Category Archives: Software

The World’s Worst Tasting Java

Yahoo Tries to Hook Search Users Via Java Updates:

Starting this month, users who install or update Oracle’s Java software will be prompted to make Yahoo their browser’s default search engine and home page.

This is 2015.

I get that Yahoo is trying to lure (read: trick) more unwitting people into using their service, but perhaps instead of piggybacking the installation of a framework that some still find necessary… they should improve their offerings such that people want to use Yahoo instead of curse it for having overtaken their defaults and not remembering how.

I removed my reliance on Java a few years back and haven’t regretted the decision. If I happen to run into a web site that demands it (which has been close to never), I simply find another web site.

There are some who aren’t as lucky – who need this framework on their system for some random need. It’s for them I weep. I’m not calling into question the inherent value, promise, or quality of Java outright – I’m calling into question these smarmy tactics (which are no less smarmy than prompting the user to install the Ask toolbar).

If an installer wants to install something you didn’t ask for (and would probably NEVER want to install independently), stop installing that software. They’ll get the hint. Eventually. Maybe.

Unfortunately, only savvy users will know how to avoid these pitfalls – they’re not the intended target. That’s what companies like Oracle are seemingly counting on: prey. This isn’t a value add – it’s tantamount to junk.

Is there a checkmark to NOT install what wasn’t a part of the user’s plan? Sure, but how many people blindly click through install processes or wonder if by leaving that checkbox unchecked they’ll somehow be getting a lesser experience? “It’s checked by default, so it must be okay.”

No, it’s not okay.

It’s reprehensible.

I’m willing to wager that one of the top searches on Yahoo is “google.”

Such trickery will not solve this “problem.”

7 Ways Periscope Could Be Better

I’ve been live streaming video for a long time (disclosure: I sit on Ustream‘s advisory board).

When Meerkat launched, I was fascinated by the simplicity from start to finish. Piggybacking Twitter was a stroke of genius, if only because Twitter has become the conversation marketplace in recent years – especially for live events.

At its core, Meerkat didn’t do anything new – the app just made it easy to broadcast, easy to participate, and easy to use. There were few (if any) hurdles experienced in the process as a broadcaster or a viewer.

Enter Periscope.

I’d argue that nobody knew about Periscope until Twitter’s acquisition, and now it’s set to become the most important live social video tool in my array of choices – if only because it’s owned by Twitter outright, and that association will go a long way.

I shared my Periscope tips a while back, but what I haven’t shared is my list of features that I believe are missing from Periscope for better community engagement.

  1. A way to see who sends you the most hearts both during and after a broadcast. This could be solved with re-ranking participants by order of engagement after the broadcast, as well as placing a number next to their avatar while they’re interacting in live chat.
  2. A proactive ban-word list. And, as much as I don’t want to see certain things in a live feed as a broadcaster (and I do frequently record our live session for ourdaily vlog), the commenter should not know if their comment had been banned or they’ll figure out a way around the filter instead of the satisfaction of posting anything deemed ban-worthy.
  3. A way to scroll through chat. What was the question? Who asked it? Too frequently, valuable interaction points are lost because Periscope lacks the ability to scroll up.
  4. A way to reward top participators. Why not show badge next to people who have experienced X+ broadcasts? Why not show a badge next to someone who has given you X+ hearts? Let’s see some rewards for the people who help make broadcasting fun.
  5. A way to know those who have opted to share the link to the broadcast on social (currently, that share does not include the broadcaster’s Twitter handle, so tracking is not feasible.
  6. A way to save / export the video with live comments (not those with ban words) included.
  7. A way for viewers to more easily follow the broadcaster on Twitter (or other social channels, though I’m not sure Twitter would like that idea).

Could these features come in future releases? Sure, but I don’t know if Periscope really understands what they have here from a community standpoint.

I hope for other aspects of the tool to be enhanced over time, but I’ve given up on hoping that horizontal broadcasts will ever be a possibility (at least, when broadcasting and keeping chat a part of the experience).

File Recovery Isn’t Easy, But It’s Possible

File Recovery Isn't Easy, But It's PossibleThis is a sponsored post written on behalf of ReclaiMe. All opinions are 100% my own.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve become more familiar with ReclaiMe, a file recovery solution that enables you to recover data from a wide variety of different file formats and drive types. I was surprised by the simplicity of the program and how well it worked on either SSD or standard spindle drives.

More recently, I was privileged to be able to speak with the folks at ReclaiMe to ask a bit more about their inspiration for creating the software and what we can expect in the future.

I started out by asking Elena Y. Pakhomova, one of the founders of ReclaiMe, about the inspiration behind the development of the file recovery software. She replied, “We had experience doing PC troubleshooting and data recovery. It was logical indeed to create our own software to match our expectations.”

ReclaiMe is a small business powered by just six individuals dedicated to creating and supporting their file recovery software. It’s a family business, which is a rare sight in the tech world these days. The environment around the office is calm and focused on building on ReclaiMe’s already comprehensive feature set.

Simplicity was an important goal when the ReclaiMe team set out to create the software. In my experience, this philosophy absolutely paid off as the software is easy enough to use that just about anyone can recover files with little to no experience in file management. “Most of all, we value the sheer simplicity of it,” said Pakhomova.

With any software development project, challenges abound. This is especially true when dealing with components that come with little or no documentation. ReclaiMe faced issues of its own during development, including: “As a recent example, there is no technical documentation whatsoever available to cover Microsoft’s latest ReFS introduced in Windows 8. So naturally, all the recovery procedures for it has to be developed on reverse engineering alone.” She continued, “I’d name the complexity of algorithms involved as the second worst challenge. RAID recovery is an example of this.”

ReclaiMe faced these challenges and met them. The recovery software worked very well during my testing with no errors or issues as I tested it using multiple drive types and file structures. To the user, the only difference between drives is the assigned drive designation letter. Beyond that, a USB thumb drive acts exactly like a large platter drive. An SSD will recover roughly five times faster than a standard hard disk drive, but that’s really where the differences end as far as the user is concerned. This is a very good thing.

I decided to close out the interview by asking what features we might expect from ReclaiMe in the future. Pakhomova responded, “We are working to create a tool to recover failed Windows 8 Storage Spaces pools. We’ve had several successful real-world recoveries with the prototype. We hope to have the software ready sometime during 2013, which would be aimed at data recovery professionals rather than end users.”

ReclaiMe’s software is available to try free at ReclaiMe.com. It’s currently a Windows-only application, though you will be able to recover data from a wide range of file formats including those used with Linux and OS X. ReclaiMe’s file recovery software isn’t the only utility being offered by the company, either. Free RAID Recovery, BenchMe, Lowvel, and Cropel are all useful file management and/or recovery applications that make valuable additions to any troubleshooter’s toolkit.

Android 4.0 – Ice Cream Sandwich: Hot or Cold?

After watching Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich / Samsung Galaxy Nexus launch live on YouTube last night (and providing running commentary in my Google+ Profile all the while), I’ve come to one conclusion: Android 4.0 (“Ice Cream Sandwich”) will be awesome. But, to that end, did anybody really expect it to be worse than what we’ve seen before? That would have been more of a surprise.

With any luck, carriers will push out the long-awaited OS update to capable devices within a short matter of time (and short, in this case, is extremely relative). It’s difficult enough for the average consumer to keep up with the cavalcade of new Android devices that seem to drop every other month; why must carriers further burden a customer’s decision-making process with a questionable software update calendar / no OTA updates?

So, yes – the bottom line? If you can get a phone with Ice Cream Sandwich on it today, you should absolutely do it. With it will come countless new features and refinements:

  • Easier way to manage your widgets
  • iOS-like folder creation
  • The ability to add “people” directly to your home screen
  • A Calendar app that enables you to zoom in to reveal appointment details
  • “Visual Voicemail” with an audio-speed slider
  • Easy screen shots (finally)!
  • Closer-to-real-time voice dictation feedback
  • Get up to 16 “tabs” in Browser.
  • Deep-level data usage charts
  • Android Beam – allowing you to share data with another Android Beam user

And Dan Morrill further goes on to highlight Upload Settings, Disabling Apps, Camera Controls, Improved Download Manager, Support for Encryption for Phones, and Audio Effects. Is that all? Hardly.

I hesitate to speak too much about the Samsung Galaxy Nexus – since I haven’t touched it or tried it, and I’d be hesitant to trust opinions from those who also have not – but the screen sounds delicious: 1280×720 resolution at 316ppi! Compare that to the iPhone 4/4S’s resolution of 960×640 at 326ppi. To quote Yoda: “Size matters not.” He never said anything about resolution or pixels per inch, though – and that’s what really matters with these pocket computers. That’s right: I called ’em pocket computers. If you’ve got a problem with that, take it up with the definition of “computer” and “pocket.”

For a healthy marriage, hardware and software must work together seamlessly. Theoretically, this is possible. What works well for some seemingly does not for others. Consider this thorn from ThisIsMyNext (don’t shoot the messenger with bigotry):

As to overall performance, we saw a good deal of stutter in the Galaxy Nexus before us. Taps were not always recognized and there were occasional delays in performing an instruction, though in Google’s defense, it was a phone fully loaded with running tasks and the software is being continually improved and optimized (i.e. it’s not yet fully baked). That having been said, it unfortunately remains the case that Android isn’t as swift and responsive as iOS or Windows Phone (or even MeeGo Harmattan on the N9). Or at least it wasn’t on the demo phone we got a look at. The subtle, pervasive lag that has characterized the Android UI since it inception is still there, which is not a heartening thing to hear when you’re talking about a super-powered dual-core device like the Galaxy Nexus.

Let’s hope they keep tweaking it to perfection. This industry needs healthy competition, and I’m happy to see Ice Cream Sandwich looking like a more-than-viable option.

What’s Cool and Useful About Dragon Dictate for Mac 2.5

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Nuance. All opinions are 100% mine.

Did you know that software is available that will enable you to not only dictate to your Mac, but control it with the sound of your voice? Imagine sitting back in your chair and saying exactly what you want your computer to do, and having it carry out those commands without needing to touch a keyboard or mouse. Dictating email, articles, and other lengthy documents can also be done with the same software.

What's Cool and Useful About Dragon Dictate for Mac 2.5Dragon Dictate for Mac 2.5 is the latest in a long line of speech recognition software that is aimed at making your life a little easier through giving your hands a break and allowing you to turn ideas into written records without the burdens of typing and constant use of the mouse.

So, what makes Dragon Dictate for Mac 2.5 really different? Dragon speech recognition software has been around for many years, and the folks at Nuance have mastered the art of creating learning software. After a few minutes of teaching Dragon Dictate your voice, it will learn and adapt its recognition algorithms to meet your own speech patterns. The more you use Dragon Dictate for Mac, the more accurate it will become.

As you speak, a small window may offer alternative wording suggestions in cases where common phrases and similar-sounding words may be easily confused. If what’s jotted on the document doesn’t match what you intended, you can easily swap out the phrasing with a simple command. At any time during dictation, you can make adjustments and corrections, change your wording, and issue program commands such as save and close.

You can also use your iPhone or iPod touch as a microphone, allowing you the freedom to walk around without having to stop what you’re doing. The Dragon Remote Microphone app is available on the iTunes App Store absolutely free, and allows you to dictate to your computer from virtually anywhere within Wi-Fi range.

What’s really cool about Dragon Dictate for Mac is how easy it is to get up and running. Within minutes, you could be controlling your Mac with commands like “Reply to this message” or “Open Safari” or “Jump to Google.” All it takes is a few simple training exercises and Dragon is ready to go.

Another cool feature introduced with Dragon Dictate 2.5 for Mac is social integration. With a simple command, you can post directly to Facebook and Twitter without having to touch a mouse or launch a special program. This makes updating your status really easy.

Dragon Dictate for Mac 2.5 is also completely compatible with Microsoft Word 2011 as well as many Apple applications including Mail, iCal, iChat, TextEdit, Pages, Safari, and more. Pretty much anything you need to get done on the Mac can be done, or at least made easier, with Dragon.

If you purchase the retail box, you’ll get a high-quality USB headset that works perfectly with the software. Want to save some money, or already own a quality USB headset? You can go with a direct download copy for less and get started almost right away. There is also a wireless option that includes a Bluetooth headset. Students and teachers can also pick up Dragon Dictate at a discount.

The Dragon family of voice recognition software has been around for almost 30 years, and it keeps getting better.

Over all, Dragon Dictate 2.5 for Mac is perhaps the most powerful voice-recognition and control systems currently available on the market. With Dragon Dictate 2.5 for Mac, you can put your fingers to rest and focus on content, rather than typing.

What’s New in Parallels Desktop 7 for Mac

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Parallels. All opinions are 100% mine.

If you’ve recently made the switch from a PC to a Mac, are considering making the switch, or if you took the leap a long time ago and have been searching for the best way to run those Windows-only programs without having to leave OS X to do so, you’ve probably heard about Parallels. Did you know that Parallels Desktop 7 is coming out? With more features than ever, now is a great time to consider Parallels as a great alternative to running Boot Camp and losing access to your OS X apps while working on Windows programs. With Parallels, you can do both, and the new features in Parallels 7 make it even easier than before.

OS X Lion Integration

You may already be a Parallels user. If so, you’re probably wondering why you should upgrade when Parallels 6 is already capable of handling quite a bit. Well, if you’ve recently upgraded to OS X Lion, you’ll be happy to know that Parallels Desktop 7 is built to integrate seamlessly with Lion’s new features. Full screen, Mission Control, Launchpad, and more are made available to Parallels 7 users that take advantage of Coherence mode. In addition, app developers can run another instance of OS X Lion inside of OS X Lion for testing without risking any damage to your primary files and/or applications.

While Parallels Desktop 7 has been tweaked to integrate into Mac OS X Lion, it will run just fine on Leopard and Snow Leopard, as well.

Speed Improvements

One of the biggest time spenders when loading Windows in a virtual machine is the time it takes to boot. Parallels Desktop 7 has improved boot time by up to 60 percent compared to Parallels Desktop 6. This faster boot time is very noticeable, especially when you’re in a hurry to get a specific task done.

In addition, some tweaks have been made to how Parallels Desktop 7 handles 3D and graphics. This means that programs that work with 3D environments, like games, could see a performance increase of up to 45% above the already fast speeds of Parallels Desktop 6. Part of the reason for this increase is based in the 64-bit Cocoa code that makes up the entire user interface.

Usability

The overall look and feel of Parallels has been modified to enhance the user experience and make everything more intuitive. Many of these changes can be seen in how Parallels Desktop 7 takes advantage of the latest features of OS X Lion. The goal of Parallels (especially in Coherence mode) is to make the entire experience as seamless as possible. By allowing your Windows programs to run side-by-side with OS X applications, Parallels enables you to enjoy both operating systems inside of one consistent experience.

The Parallels Wizard makes the creation and management of new virtual machines easier than previous version. I say this because having the ability to buy and download Windows 7 within the wizard and install everything in one single process instead of having to run to the store means you can be up and running faster and easier than before. Like previous Parallels versions, you can also create virtual machines with Ubuntu, Chromium OS, and other Linux operating systems without any technical know-how required.

Shared Resources

In addition to sharing your hard drive, CPU, and RAM, Parallels Desktop 7 for Mac enables you to access your iSight and FaceTime HD webcams across both operating systems. In addition, you can still access the virtual machine’s start menu, documents folder, and hard drive within OS X. Copy and paste is synced as well, allowing you to take a snippet of information from Mac OS X to Windows without having to go through any additional hassle between the two.

Mobile

This is probably my favorite feature of Parallels Desktop 7. Using the Parallels Mobile app, I can control my virtual machines and the entire Mac from an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. For less than the price of a burger and fries, I can essentially run Windows (and Ubuntu, Chromium OS, etc.) on my mobile device. I can even play back audio and music files remotely and watch Flash video on my iPhone or iPad. With Parallels Mobile and Parallels Desktop 7, you can even copy and paste text directly from your mobile device to your virtual machine from anywhere.

Parallels Desktop 7 will be available on September 6, 2011 and is expected to have a retail price of $79.99 with an upgrade price for existing users of $49.99.

All right, I’ve explained why I’m excited about the new version of Parallels, but there’s more. The folks over at Parallels would like to offer you a chance to get a MacBook Air, absolutely free. All you need to do is watch for any tweets that go out on my primary Twitter account (@ChrisPirillo) between now and September 6, 2011. Each day, I’ll be sending a different tweet out about Parallels Desktop 7 and when you retweet them, you’ll be entered to win. Good luck!

How to Play PC Games on Your Phone

For many StarCraft fans, finding the will to leave the house and stop playing can be difficult. Thankfully, Splashtop Inc. has created a product that allows you to play DirectX 9, 10, and 11 games where other remote desktop clients often lack any support for 3D. In short, they’ve created an app that allows you to play PC games on your phone.

Splashtop Remote Desktop is free for desktops and about $2 for mobile devices making it one of the most affordable solutions for handheld remote desktops in its class.

Compatibility across platforms is impressive, allowing users of iOS, Android (2.2 Froyo and above), and even WebOS to use the program through dedicated apps available in their respective markets. Windows and Mac users are both able to use the server software to stream their desktops, as long as they meet the necessary system requirements. For Windows, all you need to stream is XP, Vista, or 7 and at least 1 GB of RAM and a 1.6GHz dual-core CPU. Mac uses will need the at least the same hardware with OS X 10.6+.

Latency is low but still present, so this won’t be a good platform for playing games that require fast movements and responses. First-person shooters will likely frustrate you as a player, as the latency between your device and the computer is coupled with the system’s latency to the game server. Games that do play relatively well include RTS titles like StarCraft II and various Command and Conquer titles where queueing up forces and planning strategies doesn’t require optimized response times.

This solution isn’t perfect. If you plan on using this method to play competitively online, the results may prove disappointing. At its heart, Splashtop Remote Desktop is made to allow you to access your desktop using your mobile phone wherever you may be. While it has the functionality needed to stream games and video, you won’t be advancing to the finals in any StarCraft leagues with this as your interface.

Is Software too Expensive?

VaryGeek over at LockerGnome.net asked, “Do you think software should be cheaper?” This is a very good question. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer.

The debate over the cost of software has raged on in the tech community for years. The division between two camps of thought on software pricing runs deep.

One side of the debate will make the point that software development is extremely expensive, and therefor the price per unit must remain high in order for developers to break even – and perhaps make a profit. This makes sense as development, marketing, and support can contribute to high overhead costs which can drain capital very quickly.

Another school of thought in the great software debate comes from proponents of open source software. By handing development over to a community of skilled programmers, software designers can benefit from a larger pool of resources without a lot of overhead involved. Larger projects have found sizable audiences (Open Office, Audacity, etc) and development organizations can see profit through selling support and/or extra services to end users. In addition, this is can be a great way for newer developers to make a name for themselves through contributions to these projects.

One major downside to open source software is that it tends to be rough around the edges. The gloss and attention to user experience is often overlooked in favor of packing features in the software. Additionally, it’s hard to set a great UI on something that is constantly changing. This would require additional work on the part of the designer every time a contributor adds a visible feature.

In the middle of these two camps are the small developers that keep their prices low in order to make up profits in volume. This is a common trend among independent developers that have smaller teams and marketing budgets. Programs that most commonly fall in this category are found on mobile platforms like Android and iOS. Thanks to the addition of an easy-to-use app store on Mac OS X, cheaper software is beginning to become more widely available on the Mac platform as well.

These lower-cost programs prosper from accessibility. When Steam expanded their direct download game store to include independent developers, less-expensive titles took off like a bullet. By making software easier to acquire, they were able to lower overall prices and still maintain a profit through the increased volume.

It’s taking some time for larger game development houses to catch on to this trend – and as long as they continue to break previous records with each release of Halo and Call of Duty, you shouldn’t expect to see the prices drop any time soon.

The same goes for high-priced business software that costs hundreds per license. Thankfully, free web apps have entered the business software market and gained enough market share to convince them to consider alternative pricing options. Only time will tell if this is a sign of lower software prices to come, or a phase that will pass.

So, is software too expensive? Leave a comment and let me know your opinion on the matter.

How to Control Your Windows Desktop With Kinect

The Minority Report featured some incredible theoretical technologies, some of which have continued to interest geeks for years. One of these technologies was a system in which you are able to interact with the user-interface with a few hand gestures Now, imagine if you were able to control Windows 7 in much the same way. Wouldn’t that be a worthwhile project to check out?

LockerGnome community member Kevin Connolly has managed to recreate this using the Kinect SDK in a project he calls the KinectNUI (Natural User Interface). Currently, the project works with a single Kinect and any modern Windows PC.

With a swipe of your hand, you are able to switch between active windows, zoom in and out, more. While zoomed in, the Kinect will follow your movements as you walk around the room and allow you to scroll vertically using your left hand.

Future plans for the project include a pie menu to allow you to control your system in greater detail. This feature is expected to work in a similar manor to the pie menu featured in the Sims.

If you don’t like the computer responding to your every gesture, you can turn gestures on and off with a single vertical movement of your arms.

Without a doubt, this project (and others like it) have demonstrated the potential for relatively inexpensive devices like the Kinect to change the way we think about interacting with our computers.

What started as a device that took the principals of motion-controlled gaming to a new level by removing the need of a physical handheld controller is now beginning to bring to question whether or not this kind of device could actually replace the keyboard and mouse and change the landscape of computing as we know it today. While the physical technology may not be there just yet, it’s pretty interesting to think of what’s ahead.

More information about this project can be found on Kevin’s website as well as on his YouTube channel, Tsilb.

What to Expect in Windows 8

In what can be called a dramatic shift in how Windows handles its user experience, Microsoft has announced that Windows 8 will handle two different kinds of applications. The operating system is said to have the ability to run standard programs currently made for Windows 7 as well as Web apps built on HTML5 and JavaScript. The user interface itself has also been modified to be more touch-oriented.

With a swipe of your finger, you may be able to launch Windows programs and navigate through the vast majority of the new Web-based apps. To many, this could be taken as a step in the direction of a future Windows potentially being a cloud-based OS such as Chrome or webOS.

Influenced heavily by its Windows Phone 7 operating system, Windows 8 is expected to feature the same touch-optimized live tile system that will operate in much the same way as it does on smartphones. Microsoft hinted that this interface will likely replace the Start menu that has been a hallmark of the iconic operating system since Windows 95.

Microsoft has also promised that Web-powered apps built using HTML5 and JavaScript will have access to the full power of the PC, rather that being limited by running within a separate application or process.

At this point, Windows 8 is expected to run on Intel and ARM chips. This information is in addition to a promise that the new OS will not increase the system requirements to run Windows 7. This makes Windows 8 the second OS in a row that hasn’t increased the system requirements since Windows Vista, which was considered a disappointment due in part to its heavy hardware demands.

Is this a step in the right direction? Windows 8 is a dramatic leap towards a more Web-based user experience, and the dramatic changes to the Start menu and move towards a more touch-friendly environment may be a sign of things to come. Could Windows actually compete in the tablet space once more with its operating system built to work with touch from the ground up?