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

Is a New Computer on Your Holiday Shopping List?

If it’s been a while since your last computer purchase, you’ll find the marketplace has undergone a sea change in the last few years. You’ll have a bewildering number of choices and receive conflicting advice. For SaddleBrooke residents, your first computer was almost certainly a desktop or laptop that came with a Microsoft or Apple operating system. Often shared with the whole family, it was usually located on a desk in a quiet area. Remember those “Are you a Mac or a PC?” commercials circa 2007?

Most business offices continue to regard desktops as standard equipment. Desktop computers remain the go-to computers for serious image editing and software development. Desktops are still preferred by advanced gamers and longtime tech hobbyists; they provide the best value for those who need powerful, highly customizable systems.

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Flash –Walking the Last Mile

If you have had difficulties getting Adobe Flash to work on your computer lately, that’s actually a good thing! New security problems targeted specifically at Flash installations are constantly emerging. Adobe issues frequent security updates, but new problems continue to arise almost daily, with no apparent end in sight.

All the most popular Internet browsers now routinely block Flash.  Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge are now on the “Flash must die!” bandwagon started by Steve Jobs 10 years ago when Apple refused to support Flash on the newly introduced iPhone in 2007.

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Fast and Curious

One of my favorite indulgences is a speedy new computer with a generous serving of new technology to explore. This fascination began in 1982 with a Commodore 64, which went on to become highest-selling single computer model of all time. When inexpensive clones of the IBM Personal Computer arrived two years later, offering a 10 fold increase in speed with 10 times as much memory, it didn’t take long for me to make the switch. When the local computer store was shuttered a few years later, I learned to do my own repairs and upgrades – the closest repair shop was now 100 miles away!

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Deja Vu All over Again?

Microsoft recently introduced the Surface Laptop, attempting to capitalize on the growing popularity of the Surface Pro series of convertible tablets, the Surface Book and the Surface Studio. This new 13.5” laptop will initially be marketed to schools and students, but “it’s also a great choice for any Windows user looking for consistent performance and advanced security.”

More importantly, the product also introduces Windows 10 S, “a specific configuration of Windows 10 Pro that offers a familiar, productive Windows experience that’s streamlined for security and performance. By exclusively using apps in the Windows Store and ensuring that you browse safely with Microsoft Edge, Windows 10 S keeps you running fast and secure day in and day out”. Not coincidentally, exclusive use of Microsoft Edge and Bing search will be mandatory. Schools will be able to convert all their current compatible computers to Windows 10 S at no cost; registered students will also get free access to Office 365.

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The Goldilocks Chair

I’ve been refreshing and reorganizing my work space this summer – clearing out accumulated old software, magazines, retired equipment, and taking a serious look at what irritating deficiencies need to be addressed. I tend to use things until they break or become obsolete, only to realize that they should have been replaced years ago. My twin 10 year old monitors will be replaced by the time you read this column, and I have belatedly replaced my task chair – again.

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Do You Feel Lucky?

Microsoft asserts that Windows 10 is “the most secure Windows ever.” Apple “designed macOS with advanced technologies that work together to constantly monitor, encrypt, update — and ultimately keep your Mac safer.” iPhones and iPads “stop malicious software before it can ever get a foothold.” Android security chief Adrian Ludwig recently stated “I don’t think 99 percent plus of users get a benefit from anti-virus apps.”

Are independent antivirus programs now superfluous anachronisms, unnecessary residuals of a sophisticated protection racket?

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Who’s the King of the Hill?

I’ve been spending a good deal of time over the last few months testing and evaluating the Windows 10 Creators Update, which was released to the public on April 11. While advance copies are available to the 40 million members of the Windows Insiders group (free), most Windows 10 Home users will get this update automatically via routine updates over a several month period. Those using the Pro, Educational or Enterprise versions will have the option to delay installation until August 2017. Development has already started on the next feature update, which is due before the end of the year.

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Hey You! Get Off of My Cloud!

Cloud computing is a big business that continues to expand rapidly. Revenues increased 21% to $110 billion in 2015 and are expected to double in two to three years. If you use a personal computer, you are likely to be utilizing cloud computing every day, even if you’re not quite sure just what cloud computing is!

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Is Free Software Just Too Expensive?

Everybody loves FREE! Computer vendors and software companies first started routinely charging for software licenses in the late 1970s.  In the early years of home computing, many of us learned from each other through meetings, books, magazines and sharing free software by mailing floppy disks to one another. The hidden cost then was a steep learning curve (free software ordinarily lacks user manuals or support services), and that anticipated updates might never be forthcoming. The Free Software Foundation (1985) and the Open Source Initiative (1998) continue to advocate free software availability to this day. Free software became widely available in the mid-1990s as internet access became commonplace. Continue reading

AI Yai Yai !

Amazon’s surprise bestselling tech product for the 2016 holiday season was the Amazon Echo; sales are 8 times more than the 2015 holiday season. A voice controlled wireless speaker that can stream music from Amazon and other music services, Echo features Alexa, Amazon’s own version of the jinni in the bottle. Alexa is rapidly morphing into a multi-featured “digital assistant”, one of many such intelligent or smart artifices offered today.

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