Friday, June 30, 2006

red diamond Take a Test Drive - Keep the Car!

OpenOffice.org continues its line of competitive advertisements. The marketing project unveiled a new campaign that capitalizes on the market leader's delays with its upcoming release Office 2007.

"Take a Test Drive - Keep the Car!" hints that you can test drive and keep OpenOffice.org for free. While Microsoft invited potential users for an online test drive of its beta 2 pre-release in which saving and printing is disabled, OpenOffice.org aims at customers to download the latest release 2.0.3 and install the full version. The catch, upcoming Office 2007 will pinch testers who like in the wallet once it is available. In contrast OpenOffice.org is free and open source.

In addition, Office 2007 will have many user interface changes which frightens many users because they have to relearn their skills. Another point of critic is that Microsoft does not support the new ISO 26300 office document standard and is still haggling with Adobe over the support of PDF files.

red diamond OpenOffice.org 2.0.3 released

The latest version of OpenOffice.org, faster and more secure than ever.

New and improved in release 2.0.3:
  • Better performance: for example, a 23 percent speed increase in certain Calc operations.
  • Microsoft Office file compatibility further improved.
  • New email integration with support for Microsoft email file formats.
  • Improved export of PDF documents and how they will display when opened in a PDF reader.
  • Increased accessibility features.
  • Even more languages supported.
  • Improvements in hyphenation and thesaurus for many languages.
  • Automatic check for updated versions.
  • Support for Intel architecture for Mac OS X.
  • Improved Mac OS X font integration.
see the release notes for more details.

Interest in the latest update must be huge. The servers of OpenOffice.org seems slow today.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

red diamond Printing POSTNET barcode on envelopes

Just found a great expert tip from Michael Santos.

"OpenOffice envelopes with Postal Service bar code"

Michael, did take some manual instructions from Solveig Haugland on "Printing Envelopes in OpenOffice.org 2.0" and wrote a macro to automate the calculation of the barcode checksum. You can download a sample envelope including the macro from his blog.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

red diamond Answers to many questions about blogging and its jargon

Tens days ago I held a talk about blogs and forums as business and marketing tools at the Network@TheLibrary in Winchester, MA. Today I discovered the "A-Z of Professional Blogging", a list that answers many questions my audience had.

It includes from A like "AdSense" the Google advertisement program used by many blogger s to defray some of the costs, to "Zoudry" a blog editor, all you wanted to know about blogging.

Don't be afraid, it is not only for professional bloggers. The list helps especially those that want to learn a bit more about blogging or have started already.

red diamond The New BlogBridge:Library

I participated this morning in a skypecast about BlogBridge:Library, the newest product in the BlogBridge family.

BlogBridge:Library is a portal
to pre-select authoritative blogs for a specific community. If you know BlogBridge, you are familiar with its ability to create and publish guides and to rate blogs as well as participating in the social network rating process of those blogs.

If I understand this new product correctly, it is the web-portal equivalent of BlogBridge with two important extensions:
  • The web version has registered users with different profiles. Depending on your profile you are authorized to create and manage guides or to manage the blogs within one guide.
  • BlogBridge:Library can be the private social sharing server behind BlogBridge clients deployed within an organization, such as a company or a non-profit organization.
I'm personally still new to BlogBridge and have not yet figured fully out what its advantages is over other feed readers. However I can see the potential of pre-packaged blogs that meet certain quality standards. In ways this could be the modern form of a news papers editorial staff collecting trustworthy sources so I can read quality news and comments and skip the junk.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

red diamond My first Skypecast

This morning I participated to my very first skypecast. Skyepcast is a new feature of Skype the VOIP company recently bought by EBay. A skypecast allows to give of live talk over the Internet, using VOIP. It also offers the possibility for listeners to to participate in a conversation.

I was a mere participant of a skypecast by PitoSalas about "BlogBridge:Library". Pito faired quite well considering the glitches this beta product still has. I found out about the event through an announecment on Pito's blog. I followed the link to a page on Skype's website, where the basics of the event where listed.

When it was time to join the skypecast I clicked on a button on that page and my Skype was started. I got a bit confused, when the application asked me if I wanted to connect to an +99..... number via SkypeOut. I was not sure if this was a way to run up a hefty bill with Skype, but I figured my balance on SkypeOut was a mere few dollars and I could risk these.

A new window opened and in a few minutes half a dozen people had gathered. However, the host was still missing so we did not hear each other. Once Pito had logged on, we were all connected in a voice conference. This lead to lots of audio feedback and a very noisy environment. Thankfully, Pito as presenter was able to mute all microphones of the participants and so we could actually hear what he had to say.

Pito talked about their new product BlogBridge:Library (more...) and guided us through a demo on their website. Using voice broadcasting only, pito had to talk us through his demo. Adding Skype Instant Messaging (IM) capabilities helped to facilitate questions to the presenter. However, we didn't manage to all be part of one IM session, so that the burden fell on the presenter to read many windows and post his link into all of them. I imagine this will become unmanageable when the number of participants exceeds 10 or 20.

A few minutes into the skypecast an new participant joined and rather loudly commented on what Pito was presenting. I guess she didn't realize that we all could hear her. It appeared that the new participant came in at the default setting "open mike", which was not intended by the presenter at this point in time. I guess this is a bug in the skypecast software.

In my experience, skypecast has to iron out some kinks in its beta version and give some better instructions and training how to use this new product. As medium skypecasting is quite limited compared to full fledged web-conferences, for example from BostonConferencing.com.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

red diamond OpenOffice.org activist takes a page out of Firefox' book

Ben Horst and a group of OpenOffice.org activists has started a fund raising campaign to raise awareness for the open source office suite Their plan is to place full page advertisements in New York's Metro newspaper. The concept has been pioneered by the Spread Firefox campaign in 2005 when the open source community raised the substantial funds required to place a double page ad in the New York Times.

The Spread Firefox campaign raised awareness for the launch of Firefox 1.0. The campaign to place an ad in the NY Times became news in itself, because it seemed so outrages. The fund raising was so successful, that a double sided ad appeared in the NY Times with the names of thousands of donors.

Ben Horst, a long-time activist for OpenOffice.org takes it on him self to organize the effort. He set up a project at Fundable.org to raise $10,000 for two full page advertisements in NY Metro. New York's Metro is a free newspaper that is distributed to 330,000 people every day and read by 450,000 readers. The goal of Ben's efforts is to raise awareness that there is an easy to use, free and guaranteed legal alternative to high priced office productivity suites.

In addition to raising the funds, Ben Horst runs also a grassroots discussion group and a competition to design the full page advertisement. This is a real grass roots effort that should help to put OpenOffice.org in the minds of people outside of the geek community.

If you'd like to contribute, please hurry. Ben's goal is to place the ads in the first week of July.

Monday, June 12, 2006

red diamond Using Blogs and Forums to Generate Interest in Your Business

Presentation at Network@TheLibrary Winchester, MA

Kaj Kandler, the founder of Conficio will present in June at the Network@TheLibrary in Winchester, MA. His topic will be "Using the Web to Generate Interest in Your Business: Part II, Blogs and Forums"

"Using the Web to Generate Interest in Your Business: Part II, Blogs and Forums"


Time: Tuesday, June 20th 2006, 10 - 11:30 a.m.

Location: Winchester Library, 80 Washington Street, Winchester, MA.

Kaj Kandler, founder of Conficio, will focus on how entrepreneurs and small businesses can use the Internet effectively to promote their business. In this follow-up to his November session, Kaj will talk about how to use blogs and forums to generate interest in your business. (You don't need to have attended his previous session or have advanced computer knowledge to benefit from this presentation.)

Network @ The Library is open to all, especially entrepreneurs, consultants and others who are self-employed, providing them with an opportunity to meet others like themselves, talk about common problems, and learn about solutions and resources. For more information, visit http://www.winpublib.org/network.htm call the Reference Desk at 781-721-7171 ext. 20, or e-mail Janet Nelson at jnelson@minlib.net

Conficio publishes software manuals based on screencasts. Conficio's Animated software manuals enhance training and support for non-expert PC users. Conficio uses screencasts to demonstrat functionality instead of describing it with words. For more information see Conficio's website.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

red diamond OpenDocumentFormat gets official MIME-types

Friday, June 09, 2006

red diamond OpenLaszlo for AJAX is coming soon.

Yesterday evening, I listened to a remarkable presentation from David Temkin from LaszloSystems. David presented the upcoming release of OpenLaszlo "Legals" (will be released as 4.0) which supports the rendering of OpenLaszlo applications in DHTML and Flash.

OpenLaszlo is a really remarkable framework. To achieve such sleek user interfaces they use "cinematic experience". this kind of eye candy that is unheard of in the web-application world. OpenLaszlo claims it allows a user to better understand the transitions from one state of an application to the next and therefore makes navigation easier to understand. and delivers near desktop performance to a web-browser near you.

David showed some real world applications such as web-based Gliffy a Visio like diagram drawing application and Pandora, a personalized web-radio that plays to your individual taste, if you train it well. He also demonstrated a sleek application for Barclays Global Investors tracking stock indeces which LaszloSystems did create in 2 weeks.

However, a really great application is their LZPIX Photo Application. It's an application that pulls some photos from Flickr and displays them in a Laszlo based interface. It is making use of almost every thing in the LZX language. The remarkable part is that the same source code can be rendered in Flash and in the new DHTML engine. And it is extraordinary, that in parts the DHTML version is even faster than the Flash version. Look at the speed in which the images load in DHTML vs. Flash. This is quite an achievement for the development team of OpenLaszlo.

Amy Muntz delivered a convincing plea for open source contributions to the OpenLaszlo project. If you are a designer or programmer and want to show off a really cool application or component. This is the place to go. and off course you can also contribute to the overall development of the engine.

The only disappointment for me was that I didn't hear a story, how to get this great platform to the desktop. It looks like Adobe is going to deliver Flash based applications to the desktop with the Apollo project. I think that is a great development, because many web-based applications do not need the browser to function, look at Pandora or the very own LaszloMail. They would be better off with loosing the browser back button and navigation bar and trade it in for some local storage. I hope that the upcoming Apollo will play OpenLaszlo Code in Flash as well as in DHTML.

The good news of the evening was that OpenLaszlo 4.0 will be released any week now.

I must conclude, that OpenLaszlo is really hot (70+ attendees are proof of that) and heads and shoulders above developing a Rich Internet Application (RIA) from scratch. Thanks to the folks at Optaros hosting this event.

Monday, June 05, 2006

red diamond Experience as a software usability tester

Two weeks ago I read a post on a software contractor mailing list, seeking candidates for usability testing of a government related software. The company was local and there was a reasonable compensation promised but most of all I was curious to see how such things are done. So I responded with an e-mail.

Tony Brown from SoftPlex responded promptly with a short questionnaire to test if I was a match for the software they wanted to test. I answered the few questions and seemed to get to the next round with a couple of more questions. I made the cut and was invited to a session at Monday morning 8am in Boston Downtown.

I arrived ahead of time at the testing facility, where I met Tony Brown in person. I was led to a room with a long table and a laptop and a few video cameras. The room was also equipped with a huge one sided mirror, the kinds you know from police movies in the interrogation room. I was asked to sign a form, consenting with being watched and filmed for the purposes of the the study. Then I was introduced what I should test and that it was the usability of the software under scrutiny, not my ability to succeed or fail. I had to fulfill a sequence of tasks on a website, mostly finding information. I was asked to speak aloud my thoughts and reactions.

For about an hour I tried to fulfill task, mostly assume you are looking for information about subject A. Where would you look and let us know when you think you found it or gave up. The atmosphere was comfortable and I didn't feel intimidated by being watched. It was funny though to talk all you thoughts aloud.

After the session finished I asked Tony how many candidates he uses to make such a test. He replied that usually after 4 to 5 a pattern emerges that yields useful information. He said typical costs of such a usability study would be between $5,000 and $10,000 depending on the complexity of the questions and if one rents such a facility with the double sided mirror and cameras or does it at the clients premise with less equipment.

I can definitely say it was an interesting experience and I learned a bit about the value of usability testing. Based on my experience I'm heavily inclined to use his services, when the time is ripe to make my current project consumer ready.

red diamond Second day BarCamp Boston 2006

Second day of BarCampBoston started out a bit slower. Many had not come back for a second day at least not very early. May be I missed some important sessions on the bar on the night before.

  • Today I enjoyed a very energetic session about "Powerful, Pointed Presentations". In essence cater to the emotions of your audience to get both halves of the listener's brain involved. Also, the obligatory slide-show print-out should be avoided and replaced by a text document presented after the oral presentation has finished.
  • It was also time to jump into the ring and educate fellow BarCampers about Open Document Format, why the State of Massachusetts did mandate it and what the role for OpenOffice.org is in this development. Unfortunately my session was at the same time as "Newbie on Rails", which did draw the bulk of the crowd.
  • More BarCampers were interested in the topic "Solving Spam by signing messages with PGP" which I offered. I have this idea in my head for more than two years and I wanted to here what other have to say about it. I think the basic issue with spam is the ability to falsify the sender. If all (or most) e-mail is signed with PGP, then everybody can filter on that signature (which can't be falsified) and so determine if that e-mail is important to him or not. Here are some of the arguments:
    • You create your own signature, and publish the public key. Your signature becomes more trustworthy through other people signing it with their signature.
    • One also needs to be aware that by signing some else signature I do not claim this person is not a spammer. I only authenticate that he is who he says he is in the signature. All I verify is her name and her e-mail address. But this gives any recipient the ability to forcefully filter on that identity.
    • If we get to the point that most e-mail is signed and I mostly care about e-mail signed by a someone I know already, then I would blacklist all unknown senders. This can be solved by prioritizing e-mail according to the trust level of the signature and the distance between me and the closest signer of the signature to be checked.
    • One member of the audience did say that e-mail lists would brake the signature by adding their own footer, such as Yahoo. However, they can either add the footer in a mime compliant way or resign the message with their own key.
    • Another member pointed to HushMail having implemented an interesting PGP signed web-mail trust. I got to check this out soon.
    • Many agreed the key to such a system is two-fold
      • We need a wide spread filter, preferably a spamassassin filter. This filter needs to verify the signature of the e-mail and then use the trust vote in the my key-ring to apply the filter I defined.
      • The second component would be E-Mail clients, such as Thunderbird, to come integrated with PGP and the ability to create or load a PGP key with every profile one creates.
I really enjoyed this BarCamp and look forward to the next one. Mike Walsh said planning is in progress for one in fall 2006.

I want to thank Monster for hosting us and the other sponsors for making it possible. If one thing I would improve for next time, it is a better scheduling system, that is available via the net. Especially in the Monster location, where the event was spread out between three disjunct locations this would be a great plus.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

red diamond First day of BarCamp Boston 2006

Finally http://barcamp.org/BarCampBoston is here. I had high hopes going to Maynard and I was not disappointed. The crowd was mainly 25+ and had a slant to the professional, rather than the geek with college credentials. However, the first day was a lot of fun.

The folks from Monster Inc. welcomed us and we started the day with a breakfast, studying the big scheduling wall and watch it change every ten minutes as new events were posted and others were moved around. A good start was the introduction round, where a microphone was passed around and everybody who wanted introduced him- or herself shortly. The elevator speeches were definitely professionally presented.

  • My first session around 11 am was called "From idea to realization", held be Sudha Jamthe. She told the story of her remarkable experience raising 1 Mio in 40 days in the heydays of the bubble and what she learned how the VC and Angel investor world works. She said she sees many hopeful entrepreneurs who are hopeful because the some VC told them "If you improve this function on your software we can fund you". She said in her experience this stage can last up to three years (with changing VCs in the process) and no successful funding. She said, you need to get at least one customer that buys the product to overcome this cycle. Her best advice was to not avoid the VCs but use their advice and do not pin your hope on the money. Sudha also said, the best advisers for a start-up are those former entrepreneurs that are back into some kind of corporate executive job. They are not focused on investing and money and they are not high paid professional advisers. But the miss the entrepreneurial spirit and if you can bring some of your enthusiasm to them it rewards them for helping you and sharing their wisdom with you. Off course your idea must catch fire in their mind. All around an excellent session.
  • Shimon Rura, gave a thought provoking session about better UI's. He applied some psychological insight to the topic. One that stuck in my head was give the user immediate reward. Every step must present some useful information. In other words avoid long navigations paths and query only forms. Instead list the most useful information right away and allow for further filtering or deeper navigation.
  • Another excellent brainstorming session was held by Andy Singleton from Assembla. He wanted to explore the vision of a Software reactor. His basic assumption was that all resources, like people, talent, QA, code, etc. are abundant and if qualified in the right way and given the right incentives one could build an awesome virtual software organization (a software reactor). The crowd wasn't really convinced that all resources are abundant and we tested this assumption quite a bit. I certainly had the feeling that Andy went home a step forward in his thought process of this issue (or should we call it a business model?).
All in all, the first day was shock full of great sessions and a multitude of one on one's.

Friday, June 02, 2006

red diamond OpenLaszlo with AJAX, June 8th in Boston

Laszlo Systems invites the Boston developer community to an evening of pizza, beer and OpenLaszlo AJAX development on Thursday, June 8th. They will present a preview of the new DHTML runtime for the OpenLaszlo platform and have the chance to meet other Laszlo advocates. Please register or sign up to present your latest OpenLaszlo project.

Who Should Attend
OpenLaszlo (LZX) newbies and seasoned Laszlo veterans alike are welcome.

Where and When
Optaros
60 Canal Street, 4th Floor (Map)
Boston, MA 02114
Phone: (617) 227-1855

Cost: Free. Pizza, beer and non-alcoholic drinks will be provided by Laszlo Systems.

red diamond PHPMeetup Boston, June 2006

June 1st was once again PHP Meetup Boston night. Mark Withington, the organizer had invited Mike Potter from Adobe's Developer Relations team to present about the upcoming Flex 2.0 web-application framework and how to use it with PHP back-end applications. Mike gave an impressive overview of Flex 2.0 and how easy it is to create impressive user interfaces with a few lines of xml and ActionScript.

Here is what I took away from this meeting:

  1. Flex 2.0 is a really impressive development and expected to be out within the next 60 days. See for yourself, what Mike did with Flex2.0 and Drupal. He also demonstrated an open source PHP-Flex bridge, called AMFPHP. Flex 2.0 competes with open source projects such as OpenLaszlo and ZK1. However, Mike thinks it is the stronger platform. He said that a basic command line SDK will be free and the Flex 2.0 developer IDE based on Eclipse will be less than $1000 per developer license.
  2. Mike described another project that
  3. piqued my interest. The project is called Adobe Apollo and is expected to come out by the end of the year. He described it as a stand alone flash application engine, that can be used to package Flash (and Flex) based applications to be installed on a user's desktop. The really cool statement to me was that it also should run AJAX based applications.
  4. Mike also did a cool demo of 3D objects embedded in PDF documents and animated through JavaScript. He showed off an impressive 3D rendering of a turbine which he was able to pan and rotate as well as to have the turbine wheel spinning, while doing so. And all this in a 300K document you can e-mail and print (w/o the animation off course).
  5. Triggered by a question from the audience, Mike briefly introduced Adobe's AJAX framework, called Spry. This also looks very powerful and I have to revisit this topic, once I learned a bit more about it.

This was an evening really well spent. I learned a lot and met a bunch of great people. If you are a PHP developer or a software developer in Boston, I highly recommend to go to the PHP Meetup.