Category Archives: Tech & Business

Photo Albums of the Future

Another year, another Bill Gates keynote address at CES. Problem was, the old fella didn’t have a whole hell of a lot of new toys to show off this year (MSN Premium!? Wowzers!). So, Microsoft being Microsoft, they brought out an R&D guy to show off some vaporware. Finally, some “wow” factor: the collaborative filtering for digital photo albums the guy showed off was mind-bending, sorting a morass of photos into different, customizable “bins” using tools like face recognition. The goal is to let you to sort your photos like so: “Pictures with people in them, taken outside, in May 2004.” Sliding bars for each attribute make your “bins” more or less granular. All of this is displayed in a 3-D graphical user interface that tiles each bin’s photos in a deeply pleasing way. Yes, Microsoft is playing catch-up to Apple’s iLife suite of music and photo tools, but presumably this is the way everyone’s software is heading. My unorganized, untenable collection of digital photos salivates.
· Bill Gates’ Keynote Address [Gizmodo]
· Ongoing CES Mania [Gizmodo]

Brand Spanked

Remember when branding was next to godliness? Be the brand! Live the brand! It’s all about the brand! Err, wait, actually—maybe it’s not:

Three years ago, almost half of the 8,000 shoppers polled by America’s Research in the week after Thanksgiving (48%) thought brand names were “extremely important” for choosing holiday gifts. This year, fewer than a third (32%) felt the same way… Many shoppers seem to be dreaming of a generic Christmas.

Yup. Shopped Best Buy or Circuit City lately? Prepare for an onslaught of unfamiliar names mixed in with the occasional Sony or JVC. Used to be you knew to avoid a brand (here’s looking at you, Realistic) because when you depressed a button, it fell off in your hand. Now, quality interface design—ahhh, sleek silver goodness—is practically a commodity. Quoth a Circuit City spokesman: “When [shoppers] arrive, they make decisions based on things like tactile experience— how does it look?—and perception of quality.” Check that: not quality, but the perception thereof. Long live the brand!
· Brand Names Paying Price for Change in Shopping Trends [nytimes]

Office iTunes

2003_12_poisoned.jpgOnce we got Kazaa Lite back up and running on the home PC (temporarily—more on that below), we were reminded how inferior Limewire is for music file sharing. (Memo to lawyers: our interest in this topic is for research purposes only.) A little research on file sharing portal Zeropaid turned up relatively new Mac fileshare program Poisoned, which taps not only into the Gnutella network (used by Limewire) but also the far larger FastTrack network (used by Kazaa). So we downloaded. Love the name! Interface looks gorgeous! And the icon—a beaker of strange green liquid—genius! The drawback: we can’t download a damn thing with it. Maybe your luck will be better. (Silver lining: apparently the next version of Kazaa will work for the Mac.)
· Macintosh Users Join Kazaa Network [news.com]
· Sharman Shows Intense Interest in Poisoned [slyck.com]
· Download Poisoned [download.com]

RELATED: Just as we’re getting back in touch with Kazaa Lite (the rogue non-spyware version of Kazaa), Kazaa’s parent company Sharman has to go and shut it down on Monday. The fallout is almost too good to be true: “This latest act from Sharman punctuates a long history of hypocrisy that involves the protection of their own intellectual property rights, yet blatantly ignoring the copyrights of others.” Riiiight.
· Kazaa Shuts Down Kazaa Lite [theregister.co.uk]

· Sharman Exterminating Kazaa Lite K++ [slyck.com]

The Harder They Fall

Pumped up by the upgrade success at work, we turned our attention to our home tech, where our 1999-era Dell PC has had its guts eaten out by viruses this year. Gentle readers, even Peter Norton threw up his hands. The mere act of opening a web browser often took as long as 30 seconds… which is not why we pay Time Warner Cable $44.95 a month. So, for about $75, we snagged a new 60GB hard drive, and installed it this past weekend in place of the sluggish 20GB model. Now, it’s like we’ve just been given a new computer. Thanks, Western Digital!
· Shop For Hard Drives [cdw.com]

Quark 6 and Friends

They told us we were crazy. They told us we were insane. But still, last month, our office went ahead and upgraded everyone’s Mac from the creaking OS 9 to Panther (OS 10.3). Then—Dear God!—we upgraded from Quark 4.2 to Quark 6. Since its release earlier this year, Quark 6 has taken a pounding from users bitching primarily about the cost (it ain’t cheap, though it’s tolerable if you’re upgrading) and the horrible activation policy (each copy can only be put on one computer—period). The Margulis Color Newsletter captured the anti-Quark sentiment:

I have no intention of getting involved with any such copy-protection scheme for anything short of an operating system with *any* company, let alone Quark. This makes it unnecessary, in my view, to evenconsider what the features of Quark 6 are. I’m not going to buy it; while
everybody’s workflow requirement is different and you may find this
copy-protection less onerous than I do, I hope you won’t buy it either.

If you refuse Quark 6, though, you’re stuck working with Quark in the buggy “Classic Mode”—a fate worth than death, as those who’ve tried it can tell you. So upgrade we did. A month later, the results? A’s across the board. From a magazine production perspective, everyone loves iPhoto, the new font manager in Panther, and—go figure—Quark 6, which has proven itself remarkably bug-free in our environment. (If you use a lot of third-party XTensions, it seems that your mileage may vary). Were the upgrades worth it? Yes, yes, and yes.
· Quark 6 Review [macworld.com]

· Bugs By The Billions [versiontracker.com] an alternate take!
· First Impressions of Panther [jvg.com]