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Platforms are Back in Fashion

23/04/2009 1 comment
The platform is coming back 

 

 

The platform is coming back

Whatever people say about Microsoft, it has made computing accessible to millions of people around the world. It has never been the most innovative company in the computing world but it has always made it that bit easier for more than just highly technical people to do things with computers. There will probably be a plethora of people commenting about the innovation they may or may not have suppressed in computing, but the fact is that over the last fifteen or so years having a computer in your house has not only become normal, it has become essential. 

So, Microsoft technology is not the most exciting technology but it is probably the most important technology that is out there in the world. Their technology has enabled masses of people to get onto the internet, write documents, send and manage emails, and manage your documents for a relatively good price. And more importantly, Microsoft has got people into habits from which other software developers have taken advantage by developing slicker, more flexible and more imaginative alternatives. 

But the biggest thing that Microsoft has done is build a ‘platform’ upon which most of us rely for our PC’s, laptops and servers. Without a common platform, software and computing would be a whole lot more expensive than the prices we are used to today. I can see the swarm of comments building for this post already from ‘open source evangelists’ already. There are plenty of excellent open source applications out there which are highly innovative.

The next big thing ‘boring but important’ change to a platform received further coverage on the BBC with the headline ‘Adobe Flash secures set-top deal‘. Many households with more than one TV in the house but ‘the box’ lives in a different room to the home computer. This has long been talked about. Microsoft and Apple have been building products to enable ‘digital homes’ so we can stream music around our homes from one computer or watch TV through our ‘media centre’. But they have never really been anything other than gadgets. Our internet service providers have been setting us up with bundles of TV, satellite, internet and mobile for some years now too, foreseeing the convergence of all our communications from one provider.

But that’s where the convergence stopped. As the communications cables came into our house from one provider, they split company inside the house and went their own ways to the devices which specialised in being connected to them. The good old TV, albeit an HD-flat-screen-surround-sound-digital panel thing, still has an entertainment spot of its own in the house. The PC or Mac is used for surfing the web to watch videos, collaborate or just browse away the hours looking at stuff you had no idea you were interested in until that very moment. But try surfing the web through your TV and it has been a pretty clunky affair until now. TV’s were not designed to cope with the rich animations and web sites with which we have become familiar. Watching TV through your laptop becomes a very solitary affair which is the opposite to how we have used TV’s for decades. 

But this announcement from Adobe moves us into the next phase of our PC’s, TV’s, DVD’s and mobile phones. Installing Adobe technology into the next generation of TV’s will start to enable web browsing and using rich internet applications in the manner to which we are used to on our laptops and desktops. People will be able to surf the web through their TV’s in a familiar way and, for example, they will be able to download or stream BBC TV programs from the iPlayer and watch them on their TV’s. 

Soon after, we will see the move of the Adobe platform onto mobile phones to enable richer applications to be used on them than is now possible. There is Adobe technology out there which allows this to a certain extent but it is not good enough yet to be able to maximise the potential of the mobile phone to publishers, broadcasters and software developers. When this happens on mobile phones, we will see an explosion in the media which is streamed through them as well as the applications which are used on them.

So, as this activity happens in the background, quietly getting on with building the platform the results of which we will soon become familiar, just remember the name of the company Adobe and have a look at this site and get a feel for how the next platform is being built and what it will mean to you. It’s not the most exciting read you will have, nor may it seem to be terribly important. But, it will be part of your life in the very near future.

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Two Handed, Ten Fingered Computing

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Image via Wikipedia

 

 

I was a bit of an academic ‘waste of space’ at school. One teacher, who was trying to be supportive, said to a gang of about five of us one day, “Many other teachers think of you as wasters”. That was a surprise.

Most people studying for their ‘A’ levels studied three subjects. My poor results at ‘O’ level meant that I was doing just two ‘A’ levels which meant that I had some spare time to fill.

I was duly dispatched to study statistics ‘O’ level and, much to my embarrassment at the time, typing. Well, I failed the statistics exam, although I quite enjoyed the  lessons, and I passed the typing exam.

For many years, the typing qualification was useless. In the Army, I was learning how to clean weapons, carry out platoon attacks and lead a team.

When I left the British Army, I soon found myself working with computers and I quickly picked up touch typing, which had been a distant memory from school.

How ironic. That one skill is probably the single largest barrier for people learning how to use a computer effectively. Typing with two fingers is no fun and it is exhausting if you are looking at your fingers all of the time.

The use of computers in schools, business and the home is now all pervasive but there has been little change in the format of the computer and how we interact with it for a long time, until recently.

Apple really kicked things off with its iPhone, allowing you to touch the screen with more than one finger or your stylus (which I was always losing).

Suddenly, the computer, albeit a pocket-sized computer, was something the masses were touching.

For sure, there have been ‘Tablet PC’s’ around for some time. But they never had the capability to recognise more than one item touching the screen at once.

Last week, I saw ‘Microsoft Surface’ computing for the second time at the BETT Show in London. The beauty of it is that it is a touch screen computer but the screen is the size of a small table. And, you can touch it with more than one finger.

Big deal. But, the beauty is that a user can, say, bring up a picture imageand move it around the screen with one hand while bringing another picture into view with the other hand. This is technically difficult to do. Imagine having ten people using ten mice on the same computer!

Suddenly, this technology breaks a barrier by removing the tools, such as mice, keyboards, pens and single digits, which have traditionally required us to learn a new skill just to start using the computer.

Now, the computer is a step closer to us.

I can see some great applications for these computers in schools helping Classroom Assistants to help children with reading and arithmetic, to help them become more engaged in the most important skills. 

The price of a ‘surface computer’ is pretty steep now but they will become increasingly popular and accessible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Rough Guide to Microsoft Products

I am often asked about Microsoft products, whether it is ‘which is their latest version of Windows,’ or ‘what does SQL Server do,’ or ‘which is their product for whatever.’

So I thought I would produce a quick guide to Microsoft’s most prominent products and how important they are for any organisation to consider.

Click here to see the guide!

If you want to know more, then let me know.

Will

The battle of easiness

08/08/2007 1 comment

Dell Computers have announced that they are going to ship PC’s with Linux as the operating system and not Windows. (Dell rolls out Windows rival in Europe). I am underwhelmed. What a big yawn.

The open source operating system, Linux, has been threatening Microsoft’s Windows operating for some time now. In server technology, Linux is used widely for web servers. On the desktop, there are versions of Linux available for free or a small fee.

Microsoft provokes a lot of negative passion against its operating system and other software from Linux devotees. My brother is a devoted open source techie and spits blood about Microsoft software. I even let him have a go at setting up an old PC of mine with a version of Linux installed so it could act as my web server, proxy server and network server. Afer many hours if fiddling with the machine, it would not work properly. So I ditched it. I just could not be bothered to mess about with it any longer.

With my Windows PC’s in the household, I have enough knowledge to set them up, install new software and hardware and just use them for what they are meant for. Work, play and information.

What is really interesting is what Google is doing with technology for the individual. Their ‘Doc’s and Spreadsheets’ tools, their mail system, and other tools such as Picasa, are excellent and easy to use. I do like Microsoft Office. It’s getting better and better. I like Groove. I like Office Live.

Easy to use! That’s it. That’s all I need. Easy to use as well as easy to access. So, when I say I am underwhelmed by Dell announcing that they are shipping PC’s with Linux installed on them, I couldn’t care less.

As a home user, the operating system will soon become irrelevant to me. What is relevant is what I can do with technology. I can do a lot with Office Live and Google Doc’s and Spreadsheets and I do it online. Soon, I won’t need a big hard drive and masses of applications installed on the machine.

Just give me bandwidth, a browser and make it easy to use!

More time to learn new skills – Part 1

In the IT training world, everything is based around fitting as much content into five days as possible to make the most of the instructor time. Traditional training companies are based upon this principle for their business models. There is nothing particularly wrong with that because it is good for making the business viable and good for giving the course delegates a concentrated burst of information and skills.

The problem comes when the course subject may in fact be too long to fit into five days. Some vendors try to fit six or eight days of content into five days. The result is that the course is rushed and the delegates may not really learn because they have no time to practice the new skills about which they are learning. Or sometimes, vendors fit five says of content into three days of training.

Of course, it’s all about time. The time suits the people buying the training course. It suits the training company and the skills are supposed to be learned in that allocated time.

However, the human brain just cannot take in the amount of information that is conveyed in courses which are ‘crammed’ like this. There is simply not enough time for the learners to practice what they have learned in the classroom. Therefore, most of what gets taught in the classroom is forgotten.

So what can be done?

I will explain a new way in Part 2 of this article.

The Future of digital photos

I am not a particularly avid photographer but I do snap away with our digital camera with much greater abandon than we when we had a 35mm camera. The problem with it all is storing the digital photos and also making them anything like interesting to look at and present them in a way apart from a collage or a slides show.

How dull!

Well, I saw something from Microsoft which is really very interesting and is the future of digital photography fun. It’s called ‘Photosynth’ and allows you to link photos together using meta tags and then to make digital views of what you have photographed. So, for example, you and a load of friends with digital cameras all take photos of the London Eye from different angles. With Photosynth, you can knit them all together to produce 3D images of the London Eye.

Anyway, don’t take my word for it. Look at this article in The Register and see for yourself !