Robert’s Ramblings

Robert Alonso’s Thoughts on Technology and More…

Archive for October, 2009

October-22-09

Happy Birthday Windows 7

Posted by Robert Alonso under Service, Software

Microsoft’s Windows 7 was released today and the consensus is that it is a great new operating system for PCs. It is fast, elegant, stable and even visually appealing. Windows 7 has plenty of features, but features are not its claim to fame. Microsoft is stressing the fact that it is a streamlined piece of software that works well. After its Vista debacle and the bad publicity that it garnered for the company, I am very heartened by this new release and can recommend it unequivocally.

Unlike its predecessor, Windows 7 works well with almost all hardware and even has functionality built in that will enable you to see a picture or drawing of new hardware that you connect to it. Next time you buy a printer or digital camera and plug it in via a USB port, you may be surprised when you see a picture of the device on your screen confirming that it is recognized and working.

I am very fond of the BitLocker technology that is included with the Windows 7 Ultimate Edition. With it, you can encrypt and password protect your computer’s hard drive. This protects your data in case your machine is stolen or lost. It is particularly useful for laptop and netbook owners since these are often stolen from hotel rooms. The BitLocker To Go technology makes it possible to also encrypt removable hard drives and USB thumb drives.

The Libraries feature allows you to group related folders together under a category like documents, music or video. This simplifies the task of backing up groups of documents or creating music playlist from music that is stored in multiple locations. You can use the new Windows Backup utility to create those backups and even schedule complete backups of your PC. I love this new backup tool because it will also create a system repair disk for you that you can use to restore your machine after a catastrophe.

It is important to note, that some older versions of software do not work with Windows 7. Two that I know won’t work are Norton Ghost and the various versions of Microsoft Fingerprint Reader software. Symantec is working on an upgrade for Norton Ghost that will be compatible and Microsoft is offering rebates to owners of the Microsoft Fingerprint devices and software.

Perhaps the only real issue I have with the new release is that it comes in too many versions. Microsoft is selling a Starter, Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise version. It is also selling versions that are for 32 bit and 64 bit computers. It is confusing as to which version is good for office, home and notebook use. It is also unclear whether a machine can handle the 64 bit version. It is so confusing that Microsoft has put up a web page that compares the versions.

Alonso Consulting can help you decide if upgrading is the right move for you. If you decide to upgrade your existing machines, we can guide you through the planning process, back up your existing data and then upgrade you to the correct version. Users of Windows XP do not have a direct upgrade path with Windows 7, so all data and applications have to be backed up and reinstalled.

If you prefer to buy new machines, we can provide you with a great deal* on Dell computers preloaded with Windows 7 Professional. Once we install the new machine and port your data over, we’ll erase your old PC’s hard drive, remove it and give you a $100 credit for it that you can use towards additional support from us. We will also provide you with a pass-along gift certificate worth $250. It is our way of saying thank you.

Call us at (973) 575-1414 to start upgrading to this excellent new version of Windows.

Thanks,

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

 

* Here’s the deal:

clip_image001You get a Dell PC with Windows 7 Professional worth $765. You also receive up to two hours of service to install your old applications and data. We will remove your old PC and give you a $100 credit for future support plus a pass-along gift certificate worth $250 so you can share our services with a business associate. The total value is $1,365. If you decide to upgrade and pay on our web site by October 27th, you will receive the PC, our service, a $100 credit, and the gift certificate which is a total value of $1,365 for only $899 per PC. Here are the specs on the PC:

 

Processor

Intel® Core™ 2 Duo E7500 (2.93GHz, 3M, L2Cache, 1066FSB)

Operating system

Genuine Windows ® 7 Professional 32 bit

Monitor

18.5 inch E1910H Flat Panel Monitor

Memory

3GB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHZ – 1x2GB 1x1GB

Optical drive

Single Drive: 16X DVD-ROM Drive

Hard drive

250GB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM) w/DataBurst Cache™

Video card

Integrated Video, Intel® GMA X4500HD

Security software

Norton Internet Security™ 2009 30 Day Trial

Sound

Integrated 5.1 Channel Audio

Keyboard & mouse

USB Keyboard and USB Optical Mouse

Adobe software

Adobe Acrobat Reader

Resource DVD

Resource CD and DVD

Setup guide

System Quick Reference Guide

Network interface

Integrated PCIE 10/100/1000

Warranty & service

1 Year Manufacturer’s Basic Limited Warranty and 1 Year NBD On-Site Service

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October-20-09

BitLocker To Go on Windows 7

Posted by Robert Alonso under Opinions, Software

The clock is ticking towards the release of a faster and generally more robust operating system for PCs. As many of you know, Windows 7 will be released in two days. What does this release mean to you? The most immediate impact is that it will become increasingly difficult to find any machines with Windows XP. Vista was so unpopular that Microsoft allowed Dell and other PC makers to offer downgrades to XP. Most of my customers chose that path and paid an extra $100 for the privilege.

Once Windows 7 is released, Microsoft will try to never talk about Windows Vista again and will instead tout the great new improvements in Windows 7. This is not without precedent. The same thing happened with Windows Millennium Edition (Me). Most people have forgotten about Windows Me but it was the worst operating system that Microsoft has ever sold—far worse than Vista. It followed the successful Windows 95 and 98 and preceded Windows XP which was arguably the most hardy PC operating system produced by Microsoft so far. Maybe magic will strike twice and Windows 7 will be a huge success and, more importantly, be a solid replacement for Vista.

If you are a reader of this blog, then you know that I have been testing Windows 7 for some time. I have also been reporting about features that I find useful or interesting. I have found one that makes Windows 7 worthwhile to me. That is the “BitLocker To Go” feature. This is an extension of the BitLocker functionality that Microsoft released with Windows Vista Ultimate. BitLocker is still only available on the Ultimate version, but now comes with this additional feature that enables the complete encryption of external hard drives or USB thumb drives. I find this extremely useful because I am always worried about losing a USB drive with important documents or pictures that I would not want a stranger to have. With BitLocker To Go, I can live in peace knowing that my data is secured.

You enable it by inserting the removable device into the computer and then starting the BitLocker application. Once it is started, you tell it to encrypt the USB drive and give it a password. It takes care of the rest. The next time that you insert that USB drive into the computer it prompts you for the password before you can access the data on it. If you provide the password and check off an option on the screen, the PC will recognize that drive and make the files available each time that you plug it into that specific machine without you having to retype the password.

If you are wondering if that USB drive will then work on an XP machine, you are in luck. It does. When you insert the USB drive into the XP machine, it prompts you for the password and loads an application that lets you copy the data off the device and use it. However, one of these encrypted drives will not work on Apple Macintosh computers.

If you are like me and are worried about your laptop being stolen or lost, you can use BitLocker to encrypt the entire drive of your machine. The process is straightforward and works automatically. It takes a long time to process initially, but once completed, you have peace of mind. That hard drive’s data will be inaccessible without your password. This is the case even if the drive is removed and put into another machine.

To me, these two related data security features are enough of a justification for upgrading to Windows 7.

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October-19-09

MySpace Moves to SSD Drives – Saves 99% of Power

Posted by Robert Alonso under Hardware, Opinions

I am normally wary of any claims of power savings, recycling or turning green made by large corporations. I know that most of the claims are just lip service to the environmentally conscious amongst us. However, I read some news today that makes sense. It seems that the MySpace web site has dumped all its hard drives and switched to solid state devices that are like the thumb drives that most of us carry around. Doing so has reduced the power consumption at the their data center by an astounding 99%. Now that is what I call socially responsible action. It  makes sense from both an environmental perspective and from a power cost savings.

I have a data center in my office and power consumption is now my third largest expense after payroll and rent. It has become such a large expense that I have been looking at ways to trim it. My efforts have been concentrated on replacing older servers that were less efficient with newer ones and also consolidating wherever possible. With this news, I now have another avenue to explore.

MySpace’s move is smart. It is economics coupled with ecological responsibility. Bravo!

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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October-12-09

Windows 7 Libraries – An Awesome Addition to Windows

Posted by Robert Alonso under Software

Everyone is so concerned about Windows 7’s stability and performance that little has been said about the user interface improvements. I have been using the final code now for a couple of weeks and have begun to notice some of these easily overlooked and misunderstood improvements. For now, I will only discuss one that I really life.

Windows 7 introduces a new user interface concept called, “Libraries.” When you first install Windows 7, there are four default libraries. These are:

  • Documents
  • Music
  • Pictures, and
  • Videos

Anyone who has been using Windows for a while will recognize these types of files as being part of My Documents and other like named folders. What makes this a different type of structure is that a library can contain multiple folders on your machine that contain whatever file type you designate. For example, the Music library on my machine contains three folders that have music. One is the folder “My Music” on the “C:\” drive, the other is the public folder for music on my machine and the third is a network location where I store some music. Windows 7 determined these locations from my usage of them in Vista prior to the upgrade. It could not have been from scanning my machine because it missed a large amount of music on my “D:\” drive.

Far more interesting than what Windows put into my library for music is that I can tailor it to my needs. I can add and delete folders that contain music. When you use File/Open or other file based tools including Windows Explorer you are presented with the libraries as if they were folders. You can thus manipulate and use related file types from one location regardless of their real location. The allowed folder locations are:

  • C:\ Drive
  • External Hard Drive
  • Additional Internal Drive
  • USB Flash Drive (as long as certain conditions are met)
  • Network (as long as the location is indexed or has been made available offline)
  • Homegroup

Please note that removable media like CDs and DVD are not supported. Libraries can contain up to 50 folders from the allowed locations (above). You can set the default save location for new items that you save to the library and you can also change the type of file that the library is optimized for. This makes for a very easy-to-use way to categorize your files, access them and save them.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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October-10-09

Free Photoshop for the iPhone

Posted by Robert Alonso under Opinions

iPhone Photoshop User InterfaceAdobe recently released a version of Photoshop for the iPhone. It is a great little  program that makes it easy to edit photos that you have taken on your iPhone or photos that you take using the program. You can crop, resize, and flip your pictures. It also includes ways for you to adjust the exposure, saturation, and tint of your photo. Many other options are included which is surprising for a free iPhone app. One that I thought was interesting was an Andy Warhol-like series of cubes with different tints. This is called, “Pop” in the application.

Pop view of my wife Elva The user interface gives you tips on how to use the software. Once you are familiar with it, you can turn off the tips. I loved this feature and it is an excellent example of how good software should be written. Another feature that I think is fantastic is the undo feature. You can make as many changes as you want and then undo them if you think you have made a mistake or do not like the result. The “save” function will save the image in your “Camera Roll” and does not overwrite the original photo. I was unsure about this and was quite nervous to save my creation because I did not want to overwrite the original. I should have known that this would not be a problem.

The program will also allow you to upload to photoshop.com. I have not tested this feature yet, but you can sign up from within the program. I recommend this iPhone app wholeheartedly. Get your copy now!

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October-9-09

Moon Bombing Showcases Technological Advances

Posted by Robert Alonso under Opinions

One of the most amazing things about NASA’s flying a rocket into the south pole of the Moon today was not the rocket, explosion or analysis that will follow, but instead the minimalist control room that was used to direct the rocket to its intended location on the moon. If you had a chance to see it on television, you would have noticed that the control room was about the size of a large conference room. It had several computer monitors and some laptops. This is in sharp contrast to the huge control room that was used in 1969 to direct the first Moon landing. Computer technology has advanced so much in the intervening forty years that one of the engineers packed up his laptop and power cord shortly after the explosion and walked out of the room carrying it. If one of the engineers had decided to walk out with his computer in 1969, he would have needed a crane to lift the massive computers of the time.


I was very young when man first landed on the Moon, but I was fortunate enough to see it live on a small black and white television. It was one to those amazing and never-to-be-forgotten moments of my youth. I am hoping to witness a new landing on the Moon or perhaps Mars in my lifetime. If it happens, I will be able to watch it in high definition on a huge flat screen television set. I will be able to record it to Blue-Ray disks for future review and will also be able to direct my friends to watch specific moments of the landing on YouTube.com or Hulu. I don’t know about you, but to me this is all amazing progress. My hat is off to the engineers of this world—especially the ones who brought us the transistor and integrated circuit.

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October-1-09

Windows 7’s Great Backup Utility

Posted by Robert Alonso under Advice, Software

Having lost Norton Ghost’s backup functionality when I upgraded to Windows 7, I began looking for an alternative that would keep my machine safe in case of a catastrophe. I have years worth of documents on my machine that I do not want to lose to a virus or hard drive crash. I looked at third party software and open source options and found that nothing is ready for Windows 7 yet.

Since Windows 7 is not being sold on retail shelves yet, one could argue that I was being a bit unreasonable in my search. However, you would think that someone had developed software for Windows 7 backups in advance of the release of the operating system. It turns out that someone did–Microsoft.

Windows 7 comes with an integrated backup program that will create images of your hard drive and will also backup files incrementally. I decided to give it a try. The following screen shots and text show how to set up the backup software.

Type “backup” in the search box that comes up when you click on the Windows Start menu. You will see a program called, “Backup and Restore.” Start it. Once you do, you will see the following image.

image 
Click on “Set up backup.” A dialog box like the one below will be displayed as the software scans for backup destinations.

image

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