Burn your CD, DVD and Blu-ray Disc in Full HD quality quickly and easily with Ashampoo Burning Studio 11

Take complete control of your DVD and Blu-ray burning process with this great Windows application.

HD movies are awesome, but not everyone has the bandwidth to be able to stream and view home movies on the Internet. With three kids, and two of them under the age of 7, my wife and I are always taking movies of the kids for relatives who live out of state. Helping them view those movies can be a challenge, as not everyone has the level of Internet service that I do. This is why I really like Ashampoo Burning Studio. It’s a complete CD/DVD utility for Windows.

Ashampoo Burning Studio is fast, easy to use and efficient, as it handles all of your data – files, audio and video authoring tasks without sacrificing its famous ease of use. In version 10 they added a bunch of new features, but the program is still easy to use. Everything is explained to you as you do it.

The application’s main focus is its authoring capabilities for building video and audio discs. It fully supports 720p and 1080p HD video for Blu-ray discs. All the encoding is handled by Ashampoo Burning Studio. All the authoring tools have been overhauled. You now use the same new integrated editor for building DVD and Blu-ray video disks with menus.

In addition, there is a new Autoplay Editor module that you can use to build auto-starting data discs with attractive interactive menus. It also has a new Audio Player that plays audio files and audio CDs without leaving the program.

Read Full Review | Download Ashampoo Burning Studio 11

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Navigating the Mobile Landscape: Ecosystems – #3: Where the Heck is Microsoft?

In the Navigating the Mobile Landscape: Ecosystems #1 and Navigating the Mobile Landscape: Ecosystems #2 we’ve been talking about why Ecosystems and mobile devices. The big question that many of you are probably asking is, “Ok… so what’s the big deal? Why do I care about this? We’ve been through Amazon and Google pretty thoroughly.

The one remaining player, Microsoft, has been pretty much out of pocket on all of this. Let’s briefly talk about why.

Bringing it all Together – Where the Heck is Microsoft?
Over the past few years, Microsoft has really struggled with mobility. Quite frankly, it doesn’t know its own butt from a mobile hole in the ground. Its pathetically sad, really. They had this market sown up and they let it slip away from them. Ballmer is a huge part of this problematic equation for Microsoft. He just doesn’t get mobile computing.

When Microsoft introduced Exchange ActiveSync with Exchange Server 2003, as a directed salvo aimed directly at RIM and Blackberry Information Server and Blackberry Enterprise Server, it did more than just hit RIM where it counted the most (in their wallet), it actually won the ecosystem war, really before it started, and didn’t know it.

Exchange ActiveSync (the PIM synching FOUNDATION of the ecosystem) did what BIS/BES did for Blackberry, it did it for all Windows Mobile based devices, and it did it for free, totally undercutting RIM’s revenue model. Today, RIM finds itself nearly unable to recover from this 8 year old wound. To add salt to it, Microsoft has licensed the basics of Exchange ActiveSync to both Apple and Google, bringing push to the iPhone and to every Android device, literally, everywhere.

As for the rest of the ecosystem – music, multimedia, ebooks, pictures etc. – Microsoft sorta had that in place with the Zune and the Zune Marketplace, but killed the Zune a couple years ago. The Zune Marketplace has struggled for any kind of identity since. Microsoft hasn’t cultivated new or tended any existing content distribution agreements that I’m aware of.

Further, Microsoft also killed Windows Mobile in favor of Windows Phone. The platform may be superior to its predecessors from a developer’s point of view, but Windows Phone has failed to gain any real traction with consumers since its introduction. While Microsoft and Nokia have partnered to introduce new hardware on MS’ updated Mango release of the platform, its largely seen as a last ditch effort to save both companies.

As far as a tablet is concerned, Microsoft just can’t seem to get past the, “put the whole OS on a mobile device” stance. No one wants a full blown version of Windows 7 or Windows 8 with its strange metro UI on a tablet. Consumers are telling manufacturers they truly want a companion device, not one device to rule them all, and Microsoft simply isn’t listening.

The best thing that Microsoft can do for itself is:

  • Ditch Windows 7/8 on a tablet and pull together a version of Windows Phone that will work on a tablet styled/sized device
  • Breathe some life into the Zune Marketplace for music, movies and TV shows. Insure that multimedia store apps are tightly integrated into Windows Phone and Windows Tablet (a working name, for lack of any other)
  • Adopt an ereader app and format as its designated platform and go with it. It doesn’t matter what format they choose, but they need to pick on and promote the hell out of it. Please don’t reinvent the wheel or try to bring back Microsoft Reader. It died a long time ago and we don’t need to splinter the ebook market any further
  • Develop Windows Live Essentials components for Windows Phone and Windows Tablet. They also need to update Windows Live Essentials for desktop Windows to include the sync support for WLE.
  • Give the sh…, uh, I mean stuff… Give the stuff away. Off branded Android tablets are doing well because they’re part of the Android ecosystem; but they’re cheap. The HP Touchpad sold well in the Fire Sale because it will make a GREAT Android tablet and again, they were cheap. Microsoft doesn’t have the luxury of brand or eliteism like Apple does. It doesn’t have the install base like Google’s Android does. It needs to get into the market and saturate it – Buy a Windows Phone, get a Windows Tablet, and vice-versa. That kind of thing. If it doesn’t do this, it may as well not even try. All they’re going to do is create a huge charge and/or write off for the company and their stockholders

Based on all of this, what should you get your loved ones for the Holidays? Come back next time, and we’ll start talking about that.

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Kindle Fire – on the track to become the second most-sold tablet of 2011

Years have passed since Amazon made the first step off the Internet into the real world and introduced its first ever eBook reader, the Kindle – back in November 2007. Since then, Amazon released several devices for this platform, such as the Kindle line and a Kindle DX line with larger screen. However, none of these devices have strayed away from the original model too much, in fact they all feature e-Ink displays. Flash forward to today, Amazon has just launched its first full-color, touch-screen device – Kindle Fire – to offer a great means of entertainment for those who enjoy ebooks, magazines, newspapers and media, or to purchase from Amazon hassle-free.

First and foremost let’s talk about the operating system and the user interface. Amazon’s Kindle Fire technically runs a customized version of Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS, however, it is not the user-customizable home screens you might expect on a Android-powered devices. Instead, the main interface is very simplistic and offers a virtual bookshelf that has two specific places for your content. The upper level is a sweepable list (a carousel) which shows the most recently used items such as your virtual books, magazines, videos, music, websites and apps all together.

The second place – the favorites bar – it is a user-configurable list of shortcuts of the items (app, websites, books, etc.) that you use the most – for quick access. By default, the Kindle Fire has four shortcut buttons pre-installed: the Amazon Store, Pulse (news reading application), and browser shortcuts to IMDb and Facebook. You can rearrange these shortcuts, delete them or add new items – the list grows downward as you add more items.

Along the top of your home-screen, there is a list of content shortcuts which offer a quick jump into Amazon’s store to browse and purchase new apps, movies, music, books, and magazines. If you’re looking to lock and unlock screen rotation, adjust volume, change display brightness, access Wi-Fi settings, syncing, and controlling the playback of music (if a song is currently playing), you can simply tap the gear-like icon in the upper-right corner.

Amazon’s Kindle Fire was designed to be very easy to use and to reach as many consumers as possible. Its operations are very simple and natural, however, taps sometimes don’t register and there is no progress bar to let you know that the device actually registered your action. This is quite annoying, especially when you’re typing. Hopefully, this will be fixed with future software updates. Many other functions like playing games or playback videos are fluid, but you will often encounter stutters while opening or closing certain apps while everything takes a moment to react. Not long, but long enough to notice it.

Hardware-wise, the tablet is powered by a 1 gigahertz dual-core processor and it has has 512 megabytes of RAM – quite a bit, if you ask me. The 1024 x 600 resolution display is bright and colorful, a pleasure to read and play, and the device size makes it easier to carry around. In fact, it fits in big pockets. About the features used on other tablets as a standard these days, the Kindle Fire doesn’t have a few of these. To be more accurate, there is no camera, microphone, bluetooth, 3G or GPS. So, all those who were planning to use the tablet for Skype talks, car navigation, or to take pictures and videos – consider buying some other tablet.

The good:

  • Integration with the (outstanding) Amazon ecosystem of ebooks, magazines, newspapers and media.
  • Good quality, re-purposed plastic tablet with good quality display that is bright and colorful.
  • The feel of the tablet is pretty nice and the rubber back makes it easy to grip.
  • Easy to carry around considering that it fits in big pockets.
  • Battery life runs for about seven to eight hours.

The bad:

  • No Camera, Microphone, Bluetooth or GPS.
  • Not “open” as you may expect from an Android powered tablet, neither customizable.
  • Taps sometimes don’t register so you have to re-tap.
  • The power button is on the bottom, making it easy to turn off the tablet accidentally.
  • There are often stutters while opening or closing certain apps.
  • No hardware volume controls; you have to use a software slider.
  • Only 8 GB of storage space included on the Fire and there is no SD card slot to expand that storage.

Bottom line, Amazon’s Kindle Fire is a decently designed tablet at a unbeatable price ($199) that is awesome for those who enjoy ebooks, magazines, newspapers and media, from a particular ecosystem…Amazon. However, if you’re looking to get a complete satisfying tablet experience, you should search further for a tablet which is smooth, open, and it has a build-in Camera – to video chat, take photos and film your fun moments; Microphone – to talk to your friends via Skype, ooVoo, etc.; Bluetooth - to connect your headset; GPS – to get directions and maybe HDMI – to play games or view your media on external screens.

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Navigating the Mobile Landscape: Ecosystems #2

In the Navigating the Mobile Landscape: Ecosystems #1 article we’ve been talking about why Ecosystems and mobile devices.  The big question that many of you are probably asking is, “ok… so what’s the big deal?  Why do I care about this? What differences does it make if my gadget of choice is part of any kind of an ecosystem?” It’s a good question.  And actually, it’s something that I know many pundits and marketing mavens have been tossing around. Most people, the pundits and mavens included, don’t completely get it.

Let’s break it all down…

Why an Ecosystem Matters at All
Mobile devices that do nothing more than PIM and Sync Services are equivalent to PDA’s of unconnected times past (think back to 2002-2005 and Compaq/HP’s iPAQ line of personal organizers) or are equivalent to one of RIM’s various Blackberries.  While that may not be too bad in some people’s eyes, think about the issues that are currently plaguing RIM, connectivity and outdated architecture aside.

As you may recall, we briefly touched on an ecosystem containing the following:

  1. PIM,
  2. Sync Services
  3. Purchasing Options & Methods for
  • Multimedia Content

- Music,
- Movies,
- TV Shows, etc.

  • Apps
  • eBooks
  • Pictures
  • etc.,

While the PIM and Sync Services are common to all mobile devices today, let’s consider the Apple model again, as we examine the above list.  What’s common to everything in that list..?  Simply put – iTunes.

iTunes manages the PIM data and sync services. It provides a purchasing and organization method for all consumer content. Apple also provides tools to help developers create content and register it with iTunes so it can be sold. This ecosystem is so simple to work with many developers can top 6-figure revenue marks in under 12 months, given the right product subject matter and type. This “no-brainer” product development model saw many developers leaving other, well established SDK’s for iOS development over the past few years.

But that’s been Apple’s model – build the complete solution, for consumers as well as developers – make it easy for them to live within the defined boundaries [of the ecosystem] and they will come. As I mentioned before, this is where the real money is, not in the hardware. Compatible hardware is simply enables the sale of consumer content.

What Amazon Did
Amazon did something similar, but they are trying to emulate, to an extent, what Apple has created by plugging the holes Google left in the ecosystem they created.  Google has the PIM and Sync Services; but doesn’t really have a trusted way to sell consumer content.  Amazon has had a way to sell music for years.  They have recently created a way to sell Android Apps. They’ve recently created a way to provide streaming movies and TV shows (via Amazon Prime). Their Kindle software provides a way to read and purchase eBooks.

I’ve been saying this for years – Amazon should concentrate on the sale of consumer content, not on selling hardware – to make their mark.  They actually did better than that, as the Kindle Fire is now poised to take the number 2 sales spot in the tablet market, but NOT because of the hardware. The Kindle Fire may take that spot due to the hardware sales, but it’s got the sales because of the kinds of content it supports, and what users can do with the device.

What Google Didn’t Do
Google may have a flagship phone in the Galaxy Nexus, but Samsung controls it; and they haven’t really enabled the new OS to do anything more than any other Android smartphone. Google doesn’t want to provide any type of specific experience, or control how you experience Android. They’ve built openness into the platform and have only recently chosen to address some of the holes with updates to Google Books, Google Music, etc.

What they haven’t done, though, is truly created the framework of the ecosystem for all of the OEM’s making and selling hardware. As such, there are a number of different launchers, like TouchWiz from Samsung and SenseUI from HTC. There are a number of different Android builds built into a number of different formats from tablets to smartphones to e-readers. The level of fragmentation that they have allowed by permitting OEM’s to choose from 5 different OS revisions (Éclair, FroYo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich) and their acknowledgement of their lack of revision control is staggering. By permitting 5 different OS revisions to be actively used at the same time, creates a great deal of variation and compatibility issues with applications in the Android Market.

While they may have the lion share of the handheld market, Google’s Android is floundering, struggling for direction. It needs Google to step up and define that direction in order to bring solidity and stability to the platform. If they truly want to beat Apple at their own game, this is what they need to do. Period.

Come back next time, and we’ll try to figure out where the heck Microsoft is in all of this.

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Microsoft Security Essentials for the win

I’ll say this about every security app that is reviewed here on Soft32.com – if you don’t have one, get one.  Surfing the internet isn’t like the CompuServe days of old back in the 1980′s. Dial-up and access numbers aside, the internet is a complicated place with viruses, worms, Trojans, phishing etc. Navigating it while keeping your personal information private and your data secure isn’t always easy.  This is why I really like Microsoft Security Essentials. It’s a anti-virus scanner for Windows, and high on my “must have” list.

Microsoft Security Essentials is built for individuals and small businesses, but it’s based on the same technology that Microsoft uses to protect giant businesses (security products like Microsoft Forefront, the Malicious Software Removal Tool, and Windows Defender). We have a whole team watching for new threats and coming up with ways to squash them.

Microsoft Security Essentials is part of the Windows Live Essentials suite of Windows add-ons from Microsoft.  It runs quietly in the background; and uses a red/yellow/green color coding system to denote system safety. You’ll only be alerted when there are specific actions to take. When you’re away or busy, Microsoft Security Essentials can take the default action on your behalf and you can open the program later to review and undo those actions if you wish.

This is perhaps one of the best anti-virus scanners available on the internet today. Period. Its real time scanning engine and automatic updating make this a strong player to begin with. The fact that its free, and that MS is actively continuing to improve and update it and its malware definitions is awesome.

read full review | download Microsoft Security Essentials

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2011 Gift Guide Part 1 – OK, Great! Now What Should I Buy?

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about mobile devices and ecosystems and the companies that make and distribute them. Let’s take a quick moment and figure out what you should actually buy.

As complicated as this might seem, it isn’t really complicated at all.  We’ll get to specific goodies, next time, but I wanted to take a few moments to talk about how to determine exactly WHAT to buy, given that investing in an ecosystem largely takes you down a specific road, given that you’re likely going to want to mix and match your data on your devices.

What does this mean?

Simply put, if you start a document on your computer, at some point, you may want to shoot it to yourself via email or upload it to your choice of cloud storage (like Dropbox, Windows Live Mesh. iCloud or Amazon Cloud Drive to name a few) so that you can edit it on your laptop or tablet when you get home.  Maybe you stumble upon a bit of brilliance on the way home from work (or where ever you might be) and you stop to take a moment to jot down a few notes in it on your smartphone. A fully functioning, adopted (on your part) ecosystem allows you to do this with your data and your devices. For everything to function this way, its all gotta be connected somehow.

So, again, what should you get?  Here are my recommendations on how to figure this out.

Mac Users
This is probably the biggest no brainer of the bunch; but its not as open as other platforms.

  • Apple Ecosystem: Stick to the Apple ecosystem and iTunes, iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. The desktop tools all have iOS components and partners, and the data you create on your Mac is designed to enable you to work on all of Apple’s devices. You’d be amazed how elegant and simple it is; but then again, you’re stuck there, and you have to want to be stuck for it all to work.

 

  • Amazon Ecosystem: Since Amazon also has developed Kindle software for iOS, users wishing to move to or from parts of the Amazon ecosystem will also find a bridge here. However, since the Kindle Fire is Android based, see the Google Ecosystem, below.

 

  • Google Ecosystem: Trying to implement parts of the Google ecosystem in an Apple/iOS world isn’t going to be easy, so be ready for some challenges. You aren’t going to be using iTunes to sync content to any Android device, and if you’re a Mac user, you undoubtedly have SOME content there.

Windows and Linux Users
Windows users have a few options, as basically all ecosystems are open and available to them. Linux users (and non-iTunes users) can use doubleTwist for media and rely on Exchange or Google Sync for PIM data.

  • Apple Ecosystem: Windows users have been using iDevices for years. The Apple ecosystem is completely open to all Windows users. The only thing you need to insure is that all your iDevices and iTunes have been updated to their latest versions.

 

  • Amazon Ecosystem: Windows and Android go well together. In fact, many Windows users are also Android users and vice-versa.  Amazon has carved itself a very unique corner of the mobile market by introducing its own app store and inking deals with music labels, and movie and TV studios. The content is available through Amazon Prime, and you get a 30 day free trial with the purchase of a Kindle Fire.  Google itself hasn’t been able to nail this bit down yet, so Amazon stands apart as the most complete player in the Android space, despite the lack of an Amazon-branded smartphone.

 

  • Google Ecosystem: Despite recent developments with Google Music and Google Books, Google’s ecosystem is still somewhat disjointed.  For as much money as Google has, they really need to nail this down. Users who go with an Android tablet and smartphone should be able to exchange purchases and data with all of their devices, provided they are compatible. The only difference may be the Amazon App Store, as I’ve not bought any apps there as yet.

In the end, you shouldn’t really try to mix and match Apple and Amazon/Google devices. You’re going to run into too many challenges trying to get the data and content from one to another, especially on the media and productivity sides of things. eBooks are easy, but will require Kindle software to bridge the gap.

Come back next time, and I’ll have specific gift recommendations for your 2011 Holiday Gift recipients.

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Last week’s highlights #4

Last week brought us some interesting software reviews and a synthesis article worth mentioning:

Navigating the Mobile Landscape: Ecosystems

Whether is Amazon with Kindle Fire, Google with Android-powered tablets, and Apple with iPad, the mobile market still holds enough space for other competitors. While Apple still has a huge lead and foothold on the mobile market, I think everyone else FINALLY gets it. Read the full comparison of these three opponents here.

Guitar Pro – a suitable instrument teacher

I’ve been a musician all my life. The guitar is my instrument, and I’ve written a number of songs over the years that I’ve either had to memorize or hand write score or tab for. This is why I’m excited about Guitar Pro. It’s a guitar specific music writing application for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Keep yourself organized with StickyNote

You see them all over the office…Stickies. Stuck to desktops, underneath keyboards, on the side of cabinets, hanging from overhangs, and of course, on computer monitors. They are literally everywhere, and the guy who invented the glue HAS to be like a bazillionaire (or at least should be).  The only problem that you bump into is the one thing that makes them so wonderful – they’re everywhere, and they can create a huge mess. This is why I like StickyNote from Tenebril Software. It’s a reminder program for Windows.

Give voice commands with Dragon Dictate

I’ve been a big supporter of, “you talk, it types” for over 10 years. I remember using IBM’s ViaVoice on my Windows XP powered PC back in 1997. While it was, at times, wonderful to be able to give my arthritic hands a break from the amount of typing I do, its performance issues often prevented the creative process from really flowing the way it should have. Writers write. However, it’s not always easy to do when you have to….speak….very…slowly, and very…exactingly. All that’s changed now; and thanks to Dragon Dictate for Mac, I’ve got my MacBook Pro turning cartwheels.

Fun, addictive and free: Angry Birds

Angry Birds is one of the most addictive games from Rovio today. Not only is it a lot of fun, but it’s available for PC, Android and iOS. I find myself spending, literally, hours of time trying to blow up pigs in some of the ricketiest contraptions and bunkers I have ever seen.

Originally released in 2009 for iOS, Rovio’s Angry Birds decries the pummeling of pork and pork supporters everywhere. While many think that EVERYTHING is better with bacon, these poultry patriots obviously don’t feel that way. Today, you don’t have to have a smartphone, iPad or iPod to play Angry Birds, it’s now available on your computer, and it’s still a lot of fun.

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Guitar Pro – a suitable instrument teacher

I’ve been a musician all my life. The guitar is my instrument, and I’ve written a number of songs over the years that I’ve either had to memorize or hand write score or tab for. This is why I’m excited about Guitar Pro. It’s a guitar specific music writing application for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

You’ll know how to handle the interface in a matter of minutes, easily navigating over its tabs and buttons. For optimal ease in reading, you’ll be able to display your scores as you prefer — full-screen, double-page, or parchment-like, and also display a guitar fret board to visualize the exact positioning of your fingers on it.

Express your talent by creating your own scores in a matter of minutes. You can edit the notes directly on the standard score or on the tablature. In either case, you can capture your notes quickly with the numerical pad, the mouse, or even a MIDI instrument. During playback, the score automatically scrolls, and a cursor highlights the music currently being played. You can adjust tempo, and play all or part of a piece in loops. The Speed Trainer will then let you play any section of the score in loops with progressive accelerations, helping you nail down complex or difficult parts.

All of the effects specific to a guitar, bend, slide, ghost notes, etc., are rendered during playback, as well as the various possible playing styles, pick-stroking, fingerpicking or slapping, for instance.

read full review | download Guitar Pro

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