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Technology Today – October 2008
by Robert Sanborn 

Vista News 

Is Vista going to be the shortest lived operating system since Windows ME ?  More people are still buying new computers with Windows XP (if they have a choice) than Vista, and more and more are taking the big box companies up on their offer to “Downgrade” from Vista to XP.  We then hear that sometime early next year, the betas will be really hitting the streets for the next generation of Windows which will be called simply enough, Windows 7.  For people who have been buying their computers through independent channels, you can still buy it with Windows XP until January 31, 2009.  Microsoft in April 2008 released Service Pack 3 for Windows XP and while quite a few computers had difficulty with it to begin with, it seems like a pretty stable piece of software right now.  So it seems that the strategy for a lot of folks will be to nurse their computers along with XP until the new Windows 7 becomes available and hopefully, it will be a lot more stable and secure than we have seen in the past.  

While a lot of people have been complaining about Vista, its lack of real changes and updates, one thing I have to say is that in my experiences, it is a whole lot more stable than Windows XP ever was. And you know, what to me was the biggest complaint about Vista ? it was that it was different.  For those people that like to stash their files in folders directly on the C drive or on places on the network, it was quite a bit different and difficult to get used to. 

Vista did release its own Service Pack 1 in February of this year and like all service packs, the first few users installing it had problems but by now, it is very stable and should be installed.  

Safe Computing Tips 

Go play in a sandbox is one of the best pieces of advice for internet surfers I have seen in a while and the software to do it in is Sandboxie, www.sandboxie.com.  What Sandboxie does is to isolate a part of your computer’s memory and disk space so that when you run a program, especially Internet Explorer, what ever happens to it can not affect any other part of your computer. Fire it up, then start up your internet browser and surf in the knowledge that where ever you go, you should be protected.  I am not talking about anonymous surfing, I am talking about keeping the drive by viruses and spyware away from your computer.  So when you download a suspected file, your anti-virus programs will still see it and tell you that you might have a problem before it really hits your computer. When you are done surfing, close the sandbox and all is back to normal. 

Manfrotto Tripod 

If you are at all an amateur photographer that is beyond the point and shoot stage, you know that you should be using a tripod to help you keep your camera steady when taking pictures. Yes you know that so I won’t bog you down with those kinds of details but as we know, takeing those good pictures requires more than a steady hand and high shutter speed. For years, I also struggle with that using either a heavy tripod, monopod which doubles as a walking stick and cane at times, or even a fence post or the side of a building to keep things steady. So last year at the CES show, went to the Bogen Imaging booth to see what they had and fell in love with the Manfrotto Modo Tripods. I got my hands on the model 785B. (about $60). It weighs less than most of my cameras and when it is folded up, is less than 16 inches high. But it is as solid as a rock and will support cameras weighing 4.4 pounds. This tripod has so many was of setting itself up that you just have to dig into it. It will go up to a maximum height of 59 inches and if you lower it to 15 inches.  

Remove the center shaft and you are literally sitting the tripod on the ground with the camera maybe 5 inches up. The leg clamps are easy to use, no twisting needed here as they use locking levers to tighten them at a particular height. It comes with a mounting plate for the tripod head so that you can easily connect and disconnect either a digital camera or camcorder and has mounting fits for both. This makes it so much easier to attach the camera to the plate and then you have a quick connect for the plate and camera to the tripod.  The only quibble I had here was that the plate covered the memory card access panel on my Panasonic digital camera so that when I needed to replace either the battery or memory cards, I had to unscrew it from the plate. It was an inconvenience. Many cameras have the battery and memory card access panels on the side which would make that a moot problem. 

In real world usage, the tripod worked out great for me. It was easy to carry and in fact, you can buy travel cases for it. Quick to set up and when I went to take pictures of a Lilac park with lots of other people around, was easy to use, and quick to setup and collapse after each shot. In comparing this tripod to the others that I have, it wins hands down. Much easier to setup, I love the little leveling float bubble in the head.  

So in short, this tripod is a keeper and one that will be easy to use on a regular basis. 

Cloud Computing 

One of my cohorts sent me a really interesting snippit about “Netbooks and the Clouds” that I thought I would include it here for you.  Andy has a way with words and really sums up my thoughts on the whole issue of these ultra-portable Netbooks. 

Really cheap, really light, really long lasting, really cool portable computers sound like a dream come true. You never have to upgrade the software because you just go online and tap start to work on your system with the cloud. Sure you don't have a lot of storage in these shrunken notebook computers but what the heck no problem! You simply store the stuff in the cloud. You create and someone else does all the heavy lifting how great is that?  

You ever noticed that the weather changes from time to time in the clouds?

And in our neck of the woods sometimes there aren't even clouds up above...just clear blue skies? That cute little cheap netbook doesn't do much then does it? Come on...it's a good doorstop because it certainly isn't heavy enough to be a decent boat anchor! 

So, what is this “Cloud Computing” all about? For truly heavy corporate technology users, it is absolutely wonderful in that you don’t have to worry about what is installed on your computer but you just connect to the internet to all the resources and services you need from your entire product portfolio, documents stretching back 100 years, and email, scheduling, and direct connections to the corporate homeworld.  Rather than have these technocrats chained to their desks, they are chained through the internet and for the company, it is great, instead of 40 hours a week, they now get 80 hours of work a week but that is something else. The real issue for cloud computing is that it is an expensive proposition for the home or small business user and as Andy points out, you really have to be connected all the time or it doesn’t work.  

So, is it the wave of the future? More and more people need remote access to computers and tools and they are getting far easier and better to use.  A couple of my favorites right now are “Go to My PC” www.gotomypc.com and Team Viewer, www.teamviewer.com.  Both of these programs will let you connect to your own computer as if you were sitting in front of it. Of course it helps if you have high speed internet access on both ends but in the past it was a real pain to make sure all of my applications and files were sitting on my notebook. For years, we would struggle with synchronization software to help keep things straight and believe me when I tell you it really doesn’t work that well.  Even now I still have trouble synchronizing information with my PDA and I have been doing this for 10 plus years. 

But with something like Go To My PC, it really works great and in to give it an acid test, when I took a trip overseas, left the notebook home and it worked like a charm.  Because of the way I had my email accounts set up, it was always a pain to log into each one via a web interface which was naturally different from each other, and to get and reply to my mail. Worse yet of course since I use Outlook to read email, nothing I had seen before was available. But this time, it not only read my mail easily, I can refer back to older mail and information.  I am not yet ready for Cloud computing because sometimes I want to do websites, create new documents and the like and really want to have the application running on my notebook but for a lot of highly connected people, this might just be the way to go. 

Virus Issues 

Viruses, malware, spyware, and drive by installing Trojan software will be with us a long time and sad to say, some of your computers might be zombies and you just don’t know it.  I am finding more and more tools out there to rid us of them and the most irritating today is the “Antivirus 2009” program that pops up and tells you to buy their software to get rid of the virus that it just planted on your computer. Today’s tool for that is from Malwarebytes at www.malwarebytes.org. Not a tool to keep you from getting infected but a great one after the fact. Most new computers come with a 30 day trial of some anti virus package and now you can get free programs if you connect to DSL or Cable but the problem is that once the year is out, it starts costing real money. Best thing to do is to buy a boxed package of say “Norton Internet Security 2009”. Then next year when the new version comes out, don’t renew online. Wait for the sales for the 2010 version, buy it and you will find that after the rebates you go through, ends up costing much less on an annual basis. The other good reason to do this is that if one of those really nasty viruses kills your computer, you will actually have the software in hand when it comes time to reinstall it on your computer. Also, get the three user version so you can install it on other computers as well. 

Notebook Issues 

I am getting a lot of calls about buying a notebook to replace the desktop. Something to think about is how are you going to be using that notebook. If you plan it to simply just sit in the same spot as the desktop all the time, think twice about that. Most notebook users don’t like the touch pad, don’t really like the keyboard, and want a bigger monitor. If that is the case, then buy a smaller desktop tower case, spend about $400 less on the package, and you get something far more powerful, easier to use and look at, and with ton’s more features. The last desktop system I put together had 8 external USB ports and as I mentioned once before, you can use them pretty quickly. Also, don’t be swayed by the cheap come on prices on some of those notebooks because you end up needing more memory, bigger screens, and they get pretty slow when you install all your software.

Robert Sanborn is a technology analyst for PC Lifeline. You can reach him through the net at robert@pcll.com




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