Tag - microsoft

How to publish a course on iPod

Friday nights, Friday nights. Friday nights are supposed to be for fun. For long dinners and late movies, and then a little nightcap before going to bed.

Except for geeks.

I’m only a mini-geek, so I only spent about 3 hours fiddling with technology.

But this past week Friday I got my first course up and running on an iPod. And it’s unbelievably simple.

The course consists of a series of text components – which can be basically any text you want – and some audio tracks. You access the course via the Notes menu in your iPod, and when the audio tracks are referenced, you simply click the middle select button on your iPod to play them while you continue reading the note.

How to publish a course on iPod
iPod speaks a subset of HTML – a very small subset, as far as I know. (Oddly enough, the files you transfer to your iPod have to be simple text (.txt) files and not HTML (.html) files.)

The syntax will be very familiar to anyone who has any experience with HTML:

  • Page titles: <title>this is the title</title>
  • Links: <a href=”link.txt”>this text is a link</a>
  • Line breaks: the standard <br>
  • Paragraphs: the standard <p>
  • Song/audio links: <a href=”song=My Unique Song Name”>Link to song</a>

There’s a few more – check Make Magazine for details.

Here’s a critical one, though, if you want to link audio into your course but do not want users to leave the environment of your course. Use the song/audio link mentioned about, but add the following meta tag to the top of your page: <meta name=”NowPlaying” content=”false”>. That will make the song (or audio track with training content) play while the text content remains on the screen … which is what I wanted for my little app.

All-in-all, very simple, and very cool.

My kingdom for an installer
There is one shortfall, however: no installer app or standard installer procedure. Apple needs to build something in for automatic installation.

Right now, the install procedure is as follows:

  1. Drag song/audio tracks to iTunes
  2. Sync
  3. In iTunes preferences, enable Disk Mode
  4. Drag notes bundle into iPods Notes area

That probably involves connecting/disconnecting the iPod twice, not to mention futzing with preferences. Dragging the notes bundle into the iPod notes area is dead easy, but I’ve seen way too many dead easy procedures on a computer give … umm … inexperienced users fits to believe this this is not a problem. And I haven’t even listed the part about re-connecting your iPod and disabling Disk Mode so that you can sync your music again.

Realistically, I think Apple sees the potential of iPods as learning devices with both audio and video content. Hopefully that will impell them to create some sort of mechanism that is drag-n-drop friendly for users – for example, download a zipped course, drop it on iTunes, and based on some metadata, iTunes just knows what to do with it.

Probably, however, Apple will create some kind of solution based on the iTunes Music Store.

And this is how I think they’ll do it.

More, more, more
As far as I can find out, however, there is no way of affecting either the font or size of the text you publish on iPod.

That would be a very nice feature, since (as you can see in the screenshot above) the default iPod Notes text is rather thin and spidery. I’d like to be able to beef it up a bit … make it bold or something like that.

In terms of courses, adding assessment is always a nice feature – even if it’s just self-assessment for the learner.

Currently, the only way you can add assessment to an iPod course is via branching: asking a question with a number of answers, each of which is a link. By following the link of the selected answer, the user both selects an option and (by virtue of what you put at the linked file) finds out if he/she is right or wrong.

Summing up
Adding a course to an iPod is incredibly easy … and will probably get even easier.

It would be nice if Apple would publish some specs on what you can or can’t do with Notes (in terms of tags that are supported). I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like that in the medium-term future.

But I can already see that iPod could become a very strong e-learning platform over the next 2-4 years.

Microsoft-Yahoo merger: great for Google

The Wall Street Journal posted an article about the possibility of Microsoft acquiring or merging with Yahoo! as part of Microsoft’s ongoing fixation on beating Google.

I think it’s highly unlikely. But if it were to happen, I think the big winner would be Google.


Yahoo would be instantly less cool, first of all. So some of the geek cred that it’s built up with the APIs and developer AJAX tools that it’s released would be gone at one fell swoop.

More importantly, however, just imagine the integration challenges, the our-tech-is-better battles that would be fought at a million different levels. Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail? MSN Search or Yahoo! search? Both Microsoft and Yahoo! have hundreds of web tools and properties with tens of millions of users … and in an ideal merger situation, those would come together, user management on all the systems would be unified … the list goes on.

Working on integration on that scale would take years, likely. Google is winning because it is focused. Mergers and the resulting integration headaches are classic focus disrupters.

Free web 2.0 business idea


You want to be cool. You want to be an entrepreneur. And you want to start a shiny new web 2.0 company. Here’s an idea for you:

You 2.0. Or myspy.

I can’t decide which name I like better. But here’s the idea in four words: persistent painless personal history.

Got that?

The idea’s free. If you do it, let me know. I’d love to help in any way I can. But I’m not doing it myself, for a perfectly valid reason that might stop you too.

Here’s the idea
The business is simple: build a Firefox plugin and an Internet Explorer toolbar that do nothing but report what websites you’re visiting to a server. That builds a list of sites that you’ve visited.

That’s basically it. A few details:

  • You can go back to see the sites you’ve visited in the past
  • Others can see what sites you’ve been to
  • You can display the sites you’ve visited as a feed to your blog
  • You can search your visited sites
  • You can search all the sites that people have visited
  • You can see popular sites displayed on the home page

Over time, you build in more cool features by spidering and auto-tagging pages that people are visiting, and building pretty (but oh-so-useful) tag clouds on users’ home pages.

Pretty cool, huh? Neat for an individual, and cool because a community could develop around it. As digital becomes a huge part of our identities (Flickr, blogs, MySpace, etc.), wouldn’t you want painless personal history?

There’s only that one problem I mentioned earlier. Actually, there’s two:

1: Filthy lucre, or lack thereof
I can’t figure out how to monetize it. And without monetizing it, it would just be a cool project that, if it got popular, would bog down under its own weight of server and bandwidth costs.

In other words, I’m not convinced AdSense would cover the bills.

2: Competitors
There are three or four potential competitors that could totally and completely kill it:

  • Alexa
  • Mozilla
  • Google
  • Microsoft

All four of these already have or very easily could have toolbars that install and essentially phone home on every click. That done, the rest is easy. And for Alexa and/or Google, it would be right up their alley.

Still, it’s tempting. You 2.0. Myspy. Persistent painless personal history. Inherently social.

Spyware where the spy-er and the spy-ee are the same person.

I like it!

Full disclosure: I ran this idea past Guy Kawasaki, and while he thought it was cool too … also did not see a viable business model. He’s a pretty clueful guy. But if you decide to prove us wrong and try to make it work: go for it!

MicroChina: Quid pro quo

It never changes, does it?

I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine.

Today, Microsoft basically purchased the privilege that it received a week or so ago: getting pre-installed on all of Lenovo computers made and sold in China. It’s a realpolitik manoevre that Microsoft basically had to make: buying $700 million of hardware in order to sell $1.2 billion of software.

Since software has few incremental costs to Microsoft, it’s a good deal as far as it goes. I’m sure that Microsoft views this as an investment in an ongoing campaign to fight piracy in China. At least it’s better than the alternative: continuing rampant piracy, and no revenue at all.

Of course, one wonders how an Apple or a Sun or a RedHat could compete against this. You need deep pockets to place these kinds of bribes.

Good thing China’s not in the EU.

Thurrot devastates Windows Vista

I don’t know that I’ve ever read such a devastating article on a piece of software as Paul Thurrot, a clueful PC guy, just wrote on Windows Vista, the next Windows operating system.

Thurrot writes about going to a conference in 2003, when Vista was still Longhorn, and how excited and passionate the Windows faithful were to hear Bill Gates intro the new operating system. Then he contrasts that feeling with today:

Two and a half years later, Microsoft has yet to ship Windows Vista, and it won’t actually ship this system in volume until 2007. Since the euphoria of PDC 2003, Microsoft’s handling of Windows Vista has been abysmal. Promises have been made and dismissed, again and again. Features have come and gone. Heck, the entire project was literally restarted from scratch after it became obvious that the initial code base was a teetering, technological house of cards. Windows Vista, in other words, has been an utter disaster. And it’s not even out yet. What the heck went wrong?

He doesn’t go overboard: what Microsoft ships late this year will at least be an improvement, he thinks over what’s out there now.

But meanwhile, Mac OS X and the various open source operating systems have continued to advance as well. And, of course, Apple is going to be releasing a new version of OS X later this year … and they’ve had years to study what Microsoft is doing and (you would imagine) try to one-up Gates & Co.

Ultimately, Thurrott fingers Bill Gates as the person responsible. He did, after all, retire from CEO to being “chief software architect.” He’s got to take responsibility for the “utter disaster” of the new Windows.

. . .

Update: The “mock Scoble” posted a fairly good response to this article … about the only one he could have. It basically boils down to: we’re learning from this feedback; thanks for being honest.

Web Office: Bye bye paper?

Richard MacManus at ZD Net Blogs has a great post about the coming web office, in which he argues that Google is much better positioned to succeed at creating a web office – simply because it’s a native web company, and Microsoft is not.

Note: the web office is coming, but not coming soon – as MacManus states:

My basic Web Office premise is that office software will slowly but surely migrate to the Web.

As I was reading his post, something occured to me about printing.

Printing has been one of the things that an installed, desktop software tool has always been better at than anything web. And actually, that might continue to be true.

But I wonder: how important will printing be? I think that when we are working on some kind of web office application, printing will actually, finally, long-awaitedly go (mostly) away.

Printing will be replaced by publishing.

Why print when you can just publish? And the web office will publish automatically, bloggishly. RSSishly. Mashupishly.

I don’t know anyone who is web-savvy who prints out web pages anymore – something I saw a lot of just 5 or 6 years ago. Bookmark it. If the page moves, Google still has a copy. If Google doesn’t, maybe the Wayback Machine does. Really paranoid? Save it to your hard disk.

I think the same will happen with documents. Why do you print? Well, sometimes I print to give myself a better view of what I need to edit. That may not go away. But mostly I print to share.

When sharing’s built in, printing goes away. And when work is done online (web office), you publish instead of printing.

Windows … Live?

A thought struck me today as I was thinking about Windows Live.

What, precisely, were the branding/naming people thinking when they named it live? Live as opposed to … what?

If Windows Live is, um, a-live, what does that make the legacy product, desktop Windows? Rather moribund, don’t you think?