Tuesday, November 18, 2008

SoftMaker when Open Office will not do

Many people are looking for alternatives to Microsoft's Office suite -- few find one. MS Office is a powerful tool and meets most user needs. The primary limitation is its price. Because any program that wants to compete has to be compatible with Office, this forces alternatives to be different while still being totally compatible. This is not easy to do and one wonders what interesting new office suites might have been possible if coders did not have to maintain document format and visual interface standards. Anyone who remembers the days before Microsoft dominated the office suite area will remember that there were many office applications and some of them, such as Framemaker, had very different ways to produce documents. The dominance of Microsoft has limited what can be done.

SoftMaker is a commercial entity located in Europe that strives for quickness and MS Office computability. The reviews of their new 2008 version make it sound very promising. They apparently have a great mobile version that can turn your Windows smart phone into a little desktop substitute. The price of $99 for an entire school is close enough to free.

Of course, there is Open Office/Star Office and a number of other alternatives that should be considered. While I like Open Office/Star Office, I know that some people believe it to be slow -- which was true in the past -- and others will not look at it because it based on an open source process. Personally, I don't find these to be problems, but I know that more than a few risk-adverse bosses would. At the very least, SoftMaker Office should be on your list of office suite alternatives.


DBAN before you recycle

Recycling is a long overdue process for old computer hardware. Computers are full of heavy metals and poisonous elements -- they are also full of vital data. Data are difficult to get rid of. Modern computers often hide supposedly deleted information rather than remove it. The problem is that a hard drives always has something on the surface. When you "delete" information, the system only removes the information's location from the operating system's file index. This is much like ripping up a telephone book and thinking all the people are gone.

DBAN is a tool that writes over every part of the surface. It does not care what the operating system says is there or is not there. If you want to make sure your are not giving away your data and/or licensed software applications, then use DBAN or one of the other secure erasing applications.

If your drive is not working, that does not mean someone cannot extract personal information. In such cases, take the drive our of the computer case and smash it with a hammer.


Monday, November 17, 2008


VideoInspector is a utility designed to analyze your video files. I don't know about you, but I've frequently been left wondering if a video file has been damaged, is an incompatible format, or is damaged in some other way. This software tool appears to address all those concerns. I've not used this program -- but will. Please let me know what your experiences have been.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

What the new wireless ruling may mean to your school

Wired reported on the new FCC ruling that allows for unused TV spectrum to be used for any wireless device. This ruling allows unregulated devices, such as wireless access points and cordless phones, to greatly improve their range and signal power. It also means that signals might have been stopped by a wall or building may well go pass through.

WiMax is/was supposed to do these things, but has yet to show up in the market. On the surface, the TV spectrum that was sold off to Verizon for 4 billion is much better bandwidth. But, what the Internet has consistently demonstrated is that an open platform is more desirable than a closed platform even when the closed platform is technically better.

What this means for your school is that making your school wireless will be even easier than it is now. Currently, you have to play a game of how many access points are needed to cover the entire space yet not interfere with one another. The new systems may be powerful enough to have one unit cover the entire building.

Another thing it means is that a school might be able to provide a connection to the school for all the students living in the community. That's a service that schools are well position to offer given that students are either in the building or at home. The total bandwidth for the school needs not increase because the work is only transferred from the school to the home.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Small Pico LCD projector opens big opportunities

The Pico Pocket LCD projector is one of new class of small LCD projectors to reach the market. While I've been hearing about these units for years, this is the first one that I've seen for sale -- approx $450.

The ability to project from a iPod or other small device means that you can share the output from devices that were exclusively "personal" products. I cannot wait to see what happens when cell phones are able to connect to these devices. Better yet, it may not be long before LCD projectors are incorporated into all laptops and cell phones.

This is a great tool if you have a to give a lecture to a small group and the full-size projector does not work. It's also great for sharing the screens of devices that are otherwise too small for a group to see. Will these replace full-size LCD projectors? Probably not for a long time. Producing the needed amount of light would require a more substantial unit. At least it does at this point in history.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Screentoaster shares your desktop for no $$$

One of the reasons for using Adobe Connect is to share one's desktop. Adobe Connect is a great tool, but it is synchronous and expensive. Screentoaster is a screen capture program. While it does not help when someone asks you to show something specific, it is a great solution for situations where you are showing a canned set of tasks. Let's face it, if you are showing how to do something in a software application, the steps involved are fixed. You gain nothing from doing it live.

When you use real-time tools, the costs and difficulty factor go up. Many times the things we want to teacher are just as well done beforehand.


Recorded with screentoaster.com

Monday, November 03, 2008

The future of the "netbook"

LifeHacker raises an interesting question of how popular a small laptop might be if it were to reach the $200 price point. Netbooks, such as the MSI Wind and the Eee PC, have small screens and limited horse power. But they do a lot, boot quickly, and are easy to carry in a book bag.

I've recently helped purchase an hundred of the MSI Winds for use by first graders. The small size and light weight make them ideal for small hands. If the price does reach $200 or less, I think many schools will ask the question: why not?

If you have not considered this new class of laptops, you probably should. What will be interesting to see is how the current low-end of full size laptops respond to the dropping of the prices on the netbooks. I think for first and second grade, I would prefer the netbook because of its form factor. But, if a full size laptop was $350, I would be very tempted to get it.