What Silverlight Means For You

If you keep tabs on the world of web 2.0, then you’ll have heard something about Microsoft’s newest offering, Silverlight. Silverlight is an outstanding piece of technical wizardry, with even long time Microsoft critics admitting that it is a very good product. But while the technical people and the application developers may be very happy about it, what does Silverlight mean from the tech-savvy web 2.0 user who isn’t a developer, but simply a user? Right now, not much. However, given time and sustained interest in the new platform, it could mean a lot. Let’s take a look at what might come of Silverlight.

More Variety

When first announced, it sounded like Silverlight was being poised as a direct competitor to Adobe’s popular Flash technology. But the latest announcement (the one that has garnered the most interest) has made it clear that Silverlight is not quite so simple. The Silverlight plugin (which weighs in at a mere 4MB) will contain a version of Microsoft’s .NET Common Language Runtime. The CLR allows programs written in a number of popular languages like JavaScript, C#, Python and Ruby to be run directly in the browser itself. While this gives developers a large choice in how to implement their web apps, it means that users can expect to see a new generation of even richer, more feature packed applications delivered right in the browsers. It also frees users from having to understand what plugins or virtual machines are required for their selected web app and developers no longer have to bother with maintaining a plugin in addition to their web app, Silverlight does the worrying for them.


One of the major benefits for end users will be the greater responsiveness that Silverlight will allow for Internet based applications. The recent demonstrations have shown than Silverlight can run JavaScript apps many times faster than native browser implementations. No more waiting around for long periods of time for the applications to load before you can start using it. Heavy duty applications like online web suites, image editors or publication tools similar to Yahoo! Pipes will most benefit from the vast speed increase, but some of the improvement will trickle down to even the smallest pieces of JavaScript. Silverlight applications will also be able to access and alter the basic structure (the DOMs) of the web pages that they will use as interfaces. This means that users can expect far richer, more interactive programs where the program will be able to keep track of any changes made and react accordingly.

Better Multimedia

Flash is currently the most popular technology on the market when it comes to developing streaming media via a browser. But Silverlight promises to do all that Flash can do and much more. Silverlight will allow distribution of video at very high quality (720p or high definition) and will also allow native full screen viewing (as opposed to the current alternative of a maximized browser window). What might eventually make Silverlight a better option than Flash are the new web services that Microsoft is building around Silverlight (and currently distributing full of cost). A service called Silverlight already allows users to store their content and Silverlight based web programs on Microsoft’s servers. If Microsoft handles this properly, we might soon see a large number of new multimedia sites springing up offering richer multimedia and data services and overall better usability for the end user.

While Silverlight currently seems more like a developer tool than an end-user must-have, that might change very soon. Silverlight has a lot to offer for developers, especially those who have been struggling for a long time to consolidate disparate technologies like JavaScript, XML and Flash to make robust web products. Of course, Adobe will stand to lose a lot if Silverlight eclipses Flash, but Adobe already has a firm grounding in the market, which it will be trying to consolidate with the growth of rich web 2.0. In the middle of all this will fall the various web-startups who are currently using AJAX alone, but might easily be outclassed if newer start-ups start using Silverlight vigorously.


Why I’m sticking with Linux

The Republic of Geektronica has an article about why the author is sticking with Windows XP and won’t be ugrading to Vista. Well, I’m a Linux user and I though my parents use Windows XP, I haven’t used it for the last few months. Anyway, here are my ten reasons for sticking with Linux. They run in parallel to Geektronica’s, so go take a look at those reasons first:

  1. I have far better things to spend $300 on.
  2. All my programs not  only work now, I get free and easy upgrades pretty regularly.
  3. My RAM (512MB) is about 150 MB more than my heaviest usage. I don’t want it to be 150MB less than minimal usage.
  4. Superkaramba and gDesklets can satisfy my desire for shiny things
  5. The next computer I buy will hopefully have Linux preinstalled, so I won’t have to wipe the hard drive clean first.
  6. If I want transparent windows, I’ll use the XFCE compositor
  7. I’ve I wanted more restrictions on my media, I’d put cotton in my ears and wear a blindfold.
  8. My desktop is behind a browser for most of the time (and the browser is better than IE)
  9. I want my operating system to be up-to-date without having to reach for a credit card before hitting the download button.
  10. I like cartoonish blue and green, and earthy orange, and metallic goldish bling and black empty screens (not all at the same time though).

Can Blogg-Buzz keep buzzing?

Digg has been getting some negative publicity lately because of the way it’s been cracking down on bloggers and self-promotion. So two bloggers, JohnTP and Shivaranjan have decided to start a Digg-like site for bloggers called Blogg-buzz. Here’s what JohnTP had to say about it:

So what can you do in Blogg-Buzz? A lot…you can submit stories in Blogg-Buzz, comment on stories, spy on who is buzzing, find out the Top Buzzers, add friends and even send Private Messages to other Buzzers! So, it can be real fun once you start using it.

Blogg-Buzz can be useful for those who want to find the best content on the Blogosphere as well as for those who want to get extra traffic to their Blogs. And we will also try to improve Blogg-Buzz and make it something more than just a ‘Digg like site’.

Now that’s all good and fine, I personally think that we’ve been needing something like this for quite some time, but the question is, will it work? Firstly, the site design. Besides the fact that it’s orange (which you might love or hate depending on your personal tastes), the site feels a bit cluttered, rather different from the sleek feel one would expect of a news site. However that’s a minor problem, the real challeenges are elsewhere.

One thing to look at is Blogg-buzz’s target audience: bloggers. Being a system made to be used by blogger means that it has no restrictions on self-promotion. While this is a perfectly good, democratic ideal, it’s going to be hard to keep the site from being uttely swamped by self-promotional posts. Blogg-buzz’s modus operandi means that a lot of people will be submitting their own content, a lot of which will be only average. The site managers will have to work overtime to ensure that good content isn’t buried under tons of not so good content.

To do this, there are two things that are necessary: Firstly, a large user base which has the discretion to buzz the right content. This is something that Blogg-buzz lacks at the moment. Of course, it’s still early days and in a few months time, they could get a larger audience. But that’s not enough. Digg doesn’t work just because they have lot’s of users, it works because they have a good algorithm that handles the large amount of traffic that passes through their servers day in day out. Does Blogg-buzz have this? Only partially. Blogg-buzz apparently uses a content management system called Pligg that was heavily influenced by Digg and implements similar features. Now using openly available software and tools is ok by me, but judging by some of the comments on JohnTP’s post, a number of people involved with Pligg are unhappy that Blogg-buzz is not giving due credit to Pligg. That aside, the fact that Blogg-buzz runs off an easily available system means that it might not be long until someone launches a Blogg-buzz clone. And if that someone has corporate backing and manages a revew on Techcrunch by virtue of that corporate backing, Blogg-buzz might not be buzzing for much longer.

The verdict : It’s a really good idea, but the guys behind it still have a lot to do before it becomes a Digg-killer.

Snap Preview: Good or Bad?

WordPress.com recently started offering Snap Preview for all users and you can see it in action right here. In case you don’t know what Snap Preview is, just hover your mouse over one of the links and you’ll find out. Personally, I really like this and it’s something that I’ve been wanting for quite a while. But it looks like not everyone is happy with this. Fellow WordPress.com blogger Lorelle dislikes Snap Preview saying:

I’ve also stumbled across these link previews and find them not just annoying and distracting but incredibly frustrating. My mouse will drift down as I’m reading and suddenly I can’t read what’s underneath the pop-up window. I move my mouse and it goes away, but why should I waste my wrist action on something I don’t want to see?

In fact, she calls it a blight on the Internet. Now though I don’t quite agree with her exact wording I can understand how this can be irritating. And the points that she makes about load times being increased are certainly valid.

After thinking it over, there are a number of things that come to mind. Firstly it is not an essential feature of a blog or website and it never will be. Is it a useful one? That depends on the user. Personally, I like it. I feel that it gives a slightly more “community” feel. After all, links are the heartblood of the internet and I consider Snap Preview to be a healthy improvement on the existing link system. Another thing that Snap has going for it is it’s customizability. You can turn it off for internal links (links on the same site) and more importantly, you can turn off it’s automatic feature and use it only on links you want to. But you need to have the JavaScript for it handy to do that and unfortunately WordPress.com doesn’t provide that.

If you’re running your own website or blog, you might want to give it a try. Sign up and put the JavaScript in your page headers and keep it there for a week. If you don’t like it or if your visitors complain, you can always remove it. As for this blog, Snap Preview is here for the time being, but I’m open to suggestions. If you have a novel way of using Snap Preview, let me know.

Have a warm Christmas!

    Hello, all. It’s that day of the year again when it’s time to go around spreading good cheer and feeling very happy for no reason in particular. Well I hope you all have a good Christmas and a great new year. For me the next year will be a vrey important one as I’ll be starting college, but I have no idea where (yet). I’m not making any new year resolutions, I never do. But I am restarting my blog from tomorrow (I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve done this) with a nice bright, warm theme. I hope to make this one last as I now have my own computer and internet connection and I intend to make this blog a long term investment.  Of course, it will be a technology oriented blog, along with a healthy dose of my own ideas and other interests. But I’ll leave all that for tomorrow and leave you to your roast turkeys.

Before I go, let me tell all you Tolkien fans out there that you have extra reason to celebrate. According to the Red Book of Westmarch, today was the day that the Fellowship of the Ring set off from Imladris on their quest for Mount Doom and the Cracks of Doom where the One Ring would ultimately. So while you’re all singing your Christmas Carols, take a moment to remember the bravery, suffering and sacrifice of the Fellowship of the Ring.

How I learn to program

Yesterday my friend Rohit asked me (in a comment) how I learn to program, or as he put it, “experiment with languages”. So I’ve decided to pull out my bag tricks and blog about how I learn to program.
There are lots of ways you can learn to program. Attend classes, ask friends, use the Internet, get a book etc. etc. For me, I took on a sort of challenge to learn how to program, without spending any money. So that means paying for classes and books is out of the question. So what do I do?
The first resource I reach for, is quite obviusly, the Internet. The Internet is the greatest repository of human knowledge ever accumulated. So use it. Generally, there should be a .org or a .com site for your language of choice. If there isn’t just Google for it. That itself should turn up enough resources to keep you busy for a week. In case you just want a quick overview of a language, just head over to Wikipedia and look it up. That’ll give you a rough feel of the language and will help you decide if you want to continue or look for another language.
Of course it is very easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of information the net provides you with. A lot of the information you find through Google will probably just confuse you. But there’s a little set of thumb rules that you can use to find the proper resources. Firstly, look for information and tutorials that are put up by people who are actually involved in developing the language. An excellent example would be the Python Tutorial by Python creator Guido van Rossum. Second, don’t look at tutorials that aren’t structured properly. If the document is in a very clumsy and inconsistent format, it will just confuse you. And absolutely avoid tutorials that stress on using a particular IDE, rather than the language itself. You should only worry about IDEs when you know the language very well. Third, a good tutorial or guide should provide a large number of examples and should explain them properly. One of the best ways to learn to program is to read though actual programs. Finally hang around forums, mail lists and the like. Not only are these good places to ask questions, you’ll learn a lot passively, by reading other people’s problems and solutions.
It’s certainly possible to learn programming, at least in popular languages, off the net alone. But in my opinion, if you are really interested in learning a language and are ready to spend some money, go get a good book. For a good book, it’s probably best to ask someone who teaches or uses the language you’re interested in. Still, O’reilly books are generally very good and comprehensive. Once again, try to get books written by people acting involved in the development and use of the language.
Books by Wrox are also quite good. I have read some books, mainly for C++ and Perl, and no, I didn’t buy them, I get them out of a library.
And most, importantly, write programs! You can’t expect to program properly if you don’t have practice. Ask anyone who has programming experience and you’ll learn that every once in a while you write some code which doesn’t do what you think it should do. The only way you’re going to reduce the number of times that happens is to actually write code and make yourself familiar with the language.
Finally, make friends with programmers. Friends are the best resource you can get. Not only will they help you when you get stuck, looking at their code will help you improve your own. Of course you have to find the right crowd, but that shouldn’t be too hard. And when you think that you’re capable of writing a mean piece of code, trying joining an open source project or starting your own. Once again, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start off small, but do your work well.
After reading all that, if you still feel like learning how to code, go read How to Become a Hacker.

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Now using RSS feeds and Tags

    I’ve addded a new feed for the blog on the top right. The big orange button gives the actual feed itself while clicking on the other buttons will add the feed to the respective newsreader. If your favourite newsreader isn’t on the list, please leave a comment and I will try to add it. If you had subscribed to the old feed please change it to this one.
    Secondly I’ve decided to us Technorati tags in my blog posts instead of cluttering up the sidebar with an umpteen number of categories. I’m using the very elegant Performancing blogging client for Firefox. If you’re a regular blogger and use Firefox, I recommend that you try it out. I intend to post a full review of the client so stay tuned.

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