Robert’s Ramblings

Robert Alonso’s Thoughts on Technology and More…

Archive for September, 2009


Microsoft Security Essentials

Posted by Robert Alonso under Advice, Service, Software

The bane of all PC users existence is malware, virus, trojan and spyware infections. It can make the PC unusable, send out hundreds of unsolicited SPAM messages to your friends and colleagues and/or consume a day or more of time to remove it. The lost productivity and tech support costs can be significant. Fortunately, there are commercial and free applications that do an adequate job of protecting against malware. Kaspersky, Trend Micro, Norton, McAfee and AVG are all good solutions.

Microsoft has finally decided that they should offer protection—something I believe should have been part of the operating system since the fist malware was ever detected years ago. The new offering is free and is called, “Microsoft Security Essentials.” You can download a free copy with updates from here.

I recommend that every reader of this blog install one of the anti-malware products mentioned here. If you don’t, one day you will discover that your machine is infected and that you have very little recourse but to call tech support. If you have tried the free support from companies like Dell, then you know that their solution is to do a system restore from the manufacturer’s CDs. You will lose your data if you do this. Paid support like the one my company, Alonso Consulting, offers will result in the removal of the virus and the saving of your data, but it will not be free. It is, therefore, in your best interest to install one of these tools now. What are you waiting for?

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

Products mentioned:

Kaspersky Lab eStore

Trend Micro Internet Security 2010

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Norton Ghost Doesn’t Work with Windows 7

Posted by Robert Alonso under Advice, Software

One of my favorite tools for backing up my Vista machine was Norton Ghost 12. I had it set to automatically back up My Documents to an external drive on Tuesdays and to make a complete image backup of the hard drive on Fridays to the same external drive. The best part of this was that it ran in the background and was scheduled for times when I would be out for lunch.

Although not perfect, this backup strategy saved me from losing my Vista installation once. Something I installed, or a virus, caused my system not to start and to display a black screen with a blinking cursor. I took out the Norton Recovery Disk, booted from it and restored my entire PC from my last image backup. This process took a few minutes and left me with a completely functional PC.

Unfortunately, I do not have this safety with Windows 7. Norton Ghost 12 and even the newer version 14 do not work properly with Windows 7. The Windows 7 upgrade process even recommends that you uninstall them before upgrading. This is something that I ignored, hoping that the incompatibility would be minor and I could still use the program. I was wrong. It does not work properly.

The Symantec message boards have some messages saying that Norton Ghost 15 will include support for Windows 7. It will also feature user interface improvements and added functionality. There is no release date announced yet, but I can’t wait.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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iPhone MMS Now Live

Posted by Robert Alonso under Service, Software

If you own an iPhone, there is good news from AT&T today. You can connect your phone to iTunes and an update will be downloaded that enables multimedia messaging from the phone. It enables the sending and receiving of photo and video messages to other phones. The functionality even works across networks which means that you can send to Verizon Wireless users and to other wireless carriers. The update takes about two seconds to download and install automatically. That being said, why are you still reading this, get on with it…

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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Microsoft’s Cool Tablet — “Courier”

Posted by Robert Alonso under Hardware, Software

Gizmodo, a very successful blog on gadgets and technology, uncovered information about a prototype tablet computer from Microsoft that is in the late stages of development. This is remarkable because Microsoft kept this device secret for a very long time and also because it could remake a company lately thought of as a technology has-been into cool and exciting again. The device uses the portfolio metaphor and opens up into two seven inch screens that can be manipulated by touch with fingers or with a stylus. The tablet shields the user from the operating system and works like a tool that a business person or student would use to take notes, doodle, set appointments and take pictures. It does not give you a Windows-like experience, but instead a very cool, super-iPod or super-iPhone experience. The following video gives you a sample of what the device can do.

The device has one button and has indicators along the edge of one of the tablets for displaying battery power and Wi-Fi connectivity. At this time, it is unknown how the device will be charged. The back side of one tablet has a camera with flash. Pictures of the camera lens indicate that it will be 3 megapixels and that it will also have a 4X zoom. It is not clear whether the zoom is digital or optical, but I’d bet on the former. I can easily see this device being used to read books or newspapers in full color and with a page flipping metaphor. (Watch out Amazon Kindle and Sony PRS-505.)

If and when Microsoft releases this as a product, the device could eliminate the need for notebook computers while travelling. From what is visible in the video, it has excellent handwriting recognition. The tablet user in the video writes an Internet address in the browser and is taken to the site. Perhaps this will also work with some yet undisclosed email client. If you can have your schedule, a note taking device, a web browser and email in this handy form factor, why would you lug around a notebook or even a netbook. It is not known if the device will offer any entertainment options, like the ability to play music. If it does, then Microsoft will have a hit on its hands and will finally have a tool that can take away the “cool” designation from Apple.

For pictures click here.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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Google Fast Flip

Posted by Robert Alonso under Opinions, Service

Google just introduced a new way of reading news on the Internet. It provides news content from a few major print publishers that have agreed to participate and a few web site publishers. Its claim to fame is that it allows you to “flip” from one news article to another one by clicking on left or right buttons on the web page or pressing the left and right on the keyboard. The “flip” is more like a slide, but I’m sure most of us will overlook that fact. The site is still part of their lab effort, but you can access it here.

Google Fast Flip Google Fast Flip includes, among many others, The New York Times, Esquire, US, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, and The Atlantic in its index. You can search for a topic or just peruse what Google displays for you. If an article grabs your attention, you can click on it to view it in its entirety on the publisher’s web site. This is a more visual way of looking at the news and improves on Google News—something that I have been happily using for over a year. Most of the magazines, publications and web sites that are included are liberal so this may not be a good choice for conservative-leaning readers. The image to the left shows a sample of what you will see on the site. (Please click on it to see a bigger version.)

Google Fast Flip View ScreenWhen you click on one of the displayed news items, you are presented with the flip interface and Google ads. These are  now being displayed to the right of the articles that you are reading. Google has agreed to share ad revenues with the publishers that have partnered with them. This is a big difference between Google News and Google Fast Flip. The Google News product does not share (and perhaps does not generate either) any revenues with publishers. I suspect that Google Fast Flip will be more popular with content creators and publishers. The image to the right shows what you will see when you click on an article. Note that other articles are displayed on the left in a scrollable region. I recommend you give this web site a try. Let me know if you like it.

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Snow Leopard Kills TivoToGo in Roxio’s Toast 10 Titanium

Posted by Robert Alonso under Advice, Software

If you thought that incompatibilities only occurred in the Microsoft-centric computing world, you were wrong. The new Snow Leopard upgrade (OS X 10.6) makes several applications not work correctly on the Macintosh. One that I had grown fond of came with Roxio’s Toast Titanium 10 application set. It is an application for transferring video from a Tivo to the Mac. It is appropriately named, “Tivo Transfer.” (Yes, I am a major geek who likes to connect all his electronic devices together.)

When you launch the application, it bounces a few times in the dock and then ends. If you look at the console, the error message that is displayed describes an error. It appears that the error is related to Apple’s removal of a Java to Cocoa interface. It is no longer possible to call a Cocoa framework from Java. Although this problem sounds irreparable, the good folks at Roxio have already made a beta fix available on their web site. The new version uses no Java and can then circumvent this issue. If you are a registered user, you can get the fixed version here.

Buy New! Toast 10 Titanium

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Beatles: Rock Band – Why Not: Linkin Park: Real Rock Band

Posted by Robert Alonso under Opinions, Software
I’ve never understood the fascination with the Beatles. They were an average pop group that had a series of hits when there was little competition in the field. I would not call them a rock band, much less the greatest band of all time. That award would definitely go to the Rolling Stones. Now that is a rock band that has withstood the test of time and that has had hits for forty-seven years. That is a record that is hard to beat and that may never be surpassed. I firmly believe that Mick Jagger will be singing, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” when he is dead and buried (or at least Sympathy for the Devil).

Beatles: Rock Band video game hit stores shelves yesterday and is on its way to becoming a major hit. Even my eleven year old sons want it and they had never even heard of the Beatles prior to this video game. They are more familiar with the new rock bands like Linkin Park. (Is that pronounced like Lincoln? I think I am too old to know for sure.) What I do know for sure is that Linkin Park is a real rock band. They do not put out pansy little songs like the Beatles did. I know I can expect a lot of vicious comments over this, but when think about it the Beatles’ biggest hits were silly love songs that Paul McCartney composed. I happen to like those songs, but my point is that they are not real rock.

News reports indicate that this video game is a huge success. Best Buy in NJ has reported that there were people lined up outside stores for a chance at being first to buy the video game. The game is available for the Nintendo Wii, the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The official web site is here.

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Windows 7 – Missing Microsoft Fingerprint Reader Support

Posted by Robert Alonso under Advice, Software

In a previous blog entry, I described how Microsoft Windows 7 recognized all my devices. This included the Microsoft Fingerprint Reader. In the past, I have used the reader to log into my accounting software and into a few web sites. This facilitated not having to type long passwords and helped me avoid typing passwords in front of other people. All I had to do is press one of my fat fingers into the device and I was in. I considered this a great productivity booster for under $30. I own two of these devices—one for home and one for the office. The office one also is a wireless mouse dock and came with a wireless Microsoft IntelliMouse. Well, Microsoft has decided that starting with Windows 7 it will not support these two devices. I am not sure what the reason is, but the Digital Persona software that is needed for the devices is supposedly not compatible with Windows 7. If you try to install the software, Microsoft Windows 7 blocks the install and says that the software will not work with Windows 7.

Not wanting to be left with two inoperable devices, I searched the Internet for possible solutions. There are some who claim that you can install the software and then set the application and associated DLLs (program functions in a separate loadable file) to run in Windows Vista or lower compatibility mode for all users on your computer. I have not tested this yet, because I first have to figure out a way to get Windows 7 to install the software in the first place.

If you are not into these convoluted workarounds, that may not work, there is an alternative. I found a mysteriously vague Microsoft web page that says that you can call a phone number if you are having trouble with the Fingerprint Reader. I called the number, worked my way through the various menu prompts to speak with a Microsoft representative and was told that Microsoft was discontinuing the product. The gentleman on the line then asked for my serial number and said that Microsoft would be mailing me a check for $39 in four to eight weeks. (I think this was the amount. I was in shock so I do not remember exactly.) That is not bad. It is more than I paid for the device. I am no longer angry at Microsoft, but I am also not sure why strange things like this occur during an upgrade—especially since the device is Microsoft branded. If anyone has additional information please email me or contact me through the link on the About page. You can visit the Microsoft page with the phone number here or you can call Microsoft at: 1-800-360-7561.

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Flickr App for iPhone

Posted by Robert Alonso under Software

IMG_1236Yahoo! just introduced a free iPhone application that simplifies the task of viewing photos on your iPhone or iPod touch device. The application is elegant, fast and a joy to work with. I downloaded it, authorized it to access my account and was up and running with it.

I love the functionality. I can now instantly see which photos are receiving page views and which are becoming other people’s favorites. I can browse through my photos and sets of photos. I can even directly send copies of my photos from the application using the iPhone’s email facility. This is a direct “touch” from the application and it provides a preview before you click on “Send.”

The application makes it easy to look at your favorite photos from other photographers, photos that your contacts are uploading or even photos that anyone on has uploaded. You can enter a keyword and the search functionality will return relevant photos in a grid pattern. You can then touch the one you want to see and it is displayed full size.

Since I purchased my iPhone, I have constantly searched the Apple App Store looking for a Flickr application. Until this release, I had to use the mobile web site which is very good, but limited by comparison. The new app will also let you take pictures and upload them to your account, but I will probably not use that feature that much. I prefer uploading high quality photos in the 12 megapixel range.

The requirements for the app are that you have an iPhone or iPod Touch with OS 3.0.

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Microsoft Word, Windows 7 and Apple Snow Leopard News

Posted by Robert Alonso under Opinions, Software

I wrote recently that Microsoft might be forced to stop selling Word because of a court ruling against them over an XML patent. Yesterday, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit stayed the injunction against Microsoft pending an appeal. This means that Microsoft gets to continue selling Word until the appeal is adjudicated. I bet that they are reprogramming Word to make sure that they will not have to stop selling it should they lose the appeal. Either that, or they are negotiating a settlement. In either case, all the back-to-school shoppers can continue buying their student versions of Microsoft Office without any problem.

I also wrote that I was upgrading some Mac Minis to the new 10.6 (known as Snow Leopard) version of the Mac OS. The good news is that the upgrade was inexpensive and relatively painless. It took slightly over an hour to upgrade each Mac. I had no glitches or problems and can report that the Macs are working fine and appear slightly faster. I cannot quantify this for you, but it is the feeling I get from using them. One thing that I am disappointed in is that I have yet to get the Exchange synchronization to work. It does not recognize my server in the office using a direct LAN connection and it does not recognize it from home using a fast Internet connection on both ends. I have not given up on making it work. It is the reason I upgraded. I suspect that there is a filter or firewall in the way that is not allowing the Mac Mail traffic to reach the server. I have one of Alonso Consulting’s best techs working on it.

One thing that I have not written about that much is Windows 7. I think the reason for this is that Windows Vista has been such a disappointment. Vista was and is beautiful and also graceful in the way it works, but it is a resource pig that is unacceptably slow. I have used Vista on two Intel Core 2 Duo Q6600 machines running at 2.4 Ghz with four cores and it sometimes took nearly half a minute to right click on a file to move or copy it. This is just the right click, never mind the copy and/or move which often did not work for inexplicable reasons. I found that a small Aspire netbook running Windows XP Home on a low powered Intel Atom processor often outperformed the faster machine running Vista. That is really pathetic performance for Vista.Windows 7 - Devices and Printers

Well, I am happy to report that I have upgraded three Vista machines to the Windows 7 and the performance has improved noticeably. The user interface for Windows 7 is still beautiful and elegant, but I found Vista’s more so. Maybe Window 7’s user interface will grow on me over time. I have found that devices work very well with the new operating system and that it was able to correctly identify everything connected to my machine. It shows even external hard drives by the name of the drive. For example, a My Book, shows up named as such in the “Devices and Printers” application. Other devices that are correctly identified are an Apple iPhone, various HP printers, the type of mouse, fingerprint reader and the monitor that I use. The version of Windows 7 that I installed is the Ultimate version and it is the final release that will be on sale in late October. I was able to download it from Microsoft because of Alonso Consulting’s  partner status with Microsoft.


Here is the bad news, it took over two hours for the upgrade from Windows Vista Ultimate. There were a few Dell applications on my system that the upgrade advised me to uninstall. It also did not like the version of Adobe Encore, iTunes and Norton Ghost that I had on my system. This is unfortunate since I use, Norton Ghost for my automated backup every week. When it advised me to uninstall all these apps, I removed the Dell apps and left the others. I also took out a few others that I knew I did not use. I needed a restart after the uninstalls and forgot about it. After going through the system check for about 20 minutes, I was told that the upgrade could not be performed until I rebooted. I rebooted and ran through the same system check for a third time before experiencing over two hours of the upgrade process including a few automated reboots. The Mac upgrade also took over an hour, but it was a little smoother.

On a Toshiba laptop that I upgraded, I was informed that the upgrade could not continue because the Vista that was installed was not Service Pack 1. I had to download that, install it and wait over an hour during that process and then upgrade to Windows 7. That really made me angry. I think the upgrade should work with any version of Vista and with any service pack level. I was also not pleased that I could not upgrade from the 32 bit version of Vista to the 64 bit version of Windows 7. To make that move requires a complete reinstall. Both of the Q6600 machines will support the 64 bit version of Windows 7 and Vista, but were sold to me with the 32 bit version.

That is all the news for now. I will update this blog as I discover more about the Mac Snow Leopard and Windows 7 upgrades.

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