Friday, April 30, 2010

The case of the lost iPhone and a sour Apple

Apple has been crowned the third strongest global brand in the world and Steve Jobs seems to be already flexing his new-found extra muscle.
Last Friday, armed with a search warrant, California’s Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team searched the home and car of Jason Chen, editor of the popular tech blog Gizmodo, in Fremont and seized computers, digital cameras, a cellphone and other items.
Jason’s fault: last week he posted pictures and dissected details of an iPhone prototype found in a bar in Redwood City in San Mateo County. The new iPhone, which Gizmodo reportedly acquired for $5,000 from an undisclosed person, had been disguised to look like an iPhone3GS. After the scoop, Apple acknowledged the device belonged to the company, and the Gizmodo returned it.
But Apple was clearly not going to let the matter end. The search warrant issued by a Superior Court judge in San Mateo County said Chen’s computers and other devices may have been used to commit a felony. In the raid that followed, members of the Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team took away several computers, hard drives, digital cameras, cellphones and other gadgets, plus Chen’s American Express bill and copies of his cheques. 
Gawker Media, which owns Gizmodo, claimed the warrant was invalid as California’s shield law, which protects journalists from having to turn over anonymous sources or unpublished material to law enforcement during a search, should apply to Chen’s property too. Reports said the company is seriously contemplating a case against the sheriff’s office in San Mateo County, California for conducting the raid.
Among those backing Gizmodo is Jon Stewart of the The Daily Show who went on to term Jobs & Co “appholes” in his popular talk show on Comedy Central. He didn’t stop there and followed it up with a direct message for Jobs. “Look in the mirror, man! ... It wasn’t supposed to be this way — Microsoft was supposed to be the evil one!”
An official response from Apple is awaited, but rest assured this is not the last you have heard of the matter.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Virtually there

3D technology is going places, and it is taking you along for the ride

Imagine this: You want to check out the latest model of the Ferrari. The dealer in your city does not have the model you want in the showroom. But that does not mean you can't check out the model. The dealer gives you a virtual display of the car within his premises. You can see the car in full size, walk around it, open the doors, go inside and sit and drive the car.
No, we are not joking. This is what virtual car configurators are doing in many parts of the world. Welcome to the world of virtual reality, where 3D technology, which most of us tend to dismiss as just another entertainment medium, is adding that extra dimension to things.
While 3D films have been in existence in some form since the late 19th century, of late the technology of giving depth and perspective to images has branched out beyond the realm of motion pictures and gaming. Even as 3D televisions are poised to change broadcasting around the world, the technology is also revolutionising industry practices, research and design. From websites that give a virtual feel of magazines to simulations that train soldier for hostile environments, 3D technology is literally going places. 
“Virtual reality lets you get things right the first time. Virtual tools reduce wastage and cut costs dramatically,” explains Andy Kalambi, president of Dassault Systemes, India. His company is credited with developing many of these 3D technologies and is now the world leader in Product Lifecycle Management software solutions.
Virtual reality for many of us is associated with what we have seen in movies — but the truth is that many of these concepts are now in widespread use. The data glove that lets you move around a virtual image, for instance, is an essential tool for SolidWorks, the 3D mechanical design software. “We can train workers on how to handle very expensive equipment without actually wasting a unit for the purpose,” says Kalambi. The data glove along with force feedback equipment can tell the worker the right amount of pressure to be applied to turn a screw. “Thanks to the virtual training, the worker will have become an expert by the time he actually dabbles with real equipment,” he says, adding that the software also allows companies to go straight into the production stage without wasting time or money on prototypes.
The virtual car configurator, on the other hand, is a product of the popular 3DVIA software. “Why invest in huge real estate and massive automotive stocks hoping customers will come and find you. These virtual dealerships create interactive simulated environments where the consumers can interact with the car. They can have a 720-degree view of the car, sit in it and even get a feel of the interiors,” says Kalambi.
“The technology can also be used in architecture, like to project how the fa├žade of a certain building will look after completion,” says Kalambi, adding that users will need trackers, either on their body or somewhere in the room, to be part of, and interact with, the virtual environment.
3DVIA has some small-scale uses too. Software developers have used it to create cutting-edge animation and even iPhone apps. One of the apps lets you introduce an image clicked with the phone to another environment. In other words, if you want to buy a sofa the app lets you check out how the piece of furniture will look in your drawing room, all without stepping out of the shop.
Virtual technologies are now in a crucial phase of their development. The next big thing seems to be Augmented Reality, which blurs the line between what's real and what is computer generated. For example, you will be able to work with a keyboard projected onto your desk or move around item on your desktop by just pointing your finger on it. An extension of this technology was on display at the Berlin tech show earlier this year in the form of a TV without remotes — users can adjust volume or change channels with their fingers pointed at the screen.
With the rapid progress and adoption of 3D based technologies, the day when virtual reality is incorporated into daily use gadgets is not far away. “With the emergence of faster computers, advanced software, and new devices, the future of virtual reality holds strong and there is going to be a substantial increase in its efficacy,” says Kalambi. He thinks highly sophisticated applications along with more mobile and powerful hardware will rapidly materialise in the years ahead. In fact, 3D applications are already available on the Internet reducing the need for intricate and expensive stand-alone equipment, while virtual reality applications can now be used with inexpensive hardware.
But, till you get your own 3D gadget, you will have to do with flying mountains and meatball showers in the movie theatre.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Office on a Cloud

The new Microsoft Office 2010 will take work way beyond the PC
How things change. When I first started working on a computer as a kid two decades ago, the most intuitive thing on the screen used to be the blinking cursor, egging you on to type the next word. After a preview of the Microsoft Office 2010, which will be launched on May 12 and hit the stores in June, that seems like the Stone Age.

With the new Office, Microsoft hopes to reach for the clouds, quite literally. The new version will allow seamless integration across three screens — the PC, browser and phone — letting you “work anywhere and everywhere”. And in a first, Office will go beyond your PC or Windows Mobile phone as it will now be possible for you to access your files from anywhere on the cloud through Microsoft’s SkyDrive and collaborate with multiple users. Users will be able to log in and access their files, which have been synced to the cloud from the PC, from anywhere in the world and work on them using the new web apps. 

Another notable change will be the intuitive Ribbon which will now be visible across all applications. By being context sensitive, the new Ribbon UI will try and bring to the fore all those function which users otherwise tend to ignore or overlook. For instance, if you are incorporating a table in your Word file, the Ribbon will automatically change, showing functions that allow you to do more with a table or chart. Moreover, you can personalise it to suit your specific requirements.
What is obvious is the deliberate attempt to reduce the number of screens users have to be logged into and cut the number of steps to reach a particular feature or function. While there are numerous new features that will make your work simpler, here is a quick look at the changes that will gee up home users.

Since the new Office also links the mobile phone, the Outlook will feature a unified inbox with your mail, voice messages and even SMS. The inbox will even be able to transcribe your voice messages, just in case you can’t switch on the speakers. Mails are managed better and they will be linked together as conversations with a particular user. Click on a contact, and all your interactions with the user — including Facebook, Twitter updates and meetings attended together — will appear on the screen. Most importantly, there will also be the option of ignoring users who keep sending pesky forward mails.

There are loads of new animations and transitions for you to play around with, but where the new PowerPoint scores is by almost negating the use of a second application or programme to modify your inserts. For instance, you can tweak, edit images without opening a photo editing software. Similarly, videos too can be edited in PowerPoint itself. Plus, you can insert video into a presentation directly from the web by pasting the link. Then there is the option of adding bookmarks to the inserted clip, so that you can just skip to the relevant parts of the footage. In short, you can create a professional quality presentation sitting at home.

While 2010 makes Excel a limitless endeavour, it also acknowledges the power of the micro with the new Sparklines features. These tiny graphs that show up within a cell in the worksheet chart trends in the particular row or column of entries. That, as statisticians will tell you, can be a whole new story. Then, like the other application in Office 2010, there is the option of collaborating or sharing the spreadsheet with others, all without actually letting them run riot on the original document. Plus, there are many other filtering options like the Slicer to help you find the relevant data faster.

Like PowerPoint, the new formatting tools give that professional edge to everything you create using the latest Word. There are new effects which you can play around with along with the new SmartArt that lets you add visual elements that help you communicate better with your audience. Plus, the Document Map feature lets you organise the document better. Once again, you have the option of working with another user on the same document, and communicating with him at the same time without opening another application. 

While you work on the improved applications of the Office 2010, the new OneNote helps you keep it all together, in one place. This is a like a real notebook, with pages and tabs, where you scribble down you ideas and thoughts. The difference though is that it will also be linked to the applications where you will finally implement them. For instance, you can use it to plan a trip uphill with your friends, and all of them will get to put in their ideas in real time. Then you can add the maps, booking information, videos and other such details to the notes so that it gives everyone a complete picture. And this is just an example; the utility of this application in a real office-like scenario is endless.
The backstage view runs across all applications and lets you do much more with the files you create. Everything from print preview to sharing authorisation can now be done with this single view, which is more like an advanced file manager. It also lets you directly publish your document as a blogpost or convert it into a PDF file.
There will be five versions of the new Office — the Pro Plus and Standard for enterprise and Office Home & Student, Office Home & Business and Office Professional for Home users and SMEs. There is no word on the price yet.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Art of Posturing

Stress caused by computers is on the rise, but the right posture and good accessories can save you some pain

At times, working on the computer can be a pain, quite literally. Most of us tend to slump on our chairs within a few minutes, giving ourselves awkward postures which we tend to maintain for hours. Everything from the computer monitor to the mouse are positioned in ways that will lead to aches and pains, even muscular damage.
With the increasing instances of work-related musculoskeletal damage, many companies are focusing on creating ergonomic designs. Ergonomics is the science of how the human body does work; it studies body mechanics of how bones and muscles work together and looks for ways to prevent musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, that can cause pain. "Our focus on ergonomics is helping people work safely and avoid injury, but it is about a lot more than that. Designing for the way people work also means making work more fun, more comfortable, and more efficient," says Jamieson Yu, Director, Hardware of Microsoft Operations, which recently announced a slew of ergonomic products.A look at ideal workplace scenarios and products that can reduce pain and musculoskeletal damage:

THE COMPUTER MONITOR: The computer monitor should be placed 18 to 28 inches from the head, anything closer could cause visual fatigue. The ideal distance will depend on the length of the user's arms and ability to read comfortably. The user's body and the PC must be placed in a same line and ensure that the top edge of the screen is at or below eye level.Almost all monitors available in the market have ergonomic designs, just make sure that you position them suitably, reducing exposure to compelling exertions, inept postures, and overhead glare.To optimise your monitor further, change the font to what is best for you to read. Adjust brightness, it should be enough to see easily, but not fuzzy. Screen should be crisp and sharp. Screen flicker too leads to visual fatigue; the screen refresh rate should be between 70-85 Hertz per second. You can change this at screen setting> advanced> monitor.

THE KEYBOARD: The user's forearms and wrists should be level while using a keyboard. If it is bent up or down you put pressure on your wrists and forearms. While working, only your lower back and posterior should come in contact with the chair. Feet should be flat on the floor, not stretched or pushed back behind chair. Shoulders must be aligned with the keyboard and monitor, head directly above in balance. Traditional keyboards have higher keys in the back than the front, causing you have to angle your palms and fingers upward while ergonomic keyboards have a flat design that lets your wrists stay in a more neutral position.
The basic Microsoft Wired Keyboard 200 (Rs 500) for instance has height adjustable feet that give you the ideal position for typing. The more advanced Wireless Desktop 3000 (Rs 3,100 with mouse) has a comfort curve design that encourages natural hand and wrist positioning for comfort and productivity. Amkette's wireless WF 301 (Rs 2,995), on the other hand, has an inbuilt mouse in the form of an 800-DPI trackball and click keys on both sides.
Taking it a step further is the Logitech cordless desktop MX 5500 Revolution with a soft touch palm rest that helps position your hands comfortably on the keyboard. Its comfort wave design keeps you from having to twist into an unnatural position while typing and the gently curving rows of keys support the natural resting position of your hands without splitting the keyboard. However, this superior ergonomics will cost you Rs 11,495.

THE MOUSE: You might not have a thought of it, but the mouse too has a high risk factor. Repetitive actions on the mouse can lead to stress disorders like tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Plus the awkward posture of holding the mouse can cause contact stress. So it is important to find the ideal height, distance and angle at which to keep the mouse.Microsoft's Wireless mobile Mouse 4000 and Optical Mouse 200 (Rs 430) have both been designed to give a perfect angle and grip — they also give a familiar shape for either hand. 
But the ideal angle for the hand would be that of a handshake, and this is what Logitech Performance Mouse has tried to recreate. It also has an added non-slip rubber grip to increase friction and make it easier to hold and grab without squeezing, while the profile reduces the angle you need to extend your wrist. But the Performance mouse is priced at a steep Rs 7,595.

LAPTOPS: Those using notebooks and netbooks must also be careful of their posture. Often the angle at which you type on the notebook can cause musculoskeletal disorders. It is better to use a riser to raise the screen to an optimal viewing position if you work on the notebook for long hours.Logitech's Notebook Riser N110 (Rs 1,595), for instance, features an adjustable tilt — with 20-, 30- and 40-degree angles — and a rubber-soled swivel base, so you can choose the position that best suits you.Now, just sit straight and work.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Tabbing the tablets

It’s not Kindle that the iPad will have to fight, but the big brawny tablet pack

The day of reckoning finally came when Steve Jobs unveiled a thin slate-like product called Apple iPad in front of an awed audience. While many were prudish enough to think this was the first tablet, others thought Apple’s official foray into the Tablet PC segment would pose more of a headache for e-readers, especially the Kindle.
But while the iPad brings in a lot of bling and versatility, tablet PCs have been here for nearly a decade. The trend started in 2001 when Microsoft announced its Windows XP-based tablet, defined as a pen-enabled computer. Things have moved on since.
The most popular tablet PCs now are convertibles which are almost like regular notebooks but have a screen, usually touch-enabled, which can swivel 180 degrees. There are also hybrids with a detachable keyboard, and slates with touch-enabled keyboards or s stylus for data input. The latest entrant is the booklet dual touchscreens that fold like a book.

Here is a look at what the iPad is up against.

The Modbook actually was the second biggest crowd puller at the MacWorld Expo 2007 after the I-phone. You can either buy a brand new Modbook, which is a MacBook that is modified and sold directly by Axiotron, or send a Macbook to be modified by the company with top shell made of magnesium alloy with metal finish, a aircraft grade magnesium alloy frame, a new LCD screen and a Force Glass display to track the response of the stylus. While a brand new Modbook costs around $1700, a customer-sent Macbook can be modified for as low as $500. Features include Intel chipsets, MACOS X v10.5 Leopard, up to 4 GB RAM, 500 GB SATA hard drive, an optical drive and a GPS device.

The most anticipated product after the iPad, Microsoft’s courier booklet has captured the tech world’s imagination since popular tech blog Gizmodo showcased a preview late last year. The Courier will contain two seven-inch multi-touch screens that respond to a stylus or finger touch. A 3-megapixel digital camera with 4x zoom is integrated into the prototype, and the final model may contain an inductive charging pad for charging batteries wirelessly. However, it remains to be seen how much of these features actually make it to the final product.

This slate from Samsung is ideal for taking business to the road. Featuring Vista Business Edition and an Intel Core Solo Processor ULV U1500, the Samsung Q1 Ultra Premium can support all PC applications and still weighs just under two pounds. It sports an ultra bright 7” touchscreen, and the latest Intel Ultra Low Voltage CPU. Plus, the unique QWERTY keyboard makes typing easier than on a touchscreen.

The Scribbler looks much like the iPad, but costs four times more at $ 2,049. It runs on a 1.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo ULV processor and has 1GB of RAM. The 12.1” XGA TFT screen has a sunlight readable display. The 3.3lbs unit also has a 1.3MP camera and Bluetooth 2.0.

The latest offering from the HP Touchsmart stables is the economically priced HP Touchsmart tm2t which features some smart and slick options like the Intel Core 2 Duo Ultra Low Voltage (ULV) processor, Radeon graphics up to 8 GB DDR3 RAM and hard drives that are expandable till 500 GB. HP has been in the tablet business for sometime with its flagship Tablet PC becoming quite a hit in India, but whether this one will live up to the recently launched demons like the I-Pad is something that we will have to wait and watch out for. As of now the product is available for a decent $950 and considering the high end pricing of most convertible notebooks this one looks like an option worth considering.

This one takes the cake as far as hard-hitting tablets are concerned. No we are not talking about Ecstasy pills but outside the Panasonic ToughBook, which was a convertible notebook, the Armor X10 is a tablet PC that literally can take a lot of pounding. Featuring the IntelCoreDuo Mobile Technology, a large 10.4-inch LCD display, readablility even in direct sunlight, the DuraCase aluminum housing for maximum strength and ShutOut sealing technology that allows for open connectors this tablet sure can take and pack a punch.

A convertible laptop which costs a steep $1900 or more, the LifeBook has garnered rave reviews for its usability. Packed with features like an Intel Core2 Duo processor, DDR2-667 SD RAM upgradeable up to 2 GB, a 8.9. inch LCD display and 120 GB shock proof S-ATA 150 hard drive it comes with a host of connectivity options. It also has a SD card reader slot on board. The straight looks of the Lifebook and the fact that it is apt for business has been a great deal maker for people who are always on the move.

Ever since Jobs revealed the iPad, Fujitsu has been wondering what the hoopla is all about. Its lightweight slate has already been raking in rave reviews as the “ideal option for mobile workers”. The 3.4 pound unit features a 10.4 XGA, indoor/outdoor viewable screen, ultra low voltage Intel Pentium M processor and MS Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. It’s also got two USB port — iPad has just one — Infrared, External monitor, modem, Ethernet, IEEE 1394 and system interface connector. The RAM is expandable up to 2GB while the hard drive can be 40 or 60 GB ATA. It also has PC card slots, another feature missing in the iPad.
So, do you still want to buy the iPad?

virtually there

See how virtual reality will change your life, soon