GIMP 2.8 released: single-window mode now available

GIMP 2.8 has finally been released after years of development and the biggest improvement for me is the single-window mode. This new feature is not enabled by default and users can choose between the old multi-window-docks-all-over-the-place mode and this new cleaner single-window mode.

GIMP 2.8 in single-window mode

I made the transition to GIMP 4 or 5 years ago. These days just everyone needs some form of image manipulation software. Photoshop is generally overkill  and is too expensive for casual users. I opted for the free and open-source GIMP and despite its UI not being the most intuitive, I’ve gotten used to it. The only major gripe I had was the multi-window mode where docks don’t get minimized even when the program itself has been minimized. It was a mess and really cluttered up my desktop.

This latest version addresses this issue. Thanks!

Download GIMP 2.8 here.

Ars Technica’s quick hands-on review of GIMP 2.8

Firefox 3.5.x and 3.6 a major disappointment

This post is going to be a rant about my disappointment at the latest versions of Firefox.

Firefox has been my core browser for quite a few years but the latest 3.5.x and 3.6.x versions have been a disappointment for me.

I use a self-assembled PC running Windows XP SP2 with AVG 9 (free) and ZoneAlarm firewall (free). I have never had any problems with Firefox 3.0.17 and previous versions. So when newer versions came out I was enthusiastic about upgrading in order to enjoy the promise of better security and speedier page renderings.

Boy, was I in for a shock. Most of the pages I requested failed to load; pressing reload several times sometimes achieved results, though some images and elements were still missing. I would say that failure rate was over 60% on first attempt to load anything. Even when pages did load (which was a rarity), the loading / rendering time was extremely long, in fact much worse than Firefox 3.0.17. So no speed performance improvement for me.

Firefox 3.6 fails to load Lifehacker

After several reloads, text is rendered but some images are still broken

But Google Chrome loads page faster and with no problems

Doing what most would do in my situation, I goggled to see if there were any quick fixes. This meant upgrading to FF 3.6 to try these fixes, encounter failure, downgrade back to FF 3.0.17 to check for more solutions and complain on MozillaZine (see relevant thread)

Below are just some of the “fixes” I have tried – none did any good for me.

  1. Disabled / removed add-ons
  2. Cleared cache
  3. Disabled IPv6
  4. Created a new Firefox profile
  5. Disabled AVG LinkScanner and Safe Search extension
  6. Tried shutting off ZoneAlarm

I don’t claim to be an IT guy – I’m just enthusiastic about PC and stuff. But then I am also quite sure I’m more knowledgeable about these things than many. Mozilla just cannot expect the common user to go clear caches, muck around with anti-virus and firewall settings or mess around with about:config settings. A solid program ought to just run on upgrade. If it can’t then perhaps it isn’t ready for release.

Originally I preferred Firefox over Chrome because of its extensibility with add-ons. Now I am really having second thoughts. Maybe, just maybe, this failure to upgrade might push me to change over to using Chrome as my default browser, especially since Chrome has many of the extensions I use in Firefox.

Dirpy : an excellent web tool to rip MP3s from YouTube

OK, I know it is not right to rip music off the web instead of buying CDs and pouring money into the record labels. BUT YouTube does offer an extensive library of music clips, some ripped from CDs, others recorded from concerts by users and some extracted from archival footage (tapped from TV on VHS?).

There are 2 main reasons why I like to extract these from the web (i.e YouTube) onto my own PC. Firstly, despite improved internet connection, on rare occasions, outages still occur. And then there are days when access to YouTube is simply slow. And then sometimes, clips are taken out by the user or due to copyright issues. Secondly, I want to be able to store the files on my portable audio device.

So what is an easy way to rip MP3s from YouTube clips? The answer is Dirpy, an online service that provides an excellent solution. One can go to their web page and use their search to locate the YouTube clip, or simply paste the YouTube URL into the service box. Dirpy then loads the clip and offers the user some options including modifying the ID3 tag data, filename and where to save the file (see screenshot). To make life even simpler, one can use the Dirpy bookmarklet and directly go to the options page from the YouTube clip page itself.

That’s all one has to do.

The encoding and download speeds are decent, roughly 1 minute for a 4MB file. I can live with that.

Like 90% of web services, Dirpy is in beta. Highly recommended.

Microsoft Tag offers seamless 2D barcode service

Microsoft Tag

I have been fiddling around with 2D barcodes for a little over a year and recently came across Microsoft’s offering known as Microsoft Tag (Beta).

Microsoft Tag is a high capacity color barcode that uses triangles instead of the more common squares used in other 2D barcodes including QR codes. Not unlike other 2D barcode solutions, the tag is essentially a web link; the reader decodes the Microsoft Tag, sends the URL to a resolution server that returns a URL containing the content, which triggers the mobile phone’s browser to load the page. Microsoft Tag seems to be proprietary technology.

Common issues facing 2D barcode solutions provider are :
– size of the code itself
– decode accuracy and speed
– speed of resolution server in returning content URL
– system compatibility of client software on a wide range of mobile handset models

I started by downloading the client reader onto my iPhone and had no problems. I then proceeded to creating a code for testing, which again was problem-free (see issues about this below). I launched the app on my iPhone and the reader automatically detected and decoded the 2D barcode without having to perform the normal i) frame, ii) take snapshot of code, iii) decode, and iv) resolve process. This is not unlike i-Nigma’s client reader on the Symbian S60 platform. The decoding and resolution were both speedy. The reader was not fussy about framing, lighting or size of code within the reader’s window. I was impressed with the overall performance.

Generating the code from Microsoft’s website was simple and quick but the output options are limited and odd I would think. The website offers exporting the code as either pdf, wmf, or xps format with sizes ranging from 0.75 to 120 inches. I would have preferred saving the code as either jpg or png – this is much simpler and more direct for majority of users.

My preliminary experience with Microsoft Tag was promising. Microsoft’s website offers users to the ability to create tags quite easily, and provides graphic reports on how many times the code (i.e. Microsoft Tag) has been clicked on / decoded.

According to Microsoft’s website, the client reader supports a wide range of devices including iPhone, Symbian S60 3rd edition platforms, phones supporting J2ME, Windows Mobile 5 and 6 as well as a few Blackberry handsets. I suspect the user experience on J2ME phones will be different.

Currently, Microsoft Tag’s reader can only decode and process Microsoft Tags. If Microsoft expands its website service and reader to include creating and decoding for other public domain codes like QR and Data Matrix, it could become the de facto service for 2D barcodes.

TwitterFon best Twitter app on iPhone?

TwitterFon

Ever since I started using Twitter, I have wondered what the best Twitter app on iPhone is. Turns out Gizmodo covered this in a great article in late Jan 2009. The article reviews both free and paid apps for iPhone. It seems I am already using the best free Twitter app already as I am using TwitterFon . . .

Click on the link below for the full story.

iPhone Twitter App Battlemodo: Best and Worst Twitter Apps for iPhone.