Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac

Even though I love Apple’s iWork, I’ve always had a soft spot of Microsoft Office. In my mind, iWork is the sexy Ferari that one takes out to spin once in a while Office is the utilitarian Toyota one takes daily to commute from point A to B.

That is the reason why any Microsoft Office for Mac always attracts my interest. It’s like a clash between 2 ideologies where the Mac, a temple of aesthetics, melds with Microsoft, the makes of Fisher Price blue and lime green themed operating systems like Windows XP. Their offspring can sometimes be wonderful- like the very first version of Microsoft Excel for the Mac or it could be disastrous like Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac.

Microsoft writes really good code for office productivity software. I can’t imagine a day in office where I’m not relying on my trusty Microsoft Outlook to organize my day and flow of information or squeezing meaning out of data dumps with complex pivot tables on Microsoft Excel.

But all that is in the office.

At home, in front my big screen Mac, I just want to have fun while I work. I want to drain my brain from the clumsy and clunky Windows interface and just stare at beautifully crafted icons.

Occasionally, when I need to work on office items, I want to use elegantly designed software like iWork. But Pages and Numbers can only carry me so far. Once in a while, I have to shore up my courage and load Microsoft Office 2008 on my Mac and get the work done.

During those times mentioned above, my Mac is transformed to become a Windows PC. Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac is so badly designed and perplexing, especially for big screen Macs, that J.J. Abrams could have set the story of Lost on the computer screen. Common features are embedded so far deep into the interface that they don’t have the chance to see the light of day.

The good news is that this may change with Microsoft Office for Mac 2011. While it is not a Lexus, Microsoft have learnt a few things and these are the key improvements which I really liked after test driving the Microsoft Office for Mac 2011:-

Fast and more responsive: I’m blown away by the improvements in speed. The applications load up quickly and in matter of fractions of seconds, one can start using Word, Powerpoint or Excel. Letters appear instantly on screen as you type in Microsoft Word. Contrast this to the previous version where the application speed is slow and highly unresponsive, the improvement in performance is one great compelling reason why everyone who is using Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac should upgrade.

Snazzier Templates: Okay, Steve Jobs will probably not use any of the supplied Microsoft PowerPoint templates but they are the best Microsoft Office templates that I had ever seen so far. Much better than any in the PC version—and the best thing is that they are fully compatible which means that there is no need to export great looking presentations from Keynote to Powerpoint.

Microsoft Word

Improved User Interface: The separate floating “palette” is gone! In its place is the ribbon that first made its appearance in Microsoft Office 2010 for the PC. There is some contention as to whether the ribbon is a better interface but I’ve grown to like it. It is really practical for people like me who have 12 different windows opened at any one point in time.

Astro B.yond HD

Astro likened the launch of B.yond, its HDTV offering in Malaysia, to the introduction of colour television broadcasting. As unfortunate as it may seems, I am old enough to remember the day when RTM started broadcasting in colour. I recalled the excitement of curious neighbours as they crowd around the rare new colour TV set in the neighbourhood, ahh-ing and ohh-ing ever so often. I also remembered vividly that we would religiously tune into any program that was broadcasted in colour, regardless of the subject matter

While Astro’s B.yond promises high definition (and to most extent and purposes, deliver on that), it is nowhere near as revolutionary as colour transmission.

High definition content is not new. If you are running your PC at resolutions better than 1280 x 720 pixels, it’s already 720p HD. If your puny 2 Megapixel camera takes images at 1600 x 1200 pixels, it already has more height information than 1080p, which is the current highest standard for HD. Bluray discs (and earlier HD-DVD), gaming consoles like PS3 and XBOX360 had gone HD since a couple of years ago.

Therefore, Astro B.yond, unlike colour television, does not have a high novelty factor. It would be hard to imagine your neighbours curiously crashing into your living room to see for themselves what the HDTV fuss is all about, no matter how more lines you can find on the face of David Letterman.

Currently, B.yond only has 4 channels in HD (NatGeo HD, History HD, HBO HD, Astro Supersport HD) with ESPN HD coming soon. To get these channels, Astro requires you to change the dish, decoder, smart card and remote control. The new Set Top Box (STB) is smaller and slicker with a redesigned on-screen menu system. There is an USB port on the front which one may connect memory devices if Astro were to release TiVO like features in the future.

Originally, I had stripped down my Astro subscription to only the bare basics, a form of boycott for the ever increasing bill. What this meant was that I can only watch the documentary channels, so I spent quite a lot of time initially watching Megadisasters, Ice Truckers, Mega Movers, etc. A very little publicized fact is that the programming for the HD channels of NatGeo and History are actually different from the standard definition (SD) channels. The shows may be the same but the scheduling is totally different. However, HBO HD is essentially the same channel as HBO SD except for the 60 minutes delay while Supersports HD is a repackaged Supersports 2 in HD.

The documentary channels look absolutely spectacular. The colours are indeed much richer and there are just so much details in those programs (one can easily read the finer prints on the background or count the number of lines the talking head has on his, er, head).

Inspired, I signed up for the movie package and I got to watch HBO HD.

This is when my excitement got a little doused as the quality of HBO HD was not as great as the documentary HD channels. Perhaps it’s the compression profile that Astro uses for this channel but pictures look softer and filled with blocky compression artefacts, especially during action sequences. Some scenes are quite unwatchable and remind me of badly recompressed pirated DVDs.

Another big beef that I have is with the sound. Even though Astro B.yond touts having Dolby Digital sound, the quality is really bad. The audio channels are often encoded wrongly. The most common mistake that happens in the NatGeo HD and HBO HD channel is that the vocals are not only coming out from the centre speaker, they are also coming out from the left and right speakers. To make things worse, the same vocal track is not even in synch! This slight delay between the center and other speakers creates a wierd off-phased vocal effect that is just downright irritating.

To succeed in this game, Astro would have to bring more care into rolling out this service. With 4 channels today, it is unlikely that they will get conversions from the masses, except maybe during the World Cup 2010 period where all the games will be broadcast in HD. This initial wave of interest today is attracting early adopting HD geeks like me who won’t mind paying RM 20 more per month to enjoy the technology. To get the masses, they would have to fix the faults and ramp up on HD content very quickly. That’s because after watching the HD channels, people would wise up and realize that Astro’s standard SD offerings looks really, really bad.

New iPhone by June 2009

I know that I may sound biased but this is really not the right time to get a Maxis iPhone.

This is not because there are a lot of complaints coming from the blogs that the cost of ownership for a “legit” iPhone 3G in Malaysia is extremely prohibitive (which it is).

It is also not because the iPhone can’t do a lot of the things that we had taken for granted that even a low end phone can do like forwarding SMS, sending and receiveing MMS, doing video calls, copy and pasting.

Nope.

The reason why people should wait is because a newer, 3rd generation (not 3G which is the 2nd), iPhone is going to be launched by June this year.

First off, AT&T spilled the beans like a drolling cowboy in a campfire.

Secondly, geeks without a life painstakingly went through every line in the new Firmware 3.0 like ants on heat to reveal hidden references in the source codes to new phone models.

Thirdly, Paul (not-the-Steve-Jobs) Schiller, the senior VP of Product Marketing of The Apple over at the holy land of Cupertino illuminated the masses (via his chosen vessel, David Pogue of the New York Times) by explaining that June is the traditional cycle of iPhone product launches.

And finally, Apple has a WWDC on June 8-12, 2009. All of the pent up cool things that they are planning to announce could be climatically ejaculated during this time to the mass elation of Apple fan boys (and the gadget-lusting Christmas shoppers).

One can almost join all of the dots to savely conclude that the new iPhone is slated for June 2009 and it is going to be hot, hot, hot!

Spotify on the iPhone?

I’ve been using Spotify for a couple of months now and I have to say that is one of the best music service out there, bar none. Of course, when I said bar none, I meant bar none if you happened to live in the UK.

Unfortunately, customers outside the UK can only select from a limited number of content due to licensing restrictions. This has severely impacted the user experience of the service. I created an account (don’t ask me how) and was presented with an impressive collection of songs. After a few days, the server prompted me that it detected that I was “roaming” and asked if I wanted to change my country in my Spotify user settings.

I did that and I came to regret it as it removed more than 3/4 of the songs that I had put in my playlist. Drats!!!!

But I digress because the reason I’m writing this is because of this:-

Could it really be that Spotify is coming to the iPhone? How about latency over EDGE? Will it work the same way as the desktop client (ie. download music file to local harddisk and then obtain DRM play key from server for every play)? So many questions, so little facts.

Wow…I really can’t wait (even with the limited content now)

Upgrading to WordPress 2.7

I haven’t been blogging a lot lately simply because the web provider that my blog is hosted on is also hosting some malicious web codes (according to Google anyway if you use their Chrome web browser).

Anyway, I though that the problem could be with my website so I tried to upgrade my WordPress engine to the latest one. Lo and behold, I realized that I was really sitting in the docks while the versions rolled on by! The latest incarnation was the slick WordPress 2.7 while I was still running on a really arcane version.

Googling around, I found this very interesting site that will be very helpful in case of future upgrades. It contains a little plugin that you can access from your admin Dashboard that will automatically do the upgrade for you.

I filezilla’ed the small plug in over and the followed the steps. The upgrade was completed in less than 5 minutes.

Sweet 😉

What are you waiting for? Head on down to Luke Gedeon’s site

iPhone blogging

Good things come in good packages. The maxim is definitely true when one thinks of products from Apple. Take an iMac for instance. It’s big but flat, smooth and all aluminium-ish. And it comes with a keyboard that is thinner than Michael Jackson’s nose.

Take also the iPod, for example. It is getting sexier and slenderer with every successive generation, a consistency that would make Oprah envious with jealousy.

But deep down, an iMac is nothing but a normal Intel computer. And an iPod is nothing more than an MP3 player. In the wrong company, these 2 products could go terribly wrong. Case in point: Any Windows PC and Microsoft Zune. In fact, everything that Microsoft does these days go terribly wrong.

Which brings me to the subject of my review: the iPhone.

I’ve been using an iPhone for a month now and I’m sad to say that I just wished that it has more phone in it. As ever, Apple has got the packaging right but for this product, they’ve got the phone part wrong. I can’t forward an SMS to another person, perform mass SMSing, MMS a picture or sound, send or receive vCards. Heck, I can’t even archive my SMSes! It is like living in a beautiful apartment with rooms that have windows that open up to brick walls, toilets that have non-standard sized toilet paper dispensers and a kitchen that is completely sealed shut from the dinning room.

But this is not to say that it is a bad phone. It really isn’t. The iPhone is absolutely one of the sexiest phones out there in the market. It’s sleek, slender and smooth. The interface is fast and responsive. I really like the flicking and pinching thingamagik where you can flick and pinch on the touch screen and things either go up and down or big and small. And oh, yes, it turns heads, especially if you are hanging out in the local Mac store because it isn’t officially sold here yet.

Making an iPhone work here was quite easy.

After ripping out the wrapper, I tried cracking the phone in the office. Apple’s exclusive (money grabbing) tie-ups with selected telcos (currently at&t in the US and O2 in the UK) means that these phones are SIM-locked and they won’t work with SIMs from other operators. Which means that technically, the iPhone, in its original form, is illegal here as per the regulations set by MCMC, our telecommunications industry government watchdog.

Seeing that this is the case, I’ve decided to set things in order. I’m gonna unlock my iPhone because I’m a patriot….right….

Unlocking the phone is easy. The site i used is hacktheiphone.com and instructions are very well laid out there. In fact I count myself lucky that i got the 1.1.1 version that came with a tiff bug in Safari (Hah! Cupertino, you missed one!). The latest iPhones version 1.1.2 is a little more harder to crack but it’s not impossible.

Even with all the imperfections, the iPhone is still a spectacular phone. Nokia definitely has a lot of catching up to do. Functionally, Nokia phones work beautifully. Packaging wise, the N-series is now beginning to look more and more like Microsoft Windows 1.0 as compared to the original Macintosh OS. And while like Microsoft, Nokia can take comfort in the fact that they will still sell more phones than Apple, we all know which phones the good guys will be using in the future seasons of the TV series 24.