Google+ March 2014 ~ High Tech House Calls

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Windows XP Users - Save $100 Instantly

Windows XP Users - Save $100 Instantly
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Friday, March 21, 2014

Here's $100 if you upgrade to a Windows 8 computer from XP by Kim Komando

I’ve been telling Windows XP users for months that you need to do something about that old machine.

Microsoft is going to stop doing security updates after April 8, and you’re going to be extremely vulnerable to hacks, malware and data theft if you keep using your old computer online.

As I’ve said before, many XP users may want to try to avoid Windows 8, which has been getting a lot of bad reviews, in favor of a Windows 7 machine. The Windows 7 interface is a lot more familiar to XP users. (For my story on good cheap alternatives, click here.)

In any case, though, you need to do something. If you’re ready to bite the bullet and get a Windows 8 machine, Microsoft is finally taking some substantive steps to make it easier.

This just in: a $100 credit toward a Windows 8 computer or one of the company’s top tablets. None of them is cheap; the $100 is good toward any that cost more than $599.

There’s also an older offer of $50 future credit in a Microsoft Store for XP upgraders.
It’s not clear exactly how the company is going to limit the offer to XP users; here’s the fine print:
Offer applies to customers who make online purchase(s) with a qualifying Windows XP device, or customer who present a qualifying Windows XP device during purchase(s) in-store only.

Microsoft’s full offer can be read here.

My advice on what the end of XP means to you can be read here.

More Windows XP advice from the Wall Street Journal can be read here.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A new Windows 8.1 update tries to win back desktop diehards by Ed Bott

Summary: With its second major update to Windows 8 in less than 18 months, Microsoft is trying to

Microsoft is about to deliver an update to Windows 8.1, its second significant set of changes since the launch of Windows 8 less than 18 months ago.

Last week, someone in Redmond inadvertently left the final update packages available on Windows Update for anyone to install. I’ve had a couple days to use the newly updated Windows interface on a handful of machines.

Here's some background on why this update exists.

The biggest mistake Microsoft made with Windows 8 was to deliberately eliminate some of the touchstones of the Windows 7 desktop interface, while still leaving most of that desktop intact. As I wrote a few months after the original release of Windows 8:

That decision alienated many desktop users and created a wedge issue that has distracted from the many impressive accomplishments in Windows 8. I know some people (myself included) who have adapted to the new ways and even prefer them. Those who would rather stick with the old paradigms can't catch a break from Microsoft, though. They need to tweak the system extensively and use third-party utilities to achieve the desired result.

Windows 8.1 was a first, very large step on the road to rectifying that mistake. This update—let’s call it Windows 8.1.1—is a continuation of those changes, designed to make the new OS work more smoothly on conventional PCs driven by a keyboard and mouse.

A word of warning: If you’re a Metro hater, this update will do almost nothing to make you feel all warm and fuzzy. The Windows 7-style Start menu is not coming back. This update sticks with the fundamental design principles of the Windows 8 interface, and nothing in it comes close to restoring the Windows 7 desktop interface. It is still the Windows 8.x interface, evolved, with that evolution clearly driven by powerful negative feedback.

Many of the changes that are at the core of Windows 8.1 Update 1 won’t really be visible until we see new PCs with this version of Windows installed as the base operating system. For traditional PCs that are designed for use with a keyboard and a mouse, the new OS will be configured to go to the desktop by default. It will also be less of a disk-space and memory hog, making it possible for this version of Windows to run on tablets with as little as 16 GB of flash storage.

If you install this update when it arrives in April (via Windows Update, not via the Windows Store), the first thing you’ll notice is a series of changes to the Start screen. Alongside the picture and name of the current logged-in user are a new Power button and a Search button. Both of them are designed to reduce the need to play Where’s Windows? with the well-hidden Windows 8 Charms menu.

There’s also an option to right-click on tiles on the Start screen or in the more complete Apps view screen, which lists every installed desktop program and app. That option exposes a new, familiar-looking context-sensitive menu so you can resize those tiles or pin them to the Start screen or to the taskbar.

Oh yeah, that’s the really big change in this update: The taskbar is no longer just for the desktop. It can include Windows Store (Metro style) apps, so you can switch between desktop programs and Windows Store apps with one click. And the new, unified taskbar is available from the Start screen and from any Windows Store app, with a simple gesture.

Move the mouse to the bottom of the screen in Windows 8.1.1 and the taskbar appears. I’ve seen some complaints that the action is inconsistent. It works fine on multiple test systems here. I think what others are seeing is a deliberate design decision. If you move the mouse pointer casually to the bottom of the screen, the taskbar doesn’t pop up as a distracting element. If you really want to see the taskbar, you move the mouse with purpose, or move it to the bottom of the screen and then, after a very brief pause, move it down ever so slightly.

From the taskbar, you can preview any running program or Windows Store app, just as you can on the desktop, and switch to it with a click.

The other big complaint from early users of Windows 8 was that it was impossible to figure out how to close or switch away from Windows Store apps. The solution in Windows 8.1 Update 1 is a new title bar, with Minimize and Close buttons, which appears when you bump the mouse up against the top of the screen.

What’s noteworthy about all these changes is that they appear only when you use a mouse. If you use a touchscreen to navigate through Windows 8, you’ll see the taskbar only on the desktop, and you’ll only see the new title bars if you use a mouse.

There are a few additional usability tweaks in this update, including some welcome changes in Internet Explorer. There are also fixes you can’t see, aimed at improving security and performance and swatting bugs.

Will this update quiet the I-hate-Metro crowd? Probably not. Will it make Windows users on desktop machines more productive? Almost certainly.

ease the pain for Windows users who are befuddled by the Windows 8 interface on conventional PCs. Here's what you can expect. Will it be enough to calm the troubled waters?

The next Patch Tuesday (March 10, 2014) will be the last one for Windows XP by Kim Komando

The next Patch Tuesday (March 10, 2014) will be the last one for Windows XP.

Are you running Windows XP?

If you are, you will start seeing the warning above from your computer.
Should you ignore it?

No! “End of Support” means that Windows will no longer send out security updates. That means if you are using that computer to do email or buy things online, your personal information will be at risk.

Apple Drops Support for Windows 7 in Boot Camp for New Mac Pro by Leif Johnson

Windows 7 remains one of the most popular operating systems for Apple's rival Microsoft, but new support documents (via MacRumors), Apple's Boot Camp for the new Mac Pro no longer supports installations of the 2009 platform. If you want to run Windows on your sleek 2013 Mac Pro, in other words, you're going to install Windows 8.

Beyond the Basics - Six Tips for Better Formatting in Microsoft Word by Walter Glenn

Beyond the Basics- Six Tips for Better Formatting in Microsoft Word by Walter Glenn
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LifeHacker: How to Find the Right Tablet For You by Eric Ravenscraft

In only a few short years, the world has gone from having almost no tablets worth owning to far too many. Between iPads, the various Android tablets, and Microsoft's not-quite-laptop offerings, how do you know which ones are worth your money? With our handy guide, of course.

Right off the bat, we'll mention one key thing: whether or not a tablet is useful is hugely subjective. For some, a tablet is a cheap and robust productivity tool with plenty of worthwhile uses, others might find it as little more than an entertainment device, and still others may have no use for them whatsoever. If you're content with your laptop and smartphone, this guide probably isn't going to change your mind. However, if you're in the market, there are a few questions you should answer.

Which OS Should You Use?

One could be tempted to think that whatever smartphone OS you use should be what you get on your tablet. While synergy between operating systems is great, you don't necessarily have to stay with a particular platform. Whether or not you have access to all the same services in just the way you want them is up for debate (and a bit too complex for this piece), but each operating system offers its own unique advantages and disadvantages:


At the moment, the iPad line represents the most overwhelmingly popular tablet operating system on the planet. The iPad was also the device that kicked off the modern tablet movement. As a result, it runs the most mature tablet OS of all the ones on this list. That doesn't make it the clear winner for everyone, but it does have its perks:


    It has the biggest app selection: From the moment the first iPad launched, iOS has emphasized development of apps specifically designed to make use of the extra screen real estate. Because of the way iOS handles apps, there are fewer apps overall than Android (a distinction we'll get to in a bit), but still more apps that are optimized for the tablet form factor.

    The hardware selection is simple and high quality: Outside of the iOS world, you can find garbage tablets as low as $100 or overpriced devices that can't do much for over $1,000. The iPad selection is comparatively simpler and you don't tend to find much junk. The iPad Mini and iPad Aire are both high quality and well-reviewed devices. You have to go out of your way to buy a universally bad iPad.

    iPads hold their value fairly well: One of the curses of mobile devices is that they iterate fast and update slow. A laptop purchased five years ago may be able to run modern software, but tablets—no matter the OS—tend to taper off in support after 2-4 years. With iPads, however, selling your old hardware can result in a higher return than other devices.


    iPads aren't cheap (unless you buy used or refurbished): Part of the reason you don't find junk iPads is because they're not cheap. The cheapest brand new iPad you can get is $400, which costs nearly twice as much as the benchmark cheap Android tablet, the Nexus 7. While you can buy older devices, as stated in the previous section, they tend to hold their value. Which means you could end up paying more for older devices that are closer to losing support or missing out on new features. Refurbished devices are a good way to get cheaper Apple devices, but you can still end up paying more for a refurbished iPad than you would for a brand new tablet from another platform.

    There are only two hardware choices: While both iPad models are high quality, that's also all you get. One 10" tablet and one 8" tablet are the only available options. No smaller devices, no in-between sizes, no tablets with styluses, kickstands, lasers, or portals to other dimensions.


Google's darling operating system may have dominated the smartphone market, but the tablet side of things hasn't been quite as lucky. Apple still maintains its position as the tablet front runner. However, Android still has some exciting things to offer if you want to get a slate from the Google-ish camp.


    Android tablets come in a crazy variety of sizes: You wouldn't think that there would be a huge difference between a 7" tablet and an 8" tablet, but someone has a strong opinion about everything. If the Nexus 7 is too small for you, but a Note 10.1 is just superfluous, you can try out an 8.3" LG tablet.

    There are tons of unique features and options: Because Android tablets start with a common ecosystem, manufacturers have to find different ways to stand out. Samsung has the Note line that come with styluses and drawing/writing software. ASUS offers tablets that dock into keyboards to turn into makeshift laptops, as well as phones that dock into tablets for a single device that changes form factors. They're not all winners, but if you want to try something different, Android is where you'll find it.

    The OS is incredibly flexible: The biggest downside to using mobile OSes like iOS and Android for tablets is that they can't do as much as a laptop. Android gets the closest, though. Between native support for mice and keyboard accessories, floating apps, and remote desktop services, you can get the best of both worlds by having a tablet that can do almost anything a desktop can.

    Cheaper options are available: While some Android tablets can get expensive, there are a number of devices you can get that cost less than $250, without sacrificing quality. The Nexus 7 began the tradition, but a few other manufacturers have followed suit.


    Some Android tablets suck: There are a lot of good choices out there if you want to buy an Android tablet and get some bang for your buck. There are also a lot of junk devices. The race to make them cheaper and cheaper has resulted in a flood of crappy devices that aren't worth the cost of the box they come in. We'll come back to how to identify which ones suck later in the article.

    There aren't as many tablet-oriented apps: Android has a pretty robust ecosystem on phones and most of those apps can run on tablets without much modification to the code. That doesn't mean they're good, though. Even some major apps like Twitter and Facebook can technically be installed on tablets, but because they're not optimized for the extra space, they look crappy. While the situation has gotten way better over the years, it's still not perfect yet.

Windows 8

There are actually two different versions of Microsoft's tablet operating system. Windows RT is pared down version of Windows 8 that's designed solely to run on tablets. Meanwhile, Windows 8 proper is equipped to handle touchscreen input, but can still run regular desktop apps. Windows RT is typically used in cheaper Windows tablets, but Windows 8 is used in more expensive pro models and laptop/tablet hybrids. Windows 8 is also much better at replacing a laptop.


    Windows 8 has the most robust collection of apps: Not all of Windows 8's apps are optimized for tablet usage, but with a keyboard and mouse connected, you could install Steam, download Bioshock Infinite and take on Comstock from your tablet. No other platform boasts that level of compatibility.

    Pro tablets can have much more powerful hardware: Because Windows 8 has been written for x86 architectures, you can find Windows tablets or convertibles running on hardware that's considerably more powerful than the ARM-based tablets that mobile OSes like Android and iOS are built on.

    Microsoft Office: In addition to the existing library of software that Windows 8 tablets can share with desktops, both the regular Windows 8 and Windows RT have robust versions of Office available. This might not be the most exciting feature, but if you want to use your tablet to actually do any work, Office can be a huge benefit.


    Windows RT tablets are underpowered (and might be dead anyway): Windows RT tablets have a lot going for them, but app selection isn't one of them. The market is fairly sparse, at least compared to Android or iOS. On top of that, Windows RT hasn't performed very well and it's unclear if Microsoft even intends to keep RT as a long-term part of its OS plan.

    Some of the best Windows 8 tablets are as expensive as laptops: It's not impossible to find a Windows 8 tablet that's worth your money, but you start to run into the same problem you have with laptops: the ones that are cheap can be pieces of junk, while the ones that are worth the cost can cost so much that there's no price benefit over a laptop. If that's in your budget, great, but if you're looking at tablets as a way to save money over the alternative, it can be hard with Windows. Of course, if you're already planning to buy a laptop, that's one less thing you have to buy, so the expense may be worth it.

What Size Should You Buy?

What size tablet you want to get is mostly a matter of subjective opinion. Mostly. If you're looking for something to read books and browse the web on, a 7" tablet might be useful for you. If you want to get any work done or connect accessories and dock your tablet at a workstation, a 10" device or larger could be more appropriate. The best way to find out which size you prefer is to go to a store and try them out. Take care to note not just the screen size, but also the weight, as it will be putting a lot of stress on your wrists.

A Note About Android Apps

There is one area where the size of your tablet plays a huge role in how you use it that goes beyond personal preference. As stated earlier, due to the unique way that Android handles apps, a developer can change a single line of code and apps will scale to fit the display they're on. On 7-8" tablets that are designed to be used in portrait mode, this can result in what are essentially scaled up phone apps. When you get to 9-10" tablets or above, they typically start getting used in landscape mode instead of portrait. At best this results in horrible, unusable experiences for unoptimized apps (like Facebook), and at worst, apps that are incapable of displaying in landscape and force you to rotate the device to use them.

Android tablets get a bad rap but there are actually quite a few apps that have been designed or optimized for tablets.

This is both a blessing and a curse for Android tablets. If you don't mind apps that are less-than-perfectly optimized, you may not even notice the difference with a smaller, portrait-oriented tablet. However, getting a larger device is more likely to result in disruptive and annoying incompatibilities. You can check out our collection of Android tablet apps to get an idea of what the selection of tablet-optimized apps are like.

Which Tablets Are Worth Buying?

If you're looking into getting an iPad, you don't have any choice in which models and manufacturer you go with. However, in the Android and Windows world, there are certain criteria to consider if you want to avoid the junk.

    Read professional reviews: Reviews may not always be necessary, but when it comes to tablets, the best way to distinguish between trash and treasure is by professional opinion. Comparing specs isn't nearly as important as you might think, but a professional review can tell you that the LG G Pad 8.3 is only okay, but literally the same device in a Google Play Edition is excellent.

    Stick to devices with recent software: This is more of a problem with Android, but tablets should ideally last a bit longer than, say, your phone. For that reason, if you buy a tablet that's two or three versions behind the most current OS, you'll probably end up left behind in terms of updates sooner than you'd like. Nexus devices in particular are good about receiving timely updates.

    Pick your hardware features carefully: Both Android and Windows 8 offer some unique hardware features that are worth factoring into your decision. The Note line as well as some Surface models offer robust stylus support. The Transformer line of tablets also offer battery-boosting keyboard docks. However, these features should be evaluated independently of the tablets themselves.

When Should You Buy?

Due to the rapidly updating nature of mobile devices, there are good times and bad times to buy tablets. Apple tends to release tablets on a fairly regular schedule, but Android and Windows manufacturers launch new devices year round. While there's always something new right around the corner, there are certain seasons to watch out for.

When to Buy an iPad:
When it comes to when to buy any Apple device, iPad or otherwise, your one, best resource is the MacRumor's buyer's guide. The site will tell you how long it's been since the last refresh, when Apple usually updates the product line you're looking for, and whether it's a good idea to buy now. It couldn't be simpler.

When to Buy an Android Tablet:
Picking the right time to buy an Android tablet is a bit harder because Google releases new versions of Android roughly every six months, but they don't always come with new tablets. For the last two years, though, Google I/O—which usually happens around May or June—has seen a new Nexus 7 tablet. If you're looking for a tablet in the Spring, it's probably a good idea to wait it out.

When to Buy a Windows Tablet:
Windows is on a much, much longer OS update cycle than Android and iOS. The plus side is that if you're looking for a full Windows 8 tablet, you probably won't go too wrong. However, you can still follow some of the same rules you would for buying laptops. The holiday season is the best time to get a great deal on some hardware, while CES in January sees an influx of new hardware models. This means the Spring and the Fall tend to be better times to buy than Summer and Winter.

3 simple secrets to save big on your cellular bill by Kim Komando

I don’t know about you, but for a long time my cellular bill was outrageous. For what I was paying, I

Instead, I was treated to AT&T’s “no bars in more places” coverage (not that any of the other carriers are more consistent between my office, home and other places I travel). While that situation is slowly improving, the cost isn’t.

Once you add up the voice minutes, text minutes, cellular data, service fees, the cost of the phone – it’s just too much. And as you add more phones and upgrade to 4G cellular, it only gets worse.

Sure you can get a basic phone with a basic plan – and for some people that works – although it’s still way more than it should be. But you shouldn’t have to forego a smartphone or fast on-the-go Internet if you really want them.

Fortunately, I know a few tricks to shave money off your cellular bill – and one “money saver” to avoid.

Free messaging

I’ll admit that for most people, this secret isn’t as useful as it used to be. And that’s a good thing!

Originally, the idea was that you could drop your carrier’s $10 or $20 a month texting plan and use a free messaging app like Apple’s iMessage, TextFree, WhatsApp or TextPlus instead.

These apps send messages using your phone’s cellular plan or over Wi-Fi. Given that text messages use so little data, these apps effectively give you free, unlimited texting to anywhere in the world.

The last time I talked about these, I pointed out that 17.6 billion texts are sent a year versus 19 billion messages using messaging apps. Obviously, people were tired of carriers overcharging for texting plans.

Since then the cellular carriers have taken notice. Unlimited text messaging is included in just about every plan you can buy – as it should be.

Of course, that’s still U.S. texting. International texting is still going to cost you extra, unless you use a messaging app. However, that’s changing, too.

On March 23, T-Mobile is upgrading its plans with unlimited international texting and data in 120+ countries. I’m sure the other carriers will eventually follow suit.

While this is good for consumers, it does mean you can’t quickly lower your bill by ditching texting. But it does mean you can drop your cellular plan entirely or switch to a no-data pre-paid plan and still have unlimited free messaging over Wi-Fi.

If you don’t travel much, or want to turn your iPad or old smartphone into a low-cost messaging center, it’s the perfect way to do it. Learn more surprising uses for old smartphones and tablets.

Next up: More on reducing your data use and switching to pre-paid plans.

When you’re choosing a cellular plan a big decision is the amount of data. Are you going to go for a few hundred megabytes, a gigabyte, two gigabytes or 10 gigabytes? The more data you get, the higher the cost.

First, you need to see how much data you’re really going to use. Most smartphones have data monitors built in under Settings. Or you can grab a third-party data monitoring app.

Most people will find that two to three gigabytes is enough. However, with a little creative management, you can probably drop that even further.

Grab the free app Onavo Extend. It compresses your cellular data, so can get up to five times more use out of your current plan.

We all know that we should try to connect to a Wi-Fi network before doing things like downloading or updating apps, transferring photos, streaming music or watching movies. Don’t we?

You can usually find free Wi-Fi wherever you are – click here to learn how.

In fact, using the messaging apps I mentioned above, along with calling apps like Skype and Viber, you can drop your cellular plan entirely and just use Wi-Fi.

Just be careful when using public Wi-Fi that you aren’t giving hackers information they shouldn’t have. Learn all about staying safe on public Wi-Fi.

Keep reading for the last money-saving tip – and a tactic you shouldn’t try to save money.
Take the long view

As odd as it sounds, sometimes you have to spend money now to save money in the long run. That’s the case with pre-paid and no-contract cellular plans.

You have to pay more upfront for the phone, but the longer you keep your phone, the more you save over a two-year contract. It isn’t for everyone, but you should definitely research it.

Click here to see my breakdown of the amount you can save with no-contract cellular plans.
Something to avoid

Cellular carriers know you want to save money, so they introduce new plan wrinkles that appear to save you money, but do the exact opposite.

One of those things is early-upgrader options like Verizon Edge, AT&T Next and T-Mobile Jump. They sound like a good deal at first glance – you can upgrade early without paying the full amount of a new phone, but it doesn’t quite add up under close scrutiny.
expected to be able to communicate with other planets.