Monday, November 9, 2009

Convenience vs. Control: How Much of Yourself Do You Leave in the Cloud?

WXPNews: Published by Sunbelt Software since 2001

Vol. 9, #96 - Nov 10, 2009 - Issue #404

 Convenience vs. Control: How Much of Yourself Do You Leave in the Cloud?

  1. Editor's Corner
    • Convenience vs. Control: How Much of Yourself Do You Leave in the Cloud?
    • Follow-up: Organizing your family life
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
    • Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • Wired Moms gather on Microsoft campus
    • How much time do you spend on Microsoft web sites?
    • Installing the new version of Java in XP
    • Apple commercials target XP users
  4. How To: Using XP Features
    • How to disable Error Reporting in XP
  5. XP Security News
    • Six Security Fixes for this Month's Patch Tuesday
    • Watch out for Facebook exploits
  6. XP Question Corner
    • What's up with Service Pack 3?
  7. XP Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • View Setting of Current Folder is not Applied
    • You can't select a Media Center window that's behind the taskbar
  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  9. Product of the Week
    • New Version Of Directory Opus 9.5 Released

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 Editor's Corner

Convenience vs. Control: How Much of Yourself Do You Leave in the Cloud?

When I did a survey a little over a year ago, asking people how they felt about moving their computing activities toward a "cloud" model, the overwhelming majority just said no. They cited concerns about security, reliability and lack of control over their information. Some even said that if cloud computing becomes the only way to use our computers, they will give them up entirely.

Have hearts and minds been changed since then? If you go by what folks are saying, the answer is "not much." But if you go by what they're actually doing, you have to wonder if we haven't drifted into the clouds without even realizing it. Like pilots who can't see the horizon, we don't even realize where we are. But more and more of us are using Internet services that store our information - and information about us - someplace "out there" - and liking it.

New services such as Google Apps/Wave, Cozi, and Windows Live Services are sucking people in, providing online communications, collaboration, data storage, and more - all of it taking place in the cloud. Many people, even those who say they would never use online applications because of security worries, turn to online backup services to ensure that their data won't disappear if a natural disaster takes out their homes or offices where their computers reside. It seems like a prudent idea, and IT professionals always advise you to have an off-site backup of your important data in case such a disaster occurs. And of course, your most important data probably includes your financial records - which means all that sensitive information is floating around out there in the cloud somewhere.

A safer alternative is to make a physical backup of that sort of info on a disc or external hard drive, and put it in a safe deposit box or another protected place away from your location. Many banks provide a safe deposit box free with your checking account, but if not, the cost is usually low, around $30/year. Why do people use online services instead? Because it's more convenient than dropping by the bank once a week to swap out your drives.

Online services are all about convenience. But the more value you place on convenience, the more control you tend to give up. That doesn't mean you should do everything the "hard way," but it does mean you should find a balance between convenience and control with which you can feel comfortable. For example, I like the convenience of paying some of my bills online. But I don't like the loss of control that comes with setting up automated bill pay that just happens without any input from me. Sure, it would be nice to be able to just "set it and forget it" - but what if there's a billing mistake? I've certainly had those happen often enough. I want to be able to go over my bill first and make sure it's right and withhold the payment if it's not.

I also don't want to give any company the power to automatically make withdrawals from my bank account. I found out the hard way, a decade and a half ago, that once you give that permission it can be very hard to take it away. So I go to the individual web sites of my utility companies, mortgage company, and so forth each month. I pay my bills with my credit card (thus earning reward points). That makes it easy to challenge any incorrect billing and also gives me a record, in one place, of my payments - without having to write and mail a bunch of checks. I never check the box to save my credit card number and information; I type it in every time instead. Yes, it takes a little longer but I don't have to worry about the number being stored on a cookie that could possibly be accessed by some malicious program and sent back to an identity thief.

That's my level of comfort. Some people are okay with authorizing automatic payments and prefer to save a few seconds by having their browsers save their passwords, card numbers and so forth. Others don't trust the Internet at all and won't conduct any financial transactions over it. The key is to be aware of the relationship between convenience and control and to consciously make your decision with knowledge of its consequences.

Even when we aren't spending money, we leave many little bits and pieces of ourselves behind in the cloud as we wander down the info highway. And again, the more we opt for convenience, the less privacy we have. For instance, if you use many of Google's services, the company will have collected a good bit of information about you. This article contains a link to the Privacy Dashboard, where you can see exactly what Google knows about you and your web browsing habits:

Some of my friends were a little taken aback by that site. They said Google knows things about them that they had forgotten. I didn't really find a lot of information about myself there, but that's because I don't use my Gmail account for much. And some of Google's services, such as Google Groups, aren't yet part of the privacy dashboard.

If you have the Google toolbar installed, you may also have Web History enabled. If so, Google saves a record of your searches and the pages you visit after clicking through to them from a Google search. This can be handy if you need to find something again, but it can also be a privacy concern. To prevent this, you can sign out of your Google account when you do a search, or you can remove the Web History service from your Google account by selecting My Account | My Services | Edit.

Of course, Google is by no means the only company that's pushing cloud services and storing information about you. For instance, Amazon creates a record of each of your purchases that goes back for years. I was thrilled to discover this when I needed some lost receipts for tax filing, but some folks are made uneasy by the fact that this information is saved. Even the things that you don't buy, but just look at, are recorded. You can turn this off, though, through your account settings ("Manage your browsing history"). Or you can just delete specific items ("View and edit your browsing history").

Are these companies engaged in some vast conspiracy to destroy your privacy and use all this information about you for nefarious purposes? I don't think so. I think they're trying to make things more convenient for their customers - but once again we hit up against the reality that convenience usually comes at the price of control, and vice versa. And if you want a fictional (but all too realistic) taste of what can happen when data mining goes wild, read Jeffery Deaver's recent novel, "The Broken Window."

Tell us what you think about all this. Did you realize how many pieces of yourself you were leaving out there in the cloud? Does it bother you that web services are gathering all this info about you? Do you take precautions to reduce the amount of data that's saved when you fill in forms, make purchases or pay bills online? Or have you given up on privacy completely? Do you usually opt for more convenience, more control, or something somewhere in between? We invite you to discuss this topic in our forum at

Follow-up: Organizing your family life

In last week's editorial, I wrote about some of the available tools for helping your family stay organized, share calendars and task lists and keep in touch more easily. Readers wrote to tell us about the solutions they've found and like best.

TechnoMom recommends Airset, which her family uses to synchronize both Outlook calendars and a Palm-based PDA. I checked it out and it looks like they offer both contacts/calendars synchronization, file storage and web publishing for individuals and collaboration services for groups. You can also add multiple groups to your account, so that for instance in addition to a group for your family, you might have one for your club, sports team or church group. There are two different types of family group: one for coordinating the immediate family and one for keeping in touch with your extended family. Unfortunately, the video tutorials and screenshot tours don't work on all computers. You can find out more about the service here:

Many of you are using various web services to synchronize your calendars on your computers, mobile phones and family members' devices. It would be nice if more of these services were able to interact with one another; that would require a standard protocol but it would be great if we could all have a standardized calendar that we could access from any calendaring software, just as we can access our email using any email client software. We're headed in that direction, but it's obvious that we aren't there yet.

Thanks to all of you who participated in this discussion.

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

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Quotes of the Week

Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger. - Franklin P. Jones

The secret of good memory is attention, and attention to a subject depends upon our interest in it. We rarely forget that which has made a deep impression on our minds. - Tryon Edwards

Doing nothing is very hard to do ... you never know when you're finished. - Leslie Nielsen

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 Cool Tools

Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without


PC Matic: Performance, Speed, Stability & Security The World's Most Comprehensive PC Tune Up Scan is Free

Moving to Windows7 from XP? Did you know that scenario is NOT supported by MS? Keep your apps without reinstalling:

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Backups? Why back up when you can sync? Simply replicate every piece of data to another drive in real-time. Set it and forget it.

Spotmau PowerSuite Professional 2008: Fantastic! All the tools necessary to fix most common computer problems. Clone and backup too!

PC Tune-Up: 4 Easy Steps That Eliminate Frustrating Slow Computer Problems:

Improve your English writing skills with WhiteSmoke a smarter solution for high quality writing. Download the free trial version here.

Unclog Vista! Advanced Vista Optimizer will tweak Vista for Max performance. Easy to use:

 News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

Wired Moms gather on Microsoft campus

Once upon a time, computers were most often the favored toys of men and youngsters, and many women wanted nothing to do with them unless they had to use them at work. Those days are long gone, but many moms still feel as if their kids are way ahead of them when it comes to technology. WiredMoms is an organization that focuses on helping mothers get connected and keep their families safe online. Last week, Microsoft hosted a summit to help members get acquainted with online tools. Read more about it here:

How much time do you spend on Microsoft web sites?

A study released by ComScore, a company that tracks Internet use, said that in September more time was spent on Microsoft web sites than those of any other online properties. Overall, people spent almost 27 billion hours online in September. Wow - that's a lot of hours in front of a computer (or, increasingly these days, a smart phone). Microsoft web sites got about 14.5% of the total, even beating Google and Yahoo. Interestingly, it was Windows Live Messenger that got much of the traffic. Read more of these statistics here:

Installing the new version of Java in XP

Many web sites use Java for full functionality, and there is a new update that just came out recently. But do you really need all of its "parts and pieces" or are there parts of it that can safely be disabled or removed? The article explains which optional pieces of software you might want to pass on, and offers some tips on configuring it:

Apple commercials target XP users

The latest Apple commercials are trying to convince you that switching to a Mac from XP is just as easy as switching to Windows 7.

Oh, really? Although it may be true that you have to reinstall your applications when upgrading from XP to 7, you can use the Easy Transfer Wizard to save those application settings so that you don't have to reconfigure the apps all over again. Can you do that when you switch to Mac? Oh, and they forgot to tell you is that many of your favorite applications won't even run on the Mac at all. Oops. I just recently bought a Mac running Snow Leopard and will be testing it and writing about how it really compares with Windows 7 (and XP), so check back in our sister publication, Win7News, in upcoming weeks for that report.

 How To: Using XP Features

How to disable Error Reporting in XP

We've all seen it: an application crashes and you get a dialog box that pops up and asks you to send an error report to Microsoft. Sure, it's nice that they want to try to keep up with what problems users are having and fix them, but maybe you don't want to bother or you don't particularly want to send information about what programs you're running. You can turn off the error reporting service and do away with those dialogs for good. Here's how:
  1. Right click My Computer.
  2. Click Advanced.
  3. Select "Disable error reporting."
  4. Click OK.
Now wasn't that easy?

 XP Security News

Six Security Fixes for this Month's Patch Tuesday

After a rather hefty Patch Tuesday in October that saw the release of thirteen security bulletins, this month Microsoft is more than cutting that number in half, with only six security patches coming out on November 10th. One critical vulnerability affects Windows XP, and if you're using Office, there are a couple of fixes for it that are rated important. There will also be several non-security-related fixes. Read more here:

Watch out for Facebook exploits

Facebook has more than 300 million active users worldwide. That makes it a great resource for social networking - but it also makes it a very attractive target for scammers and hackers. This past week, two different scams brought themselves to my attention - because they were right there in my mailbox. One is fairly obvious, but the other might fool you if you aren't careful. For more about this and another Facebook-related scam, see my blog post "Beware of Facebook Scams" at

 XP Question Corner

What's up with Service Pack 3?

I know I'm late to this game but I just recently installed Service Pack 3 on my XP computer. Everything went okay except I've discovered that the Authentication tab isn't there any more on the Properties of the Local Area Connection (my Ethernet network). I would like to be able to configure this as I did before with Service Pack 2. Any ideas? - Jay L.

In XP with SP2, the Wireless Zero Configuration service handled the connection and it was always running by default. In SP3, this behavior was changed because of support for Network Access Protection (NAP). Now wired Ethernet connections are managed by the DOT3SVC service. By default this service is set to start manually. When the service isn't started, the Authentication tab isn't available. To start the service, Click Start | Run and types services.msc to open the Services console. Scroll down to Wired AutoConfig. This is the DOT3SVC. Right click it and click Start. You can also set this service to start automatically in the future.

 XP Configuration and Troubleshooting

View Setting of Current Folder is not Applied

If you select to apply the view setting of the current folder to all folders, you might find that XP doesn't apply those settings to folders that are currently open. This happens when more than one instance of Windows Explorer is open on your computer. There is an easy workaround, which you can probably figure out for yourself, but if not, you can find it in KB article 307116 at

You can't select a Media Center window that's behind the taskbar

If you're running Windows XP Media Center 2005 and you have the Media Center application open in a window (rather than full screen), you might drag the window behind the task bar and then discover that it gets "hung" there and you can't move it to another location. What to do? Luckily, auto-hiding the taskbar temporarily will do the trick. For explicit instructions, see KB article 886247 at

 Fav Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Disclaimer: WXPNews does not assume and cannot be responsible for any liability related to you clicking any of these linked Web sites.

 Product of the Week

New Version Of Directory Opus 9.5 Released

Probably The Best Multi-Threaded 32/64 Bit Utility Ever Created

The latest version of Directory Opus (9.5), the world's most powerful file management and comprehensive utility, is now available. Directory Opus goes beyond the simple file manager metaphor, and offers you a complete replacement for Windows Explorer along with many other utility programs for handling: FTP, ZIP, viewing files and images, running slideshows and more. It provides a user-friendly and fully-configurable environment within which you can access and manage your important data with a minimum of effort. Shaves hours off repeated tasks. Harness the power of your computer like never before! It's surely one of the most configurable time saving tools ever created for Windows. Fully multi-threaded, it includes built-in ZIP and FTP functionality, fully configurable toolbars, menus and hot keys, powerful file type extensions, built-in image and text/hex viewer, easy slide shows, visual synchronization, very powerful rename functions and much more. Selected by PC Magazine US Editors Choice and highly acclaimed by the press all over the world. Comes in 32 and 64-bit versions for XP, Vista & Windows 7. Packed with so time so many time saving shortcuts, you'll continue to discover new ones for months to come. Over a decade of programming excellence devoted to this incredible tool. Download the free fully functional (60) day evaluation or buy it now or after the trial with a $10.00 off discount coupon for WXPNews readers. Make sure you copy down your exclusive discount code on the product download page so you can get the discount should you choose to use your full 60 day trial!

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