Don’t expect much from Windows 8.1

Has Microsoft made Windows 8 much better with its Windows 8.1 tweak? Not really, says David Pogue, tech writer for the New York Times. And in a recent preview of the update, Pogue writes that if you’re not a fan of Windows 8, you most likely won’t like Windows 8.1, as well.

Start still missing

The first problem? Windows 8.1 doesn’t resurrect the much-missed Start menu. Pogue ponders if that is just stubbornness by Microsoft.

Two worlds

Secondly, Windows 8.1 still doesn’t know if it’s a touch-screen or mouse-and-keyboard system. The system’s TileWorld section works the best for touchscreens. But its Desktop section is clearly made to be navigated with a mouse and keyboard. By splitting itself like this, Windows 8.1 doesn’t make anyone happy.

Stick to Windows 7

Pogue’s advice? If you’re not much of a fan of Windows 8, the upgrade won’t do much to change your mind. Stay with the superior Windows 7.

Is Office Mobile a good buy?

Excited that Microsoft has finally developed a mobile version of its Office suite of products for the iPhone? Temper your enthusiasm. As Jill Duffy, a tech reviewer for PCMag.com writes, Microsoft’s Office Mobile is probably not worth the money.

Not free

Duffy writes that Office Mobile is an elegant piece of software, one that’s simple to use and understand. The issue, though, is that accessing the program makes it necessary that you get a subscription to Office 365. That will run you a minimum of $99 a year. And that price is way too high, Duffy writes.

Subscription

As Duffy writes, most smartphone users can make use of a collection of free options to handle everything from word-processing to spreadsheets. So why, then, should a consumer invest nearly $100 yearly for Office Mobile?

Shopping

Duffy recommends that users search the Internet for free apps that handle such tasks as word-processing and spreadsheets. Users will probably discover something interesting: The free apps are often just as effective as Office Mobile. And, needless to say, they come at the low, low price of nothing.

Is it time to turn off your tech?

Our gadgets make life easier. Now you can find the address of that new Thai restaurant with your smartphone. You can instantly tell all your friends about your new promotion through Twitter and Facebook. If you don’t have enough time to watch the news, you can read it en route to work on your tablet. But in some cases our gadgets distract us from the “real” world. And in some cases they decrease our productivity. When we ought to be working or thinking, we’re checking our e-mails and sending texts. The New York Times recently asked the question: Would many of us gain from short technology breaks?

Surprising agreement

The Times story concentrated on some highly unlikely supporters of the take-a-tech-break theory: techies themselves. The Times, in fact, presented the case of an author and former Twitter employee. This techie was writing a book. But the constant chirping of his iPhone kept him from concentrating. When this techie ditched the phone, he found that the words flowed. His advice? Ditching the tech can significantly boost productivity.

Growing support

This techie is far from alone. The author of the Times column shines a spotlight on himself. Today, when he and his friends get together for dinner, they immediately toss their smartphones in the middle of the table. The first person who reaches for a phone has to pay the price: That person covers the tab for dinner.

Your turn?

Is it your turn to follow these examples? Should you take a technology break? Have a look at your days: Do you spend hours playing with Words with Friends or Angry Birds? Can you pass an hour without logging into Facebook? Do you text more than you talk? If so, you, too, might gain from a technology break. And you might be surprised at how productive you can be.

Never lose power again with these top battery packs

Planning a vacation? Going to bring your laptop, smartphone or tablet along? You will want to get an external battery pack. These portable units let you plug nearly any device within them. The battery pack will charge them when they start running out of juice. But which external battery packs are best? The tech site Lifehacker recently asked its readers to rate the top battery packs. Here are their three favorites.

Anker Astro

Lifehacker readers chose the Anker Astro as their favorite line of external battery packs. Anker manufactures three packs, the 3E, Pro and E4 versions. Each of these devices are given praise for the powerful charging ability they have. The devices also score points for their portability and reasonable prices.

New Trent

New Trent’s external battery packs – the iCarrier and iGeek – both scored high with Lifehacker readers, too. These models, also, hold a large amount of power, and the devices offer an easy-to-read indicator light that lets you know clearly the amount of charge the battery pack has.

Energizer XP

Energizer is a big name in batteries, so it is little surprise that its XP series of external battery packs ranks high among Lifehacker readers. One of the primary selling points? These units include a wide selection of tips and cables that permit you to charge practically any phone available, even older models.

This isn’t a joke: A MacBook ranks as best Windows laptop

Another humiliation for Microsoft? Looks like it. Following the critical drubbing the company has had for Windows 8, a PC services company has now ranked the 13-inch MacBook Pro as being the laptop that does the best job running Windows software. And, yes, the MacBook Pro is manufactured by Microsoft rival Apple.

The Report

CNET recently reported on a study by Soluto that looked at the frequency of frustrating events on Windows laptops. The study examined everything from crashes to blue screens to hang-ups. The laptop that experienced the fewest of those annoying events? The 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Clean Installation

The main benefit of running Windows on a MacBook? According to Soluto, the Windows programs placed on the machine run cleanly. Simply put, they run as they are advertised.

Crashes Per Week

According to Soluto, the MacBook Pro suffered fewer crashes, hang-ups and blue screens when running Windows software. The MacBook also booted at a faster rate. Just what does this suggest? Only that Microsoft’s rough patch continues.

Can you guess which mobile device is hacked most often?

Apple’s iPhone collection of smartphones remains loved by consumers. Unfortunately, they’re also well-liked by a less savory group, hackers. Business Insider recently documented on a new study that found that the iPhone stands as the most hacked mobile device. And most stunning? It’s not even close – the iPhone is the most hacked by a lot.

The most hacked

Business Insider reported on the latest figures from Web security company SourceFire, which released the report “25 Years of Vulnerabilities.” This report charted the Critical Vulnerabilities and Exposures — better known as CVE — of a host of software and mobile devices. The CVE is the standard that security companies use when charting cyber-exploits. SourceFire found that 210 CVE reports had been filed on the iPhone. For comparison’s sake, Android only had 24 CVE reports.

What’s behind it?

This begs the question: Why have iPhones been hacked so many more times than have Android mobile devices? Just as with so many other big questions, there aren’t any easy answers. Business Insider ponders whether part of the reason could be the iPhone’s popularity. The devices, after all, remain a top seller. But the SourceFire report states that Android has received fewer CVEs in 2012 than it did in 2011. This drop happened even though Android enjoyed a big rise in market share last year.

Going after the king

A recent interview with the SourceFire report author on the ZDNet Web site proposes another excuse for the high number of iPhone hacks: Hacking the iPhone might present a challenge worthy of the most talented hackers. Consider how Android devices work. They make use of an open platform. Consequently developers could create malicious third-party apps that users can download onto their phones. That’s not very much of a challenge for hackers. But hacking the iPhone, which does not boast an open platform? That’s a true test of a hacker’s skill.

Do your research before buying a new monitor

Is it time for it to upgrade your LCD computer monitor? Guess what? It’s not as simple a task as you might think. This is because not all LCD monitors are the same. Some respond quicker. Others do a better job reproducing colors. And, of course, some are just pricier than are others. For anyone who is considering a new LCD monitor, you’ll need to take a look at your computing habits. Do you mostly use your computer for creating reports, searching the Web and sending e-mail messages? Or do you use it watch movies and TV shows? Maybe you use it for making art. This all matters if you are in search of the right LCD monitor for you.

The factors

The Lifehacker Web site recently took a closer look at LCD computer monitors. And, as writer Whitson Gordon says, size isn’t the only thing that matters. Believe it or not, it may be one of the least important factors. According to Lifehacker, fans of video games will probably prefer what is known as a “TN” monitor because their screens refresh at a quicker rate. Graphic designers, however, would likely prefer an “IPS” monitor that features sharper colors and better viewing angles. The message of the Lifehacker story? You ought to do your research before buying your next monitor.

Types

The Coding Horror blog, by writer Jeff Atwood, says that most monitors sold these days are TN models. This is because these monitors are less expensive. They also have screens that respond swiftly. But TN monitors aren’t perfect. Coding Horror ranks their viewing angles and color reproduction abilities as only average. Computer users can also choose from IPS monitors, which boast excellent color reproduction and excellent viewing angles. Their response times are solid, though not as quick as those of TN monitors. The downside? These are the most expensive monitors out there.

The middle choice?

Consider the VA monitor as the sound middle choice. Coding Horror says that these monitors boast good color reproduction capabilities and good viewing angles. The response time, though, for these monitors is only average. Also, the monitors’ colors tend to shift when uses view them from the wrong angle. These monitors are more expensive than TN monitors but less expensive than their IPS cousins.

Don’t think a passcode protects your phone from skilled hackers

Hackers have gotten ever more clever in regards to accessing the data stored on smart phones. And hackers are doing this regardless of whether consumers protect their phones with lock-screen passcodes. As a recent story on the Lifehacker technology Web site says, passcodes have never been a completely foolproof way to secure your smart phone. Thankfully, there are actions you can take to better defend your phone. And there are services you can enlist to protect yourself if you’ve lost your smart phone or someone has swiped it.

Passcode problems

According to the Lifehacker story, recent passcode exploits work differently based on if hackers were targeting the iPhone or Samsung Galaxy phones. For the iPhone, the exploits allowed hackers to gain access to the Phone app, not the iPhone’s home screen. This meant that hackers can use other’s phones to make calls, see users’ contacts and access users’ photos, even though they didn’t gain total access to the phone. For the Galaxy, hackers managed merely to flash phones’ home screens for about a second. That’s a small amount of time, but adequate to allow hackers to launch an app or start downloading one that can unlock your phone entirely.

No magic bullet

As these attacks show, using a lock-screen passcode is no guarantee that hackers won’t have the ability break into your phone. As the Lifehacker story says, passcodes today are no more effective at keeping out hackers than are standard passwords. This means you have to take the extra steps if you want to protect your phone from cyber criminals.

Protecting yourself

To protect yourself, first be sure that your lock-screen passcode is at least complicated to guess. Lifehacker recommends a passcode consisting of letters, symbols and numbers. Next, make sure you encrypt the data that you store on your smart phone. Lastly, consider paying for services such as Prey or Apple’s Find my iPhone. These services offer the ability to track your phone after it’s stolen or you lose it. Even better, it allows you to erase the data stored on it, so that hackers can’t reach it.

These apps make sharing your screen on a tablet a breeze

This has become a tablet world. And why not? Consumers are able to use these nifty and highly portable devices to watch movies, surf the Web, listen to online radio and send and receive e-mail messages while on the go. It’s no wonder that tablet sales have eclipsed the sales numbers of traditional laptop computers. But that doesn’t mean that tablets are perfect. Many users have complained that these particular devices falter when it comes to sharing screens with other people. However this, too, is changing, thanks to several high-end screen-sharing apps for iOS now on the market. Miguel Leiva-Gomez, a writer with the smallbiz technology Website, took a look at three of the best. Start using these apps and you’ll soon be sharing screens easily, even on a tablet.

Join.me

Leiva-Gomez starts his review with join.me for a good reason. To put it simply, it’s one of the better screen-sharing apps for iOS currently out there. You will, though, need to pay for the program’s “pro” version to use it. After you pay out the monthly fee of just under $20, though, you’ll be able to share your screen with co-workers and friends with ease. The program also comes with such goodies as Internet calling, instant chat and file sharing.

Air Sketch

Leiva-Gomez says that this app will turn your tablet into a whiteboard with such features as multiple pages. End users are able to use images from their own libraries as the background of their whiteboard and they can rely on one of five different drawing tools. Users can also use Air Sketch to open PDFs. The application displays everything in real time, creating an environment well suited to collaboration.

Conference Pad

Conference Pad is a simple but effective screen-sharing program, one that Leiva-Gomez gives high marks. Users can open and present PDFs and documents with simply a few taps. The application also provides some impressive zooming features, allowing users to zoom without having to sacrifice any image quality.

Simple steps to protect your privacy

Smartphones, tablets and laptops are wonderful tools: They allow us to search the Internet, answer e-mail messages and watch video whether we’re on the train or waiting for our flight at the airport. But these devices can be dangerous, too. If they fall into the wrong hands, your private information, from your online banks accounts to your e-mail messages to your Facebook pages, can fall prey to cyber thieves. And there’s little limit to the problems they can create. Luckily for us, there are steps that you can use to protect your privacy even in today’s age of mobile computing, and as Forbes says, these steps are very easy.

Password Protect

Forbes recommends you always password-protect your mobile devices. This way, if you lose your tablet or someone steals your smartphone, the thief won’t be able to effortlessly access your device and the private data stored on it. Forbes compares password-protecting your devices to locking your home’s front door; it’s just common sense.

Online Google Alerts

Do you know what people are saying about you online? You might like to. You don’t want any of your secrets sailing around the Internet. Forbes recommends that you create a Google Alert on your name. That way, each time anyone types it online, you’ll receive a message alerting you. Then you’re able to take a look at what’s being said about you. Consider this to be a very easy way to track your online presence.

Signing Out

You just completed changing your Facebook page. You’ve just transferred money electronically to your PayPal account. What do you do now? Make sure, before leaving the site, that you simply sign out. This is especially important if you’re using a computer at a library or any other public space. You don’t want the next user to see your accounts and gain instant access because you’re still signed in. We’re all busy. However you are not too busy to remember to sign out.