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Windows 8 With Bing

Get Windows 8.1 for FREE?

Faced with a poor adoption rate for Windows 8, and no clear sign that this will improve any time soon, Microsoft is thinking about releasing a free or low-cost version of Windows 8.1 called “Windows 8.1 with Bing.” The theory is that, by providing a free (or perhaps low-cost) version of Windows 8.1, users of Windows XP, Vista, and 7, will finally be convinced to upgrade, driving up its market share.

Microsoft hopes to offset the massive loss of income by pushing more users towards services like Bing, OneDrive, and Office. This follows news from MWC 2014 that Microsoft is also considering a similar move for Windows Phone. Apparently desperate times call for desperate measures.

News of Windows 8.1 with Bing was leaked via the internet via a reliable and accurate source. As it stands, this new build appears to be a fairly normal version of Windows 8.1 Update 1. Microsoft insiders tell ZDNet that Windows 8.1 with Bing “is key to Microsoft’s experimentation with monetization.” As for why there doesn’t yet appear to be any money-grabbing monetization, it’s likely that this is just a very early build. We have no idea if Windows 8.1 with Bing will debut at the same time as Update 1 (due to be released on April 8 – the very day that all support for Windows XP sails into oblivion), or whether it’s following its own separate schedule.

The big question, of course, is how Microsoft actually intends to recoup the massive loss of revenue by giving away Windows 8.1 for free. There is some revenue to be gained from OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) and Skype subscriptions (both of which come pre-installed in Windows 8.1), but we’re talking relative peanuts to the billions of dollars that Windows licensing brings in per quarter. (Plus, OneDrive and Skype are available for all other Windows platforms anyway.) The most likely clue is the name of the build — Windows 8 has always had a tight integration with Bing, and 8.1 Update 1 further cements it.

Microsoft is working hard to make Bing much more than just a web search engine — it’s likely to become some kind of deep-querying analytical engine that links together all of your Microsoft devices, services,  and subscriptions — but still there’s no clue how Microsoft intends to make money from it. One thing we can be sure of is that Windows 9, coming in 2015, will try very hard to distance itself from the Windows 8 train wreck.

Still, it’s significant that Microsoft is even considering releasing a free version of Windows. If someone had suggested such an idea at the Old Microsoft, they probably would’ve been fired. To be honest, at this point in the Windows 8′s life cycle, and with the PC market continuing to fade, it’s probably not a bad idea for Microsoft to be exploring some drastic changes.

Microsoft obviously needs to change something if it wants to continue competing in the PC and smartphone markets. If it has to give away its operating systems to grow its market share until they’re non-trivial, then so be it. It’s not like Microsoft can’t afford to experiment for a while, especially if it’s a matter of life and death.

With April 8th only slightly more than a month away – it will be interesting to see how this all plays out.


The Sky Is Falling

Microsoft’s SkyDrive won’t be around much longer – at least not by that name. Microsoft has decided to ditch the SkyDrive name after a court dispute has been settled deciding that the use of the SkyDrive name was infringing on a trademark owned by British Sky Broadcasting Groups Sky.

Rather than continue battling in the courts, Microsoft has decided to re-brand SkyDrive, its cloud-based storage service, to OneDrive.

When asked why OneDrive, Microsoft put a positive spin on the name change with the following statement: “We know that increasingly people will have many devices in their lives and really want only one place to store their most important stuff – One place for all their photos and videos – One place for all of their important documents – One place that is seamlessly connected across all the devices they use. OneDrive for everything in your life”!

If you already had a SkyDrive or SkyDrive Pro account, nothing is going to change, you’ll just see a new name when you sign in. If you setup a new account, Microsoft will give you 7GB of free storage space when you sign up and add another 3GB free if you opt to use the service’s camera backup feature. If you need more storage space you can add on an extra 50GB for $25 a year, 100GB for $50 a year, and 200GB for $100 a year.

There’s nothing exciting about OneDrive to make it stand out in the crowded arena of online storage providers like DropBox, Google Drive or Box. If you want to make a comparison before jumping on the bandwagon, take a look at this article and review on CNET – which online storage service is right for you?

Microsoft Cloud – OneDrive:

OneDrive Pricing Plans:

Its Time To Say Goodbye To LogMeIn Free

After ten years, LogMeIn’s free remote access product is going away. Current users will be notified via email and in-product messages about the need to upgrade. While messaging has already started, users will be given 7 days to make a purchase decision about LogMeIn Pro.

Even though LogMeIn Free is gone, don’t panic: You can still find alternative and FREE remote-access tools. Whether you need to access a document, collaborate with a colleague, or support several PCs, try one of these free tools to get back into the game.

Our tech team has been using TeamViewer as our secondary remote access tool for years, and it has always been reliable. Simply download the program from the website, and then install it (or run it without installation, if you like) on both of the PCs you want to connect. During installation, you can also set the program to allow for unattended control. TeamViewer installs as both a server and a client, so you can use it to take control or to allow control.

TeamViewer 9’s cooler features include the ability to open multiple remote sessions in tabs (as in a browser), cut and paste between computers via the clipboard, and drag and drop files from your desktop to the remote desktop. It’s a mature, stable, practical tool for anyone’s remote-control needs. Note that you will get the occasional message about upgrading to the pay version if you use TeamViewer regularly to connect to a lot of different PCs.

VNC, or Virtual Network Computing, isn’t itself a product, but an open-source remote-control and display technology that’s implemented by Tight VNC (free), Ultra VNC (free) and RealVNC (free and pay), among other parties. VNC isn’t hard to use, but it’s not as simple as and TeamViewer, which don’t require user knowledge of IP addresses. To use VNC, install it on both the PCs you want to connect and then set them to listening. To control another PC, simply open the VNC viewer (client), enter the PC’s IP address, and have at it. is another remote access tool my team uses on a regular basis. is a web-based meeting service (free and pay) from LogMeIn that also provides remote control. It’s convenient for impromptu support in that all you need on the controlling PC is a Web browser. The user with the computer that will host the meeting (and offer control) simply surfs to the site, selects Start Meeting, and downloads a file.

After running the file, the meeting originator passes the provided nine-digit passcode to the user or users on the other end, who in turn enter the passcode in the Join Meeting field on the homepage. The meeting originator’s desktop will appear in the browser. Once remote control is granted, you can chat, send files, and more. isn’t suited for unattended remote control, which makes it only a partial replacement for LogMeIn.

WebEx Free
Most users think of WebEx as a tool for multiuser boardroom meetings, but it’s also perfectly suitable for small-scale, live (not unattended) remote control and support. WebEx works a little differently from in that installing software is required at both ends, but that’s a relatively painless process.

Once users have joined the meeting, initially they can only view the originator’s desktop, but the originator can make another person the presenter, pass control over the mouse and keyboard, and share files, chat, and utilize webcams for face-to-face interaction. There’s a bit of a learning curve if you stray from the main features (available from the usual drop-down panel at the top of the display), but overall WebEx is quite easy to use. 

Most importantly – Don’t get spoofed
Because of the popularity of remote-control and remote-meeting services, the Web is ripe with spoofed websites (those that look very much like the correct one, but aren’t) that will attempt to lure you in if you don’t type the URL correctly. Downloading software from these sites can be dangerous to your computer’s health, as well as to your wallet. This is something we talk about all the time.

The correct website addresses for the services I’ve mentioned above are:

TeamViewer —
RealVNC — —
WebEx Free —

The ability to access and control a PC remotely is a must for workers and IT administrators alike. If you really love one of these free alternatives, consider throwing a few bucks to the developer. Who knows: Your contribution could help to keep the FREE program going for everyone.

Internet Privacy

Internet Privacy – is there such a thing? One of the questions we hear often is “why do I keep getting bombarded with ads for things I’ve just searched for in Google”? The primary reason is that Google indexes, stores and remembers your search criteria every time you use their search engine.

Now – in some cases this might be to your advantage but…. do you really want Google or BING remembering everything you do on the internet?

Here’s what normally happens:
When you search Google and click on a link, the search term you used is usually sent to that site, along with your browser and computer information which can often be used to uniquely identify YOU! Now that’s pretty creepy, but who cares about some random site> Those sites usually have or host 3
rd party ads and those 3rd parties build profiles about you using your information and that’s why all those ads follow you everywhere you go.

Ok – so that’s a little alarming but who cares about some 3rd party ads??? Keep in mind that your profile(s) can be sold to other online advertisers (yes – Google does this regularly) and your information could potentially end up in places or with companies whom you have no control over.  But that’s not all… your innocent searches are saved and these “saved” searches can be legally requested or a bad Google employee could go snooping or Google could get hacked (all of these things have already happened).

So what can you do??? might be the answer. DuckDuckGo is an open source search engine that allows you to browse the internet anonymously and find things pretty much instantly making your searches efficient, powerful and relevant.

DuckDuckGo brings back similar results as many other search engines on the market; however, it offers a few features that are worth a second look for the savvy Web searcher. For example:

  • DuckDuckGo’s results pages are not paginated, making it easy to scroll down and find what you’re looking for quickly.
  • Favicons (the small images that show up in address bar, unique to each site) are displayed next to search results for instant recognition of your favorite sites.
  • Instant answers, called “zero-click info”, show up delineated by a red outline at the top of your results, depending on what your search query is.

DuckDuckGo search shortcuts:
DuckDuckGo gives searchers the ability to search within any site, using either the dropdown menu next to the main search box, or the “bang” search shortcut (an exclamation point used in tandem with the name of the Web site). There are hundreds of DuckDuckGo bang shortcuts, covering a multitude of sites varying in topics from research to entertainment.

In addition to advanced site search, DuckDuckGo offers what they call goodies, an intriguing array of all kinds of search shortcuts, anything from special keyboard shortcuts to specialized cheat sheets.

Give it a try:

You can also easily add this search engine plug-in to your browser so you can automatically protect yourself when you browse. It works with pretty much everything – Internet Explorer, FireFox , Google Chrome, iPhones, iPads and Android devices

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 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 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, 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:

Google Chromecast

Chromecast is a $35 streaming dongle that plugs into your TV’s HDMI port and plays audio/video content on a high-definition TV using your Wi-Fi connection.

The basics: what it is and what it does:
You can use it to stream online videos from YouTube, Netflix and elsewhere, and use your computer, mobile phone or tablet as a remote control. It doesn’t have any kind of separate app store or user interface on your TV – everything gets controlled from your PC or mobile device.

The key word here is control: Your phone doesn’t stream videos directly to your Chromecast dongle. Instead, it just tells the device which video it should stream from the cloud. That means that you can use your phone for something else, or even turn it off, once the stream begins. This also helps preserve your smartphone battery

This kind of remote control capability only works with apps and sites that directly support Chromecast. In addition to that, users can also stream any web content directly from their computer’s Chrome browser, as long as they have a special Chrome extension installed.

The setup:
The setup is remarkably easy if you follow Google’s directions and download the setup app on your computer or mobile device.  Just get those apps, and the setup is literally done in two minutes. Plug the dongle into your TV, connect it to a power source and fire up the app on your computer or mobile device. Enter the password of your local Wi-Fi network, and you’re good to go.

Streaming Netflix:
Chromecast is a great device for Netflix viewing: Streams look as good as on any other device and navigating the Netflix catalog on a computer or mobile device works much better than on a connected device like the older WII we have for streaming Netflix.

Streaming YouTube:
The other use for Chromecast right now is streaming videos from YouTube. One limitation though is that streaming videos to Chromecast from your PC is only supported if you are on, and not if the video is embedded in a third-party website. That means that you’ll need to click through to before you can start watching on the big screen.

When Chromecast was introduced it was thought that the HDMI-CEC standard would be its secret killer feature and it is. Chromecast can automatically turn on TVs that support HDMI-CEC and even change the HDMI input, switching from live TV to whichever video you selected on your mobile device.  One complaint is that turning on the TV doesn’t work if you plug your Chromecast unit into the TV’s USB port, which is why it makes sense to use the extra power adapter that Google ships with the device instead of USB.

Netflix and YouTube are clearly just the beginning for Chromecast. Hulu, Vimeo, HBO Go and others have already pledged their support, and many developers have begun creating apps and games for the device. All of this means that Chromecast will get substantially better over the months to come.

No additional monthly fees and only $35 to bring Netflix to a TV in your bedroom or den is really a no brainer even if you already have a smart TV, or watch Netflix with the game console that’s otherwise collecting dust in your living room. The device makes it easy to bring online video to the living room or kid’s room and in turn makes TV watching a lot more enjoyable. I’ve just ordered 3 more dongles for 2 TV’s at home and one here at the office.

More information is available here:

Coin To Replace Credit Cards

The title may seem like we’re taking agiant step backwards… but read on….

Coin is a new app and gadget that combines all of your credit and debit accounts into a single card.

If your wallet’s starting to get a little too thick to fit in your pocket, Coin might be able to lighten your load. That’s Coin, not coins.

It looks no different than a standard credit card, but it’s actually a small device that can act as a credit card, debit card or gift card. The device is available for pre-order and expected to start shipping next summer.

Coin CEO Kanishk Parashar said that the company was born from the ashes of the failed company Smart Market. That app, another mobile payment system, failed to notify customers when they were near a store that accepted the app. “There was no need for a card or wallet, but we didn’t see payments going through the system,” he told reporters.

Coin isn’t another system of payment, but a way of uniting several different methods of payment into a single device. Coin users plug a magnetic strip reader into a smartphone, swipe their cards, and sync their information through the company’s app.

In order to make a payment, users tap a button on the Coin card and pick which account they want to pay with, whether it’s a business credit card or a personal debit card. After picking an account, the Coin card is swiped just like using any other card.

It may seem a little risky to keep all your financial accounts bound to a single card. However, Parashar and his colleagues have engineered security measures into Coin. All communication between the Coin card, app and servers are heavily encrypted. All your financial information would be secured.

In addition, Coin cards themselves broadcast a low-power Bluetooth signal that detects where your smartphone is. It works on the concept of being on a leash. If you’re walking away from your card and go out of range of the Bluetooth, Coin locks itself from use and your iPhone will then signal you with an alert.

But even if you miss that alert, you don’t have to worry about other people using your card. After a certain period of time (determined by the user), Coin will automatically
deactivate and stop other people from using it.

Coin is currently available for pre-order for $50. It may seem like a hefty price to pay for a lighter wallet, but Coin executives are optimistic.

I see this as a big step forward in mobile payment processing and simplification but believe that the ultimate solution would be for your smart phone to manage and make all your mobile payments as well as manage all the different courtesy and awards cards stores hand out today.

For additional info:
Watch the video on YouTube here:

Massachusetts Enacts Sales Tax on Computer Services

On July 31st 2013, Massachusetts law makers quietly enacted a new sales tax regulation hidden within the much reported on Gasoline and Tobacco tax increases.

Many IT service providers are still not even aware of this new regulation or how it will affect both their business and that of their clients.

Basically, effective July 31st, Computer Service providers and consultants are now required to charge 6.25% sales tax on all professional services relating to the services defined in the NEW definition of “services”.

The “Legal Speak”
According to The Mass Department of Revenue (DOR)   “The term “Services” shall be limited to the following items, telecommunications services, computer system design services and the modification, integration, enhancement, installation, or configuration of standardized or prewritten software.

The application of the sales and use tax to Computer/Software Services will not apply to personal or professional services that do not themselves constitute computer system design. Or software modification services and that are not directly related to a particular system integration project involving the sale of computer hardware or software. Two examples of such non-taxable and professional services may include (1) consulting and evaluation services with respect to existing computer systems to identify deficiencies and needs and (2) services to prepare a business to use modified software, such as training.”

The DOR intends to provide “additional guidance” in the future regarding application of this services tax. The initial guidance provided by the state, as stated in TIR 13-10, is currently very limited and the law, in its current iteration, is very open ended and as should expected, favors the State and not the consumer of these types of services.

So, in a real life example, this means that when a consumer purchases a piece of software (say an antivirus program)and then hires a third party (computer guy) to install and configure that software, the third party (computer guy) is required to charge the consumer 6.25% sales tax on the hourly rate charged to perform the installation.

Another example – when a consumer buys a new computer system and then engages a computer service company to install and configure it for them – the computer guy must charge sales tax on the service rate he charges to perform this work. Business network service and installations will incur the same 6.25% sales tax as well.

One more example – If you or your company hires a web designer/consultant to build, update and/or modify your website, this type of service is now taxable as well.

My interpretation – As we see it, this impacts almost all of our clients and the services that we provide and every home or business computer user that hires a third party to perform pretty much any service on their computers and networks! We have reached out to our tax accountant as well as the Mass DOR to get a more exact definition and will report any new information we receive.

I’ve personally called around to dozens of computer service providers both large and small throughout the South Shore and in every single instance, the Service providers are still operating under the “old” tax regulations and have not yet adopted these new requirements. It’s only a matter of time – when these companies start seeing the new online ST-9 sales tax reporting forms requiring that they separately report and pay their service tax liabilities – they will be playing and paying catch up with the Mass DOR.

I’ll be talking about this with Kevin Tocci, Monday night between 6:30 and 7:00 on Monday Night Talk on 95.9 WATD. I’ll also be discussing it with Rob Hakala and Lisa Azizian on my regular Tuesday morning spot on the South Shore’s Morning News Show at 8:11am, also on WATD. Tune in or you can listen LIVE on the website at

Link to the new law as posted on MASS DOR website:

Article/post in The Boston Business Journal:

If you want to be even more confused about this law, have a look at this site:


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