Will innovation follow the internet boom in RI?

We are currently witnessing a rapid growth in Internet users in Indonesia. Propelled by the availability of 3G technology reaching more and more areas, the decreasing price of personal computers and the advent of smart phones, an increasing number of Indonesians are getting online.
Observing this phenomenon, we cannot help but ask whether this surge in internet usage will lead to a growth in web innovation. Will we begin seeing Indonesian internet companies appearing with their creative inventions and wowing the world with the next Facebook, Google, or Amazon?
All it takes is some whiz kids with computers and internet access to cook up something in their garage right?
Maybe not.
The belief that talented youngsters are driving the wave of internet innovation may have been true in some cases, but is actually far more romanticized than actually true. There are other factors we should pay heed to.
First, it’s about hard work, not talent.
Geoff Colvin wrote in his book (aptly titled Talent is Overrated) that what separates the best performers from the rest is not talent. It’s hard work, in the form of rigorous and deliberate training. In other words, nobody is born to be a golfer, a ballerina or a computer programmer.
They are made, not born.
So there are no “whiz kids”, as such. What we call whiz kids are really those who from an early age began immersing themselves in hobbies such as golf, tennis or computers and simply practiced continuously until they began close to expert at them.
What quantifies hard work? What constitutes rigorous, and how long do we need to work at it before we can reach our full potential? Malcolm Gladwell put the magic number at 10,000 hours, basically meaning you could be good at anything (sport, music, art, etc.) if you practiced around 3 hours every day for 10 years. This is how Bill Gates, Tiger Woods and many others became who they are today.
It is extremely hard work and to succeed you need to start at a very early age, which is why not many people make the cut.
However, this is also good news. With the spread of internet access and low cost computers, we can expect more children to spend many hours learning and experimenting with their computers. The more time they spend learning, the better they become.
Another important factor is proximity to best brains.
Google was born when its innovators, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, were students at Stanford University. This is the same university that produced Yahoo, HP and Silicon Graphics. In the beginning, when the Google founders needed money to start their company, it was Andy Bechtolsteim who wrote the first check.
True, it was the innovation behind Google that made it so successful. But that is not all. Without the support from the people around them, the story might have ended up differently. Would Brin and Page have been able to create Google if they went to the University of Indonesia instead of Stanford and lived in Depok instead of Silicon Valley?
Proximity to other innovators provides ideas with the chance to flourish no matter how outrageous they may seem. There is a reason why many of the best ideas were coined in academic environments: It is where crazy ideas are conjured, encouraged and challenged, but not dismissed.
If we want to unlock the next great internet innovation, the best place to look is in our universities. Do our students have a place to discuss their creative ideas, no matter how strange they may seem at first? Do they have the right people to discuss it with, who encourage and challenge them to develop their ideas further? Do the universities provide them with the facilities to immerse themselves, experimenting day and night to see what works and what does not?
Third, talking about facilities brings us to the next crucial point, infrastructure.
How can we expect Indonesians to come up with the next “big thing” when we experience blackouts on a regular basis? How can we expect the birth of the next killer-application if our internet connection is unstable and slow?
Four, English ability. From time to time, I receive emails from students asking technical questions about programming when the answer to their questions are mostly at the tip of their fingers if they bother to search for it on the internet. When I mentioned this fact, the excuse provided is always that the information is written in English.
After going through all the points above, we arrive at the question of whether or not it is realistic to expect any real innovation to come from Indonesia. Can we really catch up in a very short amount of time?
The answer is yes.
Technology changes with time. The good thing about information technologies is that they develop at a rapid pace. New technologies appear and old ones fade away, so that from time to time we are at the same starting point as the rest of the world. There is no excuse for being left behind.
The internet is a level playing field. Many new technologies, especially in software, are now available as open source, or in other words are freely available. Those with little money will not necessarily be at a disadvantage. Everybody can use this software, take it apart and study it, or build something on top of it at virtually no cost.
We do not have to be the first. History has shown that it is not who is first that counts. It is who is the best at whatever they are doing. Google was not the first search engine, Firefox not the first web browser, Facebook not the first social networking site. Just because we do not come first does not mean we cannot be the best at it.
We have a large pool of young people, the age group most likely to coin the next great internet innovation. Out of 100 internet startups, we will be lucky to see 10 of them make it. Someone who is middle aged, married with kids and has many other responsibilities probably will not venture to work on something that will fail 90 percent of the time.
Riwanto Megosinarso

baby-drinks..I hope that it's not a beer....

By The Way: Who can refuse an invitation to connect?

Everybody these days is networked and connected up to the eyeballs through every conceivable means, it seems, but face-to-face.
Apart from email and my 5-year-old by-now-brain-damaged Nokia, with whom I am emotionally bonded, I have thus far deftly ducked every request to connect, assiduously avoiding signing up on LinkedIn, Plaxo, Facebook, Friendster, MySpace, Google, Skype, Yahoo, MSN, whatever.
OK, not true. I did download a couple of instant messaging programs some years ago, but didn't end up using them a lot; that whole thing with log-in and passwords was just too much work. And I never did like the way those little windows would jump up at you, sometimes several of them at the same time, when you were in the middle of something else. So I eventually figured out how to stop the IM programs from starting up automatically, every time I booted up my computer. And since I'd never remember to activate them, eventually I forgot the passwords and couldn't turn them on even if I wanted to.
I must admit though, that I'm now quite adept at texting, and actually like the fact that one can exchange messages without having speak to someone on the phone, particularly when one of you is not into "reach out and touch" mode.
While texting is far less intrusive than a phone call, my problem is that the signal is usually poor under the rock in my garden, which is where I scuttle off for weeks at a stretch, for a bit of "quiet time". Of course, this rather antisocial habit doesn't help my notoriously subliminal schmooze quotient and networking skills. So I surprised myself somewhat when the "connect-or-die" impulse kicked in out of the blue, likely triggered by about 100 due-to-expire-reminders for 59,000 different network/connect programs.
Having nothing better to do, I sat up till 6 a.m. one night last week, and indiscriminately signed up for every last program I had ever been invited to join. A gazillion passwords, log-ins and enter-personal-details later, I realized I actually knew a whole lot more people than the 3.5 I imagined I knew.
What's more, most of those programs seemed to know them, too.
At the end of this connectivity feeding frenzy, it finally dawned on me that the software is actually smart enough to pick out the contacts from your address book and connect you to them, so now you're linked to the same handful of people you already have on email, in about 50 different ways; a sort of extended incestuous circle scattered across who knows how many programs.
Plaxo is okay, it has lived in my Outlook Express for a couple of years and occasionally tells me that someone I vaguely know has a birthday, or has changed their email address or their socks.
LinkedIn I haven't quite figured out yet, I only just signed on and I have exactly eight connections, but as the program keeps telling me, my connections have a total of 75,000 connections between them, hurrah. In response to which I am thinking: so what?!
But Facebook is totally crazy. Moments after I signed up, I received about 300 updates about the people I was connected with. It shares all sorts of completely goofy information, most of which I have no idea why anyone would want to know anyway. Also, I have been repeatedly bitten by the 15-year-old son of a friend of mine, who keeps challenging me to start Biting Chumps and Slaying Vampires. (You reading this, Tariq?!) Another friend has a daughter, whom I added to Facebook. Next thing I know, she's put me up on her stalker's wall! The whole thing is totally baffling and I haven't gone back since the night I signed up. But hush, don't tell that to anyone I know.
Which reminds me of why I disabled Yahoo messenger in the first place. I had three windows open, and got the wrong message in the wrong window by mistake. It was a genuine uh-oh moment, the sort that happens to all of us at least once, except sometimes it can get really tricky. Well, the instant reflex is to click on the little cross and shut down the window, right? Or anyway, that's what I did. Of course, I never heard back from that particular contact again.
Aha! Just as I finished writing this, another invitation to connect.this time on Flickr. So have a great Sunday, all, while I go sign up. After that, I'm scurrying off under my rock for a couple of weeks, to contemplate my navel.

Priya Tuli

How your computer can get you convicted

Spare a thought, as you're eating your Thanksgiving turkey, or local variant, for one Julie Amero. Ms. Amero was a relief teacher in Connecticut, who found herself convicted on pornography charges when the classroom computer was infected by spyware.
You may not be a teacher, you may not live in Connecticut, and you may not be interested in pornography. But her experience is one we could all learn from.
The case dates back to Oct. 19, 2004, when Ms. Amero was substituting for a seventh-grade language class at Kelly Middle School in Norwich, Connecticut. Pupils, being kids, would lark around on the teacher's computer when the regular teacher was out of the room; when Ms. Amero took charge of the class, the computer started showing pornographic images.
Now we're not talking a full-on peep show for the class here. When Ms. Amero realized what was going on she tried to block students from seeing what was on the screen. She tried to get help, but none came.
But that didn't stop her being convicted, more than two years later, on four counts of risk of injury to a minor, or impairing the morals of a child.
The original case was later thrown out, but Ms. Amero, on the advice of her lawyers, has tried to end the nightmare by admitting on Nov. 22 to one misdemeanor charge and surrendering her state teaching license. She's also been hospitalized for stress and heart problems.
Of course, this case should never have come to trial. And most of you don't live in places where law enforcement officials are so clueless about how computers work.
But it does carry some important lessons.
First off, what is spyware? Spyware is software that installs itself on your computer without you necessarily knowing about it. It could be downloaded simply by visiting a website.
Sometimes it's deliberately downloaded -- usually by young people who don't know better. Sometimes it comes hidden inside legitimate software. Even reputable outfits like Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft and Google try to "push" their software in underhanded ways.
So what does this stuff do? Well, it can be relatively harmless. Some spyware -- we prefer the term "malware", as it includes all forms of software that don't have your interests at heart -- will try to change your browser's homepage. Others, like the ones Ms. Amero found herself besieged by, will pop up windows pushing unwelcome products at you.
At the far end of the spectrum are programs which will report back on your activities -- your passwords, your browsing habits -- to bad people with bad intentions.
Bottom line: Spyware is bad for your computer, and, possibly, bad for your career.
Ms. Amero appears to have been let down by the school. The computer had a program installed on it that was designed to filter out trash. But the license had not been renewed, so the filter had not been updated.
The porn may have got through anyway. No filter is ever going to keep the bad guys out. But if you're going to install software like that you really need to make sure it's updated.
I've seen enough of this to know how easy it is to get infected by this stuff, and how hard it is to get it off.
The sad thing is that the infections usually come from kids messing around on the family computer, and so it's them who get to see the bad stuff. Parents then freak out, blame the kids and then ban them from the computer.
So, adults -- parents, teachers -- need to understand this kind of thing better. Here's how (thanks to Mark Trudinger of child-friendly search engine Kindernet.com for contributions):
First, install antivirus software, make sure a firewall is installed, and then something called Windows Defender, which will keep an eye on stuff. I also use something called WinPatrol (www.winpatrol.com) to monitor what programs try to mess around with my computer behind my back.
Second, limit which people can download and install on the computer. Windows XP lets you set up different accounts for different users; kids should not have accounts which allow them to install programs. Vista users will find parental controls built in. Play around with them until you're happy.
Lastly, most browsers allow you to stop pop-ups. This should keep your desktop clean.
If you do think you're infected, run antivirus software, run the Windows Defender software, and, if you're still worried, call for help. If you're a teacher, turn off the computer monitor, or remove it from the classroom. If you're not allowed to do that, stick paper over it.
There's a bigger point here. I don't want to sound unsympathetic to Ms. Amero. She describes herself as a "computer neophyte" -- not someone who really knows what's going on when it comes to computers. This used to be OK. But I don't think it is anymore.
Most of us encounter computers at home, at work, at play. Many of us rely on them for our livelihoods. Ms. Amero did; she was a teacher, and no teacher nowadays can avoid computers.
As parents, too, we need to understand this stuff. Not all of it, but enough to protect ourselves and the kids we're responsible for.
No longer can we throw up our hands and say "I don't know how to work this thing, so I'm not responsible".
If nothing else, we need to know enough to be able to scream "help!" until a techie guy comes running.
We may not end up convicted of corrupting minors if we don't. But if Ms. Amero's case is anything to go by, the days of the "computer neophyte defense" are over.
Enjoy the rest of your turkey.
Jeremy Wagstaff

Google's Chrome: When the browser grows up

Geeks have gotten very excited about the launch of Google's own browser, called Chrome. But what does it mean for us ordinary mortals?
Well, in the short term, not very much. But further down the track, you can expect all sorts of things to happen that will blur the distinction between what is on your computer and what is on the Internet.
Google have kept very quiet about this particular product, despite the fact they've been working on it for at least a couple of years. Surprisingly, they managed to keep it more or less under wraps until it was launched. They needed to: By launching their own browser they're prodding the beast that is Microsoft. Expect open war to follow.
It's not as if Microsoft still dominate the browser world. Well, they do, in the sense that most people who use Windows don't bother to use anything other than the browser that comes with it, Internet Explorer. Indeed, a lot of users can't: At the university where I teach even the teachers can't download or install anything, so switching to other browsers is not an option for most people.
But there are plenty of better browsers out there: A Swedish company called Opera has been plugging away at its own browser, and, at least until a few years back, has introduced lots of cool new features that have gradually made their way into Internet Explorer (tabs, for example, where you can have more than one window open inside the same program.)
And then there's Firefox, an open source descendant of Netscape Navigator, which ruled the roost in the mid- to late 1990s until Microsoft crushed it like a bug. (Oh and Apple have their Safari, which also works on Windows).
Firefox, or the company behind it, makes its money by renting out to Google its search box -- the little window in the top right of the screen -- so that the default search engine points to its servers. This helped Firefox and made sense for Google, directing lots of traffic to them, and allowing them to build a close relationship with Firefox developers.
But now the search engine giant has realized this doesn't go far enough. You see, Google isn't just about search. It's not just about entering a few words in a box and hitting Enter. It's about accessing information.
If you take that definition broadly enough, you can see that Google wants to place itself right in the middle of pretty much everything you do. Whether you're working on a document with colleagues, trying to find a restaurant in Banglampoo, or setting up a corporate website, you're handling information. And if you're doing it with Google, then you're sitting just where they want you to be to take their ads.
Seen like that,a natural next step to try to move into browsers. The browser -- as revealed by its name -- was once a fairly passive beast, designed for surfing and reading stuff. Now we spend as much time typing into our browser -- email, blog posts, documents -- as we do watching or reading stuff. We're used to every website we visit giving us the opportunity to comment or contribute. The browser is no longer a browser but -- horrible word coming up -- an interface.
Now, with a bit of tweaking, we can do all sorts of things inside the browser. Even without doing anything we can use it as a word processor, a spreadsheet, a mind mapping application; we can edit pictures and audio. With some extra bits installed we can even do some of this when there's no Internet connection. Who needs Microsoft Word when you can do it all in a browser, for free?
Now you might be seeing why Microsoft isn't happy. It doesn't really care about having a browser as competition; it cares about Google --- a behemoth with deep pockets and some very good programmers -- having a browser.
Until now, the dreams of a browser replacing all the other programs on your computer was just that. The browser wasn't really designed for all these extra things going on inside it. And while Firefox is an impressive beast (as is Opera), both depend on old machinery under the hood. Google realized this, and realized that someone needed to overhaul the browser so it could be a platform in its own right.
Now Google's other products -- its online applications, its blogging tools, its drawing and mapping applications -- can become part of your browser.
More importantly, us users won't need to install anything to move these applications from the web -- the cloud, as it's called, meaning anywhere but on your computer -- to your PC. Something called Google Gears did that already, but it was something you had to install, whereas now it comes as part of the Chrome browser.
In short, if you use Google Docs you can edit as easily online -- where the document you're editing sits in the cloud -- to offline, where it sits on your computer.
It's not necessarily going to be as smooth as one would like. There are teething problems -- the version of Chrome I tested was wonderfully fast and elegant, right up until it started hogging my computer's resources -- and there's bound to be some tension between Google and its erstwhile comrades-in-arms at Firefox.
And yes, we should be a little alarmed that the already powerful Google can now have more access to our data.
But on balance it's exciting. For you and I it means leaner, meaner applications that do what we want, where we want, and without us having to for them.
It means a new wave of innovation from developers -- since Chrome is Open Source, meaning anyone can fiddle with it and add to it-and from Google's rivals like Microsoft -- who will be forced to come up with responses of their own.
So download it, give it a spin, and let me know how you get on.
Jeremy Wagstaff

Google gets into video games_ with ads

Google Inc., the leader in online search and advertising, is muscling in on video game territory - though it won't exactly be in the form of a shoot 'em up game.Google was set to announce Wednesday it is launching the beta version of "Adsense in Games," a technology designed to put relevant advertising links in Web-based games.It is an expansion of Google's Adsense program, which matches ads to the content of Web sites. Similarly, Adsense in Games will show, for example, ads targeted at young men in sports and action games. The ads themselves would be videos that players watch before or after a game, or after completing a level.Adsense in Games lets Google offer advertisers "yet another place" to reach customers, said Christian Oestlien, senior product manager at the Mountain View, Calif.-based company.Google's entry into the gaming space has long been anticipated and could be a hedge against slippage in online advertising from the economic downturn. Google bought Adscape Media, a small in-game advertising company, in early 2007, less than a year after Microsoft Corp. bought in-game ad company Massive Inc.Google's chief rival, Yahoo Inc., already offers ad-supported, downloadable games. Double Fusion and NeoEdge, two in-game advertising companies, are selling video ads integrated into the games.Even so, Jameson Hsu, chief executive of San Francisco-based online gaming network Mochi Media - which is working with Google to provide in-game ads in Europe - said Google's entrance into video game ads is "validating the market.""It's a very big milestone," he said.
Google gets into video games _ with ads

Help for all you bloggers

If you have a blog -- and most people these days seem to, even if they only update them when prodded to by friends or life partners -- you'll have probably noticed something: Browsers aren't particularly good places to write a post.
Especially if you're offline, or you don't get a chance to finish the post before bedtime. Or you want to include a photo in the post, but can't remember quite how you did it last time. Or you want to find an old post you half-finished, or one you already posted and update it.
All these things are possible, although they're not particularly easy.
But there is an answer -- at least if you're a Windows user. It's called Windows Live Writer and it's basically software that sits on your computer that makes all this easier than it presently is.
Try not to be put off by the silly name -- or the hassle installing it, which could be easier. The name is a nod to Microsoft's effort to move all its programs online, a sort of panicked reaction to Google and others offering free online tools that let you do all the things you used to do offline via big bloated programs like Microsoft Office.
Don't get me wrong. It's good that all this stuff is going online, because it means it's cheaper and more easily accessible. And simpler. But sometimes blogging just doesn't work online, just as writing all your emails in an Internet cafe isn't always better than being able to tap them out on a laptop from the top of Mount Merbabu.
Hence Live Writer. There's actually nothing live about it, because it's doing all its heavy work on your computer and not on the web, but everyone is conveniently ignoring that because it's free and, for Microsoft, surprisingly good software.
Here's basically what it can do for you. Once you've loaded the details of your blog -- wherever you host it, since nearly all services are supported -- you can now create new posts, edit old ones and add stuff to them -- from within an editor that looks a lot like the online editor you'd use in your browser, but is easier to handle, and, of course, will still work when you're not connected to the Internet.
So you can start lots of posts or download old ones and mess around with them to your heart's content, unfazed by the fact that you're no longer online. But that's not all.
It will also take its best shot at figuring out what the post will look like when it's published: including all the design, fonts, layout etc. of your blog.
It can also be configured to work with lots of different blogs, so if you have more than one you can easily switch between them. And yes, it will also remember your categories and other blog-specific bits and bobs that make your blog what it is. This is all done without a lot of drama.
Microsoft have also added an easy way to insert maps -- from its own Microsoft Maps service, but it's still pretty good -- into your blog posts. I teach a class in online media and even the beginners figured out how to do it pretty quickly.
Indeed, Live Writer makes adding photos much easier than doing it in a browser. Basically you just right click an image, copy it and paste it into Live Writer. The software resizes it, adds those clever little drop shadows and offers you lots of different ways to format it. Do this in your browser blog editor and you'd still be doing it while I've left for the pub.
That's not all. Live Writer has a lively group of volunteer programmers adding what are called plug-ins -- basically bits of code that expand the functionality of the software. A simple one is a little button that sits in your Firefox browser toolbar that lets you blog about a webpage or post you're currently visiting, including download the links, and whatever text and images you've selected.
I'm not saying Live Writer is perfect. It won't work on Macs, and it wouldn't be Microsoft if they didn't try to sneak a few things in there -- adding a blog that isn't a Microsoft-hosted one isn't the first obvious choice in the options, which is a tad lame -- but on the whole they've done a great job at making the lives of bloggers (and anyone who uses WordPress et al for content management could make use of it) easier.
Download it at writer.live.com and let me know how you get on. It might even persuade a certain life partner of mine to increase their blogging frequency from the current one per Elven year.
By Jeremy Wagstaff

Where to turn to when things go wrong

If you're lucky, you've got a brother, sister, offspring or guru-like figure to turn to when your computer does something you don't expect. But if not, who do you turn to?
Spare a thought for Loose Wire Service reader Marc R. Thalmann, who works on Indonesia's Bintan Island and connects to the Internet via dial-up. He wasn't pleased when he bought a new Dell computer and found that the pre-installed Windows Vista didn't behave as it should have.
"My life has been hell ever since, with all kinds of strange happenings that made me miss the old Windows XP," he wrote in a recent email.
"Like the Windows Media Player stuttering 20 seconds before the end of each piece of music (this irritated me so much that I just stopped listening to music on the computer), or the Windows Narrator with that thick American accent that would not go away after I switched it on accidentally, etc."
Dell, unfortunately, were less than helpful when he called them up.
"All their technician recommended was to download another version of Media Player, at some 17 megabytes, which is just plain impossible for me to do with my dial-up line. Do these guys ever use the hardware and software they are selling?"
Marc found the solution in a corner of Microsoft's own website, which is not even run by Microsoft itself, but by its users: Microsoft Newsgroups (http://tinyurl.com/6r7y3). There are dozens of these sites, organized by software type and region.
Marc quickly found all the Microsoft solutions he was looking for, and writes glowingly of their efforts: "I must say I find it truly amazing that the folks over at Microsoft keep making billions of dollars churning out doubtful pieces of software, which then have to be made usable by selfless heroes who are willing to fix these things and to share their experiences for free."
Sadly, Marc's experience is not unusual, but he's right on all counts: Companies like Microsoft do ship buggy software, and it's usually left to users to volunteer their time to find a way to get around the problems and pass that information on to other people.
This is not just an accident: It's part of these companies' business models. It's not that Microsoft et al are unaware of these bugs: They have a long list of them, and they then prioritize fixing only the major ones. The smaller ones may never get fixed, even in a future release of the software.
The good news is that someone somewhere has probably figured out a solution, or a "workaround" (meaning you can ignore the problem by, well, working around it). For Microsoft users the Newsgroups are a great place to start.
The quickest route is usually via Google. The way you phrase your search query, the greater your chance of finding a solution. The simplest and best way is just to describe your problem by leaving out unnecessary words. For example; "Windows Media Player Vista stutter before end of song" will bring up several promising links. "Turn off Windows Narrator Vista" also throws up links to websites like Annoyances.org, which is in itself a great place to find solutions.
The problem with a lot of the forum-based sites is that it's not always clear whether the person posting a problem actually finds a solution. So you may have to scroll down through the discussion until you find out whether a solution that another user has proposed actually works (a lot of these solutions don't work, or are incomplete, so don't take every authoritative-sounding solution as gospel.)
My habit of scrolling down to the last posting on the list to see whether anyone has offered a groveling thank you is usually a good sign that a solution, suggested somewhere in the discussion, worked.
Google is good at this kind of thing because the most successful solutions will usually arise somewhere near the top of the rankings, meaning they will be near the top of your Google search if you phrase carefully.
I've found that a few blog posts of mine have proved useful for people who found them via Google, and most left a word of thanks at the end, or a link to the blog on forums.
When I thought I had lost all my Firefox browser bookmarks, for example, I couldn't find a web page that explained the solution clearly, so I wrote my own blog post about it. The page appears in the top five if you Google recovering firefox bookmarks and, despite being two-and-a-half years old, still receives comments and/or thanks (including one just as I was writing this).
"People-powered customer service" is now becoming an industry in its own right. A newly launched website, Get Satisfaction (getsatisfaction.com), allows users to post problems and encourages other users to post solutions. Twitter, for example, provides it as the first link on its help page, above its own Frequently Asked Questions link. For those of you following it, this is very much the Web 2.0/crowdsourcing/"markets are conversations" thing you've been hearing about here and elsewhere.
The twist is that software companies themselves can also get involved in the discussion, interacting directly with customers via their gripes. Companies are encouraged to assign staff to answer customers on the website. On one level this is good, because it forces companies to listen to their customers. On the other hand, it may become an excuse to not improve their products and processes in-house, which I think would be bad for users.
The site certainly solves some of the problems with forums I've been talking about. It is solution-based, rather than problem-based, so users can quickly find the solution to their problem without all that scrolling.
But it still has some ways to go: So far has only three topics under the Windows Vista heading, and none addressing Marc's problems. Although I have to be fair: Microsoft have assigned an employee to respond. So next time, Marc, try posting your problem there and see what happens.
Jeremy Wagstaff

Access your files, wherever you may be

You may only ever work and play on one computer, in which case you can skip this column and let's chat again next week.
But if you find yourself using more than one -- maybe one at work, one at home, or maybe you're sharing several with family members, or, like me, you've decided to go for a slightly lighter model to lug around with you and leave that misnomer of a "notebook" at home -- you'll have experienced the same frustration as I have. That is, at one time or another, not having the files, passwords or bookmarks you want on the computer in front of you.
Here are some tips to avoid that. They're not particularly fancy, but they're free, so you can't accuse me of trying to drain your budget.
First off, the biggest nuisance is browsing. I have spent quite a bit of time setting up my browser as I want it-fonts, bookmarks and a few other bits and bobs to make moving around my favorite sites as painless as possible.
I also use Firefox, a free, open-source browser that is, in my opinion, streets ahead of either Microsoft's Internet Explorer or Apple's Safari. It's also better than Opera, a great little browser that my wife refuses to give up!
But the trouble is that the more you customize your browser, the more you'll miss those tweaks when you're on another computer.
But as long as you use Firefox, and as long as you have a Google account, this needn't be an issue; an excellent little tool called Google Browser Sync (http://www.google.com/tools/firefox/browsersync/) will synchronize your bookmarks and save passwords and other settings between any computers you install the tool on. Install it and you'll see a little logo in the top right-hand corner of your browser which will figure out what you've done and move it all over to whatever computer you work on next.
When it comes to files, however, it's trickier. If you've been working on a document on one computer, and you want to transfer it to another, you can always burn it to a CD or put it on a flash USB drive. Or you could email it to yourself. But there is another way that saves you having to do anything.
A free Microsoft service called FolderShare (www.foldershare.com) that works on both Windows and Mac computers allows you to do several useful things. First, it will synchronize certain folders on each of your computers so any file changed or added on one computer will appear on all the others (assuming, of course, you have an Internet connection).
Second, it will also allow you to share the files on your computer with other people you've chosen to share the files with. Finally, and perhaps most useful, you can access your computer at home or work, or wherever you're not, via any web browser. And did I mention it's now free?
FolderShare isn't beautiful to look at, and not particularly intuitive to set up, but once it's running it works like magic. And if you've got a relatively fast Internet connection, the files are synchronized within seconds of any changes you make.
FolderShare doesn't work from a cell phone. And, frankly, I can't see people needing to access their files from their phone as much as from a computer. But if you need to, there's a service called soonr (soonr.com), which allows you to do just that.
Soonr seems to have lots of potential and while I've been able to play with a private beta version of their service, it's not publicly available so I won't bother you with it. Suffice to say FolderShare is good enough unless your cell phone has already taken over from your laptop as your primary device.
There are other ways of accessing your files from any computer. One is to use services like Google Docs, where your files aren't stored on any of your computers; instead they're stored online. If you've got an Internet connection wherever your computers are, then these tools might be enough for simple word processing and spreadsheets etc.
Of course, they're particularly useful if you're working with other people on documents; having them online will save you lots of emailing and figuring out which is the latest version.
If you find Google Docs' spreadsheet application a tad limiting, try eXpresso, a plug-in for Microsoft Excel that allows you to upload your spreadsheets to the company's server and then work with them alone, or together, online from anywhere. You need to already have a Microsoft Excel license to use this service, but that doesn't mean you need to install the program on all the computers you use eXpresso on. For more details check out their website: http://tinyurl.com/29mfkj..
It goes without saying that you want to be extra careful about a couple of things when you're working on more than one computer. Make sure you don't use any of these services on any computer if other people you don't know or trust might have access to that computer.
Indeed, don't access, open or download any file on a public computer that you wouldn't want someone else to read, because files are not easy things to delete. Unless you don't want to delete them, of course. Make sure you make regular backups of any files you are moving between computers because one day you might get confused and overwrite one you really need.
That said, having your files and familiar browser settings available wherever you happen to be is a liberating experience I'd heartily recommend.
Jeremy Wagstaff

Creative work with personal computers

These days, we can maximize our productivity by making the best use of our personal computers, or PCs. I know how to do that, even though I know just a byte -- I mean, bit -- about computers. Nevertheless, what I understand and what I can do with my computer is enough to allow me work optimally.
I have to admit it's pretty hard to compete with kids these days in terms of the latest gadgets and technology. I'm not really a technology freak, but I know enough to do a few tricks with my computer, which I mostly use to impress some of my colleagues who are less up-to-date on technology.
My first computer did not have a Windows operating system. It was my brother's old Macintosh Performa, with the on/off switch on the back of the monitor. Hence, you'll understand my confusion when I got acquainted with a PC, which has so many different buttons to turn on so many different things. There were also so many mouse buttons to click on (three buttons are too many when you're used to the Mac's one).
But that was in the past. Now, the user-friendly concept of the Macintosh, which used to inspire so much worship, has been vanquished (or some say it is at least in peril). The secrets of user-friendliness have been absorbed by PCs around the world. And my understanding of computers has grown, so that I now see how they bring the concept of ""creative work"" to another level.
I remember fondly the golden age of PCs. During those times of the day -- such as three in the afternoon -- when several parts of my body, like my half-dead brain and my almost-closed eyes, do not function properly, I could give them a well-deserved rest by playing Solitaire. (By the way, Wes Cherry, the inventor of the game, claimed that he was to blame for the economic recession in America.)
But the comfort did not stop there.
Today, like most employees, I enjoy the enormous so-called benefits of having an Internet-connected PC in my little cramped cubicle. Just a quick look behind me -- to make sure the boss isn't around -- and I can Alt-Tab to jump from the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet of the department's weekly progress report to the Google -- or Yahoo, if you prefer -- home page. And of course, I don't go to the corner of the 8-by-10-meter office to share the good news that the boss isn't here. Instead I'll have a Yahoo Messenger chat with my colleague who's sitting right next to me.
Once we're all confident the situation won't hamper our technologically-advanced activities, we can exchange E-mails with lots of
Speaking of email addresses, and friends, I just remembered that it's been five minutes since I last opened Friendster. Gotta check it now. But oh darn, the boss has returned. I got a warning on Messenger from a colleague who's sitting right behind me. Better maximize the Power Point!
--David Togatorop

How to stay on top of your RSS feeds

If you've been following this column closely, you'll know I'm a huge fan of Really Simple Syndication, or RSS. I reckon it's the single greatest thing to come out on the web in the last few years.
Well, that and Facebook. And Skype. And blogging.
For those of you not sure what I'm talking about, think of RSS like this: Lots of interesting people sending you news and thoughts in a way that suits you, not them. For more, dig around the site tenmov.es, which explains how to get up to speed on RSS.
The problem is that RSS has been too successful. Everyone now offers their data in RSS form -- newspapers offer dozens of RSS feeds, as they're called, diced according to topic (sports, cookery, foreign news, corruption and skullduggery in high places; whatever the main issues are).
They're not alone. Government departments are doing it; every blog does it; you can subscribe, as it's called, to feeds of people's bookmarks, their Facebook updates, their Flickr photos. It's great stuff -- it makes it possible to stay on top of all sorts of things, from big international stuff to what your kid's doing at school -- but it creates its own chaos.
The tendency, for us end-users, is to add feeds when we come across them. Visit an interesting blog and you want to take the feed so you can stay on top of what that person is saying, or see the photographs they're sharing. Which is good; much better to grab it before you forget.
But this quickly gets out of hand. Before long you've acquired dozens of feeds and end up drowning in information. You have no time in the day to read them and now it feels like you've traded one bulging in-tray for another.
If this is what's happened to you, here's how to fix RSS excess: The first point I'd make is to make a clear distinction between your email inbox and your RSS.
Email is for action: Other people sending you stuff that you need to act upon, or for you to create emails and send them to other people.
RSS, by contrast, is for reflection: A chance for you to grab a cup of coffee and "read yourself up-to-date". And don't be shy about including in this stuff that which is personal -- your football team, say -- as well as professional. RSS is flexible enough to deal with this (as should be your boss).
OK, a check list: 1) A feed reader that lets you create folders (Google Reader, for example); 2) An easy way to add feeds that doesn't eat into your day (once again, check out tenmov.es for the simplest way to do this); and 3) An idea of what feeds you want, or you have already. Now you're ready to go.
First off, create folders that describe your interests, professional and personal: football, art, productivity, currencies, geraniums, etc.
When you grab a new feed, make sure you put it into the appropriate folder. Don't leave it lying around for other people to trip over, or so you never find it again.
Get into the habit of checking your RSS feeds on a regular basis. Don't let them pile up.
When you start to feel you're getting more feeds than you can possibly read, you need to move to the next stage: Creating super folders.
Create a couple of folders called "want to read" and "must read", or something similar (mine's called "brainfood").
Move the feeds that you really need to stay on top of into the second folder. In the first put the feeds that you'd hate to miss, but upon which your job doesn't depend.
Google Reader lets you put a feed in more than one folder, so you can keep these feeds in their original folders as well.
If you put an "+" in front of the folder's name, you'll find it usually sits at the top of your folder list, which makes it easier to find.
The rule of thumb here is that you should have had time to read all the feeds in those folders by the end of the day.
If you find your new super folders are still bursting at the seams, start weeding. One way to do this is to remove those feeds from these folders that you can't manage until you reach a comfortable level.
What I do is create another folder called "brainfood+" which contains stuff I really, really must read. I move the vital stuff from "brainfood" into this new folder until I've reached that sweet spot where I can manage reading the folder without breaking a sweat.
The advantage of this, apart from it qualifying me as Grade-A Nerd, is that you've still got a backup folder of stuff you'd like to read if you had time. The old folder becomes a sort of wish-list of stuff you should read, whereas the "+" folder becomes the stuff you really have to read if you want to keep your job/spouse/house.
Now keep pruning as you go, since the balance is likely to shift. I avoid subscribing to feeds where lots of stuff is coming in: I really, really like bloggers and writers who just write when they need to -- sometimes only once a month. The beauty of RSS is that I'll catch that rare post of distinction without having to do anything -- and it doesn't clog up my folder needlessly.
I hope this helps a bit. I'd love to hear from you if you've got your own solutions for dealing with RSS excess.
Jeremy Wagstaff

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