Microsoft counters ‘free’ with Works

With all the free office clones floating about, including Google’s Docs&Spreadsheets, you knew it was just a matter of time that Microsoft would have to offer something to counter.  Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley is blogging about such a move.  Apparently, the new Microsoft Works will run on an advertising supported model, and will be available as a free application when released later this year.  This is not Microsoft’s first foray into free office applications, as the company released a free version, but highly restricted, of its accounting software recently.  While this is not ‘official’ news,  the move is not at all surprising.

Is JotSpot finally ready to be unveiled by Google?

InsideGoogle is reporting that JotSpot may finally emerge from the Googleplex as a part of the Google Application Suite for enterprise customers.  It was just a few days ago that I expressed concern that JotSpot seemed to have fallen into some void at Google.  It’s good to hear that the wiki application may finally be ready for prime time.

Hopefully, this time the news is for real (not like the last time).

Thanks to Googlified for the update.

Grand Central invitations available

Although Google has acquired Grand Central, it looks like they are still allowing existing users to invite a few people into the beta site. So, if you are interested, please leave a comment, and I’ll send out an invitation. I’m not sure how many I have, so I’ll update this post when I run out.

Update: Comments seem to have broken on the blog. Please email me directly if you would like an invite.

Update2: I’m out of Grand Central invites now, thanks for stopping by.

Is Palm about to introduce a web browsing tablet?

Despite all the recent punditry and pronouncements of Palm’s impending sale, the company continues to chug along on the smartphone front, while preparing to unveil a new product line. Could this new product be like the ‘Firefox Computer’ that I wrote about earlier this year? Will it compete with the Nokia N800 that I wasn’t overly enthused about? Jeff Hawkins, the brains behind Palm, has been dropping not-so subtle hints over the last few months about ‘a third line of business’ – traditional PDAs and smartphones being the other. Combined with the introduction of a new Linux based operating system (supposedly PalmOS retro-compatible) and the recent Opera announcement, it looks like Palm is poised to move up the productivity device chain from smartphone to some sort of ‘smart tablet’. Ed Colligan, Palm’s CEO, stated that this new device would not be dependent on wireless carriers, but have wi-fi connectivity. All of these factors point to a device that will compete head to head with the N800.

Palm has much to gain at this mid-tier, the spot between a cramped smartphone and a bulky laptop. Microsoft’s UMPC (Origami) devices haven’t yet lived up to the hype of being portable laptop replacements, but Palm may be able to drive the space. Building up from a the architecturally restrictive environment of PDAs and smartphones, one would hope that Palm’s engineers know how to keep bloat out of this type of product line. Third party developers for the PalmOS have already shown how powerful the decade old operating system can be, despite tight memory and performance restrictions. Palm has also learned that, even in the smallest devices (like smartphones), there really isn’t a replacement for a real keyboard. As I said in my review of the N800, the on screen keyboard is an inelegant solution for real productive use. Hopefully these realizations have inspired the engineers of the new product line.

Obviously price-point, battery life, and ubiquitous connectivity will play a key factor it this product line’s success as well. I could put another dozen or so things I’d like to see from this product line, but for starters I just hope that the operating system is open enough that Firefox can be readily installed on it (unlike the N800). Maybe then I’ll have my ultimate portable Firefox computer!

MindMeister takes mind mapping online

Just a couple of days ago I wrote about a new online brainstorming tool called bubbl.us. That application seemed a little too simple and off the standard mind mapping approach to be of much use to many. A commenter left a note about an online mind mapping application that was closer to traditional tools, known as MindMeister. I signed up for access to the private beta, and was approved within a few minutes. The online tool is still in that private beta stage, but I can tell you that it looks spot on when compared to traditional mind mapping tools.

Mind maps generated inside MindMeister are easy to setup and manage. Maneuvering inside MindMeister is similar to FreeMind and MindManager, although keyboard shortcuts aren’t as intuitive (or similar) to either offline application. Dragging nodes around is identical to offline applications. In fact, it’s easy to forget that MindMeister is an online application. There is version control, allowing you to revert back in a fairly granular fashion.

Like nearly all online applications today, one of the core features of MindMeister is to enable collaboration on maps. A map can be shared in a true collaborative environment or as view only. Another powerful feature of MindMeister is the ability to import FreeMind or MindManager files. This feature alone makes MindMeister incredibly useful. In the private beta, text formating, icons, and fancy layouts of maps are lost during the import process, but all text nodes are retained. Exporting, at the moment, is not as evolved as the application only lets you export as a graphic file or as a bulleted text file in RTF format.

MindMeister is in early stage beta, so I’m sure there will be many improvements along the way. The developers are looking to offer a standard and premium version of the tool at some point, as the ‘my account’ page indicates. Most of the premium features of MindMesiter are available in this beta phase. Overall I’ve been very impressed with the way it handles and feels, and can’t wait to see this application evolve into a full blown mind mapping tool.

I couldn’t agree more

Toni Schneider, CEO of Automattic (makers of WordPress, Akismet, etc.), recently posted on his blog about his desire to have a ‘Firefox computer’:

I run a PC at home and a Mac on the road. Their respective operating systems just don’t get me very excited these days. The only thing I care [sic] about is that they run Firefox. That’s because my digital day is currently spent in the following apps: WordPress, Yahoo Mail, Bloglines, 30boxes and Google.

I couldn’t agree more with Toni. I’m beginning to rely less and less on any particular machine, and more on a solid browser for my computing needs. His application roll above is similar to mine (I prefer Gmail, Google Reader, and Google Calendar). I’ve even begun to move core computing work – word processing, spreadsheets, diagramming – online. This is clearly where Office 2.0 is headed, and I’m hoping to make that transition permanent sometime this year. Toni adds:

This leads me to the following conclusion: I want a Firefox computer. A nice, sleek, solid state notebook with a big screen that you open up and it just runs Firefox.

I’d have to agree, for the most part, that a mobile device that runs Firefox would be a true ‘killer’ device. While Toni talks about a big screen portable internet terminal, there is a smaller screen contender that I’ve been testing over the last few weeks, the Nokia N800. I’ve been running the N800 through its paces (watch for a full review soon), and can tell you that the biggest software miss on the device is the choice of Opera instead of Firefox as the browser. Since Nokia had the wisdom to build an open device – on Linux no less – the chances of a Firefox browser being ported over are high. With the addition of a built-in keyboard – and maybe a larger screen – Toni’s Firefox computer is not as far away is we may think.

Making sense of Yahoo!Pipes

With all the traveling I’ve been doing of late, I haven’t had an opportunity to digest Yahoo!’s latest offering, Pipes. Luckily, there are a bunch of bloggers that have done a great job in dissecting Pipes (which apparently is a variant of a similar process on Unix based machines). Nick Bradbury has a simple, and wonderful, example of the power of Pipes here. Ismael Ghalimi – whom I recently had the pleasure of meeting – explains the power of Pipes from an Office 2.0 perspective by presenting us with an example.  Essentially, Pipes let you set up a semi-sophisticated filter to generate a customized output.  I can’t wait to get some time to tinker with Yahoo!Pipes myself.