Galaxy S4 sets the stage for Tizen

Possibly one of the most anticipated gadget launches of the year, the unveiling of the Samsung Galaxy S4 this week has certainly raised the bar for smartphone manufacturers. The device under the spotlight, features an unprecedented 13 MP / 2 MP camera combo with stunning smooth graphics powered by its 1.9GHz processor and displayed on its 5.0″ screen with 441 pixels per inch. However, putting the impressive hardware aside, one can’t help but drool over the software capabilities that the S4 boasts. In the current Android-dominated smartphone market, it simply isn’t enough to produce a high end device capable of running the Android platform. Granted, other manufacturers like HTC have attempted to customise the software, but none have made as much progress as Samsung. As if the touchwiz interface isn’t enough to draw your attention to the device, Samsung offers it’s own well designed suite of applications. Samsung devices offer the Readers Hub, Music Hub, Social Hub, Samsung Apps/Samsung Hub, Learning Hub, Swype Keyboard, Kies Cast, S-Voice, ChatON and a feature rich camera application amongst others. The S4 goes on to introduce S-Translate which translates text as you type or as you receive messages and emails. It introduces new features to SmartStay which allow you to control certain actions on your device by your eyes. It introduces amazing app and media sharing capabilities, a great deal of feature enhancements to its camera app, the ability to interact with content by hovering your hand over the screen and more.

That brings me to an important point. Samsung’s latest smartphone was unveiled with absolutely no mention of features or abilities provided by its underlying Android 4.2 Jellybean operating system. No mention of Google Maps, Google Voice or Google Now. The fact is that the selling points of Samsung’s latest flagship device are now somewhat independent of the core Android operating system its built upon. Behind the scenes, Samsung have been working to develop the Linux mobile platform, Tizen. Samsung paid $500 000 to become a platinum member of the Linux Foundation and have ever since been rigorously involved in developing the next big thing in the mobile software market. Some may remember bada, Samsung’s first self-developed smartphone OS which it recently retired. Bada proved successful in terms of its abilities as an operating system, but failed to draw much attention. One could argue that Samsung never pushed its bada devices out to the public, but inevitably, bada had its limitations. The biggest constraint was not being able to draw as big a pool of app developers as Android. However, Tizen unlike bada, involves a number of different major stakeholders like Intel who have an interest in pushing development for the platform. Tizen boasts the ability to run HTML5 apps, native Tizen apps, all bada apps and even an easy port for existing Android apps. What’s more, Samsung’s own app store already has a large developer base which can be used as a starting ground for sourcing app developers for Tizen. Consider the first Tizen device powered by the same impressive hardware as the S4, featuring ALL of Samsung’s Hub apps and software features including touchwiz and sporting a fully stocked app store. I think Samsung has a winner. It will be difficult for the common user to recognise that the core operating system on an S4 differs from the core OS on the first Tizen device.

Samsung is planning the launch of the first Tizen device later this year (2013). Why Samsung is taking on Google in the OS race could be due to numerous factors, but the two most obvious are that the Tech giant wants to be entirely self-reliant and completely in control of its devices’ abilities and the obvious fact that Google has bought Samsung-rival Motorola Mobile. So if you think the S4 is an impressive device, wait until the launch of the first Tizen device and the subsequent counter-launch from Google, the LG Nexus 5. Those devices are set to shake the smartphone market!

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How to get the start menu back in Windows 8

So you just spent a decent amount of your savings to buy a new laptop with the much crazed-about Windows 8 pre-installed. Or maybe, you upgraded your Windows 7 to 8 so that you could be on par with the latest software. But you soon feel uncomfortable, disorientated, maybe even sea-sick when you realise that your old favourite Windows button, that revealed the start menu, is missing in action. Whilst the Metro interface is a bold move by Microsoft to please users wanting a more modern feel that resembles the incredibly capable mobile devices in use today, snatching away the start menu was pretty ridiculous if you ask me.

In fact, it becomes even more apparently ridiculous when you realise that the code for the start menu is so intricately connected with the core code of the Windows GUI that Microsoft could not delete the start menu from Windows. Instead they simply hid it away from the desktop.. That’s right… Nuts! Luckily for us, the world is full of geeks who simply leap in joy at the opportunity created for them. So before you join a Start-menu-addicts anonymous group, here’s a few quick and easy ways to get back the start menu.

Pokki

Developers at Pokki have been pushing an alternative desktop experience since Windows 7, but the missing start menu in Windows 8 has given them a unique advantage. The Pokki menu for Windows 8 doesn’t only offer you all the features of the traditional start menu, it boasts a different, modern UI, pinnable apps, the ability to tweak and change the colour scheme of the menu and most incredibly, access to really cool apps from the Pokki store. The best part? Pokki is FREE! Go and grab Pokki now!

Pokki Windows 8 Star Menu

Pokki Windows 8 Star Menu

The Pokki menu is fully customisable, even allowing you to swap the Pokki logo for the Windows logo on the actual button.

Traditional Start Menus

If you really liked the look and feel of the Windows 7 start menu, then of course you can get that as well. There are three popular start menus I’ve come across. Truth be told however, I have only tested Pokki, so no guarantees here, but from the reviews I’ve read, all three seem pretty reliable. Only one is free. The non-free ones are very affordable, costing $3 and $5. The non-free menus offer additional features, themes and customizability whilst the free one simply does a great job at giving you the traditional Windows 7 start menu back. By installing these start menus, your computer will boot directly to the desktop as it did in earlier versions of Windows. You’ll still have access to the metro start screen (junk). You’ll be able to customise how to access the menus and where to boot to.

Download:

These are not the only options. Do a Google search to find plenty more start menus that you can install in Windows 8. Some offer different themes and features. Find the one that suits you.

New Facebook News Feed Layout

Facebook unveiled the new layout for its news feed which it said will be rolling out to a select test user group today. The new layout features many design changes. According to Facebook, the new design borrows many features from the mobile Facebook applications, giving Facebook a more consistent user interface between devices. Examples of mobile features coming to the desktop are the grey retractable sidebar, the “new stories” notification and a wider column for the actual feeds.

Facebook’s new news feed features a cleaner interface with a better hierarchy of titles, photos and links. Zuckerberg explained that the content of news feeds have changed from being largely text based to 50% now being photos and the rest comprised largely of third party feeds, videos and other media. For this reason, photo albums, video feeds, check-ins, music shares, etc have been revamped to feature more prominently in the news feed.

Other changes include smart features like hovering over a user’s profile picture next to a photo album to reveal the comments and likes from that user relating to the album. See the slideshow below for screenshots from the press event.

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NEW: See the behind the scenes video below:

Today Google also made a few changes to Google+ profile pages. A user’s cover photo is now 2120 by 1192 px. This is a brave move by the social network. Reactions to the change have been mixed. If I may add some spice to this review, I’d like to suggest how similar the new Facebook layout is to the Google+ news feed. Of course, Google+ still features the much-complained-about whitespace, but the similarity in the layout between the two feeds is undeniable from the shortcuts at the left to the photo and feed display and the suggestions to the right of it, not forgetting the ability to switch between streams/circles. What do you think? If you’d like to be among the first to try the new look, head over to https://www.facebook.com/about/newsfeed and join the waiting list!

New FBMy G+ Feed

WPS For Linux – First Impressions

What a find

Talk about finding a hidden treasure… the WPS Office Suite for Linux is an amazing find. Although considerably well known for the Android app, WPS Office (aka Kingsoft Office) is not as well adopted by desktop users, more specifically non-Chinese desktop users. That’s because WPS Office is offered in Chinese by default and to find and download the app, you need to make use of Google Translate to find your away around the WPS for Linux website.

I installed WPS Office in Elementary OS Luna. When you launch the office suite for the first time, there’s no escaping the acknowledgement that the app borrow’s most of its design aspects from Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010, but if you’re like me and are rather comfortable in that environment, then this will be a welcomed realisation. Unlike MS Office running under Wine, WPS Office is a native app which makes itself comfortable amongst other Ubuntu/Elementary apps.

WPS Office apps in the elementary Luna dock

WPS Office apps in the elementary Luna dock

Kingsoft Spreadsheet in elementary OS luna

Kingsoft Spreadsheet in elementary OS luna

Ah, I arranged the icons SWP :-/ too bad.. Anyway, as you’ve just noticed, WPS Office offers 3 apps; Kingsoft Writer, Kingsoft Presentation and Kingsoft Spreadsheet. From my initial inspection, all 3 apps are fully equipped with the features I most commonly use in MS Office and LibreOffice. Obviously I have not yet put the suite to a full-on test, so I cannot really say whether there are any bugs of sort. I found that WPS does not read open document formats, which is not such a big issue as one can easily save to .docx (etc) in Libre/OpenOffice. However, in compensation for that, WPS does a brilliant job in opening documents/spreadsheets and presentations created in MS Office. From the documents I’ve opened, everything was well preserved .

WPS Office boasts an awesome splash screen, a familiar UI and the ability to tweak the UI theme. If you’re used to the LibreOffice, non-ribbon style UI, it’s also possible to change the UI to that style with one click.

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UI options in Kingsoft Writer

UI options in Kingsoft Writer

Another great feature in WPS, which MS Office even lacks, is the ability to open and work on multiple documents side by side, switching between them using tabs.

Tab Switcher in WPS

Tab Switcher in WPS

WPS Office apps also offer a wide range of templates and design tools that are similar to those found in MS Office. The downside is that the apps aren’t 100% translated into English, but it certainly doesn’t hinder productivity. All the core features are available in English and if not, the menu icons are familiar enough to understand.

How to install WPS Office for Linux in Ubuntu/Linux Mint/Elemenatry

Download the .deb file from http://community.wps.cn/download/ [Alternate versions are also available for other Linux distros]

Install the package either through Software Centre or whatever deb package manager you use.

Open Kingsoft Writer. You will be prompted with a form asking for your name and some stuff. The form is in Chinese. Fill in anything. After filling out the form, the app will open in full Chinese. To change the app to English, close the app and then run the following code in a terminal window:

cd /opt/kingsoft/wps-office/office6/2052

sudo rm qt.qm wps.qm wpp.qm et.qm

Open any Kingsoft app again and it should display in English.
Enjoy!