Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Another way to contribute... Maps!

The World of open source software is a vast canvas where everyone can paint. In fact, it is so vast that the easiest thing is to get lost in it and not even know where or how to start contributing. However, if the idea is to put in some effort to help others, there are many projects out there that make it extremely easy to help and efforts are quickly and easily rewarded as one can see the result of one's contribution straightaway. Some are not necessarily 100% open source, though, but if they are open enough that we all highly benefit from them, well, who cares?

In this case, I am talking about Google Map Maker, a powerful and intuitive tool that allows everyone to contribute and keep adding information to the already amazing Google Maps. As demonstrated on the short video below, Map Maker is an online tool that allows users to map anything from a dog park to a winery... to an entire city, all with just a few clicks.

Why Google Maps when there are other alternatives out there, you may ask? Well, aside from the fact it is probably the most widely used solution out there (thus making contributions immediately more relevant and helpful to others), it is also the solution available to all Android devices, so it is a way to help Linux users!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

KDE SC 4.9 is almost here!

A recent post discussing upcoming KDE SC 4.9 release parties made an interesting remark about the nature of the latest from KDE camp. I must admit that, unlike in other recent releases, I haven't been able to find your usual list of exciting new features and that remark may help in clarifying why:

"KDE 4 on it’s ninth reincarnation will arrive at 1st August, making it the stablest, solidiest, snnapiest and quickiest of them all. A HUGE effort was put on polishness, more bugs were squished than I can count, and things got fast, I mean, Really Fast."

Is this KDE SC release what many of us had been asking for, a halt on throwing in new features like there's no tomorrow to get the basics right once and for all? I certainly hope so and, even if polish does not make it perfect, the effort to concentrate on stability and performance is certainly welcome!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean... and more!

The latest version of Google Android was presented just days ago and, being an Ice Cream Sandwich user myself, I have to admit I am excited with what I have seen so far. It seems some people were expecting another game changer, though, another revolution, but the move to build on and continue to expand and improve ICS awesome features is just right, in my opinion.

Google has been criticized heavily because of a lack of stability in their environment, a lack of consistency, which was caused by the rapid growth and development rate. However, with essentially the most advanced set of features on a mobile device, Google decided to get the most of what is good while improving the rest. This also means that developers will have a chance to continue to polish their applications and make revenue out of them without headaches for many months to come. Moreover, while ICS adoption was still SLOW in the first half of 2012, it seems to be gaining momentum quickly and many signs point to a dramatic increase of Android 4.x devices before the end of the year. Most manufacturers have made significant progress in this regard (Samsung FINALLY managed to get it ready for their Galaxy SII users, while many Motorola, Sony and HTC users are getting their updates now), but the addition of very successful devices like the HTC One X and the Samsung Galaxy S III should also help renew the Android playground.


Excitement around Jelly Bean features is logically building up and lots of users wonder when they will get them, but it strikes me as odd that many awesome new things are happening in the background that are somewhat making little or no noise, things that are almost important enough to be considered a release by themselves. This is perhaps due to the fact that Google are not as good as Apple in selling what they offer, or maybe they just don´t want to be, who knows...

In the recent presentation of Apple's iOS 6, we saw a bunch of new features, some OS related, some others very much app related, like the switch to a new Apple Maps system. In fact, looking at the official feature LIST, most new features are actually application specific. In contrast, Google presented Jelly Bean today and limited their presentation to features that are mostly OS specific, leaving others (still very important ones) a bit on the side. However, most Android users received very important upgrades during Google I/O, things that, had they been iOS devices, would be on the front cover of every tech source today. Here´s a short list:

  • Google Chrome leaves Beta and becomes default: Certain improvements in terms of stability and performance made it into what is already the best browser in the Android Ecosystem. It has also become the default in Jelly Bean.
  • Offline Maps: Yes, Google Maps for Android now supports offline maps, an awesome feature which will provide guidance even in places where there is no signal. It is also an amazing thing if you are planning a trip offshore and don't want to be killed by the ridiculous data roaming prices. Forget those paper maps which look like a bed sheet folded a thousand times, all you need is your phone. The fact that the app provides an estimate of the storage space the offline map will use before downloading it is an added plus, so users may choose whether they want to download it over data network or WiFi.
  • Google Earth 3D Maps: Yes, what was presented as the ultimate Wow element by Apple in recent weeks, to hit iPhone devices "sometime in Autumn", is already available for Google Android users. The service is limited to a few big cities (with more to come in coming weeks) and only works on devices with multiple core CPUs (Apple 3D maps will only work on the iPhone 4S and up), but still, it is quite a nice feature and works very well. I will be the first to admit that it is a gimmick more than anything else, though, so in a sense it feels good that Google does not make such a big fuzz out of it.
  • Street View enhancements: I am still surprised that Apple would pull its users out of Google Maps without having an alternative for Street View. In my opinion, it is leaps and bounds more useful than any 3D view, and a feature that is very much part of how I guide myself inside the city when using a map. In this upgrade it has received stability and performance enhancements, as well as the awesome Compass mode.
  • Google+ properly dressed for tablets: This update for Android brings some performance and stability changes, but most significant is the new Tablet specific UI. The mobile phone UI has also been redesigned and it looks a lot better than it used to. Google+ events and full Google Calendar integration were also presented as new features, both immediately available to all Android users.
  • Google Play improvements: Again, a quiet update, but a significant one. Google Play My Apps section now allows users to both update and uninstall apps, which means Android users can do pretty much all there is to software management without even pulling their device out of their pocket/purse. No cables, no specific PC required, no Wifi, just access to the Internet. In addition, the list of installed applications only shows those currently on the device, with others that have been installed/uninstalled at some point being listed on a different section.

I own an HTC One X and have enjoyed these updates and more (Google Currents and others) for several days now. The changes are significant and, in the hands of other more aggressive marketeers, they would have probably got a pseudo-release status. The real release was Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean", though, and it was rightfully getting all the attention.


Yes, Google I/O set the stage for the actual new Android release, version 4.1. Even if it was deemed "a dot release", it is still impressive and packed with features, which probably justifies why all of those impressive updates went by somewhat unnoticed. Now, I could put together a list of features and try to explain them, but I surely wouldn't do as good a job as Google themselves, so check out what's new in Jelly Bean HERE.

Aside from the great results obtained by project butter (which should finally put to bed those dumb arguments claiming the iPhone was better solely because its interface was "more fluid"), I believe the most amazing new feature is Google Voice search and Google Now, which together will give Siri more than a headache. Here are a couple videos, the first one showing a comparison between the two and the second one putting Google Voice to the test:

So contrary to what some people say (can't never be satisfied, can they?) Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is quite an impressive release with tons of surprises. Instead of throwing a bunch of gimmicks out there for the sake of getting a standing ovation (although I must admit some features are definitely impressive), I love how Google has decided to essentially stay on the same version 4 infrastructure while polishing rough edges and improving the product all around. If we add that to the application and Google Play updates that have been released as part of Google I/O, the Android experience for Jelly Bean users will surely be incredible!

NOTE: Please note Android 4.1 has not been officially released yet, so take demonstrations as just that for now.