Digsby

PeopleBrowsr Boggles the Mind

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Twitter is a phenomenon. It’s one of the hottest topics in the media now, not just the tech media. Most non-Twitterers roll their eyes when someone tries to explain what they’re missing. Many first-time users abandon it pretty quickly too.

I’ve been using Twitter consistently for over two years. In my opinion, there are quite a number of ways to effectively use Twitter, but I would guess that most people fall into one particular pattern. Up until recently, for me, that was as a personal, extended away message service. In other words, I used it to let friends know what I was up to.

Because of that, I protected my tweets (meaning, I had to approve who was permitted to follow me), since the world didn’t need to know that I was off to a concert or having dinner with friends. To accomplish this low volume use of Twitter, pretty much any of the hundreds of Twitter clients more than suffice. After trying many of them, I settled on the all-in-one Instant Messaging (IM) client Digsby. It’s not a great Twitter client, but it’s a great IM client, and having Twitter integrated was a bonus (one less app to deal with).

One of the clever things that Twitter clients do (which is a clever part of the Twitter API) is to announce themselves with each tweet. I was noticing that most of the people that I was following were using TweetDeck (this was a few months ago). I looked at it, understood what people liked about it, but it didn’t fit my usage pattern, nor attract me to changing my usage. One of the reasons is that it didn’t support multiple Twitter accounts, and I had no interest in changing the way I used the one account I had (@hadar).

As any regular web surfer knows, JavaScript (JS) is taking over the web. It’s really hard to find an interesting site that doesn’t either require JS, or use JS to make the site dramatically more interesting/usable.

One day I saw a mention that one of the more sophisticated JS-driven websites was called PeopleBrowsr. Note that there is no E at the end of “browsr”. Even if I realized that it was a Twitter client, I had no interest in a web-based Twitter client. I was merely curious to see just how sophisticated a JS application could be on the web.

Folks, I was totally blown away. Aside from being wildly impressed by what one could do with JS, I quickly switched gears into discovering just how much of the Twittersphere I was ignoring (even though some of the people that I had been following for years are Twitter Rock Stars). Even more impressive is the fact that you can click on skip login, and get a complete sense of how PeopleBrowsr works, without entering your Twitter credentials.

In fact, in their default non-login mode, you already see many cool features, and can start to explore the application.

PeopleBrowsr is so awesome that many people have covered it extensively, and have done so better than I ever could. The list truly goes on and on, but I’ll just put forth three links, two video, and one blog, if you want a feature oriented tutorial:

A fantastic introduction to PeopleBrowsr Lite Mode (recommended for people who want to get their feet wet with PeopleBrowsr).

A fantastic introduction to PeopleBrowsr Advanced Mode (this is the mode I use). The same author intends to produce a video about Business Mode in the near future, and I look forward to viewing that as well.

Guruvan has an in-depth article on why he switched from TweetDeck to PeopleBrowsr, and there are many good points in there. It’s a long, but worthwhile read.

PeopleBrowsr comes in two flavors, a browser-based version (best viewed in Google Chrome, Safari and Firefox) and an Adobe AIR version. The user interface is identical in both, but there is an important functional difference between them.

The browser version is resource friendly (both to your machine, and to their servers) in that it won’t update unless the PeopleBrowsr tab is in focus. For the casual Tweeter, or the person who can’t avoid distractions, this is ideal. Only when you wish to catch up with your Tweeps, do you switch to PeopleBrowsr, and see what you’ve missed.

The AIR version runs continuously in the background (as it should), and puts up the typical popup alerts whenever a new tweet comes in. Of course you can ignore them, but the whole point is to be aware of what’s happening in the twittersphere, and that means constant distractions. This isn’t unique to PeopleBrowsr, as any other AIR Twitter client will default to this behavior as well.

I would have preferred to use the AIR application, but I have found the browser based version to be a tad more reliable. So, for the moment, I use it in Google Chrome exclusively. PeopleBrowsr is still officially in alpha (beta coming any day now), but it’s reasonably rock solid most of the time. Occasionally, there are some glitches, but given the amount of raw power in this app, the growing pains are well worth it.

Now for the big win. Because PeopleBrowsr handles multiple Twitter accounts so well, I was inspired to register two new Twitter accounts. The first is my first public account, @hadarvc. The second is for a new micro-business that Lois and I have formed, but have not yet launched, @songsandjingles.

Handling all three accounts in PeopleBrowsr is not only easy, it’s fun.

The team behind PeopleBrowsr is tireless and talented. Their pace of innovation is incredible (another testament to them, and to the power of deploying JS-based applications). They are super-responsive to any issues brought up by their users.

I highly recommend anyone who uses Twitter to give PeopleBrowsr a try. If you don’t use Twitter, and want to know what all the fuss is about, then PeopleBrowsr is a pretty cool way to discover some of the more interesting things about Twitter, without even having to create an account. How cool is that? 🙂

Update: I should mention that PeopleBrowsr is way more than a Twitter client. It can connect to many Social Media sites, including Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, FriendFeed, etc. For the purpose of this blog post, and for the majority of my personal use of PeopleBrowsr, I only covered the Twitter portion…

Welcome Vista x64

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I wrote quite a while ago that I had ordered two new laptops for Lois and me, with Vista x64 on them. They took a lot longer to arrive than anyone thought (including the vendor, PowerNotebooks), due to delays in getting the LCD’s from China.

Because of all of the delays, I had to keep updating my shipping address (we’re nomads). Unfortunately, while I communicated the correct address by the time the machine actually shipped, due to human error (which originated at the vendor, but then was replicated at UPS), they shipped to the apartment, even though we were at the house. They arrived at the apartment at 7:45pm last Thursday. Once I verified with the doorman that they were there, Lois and I drove the 2-hour round-trip in the rain to bring them back to the house.

I didn’t boot mine until the morning, knowing that if I turned it on at 10pm, I would have stayed up all night. 😉

I wanted to blog about my first impressions on Saturday, but I’ve been wildly busy (largely with the new toys, but with a number of other things as well) that by now, it’s no longer fair to call it a first impression, since I’ve been using the machine full time for five days now.

First the bottom line, for those who don’t care about details (and are annoyed to have read through the intro already!): I love Windows Vista x64, and I love this particular laptop even more!

OK, on to the details, for those who care.

First, the machine, because it’s the most awesome laptop I’ve ever used. There’s only one thing I am not crazy about on it, and I’ll definitely get used to it (thankfully, I always do!).

Here’s a link to the base model of my machine. I upgraded a number of the features, notably:

4GB low-latency RAM
1920×1200 screen res
Intel P9500 low wattage CPU
4GB Turbo Memory
320GB SATA 7200RPM Disk
Windows Vista Ultimate 64 bit

Most of my friends have Macs, and they swear by them. I made a career on Wall Street deploying NeXT machines, so I full well understand the power of the Mac. There are many reasons why I haven’t been tempted to buy one, but near the top of the list is the fact that you are locked in to their hardware, and you pay a premium for the privilege, in every respect!

This machine is customized and tuned to my exact needs. And even with the above tweaks, it’s cheaper than a high-end MacBook Pro (yes, yes, I know that they look cooler, ooh…).

This machine is a screamer. I simply can’t believe how fast things load, and how fast they run. One example (of many!) is iTunes. On my pretty damn fast Windows XP machine (it had a Desktop Pentium IV running at 3.4GHz!) iTunes took forever to load before even showing the Loading Library message. On this laptop, you better not blink. You never see the Loading Library message, as iTunes is already open a second after you double click the icon. Wow.

But, the additional 4GB of Turbo Memory (the equivalent of built-in Windows Boost) is amazing. I recently wrote about my new favorite program, Digsby. While Digsby runs fast enough (even on the old machine), it actually loads quite slowly. While acceptable on the new machine, it was one of the few apps that wasn’t screaming. I config’ed it to run from the Turbo Memory, and it’s now a screamer too. Other programs that ran nearly instananeously anyway, are now truly instantaneous. Awesome!

One final word on the machine, it’s cool! No, I don’t mean cool, as in design cool like a Mac. I mean it runs cool. After it’s on for 12 straight hours, you can touch the bottom of the machine, and it’s not even warm! Practically every laptop I’ve touched in the past five years (this wasn’t the case 10 years ago!) runs hotter than an oven. You can’t put them on your lap, ever. This one feels like it wasn’t even turned on.

There are two reason why I chose the low-wattage version of the Intel CPU (25 Watts instead of 35). The first was so that it wouldn’t run so hot (man, this was a bigger win than I expected). The second is related, and that is that if it doesn’t run so hot, it would be quieter (Lois’ last machine was louder than a Jet Engine!), because the fans wouldn’t have to work overtime. This machine is whisper quiet, all day, every day!

Now the one thing I don’t like about the machine. The keyboard layout is different enough from my last machine that I keep having to look to hit certain keys (notably, the arrow keys, which are too tightly placed, and the delete key). Also, while there is a full-size shift key on the left, the right hand shift key is chiclet-sized. The enter key is a little small too. The tactile feel is OK, but pressing keys makes a louder noise than I care for, making me self-conscious when I type while Lois is asleep (happens more often than you’d think). I always get used to new keyboards, so this too shall pass, but at the moment, it’s the only annoyance I have with the machine…

I agonized for months about which OS to run on my (eventual) new laptop. I really wanted it to be Linux. I was tired of the Microsoft treadmill. I like Linux, so that wasn’t going to be a problem (I really like administering my own server). However, I knew that I would have to run Windows (any flavor) in a Virtual Machine (VM), for a number of applications that I really don’t want to live without (yes, I can easily live without them). The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was just copping out to not just recommit to another round of Windows on the new laptop.

So, with that, I had to decide whether to stick with XP, which I basically like (I certainly don’t love it), or give Vista a shot, or wait until Windows 7, etc. After helping a friend with a new Vista laptop, I was an instant hater of Vista, and quite vocal about it. I blogged about how stupid Microsoft was for forcing people to take Vista instead of extending the life of XP (which they ended up doing at least twice!). So, I’m not coming at this from a fanboy perspective.

Then I heard from a few friends that after installing Vista SP1 (Service Pack 1), their machines became rock solid. When my friend’s machine was overtaken by spyware, I agreed to clean it for her. It was as painful dealing with it as it was the first time. But, after fighting it for a few hours, I was finally able to force SP1 to install (from a USB key, which I downloaded SP1 onto from my XP laptop!). Once SP1 was on the machine, it became completely stable.

That gave me at least the courage to consider Vista. I started reading as many blogs as I could about people’s actual experiences with it. The more I read, the less nervous I was. People were also raving about Vista x64. I wanted the benefits of extra memory, the Turbo Memory, etc., but I was worried about compatibility. Most people said it simply wasn’t an issue. So, nervously, I chose the x64 flavor.

I am very glad I did. I can’t believe how well the 32-bit emulation/virtualization works. It’s invisible. Everything installs normally (no warnings, just into a separate “Programs (x86)” directory. You can’t feel any difference in the speed (at least not on this class of machine). Programs that I was really afraid would give me a hassle just worked, perfectly, the first time.

In addittion, quite a number of programs are available in native 64 bit versions, including iTunes!

So far, there is a single program that I have that doesn’t fully support Vista x64. Palm Desktop. Even that runs in 32-bit mode, correctly (even though their page doesn’t even make that claim, simply stating that the application isn’t supported on 64 bit operating systems, implying it won’t even install!). The only thing that doesn’t work (and it’s a biggie!) is that they don’t support Hot Syncing over a USB cable (which I really need, regardless of the fact that I have built-in Bluetooth support on the machine and on my Treo 755p).

So, they were too lazy to get a 64-bit USB driver coded? Seriously, that’s all that’s missing. And people wonder why Palm is going out of business as fast they possibly can. Mac is going 64 bit, Vista is, the world is (eventually), but Palm can pretend that it just doesn’t matter to them…

Am I annoyed? A drop, but it will simply accelerate my switch to a non-Palm phone, even though I’m reasonably happy with my Treo (I started with the 650, upgraded to a 700 and then to a 755, so they will be losing a very loyal customer), I will likely get a Google Android phone, whenever the right model becomes available on Verizon (I’m currently a happy Sprint customer, yes, the only one perhaps, but they too will be losing me over issues like this…).

So, that leaves 32 vs 64 bit decisions. For example, there are versions of Firefox (my default browser) that are 64 bit (code name Minefield). After thinking about it a lot, and reading a lot, I decided that I’d rather go for the latest build, supported by Mozilla, with the latest security patches. So, I have gone with 32 bit versions whenever the 64 bit version isn’t natively supported by the vendor. I have had zero regrets. Firefox screams, Thunderbird screams, Google Chrome screams, etc.

I was a tad worried that apps like Sling Box wouldn’t work well. Wrong. Not only is it running nicely, it’s the latest version (which was an upgrade for me) 2.x. It even correctly updated the firmware on my Sling Box at home (300 miles away at the time I did it) over my Verizon FiOS link (which is fast enough for me not to have worried about doing it remotely!). Of course, my Poker software runs too, whew! 😉

So, other than Palm being stupid and lazy, I haven’t found anything that didn’t just work. Any compatibility issues between my favorite XP apps and Vista were theoretical, thankfully. I am not giving Vista the credit for the speed improvements, as I bet that this laptop would have run XP way faster than my old one did, but still, Vista hasn’t slowed me down, or gotten in my way.

Since the machine is fast, I have all of the animations (Aero stuff) turned on. They’re cool, and since they aren’t even slowing me down even slightly, I’ll keep the eye candy on! (They’re off on Lois’ machine, because the motion makes her sick, literally, so it’s not a speed issue there either.)

Finally, one of my favorite features of Vista (it’s also available to be downloaded and installed in XP) is Windows Desktop Search (WDS). I have been a long-time user of X1 (I started when they had a deal with Yahoo!, calling the download Yahoo! Desktop Search). To me, it killed Google Desktop Search (though GDS has had a number of version upgrades, so I’m comparing old versions). X1 indexes everything, including my Thunderbird mail, and I find things instantly.

In addition, I also ran Launchy for keyboard launch services (very happily, it’s a great program). Neither is necessary any longer. WDS is fantastic, and instantaneous as well. There are a number of ways to get at it, but the simplest is to press the Win key (or click the Windows Icon, previously known as the Start Menu). Then just start typing.

I use it to launch programs (rarely do I have to type more than the first two characters, then hit Enter). I use it to search for text in documents, contact info, etc. The only problem for me at the moment is that it doesn’t natively index Thuderbird email (it does a wonderful job of Outlook mail, obviously). There is a years-old plugin for Thunderbird 1.x, and I don’t want to install it. I can index Thuderbird files as if they were just plain text files, but I’ve chose not to as yet.

I’m waiting (patiently) for Thunderbird 3.0, a few more months only (I hope), because it has a plugin for WDS to enable native search. That will be the final icing on this wonderful cake. Not to start a flame war (seroiusly), but I’ve looked over the shoulder of Mac users when they used Spotlight, and it’s a funny joke to me that anyone would consider it usable…

So, from a true hater of Vista, to a true fanboy, in about six months. And, of course, a major fanboy of PowerNotebooks as well.

Digging Digsby

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I’ve been a very long-time user of Pidgin (previously called Gaim). I’ve also been a very happy user with no particular impetus to look into other IM clients.

In addition to IM, I have accounts with a number of social networking sites. I am not particularly active on any of them (with the exception of Twitter), but I do log on when I get email alerts from any of them. Recently, I’ve been logging on at least daily to Facebook (I used to go weeks between logins).

I was recently friended by someone I went to High School with. Shortly after accepting the invitation, I received a chat invitation from her on the Facebook page. We chatted for a while, through the browser interface. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either, and more importantly, it meant that I had to have the Facebook page in focus in order to chat.

Yesterday I stumbled upon an article that mentioned IM clients that could connect to the Facebook chat system. I searched for “Pidgin Facebook Chat”, and indeed, there was a plugin available that supported this. Cool! However, in the Google search results page, I noticed an article on LifeHacker was in the list. I don’t visit that site often enough, but whenever I do, I find their recommendations spot on.

I clicked through and saw that they (and their readers, via the comments) were in love with an IM client called Digsby. What distinguished Digsby from other IM clients was that in addition to being a multi-protocol IM client (AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo!, Jabber, etc.), it also connected directly to Social Networking sites (currently four, more planned) and email accounts (web-based, like Hotmail, Yahoo!, Gmail, as well as POP and IMAP servers).

It sounded very cool, but from reading the comments, it was clear the Digsby users really loved the program. It started out as Windows only, but has since expanded to have Mac and Linux versions as well. I run Windows, so that’s the version I installed.

I’ve been using it for just under one day now, but I am definitely not going back. That’s not a knock on Pidgin, which is excellent as a multi-protocol IM client. It’s just that Digsby is that too, and a whole lot more!

I have Digsby connected to all four social networks that it supports: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn. I have it connected to my Gmail account, and to my main Jabber account (and through that, to my AIM and ICQ accounts). In addition to connecting to Facebook for the feed, I separately have it connected to the Facebook chat system as another IM protocol.

It all works flawlessly, is extremely attractive in the default skin (though there are more to choose from, that I haven’t bothered looking at). I tested the Facebook chat with a friend of mine who has complained about the Facebook chat system. I told him that from my side (the Digsby side), it was no different that any other chat. I believe he will be installing Digsby today. 😉

It means that I am now available to any of my Facebook friends for a chat, whenever I am logged on to my computer, even if I haven’t opened the Facebook web page. It also means that as my friends update their status on any of the four social networks, I see a popup letting me know that instantly.

In addition to that, I can hover my mouse over any of the social network icons, and get a wonderful time-line summary of the news feeds from each site. It’s an instantaneous way to see what you missed and what people are up to. Clicking on any link takes you directly to the correct page (a person’s profile, for example) from that summary, so even logging on to each network is now a click away.

Even the IM client has some nice touches (I want to say innovations, but for all I know, this exists in other multi-protocol clients). One of my favorites is collapsing multiple instances of the same contact from different networks into one icon. Here’s a specific example.

I have three separate contacts for Rob Page, the CEO of Zope Corporation. My primary connection with him is through my own Jabber server. We use an encrypted channel, on a private server, so that all of our jokes are top secret. 😉

We are also connected via AIM and ICQ. Now that Rob has a shiny new iPhone, his AIM account is also linked via SMS to his iPhone, so that he appears available at all times.

In Pidgin, all three took separate rows in the client. I never expected it to be different, so it didn’t bother me, but it made for long contact lists, since whenever Rob was logged on, all three were available. It also meant that I could accidentally IM him on ICQ when I meant to use Jabber.

In Digsby, I drag the AIM and ICQ contacts and drop them on the Jabber one (my default). Now I only see one Rob contact (I can call it whatever I want). If he’s logged on to any of the three services, I see a green icon, indicating that Rob is available. If I double-click to send him an IM, it will go to the first available service. So, if he’s logged in to Jabber (my first choice), the IM will always go there. If he’s not, it will go to the next one that is available. Since he’s always available via SMS (through AIM) to his iPhone, I always see a green icon for Rob.

Still, it only takes one row in my contact list, and I can’t ever send an IM to a secondary service (by accident) if he’s logged in to Jabber. By hovering on his icon, I can select any of the specific services that he’s logged in to, so I haven’t lost the ability to target a specific service, I’ve just gained space, and an automated priority hierarchy. Simple awesome!

Anyway, if you are interested in other features of Digsby, there are many places to learn more about it than I have articulated above. The point of this article is just to declare myself to be their newest fan, and very vocal one at that! 🙂