Microsoft vs Adobe (the new ‘Expression’ suite)

Microsoft Expression Web LogoIt looks like Microsoft have officially settled on the name for their new suite of creative web applications, called ‘Expression‘, and they seem to have Adobe in their sights.

One of the products (Expression Web) went on sale on on 4th December, but at the moment it’s only available to pre-order for $269.10, or if you’re lucky enough to have Frontpage, then you can upgrade for $89.96 (the best $89.96 you’ll ever spend if you ask me!).

The suite contains four products:

Expression Web is already shipping, and according to the website “is a professional design tool to create modern, standards-based sites which deliver superior quality on the Webis a professional design tool to create modern, standards-based sites which deliver superior quality on the Web“. I’m not entirely sure if this is a direct replacement of Frontpage but it claims to have “A sophisticated CSS rendering engine” which would be a welcome step towards a standards based design application, it will be interesting to see how IE6 handles the standards based code.

Microsoft Expression Web Interface

Expression Blend, according to the website, “is the professional design tool to create engaging web-connected experiences“. Sound familiar? Although the site talks a lot about designing user interfaces, so it could be a prototyping application for designing web-interfaces before they’re implemented, rather than developing rich media applications, similar to how designers use Adobe Fireworks to layout a website.

Microsoft Expression Blend Interface

Expression Design is Microsoft’s new vector illustration tool. It’s a brave move considering the dominance of products like Adobe Illustrator (in the web market at least).

Microsoft Expression Design Interface

Expression Media is a digital asset management tool and an enhancement to their existing iView MediaPro package (which they acquired earlier this year). It promises to offer ‘effortless organization’, workflow integration, image and video editing, and presentation capabilities, from within a single application. It seems like a direct competitor to Adobe Bridge. According to the website (and the screenshots) this is/will be Mac compatible.

Microsoft Expression Media Interface

My initial thoughts on the Expression Suite are obvious, why compete against the likes of Adobe? After some thought I realised there are a lot of people developing ASP.NET applications using Visual Studio, and the Expression Suite will fill the obvious design void for those users.

LG Chocolate (KG800) Review

LG Chocolate (KG800) BlackI’ve been using the LG Chocolate (a.k.a the KG800) for a few months now, and I’ve decided to write a little review of what it’s like to use the phone on a day to day basis.

KG describe the phone as Unique, Articulate, Exquisite”, but I can think of few other words I’d add to that list.

I’ll be honest, I bought this phone after reading reviews online, and hadn’t picked it up or browsed through it, prior to getting it, but online, it sounded excellent, great design, great UI, stylish etc…

I have to admit that the phone looks great, and usually gets an “oooooooo” response when people first see it,  but the more I’ve used it more annoyed I’ve become.

Here’s a few issues that I’ve come across:

  1. Long startup time
    On average it takes 1:29sec for the phone to be in a usable state after switching it on (i.e. from entering the PIN number to being able to browse the phone book, access stored messages etc). This might sound like I’m being impatient but if you’ve had the phone off during a meeting and need to get someone’s number then it’s a long wait.
  2. Alarms
    I don’t actually own an alarm clock, because I’ve never needed to! My mobile phone is usually on my bedside table at night, and the built-in alarm is usually enough to get me up in the morning, but not with the KG800. The main problem is that the alarm obeys the active profile, so if the phone’s in silent mode then you don’t get an audible alarm at all, if it’s in vibrate mode then the alarm will just trigger a vibrate. My old phone (and most Nokia phones) will always have an audible alarm, regardless of the active profile. So I’ve had to keep the standard profile on, and manually disable message alters so I don’t get woken up by late night messages!Another problem is that I’ve woken up a few times without the alarm going off at all. When I’ve checked the phone it’s prompted me to enter my PIN because it restarted during the night for no apparent reason. This seems to happen randomly, and I’ve not been able to identify what’s causing it.
  3. Deleting text messages
    I tend to use SMS messages to communicate with friends & family rather than calling (it’s easier, and cheaper), but deleting old messages can be a bit of a pain. Mainly because of the way the phone handles lists of items. When you delete a text message you’re given a confirmation message (which is fine) and then the first message (i.e. the latest message you’ve received) is selected, forcing you to scroll back through the list to delete other messages. If you’re deleting a few messages to save space (but you don’t want to use the ‘delete all’ option) then it gets annoying pretty quickly. The same thing happens when deleting contacts from your phone book.
  4. Touch ‘sensitive’ interface
    In LG’s words the

    “Unique heat sensitive touch pad glows red when active. Sensitive to a warm touch you can be sure that the touch pad won’t activate by items in your pocket or bag.”

    In practice that isn’t true, I’ve had a few calls & text messages from friends saying that I’ve called them, when the phone’s been in my pocket and hasn’t been touched.

    In general, I’ve managed to get used to the lack of feedback (something that’s always put me off touch-sensitive interfaces) but the interface is very sensitive and I’ve often hit the ‘return’ button only for the menu to scroll right (which is the button directly above return).

  5. Contact photos
    If you want to assign a photo to a contact in your address book then you have to take it at 72×72, there’s no automatic resizing like the K750i!

To be honest, if your mobile phone is more than just a fashion accessory, and gets used on a daily basis then I’d stay away from the KG800 (especially the white version). Which is a shame, because it looks great!

A little spring clean

I’ve decided it’s time to do something about the design of this blog, so I’ve knocked together a new design, as you can see (unless you’re reading this post in an RSS reader, in which case head over to the site and take a look).

Don’t get too excited tho, it’s a very (very) simple design. I’ve decided to stick to the motto “content is king” and not get distracted with a site that looks stunning (besides most people read things in RSS readers anyway).

There’s still a few areas that need some work, but the main parts are up and running, like comments, archives, categories, pages etc. I’ll get around to fixing the rest over the next few days.

Feel free to post comments with your thoughts and suggestions.

Flash Rendering on top of HTML Elements

I’ve had few problems recently with Flash content rendering over the top of HTML elements, especially when using CSS based fly-out menus. Here’s an example of the problem, showing how Flash content is rendered over the top of the HTML drop-down menu.

Flash Wmode (Windowed)

This is quite annoying, especially after we’ve spent a lot of time developing a Flash intro movie for a client, only for them to ask if they can have drop-down menus on their home page too!

After a bit of digging around I came across the WMODE parameter which controls how the browser renders Flash content. There are three possible options, ‘window’ (default), ‘opaque’, or ‘transparent’. The example above shows the effect of the default option (‘window’).

Setting WMODE to ‘opaque’ has this effect

Flash Wmode (Opaque)

You can see the effect this has, but the background of this Flash movie is set to gray, so content underneath the Flash movie won’t be visible, so we’re 80% there…
Setting WMODE to ‘transparent’ fixes both issues, as you can see.

Flash Wmode (Transparent)

For more details embedding flash content you should check out the article over at A List Apart. There’s also an article on the Adobe website about wmode and how Flash is rendered.

Monitoring the news

Steve Herrmann (among others) made an interesting post on the BBC’s “The Editors” blog about a website called News Sniffer which “aims to monitor corporate news organisations to uncover bias”.

It does so by grabbing regular copies of the BBC (and other news outlets) RSS feeds and running diff against them to identify when content has changed, and then highlighting those changes to the user. It also has a “Watch your mouth” section which aims to identify when comments have been removed from the BBC’s “have your say” area.

I really like the idea behind News Sniffer it doesn’t make any claims about why a news outlet may or may not be biased it simply gives people the chance to decide for themselves, which can only be a good thing.

** Update (03/11/2006 13:31) **

Steve Herrmann has just posed a follow up to his previous post, it looks like News Sniffer is doing more than just uncovering bias, it’s also helping to uncover bugs in the BBC news website that “causes some comments not to show up”. The most interesting part of the post are the comments from a senior journalist Matt Eltringham about how the BBC moderate comments:

“The HYS debates are operated by a team of moderators who work across seven days a week from 0700 to 2300. Every day we receive about 10,000 emailed contributions to the debates we have started – debates often suggested by our readers[…] Regardless of whether a debate is pre or post moderated the presumption is that all comments should be published unless they break the house rules.”

It’s always good to see an organisation like the BBC explaining how and why they do things internally.

Las Vegas Trip

This post is a little late, but last week I spent four days in Las Vegas staying at the New York New York hotel on the main strip. It was a great few days, and my first trip to the united states, although being held up at the airport by customs for an hour and a half wasn’t great! Four days was just about the right amount of time to spend in Vegas, we had enough time to see all the sights without getting bored (after all once you’ve seen one casino they all start looking the same).

Some of the highlights of the trip have to be

Here’s some pictures from the trip:
The New York New York HotelInside the New York New York hotelThe sign for HootersThe New York New York Hotel at nightThe Eiffle Tower at the Paris HotelOutside Ceasers PalaceThe view from the Eiffle Tower looking over the stripThe Bellagio Hotel

Optimizing Page Load Time

I came across an interesting article today (via Slashdot) entitled Optimizing Page Load Time written by Aaron Hopkins a Software Engineer for Google.

He’s put together quite an interesting study on how to improve the load time of a web page, using a variety of methods, covering everything from the obvious “Load fewer external objects”, to using HTTP Pipelining at the browser end. There’s also some interesting points about how host names affect the speed of your website like:

By default, IE allows only two outstanding connections per hostname when talking to HTTP/1.1 servers or eight-ish outstanding connections total. Firefox has similar limits. Using up to four hostnames instead of one will give you more connections. (IP addresses don’t matter; the hostnames can all point to the same IP.)

And a few, simple, yet often overlooked tips

Set an Expires header on everything you can, with a date days or even months into the future. This tells the browser it is okay to not revalidate on every request, which can add latency of at least one round-trip per object per page load for no reason.

It’s well worth a read.

My New Home…

Well after far too long I’ve decided I should resurrect this blog. I’ve been trying out a few different blogging platforms and I’ve decided to use WordPress for a while. So far so good! It has some nice features (like being able to create stand alone pages that aren’t blog posts), and the interface is nice and pretty well thought out, so if all goes well then I’ll keep using it and posting more often, so subscribe to the RSS feed…

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