Category “Information Technology”


Tuesday, 26 October, 2010

Personal Information Management (PIM) is what I have been keeping myself busy with the past few days.  A friend and I have been speaking about this for a while now and I know that it is a big thing for other people as well.  I already have a Delicious and a Remember the Milk account, but they are very limited in their application.  Other people get lyrical about Zotero, but it does not click with me for the reason that it limits you to a specific browser1.  BasKet Note Pads looks interesting (I am a sucker for KDE), but I have not been able to get it running on my system yet and I suspect that it will be cumbersome to use between different systems.  Then, of course, there is Evernote.  Again, Evernote does not strike my fancy.  One reason is that it is one more thing which I need to register online for (which, quite frankly, I am over doing—when will OpenID take over the Internet already?).  Another is that it does not provide a client for Linux.  And something has always felt off about it… I don’t know why.  I cannot justify this feeling, because I have never actually used Evernote.  I am sure that it is better than I imagine it to be, but I imagine that it is too easy to just lose information in there without ever really getting back to it.

At some point the idea hit me to start a personal wiki.  I am not a huge fan of wikis: yes, they have their place, but people sometimes abuse wikis (meaning they employ wikis when other CMSs would have been better suited for the job).  Also, just like with bulletin board software, there are simply too many choices out there for the average person to consider.  So many people just default to the “standard”, which at the moment is MediaWiki, rather than researching which would be the best wiki for their purposes.  But what I wanted was something which offered a fair substitution for something like Evernote, and a wiki seemed like the best idea, because I can also link and use non-text media.

I wanted the wiki to be simple and personal.  I do not want something publicly online.  Basic HTTP authentication is too vulnerable in my opinion and anything more sophisticated is too much work.  So I decided that I want a stand-alone wiki which I can host in the Dropbox account which I already have2.  I woke up one morning with all of these ideas and quickly did some quick research on my cellphone.  Before I got up out of bed, I had narrowed my options to MoinMoin Desktop Edition and vimwiki.  I was quickly scared off from MoinMoin, though, when I saw that it was a 29MB download—definitely not lightweight!  But vimwiki drew me right in: not  only am I a huge Vim fan, but setting it up was really quick.  Weighing in at under 100KB compressed, this was the type of lightweight I was looking for!  It is not everyone’s cup of tea, however, and not only because it is built on Vim: it produces bare-bones HTML with no non-default formatting.  This suits me perfectly, as I can tie in a CSS file and style my wiki from the ground up.  This being a personal wiki, only I shall be using it and I shall spend most of my time editing it, so how the finished product looks is really a moot point. :-)

Thus far I am loving it and it has allowed me to consolidate and clear up some clutter on my desktop(s)3.  This is definitely for a power-user.  What I love most is that fact that it can be as general as one wants, so I can bring all my diverse interests together and keep them in a single place (but on different wiki pages, of course).  I can also be as specific or as cryptic as I want as I catalogue the dozens or hundreds of little points-of-interest which I have gathered over the years in loose, disjoint files, open browser tabs and even scraps of paper littering my desk and drawers.  One does find oneself quickly wishing for more features, however, but I hope that as the vimwiki project develops, it will grow in features.  From what I can gather from the project’s website, it has a small but enthusiastic user-base.  If only I had time, perhaps I could contribute…

  1. These days I use both Firefox and Chrome concurrently, but I am still not keen on putting all my chips on a browser extension []
  2. Using Dropbox would allow me to access my wiki wherever I have an Internet connection, as well as enabling me to use my wiki offline. []
  3. I can, of course, use vimwiki under both Linux and Windows using gVim. []


Tuesday, 2 September, 2008

We interrupt our series on “June/July 2008″ to bring you the following breaking news.  Google has unveiled its latest product: Google Chrome.  Google Chrome is Google’s browser, and it has hit the world like a storm.

Chrome is the latest in a torrent of products Google has unleashed (or at least revealed), which includes, amongst others, Google Gears and Android.  These products have made Google a serious threat to its competitors; most notably Microsoft.  Google has long been ill-content with only offering web services (Google Search, Orkut, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, the list just goes on…) and is moving unto people’s Desktops and hard drives.  This is freaking many people out, who are seeing Google as the next Microsoft in disguise: a corporation which will eventually swallow up anything and everything until it can rule with an iron first.  If haven’t paid much heed to these conspiracy theories, but the launch of Chrome is the first thing than unsettles me a bit.  See, I love my Firefox and it will be hard for me to give it up.  That said, I am terribly excited about trying out Chrome, due mostly to its intriguing design process.

The other thing is that Google is wielding a very powerful weapon extremely skilfully: open source software.  Chrome has been made open source.  Google knows how much to take and how much to give back.  Of course, when you are already rolling in the money, it is easy to open up your ideas and code.  But Google has been doing this from day one and in doing so has won the loyalty of many developers.  It is even predicted that Google’s OpenSocial will be a serious threat Facebook (although I doubt this myself, as apps would have to become the dominant factor in social network websites, which I don’t think it will).

But back to web browsers.  I am anxious to see what is going to happen in the “Browser Balance of Power”.  The browser market has always been a two-horse town: first it was Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator1, and now it is Internet Explorer and Firefox.  According to the latest statistics, Firefox has just under 50% of the market share, while a variety of versions of IE make up slightly more than 50%.  The third and fourth most popular browsers (Opera and Safari), together make up 4.7% of the market share.  At the beginning of the decade Microsoft dominated as Netscape was decaying, but more than 10 years ago Netscape dominated IE.  Since the early 90s (when the browser wars started), the forces at war have not varied much.  Now, Chrome is on the scene.  It is made by Google, and if anyone knows the web, its Google.  The design of Chrome, unlike with Firefox or modern version of IE, started with a clean slate: no legacy to cling on to (which would inevitably get in the way, according to the makers of Chrome).  I believe Mozilla will manage to hold on to a fair share of the market2.  And as long as Windows is the dominant operating system, there will always be IE users, no matter how universally appalling it is.  So, will the tug-of-war be three-way?  Or will Chrome deal a swift and decisive blow to its competitors?  I think we’ll find out before long.

We shall now shortly return to the conclusion of our “June/July 2008″ series.

  1. Mozilla, who makes Firefox, arose from the ashes of Netscape, so you can think of the tug-of-war as pretty much the same it has always been. []
  2. In June 2008, Firefox obtained a world record for the most downloads of a software product in 24 hours; that is not something people simply walk away from, I think. []