Microsoft may be opening their first retail stores, a la Apple Stores as early as this fall in Scottsdale, Arizona and Mission Viejo, California. No word is available yet about any store launches outside the US but according to eWeek, the Mission Viejo store will open at a mall that includes a successful Apple Store. The Shops at Mission Viejo is an upscale mall that I have visited often during my US trips in Orange County, south of Los Angeles.
Do you find that some sites don’t open for you, or return errors? Move to another system in another location and the same site works flawlessly? Well, that may be happening because you are using the DNS of your ISP (Internet Service Provider) — and these are set by default to values hidden in your Internet settings or in your router, so you probably did not even know that you could change them!
So what exactly is a DNS? DNS stands for Domain Name Server, a service that translates Internet URLs such as www.microsoft.com, www.google.com, etc. into a set of numbers called IP addresses that read like 22.214.171.124, or 126.96.36.199, or similar sets of numbers. Your web browser understands IP addresses rather than URLs — so it needs to translate the URL you want to visit to a specific IP address — for this task, it needs to approach a DNS. Without access to a DNS, your web browser would not be able to get you anywhere online!
This is how it works:
- You type in a URL in your web browser ->
- Your web browser looks for a DNS service listed in your Internet settings ->
- It approaches that DNS service ->
- The DNS service translates the given URL to an IP address ->
- Your browser uses that IP address to fetch a page from the site you requested via the URL!
The whole thing happens seamlessly, and quick — unless your DNS service is not performing well enough. Now, coming to the point of this post — not all DNS services are created equal! Some are well maintained and updated — and others are not. Most DNS provided by ISPs may fall into the latter category. Thankfully, OpenDNS is there to rectify this situation, and what’s more, it is entirely free! OpenDNS is a great alternative to the DNS service that your ISP provides and changing from your existing DNS service to OpenDNS is a cinch if you follow the fool-proof instructions on the OpenDNS site — it’s a good idea to sign up at OpenDNS before you follow these instructions so that you can log-in later and tweak some advanced settings if you need to!
The instructions on OpenDNS work like a wizard and help you step-by-step if you are using a router or just a single computer — try it out!
Here’s a cool video on YouTube that shows how you can get started with OpenDNS:
Animoto is a video creation site that makes everything involved in the creation of video clips and montages super-easy. Sign-up is quick and simple, and you can get started working straightaway!
While creating longer video clips requires you to pay either through a credits or subscription model, you can create 30-second short clips (Animoto calls these “shorts”) for free.
Click the prominent “Create Video” button, and you can get started:
You first see the “Let’s get your images” option that you can see in Figure 1 below.
I chose the Animoto Short option that limits me to 30 seconds of output. This gets me to the options you see in Figure 2, where I can upload video or images from my computer, retrieve it from another site, or just use some sample content from Animoto’s collection. I opted to retrieve it from another site.
You then are presented with several online image repository sites where you may have already uploaded your images, as shown in Figure 3. I chose Facebook.
The first time you choose Facebook or another source for your images, you might be asked to authenticate your account. Thereafter, Animoto remembers the permissions. I chose one of my photo albums on Facebook, and soon Animoto imported all images in that album (see Figure 4).
At this point of time, I can delete, rotate, and spotlight images — or add text — or add more images. However, I clicked the Continue button. This gets me to second tab of the Animoto interface where I can add music to my short movie (see Figure 5). This time, I clicked the Select from our collection option.
This brings another screen that lets you choose a music genre — plenty of genres are represented including pop, indie, hip hop, etc — and when you choose a genre, you get to preview and choose from individual music clips. A few screens later, I was out of the music tab, and within the Finalize tab as shown in Figure 6.
At this point of time, I could not use many of the options available with a free account — and I wanted to see quick results using the defaults — I know many of you don’t want to choose from many options too since everybody seems to have less time these days! So with the defaults chosen, I clicked the Continue button. I was presented a screen that asked me to provide a name and description for my Animoto short movie — and then I clicked the Create Video button. And then Animoto started creating the movie (see Figure 7).
At this point of time, you can wait for Animoto to render, or create a new movie, or even close the browser window — Animoto will send you an e-mail when the video is prepared. If you are patient enough, though — you’ll see the “video created” screen that I show you in Figure 8 below.
Click the large Play button to play your video — you can also share and embed the video online at social sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. Members who have paid subscriptions can also download the video clips to their computers. You can also embed the video in your blog as I have done below.
What do you add to a suite of programs that already include everything apart from the kitchen sink? Three years is a long time in computerese — and that’s around the time since the last version of Microsoft Office (Office 2007) showed up. Office 2007’s biggest new feature was the Ribbon interface (also called Fluent) — and this time, Microsoft has had to create more usability features so that users are convinced to upgrade to the upcoming Office 2010 — and that’s a great thing to happen!
Here are some of the new features as mentioned on Microsoft’s new Office 2010 mini-site:
- All of Office 2010: The Ribbon was limited to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and some parts of Outlook in Office 2007 — now it has been extended to the rest of the Office site with Office 2010 — significantly, Outlook 2010 will now be entirely Ribbonized. There are more SmartArt variants! The new Backstage view that puts everything in one view without having to navigate multiple dialog boxes and interfaces. Lots of stuff here including print options, templates, your recent files, file permissions, and more.
- Word 2010 has more formatting options for text including 3D effects like reflection and shading. There’s a Document Map option that lets you rearrange the content in your Word documents intuitively, and this reminded me of PowerPoint’s outline pane. There’s also improved sharing and collaboration of documents — and integration with SharePoint.
- Excel 2010 has new options to analyze data — the new Slicer feature allows you to quickly filter and drill down data. The Sparklines feature creates mini chart-like representations within cells. Workbooks can be published to SharePoint servers, and shared.
- PowerPoint 2010 provides cool Artistic Effects for photos with live previews. New transitions have been added, and the Animation Painter option copies animations from one slide object to another, and that’s so cool if you have added and fine-tuned your animation sequences and timings for one object and want it repeated on another! There are new video options including reflections for video clips, video trimming capabilities, and new navigation controls. File compression works better and you can save your PowerPoints as video clips. New Slide Sections lets you organize your slides into logical sections. SharePoint integration gets better with the Broadcast feature for slide shows that lets you show your presentations to other in their web browsers!
- Outlook 2010 get the Ribbon now so that it looks and feels like the rest of the Office suite. The new Conversations view nests all messages within a conversation together — and the Clean up Conversation option makes sure that you don’t get intimidated by conversations that have tons of e-mails within them. The new Quick Steps options lets you perform common actions with one click, thus saving you time.
- OneNote 2010 gets overall improvements including the Ribbon — there are plenty of interactive sharing and search options available now — and you can still store all sorts of content: clippings, maps, videos, sounds, URLs, and more. Custom tags allow you to track each sort of information being stored.
- Publisher 2010 also gets the Ribbon interface. Backstage view shows templates for flyers, brochures, business cards, calendars, etc. from Office Online, or even templates shared by other users. The new Visual Navigation pane works like PowerPoint’s Slides pane and shows thumbnail size representations of all pages in a publication. The new Stylistic Text allows you to add flourishes and other niceties to the font of selected text. There’s direct PDF and XPS export available.
- Access 2010 acts as a landing path for external data sources. Richer reports and forms can be created with one click, and Access formats better using improved Office Themes support. And you can publish databases online easily using SharePoint integration.
There are more improvements and new features in SharePoint and InfoPath too — looks like there’s so much to look forward too! And Office 2010 will launch with a web apps suite I discussed in an earlier post.
To learn more about Office 2010, and watch some cool videos, visit the new Office 2010 site.
I have worked with Mark Anderson of Andertoons before — and he provided several free cartoons for the CD of one of my PowerPoint books: Special Edition Using Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007.
Now Mark is providing one of his awesome cartoons absolutely free — only for today! Participants can use the cartoon in presentations, newsletters, websites, and anything else that could use a good laugh. The free cartoon will be offered for one day only with the only stipulation being that you not resell the image or profit from it.
Andertoons.com is one of the most popular cartoon websites online. Cartoonist Mark Anderson’s cartoons have appeared in publications including Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and Harvard Business Review to name just a few.
Microsoft’s site has an updated Office 2010 section that provides plenty of info on what’s coming in the next release of the world’s most popular suite of office applications (see figure below).
Click on any of the program links on the left, and most of these lead to product videos about what’s new and improved for that particular program. In all, there’s plenty of content here for you to spend an hour — happy visiting!
My dictionary defines comparison as the act of examining resemblances, and this post looks exactly at that sort of act. So what are we comparing? Are these apples or oranges, or something more similar — maybe oranges and lemons? Well, you can decide that later — for now let us look what everyone in the online world has to say about Microsoft’s Web Apps and Google Docs. This promises to be very interesting!
Ian Paul of PC World thinks that “the future may be the cloud, but it also may be Microsoft that ushers us into that realm of possibility and imagination” — he adds: “Forget about the half measures of Office Live Workspace; Microsoft’s new Web apps will let you create, edit, and save documents right online. Here’s a quick head-to-head between Google and Microsoft Web apps”. Read more on the PC World site…
Reuters gets a little religious when it comments that “Microsoft delivers its own haymaker … a cloud-based version of its Windows Office suite of word-processing, spreadsheet, and PowerPoint software” — read more here…
So does Google have something else coming up? Is their upcoming Chrome OS going to make things different? There are no answers available right now, but plenty of thoughts, questions, and opinions everywhere.
As for Microsoft, they themselves haven’t rolled out invitations to their Web Apps for now, but you’ll need a Hotmail (Live) account to access the online suite when it’s available. The company has posted this video on YouTube (embedded below).
OK, I saved the best for the end! Microsoft will let you use their web apps for free — that’s a great turn of direction for a company that has championed paid software. Jon Fortt thinks so too on the Fortune magazine site when he says: “Microsoft – the king of paid software – will announce today that it is going to give a version of Office away for free online” — read that post too…
The Windows Club released Ultimate Windows Tweaker v 2.0 for Windows 7 and Windows Vista.
Ultimate Windows Tweaker v 2.0 is a freeware TweakUI-style utility that enhances and optmizes Windows 7 and Windows Vista systems, both 32-bit & 64-bit. You can download and use it as a portable application to customize your Windows as required. The creators of this program claim that “with judicious tweaking, it can make your system faster, more stable, and more secure with just a few mouse clicks”.
The programr detects whether you have Windows 7 or Windows Vista installed, and accordingly offers you the relevant tweak options only.
Kaspersky Labs is providing a free guide called Your Guide To Stopping Cybercrime — you can download it by visiting a special website called Stop Cybercrime — then click on a link called Guide to stopping cybercrime as shown in Figure 1.
The free guide (see Figure 2) provides an understanding in simple language about the challenges facing everyday users in the form of cyber attacks.
Kaspersky Labs also makes the award winning Kaspersky Internet Security program.