Thursday, December 15, 2005

Hotmail beta interface: Kahuna

Much like the ongoing renovation of Yahoo Mail, MSN Hotmail is getting a face-lift that makes it resemble a desktop e-mail client. The code name for this work in progress is Kahuna, and it promises big changes for its tens of millions of users. Like Yahoo, the new Hotmail will use a blend of dynamic HTML and JavaScript, dubbed AJAX, to preload messages so that you don't have to wait long for content to appear. Other convenient tweaks include the ability to drag and drop messages into folders. Until now, only about 5,000 testers have given Kahuna a whirl. Later this fall, Microsoft plans to expand testing with some 200,000 users, who can later invite friends to try the new service. But as of our review date, the Kahuna beta isn't available to the general public. See CNET MSN Kahuna Beta slide show for pictures of the new interface.

Upside: The look and feel of Kahuna is radically different from that of the current Hotmail, with an interface divided into three columns similar to the three-pane work space of Microsoft Outlook and Yahoo Mail Beta. This makes it easy to drag and drop multiple messages into folders--a boon if messages have piled up in your Inbox. Keyboard shortcuts let you send and manage messages without relying on the mouse. Other tweaks include rich text editing and emoticons for dressing up messages. And outdoing Yahoo Mail, Kahuna will provide 2GB for free--still less than Gmail's 2.5GB.

The security improvements for Hotmail look promising, due to efforts to detect phishingMSN Messenger. Paid users can also share calendars with Outlook and send and receive appointments from other users. messages. Within Kahuna, an Infobar atop messages lights up when e-mail arrives from an unknown sender, and it even blocks images and URLs from loading until you accept them. You can either report a message as spam or allow senders with one mouse click. As with the current Hotmail, premium users can integrate contacts with Outlook, MSN Spaces, and

Downside: Getting used to the new layout may be hard for die-hard fans of Hotmail. Kahuna works with Internet Explorer 5.5 and up, but not with Firefox. And privacy watchdogs, take note: Microsoft is considering an advertising approach similar to that of Gmail, in which ads would reflect the content of your e-mail messages. That said, Microsoft says that any such system, if built, would give users the choice to opt in to it. And we liked that Kahuna was faster than the current Hotmail, though we ran into a few speed bumps. For example, we received a "browser error" message when trying to ditch a message that was in progress. Because Kahuna lacks the tabbed messaging of Yahoo Mail Beta, it's difficult to interrupt a message in progress and return to it later.

Outlook: We look forward to tracking the ongoing transformation of Web-based e-mail services, la Kahuna and Yahoo Mail Beta. With a look and feel that mimics desktop e-mail, Kahuna improves Hotmail's ease of use. And beyond the new designs, both Yahoo and Microsoft are aiming to make their online e-mail services a one-stop destination for a bundle of services. For example, MSN Spaces blogs and MSN Messenger may eventually funnel into the Hotmail interface. We're also curious about what role photo albums and RSS newsfeeds might play. But Kahuna is in its early beta testing stages, so we've gathered only a glimpse of how the next rollout of Hotmail will work. See CNET MSN Kahuna Beta slide show for snapshots of the new interface.

Well if you want to test this beat interface try your luck and register yourself at


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

NCERT's Secret!

The National Council for Educational Research and Training seems to be treating the new syllabus like a state secret. It has been more than a year since the council started revamping the syllabus, yet little is known about the changes that have been made so far.

To add to the mystery, the council is keeping the names of the experts who have written the books under wraps. According to the NCERT plan, classes I, III, VI, IX and XI will have new textbooks from next year. Books for the rest of the classes will be made available in different phases in subsequent years.

While NCERT says it is still busy putting final touches to the document, officials refuse to give out a time-frame under which it will be released. "We are preparing a document and that will take its own time," NCERT director J S Rajput said.

Several academicians say the syllabus should be made public once it is formulated. Smarting under allegations that the school curriculum was being given a saffron hue, the council could be trying to delay the process of public scrutiny, NCERT sources said.

Unofficially, the NCERT is trying to buy time in the name of private publishers. "We don't want the private publishers to get their hands on the syllabus. Otherwise they will flood the market with notes and reference material," an NCERT official said.

The statement directly contradicts what the NCERT openly admits."NCERT books are prescribed in only three per cent of the schools, that too government-run," Rajput had earlier told The Times of India.

Most private schools prescribe books by private publishers.

Even the Central Board of Secondary Education, which is said to have been given a draft of the new syllabus, is keeping mum. According to CBSE sources, the director in a meeting had informed other members that though the board had received the syllabus, it was "confidential".

Former head of academic affairs Arjun Dev terms this "secrecy" unprecedented. "Once the council formulates the syllabus, it should become a public document," he said.Rajput claimed that this time the exercise had been wider, involving many more people.

Yet a number of schools denied they were involved in the exercise. "There have been no guidelines or information from NCERT. I do not know of any school which has been invited to take part in the syllabus revision process," said Springdales principal Jyoti Bose, who is also the vice-chairperson of the National Progressive Schools Conference.

The only document that the schools have been able to buy is the national curriculum framework released a year ago, she said.

State Council for Educational Research and Training director Janaki Rajan contradicts what NCERT has to say. "NCERT has conducted no institutional collaboration with state bodies. Individual faculty had been invited by name and their views passed off as the institutional view," Rajan said.Rajan alleged only individuals of a certain orientation were invited to these workshops.

"Even during the preparation of the curriculum draft, which was made public last year, we were not consulted. Textbooks which arrive are fait accompli," Rajan said.

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