Tools Toys and Technology

About the Tools You Use and the Toys That Make Life Interesting

Tools Toys and Technology - About the Tools You Use and the Toys That Make Life Interesting

The Road Less Traveled

By and large, personal computing devices are now considered a mature market. Desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphone sales are level, which usually indicates that products are being replaced as they fail or become obsolete, but are attracting few new customers. One of the more notable exceptions to that generality has been the growth of Chromebooks, especially so in the last few years.

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If You Can’t Beat ’em, Join ’em

Netscape introduced most of major features that define a modern web browser as we know it in 1994. That same year Bill Gates announced “I see little commercial potential for the Internet for at least ten years.” Just one year later, his viewpoint had changed – as documented in a company memo: “The Internet is a tidal wave. It changes the rules. It is an incredible opportunity as well as incredible challenge.”

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Twenty Years of Community Service: SaddleBrooke Computer Club

SaddleBrooke was founded in 1987; access was via Lago Del Oro parkway, then a narrow dirt road. By 1990, the SaddleBrooke population had reached 578 and construction on the clubhouse had started. In 1993, three men sharing coffee and conversation in the new Roadrunner Grill discovered a common interest in home computers. Their occasional discussions became weekly meetings with a growing audience. Circa 1996, these became scheduled classes around a single Windows 95 PC attached to a television in space shared with the sewing club in what is now the SaddleBrooke One Arts and Crafts Center. That TV set was soon lost in a burglary, nearly putting an end to the developing organization.

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Get Smart!

The latest electronic wonders selling like hotcakes are … smart speakers!

Taking advantage by seizing a long head start, Amazon leads in the United States with 70 percent of the domestic market, compared to Google Home with 24 percent and Apple HomePod at 6 percent. Facebook reportedly is developing its own version. Fifty million US homes had smart speakers at the end of 2017; this is expected to double by the end of this year. Smart speaker adoption in China is growing even faster, but uses different products. The worldwide smart speaker market grew 187 percent in the second quarter of 2018.

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No Internet Connection

A few weeks ago, I found myself suddenly shopping for a new router. Initially puzzling transient “No Internet Connection” service outages became constant in a few days, and the culprit was finally readily identifiable. Router failure symptoms can include isolated wireless or Ethernet cable connection failure and marked slowing of data transmission. Rarely are there dramatic puffs of smoke or other visual indications of failure. Premature failure can be caused by excess heat, electrical surges, mechanical shock, static electricity and corrosion, but electronic devices still inexplicably fail under seemingly ideal circumstances. Warranties range from one to three years, but there is still no reliable way to predict product lifetime.

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Windows 10: Three Years of Windows as a Service

Twenty years ago, 97% of all personal computers were desktops and laptops running Windows. Today, 90% of desktops and laptops run Windows, but now constitute just 36% of all personal computers. While business still runs on Windows desktops and laptops, only 15% of new tablets feature Windows and Windows phones are virtually nonexistent.

Microsoft had big expectations for Windows 10 at product launch on July 29, 2015, predicting that one billion devices would feature Windows 10 in “two to three years” since Windows 10 would work on every conceivable device.

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Router Risks

On May 28, 2018 the FBI issued a public service announcement urging everyone to immediately reboot their routers in an attempt to thwart a Russian malware attack identified as “VPN Filter”. This attack can gain access to connected devices, copy your personal information and even permanently disable your router.

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A Modern Never Ending Story

My laptop computer already has a completely dead battery, even though it has seen infrequent use. Originally priced at $650, it is now worth $160 in good working condition on eBay. A replacement battery is $65 and requires professional installation for an additional $100; replacing it now makes more sense than repairing. The lifespan of a laptop battery varies depending on how it’s used, but averages between 18 and 24 months. This is planned obsolescence at its finest, especially since a user replaceable battery is now a rare commodity!

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In Search of the Best Browser

Exploring the World Wide Web and discovering new information and ideas is one of my favorite computer activities. Most of us have acquired rudimentary browser skills, but all too many casual users fail to explore the wide range of web browser choices available by staying with “the one that came with my computer.”

Just which program is the best web browser?

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The Times They Are A-Changin’

Introduced in 1985, Microsoft Windows proceeded to dominate the world’s personal computer market, peaking with a 95% market share in 2003. That dominance began to fade by 2009 and was finally surpassed by Google’s Android operating system in 2017.

Steve Balmer became CEO of Microsoft in 2000 and established a “devices and services” strategy. Under his 13 year tenure, revenues more than doubled. He added the profitable x-box entertainment and data centers divisions to Microsoft’s product lines, but he failed to capitalize on tablet computing, smartphones and music player opportunities, seeing them as threats to the continuing success of Windows and Office.

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