Apple Tells the FBI to go Pound Bits

The FBI’s request for Apple to crack the San Bernardino terrorist iPhone 5c isn’t as cut and dry as it might appear…

apple and the fbi

This story has been making headlines for quite some time now, and I honestly think that it will continue to make headlines for some time to come. In fact, I can see this subject staying in the news for at least the next couple of months…

This is perhaps one of the most controversial issues I’ve seen out of the tech sector in a very long time. I’m also not entirely certain that there has EVER been such a controversial or politically charged issue on the minds of nearly every personal computer user – like, EVER.

At the heart of the issue is the iPhone 5c used by Syed Farook.  Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people and injured another 22 during a training class and party in December 2015.  The FBI has tried to access the iPhone 5c, but have not been able to get past its passcode, which resets after 10 failed attempts, rendering the device inaccessible.

During the week of 2016-02-14 to 2016-02-20, a federal judge ordered that Apple must assist the FBI in getting past the passcode screen.  Apple, has since refused to comply with this order, stating that they intend to fight the order, which they see as a violation of the right to privacy and of civil liberties.

At issue, is not this one single iPhone, owned by the (uninvolved and unknowing) business that Farook worked for.  According to Apple, the only way to gain access to an iPhone locked with a passcode is to crack the encryption and build a back door into the OS.  According to the FBI, Apple doesn’t have to create that back door. They can simply modify this one, particular iPhone 5c and give the FBI the access they need.

First of all, I think it’s interesting that the FBI can make this determination. If they’re smart enough to figure THAT out, then why can’t they crack the Farook’s iPhone themselves?

The logical answer here is they don’t.

They’re making an assumption, and I don’t believe they know what they’re talking about. If they had the technical hutzpah to make that statement, then they wouldn’t need Apple.

Now, according to an interview with Tim Cook that aired on ABC World News Tonight, there are some very serious problems with this request. Actually, Tim Cook called the issue “complex.”

According to Cook,

“If a court can ask us to write this piece of software, think about what else they could ask us to write — maybe it’s an operating system for surveillance, maybe the ability for the law enforcement to turn on the camera,” Cook said. “I don’t know where this stops. But I do know that this is not what should be happening in this country.”

In a message from Cook to Apple customers during the week of 2016-02-14 to 2016-02-20, Cook said that they had provided assistance to the FBI, but wouldn’t create a backdoor that would have the potential to crack any iPhone.  This decision was applauded by both Google CEO Sundar Pichai and WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum, among other Silicon Valley big wigs.  Currently, there are approximately two dozen iPhones held by law enforcement agencies around the country where those agencies are interested in the outcome of this case.

If the FBI prevails, precedent is created for Apple to provide them with the same kind or type of tool or service for unlocking those two dozen or so iPhones as well as any other encrypted iOS devices in the future.

This is the biggest concern of all, as then this leaves Apple open to similar requests from nearly every legal agency in this country as well as other’s around the world, to provide them with the same kind of access.  So, every political dissident or activist that is detained by a dissenting, international governing body that owns an iPhone or other iDevice, will demand that Apple provide them (that governing body) with the same services.

The story here only gets more and more interesting…

Bill Gates, one of the founders of Microsoft, was recently quoted as coming out AGAINST Apple’s plight against the FBI.  When asked for clarification, Gates replied,

I was disappointed, because that doesn’t state my view on this. I do believe that with the right safeguards, there are cases where the government, on our behalf — like stopping terrorism, which could get worse in the future — that that is valuable. But striking that balance — clearly the government [has] taken information, historically, and used it in ways that we didn’t expect, going all the way back, say, to the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover. So I’m hoping now we can have the discussion. I do believe there are sets of safeguards where the government shouldn’t have to be completely blind… The courts are going to decide this…  In the meantime, that gives us this opportunity to get [in] the discussion. And these issues will be decided in Congress.”

However, in a statement released on 2016-02-26, Microsoft itself has come out in support of Apple, and not the FBI, like its co-founder, Bill Gates.  Microsoft’s support comes in the form of an amicus brief that it will file with the court next week.  Microsoft’s support is joined to that of Google’s and Facebooks, but really, according to Microsoft’s President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith from testimony taken from a congressional hearing, the government, not the courts needs to discuss the [implementation of]new legislation to govern privacy.

The focus of Microsoft’s statements can be nicely summed up with a statement from an industry group, “while it’s ‘extremely important’ to deter crime and terrorism, no company should be required to build back doors to their own technology.”

Personally, I #StandwithApple.  While I support the US government’s stand against terrorism and generally consider myself to be a conservative, the government doesn’t need a back door into my smartphone.  Giving the government too much power and access into my privacy and personal life is NOT what I want.

I’d love to hear everyone’s opinion on this.  If you agree or disagree, support Apple or support the FBI, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue. Please share them with us in the comment section below and lend your voice to the discussion.

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Featured Review – Voila Screen Capture for Mac

Capture screen shots and video clips with this much needed Mac utility

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I’ve been a freelance writer for over 20 years.  I’m also a software QA guy.  I’ve always had a need for a screen capturing tool.  I either want to take screen shots of the programs I’m reviewing or of the errors in the software that I’m testing.  I’m actually a bit of a screen shot-aholic. Most everything that I do either for my writing gig here at Soft32 or during the day for my software testing job requires me to take screen shots of something.  This is why I really like Voila Screen Capture for Mac.  It’s a really cool utility for your Mac.

Voila is an ‘all-in-one’ screen capture solution that can capture, edit and share anything on your computer’s screen. Users can also video record the screens of their iOS device, like an iPhone or iPad in full resolution. After a screenshot is captured or recorded, the user can then share them on popular websites, send via e-mail or print using the buttons located on the UI. A complete set of tools including different capture methods, full webpage recording as well as easy sharing options make for a comprehensive and complete application that saves time and is easy to use.

Voila captures video with audio in high quality. You can capture the whole screen, or simply a user defined section. You can also capture video on your connected iDevice as well.

Voila captures full and partial screen stills as well.  Voila has a flexible capture option that allows you to grab full or user defined areas of your screen. If needed, you can also capture entire web pages along with important metadata like page title, menus and other page elements.

Once you get your screen grabs, you can also annotate them using different fonts, shapes, blur options and speech bubbles, or callouts. Once you have everything set, Voila can also help you manage your screen shot collections.  You can group similar images and videos together using custom labels.  You can add titles, tags and descriptions so you can catalog and search for just the media object you need.

Voila Screen Capture for Mac is a decent application.  It starts when you start your Mac and sits in the Menu Bar until its needed.  You’re supposed to be able to activate it via a set of user-definable hot keys, but these didn’t work consistently for me.  More often than not, pressing the hot key combinations didn’t do anything at all on my El Capitan powered 15″ MacBook Pro.

Download

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FEATURE REVIEW – Henge Docks Horizontal Dock

500636-5acf70732e3e9e0c2f604147eac3b5e8-medium_jpgIf you have a MacBook Pro and you’re looking for a docking station, I’ve got good news…

Introduction
I’ve been a portable computer user since the early to mid-1990’s. Back in the day of Windows 3.x, I got tight with a manager at a local Radio Shack and was able to purchase their early 8088, x286 and finally x386 before finally moving on to Dells and Toshibas. It’s been quite a journey.

Back during those early days, expansion options were limited to either an RS-232 compatible serial port or a parallel port. That was it. Token Ring and Ethernet networking was just getting started. IF a consumer based PC connected to anything, it was through a 300-1200 baud modem. 14.4k modems wouldn’t come out for another few years. The days of USB and SDXC cards weren’t even ideas or dreams yet. The internet, beyond research labs and connected universities, didn’t exist. Heck… AOL was the newest thing, and again… you connected via either an internal or external modem, and *70, was your best friend when it came to connection strings.

We’ve come a long way…

When I moved to Dell and Toshiba branded laptops, one of the biggest things that I got introduced to was the concept of a docking station. The idea of being able to connect cables, external drives, monitors, etc., to a stationary device that would quickly and cleanly allow you to connect and reconnect your computer to all of these external devices and cables really got my attention. It made it easy to take your laptop back and forth to work and the house. It also made it easy to take it to meetings where you could work and then come back and hook back up to your desktop resources without having to plug and chug all of your cables and other sources.

The clouds parted, the sun showed through… and cue the angelic music.

I had arrived.

Soon, I had a docking station for every laptop I’d ever owned – one at work and one at the house. It made bringing the work laptop home VERY easy, especially if they were either the same laptop, or the same series and used the same dock. However, the point is that my laptop(s) had a home and place to sit when I was at home and needed access to all of my peripherals and resources.

However, when I dropped Dell and Toshiba and other Windows based laptops for Apple and MacBook Pros, I also dropped support for my docking stations. Suddenly, I was back to plugging and chugging multiple cables in and out of my PC every time I wanted to get access to the internet, my monitor or other resources on my home network. That is, until now…

Now, thanks to Henge Docks, that’s changed. Now thanks to Henge Docks, the MacBook Pro has a home. Let’s take a look at its new home – the Henge Docks Horizontal Dock for MacBook Pro Retina and see how it looks.

Brief History
There’s good and bad here. If you remember, the Horizontal Dock has been a long time coming. There were a number of technical issues to resolve. There were a number of customers waiting. There were a few false starts; but here it is in a nutshell, from one of my last articles on this:

When I heard about the Horizontal Dock from Henge Docks, I jumped on early. There wasn’t much on the site at the time, and honestly over the next year or so (into late 2012 and early 2013), you couldn’t do much more other than sign up for an email list that got you on an internal pre-order list.

I honestly think I signed up like three times… That was partially due to the fact that so little information was available on the product, and there were large gaps of time in between the times that I checked.

During this time, there were many milestone and availability dates that came and went with little to no reported progress. In fact, looking back at it all, (and I’m certain I’ll say this more than once here) this has really been a 4-5 YEAR journey from the point of dock announcement to dock shipping and receipt.

However, in late 2014, we were told that orders would open up in early to mid-January 2014. At this point, you had a choice. Henge Docks announced their Early Adopters program.

With the Early Adopters program, users could, for an additional fee of $50, join the program. The Early Adopter program got you the Dock at least three months before everyone else and also got you access to pre-release versions of the Dock’s firmware as well as its desktop control app. The Dock would also have a limited edition, customized base plate identifying it as an Early Adopter unit, and (I think) would be numbered.

I ordered my Dock on 2015-01-14. Early Adopter units were scheduled to ship in March of 2015, with GA units (general availability) shipping in June. Both of those milestone dates came and went. The date for Early Adopter units was pushed to May, then July, and then (I think) August. All of those dates came and went as well.

At that point, I had already started a very frank dialog with Henge Docks’ CEO, Matt Vroom.

Matt… is an awesome guy. He was frank, open and as transparent as he possibly could be. Henge Docks had opened their Early Adopter Portal and at the time, it echoed in there. There was little to NO participation there; and honestly, in retrospect, it’s not surprising.

The Portal was designed to be a gathering place for Early Adopters to share views, usage, insight, suggestions, etc., about the Horizontal Dock. With the Dock behind schedule, there was no need for any activity about the dock.

Well, the dock is out now… and quite honestly, it’s one of the best things about my MacBook Pro.

Hardware and Pictures
The Henge Docks Horizontal Dock is a really cool Thunderbolt dock. Unlike its Vertical Docks, the Henge Docks Horizontal Dock has a number of different ports, including AC Power.

Ports
With a number of different ports available, the Henge Docks Horizontal Dock provides for your future expansion needs

My Setup
Here is my Henge Docks Horizontal Dock in my office. This is set up as a “true” docking station and not as a dock that also incorporates the laptop screen as a third monitor.

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My Horizontal Dock in front of my Thunderbolt Display and 27″ AOC HD Monitor I think I have all of my USB ports used, as well as my TB and MDP port. My HDMI, Audio 2 port and SD card slot are free
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My Horizontal Dock without my MBP in it. Sliding my MBP in place/ putting it into the dock seems to have scarred it up a bit… A close up of the Docking Ring – No activity
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A close up of the Docking Ring – Flashing Amber. The Dock is actually moving the ports into the closed position A close up of the Docking Ring – Solid Green: Docking Complete. Light is green… Trap is clean.

Please note that if you have your MacBook Pro in any kind of a shell case, you’re going to have to take it out to use it with the dock. It simply will not fit, will not allow you to close your MBP or won’t dock correctly with any kind of shell casing on your Mac. This is disappointing, but when I brought this up to Henge Docks, they said that the dock was impossible to manufacture and have work correctly with a case with so MANY different cases, case types, etc. on the market. Your MBP is going to have to get nekked before it climbs in the Horizontal Dock.

I was also a bit disappointed with the scarring that the dock received simply by sliding my Mac in the Dock. As you can see from the pictures above, its significant. While it doesn’t affect the Dock’s functionality in anyway, it is a bit concerning that a $400 dock mars so easily.

Early Adopter Program
The Early Adopter Program for the Henge Docks Horizontal Dock was designed to give early access to not only the Horizontal Dock, but the software that drives it – DockApp – as well. With it, you get any easy way to not only connect all of your peripherals, but a way to control that access.

With that access to the latest, beta versions of Dock App, you also got a straight line to Henge Docks’ development team. You got the ability to file bug reports and then communicate directly via email, calls or chat about those defects. It’s been pretty cool.

However, things have been VERY quiet out of Henge Docks lately. There wasn’t an update to Dock App in over three (3) months. There has only been one communication out of Henge Docks about Dock App in the last four (4) months. It had me wondering whether or not the Early Adopter Program is over or not. It’s really just kind of withered. Thankfully, that’s not the case.

It looks like Henge Docks has been working on the Horizontal Dock for the 13″ MacBook Pro. As of this writing, it should hit the streets in a few days. What’s going to happen to Dock App at this point, is still up in the air. Though I think we’ve really come to the end of the feature hunt.

Dock app gives you the ability to dock, undock and auto dock your MacBook Pro. There’s not much more that the app does. It will give you the ability to manage peripherals and accessories that you have attached to the dock, but when I say manage, I really mean,

  1. Choose your audio in/ out devices
  2. Disconnect devices from your Mac before you pull your MBP out of the dock so you don’t corrupt any data.

Don’t look for Dock App to do too much more. There’s not much more that it or the dock really can do, anyway. It’s a docking station. As cool as I think it is – and it is really cool – it’s not going to save the world.

Issues and Problems
Over the past few months, I’ve had a few different issues with the Dock that I’ve reported to Henge Docks via their Early Adopter Program website. All of those defects are now closed. Unfortunately for me, not all of them were resolved and some of them are still a bit of a niggling issue.

Waking from Sleep
I can’t help but shake my head on this one… Not because of anything that Henge Docks has or hasn’t done, but largely because waking from sleep is a portable computing issue that goes back as far as laptops have had batteries.

The bloody things just don’t wake from sleep like they’re designed to do each and EVERY time they wake from sleep. Something (nearly) always gets in the way and mucks it up. The fact that I’m running into issues with the Dock when my Mac wakes from sleep doesn’t surprise me.

The most common problem is that none of the video comes through to my two (2) monitors. OR video will only go to my Thunderbolt Display and not to both it and my HD display coming through my mini display port, port.

I also have issues with audio sources after waking from sleep. I installed Boom 2, and for some reason, if I have my MBP on and undocked and then sleep and dock the computer, my audio source is still identified as “Boom 2 Device,” but no audio comes through. If I change it to the audio port with my external speakers, audio comes through. If I change it back to Boom 2 after that, enhanced audio comes through. I’m not certain what is going on, but it’s clearly a wake/ sleep issue…

Docking Indicator
The Henge Docks Horizontal Dock comes with a motorized dock. When you place your MBP in the dock, the dock itself will align and insert all of the connectors into your ports by itself. There is a dock indicator light ring on the right side front of the dock. When you put your MBP in the dock and it lights up green, it will auto “close” as all the ports are correctly lined up. It flashes orange while it moves everything into place and then flashes green again when it’s done and its correctly got all the inserts in all the ports. If there’s a problem, it will flash orange and then “open” so you can pull the MBP out and reseat it.

There’s a known issue – or at least there was a known issue, Henge Docks says its fixed – where the ring continues to flash orange even after the dock is closed and everything is correctly aligned. This is still happening on my dock.

To fix this, Henge Docks says that you should – with your MBP OUT of the dock – unplug the AC power from the dock and let it sit for a few moments. Then, you should plug the power back in and put your MBP back in the dock. The problem should be gone. If it persists, Henge Docks says you should recalibrate your dock (by docking and undocking your Mac 5-6 times in a row. After that, it should be fixed. If the problem persists, rinse/ repeat the above process until its gone.

This usually works for a while, but the problem always comes back. However, I have yet to have a situation where the functionality of the Dock is impaired because of the indicator light.

System Sounds vs. Standard Audio
I’ve had this problem since the Dock arrived. I’ve also logged a bug on this, but Henge Docks couldn’t replicate it.

Some system sounds won’t go through the correct audio port and instead go through PC speakers instead of the desktop speakers plugged into the Dock. This is usually the Mac’s system “thunk” sound that occurs when you, for example, press the audio “up” button past the last available “up” point, or my Mac generates some other minor audio cue sound.

Conclusion
The Henge Docks Horizontal Dock for both 13″ MBPr and 15″ MBPr sells for $399. While that’s a bit pricey, even for a Thunderbolt dock, it’s a GREAT docking station. It’s got

  • Two (2) audio ports
  • One (1) SD card slot
  • One full sized HDMI port
  • Six (6) USB 3.0 ports
  • Built in wired Ethernet
  • One (1) Mini Display Port
  • One (1) Thunderbolt 2 Port (supports up to 3 displays connected via TB2)
  • Kensington Lock support

I’ve been looking for a good docking station for my Macs for a while and honestly, this one should last me for the lift of my Late 2013 15″ MBP and beyond, provided they don’t’ change the ports or port alignment on any new MBP I would need to buy in the foreseeable future.

This was money well spent.

The Dock allows me to hook a lot of external devices to my Mac without having to plug and chug all of the cords on and off. It provides power to my MBP which means I can put my 85w charger back in my bag.

If you were on the fence about getting this dock for yourself, you can safely jump down. This is the dock you were looking for; and most definitely the dock you want for any compatible MacBook Pro. It was a LONG wait for me, but it was one that was definitely worth it.

I love my Henge Docks Horizontal Dock for my 15″ MacBook Pro Retina, and I’m certain you will too once yours arrives and you have it setup and running.

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Microsoft Ratchets Fast Ring Up to Ludicrous Speed

The whole release cycle just got beamed to plaid…

fast ringTo be very honest, I pulled out of the Windows Insider Program when I sold my Surface Pro 3. The cluster bump that is Windows 10 has finally gotten to be a bit much for me, but that doesn’t mean that

  1. I won’t be back (I’m really not GONE-gone. I’m just not carrying a personal, Windows machine in my gear bag at this time…)
  2. I’m stopping my coverage of the Windows Platform (cuz that’s just crazy talk..!)

To be honest, I just ordered a new Windows machine for the house, and it should ship on 2017-02-17 (so, next Thursday, as of this writing…)

The question that I have for myself is whether or not I want to put Windows Insider builds on that box or if I just want it to run released versions of Windows. Thankfully, though, Microsoft has made a couple of changes to their “ring” system of releases for Insider Builds that may help make that choice a bit easier to manage.

Earlier today, Microsoft announced that it was making some changes to its release tracks, known as “rings.” Microsoft is adding a “Release Preview” ring to the mix. The Release Preview Ring sounds it’s going to sit just a bit to the right of the Slow Ring. According to Microsoft’s Gabe Aul, Engineering General Manager for Microsoft’s Operating System Group,

” the Release Preview Ring will focus on Insiders that want to stay on the Current Branch – currently based off Build 10586 – but [want to] continue to receive early access to updates, application updates, and driver updates,”

This ring will give users access to prerelease features, functionality apps and drivers before they hit the main stream user, but will be a bit more “conservative” than either the Fast or Slow rings; or better put, “slower” than Slow, but faster than what non-Windows Insiders will see.

The goal here for Microsoft is simple – More Windows Insiders.

Microsoft wants to expand its beta program and get more testers. Their switch from an internal tester to a more external tester focused testing methodology seems to be bringing them the results they were looking for. They have more people in the wild, providing feedback on how Windows works with all of the varying different hardware combinations found in the wild. This level of rapid feedback is something that Microsoft has deemed critical to its new rapid release cadence.

Microsoft is loosening its rules for issuing builds to public testers. Fast Ring Insiders will get features and functionality as soon as it passes internal, automated testing – which by the way, it’s totally unheard of. Says, Microsoft, “going forward, Insiders in the Fast Ring should be prepared for more issues that may block activities important to [them]… and may require significant work arounds [to get past or resolve.] Windows Insiders should be ready to [rebuild their machines] when [they] are significantly blocked.

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Feature Review – Boom 2

If you want to make it sound good, you more Boom, Boom, Boom..

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I’ve been using computers for a very long time. I do just about everything that I enjoy on them. In fact, most everything that I do all week long is on a computer. Mostly… I write, as I’m certain that many of you who follow this blog know and understand.

While I write, I often either watch movies or listen to music. The biggest problem with doing this on a laptop is, of course, audio. Laptop speakers are just so-so, no matter what brand of computer you have. Computer speakers are a dime a dozen; and honestly, Apple doesn’t make any. They may include them inside all of their computers, but I don’t think they’re that great. I think they can use all the help they can get. That’s why I really like Boom 2. Its THE app to have if you want to improve the quality of the sound coming out of either your Mac’s internal speakers or from your third party, desktop speakers… and its really cool.

Boom is a system wide volume booster and equalizer that make everything sound louder, clearer and better. Built from the ground up, Book takes advantage of the latest audio technology in OS X. The latest version several features that offer users a variety of professional audio options that allow them to take complete control of their computer’s audio.

When the app starts for the first time, it auto calibrates itself according to the type of Mac that you have. It has power system wide volume boosting capabilities, and provides advanced, precision equalizer controls, that give you control over every aspect of your Mac’s audio. It was designed for Macs running Yosemite and higher, taking full advantage of both the hardware and the OS’ 64-bit architecture.

The app effects all audio coming from your Mac. It makes the audio coming from your speakers sound louder, richer and fuller. It has advanced controls allowing you to put a professional spin on the sound coming out of your Mac, regardless of whether or not you know anything about sound mixing. Boom guarantees you finer audio control.

To help make your Mac’s audio the best it can be, Boom comes with new audio effects – Ambience, Fidelity, Spatial, Night Mode, and Pitch. These are all effects that can be used to bring out the best in the sound coming out of your Mac.

  • Ambiance helps you feel the music around you. With it active, you can hear notes from every corner of the room, making it feel like a live performance.
  • Fidelity makes the music come alive with crisp, sharp tones.
  • Spatial puts you in the center of your audio, immersing your in realistic sound
  • Night Mode nominalizes the audio to produce sounds that aren’t too loud or too faint. This is the perfect setting for action movies.
  • Pitch allows you to change the actual pitch of the audio that is playing. You can listen to things a full note higher or lower than its actually recorded.

Boom has a cool remote app, too, called Boom 2 Remote, downloadable from the iTunes App Store, and it works with both iPad and iPhone. With the app, you can control the audio on your Mac. You can also manage play of VLC, Spotify, QuickTime and iTunes on your Mac, from across the room.

I’ve got Boom 2 installed on my MacBook Pro, and I have to tell you, I’m really impressed. The audio coming out of my Mac is fuller, deeper and so much more alive that it was before. Its really hard to believe that a desktop app can make the sound coming out of my computer sound so much better, but it has. For the price, this is probably one of the better “upgrades” you can give your non-upgradable Mac.

From my perspective, there’s no reason why any Mac owner shouldn’t be running this. Its one of the best apps I’ve installed in a very long time.

You can download Boom 2 here

Boom 2  Boom 2 Boom 2 Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 11.28.05 AM

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Oh How I Loathe thee, FreedomPop

The MVNO that couldn’t just pulled another boner…

photo (1)Four years ago (WOW! Has it really been THAT long??), I wrote an article on getting free mobile broadband if you lived in the United States. FreedomPop was all the rage back in the day, giving anyone who signed up for their $50 – $100 hotspot hardware access to 500MB per month of free, unrestricted, untrottled bandwidth. Even back in the day, 500MB really didn’t get you anything; but it could be rolled over (for a max of up to 2GB of free data) and was, most importantly, free.

As I said then,

“All you have to do is put a deposit down on either a 4G web stick ($50 bucks) or a 4G hot spot ($100 bucks). The device arrives via FedEx, and all you have to do is either plug it in or let it charge and turn it on. The device jumps on the network, and away you go.”

If you were stuck and you needed to get online to check email or reply to some kind of message, it was a quick way to get things done; and when the service was free… well, it just made sense.

The free deal went the way of the dodo a long time ago. FreedomPop no longer has free coverage or any free deal that I’m able to qualify or sign up for, though they do offer free, additional data that may add to your monthly allotment each month if you complete “special” offers or invite/ refer friends who sign up for the service. Their technology has turned over too. Freedom pop used to run on WiMAX, which was a 4G service that pre-dated the implementation of LTE. That service is now totally gone and the bandwidth it ran on repurposed and reprovisioned. Everything now runs on an LTE network that is effectively resold service from Sprint, Virgin Mobile or someone else that runs on either Verizon Wireless’ or Sprint’s mobile network.

A few years ago, I began working in Omaha and Lincoln, NE. During that time, I wanted to cancel my FreedomPop account, but to be very honest, every time I tried to call FreedomPop to cancel – and I tried a number of different times – I got connected with a customer service representative whose first language was not English. Unfortunately for me, I have a noticeable hearing loss and their accent was so thick, I could not understand them and I ended up hanging up on them. I tried a number of times and honestly spent well over five (5) hours total time trying – over the course of a few weeks – to get my account cancelled. Escalating my needs to a manager or supervisor didn’t resolve the situation either, as they were poor English speakers as well.

In the end, I gave up. I downgraded my account to the lowest tier and just ate the monthly cost.

Now, jump ahead about three years…

I’m a DirecTV customer and have been for about eight (8) years. I am also an AT&T Wireless customer, and since the two merged, AT&T is offering unlimited wireless data plans to customers of both services. Since I qualified, I called AT&T to inquire about it and found that it could save me nearly $400 a MONTH in wireless service charges for four (4) wireless lines, per month.

Yes… you’re reading that right – $400 per MONTH in savings.

It basically gives me one line for free, plus about an additional $75 off my previous monthly bill, AND each LINE has about 22GB of unrestricted, high speed wireless service before that INDIVIDUAL line gets shuttered to a slower speed.

The only problem that I’ve got is that now, AT&T is telling me that the personal hotspot feature of my iPhones won’t work… EVER… or at least, not on this particular wireless plan. This is really only a problem for either my wife and oldest son, as my youngest son may sponge off their mobile broadband connection for his iPod Touch or iPad when they’re out and about; or is a problem for my daughter and granddaughter as my granddaughter may use my daughter’s mobile broadband connection for much the same purposes.

Hence the need for the FreedomPop account at this point.

I dusted off my old hotspot and quickly found that it was no longer usable. FreedomPop offered an upgrade to an LTE hotspot, and it arrived today. That’s where the migraine began…

First, I had to upgrade my account from its 1GB, $10 per month account to a 2GB, $20 per month account just to get the new LTE hotspot device. Then, the hotspot was $90 bucks… and that just got me back ON the internet via the FreedomPop service.

As I said, the hotspot arrived and I spent a bit of time today trying to get it up and running. Like the original hotspot I got, I expected just to be able to pull it out of the box, plug it in, and jump on the Internet…

Yeah… It didn’t go that well.

First the device was a refurb device. I totally wasn’t expecting that. I paid for new hotness. I expected new hotness. Instead, I got old and rebuilt.

Secondly, the device – a Netgear Mingle Mobile Hotspot – appears to be riding the Virgin Mobile network. While Virgin Mobile is a Sprint MVNO, I totally did NOT expect to be riding Virgin Mobile’s service. This will prove to be significant in a moment…

After getting the device out of the box, put together (battery… back cover, etc.) the FreedomPop “quick start guide” – a easily overlooked and flimsy insert in the back of the very small product box – says to do nothing more than to put the battery and back on the device (which I had already done) and turn it on. After that, the FreedomPop hotspot SSID and password would appear on the LCD screen. You use that information to get online, and that should be it.

It wasn’t. My device indicated that it needed to be activated. This was where the fun began.

Since the device wasn’t charged, and it was a microUSB powered device, I plugged it into my Mac to charge. This brought up an install window that ran an app that installed drivers that would allow you to run the device as a tethered mobile modem. I installed the software and restarted my Mac.

After the restart, my Mac found the modem and I clicked the Wi-Fi icon on my Menu Bar and selected the mobile modem. At that point, Safari automatically started and I noticed the Virgin Mobile logo on the hotspot and on the activation web page it opened.
The device indicated that it needed to be activated. When I tried to activate it, it hit 20% in the progress bar window that appeared, and then failed. I tried a few different times both as a mobile modem and as a Wi-Fi hotspot before following the instructions on the activation web site and called Virgin Mobile.

That was a huge mistake. Initially I thought I wanted to call Virgin Mobile over FreedomPop. Again, big mistake. They didn’t know who I was and didn’t care. I got the run around from them for over 30 minutes before hanging up. When I called back, I somehow got the SAME customer service rep. I hung up on him again, completely dumbfounded that of all the customer service reps in the call center, I got him twice in a row… How does that happen??

With my hotspot still not activated, I grabbed the “quick start guide” again and found a FreedomPop phone number and called them. This time, I got someone who spoke better English, but couldn’t speak loudly enough for me to hear them. After turning up the volume on my handset all the way up, and insuring that they had access to my account, the rep indicated that I shouldn’t need to activate my device. It should already be activated. I agreed, but she asked for the IMEI of the device, anyway.

Then she said there was something wrong with the device and put me on hold. While I was on hold, the device miraculously activated and began downloading a firmware update. The update hung in the middle of the process.

Thankfully, I was able to log into the hot spot (FreedomPop instructs you to use the IP address 192.168.0.1 with the default password of “password” to log into the device on their “quick start guide.” The guide is wrong. The correct IP address is 192.168.1.1) and correct the problems. I was able to restart the download of the firmware update and complete it.

However, that took over 428MB (or 20%) of bandwidth off my 2GB allotment. It doesn’t seem right that downloading a firmware update should cost me 20% of my monthly bandwidth allowance… It also kinda sucks because I haven’t even really had a chance to use the hotspot for anything yet and I’m already 20% down.

FreedomPop’s data plans have changed. The table below outlines the original vs. current data plans:

freedompopchart

These aren’t as great a deal as they used to be. Combined with the stellar customer service I got today, this may end up being a very short lived venture…

Are you using FreedomPop? How is the coverage in your area? Are you on a grandfathered data plan, or are you on a current data plan? Do you think you have enough bandwidth every month? Do you have any rollover data? Have you completed any free offers or have you invited friends how have joined FreedomPop so that you can earn free data every month? Have you had any issues dealing with FreedomPop customer service? Has your experiences with the organization been as bad as mine, or are my experiences (hopefully) just isolated incidents? Why not tell me about your experience in the Discussion Area below? I’d love to hear about your interaction with the organization and your quality of service results in your area.

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Windows 10 – Where Are We?

It’s been six(6) months since its initial release.  How is Windows 10 shaping up?

windows-10 were are we

Introduction

My good buddy Ed Bott recently published an article on the state of Windows 10 from an industry perspective and it got me thinking of my OWN experience with Window s10, now that it’s been out for six or so months.

It’s not all sunshine and daisies.  In fact, there’s a lot that needs to be fixed and changed.  Here’s where I think the new OS stands at this point.

The UI

To say that the Windows 10 user interface is an improvement over Windows 8.x is a bit of an understatement.  The UI is a huge improvement and one that nearly everyone who used Windows 8.x is glad to see.  The Start Menu is back, and it’s something that nearly everyone is happy about.  This single most, familiar UI tidbit is something that’s been around in computing since the release of Windows 95 – nearly 21years – and it’s something that nearly every consumer and corporate user has used and identified with as the beginning of their computing experience that they just can’t seem to give it up. Honestly, seeing as everyone nearly lost their minds when Microsoft replaced with the Start Screen, it’s amazing that people were able to use Windows 8.x at all.  I mean, without a place to Start, how do you get work done?

The other, most noticeable change to the UI is the removal and death of Charms and the inclusion of the Action Center.  The Charms were the UI element that you saw when you swiped in from the right edge of the screen with either your finger or with your mouse cursor.  Those have been replaced by the Action Center, which is a general catch all for notifications and other items requiring… well, requiring user action.

The Action Center has been well received, in my opinion. It’s an easy tool to use, and gives you access to the system events you need to act on.  Charms never did anything of value in my opinion, and were very confusing.

The thing that helped Windows 10 out the most is that, in all reality, its UI is more Windows 7 like.  All of the ModernUI elements are gone.  The ModernUI apps have been changed to Universal Apps and have a totally different look and feel to them.  Isn’t it funny what a new coat of paint will do..?

The Update Mechanism

Microsoft seems hell bent on putting older versions of Windows out to pasture.  It’s a problem they created for themselves with the support lifecycle of Windows XP and the absolute failure and public rejection of Windows Vista. An operating system version should never be in active support for 15 years.

As such, Windows 10 is on an auto update trajectory with destiny.

(Provided you have a legitimate, REAL copy…) If you run Windows 7, Microsoft is going to upgrade you to Windows 10 whether you want it or not… whether you like it or not.  …) If you run Windows 8.x, Microsoft is going to upgrade you to Windows 10 whether you want it or not… whether you like it or not.  There is no opt out.  If you run an earlier version of Windows on your PC, other than a version of Windows 10, you’re going to eventually run Windows 10 on that PC.

Period.

Get over it. Stop complaining and just accept it.  Apparently, there’s not much anyone can do.  Microsoft is hell bent on getting all the world’s Windows users off of their older version of Windows and on to Windows 10… and apparently, they don’t  care who they upset or anger in the process; and it doesn’t matter if you have that version of Windows running on hardware that the OEM won’t support with Windows 10.

In and of itself, upgrading and updating hardware that is on and supports Windows 10, is very easy. All the updates are pulled down in the background.  You don’t even have to run Windows Update. It’s now a service that is run for you and all you have to do – at most – is simply restart your computer.

This is the cool part of the update mechanism.  In fact, you don’t even have to restart your PC. Windows will do it for you and then apply all of the outstanding updates it has downloaded.

It’s the most hassle free way to update Windows… provided you actually want or are really able to run Windows 10.

Recovery

I have yet to have Windows 8.x’s or Windows 10’s Recovery mode/ partition – whatever you want to call it – work correctly for me.  And trust me…. this is definitely NOT a PEBKAC issue (Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair).  I know my way around Windows; and honestly…

The feature just doesn’t work.

Most often, the feature doesn’t boot into Recovery Mode. It simply reboots the device, which totally defeats the purpose of the recovery partition in the first place.

When the recovery partition does do something else other than just simply reboot the device back into Windows 10, things usually go very, very wrong.  Wrong to the tune of, “I need to download the recovery image from the internet, create a USB boot stick and try to run that to blow the device and start from factory fresh because my device is now hosed,” wrong.

And to be quite honest, I’ve had the same problem with the recovery partition in Windows 8.x AND in Windows 10.  If you’ve been successful with a restore or complete wipe with the recovery partition running off the device’s internal drive and not off a USB stick, I’d love to talk to you about the experience and the process.

Microsoft’s Signature Hardware

I don’t want to over play this too much. I wanted to start off this section by saying something like, “wow! What a train wreck the Surface Pro and Surface Book are,” but that really isn’t very fair.

Make no mistake.  Both of these devices have some very serious problems.  Both of them have graphics driver issues that (at the very least) are at the root of the disappearing ink issue I’ve been barking about for the past year or more.  The problem is so severe, that it’s also effecting the Surface Pro 3 (a problem, that I think many – including Microsoft – are overlooking).

The Surface Book as graphic driver issues but also has sleep and battery related problems. These problems are so severe that in many cases when users try to put the Surface Book to sleep, the device won’t sleep.  When users try to sleep their computer and then put the device in a backpack or laptop bag, they often get what has been dubbed, “hot bag syndrome.” This is when  the computer fails to sleep, continues to run, tries to “cool” itself with ever warming air (due to it being confined to the small, secure space of a laptop section in either a backpack or laptop bag), becomes overheated and the battery then quickly drops its charge to zero (0).

Having both the disappearing ink/ graphics driver issue along with these battery and sleep issues has made the Surface Book nearly unusable for many.  Thankfully, I haven’t  succumbed to any pressure related to making a Surface Book purchase. The device is simply too pricey to begin with.  To have these simple usability issues on top of it all is nearly unforgivable in my opinion.

While this doesn’t make Windows 10 unusable, it kinda does make you wonder why Microsoft is having issues that it can’t seem to fix with its own, native hardware running its flagship OS, and many OEM’s are not.

I think I’ll just leave that one there to fester for a while…

Conclusion

I’m going to make this short.  Windows 10 isn’t bad, but Microsoft has a ways to go yet, in my mind.

The UI is pretty good, and a much better improvement over Windows 10.  I think Microsoft peaked in 2009 with Windows 7; but that’s my opinion. They haven’t always gotten things right, straight out of the gate.  Heck, it took them three versions of Windows before they got THAT right (Windows 3.0 was the first big hit for Windows, and then it took three versions of Windows 3.x – Windows 3.0, 3.1 and Windows 3.11 – before they got THAT right.

Their update mechanism isn’t bad, but they need to stop forcing the upgrade on users who don’t want it or can’t run it because their hardware isn’t rated for it.  If I don’t want Windows 10, please stop forcing it on me and my under rated hardware.

Their recovery mechanism needs a bit of work. I haven’t been able to make it work right.  Unfortunately, with the way Windows problems work, in many ways its always been easier to rebuild a system rather than troubleshooting it. That isn’t always the case now.

Finally, Microsoft needs to stop screwing around and needs to fix the driver problems in their Signature hardware.  If Microsoft can’t get this right, it’s hard to think that OEM’s and other PC manufacturers will.

Have you had issues with Windows 10?  Are you satisfied with the way it runs on your upgraded or native PC?  I’d love to hear how things are working for you.  Why don’t you join me in the Discussion area below, and give me your thoughts on the matter.

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