Category: Computer Systems

A Surface Book variant is actually a portable gaming rig

Article

Should you buy the Surface Book with Performance Base for gaming? | Windows Central

My Comments

Microsoft Surface Book press picture courtesy of Microsoft

A performance variant of the Microsoft Surface will show up as the stealth gaming rig

There have been the rise of gaming-grade laptops that have enough CPU and graphics-processing acumen to handle the latest games on the market with the full performance expectations. Here, most of the manufacturers are releasing at least one model with these abilities but most of these are styled like a muscle car or street rod.

But a few manufacturers are approaching this by offering performance computers that have a “stealth” look where their looks don’t betray the performance under the hood. Microsoft has now joined the party with a performance variant of the Surface Book which works with a “performance base”. This uses a keyboard base with the same graphics ability as the baseline variant of the Surface Studio all-in-one PC.

As with other Surface Book variants, the tablet detaches from the keyboard base so it can simply be a Windows 10 tablet but, when attached, it becomes a convertible laptop. Microsoft could provide the Performance Base not just as part of a system variant for how you wish to order the Surface Book, but as an upgrade option for existing Surface Books for those of us who want to upgrade them as a full-bore gaming or multimedia PC.

It is very similar to what can be done with Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C where manufacturers can offer a graphics module that connects to portable, all-in-one or low-profile computers to enhance their graphics performance. But this idea could be taken further with the use of coprocessors that are part of “performance modules” that could improve existing computers’ performance for gaming and multimedia tasks.

Personally I would find that the trend for portable and “all-in-one” computing is to offer gaming-rig performance as a model variant in one or more product lines rather than as its own product line. This is even though the manufacturer will offer a dedicated premium product line or brand that is focused towards gaming. Such products would appeal to those of us who value the performance angle for multimedia creation or gaming but don’t think of it like owning a “street-machine” car.

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What is my computer’s file-storage system about?

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

How is your data organised on your computer, whether on its main disk or any removable storage connected to it>

A computer always needs to be able to hold programs and data in a non-volatile manner so users can get back to this data when they switch the computer on again. Here this has evolved through different methods and technologies that answered these needs in different ways.

What were these technologies that were available for home computers?

Initially, home-computer users used to have to use audio cassette tapes to store this data. Subsequently, the magnetic diskette, commonly known as the floppy disk due to it being like a piece of card, became the preferred storage method for computers. Typically, the better computer setups would end up with two floppy-disk drives so that two disks can be accessed at once.

USB external hard disk

A USB external hard disk

The early 1980s saw some manufacturers offer high-capacity fixed-disk drives, which were known as “hard disks” as a storage option for computers with this being preferred by business users. These storage devices earned this name as them being seen as an alternative to the old floppy disks.

Subsequently, Sony brought forward the hard-shelled 3.5” “micro-floppy” and this was brought out alongside a similar technology offered by Hitachi and a few other companies. It was to provide a higher-capacity smaller data-storage magnetic disk that was more rugged than the previous designs and appealed to the design of highly-portable computers.

The optical disk, which is based on CD technology, came in to being as an affordable software-distribution and large-data-distribution technology during the mid 1990s. Subsequently, solid-state non-moving flash storage came to fruition from the late 90s as a removable storage medium for digital cameras and PDAs but became more viable for regular computers since the late 2000s.

Since the magnetic disk came on the scene, there was an increased importance placed on organising where the data existed on these storage systems, with an emphasis on such concepts as file systems, volumes and folders or directories. This was because the various magnetic-disk systems were becoming more and more capacious and users needed to know where their data existed. Here, the file system effectively became a hierarchical database for the information you store on your computer and provided a logical relationship between the files and where the bits and bytes that represented them existed on the storage medium.

Desktop computers required the ability for the user to insert and remove any removable media at a moment’s notice but this required the user to be sure that all the data that was written to the medium before they could remove it. This is in contrast to what was required of mainframe and similar computer systems where an operator had to type commands to add the disk to the computer’s file system or remove it from the file system as part of physically attaching and detaching these disks.

This concept changed when Apple brought in the Macintosh computer which used the Sony 3.5” microfloppy disks. Here, they allowed you you to insert removable media in to that computer but required you to “drag it to the Trashcan” before the disk could be removed. Some advanced removable disk types like the Zip disk implemented this kind of removal in the Windows and other operating system by providing what has been described as a “VCR-style” eject routine due to its relationship to how you used an audio or video recorder. Here, you pressed the eject button on the disk drive which would cause all the data to be written back to the disk before the disk came out.

Now the modern computer has at least one hard disk and / or solid-state disk fixed inside it along with USB ports being used for connecting USB-connected hard disks or memory keys. You may also be inserting your camera’s SD card in to an SD-card slot on your laptop computer or in to an SD-card reader module that plugs in to your computer’s USB port if you were downloading digital images and videos. Some of you may even have an optical drive integrated in your computer or connected to it via a USB cable and use this for archiving data or playing CDs and DVDs.

Your operating system’s file manager

Windows 10 File Manager - logical volumes

All the logical volumes available to a computer – representing hard disks with their logical partitions along with removable media

The operating system that runs your computer will have a file manager that allows you to discover and load your files or move, copy, rename and delete files amongst the logical volumes available to your computer. In Windows, this used to be known as File Manager, then became known as Windows Explorer but is now known as File Explorer. The Apple Macintosh describes this file manager simply as Finder.

This used to be a command-line task but since the arrival of the Apple Macintosh, the file manager is represented using a graphical user interface which shows a list of files, folders or logical volumes that you are dealing with.

Clicking on a folder or logical volume will bring up a screen to show you what is in that folder or logical volume. But clicking on a file will cause it to be opened by the default application or, in the case of a program, cause that program to run.

Moving or copying files nowadays is simply a drag-and-drop affair where you drag the files from the source to the destination, but you may have to hold down the Shift key or use the right-hand mouse button to modify a default move or copy action.

As well, the modern file managers have a “two-stage” delete action for files on a hard disk or other fixed storage where they end up in a “holding-bay” folder known as the Trashcan or Recycle Bin when you delete them. This is to allow you to find files that you may have unintentionally deleted. But to fully delete them for good, you have to delete the contents of this “holding-bay” folder, something you can do by right-clicking or Ctrl-clicking on this folder to bring up a context menu and selecting an “Empty” option.

What is my computer’s file storage system about

The logical volume

Most operating systems represent as their storage system every logical volume be it a removable disk or each partition of a hard disk as its own element. It was the only way to work in the early days of computing because each fixed or removable disk didn’t hold much in the way of data and was its own element. As hard disks became more capacious, there was a requirement to partition them or break a single physical hard disk in to multiple logical volumes because the operating systems of the early days couldn’t hold much data per volume. You can also set up some operating systems to present a folder on a NAS or file server available to you over a network to appear as a logical volume, a practice that was important before networks were commonplace and personal-computer operating systems could address network resources directly. All removable media are still represented with one logical volume per disk, card or stick.

Each logical volume would have the ability to be given a volume name and be represented as a distinct icon which is part of a “Devices”, “Volumes” or similar cluster in the file-management system that is part of the operating system. The icon is typically a crude representation of the storage medium that the logical volume exists on.

Windows, harking back to the Microsoft MS-DOS days, would also assign each logical volume a “drive letter” owing to the fact that each disk drive on the original IBM PC was assigned its own letter with A and B reserved for the floppy disk drives.

The Apple Macintosh represented on the right side of the Desktop screen a “disk” icon for each logical volume currently available to the system. But recent iterations of the Macintosh’s operating system provided a setting so that all of the logical volumes that represented the computer’s fixed storage didn’t appear as desktop icons.

The mid 1980s showed up a situation where an operating system had to identify what kind of disk a logical volume was on because hard disks were becoming more viable and a computer could have multiple disks of different kinds. This was also being augmented by the arrival of networks and file servers where you could “pool” your files on a common computer with larger storage, and CD-ROMs in the early 90s being a cheap way to deliver large amounts of software and data. Thanks to the graphical user interface, this was represented via an icon that represented the kind of disk being handled.

How are they represented?

In Windows, each logical volume, whether fixed or removable,is represented in Windows Explorer or File Explorer by an icon in the left hand panel under “This PC” or “Computer” or something similar depending on the version. If you click on this icon, you will see a list of all the logical volumes available to your computer.

On the Macintosh, you would normally have each of these volumes represented by an icon on the right hand side of your desktop, where you would click on that volume to invoke a Finder window to see all of the files in this volume. On the other hand, Finder would represent all of the volumes in a separate left-hand-side pane.

In both cases, each logical volume would be represented at least with its logical volume name and icon. With some systems, if there is a device that can hold removable media like an SD card reader, floppy disk drive or an optical drive, you will see that device listed but greyed out or de-emphasised if there is nothing in it.

Some operating systems like MacOS X may represent a removable volume like an SD card, USB memory key or optical disk with a distinct icon to highlight their removeability. This will typically be an “eject” symbol which you can click to safely remove that volume. Windows even lists the “eject” word in the right-click option menu for all of the volumes that are removable.

Folders

The folders that exist on a system disk

All the folders that exist on a hard disk, this time the system disk

The Macintosh and, subsequently, MS-DOS and Amiga brought around the concept of directories or folders as a way of organising data across increasingly-larger data volumes. Here, you could organise the data in to smaller clusters that relate to a common theme or purpose with the ability to create a folder within another folder.

Some operating systems like some versions of the Macintosh operating system allowed you to represent a folder with a graphical icon but this was used mainly by software developers when you installed software on the computer.

But all of the computers typically allocate a special folder on the main logical volume for storing all the programs that you run and, in some cases, even create a temporary folder for keeping data that a program stores on an as-needed basis.

How are they represented

On the graphical-user interface, these were represented as a folder icon that is  a part of how the contents of a logical volume was represented. Clicking on this folder icon will allow you to see the contents of that folder.

What is the main or system disk of your computer?

The Main Disk or System Disk for a Windows computer

The Main Disk or System Disk for a Windows computer

The main disk on your computer, which is a hard disk or fixed solid-state-device, stores all the files that are to do with its operating system and all the applications you run on your computer. Such a disk is listed as C: in Windows or MACINTOSH HD on the Macintosh. It is also described as the system disk or the boot disk because it has the operating system that the computer has to load every time it is started, a process described as the “boot” process.

Where the programs that you run exist

It will also contain the data you create but all of the files needed to run the operating system and the applications will be kept in particular folders. For example, the  “Applications” or “Program Files” is kept aside for the applications and games the user installs, with each application you install creating its own subfolder of that folder. This is while a separate folder like “Windows” or “System” is kept for the operating system’s files. Some operating systems like MacOS may also use another folder for keeping plug-ins, fonts and similar common application resources while others may keep these with the applications / programs folder, usually as a subordinate folder.

Where the Desktop is represented

As well, all the icons and files that you store on the Desktop will be kept on a “Desktop” folder which represents everything that exists there.

The data you have created

But you will also end up with user-data space like “Documents”, “Photos” and the like where you save all of the data you create with your computer’s applications. Your e-mail program may store your emails in that folder or in a separate folder on this same disk.

Some operating systems, most notably Windows and earlier iterations of the Macintosh operating system, even let you create folders on the System Disk that aren’t earmarked for a purpose for you to use as your data folders. This also includes other programs keeping the user-created data in their own folders.

The secondary holding place for deleted files

Then there is the “Trashcan” or “Recycle Bin” folder which is used as a holding space for files you delete should you regret deleting them. When you delete a file from one of your folders on the main disk or other fixed disks in your computer, these files will end up in this “holding space”. Then if you want to remove them permanently, you have to delete them from this folder.

Removable Storage

USB memory key

USB storage device – an example of removable storage

All of the removable storage devices work on a freeform method of organising data across each of their logical volumes because there typically isn’t a requirement to keep certain folders for certain system processes.

This is except for memory cards associated with digital cameras because of the digital photography industry’s desire to implement a “Digital Camera File System”. Here, you have a DCIM folder for all digital-camera images and your camera will keep the pictures and videos you take in a subfolder of that DCIM folder, This was to simplify the searching process for digital images when you used a printer, photo-printing kiosk or electronic picture frame. There is also a MISC directory where DPOF print-order files are stored when you order photos to be printed using your camera’s control surface and either insert the camera card in to you multifunction printer or a photo-printing kiosk.

When you delete a file from removable storage, it is gone for good. As well, you need to make sure that you properly remove memory cards, USB memory keys and similar removable storage because most operating systems won’t write back all of the data changes to that storage device as they occur. Some operating systems like Windows allow you to immediately remove the classic floppy disks but most of them require you to use a “safely remove” or “eject” routine to properly write all the data to the removable medium before you can remove it. The Macintosh even allows you to drag the removable medium to the Trashcan to safely remove it.

Conclusion

The file system that your computer has is one of the key tenets of managing your data on your computer and it is about how your data is organised across multiple storage devices and within these storage devices.

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ISPs another vector for tech-support scams

Article

Tech support scams target victims via their ISP | BBC News

Fraudsters impersonate victims’ ISPs in new tech support scam | Graham Cluley Blog

My Comments

Previously, as I have known from close friends’ experiences, there have been the fake tech-support phone calls claiming to be from Microsoft or another major software vendor. This was with me congratulating a person who wasn’t computer-literate immediately hanging up on one of these calls along with someone else asking another of these scammers for their Australian Business Number (equivalent to a VAT number in Europe).

These scams have evolved to a pop-up message pretending to be from one of the major software firms but asking them to call a number listed on that message. Typically this comes in the form of a virus or pirated-software alert as the message and some of these messages even appear on the lock screen that you normally enter your password.

Now the messages are appearing to come from ISPs, typically the ones who have most of the Internet business in the US, UK and Canada. But this is about the ISP detecting malware on the customer’s system with a requirement to call a fake customer-support number.

In this case, they identify a customer’s ISP based on a “spy pixel” ad on a site infected with malware or a “malvertisement”. The ads are typically served through large ad networks offering low-risk advertising products. This is used to identify the customer’s “outside” or WAN IP address which effectively is the same for all computers accessing the Internet from the same router.

Here, most residential and small-business Internet services have this IP address automatically determined upon login or at regular intervals and is obtained from a pool of known IP addresses that were assigned to that ISP to give to their customers. There is logic in the malware used to identify which ISP a customer is with based which IP address pool the IP address is a member of.

In these cases, call the ISP using the number they have provided you for technical support: typically written on their own Website which you should type in the URL for; written on any documents that you receive from them like accounts or brochures, as part of doing business with them; or by looking them up in the phone book. As well, don’t give any account numbers or personally-identifiable information to unsolicited approaches for technical support that you are not sure about.

But in all cases, you are most likely to initiate the call for personal or business tech support yourself when you need this support because you know your computer and network and how these systems perform. Typically you will approach one of the computer experts in your community, your workplace’s IT department if they have one, or your computer supplier for knowledge or assistance.

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Dealing with the bloatware that comes with your computer

Article

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

Being able to keep stock of the software that comes with your laptop or all-in-one computer can prevent unwanted conduits to your data.

Windows PC makers hang customers out to dry with flawed crapware updaters | PC World

My Comments

A common issue with laptop and all-in-one computers sold through the popular retail channels is the supply of “bloatware” or “crapware” with these computers. This is typically low-value software including trial or demo packages that are pre-installed on consumer-grade computers but doesn’t necessarily include drivers or manufacturer-supplied software that enables the particular features that the computer has. I have covered this issue before in relationship to the Superfish software that Lenovo had furnished with some of their consumer-focused laptops.

This can also apply to software delivered on a CD-ROM with retail-pack system parts, peripheral devices or consumer-electronics devices like digital cameras or keyboards. Some of the software is ostensibly supplied as a way to give the customer a “foot in the door” when it comes to a particular function or computing task, which tends to apply to trial versions of desktop security software or entry-level video editors and DVD / Blu-Ray playback software.

This wouldn’t necessarily happen with computer systems supplied to big businesses or contractor-supplied equipment because it is easier for these customer groups to call for a standard operating environment when they purchase their technology. Similarly, the traditional desktop computers that are built and sold be independent computer stores and dedicated computer-store chains aren’t as likely to be full of the “bloatware”.

The key issue that has been raised is the poor quality-assurance that occurs when it comes to supplying and maintaining this software. Here, there isn’t a secure path for software delivery especially whenever the software is updated or upgraded to a paid-up premium version. The software can be substituted by a man-in-the-middle attack that can be easily facilitated on an unsecured public-access Wi-Fi network. As well, there isn’t any way to verify the authenticity of the software updates, whether it is the software intended to be or actually delivered as part of the update.

This is part of the culture associated with the low-value software that the OEMs are paid to deliver with the systems that they sell to consumers and small businesses, but can affect the device drivers and functionality-enablement software.

Respected software names like Microsoft and Apple implement a secure delivery path for both server-to-device delivery and backend data transfer. As well, they implement a digitally-signed manifest (“shopping list” of files to be substituted in an update) and digitally-verified software files so that the programs can’t be altered surreptitiously.

Dell and Lenovo implement a TLS secure path for the software-manifest delivery while Lenovo implements a digitally-signed software manifest. But these policies are not applied across a manufacturer’s product line.

What can we do?

The best practice for consumers, small businesses and community organisations to do is to “strip back” the bloatware that isn’t being used. Most such software can be uninstalled through the “Programs and Features” option in the Windows Control Panel or through the uninstall routine in the software. Preferably, they should keep just the drivers and functionality software on their system.

On the other hand, they could facilitate a supervised semi-automatic software update for the OEM-supplied software and do this on their home or small-business network. If they are using any of the third-party software that has been provisioned by the OEM, it may be a better idea to visit the software developer’s Website and draw down newer versions of that software from there.

What is needed for OEM-supplied software update processes

If an OEM wishes to provision extra software with a computer, peripheral or consumer-electronics device; they need to make sure that this software is of high-quality, and respects customers’ security, privacy and data sovereignty wishes.

This includes a secure software-maintenance policy such as:

  • a secure software-delivery path with latest standards and protocols between the device and the software-provisioning servers and the software distribution backbone
  • digitally-signed software files and update manifests with verification occurring before and after delivery

Third-party software developers who wish to package software with a computer systems should be required to maintain this software to the same standard as what would be expected if they sold the software to customers themselves or through a traditional retailer. This includes allowing a person to upgrade from an OEM version to a premium version or instigate a subscription through their storefront rather the OEM’s storefront.

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Dell now offers the first 17” 2-in-1 convertible laptop

Articles

Dell announces new Windows 10 2-in-1 laptops starting at $249 | Windows Experience Blog (Microsoft)

Dell Debuts World’s First 17-inch 2-in-1 | Laptop Mag

Laptop Mag Video – Click or tap to view

Dell zeigt 2-in-1-Geräte mit 17-Zoll-Display | Netzwoche.ch (Switzerland – German language / Deutsche Sprache)

From the horse’s mouth

Dell

Computex 2016 Press Release

My Comments

Dell Inspiron 17 (Model 7778 Starlord B) 17-inch Touch notebook computer.press image courtesy of Dell

Dell Inspiron 17 (Model 7778 Starlord B) 17-inch Touch notebook computer.

Dell took advantage of Computex 2016 in Taipei to launch the Inspiron 17-7000 which is the first 2-in-1 laptop to have a 17” screen. It is a 360-degree Yoga-style convertible with a Full-HD (1920×1080) wide-angle display and backlit keyboard. Dell also offer 13” and 15” variants of this computer which would also suit most peoples’ needs and are part of their high-end laptop computer lineup.

The question that would often be raised about a 2-in-1 computer with a 15” or 17” display is whether these screen sizes are considered too large especially when used as a tablet. This is because most of us are used to the 10”-13” tablets like the iPad or the small 2-in-1s. Personally, I would see them earn their keep in a tablet form whenever you are in a chair, couch or bed and are using the system by yourself or with someone else. But the Yoga-style convertible approach also opens up other usage arrangements like a “tent” view or a “viewer” arrangement with the keyboard facing downwards, which can appeal to activities like viewing photos, videos or presentations with the computer on the table

Dell Inspiron 17 (Model 7778 Starlord B) 17-inch Touch notebook computer.press image courtesy of Dell

Dell Inspiron 17 (Model 7778 Starlord B) 17-inch Touch notebook computer.

It also ticks the boxes for a computer having newer expectations like USB Type-C connectivity and the ability to work with an 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless network segment while having an expected battery runtime of 6 hours. The horsepower behind these computers is mostly of the 6th-generation Intel Core variety and you can spec it with an NVIDIA discrete-graphics setup fit for gaming or video editing.

What is happening with Windows 10 and our exposure to the mobile-platform tablets of the Apple iPad ilk is that we are becoming more accustomed to the idea of touch-based computing and the tablet computer style rather than thinking of a clamshell style just for content creation. As well, the “Continuum” style of multi-faceted computing which shows up in the Tablet Mode on a Windows 10 computer underscores the ability to work between those modes.

Who knows whether more of the 2-in-1 laptops at the 15” and 17” will show up on the market as a way to challenge the likes of the Microsoft Surface range.

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HP gives the convertible 2-in-1 the Ford Mustang treatment

Article

HP’s Pavilion x360 affordable convertible comes in 15-inch version now | The Verge

HP’s new Pavilion PCs include a 15-inch hybrid laptop | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

HP

Press Release

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

When Ford launched the Mustang in 1964, they used a strategy where they could pitch it as a car affordable to young Americans yet something that would appeal to them. Here, they offered a reasonably-equipped baseline model at an affordable price but provided a litany of options that they could “buy on” such as powerful engines, transmissions that suited their needs, air-conditioning, radios with different capabilities and the like. This tactic followed through across Detroit with most of the vehicle builders offering youth-focused “pony cars” that were designed and offered in a similar vein to the Mustang.

HP have taken this approach when they launched the latest range of Pavilion x360 convertible 2-in-1 computers for this model year. Here, they offered the fold-over convertible computers in different screen sizes including the 15” variant which some would consider as too big for a tablet but big enough for a mainstream laptop. This may appeal for the common activity of viewing photos and video content on portable computers, but it could allow you to make best use of the touch-enabled apps and games which are filling up the Windows Store. This range would also come with differing colours like silver, gold, red, purple or blue

As for processors, there would be variants that have horsepower ranging from Intel Celeron to Intel Core i7. You can have your system with up to 8Gb RAM and up to 1Tb hard disk or 128Gb solid-state storage capacity. There are the expected features like 802.11ac Wi-Fi and B&O sound tuning and connectivity in the form of 3 USB sockets, SD card reader for your “digital film” and an HDMI video port.

The 15” model is being pitched as an alternative to the traditional mainstream 15” laptop that most students would end up with. As I have seen in the video clip, I see the newer HP Pavilion x360 being pitched also as an alternative to, guess what, the 15” Apple MacBook Pro especially when it comes to creative work or to be seen in the DJ booth at the trendiest nightclubs.

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Acer uses liquid cooling in their latest 2-in-1

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Acer

Switch Alpha 12

Press Release

My Comments

Acer Switch Alpha 12 tablet press image courtesy of Acer

Acer Switch Alpha 12 tablet

Acer has raised the bar in the face of the Microsoft Surface Pro when it comes to releasing the Switch Alpha 12 “Surface-style” 2-in-1 tablet. The baseline model of the pack is being pitched at prices like US$599 or EUR€699 which makes for something that is keenly priced amongst its peers.

You might consider it to be an ordinary 2-in-1 that tries to copy the Microsoft Surface product range but this raises the bar through the use of a regular Intel Core series CPU. These processors will show up with cooling problems if they are used with a thin-and-light portable computer design like a detachable-keyboard 2-in-1 or tablet so Acer addressed this issue using a closed-loop liquid cooling system which works in a similar way to your car keeps its engine cool or how your fridge keeps the food or drink inside it cold and fresh. But this cooling setup is designed to obviate the need for a fan, thus allowing for quiet operation.

Acer Switch Alpha 12 2-in-1 with keyboard press image courtesy of Acer

With keyboard – as a laptop

Of course, it ticks the boxes when it comes to what is expected for a current-issue “2-in-1” detachable including the use of a standard USB Type-C connector for charging and data transfer rather than a proprietary connector which the Microsoft Surface uses, as well as being supplied with the basic keyboard cover. The 12” (2160×1440) touchscreen along with a full-size keyboard makes for a system that appeals to creating content rather than a glorified iPad. As for the kickstand, it has the same look as the kind of handle that an “old-school” portable radio-cassette was equipped with – the U-shaped metal handle with a rubberised grip in the centre. This allows for the tablet to be kept stable on a desk or table when you are using it with the keyboard.

Acer Switch Alpha 12 2-in-1 tablet rear view press picture courtesy of Acer

Acer Switch Alpha 12 2-in-1 tablet – rear view

You can purchase the Acer Switch Alpha 12 in various configurations that have either 4Gb or 8Gb of RAM and a secondary-storage option of either a 128Gb, 256Gb or 512Gb solid-state storage device. The removeable storage option for this computer is a MicroSDXC card slot and, as I have mentioned before, you have a USB Type-C port and a USB Type-A port for connecting thumbdrives or SD card adaptors.

The wireless-connectivity options come in the form of a Bluetooth 4.0 link or an 802.11a/g/n/ac dual-stream Wi-Fi network link. This will allow for high throughput data transfer when you are on the go.

Acer have pitched the Switch Alpha 12 at both the consumer market and the business market by making business-focused variants of it available through its value-added resellers and independent computer stores who court the business market. Here the business variants come with the Trusted Platform Module along with being loaded with Windows 10 Pro as the operating system.

They have also provided a range of accessories such as an optional backlit keyboard along with two “expansion-module” docks. The first one is the USB Type-C dock that connects via USB-C to DisplayPort and HDMI video ports along with two USB 3.1 Type-C ports and 3  USB Type-A ports. This is in addition to an audio-in and an audio-out jack to serve its own sound module. There is also the Acer ProDock Wireless that connects to the computer via the 802.11ad Wi-Fi short-range peripheral wireless to an 802.11ac Wi-Fi network segment, along with video displays that have either HDMI, DisplayPort or VGA connections as well as USB devices.

From what I have read about the Acer Switch Alpha 12 2-in-1, it underscores the role where it could ideally serve as the “all-purpose” work-home-travel portable computer including the ability to use it as a tablet for reading content. This is more so if you are thinking of using a system that doesn’t use either an entry-level or mobile-focused CPU but uses a laptop-grade processor.

What is happening is that the battle-lines are being drawn when it comes to the kind of computers that represent the multipurpose 2-in-1 product class. Here, I would see some of these computers implementing the mainstream Intel or AMD processors with a goal to achieve long battery runtime while software developers write the kind of programs that exploit the touchscreens that these computers offer. As well, I would see some of these computers appear at a price that isn’t stratospherically expensive.

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Microsoft makes a step to all-platform online gameplay

Article

Microsoft is stepping towards online gaming's holy grail - a federated cross-platform online gaming experience

Microsoft is stepping towards online gaming’s holy grail – a federated cross-platform online gaming experience

Microsoft will allow Xbox gamers to play against PS4 and PC players } The Verge

Microsoft wants PS4 and Xbox One to connect online | CNet

My Comments

Most core games which have any form of multi-machine multiplayer competition, whether online or across a local network, require all games machines involved in the competition to be on the same platform.

That means that a Windows-based regular-computer user couldn’t play against an XBox or a PS4 console. In a lot of cases, the online component of a game was managed via a platform-specific online-competition platform like PlayStation Network or Steam. In the case of consoles, you had to determine which console platform your friends were using and buy a console commensurate to that platform.

Now Microsoft has raised the question of platform-agnostic multi-machine competition by encouraging their game developers to enable this feature. This is because Microsoft effectively is associated with two platforms i.e. the Windows-based regular computer or PC as a games platform and the XBox family of games consoles. But they are inviting Sony, Nintendo, Apple and others to create the necessary cross-platform bridges to allow this kind of play. This includes allowing a player to discover other players to compete with as well as managing the state of play during a game or tournament.

If this worked, it could allow a person to choose whatever console they wanted to play especially if a title is released across multiple platforms. Similarly, this could allow for options like local-network play, whether peer-to-peer or server-based, including local-online hybrid play such as local tournaments or teams. For games developers, they don’t have to decide whether to set up their own online gaming network if they want cross-platform play.

Another issue that could be highlighted here is the ideal user interface for different game genres including the common user interfaces that the platforms use. The article cited the situation where a regular-computer with its keyboard (W-A-S-D keys) and mouse may have the advantage over a gamepad that typically comes with a console when it comes to playing certain games like first-person shooters or strategy games.

This could be used either to open up the idea of games written to be played across multiple platform types and user interfaces, including those that give players an advantage if they play a part of the game on different devices. On the other hand, there could be the feasibility for games consoles to work with mice and keyboards connected via (preferably) Bluetooth or USB.

What Microsoft is doing is to raise the issue of creating platform-agnostic core game play rather than requiring gamers to be tied to a particular platform.

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What needs to be answered about school-supplied technology

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 connected to Wi-Fi hotspot at Bean Counter Cafe

Many questions need to be raised by knowledgeable parents about school-based IT programs

Parents often face a question when their child starts secondary school concernimg the technology that is being used as part of their education. This is more so with laptop computers that well be used at home to complete homework assignments and at school to take notes and do research.

Increasingly schools are supplying the families with the appropriate technology, typically with government and private-sector assistance. These computers may be supplied at a heavily-subsidised price so there isn’t much effect on the parent’s hip pocket.

But schools see this technology as part of their realm of control in your student’s life in a way that the see what the student does at home or away from school activities as bearing on the school’s name.

These questions are worth raising during information nights or parent-teacher meetings that you will be engaging in during your child’s enrolment.

Is the technology sold or leased to your family by the school?

If you are acquiring the technology through the school, it is worth enquiring whether you are buying the computer so that you own the computer or whether you are leasing it or renting it on an annual basis where the school or school district has legal ownership over the equipment. This may include situations where you may borrow the computer for the duration of your child’s enrolment or for certain years but you may have to pay a bond on the equipment.

This can help with further issues regarding whether you can retain the computer to be used for the younger children or as a utility computer. On the other hand, it can also affect issues regarding maintaining the system and what happens in case of loss, theft or damage.

As well, it is worth finding out whether a technology-buyout program does exist where parents or students can purchase leased or rented computer equipment that they currently use from the school. This is important for equipment supplied to senior high-school students because most of the school-supplied technology programs require that the senior students relinquish their computers once they graduate from their senior years.

Such a buyout option can benefit both the school and student in different ways. The student benefits by being able to keep the computer as a personal computer through the years between their high-school graduation and their entry to tertiary or trade studies. The school also benefits because they aren’t keeping rapidly-depreciating assets on their books but can turn them over for cash which can be used to buy newer technology.

Who provides support in case of equipment failure or accident

Ask the school whether they have a maintenance programme for the school-supplied equipment. This includes what kind of minimum turnaround time exists if the equipment needs to be serviced. As well, does the maintenance programme cover for accidental equipment damage because students can easily end up being accident prone.

It may also include whether you have to pay to replace failed or damaged parts and whom you buy the replacement parts from.

Insurance coverage for theft and damage

To the same extent, it may be worth looking at your home-contents insurance policy to find out whether they provide coverage for equipment that is damaged or stolen while away from your home, including overseas. This may be of importance when your children go on the many field trips and school camps that will be part of their education; or when they engage in social activities with their friends.

Exchange-student programs

Your school may participate in an exchange-student program where one or more local students travel to another area, typically another country while the school hosts and teaches the students from one or more other areas. This is typically to encourage awareness of different cultures and increase knowledge of different languages.

Such programs typically will include overseas travel and having the participants stay in private households that are part of the participating school’s community. There are questions that will be raised if you end up hosting an exchange student or your child becomes an exchange student themselves.

If the school facilitates this program whether by itself or with a third party, you may have to find out where you or the school stands if the equipment belonging to your child who is overseas or the student you are billeting was stolen or damaged.

Similarly, your child or the student you are hosting may need assistance with connecting to different networks such as the host’s home network in the case of your child or your home network in the case of the guest student.

For that matter, it may be a good idea for schools, student-exchange agencies and students participating in exchange-student programs to read an article I wrote on this site about testing Skype across separate networks to make sure it works properly. This is because the videocall functionality in these programs can be used as a way for an exchange student to keep in contact with home and show what the “other” culture is about.

Can I configure the system myself?

An issue that is also being raised regarding school-supplied technology is whether you can configure the system yourself or perform remedial repairs on the system.

This may be to get the laptop to work with your home network, or to install any drivers to get it to work with the network-capable printers in your home. As well, you need to be sure that the school-supplied computer can gain access to other network resources and the Internet in a similar manner to other devices that exist on the home network.

Similarly, there is the issue of keeping the operating system and applications on these computers updated and patched to avoid these computers and the rest of your home network’s computers being the target for malware. Here, the kids’ computers could be updated with the latest patches whether they are at school or at home.

Different operating platforms

This issue of configuring the school-supplied laptop yourself also extends to coping with different computer platforms and operating systems. For example, you may find that the school supplies your kids a MacBook Pro as part of one of Apple’s education-technology programmes that the school is benefiting from, while you are more comfortable with the Windows-based computer you use at home. Similarly, the school may have all the computers running Windows 10 but you are pushing the barrel with Windows 7 on the work-home laptop that you normally use.

Here, you may be able to find out whether you can learn about the computing platform and operating system your school uses and how to configure it to work with your home network and peripherals.

How does the school handle a “bring-your-own” computer?

Another situation that is appealing to parents is the ability to buy their kid’s computer from a third-party retailer and have that as the computer thay use for school. This is typically due to the ability to purchase the system at a cost-effective price through a “back-to-school” special run by a major retailer or online and some governments may provide a benefit to families to assist with purchasing this education-related technology.

This concept is being facilitated also by the fact that the “bring your own device” concept is in full swing at workplaces and newer operating systems and software allows for a level of manageability in these situations.

Minimum standards for this computer

You should find out what the minimum standards are for a computer you supply yourself. The standards for the hardware should be based on the kind of CPU the computer must have, the amount of RAM and storage space the computer has, and the graphics subsystem and display resolution that the computer has to have. This also includes the minimum standard for the Wi-Fi interface for schools that implement a Wi-Fi network.

As for the software, you need to find out the minimum version and edition of the operating system along with the application software you need to have installed.  You may find that application vendors may supply a “student edition” of their software which is licensed for personal and education use only and some of these programs may be licensed for a small number of computers that are in the same household.

Use of a school-supplied disk image?

Some schools may require the use of a disk image that is managed by the school themselves in order to assure better control of the computer on the school premises. Here, you may find out whether you need to install this image and if you can get away with a dual-boot setup where you have a “home” operating environment and a “school” operating environment.

The better solution would be a USB stick or optical disk full of any courseware that is necessary for the curriculum, including any software that is required for the studies. The Internet use at the school environment can be controlled using the network hardware that runs the school’s network.

Can the system be maintained by the school’s IT staff?

It may also be worth inquiring whether the school’s IT staff are willing to provide maintenance and support for equipment that is brought to school on a BYO basis. Here, it may be about rectifying a system failure that occurs on that day or adding support for student-accessible peripherals that the school owns such as printers or sensor devices used as part of science experiments.

Computer-education courses for adults

In a lot of households where one or both parents aren’t computer-literate is that one or more of the teenage children end up providing assistance to the parents when it comes to personal-computing issues. This is typically due to the children learning many concepts regarding personal-computing through their school years.

It may also be worth finding out if your child’s school runs adult-focused courses about computer education. This may be of importance for those of you who haven’t had much education-based or workplace-based exposure to personal computing and will be of importance for people who do work that is primarily blue-collar.

Typically, the mode of delivery for these short courses would be evening classes taught by one of the school’s computing-science teachers. The school will usually charge for the courses and the students’ parents may pay a cheaper fee due to the fact that their child is attending that school.

Here, the courses should teach the essentials about knowing your way around your computer such as file management; along with safe computing practices. This should also include learning about keeping your computer system in top order like backups and keeping your software up-to-date. As well, such courses should highlight making effective use of the Internet and its online resources in a safe manner.

Some of the courses may offer tuition in other computing platforms like the Macintosh platform which may benefit adults who are used to, say, Windows learning about the other platforms and would come in handy if the school works on that different platform.

Conclusion

Once you ask the right questions from your child’s school’s staff, you can end up being an active participant in your child’s IT-focused education without fearing as though the school “owns you”.

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Infocus ups the capacity for its Kangaroo mini-PC

Article

The $170 Kangaroo Plus pocketable PC doubles the RAM and storage | Windows Central

Previous Coverage on HomeNetworking01.info

InFocus Presents A PC As Big As A Smartphone

From the horse’s mouth

Infocus

Press Release

My Comments

InFocus, known for their range of value-priced projectors, had previously released the Kangaroo mini-PC which is about the size of a smartphone. But like most of the “Next Unit Of Computing” devices which represent the ultra-small “fixed-location” computers, this model used an Intel Atom CPU, 2Gb RAM and up to 32Gb solid-state storage. This made people think of them as being “toys” rather than tools.

But InFocus raised the game for this series of computers by offering the Kangaroo Plus “deluxe” version of their small-form-factor computer. Here, this is equipped with 64Gb of data storage capacity and 4Gb RAM which is considered iy most computer users to be a realistic amount of baseline memory. It was offered in response to customers expressing a need for real capacities on both the “primary-storage” RAM and the non-volatile secondary storage.

There is still the ability to use an Apple iPad as the display and input surface for the InFocus Kangaroo through the use of a special cable and an iOS app. It also works with the Kangaroo Dock expansion module so you can safely upgrade your existing Kangaroo pocket computer to the bigger-capacity model without dumping that accessory.

Could this be a sign of hope for small-form-factor desktop computers to have specifications that can allow for most elementary desktop uses? Would this also be a sign that these computers could end up being specified as part of a standard operating environment?

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