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Archive for October, 2005

AmaroK Top 10 Features

amaroK

XMMS and Winamp, among other popular music players, begin (or have long ago begun) to lag behind more bloated applications such as iTunes and Windows Media Player. Bloated software from the giants is continuing to develop and evolve. The target audience is easily manipulated into using anything that comes along these large marketing ‘pipelines’, either pre-packaged or pre-installed.

AmaroK is a fully-featured player/playlist management suite for KDE (Linux). Believe it or not, it boasts an endless amount of features that got me overly excited. I have been toying with AmaroK for the past couple of days as if I was a 1-year-old that has just discovered baby wipes. Here are the top 10 features the way I personally perceive them:

  • Lyrics of most songs can be brought up at the speed of a mouse click. This does not only apply to popular chart hits.
  • Album covers are easily fetched and displayed, also at the speed of a mouse click, apparently using an Amazon service
  • Smart list accumulation is handled by the application
  • ‘Jump’ function (equivalent to ‘j’ in XMMS)- character patterns are searched for among all songs. Indexing makes subsequent matches immediate. For example, type in “dless” and every song in your playlist which contains that string (even part of a word) will be listed immediately for you to select.
  • Universal keyboard shortcuts like the ones XMMS offers. The user can change track, for example, while desktop focus is placed upon another program.
  • Show all songs from the same artist, often subcategorised by albums while any song gets played
  • Media library management – breakdown of songs to form trees of artists, albums, or genres
  • iPod synchronisation built-in and included in the core of the application. I rank this feature low as I use a Palm Tungsten for MP3′s, not an iPod. For iPod owners this might be considered a “must-have” feature.
  • Popularity analysis – for each song, statistics are recorded, e.g. time last listened to, time first listened to and related songs/artists. That feature makes my log files merely obsolete
  • Transparent on-screen display (OSD), just like in XMMS

The following bulletpoint cannot properly be labeled “features”, but they are also worth listing, perhaps as “selling points”:

  • Rich graphical user interface, which is highly customisable. This includes some 32-bit transparencies.
  • External small GUI, much like that which is offered by XMMS/Winamp. This enables the user to control playlist flow without taking up plenty of screen space.
  • Various plug-ins I have not had the luxury time to play with, yet

On File Type Support

Support for MP3 files is not build-in when SuSE 9.3 initially gets installed, which is a PITA (setting aside that primitive, buggy variant of Real Player 10, which has spyware tendencies). The same applies to Fedora Core and has become a major notoriety. Other distributions like Ubuntu are no exception.

For SuSE, one needs to get update and recompile the multimedia components with MP3 support. This is something I discovered when I set SuSE up a few days ago. That possibly explains the declined pace of blog posts, by the way.

As for Ubuntu, XMMS with MP3 support can be trivially installed using the package manager called Synaptic. By default, older versions of Ubuntu (at the least) come with no application that handles the MP3 format. That is just a painful reality as far as I can gather.

AmaroK supports a variety of formats including WAV, OGG and the like. In fact, virtually any filetype is supported, provided that it is understood by the underlying multimedia layers.

Google and Pet Peeves

Dog fine sign
Letting that pet go loose

RECENT observation of Google’s moves has led to the accumulation of several remarks. Hereby, I would like to list a few of them, getting them off my chest for what it’s worth.

  • Google Base. For those who do not know, Google have just launched a new services that awakens the desire to stand up and shout “All your bases are belong (sic) to Google”, which is a phrase that goes far back in time. For those unfamiliar with the phrase, it stems from poor translation of a computer game and its rapid spread is primarily attributed to UseNet. Google Base, as the service was entitled, appears to be eyeing that gigantic, non-profitable Craig’s List, intending to use that new platform for embedment of yet more targetted ads. This argument is nothing beyond speculation nonetheless.
  • Literature domination. The highly controversial book scanning initiative (Google Print), supposedly to be followed by Microsoft rather soon. Where there is potential evil, there must be a Microsoft stampede.
  • Updates with personality. Google are naming their updates, e.g. Bourbon and now Jagger (due to complete at the beginning of next month). That naming convention is reminiscent of that which is ascribed to hurricanes. Do they have a list of names queued up for future assignment?
  • Indexing Obsession. Google have declared their desire to crawl and organise the entire human knowledge. They also said that indexing may take 300 years (a wild speculation by their CEO), but should they not understand content rather than simply index it all? I have recently proposed an alternative, which relies on semantics and factual data.

Now that my rants have been voiced, I feel surprisingly relieved. I like Google and often rave about their search performance. All in all, I hope my criticisms are all constructive rather than unnecessarily excruciating.

CORRECTION (29/10/2005): the current update was dubbed “Jagger” by WebmasterWorld.

Windows and Web-based Software

Windows AJAX
Windows XP in AJAX

An article from CNN, which as expected does not descend to technicalities, explains why Web-based applications put Windows and Microsoft Office under realistic threat.

NEW YORK (AP) — A quiet revolution is transforming life on the Internet: New, agile software now lets people quickly check flight options, see stock prices fluctuate and better manage their online photos and e-mail.

Such tools make computing less of a chore because they sit on distant Web servers and run over standard browsers. Users thus don’t have to worry about installing software or moving data when they switch computers.

And that could bode ill for Microsoft Corp. and its flagship Office suite, which packs together word processing, spreadsheets and other applications.

The threat comes in large part from Ajax, a set of Web development tools that speeds up Web applications by summoning snippets of data as needed instead of pulling entire Web pages over and over.

Google Support Open Source in Academia

I am pleased to have discovered that Google encourage and support Open Source in American schools. Apart from the fruit of Summer of Code, Google have just decided to fund Open Source projects in a state where students are urged to adhere to ‘free as in freedom’.

I believe it is likely that we shall see more of the same. Expansion of the Open Source ‘realm’ directly hurts Google’s main rival, which is Microsoft. It devalues the commercial equivalents and pushes down the cost.

School is a fantastic place to learn, but what if you could introduce students to open source projects, with real problems to solve, and fantastic developers to work with? We thought that would be a pretty terrific way of spending the summer, and with the help of 40 open source, free software and technology-related groups, that is exactly what we did. We call this project the Summer of Code.

Now that summer is over, we’ve got a new thing going. Today at the Oregon Governor’s office in Salem, we’re announcing our support of an open source initiative which two men, Bart Massey and Scott Kveton, at two schools, Oregon State University and Portland State University, have worked very hard to create. Over the last few years, they have collaborated to encourage open source software and hardware development, develop academic curricula and provide computing infrastructure to open source projects worldwide. We’re pleased to be able to support their efforts with a donation of $350,000.

Tux of LinuxThe item, by the way, was written by Google’s Code Manager, with whom I raised my concerns over Linux negligence in the past. This item proves that Google have truer intentions of giving back to the very same community they stem from. Summer of Code was apparently just the beginning of something bigger. In fact, as Google rely on many Open Source projects like Apache, they are able to use their financial strengths to improve code and return it to the community.

There is more on this story in Oregon’s news.

Related items:

Second SuSE Machine

SOME time ago I mentioned the three Linux machines which I have accumulated, but this situation has changed due to a miserable hard-drive crash. I received a new (and slightly better) machine as a replacement yesterday. Rather than having 2 Ubuntu boxes and 1 SuSE box, it is now 2 for SuSE and only one for Ubuntu.

The main motive for this shift was a video card incompatibility, but I also must confess that I do not like GNOME as much as I like KDE. Moreover, SuSE is a more comprehensive and self-contained distribution where fewer installation tasks need to be completed once the operating system has been set up.

SuSE screenshot

Arbitrary screenshot of my SuSE Linux box at work

SuSE, which comes from Novell, has become one of the market leaders as far as Linux in the enterprise is concerned. Novell are among the most prolific vendors of Linux as they incorporate merely any modern desktop environment. When I installed SuSE on the new machine yesterday, I received the re-assurance that Novell, much like Canonical (makers of Ubuntu), simply understand usability, as well as the need for a friendly UI and stability. Therefore, they are bound to flourish at the expense of more ‘stubborn’ distributions, which often pose challenges rather than assist the user and adhere to abstraction. Their support and community are quite strong as well.

Ubuntu, on the other hand, continues to have a few weaknesses, so I will continue to favour and evangelise SuSE whenever I get the chance. I must stress that Ubuntu is an excellent distribution for beginners and it also boasts excellent hardware detection so it involves little or no gamble. Its accompanying Live CD gives further reassurance too.

AdSense Frauds

ADSENSE is Google’s program for site-hosted advertisement, which pays per click rather than per page impression (view). In other words, whenever a site visitor clicks on such ads, money percolates from the advertiser and winds up in the hands of the publisher (site owner), as well as Google. I am beginning to hear more and more about misuse of that program. In UseNet, I hear about automated tools for ad clicks and computer centres in poorer countires where staff cycles around sites pressing ads. I have just come across yet another such complaint, which may illustare how truly severe the problem has become.

When I activate my AdSense campaign, not much more than 5 minutes go by before they are all over it.. Multiple clicks from the same Internet IP’s in Malaysia, Poland, Hongkong etc. (I tried to exclude certain countries in my AdSense account, but they seem to go through proxies, so its not much use)..

Tried just now and within 2 minutes I had around 20 clicks, which were clearly fraudulent (they seem to use some kind of tool – no pictures on the site were loaded according to my log). I guess that was around €20, which went up in smoke there. The super-duper top secret internal Google clickfraud prevention system, which is supposed to deduct the invalid clicks at the end of the month, only seems to catch an extremely small fraction of the clicks, but not nearly enough. I can’t see which clicks I actually pay for in the invoice from Google, so it’s a bit hard to say.

Selecting or Manipulating Ad Content

THERE are a variety of technique for summarising page content. Excerpts may be considered one of them, metadata in the (X)HTML header might be another. There is also a sharp rise in the use of tags, which can easily infer the ‘theme’ of a page a and can cohesively reflect on trends across sites (confer tag clouds or see image below).

I am discovering more and more services that are beginning to rely on a succinct collection of keyword, much like tags in Technorati, del.icio.us or the new meta search service gada.be. To each page, a concise representation simply gets bound. Prepare for more of that tagging phenomenon to be seen in the future. In its absence, pages become less desirable as they are more bandwidth-consuming.

Tags cloud

Contextual tags cloud in July 2005

Finally, and perhaps more interestingly, advertisements in a page can be made more relevant by using tags, having manually embedded them in the page. This avoids advertisement from appearing where they would become a contextual misfit. Thus far, however, I have only come across support for tag-guidedads in WordPress. As tags are often generated automatically, e.g. derived from the page using scripts/tools, I can envision the same ideas being extended and exposed to the entire World Wide Web. Google AdSense makes an attempt at finding out for itself what a page is primarily about. It does so off-line or ‘on the fly’. Why not involve the user and use his/her knowledge for assistance? That is where tagging, as in the example above, bears tremendous potential.

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