Computer Systems Archive

Regular operating systems and their vulnerability to security threats

Article

Which Is More Vulnerable To Viruses And Hackers: Windows 10 or Mac OS X? | Gizmodo

My Comments

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon – an example of a laptop based on a regular computing platform

During the 2000s, the personal computing scene focused on so-called “regular” personal computers i.e. desktop and laptop computers that ran a desktop-grade operating system. The main platforms were the Windows platform heralded by Microsoft and with hardware made by plenty of other manufacturers and the Macintosh platform that was made by Apple. Of course, there were a few personal computers that ran one of many open-source Linux distributions which were effectively UNIX.

There was the issue of security risks magnified due to an increased amount of personal and business computing time spent online through the Internet. In most cases, especially with the Windows platform, these risks were mitigated using a desktop or endpoint security program installed on the client computer. Although I have constantly seen the Apple Macintosh platform at risk of security exploits, that platform wasn’t at risk because there were fewer computer users using that platform.

Enter Windows Vista. This operating system had improved security features like operating as a regular user unless necessary but these were tacked on to the Windows XP codebase. This led to poor performance and computer users saw the value of switching to the Apple Macintosh platform for regular computing needs with some even using Apple’s iWork office tools as a way simply to dump Microsoft.

This led to the Apple Macintosh platform becoming more vulnerable due to its increased popularity and the use of “write once run anywhere” code like Java. Apple had to pull their finger out to improve the Macintosh platform’s security and, like Microsoft, engage in regular software updates and patches.

Improvements

Major upgrades for pennies’ worth or free

Windows 10 Start Menu

Windows 10 – a free upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1

Microsoft and Apple had even started to offer newer iterations of their operating systems to home users and small businesses at prices that would represent chump change or, later on, offer these iterations for free.

Apple started the ball rolling with Mac OS X for pennies’ worth starting with OS X Lion and for free starting with Mavericks. Subsequently Microsoft used Windows 8 to facilitate a software upgrade for pennies’ worth and used Windows 10 to instigate a free software upgrade program.

The major upgrades typically had security improvements like creation of app stores and newer secure codebases.

Blind updates for security patches

A way software developers keep their software going strong is to deliver updates and patches that rectify software bugs and allow the software to improve in performance. The delivery of these updates is being used to harden the software against known security exploits, often as soon as these holes are discovered.

Windows Update - one stop shop for software patches along with automatic delivery

Windows Update – one stop shop for software patches along with automatic delivery

This process typically involved users finding patches or newer code on the developer’s Website but Microsoft and Apple have put an end to this. Initially they set up a “one-stop-shop” program for downloading these updates including any peripheral-driver updates but have improved on this by providing for “blind updating”. This is where the operating system automatically downloads and installs these patches as soon as they become available.without you needing to do anything except, perhaps, reboot the computer when prompted.

Microsoft and Apple are even working on having these patches become effective once they are installed without you needing to reboot your computer. This is being achieved in the newer operating-system variants and with some newer patches.

The option for secure boot

Apple implemented in the Macintosh standard firmware a way to only let MacOS X boot on their Macintosh computers and this provided a sense of security because it can only allow these computers to run Apple-authorised code.

Microsoft and Intel are now implementing this through UEFI and Secure Boot which allows for authorisation of operating systems and pre-boot software that runs on a computing device. This has been considered controversial because it would wrest control of the computer from uses who may want to deploy Linux, especially a custom Linux distribution or wish to run with a dual-boot setup.

App stores and walled gardens

Windows 10's own app store

Windows 10’s own app store

Another weapon that Microsoft and Apple are deploying comes from the world of mobile computing where mobile operating systems implement an “app store” which is a one-stop software “shopping mall”.

Like a suburban shopping mall with its physical goods, these app stores have tight controls on who can sell their software there. Here, the software has to be provided by an identifiable developer and approved and audited by the operating system developer who runs that app store.

There is also a requirement for the software to be sandboxed and have access to certain parts of the operating system rather than having full run of your computer.

Another factor that is also considered important is that if an application “does the right thing” by its users and the operating-system vendor, it is typically highly recommended or featured such as being given an “editor’s choice” or put in the “spotlight”. This gives the program increased exposure which attracts more installations and more purchases. As well, there are user-review mechanisms where people can uprate or downrate the software.

But both the Macintosh and Windows platforms require the ability to work with established software deployments that are typically installed via removable media or a download from the developer’s site. This is due to their legacy where people installed software from floppy disks or CDs or downloaded software from bulletin boards and download sites.

Windows 10 is providing a way to harden things further when it comes to this software in the form of Device Guard. This is a form of sandboxing which allows only certain programs to run on a computer but is made available to the Enterprise Edition only. It is because the process for setting up this whitelist would be considered very difficult for householders, small businesses and community organisations.

Steam - one of the most common games managers

Steam – one of the most common games managers

For games, major games studios are implementing their own app stores and games delivery systems in order to allow for cross-platform game and supporting-content delivery. Here, they want regular-computing gaming to have that same level of confidence associated with console or mobile gaming. This is although Apple and Microsoft deliver games through their app stores. The best example of this is Valve’s Steam online games shop but there are others like EA’s Origin.

Conclusion

What is happening is that for both the Windows and Macintosh computing platforms, they are being made more secure and malware-resistant and it is becoming a race between Apple and Microsoft to keep the regular computing environment as safe as a mobile computing environment.

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VAIO makes a comeback to the US market

Article

VAIO computers to return to the US to woo high-end customers | CNET News

My Comments

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

The Sony VAIO Fit 13a – VAIO is returning to the USA independently from Sony

Regular readers will have seen the product reviews of some of Sony’s VAIO laptop computers. These were positioned by Sony at the premium end of the market and had specifications and features that were considered “out of he ordinary” as far as Windows-based computers were concerned. An example of this was a Sony VAIO Pro 13 laptop that had a display resolution that was better than the Apple MacBook Air that was issued at the time the VAIO was marketed and various reviews said that this computer could earn its keep as a photographer’s field computer. Similarly, I had seen a DJ in action use a Sony VAIO laptop computer rather than an Apple MacBook as a playout device.

As the bottom was falling out of the “regular-computer” market thanks to the cheaper mobile-platform tablets, Windows 8 and other issues in 2014, Sony sold off their VAIO computer division to an independent investment fund. This fund continued to sell a smaller product range of computers under the VAIO brand which used to be a “sub-brand” of Sony’s for this product class. This range, which was sold in Japan only, was tightly focused around a few premium ultraportable computers. People after this brand tended to “grey-import” the computers from Japan whether online or as part of a foray in to that country.

Sony VAIO Fit 15e on dining table

Sony VAIO Fit 15e

Now VAIO have released these computers in to the US market through an online storefront and the Microsoft Stores in that country. Here, they are selling high-end portable computers that are focused around the “made in Japan” ideal which is similar to the way that some parts of Western Europe like Scandinavia or the Germanic countries (West Germany, Austria or Switzerland) were seen through the 1960s to the 1980s when it came to consumer electronics and photographic equipment – a purveyor of finely-crafted premium equipment.

The first of these is a VAIO Z Canvas which is a 12.3”  2-in-1 with a wireless keyboard. The screen resolution is 2560×1704 and it uses an Intel Core i7 for horsepower and has up to 16Gb RAM and 256Gb SSD storage. This will be offered as a Signature Edition computer that comes out of the box with Microsoft Windows 10 and no bloatware on board. The expected price will be US$2199 which would make you think of it like purchasing a the computer equivalent of a B&O or Loewe TV.

Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer

Sony VAIO Tap 20 – an example of an “Adaptive All-In-One” computer

There are plans for VAIO to issue some more of these computers to the US market, more so in the form of traditional laptops (hear here, VAIO Fit 15e) and some desktops perhaps of the “gaming-rig” or “all-in-one” ilk. Personally, if VAIO were to have their fingers in the traditional “bricks-and-mortar” pie, I would recommend that they follow what Bose and B&O have done where they either run their own stores in upper-class neighbourhoods or work the “store within a store” method where they set up shop in premium department stores.

What it is showing is that computer brands are finding that working within certain profitable niches such as performance computers (mobile workstations or gaming-grade laptops) or premium computer ranges is considered a way to survive. This is similar to how a few American and European AV names focused on premium-grade photographic, audio and video equipment when Asian companies took on the mass-market for this class of equipment through the latter part of the 20th century

Who knows if VAIO will return to Europe, Australia or New Zealand?

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USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 make it real for outboard graphics expansion

Article

Here’s The Box That Can Turn a Puny Laptop Into a Graphical Powerhouse | Gizmodo

My Comments

Sony VAIO Z Series and docking station

The Sony VAIO Z Series ultraportable with functionality expanded by an add-on module

There have been some successful attempts at developing outboard expansion modules or docking stations that add discrete graphics or a better discrete-graphics solution to a laptop computer which wouldn’t have internal room for this kind of performance.

One of these was Sony with their VAIO Z Series that I reviewed previously which had an expansion module that housed a Blu-Ray drive and an AMD discrete graphics chipset. This used an Intel “Light Peak” connection (Thunderbolt over USB) between the devices to provide for high data throughput between the host computer and the expansion module.

Another of these was one of the new Alienware gaming laptops that could connect to a so-called “Graphics Amplifier” which was an expansion module for some of the Alienware R2 series gaming laptops that could house one or two PCI-Express graphics cards. This brought forward the idea that a laptop could have desktop gaming-rig performance just by adding on an expansion module.

Alienware Graphics Amplifier expansion module

Alienware Graphics Amplifier expansion module that connects to selected Alienware R2 gaming laptops

Both these solutions implemented manufacturer-specific connection methods which restricted which devices can connect to these “external-graphics” expansion modules.

But the USB 3.1 standard with the Type-C connection allowed the same connection to be used to connect other devices via different logical connection methods like Intel’s Thunderbolt. This was effectively “opened up” as a high-performance connection for expansion modules when Intel launched “Thunderbolt 3” which has throughput equivalent to what happens on a computer’s motherboard.

Alienware gaming laptop

An Alienware gaming laptop that can benefit from the Alienware Graphics Amplifier expansion module

This led to some reference designs being presented at the Intel Developers Forum 2015 for external-graphics docks of the Sony VAIO Z or Alienware Graphics Amplifier ilk that are able to work with laptops that have the USB Type-C and Intel Thunderbolt 3 connection. In their own right, they are expansion modules which add extra connectivity to the laptop but also they give it access to improved discrete graphics chipsets. One of these was modelled on the Alienware Graphics Amplifier by virtue of allowing the use of fully-fledged graphics cards of the kind expected in that tower-style gaming rig.

The equipment that was shown proved the concept that you could use Thunderbolt 3 over a USB 3.1 Type C physical connection to provide an external discrete-graphics solution for an ultraportable laptop computer or similarly-small computer design. This proves that it can be feasible to use these modules for an “at-home” or “at-office” solutions where performance is desirable but allow for a lightweight computer system.

Similarly, a manufacturer could offer a laptop or all-in-one desktop with the integrated graphics but allow their customers to buy a graphics expansion module at a later date should they want something with more graphics acumen. Here, they can simply plug in the graphics expansion module and play rather than opening up the computer to install a graphics card. There is also a reality that as newer graphics chipsets come along, the person can purchase a newer expansion module or, in the case of those units that use PCI-Express desktop cards, install a newer graphics card in to the module to take advantage of these newer designs.

It simply underscores that fact that USB 3.1 Type C opens up the concept of expandability for tablets, laptops, all-in-one and small-profile desktops even further by use of external modules that offer different functions to suit different needs at different times.

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Gaming with a regular computer and the big screen in the lounge?

Article

How To PC Game From The Comfort Of Your Couch | Gizmodo

My Comments

Alienware gaming laptop

An Alienware gaming laptop that bridges performance and portability

Gaming on the big-screen TV isn’t just restricted to the likes of the XBox One or the PlayStation 4 consoles. You can engage in these games using your PC especially if you are using a laptop or dare to bring the tower-style gaming rig in to your lounge area. This is more so as the regular computer platforms i.e. Windows, OS X (Macintosh) and Linux still maintain a strong level of open-frame software deployment and become more the areas to try out gaming ideas.

This is brought on by the increase in the number of portable computers that have performance-computing chops whether in the form of mobile workstations or gaming laptops is making this kind of gaming more real. The manufacturers see this as a valuable niche for people who value performance and portability for work or play.

Dell Precision M2800 Mobile Workstation courtesy of Dell USA

Dell Precision M2800 – a mobile workstation that also bridges performance and portability

This will apply to those of you who are at home or at a friend’s house because you could bring your gaming computer in to the living room or games room and play that game on the big screen from the comfort of your couch. Those of you who are staying at a college dorm (university residence hall) or similar location can use the big-screen TV in the common lounge area for playing that epic game on your gaming laptop.

What do you need?

TV and sound system

The TV or home-theatre system would need to have a spare HDMI connection for you to plug in another video peripheral.

Here, you are relying on HDMI as your audio and video connection and the equipment must be able to play the sound from an HDMI connection rather than just be a switcher. Recently-made home-theatre receivers will most likely be able to satisfy this requirement but beware of lower-end equipment that can’t achieve this goal.

One of the big-screen TVs that is worth playing games on

One of the big-screen TVs that is worth playing games on

If you are buying a newer large-screen TV and you expect a regular computer to be connected to it, you should look for sets that have a high refresh rate like what would be expected for most well-bred monitors. As well, if your gaming setup is of a temporary nature, I would recommend that the equipment concerned has an HDMI connector on the front panel for a home-theatre receiver or similar device or on the side edge of a TV so that it is easily accessible without you needing to shift the equipment out or grope around the back whenever you want to play games.

Your computer

HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook left-hand-side connections - Ethernet, HDMI, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader

HDMI connection on a laptop

HomePlug AV adaptor

The HomePlug powerline adaptor – a no-new-wires network with gaming chops

The computer should have HDMI as a video output option and be capable of directing the sound through that output. This is to achieve the goal of one cable between the computer and the TV or home-theatre receiver rather than worrying about many cables, with this cable carrying a digital audio signal along with the high-resolution video signal.

When you set up the sound, make sure that you know what your equipment can handle at best. If you use a home-theatre system, make sure that you set the audio output for Dolby Digital 5.1 bitstream or a similar codec that your equipment handles so you can take advantage of games that implement surround sound. As well, it may be worth paying attention to an article that I wrote about multiple sound devices in Windows.

Control devices

Games that require frequent interactive activity would benefit form a console-type controller if you are leaning back on the couch. There are some wireless controllers out there but you can use an XBox 360 controller that works with Windows courtesy of an adaptor that is sold for “pennies worth” by Microsoft.

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard (open) press photo courtesy of Microsoft

These Bluetooth keyboards also earn their keep on the couch when gaming in the lounge

If you are needing to use a keyboard or mouse, it may be preferable to use wireless peripherals so you avoid cable clutter. Personally I would prefer to use Bluetooth equipment because you only need to use one transceiver dongle across them all and if the computer has integrated Bluetooth, you don’t need to worry about any of these transceiver devices. Sometimes a wireless keyboard or mouse pitched at tablet use can work as a wireless keyboard for gaming use.

Network

It is preferable to have an Ethernet socket in the lounge area but this may not be a reality. For your home or a friend’s, you may find that setting up a HomePlug AV500 powerline-network segment may work well in these circumstances.

Some college dorms and similar places may have an Ethernet socket connected to the premises’ network and Internet service not far from the common lounge area  HomePlug AV500 or HomePlug AV2 may work well in using a no-new-wires setup to bring the connection closer. In some cases, this connection may be locked down for specific devices and uses and it doesn’t hurt asking the staff about whether the connection is a “general-use” connection or can be set up as such.

At a pinch, you would need to use Wi-Fi wireless and make sure you have a reliable Wi-Fi connection at your computer. Wi-Fi networks that use Web-based login can be tricky to use and may require you to keep the “login successful” Web page minimised while you play that online game.This is best done with a Web browser that doesn’t take up much memory space.

Similarly, if you are playing against multiple computers across a public network, it may be difficult to discover the opponents’ computers because these networks are most likely set up to provide client isolation.

Setup

There are some things you will need to be sure of when you are setting up for gaming in the living room or other lounge area.

One would be to use a rug to cover long cables that travel between the computer and the TV or home theatre so as to avoid the situation of people tripping over the cables. This is important for situations where the area between the couch and the TV equipment is part of a thoroughfare.

A tray-table is also a good place to position your gaming laptop or to use as a mouse mat. On the other hand, you may want to use the coffee table for that same purpose. This is to assure stability. Even those “Stable Table” trays with integrated cushions can come in handy as a mouse mat.

As for online game managers, Steam is the only such platform that provides a “big-screen” mode courtesy of their “Big Picture” mode. This will allow you to manage it while viewing the display from a distance. But when you are actually playing the game, this may not be a problem.

Conclusion

Once you know that you can game on with the big-screen TV and your gaming rig or laptop computer, you could be able to add that bit extra to your solo or group gaming experience.

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ASUS Zenbook UX305–World’s thinnest Ultrabook

Article

Powerful Silence: What You Can Expect From The World’s Thinnest Ultrabook | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

ASUS

Zenbook UX305 Ultrabook

Product Page

Purchase direct from ASUS

My Comments

ASUS is raising the bar when it comes to designing ultraportable computers by offering the Zenbook UX305 which has been identified as the “World’s Thinnest Ultrabook”. This is because it comes in at a thickness of 12.3mm and a weight of 1.2kg.

This has been achieved through the ability to dispense with a fan for keeping the system cool during use thus also allowing for ultra-quiet operation. There is also the benefit that the system implements a 256Gb solid-state drive which also gives extra cause to the ultra-quiet operation.

But it is a 13” computer  which has been pitched not just as an auxiliary note-taking copy-creating laptop but an all-rounder thanks to implementation of the Intel Core M processor (5Y71). The Gizmodo review reckoned that it could be your only laptop but if you are thinking that way, I would head down the path which most “laptop-as-only-computer” users have gone. This is to run the computer with a larger external monitor, an external keyboard and mouse along with an external USB hard disk for data storage for your primary office setup.

The Zenbook has 4Gb RAM along with the 256Gb solid-state drive which would be up to snuff for a laptop. As well, it uses 802.11ac Wi-FI networking and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity along with having 3 USB ports and a micro HDMI display connection. The screen does support Full HD resolution but doesn’t support touchscreen functionality. ASUS is still hanging on with Bang & Olufsen for their audio-related design and tuning needs even though HP have signed up this Danish hi-fi name for the same needs and this laptop uses the B&O icePower power-amplification technology for a powerful amplifier that takes less space and can run cool.

A good question is whether the ASUS Zenbook UX305 could serve as a work-home laptop, a laptop that you use in the main office but also frequently use in your favourite “second-office” café or bar or as the only computer you need. This is more so as ASUS was selling the machine through their store for AUD$1399 and is becoming more so as the ultraportable laptop computer with the traditional clamshell form factor is facing stiff competition from the “2-in1” convertible and detachable computers that also serve as tablets.

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Lenovo revives a classic laptop design

Article

Lenovo’s proposed ThinkPad Retro is like stepping back into 1992 | PC World

From the horse’s mouth

Lenovo USA

Blog Post

My Comments

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook

The Lenovo keeps the same look for the ThinkPad laptops

There is something about classic industrial design that never dies. This has been augmented by a lot of items like the Mini, the Fiat 500, the AGA cooker, the Wurlitzer 1015 juke box amongst other things. These examples have been evolved and reworked over longer times with newer technological improvements but have maintained their shape.

Now the IBM ThinkPad has entered this line of classic designs. Here, it was about the black housing, the blue ENTER key, the red thumbstick to move the pointer around and the 7-row keyboard. These computers became a statement for what is expected of the corporate laptop that carries through the business sense of an office in New York or Chicago..

This has been carried through even when IBM sold their personal-computing business to Lenovo as part of their computing-hardware-business divestment effort and has been shown as a way to convey the bloodline that is underscored by the ThinkPad name.

The AGA cooker always had conveyed that same homely feel with the dog in front of it

The AGA cooker always had conveyed that same homely feel always underscored with the dog in front of it

A very strong analogy that comes to my mind is the AGA cooker which for many decades kept a particular design but had  many technical improvements such as being able to use oil, gas or electricity as a fuel or work under timer control. There were still the two hotplates with the distinct insulated metal lids sitting on the black top and two or four ovens with the distinctly-shaped insulated doors, the chrome towel rail on the top front edge (with many tea-towels hanging on it) and the thermometer above the top oven door. The AGA stove still carried through the homely feel in the kitchen, consistently warm and comfortable and has often been associated with the British farm houses and cottages and the cosy lifestyle endemic to them.

One of the machines that was being celebrated and is being considered by Lenovo for a “One More Time” treatment is the highly-portable IBM ThinkPad 700c which was issued in 1992. I use the expression “One More Time” to allude to what Wurlitzer had done with the 1015 jukebox. The original design could only make 10 78-rpm records for play through its valve amplifier. But Wurlitzer issued a newer machine with the same arch shape and decorations as the original unit, but was able to have 50 45-rpm records available to play via a solid-state amplifier and used microprocessor technology to fetch the records to be played. This newer model was called the 1015 “One More Time” to reference the preservation of the same industrial design but having newer improvemts.

The IBM ThinkPad 700c had a “cigar-box” look with the black housing, the red thumbstick and the distinct keyboard layout. But it had a 4:3 display that had a resolution low by today’s standards along with the processor power, memory and storage that was okay to 1992 standards for a secondary machine. It also had a 3.5” floppy-disk drive as its removeable storage. Here, they would revise this computer with a 16:9 widescreen display with Full-HD resolution at least, a few USB 3.0 ports as the main connectivity option, current-spec horsepower like Intel Core M or i-Series processors, 4Gb RAM and 128Gb SSD secondary storage at least, and more to suit today’s expectations.

What I like of this idea put up in Lenovo’s blog is to revisit a classic design and look at how it can be made relevant to today’s requirements rather than tossing it away.

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Microsoft answers the reality with your computing environment using Windows 10

Article

How Microsoft Is Bringing Windows 10 Features, Including Cortana, To Android And iOS | Lifehacker

Microsoft furthers Android, iOS integration push in Win10 | ITNews

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft Windows

Blog Post

Video

My Comments

Windows 10 and your smartphone platform work together-1

They now can work together

Manufacturers and platform vendors live in a dream world where customers will have their phone, computer and tablet all on the same or related platforms.

But the reality is that most people will have a personal computing environment based on two or three different operating systems. Typically this is an iPhone or Android smartphone working alongside a regular computer running Windows or MacOS X and, most likely, an iPad or an Android or Windows tablet.

It leads to problems associated with data interchange between the various devices and may require you to use cloud services or folders on a NAS, along with software import / export abilities to exchange the data. Even keeping your phone book or contact list in sync amongst devices of the various platforms can be very difficult.

But Microsoft has taken off from where they have built developer tools to allow you to quickly have apps ready-to-deploy for iOS, Android and Windows. They have taken this further by providing iOS, Android and Windows 10 apps that interlink and share data between your computer, tablet and smartphone. It may go against the dream held by Apple and their fanbois that once you have an iPhone, you progressively move towards an all-Apple computing environment with your regular computer being a Macintosh.

The first of these is the Phone Companion. This determines the corresponding apps you need to download from the iTunes App Store (iOS) or Google Play (Android) to interlink your phone with our Windows 10 computer on an application level.

These apps make use of Microsoft’s Windows OneDrive as a transfer point between your smartphone and your Windows 10 computer. For example, one of the apps provides a “hook” for your phone platform’s camera app to transfer photos to OneDrive so they show up on your computer.

There is also the XBox Music app which allows you to store your music on OneDrive and stream it to your iOS or Android smartphone while notes you create with OneNote on either your computer or smartphone show up on the other device. Microsoft is even making sure that if you modify a document on its Office mobile applications, the changes are reflected on your Office desktop applications.

Both the main smartphone platforms have their own integrated voice-driven personal assistant software in the form of Siri for iOS and Google Now for Android. But Microsoft has written a gateway app for each of these platforms so you can use Cortana as your voice-driven personal assistant. They are pushing the idea that, with Windows 10, Cortana will work across your smartphone and your regular computer in a platform-agnostic manner instead of just working with your smartphone or tablet..

A situation that can arise with any interoperability solution is that the solution can be engineered to be the hub of your computing life and not work tightly with the other platforms. For example, you may not be able to link your iOS or Android contacts function tightly with Windows nor would you be able to exchange photos between your device’s native photo storage and your computer’s photo collection smoothly. This can be of concern for, say, iOS users who make the Camera Roll serve as their handheld “brag-book” even though they have a PC or Mac having its own photo store or a cloud service like Dropbox being a photo exchange.

It is a step in the right direction to ensure data interoperability across the different mobile and desktop platforms when sharing data between devices along with satisfying the multiple-platform computing reality that affects most people.

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At last Australian small business buying new IT equipment benefits from a tax break

Articles Small businesses - Belgrave shopping strip

Fringe Benefits Tax on all portable devices used for work abolished | SmartCompany

Federal budget 2015: Fringe benefits tax abolished on tablets, laptops and mobile phones | Australian Financial Review

From the horse’s mouth

The Hon. Joe Hockey MP, Treasurer Of The Commonwealth Of Australia

Growing Jobs and Small Business Package Press Release

Relevant Material

Small Business Technology page

Buyers’ Guides

Product Reviews: Laptop, Notebook And Netbook Computers

My Comments

Lenovo Thinkpad G50-70 Laptop

A 15″ work-home laptop that is now eligible to be paired with a..

As part of Australian tax law since the late 1980s, companies were required to pay a fringe-benefits tax on non-cash supplementary benefits they gave to their employees. The same situation also ensnared sole-traders who chose to run their businesses as a company and buy capital equipment like vehicles or computers in the company’s name but use it for business and personal / community purposes.

This has caused various tax-compliance quagmires for all businesses but there has been some special treatment for small businesses in relationship to them buying portable computer equipment. Previously, it was seen under fringe-benefits-tax law that if a company gave an employee two computers like a “work-home” laptop and a tablet computer or ultraportable, they could only see one of these devices as FBT-exempt because they did the same function.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

.. tablet computer, “2-in-1” or other ultraportable without FBT risks for small buisness

Now, as part of the 2015 Federal Budget, the Australian Government have installed a tax break for small businesses with an annual turnover of under AUD$2 million by making the supply of all work-related portable electronic device not subject to FBT. This measure, which applies from April 1 2016, would allow for the supply of a regular 15”-17” laptop as a “work-home” computer along with a tablet, “2-in-1” or ultraportable, and a smartphone to an employee and the technology can be used for personal use without dealing with any further red tape.

This, along with a tax deduction for newly-purchased individual assets less than AUD$20,000, has been part of a series of measures that Treasurer Joe Hockey, who has had small-business experience through his family life, that make things easier for start-ups and small businesses.

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The thin-and-light laptops are becoming more lightweight

Article

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

An example of the trend being observed for 12″-14″ ultraportable computers

Lenovo’s super-light LaVie Z laptop is now available | Engadget

My Comments

I have observed that one of the premium points in a computer manufacturer’s portable-computer product lineup are the 12”-14” ultraportable notebooks like the Ultrabooks which command some rather princely sums of money. These have a strong appeal to people who are “on the go” due to them offering a lightweight chassis yet having a screen and keyboard of a minimum size that plays well for content creation and, as I have experienced for myself, they fit well on that economy-class airline tray table with room to spare for that coffee.

Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook on tray table

Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook – suits air travel very well

Another key feature that is being pushed for this class of computer is them being designed to run for a long time, typically a workday, on their own batteries when you are engaging in normal computing activities. Some manufacturers are even pushing the envelope further for longer batter runtime incase you forget the laptop’s charger when you head off for that business trip in a hurry.

This is even though tablets are still being considered part of the computing equation and there are some of these units being available as convertible or detachable “2-in-1” computers so that they can become a large-screen tablet. This can come in handy if you are viewing material with someone else for example.

When most of the companies like HP and Sony released a convertible or detachable “2-in-1” computer, they initially ran these models in the 11” subnotebook size. Then they ran with a 13” model as part of the line-up of “follow-up” products that had the same form-factor. Similarly, the Ultrabook form factor like the Acer Aspire S3 I previously reviewed in 2012 was defined in response to a similarly-sized Apple MacBook Air computer that was released close to the time.

But in response to Apple premiering their latest iteration of the MacBook Air computer which has the USB-C connector, some other companies are offering similarly-light ultraportable computers. Enter Lenovo who are fielding their newer LaVie Z (US product page) range of Ultrabooks that come close to the new MacBook Air’s dimensions and weight. Here, these computers maintain that ultralight requirement for increased portability and have a spec sheet comprising of Intel i7 horsepower, 8Gb RAM and 256Gb solid-state drive. But they also inserted in to their range the LaVie Z 360 (US product page) which is a convertible unit in the same vein as the Yoga 3 Pro that I previously reviewed.

Personally, I would find that each and every computer manufacturer would offer one of these lightweight notebooks as part of “refreshing” their 12”-14” ultraportable product line or to build out this line further. Here, they could make this product lineup include models that suit different user classes and budgets with some that are purely “secondary computer for typing up copy” models while others are geared towards performance computing.

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Product Review–Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook

Introduction

I am reviewing the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon which is a 14” Ultrabook that has its housing built out of carbon fibre rather than plastic. Here, this computer is like most of the 13” ultraportable kind of computer but comes with a 14” screen and is the third generation of the X1 Carbon Ultrabook.

The review-sample computer came delivered with Windows 7 Professional but you can order it to be delivered with Windows 8.1. It is delivered with the latest Lenovo software for business laptops which means that it hasn’t come with the flaky Superfish software that was a security risk.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook

Price
– this configuration
RRP AUD$1899
Form factor Regular laptop
Processor Intel Core i5-5200 extra cost
Intel Core i5-5300U
Intel Core i7-5500U
Intel Core i7-5600U
RAM 4 Gb RAM
extra cost 8Gb
shared with graphics
Secondary storage 128Gb solid-state drive,
extra cost
256Gb solid-state drive
Display Subsystem Intel HD 5500 integrated graphics Display memory in discrete options
Screen 14” screen
(Full HD 1080)
,
extra-cost:
14” screen (2560×1440), 14” touchscreen (2560×1440)
LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD Audio
Network Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n/ac dual-band 2 stream
Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready
Modems Optional 3G wireless broadband modem
Connectivity USB USB 3.0 x 2 (1 with continuous supply)
High-speed connections eSATA, Thunderbolt, etc
Video DisplayPort, HDMI
Audio 3.5mm stereo audio input-output jack
Expansion
Authentication and Security Fingerprint reader, TPM
Operating System on supplied configuration Windows 7 Professional

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook

A traditional business laptop

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook is scaled towards a traditional business-use marketplace. Thus it has the same aesthetics as the other ThinkPad laptops such as the dull-grey casing. But its thinness and lightness pitches it towards users who are travelling a lot and intend to do a lot of work on the road.

One limitation with the carbon fibre housing is that the grey case can easily look dirty after a fair bit of use and make the machine look a bit “too old”. There is nothing flimsy about the way the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is built which makes for a durable Ultrabook.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook thumbstick and trackpad

Thumbstick and trackpad as user interface

The heat output is focused around the top right edge of the unit’s base and was more noticeable during video playback. But this didn’t become too uncomfortable when I used it on my knees

User Interface

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s keyboard is of a width that is ideal for comfortable touch typing which I would describe as being important for this class of laptop.

There are two cursor-movement options for this notebook – a conventional trackpad and a thumbstick. I had not noticed any jumping around going on with either device even with using the keyboard, unlike some other laptops I have reviewed where this was a continuous problem.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook fingerprint reader

Fingerprint reader

This business Ultrabook is equipped with a fingerprint reader which I found was very accurate and reliable. This didn’t matter whether I had eaten some food which would cause oil to appear on my fingers, something which I consider important when testing these security devices because these computers end up being used in various “second offices” as in cafés and bars or on the island kitchen bench.

Audio and Video

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook Left-hand-side connections: Power, HDMI, DisplayPort, USB 3.0, headphones

Left-hand-side connections: Power, HDMI, DisplayPort, USB 3.0, headphones

The Lenovo’s display has worked in a manner that yields best resolution and even comes through properly with TV content that you may watch online. The screen has a matte look like what is expected for business equipment

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook Right-hand side connections: USB 3.0, micro-Ethernet port

Right-hand side connections: USB 3.0, micro-Ethernet port

I never place a high expectation on a laptop’s internal speakers but it has performed adequately through them. But I would use a headset or external speakers if you want the best out if its sound.

Connectivity, Storage and Expansion

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon comes with a 128Gb solid-state disk as standard but you can pay more for a 256Gb solid-state drive. This allows for very quick response and is something you could get away with for “on-the-road” use whether you use an external hard disk for extra data storage or not.

Sadly this computer misses the SD card slot which is something I would consider as being very important for those of us who own digital cameras or camcorders. Here, you would either have to “tether” the camera or use a USB SD card reader to transfer the pictures or footage to the solid-state drive.

There are two USB 3.0 sockets with one being able to charge gadgets from the Lenovo when it is off using the Toshiba-style “plug-and-charge” setup. As well, there is an HDMI connection to connect to most video devices along with a DisplayPort connector for the good monitors and projectors.

The network abilities in this laptop are up-to-date even catering for 802.11ac wireless-network segments. There is a Gigabit Ethernet connection for you to use with an Ethernet or HomePlug powerline wired-network segment but you have to use the supplied rnet plug adaptor to plug the Ethernet cable in to the Ultrabook’s small low-profile Ethernet socket.

Battery life

The Lenovo is very economical on battery life even for viewing video content, which means that you could be able to get more than a day out of it without needing to dig out the charger. This is although I would still keep the charger with me if I was travelling as well as “topping up the battery” overnight.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

As an Ultrabook for business use, I didn’t come across with many limitations except for the price and the absence of an SD card reader.

Similarly, Lenovo could work on the carbon-fibre finish to make it stay looking clean rather than having a look that can degrade quickly.

Conclusion

I would position the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon as another example of a good-quality business-focused secondary “travel” computer that could do well for use between the “main office” and the “second office” (café or bar) where you meet clients or catch up on work without disturbance; or for whenever you do a lot of business travel.

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