Shrook, shrook not quite Shrook

Well, the Shrook feed reading experiment is over and the NetNewsWire experiment begins. Shrook is an offline reader that synchronizes with its own online web-based reader. Re-inventing the wheel (in this case, re-inventing Bloglines) is not a winning strategy. Ah, but NetNewsWire, another offline reader, actually synchronizes with Bloglines. It also uses my .Mac account to synchronize its offline program on my laptop and mini. Sweet – at least so far.

Good bye iBlog, hello WordPress

Well, after making some changes in hosting plans, domain name pointers etc etc, it’s time to abandon the easy but less functional blogging program iBlog and switch to full-featured heaven aka WordPress running a site hosted by Bluehost. Couldn’t find a way to easily import the old entries (another weakness of iBlog?) so I’m reloading them one by one.

Following Jakob Nielsen’s advice, I’ll also concentrate the blog on issues of techno gadgetry with a strong emphasis on reviews, tips and problem solving.

Down goes Palm, yet another notch on Gates’ belt

(Updated 9/28)

The depressing news that a once innovative and leading software company has been vanquished by Microsoft is hardly surprising. Palm, now called PalmSource, revolutionized the “personal digital assistant” by shedding features and focusing on simplicity and a good user experience. Now it lives to see the day that its own hardware unit, called just Palm, dumps its operating system in favor of Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 5.0 for an upcoming smart phone. I haven’t used the latest version of Windows Mobile but in the past I have found Windows CE to be unwieldy, overly complex and slow (The new version appears to be only a smidge better, so says Rob Pegoraro in the Washington Post). It also doesn’t play nice with Macs, though Palm has been up and down on that score since OS X came along.

To a large degree, this week’s news was just the icing on the cake — last year Windows CE devices started outselling Palm-based gear and in the second quarter of 2005, Palm had just a 19% market share, half of its position a year earlier, according to Gartner. It did bring to mind those who were previously overtaken by the Redmond monolith and those who have thus far survived. I don’t think there are simple rules to be derived from these two lists. Clearly execution is at least as important as strategy here and underlying market dynamics play a role too. Update: Zdnet’s Michael Singer has a cogent piece describing five missteps by Palm.

Apple (PC OS)
Wordperfect (word processor)
Lotus (spreadsheet)
Novell (networking/servers)
Netscape (browsers)
Borland (programming)
Adobe (fonts)
Palm (PDA OS)
IBM/Lotus (enterprise email)

Hanging on:
Intuit (personal and business finance)
Google and Yahoo (search)
Sony (video games)
Research in Motion (mobile email)
Oracle (enterprise databases)

Any other suggestions or notes from the peanut gallery?

As an aside, while researching this post, I came across a cool slide show by Fortune magazine that displays when Microsoft’s market share passed rivals Netscape (1998), Lotus 123 (1992) and Wordperfect (1992).

Is Shrook the great, hoped-for answer to reading RSS feeds?

(Updated 9/23)

I’ve been pretty happy keeping up with Blog RSS feeds using the online Bloglines service. It works from within any browser, updates feeds pretty frequently, lets me publish my subscription list on the web and allows easy export of my list for backup or to pull into another reader. The interface is excellent, allowing feeds to be filed into folders, clearily indicating when unread posts have arrived and so forth. But, you have to be connected to the Internet to read your feeds and that’s a drag when you’d like to be able to catch up off-line. So RSS reader Nirvana would be an application that combined an online service with a typical computer application and that automatically synchronized between the two.

Thanks to an article at the excellent tech news site Ars Technica, however, I’m one step closer to the perfect reader. In a review of eight different reader apps, the article mentioned that Shrook combines both a stand-alone reader and a web site with auto-synchronization between the two. I immediately downloaded it. After a few hours of usage, I love the concept but the interface, especially on the web, needs a lot of work. I’m still getting the hang of it, though. More to come…

Update: Developer Graham Parks emailed me to say that the web interface will include folders to match the stand-alone app in a future update. That would be a big improvement. Right now, the web version just lists all of your feeds, noting which have new and unread posts. That’s one long list.

The future of Microsoft Office is not pretty

Office 12 ribbon

You almost have to laugh when Microsoft unveils screen shots of its next update in the creaky Office franchise. Just wait, just wait one more year, and we’ll make Word really great. Really, really great. We promise. Based on the screen shots, it look more likely to cause head aches than upgrades. Somehow this mishmash of tabs and buttons and tool bars is supposed to be an improvement? What happened to simple and intuitive design? What happened to hiding complexity from the user? This just looks like a confusing mess. At least I don’t see Clippy, the annoying talking paper clip from a couple of versions back. Oh, and there’s no “classic” mode if you prefer the current incarnation, at least so they say now. Maybe a few of these “features” will be dropped before the final product is ready. I’m willing to learn from those who actually attended this unveiling to some degree, but wow – yuck.

Working with the e815 and photos – oy vey

(Updated 1/25/07 on MicroSD)

After a couple of weeks with my Verizon/Motorola e815, I have a few quirks and quibbles to report. Getting photos off the phone has been a mildly trying exercise since Verizon crippled the Bluetooth profile that would allow one to effortlessly and wirelessly move snapshots into iPhoto. You can upload photos to, but once there they can be viewed and emailed but not downloaded (dragging and dropping a photo from the web site leaves you with a low resolution version of the image). So, okay, email — you can email from the phone or the web site a “slide show” containing one to five pictures. I emailed myself a “slideshow” of one picture and was able to save the attached file as a photo and pull it into iPhoto at its full resolution (1280 by 1024 pixels). Given that the phone has no keyboard, typing email addresses is kind of a drag.

So, I bought a 128 mb transflash card for the phone. Actually, I believe it has been officially renamed“microSD.” This is a new and teeny-tiny flash memory card format, smaller than your fingernail, that fits in a slot in the top of the e815:

MicroSD card comparison
A simple menu setting lets you save photos to the card instead of to the phone’s own memory. When you want to move your new masterpieces over to your Mac, turn off the phone, carefully extract the memory card, seat it in its SD card adapter, put the adapter into a card reader, connect to a Mac and – shazam – you can import to iPhoto.

Why so carefully? In my first reaction review of the e815, I wondered why Verizon allowed one to move photos off the phone on a memory card but not with Bluetooth. The answer, it seems, is a warning that accompanies the card — due to delicate, small form factor the card is not meant to be removed and re-inserted frequently. The manufacturer, SanDisk, refers to the cards as “semi-removable.” Makes one wish he had waited for a higher capacity card (Update — larger capacity cards are everywhere in January 2007. Here’s a 1 GB MicroSD card for less than $16). It also makes one wonder how great an MP3 music player the phone would be if you can only change the music on your card infrequently.

MicroSD card in e815 phone

Another pet peeve — while iSync on Tiger will synchronize phone numbers from your address book with the phone, it leaves email addresses off. This is mucho annoying as I just mentioned that typing addresses in with the numerical keypad is a pain. I’ll test some of the iSync alternatives and see if any do a better job.

Motorola e815 – best of a sorry lot for Macs

Moto e815

Verizon — just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. Years ago in New York City, I subscribed with Verizon Wireless but when I moved back to Massachusetts, they had little to offer in terms of cool phones that played nice with Macs and their prices were substantially higher than everyone else’s. So I opted instead for AT&T Wireless and a nifty Sony Ericsson T68i phone that I later upgraded to a very nifty T616. It had Bluetooth and was completely compatible with Apple’s iSync software so I could import all my contacts from my laptop and update as necessary in a painless and rapid sync. For an additional fee, I also got metered Internet access at mediocre speeds (a little worse than dial-up) by using the T616 as a Bluetooth modem with my laptop. It was good enough for email but not Web surfing. Network coverage was so-so with big dead spots along my commute here in the Boston area.

Time passes, needs change. After signing up for Verizon’s high-speed wireless broadband recently, the former AT&T/now Cingular data service became superfluous. The cheap voice plan expired and my family already has a great Verizon family plan that could add me for just $10 a month. So when I saw that Verizon was finally offering a phone that could use iSync over bluetooth with my Mac, I threw in the towel and made the switch, acquring a Motorola e815. Getting my old phone number switched over was a breeze and 10 minutes after I left the Verizon store I could make and receive calls.

So far I can say that Verizon’s network coverage is second to none, that’s for sure. But now my phone is only so-so. For one, it’s kind of huge (about 10% wider and thicker and about one-third heavier than the T616). I can’t remember carrying such a heavy cell phone in ages and it doesn’t fit comfortably in a pants or shirt pocket as the T616 did. There is also the less-than-intuitive Motorola interface that requires lots of menu navigating to accomplish simple things. It appears, for example, that contact categories and speed dial assignments can only be changed on the phone through much laborious clicking and reassigning. Finally, there are the much publicized and annoying Bluetooth limitations that Verizon has imposed — you can’t send photos or other files off the phone nor can you load ring tones and MP3s directly from your PC. You aren’t supposed to be able to use the phone as a modem either although my phone does list an active dial-up networking profile that I haven’t messed with.

I don’t mean to be completely negative. I like having a clamshell phone that answers and hangs up based on opening and closing. And the e815 does, as advertised, sync beautifully with OS X Tiger (not earlier versions) over Bluetooth. I added 100 contacts with several hundred numbers and email addresses with iSync 2.1 in just a few minutes. On a Mac running Panther (10.3.9), I was able to pair with the phone but not synch. The e815 also has a great camera, for a cell phone, with a maximum resolution of 1.3 megapixels and a built-in flash. The inside and outside screens are colorful and viewable in bright sunlight and the keypad is roomy and easy to use. It also has a built-in speakerphone and a memory card slot (some format I’m not familiar with called transflash) for storing photos and even MP3 music files. The memory slot kind of begs the question — if you can use a card to transfer photos off the phone, why not allow Bluetooth moves? Alas, no indication from Verizon that any changes are in store.

Bottom line — it’s the only iSync compatible phone with Bluetooth offered by Verizon around these parts and it will do, at least until something better comes along.