Office 2010: Who needs an upgrade?

Posted by Dhiya  
Tagged as:
3:33 PM

The biggest problem with Office 2010 is earlier versions of Office itself. Any of the past two or three editions of the software are capable of handling day-to-day tasks - so why upgrade?

On top of that, the free Open Office and its commercial version Oracle Open Office offer competent document handling at a much lower price, and cloud-based offerings such as Google Docs are improving fast, making a new Microsoft Office a hard sell if you take it in isolation.

But it is a different picture if you view Office as part of a collaboration platform built on Sharepoint. Two of the best new features in Office 2010 are simultaneous co-authoring and in-browser editing, but these require Sharepoint 2010 on 64-bit Windows servers. There is an option to use Microsoft's hosted services, so smaller organisations are not entirely excluded.

Alongside these collaboration features, Microsoft has fine-tuned the Office applications and made significant improvements. The previous release, Office 2007, introduced a chunky ribbon interface in place of menus, partly to improve usability - though some users still miss the menus - and partly, one suspects, to differentiate Office from rivals such as Open Office.
Good and bad in Office 2010

Good points
* Customisable and more consistent ribbon interface.
* Allows simultaneous co-authoring where Sharepoint 2010 is used.
* Numerous detailed improvements, such as Excel Sparklines and Word navigation pane.

Bad points
* Limited benefits where Sharepoint 2010 is not available.
* High cost of Microsoft Office and Sharepoint platform.
* Office Web Apps have frustrating limitations.

A welcome upgrade, many small improvements, plus a good start with Web Apps.
Office 2010 is more of the same, with Outlook and Publisher now fully ribbon-enabled, but with a key difference: the ribbon can now be customised. A new right-click option lets you add or hide tabs and change the commands that appear on them, though the dialogue for doing so is somewhat ugly.

Microsoft has removed a feature of Office 2007 that caused confusion - the Office button. This is replaced by a file menu, though it is not quite like the drop-down menus of old. File opens a "backstage view" which occupies the entire application window, with options such as save, new and print. The extra space is used well, incorporating features such as recent documents, template selection and print preview.

Office 2010 review in pictures and video >>
64-bit testing capability

Office 2010 also introduces a choice of 64-bit or 32-bit versions. Now that 64-bit Windows is commonplace, you might imagine that 64-bit Office is the best choice. Surprisingly, Microsoft advises against it, and installs the 32-bit version by default. The reason is compatibility - 64-bit Office will not work with 32-bit ActiveX controls or Com add-ins, and some Visual Basic code will not run without modification, so 64-bit Office could break existing software.

Users with huge Excel spreadsheets will welcome 64-bit and the extra memory it enables, but for most users it will be nothing but trouble. Microsoft's main goal, Excel power users aside, is to let administrators and developers experiment with 64-bit in preparation for the future, though arguably it is not necessary for most client applications.

Sharepoint 2010
Office 2010 makes most sense where it can be used alongside Sharepoint 2010. In this scenario, you get smooth opening and saving from Sharepoint, and Web Apps for remote users (see box). A new application called Sharepoint Workspace, based on Groove, lets users create a synchronised off­line store for Sharepoint, which is excellent for travellers.

On the other hand, for users who have little need of Sharepoint or simultaneous co-authoring, the cost of an Office 2010 upgrade from 2007 may be hard to justify, despite many small improvements.

Word 2010
The advent of simultaneous co-authoring in Word is a great technical achievement, though one that most users will only need occasionally. It is locked at the paragraph level, and limited to documents hosted on Sharepoint 2010. Document refresh is not instant, and in our tests we found it too easy to create conflicting edits.
Everyday users may be more impressed by the new navigation pane, based on the earlier document map feature, which lets you move sections of your document around as well as navigating quickly from heading to heading.

Excel 2010
Like Word, Excel now supports simultaneous co-authoring, though unlike Word this works in Web Excel as well as in the desktop application. It also requires Sharepoint 2010.
After that, the best new feature is Sparklines - small charts which live in a single cell. Using Sparklines, you can show trends visually either alongside or behind your data. There are also improvements to pivot tables and pivot charts, making it easier to visualise multi-dimensional data. 64-bit Excel enables editing of spreadsheets larger than 2Gbytes.

Outlook 2010
Outlook e-mail is the most used Office application, according to Microsoft. Outlook 2007 smartened up the user interface, though it is still replete with confusing and hard-to-find options.
Outlook 2010 is no revolution, but it does add valuable enhancements. One is the ability to use multiple Exchange Server accounts.
Microsoft is also making a big deal of its improved conversation view, which is meant to group e-mails by threads, and allows you to clean up or ignore a "conversation". The snag is that sometimes Outlook forms threads just by looking at the subject heading, which is not a reliable way to group messages.
Outlook's new "social connector" integrates with providers such as LinkedIn, unifying enterprise and social media.

Powerpoint 2010
Powerpoint has enhanced video capabilities which allow users to embed video, crop it to the section they want, index key points for instant access and add styles and effects.
Simultaneous co-authoring in Powerpoint is enabled on Sharepoint 2010.
There is also an excellent feature called "broadcast". This is for scenarios where you are presenting to remote viewers. If you create a set of slides and choose broadcast, your slide show is linked to an online service. E-mail a special link to your virtual attendees, and they can view the show in Powerpoint Web App from anywhere, after logging in with a Microsoft Live ID.


'The Hurt Locker' –Movie Review

Posted by Dhiya  
Tagged as:
3:17 PM

“The Hurt Locker,” directed by Kathryn Bigelow from a script by Mark Boal, is the best nondocumentary American feature made yet about the war in Iraq. This may sound like faint praise and also like a commercial death sentence, since movies about that war have not exactly galvanized audiences or risen to the level of art. The squad of well-meaning topical dramas that trudged across the screens in the fall of 2007 were at once hysterical and noncommittal, registering an anxious, high-minded ambivalence that was neither illuminating nor especially entertaining. And the public, perhaps sufficiently enervated and confused by reality, was not eager to see it recreated on screen.

So let me put it another way, at the risk of a certain cognitive dissonance. If “The Hurt Locker” is not the best action movie of the summer, I’ll blow up my car. The movie is a viscerally exciting, adrenaline-soaked tour de force of suspense and surprise, full of explosions and hectic scenes of combat, but it blows a hole in the condescending assumption that such effects are just empty spectacle or mindless noise. Ms. Bigelow, whose body of work (including “Point Break,” “Blue Steel,” “Strange Days” and “K-19: The Widowmaker”)has been uneven but never uninteresting, has an almost uncanny understanding of the circuitry that connects eyes, ears, nerves and brain. She is one of the few directors for whom action-movie-making and the cinema of ideas are synonymous. You may emerge from “The Hurt Locker” shaken, exhilarated and drained, but you will also be thinking.

Not necessarily about the causes and consequences of the Iraq war, mind you. The filmmakers’ insistence on zooming in on and staying close to the moment-to-moment experiences of soldiers in the field is admirable in its way but a little evasive as well. “The Hurt Locker,” which takes place in 2004 (it was filmed mostly in Jordan), depicts men who risk their lives every day on the streets of Baghdad and in the desert beyond, and who are too stressed out, too busy, too preoccupied with the details of survival to reflect on larger questions about what they are doing there.

The filmmakers, perhaps out of loyalty to their characters, are similarly reticent. But within those limits, “The Hurt Locker” is a remarkable accomplishment. Ms. Bigelow, practicing a kind of hyperbolic realism, distills the psychological essence and moral complications of modern warfare into a series of brilliant, agonizing set pieces.

Her focus is on Delta Company, an Army unit whose job is to detect and defuse — or carefully detonate, if all else fails — the I.E.D.’s that seem to pop up everywhere, like mushrooms in the rain. Some of the devices are brutishly simple, others fiendishly elaborate, but each one lays the groundwork for a cruel and revealing test of character.

And much as Ms. Bigelow excels at setting up and cutting together these live-wire moments of danger, they are not feats of technique-for-its-own-sake as much as highly concentrated, intimate human dramas. The engagements between Delta Company and its shadowy adversaries contain an element of theater. The bomb-makers mingle with Iraqi bystanders to observe and assess their work, standing on balconies and at windows watching impassively as the Americans shout, sweat and gesticulate, actors in a show whose script they are fighting to control.

Not that the soldiers are all on the same page. “The Hurt Locker” focuses on three men whose contrasting temperaments knit this episodic exploration of peril and bravery into a coherent and satisfying story. Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) is a bundle of nerves and confused impulses, eager to please, ashamed of his own fear and almost dismayingly vulnerable. Sgt. J. T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is a careful, uncomplaining professional who sticks to protocols and procedures in the hope that his prudence will get him home alive, away from an assignment he has come to loathe.

The wild card is Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), who joins Delta after its leader is killed and who approaches his work more like a jazz musician or an abstract expressionist painter than like a sober technician. A smoker and a heavy metal fan with an irreverent, profane sense of humor and a relaxed sense of military discipline, he approaches each new bomb or skirmish not with dread but with a kind of inspired, improvisational zeal.

As he gropes for the wires that will ignite a massive car bomb or traces a spider-weblike cluster of shells buried under a street, he looks like a man having the time of his life. Not that he is frivolous, though to Sanborn he seems insanely reckless.Rather, to quote a Robert Frost poem, James is a man whose work is play for mortal stakes.

And Mr. Renner’s performance — feverish, witty, headlong and precise — is as thrilling as anything else in the movie. In each scene a different facet of James’s personality emerges. He can be callous, even mean at times, but there is a fundamental tenderness to him as well, manifest in his affection for an Iraqi boy who sells pirated DVDs and his patient solicitude when Eldridge, under fire and surrounded by dead bodies, has an understandable bout of panic.

There is more friction between James and Sanborn: competition, incomprehension, but also a brand of masculine love similar to the passion between Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze in “Point Break.” In one scene Mr. Mackie and Mr. Renner trade stomach punches in a ritualistic display of affectionate aggression that looks as if it will end in either sex or murder, and Ms. Bigelow’s insight is that the tense comradeship of soldiers rests, often tenuously, on barely suppressed erotic and homicidal impulses.

“The Hurt Locker” opens with a quote from Chris Hedges, a former war correspondent for The New York Times, declaring that “war is a drug.” And it is certainly possible to see Will James as a hopeless war addict, a danger junkie sacrificing good sense and other people’s safety to his habit. But his collection of mechanisms from bombs that nearly killed him and the blend of serenity and exhilaration that plays over his blunt, boyish features when he finds a new one suggest otherwise.

Eldridge is a decent guy, dangerously out of his element but making the best of a bad situation. Sanborn is a professional, doing a job conscientiously and well. But James is something else, someone we recognize instantly even if we have never seen anyone quite like him before. He is a connoisseur, a genius, an artist. No wonder Ms. Bigelow understands him so perfectly.

The Best Features of Google Buzz

Posted by Dhiya  
10:26 AM

Past all the Facebook and Twitter mimicry, what will Google Buzz do that’s truly different? We mine through the announcement to find the most exciting aspects of the new platform.

Having a little trouble wrapping your mind around Google Buzz? We don’t blame you.
As familiar as services like Flickr, Facebook and Twitter already are to us, Google’s amorphous mashup of all of the above still feels a bit redundant and confusing. But looking back at the Google Buzz announcement, there are plenty of features that have the potential to turn social networking on its head. Here are four of the most promising and unique features about Buzz that have us waiting to see more.

Location Awareness (ex. Foursquare)

The Web doesn’t get much more local, immediate and real than speech bubbles pinned to a map, representing things people in your neighborhood said five minutes ago. Sure, Twitter released an API for adding latitude and longitude to any post, but we haven’t seen any implementations quite like this. And as long as Twitter users have to jump through hoops with special clients to make it work, we likely won’t. Because Buzz has location awareness built right into the Web client from the start, we’ll see maps populated with buzz from the moment the client lifts off the ground – not to mention integration with Google’s already-stellar Maps client.

Compatibility with outside services

Facebook wants you to submerge yourself in Facebook. It doesn’t play nice with Twitter, Flickr, or even YouTube, which means you need to post status updates both places, post photos both places, and post videos both places. Twitter requires you to reformat links into mini links just to fold any media whatsoever into your 140-character messages. Both of these situations suck. A number of apps exist to make the duplication process easier, but Google Buzz should eliminate the need by tying into many popular outside services – like Twitter and Flickr – right out of the box.


Facebook bombards us with news of how far middle school friends have made it in Mob Wars, commentary on the latest episode of The Bachelor from one-time acquaintances, and invites to events 3,403 miles away every time we log in. To say there’s “noise” in this space is like calling Fran Drescher “slightly irritating.” Google promises to help users filter it by using algorithms like the ones used for search engines to determine what’s relevant and what’s not. Can it succeed? We’ll have to wait for the volume to build, but the fact that Google wants to address it from the start is promising.

Gmail integration

Call it ingenious or call it devious, Gmail integration will get people to use Buzz whether they want to or not. Much as Google Talk slipstreamed its way into our hearts by just appearing on the Gmail sidebar one day, we expect Gmail integration will get existing Google users to Buzz by submerging them in it as soon as they go to check their e-mail. If there’s a quicker way to build a user base for a social network, we don’t know what it is.


What is K9

Posted by Dhiya  
Tagged as:
12:39 PM

Free, enterprise-class security software designed for home computers

Malware attacks are increasing exponentially every day. In fact, August 2009 set a record with more than 56,000 documented phishing attacks. To protect your home computer from online threats of all kinds, you need a robust security solution that’s updated in real time.

With Blue Coat K9 Web Protection, you don’t have to wait for the latest security patch or upgrade, which can leave your computer vulnerable to new and evolving Web threats. K9 delivers the comprehensive protection you need automatically. With K9, you get the same advanced Web filtering technology used by enterprise and government institutions worldwide — all with a user-friendly interface that allows you to control Internet use in your home.

[view larger screenshot]

Blue Coat’s Web filtering technology enables you to block entire categories of content, such as pornography or gambling, or block specific Web sites, such as Facebook.

[view larger screenshot]

In addition to filtering the categories or sites you choose, K9 also offers:

  • Real-time malware protection — Blue Coat WebFilter helps identify and block illegal or undesirable content in real time, including malware-infected sites. You also benefit from the WebPulse cloud service, a growing community of more than 62 million users who provide more than six billion real-time Web content ratings per day.
  • Automatic content ratings New Web sites and pages are created every minute, and no one person can possibly rate or categorize all of them. To ensure protection against new or previously unrated Web sites, Blue Coat’s patent-pending Dynamic Real-Time Rating™ (DRTR) technology automatically determines the category of an unrated Web page, and allows or blocks it according to your specifications.
  • Continuous protection that won’t slow down your computer — Caching is the method your Web browser uses to save frequently used data, which increases efficiency by reducing the amount of information requested over the Internet. K9 uses Blue Coat’s unique caching technology, so your Internet experience is always as fast as possible.

Get FREE continuous protection against malware and inappropriate Web sites. Download K9 Web Protection now!


24 Great Open Source Apps for Admins & Technicians

Posted by Dhiya  
10:06 AM

I'm always on the lookout for apps that can ease my workload or free up some room in my budget, and open source applications are an excellent way for me to accomplish both.

If you're in the same boat as me, hopefully you're already utilizing some open source options. If not, I've put together this list of two dozen great applications that I can depend on to keep things running smoothly on my office LAN and customer systems as well.

Some of these you'll recognize, but I hope that there are some that are new to you as well.
  1. PING - I may be beating a dead horse here with my love of PING, but it's just a great piece of open source. Drive imaging with network and spanning support, password blanking, it's just an excellent app.

  2. NTRegEdit - The Windows Registry editor hasn't seen many changes over the years. NTRegEdit offers some great additional features like recursive export, color coding, improved searching, and quick edit window below the values list.

  3. Safarp - A portable alternative to appwiz.cpl (add/remove programs), it provides a few extra useful features - like silent uninstalls and repairs of Windows Installer-based apps. It also opens in a flash, unlike the clunky appwiz.

  4. WPKG - Maintaining software installs on computers in a small business environment can be a little frustrating sometimes. WPKG gives you push/pull installs and it can run as a service, so silent installs run transparently with no user ineteraction.

  1. ClamWin - Open source antivirus that does damn near everything the "big boys" do: automatic updates, scheduled scans, email scanning. There's no realtime shield, but coupling it with the next app in the list lets ClamWin do that, too.

  2. Winpooch - Originally designed to detect activity from trojans and other spyware, Winpooch monitors program activity on your system and gives you greater control over them (like preventing an .exe from connecting to the net or writing to a system folder).

  3. Vispa
  4. Xpy - These two offer fast ways to tweak XP or Vista by turning off unwanted services and features.

  5. WCD - Its stands for Wherever Change Directory, and it's a real timesaver for anyone that works with the Windows command prompt. All it needs is part of a directory name to change to it (wcd username to get to a user's home folder).

  6. Angry IP Scanner - If I'm asked to inventory a location, I usually start with Angry IP. It quickly builds a list of all live hosts on a network and makes it easy to locate the addresses for devices like Wireless APs, print servers, and the like.

  7. Startup Manager - MSconfig's startup control pane doesn't have a lot of functionality. Startup Manager is an excellent replacement, and it's available in a portable version as well.

  8. JKDefrag - Anything that automates system maintenance is worth a look, in my opinion. JKDefrag's screensaver installer puts your users' idle desktops to work for you, defragmenting whenever the .SCR kicks in.

  9. WinDirStat - Need to locate spacehogs on a user's hard drive? Fire up WinDirStat and let it go to work and it'll build a detailed (if not visually distracting) report of where drive space is being allocated.

  10. DeltaCopy - A fast incremental backup tool based on rsync. It supports scheduled backups and email notifications, and syncs client machines to virtual directories on a central server. I back up our point of sale history with this app - because a full copy of 1.2gb doesn't make sense when only a few hundred kilobytes have changed in the last business day.

    Both the client and server apps are included in the 6.3mb download.

  11. EchoVNC
  12. InstantVNC - Run these two together and you've got a free (albeit visibly slower) version of TeamViewer. Make sure you (or your client) enters a password when launching InstantVNC, or anyone viewing the list of clients with Echo could, theoretically, take control of the machine.

  13. Putty - A fantastic portable SSH and telnet client. What else can you say about Putty?

  14. InfraRecorder - I don't necessarily want burning software installed on all my client desktops, but I need it from time to time to do a quick backup. Since InfraRecorder is portable, I can run it from my flash drive or a network share.

  15. 7-Zip - I know 7-Zip doesn't have the prettiest GUI, but I rarely use it from anywhere but the context menu. It works like a champ and handles all the archive types I deal with on a daily basis.

  16. FreeOTFE - If you have any sensitive data on your network, you may want to have a look at Free On The Fly Encryption. It sports an easy-to-use interface that allows the creation of virtual encrypted drives. There's also a PDA version available to protect mobile data.

  17. QLiner Hotkeys - I love my hotkeys, and I miss them when I'm working on someone else's system. QLiner is portable, so I can just fire it up on an unfamiliar rig and access them without missing a beat. Add in the Zip tool to archive files with a single keypress.

  18. HealthMonitor - Keep tabs on your servers (or workstations) and get email or SMS alerts when trouble's afoot. It'll monitor everything from ram and drive space to services and event logs.

  19. Memtest - The tool I rely on to troubleshoot RAM issues. I've never run a Memtest and had it miss a faulty module. If the test does't launch or if the screen goes red, I know it's found the problem.

  20. DBAN - Darik's Boot and Nuke is a nice tool to keep handy if you donate old hardware. It's available as a floppy, USB, or CD image, and will locate and securely wipe the contents of just about any hard drive. It's even certified by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

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