Archive for technology

Loss of auto-rotate

Posted in technology with tags , , , , on March 10, 2014 by bytor

This is the first in a series of quick posts on my experiences with the Asus Transformer T100. This will include tips etc. and this first case gives a solution for the problem of when the auto rotate feature seems to have disappeared.

Normally when you open the charm bar and select settings (bottom icon) you then have a “screen” icon which has a brightness slider and a rotation lock control at the top. Well today the rotate control mysteriously disappeared. If this happens try the following:

Open Device Manager, then InvenSense Sensor Collection. Under the properties tab, disable then re-enable this driver. For me this seemed to cure the problem.

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Fun for obsessives! – Organizing your media with PlexApp

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2013 by bytor

I would like to tell you about PlexApp, a fantastic service that helps with all your digital media needs.

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Basically it is a media server that runs on MacOSX, Windows and linux, and has a multitude of clients (some third party) e.g. mobile devices (iOS, Android) and hardware set-top boxes like Roku, but importantly for me there is a native app for my Samsung D6530 TV.

There are two things that PlexApp does really well, better than any other similar service I have tried. First, it actually works as a server over wifi. I have tried a few: AllShare, Serviio, Windows Media Player, Twonky, but none of them seemed reliable. Either they wouldn’t always connect, or the PS3 would see them but the TV wouldn’t, or vice-versa or they could be seen, but the video wouldn’t play correctly or some other hassle.

PlexApp (so far) has worked every time. There is a great looking and surprisingly fast and slick app which is downloadable to the TV, and it has a great interface. It always connects with the server (my Windows laptop) and lets me stream HD video easily.

This is what it looks like on the Samsung TV:

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The second thing PlexApp does really well is something that all obsessives like me will love. It organizes you meta data and thus organizes your media in a logical and standardized way, and does this almost automagically. I have a Freesat PVR (discontinued model) but unfortunately its hard disk (500GB) is bulging to bursting point and I am constantly fighting to delete stuff. I have a bunch of video stored on a large 2TB external HDD which is attached to my laptop. The sources of the video are varied: downloaded from the internet, some ripped off DVD, BBC iPlayer (you must get Get_iPlayer it is a godsend), and now I have discovered that I can export the recorded video from my Freesat PVR. There is a USB connection on the machine and you can connect a flash stick or portable HDD and export files fairly easily. Transfer is a bit slow, and the native export format is not compressed very much (=large files) but the important thing is you can do it.

I export files from the PVR and then re-encode them to a more compact MP4 file using Handbrake. Once you have decided your preferred settings, it is a simple drag and drop process although the actually re-encoding can take some time so best left as an overnight task.

Now the PlexApp magic can begin! You are forced to adhere to a strict folder and naming structure (great for us obsessive compulsives ), but if you comply, PlexApp has “agents”, software pixies that go out onto the internet and pull down the relevant metadata for your movies and TV shows. This includes cover/poster art, titles, info about actors, directors etc. and even theme music for TV series. It gets this right most of the time, although you may have to occasionally “nudge” it with a manual correction.

What you are left with is a beautifully organized and annotated collection, which is on your external hard disk, but which can be easily and reliably streamed to you big screen TV over your home wifi network. You can search by genre, title, actor, director and many other ways. Just beautiful.

If you haven’t got an LG TV (which apparently have PlexApp built in) or a Samsung like me, you can use your PS3 or XBox 360 as a client box which then can throw the video at your TV.

 

Follow @PlexApp on twitter

Twitter Geolocation features (and LBS generally)

Posted in technology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2010 by bytor

Location Based Services (LBS) seem to be all the rage these days. As the web becomes more and more something that is accessed when you are mobile, this may become more important and useful. The “darlings” of LBS are Four Square and Gowalla, but there are a number of other services in the same space such as Google Latitude, Loopt, BrightKite, Yelp etc., and recently of course Facebook announced Facebook Places (and all the usual privacy outcries that follow any FB announcement duly materialized).

Since November last year Twitter has also enabled geotagging (or geocoding) of tweets via their API. A number of third party Twitter apps had already offered such a feature but now it is an “official” part of Twitter. However, if you look at your Twitter stream you probably notice that few people actually routinely enable the geotagging on their tweets. Is this deliberate? Maybe most people didn’t even realise the feature was there? Unlike Facebook, Twitter didn’t enable the feature by default – you have to specifically enable it in your settings. Yesterday, tech commentator Robert Scoble (@scobleizer) tweeted a question asking why people were reluctant to geotag their tweets. He got some interesting responses and posted a “cinch” (a short audio clip) discussing what people’s concerns were, why he felt that geotagging data if more widely used, could add value to the twittersphere, and how Twitter (the company) might improve it’s uptake. It’s worth a quick listen.

Here are a few of my thoughts on the matter:

  • Broadcasting your location all the time is only of use if either you have lots of friends/acquaintances that circulate in the same vicinity (town/city) and you might wish to serendipitously bump into them, or you want to get some info about your locality (like offers of discounts from shops, or realtime news of events near you)
  • Most of my 200+ followers are not people I know in real life. My IRL friends on twitter number about 5 and they are hundreds of miles away from where I am. Some of the other followers (people I have only known via twitter) I wouldn’t actually mind meeting IRL, but since Twitter is an open system and a lot of my followers are probably random strangers I have no wish to always let people know where I am.
  • Certainly I don’t wish to make public my home location (for the same reasons above).
  • When I am “out and about” sometimes I turn on geotagging on my tweets, but this is really just a short hand for me to say “look where I am and what’s going on here”. For example if I was in London and came across an interesting or unusual sight or happening. It’s not because I expect to meet any of my “followers” 🙂
  • The whole “it’s an invitation to have my house broken into” doesn’t really seem that credible. First, It assumes that all your followers all know your home address. (Maybe if you do tweet your location all the time then they will know this, but in that case more fool you). Second, it assumes that among your followers you have randomly acquired one (or more) who make it their business to robs houses. Thirdly it also assumes that just because you are out, there is no-one else at home, and that you don’t have a neighborhood watch system or an alarm. Maybe if you are an obviously wealthy person (e.g. a TV/sporting/movie celebrity) it would be worth some speculative burglar scouting opportunities this way but for the average Joe, it seems unlikely.
  • A slightly different point that Scoble makes in his “cinch”, is about people’s attitude to risk. Most people really can’t evaluate relative risks and just act on instinct (or media/internet scaremongering). Sorry that’s just how it is.

Hands on with the iPad

Posted in technology with tags , , , , , on June 13, 2010 by bytor

A while back, I blogged my initial thoughts on the unveiling of the iPad. I thought it was a neat piece of kit, but I couldn’t really see where it would fit into my lifestyle. Today, I had my first chance to have a play with an iPad in my local PC World. Bear in mind I am neither an Apple fan-boy, nor a hater. I am a long standing Windows PC user (and probably always will be) but I love my iPhone and wouldn’t be without it.

So first impression were: it’s smaller than I expected. It felt reliably solid in the hand, heavy enough to feel “quality”, but not too much to strain the hands. The design is, of course beautiful. This is Apple’s forté and they know it. I played a video and the sound, even when turned up to maximum, sounded pretty puny. Of course most users would either be using headphones, or would hook up some external speakers if they were watching a clip of any length.

The interface is as slick and smooth as one would expect. It is a refinement of what we know from the iPhone. The way you view photo albums is incredible. The processor is obviously a bit more powerful, everything works without any perceptible delay. I looked at the iBooks app, which looked great and worked very well. It was easy to navigate and as far as an ebook experience, one can’t complain. But I just know don’t if I have bought into ebooks per se as a method of book consumption. It was a decent, pleasant experience. But it wasn’t the killer app.

Browsing the web was like the iPhone experience, but better. The larger screen definitely makes things better, as well as the faster processor making the whole experience smooth like a baby’s derriere. This was as close as I came to finding a use for the iPad that couldn’t be bettered in another way. It certainly makes web browsing fast and easy. But hang on! I thought I’d pop over to Flickr and set up a slideshow of the Lotus F1 Team’s prolific Grand Prix photostream. But it’s not working. Why? You know why! I’m not going to go over the current technological spat between Steve Jobs and Adobe. But flash is still currently so prevalent on so many important websites, that if you are going to use your iPad as a primary web browsing device (rather than a secondary device i.e. the iPhone) it simply is an annoying experience.

Until either Apple about-turn and allow Flash on their machines (hell will freeze over first), or HTML5 takes over all those aforementioned sites (will be a while, at the earliest), the iPad web browsing experience is incomplete.

What else is there on the iPad? Well there is Keynote. But who in their right mind would choose to make presentations on this device? This is for when you have to make/update a presentation, and are caught between offices. Oh, and if you are a Powerpoint user in the office, I believe you are out of luck. There was a port of the old Sega 8-bit classic Sonic The Hedgehog. It was a disappointing experience. Virtual direction pad and buttons are not for me. I know there will be many many more games which will be more suited to the platform, but although I wouldn’t mind playing the odd game on the iPad, I can’t see it as a gaming platform of choice, and certainly not enough to make me buy one.

In summary then, the iPad was slick and smooth to use. Apps in order of usefulness for me were: web broswing, iBooks, photo viewer, everything else superfluous. Currently not enough to tempt me. And interestingly it was not because it didn’t do those things well. They did them brilliantly (except the lack of Flash). It’s just that I don’t know if I want to spend £500 to do those things on a slick separate device like the iPad.

Windows 7 installation – my experiences and tips

Posted in technology with tags , on October 25, 2009 by bytor

windows_7_launch_dateOK, I am upgrading to the full release version of Windows 7 Home Premium, after having used the Release Candidate trial version for a few months. I will be detailing my experiences here. It will be a rough and ready “type as I go along” blog, with no real fancy flourishes, but hopefully it might be of interest and help to the odd person.

So, where did I start from: I had Vista HP on my Dell inspiron 1525 laptop. When Win 7 RC became available a few months ago I tried it out by creating a 50GB partition and dual booting. The RC worked very well, but I still had to use the Vista install for some things as I didn’t at that stage want to transfer all my programs acorss (e.g. Office, iTunes etc.)

So now the full version is out (and shout out to Amazon for getting it to me on release day despite the postal strike). What I needed to do was:

  • Back up anything I had made with the RC and then delete the 50GB partition
  • Expand the original C: partition to take advantage of the released space
  • Back up everything important!
  • Perform a clean install of Windows 7 Home Premium on the C: drive but hopefully transferring some of my settings from the original Vista install
  • Spend a looooooooong time updating, and re-installing my applications

So, first task, partitioning. I used a trial version of Paragon Partition Manager 9 which I got from an old magazine coverdisk. I used it to make the 50GB partition for the trial Windows 7 in the first place. It was still installed and it was pretty straight forward to delete the partition then increase the size of the remaining one. It had to be done in 2 steps and required several reboots during the process but it passed without incident.

Backing up

OK, my first big hint. You need an external hard drive to do this properly. I have been reasonably good at backing up to ext. HDD using the free Microsoft SyncToy 2.0 to mirror my folders containing my documents and media files. There are a few other things you might want to consider backing up that probably aren’t in your “My Documents” folder.

You browser bookmarks/favourites. If you use Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari I suggest you use Xmarks to maintain a cloud cache of your favourites. This not only helps moving between machines if you have more than one in the household, and also enables you to access your bookmarks via a web interface on any computer, but it comes in very handy when re-installing your OS! If you use Chrome , Opera or other weird browser you have to investigate other options to save and restore your bookmarks.

Emails, and contacts. I use Gmail as my primary email system, with a local copy downloaded to Outlook for “archive”. If you use Outlook make sure you have saved you Outlook.pst and archive.pst files which is where Outlook saves everything. For users of other systems YMMV but look into it. It is a real pain to loose all your email addresses.

iTunes. Many people use iTunes and you need to back up you library. There are instructions on how to do that on Apples site, and there are a number of ways to achieve it. It all depends on how you have your media organised. I actually rarely buy any song from iTunes, but i do download a lot of podcasts, and also all my iPhone apps are managed from iTunes so it was important to back it up. This simply meant copying the relevent folder to a backup external drive. All my tunes and videos (although in the iTunes library for syncing to the iPhone) are actually stored elsewhere in my directory structure. I know where everything is there, so I prefer to keep it that way.

Network settings. If you connect to the net through a wireless router, I would suggest you copy down all the settings somewhere. (You should do this anyway right?) In particular, note down the wifi encryption key. (What do you mean you don’t know it? You have turned on wifi encryption….) Either that or temporarily turn of the encryption. You could get by temporarily by connecting direct to your router with an ethernet cable but you will still need you wifi (WPA/WEP) keys eventually. If you don’t have them well tough, you are going to need to access your router and set up some new ones.

Microsoft OneNote. Probably not many of you use this but I have found it fairly useful. Make sure you backup the files specifically for this so you can import them back in later. Instructions are in the application’s help file.

OK, so you backed up everything important! The next thing I did was to fire up Windows Easy Transfer. This is installed as part of Vista (there is also an XP version – I think you have to download it from Microsoft.com) which allows you to back up various Windows settings, programs and files and transfer them to another computer (or a new OS installation on the same computer in this case). You have the option of what to include in the transfer. My tipn would be as little as possible. Don’t include lots of documents or the transfer may take hours. Back up your documents seperately as noted above. However it is useful to include the window settings. This saved me quite a bit of time. You have to save a loarge file to you external HDD (or flash drive or optical media) and then once Windows 7  is installed you can use this to get back your settings.

Taking the plunge

Make sure your PC is set to boot preferentially from CD/DVD!! If you are not sure, reboot and enter the BIOS setup screens (usually pressing F2 or F12 or some other function key early in the boot up process before the Windows screen comes up). So I then put the 32bit Win 7 DVD in the drive and re-booted. The instructions were minimal and easy to follow. The whole installation process took only about 40-50 minutes and little user interaction was required. The only important choice was right at the start. If you are installing over a previous Vista installation you are given the choice of “upgrade” or “clean install”. I always intended to do a clean install. Re-installing the OS has been a time honoured ritual for PC users since time immemorium, as a way to spring clean and speed up the PC, and this was another ideal opportunity. After reading this story on the BBC website I was even more convinced.

While you are installing a clean install you are told that if a previous version of Windows is discovered, the files will be stored in a folder called “Windows.old” This is incredibly useful as it provides a simple way of accessing your old documents. Yes, you should have backed them up to the external HDD in case something goes horribly wrong, but this makes it much easier to get back to where you were with your files. However it did give me a fright at first when I saw how little free space remained on the disk after installing Windows 7. Then I realised that the “Windows.old” folder was about 70GB in size. Most of it can be deleted.

After installation

Well everything seemed to go remarkably smoothly. The default screen resolution was a bit low, but a quick click on the display settings cured that. There was only a generic display driver present and the fancy “Aero” visual effects that are one of the nicest parts of the Win7 aesthetic were not working. I tried to detect new hardware  but my graphics card was not redcognised. Some warning bells started to tinkle in my mind.

However first things first. Get on the net. Win7 automatically detected my router’s wifi signal but of course I needed the WPA encryption key. Never fear I thought, I have cleverly saved it in a document on my external hard disk. So i tried to open this Word file. D’oh. Word is not installed. So install Office. Takes about 20 mins. Then open the document with the WPA key and connect to wifi.

As soon as I was connected there were a number of important things to do:

  • Update Windows (via Windows Update, duh! This actually takes quite a long time and several reboots)
  • get anti-virus (went for AVG free, a good standard I have used for ages, beware of being tricked into installing various other toolbars etc though)
  • Update antivirus and run a scan. Also update Windows Defender (anti spyware) and/or get andditional antispyware (I made do with just Windows Defender)
  • Update video card drivers. Once connected to the net Windows automatically found there were updated drivers for my NVIDIA  graphics card and directed me to the site to download them. Once done, all the graphics hiccups were gone and I could benefit fully from all the Aero whizz-bang effects.
  • Use Office Update (an adjunct to Windows Update) to get all the Office programs up to date.

So that’s about it. I still have quite a bit of work to do, mainly installing various applications that I like to use, and check that various hardware still works. I am working my way through this. It is a bit tedious, but a necessary evil. I will update here with any problems I come across with either software or hardware and any solutions I have found.

Software installs

  • Firefox + various add ons (no problems)
  • Picasa (no problems)
  • Adobe Reader (no problems)
  • Adobe AIR platform (no problems)
  • Seesmic Desktop twitter client (no problems)
  • Irfanview (no problems)
  • iPlayer Downloader (didn’t work because of missing DLL files. Searched for them and found them in the backed up “windows.old” under /windows/system32  Simply transferred them to the equivalent folder in the new Windows and everything OK.)
  • Juice (podcast receiving software). Didn’t work at first probably because it got confused trying to create a folder to store downloaded podcasts but the folder was already there because I had copied it from the backed up folders in “Windows.old”. Got round it by renaming that folder temporarily and trying again. Seems to work OK now.
  • iPlayer Desktop (no problems)
  • iTunes – no problems. I thought I would have to manually restore my iTunes library but it seemed to magically reappear in the right place with everything intact. I’m not sure how this happened! Maybe it was part of the Windows Easy Transfer settings that were saved but I’m really not sure. Still, can’t complain.
  • Last.fm – the scrobbling client. (no problems)

Hardware

  • Epson Stylus Color 680 – (no problems, Windows 7 recognised and installed appropriate drivers)
  • Canon A80 digital camera – I did not try and install the Canon software which came with the camera. I only wanted to be able to transfer pictures in the correct format, filename and to the folder of my choice. This was achieved with the built-in transfer software that Windows installed when I connected via USB.
  • Visioneer OneTouch660 USB scanner. This is a truly ancient piece of equipment and I had a lot of trouble getting it to work with Vista. It was really only designed for XP. I actually managed to get it working OK with Vista by somehow forcing the XP drivers onto it. I am (bravely or foolishly) going to try the same thing with Win7. It could all go pear shaped. My only insurance is that I will make a restore point before I start, and if it all goes very badly I can at the worst re-install everything again (I hope that is not necessary)
  • (update on the old scanner – it didn’t work. The software installed but Windows 7 refused to install the provided driver. Not unreasonably as it is really supposed to be for XP but hey ho. I need a new scanner.)

Cool software (pt 1)

Posted in technology with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 14, 2009 by bytor

As you go about your surfing business, you inevitably come across various utilities and applications that you just find invaluable. Some are fully fledged multipurpose applications, others small programs that exist to do one thing only.

Here I present a selection of those that I have been finding useful recently.

Troynt’s Twitter script

This is not so much a separate program but a script that provides a number of very useful features to the basic twitter.com page. It is a Greasemonkey script, meaning you must first install the Greasemonkey add-on for Firefox in order to use it. Once installed it adds features such as: automatic inline threaded conversations, retweet buttons, automatic pagination (loads the next page of tweets when you scroll to the bottom), grouping of contacts, inline display of pictures and video links. All of this makes it invaluable, although there are more features as well – see the scripts homepage for more details.

Twitter search on Google

This is another Greasemonkey script. It simply displays the latest 5 search results from the Twitter stream at the top of any Google search. Handy as sometimes the Twitter population is ahead of the game.

OCR Terminal

This is an online service that provide OCR (optical character recognition) services. What’s so special about that? Most people who have a scanner would have some free software built in. Well that may be true, but I don’t and others may be in the same position. Most people don’t need to do a lot of OCR and for the occasional job this is perfect. You simply register to create an account and then you can upload up to 30 pages per month in most common formats (jpeg, tiff etc) to the site, and it will then turn it into Word DOC format (or some other formats like rtf, xml) and give you a link to download it. You can pay to have a bigger monthly allowance. When I have tried it I have found it to be remarkably accurate even with poor quality scans.

iPlayer downloader

This handy program down what it says on the tin. It allows you to download programmes from the BBC’s iPlayer site and save them on your computer. The iPlayer site already allows downloading of certain programmes, but these are only available to watch for a certain time after download and then they expire. Also they are DRM protected so cannot be transferred to another portable device. iPlayer downloader takes advantage of the Beeb providing non-DRMd h.264 streams intended for iPhone streaming. It hijacks these streams and saves them. Since it is dependent on which shows the BBC decides to provide to the iPhone it may not cover the particular programme you want to download, but the range is quite broad. The quality is not exceptional, but for viewing on a portable device (anything that plays h.264) it is quite acceptable.

Videora iPhone converter

Say you “acquired” some video files from somewhere on the internet and wish to view them on your iPhone. This is the program for you. It will take most commonly available file formats and convert it to .mov format that Apple’s devices like. It will even work for VOB files ripped ripped from a DVD if you can get rid of the DRM (other software required). You get a number of options such as  output resolution, sound quality, speed of conversion etc, and a nice touch is a “beginners” mode that makes the whole process as easy as pie, with a visual guide to each step.

OK, that’s it for now. I’ve a few more useful programs to tell you about but they will have to wait til next time…

Twitter obsession

Posted in technology, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 7, 2009 by bytor

twitterYou probably came here from a link in one of my Tweets. I (like so many of you) am semi-obsessed with the social networking micro-blogging time-wasting lip smacking phenomenon that is Twitter (or “Twidder” for our American cousins 😉 )

But what is the best way to view your friends tweets and post to your time line? I have been trying out a number of clients, including  dedicated programs and webpage applications. This is by no means a comprehensive review, but just a few thoughts on the ones I have tried. I am not including mobile applications here, but might cover them in a future post.

I will be considering the relevant merits of:

What are the key features? There are several things you might want to do on twitter and which client you favour will depend on what is most important to you. First of all is how to manage a large group of friends (or those you “follow” in Twitter parlance). If you have a large group, which probably comprises some real life friends, some celebrities, some automatic messenging “bots” (e.g. CNN breaking news @CNNbrk) and some people you randomly come across, you will have difficulty keeping up with and separating their tweets on the Twitter website. There it is one continuous stream and you have to scroll through or accept you will miss stuff as it goes by. Several clients allow you to make groups or lists and have them displayed either simultaneously in side-by-side columns (Tweetdeck and Seesmic Desktop) or with the ability to switch the group being viewed by clicking on a list in a side-bar (Friendfeed). Tweetdeck only allows 10 columns and this may limit you (you need to leave some free for searches and you main feed). However it is easy to add a long list of people to a group by ticking boxes from a list. Seesmic Desktop allows you unlimited columns which can be defined lists/groups or just search results, but it is a real pain to add a lot of people to a list because you have to add each one individually by right clicking a tweet from that user and then choosing from a pop up menu. Tedious for a large list.

Friendfeed (FF) takes a different approach. It is a website that you subscribe to that allows you to track friends not only by their Twitter feeds but also by any of the common social networking sites e.g. Tumblr, Flickr, Last.fm, Facebook etc. If a person has also subscribed to FF then they will have defined which of their services will show up in their FF feed. You just add them within FF. But what if some (or like me most) of your friends are not on FF? Well you can create an “imaginary friend” that will suck in their publically available feeds like Twitter (as long as it is not protected). It’s a slightly tedious process creating an imaginary friend profile for each of your Twitter friends just to use on FF but once you have done them, adding the odd one as and when you follow someone else isn’t too bad.

friendfeed logo

friendfeed

Another nice feature of Friendfeed is that small versions of pictures (e.g. Twitpics or Yfrog) will appear in the tweet. Same goes for any favourited YouTube videos or Flickr photostreams.

In FF you can define lists and then easily switch between them on the main page. The layout of the page is large and clear – one of the reasons I like it. It integrates well with Twitter. You can “comment” on a post in FF. This will show up as a post in Twitter (if you choose). In fact one of the main supposed advantages of FF over Twitter itself is the much better managing of discussions and conversations. However this really only works if all the people in the discussion use the FF site. If you visit the FF site and view some of the posts of some well known people (eg. Robert Scoble, technology commentator) you will see how the discussions work.

Talking of conversation following, this is one of the aspects of Twitter that I most enjoy. You see a tweet from a friend but it doesn’t fully make sense because you don’t know what question he was replying to. Most clients including the twitter website will mark such a tweet “in reply to @nnnn” Now you can usually click on this link to see the “source” tweet, but in most cases this will open a separate web page or broswer tab with the original tweet displayed. This is OK, but a bit clunky. Especially if the conversation goes back several layers. You end up with about half a dozen different tabs or windows open.

Is there a better way of seeing conversations? Well another web based site PeopleBrowsr (note no “e” in Browsr) has tried a different solution. This is an incredibly dense (as in “tightly packed” not as in “dumb”) and complex way of looking at twitter. However despite the interface being daunting at first glance it is very customisable and has a “basic” mode that strips away a lot of the complexity to make it more streamlined. It automatically integrates with your twitter account (once you input your details naturally) so you don’t need to add everyone individually like on Friendfeed. You can make as many lists/groups as you like and they are displayed very nicely in columns similar to Tweetdeck or Seesmic Desktop. The initial setting up of the groups is easy – just like Tweetdeck you choose from a list of your followees and tick boxes. However editing the list after it is setup is a little less intuitive requiring you to manually type in the @username. However it is not too difficult.

peoplebrowsr

The beauty of PeopleBrowsr is when there is a tweet that is part of a conversation (a reply-to someone else’s tweet) an icon appears next to the tweet and clicking this will instantly display all the related tweets from multiple people if necessary, right there next to the original tweet, without the need to open another page or tab. It is quite neat. The only problem is…. currently it does not seem to be working correctly. Not all conversations are correctly flagged with the “conversation” icon. However I have tweeted with the developer and I am confident it will get solved sooner or later. When it does it might make PeopleBrowsr my client of choice on the desktop.

peoplebrowsr conversation view

Are there any other options? Well the basic twitter webpage is quite basic. You can’t even easily re-tweet, except using copy & paste. Doh! However there are ways to enhance the usability of the basic http://www.twitter.com. If you use Firefox, you may be aware of the Greasemonkey addon. This is a script engine that allows custom scripts to be run within the broswer that alter the way certain webpages are displayed. If you use the “Endless Tweets” script (http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/24398) by @mislav certain enhancements are made to usual Twitter pages. As the name suggests, one feature is that when you scroll down to the bottom of the page of tweets, it automatically loads the next page so you can continue scolling back in the time line. It stops when it reaches the last tweet you have already read. However, even more useful in my view is the inline insertion of “in-reply-to” tweets. If you click on the “in-reply-to” link, instead of a new tab or browser window being opened, the source tweet will be displayed right there under the one you were viewing. If that tweet was also a reply you can click it’s in-reply-to link and so on until the whole conversation is displayed. Very slick.

You can view a video of how this works here. (Sorry tried to embed but couldn’t). It does other things too, like inline reply forms, conversion of geo-tagged co-ordinates in a person’s user profile to a Google map, and a sort of functional autocomplete for @names (doesn’t always work for me).

So, what is the best way to view Twitter on your desktop? Well so far none of the methods I have tried have been perfect. I haven’t mentioned DABR so far. It is really designed as a mobile web interface and it works well in this capacity. However on the desktop it looks quite sparse and the other options mentioned here are preferable.

I like the columns of Tweetdeck and Seesmic, but neither allow easy viewing of conversation threads. They each have some idiosyncrasies in operation although generally I like them both. Friendfeed I like because it allows me to get around the recent change to Twitter whereby you don’t get to see @replies from your friends unless you also follow the person they are replying to. I found this an interesting way to discover new conversations or people to follow and missed it when Twitter took it away. However it is annoying to have to add all your twitter friends individually to Friendfeed.

I am liking PeopleBrowsr more and more. It seems incredibly complex at first and the interface is very busy, but once you get used to it it is not too bad. It is endlessly customisable, and you can remove a lot of the features you don’t use. It updates automagically before your eyes, and once they fix the conversation threading it might be one of the best options for some people.

For simple searches and a quick check of your feed the original Twitter.com page is still good, especially when enhanced with a script like Endless Tweets.

So, for now, you pays your money and you takes your choice. (Or if you are like me you use them all simultaneously! 🙂  )