Sunday, January 30, 2005

New age radio

Unbound Spiral has a how-to on creating a personal radio station using Skype. Really cool idea. It’s amazing how people are coming up with so many applications for Skype. It’s called the iPod radio, as an iPod is used as the source of the music in this case. But, as the how-to mentions, any device that can be connected to the line-in of a sound card can be used, a CD player, FM radio, anything. The only problem is that a separate sound card is needed to play music and talk on Skype simultaneously. Another problem is that an unlimited number of listeners cannot be supported, and the bandwidth required is an issue.

I think a more user and network friendly idea would be using a BitTorrent like system to do this, where all you have to do is select a playlist, create a .torrent file and seed it. If many users are listening in and everyone stores only the last few minutes of the broadcast and uploads it to whoever is joining in, a large number of users can be supported. This will definitely support better quality music too (in terms of bit rate only!). I wouldn’t be too surprised if software which enables this pops up in a few days…

Got to the Unbound Spiral through Conversations with Dina.

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Friday, January 28, 2005

Linkblog and Blogroll

I’ve created a linkblog on the online bookmarks manager del.icio.us (read that as delicious). It’s a simple system that allows the creation of a personal collection of links that you come across as you browse the web. Tagging of individual links makes searching much easier. It’s also interesting to see how many other people are adding the same links to their pages. So, I’ll just add links to my linkblog if I find them interesting. Instead of using the bookmarklet that del.icio.us provides to add the link, I’m using an excellent plugin for Maxthon, the browser I use. This is definitely better than mailing links to people, but in a kind of egoistic way, as people will have to come to my page to see the links now. But hey, it’s easier for me.

My linkblog is at

I also created a blogroll at Bloglines recently and have found it much more convenient to read all my favourite blogs compared to reading them off RSS feeds through my mail client. Though getting RSS feeds is what Bloglines does in a way, it’s all transparent to me. The biggest advantage is that I can access it from anywhere, as all it needs is a browser. Much easier to add new feeds too.

Blogroll is here –

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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Google might become a verb all over again

Just when Skype is in the process of being identified by default with internet telephony, it looks like Google may ruin it for them. Speculation is that Google is planning to offer it’s own net based telephony service. The obvious connection with Google’s recent job posting looking for someone with experience in dealing with optic fibre that has been laid, but not in use, has already been made. While such a service makes sense from an advertising point of view for Google, where search results can have links to call centers of companies that can answer customer queries directly, I’m more interested in how they can integrate it with Gmail. It would be great if you could see an indication in the mail interface when the person whose mail you’re reading is online. One click and start talking. Considering the popularity of Gmail, I think a telephony service from Google will be equally successful. With broadband finally becoming a reality in India, we might soon be ‘Googling’ each other.

Also, looks like the Google browser rumours have started all over again. This time it’s because of the recruitment of Ben Goodger, lead programmer of Firefox.

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Sunday, January 23, 2005

Will Indians really never buy iPods?

Through GigaOm, I found a post on Youth Curry, the blog of Rashmi Bansal, editor of JAM magazine. This post was in response to an article in the Economic Times, about Indian youth. Though I don’t read JAM, I’ve always read her interesting articles in BusinessWorld about that all important demographic in India, the youth.

I couldn’t quite agree with some of the technology related points she makes in the response….

"Flashing their iPods?" iPods may be objects of curiosity - even desire - but at a price band of Rs 19-25,000 ($430-550) the Ipod is still a tech toy for Pajero puppies (rich kids) and celebs who need something to talk about in interviews. Although young India wants to buy into cool, it is unwilling to pay the kind of premium for it that's acceptable in other countries.

Recognising this, IPod is apparently releasing a 512 mb version called the "shuffle" for Rs 7000. But in my view, unless it adds on a phone capability (like the Palm has done in response to PDA enabled phones) most young people in India will go for Mp3 cellphones.

While I agree with her view that the iPod may be too expensive from an Indian perspective, what should be kept in mind is that the iPod is only a popular representative of a whole host of similar devices. What’s relevant is the willingness of the Indian youth to spend on the latest techno toys other than cellphones. The reason for the more muted usage of such devices is, I believe, not because of our hesitation to open up our wallets, but because of the reluctance shown by the manufacturers of these devices to properly introduce and market them in our country. This is true not only for the uber rich, but also the present middle class in India, which is seeing a sharp growth in its spending power thanks to a booming economy, with cities in the eye of the IT storm being prime examples of this phenomenon. The automobile industry has already shown us what simultaneous worldwide releases of their offerings can do, and I think the consumer electronics manufacturers will find out that a similar strategy will work for them. The point I’m trying to make is that the Indian youth is not averse to spending its money on products that can add some kind of value, to their lives, coolness factor, whatever. Maybe I shouldn’t generalise this to be the view of the ‘Indian youth’, as I don’t have any data to back it up, except for being a part of it myself and the evidence that I see around me.

Another point is that of young people going for cellphones with MP3 capability, rather than spending money on dedicated flash or hard disk based jukeboxes. This will no longer remain an issue, as India will once again follow its past pattern of skipping entire generations of technology and catching up with the world mid-way. The cellphone and devices like the iPod are on a path of convergence and soon cellphones with huge memory, in the form of hard disks will make any argument on the willingness of people choosing one device over another irrelevant.

PC or console gaming will not achieve the kind of widespread popularity with 10-20 year olds it has in other countries, given the continuing pressure on young Indians to perform academically. Mobile gaming has a brighter better future, being a personal device less prone to parental supervision.

The absence of widespread popularity of gaming in India is not because of the pressure on young Indians to perform academically, but, because of the abysmally low level of PC penetration in our country. I think it would be fair to assume that academically, the expectations from a student in a household without a computer would be the same as that on a student who has one. But, I will bet everything I have, which isn’t much, that the most popular activity on that computer will be gaming. It only takes access to a computer to get hooked onto the experience of playing a game on a computer which can never be matched by the ‘it’s better than nothing’ experience of playing on a mobile phone.

It would be nice, however, to see journalists and other experts go beyond the superficial level and get under the skin of the young Indian.

Totally agree with that one.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Picasa 2

Google has released it's free image management software Picasa 2, today. This is an update to the version Google was providing after it acquired Picasa last year. Some innovative features from Gmail have been incorporated into Picasa in this new version. They include using labels to tag photos and adding a star rating to photos.

Other new features include, easy mailing of photos (using Gmail or the default mail client) and posting to Blogger blogs, password protection of collections, changing file information from inside Picasa, the ability to place a photo in more than one album, creation of collages and improved photo editing capabilities.

I've always loved the timeline feature of Picasa. Clicking on the 'timeline' button, shows all the photos in your collections in chronological order and makes picking one folder out of many much easier. Other well implemented features like selecting different regions of a photo being viewed in it's actual resolution, make this application a must have for effective photo management.

Go get it!

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Saturday, January 15, 2005

Evolution v/s Intelligent design

Recently, Wired magazine featured an article about how the theory of evolution is under threat by a new theory called intelligent design. The argument made by the theory of intelligent design is that, modern biological life is far too complex to be explained by natural selection. There must have been an intelligent designer, who conceptualized all the complicated life forms we see around us, including human beings. Who was this designer? The supporters of intelligent design do not stick their neck out and say it’s God. That’s left to the creationists.

While creationism enters the realm of religion, intelligent design, though closely related to it, purports to be science, only to be classified as a pseudoscience by the supporters of the theory of evolution. This war, or rather crusade as Wired calls it, is being fought in the last place it should be, schools and classrooms. The debate is now to decide whether students should be exposed to both theories or not. Though this issue has reared it’s head in the United States now, it will eventually spill over to other countries where creationism has it’s share of supporters.

This controversial topic is now in the news again because of a ruling in the US against the placement of stickers in textbooks which said “Evolution is a theory, not a fact”.

When belief and religion enter the picture, the debate about any matter rages on for a long time, and I doubt if this issue will get resolved in the near future. But, some people I’ve met have kind of convinced me that we must have evolved from apes! So, for now I’ll stick with the theory of evolution.

Here is an excellent opinion on the sticker incident in the Seattle Times.

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First images of Saturnian moon Titan's surface

The Huygens probe has sent it’s first image of the surface of Titan, Saturn’s biggest moon. More images can be found at the ESA website. ESA had this to say about the above image –

This raw image was returned by the ESA Huygens DISR camera after the probe descended through the atmosphere of Titan. It shows the surface of Titan with ice blocks strewn around. The size and distance of the blocks will be determined when the image is properly processed.

The Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn was launched way back in October 1997. It has reached saturn after taking a circuitous route by orbiting thrice around the sun in order to get the energy required for the long journey to Saturn through gravity assist.

Cassini-Huygens voyage

Unlike the Mars Rover, Huygens will stay put, but still return a wealth of information using it’s onboard instruments.

The ESA website also has a few audio recordings made by the Huygens Atmospheric Structure Instrument. Not chart busters, but still very interesting.

Here are some other relevant links.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Guides to ripping and encoding music

Ars Technica has an excellent and detailed guide to ripping and encoding music. They cover everything from a basic explanation of the different formats, bitrates, a brief history of the encoders, lossy and lossless encoding, tools that can be used to rip music and a how-to on the actual ripping process itself. More information on sampling frequency amd how it affects a ripped file would have been welcome.

One useful tool that they missed out is the dBpowerAmp Music Converter. It’s an easy to use tool, and is perfect for that first rip. The makers of dMC also have a guide on ripping.

With the growing popularity of MP3 players and digital music, music is definitely moving from CD’s to hard disks and so, it’s great that such guides help in understanding the process and ensuring the best quality.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Desktop search comparison

With Yahoo! releasing their desktop search tool, I thought it was time to take another good look at all the major desktop search tools. Here is my comparison:

Introduction -

Effective and easy access to information on a computer is a basic need. For long, this hasn't been an important issue due to the limited amount of information that could be stored on personal computers. But, with the ballooning size of hard disks and widespread use of digital devices that are generating tons of content, the demand for efficient methods to retrieve and search for this data is slowly growing and becoming more popular. This demand has grown big enough to attract the attention of the big players in the industry. As a result, what we now have is a glut of desktop search applications in the Windows environment, with many more expected, which are spoiling consumers for choice and making the entire experience of using a personal computer less frustrating. In this comparison I'll examine the different desktop search applications and recommend the one that provides the best overall experience.

To begin with, what does 'desktop search' mean? It's a little like having a search engine exclusively for your desktop. Just like searching the internet for information, desktop search allows searching of hard drives, at similar speeds. Yes, that's the interesting part. The first time a desktop search application is installed, it indexes the contents of your hard drive. Indexing is the process of reading through all supported file formats and storing that information in a way that can be quickly accessed when queried. This leads to extremely fast results, like in an online search engine. Indexing of the entire hard drive is a one time process, and as files are added, deleted or modified on the hard drive, these indexes are also updated. The advantage of this is that, one no longer needs to precisely remember the location of the thousands of files on a hard drive. Only a general idea about the file is sufficient. But, the index takes up some hard drive space. The space required depends on the amount of data present on the drive. But, this is usually not more than a few hundred megabytes in most cases and the resulting convenience is well worth the lost space. Compared to the soporific searches consumers had to endure at the hands of Windows' default search, this technology is a godsend. Actually, Windows XP has an indexing service which aims to do something similar, but, is badly implemented and is better left unused.

This comparison includes desktop search applications from Google, Copernic, Microsoft, Yahoo, blinkx and Filehand. This comparison is based on user interface, features, file format support, search results, resource utilization when running etc. Since Yahoo desktop search uses X1 technology, they are similar in many aspects and differ only in some features.


Installation and indexing -

While Google, Copernic and Filehand search were pretty small downloads, Yahoo and blinkx were larger than 6 MB. MSN desktop search is a small download by itself, by PDF file support requires an additional download from Adobe which is around 10 MB. The applications from Copernic and blinkx support Windows 98 onwards, but GDS, YDS, MSN desktop search and Filehand search only support Windows 2000 and XP. While the Google, Yahoo, MSN, Copernic and blinkx applications were free downloads, Filehand search is free but requires the user to register the product with a free registration key provided by them.

The installation of all the applications was pretty straightforward and there were no surprises.

After installation, each of them started their initial indexing. MSN desktop search, Filehand search and blinkx do not, by default index the entire hard drive. Changes have to be made in the application settings to ensure that the entire hard drive is indexed.

The time required for the initial indexing becomes important if the hard drive contains a very large amount of data. YDS took the least amount of time to index my hard drive and was extremely fast. This is impressive considering that YDS supports many more file formats than the other applications. More on file formats later. Copernic, Google, MSN and blinkx desktop searches took about the same time, but a little longer than YDS. Filehand search, though, took the longest; almost four times as long as YDS. The exact time taken by each application is not relevant as it depends on various factors such as the amount of data, the rotational speed of the hard disk, the speed of the processor etc. One gripe I have about MSN desktop search is that even though it indicated that indexing was complete, all I had to do was leave my computer idle for a few seconds, and it would pounce in and start indexing again. I don't know if these were efforts at incremental indexing or initial indexing itself.

If you are a user who keeps the computer on only when you are working, then you might want to leave it on for some time to let the desktop search application finish its indexing, as they index only when the computer isn't used for some time. This is to ensure that the system resources hungry process of indexing does not interfere with your normal work. Filehand search and YDS are exceptions to this. They index in fixed intervals, which can be defined by the user, or between a user specified period of time during the day. blinkx gives the user total control over the indexing, which is not the case with the other applications.

If the user tries to perform a search when the indexing is incomplete or in progress, then, the results are not comprehensive and do not include all the content on the hard drive.


User Interface -


Google desktop search -

Google Desktop Search home page

Google desktop search (GDS) is the only application to use a browser as the interface with the user. All the other applications have their own dedicated applications. The interface is very similar to the Google web search interface. Using a browser as the interface has both pros and cons. The advantage is that Google can easily integrate search results from the web and the desktop. The disadvantage is that Google cannot leverage the inherent power of desktop applications, such as a preview of search results, instant results as the query is being typed etc.

Web results page

The above image shows how GDS integrates search results from the web and desktop.


Copernic desktop search -

Email Search

Copernic desktop search (CDS) has by far the best interface of the lot. It has a familiar e-mail client look to it and is very convenient and easy to use. The user can select what kind of file he wants to search for in the toolbar at the top. Searches can be refined to narrow down the results. The results can be instantly previewed in the 'Preview' pane. This is extremely convenient and saves the trouble of actually opening each result in its native application. Details of the selected result are also displayed.


blinkx -

Blinkx

blinkx has a well designed user interface, but sorely lacks a preview pane. As a saving grace, it does show a snippet of the document in a pop up box when the mouse hovers over it in the results list box, but, only the first few lines of the document and not the portion where the search term is.

blinkx provides a separate button for each of the different file types that it supports, so, searching among a particular file type takes one lesser step.


Filehand search -

The Filehand search UI is very simple, without any bells and whistles. All the important controls fall easily to hand. Advanced search options are available on clicking a button. Though there is no preview pane, Filehand search uses the web search engine trick of displaying a portion of the document where the search term is present.


MSN desktop search -

In typical Microsoft fashion, MSN desktop search is all eye candy and looks great. It consists of different toolbars for the desktop, IE and Outlook. In the desktop toolbar, a small window pops up providing instant feedback as a query is typed. Searches from Outlook and IE open in an application window, but, there is no preview pane. Only a small snippet of relevant text is displayed below the title/subject.


Yahoo desktop search -

YDS always displays all the files in the index. The search results are narrowed down as the user types the query. It has separate tabs to search for e-mail messages and also attachments that none of the applications have.

The UI of YDS is based on the version 5.0 beta of X1 and it is a huge improvement over X1's earlier version.


File format support -

The utility of any desktop search application lies in the number of different file formats that it can support. Obviously, the more the better.

All the applications support text, HTML, MS Word, Excel and Powerpoint, MS Outlook/Outlook Express and the popular music formats. Only Filehand search does not support image and video files. Corel Wordperfect files are also supported by YDS, CDS and Filehand search.

Only GDS does not support the all important PDF format. Considering the popularity of PDF and the number of documents the average user has, this is a glaring miss from Google. GDS redeems itself by being the only one to support searching of chat logs, but, supports only AOL instant messenger.

CDS is the only application in the comparison to support Firefox. With the rising popularity of Firefox, this will definitely be a plus for its users.

The winner in this department is YDS. It supports a whopping 225+ file formats which is impossible to list here. The only applications it does not support are chat tools and Firefox.


Features -

Here I'll highlight only the standout features of each application, the basic search functionality being the same in every application.


Google desktop search -

Google Desktop Search results page

The results in GDS are listed in the familiar Google format. The number of search results for each file format is displayed on the top and the results can be narrowed down with a single click.

As mentioned earlier, Google's decision to stick with the browser pays off here, with a seamless integration of web and desktop searches. If GDS is installed, searching on the Google website will return results which include data on the desktop.

GDS also allows the display of search results sorted according to date or relevance as determined by the Google algorithms.

Supported file formats need to be opened in their native applications, but, chat logs, e-mail conversations and cached web pages can be opened in the browser itself. Also, GDS does not allow searching through attachments in mail.

By using the browser, GDS can't provide the instant feedback experience, but, using the recently unveiled 'Suggest' feature, they may make up for it by suggesting keywords from the index as the user types them.

The stand out feature of GDS is its ability to index the IE browser cache and history. Whether it is a security risk or not is for the user to decide. On single user computers this can be a very useful feature.


Copernic desktop search -

Deskbar

CDS puts a search bar in the Windows task bar which can be used to quickly access the application. This is pretty handy, but at the cost of some system resources. The preview pane is very useful, but, is not available for the multimedia content. It also has a few problems displaying Powerpoint files. Also, although CDS displays that portion of the file where the search term first occurs, subsequent occurrences will have to searched for manually. This is very inconvenient when documents have hundreds of pages. On contacting Copernic Support for a solution to this problem, the impressively swift reply was that the feature was still not implemented and it could be accomplished by using the Ctrl + F key combination.

Another nifty little feature of CDS is that every time it's indexing the drive the system tray icon changes to reflect it. While it doesn't seem to be very important, its value becomes apparent during day to day usage. Every time the application starts indexing it takes up a lot of system resources and the user can immediately see that CDS is the culprit. A small move of the mouse and CDS will quietly run back to its corner. But, with other applications it takes some time to realize the cause of the system slowdown.


blinkx -

The latest version of blinkx has a number of new innovative features. This version also indexes the metadata of JPEG images and MP3 files, a welcome inclusion since multimedia search shouldn't be confined to searching for just the filenames.

There is also something called SIS or 'Stuff I've seen'. Searching under this category allows the user to search only through what he has been looking at online.

The 'Smart folder' feature can be used to create folders which are topical and over time blinkx will add content to that folder from the web and local drive when it thinks that specific topics are similar to the ones in that folder.

Another new feature is the inclusion of the ability to search on peer to peer networks. blinkx uses the Gnutella protocol and searches can be performed and files downloaded directly from within the application. The user is forewarned that blinkx is not responsible for content downloaded from P2P networks. P2P networks being extremely dynamic in nature, file availability is never consistent.

blinkx also provides a way to search the web in a number of categories directly just with the click of a button. The default search engine is blinkx's own, but this can be changed to one that the user desires.

The blinkx toolbar appears on the title bar of the active window and based on the contents of that window provides the user links to related websites, blogs, products and other content on the local machine. The buttons on the toolbar are initially dim, but become coloured when relevant content is found.

The toolbar is supported for the Internet explorer, MS word. Blinkx claims MS Outlook is also supported, but did not work with Outlook 2003 on my computer.


Filehand search -

The best feature of Filehand is the small toolbar that appears above each search result when the mouse hovers over it. The most useful feature lacking in all the other applications is the ability to move from one search term to the next through the entire document. This prevents scrolling through the entire document looking for the search term. The amount of extract displayed can also be increased or decreased. Quick navigation to the beginning or end of the file, or even scrolling through it is possible.

Filehand search also indexes the metadata of MP3's, but does not support audio or video files. Searching through attachments in mail is also not supported.

Similar to GDS, Filehand search also provides relevance ranking.


MSN desktop search -

MSN desktop search tool's strength is its tight integration with Outlook. It can search through the Outlook calendar, tasks and notes. MS Onenote is supported too. Certain files can be modified to enable a large number of search shortcuts which can be quite handy. It does not search through the IE browser cache and history though.


Yahoo desktop search -

YDS gives extra importance to e-mail search and it works like a charm. A separate tab is provided to search through attachments. The one area where YDS beats the competition hollow is in the speed of its searches. Results are provided as the user is typing his query and is blazing fast. Although similar instant feedback systems are present in blinkx and CDS, they are nowhere as quick as YDS.

Another killer feature of YDS is it's ability to preview any file format in exactly the same way as it would appear in it's native application. Even multimedia files can be previewed within YDS itself! This file viewer support for all the formats it supports is really what sets YDS apart.

YDS does integrate online search, but, it's not integrated into the application like in CDS. YDS also provides a search tool bars for Outlook and the Windows taskbar.

Searches can also be saved to be used at a later date, a feature unique to YDS.


Search results -

All the applications provide a means to sort the search results according to the modified date, file type etc. but only GDS and Filehandle search use their own algorithms to determine which result is most likely to match the user query. The other applications simply display the matches from their database of keywords. So, the quality of searches is not an issue in the keyword matching applications and in the absence of a well constructed search query, relevance ranking is more of a hit or miss game.


Resource utilization -

Resource utilization is always an important factor to be considered in case of applications which always run in the background. Among the desktop search applications, Filehand search was the most frugal in this regard. It required just more than 1 MB. CDS, GDS and MSN desktop serach were within the 10 MB mark, and YDS needed around 20 MB, but, the biggest shock was blinkx, which needed more than 40 MB of precious RAM space. This is a price the user will have to pay for the many features that blinkx supports. Features like providing relevant search results constantly based on what the user is viewing is bound to be resources heavy. Blinkx is definitely not for someone who is already short of RAM.

Indexing is naturally resource hogging in all cases and is best scheduled for when the computer is idle. CDS, blinkx and GDS gain extra points here as they wait to see when the system isn't busy and finish their job.


Privacy -

With the growing popularity of desktop search applications, privacy fears were bound to arise. But, by taking some simple precautions everyone can enjoy the benefits of these wonderful productivity enhancers. YDS, CDS, blinkx and GDS do not support searching of network drives. MSN desktop search and Filehand search do, so, special attention has to be paid to their configuration on networks, to prevent the spread of confidential data.

On desktops, users can take simple precautions like turning off a desktop search application if they do not want their activities to be indexed for later retrieval, like on a public computer. Extra care can also be taken by specifying that folders with private information should not be indexed.

Google has been at the receiving end of allegations about how GDS can be used to breach a user's privacy. This is partly because GDS allows the caching and searching of browser history, especially secure web pages, the kind used in online banking, shopping etc. But, caching of secure pages can be disabled if the user wants to. Also, there are doubts that Google sends personal data to its servers to integrate web and local drive searches. This isn't true. GDS sits in between the user's computer and Google's servers. When the user enters a search query, the GDS application receives the web related results from Google, adds its own locally and displays both in the browser. No data ever leaves the user's computer.


And the winner is....

Google desktop search is a very good application that has a lot going for it. But, the lack of PDF support is something that can't be overlooked. Instant feedback during searches is also missed. Like some of the other applications, GDS is still in beta, and I'm sure it'll be hard to beat when it is ready.

Filehandle search is a minimalist and does the things it is designed to do extremely well. If I had to pick the best feature among all the applications, then it would have to be the ability to scroll to each occurrence in the results. But, it is too slow in its indexing and also takes up a lot of space for its index compared to the other applications. It also does not support searching of attachments in mail, photos or video, which is quite important. With digital cameras becoming as popular as they are, image search is a must.

MSN desktop search is a tool that works for the avid Outlook user. Though it has a polished feel to it, a preview pane is sorely missed. And, I think it will never support Mozilla applications! So, I'll give it a miss for now.

The sheer breadth of features offered by blinkx is unmatched. 'Smart folders' and SIS are extremely innovative features and indexing of JPEG and MP3 metadata is invaluable. If you can get over the lack of a preview pane and the enormous system requirements then, blinkx is definitely for you.

Copernic desktop search will always have many users simply because of its marvelous user interface. Everything falls easily to hand and the search bar is also very handy. It also supports most of the file formats normally used at home and all in all is an excellent all rounder. If you use Firefox then CDS is a must have as no other application supports it.

The application I will not be uninstalling at the end of this comparison though will be Yahoo desktop search. All the amazing features of X1 at no cost is nothing but a steal. For the vast majority of users who don't use Mozilla or Eudora and don't need to index remote drives, YDS fits the bill perfectly.


The future....

The desktop search space is really heating up. As I write this, Mamma.com, a search engine is in the process of acquiring Copernic. AOL has signed up to use Copernic technology in its desktop search application. Microsoft might as well use its monopoly with Windows and do another Netscape.

So, what can we expect from desktop search applications in the years to come? Well, I can only speculate.

Google is in a wonderful position to revolutionize search all over again. Right now, web search results only include content on public servers. But, with GDS, Google could give people the ability to search every hard drive on the planet with its application installed. Privacy and security will be an issue, but not something that can't be taken care of. Blinkx already has implemented a rudimentary form of this in its P2P component, but Google has the ability to make the whole process transparent to the user.

With the exploding popularity of digital content generation devices like still and video cameras, the ability to search through this content will become critical. Otherwise, it will be difficult to cope with the sheer amount of data that is present on our hard drives. Search utilities must be integrated with the already available technology of pattern matching in images and videos. The dream of on demand information at ones fingertips will truly be realized in the years to come and that need will have to be fulfilled on the desktop by these very applications.


Some applications that I did not include in this comparison are -

Ask Jeeves desktop search

HotBot Desktop


Note -
All screenshots were obtained from the respective websites.


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Sunday, January 09, 2005

Workaround for attachment size limits

DroploadAlthough e-mail service providers give us huge mailboxes, there is still a limit on the size of attachments, 10 MB to be precise on the popular free services. But, if you take into account the encodings necessary for the safe transport of attachments, the size limit ends up being 60–70% of the allowed size.

Sometimes, there is a need to send much bigger files, like a bunch of photos, movies etc. Dropload and YouSendIt allow this. Both are very simple to use and all one has to do is upload the files onto their servers, and an e-mail is sent to the specified addresses with a link to the file from where it can be downloaded. Both services keep the file on their servers for a week only.

Dropload requires free registration and allows you to specify only one recipient at a time. Resending the uploaded file to another recipient will cost a dollar. Also, the file can be downloaded from the server only once. Maximum file size allowed is 100 MB, but upto 1GB per account is allowed at a time.

YouSendIt doesn’t have any such restrictions. It doesn’t even ask for your e-mail id and allows you to specify multiple addresses at a time. It has no file size limit but there is a ceiling of 1 GB. YouSendIt does not prevent the user from downloading the same file more than once. It actually encourages the use of download managers for resuming downloads. Everything considered YouSendIt is a better service, but, maybe only till it is royally abused.

Sending huge files just got a whole lot easier.

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Saturday, January 08, 2005

Remote control for the brain?

Brain scanAnother ‘brainy’ post.

BBC News reports that thieves have stolen the remote control of an implant which helps a woman sleep. Unfortunately for her, the implant is in her brain and helps to calm a condition she suffers from known as essential tremor.

BBC News - Thieves take brain remote control

Distressing though it is for the woman, I couldn’t help but imagine the other ‘applications’ a true remote control of the brain might have.

Imagine it’s the future….. and all humans have implants in their brains, to transmit data to their doctors, as part of an Orwellian society, whatever. Obviously, even in the future we’re going to have annoying, irritating misunderstood people around us who find it difficult to comprehend the concept of public etiquette, talking loudly on phones or some such thing. Enter a device like the TV-B-Gone, a product from some future hacker which would just switch someone, anyone actually, off. Of course, it might not be totally possible to enjoy the quiet, as you’ll need to run away from the scene of the crime(?).

Another far more serious use could be in prisons, to control the inmates. Insomniacs might love such a device too. I’ll stop before you’ll want to use one on me…..

Home Computer Magazine

It’s yet another computer magazine, but, slightly different. It’s available only in electronic format and so, offers a different experience compared to the electronic versions of paper based magazines. Advantages of being electronic only include interactive tutorials and articles, landscape format, availability in different formats for narrow and broadband etc. Best of all, it’s completely free. So, if you don’t mind reading magazines off the screen, check it out. It’s available for download as a BitTorrent file too. An ‘Issue manager’, which can help you keep track of new issues and automatically download them, is also provided as a separate download.

Home Computer Magazine

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Does the brain work like the Internet?

eWeek has an article which discusses how recent research indicates that the internet works like the human brain.

Computer scientists studying the stability of Internet connections may someday find their research used to help patients suffering from schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease or stroke.

Recently published research indicates, for the first time, that networks in the human brain work similarly to those in the World Wide Web and other apparently unrelated networks. Thus, techniques to optimize one kind of network could potentially be applied to another.

eWeek | Does the Brain Work Like the Internet?

Who knows, further research might help secure the Internet with additional knowledge about how the brain fights the spread of viruses, considering that in both cases the infection has to spread from one computer/cell to another.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Answers.com

Google is a wonderful search tool. But, by design like most other search engines it returns a list of thousands of websites ranked according to it's PageRank algorithm. Then, based on the search results, you have to select a link and go to that page to obtain the required information. Well, that's not always the best solution.

A new search service provided by www.answers.com may cater to a valuable niche. Answers.com provides quick answers to search queries directly without expecting you to visit any external sites. It sources its replies from reputed online encyclopedias, dictionaries etc. This ensures that the information is reliable. If no information can be found, then answers.com offers to do a Google search for your query.

The best feature is '1-click answers', which opens the browser with answers related to a word that is clicked on, with the ALT key, in any application. For example, when browsing if you come across the name 'Gandhi' and would like to know more about him, all you have to do is press the ALT key and click on the word. A new browser window opens with a profile of Mohandas Gandhi. This feature requires the download of free software provided by answers.com.

Simply put, an excellent add on to Google.

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Sunday, January 02, 2005

The sound of money

This Wired article reports on how financial analysts are using new technology that converts stock market fluctuations into sound. They call it 'auditory display software'.

The technology, which comes from a Dartmouth College spinoff called Accentus, aims to help traders deal with information overload. Typical traders monitor a half dozen or more computer screens filled with raw data, flashing numbers, and color-coded pop-ups. It's enough to max out anyone's visual cortex. But a trader's auditory cortex has plenty of unused processing power.

This technology can have a number of other interesting applications where real time data has to be monitored.

More information can be found at Accentus. A flash presentation on how the technology works is here.