I noticed today that Mozilla have made an ‘Aurora‘ (or pre-beta) build of Firefox available, meaning that they now have nightly, pre-beta, beta and release versions of their browser available. I guess this is all part of their plan to increase the release frequency for new versions of Firefox.
Of course, having multiple releases of the browser at varying stages of readiness is an idea that Google Chrome has been using for quite some time now. And as for frequent releases – the dev channel of Chrome is currently on version 12, with major new versions being pushed out every 6 weeks!
There’s no denying the influence that Chrome has had on every other browser. The UI layout is now widely mimicked - as is the technical infrastructure that makes it the quickest and most secure web browser. Also, Chrome has ensured that web standards and infrastructure are moving at the same rapid pace as when I first got an internet connection in the mid 90′s.
This display of affection for Chrome has been inspired by my use of a Cr-48 at work (it still feels awesome that ‘at work’ means ‘at Google’!). Chrome OS is looking good so far and it’s made me realise how rarely I need a desktop operating system while I’m not actually sat at my desk. I no longer have to worry about losing files – everything is stored on the web. The laptop itself is super-light and has a battery that lasts for a whole working day if I need it to. Also – it was kind of magic the first time I signed in to see all my bookmarks and settings already configured, after it seamlessly synced with both my google.com and gmail.com accounts. The only negative so far has been its shoddy response to multitouch scrolling on the trackpad.
Like tablets, I don’t see Chrome OS as a replacement for a ‘main computer’ but for portable computing I am much preferring it to the Xoom. I’ll write a post about my Xoom at some point – I’m a big fan of that, and especially Honeycomb, but I don’t think tablets are laptop-replacements and this post is already too long.
Of course, another thing about both Chrome OS and Android is that they’re open source software. As people fragment away from using Windows on their desktops and laptops, I think it’s awesome that two of their main choices are open source operating systems.
I’ve been at Google for a week now although it really doesn’t seem like it. I’ve been meaning to get some photos but I keep forgetting (apart from the segway ones from a few hours ago) so here are the edited highlights:
I’ve explored the whole office space – taking in the Liquid Galaxy Google Earth booth, pods for having naps, the gym (I didn’t stay in there very long), the beach huts, the sushi bar, the deli and the main cafe serving 3 amazing meals every day. I also have the most kitted out desk I’ve ever had – MacBook Pro, a beast of a workstation, dual 24″ monitors and a nerf gun with a laser sight. Well, I say “laser” but a more accurate description would be “weak red LED behind a lens”. Oh, and at the end of the week I rode round the office on a Segway! I even avoided breaking my legs, unlike one unlucky colleague a few months ago (notice the missing grip on the left-hand Segway – the other casualty of that incident).
The work itself is crazy. So many different systems, acronyms, technologies and products but I’m not allowed to talk about all that in public so I won’t…
Read the title! Woot! I’ll be joining the AdSense team in London, so I’ve done a bit of homework to try out the product and added an AdSense banner to this page.
Working at Google is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time – old housemates reminded me how much I used to talk about their offices while I was at university, and that was nearly 7 years ago now. I’m so excited by the idea that I hope I can get some sleep tonight.
I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing on AdSense yet, or indeed what I should talk about on a public blog so I’ll keep the details light for now. I DO know, though, that I’ll be sent to Mountain View for induction training in a few weeks time, which I’m very excited about. Once I’ve got some advice on what is permissible I’ll try and post some photos and an account of what it’s like to be a ‘Noogler’.
I’m quite a big fan of Buzz, despite its many teething issues. Like most of what Google does, the technology is open and builds on or creates standards everybody can use. I found this article while reading about how it all works – if you like knowing how web applications work then you’ll probably find it interesting.
While Facebook, MySpace and Twitter all want to get everybody to communicate within a little closed off, monopolised area of the internet. Buzz is based on technologies you can read about and use for yourself – no Facebook Connect button required.
People say that social network sites are by their nature monopolistic: if people join the one that their friends use then there will always be just one or two major players in each country. Buzz is an attempt to do things differently though. If Buzz takes off (and the initial plans are followed through) then lots of different sites can be views on the same data in the same way that I can talk to anyone with an email address.
Obviously Google isn’t being altruistic – if Buzz became popular and people still chose to use GMail as the client then they’d be fine with all the extra advertising – but by allowing anybody to use the technology they’re giving Buzz every chance of becoming the web’s social network.
I can’t believe it was nearly 6 months between blog posts. The flurry of activity that started this blog, and my iPhone development hobby, was ended pretty quickly when Google asked me to interview. I may blog about that at some point (I have plenty of notes), but it means asking for permission from the recruiters as I may have clicked through a Non-Disclosure Agreement without realising it.
Suffice to say, it took up about 4 months of my spare time thanks to a very drawn out interview (and re-interview) process. It ended badly in that I didn’t get a job, but other positives came from it too…
The live chat thing is great and is the feature that most makes me nostalgic for the early chat clients. Seeing people type, make typos, correct themselves and rephrase what they’ve said is very engrossing. This is a novel experience (and I only have one contact at the moment, until my invites get to my friends) but seeing what people are writing as they write it means conversation can flow faster and you feel more involved. You know when people are typing and when the wave has their focus, so you know if you need to be paying attention or whether you can get on with something else for a few minutes. It’s a lot more immediate than just seeing “so-and-so is typing a message…”.
That said, it could be a nightmare to deal with lots of communication in Wave. I think having the option to enable this within GMail would be very useful – but not for every email conversation. I like the idea of publishing Waves to blogs and using them as the commenting mechanism – this was in one of the intro videos. The idea of a group of friends editing a holiday/weekend plan together sounds nightmarish, an etiquette needs to evolve or be enforced by the wave itself. I can’t see it replacing email entirely – email is far too well entrenched now, and it has a lot of advantages over Wave.
It seems like a more direct replacement for IM clients. Most of the time you’ll use it as a straight chat window, so maybe there should be an option to lock it down to that functionality. It would also be great for document collaboration but how then far is Google Docs from having that same functionality?
These are just some initial thoughts, it will be interesting to see how it changes and what ways it works with other applications. What would be crazy is if this became a proper paradigm in the way that email, IM or social networks did – it’s too complicated for most people, but maybe as time goes by it will seem more normal.
I found an interesting response to the Pirate Bay trial outcome on Next Left – a blog for the left-wing think tank, The Fabian Society. I agree with most of the points raised, especially with regards to the need for free (as in speech) content and the general criticisms of the copyright-industries for neglecting the out-dated copyright laws until it became too late to save the situation. However – the article praises Spotify as the future of music, making the claim that advertising supported streams are the ‘future’.
Getting music for free in exchange for viewing/hearing adverts will only really benefit the most popular acts surely? The pittance available to less popular stuff wouldn’t support anybody. That said – something has to give in this situation and it won’t be the fast-moving, innovative, smart, tech-literate internet generation that has become used to free (as in beer) content. Digital Rights Management has failed for music (even iTunes are allowed to sell MP3′s without DRM now). Prosecuting individual file-sharers risks further alienation of customers. Shutting down Napster, Oink, Pirate Bay and their like just acts as further incentive for ‘better’ technologies that make it harder to track the sharing and/or shut down the information sources.
This diagram from the post, shows the restrictions on recording and distributing HD TV, and it’s nuts. How can a technology whose primary purpose is to inconvenience people ever be accepted? It’s being used to prevent the BBC allowing HD recordings of HD content. The majority (if not all) of the BBC’s content should surely be free (in this case – as in speech, but in general – as in beer)? At least for those who live in the UK and pay the license fee.
Going back to the music – it’s hard to justify £10 for a CD of an album recorded 40 years ago – especially when similar products like DVD’s are available for fractions of that price. However, in some senses the music industry has an advantage over most of the movie/TV industry – their product can be used as ‘bait’ to sell tickets to live performances. Live performances are much more integral to the way music and comedy are sold, as well as being something that people perceive to have more intrinsic value. I have a feeling that this is the direction the music industry has to be moving in.
Development progress has been a little slow over the last couple of weeks due to a lack of free time. I’ll get back to the iPhone development this week hopefully. In the meantime I’ve got my hands on iPhone OS 3.0 – I spent the money on joining the developer program so I may as well do something with it. I give you a preview of the new features I’ve been able to try out so far.
First impressions – not all good
It’s quite laggy. The iPod app takes forever to load, switch between categories (podcasts to videos, for example). The same goes for the Messages app, which is the new name for SMS. Obviously this is beta software so I don’t expect the performance to be this bad for the stable release – in fact I’d be quite pissed off if it was.
Safari seems to be much less stable than it had been in the recent main releases. This is surprising as not much has changed on the surface. However, I’m aware that there are quite a lot of new features for web developers (access to the GPS sensor on the phone for example). Again – beta software – but it’s a step backwards from the big improvements in speed and stability that came through with the OS 2.0 patches.
O2 – who are the sole mobile network contracted to sell iPhones in the UK – have disabled MMS on iPhone tariffs. Obviously this made little difference until now, as the iPhone couldn’t do MMS, but why bother even disabling a feature that couldn’t be accessed? I doubt Apple will let the situation remain this way as the Summer release of new features approaches, but it’s still annoying.
Spotlight is the funky built-in search function on all Mac OS computers. It’s like Google Desktop Search on Windows, in that it provides really quick searching of all the files on the computer. This includes e-mail, web history, and the contents of standard stuff like Office files. Spotlight is a step-up from this in that it also lets you search menu options on running apps, as well as the application itself. If you’ve got a lot of applications installed it’s often quicker to just start typing the app’s name into the Spotlight box and start it that way.
The best thing about iPhone 3.0 is that Spotlight is now part of the iPhone OS. This provides built-in searching of pretty much everything on the phone – although I’ve noticed that SMS is not included in the search for some reason. I’m not entirely sure but, given how good the SDK is overall, third-party applications will probably be able to hook into this search facility. Once you get to 4 or 5 pages of apps installed on the phone, it will be quicker to just type an application name into Spotlight rather than hunt through pages of icons.
I think, really, the Spotlight function is the only standout-amazing new feature I’ve used so far. There are lots of good little tweaks – things like auto-filling forms in Safari, or switching off the annoying beeping every 2 minutes once you have an unread text. A lot of the features are currently out of reach, since they enable new capabilities in third-party applications – which will not be available from the App Store until the actual release of the software.
Cut, Copy and Paste
This is one of those things that everyone carps on about, but how much do you really use copy and paste on your phone? If you could attach a full-size keyboard via Bluetooth then this might be more useful, but then it would need to support keyboard shortcuts and the like. Anyway, it’s a nice feature to have and no doubt I’ll use it now it’s there.
My one gripe is that the whole double-tapping gesture doesn’t seem to be picked up very well. Safari is the worst offender, as it already uses double-tapping for zoom (a more precise gesture than ‘pinch’, since it automatically sizes the view to the paragraph width). To get copy and paste to trigger, I seemed to need a very slow tap-then-tap-and-hold. However, now that I have the knack for this, I can get it to trigger most of the time.
Things I’m looking forward to
It will be sweet to have a proper IM application running on the phone. I use Google Talk (through various different clients) for both work and home accounts so hopefully something will be released that deals with the Jabber protocol on multiple accounts – Meebo demoed their app during the OS 3.0 launch, and their website already does this, so that will do. This will be dealt with using the push notification features to tell you about new messages, which will be awesome for things like Facebook, Twitter and sport scores too.
2-player gaming. My girlfriend has an iPhone too, and she loves the simple puzzle games – of which there are many on the App Store. It will be wicked to be able to do live 2-player gaming between our phones.
Tethering. I recently took my MacBook down to London for a day working on-site with our customers – it was so frustrating to have a fully-functional internet connection on the iPhone but be unable to share it with the MacBook (this was on the train – we have a mobile broadband dongle to use on-site, but it’s always kept on-site). For occasional use, I wouldn’t mind paying as I use the feature. I don’t think I’d get enough use to justify paying extra money every month though.
Turn-by-turn GPS. Being able to get a Tom-Tom or Garmin app for the phone will also be really useful for drivers. I don’t even drive but I could imagine myself paying for something like this just for the coolness of plucking out my phone in someone else’s car to get directions. Hopefully, the rumours of Apple banning the apps from talking to you while you’re driving are just rumours.
Obviously as a developer I’m very excited about what these new features allow me to do. I also realise that this is the reason for the preview coming so far in advance of the release: it gives developers a chance to ready applications for launch day so that people will be eager to upgrade their software. I think some of the really exciting stuff as far as new features hasn’t even been revealed yet – but that’s because it will require the new hardware. Rumours indicate as many as 4 new iPod touch and iPhone models this summer (as well as a possible tablet/netbook device) – video recording, high-quality photos, improved graphics and higher 3G speeds are all touted as incoming features that would require new hardware.
Even without new hardware, these new software features will be really useful come launch day. They address a lot of long-standing criticisms while increasing the possibilities for third-party developers. I doubt Apple could have foreseen what a success the App Store would be – much the same as iTunes before it – but now that it is a success, they will really want to keep everyone using their stuff. That is exactly what these new features will do.
The new software lacks polish at the moment, which is understandable with 3 or 4 months until the main release. If we assume that the speed and stability will be the main focus of the development work between now and launch-day then this will be another great update for the iPhone.
The renovation of TouchWheel is on hold after some inspiring conversations with friends at the weekend. It’s tough to imagine how to make something which is essentially a joke about Apple (and specifically iPods), not look like an iPod…
The follow-up application is no less retarded in concept, but has a much more extensive feature list. Let’s think of it as an interesting social experiment. That’s how they described Big Brother when it started, and there are some parallels. Watch this space.