Depending on what platform and browser you’re using, you may be looking at this post thinking that I’ve gone totally nuts and posted the same picture twice…
What you’ll see depends on which platform and browser combination you are using. Anybody using a PC or Mac running an out-of-the-box install of Firefox or a PC running Internet Explorer will be seeing two identical pictures. If you are using Safari on the PC or Mac, Internet Explorer on the Mac, or you’ve made certain changes to the configuration of Firefox 3, you’ll be able to see a difference between the two images.
The difference is down to colour management. The two images were posted to Flickr by user jamieourada, who had always put the fact that his pictures appeared badly on PC’s down to lousy or mis-configured monitors on the PC’s that were viewing the pictures, but had just discovered a relatively unknown fact, which is that Safari honours the colour profile embedded in an image.
Essentially colour management is about ensuring that colours appear the same across multiple devices, so for example the colours that your digital camera records are the same colours that are displayed on screen when you are working with the picture, and that are printed out when you print your picture on a printer. This is dealt with by embedding a colour profile into the image file. Tools like Photoshop can work with, and even change these colour profiles for a particular image, which is what has happened here.
The problem is that most web browsers totally ignore the colour profile that has been embedded in an image, and instead apply a generic profile, so whilst this doesn’t much matter in an average web site, when you’re looking at photographic images it becomes a noticeable problem. If you look at the second image here, which is the one that is using a colour profile the colours look a lot more vibrant than they do in the version without a profile – but only if you’re using Safari, or have enabled colour management in Firefox 3. Of course a lot of the time the differences can be quite subtle, but the differences in this image, particularly the areas of rust, are really quite striking, really highlighting the issues.
Ever since Psion pulled out of the PDA market I’ve been on the look-out for a device that gave me the calendar/diary functionality that I had with my Series 5, but allowed me to work on the move without having to lug a laptop around. With the PDA market heading in the direction of portrait orientation touch screens, although I’ve been able to get calendar and diary functionality, there has never been a keyboard equipped device that has really met my needs, such that my Series 5 periodically gets dusted off when I need something small on which to type.
The big issue with carrying on with just the Series 5 however has been the lack of communication options. It has neither Bluetooth or Wi-Fi functionality, so getting the kind of web and e-mail access I can get even from a device like an iPod Touch.
Just before Christmas, ASUS, a Tiwanese technology company better known for producing components rather than whole devices came out with a new sub-notebook called the eeePC – the name coming from their slogan that it is â€œEasy to learn, Easy to work and Easy to playâ€? with the device. In a slight bit of irony, some are classing the computer into a new category called Netbooks – one of the last Psion products was the Psion Netbook a sub-notebook of similar size to the eeePC that once again pre-empts many of the ideas that the wider market is now exploring many years before they became fashionable.
The eeePC is pretty limited by modern standards, coming with a relatively slow processor, limited RAM, and a solid-state drive that varies between 2Gb and 8Gb depending on the model. Operating system wise it ships with a version of XandrosLinux, but it does include full instructions and the relevant drivers to allow Windows XP to be installed. However the switch to Windows XP would bring a serious nose-dive in terms of the performance of the device. The other compromise in terms of design is the screen, which is a small 7â€œ screen that displays only 800×480 pixels.
The target market for the device is apparently education, certainly indicated by the choice of RM as a distributor in the UK. The units are very much built to a price, are intended to be robust – the only moving part is a small fan to keep it cool – but that doesn’t need to run often. Out of the box the suite of software includes a modern web browser in the form of Firefox, and also an install of OpenOffice an open source office application suite that can quite happily cope with the various standard document formats. Alongside this it has Skype support – including video on the webcam equipped models with the latest software updates – and can hook up to most IM networks. It even has a copy of Kontact to provide PIM functionality. There are a few educational applications, but it is targeted primarily as a small, easy to use device for producing documents and browsing the internet.
Having said that, they are also being sold to consumers, ASUS seeing that such a device might be popular outside education circles. With a retail price of Â£250 for the mid-range 4Gb model, they have been flying off the shelves, with resellers often warning that availability was difficult.
After the initial rush though, and with a new higher spec model about to appear, the demand has slowed somewhat, such that I could just walk into our local PCWorld in Reading yesterday and pick one up. They didn’t have the full range of colours however – although Expansys, RM and Clove list anything other than the black or white as delayed or unavailable – so I couldn’t get a black one. However when I asked they did have the blue and green units that seem to be like gold dust everywhere else. More than that when I enquired further, the assistant said that they had 26 of the blue, and similar numbers of the green. Certainly if you’re in the market for an eeePC, especially if you want a coloured model, it might be worth checking out your local PCWorld rather than going for one of the internet retailers.
So what’s it like in use? The keyboard is a little cramped, but has more space than my Series 5. Screen wise some of the websites don’t quite fit in, but generally it’s a nice little machine. I had no trouble hooking it up to my router either via a wire or wirelessly. It even quite happily read the memory card out of my camera in the built in reader. There are some more things to try however. It has an external VGA port, so can apparently drive a full size screen or projector. It also includes three USB ports so it will be interesting to try some USB devices (some of the 3G USB modems apparently do work). It’s nowhere near the size of the Series 5, however as a small, easily portable device for reading e-mails, writing documents and browsing the web on the go it is great, and an absolute bargain for Â£250.
Although photo sites such as Flickr offer a multitude of features for people to work with their digital photographs, in a lot of cases the average user is only really looking for somewhere simple to post their pictures and share them with friends – hence why more general sites such as Facebook are proving popular places to post pictures. There are even ways to integrate the two – Facebook applications like zuPort: Flickr can pull all your Flickr shots into your Facebook profile without the hassle of double posting.
Having said that, there are one or two features in the way Facebook handles pictures – related to it’s social features – that at first glance are totally absent from Flickr – chief amongst them being the people tagging.
If you’ve not seen this, this particular feature allows you to highlight particular people in your pictures and if they are on Facebook too link to their profile. This allows you to do quite clever searches, finding all pictures on Facebook that have been taken by anybody.
So the question is, why, with it’s massively more powerful tagging and note making abilities why Flickr doesn’t appear to do it? The simple answer is that it does – it’s just that in amongst all the other features it’s not as obvious – nor immediately as straightforward.
I was already aware of the ability to tag Flickr pictures with what are termed as machine tags to link them to events held on Upcoming.org, as Flickr themselves used them for their 24 Hours of Flickr events, one of which we attended. By adding a particular machine tag, the system was able to link all the pictures of the event pretty easily back to the event page – Facebook does something similar. After a bit of digging around I found that there was a machine tag to link to another Flickr user, but it was only a tag, the other nice aspect of the Facebook solution is that it also highlights the person in the picture – easy to do with a note in Flickr but a multi-stage process compared to the simple click in Facebook.
Needless to say I’m not the first person to look at what Facebook has done and suggested it, a bit more digging and I came across this discussion which finishes off with a link to a Greasemonkey script that can be installed into any Firefox based browser that puts it all together giving almost the same functionality as is available in Facebook – select a Flickr user and it tags the picture with the right machine link, and then creates a note on the picture with the persons name linked in as well, then it’s just a question of moving the note over the relevant person, and you get a clickable link that takes you to their pictures. Maybe at some point Flickr will do something similar, but until then this little Greasemonkey script works fine – just need to go back through the couple of thousand pictures on my account and create the links…
I first gave Flock a try in the middle of last year. The mixture of a Firefox base, and out of the box support for a number of the social networking sites that I use regularly seemed quite attractive. Unfortunately although I liked what I saw, it didn’t really feel ready for the big time back then. It crashed quite a few times, and although the integration with sites like Flickr was fairly good, it wasn’t enough to get me to switch.
Over the intervening months I’ve continued to keep my copy updated, but in general Firefox has been my browser of choice, however on hearing about the release of version 1.0, and also reading some of the positive reaction, for example here and here, the time seemed right to give it another go, and I’ve been running it as my main browser for the past couple of days.
So far the impression has been pretty good. Whilst it is true that I could get a lot of the functionality into Firefox through extensions, here everything just works out of the box. There is a bit of initial setup, pointing the browser at all your various accounts, but in general that is just a question of going to the relevant web page and logging on. There is a nice sidebar that keeps track of when contacts on sites like Flickr upload pictures, and then if I want to see what has been added I can just click the media button and their photo stream appears across the top of the window. In amongst all of that, it’s just really stable, not a hiccup so far.
So what are the downsides? The biggest is if you’re making significant use of a site that’s not really supported. In my case that is Google Reader that I use for all my feed reading as it maintains a consistent state across any of the methods by which I read the feeds, be that iPod Touch, mobile phone, work PC or Mac at home. Whilst Flock apparently has a pretty good feed reader, I’m not using it – the feed functionality has been set to subscribe to feeds in Google Reader instead. To get me using the built in feed reader, it will really need to be able to operate as a front end to Google Reader to ensure that everything is kept in sync.
The other significant part of the application I haven’t used as yet is the blog editor, primarily because I’m quite happy using Ecto instead. Although I know I’m not using all of the features of that client, I’m perfectly happy using it to type blog postings, although I guess I may give the Flock client a go at some point in the future.
So should you be giving Flock a go? Certainly if you spend a lot of time on the social networking sites it is worth a look. Also if you’ve been having problems with Firefox you might have better luck with it as although it is based on Firefox code, it has diverged from that codebase in a couple of areas, so you may find you feel more comfortable with Flock rather than Firefox. I’ve currently got it set as my default browser, so we’ll see how things go with it over the next few days. If you fancy giving it a go, the install can be downloaded from www.flock.com.
Personally I’m of the opinion that it’s existence is primarily about providing a platform for iPhone development on Windows – very much that they need a platform, rather than any deep seated belief that the Windows platform needs another browser.
From my point of view that is made even more clear by the lengths to which Apple have gone to make it look and operate exactly like the MacOS X version, even down to the look of the buttons and scroll bars.
The identical behaviour even extends to how the browser renders fonts and graphics. If you take a look at the picture above, this shows the blog open in Firefox and Safari on Windows. Looking at the fonts, you’ll notice that the text looks subtly different – some people regard it as more blurry – this is because the browser is eschewing the usual WindowsCleartype in favour of the algorithm used by MacOS X. In theory, the MacOS X algorithm is intended to produce fonts that are as close to the original typeface design as possible, whilst Cleartype fits to the pixel grid – better screen wise – at the expense of accurately rendering the typeface. Coding Horror has a good article explaining the differences – ultimately it comes down to personal taste.
The other thing to note from the screen shot is the differences in the colour of the sunset picture at the top of the page. This is because Safari on Windows also treats graphics containing embedded colour space information differently. The sunset picture on the top of the page contains the colour space information from the original picture I took – Safari finds this and renders the graphic differently (although not necessarily correctly – ironically only the now defunct Mac Internet Explorer correctly interpreted colour spaces) resulting in the more vibrant orange hues that can be seen in Safari.
All of these duplicate features make it clear that alongside converting Safari, large amounts of MacOS X have been ported too to make it all work! Hence if you compare the memory usage of Safari with other browsers on Windows you’ll find it’s using a lot more than anything else…
Finally, one irony of Safari on Windows though is that whilst I don’t tend to use the browser much on MacOS X – preferring Firefox, I’m using Safari on Windows quite a lot because the text looks way better on the machine at work…
The Spolsky posting is a good read in terms of the history – the Apple philosophy is very much about wanting to make fonts look as close to the printed original as possible – Joel explains in more detail why this is important to the desktop publishing and design communities. Choice quote of the posting has to be this:
“Typically, Apple chose the stylish route, putting art above practicality, because Steve Jobs has taste, while Microsoft chose the comfortable route, the measurably pragmatic way of doing things that completely lacks in panache.”
He also gives some opinions which go to explain why I’m preferring Safari on Windows – which are as much to do with familiarity as anything else!
Thoughts from, and the lives of a Canadian and a Brit living in Southern England.