Social Media needs moderation

30 07 2009

Social Media is a great way of engaging the public, getting involved with conversations and enhancing any online presence you may have. However, like all things open to the general public, it can be open to abuse.

There has been a lot of discussion on Twitter today about such abuse, mainly regarding spammers and “bots” (automated robot type applications) but also the actions of a minority number of actual users. You see, Twitter, like all social based websites, is open to abuse from anyone or anything that can get an account open. With today’s APIs and concept of sharing, it’s even easier for spammers to set up applications that latch onto people, discussions and basically hijack conversations going on sending out their load of rubbish to anyone and everyone…

Add to this that small number of people who seem to use Social Media to be abusive (just spend a little time on You Tube reading comments and you will see what I mean), you can see why large numbers of genuine users of Social Media get hacked off.

This is something we just need to put up with

Now this is a statement I hear far too often. Or alternatively we read something along the lines of “we provide users with tools that can combat abusive users”. The latter is true, on Twitter I can block someone if I feel they are abusive, I can also report a post as abusive on You Tube for example. However, how many of us actually take the time to help moderate? It also doesn’t help me with filtering out the amount of Spam I have to shift through when looking at a trending topic on twitter, or the amount of silly abusive comments I have to read on You Tube before I get to see something valid.

Websites that allow customer feedback are always prone to such issues, however, many of these (and I strongly suggest all businesses do this), moderate and check peoples posts before allowing them to be published to the world. I know this can be time consuming, but with a good business process behind this, it can be quicker and easier than you think.

Make it harder

Simple basics make a great difference. I am always surprised how many basic security features, or basic business common sense is missing with Social media sites. For far too long Social Media websites have been caught up purely with increasing the number of users that use their website. This drive for numbers has always been at the expense of security and funny enough, the ability to actually make money (the latter is a different post).

So what things can social media websites do to make it harder for abusive users and spammers?

First off, why do Social Media sites not always authenticate a genuine user? Let’s check that someone is actually at that web address and make them follow some instructions before allowing them to open an account. Let’s get some information including their IP address.

Secondly, let’s follow their first “x” interactions (tweets for twitter, status updates in Facebook etc), monitoring them for obvious Spamming / abusive activities. This could be seen as a probation period. This isn’t hard to set up though would require a human element at some point.

Thirdly, let’s set up some rules to at least try to flag content that may be viewed as abusive or again as Spamming activities. If possible let’s have a moderation business process in place so that as many as possible posts can be checked and moderated before being made public (I can see this wouldn’t work on Twitter)

Fourthly, if someone is reported for any abuse (spamming, abusive messages etc) lets investigate these claims and if true, ensure that account is banned and all content removed. If we have their IP address, lets see if we can follow up this user using this, maybe inform the users ISP?

Finally (well for this small list), lets monitor trending topics (Twitter specific) for Spam. Once something gets close to the top 10, why not increase monitoring or employ a human to keep an eye on this.


At the end of the day, spammers and a small number of people / businesses with poor etiquette, have ruined the concept of mailing lists for eMail marketing. They now threaten to drown out valid content from within the Social Media sphere. Websites need to try to protect us, the users, against this behaviour. Its something they should have addressed from day dot, but since they haven’t, they need to address it as a matter of urgency…Facebook, Twitter, listen!

Lets try to ensure Spammers and the abusive few don’t ruin Social Media and destroy its potential…

SEO, it’s not for techies!

27 07 2009

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is often seen by companies as a task for web developers, or specialised companies. You don’t have to spend long looking on the web to find techie individuals and techie companies offering such services, some making claims that they will get your site on the first page of Google, Bing and Yahoo….The point is, SEO is NOT something you should be asking your IT guys to provide, and it’s for certain not something you should be going to a “specialised” company for…

There is a common belief, which simply is wrong, that SEO is a highly specialised technical field. In the past there maybe some truth behind this as web development companies looked for ways to “trick” search engines in ranking websites. However, Google, Bing, Yahoo etc aren’t silly, they soon caught on to these tricks and in some cases (BMW) ban websites from being ranked.

The truth is, SEO has almost nothing to do with web development, and is not a technical field, rather it is a highly important part of your organisations communications and PR. In this post I will try to explain why…

The techie part of SEO

There are some aspects of SEO that are technical, and it is these aspects that instantly make business believe the SEO is for the techie guys. The technical part of SEO though is very small, and is simply as follows:

  • Websites need to have “Tags” set up correctly within them
  • Websites should be structured in a “search engine friendly” fashion

So what do these two things actually mean? Well let’s have a quick look:

  1. Websites need to have tags: Your web page should have at least 3 “meta tags” set up. These tags are just like normal html tags, however one holds the title of the page (this is shown in the bar across the top of your web browser), one the description (this is a description of the content on this page) and finally, one the key words associated with your web page (these help search engines associate search words with your web page). Please note this really isn’t technical, anyone with access to a web page can set these up with two mins of training…
  2. Websites should be structured in a search engine friendly way: Well your web page should not have un-necessary content cluttering it up. This could be actual functions and code that is present to help create the “style” of the website. Such code and style information should be linked to in separate files. The webpage should also be structured so that the web page links can easily be found and content navigated to. If your web site conforms to W3C standards (and it should for accessibility and compliance) then your website structure is already there for SEO.

For sure, you need a technical person to be structuring and implementing your website. However, they don’t write your content, so why expect them to realise your SEO needs. Techies should be used only to implement SEO for you.


If SEO is not technical, what is it really?

Well to put it simply, those two technical points just make the site accessible and understandable to search engines, nothing more. SEO is about optimising communications and relationships, by that I mean optimising your website content and your online relationship with your customers / market place.

If you think about it, the way in which we use search engines is very simple, we simply type in what we think will bring back our desired results. So if I want to find a tennis shoe, I will no doubt type in Tennis Shoe or Shoes for example. The search engine is, to put it in very simple terms, using our search words or phrase and matching it to sites that mention tennis shoes. This means that to optimise your website for a search engine, you are really optimising your website for what a customer may search for, the way in which your customer is trying to find and communicate with your website.

This means that SEO has very little to do with technical aspects, but a lot to do with communications and PR.


Factors for good SEO

There are of course factors for good SEO, all of which sit with your communications and PR teams. So what are these factors? Well here is a list of some of the main contributors to good SEO, but by no means the complete story:

  1. Content is king. Your website content has to be well written, clear, concise and relate to peoples searching behaviour. So don’t fall for some SEO consultancy or web techie guy saying they can help. The only help you can get is from Communications / PR!
  2. Your keywords have to marry up with words customers may use to find your business. So you need to understand your customers and how they communicate with you
  3. Keywords aren’t just words you place in a tag at the top of the web page, they are words that should be found in the content of your web page
  4. Don’t dilute your keywords and content by adding everything under the sun. Ensure your website and content stays as focused as possible
  5. Your Social Media contribution / campaigns (Social Media has a very large part to play in building relationships and getting your website out there. This means it has a big part to play in your SEO ambitions)
  6. In-bound web links (this is still very important, the more websites that have relevant content to your own, that link to you, the more chances you have of improving your SEO success)
  7. Length of time you have been online (this is actually quite important. We still find websites that increase to rank higher the longer they have been around. So don’t expect your brand new website to displace anyone within days!)



Well it’s simple, understand what you actually want to achieve with your website and how it will be found in a search engine. By doing this you realise that the technical aspects are all relating to the implementation of the website, nothing to do with its content and very little to do with how customers find you on the web.

A website is essentially an extension of your organisations communications, public relations and sales. This means that SEO starts and stops with your communications / PR teams. Once businesses realise this, they will stop wasting money on SEO with so called specialist companies and get the right people for the job.

If you are looking for SEO services, talk to companies that specialise in Communications and or PR, alternatively web companies that use specialised people from these fields. Of course, little plug here, you can always use OD Media Alternatively, speak to a specialised Communications and PR company such as  GBC or GBC Chocolate

Multitouch revolution

22 07 2009

Let’s face it, anything in the technology world that allows or uses the term “touch” is cool. The iPhone really got people interested in touch technology, and before you know it, we all want a touch phone, or a PC with touch technology. But touch isn’t something Apple invented for its iPhone, nope, touch has been around for quite some time now. EPOS systems (like our own) have been using touch screens for years. It’s just that, well, Apple has done what Apple does best, makes something sexy and desirable, then markets it as something wonderfully new.

Touch at home…

In the past 18 months, we have seen a number of machines starting to use touch technology. Though a little under-spec for their price, they do deliver great user experiences, and a great look and feel. The problem has been that these machines have had to have their own software overlaying the Windows operating system, to really get a great “touch” experience.

Microsoft though, through its Surface development, has spent a long time looking into and developing its own touch screen and touch technology. Surface delivers some great experiences and touch ability, and if you start searching the web for videos of Microsoft Surface or Surface Sphere, you will see some simply stunning demonstrations. Surface has no doubt driven Windows 7 to support multitouch experiences, at a native operating system level. This really means touch screens will take off not just in the workplace, but at home now…

Microsoft have taken the touch revolution further, offering touch overlays for standard monitors and plasma screens, effectively touch enabling these devices. For me that’s great, it means I can use my 42” plasma display unit as a touch screen to give demonstrations at corporate events.

Touch for business

Well we all want user experiences to be as good as they possibly can be. More importantly, we want users to be able to use software quickly and easily, and hopefully, without the need for lots and lots of training. Touch does open up new doors for developers, especially those who develop desktop applications, and rich web applications, using Silverlight. Why? Well desktop applications will be able to take advantage of the touch capabilities of the operating system and Silverlight, also supports touch, though essentially Silverlight is used for web experiences.

With touch comes new ways of designing software, which can promote simpler yet more powerful user interfaces and rich experiences. For sometime, our own workFile Vision product has been designed with touch in mind, with interfaces that can only really work well if touch is in place.

It’s worth noting that, just because Windows 7 supports touch, it doesn’t mean your applications will automatically work with all touch features. A limitation with Silverlight is that it understands and recognises multitouch events; however, it doesn’t understand touch gestures. If you want to support gestures, you’re going to have to write your own application code.

What do we need to support multitouch?

So what do you need to have in place to support touch? Well, multitouch requires an environment (platform and operating system, hosting application such as a browser) that supports and can propagate touch events. Windows 7 provides such support at the operating system level. Touch events are promoted to mouse events; therefore standard applications will be able to take advantage of basic touch input. But multitouch is what we want, we want to be able to size windows with our fingers, quickly navigate through options, zoom in and out etc etc. Multitouch is what we need to be able to do these things…

For web applications, you need to ensure your application host is also touch aware. Now at the moment, the only “multitouch” aware browser I know of is IE8. This means that it will support multitouch events and propagate these to the web application correctly. So if you have a web application written in Silverlight, you can take advantage of multitouch events and deliver richer and more user friendly web experiences.

Catch up…

I have no doubt that Windows 7 touch experiences will lead to more and more people purchasing machines / monitors that allow touch experiences. This means Apple will have to start delivering touch experiences on the Mac too. Touch issues are also present in web browsers. Because currently the only multitouch aware browser is IE8, the likes of Safari, Chrome and FireFox need to play catch up. For me, if my machine supports touch, I want my browser to support multitouch too!

More and more desktop applications will need to start to support multitouch events. The same can be said of web based applications, be they business or for the general public. This means technologies such as Flash will also need to start supporting multitouch events. Especially as Silverlight already does…

For many, multitouch support could prove to be a nightmare, however, for those that choose to implement it, will no doubt enjoy better end user experiences and ultimately, sales…

Google to face antitrust wrath?

21 07 2009

Not my usual type of post this, but I have been reading quite a bit on this subject and thought I would have to share…

Christine Varney is head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division in the US, and was an attorney who represented Netscape in the late 1990s in a case where she painted Bill Gates and Microsoft as an overeager bully. So why the title of “Google to face antitrust wrath” for this post?

Well back in June 2008, Christine spoke at a conference about online law and antitrust. She stated that the technology industry was coming under the sway of a dominant behemoth, one that had the potential to stifle innovation and squash its competitors. The last time such words were used, Microsoft found itself at the centre of an aggressive antitrust case. Varney continued stating that Microsoft was not the problem, “I think we are going to continually see a problem, potentially with Google” she said. Instead of dominating the desktop, Varney said “Google was starting to colonize the emerging cloud-computing industry, amassing enormous market power and potentially creating an ecosystem that customers would be powerless to escape”.

On May 11th, this year, Varney made it clear that her stance on the subject hadn’t changed, indicating that Google may well be in her sights, letting it be known that she plans to take a forceful stance on the countries antitrust laws. “In the past, the antitrust division was a leader in its enforcement efforts in technology industries, and I believe we will take this mantle again”.

For me, this is clear intent that Google will be at the centre of some antitrust investigations, and to be honest, I am not surprised. For some time, Microsoft has been seen as the “bad guy” in the IT world, facing constant investigations and rulings, most recently issues within the EU regarding shipping IE8 with Windows 7. While Microsoft has been seeing the inside of the court room, Google has escaped such aggressive antitrust investigations.

Google is an angel?

Well this is what Google wants you to think. For far too long now, people have been spun the tale of two guys (Larry Page and Segey Brin) founding the company, providing free services to all, so that they may enjoy the web and find just what they want on it. People love this idea of two guys showing the way in technology, it’s a bit David and Goliath with Microsoft often getting painted as Goliath…However, let’s remember this company is now a massive organisation, and Larry and Segey aren’t at the helm any longer. In the past their two favourite words when questioned about the company’s activities have been “Trust us”. For me, that just doesn’t cut it….

Advertisers have been worried about Google’s market share for some time, and in the past three years, have seen Google’s market share of advertising raise from 50% to a massive 75%. Google has already attracted antitrust review regarding its plans to acquire online ad firm DoubleClick. In addition Google is now under investigation regarding its book-scanning project and the Federal Trade Commission are looking into whether the Apple board seats held by Google CEO Eric Schmidt and board member Arthur Levinson violate federal antitrust law. On the latter point I do hope some action is taken. I personally feel that Google has exploited some of the ideas of Apple, and has for sure made a move into core Apple markets (Google Phone vs iPhone; Chrome Browser vs Safari browser; Apple Mac OS vs Google Chrome OS)

For me, looking at the Google machine from the outside, it does appear that Google wants to dominate everything we do on the web, and more importantly want us to move away from the desktop and use the web for actual computing and storage. This is the reason behind such projects as Google Docs, gmail, Chrome browser and of course, Google Chrome OS. Google know the more of their products we use, the more of our habits they can trace, and the more they can sell this information to advertisers, bumping up their revenue. I am always concerned with Google trying to track our habits online, and by using more and more of their software end users provide them with exactly what they want, more ways in tracking our habits and information.

Any Conclusion…

Well the only conclusions I have come to is that Google (like any business) wants to grow as large as it possibly can, and is no longer the angelic organisation it may have once been. Google are using their massive market share of the search engine marketplace to try and dominate the web and the way in which we interact with it. I have no doubt this is having effects on smaller companies and is stifling innovation. Some may argue that it promotes competition; however I just don’t see any competition in place. Giving away free software, becuase you can afford it, means that smaller organisations just cannot compete. If they cannot make money from their ideas, designs, innovation and plain old hard development work, then how can they compete?

To be honest, I am sure that Google rightfully will be at the centre of some antitrust investigations, the question is, how soon…

True ECM Savings…#5

20 07 2009

This is my penultimate entry in this series of posts, and in this post I will be looking at Content Security in terms of not only access, but what happens to content in the case of flooding or fire (something that is often overlooked).

Flooding and Fires…

Not the nicest of titles, but it’s something every organisation must think about, “What happens to our content if the whole building goes up in smoke, or we are flooded out?” This is a question that is more often overlooked than you may think. I have visited many “large” organisations that really haven’t taken such disasters into consideration.

When storing files (especially paper) you will be amazed how often fires do crop up, simply do a search online and you will find examples of fires destroying organisations documents and content, including governmental records. A great example of disasters destroying content can be found looking at the after effects of hurricane Katrina. Warehouses full of content and documents relating to criminal prosecutions were lost, leading to hundreds of criminals being released, simply because the content couldn’t be retrieved electronically.

Now think of the actual cost to your organisation if you lost all of that content and documents. Not only may you be looking at issues regarding compliance, but no doubt massive costs will be incurred not to mention potential loss of business.

If all your content and documents are stored electronically, within a good ECM platform, these issues just aren’t there. Sure in some cases you may still want to store the physical paper, but this can be done off site at dedicated centres (outsourced). You still have access to all that content, even if the physical paper is destroyed. You can also distribute your backups of content easily; having backups at multiple sites ensuring that content is never lost.

And to think, I haven’t even mentioned theft of content…

Our content is secure without ECM?

Well no it isn’t. Paper is the most insecure form of storing content, think, if I can get physical access to the location of a file, anyone can read it, or worse, photo copy it and re-distribute as they choose. It really isn’t hard to open a file cabinet, pull out a file and start reading. Content security is more than just ensuring the office is locked at night, or having locks on the HR file cabinet.

It’s imperative that content is secured, in many cases for compliance, but in general, you cannot have employees looking at information they should have no access to. Think of the issues that may arise, loss of business to competitors, stolen ideas, staff suffering identity theft, I could go on.

Though many of us have watched Hollywood films with computer hackers gaining access to lots of sensitive information, and many of us have read about online hackers gaining access to our personal details, the reality is that electronic content is far more secure than paper.

With a good ECM solution, your content is secured in a number of ways, allowing you to grant different levels of access to content, dependent on individuals or their roles. You can also track just what files have been looked at and or any interactions with that content a particular user may have. No one can tamper with or replace a file, leaving you with false documentation. Such ECM solutions ensure content security is therefore controlled by the organisation itself, and not left open to any form of abuse.


ECM speeds up the way in which people work, by providing them with access to content when they need it. This remains true in the cases of natural disasters and theft. ECM also protects your organisations content and access to that content, reducing many content related risks.

This post can be seen as a post about highlighting the “potential” savings of ECM in times of crises. With this in mind, think of ECM as content insurance. You hope that none of these situations arise for your organisation, but if they do, you will be safe guarded and rewarded for your prudence, and save a lot of time and money.

Queuing for Windows 7

15 07 2009

It’s amazing that with all the press hype about Google Chrome OS, I have seen only a few posts in blog world and within Twitter that actually mentions Windows 7 is now on pre-sale within the UK. Reportedly the BBC states more copies of Windows 7 were sold than those of Windows Vista in its entire 17 week pre-ordering period! That’s an impressive start for Windows 7.

Vista hasn’t been that popular a version of Windows, it received lots of bad press initially some of which was just. However, I have been running Vista on a number of machines (including development platforms) since Vista was released, and well, surprise surprise, I haven’t had a single issue with it! It does show that the press really do have a say when it comes to influencing our spending habits and those of corporations even….Well, when it comes to Microsoft products for some reason.

So is Windows 7 just a quick fix for Vista. Well no, it’s more than just that, offering lots of improvements, including file management and performance, not to mention delivering new functions such as support for touch screen technology. Windows 7 has also had rave reviews (well as much support as you will find on the web for Microsoft products), so it isn’t that surprising that end users are queuing up to purchase their pre-ordered version, which they will receive on October 22nd when the software goes on general release in stores. (By the way, that’s my brothers birthday date.)

EU regulations

Well the EU has to be involved if it’s a Microsoft product, and this time the powers that be have ruled that Windows 7 cannot be shipped with a web browser (great…who made that decision?). This is to do with an anti-trust ruling but also to do with competition. One of the big issues I have with this is that it only seems to effect Microsoft, I don’t see Apple having to sell their machines and OS without Safari? I am also sure Google Chrome OS will be shipped with the Chrome browser pre-installed too? So not sure how decisions are being made behind closed doors at the EU. Needless to say, us the end users and general public are the ones who suffer for this plain stupidity.

Windows 7 Prices

Well for home users you are looking at around £50, professional setting you back £99.99, which for such a class operating system is not bad value for money. I think many people have forgotten just how hard it is to write an operating system, it’s not a simple task. If it were, I am sure Google would have written one instead of using Linux, adding their browser and putting their own name to it…

Business take up?

This could be the first time we see businesses actually jumping to the latest version of Windows sooner rather than later. Often businesses like to wait until at least one service pack has been released before they entertain upgrading their machines. However, with Windows 7 I get a real feel from in house IT systems that they are looking forward to getting their hands on the OS and getting it rolled out.

I also think that SMEs will be looking to upgrade as soon as they can, though their route is usually via purchasing new machines as and when they need them, as opposed to upgrading machine operating systems across the board.

Some figures on Windows 7 take up (predictions)

Predictions are that some 7 million units of Windows 7 will be sold by the end of this year, with this figure increasing to some 177 million units by the end of 2010. In contrast, Vista is expected to sell only 18 million units. This isn’t surprising really, is it…


Well read the press and there is expected to be lots of competition from Google, however, I don’t really see this to be the case. Google have come very late to the OS market, one which is dominated by Windows, and one where the majority of average joes, prefer the idea of having only a single operating system. No matter what the hype is that surrounds Google Chrome OS, the fact of the matter is that Windows 7 will no doubt be a better operating system. Also, Chrome appears to be geared (at first at least) to the Netbooks marketplace, one which is rather small.

The usual comparisons will be made though, no doubt in October we will see lots of comparisons between Apple Mac OS X and Windows 7….


For once the hype is right, Windows 7 is a great OS and I cannot see any argument for choosing any alternative, be it for business or home use…It’s just a shame the EU have to get involved…

Google hype and blog distortion

14 07 2009

Since the announcement of Google Chrome OS, it seems to me that online communities have gone nuts, either with over hyped stories of how great the Google OS will be, or completely the other way, stating just how poor Google is as a company, how unfocussed they are.

What is striking is that no matter what, Google does attract lots of hype, sometimes correctly so, but recently, maybe not. It also illustrates to me that, mention the name “Google”, and you get either one of two reactions, love or hate. This kind of reaction used to be reserved just for Microsoft…By the way, that doesn’t mean I think that is a good sign or a bad sign, just an observation.

Google hype

So just why does Google manage to be surrounded by such hype in everything it does, well announces at least? The only answer I can really point to is that many people, including bloggers and the press, still regard Google as a nice company, run by two guys out of a shed or something. A company with great morals, that stands for freedom of information etc. However, this vision just simply isn’t true. Remember Google was sold and is now a big old corporation, now more than a little in the Microsoft mould funny enough. I also find it funny that people forget just how many court cases Google has been involved with, many of which regarding people’s basic rights, such as privacy.

The company does provide the worlds foremost search engine, one that has a massive market share and one which many claim to be the best and most accurate. The search engine does deserve all its hype, as to put it simply; it’s a great search engine. The company also has to be applauded in the way it has monetised its search engine with online advertisements, targeted based on peoples search key words. (Though this has been the subject of some court cases and accusations of Google misleading web users and misidentifying sponsored links).

Google company direction

From the outside looking in, I can see many arguments for why people claim Google may be losing it’s way, and is reacting to things in the IT industry, rather than taking the lead. I have read lots about how Google is simply providing new software and services to plug a gap in the market, but that simply isn’t true is it. We have a number of browsers and a number of operating systems already, do we need more?

What we are seeing is Google doing what any sensible business should do and that is diversifying. Any business should not rely on one sole area, in Googles’ case advertisement revenue from its search engine. So diversifying makes sense.

A web browser is the obvious choice, though very few people have chosen to use the Chrome browser provided by Google. However, gmail and google docs are direct responses to Microsoft’s hotmail, and office offerings, which does take them into new waters so too speak. With regards to the Chrome OS, I can see a small argument or idea why it would be nice to tie an OS to the web more, however, I just don’t feel Google is the company to do this well, especially since they are using an open source operating system as its core, Linux.

On that point, it is also weird that Microsoft isn’t allowed to ship IE with Windows 7 in the EU, yet both Apple and Google can ship their operating systems with their own web browsers pre-installed….Curious isn’t it?

Google and Apple?

I have also read so much about Schmidt (Google Chief Executive) sitting on the board of Apple, and that many comparisons can now be made between Google offerings and Apples. Many claim that Google cannot think for itself and is simply stealing ideas from Apple…Maybe….I can see the logic there…

What is for sure is that Apple and Google now share some similar markets. Take Android (Googles mobile phone operating system), this has received a lot of “air time” from on-line bloggers and phone reviewers, however as a mobile OS, it really doesn’t compete with established offerings. This must annoy Apple with their iPhone? Both companies now offer web browsers for the windows platform (Safari from Apple and Chrome from Google) and now (though both hold a very very small market share), Google plans an operating system, which you could argue will compete against Apples OS X.

I must admit, I don’t see how one man can sit on both boards if they are effectively competing in any way shape or form, which they now are. I would say Google and Apple are more at war than Google and Microsoft…But that doesn’t have such an impact on story headlines…When you look at their market share for web browsers, they are for sure competing. Look at mobile phone market, they are competing, though Apple is light years ahead in market share. Next year, will we be seeing Google Chrome OS on netbooks competing with Apple entry level notebooks? Well they will be, but again I think Apple will be a long way ahead with regards to market share and sales.


Blog post distortion

Hmmmm One thing that has come from all of this Google OS hype, is that many blog posts are simply wrong and are written by people with limited knowledge (especially technical) on how things work. I have read many articles that hail Google OS as a revolution, something new that will compete with Windows 7, however these same articles don’t understand what Linux is, and its history. For me this is quite worrying, it seems that while reporting via TV or even news papers has some form of “checking”, the internet fails to have any, even the big bloggers…

Such incorrect posts do get around, and in todays social media environment, millions of people may have read that wrong information, believed it to be correct and actually made a purchase based on it. This isn’t good at all, not only for companies but more so for individuals.

I have also read a number of blogs that really do “lay into” other blogging sites, especially the larger ones for their lack of technical understanding. Which is probably just, but it’s the way such posts are written that almost makes you not want to read the post…For me, they lose all form of credibility themselves.

It is also very rare now to find blogging articles that don’t seem to have an agenda, especially so called review / news websites. Many either love Microsoft and hate everything else, or they love Google (this seems to be the larger amount of bloggers) and hate everything else, or finally, they love Apple, and hate everything else…It is very hard to find actual knowledgeable people writing independent unbiased posts, which is a shame…


Blog responses

The whole Google hype thing has also brought me much laughter when reading peoples responses to articles. I have also read a new term this week, “Googasms” which I am sure you can work out what that means…

For me, I read most responses with a little pinch of salt.


So Chrome OS, should it be getting the hype?

If that’s a question on what it will be like, probably not. After all it is built on an open source operating system which has no end of issues with driver support etc and has failed to make any sort of dent on the operating system market (even just for netbooks). But since Google has it’s badge on it, I can see why it has gained so much press time.

Will it be any good? Without seeing it I don’t know, no one does at this stage. My guess is that it will look and present well, but once you get into actually using it, it will have all the same problems that Linux has right now.

Windows OS vs Google Chrome OS

10 07 2009

I find myself laughing at the fact I have actually given this post this title and that I am actually going to spend time writing about this. However, as with anything Google does, it is so over hyped and constantly in the online media that I fear I have to post something on this.

First off, for those of you who didn’t know, Google have decided to launch their own computer operating system, which apparently isn’t only going to be aimed at Netbooks but as a contender to Microsoft Windows.

So what is Chrome OS

Well, please don’t think Google have spent lots of time writing their own operating system, as simply, they haven’t. Again, using open source software (which means anyone can gain access to the core code), Google has taken the Linux operating system, added some nice web features and then “badged” it as its own operating system. Please note there are lots of flavours of Linux already, none of which pose any real threat to the Windows OS nor market….

What’s the hype

Simple, it has Google’s name on it, and to be honest, many people who blog, or spend their time a lot on the internet rate Google in pretty much everything they do (though this doesn’t mean everything they do is a success, nor that it’s any good). To be honest, the name and company can be the only source of the hype; I can’t see any other reason. If this was delivered under a different name (not Google) I dont think many of us would have ever even heard of Chrome OS

Will Chrome OS have an impact

I am guessing it will have some kind of impact, but nothing worth talking about. I am sure we will see some netbooks with this installed, however, I don’t see the masses flocking to purchase anything with Chrome OS on it. At the end of the day, people don’t want to have to waste their time learning features of a new OS. This is one of the reasons why many haven’t taken to Windows Vista.

I think its impact will be mainly with online bloggers etc who will talk a lot about how great it is, and how we should all switch to it. But simply, it won’t be as flexible nor as easy to configure and use for home users and businesses alike. This means it won’t challenge Windows at all, and this is before Windows 7 is released in the EU.

I also can’t see people who use Apple hardware switching to anything running the Chrome OS, why would they?

Some of you may be asking why will Chrome be harder to use, configure etc. Well it’s because it is built on Linux. Linux people have been trying for almost 20 years to get something together that the general public and businesses would feel comfortable using….And they havent really….. 

Remember also that the OS has to drive so many different versions of the same piece of kit. Potentially each PC is made differently, requires different drivers etc etc. The same applies to your peripherals such as your printers, internet modems / routers, scanners etc. Windows has been built over a large period of time with all the manufacturers providing Windows drivers. The same can’t be said of any flavour of Linux. This means no doubt you will want to install your printer, only to find you can’t get a driver for that printer with your Chrome OS. Great, so you basically get rid of Chrome OS or buy a new printer…terrific for the end user….Remember also that these same basic issues will be seen within Businesses, and time is money, so this really isn’t a good feature.

Some of you geeks will also say “Hey, but Apple OS doesn’t have these problems, and that’s a close relative of Linux”. And you have a point, however, Apple machines are all the same, and they only allow you to install certain “apple” approved peripherals etc. So where is the freedom and flexibility in that? Plus think of the companies that actually provide new software and hardware. It is such a waste of resource for them to ensure they support all these different flavours of basically the same OS. So they always produce software and drivers that works on Windows and think about others later, as they should, its common business sense….

Windows 7

Well I have seen this and used it and it looks great. For me this is the bench mark of any operating system. For the business users and home users alike, Windows 7 really will be the OS of choice. It has numerous new features, including touch screen support; better media file management and improved security and reliability. It is ofcourse windows, so people know it will work, they can keep their same printers etc and enjoy plug-n-play installations of hardware.

No matter what Microsoft or Windows haters say, there is simply no better or simpler operating system for PC users to use.


Competition is good though

Yes it is. But let’s be honest, this isn’t competition. There are good reasons why Microsoft holds a 95% market share, and it’s because their operating system is easier to use and configure than anything else. That’s why we now have a PC in every home. (Well maybe not every home..). Also, it is “their” operating system, it isn’t open source. This means they maintain it, issue patches, support users and businesses.

I am all for competition, but let’s see Google compete on the merits of its software rather than its hype and name. At the moment I don’t see anything from Google that competes well outside of its core search engine business.



Google Chrome OS is just another flavour of Linux and basically, is all Google name hype. Choose Windows 7 every time over any other OS for your machine no matter what anyone tries to tell you. If you are on a Mac, hmmm, well give Windows 7 a look, I think you will be suitably impressed….

Automating Microsoft Word with .NET

7 07 2009

Well this week I was in the technical world and getting my hands dirty. A couple of our products seamlessly integrate with Microsoft Office, which works great for the business at the end of the day. So because of this we have our own technical service that effectively acts as the service that integrates with Word. However, something a little different was required. A client required us to automatically generate ordering catalogues, and we are talking word documents with around some 200 pages. This automation would happen within our LOB .NET application.

Their formatting was very specific and in some cases dependent on the type of products being added to the catalogue. Because of this, there isn’t the typical option of using bookmarks and or data fields within a template, especially as I wanted to use a single generic template for all their catalogues (they have 5 which they produce every 6 months)…


Referencing the Word Object Library

This is quick and easy, and I am presuming you know how to use Visual Studio. In your project choose to add a reference. Select the COM tab, then make your way down to “Microsoft Office 12.0 Object Library” (Your version depends on your version of word installed on your machine).


Referencing Word from .NET

Referencing Word from .NET

NB: Notice once you have added this you will have two references in your project to Microsoft Word. Look at the path and you will see they have 2 different locations, one of which is within “Microsoft.Office.Interop.Word”


Imports statement

Its good practice to import in the namespace you are working with into your class. So at the top of your class add the imports statement (VB.NET):

Imports Microsoft.Office.Interop


Opening a word document / template

Some posts talk about how to create a word document on the fly. This is great, but it’s much better and easier, if you have a document to work with from the beginning. A template is great as you can then utilise your own styles from within that document from your .NET code. In my own case, I created a word document that contained only a table of contents and a second page. The document is blank, but does consist of some customised styles that I have created. Also, our template is stored within our workFile ECM repository, so I can grab a copy of the template from the repository anytime with our application and use it.

You will need to create a Word.Application object in your code. I like to set up a module variable that holds my word application object and my word document. In addition I choose to open the word document in its own procedure, again coding practice. Also remember I am inserting this code into an already existing word service layer that we have written ….

Private Sub openWordDocument()
        'check if we have an active word application object
        If myWordApplication Is Nothing Then
            myWordApplication = New Word.Application
        End If
        'set the word document
        myWordDocument = myWordApplication.Documents.Open(myWordDocFile)
End Sub

MyWordDocFile in this case is a string value, which is the location and name of the document I wish to work with.


Inserting a paragraph, text and style

Now if you don’t have the luxury of using bookmarks or data fields, simply because you are not sure what text you are inserting, you are going to need to create paragaphs, text lines and give them some form of style.

Creating a paragraph object is easy, however, make sure you are inserting it into the document where you want. Typically this will be the end of your document as you are appending to it. Remember in the code below, myWordDocument is the actual word document itself we opened earlier.

Public Sub insertParagraph(ByVal pText As String, Optional ByVal pStyleName As String = vbNullString)
        Dim para As Word.Paragraph = myWordDocument.Content.Paragraphs.Add(myWordDocument.Bookmarks.Item("\endofdoc").Range)
            para.Range.Text = pText
            para.Range.Style = pStyleName
        Catch ex As Exception
            Throw ex
            para = Nothing
        End Try
    End Sub

Points to notice here.

  1. A paragraph is a “range”, if you like, a selection within the word document.
  2. We simply set the text and style value for the paragraph
  3. Insert a paragraph after so we are again at the end of the document and working in a new paragraph. (next time we call this method)
  4. I choose to marshal out of memory the paragraph object. This is because it is a com based object and as such we can get some memory issues and weird errors being raised by the dll when dealing with larger document generation.
  5. I use the garbage can to ensure everything is cleaned up properly (this isnt over the top, as without it I received error messages for larger documents – such as “The callee refused the call”. Nice…)


Inserting text in a range without a new paragraph

If you simply want to add text and dont want to create a new paragraph, then again, you need to create a range, however this time it is just a range (not a paragraph).

Public Sub insertTextLine(ByVal pText1 As String, ByVal pText2 As String, ByVal pText3 As String)
        Dim textPart1 As Word.Range = myWordDocument.Bookmarks.Item("\endofdoc").Range
        Dim textPart2 As Word.Range
        Dim textPart3 As Word.Range
            textPart1.Style = "BookTitle"
            textPart1.Bold = True
            textPart1.Bold = True
            If pText2 <> vbNullString Then
                textPart2 = myWordDocument.Bookmarks.Item("\endofdoc").Range
                textPart2.Bold = False
                textPart2.InsertAfter(" " & pText2)
            End If
            If pText3 <> vbNullString Then
                textPart3 = myWordDocument.Bookmarks.Item("\endofdoc").Range
                textPart3.Bold = False
                'two tabs to the correct location
                textPart3.InsertAfter(vbTab & pText3)
            End If
            'insert a new paragraph...
        Catch ex As Exception
            Throw ex
            If Not textPart1 Is Nothing Then
                textPart1 = Nothing
            End If
            If Not textPart2 Is Nothing Then
                textPart2 = Nothing
            End If
            If Not textPart3 Is Nothing Then
                textPart3 = Nothing
            End If
        End Try
    End Sub

What we have done here is effecitvely appended 3 text values into a single text entry within our word document. Notice that by using “InsertAfter” from our Range object, we are literally inserting text, no paragraphs. Also I have used vbTab to space out the value. My word document has a set location for a tab entry within the selected style, this ensures I know where the text will be inserted in that line.

Again ensure you clean up your objects and marshal them out of memory.


Saving your document

In my case, we are working with a temporary file that has been copied locally from the workFile repository. You may be working with just a template though sitting on your hard drive somewhere, so make sure you dont save your document over the top of that template! School boy error if you do…..

Saving the file is real easy, provide your directory and file name and you are almost complete:

Public Sub saveCatalogue (ByVal pCatalogueName As String, ByVal pCatalogueLocation As String)
        If Not System.IO.Directory.Exists(pCatalogueLocation) Then
        End If
        myWordDocument.SaveAs(pCatalogueLocation & pCatalogueName)
    End Sub


Tidy up memory and word

Your file has been saved, but you have yet to finish. If you look in task manager you will notice that WINWORD.exe is still running, and its memory size could be quite large. If you don’t kill this off correctly and you continue to create word documents in this fashion you will cause havoc with performance. So, we have to clean up after ourseleves.

    Private Sub closeWord()
        On Error Resume Next
        'quit the word application
        'marshal out the com objects, dont want any memory leaks here...
        If Not IsNothing(myWordDocument) Then
            If Not IsNothing(myWordDocument.Fields) Then
            End If
        End If
        myWordDocument = Nothing
        myWordApplication = Nothing
    End Sub

Quit word then clean up….Again we are marshalling out objects from memory and cleaning up everyting.


Using fields

If you have the luxury of knowing the format of the document (such as populating an invoice, a letter etc), then you can use fields to make life a lot easier for you. Again, set up a template word document with the content you desire. For that content which is to be added dynamically, insert a data field. (See help within your version of Office to do this).

From .NET when you have the document open, you can now loop round or search for those fields on the document. Fields are found within the word document object itself, and is a collection of Word.Field objects.

You can then update the field text and carry on….See the sample line of code below, which is using an invoice reference to insert into the data field.

field.Result.Text = CStr(invoiceRef)



Word is great to automate and can be very powerful for your .NET applications. Sometimes you may struggle to find great documentation on this, however, its worth searching for…Just remember, always clean up your code and look after your memory, if you dont, you will get some weird and wonderful error messages once processing larger files…