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.

My Backup Dilemma

Like most tech-savvy families out there, my family has an abundance of digital audio, video, and photo files on our computers. Early on, I decided that my Power Mac G4 should be our digital hub, and all of our files are stored on that computer. This does cause a bit of a problem for me as far as storage space goes. I’ve replaced the hard drive before, and it’s about time to add a larger drive again. I don’t mind replacing my drive from time to time because it is relatively easy to clone a drive. My biggest problem is with my backup drive.

A couple years ago, I went with Apple’s Backup as my backup solution. It is incredibly easy to use and basically runs all by itself without any interaction from me as long as my external drive is powered on. I bought a drive that was twice as big as my Mac hard drive so I wouldn’t run out of space, but a couple weeks ago, something interesting happened. I ran out of space on my backup hard drive. It seems that over time, the incremental weekly backups had been so large that they had filled the entire drive. To resolve the issue, I deleted my backup files and ran a full backup that fit very easily on the drive. My biggest question is if a full backup fits so easily on my drive, why are the incremental backup files so large?

When Mac OS X Leopard comes out later this year, one of its features will be a backup solution called Time Machine. It will automatically backup every file on your system, and you can basically go back in time to find the version of a file that you need. This sounds like a great new feature, but how large will the backup hard drive have to be in comparison to the Mac hard drive? If my experience with Backup is any indication, it’s going to have to be huge, but I am going to withhold judgment until Leopard hits the streets.

This Is Ryan Shaw

This Is Ryan Shaw

We were back in Chicago over the 4th of July holiday to visit our families and friends. One of the nice things about going back to Chicago is that we actually get to listen to good radio stations like WXRT. Well, on one of our drives, one song just blew me away. Why hadn’t I heard this great new song on the stations in Saint Louis? It turns out the song was called Nobody by a new artist named Ryan Shaw. When we got back home, I downloaded the album, This Is Ryan Shaw, and have been listening to it ever since. Ryan reminds me a lot of the old time soul singers like Marvin Gaye and Al Green. He’s a really good mixture of old school soul mixed in with new school rhythms. Nobody is a perfect example of that.

I’m not sure what it is that draws me to his music. Maybe it was all of those summers spent at Probst Glass and Screen Shop listening to the oldies station with my dad and Bobby, or maybe it’s just because he’s a really great artist. Whatever it is, the album is definitely worth a listen. Check it out when you have a chance.

Apple Is Responsible for YouTube Now?

I read a post in TechCrunch today that really drove me nuts. They were commenting on an absurd post in CNET’s News Blog regarding possible liability Apple might face because the iPhone has the ability to play YouTube videos. Like TechCrunch, I feel there is no way Apple will ever be found liable of anything relating to YouTube. Really, how in the world did CNET think this was worth posting? If you take the same logic and relate it to web browsers, every software vendor that has ever shipped a browser capable of playing embedded YouTube videos is liable for the content of the videos. Now that just doesn’t make any sense, does it. Surely CNET has something more interesting to write about than this. I really used to rely on CNET to help me decide what electronics to buy, but they’ve really gone down hill. There are so many better options now for technology news and reviews.

Himalayan Glaciers in Retreat

Going along with my Live Earth post a couple weeks ago, an article in the New York Times caught my eye regarding the melting glaciers in the Himalayas. Although there is not a lot of historical data to indicate whether or not the glaciers are retreating more than normal, the data that we do have is very scary. For example, the Chorabari glacier has retreated 860 feet since 1962. That’s almost 3 football fields! That’s pretty crazy when you think about it. Unfortunately, the same thing is happening to the other glaciers in the Himalayas.

My parents recently went to Alaska, and before they left, I kept saying that it’s a good thing they’re going up there because the glaciers might not be there during their next visit. I never really meant it, but now that I’ve learned more, I’m thinking I might not be too far from being right. At this rate, I may never have the chance to see a glacier, and my kids may not ever know that glaciers even existed. What I really want to know is what happens when all of this fresh water hits the ocean.

We all just need to do something to stop global warming. Even something as small as changing the light bulbs in your house can make a difference. It’s time for use to make a change.