Monday, September 1, 2008

Useful Google Talk Bots That You Must Add as Friends

You can do lot of interesting stuff with Google Talk like get alert notifications, save bookmarks to delicious, manage web calendars, set reminders, write blogs, and so much more.

Such features can be easily integrated into Google Talk through ‘bots’ which, in simple English, are like virtual friends who are online 24×7 and will always respond with a smile to your questions or requests.

Here are some of the most useful ‘bots’ that transform Google Talk into a more useful program:

feeds 1. - Add this IM Feeds bot as your Google Talk buddy and you’ll be able to read any blog or website that syndicates content via RSS feeds.

To subscribe to a website in GTalk, simply send a new IM message that says "sub" where is the address of the website / blog you want to read inside Google Talk.

friendfeed2. - This secret bot lets you post to FriendFeed from Google Talk. You may submit either hyperlinks or text messages.

3. - This imified bot turns Google Talk into a real powerhouse.

imifiedYou can post bookmarks to delicious, send messages to Twitter, submit blog entries to WordPress, Tumblr or Blogger, manage events in Google Calendar, shorten long URLs, run whois and so on.

anothr 4. - Like IM Feeds, iNezha bot helps you read feeds inside Google Talk but this is slightly more versatile. For instance, you can simply say "digg" and it will show a list of all feeds that match that search term so you don’t have to type (or copy-paste) feed addresses.

translation 5. Translation - This is a free service from Google that helps you translate words from a foreign language into your native language. Just add the relevant bot (e.g. for Hindi to English or for English to Hindi) as your buddy, send him a message and it will get translated instantly.

alarm 6. Set Task Reminders - If you need to remember something important, Google Talk can send you reminders for that event.

Just add timer to your Twitter friend’s list and then add to your buddy list in Gtalk. Now if you want to get a reminder after 50 minutes, send a direct message to twitter like "d timer 50 pick kids from school" and a reminder will automatically pop up in your Google Talk after 50 minutes.

7. Transliteration - If you want to chat in your mother tongue (like Hindi or Tamil) but feel more comfortable using the English keyboard, Google Transliteration bot will come in handy.

For instance, add to you friend’s list in GTalk and all messages you type in English will get transliterated in the language of your choice. Available only for a few Indian languages.

Also see:
» Add Google Talk Badge to your Site
» Play Live Music via Google Talk
» Put Google Talk in Firefox Sidebar

Hackers Attack Iraq's Vulnerable Computers

Maj. Ahmed Khathem, the head of Iraq's newly formed cybercrimes division, sits in a borrowed office, at a borrowed desk, working on a laptop borrowed from one of his subordinates.

iraq hackers
(ABC News Photo Illustration)

It is his unit's lone computer, highlighting the country's vulnerability to a community of Iraqi hackers defacing websites and attempting to hack into sensitive internal networks.

Iraq's government is engaged in a bloody struggle against al-Qaeda, and its computers make a prime target for global terror networks that have added hacking to their arsenal.

"We could have the most powerful anti-hacking force in the world, but we'd still have no computers, so we couldn't do anything," says Ali Hussein, one of 12 computer science graduates added to the cybercrime team last month. "The government thinks about guns, tanks and raiding houses. Hackers just aren't a priority."

Qwest’s Unofficial 250 GB Data Cap

The 250GB bandwidth limit that Comcast has announced is not as new as it may seem. For several months, even years, Comcast subscribers who went over an “unspecified limit” have been contacted by the ISP. Customers are presented with two options: cut back their bandwidth use, or find a new provider. Today, however, they officially announced a 250 GB limit, perhaps in an attempt to be more transparent about their network management practices.

We’ve wrote before that ISPs are looking for new ways to manage their network by introducing bandwidth caps and metered plans. Although we’re not in favor of it, we have to applaud Comcast for being open about it. Most other ISPs have similar policies, limiting their unlimited services, but they seem to get away with it. One of these ISPs is Qwest, one of the larger Internet providers in the western United States, who forces customers to accept an invisible 250 GB cap.

Qwest’s approach is quite aggressive to say the least. When customers reach the magic limit, their web traffic is is redirected to an “excessive use” page. The page informs the customer that they “noticed extremely high usage” on their Qwest Broadband account. The notification blocks all HTTP access from your computer, making it impossible to access any website. In order to proceed and release the block on your system, customers must acknowledge notification on this web page, and agree to a new service agreement.

There are no other options, no personal phone calls, no further explanation what acceptable use is, or how customers can track their usage. The new service agreement, dated August 12, 2008 (pdf), allows Qwest to limit your use in any way they see fit, and even terminate your service when the customer exceeds the (invisible) limit again. Note that Qwest does not specify how much bandwith customers are allowed to use. They only state (pdf) that “normal” subscribers use 1-3 GB a month (oh really?), and that 40.000 - 80.000 typically sized MP3 downloads is considered to be excessive use.

Comcast’s MP3 limit 250 GB limit comes down to 62,500 4 MB MP3s, so it is safe to say that Qwest has a bandwidth cap that is similar to Comcast - 250 GB. Unlike Comcast, excessive use is not specified anywhere in the service agreement, so customers can only guess, and hope that their service will not be limited or terminated out of the blue.

One of the affected Qwest users, who tipped us off, told TorrentFreak: “Since Qwest holds a monopoly in many areas, they can continue to reduce allowed bandwidth usage as they add new users while not adding new infrastructure. Such radical bandwidth limitation will have a chilling effect on further evolution of the Internet. If people can’t get bandwidth, then they can’t use bandwidth intensive services such as YouTube and Netflix. We may never know what the future could have been.”

Indeed, as we have said before, ISPs should think ahead. To most “normal” customers 250 GB may sound as a lot of bandwidth, but this might be totally different in the future. Making an online backup of your harddrive is pretty much impossible with a bandwidth cap like this, so will HD-streaming. It hinders innovation while it’s ignoring the real problem. ISPs should invest in their network instead, but I guess it’s not only the entertainment industry that finds it hard to adapt to technological change.

Retro Computing Corner: The World’s First MP3 Player (c. 1998)

can play the format, even most new car stereos support MP3 right off the showroom floor. But it wasn’t always like this - Back in 1998, highly illegal sites like Audiofind were giving away artist’s songs quite openly and completely for free in pretty poor-sounding 112 and 128KBps MP3 format, and we were downloading them with our 56K modems - often taking up to half an hour a time.

You could play the files on your computer or you could even transfer them to CD - provided you didn’t mind paying out £10 for a blank disc in the first place, and waiting 30 minutes for it to write while saying a little prayer to the CD-R gods, due to the media’s high failure rate at the time.

The $250 MPMan F10 came along and changed all that, however. Most people remember the Diamond Rio (pictured left) as being the first widely-available MP3 player due to a high-profile RIAA lawsuit, however the MPMan was knocking around the more upmarket hi-fi dealers for a few months beforehand, packing a heady 32MB of storage. Thankfully, this could be upgraded to 64MB thanks to a mail-in programme.

Shortly after the MPMan’s launch, Napster came along and helped us to share and organise our music files. Transferring those files to the device was a painfully slow process over a serial connection, but it didn’t matter - music was taking its very first steps towards escaping the physical formats that it had forever been associated with. Little did we know that 10 years later, even granny and grampa would be downloading their music from the internet, and the man in the street could carry hundreds of gigabytes of high-quality music in his pocket.

It’s all thanks to the MPMan F10.

Opinion: How Apple can gain significant OS market share

Time for a change

Apple's unprecedented success over the past few years has propelled the company from its place as just another tech company to the most respected brand in the entire industry. But for all its success, it's still a distant second in its battle for operating system dominance. With just 8 percent market share, Apple has significant work to do if it wants to catch up to Microsoft and solidify Mac OS X as a major force in the software business.

The fact that it's even capable of making inroads to compete on the same level as Microsoft and its Windows platform is shocking enough. Just five years ago, Apple was woefully behind PC vendors in the hardware market and Microsoft in the software market. But since then, the company's Macs have gained in popularity and more users have found reason to switch from Windows to Mac OS X.

But Apple's success in the hardware and software market over the past few years is no indication of how well it will perform in succeeding years. If the company wants to capture significant market share from Microsoft and see Mac OS X become more ubiquitous, it needs to stray from its comfort zone and start making more innovative decisions.

The thought of reducing Mac pricing and licensing Mac OS X, while playing nice with developers may be anathema to Steve Jobs and Company, but with the opportunity to gain market share while Microsoft's focus is split between Windows and Google, now is the perfect time for Apple to expand its presence.

Why change focus?

Right now, Apple is tied to its hardware business. The company doesn't think of itself as a software company and it has said that it has no plans of turning its premium hardware brand into a commodity that runs the same operating system as its main competitors in the hardware space. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't.

As Apple pointed out in its latest quarterly filing, "it believes it is unique in that it designs and develops nearly the entire solution for its personal computers, consumer electronics, and mobile communication devices, including the hardware, operating system, several software applications, and related services." But because of that, it's forced to "make significant investments in research and development" that its competitors simply don't. Worse, Apple points out that its "competitors seek to compete primarily through aggressive pricing and very low cost structures" and if it cannot adequately compete with HP and Dell's slumping margins due to its uniquely high costs, it "could be negatively affected and have a materially adverse affect on its financial condition and operating results."

Apple also wrote that it "believes decisions by customers to purchase the company’s hardware products are often based on the availability of third-party software applications and services." And if "Apple’s minority share of the global personal computer market causes developers to question [its] prospects, developers could be less inclined to develop or upgrade software for the company’s products and more inclined to devote their resources to developing and upgrading software for the larger Windows market."

Taking Apple's two risk factors together, it finds itself in a tenuous position. Right now, it's thriving as a premium brand as consumers increasingly desire Apple products and become disenchanted with Microsoft's offerings. But because its competitors are constantly reducing prices and are capable of offering lower margins to realize the same revenue, Apple needs to keep up if it wants to maintain its market share or see it grow over time. After all, customers will only be willing to pay so much more for a Mac before they decide to save money and stay with Windows.

Apple's need to change its focus and start thinking about itself as a software company just as much as a hardware company goes far beyond possibilities, though. It can't simply overlook the fact that it commands just 8 percent of the OS market and Microsoft is pulling in billions of dollars in profits each quarter because of its stranglehold on the industry. It also can't neglect the fact that both Vista and Microsoft itself are struggling to create a real value proposition for consumers who are more likely than ever to switch from a PC to a Mac. And it absolutely cannot overlook the fact that PC vendors who have been begging Steve Jobs to bring Mac OS X to their platforms would be more than willing to give Apple sweetheart deals and competitive licensing fees to offer their customers a new choice that isn't riddled with Vista's baggage.

Focusing on making OS X more ubiquitous is the key to Apple's future success. By casting aside its preconceived notions about the value of focusing on its hardware business, it could enjoy even higher profits and more success as Mac OS X use jumps. Apple shouldn't limit itself for fear of losing hardware sales. It should realize that it's in a prime position to capitalize on its position as the most popular technology brand by using Mac OS X as a gateway for consumers to buy other Apple products.

Reduce Mac Pricing

According to NPD, the average Mac desktop costs $1,000 more than a Windows PC, while the average Mac notebook eclipses Windows laptop pricing by more than $800. Apple justifies its pricing through claims of establishing a "premium" brand that enjoys margins of 35 percent. But if the really wants to see Mac OS X gain significant market share and enjoy even greater success in the computing market, it will need to make Mac pricing more competitive.

Numerous arguments can be made to show that Mac pricing is in-line with Windows-based machines. Some say that with all the bundled applications, Macs aren't nearly as expensive as originally thought. Still others say that over time, the average user will need to replace a Mac less often than a Windows-based machine and will generally stay free from additional costs needed to own a Windows PC, like buying security applications or another copy of the OS to install when things go awry. But for the mainstream consumer who doesn't have that kind of understanding, the sticker price speaks for itself.

Apple currently stashes well over $18 billion in its coffers and has no debt in its financial structure. With that much in the bank, it not only can afford to reduce its margins, but it can afford to do so for quite some time. And although it has been loath to do that, the company did hint that it would reduce Mac pricing in the next quarter when it mentioned that its margins would drop from 35 percent to approximately 30 percent.

As consumers become more aware of the issues and limitations facing Windows-based machines, they're going to look towards Apple as a possible alternative. But once they see that Mac pricing is considerably higher than a comparably-equipped HP machine with the same basic components, they will be hard-pressed to choose the product that is simply too different and too expensive to use.

Granted, Apple's customer satisfaction is high and people are switching. But if it wants to attract a larger contingent of mainstream Windows users that are looking to switch, the company needs to be aware that pricing is where Dell, HP, and Acer hold the advantage. And it can't let that happen any longer.

Bring on the business apps

Converting the enterprise to Macs should be paramount in Apple's decision-making over the next decade. Right now, Mac usage in the business world is minimal at best, and there is no indication that the company will be able to capture more of the market if it doesn't develop a cohesive enterprise strategy. But now that Vista is being downgraded to XP at an alarming rate and companies are starting to look beyond the world of Windows for their computing needs, Apple needs to capitalize and start working with developers to make more business applications compatible with Mac OS X.

Regardless of whether major financial or accounting firms want to switch to the Mac, they simply can't. Companies like PricewaterhouseCoopers and countless other auditing firms are inexorably tied to Windows because their accounting software—Lacerte Tax, ProSystem FX, and countless others—only work on Windows-based machines.

Worse, most IT managers are concerned that Apple's enterprise support is suspect and its software licensing policy makes creating a full-scale, office-wide deployment practically impossible without a solid understanding of what the company deems acceptable.

All these issues—poor application compatibility, draconian policies, and sub-par enterprise support—stem from one issue: Apple has historically failed at developing mutually beneficial agreements with enterprise developers due to its desire to control as much of its software as possible. But recent evidence suggests Apple has realized it's making a mistake and things may be improving.

Last month, a group of enterprise developers, including Atempo and Parallels, joined together to create the Enterprise Desktop Alliance, an organization that aims at increasing Mac adoption in the business world, after witnessing considerable progress on the part of Apple.

Much of that progress came from Boot Camp and Apple's intent to be open to creating an easy migration path for applications that won't be ported to the Mac. But Boot Camp's shortcoming—namely, the fact that users need to restart the computer to switch operating systems—has stopped some from switching to a Mac.

Parallels and VMware Fusion solve that problem, and in doing so they've created a strong value proposition for the enterprise. If companies want to switch to Macs, but many of their applications simply aren't compatible, either Fusion or Parallels lets employees switch to Windows in a flash—they only need to open a window in the OS X environment. Armed with those tools, the enterprise has lost some of its excuses for switching to Mac. Granted, running VMware Fusion isn't the most ideal way of of moving to the Mac, and most would rather run applications natively, but desktop virtualization software is a good start in the right direction, a start that should allay some corporate fears.

Apple's foray into the enterprise is doubly important. Not only will the company be able to expand its presence in the business world, but it will be able to expose Windows users to Macs and to show them that using a Mac is just as easy as using a Windows machine. And if they then choose a Mac for home use, Apple will be able to capitalize on two markets by simply working better with developers and making sure that its operating system can run key business applications.