Google’s ‘Picasa Web Albums’ Review

June 14, 2006

Google has just released its ‘Picasa Web Albums’ product. Picasa is, in Google’s own words:

Google’s free desktop photo management software. Picasa is a quick download that makes it easy for people to organize and edit their pictures using something that’s simple and clutter-free. It’s all about the photos.

Fair enough. It would seem that users have been requesting online photo sharing integration with Picasa so Google has come to the party. Check it out here. It’s currently only in Beta so it’s first come, first in. I decided to check it out for myself and see what it’s like and here are my impressions:

  • Storage
    250Mbs for a standard free account or $25 a year for roughly 6Gb. That’s pretty good value.
  • Interface
    It’s Web 2.0 so that should get those that care about that kind of thing happy. It’s cute and I like it more than Flickrs busy and confusing look.
  • Photo Sharing Ability
    In all honesty, it’s pretty basic… damn basic in fact. You can pretty much only upload photos, give them captions, rotate them, delete them and move between albums. Speaking of albums, you can create albums (or sets as Flickr calls it) but just like Flickr, you can’t do albums within an album. This for me is the biggest problem with Flickr (besides it’s interface for viewing photos which I don’t like) and Googles offering – Pbase has both products licked in this area in my opinion.

    Picasa Web Albums also don’t seem to display EXIF information – a must if this online photo sharing site is going to be taken serious by photo buffs.

So all up, it’s a good start but pretty simplistic in it’s offerings and photo managing/organising abilities. It is still in Beta (or TEST as Google calls it) so possibly these little issues will be ironed out in the future. Then again, maybe it isn’t aiming to take on Flickr, Pbase, Shutterfly etc and is just a basic way of uploading photos to the web – if so, it does that just fine.

But don’t take my word for it – check it out, Picasa Web Albums, yourself!

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Remote Access Tool – Teamviewer Review

June 6, 2006

As I’ve mentioned before, my primary role at my company is to develop form & web based applications. I prefer the speed of developing a form based application (i.e a windows application) over web apps, which I find can be slowed down by user interface issues. Debugging can also be harder in web apps and particularly so with the language I develop in; a java like, structured programming language but unfortunately not OO.

One place where web apps rule though is in trouble shooting and rolling out bug fixes. Because it’s a web site you can access it easily, to trouble shoot, and once a fix is made you simply roll it on the production system and Bob’s your uncle. This is from a hosted scenario (which is what we do).

But when it comes to form based applications, you just never know what a client is talking about when they call up for a support issue. Or perhaps you kind of know what they are saying but it makes no sense. It’s times like this that you need to be able to remote into your clients desktop and ‘see’ what it is they are talking about.

There are several tools for doing this and we use the majority of them: Microsoft Remote Desktop, Symantec pcAnywhere, VNC and even the odd Citrix client. The problem with these remote access apps is that they generally require a ‘host server’ application to be running on the end you wish to connect to, which needs to be configured and then their firewall might also need some configuration to forward certain ports etc. That’s fine for larger clients that have the necessary infrastructure in place, but some are just too small to do this or even know how to do this. Add to this the issue of dynamic IPs (so you never quite know what IP to connect to), software firewalls and general ‘user’ issues and it starts to get tricky and even annoying.

This is where TeamViewer, apparently developed by the same guys that made Tight VNC, comes into play. The host simply downloads an executable (TeamViewer Quick Support) that they run whenever a connection is to be made to them. No install, no wizards, no configuration, no nothing – just a single executable. The client, in this case me, then runs TeamViewer (which does need to be installed) and connects to the host. This is accomplished by entering in a ‘Partner ID’ code and then a ‘Session Password’ – both of these are supplied via the TeamViewer QS app. See this link for an example and the following screen shot (as seen by me):

Note: I’ve cleared certain information.

Ok, so far it’s pretty standard. But the beautiful part of it is this: no IPs, no firewall issues (it has it’s own ‘dyngate’ routing that bypasses firewall security somehow), file transfer ability, SSL security and a host interface so simple even my Gran would know how to use it. On top of this, it’s free! Yes, free… for the first 15 minutes (or 30 minutes if you register) of each connection and only for non-commerical usage. If you plan to use it commercially, you’ll have to giddy up some cash.

This little app really has been a time saver in helping us being able to ‘see’ our clients desktop without having to go through all the rigmarole of installing the above mentioned remoting tools.

So, if you have need for something similar – give TeamViewer a go, I think you’ll like it!


Update 24/07/2009: This post is over 3 years old and yet it still gets comments posted on it fairly regularly. It’s by far the most viewed post in this blog with an average of over 455 views a month for the past 3 years. Even though this blog is no longer active, I thought I should update it with regards to security concerns that have been raised in the comments. The update follows:

Teamviewer uses a “middle man” to enable it to bypass firewalls which saves the hassle of configuring your router/modem/firewall. Each side of a Teamviewer connection connects to this middle man, which is a Teamviewer server, and it handles the connection and routing of traffic between the two sides. The traffic is apparently encrypted, according to Teamviewers website, but any time you introduce a middle man, it raises potential security issues. If they are not encrypting the traffic, they could be snooping it etc. In the Trust No One world, this is not an ideal solution. So if security is a major concern for you, perhaps this is not the solution for you.

However, according to Teamviewer’s help manual, you can setup your own Teamviewer server. This means that everything is now routed through your own server (middle man) and you no longer need to worry about your traffic going through a third parties server. This is the best option if security is very important to you.

That said, I still feel that Teamviewer is one of the best free solutions for remote access and is fine for most instances. This post was originally posted from the view of offering support as thus this context needs to be taken into account.

People have also commented on Teamviewer taking over port 80 and not allowing Apache/IIS to use these ports. Stackoverflow has a post that apparently addresses this issue, check it here.

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Essential Photography Tools

June 1, 2006

There are several software tools that I believe are essential for a digital photographer these days. Chief amongst these are:

  • Cropping software: to ‘zoom’ in and get rid of unnecessary things in your photo
  • Image editing software: curves/levels correction, resizing, sharpening etc
  • Noise reduction software: removing ISO noise is great when you are pushing ISO 1600+
  • Online photo gallery: to share your photos with the world!

There is also conversion software that converts RAW files to TIFF/Jpeg etc files. Seeing as I don’t use RAW, I can’t really give any advice on a good raw converter. Anyway, Lets have a look at what I believe are the best tools for these tasks…

Read the rest of this entry »


PocketMod – A Paper Based PDA Review

June 1, 2006

Came across this website the other day which offers one the ability to 'create' a paper based PDA, or should that be PPA – Pocket Paper Assistant, from a sheet of A4/Letter paper. Via a series of folds & cuts, this sheet of paper is made into an eight page pocket sized booklet. Cool!

PocketMod is the website and it's based around a flash app that lets you select certain organiser/diary templates (daily/weekly/monthly/yearly view, to do list, lines, grids, formulas, games etc) an assign them to one of the eight pages in your pocket booklet.

Here's one I designed. I call it the 'Three Week Pocket Based Planner':

Like I said earlier, you print this out to an A4/Letter piece of paper (or whatever paper size you like) and then fold it based on the instructions on PocketMods website. Was a bit tricky at first but I managed to get it right.

It's actually a pretty cool little flash based app. At the end of the day though, it would be much easier to just buy a pocket diary and use that instead. Why? Well besides having to reprint your organiser/diary every week/fortnight etc and then folding it, an organiser/diary limited to eight pages isn't really of much practical use.

PS. Apparently this is 'old' news – if it is, I do apologise to all the techno fashionista.

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Apple iPods & Nike Runners Unite

May 24, 2006

I’ll be up front with you, I’m not a huge Apple fan. Don’t know why but it’s probably got to do with my background in PCs, my appreciation of value for money (though this differentiation is getting smaller and smaller), the fact that I write Windows based applications and my lack of being a ‘fashion’ technologist.

Pre October 2001 and Apple was on the ropes. Your average computer user either had no idea who they were or knew who they were but had never used a Mac. It was a tough time. Queue entrance of the 1st generation iPod and the rest is history. As of November 2005, Apple had sold over 30million iPods and the iPod is now the standard portable music device that the industry compares all other devices to. So, I tip my hat to Apple and say, “Way to go, that was clever”.

Even their iBook and new MacBook laptop offerings recently have been priced quite competitively with PC equivalents, causing a few friends of mine to ‘jump ship’ and consider getting an Apple laptop. These are people that would never have considered an Apple had it not been for the revolution caused by the iPod.

Then I read about the Nike+iPod Sports Kit (here ) and think to myself, “You have got to be joking!” For those too lazy to view the linked article it’s basically Apple and Nike teaming up to provide a pedometer capability to specially equipped Nike shoes via Apples iPod. My brain is screaming stupid and my head is nodding in agreement! It achieves this via an antenna in your shoes and a special attachment in the iPod. But don’t take my word, or Wireds word for that matter, take it straight from the horses mouth – Nike+iPod.

I just don’t see the point of this, I seriously don’t. Still I’m sure it’ll be all the rage soon, as anything to do with Apple/iPod has become the new ‘cool fashion’ accessory. Somebody tell me I’m wrong (or that I’m right)!!

PS. Apple really is good at marketing isn’t it. After writing this post and actually viewing the Apple website of this product, it does look pretty cool. But cool doesn’t mean functional – only time will tell.

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Blogging Tools – Qumana & BlogDesk

May 23, 2006

Ok, so I’ve just been over to Sebs website and noticed that he had a review on a blogging tool called Qumana. It wasn’t a glowing endorsement but I thought I’d download it and give it a go anyway. I also found a comment somewhere, not sure where, about another tool called BlogDesk. Both were free, and we all know free is goooood, so I decided to check them out!

Qumana
Installation is straight forward and once installed you setup your blog. It supports a vast variety with WordPress, Blogger, Movable Type, MSN Spaces and TypePad being a few of the more popular ones. It automatically downloaded my categories as well as previous posts which I could edit/delete etc.

It quickly downloaded my previous posts & categories and then presented me with the ‘Drop Pad’ screen, a kind of area to ‘drop’ links etc to automatically create a new post. Didn’t do much for me and confused me for a few seconds. Here’s the ‘New Post’ screen.

I didn’t really get much past here except for playing around with it’s image functions, which were fairly basic, as I just didn’t like the feel of it. It has built in spell checking with is pretty cool. All up though its interface has a very ‘bloated’ look to it. So! Onto the next product we go!

BlogDesk
You install the program and then have to setup your connection to the blog. Connecting to your blog was pretty complex, in comparison to Qumana, but straight forward for the able minded. My categories were automatically downloaded but my previous posts were not. To do this you have to access a separate screen and manually ‘download’ your previous posts – no biggie but Qumana does this automatically on program start up (admittedly this slows the program start up). BlogDesk doesn’t support many blogs unfortunately but it supports WordPress so that’s good enough for me!

This UI I like. No bloated icons or wasted space on the icon bar, just a nice clean interface. It’s handling of images is far superior to Qumana too with the ability to resize on preset sizes (small, medium, large or original), crop, rotate, set image alignment to text etc. It too has spell checking capabilities, though not in line ala MS Word, and even supports multiple dictionaries which is handy for us that prefer English (UK) not English (US). You know, for those of us that prefer to spell organisation the proper way not the incorrect organization way. 😉

Wrap Up
Qumana’s advantage is greater blog support, auto download of previous posts & inline spell checking via a clunky interface. BlogDesk’s advantage is a clean interface, great image handling & spell checking dictionaries. Umm, after saying that it sounds like Qumana’s better right? But it’s just not for some reason which is hard to explain. So here I am writing this post in BlogDesk after having originally started writing it in Qumana… but don’t take my word for it, try them both out!

BlogDesk-button

PS. I haven’t used any other offline blogging tools so if someone knows a good one, let me know!

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New Apple Store

May 19, 2006

Apple has just opened its new store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, NYC. Ho hum, another store opening, no biggie. Well, that's what I thought until I had a look at how the store is designed. I have to give it to the design/architect folks over at Apple (or who were hired by Apple) – they sure know how to put the s in style.

Outside & Inside Pics Construction Pics Aerial View