prayers during the last year of Steve’s illness; a website will be provided for those who wish to offer tributes and memories.
We are grateful for the support and kindness of those who share our feelings for Steve. We know many of you will mourn with us, and we ask that you respect our privacy during our time of grief.

Tim Cook’s email to Apple employees

Here is the email message that CEO Tim Cook sent to his employees at Apple:
I have some very sad news to share with all of you. Steve passed away earlier today.
Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor. Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple.
We are planning a celebration of Steve’s extraordinary life for Apple employees that will take place soon. If you would like to share your thoughts, memories and condolences in the interim, you can simply email
No words can adequately express our sadness at Steve’s death or our gratitude for the opportunity to work with him. We will honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to continuing the work he loved so much.

Note from Bill Gates

Jobs’ longtime friend and rival Bill Gates of Microsoft released the following statement:
I’m truly saddened to learn of Steve Jobs’ death. Melinda and I extend our sincere condolences to his family and friends, and to everyone Steve has touched through his work.
Steve and I first met nearly 30 years ago, and have been colleagues, competitors and friends over the course of more than half our lives.
The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come.
For those of us lucky enough to get to work with him, it’s been an insanely great honor. I will miss Steve immensely.

Note from Steve Ballmer

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer offered the following statement:
“I want to express my deepest condolences at the passing of Steve Jobs, one of the founders of our industry and a true visionary. My heart goes out to his family, everyone at Apple and everyone who has been touched by his work.”

Notes from Google founders

Google CEO Larry Page made this statement:
“I am very, very sad to hear the news about Steve. He was a great man with incredible achievements and amazing brilliance. He always seemed to be able to say in very few words what you actually should have been thinking before you thought it. His focus on the user experience above all else has always been an inspiration to me. He was very kind to reach out to me as I became CEO of Google and spend time offering his advice and knowledge even though he was not at all well. My thoughts and Google’s are with his family and the whole Apple family.”
Google co-founder Sergey Brin made this statement:
“From the earliest days of Google, whenever Larry and I sought inspiration for vision and leadership, we needed to look no farther than Cupertino. Steve, your passion for excellence is felt by anyone who has ever touched an Apple product (including the macbook I am writing this on right now). And I have witnessed it in person the few times we have met.
On behalf of all of us at Google and more broadly in technology, you will be missed very much. My condolences to family, friends, and colleagues at Apple.”

Note from Marc Andreessen

Web pioneer Marc Andreessen said that Jobs beamed products from 10 to 20 years in the future.
“He was the most amazing product visionary our industry had or will ever have.”

Note from President Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama released the following statement:
Michelle and I are saddened to learn of the passing of Steve Jobs. Steve was among the greatest of American innovators – brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it.
By building one of the planet’s most successful companies from his garage, he exemplified the spirit of American ingenuity.  By making computers personal and putting the internet in our pockets, he made the information revolution not only accessible, but intuitive and fun.  And by turning his talents to storytelling, he has brought joy to millions of children and grownups alike. Steve was fond of saying that he lived every day like it was his last.  Because he did, he transformed our lives, redefined entire industries, and achieved one of the rarest feats in human history: he changed the way each of us sees the world.
The world has lost a visionary. And there may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Steve’s wife Laurene, his family, and all those who loved him.

CNET video tribute

CBS News video tribute

Steve Jobs on mortality

In his commencement address at Stanford University in 2005, after he had just came back from cancer the first time, Jobs said:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Here is the video of the full 15-minute commencement speech at Stanford:

My take

A century from now, people will still marvel at how Steve Jobs changed the world by humanizing technology. That will be his legacy.
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