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  • HTG Explains: Are You Using IPv6 Yet? Should You Even Care?

    - by Chris Hoffman
    IPv6 is extremely important for the long-term health of the Internet. But is your Internet service provider providing IPv6 connectivity yet? Does your home network support it? Should you even care if you’re using IPv6 yet? Switching from IPv4 to IPv6 will give the Internet a much larger pool of IP addresses. It should also allow every device to have its own public IP address, rather than be hidden behind a NAT router. IPv6 is Important Long-Term IPv6 is very important for the long-term health of the Internet. There are only about 3.7 billion public IPv4 addresses. This may sound like a lot, but it isn’t even one IP address for each person on the planet. Considering people have more and more Internet-connected devices — everything from light bulbs to thermostats are starting to become network-connected — the lack of IP addresses is already proving to be a serious problem. This may not affect those of us in well-off developed countries just yet, but developing countries are already running out of IPv4 addresses. So, if you work at an Internet service provider, manage Internet-connected servers, or develop software or hardware — yes, you should care about IPv6! You should be deploying it and ensuring your software and hardware works properly with it. It’s important to prepare for the future before the current IPv4 situation becomes completely unworkable. But, if you’re just typical user or even a typical geek with a home Internet connection and a home network, should you really care about your home network just yet? Probably not. What You Need to Use IPv6 To use IPv6, you’ll need three things: An IPv6-Compatible Operating System: Your operating system’s software must be capable of using IPv6. All modern desktop operating systems should be compatible — Windows Vista and newer versions of Windows, as well as modern versions of Mac OS X and Linux. Windows XP doesn’t have IPv6 support installed by default, but you shouldn’t be using Windows XP anymore, anyway. A Router With IPv6 Support: Many — maybe even most — consumer routers in the wild don’t support IPv6. Check your router’s specifications details to see if it supports IPv6 if you’re curious. If you’re going to buy a new router, you’ll probably want to get one with IPv6 support to future-proof yourself. If you don’t have an IPv6-enabled router yet, you don’t need to buy a new one just to get it. An ISP With IPv6 Enabled:  Your Internet service provider must also have IPv6 set up on their end. Even if you have modern software and hardware on your end, your ISP has to provide an IPv6 connection for you to use it. IPv6 is rolling out steadily, but slowly — there’s a good chance your ISP hasn’t enabled it for you yet. How to Tell If You’re Using IPv6 The easiest way to tell if you have IPv6 connectivity is to visit a website like testmyipv6.com. This website allows you to connect to it in different ways — click the links near the top to see if you can connect to the website via different types of connections. If you can’t connect via IPv6, it’s either because your operating system is too old (unlikely), your router doesn’t support IPv6 (very possible), or because your ISP hasn’t enabled it for you yet (very likely). Now What? If you can connect to the test website above via IPv6, congratulations! Everything is working as it should. Your ISP is doing a good job of rolling out IPv6 rather than dragging its feet. There’s a good chance you won’t have IPv6 working properly, however. So what should you do about this — should you head to Amazon and buy a new IPv6-enabled router or switch to an ISP that offers IPv6? Should you use a “tunnel broker,” as the test site recommends, to tunnel into IPv6 via your IPv4 connection? Well, probably not. Typical users shouldn’t have to worry about this yet. Connecting to the Internet via IPv6 shouldn’t be perceptibly faster, for example. It’s important for operating system vendors, hardware companies, and Internet service providers to prepare for the future and get IPv6 working, but you don’t need to worry about this on your home network. IPv6 is all about future-proofing. You shouldn’t be racing to implement this at home yet or worrying about it too much — but, when you need to buy a new router, try to buy one that supports IPv6. Image Credit: Adobe of Chaos on Flickr, hisperati on Flickr, Vox Efx on Flickr     

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  • How to Use Offline Files in Windows to Cache Your Networked Files Offline

    - by Taylor Gibb
    The problem with storing all your files on a file server or networked machine is that when you leave the network, how are you going to access your files? Instead of using a VPN or Dropbox, you can use the Offline Files feature built into Windows. Note: You should probably not be using this guide to make your 2 terabyte movie collection available offline—while it may work, it is not recommended just because the Offline Files feature isn’t made for storing massive amounts of data offline. How to Use Offline Files in Windows to Cache Your Networked Files Offline How to See What Web Sites Your Computer is Secretly Connecting To HTG Explains: When Do You Need to Update Your Drivers?

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  • Here’s How to Download Windows 8 Release Preview Right Now

    - by The Geek
    Want to get the latest version of Windows 8 right now? This one is called the Release Preview, and it’s available for download right now. There’s a lot of little bugs resolved, the multi-monitor support has improved, and you should download it now. You can grab the regular installer, or you can get the ISO image and use it in a virtual machine. Download Windows 8 Release Preview in ISO format Download the Windows 8 Release Preview Here’s How to Download Windows 8 Release Preview Right Now HTG Explains: Why Linux Doesn’t Need Defragmenting How to Convert News Feeds to Ebooks with Calibre

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  • How to Buy an SD Card: Speed Classes, Sizes, and Capacities Explained

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Memory cards are used in digital cameras, music players, smartphones, tablets, and even laptops. But not all SD cards are created equal — there are different speed classes, physical sizes, and capacities to consider. Different devices require different types of SD cards. Here are the differences you’ll need to keep in mind when picking out the right SD card for your device. Speed Class In a nutshell, not all SD cards offer the same speeds. This matters for some tasks more than it matters for others. For example, if you’re a professional photographer taking photos in rapid succession on a DSLR camera saving them in high-resolution RAW format, you’ll want a fast SD card so your camera can save them as fast as possible. A fast SD card is also important if you want to record high-resolution video and save it directly to the SD card. If you’re just taking a few photos on a typical consumer camera or you’re just using an SD card to store some media files on your smartphone, the speed isn’t as important. Manufacturers use “speed classes” to measure an SD card’s speed. The SD Association that defines the SD card standard doesn’t actually define the exact speeds associated with these classes, but they do provide guidelines. There are four different speed classes — 10, 8, 4, and 2. 10 is the fastest, while 2 is the slowest. Class 2 is suitable for standard definition video recording, while classes 4 and 6 are suitable for high-definition video recording. Class 10 is suitable for “full HD video recording” and “HD still consecutive recording.” There are also two Ultra High Speed (UHS) speed classes, but they’re more expensive and are designed for professional use. UHS cards are designed for devices that support UHS. Here are the associated logos, in order from slowest to fastest:       You’ll probably be okay with a class 4 or 6 card for typical use in a digital camera, smartphone, or tablet. Class 10 cards are ideal if you’re shooting high-resolution videos or RAW photos. Class 2 cards are a bit on the slow side these days, so you may want to avoid them for all but the cheapest digital cameras. Even a cheap smartphone can record HD video, after all. An SD card’s speed class is identified on the SD card itself. You’ll also see the speed class on the online store listing or on the card’s packaging when purchasing it. For example, in the below photo, the middle SD card is speed class 4, while the two other cards are speed class 6. If you see no speed class symbol, you have a class 0 SD card. These cards were designed and produced before the speed class rating system was introduced. They may be slower than even a class 2 card. Physical Size Different devices use different sizes of SD cards. You’ll find standard-size CD cards, miniSD cards, and microSD cards. Standard SD cards are the largest, although they’re still very small. They measure 32x24x2.1 mm and weigh just two grams. Most consumer digital cameras for sale today still use standard SD cards. They have the standard “cut corner”  design. miniSD cards are smaller than standard SD cards, measuring 21.5x20x1.4 mm and weighing about 0.8 grams. This is the least common size today. miniSD cards were designed to be especially small for mobile phones, but we now have a smaller size. microSD cards are the smallest size of SD card, measuring 15x11x1 mm and weighing just 0.25 grams. These cards are used in most cell phones and smartphones that support SD cards. They’re also used in many other devices, such as tablets. SD cards will only fit into marching slots. You can’t plug a microSD card into a standard SD card slot — it won’t fit. However, you can purchase an adapter that allows you to plug a smaller SD card into a larger SD card’s form and fit it into the appropriate slot. Capacity Like USB flash drives, hard drives, solid-state drives, and other storage media, different SD cards can have different amounts of storage. But the differences between SD card capacities don’t stop there. Standard SDSC (SD) cards are 1 MB to 2 GB in size, or perhaps 4 GB in size — although 4 GB is non-standard. The SDHC standard was created later, and allows cards 2 GB to 32 GB in size. SDXC is a more recent standard that allows cards 32 GB to 2 TB in size. You’ll need a device that supports SDHC or SDXC cards to use them. At this point, the vast majority of devices should support SDHC. In fact, the SD cards you have are probably SDHC cards. SDXC is newer and less common. When buying an SD card, you’ll need to buy the right speed class, size, and capacity for your needs. Be sure to check what your device supports and consider what speed and capacity you’ll actually need. Image Credit: Ryosuke SEKIDO on Flickr, Clive Darra on Flickr, Steven Depolo on Flickr

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  • Beginner Geek: How to Use Bookmarklets on Any Device

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Web browser bookmarklets allow you to perform actions on the current page with just a click or tap. They’re a lightweight alternative to browser extensions. They even work on mobile browsers that don’t support traditional extensions. To use bookmarklets, all you need is a web browser that supports bookmarks — that’s it! Bookmarklets Explained Web pages you view in your browser use JavaScript code. That’s why web pages aren’t just static documents anymore — they’re dynamic. A bookmarklet is a normal bookmark with a piece of JavaScript code instead of a web address. When you click or tap the bookmarklet, it will execute the JavaScript code on the current page instead of loading a different page, as most bookmarks do. Bookmarklets can be used to do something to a web page with a single click. For example, you’ll find bookmarklets associated with web services like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Pocket, and LastPass. When you click the bookmarklet, it will run code that lets you easily share the current page with that service. Bookmarklets don’t just have to be  associated with web services. A bookmarklet you click could modify the appearance of the page, stripping away most of the junk and giving you a clean “reading mode.” It could alter fonts, remove images, or insert other content. It can access anything the web page could access. For example, you could use a bookmarklet to reveal a password that just appears as ******* on the page. Unlike browser extensions, bookmarklets don’t run in the background and bog down your browser. They don’t do anything at all until you click them. Because they just use the standard bookmark system, they can also be used in mobile browsers where you couldn’t run extensions. For example, you could install the Pocket bookmarklet in Safari on an iPad and get an “Add to Pocket” option in Safari. Safari doesn’t offer browsing extensions and Apple’s iOS doesn’t offer a “Share” feature like Android and Windows 8 do, so this is the only way to get this direct integration. You could even use the LastPass bookmarklets in Safari on an iPad to integrate LastPass with the Safari web browser. Where to Find Bookmarklets If you’re looking for a bookmarklet for a particular service, you’ll generally find the bookmarklet on that service’s site. Websites like Twitter, Facebook, and Pocket host pages where they provide bookmarklets along with browser extensions. Bookmarklets aren’t like programs. They’re really just a piece of text that you can put in a bookmarklet, so you don’t have to download them a specific site. You can get them from practically anywhere — installing them just involves copying a bit of text off of a web page. For example, you can just search the web for “reveal password bookmarklet” if you wanted a bookmarklet that will reveal passwords. We’ve covered many of the must-have bookmarklets — and our readers have chimed in too — so take a look at our lists for more examples. How to Install a Bookmarklet Bookmarklets are simple to install. When you hover over a bookmarklet on a web page, you’ll see its address begins with “javascript:”. If you have your web browser’s bookmark or favorites toolbar visible, the easiest way to install a bookmarklet is with drag-and-drop. Press Ctrl+Shift+B to show your bookmarks toolbar if you’re using Chrome or Internet Explorer. In Firefox, right-click the toolbar and click Bookmarks Toolbar. Just drag and drop this link to your bookmark toolbar. The bookmarklet is now installed. You can also install bookmarklets manually. Select the bookmarklet’s code and copy it to your clipboard. If the bookmarklet is a link, right-click or long-press the link and copy its address to your clipboard. Open your browser’s bookmarks manager, add a bookmark, and paste the JavaScript code directly into the address box. Give your bookmarklet a name and save it. How to Use a Bookmarklet Bookmarklets are easiest to use if you have your browser’s bookmarks toolbar enabled. Just click the bookmarklet and your browser will run it on the current page. If you don’t have a bookmarks toolbar — such as on Safari on an iPad or another mobile browser — just open your browser’s bookmarks pane and tap or click the bookmark. In mobile Chrome, you’ll need to launch the bookmarklet from the location bar. Open the web page you want to run the bookmarklet on, tap your location bar, and start searching for the name of the bookmarklet. Tap the bookmarklet’s name to run it on the current page. Note that the bookmarklet only appears here because we have it saved as a bookmark in Chrome. You’ll need to add the bookmarklet to your browser’s bookmarks before you can use it in this way. The location bar approach may also be necessary in other browsers. The trick is loading the bookmark so that it will be associated with your current tab. You can’t just open your bookmarks in a separate browser tab and run the bookmarklet from there — it will run on that other browser tab. Bookmarklets are powerful and flexible. While they’re not as flashy as browser extensions, they’re much more lightweight and allow you to get extension-like features in more limited mobile browsers.

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  • 3 Ways to Make Steam Even Faster

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Have you ever noticed how slow Steam’s built-in web browser can be? Do you struggle with slow download speeds? Or is Steam just slow in general? These tips will help you speed it up. Steam isn’t a game itself, so there are no 3D settings to change to achieve maximum performance. But there are some things you can do to speed it up dramatically. Speed Up the Steam Web Browser Steam’s built-in web browser — used in both the Steam store and in Steam’s in-game overlay to provide a web browser you can quickly use within games – can be frustratingly slow on many systems. Rather than the typical speed we’ve come to expect from Chrome, Firefox, or even Internet Explorer, Steam seems to struggle. When you click a link or go to a new page, there’s a noticeable delay before the new page appears — something that doesn’t happen in desktop browsers. Many people seem to have made peace with this slowness, accepting that Steam’s built-in browser is just bad. However, there’s a trick that will eliminate this delay on many systems and make the Steam web browser fast. This problem seems to arise from an incompatibility with the Automatically Detect Proxy Settings option, which is enabled by default on Windows. This is a compatibility option that very few people should actually need, so it’s safe to disable it. To disable this option, open the Internet Options dialog — press the Windows key to access the Start menu or Start screen, type Internet Options, and click the Internet Options shortcut. Select the Connections tab in the Internet Options window and click the LAN settings button. Uncheck the Automatically detect settings option here, then click OK to save your settings. If you experienced a significant delay every time a web page loaded in Steam’s web browser, it should now be gone. In the unlikely event that you encounter some sort of problem with your network connection, you could always re-enable this option. Increase Steam’s Game Download Speed Steam attempts to automatically select the nearest download server to your location. However, it may not always select the ideal download server. Or, in the case of high-traffic events like big seasonal sales and huge game launches, you may benefit from selecting a less-congested server. To do this, open Steam’s settings by clicking the Steam menu in Steam and selecting Settings. Click over to the Downloads tab and select the closest download server from the Download Region box. You should also ensure that Steam’s download bandwidth isn’t limited from here. You may want to restart Steam and see if your download speeds improve after changing this setting. In some cases, the closest server might not be the fastest. One a bit farther away could be faster if your local server is more congested, for example. Steam once provided information about content server load, which allowed you to select a regional server that wasn’t under high-load, but this information no longer seems to be available. Steam still provides a page that shows you the amount of download activity happening in different regions, including statistics about the difference in download speeds in different US states, but this information isn’t as useful. Accelerate Steam and Your Games One way to speed up all your games — and Steam itself —  is by getting a solid-state drive and installing Steam to it. Steam allows you to easily move your Steam folder — at C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam by default — to another hard drive. Just move it like you would any other folder. You can then launch the Steam.exe program as if you had never moved Steam’s files. Steam also allows you to configure multiple game library folders. This means that you can set up a Steam library folder on a solid-state drive and one on your larger magnetic hard drive. Install your most frequently played games to the solid-state drive for maximum speed and your less frequently played ones to the slower magnetic hard drive to save SSD space. To set up additional library folders, open Steam’s Settings window and click the Downloads tab. You’ll find the Steam Library Folders option here. Click the Add Library Folder button and create a new game library on another hard drive. When you install a game in Steam, you’ll be asked which library folder you want to install it to. With the proxy compatibility option disabled, the correct download server chosen, and Steam installed to a fast SSD, it should be a speed demon. There’s not much more you can do to speed up Steam, short of upgrading other hardware like your computer’s CPU. Image Credit: Andrew Nash on Flickr     

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  • How to Run Low-Cost Minecraft on a Raspberry Pi for Block Building on the Cheap

    - by Jason Fitzpatrick
    We’ve shown you how to run your own blocktastic personal Minecraft server on a Windows/OSX box, but what if you crave something lighter weight, more energy efficient, and always ready for your friends? Read on as we turn a tiny Raspberry Pi machine into a low-cost Minecraft server you can leave on 24/7 for around a penny a day. Why Do I Want to Do This? There’s two aspects to this tutorial, running your own Minecraft server and specifically running that Minecraft server on a Raspberry Pi. Why would you want to run your own Minecraft server? It’s a really great way to extend and build upon the Minecraft play experience. You can leave the server running when you’re not playing so friends and family can join and continue building your world. You can mess around with game variables and introduce mods in a way that isn’t possible when you’re playing the stand-alone game. It also gives you the kind of control over your multiplayer experience that using public servers doesn’t, without incurring the cost of hosting a private server on a remote host. While running a Minecraft server on its own is appealing enough to a dedicated Minecraft fan, running it on the Raspberry Pi is even more appealing. The tiny little Pi uses so little resources that you can leave your Minecraft server running 24/7 for a couple bucks a year. Aside from the initial cost outlay of the Pi, an SD card, and a little bit of time setting it up, you’ll have an always-on Minecraft server at a monthly cost of around one gumball. What Do I Need? For this tutorial you’ll need a mix of hardware and software tools; aside from the actual Raspberry Pi and SD card, everything is free. 1 Raspberry Pi (preferably a 512MB model) 1 4GB+ SD card This tutorial assumes that you have already familiarized yourself with the Raspberry Pi and have installed a copy of the Debian-derivative Raspbian on the device. If you have not got your Pi up and running yet, don’t worry! Check out our guide, The HTG Guide to Getting Started with Raspberry Pi, to get up to speed. Optimizing Raspbian for the Minecraft Server Unlike other builds we’ve shared where you can layer multiple projects over one another (e.g. the Pi is more than powerful enough to serve as a weather/email indicator and a Google Cloud Print server at the same time) running a Minecraft server is a pretty intense operation for the little Pi and we’d strongly recommend dedicating the entire Pi to the process. Minecraft seems like a simple game, with all its blocky-ness and what not, but it’s actually a pretty complex game beneath the simple skin and required a lot of processing power. As such, we’re going to tweak the configuration file and other settings to optimize Rasbian for the job. The first thing you’ll need to do is dig into the Raspi-Config application to make a few minor changes. If you’re installing Raspbian fresh, wait for the last step (which is the Raspi-Config), if you already installed it, head to the terminal and type in “sudo raspi-config” to launch it again. One of the first and most important things we need to attend to is cranking up the overclock setting. We need all the power we can get to make our Minecraft experience enjoyable. In Raspi-Config, select option number 7 “Overclock”. Be prepared for some stern warnings about overclocking, but rest easy knowing that overclocking is directly supported by the Raspberry Pi foundation and has been included in the configuration options since late 2012. Once you’re in the actual selection screen, select “Turbo 1000MhHz”. Again, you’ll be warned that the degree of overclocking you’ve selected carries risks (specifically, potential corruption of the SD card, but no risk of actual hardware damage). Click OK and wait for the device to reset. Next, make sure you’re set to boot to the command prompt, not the desktop. Select number 3 “Enable Boot to Desktop/Scratch”  and make sure “Console Text console” is selected. Back at the Raspi-Config menu, select number 8 “Advanced Options’. There are two critical changes we need to make in here and one option change. First, the critical changes. Select A3 “Memory Split”: Change the amount of memory available to the GPU to 16MB (down from the default 64MB). Our Minecraft server is going to ruin in a GUI-less environment; there’s no reason to allocate any more than the bare minimum to the GPU. After selecting the GPU memory, you’ll be returned to the main menu. Select “Advanced Options” again and then select A4 “SSH”. Within the sub-menu, enable SSH. There is very little reason to keep this Pi connected to a monitor and keyboard, by enabling SSH we can remotely access the machine from anywhere on the network. Finally (and optionally) return again to the “Advanced Options” menu and select A2 “Hostname”. Here you can change your hostname from “raspberrypi” to a more fitting Minecraft name. We opted for the highly creative hostname “minecraft”, but feel free to spice it up a bit with whatever you feel like: creepertown, minecraft4life, or miner-box are all great minecraft server names. That’s it for the Raspbian configuration tab down to the bottom of the main screen and select “Finish” to reboot. After rebooting you can now SSH into your terminal, or continue working from the keyboard hooked up to your Pi (we strongly recommend switching over to SSH as it allows you to easily cut and paste the commands). If you’ve never used SSH before, check out how to use PuTTY with your Pi here. Installing Java on the Pi The Minecraft server runs on Java, so the first thing we need to do on our freshly configured Pi is install it. Log into your Pi via SSH and then, at the command prompt, enter the following command to make a directory for the installation: sudo mkdir /java/ Now we need to download the newest version of Java. At the time of this publication the newest release is the OCT 2013 update and the link/filename we use will reflect that. Please check for a more current version of the Linux ARMv6/7 Java release on the Java download page and update the link/filename accordingly when following our instructions. At the command prompt, enter the following command: sudo wget --no-check-certificate http://www.java.net/download/jdk8/archive/b111/binaries/jdk-8-ea-b111-linux-arm-vfp-hflt-09_oct_2013.tar.gz Once the download has finished successfully, enter the following command: sudo tar zxvf jdk-8-ea-b111-linux-arm-vfp-hflt-09_oct_2013.tar.gz -C /opt/ Fun fact: the /opt/ directory name scheme is a remnant of early Unix design wherein the /opt/ directory was for “optional” software installed after the main operating system; it was the /Program Files/ of the Unix world. After the file has finished extracting, enter: sudo /opt/jdk1.8.0/bin/java -version This command will return the version number of your new Java installation like so: java version "1.8.0-ea" Java(TM) SE Runtime Environment (build 1.8.0-ea-b111) Java HotSpot(TM) Client VM (build 25.0-b53, mixed mode) If you don’t see the above printout (or a variation thereof if you’re using a newer version of Java), try to extract the archive again. If you do see the readout, enter the following command to tidy up after yourself: sudo rm jdk-8-ea-b111-linux-arm-vfp-hflt-09_oct_2013.tar.gz At this point Java is installed and we’re ready to move onto installing our Minecraft server! Installing and Configuring the Minecraft Server Now that we have a foundation for our Minecraft server, it’s time to install the part that matter. We’ll be using SpigotMC a lightweight and stable Minecraft server build that works wonderfully on the Pi. First, grab a copy of the the code with the following command: sudo wget http://ci.md-5.net/job/Spigot/lastSuccessfulBuild/artifact/Spigot-Server/target/spigot.jar This link should remain stable over time, as it points directly to the most current stable release of Spigot, but if you have any issues you can always reference the SpigotMC download page here. After the download finishes successfully, enter the following command: sudo /opt/jdk1.8.0/bin/java -Xms256M -Xmx496M -jar /home/pi/spigot.jar nogui Note: if you’re running the command on a 256MB Pi change the 256 and 496 in the above command to 128 and 256, respectively. Your server will launch and a flurry of on-screen activity will follow. Be prepared to wait around 3-6 minutes or so for the process of setting up the server and generating the map to finish. Future startups will take much less time, around 20-30 seconds. Note: If at any point during the configuration or play process things get really weird (e.g. your new Minecraft server freaks out and starts spawning you in the Nether and killing you instantly), use the “stop” command at the command prompt to gracefully shutdown the server and let you restart and troubleshoot it. After the process has finished, head over to the computer you normally play Minecraft on, fire it up, and click on Multiplayer. You should see your server: If your world doesn’t popup immediately during the network scan, hit the Add button and manually enter the address of your Pi. Once you connect to the server, you’ll see the status change in the server status window: According to the server, we’re in game. According to the actual Minecraft app, we’re also in game but it’s the middle of the night in survival mode: Boo! Spawning in the dead of night, weaponless and without shelter is no way to start things. No worries though, we need to do some more configuration; no time to sit around and get shot at by skeletons. Besides, if you try and play it without some configuration tweaks first, you’ll likely find it quite unstable. We’re just here to confirm the server is up, running, and accepting incoming connections. Once we’ve confirmed the server is running and connectable (albeit not very playable yet), it’s time to shut down the server. Via the server console, enter the command “stop” to shut everything down. When you’re returned to the command prompt, enter the following command: sudo nano server.properties When the configuration file opens up, make the following changes (or just cut and paste our config file minus the first two lines with the name and date stamp): #Minecraft server properties #Thu Oct 17 22:53:51 UTC 2013 generator-settings= #Default is true, toggle to false allow-nether=false level-name=world enable-query=false allow-flight=false server-port=25565 level-type=DEFAULT enable-rcon=false force-gamemode=false level-seed= server-ip= max-build-height=256 spawn-npcs=true white-list=false spawn-animals=true texture-pack= snooper-enabled=true hardcore=false online-mode=true pvp=true difficulty=1 player-idle-timeout=0 gamemode=0 #Default 20; you only need to lower this if you're running #a public server and worried about loads. max-players=20 spawn-monsters=true #Default is 10, 3-5 ideal for Pi view-distance=5 generate-structures=true spawn-protection=16 motd=A Minecraft Server In the server status window, seen through your SSH connection to the pi, enter the following command to give yourself operator status on your Minecraft server (so that you can use more powerful commands in game, without always returning to the server status window). op [your minecraft nickname] At this point things are looking better but we still have a little tweaking to do before the server is really enjoyable. To that end, let’s install some plugins. The first plugin, and the one you should install above all others, is NoSpawnChunks. To install the plugin, first visit the NoSpawnChunks webpage and grab the download link for the most current version. As of this writing the current release is v0.3. Back at the command prompt (the command prompt of your Pi, not the server console–if your server is still active shut it down) enter the following commands: cd /home/pi/plugins sudo wget http://dev.bukkit.org/media/files/586/974/NoSpawnChunks.jar Next, visit the ClearLag plugin page, and grab the latest link (as of this tutorial, it’s v2.6.0). Enter the following at the command prompt: sudo wget http://dev.bukkit.org/media/files/743/213/Clearlag.jar Because the files aren’t compressed in a .ZIP or similar container, that’s all there is to it: the plugins are parked in the plugin directory. (Remember this for future plugin downloads, the file needs to be whateverplugin.jar, so if it’s compressed you need to uncompress it in the plugin directory.) Resart the server: sudo /opt/jdk1.8.0/bin/java -Xms256M -Xmx496M -jar /home/pi/spigot.jar nogui Be prepared for a slightly longer startup time (closer to the 3-6 minutes and much longer than the 30 seconds you just experienced) as the plugins affect the world map and need a minute to massage everything. After the spawn process finishes, type the following at the server console: plugins This lists all the plugins currently active on the server. You should see something like this: If the plugins aren’t loaded, you may need to stop and restart the server. After confirming your plugins are loaded, go ahead and join the game. You should notice significantly snappier play. In addition, you’ll get occasional messages from the plugins indicating they are active, as seen below: At this point Java is installed, the server is installed, and we’ve tweaked our settings for for the Pi.  It’s time to start building with friends!     

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  • 6 Ways to Free Up Hard Drive Space Used by Windows System Files

    - by Chris Hoffman
    We’ve previously covered the standard ways to free up space on Windows. But if you have a small solid-state drive and really want more hard space, there are geekier ways to reclaim hard drive space. Not all of these tips are recommended — in fact, if you have more than enough hard drive space, following these tips may actually be a bad idea. There’s a tradeoff to changing all of these settings. Erase Windows Update Uninstall Files Windows allows you to uninstall patches you install from Windows Update. This is helpful if an update ever causes a problem — but how often do you need to uninstall an update, anyway? And will you really ever need to uninstall updates you’ve installed several years ago? These uninstall files are probably just wasting space on your hard drive. A recent update released for Windows 7 allows you to erase Windows Update files from the Windows Disk Cleanup tool. Open Disk Cleanup, click Clean up system files, check the Windows Update Cleanup option, and click OK. If you don’t see this option, run Windows Update and install the available updates. Remove the Recovery Partition Windows computers generally come with recovery partitions that allow you to reset your computer back to its factory default state without juggling discs. The recovery partition allows you to reinstall Windows or use the Refresh and Reset your PC features. These partitions take up a lot of space as they need to contain a complete system image. On Microsoft’s Surface Pro, the recovery partition takes up about 8-10 GB. On other computers, it may be even larger as it needs to contain all the bloatware the manufacturer included. Windows 8 makes it easy to copy the recovery partition to removable media and remove it from your hard drive. If you do this, you’ll need to insert the removable media whenever you want to refresh or reset your PC. On older Windows 7 computers, you could delete the recovery partition using a partition manager — but ensure you have recovery media ready if you ever need to install Windows. If you prefer to install Windows from scratch instead of using your manufacturer’s recovery partition, you can just insert a standard Window disc if you ever want to reinstall Windows. Disable the Hibernation File Windows creates a hidden hibernation file at C:\hiberfil.sys. Whenever you hibernate the computer, Windows saves the contents of your RAM to the hibernation file and shuts down the computer. When it boots up again, it reads the contents of the file into memory and restores your computer to the state it was in. As this file needs to contain much of the contents of your RAM, it’s 75% of the size of your installed RAM. If you have 12 GB of memory, that means this file takes about 9 GB of space. On a laptop, you probably don’t want to disable hibernation. However, if you have a desktop with a small solid-state drive, you may want to disable hibernation to recover the space. When you disable hibernation, Windows will delete the hibernation file. You can’t move this file off the system drive, as it needs to be on C:\ so Windows can read it at boot. Note that this file and the paging file are marked as “protected operating system files” and aren’t visible by default. Shrink the Paging File The Windows paging file, also known as the page file, is a file Windows uses if your computer’s available RAM ever fills up. Windows will then “page out” data to disk, ensuring there’s always available memory for applications — even if there isn’t enough physical RAM. The paging file is located at C:\pagefile.sys by default. You can shrink it or disable it if you’re really crunched for space, but we don’t recommend disabling it as that can cause problems if your computer ever needs some paging space. On our computer with 12 GB of RAM, the paging file takes up 12 GB of hard drive space by default. If you have a lot of RAM, you can certainly decrease the size — we’d probably be fine with 2 GB or even less. However, this depends on the programs you use and how much memory they require. The paging file can also be moved to another drive — for example, you could move it from a small SSD to a slower, larger hard drive. It will be slower if Windows ever needs to use the paging file, but it won’t use important SSD space. Configure System Restore Windows seems to use about 10 GB of hard drive space for “System Protection” by default. This space is used for System Restore snapshots, allowing you to restore previous versions of system files if you ever run into a system problem. If you need to free up space, you could reduce the amount of space allocated to system restore or even disable it entirely. Of course, if you disable it entirely, you’ll be unable to use system restore if you ever need it. You’d have to reinstall Windows, perform a Refresh or Reset, or fix any problems manually. Tweak Your Windows Installer Disc Want to really start stripping down Windows, ripping out components that are installed by default? You can do this with a tool designed for modifying Windows installer discs, such as WinReducer for Windows 8 or RT Se7en Lite for Windows 7. These tools allow you to create a customized installation disc, slipstreaming in updates and configuring default options. You can also use them to remove components from the Windows disc, shrinking the size of the resulting Windows installation. This isn’t recommended as you could cause problems with your Windows installation by removing important features. But it’s certainly an option if you want to make Windows as tiny as possible. Most Windows users can benefit from removing Windows Update uninstallation files, so it’s good to see that Microsoft finally gave Windows 7 users the ability to quickly and easily erase these files. However, if you have more than enough hard drive space, you should probably leave well enough alone and let Windows manage the rest of these settings on its own. Image Credit: Yutaka Tsutano on Flickr     

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  • How to Force Graphics Options in PC Games with NVIDIA, AMD, or Intel Graphics

    - by Chris Hoffman
    PC games usually have built-in graphics options you can change. But you’re not limited to the options built into games — the graphics control panels bundled with graphics drivers allow you to tweak options from outside PC games. For example, these tools allow you to force-enabling antialiasing to make old games look better, even if they don’t normally support it. You can also reduce graphics quality to get more performance on slow hardware. If You Don’t See These Options If you don’t have the NVIDIA Control Panel, AMD Catalyst Control Center, or Intel Graphics and Media Control Panel installed, you may need to install the appropriate graphics driver package for your hardware from the hardware manufacturer’s website. The drivers provided via Windows Update don’t include additional software like the NVIDIA Control Panel or AMD Catalyst Control Center. Drivers provided via Windows Update are also more out of date. If you’re playing PC games, you’ll want to have the latest graphics drivers installed on your system. NVIDIA Control Panel The NVIDIA Control Panel allows you to change these options if your computer has NVIDIA graphics hardware. To launch it, right-click your desktop background and select NVIDIA Control Panel. You can also find this tool by performing a Start menu (or Start screen) search for NVIDIA Control Panel or by right-clicking the NVIDIA icon in your system tray and selecting Open NVIDIA Control Panel. To quickly set a system-wide preference, you could use the Adjust image settings with preview option. For example, if you have old hardware that struggles to play the games you want to play, you may want to select “Use my preference emphasizing” and move the slider all the way to “Performance.” This trades graphics quality for an increased frame rate. By default, the “Use the advanced 3D image settings” option is selected. You can select Manage 3D settings and change advanced settings for all programs on your computer or just for specific games. NVIDIA keeps a database of the optimal settings for various games, but you’re free to tweak individual settings here. Just mouse-over an option for an explanation of what it does. If you have a laptop with NVIDIA Optimus technology — that is, both NVIDIA and Intel graphics — this is the same place you can choose which applications will use the NVIDIA hardware and which will use the Intel hardware. AMD Catalyst Control Center AMD’s Catalyst Control Center allows you to change these options on AMD graphics hardware. To open it, right-click your desktop background and select Catalyst Control Center. You can also right-click the Catalyst icon in your system tray and select Catalyst Control Center or perform a Start menu (or Start screen) search for Catalyst Control Center. Click the Gaming category at the left side of the Catalyst Control Center window and select 3D Application Settings to access the graphics settings you can change. The System Settings tab allows you to configure these options globally, for all games. Mouse over any option to see an explanation of what it does. You can also set per-application 3D settings and tweak your settings on a per-game basis. Click the Add option and browse to a game’s .exe file to change its options. Intel Graphics and Media Control Panel Intel integrated graphics is nowhere near as powerful as dedicated graphics hardware from NVIDIA and AMD, but it’s improving and comes included with most computers. Intel doesn’t provide anywhere near as many options in its graphics control panel, but you can still tweak some common settings. To open the Intel graphics control panel, locate the Intel graphics icon in your system tray, right-click it, and select Graphics Properties. You can also right-click the desktop and select Graphics Properties. Select either Basic Mode or Advanced Mode. When the Intel Graphics and Media Control Panel appears, select the 3D option. You’ll be able to set your Performance or Quality setting by moving the slider around or click the Custom Settings check box and customize your Anisotropic Filtering and Vertical Sync preference. Different Intel graphics hardware may have different options here. We also wouldn’t be surprised to see more advanced options appear in the future if Intel is serious about competing in the PC graphics market, as they say they are. These options are primarily useful to PC gamers, so don’t worry about them — or bother downloading updated graphics drivers — if you’re not a PC gamer and don’t use any intensive 3D applications on your computer. Image Credit: Dave Dugdale on Flickr     

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  • How to Easily Put a Windows PC into Kiosk Mode With Assigned Access

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Windows 8.1′s Assigned Access feature allows you to easily lock a Windows PC to a single application, such as a web browser. This feature makes it easy for anyone to configure Windows 8.1 devices as point-of-sale or other kiosk systems. In the past, setting up a Windows PC in kiosk mode involved much more work, requiring the use of third-party software, group policy, or Linux distributions designed around kiosk mode. Assigned Access is available on Windows 8.1 RT, Windows 8.1 Professional, and Windows 8.1 Enterprise. The standard edition of Windows 8.1 doesn’t support Assigned Access. Create a User Account for Assigned Access Rather than turn your entire computer into a locked-down kiosk system, Assigned Access allows you to create a separate user account that can only launch a single app — such as a web browser. To set this up, you must be logged into Windows as a user with administrator permissions. First, open the PC settings app — swipe in from the right or press Windows Key + C to open the charms bar, tap Settings, and tap Change PC settings. In the PC settings app, select Accounts and select Other accounts. Use the Add an account button to create a new Windows account. Select  the “Sign in without a Microsoft account” option and select Local account to create a local user account. You could also create a Microsoft account, but you may not want to do this if you just want a locked-down account with only browser access. If you need to install apps from the Windows Store to use in Assigned Access mode, you’ll have to set up a Microsoft account instead of a local account. A local account will still allow you access to the preinstalled apps, such as Internet Explorer. You may want to create a user account with a blank password. This would make it simple for anyone to access kiosk mode, even if the system becomes locked or needs to be rebooted. The account will be created as a standard user account with limited permissions. Leave it as a standard user account — don’t make it an administrator account. Set Up Assigned Access Once you’ve created an account, you’ll first need to sign into it. If you don’t, you’ll see a “This account has no apps” message when trying to enable Assigned Access. Go back to the welcome screen, log in to the new account you created, and allow Windows to go through the first-time account setup process. If you want to use a non-default app in kiosk mode, install it while logged in as that user account. Once you’re done, log out of the other account, log back in as your administrator account, and go back to the Other accounts screen. Click the Set up an account for assigned access option to continue. Select the user account you created and select the app you want to limit the account to. For a web-based kiosk, this can be a web browser such as the Modern version of Internet Explorer. Businesses can also create their own Modern apps and set them to run in kiosk mode in this way. Note that Microsoft’s documentation says “web browsers are not good choices for assigned access” because they require more permissions than average Modern (or “Windows Store”) apps. However, if you want to provide a kiosk for web-browsing, using Assigned Access is a much better option than using Guest Mode and offering up a full Windows desktop. When you’re done, restart your PC and log in as the Assigned Access account. Windows will automatically open the app you chose and won’t allow a user to leave that app. Standard Windows 8 features like the charms bar, app switcher, and Start screen won’t appear. Pressing the Windows key once will do nothing. To sign out of Assigned Access mode, press the Windows key five times — quickly — while signed in. You’ll be sent back to the standard login screen. The account will actually still be logged in and the app will remain running — this method just “locks” the screen and allows another user to log in. Automatically Log Into Assigned Access Whenever your Windows device boots, you can log into the Assigned Access account and turn it into a kiosk system. While this isn’t ideal for all kiosk systems, you may want the device to automatically launch the specific app when it boots without requiring any login process. To do so, you’ll just need to have Windows automatically log into the Assigned Access account when it boots. This option is hidden and not available in the standard Control Panel. You’ll need to use the hidden netplwiz Control Panel tool to set up automatic login on boot. If you didn’t create a password for the user account, leave the Password field empty while configuring this. Security Considerations If you’re using this feature to turn a Windows 8.1 system into a kiosk and leaving it open to the public, remember to consider security. Anyone could come up to the system, press the Windows key five times, and try to log into your standard administrator user account. Ensure the administrator user account has a strong password so people won’t be able to get past the kiosk system’s limitations and tamper with the system. Even Windows 8′s detractors have to admit that it’s an ideal system for a touch-screen kiosk device, running either a browser or another specific application. Assigned Access finally makes this easy to set up on Windows systems in the real world — no IT experience, third-party software, or Linux distributions necessary.     

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  • How to Share Files Between User Accounts on Windows, Linux, or OS X

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Your operating system provides each user account with its own folders when you set up several different user accounts on the same computer. Shared folders allow you to share files between user accounts. This process works similarly on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. These are all powerful multi-user operating systems with similar folder and file permission systems. Windows On Windows, the “Public” user’s folders are accessible to all users. You’ll find this folder under C:\Users\Public by default. Files you place in any of these folders will be accessible to other users, so it’s a good way to share music, videos, and other types of files between users on the same computer. Windows even adds these folders to each user’s libraries by default. For example, a user’s Music library contains the user’s music folder under C:\Users\NAME\as well as the public music folder under C:\Users\Public\. This makes it easy for each user to find the shared, public files. It also makes it easy to make a file public — just drag and drop a file from the user-specific folder to the public folder in the library. Libraries are hidden by default on Windows 8.1, so you’ll have to unhide them to do this. These Public folders can also be used to share folders publically on the local network. You’ll find the Public folder sharing option under Advanced sharing settings in the Network and Sharing Control Panel. You could also choose to make any folder shared between users, but this will require messing with folder permissions in Windows. To do this, right-click a folder anywhere in the file system and select Properties. Use the options on the Security tab to change the folder’s permissions and make it accessible to different user accounts. You’ll need administrator access to do this. Linux This is a bit more complicated on Linux, as typical Linux distributions don’t come with a special user folder all users have read-write access to. The Public folder on Ubuntu is for sharing files between computers on a network. You can use Linux’s permissions system to give other user accounts read or read-write access to specific folders. The process below is for Ubuntu 14.04, but it should be identical on any other Linux distribution using GNOME with the Nautilus file manager. It should be similar for other desktop environments, too. Locate the folder you want to make accessible to other users, right-click it, and select Properties. On the Permissions tab, give “Others” the “Create and delete files” permission. Click the Change Permissions for Enclosed Files button and give “Others” the “Read and write” and “Create and Delete Files” permissions. Other users on the same computer will then have read and write access to your folder. They’ll find it under /home/YOURNAME/folder under Computer. To speed things up, they can create a link or bookmark to the folder so they always have easy access to it. Mac OS X Mac OS X creates a special Shared folder that all user accounts have access to. This folder is intended for sharing files between different user accounts. It’s located at /Users/Shared. To access it, open the Finder and click Go > Computer. Navigate to Macintosh HD > Users > Shared. Files you place in this folder can be accessed by any user account on your Mac. These tricks are useful if you’re sharing a computer with other people and you all have your own user accounts — maybe your kids have their own limited accounts. You can share a music library, downloads folder, picture archive, videos, documents, or anything else you like without keeping duplicate copies.

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  • 10 Windows Tweaking Myths Debunked

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Windows is big, complicated, and misunderstood. You’ll still stumble across bad advice from time to time when browsing the web. These Windows tweaking, performance, and system maintenance tips are mostly just useless, but some are actively harmful. Luckily, most of these myths have been stomped out on mainstream sites and forums. However, if you start searching the web, you’ll still find websites that recommend you do these things. Erase Cache Files Regularly to Speed Things Up You can free up disk space by running an application like CCleaner, another temporary-file-cleaning utility, or even the Windows Disk Cleanup tool. In some cases, you may even see an old computer speed up when you erase a large amount of useless files. However, running CCleaner or similar utilities every day to erase your browser’s cache won’t actually speed things up. It will slow down your web browsing as your web browser is forced to redownload the files all over again, and reconstruct the cache you regularly delete. If you’ve installed CCleaner or a similar program and run it every day with the default settings, you’re actually slowing down your web browsing. Consider at least preventing the program from wiping out your web browser cache. Enable ReadyBoost to Speed Up Modern PCs Windows still prompts you to enable ReadyBoost when you insert a USB stick or memory card. On modern computers, this is completely pointless — ReadyBoost won’t actually speed up your computer if you have at least 1 GB of RAM. If you have a very old computer with a tiny amount of RAM — think 512 MB — ReadyBoost may help a bit. Otherwise, don’t bother. Open the Disk Defragmenter and Manually Defragment On Windows 98, users had to manually open the defragmentation tool and run it, ensuring no other applications were using the hard drive while it did its work. Modern versions of Windows are capable of defragmenting your file system while other programs are using it, and they automatically defragment your disks for you. If you’re still opening the Disk Defragmenter every week and clicking the Defragment button, you don’t need to do this — Windows is doing it for you unless you’ve told it not to run on a schedule. Modern computers with solid-state drives don’t have to be defragmented at all. Disable Your Pagefile to Increase Performance When Windows runs out of empty space in RAM, it swaps out data from memory to a pagefile on your hard disk. If a computer doesn’t have much memory and it’s running slow, it’s probably moving data to the pagefile or reading data from it. Some Windows geeks seem to think that the pagefile is bad for system performance and disable it completely. The argument seems to be that Windows can’t be trusted to manage a pagefile and won’t use it intelligently, so the pagefile needs to be removed. As long as you have enough RAM, it’s true that you can get by without a pagefile. However, if you do have enough RAM, Windows will only use the pagefile rarely anyway. Tests have found that disabling the pagefile offers no performance benefit. Enable CPU Cores in MSConfig Some websites claim that Windows may not be using all of your CPU cores or that you can speed up your boot time by increasing the amount of cores used during boot. They direct you to the MSConfig application, where you can indeed select an option that appears to increase the amount of cores used. In reality, Windows always uses the maximum amount of processor cores your CPU has. (Technically, only one core is used at the beginning of the boot process, but the additional cores are quickly activated.) Leave this option unchecked. It’s just a debugging option that allows you to set a maximum number of cores, so it would be useful if you wanted to force Windows to only use a single core on a multi-core system — but all it can do is restrict the amount of cores used. Clean Your Prefetch To Increase Startup Speed Windows watches the programs you run and creates .pf files in its Prefetch folder for them. The Prefetch feature works as a sort of cache — when you open an application, Windows checks the Prefetch folder, looks at the application’s .pf file (if it exists), and uses that as a guide to start preloading data that the application will use. This helps your applications start faster. Some Windows geeks have misunderstood this feature. They believe that Windows loads these files at boot, so your boot time will slow down due to Windows preloading the data specified in the .pf files. They also argue you’ll build up useless files as you uninstall programs and .pf files will be left over. In reality, Windows only loads the data in these .pf files when you launch the associated application and only stores .pf files for the 128 most recently launched programs. If you were to regularly clean out the Prefetch folder, not only would programs take longer to open because they won’t be preloaded, Windows will have to waste time recreating all the .pf files. You could also modify the PrefetchParameters setting to disable Prefetch, but there’s no reason to do that. Let Windows manage Prefetch on its own. Disable QoS To Increase Network Bandwidth Quality of Service (QoS) is a feature that allows your computer to prioritize its traffic. For example, a time-critical application like Skype could choose to use QoS and prioritize its traffic over a file-downloading program so your voice conversation would work smoothly, even while you were downloading files. Some people incorrectly believe that QoS always reserves a certain amount of bandwidth and this bandwidth is unused until you disable it. This is untrue. In reality, 100% of bandwidth is normally available to all applications unless a program chooses to use QoS. Even if a program does choose to use QoS, the reserved space will be available to other programs unless the program is actively using it. No bandwidth is ever set aside and left empty. Set DisablePagingExecutive to Make Windows Faster The DisablePagingExecutive registry setting is set to 0 by default, which allows drivers and system code to be paged to the disk. When set to 1, drivers and system code will be forced to stay resident in memory. Once again, some people believe that Windows isn’t smart enough to manage the pagefile on its own and believe that changing this option will force Windows to keep important files in memory rather than stupidly paging them out. If you have more than enough memory, changing this won’t really do anything. If you have little memory, changing this setting may force Windows to push programs you’re using to the page file rather than push unused system files there — this would slow things down. This is an option that may be helpful for debugging in some situations, not a setting to change for more performance. Process Idle Tasks to Free Memory Windows does things, such as creating scheduled system restore points, when you step away from your computer. It waits until your computer is “idle” so it won’t slow your computer and waste your time while you’re using it. Running the “Rundll32.exe advapi32.dll,ProcessIdleTasks” command forces Windows to perform all of these tasks while you’re using the computer. This is completely pointless and won’t help free memory or anything like that — all you’re doing is forcing Windows to slow your computer down while you’re using it. This command only exists so benchmarking programs can force idle tasks to run before performing benchmarks, ensuring idle tasks don’t start running and interfere with the benchmark. Delay or Disable Windows Services There’s no real reason to disable Windows services anymore. There was a time when Windows was particularly heavy and computers had little memory — think Windows Vista and those “Vista Capable” PCs Microsoft was sued over. Modern versions of Windows like Windows 7 and 8 are lighter than Windows Vista and computers have more than enough memory, so you won’t see any improvements from disabling system services included with Windows. Some people argue for not disabling services, however — they recommend setting services from “Automatic” to “Automatic (Delayed Start)”. By default, the Delayed Start option just starts services two minutes after the last “Automatic” service starts. Setting services to Delayed Start won’t really speed up your boot time, as the services will still need to start — in fact, it may lengthen the time it takes to get a usable desktop as services will still be loading two minutes after booting. Most services can load in parallel, and loading the services as early as possible will result in a better experience. The “Delayed Start” feature is primarily useful for system administrators who need to ensure a specific service starts later than another service. If you ever find a guide that recommends you set a little-known registry setting to improve performance, take a closer look — the change is probably useless. Want to actually speed up your PC? Try disabling useless startup programs that run on boot, increasing your boot time and consuming memory in the background. This is a much better tip than doing any of the above, especially considering most Windows PCs come packed to the brim with bloatware.     

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  • Why Most Web Services Don’t Use End-to-End Encryption

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Recent revelations about government surveillance have raised the question: why don’t cloud services encrypt your data? Well, they generally do encrypt your data, but they have the key so they can decrypt it any time they like. The real question is: Why don’t web services encrypt and decrypt your data locally, so that it’s stored in an encrypted form no one can snoop on? LastPass does this with your password database, after all.    

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  • HTG Explains: Do Non-Windows Platforms Like Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux Get Viruses?

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Viruses and other types of malware seem largely confined to Windows in the real world. Even on a Windows 8 PC, you can still get infected with malware. But how vulnerable are other operating systems to malware? When we say “viruses,” we’re actually talking about malware in general. There’s more to malware than just viruses, although the word virus is often used to talk about malware in general. Why Are All the Viruses For Windows? Not all of the malware out there is for Windows, but most of it is. We’ve tried to cover why Windows has the most viruses in the past. Windows’ popularity is definitely a big factor, but there are other reasons, too. Historically, Windows was never designed for security in the way that UNIX-like platforms were — and every popular operating system that’s not Windows is based on UNIX. Windows also has a culture of installing software by searching the web and downloading it from websites, whereas other platforms have app stores and Linux has centralized software installation from a secure source in the form of its package managers. Do Macs Get Viruses? The vast majority of malware is designed for Windows systems and Macs don’t get Windows malware. While Mac malware is much more rare, Macs are definitely not immune to malware. They can be infected by malware written specifically for Macs, and such malware does exist. At one point, over 650,000 Macs were infected with the Flashback Trojan. [Source] It infected Macs through the Java browser plugin, which is a security nightmare on every platform. Macs no longer include Java by default. Apple also has locked down Macs in other ways. Three things in particular help: Mac App Store: Rather than getting desktop programs from the web and possibly downloading malware, as inexperienced users might on Windows, they can get their applications from a secure place. It’s similar to a smartphone app store or even a Linux package manager. Gatekeeper: Current releases of Mac OS X use Gatekeeper, which only allows programs to run if they’re signed by an approved developer or if they’re from the Mac App Store. This can be disabled by geeks who need to run unsigned software, but it acts as additional protection for typical users. XProtect: Macs also have a built-in technology known as XProtect, or File Quarantine. This feature acts as a blacklist, preventing known-malicious programs from running. It functions similarly to Windows antivirus programs, but works in the background and checks applications you download. Mac malware isn’t coming out nearly as quick as Windows malware, so it’s easier for Apple to keep up. Macs are certainly not immune to all malware, and someone going out of their way to download pirated applications and disable security features may find themselves infected. But Macs are much less at risk of malware in the real world. Android is Vulnerable to Malware, Right? Android malware does exist and companies that produce Android security software would love to sell you their Android antivirus apps. But that isn’t the full picture. By default, Android devices are configured to only install apps from Google Play. They also benefit from antimalware scanning — Google Play itself scans apps for malware. You could disable this protection and go outside Google Play, getting apps from elsewhere (“sideloading”). Google will still help you if you do this, asking if you want to scan your sideloaded apps for malware when you try to install them. In China, where many, many Android devices are in use, there is no Google Play Store. Chinese Android users don’t benefit from Google’s antimalware scanning and have to get their apps from third-party app stores, which may contain infected copies of apps. The majority of Android malware comes from outside Google Play. The scary malware statistics you see primarily include users who get apps from outside Google Play, whether it’s pirating infected apps or acquiring them from untrustworthy app stores. As long as you get your apps from Google Play — or even another secure source, like the Amazon App Store — your Android phone or tablet should be secure. What About iPads and iPhones? Apple’s iOS operating system, used on its iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches, is more locked down than even Macs and Android devices. iPad and iPhone users are forced to get their apps from Apple’s App Store. Apple is more demanding of developers than Google is — while anyone can upload an app to Google Play and have it available instantly while Google does some automated scanning, getting an app onto Apple’s App Store involves a manual review of that app by an Apple employee. The locked-down environment makes it much more difficult for malware to exist. Even if a malicious application could be installed, it wouldn’t be able to monitor what you typed into your browser and capture your online-banking information without exploiting a deeper system vulnerability. Of course, iOS devices aren’t perfect either. Researchers have proven it’s possible to create malicious apps and sneak them past the app store review process. [Source] However, if a malicious app was discovered, Apple could pull it from the store and immediately uninstall it from all devices. Google and Microsoft have this same ability with Android’s Google Play and Windows Store for new Windows 8-style apps. Does Linux Get Viruses? Malware authors don’t tend to target Linux desktops, as so few average users use them. Linux desktop users are more likely to be geeks that won’t fall for obvious tricks. As with Macs, Linux users get most of their programs from a single place — the package manager — rather than downloading them from websites. Linux also can’t run Windows software natively, so Windows viruses just can’t run. Linux desktop malware is extremely rare, but it does exist. The recent “Hand of Thief” Trojan supports a variety of Linux distributions and desktop environments, running in the background and stealing online banking information. It doesn’t have a good way if infecting Linux systems, though — you’d have to download it from a website or receive it as an email attachment and run the Trojan. [Source] This just confirms how important it is to only run trusted software on any platform, even supposedly secure ones. What About Chromebooks? Chromebooks are locked down laptops that only run the Chrome web browser and some bits around it. We’re not really aware of any form of Chrome OS malware. A Chromebook’s sandbox helps protect it against malware, but it also helps that Chromebooks aren’t very common yet. It would still be possible to infect a Chromebook, if only by tricking a user into installing a malicious browser extension from outside the Chrome web store. The malicious browser extension could run in the background, steal your passwords and online banking credentials, and send it over the web. Such malware could even run on Windows, Mac, and Linux versions of Chrome, but it would appear in the Extensions list, would require the appropriate permissions, and you’d have to agree to install it manually. And Windows RT? Microsoft’s Windows RT only runs desktop programs written by Microsoft. Users can only install “Windows 8-style apps” from the Windows Store. This means that Windows RT devices are as locked down as an iPad — an attacker would have to get a malicious app into the store and trick users into installing it or possibly find a security vulnerability that allowed them to bypass the protection. Malware is definitely at its worst on Windows. This would probably be true even if Windows had a shining security record and a history of being as secure as other operating systems, but you can definitely avoid a lot of malware just by not using Windows. Of course, no platform is a perfect malware-free environment. You should exercise some basic precautions everywhere. Even if malware was eliminated, we’d have to deal with social-engineering attacks like phishing emails asking for credit card numbers. Image Credit: stuartpilbrow on Flickr, Kansir on Flickr     

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  • How to Use Steam In-Home Streaming

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Steam’s In-Home Streaming is now available to everyone, allowing you to stream PC games from one PC to another PC on the same local network. Use your gaming PC to power your laptops and home theater system. This feature doesn’t allow you to stream games over the Internet, only the same local network. Even if you tricked Steam, you probably wouldn’t get good streaming performance over the Internet. Why Stream? When you use Steam In-Home streaming, one PC sends its video and audio to another PC. The other PC views the video and audio like it’s watching a movie, sending back mouse, keyboard, and controller input to the other PC. This allows you to have a fast gaming PC power your gaming experience on slower PCs. For example, you could play graphically demanding games on a laptop in another room of your house, even if that laptop has slower integrated graphics. You could connect a slower PC to your television and use your gaming PC without hauling it into a different room in your house. Streaming also enables cross-platform compatibility. You could have a Windows gaming PC and stream games to a Mac or Linux system. This will be Valve’s official solution for compatibility with old Windows-only games on the Linux (Steam OS) Steam Machines arriving later this year. NVIDIA offers their own game streaming solution, but it requires certain NVIDIA graphics hardware and can only stream to an NVIDIA Shield device. How to Get Started In-Home Streaming is simple to use and doesn’t require any complex configuration — or any configuration, really. First, log into the Steam program on a Windows PC. This should ideally be a powerful gaming PC with a powerful CPU and fast graphics hardware. Install the games you want to stream if you haven’t already — you’ll be streaming from your PC, not from Valve’s servers. (Valve will eventually allow you to stream games from Mac OS X, Linux, and Steam OS systems, but that feature isn’t yet available. You can still stream games to these other operating systems.) Next, log into Steam on another computer on the same network with the same Steam username. Both computers have to be on the same subnet of the same local network. You’ll see the games installed on your other PC in the Steam client’s library. Click the Stream button to start streaming a game from your other PC. The game will launch on your host PC, and it will send its audio and video to the PC in front of you. Your input on the client will be sent back to the server. Be sure to update Steam on both computers if you don’t see this feature. Use the Steam > Check for Updates option within Steam and install the latest update. Updating to the latest graphics drivers for your computer’s hardware is always a good idea, too. Improving Performance Here’s what Valve recommends for good streaming performance: Host PC: A quad-core CPU for the computer running the game, minimum. The computer needs enough processor power to run the game, compress the video and audio, and send it over the network with low latency. Streaming Client: A GPU that supports hardware-accelerated H.264 decoding on the client PC. This hardware is included on all recent laptops and PCs. Ifyou have an older PC or netbook, it may not be able to decode the video stream quickly enough. Network Hardware: A wired network connection is ideal. You may have success with wireless N or AC networks with good signals, but this isn’t guaranteed. Game Settings: While streaming a game, visit the game’s setting screen and lower the resolution or turn off VSync to speed things up. In-Home Steaming Settings: On the host PC, click Steam > Settings and select In-Home Streaming to view the In-Home Streaming settings. You can modify your streaming settings to improve performance and reduce latency. Feel free to experiment with the options here and see how they affect performance — they should be self-explanatory. Check Valve’s In-Home Streaming documentation for troubleshooting information. You can also try streaming non-Steam games. Click Games > Add a Non-Steam Game to My Library on your host PC and add a PC game you have installed elsewhere on your system. You can then try streaming it from your client PC. Valve says this “may work but is not officially supported.” Image Credit: Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr, Milestoned on Flickr

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  • Download the Official How-To Geek Trivia App for Windows 8

    - by The Geek
    The new How-To Geek Trivia application has just been approved in the Windows 8 store, so if you’re already running the release preview you can go and download it right now for free. It’ll give you a daily dose of geeky trivia right on your Windows 8 desktop. Click Here to Download Geek Trivia for Windows 8 Each trivia question will present you with the question, and then once you answer, will show you whether you picked the right one as well as the full description. How to Banish Duplicate Photos with VisiPic How to Make Your Laptop Choose a Wired Connection Instead of Wireless HTG Explains: What Is Two-Factor Authentication and Should I Be Using It?

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  • 6 Things You Shouldn’t Do With Solid-State Drives

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Solid-state drives are different from the mechanical, magnetic hard drives in wide use. Many of the things you’ve done with typical mechanical hard drives shouldn’t be done with newer solid-state drives. Solid-state drives are presented by the operating system the same way mechanical drives are, but they work differently. If you’re a geek, knowing what you shouldn’t do is important.    

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  • How to Sync Any Folder With SkyDrive on Windows 8.1

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Before Windows 8.1, it was possible to sync any folder on your computer with SkyDrive using symbolic links. This method no longer works now that SkyDrive is baked into Windows 8.1, but there are other tricks you can use. Creating a symbolic link or directory junction inside your SkyDrive folder will give you an empty folder in your SkyDrive cloud storage. Confusingly, the files will appear inside the SkyDrive Modern app as if they were being synced, but they aren’t. The Solution With SkyDrive refusing to understand and accept symbolic links in its own folder, the best option is probably to use symbolic links anyway — but in reverse. For example, let’s say you have a program that automatically saves important data to a folder anywhere on your hard drive — whether it’s C:\Users\USER\Documents\, C:\Program\Data, or anywhere else. Rather than trying to trick SkyDrive into understanding a symbolic link, we could instead move the actual folder itself to SkyDrive and then use a symbolic link at the folder’s original location to trick the original program. This may not work for every single program out there. But it will likely work for most programs, which use standard Windows API calls to access folders and save files. We’re just flipping the old solution here — we can’t trick SkyDrive anymore, so let’s try to trick other programs instead. Moving a Folder and Creating a Symbolic Link First, ensure no program is using the external folder. For example, if it’s a program data or settings folder, close the program that’s using the folder. Next, simply move the folder to your SkyDrive folder. Right-click the external folder, select Cut, go to the SkyDrive folder, right-click and select Paste. The folder will now be located in the SkyDrive folder itself, so it will sync normally. Next, open a Command Prompt window as Administrator. Right-click the Start button on the taskbar or press Windows Key + X and select Command Prompt (Administrator) to open it. Run the following command to create a symbolic link at the original location of the folder: mklink /d “C:\Original\Folder\Location” “C:\Users\NAME\SkyDrive\FOLDERNAME\” Enter the correct paths for the exact location of the original folder and the current location of the folder in your SkyDrive. Windows will then create a symbolic link at the folder’s original location. Most programs should hopefully be tricked by this symbolic location, saving their files directly to SkyDrive. You can test this yourself. Put a file into the folder at its original location. It will be saved to SkyDrive and sync normally, appearing in your SkyDrive storage online. One downside here is that you won’t be able to save a file onto SkyDrive without it taking up space on the same hard drive SkyDrive is on. You won’t be able to scatter folders across multiple hard drives and sync them all. However, you could always change the location of the SkyDrive folder on Windows 8.1 and put it on a drive with a larger amount of free space. To do this, right-click the SkyDrive folder in File Explorer, select Properties, and use the options on the Location tab. You could even use Storage Spaces to combine the drives into one larger drive. Automatically Copy the Original Files to SkyDrive Another option would be to run a program that automatically copies files from another folder on your computer to your SkyDrive folder. For example, let’s say you want to sync copies of important log files that a program creates in a specific folder. You could use a program that allows you to schedule automatic folder-mirroring, configuring the program to regularly copy the contents of your log folder to your SkyDrive folder. This may be a useful alternative for some use cases, although it isn’t the same as standard syncing. You’ll end up with two copies of the files taking up space on your system, which won’t be ideal for large files. The files also won’t be instantly uploaded to your SkyDrive storage after they’re created, but only after the scheduled task runs. There are many options for this, including Microsoft’s own SyncToy, which continues to work on Windows 8. If you were using the symbolic link trick to automatically sync copies of PC game save files with SkyDrive, you could just install GameSave Manager. It can be configured to automatically create backup copies of your computer’s PC game save files on a schedule, saving them to SkyDrive where they’ll be synced and backed up online. SkyDrive support was completely rewritten for Windows 8.1, so it’s not surprising that this trick no longer works. The ability to use symbolic links in previous versions of SkyDrive was never officially supported, so it’s not surprising to see it break after a rewrite. None of the methods above are as convenient and quick as the old symbolic link method, but they’re the best we can do with the SkyDrive integration Microsoft has given us in Windows 8.1. It’s still possible to use symbolic links to easily sync other folders with competing cloud storage services like Dropbox and Google Drive, so you may want to consider switching away from SkyDrive if this feature is critical to you.     

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  • How to Work with the Network from the Linux Terminal: 11 Commands You Need to Know

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Whether you want to download files, diagnose network problems, manage your network interfaces, or view network statistics, there’s a terminal command for that. This collection contains the tried and true tools and a few newer commands. You can do most of this from a graphical desktop, although even Linux users that rarely use the terminal often launch one to use ping and other network diagnostic tools. Make Your Own Windows 8 Start Button with Zero Memory Usage Reader Request: How To Repair Blurry Photos HTG Explains: What Can You Find in an Email Header?

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  • How to Easily Reset a Computer Back to a Clean State Each Time It Boots

    - by Chris Hoffman
    When you’re managing a public computer, you need a special kind of tool. You need a way to reset that computer back to a clean state every time it boots so no one can make any harmful changes. Commercial solutions like Deep Freeze offer this feature, and Microsoft once offered it via its Windows Steady State tool for Windows XP and Vista. However, Windows Steady State has been discontinued and doesn’t work with Windows 7. We’ll be using Reboot Restore Rx for this, as it supports both Windows 7 and Windows 8. Steadier State is another solid option, but it only works in Windows 7, and even then only with Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate.    

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  • The 20 Most Important Keyboard Shortcuts For Windows PCs

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Keyboard shortcuts are practically essential for using any type of PC. They’ll speed up almost everything you do. But long lists of keyboard shortcuts can quickly become overwhelming if you’re just getting started. This list will cover the most useful keyboard shortcuts that every Windows user should know. If you haven’t used keyboard shortcuts much, these will show you just how useful keyboard shortcuts can be. Windows Key + Search The Windows key is particularly important on Windows 8 — especially before Windows 8.1 — because it allows you to quickly return to the Start screen. On Windows 7, it opens the Start menu. Either way, you can start typing immediately after you press the Windows key to search for programs, settings, and files. For example, if you want to launch Firefox, you can press the Windows key, start typing the word Firefox, and press Enter when the Firefox shortcut appears. It’s a quick way to launch programs, open files, and locate Control Panel options without even touching your mouse and without digging through a cluttered Start menu. You can also use the arrow keys to select the shortcut you want to launch before pressing Enter. Copy, Cut, Paste Copy, Cut, and Paste are extremely important keyboard shortcuts for text-editing. If you do any typing on your computer, you probably use them. These options can be accessed using the mouse, either by right-clicking on selected text or opening the application’s Edit menu, but this is the slowest way to do it. After selecting some text, press Ctrl+C to copy it or Ctrl+X to cut it. Position the cursor where you want the text and use Ctrl+V to paste it. These shortcuts can save you a huge amount of time over using the mouse. Search the Current Page or File To quickly perform a search in the current application — whether you’re in a web browser, PDF viewer, document editor, or almost any other type of application — press Ctrl+F. The application’s search (or “Find”) feature will pop up, and you can instantly start typing a phrase you want to search for. You can generally press Enter to  go to the next appearance of the word or phrase in the document, quickly searching through it for what you’re interested in. Switch Between Applications and Tabs Rather than clicking buttons on your taskbar, Alt+Tab is a very quick way to switch between running applications. Windows orders the list of open windows by the order you accessed them, so if you’re only using two different applications, you can just press Alt+Tab to quickly switch between them. If switching between more than two windows, you’ll have to hold the Alt key and press Tab repeatedly to toggle through the list of open windows. If you miss the window you want, you can always press Alt+Shift+Tab to move through the list in reverse. To move between tabs in an application — such as the browser tabs in your web browser — press Ctrl+Tab. Ctrl+Shift+Tab will move through tabs in reverse. Quickly Print If you’re the kind of person who still prints things, you can quickly open the print window by pressing Ctrl+P. This can be faster than hunting down the Print option in every program you want to print something from. Basic Browser Shortcuts Web browser shortcuts can save you tons of time, too. Ctrl+T is a very useful one, as it will open a new tab with the address bar focused, so you can quickly press Ctrl +T, type a search phrase or web address, and press Enter to go there. To go back or forward while browsing, hold the Ctrl key and press the left or right arrow keys. If you’d just like to focus your web browser’s address bar so you can type a new web address or search without opening a new tab, press Ctrl + L. You can then start typing something and press Enter. Close Tabs and Windows To quickly close the current application, press Alt+F4. This works on the desktop and even in new Windows 8-style applications. To quickly close the current browser tab or document, press Ctrl+W. This will often close the current window if there are no other tabs open. Lock Your Computer When you’re done using your computer and want to step away, you may want to lock it. People won’t be able to log in and access your desktop unless they know your password. You can do this from the Start menu or Start screen, but the fastest way to lock your screen is by quickly pressing Windows Key + L before you get up. Access the Task Manager Ctrl+Alt+Delete will take you to a screen that allows you to quickly launch the Task Manager or perform other operations, such as signing out. This is particularly useful because if can be used to recover from situations where your computer doesn’t appear responsive or isn’t accepting input. For example, if a full-screen game becomes unresponsive, Ctrl+Alt+Delete will often allow you to escape from it and end it via the Task Manager. Windows 8 Shortcuts On Windows 8 PCs, there are other very important keyboard shortcuts. Windows Key + C will open your Charms bar, while Windows Key + Tab will open the new App Switcher. These keyboard shortcuts will allow you to avoid the hot corners, which can be tedious to use with a mouse. On the desktop side, Windows Key + D will take you back to the desktop from anywhere. Windows Key + X will open a special “power user menu” that gives you quick access to options that are hidden in the new Windows 8 interface, including Shut Down, Restart, and Control Panel. If you’re interested in learning more keyboard shortcuts, be sure to check our longer lists of 47 keyboard shortcuts that work in all web browsers and 42+ keyboard shortcuts to speed up text-editing. Image Credit: Jeroen Bennink on Flickr     

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  • How To Create a Portable USB Version of Microsoft Office Starter 2010

    - by Taylor Gibb
    Microsoft Office 2010 Starter edition is a free, ad-supported version of Office 2010 meant to be included on new PCs. It only includes Word and Excel with a subset of features—but it does let you make a portable version. Here’s how to do it. Note: The download link provided in the following article is not exactly a “Microsoft Approved” link and may stop working at any time. Still, the Starter version of Office is meant to be ad-supported freeware, and they haven’t pulled the download despite widespread use of it online. How to See What Web Sites Your Computer is Secretly Connecting To HTG Explains: When Do You Need to Update Your Drivers? How to Make the Kindle Fire Silk Browser *Actually* Fast!

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  • How to Save Hundreds or Thousands of Dollars on Cell Phone Service

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Cell phone contracts are bad. You get a seemingly cheap phone up front, but you more than pay for the cost of the phone over two years. Prepaid phone plans are surging in North America for a reason. Prepaid phone plans will be cheaper and more flexible than traditional contracts with big carriers for many people. However much you use your phone, there’s a good chance you can save money with a prepaid service. No More Contracts Here’s how cell phone service typically works in North America: You get a subsidized phone for “free”, $99, or $199. You sign up for a two-year contract and more than pay back the cost of that phone over the length of the contract. This is similar to leasing something or purchasing it on a credit card and paying it back over two years — you spend less up front, but you’re paying more in the long run. But this isn’t the only option. You could opt for a cheaper prepaid service that doesn’t lock you into a contract. If you don’t use your phone much, you could just pay for what you use and avoid the hefty cell phone bills. If you use your phone a lot, you could get a cheaper plan, too. Now, this certainly isn’t for everyone. If you want the latest iPhone or Galaxy smartphone every two years and require a 4G data connection, prepaid services may not be for you. On the other hand, if you don’t need the latest phone, you can save money here. You can also save a huge amount of money if you don’t use your phone much. Phone Options When you choose your prepaid or contract-free service, you’ll often be able to purchase a phone from them. You’ll generally be able to find dirt-cheap dumbphones and the cheapest, slowest Android phones for not very much money. If you are able to buy a top-of-the-line smartphone, you’ll have to pay the full, unsubsidized price. That’s $649 for either an iPhone 5S or Samsung Galaxy S4. Whatever phones the service provider offers, you could always buy a phone elsewhere — for example, you could buy an unsubsidized iPhone direct from Apple and then take it to your cell phone service of choice. Most services will allow you to get a SIM card and pop it into your existing phone rather than purchasing a phone. If you can get a hand-me-down smartphone, you can often save quite a bit of money. For example, you may have a family member upgrading from an iPhone 4S to an iPhone 5S. You could take their phone to a prepaid carrier and have a nicer phone on a cheap cell phone plan. If you brought an old smartphone to a big carrier like AT&T or Verizon, they wouldn’t give you a discount on your monthly plan. You’d have to pay the same amount of money every month as if you had gotten a subsidized phone. Google’s Nexus phones are also great options for people looking to buy smartphones and pay up-front. Google’s Nexus 4 offered a modern, almost top-of-the-line Android smartphone experience at $299 or $349 when it came out last year. Google will soon be releasing the Nexus 5 and it’s expected to be priced at $349. That’s certainly a lot more than a cheap phone, but it’s a fairly high-end smartphone at almost half the price of an iPhone 5S or Galaxy S4. Nexus phones can be purchased online from Google’s Play Store. Service Options When choosing a service, you need to consider what you actually use. If you’re someone who only uses your phone rarely, you can get plans that will allow you to pay as little as a few dollars per month. If you’re someone who’s usually in range of Wi-Fi, you may not need much data at all. If you want a plan with unlimited talk, texting, and data usage, you can get it for much cheaper than you’d pay on a major carrier like AT&T. The options here range from pay-as-you-go plans, like the ones offered by T-Mobile, which allow you to put a certain amount of money in and only drain that balance when you actually use minutes, texts, or data. If you only make a few calls and send a few texts per month, you’d only pay a few bucks. On the other end, Walmart’s Straight Talk service is a popular option that offers unlimited talk, texting, and data at $45 per month. Which service is right for you depends on a lot of things, including your usage and what each network’s coverage is like in your area. You’ll want to do some research of your own before choosing a service. Prepaid services also offer you even more flexibility after you choose one. If you’re not happy or a better deal comes along, you can switch — you’re not locked into your service for two years and you won’t pay an early termination fee. Image Credit: Intel Free Press on Flickr, Jon Fingas on Flickr, John Karakatsanis on Flickr, kendalkinggroup on Flickr     

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  • Are Chromebooks the New Netbooks, and What Does That Mean?

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Netbooks — small, cheap, slow laptops — were once very popular. They fell out of favor — people bought them because they seemed cheap and portable, but the actual experience was lackluster. Most netbooks now sit unused. Windows netbooks have vanished from stores today, but there’s a new super-cheap laptop — the Chromebook. Chromebook sales numbers are impressive, but their usage statistics tell a different story. Are Chromebooks just the new netbook? The Problem With Netbooks Netbooks seemed appealing, especially in an age before tablets and lightweight ultrabooks. You could buy a netbook for $200 or so and have a portable device that let you get on the Internet. The name “netbook” spelled that out — it was a portable device for getting on the ‘net. They weren’t really that great. The original netbook was a lightweight Asus Eee PC that ran Linux alone and had a small amount of fast flash storage. Netbooks eventually ran heavier Windows XP operating systems — Windows Vista was out, but it was just too bloated to run on netbooks. Manufacturers added slow magnetic hard drives, bloatware, and even DVD drives! They couldn’t run most Windows software very well. The build quality was poor and their keyboards were tiny and cramped. People liked the idea of a lightweight device that let them get on the Internet and loved the cheap price, but the actual experience wasn’t great. Chromebook Sales Chromebook sales numbers seem surprisingly high. NPD reported that Chromebooks were 21% of all notebooks sold in the US in 2013. If you combine laptop and tablet sales into a single statistic, Chromebooks were 9.6% of all those devices sold. That’s 2/3 as many Chromebooks sold as iPads in the US! Of Amazon’s best-selling laptop computers, two of the top three are Chromebooks. These definitely look like successful products. Unlike netbooks, Chromebooks are taking off in a big way in the education market. Many schools are buying Chromebooks for their students instead of more expensive Windows laptops. They’re easier to manage and lock down than Windows laptops, but — more importantly for cash-strapped schools — they’re very cheap. Netbooks never had this sort of momentum in schools. Chromebook Usage Statistics Here’s where the rosy picture of Chromebooks starts to become more realistic. StatCounter’s browser usage statistics show how widely used different operating systems are. For example, Windows 7 has the highest share with 35.71% of web activity in April, 2014. The chart doesn’t even show Chrome OS at all, although there is an “Other” number near the bottom. Click the Download Data link to download a CSV file and we can view more detailed information. Chrome OS only accounted for 0.38% of web usage in April, 2014. Desktop Linux, which people often shrug at, accounted for 1.52% in the same month. To its credit, Chrome OS usage has increased. Chromebooks were widely mocked back in November, 2013 when the sales numbers came out. After all, they only accounted for 0.11% of web usage globally in November, 2013! But Chrome OS numbers have been improving: Nov, 2013: 0.11% Dec, 2013: 0.22% Jan, 2014: 0.31% Feb, 2014: 0.35% Mar, 2014: 0.36% Apr, 2014: 0.38% Chrome OS is climbing, but it’s definitely still in the “Other” category. It isn’t as high as we’d expect to see it with those types of sales numbers. Chromebooks vs. Netbooks Chromebooks are more limited devices than traditional PCs. You can do quite a few things, but you have to do it all using Chrome or Chrome apps. Most people won’t be enabling developer mode and installing a Linux desktop. You don’t have access to the powerful desktop software available for Windows and even Mac OS X. On the other hand, these Chromebooks are less compromised than netbooks in many ways. They come with a lightweight operating system designed for portable, mobile devices. They don’t come packed with any bloatware, like the bloatware you’ll find on competing Windows PCs and the original netbooks. They’re cheaper because the manufacturer doesn’t have to pay for a Windows license. There’s no need for antivirus software weighing the operating system down. They’re larger than the original netbooks, with many of them being 11.6-inches instead of the original 8-inch bodies many older netbooks came with. They have larger, more comfortable keyboards and fast solid-state storage. Really, Chromebooks are what netbooks wanted to be. People didn’t buy netbooks to use typical Windows software — they just wanted a lightweight PC. Of course, for many people, the real successor to netbooks is tablets. If all you want is a portable device to throw in a bag so you can get online, maybe a tablet is better. Where Does This Leave Chromebooks? So, are Chromebooks the new netbooks? It’s a bit early to answer that question. Chromebooks are definitely not out of the competition — their sales look good and their usage share is increasing. On the other hand, Chrome OS is still pretty far behind. They’re not catching fire like tablets did. Maybe netbooks were just before their time and Chromebooks were what they were always meant to be. Just as Microsoft’s Windows XP tablets failed, Windows XP netbooks also failed. Tablets took off with a more refined operating system on better hardware years later. “Netbooks” — or Chromebooks — are now taking off with a more purpose-built operating system on better hardware, too. It’s hard to count Chromebooks out because they provide a much better experience than netbooks ever did. If you’re one of the people who wants to use old Windows desktop apps on your portable laptop, you may think netbooks were better — but most people don’t want that. But maybe people either want a full desktop PC experience or a full mobile tablet experience. Is there a place for a laptop with a keyboard that can only view websites? We’ll have to wait and see. Image Credit: Kevin Jarret on Flickr, Clive Darra on Flickr, Sean Freese on Flickr

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  • 8 Reasons Why Even Microsoft Agrees the Windows Desktop is a Nightmare

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Let’s be honest: The Windows desktop is a mess. Sure, it’s extremely powerful and has a huge software library, but it’s not a good experience for average people. It’s not even a good experience for geeks, although we tolerate it. Even Microsoft agrees about this. Microsoft’s Surface tablets with Windows RT don’t support any third-party desktop apps. They consider this a feature — users can’t install malware and other desktop junk, so the system will always be speedy and secure. Malware is Still Common Malware may not affect geeks, but it certainly continues to affect average people. Securing Windows, keeping it secure, and avoiding unsafe programs is a complex process. There are over 50 different file extensions that can contain harmful code to keep track of. It’s easy to have theoretical discussions about how malware could infect Mac computers, Android devices, and other systems. But Mac malware is extremely rare, and has  generally been caused by problem with the terrible Java plug-in. Macs are configured to only run executables from identified developers by default, whereas Windows will run everything. Android malware is talked about a lot, but Android malware is rare in the real world and is generally confined to users who disable security protections and install pirated apps. Google has also taken action, rolling out built-in antivirus-like app checking to all Android devices, even old ones running Android 2.3, via Play Services. Whatever the reason, Windows malware is still common while malware for other systems isn’t. We all know it — anyone who does tech support for average users has dealt with infected Windows computers. Even users who can avoid malware are stuck dealing with complex and nagging antivirus programs, especially since it’s now so difficult to trust Microsoft’s antivirus products. Manufacturer-Installed Bloatware is Terrible Sit down with a new Mac, Chromebook, iPad, Android tablet, Linux laptop, or even a Surface running Windows RT and you can enjoy using your new device. The system is a clean slate for you to start exploring and installing your new software. Sit down with a new Windows PC and the system is a mess. Rather than be delighted, you’re stuck reinstalling Windows and then installing the necessary drivers or you’re forced to start uninstalling useless bloatware programs one-by-one, trying to figure out which ones are actually useful. After uninstalling the useless programs, you may end up with a system tray full of icons for ten different hardware utilities anyway. The first experience of using a new Windows PC is frustration, not delight. Yes, bloatware is still a problem on Windows 8 PCs. Manufacturers can customize the Refresh image, preventing bloatware rom easily being removed. Finding a Desktop Program is Dangerous Want to install a Windows desktop program? Well, you’ll have to head to your web browser and start searching. It’s up to you, the user, to know which programs are safe and which are dangerous. Even if you find a website for a reputable program, the advertisements on that page will often try to trick you into downloading fake installers full of adware. While it’s great to have the ability to leave the app store and get software that the platform’s owner hasn’t approved — as on Android — this is no excuse for not providing a good, secure software installation experience for typical users installing typical programs. Even Reputable Desktop Programs Try to Install Junk Even if you do find an entirely reputable program, you’ll have to keep your eyes open while installing it. It will likely try to install adware, add browse toolbars, change your default search engine, or change your web browser’s home page. Even Microsoft’s own programs do this — when you install Skype for Windows desktop, it will attempt to modify your browser settings t ouse Bing, even if you’re specially chosen another search engine and home page. With Microsoft setting such an example, it’s no surprise so many other software developers have followed suit. Geeks know how to avoid this stuff, but there’s a reason program installers continue to do this. It works and tricks many users, who end up with junk installed and settings changed. The Update Process is Confusing On iOS, Android, and Windows RT, software updates come from a single place — the app store. On Linux, software updates come from the package manager. On Mac OS X, typical users’ software updates likely come from the Mac App Store. On the Windows desktop, software updates come from… well, every program has to create its own update mechanism. Users have to keep track of all these updaters and make sure their software is up-to-date. Most programs now have their act together and automatically update by default, but users who have old versions of Flash and Adobe Reader installed are vulnerable until they realize their software isn’t automatically updating. Even if every program updates properly, the sheer mess of updaters is clunky, slow, and confusing in comparison to a centralized update process. Browser Plugins Open Security Holes It’s no surprise that other modern platforms like iOS, Android, Chrome OS, Windows RT, and Windows Phone don’t allow traditional browser plugins, or only allow Flash and build it into the system. Browser plugins provide a wealth of different ways for malicious web pages to exploit the browser and open the system to attack. Browser plugins are one of the most popular attack vectors because of how many users have out-of-date plugins and how many plugins, especially Java, seem to be designed without taking security seriously. Oracle’s Java plugin even tries to install the terrible Ask toolbar when installing security updates. That’s right — the security update process is also used to cram additional adware into users’ machines so unscrupulous companies like Oracle can make a quick buck. It’s no wonder that most Windows PCs have an out-of-date, vulnerable version of Java installed. Battery Life is Terrible Windows PCs have bad battery life compared to Macs, IOS devices, and Android tablets, all of which Windows now competes with. Even Microsoft’s own Surface Pro 2 has bad battery life. Apple’s 11-inch MacBook Air, which has very similar hardware to the Surface Pro 2, offers double its battery life when web browsing. Microsoft has been fond of blaming third-party hardware manufacturers for their poorly optimized drivers in the past, but there’s no longer any room to hide. The problem is clearly Windows. Why is this? No one really knows for sure. Perhaps Microsoft has kept on piling Windows component on top of Windows component and many older Windows components were never properly optimized. Windows Users Become Stuck on Old Windows Versions Apple’s new OS X 10.9 Mavericks upgrade is completely free to all Mac users and supports Macs going back to 2007. Apple has also announced their intention that all new releases of Mac OS X will be free. In 2007, Microsoft had just shipped Windows Vista. Macs from the Windows Vista era are being upgraded to the latest version of the Mac operating system for free, while Windows PCs from the same era are probably still using Windows Vista. There’s no easy upgrade path for these people. They’re stuck using Windows Vista and maybe even the outdated Internet Explorer 9 if they haven’t installed a third-party web browser. Microsoft’s upgrade path is for these people to pay $120 for a full copy of Windows 8.1 and go through a complicated process that’s actaully a clean install. Even users of Windows 8 devices will probably have to pay money to upgrade to Windows 9, while updates for other operating systems are completely free. If you’re a PC geek, a PC gamer, or someone who just requires specialized software that only runs on Windows, you probably use the Windows desktop and don’t want to switch. That’s fine, but it doesn’t mean the Windows desktop is actually a good experience. Much of the burden falls on average users, who have to struggle with malware, bloatware, adware bundled in installers, complex software installation processes, and out-of-date software. In return, all they get is the ability to use a web browser and some basic Office apps that they could use on almost any other platform without all the hassle. Microsoft would agree with this, touting Windows RT and their new “Windows 8-style” app platform as the solution. Why else would Microsoft, a “devices and services” company, position the Surface — a device without traditional Windows desktop programs — as their mass-market device recommended for average people? This isn’t necessarily an endorsement of Windows RT. If you’re tech support for your family members and it comes time for them to upgrade, you may want to get them off the Windows desktop and tell them to get a Mac or something else that’s simple. Better yet, if they get a Mac, you can tell them to visit the Apple Store for help instead of calling you. That’s another thing Windows PCs don’t offer — good manufacturer support. Image Credit: Blanca Stella Mejia on Flickr, Collin Andserson on Flickr, Luca Conti on Flickr     

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