Monday, August 27, 2012
Gizmo's Tech Treats: Finds of the Week (Killer Mouse tips, Firefox security add-ons, 26 Cross-Platform Productivity Apps, Hubble's Hidden Treasures)
Finds of the Week (Killer Mouse tips, Firefox security add-ons, 26 Cross-Platform Productivity Apps, Hubble's Hidden Treasures)
Posted: 24 Aug 2012 10:33 AM PDT
Posted: 05 Aug 2012 11:35 AM PDT
Talking Tech: A new outlook on emailI've been using Hotmail, off and on, for a lot of years – since way back when it was HoTMaiL (for HTML mail - get it?) and wasn't yet owned by Microsoft. Microsoft acquired the service in 1997, the same year Yahoo! Mail appeared and long before Gmail (which launched in beta in 2004 and didn't become generally available until 2007).
As of last October, Hotmail was reported to have 350-355 million users, at the top of the web mail ladder above Yahoo! Mail with 310 million and Gmail with 260 million (statistics from Comscore Report, October 2011). However, over the past year Gmail's user base has grown to over 425 million accounts, thanks, at least in part, to the fact that you have to have or create a Gmail account to set up an Android phone.
Microsoft has revamped Hotmail several times over the years, and changed its name from MSN Hotmail to Windows Live Hotmail to plain old Microsoft Hotmail. They have progressively added features and updated the web-based user interface, making it look and work more like the Outlook email client. They also made it possible to set up your Hotmail account in Outlook, which is the way I've been using it for the past few years. My Hotmail inbox appears in Outlook along with my Exchange and Gmail inboxes; I rarely, if ever, log onto Hotmail (or Gmail) through the web. You can see my Hotmail inbox in my Favorites list in Outlook 2013 in this screenshot:
If you look very closely, you'll see another email account underneath the Hotmail inbox - called Outlook.com. That's the new email service that Microsoft rolled out at the end of July, with plans for it to eventually replace Hotmail altogether. Think Google has cornered the market on free email? Think again; within six hours of release, the Los Angeles Times reported that a million people had already signed up for Outlook.com accounts.
Although I will probably continue to get most of my mail through the Outlook client on my desktop, I have tested the web client for Outlook.com and I like it a lot. In fact, it makes me feel as if I'm working in Outlook - which, with the name change, I guess I am. Speaking of the name change, I think that's a positive thing, too. Most folks today don't have a clue about the origin of the Hotmail name and the domain name conjures up images that are less than professional (just as the username hotchick or hotdude on the left-hand side of an email address would). I think "outlook.com" is much more appropriate for business-oriented messages.
You can sign in with your existing Windows Live ID or you can create a new Outlook.com account. You'll see the familiar (to Hotmail and Outlook users) layout with your mail folders on the left, message list in the middle and a right pane that can be used for different purposes. If you click the balloon with a smiley face in it that's just to the left of the gear (settings) icon next to your name, the right pane become the Messaging pane. Here you can start a chat session with your Facebook or Windows Messenger friends. It can also turn into the Social pane.
With Outlook 2010, Microsoft introduced the "social connector," a set of plug-ins that let you integrate information from social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn into the data about your Outlook contacts. This has been more seamlessly integrated into Outlook 2013, as illustrated by the "People Pane" underneath the email message preview in this screenshot:
Likewise, Outlook.com synchronizes with your social accounts and displays social networking information in the right pane of the web interface after you've connected your social account(s). Before you do that, you'll see a message in the pane asking you to sign up for Facebook. If you already have a Facebook account, don't click Sign up; instead you need to click the Already on Facebook? link, then click the Connect button. If you're presently logged into Facebook with that browser, Outlook.com will automatically connect your Live ID account to your Facebook account with you having to tell it your Facebook username and password.
You can select what information gets shared between these two accounts. In Outlook.com and on other Windows Live services that you log into with this Windows Live ID, you can do any or all of the following: see Facebook friends and their updates, chat with Facebook friends via Messenger (or on Windows Phone), share your Facebook status with your Messenger contacts, publish photos and videos to Facebook from Windows Live services/applications (Photo Gallery and Movie Maker) and/or share status updates, photos and documents from Messenger, Hotmail, SkyDrive and Windows Phone on Facebook.
To connect your Outlook.com account to LinkedIn, YouTube or Flickr, you need to go to the Connect Services page in your Windows Live profile. Be sure and read the terms of service when you grant Microsoft permission to access your social accounts.
Note that when you're in the Inbox list or otherwise don't have a personal email message selected, the right pane will contain advertising. That's what pays for this free service and it's not very intrusive; it's pretty easy to just visually tune out that column:
If you've used Windows 8 and/or Office 2013, you'll notice that the Outlook.com web interface has a distinctly "Win8" look. You'll also see Windows Phone-like animations when, for instance, you send a message. You can customize the look to an extent but not much. You can choose from 12 colors (default is blue) and configure the location of the reading pane (right, bottom or off).
By default, messages are arranged in conversation view. That's something I'm not fond of, but the implementation in the reading pane is interesting, as you can see in the screenshot below. Something I do like is that flagged messages go to the top of your Inbox, so they don't get lost in the deluge. You can also choose to hide the flagged messages if, for example, they contain sensitive information in the from name or subject line. If you do this, you'll see the number of flagged messages at the top of the Inbox but nothing about the messages themselves (unless/until you click the Show link).
You can also create up to five aliases - additional email addresses that will all be delivered to this account. You can have the mail to the aliases go into the same Inbox or you can create a folder for each aliases where those messages will automatically be filtered. This is handy if, for example, you want to use one name for business and another for personal mail. Microsoft has also made it very easy to rename your email address while keeping the same account.
Of course, you can do all the usual account configuration, such as forwarding, sending/receiving mail from other accounts and sending automated "out of office" (vacation) replies. You can change the "reply to" address so that responses come to an address other than your Outlook.com address. You can create a signature and select a font style and color for new messages. You can also set it up to check for forgotten attachments before sending, and you can choose to send large attachments as SkyDrive links, instead of sending the files themselves, if you have contacts who are restricted in the size of attachment they can receive.
You can configure how junk mail is handled and set up both white lists ("safe senders") and black lists ("blocked senders"). You can also set up the service to allow you to recover messages you have accidentally "deleted," and there are a myriad of "advanced privacy settings" that you'll want to look through to be sure you have things set according to your preferences.
So far I like Outlook.com, but there's more to come. Eventually you'll be able to access Skype through your Outlook.com account and for some, that's going to be a very important feature. If you haven't tried it yet, head over to www.outlook.com and give it a whirl. If you have, let us know what you think. Is it good enough to convince you to switch from Gmail or Yahoo! Mail? What's your favorite new feature? What do you hate about it? What additional features would you like to see? Let us know about your thoughts, opinions and experiences in our forum or email me.
Point of View: Is our digital world making us more "binary?"A few days ago, my husband and I were talking about what it takes to advance within a large company and, in particular, the growing need for the so-called "soft skills" - the ability to deal with and manage people, create a consensus, work with a team, motivate others and so forth. He said something that struck me as particularly perceptive and that explained why so many talented and brilliant people in the IT industry get "stuck" in positions at a certain level. What he said was that IT professionals "tend to think in binary."
That makes sense. The computer world as we've always known it is built on binary; it's a world of ones and zeros, where the light switch is either on or it's off - there is no such thing as a dimmer. Binary is simple and easy to understand. It's all about precision; in the old analog world, things were much more fluid. Compare tuning in a radio station; with an analog tuner, you fiddled with the dial and the signal faded and strengthened until you found the best sound somewhere between 101 and 102 on the dial. With a digital tuner, you move in precisely defined steps and you know your station is located at 101.4.
Precision is great for dealing with machines but it's not so great for dealing with people. When we get into the "binary" way of thinking, we tend to see everything in absolutes. Something or someone is either good or bad, smart or stupid, a friend or an enemy. The world is painted in black and white, with no nuances of gray in between.
You've probably heard the old joke: There are only 10 kinds of people, those who understand binary and those who don't. But it's not just people who understand the binary number system that are influenced by the move to a digital way of thinking. As computing has gone mainstream and as technical knowledge has seeped into the collective consciousness, it seems as if more and more people have adopted the binary way of thinking. Maybe that's one of the reasons our population seems to be so polarized these days. Many people seem to see their own choices and opinions as the only "right" way to do or think.
Folks are fiercely adamant about which computer platforms or cell phones they use and defend their choices with a fervor that once was reserved for religious zealots. People define themselves by their political parties and actually feel that they can't be friends with someone from the opposite side of the partisan aisle. We have "zero tolerance" policies in our schools and courtrooms, policies that don't concede there is a difference between being caught in the classroom with an aspirin vs. a bag of heroin, or having a butter knife in one's locker vs. an AK-47. It's a one or it's a zero; it's a drug/weapon or it's not.
Even in the computer world, I'm not sure this is really the best way to approach most things outside of machine code. The responses I've heard about Windows 8 and Office 2013 (both in public betas) have been very binary: some folks are gushing about how great the new OS and productivity apps are. Others hate them. It seems as if I'm hearing fewer folks in the middle (although I am one of those few folks, who likes some of the changes and isn't so crazy about others).
As a matter of fact, computers in the distant future might not use binary code at all. Theoretically, at least, the next giant step forward in computing will involve quantum mathematics, based on the behavior of particles at the subatomic level, in which data is represented by qubits instead of binary bits. Whereas a bit can only be in one of two states (one or zero), a qubit simultaneously has the possibility of being in any one of a number of states. The advantage of quantum computers is that they will be much faster and able to process exponentially more data than traditional binary machines.
Quantum computers are still a long way down the road, but the concept shows that even a machine that processes logic doesn't have to be limited to "all or nothing" thinking. Maybe all of us would be happier and do a better job of getting along with each other if we learned to give up our binary way of processing information and making decisions.
Let me know what you think. Is it just a coincidence that the seeming increase in divisiveness has come along with an increased reliance on digital devices? Share your thoughts, opinions and experiences in our forum or email me.
Until next time,
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"Unity can only be manifested by the Binary. Unity itself and the idea of Unity are already two." - Buddha
"Everyone is in a hurry to be the one, but no one want to be a zero that adds value to the one." - Moses Pereira
"If anybody says he can think about quantum physics without getting giddy, that only shows he has not understood the first thing about them." - Niels Bohr
"Quantum technology turns ordinary reality upside down." - Michael Crichton
No more Metro?The user interface that was introduced in the Zune, carried over to Windows Phone 7 and became the most controversial aspect of Windows 8 has been called Metro for a long time, but according to recent reports, that's about to change. And now Microsoft has confirmed that they will be dropping the "Metro style" naming. For the moment, it's just the "new user interface" (which isn't very inspiring). Maybe they could change it to an unpronounceable symbol and we could call it "The Interface Formerly Known as Metro?"
Windows 8 goes for the goldAs I'm writing this, the Olympic Games are going on in London with more than 10,000 athletes hoping to take home a gold medal. Meanwhile, back in Redmond, the next version of Microsoft's operating system - Windows 8 - has "gone gold." That's industry terminology for reaching the Release to Manufacturing (RTM) stage, at which the code is complete and ready to be sent to hardware vendors to install on the computers they'll be selling.
What does that mean to you and the prospect of getting your hands on the final version of the new OS? We're still looking at October for general availability to the public - October 26, to be exact. That's slightly more than three years after the release of Windows 7, which came out on October 22, 2009.
Samsung to make Windows 8 phonesMicrosoft might have a "special" relationship with Nokia, but when it comes to "special" smartphones these days, Samsung's Galaxy series is right up there at the top of the heap. Now we're hearing that Samsung has at least two Windows 8 phones waiting in the wings: the Odyssey and the Marco; both are 4G LTE models.
I seriously doubt that Samsung will be dumping Android, as suggested in Forbes' article titled Is Samsung Leaving Android for Windows Phone 8, but it makes sense for the company to cover all the bases. I currently use a Samsung Galaxy Nexus and although the upcoming Nokia Lumias look impressive (and there are rumors that they'll be released earlier than WP8 devices from other vendors), personally I'm very interested in seeing what Samsung has to offer.
Make Disk Cleanup work betterThe Disk Cleanup tool that's built into Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 (and now Windows 8) can help you remove unneeded files that accumulate on your system, thus freeing up space on your hard drive, uncluttering the file system to make it easier to navigate in Explorer and in some cases improving the performance of your computer.
By default, temporary files are kept for seven days but you can change that so that they'll be cleaned up more quickly if you want. To do this, you'll need to change a registry setting so - as always - be sure to back up the registry before you begin. If you want to make this change, swing over to techsupportalert.com and you'll find the step-by-step instructions in their article titled Make Windows Disk Cleanup Work Better.
Making Windows Search more usefulWant to get more out of Windows' built-in search function? All it takes is a few tweaks to the way you're doing things to vastly improve the results of your searches. Lifehacker has compiled several tips to Make Windows Search a Million Times more Useful with these Simple Tweaks.
XP Tip of the Week: Get rid of unwanted items in the "Open with" listThe ability to pick which program you want to open a file with when you right-click it is handy but sometimes you may find options there that you never use and are never going to use. Did you know that you can get rid of them and just leave those programs you would consider using? It takes a registry edit, so be sure to back up the registry before you go poking around in it. To remove the unwanted options, open your registry editor and navigate to each of the following locations (unfortunately the items are stored in several):
For more information and screenshots to illustrate the process, see Clear Unwanted Open With Entries on the Windowsxp.mvps.org website.
Windows 7 Tip of the Week: Use the Math Input PanelDid you know that you don't have to struggle with searching through the Character Map to find mathematical symbols when you want to type complicated math problems in Windows 7? The Math Input Panel is one of the operating system's best kept secrets; most people don't even know it exists. Here's how you use it:
Windows 8 Tip of the Week: Remove apps from the All Apps screenYou can pin your favorite Windows 8 apps to the Start Screen but the tiles are large, so it's not long before it gets so full that you have to scroll a lot to find what you want. Smartphone users may prefer the familiarity of the All Apps screen; the problem is that - true to its name - it lists all files from an app's start menu folder, including Readmes and uninstallers. That adds clutter for things you might never or rarely use.
There's no obvious option to remove items from the All Apps screen but you can do it by deleting (or moving) the items from the following folders:
For the details on how to do this, see Tame the Windows 8 All Apps Screen at betanews.com, which also shows you how to create a shortcut to the All Apps screen on the desktop, so you don't have to leave the desktop and go to the Start Screen to get to it.
Windows Phone Tip of the Week: How to switch Hotmail account to Outlook.com on WP7When Microsoft first released their new Outlook.com email service (see review in the Talking Tech feature article above), there were reports that Windows Phone 7.x users would have to restore their phones to factory settings in order to use the new address. That's actually not the case - you can create an email alias when you sign up for your Outlook.com address and continue to use your Hotmail account with the new address. Just choose to create an email alias, rather than opting to rename your email address. For more info on this, see Windows Phone 7 users can update their email addresses to Outlook.com without restore on the pocket-lint.com website.
Powerful desktop calculatorThe revamped calc.exe program in Windows 7 is pretty good - in fact, it's excellent for performing basic calculations - but if you need to go beyond its capabilities, one of the best free calculator programs I've run across is SpeedCrunch. It includes unlimited variables, syntax highlighting and 50 decimal places. It's been around for a while and it's now available for Windows, Mac OS X or Linux, so you can use it on all your computers, no matter what operating systems they're running. Check it out and let us know what you think.
Phishing emails are getting more sophisticatedLast week, I got up one morning to find four emails purporting to be from Booking.com, confirming my hotel reservations. The problem is that I hadn't made any hotel reservations recently and had never made any through Booking.com. I did a bit of investigative Googling and confirmed what I already suspected: the attachment (which of course I did not open) is malware.
Booking.com is a legitimate site but these messages are spoofing its return address. I can see how someone who recently used the site to make reservations might click the attachment without a thought. There's also a good chance that some folks who didn't make reservations will open the file for more information so they can call and correct the "mistake."
Another authentic-looking fake message that's supposedly from AT&T is going around, too. I haven't gotten this one, but it tells you that your current statement is ready to view - just like the legit messages I get from Verizon, the city water utility and several other companies with which I do business. When you click on the link, it redirects you to a site using the Blackhole exploit kit to download malware to your computer.
These days, you have to be diligent and take nothing for granted - even if it seems to come from a trusted source.
Can I still Telnet in Windows 7?Hey, I know I'm a dinosaur, but I still need to access a telnet server, which I've been doing with the built in telnet program in XP forever. I just got a new Windows 7 laptop and I'm not seeing the telnet client. Has it been removed? Do I have to download a third party program? If so, can you recommend one? Thanks! - D.J.
Wow - I haven't thought about using Telnet for years, but if you need to, the Microsoft Telnet client is still around. However, it isn't installed by default in Windows 7 as it was in XP. You'll need to add it through the Windows Features section in the Add or Remove Programs applet that you get to from Control Panel. Just type "Add or remove programs" in the Search box on the Start menu and select it from the results. In the left pane, you'll see Turn Windows features on or off. Click that and scroll down in the list of features to find the Telnet client. Check the checkbox and click OK. Windows will search for the required files and then apply the changes.
The Telnet client can be added to Windows 8 in the same way.
Screensaver that displays pictures stops workingIf you've set your screensaver in Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7 to display pictures from Windows Live Photo Gallery (or in the case of XP, the My Pictures folder), it might stop working for one of two reasons. You can fix it by changing your power setting or by deleting invalid photo shortcuts in the folder and subfolders. Or you can use a Microsoft Fix it tool to do it for you. You'll find a link to the tool and instructions for the DIY method in KB article 2425702.
Applications crash because of clipboard problemIf your Windows 7 or Vista computer is crashing when you use Windows Explorer, Microsoft Office applications, or Windows Movie Maker, it could be because of an issue with the Ole32.dll file that adds a malformed data structure to the system clipboard. When another process queries the clipboard, the system crashes. Ouch! What do you do about it? Luckily there is a hotfix available. You can find out more about this problem and download the hotfix from KB article 2541119.
Ramesh Raskar and his team at MIT have invented a camera that can photograph light in slow motion:
Human-powered "car" equipped with headlights, backlights, turn signals an odometer and an iPhone dock:
10 awesome and easy tips and tricks that can save you a lot of time and frustration:
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