All posts by Tehseen Baweja

Tehseen likes to write about Internet tools that make life easier. Check out his blog at Ijaar.com for more good stuff or follow him on Twitter @tehseenbaweja

Microsoft Hurries To Launch iPad Rival

A tablet based on Windows is no news. It has been rumored for more than a few months now but nothing concrete had come up so far. Well, after the successful launch of iPad, that has changed a bit. Microsoft is not too happy about iPad’s increasing sales and wants to launch a rival tablet before Apple eats up the whole market share.

Steve Ballmer, who made a mention of the project today, also said that “It is job one urgency. No one is sleeping at the switch.” This is a clear indication of how serious Microsoft really is about launching its own  version  of the tablet that will obviously run on a modified version of Windows 7. There are no details out yet but analysts speculate that the device will be in the market before the year ends, hopefully during the Holiday season so Microsoft can enjoy that extra bit of revenue.

There is also no information on who would manufacture the device and what the specifications would be, but it is clear that Microsoft would have to come up with something clever to give Apple a serious fight. If they make the same mistakes they made with their iPod rival “Zune”, they will be stamped with yet another failure.

Facebook Announces ‘Facebook Questions’

Have a question? Who better to ask than 500 Million Facebook users! Facebook just announced a beta version of Facebook Questions, something very similar to Yahoo! Answers albeit with a better reach and prospect of success. Facebook Questions has only been released to limited users yet so you might not see it for a few days.

The new feature allows you to ask a question and let the 500 Million people answer that for you. You can ask anything from the square root of 6456546 to what are some good bars in Beijing to visit? Chances are somebody within the massive Facebook community will know the answer. Beware though that any question you post on Facebook would be completely public and hence would also show up in search engine listings.

What’s neat about the feature though is the ability to attach a photo to your question, something which Yahoo! Answers currently doesn’t offer, or even create a quick poll. If you don’t want your question to go to everybody, you can tag it with a keyword so it is only visible to people who have expressed that keyword as an interest. For example if you are asking about how to operate a new Canon Digital rebel XT, you can tag your question with photography and Facebook will only show your question to people who have expressed interest in photography.

On the other hand, this will provide a good opportunity for many time-wasters to spend more time on Facebook and just keep on browsing the kind of questions people ask. Again, if you are one of those people who are asking why don’t I see Facebook Questions, remember that it has only been released to a limited number of users yet.

Disney Buys Social Gaming Startup Playdom For Over $700 Million

Playdom, is the fourth largest game developer on Facebook with 38 Million active users, but the social gaming startup is the largest one when it comes to MySpace. To  strengthen  its digital portfolio, Disney has bought Playdom for up to $763 Million, including $563 Million in up front payment and $200 million contingent on performance. Playdom CEO John Pleasants, who had joined the startup last year after leaving Electronic Arts, will still manage Playdom but as a Disney employee.

With less than $75 Million in total funding, this transaction  represents  a huge premium for Playdom’s investors and indicates how hot the social gaming market is. A few months, another social gaming startup Playfish was acquired by Electronic Arts for close to $375 million.  Disney will now use the platform to integrate its  proprietary  characters and stories into social games and leverage the interactive features to provide better opportunities for users to connect to the characters they have come to love. Using Playdom’s games, Disney would jump right into the Facebook and MySpace market for its well known characters and brands.

The transaction still has to pass through the anti-trust laws and is expected to close by the end of Disney’s current fiscal year.

Upload and Remix Videos Online With Stroome

Stroome may be simply (and correctly) dubbed as the world’s most inclusive online video editing community. It’s a place where anybody who owns a camera and has a viewpoint can buff up, distribute and endorse their content to a budding audience of millions. Every and anybody including students, journalists, bloggers, travelers, activists and sports enthusiasts who want to produce new content for the web or for themselves can use this tool.

Those who join the site can upload video recordings and merge these clips with pictures, audio tracks and other video footage offered online in a video editor which bears a similarity to  iMovie, albeit with fewer features (for example, there is no method available by which subtitles and other forms of texts can be incorporated). The ensuing video may then be saved as an assignment and shared with either a cluster of associates or the complete Stroome community. It can also be shared using diverse social networks like Facebook, so you can get frank feedback on the work you have done. However, there is no facility to republish content on YouTube or some other video sharing website yet.

Furthermore, an online editor is made available for you to upload a file and work on it from your browser.  This means that you can be working on a photo, and when you want to get a sincere opinion from others about what they think, you can just email them the relevant link. They will be able to view the photo you are working on, just like you are viewing it, and propose adjustments as if they were there with you.

Over all, Stroome is a very useful social tool to edit videos and instantly share them with the world.

A Visual Search Gallery For Bing Wallpapers

Bing’s approach for its home page has been tremendously  successful. Not only do the users love it, Google is even accused of trying to copy it for a short bit. the only thing users aren’t too happy about is the lack of any feature to search and view all the past wallpapers in a neat tool. Well, Bing has just launched a visual search gallery for all the previous wallpapers.

The visual search gallery is extra-ordinarily organized and lets you get to the desired image within seconds. The top row displays filters based on regions such as Asia, Europe or North America, while a series of filters on the left let you narrow down your results even further. These include filtering results by country, regional groups, categories, sub-categories, colors and even seasons.

The images can be sorted by date or by name and each thumbnail includes the date of the wallpaper and the location of the image. Clicking on any image displays a larger picture along with the ability to zoom in/out of the image and more information about the venue/subject of the picture. There is also an option to browse through some of the editor’s picks as well as viewing all the past wallpapers on the same screen. The gallery is part of Bing’s visual search beta that allows users to search through images rather than using text.

If you are interested in downloading Bing wallpapers, here is an excellent tool that downloads the fresh Bing wallpaper every day and make it your desktop wallpaper.

Queen Elizabeth Joins Flickr!

Queen Elizabeth, along with other members of the British royal family now have officially published photos on Flickr, the popular photo sharing website. An account created and maintained by Buckingham Palace staff would post photos belonging to the British monarchy going as far back as 1854.

Most of the images show past and present public  appearances  of members of the British family. More than 600 photos have instantly become available when the photo stream launched just a couple of days ago including an 1854 picture of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert holding hands. Soon, images would also be organized by themes and each member of the royal family will get there own gallery.

However, joining Flickr would not be royal family’s first step towards embracing social media as they already have a YouTube presence and a Twitter account with 50,000 followers. Interestingly, the photos shared on Flickr will not be open to comments from the public but users will be able to share and embed those images on other websites.

NotiFinder: Set Up Email Alerts For Relevant Craigslist Postings

Craigslist is one of the most popular and effective classifieds website. However, visiting the site again and again and going through hundreds of listings just to look for that one particular thing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. NotiFinder is a dead simple app that changes that by emailing you relevant listings.

Start by specifying your city and country and then move on to select what item/job/topic you are interested in. As soon as a classified is posted matching your specified criteria, Craigslist will send you an email with a link to that listing.  You can also choose to receive these updates once daily or once weekly. Search criteria that you specify can be pretty broad or narrow depending on your requirements. For example, in addition to specifying that you are looking for a car, you can also enter a price range for your desired car and NotiFinder will only send you an email if the car falls within your specified price range.  Similar to the price range, other categories also have additional criteria that can be used to narrow down your search results.

With an easy-to-use interface, no hassle of signing up for an account and a dead simple idea, NotiFinder is one of the most useful Craigslist tools on the web.

Zynga Now Has 1,000 Employees and $835 Million In Annual Revenue

Zynga, the company behind popular Facebook games like FarmVille and MafiaWars, is experiencing an amazing growth. Within 1 year, the number of employees has jumped from 375 to 1,000, offices have been established in India, revenue has been growing steadily and is estimated to be $835 Million for 2010, and above all, customers and investors are both more happy than they have been with probably any other start-up.

The games Zynga offers may sound silly and goofy to some, but they are played by 211 Million active users each month. Zynga makes money by letting people buy virtual in-game products using real money  and even though the number of people who engage in these transactions are very small, it adds up to several hundred million dollars each year. People believe Zynga is the hottest digital property coming out of Silicon valley since Facebook and Twitter.

This, however, is just the beginning! Or at least that is what Zynga’s founder Mark Pincus thinkgs. Mr. Pincus who has been involved in at least 3 different start-ups before Zynga, wants to make Zynga for social apps what Google is to search; and given the current track record, nobody can say he is over expecting. It is estimated that between 20% to 30% of Facebook users come to the platform for playing games. This strong dependency of Facebook and Zynga on each other has also brewed some major differences in the recent past, but both companies claim that all that is now behind them and the relationship between the two social media giants is stronger than ever.

Some analysts also believe that Zynga is planning to go public very soon and the company is currently valued at around $5 Billion. An interesting thing to note is that despite Google’s fierce competition with Facebook in social media properties, Google has invested heavily in Zynga along with Softbank. On the other hand, Zynga has also partnered with Apple to offer its games on the iPhone. This intricate web of collaboration makes all the internet giants more dependent on each other than they would probably like to admit.

Apple Posts Antenna Performance Video Targeting Droid X

The antenna issue with the latest iPhone 4 has become a major headache for Apple. When Apple announced free cases for all iPhone 4 owners, many thought that the issue is behind us but interestingly Apple doesn’t want to leave it at that. Apple recently created an Antenna performance page on its website that compares iPhone 4’s antenna issues with other major smart phones in an effort to prove Apple’s point that iPhone 4 is not any different when it comes to antenna issues.

Apple does that by posting pictures and videos that show the drop in signal for other smart phones when held in a way that attenuated the signal. Up til now, Apple had targeted Blackberry Bold 9700, HTC Droid Eris, Samsung Omnia and Nokia N97 Mini. However, now Apple has also added Droid X to the list and in addition to posting pictures and video about the antenna test with Droid X, Apple has also post the video to its YouTube page. Apple’s targeting Droid X is a little bit different than other smart phones since Droid X has been called a “serious iPhone  competitor”. The strategy Apple has adopted to tackle this issue is not winning Apple any friends in the mobile phone industry. In fact, by calling out names and forcing people to see how other smart phones also have issues, Apple is giving its competitors another chance to come together against Apple’s growing share of the mobile phone market.

India Unveils A $35 Laptop!

Forget iPad, the $500 touch screen tablet from Apple! India has just unveiled a touch screen computer that it plans to sell for $35 starting next year. The iPad-like device is aimed towards enabling students for better learning opportunities. The computer will have a built-in word processor, video conferencing capability and most importantly a web browser.

There are no details available, as of yet, about the exact specifications of the drive such as processor speed, RAM and display size, but it is clear that the device would not have any internal storage and would completely rely on cloud-based apps or external memory cards that could be plugged in for local storage. Indian government has created the prototype with the help of two most prestigious institutes, IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) and IIS (Indian Institute of Science), and is now contacting manufacturers in an effort to enable mass production of the device.

Such a low price for the device has been made possible due to the falling hardware costs and the ability to perform most of the necessary functions through free software like Linux or cloud-based apps. Furthermore, Indian government aims to lower the price more to eventually $10 per tablet in a year or two making the device almost disposable for users who can afford it. In addition to this, Indian government also plans to bring broadband internet to 25,000 colleges across the country in an effort to promote learning.

Do you think India will be able to keep the price so low once the project moves from R&D to mass production?

[Image Credit BBC]

Microsoft Brand Gets a new Tagline: “Be What’s Next”

Microsoft hasn’t exactly been cutting edge when it comes to technology and innovation. However, in an effort to compete with rivals like Apple and Google, Microsoft has inititated a rebranding strategy with a new tag line. “Be What’s Next” is what you will see on many Microsoft promotions in a few days.

The announcement was made today at Microsoft Global Experience Conference in Atlanta. A video clip was also displayed at the conference with different logos for various Microsoft products. The spokesman Lou Gellos explained that the logos are not new logos but “directional examples” shown to the employees.  Many people think that the tagline doesn’t follow the approach Microsoft has adopted since last few years. With no game-changing products being introduced and slow rate of adoption for innovative technologies, it is hard to perceive Microsoft as the company of tomorrow; something which the new tag line hopes to achieve.

What do you think about this new branding strategy? Would it give Microsoft something a boost or would it be another object of ridicule for Microsoft?

[Via SeattlePi]

Mugtug Lets You Draw, Sketch and Edit Photos Online

If you are looking for a simple image editing tool but don’t want to go on a downloading spree, Mugtug offers something very useful. The web-based app by Mugtug is called Darkroom and is based on the latest HTML5 standards.  With Darkroom, you can edit images from anyplace in the world without the need to login.

Furthermore, it gives you the capability to quickly and simply perform essential edits of photos via full compositional tools like the crop, zoom and rotate. Darkroom also offers dozens of photo affects and each of them can be previewed by moving your mouse over it. You can also tweak photos by playing around and tweaking the exposure, contrast, saturation, brightness and even the white balance.  However, Darkroom does not seem to be designed for pixel level editing, so options like a clone brush or healing tool are offered.

In addition Darkroom, Mugtug also offers an online drawing and sketching tool called Sketchpad. The tool provides a classic painter’s tool set including  paintbrush, autoshape, texture stamp, and spiral brush. Every tool has an extensive array of modifications, together with flow, opacity, diameter jitter and many more. Each and every tool in Sketchpad may be employed in two diverse blending modes: paint and light. This immediately has a twofold effect on your color and texture combinations. A mixture of light, paint, stamps, and the spiral brush leads to the creation of dramatic and eye catching textures in your work.

There is also an option to import images from your computer or from your Mugtug account for those of you who do not prefer starting out on a blank canvas. Additionally, Sketchpad is completely incorporated into the Mugtug community, allowing you to save, tag, manage, and share your creations with others. For those of you who like to experiment with snapshots,  you may do so with this software by adding new aspects into the composition, inserting notes, or overlaying text.

Insert MP3 Files In PowerPoint Presentations Using MP3 AddIn

A popular hitch for the Microsoft PowerPoint user is that it is not possible to insert MP3-files in presentations. MP3 AddIn is a program which solves this problem by aiding you in implanting MP3 files into your PowerPoint without the necessity of converting them using external tools, such as MP3Converter and Quick Media Converter that would entirely convert the file.

When creating presentations, lots of users stumble upon the dilemma of integrating MP3 files into their presentations as PowerPoint requires the audio to be in the WAV file format. With MP3 AddIn, however, you dont need to lose sleep as it internally adds a header and modifies the file name of the MP3 file, tricking’ PowerPoint into dealing with it as if it were a WAV file.A major plus point of only altering the header of the MP3 file is the size.While a real file alteration will lead to great file size transformations,the new WAV file does not occupy much space (about 2 byte larger than the original MP3 file).

MP3Add In lets you relish the advantage of MP3 files while keeping your presentation super micro and tidy.Moreover, you no longer need to consider adding the different MP3files with your presentation when mailing it to friends or clients. It also has an idiot-proof interface with no snags or complex streaming options so you can embed MP3 files into PowerPoint very effortlessly indeed!

Download MP3 AddIn here

Use FTP On Your Android Phone With SwiFTP

With smart phones being an essential part of our lives now, it is critical to be able to transfer data between your phone and your computer. If you have an Android phone, there are many apps, paid and free, that let you transfer files between your computer and your phone, but nothing beats the simplicity and functionality of FTP. One of the best apps to use FTP on your Android phone is SwiFTP.

Once installed on your smart phone, SwiFTP allows you to access your Android device from anywhere and any system using the FTP connection. After the installation, you need to provide a username and password which will later be used to access the device via FTP.  The app also requires you to specify some basic FTP and phone settings and once completed, your Android phone can be accessed from a computer using any popular FTP client.

The app is open-source so you can completely tweak it or contribute to it by accessing the code. If your particular FTP client doesn’t work, you can send a request for support and it will be fixed. If your Android device is behind a firewall, SwiFTP will still work by routing the traffic through some proxy servers. Overall, SwiFTP provides a really simple solution to transfer music, documents and all sorts of files between your Android device and any other system using a secure FTP connection.

Download SwiFTP by searching the Android Marketplace or here.

Automatically Minimize InActive Windows With SweptAway

At any given time, an average computer user is working on several different things, switching from one software to another and minimizing and maximizing Windows. However, sometimes you are too lazy or forgetful to minimize all the inactive windows and they just sit there occupying space on your screen.

SweptAway is a small Windoes based application that has a simple solution tot his problem. Once installed, SweptAway automatically minimizes all the Windows that have been inactive for some time. By default that time is 300 seconds but it can be changed to anything you want by going into preferences. You can also have SweptAway run at Startup.

Swept Away

It is also understandable that some times you don’t want to minimize programs even if they have been inactive for a while. For that, SweptAway has an exclusions list. All the programs added to the exclusion list will not be minimized at all. Currently running programs can be added to the exclusions list by simply doing a right-click on the task bar. SweptAway only work with Windows based operating systems yet.

Download SweptAway from LifeHacker.