Updated: A look at the new Ubertwitter Beta-6

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You may have read my previous post on Ubertwitter's new beta version for the Blackberry. Well, Ubertwitter was nice enough to get me a newer version of this application (that will be released in early January). Here is another look at what this application is all about and some of the new-newer features.

New Interface - The new interface is now configurable (in the options) to act like the previous "Bar" or to use the new "Bubble" type of screen. They seem to have modified the background color, but this may be a trick of the eye. I like how the text and the bubbles look - it makes reading tweets more appealing:



The top toolbar or "Über Bar" - This has undergone some stark visual changes, you'll see that the "Home", "@Replies" and "Direct Messages" links along the top have all turned into icons that better use the space. I'm not sure what the third icon is supposed to look like though - i wonder how that represents a "Direct Message". This version does not seem to have the ability to rename entries on the "Über Bar" yet. A great improvement and a valuable addition to Ubertwitter:


Lists - The support for lists is pretty-much the same as was in the previous version I looked at. The feature itself is huge and the main reason you NEED to upgrade Ubertwitter if you use it. Here's a look at how Ubertwitter represents a user's lists:

PickLists! - I have asked for this one for some time and they have finally added the feature. When typing a tweet and your looking for a user you follow, just type the @ symbol and start with a character or two if their Twitter name and you'll find them quickly. A welcome feature!

Find People - It's worth mentioning that in my last post, this feature was probably working, but Twitter had it turned off. I think this feature is very one of the more useful additions to Ubertwitter. Here's a look at what happens when I search for calwell:


Advertising - This was going to be a part of Ubertwitter, I knew it was coming. how they have updated this is what's most interesting, however. Ads are represented by the old style of  banners along the top, like this:

... but also, ads are represented as inline tweets - not entirely apparent until you read the byline under the tweet mentioning "ads by". You'll find these special tweets can't be replied too or even re-tweeted. Something else interesting: when clicking on an inline AD, you use the internal blackberry browser and you have no choice to use another browser (if installed). Here's a look at an inline AD (top):


Avatars  - I'm not sure when this feature came along - but to be able to see a user's avatar in full, gloriaus, higher res is something I've been looking for. This is a great way to actually see what that avatar really looks like:


Editing My Profile - This is also possible now, another great feature sure to be used often:


ReTweets  - I don't see an actual implementation of the new Twitter-Esque ReTweet feature - I do see the use of the newly minted ReTweet icon, seen just below the tweet at the top of my stream:


Account Support - These days, it's becoming more and more commons for folks to have more than one account. Ubertwitter now supports the addition and use of multiple Twitter accounts - I won't get to test this one out, but I'm sure it's one feature many are looking forward too.:


I should have placed this in my previous blog - but this is the version I'm testing right now. Here are more details:


Other great features here include a URL shortener, Tweet shortener, and integration into picture services.

Some of the stuff I would like to see in the future include:
- An indicator of weather the user you're viewing is following you
- An improved method of emailing tweets, possibly a shortcut key to do this
- Full support of the Twitter ReTweet feature
- The ability to expand short urls (or at least indicate a domain)
- Improved inline picture handling, for example, pictures can be very pixelated and scrolling still sucks:


A great release, I look forward to the final in early January! If you have a Blackberry and you use Twitter - you really should take a look at Ubertwitter.

A look at the new Ubertwitter Beta-6

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I just heard about this - a newer version of Ubertwitter that supports Lists and more features? if you haven't seen it or heard about it - you'll want to downland this version with your blackberry (Over-The-Air) right here.

I thought I'd give you a look at some of the improvements and changes in this version with a few screen shots. Please keep in mind this application is in Beta, so treat it as such.

New Interface - I notice that the tweets by those on my list are actually listed as sort of cartoon captions. I think this is a better use of space over previous versions:



Tabs along the top, of as Ubertwitter calls it, the "Über Bar" - I really like this idea, its easy to access too - just scroll a little higher than you're curent tweet list and it pops up. I found the colors in use seemed to make it difficult to tell where you were in the bar - but a totally useful feature, especially when paired with lists.



Lists - Yes, lists. This is a huge addition for Ubertwitter. having access to lists and the ability to add them as shortcuts on the "Über Bar" is proving quite useful. I would suggest one thing that I didn't see - the ability to nickname a list - especially as it sits on the "Über Bar" so you can fit more on your screen. Ubertwitter also allows you to subscribe and unsubscribe to lists. Great addition!


Geo-location Options - These options have improved giving you access to sateltte imagry and other useful options. I like this - it's quite cool to see where the person tweeting you is coming from.






Find People - the ability to use Twitter's "Find People" and add more interesting folks to your following list is a great feature as well. I was not able to get this working even once - so it appears as though there is more work to do with this.



Other new stuff in this release includes:


- A new icon, and it looks great.





- A visual cue regarding the "Verified" status of Twitter accounts. A nice addition to the utility for sure!



The last shot I'll leave you with with is of the "Über Bar" maintanence screen:



Great update - I'm looking forward to more from Ubertwitter. Let me know what yout think.

10 things people STILL pay for (that they can get for free)

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It can be quite discouraging. You go buy something only to find out later that you could have gotten that for free. When looking at technology, there are a number of truly inventive and clever ways you can get things without having to pay for them. This article has a Canadian slant, but most of these 10 things are universal.

#1 - Wireless Internet Access - The promise of ubiquitous, free, wireless Internet access is not quite here. I'm not sure it will ever be a reality. It doesn't mean that you can't get this basic level of Internet access for free if your looking for ways to cut costs. First, Starbucks offers up to two hours daily of free Internet access at most stores. You just have to get a free Starbucks card, register it and keep it charged with $5. As a bonus, you can register more than one Starbucks card for even more time - just log in again with your next registered card to get two more hours. Some Second Cup and Denney's locations are also offering free Internet access.

Free-ness Quotient:  Available everywhere, becoming more free, Starbucks can be a welcome break from office/home
Techie Money Saving Tip: For those that have Blackberry phones with data packages, look into tethering to get on the Internet. In a pinch, you'll have Internet access anywhere you need it - and it won't cost you any more money because most people generally don't use all of their data allotment. Don't waste money on an Internet Stick.

#2 - Virus Scanning Software - Viruses are a serious threat. Having an application on your computer that can monitor and detect possible threats is part of a good protection strategy. Many don't know, however, that most virus scanning applications do a similar, if mediocre job. Some will come with extra bells an whistles, but monitoring and scanning for viruses is generally something everyone needs and the applications that provide this are robust, secure and free. When looking for a virus scanner, look only to pay for the management components, not the scanner. Right now, you can get these application for free (on Windows): AVG Free, Panda Cloud Anti-Virus, Microsoft Security Essentials.

Free-ness Quotient: Very mature, lots to choose from, more free options will arrive in future
Techie Money Saving Tip: Make common-sense and healthy dose of paranoia a you're main source of anti-virus protection. Applications that scan for unwanted programs are nowhere near as effective at protecting your computer than you are.

#3 - Mail/Web Hosting - If you run a business or have a domain, something like www.yourdomain.com - you are using some sort of hosting company to handle email and your website(s). The hosting industry has undergone a major shift over the last year or two; and you can take advantage of that. Yes, there are still a number of old-style free web hosting companies that use advertising frames to allow you a hosting space, but a new player has emerged. Google's Apps Standard is a free set of tools that will host your email and web services (among other things) and handle all of this on top of your custom domain. You will still have to pay for DNS and registrar services, but the Google services are a solid and reliable free alternative to what some ISPs are charging close to $100.00 a month for. Google offers free web/mail hosting for up to 50 users.

Free-ness Quotient: Free, Reliable and already re-defining the hosting landscape
Techie Money Saving Tip: Google also owns one of the most powerful spam filtering services, when paired with Google Apps Standard - you have a free solution that can effectively cost companies in the thousands of dollars.

#4 - Office Package - This is probably one of the most insane categories of free applications that I see people pay way too much for! I have seen people actually running illegitimate copies of an Office package over a more useful free alternative. If you are paying for Microsoft Office, STOP, and take a serious look at these alternatives. Google's Apps Standard comes with an online version of a very powerful word processor and storage space for your files - I highly recommend it. Other free alternatives are the powerful OpenOffice package from sun, the lightweight AbiWord, the online package from Zoho. Worried about Microsoft office support? All of these applications include support for Microsoft Office documents.

Free-ness Quotient: Great, really no need to continue using Microsoft's Office unless you have very specific requirements.

Techie Money Saving Tip: All of the above Microsoft alternatives are MUCH faster to load and use on your computer than the very bloated Microsoft Office applications. Not only are they free, but you'll likely save time using them. Also, look to some powerful collaboration tools from Google's constantly improving apps suite.

#5 - Open File Backups - What used to be the bastion of very expensive backup applications is now something within reach of almost every Windows user. Most people are unaware of the fact that they have the built-in ability to not only backup files, but backup files that are actually open (if they wanted to). This is possible due to the service in Windows called Shadow Copy - that makes copies of files on your drive, allowing you to restore if required. Using this powerful service in conjunction with a free utility called Hobocopy, you can backup and copy files including any that are OPEN to a location you decide.

Free-ness Quotient: Very free, a must-have utility

Techie Money Saving Tip: Using "Scheduled Tasks" and a basic batch file and Hobocopy - it's very easy to automate the process of backing up all of your data files to another computer or an external drive.

#6 - Long Distance Calls - This is a no-brainer. Who doesn't want free long distance calls? The large phone companies charge way too much for long distance, so it about time you found ways to fight back and not pay! Please note, this is from a Canadian perspective, where Google Voice is not yet available. One way to get free long distance is use the relativity new GOOGE411 service. Call the toll free number (1-800-466-4411) and use this service like a 411 call. The best part is that when you have the right number, GOOG411 connects you directly to the number, wherever it is!

Take a look at this video for more details:


Free-ness Quotient: Relatively new, expect more services to follow

Techie Money Saving Tip: Many phone plans today include free incoming calls. If you make a large amount of long distance calls to a single location, consider using a call-back service that can save you airtime and long distance charges.


#7 - Document Management System - This is a more advanced application - you aren't likely to require this unless you need a more powerful ability to manage a large number of documents and search within them. Some of the paid-for application in this market segment include Microsoft's Sharepoint and niche applications like Primafact . What many don't know, however, is that there are open source alternatives that can stack up to these applications quite well. The open source Alfreco Community release is an incredibly robust and powerful document management system that can save companies looking to manage their large number of documents.

Here's a quick video on what Alfresco is about:


Free-ness Quotient: Very mature and likely to stick around for some time

Techie Money Saving Tip: A trip to the Alfresco Forums can provide you with ideas on how you can extend the product. Active Directory integration and file format support are among the more useful extensions to the product.

#8 - Remote Access - If you support a number of computers for your clients or you are a user who needs remote access - this is an important function of what you do. Over the years, this has changed drastically from when paid applications ruled the day. Today, you should take a look at the freely available LogMeIn remote access tool. You'll pay for more advanced tools like file transfer and printing - but the basic core process of remote access with LogMeIn is completely free.

Free-ness Quotient: Very mature and improving. LogMeIn also traverses firewalls, a major improvement to providing remote access. Mac support is in Beta.

Techie Money Saving Tip: If you have servers to support - consider using LogMein in conjunction with Remote Desktop Services (on different ports) for supporting the servers fast and for free.

#9 - Virtual Machine - What's a Virtual machine? This is the wonderful ability to run a computer within your computer (if you will). You may use this for a number of reasons, probably the most powerful reason would be to test and application you don't trust completely. If that application doesn't work or install correctly or contains viruses, just delete the Virtual Machine (or use what's called a snapshot) and your computer is not effected by the problem. Today you can get this for free from Sun using their very powerful VirtualBox application.

Take a look at VirtualBox in action:


Free-ness Quotient: Very mature today, Virtualization is set to become more pervasive
Techie Money Saving Tip: Of you support servers and are looking to consolidate or save companies money - look to the Free Vmware ESXi server offering - you can virtualize a number of server for no cost on this platform.


#10 - ScreenCasting - Have you ever wanted to share what was on your screen with other people or you IT administrator? Doing this today may require jumping trough some hoops and, sadly, paying for file storage or services you don't need. The online application provided by ScreenToaster is a free way to record your local screen and share it with others (just as I have above). I highly recommend this tool.

Free-ness Quotient: Very free, and extrememly easy to use

Techie Money Saving Tip:  Screen Shots and Screen Casts are incredibly powerful ways to provide you IT support person with information they meed to solve your issue. Giving them access to see what your problems are can save you hours of labor time.


Other free stuff worth checking out: It is possible to get free basic SSL certificates using this method. Looking for a method to encrypt data on your disk or USB key? TrueCrypt does that and it's free. If you are a Rogers customer - you can get free movies on demand using Rogers On Demand.

That's my list - do you have any other great free tools that you use? Can you suggest something I might have missed?

A free utility that should be built-in to Windows: GreenPrint

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I'm always looking for new and interesting utilities. The Internet is a wealth of these utilities and many of them are free. In this series of blogs I'll go over some of the best and most interesting I have found - I welcome you to go try one of them and let me know what you think!

Today, I'm going to look at a small utility that acts simply as a Print Manager or a Print Previewer.This utility gives you the ability to print ONLY the pages you need or want to print and remove the ones you don't need. This is such an important function on a computer, I'm not sure why everyone doesn't do it - and what's more -  why the current version of Windows doesn't include this utility!

This utility is generally played up for it's environmental benefits - and this is a fair billing of the software - Saving paper use and waste is a very environmental thing to do. It is also something everyone should want to do because it saves money - you want to save money don't you?


You can download the World Edition for free from the GreenPrint website. You are requested a registration twice in this process, but it not required in either case. The installer runs and simply installs a printer named "GreenPrint" and sets it as your default printer.

When you print - you print to the "GreenPrint" printer - and this can be don with any application - anything from notepad or an obscure windows file management application. Anything you print on Windows just needs to point to this printer.

The interface itself is nothing short of flashy. Too flashy for my taste. On the main window, you'll find the print jobs you have submitted - you'll find an advertisement on the right side and a toolbar along the top that gives you some ability to control your print job further.



The killer feature here - more than the ability to delete pages and graphics from your print job - is the ability to create PDF files of said print jobs. You simply click on the "PDF" toolbar icon and GreenPrint will prompt you for a a location to save that PDF file. This is great for anything from saving online order confirmations - to finding a way to create PDFs without having to purchase a license for that rather large Adobe application (that you don't need).


GreenPrint also includes some more advanced features as the ability to pt a number of printed pages on one sheet of paper and duplex support. You'll have to get at these feature from the "Printer Properties" dialog that is wonderfully hidden in Windows 7. The free version of the application is said to include all of the "Pro" features - it's just ad-supported.

There are detractors and those that say this type of software is useless - many of them just seem to miss the point. This software and others like it ARE the printer - so they take each print job and give you a real representation on the screen of what will come out of your printer - independent of your application and/or print driver or software.

Some mention the fact that many websites have "Print" options and "Printable" views, which is correct. The trouble is that many of these print options don't work the same in every browser or may have been written to include parts of the page using Javascript that doesn't work correctly. In my experience of using a number of different browsers, you simply cannot trust that the site you want to see is going to print the way you want.

Some will say this is unnecessary because one could use the "Print Preview" option in the application your printing from. Here's the thing - also from experience - the preview of the print job really always needs to be independent of the application. Mainly because you can't trust the application. Also, while most (not all) applications offer a print preview option, many do not offer the ability to remove pages one-by-one after the preview.And even worse, some more popular accounting applications actually don't offer a print preview.

The one main difficulty of printing is that applications and print drivers and printers all have they're own set of functions and configuration options. It is important from a perspective of printing to consolidate all of these disparate systems into one location where you'll be assured what you're going to get on the physical printer.

Also , The media has talked about this utility in the past, look at Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal describing this software:



I say, this an essential application for any Windows user - heck, this feature should exist in every graphical Operating System. Go grab it.

Why I think the JooJoo tablet device is a dud

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You may have heard or seen the recent controversy related to Fusion Garage's JooJoo/Crunchpad that was demoed yesterday. The JooJoo would be the first (of many?) tablet devices to hit the market. These devices let you browse the web and use applications with a great form-factor - it would be great if you were to sit on your couch and read the news or browse the web wirelessly. I have been looking for the live stream of the original demo event, but I haven't been able to find it? If you know, please share. There are a couple hands-on demos that have floated around also - like this one from Gizmodo:



The device looks great - but - beware - this thing is a dud. Here's why:

1. The price sucks. $499us to browse the web, only browse the web? It's not going to sell much at that price at all.

2. For almost 2 years of work, this device has a huge number of technical issues to work out. Don't believe me? Look at the demo above closely. The device clearly has graphics issues. What was described as a "trick of the camera" in the earlier demo is clearly not the case. When going back to the home screen, demos have shown the device change to green, purple, red, blue. In another demo, using the accelerometer to change the orientation caused some screen garbling.

3. Things don't work the way they should. The gesture to get back to the home screen is a "Zoom" pinch. This gesture was even described in a demo by Chandra Rathakrishnan himself as a "zoom" pinch. Why in the world are they re-writing one of the most basic muti-touch gestures into something different? What other functions of this device have they re-written that will make this device a difficult thing to use. What's more - how would you zoom a web page?

4. The main/home screen appears to be poorly or haphazardly designed. They have alot of work to do to make this look useful or appealing. Take a look at the main menu on the JooJoo (from the origional demo):


Now take a look at the just-released menu of, say, the Boxee Box:

Or even ChromeOS:


You can see there is some design work involved in Boxee and ChromeOS - but the JooJoo looks like it's just a bunch of links hobbled together on the screen, not even all of the links an icons show up. After almost 2 years, this is the best they have?

All in all - this doesn't look so good for Fusion Garage - they should go back and fix these things and make it work for a price well below $499 before coming back out with a product. Considering the possible legal hurdles for them in the future - I would say that is their best bet.

I'll leave you with one shot that I think shows how truly wrong this is. This device's home screen  is clearly being shown off in the daytime - and yet, the person demoing the device (Chandra Rathakrishnan?) has not bothered to set the time. It's probably a sign:


From filter to aggregation: A look at Threadsy

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I'm always looking for new and interesting utilities. The Internet is a wealth of these utilities and many of them are free. In this series of blogs I'll go over some of the best and most interesting I have found - I welcome you to go try one of them and let me know what you think!

 Last month I took a look at a web application intended to primary filter information better. That application, Brizzy, is still something I use. It's a wonderful example of wrapping around a great tool (Twitter) and creating a filter to the noise. Another major revolution (in progress, if you will) is the move towards aggregation. The definition of aggreation is:

An aggregate is a number of people or things that are being considered as a single thing


And Threadsy does that incredibly well. Threadsy takes your email and social networking accounts and aggregates them all into one, single interface. The sheer number of types of mail accounts supported here are incredible, Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, Google Apps, even straight up IMAP servers. Threadsy also includes support for social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The result is an interface that is truly incredible. Many shots of the interface are all over the Internet.

The clear polish of this tool is evident in many of the interface elements on display. From the support for a number of accounts, to the ability to rename mail accounts to short names to the support for multiple Twitter accounts. This is the kind of aggregation you need if you hold a number of email addresses or Twitter accounts (and really, these days, who doesn't)? Threadsy also does some of the things Brizzly does - like the automatic expansion of short urls (like bit.ly).

Threadsy is currently an invite-only tool. You can request your invitation by providing your email address here. Give it a shot.

Also, with a little more information on Threadsy, here's a video of a recent presentation on the new web app.


Windows and the Black Screen of CRAP!

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If you've been following some of the more recent news on Windows - you'll have come across stories about a "recent" patch from Microsoft causing what is called a "Black screen of death". The fix to this seemingly unknown problem comes from a security firm name Prevx. This stuff is problematic on so many levels.

#1 - The problem is VERY poorly defined. The patch that supposedly causes this problem may have been released on Nov 10th, but no one seems to know what patch that is or can site the name/kb number of the patch itself.

#2. This problem is not a new or unique issue - the supposed "Black screen of death" can be cause by forms of malware and certainly other applications that may not have been installed properly. For Prevx to say "If you have these symptoms you can safely try our free Black Screen Fix" is inviting problems and fixes to problems that may not exist.

#3 - It's inviting poor users to act more poorly as users - Yes, I know that's a bit of a mouthful - but the very purpose of malicious software is to take advantage of ambiguity to get the user to run THEIR executable on a user's computer. In this case, a security firm is now describing an ambiguous problem, caused by an unknown patch and saying you can download THEIR executable to fix it. Suspect.

This may turn out to be a real issue - and it may be a well defined problem in the future (based on another Microsoft mess-up), but please, people, be skeptical before playing into this hype.

UPDATE:  I have found more details from Zdnet that seem to confirm the issue on Windows is real and related to the recent update numbered MS09-065.
 
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