Category Archives: productivity

The Future Computer User Interface

Computers keep getting smaller. But one thing that will have to change if computers continue to get smaller, is what kind of interface will be used to interact with them. Keyboards can’t get much smaller and still be usable. Talking to a computer may be the future, but that is still a ways off to be practical. That reminds me of comical Star Trek movie segment where they go back in time and Scotty tries to talk to a present day computer.

Â

But the most fascinating work that I have seen to date is being done by a young gentleman by the name of Pranav Mistry from MIT. He recently did a demonstration of his work at a conference. It is far too amazing to describe. It it best to watch the videos.

Â

The 8000 mile tech. support call with Skype and Crossloop

It has always amazed me how complicated vendors make it to set up a WiFi network at home. Case in point. I am currently in Saudi Arabia. My sister lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. She recently received a new laptop and wanted to connect to her WiFi router. When I was out there in 2008 I had set up their home network for them and written down all the important passwords such as the router administrator password and the network key. That was over a year ago and things get misplaced. Thanks to Skype I was able to talk to her about some of the things to do, but without those key passwords, there was skypeonly so far I could go. So I took the last step of resetting the router and proceeded to set up her home network for her. Usually this could have been a very long process if I had to describe this over the phone to someone who is not technical. Trying to explain to a non-techy how to enter http:// by itself can be confusing for some. But I was using Crossloop which allowed me to connect to her laptop and do all the work as if I was sitting right there. Now I know that the latest version of Skype allows you to share screens, but when you are rebooting routers, you loose the connection. So I was using Skype to call her land line. With Skype subscription service, I pay $3 a month for unlimited calling to North America.

crossloop

Crossloop is a very simple program to use. You go to Crossloop.com and register an account. The registration and use of the software is free. Then you download the application and start it up. You have 2 tabs depending on which end of the call you are on. If you are the one needing support, you click on the Share tab. You will be given and 12 digit number. The person doing the support clicks on the Access tab and enters your 12 digit number that you give them, and clicks on connect. After a few seconds the person getting the support is asked if they want to connect, they click on the connect button and say yes they want to allow the person giving the support access to view their screen. From then on it was like was sitting there on the computer in Vancouver (except for the +25 degree difference in temperatures). Crossloop is very secure as it generates a new code for each connection. So there is no need to worry about the support person dialing back in and downloading data. Once the session is ended, the code is no longer valid.

So thanks to technology, a happy ending to the story. My sister is happy and everything is working fine with her new laptop and home network. I wonder what the fee would be for a tech. support call from 8000 miles away?

Is ASUS the Next Apple?

ASUS Eee PCOver the past couple of years there has been a lot of talk about UMPC or Ultra Mobile PC’s. There were lots of prototypes from companies like Intel, but everything was in the future. Then a company called ASUS, or ASUSTek, released their Eee PC in 2007. This was a very small notebook that make the bold step of having Linux as the operating system. At first no one was quite sure what to thinks about it, but over the last year, the Eee PC has taken off. Probably the biggest reason is the retail price is in the $400 range.

The other bold steps made by ASUS was that the Eee PC had no hard disk. You can get one in 4GB, 8GB and now 16GB flash memory. This means no moving parts in the notebook, which leads to more reliability. Lastly, the screen is 7 inches.

In terms of functionality you have all the basics. Wifi, internet browsing, web cam and audio. Accoding to their web site there are over 40 applications pre-installed.

Now why do I ask if ASUS is the next Apple? Over the years I have attended my share of tech. events and became aware of the number of Apple Mac Books vs. other laptops being used by the audience. Recently when I attended the Northern Voice event in Vancouver, another group of notebooks was popping up. This was the Eee PC. It was funny to watch as people pulled out their Eee PC, slowly small crowds began to form. The owners were checking their email, writing blog postings and recording video of speakers. The biggest draw, was the small footprint.

The popularity of these notebooks was further confirmed by third party accessory companies who are now coming out with products for the Eee PC. A-Data has released Eee PC branded flash memory and USB memory stick.

Due to the success of the Eee PC, there are competitors who have their notebooks being released over the next couple of months. Acer, HP and MSI as well as many other lesser known manufacturers are all fighting for their piece of the pie. ASUS is not laying down and letting these others take market share. They are releasing a 9 inch screen version, will now go up to 32 GB of RAM and…will come installed with Microsoft Windows XP.

The market for ultra portables will heat up further in June when Intel releases their Atom processor. This small footprint, high performance processor will be perfect for the ultra portables. ASUS has decided to push out their 9 inch screen in May rather than wait for the Atom processor. Others are a mixed bag. Whether or not this will be a mis-step for ASUS, only time will tell. Right now it is their market share to grow or not.

The Pen of the Future

Every year in Feb. there is an event in California called Demo. This event is where startups get to pitch their products to venture capitalists. the catch is they have exactly 6 minutes to do the presentation. There are always lots of great products but the pen from LiveScribe blew me away. Watch this video to see what I mean.

Livescribe Video

Finally, Free Instant Messenger for the Blackberry

OK, I know it has been awhile, but I moved across the country; so I was a little tied up 😉
Webmessenger

I have blogged about a couple of other instant messengers for Blackberries before, and have had various amounts of success with them. There is a new player out there. WebMessenger has been around for awhile, but they recently announced that they were offering their personal instant messenger for FREE!

I tried it out and it was a breeze to set up. One of the biggest issues with Instant Messengers has been to get MSN Messenger, or Live Messenger on a Blackberry. WebMessenger does this without a hitch. RIM has been saying for some time that they would have a version for MSN, but so far only Yahoo and Google Talk.

Before you try to get it working on your Blackberry, you need to set up an account on the WebMessenger site. You simply tell them your logins for each of the IM’s out there and then when you login on the blackberry, all your contacts will be there.

…now if I could just get Rogers to offer a cheap data plan.

Instant Messanger within your Browser

Meebo is an online Instant Messenger application that allows you to run the application from within your browser. This is perfect for those times when you are traveling and need to use an Internet Cafe, or a locked down PC at work that does not allow you to install applications. I wrote about Meebo previoiusly.

To further integrate Meebo into your browser, Meebo has just released a Firefox extension. This adds a pane to the right side of your browser and lists all of your buddies online. You can also ‘disconnect’ the pane and have it work as if it were a stand alone application.

MSN Messenger on a Blackberry

I have had a Blackberry for a few months now and am finding more and more features for it. This week I finally found an IM client for MSN Messenger. (note to US readers, AIM is the IM of choice in the US, in Canada MSN is the most widely used) The advantage of EQO is that is can do ICQ, Yahoo Messenger, AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) and even Skype via a plugin.

Blackberry does have IM support on its server software, but only if you have the most recent 4.1 version

Now I have email and IM wherever I go…(I just have to figure out if that is really a good thing 😉

IE tab for Firefox

FirefoxThis is another party I was a little late for. I don’t know how many techies have told me to use Firefox vs. IE due to better security. The issue is that my company is standardized on IE. To the point where certain internal websites will not even run on Firefox.

Now I have discovered the IE tab for Firefox. This is an extension for Firefox. Firefox has hundreds of extensions, or plugins or addons; whichever definition your are more comfortable with. These extensions allow you to add features to Firefox. The whole system is pretty slick. Every time you boot Firefox it automatically checks for updates to Firefox and extensions. If is finds any, it will update them. This is not an Adobe-esqe type of update that takes 10 minutes, but it generally takes about 5-10 seconds. I could do a whole post on Firefox, but for now, I’ll focus on the IE tab.

After you install the IE tab extension you can switch, on the fly, between Firefox and an IE “emulation mode”. You do not need to exit Firefox or run IE at the same time. You just click on the Firefox icon on the lower toolbar and it switches to IE. If you have some sites that you know require IE, like Windows update and, in my case our reporting system. You can add those web sites to a list and Firefox will automatically load the IE emulation when you go to those sites.

Now I can have the security, speed, and flexibility of Firefox and the IE specific requirements when I need them.