Category Archives: Operating Systems

Windows 10 Privacy Issues – Fact or Fiction?

This guest post is contributed by my Aussie mate, Jim Hillier. Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at Dave’s Computer Tips. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele… as well as writing for DCT, of course.


The release of Windows 10 together with news of its heightened telemetry certainly brought out the conspiracy theorists and paranoid. Publish an article about Windows 10 and, regardless of the actual subject matter, you’re pretty much guaranteed to receive a slew of comments slamming Microsoft and its new operating system for introducing these so-called privacy issues, so much so that it has gotten to the point of becoming tiresome.

The data collection in Windows 10 may be at a new level for a desktop operating system but it is pretty standard fare for mobile devices. Both Google (Android) and Apple (iOS) have been collecting this type of data for years with nary a whimper from the using public.

One has to bear in mind that Windows 10 is, after all, a hybrid operating system, designed to cater for both desktop and mobile users. Mobile by its very nature requires a lot more information than a stationary desktop in order to deliver full functionality. If you ask Cortana to find the nearest pizza shop, for example, how can the digital assistant provide that information if it has no idea where you are located?

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With the increasing trend toward mobile device usage, Microsoft is merely following the age-old law of supply and demand. With Windows 10, Microsoft has produced an operating system which is suitable for both desktop and mobile users – depending on how it is configured.

That’s the whole point with Windows 10, a point which, apparently, many people have failed to grasp – the choice lies squarely in the hands of the end user. Windows 10 can quite easily be set up purely as a desktop operating system, in which case the level of data collection is substantially diminished. Sure, it may take a little time and effort to go through all the settings, but it is definitely not difficult.

Don’t want to use Cortana? Simple… just turn it off. And so on, and so on. It’s easy to disable unwanted apps/features, nobody is being forced to utilize them or the services they provide. They are simply available for those who do want to use them.

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If you go through Windows 10’s Privacy settings and disable everything you don’t want or need, including setting Feedback to minimum, the level of telemetry is no more than one would expect for a desktop PC, no more than [say] in Windows 7 or 8.1.

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I’m not suggesting for one minute that Microsoft hasn’t made bad decisions regarding Windows 10, just that, in my opinion, the telemetry isn’t numbered among them – more a matter of simply keeping up with the times. In fact, I’m far more concerned over the enforced updates in Windows 10 where there simply is no choice. Not to mention the constant upgrade nags and unsolicited upgrades – but that, as they say, is another story for another time.

Bottom Line:

To suggest that Windows 10 is ‘spying’ on consumers is a pretty far stretch. I, for one, don’t really care if Microsoft knows that some anonymous old geezer in Queensland, Australia regularly visits Bill Mullins Tech Thoughts blog.

Do I like Windows 10? Sure I do. Would I recommend upgrading to Windows 10 for free? In a heartbeat.

*BTW: Microsoft recently announced that the Windows 10 free upgrade offer will definitely end on 29th July as originally stated.

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Filed under Microsoft, Myths, Operating Systems, Software, Technicians Advise, Windows 10, Windows Tips and Tools

Windows 8 Satisfies The Need For Speed

imageI’m a speed sensitive kind of guy – when it comes to computing, that is. Late last year, to satisfy my need for speed, I installed a Solid State Drive – running Windows 7 Enterprise – in place of a Western Digital HDD, as a boot drive.

The benefits of running with an SSD were immediately noticeable – faster boot times, faster system shutdown, faster application load times (including games), along with faster sleep and hibernation modes.

In the meantime, Windows 8 Consumer Preview was dropped on my doorstep – and, since there is some degree of SSD optimization built into Windows 8, taking the opportunity to race with this new engine was a natural fit.

It’s been quite a race – Windows 8 is perceptibly faster on my hardware than on the same configuration running Windows 7. Not milliseconds faster – but, measurable faster. Still, there’s little real value in a single user’s Windows 8 running experience. Hardware is a variable – system configurations are variable – usage factors need to be considered, and so on.

So, rather than write a full report on my personal experience running Windows 8, I gave Sandro Villinger from TuneUp Software (the developers of TuneUp Utilities 2012) a buzz to get his take on Windows 8.

Thank goodness for Skype – a planned 15 minute call to Germany turned into a 2 hour conversation – much of it focused on the state of Internet journalism. A conversation so satisfying, that it led me to craft an article on a number of issues raised in conversation, which I’ll post in the next few days.

But, I digress.

As it turns out, Sandro and his team had tested Windows 8 extensively – not just on a single system – but, on a mix of hardware which included Desktops, Laptop/Tablets, and a low powered Intel Atom Netbook.

Sandro has generously shared his extremely comprehensive report with me – which I’ve posted below. If you’ve had any questions regarding Windows 8 performance capabilities, then Sandro’s report is just what you’ve been waiting for.

Enjoy the read.   Smile

A Close Look at Windows 8 Performance: Winners and Losers

Don’t let the shiny new Metro interface of Windows 8 fool you—the new operating system (OS) has been improved not just with a spanking new outfit but also in the performance department. For instance, Microsoft’s future OS needs to work with both high-end PCs as well as small-factor devices like ARM and low-powered Intel tablets, which is why its overall footprint needed to be reduced drastically.

As VentureBeat noted, “Windows 8’s secret feature [is] resurrecting old PCs.” Microsoft promised that Windows 8 would run equally well or better on low-powered machines than Windows 7. This is a bold statement, but the real question is, did the company deliver? In this blog post, we’ll explore that with early benchmarks, showing if and how much Windows 8’s performance compares to Windows 7’s on the very same machines.

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Windows 8 has been optimized from the ground up to work great with low-powered mobile devices. But how fast is it really? Our lab tests will give you the answers.

Our Test Beds: A Broad Range

To get comparable results, we put Windows 8 through a variety of tests on several very differently equipped systems. We used:

  • Two Desktop PCs: We installed the Windows 8 Consumer Preview on both a 2007-era desktop PC (Core 2 Duo, 2.66 GHz) and a recent Alienware gaming rig (Core i7 930, 8 GB RAM).
  • Two Laptops/Tablets: We also tested a low-powered Core i7 1.8 GHz, 4 GB RAM 13” laptop, which includes a 256 GB SSD, as well as an Asus EP121 tablet sporting a Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM and a 64 GB SSD.
  • Netbook: We used a very common Samsung NC10 netbook running a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom and 2 GB of RAM.

We didn’t install any tools on those machines except for the applications that we frequently use for benchmarking. As usual, we performed all tests three times to get a good idea of the results. As usual, we put both OSs through the typical rounds of analyzing boot time, raw processing power and application launch speed. However, since this is a Consumer Preview, we just want to give a quick impression rather than perform a full-blown review—we’ll save that for later!

#1 – Boot Time Performance

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Windows 8 is widely known for booting up extremely quickly. I used a stopwatch to determine how long it took until the desktop under Windows 7 and the new Metro user interface under Windows 8 was visible. The results will blow you away.

On all machines, Windows 8 was able to surpass its predecessor—right out of the gate, the new OS booted much more quickly. Once the final version hits, we’ll go through our usual paces of running Windows Performance Analyzer to determine if and how much background activity during boot was reduced.

#2 – Processes on a Fresh System

Last September, Microsoft boasted about less processes and reduced RAM consumption. Obviously, the less things that are running in the background, the better performance and longer battery life will be, as idle times are much higher. Right after we clean installed both Windows 7 and Windows 8, we compared the usage.

What we found was not necessarily a big achievement, but an achievement nonetheless. We saw a decrease of five processes as well as a drop in RAM usage by about 100 MB. In your day-to-day routine, this won’t be of particular help. What is helpful, however, are the drastically reduced idle activities. On Windows 8, Microsoft managed to reduce overall background activity noticeably—both on the software and on the driver side. By default, the bare OS’s processes and services rarely cause any noticeable spikes.

#3 – Application Start-up Times

Application start-up times give us a good indication of the OS’s ability to pre-load data and quickly manage smaller file chunks. To test this, we “trained” Windows’s own SuperFetch feature by loading Outlook 2010 every morning at exactly 9 a.m. and keeping it running on both the Windows 7 SP1 and the Windows 8 OSs all day long. After a couple of days, Windows had adapted. Then, we were able to use the trusty AppTimer, which automatically launches applications and measures start-up times down to the millisecond.

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Now, how long does it take? We only performed this test on the Core i7 1.8 GHz laptop.

There was a difference in so called “cold” and “warm” startups – cold refers to the first startup of the application right after boot, and warm refers to subsequent launches that are all completely loaded from memory and, thus, faster. The differences were hardly noticeable, but there was a clear trend towards Windows 8 loading applications a tad slower; however, this could be attributed to hard disk controller drivers.

#4 – Office Performance

To test day-to-day performance, we used the dependable PCMark 7 benchmark tool that automatically performs tasks such as website rendering, virus scans, photo manipulation and video editing. It should easily prove how well Windows 8 can handle both CPU and hard disk heavy tasks.

We found mixed results. While Windows 8 achieved quite a leap in performance on the faster machines, the lower-end devices, especially the netbook, actually suffered a bit. This ran noticeably slower during the tests, which was also noticeable during day-to-day usage.

#5 – Gaming Performance

The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. benchmark is a very well established test program designed to measure frames per second in DirectX games. As usual, we performed all tests three times and averaged the results.

The gaming front seems to profit from Windows 8’s reduced memory usage and apparent optimization to DirectX. But, those results should be taken with a grain of salt: Windows 8 installed some more recent beta drivers that were not available for Windows 7 SP1.To compensate for the effect, we downloaded the most recent beta drivers for nVIDIA and Intel onboard graphics. Overall, the netbook suffered a small amount again, while the faster machines gained quite a bit of performance.

#6 – Overall Verdict: Good Improvements, Some Losses

The Windows 8 Consumer Preview runs well on higher-end devices, but we were surprised to see that it lost some performance on lower-end machines—the very exact devices that it’s supposed to run well on. However, I’ll wait for the release candidate to make a final judgment. We may have an odd combination of unfinished drivers and code and bugs that may affect benchmarks (which is exactly why I only used a handful of my tests to get a general feel for new OS’s performance).

Overall, Windows 8 is going in the right direction. However, judging bare operating systems can only reveal so much.We’ll find out how it really works when we’re able to test third-party applications and the Metro-style apps. Do these negatively impact performance over time? We’ll find out in part two of our Windows 8 performance series.

A Close Look at Windows 8 Performance: Winners and Losers (Part 2)

In last week’s blog post, we performed some early performance benchmarks and compared Windows 7 SP1 with the recently released Windows 8 Consumer Preview. While speed improved in some scenarios, other aspects suffered a bit. However, the important thing to remember is, performance doesn’t just depend on the underlying operating system (OS); it also relies on the applications that run constantly in the background.

Third-Party Applications: Still a Problem

I’ve now been productively working with Windows 8 for a couple of weeks! I have been using this OS day in and day out and have installed all of my applications.

While I was surprised by the system’s initial responsiveness, overall speed reduced after installing about 80 programs, which consisted of Skype, Live Messenger, SnagIt and games and office applications. It didn’t slow things down to a crawl, but it introduced quite a bit of lag and noticeably less performance—so I found myself again having to use tools such as TuneUp Program Deactivator, Autoruns, Startup Manager and Windows’ own service tools to turn off certain applications. This isn’t out of the ordinary though. It’s a fact of life, and Microsoft will likely stay away from this department, despite the fact that the company has introduced quite a nice Task-Manager that shows the impact of start-up applications.

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Closed Apps Still Run in the Background

Having worked with Windows 8 on both a desktop and a tablet, in addition to switching between a variety of apps, I noticed a bit of a lag when handling apps. First, switching between apps had a delay of between one second and several seconds. Second, the system slowed down in “classic desktop” mode although no applications were running.

Microsoft promised several times on its Engineering 8 Blog that inactive applications would be frozen and couldn’t consume PC resources. When looking at the multi-tasking switcher on the left, I was proven right. Windows 8 actively held about six apps at a time before apparently closing them. What I found instead, however, annoyed me a bit. The so-called frozen applications remain in the background.

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While only the most critical of those apps were active in the background (Mail, Messaging, Music, etc.), all other apps just sat there consuming memory. Overall, I had about 500 MB worth of apps sitting in memory and not doing a whole lot. That’s not as bad as some browsers, but it’s still not quite as effective as it could be.

Why is this happening? The memory is actually consumed by the frozen state of the app. This means that once an app is closed (which is done by a swiping gesture from the top to the bottom of the screen), it can be resumed instantly. Even though this is a good feature, most users likely aren’t aware that this instant resume may have a detrimental effect on performance—and there are applications that most people only start once, use for 10 minutes and don’t touch again. So why keep those apps =running in the background?

Of course, a restart purges the memory of all app states, but many users go a long time without ever shutting down or restarting their PCs. In fact, Microsoft has designed Windows 8 to be more of an “Always On Standby” experience—they hide the restart and shutdown buttons in the charms menu and encourage users to use their power buttons to go to standby.

Is this really a problem? Well, it all depends on the usage of the user. If you’re just using three or four of your favorite apps, this doesn’t concern you. A hundred MB won’t make a huge difference. If you’re using a wide array of Metro-style apps and switch back to your classic desktop applications, this might affect performance. Having half a gig of apps sitting in memory just waiting for you to start them again is detrimental to performance. I wish apps would actually close if you perform the aforementioned swipe gesture.

Again, it’s very early to talk about these things. Windows 8 is in its Consumer Preview stage, but I am not sure if Microsoft really is considering giving back more control to the user who actually wants it. We’ll keep you up-to-date on this.

Sandro Villinger’s professional background – IT Journalist/Consultant

Managing Editor: Hewlett-Packard HPIO Germany

PR Manager/Technical Consulting: TuneUp Software GmbH

Publications US: IDG ITWorld, HP Input/Output, TuneUp Blog

Publications DE:  ComputerBILD, PC Pr@xis, MS Press, Windows-Tweaks.info

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Filed under Operating Systems, Reports, Software, Windows 8

Zorin Linux OS – The Look And Feel Of Windows 7

imageThere was a time, when Linux was crazy difficult to install and run on a PC. Those days are long gone, and running Linux, in various flavors, couldn’t get much easier. Average users simple want to point and click, and Linux based operating systems, by and large, allow them to do just that.

There’s no doubt that Windows and Linux are not the same operating system under the hood. But, average users don’t look under the hood of an OS – not in Windows – not in Linux.

Having worked with Windows 8, Developer Edition, since its release date –  I can assure you, running Linux (with the small initial differences from Windows), is a snap compared to the effort needed to rethink virtually every move in Windows 8. I say this, not because I’m down on Windows 8 (it has its place, and under the hood, there are substantial improvements), but, because I’m “up” on Linux.

I’ve been running dual boot systems for years – various flavors of Windows, and various flavors of Linux. With good reason – I wouldn’t, for example, do my online banking in any OS other than Linux. So, I’m comfortable with the idea that I can offer my opinion on how “hard” or how “easy” it is, to run with Linux.

Installing a Linux distro to run side-by-side with Windows (no partitioning required), is dead easy – and, on Startup, you’ll have a choice as to what OS to boot. It’s been my experience that Linux generally boots 2/3 times faster than Windows.

So, having said all that – let me introduce you to Zorin OS – a Ubuntu based Linux distro – which is built around an intuitive point and click user interface  -similar in layout, and function, to Windows 7.

If you would feel more comfortable with a Windows XP look – no problem. Zorin’s built-in Look Changer lets you change your desktop to look and act like either Windows 7, Windows XP, or a straight Linux look.

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Take a peek at the following graphics from the developer – I think you’ll be impressed.

Zorin OS runs on various platforms

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Start Menu

Start Menu expanded.

Desktop cube

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Multimedia applications running

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Look Changer

Software center

Fast facts:

Top-notch security – Thanks to Zorin OS’s immunity to Windows viruses you will never have to worry about them. Zorin OS also comes with integrated firewall software to keep your system extra safe. When a potential security threat arises, software updates usually come within a matter of hours through the Update Manager.

Easy to use, familiar desktop – The main goal of Zorin OS is to give Windows users easy access to Linux. That is why Zorin OS incorporates the familiar Windows 7-like interface by default, to dramatically reduce the learning curve of this system while still experiencing the main advantages of Linux.

Out-of-the-box software solution – From the versatile LibreOffice suite to the feature-packed OpenShot video editor, it’s got it all. Zorin OS is sure to facilitate all of your everyday tasks such as web browsing, document creation, social networking, making videos, chatting with your friends and beyond, all without having to install anything.

Software Galore – If the pre-installed software isn’t enough for your requirements there is no need to worry about it. Zorin OS comes with the Software Center which allows users to download and install tens of thousands of free programs. All you have to do is open the Software Center from the start menu, find a program which you want and click Install. You can even install Windows programs on Zorin OS in a similar way with PlayOnLinux.

Compatibility – Nearly every file that you use with your current operating system will work perfectly in Zorin OS with no need for additional setup. All your office documents, music, videos, pictures etc. will work out of the box in Zorin OS. Zorin OS also supports a large library of devices such as printers, scanners, cameras, keyboards. These devices will work as soon as you plug them in without the need for installing additional drivers.

Flexibility – Zorin OS gives users more flexibility. It allows you to use Zorin OS alongside your current operating system. While you install Zorin OS to your computer you have the option to keep your current operating system alongside Zorin OS and choose which one to load on start-up.

Zorin Internet Browser Manager – The default web browser in Zorin OS is Google Chrome. For those who want to use other web browsers, we have included our exclusive program called the Zorin Internet Browser Manager which makes installing and uninstalling web browsers simple and quick.

Social from the start – Zorin OS has been built with you in mind so staying in touch with your friends easily was a large aspect of building Zorin OS. The Me Menu lets you access your Facebook and Twitter accounts straight from the desktop. You can connect to all your favorite chat channels and make updates through a single window with Gwibber. Instant Messaging chat with Empathy is super simple. Quickly integrate your chat accounts from Facebook Chat, Yahoo, Google Talk, MSN, Jabber, AIM, QQ and many other sources and start talking.

Minimum system requirements:

700 MHz x86 processor
3GB of Hard Drive space
376 MB of system memory (RAM)
Graphics card capable of 640×480 resolution
Sound card

Downloads: both 32 bit and 64 bit.

The Core, Lite and Educational versions, are available to download for free from the Free download page.

The Premium versions (Business, Gaming, Multimedia and Ultimate), are available in exchange for a donation on the Premium page for a physical DVD, or a download.

I’ve been running with Zorin OS on and off – from a bootable DVD – for the last several months and, I must say – I’ve been very impressed.

I pointed out earlier – “It’s been my experience that Linux generally boots 2/3 times faster than Windows”. This is not the case when running from a DVD. Should you decide to go this route, you will encounter a much slower response than an installation will provide.

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Alternatives to Windows, downloads, Freeware, Linux, Operating Systems

Free Linux Live USB Creator – Run Or Boot Linux From A Flash Drive

imageIf you’re looking for a painless way to run Linux without having installed any one of 200+ distributions to your Hard Drive, or without having to boot from a Live CD, then open source Linux Live USB Creator could be the perfect tool. In a very simple process, Linux Live USB Creator will install any one of a huge range of Linux distributions to a USB drive.

After installing your chosen Linux distribution, either from an existing ISO on your HD, or exercising the option to download an ISO through Linux Live USB Creator, you will have several available options.

Option 1 –  Run LinuxLive USB directly within Windows in a virtual environment.

Option 2 – Boot directly from the LinuxLive USB key.

The following screen captures illustrate how a previously complex process has been streamlined, so that a competent average user should be able to breeze through the installation. For this review, I installed PCLinux from an ISO, previously stored on my HD, to an 8 GB Flash Drive.

Launching Linux Live USB Creator will take you to a colorful, “follow the bouncing ball” simple interface.

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In less than 5 minutes the process is complete and I’m off to the races!

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Well, sort of. In fact, immediately upon installation completion, you will be taken to the developer’s site for a quick heads-up on using Linux Live USB Creator.

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As per the developer’s instructions, using Windows Explorer, I navigated to the newly installed VirtualBox folder on the USB drive, clicked on Virtualize_This_Key.exe, and sat back as PCLinux launched inside Windows in VirtualBox.

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Now, how cool is that! No fuss, no muss, no knowledge of running a virtual system required.

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As stated earlier, you have a huge selection of Linux distros to choose from. For this review I choose PCLinux since I had it hanging around on my HD – one of those “I’ll get to it when I can” downloads.

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Fast facts:

Free and Open-source – LinuxLive USB Creator is a completely free and open-source software for Windows only. It has been built with simplicity in mind and it can be used by anyone.

No reboot needed – Are you sick of having to reboot your PC to try Linux? No need with LinuxLive USB Creator. It has a built-in virtualization feature that lets you run your Linux within Windows just out of the box!

Supports many Linux distributions – Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian, OpenSUSE, Mint, Slax, CentOS, ArchLinux, Gentoo, PCLinuxOS, Sabayon, BackTrack, Puppy Linux …

Persistence – Having a Live USB key is better than just using a Live CD because you can even save your data and install software. This feature is called persistence (available only on selected Linux).

SmartClean & SmartDownload – SmartClean uninstalls properly any previous Live USB installations and SmartDownload lets you download any supported Linux in 2 clicks automatically selecting the best mirror to download from. SmartClean also lets you clean your USB key in 1 click.

Intelligent processing – LiLi works with many Linux, even if they are not officially supported.

Hidden installation – LiLi hides the Linux installation, your USB key stays clean.

File integrity – tells you if your ISO is corrupted.

Keeps your data on your USB device.

Intelligent formatting – can format disks bigger than 32 GB.

Auto-update – automatic updates when new Linux distributions are available.

System requirements: Windows 7, Vista, XP

Download at: Linux Live USB

User’s Guide – This tutorial will show you how to create a Linux Live USB very easily.

Tested on Windows 8 (developer).

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Filed under downloads, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, Linux, Live CDs, Open Source, Operating Systems, Portable Applications, Software, USB, Virtualization, Windows 8, Windows Tips and Tools

Is Linux Only For Techies?

Currently, I’m running a dual boot system – Windows 8 Developer and Ubuntu Linux – so much for the rumor that Microsoft has locked out dual booting Linux on Windows 8.

In fact, I’ve been running dual boot systems for years – various flavors of Windows, and Linux. I wouldn’t, for example, do my online banking in any OS other than Linux. So, I’m comfortable with the idea that I can offer my opinion on how “hard” or how “easy” it is, to run with Linux.

I like to think that my opinion is an “educated” opinion. An opinion based on long term usage and direct observation. So, it definitely burns my ass when I read fluff from Windows bloggers who pass judgment on Linux and who, without the benefit of personal knowledge, go into a “let’s trash Linux” mode.

In 30+ years of real world computing,  I have met only a handful of techies who have an accurate understanding of how a typical user computes – how a typical user experiences computing. An understanding based on – here’s that terrible word again – observation.

Instead, the “I just know” phrase, as to how a typical user computes, is often offered in place of evidence based opinion. A follow up query such as “OK, but HOW do you know?”, invariably leads to a shake of the head and an “I just know that’s all” rapid response.

This throwaway response puts me in mind of the years I spent in management consulting, when a “how would your customers rate your service delivery” query for example, would invariably be met with a “Oh hey – terrific, terrific”, comeback.

We’ll skip ahead to  the inevitable “How do you know?”, and I’m sure you can guess the answer – “we just know”. More often than not, a series of customer centric focus groups would reveal that a company had a massively misplaced perception of how customers really viewed service delivery. I refer to this only to illustrate the point that perception does not always line up with reality – despite the often quoted “perception is reality”.

One particular “I just know” statement, I hear repeatedly from fellow techies is – Linux is only for techies. But, is it? Nor from where I sit it’s not. I suspect that this fallacy is based on (amongst a host of misperceptions), the mistaken view that Linux is primarily a command line driven operating system. Something it decidedly is not.

Sure, if a user is a command line fanatic in Windows (as a DOS 1 veteran, I understand the attraction), then that preference can easily be carried over into Linux. But, that’s not how a typical user interacts with an operating system – not in Windows and not in Linux.

Ubuntu Linux for example, is built around an intuitive point and click user interface which is similar in layout, and function, to Windows – including Windows XP. Certainly more instinctive, and vastly more functional, than the new Windows 8 Metro GUI shown below.

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To be fair – the classic Windows Desktop is accessible through the Metro GUI in Windows 8. Here’s a screenshot of my classic Desktop running in Windows 8.

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Contrast the Windows Desktop shown above, with the following OLD Linux Desktop layout (March 2007). Point and click simple – similar in layout and functionality to the previously shown Windows Desktop.

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Here are a couple of Ubuntu Desktops I currently run. Simple, functional, and efficient.

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Alternative Linux Desktops are readily available, so that a transition to a Linux based operating system can be more or less, a seamless move for an average user. Admittedly, there are some issues new Linux users will encounter in making a change from Windows. But, these are essentially “where do I click” issues – not issues that require techie based skills.

A number of alternative Desktops are shown below.

Enlightenment

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Fluxbox

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KDE

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There’s no doubt Windows and Linux are not the same operating system under the hood. But, average users don’t look under the hood of an OS – not in Windows – not in Linux.

Average users simple want to point and click, and Linux based operating systems, by and large, allow them to do just that. To propose otherwise is disingenuous and suggests an uninformed basis for comparison.

If you’d like to get an handle on just how easy it is to run Ubuntu, you can download Ubuntu and run it alongside your current Windows system – just as if it was a normal Windows application. It’s a fabulous way to get a taste of Linux. Did I mention that it’s free?

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, downloads, Freeware, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Ubuntu, Windows 8

Windows 8 – No Thank You – I’ll Pass!

imageRudyard Kipling, in his Barrack-Room Ballads wrote“East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”, to describe the disconnect between two cultures – but, he might just as easily have been describing Microsoft’s attempt, with the development of Windows 8, to wed a Desktop/Laptop operating system and a Smartphone/Tablet operating system.

No doubt, Microsoft deserves a ton of credit for being adventuress and taking risks with the development of Windows 8. But, in re-imagining Windows “from the chipset to the user experience”, to quote Windows division president Steven Sinofsky – they have failed to meet their own target, which is, according to Microsoft – to give “users the same great experience whether they are on a tablet or on a desktop.” The experience, from my perspective is not so great.

Windows 8, developer preview (expires March 12, 2012) , was released yesterday for download and of course, I had to take the opportunity to test drive Microsoft’s latest OS offering. I’ve been running Windows 8 in a production environment for roughly 12 hours, so I’ve had an opportunity to develop some short term views.

The Windows 8 user interface is a radical departure from the traditional desktop UI and as such, it fails to satisfy my basic requirements. Since a desktop is my primary work unit, I have little interest in swiping features, keyboard shortcuts, slider menus and  an OS navigation system designed with a Tablet PC, or a Smartphone, in mind. As one of my friends observed – “ If I wanted my desktop to have the look and feel of a Tablet, I’d buy a Tablet.

Installation on a test system running Windows 7 (on which I kept settings), was smooth and flawless, with little user interaction required – much like a Win 7 install.

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Following startup and login, the surprises came in bunches – starting with the new Metro GUI. Super on a Tablet, I expect – but on my desktop – Yuck!

All application can be viewed as tiles, and are reachable with the click of a mouse, or accessed with the touch of a finger. The desktop, (shown on the far left tile in this screen capture), has been reconfigured as an application.

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The desktop (which I setup like my old Win 7 desktop), can also be accessed by cursoring to the left edge of the GUI – and voila! However, this is not an instinctive move.

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To take full advantage of Windows 8, users will need to develop a solid background of mouse gestures, and keyboard shortcuts.

Keyboard shortcuts include –

Alt-F4 – closes applications.

Windows key – switch between GUI and running application.

Windows key + R brings up the Run dialog box.

The Start menu has been replaced by the following virtually useless abomination – just look at what’s missing here. Including access to – shutdown. What were these guys thinking!

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Shutdown – Restart can be reached by clicking on Devices, which brings up the following – click on the power button and you’re out. In theory that is. Despite repeated attempts, I could not shutdown the system. I had no choice but to put the system into sleep mode.

Truthfully, I had to Google search “Windows 8 shutdown” to get a grip on the shutdown command – and, I can assure you, I was not alone. How sad is that in a new operating system.

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In my attempt to become familiar with Windows 8 as quickly as possible, I found myself relying on Windows Explorer more than normal – only to find THE RIBBON, has been incorporated into this venerable piece of Windows.

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This would have been a perfect opportunity for Microsoft to improve Windows Explorer with the addition of dual panes (very handy for geeks), but instead – we get the ribbon.

There’s little doubt that back behind the GUI, Windows 8 advances computing technology in a number of very substantial ways. Especially in that most important of areas – system security. But, this hybrid just doesn’t work for me.

Given that this is a developer preview, and at least one of the reasons for its general release is the feedback necessary to fine tune the system, I’m hoping to see a final product that more adequately reflects the “real” needs of desktop users.

In the meantime, within a day or two, Windows 8 on my test system will be deep sixed in favor of Windows 7 – in my view, the best Windows system to come out of Redmond.

If you are interested in checking out Windows 8 developer preview – you can download it here.

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Freeware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows 8

ARM and Windows 8 – The Future Of Personal Computing?

Are ARM processors the future of personal computing? Will they make the leap from powering only mobile and embedded devices, to the mainstream personal computer market? With Windows 8 support for ARM on the horizon, guest writer Erphan Al-Delgir sees some big changes on the way.

imageSince January 2011, when Microsoft debuted Windows 8 at the Consumer Electronics Show, there has been a lot of buzz about the upcoming features and capabilities in the Windows 8. One of the most significant new capabilities of Windows 8 is it’s ability to run on an ARM processor.

ARM, abbreviated for Advanced RISC Machine, processors have been prominent around smaller items over the course of the last decade, but have not been prominent in the personal computer market.

ARM-based processors are different from current PC offerings from Intel and AMD, in their way of handling instructions. ARM processors run on a RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computers) architecture. A RISC architecture system processes single instructions per clock cycle, at a very high speed.

For the past few decades, this has fit perfectly with the products ARM processors serviced because they only required one task or,  a number of minuscule tasks. This contrasts with a CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computers) architecture, which can follow complex sets of instructions. CISC processors (x86) processors have been more popular in PC’s because of the need for the processor to simultaneously run multiple complex operations.

Whereas CISC architecture based systems have heavy emphasis on the hardware (PCs), RISC architecture based systems have heavy emphasis on the software running. This is one of the reasons that ARM processors have received such little consumer exposure.

While ARM hasn’t been a household name over the last decade, it’s likely that each household has at least a handful of products, which are made possible through the use of ARM processors. Ranging from the first Palm Treo to the current generation iPhone – ARM processors have surely and steadily kept their market growing. ARM processors can be found in things as minuscule as digital clocks to pacemakers.

Microsoft’s announcement indicating the ability of Windows 8 primarily exposes two separate things. First, it’s intention of entering the tablet and netbook market through Windows 8, instead of a mobile operating system like Windows Phone 7. Whereas other popular tablets at the moment run “watered down” operating systems, such as the Apple iPad which runs a downplayed version of Mac OS X (iOS). Microsoft intends to integrate its amazing fully featured operating system environment onto tablets with the operating systems’ capability of running on an ARM system.

Microsoft’s other intention of supporting ARM in their newest operating system is the fact that the latest processors from companies like AMD and Intel are far beyond the needs of more than half of the PC market. While some people will need the latest variant of Intel’s offering (I confess, I will) most people will be quite happy with the features, and advantages, of ARM-based systems.

While CISC systems will continue to dominate the higher end of the personal computing world, ARM processors are only beginning to gain their share of the personal computer market. Microsoft’s stated goal is to implement ARM processors into tablets and netbooks running Windows 8. The advantages of ARM in these systems are much greater than the advantages of using CISC systems from Intel and AMD.

ARM processors require significantly less power and generate a lower amount of heat while running. Whereas a CISC processor needs to be cooled down by a fan, in most cases, a RISC processor is likely to stay much cooler and operate optimally without a fan.

ARM processors are also much less costly than Intel and AMD’s offerings. This is because ARM technology is licensed to manufacturers and developers to make their own variants of ARM processors. Whereas, with Intel and AMD, manufacturers must purchase the chips directly from Intel or AMD, with ARM they will be able to license the technology and develop the processors themselves at a cheaper cost.

Additionally, since RISC architecture is also simpler than the CISC architecture utilized by Intel and AMD, it’s likely that the overall manufacturing costs for ARM processors will be significantly less. The cost effectiveness of RISC technology is beneficial to both companies and consumers.

While I don’t see ARM as the market dominator in the next few years, I do see a lot of growth in the consumer market for this technology. With the backing of Microsoft, Apple, Qualcomm, Nvidia, and many others – this technology has the industries biggest and best behind it.

Guest writer Erphan Al-Delgir has just set up his first website, Teenly Political – “political views from a teenager who can’t seem to make up his mind.” 

It would be hard to argue that young people aren’t the future – so, take a peek at how a smart young guy like Erphan looks at the future – take a run over to his site.

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Filed under ARM, Guest Writers, Operating Systems, Point of View, Processors, Software, Windows 8, Windows Tips and Tools