Tuesday, July 31, 2007
They were selling their Adobe Acrobat software, a way to display files for download so they could keep their formatting. They also sold a reader, Adobe Acrobat Reader, for $50. The idea was to sell Acrobat and then sell the reader.
Sales were evidently slow. No one wanted to use Acrobat when no one had the reader, and no one wanted to buy the reader just to read the occasional file they might receive. Luckily, Adobe realized the situation and started giving away the reader as a free download. And now they were able to sell Acrobat, since you could make a PDF file ("PDF" originally stood for "Portable Document Format") and know the recipient could easily get the software to read it.
But Adobe didn't let other other software create the PDFs; for a long time, that could only be done by Acrobat. However, a few years ago, Adobe got another bright idea: license the technology of some of their earlier versions of Acrobat so others could develop PDF creation software. Thus Acrobat gets some money from outdated software, the others could sell (or give away) a PDF file creator, and those who wanted the newest features would still be buying the latest version of Acrobat.
I generally use PrimoPDF, though there are several others. You install them on you computer and they generally work the same way: they install a "printer" for PDFs that shows up among your list of printing. If you choose this as your printer, you can then make PDFs from any document.
This is a very nice tool, especially for those who only occasionally need to create PDFs.
Note to Siena Faculty/Staff: Installation requires administrative rights, so contact the helpdesk if you want to install the software.
Monday, July 30, 2007
Some of the I&TS pages can be reached easily, though. And we've created a new link for faculty/staff related links. This is http://www.siena.edu/sienatech. It's the equivalent of the old Faculty/Staff computing information page that used to be linked to the old technology page. You may want to add it to your bookmarks.
Of course, the main page for technology information is at http://www.siena.edu/technology. This will lead you to anything involving technology at the college. We've also added a Google Site Search link that lets you search at all Siena sites.
Other web pages and links you should know:
- http://www.siena.edu/antivirus — antivirus information
- http://www.siena.edu/franet — FRANet student computing network.
- http://www.siena.edu/spyware — spyware information (actually, the same age as antivirus)
- http://www.siena.edu/phones — telephone information
There are also some direct links to Siena services. These can be used if there's a problem with the technology page.
- https://imail.siena.edu — Webmail (note the "https").
- https://cag.siena.edu — Citrix Access Gateway (to run programs and access your files).
- http://login.postini.com — Access to Siena's spam filter.
- http://techgoestocollege.blogspot.com — Yes, this blog. We will be using it to notify the community about current issues. It would be a good idea to subscribe to the RSS feed.
Friday, July 27, 2007
There is a minor issue of definition. Podcasting involves creating a media file, making it available on the Internet, and notifying people that it is available (usually through an RSS feed). Sometimes people call the media file the podcast. In a sense, it is, but it only becomes real podcasting when the RSS feed is created. It sort of like the difference between a CD and broadcasting the CD on the radio: the media file is the CD.
We've set up a few podcasts, including one of our Technology Presentation for Freshman Orientation.
In addition, we're working on ways to make it easier for faculty to use this tool. We can advise on software and equipment and suggest ways to integrate audiovisual elements into teaching.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Well, your answer is del.icio.us. First of all, you have to like the name. You are used to the .com, .edu, .org, and .net domains, and you may come across .mil and .gov web domains,. If you're someone Internet savvy, you'll also know that countries outside the United States have two-letter comains: .ca for Canada, .uk for the United Kingdom, .tv for Tuvalu (a group of islands in the Pacific. Someone realized their two-letter domain is perfect for TV shows). Well, the United States has a two-letter domain: .us. It's usually used by state governments, but rarely by others. Del.icio.us was clever enough to use this as part of their name.
Del.icio.us is billed as "social bookmarking," allowing people to share their bookmarks with others. And this is useful: you can go to the site and look for bookmarks for a particular subject. The bookmarks are ranked by how many people have marked them. Thus, if you're looking for, say, "Siena College," a search on del.icio.us will show you the most popular sites with "Siena College" in them. This can help you pinpoint what links might be the best for a particular subject.
But even if you don't use it for that, del.icio.us lets you set up a free account for your favorite bookmarks. Anyone can see it (here is mine), so you can share sites with friends. And, most importantly, you can mark sites in order to go back to them later.
Anyone can set up an account, and it's free. Give it a try.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication." It's a way to allow websites to notify people of new content. Instead of having to visit the website, interested users will be told when the website is changed.
You used to have to download software to see a feed, but that capability is built into web browsers. If you see that a page has a feed (usually indicated with a tiny orange icon), click on it and your web browser will let you add the feed. Most web browsers treat feeds like bookmarks, so you need to click to see if there's anything new, but you can see the titles of new items without going to the web page.
RSS is also a part of podcasting; a podcast is just an RSS feed for an audio/video file.
Siena I&TS has an RSS feed for changes to our web page; the address is http://lw.siena.edu/technology/rss.xml. Use it to keep up on what's new (we just added our Freshman Orientation presentation to the site and feed.)
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Irfanview is right up there. It's free graphics software that lets you do simple display and manipulation of images. Once installed, you can click on any image and display it almost immediately. For that alone, it is well worth having.
But it has some very nice features. The one I use most is resizing of images. Say that picture you took is too big to put on your web page. Irfanview will shrink it down or make it bigger in a couple of mouseclicks.
It also gives file information, and can scan images from a scanner or take screen shots. File conversion is simple and there are some basic filters to let you change the look of the image.
Other programs give you more options, and may be better for professional work, but Irfanview is a must for quick editing of graphic files.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Tinyurl does one small thing: it turns long web addresses into short ones. Very short: generally, they're about 25 characters (18, if you don't bother with the http://). Compare that to the very long web addresses that might show up.
Goes into tinyurl as:
can be converted to
Why use it? There are several reasons.
- When you send a long URL via e-mail, text may wrap in the middle. When this happens, only the first line of text is a live link. Clicking on it will go to an error message. Tinyurl avoids this.
- If you have to use a web address in printed material, tinyurl makes it easier for people to type in the information.
- Since most of Siena's web addresses are a bit complicated, tinyurl lets you tell people about them easily.
It's simple to use: go to http://tinyurl.com/ and paste in the web address. Click "Make Tiny URL" and the page will be created. If you're using Internet Explorer, it will even copy the new address into your clipboard (there will be a warning message, but it's OK). Just use the paste command to add it to a document.
I use this fairly often and consider the bookmark to be an essential addition to any web browser.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Why antivirus for the Mac? Well, contrary to myth, they are vulnerable to viruses just like any operating system. Hackers generally don't try to create Mac viruses, but they do exist, and, as Macs become more popular, they will become more of a target. It's a good idea to have some protection.
And while there are many free antivirus solutions for Window, it's harder to find one for the Mac. We've discovered one that you can use on campus to protect your computer and also to let you register for the student network: ClamXAV. You can download ClamXAV for free and install it on your computer.
Do so before you come on to campus to make sure you can register.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
So how do you send a large file? Well, the techie answer is that e-mail isn't designed for file transfers and you should just put the file up on an FTP site and have people download it from there.
Not very helpful; most people don't even know what that means. Luckily there's a simple solution (actually, there are several, but this is the site I use): Mailbigfile.com
It works fairly simply: Go to the site, enter the e-mail address off the recipient, your e-mail address, and any message and then upload the file (up to 100 Meg). An e-mail will be sent with a link that will allow the recipient to download the file. It will be available for a week, then be deleted.
I've found this to be a very useful tool to get around attachment restrictions.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
I've been using the programs and generally like them. The "ribbon bar" feature makes it very easy to find things, and the dynamic formatting aspect is very nice. The latter lets you see how text will formated without applying the format -- you hold your mouse over the option and the text is changed. Really handy for formatting documents when you wonder how a particular point size, color, font, etc. will look.
However, I&TS isstill making plans on deploying the software to faculty and staff. You see, even though the setup is much more logical and lets you use features that you didn't know about previously, it has one disadvantage: it is different.
Now, my attitude when I come up with something new is "Hey! This is great! Let's figure out how this works!" But I know I'm a bit weird that way. Change is frustrating for a lot of people, so we can't just throw something like this at users and expect them to love all the new features. If you're working on a project, it can be very frustrating if the feature you need isn't where you expect it when you need it.
There are also question about compatibility. Old timers can remember when every word processor upgrade involved a new file format, but Word, PowerPoint, and Excel have had the same file formats for a dozen years, so people aren't used to this sort of change.
I&TS have pushed out patches to Office 2003 so Office 2007 files can be read. If a student sends a .docx file (Word 2007), it will convert automatically. You can save as 2007 or 2003.
(Except in Access. As usual for Access upgrades, all bets are off.)
We will be rolling out the software slowly, and will make sure we have plenty of instructional materials available, so you won't be overwhelmed.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
And while this can't happen, you'd be surprised how often students think that problems with connection are always I&TS's responsibility. Unfortunately, we depend on other people and other systems for network access, and, though our uptime approaches 99.9%, factors beyond our control can cause network issues.
- Power. Unfortunately, National Grid sometimes has outages. We lost our power a few months ago because a squirrel got into a substation, turning off power. We do have backup, but if the power does go out, we need to shut down systems (to prevent problems) and it can take time to start up systems afterwards. They have to be restarted in the right order, and this takes time.
- Internet Connection. Like the power supply, sometimes there is a problem with the connection between the campus network and the outside world. This is easier to fix -- we just wait for our ISP to fix the problem -- but it can go on for awhile.
- Viruses, Spyware, and Servers. These often affect student computers. Once infected, one computer can mess up the Internet connection for dozens of others (sometimes even an entire residence hall, though we've take steps to make that sort of disaster unlikely). A computer sharing out software or games will have the same effect. We can try to limit this, but sometimes our systems haven't caught up and people on the network are inconvenienced.
- Non-I&TS Network. The School of Science network (Roger Bacon Hall and Morrell) is not managed by I&TS. Any problems have to be directed at them.
So the next time the Internet breaks, remember that I&TS is working hard on fixing the problem -- but the problem is often beyond our control.
Monday, July 16, 2007
First of all, many features are available on all browsers: pop-up blocking, a searchbar, password managers, tabbed browsing, RSS feeds, etc. So the differences is in added features. Also, I don't put much stock in the claims of how fast browsers render pages, since the difference is in fractions of a second and the speed is dependent on many other factors in addition to the browser (like the speed of connection).
However, if Ideal Browser ever comes along (at least, at this point), these are the features I'd like to see in it (Browsers with the features are in parantheses; when I say "Firefox," I also mean "Netscape").
- Built-in Spellcheck (Firefox)
- Goes to originating tab when a new tab is closed (Opera, Firefox)
- Open search page in new tab automatically (none, though Google Toolbar for Firefox & MSIE can do this).
- "New Tab" button (everything but Safari)
- MSIE rendering of pages (MSIE, Firefox with add-in). Some pages are just designed for MSIE and require it to work properly.
- Active notification of new RSS content (Opera). In other words, something tells of of RSS changes without you having the click anything.
- Add search engines to browser search box (all but Safari).
- Create search box for specific sites (MSIE, Opera).
- Speed Dial (Opera)
- Mouseover thumbnails on tabs (Opera)
- Rewind/Fast Forward buttons (Opera). "Rewind" goes back to the first page of a site with a click; "Fast Forward" is useful for bulletin boards and moves you from page 1 to page 2, etc.
- Fit to window (Opera) (Fits wide pages to the size of your browswer window).
- Add-ins (Firefox, MSIE). Opera has widgets, which are programs that run in conjunction with it, but they have a different function altogether.
Friday, July 13, 2007
The first problem is that Safari just doesn't get tabbed browsing. The default is to always open a new window for any links that require one; in order to use a tab, you have to hold down CTRL while clicking. Compare that to Opera, which opens new links in a tab, or MSIE and Firefox, which tries to figure out which is the best option (and do it fairly well). This seems like a very grudging acknowledgement that, "Yeah, Marketing says we need to have tabbed browsing." Even worse, there is no button to create a new tab. (There is a button to report bugs; hopefully, once the beta version is complete, this will be replaced; otherwise the idea that it's more important to easily report bugs than to open a tab seems to say, "we expect there to be problems.")
There's also the built-in search. Where other browsers give you many choices of search engines for the bar (and MSIE and Opera allow you to add any site's search engine to the search), Safari gives you two: Google and Yahoo.
The way Safari handles bookmarks is different without being better. Other browsers have a dropdown list of bookmarks, along with a way of creating a toolbar of your favorites. Safari has no dropdown list, just the toolbar. The problem with a horizontal toolbar vs. a vertical dropdown list is that it holds fewer items. Safari figures you can create folders; if you click on these, it will give you a dropdown list; each list works like a the usual "Bookmark" menu item. You can make these work, but it requires added management of bookmarks. If you do want to do things this way, though, both MSIE and Opera are capable of it.
The handling of RSS feeds is crude to say the least. Again, Opera leads by notifying you on startup if any of your RSS feeds have new items. MSIE and Firefox will show you the new items within the browser without having to go to the page. But Safari only gives you a link to the RSS feed page; you have to go to the page the check for updates.
In addition, there are no add-ins available, so what you get is what you get.
I really hope that this Beta is still being worked on, because right now, Safari is far less useful than any other browser.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
We come now to Netscape. It was, of course, the original web browser, but was thrown for a loop when Microsoft started giving away Internet Explorer. Netscape didn't make Opera's mistake of continuing to charge, and managed to hold on to its share until overwhelmed.
If I was giving an award for most improved browser, Netscape would be the winner. They eliminated their nasty habit of requiring you to login to their website in order to run the software and made the decision to go open source, which gives them access to Firefox extensions.
Which is ultimately the problem with Netscape. They now appear to be a Firefox clone. So why use Netscape when you can use the original?
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
The big advantage of MSIE is simple: it works with all web pages. Because it's been the de facto standard browser for so long, web pages are designed with it in mind. Some services (especially those designed by Microsoft) only run correctly on MSIE (take a look at Siena's Outlook Web Access on MSIE vs. other browsers). It also does the best job of rendering pages; no oddball shaped boxes as the pages are downloading.
The disadvantage of MSIE is just as simple: security. Internet Explorer has had security problems in the past (as have all other browsers), and the design of Active-X made spyware possible. But the dangers of this have been overstated. Many of the security holes were purely theoretical (you often saw the phase, "Websites can craft a code that") and were unlikely to be a problem if you stuck with legitimate websites. As for the spyware, the security enhancements in Service Pack 2 (back for IE6), helped cut that off.
Still IE7 is a slight disappointment. I expected better: Microsoft made its reputation by not just stealing elements from other programs, but by always improving on them. Yet Microsoft's implementation of tabbed browsing is inferior to Firefox. The blank tab button is a good idea, but it takes too long to display. Lots of times I will click on the tab button enter a web address, and get to the new site on the original tab before the new tab is ready (I've turned off a default page for the new tabs; I use a blank page, and that's still slow).
I also don't like what happens when you have multiple tabs and you click on a link. It opens the link in a new tab to the right. That's standard, but when you close the tab, MSIE goes to the tab immediately to the left of the closed tab, not the originating tab (as Firefox and Opera do).
I also don't like the location of the home, and print buttons in IE7. Microsoft always pushed for standardization, and having them on the tab bar goes against this.
Overall, however, the ability to render web pages correctly overrules the minor issues with tabs. IE7 is a good, solid browser, and, for anyone running Windows, an essential element, as backup to your primary web browser, at least.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
But Firefox, at least, shows that open source can occasionally work.
Firefox's big feature is the useful but overhyped tabbed browsing. The difference between tabbed browsing and having multiple instances of one browser on the taskbar has yet to be explained to me -- about the only real advantage I've found is that it's easier to close a tab. Otherwise, you're just clicking on a different place on the screen.
Still, it is useful, and Firefox's main advantage over Internet Explorer is that their version of tabbed browsing is slightly better than Microsoft's. I like the fact that if you click on a link, and then close the tab for the new page, you automatically go back to the originating page.
The other big advantage is in the add-ins. There are some very good customizations available, including security software and even IE Tab, which lets you render the page in Internet Explorer within Firefox.
And the major advantage of Firefox is one particular add-in: the Google Toolbar. Nowadays, all web browsers have a search bar, and Google is always one of the choices. But the Google Toolbar for Firefox does something no other search does (not even Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer): It opens the search in a new tab. This is such a logical convenience (you don't have to open a new tab in order to search for something) that I have no idea why it's only available on Firefox, but, for me, it gives Firefox a solid edge over everything but Opera (which doesn't have this, either, but which beats out Firefox on other features).
The big disadvantage is that it's not Internet Explorer. Many may like that, but too many web pages are designed for MSIE and won't display properly in Firefox.
Ultimately, at this point, Firefox can't fully replace MSIE. However, when choosing a browser for most of your web surfing, it's a pretty good option.
Monday, July 9, 2007
You're probably asking "What's Opera, Doc?" Opera isn't new: it's been around since at least 1997. Even then, it was considered a top-notch web browser. But Opera figured they needed to charge for its browser. It probably worked for them (they're still in business, after all), but they gave up a chance to be a market leader. They introduced an ad-based version at one point, but now offer the program for free at http://www.opera.com/.
I'm very impressed with it. It has all the features of a current web browser (tabbed browsing, search box, RSS feed reader, automatic entering of passwords, pop-up blocking), but always implements them in innovative ways. For instance, holding your mouse over a tab will display a thumbnail of the page, making it easier to keep track of what you have open. It also seems to have all the good features of Firefox (e.g., when you search, it goes automatically to the word without hitting "Enter") along with those features of MSIE that I wish Firefox had (e.g., saving a page as a web archive).
There are also some nice innovations:
Speed Dial. This lets you specify up to nine web pages. Thumbnails of the pages are shown, so changes can be seen. When you create a new tab, the pages are displayed, ready for you to click on.
- Mouseover tab. Putting your mouse over a tab shows a thumbnail of the page.
- Fraud Protection. Similar to McAfee Site Advisor, this warns you of fraudulent web pages (though McAfee is more thorough).
- Remembers. When you open it, it brings up the pages you were viewing when you closed it.
It's also by far the quickest browser to start up when you click it.
Of course, no web browser is perfect. Like any non-MSIE browser, it sometimes has problems with Active-X content. I had trouble displaying videos from MLB.com, for instance (they are notorious for having problems, though).
It also does not have the number of add-ins that Firefox has. Opera runs widgets -- small programs on your computer -- and has over 1200 of them. But it doesn't have add-ins -- I would love to have something like Firefox's IE Tabs, which allow you to run Internet Explorer within Firefox. And there is little software to be added on: things like McAfee SiteAdvisor or the Google Toolbar are not developed for Opera.
Opera also makes a browser for Windows Mobile devices. I don't think it's as good overall as MSIE Mobile, but it does have one major feature that makes it worth considering: tabbed browsing. Since MSIE Mobile only lets you see one page at a time, this is a major convenience when you want to compare sites.
Opera is definitely worth a look if you want a better web browser.
Friday, July 6, 2007
At the moment, there are probably more web browsers available than at any other time. And you can get into some serious arguments discussing which is better.
But that's just arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin (842, of course). All the web browsers available do a fine job of surfing the web. I've yet to see anything on a technical level that makes any one stand out. It all boils down to features, and which features are important to you.
Most people will stick with the defaults (Internet Explorer 7 for XP/Vista and Safari for the Mac). That is usually fine. But there are three other possibilities (three? read on) that you may find fit your needs and web browsing habits more closely. I'll try to go over the main advantages and disadvantages of each, going over the browsers roughly in my own personal order of preference.
Thursday, July 5, 2007
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
Mozy is automatic backup software. They will store 2 Gigabytes of data for free, or more if you want to pay for it. You download the software, set up an account, run some basic configuation (which folders to back up, etc.) and forget it. Mozy runs in the background and, every few hours, backs up the files in the selected folders.
That's it. The first backup does take a bit of time, but from then on, the software backs up any new or changed files, so it doesn't take many resources. Usually, you won't realize it's doing anything other than putting a log in your system tray.
But, if disaster strikes and your hard drive is toast, you just go to the Mozy website (http://mozy.com) and download all your backed up files.
I haven't had to use it, but it's a simple solution to data backup.
Monday, July 2, 2007
Siena College I&TS has started this blog to discuss new technology for students and faculty. I will be highlighting new technologies (along with some not-so-new, but not well-known) and discuss ways they can be used in the classroom, both for teachers and for students.
There will be features on useful and fun websites, essential software utilities, obscure movie references, and whatever strikes my fancy. To be notified of new items, subscribe to the RSS feed, or just drop by from time to time.