Wednesday, January 30, 2008

MacBook Air

Oh, me wants one. Me wants one bad.

Yeah, yeah, it's not Linux or OpenBSD. But it is *Nix-ish, and it's so purty. And I need a new computer, I really, really do.

In real life, though, I don't have that kind of cash to throw down right now. It looks like I might be borrowing an old Mac laptop from Lior Kesos of Linnovate shortly, so that will take care of my laptop needs. For the house I'll purchase a PC and put Linux on it (as usual). My little guy and I can make a homeschooling project out of setting up a Webcam + software to create a multi-touch, gesturable interface. I'll let you know how it goes here when we do it.

Wish list for my new computer:
1. bluetooth (to hook up with our cell phones)
2. webcam for video chat with far off friends and relations
3. multi-touch, gesturable track-pad like input
4. everything I already have on my current laptop
(you know, like 802.11g/n, region-free dvd movie viewing, KDE desktop, some fun games, etc...)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Mail, Calendar and Collaboration

We just set up Zimbra at work, and I'm really pleased with it. But I'm a little wary of the fact that Yahoo! just bought Zimbra. What will happen to this platform next? Nothing bad, I hope...

Here's why I like Zimbra, as opposed to the other open source groupware server packages out there. (Where to start?)

1) Zimbra is made up of familiar pieces. It uses the Unix philosophy, which is to write relatively small applications and then glue them together to do big jobs. In that vein, Zimbra uses Postfix, Apache, and other tried and true tools at its base.

2) Zimbra can be used with all your usual clients. It works with IMAP or POP3, and even has an available (non-open) Exchange-like piece that you can use for your (shudder) Outlook users. It also has nice, standards based things like an ical version of your calendar, which you can use to connect up with standards-friendly calendar clients.

3) Zimbra has a fantastic Web-based client. It's all AJAXy and buzzword compliant, but that's not what's great about it. My favorite part about it is actually reason #4...

4) Zimlets. Zimlets let you create all sorts of extensions that will work in Zimbra. Here at this company we're in the process of planning the next generation of their whole in-house software system, and I'm putting Zimlets at the core of several pieces of that software architecture. Customer service, billing, accounts payable, marketing, and supply-chain will all have direct access between their respective job-function-related applications and Zimbra, both ways. For instance, a CS rep will be able to read an email sent to service@..., mouseover the customer name to see that customer's key info or mouseover the order number and get info about that particular order. Click on either one and the cs rep will go straight to the full editable customer or order page. All this, of course, will be based on Zimbra group permissions which will be sync'd up with the user/group permissions on the Web interface for our customer service tools.

As you can see, I'm very excited about the possibilities. This is why I keep working in this industry. Fun stuff. :)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Improving Web Research

This isn't my usual level of geeky tips, but something that comes up a lot for anyone who has to learn on the Web all the time. "Back in the day" when I was in college, I read books and highlighted them as I went, or else I'd take copious notes on 3x5 cards. Then, when it was time to review or to gather the information to put into a report, I'd have easy access to everything. On the Web it's a bit different. I can read stuff, but until now, it's been a bit more difficult to gather the details I need from a specific page along with notes and references I would have written in margins or on cards. Bookmarks alone just don't cut it.

There are a few tools out there now that are aiming to fix this problem, though. I use Google Notebook right now as my main computer-based note taking tool, but I'm looking around to see if there is anything better.

Google's Notebook tool is actually rather nice. It works with a browser plug-in that sits in the right-hand corner of my browser status bar. I can click it, and the notebook opens up. I can have several "notebooks" that each hold different sorts of information. I can type notes myself, or I can highlight something in my browser and then drag it to an open notebook, or press "clip" in the notebook plug-in, and I get a little note with the text or images I've highlighted plus a link back to that page. In the Web page for the notebook (though not in the little plug-in version) I can see the date that the note was taken, which is important for citations and the like. I like it, I'm just wondering what else is out there before I get so much data into this notebook system that migration would simply be a major pain.

There is a tool called i-lighter that looks very interesting. It allows you to use your mouse like a highlighter on the screen, and then it saves your highlighted text, along with any other notes that you want to write. Problem? It's a Windows application. Sure, I could use it with Wine, but unless it completely rocks the universe, I don't see a reason to do that.

I have heard about other pieces of software in this category that are under development, but I have yet to experiment with any of them. If you have any recommendations, I'd love to hear about them!