Microsoft's encyclopedia software, Encarta, has finally had its plug pulled. In June, the software products will disappear, and on October 31st 2009, the website will go too. Japan gets slightly longer, until December 31st 2009.
Microsoft has an FAQ page dedicated to the subject, which sets out why the project is getting axed: "The category of traditional encyclopedias and reference material has changed. People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past."
Basically, it's saying 'people use Wikipedia, so we're giving up'. Fair enough, I suppose - it's increasingly difficult to cope with the crowdsourced project, and it's good that Microsoft isn't kidding itself that it can compete, like it is with Games for Windows.
What I'll miss most from Encarta is Mindmaze, which I spent many happy hours on at school once I'd got past the orbital simulator and had enough of listening to Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech.
Mindmaze was a quiz where you had to travel through a medieval dungeon answering questions to progress. It featured inappropriate cleavage (pictured) as well as insane non-sequiturs from the court jester stood on a big blue box and the creepiest alchemist ever. Ahh... happy days.
(via Ars Technica)
Google's Chrome browser doesn't have a massive marketshare, but those who use it love it very dearly thanks to its great UI and blazing speed. At the moment it's Windows-only, however recent videos posted by Google indicate that a Mac client is making good progress.
Chromium is the open source project that's behind the Chrome browser. The latest iteration of the source code for OS X is making good progress, as you can see in the video below:
Unlike the last video of the software in action, now you can actually click on the screen, load websites, and follow links. Crazy, eh? Who on earth would want to do that? It's still crashing a lot, but at least Google's getting closer to a working OS X port.
(via Ars Technica)
I don't use Gmail but I appreciate I'm one of the unenlightened here. I do have an account - two actually - but it just doesn't interest me. I watched on a few weeks back when crisis day hit, the service went down and people were brought to their knees; people that is except for me.
Don't get me wrong. I don't think it's rubbish or anything but I can't say that new features like the one they've released today exactly haul me in either. This morning brings the dawn of the "Undo Send" feature on Gmail. Undo Send. Yes, superb...
Although we happily use a combination of Chrome and Firefox in the office, a new version of Internet Explorer is still big news. Of course, it's been in open beta for the last year so none of its new improvements and features are big breaking news - especially as most of these changes will be old news to anyone who has been used Chrome, Firefox, Opera or Safari in the last few months. That said, if you're in an office where Internet Explorer is the only authorised browser, then there's quite a lot to be excited about. Well, maybe not "excited about", but it should make your day slightly more enjoyable at least.
So, what kind of features are in Internet Explorer 8? Well there's a lot under the bonnet to begin with - better security and malware protection mainly. External sources have estimated that IE8 catches two to four times as many malware attacks as other browsers, which is a really impressive step forward for a browser that has always been seen as vulnerable. Another, more tangibly testable, feature is Microsoft's claim that the new Internet Explorer is the fastest browser on the market. Of course there are two caveats to that - firstly that we're talking the difference of a fraction of a second, and secondly that with all the major players working on new versions of their browser this lead may well be short lived.
Late last night Google Street View UK & Netherlands went live. Sneaky old Google for keeping that one quiet. Fortunately, there were a few sharp eyed peeps out there who spotted ground level street views of cities in the UK including:
Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Coventry, Derby, Leeds, Liverpool, London...
I'll admit it right now. I'm a Google Chrome user. I downloaded it however many months ago it was now and it it's still the default browser on my work PC.
I might try to convince myself that it's still here through laziness or that I've just become accustomed to it but the fact remains that it just seems quicker and to crash less than Firefox does. (Sorry Leon, I've tried Opera but it's just not my cup of tea.)
So, I'm quite pleased today to see that Google has launched a new beta...
The internet is too big. There's simply too much stuff on it. In 2006, an estimate of how much put the figure at 40 Petabytes, which is about 38000000000 short novels. There's a lot more than that today, and Microsoft's innovation labs are trying to work out the best way of sifting through it.
Recommendations engines can run in lots of different ways. You can look at people's interests and try and match those up with content, which is a bit of a hassle. You can use the wisdom of the crowd to predict based on what other people have consumed next to each other, which is a bit better.
But what Microsoft is doing takes things a step further - they try and work out your mood, see what other stuff you listen to when you're in that mood, and predict things that way. They also tap into your network of friends - who you presumably have common ground with - to try to work out what stuff you like.
As with any recommendations engine, the more you put in, the more you'll get out. Microsoft doesn't claim, therefore, that this is going to work perfectly out of the box. Instead, it'll get better the more you use it, and ties in with Microsoft's massive social network around Windows Live Mail (Hotmail) and Messenger (MSN).
The project's still at an early stage, so it's difficult to judge whether the company will be able to pull off something as effective as Last.fm's music recommendation engine. Let's hope, though, that something comes off it, and the stranglehold that the media holds over mainstream taste can be eroded.
Skype has just announced that it's giving away its SILK speech codec, which is the bit of software that processes your voice into a small enough stream of data for you to be able to communicate over a slow internet connection. A codec is basically a balancing act between file size and audio quality.
The SILK codec has been in development for three years at Skype and was finally bundled with the most recent release of the software - Skype 4. It's a major step forward in audio quality and scales depending on the bandwidth available.
So if it's so great, then why is Skype giving it away royalty-free to its competitors? Good question. My best guess is that Skype has the VoIP market so firmly tied up that it wants some competition to help grow the whole market. Then, I suppose, it's confident enough that those users will switch to Skype thanks to its fantastic software.
It might also be a sign that Skype's considering offering an API. Opening up the service, which is famously closed, would mean that other programs could be able to make Skype calls natively, without people having to open and install Skype itself. It could mean that you'll just be able to highlight phone numbers on websites and right-click to call them from the browser.
More information's available on the SILK website, and TechCrunch has an interesting take too.
Have you been testing out the Windows 7 beta, and clicking that little 'feedback' button in the top right of every Window? Well, Microsoft has been listening, and they've just announced a massive list of the changes they've made as a result of the feedback.
The full list is here, but there's a few highlights that I'll share with you if you can't be bothered to read the whole thing. Firstly, there's plenty of functionality for making things more obvious on the taskbar, along with keyboard shortcuts. There's also a multi-touch onscreen keyboard (so you can shift-tap stuff).
There's better format support too, and anything that can't be played will be filtered out of Windows Media Player, so it doesn't bother you. There's also resuming video from sleep with actual files, like you would with a DVD, and some changes to what the Windows team call 'needy windows' - so you can see when a program wants your attention.
The full list is worth a look, because it's got a lot more detail in. Most of this stuff we're unlikely to see until release, though. Are you looking forward to it? Is there anything missing that you think needs changing? Let us know in the comments.
Safari, the default browser on Apple computers, has just been upgraded. The company claims the new beta is "the fastest and most inovating web browser for Mac and Windows PCs".
Apple's lifted some of the best features of other browsers - Chrome's speed, Opera's top sites, and tabs from Firefox (and everyone else, these days). They haven't stolen anything from IE, but is there anything worth stealing there? They've also added a cover-flow style interface for browsing through your bookmarks too. Pretty, but a little pointless?
Interesting, Safari 4's default UI on Windows looks like Windows, unlike previous versions where it looked like OSX. That's a pretty significant change for a company that usually prides itself on its design.
If you want to try it out, it's available from Apple's website right now.
Safari 4 (via Tech Radar)