Logos is rolling out its software products for the Mac. No emulator necessary! You can read all the details, and pre-order, here.
Open source software isn’t just for Windows and Linux. Most of the best and the brightest run on Macs too. Check out this list of 25 useful free software programs for you Apple.
What is OpenOffice.org?
It is an office document suite, similar to (but better and free-er than) Microsoft Office or (for those of you who still use it) WordPerfect. Now don’t be nervous because it is free; there are good reasons to choose free software. It’s not free because it sucks, its free because it’s managed by a community of dedicated enthusiasts. The company that finances these enthusiasts makes money selling services and hardware, not software; the software is merely a means to an end, which means you get to have all the benefits of a professional grade office suite without all the cost.
What if you already have Microsoft Office? Are there any benefits to OpenOffice not available from the mainstream flagship office suite? I’m glad you asked. There are several. First, it’s free. Now this may not matter to you now, since you already have shelled out the money for MS Office, but what about when it comes time to upgrade? That time will come, you know, and before you know it. Then you will have to shell out that money all over again for what usually amounts to only a slight improvement over the original.
There are other advantages as well. Ever try to send a document to someone only to find they could not read it? Maybe they were not willing to pay all that money for Word, and now you have to convert it for them. This is all because Microsoft has a history of not supporting standards. That is changing, but it has not changed yet, so all your data is saved in a format that only Microsoft’s products can read. OpenOffice.org, by contrast, can read all your old MS Office files, but by default saves all of its information in “OpenDocument” formats. The code for these formats is made public, so any program can theoretically access them. Also, OpenOffice can automatically export all your documents as PDFs.
This is the main advantage that OpenOffice has over MS, but I would like to reiterate: in addition to this advantage, OpenOffice does almost everything else MS Office can do, and much of it can be done more easily!
What’s New in OpenOffice 3.0
Well, lots of things. Read about all of them here.
There are four features that I am especially excited about.
First, the new Welcome Screen. Aesthetics matter, and here MS Office has us beat hands down. But the Welcome Screen helps, and it also allows for easier document creation and template management. And with Windows at least, you also get a handy little quick-launch button in your taskbar.
Second, better document editing and commenting in Writer. This feature really helps OpenOffice compete with MS Word. Previously these features were pretty primitive, but now OpenOffice supports multiple editors (each editor gets a different color) and true comment display in the sidebar. This is really a plus in my book.
Third: a new, intuitive, and hugely important extension manager, similar to that implemented by Firefox. Extensions are were Open Source software really shines. Because the code is not secret, anybody can look at it and, if they’re good enough, improve upon it. Rather than add all these improvements into the original program, it is much easier, much faster (the powers that be have to approve any code changes to the base system), and much safer to provide those improvements through easily managed extensions. OpenOffice.org makes this process easy, with a dedicated extension manager that allows the user to easily search for, add, and remove functionality at will. My favorite extension so far is Zotero Integration, which allows you to automatically generate formatted citations and bibliographies in your documents. Another handy extension is the PDF Import Extension, which allows you to directly edit PDF files.
Finally, OpenOffice Impress (the equivalent of PowerPoint) is now ready for prime time. With dedicated table creation and other new features, this component of the suite is finally competitive. There is also a new extension available that allows you to use Impress with two screens, one for them, the other with notes and other helps specifically for your. Read about that here.
For a full review of OpenOffice.org, with some attention given to the Mac version, check out this post.
There are several Web based alternatives to OpenOffice. Google docs is the most obvious, but also check at the Zoho suite of products. These are both free. The best thing about these products is that they offer you access to your documents anywhere in the world. All you need is an internet connection; no software required. Also, both offer real-time collaboration, so you and a colleague can work on the same document at the same time and both see what the other is doing; all changes are saved and completely undo-able. Nice. Aside from these features, though, they are not yet as feature-rich as their desktop alternatives.
The other alternative I will mention is IBM’s Lotus Symphony. This Office Suite is based off of OpenOffice, actually, but an older version (the 1.0 series). It bundles that older version with a set of IBM tools for document management and collaboration. In general, however, I have found it less stable and feature-full than the “vanilla” OpenOffice, and it does not import Microsoft documents as accurately.
The main disadvantage with OpenOffice is the lack of any email/productivity manager, such as Microsoft’s Outlook. This is actually not a huge problem since Mozilla’s Thunderbird will do the job quite nicely. Add the Calendar Extension and you have everything Outlook has to offer (combine it with Gmail and Remember the Milk, and you have an always-in-sync online version as well). A full post on this is coming soon.
So I would suggest giving OpenOffice.org a try. You have nothing to loose. Their main page is here. Versions are available for every operating system (Windows, Mac, Linux).
I have had past experience with Mounce’s Flashworks software, a free Windows and Mac program designed to help you learn Greek, but it has gotten a serious upgrade since the last time I checked. Here’s the description on Mounce’s Website:
FlashWorks is a vocabulary drilling program. Each word is tagged for difficulty, type (noun, verb, etc.), chapter, and frequency in the Biblical text. You can then ask for any cross section you wish, such as “all verbs occurring more than 30 times in the New Testament that occur in chapters 16 through 24 in the text and which I have tagged with a difficulty rating of three through five” (five being the most difficult for you). FlashWorks remembers words as you get them right and/or wrong and can automatically set the difficulty rating.
The download is a paltry 6mb, which is a good thing. Databases for the language (i.e., the actual vocab) are downloaded separately (though Greek is included). This, again, is a good thing; it allows the program to be modular, which means the same basic program can be used to learn any language. Databases are currently available for Greek, Hebrew, French, German, and Spanish. And you can always create your own.
You will need to download and install special fonts for Greek and Hebrew (links are available on the site), although it appears that Greek is included in the install. The software uses TekniaGreek and TekniaHebrew, which points up one big disadvantage to FlashWorks and the Teknia fonts: they are not Unicode fonts. If you don’t know what this means, or don’t know why unicode is important, check out my previous introduction to Unicode. The lack of unicode support is why I did not include the Teknia fonts in my list of Great Greek Fonts.
Installers are available for Windows and Mac, and it works beautifully in Wine on Linux (on Ubuntu). And did I mention it is free?
I do have a few qualms. The interface is terribly ugly, and the whole thing could use a usability overhall. Making your own word lists could be easier. I would love to be able to select/tag words in order to create a chapter-specific Machen vocab list, for example, but as it is that would be too time consuming. But it gets the job done, and that’s the important thing with Greek: memorize the vocab, then you can move on to more important matters!
Backup is important. You never know when your hard drive will give out (and it will, someday), or when some killer virus is going to wipe your data, or when you are going to be a bonehead and accidentally delete that all-important file.
Backup is important, but an online backup offers further advantages. It can be slow, to be sure, but it protects you in ways that other backups can’t (fire, theft, etc.). It’s a good idea to have your vital information, your most valuable pictures, etc. in a safe and secure location. Services like Mozy Home provide a wonderful and feature-rich online backup solution (and its free). But it has its drawbacks (Windows only, slow, does not sync between computers).
There is a new site, however, that offers something more, and holds great promise for the futre. Check out the folks over at Dropbox. I have been playing around with their services for a while now and have been very impressed, and today marks the release of their services to the public (still beta, but public beta).
What is Dropbox? At the minimum it is an automatic online backup of your important data. Dropbox creates a folder on your hard drive. Whatever you put in this folder is automatically synced with your account online. In short, anything you put in the dropbox on your computer is automatically mirrored to a secure, private, and encrypted location online, accessible to you for anywhere in the world.
The beauty of dropbox is that it offers more than this.
In the first place, you can link multiple computers to the same account. So, for example, let’s say I have both my home and office computers linked to the same online Dropbox. If I add or change a file in the Dropbox on my home computer, it will be automatically uploaded to the online Dropbox, and in turn automatically downloaded by my work computer. All my data is in sync between multiple computers.
Furthermore, Dropbox knows when I modify files and acts accordingly. Let’s say a have an article that I am writing in my dropbox. Whenever I make even the slightest modification to the file on my home computer, that modification is immediately uploaded to the web. This is what is called “real-time” backup. The Dropbox software can sense anytime a file has changed, and mirrors that change online.
And here is the real cool bit: it also keeps a record of the modification in case you do something stupid. Say you accidentally deleted a couple of important paragraphs of your article and could not recover the original? Well, those changes will be reflected in your online dropbox, but the original will be there too, so in just a couple of clicks you can recover you old data. The Dropbox FAQ puts it well:
All your files are not only backed up but all prior versions are preserved. So if you delete something or even just save a bad change you can restore a file in a few clicks via the web interface.
You can also mark certain folders as shared, allowing you to distribute files, as well as back them up. This could be particularly useful for photos, for example. Just mark your photo folder as shared, distribute the web address to your friends and family, and suddenly you have a private Flickr alternative.
Another important feature of Dropbox is that it only uploads the data that has changed, not entire files. Here, again, is the description provided by the FAQ:
Does Dropbox always upload/download the entire file any time a change is made? Nope, Dropbox tries its best to be smart about how much gets uploaded to our servers for the best possible performance. Before transfer, we compare the new file to the previous version and only send the (binary) diff.
What does this mean? It means that if you only changed one letter of that article, Dropbox only uploads that one letter to your online Dropbox. That saves an enormous amount of bandwidth, which means that once your original upload is complete, you can expect Dropbox to use minimal system resources. It won’t slow down your computer, and it won’t tie down you internet. Still worried? The Dropbox preferences dialog allows you to cap the speed at which it uploads data, allowing you to have it running at all times, even if you’re streaming movies from the internet or downloading email.
Security is also not an issue. All your data is password-protected and encrypted on Amazon’s excellent S3 storage servers.
There are a couple of added advantages available to you if you run a Linux-based operating system. These advantages are available because of the way Linux handles links. In short: Dropbox follows all sym-links. Don’t know what that means? Well, in Linux you can link to a file and the Operating System treats that link as if it was the file itself. Clicking on a link to a folder is as good as clicking on the folder itself. Long story short, you can place links to folders into your Desktop Dropbox and they will be backed-up and synced just like regular files. IThe rub is that if you run Linux you don’t have to change how your files are organized in order to use Dropbox, and that makes things a lot easier. Just drag links to your important folders and they will be automatically synced just like a regular folder.
How I Roll
I have two dropbox accounts, one is tied to my Laptop, on which I do all my work for school, write articles, prepare lessons for class, and, of course, hack at my dissertation. I now sleep peacefully at night knowing that all this, and especially my dissertation, is automatically backed-up in a secure location. If our house catches fire, I no longer have to run back for my laptop after heroically saving my wife, child, and dog. If my laptop gets stolen, drowned, shot at, etc. I still have access to all my data, and without any trouble whatsoever. As a cherry on top, I have my work desktop linked to this account, so I can access my files at school even without my laptop, and know everything will get synced up in the end.
I also have Dropbox installed on our home Desktop. I don’t really need syncing or anything here; really I just want our important files backuped-up online. So I have my backup software (Cobian 9) run a separate backup into my Dropbox folder. It filters out any large files (pictures, mp3s, etc) and sends the rest to the Dropbox, which is then in turn backed-up online—two simultaneous backups, one local, the other remote. Very nice.
Dropbox is really great Software/Webware. They provide clients for Windows, Linux, and Mac, and all are interoperable with the others (i.e. you can sync between different systems). There is currently a 2GB limit, but the storage and service is perfectly free. The company has promised that they will always offer this free storage, and that they will additionally allow you to upgrade to more storage (for a fee) in the future.
Services like Mozy Home offer a free online backup solution for Windows and Mac users. But what about Linux? As usual, no Love for Linux.
Enter Dropbox. While still in closed Beta (for Windows and Mac), Dropbox has enormous promise. It will offer 2gb of online storage space, syncs in the background, and according to this article by Lifehacker, now offers clients for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Give the Linux client a try here.
I’ve decided to introduce a new segment to an already crowded blog: the strangelet. Strangelets are like Nerdlets, but weird, wild, and, well, strange. The term “strangelet” derives from the controversy surrounding the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which powered up today after a long and convoluted history (remember the Super Conductor Super Collider?)
In other words, it is appropriate that our first strangelet be about, well, the strangelet. Here is the definition from wikipedia:
A strangelet is a hypothetical object consisting of a bound state of roughly equal numbers of up, down, and strange quarks. The size would be a minimum of a few femtometers across (with the mass of a light nucleus). Once the size becomes macroscopic (on the order of meters across), such an object is usually called a quark star or “strange star” rather than a strangelet. An equivalent description is that a strangelet is a small fragment of strange matter. The term “strangelet” originates with E. Farhi and R. Jaffe. Strangelets have been suggested as a dark matter candidate.
So what’s the big deal? Well some believe that the strangelet, if it exists, could destroy the world. Don’t believe me? Well the BBC documentary End Day lists this as one of six possible doomsday scenarios.
Assuming we are all still here tomorrow, I hope to have another wild and wacky post from the world of strange news. And, as luck would have it, it also deals with the end of the world…
Update: See the story by Ars Technica here.
Not too long ago I posted about features available in Google’s Chrome that are not available in Firefox.
I stand corrected. All of the aforementioned features are available through Firefox’s extension system. This is another great example of the power of Firefox extensions, a power that is only possible through Open Source (API’s are just too limiting).
Chrome (which is also open source) will be getting extensions too, eventually.
After trying Chrome (which lacks Mac and Linux versions at the moment), I’m going to stick with Firefox (big surprise). Obviously this is primarily because Firefox is mature, and its extensions cannot be beat. But privacy concerns are also becoming something of an issue with Google, and I’d like to see how things settle out before tying even more of my online life to one company.
For those of you who have not yet discovered the internet archive, now is a good time. In addition to public domain books, the archive includes a lot of free and legal live concert (bands that want to be included send a statement to the archive, which is on file for legal purposes). As a Béla Fleck fan, this is good news for me, as the ‘tones have a liberal sharing policy.
The Live Music Archive now also includes streaming.
So why not have a taste? Here’s the Flecktones at Planting Fields Arboretum in 2002:
And, while not the best recording, here’s a local show at the Mann Center last month: