Android Apps: Great ones I’ve found


I’ve had my HTC Hero for 9 or 10 months now and one of my favourite things is the app market. Recently I’ve come across a few new (at least to me) apps that are pretty awesome, and they are:

Astrid Tasks

This is a great to-do list application to help you keep track of all the many tasks you need to do. The best thing about it though, is it links to and synchronizes with Remember The Milk, which is, in my opinion, the best task tracker/to-do list out there.

BBC Browsecast

This app enables you to listen to BBC Radio LIVE on your Android device as well as access BBC podcasts.

To listen live, you can choose from:

  • Radio 1
  • 1Xtra
  • Radio 2
  • Radio 3
  • Radio 4
  • 5Live
  • Radio 7
  • Asian Network

Podcasts from 37 stations are available including the above as well as:

and a host of other regional stations.

The app works really well and will definitely come in handy when I’m out and about…especially for catching footy!

Goal.Com

I found this app during the world cup and it’s a brilliant football app, with a wealth of news as well as scores. It really is one of my favourite apps and I look at it numerous times a day to keep up to date with what’s happening in the football world. It covers such a wide range of the football world that it’s hard to know where to start!

Across the top, you have the following menu choices:

Breaking | Live Scores | Club News | More

Breaking: This updates as and when new/breaking news hits the football world, be it injuries, transfers, comments etc.

Live Scores: This is a super handy section of the app which does what it says – it gives you live scores. Watching the Utd v Everton game, the Goal.com app updated with a minute or so of the goals happening on Sky…very swift – which is exactly what you need. The best thing is the scores aren’t limited to the Premier League either, you can get live updates for:

  • Champions League
  • Europa League
  • Premier League
  • Ligue 1 (France)
  • Bundesliga (Germany)
  • Primera Division (Spain aka La Liga)
  • MLS (America)
  • Copa Libertadores (South American club competition)

Club News: This section is sub divided into:

  • Manchester Utd
  • Chelsea
  • Liverpool
  • Arsenal

and gives the latest news on happening with those clubs.

More: This section is again broken down into the different country leagues/international cups. For some, such as the Premier League and Ligue 1, it gives news updates concerning all clubs in that league. This is really useful for keeping abreast of what’s happening in across the Premier League…it can be as important to know what the other teams are up to as it is your own…especially when you’re doing fantasy football! Not all league get the news feature but they do all have a league table which is again very useful. Being able to see who’s at the top of La Liga and Serie A is really nice Smile

If you’re a football fan I’d DEFINITELY recommend that you download this app!

IMDB

: Yes, I know this has been around for a while but my HTC Hero was stuck on Android 1.5 until my recent upgrade to 2.1 so I’m a little behind the curve on some things! If you have Android 1.6 or above, get this…having the power of IMDB at your fingertips is awesome…and can help settle disagreements where ever you are Winking smile

Last.FM

: This free app allows you to listen to Last.FM stations on the move. I’ve only used this on Wi-Fi but it worked a treat, great streaming and a nice quick app.

MixZing

: I use this instead of the built in music app and I’m a big fan of it. The main things for me are that it’s easy to create playlists and has a great shuffle function.

Sky+

: This app is brilliant. It lets you set things to record on your sky+ box…from your Android handset! I’ve used this loads of times and it’s really easy to do…simply put in your sky.com login details and bang, start remote recording Smile It’s even got a feature that the sky box doesn’t and it’s very useful, it gives you “alternative screenings” of films so you can easily if it’s on again when it won’t clash with your current schedule.

Vlingo Voice

: I was most disappointed to discover that the HTC build of Android 2.1 doesn’t include voice to text (V2T) capabilities. I have no idea why they decided to remove it but it was a feature I was really looking forward to so I was a little put out. However, I then discovered Vlingo, a free app that gives you brilliant V2T functionality…I was pretty amazed at what can be done with this app.

There are a number of things you can do with it (some U.S only it seems) but the ones that I use are:

Text Message: If you say “Text Geoff what are you doing” It will open up a new message, add in the text and then all you  need to do is click “send”!

Email: This is similar to text messages, just say “Email Geoff what are you doing” and, as long as their email address is listed in their contact card, it’ll pop up ready to send.

Twitter: Again, nice and easy just say “Twitter” followed by your update.

You can also use it to update Facebook and even check in on FourSquare!

These are all great apps that I’ve found over the last few weeks and I hope you find them useful too…if you’ve got any to add, hit up the comments!

Internet Explorer 9


Internet Explorer 9 is here! Well, a Developer preview build has been released at MIX 10 and it looks pretty freakin’ awesome!

  • Full HTML 5 Support…even video!
  • Rounded Corners
  • Background Compiled Javascript
  • Much improved (although not perfect) ACID 3 score
  • IE9 is the first browser to provide fully hardware-accelerated SVG support

These, and more, are already part of IE9 🙂

Head over to:

http://ie.microsoft.com/testdrive/

to find out more and download the current build of IE9, although it’s not a complete browser. There is no address bar and no back button (!), it’s a very early way of letting us all have a look at the goodness that is on it’s way.

An important point I’ve just seen in the FAQ is that:

“One of the best features of Platform Preview is that it installs side-by-side with earlier versions of Internet Explorer and any other browser(s) on your computer”

which means it should be completely safe to install it on your machine. I’ve got it on mine and it works great…

Look-Rounded Borders!

image

Asteroids in the browser?

image

Yes!

Acid Test:

“Acid3 is a test page from the Web Standards Project that checks how well a web browser follows certain selected elements from web standards, especially relating to the Document Object Model (DOM) and JavaScript.” (from Wikipedia)

Current browsers that pass Acid 3 are:

Google Chrome

Apple Safari

Opera

while Internet Explorer 8 gets:

image

Internet Explorer 9 currently gets:

image

So much better…but still a way to go. I assume that Microsoft will get it to 100 by the time it ships?

Windows XP

Can I haz IE9 on XP?

No.

What the What?

“Internet Explorer 9’s GPU-powered graphics take advantage of new technologies available in Windows 7 and back-ported only to Windows Vista. These technologies depend on advancements in the display driver model introduced first in Windows Vista”

Oh…ok…can I haz Windows 7 pleez?!

This is another reason for people to move from the creaking, aging and frankly not very good anymore platform of Windows XP. IE9 is going to be faster, flashier, sexier and better and will seriously enhance and improve people’s interactions with the web…both in terms of enjoyment and enhanced productivity…maybe this will be the thing that pushes people to take the leap onto Windows 7? Here’s hoping!

HTML 5 Video

Although Microsoft showed HTML 5 video working during the MIX 10 keynote, it’s not currently available in the Platform Preview. However, it is coming and, as MS are updating the build every 8 weeks, it won’t be too long until we see it.

Javascript Rendering

On the Webkit SunSpider Javascript Performance test, IE9 posts better results that Firefox 3.6:

Bar graph of Webkit SunSpider Javascript Benchmark results

 

and is getting very close to the super speeds of Opera. With many months until shipping we should see IE9 rise even further up the ranks.

Dean Hachamovitch (General Manager, Internet Explorer) has got a great blog post all about IE 9 here:

http://blogs.msdn.com/ie/archive/2010/03/16/html5-hardware-accelerated-first-ie9-platform-preview-available-for-developers.aspx

Thoughts:

From what I’ve heard from MIX and via Twitter, what I’ve seen using the Platform Preview and what I’ve read on the MSDN blogs…this is going to fit in really well with Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7 Series…it’s going to be brilliant and put MS back at the top.

So go and download the preview, check it out and keep tuned 🙂

Windows Phone Developer Training Kits


Windows Phone 7 Series is a little bit closer after today’s MIX 10 keynote and Microsoft are doing a great job of making sure that WP7 developers have got everything they need to get started putting the iPhone to shame making great apps 🙂

They have put together a training kit for developers which includes 4 Hands On Labs:

Hello Phone:

As with the classic “Hello World” app, this is a way to introduce you to the tools needed to build Silverlight apps for Windows Phones.

Building Your First Windows Phone Application:

This teaches you to create a simple puzzle game using the basic building blocks, and includes some phone-specific features.

new4

Windows Phone Navigation & Controls:

This focuses on on Windows Phone’s layout and switching between different screens.

Game Development with XNA Framework:

This lab helps you build a simple XMA game using Visual Studio Express for Windows Phone.

You can see the online kit here or download a local copy here.

To download the Windows Phone Developer Tools, hit this link:

http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=2338b5d1-79d8-46af-b828-380b0f854203&displaylang=en

Windows Phone 7 Series Development Tools


Today saw the start of MIX 10, Microsoft’s 3 day conference for web designers and developers, and it was all about Windows Phone 7 Series aka WP7 (or Windows Mobile 7 as you might call it).

They announced the availability of a comprehensive set of free tools to support developing Silverlight apps on WP7. This can be download from:

WP7 Developer Kit

and includes previews of:

· Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone

· Windows Phone 7 Series add-in to use with Visual Studio 2010 RC1

· XNA Game Studio 4.0

· Windows Phone 7 Series Emulator for application testing

· Expression Blend for Windows Phone CTP (available as a separate download).

I’m not a developer, although I often wish I was, and this is one of those times! Go get it and make some brilliant apps that will bring me, and countless others, back to the WinMo fold 🙂

An alternative download link is:

http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=2338b5d1-79d8-46af-b828-380b0f854203&displaylang=en

Microsoft Tag for Android


When Microsoft Tag was released I was a huge fan, I even had them printed on a bunch of my business cards 🙂 It was a great way of directing people to websites or even calling/texting numbers…it was fun, easy and very 21st century!

Them I got an Android phone and had to give up using Tags…but now it’s back baby! If you’ve got an Android phone, open up the MarketPlace, search “Microsoft Tag” and get your download on 🙂 According to the Microsoft Tag blog, it works on:

“Windows Mobile, J2ME, iPhone, Blackberry and Symbian S60 phones”

and now Android. This makes it a great option across all major platforms and should hopefully lead to some great levels of adoption. I guess the only OS missing now is the iPhone…I wonder if we’ll ever see an app for that?!

See more info on the MSDN blog here:

Tag_MSDN_Blog_20103320012[1]

or here if you’ve not got the app yet 😉 <—If that’s the case, head over to http://gettag.mobi (or the Marketplace if you’re Android)

Sharepoint 2010 Installation fix


Today I finally got a chance to install the beta of Sharepoint 2010 and, in short, it’s amazing! However that is for another, bigger post, this is just to tell you about a small problem I came across…and the fix for it 😉

The installation of Sharepoint went quickly and with no problems, which pleased me immensely as I’d had some major fails with 2007 a while back! The next step is running the configuration wizard and that’s where I hit a snag “Failed to create sample data”. I instantly thought this was going to be a huge issue that’d take loads of time and involve much fiddling and messing about…but thankfully I was wrong 🙂 A quick Bing search took me to the blog of Gilham Consulting and a post there pointed me to Jie Li’s blog over on MSDN, which features a quick and easy fix for this problem!

Simply head over to MS Connect, download this Hotfix and job is a good ‘un 🙂

https://connect.microsoft.com/VisualStudio/Downloads/DownloadDetails.aspx?DownloadID=23806&wa=wsignin1.0

It worked perfectly…ran the wizard again after applying the hotfix and everything was up and running.

Office 2010 Beta available


Just a quick post to say that, if you’ve got a Technet or MSDN account, you can go and download the Office 2010 beta RIGHT NOW! 🙂

I’ve been running the Tech Preview for a while and it’s great, but there are a few niggles and glitches that are quite annoying. I’m excited to (hopefully) have these fixed in the beta and also to see what new features appear.

Once I’ve had a play around, I’ll come back and let you know how it went!

Microsoft “Geneva”: Single Sign On & Online Services


Microsoft Geneva:

“provides companies with simplified user access and single sign-on, for on-premises and cloud-based applications in the enterprise, across organizations, and on the Web to facilitate collaboration, increase security and reduce cost.”

 

There are 3 components to Geneva which now have more official names:

Geneva Framework = Windows Identity Foundation: provides developers pre-built .NET security logic for building claims-aware applications

Geneva Server = Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) 2.0: a security token service (STS) for issuing and transforming claims, enabling federations, and managing user access

Geneva Cardspace = Windows Cardspace: helps users navigate access decisions

The aim of Geneva is to provide a true “Single Sign On” (SSO) experience to users across the various platforms that they come across, be they corporate and/or personal.

For example, once a user is logged in with their corporate domain credentials they could then access Microsoft Online Services such as Hotmail, MSDN, LiveSpaces etc; without being prompted to enter their @hotmail/@live credentials. All this requires is 1 Geneva Server and a Windows Live Tool currently called “Microsoft Online Services Federation Utility”.

Federation Gateway

The Microsoft Federation Gateway is a cloud based identity service, that extends beyond your corporate domain out into the internet. This is the hub for all the connections users want to make to external MS technologies, be it Azure, Live or BPOS (MS use CRM Online as an example on the MSDN site).

Cc287610.405c867e-b9fe-4933-8ca1-7387ae678041(en-us,MSDN.10).gif

The above shows the federation of identities between partners. An example of how the data flows between the different points of the SSO setup can be seen below:

Cc287610.83e88583-1e36-4e3c-8cfd-51a1a312b9a0(en-us,MSDN.10).gif

You can find more information about the Microsoft Federation Gateway on MSDN here.

A slide from PDC 2008 showed an example of Geneva working with a BPOS component for the US:

image

The full 1hour+ video of the “Identity Roadmap for Software + Services” presentation video from PDC 2008 can be viewed here on Channel 9.

I know that BPOS, Microsoft’s hosted offerings of Exchange & Sharepoint (among others) will start using ADFS 2.0 at some stage next year. Most likely when the 2010 versions are deployed to the cloud, which I expect to be around late calendar Q3 so August/September. This is where I’m particularly keen to see what Geneva can do for SSO…it should make it pretty much seamless for corporate users whether they’re accessing on-site applications such as Exchange, their Online brethren, custom developed applications, hotmail, MSDN and more…and that will be excellent!

I use a variety of different MS Online Services and have at least 3 different logins for them…I’ll be interested to see if Geneva can look after that for me 🙂 BPOS currently comes with a separate SSO client which needs to be installed for each user and comes with it’s own unique set of issues, so having a corporate wide SSO would definitely be better. Also, you currently need to re-enter your details for OWA with BPOS as it’s on an HTTPS connection…I assume Geneva would remove that need?

Some great technical documents, step-by-step guides and Virtual Machine demos of Geneva can be found on the Technet site here.

Microsoft Semblio


Microsoft Semblio is a new iteration of their development platform which utilises .NET and WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) and is specifically targeted towards the educational market.

Semblio can be used to create information rich, graphically engaging, immersive learning materials using a wide range of multimedia, all aimed at enhancing the learning experience for students (and indeed, the teaching experience for teachers!). As it is based on the .NET Framework:

“it works across software, services, and learning management systems.”

However, it isn’t just for developers. The Semblio assembly tool, which will ship with Office 2010, will:

“allow multiple content types to be combined into a single, rich, multimedia presentation, all in a single, familiar, and easy-to-use Microsoft Office-like application”

image

This has got something of a Web 2.0 “mashup” stle about it and will certainly be familiar and more engaging for students than more traditional methods. This next screenshot shows the kind of interactivity that can be expected:

Semblio screenshot1

Using the slider to increase/decrease the temperature and seeing the effects on the water…

Benefits:

This can either mean that schools will have the ability to create exciting learning materials in-house as well as making it easier for partners to create such materials too. You can:

  • Increase the value of your content by enabling educators to customize materials to their specific requirements.
  • Engage today’s students and foster exploratory learning with packaging and arrangement of dynamic, interactive, and rich instructional material.
  • Improve efficiency during content creation by enabling nontechnical subject matter experts to participate in the content creation process
  • Reduce the cost of going digital by creating your content once, then delivering it to all customers regardless of platform.

To me this looks like a great new addition to the Office suite of products and also a great addition to schools, for students and teachers alike. Having been on visits to various schools this year, it’s clear that they’re much more advanced that back in my day (!) and can sometimes rival corporations when it comes to technology adoption.

VLE’s (Virtual Learning Environments) such as Moodle, and products such as Sharepoint have made big changes to learning over the past few years; and I can see Semblio really making a mark. These interactive lesson modules delivered in Moodle accessed via Sharepoint would give a great experience for students at home/learning remotely.

I’d be interested to hear what people involved with Education think about this…be it students, teachers, IT managers, suppliers, coders etc 🙂

Get Started:

Download the Semblio SDK.

Download Visual Studio 2008

Get familiar Service pack 1 of .NET 3.5 platform

Get familiar with WPF

If you want to get more in-depth, grab the programmer’s guide here.

Other Links:

Semblio: How it works

Semblio Blog

Accessing Zune Marketplace in UK


As you can see from my previous post (here) I am now a huge fan of Microsoft’s Zune 4.0 desktop software. However being in the UK means that a lot of the features are unavailable to us…mainly the Zune marketplace.

Zune Marketplace:

The Marketplace is where you can preview and purchase songs, videos, apps, podcasts, games and more.

Zune marketplace

As you can see in the screenshot above, it’s got pretty much everything you could want:

  • New releases
  • Top Songs
  • Top Videos
  • Topical/focus sections

and you can split it down into genre, which then gives you all the above but specific to that kind of music.

Zune marketplace video

The video section is similar and also lets you purchase movies.

Zune marketplace apps

Above is the Zune App section of the marketplace, which looks pretty great. If I actually had a Zune HD, I’d definitely be loving this!

Anyway I digress slightly. You’re quite probably wondering how this is possible-what with me residing in England and Zune Marketplace being US only…well let me tell you.

UK Access

I was having a look around the internet to see what I could find on accessing the Zune Marketplace from outside the US and I came across this blog. Here the author, Ian Blackburn, details how to get initial access to the Marketplace; and it’s much simpler than I would have thought.

You simply change your PC location to “United States” via “Region & Language” in Control Panel.

The next step is being allowed to download things. To do this, you simply need to log into Zune Marketplace with a Live ID that is set to US location.

I changed my Live ID location and it worked. I was in Marketplace and downloading a free track from “People Under the Stairs”…brilliant 🙂 However, when I tried to download something a few minutes later, it said that “marketplace wasn’t available in my location” and blocked me from downloading anything 😦

The way I found around this was to download HotSpot Shield (available here) which masks your IP address. This gave me proper, full access to the Marketplace as well as Zune Social; plus little things such as syncing my proper play count…and the big one – enabling me to download things once again! The only downside I’ve found to Hot Spot Shield is that it places banner ads at the top of web pages which is a bit annoying; however I can put up with that…

Over at Bbits, Ian ponders how one would purchase things from Zune…and I agree with his theory. As the Zune marketplace users Xbox points as currency, one should be able to redeem a code against the LIve ID used for Zune and be able to download freely, without worrying about a US address/credit card etc. I haven’t tried it but if I do, I’ll let you know 😉 Another thing I’m going to investigate is getting a Zune Pass…but that’s for another day.

So there you have it, a relatively easy way to access the Zune marketplace from the UK, or indeed anywhere else…have fun!

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