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Google Drive – Google moves into cloud storage

Google has finally released their own online file sync service after years of rumors; Google Drive will primarily enhance the experience for existing Google Docs users but also strikes a blow to some existing file sync and sharing services.

It’s not like there isn’t any competition in the online backup and file sync sector with services like Carbonite, Dropbox and Microsoft’s Skydrive. Although it isn’t surprising that Google is moving in to the space it is much less dramatic than most industry “experts” seem to think.

Each Google user have to apply for Google Drive before it’s activated, once it is up and running the existing Google Docs directory will become Google Drive. The difference between Google Drive and the old Docs directory is that it is possible to automatically sync files between Google Docs, a desktop/laptop computer and Android devices (Ipad and Iphone apps are on the way when this is written).

Syncing from a desktop or laptop is done by downloading an application running in the background automatically syncing selected files. We tested the app with Windows 7 without any issues.

Another interesting part of Google Drive is the collaboration options, although they already existed in Google Docs it’s now possible to easily share a document using Google + or even better e-mail a link to a bulky document in Google Drive using Gmail.

Google Drive also saves all changes to documents, making it possible to go back to previous versions easily. This makes Google Drive more similar to Dropbox than pure backup services like Carbonite.

When we tested Google Drive it was apparent that Google put some time into making the app display different file formats, for example it is possible to view Photoshop and Illustrator files without any third party programs.

Google offers 5 GB of free storage, which falls somewhere in between Dropbox (2 GB) and Skydrive (7 GB). It is enough storage for most personal needs, however Google offers up to 16 TB of data. 25 GB of data costs $2.49 / month and 100 GB $4.99, compared to Dropbox which offers 100 GB for 19.99/month this is cheap. When buying Google Drive space, the storage can also be used for Picasa.

The ones that should be scared of Google Drive is not Microsoft, because it is not a threat to Skydrive as Microsoft’s alternative is integrated in Microsoft Office, tightly. Instead Google Drive is a direct attack on services like Dropbox and Sugarsync, which has nothing to offer in terms of integration. Overall Google Drive is a good product, it has more value than Dropbox but is also a solid alternative in it’s free version.

Top five essential Windows apps

Let’s face it, Windows is one of the most widely used and successful operating systems out there, but in order to really use it effectively there are just some must have apps, we have listed five of them;

Google Chrome

Google Chrome is slowly becoming the most popular web-browser out there. From almost being an experimental release by Google it has come a long way. Google recently added device syncing to Chrome, for example open tabs will be synced between your desktop and Android phone. Chrome also  handles online apps and games very fast and has a number of Google features available as apps such as Google Docs, Gmail and Translate. Compared to Firefox and IE, Chrome is simply faster and more responsive.

Carbonite

Yes Carbonite is the only app that actually costs anything, but for the price it is a cheap way of backing up all your data to the cloud. Usually backup apps running in the background will steal system performance and be intrusive, but Carbonite is perhaps the most out of the way backup system that we know of.

Foxit PDF Reader

The Foxit reader is a light-weight PDF-reader, it is one of the fastest readers available and also takes up very little memory and space compared to similar alternatives from Adobe. Foxit also have a number of interesting features, such as social media integration. It’s possible for the user to mark a paragraph in a PDF and post it to Facebook or Twitter. For a fraction of what Adobe Acrobat costs the Foxit advanced-version for $99 also includes various PDF-editing options

Paint.net

There are various free image editors available for Windows, Paint.net is however the fastest and most straight-forward one to use. There aren’t that many frills but Paint.net have the basic features such as layers, history and various special effects. It also works with most image-formats and is updated on a regular basis.

TrueCrypt

Protecting your data is more important than ever as security threats are becoming more and more common. TrueCrypt may not be the most simple crypto software out there, but it has several key features such as whole drive encryption (also works for USB-drives), the ability to create hidden volumes and encrypted files etc. It is also open-source making sure that nothing fishy is going on in the background.

What other Windows apps do you think is essential?

Google Glasses – Is augmented reality the next big thing?

It seems that when a tech company gets too extensive cash reserves they always want to go into augmented reality creating wearable computers (Microsoft and IBM has already been there).

Google has a research project going on, the company wants to create glasses connected to Google’s services to provide an augmented reality. The glasses will be able to display chats, messages, the weather and maps in a person’s’ field of vision, according to a post the company made on Google+.

Controlling the Google Glasses is done by voice commands (similar to the IBM wearable computing efforts mentioned below). If you want to know what a day with Google Glasses is like view the video below:

Perhaps the market is ready for these type of devices, but it is doubtful that such glasses will be used for checking the weather or video-chatting. More likely usage scenarios are for providing information about anything the users sees, gaming and navigation in terrain.

Google is certainly not the first tech company to create wearable computers. Most wearable computer efforts for consumers has been failures.

One example is IBM who launched their wearable computer derived from a ThinkPad laptop in 1998. It had 233 MHz Intel processor, 64 MB RAM and was able to run Windows 98, according to the company website. The computer was controlled using voice commands.

Of course the computer never hit the market, and the commercial didn’t do it any favours either:

Aviary Phoenix – Online photo editing suite

Aviary’s free photo editor, Phoenix has been around for a while, it is gradually growing into a solid online alternative to photo editors like Paint.net, GIMP and Photoshop Express (Adobe’s online version of the popular image editing suite).

Aviary Phoenix intro screen

When first launching Phoenix in your web-browser you will notice that the interface and icons is basically a lighter version of GIMP or Photoshop, with less options and icons. To the left there are selection tools, there is also a lasso tool and a magic wand. Phoenix also contain the usual paint-bucket, brush and text tools.  There are also various smudge options and a clone stamp tool, which is quite useful.

Phoenix also features layers, which works the same way as in Photoshop and GIMP. It is also possible to create a layer in one of Aviary’s other image creating tools (Peacock and Raven) and import it as a layer in Phoenix. It is also possible to create masks from layers and there are also various filtering options.

Why the effect tool Peacock is seperate from Aviary is difficult to understand, it would be easier if the effects were readily available from the menus instead of having to open it and then import layers from it. If you compare Phoenix and Pixlr in this department, Pixlr is a much more integrated product.

Peacock is however a pretty powerful image effects tool, with loads of different filters and options.  It is very close to become too complex however. Also for some weird reason the user have to know that Peacock essentially means “image effect editor” in Aviaryan. Because it isn’t clearly stated in Aviary Phoenix.

Overall Phoenix works surprisingly well for being a browser based photo editor, for example it is faster than expected and loads images from a local drive or URL pretty fast. It’s also possible to import images from Flickr, Facebook and Google Picasa.

One issue with Phoenix is when you want to work with multiple images, in a desktop photo editor it’s possible to have several images open at one time. In Phoenix you have to have several browser sessions open, and the different sessions doesn’t work together.  For more advanced image editing tasks this is definitely a drawback.

Most image-editing is done to put the images online, for that Aviary works well. However if you are an old print buff Phoenix will not cut it, simply because there are no print features.

A  neat feature with the Aviary photo editing suite is that the Raven vector drawing editor is available, which means that you can create vector images in Raven and then move over to Phoenix to do the editing parts.

Saving files from Phoenix to the desktop is easy, and the integration is both fast and solid. It’s also possible to save Egg files, which is attached to Phoenix This means that you can save a file to your desktop with all layers and history attached. Phoenix can also export files as PNG, JPG, GIF, TIFF and PSD (Adobe Photoshop).

If you have an account (it’s free) you can save your files in the Aviary’s cloud storage, and also use the different social options available.

Overall Aviary Phoenix is a good online photo editing app for digital editing, it doesn’t work for print. The power of Aviary Phoenix is not the image-editor itself but rather that there is a pretty big community behind it providing tutorials etc. Compared to Pixlr or Picnik (bought by Google), Aviary has a vector editor attached to it, making it easier to create digital graphics.

Clear – Simple to-do lists for the Iphone

When I first heard about Clear, I thought it was yet another to-do list app for the Iphone, doing the same thing as most others are. Clear is however different, the complexity level have been reduced significantly.

To-do lists on the Iphone and other mobile devices is apparently big business given the countless solutions available in the App Store. However most of them are very complex to work with, requiring more time to manage the to-do lists than performing the tasks.

The developers behind Clear wants to change all that by creating a simple no frills to-do list app. Clear is beautifully designed app with a user interface entirely based on gestures. Each task is represented by a box, the priority is determined by the order of tasks and the color of them (red is more important than yellow).

When first starting Clear it will take you through the different gestures needed to use it, all-though the interface based on gestures is fresh and effective, it takes some initial hardship to learn.

In Clear it’s possible to have different lists for different types of tasks, for example one list for work-related tasks and one for personal goals. The tasks are synced with Itunes, there is no cloud sync available, so it isn’t possible to view the tasks on anything else than the Iphone. Of course this might be a problem for people working with multiple devices, or on the road (Remember the Milk and even Google Calendar’s to-do list is better in this sense).

Clear does make you more productive as it focuses on just a simple to-do list without bunches of categories, prioritizations etc. Maybe it doesn’t replace all the advanced solutions, but it should work for most needs of simply structuring tasks and get them done.

Firefox 10 arrives with new features for developers

Firefox 10 is here, the latest update from Mozilla of the popular open-sourced web-browser.

Even-though Google Chrome is increasing in usage at the expense of Firefox, Mozilla is clinging on with a steady stream of new features in to Firefox.

The updates in Firefox 10 is mainly geared towards developers and web designers with improved CSS editing functionality. For example it’s possible to change margins, fonts, colors and other layout options of a website using the CSS-editor, Firefox will instantly display the changes (locally of course).

Naturally this is great if you are a web-designer or developer and doesn’t want to go through all the hassle with making minor adjustments to a layout by uploading and changing style-sheets in a testing environment.

Another feature in Firefox 10 is the Mozilla full-screen API with 3D-capability (Web GL), allowing developers to create full-screen applications and games. Web GL is a standard for displaying 3D-applications using hardware acceleration without any third party extensions, which is another step in making web apps do more than word processing and spreadsheets.

For users not into web-development Mozilla have updated the add-on capabilities, now the browser checks every 24 hours for updates to add-ons, also the overall add-on compatibility is improved.

Below is a neat overview of the development tools in Firefox 10:

Ipad Office Suites: Apple Pages

Apple Pages has been around for the Mac since 2005, it is marketed as a word processing program, but also a light layout application. In 2009 Apple released Pages to the Ipad, while there certainly are many word processors for the Ipad available, Pages should be the ultimate one given that Apple both control the software and the hardware.

Apple Pages for Ipad

When first launching Pages for the Ipad it is clear that it is one of the more beautiful word processing apps for iOS. However beautiful doesn’t cut it, it also have to be efficient to use. Pages integrate neatly with ICloud (Apples sync application), however Quickoffice Pro HD and other office apps have similar integration.

A somewhat strange sync thing is that Pages on the Ipad will not sync with Pages on the Mac, even-though they are apps from the same company in the same environment. Also Apple didn’t include any sync with services such as Google Docs or Dropbox, which other office suites have (such as Quickoffice Pro HD)

Apple Pages is easy to use, the interface design breathes Apple and should work for most people, even if you are used to Windows or Android software previously. It is possible to set margins and the overall size of the document as well as line spacing. Also Pages makes it possible to add more columns than one and create numbered lists.

Pages does have more layouting options than other word processing apps for the Ipad, for example it is possible to insert images and create tables (something that is lacking in Quickoffice Pro HD, where it is only possible to edit existing tables). Pages for Ipad also behave faster than the competition, for example when writing using the Apple Wireless keyboard with Ipad there is generally a slight input lag in Quickoffice Pro HD, but none in Pages.

A neat feature in Pages is the predefined templates for creating various publications, included are 16 templates for reports, invitations, letters and so on. However it is not possible to create custom templates in Pages for the Ipad, for example it is unlikely that a real estate broker would use a standard template from Apple, of course most businesses want their own custom templates.

Pages can handle most common files from for example Microsoft Word (.doc, .docx) and Pages (for OSx), it is also possible to view PDF-files.

Overall Pages for Ipad is the best word processing App for the Ipad, that doesn’t make it perfect. It is easy to use but has its own set of issues, such as a lack of creating custom templates even-though Apple market it as a layout application.

If you are buying Pages for word processing and some light layout you will not be disappointed, but if you are after InDesign for the Ipad you are out of luck. Pages is also more expensive than the competition. At least if you want a whole office suite, since you will have to add Numbers and Keynote to the purchasing list, which all together will cost more than Quickoffice Pro HD or Office HD.

Pokki – Web apps on your Desktop

Web apps and cloud based computing is here to stay, more and more applications are moving off the desktop and into the browser, and it will continue.

Pokki logo

A problem with this evolution is of course that applications will become more difficult to reach than just having a simple icon sitting there on your desktop. Also web apps seldom leverage the whole computing power available in a desktop computer. A US based company named SweetLabs believes that they have the solution to all these problems, Pokki.

Pokki is basically an app store for Windows 7, with various applications and games available. The number of apps and games available is basic but still should cover most user needs. It is possible to install a Twitter client named Tweeki, Facebook and Gmail. There is also a neat music application, Grooveshark. Various games are also included, most of them pretty advanced.

The Pokki apps looks and behaves good in Windows 7, they load fast and often look better than some desktop counterparts.  Developers can download an SDK, in which it is possible to develop part of the apps in CSS3 and HTML 5, which in itself is pretty amazing.

Pokki itself sits in the taskbar (it is possible to remove it) and is pretty unobtrusive, especially compared to similar solutions I have tried. A downside with Pokki is the lack of support for other Windows versions and operating systems, when this is written it only supports Windows 7.

The whole idea of an app store alternative for Windows 7 is good, but the question is how long it will live. Microsoft will without a doubt release an app store when Windows 8 is rolled out later during 2012, which may render Pokki useless.

Also Pokki serves no real purpose on other operating systems, Mac OS already have its own app store and Linux have had it for years. However they are not tied specifically to web apps and often have specifically developed apps for Gmail, Twitter etc.  The real selling point with Pokki is being light-weight and providing a platform which is easy for developers to grasp and use. It will be crucial for SweetLabs to engage developers in order for Pokki to survive after the Windows 8 app store is launched.

In the meantime Pokki is a nice addition to Windows 7, and does make it easier to quickly access different web-based apps.

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Ipad Office Suites: Quickoffice Pro HD

Can tablets and mobile devices really be an alternative for heavy office users? Is it time to ditch the laptop in favor of your Ipad or Samsung Galaxy Tab? Read our review of Quickoffice Pro HD and find out how it compares to other mobile office suites.

Quickoffice Pro is available both for the Iphone and Ipad(HD), it is also available for Android devices and tablets. It is one of the more affordable alternatives on the market for tablet Office Suites. For $14.99 in the Apple Appstore you get Word-processing, Spreadsheets, Presentations and a PDF-reader. Compare that to Apple’s IWork where each separate application is about $9.99.

In the Word-processing application it is possible to do all the basic things, such as change font-size, add bullets change colors etc. If you would like to create more complex documents containing graphics, tables (it is possible to edit existing tables) or table of contents it will not be possible in Quick office Pro HD, but for writing memos, short summaries etc it works great. However Pages (from Apple) have most of the more complex features, such as inserting graphics and creating tables.

Similarly the Spreadsheet app works well for creating basic spreadsheets, with borders, different number formats, and developing simple functions (such as =SUM) etc. For more heavy duty spreadsheet work Quickoffice Pro HD will not be sufficient, for example you can’t use more complex formulas (such as COUNTIF, SUMIF etc).

Another downside with the Spreadsheet part is the lack of charting features, which actually should have been included, especially given the price for Quickoffice Pro. The feature is available in Numbers from Apple, according to Quickoffice it should be possible to view charts created in Excel. Presentations in Quickoffice Pro HD is one of the suites stronger points, here it suddenly is possible to insert images from the Ipad. Also editing and creating a presentations is easy, but it is however somewhat limited and can be difficult if you are having a lot of objects stacked in proximity because of the touch interface. There are no animations or transition options.

Using Microsoft Office documents in Quickoffice Pro HD was no problem, they rendered without any problems and looked ok both in Quickoffice and in Microsoft Office on the desktop. Formats supported are Word (.doc and .docx) and Excel (.xls and .xlsx). When it comes to presentations the .pptx is format is not supported but the original PowerPoint format is (.ppt).

A nice feature in Quickoffice Pro HD is the sharing and syncing options, for example it it possible to connect it to Google Docs, Dropbox, Evernote, SugarSync, Box, Huddle Catch and MobileMe. It is also very neatly integrated into the app using folders and is easily accessible. Quickoffice Pro HD also have built in e-mail capabilities, but they are a bit strange since it isn’t integrated with the Ipad or Android mail setup on the device. You have to manually enter your own e-mail address as well, when we tested the e-mail service it didn’t work and returned an application error.

It is also possible to read PDF-files and save existing documents to PDF, something that often is needed in a business setting. As a PDF-reader the app works likes a charm.

Overall Quickoffice Pro HD is a solid application for reading and editing existing documents and spreadsheets, it’s perfect to use when away from your desktop or laptop. It is also easy to understand the user interface.

When we tested QuickOffice Pro HD we used it a lot on flights and airports, where you probably will not do any longer editing, but still need to get some work done. However Quickoffice Pro HD is limited to basic writing and editing, and is in most cases no replacement for a regular laptop office suite such as Microsoft Office or iWork.

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Microsoft Office Web Apps

Microsoft Office Web Apps is a free online office suite, it is a direct response from Redmond to Google Docs and Zoho Docs, and is a first attempt to bring Microsoft Office into the cloud.

Office Web Apps was launched pretty late compared to Google Docs, and many other competitors. The suite makes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote accessible from any web-browser using the familiar (to many) Microsoft Office interface.

To use Office Web Apps a Windows Live-account is needed, the rest of the suite is free. Using Office Web Apps is actually pretty easy, it’s fast (even on slower connections such as mobile broadband) and works well in a Windows 7 / Internet Explorer environment.

The interface is a stripped down version of the ribbon used in Office 2007 and 2010. Word is very similar to the desktop version, however creating and managing tables is a little bit different since there aren’t the same editing capabilities (for example resizing the whole table by dragging it).

Microsoft Office Web Apps connects with iStockphoto and similar services when inserting clip art imagery, it is also possible to insert your own images, links etc.

Using Excel is a nice experience, it is a basic version of Excel but strangely sufficient for most needs. For example it’s possible to use multiple sheets, create charts and a lot of functions are also available.

PowerPoint is also part of Microsoft Office Web Apps, it is however a bit limited when creating presentations compared to the desktop version. For example it isn’t possible to draw (but you can use the SmartArt tool), animations are not possible and the embedding video features is absent. However for creating basic presentations or editing existing ones created in the desktop application, it works.

Microsoft OneNote is also included, it isn’t as easy to work with as the desktop version since it’s slower to cut and paste images and other material into the notebook. However OneNote is a perfect complement to the desktop and also the recently released IPad app.

Finally Microsoft figured out what to do with its ugly duckling storage service, Skydrive. It is now an integrated part of Web Apps with sharing and collaboration options. For example it’s possible to upload a document from Office 2010 to Skydrive and continue working on it in the cloud.

Overall Microsoft Web Apps is a solid online office suite, the best part is that it is familiar to Office users and can be used in integration with already existing desktop applications. It is even better than Google Docs in the sense that it integrates with the most familiar Office suite out there. Some reports even suggest that Microsoft Web Apps even have more users than Google Docs, which is not surprising.

Microsoft Office Web Apps is  sufficient for most needs, sure it isn’t possible to create advanced scripts, macros or templates, but then again I think most users actually do more simple tasks in Microsoft Office, meaning that the desktop Office suite from Redmond is overkill for average users.

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