Friday, July 24, 2009 Sweeps Awards

How about some actual NEWS on this blog, eh? has swept's Community Choice Awards 2009, taking four awards in the following categories: "Best Visual Design", "Best Commercial Open Source Project", "Most Likely to Change the Way You Do Everything", and "Best Project".

"Best Visual Design" is sort of a vague category. How a program looks, I would think, to those who follow open source, is entirely secondary to how useful it is. If a program isn't worth a damn but looks good, it's worthless. If the program is good and it's ugly, it doesn't matter. But if it can look good and be useful, well, that's just nice. The Platform (PAP) isn't all that pretty - unless you like red, that is - but skins can make it very nice. The latest PAP, just in time for CCA '09, includes a half-dozen color schemes for the same skin. Green, my favorite color, is more of a teal. Black, my second choice, is just a dark grey. And on top of all that, the lighting in the skin is just funky. Thankfully users can make their own themes, and there are some very good ones out there. On top of that, the developers' apathy (one such topic, they usually wind up deleted) towards the community's requests to add folders makes the visual design feel weak (though I'm not sure if that would go under design or function), and still, the menu can display 20 programs and it can put your favorites on top. So while I have plenty to say about the visual design, I still voted for out of loyalty, and I'm not unhappy to see it snag this one. Not a lot of programs look great "out of the box", but does try.

"Best Commercial Open Source Project" doesn't make sense, since the menu and programs are free. However, I'm told that it qualifies because is seeking alliances with flash drive manufacturers to brand their drives with the PA logo and include the Platform and several of the apps, and this is a commercial venture. It hasn't happened yet, and I don't know why; what good is a flash drive other than running portable applications? A giant floppy disk? You can use the Internet for that. For storage, DVD-ROM is cheaper and more reliable. Even though I can probably do it for less, I would buy flash drives with PortableApps branding, both to support the project, and as a gift. But they better team up with Corsair or OCZ, because portable applications aren't worth a crap on slow flash drives. USB 2.0 is pretty much a must, and the flash memory inside must be fast. As it is, VLC Media Player and OpenOffice take a minute or more to open, and some of Firefox 3's security features must be disabled for it to work at all, otherwise it will just halt for several seconds at a time, every few seconds. It's a mess, but hopefully's wins at CCA '09 will push for faster flash drives.

"Most Likely to Change the Way You Do Everything" is the category I was most excited about, and, to be honest, the only category I cared about winning. The other contenders included a Linux distribution, an audio editor, a media player, a password safe, and some stuff I'd never heard of. Nothing worthy of such a title., on the other hand... you can't get closer to what that title stands for than running programs on a flash drive which run in a virtual sandbox and run the same from computer to computer. They're not limited to flash drives, either: if you can plug your phone into your computer, you can use that, too. Same for iPods and other portable media players, digital cameras, the Sony PSP... pretty much everything that you can plug into a computer and is recognized as a drive that you can store files on. Just carry the cable. Or install it on a second hard drive, internal or external. Then, should you choose to upgrade to Windows 7 (bad idea) or Vista (worse idea), or you're using one of those and you're going back to XP (smart move), your portable applications will work just the same, no need to reinstall them, no need to configure them. Get a big external hard drive, and keep all your multimedia on it, put the portable apps on that, and then when you go somewhere, carry it all with you. It's great. I believe application portability is even more important than netbooks and other small laptops. You go somewhere, you don't need a tiny computer, you just need portable applications, because most likely, where you're going, there'll be a computer. Nearly all the benefits of having your own computer can be gotten by having portable applications on a flash drive.

"Best Project" is a hell of a shocker and I don't think anybody actually expected to take it. When you think open source, you think Linux - for over a decade the terms were virtually interchangeable. Then there's Firefox. Some might even know, the free alternative to Microsoft Office. Or VLC Media Player, the all-playing media player. You can load it on a computer with a DVD-ROM drive but that will not play DVDs, and VLC will play the discs, no problem. Or if you have movies stored on your flash drive, that works just as well. So there are a lot of great open source projects out there. I suppose what sets apart is that anybody can take advantage of it. OpenOffice might be great for businesses, but what does it do for media junkies and web surfers? Probably not much. Likewise with Firefox and VLC Media Player. But's Suite includes all of it. Or you can do what I do (and strongly recommend, as the Suite doesn't get updated, like... ever) and just download the Platform and get your apps a la carte, just get what you want. And on top of that, isn't the only place to get portable applications, it's just the best, they stick to open source, and their stuff is tested. I know of a portable warez site that churns out over 60 portable applications a month, but can the same quality as be expected? Maybe some of them don't need PA's attention to detail, but I'm sure some do.

Other winners include: phpMyAdmin (Best Tool or Utility for SysAdmins), XMind (Best Project for Academia), Audacity (Best Project for Multimedia), Notepad++ (Best Tool or Utility for Developers), ScummVM (Best Project for Gamers), Firebird (Best Project for the Enterprise), (Best Project for Government), and eeebuntu (Best New Project). Notes: Audacity is the audio editor I was making a dig at in the "Most Likely to Change..." category, though I use it to make ringtones. It's really a great program, and ironically is shunning the latest version, despite it having clear advantages over the one they do offer. The official reason is that it's labeled as beta software, which is not only common for open source in general, but it's also the state of the current Platform. ScummVM is a neat program which loads games created in LucasArts' SCUMM engine, most famously used by Maniac Mansion, but also for a game I grew up with, Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders. What ScummVM doesn't do, however, is break the clever copy protection in these games. Zak, for example, constantly asks for codes which were printed in black on a dark maroon sheet that came with the game, and copies of that document just don't exist anymore. Oh well, I suppose it's the thought that counts.

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