The Download Blog

iTunes 8: Slick Genius, still sluggish

Apple's improvements to iTunes today have garnered the music and video jukebox a full-point jump, although longtime users will only find one major new feature and a few interesting smaller ones. As for addressing the bloat factor, fuggedaboudit. iTunes is the big bad, and it's not about to get any thinner.

Available for Windows and Mac, the best and most useful new feature is the Genius playlist. This analyzes your music collection with an algorithm that compares the structure and the sound of your songs to create playlists that it thinks you'll like. In practice, it works … Read more

Tingz offers up cross-platform widgets that share data

Tingz is a new widget engine whose big feature is cross platform data sharing. At the TechCrunch50 conference it was shown off on a Mac, iPhone and Windows Media Center PC, with various widgets pulling together the same data set.

The example given was a recipe widget on your computer that tells you how to make something, and if you don't have one of the ingredients you can bookmark it. This information gets ported over to a shopping list widget, which you can then access on-the-go via the iPhone application.

Presumably users would have it installed on both platforms … Read more

OpenOffice 3 bumps from beta to RC

OpenOffice has pushed their popular Microsoft Office freeware alternative into release candidate territory. Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, open-source OpenOffice is a productivity suite analogous to and compatible with Microsoft's near-ubiquitous tool. There is more to recommend OpenOffice 3 than the price tag, though.

New features you can test out now include Microsoft Access database support and a multipage view in Writer, the Word analog, nearly unlimited character support in sheet names, Google Doc-style collaborative editing of a single spreadsheet simultaneously, and much-needed support for Office 2007 file types.

Empirically, OpenOffice 3 seems to start marginally faster than … Read more

Firefox 3.1 alpha 2 available to developers

Firefox 3.1 alpha 2, code-named Shiretoko, adds functionality for Web developers with very little eye candy for users.

Johnathan Nightingale of Mozilla described Firefox 3.1 as having more refinement than new features. This alpha release is intended for developers and testers only and should not yet be for general-purpose use.

The most visible enhancement in this alpha release is a feature that allows you to drag and drop tabs between two open Firefox browsers.

There are considerable under-the-hood enhancements here. Built on a pre-release version of the Gecko 1.9.1 rendering engine, Firefox 3.1 alpha 2 … Read more

Featured Freeware: DAZ Studio

From the makers of the popular scene-rendering program Bryce comes DAZ Studio, a powerful 3D-modeling and CAD program for Windows and Mac that looks great but is a resource hog and can be sluggish for the average user.

The publisher recommends having at least 256MB of RAM, but that's wishful thinking. The program runs choppily on anything less than 1GB, although some of the more complex rendering was processed more slowly than others. It also requires an OpenGL-compatible graphics card with at least 128MB of RAM onboard, so machines built before 2003 will certainly struggle. This isn't unusual … Read more

iPhone apps of the week: Poker edition

With a continuous stream of cable TV Poker events, online Poker sites, and endless videos, books, and Web sites devoted to Poker strategy, it is no secret that Poker is incredibly popular all over the world. This week, I'm taking a look at Poker games for the iPhone. But instead of covering three similar games, I decided to give you some options for getting your poker fix, with three very different styles of Poker.

I should warn you in advance, only one of these games is free (with an optional paid version), but the other two are pretty affordable … Read more

Hands-on with the new Joost: Software still required

Joost on Friday finally took an important step forward by announcing that its desktop software would be getting phased out to make way for a Web watching experience. The only problem is that special software is in fact still required--and we're not talking Adobe Flash.

Whether you're on a Mac or a Windows machine, you'll still need to install an executable file on your computer to view videos. The new plug-in sits on your desktop taskbar even when you're not viewing the site, and apparently only begins to pipe data back and forth to other users when you're watching Joost videos.

The new version of the site will be available for beta testers in about two weeks time, although I've had the chance to nose around and watch a few videos on it today. Despite the need for software, it's impressive. Videos start playing in just a few seconds and when toggled for full-screen, the quality scales up nicely.

Like before, there are pre-roll ads, although I found them less intrusive and disjointed than Hulu's experience. The only anti-user ad interference I stumbled across was when a pre-roll ad kept me from being able to scroll through content on a playlist. I had to wait about five seconds for the ad to run before I could get back to finding something to watch. Not cool.

The biggest thing missing from the new Joost is the feeling of immersion. The Joost application, for all it's faults, took you away from your desktop and everything else you were doing. Like up and comer Boxee, which runs off the core of Xbox Media Center, it's something that had personality and a really marvelous UI. The new version feels a tad sterile, although when it comes to browsing through episodes and series, there's noticeably less lag, and hey, you can continue to get work done on your computer at the same time.

Noticeably gone from the new Joost (at least for now) is the user chat. You can still comment on a video and favorite it, but the feeling of a real-time experience has gone out the door. There's also a feature called "shout it out" that lets you flag the video with various pop culture acronyms like LOL, HOT, PUKE, and the generally useful WTF. Clicking on any of these will play a canned sound clip and alert you of your flag, although it has no noticeable effect.

Ultimately the Joost experience comes down to the content and the various ways to dig through it to find something good. While the existing playlists are very good for this, when you're searching by TV network or content provider it's still difficult to simply browse by shows. For instance, clicking on MTV took me to a player that randomly began playing Laguna Beach. Ideally, it would jump me to a list of shows where I could drill down a little deeper--like what was available before.

Software aside, I'm excited to see Joost hop onto the Web. There's a lot of good content on there that you can't find elsewhere, and experiencing it in your browser will seem like second nature for newcomers--that is as long as they're willing to jump through a software hoop.

More screens after the jump.… Read more

About time: Joost to launch browser-based player

Finally, Joost is going to correct the error that badly hobbled the Web video service many once considered to be a serious YouTube competitor.

Currently available for Windows and Mac, Joost is planning to launch a test version of its new site later this month that will feature a browser-based plug-in and will no longer require users to watch via the company's much maligned desktop client. In a not so surprising move, users will be able to embed Joost's videos.

CEO Mike Volpi acknowledged in an interview with CNET that the desktop client was one of the company'… Read more

Stellarium reaches for the stars

The way things have gone this week, you'd be hard-pressed to find a mention of anything not related to Google Chrome.

Now that we've gotten the obligatory nod out of the way, it turns out that cross-platform Stellarium is one of the coolest apps around.

It won't report on your Web surfing habits, either.

Open-source and currently in use by planetarium projectors run by Digitalis Education, it brings astronomer-level features to star-gazers of all levels of interest. It's not quite as robust as Google Earth or Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope, but it's also a much … Read more

CheckUp is your Mac's first-aid kit

Most of the time our Macs run smoothly due to the well-designed Mac OS X (choose your big cat) operating system. But over time, as you download more applications, visit more Web sites, and begin to use up space on your hard drive, your Mac won't run as quickly and smoothly as it did out of the box. Some users reason that it must be a RAM or hard-drive issue, but more often than not it's a question of maintenance rather than inadequate hardware.

I've talked about programs for uninstalling old or unused apps in an earlier post, … Read more