Monday, January 17, 2011

Free for 1 Year

I said to myself: "What if I return to the original concept of the blog, that is to write reviews of existing NMR software"?
I remembered there was one I had never tried. It's called NPNMR (where NP stays for: "Natural Products") and the web site has been in existence for a number of years, though I only heard about it from Google. The NMR wiki ignores it. I remembered there was a freeware version; I wanted to try it. The installation was successful. License was more problematic. The free license is not forever. It only lasts one year, starting from January 1, 2010. In practice it has already expired. "If you use the software on a regular basis, you should purchase a regular (commercial) license." I am waiting day after day, now I am a little tired of waiting and here is the review (without having tried the program!).
From the little I have read of the manual, it could be a fine product, with all the functions that today are considered the bare minimum. The author copied the right ideas from the right sources. The final result looks personal and tasteful. Some interface choices are arguable, like the multitude of different tools to perform correlated actions. For example, there are three integration modes and they are all necessary: the "integration" mode, the "remove" mode and the "edit" mode. Easy to learn but awkward for repetitive work.
The commercial price is reasonable. 500 euro for a professional program was a convenient price 10 years ago. I appreciate this kind of commercial policy: rounded figures that never change, the same price for everybody, no special deals, no promotions. Maybe the recent trend of the market made you think that a software can cost an order of magnitude less, but this is wrong. The software industry is not sustainable at low prices.
NPNMR is a Java program, with the limitations and the advantages of the language.
My impression about the NPNMR story is that the market is saturated. It's not enough to have a good product. It's not enough if the product is also free. A lot of hard work is required to make it popular. And NPNMR is not popular yet (otherwise I would have already found a license valid for 2011). A free product that requires a lot of hard work is an absurdity that can't last. We have already seen what happened in the past with other programs: Mestre-C is the most famous example, with NMRPipe representing a different illustration of the same basic concept.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Video is a Latin word

Few weeks ago I was with Giuseppe "Jimmy" Tarascio, a kind and nice guy who deserves to be a celebrity. To my eyes, he is a celebrity. We were alone and we didn't know where to start a discussion from, so I said: "This morning I have received your newsletter". "Glad to know it", he replied, "I never know if it arrives or not". "I am receiving all the issues", I confirmed. Then he narrated how difficult it is to manage his newsletter, mainly because he wants to send PDF attachments with it. In practice, Jimmy painfully compiles by hand the list of recipients each time he broadcasts an issue. As soon as I heard this, I felt guilty and promised I was going to unsubscribe. I did it when I got back home.
For the same reason I am not giving here the link to the beautiful web site that Jimmy is slowly building up, enriched by exercises, articles and videos. His site is not dedicated to NMR and it is not written in English, so 99% of my readers can't find any pleasure in visiting it.
Why can't you find videos on my blog? Apart from the fact that I haven't learned to make them yet, I don't like videos (unless they are Tarascio's, of course). Why?
1. Slowness. Only in the morning my ADSL connection is fast enough to watch a video without interruptions (or with few of them). Podcasts represented the solution to this problem (first you download, then you watch). Unfortunately, podcasts are already out of fashion.
2. Language. It's not easy to translate an unknown word without spelling. Language is still a barrier, like in Babel's time.
3. Voice. The synthetic voice can be clear and funny, but not very funny. Very few can afford to hire a professional speaker.
4. Speed. Just like with live demonstrations, it is difficult to follow and learn the operations shown by the screencast. Live demonstrations are possibly worse, because you don't have the pause and backwards controls.
5. Resolution. I don't like slow resolution pictures and movies. Do you?
6. Screencasts are not interactive. I remember that years ago (probably in the age of system 8 or even before), Apple introduced a rich help system. The manual for an application contained pictures, movies and scripts. Not only the manual told you which menu commands to select, it selected the command for you, after drawing a red circle to show its position inside the menu. Really impressive, but probably too expensive because bulky and annoying PDF books are the norm today.
What's Tarascio's secret? His videos are neither about software, nor about NMR, but about "winning moves". What's my advise? I think that HTML is really a wonderful solution for presentations. A little of Java Scripts can help, but not Flash!