Disgruntled Windows 8 Users

Disgruntled Windows 8 users: there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel. ZDNet reports that Microsoft is planning to release a Windows 9 “technology preview” sometime between the end of September and the beginning of October. In order to install the preview, you’ll have to agree to receive automatic monthly updates, but the preview will be publicly available for anyone interested in testing out the Threshold operating system.

No information was revealed regarding what the technology preview will consist of, but we know that Windows 9 will feature a host of updates and improvements over Windows 8. The return of the Start menu is certainly at the top of the list, but Microsoft is also expected to bring Cortana to the new OS. The voice-activated digital assistant was met with excitement when it was announced earlier in the year and could be a major attribute for Windows going forward.

Microsoft released several previews for Windows 8 before the official launch, but the company was working on a very different release schedule at the time. In fact, it was more than a year after the first Windows 8 developer preview was released that the OS went on sale. On the other hand, Microsoft is expected to release Windows 9 in the spring of 2015.

For additional information check out the following links or simply Google Windows 9:



Smartphone Photo Management Made Easy

It’s hard to imagine that just a few short years ago, we were all using digital cameras with removable storage cards to take and store our photos. Vacation time used to be when we took the most photos.   These days, many of us would be completely lost if we didn’t have a smart phone in our pocket to record every little thing that happened during a normal day. I even find myself taking pictures of parts I need to refer back to as well as documents and instructions. The day of the pocket notepad and pen is long gone.

The challenge today is in managing all of this digital data. The pre-installed apps that come with a mobile device are usually sorely lacking in features. Aside from editing and adding titles to your photos, we all need a way to easily upload and share our images with family, friends and more importantly with our other digital devices and computer systems. Here are two good add-on options for organizing your smartphone photos and to keep your Cape photos separate from your Nantasket Beach photos.

1: Flickr – automatically uploads smartphone photos to a “cloud-based” Flickr account, so you can access them from your computer or table, not just your phone. Flickr offers one terabyte of free cloud storage, enough for upwards of 500,000 digital images. You can later download the photos to your computer and adding tags and titles so that you can use a keyword search to find them later. Both the App and the storage are free, and the images are stored at full resolution, with no compression, You can even arrange your photos into “collections” or ”sets” on Flickr to keep them organized. Check it out at www.flickr.com

2: Picturelife – Picturelife doesn’t just automatically upload your smartphone photos to the cloud, it also uploads from your computer and social-media pages, consolidating all of your digital images in one place. Only the first 1,700 or so of your photos are stored for free, however. To store up to 34,000 photos will cost you $7.00 per month…up to 100,000 is only $15.00 per month. As with Flickr, uploaded images are saved at full resolution and can be sorted into albums. You can also add keywords :”tags” to them for better searching. www.Picturelife.com

The Tablet Wars

Surface Pro 3 – the tablet that can replace your laptop or even a MacBook Pro? That’s the new tagline for the Surface Pro 3 and the theme of the new television commercials.

Microsoft released their new Surface Pro 3 last Friday. After less-than-stellar sales and rumored to have lost over $1.2 BILLION dollars on the Surface 1 and 2 they’re hoping that the 3rd time is a charm.

Its obvious Microsoft got off to a rocky start with its first two Surface Pros, but I still think there’s a lot to like in the laptop/tablet hybrids. With their aggressive update schedule, we’re finally seeing the third Surface Pro just a year and a half after the first one hit store shelves.

The Good
It’s thinner and lighter even though it has a larger 12”display.
New kickstand design with more angle flexibility
New keyboard/cover design with backlit keys and improved trackpad.
Comes bundled with a battery powered stylus/pen.
The top button on the stylus opens OneNote.
Writing or drawing on the screen is much like drawing on a piece of paper.

The Bad
No built-in storage for the bundled stylus.
The keyboard is not included ($129.00 additional)
Battery life has not improved over the Pro 2. Microsoft claims up to 9 hours browsing websites.

To sweeten the pot even more – if you bought a Macbook Air only to find it doesn’t quite fill your “laptop” needs, Microsoft is offering up to a $650 trade-in allowance through July 31st.

When it comes to price, the Surface Pro 3 is basically on par with the MacBook Air. The Surface Pro 3 starts out cheaper at $799 — but that’s for a Core i3 model with only 64 GB of storage. The Core i5 Surface Pro 3 with a 128 GB SSD has both the same basic hardware and the same $999 price tag as the base 13-inch MacBook Air. The Core i7 will hit the streets at $1,949 with 512GB of storage. There’s also a $199.00 docking station and an Ethernet adapter available.

If you want to take a Surface Pro 3 for a test drive just visit your local Best Buy or Staples. They have the entry level units in stock and ready for sale. I’ll have a more thorough review once the higher end units are shipping and in use here at ACTSmart.

You can visit the Microsoft store on the web for additional information or check out this Wall Street Journal first Look video

Is Your Computer Watching You?

Computer hacker forums lit up last week as Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and police in 17 countries began knocking on doors, seizing computers and making arrests.

On the popular websites where cyber criminals buy and sell software kits and help each other solve problems, hackers issued warnings about police visits to their homes.

The hackers quickly guessed that a major crackdown was underway on users of the malicious software known as Blackshades.

The FBI and prosecutors in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office announced the results of that probe on Monday: More than 90 arrests worldwide.

Blackshades has been circulating for years now. It’s a remote access Trojan that gives the attacker a great deal of control over the victim’s machine. It behaves like a ‘worm’ in that it contains self-propagation programming to facilitate its spreading to other machines.

The low price makes it an attractive option for low level cybercriminals or any cybercriminal that simply wants one extra weapon in their arsenal.

The malware sells for as little as $40 and it can be used to hijack computers remotely and turn on computer webcams, access hard drives and capture keystrokes to steal passwords — without victims ever knowing it.

Criminals have used Blackshades to commit everything from extortion to bank fraud, the FBI said.

Last week, watching it all play out were about two dozen FBI cybercrime investigators holed up in the New York FBI’s special operations center, high above lower Manhattan.

Rows of computer screens flickered with updates from police in Germany, Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands and elsewhere. Investigators followed along in real time as hundreds of search warrants were executed and suspects were interviewed.

The sweep, capping a two-year operation, is one of the largest global cybercrime crackdowns ever. It was coordinated so suspects didn’t have time to destroy evidence. Among those arrested, in Moldova, was a Swedish hacker who was a co-creator of Blackshades.

“The charges unsealed today should put cyber criminals around the world on notice stated the chief of the FBI’s cybercrime investigations in New York. “If you think you can hide behind your computer screen — think again. ”

What Can You Do?
If you don’t use your webcam you should simply disable it to avoid this type of problem. My Dad immediately put a piece of masking tape over the built in webcam on his computer… Not very hi-tech but certainly an effective security precaution

Keeping your anti-virus and anti-malware protection working and fully up to date can help protect you from this kind of problem but it’s not fool proof.

Many webcam manufacturers don’t require or even mention that the user should change the default password so even inexperienced hackers already have ½ the battle won when they infect a system.

Parents should also monitor their kids laptops, smart phones, home monitoring cameras and even baby monitors – anything with an internet connected webcam or camera installed. All of these devices are susceptible to hackers and malware.

Here’s an article from Symantec detailing a number of things we should all do for better webcam security.

End of an Era

Going, Going, Gone!
Unless you’ve been living in a cave you know that on April 8, Microsoft will stop supporting their ancient operating system – Windows XP. 

You might think that an operating system that was actually engineered in the late 90s would be fully obsolete and unused by now. After all, since XP came out, Microsoft has released several major replacement versions: Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8 (recently upgraded to Windows 8.1).

But there’s something about Windows XP. It’s basic, stable, fast enough, and good enough for a lot of people. It’s still running on more than 10 percent of the world’s computers.

Still, it’s time has come. It’s hard to keep an operating system this old up to snuff in today’s fast paced online environment. XP works, but it’s not built to the same security level as modern operating systems. Microsoft doesn’t want to keep writing new security upgrades for it, so on April 8, its stopping. No more security updates. No more support. Your XP computer will still work, but Microsoft won’t help you anymore. Microsoft is pretty harsh about it too, stating: “XP cannot be considered safe to use after support ends.”

Microsoft has been urging us to upgrade for a long time. There’s even a site that tells you when your XP world will end: AmIRunningXP.com. Microsoft also has more info on what “end of support” means. To be fair, moving off XP would be a smart thing to do. Newer operating systems are easier to use (at least most of them), they run the cool new apps, and they’re definitely safer. But how do you move from an old computer that’s running XP into the modern era? There’s a lot of advice on how to make the transition. Not all of it good. Here are some good and bad options.

Bad idea #1: Just don’t worry about it
It’s not like Windows XP computers will magically stop working on April 9. So don’t worry about it; just keep on using it.

Why is this a bad idea? The problem with an old operating system is that it’s not up to speed with modern attacks. Operating systems need to be patched (updated) frequently to keep them safe from data thieves, scammers, viruses, and the like. After April 8, there will be no more updates coming.

But if you plan to keep going with XP for a while, at least make sure you’re on the last, ultimate version of it, called Service Pack 3. After April 8, you won’t be able to upgrade. Windows’ own update utility should manage this for you. Make sure it’s done so. 

Microsoft says it will continue to provide updates to its “anti-malware signatures and engine for Windows XP users through July 14, 2015,” so you can continue to use the company’s antivirus app, Microsoft Security Essentials. That is, assuming you already have MSE installed and running. After April 8, it won’t be available for download. You might even find another antivirus tool from a third party but don’t get too comfortable. According to Microsoft, even up-to-date security software can’t save you if the operating system itself isn’t secure. And Windows XP just isn’t secure. 

So yes, you can keep using XP, but not without risk. You probably don’t want it connected to the Internet, and even plugging a USB drive into it could be unsafe.

Bad idea #2: Upgrade to Windows 8, like Microsoft wants you to
Why not get the latest version of Windows? It’s so shiny!

There are two big reasons why this is a bad idea. The first: It probably won’t work. Your old Win XP machine likely does not have the horsepower, the hard disk space, or the hardware to run Windows 8. 

Second: You’ll hate it. Windows 8 (including 8.1) has two separate interfaces. There’s a Windows desktop-like one in there, which you’ll probably find comfortable, but you have to go through the touchscreen-centric primary interface to get to it. That’s fine if you have a tablet. But your XP machine is no tablet.  You can mostly avoid that tile-based, touchscreen interface, but not completely. It pops up from time to time, usually when you’re in a hurry and stressed out, and it’s frustrating when it happens.

Bad idea #3: Move to Linux
The geek operating system (sorry, geeks) called Linux is stable, fast, cheap, and free, and will run on your old XP machine better than Windows 8 will. The nerds will tell you it’ll do everything that XP will do. They’re right…. But here’s why it’s a bad idea: Linux really is a platform for nerds. Few people you know — unless you know a lot of programmers — will be able to help you out. And your Windows software won’t work. If you have apps you like, you’ll have to find Linux equivalents for them. You’re better off moving to a consumer-friendly operating system.

Better idea #1: Upgrade to Windows 7
The version of Windows that predates Windows 8 is really very good. It’s stable and similar enough to Windows XP that a transition will not be difficult.

It’s not a perfect solution, though. Your computer may not have the juice to run Windows 7, either, as it actually takes a slightly more powerful computer to run Windows 7 well than Windows 8. But you can, for the time being still buy Windows 7 (even though it’s not clear if Microsoft is still manufacturing Win 7 disks), and some hardware vendors still sell computers with Windows 7 installed on them.

Microsoft really wants you on Windows 8 and continues to remind us that Windows 8 is more secure, faster, and uses less energy than Windows 7. But the easiest new version of Windows to learn after Windows XP is Windows 7, so if you’re just using Windows to run a particular application, it’s a very good option.

Better idea #2: Get a Mac
Interestingly enough, it’s easier to move from Windows XP to the Macintosh operating system, OS X, than to Windows 8.1. There are many small differences, but OS X is pretty similar to Windows XP (and every other version of Windows other than Windows 8). It doesn’t take people very long to adapt. Most (though not all) good PC applications are available in Mac versions, too, and your data files should transfer over just fine.

It’s an expensive move, though. The cheapest new Mac costs $600 (the entry-level Mac Mini can use the screen, mouse, and keyboard from your old Windows computer). Laptops start at $1000 and desktops at $1,300. Complete Windows machines today start in the $500 range, or very nicely equipped at about $800. If you can afford it and you’re not married to specific Windows XP software, a new Mac might be the perfect answer for you.

You’re not alone
Why are people still using Windows XP? Some people keep old machines for specific purposes, like running XP-only software. Some are just of the opinion that if they have a computer that works for what they want, there’s no reason to spend money on an upgrade.

Just because a manufacturer deems one of its products obsolete, it doesn’t mean everyone who uses the product has to stop using it immediately. However, over time, an old product in the modern world will present challenges: It will be less safe, there won’t be people  trained to fix it, or some other component it relies on will fail, and replacements will no longer be available. When you get into this portion of the lifecycle, you might be forced to move on. You’ll have a lot of options when it’s time to do so — they just might not be the options the manufacturer recommends.

Windows 8 Product Activation

Microsoft introduced product activation with the release of Windows XP. Over the years Microsoft has refined the experience. Windows 8 takes it a step further, in fact, product activation is invisible. When you setup Windows 8 on a new computer, you have to initially enter the product key (unlike Windows 7 which required this during the Out of Box Experience). The minute Windows 8 detects an Internet Connection it activates itself. Windows 8 does not have the old 30 day grace period familiar to Windows Vista and Windows 7 users.

What happens if you don’t have Internet access? You can continue to run Windows 8 including Metro applications without any hindrance, you just won’t be able to access certain customization options such as the ability to change your Start Screen background, start screen and color scheme. A watermark will also become apparent on screen and cannot be hidden, it even appears on your programs, so if you watching a full screen movie, you will see a watermark.

Activation still supports tradition phone activation, so if you are nowhere near an Internet activation, you should not have to worry. Managing your genuine status in Windows 8 is also much easier. You can view your partial product key (something that required command line operations in previous versions of Windows), so if you have multiple copies of Windows 8 installed on different PC’s throughout your home, you can match and compare. If you need to purchase an additional license, you can also do so from the new Genuine Center in Windows 8.

One of the improvements Microsoft is making to Activation 3.0 for newly built machines that come preloaded with Windows 8, you won’t have a COA (Certificate of Authenticity) sticker attached to the machine anymore. Instead, this will be embedded in the BIOS. This will avoid product keys from being compromised and the larger OEMs like Dell, HP and Lenovo will buy what they need.

For additional information visit this CNET article:

If you ever experience a Windows 8 activation issue you may find the answer here:

Cha Cha Cha Changes

The Computer industry has to change to grow so this news is all relative to that process.

Dell’s expected layoff is expected to begin this week, and over 15,000 people may lose their jobs worldwide.

Insiders say that the PC giant’s restructuring operation has resulted in cuts in every department, “some of these have already been downsized and are now being told to cut 15% more heads.”

The restructuring efforts of the now privately-owned PC maker are down to a falling PC market, slumping profit margins and a slow start in the mobile realm where Apple, Samsung and Google now dominate. As part of the company revamp, founder Michael Dell is trying to focus on enterprise-related services including cloud and mobile systems — but this means that staff in sectors unrelated to the new business focus are at risk.

One of the sources predicting the cuts — which are expected to hit at least 15,000 people – states this will be “a bloodbath” when it arrives. The severance package is said to include two months’ pay plus an extra week for each year in Dell’s employ, a bonus at 75 percent, health insurance for 18 months in the U.S. and some outplacement services available, at least stateside.

Dell’s current chief financial officer, Brian Gladden, will soon be leaving Dell in order to “pursue career interests outside of Dell,” and will be replaced by the Texas-based firm’s chief accounting officer, Thomas Sweet.

Last week, Dell announced a partnership with Cumulus Networks to deliver Linux-based, bare-metal networking devices to businesses, to develop their “vision of the new data center networking model is an open ecosystem where customers can choose among various industry-standard networking gear, network applications and network operating systems to meet their business needs.”

Also last week – Lenovo purchased IBM’s Server business for $2.3 billion and the Motorola Mobility Smartphone Unit for $2.9 billion.

10 years ago Lenovo bought IBM’s money-losing ThinkPad business for $1.75 billion with Lenovo becoming the industry leader in personal computers in 2012. The IBM Server buy will heighten the competition for Michael Dell bringing Lenovo’s server market share from 2% to 14%. Perhaps this helps explain the massive layoffs slated for Dell employees later on this week.

Moving forward – it will most certainly be the tablet and smartphone manufacturers that will drive technology and the computing industry of our future. Where the dust will settle by weeks end is anyone’s guess. Hold on to your hats and enjoy the ride as we, the consumers, are dragged, kicking and screaming into the next big technology adventure.

Tech Stuff We Lost In 2013

In memoriam here’s some “tech stuff” we won’t have to kick around in 2014.

1: Google is always quick to introduce new things and just a fast to kick an ill-conceived product to the curb. Say goodbye to Google’s Reader and iGoogle.  Reader has fallen victim as the popularity of RSS feeds has steadily declined over the past few years and iGoogle, a cool web app that allowed one to place widgets and other cool stuff on our iGoogle home pages just wasn’t interesting enough to keep our attention.

2: Twitter acquired then shortly thereafter pulled the plug on Posterous. Launched way back in 2008, it was supposed to challenge Tumblr as a blogging platform but since the acquisition by Twitter in 2011 it was totally ignored – only a matter of time…

3: Microsoft even dropped an old standby in 2013. How many hundreds of millions of Hot Mail users were moved over to Outlook.com. The transition was fairly seamless and since the service remains free for these users, no harm – no foul.

4: Tag, you’re out: another Microsoft wannabe. You may not even have heard of or seen it but this product was supposed to be the QR Code of the future. Unfortunately, Microsoft couldn’t unseat the original QR Code so Tag fell by the wayside. Oh, and for those folks who jumped on the Microsoft Tag bandwagon, Microsoft is giving you until August 19, 2015 to replace their scan-friendly platform.

5: Farewell to AltaVista, once the best of the bunch in search engines and long before Internet Search meant Google. AltaVista first appeared on the search engine scene in December of 1995 indexing around 20 million web pages at a time when 20 million was considered a lot of pages. Today, Google indexes pages in the tens of billions.  AltaVista was purchased by Oveture in 2003 and then Yahoo bought Overture a year later. If you type in Altavista today, you’ll be taken right to Yahoo’s search. I’d choose Google instead.

6: Before iTunes… there was Winamp: a compact media player first released back in 1997. It set itself apart from the pack with a “skinnable” interface and every time the software booted, you were faced with a screen proclaiming “it really whips the llama’s a$$”. Winamp was bought by AOL in 1999 for $400 million. Winamp still has millions of users worldwide and employees estimate its yearly revenue at $6 million. December 20th 2013 was Winamp’s day of reckoning.

Here’s a few more: ESPN dropped its 3D sports channel, Apple quietly discontinued its Cards greeting card app replaced by iPhoto and Panasonic killed off Plasma TV’s instead moving towards the 4k Ultra HD technology.

What can we look forward to in 2014? Let’s wait until CES 2014 (Consumer Electronics Show) takes place January 7th through the 10th to delve further. Here’s a link from TechRadar.com to whet your appetite

58 Years Tracking Santa

For the past 58 years, various incarnations of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) have been tracking Santa’s progress across the globe as he delivers presents to all the good boys and girls, and each year a new degree of technology has been added to the process.

The tradition began in 1955 after a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. advertisement misprinted the telephone number for children to call Santa. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone number put kids through to the CONAD Commander-in-Chief’s operations “hotline.” The Director of Operations at the time, Colonel Harry Shoup, had his staff check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole. Children who called were given updates on his location, and a tradition was born.

This year, NORADSanta.org features an advent calendar of interactive games, a library of reading materials, holiday music and videos featuring Santa’s journey across the globe.

There was a flurry of controversy this year expressing concern about the image of fighter jets accompanying Santa on his rounds but all of us true believers know the jets could never keep up with Santa anyway.

NORAD’s Santa tracker is supported by corporate sponsorship, not the military budget — “Everything from computer servers, web site design, video imaging, Santa’s tracking map, and telephone services are donated,” says the Our Team page.

The most prominent sponsor is Microsoft, plugging its Internet Explorer. But there’s support across other operating systems as well: For families on the go, NORAD Tracks Santa is available as both an iOS and Android app — this year features also include two games, a countdown to Santa’s arrival and (of course) a tracker to indicate where Santa is currently.

YouTube users can subscribe to the NORAD Tracks Santa YouTube feed, which will be posting animated updates throughout the day, and of course Twitter will provide “up-to-the-minute information” on his progress.

Finally – Google jumped on the bandwagon as well -Android users can download Google’s Santa Tracker, which offers real-time maps and another selection of games for Christmas Eve, plus the ability to beam everything to the big screen via Chromecast support.

For myself and the entire team at ACTSmart, here’s wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Its Looking Like An IPad Christmas

Tablets are sure to be some of the most popular gifts this holiday season. Both Apple’s new iPad Air and Amazon’s latest tablet, the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, will be atop a lot of gift lists. The iPad is the most popular tablet today, and the Air will help Apple continue its dominance in the market.

Although it’s been looking like an iPad Christmas, Amazon really wants to sell more Kindle Fire HDX tablets so to that end, here’s Jeff Bezos’s newest pitch:

Buy a Kindle Fire HDX tablet today, and we’ll give you nine months to finish paying for it.

Amazon started pushing its installment plan program this weekend, by splashing the offer on its home page.

The basics: It is letting customers pay for its $229 Kindle Fire HDX seven-inch tablet, or its $379 8.9-inch version, in four-part installment plans. Customers shell out 25 percent of the purchase price — plus tax and shipping charges – when they buy the tablet, and then spread out the remaining three payments in 90-day increments.

There aren’t a lot of catches with the offer — for instance, Amazon isn’t adding any interest charges to its installment plan. But there is one interesting twist spelled out in the relatively fine print: If you don’t cough up the rest of the money, Amazon may semi-brick your tablet: “Our remedies will include the right to deregister your Kindle Fire HDX device, which will block your ability to access Amazon content from your Kindle Fire HDX device.   

The new Kindle Fire upped Amazon’s tablet game, and it outshines the iPad in a number of ways:

Amazon Prime Movies/TV and Offline Viewing
One of the best things about Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets is their integration with Amazon’s content ecosystem and services. And perhaps the most noteworthy content feature is Amazon Prime subscribers’ ability to download Instant Videos for offline viewing.

Amazon Mayday Tech Support vs Apples Genius Bar
Apple has a fancy, modern-looking retail store located in your city or local mall. Its Genius Bar, or service area within the stores, helped redefined tech customer service during the past few years. But Amazon won’t be outdone, and as such, it launched its new Mayday button and service along with the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9.

You’ve probably already seen the TV commercials about this. Mayday connects you to a live “Amazon Tech Advisor” who can see your screen (but not you although YOU can see them) to help with whatever issues you may encounter.

Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 and Case Cost Less Than iPad Air
You can purchase a new 16GB Wi-Fi Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 tablet for $379 with “special offers,” which means deals and offers display on your tablet’s lock screen, or $394 without the special offers. The 16GB Wi-Fi iPad Air costs over $100 more at $499.

For the rest of the story, see the full article – 8 things the Kindle Fire HDX does that the iPad Air can’t here:


ActSmartDentalThe Most Dental IT Experience
on the South Shore!

David’s Blog Archives
Our Clients Say:
Everybody @ ActSmart is WONDERFUL! We are very relieved to have you on our team & know that we are in great hands. ~Leslie, Glivinski & Associates
Proud To Be:
Attention Dental Practices:

We Offer:
Follow Us: