Thursday, February 21, 2008

Start Harnessing the Power of Web 2.0 !

As of today, we all heard about Web 2.0. Many of us have an account in at least one of the well-known social networks like FaceBook, LinkedIn or actively use YouTube, MySpace, SecondLife, or any other similar N-Gen service.

However today, I want to insist on a simple yet effective way to really take advantage of all these brand new cool technologies. Something that everyone can use with minimal setup effort and benefit day after day without being one of these "nerds" spending more time as a virtual avatar that in the real world.

We all need and want to access news everyday. From radio newsflashes while in our car to TV news in the evening or newspapers while at home, we are all avid of news. The most active of us also consult some online news channels or blogs to get additional details or opinions about particular topics. And all these searches consume your time. Time being too precious to be wasted, let's see how to spare some.

As of today, I am confident at least 70% of you use Google as home page and therefore Google is the first page you see when opening your browser. Before going further, let me help those who use Internet Explorer 7 (IE7). If you use IE7, don't use Google as home page, and want to keep your current home page then simply go to "Tools ==> Internet Options" and add a new line after your home page. Type there For everyone else, just replace by

iGoogle Login
Then go to ig Stands for iGoogle and it will allow you to customize your own Google page with tons of things that interest you only. So first you need to create an account with Google. If you already have an account with Google because you use Gmail, Adsense, Google Analytics or whatever, then you do not need to create an account. Instead, simply use your existing login and password to log in.

Congratulations !
Now you can make the news come to you automatically. You can transform your iGoogle page into something similar to the below screenshot by adding RSS flows and/or widgets.

What can you add to that page ?
Well you can add widgets (think virtual gadgets) that provide a permanent link to an online translation service or to the Wikipedia search engine. You can display the time in any part of the world (useful if you work in an international company). You can watch some shares value ... There are countless widgets available, just click on the "Add stuff" link on the top right of your screen.

And what about news or blogs ?
RSS IconThis is where is comes easy and powerful. On all of your favorite news websites or blogs, you will find a RSS icon similar to this one. Then if this is the kind of site you frequently visit, just click that icon. Upon clicking, Google will ask you if you want to add this page to your iGoogle page or to your reader. Select the iGoogle page. Repeat the same procedure for all interesting blog or website (and I hope you will add this blog as well).

My iGoogle Home Page
That's it ! From now, you can decide to remove some widget or RSS flow. You can change how they are organized on your page using the good old simple drag-and-drop system. You can have some RSS displaying 3 headlines or more. It is up to you to decide and your home page will always provide you with news you are interested in. If that's now harnessing Web 2.0, then what is ?

If you look at my own home page as example, you will see that I use it to get general national news (La Libre), world-wide news (CNN), economical news (L'Echo, Trends), political news (some blogs), news from my online game(Star Wars Combine), news about IT or Telecom stuff (Datanews, Joel on Software, video games news), and then some widgets like I described earlier..

And you know the best ? It works. It is easy for me to read what I want when I have time, to add a new RSS flow or to remove something I never check; all this using some Web 2.0 technologies and Google.

I hope this small article will be useful for you. In any case, do not hesitate to post a small comment, a suggestion, a critic, or whatever.

Monday, February 18, 2008

What is Web 2.0 ?

This is a question many people ask themselves since the terminology was first introduced by Tim O'Reilly back in 2004. In 2005 he even started describing the concept quite extensively and I can only suggest people to read one of his excellent articles about "What is Web 2.0?".

However all this is quite technical and being a strong adept of the old saying "A small picture is better than a long speech.", I could not resist to share or re-share the following picture that got presented to my attention last week during a Star Wars Combine Developers Meeting. So here is a view of Web 2.0 (picture originally from

As you can see, Web 2.0 is all around us already and this map makes it so much understandable. Simply brilliant !

Monday, February 11, 2008

Overloading Second Life

Today, I learned something funny from Kristian Köhntopp, a Principal consultant from MySQL Berlin. Second Life, the famous online virtual world, uses a partitioning system based on the geographical location of its universe. In short, this means that each server supporting Second Life only supports a small area of the universe. If more than 200 players gathers in the same room or building or island, then you have a serious chance to see it crash.

Why would it be this funny ?
Simply because I wrote my Master thesis on Networked Virtual Environments back in 2001-2002 back when I was still studying at the Free University of Brussels. For it, I describe a model of partitioning which was also based on the geographical locations and I even wrote a small prototype with two servers using my own online game the Star Wars Combine.

We live in such a small world ...

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Vista & Outlook XP

Today I fell across the famous bug where Outlook XP does not remember your email account password when installed on Vista. This is extremely irritating and frustrating.

But the worst from the worst is that Micro$oft forces us to buy its products. As Office XP is no more supported, no new patch will ever be released so this problem will never be identified. As today all consumer computers are shipped with Windows Vista instead of XP, it leaves many people with only 3 choices:
  1. Live with the bug, one way or another.
  2. Buy the expensive upgrade. (150€ for the Home edition, 450€ for the Pro)
  3. Switch to openOffice.
I like Office XP and 2003 and I think they are great products. Similarly, I am a strong supporter of Windows XP both as home and office operating system. But the current policy of Micro$oft does its very best to push me toward alternate solutions.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Vista, a vergence among the Windows

As ICT manager, I have to deal with the arrival of Vista. So naturally I tested Vista like a manager can test it. I attended to several demo organized by IT suppliers, watched them showing me Vista, accidentally listened to them while they pushed for it, ate and drank what they could offer, chatted a lot about how everyone preferred staying on Windows XP, joked about Micro$oft and so on, and so on.

Afterwards, I started reading more reviews of Vista in various IT magazines, attended more demo, asked my team to test Vista in our virtual environment, and congratulated them for doing so. One year passed and I had still never installed my own Vista or used it for more than a few clicks. Of course, like (almost) anyone today, I could recognize it at first glance but how serious is that for an ICT manager ?

But it all changed yesterday.
Yesterday, I replaced my old computer (a Pentium II-300 with WinXP and 128MB RAM) that I had generously given to my wife with a brand new Dell Inspiron I just purchased with her. Needless to say that today’s consumers computers all come with a nice Windows Vista onboard. The Vista Family Premium they call it. Ain’t that sexy ?

I started unpacking the beast around 8.00pm, mentally ready to stay up until one or two o’clock in the morning. It took me half an hour to re-cable the room like I wanted, passing wires behind various pieces of furniture. I then booted it up and everything came on nicely … until I wanted to import the old data.

I had forgotten the network cable … so I could dig all under the desk once more, try a first cable, found out it was defect, plugged a second one to test if it was the cable or the router and finally plug the “final” one. By then the computer showed a lot of signs of activity. Hard drives don’t lie, do they ?

So I retried to import data … and the typical Micro$oft mess started all again. Control Panel freezing, import guide freezing, 30-days demo version of McAfee antivirus freezing upon registration, IE7 freezing when trying to connect to MSN live (default page) and so on, and so on. The good side is that it allowed me to see how responsive is the new “CTRL+ALT+DEL” of Vista. At last, Windows obeys promptly! Sadly, it is only to telling that is searching for a solution, not about finding one or even solving the problem. Well … bad habits seems to be resistant in Windows and therefore, I had to use the old trick: when in doubt, just reboot. At 9.30pm I rebooted Vista for the first time and it worked just fine. It told me it installed 14 Windows updates successfully and started running like … well like a common OS should run: just fine.

From that point, everything went faster and smoother. Importing the gigabytes of data took less than half an hour, including the large PST files and the favorites. Indeed, recognizing the old Pentium on my home network was immediate and the transfer could start within two clicks (but only after changing the group name of my Pentium to match the one from the Inspiron as I could not find that under Vista in a snap).

Ok, it was 10.00pm and I had still to install a network printer and Office XP Pro (the complete version). I started with office and – O Miracle – it went so smoothly I did not believe my eyes. It took only 5 minutes to install the first CD and no reboot was required. I then started the installation of all clip arts and stuff available on the second CD. It took more time but only because there were so many files to copy. Afterwards, the installation of the network printer was incredibly fast. Only 4 clicks to have it detected and installed. This is progress.

11.00pm, the end of the tunnel was in front of me as I only needed to create a second user account, import a few more data, login, set up a mail account or two, check that everything is perfect in my virtual world, then go to bed. On paper it sounded nice. In practice, I forgot about the automatic updates and the installation of Office XP Service Pack 3. I had to reboot right in the middle of my nice course of action and there, I had the bad surprise: a black screen after the Bios boot. Not one of these all too familiar blue screens of Microsoft with a frightening “FATAL ERROR” message, just a black screen indicating nothing happens.

I cursed.

I rebooted the computer and it agreed to start normally. I could log, see the SP3 installation failed from a pop-up event message, even if I had largely guessed it beforehand. Nevertheless, I tried reinstalling the SP3 and it worked like a charm. It asked to reboot afterwards and I complied – while hiding a heavy hammer behind my back, just in case. And believe me or not, Vista behaved like a good OS should. No more errors, no more unresponsive programs and not even midnight yet. I could go to bed.

What can I conclude from all this ?
Well that Vista is easier for home use; less clicks to perform to achieve the same results than before, less time to set it up (remember doing the same with Windows 98 or 2000 and Office 2K). Vista looks shiny and it is certainly for Home usage but I am not ready to roll it out at work yet. Microsoft progressed with Vista on some fronts but the war is far from finished.

Until next time...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

To blog or not to blog

Like thousands of people, I wondered if I should start my own blog or not. Finally, I decided I should at least try.

So here it is where is starts. I will blog about various ICT experiences, movies I watched, books I read, websites I visited, some Belgian politics possibly as well. This blog will evolve in small steps, at least as long the experience is worthy.

Here we go...