Portable computing with a laptop like this Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 after those COVID lockdowns is something to think of
There is a slow return to laptop-based portable computing at offices or “third places” in jurisdictions who have successfully tamed the COVID-19 coronavirus plague and have allowed increased freedom of movement. It is becoming more so as the vaccines are being rolled out to more people in more neighbourhoods; and more of us take the opportunity to get these shots in our arms as they become available in order to limit COVID’s effective spread.
This includes an increase in returning to offices for meetings or part-time work there or heading to cafés, bars and libraries to work there. Some workplaces are even examining the idea of mixed on-site / off-site working arrangements such as working some days of a workweek on-site and others remotely. This kind of work, known as hybrid working, is being encouraged by local governments as a way to keep the CBD or major business areas active during the workweek even though workplaces are seeing more of the benefits of remote work.
Even if your work ends up being “home-based” including those of us who run our own businesses from home, you will end up engaging in more portable computing. This could be to use that café or library as an “away from it all” workspace or even to make use of co-working facilities for that same purpose. Those of us whose effort has a public-facing storefront of some sort may want or will have to use our laptops at that location for some IT needs. This is more so as we make use of these storefronts more as they can be opened up to the public more frequently.
Making sure your laptop computer is ready for increased portable computing
What you may be thinking of is how to make sure your laptop is ready for this kind of computing. This is more so if you were using your laptop at home due to the requirement to work or learn form home.
One issue that will come about is how the battery will perform for all-day computing activities. Here, if your computer has power management software built in like most Dell and Lenovo Windows laptops have, you may have to run it on an adaptive setting rather than “primarily AC” or similar settings that you may have used as a measure to conserve battery life due to you staying at home. The “adaptive” setting adapts the battery charging and discharging limits to suit your current needs whereas the “primarily-AC” setting was often about managing charging and discharging so that the laptop can run from external power without compromising the battery life.
You may even consider the idea of undergoing a “dry run” with your computer before you start heading out regularly. That is to run it in a portable or “on-road” usage scenario for a significant part of your day, including to do some productive computing activity during that time so you can know if it will last the distance at your favourite “third places” without the need to look for power outlets to plug it in to.
An example of this would be to use your laptop at seasonally-comfortable locations like the backyard, balcony or garden during warm weather or at the fireside during colder weather.
A travel mouse like the Logitech MX Anywhere 3 as used with my Dell XPS 13 9300 can work well for on-road use
Such a practice would be about running your laptop only on battery power for a significant amount of time during the day in order to effectively “drain out” the battery. That then has the laptop able to charge for a longer time and get used to increased amounts of portable use.
It will also be a chance to adapt between use at your primary desktop workspace which you have kitted out with better (and multiple) screens and input devices; and portable use where you are just using the laptop’s keyboard and trackpad / thumbstick. Here you may think of whether to take a travel mouse like the Logitech MX Anywhere 3 with you if you are still comfortable with “mousing around” while on the go.
You may also need to think of accessories that you can stuff in your bag or briefcase with the laptop computer. Here, you need to focus on portability and work towards small lightweight durable accessories to suit your needs. If you are likely to be absent-minded, you may want to buy a spare charger for your laptop. Here, you could keep it in a drawer in your home office even if you have a device like a USB-C dock powering your laptop at the primary workspace. This is in addition to the charger you would be keeping in your bag.
A small-sized USB-C dock or hub could be worth keeping in your laptop bag
For example, if you are dealing with an ultraportable computer that uses nothing but USB-C-based sockets, you may want to keep a compact USB-C travel hub so you can connect USB, display or other peripherals to that computer. Most of these will support “charge-through” operation, commonly known as “pass-through” charging. This is so you plug your laptop’s USB-C charger in to the travel adaptor that is connected to the laptop in order to run the computer from external power without forfeiting the ability to use the peripherals connected to that dock.
It may also be a good time to check that your laptop bag or similar hand luggage that you use to transport your computer with when on the road is still “fit for purpose” even though you may not have used it for a long time. Here, you may have to check that it is still intact and in good condition, including to check that zippers, press-studs (snap-fasteners) and other fasteners still work properly. You may even have to lubricate the zipper by rubbing a candle, dry bar of soap or a “lead”(graphite) pencil along its teeth if it is stuck. It may also be a good time to get rid of any dust, vermin or other stuff that has accumulated on or in that laptop bag which you haven’t used.
As always, make sure that your computer’s operating system and other software is up-to-date with all the latest patches before you head out. This is to make sure that your computer runs smoothly and securely as it should be. Business users who use company-provided hardware may need to check with their IT-support professionals associated with their employer regarding keeping their computer up-to-date with the latest software updates and patches.
Then you are able to confidently return to work or to your favourite “third places” and use your laptop there.
The computing setup with multiple screens – now very ubiquitous
Computing setups that are equipped with two or more screens are becoming more ubiquitous due to the affordability of these setups. As well, it is becoming more acceptable in general business and personal computing to operate with multiple displays at your main workspace thanks to a range of productivity benefits.
You may find that there is a steep learning curve as you set up your workspace for multiple-screen computing. This is something that I am facing as I move from a traditional desktop computer centred around a traditional PC tower to a laptop computer that is connected to a dock and I want to keep the existing monitor going.
An example of this is when you move away from your desktop computer with the traditional single-monitor approach to a laptop-centred computing setup and retain your desktop computer’s monitor because it has plenty of mileage left in it. It can also happen if you are using an all-in-one desktop computer like the iMac that has an integrated display and you use a similarly-sized monitor to create a multiple-screen computing setup.
Those of you who use a traditional desktop computer may head towards multiple-screen computing if you decide to buy a new monitor and keep the existing monitor going. You will find out if this is feasible for most of these computers if there are two or more display outputs on your computer, especially its graphics card.
Using a computer in conjunction with a projector to show material to a large audience like this church setting will have you working a multiple-screen setup due to the use of a smaller screen for control or cueing purposes
This can also happen when you are using a projector or large-screen TV as the “big screen” in your display setup, something that is commonly done for multimedia or games applications or to show content to large audiences.
Occasionally I have had to deal with multiple screen computing setups. This was either as part of helping some people out with their computing setups. Or it was to help a small church with their AV and IT needs which has been the basis of some articles I have published and targeted to that same audience.
Now, thanks to a computer upgrade towards a laptop, I have headed towards regular use of a multiple-screen setup by maintaining my existing monitor as a second screen for that setup. In this case, I use the larger-screen second monitor for working on documents in my primary laptop-centric workspace.
Why go multiple-screen for your computing needs
Most computer users who make heavy use of their productivity software will want to benefit from multiple screens. This is due to the effectively-large working area that these setups offer.
.. as will using your laptop with your TV to watch Netflix
For example, a person who is building a document or presentation from online research will be having multiple programs running so they can add content from the online research in to their “magnum opus” easily. Some of these users will even have multiple Web-browser sessions running concurrently along with the program they are using to build their content. Or a user could engage in a videoconference and look up relevant material or take notes on another screen during the call.
People who work with large spreadsheets will also benefit especially if the spreadsheet becomes wide. It also applies to those of us who use desktop publishing, illustration or photo-editing programs to lay out publications or create our computer-graphics masterpieces. You may come across an increasing range of monitors that can be switched between landscape and portrait orientation, which may allow you to adapt them to support a wide or tall project.
Those of us who make use of online news services will benefit from multiple-screen computing> This can be about being able to monitor a current event that appears on an online news service while engaging in another activity like creating that document, spreadsheet or presentation.
Multiple-screen setups also are about a larger screen that is used to show material to other people. This is very common with projector-based setups or where the large-screen TV set is used. Increasingly a lot of software focused to this kind of effort is being designed to take advantage of multiple displays.
This same application is being extended to videoconferencing setups like with Zoom’s Multiple Monitor setup. Here, that allows a “gallery” view to exist on one screen and the current speaker to appear on the other screen, and to allow shared resources to appear on the secondary screen. It also extends to those of us who use text-based “chat” or social-media platforms and want to follow them while doing other computing activities including browsing the Web.
Some games are even exploiting multiple-screen operation in order to provide multiple concurrent views of the same action. Or they even use this to effectively create larger and wider views of the action.
Here, you are typically implementing the multiple-screen display setup in the “extend” operating mode. This has the screens set up as one large display area or “canvas” but most operating systems make one screen become the primary screen where programs appear by default when they are launched. Typically it is the screen that will be used during the boot process and will show the startup images like the interactive login screen or operating-system splash screen. If you use a laptop or all-in-one computer, the integrated screen will always be deemed the primary screen.
Even with projectors or TVs, you may have to implement “extend” behaviour and work your computer’s regular display as your primary display to allow some presentation, multimedia or games software to work properly with multiple screens. In the same context, some users may have the computer’s primary display working as a “content preview” screen and shift the content to the large screen when it is ready to show.
For laptop users, they may use the “external monitor only”” display option but run multiple external monitors, This would come in to play if you are connecting multiple monitors to an outboard dock of some sort.
Laptop users will also need to be used to switching frequently between single-screen and multiple-screen setups. This is due to themselves using the laptop’s screen as the only screen when they use it in a portable context away from their desktop workspace but work with multiple screens while at the desktop workspace. They will also have to cope with being able to “go multiscreen” at a moment’s notice if they choose to connect the computer to a large-screen projector or TV.
Your mouse pointer
Using “pointer trails” a.k.a. “comet tails on your mouse pointer can make it easier to discover across the multiple screens
The first issue you will face is locating your mouse pointer. In this situation, you need to know which screen it exists on at the current time, or whether you are moving from one screen to another. This can be very difficult with screens of different sizes like a setup involving your laptop screen and your large-screen monitor. It can also be difficult where you have two screens that are separated from each other including dealing with monitors that have large screen bezels.
These kind of options are introduced in to the main regular computing platforms as a measure to increase accessibility and useability of these platforms for those of us with limited abilities. This is due to these platforms being used by an ageing user base for both work and play along with younger people that have limited abilities wanting to he productive with these platforms.
One way is to enable “comet tails” on your mouse pointer. This has a decaying trail of the pointer arrow which will appear as you move your mouse pointer with your input device. Windows has this as part of its Mouse controloptions in the Control Panel. MacOS X requires you to use a third-party app to have this same functionality for locating the mouse pointer. You may also find that adjusting how your mouse pointer looks such as its size or colour may help you with making it more discoverable for you.
Another technique that you will have to perform frequently is to bring up the secondary or context menu simply as a way to locate your mouse pointer. Here, the large area occupied by the context menu stands out more visibly than a small mouse arrow or I-cursor. People who use a pointing device that has a secondary button can use this button on all desktop operating systems. But Apple Mac users who use a pointing device without a secondary button, as what was part of the original Macintosh setup, can achieve this same function by holding down the Ctrl key on the keyboard and clicking their pointing device.
The two main desktop operating systems also have their own tricks to make the mouse pointer discoverable at a moment’s notice through a special mouse-action or keypress. Here, it can be useful for identifying where your mouse pointer is across that large area.
Windows users can set things up to quickly highlight where the mouse pointer is when they press the CTRL key
Apple Mac users can set their computer to quickly enlarge the mouse cursor when you move the mouse (or your finger on the MacBook’s trackpad) vigorously. Here, you click on the Apple menu, then click on System Preferences, then click on Accessibility then click on Display, You subsequently select Cursor and tick the “Shake mouse cursor to locate” option. Windows users have to go the the Mouse control options in the Control Panel and select “Show location of cursor when I press the CTRL key“. Here, when you press and release the CTRL key, a large circle appears then reduces in size around where the mouse cursor is.
Laptop users who run a multi-screen setup comprising of their laptop’s screen and the large monitor in an “extended” arrangement may find that the small screen could be kept for “parking” application user interfaces that they aren’t giving all their attention to. They then keep the large screen for the applications they are focusing on at the moment. An example of this could be a Web browser with a page they are reading or an office application with the document they are working on existing on the large screen. That is while an email client, messaging application or media player that only needs occasional attention could be visible just on the laptop’s smaller screen.
Moving apps between screens with the keyboard
People who are new to multiple-screen computing or switch between single-screen computing and multiple-screen computing will come across situations where the app they are using doesn’t appear on the screen they want to use. This may be of concern where a user starts a program they previously ran on a multiple-screen setup doesn’t appear on a single-screen setup due to the absence of the screen they were using. Or they want to quickly move an app to another screen.
This situation will come in to play for those of us with laptops who work only with the laptop screen while away from the main workspace. Here, you may find that a program you use on your external monitor isn’t visible on the laptop’s screen but appears on the Windows Taskbar or MacOS Dock as an app that is in use. This may happen where an app doesn’t adapt to different multiple-screen setups properly.
Here, software that adapts properly between single-screen and multiple-screen computing setups will, for example, move to the single screen in a single-screen setup if it was last operated on other monitors in a multiple-screen setup.
It also applies to those of us who are using a computer as part of an AV playout setup and have to move a program’s screen between the cue / monitoring screen and the main screen. That also extends to people using the big TV screen to view videos or pictures or play games on a laptop. It is more so with Web browsers or other programs that don’t handle multiple screens properly.
Windows simplifies the process of moving apps between screens with the keyboard. Here, Windows users need to Alt-Tab to the program you are trying to bring back in to view in order to give it logical focus. Then you use the Windows + Shift + left or right arrow keys to bring the program to the integrated screen.
Apple Mac users would then have to invoke Mission Control by pressing the F3 key. Then they would have to use the trackpad or other pointing device to move the program between screens. As far as I know, there isn’t an approach to using the keyboard to move an app or window between screens on the MacOS.
You may find that the procedure for taking full-screen screenshots may be very different here. In most cases, the operating system will encompass what is seen on both screens in a full-screen screenshot.
In the case of Windows, you may find that PrtScr may yield you something to large for your screenshot. Here, moving the cursor in to the screen where you want to take the screengrab then pressing CTRL+ALT+PrtScr would “grab” what is on that screen and store that to the Clipboard. If you want both screens, you would press CTRL+PrtScr. Then, you simply past that in to Windows Paint or your favourite image editor, redact it then save it as a file. Other operating systems will use a similar means to take screenshots of a particular screen in a multiple-screen shot.
But mostly you will have to resort to window-specific screenshot commands like Alt+PrtScr for Windows or Cmd+Shift+4 then Spacebar for MacOS to grab screenshots of the relevant windows.
As you head towards multiple-screen computing, take your time to get used to it. Here, it is about moving an application window between the different screens or working out how to quickly locate that mouse pointer.
A regular TV may not serve well as the only computer monitor for your computing and video-entertainment needs
An issue that will crop up with home computing nowadays is whether to use a TV as the only display device for your computer as well as providing video entertainment.
This is an idea that tends to appeal to those of us who are living in small areas like college dorms or small apartments or simply have this kind of space as our own personal living space in a shared environment.
In this context, I am assuming that you are using the screen as part of a desktop computing setup whether by using a traditional desktop computer or by connecting your laptop computer to the display and having it serve as the primary display. I am not talking about running the display you want to use as part of a multiple-screen setup or for occasional group-viewing use.
There will be issues that will preclude this kind of use for a TV serving this role for your computer.
An issue you will need to pay attention to is the pixel density your display device offers especially if you are intending to use it as your only display device for your computing and entertainment needs.
A 15” Full HD laptop would offer a pixel density of 141.2 pixels per inch while a 32” Full HD TV would work at 68.84 pixels per inch. Apple’s iPhones that implement the Retina screen would work at 326ppi while their MacBook Pro Retina screen would work at 227ppi.
Here. the display that works at something like 141.2 pixels per inch or more would make text or graphics look sharp and clear especially if you are working close to the screen. It may not matter if you are playing video games or viewing multimedia content at a “lean-back” distance.
Here, if you are buying a TV or monitor with a screen size of 27” or less, make sure you are looking for a model that uses Full HD (1080p) resolution. Larger screen sizes can be served through the use of a value-priced 32”-55” 4K UHDTV device.
Your computer’s display infrastructure needs to have an HDMI 2.0 output, preferably HDMI 2.0a for HDR10-capable displays. This may be fulfilled by most recent discrete GPUs and some recent Intel integrated graphics setups may also support this specification. If your computer or external graphics module uses a DisplayPort video output, you may need to use a DisplayPort to HDMI adaptor. Beware some of these devices may require the use of an active DisplayPort to HDMI adaptor.
Input Lag and Display Responsiveness
This is an issue that will affect gameplay where you are expected to respond quickly to the situation that is taking place in a game you are playing. It is more of concern when you are playing any fast-paced game.
The input lag problem is the time between when you do something with your game controller, keyboard or mouse and when the effect of that is painted on the screen. Then there will be issues where the screen doesn’t appear with the latest activity or isn’t quick enough to represent all of the activity including what your opponents are up to.
This is brought about due to most domestic TVs being equipped with a lot of video-processing circuity logic that deals with the incoming signal before it is painted on the screen. The time it takes may be just enough for dealing with video content but not interactive gaming content.
Some sets will offer a “gaming mode” to minimise lag times and this typically reduces the use of video-processing circuitry or optimises it for fast response. Also be aware that a significant number of large-screen TVs are appearing with features and graphics performance very similar to gaming-class computer monitors with this as a growing trend. This is due to the fact that games consoles and “gaming-rig” computers including Thunderbolt-3-equipped laptops connected to gaming-class external-graphics-module setups are connected to the large screen TV for impressive multiplayer game play.
In a lot of cases, most TVs wouldn’t work well as a sole display device, with this applying more towards small cheap HDTVs. But they can work well as a secondary screen or for large-screen group-viewing use.
What about purposing a computer monitor for TV use
You could purpose a computer monitor with built-in speakers as a TV by adding a set-top box or similar peripheral
Another approach would be to use a suitably-sized monitor as your TV set, especially if it is equipped with integrated speakers. In most cases, the monitor won’t have a remote control for “lean-back” viewing because you intend to use it with your computer.
You may come across a “TV monitor” which is a computer monitor that has an integrated TV tuner and is pitched for desktop use. These are available in countries with strong support for free-to-air TV like UK, Europe, Asia and Oceania. Typically they will have a Full HD screen with a size of 32” or smaller but have display electronics optimised for computer use.
On the other hand, your computer monitor would need to be equipped with a spare HDMI input that has HDCP support. Here, you use a set-top box or PVR that has an HDMI output to receive TV broadcasts.
If you subscribe to traditional pay TV, your pay-TV provider will lease you a set-top box or PVR as part of the service and this can work well if free-to-air TV is provided via the pay-TV platform. On the other hand, your local consumer-electronics store will have set-top boxes or PVRs that work with free-to-air TV and these units will display high-definition channels at their proper resolution.
A broadcast-LAN setup like SAT>IP can work with your computer if it is running the appropriate client software. As well some platforms like SAT>IP are supported by set-top boxes that connect to your monitor’s HDMI input. You may also find that some Internet-based set-top-box platforms will offer access to real-time video streaming through the broadcasters’ video-on-demand platforms or a similar application.
You may find that some games consoles like the XBox One will have a TV-tuner module supplied as a first-party or third-party option. Similarly, you may be able to use a USB-based TV-tuner module or a TV-tuner card as a way to purpose your computer for TV-viewing.
On the other hand, if you are just content with Netflix and similar online services, you can just get by with using the service’s Website and viewing the video content on the monitor in a full-screen arrangement. As well, AirPlay (facilitated with Apple TV) or Chromecast can work when it comes to “throwing” the video content from your smartphone or tablet to the monitor.
You will find that using one display for your computing and video entertainment needs may cut it for some applications but not for others like full-on gaming.
The iPad is seen as part of the cloud-based mobile computing idea that Silicon Valley promotes
Very often “cloud” is used as a Silicon-Valley-based buzzword when describing information-technology systems that have any sort of online data-handling abilities.
This is more so if the IT system is sold to the customer “as a service” where the customer pays a subscription to maintain use of the system. It also is used where the user’s data is stored at an online service with minimal data-processing and storage abilities at the user’s premises.
It is because small business users are being sold on these systems typically due to reduced capital expenditure or reduced involvement in maintaining the necessary software. It also allows the small business to be able to “think big” when it comes to their IT systems without paying a prince’s ransom.
What is strictly a cloud system
Single Server online system
But, strictly speaking, a cloud-based system relies on multiple online locations to store and/or process data. Such a system would have multiple computers at multiple data centres processing or storing the data, whether in one geopolitical jurisdiction or many depending on the service contract.
This is compared to the single-server online IT system sold as a service that implements at least a Web-based “thin-client” where you work the data through a Web page and, perhaps, a mobile-platform native app to work your data on a smartphone or tablet. Typically, the data would be held on one system under the control of the service provider with this system existing at a data centre. It works in a similar vein to common Internet services like email or Web-hosting with the data held on a server provided by the Wehhost or ISP.
Hybrid cloud systems
Hybrid Cloud online system with primary data kept on premises
One type of cloud system is what could be best described as a “hybrid” system that works with data stored primarily on the user’s premises. This is typically to provide either a small private data cloud that replicates data across branches of a small business or to provide online and mobile functionality such as to allow you to manage the data on a Web page or native mobile-platform app anywhere around the world, or to provide messaging abilities through a mobile-messaging platform.
For example, a lot of NAS units are marketed as “cloud” NAS units but these devices keep the user’s data on their own storage media. Here, they use the “cloud” functionality to improve discovery of that device from the Internet when the user enables remote access functionality or data-syncing between two NAS devices via the Internet. It is due to the reality that most residential and some small-business Internet connections use outside IP addresses that change frequently.
WD MyCloud EX4100 NAS – one of the kind of NAS units that uses cloud functionality for online access
Or a small medical practice who keeps their data on-premises is sold a “cloud-based” messaging and self-service appointment-management add-on to their IT system. Here, the core data is based on what is held on-premises but the messaging functionality or Web-based user interface and necessary “hooks” enabling the mobile-platform native app for the self-service booking function are hosted on a cloud service built up by the add-on’s vendor. When a patient uses the mobile-platform app or Web-front to book or change an appointment, they alter the data on the on-premises system through the cloud-hosted service.
It may also be used with something like an on-premises accounting system to give business functionality like point-of-sale abilities to a mobile-platform device like an iPad through the use of a cloud-based framework. But the core data in the on-premises system is altered by the cloud-based mobile-platform setup as each transaction is completed.
Full Cloud online system with data processing and storage across multiple different computers
On the other hand, a full-cloud system has the user’s primary data held online across one or more server computers with minimum local hardware or software to work the user’s data. There may be some on-premises data-caching to support offline operation such as to provide transaction-capture if the link is down or simply to improve the system’s performance.
The on-premises data-caching can be extended to a system that has concurrent data storage both in the cloud and on the premises. This may help businesses who have invested in on-premises data-storage by providing them with the security and flexibility of a cloud setup with the fail-safe and responsive operation of the on-premises setup. In some cases, it may also be about facilitating secure payment-card transaction processing with that taking place in a separate compliant network hosted by the IT solution provider.
The IT infrastructure for a full-cloud system will have some measure of scalability to allow for an increasing customer base, typically with the service provider annexing more computer power as the customer base increases. Such a service will have tiered pricing where you pay more for increased capacity.
Client software types
The user-interface for an online or cloud IT system would primarily be Web-driven where you work the data with a Web browser. On the other hand, it could use native client software that works tightly with the client computer’s operating system whether as a “thick” client with a significant amount of local data-processing or storage on the endpoint computing device or a “thin” client which just has a window to the data such as simply using a Web browser.
Public vs private cloud
Another concept regarding cloud-based IT is the difference between a public cloud and a private cloud. The public cloud has the computing power managed by another firm like Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services while the private cloud has all its computing power managed by the service provider or client company and effectively isolated from public access through a separate private network.
This can be a regular server-grade computer installed at each of the business’s branches, described as an internal cloud, Or it can be multiple high-grade server computers installed at data centres managed by someone else but available exclusively for the business, known as a hosted private cloud.
Data Privacy, Security and Sovereignty
Another factor that comes in to question regarding cloud and online computing is the issue of data privacy, security and sovereignty.
This covers how the data is handled to assure privacy relating to end-users whom the data is about; and assurance of security over data confidential to the IT system’s customer and its end-users. It will call out issues like encryption of data “in transit” (while moved between systems) and “at rest” (while stored on the systems) along with policies and procedures regarding who has access to the data when and for what reason.
It is becoming a key issue with online services thanks to the European GDPR directive and similar laws being passed in other jurisdictions which are about protecting end-users’ privacy in a data-driven world.
The issue of data sovereignty includes who has effective legal control over the data created and managed by the end-user of the online service along with which geopolitical area’s rules the data is subject to. Some users pay attention to this thanks to countries like the continental-European countries who value end-user privacy and similar goals heavily.
There is also the issue of what happens to this data if the user wants to move to a service that suits their needs better or if the online service collapses or is taken over by another business.
Cloudlets, Fog Computing and Edge Computing
Edge computing setup where local computing power is used for some of the data handling and storage
An example can be about a small desktop NAS, especially a high-end unit, on a business premises that handles data coming in to or going out to a cloud-based online service from endpoint devices installed on that premises. Or it could be a server installed in the equipment rack at a telephone exchange that works as part of a content-delivery system for customers who live in the neighbourhood served by that exchange.
Qarnot Q.Rad room heater that is a server computer for edge-computing setups
Similarly, the Qarnot approach which uses servers that put their waste heat towards heating rooms or creating domestic hot water implements the principle of edge computing. Even the idea of a sensor drone or intelligent videosurveillance camera that processes the data it collects before it is uploaded to a cloud-based system is also about edge computing.
It is being touted due to the concept of decentralised data processing as a way to overcome throughput latency associated with the public Internet links. As well, this concept is being underscored with the Internet of Things as a way to quickly handle data created by sensors and turn it in to a form able to be used anywhere.
Here, the issue is for those of us who buy service-based IT whether for our own needs or for a workplace is to know what kind of system we are dealing with. This includes whether the data is to exist in multiple locations, at the premises or at one location.
Originally published in July 2019. Updated in January 2020 in order to encompass cloud-based IT solutions that keep business data both in the cloud and on the premises as well as using cloud-based technology to facilitate secure transaction processing.
This arrangement documented here will work with Windows 10 computers running the April Update (Build 1803) version of that operating system or newer versions.
I have just applied the latest feature update to my Windows 10 installation on my regular computer and it has come across with a feature that most of you will want to benefit from when you use your computer to play audio or video content.
This feature update called Windows 10 April Update or formerly Windows 10 Spring Update (Build number 1803 in the System dialog) implements the ability to determine which sound device a program uses. Some Win32 (traditionally-developed) programs, namely well-bred media editing and management programs or VoIP programs have the ability for a user to determine which sound device they want that program to use. But the Web browsers, along with Spotify or TuneIn Radio and most of the Microsoft Store apps don’t offer this ability.
Windows 10 April Update allows the speakers in this USB-based audio setup to play only the music while the audio alerts play through the laptop’s integrated speakers
This means that you could set things up so that the system sounds like that Windows error “ding” or the email alert sound don’t blast through the good sound system but play through the cheaper speaker setup like your laptop’s speakers. It is while Spotify or that other audio program plays through the good speakers or hi-fi system. Similarly, you may want that YouTube video or the game you are playing to have its sound come through your big TV’s speaker but don’t like the idea of the Windows audio prompts being a distraction by barging through those speakers.
You can set things up so that the playout computer doesn’t play Windows audio alert sounds through PA systems like this church’s setup
This feature will be essential for those of you who use your computer with a PA system as an audio/video playout device and end up using baseline software that doesn’t offer the ability to manage the audio devices the software plays through. Here, you avoid having those PA speakers “magnifying” the audio prompts that Windows makes when a dialogue box pops up or new email comes in. Similarly, you could then have one audio-output device like headphones or low-powered speakers serve as a “cue” device that you use to verify or line-up the content you want to
Sound devices that you can send an app’s sound output through
play before you have it playing through the main speakers.
How do you go about this?
You would need to make sure that your computer is running with another sound device that is attached to the good sound system. This could be a separate sound card, USB sound module or DAC, or a Bluetooth audio adaptor. If you have the computer connected to a sound system equipped with Bluetooth, USB or similar audio functionality, you have effectively set up the secondary sound device. It also applies if you have connected it to the big TV or home-theatre setup using an HDMI cable.
Identifying the sound devices
Then you identify the two different sound devices – the one that you want as your “primary” device for monitoring audio prompts that Windows provides and the “secondary” one you want your multimedia content to play through.
The sound functionality that is built in to a laptop computer or a desktop computer’s motherboard will typically be represented by something like a Realtek, Intel HD Audio or similar chipset name. In most cases, this integrated-sound chipset serve the internal speakers in a laptop or a pair of cheap computer speakers connected to the audio sockets on a desktop computer’s motherboard.
If you connect your computer to your monitor or TV through one of these home-theatre receivers using the HDMI connections on these sets, you will be using the separate HDMI audio subsystem facilitated by your computer’s graphics infrastructure for the sound that comes through the receiver
Display setups connected to your computer via HDMI or DisplayPort that have audio abilities will have those abilities seen as an audio function of the display infrastructure. Some of these cases like Intel integrated graphics chips will properly refer to the arrangement as “display audio” or “HDMI display audio” due to the function being separate from the computer’s main sound chipset. This arrangement also holds true if you are connecting HDMI audio devices like soundbars, HDMI audio adaptors and home-theatre receivers between your computer and your display using the HDMI cable.
Let’s not forget that USB or Bluetooth devices that use the Windows audio-device class drivers will still identify themselves by their device or chipset make and model. This is to avoid confusion that can exist if you connect multiple USB or Bluetooth audio devices to the same host computer.
Configuring your setup
Go to Settings (the gear icon in your Start menu) and click on the System option. Then click on the Sound menu on the left of the System menu page. Make sure the current sound device is the primary one that will drive your laptop, monitor or other cheaper speakers. Then click on “App volume and device preferences” to bring up the menu to determine which speakers Spotify or your other multimedia app will use.
If you added a new audio output device to your computer, Windows will automatically assume it is the default audio device. Here, if you want this device to be the secondary device, you would have to use the above-mentioned Settings – Sound panel to select the primary sound device to be the default device.
In my setup, I used my LG monitor which has an HDMI link and built-in speakers but yields laptop-quality sound as the primary sound device while a Motorola Bluetooth audio adaptor connected to an older boombox serves as the secondary sound device. Because I am using a traditional desktop PC, the Bluetooth link is facilitated through a USB Bluetooth modem.
Spotify set up to play
Next to the app you wish to direct the sound output for, click on the drop-down box in the Output column. At the moment, this will say “Default”, but use this to select the output device you want to have the app come through such as the USB DAC or Bluetooth speaker.
Here, I tested the setup with a Win32 app in the form of the Windows Media Player and it does work properly even though that program provides the ability for users to determine the sound output device that they use. Then I tried it with a UWP (Microsoft Store) app in the form of Spotify’s Windows 10 port and this worked reliably. Subsequently, I also found that this setup worked with Google Chrome when playing a YouTube video. Through these tests, I made sure that the Windows sounds were playing through the primary speakers.
You may have to run totally different browsers if you want the sound from one Webpage to pass through one device while the sound from another Webpage passes through another. This can be of concern if, for example, you are running a YouTube playlist or something similar as background music while you are playing a Web-based social-media game.
Going back to normal operation
To get back to your normal settings, click the “Reset” button in the “App volume and device preferences” window to have all the sound sources work through your default devices.
You may find that some media content may stop if you switch audio devices while it is running. If you do use this ability to maintain a “cue” device and a “main” or “front-of-house” device for playout purposes, you will have to pause the media file before you switch audio devices or simply restart the media content after you switch.
There is the ability to determine which input device an app uses which can be good for Web-based, Microsoft Store or similar apps that don’t provide an option for you to choose which microphone device you are to use. This can come in handy if you want to use a more accurate microphone with Cortana, courseware apps or baseline notetaking apps rather than your 2-in-1’s built-in microphone.
In this case, you choose the Input device you want to use for each program or Web browser rather than choosing the Output device.
What improvements could be provided
This feature could be taken further through the use of a “Default Multimedia Audio Device” definition that is expressly used for media-player software and/or a “Default Game Audio Device” definition used for games.This could then allow a user to have an audio device work as the one to use for multimedia or gaming purposes while another is used for the system sounds. It can then lead to the ability to create an “audio device ladder” for each audio device class where connection of certain audio devices like headphones, HDMI-equipped TVs or USB DACs overrides other audio devices in a particular order.
Another issue that will crop up with this new ability that Windows 10 April Update provides is sending different audio content to different “jacks” served by the same audio infrastructure. It may come about through cheaper computer designs that only have one audio chipset for HDMI, internal-speaker and audio-jack output rather than allowing for a separate audio function that is part of a graphics infrastructure to support HDMI digital audio.
Now you are able to make sure that your Windows computer’s multimedia software can play through the speakers that would suit it best without having the various audio prompts that the Windows shell or office software creates blasting their way through those speakers.
The same connector being used for Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C may lead to confusion in more sophisticated setups
Increasingly Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 very-high-speed data connection standard has come on the scene as a product differentiator for computer products.
This standard works over the USB-C physical connection, thus allowing for a logical Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C data transfer setup.
But USB-C, like the preceding USB connection standards allows for a “tree-like” connection from the host computer device. This is facilitated through self-powered or bus-powered hubs which allow multiple device to be effectively connected to the same physical connection on the host computer or previous hub, subject to certain conditions like power budget.
On the other hand, the Thunderbolt connections can only be connected in a “daisy-chain” manner where only one device can be connected to another. This is also limited by the fact that you can only have six devices connected in a Thunderbolt data bus.
A situation that can easily crop up with the Thunderbolt 3 connection is the fact that there could be an expectation to run a connection setup for multiple devices in a “tree-like” approach. This is along with an expectation to have more than six devices on a Thunderbolt 3 data bus. It is aggravated through some of the devices that have their own power supplies being expected to be USB hubs along with these devices being equipped with Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C connections.
The classic example would be a Thunderbolt 3 RAID direct-attached-storage array along with an external GPU module and, perhaps, a Thunderbolt 3 dock (expansion module) as part of a workstation setup.
But there can be the desire to hang off more than six Thunderbolt 3 devices or establish a “tree-like” approach. This can happen where there is a desire to connect multiple storage or interface devices or you are dealing with low-tier Thunderbolt 3 devices that only have the one connection for the host computer.
In the audio recording studio environment, the Thunderbolt 3 connection can appeal with analogue-digital interfaces or digital mixers where there is the desire to connect many microphones, musical instruments and speakers to a digital-audio workstation. This can extend to the video sphere with ultra-high-definition cameras connected to a suitable AV interface for digital video production.
Similarly, Thunderbolt 3 offering support for a virtual “PCI Express” card bus may appeal to computing users running with multiple “card-cage” devices like the external graphics modules. Here, it may be about increased input-output abilities or working with high-performance graphics cards. Such a setup will become relevant with portable, all-in-one and small-form-factor desktop computers which don’t have the necessary support for the traditional interface cards that were the norm for regular computers.
A situation that can easily crop up with these devices is attempts to connect Thunderbolt 3 peripherals to other USB-C connections on upstream peripherals. This can lead to error messages and the whole setup not performing as expected.
What needs to be looked at is an extension to the Thunderbolt 3 specification to cater towards different bus layouts. This is more so to allow a peripheral to effectively reiterate one or more Thunderbolt 3 buses as if it is the equivalent of an Ethernet switch. It can also lead to the possibility of implementing active repeaters for a Thunderbolt 3 connection, something that could appeal to longer connection runs like the obvious stage-based applications.
It could be simply facilitated through a hardware-software device class for this specification that addresses “hub and repeater” behaviour. This can also include the ability for these devices to work as USB-C hubs including support for different power-supply paths and power budgets for the Power Delivery device class.
The same issue also includes a requirement for the host computer to identify where each Thunderbolt 3 peripheral is and map the bandwidth in a similar way to a city’s road system.
But it will be something that Intel will have to approach when they revise Thunderbolt 3.
A very common attack gateway that has been identified for endpoint computing devices, especially regular desktop or laptop computers, is the Web browser. It is because the browser is essentially the “viewport” to the Internet for most reading-based tasks.
But most recent browser versions have implemented software-based “hardening” against the various Internet-based attacks. This is in conjunction with the main desktop operating systems being “hardened” through each and every update and patch automatically applied. These updates facilitate practices like “sandboxing” where software of questionable provenance is effectively corralled in a logical quarantine area with minimal privileges so it doesn’t affect the rest of the system.
HP and Bromium have developed a “virtual hardware” approach where a browsing session can take place in a separate “logical computer”, a concept being driven by the multi-core CPUs that are the hub of today’s computer systems. This can provide improved security by using the hardware approach that is effectively with its own operating system and has the data destroyed at the end of a session. Here, it restricts the effect of malware like ransomware picked up during a “drive-by” download because the software can only run within that separate “logical computer”.
At the moment, this feature is being initially rolled out to the Elitebook x360 G2 convertible business laptop but will trickle out across the next generation of “Elite” premium manageable business computers to be launched in the second half of the year. It will work only with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Google’s open-source Chromium browser at the moment. What I would like to see happen is that this feature is able to be “trickled-down” to HP’s consumer, education and small-business product ranges but in a more “self-service” manner because households, small businesses and volunteer-driven community organisations could equally benefit from this feature.
I had previously covered the issue of using Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 technology to facilitate the design and use of an external graphics module or dock for laptops. This idea was put forward by Sony with the VAIO Z-Series premium Ultrabook and by Alienware through the use of a “card-cage” dock that worked with some of their laptops. Both these devices illustrated the possibility of allowing for improved graphics on portable or compact equipment, whether through a graphics module that has the graphics chipset integrated in its circuitry or a “card-cage” expansion module that allows you to install one or two desktop graphics cards in to that module.
But the Thunderbolt 3 technology which uses the USB Type-C connector as a physical connection has been known to have the same bandwidth as the PCI Express internal connection used to connect display cards to the motherboard in a regular computer. This appeals because there is no need to reinvent the wheel when designing an external-graphics-module solution for that portable-computing or low-profile computing product.
Now Acer have premiered a Thunderbolt 3 external graphics dock for their laptop products and had demonstrated it working with their Core-M-powered Switch 12.5 convertible laptop. This graphics module implements a NVIDIA GTX-960M graphics chipset in a small dedicated box and adds extra connectivity to the host laptop in the form of 3 extra USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet port and the ability to connect to external displays via HDMI or 2 DisplayPort connections. It also exploits the USB 3.1 subsystem by providing the ability to power and charge the host laptop via the USB Type-C connection thanks to a DC power-supply connection on the graphics module itself.
This has been able to show real graphics performance benefits using the 3DMark II theoretical graphics benchmark where the Switch 12.5 came in at 940 on its own graphics chipset and on 4048 when used with this dock. This device is the first of its kind to have a release price called for it with it costing around EUR€300, but there isn’t an estimated release date.
For Acer, it could be feasible for them to use the same external graphics docks across most, if not all, of their consumer and business laptop range that has the Thunderbolt 3 connection.
The question with the Thunderbolt 3 graphics-module application will arise is whether there will be the ability for one external graphics-module or card-cage module made by one manufacturer to work at their full potential with Thunderbolt-3-equipped laptops offered by other manufacturers.
If so, this could encourage computer manufacturers to use the Thunderbolt 3 technology on their portable, all-in-one or low-profile computers as a graphics-expansion option without needing to offer a graphics dock while computer-peripheral manufacturers can make external graphics solutions such as graphics expansion docks, desktop monitors with integrated graphics subsystems, and the like to work with other computers.
I see this concept appealing in a few ways:
An ultraportable computer being able to benefit from discrete graphics when used “at the desk” or “at home” thanks to an external graphics dock. This could open up the ability for a user to have one graphics dock at the office and another at home with these devices serving a “work-home-travel” computer.
The possibility of offering an affordable laptop or all-in-one desktop computer to most customers with the ability for these customers to expand their computer’s capabilities to suit their needs thanks to an external graphics module.
The ability for gaming-grade or workstation-grade computers that don’t offer much in the way of graphics-upgrade potential like laptops or all-in-ones to be upgraded to multiple-GPU performance and the latest graphics-processor technology thanks to an add-on graphics module or card-cage. In some ways, it could bring the separate-boxes “hi-fi approach” to the concept of improving personal computer equipment.
Once a level playing field is achieved regarding Thundberbolt 3 over USB Type C for graphics docks through the use of open standards, it can lead to the idea of allowing low-profile and portable computers to benefit from high-performance graphics.
Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker – another of many Bluetooth speakers with speakerphone functionality
There is an increasing number of Bluetooth-connected wireless audio devices available for use with smartphones and similar devices. But you may want to use these headsets, audio adaptors, Bluetooth speakers or Bluetooth-integrated audio devices with your laptop instead of those tiny speakers that are the norm for these computers. The best example for the speakers would be the Bose SoundDock speakers, especially the SoundDock 10, due to its good bass response, when used with the Bluetooth adaptor. As well, I ran a test setup with the Motorola DC800 Bluetooth adaptor connected to an older Sony boombox and had the review-sample Fujitsu LH772 laptop being fed through this Bluetooth adaptor.
Similarly, there are those of us who may want to use a Bluetooth headset like the Plantronics BackBeat Pro with a laptop computer so you can roam around the office or home listening to your favourite tunes or podcast or as a contingency measure to avoid missing that important VoIP call.
How a Bluetooth audio setup would function for a laptop
You can achieve these setups with Bluetooth-equipped laptops that run Windows 7, MacOS X Snow Leopard and Linux and newer versions of these operating systems. This is due to the supply of a class driver for the Bluetooth A2DP audio profile and Hands Free Profile as part of the operating system distributions.
First, you have to set up the Bluetooth A2DP-capable audio device to become discoverable. The method for this is explained in the instructions that come with the device but you typically may have to hold down a setup button to achieve this goal.
Headphones you can treat your laptop to
Then you have to put the computer in to a “Bluetooth setup” mode in order to annex the device to the operating system. In WIndows 7, you would have to click on “Devices and Printers”, then click “Add Device”.
After you complete these procedures, both the device and the computer start to pair up and identify themselves to each other. The computer would then find and install the A2DP audio-device class drivers that are part of the operating system. In some cases, the class driver may be fetched from Microsoft’s or Apple’s Website. The same thing will also happen with the Bluetooth Hands-Free Profile or Bluetooth Headset Profile when you initially connect a Bluetooth headset, headphone audio adaptor or other device equipped for communications functionality.
Now the Bluetooth audio device is defined as a sound device and some Windows setups may have it run as the default audio device for all of the laptop’s sound output.
Which sound device
List of audio playback devices including the Bluetooth audio device
But you may want to have a split setup so that music and video sound go to the Bluetooth speakers and all of the notification sounds come via the laptop speakers. Here, you would have to set the integrated sound subsystem as the default audio device. Then you would have to set iTunes, Windows Media Player or other media-management software to use the Bluetooth A2DP audio device.
This latter setup may not work well with software like games, the Spotify desktop program or Web browsers where there isn’t an option to specify the sound output device for that application. Here, you would have to specify the Bluetooth audio device as your default audio device to have the soundtrack from video on demand including YouTube videos, or your Spotify playlist coming through that device.
Bluetooth headsets and speakers with speakerphone functionality will cause Windows to purpose the Bluetooth Hands-Free Profile or Headset Profile as a Communications Device and may cause Windows 7 to determine it as a Default Communications Device.
Sound devices that you can send an app’s sound output through
Windows 10 has improved on this problem by allowing you to use the operating system’s user interface to determine which audio output device a program uses. But if you are using a Web browser, the same audio device will be used for all sessions of that browser, whether they appear as separate tabs or separate windows. In this situation, you would have to have the audio output device associated with your laptop’s inbuilt speakers as the default audio device while you set Spotify or a similar multimedia program to play through the Bluetooth device. This is available for the Windows 10 April Update (Build 1803) available since May 2018 and newer versions of that operating system.
The controls on these Bluetooth devices should map through to the applications’ controls courtesy of operating system support for Bluetooth AVRCP control profile for media navigation and the call-control functionality of the Hands-Free and Headset Profiles. This will apply to applications that currently have the focus for media playback or communications.
The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor – supports multipoint operation for two devices
An increasing number of communications-capable Bluetooth devices have support for “multipoint” operation where they can work with two different source devices. This function is typically to support people who use two mobile phones such as a “personal” one and a “work” one.
As I discovered when reviewing the Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headphone adaptor, I found that this function can also work with a computer. This can be of use if you are maintaining a playlist or listening to Web content on your laptop.
Here, you have to determine which device is your “priority” device which allows the headset to primarily control that device. This is something you would do either through the device’s setup menu, a desktop or mobile control program or a certain keypress sequence depending on the device. But some devices like the JBL E45BT headphones may implement a simplified “priority-device” setup which is dependent on the device that you are currently using rather than you having to determine that role.
You may be able to at least use the call-control button to answer and end calls when you are using your secondary device. It is a good idea to set the laptop as the priority device when you are playing content from it or are wanting to use a VoIP app that may come across as being rickety.
Once you know what your Bluetooth-capable laptop can do with those Bluetooth audio accessories, you can then let it perform at its best with these devices and they don’t need juhst to be considered for mobile phones anymore.
This article is subject to regular updates based on my experience with newer Bluetooth hardware that I have reviewed along with highlighting the Bluetooth Hands-Free Profile used for communications purposes and multipoint operation offered by an increasing number of Bluetooth devices. It will also be updated as desktop operating systems are being refined for Bluetooth-device operation like what has happened with Windows 10’s April Update.
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.
.. 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.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.