Friday, September 26, 2008

Nomads at last


Nomads at last

Wireless communication is changing the way people work, live, love and relate to places—and each other, says Andreas Kluth (interviewed here)

Illustration by Bell Mellor

AT THE Nomad Café in Oakland, California, Tia Katrina Canlas, a law student at the nearby university in Berkeley, places her double Americano next to her mobile phone and iPod, opens her MacBook laptop computer and logs on to the café's wireless internet connection to study for her class on the legal treatment of sexual orientation. She is a regular here but doesn't usually bring cash, so her credit-card statement reads “Nomad, Nomad, Nomad, Nomad”. That says it all, she thinks. Permanently connected, she communicates by text, photo, video or voice throughout the day with her friends and family, and does her “work stuff” at the same time. She roams around town, but often alights at oases that cater to nomads.

Christopher Waters, the owner, opened the Nomad Café in 2003, just as Wi-Fi “hotspots” were mushrooming all around town. His idea was to provide a watering-hole for “techno-Bedouins” such as himself, he says. Since Bedouins, whether in Arabian deserts or American suburbs, are inherently tribal and social creatures, he understood from the outset that a good oasis has to do more than provide Wi-Fi; it must also become a new—or very old—kind of gathering place. He thought of calling his café the “Gypsy Spirit Mission”, which also captures the theme of mobility, but settled for the simpler Nomad.

As a word, vision and goal, modern urban nomadism has had the mixed blessing of a premature debut. In the 1960s and 70s Herbert Marshall McLuhan, the most influential media and communications theorist ever, pictured nomads zipping around at great speed, using facilities on the road and all but dispensing with their homes. In the 1980s Jacques Attali, a French economist who was advising president François Mitterrand at the time, used the term to predict an age when rich and uprooted elites would jet around the world in search of fun and opportunity, and poor but equally uprooted workers would migrate in search of a living. In the 1990s Tsugio Makimoto and David Manners jointly wrote the first book with “digital nomad” in the title, adding the bewildering possibilities of the latest gadgets to the vision.

But all of those early depictions and predictions of nomadism arguably missed the point. The mobile lifestyles currently taking shape around the world are nothing like those described in the old books. For this the authors cannot be blamed, since the underlying technologies of genuine and everyday nomadism did not exist even as recently as a decade ago. Mobile phones were already widespread, but they were used almost exclusively for voice calls and were fiendishly hard to connect to the internet and even to computers. Laptop computers and personal digital assistants (PDAs) needed fiddly cables to get online, and even then did so at a snail's pace. Reading and sending e-mail on a mobile phone—not to mention synchronising it across several gadgets and computers to create one “virtual” in-box—was unheard of. People took photos using film. There was no Wi-Fi. In short, there were gadgets, but precious little “connectivity”.

Astronauts and hermit crabs

Without that missing piece, several misunderstandings took hold that now require correcting. One had to do with all those gadgets. The old mental picture of a nomad invariably had him—mostly him, at that time—lugging lots of them. Since these machines, large and small, were portable, people assumed that they also made their owners mobile. Not so. The proper metaphor for somebody who carries portable but unwieldy and cumbersome infrastructure is that of an astronaut rather than a nomad, says Paul Saffo, a trend-watcher in Silicon Valley. Astronauts must bring what they need, including oxygen, because they cannot rely on their environment to provide it. They are both defined and limited by their gear and supplies.

Around the turn of the century, as some astronauts, typically executive road warriors, got smarter about packing light, says Mr Saffo, they graduated to an intermediate stage, becoming hermit crabs. These are crustaceans that survive by dragging around a cast-off mollusc shell for protection and shelter. In the metaphorical sense, the shell might be a “carry-on” bag on wheels, stuffed full of cables, discs, dongles, batteries, plugs and paper documents (just in case of disc failure). These hermit crabs strike fear into the hearts of seated airline passengers whenever they board, because their shells invariably bang into innocent shins all the way to their seat. They carry less than astronauts—and are thus more mobile—but are still quite heavily laden with gear, mostly as a safeguard against disasters.

Urban nomads have started appearing only in the past few years. Like their antecedents in the desert, they are defined not by what they carry but by what they leave behind, knowing that the environment will provide it. Thus, Bedouins do not carry their own water, because they know where the oases are. Modern nomads carry almost no paper because they access their documents on their laptop computers, mobile phones or online. Increasingly, they don't even bring laptops. Many engineers at Google, the leading internet company and a magnet for nomads, travel with only a BlackBerry, iPhone or other “smart phone”. If ever the need arises for a large keyboard and some earnest typing, they sit down in front of the nearest available computer anywhere in the world, open its web browser and access all their documents online.

Another big misunderstanding of previous decades was to confuse nomadism with migration or travel. As the costs of (stationary) telecommunications plummeted, it became fascinating to contemplate “the death of distance” (the title of a book written by Frances Cairncross, then on the staff of The Economist). And since the early mobile phones were aimed largely at business executives, it was assumed that nomadism was about corporate travel in particular. And indeed many nomads are frequent flyers, for example, which is why airlines such as JetBlue, American Airlines and Continental Airlines are now introducing in-flight Wi-Fi. But although nomadism and travel can coincide, they need not.

Humans have always migrated and travelled, without necessarily living nomadic lives. The nomadism now emerging is different from, and involves much more than, merely making journeys. A modern nomad is as likely to be a teenager in Oslo, Tokyo or suburban America as a jet-setting chief executive. He or she may never have left his or her city, stepped into an aeroplane or changed address. Indeed, how far he moves is completely irrelevant. Even if an urban nomad confines himself to a small perimeter, he nonetheless has a new and surprisingly different relationship to time, to place and to other people. “Permanent connectivity, not motion, is the critical thing,” says Manuel Castells, a sociologist at the Annenberg School for Communication, a part of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

This is why a new breed of observers is now joining the ever-present futurists and gadget geeks in studying the consequences of this technology. Sociologists in particular are trying to figure out how mobile communications are changing interactions between people. Nomadism, most believe, tends to bring people who are already close, such as family members, even closer. But it may do so at the expense of their attentiveness towards strangers encountered physically (rather than virtually) in daily life. That has implications for society at large.

Anthropologists and psychologists are investigating how mobile and virtual interaction spices up or challenges physical and offline chemistry, and whether it makes young people in particular more autonomous or more dependent. Architects, property developers and urban planners are changing their thinking about buildings and cities to accommodate the new habits of the nomads that dwell in them. Activists are trying to piggyback on the ubiquity of nomadic tools to improve the world, even as they worry about the same tools in the hands of the malicious. Linguists are chronicling how nomadic communication changes language itself, and thus thought.

Beyond technology

This special report, in presupposing that a wireless world will soon be upon us, will explore these ramifications of mobile technology, rather than the technologies themselves or their business models. But it is worth making clear that technology underlies all of the changes in today's nomadic societies, so that its march will accelerate them. Wireless data connections, in particular, seem to be getting better all the time. Cellular networks will become faster and more reliable. Short-range Wi-Fi hotspots are popping up in ever more places. And a new generation of wireless technologies is already poised to take over. Regulators have grasped that the airwaves are now among society's most important assets. America, for instance, has just auctioned off a chunk of spectrum with new rules that require the owner to allow any kind of device and software to run on the resulting network.

Devices, too, are on a steep trajectory. Just as Sony's Walkman once planted the notion that music can be mobile, the BlackBerry by Research In Motion (RIM), a Canadian firm, has since 1999 made e-mail on the go seem normal. And just as the personal-computer era entered the mainstream only in the 1980s with Apple's commercialisation of the “graphical user interface”, the mobile era arguably began only last summer when the same firm launched the iPhone, with its radically new and user-friendly touch interface. As a result, Google, for instance, has received 50 times more web-search requests from iPhones this year than from any other mobile handset.

Cumulatively, all of these changes amount to a historic merger, at long last, of two technologies that have already proved revolutionary in their own right. The mobile phone has changed the world by becoming ubiquitous in rich and poor countries alike. The internet has mostly touched rich countries, and rich people in poor countries, but has already changed the way people shop, bank, listen to music, read news and socialise. Now the mobile phone is on course to replace the PC as the primary device for getting online. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 3.3 billion people, more than half the world's population, now subscribe to a mobile-phone service (see chart 1), so the internet at last looks set to change the whole world.

To people in early-adopter countries such as South Korea and Japan this will come as no surprise. (Five of the ten bestselling novels in Japan last year were written on mobile phones.) Nor will it come as a shock to people in their teens and twenties elsewhere who have never known life without text messages; or to itinerant salesmen and executives who have for years been glued to their BlackBerries day and night. By contrast, many older people will strain to recognise themselves in the behaviour patterns described in this report, and indeed may never adopt them. But the lesson of history is that what the geeks and early adopters do today, the rest of us will probably end up doing tomorrow or the day after. It is the pioneers that set the direction; the mainstream will follow in time.

The most wonderful thing about mobile technology today is that consumers can increasingly forget about how it works and simply take advantage of it. As Ms Canlas sips her Americano and dives into her e-mail in-box at the Nomad Café, she gives no thought to the specifications and standards that make her connection possible. It is the human connections that now take over. Since humans, as Sigmund Freud put it, must arbeiten und lieben, work and love, in order to find fulfilment, this report will start off by examining how they will work.

(taken from The Economist print edition

Apr 10th 2008 )

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Open source telephony new star at TV producer. Open technology competes in proprietary PABX world

Open source telephony new star at TV producer
Open technology competes in proprietary PABX world

FremantleMedia's IT manager,  Alan Fear
FremantleMedia's IT manager, Alan Fear

When TV production company FremantleMedia Australia had an opportunity to move to IP telephony during an office refurbishment, the open source Asterisk proved itself to offer everything required and more for the 150-plus handset deployment.

The company used a Samsung PABX for about four years and a replacement was driven by a merger, the refurbishment of an existing building, and a need for more handsets.

FremantleMedia's IT manager Alan Fear, said with IP telephony being "the buzzword", the team decided to evaluate the options.

"I knew about Asterisk and it seemed like an attractive proposition, but to give the organization a feeling of comfort we needed to get commercial support, especially as it is open source software," Fear said.

After searching the Internet Fear found local Asterisk integrator Digital Armour Corporation, which helped set up a 50-handset pilot.

"It was a little bit rocky to start with as it was a hardware issue," Fear said. "We were using a Digium card and the firmware was a bit funny, but once we got on top of that it was all okay."

When the refurbishment was complete, the Asterisk system was moved to the main office in an "easy migration" and now more than 150 extensions are available for the 120 staff.

The IP desk phones are mostly Linksys SPA942 four-line phones. During the testing phase FremantleMedia looked at units from Snom, Polycom and Cisco, and while "they all worked" Linksys was chosen as it was "good looking, functional, and easy to use".

"The previous system being proprietary gave us no scope to do anything other than what Samsung provided us so there was a distinct limitation," Fear said. "One of the biggest advantages of Asterisk is we can customize it to our needs with scripting on the server or by rethinking how you use the system. Take the integration of faxes, for example. You can do this with any PABX, but you need to bolt on another server. With Asterisk we can use 10 in-dial lines to deliver faxes electronically. That saved us about 30K by using Hylafax as our fax server."

Another in-house application of Asterisk is speed dialing to and from the security company, which Fear said was an easy way ensure direct communication.

"We now have an operator console on reception, that is a big plus for the receptionist," Fear said. "It's extremely reliable and a very good system."

Regarding cost, Fear said Asterisk cost about 50 percent of an equivalent system. The company looked at Mytel, and upgrading Samsung to IP and even with buying all new handsets it was still cheaper.

"On running costs we have saved money as we previously used an external conferencing company, but now use Asterisk's conferencing facility," he said.

The conference service was costing upwards of $1000 per month.

With voice and data on separate LANs, FremantleMedia has not had to purchase anything proprietary as the system comprises a HP DL380 box with 2GB of RAM, SAS disks running the Trixbox 2.2 distribution with FreePBX, and Linksys 24-port PoE switches.

"This means we can easily replicate our environment," Fear said.

The company bought 10 G.729 licences, but it is not using it as calls are not being placed over the Internet. External calls are serviced with Optus over the PSTN.

Asterisk also delivers voice messages to e-mail and redirects support calls to the OTRS helpdesk application.

"With the old PABX we were under maintenance and at the beck and call of Samsung, now we have absolute control over the same thing," Fear said.

Digital Armour CEO Maria Padisetti said FremantleMedia is a perfect example of how any business, big or small, can benefit from open source technology.

"FremantleMedia is a highly efficiency-driven business and if it can use Asterisk to its advantage with a proven time record of system performance, maybe it's time more companies evaluate this alternative for their businesses as well," Padisetti said.

Now playing: DVD movies, Windows audio files on Ubuntu Linux

Now playing: DVD movies, Windows audio files on Ubuntu Linux

Users can now find the audio codecs, media player app to watch DVDs on Ubuntu machines
Todd R. Weiss 16/09/2008 08:21:00

Life just got easier for users of the downloadable or boxed retail versions of the Ubuntu Linux 8.04 operating system who want easy and cheap ways of adding DVD playback and improved audio capabilities to their machines.

Inexpensive add-on applications are now available for purchase in the Ubuntu online store that will provide audio codecs and a DVD player to expand the multimedia capabilities of the 4-year-old Linux operating system.

Previously, users of the freely downloaded or boxed versions of the Ubuntu Linux 8.04 could run into compatibility troubles while trying to play DVD movies or some types of audio tracks on their computers.

That was because many DVD player applications and audio codec files are proprietary, fee-based and owned by the vendors that created them, making them impossible to include for free in Ubuntu products.

Canonical, the commercial sponsor of Ubuntu Linux, said it has reached deals with two software vendors, Cyberlink and Fluendo, to sell their DVD player and audio codec applications directly to consumers through the online store. The products are already installed under previous licensing agreements for many laptop and desktop computers that are sold pre-loaded with Ubuntu Linux from hardware vendors, according to Ubuntu.

"It is important to us that no matter how you choose to access Ubuntu, pre-installed or as a free download, that you can have a similarly rich experience," wrote Gerry Carr, Canonical's marketing manager, in a blog entry. "The vast majority of our current users will have installed Ubuntu themselves. These users should also be allowed legal DVD and media playback and so we have built a way of letting them do this."

Carr said in an interview that some open-source projects that have tried to tackle the missing codec and DVD player issues, but that such reuse of the codecs is not necessarily legal.

"They've found a technical workaround, but it hasn't been legally verified," he said. "This is a way to use your Ubuntu Linux distro and legally playback your music and DVDs. At some point, somebody's got to pay these codec providers" to use their products.

The complications of trying to find, install and maintain the proper audio codecs for Linux operating systems like Ubuntu has long been one of the main consumer complaints about Linux operating systems. In many cases, it can be discouraging to deal with the not-so-easy-to-configure audio capabilities, especially when compared to Microsoft's Windows and Apple's Macintosh computer operating systems.

The Cyberlink PowerDVD software sells for US$49.95 in the Ubuntu store and allows users to play commercial DVDs on the latest Version 8.04 of Ubuntu Linux. OpenGL driver support for graphics hardware is also required.

From Fluendo, two audio codec applications are available in the store. The basic Windows Media and MP3 Playback Pack provides plug-ins for the most common Windows Media formats, including Windows Media Audio Decoder (Windows Media 7, 8, 9, 10, Pro, Lossless and Speech), Windows Media Video Decoder (Windows Media 7, 8, 9 and VC1), Windows Media MMS Protocol Support, Windows Media ASF Demuxer and MP3 Audio Decoder. It retails in the store for around US$25.

Also available is the Fluendo Complete Playback Pack, which adds a wider assortment of needed codecs for more file compatibility. The Complete Playback Pack retails for US$39.95.

Ubuntu has been selling boxed versions of its Linux operating system in Best Buy stores since July.

The new Ubuntu store offerings will allow users to eliminate audio and movie compatibility problems on their computers with single-click installation procedures, Carr said. "This has been a problem for consumers in the past," he said. "With this, you can play anything... with no restrictions at all."

This scenario doesn't mean that Ubuntu is looking to find ways to make consumers pay to use Ubuntu, Carr added. "We're never going to make you pay for anything that is fundanmental to the operating system. "You do need this to play DVDs. You do need this to play certain types of audio. We are not diametrically opposed to anyone selling software" to add on for Ubuntu users. "We will be adding additional software to that store as we can. It's entirely optional. It's building that ecosystem."

Tips on saving paper (Taken from BNET)

lexmark-e250d.jpgEveryone could use less paper in their lives. It’s good for the environment, easier on your filing system, and just plain cheaper. Here are three ways you can cut down on the amount of printing you do and paper you consume:

  • Get a duplexing printer The oldest trick in the book is printing on both sides of a sheet of paper, which effectively halves your overall output. But actually doing so is a hassle (which side goes up? which end goes in first?) unless you have a duplexing printer. Monochrome lasers like the Lexmark E250d ($199), Brother HL-5250DN ($249), and HP P2015d ($399) can output doubled-sided documents — something to consider the next time you’re shopping for a printer.
  • Print to PDF Instead of printing and faxing (or mailing) a document, “print” a PDF and e-mail it instead. In the past we’ve explored many ways to turn documents into PDFs; check ‘em out if you’re not sure how to proceed. Then check out Unclutterer’s clever tip on another type of document you should always print to PDF.
  • Sign documents electronically When a document needs your signature, that usually means printing it out, signing it, and then returning it to sender. To save paper, start by digitizing your signature, then adding it to your PDFs. Alternately, check out EchoSign, which takes the hassle out of signing documents digitally.
Any paper-saving tips of your own to share?

EU scrutinizes Google-Yahoo deal

September 16th, 2008

EU scrutinizes Google-Yahoo deal

By Richard Koman

More trouble for Google’s advertising deal with Yahoo: The European Union is launching an antitrust “inquiry” into the deal, even though it only applies to Yahoo’s search in North America. If the inquiry proves fruitful, the EU Competition Commission could escalate it into an “investigation.”

How is this even the EU’s concern? The commission says it is because the companies do business in Europe, according to the BBC. The U.S. Justice Department is also investigating.

But the EU investigation could prove more troubling that the Justice Dept’s work since “EU antitrust regulations have traditionally proven more strict than American ones,” the BBC notes.

The companies were hoping to avoid EU scrutiny by limiting the deal to the US and Canada but he who lives by the Internet dies by the Internet.

“It’s not the same as if this happened with two shoe manufacturers,” Juan Delgado, a research fellow at Bruegel, said. “In this case, you’re talking about advertising on the Internet, and it’s difficult to assess who’s going to be affected.”

Meanwhile, the World Association of Newspapers issued a scathing statement opposing the deal:

[T]he deal will force newspapers to become even more dependent on Google than they are today. By handing Google control of up to 90% of paid search and content advertising, Google will exert tremendous power over both newspapers’ ability to reach readers and their ability to generate online advertising revenue. Perhaps never in the history of newspaper publishing has a single, commercial entity threatened to exert this much control over the destiny of the press.

While newspapers rely on Google for a significant portion of their online advertising revenues, we rely even more on the robustness of Google’s competitors to place constraints on its power. The Google-Yahoo deal would spell the end of this competition, thereby further weakening the viability and economic independence of the world’s newspapers.

(As a law school graduate and technology writer, Richard Koman brings a unique perspective to the blog's intersection of law, government and technology. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Google gets cozy with an uneasy friend

Google employees, in blue T-shirts, at the Chicago office of the advertising agency Leo Burnett. (Peter Wynn Thompson for The New York Times)

Google gets cozy with an uneasy friend

By Stephanie Clifford
Published: September 2008

On a July day in Chicago, Google employees swarmed a conference room at the advertising agency Leo Burnett, carrying in couches and beanbag chairs to create a lounge. They gave away candy and showed off Google's advertising technology. Throughout the day, they emphasized a single message: Google is a friend to ad agencies.

No, really.

Advertisers are grappling with the idea of Google, which spent many of its early years avoiding — and infuriating — advertising agencies, now shifting to embrace them.

During the last year, Google has built a 40-person group that is charged with courting agencies, trying to persuade them that their clients should buy ads on Google sites and use the search engine's tools. The Google team — like any ad team — is visiting agencies to show off the company's products, like video ads on YouTube and display ads from DoubleClick. Its representatives are even making regular visits to ad agencies, soliciting suggestions and fielding questions.

"We understand that maybe we haven't been the best partner over the years," said Erin Clift, the director of agency relations at Google.

Google could avoid ad agencies when it sold only search advertising, where it is dominant. But now that it has a wider set of products in more areas — including social media and virtual reality — it finds that it must work harder to drum up business, particularly because of the lingering hard feelings.

Google is "definitely a must-buy in search, but in other things it's not a must-buy," said Jeff Ratner, managing partner and digital director at MindShare North America. "As they start moving more into ad networks and other mediums, they need the agency to help make it a reality."

The most visible part of the new Google strategy is an event called Campus@, which started up in the spring. So far the Campus@ team, which has a core of six employees, has held six events, including one for Leo Burnett, which is part of the Publicis Groupe.

"We essentially take Google — our people, our products, our food, our tchotchkes — roll into the lobbies and give people the chance to interact with Google," Clift said. The events are "a fantastic way to ingratiate ourselves," she said.

Despite all the happy talk, there is still a good deal of skepticism. As Google begins trying to sell television, radio and print advertising and creates tools for buying and planning media campaigns, some advertising executives and academics say that the company is working with the agencies in order to eventually displace them.

Peter Fader, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, sees the Google approach as part of a master plan to get its corporate hooks into more of the agencies' business.

"If Google were to just set up a shingle and say 'Google ad agency,' the traditional agencies will find a way to keep them out of clients' offices," Professor Fader said.

Instead, he said, "they're almost like a virus, going to work their way into specific agencies and replace the DNA of those agencies with a more analytic orientation while trying to maintain some of the client relationships."

Penry Price, Google's vice president for advertising sales for North America, dismissed this view, saying Google had no desire to replace agencies or to take their clients.

"I don't see how we would be able to actually provide a better customer experience to an individual client than an agency can today," he said. "There's no way we could actually line up behind one customer and offer the services and information that an agency can today."

Agencies are not so sure, and they are having mixed reactions to Google's overtures. Some welcome the company enthusiastically. Others say they are unimpressed with Google's products outside of search and nervous about the company's intent.

"I think they're great at pushing and pulling together what suits their agenda," said Peter Gardiner, the chief media officer at the ad agency Deutsch. "I would not necessarily put them on the same level as other media companies in terms of their partnering attitude."

A lot of the mistrust stems from Google's having built a sales force of several hundred people who court large advertisers. While many of Google's sales to small advertisers are automated, the bigger clients get personal attention.

This prompts accusations from ad agencies that Google is courting their clients behind their backs. Agency executives are traditionally the people who decide where their clients should spend their marketing dollars, and while most media companies and technology providers must go through an agency to get onto the client's radar, Google — with its cool-kid aura — had an easy time obtaining meetings directly with clients.

But Google also knows it needs the cooperation of the advertisers' agencies. As Price put it, "we saw that if we had higher hopes and aspirations of getting larger budgets and being a part of these larger marketers' decisions, a lot of decision-making was done at the agencies."

The balance of power is not entirely clear. Google and the agencies behave a bit like "frenemies": as much as the agencies might like to ignore Google, they cannot (indeed, the WPP Group's chief executive, Martin Sorrell, called Google a frenemy, which he later amended to a "froe").

The perks of Google's power are on display at the Campus@ events. When Google visits agencies, it typically brings in a gelato cart or a coffee bar. It has even built a replica of Google's office kitchens. It offers free food and prizes of iPod Touches.

At Leo Burnett's headquarters, there were about 20 Google employees, almost all of them young, bright-eyed and peppy. They wore royal blue Campus@ T-shirts, some of the women with loose cotton skirts and flip-flops and the men with khakis or jeans.

Lisa Green, a senior agency-relations manager who was explaining a Google analytical product, told members of the Leo Burnett staff, "It's very natural, as a human, to hear something and want more information, and Google just makes that easier."

The Leo Burnett executives sounded appreciative. Speaking about the Google people, John Condon, chief creative officer of Leo Burnett America, told his employees, "You've got some of the best and brightest people in the industry here. Don't hold anything back. Milk 'em."

The dialogue was indeed two-way. For instance, in June, Google introduced a tool called Ad Planner that shows media buyers sites their likely audiences might visit, based on criteria like demographics. Google previewed Ad Planner with some agency executives and is now seeking more feedback. (The day the product was announced, the share price of a competitor, comScore, dropped 22.5 percent.)

Ad Planner is one element of a bigger product called a media dashboard that Google is working on. It would offer media planners a data-rich screen that would tell them where all the ads for a campaign were running, how they were doing and how much they had cost.

Some agency executives are excited about what Google has to offer. "You can see them as a threat, and we don't at all," said Ashley Vinson, an executive at the agency DDB, which recently held a Campus@ event. "It's a complete opportunity. It's like working with a world-class director or production company."

Rob Norman, the chief executive of GroupM Interaction, a large media-buying firm, said he had some problems with Google but did not feel particularly threatened by it.

"I think there still may be at least one human media planner left, other than the one that pulls the handle on the Google machine," he said.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Google Chrome: the first true Web 2.0 browser

Computerworld takes an in-depth look at Google's new browser.

Preston Gralla (Computerworld (US)) 04/09/2008 07:50:00

Google's just-released Chrome takes the same approach to browser design that Google takes to its home page -- stripped-down, fast and functional, with very few bells and whistles.

That's both the good news and the bad news about this browser. Those who like a no-frills approach to their Web experience, and who want the content of Web sites front and center, will welcome it. But those who want a more fully-featured interface with extras will prefer either Internet Explorer or Firefox.

That being said, keep in mind that this is a first beta, and Google may well introduce new features in future versions. For example, this beta does not have a true bookmarks manager, but it would be quite surprising if one didn't show up in future betas.

In fact, there's a very long list of features this browser doesn't have. There's no built-in RSS reader, as there is in Internet Explorer, or that's available as an add-on for Firefox. You won't find a good bookmarks manager, such as you'll find in both Internet Explorer and Firefox. There are no add-ons as you'll find in Firefox. Be warned -- the list of what's not there can go on for quite some time.

That was all by design, though, and it's why Google calls this browser Chrome. The frame of a browser is called its chrome, and Google set out to reduce the browser to just the "chrome." In a comic book that gives technical background about the browser, Google explains its design philosophy this way: "We don't want to interrupt anything the user is trying to do. If you can just ignore the browser, we've done a good job."

If that was the goal, Google has succeeded. Chrome has so little interface, the content area of the browser is larger than with other browsers -- it almost feels like full-screen mode. Nothing gets in the way of the content of the browser window itself. In the same way that Google puts search front and center on its home page, this browser puts content first.

Designed for consumers or enterprises?

A great deal of what makes Chrome different from other browsers is not what you see, but what you don't see. Chrome appears to be designed in great part to run AJAX and Web 2.0 applications. It's the only browser that has been built from the ground up for a world in which the browser is a front end to Web-based applications and services like those that Google provides, and like those that are used increasingly by businesses.

To that end, Google has made dramatic changes under the hood. Google has chosen the open-source WebKit as its rendering engine, and it built its own JavaScript virtual machine called V8 for running JavaScript faster, with more stability, and more securely. Each tab in Chrome runs as its own separate process, so if one tab is busy or bogged down, it won't affect the performance in other tabs. Google claims that designing a browser this way will also cut down on memory bloat.

Also important is that Chrome comes equipped with Google Gears, which is a kind of glue that ties together Web-based applications and your own hard disk.

The effect of all this should be -- says Google -- a browser able to run Web-based applications with the same speed, interactivity, and stability as client-based applications. This means that Chrome may be aimed as much or more at Microsoft Office than it is at Internet Explorer. By providing a superior platform for running its Web-based applications, Google is giving itself a chance to supplant Office with Google Docs.

Seen in that way, the ultimate success of Chrome may be measured more by how many enterprises switch from Office to Google Docs than by how many consumers switch from Internet Explorer to Chrome.

A look at the interface

All that being said, Chrome is, above all, a browser, and nothing would make Google happier than if the entire world switched to it. So the company has given a great deal of thought into rethinking the entire browser interface.

The Chrome interface looks different than any other browser you've seen. Tabs sit above the address bar instead of beneath it. There's no menu, no title bar, and very few icons. In fact, there's not even a home page icon; look for it in vain. By default it's turned off -- to get one, you have to click the Tools icon, then choose Options --> Basics and check the box next to "Show Home button on the toolbar." Overall, it's as stripped-down a browser interface as you'll find.

To get to most browser functions and options, you use menus that drop down from two icons at the right-most portion of the browser -- a page icon and a tools icon. But even there, this browser is stripped-down. For example, the Options menu is where you often find many hidden features, buried beneath multiple tabs. In Chrome, the Options menu (found under the Tools icon) offers only three tabs, none of which includes an overload of choices. You'll mainly find basics such as whether to display the home page icon, where to store your downloads, and so on.

The Address Bar -- what Google calls the Omnibox -- is one of Chrome's nicer features. It doubles as a search bar: Type in your search terms, and it uses the search engine of your choice to do a search. When you instead type in a URL, it works much like the Address Bar in Internet Explorer 8 and Firefox 3, and lists suggested Web pages as you type, which it gathers from previously visited sites and your bookmarks, as well as making suggestions of its own, based on Web site popularity.

When you visit a site, the Address Bar, as with Internet Explorer 8, highlights the domain (such as, while the rest of the URL is lighter, so that it's easy for you to know at a glance on which domain you are currently, even if you're visiting a long URL.

A different type of tab

As with any modern browser, Chrome offers tabbed browsing. In some basic ways, the way it handles tabs is superior to Internet Explorer and Firefox, but in other ways, it's not as sophisticated.

The biggest break with other browsers is that each tab in Chrome is, in essence, its own browser. That's why the tabs are above the Address bar, rather than below it. You can detach any tab by dragging it away from the browser, and it becomes a separate browser window. You can combine separate browser instances into a unified one by dragging it back again, but you have to be careful to drag the tab itself back, rather than trying to drag the whole window, or it won't work.

Because each tab is in essence its own browser, if that tab crashes, it should not crash the entire browser. Microsoft makes the same claim for Internet Explorer 8. I haven't had any tabs crash on me yet in Chrome, so can't verify if this tab-crash feature works.

When you open a new tab, it opens just to the right of the tab from which you've opened it, so to a certain extent Chrome keeps related tabs together. You can drag tabs from place to place within the tab bar, and when they you do that, they slide in place in a smooth animation.

But Chrome doesn't group and color-code tabs like Internet Explorer 8 does. And it doesn't offer right-click options for handling groups of tabs -- for example, in IE8, you can close and duplicate entire tab groups. You can't do that in Chrome. However, Chrome does offer a variety of right-click options for handling tabs, such as closing all the tabs except for your current tab, and closing all tabs to the right of your current tab.

A particularly useful feature is what appears when you open a new tab. Rather than opening to a blank page or your home page, it opens to a page that lists your nine most visited Web pages with a thumbnail for each, a recent bookmark list, recently closed tabs and a search box that lets you search through the history of sites you've visited. Internet Explorer 8 offers a similar feature.

Chrome lacks some very important and basic tab-handling features that other browsers have. When you close Firefox, for example, it asks whether you want to save your tabs, so that you can reopen them all automatically the next time you launch your browser. Chrome has no such feature. Worse yet, it doesn't even ask if you really want to close your browser, so you may find yourself losing entire browsing sessions.

Chrome also doesn't have a feature that will restore previous sessions. You can restore previous tabs by opening a new tab page -- there's a "Recently closed tabs" listing below the "Recent bookmarks" listing on that page. If you've closed several tabs and you only want to reopen one of them, Chrome's way is useful -- you can go right to the tab you want. But it's not as convenient as right-clicking and choosing "Undo Close Tab," you can't re-open more than one at a time, and if you've closed your browser, the entire list goes away.

These are significant shortcomings, and one hopes that Google will add these features in future Chrome versions.

Privacy and security

Chrome has all the security features you'd expect in a modern browser, including a pop-up blocker and anti-phishing tool. As with other browsers, when you visit a site Chrome considers a phishing attack, you'll get a warning screen.

It blocks popups as well. When it does, a subtle notice appears at the bottom of your screen, telling you that a popup was blocked. If for some reason you want to see the popup, click the notice, and the popup appears.

Chrome also has what it calls Incognito mode, in which all traces of your browsing session disappear when you close that window. Cookies, temporary Internet files, browsing history, and so on go away when you close the session. You get there by pressing Ctrl-Shift-N, or choosing "New incognito window" from the Page icon's menu. This mode is the same as Internet Explorer 8's InPrivate Browsing. Think of both of them as porn mode.

Google also says that Chrome increases security in another way, by essentially running each tab in an individual sandbox. The sandbox is closed off from the rest of your PC, Google claims. It can't write to your hard drive, or read files from certain areas of your PC such as your Desktop. Google claims this will help eliminate malware infections.

Application windows: Building a browser for Web 2.0

If you need any evidence that Chrome has been built for AJAX and for applications delivered via the Web, look no further than what Google calls application windows. An application window is a special Chrome mode designed for Web-based applications such as Gmail, Google Calendar, and any other Web-based application.

Create a desktop shortcut to an application window by running the Web-based application, clicking Chrome's Page icon and choosing "Create application shortcuts..." That creates a shortcut on your Desktop, Start menu, or Quick Launch bar to the application. Double-click the icon, and the Web-based application runs in a browser window with no browser controls -- no tabs, buttons, address bar, etc. All you see is the application itself, although there is a small drop-down menu in the header that offers various browser functions such as back, forward, print, and duplicate. Right-clicking also gets you to functions such as back and forward.

In this way, you could have your desktop full of shortcuts to all of your Web-based applications -- word processing, spreadsheets, CRM, and so on. When they run, they appear to be an application running on your PC.

This feature still needs a bit of fine-tuning, because different Web-based applications work differently in it. In Gmail, for example, when you click a mail message, it opens directly inside the application window, which is how you expect it to work. But in Google Docs when you click on a document, the new document instead opens in a new browser instance, complete with the normal browser interface.

A lot of nifty extras

Buried beneath Chrome's bare-bones exterior are hidden some very nice extras, many of them for self-described nerds and techies. One of the niftier features is the Task Manager, an applet similar to Windows' Task Manager. It shows each separate process being used by Chrome, and displays memory use for each, as well as the CPU use each takes up. And it also shows which are currently accessing the Internet or network, and the current access speed.

If you want to free up RAM or CPU, click any process, click "End process" and voila, the process is gone. It's a great tool that offers sometimes surprising information. For example, it showed me that a Shockwave Flash plug-in took up 31MB of RAM, and quite a bit of my CPU, even though I wasn't watching any Flash videos or content. I used the Task Manager to shut it down and freed up both RAM and CPU usage.

There's even more to the Task Manager. Click "Stats for nerds" at the bottom of the window, and a tab opens with even more statistics. It's geek heaven.

Another hidden extra is a kind of search accelerator that lets you quickly search through many popular sites without having to visit them. Type the first letter of the site you want to visit -- such as "a" for Amazon -- into the address bar, then hit the Tab key, and you can then immediately add a search term and search that site.

For this feature to work, you'll have to have done a search on that site previously. So if you want to get it working, go to a popular site and do a search. After that, searching that site is a cinch.

In fact, the way that Chrome handles search is far more intelligent than any competing browser. When you do a search on a site, that site is immediately added to your search engine list. At any point, you can make that search engine your default, or you can do a fast search with the Tab key shortcut. And you can remove any search engines by using the Search Engines options screen.

Chrome handles downloads in a straightforward, helpful manner. Download a file, and when it completes downloading, you'll see a small icon for the download and the file name on the bottom left of the screen -- what Google calls a Download Bar. Click a down arrow, and you can open the file, and open the folder containing the file.

You can also go to your own personal downloads page that lists every one of your downloads, including details such as the location where it was downloaded from, the file name, and date you downloaded it. This page also functions as a download manager. While a download is in progress, you can go to the page, and pause and resume downloads.

There is one drawback to downloading in Chrome, though: It doesn't appear to integrate with your virus-scanner, as does Firefox.

Spend enough time with Chrome, and you'll find even more extras. For example, click a portion of a Web page, select Inspect Element, and you'll launch a window that shows you the HTML coding for that element, as well as the resources the page element uses.

Keep in mind that this is a beta and clearly has some bugs. Ironically, on one page I visited, it was unable to display an embedded Google Map, while Firefox had no problem displaying the map.

The bottom line

Although Chrome is a beta, it feels quite stable; after spending many hours with it and browsing to numerous sites, it didn't crash once. So you can download it without much worry about its stability.

Enterprise IT departments would do well to download Chrome now, particularly if they run or plan to run any Web-based applications. Chrome may well become a primary platform for running these applications, and it would be worthwhile to begin testing now.

Even consumers should consider downloading the browser now, because it represents a new way of browsing the Web. Chrome may be off-putting at first to some because of its bare-bones interface. But give yourself time with it. Gradually, the simplicity grows on you, and you may begin to find yourself using some of its niftier, less-obvious features, such as the search shortcuts.

That being said, the browser still has some significant shortcomings. It needs a true bookmarks manager, and it should offer a right-click option to restore closed tabs. Expect the next iteration of the browser to be more fully featured; don't be surprised, for example, to see a true bookmarks manager.

So try out this beta today, and get set for what will come tomorrow.

For other pics please click the following link:;155298895;img;9447;ssid;1

Thursday, September 4, 2008

What weve done so far?

Foss in AABC has a long way to go.

From starting in Open Office, mozilla firefox, GIMP, Blender and Foxit, AABC has gone quite some distance in trying to go .

Since we've installed Linux on our classrooms,faculty room and administrative offices Ubuntu (versions 6.10,7.04 and 8.04) and Ubuntustudio (multimedia room). And so far our students are adjusting relatively well.

We were quite lucky that we have open source buffs in our IT department. Sir Dennis Jorolan, our animation guru and Sir Brian de Vivar , our PhPMySQL guru.

Our teachers also have been undergoing in house trainings in open office, Google Docs (for document collaboration among students and faculty , Blogger (for faculty who would post lectures and advnace assignments). Though blogging among teachers still has to be reminded (of which takes time).

Were still trying to master Open base and hopefully well also be able to implement that. weve been actively trying to put FOSSpective into our students.

Among the significant things we think we were able to do outside of our regular students was our short courses among them the introduction of Blender as a 3d animation tool, introducing Open source tools in our COffice Shipboard office productivity course for seafarers and our webdesign courses.

This is just the start of our journey. We hope to do more

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