Powered by Yzesqiao!

New URL features can make your e-mail productive again

Posted on 27/01/2019 by

One of the incredibly useful things about Mac OS X in general is the potential for integration between applications. Type the name of an Address Book contact in Gus Mueller's VoodooPad and it'll link the name, offering a useful contextual menu. Collect icons in CandyBar? Right click one and you can set it as your iChat avatar with the option of applying any of Leopard's new image effects. And let's not even get started on the power that AppleScript and its mortal-friendly Automator enable for moving and manipulating data between applications.HangZhou Night Net

It is with this integration in mind that some new features in a couple of Mac OS X e-mail clients deserve a highlight, as they're fairly game-changing developments for those who have to work with mail on a regular basis. First is the discovery of Leopard Mail's support of message URLs, explored in-depth by John Gruber at Daring Fireball. Though the new feature is strangely undocumented by Apple, users have discovered that Mail now supports a system of URLs (yes, URLs can do more than point to porn) that allow you to link specific messages in other applications. For example, you could include links to a couple Mail messages from coworkers alongside notes, pictures, and web links in OmniOutliner or Yojimbo documents. This opens up a whole new productivity world, allowing you to bring your e-mail into other applications that aren't specifically designed to integrate with Leopard's Mail.

To help make it easy for users to harvest these message links (as of 10.5.1, Mail doesn't provide an option, and not all applications create the proper Mail message URL from a simple drag and drop yet), Gruber includes the code for a simple AppleScript at the end of his post. Save that script with Script Editor (found in /Applications/AppleScript/) and call it via any number of methods, such as Mac OS X's own AppleScript menubar item, Red Sweater's FastScripts, or launchers like Quicksilver and LaunchBar. The newest Leopard version of indev software's MailTags plug-in for Mail also provides a dedicated menu option for copying a message URL.

If this integration has your productivity gears turning, but Gmail is your client of choice, Mailplane could offer a nice compromise. As a desktop Gmail browser that allows for things like drag-and-drop file attachment and even an iPhoto plug-in for e-mailing photos, Mailplane is more or less a bridge between the convenience of webmail and the integrated power of desktop clients.

New in the most recent private betas of Mailplane (1.55.4 and above) is a similar URL system for Gmail messages which appears to work on both Leopard and Tiger. Complete with an Edit > Copy as Mailplane URL option, this option allows users to paste custom mailplane:// URLs in other applications to bring mail out of Gmail and into their productivity workflows. Remember, though, that Mailplane is still a browser for Gmail, albeit with the aforementioned modifications and other useful things like Growl notifications and support for multiple accounts (including Google Apps). Since it isn't an offline mail client, you'll still need to be online for a Mailplane URL to connect to its corresponding Gmail message.

Still, these new message URL features in two useful Mac e-mail clients will likely see some official integration love from other third-party apps in the near future. Aside from DIY AppleScripts, apps like Yojimbo and TextMate can only benefit from being able to include e-mail in the productivity mix. Knock knock third parties—how's about it?

Apple brings Mac OS X closer to UNIX standards (Updated)

Posted on 27/01/2019 by

It didn't receive nearly the same amount of attention as most of the other 299 new features of Mac OS X v10.5, but Leopard adds even more Unixy goodness to Apple's post-Classic operating systems. Specifically, Leopard is now UNIX 03 compliant, which means Apple can finally officially use the term in capital letters. It also means that there are some not-so-obvious changes under the hood from previous Mac OS X systems, which might trip up longtime Mac users. HangZhou Night Net

For the Terminal junkies in the crowd, this is particularly significant. If, like me, you were wondering why the hell 'ps -aux' didn't work all of a sudden after upgrading, well, here's your answer. A series of tech documents from Apple outline the major compatibility changes with Unix commands and library functions, as well as how to revert to pre-Leopard behavior if necessary. The bottom line is that existing applications won't be affected, but scripts that take advantage of known behaviors (see the aforementioned 'ps' example, and yes, I know it's bad programming practice) or applications that are compiled on Mac OS X v10.5 or later may produce unexpected results.

It's good to see Apple trying to move Mac OS X closer to its Unix kin, although the ultimate success of such an endeavor depends in many ways upon the willingness of the Open Source community to accept any upstream changes that Apple makes. The adoption rate of other technologies like WebKit and launchd is sort of hit-or-miss in this regard so far, but closer conformance to industry standards is still a win for Apple and its users. Except for the part about the 'ps' script I need to fix.

Update: I seem to have accidentally uncovered a hornet's nest with the wording of this post! See my post in the discussion thread for a more detailed explanation as to why I worded things the way I did.

GOOG vs. Guge: Chinese company sues Google over name

Posted on 27/01/2019 by

Google's Chinese business has been consistently questioned and criticized, but now a Chinese company has taken issue simply with its name. HangZhou Night Net

Beijing Guge Sci-Tech is suing Guge, or Google China, claiming that the Internet search giant is tramlping on its good and, perhaps most important, registered Chinese Mandarin business name. Guge Sci-Tech registered its name in 2006, a few months before Google did. Now the tech company wants Google to change the name of its Chinese branch and pay an undisclosed sum to cover all its legal fees.

Beijing Guge Sci-Tech registered its name at the Beijing Municipal Industrial and Commercial Bureau on April 19, 2006, and Google followed with registering "Guge" on November 24 that same year. This similarity in names, Beijing Guge Sci-Tech argues, has confused the public and damaged its business.

However, if Google was considering the use of the word before Beijing Guge Sci-Tech registered, it could work in Google's favor as the company has clearly registered its name in good faith. And, for all we know, the Chinese-based Guge may be little more than a trademark registration or a cybersquat, as information on the company is extremely hard to come by. Google China suggests that Guge Sci-Tech is indeed looking for an easy payout, perhaps having picked up on Google's plans by paying attention to Western media. Everyone knew Google would be changing its name in China, as "Goo-Gol" means "old" or "lame dog."

Also at issue between the companies is the definition of guge, which is not a normal Chinese word. Google says its a combination of Chinese characters that mean "valley" and "song"—a reference to Google's Silicon Valley ties. Beijing Guge Sci-Tech disagrees, stating the word means "a cuckoo singing in the spring, or the sound of grain singing during the harvest autumn time."

Microsoft: plethora of browsers = no basis for Opera gripes

Posted on 27/01/2019 by

Microsoft has officially responded to the antitrust complaint filed by Opera yesterday with the European Commission. The software giant's key point: there are plenty of readily-available choices for Windows users looking for a browser other than Internet Explorer, and there's nothing forcing anyone to surf with a browser he or she doesn't like. HangZhou Night Net

"It's important to note that computer users have complete freedom of choice to use and set as default any browser they wish, including Opera, and PC manufacturers can also preinstall any browser as the default on any Windows machine they sell," Microsoft spokesperson Jack Evans told Ars. "Microsoft is committed to ensuring that freedom through our Windows Principles."

In its complaint, Opera accuses Microsoft of harming competition in the browser space by producing a browser that's not standards compliant and illegally monopolizing the market by bundling IE with Windows. The Norwegian company would like the EC to force Microsoft to ship Windows without IE preloaded or with additional browsers installed. In addition, the company believes that Microsoft should be forced to follow "fundamental and open web standards accepted by web authoring communities."

In response, Microsoft defended the deep ties between Windows and IE. "Internet Explorer has been an integral part of the Windows operating system for over a decade and supports a wide range of web standards," said Evans.

Microsoft decided to integrate IE into Windows several years ago, and after IE6 SP1 shipped, the company said that IE6 SP1 would be the final standalone version of the browser. "As part of the OS, IE will continue to evolve," Microsoft said at the time, "but there will be no future standalone installations."

That changed a little over a year later, when the company decided to get the IE team back together. In January 2006, the first public beta of IE7 appeared, followed by the final release in October of that year.

Ironically, Microsoft's hand was forced by the browser competition—especially Firefox and, to a lesser extent, Opera. Both browsers introduced a number of innovations that made IE6 look stale and dated by comparison, and IE has seen its market share drop to as little as 60 percent in some parts of Europe. In a way, this supports Microsoft's argument regarding a diversity of options, but a 60 percentmarket share is still formidable and, of course, large enough that web developers are still left catering to IE's particularities.

Despite its belief that Opera's complaint is without merit, Microsoft is pledging full cooperation with the EC during the investigation.

Doing it with style: bringing more bling to GTK with OpenGL

Posted on 27/01/2019 by

At FOSSCamp in October, skilled eye-candy expert Mirco Müller (also known as MacSlow) hosted a session about using OpenGL in GTK to bring richer user interfaces to desktop Linux applications. Building on the technologies that he presented at FOSSCamp, Müller recently published a blog entry that demonstrates his latest impressive experiments with OpenGL, GTK, and offscreen rendering. HangZhou Night Net

Müller is currently developing the GDM Face Browser, a new login manager for Ubuntu that will include enhanced visual effects and smoothly animated transitions. To implement the face browser, he will need to be able to seamlessly combine OpenGL and conventional GTK widgets. Existing canvas libraries like Pigment and Clutter are certainly robust options for OpenGL development, but they do not offer support for the kind of integration that he envisions.

The solution, says Müller, is to use offscreen rendering and the texture_from_pixmap OpenGL extension. In his experimental demo programs, he loads GTK widgets from Glade user interface files, renders them into offscreen pixmaps, and then uses texture_from_pixmap to display the rendered widgets in a GTK/GLExt drawing area, where they can be transformed and manipulated with OpenGL. Müller has created several demo videos that show this technique can be used to apply animated transitions and add reflections to widgets. The visual effects implemented by Müller with GTK and OpenGL do not require the presence of a compositing window manager.

We talked to to Müller to get some additional insight into the challenges and benefits of incorporating OpenGL into desktop applications. One of the major deficiencies of the current approach, he says, is that users will not be able to interact with GTK widgets while they are being animated with OpenGL—a limitation that stems from lack of support for input redirection at the level of the toolkit.

"Interaction will only be possible at the final/original position of the widget," Müller told us, "since gtk+ has no knowledge of the animation/transformation taking place. I consider it to be much work to get clean input-redirection working in gtk+. There might be some ways to achieve it using hacks or work-arounds, but that should be avoided."

Eye candy or UI improvement?

Although some critics might be inclined to prematurely deride Müller's work as indulgent eye-candy, he primarily envisions developers adopting OpenGL integration to tangibly improve the user experience by increasing usability. "I would like to see [OpenGL] being used in applications for transition effects," he says. "We can right now improve the visual clues for users. By that I mean the UI could better inform them what's going on. Widgets [shouldn't] just pop up or vanish in an instant, but gradually slide or fade in. These transitions don't have to take a lot of time. As a rule of thumb half a second would be sufficient."

In particular, Müller would like to experiment with adding animated transition effects to the GTK notebook and expander widgets. He also has some creative ideas for applying animations to the widget focus rectangle in order to make its movement more visible to the user. Müller also discusses some applications that would benefit from OpenGL-based transitions. In programs like the Totem video player, he says, the playback controls in fullscreen mode could slide in and out rather than just appearing and disappearing. Alluding to the webcam demo that he made for FOSSCamp, he also points out the potential for incorporating OpenGL effects into video chat programs like Ekiga. Müller has also long advocated using visual effects to create richer and more intuitive user interfaces for file and photo management software—ideas that he has put into practice with his brilliant LowFat image viewer.

"The kind of effects possible if you can render everything into a texture, map it to a rectangle or mesh and then do further manipulations with GL (or shaders) are next to limitless," says Müller. "Just look at what Compiz allows you to do to windows now. Imagine that on the widget-level."

We also asked Müller to explain the performance implications of using OpenGL in GTK applications. "The memory-overhead is directly linked to the size of the window, since all the rendering has to happen in an OpenGL-context filling the whole window. The bigger the window, the bigger the needed amount of video memory," Müller explains. "The load caused on the system is directly linked to the animation-refresh one chooses. 60Hz would be super smooth and very slick. But that's a bit of an overkill in most cases. One still gets good results from only 20Hz."

There are still some performance issues with the texture_from_pixmap that are actively being resolved. "Due to some issues in Xorg (or rather DRI) there are still too many copy-operations going on behind the scenes for GLX_EXT_texture_from_pixmap," says Müller. "There are also locking issues and a couple of other things. At the moment I cannot name them all with exact details. But more importantly is the fact that there's currently work being done—in the form of DRI2—by Kristian Hoegsberg (Red Hat) to fix these very issues on Xorg. I cannot stress enough how important this DRI2 work is!"

Although using OpenGL incurs additional memory consumption and system load, Müller says that the impact is small enough to make his current approach viable for projects like the Ubuntu Face Browser.

Although individual developers can use Müller's boiler-plate code to incorporate OpenGL integration into their own GTK programs, Müller suspects that support for this technique will not be included directly in GTK at any time in the near future, which will make it harder for developers to adopt. "Right now it is all happening in application-level code and not inside gtk+," Müller explains. "Since I use GLX_EXT_texture_from_pixmap to achieve efficient texture-mapping out of the wigets' pixmap it is currently a X11-only solution. Therefore I imagine they might want to see a more platform-independent solution to this first." The GTK offscreen rendering feature that Müller uses also currently lacks cross-platform support.

Despite the challenges and limitations, Müller's creative work opens the door for some profoundly intriguing user interface enhancements in GTK and GNOME applications. "There are more things possible than you think," says Müller in some concluding remarks for our readers. "Don't have doubts, embrace what's available. X11 and gtk+ are pretty flexible. People who just don't seem motivated to explore ideas and test their limits (or the limits of the framework), should remember that this is Open Source. It lives and thrives only when people step up and get involved. Just f*****g do it!"

Battle of the next-gen: FireWire S3200 versus USB 3

Posted on 27/01/2019 by

The IEEE 1394 Trade Association has announced a new FireWire specification that the group claims is capable of delivering up to 3.2Gb per second of throughput. The new interface (officially known as S3200) is directly based upon the 1394b/FireWire 800 standard and uses the same physical connectors, arbitration, and protocols as its predecessor. In theory, this should allow vendors to roll out S3200-capable silicon in a very short amount of time. HangZhou Night Net

(As a clarifying point, please note that while 1394a and 1394b are largely considered synonymous with FireWire 400 and FireWire 800, the terms 1394c and S3200 refer to two different specifications. S3200 is an extension and acceleration of current 1394b technology, while 1394c offers 1394b speed and capability over standard Cat 5e cable. To date, no implementations of 1394c have been seen in the wild.)

There's no word on when S3200 devices might hit the market, but the 1394 Trade Association expects the standard to be fully ratified by early February. That's well ahead of USB 3.0, the closest competition to the spec. At IDF this year, Intel's Pat Gelsinger forecast USB 3.0 ratification sometime within the first half of 2008. S3200 could conceivably hit the market faster depending on its ease of implementation, but whether or not earlier device availability will translate into improved consumer uptake is open for debate.

Specs, please

Maximum theoretical data throughput will definitely be a point of contention between the two standards. Intel has stated thatit expects USB 3.0 to be 10 times as fast as USB 2.0, which would give it a 4.8Gbps transfer rate. In contrast, the current iteration of S3200 will top out at 3.2Gbps. It's impossible to predict how much the throughput difference between the two standards will impact real-world device performance, but it's definitely a marketing edge that USB 3.0 proponents will lean on.

Of course, FireWire—up to and including S3200—has always offered certain advantages that USB lacks. Not only is it markedly less CPU-intensive due to its peer-to-peer nature (USB is master/slave), but FireWire is capable of delivering more power over a single cable. FireWire also allows for cable runs of up to 100 meters; USB 2 allows for a mere fraction of this, though USB 3.0 should increase cable lengths considerably.

Intel has not shared much on the degree to which the USB 3.0 standard will address the cable length and power concerns, though in all fairness, it may not matter. FireWire has held a notable technical advantage for years and has still failed to supplant the existing USB standard. FireWire's critics point to the standard's proprietary nature and royalty-based revenue model as the reason for its failure to dethrone USB. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that outside of the Mac world, FireWire ports are typically available only via add-in cards or on certain higher-end motherboards.

FireWire isn't just going to go away, however—it's currently included on a number of set-top cable boxes and is deployed in certain military situations. But that doesn't mean a new specification will trigger a fresh wave of peripherals, either. The peripheral interconnect market is already crowded; USB 2 is already popular, and eSATA support is growing. Combine this with the inevitable swarm of USB 3.0 products, and S3200 may end up buried, save for its continued presence and popularity in the market niches where FireWire has already established itself.

Sailing the photon sea: rogue waves in a fiber

Posted on 27/01/2019 by

Ye auld mariners have long talked about rogue waves. However, the amount of rum partaken during the retelling of such stories tended to reduce their accuracy and believability, leading most people to conclude that such waves were a myth. This conclusion was largely supported by a simple analysis that told us that a simple linear combination of waves would be unlikely to reach the proportions as often as reported. Then a North Sea oil rig got hit by a rogue wave and the instruments on board hadn't been drinking and didn't tell their stories in a cute-but-strange accent. Closer examination of satellite imagery of the open sea showed that waves didn't follow the distribution expected by linear analysis and that rogue waves could be much more frequent than predicted. HangZhou Night Net

The analysis had failed because it was a linear analysis, which is usually pretty good, but misses some important features, such as solitons. Solitons are solitary waves with the unusual property that they do not spread out. If you drop a stone in water, then a wave travels out from the stone. The wave has very sharp, high peaks that, as the wave travels, reduce in height and get wider. This is because that single peak is made up from a group of waves all of which have a different distance between their individual peaks.

These waves travel at slightly different speeds, which causes the single peak to disperse over time. If the stone were capable of producing a soliton, it would have a single high sharp peak that did not reduce in height and got no wider as it traveled away from the stone. This is because that single peak is large enough to modify the local properties of the water such that all the waves travel at the same speed and the soliton stays together. However, solitons are pretty special beasts and it is unclear that the open sea could provide the conditions required for a soliton to form for even a short period of time.

Luckily, light is also a wave and can also exhibit nonlinear behavior when it is sufficiently intense. This analogous behavior has led researchers to investigate the statistics of light pulses in a highly nonlinear optical fiber. The fiber is not an ordinary glass fiber, but has a honey comb shape that compresses the light into a very small area. This makes the light much more intense and generates highly nonlinear behavior. When strongly illuminated, these fibers turn laser light with a single color into white light, called a supercontinuum. In fact, the light often extends beyond the visible into the ultraviolet and the infrared as well. However, if the brightness of the laser is reduced, the supercontinuum vanishes and the output from the optical fiber is a series of spikes with a random brightness.

It turns out that the statistical properties of these pulses have the same distribution as those observed for ocean waves. Importantly, the researchers observe rogue optical waves with a reasonable statistical probability. These waves are not exactly solitons because they don't stay together, however, like solitons, the width of the wave doesn't increase as they travel. This indicates that there are some unknown mechanisms that cause these "soliton-like" waves to fall apart. I don't think knowledge of these mechanisms will result in ways of destroying rogue ocean waves, but they might allow us to figure out where rogue waves are more likely to form and warn sea-going vessels in the vicinity. More likely it will just turn out to be a cool, but not useful observation of the behavior of light in a fiber.

Hands on with the new online version of OpenOffice.org (Updated)

Posted on 27/01/2019 by

After going premium and suffering some community fragmentation, the OpenOffice.org open source office suite is being taken in a new directionby a company named Ulteo. A brainchild of Gael Duval, founder of Mandriva Linux, Ulteo's mission is to serve as a platform forputting applications onto the web. Using this approach, Ulteo has released a public betaof Online OpenOffice.org, which quite literallyputs OpenOffice.org inside a browser. HangZhou Night Net

There are of course some real advantages to Ulteo's offering, not the least of which is overcoming platform-specific issues, but like any major desktop software application that gets stuffed into a browser, Online OpenOffice.org has its drawbacks. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of the latest productivity suite to go online.

Let's start with the good: all the major components of OpenOffice.org are present. The unassuming sign-in page pictured below allows you to chose which app to work with and set a couple of custom preferences. Your chosen app will open in a pop-up window. Though the download time is noticeably longer than competing web-based office apps like Google Docs and Zoho, it appears that the entire app is presented to the user, right down to every last featureincluded inOpenOffice.org 2.3. Formatting, preferences, fonts, default templates, right-click contextual menus—it's all there.

To create this feature-rich environment, Online OpenOffice.org requires a modern browser with JavaScript and the Sun Java Runtime Environment version 1.4+ plug-in. The setup has been tested in Firefox 1.5 and above, IE6 and 7, and even Safari, though Ubuntu users are specifically warned that they must be using the Sun Java (Sun JRE) plug-in or the current implementation of Online OpenOffice.org won't work. Ulteo is working to fix this drawback.

Like many examples of theSoftware as a Service (SaaS) paradigm—after all,this isdesktop software served up in a Java VNC client for the Web—working in the suite is a mixed blessing. Users who demand the multitude of features that desktop office suites are known for will likely feel right at home, though the suite can be noticeably laggy.

For example, some mundane tasks like selecting a full line of text in Impress, the suite's PowerPoint-like presentation app, can take just a split second longer than a desktop app. Sometimes. This kind of lag is sporadic, though, and users who are looking for a package like this may bewilling to deal with it.

With this beta offering of a desktop suite, however, it's clear that Ulteo's initial public milestone was simply to get OpenOffice.org working in a web browser. Users seeking the collaborative ordocument-sharing features of competitors like Google Docs or even Microsoft's Office Live Workspace should keep on walking. While Online OpenOffice.org offers 1GB of online storage space for all your documents, nary a sharing or collaborative feature is in sight.

Still, Online OpenOffice.org certainly does have a niche it can fill. Due to its desktop-cum-web nature, it easily offers the most features of any online office suite. Users who are unhappy with Google Docs' K.I.S.S. approach and are unwilling to pay Microsoft's hefty prices for Office might have a good chance at looking past Online OpenOffice.org's shortcomings. As OpenOffice.org's GUI matures—and if Ulteo's implementation keeps in step—Online OpenOffice.org has a good chance of evolving into a feature-rich, easy to use, web-based office suite.

Update

Ulteo clarified that Online OpenOffice.org does in fact have a collaboration feature that allows users to invite others to collaborate on documents. It only requires an e-mail address to invite other users, and guests can be limited to read-only access. This certainly makes Online OpenOffice.org a more appealing option for those who want an abundance of editing options, as well as collaboration abilities.

Personas from Mozilla Labs give Firefox a sleek coat

Posted on 27/01/2019 by

In May, Mozilla Labs vice president Chris Beard developed Personas, an experimental Firefox add-on for lightweight theming. The add-on makes it possible to apply custom artwork to the Firefox chrome, including the toolbars, tabs, and status bar. The addon is compatible with Firefox on all three major platforms. HangZhou Night Net

The Personas addon started out as Beard's personal project, but has now found a new home at Mozilla Labs and has undergone a major rewrite that is compatible with the latest Firefox 3 beta. Beard says that Personas will become the starting point for experiments in dynamic personalization that Mozilla Labs will pursue in an effort to provide users with a richer browsing experience.

In the latest version of Personas, themes are automatically loaded directly from a JSON feed and are accessible through a menu that is embedded in the left-hand side of the status bar. All of the content is loaded from remote locations and the styling changes are applied dynamically without the need for restarting the browser.

Mozilla Labs is actively developing a new API that will enable artists to submit content for inclusion in the feed. According to Beard, artists will be able to use any technologies that are supported in a web page, including HTML, CSS, images, JavaScript, SVG, and the Canvas element. This opens the door for rich skinning with very low barriers to entry.

I probably won't use Personas much myself since I greatly prefer the unadulterated GTK look in Firefox 3, but the addon is very intriguing from a technical standpoint. The way that Personas takes Firefox's Internet capabilities and leverages theme to bring dynamic content to the Firefox chrome layer is very creative and it reflects a lot of possibilities that I had never previously considered.

Windows Mobile 6.1 and 7.0 feature big changes to compete with iPhone

Posted on 27/01/2019 by

Windows Mobile, like Windows itself, has had a checkered history. Early versions were maligned as being feature-poor and difficult to use. However, in a tale familiar to anyone who has followed Microsoft, the company stuck at it, and the portable operating system started to come into its own. The most recent release, Windows Mobile 6.0, added Vista-like themes to go along with a significant upgrade to the OS internals. Having conquered Palm in the dying PDA market, Windows Mobile was now ready to go toe-to-toe with other phone operating systems and platforms such as BlackBerry, Symbian and various Linux derivatives. HangZhou Night Net

All seemed well in Windows Mobile land, but then Apple released the iPhone running a stripped-down version of OS X and a new multitouch user interface. Despite Steve Ballmer's prediction that the phone had "no chance" of gaining significant market share, a recent survey by Net Applications showed the iPhone actually overtaking Windows Mobile in web browsing share: 0.09 percent for the iPhone versus 0.06 percent for all Windows CE and Mobile devices put together. All of a sudden Windows Mobile phones seemed like they were stuck in the past, and minor UI annoyances stuck out like a sore thumb.

Windows Mobile 6.1. Image courtesy Boy Genius.

Never one to back down from a challenge, Microsoft is busily preparing both a minor UI refresh (Windows Mobile 6.1) and a major new release of the operating system (Windows Mobile 7.0). A gallery of screen shots from the 6.1 refresh compiled by Boy Genius shows an emphasis on simplification: the screens are more task-oriented and have less clutter than their immediate predecessor. A new and clearer font adorns the UI, and new features such as zooming, copy and paste in Internet Explorer, and auto-configuring ActiveSync for e-mails are sure to be welcome additions to the platform. In addition, Microsoft is making it easier (and more Windows-like) to switch tasks by adding a standardized task manager to the platform.

As far as Windows Mobile 7.0 goes, there are no leaked screen shots as of yet, but big changes are afoot. Microsoft plans to completely redo applications such as Internet Explorer, bringing the mobile browser up to par with Apple's Mobile Safari. The e-mail and SMS applications are also scheduled for complete rewrites. Microsoft plans to make the user interface even more consumer-friendly.

Beyond 7.0, Microsoft is even hinting at a completely redesigned Windows Mobile 8.0, which will again redo the internals of the operating system to keep up with newer and more powerful mobile hardware. Details for this release are scarce, although Microsoft promises features such as being able to go from a person's address in their contact info directly to a map view with directions to where they live. It all sounds like the iPhone really lit a fire under the posteriors of the Windows Mobile team, and that can only be good news for smartphone users.

Further readingGizmodo has an in-depth interview with a couple of members of the Windows Mobile dev team, discussing what they believe is wrong with Windows Mobile 6 and how they plan to fix it Microsoft may have iPhone on the brain as it works on future versions of Windows Mobile, but CEO Steve Ballmer isn't too concerned about Google's Android platform.Windows Mobile 6 was released last February. Reread our impressions of it as you look ahead to Windows Mobile 6.1 and 7.0