Is it Really Just Superficial?

Is my love for digital ink and Microsoft Surface PC’s on the level, or just skin deep?

Ok, kids…

I’m going to make this one quick and short for a few reasons – I’ve got a lot on my plate right now; and I want to really get to the meat of all of this in a deeper look at Microsoft’s Surface Book, intended to be published in the coming weeks.

However, I did want to relay a couple of things:

  1. Accept No Substitutes
    When you know you have your heart set on something, no matter how much it really just didn’t sit right with you in the first place, don’t try to convince yourself that something ELSE is just as good.In other words, even though it’s about one third the price, and has decent performance, the ASUS Transformer Mini T102HA is NOT either Microsoft’s Surface Pro nor Microsoft’s Surface Book. As awesome as Intel’s Cherry Trail processor is, it’s not an Intel Core processor (no Intel Atom processor is…) and it isn’t going to provide the same level of performance.
  2. It’s not What I WantedWhen you’re met with the unmistakable conclusion that you were wrong and that you should just accept the facts as they are and move on, you really should do just that.
  3. Don’t be so Damn Stubborn
    Dude. Just say the words…, “I was wrong.” It’s not all that hard. Just say the words.

Ok…

So… here it goes:

  1. There really isn’t a substitute for the Microsoft Surface Pro or Surface Book. They’re basically the same 3×2 convertible ultrabook (with some minor differences). While you may prefer one over the other for one (set of) reason(s) or another, they’re effectively the same. No other transformer PC or ultrabook out there is the Surface Pro/ Book. There are similar devices, like the ASUS Transformer Mini T102HA, but they are NOT a Surface device, and shouldn’t be thought of as a Surface replacement.They are similar, but NOT the same
  2. You can’t fit a square peg in a round hole. You can’t change the shape of your hole, either. If you want a round object, squaring it off isn’t going to make you happy. When you look at it, all you’re going to see is the fact that it used to be a circle.You can’t MAKE something into something it’s not. You hear that a lot about people, too… Yeah, it’s true there, too.
  3. Unde. I give, already.Okokokok… “you” were right. They’re not the same, and I just have to give in and let it go.

If you remember, I originally tossed my Surface Pro 3 to the wind because of the digital, disappearing ink bug that the Surface Pro (all generations – 1, 2, 3 and 4) and the Surface Book have.

The bug is still active, even as of this writing, and while I have implemented the work around, a work around is NOT a solution. Functionality on the Surface Pro series of devices is still deprecated in Microsoft OneNote. While I’ve disable “Use Pen as Pointer” and have turned off “automatic ink OCR,” having to use a work around just makes my teeth itch.

But then again, I’m a QA guy… defaulting to the work arounds is required to insure that ink doesn’t disappear, however, living with the work around and not a permanent fix just seems wrong to me.

But at the end of the day, the answer to the begged question here, “really..?? After all the complaining, you actually got a Surface Book??”, is, “yes. Yes I did.

The Surface Book has been around for quite a while, so doing a ground breaking review on it isn’t warranted, but I’ll have something together for it in the coming weeks. I’ve gotten an accessory or two for the device, so I’m committed to making it work; but the answer to that question, in all honestly, really remains to be seen.

I don’t like going backwards; and I don’t like having to put up with bugs on a machine, that by all accounts, should be the most bug free installation and implementation of Windows 10 and compatible hardware on the market. It feels wrong to me to have to put up with that kind of situation, and to be very honest, I’m not one to put up with that level of crap from Microsoft.

I don’t put up with it from Apple either, but the situation is a bit different. Windows is different from macOS in this regard because Microsoft licenses its OS to a number of different Original Equipment Manufacturers – or OEM’s. As such, there are a number of different drivers that have to be written for the OS, because – and let’s be honest – not all computer hardware is created equally.

I expect a great deal more from Microsoft Windows when it runs on a Microsoft branded computer than when it runs on a Dell or HP or even a Micro Center, build your own style PC. I expect everything on the Microsoft branded computer to work; and in the case of the Surface devices their history has been a bit bumpy.

If you remember, Microsoft had a number of different driver and firmware related problems with both Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book. Other OEM’s haven’t had this level of difficulty with their computers, especially when it comes to Microsoft software, like Office 2016 and all of their components.

In the end, with the work around, things work, but herein lies the article that I want to write later…

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Resetting your Windows PC – Part 2

It’s not as difficult or as time consuming as you may think…

Introduction
The other day, we spent a great deal of time going over the prerequisites for determining why and when you should reset your Windows PC. You can see that article here. Read that one before you follow the instructions here, if only to help you determine the best time to actually pull the trigger.

Once you decide that you really DO want to reset your PC, following the process here should insure that it gets done with the least amount of risk and stress.

How to Reset
I’m going to be doing this on a Windows 10 PC. However, the process can also be done on a Windows 8.x computer. The process will be similar, but somewhat different there.

Backup Your Data
There are a number of different ways to do this. You should be using at least one of them on your PC. Thankfully, you can use one, some or all of these together. If you don’t have some kind of restore process in place, you’re gonna be hurtin’ fer certin’ when you try to get yourself back up and running.

  1. Local Backup
    This can be as simple as you grabbing a USB flash drive and copying over the contents of your Documents, Photos, Videos and Music folders. It could also be a more formal operation that involves apps like Windows Backup or some other application that backs up some, part or all of your PC .If you go the backup app route, please understand that doing an application restore is likely going to put you back in the same boat you’re trying to get out of. When you’ve made the decision to reset your PC, restoring applications and settings will likely put the malware back on your PC as well. You’re going to have to be careful here; and if you set the app up right, it should function in the background, allowing you to continue working while it backs up your machine.Make certain that you only restore your files and application data from any backups you make.
  2. Cloud Based Backup
    Backing up your data to an offsite location, especially if it’s REALLY important to you can be the difference between getting everything back – including photos, videos, etc. as well as your Office or office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) files.This option is exactly like a local backup, except that the app that’s used uploads the backup data to a cloud based computer, in real time. Apps that fall into this category include both Backblaze or Carbonite, among others, and will involve some kind of a monthly or yearly subscription fee to store your data.Like the local backup option, apps that work here are likely those that you setup once and then simply let run in the background. These set ’em and forget ’em apps can constantly backup your PC, and do it with little to no intervention from you.
  3. Cloud Based Data Storage
    Backing up your data is easy when you use apps like Dropbox, Google Drive , OneDrive or other similar program. The nice thing about apps like this is that they are cross platform and available to install on just about any type of mobile device or computer, meaning you can sync and access your data from just about anywhere. Having a backup solution like this is the very basic of backup steps and should be done regardless of whether you have a local or cloud based backup of your data (or both).Like local and cloud based backups, this option may or may not involve a subscription fee for storage, so you’ll need to insure that you have enough cloud based storage available when you set up the app. If you need more than you get for free, you’ll need to pay for it. Make certain that everything is synchronized before you reset.PLEASE NOTE: Many cloud based data storage products have best in class malware screening products monitoring their storage media. I have yet to see a virus get past any of these products and transferred BACK down to your PC, post restore. However, this is NOT infallible.

Actually doing the Reset
To perform a reset of your PC, follow these steps

  1. Open the Windows 10 Settings App.
  2. Tap on Backup. If you backup with Windows 10, use these sets of screens and this process to back up your PC to save your data, OR follow the instructions I noted above.
  3. Tap on Recovery.
  4. Tap the Get Started button under Reset this PC
  5. Choose an Option. Keep your data or completely wipe the entire computer. Wiping the entire computer will delete everything and is considered a “factory reset.” It is the most reliable option when trying to delete malware that can’t be removed by other tools.
  6. Choose an Option. Clean your drive(s) or just reset all the system files. More often than not, if you’re removing everything, it’s a good idea to remove the files and clean the hard drive. It’s the best way to prevent malware from resurfacing afterwards.
  7. Are you REALLY sure? If you’ve recently upgraded your machine to Windows 10 (the free upgrade options have reportedly come back…), you’re going to get a Warning dialog asking you to confirm, instructing you that you won’t be able to go back to your PREVIOUS version of Windows (because you’re about to erase that backup from your hard drive).
  8. Ready to Reset. This is the LAST chance you’re going to get to stop the process. If you tap the Reset button, your computer is going to be erased and everything that it once was will be gone, restored to factory freshness.
  9. Choose an Option. After you’re done, you get a chance to turn off your PC, explore other troubleshooting options or to exit the Recovery partition and run Windows 10 for the “first” time. Tap Continue.
  10. Set up your PC. Reinstall all of your applications. If you backed up your data with a local or cloud based backup app, install that first and then restore your data. If you used a cloud based data synching service like Dropbox, Google Drive , OneDrive or other similar program, reinstall it and pull all of your data back down

After your data restore is done, you should install your anti-malware app and rescan your PC for it. If its back, then you know your data is infected. However, it will more than likely turn up clean, and you should be all set.

If you’ve used the Windows 10 Reset PC feature, I’d love to hear from you. Tell me how things went for you and share your results in the Discussion area, below.

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Resetting your Windows PC – Part 1

In many respects, it’s a lot like resetting your phone…

Introduction
A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for Soft32 called iDevice Restore Gotchas. It’s a good read.

In that article, I covered a few basic points about resetting your device. Without rehashing the entire article – again, you can read it called here – I did cover 3 important points

  1. Don’t Fear the Hard Reset – sometimes it’s the best way to get rid of all the crap, especially if you have a deep rooted virus or piece of malware/ spyware that just will NOT go away.
  2. Make Sure you have a Solid Internet Connection – iDevices always, ALWAYS call home to ask permission before allowing you to completely blow them away, and if you don’t have one or are using your iDevice to provide internet connectivity, the process will fail; and then you’re really gonna be up a creek without a paddle…
  3. Don’t Connect your Smartphone to your PC through a USB Hub – the restore process is going to work better (read: won’t work at all through a hub…) with a direct connection, and you won’t have any technology headaches to trouble shoot.

All of these points are still relevant with the latest set of iDevices, and quite honestly, most every other mobile device out there. They’re also relevant with your Windows based PC, if its running Windows 10, and if you’re having troubles with it, the reasons for looking into this process are actually quite compelling.

At the end of the day, they can save your tens of hours of analysis time and a ton of money on ulcer and headache remedies with just a bit of planning and the new refresh and restore procedures in Windows 10. Let’s take a quick look…

Why Reset
There are a number of reasons why you might want to reset your Windows PC. You may have a virus or other piece of malware or spyware that, despite your best efforts, just can’t or won’t be removed. You may want to pass on your PC on to a friend or family member; or you may want to sell it or donate it to a charitable organization. Regardless of WHY you need or want to reset the machine, resetting it is often easier to do than actually taking the time to trouble shoot or perform some other deep cleaning or maintenance.

In many cases, the best thing to do is to nuke your machine from orbit and start over. Sometimes, fighting the good fight means retreating and not engaging.

When to Reset
So… ok. You’ve solved the “why” portion of this equation; but you’ve got all these apps and all this data. When do you actually do this? When do you tell yourself to stop, drop back and punt? That’s both simple, and complicated.

However, figuring out WHEN to do a reset really involves the severity of the problems you’ve been bumping into and how much time you have to burn. More often than not, its easier, less time consuming and less stressful to simply burn everything to the ground than to try to fix a specific problem, especially in the case of malware. More often than not, Windows based malware will bury itself so deeply within the OS, that it doesn’t want to come out without a fight, if it does at all.

I’ve had partially disabled malware repair itself and come back to life. Yeah… that was really an eye opener.

So, when do you actually declare “defeat” and actually DO the reset? That’s an excellent question. The best way to answer it though would be for you to do a bit of thinking

  1. What’s my Time Worth?
    Try to put a monetary value on your time. When you hit your gag reflex on the “cost,” consider pulling the reset trigger
  2. How “Bad” is the Problem?
    There are resources on the internet that can tell you a great deal about different kinds of malware and how difficult they are to remove. Solvusoft has a decent Malware Encyclopedia. Trend Micro has a good database, with some decent information that explains what each type of worm, virus, etc. does; and rates how difficult it is to remove. When you have more than one rating category with a red or critical rating, and you know your infected, the problem is probably a little more than, “bad.”
  3. Has your Virus Scanner Failed to Remove the Threat?
    If you can’t get rid of the bug with the anti-malware product you have, try an “off line” product like Fix Me Stick. Its fully compatible with Windows and should be able to remove most bugs without damaging your data.

I’ve yet to find a virus that it couldn’t remove (though in all honesty, it may take more than one scan to take care of everything…). Its well worth the $60 bucks a year (for up to 3 computers) that the service costs. However, not all virus scanners are created equally; and in many cases, some viruses just refuse to be removed.

You’re likely going to find yourself in a situation here that requires you to subjectively weigh the answers to these three questions and then make a decision. My experience, especially with malware, is that its always better to be safe than sorry.

Come back next time. I’ll have complete instructions on how to get this job done the easiest way possible.

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FEATURE REVIEW – ASUS Transformer Mini T102HA

Please hold while I try to resolve this problem…

Introduction
As I stated a little while ago, I’ve found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place. It hasn’t been a lot of fun. Unfortunately for me, I really have no idea where Microsoft and Apple are headed with their computing initiatives. Its unnerving, too. I simply don’t know what to do at this point, and quite honestly, this is the first time I’ve been in this boat in the 20 plus years that I’ve been a tech journalist.

However, I think I may have found an interesting and rather affordable solution to my problem. Enter the ASUS Transformer Mini T102HA-D4-GR. Is this the right solution? Does it resolve most, some or all of my issues; or am I chasing through a rabbit hole without the possibility of finding my way out OR the white rabbit that made the hole? Let’s take a quick look at the device and find out.

Hardware
The ASUS Transformer Mini T102H is a Surface Pro clone. It’s a 10.1 inch transformer (ultrabook and “tablet”) in one. It’s got a magnesium-alloy casing and weighs less than 800g; and is running Windows 10 Home.

The device has a quad core Intel Cherry Trail processor running at 1.44GHz. The device, as reviewed has 4GB of RAM and a 10.1 inch, 16:10 backlit, HD display sporting 1280×800 resolution and integrated Intel HD graphics. The device as reviewed has a 128GB EMMC SSD.

The device has integrated 802.11 AC Wi-Fi for wireless networking and internet connectivity. It also supports Bluetooth 4.1 for short range, accessory communication. The ASUS Transformer Mini T102H also has a 2MP web cam for video communications.

For connectivity, the ASUS Transformer Mini T102H has one of each of the following ports:

  • Combo Audio Jack
  • USB 3.0 Port
  • Micro USB Port
  • Micro HDMI Port
  • Fingerprint reader (supports Windows Hello)
  • microSD Card Slot

The build quality here is surprisingly high. I have been really impressed with the hardware and its fit, form and function. For the cost of the device, it’s going to be hard to find something better, in any class of notebook.

The full 360, below, has some really good shots of the hardware, including the included keyboard AND pen.

>
The back of the device. Notice the circular fingerprint reader at the top The back of the keyboard
The device, opened up. The keyboard has magnets that attach it to the landscape side of the tablet The device, open
The left side of the device Close up of the left side, ports
The top side of the device with the microSD slot and the power button Right side of the device
Close up of the right side, volume rocker and speaker

 

Tablet
The ASUS Transformer Mini T102H is a Windows 10 ultrabook, just as the Surface Pro line of PC’s. However, it’s not a tablet. Please don’t consider this to be a true convertible – meaning this isn’t going to turn into your iPad or similar tablet when you remove the keyboard.

Like any other Windows 10 ultrabook convertible, all that happens when you remove the keyboard is that the ASUS Transformer Mini T102H becomes a slate PC.

A slate PC is NOT a tablet. It’s a regular PC with a touch interface that doesn’t require a keyboard or mouse.

A tablet is a content consumption device with an ecosystem – apps, videos, audio, etc. – available from a built in store, specifically made to consume ON that tablet. While a slate PC and an ultrabook have apps, and Windows has a “store,” per se in the Windows Store, you can get PC apps just about anywhere. You can also find videos and audio files (be they music, podcasts or other audio) nearly everywhere else that can easily be played on any Windows PC.

Windows 10 tablet mode is just a change in the standard Windows UI, nothing more. Nothing magical happens to the hardware. Nothing really magical happens to the OS after the keyboard is removed. It’s still Windows; just with a slightly different UI.

Aside from the whole Tablet Mode thing, this is really nothing more than a notebook computer with a removable keyboard. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it IS still just a PC. It just has more than one interface; but please don’t’ confuse this with a tablet like an iPad or a Galaxy tablet. It doesn’t run a mobile OS and it won’t. It’s going to have the same performance as it does when its keyboard is connected.

Keyboard
With the Surface Pro line of devices, the detachable keyboard is made of rubber and plastic. While this makes for flexibility, it doesn’t lend a lot of confidence that you’re getting a quality product. Well, that and the fact that the Surface Pro 3-4 Type Cover is an additional purchase that runs $129.99 for the older version to $159.99 for the version that has the Windows Hello compatible, finger sensor.

The keyboard that comes with the ASUS Transformer Mini T102H is included with the tablet at no additional charge. It functions nearly the same way as the Microsoft Surface Type Cover, but has a metal alloy shell. The keyboard itself employs a butterfly switch under each key and sports 1.5mm of key travel. The extra-large touch pad is built in.

The typing experience is merely ok. It’s nothing to write – or type – home about. In the end, including the keyboard as part of the whole package, is another stellar move. It just cements the value of the whole package.

Out of the box, the keyboard of my ASUS Transformer T102H had a problem with the touch pad. The keyboard is supposed to support a right click via clicking the lower right corner of the track pad. This hasn’t worked right from the moment I pulled the device out of the box, and it’s obvious that the issue is a hardware issue and not a software or driver issue.

I called ASUS Tech Support and got someone who read a script at me and had me uninstall and reinstall APK and touch pad drivers. Getting her OFF the script wasn’t possible. However, 4 restarts and one full uninstall/ reinstall round and me insisting that this wasn’t a driver issue stopped the tomfoolery.

She then told me that I could return the device to my point of purchase, or could send the device to ASUS for warranty work. I told her that since this was a detachable keyboard, and that was the only part that I needed, couldn’t ASUS just send me a replacement keyboard?

No. ASUS doesn’t send parts to customers. If I wanted a replacement keyboard, I would need to send in the entire device, and then they would examine it and then determine if they would repair my existing keyboard or send me a new one. When I reminded the tech support rep that the keyboard was removable and that all that anyone in Repairs was going to do was take a look at the paperwork, grab my unit, pull the keyboard off, attach another one and then call it a day.

I got similar service from Newegg, as I bought the device from them and also purchased their extended warranty for $50. I would need to send the entire device and they would then send a replacement. Both companies knew that this would leave me without a working machine and didn’t care.

I blame Newegg more than I do ASUS, simply because they are the ones that I bought the extended warranty from. Why no one will send me a detachable keyboard is way beyond me.

Performance
I’m going to get to battery life and other performance factors in just a moment, but I wanted to take a moment and talk about this computer and its processor and RAM performance.

In a word – WOW!

The Intel CherryTrail Atom processor definitely makes a difference. I’ve reviewed value based tablets before and haven’t been impressed. Atom processors promise decent performance coupled with battery savings, but, in my opinion, always have a hard time delivering.

My assessment of the Dell Latitude 10-ST2’s Atom processor can clearly be seen here:

The Atom processor doesn’t have a lot of horse power. In fact, it’s pretty anemic. The system is optimized for a few specific apps – Microsoft Office being one of them – but don’t expect it to power through anything else. The weak processor performance even seems to affect network traffic, disk I/O and display performance as well, though obviously system interaction between dedicated subcomponents will also factor in.

With the ASUS Transformer T102H, the tune is a little different. While this is NOT going to run Photoshop or Lightroom with any sense of reliability or desired performance, it can ink notes in OneNote 2016 without ANY ink lag at all. It will also handle most, if not all, your PowerPoint and Excel documents – barring any really complex macros or large, external data calls – with reasonable results. For reliable, light to medium level productivity work, this computer should more than adequately meet all of your needs.

To be honest, I don’t know if the level of performance satisfaction I have is due to the more advanced Cherry Trail processor in the ASUS Transformer T102H vs. the Atom processor in the Dell Latitude 10-ST2, or if the satisfactory performance is due to the device’s 4GB of RAM… or both. I don’t have the 2GB version of the device to compare mine against. However, I’ more than certain that it plays into the equation more than you might initially think. At the very least, it’s the combination of the quad core, CherryTrail processor and the device’s 4GB of RAM that are making such a remarkable difference in my expectations.

Battery Life
Led in part by its 1.44GHz CherryTrail Processor, I’ve found the battery life to be totally crazy awesome on the ASUS Transformer T102H. The device advertises an 11 hour, all day battery.

These estimates are close but I’ve found my results to be about half of what’s advertised in real life. However at five and a half hours, this should get me through most of the work day without really NEEDING a charge. This is great news; and a huge relief, as having a day long note taking solution is HUGE in the office, especially when you have back to back meetings and CAN’T get back to an AC outlet and charging cable.

I wish that all of my notebooks were as good on battery life and did me so well when it comes to the task at hand.

Software
The ASUS Transformer Mini T102H is a Microsoft signature PC. This means that its free of crapware. It doesn’t have any third party add-ons or software. The only thing that it really does have is the installation stub for Microsoft Office 365. Other than that, this PC is junk free.

In my opinion, Signature PC’s are the best on the market. I know in many cases that software companies cut deals with OEM’s to help defer the cost of software development, and the OEM’s get help to defer the low cost of the device. I think the software companies come out on top of that deal; and that’s fine when the software in question is useful; but when it’s something that’s so bloated like Norton Antivirus or MacAfee Internet Security, you really have to wonder why the OEM chased after it.

I’ve seen MacAfee software preinstalled on low end PC’s with budget processors and quite honestly, all that it really does is bring down the performance of the device. Having the ASUS Transformer Mini T102H be a Signature PC without all of that garbage software, is a huge blessing. Those apps don’t always remove themselves well, and you can end up with a gimpy system afterwards. Here, you don’t have to worry about that.

Conclusion
This one is fairly easy. If you’re looking for a Microsoft Surface Pro clone and you don’t want to spend a lot of money on the device, this is likely the PC for you. Its CherryTrail processor isn’t going to be something that’s going to punch through any audio or video editing or run Photoshop or Lightroom, well, really at all; but if you’re looking for a productivity machine for you or your kids, THIS is a really good choice.

The device will run Office very well; and if you’re into OneNote at all, then you’re in for a treat. The device comes with both a detachable keyboard and a pen, so you can take notes, draw, markup documents – whatever – right out of the box. There’s NO ink lag with the pen in OneNote 2016, and with an Intel Atom processor, that’s really very surprising. I’ve had other devices where that was NOT the case.

A side view of the ASUS Pen The top of the ASUS Pen. Notice, there’s no application button on the end.

This is an ultrabook PC, so even though you can remove the keyboard and use it without a keyboard, it is not a true tablet, as it doesn’t run a mobile OS. It runs 64bit Windows 10 Home. In any “mode,” PC or tablet, this is a PC. Period.

Speaking of the keyboard, it provides a decent typing experience. While it’s not something that I’d like to work with all day long, its ok; and can get you through a meeting in a pinch. Again, the fact that this device comes WITH the keyboard is huge. On the Surface Pro, it’s a $129 – $159 add on.

As a Signature PC, this device is awesome. No junk software! No crapware! This is huge on a device like this with a budget processor, no matter how good that processor may be; and huge when it has a non-upgradable SSD as a main drive. While it does have a microSD card slot for additional storage, the fact that you don’t have to run an app like the PC Decrapifier to try to remove all of the OEM sponsored junkware that comes on most Windows PC’s is huge.

The ASUS Transformer Mini T102H runs $349.99 for the 64GB version and $399.99 for the 128GB version. It is readily available on the internet and is perhaps one of the best budget PC buys you can make this year.

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Netflix Now Offers Offline Content

Streamers and video junkies rejoice..!

netflix_logoI’ve been a Netflix subscriber for years. I started off as a DVD subscriber and at one point had three to four DVD’s flowing in and out of my house a week. When the streaming biz started, we jumped on that too, as it was sometimes easier to stream than to wait for the DVD to arrive. Sometimes you had to wait weeks or months for one to get here, especially if it was a popular film. We’re streaming only now, as the DVD biz has gone the way of the do-do… and I got tired of paying for the service that regularly didn’t deliver what I was wanting to watch.

The streaming service is nice, as I can get all the kids watching on iPads as well as my wife and I and my daughter and son-in-law watching separate shows on separate TV’s at the same time. It works out very nicely for us.

One of the biggest asks of all Netflix streamers, though was offline viewing of content. Sometimes, an internet connection isn’t available, especially on a plane or on a long car trip, and a movie on an iPad is just the ticket to a little peace and quiet. Until now, that wasn’t possible. Now… it is.

Netflix recently added an option to its mobile apps that will download films AND TV shows in advance, allowing users to watch them without an active internet connection. Extended trips and plane rides will never be the same.

Unfortunately, not everything in the Netflix catalog is available for offline viewing.

Seen as one of the most desired subscriber features, offline viewing has long been the most popular subscriber request. Netflix has resisted it for years thinking that cell service would improve to the point where it wouldn’t be needed. Unfortunately, mobile internet STILL isn’t ubiquitous, and Netflix competitors began offering the service. That’s what ultimately drove the company to offer it to its customers. Well, that and expansion into other countries where cell and internet services are spotty at best.

You CAN view the following popular shows, among others, offline:

  • Stranger Things
  • Orange is the New Black
  • The Crown
  • House of Cards

The following shows and movies, among others, are NOT available offline:

  • Sherlock (BBC)
  • Disney’s’ Zootomic
  • The Little Price

However, more downloadable content is scheduled to be released, “soon.” Downloadable content is clearly marked with a downward facing arrow next to a show or movie’s title.

In order to view offline content, subscribers need to download the latest version of Netflix’s app. The app, available on iOS and Android devices.

Are you a Netflix subscriber? Have you downloaded the latest app update? Have you tried to download any offline content? What was the download experience like? What was the offline viewing experience like? Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area, below and give me your thoughts on this interesting development?

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The State of Consumer Computing

I have NO idea where the industry is going with this…

consumer_computingOk, kids. Sit back. I’ve been cooking up a rant on the direction that consumer/ prosumer computing has been going for a while; and given that the Holidays are here, it’s time to let this one loose. There’s some background that I feel is necessary (nearly) every time I shoot my mouth off, so bear with me a minute…

I’ve been writing in the tech sector for almost 20 years. I’m a tech pioneer, as I got started in mobile, and consumer computing back in 1990-blah-blah-blah when computing and mobility was in its infancy. During this time, I’ve always seen a clear steady progression… a firm march towards what I would call a confirmed and clear vision of mobility and portability that enabled prosumer and hobbyist level consumers to be productive. Honestly, I don’t see much of that any longer. To be blunt – I have no idea where the heck industry is headed at this point, and it really concerns me.

Windows
I used to be a huge Windows proponent. I cut my teeth at WUGNET – The Windows User’s Group NETwork where I was their Senior Content Editor for approximately 10 years. I wrote – literally – thousands of Windows based tips for Windows, IE, Office 95 – 2007, and Hardware. I had a column in the Computing Pro Forum at AOL/ CompuServe, which WUGNET managed, called, “The Weekly Byte,” covering anything and everything computing and/ or Windows based, for just over seven years. I’ve also been on every technical beta of Windows since Windows 95. Windows is a platform that I know very, VERY well.

Unfortunately, I have little to NO idea where Microsoft is headed at this point, and quite honestly – though it may seem a bit harsh – I’m not certain they do either. Again, to be blunt, Windows 10 is a train wreck; but I’ll get to that in short order.

I’ve made it very clear that I’m not happy with the way things are going with Windows. To say I’m disenchanted with the state of Windows could be considered an understatement. Couple that with the prices for the new and still available, but previous, version of Surface Book; and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

It’s no secret to anyone that Windows PC’s are about half the price (or less) of an Apple computer. Which really makes Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book prices really confusing. Both Signature PC’s – meaning that they are Windows PC’s without any junkware, crapware or adware installed by the PC manufacturer – are priced as premium devices. Microsoft Surface Book ranges in price from $1499 to $2999 before tax. Surface Pro 4 is a bit more “affordable,” but also gets rather pricey. Prices for it range from $899 to $2699 before tax.

I have no idea why Surface PC’s are so expensive. Microsoft’s hardware efforts don’t have the clout to command such premium prices. In fact the history of both the Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book have been riddled with HUGE driver issues. Microsoft has had huge issues related to both power and battery drivers as well as graphics driver issues that have prevented the convertible PC’s from sleeping and hibernating correctly as well as contributing to “hot bag” syndrome, where the PC overheats in a backpack or notebook carrying case because the device never shuts off correctly, burning out the device at worse or severely draining and damaging the battery at best.

Don’t get me started about the whole disappearing ink thing. Over a year later, its still not resolved. That bug effects ALL Surface Pro products, including older Surface Pro devices AND Surface Book.

Microsoft has over the past couple of years since the start of the Windows Insider Program at the beginning of the Windows 10 beta period, said that it would be forcing ALL Windows users to Windows 10 once the operating system was officially released; and they’ve stuck to that, too. Microsoft has been downloading Windows 10 to users PCs whether they want it to be upgraded or not, without their permission. At that point, Windows doesn’t ask you if you want to upgrade, but TELLS you that it’s going to update your machine. In fact, many Windows 7-8.x users went to bed only to wake up to a PC that was upgraded to Windows 10 without their permission. These strong arm tactics had many Windows users breathing fire in Redmond’s general direction. Microsoft seems to have crossed a line with this one, and they aren’t sorry about it either.

And I REALLY have to go into Microsoft’s mobile strategy or the real lack thereof?

It’s clear that Microsoft DOESN’T care about whether or not I want to upgrade or not. They’re taking everyone there, kicking and screaming if they have to; and they don’t seem to care about the fallout, either.

I don’t get it. Microsoft seems to have done a “Steve Jobs” and decided what was best for everyone whether they want it or not. This new attitude combined with their Surface based driver issues has me wondering who’s steering the boat in Redmond; or if anyone is really steering at all.

Microsoft has seemingly gone from a compassionate business partner strong arming business software dictator. Where the heck did they get the system level permissions to upgrade my computer without my consent? My good friend, Woody Leonard of Microsoft Office fame has a decent article, published earlier this year that provides some good information on this.

Needless to say, this and a Microsoft’s confusing hardware strategy has a number of people, me included, wondering just where Microsoft is going with all of this. They’ve burned a lot of bridges with a lot of folks. Some have sworn off Windows and have considered other OS options like machos or Linux.

Speaking of which…

Apple
I got into Macs in 2006 after Apple made the switch to Intel processors. In fact, I bought my first Mac with the intent of it being a Windows machine. An Intel based Mac runs Windows VERY well. The drivers that Apple provides via Boot Camp are really solid. In my opinion, Macs provide one of the best native Windows computing experiences around.

In fact, it’s for THAT reason alone that most of the tech sector – meaning those paid professions (like me) that cover technology developments via mainstream tech print or online media, use Macs. They’re really the ONLY computer on the market that can natively (and legally) run BOTH major, consumer operating systems out of the box. In fact, they can also run just about any Linux distro you throw at it as well. Since Macs can really be the anything and everything computer, spending the extra money to purchase one of them as a notebook makes perfect sense and is completely cost justifiable. With a Mac, I can cover any and every platform. I can review nearly every OS available. I can review just about any and every accessory for any operating system, provided I have the right port and/ or cable or dongle available or within reach.

Macs have also historically been supported by firmware and OS compatibility by Apple for a minimum of five to seven years, making these historically, premium priced, prosumer targeted notebooks and desktops easy to use, easy to justify and easy to maintain… that is, until recently.

With the release of the iPad Pro and the release of the Late 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar I truly believe there are very few people outside of Cupertino that know where Apple is going with its computing strategy.

Many new Late 2016 MacBook Pro users have said that the form factor of the device is approaching that of the iPad Pro, with a keyboard. These same people have stated that the iPad Pro could be a MacBook Pro replacement… with the introduction of the proper software. Both devices seem to be hurtling towards each other’s users and towards each other’s form factors.

There are a number of reviews on the Late 2016 MacBook Pro that indicate that the device is more mainstream consumer oriented than a “professional” device. They have further said that the only thing that’s “pro” about the new MacBook Pro is its price. Its anywhere between $500 to $1500 more expensive than its immediate predecessor; and the only thing that it REALLY offers is a thinner form factor and a Touch Bar that many users are still on the fence about.

What remains adamantly unclear is where Apple is headed with their computing products. Apple recently got out of the wireless router business. Apple hasn’t updated the Mac mini since October of 2014; and hasn’t’ updated the iMac since October of 2015. While they’ve updated the iPhone and iPad regularly during the same timeframe, what IS clear is that their portable computing efforts seem to be edging closer and closer to their tablet based products and their tablet efforts seem to be edging closer and close to their portable computing based products.

But to WHAT end?

Back in the day, everyone clearly wanted not only better, faster, stronger, but lighter and more portable. With Apple’s MacBook and MacBook Pro lines of notebook computers, we achieved that some time ago. All that Apple seems to be doing is making the MacBook Pro and the iPad Pro more and more alike; and many are asking, “why?”

Unfortunately, no one from Cupertino is providing any kind of explanation; and I find myself trying to figure out a couple of things:
1. How in the world I’m going to afford a new MacBook Pro in 2-3 more years.
2. Is a Mac even the right platform to choose?

Both of these questions are equally important. I don’t want an iOS device to be my main computing device. The platform doesn’t offer enough software – or even the right software – for what I use a computer for. I don’t want all of my files pushed to the cloud, which is where iDevices really want all of your data to live – and to be very honest, iDevices don’t offer all of the peripherals and connectivity options I’m looking for. Connecting my Nikon D7100 to my iPad isn’t possible, for example; and likely won’t be. Yes, Apple has a dongle to connect an SD card to an iPad, but I really don’t want to have to remove it from the camera every time I want to transfer pictures from it to my “computer” for retouching and processing.

While I really don’t need more than 16GB of RAM on a computer at this point, my previous Mac purchase strategy was to buy the high end 15″ MacBook Pro with as big of an SSD as I could afford. In the past, that’s cost me approximately $3000; but it got me a Mac that has historically lasted more than 5 years, with the exception of my Early 2011 MacBook Pro, that is. My 2006 MacBook Pro lasted me until 2011.

Most folks who did what I did – bought big to ward off obsolescence – won’t necessarily be able to do that this time around. I bought the high end, Late 2013 MBP with the high end processor and 512GB SSD, and 16GB of RAM. Which at the time, was as big and as bad as you could get.

If I were to spend the same amount of money with the Late 2016 MacBook Pro, the only thing I really buy myself is a technology refresh, as I don’t see any value in the Touch Bar given my workflow. If I add the Radeon 460 graphics card – a $100 upgrade that doubles your graphics adapter RAM, a decent upgrade for the price – I’ve priced myself $600 above what I paid for my Late 2013 MacBook Pro (before tax), and as I said, all I’ve really gotten is a technology refresh. I’d hardly call that a compelling reason to buy a new computer, especially since, at this time, there’s nothing wrong with my Late 2013 MacBook Pro.

Upgrading storage from 512GB to 1TB is an additional $400, which seems reasonable, given storage gain; but that brings the price up to $3499, or an additional $1000 above what my Late 2013 MacBook Pro cost, and again, before tax. After tax, the cost is $3718, or $933 more than I paid previously. That’s a lot of money for additional storage and a small graphics adapter bump.

The cost increase here is a huge surprise to many, given that Apple has a history of keeping the new price for new equipment the same as the cost of last year’s model. Here, it seems that there’s a $500 bump for the new models even before you get to customizing the base model’s specs.

AND it’s a lot of money when I have no idea where Apple is headed with their consumer/ prosumer computing roadmap. Are they truly ignoring the professional market? Are they going to push all consumers towards iOS? I have no idea.

Conclusion
Dude… your guess is as good as mine.

I have no idea where the hell Microsoft is going with Windows 10, its somewhat hostile upgrade program (now, seemingly toned down a bit…) or the fact that Microsoft can’t even get the drivers for their OWN signature PC’s coded and debugged correctly.

Heck, have you run Windows through Boot Camp on a Mac? Apple did a dynamite job of providing Windows drivers for all of THEIR hardware. If Apple can do this well, why can’t the maker of the operating system provide drivers for THEIR branded machines? This really seems kinda stupid… Microsoft can’t get this right, but their major competitor – who really doesn’t want to continue to provide Boot Camp, by the way – can. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, that’s for sure.

While it seems like the best thing to do at this point is to just jump to over to a Mac, the cost of any of their current “Pro” level notebooks, unfortunately make it exceptionally cost prohibitive. Buying into the Apple ecosystem as a new user is just too damned expensive at this point. Staying here means I either have to settle for a notebook I don’t want, or my kids won’t be able to go to college…EVER.

Even if it weren’t cost prohibitive, I have no confidence that Apple will be able to support me with the type of hardware that I want and need for my computing needs. Their current computing offerings seem to be hurtling towards each other, destined to end up in some sort of crammed, hashed together mess that combines both iOS and macOS elements.

Hey, Tim..! Keep your chocolate OUT of my peanut butter! I don’t want a notebook that’s more iDevice than notebook. I want a portable, desktop replacement that runs a desktop class operating system. And I don’t want to have to pay $4000 for it, either.

So… I have no idea where both Microsoft – whose software runs in nearly every office of every business on the ENTIRE PLANET – or Apple are headed. One seems to be unable to write drivers even for their own equipment, and the other seems to hell bent on turning their conventional PC’s into tablets.

Both seem hell bent on pissing off all of their users though.

Am I the only one who thinks this? Chime in folks. I’d really appreciate you giving me your thoughts on this.

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Microsoft Surface Gets a Desktop All in One

Microsoft will be introducing Surface Studio on 2016-10-26

If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then Microsoft is going out of its way to tell Apple how awesome it truly is.

Microsoft has done a lot to chase after Apple in the past six and a half years or so, since the release of the iPad. Their TabletPC’s couldn’t stand up to the iPad, and so they mostly disappeared by the end of 2012. By 2013 and 2014, Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 had firmly taken hold and were making some inroads, but more in the PC market than the tablet market. The Surface Pro – in all its variations – is NOT a tablet. It’s an ultrabook (or ultra-notebook). Despite “Tablet Mode,” it’s not a tablet. A successful tablet requires a successfully implemented ecosystem for content acquisition and consumption, and Microsoft doesn’t have that…but I digress.

So, Microsoft has a tablet-like, computer really, device in Surface Pro and Surface Book, and now, it appears they are chasing after all-in-one’s as well with a new device rumored to be announced on 2016-10-26, apparently named Surface Studio.

surface-studio

My good friend, Mary Jo Foley broke this last month with a heads up on the October Microsoft event. According to Mary Jo, Surface Studio was previously code named, Project Cardinal; and the intent of the new hardware is to turn your desktop into a studio. The device is rumored to come in up to three different sizes – 21″, 24″ and 27″; and MAY also be the consumerized version of Microsoft’s enterprise focused Surface Hub a large screen conference and collaboration tool, previously known as Perceptive Pixel.

If this is the case, then this will be an interesting entry into the already saturated, and sadly, poor performing, desktop market. Running Windows 10 – likely Anniversary Update – the Surface Studio will feature a way to convert the all-in-one from the standard desktop format into a flat drawing and writing surface, ideal for creating paintings, drawings and other touch and stylus work.

According to the engineering drawing, above, the screen will likely fold down over its base with the assistance of some type of pneumatic or spring powered hinges. It is also rumored that Microsoft has trademarked the names Surface Laptop, Paint 3D,Surface Dial and Dial as well as Surface Studio. It is believed that Surface Dial and Dial refer to either a radial styled, creator-based interface for the Studio. Others believe it to be connected to the further rumored Surface Phone

Any way you slice this, however, it’s likely that much of what Microsoft announces on 2016-10-26 will likely be overshadowed by the Apple’s marketing machine and hype when it reveals its anticipated Mac hardware refresh the following day, 2016-10-27.

Hopefully, for Microsoft, their rumored hardware will be compelling enough to help provide the shot in the arm that the Windows consumer PC market needs to turn it back towards profitability. Because right now, it could really use the shot in the arm.

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Connectify

Easily create and connect all of your wireless devices with this handy networking utility

connectify-hotspotI can remember back in the 1990’s when computing was just in its infancy. Back then, no one hardly ever got online. If you did, it was with a dialup connection, and then you likely had AOL, CompuServe, MSN or some other online service. Normally, what you did was dial up, get in, get what you needed and then IMMEDIATELY get off. If you didn’t, you likely ended up using (nearly) all of your monthly connect time, and after that, it got really expensive.

Computing today is TOTALLY different. People are connected all the time. Quite honestly now-a-days, NOT getting online often seems to be a waste of time unless you have specific computing tasks to do – writing a report, tweaking a presentation you already have on your hard drive, or working on a spreadsheet. Most other modern computing activities require some kind of internet connectivity. It’s simply a given.

When it comes to finding an available, trusted internet connection in today’s malware ridden, maze of untrusted networks isn’t easy. This is why apps like Connectify are so important. It’s a networking and hotspot tool for Windows.

connectify

With Connectify, you can easily create a Wi-Fi hotspot that will allow you to connect all of your wireless devices to the internet, while on the go. Connectify isn’t just the world’s most powerful hotspot app, it’s the easiest, to use. All you have to do is give your Hotspot a name and password. After that, you’re ready to go.

You can share any internet connection as a Wi-Fi hotspot. It doesn’t matter if that’s an existing Wi-Fi connection, a wired Ethernet connection, or even a 4G LTE network. However, doing THAT will require you to upgrade to Connectify’s Pro or Max version.

Some of the coolest parts of the app, however, don’t have much to do with actually creating a network signal. Some of the cool stuff comes from some of the ancillary functionality that’s included in the app. Connectify will monitory your network usage, by device. You can track down that friend who’s using all your bandwidth. Connectify’s newest feature gives you real-time graphs of your data usage at a glance.

Get access to the internet is a necessity for many people today. Much of what we use computers for today involves some kind of network functionality or connectivity from sharing files across devices to checking email, or sharing photos. Insuring you have the connectivity you need WHEN and WHERE you need it can sometimes be problematic, especially when you don’t have a data plan for every device you own. With Connectify, those troubles are greatly lessened.

The app is a huge boon to those that need internet on devices that for some reason don’t or won’t connect to some Wi-Fi networks but will connect to others. Keeping track of how much bandwidth you’ve burned and who’s the bandwidth hog on your network used to be mysteries, but now, with included utilities, you can easily figure out both of those things.

Connectify comes in four different flavors – free/ 30 day trial version, Hotspot Pro, Hotspot Max and Hotspot Max Bundle. Each version is subscription based, however, and unless you buy the lifetime version, you’re going to be renewing your license next year. If you like Connectify and feel that its bringing value to your online experience, do yourself a favor and buy the lifetime version of whatever flavor you’re interested in. The lifetime license isn’t all that much more expensive, and once you start your fourth year of use, you break even on the purchase.

download Connectify

 

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