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2016

7/7/16:  If you’re not sure what all the fuss is about Pokemon Go, click on the definition for a quick update!  And if you play and you’re one of those smartphone owners who pay for data, keep track of your time ‘cause the constant streaming of the game will eat up your minutes quite fast.

7/5/16:  After tons of complaints about forced Windows 10 upgrades, Microsoft has finally changed its “GWX nagware” screen so it won’t automatically install Windows 10 without permission.  It only took eight months and appears 24 days before the end of the offer!!

7/1/16:  Your technical devices can ruin your health sometimes.  We all know about “carpal tunnel syndrome” from typing, and there is also “text claw,” “Blackberry thumb” and “iPad hand”.  Now there’s “selfie elbow”.  All of these are repetitive strain injuries which cause inflammation in tendons and muscles from doing the same thing over and over.  And most can be cured by ice, rest, changing habits or exercise.  

6/13/16:  Microsoft announced it’s $26 billion acquisition of LinkedIn. Click HERE to see the plan.

6/10/16:  Apple’s latest announcement show a trend toward the increasing use of AI to enhance Siri and its other apps and integration, upping the game in its competition against Microsoft and all other personal digital assistants.  See AI for more.

5/20/16:  Forced Win10 upgrades:  If you woke up this morning and discovered your computer was now using Windows 10, it was because Microsoft changed the upgrade from “optional” to “important,” causing it to load as a current update.  What to do to roll it back, if you don’t want it, click HERE.  By the way, we understand that, once Win10 has been installed, even if it is rolled back, it will always still be free on that computer if it’s later reinstalled, as the ID is permanently stored there.  At least right now...

7/29/16:  Mark this date on your calendar.  This is the last date available to upgrade your older Windows operating systems to Windows 10 for free. After that, you’ll have to pay $119 for Windows 10 Home for the O/S.  Of course, new computers will come with Windows 10 preinstalled.

4/25/16:  A great upcoming idea (presenty in Kickstarter mode, ready for production shortly) is the HUB, a wireless device that streams high quality audio to up to four devices (e.g. speakers, game consoles, home theater, etc.) simultaneously.  Looking forward to this one.

4/15/16:  Uninstall Quicktime for Windows if you have it.  Many users have installed Quicktime for Windows when it was required for running iTunes for Windows on PCs (now no longer required).  While Apple hasn’t mentioned it, TrendMicro has issued a Zero Day initiative detailing serious vulnerabilities with Quicktime requiring its immediate removal from Windows systems.  Remove it.

2/15/16:  Samsung pay vs. Apple Pay. You know the TV commercial where comedian Hannibal Buriss goes to Katz’s Deli in NY to pay for a pastrami sandwich with his phone armed with Samsung Pay, with the tag line that it works almost anywhere, unlike Apple Pay?  How’s that possible?  First, because Apple Pay isn’t really at that many merchants.  But mostly because it works with almost any pay terminal, since it doesn’t rely solely on NFC (“Near Field Commnications”) to process the payment, but also  adds MST or Magnetic Secure Transmission.  While NFC requires a special wireless terminal, MSC works with existing magnetic strip credit card readers.  So that’s how they do it! 

1/12/16:  End of support for Internet Explorer 7 & 8.  After that, only IE 9 (Vista), IE 10 (Windows Server 2012) and IE 11 on Win 7 and 8.1 will get security updates.  If you have the earlier versions, you may be subject to unwanted security breaches or malware.  For other programs, Microsoft has a “Lifecycle Fact Sheet” that’ll tell you.

2015

12/31/15:  USB-C connectors have a lot going for them - speed, power, reversibility - but beware of cheap ones that can smoke your laptop.  Click HERE.

12/31/15:  This has been a year of changes.  The cell phone providers like Verizon have stopped subsidies.  Cell phone providers like Cricket are offering pay-as-you-go plans with no locked-in contracts, at discount rates.  Smart and Internet TVs are becoming the norm.  Cord-cutters have more choices, now that ESPN offers a streaming service and T-Mobile and Comcast are offering streaming video without data limits (See FAQ #46).  We’ve reached a tipping point in the areas of cell phone and TV plans.

12/5/15:  Remember the Lenovo Superfish malware back in February when the computer manufacturer bundled malware with its new computers.  Well now Dell is doing something similar.  They, too, have posted a removal procedure on their website if you have purchased a computer with unwanted malware.

11/30/15:  My predictions for the next big areas of computing have been generally correct these past years.  Again, there’s little change from last year:  the IoT, therefore also internet security lead the pack, along with increased cloud computing and, again, security.  Finally more big data and analytics, as well as lots of new router hardware.  Much like last year.

11/27/15:  My thoughts on Black Friday deals are the same as last year, so click HERE for that.  Also HERE for scams to watch out for this year, including the V-Tech internet connected toys hack.

10/7/15:  Google introduces Amp, its partnership with news publishers and others that will help create Web content to download onto mobile phones and tablets (they claim) some 85 times faster, so that people won’t gravitate from the Web to other places like Facebook for that information.

10/6/15:  Microsoft releases Office 2016.  It has more color and more features for collaboration.

10/6/15:  Microsoft made a big spash today at its announcement of the Surface Book.  With a 13.5 in. 267 PPI screen that can be used as a tablet from its hinged keyboard or rotated in between, 2 USB 3 ports, SD slot, glass trackpad, up to an i7 Intel processor, up to 16Gb RAM and an upgradeable Nvidia GPU that plugs into the side of the keyboard for extreme graphics.  Prices can run from about $1,500 to close to $3,000.  It’s billed as the killer of the Mac Air laptop (at least for now) and it probably is, the Surface has come a long way.  The old Surface Pro 4 ($900 - $2,200) has been slightly but not greatly upgraded, with the exception of the neat eraser feature on the stylus.

10/1/15:  This is the date that EMV cards must be used by businesses, otherwise they will be liable for fraudulent charges made if they use the old magnetic card swipe on a chip card.  See the EMV definition for more.  Of course, the banks have to issue millions of expensive chip cards and that will take years.  It is estimated that presently fewer than half of banks and credit institutions have adopted chips and barely one quarter of retailers have, and that by January 2016, it’ll still be only about 50/50.  Click HERE for the key dates for EMV, listed by Verifone.

9/30/15:  Google unveils a new Android smartphone (the 6P) with the Marshmallow O/S, also adds audio to it’s Chromecast streaming device, as well as the Pixel C, the first Android tablet built end-to-end by Google.

9/24/15: Microsoft Office 2016 update, not surprisingly, launches with a renewed focus on collaboration for enterprises.

9/18/15: Apple’s do get  viruses after all.  Over 4,000 iOS apps so far have been infected by the XcodeGhost trojan after some Chinese developers used a rogue version of Xcode (the development tool for iOS and OS X apps provided developers by Apple) that had been posted on a developers website.

9/16/15:  Apple announces the iPhone 6S, which looks pretty much like its preecessor, but has significant new feature, notably the new camera an the introduction of 3D Touch, a multi-touch sensor that allows for different possibilities depending on hard a user presses down on the display.   It was introduced with the iWatch an is used throughout the iOS 9 operating system.  Also a built in ad blocker.

8/10/15:  Google has announced a corporate restructuring, taking the corporate name Alphabet.  Click HERE for more.

7/29/15:  Windows 10 for PCs and tablets is available (on new computers and for some who have already installed the Technical Preview)!  The rollout to millions of customers will take place in three phases and take quite some time.  Click HERE for more about Win10...

7/15/15:  So, as I’ve written for years, if it’s on the Internet, it can always be hacked.  And the IoT, sometimes a/k/a “Internet of Targets” proved my case this week when two researchers demonstrated how insecure our cars really are.  See IoT for much more about this. 

6/20/15:  The only constant is change.  As computer technology progresses, it seems that the changes are coming fast.  You gotta keep up.  Sure, Y2K was a fizzle, but there are lots of sea changes you might want to know about.  IP addresses have pretty much changed from IPv4 to IPv6.   The transition from PCI DSS to EMV cards is happening right now.  The evolution of Digital certificates fron SHA-1 to SHA-2 and 3 as well.  All of these changes and more can cause issues with your computer system.  It’s getting to the point where everyone needs a sysop just to solve everyday problems. 

6/3/15:  It’s rare for reviews to be unanimous, but those for Microsoft’s Surface 3 seem to be.  Especially after the Surface and Surface 2.) Everybody loves the “tablet that can replace your laptop”.  It’s got a sharp screen (the S3 is a 10.8 in supporting 1920 x 1280 pixels; the 3 Pro’s 12 in display is 2160 x 1440 pixels).  The S3 is 1.4 lbs, the Pro 1.8 lbs.  The keyboard/cover, however, adds about a pound to either.  Both support all versions of Wi-Fi (a/b/g/n/ac), as well as Bluetooth 4.0 and USB 3.0.  But, absent a dock or a hub, there’s only one USB port, a microSD slot, a mini-DisplayPort and a keyboard port.  Both have front and back cameras, but where the Pro’s cameras are both 5 megapixels, the S3 has 3.5mpx on the front and an 8mpx on the rear.  Both cameras have microphones, but the Pro has stereo. Depending on what you’re doing, even the max 512Gb of storage in the Pro may not be enough (although you may be moving to cloud computing with Office 365 and other apps or external storage.)  The processor on the S3 is a 1.6Ghz Atom x7 processor, but it can be amped up with a Core i3,5 or 7 chip.  You really shouldn’t have to pay another $129 for a keyboard (personally, I’d go for a full external Bluetooth keyboard) or the Surface Pen, but who’s listening??.  The really great software news is that the Surface will run classic Windows apps, as there is no longer any Windows RT (hooray!!), which generated lots of confusion.  It’ll come with Win8.1, upgradeable to Win10 when it comes out.  The cost can be high, however, unless you’re just looking for an internet connection.  The S3 starts at $799 but the top end Pro model with an Intel Core i7 and 512Gb storage can top $1949, so there’s definitely a cost for getting work done.

2/24/15:  The Apple Watch will be available online and at stores (by reservation).  For more about this device, click HERE.

2/24/15:  It’s been revealed that owners of many Lenovo Ultrabooks like the Yoga series have pre-installed malicious man-in-the-middle adware that hijacks HTTPS traffic dubbed Superfish that creates massive security holes in your PC by installing a self-generated root certificate and then resigns all incoming SSL certificates with its own certificate.  Although Superfish has been shipping on Lenovo PCs since mid-2014, it supposedly has been removed in late January, 2015, as it became news.  Lenovo has posted a removal tool on its site for those who purchased the earlier models which may have had the malware.

1/26/15:  Google is promoting a malicious software removal tool that pops up at times.  I downloaded it and ran it, but I’m not sure it’s worthwhile.  It never really tells you what it’s removing, so you don’t know if it’s really malicious software.  The information that it does give you isn’t very useful.  And it resets your Chrome home page.  I’d stick with other malware removal tools for the time being.

1/15/15:  The Windows 10 Technical Preview was released by Microsoft.  It didn’t  tell us much we hadn’t heard through the grapevine already -  There will be more integration with mobile systems, Cortana will work with desktop search, there may be free upgrades for existing Windows users back to Win 7, etc.  But it may be at the cost of (free) upgrades for the lifetime of the device and it may be mostly web-based, like Windows 365.  If you don’t blindly trust Windows Updates, like me, this could be a big minus.  Preview screenshots on various sites are somewhat confusing, and there’s still no real code to sample, so until there’s a beta release, nothing is concrete. Click HERE for ongoing  info and status of Win 10.

1/15/15:  Despite predictions that e-mail is dead and everyone is using messaging, it seems like e-mail is evolving, becoming more intelligent.  First, Google introduced Inbox, which purports to learn how you read, erase and reply to your e-mails, decide which ones are most importand, then sorts them into social, primary and promotions when they arrive and makes other moves.  Now, Microsoft has purchased Accompli, another intelligent e-mail mobile app, which attempts to separate urgent e-mails and sorts the mail accordingly, even calling up calendars and schedules and integrating OneDrive, Dropbox and Google Drive.  But Accompli has some drawbacks, notably not syncing already existing contact data and some enterprise security issues.

1/5/15:  The annual CES show in Las Vegas this year was somewhat predictable:  The IoT ruled, as did wearable technology and drones, and the new USB connector.  Also, super-thin 4K TVs, better 3D printers and gaming consoles.

2014

12/15/14:  Wow! $200 laptops and tablets! Is this a good deal, or are they junk?  They’re all over the place - Win8 devices from all manufacturers, many you’ve never heard of.  While many are low-end, with slower processors and less RAM and some are kinda ugly or even fragile, they may be just the thing for some people who just want some basic internet access.  Name brands, like HP, may cost another hundred dollars or so, but are worth it, particularly if they’re loaded with Windows 365.  ChromeBooks are O.K. for cloud work, but remember that you can’t load native Windows programs if that’s what you need. 

12/10/14:  Keep your eye out for Firefox Hello, a new feature from Mozilla which provides real-time browser-based video and audio chat without the necessity of a separate service (like Skype).  Just fire up your browser, click on the Hello button and chat.  It’s in beta right now, but is being rolled out shortly.

11/28/14:  It’s Black Friday, where all those good tech deals were available.  But remember that quite often you only get what you pay forSometimes less.  C’mon, do you really think you can get a decent 60” TV for $300?  It may be 60” and it may be a TV, but it might not be HD, may be only 720p (not 1080i, even if it may claim to receive a 1080i signal) and it may have a low, choppy refresh rate, so watching sports will give you a headache.  See TVs for more.  InfoWorld reports that those super-cheap tablets you purchased were loaded with vulnerabilities and back doors.  Examples:  The $49.99 Zeki from Kohls had USB debugging turned on by default, a pre-installed security back door and four major security vulnerabilities (Masterkey, FakeID, Heartbleed and Futex) and it doesn’t have Google Play (meaning that it probably didn’t go through Google’s security certification).  BestBuy’s DigiLand tablet at $49.00 has so many problems that the rating company couldn’t even score it, among them the Futex bug vulnerability and allowing “root” access on the device to allow easier pre-installation of apps, but making it easier for attacks like Trojans if the feature isn’t turned back off.  Same for Worryfree Zeepad from Walmart and the Polaroid from Walgreens, both selling for under $50.  Other problem tablets include the Nextbook, the Pioneer 7” from Ematic and the RCA 9” from WalMart, as well as the RCA Mercury 7” from Target, the Mach Speed Extreme Play from Kmart, and Mach Speed Jlab Pro from Staples and the Craig 7” from Fred’s.  Without patching and running anti-virus and anti-malware programs, these tablets subject home users to viruses and intrusions and offices to much worse if their programs or emails are hacked.  Many machines were running older versions of Android (like 4.1.1 and 4.4.2, not 5), weren’t updated or misconfigured by cutting corners.  Devices running Android 5 (Lollipop) like the $99 Samsung Galaxy Tab got a good rating, even with an older Android O/S.

11/6/14:  Seems like more and more products are becoming free and more of the limited cloud services are now unlimited and free.  Microsoft has announced that it will give away Office suite for free on mobile devices like iPads, iPhones and Android phones and tablets.  OneDrive is now virtually unlimited cloud storage.  And other companies are doing the same thing:  Amazon, which had unlimited photo storage in Amazon Cloud Drive, introduced Prime Photo unlimited photo storage for all devices you may own, PC or Apple.  The trend is to make more cloud storage free, driving hardware purchases, which have been slowing down.

11/3/14:  Android 5.0 Lollipop released.  Doesn’t mean you’ll have it available immediately on every device, of course, but it’s being rolled out.  It comes pre-loaded with the new Nexus smart phones, however.  Google calls it a “quantum leap forward” in terms of new design and features, much of it around enterprises, such as the ability to have both a personal and a work “personality” on the same device.  It saves resources, running on only 512Mb of memory.  Encryption will be enabled by default, and “smart lock” allows lock to be disabled by location.  Do not disturb can be set for specific times.  An entirely new look, dubbed “material design” centers around animation and “ripples” that are visual cues.  Notifications will be at the top of the screen. Under the hood, the switch from Dalvik to Art runtime means that apps and “garbage collection” will work faster and with 64-bit processors and will use less battery power (once optimized).   That’s if they don’t hang or even crash, as ART is experimental.  Runtime is a virtual machine which the Android apps run on.  If you have trouble with ART, you can switch back to Dalvik in Settings>Developer Options>Select Runtime.

10/28/14:  Rumors to the contrary, Windows 7 will not become unavailable for quite some time, certainly well past Window 10’s release.  It will be available in both new PCs and retail packaging for at least another year.  What will be discontinued on October 31st will be OEM licenses from Microsoft allowing PC mfrs to sell new computers with Win 7 Home Basic, Home Premium or Ultimate pre-installed.  Windows 7 Pro will still be available and mfs will still be able to sell computers with current inventory on hand.  But this situation will add some $10-$20 to the cost of a new computer.  On a related note, Microsoft is offering some Win 8.1 users free Win 10 updates.  Possibly.

10/6/14:  As expected, HP announced that it is splitting its business into two separate parts, the printer business and the software service business, in order to allow both sides to “focus” on their core abilities. As expected, the stock price rose on the announcement.  The split will be completed before the end of 2015.

Got an old computer or getting a new one and want to know how much longer the operating system will be supported?  Microsoft has a “Lifecycle Fact Sheet” that’ll tell you.  For example Win XP support will end on 4/8/14; Vista on 4/11/17; Win 7 on 1/14/20 and Win 8 on 1/10/23 (if none of these are extended).  So don’t fret about having an older O/S, most will be around for a while.  The site also has dates for end of sales, service packs and downgrades.  WIN XP Update: On January 15, 2014, Microsoft announced that it would continue to provide virus warnings after the 4/8/14 end date for WinXP until 7/14/15.  This means that virus signatures will be provided for Microsoft Security Essentials and a larger number of corporate tools to protect WinXP PCs, which still comprise 30% of all existing desktop computers.  Good news for corporate users particularly.

9/23/14:  Symantec will roll out its $79 Norton Security package, combining some nine products into a single line of desktop security software.  UPDATE:  On 10/9/14 Symantec also announced that it was splitting its business into two parts - security and information management.

9/18/14:  As promised (thankfully Apple always keeps its rollout dates, unlike many other companies) iOS 8, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, was released.  It is compatible with phones back as far as the 4s, as well as the iPad and iPod touch and has features which further bridge the gap between the Mac and the iPhone.  Features include Tap-to-Talk, disappearing messages, quicker access to contacts through “circles”, a new quicktype keyboard, and various health and music features.  UPDATE: You might want to hold off a little while, as Crittercism (with 1 billion active monthly users) reports a crash rate 78% higher than that when Apple rolled out iOS 7.1.  Still, after the first week, it was reported that 50% of users had upgraded to iOS8.  And the iOS8 update issued by Apple was pulled, as it caused even more problems.

spinning loading icon9/10/14:  In the largest Internet protest against legislation since that against SOPA and PIPA on January 28, 2012, today’s protest is intended to draw attention to “net neutrality,” the idea that net providers shouldn’t be allowed to manipulate online traffic for their financial benefit, i.e. it should be the same for everyone, not higher for those who pay more and slower for the rest of us. Netflix, Mozilla, Kickstarter, Etsy and Wordpress, to name a few, will be posting a spinning “loading” icon to prove their point, urging ordinary citizens to lodge their protests with the FCC before the September 15 comment deadline expires.

9/9/14:  As expected Apple introduced iPhone 6, 6+ and Apple Watch today.  The iPhone 6 will come in two versions (the 6 and 6 Plus), both with bigger screens (4.7 in and 5.5 for the Plus), priced at $199 for the 6 and $299 for the Plus (with plans), both available starting September 19.  Both will sport the A8 chip, with 25% faster performance with improved battery life.  Finally, both phones will incorporate a new feature called “ApplePay,” through which users may make mobile payments through many banks and some 220,000 stores. (I won’t go over the features - it’s larger, faster, etc.  If you want it, you’ve already decided to buy it, especially if you skipped the 5 version, as many folks did.  Over 10 million were purchased the first week!)  Unbox Therapy reports that the aluminum frame on the 6+ “bends” slightly after pocket use, and there are some other minor glitches, but finding the first Apple bug for a new product has become a national tech sport. At the same event, Apple also introduced the Apple Watch (not iWatch), starting (!)  at a base price of $349, which will be available early next year.  It has unique features for a smart watch, like unlocking doors to Starwood Hotel rooms, checking into airlines, getting directions and other standard messaging and fitness tasks.  It comes in three types (standard, sport and fashion) and two sizes and has a unique removable band which can be easily switched out for many styles, as well as a charging system through the back of the case.  The button on the side (which was the winding/setting knob in the old days) can control much of what is on the OLED touch screen. Compared to other smart watches, it is quite nice, but you’d expect that from Apple. But, like other smart watches, it still relies on the iPhone for most of its functionality.  So why not just use the phone, you have to have it right there anyway??  And, if you look at the other smartwatches (see glossary definition), you’ve got to wonder whether, if it didn’t come from Apple, it would be any more successful.  Unless, of course, you just want to brag that you’re the first on the block to have one....

10/15/14:  As more and more people are cutting the cord from the high costs of cable satellite TV, the ball is rolling. TV is unbundling itself by offering stand-alone streaming services to its customers.   HBO announced that it will provide streaming internet capability for its service and one day later CBS announced its own streaming internet service, CBS All Access.  No price or content announcement yet for HBO; CBS will be $5.95/mo., but the service will be for some 15 shows, available the next day, in only certain areas.

10/16/14:  Apple announced its new line of iPads (and more)Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!  Well, what else would you expect from an Apple event?  More powerful, lighter, faster, thinner, etc.  This event had several highlights, although nothing like the introduction of the iPhone 6 last month.  First, Apple Pay will launch on Oct. 20, and OS X Yosemite on Oct. 16.  A new iMac with a 27 inch Retina display (“5K” or 14.7 million pixels, 7 times that of an HD display) was introduced, as well as the iPad Air 2 (thinner than a pencil) and iPad Mini 3.  Features added included the Touch ID fingerprint scanner that has become popular, as well as speed and superior graphics, due in part to the use of the new A8X processor.  This will work well with the new camera and features like burst mode and time-lapse photography.  None of this will come cheap, of course.  And don’t forget that Apple leads the world in tablet apps, about 675,000 at last count.

9/30/14:  Microsoft  held a press conference presenting the next version of Windows.  It will be called Windows 10 and will be available in 2015. Click HERE for the full presentation on YouTube.  While this is the only the Technical Preview, it seems clear that the new version will have a restored Start Menu, Universal Apps that will work across all platforms, multiple desktops, detection for your mouse and/or keyboard, app snapping for up to four windows and probably more features that will appear before final release.  Nothing major, but at least an advance from Windows 8, which everyone, including Microsoft, is trying to forget.  Microsoft says it went to Win10 since everyone likes a nice round number.

8/13/14:  Guess we were wrong that the 8/12 patch wasn’t anything special.  Microsoft has recommended that users not install last week’s Win 8.1  “August” update (MS 14-045), as it can result in the BSOD (Stop 0x50 error).  They have removed the download link from their website.  If you got the bug and can’t use System Restore, check Woody Leonhard’s InfoWorld article for possible fixes.

8/12/14:  Win8.1 Update 2 will be issued.  Reports are that it’s nothing interesting. Smaller tiles, and ways to name and group them are a nice touch.  The Win9 rumor mill has it that Win9 (codenamed “Threshold”) will drop the Charms Bar and reinstate the multiple virtual desktops feature available (from XP Power Toys, then Win7 Sysinternals) for Windows XP and 7.

7/14/14:  Didn’t see this one coming.  The figures are out for 2Q 2014 and the PC industry had its best quarter since 2012.  Even more, tablet sales are in a tailspin. Market Researcher IDC reports that shipments of PCs worldwide were 74.4 million, a decline of 1.7% from the previous year, but the lowest since tablets were introduced.   Why?  And will it last?  No one is sure.  It could be the result of massive replacements of business systems now that the economy is improving or the increase in power-hungry technologies like medical imaging, 3D printing, virtual reality, robotics, big data and the like that require more powerful PCs.  Or maybe consumers are finding that Tablets have somewhat limited usefulness.  We’ll have to see if this is a temporary blip, a leveling in PC demand, or a trend.  Stay tuned for next quarter.  UPDATE: Apple’s 2Q stats show that, while iPhone sales increased 13.2% over last year and Apple desktops increased 18% as well, tablet sales fell by a whopping 9%.  Apple CEO Tim Cook blames the lack of acceptance by offices and the availability of cheaper tablets, even from Apple.  UPDATE:  IDG  reports that tablet sales are down, as more than half of households have a tablet and may hold onto it for three years, well beyond analysts’ earlier expectations and phablets take hold (see Data for all figures).

7/15/14:  On CNBC, IBM and Apple announced that the companies were working jointly on over 100 business software programs for Apple’s iOS operating system.  This would be good for IBM, which hopes to sell iPhones and iPads to business clients and for Apple, which has been looking for enterprise entry.

7/7/14:  It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but it’s been revealed that the NSA has a spying tool that is configured to snoop on an array of privacy programs used by journalists and dissidents, here and abroad.  As revealed by Edward Snowden, XKeyScore (see NSA) monitors things like TOR servers and collects metadata on the system’s users, including U.S. citizens.  Also, HotSpotShield, FreeNet, Centurian, FreeProxies.org, MegaProxy, Privacy.li and MixMinion.  Yes, if they’re monitoring U.S. citizens, this isn’t legal...So, if you are trying to protect your privacy online, you’re on their list.

7/7/14:  Win8 Update 2 is scheduled for release in August, but many predict that it may be the last major Win8 update, with Win9 Preview out this fall.  Word is that Win9 will use new activation methods that will more closely tie Win9 to a specific PC.  Also, that it will combine it’s 4 O/Ss (PC, Tablet, Phone & Xbox) into one across-the-board.

7/22/14:  Apple received patent approval for its smartwatch, to be called iTime, which is expected to be introduced in October.  The application was filed back on 7/20/11.

Privacy Badger beta logo7/22/14:  Privacy Badger, a plug-in from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (see Associations) has moved from Alpha to Beta and is now available  The app is a plug-in for Chrome and Firefox browsers which blocks third-party tracking, including the Facebook “Like” button.  EFF says that this blocker is different from Disconnect, AdBlock Plus and Ghostery because it operates automatically, without custom configuration.  Click HERE for more.

7/18/14:  Amazon, the biggest hitter in on-line book sales, introduced KindleUnlimited. For a flat fee of $9.99/mo (free for 30 day trial), you can download and read any of 600,000 books and 200,000 audio books on any devices.  Amazon is clearly matching the successful business model followed by Hulu and Netflix for one-price-only video streaming and applying it to books.  And Oyster and Scribd, which offer similar plans.  There are, of course, some limitations.  You can only hold on to 10 digital books at a time and you don’t get them permanently like you do when you buy them, it’s more like a library.  Also, even though it’s a lot of books, it’s still only “selected” titles of the literally millions in Amazon’s library and probably doesn’t include new releases.  NY Times says the cost/benefit cutoff is more than 13 books a year.  Still, see how it suits you....

8/1/14:  I usually wait until the end of the year for predictions, but with Microsoft’s IoT accelerator program, I’m ready to suggest the “next big things” in the computer industry: IoT, of course, tops the list.  “Augmented Reality,” a la Google Glass, is a runner up.  Wireless power for charging mobile devices, is coming of age.  Of necessity, the use of nano-engineering and graphemes will drive smaller and faster computer chips at the molecular level.  Digital Assistants are well past the beta stage as speech recognition and AI are rapidly evolving.  3D bioprinting is progressing much faster than anyone has predicted.  And hardware attachments and apps for smart phones, like those which turn your phone into a microscope or infra-red thermal imaging, are everywhere.  And dones, of course.  10/8/14 UPDATE:  Gartner agrees generally with my predictions, click HERE.

7/15/14:  More issues for WinXP users.  See 4/8/14 for Microsoft’s discontinuation policy of updating XP.  Now, Java has announced that users installing Java 7 updates on XP do so at their own risk.  Windows O/Ss from Vista on will still be supported by Java 7.  NOTE THAT you will not be able to install Java 8 on XP systems.

6/27/14:  iPhone season is coming up fast.  Apple phone customers are expecting Apple’s usual September announcement of a new iPhone, so stores are starting to offer deals on their existing inventory, as it may become obsolete soon.  Wal-Mart is selling the iPhone 5S for $99, the 5C for $29; Costco’s 5S models start at $77.99; T-Mobile launched its 7 day trial last week.  (Of course, as they say, contract agreements and other limitations may apply.) The usual cell phone provider cost for a 16Gb iPhone has been about $199.  Waiting for the new iPhone? It’s expected to have a larger screen (4.7/5.5 in. vs. 4in.), plus the usual progressive increase in speed.  UPDATE: See 9/9/14 above.

6/25/14:  If you were hoping that you could reduce your cable or satellite TV costs by using antenna services like Aero, you can forget it.  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the startup today, deciding that even though Aero was taking its content from the free airwaves, it was violating the U.S. Copyright Act.  Without any competition, your cable or satellite bill will probably go up even more.  Click HERE for the full story.

6/19/14:  If you’re following computer and privacy laws the way I am, you should be amazed that Congress has recycled the CISPA law that has failed to pass twice, then renamed it as CISA and proposed it in 2014.  The same weasel-worded overbroad law, just as dangerous to privacy as the first one.  And, at a time when the Snowden revelations about the NSA spying have individual citizens up in arms and corporations wondering whether cloud data storage is a good idea.  What are they thinking?  Click HERE for more...

6/9/14:  Radio Shack is betting on in-store, same-day repairs for smart phones and tablets to boost its sagging earnings.  “Fix It Here!” stations have been added to 284 company and franchise stores as part of a pilot program to test this business model.  If it’s successful, RS will expand the stations to over 700 stores (out of the chain’s 4300 stores; it is already closing about 1200 stores due to lagging sales).  And, of course, if the phones can’t be repaired, RS will also be able to sell consumers a replacement, as they’re in that business already.  Maybe it’s a good idea - I remember when my Alltel store used to have a repair facility, but Verizon put that under with the merger, and the idea of mailing my phone somewhere always put me off.  It’ll cut into some independent phone repair businesses, though.  UPDATE:  Since its lenders aren’t going along with Radio Shack earningsthe plan, they only shuttered 200 stores, since RS doesn’t even have the money to close them all.  It looks like the entire chain may go under.  I think that’s sad.  Not because their products are so great (to me they aren’t high quality), but because there’s almost nowhere else that you can buy small electronic parts at the retail level (buying a cable at a big box store is ridiculously pricy).

6/18/14:  As predicted, Amazon announced its upcoming Fire Phone.  Click HERE for more info.  Just like what I dubbed the “AdverKindle” was geared to constantly selling products to users, I expect that the phone will be an “Adverphone,” also trumpeting Amazon products every time you look.  Interestingly, the same day as Amazon’s announcement, T-Mobile announced an innovative plan where you can “test drive” an Apple iPhone 5S for a week for free (although they’ll keep but not use your card impression) to see how great their network is before deciding to purchase the iPhone or any other T-Mobile phone.

6/9/14:  Amazon launches Amazon Payments, a service that competes with PayPal.  It allows consumers to use their Amazon accounts to send and receive money and shop online at “thousands of other sites than Amazon” on both desktop and mobile devices.

6/5/14:  It seems a long way off, but 2016 is right around the corner.  Why do we care?  Because Intel has announced it’s next generation platform, which it calls Skylake.  The big deal is that it will usher in a completely new type of computer, the “wireless computer,” which will not require any type of cable for connections or even power.   It will use WiGig for transfer speeds of about 7Gbps and will connect automatically any time a device comes within range.  And how does Intel solve the wireless power issue?  Wireless will deliver power to more than one device at the same time using magnetic resonance, which can pass power through wood as thick as 2 inches.  We’re waiting anxiously.

6/2/14:  Hooray! The DoJ announced that they’ve taken down the CryptoLocker botnet.  Wonderful, but don’t get that warm-and-fuzzy feeling just yet.  They took down the botnet, which is the “distribution” system for the malware.  But the malware itself is still out there, and others are filling the void.  Don’t let down your guard!  Keep backing up your data; you should be doing that anyway!  And, if you’ve already been infected and are considering paying the ransom, think about this:  If CryptoLocker’s servers have been seized, who is going to give you the unlock key after you send your ransom payment??  Click HERE for more... UPDATE:  Hooray, again!!  Although only 1.3% of people hit with the malware paid the ransom (still, $3 million to the bad guys), for those without a backup, Fox-IT and FireEye, companies which aided the effort to shut down the Gameover Zeus group, have created a portal called “Decrypt Cryptolocker” through which any of the 500,000 stranded victims can obtain a key (at no cost) to unlock their data.  Just send them the file, and they’ll get you a key.  Nice work.

6/2/14:  Apple unveils iOS 8, the update to the company’s operating system which powers iPhones and iPads, to be available sometime this fall.  The two OSs continue Apple's path of convergence between desktop and mobile devices.  Major additions include HealthKit, an app to monitor users’ heart rates, sleep, weight and other health-related information and send it to users’ physicians.  Also HomeKit, a platform for users to control all the equipment in their home (like lights, cameras, door locks, electrical switches and plugs, thermostats, etc.) with their iPads or iPhones.  There will also be “widgets” in the notification center, interactive notifications and improved group messaging and location software.  At the same time, Apple also announced the Mac OS X Yosemite update, featuring a design to make it more like the iOS8 for iPhones and iPads.  And it unveiled Swift, it’s new programming language for iOS and OS X.  New features include a “spotlight” search feature as well as a “handoff” feature that allows Mac users to place and receive calls and texts via Mac, even to non-iPhone users. Click HERE for the complete list of upgrades.  Separately, Apple is allowing the use of Bitcoin apps through its iTunes store, so long as they are used legally. 

5/31/14:  With all this talk about Net Neutrality, capping, throttling and the like, you may be curious about how fast your ISP is delivering your video content.  Google has just introduced its Google YouTube Quality Report, which will tell you how good your streaming video quality is or whether it is suffering from poor quality, too much buffering, dropouts or the like. It’ll also compare the video quality with others in your service area (if there any).

5/27/14:  Microsoft has announced that in the coming year it will roll out a beta version of its speech translation on Skype.  The Win8 beta app will provide fluent, cross-lingual conversations between speakers of different languages in near real-time, according to Microsoft.  

6/14:  Sometime this month, Google is expected to release it’s Project Tango device, a pad with the ability to create 3D images. Through advanced imaging software and infrared sensors, the pad could be used, for example, to quickly create a 3D map of an indoor environment.  A run of 4,000 devices is expected to be manufactured for testing by developers.  A 3D phone will follow.

5/21/14:  There’s always been an up-to-date reference about the Raspberry pi mini-PC on this site, but recently I’ve discovered the Arduino microprocessor and the UDOO, which combines both.  Seriously, if you know someone who is into do-it-yourself computer and electronics projects, learning new things and generally tinkering to create something useful, this would make a great, and inexpensive (less than $100) gift.  It amazes me how far we’ve come with these devices.  See the highlighted definitions and the Links page for more.

5/21/14:  The victim of a cyberattack, e-Bay asked its 145 million registered users to change their passwords, even though they were encrypted. What the heck, you ought to do so anyway, it’s probably already been way too long, and its good security. (See Passwords.) Even though Paypal is an e-Bay subsidiary, it’s on a separate server, so no need to change that password, they say.

5/20/14:  Thinking of buying a Surface tablet?  You might want to wait a few days. On this date, Microsoft is expected to unveil an expanded lineup of Surface tablets, including a bigger model as well as the Surface Mini. To recap:  The original Surface RT was unbearably slow.  Surface Pro also not so great (weak kickstand, poor battery life), but better.  The second generation, built with much better hardware and a faster processor, still isn’t a powerhouse designed for heavy use like a laptop.   Neither the keyboard or screen are suitable for that.  Maybe the new lineup will bridge the gap. UPDATE: The Surface Pro 3, billed as ”the tablet that can replace your laptop,” didn’t fail to impress.  Its larger display (12.1 vs. 10.6 in) and shift in aspect ratio (3:2 vs. 16:9) made a big difference when using it for longer periods of time.  Battery life can be up to 9 hrs with the Haswell chip (although it runs hotter), and it can come with between 4 - 512Gb of RAM, front and back 5Mp/1080p HD front and back cameras, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, USB 3.0 port, just about anything you could want from the hardware.  But it comes with a hefty price, compared to the iPad Air (at $500), the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro (at $400) or even Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2 (at $900) it’s not the best buy for a tablet.  But pit it against a laptop, it’s faster and lighter than the MacBook Air and has a better front camera and is in the similar battery life and price range.  Let’s see what happens after it has a track record.  For the record, I still don’t like any of the keyboards for real work, even the SP3 one which shouldn’t cost another $135, but maybe that’s just me.  I could always plug in a keyboard, but that just defeats the purpose of a tablet, doesn’t it? By the way, you’ll probably have to pre-order. UPDATE:  Now that the Surface Pro 3 is out, to mostly good reviews, be aware that there is a continuing problem with the Wi-Fi feature on the tablet, that it doesn’t wake up as it should.  As of 9/10/11, they’re still working on this.  It may affect your purchase decision.

5/19/14:  AT&T announces its proposed merger with DirecTV for $48.5 billion, the fourth largest telecommunications merger in history.  It has been approved by both boards, but must pass the federal government.  The merger is aimed at competing with the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger (see 2/13/14 below), which also will create an multimedia powerhouse.  As usual, though, fewer players will likely create less competition and ultimately lead to higher fees for consumers.  Get ready for increases to your already high cable and satellite bills.  Or lobby your politicians to get the FCC to oppose the merger.

5/15/14:  The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s report “Who Has Your Back” shows that Google, Microsoft and Apple got perfect scores for privacy respecting Government requests about users.  Good!  Also, Google is introducing a new tool for those users who want to disappear from search results, as well as encrypted messaging (for enterprises) that goes beyond G-mail, probably to comply with Europe’s ruling last Tuesday giving users the right to have their tracks deleted.  For other ways to cover up your browsing history see TIP #71.

5/14/14:  If you’re not happy with Windows 8, you’re not alone.  China has banned the use of Windows 8 on any government computers. That’s a pretty big market.  They didn’t give a specific reason, only a complete ban.

5/14/14:  Yahoo purchases Blink, the app for iOS and Android that allows users to sent self-expiring texts and photos.  Seemed like an excellent idea to protect everything from sexting texts and photos to proprietary corporate texts, but Yahoo has announced that it will shortly take the site dark.  Wonder why??  Obviously, someone wants to make sure that there will always be a track for everything on the Internet.

4/28/14:  Apple refreshes its line of MacBook Air notebooks, adding more powerful fourth-generation Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, increasing battery life, and making them less pricey by dropping the prices to $899 (for the 11” Air with 128Gb of storage) up to $1,199 (for the 13” screen with 256Gb of storage).

4/15/14:  The Malaysia Airlines incident has sparked interest about how and when you can make cell phone calls from airplanes - click HERE for more.

4/12/14:  Microsoft announces that it will drop Win8.1 support starting with patch Tuesday in May. Or something like that.  Windows 8.1 (not Windows 8) users must first install the Update for Win8.1 in order to get those security patches.  Get it? Problem is that the update isn’t even available for some users (e.g. WSUS (corporate type) servers, which aren’t subject to the support cut-off date) and, for those that have installed it, it is experiencing huge problems with install errors for which Microsoft has as yet offered solutions, and is incompatible with quite common and important add-on programs like MalwareBytes.  According to reports, this update has received more support requests than any other in history and has already undergone 19 revisions.  And manufacturers have shunned the update, selling their new computers without it being installed.  We just don’t know what to make of this decision by Microsoft.  Fortunately, it effects more corporate users than home users, but if you’re one of the home user people who experience issues, that’s no solace.

HERE’S THE CONFUSION, AND IT’S MICROSOFT’S FAULT: “Windows 8.1 Update” (with a capital “U”) is a patch (by Microsoft's standards, it’s more than a security patch, but not quite a “Service Pack”) for Windows 8.1 (also itself not described as a “Service Pack”), which should be rolled out with standard Windows Updates directly to your computer (and not the Windows Store, as was the Windows 8.1 upgrade [lower case “u,” or simply “Win8.1”]. [Making matters worse, this patch has been described by Microsoft and others as “Windows 8.1 Update 1,” Windows 8.1 Spring Update,”KB 2919355 (the “update that adds the Update”),”  “GDR1” and probably more designations.]  While purchasers of Win8.1 might have expected that Microsoft would continue to support it with security patches for years as it did with previous Windows versions, they were wrong.  Unless Win 8.1 users install the Windows 8.1 Update by May 13, 2014, they will not get further security patches from Microsoft.  All of this seems to be Microsoft writing its own rules.  Possibly all of these changes are preparing us for the rollout of Win9. So what does this mean? There are three versions of Windows 8:  8.0, 8.1 and 8.1 Update.  You can still stay with Win8 (if you’re not a corporate user).  But, if you’ve already upgraded to Win8.1, you must install the patch.  Reports are that installing it isn’t always all that easy, so leave some time in case there are any issues.  UPDATE:  Due to negative feedback, Microsoft has now moved the deadline to August.

heartbleed logo4/10/14:  You might have heard about the Heartbleed exploit.  While it’s a server issue and end users can’t really do much to cure it, it is a pretty big deal, the worst Internet bug ever.  And it’s undetectable.  Chances are, if you use secure sites to get your e-mail, do your online banking or shopping, access social media accounts which require sign-in credentials, you could be at risk, as the bug can steal your encrypted information and use it later to pose as you for their own gain.  The bug affects a flaw in OpenSSL, which is used in thousands of programs that use SSL/TLS protocols, including VPN appliances, cell phones, copy machines, websites offering secure “https://” connections and other popular services like POP/S and IMAP/S.  Basically, if you are going through the minimum 60% of secure web servers that run Apache, Nginx, Linux, BSD (but not Microsoft), you may have a security problem.  For more information, go to Heartbleed.com. The bug is named “heartbleed” because it involves a common routine OpenSSL feature known as “heartbeat,” which allows one computer to detect a “heartbeat” from another computer to see if it’s available for contact. Once accessed, it can be hacked, stealing supposedly safely encrypted personal credentials.  This has been going on for about two years, but there have been absolutely no reports of attacks.  Most servers are currently being patched to eliminate this vulnerability, but it will take a little time.  But, over the past two years, your credentials may have already been stolen.   What can you do?  Other than change your passwords [but not until you know that the servers have been patched], very little. [U.S. DHS suggests this, but click HERE for an updated CNN list of sites which do and do not require updated passwords.]   If a website recommends that you take any specific actions before using their site, do listen to them or don’t go there.

4/8/14:  Sunset: Microsoft will stop issuing security patches and updates for Windows XP, effectively discontinuing support for this popular product.  Not too much of a problem for home users, but if your business has to comply with data security laws like HIPAA or HITECH (see LAWS), you will be considered non-compliant and must upgrade your O/S.  Similarly if you have corporate security considerations, you may have to upgrade. (Even so, ZDNet reports that 37% of businesses aren’t planning on moving from XP, even without support.)   XP was released on August 24, 2001, when smart phones and cloud services didn’t even exist, and it is now thirteen years old.  Still, right now about 30% of all U.S. PCs use XP, as do 40% of all enterprises (and, in 7% of those, XP runs on more than 80% of their devices).  And 95% of all ATMs run on a special version of XP as well.  Microsoft’s position is that you must immediately either (1) upgrade to a supported system such as Win7 or Win8 or (2) just purchase a new computer.  That’s nice, but for most home users, if you keep the Win XP computer through its end-of-life with an up-to-date anti-virus and enabled firewall, plus moving from Internet Explorer to another more secure browser, this should be sufficient.  To upgrade the software and hardware to comply with Win8, for example, wouldn’t be cost effective; you should just purchase a newer, more powerful one to run the new operating system.   If you MUST continue to use XP or XP based software, click HERE for your choices. This is not to say that XP isn’t inherently far less secure than more current Windows versions:  It doesn’t have DEP (Data Execution Prevention) or ASLR (Address Space Layout Randomization) or even UAC (User Account Control) protection like the later Windows versions.  For more info, also see 12/2/2013 below.  UPDATE:  Even though support expired, Microsoft did issue an XP patch for the zero-day flaw for IE 6 through 11, since it was only a few days after the outline. MORE: Even though support expired (you’ll see the red Microsoft “flag” reminder on your taskbar), this doesn’t mean that the Microsoft Essentials isn’t being updated with virus definitions.  That will expire on July 14, 2015, unless extended.

3/27/14:  Microsoft has finally introduced “free Microsoft Office for iPad”. But it’s not exactly a suite or is it free.  Actually, it’s three separate apps: Word, Excel and Powerpoint.  And, while users will have the ability to view documents, spreadsheets and presentations at no cost, they’ll have to pay to create, edit or store them in the cloud.  That will require an Office 365 subscription at $99.99/year, which can be used on up to 5 devices.  It also includes 20Gb cloud storage on OneDrive for all 5 users and 60 minutes of Skype calls/mo.  Despite the positive potential implications for the enterprise, collaboration and mobile markets, it will remain to be seen how much work will actually be done with tablets.

3/25/14:  Marc Zuckerberg announces a $2 billion deal to buy Oculus VR.  The Oculus Rift, already a popular virtual reality device with gamers, will be elevated to other uses, such as classroom use, medical consultation or shopping in a virtual reality sense, according to Zuck.  But Oculus shares the market with Sony’s Morpheus and Google’s Glass and Project Tango.  They’re all betting that this will become the next big social platform.  Should close by Q2 2014.

3/22/14:  Now that it’s ending its support for Windows XP, Microsoft is offering a $100 discount credit, 90 days of tech support and a free migration tool for users who migrate from WinXP to Win8 on a new computer.  (See 3/3/14 below for where to go for this tool, already available.)  The catch, however, is that the new computer must cost between $599 and $2,299 and be purchased from the Windows online store or Microsoft retail store.  It’s possible that Win8.1 may also be offered at no cost as well.  The offer expires on June 15.

3/18/14:  Apple introduced a cheaper, slightly smaller version of the  iPhone 5C, at $100 for a two-year contract ($549 unsubsidized).  It also brought back the fourth-generation iPad with Retina display (starting at $399), the one that was replaced by the thinner iPad Air last October.  The iPad2 is completely discontinued.

3/13/14:  AIO Wireless (an AT&T brand) and the “original” Cricket (operated by Leap Wireless International, with 4.6 million customers) have now merged into the “new” Cricket. Get it?  The new company will still have no annual contract (i.e. prepaid) service, with 4G LTE, no roaming and a variety of budget plans, plus a selection of phones and other devices through the “new” Cricket (renamed from AIO) stores.  And, because Cricket runs on a CDMA network, not like AT&T’s GSM network, Cricket’s network will be shut down and merged with AT&Ts GSM network.  Most existing phones and plans will remain the same, although there may be some adjustments.

3/10/14:  Google is facing a class-action lawsuit over the unauthorized in-app purchases on Android devices by children.  Filed in federal court in the Northern District of California on behalf of all persons in the U.S. who paid for the unauthorized purchases of game currency by their minor children through the Google Play App Store, the jury suit seeks money damages.  The case is similar to the one filed against Apple by the FTC over children’s in-app purchases, which was settled in January, Apple agreeing to pay at least $32.5 million to customers.

3/10/14:  Intel announced that a number of cable and component makers have signed up to sell it’s MXC line, which uses its Silicon Photonics technology, which uses optical networking and silicon components to shuttle data between systems in a data center.  The technology, which can transmit at a rate of 1.6Tbps in each direction, uses optical rather than copper cable, is nearing completion.  It will have to be seen whether this promising high speed technology will become popular or ever go beyond data centers if companies make the investment. 

3/8/14:  Comcast has been slowing transmission of streaming video to Netflix.  Comcast says that it’s straining the infrastructure, Netflix says its average prime time speeds dropped by 14% last month alone.  This’ll get resolved, but it may cost everyone more.

3/3/14:  With Windows XP support expiring on April 8, Microsoft announced that it has partnered with Laplink to provide XP users with a free “data migration tool” called PCmover Express, which will copy all files and settings from a Win XP to a new computer running Win 7, Win 8, or Win 8.1.  It can be downloaded in several languages at WindowsXP.com starting later this week.

2/25/14:  Facebook’s announces that it’s pulling the plug on its e-mail app.  After more than 3 years of lackluster use, and along with the acquisition of WhatsApp (see below) which will introduce Facebook into mobile messaging, users will find that their mail will be forwarded to their primary e-mail account instead. 

2/19/14:  Facebook’s $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp shows Mark Zukerberg’s recognition that Facebook is losing ground in its basic business and has to preserve it’s dominance in that area by expanding its online communications presence.  See Messaging Services for more.

2/20/14:  Starting with Windows 8, Microsoft will be discontinuing the OEM editions and Upgrade Editions of its Windows software, instead be selling only two versions of Windows 8: Win 8.1 @ $119.99 (free if you already own Windows 8) and Win 8.1 Pro @ $199.99.

2/13/14:  Comcast, the largest U.S. cable provider, announced that it will gobble up Time Warner Cable, the second largest provider in a $45 billion deal.  While Comcast claims the deal will boost its cash flow and generate about $1.5 billion in savings and the transaction will be tax-free to Time Warner shareholders, no one is saying what that will do to benefit the average subscribers’ bottom line.  Consider that the merger will combine the two largest ISPs, one of which owns NBC, so that the resulting entity will own both the largest cable and internet provider in the country!  Years ago, when the (old) fed objected to Bell’s control over just the telephone industry, Bell was disassembled.  Now, the (new) fed will probably allow Comcast to own a large majority of not only TV stations, but also telephone lines, internet service providers and cable networks.  Much, much more.  The deal will still have to pass government review, but there hasn’t been a big merger that the fed hasn’t approved in decades.  It took 13 months, but the Comcast/NBC merger was approved. (Well, the FCC/DoJ did block the AT&T/T-Mobile merger in 2011).  If this one take’s place, it’ll be done late this year.  And if it does, the resulting entity won’t have any incentive to improve on our country’s already uncompetitive broadband speed rates and cell phone technology, much less its already high cost. Especially now that the appeals court struck down the FCC’s fairly weak net neutrality rules (see LAWS).  (Note that, when the AT&T merger was nixed, T-Mobile came up with pricing plans and features that made the market far more competitive and less costly to consumers.)   Some democratic competition, huh?

2/9/14:  Twitter is testing it’s new facelift.  After years of the same simple format, Twitter’s profile design update makes it more like Facebook and Google+, with a greater focus on photos and content cards and a revamped timeline.  Twitter has been losing viewers lately and believes that this update will stop the backslide.

2/5/14:  The decline in sales of desktop computers is having its effect.  It looks like, again this year, a lot of the desktop computer companies are selling out.  Sony announced it will abandon its VAIO line to Japan Industrial Partners in March, IBM’s got its semiconductor arm out for sale, and has already sold both its server and personal computer units to Lenovo (see below).  [I predict that this will hurt IBM’s bottom line in the near future.]

1/29/14:  The Chinese are really cleaning up these days.  First, Lenovo bought IBM’s server division.  They already purchased the IBM desktop division.  Then they purchased the Motorola Mobility unit from Google.  I guess they have the money.

1/26/14:  If you use Yahoo e-mail, you might want to consider resetting your password.  The service has been hacked and continued attempts appear to continue.  See Security for more.

1/20/14:  I’ve predicted for some time that networks will give way to pads, then phones will get larger screens and replace many of the pads, leaving true laptops and beefed up pads for the heavier users.  Phones like the Samsung Galaxy note and its HTC counterpart are becoming more popular.  Apparently Apple has also heard the word, and it’s predicted that they are planning a model with a screen larger than 4.5 in, and another over 5 in, both with metal cases.  But that’s just rumor, things can always change.

1/20/14:  Microsoft is well aware that acceptance of Windows 8 is lagging, but HP isn’t making it any easier.  It’s been offering a “back by popular demand” program promotion offering Win 7 computers over Win 8 computers with $150 savings. Of course, they never stopped selling Windows 7 computers, and can continue to do so through at least October of this year, so it’s really just marketing promo.

1/18/14:  The “Thanks for the Advanced Notice” award goes to LogMeIn, the remote access software provider.  They abruptly discontinued their free version, offering users to convert to a discounted paid version without any notice this week.  Oh well, I liked TeamViewer better anyway.  Maybe all of these services will decide that they need the income and will start discontinuing their free versions, but a little notice would be nice.

1/15/14: Microsoft predicts that “Threshold,” to be called “Windows 9” will ship in April, 2015.  Probably because of the less than stellar acceptance of Windows 8 (less than 25 million copies sold, very few at the enterprise level), Microsoft is supposed to be changing Windows 8 to provide the return of the full Start menu and the ability to run Metro-style apps on the desktop, but alongside the desktop applications.

1/6/14:  The Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas had lots of products, many of them concentrating on wearable computing, like Google Glass and smart watches.  Also, Intel announced that it was replacing it’s McAfee security product, renaming it Intel Security.  John McAfee told the BBC he was overjoyed by the news, grateful to Intel for freeing him from his terrible association with the worst software on the planet.  Nice.  Doesn’t want to make me buy the product.

12/19/13:  Apple’s new Mac Pro goes on sale.  It mac_prois powerful, looks round and black or can sport a “Darth Vader” design.  It’s the first major redesign in almost five years, so it’s much more powerful and versatile.   But it’s expensive, starting at $2,999 with another more powerful model at $3,999.

12/1/2013:  Computer running slow?  It could be mining Bitcoins for others.  For years, I’ve been writing about Bitcoins, but things have really taken off this year.  Now, we have Bitcoin malware.  Malwarebytes and other anti-malware providers report that Mutual Public (a/k/a We Build Toolbars or YourFree Proxy) has created a Bitcoin miner known as “jhProtominer” with an associated process known as “monitor.exe” which mines bitcoins without your knowledge. 

2013

12/2/2013:  Cyber Monday 2013.

11/29/2013:  Black Friday 2013.

11/22/2013:  Scheduled release for Xbox 360.

11/20/2013:  Confused by the FAA’s changes about using electronic devices on planes (see 7/31/13, below)?  Click HERE for a clear discussion...

11/6/2013:  LG took the wraps off it its new curved smartphone, the “G-Flex”, highlighting the special kind of glass it features.  Check their web site for more.  Apple claims it’s going to use glass curved at the edges and a larger screen on the new phones it’ll unveil in 2Q 2014, but that’s a long time from now.

11/1/2013:  I’ve been saying for some time that when Microsoft finds a way to apply its legacy office productivity apps to a tablet, and enhance the usability of the hardware, it may take over laptops and desktops and become the most common device in production.  See Tablets.  Well, we’re getting there.  The Surface Pro 2 (not to be confused with the Surface 2, it’s underpowered sister) may just suit this need.  At least if you add an excellent keyboard like the Cover 2.  With a Core i5 chip, up to 8Gb memory, 512Gb storage, USB3 ports and a MicroSD slot, it can come loaded with Word, Excel and PowerPoint 2013 and runs quite quickly.  Base price is around $999.  You can use it as a tablet, but also like a laptop for real work.  You might want to check it out....

10/23/13:  And we thought the FBI virus (see Security link below) was bad.  Now there’s even one worse:  The CryptoLocker ransomware virus.  It has a red screen with a shield telling you that “Your Personal Files Are Encrypted!”  You are warned that unless you pay $300 or to to the infector, you will not have the passkey to release the documents (at least they’re true to their word about this).   They’re right.  If you get this virus, other than paying the extortion, you can’t get it off through any known software or registry edit.  The only way other than paying the fine is to restore the data files from a backup.  Better make one now, you should have been doing this all along anyway.  Click on Security for more...

10/22/2013:  Apple introduced its newest iPad, called the iPad Air.  It’s the 5th generation and its lighter by half (1lb vs. 1.4lb) 20% thinner and 28% lighter.  It’ll also be faster, having the same A7 chip that powers the iPhone 5S (72 times faster than the original iPad).  The screen will remain the same 9.7 inches.  Prices start at $499 (16Gb Wi-Fi only) to $629 (16Gb 4G).  Apple also introduced a revamped iPad Mini starting at $399.  All will go on sale November 1st. The Mac Pro desktop upgrade will be released by the end of the year.  Apple’s roll out was obviously designed to compete with Microsoft’s launch of the Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro tablets on 10/21 as well as Nokia’s Lumia 2520 tablet.

10/22/2013:  If you use Square, a new service called Square Cash will be available.  It permits a user to send up to $2500 a week in cash between persons using Visa or MasterCard debit cards.  It’s very easy.  Paypal has a similar service, but it has the additional step of transferring the money into a Paypal account and then out again to a bank account.

10/18/2013:  We’ve had Wi-Fi, then Mi-Fi, Wi-Max, Wi-Di and Wi-Gig.  Now get ready for Li-Fi (also known as Visible Light Communications or “VLC”)   A Chinese professor claims that he can provide net connectivity for up to fouir computers at data speeds of up to 150 Mbps using a single 1 Watt LED light bulb with an embedded microchip.  Sounds promising, and it could be a game changer, but it still has to be proven through testing.

10/17/13:  Until such time as Microsoft released a touch-optimized version of Office for the iPad, there’s only one solution.  Microsoft released (free) software for iOS and Android which allows them to connect via Remote Desktop Client, so that tablets and phones can connect to desktop computers using MS Office.  It’s a good bet that, since Win 8 is already touch-optimized, Microsoft may eventually make the move to a full MS Office for both Microsoft and other tablets.

10/16/2013:  Windows 8.1, Microsoft’s first update to Windows 8 was released today.  Generally, aside from some cosmetic changes, it keeps the fundamental flaws that irritate users that aren’t happy with it. See the Win 8 page for more.  WARNING: Do NOT install 8.1 RT onto tablets, or you may get a Blue Screen of Death (“BSOD”) and a screen error stating”Your PC needs to be repaired.  The Boot Configuration Data file is missing...”  You may have a brick instead of a pad.  Microsoft may be pulling the update.

10/1/2013:  Really, what’s wrong with Microsoft?  We’ve been hearing for years that they’re going to release Office for iPads.  But they don’t.  Now, Apple is offering iWork, it’s competing product, for FREE to new users, vice Office 365’s $100 per year fee.  Why does Microsoft miss the boat on those issues important to users?  I’ve said for years that, when pads can use productivity software like laptops can, and the hardware (like keyboards and USB connections) get just a little bit better, pads will dominate the computer world.  Don’t they see this coming??

9/24/13:  Twitter announces that it will list an IPO on the NYSE for $1.4 - $1.65 billion, valuing the company at about $15 billion.  Share price would be $17-$28/share and the IPO would take place late 2013, early 2014, depending on the SEC.  But, as always, timing and pricing could change before the event. Turns out, it’s $26.  11/8/13 UPDATE:  Wrong, it started the day at $45.10, ended at $44.90.

9/22/13:  We all knew Blackberry would sell, and it has:  Fairfax Financial acquired Blackberry for about $4.7 billion.  Who knows if this’ll fix Blackberry’s problems.

9/10/13:  Scheduled release date for the iPhone 6.  Not much more than the date has been released yet.  UPDATE 8/30/13:  Apple launched a new program that will allow customers to trade in their old iPhones for credits toward a newer model, depending on it’s model and condition.  But I’d still check recycling stores, other telco providers, even Craigslist to make sure you’re getting top dollar.  UPDATE 9/10/13:  For the first time, Apple introduces two new iPhones, the 5S and the 5C.  The “unapologetically plastic”  5C will sell for as little as $99, comes in a variety of colors and is aimed at emerging foreign markets like India which don’t purchase expensive smart phones.  The 5S is a true upgrade to the iPhone 5, through the new iOS 7,  featuring the first 64-bit chip (twice as fast as the 5’s processor), an improved camera with slow motion video, the introduction of Touch ID (a fingerprint scanner which provides both security and allows for iTunes purchases from the phone). Apple says there are almost 200 new features.  It will sell for between $199 and $399.  The phones can be pre-ordered and will be on sale starting September 20th.  Apple has to make up ground, as its sales of smartphones are now down to about 14% of the market, while Android phones account for about 79%.  Reviews will follow.  UPDATE:  First week review are pretty positive!  Sales, of course, are high.  NOTE:  You might want to consider buying the phone from WalMart, which is pricing the 5C at $79 and the 5S at $189, plus trade-ins. UPDATE: A week later, the 5C is $50 at WalMart, $45 at Radio Shack.

9/4/13:  Acxiom Corporation, a billion-dollar marketing technology is opening a web site, AboutTheData.com, which will provide users with a glimpse of at lease some of the type of marketing data (such as household makeup, financials, shopping preferences, leisure pursuits, and other details of their life) which have been compiled into a consumer profile.  At last, a glimpse behind the curtain.

9/2/13:  Amazon introduces the Kindle Matchbook, a program which offers you a Kindle book at a discount when you purchase a print book.   Also, HarperCollins, one of the Big Five publishers, launched Oyster, kind of a Netflix for books.

8/16/13:  I really like those TV commercials comparing Apple’s iPad to the $299 Dell Windows RT tablet.  Seemed like a great deal.  Too bad Dell didn’t mention that it was only temporary.  Today, Dell removed the deal for the XPS 10, leaving it’s least expensive tablet starting at $479.  But they’re bundling it with a keyboard.  So?  At least it is more of a device to create content, as opposed to the iPad.  UPDATE:  I think it’s back down to $349 or so. But don’t rely on commercials.

7/30/13:  The decision in the Bradley Manning court martial was issued today.  While being acquitted of two major and more serious charges of “aiding the enemy” he was found guilty of multiple counts of violating the Espionage Act by leaking documents to the Wikileaks antisecrecy group.  On August 21, 2013, he was sentenced to 35 years in prison, but he could have gotten up to 135 years.  For more, click HERE.

7/24/13:  If you were thinking that you’d buy Google’s Chromecast when it came out today, you’re in for a surprise - not only is it backordered and sold out for weeks, it’ll cost you as much as $300 on eBay, a 750% markup.  Click HERE for more. And HERE for how it works.  See also, Sony SmartStick.

8/31/13:  This won’t effect most consumers, but Microsoft’s announcing the “retiring” of the TechNet subscription service on this date will be a major blow to professionals and developers.

7/20/13:  Word is that both Apple and Google have been in talks with major media companies to deliver television.  But they have different approaches, Google more by competing with current providers, by providing them content, and Apple by partnering with existing channels like ESPN.  We’ll see how this plays out.

7/31/13:  By this date, the final report of the FAA working group researching the use of electronic devices on U.S. airplanes was expected to be issued, likely recommending that the use of many devices be permitted during takeoff and landing.  However, the FAA has postponed its release by two months until September.  There was evidence under review that there was apparently no real justification for the ban.  It was expected that the FAA would now allow the use of tablets, computers and smart phones, but only for data, not telephone calls,  during all phases of flight, with the possibe exception of landings.  We’ll just have to wait and see.  UPDATE:  Well, November 1st anyway.  The bans were removed, even for the landing.  But each airline will enact their own policies for the new approvals, and it still doesn’t allow internet access, only using the devices with their own stored information.  11/13 UPDATE: FAA is now considering allowing cell phone use during the flight, not during takeoff and landing.

7/26/13:  Windows 8.1 update, code named “Blue” will be announced for September release.  Also, it looks like Internet Explorer XI will come with 8.1, and later release for earlier versions of Windows.  Click HERE for more...

7/22/13:  The ship date for Leap, the wireless gesture-based device that will let you operate your computer like the CSI guys.  They’ve been slipping the ship date since late last year but this new date looks good.  It’s now $79.  UPDATE:  I saw it in Best Buy for $79.  The basic stuff works, but it looks like you may have to get special programs which work with the Leap software to do some of the amazing things they show in their commercials, however (like the games).  You should check this out before buying.

7/3/13:  Doug Engelbart died today.  Who, you say?  He’s the guy who invented  (not popularized) the mouse, hypertext links, video conferencing and many other things relating to computing.  Ahead of his time. For more, click HERE.

7/2/13:  The ZTE Open, the first smartphone based on the Mozilla Firefox O/S went on sale today in Spain. At the same time, Mozilla demonstrated the Alcatel One Touch Fire at a press conference in San Francisco.  Both cost less than $100 and are pretty similar to the Android and iPhones, as you would expect.  As entry level smart phones, they don’t have the full range of features, speed or apps you would expect of the pricier smartphones, but they are quite respectable, at least for people who are upgrading from feature phones.  But for those more sophisticated users, they may be frustrated when they find that the shortcomings won’t allow them to do what their friends who have more complete but expensive smartphones can do.

6/10/13:  My take on this NSA PRISM privacy debate, click on the RANT.

6/10/13:  Apple introduces iOS7 for mobile operating systems for Phones and iPads, a particularly radical overhaul of the touchscreen interface that was previously used.  The roll out will include the addition of iTunes radio and an update to the MacBook Air laptop, which will be redesigned to be more powerful and include an “all day” battery.  Virtually all of the apps in the operating system will sport a new design and features.  iOS7 will be available on devices this fall.

5/29/13: GOOGLE CHANGES:  Google is in the midst of updating its popular Google Maps app. It’s supposed to be much more graphic and interactive and should be available soon.  At the same time, Google+ has undergone a new layout facelift - posts are now “cards” like Google Now cards, which are arranged horizontally, menu bars have been moved and are now collapsible, options are now buttons.  New photo software like Auto Enhance (cleans up your photos) and Auto Awesome (creates photo animation or panorama) and Auto Highlight (eliminates useless photos) is included.  Hashtags now add a small blue box to the right of each card, and clicking on it will reveal similar posts.  And the Hangouts have been improved by merging them so that they can include multiple persons and media, then view them across multiple devices and platforms.

5/6/13:  The Senate voted to pass the internet sales tax bill, named the Marketplace Fairness Act.  The proposed legislation would require online retailers to collect sales tax on their wares in all states, not just where they have offices or warehouses.  It would apply to any online store grossing sales over $1 million annually.  The retailers would have to remit taxes to those states where their goods are sold at the rates required of brick-and-mortar retailers in those jurisdictions.  Now it will go on to the House, then the President for his signature.  For more, see LAWS.

4/1/13:  Google Glass is becoming closer to commercialization and may yet be available this year, although it may cost $1500 or more.  To learn more, click HERE.  The “wearable” computing market, which includes items such as Glass, Nike+ FuelBand, the upcoming Apple iWatch and possibly Dell products, is going from a niche to the mainstream market, probably this year.

4/1/13:  Bitcoins, the alternative to traditional banking currency, are back in the news again this year.  To read more about how it works, click HERE.

3/1/13:  While Microsoft claims that Windows’ desktop days are numbered now that Win 8 is out, both enterprises and individual users universally hate it, or at least Microsoft’s presentation of it.  Adoption of Win 8 has fallen behind that of any previous Windows version, including Vista.  The next update of Windows (Windows 8.1, code named “Blue,” is scheduled for unveiling on July 26 and then public release in September). To see what to expect, click HERE.  Here’s what you can expect:  If it actually happens, the move from classic desktop to modern UI is expected to take 5 - 10 years, much like the move from DOS to Windows did in 1985.  But, for the legacy desktop to completely disappear, it will require modern Windows to provide for all new apps (programs), particularly in the enterprise arena, which will supplant the older, common, legacy apps throughout the Windows universe.  Many of these haven’t been developed yet, as developers are only beginning to embrace the WinRT API (“application programming interface”) to commence this process.  So the bad news is that the Win8/Metro/Modern UI may the future, but the good news is that you’ll probably own another computer or two until you’re stuck with it.  Or, like Vista, Microsoft may be forced to reimagine Win8 into something that it should have been.

3/1/13:  Here we go again...the House is considering the CISPA bill, a follow-up to the ill-fated SOPA and PIPA legislation that was stopped in its tracks by privacy advocates in 2012.  Once again, privacy advocates are fighting what they consider to be the overly zealous scope of the proposed law, and inadequate protection for internet users.  Click HERE for more.

3/1/13:  So, if you’ve been watching the avalanche of TV ads for the Google Chromebook at a mere $249, wondering what it’s all about, hereChromebook ad it is:  It looks like a laptop computer (no detachable screen like a pad), is manufactured by Samsung, Acer and HP  and sports a dual-core processor and 2Gb of RAM, along with 2 USB ports and an SD memory slot. A pricier Google-designed “Pixel” is also available.) Because it uses the Chrome browser and operating system, it is primarily intended to work when connected to the Internet (through Wi-Fi or 3G).  While you can do a limited amount of word processing and office work without being connected to the Internet, it really won’t work without the intended cloud apps like Google Docs.  And, while you can download or transfer files or software onto the computer, it’s no guarantee that they will be compatible with the system - you may be able to get it on there, but it may not install or work.  Also, it’s not upgradable.  So it looks like a laptop, but has some limitations you should check out before purchasing.  Make sure it’s right for you, don’t get “scroogled” as Microsoft says.  The price is inexpensive, but it’s no true laptop.

2/25/13:  Internet Explorer 10 is released for Windows 7. It already comes with Windows 8.  If you have XP, you’re limited to IEx8, and Vista is also limited to IEx8.  IE10 will look pretty much the same as IEx9, but will be faster, more secure and (if you have Win 8 only) support touch screens.  It will automatially install on Win7 updates unless you download the toolkit that blocks its automatic delivery.  [We’ve been experiencing lots of bugs with IE10, from pages that won’t load or load properly to other glitches.  If you’ve got to use Internet Explorer, stick with Ver. 9 for a while longer, until the bugs are ironed out.  Unless you’re using Windows 8, which must have IE 10.]

2/5/13:  If you’re concerned about your kids’ privacy when texting or sending photos, check out Snapshot, which erases photos after about 10 seconds after viewing.  No permanent record, at least.

2/5/13:  In the biggest leveraged buyout since the financial crisis, Dell announced that it had agreed to go private in a $24.4 billion deal.

1/29/13:  The retail version of Microsoft Office 2013 is now available, with “tiered functionality and pricing” versions priced at between $139 and $399.  Microsoft also introduced its new version of the online Office 365 for business, redesigned for easier use with touch screen computers, SkyDrive cloud storage and more social connections, for $99 for 5 PCs of Macs plus select mobile devices.  See Office in the Glossary for more about Office 2013.

1/28/13Apple issues iOS 6.1, its first major update to the iOS 6 operating system.  It ads 4G support for 36 new iPhone carriers, a way to reset the Advertising Identifier to protect your browsing privacy as well as other new features, such as using Siri to purchase movie tickets from Fandango.

1/1/13Raspberry Pi becomes a hit.  Don’t know what it’s all about, click HERE.

2012

12/3/12Internet Explorer 10 is out, at least in preview with Windows 7 updates.

12/3/12iTunes 11 is available for download. It’s a complete rewrite from previous versions, an effort to reduce the complexity of previous versions.

10/26/12:  Microsoft released Windows 8 (two versions).  For a discussion and review, click HERE.

10/23/12Apple introduces the iPad Mini.  It is a 7.9 in. tablet (nearly an inch bigger than the Kindle and the Nexus), as thin as a pencil, and only 7/10ths of a pound. It won’t have the retina display.  Priced starting at $329 for 16Gb Wi-Fi model up to $659 for the 64Gb cellular model, it will be in stores on November 2nd.  Apple is aiming the mini at the education market and for those who desire greater portability for their pads.  Reviews:  Is there a market?  Price is kinda high.  Unless you’re a die-hard Apple type, you might want to compare to the Samsung tablets.

10/18/12Release of Ubuntu 12.10 (“Quantal Quetzal”).  Major improvements are: Much more web integration, Dash previews of loaded apps, easier app installs and updates and a performance speed increase.  The major changes are to the Unity dash.

9/12/12:  Apple introduced the iPhone5, featuring a larger display (3.5” to 4”, room for another row of icons; but the resolution remains at 326 ppi), thinner profile by 18% (20% lighter!) and faster chip (the A6 is 2x faster than the A5), a third microphone, and finally moving up to 4G LTE.  The breakable plastic back is now made of metal.  The camera remains essentially the same.  Google Maps is replaced with Apple’s own initially rather buggy version.  Also, the new iOS6 operating system, which introduces some 200 “new features” including navigation, FaceTime calling, Siri updates (like launching apps to use with your car).  As predicted (see below), Apple also eliminated the standard 30 pin dock connector used on some six thousand Apple devices since 2003 in favor of a smaller one dubbed “lightning” because of its faster speed.  A $30 adapter will be available; why they couldn’t just go to the micro-USB like everyone else is questionable. Same question for not including NFC or USB 3; also it won’t support iPod dock controls or video output.  Moreover, both the Verizon and Sprint networks won’t allow simultaneous call and data activity as Apple designed (AT&T’s can, although it really rolls back to it’s 3G network for voice).  All this is because current 4G networks can only handle data, not calls. Finally, Apple is also expected to introduce a new smaller version of the iPad just before the holiday season.  It went on sale September 21st.

9/7/12:  On 9/7/12, Amazon expanded its Kindle line with two dedicated readers (including the Paperwhite, below) and three Fire tablets, ranging in price from $69 to $499, with a variety of formats and speeds. The Paperwhite has a 6 inch screen and a built-in backlight, much like the Nook Simple Touch with Glo Light and the Kobo Glo. Amazon also offers a subscription package to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, so users can borrow up to one book per month from a selection of titles.  For more see Tablets.

8/1/12:  In its battle to regain some of the users who fled to g-mail, Microsoft is introducing Outlook.com mail (now in preview), which is pretty close to g-mail.  But the name creates some confusion:  It’s not like the Outlook in MS Office, or the old Outlook Express, or the eventually to be discontinued Hotmail, or Live Mail.  Microsoft’s continuously renaming of its products sometimes creates more confusion than anything (LINK).  But Outlook.com is a pretty good e-mail client and has some features that are unique for a Microsoft product, so check it out.

7/25/12Apple releases the Mountain Lion version of it’s operating system.  It will offer features borrowed from mobile devices, making Mac personal computers work more like iPhones and iPads (much like Windows 8 will for PCs on October 26).  It will also have tighter integration with social networks and online file storage through iCloud. It will have better dictation software and a new Messages app, copied from the mobile O/S, will replace iChat. It will cost $20 and will only be available as a download, but Macs purchased after June 11 can be upgraded for free.

7/15/12:  IDC and Gartner report that the sales for Ultrabooks, those thin-as-paper laptops, failed to lift the computer business.  Patterned after Apple’s MacBook Air, the Intel powered ultrabooks failed to gain traction.  Overall PC shipments fell 5.7%, Dell’s market share dropped 11/5%, HP’s 12.% from last year (Apple doesn’t even rank); sales in Asia Europe and Africa rose very slightly.

6/27/12Google announces plans to introduce it’s own pad, the Nexus 7 Tablet.  The 7” tablet, built by Taiwan’s Asus, will sell for just $199 and will begin shipping in July, 2012.  It will have a 7” screen and will feature content like magazines, books and movies, much like the Kindle Fire tablet, distinctly unlike the Microsoft Surface (below) which is a full computer.  Google also unveiled the “Jelly Bean” edition of it’s android operating system, which will allow users to use their voice to ask questions of their smart phones, much like Siri from Apple.  Finally, Google previewed its “virtual reality glasses” which are under development, which will allow viewers to see broadcasts of users of the glasses, showing a point-of-view broadcast - useful for showing skydiving, surgical operations, construction inspections, or just plain fun.  To be available sometime next year, cost about $1500.

Surface Tablet6/18/12Microsoft unveils its tablet computer named Surface, running Windows 8, both to be available January 2013 [see above]).  The 10.6 inch tablet will come in 32 or 64 Gbytes of storage and an ARM mobile processor (Intel Atom Z2760 a/k/a “Clover Trail” processor), at 1.5 pounds, with a detachable keyboard/cover known as “Touch Cover” which becomes inactive when the cover is closed and locks firmly in place (the iPad’s doesn’t).  (A tablet with a larger screen and an Intel processor should be available later.)   It will be black, with beveled edges, 9mm thick, a built-in kickstand, and a shell made of a strong, lightweight mterial called “vapor deposited magnesium.”  It will only be available from Microsoft’s own stores or its web store. This is a departure for Microsoft, which is making both the hardware and software, a la Apple, for the first time. Cost:  $899. $999 Later, in October, HP announced that it was also building a tablet just for business users, which will use optional accessories known as “smart jackets” with hardware and software making each device suitable for specialized uses and environments.  But they won’t run Snap, the new Windows 8 user interface (yet) and won’t be available until 2013.

6/11/12:  Apple announces that it has extended its “retina display” to the new line of MacBook Pros, also adding up to 16Gb of RAM and 768Gb of flash memory.  Still a hefty price, starting at $2199.  Also, the new Mountain Lion O/S, containing “over 2,000 new features” (including iMessages, speech-to-text dictation and predictive smart search in Safari) will be available in July.

6/30/12:  Don’t forget that on June 30, 2012 MobileMe will cease to exist, ceding some of its apps to iCloud.  For some history and alternatives to those apps which will be discontinued or curtailed, click on the MobileMe definition.

5/30/12: Get ready for the next great Leap in computer interaction technology.  For some time we’ve all been waiting for an improvement on the mouse.  Touch screen was a partial improvement, but not for everyone.  Now, get ready for the Leap Motion, a Florida startup.  Using a small box and a USB connection, the Leap allows users to operate their computer using gestures with all ten fingers.  It’s based on a great improvement to the type of technology used by Kinect game boxes, but uses three tiny cameras to interpret hand gestures.  It is supposed to be available for sale in early 2014.  And its only $70! You, too, can have a computer like the guys in CSI.

5/1/12: Faced with issues such as whether the Like button is protected free speech (see Social Networking in this site) and user concerns (particularly young ones) that clicking the button may be an implied endorsement, Facebook will be rolling out “gestures” buttons that say that users have “watched,” “listened,” or “read” items or even give developers the power to create their own actions.

5/1/12: Barnes & Noble Nook introduces a Simple Touch with Glow Light, an e-reader that uses e-ink but is also backlit for indoor and night time reading ($139). It’s a great reader, I think it may be the best.   But it’s not a browser like the Kindle or iPad.

3/16/12: Apple sells the third version of the iPad.  It has no name, but will boast a higher definition screen, special apps just for the HD feature (the “retina” screen), a faster chip, a better camera and some other improvements, all for the same price as previous iPads.

3/1/12: Microsoft will be embedding a “kill Switch” in Windows 8, at least it appears so at this moment.  If it appears to Microsoft that any app downloaded through its app center isn’t Kosher, it can remove it from any Windows device (e.g. computer, smartphone, pad, etc.).  It won’t apply, they say, to apps downloaded or installed via flash or external drives or other sources.  Kill switches are already a standard feature of many smartphones, tablets and e-readers from Google, Amazon and Apple already.

3/1/12: Google’s new privacy policy starts today.  But it’s more than just that.  If you don’t disable tracking and erase your previous search history, you’ll be making that information public, across all Google apps.  Click HERE to see how.

2/15/12: Word is, Win 8 will have two flavors of Internet Explorer 10, a desktop and a Metro-style app.  The big difference is that the desktop version will support plug-ins, while the Metro version won’t.  This means that the Metro version will improve battery life and virtually reduce security risks.  This is a move forward and will, hopefully, lead to a revision to current web browsers that will be more efficient and faster.  Plug-ins slow down the browsers and subject them to too much risk.

2011

12/18/11: It’s almost a new year.  What more can we possibly expect from computers in the future.  Try this:  Computers with physical sensors.  A concept which Larry Smarr, founding director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology has called “the sensor-aware planetary computer.”   A company named NEST, founded by Tony Fadell (a former Apple exec) and comprised of hundreds of Google and Microsoft engineers, has instroduced a “digital thermostat” which combines sensors, machine learning and Web technology to control our lives through computers.  For example, it can sense not just air temperature, but movement and changes in the number of people in a location in order to adjust room temperature and save energy. Sensors appear to be the next big wave in computing technology in other areas as well:  In jet engines, oil rigs and bridges, sensors monitor and alert engineers when changes in operating performance or internal structure occur which may be precursors of upcoming failure.  Similarly, sensors on fruit and vegetable cartons can track location and sniff the produce, warning in advance of spoilage, so shipments can be rerouted or rescheduled. Computers can pull GPS data from railway locomotives, taking into account the weight and length of trains, the terrain and turns, to reduce unnecessary braking and materially curb fuel consumption. Smart hospital rooms, equipped with small cameras mounted inconspicuously on the ceiling  can monitor movements by doctors and nurses in and out of the room, alerting them if they have forgotten to wash their hands before and after touching patients — lapses that contribute significantly to hospital-acquired infections. Computer vision software can analyze patients’ facial expressions for signs of severe pain, the onset of delirium or other hints of distress, and send an electronic alert to a nearby nurse. For government and utility applications, digital utility meters, underground and airborne sensors, traffic pattern analysis, banking monitoring and the like can make it possible to conserve energy, avoid congestion and prevent overcharges.  Look for this next type of computer technology to become more prevalent in our daily lives as corporate development hits its stride in the next year.  That’s my prediction.  This, in addition to the usual prediction of increase in the use of mobile, big data and cloud markets in the coming year, which is pretty much a no-brainer.  And an acceleration of the disappearance between the dividing lines of television, radio, Web and print.

10/3/11: Adobe has announced a new suite of mobile applications for content creators which will allow users to perform graphical work on tablet devices, also to sync and share content between devices.  The Adobe Touch suite and Adobe Cloud app will be available in the next few months and will be reasonably priced.  11/8/11:  Oops! Adobe reversed themselves and stated that they wouldn’t be producing this package.

9/9/11: After almost of year of delays, Verizon announces the arrival of the Droid Bionic.  Manufactured by Motorola, it is the first dual core processor (@ 1Ghz) running on 4G networks.  It sports 1Gb RAM, 16Gb internal storage (can take up to 32Gb) and you can purchase three external peripherals, including a KVM and laptop.  Runs Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread).  But if you’re not judicious with the 4G LTE, it’ll suck your battery power before the end of the day. UPDATE:  On November 11, Motorola introduced the Razr.  It runs on Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread O/S with a 2.1 Ghz processor and 1Gb of DDR-2  RAM.  It’s even thinner than the Bionic at .28 in. and an ounce less at 4.5 ozs.  The screen is an AMOLED Advanced qHD 4.3 inch display with 960 x 540 resolution, made of Kevlar reinforced Corning Gorilla glass for indestructibility. The Razr Max has a larger battery and longer life, giving it more of a Bionic profile.  BUT NOTE:  The battery can’t be replaced by the user, so if you need multiple batteries, don’t get this phone!

8/18/11: HP announced it will be getting out of the PC (also tablet & phone) business.  As world’s largest PC maker, bringing in almost $40 billion a year, this is a big deal.  But not unheard of:  Seven years ago, IBM did the same thing.  Causes? The increased popularity of pad computers; also the small margin for desktops, especially after Intel and Microsoft take their shares.  Will this trend continue?  Probably.  Look for Dell, Sony and Samsung to migrate from PCs to more lucrative software services.  Stock fell by 20% on this news, which was combined with the announcement that HP was purchasing Autonomy. UPDATE:  Seems like HP’s CEO Leo Apotheker spoke to soon.  It’s he that’s being discontinued.  Fired after scarcely 11 months on the job (with a $25 million golden parachute, of course), the HP Board replaced him with Meg Whitman of eBay fame, while backtracking on the whole getting out of the PC business thing.  Seriously, you’ve got to be making some coin on $40 billion a year!  But my comments above still are valid.

7/11: In it’s (third) effort to join the social networking game, Google introduced Google+, which is supposed to be more privacy conscious and easier to manage than Facebook.  Is there room for two major SN apps (Facebook effectively killed MySpace, remember?)  or will only one be filtered out over the next few years?  See, Google+, Facebook, and Social Networking in the glossary for more...

7/6/11: In an effort to stay ahead of the curve, Facebook announced that it will introduce video chatting through Skype.  The new feature will allow users to send instant messages and video chat with their Facebook friends by clicking a button on their Facebook chat list or on a friend’s profile page.  But it won’t allow group video chats or be available on mobile phones, as is the full Skype service.  It is free for the time being.  Similarly, while wireless companies have attempted to charge for text messaging as part of their data allotment, there are lots of new apps for smart phones which offer free text messaging services, such as GroupMe, Google Voice, Disco, Facebook, Beluga, Kik and WhatsApp.  Some apps are even hard wired into the phone itself, such as Blackberry Messenger and Apple’s iMessage soon to to come out.  This has become necessary as wireless carriers (Sprint being the last holdout) have done away with their unlimited data plans, forcing users to either pay per message or pay for unlimited texting service.

12/15/11: Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime II is available.  The 10 in. tablet, starting at $499, sports an Android O/S (Honeycomb, upgradeable to Ice Cream next year) with the speedy Tegra 3 (quad core) processor developed jointly with Nvidia, and has new power management features that can be set to conserve battery time.  At the same price as the iPad, it has twice the memory (32GB), is a little lighter and thinner than the iPad but, of course, is less slick in the O/S appearance and app availability areas than Apple.  A distinguishing feature is the optional ($149) keyboard dock with additional ports and battery, which sports a full keyboard, effectively transforming the pad into an Android laptop.

11/1/11: If you’re buying a new computer this Christmas or upgrading your hard drive, you may be in for a surprise:  Hard drive prices, which had been dropping for years (e.g. from $50 per megabyte of storage in 1981 to one-tenth of a cent today) , are up by 30 to 40%.  Why?  The flooding this summer in northern Bangkok, Thailand where the hard drive factories are located have damaged an industrial area which produces about 40% of the world’s hard drives, including factories of Western Digital and Toshiba (Seagate was mostly spared).  It’ll take some time to recover, so expect prices to remain high for the better part of 2012.

11/1/11: Twitter  has revamped its website.  Sure, most of us use the apps on our smart phones, or TweetDeck or the like.  But the actual Twitter web site was somewhat confusing, and the Twitter prople have attempted to change this.  Not only is it easier on the eyes, but it has a Story feature that displays ten stories that might be of interest for you, and the Browse Categories is redesigned as well.  Also, users can follow an entire conversation by clicking on any Tweet.

11/7/11: Barnes & Noble launches the Nook Tablet on November 16 for $249.  At that time it will reduce the price of the Nook Color from $349 to $199 and the Nook Simple Touch from $139 to $99.  In direct competition with Amazon’s Kindle Fire, it will have a 7 in. IPS color touch screen with 1024 x 600 resolution, a 1.2 Ghz dual-core CPU, 1Gb of RAM 16 Gb of storage and a microSD expansion slot.

10/14/11: Apple unveils the iPhone 4S. It is much faster (due to the A5 processor), includes a virtual “personal assistant” called “Siri” which takes voice commands (“find me an Italian restaurant in Peoria, IL” but maybe not “find the Safeway on Market Street) but only works in the US, and translates speech into text (sometimes crazily, although using a Bluetooth 4.0 earbud/mike helps.  Apple says it’s in beta, will be constantly improved.  [Don’t worry, Android also allows you to dictate into the browser, e-mail and other programs, and has similar Siri-like apps. And Windows has Ask Ziggy, a less powerful copycat.]    But there’s a catch because, while the same device contains radios for both CDMA and GSM/UMTS, an unlocked iPhone won’t work with a CDMA carrier such as Sprint or Verizon, and a phone activated with a CDMA carrier comes with a micro-SIM card that allows use on an international GSM network, but apparently can’t be replaced with a less expensive local alternative, even with the optional SIM card extraction tool.  Apple also says that it has “fantastic” battery life (although early reviews don’t support this), and standby time has been reduced by 25%.  The antenna is problem-free now, but the phone looks exactly the same as the iPhone 3, so it won’t knowingly impress your friends. See REVIEW; also this REVIEW for some deficiencies.  And, if you don’t want your phone hacked through Siri even when it’s locked, don’t forget to change your security settings. And, if you are a privacy advocate, know that all Siri inquiries are stored in the Apple cloud computer in Maiden, NC and they’re not saying what they’re doing with the info.   Also, to prevent battery drain, disable apps and services in the preferences page for Location Services.  Or you can wait a little longer for the inevitable iPhone 5, which may look different. And Siri is only in beta - note that she’s already taken a day off from her duties (11/3/11 had some cloud server issues at Apple).

9/30/11: Feeling overwhelmed by discount coupons?  You’re not alone.  According to PriceGrabber, a deal aggregator, people who subscribe to daily deal sites like Groupon are getting frustrated and signing off.  Consequently, such providers as Yelp! and Facebook are cutting back or completely eliminating online discount coupons, retreating from the once-promising daily deal market. TIP:  If I want to buy something online, rather than subscribing to a coupon site, I just Google to see if there are any online coupons or discount codes for that merchant and I often find them.

9/29/11: Facebook has changed yet again.  The new version of Profiles, renamed Timeline, is introduced.  Basically, Timeline is a never-expiring feed of all of your activity in chronological order from your first day on earth (or at least on Facebook)  to the present.  Add to this a large cover photo, GPS map tracking of your activities (which can be disabled) and other features and there you have it.  For an excellent review of the new changes, check out the CNET video at this LINK.

9/28/11: Amazon introduced the Fire tablet computer today.  At $199, it’s $300 less than the lowest priced iPad 2 (.91lbs vs. 1.33lbs), and with a screen resolution of 169ppi vs. Apple’s 132ppi).  The screen is only 7”, less than the iPad’s 9.7 inches, but it’s therefore lighter than the iPad.  It doesn’t have a camera or a microphone, so video and Skype chat are out.  And it’s WiFi only (no 3G).  It promises 8 hrs of battery life vs. iPad’s promised 10 hrs.  And it only offers 8Gb of storage, compared with iPad’s minimum 16Gb, although the Fire offers free cloud storage from Amazon’s servers.  It runs on Android (250,000 apps) vs. Apple O/S (425,000 apps).  The Fire goes on sale on November 15.  But remember, you’re dealing with Amazon - It uses the Fire as a device to promote its other businesses such as books, movies, shopping, etc. In 2012 -  8.9 & 10.1 inch versions to come.

7/1/11: Samsung unveils the Galaxy Tab 10.1, an excellent Android (3.0) alternative to the iPad 2 in the $499 - $599 range.  Fast dual core processor, 1280 x 800 resolution, nice desktop, 10 hr. battery life, it’s a pretty good value.   On the same date HP introduced its TouchPad, which uses an O/S called webOS, which it acquired when it purchased Palm in 2010.  Because of this, it only has 300 apps (vs. 425,000 for the iPad), only comes in WiFi, can make Skype video calls but can’t take pictures, but does include a feature called Synergy, which lets you log onto multiple chat apps at the same time.  [Of course, now that HP is leaving the business, these pads are discontinued (see above).]  Recently, Toshiba entered the Tab market with the Thrive (Android 3.1), about $500, and Acer, with the Iconia, at about the same entry price.  Now, just about every manufacturer has a tablet, but Apple has the market on apps, claiming 450,000.

8/24/11: Steve Jobs announces his retirement as CEO of Apple, the company he founded.  The iconic Jobs will be replaced by former COO Tim Cook (who is well qualified, but less charismatic). He will still stay on as Chairman of the company.  Speculation is that the 56 year old Jobs’ health prompted his action; stock tumbled about 5% on the announcement - it could’ve been much worse.   But Jobs has so ingrained the culture at Apple that there is little concern about the company’s future.  Sadly, on October 5, 2011 Steve Jobs died.

Win 8 lock screen1

THE WINDOWS 8 “LOCK” SCREEN

9/13/11: Microsoft launched Windows 8 to developers in “Preview Mode.”  it resembles the  current Windows Mobile system, optimized for touch screens and pads, as well as desktops. Apps are bifurcated into “Metro-Style” (transforms 

Windows 8 screen

THE WINDOWS 8  METRO “TILE” SCREEN

the PC display into a tablet display - no title bars or menus and “tiles”) and desktop (standard windows for PC use). [This term was scrapped by Microsoft in August, 2012 at the RTM release for some reason.]  It’s supposed to come with its own anti-virus software, I suppose a combination of Windows Defender and Microsoft Security Essentials.  But there’s no familiar Start button, and no WinXP compatibility mode.  At least right now (there are already hacks for the start button issue).  But we’re many versions away from even a RC, so keep tuned.  And IE 10.  Release is planned for sometime 2012.  Click HERE to download a preview from Microsoft.

6/29/11: See below (@ 10/27/10): MySpace sold to Specific Media for a fraction of its original cost to News Corp.  Rumors are that entertainer Justin Timberlake will take up residence and attempt to resuscitate the s/n site.

6/15/11: Google introduces “Instant Pages” system, which is expected to instantly load many web search pages, as well as plans for voice activated and enhanced image searching.  By pre-loading pages it expects users to click on (based on their search terms) they will display near instantly when selected.

6/15/11: Samsung and Acer start shipping netbooks using the Chrome operating system, a/k/a “Chromebooks.”  They’re supposed to boot up fast and work from the cloud, storing and accessing data from anywhere.  But they won’t have hard drives (although you can store data on external USB drives).  Nice idea, but I bet they wished they’d done this last year as they had planned, as netbook sales have slowed, cannibalized by pads (See below, at 2/14/11).

6/6/11: In an effort to outdo Amazon’s Kindle, both B&N (“The All-New NOOK”) @ $140) and Kobo (@ $139) have introduced nearly identical e-book readers. New features include better e-ink screens, smaller footprint (no keypad), longer battery life, more control over features and some enhanced “social features.”  But remember, it’s not a pad (although you may be able to read your books on one or a Blackberry or Android phone or a Palm Pre or a Playbook) and, once you make your selection, you may be more or less locked into that company’s bookstore.  If you wanted an iPad, get one.

5/9/11: Microsoft purchases VoIP provider Skype, for a reported $8.5 billion.  The deal still has to be closed, but should be soon. We’ll see how this plays out.

4/15/11:  Wanna save even more money on a Kindle?  Welcome to the “AdverKindle” (my name, not theirs).  You can save $20 or so on the $139 Kindle if you’re willing to put up with a barrage of advertisements.  Not worth it, at about $114 or so, if you ask me.  It’d have to be about $75 at the highest.

3/14/11:  Microsoft launch date for Internet Explorer 9.  See my notes about its limitations, below.  While we’re on the subject, don’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling about IE9’s “Do Not Track” feature just yet.  When you enable this feature in your browser (same for Firefox 4; not available in Chrome and Safari), as I’ve been told, it’s only a request, indicated by an electronic flag that is visible to web operators.  But they aren’t obligated by law or otherwise to honor such requests.  In fact, there may be as yet no technological way to comply.  So we’ve got yet another privacy feature with no teeth.  For now, just stick with deleting cookies and search histories or using anonymous browsers.

3/2/11:  Apple announced the iPad 2, one-third thinner, 15% lighter and twice as fast version of the original iPad that will, starting March 11, sell at the same prices as the original models.  It will have front and rear cameras for video conversations (sorry, no flash), a gyroscope for gaming, an HDMI port out to connect to a TV and will come in both black and white models.  The new magnetic “smart cover” automatically and quickly turns on the iPad and doubles as a stand for the unit.  But your iPad 1 attachments (stands, keyboards) may not work on the thinner model.   Did i mention that it’s twice as fast?

2/15/11: With unofficial release dates estimated between late 2011 to 2013, Windows 8 is definitely in the works.  Word is that this version of Windows will be specifically targeted to work with pad computers and smartphones, supporting SoC and ARM devices.  This means that Microsoft is recognizing the impact of such devices.

2/14/11:  Scarcely 2 years ago (4/09) I predicted that netbooks would be the next big thing.  Lots of people disagreed, but it turned out to be the case.  How quickly things change.  Now, if seems, netbook sales are suddenly falling sharply, being replaced as pads become more mainstream and more become introduced.

There has been a similar shift from blogging to FaceBook, Twitter and other social network sites.  Research (e.g. Pew Research Center) shows that blogging has fallen between 10 and 50 percent, depending on the age of the blogger, and that it has occurred concurrently with the same increase in FaceBook and Twitter.  While some of the older bloggers may use social networking sites to direct traffic to their blog, most younger users simply use sites like FaceBook to connect with the world.

netbooks vs tablets

1/15/11:  Buried within the hype for all things iPad in this year’s consumer electronics show was a really great idea, one which I hope grows.  It is the Motorola Atrix.  Basically, it’s a very powerful dual core smart phone with 1Gb of RAM that comes with a pad into which you can dock the phone to make it like a laptop, with a screen display and keyboard.  It’s a computer in a phone with a pad display.  The computer slips into a port on the side of the pad and, voila, you have a full featured computer.  Click HERE for more information about the Atrix, which was available from AT&T in Q1. The Droid Bionic, released in 9/2011 also has a similar laptop adapter.

1/21/11:  Verizon announced on 1/10/11 that it will begin to sell Apple’s iPhone 4 on 2/10/11.  This is good news for all those people who didn’t purchase the iPhone because of AT&T’s spotty reputation for service.  There will be, however, some differences due to the type of network Verizon runs: For example, the feature allowing simultaneous phone transmission and web browsing won’t be available. Also, many of the shortcomings of the iPhone will remain (as will those users who will always support Apple just because they’re Apple).  For example, the dismally poor battery life (and the inability to easily replace or substitute a battery), dropping of calls (not always AT&T’s fault, despite the publicity), lack of a raised keyboard, well-publicized antenna problems, as well as bug problems with the iPhone’s main radio (known as baseband) which contributed to the dropped-calls problem.  We’ll also have to see how well the Verizon network can handle the extraordinary bandwidth requirements which caused some of the problems wich overwhelmed AT&T’s network.  Click HERE for a comparison of the features of the Apple vs Verizon iPhones.  [I, for one, am waiting for the Verizon Droid Bionic, a true 4G phone, to be released in 2Qtr 2011.]

2010

12/21/10:  The FCC has finally introduced the long-awaited “net neutrality” regulations.  As expected, they bar cable companies from barring or slowing traffic from competing providers.  But they don’t cover wireless providers, and the cable companies can still charge premiums to high-download customers.  For more on this see the discussion in LAWS.

12/20/10: Samsung has introduced the latest Droid phone, the Nexus S (Google’s own second attempt at designing a cell phone), available through T-Mobile.  iPhones have lots of apps, less for the Droid phones, because each is a little bit different.  But standard on the Droid are turn-by-turn GPS directions and dictation.  The Nexus S screen claims to be curved to better fit your face (hard to tell), has the capability of reading NFC tags (even though we don’t have those type of RFIDs in the US yet), and it has the latest Android 2.3 software on it (new color scheme, central download location, redesigned copy-and-paste feature), plus you’ll always get the Droid updates right away from Google rather than waiting.  By the way, we’re waiting for Android 3.0 (code named Honeycomb) to be released soon.

10/27/10: Microsoft has announced that the last Extended Support Date for Windows XP will be August 4, 2014.

10/27/10: MySpace unveiled a “dramatic remake” of its social networking web presence, in an effort to lure back the lucrative under 35 demographic that has been overtaken by FaceBook. MySpace’s visitors have been down over 20% in the past two years.  It’s rumored that News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdock may sell the company if it can’t be turned around.  6/29/11: Guess the rumors were correct:  Today News Corp. sold MySpace to Specific Media, which specializes in digital ads.  The price was reported to be about $35 million, far less than the $580 million News Corp paid in 2005.

10/11/10: Windows Mobile operating system, to become available on 9 manufacturers’ cell phones (including LG, Samsung, HTC and Dell) starting November, 2010 over AT&T and later T-Mobile networks.  The O/S will feature lots of customer customization, U-Verse TV to stream TV to the phone, Office Hub offering free integration with Microsoft’s One Note collaboration software and linking to Xbox Live for gaming and PowerPoint software, among other features.  It has been generally well accepted, because of its simplicity: “Live Tiles” provides basic groups of information, rather than lots of tiny icons; the “Hubs” gather collections of programs, information & functions organized around a theme.  So why do I still like the Droid better?  Droid supports removable storage, multi-tasking, free turn-by-turn navigation, Flash, Wi-Fi tethering and, of course, better Google integration.  WinMo doesn’t.

10/4/11: Tablet computers aren’t just from Apple any more.  RIM (mfrs of Blackberry) introduced their own tablet, the Playbook, hoping to take advantage of their 50 million mostly business users.  On the good side, it’ll have two hi def cameras for videoconferencing, MicroHDMI and MicroUSB ports, a 1Ghz dual core processor, will be smaller and lighter (7 in) and have enterprise security; also Bridge,  feature to link Blackberry phones to the pad. And, it uses Flash.   On the con side, to some, it uses an unproven QNX O/S, has no GPS and only 32Gb of storage.  App support will, of course, be less than Apple, but will not be subject only to one manufacturer’s approval.  But hold on:  HP, Samsung (the Galaxy Tab, at a whopping $600), HTC and Motorola (the Xoom, at $800!) are all introducing similar devices. HP, for example, has released the PhotoSmart eStation, a Wi-Fi printer which comes packaged with a detachable 7 inch tablet (it’s a little heavy for me). Already Dell has introduced the Streak tablet based on Android, and Entourage has introduced a dual screen tablet/e-reader (see left) that opens like a book. But Micosoft scratched its dual-screen color tablet, the Courier, Google still hasn’t entered the market, and Hearst’s Skiff Reader similarly didn’t make an appearance.  [My theory is that the iPad was so good that the others didn’t feel competitive.]  Click HERE for a chartentourage tablet comparing many of the various tablets.  And in November 20Dell Inspiron Duo 210, Dell introduced the new Inspiron Duo, an interesting design which folds from a tablet (using touchable software called Duo Stage) into a laptop (see right), but it’s kinda heavy at almost 4 lbs, twice that of the iPad. 

10/1/10: Now that I’ve had an opportunity to test the iPhone 4 and the Samsung Droid/Fascinate smart phones, I’ve come to the conclusion that we are heading into a phase where these devices, which have more memory and speed, clearer and larger screens and more apps, will eventually take the place of many laptops, notebooks, readers and iPads.  These new phones can do almost anything that the small computers can do, now that the screens are larger and more readable and are much more user-friendly. Touch-screen technology with Swype has now developed to the point where it may well eclipse the standard mechanical keyboard.

3/1/11:  Now in RC status (just before final release), IE 9 has been tweaked to use less memory, has a blacklist feature, shows download progress, changes the way multiple tabs are displayed and has a shortcut (CTRL + SHIFT + L) which pastes a URL in the clipboard directly into the address bar.

9/20/10: Microsoft has released its “public beta” of Internet Explorer 9.  As usual, it’s playing leapfrog with Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox browsers.  Just remember, however, that YOU CAN’T INSTALL IT WITH WINDOWS XP[Same for Firefox 4 and, to some extent, Chrome’s latest browser.] Also, as usual, some people like it and others don’t.  Of those who don’t, the WARNING TRIANGLEcomplaints are that it is dark, the tabs aren’t placed usefully and it’s constantly asking you if you want to use the add-ons and other security prompts.  Also, since it’s new, you probably won’t be able to load many of your add-ons, either, so you might want to hold off until it’s been around a little while.  Microsoft will officially launch IE9 on March 14, 2011.  It scored 95 out of 100 on the Acid 3 test.

10/9/10

You’ve gotta love technology.  And also appreciate Google’s long-range view of it.  Google has developed and is testing a car (in this case a Toyota Prius) which drives itself.  Using artificial intelligence software that can sense anything near the car and mimic decisions made by a human driver, and using an upload of Google maps, it literally does all the work.  I think there was an episode of the SciFi TV show Eureka where such an experiment went horribly wrong, but here the only accident was caused when someone rear-ended the Prius when it was stopped at a traffic light.  Click HERE for more (link available for a limited time).

10/5/10

At last, Apple is supposed to be making a version of the iPhone 4 for Verizon, expected to be out, possibly by early 2011.  I think that, faced with the rapid (“incredible” Samsung says - get it?) adoption of the Android phones (projected to be 30% by 2014, greater than Apple’s expected share of the market), Steve Jobs decided to expand to Verizon, worlds largest wireless provider, to stay in the race.  I’ve tried the Droid X (great phone, a little large) and the Fascinate (seems as good as the iPhone to me) and was very impressed.  Click HERE for a chart comparing various smartphones.

7/16/10

Apple announced that there will be no recall of the over 3 million iPhone 4s and that instead Apple will give away $30 plastic cases to those phone owners who are dissatisfied with their reception.

7/2/10

Apple hardly ever makes a misstep.  But it has.  The new iPhone 4 uses an antenna that runs around the perimeter of the case.  When held a certain way (the so-called “death grip”) the signal is reduced, although it doesn’t show any decrease in “bars” on the phone’s meter.  Apple has acknowledged the problem and will at least issue a software patch so that the bars will accurately display the signal strength.  They never did - see above (7/16/10) - Steve Jobs says “you’re just holding the phone all wrong!  Huh?

7/2010

AMD has introduced its Opteron 6000 Series chips, taking multi-core design to a new level, those with 8 or 12 cores on a chip.  These chips are mainly for servers, though, so don’t be looking for them on residential computers just yet.

6/21/10

8/25/10

10/27/10

Competition sometimes benefits the consumer.  If you’re looking to buy an e-book reader, this is a good week for you.  Barnes & Noble started the price cutting by reducing the price of its Nook from $259 to $199.  Amazon followed by dropping the Kindle’s price to $189 from $259.  Not to be outdone, B&N announced a Wi-Fi only Nook for only $149.  In late October, 2010, B&N announced that it was introducing the Color Nook for $249 shortly.  So far, the Sony reader has a least expensive edition at $169, but with no wireless connectivity.  Apple’s iPad is still $499 and up, but prices may well fall over time. AsusTek is still claiming it will be coming out with it’s own model (the “EeePad”) later this year.  August, 2010:  Amazon introduces the “Kindle 3”.  It’s small (7.5 x 4.8 x 0.3 inches), light (8.5 ounces), and inexpensive ($140 + $50 for the Wi-Fi model). It’s still a little slow and doesn’t display video or color, but it’s not supposed to be a computer.  And that’s why it has extremely long battery life between charges.  Click HERE for a chart comparing e-book readers.

6/10/10

Microsoft Office 2010 has been officially released.  Microsoft says the focus for the update is (1) to make work flow more efficient, (2) to use the Web Cloud to make your work available anywhere and (3) to make collaberation easier.  There are lots of features accomplishing this, but it still might not be a necessary upgrade unless you’re a corporate user or interact with corporations.  As usual, there are lots of different packages and prices for the various versions.

6/7/10

Apple has released Safari 5, available for all versions of Windows and Macs.  It is not just a feature upgrade, but contains extensive security patches, so if you’re a user, it should be installed. Also of interest:  A “reader” option for viewing newspapers and magazines without clutter, a privacy surfing icon and an auditor for filtering out possible XSS exploits.

6/7/10

You might have missed it, with all they hype given to the introduction of the iPhone4 (below), but on the same day HP introduced the new smart-phone compatible wireless printers.  The work with PCs, of course, and also Apple iPhones, iPads as well as any other web-connective device.  They will do this because HP will be giving each printer its own e-mail address.

6/7/10

Apple has introduced the iPhone4.  It’s about 25% thinner than the previous iPhone, front (for video calls) and back cameras with 5x digital zoom, a camcorder, a frame using the outer edge as an antenna and something called “retina display” which is supposed to display on-screen text with a breakthrough level of quality.  Steve Jobs, with his usual hyperbole, calls it “the thinnest smartphone on the planet”.  Remember, this is the iPhone4, not an iPhone4G.  That means that it’s the fourth version of the iPhone, but it still works over the AT&T 3G network; 4G would refer to the network connection speed. So far, the only 4G smartphone is by Sprint, for use on its 4G network (by Clearwire), introduced last week (in 33 markets) as well.  4G promises a 10x speed increase over the 3G network.

5/28/10

This is the day when Apple, written off as a has-been back in 1985, became more valuable than Microsoft.  Apple is valued at $222.12 billion, vice Microsoft’s $219.18.  More important, this event reveals a number of trends in the computer business.  First, Apple got where it is now by constantly innovating by creating new products, such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad.  Microsoft depends more on maintaining the status quo, building updates to its main products while creating large new businesses in the areas of game consoles. Second, this change shows that consumer tastes have taken over business needs as the leading shaping force for technology.  I guess Michael Dell was wrong when he suggested that Apple just shut down and return the money to shareholders.  But watch out - - Google could surpass everyone! 

5/12/10

Skype is rolling out the beta of its Group Video Calling feature this week.  Available for download, it will allow users to call up to five people simultaneously, like a video party line.  It will be free for now, a charge for this service coming later this year.  At the same time, Skype is also rolling out new international calling plans to more than 170 countries, claiming substantial savings.  Presently, Skype accounts for 12% of the world’s international calls, according to TeleGeography Research.

5/12/10

Microsoft has announced that it will provide a free on-line (“cloud”) consumer version of Office this June, allowing users to create, edit and store their documents, spreadsheets and the like on the Web rather than on their personal computers. While this could be Microsoft’s effort to hold on to its Office monopoly (94% market share) as rivals such as Google, Adobe and Zoho chip away, it’s unlikely.  It’s more likely part of an overall application move to cloud computing. 

5/5//10

I read a review this week about MSE, Microsoft Security Essentials, Microsoft’s free entry into the anti-virus/malware market.  It was very positive.  Combined with the Windows firewall, it poses an excellent plan for protection against all types of intrusions, with little system overload.  Maybe Microsoft got it right.  On the other hand, I know technicians who claim that the MSE crashed their systems.  Of course, you can say that about just about any program.  Time will tell.  Click HERE for a link to the download page.

4/27/10

10/1/10

You’re now able to swipe your credit or debit card with your mobile phone and pay or transfer money on a personal basis, to friends, family or others, without a traditional merchant account, with it’s lengthy credit check and monthly fees.  You will use a miniature card swiper that plug into your headphone port, some app software, and you’re off.  For more info, see PHONES.  Now, Square is available for Droid as well.

7/1/10

HP isn’t the only computer manufacturer with faulty component problems. Dell has acknowledged (not in regulatory filings but in blog posts) that it did, indeed, have problems with at least 11.8 million PCs (mostly OptiPlex) sold between 2003 and 2005 that had defective Nichicon capacitors on its motherboards.  Capacitors regulate the flow of current across the motherboard - these popped open and leaked, causing shorts.  This information comes out as a result of a lawsuit between AIT and Dell, scheduled for trial on October 18, 2010.  Dell could be subjected to treble damages under North Carolina law if it is proven that Dell used unfair or deceptive trade practices. It’s claimed that Dell disavowed the known problem to its customers even though it was well aware of their nature and extent and had conducted studies about it, showing that  the capacitors could be expected to fail 97% of the time over a three year period.

4/20/10

6/10/10

Last year, I wrote about the problems with HP’s overheating motherboards on certain laptops, which were consistently burning out just before or at the one year warranty period.  Despite urging from consumers and techs alike, HP has decided to do nothing about the problem, not even acknowledging it.  At most, they have allowed a $400 “repair” including wiping the hard drive and other hardware changes.  Too bad, if you own one of these. I would’ve expected better from world’s largest computer maker.  Before throwing the unit away, though, I suggest you check to see if you have any additional credit card warranty (see Tips & Tricks).  In June, 2010, HP announced a recall of 54,000 of its lithium ion batteries (adding to the 70,000 recalled in May, 2009) due to fire and injuries caused when they overheated and ruptured.

4/20/10

Facebook’s Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg introduced the next stage in social networking.  Through the use of a “Like” button which members can put on web pages as well as a series of iFrame plug-ins, Facebook’s members can effectively personalize their experiences with no clicks, because the users’ choices and preferences will be stored by Facebook, so that when they go to a web page, they will already have their preferences known, as well as those of their friends.

4/8/10

So I’ve tested the iPad.  My take: It’s got a definite market, and it may not be the same people who have either an iPhone or MacBook.  I found it surprisingly fast, easy to use, excellent graphics.  Biggest surprise: I thought it would be larger, like a pad (8.5 x 11 inches), but it’s about a third smaller.  Also, it’s tougher to read in direct sunlight (although there’s a brightness control), so don’t think about reading books or magazines at the pool, unless you sit under an umbrella.

4/8/10

Moore’s law continues:  HP announced that it has achieved significant advances in the production of “memristors,” which are a class of diminutive switches capable of replacing transistors in those computer chips which are steadily shrinking toward nanometer scale.  Conceived in 1971, HP has been steadily working on their manufacture since then; transistors are about 30-40 nanometers in size, while memristors are 3 nanometers and can switch on and off in about a nanosecond (billionth of a second).  When in production and as prices fall, this will provide a significant leap in flash memory and chips.  Keep your eye on this.

4/1/10

This month, AT&T has announced that it will be selling what it calls “MicroCells”.  These are actually mini-cellphone towers (about the size of a router), which redirect cellphone calls from congested cell towers to home and office web connections (ISPs) to solve the problem of cell phone subscribers that can’t get a consistent signal in metal buildings, basements, homes with particularly thick walls, poor geography and the like.  Cell phone minutes would be charged as usual, but the cost of the new devices would be about $150.  Verizon has something similar in this niche market (“Network Extenders,” introduced in January, 2009 for $250) as does Sprint (the “Airwave” for $99 + $4.50/mo).  It’s not certain whether users will balk at this additional cost, which may come down over time.

4/10

Google has rewritten its online word processing and spreadsheet programs.  The new versions show Google’s belief that what people (read: businesses) want most is real-time collaboration and that they’ll do it entirely in the cloud.

4/1/10

For the past two years, Adobe Reader has led the pack in exploit vulnerabilities.  In 2008, Adobe Reader attacks comprised 28.61% of targeted attacks; in 2009, that number jumped to 49.5%; so far in 2010, it is 61.2%!  By contrast, Microsoft’s key products have dropped significantly - Word is at 24.3%, Excel 7.1% and Powerpoint 7.4%.  This is according to security company F-Secure.  It is key to your protection that you install Adobe Reader updates when prompted - the most recent one patched a major vulnerability.

1/27/10

Apple at last introduced the long awaited iPad.  Priced between $499 and $829, depending on features and memory (Wi-Fi or 3G; 16/32/64Mb; external devices), it is 1/2” thick and weighs 1.5 pounds, with a 9.7 inch multi-touch color screen.  It uses the same adequate microprocessor as the iPhone, the A4, manufactured by Apple’s acquisition of PA Semi in 2008.  The screen uses a simple LCD backlight with LEDs, much like a flat-screen TV, not a super bright organic LED display (although it has two liquid transistors per crystal, not just one, as it uses in-plane switching).  No Pixel Qi dual-view screen, that combines normal transmissive LCD technology with a black-and-white reflective version for easy viewing in bright sunlight (possibly because of viewing angle limitations, and daytime viewing color saturation) either.  It stores photos, reads books and magazines, plays videos, browses the web and more.  Apple’s e-reader, the iBook, still shows books in black-and-white format; it will have the same operating system as the iPhone and will have access to its 140,000 applications. Alas, there is no mouse, no SD card slot, no phone and no camera or microphone for video chat and the keyboard is touch screen activated.  And it doesn’t work with Flash (or Silverlight).  Moreover, printing isn’t easy - as with the iPhone, you may have to transfer data or forward e-mail to a computer to print (although some printer manufacturers are developing wireless apps).  But, as I discussed below, this new form-factor and screen capabilities (color, reader, video, browsing) will no doubt facilitate the move to electronic media interactive browsing apps for magazines, books, newspapers and videos) that will make our lives easier.  The WiFi model will ship in March, 3G models later in April, 2010.  So is it just a big iPod, as some critics complain (i.e. you’ll still have to lug along a cell phone and a laptop to fulfill your desires), or will it be sufficient to be the most incredible browsing experience ever, as Steve Jobs crows?  We’ll see...

1/15/10

McAfee has released its 2010 Threat Predictions Report.  They believe that hackers and malware have shifted their focus from primarily Microsoft products to other software, such as Adobe’s Flash and Acrobat Reader, Apple’s Quicktime and Mozilla’s Firefox browser, as well as social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.  Looking back at our repair history for this past year, they’re pretty much correct.

1/15/10

Google comes out with the Nexus One, using the Android operating system.  It has a super-bright screen, replaceable battery, a memory card slot and expanded speech-to-text features to dictate e-mail and Twitters, all of which will probably be quickly matched by competitors.  But it has far less apps than the iPhone and doesn’t sync with Outlook. And carriers are limited right now.

1/04/10

The Consumer Electronics Show was held in Las Vegas this week, and many of the new products revolved around digital book readers. It certainly seems that, after 200 years of reading paper and ink, a digital revolution is fully under way:  Amazon’s Kindle still rules, but there are lots of competitors on the way:  Britain’s Plastic Logic’s Cue Pro Reader does many other tasks as a executive personal assistant device; others versions of the device include web browsing and hyperlinking and video capabilities, such as French start-up Bookeen; ; meanwhile some companies are compensating by using dual screens (one LCD color browser and the other grey-scale reader), such as Spring Design’s Alex device; Lenovo is going to come out with a hybrid notebook (the U-1) on which the monitor pops off for separate use as a reader, browser and multimedia device.  Everyone is waiting for the imminent release of the Apple tablet which is rumored to include a color screen which could be a big plus.  Look for this field to explode with products.  My prediction:  Just like convergence has finally arrived, we are on the cusp of a sea change in book, magazine and internet delivery that will change the future.  In the not-to-distant future, we will be carrying around plastic screens the size and weight of a pad of paper.  It will contain books, calendars and scheduling tools, magazines, e-mails and (when acessible to Wi-Fi) web browsing, video and up- and downloading capabilities.  No more heavy backpacks for kids - books will be loaded onto the reader tablets.  No more books, magazines or office files to lug around, they’ll just be transferred to the tablet for portability.  This will, of course, mean that the newspaper, magazine and book publishers won’t fight the issue as the movie and music companies have.  They’ll have to recognize and adapt to the new delivery system and charge appropriately for the content.  That’s what I think, anyway.  We’ll see...

2007-8-9

10/22/09

Now that Windows 7 is available, should you get it?  I don’t know that it’s necessary to upgrade unless you’ve had a lot of problems with Vista (you can only upgrade from Vista, not XP and only between same bit versions (i.e. 32 to 32), but it might be an excellent idea to purchase it on a new computer, or perform a custom (“clean”) install on an existing computer.  After all, XP’s mainstream support will end on 7/13/2010 and the O/S is now over 8 years old.  Three year old Vista’s support will end in April, 2012.  And Windows 7 is here now.  By the way, don’t look for Outlook Express or Windows Live, as they’re no longer part of Windows (due primarily to anti-trust fears).  Microsoft directs you to look for either Windows Mail Live or third-party software (e.g. Thunderbird) at its website or to purchase Office (for the full version of Outlook).

10/5/09

You should be happy to know that, effective December 1, 2009, the FTC has issued regulations prohibiting bloggers and others who review products on-line from failing to disclose compensation for their reviews and also from disclaimers stating that “results may not be typical”in order to limit their liability.  Read more HERE.

9/2/08:  Google releases its beta version of Chrome for Windows (Linux and Mac to follow), Google’s new web browser.  For the beta download click HERE.  For the infographic cartoon, click HERE.  Basically, Chrome purports to be a much faster, safer and user friendly browser through the extensive use of tabbed browsing, an “omnibox” feature (search and address bar combined) providing useful information about each URL, a home page showing the most visited sites and most frequent searches, incognito searches which won’t be recorded in history, sandboxing security, and something called “gears”, all of which, combined with the open-source aspect of the software, will speed up the operation of the browser while making it much more secure and less prone to pop-ups, malware and phishing.  The premise of Chrome is to shift from a simple internet search engine to the use of efficient cloud computing, where the browser connects to remote software and data centers.  Because of the multiprocessor architecture, if one application fails, the others keep on working.  The only apparent major drawback I saw was the inability to easily manage bookmarks, and the fact that it’s a memory hog, using lots of RAM.

6/08: A survey of business IT decision makers conducted between Ziff Davis Enterprise Research and Peerstone Research showed that nearly 75% of the respondents indicated that the issuance of Vista SP1 had no effect on their Vista adoption plans; further, more than half of the respondents said that Microsoft’s pulling of XP support as of June 30th made virtually no difference in their expected Vista adoption either.  Respondents to the May, 2008 survey expect only about 9% of their PCs running Vista after more than 25 months of its release, predicting only 28% by 2010.  A July Forrester Research study corroberated this figure, at 8.8% Vista adoption.  During this period, the percentage of XP adoption actually increased three times as much as computers running Vista, a sure indication that business were willing to upgrade from WIN2000 or similar legacy operating systems to XP, but will wait for the next version of Windows before signing on to Vista. The King Research study released in October, 2008 confirmed again that over 60% of its respondents did not plan to deploy Vista, many planning to skip Vista altogether and wait for Windows 7 or contemplating switching operating systems (with 29% thinking about Mac OS X).

3/1/08:  What’s the fastest growing part of the computer market right now?  Hard drives.  The prices for drives have been steadily heading downward for the past couple of years.  But now we have a new entry, and it’s hot:  SSDs (see the Glossary for more info).  Due to improved technology, these drives (basically flash drives on steroids) last longer, aren’t as easily damaged and run cooler than traditional, mechanical, hard drives.  Presently used in UMPCs (again, see the Glossary) such as Samsung and Asus computers, the drives are now being manufactured in larger and larger storage sizes and configurations (IDE, SATA, SCSI), so that they are now becoming suitable for storage networks.  For example BitMicro has a 1.6 terabyte drive (Ultra320 SCSI), 832Mb (E2A3GM SATA) and 416GB ATA-133 (E2A133BL).  Samsung will be releasing a 128Gb SATA II SSD sometime this year, to go with its 32Gb SSD currently available.  This market is going to be really HOT!  A new company, Pliant Technology, has announced a new platform named EFD (“Enterprise Flash Drive”) that it claims will host its SSDs (we’ll see how open the market is to new, supposedly seamless, platforms). I believe it’s inevitable that, as the market heats up, prices for the SSDs will come way down, and at that point SSDs will begin to dominate the hard drive market, replacing traditional HDD technology.  The number crunchers seem to agree:  Web-Feet Research predicts that the SSD market is expected to reach $570 million in 2007 and increase to $6.6 billion by 2010.  IDC Research agrees, predicting the market to by at least $5.4 billion by 2011.  On June 4th, John Fowler, VP of Sun, announced that Sun will integrate SSDs with the bulk of its hardware and software offerings.  Keep an eye on this!

2/10/08:  Mozilla, the original developer of Firefox, has announced that it has formed a subsidiary company, Mozilla Messaging.  The main purpose of this subsidiary will be to upgrade Thunderbird, the Firefox e-mail client.   This is good news:  Look forward to built-in calendar support, improved search features and an improved user interface.  Later on, possibly IM?  Interested?  Keep an eye on the Mozilla Messaging and download site - click HERE.  See also Zimbra, based on Mozilla’s Prism engine, which facilitates using Web applications outside of a browser.  Written in Java, Zimbra is itself a Web app and runs under Windows, Linux and Mac OSX, for both IMAP and POP3 accounts.  Zimbra supports Gmail, AOL, Yahoo and other e-mail services and an excellent search engine.  Click HERE for beta.

12/07:  I don’t usually have much of a problem with Microsoft’s programs, but I see little reason to install Silverlight.  Microsoft is vigorously pushing this software in its updates.  Basically, Silverlight is Microsoft’s competition to Adobe Flash, but it’s slower and can be difficult to install.  Right now, I’d pass.  Same for Microsoft’s Windows Updates notifications to upgrade drivers for hardware.  They’re not particularly accurate.  My recommendation:  “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.  And if you must, go to the hardware manufacturer’s site for the patch or upgrade first.  Microsoft is, after all, a software provider; if there’s a compatibility problem (say, with Vista) use their fix.

8/28/09

Apple introduced it’s latest version of the Mac OS (V. 10.6), dubbed Snow Leopard.  There’s very little in the way of flashy features, but there are major changes under the hood, most of which will appeal to corporate users.  Foremost among them is support for Microsoft Exchange Mail (extremely important to corporate users), a new technology called Grand Central Dispatch (making it easier to take advantage of computers running (Intel) multiple processors), an advance in the O/S called OpenCL that enables programs to take better advantage of the more powerful graphic adapters on current computers, and a complete transition from 32-bit to 64-bit computing.  Mainly, the benefit is that it is smaller (7Gb less) and faster than the previous version.  It’s worth the $29 to $49 if your qualify for the upgrade, even if you don’t need the new features right now.

Verizon is trying to get into the smartphone app game.  Apple claims that over 100,000 developers have created more than 75,000 iPhone applications, which have been downloaded by consumers more than 1.5 billion times.  Now Verizon is teaming up with Vodafone, SoftBank and China Mobile to create a common software, called the Joint Innovation Lab (“JLL”), which can be used to write apps compatible with all Verizon customers and those of the other carriers.

7/15/09

1/15/10

Office 2010 technical preview has been available for review, and I’m here to report that it looks quite good.  It’ll still be a while before final release (hence the “2010”), but here are some of the features they’re working on:  Background removal tool for imported graphics in Word; PowerPoint can run embedded videos; PowerPoint and Word can directly insert other active windows into documents and presentations; enhanced sidebar search tools; “sparkline” charts in Excel; addition for support of OpenDocument format in Word; some great-looking conditional formatting display capabilities; enhancement for cutting and pasting; and support across Web, desktop and mobile platforms.  The Outlook component is finally changed to work like the others, including the ribbon line.  It also displays related messages together in a “conversation,” a “social connector” feature that displays the status updates for a person’s latest tweets and social networking updates, Quick Steps that automate various Outlook procedures, basic image editing capabilities from within Outlook, a feature called Backstage, which centralizes configuration with you click on the File menu, suggested contacts pulled from your mail list when sending e-mail, and expanded calendar features for scheduling meetings.  As usual, Microsoft plans to release several versions, priced from $99 to $499.

7/7/09

On July 7, 2009, Google announced that it is developing an operating system for PCs that is tied to its Chrome web browser.  Named Google Chrome Operating System, it will initially be intended for use in the popular netbooks, but may also be modified to power full-sized PCs.  Consistent with Google’s vision of speed, simplicity and security, the OS will be fast and lightweight, to start up and get onto the Web in a few seconds, and will be able to operate cloud computing applications (like Google Docs).  The OS is expected to be released online later this year under an open-source license, which would allow programmers to modify it (much like the Apple Apps for the iPhone) and netbooks running the software would go on sale in the second half of 2010.

Microsoft is planning to start selling Windows 7 to the public on October 22.  It will come in several versions and also have a Vista upgrade option.  Even though I rarely recommend purchasing any new software for the first six months, I’ve tested the beta and I am favorably impressed, sufficiently so that I wouldn’t have a problem purchasing a new computer with this system pre-installed, something I couldn’t say about Vista.   Note that only Windows Vista computers can be upgraded to Windows 7.

6/15/09

It seemed like the new Palm Pre might have had a chance at challenging the iPhone in the smartphone races.  But with Apple’s announcement on June 8 of the new iPhone 3GS (the “S” stands for “speed” says Apple), it’s still the leader in the race.  At $199 (the same price as the Pre), the 3GS has more memory (16Gb vs. Pre’s 8Gb), a faster processor, double the storage, a video camera and a faster web-browsing experience.  And, of course, tons of software.   Some of the software is criticized as a toy (who aside from kids want to engage in virtual watermelon seed splitting?) but there are also several serious apps (such as real time intensive care viewing and MRI reading) that may be useful.

5/28/09

May 28, 2009, Microsoft introduced Bing, it’s improvement upon its wildly unsuccessful Live Search engine.  Microsoft claims that Bing (which mimics the sound of an Aha! or Eureka! moment) provides more useable results using a table of contents and filter strategy that eliminates the back-and-forth viewing of lists of web sites that are usually found using Google and Yahoo.  Trumpets Microsoft: “Not just a search engine.  A decision engine.”  A Bing search result screen’s left margin displays different contexual sorting options, and lists of related and recent searches; hovering over the middle results brings up a small window of information with more information about the linked site; and clicking on advanced options brings up an in-context window on the same (not a separate) page.  A much-talked-about feature is the video search, where the thumbnails provided in the search results can be played directly in the results page.  All of the other features, when compared with Google and Yahoo are more than passable.  Once again, I’m impressed: Microsoft might finally have a product to rival Google.  As of 10/09, Bing had about 7% of the browser market share.  Check it out at this link:  BING

4/10/09

April, 2009:  Lots of companies offer free anti-virus/anti-spyware protection.  AVG from Grisoft and Clamwin, for starters.  Now Panda, which has offered a free on-line anti-virus scan, is offering its version of a free anti-virus, with a difference from the others.  It’s called “Cloud Antivirus” and Panda claims it’s better because it’s run from the Internet Cloud, therefore doesn’t bog down your computer’s resources and is always up-to-date.  Download here:  Link.

As I predicted last year, Netbooks are the next big computer thing.  Of course, they’re much more powerful than the first Asus PCeee that I purchased, and offer ever more features every month.  Now, Verizon and AT&T are offering wireless plans with netbooks priced at $199 (or even free) if you purchase a two year data plan (between $15 and $60/month).  To me, if you add the cost of your phone plan, the increase for the data plan, and the cost of the netbook, you’re still paying about $1,440 for the two years, and that’s not cheap.  Personally, I made my choice:  A Blackberry.  I can keep my Outlook schedule, receive and reply to my e-mails and briefly check the Internet just fine.  I was quite surprised at the readability of the screen, having only used a cell phone.  And it clips easily to my belt, so I don’t have to lug around even a netbook with a satellite connection.  Anything more, I can wait until I get back to the office.  All  inclusive, with virtually unlimited minutes, for less than $100 a month.  Of course, if you really require extended access to the Internet, this might not be the way to go.

On A Related Note:  If you read this column last year I suggested that the best new technology to invest in, partially because of its use in netbooks, was SSDs (solid state drives).  I’ve noticed recently that STEC, a company which manufactures low-cost and fast-access SSDs for enterprise storage and server systems, and high-density flash memory modules, traded at about $3/share back in December, 2008 and on August 5 was up to $33.50/share, a 1000% increase!  Told ya!

I know noone will listen, but I’ll warn you anyway:  Be careful what you say when you Twitter or blog.  If your twitters or blogs mention certain people or companies (particularly if they’re your employer), especially in a negative context, you may expect repercussions from your comments.  You should be aware that these days, many companies have explicit policies regarding employees’ discussion of their employer or their job and that they also employ sophisticated software sniffing the Internet for intellectual property and individual information, right down to your personal posts.  Companies like Websense, Barracuda Networks, TNS Cymphony and Cyveillance provide services for this purpose.  RightNow’s Cloud Monitor and soon Salesforce.com are offering cloud monitoring specifically for Twitter and YouTube.  Dis your employer and you can expect to get fired...or worse.  And, once you post a comment, it can’t be taken back.  It may come to haunt you when you look for a job or any other position (Officer of your homeowner’s ass’n? Join your local sports team? Big Brother? Hospital Volunteer?).  And don’t forget that they can be produced in divorce and litigation proceedings.  So, think first, post later...Just because you CAN express your thoughts doesn’t mean that you HAVE to!  For more, see SOCIAL NETWORKING.

5/17/09

1/10

MiFi” is here!  What’s MiFi?  It’s the next big advance in wireless computer technology.  Imagine that you can get broadband online anywhere, without searching for a WiFi hotspot or using a satellite card.  Even more, you can share the connection with up to four other computers at the same time.  Now you can. In May (17th) Verizon introduced the Novatel MiFi 2200, a credit card size device that provides a portable, powerful, password-protected wireless hot spot, like a 30 foot wireless umbrella that follows you everywhere you go.  The MiFi works by converting a cellular internet signal (from Verizon’s 3G high speed cellular data network, soon also from Sprint Nextel) into WiFi coverage, so that all of your cellular devices can be on line at once, without having to plug anything in.  You could even use it for your home or office internet connection instead of cable or DSL.  The cost is about $100 with a two year contract (after rebate) plus a monthly cost between $15 and $60.  In early 2010, Verizon introduced the Pre Plus, a smart phone with Mi-Fi built in.

4/27/09

Just when we were getting to understand Blu-Ray and high density DVDs, along comes GE, announcing on April 27 that it has achieved a breakthrough in digital technology (through so-called holographic storage) which will allow standard size disks to hold the equivalent of 100 DVDs.  It’s some time off, but you can expect these holographic disks to be used for the next generation of storage and video, as the per-disk cost comes down.

3/17/09

Windows 7 Release Candidate (“RC”) is available for download at this LINK.   The O/S, which will be available for use until August, will contain all of the new features expected in the final release, such as a new Task Bar, Jump Lists, Aero Snap, Aero Peek, Problem Steps Recorder, file system Libraries, User Account Control Settings and enhancements to Task Manager and Resource Monitor, as well as many other changes and upgrades.

3/15/09

9/1/09

Internet Explorer 8 is available for download, and your next few Windows Updates may prompt you to get the new browser.  There are still some significant issues, however (such as system sluggishness after the download) and I’d recommend waiting 6 months or so before making the plunge.  Update:  I still hear a lot about incompatibilities, wouldn’t install yet.  Maybe by the end of the year.

3/1/09

If you purchased a Dell or HP notebook and your motherboard fried just after the one year warranty period expired, you’re not alone.  The cause is an overheating Nvidia graphics chip.  The failure rate is so high that Nvidia had to take a $196 million charge against earnings in the second quarter of 2008.  But don’t expect much cooperation from Dell or HP, which either issued a BIOS upgrade or extended warranty to fix the problem (NOT a fix) and would not even print a list of the affected computers.  Apple, however, immediately offered repairs or replacements of the laptops.

4/1/09

8/27/09

On April 1, 2009, computers infected with the infamous Conficker (a/k/a Downadup or Kido) worm will start scanning the Internet for instructions, and it is predicted that the results may be disastrous.  Most of the infected PCs will be in foreign countries, however, and you may already be protected by installing anti-virus software and Windows updates.  And April 1st is only the start date - - the payout will be long term.   But if it becomes infected, the bad news is that you cannot then access any of the security sites that may allow you to remove it.  If you’re in this position, call a pro like us immediately.  Update:  The bad news:  The virus is still propagating, infecting more computers, and it may not be criminal, but possibly political in nature, and there’s still no cure.  The good news:  It hasn’t done any real damage, aside from corrupting some individual computers.  Go to the Conficker Working Group for more up-to-date information.

3/12/09

On March 12, 2009, Google released a free service named Google Voice that is intended to simplify the way people handle phone calls, voice mail and text messages.  This is an expanded version of a service previously known as GrandCentral, a start-up that Google acquired about twenty months ago.  Google Voice allows users to route all their calls through a single (new) number that will simultaneously ring at their home, work and mobile phones.  It also gives users an easy to manage voice mail system, which can translate voice into text and be retrieved as an e-mail, along with free internet based calls.

2/1/09

Google has released Latitude, a new app which allows  users to track each other via their cellphone.  To see how it works, click here.  Aside from those whose egos absolutely demand that they share every aspect of their life on- line, including their whereabouts, I can envision some use for this app:  Keeping track of your children (or your spouse) or various emergency situations.  Not too many worries about privacy - it can be disabled at any time.  I do notice a substantial lag time, in hours, shown in Google’s video, possibly caused by satellite delay.  Like Google Maps, it doesn’t seem to be completely real time.  And you must have a compatible cell phone, of course.

2/3/09:  Skype released Skype 4.0 for Windows (which it dubbed “the biggest new release in Skype history”) eliminating some features and initiating new ones.  See the review in the Telephone section of this site.

1/1/09

This will be known as the year in which virus threats changed.  For a long time the majority of compromised web sites were considered “fringe sites” such as hacking information, porn or gaming sites that business users could avoid.  Starting in 2008, however, malware infections originated from many web sites visited by people legitimately or as part of their business, with no knowledge they were getting infected.  Even more interesting, while past surveys showed infection rates correlated with the rate of web usage for a particular industry, this is no longer the case, as higher infection rates appeared in industries with a disproportionately lower rate of employee web usage.  See, “The Vertical Risk: Web Delivered Malware by Industry.

12/1/08

Apparently, Dell got the message that their purchasers are frustrated with the foreign call centers.  Now Dell is mollifying its customers by offering them the guarantee that their call will be handled by a North American-based (is this the same as English-speaking?) agent.  The catch? The service costs $12.95 a month.  No word yet on the number of users enrolled for this $156/year option  or their actual satisfaction with the tech support. 

11/17/08

On November 17, 2008, Sun unveiled Star Office 9, it’s latest version of the suite of the word processor, spreadsheet, presentation and database software alternative to Microsoft Office.  Upgrades: Some 1600 new features, including native support for MAC OS X, some 50 additional (downloadable) extensions, such as PDF, Powerpoint, wiki and blog.  Faxing is now possible with the addition of eFax, and the addition of Lightning (Mozilla Thunderbird) gives customers e-mail, calendaring and scheduling functionality.  Sun is also working on an on-line version for cloud computing, more necessary since Google has dropped StarOffice distribution in its Google Pack.  Cost: $34.95 for the open-source download, which includes three support incidents.  Retail price is $54.95.  Volume pricing is available.

11/15/08

If you haven’t already upgraded your Adobe Reader, do so now.  There are numerous exploits out there coming in through unpatched versions of AR, particularly version 8.1.2 and earlier.  And none of the antivirus products have been able to detect the latest attack variants.  Upgrade to at least version 8.1.3 or 9.0; after all, its free.

9/1/09

12/9/09

If you like the idea of the Kindle e-book reader, you might be interested to know that Asus, the company that launched the first netbook computer (the PCeee), claims that it will shake up the e-book market with an e-book appliance that will be in full color and hinged into two screens, more like a traditional book.  All at about the low price of $164.  It is expected to come to market by the end of the year.  Barnes and Noble is also introducing its own e-book reader, using the Android operating system, the “Nook” ($259), too.  Unfortunately, the reviews aren’t that great, so check it out first.

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