Computer setups Archive

Lenovo puts fresh blood in to the Yoga lineup

Articles

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

Successors to come to the Lenovo Yoga lineup

Lenovo Refreshes Yoga Series with New Laptops and Tablets | Tom’s Guide

Lenovo’s New Yoga Laptop And Tablets Are All About Touch | Gizmodo

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 range

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 targets both Windows and Android | Mashable

Lenovo Announces 8- and 10-inch Yoga Tablet 2 for Windows and Android | Laptop Mag

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 Pro

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 Pro Wants to Be Your Tablet and Big Screen TV | Mashable

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro is Thinner and Lighter with Adaptive Software | Laptop Mag

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14 Makes Business Flexible | Laptop Mag

My Comments

There has been so much doubt in the concept of the convertible notebook but Lenovo is one of a few who are keeping it alive in the form of the Yoga lineup. This is a lineup of 360-degree convertible computers that fold over on their back to become either a laptop, tablet or something in between.

Recently, I reviewed the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro and found that this 13” convertible was capable and able to do many different tasks, whether creating new written content, playing basic games, browsing the Web or watching video content. As well, Lenovo had run some “Yoga Tablets” which had a kickstand which worked in a similar way to how the Yoga laptops worked.

Lenovo has refreshed the Yoga Tablets by adding variants which are delivered with Windows 8.1. These use Intel Atom quad-core “classic microarchitecture” horsepower and work with 2Gb RAM. Their network connectivity is primarily the 802.11n Wi-Fi but some market-specific variants will come with 4G wireless broadband. Secondary storage is in the form of 16Gb SSD for Android variants or 32Gb SSD for Windows variants with add-on storage in the form of a microSD slot. They will come in the choice of an 8” or 10” screen for each operating system. One feature that Lenovo had integrated was a hole in the kickstand to allow it to hang from something like a cup hook in the kitchen.

They also fielded the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro which is the largest Android tablet, clocking in at 13.3”. This also has an integrated pico projector which can comfortably throw a 50” image and has an 8-watt sound system with an integrated bass driver, a feature being pitched at consumer or business use. But its hardware abilities are similar to the Yoga Tablet 2 which has the Atom processor working with 2Gb RAM, along with 32Gb SSD storage and add-on storage abilities courtesy of a microUSB “On The Go” port and a microSD card slot.

The Yoga 3 Pro has an aluminium chassis and a hinge similar to how a metal watchband is constructed. This is to make it easier to fold this 360-degree convertible between a tablet or a laptop or anything in between. It is slimmer than the Yoga 2 Pro and has that same 13.3” screen but the resolution clocks in at 3200×1800 pixels fulfilled by an integrated-graphics subsystem. It runs with Intel Core M-70 horsepower and can work with 8Gb RAM. As well, the maximum storage available is 256Gb SSD like the Yoga 2 Pro review sample along with a “4-in-one” memory card reader. There is the similar connectivity to the Yoga 2 Pro, including 2 USB 3.0 ports, a microHDMI port, a headphone/microphone audio jack as well as a power socket that can become a USB 2.0 port. It runs Windows 8.1 but also comes with Lenovo Harmony software that optimises it for the task in hand.

Business users who like the “work-home” laptop need not fret that they are being left out in the cold. This is because Lenovo have fielded the ThinkPad Yoga 14 which has the Yoga 360-degree convertible abilities but has the ThinkPad credentials like the excellent keyboard, thumbstick and a long battery life. This comes with a 14” Full-HD screen that is serviced with NVIDIA GeForce GTX840M discrete graphics. It has the latest generation Core i5 processor and can work with 8Gb RAM. For secondary storage, it comes with a 1Tb hard disk and has most of the same connectivity as the Yoga 3 Pro, except for a full-size HDMI port.

What I see of this is that Lenovo won’t give up easily on the convertible notebook computer even though a lot of naysayers are running the line that the computing world is just tablets, especially the iPad.

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5-Year Special: Portable Computing is Mainstream

5 Years Special iconThis is the first of a series of posts to celebrate the last five years of the connected lifestyle which has been covered on this Website.

Laptops

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible Ultrabook

Over the last five years, the 15”-17” clamshell-style laptop computer has overtaken the traditional “tower-style” desktop computer as become the preferred computer style for most households.

There are even users, some of whom I know, who will operate these computers in conjunction with an external screen, keyboard and mouse for their primary office-based computing locations while being able to use just its built-in screen, keyboard and mouse for computing while “on-the-road”. In other cases, the laptop bas brought with it the appeal of the dining table or kitchen bench rather than a home office or a desk in the corner of the family room as a workspace due to the ability to stow it away when you are using that space for other activities like meals.

Dell Precision M2800 Mobile Workstation courtesy of Dell USA

Dell Precision M2800 – an example of a mobile workstation

With this class of computer, there has been the rise of “workstation-grade” and “gamer-grade” laptops that are tuned for increased performance, especially with graphics-intensive tasks or even “full-on” games. This has also displaced the desktop workstation computer or “gaming-rig” for these applications and allowed for increased portability when dealing with CAD, multimedia or games.

Windows 8 with its tile-based “Modern” user interface has legitimised the touchscreen as a control surface for the computer and has opened up a plethora of touchscreen-enabled laptop designs. For example, the Sony VAIO Fit 15a that I reviewed last year underscored the concept of adding touch abilities to a 15” mainstream laptop even as I let a friend who works in enterprise IT play with this machine when I had visited him.

This has also led to the arrival of convertible and detachable computer designs that switch between a traditional laptop design and a tablet design. There are even these convertibles that have 13” or, in some cases, 15” screens which may be considered too large for tablet use by one person but are the right size for creating content. In some cases, this size can appeal to those of us who want to let another person have a look at the same content.

The trend has led to a fusion of regular desktop-style computing and mobile computing with some laptops running Android whether standalone or on a dual-boot method. As well, some small tablets are being sold with Windows 8.1 as an operating system and it is being harder to differentiate between mobile and regular-grade computing capabilities.

Mobile computing

One main trend over the past five years has been the arrival of platform-based mobile computing, which was commercialised by Apple with their iPhone platform.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 press picture courtesy of Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – an up-and-coming Android smartphone

It is where devices like mobile phones and tablets are built around an operating system which has many third-party programmers writing software for these devices. Typically the software is supplied through “app-stores” operated by the company who develops the mobile-computing platform and these “app-stores” are typically one-touch away from the user. The software, which is referred to as “apps”, typically ranges from productivity software like email clients or note-taking software, through utility programs like calculators or unit converters, and mobile front-ends for online services to games for whiling away those train journeys.

Google Play Android app store

Google Play Android app store

If the programmer wants to monetise their creation, they have the ability to sell it through that app-store which has an integrated e-commerce setup, sell modules for that software through “in-app purchasing” where the user can buy the option within the app’s user interface but via the app-store’s storefront or make use of an in-app display advertising setup.

Some of these app-stores or the apps available in them provide access to content-retail services where you could buy music, audiobooks, e-books and videos to enjoy through your device. For example, the e-book has appealed mainly to women who like to read romance fiction without that “tut-tut-tut” from other people about what they are reading.

The performance calbre of these mobile-computing devices is approaching that of the regular computing devices, especially when it comes to playing hardcore games or watching multimedia content. Here, we are seeing mobile devices being equipped with 64-bit ARM-microarchitecture RISC processor units or some Android devices being equipped with IA-64 microarchitecture chips similar to what most laptops are equipped with.

Smartphones

These devices have changed since the arrival of the iPhone with customers being spoilt for choice in device capabilities, operating systems and even screen sizes.

Firstly, you can purchase smartphones with a screen size of up to 6 inches and these are the same size as an advanced-function pocket calculator such as a scientific or financial type. As well, some of the premium smartphones, especially those from the Samsung stable, even implement the OLED display which is a different self-illuminating display technology to the LCD display which requires LED backlighting to illuminate it.

As well, there are smartphones that run Android or Windows Phone operating systems available from many different manufactures. For that matter, the smartphones that are considered “cream of the crop” nowadays are most of the newer Android phones made by Samsung, Sony or HTC.

Tablets

Toshiba Thrive AT1S0 7" tablet

Toshiba AT1S0 7″ Android tablet

The mobile tablet has been made commercially viable thanks to Apple with their iPad lineup. Here, we are now seeing tablets at various different price ranges and screen sizes courtesy if intense competition. Some of these units, when paired with a Bluetooth or USB keyboard have been able to become a viable alternative to “netbook-size” small laptops.

Firstly, I had seen the arrival of the 7”-8” mini-tablet that could be stuffed in to one’s coat pocket. These have appealed as units that can be useful for reference-type applications when you are out and about and have effectively displaced the e-reader as a device.

Secondly, the 10” tablet has become more of a household content-consumption device especially with video but also has served some basic computing tasks like checking email or Web browsing. Apple and Samsung have raised the bar for this product class by improving the display calibre with the former using a high-resolution “Retina” display on their 3rd-generation iPad lineup and the latter offering an AMOLED display on a 10″ mobile tablet.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10" tablet - Press Photo courtesy of Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10″ tablet

But, as I said earlier, the tablet and laptop are bridging together as a portable computing solution. This has been brought about with the convertible and detachable computers that can be a tablet one moment or a laptop another moment. Similarly, Intel and Microsoft have pushed the classic desktop microarchitecture and Windows 8 in to the field of the small-sized tablets with chipsets optimised for portable computing and the availability of Windows 8.1 for free with small-screen tablets.

Moble-Platform apps

The mobile platforms have seen a cottage industry of developers write programs or “apps” for these devices that can fit in with our lifestyle. Some of these apps have become mobile “on-ramps” to various online content services like social networks. As well, the e-reader has been displaced by the “e-bookstore” apps written for the mobile platforms so one can use a tablet or smartphone for reading whatever they want to read without worrying.

Recent controversies have arisen regarding how these apps are sold such as the issue of “in-app” sales of downloadable content or virtual currency for games that appeal to children or ad-funded apps that may host advertising that “commercialises” childhood like the sale of toys or junk food. As well there have been issues raised about the quality of apps sold through the app stores with computing “old-timers” relating them to the download sites, bulletin boards and magazine-attached disks of yore.

Wi-Fi an important part of the home network

For that matter, the most important feature of any network, including a home network, is a Wi-Fi wireless-network segment. This has enabled us to do more around the house with laptops, tablets and smartphones yet use cost-effective fixed broadband Internet.

These networks have increased in speed and security courtesy of newer technologies like 802.11n, 802.11ac and use of both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. The setup procedure has been simplified for these networks courtesy of WPS-PBC “push-to-connect” setup and the upcoming NFC “touch-to-connect” setup technologies.

Increasingly more networked devices are being designed to work primarily or solely with the Wi-Fi network segment because of the “no new wires” concept that this technology provides. This technology also appeals to the mass-market retailer as an easily-saleable “backbone” for the home network even though there are issues with the radio-network performance.

Mi-Fi devices and the portable Wi-Fi network

Another class of device that is becoming popular is the “Mi-Fi” router which is a portable battery-operated Wi-Fi router for a mobile broadband service. These have appealed to those of us who use temporary network setups with Wi-Fi-only tablets and laptops or simply want to run a mobile-only communications setup.

This has also extended to the arrival of portable NAS units that work as extra storage for smartphones, tablets and laptop computers but work as their own access points for these devices. Manufacturers are even pitching them as a way to store video content on the mobile NAS unit and having people like children view the content on their tablets via the small network that is created by these devices.

The next part of this 5th-anniversary series will liook at the concept of “connected” communications and entertainment and how the home network is playing a strong part in these activities.

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In some areas, a court case may be necessary to encourage innovation

Article

US judge makes Avaya give access to maintenance commands on some PBXes | PC World

My Comments

A recent US District Court (New Jersey) ruling was handed down requiring Avaya to expose maintenance commands for their business phone systems after the jury who heard an antitrust case concerning this company found that they unlawfully prevented maintenance access to these systems for their owners or independent third-party service contractors.

This case was about who can perform repair or maintenance work on IT systems especially where they are becoming more software-defined. The article even mentioned that this is heading out beyond the IT scene towards the maintenance of cars, “white-goods” and similar products especially as more of them have their functionality driven by software.

For example, I know of two friends who have had technicians look at their 30-plus-year-old ovens and the technicians have preferred to keep them going rather than replace them with newer ovens. This is because of issues like continual availability of parts for these stoves and the way that they can be repaired.

Here, it was about who can continue to perform service on the equipment concerned and the availability of the equipment’s owner to gain access to independent experts to keep it going. I see this also opening up doors for third-parties to continue to offer innovative software or other solutions that enhance the equipment or shape it to a user’s needs. This will extend to encouraging the implementation of “open-frame” designs for hardware and software which will push forward a culture of a level playing field and, in some cases, a longer service life for equipment.

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Dell puts forward the Inspiron 20-3000 as an entry-level Adaptive All-In-One

Articles

Dell’s new Inspiron 20 is a giant tablet for work and play | Engadget

Dell announces new Inspiron 2-in-1 and All-in-One PCs | Windows Experience Blog

From the horse’s mouth

Dell Inc.

Press Release

My Comments

Dell Inspiron 20-3000 Adaptive All-In-One desktop tablet - Press image courtesy Dell Inc.

Dell Inspiron 20-3000 Adaptive All-In-One desktop tablet

The “adaptive all-in-one” tablet is still persisting as a computer form factor. Previously, I had given this form-factor a fair bit of coverage on this site, including reviewing a Sony VAIO Tap 20 which is the prime example of this class of computer.

What are these computers? These are an 18”-23” tablet computer that run a regular-computer operating system like Windows 8.1 and are able to operate on batteries for around 2.5-6 hours or on AC power. They have a kickstand or desktop pedestal so they can become a desktop computer when used alongside a (typically wireless) keyboard and mouse. I had seen the “adaptive all-in-one” tablet computer as a “lifestyle computer” that can be taken around the house as required and one example of its use that was mentioned was as a gaming tablet.

Dell have even come to the fore with this class of computer by launching the Inspiron 20-3000 at this year’s Computex Taipei. But this unit has been positioned as an entry-level “family computer” or “lifestyle computer” with the use of the Pentium economy-grade quad-core horsepower. As well, it can run on its own battery for six hours. This is compared to most of the other computers in this class which implement the more powerful Intel i3 or i5 processors.

This is an attempt by the regular-computer scene to consider itself relevant in the face of the iPad and similar mobile-platform tablet computers being used along with cloud-hosted “software-as-a-service” options for common computing tasks. But this model could fit in well in the “family house” scenario or as a large-screen “family computer” or “lifestyle computer” intended to be shifted around at a moment’s whim — something you could use for browsing the Web, checking on Facebook, doing basic word processing or viewing multimedia content.

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Managing multiple sound devices in Windows

A common situation that will face most of us who use Windows or Macintosh regular computers is the issue of dealing with multiple sound-output devices with these computers.

There are examples of this such as:

  • USB speakers with a laptop

    USB-driven hi-fi speakers with a laptop

    Desktop or laptop with regularly-used sound system (integrated speakers, desktop speakers served by installed sound card or integrated sound subsystem)

  • A hi-fi-grade “USB DAC” connected to or integrated in a hi-fi amplifier or home theatre receiver for high-quality sound reproduction.
  • Bluetooth speakers, headsets, and audio adaptors or AV equipment that has Integrated Bluetooth A2DP functionality as I have covered in another article.

    Pure Jongo T6 wireless speaker

    A Bluetooth speaker that could be an extra speaker for a laptop

  • A media hub or “jack pack” in a hotel room that works with a flat-screen TV installed there, or a home theatre receiver or flat-screen TV that is connected to the computer via HDMI or DisplayPort
  • Virtual-sound-card programs like Airfoil or Jamcast that use network-connected devices as a computer’s sound card.
In-room AV connection panel

In-room AV connection panel at Rydges Hotel Melbourne – HDMI connection

But you can have problems with these kind of setups. Some programs like Windows Media Player, Skype or some games may allow you to determine the sound-output device they use but you may have to switch the default sound device you are using to suit most programs like Web browsers and Spotify where you can’t determine the sound-output device for the program. A few of the games may allow you to run a headset from a separate sound device for online game chat or voice recognition.

Similarly, a computer’s audio subsystem may have different output or input connections such as a line-out jack or an SP/DIF jack on a good sound card or an integral microphone and an audio-in jack on a laptop’s sound subsystem. These can be listed as separate sound devices depending on the device driver in place.

Bluetooth device listed alongside default audio device

List of audio playback devices in Windows – the one with the green tick is the Default Device

Microsoft Windows from version 7 onwards allows you to determine two “default sound devices”:

  • Default Communications Device, which defines devices you would use for VoIP, video telephony and similar applications
  • Default Device, which covers all sound-output needs including music, video, games and system notifications as well as communications sound.

The idea behind this setup is that you could have a device like a mono Bluetooth headset or not-so-good speakers like your laptop’s speakers being used by a softphone application while a pair of good speakers or a hi-fi system is used for music playback or game sound-effects purposes.

It is feasible to determine a device as being a Default Communications Device or Default Device in the context of recording or sound-capture only. This is achieved in the Recording Devices menu when you right-click on the Speaker icon.

Selecting a Default Device in Windows

Right-click sound menu

Pop-up menu when you right-click on the Speaker icon on the Taskbar

Windows 8 and 8.1 users will need to use the Desktop view rather than the Modern tiled view to select the Default devices.

  1. Right-click on the Speaker icon on the Taskbar
  2. Select Playback Devices
  3. You will see a list of audio output devices on the screen
  4. Right-click the device you intend to use and select Default Device or Default Communications Device depending on your needs.

How do you cope with temporary devices?

A temporary device like a Bluetooth headset or HDMI-connected TV is one you wouldn’t be connecting to your computer all the time.

Here, you make your temporary device the “Default Device” when you start using it. What happens when you disconnect the device, whether logically or physically, is that the computer will fall back to the sound subsystem it last used before you connected the temporary device.

Bluetooth devices

A computer will remember all Bluetooth devices that have been paired with it previously but those that aren’t logically connected to the computer are listed as “disconnected” devices.

If you use a Bluetooth device between multiple source devices, you will have to make sure you disconnect it from the existing source device before you logically connect it to your PC. Some source devices like iOS devices may require you to “unpair” the device rather than logically disconnect it. Then, when you want to use that source device with your Bluetooth device, you have to connect it or pair it again.

Bluetooth headset as two devices

A Bluetooth headset or other device with A2DP and Hands-Free functionality is represented as two devices

A Bluetooth headset, car Bluetooth subsystem or other Bluetooth with A2DP audio playback and hands-free / communications-headset functionality will be listed as two sound devices – a Headset device which represents its communications functionality and a Headphones device which represents its A2DP music-playback functionality. Here, once you have logically connected the headset, you make the Headset device the Default Communications Device if you just intend to use it as a communications headset for VoIP and similar applications. On the other hand, you make the Headphones in that device the Default Device when you want to play music and other audio content in private and this also makes the Headset in the same physical device the Default Communications Device.

Sony devices with NFC have simplified the process of connecting and disconnecting by allowing you to touch the source device to the output device to connect or disconnect them. But this may only work with computers that have the NFC functionality in them.

To connect a previously-paired Bluetooth device in Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 has introduced a “connect / disconnect” routine to Bluetooth audio devices so you can properly connect and disconnect these devices without having to go through a pair-up routine.

  1. Make sure the device is logically disconnected from your phone or other source devices and is paired to your computer or set up your Bluetooth device to work in Multipoint mode.
  2. Right-click on the Speaker icon in your Desktop
  3. Select “Playback Devices”
  4. Right-click on the device you want to connect
  5. Select “Connect” to connect the device to your system
  6. Once it says “Connected” under the device’s icon, right-click on the device and select “Default Communications Device” or “Default Device” to suit which of your computer’s sound output will come through that device.

To disconnect a previously-paired Bluetooth device in Windows 8.1

  1. Right-click on the Speaker icon in your Desktop
  2. Select “Playback Devices”
  3. Right-click on the Bluetooth device you are currently using
  4. Select “Connect” to disconnect the device from your system

What can be done here?

Allowing a user to class certain devices as “temporary” devices or “permanent” devices.

A common situation that can happen here is the use of temporarily-connected devices like Bluetooth headsets, USB DACs or HDMI connections. Here, a user could class these as “temporary” devices and the computer determines them as default audio or communications devices when they are connected.

But when they are disconnected, the computer falls back to its “permanent” devices such as its integrated speakers or regular desktop speakers.

Other “default sound device” classes for audio-video playback, games or system notifications

It could be easier to implement an application-specific “default sound device” for applications beyond communications. Here, it could be feasible to implement an application class for audio-video playback or gaming so that you could make sure that system notification sounds don’t play through the hi-fi speakers for example but you have Spotify playing through those speakers.

A Tile or Charm on the Modern view for selecting sound output devices.

The Windows 8 Modern view a.k.a. Metro view could benefit with an option directly selectable from that interface for managing the sound devices. This could be in the form of a Modern-View app downloadable from the Windows Store that puts up a dashboard for managing your sound input and output devices.

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Even small businesses can benefit from a standard operating environment

Article

Even small businesses can benefit from a standard operating environment

My Comments

HP Elitebook 2560p at Intercontinental at Relto, MelbourneWhat is a standard operating environment?

A standard operating environment is a set of hardware and software specifications required for computer systems operated in a business or other organisation. This can range from a particular hardware build for the regular computers, through a particular version of the computer’s operating systems to the mix of application software that runs on these computers including the version of these programs.

Small businesses who run a few computers may find the concept of a standard operating environment very foreign because their IT situation tends to work on an organic basis. This is typically where computers and peripherals are purchased one at a time on an “as-needed” basis.

Where is this often seen?

Large organisations who maintain many computers run the computers on a standard operating environment in order for make the task of deploying or supporting these computers easier for the organisation’s IT staff. Some of these organisations also place value on the standard operating environment as a way to assure system and organisational security along with employee productivity.

Similarly, IT contractors and value-added resellers who set up computing environments for small businesses such as POS systems for retail work on a standard operating environment when supplying these systems. This is more so if the systems are being offered on a “turnkey” basis.

Why is this advantageous

The advantages offered by a standard operating environment mean that it is easier to diagnose problems that crop up on these computers, train users on how to operate these computers and deploy any newer computers.

This is facilitated with practices like installing software on a new computer from a baseline disk image that you keep or specifying to an IT supplier the make-up of your machines that you are buying. The use of group policies and similar functions supported by the desktop operating systems can be used as a tool to lock down the standard operating environment.

There is also the ability to test new software on a few machines to “smoke out” any problems with the software or test-drive new hardware specifications before you call it as being part of your environment.

Can multiple standard operating environments exist?

You can create multiple standard operating environments for particular computer-usage functions.

One way this can be achieved is through a “modular” standard operating environment that has a baseline specification for hardware, operating system, Web browser, security, office-productivity and other software; along with a list of other software that matches the computer’s function such as accounting, video-editing or other software. This would work well if your computing equipment is based on the same platform such as Windows or Macintosh.

Another way would be to create a few standard-operating-environments which can pertain to particular hardware platforms such as creating a Windows environment, an Apple Macintosh environment and an Android tablet environment. These would appeal to organisations that work with different platforms based on their prowess.

What to avoid

Inability to roll out system-improvement patches and updates

A mistake that can be easily made with a standard operating environment is to “freeze” the software specification to the exact version you are running. This habit may preclude the deployment of critical updates, security patches and other incremental revisions  that are necessary to keep a system that runs smoothly and is secure in your business environment.

There was a situation where a video-surveillance system with cameras that ran older firmware that couldn’t work with anything newer than an older version of Windows server. This system’s server which was on its own network with the cameras had been compromised due to a weakness in the software.

To avoid this, make sure that when you call a standard operating environment, you use the major versions of the software as your defined versions. As well, assess the standard operating environment every few years so you can run newer software in to the equation.

Systems that shirk the established software interfaces and device classes

Another mistake that can occur is avoiding updates or upgrades that don’t touch established interfaces for hardware and software.

Currently, we are seeing class-wide interface specifications for particular hardware and software like the Mass-Storage Class, Audio Class and Human Interface Device classes for USB connections; A2DP/AVRCP Profile, Headset/Handsfree Profile and Human Interface Device Profiles for Bluetooth; along with SMB/CIFS, DLNA and WebDAV for network-based setups.  These have allowed the use of devices that do the job better with a standard operating environment because it is feasible to upgrade the devices to suit one’s needs without deploying new software that could break the setup.

This is also important as newer hardware that will supersede your existing hardware becomes part of the equation and you find existing hardware approaching the end if its useful life. Here, you may have to run software components to allow your legacy software to benefit from the industry standards or, as I have mentioned before,, factor in the industry standards when you revise the standard operating environment.

How to go about it

This could be applied by using “downgrade rights” for operating systems that are supplied with computers if your organisation runs an earlier version of that operating system. It can also include buying equipment from the same dealer such as a business-focused computer store rather than Harvey Norman or the like.

Also identifying a “mix” of hardware and software that is working together yet is able to take the latest updates and patches that assure security, stability and performance can be a useful method for determining a standard operating environment. For a small business, this could mean identifying a computer like a laptop that you can tolerate as a “testbed” computer and using that to take updates before organising mass updates.

Similarly you can use this machine to test-drive new software versions to see how they run and whether it is worth it to deploy them in to the standard operating environment. This, along with flexibility to use particular productivity-boosting tools avoids the creation of a standard operating environment that is reminiscent of that ordinary old Ford station wagon.

One way that I would prefer for establishing a standard operating environment is to call a baseline software specification for each computing platform you are using i.e. Windows, MacOS X, etc. This covers the operating system and the desktop productivity suite that you run with. As for the class of computer to use, you could call a baseline specification for the different hardware classes such as desktops, laptops, etc. For function-specific software, you can then call a mix of software that does the job to full effect and this may be assisted by an IT contractor which focuses on the business class you are representing.

Conclusion

The idea of a standard operationg environment can come in to its own when your business matures and you start to acquire a significant number of computers and could be a way to describe a business “growing up”. But there needs to be a proper way of going about it and allowing for software performance, security and stability updates.

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Should I buy a mobile printer for my laptop?

HP OfficeJet 150 mobile multifunction printer copying a document

HP OfficeJet 150 mobile all-in-one printer

A device that you may consider purchasing for your portable computer would be a mobile printer.

What are these mobile printers

A mobile printer, like the Canon PiXMA iP100 single-function printer or the HP OfficeJet 150 all-in-one that I reviewed, is typically a compact inkjet or thermal printer that is able to run on internal batteries or AC power or, in some cases, car DC power through an external power supply. These typically are the size of a shoebox and connect to the host computer through a USB wired or Bluetooth wireless connection. In some cases, some of the thermal variants are the same size as a stick of wood.

These printers typically use either a dual-cartridge colour inkjet or a direct thermal printing system which can be costly to run if you use them frequently.

As for features. the current inkjet models have ended up with various forms of functionality that allows them to be of service to gadgets like digital cameras without the need of a computer. For example, they will have PictBridge printing ability so you can print from your digital camera using the camera’s control surface. A few of the printers like the HP OfficeJet 150 have standalone “print from removable media” ability so you can print from a USB memory key or SD card.

Some of the printers that have the ability to scan documents will typically have the ability to scan them to the computer or, increasingly, to removable media like an SD card.

Why do they exist

If you wish to use a printer at your customer’s or business partner’s site, you need to make sure that your laptop computer has the printer drivers for that printer. This problem hasn’t been rectified with a universal graphics-capable printer driver that can work with all printers yet.

As well, a lot of places which offer public-access printers can charge a princely sum for you to use these printers and a lot of us don’t want to impose on a client’s resources for our hard-copy needs.

Who would need to use these printers

Canon PIXMA IP-100 mobile printer

Canon PiXMA iP-100 mobile printer

If you use a computer on the road but always need to be able to turn out hard copy like invoices, receipts or contract documents that you give to your customer, these printers would suit your needs.

A printer with PictBridge or “print from removable media” abilities may come in handy if you need to turn out a draft print of a photo you took with your digital camera. An example of this may include photographing something you need to highlight to your customer and you want the large print so they can see it easily.

The scanning feature would come in handy for anyone who wants to take a hard-copy document to electronic form. Some applications may include sending a receipt or work-consent form that was signed by the customer via email to the office for filing.

Similarly, scanning a fuel-station’s till receipt to electronic form could be par for the course when it comes to keeping track of work expenses using your bookkeeping software and these printers could make it easier to do this chore “there and then” when you fill up your vehicle for example. This can then avoid the situation where you have a glove box full of fuel receipts yet to be “booked in” to your accounting system.

What you should know about using these printers

The mobile printers are best used as secondary or auxiliary printers that are intended for on-road use rather than as the main printer for your computing life. The reasons I would give for this is that they typically use consumables that are more expensive than regular desktop printers.

For example, the inkjet printers use a two-cartridge colour-printing system where you have to replace the colour cartridge if you run out of one of the colours. The thermal printers may require you to use thermal paper that comes as A4 cut sheets rather than as the classic “fax roll”.

Similarly these printers would take a longer time to print or scan the document than a regular desktop printer due to the use of smaller low-powered motors optimised for battery-powered use. The also can continuously feed a small number of sheets of paper which may make them unsuitable for turning out large documents.

At the time of writing, these printers don’t have any support for network-driven document printing so they wouldn’t be able to work properly with the typical smartphone or tablet that uses a mobile operating system.

Conclusion

The mobile printers are a fantastic computer accessory for your laptop computer but they don’t work well as a primary printer device when you are at home, at the office or at the shop. Rather they are best suited for printing small documents at the client’s site or in the hotel room.

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DisplayLink Now Compatible with Windows 8

Article

DisplayLink Now Compatible with Windows 8#xtor=RSS-181#xtor=RSS-181#xtor=RSS-181

From the horse’s mouth

Product Page

Press release

My Comments

DisplayLink have updated their class driver for their USB-based “plug and display” infrastructure in order to satisfy Windows 8’s needs. Primarily this is to benefit tablet computers, convertibles, Ultrabooks and other similar portable Windows 8 computers to allow them to work with larger screens or display-adaptor modules and expose the displays to what Windows 8 can offer.

For example, there is the ability to use both the Start user interface and the regular desktop user interface across the different displays that are linked using this system. Similarly, a manufacturer could offer a touch-enabled monitor-dock that uses this connection interface as a point of innovation and Windows 8 users can still use this touch-enabled screen as a control surface for their portable Windows 8 computer.

It still can work across all USB connection types through the use of data-compression techniques for the common USB 2.0 setup. As well, the adaptors will support a resolution 2560×1152 per screen depending on the bandwidth, which can allow for the new high-pixel-density displays.

What I see of this is that the USB-based expansion modules (docking stations) will still be relevant to the Windows 8 touch-focused computing era as they are with Windows 7 and before.

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A CCTV hacking incident could be a lesson in system lifecycle issues

Article

How A Prison Had Its CCTV Hacked | Lifehacker Australia

My Comments

In this article, it was found that a prison’s video-surveillance system was compromised. The security team checked the network but found that it wasn’t the institution’s main back-office network that was compromised but a Windows Server 2003 server that was affected. This box had to be kept at a particular operating environment so it could work properly with particular surveillance cameras.

The reality with “business-durable” hardware and systems

Here, the problem was focusing on an issue with “business-durable” hardware like the video-surveillance cameras, point-of-sale receipt printers and similar hardware that is expected to have a very long lifespan, usually in the order of five to ten years. But computer software works to a different reality where it evolves every year. In most cases, it includes the frequent delivery of software patches to improve performance, remedy security problems or keep the system compliant to new operating requirements.

Newer software environments and unsupported hardware

The main problem that can occur is that if a computer is running a newer operating environment, some peripherals will work on lesser functionality or won’t work at all. It can come about very easily if a manufacturer has declared “end of life” on the device and won’t update the firmware or driver set for it. This also applies if a manufacturer has abandoned their product base in one or more of their markets and leaves their customers high and dry.

Requirement to “freeze” software environments

Then those sites that are dependent on these devices will end up running servers and other computer equipment that are frozen with a particular operating environment in order to assure the compatibility and stability for the system. This can then compromise the security of the system because the equipment cannot run newly-patched software that answers the latest threats. Similarly, the system cannot perform at its best or support the installation of new hardware due to the use of “old code”.

In some cases, this could allow contractors to deploy the chosen updates using removable media which can be a security risk in itself.

Design and lifecycle issues

Use standards as much as possible

One way to tackle this issue is to support standard hardware-software interfaces through the device’s and software’s lifecycle. Examples of these include UPnP Device Control Protocols, USB Device Classes, Bluetooth Profiles and the like. It also includes industry-specific standards like ONVIF for video-surveillance, DLNA for audio-video reproduction

If a standard was just ratified through the device’s lifespan, I would suggest that it be implemented. Similarly, the operating environment and application software would also have to support the core functionality such as through device-class drivers.

Provide a field-updatable software ecosystem

Similarly, a device would have to be designed to support field-updatable software and any software-update program would have to cover the expected lifespan of these devices. If a manufacturer wanted to declare “end of life” on a device, they could make sure that the last major update is one that enshrines all industry-specific standards and device classes, then encompass the device in a “software roll-up” program that covers compliance, safety and security issues only.

As well, a “last driver update” could then be sent to operating-system vendors like Microsoft so that the device can work with newer iterations of the operating systems that they release. This is more so if the operating-system vendor is responsible for curating driver sets and other software for their customers.

The device firmware has to work in such a way to permit newer software to run on servers and workstations without impairing the device’s functionality.

As well, the field-updating infrastructure should be able to work in a similar way to how regular and mobile computer setups are updated in most cases. This is where the software is sourced from the developers or manufacturers via the Internet, whether this involves a staging server or not. This should also include secure verification of the software such as code-signing and server verification where applicable.

Conclusion

What this hacking situation revealed is that manufacturers and software designers need to look seriously at the “business-durable” product classes and pay better attention to having them work to current expectations. This then allows us to keep computer systems associated with them up to date and to current secure expectations.

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Achieving a failover printer setup in your business

Brother HL-2240D compact monochrome laser printer

Brother HL-2240D compact monochrome laser printer – an example of a workflow printer

I have come across situations with small offices such as clinics who run one or more dedicated laser printers that turns out receipts, invoices and other documents as part of the customer-facing business workflow. Some offices may run the printers also for some back-office requirements like preparing reports or balance sheets for that workstation.

But there is the situation where the printer can break down, usually with a mechanical failure like frequent paper jamming. This can happen more frequently as a machine ages and is worked hard in a busy office. It is analogous to that situation most of us experience when a car gets to that point in its life where it frequently lives at the mechanic’s workshop and drills a hole in your pocket because it is always breaking down.

This situation can impair the business’s workflow especially as one has to work out how to rectify a paper jam or, in some cases, reset the machine. As well, no woman would want to ruin their beautifully-done fingernails knocking them on the machine’s internals while removing jammed up paper.

In these situations, it is a good idea to set up a failover printing arrangement where you have other printers that come in to play if the workstation’s primary machine fails. This is easier to achieve if all of the printers accessible to the office or reception area are linked to the network.

For example, you could use a multifunction for this purpose even though each workstation computer has a dedicated laser printer like the Brother HL-2240D or Dell 1130n. The multifunction printer, which is often expected to serve as the main copier and fax machine for the organisation, could be a machine like the Brother MFC-8370DN or HP LaserJet M1536dnf for a monochrome variety or a Brother MFC-9460CDN or HP LaserJet Pro Color M475 Series for a colour variety. Even one of the high-end business inkjets like the HP OfficeJet Pro 8600 could do the job just as well.

Some environments that have two or more workstations may prefer to have one workflow printer per workstation. Here, it would be preferable to connect the printers via the network rather than directly to the workstation computers. Here this can allow the other workflow printer to be used as a failover measure.

HP LaserJet M1536dnf monochrome laser multifunction printer

HP LaserJet M1536dnf monochrome laser multifunction printer – an example of a multifunction expected to be a small business’s copier and fax

But what you would have to do is to set up the workstations to use the printer that is local to them as well as this main multifunction printer or other workflow printer. This may be as simple as adding the driver set for the main printer to the computers or it may also require the line-of-business software to be set up to allow the use of two or more printers.

As far as default printers are concerned, you would have to set the primary dedicated printer as the default machine, then have the users select the main multifunction printer as a secondary printer whenever their primary printer fails. This can be done as part of ordering the print job in most software or going to the Printers option in the operating system and setting the multifunction printer as the default while the single-function workflow printer is out of action.

If you run a server-driven printing environment, it may be worth looking at options that allow failover printing so that print jobs that come from one workstation appear at particular printers in an order of availability.

Once you look at this option for setting up multiple printers in your office or reception area, you could then be sure of an arrangement where a printer failure doesn’t impede on your business workflow or affect how your business is perceived by the people your business benefits.

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