One Teacher, One Classroom, One Amazing Computer Lab

One Teacher, One Classroom, One Amazing Computer LabIn today’s struggling economy, we find many US school districts strapped for funding which, in turn, places our children’s education at risk.

To address this issue and to ensure that students are able to garner at least basic computer concepts, one innovative teacher took matters into his own hands. With a computer budget of $0, an Alameda County school district teacher built his own computer lab. No, he wasn’t an heir to a fortune or in any way independently wealthy, but he was resourceful and found a way to collect and breathe new life into old, discarded computers. His tenaciousness, organization, and foresight is certainly a novel approach that may be worth emulating.

What Happens to Old Computers That People Don’t Want?

Think about it. Many colleges teach outdated computer skills and use older equipment. In these cases, the students will receive a degree, but are then expected to bring themselves up to date. In the case of younger children, older computers will allow them to learn keyboarding and other basic computer skills. Fortunately, these older computers are available in excess and consumers in California who choose to upgrade to a laptop and discard their old desktop computer face one of two choices. The first, and least desirable choice, is to discard their old desktop computer (and monitor) in a landfill or, better yet, dump it on the side of a back country road or down a ravine. Surprising? Not really. Considering the fees charged by landfills in the northern California foothills, one cannot be surprised when I tell you that discarding old appliances, tires, computers, and other garbage on the roadside is more common than one would think. For many who have no disposable income, dumping has become a way of life. It seems that they were the children whose mothers came in and cleaned up after them and they are now content to allow country road crews to clean up the messes they make.

The second choice that California consumers have, and one with a more desirable outcome, is to recycle their older computers. With this in mind, a 2005 California mandate created a recycling program that was meant to encourage this avenue of disposal and to circumvent illegal dumping in California. The plan was targeted towards the recycling of computers, monitors, and laptops, but also included all other electronic devices. To cover the cost of the program, the recycling fee was paid when a consumer bought the product.

What Did This Teacher Do to Breathe New Life into Systems That Were Allegedly DOA?

The teacher, identified as Robert Litt, discovered some interesting facts when he started scrounging around for computers. Here is what he learned:

  • Most Windows-based computers ran slowly because they had been infected with viruses or malware.
  • Most of these computers had hardware that was basically sound.
  • Once Windows was removed and the hard disk was cleaned, installing a version of Linux breathed new life into the systems.

Through his research, Litt discovered that even systems made back in 2002 with 512 MB of RAM could handle Linux. However, Litt wanted to make the best out of what he was able to gather together for his students, so he sought help from a local Linux user group. Fortunately, this group of individuals, whose main objective is to instruct consumers on how to use open source software, was more than happy to lend assistance to the project.

As Litt proceeded with his project, he also learned that finding old computers was much easier than he had envisioned. In fact, he found that both businesses and homeowners had old systems sitting around collecting dust and that the owners were happy to part with these relics. Of course it didn’t hurt that, since these were educational donations, they were given tax deductions for their generosity — and it saved them the hassle of having to dispose of the systems themselves. In addition, to top off the reasons they would never voice, they were able to feel good about having their old system used for an excellent cause.

After reading about what this man has accomplished, it made me ask myself why other school districts aren’t doing this? What about third world countries? Since Linux open source software is free to all, don’t you think that this would be a great way to recycle used equipment and squeeze a few more years of life out of our aging electronics?

Innovative? Definitely. Resourceful? Without a doubt. Driven by someone with foresight? Most decidedly. What this one teacher has effectively demonstrated is that old computers can be brought back from the dead and become useful tools. In other words: Why go the way of the disposable society when you can effectively use something for the betterment of our children and save a few tax dollars in the process?

What do you think? Comments welcome.

Source: ifixit.org

Own a Kindle or Nook? Get Free E-books from Your Library

Own a Kindle or Nook? Get Free E-books from Your LibraryIf you own a Nook or a Kindle device, it is expected that you can access every genre of written material from biographies to science fiction from your respective libraries. These libraries are at your fingertips when you visit the Barnes & Noble or Amazon websites — both of which carry an assortment of e-books. Unfortunately, however, the fact remains that these sites generally require that you pay a fee in order to download the book onto your device. Yes, there are exceptions (such as paying for an annual Amazon Prime account) that will allow you to access a designated lending library, but in general, you can expect to pay a fee for essentially buying the e-book.

What surprises me is that the majority of Nook, Kindle, or other e-reader owners have no clue that their local library loans e-books for free. In fact, a recent Pew report states that:

  • Only 12% of owners of e-readers borrow e-books from their local library.
  • Readers who borrow e-books from the library read approximately 29 books a year, whereas those who don’t borrow e-books from the library read 23 books a year.
  • In an interview, an astonishing 62% of users and non-users of e-readers did not know if their local library even loaned out e-books.
  • 32% of e-book borrowers rated the selection of books available at their local library as ‘good.’

Like with everything in life, however, borrowing popular e-books from your local library may not be as easy as strolling through your local rose garden. The stumbling blocks or hiccups that the local libraries are experiencing, according to the borrowing public, are as follows:

  • 56% of those surveyed stated that their local library didn’t have the title they wanted.
  • 52% stated that their local library sometimes had a waiting list to borrow an e-book.
  • 18% said that not all of the offered e-books are compatible with their device.

The Pew survey also revealed that people who already have library cards are more likely to use the e-book services than those who don’t have a current library card. However, it also revealed that, since the development of the e-reader, these same library card holders are visiting their local libraries less as their dependence on online e-books has increased. It appears that their choices include offerings from not only the e-book categories, but audio recordings, as well.

What Are the Benefits of Downloading an E-book from a Public Library?

  • The primary benefit for most of us is the cost. Using the public library is free and so are the books.
  • Like with a hard copy, you can still check out a book for somewhere between seven and 21 days, depending on the library that you use.
  • Checking out and returning a book no longer requires a special trip to the physical library location, thus providing savings in the way of time and gas.

My Library Has a Small Selection of E-books. What Can I Do?

  • The easiest solution is to visit a larger library in your vicinity and request to join its system. Most libraries — for a fee, of course — will allow out-of-towners to join their system. I know that a larger library near us charges users from a nearby, smaller town a $50 annual fee to borrow its books. .
  • If you don’t currently have a library card, you can often register online for one.
  • Before paying a fee and signing up for a library card, however, check out that particular library’s inventory of e-books (all library offerings will vary).

In my search to take advantage of free e-books, I went out looking for the perfect public venue. I began my quest with our local county library where I was disappointed to find the inventory of available e-books sadly deficient. However, never one to give up, I continued on my journey by checking out the libraries in our nearby counties. One of these libraries was located in a major metropolis and, sure enough, its inventory of available e-books was quite large. The catch was that, if you didn’t reside in its covered area, you had to pay a $50-per-year membership fee. While for some this may seem out of reach and just another luxury, for my wife and I, who read three to four books a month, it made sense. Remember that most paperback books can cost $10.00 and up, so we had our money back in a mere two months. Now remember, your family mileage may vary and your reading habits may not justify any fee. If this is the case, you should still be able to find something to your liking from your local library where no fee is attached. If you are stymied as to where to begin your search, Overdrive.com was designed to help you.

What is Overdrive.com?

Overdrive.com is a simple way to determine which libraries, colleges, schools, or other organizations in your area support free e-book downloads. This site also provides a means for you to locate downloads that are available for your favorite computer or device, (including PC, Mac, Kindle, Nook, iPhone, iPad, iPod, and many other popular e-readers and devices). Overdrive.com is the perfect place, no matter where you live, to begin your own venture in finding free e-books.

Comments welcome.

Source: Overdrive.com

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Librarian By Day

Best Free Android Apps for Reading American Newspapers

Best Free Android Apps for Reading American NewspapersFree. Because of its nice ring, the word has always been one of my favorites as well as a favorite for most people. So, while many programs offer premium or professional versions of their software, I have personally found that the free versions were adequate to meet my needs. For this reason, most of the software and now the applications that I use have been — or are currently — free.

That being said, I have currently been on a search to find software applications for my Android operated cellphone and my Amazon Kindle Fire. The particular programs I sought were ones that would:

  • allow the searching of multiple news services.
  • allow the organization of newspapers by title, popularity, or other reader choices.
  • allow the organization of one’s favorites.
  • be easy to use.

Best Free Android Apps for Reading American NewspapersOne such application that I found was US Newspapers by Baris Efe.

The US Newspapers application helps you keep your fingers on the pulse of current events in America. Built into this unique application is an easy to use interface that provides the required attributes listed above as well as additional ones. I further found that this application is not limited to metro newspapers but covers an incredible 45 US newspapers that are scattered throughout the entire country. I found this in itself amazing, but was even more impressed when I discovered that this application extends its coverage to include access to some of the major network news programs such as CNN, MSNBC, FOX, and others.

So, while I found the coverage exceptional, I was also pleased to find that, within its interface, I was provided with the ability to change the font size (making viewing easier), gain access to the default browser, and access a sort feature to list items either alphabetically or view frequently read areas first. Additionally, I was impressed that it could do all of this without drastically reducing available resources.

Best Free Android Apps for Reading American NewspapersAnother source that I located was called Newspaper USA by Markus Reitberger.

Newspaper USA offers a different set of features from many of the newspaper apps that I have tried. This app has its own favorites, newspapers, IT news, business news, sports, and international sections as well as an “others” option. These sections contain some of the most popular news and information sources available on the Internet. The others section contains links to social networking sites (such as Facebook) and to buying sites (such as Amazon and eBay). However, what I specifically appreciate about this app is the ability it gives you to add links of your choosing to any of the sections. Within this feature I also found that it allows you to remove a link by merely holding down the link’s name and selecting Delete. This design was also built into the favorites section, allowing you the same ease to add and thus access built-in links with the simple click of your mouse.

Best Free Android Apps for Reading American NewspapersIf those aren’t enough, I also found a another great application called Pulse News by Alphonso Labs.

Pulse News can only be described as ‘beautiful.’ This application provides the user with an easy to configure menu of tiles, and has been designed with the intent of making the user feel comfortable.

In the picture here, you can see that I have set the Pulse application on my Android phone with a full three pages of some of the best technology sites on the Internet. Each page holds 12 different websites — each displaying the top stories for the website of the user’s choosing.

While I obviously haven’t tested Pulse News with every available browser, I have been using it without issue on my Android smartphone (which uses the Opera Web browser). Within this browser, I have found the application to work flawlessly by instantly changing from the application to the Opera browser and back again.

Another plus that I found is that syncing with Pulse News is a snap. You just complete a simple setup with your email address, enter a username and password, and your account will be activated, enabling you to sync all of your devices to your account.

Best Free Android Apps for Reading American NewspapersThe last application I found that I think is worth mentioning is called News Republic by MobilesRepublic.

This is one app that invites you to configure it to your heart’s content. Included in the app is the ability to:

  • make your own channels and follow only those topics that are of interest to you.
  • set alerts for when topics of interest to you are posted.
  • use a search feature, called TagNav explorer, to search all the available news to find what you are looking for.
  • share your favorite articles with friends using email, Twitter, or Facebook.

If you are looking for an application that is easy to use, has a great GUI, and has some great innovative features, give News Republic a try and see what you think. I tried News Republic and found it to be extremely useful and helpful.

However, if you haven’t guessed it by now, my favorite of these four fine applications is Pulse News. The interface is up to date and modern, reminding me of Metro that has been incorporated into Microsoft’s Windows 8. As in Metro, I found that the ease of adding and removing news sources added value, thus making it a must-have application.

That is only my opinion, however, and I would recommend that you try each of these news applications before determining which of them meets your needs. Personally I believe that any one of these applications have been well-designed and would be a valuable asset to your Android operating system.

Comments welcome.

CC licensed Flickr photo at the top of the page shared by quinn.anya

Best Android and iPhone Security Software

Best Android and iPhone Security SoftwareAdmittedly, I realize that the risk of either the Google Android system or any of the various Apple products becoming infected is slim; it is usually just when we feel all nice and snug in our security virus blanket, with no viruses in sight, that the Devil pops up in a new disguise. With this in mind, I believe it is wise to employ security protection software, just in case, to protect your information and applications from that one bored hacker who figures out a way to ruin your day by slipping a critter onto your system. Unfortunately, while we don’t know when or how, we all know that it will eventually happen.

To combat this threat, I have been looking for a security program that would:

  • be light on resources
  • be easy to install
  • be designed with a simple to use interface
  • incorporate a virus protection software, plus backups and a phone locator
  • have built into it the ability to locate a missing or stolen phone
  • offer all of the above and more for no cost to the consumer

For Google’s Android system, I found a program called Lookout Mobile Security. I found the installation of this application to be simple and uneventful, taking only a few minutes to download and install onto my system. Due to its ease of installation on my Android, I assume that iPhone users would find their installation process just as simple.

Of course, as always, once the installation process is complete you will be asked to register the product, after which time your system is ready to go. Note: In the free version you are only provided with options that will provide you with virus protection, the ability to back up your device’s data, and a missing device locator. If you wish to take advantage of the privacy adviser and the safe browsing feature, you must sign up and purchase the premium version at a cost of $29.99 a year or $2.99 a month. However, another advantage to the premium plan is that, if you find yourself in the position of having your phone stolen, the software has a feature that allows the owner/user to either lock or erase the phone’s stored data. This is a great feature for those who wish to keep their data safe — be it their contact lists or business meeting calendar — from prying eyes.

While the above may seem obvious, your system may also provide a thief with additional information that would allow for identity theft such as to whom and from whom you receive emails, and your credit card information (including: log-in user names and passwords).

Another section of this program that I find invaluable is a feature that offers the user the ability to receive weekly reports (via email [optional]) that show how well their phone is being protected. Below, I made a copy of my last report, which shows that the security is in place, that a scan was completed one day ago, that a backup was completed five days ago, and that my phone is ready to be located from the Lookout website.

Security
PROTECTED

Your last security scan was 1 day ago.

Security Activity

Backup
UP TO DATE

Your last backup was 5 days ago.

Backup Restore

Missing Device

Find My Phone

So how do we know if this product really works or just how well any mobile security product is protecting your phone? Well, until recently there were no such tests or surveys informing us which mobile security was best or how or how consumers rated those products that were out there. However, there is now a German company that has tested and rated over 40 Android-based mobile security applications. Its results are posted below in .pdf format. A review of its findings
(link below) include a look at the Lookout Mobile Security application and, as you will see, it was one of the six programs that passed, receiving an A for reliability and practicality.

Also listed and given an ‘A’ rating were:

  • Avast! Free mobile security
  • Dr. Web Anti-Virus Light (this is the anti-virus program I use on my Amazon Kindle Fire since Lookout is not available)
  • F-Secure Mobile Security
  • IKARUS Mobile Security Lite
  • Kaspersky Mobile Security
  • Lookout Mobile Security

I would recommend that you try any of these six mobile security programs and determine which works for you. As I stated, the question is not if you will become infected, but when you will become infected. To avoid such a possibility, I believe it is worth the time and effort to obtain one of these free Android protection programs and install it on your device.

Comments welcome.

A/V Test results in .pdf format

Images courtesy of Lookout press kit

YouVersion: One Bible App Covers All Versions

YouVersion: One Bible App Covers All VersionsLast Monday evening, I overheard a conversation between two of the men in my weekly group. They were discussing the merits of the different Bible translations and which one they would choose to use to get the most knowledgeable information about certain subjects. During the course of their conversation, one of the individuals mentioned an application that he used on his Android called YouVersion. Since I had never heard of this Bible app, my curiosity was piqued and I decided to investigate it further. However, I had misheard the name of the application, thinking that he had called it Uvers — not YouVersion — so when I entered the keyword into Google, there were no hits. Anyone who knows me is aware that, if anything, this minor inconvenience just made me more determined to find out what this application offered!

So, it didn’t take long for me to discover the unique and special ways that YouVersion works and which devices are designed to support it.

It appears that the developers of the YouVersion Bible were serious in its development, making sure that the application would be supported by a variety of devices and operating systems, including:

  • Apple iPhone
  • Apple iPad
  • BlackBerry
  • Android
  • Windows Phone
  • Palm WebOS
  • Java
  • Symbian
  • Mobile Web

So what makes the YouVersion application different from other Bible applications?

YouVersion: One Bible App Covers All Versions

  • First, YouVersion is free — no matter the device on which you choose to install the application.
  • Second, YouVersion isn’t just another translation of the Bible, but rather offers the reader the opportunity to view any of over 20 different English Bible translations, including everything from the King James version to the Message (a contemporary translation), all within the same application.
  • If English is not your language, the application is even designed to provide translations of these same versions in 22 different languages.
  • For those of us with poor eyesight, the individuals behind this mighty Bible resource tool included the ability to change font size and background color. including a ‘night’ version to make reading in low light easier.

YouVersion: One Bible App Covers All Versions

  • Surprisingly, it even includes an audio capability designed to allow the user to listen to the Bible while they drive or perform other duties.
  • I haven’t found a translation that is easier to use. This free application makes it possible for the novice to quickly change from version to version on the fly, providing different translations in an easy-to-use format.

However, the feature that really blew me away and made YouVersion so attractive to me was the simplicity with which the user can select a book of the Bible, then a chapter, and finally the verse — making it a snap to navigate all the books of the Bible.

YouVersion: One Bible App Covers All Versions

Other features I find useful and enjoyable include:

  • The ability to send Bible quotations of your choosing to Facebook, Twitter, email, text, or other sources.
  • The option to listen to verses that are read to you.
  • The resource inclusions that allow the reader to select reading plans that will best fit into their schedule or the ability to customize a plan unique for them.
  • The inclusion of a Bible concordance and cross check reference guide that provides results, in just seconds, when searching for a topic, a word, phrase, or verse for your next paper or sermon.
  • A note feature that provides a journal for your private thoughts or thoughts you wish to share with others.
  • From this far-reaching application, I was further pleased to note that you can download some of the included versions directly onto your device so that you can read the Bible when an Internet connection is not available — such as when on an airplane or outside of your network coverage.
  • Last, I was impressed that the designers also included the ability to bookmark your favorite Bible verses for later retrieval.

YouVersion: One Bible App Covers All Versions

In my opinion, what makes this application one of the best Bible applications is due to its sheer simplicity and availability. In fact, some are calling this application the Jesus Phone, insinuating that all you have to do to connect to Christ while you drive or move through your day is to simply turn on your phone or other mobile device.

So, for those of you who spend your excess time surfing the Internet, why not try surfing the YouVersion application for the Bible? You could easily find it both refreshing and a way to connect with that part of yourself that you have been looking for. Remember, there is never a price too high for peace of mind, but using this application may not only bring you that peace, but won’t cost you anything.

Get your free YouVersion Bible app from here.

Comments welcome.

Free Home Design Software

If you haven’t heard, we are excited over a new group that Chris has formed, called Gnomies. Gnomies is a group of informed, electronics-minded folks who desired a venue in which to share valuable information. One of the members of the group posed an inquiry as to what software others in the group might recommend for him to use in reference to building a home. As could be expected, the group generously responded with ideas for different software programs and where to find such software.

Of course, with my being frugal-minded by nature, my curiosity was piqued by the software that was being offered for free. In my mind, anything free is good, but when it is free, one has to wonder just how well such a freebie works. Is it meant for simple designs, or is it expandable for more elaborate home building projects? But being free was not my only consideration in pursuing such software; it just so happens that, once upon a time, I sold new home construction. During that pre-computer period of my life, my job, besides sales, was to modify — by hand — any necessary changes to existing client blueprints.

Before exploring these different software products, I made a mental list of what they would need in order to make them the most user friendly.

  • Ease of use: In my opinion, software is a useless commodity if the ‘average’ person cannot understand how it works or how to make simple design changes.
  • Help menus and FAQs: How well do the help menus function, and how good is the FAQ site?
  • Technical support: Make sure it’s available for the free version.
  • Type of technical support: Email, phone, or other, including forums or support groups.

Here are the software products I examined (they are not listed in any particular order):

Sweet Home 3D

Sweet Home 3D is free, open source software that offers the user a choice between a Web browser implementation of the software, or the ability to download the software (recommended) to your computer system. One of the best things about Sweet Home 3D is that the program supports Windows, OS X, and Linux (32-bit and 64-bit). Upon analysis, I found the software easy to use and it was able to complete minor designs right away. In addition, I was impressed with the software’s website, which offered a highly evolved FAQ section where I learned that, under Windows, the software provided support for OSes from Windows 98 through Windows 7. In fact, it actually provides a video tutorial within the forum and a blog to keep the user up to date with timely tips.

Floor Planner

Free Home Design SoftwareFloor Planner, another free building and design software program, does not require the user to download anything to their computer. Instead, the programmers have designed the program so that all of your work is done online. I prefer this method since it does not require that any additional software be added to my computer system. The main feature I like about Floor Planner is its ease of use, however, the drawback is that the basic three-story plan is limited to one design per user. You may ask how the software would ever know if you went in and requested another plan, but that’s simple: You must register in order to use Floor Planner.

One of the fun features included in Floor Planner was its demo that allowed me to play with the software before I started trying to figure out how things worked, or didn’t work. The demo included a three-story home with furniture that allowed me to move walls and furnishings at will. After using the demo for about 20 minutes, I was able to maneuver the software effectively and also to save the project for later use. Floor Planner was just fun to use and I highly recommend it.

The free version, as well as the paid version, have their own forum, tips and tricks section, a tour, and and easy-to-follow tutorial.

Autodesk Homestyler

Autodesk Homestyler is a free home planner that is limited to online use, but it offers a unique template feature that will be enticing for those among us who like a helping hand in getting started with a building plan. The software includes a variety of templates (though limited) that are designed to fit the needs of the majority of folks out there who are looking to build or re-design a new or existing home.

One of the pluses of this software is its simplicity; its templates make it a breeze to create a one-level home consisting of a living area, a kitchen, a guest bath, and an office. For the outside area, I was also allowed to throw in a pool, an outside deck, and a garden area. Another advantage of this software is its intuitive nature that makes it perfect for the novice user. Throw in its support forums, as well as its extensive six-category help system — which includes a video playlist directory — and you have a winner. The video playlist directory offers the following features:

  • An on-demand video playlist for tutorials.
  • The introduction provides a quick tour of the user interface, account creation, login, and an opportunity for feedback.
  • The Start Designing feature includes drag and drop, an add design feature, the ability to add other levels, and landscaping.
  • The Refine your Design feature, with video, demonstrates what’s involved when adding a closet or an extra interior room while giving instruction into modifications, including object placement.
  • From the Share Your Design feature, you are able to post directly to Facebook, embed it on your own webpage, and export it as a JPEG, DWG, or RVT file.
  • The software’s Snapshots and 360 Panorama allows for basic, high-resolution, and 360 panorama snapshots of your design to provide a complete perspective.

So there you have it. Three good software programs, all for free, that you can use to design your new dream residence from the ground floor up. The placement of furniture allows you to see how your rooms will look before construction begins and it allows you to make minor adjustments in order to accommodate specific pieces of furniture or appliances that you may already own. In addition, some of these programs even allow you to garner the input of fellow enthusiasts before construction begins by allowing them to share their designs via social networking sites.

Comments welcome.

To Keep Your Software Updated, Check out CNET

To Keep Your Software Updated, Check out CNETCNET is currently offering a free program, called TechTracker, that will update any computer software to its most recent version. To take advantage of this offer you need to sign up to become a member of CNET. Once your registration is completed, you will be able to download this free program and start using it immediately. I gave this software a try on my personal laptop system that is running Windows 7 Ultimate with SP1 and here is what I found:

The download process from CNET for its TechTracker software was quick and the installation process was straightforward and uneventful. Once installed, I ran a scan of my computer system and was pleasantly surprised at how quickly it finished. When the scan was completed, I discovered that TechTracker had found 30 software programs, on my system; out of those 30, 11 needed updating.

One program that TechTracker found to need updating was avast!, which surprised me since I was under the impression that this would have been done for me during the automatic definition update cycle. Since this was apparently not the case, I did allow TechTracker to upgrade this program as well as the other 10 software programs that it indicated needed updating. The entire process took about one hour, since some of the upgrades required that Windows be restarted.

However, there is one tip that I learned when I accessed the CNET Web site that may help you. When using the TechTracker software, there is a ‘View My Software’ button that, when you click it, will take you to the CNET Web site. Once you are on the CNET site, you need to sign in with your email address and password in order to view which software needs updating on your system. For the free edition you need to manually update the software one at a time. However, if this is too time-consuming for you, CNET also offers a plus version for $19.99. With the purchase of the plus edition, you will have expanded features made available to you such as a feature to assist you in installing and uninstalling software as well as a feature that assists you in updating and downloading upgrades.

Overall, I believe that TechTracker is great software that will be a valuable asset to you in keeping your system updated with the latest software versions. To get your free version of TechTracker, go to: cnet.com/techtracker-free/.

Comments, as always, are welcome.

Microsoft Office Labs Offering Free Tools to Increase Your Productivity

Microsoft Office Labs Offering Free Tools to Increase Your ProductivityHave you ever sent an email and forgotten to include the attachment? Almost every one of us has at one time or another. Over at Microsoft Office Labs there’s a tool under development that could assist in making sure the attachment goes with the email. The tool is called Forgotten Attachment Detector (FAD) and will alert you with a message stating ‘You may have intended to attach something’ and confirms if you wish to continue sending the email or not. System requirements are Windows XP or above, Outlook 2007, Net 3.5 SP1, and VSTO 3.0.

Another free tool from Microsoft Labs is called Sticky Sorter. This add-on allows for the brainstorming of ideas onto virtual sticky notes, and can be used in collaboration with others of your choosing. The sticky notes can be color coordinated, arranged by the user, and even categorized. The program is simple to use and only requires Microsoft Windows XP or above, plus Network 2.0 to function.

Do you need a faster way to launch stuff you require immediately? Give Speed Launch a try. The free program adds a bull’s eye to your desktop in which you can drag any document, file, or any Web site URL onto the target. Once in the bull’s eye, anything can be opened by just clicking on it. The program requires Windows XP or above and .NET Framework 3.0.

In addition to the above programs, Microsoft Labs is offering what it calls Concept Tests. These experimental programs are designed to let the user take a free test ride and experience (and offer feedback about) future concepts that may or may not make it into a Microsoft product. Some of the products are designed just to entertain a user, while some of the other concept programs are designed to actually increase productivity.

I would recommend that you these free tools and see what you think.

Microsoft Office Labs can be found here.

Comments welcome.

Are You One of the 5% with an Infected Windows PC?

According to the tech folks at Microsoft, one in every twenty Windows based computers is infected. These infections are capable of disabling anti-virus programs and also turning off Windows update features. This in turn prevents the user from removing the virus and the nasty bugs continue to infect other users.

On its Web site, Microsoft recommends a scanner called Safety Scanner, which can remove malware and scrub your system clean. The tool was recently relaunched and is now available for all Windows users for free. What the tool will do is locate JavaScript viruses, which Microsoft has determined are the most prevalent malware, as well as other critters on your computer.

But are these statistics reliable or are they just a scare tactic by Microsoft? It all depends on which side of the fence you sit on. The pro-Microsoft folks will have an opinion that Microsoft is trying to get people to clean up their computers. The anti-Microsoft crowd will have the opinion that Microsoft statistics are flawed, since the 95% of those that had a clean PC may have thought they were infected.

Here is my personal opinion. Those folks who have an infected computer have no clue they even are infected. These same folks are the ones that use their computer as a toy and are clueless about infections or even where to go to get their systems cleaned. These same clueless folks will continue to use their systems until it completely stops on them or when they no longer can connect to Facebook.

In my opinion the Safety Scanner will not be used by those most likely have a non-infected computer. I also believe that 5% is a rather low number of infected Windows computers. I think the number is higher.

By scrubbing your system clean, you will have a more enjoyable computer experience.

Do You Need to Use an Online Backup Service?

As anyone who has had the misfortune of losing precious data from their computer system knows, you can never have too many backups. Data loss is preventable if you know how to create backups of your data and keep the data in a safe place. Just how important are backups?

I recall many years ago watching a home on fire as a news helicopter filmed a man running back into the burning home. He came running out from the burning residence and was asked what he was holding in his hands. The man stated he owned a number of dry cleaner businesses in the area, and he was holding his business records he needed for tax purposes.

Over the years I have seen the reactions of people who have lost data on their computers who didn’t bother backing up their stuff. I specifically recall one women’s reaction when I informed her that her email contacts had been lost. She was in tears when I asked her how many contacts she had. I was taken aback when she told me about 10 people were in her contact list. I mentioned that she could call each person and have them send her a message so she could rebuild her address book.

Today, with the advent of cloud storage, we have additional options to help us backup our data. In addition, many of the online backup sources offer free services. I have been using Mozy Online Backup services for the past few years. Mozy offers free service with a 2 GB limit. I store the pictures I have taken of our home and property for insurance purposes online so they can be recovered after a fire or other disaster. Though I also have a copy of these photos on CD, as well as stored in my safe deposit box, having these stored online is just added protection.

This is where I believe that online services are useful. You can store your data online for free and retrieve your files from any computer. Besides having a backup of your precious data, you also have the ability to update and replace the stored information on a regular schedule or a schedule that you chose.

Though I believe that online backups are not a replacement for backing up your data to some type of media, I do believe that it a great way to supplement your backup strategy. Mozy is my supplement, Chris recently wrote about IDrive, which offers a 5 GB free account.

Comments welcome.