Microsoft Songsmith makes a song from your vocals

Creative Commons License photo: ValetheKid

Ever fancied writing a song but could never play an instrument?

Microsoft Research have released a programme called Songsmith. Songsmith records you singing into a computer microphone and automatically generates a musical melody to accompany it.

This is how Microsoft are marketing it:

Ever sing in the car? Maybe in the shower? You know who you are. Admit it, you like to sing, and you like music. Ever thought of writing your own music? Most people never get a chance to try… but we want to give everyone a piece of the songwriting experience, so we’ve developed Songsmith, an application that lets you create a complete song just by singing!

It’s a 98MB download. The free trial is fully-functional and lasts for six hours of use (measured as 6 hours whilst the program is running and active; not minimised). After that, it’s either 29 dollars or 29 euros to buy it.

What a cool programme!

Via Long Zheng.

Universal Document Converter: Review

Universal Document Creator is a small windows application ($69) which allows you to “convert” your documents into Adobe PDF files or image files. It works by installing itself as a printer on your system meaning you can use the converter from any programme through the Print dialog.

The name is somewhat a misnomer. The label “Universal” implies that the programme converts between different types of documents; in fact the programme only allows you to export your documents as images. The advantage is you can “export” your documents from all kinds of obscure programmes such as CAD and DTP software which is overlooked by traditional conversion software. But the conversion is very much one way and data is lost.

“Export” rather than “convert” would be a much more appropiate way to describe the function of the software. This is particularly evident in the “Document to PDF” feature. Dedicated tools which are designed to work with PDF files (e.g. Adobe Acrobat and PrimoPDF) will convert your original documents that fonts, text and shapes are embedded in the PDF file. The resulting document is pieced together by the PDF reader. This is fantastic as the document remains accessible, the textual information is not lost and files are much smaller. However, with Universal Document Converter, the PDF is exported as a bunch of pixels leading to much larger and inaccessible files and grainy text

That said – Universal Document Converter is good at doing it’s core job – exporting your documents to image files. Though the Printer Properties dialog, users are able to configure various aspects such as paper size and file quality. It’s certainly a lot easier than haphazardly print screening everything. The ability to integrate it into your existing flow through the COM-interface is certainly nice and the software can be set up so that it is installed as a network printer.

At $69 for a single user license, Universal Document Converter can be a tad expensive. If you’re looking for a tool to write PDFs, my advice would be to stay clear. Universal Document Converter will do the job for you, but in a way which I do not find satisfactory. Universal Document Converter does do a good job of exporting your CAD/DTP/Powerpoints as image files and provides all kinds of options such as compression, quality and pallet choice. If you’ve got a lot of documents to convert to images and you’d like to automate the process, Universal Document Converter could be for you.

This review is an advertising feature. fCoder provided me with a full version of Universal Document Creator for this review.

Obama adds 11MB to everyone's Vista install

Creative Commons License photo: jurvetson

It seems like Barack Obama has added 11MB to installs of Windows Vista across the world and is responsible for Microsoft pumping a 56MB download across the world.

The Register reports.

That’s an awful lot of megs, to be sure – just how many words are we talking about here? Microsoft explains:

The words “Friendster,” “Klum,” “Nazr,” “Obama,” and “Racicot” are not recognized when you check the spelling in Windows Vista and in Windows Server 2008.

Oh, and it’s an important update. It means that you won’t get Osama suggested for when you type Obama into Microsoft Word Mozilla Firefox still suggests Osama as a correction for Obama.

Does your name trigger a red wavy underline or an interesting spelling suggestion in Microsoft Word?

Via Uneasy Silence.

The Mystery White Box of MSN/Windows Live Messenger

Mystery White Box

I’ve noticed that this evening some mystery white boxes have begun to appear in Windows Live Messenger beneath display pictures. It’s just a strange white square which doesn’t seem to do anything.

Why am I making a post about such a seemingly banal thing you ask? Well…

It’s not in all conversation windows. And I’ve heard that certain people using Windows Live Messenger 9 see a Microsoft Office icon rather than a blank square.

The reason why this is possibly significant is because it could hint that Microsoft is launching a way for people to collaborate on Microsoft Office documents through Windows Live Messenger. A way to collaborate on work through WLM and Office certainly seems a lot more natural than using Google Docs.

I had a phase where I developed a few small applications which integrated with Windows Live Messenger and there was definitely a hint of future Office integration in there. In the “What am I listening to?” music feature, changing one argument in the API function call would give you the Office logo instead in the message

My prediction is that Microsoft is just about to launch a feature where you can collaborate on documents. The only thing is there doesn’t seem to be any logic in which contacts the white box appears with. I thought it might have been visible for people who used Office 2007 but that doesn’t seem to be the case, nor does it seem to matter whether the other person has a copy of Office running.

Watch this space…

AVG8 deleted all my e-mail

365-223 TUE MAY 29
Creative Commons License photo: Nils Geylen

Grr… I allowed AVG 8 to run a computer scan for viruses earlier. When it came back, it said it had detected 96 threats and automatically removed them all; I didn’t think anything of it because they were just attachments in e-mails in my inbox. Unfortunately, Mozilla Thunderbird stores all of it’s e-mail in one file and some of my spam e-mails had contained viruses inside them. So AVG decided to the entire Inbox file meaning I’ve now essentially lost 4 years of e-mail. Included in those e-mails were all kinds of things including invoices, essays, important e-mails, website login details, letters and university administrative documents. Deleted by AVG, not moved to the Virus Vault.

I’m really annoyed with AVG at the moment. I am very lucky in the fact that I use Google Mail and it archives all e-mail which has been downloaded via POP3 rather than throwing them away as most e-mail services would. So I’ve probably still got copies of most of those e-mails lying around somewhere.

There’s probably a month worth of e-mail in several accounts I need to trawl through to find the ones which I’ve not yet attended to or had previously marked as “to be read”. I have several e-mail accounts for different purposes and Thunderbird downloaded e-mail from them all to compile a big inbox of all new e-mail.

It’s not a catastrophic data loss. I can only thank Google for having a backup. But it could easily have been one. It’s very frustrating: trawling through backups is really the last thing I really want to do right now with exams coming up.

Says Mozillazine:

Some antivirus software unfortunately isn’t familiar with Thunderbird, so when it detects a virus in your Inbox, it takes action on the whole file (your entire Inbox) instead of taking action on just one e-mail. For instance, if your antivirus software is set to automatically delete infected messages, it might delete your entire Inbox! This problem is due to a design flaw in certain AV programs, not in Thunderbird, and it is known to occur with Outlook Express and other e-mail programs too.

Apparently AVG7 worked fine with Thunderbird too: it’s AVG8 which introduces the problem where the entire inbox is deleted. I’ve disabled “Automatically heal/remove infections” so in the future hopefully AVG will ask before deleting my inbox. Well, now you know. Safeguard your inbox from AVG8 before you upgrade.

UK Piracy Levels Falling

The BBC reports that the piracy levels in business in the UK are falling for the first time in 3 years. The piracy rate has fallen 1% to 26%.

Despite the fall in UK piracy rates and 66 other nations studied in the report, the global rate of piracy grew during 2007.

The average global rate of piracy now stands at 38% – up three points on 2006. The BSA said this was because sales of PCs grew fastest in countries where piracy was rampant.

Armenia now tops the rankings of nations with most pirated software. The BSA estimates that 93% of software used in the country is pirated. The US has the lowest rate at 20%.

Na hraně dat - On The Data Edge
Creative Commons License photo: Johny hanging…

The BSA (Business Software Association) claim the reduction in piracy is due to education.

Perhaps it’s partially due to that, but I think other factors are at play.

First of all, Microsoft has essentially been giving away it’s flagship products for free or a very low prices to students. Certainly students and teenagers used to use a lot of pirated software because they have no income of their own, no credit card or way to buy software and also have greater knowledge of how to use programmes such as P2P. I believe quite a few people have been taking up the offer of discounted software from Microsoft so I think this has helped in reducing piracy.

Secondly, with so much good quality open source software out there these days there is no good reason to buy pirated software. Open source software is usually at least as good as their commercial counterparts and are much easier to obtain than their commercial counterparts.

I’ve been thinking about the economics of open source software. It’s surprising that software which costs absolutely nothing could be economically sustainable especially when so much of economic theory says that software which is developed by commercial companies should be much more innovative and of a higher quality.

I really don’t agree with software piracy but I think with the wide availability of decent open source software, I don’t think there are any good reasons for it either.

Best Anti-Virus Software? And McAfee Spam…

Here’s a question I wanted to put out to all of you. I currently use AVG Anti-Virus. This is despite having had one years of free McAfee Anti-Virus over the last year (with my broadband subscription) and at the moment I’ve got a free 3 month subscription to Norton Anti-Virus (I haven’t even installed it).

I only managed to use McAfee for about 2 days before deciding it was a resource hog. Recently, I recieved no fewer than eight e-mails from McAfee in short succession asking me to renew my subscription. Subject in bold and quote from email below. In chronological order:

  • SecurityCenter Early Renewal Special, Save Up To 20%
    “Don’t get left behind. Hurry, these special offers expire 29 February 2008.”
  • Renew your McAfee Internet Security by 31st March and get 50% off!
    “We are offering you an early renewal price of just £24.99, so once your initial 1 year trial ends you will benefit from an additional 12 months protection for half the normal price.”
  • OFFERS END SOON – SAVE up to 37% on SecurityCenter Renewal
    “Deals like these don’t come your way very often, so jump on this chance to save a bundle on powerful new 8-in-1 SecurityCenter. Don’t wait, because these offers expire 2 April 2008.”
  • Save 30% on 3 Years of New SecurityCenter
    “See, it really does pay to buy in bulk. Do it soon, because this three-year special offer expires 24 April 2008.”
  • This is your last chance before curtains come down
    “To take advantage of these substantial savings click below, the special renewal offers will expire 30 April 2008.”
  • Your PC Protection Expires in 7 Days.
    “Your subscription expires on: 19/04/2008.”
  • Your PC Protection Expires Today.
    “Don’t risk any interruption in your safety, renew your McAfee Internet Security Suite 3 user license subscription now for just £33.49, save 33% off the regular price.”
  • RENEW NOW, Save 30% on 2 years of SecurityCenter
    “Don’t wait, because this two-year offer expires 9 May 2008.”

As you can see, McAfee are pretty desperate to get me to renew. The deadline for a renewal was extended seven times and the amount of saving fluctuated everywhere. And interestingly, renewing 7 days before the end of the subscription would have meant paying the full price whilst renewing on the day it ended, you would have saved 33%.

What I’d be really interested in is this: which anti-virus solution do you use? Is it worth paying for anti-virus? Should Mac and Linux users install anti-virus?

Apple EULA forbid install of Safari on Windows

This is pretty funny. Apparently after Apple installed Safari through the backdoor on millions of computers, it turns out the EULA for Safari actually said that users are only permitted to install Safari on “a single Apple-labeled computer at a time.” In other words, it’s illegal to install “Safari for Windows” on a Windows computer.

Now, if everybody has indeed installed “Safari for Windows” knowingly in the ways that Apple fans claim: users read through the dialogs and specifically choose to install Safari, it is a surprise that it has taken a week for somebody to notice this clause in the EULA. I mean, if a couple of million of people have agreed to a license they obviously haven’t read (and this clause is near the top), what are the chances that anybody even bothered reading the software update dialog, finding out what Safari even was and whether they wanted it on their computer?

The EULA has been updated since this story broke.

Free Microsoft Software: Visual Studio, Windows 2003, Expression

If you’re a student, you can download free Microsoft software from Microsoft’s DreamSpark website.

Now, for the first time, Microsoft is giving its valuable software developer and design tools directly to students worldwide at no charge! This site enables students like you to download professional-level Microsoft developer and design tools to unlock your creative potential and set you on the path to academic and career success, by supporting and advancing your learning and skills through technical design, technology, math, science and engineering activities.

Your university will verify that you are a student. If you currently attend college you can get an ISIC Card for £9 to verify that you’re a student.

Products available include:

  • Microsoft Visual Studio 2008
  • Microsoft Windows Server 2003
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Express Edition
  • Microsoft Expression Studio
  • XNA Game Studio 2.0
  • XNA Creators Club Online
  • Microsoft Visual Studio 2005

Not bad for free eh?

McAfee Security Center

Being an avid blogger, I would like to exercise my huge influence over this internets by publicly declaring how much of an idiot I am for installing McAfee SecurityCenter, which is perhaps the worst piece of software I have ever used.

I’ve been a happy user of AVG Anti-Virus and Sygate Personal Firewall for quite a while but seeing as I got given a 12-month subscription to McAfee, I thought: "Hey, you get what you pay for" and promptly installed it. 

And there the problems began.

  • The time it took for the computer to load was about 20 seconds extra, compared to the previous setup.
  • McAfee failed to work out which IPs were on my local network and I had to spend an evening working out why file/print sharing was no longer working.
  • Every time I turned on the computer, McAfee told me that the Privacy Service had updated and telling me to restart the computer. If I agreed, I would have to wait for the computer to boot up twice before actually managing to get any work done.
  • After an update, McAfee broke and popped up with the error: "Application resources could not be loaded successfully. Please reinstall McAfee SecurityCenter."
  • An uninstall gave "An error occured whilst uninstalling McAfee SecurityCenter." Clicking on the "Close" button caused the uninstaller to crash.

I’m back to AVG and Sygate now, and the only positive outcome of installing McAfee was managing to waste the money of my ISP who provided it to me.