You wait ages for someone to use the name “Wave” and then three come along at once

It’s not just buses that come in threes: “webby things” appear to do so too. Adobe, Microsoft and Google have all recently taken it upon themselves to come up with a service called Wave.

ms-waveMicrosoft Wave
By far the least interesting Wave, Microsoft Wave is a UK-based advertising portal for new-ish Microsoft products and services. As ars technica puts it, “Microsoft Wave: yet another Microsoft site about Microsoft”.Not very interesting at all therefore.

adobe-waveAdobe Wave
Adobe Wave is a still-in-beta product that bigs itself up thus:

When a friend posts a status update or there’s new content on your favorite site, be the first to know.  Adobe® Wave™ software gets the information you care about right to your desktop.  Click on the Adobe Wave badge on a website you want to follow and you’re ready to go.  Best of all, you’re in control: you choose which sites can contact you.  If you’re no longer interested, turning it off is a click away — Adobe Wave does not share your email address with websites.

Now it might occur to you, as you read the above, that RSS already does this. Such thoughts certainly occurred to me. Even the idea of having a central server that aggregates all updates seems nothing new as feed aggregators have been around for a while too.

Unlike RSS though, content publishers have to sign up with Adobe to get their content published. If this service can persuade the likes of Facebook and Twitter to join up, along with news websites, blogs etc, then one might be able to do away with multiple readers and just use the Wave desktop client. That would be a great step forward.

I’ve signed up to be an Adobe Wave publisher. If approved, I’ll write another piece later going into far more detail on Adobe Wave.

google-waveGoogle Wave
If Google’s plans with Google Wave take off, then it is safe to predict that this wave will swamp the competition and become the de facto wave of the future. In a potentially classic case of disruptive innovation, Google Wave seeks to re-write the rules on electronic communication. It seeks to be what email could have been if invented now, rather than 40 years ago. It aims to be email, instant messaging, social networking, blogging etc all rolled into one communication channel.

To play the devil’s advocate, Google Wave will not likely replace email. Email remains the dominant electronic communication medium  because its standards are completely open (despite Microsoft’s best efforts) and anyone can set up an email server. Whilst Wave looks brilliant, it is likely to need the involvement of Google’s servers. As history shows us with the likes of instant messaging, such restrictions are like a red rag to a bull to many and fragmentation is likely.

Google Wave is something to watch, and hopefully I’m going to be eating my words in a few years. Email is past its retirement date and we need a replacement. Maybe Google Wave will be that replacement.

How to use third party image editors from within Picasa

Google Picasa logo

Google’s Picasa is a pretty good photo management tool. It’s free for a start and it offers a decent feature set, including the ability to geo-tag pictures and have them appear in Google Earth. However, one aspect of it is utterly bizarre: the way in which it integrates with other programs. I don’t know about you, but the normal way I’d expect a program to integrate with 3rd party tools would either be via preferences, or via a simple, easy to edit, configuration file. I’d expect to specify the path to the application and maybe supply a PNG if the program supported some sort of toolbar.

Picasa takes a very different approach to 3rd party application integration. To make Picasa aware of a 3rd party tool, one must create a zip file which contains an XML file that defines the buttons behaviour, and a Photoshop file that defines the button’s appearance. To then make Picasa aware of this file, one needs to deliver it via a web link or by entering a complex URL into a web browser. Google have produced a button API, which describes the process of adding a new button fairly well. As I discovered though, there are some “gotchas” to be aware of. I use Paint Shop Pro (PSP) as my image editing tool of choice. Also, as I have a Sony Alpha digital SLR camera, I use Sony’s RAW image editor to process the photos I take. I wanted Picasa to therefore support both of these programs.

PSP Button ImageI started by creating a .pbz (the zip file) for Paint Shop Pro. I followed the API’s advice and used a GUID to give my .pbf (the XML file) and .psd (the Photoshop image) unique names. As Paint Shop Pro doesn’t store its executable location in the registery, I hard-coded the path and ended up with the following XML:

If you refer to the API documentation, you’ll see that I’ve defined a new button that will save any edits to the selected images and a make a copy of those images. It then launches PSP, and passes the set of temporary files to that application. Also the file defines the inelegantly named – but statistically unique – {68bd7eb6-3ad1-4036-92f0-8c896a754a75}.psd, which contains the button’s image.

Next, I used PSP to create the Photoshop image for the button, zipped it all up and FTP’ed it to my blog’s server and created a test page with the appropriate link in it. I loaded up the test page, clicked on the link, watched Picasa launch and ask me if I wanted to import the buttons. Then the disappointment set in, as the button’s text was all displayed correctly, but it had no image. I checked and rechecked everything, tinkered with PSP’s settings and tried again and again, but to no avail. I couldn’t get an image to appear. I happen to have a trial copy of Adobe Fireworks on my machine at the moment though, so I tried editing the Photoshop image I’d created in that. The layer’s name appeared quite different to what I’d set it as in PSP. So I fixed it, saved it and tried again. The image appeared on the button just fine.

This left me irritated with both Corel and Google. First of all with Corel: why support the saving to file formats like Photoshop if you aren’t going to implement it properly? And with Google: there are well-supported, open, image formats such as PNG that they could have used. So why did they choose a proprietary file format (especially as it’s not even their own proprietary file format!)?

sony-raw-buttonHaving overcome the image problem with my PSP button, I expected the Sony RAW tool to be fairly straightforward, and it almost was. The tool appears in the registry, so I was able to use that path, rather than hard-coding a file path as I’d done with PSP. Aside from that, I copied the XML file, changed the wording and tried using it. It installed correctly, with the correct image (courtesy of Fireworks). However, when I then selected an image and clicked in the new button, the tool complained that it was being given a JPEG file. This is fairly useless for a RAW image editing tool!

All was not lost though. After some experimentation, I removed the export tag from the file and it sprang into life. I had missed the fact that it doesn’t just create temporary copies of the images, it creates temporary JPEG images, regardless of the original file type. So the final XML for my Sony RAW button was:

At the end of the process, I now have my two buttons working well. Getting there was a painful process, but hopefully this post will save others time in creating their own buttons.

If you want to use either button in Picasa, click on the Paint Shop Pro X2 installer or on the Sony Image Data Converter SR installer links to import them into Picasa.

Alternatively, you can download the button zip files for Paint Shop Pro X2 and Sony Image Data Converter SR here.

Wild speculation on the future of Google Chrome and people power wins the day

Google’s Chrome continues to generate lots of media attention and wild speculation on its potential future and impact on the browser world. The wife and I took our four year-old daughter to the Natural History museum in London today, and I even found an article on Chrome in one of the free papers that get thrust at you everywhere you go after 4pm in central London. Rather oddly, they were comparing “the big three”, with Chrome being one of them. 😕

Anyway, of more technical relevance, here are two nicely juxtaposed artcles:

On a different note, there was much talk yesterday over the clause in the End User License Agreement (EULA) that claimed Google gained a non-exclusive right to do what they wanted with every bit of data you viewed through Chrome, as well as every bit of data you uploaded via Chrome. Unsurprisingly, such a ridiculous clause made a lot of people unhappy. The good news is that Google rapidly responded to that unhappiness and the clause has now been removed from the EULA.

Has the chrome plating fallen off google’s web browser already

Chrome has been released into the wild and the initial feedback seems less than shiny:

  1. Only the Windows version has been released. Will there be a Mac and Linux versions? What about Solaris and other Unix flavours? If so, when? Chrome is up against pretty tough competition, so was it wise to risk alienating potential users by going the Windows-only route with the first release.
  2. Google are trumpeting the process-per-tab feature as some great new never-before-thought-of browser solution. Shame they’ve never heard of Maxthon, a tab-based browser that ran an IE process in each tab. This was a solution to IE 6 not supporting tabs. Guess this feature isn’t quite so innovative as Google would have us believe.
  3. And of course the comic has received a bit of a satirical make-over too.

All that aside, it is an interesting browser design, if a little strange to use. It is extremely minimalist. I find the lack of a home button for example to be just plain weird.

Google to launch their own web browser – Chrome – today

Do Internet Explorer, FireFox, Opera and Safari all fail to meet your needs? Does the world need a fifth mainstream browser to fill some gaping browser functionality hole? It seems that Google feels the answer is “yes”, and so has developed a web browser from scratch (UPDATE: apparently it’s based on the webkit core that powers Konquerer and Safari, so it’s not from scratch).

You can read all about it on the Google Blog.

UPDATE – It is now available for download from http://www.google.com/chrome. Please note that it is a beta download for Windows XP/ Vista at this stage (sorry for not mentioning the OS restriction before)

Here’s a sneak screen-shot for those without Windows (courtesy of Google Blogoscoped). It looks even better on Vista as they’ve used the Aero Glass effect well:

Android Developer Challenge: Google are giving away $10,000,000 in prize money

AndroidAre you a Java developer? Do you fancy winning yourself $25,000+ of prize money for writing a Java application? If so, get yourself across to the Android Developer Challenge, and get developing!

The amount of prize money on offer here really does put the likes of the Ebay’s “design us a Flash widget that we then own”  competition to shame.

Google weirdness: “connect prolog to actionscript in flash” (or “Prolog lives: just”)

clustr.pngJust a few days ago, I wrote about the clustrmap that I’d added to this blog to enable me to see how many people were visiting and where they lived. Then Microsoft forced Windows Desktop Search upon the world, I blogged about it, “Jo” referred to the Register’s take on subject, which caused a ping-back to here to appear on the Register and the next thing I know, I had 4,000 visitors from across the world visit in just one day. This made a total mess of the clustrmap that previously had been tracking nearer 40 or so visitors a day.

stats.pngSo having decided that the clustrmap really wasn’t that useful to me after all, I tried a WordPress plugin – WordPress.com Stats – instead. Whilst the details it provides are less public and less visual, they provide more conventional information, including search engine search terms. Those of you unfamiliar with the stranger workings of the web may be unaware of this, but when you visit Google etc and enter your search string, then click on a link, the site you visit is passed a copy of the search string you entered. As an aside, this is how when you entered say “pointless stuff” into Google, Ebay could have a sponsored link saying “get great deals on pointless stuff”. Ebay simply offered up their own search results page using the same search string when you clicked on that link. Ebay (or maybe it’s Google) have got smarter recently though and Ebay’s sponsored link only tends to appear if you enter an actual item as your search string, but the technique of passing the search terms across is still used.

Continue reading “Google weirdness: “connect prolog to actionscript in flash” (or “Prolog lives: just”)”

Online Office Bandwagon Really Gets Rolling

buzzofficelive.jpgLife used to be simple. If you did Windows, you did Office. If you did Linux, you did Open Office. If you did Macs, you drew pretty pictures, edited movies and probably used some obscure office package that was the best thing since white plastic on gadgets. Then along came Google with a funny idea: run the office app “in the cloud” and access it via web browsers. Turns out though that the big guns of the computer world didn’t think it such a funny idea after all and are taking it seriously. So this week has seen Microsoft launch the beta of their Office Live package and Adobe have bought up Virtual Ubiquity (which was of no surprise as they funded its start up in the first place), the producers of the Flash-based word processor, Buzzword.

Of course in true “emperor with no clothes” style, people seem unwilling to point out the obvious: the web browser is a really clunky naff way of supplying the power of office tools, but since when has common sense ever stopped people? I don’t think it is all a bad thing though, as the desire to run desktop apps within a browser is pushing the development of Silverlight, Flash, AIR and the like. And the collaborative features of the Google spreadsheet program should hopefully push “real” office apps in the same direction. Sometimes a funny idea can have great consequences.

Google make adding maps to blogs as simple as cut-and-paste

Google is to release a great upgrade to Google Maps next week. Currently one can embed a map into a blog post, web page etc by using the API; but it isn’t a trivial task. Google are about to make the process a whole lot easier for us by making it a simple cut & paste task.

As a Google spokeswoman explains, “To embed a Google Map, users will simply pull up the map they want to embed–it can be a location, a business, series of driving directions, or a My Map they have created–and then click ‘Link to this page’ and copy and paste the HTML into their Web site or blog,”

About time too, I say!

Full story at CNET

Update

As you can see below, the feature is released and is an absolute doddle to use. I created this custom map (with a place marker to “Lewes Cathedral”, ie the Harveys Brewery in my home town) and then simply cut and pasted the HTML that Google supplied to me into this post.


View Larger Map