With access to the final RTM version of Microsoft Windows 8, I just had to get a computer that would handle the wealth of new features. Although Windows 8 will not be available pre-installed on new hardware before October 26th of this year, I did a good bit of searching before I settled on the new A720 27″ IdeaCenter all-in-one computer. The A720 according to Lenovo is built for Windows 8, and includes full 10 point multi-touch (most current touchscreen all-in-ones have 2 point touch) which is amazing to see in action (try the piano app for one!). The A720 I got also has an intel third generation i5 processor, 6 GB of RAM, built in tv-tuner, Blue Ray, Bluetooth and HDMI in and out.
I figured I would try doing an upgrade to the pre-installed Windows 7 so that I would be able to take advantage of some of the pre-installed Lenovo apps as well as perhaps having an easier time with drivers etc. I am still not sure this was the best route to take as I did have to do a bit of tweaking to get everything to work. According to the Lenovo website, they recommend uninstalling most of the pre-installed applications, but I only uninstalled a few that I knew would have issues, such as the basically worthless Mcaffee security software.
The actual installation I will cover in a future post, but for the most part, it was quick and painless, and certainly a much quicker upgrade installation that previous versions of Windows I have done. Once I got the correct drivers updated and installed, I began to play around with the Windows 8 interface using the native touchscreen. While I had previously installed Windows 8 on a few machines, none of them had touch and I hadn’t been able to really see the wonders of a touchscreen with the Windows 8 interface.
Using touch on the Lenovo A720 is fluid and easy, and the Windows 8 charms menu seemed much easier to use with a flick of a finger. Pinching and zooming was also a thrill that most people are used to on their smartphones, but never get to use on their computers. I have found that there are many times that I just don’t want to use a keyboard now, especially when browsing the web. With the use of the touchscreen and the built in speech recognition that has been part of Windows since Vista, there are many things that I can now do without need of the keyboard, and for those times when I do need one, I can always use the on screen keyboard if needed.
This isn’t to say that I want to type a long article or document using the onscreen keyboard, and despite the much improved accuracy of speech recognition, the old school part of me does have the need to keyboard it when writing an article (perhaps it is part of the whole ‘process’ of writing), but the A720 with Windows 8 does have me using a keyboard much less. The new Start page (there is no more start button on the desktop, much to the dismay of many), is actually pretty cool with its live tabs and views that give you a quick insight into things like your email, news, weather, social media etc. I am not sure whether I can use it fully as a replacement of the start button, so I have made my own sort of workaround by writing a small script which copies my start menu items to a folder on the desktop every time I logon, then by adding desktop to the taskbar I have a working kind of start menu that gives me quick access to my programs as well as common folders etc.
Windows 8 is a wonder to behold in many ways, and while I think that most people will not see a huge difference between it and Windows 7 (except for the start menu issue), there are plenty of features that I really like including the new task manager which really has undergone a fantastic evolution, as well as the new and improved Windows Explorer which now features the Microsoft Office type bars instead of the old menu driven system.
Windows 8 is very quick to boot up, and pretty darn responsive in multi-tasking and web browsing, although I do find myself using the desktop browser pretty much exclusively due to the inability of the app browser to use plug-ins (although that feature may certainly save a lot of grief for those who click too much and get viruses malware often).
The Lenovo A720 is definitely a fine choice for the Windows 8 Experience, and I will follow up soon with posts on the installation/upgrade as well as some feature focuses.
Windows 8 comes out to the public on October 28th, but if you have purchased or will purchase a machine with Windows 7 on it between June 2 and January 31st 2013 you can qualify for the Windows 8 upgrade offer with which you can get upgraded to Windows 8 Professional for $14.99 here in the US
For questions about the upcoming Windows 8, or upgrade information for local Pensacola Florida businesses and home users, please visit: http://pensacolacomputers.com for contact information. We have been working with Windows 8 throughout the development cycle and can help you migrate, upgrade or start out fresh with Windows 8.
Wolfram Alpha [http://www.wolframalpha.com/], the self-proclaimed “computational knowledge engine” that produces all manner of calculations and factoids from a given input, has been around in its current, free-to-use form since 2009. Last month, however, the makers of the engine unveiled Wolfram Alpha Pro [http://www.wolframalpha.com/pro/], a subscription-based service that offers an even wider range of features.
Where the free version of Wolfram Alpha accepts input only as text, through a search-engine-style interface, the Pro variant can process uploaded documents. Images [http://www.wolframalpha.com/examples/ImageInput.html] can be analyzed and processed with different filters; text in the image can be read into an editable form. Spreadsheets can be uploaded to allow mass computation of various attributes, rather than entering individual equations and numbers as the free version would require. Audio files can be analyzed, and various scientific, mathematical, and geometric formats can also be interpreted.
In addition to the increased format compatibility, Wolfram Alpha Pro also increases the interactivity [http://www.wolframalpha.com/pro/interactive-features.html] of produced results. Parameters of equations can be altered in real-time, without the need to re-submit the equation. 3D graphics and enhanced visualizations allow for results to be more easily interpreted; the ability to zoom and scale output is new to the Pro version. Furthermore, results produced are more in-depth, as Pro users receive additional computation time on all their queries.
Wolfram Alpha Pro is available from the Wolfram Alpha site [http://www.wolframalpha.com/pro/]. Subscriptions start at $4.99 per month, though special discounts are available for students and educators.
On today’s internet, you can never be too careful about what you view or download. A good antivirus is essential for anyone using the internet for more than the most basic of tasks, but there are many options available, and they are not equal in the quality or degree of protection they provide.
Two of the most popular Antivirus software’s are Norton’s antivirus and Mcaffee, unfortunately, due to their popularity and the fact that they are pre-installed as trial versions on so many computers, these are often the first two Antivirus software’s that virus writers work to disable and this greatly reduces their effectiveness. While there are quite a few advanced security suites that are fee based, the comprehensive solutions too often bombard the user with constant pop-ups asking what to do, and for most people these become such an annoyance that they either just click on them to get them out of the way, or disable them, which defeats the purpose of having those features in the first place. Generally for most users, a free version of one of the current Antivirus software’s will provide adequate protection with minimal annoyance.
A good choice, and one that comes without costly subscriptions, is Avast Free Antivirus [http://www.avast.com/en-us/index]. Avast is a very old brand, originating in 1988 as a tiny program designed by two Czechoslovakian university students to remove the then-common Vienna virus. Today, it is a major competitor in the antivirus market, with over 150 million users. The latest iteration of the software has three versions (Free, Pro, and Internet Security) [http://www.avast.com/en-us/free-antivirus-download]. The Pro and Internet Security versions come with some additional features, such as spam blocking and an integrated firewall, but for the majority of users, the free version provides enough security.
The most basic component of Avast (and any antivirus) is the ability to scan your computer for malware and then to remove any that is found. In this field, Avast can hold its own with other similar products. What makes Avast great, however, is the inclusion of so many extra features. First, there’s an entire suite of real-time scanners, checking websites, network connections, emails, and even scripts running in the background. If any signs of malware or suspicious behaviors are found, Avast will alert you and provide options to terminate the connection or process before damage can be done. Also included is “sandbox mode”, which isolates programs from accessing any important system files until you approve them as safe. Avast also makes use of cloud streaming technology. It uses this technology both to stream updates to your computer and to keep a database of programs. When a program is run, Avast checks against the cloud database to see what the reputation of the program is. If the program has been marked as dangerous or is unknown to Avast, it will warn you and offer to run the program in sandbox mode until you decide whether to risk it.
For our Pensacola area readers, if your computer does become infected with a virus, there are a few posts here you might want to read such as “Pensacola – Why do I keep getting viruses and malware on my computer?, and “Pensacola Computers Presents – How to Use System Restore in XP”
Alas, if you cannot get past a nasty virus, please visit http://pensacolacomputers.com where you can find information to help you or contact info for immediate computer service and repair.
“The cloud” is something of a buzzword these days: there’s lots of talk about it, but not everyone knows what it means. Windows Live SkyDrive [http://explore.live.com/skydrive] is a cloud-based document storage service, and what that means is that it can keep your documents safe from damage or getting lost, allow you to copy those documents to any computer at any time, and enable you to share documents via email or collaborative editing. The cloud component refers to where these documents are stored; rather than keeping them on your computer, they are in a password-protected portion of the Microsoft servers, completely isolated from the various threats that go along with everyday internet usage.
SkyDrive is integrated directly with the latest version of Microsoft Office (Office 2010). What this means for the user is that files typed up in Office programs, like Word and Excel, can be saved directly to SkyDrive [http://explore.live.com/skydrive-get-started?T1=t2], saving you the hassle of uploading them yourself. In addition, new Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote documents can be created directly within SkyDrive, and the use of Office Web Apps allows said documents to be edited directly. The Web Apps also allow for collaborative editing [http://explore.live.com/skydrive-share-photos-files?T1=t4], so multiple people can work simultaneously on the same document without the clutter of multiple copies or edit merging.
Another use for SkyDrive is photo sharing [http://explore.live.com/skydrive-get-started?T1=t4]. Whereas normally sending photos in an email would require attaching them individually, and thus being subject to attachment size limits and inbox clutter, SkyDrive can be used to store entire albums of photos and then simply linked to in the email. The recipient can then browse and download photos from the SkyDrive at their leisure. At the same time, permissions can be set on the SkyDrive so as to keep some documents private while others are available to anyone.
While SkyDrive is currently somewhat of a standalone product, it will be much more heavily integrated in Windows 8 [http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2012/02/20/connecting-your-apps_2c00_-files_2c00_-pcs-and-devices-to-the-cloud-with-skydrive-and-windows-8.aspx]. An app under the new Metro interface will allow SkyDrive files to be easily accessed and browsed outside of a browser, as well as making said files and the SkyDrive itself available from any other app. This is built-in alongside the open and save functions, so any app that can access files can access cloud storage through SkyDrive.
One of the greatest thing about Skydrive is the price – Skydrive is Free! 25GB of storage for your files for free! Skydrive apps are available for Windows Phone and iOS and there are currently a number of thrid part Android apps as well as the new OneNote for Android app just released from Microsoft that lets you access your notes on Skydrive from an Android phone.
I just upgraded my phone, a Droid X, to the latest Samsung 4G Droid Charge running on Verizon’s network, and I must say, after a bit of tweaking, I am quite happy. 4G is amazing with blazingly fast download and upload speeds, in fact, my phone is now as fast or faster than most people’s home intenet here in Pensacola. The folks at the Pensacola Verizon store on 9th ave were great as always, making the transition as painless as possible. While 4G is fairly new to Pensacola, I was pleasantly surprised on a recent trip to New Orleans to find that 4G was available for a good portion of the trip and it seems to be pretty strong in most areas of Pensacola. The Droid Charge has a ton of great points and a few not so great points, though with a bit of tweaking, those not so great points are easily manageable.
The Droid Charge 4G gives you quite a few things you definitely won’t find on any iPhone, starting with 4G. 4G speeds allow for much faster communication on the internet and allow applications like Netflix to work as they are supposed to, without freezing and stuttering. It also allows for smooth video calls via apps like Fring or Google Talk. Browsing the web is also a pleasure with full Adobe Flash support so you get to experience the full web (something no Apple iOS device can do). The Droid Charge also has a pretty good 8MP rear facing camera that takes good pictures and video, and a front facing camera for video calls. Add an HDMI port so you can hook up an HD monitor (although with the Allshare app you can easily share your media via a wireless network to wireless devices).
Stock out of the box, the Samsung Droid Charge does not have the greatest battery life – in my tests I was getting about 8-10 hours of normal usage. However you can get an extended battery, or even better, you can avail yourself of the wonderful Android development community (I like xda-developers.com) to find a wealth of free custom ROMS that replace the stock Android software. Most of the custom ROMS are pre-rooted (which allows you much more freedom in customizing your device), and many are highly optomized to give you better performance and much better battery life. Using some apps like the LTE switch (which allows you to switch easily between 3G and 4G) and a custom ROM, I am now easily getting a full day + of battery life with a bit heavier than normal usage. There is a HUGE community of developers behind the Android devices, and people are coming out with new tweaks, fixes and enhancements just about every day.
4G on Verizon also give you what ATT touted for a long time with their iPhone – the ability to talk and surf the web at the same time. While I never really saw this as a must have feature, it is nice to know you can do it if you want to. The Droid Charge has an amazingly bright screen which you can see even on a bright sunny Pensacola Florida day, and with all of its features like GPS, 2 Cameras, HDMI and USB ports, highly customizable Android OS, it is the best smartphone I have ever owned. Add in the ability (once rooted) to add free wireless tethering apps that you can use to make your phone a wireless hotspot without the extra charges (just don’t get greedy), I have found that the Samsung Droid Charge 4G from Verizon is certainly making my communication a lot better and easier. With my work for Pensacola Computers, I can easily access what I need to when I need to and have fun doing it!
The iPad 2 is coming, the iPad 2 is coming and it is the greatest thing ever (NOT) – this is what the Steve Jobs hype factory is blowing up our rears, and it is sad to see how many suckers are falling for it. Is the iPad 2 better than the original iPad? Sure it is, it has a better processor, better graphics and ooooooo it now has cameras on it (pretty poor cameras, but if Apple tells us that having the cameras makes it so much better then we must obey and jump up and down with joy ).
The truth is, most of the enhancements are things that most normal people will never notice the difference, nor are the added features ones that people will use more than as a novelty. The performance of the original iPad was pretty good when it came to browsing the limited Web that Steve Jobs allows us to view, and most apps ran pretty good on it. The difference in performance will be noticed by the uber-geek crowd, but not by many others. The cameras are a total joke – the pictures they take look grainy at best, not even high enough quality to post to facebook without people feeling sorry for you for having such a poor camera, and the video capabilities are nothing more than a novelty for most. Sure you can use the ‘cool’ photo software which Steve makes money off of, but do you really want to spend money on an app to edit a crappy looking picture?
The real sad part is the people who are all rushing out so they can have the latest and greatest Apple hype toy are going to be out another wad of cash when the iPad 3 comes out later this year (believe me, the Apple hype machine will start ramping that up as soon as the sales of the iPad 2 level off in a few weeks). If you held off buying an iPad because you were waiting for an iPad 2, you would be much better off waiting until the iPad 3 or better and best, waiting for the new crop of Android tablets which will spank the iPad in so many ways. Steve and Apple may be running way ahead right now, but they are running with their shoes untied and they are headed for a nasty trip and fall!
Then of course is the fact that the iPad 2 still doesn’t support Flash. Steve Jobs is up so high on his high horse that he cannot afford to backtrack and allow Flash on his precious devices, and sorry to tell you Steve, Flash isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Sure, a number of video sites have added the capability for other formats so that you can see limited videos on the iPad, but still a large number of the web’s videos are Flash, as are a huge number of websites. I personally think that it sucks big time that you spend so much money on a device to view the web, and you go to a website and all you see is a box because some company president cannot produce a high priced piece of technology that a cheap $250 walmart special PC can run, or perhaps they can produce such a thing, but his ego is too big to allow it because ‘he’ doesn’t like it. Apple is all about control, controlling everything you do with the product that you bought but they still consider to be theirs.
While the Android devices are still in their infancy, they show promise and I will put my money on them because at least they offer me something that Apple never will – a choice to have things my way! Android phones have already surpassed iPhones and Apple will never regain that lead, and the tablet market is poised to have the same thing happen. Sure, Apple and the iPad have a huge lead, but once again, Apple is offering you a very limited choice (it’s their way or no way), while the Android device market is all about having as much choice as possible. Developers for iPad apps are rapidly jumping ship to Android because they see that there is more potential, and they are not subjected to the huge Apple tax that is imposed upon them.
So go out, get the iPad 2 and look cool to everyone – for at least a few months until the iPad 3 comes out, and the new crop of Android tablets comes out, at which point you are then stuck with yesterday’s cast off which means you aren’t cool any longer (at least in Apple’s eye’s).
Just a note to the fanbois – I own an iPad, and for what it is capable of, it is a great device – not worth the price really, but it does run pretty smoothly. I also own a few Android devices, which while not as smooth are much more versatile in what I can do with them (and they allow me to view everything on the web). The new Xoom tablet has a lot of potential, and at least it has good cameras, the ability to run Flash, and easily allows me to swap files between my computer and it and use these files in any way I want. I can also tether my Xoom easily to my Android phone with bluetooth or wifi hot spot which makes it even more affordable.
Today I picked up the brand new Motorola XOOM tablet from Verizon Wireless on 9th ave. First, let me give props to Melissa from Verizon who was friendly and provided awesome service (a great reason to buy direct from Verizon instead of from BestBuy!), and who sold me the very first XOOM this morning. The XOOM is the first tablet to feature Google’s Android 3 (honeycomb) operating system, and from the first impressions, it is a winner and I will definitely be using it instead of the iPad.
Featuring an nVidia tegra 2 dual core processor, 1 GB DDR2 RAM, 32 GB onboard storage, front and rear facing cameras with HD video capability, USB and HDMI connections, the hardware on this beast is fantastic. After playing around with the Viewsonic gtablet for the past few months (one of the first tegra 2 tablets), I must say I am impressed with this hardware.
So far, setting up the tablet was a breeze and it easily accepted my google apps logon credentials. A few things to note on it for those who may be purchasing one immediately, this unit does support Adobe Flash, however it is not pre-installed and Adobe has confirmed that they will be releasing a new version of their Flash player that is optomized for the tablet in the next couple of weeks. Also, Motorola will soon be pushing an update which will make the SD card slot functional. Verizon and Motorola have promised free upgrades of the current 3G hardware to 4G LTE later this year.
Following is a short first look video of the Motorola XOOM tablet:
Pensacola Computers will be following up with a number of videos on the Motorola XOOM tablet in the days and weeks to come. Be sure to visit http://pensacolacomputers.com for the latest information and support for computers and Android tablets.
I have been reading about the new Microsoft Kinect – the add-on real-time motion sensor for the Xbox 360 – and seeing what cool things can be done with it. Today I noticed that Amazon and other retailers have greedily capitalized on the apparent shortages of the Kinect by drastically raising prices (it was $149.99 yesterday and jumped to $199.89 today with some retailers charging upwards of $250! Highway robbery if you ask me, but as big retailers such as BestBuy are showing out of stock online and in stores, people are taking advantage of the ‘oh no I need to get one for Xmas’ feeling. Fear not, at least here in Pensacola FL. Gamestop’s here in Pensacola still have plenty Kinect units in stock at the retail price of $149.99 (they also have the bundled with Xbox 360 versions). After purchasing one today at the Gamestop on US90 Mobile Highway here in Pensacola (right by the Walmart at Mobile Highway and Fairfield), I must say that I am quite impressed with it. Big thanks to the guys at Gamestop for being so helpful and friendly!
The Kinect is quite a marvel of technology, incorporating a camera, depth sensor, multi-array microphone, and custom software which gives 3-d motion capture, voice and facial recognition, and allows you to interact and play games without a controller. The Kinect comes with a small assortment of Kinect enabled games, and there are already quite a few interesting and fun titles. These games will certainly get people off the couch and can provide a pretty good workout!
With Microsoft selling over 1 million units the first 10 days, the Kinect is sure to be a top seller Christmas gift this year, far overshadowing the drooping iPad in popularity.
The Kinect has already spawned quite a number of innovative ‘Hacks’ and there have been quite a few bounties put up for people who can write drivers and software that allow the Kinect to work with a PC. Some very cool things have already been done, including one that turns the Kinect into a 3D webcam type recorder which takes motion video and turns it into a 3D navigable environment – see the video below:
So if you go to Bestbuy or another retailer and find they are sold out of Microsoft’s Kinect, or decide that the greedy Amazon isn’t deserving of your hard earned money, this year stop by Pensacola Gamestop for the Kinect at a non marked-up price with great customer service (no, I don’t work for Gamestop, I was just impressed with their great customer service!). The Kinect will certainly make a great Xmas gift for the entire family.
Office 2010 officially came out last month to the public, and it is now appearing on many new computers as well as being installed by home users and businesses as an upgrade. When Office 2007 came out, many people hesitated to upgrade from Office 2003 due to the change in the user interface and cost, however for those who are still using Office 2003, now may be a good time to consider taking the plunge and going with Office 2010. There are quite a few revamped and new features in Office 2010 that really do increase the value, as well as make it more productive and easier to use. Both business and home users can find new features that help them do things better and faster, and while moving from Office 2003 to 2010 may take a bit of getting used to, it seems more than worth it. Also, for the most part, if your computer can run Office 2007 or Office 2003, it should be able to run Office 2010. For the tech specs, see here: http://blogs.technet.com/b/office2010/archive/2010/01/22/office-2010-system-requirements.aspx
** Note to the tech people at Office Depot on Fairfield Drive here in Pensacola: Office 2010 will run on Windows XP, you just need to have service pack 3 installed (if you aren’t sure about the specs, then just read the Office 2010 box before you tell people that their computer won’t run Office 2010!)
Here are some of my favorite new and improved features in Office 2010:
While upgrading to new software will take a bit of getting used to, I have found that the new and improved features in Office 2010 really help productivity and make a number of previously ‘hard to do’ tasks so much easier. As computers, the internet, and how we interact with technology changes, so must our software, and Office 2010 seems like a good step towards the future.
If you are interested in checking out more new features, or getting a free trial of Microsoft Office 2010, visit here: http://www.microsoft.com/office/make-it-great/en-us/for-home#demo
If you are a student and would like a fantastic deal from Microsoft on Office 2010, check out the Offers page at Pensacola Computers for details
So Steve Jobs went to demonstrate the wonderful new features of the new iPhone yesterday, but funny thing, it wouldn’t work because everyone was clogging up the local wifi. This is a bad thing because of two major points: first, many of the new touted cool features, like the ability to place video calls, only work on wifi networks, and secondly, why have a ‘phone’ that isn’t reliable enough to use on the phone carriers network?
Sure, the new screen is very nice and crisp, and there are definitely some cool features. But come on Steve – you demonstrate the new Netflix app which streams movies to your new iPhone on the same day that ATT, the ONLY carrier for the iPhone, changes it’s data plans and eliminates the one good thing it had going – unlimited data. Well, ATT isn’t stupid, and they know that while a lot of people don’t use that much bandwidth every month, that with the new apps, and new features coming out, more and more people are going to need more data, which with their new data plans means more $$$ for them.
It also seems that Apple, while forging ahead and trying to promote their slick new features, is missing out on some of the features that people really want – like the ability to actually view all the web pages on the web on their phones (sorry Apple fans, you will NEVER have the ability to do that on an iPhone). On the other side, Google’s Android is embracing the ENTIRE web and with the latest Android update, you can now view Flash websites on your Android powered devices. Lets not forget that Apple’s app store, while filled with an amazing number of apps, is still policed by Steve Jobs app controllers who decide what you can and can’t run on HIS hardware, not to mention the fact that 30% of the money that you spend on those apps goes right into Apple’s pockets.
So, should you buy a new iPhone? Well, if you don’t use a lot of data, then it might be worth it …. but wait, if you don’t use a lot of data, then that means that you really aren’t using the potential of the phone, so hmmm. Do you constantly use your phone where there is wifi? … oh wait, if there is wifi, then you can use a ‘REAL’ computer. Do you only need to see just a few pages of the web? well in that case, the iPhone is definitely for you …. oh wait, you live in Pensacola where 3G drops in and out on a whim, so again, maybe not for you.
Don’t get me wrong by my vitriolic commentary, the iPhone is a wonder of technology and is shaping the way people communicate. It definitely has some very cool features and is at the forefront of techology. It’s just that it’s shortcomings are becoming more and more apparent, as is the fact that Apple and Steve really don’t give a damn about much other than their bottom line, and what they determine the future will be. – Lets see, what did Steve do yesterday? He unveiled his latest profit maker. What did Bill do yesterday? He donated 1.5 billion dollars for women’s and childrens health. So who really is more interested in ‘helping’ the world change?