Sun’s StarOffice Now In Google Pack . . . So What?

Google PackI read on TechCrunch this morning that Sun’s StarOffice is now included in Google’s Google Pack software package. While I agree with Duncan Riley that Google will help add some credibility by association, I really don’t think it matters all that much in the grand scheme of things. StarOffice, OpenOffice, and other products like it seem incredibly clunky to me, and I have never had a positive experience with a product that uses Java (Documentum, Business Objects, etc.). Now, I have to admit that I have developed some insanely cool document automation products using Microsoft Word, but I am a Mac user at heart so I have no love for Microsoft. With that said, there are other quality alternatives to Microsoft Office like Apple’s iWork and Google’s own Google Docs and Spreadsheets that I would use before even bothering to download StarOffice or OpenOffice. You can bet that as soon as Google figures out how to incorporate the presentation product they bought and make it possible to use Google Docs and Spreadsheets offline, StarOffice will come off of the list of products available in the Google Pack. Sun will have to enjoy the extra attention while they can.

South County Threatens Secession Over Trash?

I read in the Oakville Call last night that some residents of south Saint Louis County are so upset about a proposal to establish trash districts that they are considering breaking away from the county and forming a new county. The big fuss is that individuals will no longer have the ability to contract with any waste hauler they want. I’m not sure about you, but forming a new county over something like this seems a bit extreme to me.

I have never lived in an area where I was responsible for picking my own trash company which is why I don’t really see this as a big deal. Establishing trash districts in the unincorporated areas of Saint Louis County actually sounds like a great idea to me. The trash companies will have to adhere to standards of service and will have to bid for the business. The companies will compete with each other to get the business which will drive down prices. In the process, some mom and pop waste haulers may lose residential business because they cannot meet the demands of an entire district, but that does not mean they will go out of business. They will have to adjust and focus on other business that they can compete for and win. I know that in the Aurora, Illinois area where I grew up, there are a ton of successful small waste haulers even though the city contracts with a large firm to collect the residential waste from its 170,000 plus residents. There is no reason the same thing can’t happen here.

If the proposal does go through, I would like the County to institute some requirements for recycling, and those requirements are that the waste hauler will provide recycling bins for each house and that they will pick it up for free. The money they make from recycling will help offset the cost of collecting the materials, and it is the right thing to do for the environment. All the cities in which I have lived in Illinois and California have always had recycling programs, and Saint Louis County needs to do its fair share. Perhaps the County can also require that the waste haulers must provide standard trash and recycling bins for every house in each district. That way, they can use automated trucks to collect the waste. This works incredibly well in San Diego, and it made trash day so much easier.

My vote is for the trash districts to be established so we can all benefit from standards and economies of scale.

John Lennon on iTunes, Beatles Next?

There was some great news from the iTunes Store yesterday. John Lennon’s solo catalog is now available for download from the iTunes Store. You can choose between the normal tracks with DRM or the new iTunes Plus files without DRM at a higher bit rate. I personally buy albums most of the time so I always buy the iTunes Plus songs because the album prices are the same regardless of file type. Plus, they sound better.

Now that Paul McCartney and John Lennon both have their music on the iTunes Store, it is only a matter of time before the Beatles’ catalog is available. I have some of their albums on CD, but there are others that I would love to buy through iTunes. I’ve read that the recordings are being remastered for their digital release so the music should sound better than ever. I can’t wait to see what kind of exclusive albums and tracks Steve Jobs talks EMI into releasing on iTunes first.

Van Halen Is Back!

It’s been a long, long time, but the real Van Halen is back! After 22 years of pretending that they didn’t need or want each other, the Van Halen brothers and David Lee Roth are getting back together to rock the world. The band has announced twenty-five dates so far for what promises to be the biggest tour this fall. In their press conference, they seemed to be together for the long haul, and it will be awesome to hear new songs from one of the greatest bands of all time. What’s sweet is that Eddie’s son, Wolfgang, is the new bass player for the band. Michael Anthony was a decent bass player, but I always found him a bit annoying. Really, nobody listens to Van Halen to hear the bass lines. It’s all about Diamond Dave and Eddie Van Halen. Alex Van Halen is no slouch either. Wolfgang should bring new life to the band and bring a younger perspective. I’m sure he’ll learn a few things on tour with his dad, uncle, and DLR. It should be a great show to watch!

Apple’s iWork ’08 Supports Microsoft’s Open XML Format

For all of us that have been telling our friends and co-workers to save their Microsoft Office 2007 files using the Office 2003 formats, we can finally stop worrying about it. Apple’s recently released iWork ’08 supports Microsoft’s Open XML formats that are the default files formats for Office 2007. While iWork can only read these formats at this time, I fully expect Apple to add the ability to write to these formats in an update soon. What’s funny about the whole situation is that Apple actually beat Microsoft to the punch with this release because Microsoft has yet to release a non-beta file converter for Office 2004. Full support for the Open XML formats is not expected in Office for Mac until the 2008 version that will be released in early 2008. If Apple can provide full read/write support for the Open XML formats in iWork by then, they have the chance to really increase their market share. There’s also another great reason for Mac users to switch from Office to iWork. iWork costs only $79 compared to the hundreds of dollars that Microsoft charges for Office. How can you beat that?

Via (Digg)

iPhoto ’08, Great New Features

On Tuesday, Apple announced and released the latest and greatest version of their iLife suite. On the surface, iLife ’08 looks like an update worthy of purchasing. I have been using iLife ’05 since January 2005, and have generally been very happy with it.

The one application my family and I use most is iPhoto. Like most families with kids and pets, we take a ton of digital photos. Without a great program like iPhoto, it would be incredibly difficult to manage our photo library. iPhoto ’05 has some great features, and we’ve used them to their full potential. iPhoto ’06 added Photocasting which almost got me to upgrade, but .Mac had such little storage that it didn’t make a whole lot of sense for me to share my photos using Photocasting. Instead I turned to services like Flickr to share photos.

Apple’s announcements on Tuesday may have changed things a bit for us. In addition to the iLife update, .Mac got a long needed increase in storage space and monthly bandwidth allowance. This opens the door to using iPhoto and .Mac to share photos and movies with the world. Following are the new features I find most interesting.

.Mac Web Gallery

With .Mac Web Galleries, Apple actually replaces the Photocasting feature they added to iPhoto ’06. .Mac Web Galleries provides the ability to share photos with your friends and family (or the entire world) with a few clicks of the mouse. As the name indicates, a .Mac account is required to really make these web galleries work. Unfortunately, Apple did not make it possible to use an outside web host. The web pages created by iPhoto and .Mac are incredible. They offer all of the best features that Web 2.0 has to offer. Check out the sample gallery that Apple created. To me, the .Mac Web Galleries alone are worth the price of the upgrade to iLife ’08.

New calendars

My wife and I have a little tradition going of giving calendars of our kids to our parents and grandparents every Christmas. We’ve always used Ofoto (or Kodak Photo Gallery as they call it now although I think they should have stuck with Ofoto) to make our calendars, but we may have to switch to iPhoto this holiday season because of all of the cool features. The templates look great, and I really like the feature that makes it possible to put photos on specific dates. It would be pretty sweet to put pictures of everyone on their birthdays.

Home Printing

Okay, so home printing doesn’t sound all that cool or ground breaking, but it is something new to iPhoto ’08. iPhoto provides themes with borders and mattes that make instant frame-ready prints. Text can also be added to the prints. For all of us that have photo printers sitting around the house, we can have instant gratification by printing photos ready for framing directly from iPhoto.

Events

Events are a new way to organize photos in iPhoto ’08. The program automatically assumes that photos from a particular day were most likely taken at the same event. Basically, Events provides another layer of organization beyond albums. For me, time will tell if the new Events feature justifies all of the time Steve Jobs spent talking about it at the event on Tuesday.

iPhoto ’08 is yet another reason for Windows users to make the switch to Mac to manage their digital lives. Trust me, there is nothing this good for Windows. Period.

Challenge Wrap-Up

July is over, and it’s time to look back and see how I did on my self-imposed one-post-a-day challenge. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite get there in July, but I did post thirteen times. That’s six more posts than I’ve ever posted in one month so I’m going to claim a small victory. I am going to continue the challenge again in August and every month after that until I get this right.  Then we’ll move to two posts a day!

I’d like to thank everyone that sent messages of encouragement in July. Keep on me if I start slacking again. Check back soon!

The Only Phone You Need

While watching the Godfather marathon yesterday, I saw a commercial for T-Mobile’s new HotSpot @Home service, and I have to say, it looks incredibly promising. Basically, when a wireless Internet connection is available, these phones are able to make calls over the Internet without using your regular plan minutes. When you are out of range from the wireless Internet connection, the phone automatically switches over to the cellular network and you keep on talking. What’s nice is that you can also use any T-Mobile HotSpot to make calls as well. I also assume that using any open wireless network would be possible. The price for all of these calls over the Internet is $9.99/month.

This seems like the perfect solution for a household like mine. We have all of the wireless infrastructure in place to really take advantage of the service. My wife and I could use our Wi-Fi/Cellular phones as our only phones assuming that 911 service works. We could finally get rid of our home phone for good and potentially save some money with a Family Plan. I will definitely be keeping an eye on this new service to see if it will truly fit our needs. For anyone out there that has a high speed wireless Internet connection at home, I would say T-Mobile’s HotSpot @Home service could be a potential money saving option for you.

My TiVo, My Mac, and My Tunes

I have turned into quite the TiVo fan since we bought one about nine months ago. It seems that I’m not alone based on all of the blogs and discussion boards focusing on everything TiVo.

We had used DVRs from our cable companies in the past, but the TiVo is so much more than just a DVR. When you hook your TiVo into our home network, it opens the door to all sorts of Internet-based content and becomes a bridge to the photos and music on your computer. The ability to listen to Internet radio is really nice especially when the TiVo is connected to a home entertainment system. You can also subscribe to audio podcasts if you’re into that type of thing. I have also taken advantage of TiVo’s partnership with Amazon to download movies directly to the TiVo. The movies look and sound great, and you don’t have to drive to the store or wait for a DVD to arrive in your mailbox.

My favorite feature of the TiVo is the ability to play the music that is stored on my Mac through the TiVo. This is very similar to the Apple TV although the TiVo cannot play music bought through the iTunes Store. There is another downside to all of this insanely cool functionality. The TiVo can only natively play files in MP3 format, and I have a mixed iTunes library of MP3 and AAC files.

This weekend, I finally decided to do some research to see if there was anything I could do about this shortcoming. Surely, other people are in the same boat as me. I am happy to report that there is an undocumented feature in the TiVo software for the Mac that provides the ability to translate AAC files to MP3 files on the fly. Apparently, the functionality has been there for a couple years, and I’m kind of mad at myself for not reading about this earlier. The TiVo software has code that calls a program called LAME. LAME is an open source MP3 encoder and is freely available. All I had to do was install LAME, and the TiVo software recognized it immediately. At last, all of my non-iTunes Store tracks could be seen and played through the TiVo. I was so excited that I had music playing all day yesterday.

I am still annoyed that Apple and TiVo have not gotten together to allow iTunes Store tracks to play on the TiVo. It would just be considered another computer that would need to be authorized. Of course, now that Apple has the Apple TV, I don’t really see them licensing other companies to basically do the same thing, but it sure would be nice.

I Don’t Like Quiet!

Home Alone

Well folks, apparently I don’t like peace and quiet.

My wife and kids drove to my in-laws for a week to spend some time with them before another school year starts. I stayed behind because I have to work and need to save my vacation time for the holidays. While not occupied with work, I’ve been wandering around the house trying to figure out what to do with time. Being home alone is so foreign to me that I’m struggling to keep busy. We cleaned the house before they left so I don’t really have to do much of that. It hasn’t rained a whole lot here so I don’t need to cut the grass, and I already filled in some holes that were left when we dug some plants out of our front yard.

Now, I know some of you are out there right now saying, “Well, get writing Tim. You have a bazillion posts to catch up on before the end of the month.” If you saying that, you’re absolutely right. Time will tell if I can rock out a ton of posts this weekend. The two liter of Mountain Dew I drank today is helping a lot! Stay tuned for what I hope is some interesting and entertaining material. Well, hopefully it will be interesting. Yeah, let’s start with that.