Predictions for 2014

Here are my tech predictions for the coming year…

predictionsGazing into a crystal ball isn’t always an easy thing to do, especially in the tech world.   So much can change so quickly, that guessing what may or may not happen is, at times, nothing more than a SWAG – a Silly Wild <BEEP!> Guess.   Figuring out what is and isn’t possible vs. what is or isn’t probable, I try not to get into. It simply doesn’t make for good journalism in many cases, because so much can and usually does change so quickly in the tech world. In most cases you either end up with a, “well THAT was way off,” a “close but not quite,” or “keep trying… you’ll get it eventually.”   If some journalists DO get things right, it’s usually not because they made the right level of analysis, it’s usually because they were fed or had access to inside information, or the guess was so totally obvious that most anyone who follows the news could have guessed it and been right.

Well, I’m going to try to hit on all of those and I’m going to give it a go anyway. I figure that I haven’t got anything to lose. As I said, I’m either going to be way off, or I’m going to hit the no brainers.   Be that as it may, here are my tech predictions for 2014 in no particular order.

1.    Wearable Computing Still Doesn’t Take Off
This is really an easy one. The Samsung Galaxy Watch isn’t selling well. Having a wearable that does nothing more than pair with your phone and mimic some of its functionality when the device is in range of its Bluetooth 4.x radio hasn’t been received very well. In fact, the watch isn’t selling well at all.   Samsung may have gotten to market first on this, but despite being heavily anticipated, the watch hasn’t delivered much to its users except a high price tag.

Apple has hung back on this, and hasn’t released its highly anticipated wearable, popularity thought to be called the iWatch.   If it does nothing more than what Samsung’s wearable does, you can pretty much expect it to be a dud too.   I think this, more than anything else is why you haven’t seen Apple release this device yet.   If you remember, Apple released the iPhone in 2007, after it had been rumored to be in development for at least 4 years.   At the time, Steve Jobs KNEW that he had one shot at this. If he didn’t get it right, then the iPhone would have been an iDud, and the tech world would be very different today, indeed.   I think Apple is doing the same thing with the iWatch.

The iWatch needs to be innovative. It needs to be elegant. Most importantly, it needs to be affordable.   Having an additional $300-$500 iDevice accessory added on to your already expensive iDevice isn’t going to do your checking account any favors. Not only will it need to do everything that the Samsung Galaxy Watch does, but it will have to do much, much more.   While it might be nice to have fitness, activity and sleep monitoring built into it, it’s going to have to do much more than that as well. It may be that figuring out exactly WHAT else it needs to do is the key holdup in the device’s release – no one really knows exactly what else it SHOULD DO, especially since the Samsung product hit the market with a clear and solid thud.

It’s for this reason that I don’t think wearables take off in 2014.   In fact, it may be the end of the concept as well.   If Apple can’t figure this one out, then the whole device concept may just fade and –uh hem… – wear itself out.

2.    Blackberry Totally Folds – Sells off its Assets
I’ve been pretty bearish on Blackberry, formerly RIM, for quite a while.   I had a good feeling that the one serious buyout offer it had wouldn’t fly, and that its (former) CEO, Thorsten Heins, would end up on the outside looking in.   Like most of what its known for, the actions that the company took were too little, too late to garner any serious buyout candidates.   Blackberry’s new CEO, John Chen really has one chance to get it right, and if he’s on top of things, then he will act on the TRUE best interests of the company and forget the restructuring and rebuilding of the business and just sell the company’s assets off to the highest bidder(s) he can find.

The organization’s time is over; and while farming out the manufacturing of their handsets to FoxConn may have been a good idea, like the rest of what the company has done, it is also a development that is very late in coming to reality. If John Chen is smart, he’ll realize the company is too far gone to breathe serious life back into and will just sell off what he can to retrieve shareholder value back before the company has to declare bankruptcy and then its assets are worth just a fraction of their worth.   The biggest problem the company has is that it can’t afford another loss like its last quarter.   It doesn’t have another $4.0B to lose.

3.    Apple & Samsung Still Can’t Get it Together
I’ve seen a number of articles that point to the fact that Samsung and Apple are headed back to the arbitration table in 2014 before their trial is set to restart in 2015.   The two organizations don’t have a track record for cooperation or doing things on the cheap. Given this, and the fact that Samsung is totally on the hook for a HUGE wad of cash, I don’t think they’re going to agree to disagree, let alone agree on an appropriate settlement between them. Given all this, I think it’s a decent bet that Apple and Samsung will drag out negotiations up until the trial date and then put the bulk of the matter back in Judge Lucy Koh’s lap…and she’s prolly gonna have a cow.

To put it bluntly, this is going to extend well into 2015, and then it still won’t end well for Samsung. They’re going to have to come up with a great deal of cash to resolve the issue; and they aren’t going to be happy about that.   With extra scrutiny on them and their design processes, I think that many new devices that come out of Samsung will be viewed as Apple iPhone copies for many, many years. I also think they will likely have trouble coming up with new, innovative designs, as they haven’t really done anything original since just before the release of the iPhone in 2007.

4.    Microsoft’s Next CEO is…
Satchin Mulally.   I mean Alan Nadella.   Yeah… this one isn’t any easy call.

However, I believe it’s going to come down to one of these two candidates. Nadella has the history and familiarity with Microsoft and its products; and probably has enough juice within the organization and familiarity with the Board to get the level of support he would need to be successful. He also has YEARS of tech experience. The one thing he doesn’t have – experience turning a large company around…

Which Mulally has…   Ford was in an awful mess.   It took a lot not only to turn public opinion of the brand around, but a lot to get the company back on track.   Windows in and of itself isn’t a bad brand. Neither is Microsoft, for that matter.   They’ve got brand management issues to be sure, but with the right CEO, I still think Microsoft can turn it all around.   That’s what Mulally can do for the company.   Not only do I think he’s up to the challenge, I think it would be interesting for him to take on the role and see what he could do with it.   If he could do the same thing for Microsoft that he did with Ford, then the remainder of his career would be set. He could go where he wants or stay at MS and retire a very happy, VERY rich man.

Unfortunately for Mulally, he has absolutely NO tech experience what so ever, and would have to rely on his executive staff to provide him with the support he would need to drive the company.   This could also be a good move for Nadella, as his level of autonomy could grow and he could basically have his way with his divisions, providing ample evidence that he can run the entire organization once Mulally does decide to retire, marking him as the heir apparent. For Nadella, this could be a win-win.

What do you think will happen with these four issues?   Am I off my nut, or did I hit some of these on the head, or merely come close? Do you have any other predictions that you think might or might not come true? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the discussion below.   Why not join us there and give us your thoughts on these and other tech predictions for 2014?

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Manage your photo collection with JPhotoTagger

downloadWith the Holiday Season upon us, its important to have the right digital photo utilities in your tool box. You’re going to want to find your stuff and get it together quickly so that you can share them with family and friends. This is why I really like tools like JPhotoTagger. It’s a digital photo utility for Windows and it can help you keep track of all of your digital photos.

JPhotoTagger is a platform independent Photo Manager, that has a native installer for Windows. You can use it to manage and find your photos quickly through the application of keywords, descriptions and other tags. It uses autocomplete to help speed up adding or editing tags, making it easy to apply them, and then eventually, search for them. All tags are written into XMP sidecar files and JPhotoTagger’s database. Your photos aren’t modified.

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One of JPhotoTagger’s best features is its ability to work with other applications like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. JPhotoTagger automatically reads tags from new and changed sidecar files and updates it’s own database. You can tag your photos with Lightroom and JPhotoTagger, even on different operating systems, and JPhotoTagger can work with and use those tags. The app runs on any system where Java is installed.

Depending on how you have your photos organized, using utilities like JPhotoTagger can be a huge help. If your photo library is large, like mine, having some way to quickly organize and add metadata to it that will help you find what you’re looking for so you can add photos to the right folders; or to find what you want to share with friends and family can be important.

The biggest problem that I see with JPhotoTagger is that it uses and needs Java to run. Aside from the security issues, which are numerous and enough to make you not want to install it on your machine, getting Java is problematic enough, in that there are a number of different suspicious apps that really want to install when you try to go and find the install file for your platform at Java.com.  

download JPhotoTagger

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2013 Last Minute Holiday Buyer’s Guide – Part 4

These are some of the hottest gifts available now, and some really good advice on which to get and why.

soft32_presentOver the past few years, I’ve put together a Holiday Buyer’s Guide. I never got to do one last year due to commitments to the now defunct Byte. Thankfully, I’ve got a chance to do it this year; and while nearly everything you see here will have some kind of software available for it from Soft32, I’m going to cover the hot categories – tablets, computers, smartphones, and accessories.

What you’re going to see are recommendations only. I don’t have everything that I’m going to list, so these aren’t necessarily reviews and shouldn’t be considered as such. However, I will try to cover recommendations from as many major camps within a given category as I can. For example, I’ll likely recommend a computer from the Windows as well as the Mac camp, a tablet from the Windows, iOS and/or Android camp, etc.

This is going to take a few days to get through, so please come back often to Soft32 for updates to the series. I’m going to do my best to get the series completed as quickly as possible. I’ve been covering some of the best and hottest gifts available. Today, we’re going to talk about accessories; or those wonderful items that bring joy and extra convenience to an already awesome device.

Accessories – or All the Things you Never Knew you Needed

Over the past few days or a week or so, I’ve been giving you what I think are some decent gift ideas, but more importantly, some good advice about what to buy if and when you decide you need or want a – tablet, a computer, or a smartphone. The most important thing to remember here is that there is no right or wrong answer to the question, “what should I get.” The only thing you really have to worry about is buyer’s remorse (wishing you would have purchased something else) or in spending too much or more likely, not enough.

After you HAVE made a decision, there are a few things that you might want to consider purchasing to further enhance the experience you and your loved one(s) have with the device. The options are nearly limitless here. Lord knows, I am not going to pour through tons and tons of wireless speakers, headsets and cases. I’d probably go bats, and quite honestly, we don’t’ have enough time to consider everything that’s out there. There are a couple of items that you might want to consider regardless of what kind, type or brand of device you get. I will however, give you a couple suggestions in each of the three categories that we’ve considered – Tablets, Computers and Smartphones. Let’s take a look at those and see what we come up with.

However, before we get going, you’ll notice that I don’t’ have a lot of advice when it comes to buying accessories. I will mention this – be practical, at least in the beginning. Many accessories, sleeves, cases, etc. may look cool, but you may find that they don’t fill the need you thought you had after you get them. Give yourself the time and opportunity to work without some particular item or type of item until you KNOW that you’re going to need or use it. This is especially important if the add-on you’re looking at or considering is expensive.

Tablets

The best thing you can get for your tablet is a case. If that case also happens to be a keyboard, then it’s a double win. The issue here is finding one that works with your tablet of choice. Any Bluetooth keyboard will pair. Finding one that’s also a cover and can sleep the device when closed is really what you want. You’re also going to definitely want something to cover and protect the screen.

To that end, Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover Black for iPad 2 and iPad (3rd/4th generation) is a GREAT choice for any iPad you might purchase, as it works with everything BUT the original iPad. At around $75 USD, it is a bit pricey, but if you plan to use your iPad as your main computing device, a dedicated keyboard is really going to be a big help when it comes to word processing or email.

Any other kind of accessory, is really gravy after you get a case; and a case should be the first thing on your purchase list for any new tablet you purchase, regardless of size or OS. The more protection you give your tablet, the longer it will last and the larger its resale value when it comes time to move on.

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2013 Last Minute Holiday Buyer’s Guide – Part 3

These are some of the hottest gifts available now, and some really good advice on which to get and why.

Over the past few years, I’ve put together a Holiday Buyer’s Guide. I never got to do one last year due to commitments to the now defunct Byte. Thankfully, I’ve got a chance to do it this year; and while nearly everything you see here will have some kind of software available for it from Soft32, I’m going to cover the hot categories – tablets, computers, smartphones, and accessories.

What you’re going to see are recommendations only. I don’t have everything that I’m going to list, so these aren’t necessarily reviews and shouldn’t be considered as such. However, I will try to cover recommendations from as many major camps within a given category as I can. For example, I’ll likely recommend a computer from the Windows as well as the Mac camp, a tablet from the Windows, iOS and/or Android camp, etc.

This is going to take a few days to get through, so please come back often to Soft32 for updates to the series. I’m going to do my best to get the series completed as quickly as possible. The other day I covered one of the hottest holiday gift items around – tablets. Today, we’re going to look at computers or PC’s.

holiday-present-7005361

Smartphones: The Key to the Whole Thing – Introduction


I said this a couple days ago – I cut my teeth on smartphones. Back in the day they were called PDA Phones but any way you cut it, they were less advanced versions of the same devices we have today – calendar, contacts, email, and yes…some apps.

Mobile development is very different than it used to be. Most everything used to be a lot more complicated and pretty disjointed. If you had an app on a device and you upgraded to a new device on the same operating system, you weren’t guaranteed that the app would run on the new device. If the screen size was different, it was a completely different game. Newer versions of the OS also more than likely meant that you either had to leave the app behind, upgrade for a fee, or rebuy a license.

Buying apps was also very disjointed. There were specific web-based stores, and they didn’t always allow you to redownload purchases. Hard resetting your device meant that you may also have to do without an app if you didn’t make a back up of its installation file and registration information when you initially bought it. It wasn’t fun.

Today, with the implementation of the software ecosystem, things are much easier. There are centralized stores for each mobile operating system. There are multiple OEM’s with multiple devices on at least two of the three major mobile platforms available today. There are tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of apps available for download and/or purchase. In short, we’ve come a LONG way in under 10 years.
When considering a smartphone for a loved one this Holiday season, you have a few different choices available to you. I’m not going to touch on some of the more “off the beaten track” options. This would include things like Symbian (sorry Nokia fans…), Firefox OS, or Tizen (formerly MeeGo OS, or the next version of Nokia’s mobile OS that didn’t quite make it off the ground).

 

Key Considerations

As expected, I’m going to cover Android, iOS and yes, Windows Phone. More than likely, you’re going to find something in one of these three ecosystems to meet your needs. However, just like the tablets I recommended the other day, you’re going to have to watch out for a couple of key items here.

  1. Do you or your loved one(s) already have a smartphone and/or tablet and you’re just looking to upgrade your device? If you’re looking to upgrade your device from an older model to a newer model, or if you already have an Android or iOS device, there’s a good chance you may want to stay within that particular ecosystem. This really makes like a lot easier for you or your loved one receiving a smartphone as a gift this Holiday season. They likely won’t have to learn anything new or have to change the way they work and can simply start using the device out of the box, after its activated. Most mobile OS revisions are evolutionary instead of revolutionary, meaning that there isn’t drastic change from major release to major release. Moving from iOS 5 to iOS 6 was pretty easy. So was the move from Android Ice Cream Sandwich to Jelly Bean. Even the move from iOS 6 to iOS 7 wasn’t too horrible, once you got past the UI element changes.
  2. Are you planning on switching ecosystems or is this the first device in an ecosystem? If this is your gift recipient’s first smartphone, or if they’re planning or wanting to change ecosystems then you have two very different considerations to take into account.
    - If you’re switching ecosystems: How many apps do you actively use? If you use a LOT of apps, determine the cost of rebuying all of those, and factor that into the cost of the new device. If you can’t use the device the way you want, then it may not be a good idea to switch ecosystems. If the cost of repurchasing all those apps pushes you over your budget, then you may have to rethink your purchase, or choose a lower cost model within that ecosystem.
    If you’re new to the smartphone game and this is your first device: Think long and hard about the choice you’re going to make. Its likely going to dictate what kind of upgrade device you’re going to purchase in the next 18 to 24 months. Its also going to dictate where you purchase your apps, songs and videos. You’re going to need to be comfortable with that choice, as it may limit your purchasing options, or they could be a bit more open than you thought. Being informed is being empowered and should make your life a bit easier, as you’ll know what to expect, and about how much you may initially spend.
  3. What kind of accessories have you purchased? Can they be used with the new device? If you or your gift recipient already has a device, how much stuff do you have? If you have a boat load of accessories, will you be able to use them with the new device? If the answer is, “no,” then you have to determine what you can live without and what you can’t, as you may need to repurchase a LOT of stuff. Some times adapters exist, but aren’t always very practical or very usable. Device accessories are a huge cottage business for many; and a very lucrative one at that. If you have to leave a lot of accessories behind, you may need to factor the cost of replacing them into the purchase price of the device or plan on when you’re going to buy replacements. The key point to take away here, is to know what you can use and what you can’t and then figure out the associated costs and plan for the expense.
  4. What kind of budget do you have for this purchase?

This is going to dictate what device you get and depending on what kind of apps and accessories you have already purchased, you may need to adjust your choice to account for budget.

Accessories and ecosystem aside, many of the best smartphones are very high priced, and many users may think its not practical to buy unsubsidized devices, as the down stroke to get into the device may be too deep.

At the end of the day, you need to realize that buying a smartphone is a bigger decision than just picking one and taking it home. You have upgrade considerations, content considerations and accessory considerations to account for. All of these will effect your device or near term costs. Being informed is being empowered and will allow you to make the best gift decision for you or your loved one(s).

In light of that – and I’ll likely have a column or article on this at a later date – you need to get ready for US cellular carriers to drop phone subsidies. T-Mobile was the first to do that. Subsidies cost carriers money. They try to pass that cost on to consumers, but they would rather finance the cost of the device, pushing the full cost to the consumer, than subsidizing it, where they share the cost of the device.

Before we get into what devices to consider, please note that I am going to make these recommendations devoid of carrier considerations. Based on your geographic location and the carrier choices available to you, you may need to adjust these recommendations to suite your needs.

Android

Of the three major mobile operating systems to choose from, picking the right Android phone represents the biggest challenge out there. When it comes to iOS devices, only one manufacturer is making that kind of device – Apple. When it comes to Windows Phone, while more than one OEM makes a Windows Phone, its really Nokia’s Lumia line that calls attention to itself. However, when it comes to Android devices the field of viable players is much wider.

And quite honestly, so are many of the phones. I think one of the biggest issues that I have with Android phones is that they are, in many cases, freakishly wide. I know that wide screens are really in right now, but I really have an issue with many of the Android phones available today. They’re too wide in my opinion.

However, screen size aside, as of this writing, if I had to or wanted to choose and Android phone for myself I’d likely choose either a HTC One or a Nexus 5. Both devices are high end smartphones and will provide you with, possibly, years of reliable use.

The HTC One comes in either 32GB or 64GB flavors and has a quad-core 1.7Ghz Snapdragon processor. It has 2GB of RAM and has decent battery life, despite the power it possesses. The device is probably one of the best that HTC has ever engineered and that’s saying a lot for a company that defined what smartphones really should be between 2003 and 2006 when they supplied i-mate with some of the best devices ever made.

If the HTC one isn’t for you, then you might want to try the Nexus 5. While its camera doesn’t even come close to competing with the 41MP camera in the Lumia 1020, at 8MP it is on par with other offerings available today.

The Nexus 5 is Google’s latest phone, and is guaranteed to provide the most Google-like experience available today. All other Android experiences may be tainted by the customized software layer that most OEM’s place on top of Android, like HTC’s latest version of HTC Sense.

The Nexus 5 will always run the latest version of Android (as long as its supported) and costs an affordable $349, unlocked. Many other devices, including the Apple iPhone 5S, cost over $600 unlocked.

iOS

While all three major wireless carriers, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint offer a subsidized version of the iPhone 5S, the only thing you have to worry about is which one do you want a 2 year contract with. At $199, the 16GB iPhone 5S is probably the best way to go. Its affordable and gets you the latest version of the device without breaking the bank. If $199 is too much for you to spend on a device that will require a 2 year contractual commitment, then considering the iPhone 4S is a good decision, as it will require no money down. The only thing you need to understand is that it only comes in an 8GB flavor, which may not offer enough room to store apps and other content.

Apple’s cell phone is a decent buy and a good decision for those computing users who use Macs as their PC of choice or for those that really like iTunes and the iTunes Music Store. A decision to purchase an iDevice is really driven more by content than by any other factor, in my opinion.
Windows Phone
The biggest reason to get a Windows Phone is NOT because of the ecosystem or because of the software store or accessories. Windows Phone is a hot mess right now, when it comes to ecosystem and software stores. There are two reasons to get a Windows Phone right now – ease of use and digital camera; and honestly, the second reason out-weighs the first.

If pushed, many mobile pundits – myself included – will tell you that despite its many disjointed, ecosystem challenges, Windows Phones have some of the best built in cameras on the market today. At 41MP, they have some of the best point and shoot digital cameras on the market. In fact, the camera on a Windows Phone likely has a higher megapixel rating than your DSLR or dedicated, point and shoot digital camera.

To this end, if you’re interested in a Windows Phone, the one to get would be the Lumia 1020. It has a 4.5″ AMOLED display, a 41MP PureView camera and a 1.5Ghz Snapdragon processor. It supports LTE network bands 2, 4, 5 and 17. It also has 2GB of RAM and 32GB of onboard storage for documents, apps and content. Despite whatever issues or short comings the ecosystem has, the device is getting good press from all over the industry. If you’re looking for a Windows Phone, the Lumia 1020 is the one to get.

Conclusion

Buying a smartphone is not an easy task, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. In many cases, its likely going to become your defacto internet device. You’ll likely do more web surfing over your phone than you will with your PC.

Regardless of what decision you ultimately make regarding which device to buy, you’ll need to answer a few questions for yourself before moving forward –

  1.  Do you or your loved one(s) already have a smartphone and/or tablet and you’re just looking to upgrade your device?
  2. Are you planning on switching ecosystems or is this the first device in an ecosystem?
  3. What kind of accessories have you purchased? Can they be used with the new device?
  4. What kind of budget do you have for this purchase?

Like PC’s and tablet’s budget limitations may drive your smartphone purchase. If that’s the case with you, then do yourself a favor and still go through the exercise I’ve outlined here. It will at the very least get to take a long hard look at the larger picture of choosing the best smartphone for you.

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View documents with WinDJView

1345038259_1340602910_windjviewView documents with this fast and easy to use PDF alternative reader for Windows.

Taking documentation with you, or even distributing documentation can be a very important task. PDF’s may be the defacto default, but the solution can be expensive to create and thankfully, they aren’t the only game in town. This is one of the major reasons why apps like WinDJView. It’s a DJvu reader for Windows.

DjVu (pronounced “déjà vu”) is a digital document format similar to PDF with advanced compression technology and a high performance value. DjVu allows for the distribution via the Internet and on DVD of very high resolution images of scanned documents, digital documents, and photographs.

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WinDJView reads these portable documents and is a fast, compact and powerful viewer with a tabbed interface, continuous scrolling and advanced printing options. It also supports Windows XP to Windows 8.x. If you need to pull parts out, the app will let you first search to find the passages you need but then highlight and copy what you need out.

WinDJView is a solid piece of software and the DJvu format is a great alternative to Adobe’s PDF format. The software has everything that you would want in a reader app, and I found it very easy to install and use. If you want to convert documents to DJvu format, you can do so for free at DJvu.org.

download WinDJView

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2013 Last Minute Holiday Buyer’s Guide – Part 2

Computers – or How to get Some Serious Work Done – Introduction

image3809I’ve been working with computers since 1981 when I began managing a computer retail store at the age of 16. Back then, in the days just prior to the retail introduction of the IBM PC and PC AT (the AT stood for Advanced Technology) most computers were very much reminiscent of the game consoles of today.  Computers like the TI99-4A and the Commodore 64 or the Apple II, were common place and were really more about playing games than getting serious work done.

Today, things are much different.  Computers can do real work and be taken most anywhere you need them to go. You can get them with a number of different operating systems on them, and in some cases a single computer can run more than one operating system…sometimes, even at once.  However, that may require some expertise and/or optional hardware and/or software in order to get it to run correctly.

There are a number of different choices in the desktop, notebook and ultrabook categories of hardware as well as in operating systems.  There’s a bit more to consider here than there was for tablets, so get ready to take in some information.  It may be a bit long, but in the end, I think you’ll find it worth the read.  Finding the right computer for your loved one(s) this Christmas is going to require you to consider the following:

What are you trying to do and how critical is the mission?

Assessing what you want to do and how important it is to you is totally subjective.  No one can really tell you that the tasks that you’ve set out for yourself are unimportant other than YOU. The answer to this question will help guide you to the right type of hardware.  The point is you want the right tool for the job.  For example, if your most important task is school work, you’re going to want something with a decent keyboard, and probably a dedicated – rather than integrated – pointing device. If the most important task is digital photo retouching, you’re going to want something that has a decent, monitor or screen. If you’re doing video work, you’re going to need a decent amount of processing power.

If you’re looking for a recreational PC, and your most important activity is social networking or email or web surfing, then the class of machine you’ll likely want or need is going to be completely different. You need to choose the hardware type and configuration that best suits your needs.

What software tools are available to satisfy that need; and at what cost(s)?

One of the best things about Soft32 is that it has a number of different resources for a number of different hardware platforms.  You can find software for Mac, Windows as well as mobile platforms. Having a place where you can find different kinds of applications at affordable prices is important.  Keep our link close at hand.

When you consider what you want to do with a computer, determining what tools might best perform those tasks is important. For example, while “Program X” may be available for both Mac and Windows, it may actually work better on one platform than on another.  Specific features may be better implemented on one side of the fence than on the other, or it may be easier to get the TYPE of applications you’re looking for on one platform rather than another.

Determining what you might want to complete your mission critical tasks with and what operating system they work best under will be a key factor in determining the kind of computer you buy. For example, Quicken from Intuit has always been much more advanced and much more complete on the Windows than on OS X. If financial management is your mission critical task and Quicken is your tool of choice, then a Windows machine may be a better choice than a Mac or Linux machine.  The differences between the way Microsoft Office functions on a Windows box vs. a Mac has closed a great deal with Office for Mac 2011.  Word for Mac 2011 is very similar in functionality to Word 2010/2013 for Windows.  The same can nearly be said for both Excel and PowerPoint. In this case, you could choose either a Mac or a Windows box.

However, if Exchange connectivity with a Microsoft tool (namely Outlook) or working with desktop database apps (namely Access) is an important part of your productivity regimen, then again, a Windows machine is likely your best bet.  At the end of the day, you need to assess what apps you will have access to, to satisfy your computing needs and then pick the hardware platform that has those tools.

This isn’t an easy task, and will likely take the most time in choosing either a first time PC or in reassessing what options you have when considering a computer upgrade.

What hardware configuration best meets that need; and where do you need to perform the work?

Different computing devices are better suited to the specific tasks for which they were specifically designed. In other words, you’re not going to want to do CAD/CAM work with a smartphone or netbook. You’re going to need to choose the type of device you need based on what you’re trying to do.

If you don’t need to cart your computer around, then picking a desktop is likely an easy/easier decision.  If portability is a need, then you need to determine HOW portable you need to be; or more easily put, how much junk are you going to be carrying around with you when you’re likely to need your computer? If you’re a mobile warrior – sales exec or IT consultant/contractor – frequently bouncing from place to place, then you may want something that is small and easy to carry along with the rest of your gear. If you’re a photographer or other video or freelancing professional, you may want or need  something with a large, or high resolution screen.

With the implementation of touch and the growing popularity of tablets, you now also need to consider how important a touch screen will be to you, as many notebooks and ultrabooks now come with touch screens and either a capacitive or resistive stylus. You need to determine if you’re more interested in a standard touch experience (best with a capacitive touch screen) vs. handwritten note experience (best with a resistive touch screen).

There are a lot of choices to be made here, the least of which include rotating hard drive or SSD, hard drive or SSD size, RAM amount, processor brand, type and model and graphics adapter and RAM amounts. Then you will want to determine if you’re going to want to upgrade any of these. Your PC choices may be limited by the amount of end user upgradeable equipment in your PC of choice. Generally speaking, desktops offer more expandability options than laptops or ultrabooks.  Many, if not most or all of these decisions, will also have a cost component as well.

Working though this task may also be difficult and will take up a bit of time when choosing either a first time PC or in reassessing what options you have when considering a computer upgrade.

What is your hardware budget; and how flexible is it?

Of all the decisions you have to make, this is probably the easiest decision out there.  Many of the Mac choices beyond the entry level build of each model can be very expensive.  Many Windows desktops and laptops are much more affordable than their Mac counterparts, even at the higher end models.  However – and this is a very important point – a Mac is a very versatile machine.  It can dual boot OS X and Windows XP/Vista/7.x/8.x natively via Apple’s Boot Camp.  With some basic Linux hacking, you may even be able to get a native triple boot – Windows, OS X and Linux – going. However, it’s clear – Macs are expensive.

Windows machines are generally much more affordable. While that’s partially due to the diverse hardware manufacturers, it’s also due to availability of components. OEM’s have a choice in buying components and can buy in bulk.  With more than one OEM making Windows machines for the masses, it’s easy to find something that’s in your price range.

If the model you choose is end user upgradable, buying the entry level model for the processor type you want and then upgrading RAM, hard drive, and other components can save you a ton of money over time.

At the end of the day, what you decide to buy should be tied to what you want to do and where you need to do it.  Please notice that I didn’t ask you what operating system preference you might have.  In fact, that wasn’t even part of the equation.  The bottom line is that what you do and where you need to do it will drive how you work and the tools you use, including the operating system driving the PC. Period.

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2013 Last Minute Holiday Buyer’s Guide – Part 1

These are some of the hottest gifts available now, and some really good advice on which to get and why.

image2993Over the past few years, I’ve put together a Holiday Buyer’s Guide. I never got to do one last year due to commitments to the now defunct Byte. Thankfully, I’ve got a chance to do it this year; and while nearly everything you see here will have some kind of software available for it from Soft32, I’m going to cover the hot categories – tablets, smartphones, computers and accessories.

What you’re going to see are recommendations only. I don’t have everything that I’m going to list, so these aren’t necessarily reviews and shouldn’t be considered as such. However, I will try to cover recommendations from as many major camps within a given category as I can.   For example, I’ll likely recommend a computer from the Windows as well as the Mac camp, a tablet from the Windows, iOS and/or Android camp, etc.

This is going to take a few days to get through, so please come back often to Soft32 Blog for updates to the series. I’m going to do my best to get the series completed as quickly as possible.   Let’s get things started right now with tablets.

Tablets – Lean Back Devices with Lean Forward Capabilities
I’ve been spewing a lot of information and commentary lately about how Lean Back and Lean Forward devices don’t mix and match well in the same device.   I’ve talked to a great many people about this particular point and feel comfortable saying this about combining the two efforts into a single device:

1.    Do you have a desktop or laptop and are adding a tablet to the mix?
From my point of view, this is the most likely use case. Here, it’s likely that you’ve got set work habits that you’re looking to break away from your work machine. A lean back device or tablet is a GREAT way to do that.     You get all the multimedia and gaming goodness without having to mix apples and oranges between work and personal machines.
2.    Is your smartphone your main computing device?
If this is the case, then you’d probably benefit a great deal from moving up to a tablet as your main computing device. You’ll get much the same experience and be able to use the same apps or tools if you stick to the same ecosystem as your smartphone. The multimedia and gaming experience on a tablet will be much better and you’ll still be able to do everything you’ve been doing on your phone – email, social networking, IM and texting, and web surfing.
3.    Are you adding a tablet to your work or recreation gear?
I have found in most cases that when you do this, you’re adding hardware here to fulfill a specific need. In the office, you likely want something that can get you access to the office network so you can check email and access work specific resources during or between meetings.   In my case, I wanted to use a Windows tablet as a digital notepad so I wouldn’t have to lug different or more than one notebook between to and from meetings.   For down time, I wanted to use an iPad to watch movies, TV shows or other video on a commuter train. My needs and use cases were specific. I have found that most business and/or power users use tablets in a similar fashion.

In the end, how you use a tablet – either lean back or lean forward or a combination of both – is totally up to you and the way you work or want to work.   Just be aware of your needs and then make the choice and selection that best fits those needs.

Android
There are so many different types of Android tablets from a number of different vendors, in a number of different form factors, configurations and price points. Regardless of your budget, you’ll likely be able to find something that will satisfy your computing style and needs in the Android camp.

While this is Android’s biggest advantage, it’s also its biggest problem. There’s TOO MUCH choice here, and it can be overwhelming.   My recommendation – if you don’t know what you want, go with a no-name brand and save some money.   This way, you get the tablet experience and get to try it out without investing more than $100 or so.   You can find a number of Android tablets at No More Rack or Rakuten (formerly Buy.com)   in the $100 price range.

If you already have a high end smartphone and there’s a tablet available by the same manufacturer, AND you can afford a matching high end tablet, I’d marry the two.   The important point here is that if you have an Android smartphone, to go with an Android tablet and vice-versa.   The big benefit here is insuring you can use the same software across both devices.

To that end,   if you’re going to go with a high-end tablet, my recommendation would be the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1.   The Galaxy Note line – over the Galaxy Tab line – specializes in hand written notes and OCR. While it works great with any Bluetooth keyboard (as does the Galaxy Tab line), the Galaxy Note 10.1 is specifically designed to take handwritten notes, which for a high school or college student is perfect.   You can still draw, sketch and create on the fly graphics, but you’ll also have the ability to take notes and then convert your handwriting to text later on.

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Like any Android tablet, the Galaxy Note 10.1 will work very well with Google Apps, so you’ll have access to a full blown office suite of apps, provided you have the connectivity you need to get out to the internet. As I said, this tablet works well for students (both under grads and graduates) as well as business types (again, please keep your use habits in mind…) who might want to take this to meetings as a digital notepad.

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Ammyy Admin – Take Control.

ammyy-admin

Take control of a remote PC with this great remote control app for Windows.

Working with computers is what I do, all day, every day. Most of you who frequent Soft32 know that. I know I probably mention it way too much. However, when you work with computers as much as I do, you often find yourself with many different needs, many different reasons to get to one or another PC on a local or distant network. For that, you need Ammyy Admin. It’s a remote control app for Windows.

Remote desktop software allows you to take control of a desktop PC. Ammyy Admin does just that; and its kinda cool. It can be used for remote administration, remote office arrangement, or remote support. Ammyy Admin gets you access to a remote PC via the internet without firewalls or NAT problems. You can work with remote PCs as if you’re sitting right in front of them. In order to keep all of your data and your activities safe and private, Ammyy Admin uses advanced AES and RSA encryption for each remote session.

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Ammyy Admin is reliable, trustworthy and affordable. One of the best things about it is that it doesn’t require installation or admin access to use. The remote desktop is available within a few seconds after the app has been started.

Ammyy Admin is a really easy to use, important piece of software. Controlling a PC that you don’t have physical access to can be a huge plus and advantage, especially if you have to provide some kind of support or advice to users who need your help. For me, apps like this can make or break my ability help friends and family as well as do my job.

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The biggest thing here, is that the app doesn’t require any installation in order to be used. Put it on your PC and go. That’s it. You get a secure, fast, easy way to control a remote PC that can easily get past NAT and firewalls. It also has built in voice chat and a file manager that will allow you to grab files and talk to friends and family as you try to give them a hand. 

Ammyy Admin offers a great deal and the price is more than right. Plainly put, the app is a winner.

download Ammyy Admin

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