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I thought I would outline a few of the main tools I use when browsing the web. Keeping these tools up to date help ensure I can access online material, and where possible I use auto-update settings to make sure the applications update as soon as a new version becomes available. (Please Note: in some circumstances – like operating systems – it can be wise to wait a little bit prior to updating in case there are problems — nothing is perfect!).

Adobe Reader – Adobe’s PDF reading application makes viewing PDF’s a breeze. Apple Mac’s have Preview built-in but I’d still recommend setting the default to Adobe Reader. Be sure to keep this up to date since PDF files are everywhere. If you’ve got Acrobat installed, I’d just use that instead of the lighter Reader app.

Adobe Flash/Shockwave Player – This is becoming increasingly important to keep up to date (many mobile phones even have Flash pre-installed now). The development of Rich Internet Applications (RIA’s) which use Flash technology and the accompanying Flex platform are a good reason to keep this up to date. The Flex Showcase presents a range of sites that use Flex to let you do everything from design your own Harley Davidson motorcycle, to checking storm warnings.

Microsoft Silverlight – The need for this plug-in is becoming more common, although Flash still dominates the video/RIA market.

Media Players – It’s a good idea to have a few types of media players since each tends to have its own proprietary format. The open source VLC media player could be a good choice if you’re looking for something that will play a variety of formats but I’ve had a little bit of trouble playing some files (probably just need to update codecs or something).

Browsers – Web browsers are very much a personal choice but since I do some web development, I have several installed. Opera, Explorer, Netscape, Safari and Firefox all get used at various times. On my PC I also use Virtual PC to run multiple versions of Explorer for testing purposes. For everyday use, Firefox and Safari are favourites.

The coolest thing about the web is the instant availability of software. I remember spending time when I was a kid looking at all the software boxes (that I couldn’t afford) in the computer shop. These days, regardless of what you require, you can access it within minutes via the web. The volume of open source software out there probably means you can even find a free (yes, legally free) version of what you need!

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There have been a few articles recently about how tertiary education institutions are finding it difficult to keep their curriculum up to date with the quick progression of the web design industry.

The article “Elevate Web Design at the University Level“, by Leslie Jensen-Inman, presents some solid advice for web professionals who would like to see the next generation graduate trained with the necessary skills and experience to make the leap to the “real world”.

Of particular note are the efforts being made by The Web Standards Project (WaSP) and Opera (makers of the Opera browser) to produce material to support the education of future web professionals.

Opera have compiled a Web Standards Curriculum which is available for free and for education faculties to incorporate into their curriculum, thus promoting good development practices among graduates.

Although I’ve been working with the web for a while, I’m personally working through the modules in the Opera curriculum. Whether its HTML, CSS or Information Architecture, I’m sure there is something in there for everyone to learn from. Thanks Opera!

Melbourne Is Melting!

I thought I would take note (or at least, a snapshot) of Melbourne’s weather this week.

Technology wise, if you’re a Mac user you can get one of these cool weather dashboard widgets for your Mac (free!). I’ve got one installed on each of my Mac’s – particularly cool for storm watching! If you’re in Australia, you can set it to any capital city and it hooks into data from The Bureau of Meteorology.

A weather widget from Radocaj.com for Mac OS X.

A weather widget from Radocaj.com for Mac OS X.

White House 2.0

It’s no wonder some politicians appear to have trouble getting things done. Whether or not you choose to believe the apparent “missing keyboard keys” hoax from when the Bush administration entered the White House, it comes as no surprise to learn the new Obama team has found the White House in a state of technological despair.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton said:

“It is kind of like going from an Xbox to an Atari”

Maybe when Bush & co. left the building, they did so with the “good stuff” tucked inside their briefcases.

Barack Obama has been eagerly awaiting approval for and the arrival of his new Blackberry, complete with FBI designed encryption software.

The online Obama phenomenon swept through the web using Web 2.0 applications to spread his messages, playing an important role in his success so far. Obama knows the power of the web, and how integral it is to keeping the US moving forward through these trying times.

The disconnected phone lines, six year old Microsoft products, lack of laptops and restricted access to the online applications that helped his administration get this far, will be fixed up quick smart by Obama and his team.

As Sitepoint’s Josh Catone explains, Obama has millions of online followers through sites such as Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. He may be shifting into a new role now, but I have no doubt he is smart enough to employ the same techniques that made him President, in his efforts to lead one of the most powerful nations on earth.

It will be very interesting to see how the Obama administration use the power of the Internet to communicate and empower citizens within the United States and abroad.

Module 3 – Web 2.0

This post resonates from a NET11 forum post I made, so apologies for anyone who finds some content similiar to my previous writing elsewhere.

Web 2.0 holds different meanings for various groups of people. For example, for the designers it represented the introduction of visual effects like gradients, rounded text and extensive use of CSS to produce a distinctly “Web 2.0” style. However, web technology commentators saw Web 2.0 as a defining period of data distribution, where web applications and services could share data and receive data from users. The introduction of API’s (Application Programming Interfaces) open for public & commercial developer use saw mash-ups of apps being created all over the place. RSS provided just one way for apps/sites/services to share data with users and other online entities.

Tim O’Reilly, who I think coined the term “Web 2.0”, covers his view of what Web 2.0 is in this article (Keep in mind, the article was written in 2005 – so much has happened since then).

A Web 2.0 application doesn’t necessarily rely on a single technology like AJAX. It could also be built without using an API, or “Web 2.0” style graphics.

The focus of our attention when defining these Internet periods (Web 1.0, 2.0, 3.0) should be on how we are using the Internet.

Web 1.0 was, in short, the introduction of business and eCommerce to the online environment.

Web 2.0 was/is, the sharing of data between applications/sites/services, and the production of data by users.

Web 3.0 is being described as the period where semantics and data intelligence come to the fore.

As we would all have experienced, there is no moment in time where we can define the beginning of one period and the end of another. Web 3.0 is already happening, but Web 2.0 is very much a part of our daily online activities.

The exciting (and scary) thing about Web 3.0 is that much of it is invisible to the user. Behind the scenes, data is being mined and algorithms are working overtime analysing data that will provide us with the next big thing – whatever that is.

Having said all that, it’s just my opinion on a debate that has been well worn into browsers around the globe — and will probably continue to be debated as we roll through Web 3.0 to Web 11.0!

Our task for this particular exercise was to compare two forms of bookmark sites; one as a typical “Web 2.0” site, the other a plain old vanilla flavoured HTML site.

It is clear that the Web 2.0 version of the bookmarking site holds more appeal for users. For example, the it holds the following advantages:

  • Date Display – shows age of link
  • Voting – shows link popularity
  • Comments – enables user feedback
  • Tags – aid categorisation of links

All in all, Web 2.0 has opened up a whole new level of interactivity to Internet users. Web 3.0 is on the way!

Module 3 – Blogs

An Internet without blogs. It’s hard to imagine these days. The blog has become a staple item for regular Internet users, and in many situations has replaced more formal news outlets, or at least supplemented them.

There still seems to be a stigma attached to the term “blog”, as though reading or writing one downgrades your social status to the level of “nerd” or “loner” – when really we blog readers and writers can affectionately refer to ourselves as “geeks” (because geeks are cool) or “advanced Internet users”. The “others” don’t know what they’re missing out on.

If you can think of something to write about, there is probably a blog about it – a soldier’s view from the frontline in Iraq, sustainable gardening, Polish ping pong – you can find a blog about anything!

Blogs aren’t just text based either – they can be composed of photography and creative artwork too.

Copyright is a significant issue online, perhaps more so because there is a sense freedom, or anonymity when online. It’s part of the whole what is “reality” debate. How does the “online” world differ to the “real” world and do the same regulations apply?

Well, in terms of copyright, the same rules apply.

I found a really good introductory document to copyright (PDF File) made especially for students on the Curtin website. It goes through the do’s and dont’s of copyright whilst studying.

Copyright information can be quite difficult to read, which may be a contributing factor as to why some people think it is alright to ignore it.

For example, I couldn’t find a definitive answer as to whether it would be acceptable for a student to display the Curtin logo at the top of their web page – however, I imagine it would be a breach of copyright.

When using someone else’s words or ideas, it is always a good idea to acknowledge them as a source. Imagine the situation in reverse. I’m sure you would want your work to be acknowledged.

There are some good initiatives online to improve awareness of copyright, such as the Creative Commons organisation, who help provide licences to online users who wish to share or protect their work.