Computer setups Archive

Why buy a network-enabled printer instead of a direct-connected printer?

Most printer manufacturers are supplying printers and multifunction printer (all-in-one) devices that can connect to computers via a network as well as via a USB port in price ranges that most consumers and small businesses can afford.

This function has initially been provided to higher-end business-grade equipment primarily as a way of integrating them in to the business’s network and allowing them to be used by all the computers in that workplace. Now that home networks are becoming increasingly common primarily due to broadband Internet and Wi-Fi networking, this function is becoming commonly available in all but the cheapest equipment in most manufacturers’ product ranges.

You may think that a direct-connect printer is the only type of printer that you need for your home or small-business computer but it may be worth thinking about the advantages of the network-connected units now that this feature is available at an increasingly-affordable price. Similarly you may think of using a direct-connect printer with a print server such as the functionality integrated in to many recent-model routers. But there may be limitations in how this setup works, especially with the multifunction devices that are increasingly being deployed.

Many computers – few printers

You will typically end up with many computers but fewer printers in your home or small business and may find that there are particular printers that offer capabilities that are unique to them.

A network printer allows each computer to benefit from that printer’s capabilities without any need to shift the unit around or disconnect and reconnect USB cables. You also move away from the temptation to buy and maintain many cheaper printers for each computer and end up saving money in the long run.

This can allow you to invest in printers that are good for particular needs rather than a fleet of machines that effectively do the same job. A good example of this would be a medical clinic’s setup where there is a networked monochrome laser printer that turns out health-insurance forms, patient receipts and similar documents very quickly for a group of reception-desk computers and a networked colour inkjet multifunction printer that does general-purpose printing where speed isn’t necessary.

Network-capable multifunction printers expose all of their functions to the networks rather than just the printing function. This can allow for increased flexibility when it comes to scanning or “drawing-down” images from memory cards because these functions end up being shared by all the computer users. If the machine has fax functionality, there is the ability to “print-to-fax” via the network whenever you want to send a fax from one of the computers.

The “new home-computing environment”

We are also starting to see the arrival of the “new home-computing environment” where the computers in the household are laptops that are connected via Wi-Fi wireless to a wireless router. This has allowed users to use the computers anywhere in the house rather than just in the study or home office.

A network-enabled printer can allow you to avoid the need to locate the printer and connect laptop computers to it whenever you wish to print anything. Rather, you can start a print job from the laptop that you are using at the location you are using it at. You also benefit from the increased flexibility of locating the printer wherever you wish, especially if you use Wi-Fi wireless or HomePlug powerline networking to connect the printer to the network.

Conclusion

So if you are wanting to choose a printer that provides for flexibility in your network environment, it would be worth it to consider units that are network enabled.

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Why buy a network-enabled printer instead of a direct-connected printer?

Most printer manufacturers are supplying printers and multifunction printer (all-in-one) devices that can connect to computers via a network as well as via a USB port in price ranges that most consumers and small businesses can afford.

This function has initially been provided to higher-end business-grade equipment primarily as a way of integrating them in to the business’s network and allowing them to be used by all the computers in that workplace. Now that home networks are becoming increasingly common primarily due to broadband Internet and Wi-Fi networking, this function is becoming commonly available in all but the cheapest equipment in most manufacturers’ product ranges.

You may think that a direct-connect printer is the only type of printer that you need for your home or small-business computer but it may be worth thinking about the advantages of the network-connected units now that this feature is available at an increasingly-affordable price. Similarly you may think of using a direct-connect printer with a print server such as the functionality integrated in to many recent-model routers. But there may be limitations in how this setup works, especially with the multifunction devices that are increasingly being deployed.

Many computers – few printers

You will typically end up with many computers but fewer printers in your home or small business and may find that there are particular printers that offer capabilities that are unique to them.

A network printer allows each computer to benefit from that printer’s capabilities without any need to shift the unit around or disconnect and reconnect USB cables. You also move away from the temptation to buy and maintain many cheaper printers for each computer and end up saving money in the long run.

This can allow you to invest in printers that are good for particular needs rather than a fleet of machines that effectively do the same job. A good example of this would be a medical clinic’s setup where there is a networked monochrome laser printer that turns out health-insurance forms, patient receipts and similar documents very quickly for a group of reception-desk computers and a networked colour inkjet multifunction printer that does general-purpose printing where speed isn’t necessary.

Network-capable multifunction printers expose all of their functions to the networks rather than just the printing function. This can allow for increased flexibility when it comes to scanning or “drawing-down” images from memory cards because these functions end up being shared by all the computer users. If the machine has fax functionality, there is the ability to “print-to-fax” via the network whenever you want to send a fax from one of the computers.

The “new home-computing environment”

We are also starting to see the arrival of the “new home-computing environment” where the computers in the household are laptops that are connected via Wi-Fi wireless to a wireless router. This has allowed users to use the computers anywhere in the house rather than just in the study or home office.

A network-enabled printer can allow you to avoid the need to locate the printer and connect laptop computers to it whenever you wish to print anything. Rather, you can start a print job from the laptop that you are using at the location you are using it at. You also benefit from the increased flexibility of locating the printer wherever you wish, especially if you use Wi-Fi wireless or HomePlug powerline networking to connect the printer to the network.

Conclusion

So if you are wanting to choose a printer that provides for flexibility in your network environment, it would be worth it to consider units that are network enabled.

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Feature Article – Moving your closed-circuit TV surveillance to IP technology

WARNING THESE PREMISES ARE PROTECTED BY VIDEO-SURVEILLANCE

The typical video-surveillance system

You have established a video-surveillance system in your business premises and have had it going well for many years. It would be based on four to nine analogue cameras located through the business premises and all of these cameras are connected to a multiplexer, commonly known as a “quad”. This device, which presents video images from the cameras in a sequence and / or as a matrix of four images on the one screen, is then connected to a VHS time-lapse video recorder that is recording whatever is going on in the premises. You are able to see the output of the cameras through one or two monitors, whether dedicated video monitors or a spare TV that is pressed in to service as a monitor.

If you are lucky enough to do so, you may have used a dedicated digital video recorder instead of the VHS time-lapse video recorder as the system’s video recorder. These units would have a built-in hard disk and may copy images or video segments that are needed for reference to a DVD using an integrated DVD burner. There is also an increased likelihood of these units being able to work with multiple cameras without the need to use a “quad”.

But now you have heard talk from people in the IT or security industry, such as your system’s installer, about the concept of network-based video surveillance and perhaps seen other businesses and government sites being equipped with this technology. What with the ability to have the increased expandability and flexibility that it provides at all points of the equation.

What benefits does the new IP technology provide?

For example, you could have the recording functionality located away from the premises so employees can’t handle the recording media or to permit security firms to offer offsite video monitoring as another service. In some cases, an IP-based video-surveillance system can make it easier for business partner groups such as police officers or your landlord’s security team to easily “patch in” to your cameras as needed and upon you agreeing without upsetting your existing system’s setup.  As well, you may want to benefit from advanced handling of the video feed which can lead to functions like video motion detection, automatic vehicle number-plate (license-plate) recognition or people-counting being part of your system, whether integrated in to the cameras or as part of extra software in other system devices. These systems may also offer the ability to use high-resolution cameras which may appeal to you in certain security scenarios like fraud detection.

The technology is becoming available at a cost that most small business users can afford. One of the reasons is because most of the infrastructure may already exist due to the data network being laid down for Internet access and computer networking. Similarly, you may benefit from your network-attached storage device or business server being able to work as a DVR device simply by you adding cheap or free software to that device. On the other hand, there are some DVR devices that work with network cameras and offer a lot more video-surveillance functionality and integration in the long run, with some of them offering a Web-based system dashboard available over the network. As well, your regular desktop or laptop PCs can work as cost-effective system-control and monitoring terminals through the addition of cheap or free software or the computers’ Web browsers being pointed to the cameras’ Web sites. This may then make you think that your closed-circuit TV system is simply “too old” for today’s requirements. How should you go about moving towards the technology?

The IP network infrastructure

The network infrastructure that is part of your IP-based video surveillance system should be based on Cat5 Ethernet cable, which can be used as your business’s wired data network. This can provide for a reliable system and permit you to move towards “Power Over Ethernet”, which allows a single Cat5 Ethernet cable to carry power to the cameras as well as the data back from the cameras. This is infact a scenario you should look towards deploying, with a multi-port “power midspan” or “powered switch” providing the power-supply needs for the cameras and obtaining its power via a good-quality uninterruptible power supply that has adequate power capacity.

You could use other network media like Wi-Fi or HomePlug powerline for supplementary camera installations such as additional event-specific cameras or test-run cameras that you may use as part of building out your system.

Standards and setup issues

When you choose your equipment, make sure that your equipment works to common standards such as video codecs that are commonly in use or Internet-standard protocols. You may also want to make sure that each camera is accessible by either a known IP address or host name through the logical network at all times so as to make it easy to set up or revise your system.

If you are thinking of remote access, it may be worth using a dynamic-DNS service or fixed IP service; and establish port mapping so you can navigate to the cameras from outside of the network. This is to allow you to use a known IP address or fully-qualified domain name to refer to your system from outside.

The main objective with a proper IP upgrade is that you don’t lose any functionality that your existing system has provided you. Rather, you gain more in the way of functionality, expandability and security from the new setup because of the new features that the IP-based equipment and software will provide.

The upgrade path

Check your DVR for additional network functionality

If your system uses a DVR rather than the VHS time-lapse recorder as its recording device, find out if the DVR offers access to stored footage or live camera streams via industry-standard network setups. It also includes the possibility of the DVR sending images or footage to nominated people by e-mail or MMS in response to an alarm event. As well, the extra functionality could also include the ability to record images or footage from network cameras.

This functionality may be available through hardware and/or software that you may be able to retrofit, whether done by yourself or a competent computer or security technician. The software may be available for a very low price or, in some cases, for free from the manufacturer’s site or a respected third-party developer.

Network video encoders

These devices are used to connect the existing system to your network. They come in one-channel or multi-channel versions. The one-channel version can service one existing camera or the “MONITOR” output of an analogue system’s multiplexer, whereas a multi-channel version can service multiple cameras. The latter solution can come in handy if you want individual access to your legacy system’s camera outputs via your network.

It is also worth noting that some of the high-end network video encoders come in the form of an expandable infrastructure where there are many encoder “blades” that are installed in a rack-mount “master chassis”. This could allow a user to increase the number of channels in the encoder simply by replacing the “blade” which has fewer channels with one that has more channels. These units may appeal more to installations where there are many serviceable analogue cameras.

If any of the cameras in your system use “pan-tilt-zoom” functionality, the network video encoder that you use for these cameras should have a compatible “PTZ” interface so that you don’t lose this functionality. Similarly, if your system uses alarm connectivity for changing how it records the video information, the network video encoder should support this same alarm connectivity.

Recording

The IP-based video-surveillance system has increased recording flexibility compared to the legacy systems. Here, you could have the images captured on a network-attached storage unit that exists within the logical reach of your business network. For example, you could have one of QNAP’s multi-disk “muscle-NAS” units located in your premises AND a D-Link two-disk NAS at home or in another premises under your control set up to record images from the same lot of cameras  You also benefit from the fact that most of these NAS units can be upgraded to higher capacity in the field through the purchase of larger capacity OEM hard disks from independent computer stores.

In some cases, you can set up some of the NAS units like most of the QNAP range to work as network video recorders by installing software applications in these units. This usually allows the cameras and the recordings to be viewed from the NAS’s management Web page.

It may be worth knowing that there are some special NAS units that are optimised for IP-based video-surveillance setups. These will usually have functions like a Web-based dashboard, improved user interface for indexing and, in some cases, video-analysis functionality not available in the cameras. These are worth considering for larger video-surveillance systems.

Alarm integration and POS Exception Monitoring

Your system may be set up so that your video recorder works in real time if, for example, the building’s alarm is triggered or a staff member presses the duress-alarm button during a hold-up. You can make sure you don’t lose this functionality when your system is network-enabled. As well, you may benefit further from this through network cameras sending through pictures to specified e-mail addresses or MMS-enabled phone numbers upon alarm events.

To achieve this, you need to make sure that your cameras that are in the alarm’s scope have alarm-input terminals and that the signalling devices are properly wired to these terminals as specified in the documentation. In some cases, you may need to use a relay or optocoupler as a way of achieving a compatible connection that operates properly. An alarm installer or electronics technician can do this kind of work easily.

If you are a retailer who integrates POS Exception monitoring where certain normal or abnormal transactions cause your closed-circuit TV system to register them as alarm events or overlay transaction data on the video information, you should make sure you can integrate this functionality in your network-enabled system. The network-based system may allow for transaction-searching or exposure of transaction data independent of the video and could work with network-based POS systems.

Scenarios

These scenarios avoid the need to replace any equipment that is in good working order ahead of its time and prefer that the IP-based technology be “bolted on” to a video-surveillance system in a manner to enhance the system without losing any of its functionality.

Simple network enablement

You may simply start out by connecting the monitor output of your existing system to a single-channel network video encoder. This may be of use if your current-term objective is to view the system’s output on your network-connected PC or your mobile phone.

On the other hand, you may use a multi-channel network video encoder to network-enable all the cameras in a small 4-camera system or, for a larger system, a few cameras that you consider important as well as the monitor output. Then you add another multi-channel network video encoder to network-enable more cameras. You then run a video-surveillance manager program on your general-purpose PC so you can easily view the cameras and set up your network-based recording options.

You will still keep your “quad” and VHS time-lapse recorder or DVR going as a “failover recording setup” until that hardware breaks down irreparably.

Additional or replacement cameras

When you “build out” your video-surveillance system with extra cameras or replace any of the existing cameras, the newer cameras that you deploy in this scenario should be network-capable units. As mentioned before, you run a video-surveillance program on your PC to set up the recording and viewing options.  If you have enough room on your existing system’s multiplexer for extra channels or are replacing existing cameras, you have the option to connect these cameras to the multiplexer because they will have video outputs as well as network outputs. This setup will then appeal to those of us who have plenty of mileage left on the older equipment and still want to use that equipment to record the footage; or haven’t yet run Ethernet wiring out to the new cameras.

Moving away from tape or proprietary DVR

Your VHS time-lapse recorder may be just at the end of its service life and you may be thinking of where to go next. Similarly, you may have had enough of that proprietary DVR that cannot be expanded easily and want to look for something better. This could be a time to network-enable your existing video-surveillance system. Here, you could deploy a multi-channel network video encoder and a network-attached storage like a QNAP unit on your network dedicated for the video surveillance system. Then you use video-management software on your PC to direct the cameras to record to the NAS and to make DVDs of footage that you need to provide.

Complete system upgrades

You may be in a position to upgrade your video-surveillance system, such as through new premises, renovations, newer security requirements placed by government, insurance or company needs; or a large number of the components coming to the end of their useful life. Sometimes, the government may financially assist you in improving your system whether through a grant, loan or tax break towards the cost of the equipment as part of a compliance or “safer cities” program.

This upgrade may give you the break to move towards an “all-IP” system with IP-based cameras, one or more recording devices being network-attached storage devices, computers running video management software; and all of them interconnected using the business’s Cat5 Ethernet cabling.

Conclusion

Any business who has the premises protected by a video-surveillance system should be aware of the IP-based video-surveillance setups. As well, they should know when to evolve to the IP-based technology and how to do it without unnecessarily replacing existing equipment.

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Keeping the WiFi public hotspot industry safe

Originally published: 12 March 2009  – Latest update 20 April 2010

There are an increasing number of WiFi wireless hotspots being set up, mainly as a customer-service extra by cafe and bar operators. But there have been a few security issues that are likely to put users, especially business users off benefiting from these hotspots.

This is becoming more real due to netbooks, mobile Internet devices, WiFi-capable smartphones and other easily-portable computing devices becoming more common. The hotspots will become increasingly important as people take these devices with them everywhere they go and manage their personal or business data on them.

The primary risk to hotspot security

The main risk is the “fake hotspot” or “evil twin:. These are computers or smart routers that are set up in a cafe or bar frequented by travellers, business people or others who expect Internet access. They can be set up in competition to an existing hotspot that offers paid-for or limited-access service or on the fringes of an existing hotspot or hotzone. They offer the promise of free Internet access but exist for catching users’ private information and/or sending users to malware-laden fake Websites hosted on the computers.

Standard customer-education practices

The common rhetoric that is given for wireless-hotspot security is for the customer to put most of their effort into protecting their own data without the business owner realising that their hotspot service could be turning in to a liability. This can then lead to the hotspot service gathering dust due to disuse by the customers it was intended to serve.

The typical advice given to users is to check whether the premises is running a wireless hotspot or if there is a hotzone operating in the neighbourhood before switching on the wireless network ability in your laptop computer. Then make sure that you log on to a network identified by a legitimate ESSID when you switch on the wireless network ability.

Other suggestions include use of VPNs for all Web activity, which can become difficult for most personal Web users such as those with limited computer experience. Some people even advise against using public Internet facilities like Internet cafes and wireless hotspots for any computing activity that is confidential on a personal or business level.

But everyone involved in providing the free or paid-for hotspot service will need to put effort into assuring a secure yet accessible hotspot which provides a high service quality for all users. This encompasses the equipment vendors, wireless Internet service providers and the premises owners.

Signage and operating practices

When Intel promoted the Centrino chipset for laptop computers, they promoted wireless hotspot areas that were trusted by having a sticker with the Centrino butterfly logo at eye level on the door and the premises being scattered with table tent cards with that same logo. Similarly hotspot service providers and wireless Internet service providers used similar signage to promote their hotspots.

But most business operators, especially small independently-run cafes and bars, commonly deploy “hotspot-in-a-box” solutions where they connect a special wireless router that they have bought to their Internet service and do their own promotion of the service. This may simply be in the form of a home-printed sign on the door or window or a home-printed display sign near the cash register advising of WiFi hotspot service.

An improvement on this could be in the form of the ESSID matching the business’s name and listed on the signage, which should have the business’s official logo. Similarly, the network could be set up with WPA-PSK security at least with the passphrase given to the customers by the business’s staff members when they order hotspot service. Most “hotspot in a box” setups that list the customer’s username and password on a paper docket also list the ESSID and WPA-PSK passphrase on these dockets. As well, I would modify the login page to convey the business’s look with the business’s logo and colours. A complimentary-use hotspot could be secured with a WPA-PSK passphrase and the customer having to ask the staff member about the passphrase. This could allow the facility to know who is using the hotspot and the organisation who runs that hotspot can have better control over it.

It may be worth the industry investigating the feasibility of using WPA-Enterprise security which is associated with different usernames and passwords for access to the wireless network. Most portable computers and handheld devices in current use can support WPA-Enterprise networks. This can be implemented with the typical “paper-docket” model used by most “hotspot-in-a-box” setups if the authentication system used in these units works as a RADIUS server and the built-in wireless access point supports WPA-Enterprise with the unit’s built-in RADIUS server. The same setup could work well with a membership-based hotspot service like a public library with the RADIUS server linked to the membership database. But it may not work easily with hotspot setups that work on a “self-service” model such as paid-service hotspots that require the user to key in their credit-card number through a Webpage or free-service hotspots that use a “click-wrap” arrangement for honouring their usage terms and conditions.

The organisation who runs the hotspot should also be aware of other public-access wireless networks operating in their vicinity, such as an outdoor hotzone or municipal wireless network that covers their neighbourhood; and regularly monitor the quality of service provided by their hotspot. Also, they need to pay attention to any customer issues regarding the hotspot’s operation such as “dead zones” or unexpected disconnections.

People who own private-access wireless networks should also keep these networks secure through setting up WPA-secured wireless networks. They should also check the quality of their network’s service and keep an eye on sudden changes in their network’s behaviour.

When wireless-network operators keep regular tabs on the network’s quality of service, they can be in a better position to identify rogue “evil-twin” hotspots

Improved standards for authenticating wireless networks

There needs to be some technical improvement on various WiFi standards to permit authentication of WiFi networks in a manner similar to how SSL-secured Web sites are authenticated. This could be based around a “digital certificate” which has information about the hotspot, especially:

  • the ESSID of the network ,
  • the BSSID (wireless network MAC) of each of the access points,
  • the LAN IP address and MAC number of the Internet gateway
  • the venue name and address and
  • the business’s official name and address.

The certificate, which would be signed by public-key / private-key method could be part of the “beacon” which announces the network. It would work with the software which manages the wireless network client so it can identify a wireless network as being secure or trusted if the signature is intact and the network client is attached to the network from the listed BSSIDs and is linking to the gateway LAN IP.

The user experience would be very similar to most Internet-based banking or shopping Websites where there is a “padlock” symbol to denote that the user is using an SSL-secured Website with an intact certificate. It will also be like Internet Explorer 7 and 8 where the address bar turns green for a “High-Assurance” certificate which requires higher standards. In this case, the user interface could use colour-coding and / or a distinctive icon for indicating a verified public network.

The provision of cost-effective wireless-network management software

There are some programs that can turn a laptop computer in to a wireless-network survey tool, but most of them don’t show much useful information, are hard to operate for anyone other than a network technician; or are too costly. They miss the needs of people who run home or small-business wireless networks or wireless hotspots.

What needs to exist is low-cost wireless-network management software that can work with the common Microsoft or Apple platforms on computers that have common wireless . The software should be able to use commonly-available wireless network adaptors such as the Intel Centrino platform to perform site surveys on the WiFi bands and display the activity on these bands in an easy-to-view but comprehensive manner. The software should be easy to use for most people so they can spot interference to their wireless network easily and can “tune” their wireless network for best performance.

An application that is matching this need is MetaGeek’s inSSIDer, a free wireless-network site survey tool for the Windows platform which I have reviewed in this blog. It has the ability to list all the networks receivable by signal strength, MAC address, SSID or channel; or plot a graph of the networks by signal strength over time; or plot a graph of all the access points by signal strength over channel. This may help with managing your hotspot by identifying rogue access points and “evil-twin” hotspots.

Similarly the popular smartphone and PDA platforms like Applie iPhone, Android, Symbian S60 / UIQ, Blackberry and Microsoft Windows Mobile could have low-cost wireless-network management software written for them so they can make a handheld PDA or mobile phone work as a site-survey tool for assessing quality of service.

Once this kind of software is available for small business and home users, it empowers them to assure proper coverage of their network and check for any “evil twin” or other rogue hotspots being set up to catch customers.

Summary

There needs to be more effort put in to setting up secure public-access wireless networks so that people can benefit from portable computing anywhere without forfeiting the confidentiality of their personal or corporate data.

It also will encourage people to gain the maximum value out of their WiFi-enabled portable information devices whether for their business life or their personal life.

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The Browser Choice Screen – we are still not happy

 Les éditeurs de navigateurs se mobilisent contre Microsoft – DegroupNews.com (France – French language)

My comments on this situation

There is still some disquiet in the European Union regarding the Browser Choice Screen that Microsoft launched in that market on 1 March 2010 to satisfy the European Commission’s anti-trust issue concerning their delivery of Internet Explorer 8 as the standard browser for the Windows platform.

The main issue was that the only browsers that were immediately visible to the user were the “top 5” desktop browsers – Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Microsoft Internet Explorer and Opera. The user had to “pan” the menu rightwards to see the other browsers like Maxthon, GreenBrowser, K-Meleon and Flock. This had annoyed the developers of these alternative browsers, some of which were “super-browsers” built on either the Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer codebases and were endowed with extra features.

These browser developers want the European Commission to mandate an easily-identifiable visual cue as part of the Browser Choice Screen user-interface to indicate more browsers available. This is even though there is a scroll-bar of variable width under the browser list that can be dragged left and right to reveal the other browsers.

Personally, I would also look into the idea of an alternative user-interface layout in the form of a 6 x 2 grid for the browser-selection part rather than the current “ribbon” menu. This can cater for more browsers to be shown to  the user, but the downside would be that it requires more screen real-estate which limits its utility on smaller screens like netbooks. It may also make the user-interface more cluttered and intimidating.

It is certainly a situation that reminds me of many council planning-permission fights that I have read about in various local newspapers whenever one of the big American fast-food chains like KFC or McDonalds wants to set up shop in a neighbourhood. A very constant argument that I read of in these reports is that the fast-food chain’s logo and colour scheme stands out like a sore thumb against all the other small cafés that had existed previously in that area. The alternative browser developers like Maxthon see themselves as the small café who is put out of business by the “big boys” (Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer & co) who are seen in a similar light to McDonalds, KFC & co.

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Understanding the Browser-Choice Screen – Updated

News articles

Microsoft offers web browser choice to IE users | BBC Technology (UK)

Microsoft about to offer Windows users a browser choice screen | The Guardian Technology Blog (UK)

La concurrence entre navigateurs web relancée en Europe | DegroupNews (France – French language)

From the horse’s mouth

The Browser Choice Screen for Europe: What to Expect, When to Expect It | Microsoft On The Issues (Microsoft)

UPDATE: The Browser Choice Screen for Europe – Microsoft On The Issues (Microsoft)

European Union press release about the Browser Choice screen

Browser Choice Screen shortcut (available anywhere in the world)

http://browserchoice.eu

Advocacy site

OpenToChoice.org (Mozilla)

My comments and further information

If you run a version of Windows XP, Vista or 7 that you bought in Europe and your default browser is Internet Explorer 8, you may be required to complete a “browser-selection” ballot screen, known as the Browser Choice screen, to determine which browser your computer should run as its default browser. It may not happen if you ran another browser as a default browser, then came back to Internet Explorer 8. It also will happen to European migrants who had brought out their Windows computers with them.

You will have to work through a “wizard” which has an introduction screen then the list of browsers presented in a random order. Once you choose that browser, it will be determined as your default Web-browsing tool every time you go to a Web page. If the browser isn’t installed on your system, the software will be downloaded from the developer’s site and installed in to your system. browser_choice_1_clip_image002_136F9F12

If you run Windows 7, the Internet Explorer “e” logo will disappear from the Taskbar, but you can still find it in your Start Menu. Then, you will be able to reattach it to your Taskbar by right-clicking on the program in the Start Menu and selecting “Pin to Taskbar”.

The Browser Choice screen will subsequently become available as another method of changing default browsers, alongside the options available when you install, update or run a Web browser.

There are some issues you may run into if you move from Internet Explorer 8 to another browser. One is that you won’t have your RSS feeds held in the Common Feed List which works as part of Windows Vista and 7. This may affect the addition of new feeds to programs that make use of the Common Feed List as their RSS data store. Similarly, Windows 7 users won’t benefit from having the tabs viewable in Aero Peek’s multi-window preview. This issue may be resolved with versions of the alternative browsers being built to work tightly with the host operating system’s features, which can be achieved with the Windows application programming interface information being made available by Microsoft.

At the moment, there isn’t a program that adds installed browsers to the shortcut menu when you right-click on a Web link. Such a program would benefit Web developers and bloggers who want to test a page under different browsers or people who want to “spread the Web-viewing load” amongst different clients.

Author recommendations (in no particular order)

I recommend any of these browsers because users don’t have to relearn the user interface if they switch between any of them.

Mozilla Firefox

Internet Explorer

Opera

Safari

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Another threat to Apple being the king of “all things cool”

 Acer developing ‘ace in the hole’ ultrathin, putting MacBook Air on notice — Engadget

My comments on this topic

When Windows 7 was launched, I wrote an article on this blog about an intent by Windows-based PC manufacturers, especially laptop manufacturers to upstage the Apple Macintosh platform in the beauty, reliability and performance stakes. This was also ran in conjunction with HP launching their Envy laptop series which reminded me of the Apple Macbook Pro laptops. Later on, I had blogged about an ASUS laptop that would appeal to people who love the design masterpieces that are the Bang & Olufsen TVs and music systems.

In the earlier article, there had been some mention about Acer designing a multi-touch all-in-one PC. They had also come good on an ultra-thin Windows 7 laptop that is intended to upstage the Apple Macbook Air series of laptops. This Intel Core-powered unit will be designed with a thickness goal of 1.9cm (0.7 inches) and, of course, will be relatively light. Acer have an intention to release the machine sometime “this year” but I would place its availability sometime before the end of the next financial year.

This certainly shows that since Apple Snow Leopard and Microsoft Windows 7 were launched, the competition for computer hardware that pleases most everyday users has become more intense.

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A laptop that will directly please the Beo-enthusiasts

ASUS NX90: Bang & Olufsen ICEpower Laptop [CES 2010] | Laptop at Hardware Sphere

Dual-touchpad laptop from Asus and Bang & Olufsen – CNET Crave

My comments

Beosound Ouverture There are those of you who may own or have used Bang & Olufsen hi-fi systems or TVs and have become amazed at the beauty of these Danish design masterpieces. Then when you switch on any of these masterpieces, your experience with them is so special, with such benefits as high-quality sound and pictures and a distinct “feel” and user experience.

You may be wondering when this kind of experience will appear on your computer and may have thought of using the Apple Macintosh as a way of coming closer to this experience.

Now Asus have brought this experience closer to the Windows PC user through the release of a laptop computer that has been designed in conjunction with this company. David Lewis, who is a freelance industrial designer who has designed most of the classic B&O masterpieces such as the Beosound 9000 music system and the Beovision LX and MX series of television sets, has been responsible for the key aspects of this design. Similarly, the pictures of this computer when it was open reminded me of the Master Control Panel that was part of the Beosystem 6500 music system, especially with the black keyboard area and the polished-aluminium palm rest. The screen bezel had the speakers integrated in it and was wider than the keyboard area. This made it have the look of one of B&O’s newer flatscreen TVs.

None of this design is complete without there being improvements in the sound-reproduction department. Here, they also used the B&O’s ICEPower Class-D switch-mode power amplification technology, which is known to be one of the few amplifier designs of this type that yield high-quality sound.  The main reason that the speakers are in the screen bezel, rather than facing upwards from the keyboard area, are to focus the sound at the user. This is the common setup practice for sound playing to the audience and is used for hi-fi, TV sound, desktop PCs and other common speaker-based sound reproduction tasks.

With Asus becoming involved with one of the few “audio companies of respect” to design a high-end laptop computer, this certainly shows that there is effort being taken in improving the sound quality of these computers. If this happens further, the quality of the sound that emanates from this class of computer could be improved rather than us having to stick with the usual weak tinny sound or connect these computers to external speakers for better sound reproduction.

These computers also used a “dual-touchpad” design which is often described as being similar to how a master DJ cues up records on his two turntables. This then allows for increased control of the computer, especially when scrolling through material.

Of course, the specifications and software provision are not dissimilar to a high-end multimedia laptop running Windows 7.

This also means that people who work with the Windows operating system can still benefit from classy and elegant computer designs. Once we see computers like this appearing on the market, there will be the desire to offer something that bit extra when it comes to the business-personal laptop computer.

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Microsoft Internet Explorer antitrust case resolved by European Union

 EU resolves Microsoft IE antitrust case | Microsoft – CNET News

From the horse’s mouth

European Union

Microsoft’s press release

My comments on this issue

Previously, there was talk of Microsoft having to supply European customers with “browser-delete” options for copies of Windows 7 operating system where they would have to explicitly download their browser of choice and wouldn’t be able to “get going” with Internet Explorer. Now, there is the requirement to provide a “browser-select” screen when you can install any of 12 alternative browsers and nominate one of the other browsers as the default browser. This will have the browsers organised in a random order so as not to favour Internet Explorer or a “browser-skin” with hooks to the Internet Explorer code.

One main improvement that I had liked about this is that you can deploy more than one browser from the “browser-select” screen, which will please Web-site developers who want to test their site in other browser environments. Similarly this will please users who are testing browsers for a proposed usage environment or replicating problems encountered with a particular browser.

It will be feasible for a computer supplier to “run with” a different default browser yet consumers can choose whichever browser suits them better. This would be more so with operations like Dell or the small independently-run High Street computer shops who build computers “to order” for individuals, rather than suppliers like HP/Compaq or Toshiba who build systems to particular packages to be sold through electronics chain stores.

The only issue is whether an individual or organisation can determine a particular browser as part of a Windows-based “standard operating environment” when they specify their computer equipment and not have to pass through the “browser-select” screen. Also, what will be the expectation for any proposed computer fleets and “standard operating environments”? Will the company who buys the computer equipment be able to determine which is the default browser for their environment or will they be required to allow individual staff members / end-users to choose which browser they are to work with? The reason I am raising this issue is because in some countries within the EEA like France, there is an organised-labour culture where the trade unions can exercise a lot of influence over what goes on in a workplace.

Another issue that may need to be raised is whether the European-specific “browser-choice” arrangements will be available outside of the European Economic Area. This may be of concern to independent system builders who may want to assure customers of browser choice as a differentiating factor or local, state or federal government departments who may want to be assured of this for computers supplied as part of their IT programs operating in their area or as part of a legislative requirement for their area. It may also be of benefit to PC users who want to load their computers with many browsers so as to, for example, test a Web site under many operating environments.

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Windows 7 – How it will benefit the small business and work-home laptop users

There have been some significant advances in Windows 7 that benefit the small business and the mobile laptop users. This includes people who use their computers for both their work use and home / community use.

Location Aware Printing for “work-home” laptops

If you run Windows 7 Professional or above on your laptop, this operating system has another feature to support the “work-home” laptop. It is in the form of “Location Aware Printing” where the default printer is determined based on which network the computer is connected to. The network can be determined by factors like the domain Windows is associated with, the SSID of a wireless network or the MAC of the Internet Gateway or DHCP Server that it gets its IP address from.

The printer can be a network printer that exists on the network like the HP OfficeJet at your workplace or your Epson WiFi-enabled all-in-one at home, a locally-connected printer like your Canon portable USB printer or a software-based virtual printer like your fax software’s “print-to-fax” function or “print-to-PDF” software.

At the moment, there isn’t ready support for handling location-aware printing in locations where there are many printers in the same facility, such as the typical workplace or educational institution with its many rooms.

Inherent support for mobile broadband services

Windows 7 has inherent support for 3G wireless broadband services thus eliminating the need to run operator-provided software to use the 3G modem. It also caters for laptops that have integrated 3G modems, which is a feature becoming more common with units that are supplied through mobile-phone outlets. In some cases, you may not need to install any software provided by the 3G provider to use wireless broadband Internet service.

This is similar to when Microsoft implemented Dial Up Networking in Windows 95 and users didn’t have to run any other software to get online with their dial-up Internet service.

Wi-Fi Wireless Flexibility for the business partner and hotspot surfer

Windows 7 has improved the Wi-Fi wireless infrastructure thus allowing a Wi-Fi equipped computer with an appropriate hardware driver for its wireless card to do more tricks. It can become a wireless-wireless LAN bridge which can allow for such things as running Wi-Fi devices that can’t go beyond regular WPA2-PSK authentication and don’t have an easy-to-use Web browser with networks that implement WPA2-Enterprise authentication at workplaces or Web-based authentication at hotspots. A good use for this could be for a business partner to take pictures with his Wi-Fi digital camera and upload them to his laptop or a site worker who wants to play his Roberts Stream 202 Internet radio at a wireless hotspot just by using his laptop (which will alert him to new work) as a gateway. It can also allow for “bonding” of multiple Wi-Fi signals for greater throughput, which can come in handy with multi-access-point networks.

Improved business network functionality

The Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate computer has improved business network functionality, which can come in handy with corporate or business-partner networks. One feature that I like is “network-specific” security that accounts for VPN and DirectAccess network setups. Here, you can set up a “domain-driven” business network profile for the VPN tunnel while you have a “private-network” security rule that applies to your home network or a “public-network” security rule that applies to public networks like wireless hotspots. This still allows business-driven network tools like system management tools or desktop-based MIS “dashboards” to operate “through the tunnel” with your computer being secure enough for the network you are in.

Speaking of DirectAccess, this is an improved IPv6-IPSec VPN replacement provided with Windows 7 Ultimate that does away with the need for extra weight associated with a lot of VPN software. The software sets up a separate IPv6 path to the DirectAccess server that your employer or business partner provides and makes the access to business resources more transparent. This function will require the use of a Windows Server 2008 R2 box installed at the workplace by your employer or IT contractor and your computer to run Windows 7 Ultimate.

Conclusion

This series of Windows 7 articles shows how your Windows-based computer and network can be improved when you deploy Windows 7.

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