Category: Computer Software

Why do I support DropBox and where do I see it be relevant?

Through this Website, I will cite and highlight Dropbox when I am talking about cloud-based file-share services and how they can be used.

One feature that I like about Dropbox is that it is not tied to a particular vendor like Microsoft or Apple. Here, you can benefit from the fact that you can share or exchange files with other users no matter their desktop or mobile computing platform. This includes the provision of first-party and third-party software that strengthens the link between the operating platforms and Dropbox.

This is extended to some NAS vendors providing software support for the Dropbox platform through desktop software or software that is part of the NAS’s operating system. Increasingly, Dropbox integration is becoming a function for many network-enabled multifunction printers where you could print from or scan to a Dropbox folder.  To the same extent, there are people who are building server-side software that integrates their server to the Dropbox platform, making it become an “on-ramp” or “shadow store” for Dropbox.

Like similar file-storage services, Dropbox is not a social network although it can work with Facebook and Twitter. For example, it can work as a file store for Facebook Groups as well as supporting single sign-on with these services.

There is a free entry-level allowance but you can buy more capacity or do things to increase capacity like inviting others to the Dropbox ecosystem so they integrate it with their regular computer. Some vendors like Samsung also provide free extra capacity to users who integrate it with their devices.

Dropbox has answered business’s needs by offering a business package that has secure encrypted storage, the ability to remotely unlink devices and other manageability expectations. This has even extended to having on one login a Dropbox personal account for personal data and a Dropbox For Business account for work data.

The main use I see for DropBox is to exchange a large number of files or large files like videos between two or more different people rather than serving simply as personal or business offsite storage.

For example, I would upload a large collection of photos or videos to a folder on Dropbox and share this folder with other people that I choose. Or it could be to pass a large document between two or more people as part of the revision process for that document. or want to work the one document across two different computers such as a desktop and an Ultrabook. Similarly, I may use Dropbox to create a reference library of documents such as reference manuals for business or for that shared property that you are responsible for.

What I see Dropbox as is simply a agile cross-platform invitation-only file exchange for individuals and small businesses.

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Want to check on what is being printed using Windows 8.1

Modern User Interface - Device Charm menu when print job is in progress

Modern User Interface – Device Charm menu when print job is in progress

Those of you who have moved to Windows 8 and 8.1 may have found it difficult to know what’s printing when you send out a print job to your printer. Here, you may be used to the “Devices And Printers” window since Windows Vista where you could click on the printer icon to check what print jobs are being printed at a given time.

Here this routine has been simplified in Windows 8 and is available in both the Desktop and the Modern UI views as a consolidated list. This is easier for those of you who have two or more printers like a laser printer that you run as a “printing press” alongside a baseline inkjet printer for ordinary document printing.

Modern User Interface (Metro User Interface)

  1. Bring forward Charms (hidden task-specific option buttons) on right side.
    Touchscreen users simply swipe from the top right-hand corner while mouse users move the pointer in to the top right-hand corner.
  2. Click or touch Devices.
    The “Check Printing Status” text lights up when a print job is pending or in progress
  3. Click “Check Printing Status” to view the jobs list
Right click on Printer icon in Desktop notification area to bring up these options when a print job is in progress

Right click on Printer icon in Desktop notification area to bring up these options when a print job is in progress

Traditional Desktop User Interface

  1. Right click Printer icon in Notifications area in Taskbar
  2. Click on Printer icon
  3. Click on Open All Active Printers for all jobs sent to all printers
  4. Click “name of printer” to show this printer
  5. Desktop UI users can also follow the Modern UI steps as another way to bring up the pending print jobs.

Microsoft could improve on this by having the Devices Charm change colour when a print job is in progress or change to a different colour when something needs attention.

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Official app for Facebook now on Windows 8.1

Facebook client for Windows 8Those of you who like using your Sony VAIO Tap 20, HP x2 Series, Sony VAIO Duo 11 or other Window 8 touch laptop to stalk on Facebook can now do so using a Facebook client that is written to be part of the operating system’s Modern user interface.

Here, you have a 3-pane dashboard with a presence list of the friends you interact with on the right-hand side, the News Feed in the centre of your screen and the grey “selection” menu on the left. The right hand top corner has a one-touch access point for status updates, pending friend requests and conversations that are taking place. There is the same ease in which you can browse what is available, including photos whether as a screen show or as a tiled arrangement.

I have even browsed through various photo albums in a “slide-show” view and the viewing experience comes across very smoothly. For example, when a photo initially appears, you see it looking soft and less detailed but it arrives with more detail coming through. There is the ability to zoom in on an image as well as flick through the slideshows.

Even mouse users, which covers most desktop users, are cared for because you can still use your rodent to scroll up and down using its thumbwheel. The thumbwheel works properly with scrolling the various columns for the News Feeds, the chat you are having, the presence list and the like independently – it depends on what you are actually hovering over. If you flip through photos in someone’s album, you can use the thumbwheel to “speed” through them. Using the SHIFT key with the thumbwheel allows you to detail in and out of the photos.

Its behaviour through a conversation is as expected but I would like to see a “typing” indicator so I can know if they are typing a reply at a particular moment.

This is certainly an application that appears to be mature from the start rather than one that is bug-ridden and failing too frequently. Give this a go on your Windows 8 laptop as something to work the Modern UI with.

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A rush to release software can leave gaping holes for bugs and exploits

Article

iOS 7.0.2 Is Here, And It Fixes The iPhone’s Major Security Hole | Gizmodo

My Comments

The recent release of the iOS 7 operating system, like with the iOS 6 operating system with its Apple Maps product, has shown something that is very real with the way computer software and hardware has been developed.

In the case of the iOS 7 operating system, there was a gap concerning the lockout system which required the user to key in a PIN number in to their iOS device but someone could bypass that requirement easily. Apple had released the iOS 7.0.2 update just lately to fix this bug that was missed through the development process for this operating system. This operating system and the devices it runs on are at an increased risk of this behaviour because Apple keeps the marketing hype high as possible for as long as possible because they see it as the consumer-facing mobile operating system for most people.

Similarly various functions in Windows 8 weren’t as polished as most of us would like them to be so we are expecting great things out of Windows 8.1 with some improved “polish” to these functions.

As well, the Apple Maps program which was to oust Google’s Maps from the iPhone and iPad was rushed and there have been issues where there has been misnavigation going on with this program.

This happens more so with anything that affects popular consumer-facing devices and programs. Here, the software developers are put under pressure by the vendor’s marketing team to get the operating system update, firmware or other programs released as soon as possible so that the product can be marketed and sold while the hype surrounding it is still alive. Then the vendor has to wait for the bug reports to come in, whether via their support channels or the technology press, so that these can be fixed and released as part of a point update.

I often deem a software version number of x.x.x, preferable with a middle number greater than 1, such as 8.1.1 or 7.1.2 as being a “mature” version of the software in question. This is because bugs including security exploits and performance weaknesses have been identified and rectified since the original release of the program.

As for iOS devices, I would recommend that those of you who are running iOS 6 to run iOS 7.0.2 or hold off upgrading until a higher version number, preferable a 7.1 number appears.

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Samsung’s Knox security platform available to consumers and small business

Article

Samsung opens up Knox security platform to all consumers

From the horse’s mouth

Samsung

Product Page

Lookout

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

With the increased trend for BYOD and smartphone/tablet-based computing, there has been the call for mobile device management and mobile application management in order to achieve the goal of corporate data security.

Typically the solutions that are being offered out there are very costly and require an in-house information-technology team to manage them. This also includes the requirement to implement corporate messaging systems like Microsoft Exchange ActiveDirectory and use them as data hubs for these systems. This kind of situation may not appeal to personal users who value the security of their personal data. Nor does it work well for small organisations where one person is effectively the “chief cook and bottle-washer” for that organisation. You may be lucky to benefit from this technology if you deal with an IT value-added reseller that works with these systems and pitches them to these organisations.

But the security realities are still the same, especially with personal data or if your business hub is your briefcase, a corner of a room at home, a small office, or a small shop.

Here, Samsung has opened up the Knox security platform for their Galaxy-based Android mobile devices in a manner that makes the platform available to everyone by partnering with Lookout . It implements sandboxing so you can corral private data and have it treated more securely compared to other data. This includes allowing applications that you pre-approve to touch that data and limit what they can do to the data. For larger business setups, it could allow business data to be “wiped off” the smartphone when a user leaves the business without personal data being affected, but this context could be implemented when a smartphone is being retired from active service or you effectively “hand the keys over” to someone else as, per se, part of selling your business.

One question that may need to be asked is whether this solution may allow many data corrals so you as a small-business operator or professional have greater control over data such as intellectual property that pertains to different contracts or a person who has business work but also does volunteer work for a charity.

At least Samsung have taken the step to offer enterprise-desired security solutions to the “rest of us” rather than fencing it off for the “big end of town” and is something that could be encouraged for data security or similar application classes.

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Software that can make a large display image touch-enabled now on sale

Article

Microsoft’s ‘touch screen’ for any surface goes on sale | Microsoft – CNET News

You Can Turn Any Surface Into a Touchscreen With a $150 App | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Ubi Interactive

Home Page

My Comments

You have hit on to the Windows 8 “Modern UI” as a way to start programs and have tried it on a touch-enabled Ultrabook. Or you have seen a computer desktop user interface projected on that wall and, to help the person who is operating that user interface, you point to key items on that image as a guide.

If you do want that touch-enabled user interface on a large wall, you would expect to pay heaps for a special projector and camera combination or a large touch-enabled LCD fiatscreen monitor. But Ubi Interactive, who is different from the Ubisoft games studio,  have integrated Microsoft’s Kinect technology implemented in the XBox 360 with a special camera sensor to allow you to use any old display system such as that economy data projector or a common flatscreen TV to make a projected image touch-interactive. Here, you just need to also purchase the Kinect for Windows camera kit for your WIndows PC but it can work with your XBox’s Kinect camera but is not guaranteed to do so.

It honours the gesture-based touch practices like sweeping across the screen to pan or “pinching” to zoom in and out because the display combination is seen by Windows 8 as the same as a typical touchscreen display.

The software adds US$149 to the equation for a single interactive point on a 45” screen but you can option up to larger screen areas and increased points of interactivity for up to US$1499. I would personally like to see the cheaper versions allow two-finger interactivity in a similar vein to what is expected for a device’s touchscreen so you can “spin” or “pinch-to-zoom” on the display rather than just point.

But what I see of this is that a large touchscreen display can be built around hardware you can easily get your hands on at most computer or consumer-electronics stores just by adding the software. Then think of playing a strategy game like Civilization V on the living-room wall just by pointing out units to be moved or engaged.

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What about integrating NAS devices and cloud storage in desktop media-management software

There is a distinct reality that faces people who use regular computers as part of their personal or business media workflow. This is where they use the desktop media management software like iTunes, Windows Media Player, iPhoto or Windows Live Photo Gallery to curate the media collection that is on the hard disk but transfer it out to a network-attached storage device for safeguarding and continual avaiability. This could extend to us integrating content hosted on an online storage service like Dropbox or GMail.

This is being augmented by the trend with these devices effectively becoming the hub for our home media networks. But what happens is that we could do something like import photos from a digital camera or a smartphone; scan 35mm and Polaroid snapshots; rip content from optical disks or simply buy content from online services on a “download-to-own” basis, with all this content ending up on the hard disk. Typically the content is managed and curated on the regular-computer’s hard disk so as to provide fast and reliable data transfer through this process, before it is copied over the network.

But we have to make a routine out of synchronising the material that we prepare on our computers to the NAS and do this very frequently. Typically the task involves us synchronising the material using the file-system tools or third-party backup / file-sync tools. We then have to repeat this process if we update the metadata such as adding location and people tags to the pictures or simply reposition files to different folders.

Some of us may even adopt a storage strategy where we keep newer material on the computer while older material resides on the NAS. This may be done as a way to conserve the hard-disk space occupied by our media. Similarly, those of us who use laptops on the road may want the hard disks on these machines as a staging post for our media, whether to keep selected music or video content to have on the road or a temporary download point for our digital pictures like I did with the Acer Aspire S3 when I used it on my Sydney trip.

I would like to see an improved ability with media-management software to allow for integration of “off-system” resources as part of our media workflow rather than just a viewing location. This could be implemented with rules-based synchronisation that could work on a schedule, especially when we shut down the computer or put it to sleep. The file-modified test would be based on whether a file was new or had its metadata modified.

Similarly, it could be implemented through the positioning of a NAS or collection of NAS devices as primary storage locations while the local hard disk and online storage locations serve as secondary storage locations.

This may not just involve desktop media-management software but also involve working with file-synchronisation / data-backup software and data management software that is part of a network-attached-storage device or online storage service.

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How should I assess apps from that app store

Windows 8 Store

Windows Store – one of the desktop app stores starting to surface

There is an Increasing number of app stores coming to the fore for each of the mobile and regular computing environments where you can buy and / or download software for your computing device. Some of these also provide for after-the-fact purchasing of add-on options for the software through the software’s user interface.

The situation that affects app stores

But there is a real danger that the app stores are becoming like the bulletin boards and online services that existed before the Internet and the software-download sites that existed in the early days of the Internet. This is where these locations were filled with substandard software that, in some cases, you come across software with very limited functionality that borders on useless but you to pay the developer before you can see a fully-functional package that you can enjoy using.

In the case of the app stores, the substandard software uses a poor-quality user interface or underperforms in a way where the device suffers a short battery life or performs sluggishly. There have been situations where the apps have been used for delivering malware especially through those app stores where there isn’t any real control on the software that is delivered. The limited functionality software also surfaces in these app stores more so with games that require you to buy options or virtual currency in order for you to enjoy playing them.

Even an app store that implements an approval process can be overwhelmed with software pending approval, which can lead to their standards being reduced in order to clear the backlog or increase the software quantity.

Identifying the good apps

IMDB Android

IMDB movie app for Android – one of the good app-store apps

But how do you identify a good app in those app stores and be sure you aren’t downloading a lemon?

  • One sign to look for is if the app has been put in the spotlight. Typically, the app may be positioned as an “editor’s choice” or “spotlight” app for its class or brought up front on the app store’s user interface. Blogs, newsletters and the like operated by the app store may cite the software in the “top picks” articles.
  • In some cases, if you hear your relatives and friends rave on about that app or you see many people in that train play that “time-waster” game on their smartphone or tablet, this could be the sign of a good app.
    You may also find that it’s a good idea to ask a computer-wise friend or relative about the apps you want on your device or get a second opinion on that app.
  • Similarly, the app would have some qualitative reviews in its “product-review” section. Here, you look for repeated reports of particular problems or notice many “copycat” or simplistic favourable comments, which could lead to a questionable app.
  • If you are looking for a “front-end” app for an online service, look for those apps that are published by the service themselves. This also holds true of apps that are linked with product and service brands. Typically these apps are announced through the brand’s advertising channels and the brands are wanting to defend their reputation.
    For example, I would prefer that Apple iOS users who are running newer versions of this operating system that didn’t come with YouTube pick up the Google YouTube app from the iTunes App Store. Similarly, when I was writing my article about the sports scoreboard apps, I recommended those apps commissioned by the sports leagues / codes themselves or the sports broadcasters.
  • The version number of the app may give away clues to the revision cycle that is taking place. Where there is a lot of revision taking place leading to a multi-point number like 1.3.1 typically indicates that there is a level of quality control going on. There may be some exceptions to the rule especially if the app or game is well-written from the start and this may apply with some of the casual games which are based on a known algorithm.
  • It may also be worth looking at what other software the app developer has offered to the app store. Here, look for the kind of reviews the software has as well as whether the software has ever been featured.
  • Also be aware of apps that require permission to use functions or resources not to do with its stated job. These can be about spyware or cause the phone or computer to underperform.
    Here, it may be worth checking the “blurb” about the software in the app store if it is requiring the use of the cameras or the location sensor because some of these sensors are used beyond the obvious. For example, some programs implement the GPS sensor as a distance-measuring tool or an increasing number of programs use the cameras for their machine-vision needs.

In some situations, cutting back on the number of apps on your device can allow it to perform smoothly, and you may have to be ready to uninstall some apps if you find them “swamping” your computer, tablet or smartphone.

Once you know how to sort the wheat from the chaff at your computing platform’s app store, you are in a good position to make sure that the devices that work on that platform are working smoothly.

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Using a NAS to hold operating-system updates

The current situation

Netgear ReadyNAS

A network-attached storage can come in handy for storing software updates rather than downloading them frequently

Operating system and application developers are now being required to provide updates for their products during the product’s service life and beyond. This is to provide for a computing environment that is performs in an efficient, secure, reliable and optimum manner. The updates may be released at regular intervals such as on a monthly basis or in response to a situation such as the discovery of a bug or security exploit.

New devices

A common situation that happens with most regular and mobile computing devices when a user takes delivery of them is that the user downloads a large data package to bring it up to date. This may be done many times if multiple units running the same platform are purchased.

Many devices

Similarly, a household may have multiple units running the same operating environment and they have to keep these up to date. The typical example of this may be a family with two or three children who are at secondary school. Here, they may have two or three computers for the children to use as well as one computer per adult. This could be brought about with the older child being given a more powerful computer as they enter senior high school or another computer given to the younger children as they start their secondary school.

But the same bandwidth would be used again and again to update each and every device. This may not be a problem for a couple with one device per adult but would be a problem when you are thinking of environments with more than two devices which is fast becoming the norm.

Using a network-attached storage to locally cache updates

Somehow the network-attached storage devices need to be able to support the ability to locally hold updates and patches for operating systems and applications used in computers on a home or small-business network.

The practice is performed frequently with large-business computer setups because of the number of computers being managed in these setups. But it could be practiced with home and small-business setups using a simplified interface. This could be based on the use of a local-storage application for regular or mobile client operating environments which supports this kind of local updating.

A local client application to manage system-update needs

Here, the local-client software could register which operating environment the host computer runs and what eligible applications are on the system so as to prepare an “update manifest” or “shopping list” for the computer. The “shopping list” would be based on the core name of the software, no matter whether different computers are running different variants of the software, such as home laptops running Windows 7 Home Premium while a work-home laptop runs Windows 7 Professional. This manifest would be updated if new applications are installed, existing applications are removed or changed to different editions or the operating system is upgraded to a different version or edition.

A local software manifest held by the NAS

This manifest is then uploaded to the NAS which runs a server application to regularly check the software developers’ update sites for the latest versions and updates for the programs that exist on the “shopping list”. There could be a “commonality” check that assesses whether particular updates and patches apply across older and newer versions of the same software, which can be true for some Windows patches that apply from Windows XP to Windows 7 with the same code.

At regular intervals, the NAS checks for the updates and downloads them as required. Here, it could be feasible to implement logic the check the updates and patches for malware especially as this update path can be an exploit vector. Then the computers that exist on the network check for new software updates and patches at the NAS.

Software requirements

Such a concept could be implemented at the client with most regular and mobile operating systems and could be implemented on network-attached storage devices that work to a platform that allows software addition.

It would also require software developers who develop the operating systems and application software to provide a level of support for update checking by intermediate devices. Initially this could require setups that are particular to a particular developer being installed on the client device and the NAS, but this could move towards one software update solution across many developers.

A change of mindset

What needs to happen is a change of mindset regarding software distribution in the home and small business. Here, the use of local network storage for software updates doesn’t just suit the big business with more than 50 computers in its fleet.

It could suit the household with two or more children in secondary school or a household with many young adults. Similarly a shop that is growing steadily and acquiring a second POS terminal or a medical practice that is setting up for two or more doctors practising concurrently may want this same ability out of their server or NAS.

Conclusion

The NAS shouldn’t just be considered as a storage device but as a way of saving bandwidth when deploying updates in to a household or small business who has multiple computers on the same platform.

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MacOS X users can now consolidate multiple cloud-based notes storage services in one app

Article

Notesdeck Consolidates Evernote, Dropbox And iCloud Notes Into One App | Lifehacker Australia

My Comments

Some of us may start using the cloud-driven notes storage services like Evernote or Dropbox. This is due to the ability for us to gain access to the material we create on these services from any regular or mobile computing device.

But we can be encouraged to create accounts with more than one of these services, such as through a service provider having a presence on our new computers; or our colleagues, relatives or friends recommending a particular service to us. In some cases, we may exploit a particular service as a data pool for a particular project.

Subsequently we end up with multiple “front-end” links to different cloud-based storage services on our computers and end up not knowing where a particular piece of data is held – is it on Dropbox, is it on Evernote, is it on iCloud or whatever.

Now someone has written a MacOS X app that provides the same kind of interface and useability to these cloud-based services that an email client provides to most email services. In the Apple Macintosh context, Apple Mail would be able to allow you to set up multiple email accounts such as your SMTP/POP3 mailbox your ISP gave you, your Exchange account that work gave you as well as your GMail account that you set up as a personal account.

At the moment, the software called NotesDeck, sells for $11.49 but according to the review, there needs to be a few improvements. One that was raised was that entries are listed for services that you aren’t set up with. This is compared to the typical email client that doesn’t list service types that you don’t have presence with. It could be rectified properly if the software could use a provisioning user experience similar to the typical email client where you click on “Add Account” to create details about the mailbox you are integrating to your client. 

Of course, I would like to be sure that this program does allow you to transfer notes between accounts and also between local resources such as your word-processing documents. This may be important if you intend to consolidate your cloud-based notes services towards fewer services or copy the notes out to the magnum opus that you are working on.

Similarly, the program could be ported to the Windows platform or to the mobile platforms (iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8) so that users who use these platforms can have the ability to work the multiple accounts on their devices using one program.

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