Popular MP3 Music Players

Time to get your groove on with these popular MP3 player downloads!

Introduction
Music is a huge motivator for me. If there’s one thing that I know I need on a daily basis, it’s a healthy injection of my tunes. In many cases, this is most easily remedied by firing up Music on my iPhone, and I’m good to go. However, this doesn’t always work, especially when you’re in an interior room or office in a Chicago high rise and you can’t get a cell signal when you don’t have any music stored on your phone.

That’s when you need a different music player download to save the day.

mp3 music players

MP3 music players on your PC or Mac can come in a few different forms and types; and it’s important that we outline the differences.

 

  • Streaming Apps – the type of player that will play music only via an active internet connection. Music is not stored or cataloged locally
  • Local Music Players – the type of player that will play only local copies of music files. Music is stored and cataloged locally

Why are they so important? That’s simple – Music downloads and sales. Streaming music player apps make it very easy for listeners to discover new music, as it functions very much like traditional radio. Listeners can find music and listen to it in a “try before you buy” environment. Some services offer purchase links to artists and songs directly within the app, the idea behind all of this, however, is sales. Both streaming services and record labels are hoping that after you find new music, you’ll either purchase a subscription to the service, or you go and buy and download the album or tracks you’re interested in.

Apple’s Steve Jobs once said that people don’t want to rent music (the streaming app model), they want to own it (the local music player model). There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Streaming services make music discovery very easy, but require an active internet connection to play content. No internet, no tunes. With a streaming service, content isn’t stored, locally, saving on local device storage. You have rights to play and listen to songs as long as you subscribe to the service. You cannot burn any music to CD’s. All music is protected by DRM (digital rights management).

With a local music player, you can play what you have, anytime, anywhere; but finding new music by new artists is risky and expensive, as you only get approximately 30 seconds or less of preview time for each song you may be interested in. If you want more, you have to buy the song; and by then, (if you don’t like it) it’s too late. You can only carry as much music with you as you have available space. You can (usually) burn any music you own to as many CD’s as you like. All music is normally DRM free.

We’ve pulled some of the best MP3 music player app downloads for your consideration. I think you’ll find these mobile app downloads to your liking; but let’s take a look and see what they are…

Spotify
spotify_logoSpotify will tell you that music is social. This is perhaps one of the most popular, streaming mp3 music downloads available on the internet today. With Spotify, you have access to literally, millions of music tracks. All you have to do is search and then play.

Music discovery is made easy with Spotify. Your music library literally spans millions of tracks, and Spotify is available on your smartphone, your PC or your Mac. Because music is social, once you’ve discovered the music, Spotify makes it easy to share what you’ve found with friends and family right over Facebook, so you’re more than likely going to be able to see and hear with others are listening to, too.

Think of Spotify as an internet radio; but with a couple of cool features. You can share what you’re listening to, and if you don’t like something, you can always skip the track and move forward in the play list. There are , however a few limitations:

  • You get unlimited serial streaming on a free account, but only for the first 6 months.
  • Spotify Free is ad supported
  • Starting on month 7, you get 2.5 hours of streaming per week (up to 10 hours a month)
  • Starting on month 7, you can only play any one track 5 times with a free account. Remaining plays can be seen by right clicking the track.

Spotify Premium ($10 per month) provides the following benefits:

  • You get the ability to shuffle through any playlist or to shuffle play ANY available track
  • Spotify Premium doesn’t display or pause music play with ads
  • If you bump into a track you don’t care for, you get the ability to skip through them all
  • Spotify Premium no longer requires an internet connection to play music. You can download any and all tracks you like and can listen to them offline, in HD audio.

DJ Mix Lite
This next MP3 music download is going to be very popular with college students and to aspiring and professional DJ’s who like to mix their own playlists for parties and such. DJ Mix Lite helps you enjoy the music you already have by synchronizing the beats of one song to another and then reducing the playback gap between them.

The app supports WAV, MP3 and Ogg Vorbis (*.ogg) files. You can line up a number of different files between dual play windows, match the beats and then string your songs together on the fly. Music mixing is automatic, but users do have some control over how things mix.

The app and interface are rather simple, and thankfully, doesn’t require any professional mixing experience as other DJ tools might. The app does come with a graphic equalizer, so you can at least control the fidelity of the music you’re mixing.

Users wishing to have a finer control of the mixing, with perhaps custom effects and fades will find DJ Mix Lite a bit too simple for their tastes, but the app is free and it’s a decent, fun app…for what it does.


Wimpy MP3 Player
There’s not a lot of call for this anymore – it’s no longer 1990-blah-blah-blah; but should you need it, it’s here. If you need to embed an MP3 file into a webpage, Wimpy MP3 Player is a decent tool.

Wimpy MP3 Player can stream an entire folder full of MP3 files from your web site. This is especially helpful if you’re a musician or DJ and are trying to sell an album or feature an artist, or a custom mix of tracks. The app now supports JavaScript and HTML5 and will play video as well as audio.

The app works on any and all devices, has custom skins and is built on pure JavaScript, CSS and HTML5 to insure compatibility with any and all web browsers, from every desktop and mobile platform. While the app is free, it does display a watermark in the player. If you wish to remove the watermark, a quick $25 payment will get you the license file you need to remove it.


Media Monkey
MM3-LogoIf you’re like me, you’ve got music files everywhere. When you have the music in you, it’s a song-a-palooza all day, every day. This is why applications like Media Monkey are so important. Media Monkey is a “complete” audio file manager. It allows you to collect all of your music, playlists, podcasts and audio files in one place.

Media Monkey will scan your computer and all connected external devices for audio files. If needed, the app will let users choose which drives to scan for content, allowing them to fully manage the scanning experience. Catalogued content can be categorized and grouped in play lists, sorted, tagged, dated, etc. and viewed in any order the user wishes.

Unlike other apps which require drives to be connected to the host all the time, files may be stored on portable devices, CD’s, on local or remote network drives, or even another computer. Media Monkey will manage the content regardless of its location. Media Monkey can rip content on CD’s and can synch it to your iDevice of choice or any other portable, audio device.

Media Monkey for Windows will also allow you to play back your MP3 files; but only has basic VCR and audio controls, including volume and equalizer. If you’ve got an Android device, you can get its companion Android player via Google Play.

Media Monkey is free, but if you’re looking for enhanced features, including on the fly audio/ video conversions for sync, DLNA sharing and burns or up to 48x on the CD/ DVD/ DB burner, or bit perfect rips, then you may want to pop for Media Monkey Gold at $24.95.


AL Song
alsong-1-9Back in the early days of Windows, if you wanted to play any kind of audio file and you wanted to play it with a really GOOD player, you used WinAmp. Today, WinAmp belongs to Radionomy, after they acquired it from AOL. It’s gone through the wringer a bit, and while it still has sparks of greatness, its looking a little long in the tooth (or llama lips…).

If you’re looking for something off the beaten path and want something with a familiar look and feel, but with more current code, then you might want to take a look at AL Song. AL Song has all the basic features of WinAmp, but it can also be used as a karaoke machine, natively.

AL Song has its own content database and can synch song lyrics directly with the song. Should you not be able to synch lyrics to your song of choice, due to the song being too new, AL Song also includes a lyric editor and a language learner. While listening to lyrics, if you bump into a section of the song that you can’t understand very well, the language learner will help you listen and carefully pull the right words from the song by creating a song loop and going back through it over and over again. It even includes a pitch meter and a speed dial so that you can slow things down to a point where you can understand what’s being said. You can even play the loop backwards, if it will help.

AL Song has a full album editor, allowing you to pull content in from different sources, edit the album metadata and artwork. The songs will be saved in SAB format. This will allow you to listen to any song by just clicking on it like on a hyperlink from a website. This means that the interface of the album that you had created is active and works like a player.

AL Song also includes an internet radio player. As long as you know the URL of the stream and have enough bandwidth to handle the broadcast as well as your other online needs, you should be ready to go. You can even broadcast your own radio stations, bandwidth permitting.


Conclusion
Music is one of the biggest motivators I’ve ever bumped into. Its primal. Its tribal. People begin and end relationships because of music likes, dislikes, shared tastes, etc. It can change and alter moods and can do so without you even knowing your listening to it. Music moves the entire planet and can define an entire historical age…

Most people that I know, not only have a great deal to say about their music, but also about their choice of MP3 player app download as well. There are some good choices here. Some of them are all about synchronization. Some are about music discovery and streaming. Others are about playing on your mobile device or on your Mac or PC. Regardless of where you stand on type of device or even type of mobile app download, you need to be able to take your music with you and then listen to it how, where and when you want.

Do you use one of these MP3 music player apps? Do you use another not covered here? I’d love to hear from you regarding what works best for you. Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area and tell me about the ways you enjoy YOUR favorite music?

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Initial Impressions of Windows 10 Mobile

Well… I’ve upgraded my BLU WIN HD LTE handset…, and… yeah.

Introduction

Ok… I’ve got a few thoughts on Windows 10 Mobile, and I need for everyone to understand the justification behind them, so… bear with me a moment.  This may sound a bit critical, but in the end, I don’t think anyone can blame me…

Windows 10 MobileI started my mobile Windows journey in 1997 with the Casio E10, a WindowsCE powered handheld device that had a 320×240 pixel, 4 grayscaled LCD that received electrical power via 2 AAA batteries.  WindowsCE itself was released by Microsoft in 1996 at COMDEX.  The OS was meant to power handheld computers and act as an embedded OS for other industrial applications. Comparatively speaking, while the devices weren’t really cutting edge, even for the day, they (and the Palm Pilot) were an advancement in computing technology that were the precursors to all mobile devices including all smartphones on the market today.

I got involved early, becoming quite the expert in nearly all versions of WindowsCE, PocketPC and Windows Mobile, prior to it being totally scrapped and changed for Windows Phone.  In fact, I became so competent, I was able to craft my own option ROM’s for PocketPC devices  to use after a hard reset (so all my third party apps would install, as hard resets were a common practice to resolve technical glitches caused by bad third party apps). I also got into flashing alternative ROM’s and OS builds on my Windows Mobile devices.  You couple that with a lot of my desktop Windows experience, and I feel I have a solid basis from which to rate an evaluatory impression on Windows 10 Mobile…

Here it is – meh.  And honestly, I’m being generous. Here’s why…

  • Universal Apps
    In short… where the heck are they? There may be some available and in the Windows Store, but they certainly don’t exist in the numbers and volume that Microsoft was hoping for this far into the release and support of Windows 10.The whole advantage to Windows 10, at least from  Microsoft’s advertised position to its developer community, is that you can write one (1) app, and it should work on every version of Windows 10 and every device that runs it, regardless of screen size or version.  That’s (supposed) to be the draw for developers and Windows 10, code once, run everywhere.  That’s a “universal” app.Unfortunately, I don’t see a lot of universal apps in the Windows Store, and I don’t see a lot of developers flocking to the universal app banner.  With developers still ignoring Windows 10 and this new development platform, I’m wondering where the draw is for consumers to choose Windows 10 Mobile over iOS or Android.  Quite honestly, as a consumer, I don’t see it.Consumers want apps. We want games. We want utility apps or “task-oriented” apps (I want to do my banking, I want to buy something from <pick a store>, I want to play <a game>…) With Windows Phone/ Windows 10 Mobile, there’s a really great chance that the app or tool you’re looking for, doesn’t exist on that platform; and won’t. PeriodHere’s the capper, though – according to an article published about a year or so ago on Business Insider, the Universal App platform has issue and problems.  Microsoft also hasn’t really given developers a genuine reason to build Universal Windows Apps (hence, the reason why, a year later, you don’t really see any in the Windows Store…)

    Universal Apps are really a boon for the mobile platform.  The idea here is that Microsoft gets apps for its mobile-powered devices when developers move to the Universal App Platform.  However, regular PC apps and PC development platforms like Visual Studio continue to work just fine, so, there’s no real reason for any developer to change what they’re doing.

    A year after its release, there really aren’t any Universal Apps to speak of, and with Windows 10 Mobile now released to the wild (as of this time last month), the absence of Universal Apps is a huge hole, and one that is made additionally glaring due to Windows Phone’s dismal, global market share of just 1.1%.

    (Interestingly enough, while doing research for this article, I stumbled on a TON of articles dated 2012 that had the IDC predicting that Windows Phone would surpass iOS in global market share by 2016.  Ouch.  That was a bit of miss, wouldn’t you say?)

  • Nokia Here Apps are Gone
    This is a crushing blow to the platform.  One of the biggest reasons why I really liked the Windows Phone/ Windows 10 Mobile platform was in no small part due to Nokia’s Here apps.I used Drive (part of Here Maps) for my daily commute, as it memorized the commute route and then gave you traffic reports and guidance along it so that you could get to work on time.  The Windows Phone version is the only version that does this.  Other versions of Drive on other mobile platforms do the routing thing, but the Windows Phone version was the only one that did the route memorization and advanced alerts.However, with Drive and the rest of Nokia’s HERE Apps NOT coming to Windows 10 Mobile, this is just another reason, from a consumer’s point of view, to ignore the platform.By the way, according to Nokia, the reasoning behind this…  The Universal Apps platform, and the absence of a few key API’s no longer supported by Windows 10 (again, in favor of the Universal Apps platform).  Regardless of how much Nokia asked (dare I say, “begged??”) Microsoft NOT to deprecate these key API’s, Microsoft did it anyway, and hence… bye-bye HERE Apps.This definitely seems to be a case of Microsoft cutting off its nose to spite its face.  I also see this as a fatal move for the platform and is a certain sign that the end is near. If Nokia (of all companies…NOKIA!) abandons Windows Phone, then I have no reason to believe it’s going to survive much past 2017.
  • Windows 10 UI Advantage?
    Yeah… there isn’t any really.  Not on mobile, anyway.The UI on Windows 10 mobile is the tile interface, and that really dominates anything and everything on a Windows Mobile device and has really, since Windows Phone 7.  Microsoft really didn’t make any global UI changes of any note, in my opinion, except for what they did to Settings.On the desktop side of the Windows 10 world, they totally redesigned Settings and changed the way it looks on both Desktop and Mobile. While the mobile side of the world isn’t 100% identical to what you see on the desktop side (and vice-versa…) they’re similar enough for you to be able to not only see the similarities; but to use one vs. the other without any issues or problems.Other than this, however, I really don’t see a consumer based advantage to having the same UI on all Windows 10 devices.  From my perspective, a Windows Phone is still a Windows Phone; and as much as I may like the UI from a mobile perspective – and I do – it ain’t buyin’ me anything.  The Advantage to the same OS, regardless of platform was supposed to be Windows’ Universal Apps, and we all know how well THAT’S turned out (or do I have to go into it again..?  No??  Ok…)

Conclusion

Let’s face it bubba… Windows 10 Mobile is a total and complete bust.

There aren’t any – and in my opinion unless developers worldwide have some sort of, uh-hem, universal epiphany about Universal Apps – there won’t be any Universal Apps for Windows that will make any kind of difference, or lasting impression.  There certainly won’t be any that make Android or iOS users dump their devices for Windows Phone in general.

With Nokia HERE apps – and especially the Windows Mobile specific version of Here Drive – taking a powder from the platform completely by the end of June (meaning that they’re going to stop working for Windows Phone 8.x devices, too), one of the biggest draws to the platform is now totally gone.  Nokia is recommending that all former HERE Maps users on both OS versions look to Windows Maps (a horrible mapping, solution, BTW… Same maps, but rotten UI) for all future mapping and navigation needs.

Finally, without a real compelling UI advantage over Windows Phone 8.x, I not only don’t see the real need or desire for current users to upgrade existing devices; there’s no real drive for new users to make Windows 10 Mobile their OS of choice over an Android or iOS device.

I mean, Windows 10 may be familiar – and that may be a good thing from a desktop computing experience point of view – but from a mobile computing perspective, familiar isn’t compelling.

Its familiar.  That’s it; and familiar is boring.  Familiar isn’t going to make people drop their iPhone or cutting edge Android FLAGSHIP phone for what really only appears to be a mid-range Windows 10 Mobile device (as there really aren’t any compelling Windows 10 Mobile Flagship phones available, despite what Microsoft may have released with Nokia branding…)

I don’t mean to be down on Windows Phone or Windows 10 Mobile.  I really don’t. As I said at the beginning of this whole hullabaloo – I cut my teeth on Microsoft Mobile Devices.  This is really my platform.

The problem is, not only is Microsoft a little too little, a little too late; they’re really just in the way now.  They’re noise… they’re an annoying gnat that you’ve been trying to swat out of your face for a while now, and just won’t go away or die.

It’s sad really, but like Blackberry – who once totally OWNED the mobile device market 10-12 years ago – Windows Phone just needs to go away so that the rest of us can just move on.

It’s over kids.  These really aren’t the Droids you’re looking for…

Agree or disagree with me?  Am I missing something that really needs to be brought to light here?  Are there other nails that need to be jackhammered into the Windows 10 Mobile coffin?  Have I missed the mark, if even by a little bit..?

If so, I would REALLY welcome your input and your comments in the Discussion area below.  This has been a bit painful for me to write and to admit to not only myself, but to say out loud to all of you as well.

I really don’t want to be right on this one, man; but I can’t help but think that I am.  I mean , I know I predicted  the demise of Windows Phone just over six months ago; but predictions can often be wrong and miss the mark. The more that I look at all of this – all of the evidence – I can’t help but think that I’m right; and I really don’t want to be.

As I said, meet me in the Discussion area and give me your thoughts…or at least pass me a box of Kleenex…

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Time to get your Browser On

Ok, Microsoft killed IE8, IE9 and IE10. So… now what?

Introduction
About a week or so ago as of this writing, Microsoft effectively killed IE8, IE9 and IE10 by ending security updates for these three versions of their venerable browser, Internet Explorer. The only versions of Windows that will be able to use IE9 or IE10 after this is Windows Vista SP2 and Windows Server 2008 SP2.

However, like Windows XP, not many people are using Vista any longer. It was never a very popular operating system, being very overly resource intensive to the point of being difficult to run on contemporary computers. Upgrading to Windows 7 from Windows Vista was always a better alternative than trying to stick with Vista, in my opinion. But that’s another column for another time.

For now, if you were using Windows 7 or earlier, and you’ve been using IE8, IE9 or IE10, you have a choice to make. The list list is fairly short:

  1. You can upgrade to IE11 – If you’re using Windows 7 or Windows 8.x, you can follow the upgrade instructions here or you can upgrade directly by going here
  2. You can upgraded to Windows 10 – You can upgrade your PC to Windows 10 here. Once you do that, you can try IE11 or you can use Edge.
  3. You can upgrade to an alternative browser – You have a few choices: Firefox, Google Chrome or Opera

In my opinion, your best option, is the last option – upgrade to an alternative browser. I’ll get to why in a sec. I want to touch briefly on why the first two options may not be what you need.

Upgrading to IE11 can be problematic. At the end of the day, IE11 is still IE. IE is still a mess and still pretty much breaks the internet. IE11 still has a GREAT deal of legacy IE code in it. Its not something that I would want to run on any of my computers. If you have cause or reason to ditch ANY version of IE, not only would I do it; but I wouldn’t choose another version of IE to replace it. That’s probably some of the most sage advice you’re ever going to get from me or any other tech pundit – IE. Avoid it like the plague.

I’ve also had a GREAT deal to say about Windows 10 over the past year. It isn’t the field of sunshine and daisies that Microsoft has made it out to be. It has a number of different issues that I’ve outlined in a number of different articles. You can see some of them – perhaps the most serious – here; and I’ve outlined issues with upgrading legacy equipment here. There are some key take aways that you should be aware of:

  1. Microsoft is pushing everyone to upgrade to Windows 10. Period. They’re making it harder and harder to stay on Windows 7 or Windows 8.x
  2. Some Windows 7 or Windows 8.x PC’s weren’t meant, intended or are recommended candidates for a Windows 10 upgrade. Despite what Microsoft says about ANY PC running either Windows 7 or Windows 8.x being able to run the OS, its not always a good idea, especially on a tablet-styled ultrabook. That device may be running an optimized version of Windows, and the OEM or retailer may not officially support Windows 10 on that device. I hope I made that VERY clear in the article I wrote on my experience with Windows 10 on an officially unsupported device.

I’d even go so far to say that the low end Surface Pro 3 (with the i3 processor and 64GB of SSD storage) isn’t a good candidate for Windows 10. The i3 just doesn’t have enough punch.

Viable Options – A New Browser
Let’s run through these quickly. There’s one that I’d like to concentrate on.

Chrome
Its one of the most popular browsers in the world, but I actually think my malware issues occurred due to a security issue in the browser. I’m still having email issues and I have 2-factor authentication enabled. Once I finally and completely shed this bug, I’m never using Chrome again. I’d drop Gmail too, but I’ve not too much tied to that Google Apps email address.

Firefox
Interestingly enough, Firefox is an thought-provoking choice. Its built on the same core as Chrome – the Mozilla Project. Its similar enough to be like Chrome so that if you’re used to using it, you’re on familiar ground. However, its different enough to be its own animal and not susceptible to every bug and security hole that effects Chrome.

Opera
opera_logoOpera is a compelling alternative browser choice for a number of reasons. The most compelling of which is that it’s not one of the most widely known choices. I’ll get to why this is a huge oversite and why it might be YOUR browser of choice in due order.

Speed
Opera uses the Blink web browsing engine, which was developed as part of the Chromium project. The Chromium project was a joint effort between google, Opera, Intel and Samsung, among others. The engine is similar to that found in both Chrome and Firefox. It’s also largely responsible for Opera’s ability to crunch through web pages quickly.

Recently, Opera went head to head with Chrome, Firefox, IE and Microsoft Edge in a Best of Breed web browser competition conducted by PC World. In that test, a selection of over 30 web sites were selected. Each browser opened each site and page loads were timed and evaluated.

During this test, Opera turned out to be the best performing browser. Opera 31, with no Flash, loaded pages in just 1.64 sec. With a Flash plug-in, it required only 2.21 sec to open a page. It outperformed Google Chrome 44 (1.8 sec and 2.33 sec, respectively), and was much faster than Firefox 39 (2.6 sec. and 5.59 sec).

Opera has also gone through an extensive code refactoring. The software is really light on its feet and is less resource intensive. It’s really quick. Of everything I’m going to mention about Opera, this is probably its most compelling use factor. There are a few reasons why people use specific browsers. They either have a specific look and feel, or they offer a specific plugin or extension, or they’re fast.

The state of customization or extensions (see below) is easy to find. Most modern browsers offer ways to do this. However, at the end of the day, it’s the speed at which a particular browser renders a web page that keeps it as your browser of choice. Period. Opera has clearly demonstrated that it can play in the same internets as the big boys, AND it can outperform them.

Security
The software is under active development and security updates are released regularly. The software will also auto-update when new versions and security patches are available. You will never have to update the software on your own.

At the end of the day, staying secure is probably one of the biggest reasons why people have moved away from any and all versions of Internet Explorer (and likely one of the biggest reasons why Microsoft stopped supporting earlier versions of Internet Explorer). When Microsoft integrated it into the OS back in the Windows 98 days, it really screwed things up. It brought a browser’s insecurities to the heart of your operating system. Since Opera isn’t built on the core foundations of Microsoft Windows AND is cross platform (you can use it on OS X, Linux as well as Windows)

Eye Candy
If you’re really interested in customizing the look of your browser, Opera supports browser themes and background images. You can choose from their online catalog or use your own image. Thanks to their catalog, you can probably change themes as often as the wind changes directions.

Customizations
If you’re interested in enhancing the functionality of your browser, then you need to check out Opera’s online catalog of browser extensions. You can get weather forecasts. You can automatically translate web pages to your native language. You can install online security and ad-blocking software that integrates with the browser. Extensions enhance Opera, making it truly your own.

Opera also adjusts to your browsing habits, including how you search for content. You can choose one of the predefined, default search engines, like Google or Yahoo, or if it’s not already on the list, you can customize search by adding your own favorite search engine.

Off the Beaten Path
Of all of the modern browsers that I’ve seen in use here in the US, Opera isn’t high on the list. While that may make you think you should make another choice, it really shouldn’t.

Opera has many of the same features and functions of the more popular browsers, but it flies under the radar. Browser specific or targeted attacks shouldn’t effect it, as most malware is likely to target security holes in Chrome and Firefox.

Conclusion
Look, just because Microsoft has killed IE8, IE9 and IE10 doesn’t mean you HAVE to use Internet Explorer 11 or even Windows 10 if you don’t want to (well… at least for now, as far as Windows 10 is concerned. Microsoft is making it harder and harder to stay on Windows 7 or Windows 8.x).

However, if you’re concerned about finding a better browser, you can choose one of the top remaining, two; OR, you can go a bit off reservation and take a long, serious look at Opera.

It’s faster than Chrome and Firefox. Its secure. It’s easy to throw a coat of paint on and customize, making it new when you need it to be new. Based on all of this and the fact that is likely off most malware writer’s radar, Opera presents itself as a serious contender for your internet browsing needs.

It’s not rocket science, kids, but it is going to stop you and make you consider your options… IE is a train wreck. Chrome and Firefox are the most popular modern browser choices but have their own issues. Opera offers all the benefits that they do, but offer better performance and better security.

Are you using IE8, IE9 or IE10? Are you concerned about using IE11 or having to move to Windows 10 when you’ve already decided, its not for you ? Are you confused about what alternative browser is best for you? Have you used Opera lately? Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area, below, and give me your thoughts on browser security, and all of the alternatives I’ve out line here? Have I missed something or another alternative browser? Let me know in the comments section, below!

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Office for Mac 2016 Public Preview

Well, it’s about frickin’ time that this got some attention…

office2016

I’m a patient person, but I’ve been waiting a LONG time for this.

Back in 2010, I was all over the beta and preview releases of Office 2011 for Mac. I’ve been an avid Office user and beta tester since the implementation of Office 95 back in 1994 and 1995. To say that I’ve been using Office since it became…Office is an understatement. Yeah… I’ve been around since the beginning.

So, back to the Office 2011 Preview for Mac – which consisted of just Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and for the first time, Outlook. The main three apps, Word, Excel and PowerPoint have their quirks, but all three are very usable. They may not look or feel like their Windows counterparts, but hey, the functionality is basically the same, if albeit a bit strangely implemented. The Office for Mac Team has been, I think, overly occupied with insuring that Office for Mac looks and feels like a real Mac app as opposed to a suite that was ported over from Windows.

Big surprise, kids… Office is a Windows suite. It’s always been a Windows suite. It’s always gonna be a Windows suite, and its origins AND its UI and are firmly rooted… in Windows. You’re just NOT going to get the UI to look and feel like a true Mac app. Get over it and move on. Folks that use Office for Windows at work want to come home and have the same UI greet them when they use Office for Mac.

They do.

Anyone who tells you differently has either a hidden agenda or is too deeply rooted in the Mac culture and ecosystem to be honest about it. (Yes, I use a Mac and OS X because I didn’t want a Window machine; but I’m not married to it, you know. I may prefer it, but I’d really rather Office look and work the way I’m used to seeing and working with it. I’m just sayin’…)

So, today, I was VERY pleased to see a write up from Mary Jo Foley on the release of the first public preview of Office 2016 for Mac. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m glad that the time is now here.

If you’re already an Office for Mac user and have Office for Mac 2011 installed, you can run it alongside of Office for Mac 2016 preview without “crossing the streams.” This is a big relief for many, as there was a great deal of confusion about the initial preview release of Outlook 2016 for Mac during the Fall of 2014. The original thought was you couldn’t run it and Outlook 2011 on the same machine. Apparently now you can.

From what I’ve been able to discover so far, Microsoft is planning on updating the suite often during the preview and will notify users of the updates automatically through the Office for Mac Auto-Update tool. So, pretty much the way we’re used to getting updates to Office; but at least the thought is… on a frequent basis. Each new preview build has a shelf life of 60 days, after which, the software will expire and not run any more. Updating to a new preview build buys you another 60 days during the Official Preview period. The final preview will function for about 30 days after the suite official RTMs.

The thought on THAT date is – some time (this) Summer 2015, several months ahead of Office 2016 for Windows (which is slotted for release during “late 2015.”

So, what do you get with the suite? I mean, besides revised/reworked versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook? Well, according to Microsoft, you get a suite that is more closely aligned with its Windows (and other platform) counterparts. It’s still supposed to look like a set of Mac apps; but will more of the same features from the Windows version. For example, you get a new Ribbon that looks like the Office for Windows Ribbon. Its tightly integrated with OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, SharePoint and Office 365. It also supports Mac’s Retina Display resolutions out of the box.

Because the suite works with all flavors of OneDrive and with SharePoint, you get to access your data where ever it lives and can save it back to the same location from within the app. No more downloading a copy to your Mac, updating, saving back to SharePoint manually and then deleting the “original” so your new version is the only version there.

Office for Mac 2016 also supports Office 365 accounts, so you get cross platform access to all your stuff no matter what device you’re using. It’s obvious that Microsoft is really trying to level the playing field between all of the platforms that it supports, and that the Windows version of everything is losing its “most favored nation” status, which is a good thing. There should be a consistent level of parity between all of Microsoft’s products on every supported platform.

Microsoft Office should be Microsoft Office whether you’re on a Mac, PC, smartphone or tablet (the latter two of any and all flavors). The only things we’re missing now are Access, Publisher, Project Standard/ Professional and Visio Standard/ Professional. Publisher seems like it would be a no-brainer on the Mac. I have no idea why the app isn’t part of the Mac suite. Access, Project and Visio have well carved out spots on the enterprise side of the things.

I can see why Microsoft has dragged their feet there in the past, but Nadella’s New Microsoft shouldn’t look at those four components that way. If they’re bringing parity to all of Office where Office lives, then we’re eventually going to need those apps. I have need of both Project and Visio on my Mac right now. Publisher would be a real nice to have, and Access… well, with Bento going off the market, there’s need of a decent consumer or SOHO database app, isn’t there??

I’ve pulled down the Office for Mac 2016 Preview and I will be going through it over the next few weeks or so. I will have a review of the suite up for everyone to read as soon as I can pull it together.

download Office for Mac 2016 Public Preview

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Microsoft Releases Windows 10 build 9926 and then some

Windows Insiders got a cool surprise on Friday afternoon 2015-01-23

Well, schniekies! Its available now instead of next week. My friend Gabe Aul over at Microsoft surprised me as well as everybody else today when Microsoft released Windows 10 Build 9926 to its Windows Insiders.

Nearly everyone was looking for this sometime next week. However, as I explained recently, I’m a bit of an update nut, and yeah… I decided to check this afternoon on the off chance that Microsoft did in fact release something. I knew when I was checking that I was going to be met with a “no update available” message or with the same ISO from the TechNet Evaluation Center’s Enterprise Download page.

I was wrong. Interestingly enough, Microsoft posted the 9926.0.150119-1648.FBL_AWESOME1501_CLIENTENTERPRISE_VOL_X64FRE_EN-US.ISO file to the download center, and then my friend, Gabe Aul (@GabeAul confirmed it all. The build is available now.

Tweet9926

If you’re a Windows Insider, get to downloading. If you’re not, but want to apply to become one, you can check out the Windows Insiders home page and apply for a spot there.

After you download the software and install it, you will need to run Windows Update. Microsoft has already released fixes to a few problems in the build. You can get the straight poop on all of the issues the hot fixes resolve, here.

Tweet9926Update

…Unfortunately – and I’m hoping it’s all the download traffic – the MS KB article came up totally empty when I tried to view it. However, I was able to snag the deets on all of the updates elsewhere. The hot fixes for Build 9926 address the following issues:

Reliability improvements to prevent some system crashes in explorer.exe
Fixes an issue that could cause a deleted app to be unintentionally reinstalled
Increased power efficiency to extend battery life
Reliability improvements for virtual machine live migrations
Performance improvements for Internet Explorer
Fixes an issue that could cause pending Windows Updates to be incorrectly reported in the update history
Fixes an issue that could cause the Start Menu to be improperly registered and fail to launch
Fixes an issue that could cause random pixilation on the screen when using Remote Desktop Client

It should be noted that this is NOT the same build that Microsoft demoed at their press event on 2015-01-21. The build demoed there was Build 9944, and this is a few builds behind (Build 9926)

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Microsoft Launches Windows 10 Technical Preview

“But this one goes up to [10]..!”

Microsoft-windows10

Introduction

I’ve been working with Windows for quite some time. I was one of Microsoft’s first technical beta testers, WAY back in the day. In fact, I still have a Microsoft Account with one of the ORIGINAL @.msn.com addresses. It goes back to the Windows 95 and MSN Online betas from 1994-1995. MSN Online was Microsoft’s answer to AOL. The address is still active and used today.

I’ve been interested in Windows based tablets and TabletPC since the early 2000’s. TabletPC showed a lot of promise, but like so many things in technology, it was a bit before its time. Convertible TabletPC’s took off, but slate styled TabletPC’s (the form factor that was the precursor to the iPad and ever version of Surface and Surface Pro Windows based tablets), did not.

In fact, slate styled TabletPC’s were a total failure. The idea would eventually take root after Apple came a long with the iPad and showed us what a tablet could really do, but slate styled TabletPC’s are yet another example of technology introduced way before its time.

Microsoft Introduced Windows 8 in 2012 and like Windows Vista, the public – as well as the enterprise – completely rejected it. I think that the public and the corporate world disliked Vista because it was a performance dud. I think the public and corporate world HATED Windows 8 because the user interface changes were so drastically different from Windows XP and Windows 7 that they just couldn’t get used to it and be productive with it.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be looking at Windows 10 Technical Preview. I’ll be taking a look at both the Consumer and Enterprise versions, though in all honestly, without a AD server set up and running, I’m not going to be able to do too much evaluating on the enterprise side. The situation that I thought I might be in didn’t come through, and my look at some of the more corporate tools may not materialize as I’d hoped. However, I’m going to try…

I’ll be looking at the Consumer version on my Dell Latitude 10 ST2 tablet and the Enterprise version on my Surface Pro 1. Today, I’m going to talk about Setup.

Setting up Windows 10

There are a few different versions of the Windows 10 family available. Most people who get involved, will have the Windows 10 Technical Preview. IT Professionals will have access to the Windows 10 Technical Preview for Enterprise as well as the Windows Server Technical Preview, the windows Server Technical Preview (VHD), the Microsoft Hyper-V Server Technical Preview and the System Center Technical Preview.

Now, just for everyone’s information, here are the descriptions for the last few items:

• Microsoft System Center solutions help IT pros manage the physical and virtual information technology (IT) environments across datacenters, client computers, and devices. Using these integrated and automated management solutions, organizations can be more productive service providers to their businesses.
• Microsoft Hyper-V, formerly known as Windows Server Virtualization, is a native hypervisor; it can create virtual machines on x86-64 systems. Starting with Windows 8, Hyper-V supersedes Windows Virtual PC as the hardware virtualization component of the client editions of Windows NT.
• Windows Server (VHD) is simply the Windows 10 Server, but running from a Virtual Hard Disk.

With all of that said, Let’s get into the specifics of installing Windows 10 Technical Preview.

Microsoft Surface 1

Setting up Windows 10 Technical Preview up on my Surface Pro 1 was easy. I chose the 64bit version, downloaded the ISO file, burned it to a DVD and ran the setup file. After that, installing Office Professional Plus 2013 was super easy. Everything seems to be running correctly and working as intended. While I know there are some touch enabled features that aren’t quite there at this point, what I’m seeing so far looks solid.

What’s going to be key here is the balance of Windows 7 and Windows 8 styled interfaces that create what is supposed to be Windows 10. Specifically, what we’re looking to see here is how well MetroUI or ModernUI is hidden, removed or modified to provide a more user acceptable UI.

This is a wait and see development that I will be examining over the next few weeks. Stay tuned for more on this, as well as Microsoft Windows 10.

Dell Latitude 10 ST2 Windows 8 Pro Tablet

Wow.

This is clearly an example of all computers/ tablets are NOT created equally. I’ve been trying to install Windows 10 on this tablet now for about 3 days. It hasn’t gone well at all. I have no idea what is wrong, or what is going on.

First of all, I tried to install the 64bit version. Huge mistake, as the ST2 tablet is a 32bit device. Seeing as setup wouldn’t even start, I had asked my good friend, Larry Seltzer how he got it installed on his ST2 and he reminded me that the Dell as a 32bit machine. So, back to downloading I went.

After I got the right version installed, I decided that I wanted the Enterprise version installed, so I grabbed it, burned it to a DVD and then installed it, completely wiping the tablet in the process. Big mistake…

I’m not sure what the issue is with the Enterprise version on this tablet, but it wasn’t very well liked by this unit. I wasn’t able to install any software on it, including Office Professional Plus 2013. The install routine would get about 35-40% through and simply stall. I let the app sit there “running” for more than 16 hours, and it never budged. In total, I’ve tried to get Office installed on this tablet for about 2.5 days. Its not been fun or encouraging.

I think I’m running into some hardware issues. I’m not sure if the processor isn’t completely supported, if there’s a graphics problem or WHAT else might be causing the install routine to go out to lunch, but this is really ticking me off. I have no idea why things are stalling in the middle of the install routine.

The only way I’ve been able to kill the stalled install routine is to turn off the device. That however, preserves the install state of the Office install, and when you try to restart it, it must first remove the changes made by the PREVIOUS install before it can continue, giving the unit yet another chance to have the install stall

I checked the Dell Support Page for this model and I do have a BIOS update available for it. There is also a relatively new chipset driver update that is available. I’m going to try the BIOS update first and then see if the chipset drivers will install or help if the BIOS update doesn’t resolve the issue. I was five BIOS versions behind…

This could also be an issue where the support files for the ST2 just aren’t really there yet. Honestly, I have no idea why I’m having issues and Larry Seltzer didn’t. We have the same device. I’ll keep everyone posted on this.

In the mean time, do you have any questions or concerns about Windows 10 that you’d like me to look into for you, please let me know and I’ll be happy to get the info and then report back to everyone. In the mean time, I’m going to go grab a crowbar and see if I can’t get everything installed on the Dell that I want and need to get installed. This is getting to be a bit on the silly side…

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Manage your Windows PC with GEGeek Tech Toolkit

Manage your Windows PC with this collection of technical apps and utilities.

GGTK-09

Windows is a great operating system that is riddled with opportunities for improvement. Historically, this is a great way of saying that the OS has serious issues. Its also a great way of saying that it needs help. Which is one of the reasons why utility suites like GEGeek Tech Toolkit is something that nearly every somewhat technical Windows user needs. If you have a Windows PC, you really need to do yourself a favor and check it out.

GEGeek Tech Toolkit is a complete collection of over 300 Portable freeware, tech related programs. All of them are all accessible from a single Menu Launcher Utility. The utility suite resides on a USB or flash drive, providing the user the ability to update the programs with little to no intervention. This insures that the apps are completely portable.

The app is a system tray tool that gives you access to its cache of tools and utilities. You run the toolkit main executable, and it puts everything on the flash drive at your disposal within a couple of clicks. It has apps like WinRAR, Chrome and Firefox, as well as malware removal and disk recovery tools. The apps are part of the download and included with the suite. Everything runs off the flash drive.

I’m actually afraid to run any of the utilities in this suite, but I was finally able to get the software to download and correctly decompress. It took me five timeDs to do it, but I finally got it to work.

Getting the software to download, however, was difficult. It would not download to my Mac either via OS X or Windows 7 via Parallels. The download kept getting corrupted just at the end. I was finally able to download the software on my Surface Pro, but after decompressing the downloaded file, Windows Defender identified at least 7 components as hacker software/malware.

Finally, the product website is a huge mess. There’s SO much information screaming at you when you visit the product’s website that its very difficult to process it all and make sense of it. Even I got lost in it; and I know my way around software and websites. Its in need of a serious overhaul as well.

While everything in this utility suite runs, I’m not entirely certain I can recommend the application to general users. Use this one at your own risk.

Download

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iPhone 6 First Impressions

I’ve had the iPhone 6 for a few days and here are my initial thoughts on the device

iphone-6

It happens every year since 2007. The world goes bat-stuff crazy when Apple announces and then releases a new iPhone or iDevice. Everyone that has the old one WANTS to get the new one. Not everyone that wants one can either afford to buy one or those that are, are lucky enough to get one on the actual launch day. This year, I was blessed enough to be both.

I’ve been playing with a space gray, iPhone 6 since the evening of 2014-09-19. I completed an unboxing for Soft32 that you can see on my site, iTechGear.org.

After working with the device for about five or so days, I have the following to share about the device.

Size and Form Factor

The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is perhaps one of the thinnest smartphones I have ever put my hands on. While the 4.7″ screen size is perhaps the biggest – and most noticeable – of Apple’s new smartphone’s features, the device’s waist size is relevant news, especially after report after report of the device bending.

With the new design, the iPhone has departed from its four version, design stagnation (iPhone 4, iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, iPhone 5s). The iPhone 6/6 Plus is new. Its sexy. Its bigger, and its thinner. It provides the user with a whole new smartphone experience; or at least that is what Apple would have you believe; and its probably true.

In hand, either device is huge. While the 6 Plus is like holding an iPad mini to your head, the iPhone 6, while only slightly smaller, is still vastly larger than its predecessors. Over the past few days, I’ve found that holding the device is noticeable, especially after using the iPhone 5 over the past two years. However, its noticeably larger, and you know that you know that you’re using a much larger device.

The device is super sexy; but I wouldn’t use it without a case. I made this decision BEFORE hearing about all of the device bending stories and before seeing all of the pictures. As such, the day that I got my iPhone 6, I went to AT&T and bought an OtterBox Defender Series Case for my iPhone 6. I love the profile of the iPhone 6, but if smartphones get any thinner, they will definitely need to be able to bend or fold on purpose in order to prevent the device from being damaged.

You won’t want it to be in a case, but you’re GOING to need something to help protect the device. Its really a GREAT looking device; but while Apple has done a really great job of designing a technologically advanced, consumer friendly device, it may have gone too far in thinning it out.

The screen seems great, and iOS 8 provides a way to change the display resolution on the device to provide those with failing eyesight – like me – a way of changing the zoom level so that its easier to read. The setting is available on both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

So far, I like the size change. The older form factor seems tiny by comparison. Thankfully, the larger device still fits in my Arkon Car Mount, allowing me to use the device with my hands free kit in my car.

I’ll have more on the device size and my use of it in my full review of the iPhone 6.

Battery

Over the past few days, there have been a number of reports on issues with battery life. I have on occasion experienced some of this. While the battery in the iPhone 6 is definitely bigger – you can tell its got a longer battery life – its clear that in some instances, it should last longer than it does.

Like many others, I connect my iPhone to my Pebble Steel, my car radio, my Nike Fuel Band, my Bluetooth headset, and of course, my MacBook Pro, among other devices. While many of these may be BT-LE compatible, and therefore don’t suck too much power, some of them aren’t. Interestingly enough, I don’t see Bluetooth being among the guilty parties in some of the power drains I’ve seen.

As with the iPhone 5 and earlier, most of the drain I’m seeing is coming from screen and processor/co-processor use. Yes. You can read that as gaming. Its also one of the biggest reasons why I really don’t do a lot of gaming on my iPhones. At the end of the day – literally…the end of the day – it doesn’t pay off.

On my iPhone 5, I could start the day with a full charge and after one session of Angry Birds Friends, where I went through all 6 levels for the week – perhaps, 30 minutes of play – my battery life would be down below 70%. I’m seeing similar performance with my iPhone 6.

Some games just suck battery life. You’re going to need to govern your game play and figure out which games are the biggest culprits. I’ll have more on battery life with my review.

iOS 8

I’ve written a lot on iOS 8 over the past few months. You can see my coverage on Soft32 over the past few months, here, here, here and here. The beta period wasn’t pretty. While the OS itself is showing some stability, the release of iOS 8.0.1, has been just as big a train wreck as the other pre-releases of the new mobile OS. Apple, like so many others, is cutting corners on quality; and when you have something like this, being this big, and this visible, you simply just can’t.

Releases of any mobile operating system need to be clean and as issue free as possible. As a software quality professional with over 25 years in quality, I can tell you that there will always be bugs. Always. You’re not going to get away from them. However, you need to make sure that the bugs that you are releasing with are known, of lower priority and severity, and that fixes are planned and coming. Releasing an update to your mobile operating system that disables all mobile, cellular communications and kills the device’s biometric security measures is certain evidence that your QA director isn’t watching where the ship is going. Defects of that severity and priority were easy to spot and should have prevented the release of the update.

I’ll have more on the device, including comparative photos of the iPhone 6 up against the iPhone 5, the HTC One (M8) and Lumia 520 that I have. If you have any specific questions on the device or on iOS 8, I’d be happy to address them in my review. Please feel free to leave your questions in the comments section, below.

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