New website for Stuff.co.nz

My favourite local news site Stuff.co.nz got a major overhaul yesterday.

Sticking with recent style trends, they now have more whitespace, larger and more colourful headings, flashy draggable content and they now permit limited user customisation.

Below is a side-by-side of the old and the new homepage – the most obvious change being the page height!

The underlying three-column layout remains, but is now much cleaner and easier to read in my opinion. Obviously, the new site is much longer, requiring a lot more scrolling, but overall I like the layout.

Gone are the dropdown menus from the old site (which were badly broken in the second beta of IE8), but I have mixed views on this. While I like the new horizontal menu at the top of the page, you now have to click twice and pass through an intermediate page to get to some of the subsections, eg, National News, then Education. For this, the dropdown was faster.

The inclusion of a (customisable) weather box at the top left is nice – afterall, that data comes from MetService (my employer for disclosure!). The other side of the header leads to my biggest gripe – the site search, powered by Google. Sadly, only around 50% of the results (during my tests) have dates attached – which is next to useless for searching for specific news items. Bring back the old search! Seriously.

So thus far I think the update is a good one, despite slower navigation and broken search. Final judgement however will have to be reserved until I’ve used it some more…

The Great – Dangerous – Outdoors

The top four stories currently on the National News page at Stuff.co.nz make for sobering reading, especially since we are a nation that enjoys the great outdoors in summer…

Please take care out there! We’ve done too many Search and Rescue forecasts this summer already… 😦  Be prepared and be safe.

My top tech picks of ’08

Being a bit of a geek at heart, I follow a lot of tech news. Here’s what I thought was interesting in 2008…

Early in the year, Apple released the Macbook Air – an astonishingly thin laptop and sharp enough to cut cake! Later, they finally upgraded the iPhone to include 3G connectivity (but it still can’t copy/paste, pxt, record video, render flash and more!), added movies to the NZ iTunes Store, refreshed the iPod Nano, and announced they were pulling out of Macworld.

In the “denied” category, Microsoft offered a large pile of cash for Yahoo, but got turned down. And Toshiba/HD DVD conceded defeat in the high def format war with Blu Ray – not that Blu Ray seems to have taken off since…

For surfing the internets, we got a couple of new browsers with the most excellent Firefox 3 arriving, followed not long after by Google’s Chrome – an interesting take on the browser with some nifty features.

Sticking with some Google goodness, their mobile platform Android finally got released on a cellphone – the T-Mobile G1 – that being a worthy and “open” competitor to the walled garden that is the iPhone, and they brought Street View to NZ along with Google in Maori.

On the software front, Microsoft announced that “Windows 7” will be the name of it’s successor to Vista, and that we’ll have it in 2009. And all accounts to date of a leaked beta are promising. Electronic Arts had a shocker with the much anticipated but heavily DRM’d game Spore – leading to it being the most pirated game in 2008 (and ever) with punters on Amazon punishing it in reviews.

Continuing with the pirating theme, RIAA recently announced they will stop the mass lawsuits against individuals downloading/sharing music illegally and will instead work with ISP’s on anti-piracy. That should be interesting…

And finally, what of trends and things to expect in ’09? Two related things seem to have gained popularity in ’08 and will certainly continue to do so this year. “Cloud computing” (software/services on the internet as opposed to on your PC) and the use of Netbooks (small laptops used primarily for internet access). I already use several online services in place of local apps – esp Google’s offerings of Gmail and Docs, am investigating some online storage/syncing options from Microsoft (eg Mesh and Live Sync) and am watching with interest Office Web… As more and more apps/services move online and away from our personal computers, the need for a large PC may well decline (except for gamers perhaps) with laptops and netbooks dominating our everyday computing. Just need to get me a Netbook now… Birthday present anyone?!?

Geek out.