While the rest of the tech world is falling over itself to develop the best iPhone clone, Microsoft has gone in a slightly different direction by forgoing apps in favour of an interface that is somewhat dynamic. If you've ever seen the new Zune HD in action (and it's STILL not available in Canada) then it will seem familiar visually, but you really need to see the video (www.engadget.com) to see how the interface works.
It has a few advantages over iPhone. For one, most of the important applications are built-in and sync with one another. For example, it organizes your contacts as people, allowing you to read messages, get updates from their Facebook pages and shared photo albums, read e-mails, calls and texts, share music playlists through the Zune music store, etc.
For another, it allows for a kind of multitasking where you can answer your phone and go back and forth between programs without starting over. There's a clipboard so you can copy information when switching between applications, but it's impossible to have two windows open at once. It's better than the iPhone, but other phones still do multi-tasking better.
Unlike the iPhone, it also appears that the Windows 7 phone could support Adobe Flash, opening up the possibility of watching Flash videos, using Flash menus and websites, playing Flash Games and enjoying other dynamic content.
There's support for Windows Office documents, synchronization with Windows applications like Outlook and other features, which makes the phone somewhat appealing to business users. There's also synchronization with Windows Live services, which includes Messenger.
It's also nice looking, has a great OLED screen that supports multi-touch, a respectable camera, the possibility for a front facing camera in the future (still a rumour) that allows web conference and motion-sensitive control, probably a pretty good processor similar to the Zune HD that's good for videos and games (and the phone does integrate with Xbox Live) and a lot of other tools.
Some questions that still need to be answered include third party applications - do you have to get a Zune account to download them? - and the actual tech specs. How much storage? And is it expandable?
Last but not least we have a question of price. To compete with the iPhone it has to be cheaper to buy, or come without any strings attached to allow people to shop for their own plans. Features like VOIP through Windows Messenger would help to make any price more attractive but would turn off the cell phone providers.
Presumably there will be more information available in the coming months as Microsoft works towards a release date of "late 2010."
Google Book Search under the legal microscope
Since the literary world found out about Google Book Search there really hasn't been a moment of peace.
The way Google sees it they're merely creating another library for public benefit - one that's digital, searchable, portable, indestructible, eternal and downloadable. About five million books in the archive are out of print.
The way publishing companies, authors and other search engines see it, it's a violation of copyright, the theft and dissemination of intellectual property, a monopoly on information.
Basically, Google works by scanning the actual print on pages and then using optical character recognition to create a second text file that's searchable. As a result the books resemble the printed versions right down to photos and graphics.
Your search results may link to Google Books titles. How much of the book you can see online will depend on the book's current status - if it hasn't been copyrighted you can usually see about 20 per cent of the title, otherwise you can download entire copies.
Google errs on the side of caution until a book's copyright status is beyond question (older titles like Shakespeare's work fall into this category) or the author, author's estate or publisher gives permission.
There is also an option to purchase books, print books or download books so you can take them with you in a portable format.
It hasn't been easy. When authors and publishers of books still covered by copyright found out that Google was scanning their material without permission the legal wrangling began. They were sued in a class action by authors and in a civil suit by five publishers and the Association of American Publishers. Google reached a settlement with both and attempted to head off any future legal actions by making a number of concessions to authors and the publishing industry.
But while the writers and publishers in those suits are satisfied, many others do not agree and launched a third suit, which is now being decided in New York. Detractors include Google's competitors. Organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation say Google is attempting to monopolize and commercialize the works, which goes against the spirit of what a library - the definition of open source - is supposed to be about.
Then there were authors left out of the first suit that are concerned by Google's plans to publish up to 20 per cent of books without the author's permission. Some people decide whether or not to buy a book by browsing the first few pages.
If the suit is successful and it becomes an anti-trust issue then Google Books could disappear. Enjoy it while it lasts at http://books.google.com.