Software en Battlefield 4 Review <!--paging_filter--><h3>Epic battles. Epic bugs, too</h3> <p>Stop. Any review you previously read about Battlefield 4 was flat-out wrong. Wrong, we tell you. That’s because any short review based on near-gold code or just a few hours or even a day’s worth of play can’t be complete. In fact, we don’t even consider this review anywhere near done yet, even though by the time you read this, we’ll have logged days of in-game play. To pronounce a verdict on a game this sprawling, this complicated, this organic—and this frakking bug-filled—would be irresponsible.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/commander_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/commander_small.jpg" alt="The Commander Mode is back, with a tablet version promised for the loneliest job in the game." title="Battlefield 4" width="620" height="388" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Commander Mode is back, with a tablet version promised for the loneliest job in the game.</strong></p> <p>This shouldn’t be news to anyone who has been a fan of the Battlefield series, though. It’s hard to believe, but it’s been almost 12 years since Battlefield 1942 hit the store shelves with its unique blend of first-person and vehicle combat that revolutionized military-themed shooters. Unfortunately, there was this little game franchise called Call of Duty released a year later that minted money faster than, well, the US Mint, and the two have been competing ever since.</p> <p>The last couple of versions, Battlefield has been chasing CoD and it’s no different here. Developer DICE again invests resources into a CoD-like single-player storyline that we honestly think few will ever play. We can burn a paragraph or two describing the plot but it’s easily summed up as a bad Michael Bay action movie seen through the eyes of South Park: “Booosh!” “Fwraaash!” “Craaaw!” “Kraaaaasssshhhh!!!” Slow-motion helicopter crash. “Caawwwshhh!!!”</p> <p>To be fair, the single-player’s graphics are fairly stunning and more polygons are expended on single-player than multiplayer. The AI is passable and the save-points less offensive to us than they were in Battlefield 3, but we don’t really care about the single-player mode and we’d guess the vast majority of long-time Battlefield fans don’t either.</p> <p>We actually suspect that DICE is finally acknowledging that too, so it’s good to see that multiplayer gets some nice buffs that help justify the franchise’s reputation for being the thinking man’s CoD.</p> <p>Battlefield 2 players belly-ached for years when squads got whittled down from six to four, and Commander Mode and voice com were axed in Battlefield 3. With Battlefield 4, DICE ups the squad size to five, which gives them a little more effective fire teams. Squads are also helped with the return of voice com and a Commander Mode, too.</p> <p>No review of Battlefield 4 can go without mentioning the Levolution feature—which means a lot of things crumble and fall apart. It’s the natural evolution of the already destructible environments first tested in select Battlefield 3 maps, and it’s quite impressive. We’ve been in matches where the fighting practically stops while players rush out to get a glimpse of the towering skyscraper crumbling to the ground. Don’t be fooled, though—not everything can be flattened. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention the stunning water and weather physics DICE has implemented, which are reminiscent of the epic sea battles of the original.</p> <p>It goes without saying that Battlefield 4 is an intense game on hardware resources. The min spec is a dual-core Core 2 or Athlon X2 with 4GB of RAM and Radeon 3870 or GeForce 8800GT and up, or— get this—Intel HD4000 graphics with a 512MB allocated for the frame buffer. The recommended spec is a quad-core Intel or six-core AMD part, 8GB of RAM, Radeon HD 7870 3GB or GeForce GT 660 3GB or better. Our experience says that if you want to play on Ultra at 1080p with a constant 60fps, you’ll want an eight-core AMD part or Hyper-Threaded Intel quad-core part with a current-gen $300-tier GPU, and even then, you’ll hit patches of 40–50fps in multiplayer on some maps. Let’s just say you need real hardware to play this game in all its glory.</p> <p>Of course, it’s hard to say what game hardware works best, as you need a fairly stable platform to even get a feel for it. And right now as we go to print, Battlefield 4 hasn’t been stable.</p> <p>And that gets right into the most controversial part of Battlefield 4: the bugs. Of course, no release of Battlefield has arrived without bugs, but Battlefield 4’s launch has been particularly rough. At launch, players were beset with crashes, lost stats, as well as annoyingly constant server crashes and disconnects. Others complained of poor “netcode” failing to register hits on opponents and being shot through walls. Our own experience initially resulted in crashes and disconnects every other match or three. Multiple server-side patches reduced that to the point where we could play for maybe two hours without a crash or disconnect, but they still occurred on occasion and we were victims of the shot-through-the-wall-problem on occasion.</p> <p>DICE has since patched the server code again and issued a 1GB client patch to address the crashes. Unfortunately, that patch caused more issues, including more crashing, server disconnects, an inadvertent blurring effect, and lower performance for some players. For what it’s worth, our experience with the patch was a big improvement in server disconnects and crashes. We played a solid four hours with but one game crash and one server crash. We did, however, get the annoying blur.</p> <p>We won’t even get into the minutia of the odd weapons balance. One grenade upgrade, for example, gives you three smaller grenades that have a smaller blast radius than the single basic grenade you start with, but we’d swear the smaller grenade actually has a larger blast radius. Two engineers repairing the light helicopter make it invulnerable to direct multiple long strings of anti-aircraft fire, too. And many of the weapons seem to be chosen straight from Jane’s Compendium of Obscure Small Arms of the World rather than the familiar armory from Battlefield 3.</p> <p>So, where does that leave us? Kind of torn, honestly. From the hours we’ve logged, we do love the game. It’s fun and the immense three-dimensional battle space is everything a Battlefield player wants and needs. Let’s just say we won’t be playing much Battlefield 3 from now on. But that’s contingent on Battlefield 4 working—and often it isn’t.</p> <p>Yet we have faith that DICE will make it right. Battlefield 4, after all, isn’t about getting your $60 today and moving you along PT Barnum–style. No, it’s about getting your $60 today, and another $50 for the DLC, plus $28 for all of the weapon-unlock packs—right up until Battlefield 5 comes along. Call us suckers, but we’ll probably be there too, lined up with our 60 bucks in hand.</p> <p><strong>$60,</strong> <a href=""></a><strong>; ESRB: M</strong></p> battlefield 4 January issues 2014 maximum pc Review Software Games Reviews Fri, 04 Apr 2014 13:43:34 +0000 Gordon Mah Ung 27563 at Best Windows 8 Start Menu <!--paging_filter--><h3>Microsoft isn’t returning the beloved Start Menu to Windows 8 anytime soon. But hope is not lost, thanks to these handy third-party tools!</h3> <p>Beyond all of the colorful tiles; the bolted-on Modern user interface; the giant, full-screen apps and panels; and the inability to boot to the desktop—to name just a few of our gripes—there’s one issue above all others that’s guaranteed to universally frustrate Windows 8 desktop users: the Start Menu.</p> <p>Specifically, Microsoft’s decision to remove the Start Menu entirely from Windows 8, giving users no recourse for adding it back as an optional alternative or supplement to the Modern UI’s tiled application shortcuts and search tool, which are Windows 8’s means of navigation.</p> <p>We can fix that.</p> <p>Perform a simple search for “Windows 8 Start Menu” and you’ll find a smorgasbord of apps with one purpose in mind: bringing back the button at any cost. The last thing you want to do is muck up your Windows 8 installation with a junky program, however—worse, to have wasted your time installing numerous Start Menu apps in an effort to find out which one is best (or prettiest).</p> <p>Worry not. Your Start Menu is coming back. And with 11 different apps in our Start Menu roundup, we’re going to show you the best free and paid-for ways to get it.</p> <h4>Start Menu Reviver</h4> <p><strong>It’s a Start Buffet, not a Start Menu</strong></p> <p>We appreciate what ReviverSoft is trying to do with its free Start Menu Reviver app. In many ways, the Start Menu that the app creates is like a miniature hybrid of Windows Modern and a conventional Start Menu. Big, bulky boxes give you access to your computer’s contents, your Internet browser of choice, the Modern dashboard, and what can only be described as a semi-shrunken version of Modern itself for quick app access.</p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>Packed to the gills with links and shortcuts.</li> <li>Not a ton of configuration options on this one.</li> <li>Start Menu folder structure could be presented much better.</li> </ul> <p>With some tweaking of Start Menu Reviver’s limited configuration options you can create a vague resemblance to the conventional Start Menu. But even then, the app feels like it wastes space—we’d rather see more of our folders and shortcuts at once.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/start_menu_reviver_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/start_menu_reviver_small.jpg" title="Start Menu" width="620" height="512" /></a></p> <p>To balance out that annoyance, however, the app features a ton of links to various parts of the OS—and the ability to bypass Modern completely when Windows 8 boots.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <h4>Power 8</h4> <p><strong>We give it a Power 1</strong></p> <p>Sorry, Power 8 just doesn’t do it for us. First, we hate that there’s no way to assign your keyboard’s Windows Key to pull up this app’s Start Menu instead of Modern. The app is also a bit too thorough when it comes to disabling Modern’s Hot Corners—useful if you want to try and click its tiny Start button without accidentally activating a Windows 8 hot corner, but poor if you want to access any of the hot-corner options.</p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>Big on pinning, if there’s a small list of apps that you only really ever use.</li> <li>Doesn’t work with your Windows Key; disables too much of Modern with no customizability.</li> </ul> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/power_8_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/power_8_small.jpg" title="Power 8" width="620" height="610" /></a></p> <p>About that Start button—we wish that Power 8 came preconfigured with a larger button than the wee sliver the app stashes on the lower-left corner of your screen. The app’s glowing shortcut text is a bit tough on the eyes, and you’re forced to click a giant “Start Menu” button within the, er, Start Menu, just to access your standard Programs folder. No, thanks.</p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <h4>Classic Shell</h4> <p><strong>A Swiss Army knife of Start Menu approaches</strong></p> <p>The freeware app Classic Shell is a bit like using a bazooka to kill a fly. In this case, we commend the carnage. Once installed, the app allows you to slap a Start Menu button directly within Windows 8’s Desktop Mode that can be configured to operate in one of three ways: Windows Classic, Windows XP, or Windows 7.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/classic_shell_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/classic_shell_small.jpg" title="Classic Shell" width="620" height="269" /></a></p> <p>And, yes, Classic Shell comes with illustrated examples for those who don’t quite remember the differences between the three Start Menu setups.</p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>A great app for ignoring Modern completely.</li> <li>Highly customizable, with more options than Windows would give you natively.</li> <li>Bonus tweaks to File Explorer, which you can enable and disable at your leisure.<strong><br /></strong></li> </ul> <p>Other fun tweaks the app enables are the much-longed-for ability to bypass Windows 8’s Modern UI entirely in favor of a direct boot to Desktop Mode, a sea of configuration options that you can use to tweak your Start Menu to your liking, and Classic Explorer, which adds some creative visual tweaks to File Explorer itself!</p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <h4>ViStart</h4> <p><strong>Not too shabby, minus its weird name</strong></p> <p>It might feel a bit jarring at first when ViStart asks you to create a new Toolbar that it’ll use as your Start button, but don’t be scared off by the app’s treatment. You can still tap your Windows Key to launch the new menu—or at least, we could until the Windows Key started loading Modern again (a quick reset fixed that).</p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>Simple look and feel with a variety of switchable skins and decent display configuration.</li> <li>Scrolling programs menu should be replaced with one that shows all of your programs and folders at once.</li> </ul> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/vistart_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/vistart_small.jpg" title="Vistart" width="450" height="607" /></a></p> <p>ViStart’s scrolling programs menu mimics the conventional Windows 7 Start Menu, and its left-most shortcuts are convenient and customizable—you can even add brand-new ones if you’re down for a little bit of text-file editing. The app lets you bypass Modern upon booting and lets you customize which of Windows 8’s hot corners you’d like to flip on and off—a lovely touch. The app’s search leaves a little to be desired, as you can’t Ctrl-A all of your text and delete it en masse when you want to search for new things.</p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <h4>StartW8</h4> <p><strong>Simple, easy, could be a bit more customizable</strong></p> <p>The no-frills freeware app StartW8 throws up a fairly simplified iteration of Windows 7’s Start Menu within your Windows 8 installation, up to and including the familiar scrollable list of folders and shortcuts buried within its “All Programs” link.</p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>A few-frills Start Menu app that gives you a classic, compact look.</li> <li>You can’t really manipulate your typical Start Menu shortcuts (our kingdom for a “pinning” option!).</li> </ul> <p>It’s a bit of a bummer that StartW8 doesn’t come with a way to pin most-used shortcuts to the Start Menu itself, or even change the order in which your shortcuts appear on StartW8’s “recent” section.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/startw8_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/startw8_small.jpg" title="StartW8" width="500" height="525" /></a></p> <p>Nestled within Start8’s settings menu is a useful option that lets Windows 8 skip away from Modern and pull up your Windows Desktop when the OS loads. You’re also allowed to disable Modern’s hot corners in various configurations—we appreciate that Start8 resists an “all or nothing” approach. StartW8 lets you edit the menu items that the app tosses on the rightmost part of the Start Menu, but you can’t customize your own shortcuts.</p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <h4>Pokki</h4> <p><strong>A lovely looking Start Menu… if it installs</strong></p> <p>Pokki isn’t so much a Start Menu replacement as it is a kitchen sink of utilities for the social enthusiast. In theory, the app gives you a brand-new Start Menu in Windows 8 that’s packed full of far more than you probably need on your Start Menu, including hooks to an app store that you can use to supplement your Pokki Start Menu with social networking tie-ins, games, and other web-themed fare.</p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>Start Menu certainly looks pretty, but we’re wary of additional tie-ins.</li> <li>Frustrating installation setup, in that it didn’t work out for us at all.</li> <li>Perhaps Windows 8 (x64) users need not apply?</li> </ul> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/pokki_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/pokki_small.jpg" title="Pokki" width="550" height="551" /></a></p> <p>The problem? It doesn’t work. We had a great deal of trouble getting Pokki installed on our 64-bit system; either the app would install “correctly” and just not do anything (or even give the appearance that it was installed on our system), or the installation program would just hang, and hang, and hang. Trying to uninstall Pokki after an unsuccessful installation informed us that we didn’t have sufficient rights to do so. Argh.</p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p><em>Click the next page to read about Start Menu 7 and more.</em></p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h4>Start Menu 7</h4> <p><strong>Display all the apps</strong></p> <p>Boom! That’s the sound Start Menu 7 should make the first time you click its four-color icon and get all of your programs blasted across your screen on one of the largest Start Menus we’ve ever encountered—thankfully, you can adjust the menu’s height and width as if it were a standard Windows… window.</p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>All of your apps in one giant start menu!</li> <li>Virtual folders can help get your shortcuts a bit more organized.</li> <li>Creating a “Favorites list” of shortcuts is a little annoying.</li> </ul> <p>You can configure Start Menu 7 to load itself, or Modern’s Start screen, via your keyboard’s Windows Key (or Shift + Windows Key combination). Flipping Windows 8’s hot corners on and off is as easy as clicking the available graphic and, yes, Start Menu 7 can bypass Modern when your system boots.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/start_menu_7_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/start_menu_7_small.jpg" title="Start Menu 7" width="620" height="468" /></a></p> <p>The app comes with five different skins for its Start Menu. More importantly, you can use the app to create “virtual groups” of folders and shortcuts for extra organization. The app’s “pinning” process for sticking shortcuts to the Start Menu could be a bit more streamlined, however.</p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <h4>StartIsback</h4> <p><strong>A Windows 7 Start Menu with little to no fuss</strong></p> <p>As an Irish lad, this reviewer does appreciate that StartIsBack uses a shamrock embedded in an orb as the default icon for the Start Menu it jury-rigs into your operating system. Even better, the Start Menu itself looks and operates swimmingly—as if you ripped it straight out of Windows 7 and dumped it into Windows 8. In fact, we’d assume you were just natively running Microsoft’s older OS if you sat us down at Windows 8’s Desktop Mode with StartIsback running. It’s that slick.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/startisback_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/startisback_small.jpg" title="StartIsback" width="500" height="622" /></a></p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>Slick, smooth, and problem-free re-creation of the Windows 7 Start Menu.</li> <li>Tons of configuration options.</li> <li>You’ll have to download a new Start Menu orb if you’re not a big Ireland fan.</li> </ul> <p>StartIsBack comes with a number of configuration options for tweaking the look and feel of your Start Menu. The app also lets you bypass Modern entirely when booting, though it also gives you a host of options for configuring the nuances of Modern’s hot corners.</p> <p>Our favorite trick? The option that lets you sticky a taskbar within Modern itself. Take that, Windows 8 UI design.</p> <p><strong>$3,</strong> <a href=""></a></p> <h4>RetroUI Pro</h4> <h4>More features than a standard Start Menu</h4> <p>We like the look of RetroUI Pro, but some of its raw functionality—and default configurations—leave a little to be desired.</p> <p>For starters, we hate this Start Menu’s “pinning” feature, which requires you to click into a separate “edit mode” to sticky your most-used apps to your Start Menu. A simple, ever-present “pin” icon could have solved this bit.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/retroui_pro_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/retroui_pro_small.jpg" title="RetroUI Pro" width="620" height="378" /></a></p> <p>We also think it’s weird that Modern apps appear by default within your Start Menu’s All Programs listing, a feature you can thankfully switch off within RetroUI Pro’s settings. You can also configure away Modern’s hot corners, but you can’t specify which you’d like to toggle on or off—it’s all or nothing. At least RetroUI Pro really lets you tweak the links that appear on the Start Menu itself.</p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>Plenty of customization.</li> <li>Built-in “ModernUI” Start Menu skin is downright atrocious; stick with Windows 7.</li> <li>TabletView gives you more of a visual, Modern-like shortcut list for launching apps.</li> </ul> <p>Additionally, RetroUI Pro’s “Enforce” technology does a great job of sticking your taskbar to the bottom of the screen when you run Modern apps.</p> <p><strong>$5,</strong> <a href=""></a></p> <h4>Start8</h4> <p><strong>Good looks meet powerful customizability</strong></p> <p>As far as looks go, Start8 presents a very convincing replica of the Windows 7 Start Menu with a few fun twists. First up, switching between that and a Windows 8–themed start menu—a mini-Modern, as it were—is super-easy to do within Start8’s simple configuration app. It’s as easy as changing the skins on the Windows 7 Start Menu, and you get five of those to choose from.</p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>Powerful functionality (and multi-monitor options).</li> <li>Adding Start Menu shortcuts to custom locations on your system is a breeze.</li> <li>No way to sticky your taskbar to the bottom of Modern.</li> </ul> <p>As an aside, we love how all of your configuration changes occur in real time within the Start Menu—super-useful for testing out particular settings.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/start8_small_3.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/start8_small_2.jpg" title="Start8" width="620" height="607" /></a></p> <p>Start8 allows you to customize the various shortcuts that appear on the right side of the Start Menu, including adding shortcuts to any custom locations you want. You can set how you want your Windows Key to work and how Modern’s hot corners should run and, yes, Start8 lets you boot right into Desktop Mode, as well. Delightful!</p> <p><strong>$5,</strong> <a href=""></a></p> <h4>StartMenuPlus8</h4> <p><strong>This isn’t a Start Menu; this is a punishment</strong></p> <p>The official website of StartMenuPlus8 looks a bit like a cross between a newbie Geocities site and a seizure, and we’re glad to see that the app itself follows suit—consistency’s important.</p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>Ugly</li> <li>Impractical</li> <li>We’d rather stick with Modern.</li> </ul> <p>The Start Menu button that StartMenuPlus8 creates on your taskbar is just a standard pinned application. You have to drag it over to the leftmost slot on your taskbar to mimic a start button and, even then, you get no way to disable Windows 8’s hot corners within the app.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/startmenuplus8_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/startmenuplus8_small.jpg" title="StartMenuPlus8" width="620" height="453" /></a></p> <p>It’s hard to describe just how strange this app is, from its less-than-pleasing white-on-black color scheme; to its absurd amount of white space within the Start Menu itself; to the absurd level of unnecessary, difficult-to-parse detail packed into its single configuration window. You can’t fire up the Start Menu and start typing out a search, and some of the app’s own shortcut names don’t even fit on its Start Menu screen. Yuck.</p> <p><strong>$5,</strong> <a href=""></a></p> <h3>Five Other Ways to Tweak Windows 8</h3> <p><strong>If you want to spruce up the look of the rest of your operating system, we’ve got you covered!</strong></p> <p>It’s been a year and change since the launch of Microsoft’s Windows 8 OS, and it feels as if there’s still a dearth of apps for tweaking the operating system proper—besides all of the aforementioned Start Menu programs, of course. Still, we’ve identified five apps that do a pretty great job of making Windows 8 prettier, at the very least, and in some instances add new functionality that will enhance your new Modern lifestyle. Now that you’ve souped-up your Start Menu, it’s time to tackle the rest of the OS!</p> <h4>ModernMix</h4> <p>If you can’t stand the full-screen takeover brought on by the Modern portion of Windows 8, then ModernMix is worth the cost of lunch. This super-useful app allows you to run Modern apps as if they were standard applications, run in standard windows, right from Windows 8’s Desktop Mode. You can customize the size of the Modern apps themselves—in case you need a huge weather display, but just a tiny window for Skype—and you can pin them to your taskbar for easier access from your conventional desktop.</p> <p><strong>$5,</strong> <a href=""></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/modernmix_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/modernmix_small.jpg" title="ModernMix " width="620" height="417" /></a></p> <h4>Decor8</h4> <p>We’re big fans of those grayscale Windows 8 “wallpapers” for Modern’s Start screen—and no, we’re not being sarcastic. Even though they look a bit like someone pulled up their favorite Photoshop brush and went to town for a few minutes, they do add a pleasant aesthetic to Modern’s tiled interface.</p> <p>But you know us—we like customization. The app Decor8 unlocks the ability to turn any background you want into a wallpaper for your Start screen. You can randomize the backgrounds to set intervals if you want your Start screen to always look new and fresh, and the app will even automatically select a new color scheme for your tiles based on the colors of the background image you’ve selected.</p> <p>Yes, the Windows 8.1 preview adds this functionality, but it could be an interim solution while you wait for the final version.</p> <p><strong>$5,</strong> <a href=""></a></p> <h4>OblyTile</h4> <p>If there’s one thing we especially detest about Modern’s interface, it’s that system tiles and downloaded apps get all the eye candy and our poor, simple shortcuts get ignored. The freeware OblyTile doles out a little love for your ugly-looking shortcuts by giving you the opportunity to customize them with their own thumbnail image, background color, and text color. Who needs Modern’s tile-grouping functionality when you have color coordination, anyhow?</p> <p><strong>Free,</strong> <a href=""></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/oblytile_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/oblytile_small.jpg" title="OblyTile " width="500" height="647" /></a></p> <h4>Chameleon</h4> <p>The customization continues! Now that we’ve successfully freshened up the look of your Start screen, it’s time to give your Lock Screen a little bit of love—assuming you haven’t already used Windows 8’s Group Policy Editor to bypass the Lock Screen entirely. Chameleon, found via the Windows Store, isn’t the most intuitive of Modern apps. However, what it lacks in instruction, it makes up for in comprehensiveness.</p> <p>Using the app, you can have Windows 8 automatically update your Lock Screen’s background at set intervals and using a number of images from your computer’s photo library or various online sources—including NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day and Bing’s Picture of the Day, to name a few.</p> <p><strong>Free,</strong> <strong>Windows App Store</strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/chameleon_small__0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/chameleon_small_.jpg" title="Chameleon " width="620" height="328" /></a><br /></strong></p> <h4>UltraUXThemePatcher</h4> <p>This one’s simple. If you want to be able to install third-party themes within Windows 8 (as in, community-created themes instead of those bestowed from Microsoft directly), you’re going to need to patch your operating system with this simple tool. UltraUXThemePatcher is free, it’s fast, and it even backs up the original files it overwrites in case you need to uninstall the utility for some reason.</p> <p><strong>Free,</strong> <a href=""></a></p> 2013 best Classic Shell free September 2013 September issues 2013 Stardock start button startisback third party Windows 8 Start Menu Office Applications Software Features Tue, 11 Mar 2014 22:11:03 +0000 David Murphy 26792 at Best Web Browser <!--paging_filter--><h3>A ferocious free-for-all among the top web browsers</h3> <p>The landscape is evolving and you can either change with it or be left behind. This is the position browser makers find themselves in as cloud computing and touch interfaces take center stage, as Windows 8 with its vastly overhauled UI continues to wiggle into more homes and businesses around the world, and as web developers push increasing amounts of rich content at site visitors.</p> <h3><img src="" width="250" height="169" style="float: right;" /></h3> <p>Assuming all browsers handle online content reasonably well, you might be asking yourself why your choice of browser matters, since they’re all free to use. Don’t sell yourself short—you and every other computer user with an Internet connection matters to browser makers. More than just having an effect on your personal online experience, the browser you select is essentially a vote in favor of which company wields the most control over emerging and evolving web standards, which itself directly impacts how you see and experience the web.</p> <p>Secondly, there are advertising dollars at stake. The majority of Mozilla’s funding for Firefox comes from Google, which pays the open source browser maker an obscene amount of cash (around $300 million annually) to have its search engine the default option.</p> <p>There’s a lot at stake, and on the following pages, we’ll weigh in on each browser’s strengths and weaknesses. When evaluating a browser, we look for standout features, security protocols, privacy options, and raw speed. The stage is set, but which will emerge the victor: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, or Opera?</p> <h3>Mozilla Firefox 23</h3> <p><strong>Fast and nimble, but no longer the pack leader</strong></p> <p>In the little more than two years that elapsed since our last major browser brouhaha, Mozilla has taken Firefox from version 4 all the way to version 23, which itself is likely to be a version or two behind by the time you read this. That’s because Mozilla adopted a rapid release schedule that sees a new build around every 6 weeks. Mozilla felt pressured to keep up with fast evolving web standards like HTML5 and decided it was best to push out new features as quickly as possible. As a result, Firefox never gets outdated, though new builds end up feeling more like micro-updates rather than major revisions.</p> <h4>What’s New</h4> <p>If we focus solely on Firefox 23, there’s not a lot that’s new compared to the previous release. Mozilla removed some of the shine from the logo, added a button to the toolbar to share websites with participating social networks like Facebook, and beefed up security. Over the course of the last several releases, however, Firefox added a built-in PDF reader, gained a social API, added support for Retina displays on Mac OS X 10.7 and up, and made a few other tweaks. Somewhere along the line, Mozilla finally managed to plug the infamous memory leak issue that plagued earlier versions.</p> <h4>Security</h4> <p>Mozilla diligently patches security holes in each new release. In Firefox 23, Mozilla shored up its browser’s defenses by injecting a mixed-content blocking mechanism. When a secure HTTPS page loads non-secure, unencrypted content over HTTP (known as mixed content), you’re susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks. Mozilla’s mixed-content blocker doesn’t let non-secure, active content through by default, thereby providing a layer of protection against these attacks. Cool, right?</p> <p>What’s not so cool is that Mozilla made it unnecessarily difficult to disable JavaScript by removing the option from the Contents tab in the Options menu. To flip the switch, you either have to install a third-party extension or poke around about:config settings.</p> <h4>Privacy</h4> <p>One feature we hoped Firefox would have added by now is turning on the Do Not Track (DNT) setting by default. Much to the chagrin of advertisers who serve up tracking cookies, Mozilla has long planned to do this, but it keeps getting delayed for one reason or another. Still, it’s there as an option, and so is the infamous private-browsing, which lets you surf the web without leaving any trace of your whereabouts once you close the browser.</p> <h4>Performance</h4> <p>Firefox 23 flexes a fair amount of web-rendering muscle, but it no longer has the quickest draw of the bunch. Out of the five browsers tested, Firefox 23 came in third in its own Kraken JavaScript benchmark, losing to Chrome and Opera. Not by much, mind you, but losing on its home turf underscores the changing of the guard that’s taken place since our last browser roundup (June 2011).</p> <h4>Power-User Tips</h4> <p>1. Since it’s not enabled by default, manually turn on Firefox’s Do Not Track feature by clicking on the Firefox menu and navigating to Options &gt; Options &gt; Privacy. Select the radio button that reads, “Tell sites that I do not want to be tracked.”</p> <p>2. To disable JavaScript, type about:config in the URL bar. Find javascript.enabled, right-click, and select Toggle to change the value to False.</p> <p>3. Need more real estate? Click Firefox &gt; Options &gt; Toolbar layout and check “Use Small Icons.”</p> <p>1) New to Firefox 23, you can now share websites on Facebook by clicking a button in the toolbar. Other social sites plan to integrate this function, too.</p> <p>2) To poke your head underneath the hood, type about:config in the URL bar and explore the underlying parts. Be careful though, changing settings can bork your browser.</p> <p>3) Other than the optional sidebar, Firefox 23 is virtually identical in appearance to Firefox 4 from two years ago. Now that Windows 8 is here, we suspect Mozilla will tweak the UI for touch navigation.</p> <p>4) Whoops, did you accidentally close a tab? Bring it right back by pressing Ctrl+Shift+T. If you want even more control over tabs, hunt down the Tab Mix Plus add-on.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/0-fb-landinpage_small_1.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/0-fb-landinpage_small_0.jpg" width="620" height="397" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><em>Click the next page to read about Opera and Chrome.</em></p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3 style="text-align: left;">Opera 15</h3> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">For years, Opera’s development team championed strict web standards through their own rendering engine called Presto. Maintaining a relevant rendering engine is a massive undertaking, so for version 15, Opera Software made the decision to swap out Presto for Google’s Blink engine, which is a fork of Webkit and the same one driving Chrome. It’s a significant change and one that allows the Norwegian browser maker’s small team to narrow their focus on Opera’s complementary features and security.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">What’s New</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">A new rendering engine is just one of the many changes in Opera 15, not all of them positive. Bookmarks have vanished (Opera Software plans to return them in a future release), and the integrated M2 email and news client played a disappearing act just like Presto. In their place is an overhauled UI that more closely resembles Chrome, along with a combined address and search bar.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Opera’s Speed Dial feature lists thumbnails of saved web pages on new tab windows, and new to Opera 15 is the ability to group and search entries. Also new are Stash and Discover entries in new tab windows. When you click the heart icon in the address bar, Stash will take a snapshot of the website, while Discover lists news clips from around the web.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Finally, Opera 15 introduces an Off-Road mode that adopts server-side compression technology found in Opera Mobile.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Security</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">By making the transition to Blink, Opera 15 becomes the beneficiary of security protocols included in the Chromium project, such as running tabs in separate processes and sandboxing. Opera also adopts a rapid release schedule for more frequent security updates, both as it pertains to Blink as well as parts of the browser not related to Chromium (everything but the engine).</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Privacy</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">Opera 15 retains the ability to open a private-browsing window, which you can run alongside a non-private session. The feature is more easily accessible in Opera’s main drop-down menu. Opera 15 also supports Do Not Track requests, though the feature is turned off by default.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Performance</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">The Blink rendering engine gives Opera an instant speed boost that puts the browser nearly on par with Chrome. In our benchmark tests, Chrome 29 still edged out Opera 15 in most tests, though Opera was faster in Microsoft’s Lawn Mark 2013 test. Furthermore, neither browser ever left the other one in the dust. That’s an impressive testament to Opera’s upgraded code, since Chrome ended up being the fastest of the bunch.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/opera_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/opera_small.jpg" alt="Opera 15 does away with traditional bookmarks, but you can “Stash” websites with screenshot previews that appear on the Start page and new tab windows." title="Opera" width="620" height="318" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Opera 15 does away with traditional bookmarks, but you can “Stash” websites with screenshot previews that appear on the Start page and new tab windows.</strong></p> <h3 style="text-align: left;">Chrome 29</h3> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>All hail the new king</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">Chrome recently celebrated its fifth birthday, and though it required a few coats of polish to really shine, most users today couldn’t or wouldn’t want to fathom a world without Google’s quick and nimble browser. To wit, Chrome did what no other browser could do—it dethroned Internet Explorer in market share, at least according to StatCounter’s data. NetMarketShare still has IE in the lead, but the mere fact that Chrome is even in the discussion is a remarkable achievement for such a young browser.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">What’s New</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">Google decided early on that a rapid release schedule made the most sense, so like Firefox, individual updates typically lack hordes of killer features to make you pump your fist in excitement. Over time, however, the experience gradually changes. In Chrome 29, Google added an immersive mode that hides the toolbar and shelf in full-screen mode until you hover over the top. There’s also a “Reset browser settings” to restore Chrome to its original state. If you’re in love with Windows 8’s touch-friendly interface, you’ll also adore running Chrome in Windows 8 Mode, which replaces IE as the default browser in the process.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Security</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">Chrome 29 came with more than two dozen security patches, an unusually large amount. Part of the reason is because Google routinely rewards external security researchers with financial bounties for discovering bugs. Combined with Chrome’s automatic updates and sandbox approach to browsing, you’re about as protected as you can get outside of a virtual machine.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Privacy</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">Up until version 23, one of the few criticisms you could make about Chrome was that it didn’t have a Do Not Track feature like IE and Firefox. Google took its sweet time adding DNT code to Chrome, but it’s there, only you have to hunt down the setting and manually turn it on just like in Firefox. Even when you do, the effectiveness of DNT hinges on whether websites honor your request or essentially tell you to go fly a kite.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">For browsing on the sly, Chrome’s Incognito mode erases the past more efficiently than Stephen King’s Langoliers.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Performance</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">Even Michael Jordan didn’t win every game he played in, and though it wasn’t a clean sweep for Chrome either, Google’s browser had the best score in more benchmarks than any of the other four contenders in this roundup. And unlike in our browser cage fight from two years ago, Chrome now boasts hardware acceleration.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Power-User Tips</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">1. Install the Omnibox Timer extension to set reminders in the Omnibar while you’re at your PC. Once installed, activate a timer by typing TM in the Omnibar and then something like, “15 stand up and take a break” to be reminded in 15 minutes to move around. (Protip: Sitting for long stretches is bad for your health.)</p> <p style="text-align: left;">2. Google isn’t your only search option in Chrome. Type Amazon in the Omnibar followed by the Tab key and then type in your search query. You’ll see the option to bring up search when you start typing in websites you’ve previously visited. Alternately, type the name of a site followed by a colon and then your search query (e.g., MaximumPC: Intel).</p> <p style="text-align: left;">3. Fancy yourself a code junkie? Right-click a website and select “Inspect element” to spy a site’s code.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">1) If you’re not digging Internet Explorer in Windows 8’s Modern UI, you can swap it out for Chrome. Once you do, it always runs that way, even if you launch Chrome from the desktop.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">2) There’s no need for a dedicated search bar in Chrome. The Omnibar (or address bar) also functions as a search bar.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">3) Type chrome://flags in the Omnibar to bring up a wealth of experimental features to play around with. As always, be careful flipping switches willy-nilly, lest Chrome start acting in unexpected ways.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">4) Signing into Chrome allows you to sync your settings and data from one PC to another. Just sign into the same account when you get home to bring up your work PC’s Chrome session.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/chrome_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/chrome_small.jpg" title="Chrome 29" width="620" height="389" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><em>Click the next page to read about Safari and Internet Explorer.</em></p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3 style="text-align: left;">Safari 5.1.7</h3> <p><strong>Apple abandoned it, and so should you</strong></p> <p>The last time Apple updated its Safari browser for Windows desktops was in May 2012, and that was just a minor housekeeping patch. Apple left Windows users behind when it introduced Safari 6 for Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, and while the Cupertino outfit hasn’t explicitly stated Safari will never make a return to Microsoft’s OS, there’s little reason to believe it will. Safari was never able to carve out a significant share of the browser market anyhow, though both NetMarketShare and StatCounter agree that there are more web surfers on Safari than Opera, so leaving Windows users behind might not have been the best long-term decision.</p> <h4>What’s New</h4> <p>Though Apple has turned a blind eye to Windows users, the latest version of Safari is still available to download. Prior to abandonment, Safari’s Reading List feature alone was reason to consider the browser. What it does is let you save web pages you don’t have time to read and return to them later, online or offline. Think of it as a temporary bookmarks feature that self-destructs once you’ve brought up a saved page.</p> <p>Safari Reader is another element of the browser we liked. It strips web pages to the bare essentials, removing most ads and preventing pop-ups.</p> <h4>Security</h4> <p>Safari’s biggest security feature is running web processes in a restricted environment, otherwise known as sandboxing. Pretty snazzy, except that it only runs that way on Mac OS, so it’s a feature that’s of absolutely no benefit to Windows users—boo! On the plus side, it’s rather easy to disable JavaScript, pop-up windows, and plugins from the Security tab in Preferences. Safari will also warn users when visiting a website it deems fraudulent.</p> <h4>Privacy</h4> <p>Safari blocks third-party cookies by default, a feature that’s found in the browser’s Privacy panel. It also contains an option to remove all website data with a couple of mouse clicks. In the same panel is an option to limit website access to location services. Some websites use information about your location to enable certain features and services, but if you’d rather keep that information private, you can disable it altogether or be prompted when a website requests your whereabouts.</p> <h4>Performance</h4> <p>In the majority of benchmarks, Safari came in dead last, especially when testing for JavaScript performance. The dated browser supports limited hardware acceleration in Windows, but it wouldn’t even run two of the three Microsoft test demos.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/safari_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/safari_small.jpg" alt="Click the Reader button in the address bar to de-clutter noisy websites and side-step pop-up ads." title="Safari 5.1.7" width="620" height="333" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Click the Reader button in the address bar to de-clutter noisy websites and side-step pop-up ads.</strong></p> <h3 style="text-align: left;">Internet Explorer 11</h3> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>An old browser reborn and bred for Windows 8</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">It wouldn’t make sense for Microsoft to rebuild Windows without also revamping the parts that integrate with it, and so what we have in Internet Explorer 11 is a vastly different browser compared to previous releases. Yes, it will probably be available for Windows 7 by the time you read this, but it’s really intended to complement the vision Microsoft set out for Windows 8, which includes a heavy dose of touch interaction and interoperability across a range of Windows devices and screen sizes.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">While the version we’re testing is a Preview release, it’s very close to what the final build will be like, unlike an early beta, which could be missing key features and/or suffer from stability issues.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">What’s New</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">When firing it up from the Start screen, IE11 looks and feels like a brand-new browser rather than an upgrade of an existing one. That’s not really surprising since the same could be said of Windows 8 compared to previous versions. The first thing you’ll notice is that Microsoft moved the address bar to the bottom of the browser. It hides out of view to give you a full-screen browsing experience, though you can bring it back up with a right-click or swipe up from the bottom. If you have a touchscreen, you’ll also use swiping gestures to navigate forward and backward.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Outside of touch controls, the feature we’re most excited about is side-by-side browsing. While Windows 8 insists on running applications in full-screen mode, the side-by-side feature in IE11 allows you to view multiple websites at the same time, and you can resize the width of each one. This is handy for comparison shopping, among other uses.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">We’re only scratching the surface here. Microsoft lifted the limit of open tabs from 10 to 100 per window, which appear as scrollable tiles just above the address bar. Non-active tabs are suspended so they don’t drag down your PC’s performance or adversely affect battery life. Microsoft also implemented hardware-accelerated 3D web graphics through WebGL, plug-in-free HTML5 video support, and the ability to pin websites as live tiles on the Start screen—phew!</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Security</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">By default, IE11 turns on Enhanced Protected Mode (EPM), which only allows compatible add-ons like toolbars, browser helper objects (BHOs), and extensions to load. Furthermore, EPM shoves untrusted web content into a restricted environment sort of like a sandbox.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Instead of letting WebGL content run wild, it’s put through a pre-screening stage in IE11. It also runs on top of DirectX, so if malicious content bombards the GPU and takes it out, it will reset rather than crash the entire system.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Privacy</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">Microsoft was the first browser maker to turn on its Do Not Track feature by default, and that setting is retained in IE11. New to IE11, however, is a User-Granted Exceptions option so that users can grant permission to websites to use cookies that request it.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">InPrivate browsing mode is still available in IE11, though it’s not obvious when surfing from the Start screen. You can use the keyboard shortcut (Ctrl+Shift+P) or bring up the Tabs menu and press the Tab tools button on the right-hand side.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Performance</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">IE11 posted the best SunSpider score in this roundup, which measures JavaScript performance. It was also the fastest in Microsoft’s 3D demos, especially Lawn Mark 2013, a benchmark Microsoft claims “uses emerging HTML5 techniques.” We’re a bit skeptical of the discrepancy in scores, as are Chrome developers, one of which stated in a Chromium forum that the benchmark is “running intentionally slow JavaScript in all browsers besides IE.” Still, it shows that IE11 is able to render 3D graphics at a fast clip, and surfing the web certainly feels fast as well.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Power-User Tips</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">1. To add a website as a live tile, click the Star icon (Favorites) and then the Pin icon.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">2. You can pin the address bar permanently to the bottom of the screen by bringing up the Charms menu (swipe or press Windows Key+C) and selecting Settings &gt; Options. Under the Appearance heading, flip the dial to On.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">3. Sites not showing up correctly? Fire up IE11 in Desktop and press Alt. Select Tools &gt; Compatibility View settings.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">1) Side-by-side allows you to view multiple pages in separate, resizable Windows.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">2) It’s not the least bit obvious, but those three dots designate the Tab tools option. Click or tap to initiate an InPrivate browsing session.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">3) You’re no longer limited to just 10 open tabs. In IE11, you can have as many as 100 per window. Equally cool is the preview view of each one, which you can scroll through.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">4) Microsoft relocated the address bar to the bottom of the browser where it’s better optimized for touch. Just swipe up from the bottom (or right-click your mouse) to make it appear.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/ie_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/ie_small.jpg" width="620" height="401" /></a></p> <p><em>Click the next page to see what our overall pick for best web browser is!</em></p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3 style="text-align: left;">The Straight Dope</h3> <p><img src="/files/u154082/google_chrome_image.jpg" alt="best web browser" title="best web browser" width="250" height="250" style="float: right;" /></p> <p style="text-align: left;">With all due respect to diehard Firefox fans, the spunky browser is no longer our favorite vehicle for surfing the web. That distinction now belongs to Chrome, the sleekest and fastest browser available. Our primary gripe with Chrome in our last browser roundup two years ago was that it didn’t support hardware acceleration without mucking around with secret code. That’s long been addressed and our only lingering concern is that Google may cater to advertisers a bit too much, hence it being the last of the major browsers to implement Do Not Track technology, which still isn’t turned on by default.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">We also have to give props to Microsoft for its work with Internet Explorer 11. If you’re rocking a touchscreen in Windows 8/8.1, you may prefer to use IE11 over Chrome simply because it’s better suited for touch navigation. It’s also fast, though we’re calling shenanigans on Microsoft’s own tech demos, which seem to heavily favor its own browser over the competition, even though others also boast GPU acceleration. Still, it’s the best version of IE yet, and we especially like the side-by-side browsing feature when launching the browser from the Start screen.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Where does that leave the others? Firefox is still a great browser with a rich catalog of extensions, and Opera is one to keep an eye on now that it shares DNA with Chrome. That leaves Safari as the odd man out, a decision Apple ultimately made for the masses by discontinuing support for Windows.</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><span style="font-style: italic;">Note: This article was originally featured in the December 2013 issue of the magazine.</span></p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><span class="module-name">Benchmarks</span><br /> <div class="module-content"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="spec-table orange"> <table style="width: 620px; height: 265px;" border="0"> <thead> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td>&nbsp;</td> <td>Firefox 23</td> <td>Chrome 29</td> <td>Internet Explorer 11</td> <td>Opera 15</td> <td>Safari 5</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Futuremark Peacekeeper</td> <td class="item-dark">2,348</td> <td><strong>3,760</strong></td> <td>WNR</td> <td>3,536</td> <td>1,803</td> </tr> <tr> <td>SunSpider 1.0.1 (ms)</td> <td>179.8</td> <td>194.4</td> <td><strong>159.1</strong></td> <td>205.8</td> <td>244.7</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Google Octane v1</td> <td class="item-dark">14,227</td> <td><strong>15,075</strong></td> <td>9,965<strong>&nbsp;</strong></td> <td>14,919</td> <td>3,188</td> </tr> <tr> <td>NonTroppo Table Rendering (ms)</td> <td>527</td> <td>338</td> <td>589<strong>&nbsp;</strong></td> <td>383</td> <td><strong>190</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td>GUIMark 3 (fps)</td> <td><strong>62.56</strong></td> <td>61.66</td> <td>59.98</td> <td>59.85</td> <td>60.68</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Mozilla Kraken 1.1 (ms)</td> <td>1,994.9</td> <td><strong>1,727.5</strong></td> <td>3,182.5</td> <td>1,749.5</td> <td>12,493.7</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Acid3</td> <td>100</td> <td>100</td> <td>100</td> <td>100</td> <td>100</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Microsoft Beta Fish IE Demo (fps)</td> <td>60</td> <td>60</td> <td>60</td> <td>60</td> <td>60</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Microsoft Penguin Mark Demo</td> <td>168</td> <td>185</td> <td><strong>9,479</strong></td> <td>66</td> <td>WNR</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Microsoft Lawn Mark 2013 (sec)</td> <td>488.35</td> <td>543.05</td> <td><strong>11.17</strong></td> <td>514.31</td> <td>WNR</td> </tr> <tr> <td></td> <td>428</td> <td><strong>476</strong></td> <td>361</td> <td>451</td> <td>280</td> </tr> <tr> <td>ClubCompy</td> <td>10,128</td> <td><strong>10,128</strong></td> <td>16,656</td> <td>20,324</td> <td>13,384</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p><em>Best scores are bolded. Our test bed is an Intel Core i7 930, Asus P6X58D Premium, 12GB Corsair DDR3/1866 RAM, Radeon HD 7970, OCZ Vertex 3 240GB SSD, and Windows 8.1 64-bit.<br /></em></p> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> 2013 best web browser google chrome Internet Explorer Mozilla Firefox Opera Safari web browsers Software News Utilities December 2013 Features Fri, 07 Mar 2014 23:20:27 +0000 Paul Lilly 27217 at Best Cloud Storage <!--paging_filter--><h3><img src="/files/u154082/best_cloud_storage.jpg" alt="best cloud storage" title="best cloud storage" width="250" height="169" style="float: right;" />Best Cloud Storage: 15 online cloud storage services compared</h3> <p>The convenience of cloud storage is undeniable: your data and media at your fingertips from any Internet-connected device—what’s not to like? And there’s certainly no shortage of options to choose from, most of which are totally free up to a certain capacity. The trick is deciding which cloud service to use. After all, there are notable differences between them. Some are ideal for security mavens who want to preserve their anonymity (and the anonymity of their data). Others are better for folks just looking for a massive dumping ground for a ton of data. And still others are geared toward those keen on sharing all sorts of files with their friends and colleagues. In this roundup, we’ll break it all down for you and identify the <strong>best cloud storage</strong> services. We’ll also show you how to encrypt files that you store online and how to combine multiple cloud-storage accounts into one unified pot.</p> <p><em>Author's note: This article was originally featured in our November 2013 issue of the magazine — which means that it was actually written a quite bit before then, given just much time the publishing process actually takes. &nbsp;Certain details might be inaccurate as of March 2014 (when it was posted online), up to and including the fact that Mega and MediaFire both have desktop apps for file synchronization right now. &nbsp;As to why Google Drive didn't make it onto our list, we plead the Fifth.</em></p> <h4>Amazon Cloud Drive</h4> <p>The free iteration of Amazon’s Cloud Drive nets you 5GB total of space to work with, but there’s a bit of a catch: Don’t go expecting to upload huge files to the service, as you’re capped to a maximum of 2GB per file. If you need more overall storage, you’ll be ponying up in various increments up to and including $10 a year for 20GB of space, $50 a year for 100GB, and a whopping $500 a year for a full terabyte of cloud storage (oof!).</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/amazon_cloud_drive_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/amazon_cloud_drive_small.jpg" title="Amazon Cloud Drive" width="620" height="338" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Amazon’s Cloud Drive presents a pleasing list of your files in its online app, though we wish it was more integrated with the company’s other cloud storage offerings.</strong></p> <p>On our benchmark—a 132MB transfer of 24 total files—Amazon clocked in at 3:15 (min:sec). That’s not the speediest of upload times among all the cloud services we tested; worse, the files you upload to Amazon don’t appear to be encrypted once they hit the server.</p> <p>Amazon Cloud Drive operates as a simple downloadable app for your PC that syncs a folder’s worth of files to your online storage, in addition to a web-based tool for managing your files in the cloud. The latter comes with a ho-hum player that lets you view your pics, listen to your tunes, or watch your movies—it ain’t pretty, but it works.&nbsp; Annoyingly, Amazon only lets you share a single file at a time with friends via pre-generated URLs. <a href=""></a></p> <h4>Apple iCloud</h4> <p>Yes, Apple’s iCloud is technically a cloud storage service—and then some, once you factor in the service’s ability to synchronize your contacts, calendars, notes, and more across your various iOS-friendly devices.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/icloud_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/icloud_small.jpg" alt="You can’t really do much with iCloud if you’re not an Apple aficionado." title="Apple iCloud" width="620" height="400" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>You can’t really do much with iCloud if you’re not an Apple aficionado.</strong></p> <p>However, if you’re using a PC—and just a PC—then you really have no need whatsoever to install Apple’s meager iCloud app. You can only really sync files from your iOS devices’ Photo Streams to your PC (or, conversely, photos from a specified PC folder to your iPad or iPhone). Otherwise, it’s not like Apple’s giving you a folder for dumping files into that will somehow synchronize with other PCs you’ve installed the iCloud app onto.</p> <p>If you do own multiple Apple devices, iCloud’s feature set (and device integration) is pretty awesome in most ways, save for its price—beyond the 5GB you get for free, there is a yearly fee of $20 for an extra 10GB of storage, $40 for 20GB, or $100 for 50GB. To Apple’s credit, the company doesn’t count iTunes movies and music purchases against your total storage quota. And the core offerings—mail, contacts, calendar, and notes synchronization—should hardly chip away at your free 5GB. Additionally, Apple stores your information using 128-bit AES encryption at minimum. <a href=""></a></p> <h4>Bitcasa</h4> <p>This desktop- and web-based cloud service delivers a pretty hefty amount of free storage—10GB—in addition to everyone’s favorite caveat: no restrictions whatsoever on the file sizes you want to throw into your online pool. And if you need more room, Bitcasa offers a single, awesome option for supplementing your pool: $99 per year for unlimited capacity.</p> <p>Bitcasa dumps an “Infinite Drive” onto your system as a new drive letter. Whatever you toss in heads up to the cloud but, unlike Bitcasa’s peers, the files aren’t automatically mirrored on your local hard drive. A built-in caching mechanism ensures that you still have access to your most-used files when you’re offline, and you can adjust just how big your cache is via the app. As for the app’s performance, it took us a mere 19 seconds to send 132MB of files on up—a killer transfer time.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/bitcasa_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/bitcasa_small.jpg" alt="Bitcasa’s cache is a critical part of its offline functionality, and we’re glad for it!" title="Bitcasa" width="620" height="694" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Bitcasa’s cache is a critical part of its offline functionality, and we’re glad for it!</strong></p> <p>You can mirror folders on your hard drive if you want more standard cloud-sync functionality, and your data always remains protected on Bitcasa’s servers with 256-bit AES encryption. Sharing your files is as easy as viewing them; you can watch movies, listen to music, or view your stored pictures using Bitcasa’s web interface. <a href=""></a></p> <h4>Box</h4> <p>Ten free gigabytes of storage await those who sign up for the free version of Box.&nbsp; However, you’re limited to storing files no larger than 250MB each on the service—practically a sneeze in the cloud-storage world.&nbsp; Adding more oomph to your online offering incurs a monthly fee of $9.99 for 100GB on a personal account or, if you sign up for a "Starter" small business plan, $5 per user for pooled storage of 100GB in total.&nbsp; Doing so bumps you up to a file size limit of 2GB per.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/box_small_2.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/box_small_1.jpg" alt="For some inexplicable reason, Box has decided to make simple media streaming a paid-for, add-on service." title="Box" width="620" height="403" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>For some inexplicable reason, Box has decided to make simple media streaming a paid-for, add-on service.</strong></p> <p>Box offers four different apps for getting your PC to play with its cloud storage; it seems a bit overkill to have users piecemeal together the functionality they prefer. We couldn’t get the “Box for Office” app to play with our copy of Office 2013, and the standard, folder-synchronizing “Box Sync” app took 3:51 on our transfer test—that’s quite lengthy for a single app.</p> <p>There’s no way to view media files you send to Box via its web interface; the service is designed for adding, editing, and sharing documents and text. To that end, we do enjoy how the “Box Edit” app allows you to start new files and edit them using the office apps on your local desktop, before they’re automatically saved up to the cloud when you’re done. <a href=""></a></p> <h4>Cubby</h4> <p>This no-nonsense cloud app—desktop and web—offers up 5GB of free storage with a single file-size limit of 2GB. Adding more storage will set you back anywhere from $3.99 per month for 100GB to $39.90 per month for a full terabyte, but Cubby demands that you buy a year’s worth of capacity up front. (In other words, you’re locked in.)</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/cubby-small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/cubby-small.jpg" alt="Cubby is simple, quick, and easy to use, and you don’t even have to change up your existing folder structure if you don’t want to." title="Cubby" width="620" height="344" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Cubby is simple, quick, and easy to use, and you don’t even have to change up your existing folder structure if you don’t want to.</strong></p> <p>To sync your files with the cloud, you can drag them into a new “My Cubby” folder the app creates, or you can right-click existing folders within your drive’s hierarchy to add them to the synchronization list—a pleasant feature for those who don’t want to move data around. Cubby protects your files with AES 256-bit encryption on its end, but the speeds of the synchronization leave a little to be desired. The service clocked in at 3:46 to shoot our 132MB batch of test files up into the cloud.</p> <p>Sharing your stored files with others is as easy as sending a provided link to files or a folder to your friends. Cubby also incorporates media playback and version tracking into its web app, automatically deleting old versions of your files as you start to fill up space. <a href=""></a></p> <h4>Dropbox</h4> <p>Dropbox gives you a total of 2GB to start with; additional storage can be had for a not-so-insignificant $99 per year for 100GB, $199 per year for 200GB, or $499 per year for 500GB. Adding version-tracking to your Dropbox tacks on another $39 annually.</p> <p>Dropbox stashes a single, simple folder onto your hard drive (which you can change, if you prefer). Anything you throw into this folder gets synchronized into the cloud and protected with AES 256-bit encryption. You can modify how much bandwidth you want the app to eat up when it’s uploading and downloading, and even “selectively sync” certain folders on certain computers. An added “LAN sync” feature speeds up the process by copying files from your other Dropbox-friendly, networked sys-tems instead of pulling them from the cloud—although it only took Dropbox a mere 7 seconds to sync up our 132MB file test.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/dropbox-small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/dropbox-small.jpg" alt="LAN sync has saved us so much file-syncing time on our home network, it’s almost impossible to measure." title="Dropbox" width="500" height="590" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>LAN sync has saved us so much file-syncing time on our home network, it’s almost impossible to measure.</strong></p> <p>Sharing folders and files with others is as easy as copying a link that Dropbox provides, but your friends will have to have Dropbox accounts if you want to collaborate within a single folder that’s shared among all. The Dropbox web app seamlessly lets you view your photos, rock out to your music, and watch your movies directly in your browser.<br /><a href=""></a></p> <h4>MediaFire</h4> <p>The desktop app for Media-Fire is a bit worthless. Its primary purpose is to provide you with a means for copying files—one at a time—to the service’s online cloud storage. Even then, MediaFire is fussy: At one point, we thought we were deleting and uploading fresh sets of files, but the service was instead keeping triplicate copies of our benchmark test. The only redeeming quality of MediaFire’s boring desktop app is how it lets you take screenshots of your PC and upload them directly to your cloud storage, but that doesn’t appeal to most people.</p> <p>Our test file transfer took a whopping 8:40 to jump up to the cloud. Manipulating these files via MediaFire’s web interface felt sluggish, and the online storage itself is a bit slow to refresh with newly uploaded files. A built-in media player lets you listen to music and watch videos, but shrinks the latter down to a fixed size—so much for our 720p video.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u152332/mediafire_small_1.jpg" alt="We’re not exactly sure why a cloud storage app needs a semi- comprehensive screenshot feature, but it’s there nevertheless!" title="Mediafire" width="500" height="377" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>We’re not exactly sure why a cloud storage app needs a semi-comprehensive screenshot feature, but it’s there nevertheless!</strong></p> <p>MediaFire does offer a generous free capacity of 10GB, but restricts your uploads to 200MB per file unless you pony up for a paid version of the service (starting at $49.99 annually for 100GB of storage). <br /><a href=""></a></p> <p><em>Click the next page to read about Microsoft OneDrive, SugarSync, and more!</em></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h4>Microsoft OneDrive (Formerly SkyDrive)</h4> <p>Ah, OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive). If you’re using Windows 8, you’ll probably have noticed that access to the&nbsp;OneDrive&nbsp;cloud is baked into the OS by default. It’s also a downloadable app for the more traditional “sync files in a folder to the cloud” kind of access—which we greatly prefer.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/skydrive_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/skydrive_small.jpg" alt="SkyDrive’s online media player (no audio!) is one of the best we’ve seen of the major cloud service providers; you can even tag your friends." title="Skydrive" width="620" height="382" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>OneDrive’s online media player (no audio!) is one of the best we’ve seen of the major cloud service providers; you can even tag <br />your friends.</strong></p> <p>The free iteration of&nbsp;OneDrive&nbsp;gives you 7GB to play with, but your files are limited to a maximum size of 2GB each. Bumping up your storage costs $10 a year for 20GB, $25 for 50GB, or $50 for 100GB. There’s no additional encryption for anything you slap into OneDrive, and there’s certainly not a great deal of speed for files synchronized via the desktop app. Our 132MB transfer test clocked in at 3:56.</p> <p>We do, however, love&nbsp;OneDrive’s “Fetch” feature—if you set up the desktop app correctly, you can actually tap into your computer from afar and access any file on any drive within your system. It’s a crazy-convenient way to access files without having to put them into OneDrive in the first place, and you can stream videos or view pictures from the OneDrive web app itself. (No audio files, though; sorry!) <a title="one drive" href=""></a></p> <h4>SpiderOak</h4> <p>We wish we had more to report about this allegedly super-secure cloud storage app. However, it’s so secure, that it didn’t let us into the cloud service no matter how much we tried to run through the fairly simple-seeming account setup process.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/spideroak_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/spideroak_small.jpg" alt="Our computer spent countless hours on this screen, taunting us with the promise that we’d be able to use SpiderOak someday." title="SpiderOak" width="500" height="588" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</p> <p>The major boon to Spider-Oak is that it’s designed as a “zero-knowledge system.” The company has no idea what you share to the service; a benefit to user anonymity unless you forget your password, forever locking your ability to access the ultra-secret data you’ve stored.</p> <p>Part of the process involved with generating encryption keys for SpiderOak is that you must run the associated desktop app before you can access your cloud storage for the first time. Try as we might—and we let it run overnight, even—our app just sat at the third step of SpiderOak’s setup process. That’s supposed to be the part where the app downloads your account information from SpiderOak’s servers; in our setup, it was the Achilles’ heel that turned our feeble attempt at accessing cloud storage into a bit of rain. Don’t waste your time with this one. <a href=""></a></p> <h4>SugarSync</h4> <p>The free iteration of Sugar-Sync is a little bit buried on the cloud service’s website, but signing up nets you five free gigabytes of storage with no limit to the size of files you can place within your online cloud. Additional storage isn’t cheap: $74 per year for 60GB, $99 for 100GB, $249 for 250GB, or $399 (!) for 500GB.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/sugarsync_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/sugarsync_small.jpg" title="SugarSync" width="400" height="648" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>We appreciate SugarSync’s hybrid approach— synchronization and cloud-only storage.</strong></p> <p>Installing the desktop app slaps a new “SugarSync Drive” into Windows Explorer, with three folders to play with: Magic Briefcase, Mobile Photos, and Web Archive. The first is your general, speedy dumping ground—it took all of seven seconds for SugarSync to upload our 132MB batch of test files. The second is where mobile pictures you take will end up if you enable AutoSync. The third is a cloud-only directory whose contents don’t eat up actual space on your hard drive.</p> <p>SugarSync’s web app holds up to five versions of the files you’ve synchronized into the cloud. Sharing and downloading zipped copies of your folders is super easy; viewing videos or listening to music is not, as SugarSync doesn’t come with a web-based player for your media. All of your files are, however, protected with 256-bit AES encryption within SugarSync itself. <a href=""></a></p> <h4>Ubuntu One</h4> <p>Yes, even the Linux folk have their own cloud service. Technically, you do as well, given that it’s accessible via a downloadable PC app or web-based interface. Developer Canonical grants users 5GB of free storage, with a 5TB limit on the size of individual files you can upload to Ubuntu One. Additional storage costs $29 per year for every 20GB you want to add to your cloud; tapping into the service’s music-steaming companion app tacks a $4 monthly cost onto the bill.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/ubuntu_one_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/ubuntu_one_small.jpg" alt="Sharing files via Ubuntu One is a pain-free process; uploading them, not so much." title="Ubuntu" width="620" height="465" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Sharing files via Ubuntu One is a pain-free process; uploading them, not so much</strong></p> <p>Canonical might want to work on the speeds of Ubuntu One’s desktop app. At about nine minutes into a simple 2.1MB file transfer—yes, that little—we decided to give up, lest our full benchmark test start to rival 24 Hours of Le Mans. What good is a cloud service that takes so long to handle simple file uploads?</p> <p>Selecting new folders to synchronize to the cloud, as well as sharing them, is just a few mouse clicks away within Ubuntu One’s intuitive desktop app. Even if you get your media files uploaded before the next millennium, however, know that Ubuntu One comes with no way to watch movies or listen to music via its web interface. U-bummer.&nbsp; <a href=""></a></p> <h4>Tresorit</h4> <p>Don’t get confused; a “tresor” in Tresorit terminology simply refers to a cloud-synchronized folder. The service’s handy downloadable app helps you create new “tresors” and convert existing folders on your hard drives to “tresors,” which you can then share with others by tossing an email their way via the app itself.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/tresorit_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/tresorit_small.jpg" alt="Unfortunately, only Tresorit users can be granted access to your files, limiting the app’s overall potential." title="Tresorit" width="620" height="441" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Unfortunately, only Tresorit users can be granted access to your files, limiting the app’s overall potential.</strong></p> <p>Unless they also install Tresorit, however, they can’t access what you’ve sent them. Tresorit works decently as a single-user cloud backup system, although it’s a bit on the slow side—it took 4:09 for our test files to transfer over, and the Tresorit app doesn’t give you any status indication at all as to how many files you have left to upload or even the speed at which they’re zooming along.</p> <p>There’s also no web-based version of Tresorit for you to use to tap into your cloud storage. While you get 5GB to play around with, you’re limited by a 1.5GB file size cap and, er, your 5GB total—as we go to press, Tresorit is still working on offering storage expansions for its users. <a href=""></a></p> <h4>Mega</h4> <p>Mega is the Fort Knox of file uploaders, using AES 128-bit encryption alongside 2048-bit RSA keys to maintain the anonymity of files both stored on and shared via the service. (Just don’t lose your password, or you’re stuck.)</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mega_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mega_small.jpg" title="Mega" width="620" height="457" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Even Mega’s sharing aspect is driven by its hyper-awareness toward security; we approve.</strong></p> <p>A free sign-up gets you 50GB of space with absolutely no restrictions on the size of files you’d like to upload to the service. Adding more space costs annual fees—and it’s in Euros: €99 for 500GB, €199 for 2TB, and €299 for a whopping 4TB of storage. Transferring files to fill your massive amounts of space might take a bit of time, however. Mega took 4:02 to upload 132MB. If you want, you can set a speed limit for your uploads to conserve bandwidth, and you can even have Mega skip files in a batch if you’ve previously uploaded them, to save a bit of time.</p> <p>Sharing files is as easy as right-clicking a file or folder, selecting Get Link, and sending along the encrypted link to anyone who needs your files. You can also just send the link sans encrypted key, if you want to post something public and have certain people contact you for the final bit they need to access the file. <a href=""></a></p> <h4 style="font-size: 10px;">iDrive</h4> <p>Though it certainly uses the cloud, iDrive operates more as a backup-and-restore app than a true “cloud synchronization” app like so many of its aforementioned peers—or distant cousins. First, the details: You get 5GB of free storage when you sign up, capped at a maximum file-size limit of 10GB per. Adding more storage costs $49.50 for 150GB, $149.50 for 500GB, and $299.50 for 1TB, per year.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/idrive_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/idrive_small.jpg" alt="iDrive’s “Archive Cleanup” will automatically delete files on your cloud storage when they no longer exist on your hard drive— a beautiful backup feature." title="iDrive" width="620" height="407" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>iDrive’s “Archive Cleanup” will automatically delete files on your cloud storage when they no longer exist on your hard drive— a beautiful backup feature.</strong></p> <p>Selecting files and folders to back up to your iDrive can be a bit cumbersome via the desktop app, and sending files to cyberspace isn’t the speediest of routines. We clocked a total transfer time of 2:48 for our benchmark files; you’ll spend far more than that clicking through iDrive’s interface when deciding what you want to back up.</p> <p>iDrive does allow you to share backed-up files with others using randomized links; you can also access your files via iDrive’s web app and listen to your music, although there's no provision for watching videos. We like how you can remotely log into your iDrive on a PC via the web to change your to-be-backed-up folders. It’s as convenient as iDrive’s built-in AES 256-bit encryption is stress-<br />reducing when it comes to keeping your data secure.&nbsp;<a href=""></a></p> <h4>Google Drive</h4> <p>Egg on the face. Here we were, so busy trying to find other cloud-storage services, that we neglected to take a look at the one we use on a not-so-infrequent basis. Here's a quick overview: Google Drive gives you 15GB of free storage space for, well, just about everything. It synchronizes excellently with Google's other products -- a must-have if you want to share huge files via Gmail, for example. Maximum file sizes top out at 10GB, and that which you upload can be easily shared with others via links or direct invites. A handy little app lets you access your cloud storage right from File Explorer itself -- convenient!</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="" alt="Google Drive" title="Google Drive" width="620" height="254" /></p> <p><em>Click the next page to read our summary and info on how to beef up your cloud storage security.</em></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h4>The Cloud-Storage Standouts: A Summary</h4> <p>As you can see, cloud storage apps tend to pick and choose from a wide assortment of potential features and, unfortunately, a wide range of speeds. It’s hard to find a perfect diamond, but we were most pleased by the luster of one cloud app in particular: Bitcasa. It’s fast, encrypted, offers more storage than most services for the low, low cost of nothing, and gives you access to an unlimited total capacity for a price that would net you considerably less on other cloud services.</p> <p>If you care more about security than speed, Mega’s your ticket. You don’t get a downloadable app with which to synchronize to its servers, but you do get a ton of storage with an almost obsessive focus on security and encryption through all stages of the uploading (and sharing) process. Even Mega’s owners seem quite confident of the service’s capabilities, offering up cash rewards (up to €10,000!) for anyone who can expose vulnerabilities that might otherwise open up a user’s files to pilfering.</p> <p>Though we weren’t keen on Box as a general cloud service, we have to tip our hat to its functionality as an office-themed cloud app. It’s not the place where we’d want to stash our critical files, movies, music, or any of that, but the service’s tie-ins to&nbsp;</p> <p>Office apps (or Google Docs!) alongside its role-based sharing capabilities make Box an ideal choice for those looking for a cloud service geared toward business-based storage and collaboration.</p> <p><span style="font-size: 1.17em;">Encrypt Thyself: Beef Up Your File Security With Boxcryptor</span></p> <p>Sure, a number of cloud-storage providers offer powerful encryption on their end—designed to give you a little peace of mind by preventing the very providers hosting your files from knowing their exact contents. But is that really the case? Dropbox, for example, says it offers 256-bit encryption, but it’s highly unlikely the service encrypts your files locally before passing on the indeterminate 0s and 1s to its servers.</p> <p>In other words, what good is encryption if a cloud storage provider knows the key? That’s where a free app like Boxcryptor (<a href=""></a>) comes into play. Install the app and set a password—and make sure you don’t forget it because, if you do, you’ll have no way to decrypt the files you encrypt.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/boxcryptor_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/boxcryptor_small.jpg" alt="Boxcryptor lets you know that your files and folders are encrypted by displaying their names in a lovely shade of green." title="Boxcryptor" width="620" height="371" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Boxcryptor lets you know that your files and folders are encrypted by displaying their names in a lovely shade of green.</strong></p> <p>Like most cloud-storage apps, Boxcryptor creates a new drive letter within Windows Explorer. Only, instead of listing your files and folders, the Boxcryptor volume lists the various other cloud service apps you have installed on your system—like Dropbox, for example.</p> <p>Stick with us.</p> <p>When you go to view these “services” within the Boxcryptor volume, you’ll be staring at the standard synchronized folder you’re used to looking at. Only, now, you can use Boxcryptor to encrypt files you’ve already synchronized—or, one step better, create a new encrypted folder whose contents is automatically encrypted by the app prior to being synchronized with whatever cloud provider you prefer.</p> <p>Why do we like this method better than, say, TrueCrypt? It’s more seamless and “drag-and-droppable,” unlike TrueCrypt, which requires you to unmount your entire encrypted volume for the synchronization process to occur—which can get a bit annoying.</p> <h4>Wuala</h4> <p>LaCie is big on security, offering up AES 256-bit encryption for any file you store on its Wuala cloud service (and going to great lengths to let you know that, no, they aren’t peeking at your files). You get 5GB free to start with on Wuala, and an individual file-size limit of 40GB. More storage starts at $39 yearly for 20GB and caps out at a mighty 2TB for an annual fee of a mere $1,999.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/wuala_small_0.png"><img src="/files/u152332/wuala_small.png" alt="Wuala allows you to fine-tune your file sharing, so long as your friends are also Wuala users." title="Wuala" width="620" height="414" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Wuala allows you to fine-tune your file sharing, so long as your friends are also Wuala users.</strong></p> <p>Like Tresorit, there’s no web-based Wuala interface for you to use (save for when you’re sharing files or folders with others via the app’s cleverly named “Secret Web-links”). You can synchronize your files to the cloud simply by dragging-and-dropping them in the new W: share drive that the app creates. And Wuala’s speedy, too: It took the app just 26 seconds to sync up our 132MB benchmark files.</p> <p>If you don’t feel like dragging-and-dropping, you can also have Wuala synchronize the contents of folders on your hard drives to new folders within Wuala. Popping offline still allows you access to files you’ve recently downloaded, but it’s possible you won’t be able to access your entire cloud setup. <a href=""></a></p> <h4>Combine Your Cloud Storage</h4> <p>So, you want to go the free route. As in, you want to sign up for as many different cloud storage providers as you can get your hands on and find some magical way to mash them together into a single, unified chunk of storage.</p> <p>The messy way of doing this involves installing each service’s desktop app and mentally assigning each to a particular subset of your files—perhaps Dropbox for your MP3s, Bitcasa for your movies, and Box for your documents, etc. It’s not pretty, but it’s certainly one way to beat the cloud-storage game without having to pony up a single penny.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/jolidrive1_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/jolidrive1_small.jpg" alt="Jolidrive presents a no-fuss method for combining your cloud storage providers, but you can’t really do all that much with your data once combined." title="Jolidrive" width="620" height="482" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Jolidrive presents a no-fuss method for combining your cloud storage providers, but you can’t really do all that much with your data once combined.</strong></p> <p>Let’s get fancier.</p> <p>There’s a web-based app called Jolidrive (<a href=""></a>) that allows you to access a number of different cloud services via one convenient portal. The best part of the equation is Jolidrive’s cost: absolutely free.</p> <p>Once you’ve signed up for the app, you’re presented with a screen that allows you to combine your cloud storage accounts with your master Jolidrive account. Supported cloud storage services include a number of those mentioned in this article—Box, Dropbox, MediaFire, OneDrive, SugarSync, and Ubuntu One (to name a few).</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/cloudkafe1_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/cloudkafe1_small.jpg" alt="CloudKafé’s interface is a bit more Windows 8 Metro than Windows 7 Explorer, which may or may not be to your file-browsing liking." title="CloudKafé’s " width="620" height="387" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>CloudKafé’s interface is a bit more Windows 8 Metro than Windows 7 Explorer, which may or may not be to your file-browsing liking.</strong></p> <p>The one bummer? Jolidrive is akin to read-only access: You can’t move files around your various cloud services, nor can you even use Jolidrive to upload files—downloading and streaming only.</p> <p>You’ll find that this is the one unfortunate caveat of a number of similar, free services. CloudKafé (<a href=""></a> is another web-based, mash-everything-together cloud-storage organizer—one with a user interface that bests Jolidrive in some aspects. It allows you to share items from your various cloud services by dropping them into a CloudKafé “basket,” which you can then allow others to access by emailing them a link via CloudKafé itself.</p> <p>The paid-for web app Otxio (<a href=""></a>) does allow you to copy-and-paste files between connected cloud service providers, but it’ll set you back a one-time fee of $39.99 for doing so. And note that we said “copy-and-paste,” not move—the latter being the more desirable way to interact with one’s individual cloud services.</p> <p>We love Otxio’s interface and feature-set, in that the app allows you to perform all the basic functionality (downloads, deletions, sharing, and uploads) that you’d otherwise expect to find in your individual cloud services. Like CloudKafé, you can create individual “spaces” of files—groupings of data that can be populated with any of your files from your individual cloud services—which you can then share with others.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/otixo_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/otixo_small.jpg" alt="Otxio packs some powerful functionality into its cloud-storage combining, but don’t expect a free pass." title="Otxio " width="620" height="448" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Otxio packs some powerful functionality into its cloud-storage combining, but don’t expect a free pass.</strong></p> <p>That said, Otxio isn’t perfect; its file-uploading feature only allows you to stick one file at a time (no folders) into a particular cloud service. What we wouldn’t give for a batch uploading feature (or, at least, the ability to upload full folders). Still, it’s a small price to pay to be able to ride on the free coattails of the web’s more popular cloud storage providers.</p> 2013 amazon best cloud storage bitcasa dropbox google drive icloud online Sky drive skydrive Wuala Office Applications Software November 2013 Features Tue, 04 Mar 2014 00:46:14 +0000 David Murphy 27046 at The Beginner's Crash Course on Computer Programming <!--paging_filter--><h3>Computer Programming: Every PC user should know how to program, and there’s never been a better time to learn</h3> <p>With the huge variety of computing devices all around us, it’s important to remember what it is that’s special about a full-fledged personal computer. We think the main difference can be summed up in one word: mastery. No matter how much time you spend with an iPad or an Android phone or in a web browser, you can never truly master it. There’s just not enough there to learn. But the PC? That’s different. The PC goes deep.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/161721488_small_2.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/161721488_small_1.jpg" width="620" height="469" /></a></p> <p>As you develop your mastery over the PC, you move past all sorts of boundaries. First, you learn to replace the software that came on the computer. You discover the command prompt and how to tweak the OS. You learn to build your own PC, and to benchmark it. And then, at the very bottom of it all, there’s one last boundary standing between you and true PC mastery. You have to learn <strong>computer programming</strong>.</p> <p>Why is coding the ultimate test of PC mastery? Because learning how to program is the thing that breaks down the wall between you and your computer—it makes it possible for you to truly understand what’s going on underneath your desktop.</p> <p>And, all philosophical ramblings aside, it’s a pretty great skill to have. Whether you need to automate a process on your computer or whip up a quick web app for a family member’s website, knowing how to code is a big boon. Who knows, you might even be able to earn some money.</p> <p>Learning to program isn’t something you can do in an hour, or even in an afternoon. You have to learn to think in a whole new way, which takes dedication and patience. Fortunately, it can also be a lot of fun. In this article, we’re going to take a whirlwind tour through some of the most important concepts in computer programming, and we’ll direct you to resources that’ll help you start your adventures in coding.</p> <h3>Basic Information</h3> <p><strong>A Q&amp;A on the ABCs of programming</strong></p> <p>Before we can do anything, we’ve got to cover the basics. Here’s what you have to know before you can get started.</p> <h4>When we say computer “programming,” what does that really mean?</h4> <p>For this article, we’re going to use a fairly narrow definition of programming, and say that what we’re talking about is the process of creating software on a computer. That process involves writing out a series of commands for the computer to execute, which will create our desired behavior. We write those commands using a programming language.</p> <h4>What’s a programming language?</h4> <p>A programming language is the set of rules that define how we express what the computer should do when it executes the program. There’s an incredible variety of programming languages available for use, but the vast majority of commercial and personal software is written in one of a core group of languages including C/C++, Java, C#, Python, and a few others. Modern programming languages share a lot of the same basic concepts and some syntax, so learning your second, third, or fourth programming language is much easier than learning your first.</p> <h4>What makes one programming language different from another?</h4> <p>Each programming language has its own strengths and weaknesses. C and C++ are low-level languages, meaning that code written in C is closer to the machine code that your CPU understands (see below). Low-level languages can produce faster, more efficient software, so they’re used where performance is at a premium—for programming an operating system or a 3D gaming engine, for instance. High-level languages, like Java and Python, have the advantage of being much easier to program in, and the same program can generally be written with fewer lines of code in a high-level language.</p> <h4>But which one’s the best?</h4> <p>There’s no one best language—it really depends on what kind of programming you want to do. If you want to program native Windows applications, you’ll use C#; if you want to program sophisticated web applications, Ruby would be a good choice; if you want to be the next John Carmack, you should probably start with C.</p> <h4>No, for real, which language should I start with?</h4> <p>The secret is to not stress too much about whichever particular language you start with. The important things you will be learning are all basic concepts that work pretty much the same in every programming language. You’ll learn how to use data structures and conditionals and loops to manage how your code flows. You’ll learn to structure your program in a way that’s readable and organized. Once you’ve done all that, learning a bit of syntax to pick up a new language won’t seem like much work at all.</p> <p>But, if you really want a suggestion, start with JavaScript. It’s an easy language to learn, it’s got some practical applications, and its syntax is similar enough to some more-powerful languages like C# and Java that making the transition later on won’t be too hard.</p> <h4>Is HTML a programming language?</h4> <p>Not quite! HTML is a markup language, used to define the contents of a webpage. Although HTML has a specific syntax (a set of rules defining how you have to write things), it doesn’t have semantics, or meaning. An HTML document is rendered, rather than executed. That said, if you have written an HTML document, you at least have experience writing a formalized computer language, which may make the jump to programming easier.</p> <h4>What’s an IDE?</h4> <p>An IDE (short for integrated development environment) is the software suite programmers use to actually write programs. They generally include a specialized text editor for writing the source code, as well as the ability to test and debug your program. Two of the most popular IDEs are Eclipse (open source, free, and available at <a href=""></a>) and Microsoft Visual Studio (proprietary and expensive, but with a free “Express” version that’s limited to and excels at programming in C, C#, and BASIC).</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/ide_screenshot_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/ide_screenshot_small.jpg" alt="Visual Studio is one of the most advanced IDEs around, and is used by nearly all Windows programmers." title="IDE" width="620" height="375" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Visual Studio is one of the most advanced IDEs around, and is used by nearly all Windows programmers.</strong></p> <h4>How can I start writing a program, Like, right now?</h4> <p>Unfortunately, it can be a bit of a hassle to get started coding in most programming languages. You generally have to install and configure an SDK (software developer kit), and sometimes an IDE as well, in order to be able to write and compile code in a new language. It’s rarely super hard, but be prepared to spend 15–30 minutes Googling, reading a guide for your chosen language, and setting things up.</p> <p>Fortunately, JavaScript is much easier to get started with. In fact, you can start writing code right this second, using an in-browser coding environment like <a title="" href="" target="_blank"></a>. An in-browser IDE isn’t a good solution for serious programming projects, but it’s a great way to get started as a beginner. To start writing JavaScript in an interactive environment with structured lessons, you can visit <a href=""></a> (but more on that later).</p> <p><em>Click the next page to learn about how it all works.</em></p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3>How Does It Actually Work?</h3> <p>When you write a program in a high-level language like Java-Script, the document you create isn’t something that your computer’s low-level hardware can understand. The CPU has only a limited number of instructions it can perform, such as addition, subtraction, and moving numbers into and out of memory. These instructions are actually physically implemented in the CPU using transistors organized into logic gates. Though modern instruction sets, such as the X86-64 set implemented in any consumer 64-bit CPU, are actually very large and sophisticated, programming for the CPU directly (using a super-low-level language called assembly language) is an arduous, slow process.</p> <p>High-level languages allow you forgo a lot of the technical grunt work. For instance, in a high-level language, you can simply declare and use variables as you please, without ever worrying about what exactly is going on in your system’s memory. In assembly language, you have to manually assign data to locations in memory as you use it, and clear up the memory when you’re done.</p> <p>In order to get your high-level program to run on the CPU, you need a compiler—a piece of software that optimizes your code and converts it into a machine-readable executable file. Some languages, such as Java, are not compiled, but rather interpreted, which means that the source code itself is distributed, and then compiled on the end user’s machine. The upside of an interpreted language is that you can distribute a single file that can be run on Windows, OSX, or Linux. The downside is that whoever runs the file has to have a copy of the interpreter on their machine—an annoyance that anyone who’s tried to run a Java-Script applet on a new computer will be familiar with.</p> <h3>Core Concepts</h3> <p><strong>Understand these, and you’ve got everything you need to start writing programs in any language</strong></p> <h4>Variables</h4> <p>Variables in programming are a little different from the “X”s you remember from high school algebra. In programming, a variable is like an empty container—it can hold a number, a word, or any other data or data structure you want to use in your program. The program can read and change the variable’s value as it runs, letting you keep track of and manipulate data.</p> <p>Variables are the basic building block of a program, and most lines of code in any program will include a variable in some form.</p> <p>In some languages, such as Python, a single variable can contain one type of data (say, a number), then can be assigned to hold a different type of data (like a word). In other languages, such as C and C#, a variable is declared, with a particular type, and then can only hold that type of data for the rest of the program. This is the distinction between dynamically typed and statically typed programming languages.</p> <h4>Conditionals</h4> <p>Most programs do not run in a vacuum—they accept some form of user input. To deal with the uncertainty that this brings, we need to be able to write code that is flexible, and to do that, we need conditionals.</p> <p>Conditionals are places where the code branches. In most modern languages, they take the form of an if statement, which joins an expression that is either true or false (called a Boolean expression) and a block of code. The if statement says, in a nutshell, “If this Boolean expression is true, execute the following code. Otherwise, skip it.”</p> <p>In most languages, if statements can also include an else clause, which allows you to specify a second block of code that will only be executed when the Boolean expression is false. For example, under the "Sample Code" section below, the 99BottlesOfBeer function includes an if statement that checks to see if the “age” variable is greater than or equal to 21, and sets a different variable called “drink” to an age-appropriate libation.</p> <h4>Loops</h4> <p>Another way you can control the order in which code is executed is with a loop. Where an if statement allows you to execute or not execute a certain block of code, a loop allows you to keep executing the same block of code multiple times.</p> <p>There are several different types of loops, but the two that you’ll find in almost any programming language are the while loop and the for loop.</p> <p>A while loop works a lot like an if statement. You attach a Boolean (true or false) statement to the while loop, and as long as that statement is true, the loop keeps repeating. Basically it says “as long as this statement is true, keep going.” As a consequence, something inside the looping code has to make a change that could cause the Boolean statement to become false, or else the loop will never end.</p> <p>For example, the following code will print out the word “hello” 10 times, then stop:<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; while(x &lt; 10) {<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; x = x + 1;<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; print(“hello”);<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; }</p> <p>Notice that we used the variable x as a loop counter, to control the number of times the loop runs. The other most common type of loop, the for loop, is basically just a while loop with a built-in loop counter. You tell the loop right away how many times you want it to run, like this:<br />for(int x; x &lt; 10; x = x + 1) {<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; print(“hello”);<br />}</p> <p>The part after “for” just defines a counter. It says “start with a number (integer) we’ll call x, and keep looping as long as x is less than 10. At the end of every loop, increment x by one.”</p> <h4>Functions</h4> <p>The most powerful way to control the flow of a program is with functions, which allow you to reuse code. Also called a subroutine, a function is a block of code that you’ve given a name to, so you can reuse it any time you want.</p> <p>For example, you could define a function called PrintHelloThenGoodbye by doing the following:<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; void PrintHelloThenGoodbye() <br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; {<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; print(“hello”);<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; print(“goodbye”);<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; }</p> <p>Then, if you called that function three times in your code, as follows:<br />PrintHelloThenGoodbye();<br />PrintHelloThenGoodBye();<br />PrintHelloThenGoodbye();</p> <p>Your program would output “hello goodbye hello goodbye hello goodbye.”</p> <p>A function can also take variables as inputs, and <br />return an output value. So, for instance, you could write a function that takes a number as an input, and returns that number squared. It would like look like this:<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; int Square(int toSquare) <br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; {<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; return toSquare * toSquare;</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; }</p> <p>Notice the “return” keyword. That passes the following value back to whatever part of the code called the function. So, if somewhere else in the code we called the function like this:<br />print(Square(5));</p> <p>The program would print out the number 25.</p> <h4>Syntax</h4> <p>Maybe the most intimidating thing about programming is the syntax—the strange punctuation marks and cryptic words that make a page of code look like a foreign language. Fortunately, in most programming languages, syntax is really only a couple of rules that you have to remember, and a lot of syntax is shared between languages.</p> <p>It’s all dependent on what language you’re programming in, but here are a couple of syntactical elements that are common across many popular languages:</p> <p>Semicolon The semicolon is like the coding equivalent of a period—each line of code ends with one. It’s important, because in many languages, line breaks are just for readability, and don’t have any effect on the execution of the code.</p> <p>Parentheses Parentheses are used after functions (see above) to contain that function’s parameters (or inputs). You might remember this usage from your high school math classes, when f(x) was a function that operated on the variable x.</p> <p>Curly braces In a number of languages (particularly those derived from C), curly braces “{}” are used to enclose and group blocks of code. They’re used, for instance, after the control structures described here (if statements, loops, and functions), to designate the block of code that the statement refers to.</p> <p>Indentation Because all of the control structures can be nested inside each other, code tends to take on a sort of hierarchy. A particular line of code might be inside an if statement, which is inside another if statement, which is inside a loop that’s inside a function. All that can get hard to keep track of! To make it easier, code is written with variable levels of indentation. The more indented a line of code is, the more deeply nested it is. In most languages, indentation is purely for readability, but in a few (like Python), it actually controls the grouping of code, and is used instead of curly braces.</p> <h3>Sample Code</h3> <p>This oh-so-practical program prints out an age-appropriate version of the song "99 Bottles of Beer."</p> <p>function 99BottlesOfBeer(int age) {</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; var bottlesLeft = 99;<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; var drink;</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; if (age &gt;= 21) {<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; drink = "beer";<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; } else {<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; drink = "coke";<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; }&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; while (bottlesLeft &gt; 0)<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; {<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; print (bottlesLeft + " bottles of "&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; + drink + " on the wall");<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; bottlesLeft = bottlesLeft - 1;<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; }<br />}</p> <p><em>Click the next page to learn how you can take action with computer programming!</em></p> <h3> <hr />Advanced Course: Object-Oriented Programming</h3> <p><strong>Taking a look at the bigger picture</strong></p> <p>Using only the tools we’ve discussed so far, you can write functions that manipulate variables in all sorts of ways—the foundation of pretty much any program you want to write. Unfortunately, as the complexity of a program increases, it becomes difficult to maintain code that’s organized and easy to understand using only those concepts. As an example, if you were writing code for a bank to keep track of its customers’ accounts, you would quickly end up with hundreds of functions and thousands of variables. It would become very difficult to understand what was going on in the code at any particular place, and more generally how the whole thing works.</p> <p>That’s what object-oriented programming (OOP) is for. OOP is a paradigm that allows you to group variables and functions together into classes, which are (usually) meant to model things or particular concepts. For instance, in the bank example, we might start by creating a class called “Account,” which simulates a user account. Classes are made up of variables and functions (called methods when they’re part of a class), so we start by figuring out what data (variables) and capabilities (methods) an account needs to have. For variables, we might use account number, the account holder’s name, and the balance. For methods, we would want the ability to deposit money, which would increase the balance variable, and withdraw money, which would decrease it.</p> <p>Once you’ve defined a class, you have to instantiate it for every object you’re modeling. So in the bank example, we would create a new instance of the account class for every customer of the bank—that way every person can have his or her own account number and balance.</p> <p>It all sounds very complicated until you get to play around with it yourself, but the basic idea of OOP is that we set up a system of tens, hundreds, or thousands of objects that can cooperate with each other to produce the effect that we want.</p> <p>Object-oriented programming is not the only programming paradigm in use, but it is the most common. Understanding the core concepts of classes, objects, and methods is the last hurdle to programming in languages like Java, C#, and Python.</p> <h3>Educate Yourself</h3> <p><strong>Learn to code at your own pace with these great online resources</strong></p> <p>We've talked a bit about semantics, syntax, and structure, the three things you need to write code. If you were able to follow along, you already know enough to start writing simple programs, and you can pick up the rest as you go. If it still seems a little murky, don’t worry—programming is the kind of thing that really only clicks when you try it yourself. Here are some tips for getting your feet wet:</p> <h4>Use CodeAcademy</h4> <p><a title="code academy" href="" target="_blank">CodeAcademy</a> is the best resource there’s ever been for complete beginners to learn coding. It’s a series of interactive tutorials that teach you the fundamentals of programming, one bit at a time. In each lesson, you’ll write actual code that compiles and runs right in your browser, and the lessons build on each other gradually enough that you’ll rarely feel out of your depth.</p> <p>You can learn a number of languages at CodeAcademy, including JavaScript, Python, and Ruby. It won’t teach you everything you need to know to be a professional coder, but it will give you the basic familiarity with the language that you need in order to start learning more complicated concepts.</p> <h4>Use Stack Overflow</h4> <p>Once you’ve gotten started with a language, the programmer Q&amp;A site <a title="" href="" target="_blank"></a> is the best repository for answers about more complicated topics. Don’t start asking questions right away (someone has almost certainly asked about anything you’re running up against), just use the search function to find answers related to any problems you have.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/stackoverflow_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/stackoverflow_small.jpg" alt="It's not the most newbie-friendly site on the web, but Stack Overflow is an unparalleled resource for programmers." title="Stackoverflow" width="620" height="431" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>It's not the most newbie-friendly site on the web, but Stack Overflow is an unparalleled resource for programmers.</strong></p> <h4>Use Google</h4> <p>Of course, Google is great for solving almost any sort of problem, but it’s especially good for issues related to programming. Maybe it’s because the people who tweak the Google search engine are programmers themselves, but Google is excellent at picking out relevant pages from various programming languages' documentation.</p> <p>Ultimately, the key to learning to program is to not let yourself get overwhelmed. Hopefully, the concepts we’ve covered in this article have been enough to pique your interest, but don’t worry if it’s still a little confusing. Take your time, make use of the online resources available to you, and you’ll have conquered the final frontier of PC power-use before you know it.</p> <h3>Next Steps</h3> <p><strong>Two ways you can get started making something cool</strong></p> <h4>Unity</h4> <p>If you don’t pay much attention to the game-development scene, you might never have heard of Unity, the game engine that’s quietly revolutionizing indie development. What’s so good about it? Two things: First, Unity is a flexible and powerful engine for making 3D and 2D games. Unity takes care of all the low-end graphics and physics processing, so you can focus your coding energies on the high-end gameplay decisions. You can code in Java-Script or C# in Unity, and it can automatically build your game for you on almost any platform, from the PC to the PlayStation to the iPhone.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/unity_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/unity_small.jpg" alt="The free Unity game engine combines a drag-and-drop 3D interface with JavaScript and C# scripting." title="Free Unity" width="620" height="417" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The free Unity game engine combines a drag-and-drop 3D interface with JavaScript and C# scripting.</strong></p> <p>Second, and perhaps more amazingly, Unity is available to everyone for free. Where previously a high-quality game engine would have to be licensed for tens of thousands of dollars, Unity lets you code professional-quality games for free. There are a few features that you have to pay for, but the free versions should still have all the tools you need.</p> <p>To get started with Unity, visit <a href=""></a> and download the free IDE. There are plenty of great resources for learning to use Unity online, and the IDE comes with an extensive sample project and tutorial.</p> <h4>Arduino</h4> <p>If physical projects are more your thing, you can write programs that control devices in the real world, using a microcontroller like Arduino or Raspberry Pi. These microcontrollers feature small, inexpensive processors and can be programmed from your computer. By wiring the microcontroller to electronics including motors, sensors, and lights, you can build anything, from a robot to a sous vide machine</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/arduino_uno_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/arduino_uno_small.jpg" alt="An Arduino board features a microcontroller chip, along with input and output ports to hook it into any project." title="Arduino" width="620" height="428" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>An Arduino board features a microcontroller chip, along with input and output ports to hook it into any project.</strong></p> <p>Arduino in particular has an excellent collection of documentation and tutorials. You can find a basic Arduino UNO board at,, or for as little as $25-$30, and you can download the IDE (which comes with a whole load of sample scripts) at <a href=""></a>. The IDE uses the C programming language, which is more difficult than JavaScript, but the documentation is good and the actual programming required for Arduino projects tends to be very straightforward.</p> <p>So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and start making something!</p> 2013 C# C/C++ code computer programming how to program Java maximum pc programming languages Python October 2013 Software News Features How-Tos Thu, 27 Feb 2014 00:19:54 +0000 Alex Castle 26849 at Windows 8 vs. Windows 8.1 <!--paging_filter--><h3>Windows 8 vs. Windows 8.1</h3> <p>You are your own worst enemy, indeed. In this month’s matchup, we pit Windows 8.1 against its predecessor, Windows 8, in not so much an outright battle, but a comparison of some of the more notable tweaks that Microsoft has slapped into its first refresh of the controversial operating system. Just make sure you tell your system to stop hitting itself, OK?</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/win_8_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/win_8_small.jpg" alt="Do you like clutter? Then you must be loving Windows 8 right about now; the Start Screen can be a power user’s worst enemy." title="Windows 8" width="620" height="387" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Do you like clutter? Then you must be loving Windows 8 right about now; the Start Screen can be a power user’s worst enemy.</strong></p> <h4>ROUND 1: Start Menu</h4> <p>We’ll begrudgingly give Windows 8.1 the win here, but that’s not to say we agree with the way Microsoft went about changing Windows 8’s access to applications. The now-included Start button within Windows 8.1’s desktop mode is hardly a Start button in the normal, Windows 7-or-older sense of the phrase. Rather, it takes one back to the standard ol’ Start Screen much as if you accidentally poked the Windows key on your keyboard. No fair.</p> <p>We do, however, appreciate some of the subtle modifications made to this Start Screen. It includes a more direct shortcut to one’s (newly filter-friendly) All Apps menu, as well as a more strict interpretation of just what gets dumped onto your Start Screen when you install an app. With Windows 8, slapping the Combined Community Codec Pack, for instance, littered our Start Screen with shortcuts. On Windows 8.1, zilch; you only get the tile dump if you go All Apps.</p> <p><strong>Winner: Windows 8.1</strong></p> <h4>ROUND 2: User Customization</h4> <p>Windows 8.1 takes the cake in this category, if for nothing else than its newfound ability to allow users to boot directly to the desktop upon Windows’ startup. However, Microsoft has also kicked up Windows 8’s Snap View feature in this update, freeing you from the confines of only being able to view two apps at once within Modern.<strong></strong></p> <p>We also like that you can now have Windows 8.1 jump to the Start Screen or the Apps view when you tap the Start button. It’s a simple tweak that gives power users access to everything if they want it, and users who prefer a more simplified Start Screen far less of a headache.</p> <p>Those looking to build a little more unity between their desktop and Start Screen can now elect to use a matching background for both. The OS also comes with a host of new options for background patterns and images.</p> <p><strong>Winner: Windows 8.1</strong></p> <h4>ROUND 3: App Store</h4> <p>It ain’t perfect by any means—sorry, Windows users: Google and Apple beat your built-in offering by a country mile—but we do appreciate the improvements found within Windows 8.1’s official app store. You’re still stuck with horizontal scrolling, unfortunately, but at least Microsoft is attempting to make it a little easier for users to find apps they might want to install and play with.<strong></strong></p> <p>Case in point: The store now features a lovely “Trending” section right on its front page that should, ideally, show you which apps users find most interesting. The same goes for its brand-new (and aptly titled) “New &amp; Rising” section, as well as the easily accessible lists of Top Paid and Top Free apps.</p> <p>We also find ourselves loving the integration of the right-click App Bar that pulls up easily accessible (or finger-tap-able) categories of apps in addition to a list of that which you’ve already installed. That said, this is still a fairly lame-o app store.</p> <p><strong>Winner: Windows 8.1</strong></p> <h4>ROUND 4: Search</h4> <p>We’re torn. What should real search functionality be within an operating system? Just something that searches for files and data throughout your hard drives? A hybridized, Windows 8–like approach that allows you to search for specific apps, search within settings on your desktop, and even search within the apps themselves?</p> <p>Microsoft seems to still be unsure what you should receive when you start typing random letters on Windows 8.1’s Start Screen. In Windows 8.1, search now integrates a Bing-based web search for whatever it is you’re typing on the Start Screen in addition to a search of anything on your system. That’s the default “Everything” view, which you can isolate to Settings, Files, Web Images, and Videos via a provided filter.</p> <p>If you’re looking to search within apps—like, say, your email—you have to pull up the app itself to do so. We shrug.</p> <p><strong>Winner: Tie</strong></p> <h4>ROUND 5: SkyDrive</h4> <p>Windows 8.1 packs a ton of additional SkyDrive functionality into the operating system by default, making it more of a useful companion than a semi-hidden afterthought.</p> <p>Take, for example, the simple fact that you can now see exactly how much SkyDrive storage you’re using (and have remaining) within the new SkyDrive settings menu in Modern’s PC Settings area. (And, of course, you can also quickly purchase more.)</p> <p>Flip on SkyDrive, and you’ll also be given the option to save your documents to the cloud by default instead of your local hard drive—a pleasant little way to ensure you’re always cloud-connected. Windows 8.1 comes with additional settings that you can back up or synchronize to the cloud, and SkyDrive now integrates wonderfully within File Explorer itself. Simply put, you can access your SkyDrive files (if online) without having to synchronize them, and you can select files or folders to “Make Offline” as you see fit.</p> <p><strong>Winner: Windows 8.1</strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/win8.1_small_0.png"><img src="/files/u152332/win8.1_small.png" alt="Windows 8.1 gives you a flood of tiles, but only if you want it; otherwise, your Start Screen is far less headache-inducing after you’ve installed a few apps." title="Windows 8.1" width="620" height="342" /></a></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Windows 8.1 gives you a flood of tiles, but only if you want it; otherwise, your Start Screen is far less headache-inducing after you’ve installed a few apps.<br /></strong></p> <h3>And the Winner Is…<strong></strong></h3> <p>We’re not going to lie; it would be a bit silly to think that an update to a major operating system is ultimately worse than the original version of the OS. Then again, take Microsoft’s track record into account—it did take a big service pack to make Windows Vista palatable. While Windows 8.1 wins the day against Windows 8, keep in mind that there are things about the update that might be a bit jarring; you might not even like them. But, hey, there’s always Windows 8.2? <strong><br /></strong></p> 2013 8.1 better feature head to head Holiday issues 2013 improvements upgrade windows 8 worth it? Office Applications Software Features Tue, 25 Feb 2014 08:18:27 +0000 David Murphy 27330 at Foul Play Review <!--paging_filter--><h3>Mash all the buttons</h3> <p>Going for a spin or two in the indie title Foul Play takes us back to our youth. Specifically, a time before we had deep knowledge of fighting-game moves; a time when the fabled art of the button mash often proved successful against our lesser-equipped (grade-school) friends.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/1_small_32.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/1_small_31.jpg" alt="Master the art of the air combo and you’ll be nigh-unstoppable in Foul Play." title="Foul Play" width="620" height="343" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Master the art of the air combo and you’ll be nigh-unstoppable in Foul Play.</strong></p> <p>Foul Play slaps a decently creative premise over a genre classic: This game is a 2D, button-mashing, side-scrolling slugfest, pure and simple. So much so, that we’d almost prefer to play it on a handheld controller instead of our keyboard. While the game does an admirable job of straddling console and PC platforms with minimal frustration, it’s pretty clear it was developed with consoles in mind. A quick, refreshing jaunt through one of the game’s 22 separate “acts” feels like the kind of thing you’d do to relax while waiting for a friend to come over (obviously, to join you in some Foul Play co-op.)</p> <p>The game’s story isn’t all that interesting, we admit: Set in an environment that’s aesthetically reminiscent of Gangs of New York, you’re a demon-hunter, retelling stories of your accomplishments through each of the game’s five plays. That’s right—plays. The intriguing bit of Foul Play is that the entire slugfest is set within the world of theater. You’re not running through caves or climbing mountains, so much as you are acting out your exploits on stage—beating up actors costumed as baddies, throwing enemies through set pieces, and stringing together wicked fighting moves for approval by the ever-present audience that’s watching the carnage unfold from the lower-half (or so) of the game’s screen.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/2_small_20.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/2_small_19.jpg" alt="Foul Play does an excellently cute job of maintaining the game’s “stage show” aspect." title="Foul Play" width="620" height="351" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Foul Play does an excellently cute job of maintaining the game’s “stage show” aspect.</strong></p> <p>In fact, you don’t even have a health bar. In this beat-’em-up, it’s audience approval that dictates whether you “live” or “die,” as it were. Dodge your way around a level and generally act boring, and you’ll start to get booed (and ultimately have to restart your brawling from the last checkpoint); string together a 50-hit combo, and the crowd will throw their hats into the air with approval and your special move meter will start to shine like a Tony award.</p> <p>Foul Play isn’t itself all that challenging; we found ourselves rarely succumbing to any of the game’s fights while rampaging through its three-to-four-hour storyline. What’s challenging, however, are the game’s… well, challenges. Within most of the game’s levels, Foul Play gives you the optional task to accomplish three varying things. One might be something like, “achieve a 75-hit combo,” or “throw three people into one another”—things like that.</p> <p>These challenges are relatively achievable and, honestly, much-needed aspects of the core game given that the endless fighting does start to get a bit lukewarm after a while. However, we wish Foul Play’s combo system was a bit more lenient; we often found ourselves losing our multi-hit combo—and our patience—simply because it took too long to jump to an enemy halfway across the screen. Boo, indeed.</p> <p>Additionally, we wish the main character himself simply had more he could do. We’d much prefer a crazy amount of Arkham City–style combos, move-stringing, and general insanity versus Foul Play’s simplified setup, which made us feel as if we were mashing the same button over, and over, and over—about as fun as it would be to play Street Fighter II and jab all the challengers to death.</p> <p>Foul Play is cute, fun, and quaint, but it needs a shot in the arm to maintain interest until the big eleven o’clock number.</p> <p><strong>$15,</strong> <a href=""></a><strong>, ESRB: E</strong></p> 2013 foul play games Holiday issues 2013 Review Software Games Reviews Mon, 24 Feb 2014 09:11:13 +0000 David Murphy 27323 at Total War: Rome II Review <!--paging_filter--><h3>We hope you have some chores to do between turns</h3> <p>It didn’t take long, but we soon came to a point within our <strong>Total War: Rome II</strong> empire-building where it would have been much nicer to just build a big wall around our smattering of conquered lands, put up a “Go Away” sign or two, and live out the rest of our days in boredom and serenity. After all, the game had already taken us pretty far toward the former.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/3_small_22.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/3_small_21.jpg" alt="While we’re big fans of “starving them out,” you can also employ fun rock-chuckers to encourage enemies to vacate a city." title="Total War: Rome II" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>While we’re big fans of “starving them out,” you can also employ fun rock-chuckers to encourage enemies to vacate a city.</strong></p> <p>It’s a shame, too. We can recall spending (too much) time playing many of the predecessors in the Total War franchise—moving around armies and special units as if we were playing a hybrid of Risk and chess, and jumping into absurdly fun, sprawling battles reminiscent of the opening scene of Gladiator. That’s all still present in Total War: Rome II, but the game itself just isn’t all that compelling.</p> <p>For one thing, it’s huge. Starting off any of the offered campaigns (which is the closest you’ll get to a “story mode” within this strategy title, save for its “prologue” trainer campaign) presents an overwhelming amount of factions and lands for you to deal with. That doesn’t sound so bad at first, given that the game is called Total War and you should really arrive expecting to dance with a number of lesser folk. However, just getting through a simple turn or two is a battle unto itself.</p> <p>We were rocking a fairly beefy system to play this title—even going so far as to install the game on an SSD—and we still found ourselves waiting around 45 seconds or so just to get through the turns of our campaign’s many, many other players. Worse, that was just in our campaign’s early game when not all that much is happening around the map. Best of luck to you if your computer is a little slow on the uptake; you might want to go make a sandwich (or mow the lawn) while the AI does its thing.</p> <p>If you like to turtle—sitting inside your borders and building a lovely little civilization while everything else around you burns—this might not be the title for you. There’s simply not that much to do within the game’s city-building component, save for carefully managing the balance between your provinces’ public order and food. Want to make a building that gives you more food? More unrest! Want to quell the unrest so you can make more food or other buildings that confused us as to their usefulness? Insert random building here!</p> <p>There’s also a growth-rate mechanic that allows you to increase the size of your cities, assuming you’re even allowed to add more buildings—some will be limited to just a few. In other words, Total War: Rome II ain’t Civilization; don’t expect to be able to take every city of yours through some kind of masterwork plan to transform it into the next Rome; expect to do a lot of minutia calculating as to whether your simple upgrades will make or break your faction’s food surplus (or start a decrease in public order). Spoiler: You really don’t want to break your provinces’ careful balance.</p> <p>Unless you have armies on the move, the city/cultural aspects of the game contribute to its boredom, thanks to the aforementioned overabundance-of-factions issue. If you find yourself with a few turns where you’re just taking care of business at home instead of marching around and sticking pointy spears through everybody, you might very well be waiting five minutes for the 20 seconds’ worth of action that you’ve taken. Do this enough, and you’ll turn yourself into a warlord if for no other reason than to give yourself a bit more to do.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u152332/2_small_18.jpg" alt="We’re almost afraid to uncover the entire map, lest it lead to turns that each take five minutes to resolve." title="Total War: Rome II" width="620" height="349" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>We’re almost afraid to uncover the entire map, lest it lead to turns that each take five minutes to resolve.</strong></p> <p>Similar to previous Total War titles, there’s a whole micromanagement aspect behind your faction’s “characters”—your generals, thieves, nobles, and other “special” units. As they grow, you can assign them skills and upgrade their abilities and statistics. You can marry them off, promote them, kill their wives, and even attempt to kill them off, depending on how their growing influence factors into your faction’s politics. If that sounds confusing, if not antithetical, don’t worry; we didn’t have much of a clue what we were doing in this element of the game, nor is it quite clear what you should be doing on the political field (nor is this level of micromanagement all that much fun).</p> <p>We partially blame the game’s “throw you into it” mentality. Admittedly, Total War: Rome II does come with a lovely “prologue” campaign that’s designed to get newbies up to speed on the game’s various parts; we recommend you not skip that, even if you’re a fairly accomplished Total War player (and will no doubt find yourself unchallenged in the campaign’s actual battles). At the end of the day, however, there’s just a lot going on within Total War’s “map mode,” for lack of a better way to phrase it, and it’s not exactly thrilling work.</p> <p>That brings us to the battles.</p> <p>We greatly enjoy the raw, physical fighting of the Total War series, and Total War: Rome II spares no expense in that regard. While the computer still remains fairly out-thinkable, there’s just a delightful joy that comes each time you fire up your cavalry’s special abilities and run them right through enemy archers—and that’s just the beginning.</p> <p>Total War: Rome II ups the ante by throwing naval combat into the mix, and it’s every bit as beautiful as it is tactically interesting (even though we wish there were a way to move one’s troops from land to ships, and vice versa, within the general campaign). You’ll smile with delight the first time you zoom in to watch your troops leaping over from your ship to an enemy vessel; disembarking a huge chunk of whoop-ass in front of a garrisoned city within a battle is even more glee-inducing.</p> <p>However, Total War: Rome II’s prettiness comes with a price. We didn’t quite expect to see frame-rate issues, thanks to our system’s Nvidia GTX Titan card, but our battles definitely got choppy when we cranked the game to its highest graphical settings. The developer has since patched the game, but after our deadline had passed. Bummer.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/1_small_29.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/1_small_28.jpg" alt="It’s no Saving Private Ryan, but sailing toward a garrisoned city (full of painful archers) does feel a bit awe-inspiring." title="Total War: Rome II" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>It’s no Saving Private Ryan, but sailing toward a garrisoned city (full of painful archers) does feel a bit awe-inspiring.</strong></p> <p>Total War: Rome II puts us in the precarious position to say that the game’s a half-success: The rock ’em, sock ’em battles are fun and engaging (albeit imperfect), but the game’s larger strategy elements make us want to retreat back to the pleasantry of Civilization V. Unless you want to throw down every turn you get (which you might very well do, should you opt to enslave your beaten foes), Total War: Rome II is a tough, strategic slog to get through.</p> <p><strong>$60,</strong> <a href=""></a><strong>, ESRB: T</strong></p> 2013 december issues 2013 games maximum pc Review rome II total war Software Games December 2013 Reviews Mon, 10 Feb 2014 11:08:25 +0000 David Murphy 27227 at The Ultimate USB Thumb Drive Toolkit <!--paging_filter--><h3><img src="/files/u154082/usb_thumb_drive.jpg" alt="usb thumb drives" title="usb thumb drives" width="250" height="173" style="float: right; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" />Five ways to put your collection of neglected USB thumb drives to good use</h3> <p>Although they were once considered expensive luxuries to most users, <strong>USB thumb drives</strong> have become nearly as ubiquitous as the now defunct floppy disk. Thumb drives of all shapes and sizes are currently sold at corner drug stores, freely disseminated at trade shows, and even given out as digital business cards. Thumb drives are so commonplace now that it’s not unusual for PC users to have amassed huge collections of drives that, for the most part, do little else but sit around collecting dust. We speak from experience.</p> <p>Though some of the drives you’ll have lying around are likely to be small in terms of their usable capacity, that doesn’t mean they’re useless. Even thumb drives with capacities of only a few megabytes can still come in handy for creating things like bootable DOS disks, which can be used to flash the BIOS on an older motherboard or graphics card, or even bootable disks with a full-blown HTPC operating system.</p> <p>We’re going to cover a number of handy projects in this article that’ll help put those neglected thumb drives to good use. Before we continue, though, a word of caution: All of these projects will destroy the data stored on the drives. If there’s anything important on them, back it up before attempting any of the projects listed here. You’ll be happy you did—trust us on this one.</p> <h4>Create a Custom Windows Install Disk</h4> <p><strong>Speed up and minimize the hassle of installing Windows</strong></p> <p>Many of us have installed Windows more times than we can count. Whether it’s for building or testing a new system or repairing an older rig, installing Windows can be a regular occurrence. With more recent versions of Windows, the installation process has become more streamlined, but it can still be a chore, especially if you’re using optical media and have to manage multiple discs and product keys for all of the different versions that are available. Thankfully, there’s a faster and easier way to do it using a USB thumb drive.</p> <p>There are a number of ways to create and customize a Windows installation disk. We’re going to outline one of the easiest methods here using Microsoft’s own Windows 7 USB/DVD download tool (the same process works with Windows 8, too) and a bit of simple file editing. When done, you’ll have yourself a customized Windows installation disk that can install any edition of Windows—like Home Premium and Ultimate or Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro—and it won’t require a product key during the installation process. There are much more involved methods for customizing a Windows installation disk, which can also give users the ability the incorporate applications and drivers and even pre-configure many settings, but for most enthusiasts, the method we’ll outline here should still come in quite handy.</p> <h4>Gather Your Materials</h4> <p>Before you begin, you’ll need to have a USB thumb drive with a capacity of at least 4GB (larger is better if you want to store other files on the drive), ISO files for Windows 7 or 8 (a Google search will lead you to a legitimate source for the ISO you need, such as Digital River), a copy of Microsoft’s Windows 7 USB/DVD tool (download here: <a href=""></a>, and, of course, a PC running Windows to complete the process. Note that the Windows 7 USB/DVD tool requires the .NET Framework to be installed on your machine, so you may need to install that, as well.</p> <h4>Install Files to Drive</h4> <p>Once you’ve got your ISO file(s) handy, connect the thumb drive to your system, note its drive letter, and then install and run the Windows 7 USB/DVD tool. On the initial screen, you’ll be prompted to browse for your Windows ISO file. Click the Browse button, navigate to wherever you saved the ISO, click the Open button, and then click Next. On the subsequent screen, you’ll be asked to choose your media type. The Windows 7 USB/DVD tool can create a bootable DVD or USB device. Since we’re focused on thumb drives here, click the USB Device button. On the next screen, choose your thumb drive from the drop-down menu and then click the Begin Copying button. The Windows 7 USB/DVD tool will format and prep the thumb drive and then copy over all the necessary installation files automatically.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/usb-tool_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/usb-tool_small.jpg" alt="Microsoft’s Windows 7 USB/DVD tool can prep a thumb drive and copy the installation files over in just a few simple steps." title="USB" width="620" height="327" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Microsoft’s Windows 7 USB/DVD tool can prep a thumb drive and copy the installation files over in just a few simple steps.</strong></p> <p>When the Windows 7 USB/DVD tool is done doing its thing, close it, and you’re technically finished and ready to go. However, by default, the installer will only offer the option to install whichever version of Windows was designated by the ISO used to create the drive (Home Premium, Ultimate, etc.). Windows 7 and 8’s image-based installation method is capable of installing any edition of Windows (within the same family) with a bit of tweaking, though.</p> <h4>Edit Your ISO File</h4> <p>If you created a Windows 7 install drive, insert it into your PC and browse to the \sources\ directory. In that directory, delete the file named ei.cfg. With Windows 8 the process is a bit different. Create a simple text file named ei.cfg (or edit the one you have if it is already present) with the following contents:</p> <p>[Channel]<br />Volume</p> <p>[VL]<br />1</p> <p>Save the file and you’re done.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/ei-cfg_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/ei-cfg_small.jpg" alt="Deleting or editing the ei.cfg file in the \sources directory on a Windows installation disk will allow different versions of Windows to be installed using the same med" width="620" height="138" /></a></p> <h4>The Results</h4> <p>So, how much time can you save installing Windows from a USB thumb drive? When using a USB 2.0 flash drive, it took Windows 7 Ultimate x64 six minutes, 14 seconds to go from the “Windows is loading files” prompt to the “Completing installation” prompt on a Core i5 Dell laptop equipped with a 128GB SSD. Performing the same test with a USB 3.0 drive resulted in a time of only five minutes, 49 seconds. When timed using the Windows 7 installation DVD, however, the same process took 13 minutes, 51 seconds. That’s a big time savings, especially if you find yourself installing Windows often. Store all of your favorite applications and most commonly used drivers on the thumb drive as well, and you can have them all installed right away, too, without having to swap a single disc.</p> <p><em>Click the next page to read about how you can take your apps on the go with you.</em></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3>Take Your Apps on the Go</h3> <p><strong>Portable apps let you use any PC without leaving a trace</strong></p> <p>By far, one of the handiest things to do with a USB thumb drive is to create a mobile workspace, loaded up with portable apps. If you’re unfamiliar with portable apps, they’re essentially self-contained versions of programs that work entirely from their installation directory and don’t leave any trace on the host PC. Once configured, you can take your thumb drive loaded up with portable apps anywhere, plug it in, and all of your favorite applications and data will be right there waiting for you.</p> <p>Portable versions of popular applications are freely available from many developers’ websites. Technically, all that’s required to use a portable app is to download and install/run it right from a thumb drive. If you’d like to have a wide assortment of portable apps available, however, managing them all can get a bit unruly, since you can’t simply create a directory of shortcuts—the shortcuts break if the thumb drive’s drive letter changes. But that’s where the PortableApps Platform comes in.</p> <h4>Enter PortableApps</h4> <p>The PortableApps Platform is an easy-to-use launcher for managing and running portable apps. To use it, download the tool from <a href=""></a> and install it to your thumb drive. While on the site, you can download a wide array of portable apps too. Install the portable apps to the thumb drive as well, and when you run the PortableApps Platform (by double-clicking the Start application on the root of the drive), all of your apps will be listed in a Start-Menu-like launcher.</p> <p>Some of our favorite portable apps are Firefox, FileZilla, 7-Zip, OpenOffice, and GIMP. For the most part, if there’s a popular open-source desktop application available, there’s a portable version of it out there, too.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/port-apps2_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/port-apps2_small.jpg" alt="The PortableApps launcher gives you easy access to all of your portable apps from a single interface." title="PortableApps" width="450" height="635" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The PortableApps launcher gives you easy access to all of your portable apps from a single interface.</strong></p> <h3 style="text-align: left;">Install a Dedicated HTPC OS<strong>&nbsp;</strong></h3> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>Use OpenELEC on a thumb drive for media duties</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">There’s a lot of debate among home theater PC enthusiasts. Some prefer their HTPCs to be Jacks-of-all-trades that run Windows and are as adept at playing movies as they are at running desktop applications. Others prefer their HTPCs to be simple boxes that are strictly for multimedia playback. <strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">Well, why not have both?<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">The Open Embedded Linux Entertainment Center, or OpenELEC, is a tiny Linux distro that leverages XBMC (formerly known as the Xbox Media Center) and can be run right from a bootable thumb drive (or any external drive, for that matter). With OpenELEC, your HTPC’s internal drive can boot whatever OS you like, but should you choose to go the streamlined route, you can boot from the OpenELEC- equipped thumb drive and quickly access your media.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Get OpenELEC<strong>&nbsp;</strong></h4> <p style="text-align: left;">If you’d like to give OpenELEC a try, point your browser to <a href=""></a> and download the distribution that best matches your hardware. There are versions for AMD APUs, Intel processors, and Nvidia Ion-based platforms—among many others—with file sizes of only 80–125MB. Once you’ve got the distro downloaded, decompress it into a folder, and connect the thumb drive you’d like to use to your PC—it can be as small as a few hundred megabytes.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">In the folder where you’ve decompressed OpenELEC, you’ll find a file named create_livestick. Double-click it, and follow the onscreen prompts to prep the thumb drive and install OpenELEC. The process requires only four clicks: two to start the installation and accept the license agreement, a third to select the thumb drive (which should be automatically identified), and a fourth to finalize the installation.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">When the OpenELEC installation is done, connect the thumb drive to your HTPC and boot from it. On the initial splash screen you’ll be asked to either install it to the PC or run the live edition right from the flash drive. Run the live edition and configure XBMC to your liking and you’re good to go.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/openelec-1_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/openelec-1_small.jpg" alt="OpenELEC includes a utility to prepare a bootable thumb drive containing the OS." title="OpenELEC" width="600" height="468" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>OpenELEC includes a utility to prepare a bootable thumb drive containing the OS.</strong></p> <h3 style="text-align: left;">Create the Ultimate USB Boot Drive<strong>&nbsp;</strong></h3> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>Arm yourself with the tools to meet any PC emergency</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">Every PC tech, amateur, or pro needs a boot disk in their arsenal jam-packed with various apps and utilities for recovering files and passwords, scanning for malware or disk defects, taking disk images, and myriad other essential tasks. There are a handful of excellent options to choose from, but few offer as extensive a line-up of applications as Hiren’s Boot CD.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">Hiren’s Boot CD, available at <a href=""></a>, started its life as a less-than-savory tool rife with pirated software. But the developers have since gone legit and replaced all of the pirated apps with excellent freeware alternatives. The Hiren’s Boot CD ISO is meant to be burned to a disc so it’s write protected and insulated from malware, but it can also be written to a thumb drive using a couple of freely available utilities. <strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Prepare Your Drive</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">To create a bootable thumb drive with Hiren’s Boot CD files, you’ll need a drive with a capacity of at least 1GB, a copy of the Grub4DOS Installer (also available at, the Hiren’s Boot CD ISO, and if you’re on Windows 7, a utility like WinRAR or 7-Zip to extract the necessary files from the ISO (Windows 8 can mount ISO files natively, so you won’t need a separate utility). Once you’ve got everything gathered up, connect your thumb drive and format it using the FAT file system (right-click the drive in File Explorer and choose Format from the menu), to ensure the drive is free of any data. Then run the Grub4DOS Installer utility as an administrator. In the program window that opens, click the Disk radio button and then select your thumb drive from the adjacent drop-down menu. Then, hit the Refresh button next to the Part list drop-down menu and select Whole disk (MBR) from the associated drop-down. Hit the Install button at the bottom of the interface to install the Grub4DOS universal bootloader to your thumb drive—it’ll only take a couple of seconds<strong>.</strong></p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Populate Your Drive<strong>&nbsp;</strong></h4> <p style="text-align: left;">Once you’ve got the Grub4DOS bootloader installed, the next step is to copy all of the Hiren’s Boot CD files over to the thumb drive. Extract the files from the ISO (or mount it if you’re on Windows 8) and copy all of the files and folders to the thumb drive. When all of the files have been copied over, navigate to the HBCD folder on the drive and copy the grldr and menu.lst files within the HBCD folder to the root of the drive. Once the grldr and menu.lst files have been placed on the root of the drive, it’s ready to use.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/boot-cd-1_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/boot-cd-1_small.jpg" alt="To prep your drive, format it first to ensure it is clean and free of data." title="Boot 1" width="300" height="522" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>To prep your drive, format it first to ensure it is clean and free of data.</strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a href="/files/u152332/boot-cd-2_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/boot-cd-2_small.jpg" alt="You’ll need to install the Grub4DOS bootloader to your thumb drive before it’ll run Hiren’s Boot CD." title="Boot 2" width="400" height="631" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>You’ll need to install the Grub4DOS bootloader to your thumb drive before it’ll run Hiren’s Boot CD.</strong></p> <p><em>Click the next page to read about how to troubleshoot and boot from the USB.</em></p> <p><em>&nbsp;</em></p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3 style="text-align: left;">Troubleshooting: Booting from USB<strong>&nbsp;</strong></h3> <p style="text-align: left;">All modern systems should offer the ability to boot from a USB drive, barring some corporate PCs that may have security measures in place to prevent it. Should you have problems booting from a USB drive on your personal system though, there are a few things that could be at play. First, check that your system is configured to boot from the USB drive. Connect the drive, restart the system, enter the BIOS (usually by hitting Del or F2 during the POST), and under the Boot menu make sure the USB drive is being recognized and that it is first in the boot order. On many systems, you can usually hit F11 or F12 during the POST to load a one-time boot menu as well, and select the USB drive there. You may also have to enable the option to boot from USB, depending on your motherboard manufacturer.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">If none of that works, there’s also a chance there’s an incompatibility between your drive and a third-party USB controller. Plug your drive into a USB port that’s native to your motherboard’s chipset and then try booting again. Another possibility is some sort of corruption on the USB drive itself. As a last resort, copy all of the data from the drive to your PC and use Windows’ Diskpart utility to clean the USB drive of any partitions, then create a new primary partition, set it to active, and reformat/reconfigure the drive.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/boot-mgr_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/boot-mgr_small.jpg" alt="Your system won’t boot to the USB drive unless it’s selected in the BIOS or boot menu." width="620" height="340" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Your system won’t boot to the USB drive unless it’s selected in the BIOS or boot menu.</strong></p> <h3 style="text-align: left;">Create a Linux Live Bootable Key</h3> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>Try any version of Linux, without altering your current system</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">Experimenting with different versions of Linux is a great way to utilize those thumb drives cluttering up your junk drawer. There are a ton of utilities out there that can help ease the setup process, but one in particular, the Universal Netboot Installer, or UNetbootin for short, makes the entire process, from selecting and downloading a distro to prepping a thumb drive, about as easy as could be.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Get UNetbootin</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">UNetbootin can be downloaded at <a href=""></a>. It is a stand-alone utility that doesn’t need to be installed. Once downloaded, simply double-click the file to run UNetbootin and on the initial screen you’ll have two options: to either select a distribution to download and install (there are hundreds to choose from) or to create a bootable thumb drive using a pre-downloaded ISO. If you’d like to experiment with different Linux distros, UNetbootin will download and install them to your flash drive right from its main interface—there’s no need to scour the web on your own. If you’ve already got some ISOs downloaded and just haven’t gotten around to burning them, UNetbootin can use those, too. For the purposes of this project, we downloaded the popular Ubuntu Linux ISO, but just about any distro should work.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/unetbootin_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/unetbootin_small.jpg" alt="UNetbootin is a one-stop shop for downloading and creating Linux Live bootable thumb drives." title="UNetbootin" width="620" height="458" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>UNetbootin is a one-stop shop for downloading and creating Linux Live bootable thumb drives.</strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/unetbootin-menu_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/unetbootin-menu_small.jpg" alt="The UNetbootin boot menu gives you the ability to run Linux right from the thumb drive or to install it to the host PC." title="UNetbootin" width="620" height="356" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The UNetbootin boot menu gives you the ability to run Linux right from the thumb drive or to install it to the host PC.</strong></p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Create Linux Live Drive</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">To create a Linux Live USB drive, UNetbootin extracts the necessary files from an ISO, copies them to the thumb drive, generates an appropriate config file, and then makes the drive bootable. To use UNetbootin, connect your thumb drive to your PC, run the utility, and download a distro (or choose your pre-downloaded ISO) right on the initial screen. The thumb drive should be a few hundred megabytes at minimum, but larger (think 2GB-plus), faster drives are preferable. Once you’ve chosen the distro and selected the thumb drive from the menu, click the OK button and UNetbootin will download and/or extract the necessary files and automatically copy them to the thumb drive. The utility will then make the drive bootable, and when complete, UNetbootin will prompt you to exit or to restart the system, should you want to give the thumb drive a try right away.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/live-linux_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/live-linux_small.jpg" alt="Most Linux distributions, like Ubuntu, which we used for this project, run very well from a USB thumb drive." width="620" height="324" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Most Linux distributions, like Ubuntu, which we used for this project, run very well from a USB thumb drive.</strong></p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Put It to Use</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">To use your Linux Live bootable thumb drive, simply boot to it, and at the UNetbootin menu select “Try Ubuntu without installing” (or whichever distro you chose). The OS will run right from the thumb drive as if it were installed locally on the host PC.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Linux Live bootable drives are particularly useful for not only learning your way around Linux, but also as pseudo-recovery discs, as well. If you’ve got a Windows PC that won’t boot and you need to recover files, booting to a Linux Live drive may allow you to access the system’s hard drive and copy whatever files you may need.</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><em>Click the next page to learn how to set up "Windows to go" using a USB thumb drive!</em></p> <p style="text-align: left;">&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3 style="text-align: left;">Set Up a Windows to Go Environment<strong>&nbsp;</strong></h3> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>The perfect excuse for buying a new USB 3.0 thumb drive</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">One of the coolest new features of Windows 8 is its ability to run from a USB thumb drive. Microsoft calls the feature “Windows to Go.” With Windows to Go, you can install Windows 8 and all of your favorite applications and tools to a thumb drive, plug it into a PC, boot to the drive and your entire workspace will be available.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">To create a Windows to Go portable environment, you need a USB 3.0 thumb drive with a capacity of at least 32GB, a Windows 7 or 8 PC to actually configure the thumb drive (Windows 8 is preferable because of its native ability to mount ISO files), Microsoft’s Automated Installation Kit, or AIK (available here:, and a Windows 8 installation disc or ISO. <strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">First Things First<strong>&nbsp;</strong></h4> <p style="text-align: left;">If you’ve got everything available and downloaded, install the Windows AIK first. It’ll create a \Program Files\Windows AIK directory with a number of other directories within. In the \Tools subdirectory, you’ll see a number of other subdirectories labeled with specific system architectures. If you’re creating the Windows to Go drive on a system running a 64-bit edition of Windows, open the \amd64 folder. If you’re running a 32-bit edition of Windows, open the \x86 folder. In those folders you’ll see a file named ImageX.exe. Copy ImageX.exe and place it into a new subdirectory of your choosing—we used C:\ToGo.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">Once you’ve got the correct ImageX utility copied, you need to extract the Windows installation image from the Windows 8 ISO. Mount the ISO (or extract it to a folder) and in the \sources directory find the file labeled install.wim and copy it to the same directory in which you placed the ImageX utility.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/imagex_small_1.jpg"><strong><img src="/files/u152332/imagex_small.jpg" alt="The ImageX utility included in the Windows AIK is used to install the Windows image to the USB flash drive." title="ImageX" width="620" height="314" /></strong></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The ImageX utility included in the Windows AIK is used to install the Windows image to the USB flash drive.</strong></p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Prep Your Drive</h4> <p>With ImageX and the Windows 8 install.wim file copied, it’s time to prep the flash drive. Connect the drive to your system, then open a command prompt as an administrator and run Diskpart. At the Diskpart prompt, first type list disk and hit Enter to see a numerated list of drives connected to your system—on our machine, the thumb drive we wanted to use was listed as Disk 4. When you know the number of your thumb drive, type select disk 4 (replace the 4 with the number of your drive) at the Diskpart prompt and then hit Enter again. Once the proper drive is selected, you’ve got to run a handful of commands to clean, re-partition, and reformat the drive in preparation for the Windows to Go installation. Type the following commands in succession, hitting Enter after each one: clean, then create partition primary, then format fs=ntfs quick, then active, then assign. Then exit the Diskpart utility and navigate to the directory where you placed the ImageX and Install.wim files. Since we used C:\ToGo, at the command prompt we typed cd\ToGo and hit Enter.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/diskpart_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/diskpart_small.jpg" alt="Use Windows’ built-in Diskpart utility to clean the flash drive, create an active primary partition, and format it with the NTFS file system." title="Diskpart" width="620" height="600" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Use Windows’ built-in Diskpart utility to clean the flash drive, create an active primary partition, and format it with the NTFS file system.</strong></p> <h4>Install Windows</h4> <p>The next step is to actually install Windows to the flash drive using ImageX. At the command prompt, type: imagex /apply install.wim 1 X: (where X is the drive letter of your flash drive). This command tells ImageX to apply the first image within the install.wim file to drive letter X. The installation process will take a good 15–20 minutes or so depending on the speed of your drive. Once the ImageX process is complete, the next step is to install the correct boot record. While still at the command prompt, type bcdboot.exe X:\windows /s X: /f ALL (again, replace the X with the drive letter of your thumb drive) and hit Enter. This command tells the bcdboot utility to install the boot record from X:\windows directory to the root of the drive.</p> <p>Once the boot record is installed, your Windows to Go drive is ready to use. The first time you boot to it on a system, it’ll detect new hardware and configure the necessary devices, but it’ll eventually load the Modern UI and behave just like a local Windows installation. Activate the OS, install your applications and any necessary drivers, and you’re done.</p> 2013 boot install windows usb key linux September 2013 softwares stick USB Thumb Drive Office Applications Software Features Wed, 05 Feb 2014 23:53:27 +0000 Marco Chiappetta 26805 at Google Play Music All Access vs. Spotify <!--paging_filter--><h3>Google Play Music All Access vs. Spotify</h3> <p>Rocky Marciano never lost a bout during his professional career, and so far in our own sanctioned cage fights, neither has <a title="spotify" href="" target="_blank"><strong>Spotify</strong></a>. The spunky streaming music service handily dispatched <a title="Rdio" href="" target="_blank">Rdio</a> when we tossed the two in a ring two years ago, and more recently, <a title="xbox music" href="" target="_blank">Xbox Music</a> took a beating, losing four out of five rounds. Google, however, has come out swinging with a promising music service of its own: <strong><a title="google play music" href="" target="_blank">Google Play Music All Access</a></strong>. Will there finally be a new champ?</p> <p>For an in-depth comparison of all the different music streaming services, click <a title="best music streaming service" href="" target="_blank">here</a> to read our best music streaming services roundup.&nbsp;</p> <h4>Round 1: Music Library</h4> <p>Let’s cut right to the chase—the real reason to consider subscribing to a streaming music service is for the music catalog. Size matters, and the bigger and more robust the selection of tunes, the better. At last count, Spotify was sitting pretty with around 20 million tracks and deals with all three major music labels (Universal, Sony, and Warner). Google also brought the big three on board and boasts 18 million–plus songs.</p> <p>With both services having lured the big fish to their respective ponds and both offering a similar number of tunes, we directed our attention to indie artists and obscure bands to see if either had an advantage over the other. It turns out they don’t. Artists and bands like Ted Hawkins, Psychostick, and Apples in Stereo lie in wait, as do indie favorites like The National and Passion Pit. For all intents and purposes, this category’s a draw.</p> <p><strong>Winner: Tie</strong></p> <h4>Round 2: Pricing</h4> <p>Google Play Music All Access (an unnecessarily long and clumsy name for a subscription service, by the way) burst into the streaming scene with an introductory price of $8 per month for anyone who signed up for a free trial by June 30, 2013. That deal will be long gone by the time you read this, so if you didn’t hop on board, the price is now $10 per month. What that gets you is unlimited ad-free listening to Google’s entire music catalog along with a Pandora-like radio service with unlimited skips.</p> <p>Spotify’s Premium tier also runs $10 per month, but it’s not the only option available. If you just want to access music on your PC without the ability to download tunes for offline listening, the price is cut in half. Alternately, you can get on-demand access to songs for free on your PC if you’re willing to tolerate ads.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/spotify_small_2.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/spotify_small_1.jpg" alt="Spotify’s desktop client still has a tendency to feel cluttered, though it’s relatively easy to navigate." title="Spotify’s " width="620" height="343" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Spotify’s desktop client still has a tendency to feel cluttered, though it’s relatively easy to navigate.</strong></p> <p><strong>Winner: Spotify</strong></p> <h4>Round 3: Platform and Device Support</h4> <p>Spotify launched over four years ago (over two years ago in the United States) and is now available on just about every platform you can think of. Surprisingly, in-browser listening is a feature that was only recently added, but it’s there, along with support for Android (including Kindle devices), iOS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry (select devices), Symbian (also on select Nokia phones), PC, and Mac. In stark contrast, Google’s relatively new minted streaming music service is only available on Android, though an iOS app is in the works and may be available to download by the time you read this. While casting a net over Android and iOS catches the majority of mobile users, it won’t come as any consolation to Windows Phone 7/8 or BlackBerry users. We suspect it’s only a matter of time before Google invites more mobile users to the party, but for now, this is another round that belongs to Spotify.</p> <p><strong>Winner: Spotify</strong></p> <h4>Round 4: Audio Quality<strong></strong></h4> <p>Today’s mobile devices aren’t equipped with speakers that would delight an audiophile, but they’re not total garbage, either. Audio quality matters, especially if you’re plugging a high-end headset or earphones into your phone’s audio jack, so it’s up to Google and Spotify to serve up streams that don’t sound like they’re traveling across string from one tin can to another.</p> <p>Fortunately, both belt out tunes at up to 320Kb/s. By default, Spotify assumes you’re more concerned with your data cap than with the highest quality stream available, so you’ll have to go into Settings to change things. The Low setting equates to 96Kb/s, High translates to 160Kb/s, and Extreme quality is 320Kb/s. Google doesn’t offer as much fine-grain control and instead chooses a bitrate based on your Internet connection, though you can insist on only receiving 320Kb/s streams regardless of available bandwidth.</p> <p><strong>Winner: Tie</strong></p> <h4>Round 5: Interface</h4> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/google_small_1.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/google_small_0.jpg" alt="Though it’s the new kid on the block, Google has amassed an army of tunes ranging from mainstream artists to obscure bands." title="Google Play Music All Access" width="620" height="388" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Though it’s the new kid on the block, Google has amassed an army of tunes ranging from mainstream artists to obscure bands.</strong></p> <p>Spotify’s desktop application is a far cry from a fine piece of art, and as we’ve lamented in the past, it can feel cluttered at times. The latest version is a slight improvement from the last time we examined it, but it still lacks the modern UI feel with larger tiles that’s becoming so prominent. The mobile app, however, is less busy and generally much easier to navigate. Even so, Google’s implementation is a bit slicker overall. Swiping from the left brings up a menu giving quick access to things like your library, playlists, and the radio feature. Google also takes advantage of tiles at every turn and it just feels like a more modern platform than Spotify. We also like that you can add artists to your library, which Google then uses to make recommendations based on who and what you like to listen to.</p> <p><strong>Winner: Google Play Music All Access</strong></p> <h3>And the Winner Is…</h3> <p><img src="/files/u154082/spotify.jpg" alt="spotify" title="spotify" width="150" height="183" /></p> <p>Google Play Music All Access is a slick-looking service with a lot of promise and eventually it’s going to give the competition a serious run for its money, but today is not that day. For now, <strong>Spotify</strong> remains the undefeated champ, a sure sign of a mature contender that knows the ropes. Most notably, Spotify recognizes the importance of supporting multiple mobile platforms, and it doesn’t hurt to offer multiple pricing tiers, either.</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">Note: This article originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of the magazine.</span></p> 2013 google play music all access Media Applications September 2013 September issues 2013 spotify stream music Software Features Wed, 29 Jan 2014 00:37:50 +0000 Paul Lilly 26710 at Company of Heroes 2 Review <!--paging_filter--><h3>Company of Heroes 2 Review: ‘Reveille’ for the multiplayer; ‘Taps’ for the solo campaign</h3> <p>To be honest, we really wanted to dislike <strong>Company of Heroes 2</strong>. As is tradition whenever we have a new strategy game, we immediately fired up the game’s skirmish mode and cracked open a delicious can of soda to accompany (what we assumed would be) a short march to victory.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/5_small_8.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/5_small_7.jpg" alt="When in doubt, park your zerglings—er, troops—behind concrete and let them watch you mortar the surrounding area into oblivion." title="Company of Heroes 2" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>When in doubt, park your zerglings—er, troops—behind concrete and let them watch you mortar the surrounding area into oblivion.</strong></p> <p>Although we weren’t playing as the Germans in this match, it sure felt that way. Specifically, German soldiers at the turn of the 1940s, whose bravado-filled failure march into Russia as part of Operation Barbarossa so greatly opened up the Eastern Front that the Russians would be a-knockin’ on Berlin’s door—Hell March–style—within four short years.</p> <p>In other words, Germany got its ass kicked, and so did we. And thus began our descent into the steep learning curve that is Relic Entertainment’s Company of Heroes 2. A zerg rush, this game is not—at least, not in its multiplayer matchups. In its single-player campaign, the game comes just shy of throwing medals at you for sending countless waves of cheap soldiers to their untimely death—an odd mechanic, given the “unit veterancy” feature that’s designed to encourage soldier longevity.</p> <p>The game’s single-player campaign offers up a mix of its dullest and most interesting moments. A design imbalance permeates its 14 campaign missions worse than a Russian winter on a poor conscript—which isn’t just a lame metaphor, it’s also a game mechanic.</p> <p>As was the Russian style at the time, some missions task you with simple survival: Hold a position while the Germans send countless waves of pain your way. Move to a new position. Hold that. Move to a third position. Hold that. In these instances, you’ll find yourself focusing less on strategy, more on prayer (and ample use of the hotkey that tells your guys to heave-ho a grenade).</p> <p>This can be fun, to an extent. Sometimes, it seems as if the game’s in-mission reprieves arrive the split-second before you Ctrl+Alt+Del your frustrations away. Other times, the “survival” element transforms into a rousing game of, “How long can I watch my monitor until I get bored?” The AI seems to get a real kick out of sending battalions right into sustained mortar and rocket fire for no obvious benefit.</p> <p>Relic likes to occasionally grant you an extreme amount of firepower—World War II whoop-ass, as it were. We like carnage, but it almost seemed a little unfair to pepper German bases with Howitzers and BM-13 Katyusha rocket launchers that reach an ungodly distance across the map. We’d prefer a happy medium—decent, non-frustrating challenges that you can use creative tactics to overcome, but a bit lighter on the “weapons of mass destruction”–like add-ons that can imbalance the gritty fighting.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/2_small_13.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/2_small_12.jpg" alt="You’ll start skipping the ugly cutscenes faster than you can say “Russian winter.”" title="Company of Heroes 2" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>You’ll start skipping the ugly cutscenes faster than you can say “Russian winter.”</strong></p> <p>To put it another way, Company of Heroes 2 makes you feel like a god among RTS players at times; an inept newbie at others.</p> <p>Relic does try to spice things up by peppering the campaign with uniqueness, like the mission that forces you to spread your forces around campfires and (warm?) bunkers, lest they freeze to death in the cold Russian winter (Relic calls this “ColdTech;” you can even sink a vehicle by destroying the icy river it’s sitting on.). There’s also the fun mission-turned-puzzle where your motley band of infantry has to take on a tank all by itself. Spoiler: The tank shrugs off your wussy little bullets; you do not shrug off the tank’s shells.</p> <p>The game’s general storyline is every bit as hard to follow as it is pointless. We dislike the overall “flashback” motif enough as is. It gets downright annoying when you realize that your mission is set in a flashback within a flashback (with nary an Inception-like “bahhhummm” noise to keep you awake).</p> <p>We’ll spend as much time praising the game’s story as Relic put into its cutscenes; which is to say, barely any. These are some of the uglier movies we’ve seen in a modern title, almost as bad as the not-so-infrequent “AUTOSAVE” box that often accompanies in-game events within the single-player campaign.</p> <p>The raw mechanics of Company of Heroes 2 are mostly unchanged from the game’s predecessor: Capture points to gain a steady tick of resources, which you use to build various kinds of infantry and armored units. New to the game is an awesome line-of-site mechanism that prevents your soldiers from seeing anything that terrain blocks; unfortunately, it’s still a bit tough to move grouped units behind effective cover en masse.</p> <p>You’ll be doing a lot of micromanaging if you want to maximize your army’s positioning, and you’ll want to hit your head into the desk when you see enemy infantry skillfully running right past the firing arc you just spent three minutes setting up for your machine gun squad. What we’d give for a unit upgrade that would allow automatic turning of the “BFG.”</p> <p>Don’t take our frustration for displeasure; Company of Heroes 2 is a challenging strategy title, which almost adds to the game’s enjoyment once you begin to master troop manipulation, rock-paper-scissors unit matchups, and general war techniques. As is often the case with sequels, if you loved the now-7-year-old Company of Heroes, you’ll find much to appreciate within its follow-up.</p> <p>As you unlock more upgrades within the game itself, you can better customize your commanders and special bonuses within the game’s engaging Theater of War mode and multiplayer matchups—both areas we found ourselves sinking more time into than the game’s single-player campaign. Achievement nuts will love the 362 different ways this game gives you to show your friends your Eisenhower cred (though we find that, and the “unlock” system, a tad excessive).</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/1_small_21.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/1_small_20.jpg" alt="Cover is your friend until a not-so-friendly grenade comes a-bouncing in." title="Company of Heroes 2" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Cover is your friend until a not-so-friendly grenade comes a-bouncing in.</strong></p> <p>If that’s not enough boasting, you can also use Company of Heroes 2’s built-in support for streaming to show your friends that you’re Patton incarnate. All you have to do is type in your user name and password; the game takes care of the details (which you can tweak, if you prefer), and flicking your stream on and off is as easy as hitting a button on the top of your screen.</p> <p>The single-player’s no Starcraft II, and the tricky multiplayer is likely to frustrate newcomers and strategy fans at first, but there’s a lot of gritty enjoyment to be had in Company of Heroes 2. Don’t give up on this title if it feels tough; you’ll miss out on some engaging gameplay. That, and this game will shoot you in the head if you try to run away.</p> <p><strong>$60,</strong> <a href=""></a> <strong>ESRB: M</strong></p> 2013 Company of Heroes game October issues 2013 October 2013 Software Games Reviews Thu, 12 Dec 2013 08:51:42 +0000 David Murphy 26871 at Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine Review <!--paging_filter--><h3>Steal all the things</h3> <p><strong>Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine</strong> could really just be called Monaco: What You Make of It.</p> <p>It’s not that Monaco’s gameplay is overly complicated. At its core, this is one of the more simplified crime-themed titles you’ll likely ever get your hands on. You need to master all of three buttons or so in this top-down, pixilated “heist game” that developer <a title="pocketwatch game" href="" target="_blank">Pocketwatch Game</a> has released via Valve’s <a title="steam" href="" target="_blank">Steam</a> platform.</p> <p>Monaco isn’t Rainbow Six. In many ways, it’s difficult to pre-plan for some of the twists and turns the game’s AI throws your way. Sneaking your way through a level works wonders until a random, nearby phone starts ringing and guards start a-rushing to answer it. The game’s unique “fog of war”–like effect perfectly renders exactly what you can and cannot see within a level based on where you happen to be hiding. You can even stop and listen for nearby guards; the game highlights their walking paths with footsteps directly on your map.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/2_small_10.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/2_small_9.jpg" alt="We love Monaco’s line-of-sight mechanism, even as much as it ruins our stellar planning." title="Monaco" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>We love Monaco’s line-of-sight mechanism, even as much as it ruins our stellar planning.</strong></p> <p>Invariably, though, something will hit the fan in Monaco: Your planning will go awry, you’ll sneak into a room from a tight corridor only to find a guard or civilian staring directly at you, or perhaps you’ll just get tired of stealth and opt for a little run-and-gun burglary. And that’s where Monaco truly shines, especially in the game’s more frantic multiplayer mode.</p> <p>You and three of your fellow cronies—found over the Internet, your local LAN, or via hot-seat gaming using a single monitor with multiple keyboards/controllers/etc.—all pick a character class and work your way through the level using voice chat (we recommend) or text (you’re crazy). The classes and characters can complement each other. For example, when one of you picks The Lookout, all can then see the footsteps of nearby guards in adjoining rooms.</p> <p>And, naturally, when one of you screws the pooch and raises alarms—which in turn, raises the franticness of the game’s lovely 1920s-themed piano score—it’s a mad dash for guns, exits, hiding places… you name it. Hello, survival-at-any-costs.</p> <p>While we generally enjoyed our criminal career, we think that Monaco could be improved a bit by more directly tying use of the game’s characters to its levels. We liked being able to just stick to our favorites to beat the game’s single-player campaign, but Pocketwatch could better incentivize the use of underused or ill-fitting characters via achievements or other unlockables.</p> <p>We would also love to see a bit more variety in the missions themselves: Perhaps a more spy-themed Monaco spinoff could make us feel like the Tom Cruise we’ve always wanted to be, instead of just a mere cat burglar who occasionally punches through walls while collecting hundreds of items scattered around a map (to unlock additional levels). Monaco’s multiplayer is absurdly fun; its single-player campaign feels like someone stole the wind from the game’s sails just a wee bit.</p> <p><strong>$15,</strong> <a href=""></a><strong><a href="">,</a> ESRB: T</strong></p> 2013 August 2013 august 2013 games Monaco review Software whats your is mine Software Games Reviews Fri, 01 Nov 2013 18:18:44 +0000 David Murphy 26492 at Metro: Last Light Review <!--paging_filter--><h3>Metro Last Light review: You won’t eat fresh in this subway, but it’s still pretty tasty</h3> <p>When <a title="metro 2033 review" href="" target="_blank">Metro 2033</a> came out about three years ago, it didn’t make much of a splash at first. The name and cover art didn’t explain much, and its publisher did not have a Call of Duty–size ad budget. By the time we understood that it was set in a post-apocalyptic Moscow where everyone had to live underground (to avoid radiation sickness and hideously mutated beasties), Metro 2033’s moment had passed. However, probably thanks to aggressive and frequent discounts, it gained enough of a following to bring us a sequel.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/3_small_14.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/3_small_13.jpg" alt="Just your usual Moscow traffic congestion." title="Metro: Last Light" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Just your usual Moscow traffic congestion.</strong></p> <p><strong>Metro: Last Light</strong> is a direct continuation, picking up right where 2033 left off: The main character Artyom has discovered an enormous underground complex called D6, presumably made by the government as the ultimate fallout shelter, stocked with enough supplies to sustain everyone for years and years. Naturally, some people want to control this supply now. And naturally, they are not very nice. Artyom must figure out how to deal with that, while also wrestling with killing off the Dark Ones, a group of mysterious humanoids whom he perceived as a threat to humanity in the first game. But the theme of Last Light is that humanity’s greatest enemy is usually itself.</p> <p>If this sounds like heady stuff, there is a lot of straightforward stealthy action, as well. The game’s achievements even reward you for non-lethal approaches (at least more so than killing everyone). You can approach patrols and guards with a variety of weapons and tactics, and your opponents are somewhat varied, too. They’ll occasionally lob a grenade at you to flush you out, notice bodies and call for help, turn lights back on, activate headlamps and laser sights to hunt you down, and even call on elite troops for backup. However, human enemies do tend to wander alone into the darkness a lot, and they’re not as alarmed as they should be when the power suddenly goes out.</p> <p>And, of course, there are the mutants. Neither 2033 nor Last Light ever explain how these creatures evolved so quickly. It would be easier to believe that they were somehow transported from a different planet or dimension. That would create some story issues, but it’s arguably better than pretty much ignoring how evolution works. That said, the muties present some engaging challenges, because they take a lot of punishment, move rapidly, and behave unpredictably. Sometimes they’ll ignore you if you don’t make much noise, and other times they will converge on you regardless.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/6_small_11.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/6_small_9.jpg" alt="Mutants are not the only thing standing in your way this time." width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Mutants are not the only thing standing in your way this time.</strong></p> <p>In either scenario, Last Light does not have many difficulty spikes, which plagued the first game. On normal difficulty, an experienced FPS gamer should usually die only when they make a mistake, rather than because they are simply overwhelmed. Speaking of difficulty, the challenging Ranger Mode from 2033 is available at launch this time; it removes onscreen indicators, makes resources less plentiful, and will cause you to die after taking a few hits.</p> <p>Officially, you can only get it if you either pre-ordered the “Limited Edition” or paid $5 to unlock the mode after launch. But we found copies of this version available at Amazon and Best Buy after launch, for the same price as the base game. The publisher said that “retailers” put pressure on them to issue pre-order DLC, but GameStop appears to be the only one in North America that stopped offering the Limited Edition after the game’s release. We guess the other guys didn’t get that memo.</p> <p>The more common choice is to include some weapons and currency as pre-order DLC. Last Light’s Ranger package does that as well, but it’s not really needed. The base game has a variety of guns, customizations, ammo, and money. “Military-grade” ammo is still the coin of the realm, but it and everything else is a lot more plentiful than in 2033. The availability of weapons and ammo is not noticeably different from a standard shooter, despite the post-apocalyptic “scavenger” setting; the lack of scarcity sometimes breaks immersion. You need to use a gas mask to breathe on the surface, but we never wanted for oxygen canisters, undercutting the tension. They were strewn everywhere, as were spare masks with unused canisters pre-attached. Experienced FPS gamers should probably go straight to the game’s built-in “Hardcore” difficulty, or even Ranger Mode if available.</p> <p>Although the supplies issue is kind of ugly, the visuals are not. Metro: Last Light is an undeniably pretty game, even in its depiction of a dead city and decaying train system underneath. (Moscow’s station architecture is actually quite beautiful in real life, making the contrast especially stark.) This beauty is not without cost. The game is arguably more demanding than <a title="crysis 3" href="" target="_blank">Crysis 3</a>; Deep Silver recommends a <a title="GeForce 690 benchmarks" href="" target="_blank">GeForce GTX 690</a> or <a title="Titan benchmarks" href="" target="_blank">Titan</a> for an “optimum” experience (the game is branded by <a title="nvidia" href="" target="_blank">Nvidia</a>), a quad-core CPU, and 8GB of system RAM.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/2_small_8.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/2_small_7.jpg" alt="This game can look pretty slick, if you have the horsepower." width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>This game can look pretty slick, if you have the horsepower.</strong></p> <p>By default, the game uses an antialiasing method called FXAA. You can’t disable it, and its presence is not announced, but its performance impact is fairly minor. You can enable super-sample antialiasing on top of it (which generates an ultra-high-res frame and squishes it to fit your display resolution), but the impact may kill your frame rate. The highest level of tessellation (a technique to round off blocky objects) may also punish your system. There is also no option or even a hack to adjust the field of view, which is set to a relatively narrow 70 degrees; this is known to cause motion sickness in some people.</p> <p>Though Metro: Last Light is fundamentally a shooting gallery, it also knows how to pace itself and tell a story. You can go through tense stretches on the surface, encountering little more than the howling wind and spooky shadows, or listen to extensive conversations between Metro residents. The plot doesn’t always make sense, but there’s a certain “just go with it” mysticism that starts to click toward the end. Sometimes things are ambiguous, and that’s OK. It pays to stick with Last Light and just see where it leads you. Were this an open-world environment, we could see ourselves spending a lot of time here, bloodthirsty mutants and all.</p> <p><strong>$50, </strong><a href=""></a><strong>,</strong> <strong>ESRB: M</strong></p> 2013 August 2013 2034 apocalypse dystopian future game maximum pc metro last light review pc games Software Games Reviews Thu, 31 Oct 2013 20:59:28 +0000 Tom McNamara 26479 at Windows 8.1 Review <!--paging_filter--><h3><img src="/files/u154082/w8.1__1.png" alt="Windows 8.1" title="Windows 8.1" width="200" height="144" style="font-size: 10px; float: right;" />Windows 8.1: Another year in the oven makes for a tasty piece of meat</h3> <p>Reviewing an update to an operating system feels a little odd, doesn’t it? After all, if you already use <a title="Maximum PC Windows 8 review" href="" target="_blank">Windows 8</a>, it’s not like you’re <em>not</em> going to install <strong>Windows 8.1</strong>. Sure, there’s always the threat of compatibility issues, but Microsoft seems to have this one covered pretty well with the website (and scanning tool) that <a title="Microsoft Compatibility" href="" target="_blank">it’s dedicated</a> to the Windows 8.1 update.&nbsp;</p> <p>That’s not to say the 8.1 update has been perfect—Surface RT tablet owners who tried to jump the gun on a zero-day upgrade were apt to encounter some early <a title="blue screen of death" href="" target="_blank">blue screens</a>. And users have been plagued by any of the other, typical issues that come with a major update to the OS, including Windows 8 balking at installing the update to begin with. Take, for example, Windows 8.1’s lack of cooperation with those who made the foolhardy decision to move their entire \user folders over to a separate drive from Windows itself. Good luck with the update.</p> <p>At the end of the day, however, an update is usually seen as a step in the right direction. Or, as is often the case with Microsoft, a mix of things that greatly enhance the operating system combined with a few nagging tidbits that make us look forward to the next update.&nbsp;</p> <p>So, again, while it feels a bit strange to <em>review</em> an update—especially since Microsoft is now officially cutting off support for Windows 8 in less than two years (October 18, 2015)—it’s still important that we take a brief jaunt through all that Windows 8.1 has to offer—or, at least, the major parts you’re likely to encounter.&nbsp;</p> <h4>Windows 8.1 User Interface</h4> <p>Let’s start with the biggie. The Start button. A variant of the Start button from operating systems of yesteryear makes its return in Windows 8.1, but really, it’s only a tease of a true Start button.&nbsp;</p> <p>Windows 8.1’s “Start button,” if one can really call it that, shows up on the OS’s desktop mode. It does not, as its name might imply, present one with a delightfully simple, pop-up menu of one’s apps. No, it merely takes you back to Windows 8.1’s "metro" Start screen (aka the Modern UI). Ta-da.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/w8.1__4.png" alt="Windows 8.1 right click" title="Windows 8.1 right click" width="300" height="417" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>We would argue that the right-click functionality of the Start Button is more useful than the left.</strong></p> <p>You <em>can</em> also have the Start button automatically pull up Windows 8.1’s “All Apps” menu via a setting in the Taskbar and Navigation properties, which is itself kind of like the illegitimate child of the Start screen and the Start Menu. Still, a conventional Start Menu, the All Apps view ain’t. We somewhat appreciate the effort, but it’s just not the same.</p> <p>On the plus side, Microsoft <em>has</em> boosted the number of options found in Windows 8.1’s right-click context menu. Power users will surely appreciate the additional tweaks, including—finally—a means for shutting down one’s computer from the desktop itself (if Alt+F4 isn’t your thing).&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/w8.1__5.png" alt="Windows 8.1 all apps" title="Windows 8.1 all apps" width="620" height="320" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>“All Apps” is just what the name suggests: The hodgepodge of every application (and app!) you’ve stashed on your PC.</strong></p> <p>Jumping over to the Start screen for a minute, we love that Microsoft has really cleaned up the look and feel of the tiles. For starters, Windows 8.1—unlike its predecessor—doesn’t just slap every single “shortcut” that an application creates upon installation as a new tile on the Start screen, thank God. That which you install gets kicked over to the All Apps view by default, leaving your Start screen pure and pristine. Only the programs that you specifically pin get placed there—and that includes apps you grab from the Windows Store itself. We love, love, love the newly clean Start screen.</p> <p>Microsoft also brings a few tweaks to tiles themselves. Specifically, you can now uninstall everything that Microsoft’s dumped onto your Start screen <em>en masse</em> by right-clicking and group-selecting/uninstalling that which you don’t want. For the tiles you want to keep, you can now select between one of four different sizes for each (or change a batch at once)—Weather, for example, will expand to take up four normal tiles’ worth of space and dump plenty of information about the forecast right on the front of your Start screen.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><img src="/files/u154082/w8.1__6.png" alt="uninstall Windows apps" title="uninstall Windows apps" width="620" height="853" /></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Take that, apps-that-come-with-Windows-8.1. &nbsp;Mass-uninstalling apps is super-easy in the new operating system update.</strong></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We also like how Microsoft has enhanced the various customizations one can do to the Start screen. That includes additional backgrounds for prettying up its appearance, as well as the brand-new option that allows one to set identical backgrounds for the desktop and Start screen. The feature, admittedly small, does allow one to create more parity between Windows 8.1’s two halves; it’s a subtle, but appreciated tweak.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><img src="/files/u154082/w8.1__7.png" alt="Windows 8.1 personalize" title="Windows 8.1 personalize" width="250" height="615" /></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Though we’re fans of customizing our desktop with our own background images, we give Microsoft kudos for including some pretty fun-looking default backgrounds.</strong></p> <p>For the photo-maniacal, Windows 8.1 now lets you set up slideshows on your lock screen if you don’t like looking at the same ol’, same ol’ whenever you go to boot into Windows 8.1. Heck, you can even “boot” into your system’s webcam (or included camera) from the lock screen itself. This desktop OS is starting to look more and more mobile by the minute….</p> <p>Windows 8.1 also gives the lackluster Modern-based PC Settings menu of its predecessor a much-needed kick in the pants. This includes filling it up with plenty of new options to lessen your need to run over to your Control Panel: Take, for example, the new option that allows you to turn Hot Corners on and off (without having to resort to third-party freeware to do so), the specific controls you can put into place regarding Windows 8.1’s new search techniques (we’ll get to that in a bit), and the brand-new <a title="skydrive" href="" target="_blank">SkyDrive</a> options that you can access from Modern by default (also fodder for later).&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><img src="/files/u154082/w8.1__8.png" alt="Windows 8.1 PC settings" title="Windows 8.1 PC settings" width="620" height="396" /></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>We’re still waiting for the day when Microsoft stashes all Windows system controls on its Modern UI and desktop interfaces.</strong></p> <p>We still do wish that all of your system’s settings were unified regardless of where you go to edit them—the Start screen or the desktop’s Control Panel.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><img src="/files/u154082/w8.1__9.png" alt="Windows 8.1 Bing" title="Windows 8.1 Bing" width="250" height="487" /></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Bing, Bing everywhere, and plenty of search results to drink.</strong></p> <p><strong><em>Click the next page to read about Windows 8.1 search improvements.&nbsp;</em></strong><span style="font-weight: bold; text-align: center;">&nbsp;</span></p> <hr /> <h4><span style="font-size: 1em;">Windows 8.1 Search</span></h4> <p>Here we go. One of the major “improvements” Microsoft has made to Windows 8.1 includes a complete reworking of the operating system’s core search functionality. Before, it was a bit of a convoluted mess —you’d start typing in Modern and, once entered a good enough number of letters to describe what you were looking for, you’d have to select what, exactly, you were trying to find: an app? A system setting? File? Some kind of data within an individual Windows 8 app?</p> <p>Too much clicking. Yuck.</p> <p>Microsoft goes a bit to the other extreme, however, in Windows 8.1. Now, when you start typing in the operating system’s Start screen, you get a default search of everything on your hard drive, period. That includes files, Windows settings and options, and, as a special bonus, an ever-present web search courtesy of Windows 8.1’s integration with Microsoft’s Bing search engine.</p> <p>We appreciate the gesture, but note that not every time we type in “Diablo” are we really keen on seeing a web search related to the Lord of Terror. Sure, you can flick off the web-based search option within Windows 8.1’s aforementioned preferences. But sometimes we <em>do</em> like having a web search attached to our search. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t; at the very least, it would have been pleasant if Microsoft allowed other search engines to populate its web search, but we suppose that’s a request of the “pigs can fly” variety.</p> <p>All in all, we like the new search if for nothing else than the reduction to the number of clicks a user must perform when trying to find something. The trade-off, however, is that you can no longer search through the specific parts of apps by default—for example, you aren’t able to search through your email by simply typing on the Start screen. You now have to load the Mail application and perform a specific search within that in order to find, say, an Amazon receipt.</p> <p>Close, but not quite, Microsoft.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><img src="/files/u154082/w8.1__10.png" alt="windows 8.1 skydrive" title="windows 8.1 skydrive" width="620" height="534" /></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Skydrive might look fairly simple, almost Dropbox-like, in its File Explorer integration, but there’s more to this cloud service than meets the eye.</strong></p> <h4>Windows 8.1 SkyDrive integration</h4> <p>We confess, we aren’t big users of Microsoft’s cloud service, but we do appreciate how easy Microsoft has made its SkyDrive integration in Windows 8’s big update. Take, for example, the fact that SkyDrive is now integrated directly within File Explorer (once you’ve attached your account to the operating system, that is). Like Dropbox, dragging and dropping things back and forth between the cloud and your local desktop is quite simple—the same kind of convenience you might have enjoyed had you, say, installed the SkyDrive desktop app on Windows 8.&nbsp;</p> <p>That said, SkyDrive isn’t <em>quite</em> like Dropbox. For example, Microsoft has ingeniously built a fun little twist on synchronization into SkyDrive, whereby files are only loaded to your desktop— assuming you have an online connection to the net—when you want them. Sure, you get the icon and file details to suggest that the file, itself, is actually there every time you go to click it. Only, it isn’t. Not unless you’ve set it, or its containing folder, to always be available to your system if/when your system’s offline.</p> <p>This “placeholder file” system, as explained by Microsoft, creates ghost files that “look and feel like normal folders and files. You can tap or click a folder and see all the folders and files inside it. You can tap or click a file and it will open, you can edit it and close it. You can move, delete, copy, or rename placeholder files just like you would any folder or file. But [it] only downloads the full file when you access it.”</p> <p>Desktop users might not care much about disk space or bandwidth, but we definitely see the usefulness for those using SkyDrive access on, say, their laptops or tablets. Assuming that you don’t have a ton of stuff that will quickly fill up SkyDrive’s 7GB of free space per user, you can even set the OS to save your documents, photos, and files to the cloud by default.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><img src="/files/u154082/w8.1__11.png" alt="Windows 8.1 skydrive space" title="Windows 8.1 skydrive space" width="620" height="304" /></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>On the plus side, Microsoft makes it fairly easy for you to see how much Skydrive space you’re using (and, of course, you can quickly buy more).</strong></p> <p>That all said, SkyDrive’s closer integration with the OS—including all those fun settings you can synchronize to your Microsoft Account, should you wish to tap into your version of your OS on another piece of hardware—do come with a bit of a price. For starters, the SkyDrive Modern app is still nowhere near as useful for non-touch-friendly users as is the standard drag-and-drop integration within File Explorer itself (Windows 8.1 still can’t escape its need to cater to the finger-poking crowd).&nbsp;</p> <p>Secondly, Microsoft’s tighter integration of SkyDrive costs you one of its more useful features—Fetch, or the ability that users previously had to tap into the full drive architecture of their SkyDrive-connected systems to grab any file on the desktop they wanted. It was akin to a having a permanent network tunnel to one’s connected systems, and one that was as ideal for grabbing files as Google’s Remote Desktop app is for controlling one’s system from afar. Alas, Microsoft kills off this helpful feature in Windows 8.1. You can still use a Windows 8.1 system to grab files from a non-Windows 8.1 PC, but Windows 8.1 systems cannot have their files grabbed from.&nbsp;</p> <h4>Windows 8.1's new Windows Store</h4> <p>A quick note on the Windows Store, as we’d have a bit of egg on our face if we didn’t mention the major updates to a part of Windows 8 that felt utterly lackluster at the operating system’s launch. While Apple and Google still win the day with the usefulness of their respective app stores, Microsoft has at least put noticeable effort into making its store more practical, more browse-able, and just all-around more user-friendly.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><img src="/files/u154082/w8.1__13.png" alt="Windows Store" title="Windows Store" width="620" height="349" /></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Hooray for a revamped Windows Store. Bring on the apps!</strong></p> <p>Loading the Modern app brings up the same ol’ familiar (and horribly horizontal-scrolling) interface one should be used to by now. However, Microsoft puts its app recommendations front-and-center, in addition to lists of trending apps, new apps, and the much-anticipated listing of top apps by price (free or paid). That’s much, much better than the crappy, categorical scrolling of Windows 8, in which it was extraordinarily annoying to sift through all in a pathetic attempt to find out what apps were worth a cursory look or installation.</p> <p>Even better, right-clicking anywhere within the Windows Store app summons forth a topmost bar that’s filled with the aforementioned categories, should you now wish to peruse through specific chunks of apps. Each category gets its own trending, new, and top free/paid listing of apps, and the entire process is much easier to navigate than what was previously seen on Windows 8. Kudos to Microsoft for the changes; now how about getting to work on offering some popular apps? (Instagram, anyone?)</p> <h3>Overall Windows 8.1 Impressions</h3> <p>At the end of the day, Windows 8.1 is still Windows 8, with a little bit of pizzazz tacked on to it. If you didn’t like “Modern” before, there’s nothing dramatic in Microsoft’s first major update that’s going to turn you into a tile aficionado.&nbsp;</p> <p>We can’t help but feel as though we’re sitting in a barrel stuck on the edge of a waterfall; that Microsoft is but one, tiny push away from giving users everything they’ve asked for (namely, a more explicit Windows 7 / Windows 8 split). We’re so close already—even that new little Start button in Windows 8.1, while somewhat pitiful, is a ray of hope.</p> <p>We’re being a bit overdramatic, of course, as we do generally appreciate all the tweaks that Microsoft has brought to the table in Windows 8.1. While they mainly center on personalization, customization, and one’s core experience with the operating system, the updated search features and SkyDrive integration—for those who use it—are welcome additions.&nbsp;</p> <p>Modern-based system settings are less of a pain in the butt (but could be further improved), and some of the other tweaks are still only really applicable to hardcore finger-tappers, like Microsoft’s improved split-screen treatment for its Modern apps.</p> <p>And that’s really the core of it: Windows 8.1 is good, sure. If you’re running Windows 8, you really don’t have much of a reason not to upgrade. If you’re still a Windows 7 user stuck on the fence, it’s a little trickier.&nbsp;</p> <p>Windows 8.1 is certainly more compelling of an experience than the now seemingly forgotten Windows 8. However, you’re still going to face off against a tablet experience packed into a desktop operating system. Modern apps, while improved, will still lack the power-user conventions (and speed) of their desktop-based counterparts. For desktop users, your standard monitor will be of little use for Windows 8.1’s touchscreen-themed tweaks. You’ll wonder why your system’s settings are split between two different environments. The list goes on.</p> <p>Should you give Windows 8.1 a go? Given that it doesn’t look like Microsoft is going to give us a 100 percent desktop-centric Windows moving forward, you’re going to have to take the new OS plunge sometime; Windows 8.1 makes the water just a little bit warmer.</p> buy difference download improvements Media Applications start button update upgrade Windows windows 8 windows 8.1 review Office Applications Software News Utilities Reviews Tue, 29 Oct 2013 00:51:36 +0000 Dave Murphy 26590 at LastPass vs. KeePass <!--paging_filter--><h3>LastPass vs. KeePass</h3> <p>For years, we’ve been touting the virtues of <a title="kepass" href="" target="_blank"><strong>KeePass Password Safe</strong></a>, a free open-source program for storing all your website passwords and associated notes behind a single master password. And to synch KeePass across multiple machines, we’ve been recommending that readers store the encrypted database on Dropbox. However, we got to wondering whether the popular browser-based password manager <a title="lastpass" href="" target="_blank"><strong>LastPass</strong></a> was a superior, one-stop solution. So this month, we invited the two free password trappers to duke it out for bragging rights.</p> <h4>Round 1: Setup</h4> <p>KeePass is a very straightforward database. After selecting your master password and/or key file, you simply start adding entries by typing or copying-and-pasting URL, user name, password, and any relevant notes into the designated fields. There are options for groups and sub-groups, as well as icons to aid in organization of your database.</p> <p>You can enter all of that same info into your LastPass Vault in a similar manner; but with the browser plugin installed, you’re also able to capture URLs and login info as you visit your various favorite sites, via the LastPass icon that resides in your browser bar. This makes LP that much more convenient for populating a comprehensive database of all your online sites and accounts.</p> <p><strong>Winner: LastPass</strong></p> <h4>Round 2: Security</h4> <p>Your KeePass database is kept secure behind either a master password or a key file (that you keep on a USB drive, for instance), or both. The entire database is encrypted using AES 256-bit encryption by default, or Twofish 256-bit encryption, if you prefer. Every password is automatically measured for quality, and a random password generator will churn out a password to your specification. Finally, the open-source nature of KeePass means its code, and its integrity, can be scrutinized by anyone, adding a degree of confidence.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/keepass2_small_2.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/keepass2_small_1.jpg" alt="Right-click any entry in your KeePass database and you can launch the URL and auto-fill your login info." title="KeePass" width="620" height="474" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Right-click any entry in your KeePass database and you can launch the URL and auto-fill your login info.<br /></strong></p> <p>LastPass also uses 256-bit AES, and reportedly encrypts and decrypts your data locally on your PC, so it’s unusable from LastPass’s servers. Like KeePass, LastPass will tell you if a password needs improvement, and generate a random password for you if you like, but that feature isn’t directly tied to your Vault entry, making it a bit less convenient, so KeePass wins this round by a hair.</p> <p><strong>Winner: KeePass</strong></p> <h4>Round 3: Auto-Fill</h4> <p>Both KeePass and LastPass offer auto-fill options that can make launching and signing into your websites very easy. In KeePass, you first right-click a database entry to Open URL, and then right-click the entry again to Perform Auto-Type—which will insert your login credentials into the appropriate fields. By default, username and password are entered. For multi-page logins and other special instructions, it’s possible to create command strings, but this obviously takes time and trial.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/lastpass1_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/lastpass1_small.jpg" alt="Using the browser plugin, you can populate your LastPass Vault by saving data as you visit all your favorite sites. " title="LastPass" width="620" height="465" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Using the browser plugin, you can populate your LastPass Vault by saving data as you visit all your favorite sites. </strong></p> <p>With LastPass, a single click on a Vault entry will take you to a URL and log you in, in one fell swoop. In theory, you can auto-fill on a site with multiple login pages by saving the data entered on each page, but we were unable to get this to work properly and also found it created confusing clutter within our Vault. We appreciate, however, that LastPass is capable of automated form filling, for, say, address and credit card info.</p> <p><strong>Winner: LastPass</strong></p> <h4>Round 4: Use Across Multiple Devices</h4> <p>On the surface, the browser-based LastPass might seem to have the advantage here. After all, you can access your password vault from any machine that’s connected to the Internet—and any changes you make to your data are stored in a single place on the cloud. But with KeePass stored in a cloud drive, such as Dropbox, you have that same functionality, as long as you have the program installed on whatever machine you’re using, or you launch it from Portable KeePass on a USB drive (incidentally, to get all of LastPass’s functionality, such as Auto fill/Auto login, you need to have the browser plugin installed). What’s more, KeePass offers a number of Android and iOS ports for free, so you can also access your passwords from a smartphone. To get LastPass on a smartphone you need to pay $12 a year for the Advanced version. <strong></strong></p> <p><strong>Winner: KeePass</strong></p> <h4>Round 5:&nbsp; Longevity<strong></strong></h4> <p>As convenient as these programs make it to store your passwords, it still takes time to get your database set up just right for maximum efficiency, so it’s important to consider the long-term prospects of each solution. KeePass lives on your computer, so it’s not subject to the failings of a remote server. With LastPass, however, a locally cached copy of your passwords is stored on you PC by default when you use the LastPass plugin. Both programs offer export options for backup purposes and the ability to import into another program if the need arises—although, we had a much easier time importing our KeePass data into LastPass than we did importing LastPass data into KeePass, for what that’s worth. We also must point out that KeePass, being an open-source utility, is less vulnerable than a business-based solution, giving it the edge over LastPass.<strong></strong></p> <p><strong>Winner: KeePass</strong></p> <h3>And the Winner Is…<strong></strong></h3> <p><img src="/files/u154082/keepass.png" alt="keepass" title="keepass" width="257" height="257" /></p> <p>The fact is, if you want to keep your personal info from getting into the hands of every Tom, Dick, and Sergei hacker, you must use distinct logins, of sufficient complexity, for all your various accounts, and a password manager makes that possible. LastPass offers the convenience of being tied to your browser, so you can easily save your entered data and access it from other PCs. But our loyalties still lie with <strong>KeePass</strong> Password Safe, for its open-source nature, free smartphone app, and universal access when stored in Dropbox. <strong><br /></strong></p> applications forget head to head keepass lastpass pass Password plugin remember Review save tool Software Features Tue, 22 Oct 2013 21:59:51 +0000 Katherine Stevenson 26500 at