TLDR: Is 2017 the Worst Year for New Devices?

TLDR is live on every weekday, this is a special presentation to let you know TLDR is back!
All of Today’s Devices Are Imperfect – is 2017 the worst year for new devices?

Should Chris try the Samsung Note 8?

What’s the deal with the Razer Phone?

AMA also meant Star Wars questions mixed with lots of tech! Thanks for the Superchats!

You Can’t Take My Desktop Away, Windows 8

You Can't Take My Desktop Away, Windows 8
This image is my desktop and the wallpaper is free to use by AliceXZ on deviantART. Check out her amazing BBC Sherlock artwork and contribute!

However you’ve come upon Windows 8 — if you have at all — it’s likely been preceded by at least some history with older versions of the popular Microsoft operating system. My first taste of Windows on a computer of my own was Windows 3.2. It was nothing really to write home about, mind you, but it was like going to a warm, familiar library where I knew the location of every book, every card stack, and every magazine — and even though the magazines were regularly stolen by unscrupulous patrons, it was just an accepted part of library life.

Yes, Windows 3.2 was familiar and warm, and when Windows 95 was released, I warmed to that version and the versions that were released after that. They were great, weren’t they? Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows XP were with me all along the way on my personal journey of computing enlightenment. They provided me with an open and inviting spot from which to learn and grow as well as relax and play.

That inviting spot? The desktop.

Yes, I know. The desktop is just a small part of what comprises Windows and I know that a thousand people will bring their snobbish, tech-savvy pitchforks to my door and proclaim their love for any other thing about Windows, and that’s a-okay. But my favorite thing about Windows has always been that clean (well, mine is clean) place where I can save things to its surface, display images of my choosing, and keep it all sorted and easily accessed according to my personal habits of organization and whimsy.

Desktop Represents Ease of Use

Keep in mind that what is primarily important — to any operating system — is ease of use, you know? Windows gave me the opportunity to use my desktop as a hub while I delicately wove in and out of its brains, and that was what I grew up with. So imagine my surprise when Windows 8 came along and Microsoft had decided that the desktop just wasn’t a “thing” anymore. Instead of it being center stage, you could “choose” to use it if you so wanted, but it was no longer a default feature. In fact, to access it, I had to actually select it and make sure things installed to it instead of a Windows 8 app. Yes, I had to work around those godforsaken apps because I’m a purist. I didn’t want to click on a button and then see my desktop; I just wanted it to be there, like a familiar friend, holding the Steam game icons that I played the most and letting me know that Spotify was merely a click away.

Oh, did I have some files I wanted to peek in on? They were right there, splayed out for the world to see. Image files, notepad files, and even lecture videos that my professor gave to us to study for the week. There you go, Candice!

No Desktop for You!

However, Windows 8 figured that I didn’t give a damn about all that. In the trendy metroblogofashionsphere of the Internet (I made that up. Don’t steal it), I wasn’t hip anymore. People used apps, man! Why would you need a desktop and i… kaunz? Icons? What did they call those? Why would I need those when I’ve got all those apps?

Because some of us didn’t sign up for this Metro style change of apps over icons being brought to my computer. My computer is my computer because it isn’t my phone. Whoah, did that make sense? Hold on, keep it together. I simply mean that my charming Windows Phone 7 is a beautiful piece of machinery because it knows that I have a computer on which to compute. When you turn my PC into a larger, far more expensive Windows Phone, I suddenly start wondering if I need myself another computer.

Okay, You Can Have a Desktop. But Jump Through These Hoops First!

Thankfully, Windows 8 doesn’t want you to abandon all hope and it does allow you to install Windows 7 programs to your desktop. You can re-route yourself away from the apps by simply, well, ignoring them. When I boot up my computer and it puts me on the App screen, I simply act like a snotty, stereotypical white golfer near an ethnic caddy in the 1920s. I put my hand up against my cheek and keep walking until I hit the green, you know? (The green in this analogy is my desktop. Keep up, kids.) It’s not that I think the App screen isn’t valued in the community, but I really just want to get to the green. You understand, right?

I’d like to point out that I would never condone racism. Not even a little. My president is black.

Don’t I Know What’s Best for Me?

Back to the subject of Windows 8 and my desktop: I’m unsure why Microsoft thought “trendy” and “hip” meant that we may not need something as integral as a desktop. Are there truly people out there who don’t think it’s necessary anymore? With all those apps, I’m sure that people can learn to avoid using a desktop, but what about those who were taught all these years that the desktop wasn’t a dirty and cumbersome thing? We were taught by Microsoft to appreciate the desktop in the first place and now we’re told to compute without restrictions, supposedly. “Here, you don’t need this as much anymore,” and Microsoft has suddenly turned my safe zone into a Starbucks.

How about you guys? Do you use the desktop more and find Windows 8 and its focus on apps to be slightly troubling to get used to? Perhaps you think re-routing is too simple to merit any complaint, or maybe you just use a Mac and think this whole thing makes no sense! Sound off below and tell us how you got through the new changes and overly complicated path to the desktop.

How to Create a Windows 7 Firewall Shortcut

How to Create a Windows 7 Firewall Shortcut
Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! (But just for a sec while I check something out.)

Ever wondered how to create a Windows 7 firewall shortcut? If not, you’re probably wondering why anyone would do such a thing. Maybe you’re just smiling and nodding, not even sure what in the heck a firewall is in the first place. Well, without going into too much detail that might bore you before we even get started, a firewall can be hardware or software that monitors your computer’s incoming and outgoing traffic to prevent nasty things from happening to it. Windows includes a software-based firewall as part of its operating system. Normally, this is a good thing.

But if you encounter network problems, one of the first things you should do is disable the Windows firewall to see if it’s the cause of the problem — it’s pretty common. However, disabling the Windows firewall entails so many steps, and you’ll want to enable it again once you’ve identified and resolved the problem.

To make it easier to enable and disable the Windows firewall, you can create a Windows firewall shortcut, as described here:

  • Right click on the desktop, point to New, and click Shortcut.
  • In the shortcut location box, type the following: netsh firewall set opmode disable.
  • Click Next.
  • Type in a name for the shortcut (one that makes it easy to identify what the shortcut is for, like Windows Firewall Shortcut: Disable, for instance).
  • Click Finish.
  • Right click the new shortcut on your desktop and click Properties.
  • Select the Shortcut tab and click the Advanced button.
  • Select the Run as administrator option and click OK.

Now, by double clicking the new shortcut, you can disable the Windows firewall. You should also create a similar shortcut to enable the Windows Firewall. Simply repeat the steps outlined above, only adding the following command in step 2: netsh firewall set opmode enable and naming the shortcut something like Windows Firewall Shortcut: Enable.

Of course, you could name it something like Moose Dandruff Odor Shampoo Paternity Test, but that would be totally silly.

Image: from Child-Land, by Oscar Pletsch and M. Rictor via Project Gutenberg

Add a Videos Link to Your Start Menu in Windows 7

Add a Videos Link to Your Start Menu in Windows 7
You don’t have to use The Force to add a Videos link to your Start menu in Windows 7. Just follow these simple steps.

No Videos link in the Windows 7 Start menu? As some green dame once exclaimed in surprise when things weren’t quite going her way, “What a world! What a world!”

Even many of the bookworms among us would confess that videos — especially in the age of the Internet, serve a pretty broad number of purposes. Videos can be used to instruct others, clarify points, document daily life, entertain, convey information with nuances lost in the written word, solve crimes, plan art museum heists, keep a clandestine eye on your belongings when you’re away, and the list goes on.

Online streaming services like YouTube and Ustream have taken off like gangbusters over the past few years, and their popularity shows no sign of stopping. Since we don’t (yet) have holodecks or truly 3D, interactive television, videos are the next best thing to being there. The quality of video has improved vastly since Thomas Edison’s day, but its ability to delight the child in all of us has never diminished.

And as most of us are consumers of video, there are those who must create that video. And those people who frequently work with videos may have noticed that the Windows 7 Start menu does not include a link to the Videos folder. The Start menu only includes links to the Pictures and Music folders. Not very convenient if you create, save, or watch a lot of videos. Why isn’t there a Videos link in the Windows 7 Start menu? Heck, we could ask “why?” about a lot of things that operating systems designers do and do not do, but that’s probably better addressed elsewhere. Let’s focus on how we can get a Videos link in your Windows 7 Start menu, shall we?

If you use the Start menu to access these folders, you can add a Videos link to your Start menu by using the steps described below.

How to Add a Videos Link to Your Start Menu in Windows 7

  • Right click on the Start menu button and click Properties.
  • Verify that the Start Menu tab is active. Click the Customize button.
  • Under the Video section, select either the Display as a link or Display as a menu option.
  • Click OK to close the Customize Start Menu dialog box.
  • Click OK.

The biggest irony of all? At the time of this writing, there’s no video to accompany this post. This will likely change, but in the meantime, somehow, you’ll manage. Might I recommend checking out the Pirillo Vlog? Or even coming to VloggerFair in Seattle this June? We’d love to meet you!

Image: Sith shared by Juliana Coutinho via Flickr

Will Colorful Snap-on Covers Be Enough to Save the Windows Phone?

Will Colorful Snap on Covers Be Enough to Save the Windows Phone?One of the more humorous articles we have presented here at LockerGnome was a piece that was written by Candice Shane entitled My Life as a Windows Phone Pariah. In the article, Candice provided her take on why she personally likes the Windows Phone 7 and even takes on the subject as personal “warfare” against those who feverishly proclaim that the only real cellphones on the market either feature the Apple iOS or Google’s Android operating system. Her passion runs deep as she describes her love affair with her Windows Phone 7 and why she chose the simplicity of a tile-based operating system:

I looked at it for the first time and I fell in love completely because here it was, a phone that finally didn’t want to be smarter than me.

Though what Candice wrote has plenty of merit and I believe her passion warrants consideration, the unfortunate fact remains that Apple and Google control the smartphone marketplace. Though we may soon see thermonuclear war between the two distinct and separate companies, we consumers couldn’t care less. The recent Apple vs. Samsung lawsuit, counter-lawsuit, appeals, more appeals, and so forth mean very little to a consumer who just wants to buy a phone that works properly.

Nokia is about to introduce a new Windows Phone, the Lumia 620, scheduled for release in January of 2013. The biggest claim to fame for this newest Windows Phone is that it will feature snap-on transparent cases in a variety of colors. The features are what one could expect from an inexpensive phone, and it is designed for the budget-minded consumer. There is nothing wrong with this approach, but I recently wrote another article comparing the Sony Xperia to the Samsung phone I own. Both Sony and Samsung support 4G, while the Nokia Lumia 620 is only 3G capable.

The question I posed in the title of this article is easy to answer. With smartphones like the Nexus 4, priced at $50 more ($299 for the 8 GB model), this Windows Phone is going to have a tough time finding its place against the competition. Cases with a choice of colors are cute, but performance reigns supreme and the Nexus 4 flat out beats the Nokia Windows Phone dead.

This is my opinion. What do you think?

Comments, as always, are welcome.

Source: CNET

Image source: Microsoft

Kindle Fire 2? Yes, Please. Keep Your iPad!

Kindle Fire 2? Yes, Please. Keep Your iPad!Sometimes, I feel like a misfit. Not the cool kind, you know? I’m definitely not the kind that you’d find rebelling against The Man or anything and I’m all right with that. As it has been stated in previous articles (My Life as a Windows Phone Pariah), I have never truly been the type to clamor towards the favorites or the Most Popular. Maybe it’s because I knew that the head cheerleader usually ended up pregnant with six kids and a horrendous drug addiction; popular doesn’t always equal the immediate response of “I must have this.” because so many better-looking flag girls get left behind with that notion in mind. (Note: I was never a flag girl.)

With all this said, I never bought into the iPad phenomenon. I didn’t need to, really. I had an iPod touch and, to me, that felt like a slight version of an iPad and that was enough for me. Often left uncharged and abandoned for days, my iPod eventually became a gift to my younger sister, who I knew would take care of it. She, much like me, cared so little for its popularity that she, too, gave it away to our little brother. Our mother really never raised us for reliance on a brand and maybe that’s why the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Use what feels good and what suits you; don’t just buy into the ridiculous hype put together by blindingly colorful ads and a promise of something greater when, let’s face it, it’s just about convenience.

This, my friends, is why I fell in love with my Amazon Kindle Fire.

Like a lot of people who jumped for the Kindle Fire, I was swayed by its possibility. Not only could I have something on which to read books (it has been documented that I have a skin allergy with the glue that makes most papers and, thus, I have a severe reaction when reading books, touching cardboard, or doing reams of paperwork), but I would have something on which I could enjoy useful apps, listen to music, and watch movies that wouldn’t dominate my life. It seemed alluring, but the price point was what had me locked in because I knew it was an Amazon product and it is known for on-point customer service for that dollar amount. Think about it: I was being offered a tablet with a touch surface that would focus on reading (which I love) and everything downloaded would come in seconds? I was all about that. I didn’t need hundreds of dollars in hardware that was never intended for any specific purpose. I wanted to spend $200 and get exactly what I wanted: entertainment that didn’t talk down to me or expect very little from the attention deficit disorder addled masses.

Kindle Fire 2? Yes, Please. Keep Your iPad!

I know plenty of people who have rooted their Kindle Fire to essentially be an Android tablet, and it has worked beautifully for them. If you feel like ever taking a risk and possibly bricking your Kindle Fire, it has been done and people have reported that the processor for the Fire is more than capable of running far more than its design intended. However, again, there is just nothing wrong with the Kindle Fire’s Android-based Kindle OS. I want to read books, jot down notes, play Uno and Scrabble with my kid, and wage war against plants and undead hordes. I don’t need much else, you know?

With that said, when the Kindle Fire 2 rumors started pushing forward, I was engaged completely. Possibly upgrading the hardware, adding a camera to the Kindle Fire’s already impressive build (again, remember the $199 price point, you guys) — and reams of other rumored features that will be either confirmed or put to rest tomorrow by Amazon itself — pleases me. I would easily hand my child my Kindle Fire and upgrade to a more feature-packed version of what I already feel is the most user-friendly tablet available. Amazon never wanted its customers to feel like it would peddle cheap machinery into the world, and I trust the company implicitly to give me quality.

Kindle Fire 2? Yes, Please. Keep Your iPad!

Apple, on the other hand, wanted to pile everyone into the same horse and march into the handheld tablet market with plans to burn everyone’s village to the ground and take it by storm. As I’ve stated before, though, that was just never my bag. Amazon stared down to me from its cloud-puffed, heavenly perch and watched, palm to its chin, as it didn’t stress its consumers out or try to oversell. In this way, it’s far more innocent than even my beloved Microsoft as it just kind of hopes you enjoy yourself and it wants to make sure you know that reading, above all else, is what promotes education and enrichment. Playing its lute and lazing about on its pristine pedestal, Amazon awaits to give us details tomorrow while people still lament over the fact that they keep buying new iterations of the iPad with very little differences just to say they have it.

“Right, but my iPad 9 is .000003 % thinner than the iPad 8.5,” they would cheer with glee, clutching their highly priced tablets to their chest, which would essentially just be houses to hundreds of apps that took productivity away and offered filler until the next release.

And I can’t respond because I’m too busy reading from my Kindle Fire and appreciating the possibilities of something built for people who know exactly what they want.

In which camp do you find yourself? Leave a comment and weigh in with your pros and cons!

What’s The Best OS for a Netbook? Simple: Joli OS

What's The Best OS for a Netbook? Simple: Joli OSNetbooks are such tender things, really. Soft, delicate little machines that give you more word processing ease than a tablet can, but without being as bulky and content-filled as a laptop or desktop would be. I knew when I made my first purchase of a netbook that I was going to be using it expressly for checking email and writing articles when on the go. Back when it got all of its major usage, that’s all I had needed it for as I was traveling a lot.

My Dell Mini 10 Inspiron was a special edition that I bought specifically for the Nickleodeon “Slime” casing. Yes, I’m really mature. It was released with Windows XP and something about it felt a bit too cluttered for such a tiny machine. While it did everything I wanted it to do, it felt like it was doing it terribly slowly and so the search was on for something to expedite the time that the tiny machine was taking to do even the most minute of tasks.

Having very little knowledge of Linux, I was introduced to an install of Linux that was more user-friendly and it could be installed via a USB thumb drive with very little complications. I absolutely loved this OS because it ran as fast as possible and with only minor problems (the wireless card had to be tricked into working), and they were easily fixed.

Eventually, it appeared I was using the netbook less and less and yet my child, who is 11, needed it more and more for homework. Linux is many things, but it’s not user-friendly for children. After everything I had been hearing about the Chrome OS and how Chromebooks were essentially browser and cloud-sharing heaven, I wanted to know if this was something I could install onto this tiny netbook for my kid. Hell, I wasn’t using it anymore and what better computer starter for a child than a netbook? It has barely any space on it to get into trouble with, you can’t download heavy programs, and it essentially can be used for Internet and basic word processing. Why not, right?

After a bit of rummaging around, I found Joli OS. You want to talk about a simplified installation of a Chrome-based operating system? Joli did it. If you can operate Google Chrome, you can operate Joli OS. What I loved even more is that, when I was introducing my tiny netbook to this OS, I had my concerns. Did I have enough RAM? Most netbooks don’t come packed with a ton of memory, and this one was no different as it only housed one gig. Was the integrated graphics card going to be okay? What about space?

When looking into Chrome-based OS platforms for netbooks, I found that most of the websites and forums that touted the beautiful new option were filled with reassuring voices. “Go ahead, try it out. You’ll love it. Don’t worry; it’s safe here and the water is just fine.” And without much more troubleshooting whatsoever, I installed Joli OS onto my netbook.

I could never go back.

What's The Best OS for a Netbook? Simple: Joli OS
Look familiar? That’s because it’s as welcoming as the Chrome App Store.

Before I knew it, I was grabbing up the old desktops that we wanted to repurpose for use of children in the family. I have a special needs brother who we’ve burned through computer after computer because there was never a way to keep the complications of Windows from becoming problematic for an autistic youth. Finally, we had something we could give to him that he had no possible way of getting into the guts of and reprogramming unintentionally. I took every computer I could find and set to work installing Joli OS and bringing Windows-fried computers back to life. Suddenly, I was brainstorming ways to find old, abandoned PCs to rebuild to simplistic glory again. I became a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein, but instead of bolt-templed monstrosities, I was giving people a way to stay connected.

I urge all of you to check out the beauty that is Joli OS. And even if you don’t have any systems that need repurposing, check out the utilities it has that open up the cloud for everyday use. Want to try out the fast reflexes of a Chromebook that boots up in mere seconds without having to shell out hundreds up front? Try Joli. Have an old computer you want to set up for some kids or perhaps a parent or grandparent? Joli will give them all they need and keep them safe and protected from malware and viruses while letting them keep in contact.

Still not convinced? Take a look at this video of the Jolicloud system that can be used on your desktop now to give the system a whirl before installing the actual OS. It’s beautiful and you can even dual-boot it from Windows if you want to give the actual OS a try. Want to just peek in? Download the Desktop Joli, a seamless cloud client that you will fall in love with.

Do you use a Chrome-style OS? Perhaps you found a flavor of Linux you like? What do you use for your netbooks or older computers — or maybe you’ve heard of some new OS out there? Share with us in the comments below!

Will Microsoft Track Your Data Through SmartScreen?

The Canadian security researcher Nadim Kobeissi, who is a known activist against Internet surveillance and programmer of Cryptocat, has raised concerns over privacy in Windows 8’s defensive feature SmartScreen. Whenever you install any application from the Internet, SmartScreen will gather information about it and send the data to Microsoft. In the final, Released to Manufacturing version, “Windows 8 is configured to immediately tell Microsoft about every app you and download and install,” Kobeissi wrote on his blog.

He also claims that Microsoft’s servers aren’t secure enough, since they are configured to support SSLv2, which in his eyes is known to be insecure and easy to intercept. SSLv2 uses the MD5 function for authentication, which is insecure. It also facilitates the man-in-the-middle (also MITM) type of attack, in which the hacker assumes the likeness of the server to which the user believes he’s connected. However, he didn’t check whether SmartScreen does in fact use SSLv2 as well, but he’s already concerned that Microsoft’s servers do. Ultimately, an attacker could learn which applications an user has installed on their computer. Approximately 14 hours after he published his post, another scan of Microsoft’s SmartScreen servers reveals that Microsoft has reconfigured servers only to support SSLv3 connections.

On the other hand, Rafael Rivera, known for analyzing Microsoft code, calls Kobeissi’s post merely a scare piece. Rivera sheds more light on the subject by showing the code in question. For those programmers among you, it may be easy to understand.

<Rq V=”1.2″>

Rivera continues to point two elements in particular: FName and FHash. FName is a Base64 encoded representation of the executable file, while FHash is a SHA256 hash of the executable contents, to eliminate filename-based false positives.

In essence, Microsoft could track what you download and install. Rafael Rivera maintains that it’s very unlikely that it will ever keep such a database matching IP addresses. Stories like these certainly inspire fear to anyone in the IT world, yet mostly it’s just hot air, and Microsoft will likely address any privacy concerns if they really present a credible threat.

Yet you have the choice, and can turn off SmartScreen whenever you like if it makes you sleep more soundly at night. To do so, just go to the Action Center, Change Windows SmartScreen settings, and click Don’t do anything (turn off SmartScreen).

How Can You Recover Data from a PC That Won’t Boot?

How Can You Recover Data from a PC That Won't Boot?

“Help! I’ve lost a week’s work! My boss is going to fire me.”

That is often the reaction of folks who turn on their computers only to find themselves facing the blue screen of death on their desktop.

Now for those of you who are certified geeks and have repaired, fixed, or upgraded a variety of machines, recovering from a system failure may seem like a minor problem. But remember that the vast majority of users only know how to use the programs installed on their computers. That means that these users don’t have a clue of where to go when their systems won’t start and may freak out when asked if they wish to boot into normal or safe mode.

So when I received an email from an associate stating that their Windows 7 system was DOA with only a BSOD (blue screen of death) no matter how they tried to boot it, I thought the fix should be simple. Due to previous experience in dealing with problems such as this, I was aware that, barring some type of major hardware failure (e.g., a failed hard disk), the problem could be repaired via any number of easily applied fixes. I am also aware that there are a multitude of opinions on what to do first, so know that what I am about to share with you is not carved in gold and there are other options one can try.

Your Primary Goal Should Be to Recover Your Data

If you have the luxury of having a spare computer available take the hard disk from that system and place it into the non-functioning system. By using your known good hard disk to boot the non-functioning computer, you can then access the drive from the non-booting system to recover your files. We must also recognize that what you and what someone else considers ‘important files’ may not be the same. For example, I recall one incident where a client insisted that I attempt to recover their irreplaceable email addresses only to later discover that their address book contained only 12 names.

If you don’t have another computer laying around, another option is to use a boot CD, which is sometimes referred to as a ‘live CD’. Some of the boot CD options you can try are:

All of the above software programs can help you retrieve your files and data from a non-booting system and are available, for free, from their respective authors.

(I know that, right about here, someone who is reading this is thinking to themselves, “why didn’t this person have a backup?” I must say I agree, but it is an unfortunate part of computing life that some folks don’t back up until after their stuff is lost.)

I Retrieved My Files and Data. Now What?

Okay, so now you have found your data. What now? Now it is time to pull out your Windows installation DVD and place it in your DVD drive. The DVD will list several of the tools available for you to use. The screen shot below shows the options that are available for you:

How Can You Recover Data from a PC That Won't Boot?

  • Startup Repair is included to fix any problems that are preventing Windows from starting normally or in safe mode.
  • System Restore can be used to reinstall data and files from an earlier restore. This option could fix any issues you are experiencing since it will take you back to a date prior to the time that the problem started.
  • System Image Recovery requires the user to act prior to the disaster. It counts on the user, at some earlier point, having made an image of the system.
  • Windows Memory Diagnostics can do a quick check of the memory on your system and determine if the memory is good or bad.
  • Command Prompt should only be used by experienced users.

Note: Some screens may differ as different computer companies can change the above screen and add their own options and repair tools in addition to the tools that Microsoft sees fit to use.

What Other Options Are There?

Despite the fact that I believe disk imaging, before disaster strikes, is the best policy, there are many fine programs available (some for free, some not). However, whichever program you choose beats finding yourself in a position where a computer won’t start and there is no backup available.

From this article I am sure that you are aware that I believe imaging is a must for serious computer users since it provides a reliable means to restore not only your Windows operating system, but also all of your files and data. By using it you can rest assured that all of your important programs, their current updates, and your required drivers will be saved thus sparing you a lot of headaches. If you are not technically savvy, this small feature could also save you quite a bit of your hard-earned wages.

If you are more technically inclined, compare this easy-to-use option to having to do a reinstall of Windows or the time-consuming task of installing a clean version of Windows. To me, it sure makes imaging look pretty good and, because of that, I highly recommend it for PC users.

Comments welcome.

Source: Microsoft

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by LisaAuch

Windows 7’s Accessibility Features

Like its predecessors, Windows 7 includes several built-in accessibility features. These features make it easier for users with a wide range of physical challenges to use Windows 7 and their computers. Furthermore, many of the accessibility features carried over from previous versions of Windows are improved in Windows 7.

Ease of Access Center

Windows 7's Accessibility FeaturesWhen it comes to finding the accessibility settings and programs, the Ease of Access Center is the central place to go. Some of the features you will find here include:

  • A basic screen narrator that reads the screen text aloud
  • Various settings that make the screen easier to see
  • Speech Recognition that allows you to control your computer with voice commands
  • On-screen keyboard that you can use to type
  • Various settings to adjust the mouse and keyboard
  • Visual notifications to replace audio information

In addition, the Ease of Access Center includes a questionnaire about routine tasks and provides recommendations on the specific accessibility settings and programs that may help you.

To open the Ease of Access Center in Windows, click the Start button, Control Panel, Ease of Access and then Ease of Access Center. Alternatively, you can also use the Windows Logo Key + U. Once you are in the Ease of Access Center, select on of the common tools: Magnifier, Narrator, On-screen Keyboard, and/or High Contract.

If you are unsure which tool to start with, you can complete the questionnaire to get recommendations on the tools and settings you should use. To start the questionnaire, select the Get recommendations to make your computer easier to use option. Windows presents you with a series of statements. Place a check mark beside each of the statements that apply to you and click Next. Repeat these steps until you reach the final screen and click Done.

Windows generates a list of recommendations based on the answers in the questionnaire. Select the recommended options that you want to turn on and click Save.

Using Your Computer Without a Display

Some of the accessibility options built in to Windows 7 are designed to let you use the computer without a display. To find these options, open the Ease of Access Center and click the Use the computer without a display option. From there, you can select the options that you want to use, which includes:

  • Turn on Narrator — When this feature is enabled, a narrator reads the onscreen text aloud and describes some events that happen while you are using the computer.
  • Turn on Audio Descriptions — When you turn on Audio Descriptions, Windows describes what is happening in videos.
  • Turn off all unnecessary animations — Animation effects are disabled when Windows and other elements are closed. How long should Windows notification dialog boxes stay open? This option lets you set how long notifications should remain on screen before they are automatically closed.

Windows 7 also includes various options designed to assist those with visial impairments by making the screen easier to see. To access these options, click the Make the computer easier to see option within the Ease of Access Center. The available options include:

  • Choose a High Contrast Theme — This options lets you set a high-contrast there to heighten color contrast.
  • Turn on or off High Contrast when Left Alt+Left Shift+Print Screen is pressed — This option lets you turn a high contrast theme on or off using the keystrokes.
  • Turn On Narrator — As mentioned earlier, when this feature is enabled, a narrator reads the onscreen text aloud and describes some events that happen while you are using the computer
  • Turn on Audio Descriptions — As mentioned earlier, when you turn on Audio Descriptions, Windows describes what is happening in videos.
  • Change the size of text and icons — This options lets you make text and other items appear larger so they are easier to see.
  • Turn on Magnifier — This option turns on the magnifier. As you move your mouse around your desktop, a portion of the screen is magnified.
  • Adjust the color and transparency of the window borders — This option lets you change the appearance of window borders so they are easier to see.
  • Fine tune display effects — This option lets you customize how certain items appear on the desktop.
  • Make the focus rectangle thicker — This option makes the rectangle around the currently selected item in dialog boxes thicker, thereby making it easier to see.
  • Set the thickness of the blinking cursor — This option lets you make the blinking cursor in dialog boxes and programs thicker, thereby making it easier to see.
  • Turn off all unnecessary animations — As previously mentioned, animation effects are disabled when Windows and other elements are closed.
  • Remove background images — This option turns off all unimportant content and background images to help make the screen easier to see.

Speech Recognition

Windows 7 includes Speech Recognition that lets you control your computer by voice. In addition, you can dictate your text into various programs such as Microsoft Word leaving you a little more hands-free. You can open menu items, toolbars, dialog boxes, and have text typed in using your own voice. In other words, your computer is literally at your command.

To start Speech Recognition, click Start, Control Panel, Ease of Access then Speech Recognition. Select the Start Speech Recognition option. The first time you use Speech Recognition, Windows 7 walks you through the process of setting up your microphone and provides a speech tutorial that helps you get started.

You can also train your computer to better understand you and improve speech recognition accuracy. The more your computer knows about your particular style of speaking and the sounds in your environment, the more accurate it will be. Using the Voice Training Wizard, Windows 7 collects voice samples from you so that it can adjust to your particular speaking style.

On-screen Keyboard

Another accessibility option included with Windows 7 is the on-screen keyboard. You might find this option handy if you have impairments or if your normal keyboard is under repair. To open the onscreen keyboard for the current session, open the Ease of Access Center and select the Start On-Screen Keyboard option. A nifty little keyboard immediately appears on your screen.

You can also tell Windows to launch the onscreen keyboard each time you log on to the computer. Within the Ease of Access Center, under Explore all settings, click use the computer without a mouse or keyboard. Select the Use On-screen Keyboard and click Save.

Once the keyboard is open, you can further configure the layout. From the On-Screen Keyboard, click the Keyboard menu, and select any of the following layout options:

  • Enhanced Keyboard
  • Standard Keyboard
  • Regular Keyboard
  • Block Layout
  • 101 keys
  • 102 keys
  • 106 keys

The on-screen keyboard runs in three different modes which control how you enter data into the keyboard:

  • Clicking mode — In clicking mode, you simply click the on-screen keys.
  • Scanning mode — In scanning mode, you use a hot key or a switch-input device to type highlighted characters.
  • Hovering mode — In hovering mode, you simply use your mouse to point to a key, which is then typed.

You can change the mode by selecting the Settings menu from within the on-screen keyboard, clicking Typing Mode and choosing the mode you want to use.

Keyboard and Mouse Settings

Windows 7 includes various keyboard and mouse settings that make them easier to use. For example, normally you use a mouse to open menus, commands, and dialog boxes. If you find it difficult to use the mouse, you can press the corresponding key strokes instead. Not only can this be easier for users with physical challenges but it can also be faster once you become familiar with some of the common keystrokes.

Settings that make the keyboard easier to use:

  • Turn on Mouse Keys — This option lets you use the arrow keys on your keyboard or the numeric keypad to move the pointer.
  • Turn on Sticky Keys — This option let you press a modifier key and have it remain active until another key is pressed, as opposed to pressing three keys at once.
  • Turn on Toggle Keys — With this option enabled, Windows alerts you each time you press the Caps Lock, Num Lock, or Scroll Lock keys.
  • Turn on Filter Keys — With this option enabled, Windows ignores keystrokes that occur in rapid succession, or keystrokes that are held down for several seconds unintentionally.
  • Underline keyboard shortcuts and access keys — This option makes keyboard access in dialog boxes easier by highlighting access keys for the controls in them.
  • Prevent windows from being automatically arranged when moved to the edge of the screen — This option prevents windows from automatically resizing and docking along the sides of your screen when you move them there.

Settings that make the mouse easier to use:

  • Change the color and size of mouse pointers — These options let you make the pointer larger and a different color
  • Turn on Mouse Keys — This option lets you use the numeric pad to control the mouse pointer
  • Activate a window by hovering over it with the mouse — This option lets you activate windows by pointing to them as opposed to clicking them
  • Prevent windows from being automatically arranged when moved to the edge of the screen — This option prevents windows from automatically resizing and docking along the sides of your screen when you move them there.

This should help acquaint you with the basics of Windows 7’s accessibility features. Did we miss any? Let us know about any of your favorites and how we can benefit from them, too!

Public Wi-Fi: How to Connect Safely

Connecting to public Wi-Fi is not as simple as selecting an open Wi-Fi, and can be dangerous if you do not know what you are doing. Instead, you must realize that there are safety factors that must be considered before you can proceed to merrily surf your way through the Internet. That does not mean, however, that if one follows the required safety procedures they must forego their journey through cyberspace. Additionally, to most of us using computers today, we are aware that the majority of these rules pertain to Microsoft Windows laptop computers, which are perpetually the target of hackers and, as a result, are known to be sieves when it comes to computer viruses and malware. However, just to be safe, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android users may also wish to follow some of these rules.

Rule #1: Secure Your Laptop — Especially in Airports

Public Wi-Fi: How to Connect SafelyWhile I am aware that it doesn’t directly pertain to a Wi-Fi connection, the first rule, obviously, is to secure your laptop or other electronic device; without it, connecting to a Wi-Fi connection is a moot point. True, one would think that anyone capable of using such a device would automatically realize that others may wish to obtain one and therefore keep it with their person, but I have witnessed many people who must assume that others are as honest as they are. The reason I bring this point up is that, just last week, I was on a business trip that required me to make my way through two major airport hubs. It was during one of my layovers that I noted a number of people who would leave their laptop, tablet, smartphone, or other device plugged into a wall outlet while walking away to purchase food, a drink, or to take a potty break. Watching these individuals reminded me of a TV news program I watched last year in which it was estimated that some one-half million devices — or more — were lost or stolen in airports each year.

However, if you do happen to be traveling alone and need to recharge your laptop computer for an upcoming flight, I would suggest that you purchase a laptop lock and use it to secure your device to a piece of airport furniture. For those using a tablet, smartphone, or other device, I would ask a fellow traveler who is traveling to your destination and looks honest, to keep an eye on your toy while you leave the waiting area to take care of your business. I know that this is taking somewhat of a risk, but I have actually placed my smartphone right next to a fellow passenger to watch for me. Of course, the person I asked just happened to be a soldier who was returning from overseas and was sitting with several of his fellow officers. Another usually safe guess would be an elderly person who is booked on your flight.

Rule #2: Check the Name of the Wi-Fi Hotspot

This next rule requires you to use a little common sense and goes a long way toward protecting your computer system and important data. First, are you in a spot that advertises that it is offering a Wi-Fi hotspot? If you are, make sure that the name of the hotspot fits the business. This isn’t difficult. For example, I sometimes stop by a local fast food restaurant where free Wi-Fi is offered for its customers. The name of the restaurant and the name of the connection are the same. However, when I connect, I am also offered another connection named ‘mygolfgamesucks.’ Looking at the name, I realize that this is not the connection I want and is, in fact, an unsecured, non-business network that just happens to be within the range of my computer.

While this network is obviously not the one I want, what should you do if you are unsure of the network that is owned by the business or establishment? The answer is simple: just ask someone. Sometimes it is amazing how helpful employees or fellow customers can be. In a society where we are cautious of strangers, we must also recognize that most people are good folks who are willing to help.

Rule #3: HTTPS

When possible, log in to websites using the HTTPS protocol. The S in HTTP stands for secure, and it encrypts the data that is being sent between the website and your browser and prohibits anyone from seeing your data as it is being transmitted. Sadly, however, not every website supports HTTPS.

For those road warriors who frequent Wi-Fi hotspots and spend time surfing Facebook, you can secure your connection by taking advantage of the built-in HTTPS setting found within Facebook. To use it, however, you must enable it since it is set by default to be disabled.

Rule #4: Turn off Wi-Fi when Done

This next rule is also just a matter of common sense. It is simply that, once you are finished using your device — be it a laptop, tablet, or smartphone — you remember to turn off the WI-Fi connection. First, it will save precious battery power, and second, your device will not be able to auto connect to any rogue network. This procedure is usually quite easy, and only requires the user to click a key in order to disconnect and disable a Wi-Fi connection.

Rule #5: Encrypt Your Files

To encrypt a folder or file using Windows Vista or Windows 7, do the following:

  • Right-click the folder or file you want to encrypt, and then click Properties.
  • Click the General tab, and then click Advanced.
  • Select the Encrypt contents to secure data check box, and then click OK.

Comments welcome.

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by martymadrid

Updated Google OS: Why You Will Like It

Updated Google OS: Why You Will Like ItOn April 16, 2012, I wrote an article, New Google Chrome OS: Admission of a Mistake? in which I stated that it appeared that Google had given up on the idea of a browser-only operating system. At the time, I also mentioned my disappointment with Google for not offering the new OS to those of us who own the Cr-48 laptop systems. However, I did understand that, since Google had graciously given these computers to us for free, it had no obligation to keep them updated with additional free software. Nonetheless, at the time I was disappointed. Then, approximately three weeks ago, it appears that Google had rethought its decision and did a flip-flop, offering me a new updated operating system. However, there was one restriction in order to receive the new update. I had to select the Developer build at the time from which I chose to try out the beta (aka test) versions of the OS.

Knowing that this was a test version, I found myself somewhat leery and thus reluctant to install the update since, for the most part, the original OS worked OK. When I say that, I mean that it was OK for surfing the Internet, checking emails, and doing an occasional article here at LockerGnome using the Google Docs software. To me, the plus of the Cr-48 is that its lighter than my 17″ laptop, and I am able to take this unique little computer with me when I travel. However, in my opinion, the Cr-48 and, I would guess, most Chromebooks in general, have one major flaw. This flaw revolves around their filing systems, which are just about non-existent, or, if in existence, are difficult to use. The latter was evident with the Cr-48 that came equipped with a card reader slot. However, the process required to copy to or from the disk was a major chore and a pain in the rump.

What I found with the new OS, however, was how much Google has fixed on the original beta version. First and foremost, this is how the new Google Chrome OS (Aura) looks today:

Updated Google OS: Why You Will Like It

For those of you who are viewing this for the very first time, you may wonder why this is such a dramatic change. To understand the difference, you have to realize that prior to this update, the user only had a browser as an interface; there were no other options available. Now, as you can see from the screenshot above, the Google Chrome OS now resembles Windows, complete with a taskbar, desktop, clock, Internet connection icon, and settings icon.

But there is more. Here, you can clearly see that the new Chrome OS also has a bit of Android on board:

Updated Google OS: Why You Will Like It

So what makes all of this so sweet?

  • The entire operating system is now more intuitive and easier to grasp.
  • There is a hint of Microsoft Aero Glass.
  • The translucent features, both on top and bottom, are a nice touch.
  • Google has also borrowed the Windows snap feature.
  • The Title bar has an X button to close the window and a square button to maximize the window. Sound familiar? It should, since all of what is being made available has been around for Windows, OS X, and Linux for years.

So why am I recommending the new Google Chrome OS, when previously I thought it was just a gimmick?

First and foremost, Google has improved its file transfer system so that it no longer poses the nightmare scenario that previously existed. For display purposes, I am including a screen shot of files that I have copied over to an SD card or USB drive, which can now be moved to Google Drive with ease. With this improvement, Google also updated its software, making it possible to open documents in Google Docs and photographs in Picasa.

Updated Google OS: Why You Will Like It

Over all, with the improvements made to the new Aura interface, you will find that they are a vast improvement over the previous limited abilities of the originally released Google Chrome OS. So, while it took Google 18 months, it may surprise some to realize that all it did was to make the new Aura a simple emulation of Windows, OS X, and Linux. Is this change just a little too late to enable the company to catch up with the tablet craze or even Microsoft’s new Windows 8?

Here is my personal opinion of what the future is going to hold for consumers.

  • Tablets will continue to be favored by consumers over other devices.
  • Apple will continue its domination of the tablet market.
  • Windows 8 is being made for the enterprise sector in an attempt, by Microsoft, to keep others like Apple away from its cash cow.
  • Google and Microsoft must accept the fact that (whether it be Windows 8, Google Chrome OS, or Android), they can only expect limited success in the consumer market when introducing tablet products.

This further means that, if Apple actually comes out with the rumored 7″ Apple iPad (as some rumors suggest), it can only expect to further strengthen its hold on the consumer dollar. An additional marketing tool would be if the company could reduce the cost for this mini-computer to the $25 range, thus making it more affordable for the vast majority of consumers who would wish to own one.

Just my two cents. What do you think?

Comments welcome.

CC licensed Flickr photo at the top of the page shared by michperu

How to Install XP Mode in Windows 7

How to Install XP Mode in Windows 7When it’s 2012 and you’ve gone through the trouble (and paid the cost) of installing Windows 7, you might wonder (and rightfully so) why you might want to use something called an “XP Mode.” After all, when you went through the upgrade process, didn’t you figure that XP was something you’d be leaving behind as a quaint relic of a bygone age? Why regress when the high-paced world of high tech is constantly screaming at you to progress?

With Windows 8 on the horizon (or already on your beloved system if you’re a brave preview consumer), who needs XP? Who needs Vista (aside from your worst enemies, of course)? Who even needs Windows 7, anymore? It’s so yesteryear. Geeks like new things! Geeks want shiny, happy operating systems! Bring us tomorrow, today!

Well, the need for such a thing isn’t Windows’ fault. It’s not even Microsoft’s fault. Of course, it’s not your fault, either. But just as you can’t play an old VCR tape of home movies that you made in the ’80s on a DVD player from the ’90s, there are some programs and applications that simply won’t run natively on Windows 7. Blame progress or the passage of time, if you must. As a result, you may find the need to trick your shiny, new, but oh, so naive system into thinking that the PIM (personal information manager) you’ve been using since December of ’01 (and three computers ago) should be allowed to run in Windows 7. Windows XP Mode is the ticket that’ll allow your obsolete, but beloved application to sneak past the bouncer and into Windows 7 just like it belongs there. (The attitude! The confidence! Now there’s an operating system that’s going places, man!)

Before installing XP Mode, verify that your computer meets all the hardware and software requirements.

  • Assuming that your computer meets all the hardware and software requirements, the steps for installing XP Mode are described below.
  • Go to the Windows Virtual PC website.
  • Select your edition of Windows 7 and the desired language for installation.
  • Click the Windows XP Mode download button.
  • Click Continue for Windows Validation. Then click Continue to download XP Mode.
  • Save the executable on your computer.
  • Once the download is complete, double click the WindowsXPMode_en-us.exe to begin the installation.
  • Click Next.
  • Click Next to accept the default installation directory.
  • Once the installation is complete, click Finish.

Now that you’re an expert in the art of installing XP mode in Windows 7, you probably have a few uses in mind for this old bird. Maybe you need to run some ancient software you’ve had sitting around in a box in your garage since Vista hit the fan shelves. Maybe your computer’s a resource hog and never really played well with the whole Windows 7 experience. Maybe you just like the Windows XP way of doing things better and we should just get off your back because who asked us, anyhow? Well, for the sake of our fellow LockerGnome readers, we’d love it if you’d share your reasons in the comments below. Not only is it something with which we’re fiercely interested, but it’s something that might just give our community members at large some new ideas for their own uses. We’re all about sharing — join the party!

GFI Backup Reviewed

GFI Backup ReviewedWith the wide variety available, I am aware that it is a daunting task to determine which backup software is the most reliable and easiest to use. Knowing this is just one aspect, however, since figuring this out requires that you have a protocol to follow. In an attempt to outline the process, I have put together a partial list of the criteria I use when comparing different backup software programs to one another. I believe that these parameters are a valid means of properly evaluating a software program regardless of the cost of the program or, in other words: if it is a free version, a standard version, or a professional one.

My criteria for backup software is as follows:

  • It needs to have an easy-to-use interface that makes the software simple to use.
  • It should provide a scheduling feature.
  • It must have encryption capability.
  • It should have ready access to a backup registry, as well as files and folders.
  • It should be capable of backing up files even when they are in use.
  • It should be multifunctional in that it has the ability to back up to a local folder, to an external hard drive, to a network folder, or CD/DVD.
  • It needs the ability to complete incremental, differential, and stacked backups.
  • Ideally, all of this is available for free.

This is the criteria I used in my review of the GFI Backup software, which follows:

The GFI Backup startup screen provides a simple-to-understand and easy-to-use GUI that is intuitive even for the novice user. However, despite its seeming simplicity, this interface is just the desktop that covers a full-featured software product that will be able to meet most everyone’s needs.

Will it work for you? While I believe the answer to this question is yes, I realize that just because a piece of software informs the user via friendly looking windows that all files have been backed up properly, the proof in the pudding is how the restore feature functions.

GFI Backup ReviewedSo how do you test your backup software to see how well it works or doesn’t work? I chose an option and methodology that I believe will provide a satisfactory test. Here is what I did:

  • I used a computer with the Windows 7 operating system that had been updated with the latest upgrades.
  • I used a secondary test computer so I was free from the worry of losing any important files.
  • I then loaded copies of all of my personal files from my laptop onto the test computer; these files included regular files, folders, documents, and photos that are important to me.
  • I then used the GFI Backup software to back up my complete inventory of personal files, data files, and registry.

After I finished with the backup, which I stored on a removable drive, I went back into the system and completed the following actions:

  • I deleted all of my personal files — including data files.
  • I went into the registry and changed 10 registry key values (none of the registry keys were for Microsoft software).
  • I cleared the recycle bin.
  • Last, I uninstalled one program from the system, as a test, to see if the restore process would reinstall the program while maintaining the program’s integrity.

After these steps were taken and the restore was completed, I rebooted the system. I am happy to report that after all of these steps were completed, all 10 of the registry keys were repaired, all my files and data were returned to their original location, and the program I had uninstalled was backed up and functioning without a problem.

While I am quite happy with this particular backup software, I am sure that there are other free backup software programs out there that will provide the same satisfactory results.

Still, having used the GFI Backup software, I would suggest that you give it a try; here are the reasons I would recommend it:

  • Ease of use. This alone makes this free software very attractive.
  • Easy backup and restore features with minimal user intervention.
  • Last but not least, it works.

What backup program do you use? Please share your thoughts with us and tell us why you use the software you do.

Comments welcome.

Screenshots are from my personal computer.

CC licensed Flickr photo of hard drive above shared by blakespot.