Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


Digital Curmudgeon

Posted by tomwiles at 9:01 PM on August 24, 2014

EEEPC-SSDThere’s a dirty little secret about computer performance that is hiding within plain sight. A solid state drive (SSD) will take almost any machine manufactured within the past five to ten years and give it a massive performance boost.

I have an Asus 1000HE EEEPC Netbook from four or five years ago. It came with a 160 gigabyte 5900 RPM conventional spinning hard drive. With the conventional hard drive, the computer was painfully slow to boot up and to use. It would take the better part of 10 minutes to completely boot up and become usable.

I installed a 120 gigabyte Crucial M500 SSD drive into it and restored the operating system (Windows XP SP3) from the original system DVD that came with the machine. After installing the software I will be using with the machine, including Adobe Audition 1.5 and MS Office XP, it completely boots up and is 100% usable within 30 seconds! Programs load immediately and windows snap to attention.

I use this machine as a handy backup machine to an older SSD-equipped white plastic Macbook. The Asus Netbook doesn’t take up much room when I’m traveling. I realize that XP is no longer being supported by Microsoft, but I want to hang on to the perfectly functional older software such as Adobe Audition 1.5 that really has no modern equivalent that I like nearly as well. I am not browsing or doing email with this machine, so it should be perfectly safe to continue to use well into the future.

The move to mobile has caused me to shift away from relying much on traditional computers. During the last year I have used my computers only to record podcasts with. Email and browsing are handled exclusively on mobile devices.

In recent years I’ve grown increasingly annoyed by the constant upgrade cycle drumbeat. It seems there is always some fix or some new supposedly “must have” version of virtually every piece of hardware and software. Why upgrade? “Better performance” and/or “better security” are almost always the answers that are either given or implied. Often I find that NOT to be the case.

Operating system updates end up destroying existing software and hardware compatabilities. Sometimes software that won’t work on a new version of an operating system is never updated or replaced, and the functionality is simply lost.

So, if you have an older machine, including both Windows and Mac, depending on what you are using it for, if you want to hold on to perfectly functional older hardware and software, installing an SSD into an older machine can give it an incredible performance boost that will blow away any brand new machine that is not equipped with an SSD drive. Also, SSD prices contine to go down. A 120 gigabyte Crucial M500 drive now sells for about $72 dollars on Amazon, making it one amazing inexpensive upgrade that offers the absolute most bang possible for the buck!

A Microsoft Future

Posted by Andrew at 5:56 PM on November 14, 2013

Microsoft Windows 8Last week’s “Microsoft Fantasy” here on GNC suggested that Microsoft was in danger of fading into irrelevance; that it should retreat to servers and gaming; that it should re-orient its mobile strategy around Android. I suggest that Microsoft is now very well positioned to offer far more than its competitors. And to negate any ad hominem attacks, I’m no Microsoft fanboy – I’ve a Linux desktop, Android tablet, Nexus smartphone and a Chromebook – but I can see a better strategy in Microsoft than defeat and retreat.

There are three players in the OS space – Microsoft with Windows, Google with Android and Apple with iOS. Each of these pairings has strengths and weaknesses. Microsoft is strong in servers, PCs and gaming. Google is good in mobile. Apple’s strength lies in PCs, entertainment and mobile. Obviously there are other players, such as Sony who are strong in gaming, but they can be discounted without OS aspirations.

Microsoft is a large organisation. It can be slow to respond and doesn’t always identify and embrace future technologies as fast as it should. The internet and Internet Explorer is a pretty good example. Other times, it moves into new markets, starting slowly and building up: look at the Xbox – it’s the market-leader. Certainly Microsoft has never been strong in the smartphone market being overshadowed previously by Blackberry and Palm, but it has a track record of trying tablet-type devices. Anyone remember Windows XP Tablet Edition? No, you probably don’t, but it existed.

But let’s think about how Microsoft’s competitors can realistically move in on their turf. For all the rise of BYOD, most large organisations use Windows on the desktop, Exchange for email, Ms Server on the tin. Google is trying hard to offer software as service in the cloud but there’s still lots of nervousness about the cloud and the leaks about US snooping aren’t going to help. Apple isn’t big in business by any stretch of the imagination and this is unlikely change. Both Apple and Google are into entertainment but neither have expressed much interest in hardcore gaming. It’s certainly not impossible for a hot Android or iOS console to come out but for now I think we can discount that.

Accepting then that Microsoft is reasonably unassailable (without being complacent) in gaming or business, let’s look at mobile and tablets in particular. Both Apple’s iPad and Android-based tablets are great devices, but even the most ardent fan will admit that tablets are generally best for consumption rather than production – it’s watching videos, surfing the web, listening to music. For creation, most people return to the keyboard and mouse on a desktop or laptop. Looking at business, while opportunities exist for tablets in business without a doubt, the bread and butter is still going to orient around Word and Excel.

The trend to mobile has been going on for years: from the desktop to the laptop to the tablet. But it’s extension to new devices, not extinction of the old. When laptops came out, did all the desktops go away? No. And it will be no different with tablets. We can see the rebalancing in the slow down of PC sales but this is entirely to be expected.

And this is Microsoft’s killer advantage – a potentially seamless suite of devices and form-factors from servers, through desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Business in particular want to use what they have already invested in – ActiveDirectory, Group Policies, Sharepoint. Microsoft and its partners are responding to this with devices that offer both a touch interface via the Modern UI and a traditional desktop for legacy applications where a keyboard and mouse is needed. The bottom line is that there’s no longer any need to shoehorn in Apple or Android onto the infrastructure at extra cost.

But what about the consumers? They’re not businesses, they’ve no investment, they’re not going to be swayed by ActiveDirectory concerns. They want apps! Absolutely, but let’s be honest about apps – most key apps and popular games are available across all platforms, and the relative low cost of apps means that it is easier to jump ship to a different OS.  Windows 8 isn’t perfect, but I would lay good money that if a 7″ Windows-based tablet was available for Nexus 7 money, they’d sell shed-loads. A similar argument follows for smartphones and Windows Phone has actually been doing quite well recently with solid gains according a recent IDC survey.

Microsoft is ahead of the game in recognising that the future is not a tablet future, but a touch future, and building touch into the core of Windows is a winner. For me, all Microsoft needs to do it get the prices down, tweak the usability of Windows 8 and continue with the “Windows Everywhere” advertising. It’s a Microsoft future.

After 5 months the Windows Store hits 50,000 apps

Posted by Alan at 12:50 PM on March 23, 2013

windows 8 store updates link

Windows 8 launched way back at the end of October last year and it has steadily grown since then, though there is a vocal minority who would like you to believe otherwise — some of whom have a vested interest in making you think that way. While the growth of the operating system itself has been rather quick — four million copies sold in less than a week — the growth of the App Store has been slower, but rather steady.

Now the web site Metro Scanner reports a new milestone has been reached. As of this writing, the store is officially as 50,304 apps. This is likely a big moment for Microsoft, as it is validation of the company’s plan and proof that people, most importantly developers, are finally coming around.

Of course, there is a long way to go. The operating system is still without a number of feature apps. Lacking still are official versions of things like Twitter, Facebook and others.

However, the growth should steadily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As more apps appear the pressure on others to get in there will mount. The steadily growing number of users will also add additional pressure on developers to get them on the ball with this OS and Store.

Windows 8 Mini-Review

Posted by Andrew at 9:22 AM on November 19, 2012

Microsoft Windows 8If you are thinking about upgrading to Windows 8 from Windows 7, my suggestion would be to stop thinking about it and save your money for something else. Cheap as the upgrade is, the user interface is terrible.

It’s like Microsoft have taken the new user interface (previously known as Metro) and smashed into the traditional desktop interface, with the interface layers competing for the user’s attention. Some components have gone completely – the Start button – and other components are hidden in unintuitive places: how do I shutdown the PC? Charms slide in from the right – even the name gives no clear idea as to what charms do. The new front page pops up in the bottom left. The desktop appears sometimes. Apps are windowed or full-screen but you can’t get from one to the other. It’s truly awful.

Before anyone accuses me of being an old dog resistant to new tricks, I have bought every single previous version of Ms DOS and (consumer) Windows as it came out, (with the exception of Windows ME). Not this time, though. I’m sticking with Windows 7.

I like the Windows Phone 7 / 8 user interface and it’s great on a phone or tablet but on a desktop or a laptop with a mouse, it’s a disaster. Here’s my prediction….Windows 8 will be to Windows 7 what Vista was to XP. That’s how bad it is.

Sorry, Microsoft, but you’ve got this really badly wrong.

Say Goodbye to the 90s

Posted by Andrew at 2:15 PM on October 24, 2012

Geeks older than 40 are likely to remember the 90s well. The Internet was a sleepy village, PCs were expensive, hard disks were small and software came on floppy disks. And I have lots of floppy disks, from packaged software and magazine cover disks to drivers and trial software. A rough estimate is that there are around 500 3.5″ floppy disks in both 720 kb and 1.44 Mb varieties stashed away.

Old Floppies

In my mind, I always hoped to get into retro computing, but the reality is that there’s always going to be something new which is more interesting than hacking CONFIG.SYS to squeeze the drivers into as little memory as possible. So it’s with resigned acceptance that I’m finally having a clear out of the disks to reclaim valuable storage space.

Of course, I can’t simply throw the floppies in the bin. I’ll have to copy the files to my NAS “just in case” which has thrown up a couple of interesting things.

First, I’m surprised at how well the disks have survived. Of all the hundreds of disks, only two disks proved unreadable, both of which were magazine coverdisks. Expectations of floppies shedding iron oxide like Italian cars of the same era have proved unfounded and on the whole, they have been quite reliable.

Secondly, and not entirely unexpectedly, there has been the massive increase in file sizes and numbers over the years. Here’s a quick comparison of the Windows install disks.

  • Windows 1 – 178 files 1.9 MB over six 320 kB floppies
  • Windows 3 – 282 files 47 MB over eight 720 kB 3.5″ floppies
  • Windows 95 – 1946 files 574 MB on one CD
  • Windows XP – 6655 files 542 MB on one CD
  • Windows 7 – 2.2 GB download

Finally, it’s the “blast from past”. What companies and software has survived the 20 years since then? Here are a few of the disk sets that I uncovered.

Ah well…all good things have to come to an end. I suppose I’ll have to clear out the data CDs next….

HP Releases Open webOS Version 1.0

Posted by Alan at 11:26 AM on October 1, 2012

When HP purchased Palm for their webOS technology there was a lot of controversy with many people wondering what HP was thinking, while others calling it a great deal.  The former turned out to be right as HP proceeded to release a webOS-based tablet and then pull it off of the market almost immediately, even selling off the remaining devices at fire sale prices.  But now the hardware maker has unveiled a new open source version of the operating system called Open webOS.

Open webOS 1.0 comes with all of the core apps built in, and the Enyo 2.0 framework has hooks that developers can use to deploy the software on a wide variety of platforms. To illustrate this, Steve Winston, HP’s chief webOS architect, shows webOS running on an HP Touchsmart PC in a new video (posted below).

The new release still lacks support for Bluetooth, multimedia playback, and advanced network management.  That leaves it severely crippled at this point, but HP has promised that all of this will come in a future release.  If you care to try it out then I would certainly recommend only running it in an emulator at this point.

Source: Open webOS

The Rise of the Smartphone

Posted by Andrew at 4:59 PM on September 23, 2012

Today I was relaxing in a cafe, taking it easy on Sunday. As I looked around the other tables, everyone else was either looking at a smartphone or else had one resting on the table. They weren’t students or young professionals either; these were mums and dads, grandmas and grandpas.

Brewing coffeeHere’s the tally of what I saw:

Getting away from “my phone is better than your phone”, what might this highly unscientific observation say about the mobile communications market, at least in the UK?

First, it’s diverse. While Nokia and Windows Phone is nowhere to be seen, the three other operating systems seem to be pretty much holding their own.

Second, Apple has iPhones and RIM has Blackberries. Is the Samsung Galaxy now the de facto Android brand? The popularity of HTC seems to have fallen dramatically with the rise of Samsung.

Third, no-one was actually using their phones to make phone calls. In all the time I watched, there wasn’t a single call made or received but there was plenty of reading, swiping, tapping and pecking. It always seems that the PDA was lost in the convergence with the mobile phone, but the reality is that the PDA won the battle and “voice calling” is one feature among many.

Fourth and finally, smartphones are now ubiquitous and cross-generational. There wasn’t single ordinary phone to be seen and the range of the users suggests that age is no longer a discriminating factor.

As I said, entirely unscientific but still an interesting snapshot in the evolution of the smartphone.

Coffee brewing photograph courtesy of BigStockPhoto.

OpenSUSE 12.2 Out Now

Posted by Andrew at 4:30 PM on September 5, 2012

OpenSuSE logoFor Linux fans, there’s a new version of OpenSUSE out today, bringing the version number to 12.2. Albeit a little late, this new version sees some significant upgrades and changes which improve performance and reliability. OpenSUSE is one of the big 5 Linux distributions so it’ll be a solid release.

In additional to the 3.4 kernel, KDE is bumped to 4.8.4 and Gnome to 3.4. SuSE has always been a strong proponent of the KDE desktop (my personal favourite) so I’ll be checking that out later. LibreOffice 3.5 brings word processing and spreadsheets to the party and Gimp 2.8 is on hand for image editing.

“We are proud of this release, maintaining the usual high openSUSE quality standards.” said Andrew Wafaa from the openSUSE Board. “The delay in the schedule caused by our growth in the last two years means we have to work on scaling our processes. Now this release is out and with the upcoming openSUSE conference in October in Prague, the community has time and opportunity to work on that.”

I run OpenSUSE on my main PC so I’ll be upgrading soon – the distro is downloading via BitTorrent as we speak – but live upgrades are also now supported so I might investigate that for the first time.

The full press release is here.

J5Create’s Wormhole Station

Posted by Andrew at 12:25 AM on January 18, 2012

j5create logoJ5Create may be familiar to Apple Macintosh users as they’re designers of aesthetic Mac accessories, but their latest gadget will be of interest to those of us with a foot in the PC camp. Here Todd talks to John about their new Wormhole Station.

The Wormhole Station combined with the Wormhole cable creates a keyboard and mouse switch which not only controls both a PC and a Mac from one mouse and keyboard but also moves files seamlessly from one computer to the other. Even cooler, you can set the configuration up so that moving the mouse cursor off one side of Mac screen transfers the cursor to the PC screen. It’s a bit like having a dual monitor setup, only with two OSes!

If you like the sound of this, it’s available in both laptop and desktop configurations. Available now, the Wormhole Station will set you back $109.99 and the cable is $39.99. The CES folk like it so much, they gave the Wormhole Station an Innovation Honoree Award.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Android Causing WiFi Router Lockups

Posted by tomwiles at 12:38 AM on January 3, 2012

I’ve had an Android phone for about a year and a half (the HTC Evo from Sprint) but primarily because of battery use issues I’ve never used it on my home WiFi network.

In the interim, a few months ago I purchased a Barnes & Noble Nook Color, which runs a custom version of Android. I’ve also experimented with dual-booting the Nook with CyanogenMod 7, an open-source version of Android. When I dual-boot into CyanogenMod 7 and connect to my Apple Airport Extreme router, the router will loose Internet connectivity after only a few minutes, requiring me to cycle the router’s power off and back on to restore connectivity.

Now that I’ve been able to install the authorized version of Netflix onto the Nook after Barnes and Noble’s latest Nook OS update, I tried running Netflix on the Nook on my home network. After watching video for 15 or more minutes, my Apple router loses Internet connectivity.

My youngest brother has a newer HTC Android phone, and after he connected to my local WiFi network almost immediately the Apple router lost connectivity. It happened so frequently at one point that I was beginning to think the router was dying.

However, after futher experimentation I’ve determined that if I don’t connect any Android devices to my WiFi, the router seems to work as flawlessly as ever.

Time to check Mr. Google. Using the Google-suggested search term “android crashes router” (the term pops up immediately after I start typing “android cras   “ so I know plenty of other people are looking for a solution) 4,730,000 results come up. After reading through a number of posts by people experiencing the same issue, I have yet to come up with a definitive answer. What is it about a variety of versions of Android connecting to WiFi that is causing many different brands of routers to lose Internet connectivity? The problem is by no means an Apple Router/Android WiFi incompatibility – it therefore seems more likely an issue with Android itself, or at least certain Android builds.

The suggested fixes range from people suggesting that they try to update their router’s firmware to trying to confine the router to Wireless “G” only.

Ironically my HTC Evo phone can also be used as a WiFi hotspot. I can connect any Android device to the Evo’s WiFi hotspot feature and transfer all the data I want without issue. In other words, Android cannot cause my Android phone’s hotspot feature to lose Internet connectivity.

It would be logical to assume that this problem is an Android software issue. The problem seems inconsistent, most probably because of the patchwork-quilt variety of Android hardware and custom OS builds.

So far, the problem hasn’t even seemed to be officially acknowledged as an issue. I suspect that bad Android battery life has prevented a lot of people from trying to connect their Android phones to their home networks via WiFi, so mass numbers of people likely haven’t experienced the potential WiFi router crashing problem.

Of the people that do connect their phones to home WiFi routers, some people never have a problem, while others are constantly plagued by it.

Android crashing WiFi routers is enough to cause me to veer away from future Android devices, unless and until the problem is solved. Phase one of the chaos of the Windows desktop has spread to smartphones.

Welcome to the new Windows fractal – it’s name is Android.