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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.

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MindMeister updated

Screenshot of the MindMeister mind map editorImage via Wikipedia

MindMeister, an online mind mapping tool I wrote about a while back, has recently been updated.  Some highlights:

New Features:

  • Links on ideas (URL and email links, links to other maps and nodes)
  • Note and link previews
  • Automatic layouting (no overlaps)
  • Automatic canvas resizing (for large maps)
  • Export as PDF
  • Start new map from idea
  • Changes view date slider
  • Browse public maps (with rating)
  • Zooming in public maps (iframe)
  • Team Edition
  • MindMeister API

Enhancements:

  • Reworked, more organic lines
  • Enhanced printing (choose size)
  • Remove icon via right-click
  • Display only changes since last visit
  • Cut & Paste between maps (not only copy)
  • Link to node (in Copy as Text)
  • Simplified main menu

Steady improvements to MindMeister have really made it a powerful online, collaborative mind mapping tool.

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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.

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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!

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Omnidrive connects Excel files to Zoho Sheet

Back in January I wrote about the rich Word file integration between online storage company Omnidrive’s service and Zoho’s word processor. Well, to follow up on that, Omnidrive has now successfully integrated Zoho’s spreadsheet application to Omnidrive giving you a feature rich read/write/edit capability for Excel files on the cloud. As I mentioned before, this is really powerful stuff. Excel files that are stored online with Omnidrive can be accessed and edited on Zoho, and then saved back to Omnidrive – all without downloading the file onto a client desktop. How many times have you wanted to quickly check a figure on a spreadsheet, but were afraid to download it onto someone else’s desktop? I know I’ve had this issue from time to time. This is one scenario where this integration eliminates the ‘fear factor’ of leaving behind data on public computers. As these integration points onto online productivity tools continue to grow, the most adaptive online storage services have the best chance of creating a unique foothold in the market – and maybe even outmaneuver the Googleplex.

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bubbl.us: A light, freeform brainstorming tool

The guys over at Download Squad just pointed us to a new ‘mind mapping type’ online tool called bubbl.us. I’ve been searching for an online mindmapping application, and to be frank, bubbl.us falls far short of the mark for any serious mind mapping. Like most online applications nowadays, bubbl.us incorporates the expected collaborative capabilities. The application still has the look of being in the early stages of development, so it may evolve into something more meaningful from a mind mapping perspective. In the meantime, I’ll continue to rely on FreeMind for my personal mind mapping needs. Hopefully we’ll see an online mind mapping tool emerge soon.

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IT|Redux and ThinkFree offer up a free USB drive with ThinkFree preloaded

If you think you may be interested in weaning yourself off of Microsoft (or Apple) dependence, check out this post from Ismael Ghalimi over at IT|Redux.  I’ve signed up, and plan to do a thorough review of ThinkFree’s portable edition when I get the drive.  I’ve done some work with the ThinkFree Suite online, but not enough to do a substantive review.  I guess this USB drive will be the incentive to dig deeper into ThinkFree’s offering.

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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.

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Highrise, 37Signals finally ready to reveal it’s contact management application

More than a year ago, I wrote about 37Signals’ plans to unveil a ‘CRM type’ application to go along with their wildly successful Basecamp and Backpack online applications. What was then referred to as ‘Sunrise’ has now morphed into ‘Highrise’ just as details are beginning to emerge. The original announcement hinted at a CRM style solution, while today’s announcement lays out a more modest vision. Instead of trying to address the sales force automation (pipelines, opportunity management, etc.) aspect of CRM tools, Highrise will help you track the relationships in your business (and personal) life. 37Signals expects to slowly reveal the features of the new tool in the coming days leading up to launch. If you’d like to get in on that launch, be sure to register here.

Like their other online applications, it looks like 37Signals is painting with a broad brush stroke. Already there are some people complaining about this feature or that feature that hasn’t made the cut. Yes, Highrise does not live up to the expectations that were created by pre-announcing Sunrise, but I don’t think anyone will doubt the usefulness of the application when it does launch. From what I’ve read, so far, it doesn’t look like a legitimate replacement for my SugarCRM deployment. But, then again, I can’t wait to see what these guys have come up with.

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Box.net now integrates with Zoho Writer

It was just a few days ago that I wrote about Omnidrive’s integration with Zoho Writer.  Now Zoho’s announced that another online storage company, Box.net, has also rolled out a similar integration.  By opening up their tools via an application programming interface (API), Zoho’s ecosystem has the potential to grow leaps and bounds in the coming months.

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