Office Applications en Restore Your Computer to its Glory Days <!--paging_filter--><h3>Give your PC a clean start</h3> <p>If you’re reading this, it’s highly likely that your PC is a fine-tuned piece of 64-bit technology, customized to the hilt and purring like a kitten with a belly full of formula. Yup, she’s a beaut, and attacks your daily tasks like a Belgian Police Dog going after a fleeing perp. All is well in the world, until one day when you sit down, fire it up, and realize something is different. That extra bit of snap when programs open is missing, and encoding video seems to take longer than it used to. Even downloading files seems to require more patience than you’re accustomed to exhibiting. It’s at this very moment that you silently say to yourself, “What the FRACK???”</p> <p>First things first—calm down, power user. Before you smash your rig with a hammer, pound on the keyboard, and decide to just nuke it from orbit, realize it’s just a temporary slowdown and it happens to everyone, even Maximum PC editors. Over time, PCs get slower; it’s just the nature of the beast. Don’t fret, we’re here to help by showing you how to give your PC a clean start. We'll show you how to restore you computer to its glory days, if you will. We’ll walk you step-by-step through the cleaning process, showing you what you need to get ’er done, and if you find you can’t resolve the problem, how to properly nuke it from orbit. We’ll also detail—pun intended—physically cleaning your rig. Once you’re finished, your PC will be noticeably perkier and everything will be right as rain. Now, drop the hammer, and let’s get started.</p> <h3>Back it up and kick the tires</h3> <p><strong>The only person to blame for not having a backup is you</strong></p> <p>There’s only two kinds of storage devices in this world: those that have already died and those that are going to die. If you’ve already identified that your PC is acting wonky, it’s time to back that mother up. It may seem counterintuitive that you would run a backup before you do a PC cleanup, but we highly recommend it: If you break something or something finally gives up the ghost, you’ll kiss your USB ports that you made a backup before it all went sideways. There are numerous aftermarket tools, but Microsoft has been kind enough to give you a fairly powerful backup and imaging tool in the OS itself. If you’re using Windows 7, just search for Backup, or dig into the Control Panel and look under System and Security. If you’re using Windows 8.x, the backup system is the same, although it’s hidden. To find it, go to the Control Panel and search for Windows 7 File Recovery.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/gordon_backup_small_1.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/gordon_backup_small_0.jpg" alt="The Windows backup and restore program works well enough, and should be run regularly." width="620" height="547" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Windows backup and restore program works well enough, and should be run regularly.</strong></p> <p>If you have multiple drives, you can choose how you want the backup to run, and manually select the other drives in the system for the backup set. You should set an automatic backup as well, and create a system restore disc. Ensure that you created a system image, also, should you need to restore the backup to a completely new hard drive.</p> <p>With your backup complete, it’s time to do a basic visual inspection of the internals of the PC for obvious problems, such as fans clogged with so much cat hair and dust that they’re causing the CPU or GPU to overheat and throttle, or data or power cables that have wiggled loose. Typically, loose or unplugged cables result in immediate show-stopping errors and crashes rather than a system slowdown. You’re more likely to find your fans clogged with dust running at low RPMs or fans that have died.</p> <h3>Mash Malware</h3> <p><strong>Don’t always blame malware, except when it’s to blame</strong></p> <p>If there’s a bogeyman of mysterious system slowdowns, it’s malware. In fact, if we had a nickel for every time a relative told us a “virus” was the cause of their slowdown, we’d have 0.08-34 of a Bitcoin. With that said, before you get too hip-deep in trying to speedupify a PC, a sweep for malware should be run. We’d also do a cursory examination of the OS for extraneous toolbars or tray items that have been installed. These aren’t truly malware, but still worthy of eradication.</p> <p>We’d also recommend a full system scan by the system’s real-time AV software (after updating the virus definitions). A secondary sweep using various on-demand tools is also on the to-do list. This would include browser-based file scanners available from all of the popular AV vendors, as well local tools such as Malwarebytes ( or SuperAntiSpyware (<a href=""></a>). Running specific rootkit removal tools available from companies such as Malwarebytes and Sophos, among others, can’t hurt. Rootkits are a class of malware designed to thwart normal detection means. Before you get crazy about removing any detections, you should research it to make sure it isn’t just a false positive. And be advised that many types of malware can’t be removed with a single-click tool. You’ll typically have to dig deep in a multi-page guide to remove many of today’s specialty infections. Obviously, Binging will lead you to most guides, but a great place to start is The site has loads of removal guides and links to useful tools. But again, a word of warning: don’t just start ripping things out of the OS without knowing what you’re removing.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/gordon_rootkit_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/gordon_rootkit_small.jpg" alt="A thorough check for malware is recommended before any serious system cleanup." title="Mash Malware" width="620" height="516" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>A thorough check for malware is recommended before any serious system cleanup.</strong></p> <h3> <hr />Cruft clearing</h3> <p><strong>Declutter the system files</strong></p> <p>Any PC that you use daily will build up hundreds of gigabytes of file clutter over the months and years that you use it. As most people are rolling large mechanical drives, the clutter has an impact on performance and your ability to pack away even more cute kitten videos downloaded from the Internet.</p> <p>For this step, we’ll start with the low-hanging fruit. Simply open My Computer, right-click your primary drive, and select properties. Click Disk Cleanup and check off the things that are clutter (just about everything is in this panel) and click OK. We did this on a work box and shaved off 5GB in Windows Update files that had been sitting around. While 5GB isn’t much in the day of 4TB drives, many people still run 1TB and smaller drives with every nook, cranny, and sector filled (you know who you are.)</p> <p>The next easy cruft targets are the system restore points automatically created by Windows. Windows typically creates these snapshots of the OS when you install a new driver, OS update, or application. Windows sets a default for these based on the size of the drive it’s installed on, but they typically occupy gigabytes on the drive. To free up space, you can delete all but the latest restore points by clicking the More Options panel from Disk Cleanup, and selecting Clean Up under System Restore and Shadow Copies.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/cruft1_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/cruft1_small.jpg" alt="The built-in disk cleanup does a decent first pass at dumping unneeded system clutter." title="Cruft clearing" width="500" height="612" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The built-in disk cleanup does a decent first pass at dumping unneeded system clutter.</strong></p> <p>Before you do this, though, think about how the recent stability&nbsp; of your system. If it’s been reliable but slow for the last few months, wiping the previous restore points should be fine. But if the system is being wonky, you may just need to rely on those restore points to get the box back to a point where it’s stable, so we’d recommend keeping the old restore points until you’re sure the box is working. You should also be aware that Windows 7 and Windows Vista used System Protection and Restore Points to occasionally make backup copies of your personal data files through the Volume Shadow Copies service. These older versions may be purged when you do this, but it won’t touch your most recent versions.</p> <p>Yeah, we know, many power users will thumb their nose at System Restore and some will outright switch it off because malware can use it as a place to hide, but the feature can truly be a bacon-saver sometimes.</p> <p>Another easy target to clean out is the default downloads folder. Other than documents, the vast majority of downloaded files can usually be dumped overboard.</p> <h3>Clean the Crap</h3> <p><strong>CCleaner is an easy-to-use, one-stop declogger</strong></p> <p>Originally named Crap Cleaner, this handy application has since been renamed to the more palatable CCleaner, but it still works amazingly well at clearing out the junk from the corners of your OS. Available for free from, it’s an easy one-stop shop for freeing up space that you might normally miss with the built-in cleaner. As much as we like CCleaner, you shouldn’t expect miracles. We ran it on a three-year-old scungy build of Windows 7 after running the Window’s cleaning routine and CCleaner came up with 18.3GB to clean out—16GB had accumulated in the trash bin. One word of warning: By default, CCleaner will wipe out your browser cookies, which might throw you for a loop when you’re forced to sign into web sites that you may have forgotten the passwords for. It’s probably best to exclude browser history and also Windows Explorer Recent Documents from the CCleaner clean-out, too, because they don’t net you much space but make your system more livable.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/ccleaner_small_2.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/ccleaner_small_1.jpg" alt="CCleaner still does an admirable job of emptying out unneeded files." width="620" height="546" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>CCleaner still does an admirable job of emptying out unneeded files.</strong></p> <h3>Stop Startups</h3> <p><strong>Giddyap quicker</strong></p> <p>Oddly, many people still define their computing experience by how long it takes to cold-boot their PC. First, we just have to ask, have you tried standby or even hibernate? You know, those handy modes that can have you at the desktop five or 10 seconds after touching the mouse button or keyboard? No? You still prefer to boot from cold, anyway?</p> <p>If your OS install is a year or two old, you will have accumulated enough startup programs to significantly impact hard-drive boot times. The easiest way to remove these programs is click on the Start button, and type msconfig. Click on the Startup tab and scroll through the list, looking for things that don’t need to be started at launch. Uncheck them, click apply, then OK, and reboot.</p> <p>One thing to remember, Windows 7 will optimize the boot times automatically. If you reboot, and wait five minutes and reboot four or five times, the boot times should actually get better automatically as Windows 7 decides what it can prioritize.</p> <p>Windows 8.x (yes, haters, step back) actually improves upon boot times, as well. Anyone who has used the new OS can attest to its fast boot times. Win8 moves startup optimization to the Task Manager (ctrl-shift-esc). Click on the Startup tab, and Windows 8 will even tell you what’s slowing things down, and give you an estimate of how long it took to boot after the process was handed over to the OS.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/msconfig_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/msconfig_small.jpg" alt="You can manually deselect programs that start up from msconfig to speedify your boots." width="620" height="414" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>You can manually deselect programs that start up from msconfig to speedify your boots.</strong></p> <p>Those of us who have moved on to the SSD-based western shores of Valinor live lives fairly well untroubled by slow startups. But those poor souls of middle earth still using mechanical-based drives are the ones who need to concern themselves with startup optimization.&nbsp;</p> <h3> <hr />Consider an upgrade</h3> <p><strong>Hardware isn’t always the answer, but it usually is</strong></p> <p>The vast majority of our tips to clean up a slow-running PC can be solved in software, but sometimes software isn’t the answer. How will you know the difference? One of the clearest indicators is age. Old PC components do not age like wine. If you’re at your buddy’s house to “take a look at his computer” and that computer is a Pentium 4 or Athlon XP, it’s a lost cause.</p> <p>So, while most newbs you’re trying to help can still benefit from the cleaning tips in this story, the P4/Athlon XP machines aren’t going to sing no matter how much you tune them. Putting money into a hardware upgrade for these old dogs should be carefully weighed: new parts can be difficult to locate and everything in the box is suspect.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/p4.northwood_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/p4.northwood_small.jpg" alt="Unless you’re in the retro computing club, we’d recommend dumping that Pentium 4 box." title="P4" width="620" height="496" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Unless you’re in the retro computing club, we’d recommend dumping that Pentium 4 box.</strong></p> <p>It’s not so bad for a Phenom II or Core 2 box. In fact, these machines can be quite workable if the user has realistic expectations. Dropping an SSD into a Phenom II or Core 2 rig would be a game-changer for these old platforms, even if the motherboard doesn’t support the full SATA 6Gb/s speeds. Sometimes, a little RAM will even help, if the box was already memory-starved to begin with. With a 64-bit OS, 8GB is standard and 4GB is borderline.</p> <p>If gaming needs a boost, dropping in a newer GPU can certainly help. Even those rigs that are constrained by low-wattage PSUs now have a modern option with Nvidia’s new Maxwell series, which can run on even 300W PSUs.</p> <p>If the machine is also running that now-abandoned OS, Windows XP, an OS upgrade to Windows 7 or even Windows 8 is advised.</p> <p>Obviously, we don’t recommend $400 in upgrades on a $200 PC, but a $100 upgrade on a box that buys the person another 24 months of use can be a godsend for those on tight budgets. As we said, though, everything at or below the P4/Athlon XP line should be abandoned.</p> <h3>Visualize your drive</h3> <p><strong>Think of WinDirStat as Google Maps for your HDDs</strong></p> <p>You’ve cleaned up the extraneous system files on your machine, but the real junk is the gigabytes of nothingness you’ve collected from repeatedly dumping that 32GB memory card onto the hard drive because you were afraid to delete something you might need later. Six months later, those same unkempt files are bogging down your system and freeloading on your dime. When space gets tight, we turn to WinDirStat (<a href=""></a>).</p> <p>In the past, when drives were smaller and your file-hoarding was limited to a mere 500GB or so, you could rely on the good old-fashioned search-and-destroy technique: browsing through Windows Explorer for old photos, games, and files that you simply don’t use anymore. With 3TB and even 4TB drives packed with god knows what, that technique isn’t effective anymore. Instead, use Windows Directory Statistics, or WinDirStat, to help visualize and locate files on our drives that can be slated for termination. WinDirStat is an extremely lightweight (less than a megabyte) open-source program that scans your hard drive to provide you with three sets of information: directory list, tree map, and file extensions list. The tree map—easily the most attractive feature in the program—represents every file on your hard drive as a colored rectangle. Also handy is the extension list, which gives you total percentages calculated by file extensions.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/windirstat_small_2.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/windirstat_small_1.jpg" alt="We dig the simple and effective representation of our hard drives from WinDirStat." width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>We dig the simple and effective representation of our hard drives from WinDirStat.</strong></p> <p>The tree map is the handiest and helps you easily see where you have bloat on your drives—the bigger the file, the bigger the rectangle. Scrolling over files displays the file name and its location, and you can delete files from within the program by selecting a file and pressing the delete key.</p> <h3>Dedupe it</h3> <p><strong>Duplicate often </strong></p> <p>Most people treat hard drives like the attic or garage. Rather than immediately culling extra files, you simply put it in storage to deal with at a later date (the road to hell, good intentions, etc). No matter that you already put those files in storage just last week—you’ll get around to dumping the duplicate files eventually. While there are many, many deduplication tools available, one good starting place is Auslogic’s free Duplicate File Finder app (<a href=""></a>) It doesn’t have the bells or whistles of apps that analyze audio, photo, and video for duplicates, but it works fairly fast and is a good way to eliminate the obvious duplicate files. On one old Windows 7 box, Duplicate File Finder turned up a good 39GB of dupes that could be tossed. Simply fire up Duplicate File Finder, have it search your drive, and it will give you a list of duplicate files. Under Action, select All Duplicates In Each Group, and it will mark the duplicate files for dumping into a trash can, or moving into the Rescue Center, where you can recover the file if you realize later on you made a mistake.</p> <p>The program works well enough, but we wouldn’t wipe out files willy-nilly without first making a separate backup and making sure that the irreplaceable files going away are actually duplicates. DFF will show you the file name, file size, and creation date, which gives most people enough confidence to delete, but the paranoia in us would want to visually confirm it, too. This same philosophy is probably what brought us to this space issue in the first place. After all, am I sure I really did copy all of the images from the memory card to the computer? Even the ones I took last weekend? I’ll just make another copy... I have plenty of space.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/duplicatefilefinder_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/duplicatefilefinder_small.jpg" alt="Duplicate File Finder can quickly, er, find your duplicate files." title="Duplicate File Finder " width="620" height="484" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Duplicate File Finder can quickly, er, find your duplicate files.</strong></p> <h3>Optimize your storage</h3> <p><strong>Storage is usually the prime suspect in system slowdowns</strong></p> <p>Before we get started discussing problems with your storage system and how to optimize it, make sure you have done two things: First, that you’ve connected your SSD to a SATA 6Gb/s port on your motherboard (consult your manual), and second, that you’ve enabled AHCI on your SATA controller via the motherboard BIOS. If you’ve already installed Windows and your SATA controller is set to IDE instead of AHCI, hit Google to find the registry hack to fix it. And yes, running in IDE mode rather than AHCI on a modern SSD can indeed rob you of performance.</p> <p>With that out of the way, the first thing to do when you sense your system is slowing down and you see your hard-drive activity LED churning constantly, is enlist the trusty three-finger salute. For the uninitiated, that means pressing ctrl-alt-delete to bring up the Task Manager in Windows. Select the Performance tab to see if anything is spiking or is nearing 100 percent utilization. From there, you can go to the Processes tab to see which process is taking up all those resources. In the screenshot below, we see a staff member’s work PC that suffered daily paralyzation at the hands of a virus scan and several associated processes. The resolution was to kill the processes, then make sure to schedule the virus scans during non-work hours.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/ssd_optimize_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/ssd_optimize_small.jpg" alt="Both Samsung and Intel offer free “tuning” software that helps keep your SSD running in tip-top shape. " width="620" height="467" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Both Samsung and Intel offer free “tuning” software that helps keep your SSD running in tip-top shape. </strong></p> <p>If everything looks fine in the Task Manager but the system still feels slow, run a few benchmarks to see if the numbers are up to spec. For sequential read and write tests, we recommend Crystal-DiskMark for SSDs and HDTune for Hard drives. Admittedly, none of us use HDDs for our OS anymore—there’s no reason to with SSD prices falling faster than the value of Bitcoin.</p> <p>If you run the benchmarks and find the performance is lacking on your SSD, you have a few options. Your first is to optimize the drive via the Trim command. What this does is send a command to the drive that tells it to run its garbage-collection routine, which means it will erase all the blocks that have been deleted, clearing the way for them to receive fresh writes. If the drive has not been trimmed in a while, data can become fragmented all over the drive, and since blocks of an SSD have to be erased before they are written to (as opposed to a hard drive, where they can just be overwritten at any time), a simple write command can require the controller to delete blocks, move data around, and then perform the write, which can seriously degrade performance.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/wtf_-_copy_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/wtf_-_copy_small.jpg" alt="If your system feels like it’s stuck in the mud, the Task Manager will reveal what’s causing the problem. " width="620" height="564" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>If your system feels like it’s stuck in the mud, the Task Manager will reveal what’s causing the problem. </strong></p> <p>In general, if you’re running Windows 7 or newer, you should be fine. However, you can Trim a drive manually on Windows 8: right-click the drive in My Computer, and click Properties, Tools, and then Optimize. If you own a Samsung or Intel SSD, you can download the free Samsung Magician or SSD Toolbox software, respectively, which also let you Trim your drive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3>HDD “Optimization”</h3> <p><strong>Fast hard drives aren’t</strong></p> <p>If you are running a hard drive and want to optimize it, there’s not a whole lot you can do beyond keeping it defragmented. To make sure it’s “defragged,” right-click the drive, select Properties, Tools, and then Defragmentation. Ideally, you should do this after you’ve done your cleaning of unused junk from the machine. If it’s your boot device, some people like to disable hibernation before a defrag to get a little extra “boost” out of the defrag by eliminating the multi-gigabyte hiberfil.sys file. Frankly, we don’t think it matters much anymore. In our opinion, the concept of a “fast hard drive” is antiquated now, due to SSDs, as is the concept of “optimizing” them. Any gains you make toward keeping a hard drive optimized will be largely unnoticeable in the real world, beyond dumping the useless cruft and running a basic defrag, which the OS will do on its own.</p> <h3>Let’s Get Physical</h3> <p><strong>Knock, knock, house cleaning</strong></p> <p>Unless you live in a HEPA-filtered cleanroom, a desktop PC will eventually need a physical cleanup as well as a digital one. That means opening up the case, which means turning off your rig and unplugging it from the wall. Don’t want to lose a finger in those fan blades. Most case panels are secured with six-sided Phillips screws, sometimes call a “hex” screw. Or they have thumbscrews, which can usually be removed by hand. Once taken out, keep these together in a small container. An empty coffee mug will do in a pinch.</p> <p>If you’ve had this PC for several months, you should see a coating of dust inside. That has to be removed, because it insulates surfaces and clogs up fans, which can lead to overheating. With a can of compressed air, spray short bursts at the dust. Long sprays can freeze the inner workings of the can. And tilting the can may also cause its liquid to spray, which contains a solvent that can damage the contact surface. Ideally, do this dusting outside, because you don’t want all that dust floating around indoors.</p> <p>Case fan filters can also get gnarly. These days, most of them slide out. Spray them with air, or remove them, run them under the tap, and air dry. Fans themselves also get grody. You may need to temporarily remove the CPU fan from the heatsink to clean both items sufficiently. When spraying fans, hold their blades down to prevent them from spinning, otherwise you may damage the motor.</p> <p>A periodic disinfecting wipe or baby wipe can take care of your mouse, but keyboards usually need you to pull their keycaps to really get at the crustiness underneath. A puller tool is best for this. You can order one online from Newegg or Amazon, and regional computer stores like Fry’s and Microcenter usually sell them. Some people run their boards through the dishwasher. Don’t use detergent or hot water for that, and give them at least a day to fully dry out.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/babywipes_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/babywipes_small.jpg" alt="Gordon agrees, baby wipes work amazingly well for cleaning the surfaces of a dirty desktop or laptop." width="620" height="381" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Gordon agrees, baby wipes work amazingly well for cleaning the surfaces of a dirty desktop or laptop.</strong></p> <p>Last but not least, don’t forget to wipe the dust off your monitor’s screen. But don’t use conventional glass cleaner, because it can permanently damage the panel. You can buy screen-cleaning kits from most office supply stores, or you can use a spare microfiber cloth, like the kind made for camera lenses. Pharmacies also stock these. Just gently wipe the screen with it. If you need some liquid to clean the screen, spray your cloth with plain water from a mister. Never spray the screen itself, because the liquid can drip into the panel housing and corrode the components within.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/kitten_p34_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/kitten_p34_small.jpg" alt="Tuxie the cat, pointing out a spot Josh missed while cleaning." width="620" height="521" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Tuxie the cat, pointing out a spot we missed while cleaning.</strong></p> <h4>An Ounce of Prevention</h4> <p>If you’ve just cleaned out a rig that’s never seen a proper cleaning, you’re probably wondering what you can do to avoid such horrors in the future. Fan filters are obviously one option. If they’re not built into your case, you can get them from sites like Newegg, Amazon, and Frozen CPU. Some have magnets, and you just slap them on; others need to be screwed in. To get the correct sizing, measure your fan diagonally with a ruler. The most common size is 120mm. A filter’s dense mesh will reduce airflow and increase temps in the case, so there’s a trade-off. Even the best filter will not completely eliminate dust, it will only reduce the number of times per year that you need to clean the insides. Smokers and owners of furry pets will also need to clean more often than usual. Periodically brushing those critters will help reduce buildup.</p> <p>And we don’t know if we have to mention this, but washing your hands a few times over the course of the day will also help prevent unsightly crud from building up on your input devices. This is especially important after a meal or after spending time outdoors. And speaking of food, try to keep it away from your keyboard, which is a crumb magnet and said to be dirtier than a toilet. If your mouse pad has an old-style fabric surface, you may want to consider eliminating it altogether (unless your desk is made of glass), or switching to one made of plastic or metal—materials that can be cleaned quickly and easily.</p> <h3>Nuke it from orbit</h3> <p><strong>Nothing can save LV426, so when it’s too mangled or infested, just nuke it</strong></p> <p>We won’t bother telling you to back up your data before you send your OS to meet its maker, because that is too obvious. But before you nuke the OS, make sure you have everything you need.</p> <p>What might not be obvious is that because of piracy, a lot of the more expensive software packages require activation, which also requires you to deactivate any serial numbers before you begin your bombing run. Most professional Adobe packages work this way, so if you’re running Photoshop, Illustrator, or any locally stored creative suite, be sure to open the app, click Help, and then Deactivate. Make sure you’ve done it correctly by firing up the program again to see if it asks you to activate. If it does, you’re good to go; keep in mind you’ll need Internet access to successfully do this. Also keep in mind that if you deactivate a piece of software, then upgrade your system, the software might think it’s a different computer, which can complicate re-activation.</p> <p>The activation process varies on a program-to-program basis, so use Google if you run into any issues. Microsoft’s Office suites react the same as the operating system, and any significant change in hardware will trigger a reactivation. The bottom line: If you have a mission critical application that you absolutely have to have up and running as soon as possible, be sure to know what the re-activation process is before you pull the trigger so there are no surprises. Some apps require you to contact the vendor for a new code before they will run, which is a wonderful thing to learn at midnight Friday before a three-day weekend when you need the app that night.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/adobe_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/adobe_small.jpg" alt="In order to reinstall certain software, such as Adobe products, you must first deactivate the serial key." width="620" height="444" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>In order to reinstall certain software, such as Adobe products, you must first deactivate the serial key.</strong></p> <p>There are other apps you should also pay attention to. First up, browser bookmarks. Chrome will let you sync your bookmarks on other machines, but you need to set it up to do so. If you’re into the old-school method, you can also export your bookmarks file as HTML and then re-import it. You’ll want to make sure you have a copy of your iTunes library handy, too, which is located in C:\Users\Username\My Music. Be sure to deauthorize iTunes while you’re at it. You’ll also want to back up your Steam library so that you don’t have to re-download all your games. To do this in Steam, click Steam in the upper left-hand corner, select Backup and Restore Games, then follow the prompts. Alternatively, you can do it manually by copying the entire Steam directory over. You no longer have to worry about save-game files, since they are now all automatically saved to the “Steam Cloud.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/steam_backup_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/steam_backup_small.jpg" alt="Steam includes a built-in Backup and Restore tool, and we recommend using it." width="620" height="362" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Steam includes a built-in Backup and Restore tool, and we recommend using it.</strong></p> <p>Your final stop on this trail of tears is to make sure you have all the drivers you need for anything connected to your PC. At the very minimum, be sure to have your chipset and LAN drivers, as those always go first, and with an Internet connection you can always download anything else you need care of the helpful SlimDrivers utility. Don’t forget your printer drivers, though, and it doesn’t hurt to download Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1 either, though Windows Update could also do it for you.</p> <p>Once you’ve deactivated your software, collected all the serial keys you need, made sure your Steam and iTunes libraries are backed up, saved your browser bookmarks, and have all your drivers, you are ready to proceed. Before you reboot your PC to reinstall, be sure to take a moment to consider all the amazing times it’s given you. Once that’s complete, shut her down, and we’ll see you on the other side.</p> Adobe application malware May issues 2014 restore computer Software Office Applications Software Features Mon, 15 Sep 2014 22:49:00 +0000 Maximum PC staff 28340 at The Upgrade to Windows 8.1 Guide <!--paging_filter--><h3><img src="/files/u152332/upgrade_small_1.jpg" width="280" height="227" style="float: right;" /></h3> <h3>To all the Windows 8 haters out there, we feel your pain! The update might be too little, too late for some, but if you're ready to accept a Win 8.1 fate, our guide will get you started</h3> <p>Sometimes we wonder if Microsoft didn’t actually build a new OS so much as a Frankenstein that its customers could direct years of pent up anger, frustration, and fear onto. For example, just hint that Windows 8.0 ain’t that bad on the Internet, and some Windows users will react as if you keyed their mint ’64 Chevelle Malibu and kicked their dog with your steel-toed boot. To say you’ll get a beat down of YouTube-able proportions is an understatement of people’s rage at Windows 8.0 today.</p> <p>It’s this gale-force headwind that Microsoft is flying into with its first major update to the much-maligned OS, which some blame for the record declines in PC sales. Dubbed Windows 8.1, this point release promises to address some of the major concerns people have with Windows 8.0 and even reintroduce the familiar Start button. But does it? Can this simple point release calm the seething masses?</p> <p>Maybe and maybe not. If anything, it might actually make some people even angrier. Windows 8.1 brings back the Start button, yes, but it turns out it wasn’t just the Start button we wanted, but the Start Menu that came with it. The process to even get the update and who exactly gets it and the work-arounds isn’t going to make too many friends, either. In the past, major updates could be downloaded and installed on all of your machines en masse with little effort. Not so this time. Just getting the update on Windows 8.0 requires following a flow chart and throwing chicken bones across the top of your chassis.</p> <p>Yes, we know you’re skeptical, distrustful, and even a little pissed off, but to find out the full skinny on what you need to do to get Windows 8.1 and whether it’s even worth the hassle, and how to make the most of it should you decide to take the plunge, you’ll need to read the whole story.</p> <h3>Installation Issues</h3> <p><strong>Updating to Win8.1: easy for some, a real PITA for others</strong></p> <p>Windows 8.1 is no mere Service Pack. No, it’s a whole tenth better than Windows 8.0, thus the point-release designation by Microsoft. Therein lies most of the problems with even getting Windows 8.1. People expect it to be as easy and painless as a Service Pack, but it ain’t. For the vast majority of folks, it just works, but that’s no consolation to those of us who hit snags. Here are the possible issues you could encounter. (Note: We highly recommended that you run a backup before you install the upgrade, as going back isn’t always easy).</p> <h4>Who Qualifies for the Upgrade?</h4> <p>Anyone who is currently running Windows 8.0 or the Windows 8.1 Preview is eligible for the upgrade. If you were waiting for the notification to pop up in Windows Update that Windows 8.1 is ready for download, stop. In its infinite wisdom, Microsoft has decided that despite intense hatred by many of the Modern interface, that’s the only place you can get the Windows 8.1 update, in the Windows Store. Even more confusing, this won’t work for everyone. Those running the Enterprise version of Windows 8 or Win8 Pro using a volume license, MSDN, MAK, or TechNet key will not be able to grab the update in this manner. Instead, Microsoft is recommending that those with VLK versions download the ISO from MSDN or TechNet and perform an in-place upgrade. Enterprise users are recommended to just talk to their sys admin about how to update. Not sure what you’re running? Just hit Windows R and type slmgr.vbs –dli and Windows will identify your version.</p> <h4>No 64-bit for You!</h4> <p>Microsoft has included the requirement that the 64-bit version of Windows 8.1 support the CMPXCHG16b instruction. This won’t cause problems for anyone with a modern CPU, but if you’re using one of those earlier CPUs that had 64-bit support but not an explicit CMPXCHG16b instruction, you’re screwed. According to formerly in-print, the affected chips include Athlon 64 X2 parts, Opteron 185, and other “vintage” 64-bit processors. Sometimes, it’s not even just the CPU, as reports indicate that the Core 2 Quad, which apparently supports the instruction, is stopped by the error because the P35 chipset doesn’t support it. The “fix” is to run 32-bit, or not run the upgrade. There is also a reported work-around but it’s no fun to execute and would take a page just to describe. Poo.</p> <h4>I Don’t See No Stinkin’ Upgrade</h4> <p>Getting the upgrade should be simple, except it’s not. First, as we said, you can only get it through the Windows Store from within the Modern UI. Second, well, sometimes it still won’t show up. Why not? You need to have all of the previous updates installed first. You may also need to reset the Windows Store. You can do this by swiping in from the right, touching the magnifying glass icon, and… oh hell, forget that. Just start a command prompt by hitting Windows Key + R and typing wsreset.exe. Now reboot. Go back into the Store and the update should be displayed prominently. Still not getting it? It’s possible that your Windows 8 is a version that doesn’t qualify—meaning it’s an Enterprise or Professional version using a product key from MSDN, TechNet, or a volume license. Unfortunately, your only answer may be an in-place upgrade (if you’re lucky) or nuking from orbit.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/upgrade_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/upgrade_small.jpg" alt="The Windows 8.1 upgrade can only be found in the Windows Store, and only after all Win 8.0 updates are applied." width="620" height="502" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Windows 8.1 upgrade can only be found in the Windows Store, and only after all Win 8.0 updates are applied.</strong></p> <h4>Updating from the Preview Version</h4> <p>If you installed the preview version of Windows 8.1 and are still using it, your trial license is about to expire. After January 2014, you have to activate with a retail product key. You'll still need to download the final version of the OS, too. Thankfully, you can get that update from the Windows Store, just as if you were upgrading from a retail copy of Windows 8.0. The store is the green-and-white "shopping bag" icon on the Start screen, which you access by pressing the Windows key on your keyboard.</p> <p>If you made a "clean install" of the preview version from ISO media, where you use a DVD or USB key to completely replace the current operating system instead of upgrading from it (or you installed onto a blank hard drive), you too can use the Windows Store to upgrade to version 8.1.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h4>Start Menus and Microsoft Accounts</h4> <p>Since Windows 8 no longer comes with a Start menu, a cottage industry has emerged to fill the gap. Windows 8.1 has a Start button, but no new functionality is present. Our third-party Start menu, Start Menu 8 (free, <a href=""></a>), had no issues with our updating to Windows 8.1. Microsoft's new Start button just never appeared.</p> <p>The trickier issue is Microsoft accounts. By default, Windows 8.1 does not invite you to create a standard local account during the installation phase, which stores your credentials on your computer like usual, rather than on Microsoft's server in the "cloud." Instead, the company wants you to sign into a pre-existing account for services like Hotmail or, or create a new one inside this networked ecosystem. To get around this installation step, click Create Account instead of entering your or Hotmail login. Then, at the bottom of the next page, click "Continue using my existing account." If you are installing 8.1 from scratch, you will have the option to create a new local account instead.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a href="/files/u152332/microsoft_account_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/microsoft_account.jpg" width="620" height="435" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;<strong>Win 8.1 will prompt you to create a Microsoft account, but you can bypass that in favor of a local login.</strong></p> <p>An MS account isn't bad news or anything. It allows you to use SkyDrive to sync your apps and settings across different PCs. It will let you consolidate Facebook, Twitter, Outlook, and LinkedIn feeds into the People app. It makes Hotmail and integration smoother. And you need it to get and update apps from the App Store, anyway. (You don't have to worry about not being able to log in if you're offline, because Windows itself will "remember" the last correct password you entered.) You can also switch your PC from an MS account to a local account later on.</p> <h4>Updating Multiple PCs to 8.1</h4> <p>If you have a small business or a household with a bunch of Windows 8.0 machines, downloading the 8.1 update for each PC could take a lot of time and bandwidth, since each download is basically the entire OS. But we know a trick to convert this download into an ISO, which you can then put on a DVD or USB flash drive, so that you only need to download it once. Be advised, however, that this only apparently works if you are running a retail version of Windows 8.0—the downloader rejected the OEM keys we tried as well as the “generic keys” floating around the Internets.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/creatingiso_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/creatingiso_small.jpg" alt="You can download a full ISO of Windows 8.1 to perform an in-place upgrade or even clean installs, sorta." width="620" height="459" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>You can download a full ISO of Windows 8.1 to perform an in-place upgrade or even clean installs, sorta.</strong></p> <p>Pick any of your Windows 8.0 PCs and navigate to this Microsoft site: <a href=""></a>. Have your product key ready. Click the "Install Windows 8.1" button. Choose "Install by creating media," click Next, select ISO File, and click Next again. Choose the destination folder of the download, and click Next. The program will now download the Windows 8.1 update and create an ISO for it. Then it will ask if you want to burn the ISO to a DVD right now. You do have the option to create a bootable USB stick, but the general consensus is to just save the ISO instead, as you can always create a bootable USB stick version later on using the Windows 7 USB/DVD download tool: <a href=""></a>. Using this disc, you’re still limited to an in-place upgrade only—not a service-pack-like upgrade.</p> <h4>Activating a Windows 8.1 ISO with an 8.0 Key</h4> <p>You may have been told that you can't install Windows 8.1 from scratch and use a Windows 8.0 key. However, you can use a "generic" key designed for testing. The “generic” keys we refer to are those floating around the Internets—if you Bing “generic Windows 8.1 key” it shouldn’t take too long to find. Using the generic key, you will be able to eval Windows 8.1 for 120 days. Once you’ve entered in the correct generic key for your version of Windows (either Core or Pro) you can now activate it with your original, licensed Windows 8.0 key.</p> <p>Once you've completed installation using one of these keys, open Windows Explorer (it's the folder icon in your taskbar), right-click This PC, select Properties, and click the link at the bottom-right that says Activate Windows. Then click the first Enter Key button and enter your Windows 8.0 retail key. Your copy of Windows 8.1 is now officially installed.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/changing_product_key_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/changing_product_key_small.jpg" alt="You can download a full ISO of Windows 8.1 to perform an in-place upgrade or even clean installs, sorta." width="620" height="388" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Windows 8.1 introduces a visual upgrade to the method for changing your product key.</strong></p> <p><strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <hr /> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3>Customization</h3> <p><strong>The essential first steps to making Win 8.1 desktop-worthy</strong></p> <p>Like candy? Then you’ll love Windows 8.1, because the improvements Microsoft has made in its first major iterative update to the Windows 8 operating system include a ton of eye-candy tweaks that should make your experience within the operating system prettier, at least—and in some cases, a bit more user-friendly!</p> <p>No, you still don’t get a “real” Start button and, no, you can’t ditch the Modern UI for good without a third-party program. We’ll consider Microsoft’s tweaks to be but baby steps on the grand evolution of its Windows 8 ecosystem, one that hopefully comes with even more happy desktop/Modern UI integration for those still displeased by the touch-themed tidbits of Microsoft’s latest OS.</p> <h4>Boot to Desktop</h4> <p>One of the most frustrating elements of Windows 8 is its inability to boot directly to the classic Windows desktop, instead dumping users onto the Start screen with each and every flick of the power switch. Thankfully, Windows 8.1 gives you a bit more freedom in that regard.</p> <p>To boot to Desktop mode instead of the Start screen, hit up your desktop, right-click your taskbar, and select Properties. Click the Navigation tab and select the option: “When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start.” How’s that for a description?</p> <h4>Simplify Your Login</h4> <p>Good for you; you have a strong password for your Microsoft Live account and you aren’t afraid to use it. If you’re the only one who ever has access to your desktop or laptop, however, maybe the act of typing in that 30-character passphrase is more trouble than it’s worth. Let’s simplify.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/windows8_screen_2_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/windows8_screen_2_small.jpg" alt="While Microsoft’s picture passwords make more sense for tablet users, you can still have a bit of (secure) fun working your mouse-drawing skills." width="620" height="346" /></a></p> <p>Switch over to Windows 8.1’s Modern UI, hover your mouse in the lower-right corner to reveal the Charms Bar, and click the Settings button. Click Change PC Settings on the bottom-right corner, click Accounts, and then click Sign-in Options. Set up a PIN, and you’ll have a much easier time logging into your home system without compromising the integrity of your long Live password. Set up a picture password, and you’ll get to have a bit of fun using taps, circle-gestures, and lines to serve as your system’s new authentication method.</p> <h4>Set Your Defaults</h4> <p>One of the first places we like to stop within Windows 8.1—after we’ve installed some of our favorite third-party apps such as Media Player Classic (or VLC) for our videos and Chrome for our webpages—is the operating system’s list of default programs. That doesn’t sound very sexy, we realize, but it’s a key part of Windows 8.1 that allows you to exert an iron fist over how your operating system treats your files.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/windows8_screen_3_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/windows8_screen_3_small.jpg" alt="We often find ourselves checking the Default Programs window from time to time, just in case something else has taken over our favorite app’s file types." width="620" height="351" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>We often find ourselves checking the Default Programs window from time to time, just in case something else has taken over our favorite app’s file types.</strong></p> <p>Fire up the Modern UI, type in default, and select the Default Programs option that appears within the sidebar search results. Click “Set your default programs,” and then find an app in the left-hand portion of the window that appears that you want to be, well, the default app for all file types that it can open. Highlight it, click the “Set this program as default” option, and you’ll never have to wonder why Windows Media Player is trying to load your jams instead of VLC.</p> <h4>Personalize Your Taskbar for Multiple Displays</h4> <p>Running two monitors at once is an awesome feeling. Such power. Getting your taskbar to play friendly with both monitors is the Mario Super Star of a dual-display setup in Windows 8.1, and here’s how you do it: Hit up Windows 8.1’s desktop mode and right-click the taskbar, then select Properties, which will bring up the new “Taskbar and Navigation properties” window. On the very first tab that appears (Taskbar), you’ll see a few options toward the very bottom.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/windows8_screen_4_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/windows8_screen_4_small.jpg" alt="We were just as confused as you when we couldn’t find our file libraries in Windows 8.1." width="620" height="405" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>We were just as confused as you when we couldn’t find our file libraries in Windows 8.1.</strong></p> <p>Uncheck the “Show taskbar on all displays” to confine your taskbar to one display. If you’d rather be a bit more surgical about your taskbar, you can always select on which taskbar you’d prefer your running apps’ buttons be located, depending on what screen they’re active on. You can also globally set whether you want an app’s multiple windows to combine into a single button, or exist as independent objects on each taskbar. (The “Taskbar buttons” setting controls your primary monitor; the “Buttons on other taskbars” controls your other monitors.)</p> <h4>Unify Your Desktop and Start Screen Backgrounds</h4> <p>A new tweak in Windows 8.1 finally allows us to use a single desktop background for both the Modern UI and Windows 8.1’s desktop mode. To unify these two seemingly disparate environments, right-click your taskbar on the Windows 8.1 desktop and select Properties. From there, click the Navigation tab. Select the option to “Show my desktop background on Start,” and you’ll now be able to look at the same, pretty picture regardless of whether you’re clicking around the Modern UI or “classic” Windows desktop.</p> <h4>How to Disable Charms (sort of) and Recent-app Switching</h4> <p>Tired of all those funky bits of Windows 8.1’s Modern UI appearing unexpectedly, like when you accidentally mouse over one of the four corners of your display? We can fix that; we have the power. Fire up the Start screen, move your mouse over to the lower-right corner, click Settings, and then click Change PC Settings at the bottom. Select “PC and devices,” and then “Corners and edges.”</p> <p>While you can’t disable everything about the Modern UI, you can use the corresponding on/off switches to hide Windows 8.1’s upper-left Recent Apps pullout, in addition to the upper-right hotspot for the Charms Bar. You’ll still be able to (or have to) access the Charms Bar via Windows 8.1’s lower-right hotspot, but it’s a start, right?</p> <h4>Restore Your Libraries in File Explorer</h4> <p>Once you’ve made the jump to Windows 8.1, you might notice that a certain part of File Explorer no longer exists—namely, easy access to your good-ol’ Windows libraries, those helpful Documents, Music, Video, and Pictures links that gave you a quick and easy way to check out all of your writing and media.</p> <p>Well, the libraries may be gone, but they’re not gone for good. To bring them back into File Explorer, you just need to fire it up and click the View tab. From there, click the Navigation Pane button toward the upper-left of the window, and then select “Show libraries.” This little buried setting might be tricky to find on your own, but it’s worth the five-second trip.</p> <h4>Tile Management</h4> <p><strong>Making the most of Modern UI</strong></p> <p>We’re not 100 percent sold on the jarring changes that Microsoft has constructed between its tried-and-true Windows desktop and its newfangled touchscreen-themed experience. However, we have become a bit more accustomed to tiles since Windows 8’s launch last October, and Windows 8.1 does offer some important improvements to make the Modern UI a bit more palatable—for those not already using third-party programs to write it off for good.</p> <h4>A Brand-New Start Screen</h4> <p>One of the most headache-inducing elements of Windows 8’s Start screen was that Microsoft gave its users absolutely no way to contain the flood of shortcuts—now tiles—that would invariably litter the area after the installation of just a few applications.</p> <p>Windows 8.1 reverses this treatment. Now, your Start screen is as bare as bare can be; you have to manually select apps that you want to see when you jump into the Modern UI. Tiles won’t just appear by default on your Start screen whenever you install an application—yes, even a Windows Store app.</p> <p>So, how do you get your favorite apps onto your Start screen? Pull up the Start screen and jiggle your mouse until an arrow icon appears in the lower-left corner. Click that to access the All Apps screen, and then right-click any of your tiles and select Pin to Start from the bar of options that appears at the bottom of the screen.</p> <h4>Control Thy Tiles</h4> <p>It’s a lot easier to go about modifying your tiles than it ever was on plain-ol’ Windows 8. Here’s what we mean: Pull up the Start screen and right-click a tile. Heck, right-click a few tiles—multiple-tile attribute editing has been beefed up in this new iteration of Microsoft’s OS.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/windows8_screen_8_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/windows8_screen_8_small.jpg" alt="We were just as confused as you when we couldn’t find our file libraries in Windows 8.1." width="620" height="588" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Goodbye, single-app-at-a-time uninstallations. Why Microsoft didn’t slap this into Windows 8 by default, we’ll never know.</strong></p> <p>Once you’ve done so, you’ll see an option at the bottom of your screen for resizing tiles. Click that, and you’ll be given one of four sizes to choose from, ranging from Small (1/4 a standard tile size) to Large (four tiles’ worth of space). Selecting Medium gives you the default Windows 8.1 tile dimension, whereas Wide allows you take up two tiles’ worth of space by one tile’s height. While you’re there, you can also use the “Turn Live Tile Off” option to do just that—transforming your Windows 8.1 tiles into static representations of shortcuts rather than little boxes that are otherwise updated with news based on whatever the tile happens to be (assuming the tile supports the feature).</p> <p>You can also more easily remove apps (as in, Windows Apps, not applications) from your system—uninstalling multiple apps at once—by right-clicking each one you want gone on the Start screen and selecting the Uninstall option. Once you do so, you’ll be asked to pick whether you want to simply nuke them from the system you’re currently using, or whether you want to remove the apps from all the systems whose settings have been synchronized to your Microsoft Live account. To note: This only really works well with apps, as mentioned; trying to uninstall apps and applications simultaneously gives preference to the former over the latter.</p> <p>And, of course, moving and grouping tiles is easier in Windows 8.1, as well. Select your tiles and drag them to a new, empty column (you’ll know you’ve nailed it once Windows displays a giant, translucent gray bar), and then type in a name for your new chunk of shortcuts in the Name Group field. It’s as easy as that!</p> <h4>Master the New ‘View’</h4> <p>This might win over you Modern UI haters: Windows 8.1 brings some new improvements to its Snap treatment of Modern apps. Depending on the size and/or number of monitors you’re rocking, you can have up to eight different Windows apps running and visible at once.</p> <p>Ready? Fire up a Windows app within the Modern UI, move your mouse to the top of the screen until your cursor changes into a hand, and then click and drag the entire app toward the far left or far right of your monitor. You’ll now see some empty gray space on the other side. Left-click anywhere within that to launch a new app, side-by-side, in the empty space.</p> <p>Now that you have your screen split into two, if you want to go for the big three (and your screen allows it), launch an app from the Start screen on the monitor that your two split apps are running on. When you do, the app itself will appear to float in the center of your screen for a bit. Click it, hold down your mouse button, and keep it hovering over the center divider. <br />Voilà—your Modern UI will magically make room for more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h4>SkyDrive Mastery</h4> <p><strong>More robust options make Win8.1’s cloud storage a compelling option</strong></p> <p>Microsoft seems a little more ready to tackle the cloud storage world with its SkyDrive service, now that the 7GB of free cloud storage comes more baked into Windows 8.1 than it did with Windows 8.</p> <p>And this is more than Microsoft just dropping a shortcut to SkyDrive within File Explorer and calling it a day. A number of nifty features work behind the scenes to ensure you aren’t sucking down massive amounts of data that you might not necessarily need (or worse, filling up a limited hard drive with a ton of unnecessary SkyDrive content). Your SkyDrive folder will be accessible and searchable just like any other folder on your physical hard drive. However, only when you go to access a file will Microsoft pull it down from the cloud.</p> <p>And yes, you can still manually select to synchronize as many files and folders as you want if you’re more into the Dropbox “sync everything” method. That said, onto the tips!</p> <h4>View/Add SkyDrive Storage</h4> <p>If you’re concerned about how much space you might be eating up of your 7GB of free SkyDrive storage—or want to add more—Microsoft’s made it easy for you to check and/or buy. Fire up the Start screen, pull open the Charms Bar, and click Settings. Click Change PC Settings, and then select the SkyDrive option. The very first screen you then see will tell you how much storage you’re using, in total, and give you the option to purchase more if you’re so inclined.</p> <h4>Saving Your Stuff</h4> <p>A nifty new feature in Windows 8.1 is the ability to have supported apps prompt you with the option to save your files to the cloud instead of your local hard drive. The best and easiest example of this is Microsoft Word. Enable the option, and you’ll always first be given the chance to stick your files in your SkyDrive documents folder, a real time-saver if you’re a SkyDrive aficionado. To turn on this option, just flick the little switch below the SkyDrive storage information that we previously mentioned. You can’t miss it, as it’s labeled “Save documents to SkyDrive by default.”</p> <h4>Automatically Upload to SkyDrive</h4> <p>If you’re the kind of person who wants to make sure that everything you’re doing on your smartphone or camera, for example, is automatically saved to the cloud, Windows 8.1 makes it easy. Under the Camera Roll menu within the aforementioned SkyDrive settings screen, you’ll find options that allow to you manage the size at which your pictures are automatically stored in the cloud. Additionally, you’ll see the ever-important switch that will allow your system to automatically send videos up to SkyDrive as well.</p> <h4>Sync Your Settings</h4> <p>One of the fancier features of SkyDrive is its ability to synchronize a bevy of your personal settings for Windows 8.1; log into a fresh Windows 8.1 machine with your account, and it’ll look just like what you’re used to using.</p> <p>You can, of course, flip this option on and off within the Sync Settings menu on the SkyDrive settings screen. More importantly, you can choose what you want SkyDrive to sync: your tiles? Your desktop theme? Your app settings? Passwords? The choice is yours.</p> <h3>Make Search Work for You</h3> <p>Turn off Bing As you’ve no doubt noticed, Microsoft’s made a few changes to Windows 8.1’s search functionality. Start typing on the Start screen and you’ll find that your system automatically starts searching through, well, everything: Windows settings, your files, and—guess who?—Bing!</p> <p>If you’re not keen on marrying your offline searching with an ever-present web search, here’s how to ditch it. Fire up the Charms Bar, click Settings, click Change PC Settings, and select “Search and apps.” From there, ditching Bing is as easy as flicking off the switch for “Get search suggestions and web results from Bing.”</p> <p>Hide Your Files Perhaps there are some things you don’t want to automatically populate the default “Everything” search within Windows 8.1. We’re not going to venture to guess what those files actually are—we’re just going to tell you how to make them invisible to Windows 8.1’s watchful eye.</p> <p>If you have data on your hard drive that you don’t want Windows 8.1’s Modern UI-based search to find, simply go to the files or folders within File Explorer, right-click, select Properties, and tick the little checkbox for the Hidden property. If File Explorer isn’t set to view hidden files, your folder or file will vanish from view. To get it back, just check Hidden Items in the View pane of File Explorer. Since they won’t show up in search, you’ll need to remember just where you hid your precious collection of vintage Seka movies.</p> feature how to use January issues 2014 microsoft operating system OS tips Upgrade to Windows 8.1 Office Applications Software Features Thu, 29 May 2014 21:26:17 +0000 Maximum PC staff and David Murphy 27510 at Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Review <!--paging_filter--><h3>Latest update polishes an already valuable tool</h3> <p>Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 is yet another evolution in the life of this impressive and increasingly capable raw photo processing and digital asset management (DAM) application. If you’re not familiar with Lightroom and you’re a photographer, you’ve either been living under a rock or you just got your very first camera kit. Regardless, here’s a quick refresher. Lightroom combines two major modules, along with five additional peripheral modules, all designed to simplify the process of managing and processing the large intake of photographs people take today.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/advanced_healing_brush_small_1.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/advanced_healing_brush_small_0.jpg" alt="Latest update polishes an already valuable tool" title="Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5" width="620" height="374" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Advanced Healing Brush in Lightroom 5 brings a far more useful and, well, advanced healing tool.</strong></p> <p>Lightroom is not a replacement for Photoshop, but rather a companion. In fact, Lightroom is so robust, we find that Photoshop is relegated to very specific tasks and 95 percent of our work can be done in Lightroom alone. Photoshop only becomes necessary for things like stitching panoramas, doing highly customized image sharpening, or very sophisticated image patching or object removal.</p> <p>Don’t confuse Lightroom with Adobe Bridge (the company’s media asset manager), either. Superficially, there is some overlap in their functionality, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that Bridge is “good enough.” We’ve encountered photographers who initially believed that learning Lightroom would be a waste of time because “Bridge does everything Lightroom does.” In every case, these same photographers end up regretting that they didn’t transition to Lightroom sooner.</p> <p>So, what’s new over version 4? For us, the big changes are the Smart Preview system, the enhanced Spot Removal Tool, and the Radial Filter Tool. If you’re a landscape or travel photographer who embeds GPS data in your images, you’ll love the new Map module, which shows your images overlaid on a map. If you often find yourself tweaking perspective in the lens corrections module, you might love the new Upright feature, which automates major perspective corrections. If you do video side-by-side with your still photography, you can now mix video and stills into Lightroom-generated slideshows. All of these improvements plus much more mean there’s something for everyone.</p> <p>The Smart Preview system enables full raw edit-ability in a very lightweight package. We find ourselves wanting to take our work on the road, but taking the tens or even hundreds of gigabytes associated with a large shoot can be daunting. Now with Lightroom 5, we can go to our master collection that’s typically on our big desktop box, select the images we want to take on the road, then select File &gt; Export As Catalogue. In the next screen, uncheck “export negative files,” and check “build / include smart previews.” Under the hood what happens next is that Lightroom exports a new catalog with lightweight, down-sampled files based on Adobe’s Lossy DNG tech. These files are tiny compared to your master raw files, but still maintain full raw edit-ability. If you outsource your raw processing to someone else, now you can realistically deliver jobs via Dropbox rather than shipping a hard drive. When you’re finished working on the road, simply re-import the export catalog to your master catalog, and Lightroom seamlessly integrates all your changes into the master raw file.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/radial-gradient-1_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/radial-gradient-1_small.jpg" alt="Fortunately, the new Radial Filter gives you the ability to quickly apply radial gradients as well as other adjustments." title="Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5" width="620" height="375" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Fortunately, the new Radial Filter gives you the ability to quickly apply radial gradients as well as other adjustments.</strong></p> <p>The enhanced Spot Removal Tool is improved in three ways. First, you have control over edge feathering. Second, you can control the opacity of the removed spot, meaning it’s now capable of doing more natural skin and blemish removal. Third (and this is the big one), you can now paint non-circular removal areas. In LR4, all you could do was click to create a circular spot removal. Now on LR5, if you click and drag you begin painting a mask of any size and shape you desire.</p> <p>The new Radial Filter Tool is marketed by Adobe as a vignette tool with more control, which is true, but we feel this under-sells how useful it is. All the controls you associate with the Graduated Filter tool can now be applied in a radial fashion, as well. This means new ways to quickly correct entire areas surrounding your subject.</p> <p>Unlike most of Adobe’s other apps, Lightroom 5 continues to offer a stand-alone license, which means you “own” it once you’ve bought it rather than paying every month in perpetuity for it. Adobe does offer a “cloud” version, which is bundled with Photoshop Creative Cloud for $40 a month. By itself, Lightroom 5 is $140 new or $80 as an upgrade.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/smart-previews_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/smart-previews_small.jpg" alt="The Smart Preview mode gives you an easy way to edit photos on the road with your laptop and then merge the files back with your powerful desktop once back home." title="Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5" width="620" height="376" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Smart Preview mode gives you an easy way to edit photos on the road with your laptop and then merge the files back with your powerful desktop once back home.</strong></p> <p>All of this doesn’t mean Lightroom is perfect. We’ve previously criticized the underlying code and task scheduling for being sluggish, not taking full advantage of the computing hardware, and not scaling well on faster hardware. Unfortunately, Lightroom 5 doesn’t offer any change here, but it should. Performance isn’t horrible but we’d love to see a lightning-fast preview mode that takes advantage of a raw file’s built-in preview data, à la Camera Bits’s PhotoMechanic, to make culling large volumes of images faster.</p> <p>Ultimately, though, just because a tool is the best choice doesn’t mean it’s flawless. If you’re a hobbyist or professional photographer, Lightroom deserves to be your tool of choice. In spite of its weaknesses, Lightroom 5 offers enough new utility to be a worthy upgrade or outright purchase for anyone who needs help dealing with large amounts of images.</p> <p><strong>$150 new ($80 upgrade)</strong>, <a href=""></a></p> adobe light room 5 Kaya February 2014 photo editing photoshop Review Software Office Applications Software Reviews Thu, 29 May 2014 18:38:23 +0000 Gavin Farrington 27880 at Three Kickstarter Alternatives In-Depth <!--paging_filter--><h3>Crowdfunding sites have made it possible to raise money for a business venture from your computer. While Kickstarter is king in this realm, there are other noteworthy alternatives. We kick the tires on three of them</h3> <p>What do Bret Easton Ellis, Ricki Lake, and Whoopi Goldberg all have in common? Believe it or not, they have all successfully launched projects through Kickstarter—the world’s largest crowdfunding site. They’re not alone, either; since the site first debuted in 2009, more than 5 million users have made donations, funding over 50,000 individual ventures that otherwise would never have seen the light of day. It is fair to say that Kickstarter has been a modern phenomenon, helping to fund a wide variety of different projects, from video games to fashion labels and even multi-million dollar feature films. It truly is an entrepreneur’s playground.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/153832911_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/153832911_small.jpg" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <p>But while <a title="kickstarter" href="" target="_blank">Kickstarter</a> is number one for a reason, being top dog doesn’t necessary mean it’s the right choice for you. Competition is rich in the crowdfunding sector, with literally hundreds and hundreds of sites out there all vying for your attention, so you are hardly stuck for choice when it comes to alternatives.</p> <p>If you are keen to get involved with crowdfunding, either by donating and supporting projects, or by seeking financial backing for you own brilliant idea, it’s really worth your while to explore many avenues before making any commitments. Indeed, you may already have used Kickstarter and found it difficult to raise funds, and are wondering which other sites have a good track record of raising money. The problem is, there are just so many to choose from. Which ones should you consider?</p> <p>Leaving aside the specialist sites that concentrate on one particular area or industry, here at Maximum PC we have done all the hard work for you, whittling down the hundreds of Kickstarter alternatives to three main contenders: Indiegogo, Rockethub, and Fundable. Read on, to find out how they differ from Kickstarter and why they might be worthy of your attention.</p> <p>A word of caution: Unfortunately, there are no guarantees with crowdfunding that you will be able to safeguard your ideas or any investments you make. Any money you decide to commit to a project is done at your own risk.</p> <h3>Indiegogo</h3> <p><strong>Pioneering crowdfunding site boasts openness</strong></p> <p>Arguably Kickstarter’s biggest and longest running rival, <a title="indiegogo" href="" target="_blank">Indiegogo</a> started life in 2007 when Danae Ringelmann met fellow business partners Eric Schell and Slava Rubin while attending the Haas School of Business at the University of California. They shared a common goal of creating a fund-raising model that would allow people a means of raising revenue for their business ideas. They officially launched Project Keiyaku—an early version of Indiegogo that, to begin with, focused purely on funding movies—at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008.</p> <p>Since those early days, the site has changed its name to Indiegogo and diversified the projects it hosts to cover just about any venture an entrepreneur can think of. In the ensuing five years, the site has emerged as one of the perennial crowdfunding ventures, having launched over 50,000 campaigns. Indiegogo removed the middleman and helped pioneer the way for the “modern” crowdfunding solution, influencing numerous other sites, including Kickstarter itself.</p> <p>Indiegogo doesn’t just limit itself to business ventures; it covers pretty much everything—you will find just as many private causes, such as appeals to raise money for charity or helping the needy, as you will more commercially minded projects. The site prides itself in its openness; you can take part no matter what country you come from—as opposed to Kickstarter’s limits on residents of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—and over a third of Indiegogo’s business is conducted globally, making it a truly international venture.</p> <h4>How It Works</h4> <p>Open to any industry and any idea (as long as it’s legal), Indiegogo isn’t fussy when it comes to what you can raise money for—unlike many of its rivals that impose restrictions on what type of campaigns you can run, Indiegogo is free of rules, no matter how serious or trivial your idea. You can even raise money for personal needs if so desired, although your needs would probably have to be pretty compelling to get people to part with their money.</p> <p>To get started at Indiegogo, you have to set up an account and a funding page. You then decide on a list of perks to offer users who donate, depending upon their level of investment. It’s then up to you to promote your Indiegogo page through social networking platforms in order to gain publicity.</p> <p>You keep all of the money a campaign generates until its target revenue is achieved, and there is no limit to the amount you can raise. Once your campaign has reached its goal, a charge of 4 percent is levied to Indiegogo. Should your campaign not reach its goal, then you have the choice of keeping all of the money raised thus far, but paying a 9 percent fee to Indiegogo because you didn’t reach your stated goal, or simply refunding all of the money back to your donors.</p> <h4>Benefits over Kickstarter</h4> <p>More favorable rates and a greater diversity of projects allowed on the site are the two main reasons you might opt for Indiegogo. Unlike Kickstarter, Indiegogo distributes your funds immediately when contributions are taken through a donor’s PayPal account. On the flipside, payments made by credit card are held by Indiegogo until the end of the campaign. Indiegogo’s 4 percent charge for funds (when the target is reached) also bests Kickstarter, which charges a 5 percent commission on successful campaigns. As mentioned above, you can even keep the money if your project doesn’t reach its goal, for a nominal 9 percent charge. Kickstarter users don’t have this option—if a project doesn’t reach its goal, they will receive no money at all.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/indiegogo1_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/indiegogo1_small.jpg" alt="Setting up a new project on Indiegogo is both quick and easy—the step-by-step guide takes you through everything you need to do in order to get your project up and running. " title="Indiegogo" width="620" height="338" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Setting up a new project on Indiegogo is both quick and easy—the step-by-step guide takes you through everything you need to do in order to get your project up and running. </strong></p> <p>As mentioned earlier, Indiegogo tends to support any project, no matter what it is. If your project doesn’t meet Kickstarter’s criteria—such as not allowing you to raise money for causes—then chances are Indiegogo will accept it.</p> <p>Size really does matter when it comes to running a successful publicity campaign, and Indiegogo scores high in this area, too. Half the battle when running a promotion is finding an audience with which you can engage. Being the second-largest crowdfunding site on the Internet, Indiegogo ensures your project will be part of a vibrant community that will share your project with their friends and grow a following organically.</p> <h4>Notable Projects</h4> <p>With tens of thousands of successful campaigns under its belt, it is not surprising to find that Indiegogo boasts a number of famous projects. Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum was launched to establish a science museum in Long Island, New York, and sparked a surge of public interest, with the campaign taking home $1.7 million in just six days.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/indiegogo2_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/indiegogo2_small.jpg" alt=" An Indiegogo project in action: Genesis 3D Movie is going great guns, and thankfully has nothing to do with the Phil Collins band of the same name." title="Indiegogo" width="620" height="336" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>An Indiegogo project in action: Genesis 3D Movie is going great guns, and thankfully has nothing to do with the Phil Collins band of the same name.</strong></p> <p>Canary: the First Smart Home Security Device for Everyone broke the Indiegogo record for most money raised for a project, at $1.9 million. Its original goal of a modest 100K was met within a few hours of its launch in July this year, and it went on to gather contributions from nearly 8,000 users across the world.</p> <p>Indiegogo’s most famous project, however, was Let’s Give Karen – the Bus Monitor – H Klein a Vacation! After a number of disturbing videos were posted online depicting a hapless bus monitor being ruthlessly bullied by students, a campaign was set up to give Karen a well-deserved vacation. The original goal was to raise $5,000, yet all in all $703,833 was raised by people sickened by what they saw. The victim of the videos said she planned on using $100,000 of the money toward setting up an anti-bullying foundation.</p> <h3>5 Steps to Getting Attention</h3> <p>Your project may be the best thing since sliced pizza, but no matter how innovative it is, unless you attract the attention of others, you will struggle to find the financial backing needed to get it off the ground. After all, your project is just one of hundreds on a given site. So, how do you make your project stand out from the crowd and get the attention it deserves? Here are our five top tips for crowdfunding glory.</p> <p>Best Practices Before you rush headfirst into a campaign, take your time and study what others have done first. Look at what projects have been successful, and find out how they set about attracting publicity and backing. Follow their lead and use their success as an inspiration.</p> <p>Be Prepared to Change Devise a flexible business plan that will allow you to adapt should your original idea need tweaking. If things are not going to plan, you will need to be prepared to make changes so you can appeal to your target audience. By repositioning your product if needed, you could achieve greater results and more backing.</p> <p>Plan Ahead Even before you have reached your goal, make sure you have all eventualities covered should you get asked any tricky questions about your project’s launch and long-term future.</p> <p>Embrace Social Media Twitter and Facebook are powerful tools when it comes to promoting your ideas. Not only can they help spread the word, but they can also be a useful forum for gathering feedback from your fans and followers.</p> <p>Be Ready to Go Prepare for your project’s completion. You should devise a marketing plan that you can start using straight away, along with lining up any suppliers you may need to use once your project is launched. This way you will hopefully be able to eliminate long delays after you reach your goal.</p> <p><em>Click the next page to read about Rockethub.</em></p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3>Rockethub</h3> <p><strong>Links to a cable TV network give it an edge</strong></p> <p>Founded by Brian Meece, Jed Cohen, and Vladimir Vukicevic, (with a forth owner, Alon Hillel-Tuch, joining a year later), Rockethub officially launched back at the start of 2010 as a means of raising money for creative projects. The owners were all from creative fields themselves, and the site came about partly because of the frustration they experienced in trying to find backing for their own individual interests. The idea was to establish a free market where artists could easily be put in touch with the financial backing they needed.</p> <p>In layman’s terms, this very loose remit means that Rockethub could cover any industry or idea in order to encourage as many entrepreneurs as possible. That said, however, there tends to be a much stronger focus on science and technology projects compared to many of Rockethub’s crowdfunding rivals. So don’t be surprised to find an in-depth planned study of microbes sitting alongside more commercial projects, such as a fashion label or music album, as you explore the site.</p> <p>Earlier this year, Rockethub announced a partnership agreement with the A&amp;E television network. Together they created <a href=""></a>, a multiplatform website produced in conjunction with the cable television channel that features handpicked projects from Rockethub entrepreneurs.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/rockethub1_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/rockethub1_small.jpg" alt=" Rockethub’s Success School teaches all you need to know about mastering the fine art of crowdfunding, so your project has a better chance of reaching its goal." title="Rockethub" width="620" height="335" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Rockethub’s Success School teaches all you need to know about mastering the fine art of crowdfunding, so your project has a better chance of reaching its goal.</strong></p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">How It Works</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">For newcomers to crowdfunding, Rockethub has an introductory site called the Crowdfunding Success School, which takes you through each and every aspect of running a successful campaign. A crowdfunding 101, it shows you how to network your idea, decide upon goals, and best practices to help attract and manage the expectations of the people who fund you. It makes for compelling reading, even if you eventually decide to use another site.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Rockethub encourages its users to spread the word about projects and complete set tasks, such as voting on others’ projects to increase exposure, and it rewards contributors with badges for their efforts. The more badges you gain, the greater your status as a power user, who others will turn to for advice.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">As with other crowdfunding websites, after setting up a campaign, you decide on how much you are looking to raise and the time frame for your goal. You then decide what rewards you will give to donors in return for their backing. You will be charged a 4 percent fee (along with a 4 percent credit card handling fee) for the total money you raise should your campaign prove to be a success. Rockethub also allows you to keep the money raised even if you don’t meet your goal, at a rate of 8 percent (plus a 4 percent processing charge).</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Benefits over Kickstarter</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">Rockethub is a fast-growing site, and is developing at a rapid rate. Like Indiegogo, Rockethub is much more open about what you can cover in terms of projects, so if you find you cannot get featured in Kickstarter, Rockethub may be the answer. In particular, you should consider using Rockethub if you have a scientific or technical project, as there seems to be a greater emphasis on those industries than on other sites.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Unlike Kickstarter, Rockethub allows you to keep all the funding you raise even if you do not make your set financial goal. Granted, if you choose to do this you still have a charge to pay (8 percent), but if you feel your project is still viable even without all of the money you originally wanted, this could be the better option for you.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Rockethub also has a partnership with the A&amp;E television channel. If your idea is innovative enough and you decide to apply for it, your project may be handpicked to feature on A&amp;E’s special project startup website, thus earning even more exposure and the potential for donations. In addition to that, A&amp;E will also offer funding and specialist coaching for your project, which means success is almost guaranteed.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/rockethub2_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/rockethub2_small.jpg" alt="The Project Startup website is run in conjunction with A&amp;E Networks to showcase the very best projects on Rockethub." title="Rockethub" width="620" height="335" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Project Startup website is run in conjunction with A&amp;E Networks to showcase the very best projects on Rockethub.</strong></p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Notable Projects</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">The gaming and web culture video series Extra Credits is Rockethub’s most successful venture yet. The comedic web series discusses video games, with an emphasis on game design and using them as teaching tools. The idea proved to be incredibly popular, with the original goal of $15,000 ending up at a staggering $103,814 raised. The creators have vowed to use a portion of the money raised to help other like-minded businesses grow.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">AFIA: Save the World… One Dress at a Time, is one of the most noble projects to find funding, having raised $4,790, which is going to help people in Ghana. The project funds dressmakers in the African country, helping poor yet talented seamstresses acquire a fair wage and a larger market for their dresses, allowing them to be sold in the United States and other places.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">A special mention must also go to Chomp! Chomp! Chomp!, a clever idea that combines an illustrated children’s book with a tie-in app. The highly educational app includes a system that encourages young children to read—a page of text is shown before they are rewarded with a picture. The goal was met, with the project having raised a grand total of over $15,000.</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><em>Click the next page to read about Fundable.</em></p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3 style="text-align: left;">Fundable</h3> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>The first site to offer the option of equity backing</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">The most recent crowdfunding option here, Fundable was launched just last May, but has already experienced incredible growth and success during that short period of time. The site began life as a donation-only platform, but a few months later, taking advantage of President Obama’s 2012’s JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) Act, founders Wil Schroter and Eric Corl started allowing users the option to purchase equity in projects featured on the site. The JOBS Act legitimized equity crowdfunding and allowed budding entrepreneurs the ability to publicize that they were looking for backing. As a result, Fundable became one of the first crowdfunding sites to take full advantage of the act, and now runs as a dual-funding model. Fundable offers either donations or project equity, largely depending upon how much money a project’s goal has been set to—for larger projects looking to raise more than $50,000, Fundable recommends the equity option.</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><a title="fundable" href="" target="_blank">Fundable</a> is a serious crowdfunding company, and as such it carefully vets its users. Only accredited investors—people with a net worth of over $1 million or an income of $200,000 in the past two years—are able to take part in offering equity funding to a project. Although in theory anyone can start a project, they will still have to apply in order to be approved for the site by the powers-that-be. No charitable projects are allowed, nor are any forms of gambling or money services, among other prohibited campaigns. Many more crowdfunding sites surely will follow Fundable’s lead and venture into equity crowdfunding, but by being the first to do so, Fundable has gained a priceless foothold in the market.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">How It Works</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">As mentioned above, there are two models you can choose from for raising money on Fundable—either from donations or through equity backing for your business. For both methods, you will need to apply to be featured on the site. Once approved, you then create a profile page that covers your project overview, your goals, and rewards for investment. Additionally, along with their public profile, equity-based projects will also need to create a private page that contains your business terms and related documents. Along with being featured on the site itself, you will also promote your page through the normal social media channels in order to gain interest.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">In terms of costs, entrepreneurs are charged a $99 fee each month that a campaign is running. The flipside of this is, should a project reach its goals, then no final fees are applied. You will only be able to collect your money once your pre-determined goal has been reached. This monthly charge may put a lot of people off, especially if you have the slightest doubt about raising enough capital to get your company started, but this just reinforces Fundable’s place in the market for serious businesses only.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Benefits over Kickstarter</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">Fundable has been dubbed the Kickstarter for the corporate community. The equity fund-raising option is the obvious difference from Kickstarter, allowing you to sell shares in your business as opposed to offering rewards for donations. You can decide whether to go this route or stick with the more traditional crowdfunding method of raising money, although you could argue that equity is more suited to business startups. Donations are fine for creative projects, but do not offer the long-term investment possibilities that equity backing does. As more and more crowdfunding sites start to take advantage of the JOBS Act, expect to see equity fund-raising grow in popularity.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/fundable1_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/fundable1_small.jpg" alt="Looking for equity backing? Fundable is the place to go, being one of the first websites to take advantage of the JOBS Act." title="Fundable" width="620" height="335" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Looking for equity backing? Fundable is the place to go, being one of the first websites to take advantage of the JOBS Act.</strong></p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Notable Projects</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">There are a number of projects of note that have used Fundable to establish financial backing. The Fleksy app closed at $900,000, and this revenue was part of a $3 million investment raised by parent company Syntellia to develop and market a software keyboard that helps to improve typing accuracy. The company used the $900K to release the app onto iOS and plans to release versions for Android and Windows 8 in the near future.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Celebrity Webchefs does what it says on the box and uses well-known celebrities to explain their culinary secrets in a series of easy-to-follow videos. Famous faces that have lent their names and cooking expertise to the videos include Gretchen Rossi from The Real Housewives of Orange County and Alan Thicke, the star of Growing Pains. It’s a bold and innovative idea that, thanks in part to the star power behind it, has gained a lot of media attention. The venture was funded for $435,000 in total.</p> <h3 style="text-align: left;">When Crowdfunding Goes Bad…</h3> <p style="text-align: left;">On the surface, crowdfunding seems like a great idea. But while the success stories get trumpeted for all to hear, there are even more tales of woe. It can be a risky business, not to mention a potentially humiliating one. Be it stolen ideas, poor planning, or a rushed campaign, here are the main pitfalls you should be wary of.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Exposing your Business Plan: They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in the crowdfunding world, a good idea is there for your competitors to see and steal for themselves. There is nothing to stop them from taking your idea and presenting a similar one themselves, so be aware that when you launch your campaign that it may only be a matter of time before it is emulated. Depending on your idea, it may well be worth taking your time to complete an IP (intellectual property) process.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Tax Problems: The money you raise from crowdfunding isn't necessarily all yours to spend. Just as with any other business, you will need to declare your earnings to the appropriate authorities, and depending on what country you live in, this money may well be taxable. A qualified accountant will be able to help you here, although remember they will want payment for their services, too.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Keeping Control: Should you choose an equity-based crowdfunding model, be careful to keep a controlling stake in the company you are raising money for, whether it’s a new or existing business. Your stakeholders have a vested interest in your project; just make sure they do not wrestle the whole thing away from you.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Be Realistic: While the temptation is always there to exaggerate to potential investors just how great your idea is, try not to build up hopes too much. You don’t want your backers to feel lied to or disillusioned; at the very worst, you could end up in court as they try to claim their money back.</p> crowdfunding sites feature fundable indiegogo January issues 2014 kickstarter maximum pc project startup rockethub Office Applications Features Fri, 18 Apr 2014 17:25:08 +0000 Mark Pilkington 27519 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 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 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 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 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 Best Email Service: Gmail <!--paging_filter--><h3>Gmail the battle of the best email services</h3> <p>Your webmail inbox is the center of your online ecosystem, and not just for your primary email account, but for every other account you have that’s connected to it. Which one’s better? It’s time for the battle of the webmail giants, and it’ll be a doozy. In one corner, we have the Whale of Webmail, the defending champion inboxer: <a title="gmail" href="" target="_blank">Gmail</a>! In the other corner, the scrappy kid with a big name, the King of Clean, the Preview of Pain, <a title="" href="" target="_blank"></a>!</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/gmail_vs_outlook_3_0.png" alt="gmail vs" title="gmail vs" width="620" height="262" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Gmail vs Battle of the best webmail clients</strong></p> <h4>Round 1: Aesthetics</h4> <p> looks great. It’s clean and simple in the Modern UI style: white background, black text, one bright color, low information density. It looks better than the desktop Outlook, and Outlook webmail, and it looks much better than Gmail. It’s easy to configure the preview pane—you have to dig in the Labs section to find that in Gmail. On the other hand, customization is limited to changing the one color, and you only get 18 options there.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/outlook_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/outlook_small.jpg" alt="’s inbox is clean and modern and has a preview pane by default, but offers much less usable information at a glance than Gmail’s." title="Outlook" width="620" height="326" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>’s inbox is clean and modern and has a preview pane by default, but offers much less usable information at a glance than Gmail’s.</strong></p> <p>Gmail is more themeable—you can choose background images, color schemes, and even information density, but even at its most minimal it’s more cluttered than It’s the same sort of cluttered as the Outlook desktop client—the price you pay for having a lot more information available at a glance. Gmail can look great or horrendous; just looks good all the time. It’s close, but Outlook wins this round.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/gmail_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/gmail_small.jpg" alt="Gmail’s inbox is information-dense and extremely configurable, but too much information onscreen means info can get lost in the noise." title="Gmail" width="620" height="322" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Gmail’s inbox is information-dense and extremely configurable, but too much information onscreen means info can get lost in the noise.</strong></p> <p><strong>Winner:</strong></p> <h4>Round 2: Email Experience</h4> <p>The composition window is large and clean and easy to use, but Gmail lets you compose a message in-line with the thread you’re replying to, or in a pop-up window in the corner, so you can keep tabs on other messages or your entire inbox while you’re writing.</p> <p>Both Gmail and offer robust tagging and sorting for messages, and both have enough keyboard shortcuts to be usable without a mouse. Gmail offers 10GB of storage; doesn’t advertise a limit. also allows you to easily unsubscribe from bulk mail.</p> <p>’s Quick Views are fantastic, letting you easily find messages with photo or document attachments, tracking numbers, specific labels, or flags. Gmail’s Label views can do the same, but take more manual setup.</p> <p><strong>Winner: Tie</strong></p> <h4>Round 3: Customization</h4> <p>There’s just no contest here. If you can find the right settings to enable, Gmail is incredibly powerful. Priority Inbox does a frighteningly good job at sorting your email by importance, Send and Archive keeps your inbox tidy, and the Labs fix problems you didn’t even know you had.</p> <p>There are Labs settings to enable an Outlook-like preview pane, tweak the Chat interface, add calendar and documents widgets, even “undo” sending an email—which has saved our bacon once or twice. You can view multiple Label inboxes at once, play Google Voice messages in Gmail, and so much more.’s customization is modest, and that’s an understatement.</p> <p><strong>Winner: Gmail</strong></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h4>Round 4: Ecosystem</h4> <p>Gmail ties into the enormous Google ecosystem, from <a title="google calendar" href=";" target="_blank">Calendar</a> to <a title="google drive" href="" target="_blank">Drive</a> to Google Accounts to <a title="google plus" href="" target="_blank">Google Plus</a> (meh). ties into your Microsoft Account—which you use for everything from Xbox Live to <a title="office 365" href="" target="_blank">Office 365</a> to <a title="skype" href="" target="_blank">Skype</a> to logging into Windows 8.</p> <p>You can open Microsoft Office files on the web directly from your inbox, but you can do the same for Google Docs files in Gmail, and you can view Office documents (and convert them for editing) in Drive, as well. ties into SkyDrive and lets you send large attachments easily, while Gmail does the same with Google Drive. Gmail has <a title="google hangouts" href="" target="_blank">Google Hangouts</a> and Google Plus integrated, while in you can chat with your Facebook or Live Messenger friends. Each, of course, works best if you’re heavily invested in its corresponding ecosystem, so we’re calling this a tie.</p> <p><strong>Winner: Tie</strong></p> <h4>Round 5:&nbsp; Accounts and Security</h4> <p>Both and Gmail connect via HTTPS by default, with 128-bit encryption, and both let you send and receive messages from POP3 accounts. Google also supports IMAP.</p> <p>Gmail has had two-factor authentication for a long time now; Microsoft Accounts only got it in April, though did have an option to sign in with a single-use code sent via SMS, so you didn't have to enter your password on someone else's computer. Two-factor authentication is absolutely essential for any online account you don't want hacked. Given that your Gmail and accounts tie into your entire Google and Microsoft ecosystems, anyone who gets your password can access your entire digital life--unless you have two-factor authentication enabled.</p> <p>Finally, Google supports multiple sign-on, so if your work or personal website uses Google Apps, you can be signed into that as well as your Gmail account. doesn't. Between that, and IMAP support, we're giving this round to Google.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Winner: Gmail</strong></p> <h3>And the Winner Is…</h3> <p><img src="/files/u154082/gmail-logo.png" alt="gmail" title="gmail" width="620" height="274" /></p> <p>With ties in two rounds, <strong>Gmail</strong> only beats by one round. Google’s offering has better security options and more power under the hood—if you can figure out how to make it work. is clean-looking, ties into more social networks, and has useful features right out in the open with less tweaking. It can’t match Google’s eight-year head start, but it’s catching up quickly.<strong><br /></strong></p> July 2013 2013 best email client feature Gmail head to head July 2013 maximum pc Outlook webmail Office Applications Software Features Thu, 03 Oct 2013 21:54:15 +0000 Nathan Edwards 26318 at Best Antivirus <!--paging_filter--><h3>In a twist on our annual AV roundup, we let you, the readers, pick the 10 contenders for best antivirus software!</h3> <p>Every year, antivirus vendors paint the same gloom-and-doom portrait, their canvases filled with startling statistics outlining the rapid <a title="Malware news" href="" target="_blank">spread of malware</a>. As a consumer, the natural reaction is to look at these reports with a fistful of salt and a sack of skepticism—after all, AV vendors have a vested interest in promoting a need for security software, but are we really as vulnerable as they say? It all depends on your computing habits, but make no mistake, the web is a dangerous place to roam.</p> <p>We’ve seen firsthand what a malware-infected PC looks like; it isn’t pretty. Today’s malware strains not only slow down your PC and bombard you with pop-ups, they can also capture your keystrokes and send your bank login information to a cybercriminal thousands of miles away. An innocent mouse click on the wrong URL is all it takes to <a title="account security news" href="" target="_blank">set the wheels in motion</a>, and the next thing you know, someone else is using your identity to open up a credit card account. Not cool.</p> <p>Careful computing is your best line of defense, but sometimes it’s not enough. Security software adds another layer of protection, which is why we run an antivirus roundup each year. This time around, however, we asked you to vote on which 10 programs should make the cut, and you’ll find the results on the following pages. If the one you voted for isn’t represented here, let us know and we’ll consider running a stand-alone review in a future issue.</p> <h3>Evaluating AV</h3> <p><strong>What matters in an antivirus program and why</strong></p> <h4>System Performance and Scan Speed</h4> <p>We’re passionate about our PCs, and we don’t spend endless hours researching parts and <a title="setting up a new PC" href="" target="_self">tweaking settings</a> only to watch a security program rob us of the performance we so carefully crafted. To keep these programs honest, we compare how long it takes to boot into Windows versus a clean install. We also examine the impact on PCMark 7 and Vantage scores, and how long it takes to transfer 6GB of data. Finally, we measure the time it takes to run a first and subsequent system scan.</p> <h4>Annoyance</h4> <p>We know what we want when it comes to security software, but do the developers know? We deduct points for programs that try to upsell us additional security or that are hyperactive with unnecessary security alerts. At no time should we have reason to be annoyed or frustrated with an AV program. Period.</p> <h4>Features and Implementation</h4> <p>Most of the programs voted into this roundup are Internet security suites that promise to go above and beyond simple virus protection. In theory, these suites should include everything we need to <a title="Virus protection guide" href="" target="_blank">stay safe on the web</a>, and everything else is icing on the cake. At the same time, we don’t want to be bogged down with arbitrary add-ons that exist solely to beef up an AV’s resume. We’re looking for useful additions, and also how well they’re integrated into the core package. Extra points are awarded to AV programs that inform you when you need to update an app, plugin, or browser.</p> <h4>Pricing</h4> <p>Let’s get one thing straight: You don’t need to pay for protection. If that’s the case, why bother reviewing non-free security suites? Put simply, we believe there’s value in security programs that bundle multiple layers of protection and features into a tidy package. However, the ones that charge an annual fee have to convince us that they’re worth paying for, unlike the free AV programs, which get an automatic pass in this category.</p> <h4>Virus Detection</h4> <p>If you think this category should hold the most weight, we’re right there with you. Pricing and features don’t mean diddly-squat if an AV program turns a blind eye to malware. This is also the trickiest category to judge. Our approach is multipronged and starts with synthetic spyware and virus tests found on <a href=""></a> and <a href=""></a>. Next, we consult with independent testing labs Virus Bulletin (<a href=""></a>), AV-Comparatives (<a title="" href="" target="_blank"></a>), and AV-Test (<a href=""></a>). Finally, we subject each program to our own collection of malware and dirty links.</p> <hr /> <h3>Bitdefender<strong> - </strong>Total Security 2013</h3> <p><strong>Quiet as a mouse, lethal as a lion</strong></p> <p>Far and away our favorite feature of BitDefender is its Autopilot mode, which ought to be called “Shut Up and Leave Me Alone” mode. When engaged, BitDefender’s autopilot steps in as if to say, “I’ve got this, you just go about your business,” and as you do whatever it is you do on your PC, any and all security-related decisions that need to be made are handled silently in the background.</p> <p>This feature alone is a godsend if you’re the designated IT guy for friends and family members—no more late-night calls about security pop-ups or, even worse, messed up machines because your mother-in-law granted permission to a dirty download even though a security warning advised against it. D'oh!</p> <p>It also requires a fair amount of trust, which BitDefender earned as we did our best to break down its defenses. There wasn’t much that BitDefender didn’t recognize right off the bat as malicious, and the few <a title="Downloading safety guide" href="" target="_blank">dirty downloads</a> it didn’t immediately identify were thwarted by its cloud-based definitions. Malware stands little chance, though it comes at a small cost.</p> <p>There’s the price of the security suite itself, but you’ll also pay in performance. Our 6GB file transfer test took 11 seconds longer to perform with BitDefender installed, which translates into roughly a 10 percent performance hit. Both PCMark scores suffered slightly, though oddly enough, there was no increase in boot time. Scanning was also a mixed bag, with an initial sweep taking over half an hour, but reducing to less than four minutes during subsequent runs.</p> <p>The performance hiccups aren’t enough to sour us on BitDefender. It offers a tough veil of protection that’s unobtrusive, and value-added features like a virtual keyboard for shopping sites, <a title="Microsoft SkyDrive versus Google Drive" href="" target="_blank">online storage</a>, and a vulnerability scan that detects out-of-date software add to the overall package.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/bitdefende_smallr_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/bitdefende_smallr.jpg" alt="BitDefender replaced scheduled scans with an Auto Scan driver that hunts for viruses when resources are available." title="Bitdefender" width="620" height="416" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>BitDefender replaced scheduled scans with an Auto Scan driver that hunts for viruses when resources are available.</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>BitDefender Total Security 2013</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="lowdown"> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/" alt="score:8" title="score:8" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$80 (3 PCs, 1 Year), <a href="" target="_blank"></a></strong></p> <h3>Trend Micro<strong> - </strong>Maximum Security</h3> <p><strong>Security for social-networking butterflies</strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/trendmicro_small_0.png"><img src="/files/u152332/trendmicro_small.png" alt="You can customize Trend Micro’s user interface by uploading a photo of your own or selecting from a handful of preloaded images." title="Trend Micro" width="620" height="389" /></a></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>You can customize Trend Micro’s user interface by uploading a photo of your own or selecting from a handful of preloaded images.<br /></strong></p> <p>It’s been three long years since we last reviewed Trend Micro, having exiled the program from our annual AV roundups for its <a title="Trend Micro Internet Security Pro 3.0 Review" href="" target="_blank">particularly poor showing back then</a>. We don’t hold grudges, however, and apparently neither do the Maximum PC readers who voted Trend Micro into this year’s AV cage match. Have things changed since then?<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>They most certainly have. Whereas the old Trend Micro cowered in the corner when we unleashed a flurry of malware, the latest version threw itself in harm’s way and made sure nothing outwardly awful infiltrated our test bed. Malware was able to sneak in by hiding in zip files, but they were quickly beheaded as soon as they stuck out their necks. As an extra precaution, we recommend enabling real-time scanning of compressed files, an option that’s not checked by default.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>Independent testing labs generally gave Trend Micro high scores, so between their tests and ours we’re much more confident in TM’s ability to hold the fort when danger comes knocking. It’s also a good choice if you spend a lot of time on social networks. Trend Micro expanded the number of <a title="Social Networking News" href="" target="_blank">social networks</a> it scans for dangerous links to now include Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Sina Weibo, in addition to Facebook, Twitter, and Mixi. There’s also a “Privacy Scanner” for Facebook that analyzes your settings and makes recommendations.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>Not all is roses and rainbows, however. Trend Micro’s active scanner had the biggest negative impact on our file-transfer test, which took nearly 50 percent longer versus a clean install. We’re also disappointed Trend Micro doesn’t offer more fine-grain control over its settings. Part of the reason is because there’s no built-in firewall, just a “firewall booster” feature that aides the Windows firewall. Overall, Trend Micro is leaps and bounds better than three years ago, but there’s still room for improvement.</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>Trend Micro Maximum Security</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="lowdown"> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/" alt="score:7" title="score:7" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$90 (3 PCs, 1 Year), <a href=" /" target="_blank"> </a></strong></p> <p><strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <hr /> <h3>McAfee -Internet Security 2013</h3> <p><strong>No longer the performance hog it once was</strong></p> <p>For better or worse, reputations are hard to shed, and some folks still view McAfee as a gas-guzzling dump truck parked out on the front lawn, oftentimes uninvited. OEMs like to bundle McAfee with other trialware on new systems, a two-way relationship that also benefits McAfee, albeit at the expense of street cred. And then there’s the recent drama surrounding company co-founder <a title="John McAfee crazy card" href="" target="_blank">John McAfee</a>, who faked a heart attack to evade Belizean authorities (it’s a long, bizarre story that’s worth a Google search).</p> <p>None of that really matters as far as we’re concerned, because the reality of how a product performs far outweighs the perception of the masses. So, how did McAfee perform? Like a roller coaster with several ups and a few downs.</p> <p>This year’s build is redesigned with a touch-friendly tiled interface that’s obviously geared toward <a title="Microsoft Windows 8 review" href="" target="_blank">Windows 8 users</a>, though it functions just fine with a mouse and keyboard and on Windows. All the main functions sit front and center, and it doesn’t take much effort to dig beneath the surface to where the advanced controls are located.</p> <p>When surfing shady websites, McAfee did a good job blocking most malicious downloads, though it did let a few dirty files reach the desktop. Most that touched ground were quickly put under lock and key, but a few slipped through, including a file identified as a keygen by Malwarebytes.</p> <p>System performance was another mixed bag. McAfee didn’t affect our test bed’s boot time, nor did it bog down our PCMark 7 benchmark run. PCMark Vantage, on the other hand, scored 1,700 points lower. Subjectively, the system didn’t feel sluggish with McAfee installed, which hasn’t always been the case.</p> <p>We can’t say whether power users are ready to forgive McAfee for past sins, but as it stands, it’s an above-average scanner filled with features.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mcafee_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mcafee_small.jpg" alt="McAfee’s redesigned interface will especially appeal to users with touchscreen displays." title="McAfee" width="620" height="452" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>McAfee’s redesigned interface will especially appeal to users with touchscreen displays.</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>McAfee Internet Security 2013<br /></strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="lowdown"> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/" alt="score:7" title="score:7" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$80 (3 PCs, 1 Year), <a href=" /" target="_blank"> </a></strong></p> <h3>ESET - Smart Security 6</h3> <p><strong>Old dog in security learned some new tricks</strong></p> <p>ESET Smart Security 6’s dashboard is <a title="ESET Smart Security 5 review" href=",2" target="_blank">largely unchanged from versions 4 and 5 in appearance</a>. It consists of a main window with a handful of navigational prompts in the left-hand pane including Home, Computer scan, Update, Setup, Tools, Help and support, and Training. The main window changes as you click through each one but the left-hand pane never does, making navigation a breeze. If you find yourself knee-deep in an advanced setting and want to hightail it out of there, just click on Home or any of the other headings.</p> <p>There’s nothing flashy about ESET’s interface. It hasn’t been modernized for Windows 8 or touchscreen displays, or for 2013 in general, and you can’t customize the layout or upload your own background image à la Trend Micro. Dig beneath the surface, however, and you’ll uncover a gold mine of options. In the Setup screen, for example, there are headings for Computer, Network, Web and email, and Parental control, and each of those have their own subheadings that you can, at minimum, enable or disable. In addition to all that, there’s an advanced setup screen accessible via a link at the bottom of the window. Less-savvy users will find the sheer depth of settings overwhelming, and even advanced users might lose track of everything they tweaked. If you’re setting up ESET for multiple clients, you can export and import configurations to save time.</p> <p>We dinged the program last year for letting a few nasty containments through, a rare misstep for a program that’s collected a dozen straight VB100 awards from Virus Bulletin in the past two years. It fared much better in our tests this time around.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/eset_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/eset_small.jpg" alt="ESET’s interface is unchanged from the previous two versions, but there are some new features, such as Social Media Scanner and a suite of anti-theft tools." title="ESET" width="620" height="448" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>ESET’s interface is unchanged from the previous two versions, but there are some new features, such as Social Media Scanner and a suite of anti-theft tools.</strong></p> <p>Bundled with the latest version is a Social Media Scanner that combs your Facebook profile for infected content. It’s also available as a free download, so that alone isn’t enough to tip the scales in ESET’s favor. There are plenty of other tools, however, such as parental controls and, new to this release, anti-theft features that can help you locate a lost or stolen mobile device. If someone swipes your laptop, you can engage the webcam, track its location, or initiate a Phantom Account so that your real account—and all your personal data—is hidden from the thief. You can even send a message, such as “Reward if found.”</p> <p>A slow on-demand scanner and an aging interface are all that prevent ESET from earning a Kick Ass award.</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>ESET Smart Security 6<br /></strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="lowdown"> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/" alt="score:9" title="score:9" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$60 (1 PC, 1 Year), <a href="" target="_blank"></a> <br /></strong></p> <hr /> <h3>Second and Third Opinions</h3> <p>No single product is all-knowing when it comes to malware, which is always evolving, so it’s a good idea to solicit a second or even third opinion on occasion. We recommend running an on-demand scanner around once a month, and also any time you have reason to believe something may have slipped past your AV software. Does your system suddenly feel sluggish? Are your web searches getting hijacked? These are both indicators that a foul file has infiltrated your PC.</p> <p>One of our favorite on-demand scanners is Malwarebytes (free, <a href=""></a>). Not only is Malwarebytes adept at uncovering pesky programs that manage to hide from your AV scanner, but it also has a way of running even when malicious programs specifically try to prevent it from firing up. Just head to Start &gt; All Programs &gt; Malwarebytes Anti-Malware &gt; Tools and click the Malwarebytes Anti- Malware Chameleon icon.</p> <p>Another program we recommend adding to your toolbox is Comodo Cleaning Essentials (free, <a href=""></a>), which allows you to terminate, delete, or suspend any untrusted item with a single mouse click. It doesn’t require installation, making it a handy program to tote around on a USB stick.</p> <p>If an infection is preventing your AV scanner from running, don’t panic. Yet another option is web scanning. There are lots to choose from, including Panda ActiveScan (free, <a href=""></a>). Alternately, if all you need is a background check on a single file, upload it to VirusTotal (free, <a href=""></a>), which will check it against dozens of AV scan engines.</p> <h3>Kaspersky - Internet Security 2013</h3> <p><strong>When more of the same isn’t necessarily a bad thing</strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/kaspersky_small_0.jpg"><strong><img src="/files/u152332/kaspersky_small.jpg" alt="If you’re familiar with last year’s build, you’ll feel right at home in KIS 2013." title="Kaspersky" width="620" height="467" /></strong></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>If you’re familiar with last year’s build, you’ll feel right at home in <br />KIS 2013.<br /></strong></p> <p><a title="Kaspersky Internet Security 2012 review" href=",1" target="_blank">Last year’s overhaul</a> gave birth to an interface designed for touch, a theme that’s been carried over to the 2013 release, which is a near carbon copy. In fact, our entire experience with KIS 2013 gave us a serious sense of déjà vu.</p> <p>Familiarity kicked in when we were once again duped by what at first appeared to be a subsonic installation routine, only to find ourselves mired in an unusually long update process that took north of 10 minutes on a high-speed connection. Subsequent definition updates zip through cyberspace at a much faster pace.</p> <p>Also like previous versions, Kaspersky’s scan engine sprints to the finish line, especially after performing an initial sweep. Our first full scan took 14 minutes and 26 seconds, and a second scan shaved 13 minutes off that time by skipping over files that hadn’t changed.</p> <p>The similarities continue. Once again, Kaspersky watched us download several contaminated files to the desktop before springing into action, whereas some of the other AV programs would cut off the same downloads before they could finish. To its credit, Kaspersky neutralized almost every threat and its track record among independent testing laboratories is very good; it even earned a Product of the Year award from AV-Comparatives.</p> <p>Brand-new to KIS 2013 is a feature called Safe Run that’s designed to protect your online banking sessions. Safe Run detects when you navigate to a popular payment service like PayPal or a banking website and opens up a protected browser to isolate your transaction. You can also use a virtual keyboard as an additional layer of protection (from keyloggers).</p> <p>While the Safe Run feature is unique, Kaspersky hasn’t yet jumped on the social-media bandwagon like some of the other programs. Still, it’s a fleshed-out and polished security solution that’s tough on malware.</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>Kaspersky Internet Security 2013<br /></strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="lowdown"> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/" alt="score:8" title="score:8" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$80 (3 PC, 1 Year), <a href="" target="_blank"><br /></a></strong></p> <h3>ZoneAlarm - Internet Security 2013</h3> <p><strong>Why buy the security suite when the protection’s free?</strong></p> <p>Before Windows got its act together, it was imperative to download a third-party firewall to keep the bad guys at bay, and ZoneAlarm was often at the top of the list. The firewall in Windows is much improved these days, and if you’re sitting behind a router, you’re further protected against malicious inbound traffic. Does that render ZoneAlarm obsolete?</p> <p>Not as far as we’re concerned. Like the ones included in other advanced security suites, ZoneAlarm’s firewall offers more sophisticated protection and is able to sniff out mischievous code trying to sneak its way in (or out) by masquerading as a legitimate program. We also give ZoneAlarm credit for hushing its firewall, which is much better about making security-minded decisions in the background rather than bombarding the user with pop-ups.</p> <p>Here’s the thing: Even if all you have is a ball of lint in your pocket, you can afford <a title="Checkpoint Zonealarm antivirus and firewall" href="" target="_blank">ZoneAlarm’s free antivirus + firewall combination</a>, which has many of the same features as the $80 suite reviewed here. Should you decide to plunge into paid territory, the only extras are 24/7 technical support, parental controls, spam controls, and automatic hourly signature updates.</p> <p>Let’s backtrack a moment and talk about AV performance. ZoneAlarm wouldn’t tell us which company it licenses its scan engine from, though we believe it’s still Kaspersky, which the company confirmed several years ago. The initial definition update was just as pokey as Kaspersky, and we also noticed similarities in how downloads are able to reach the desktop before they’re neutralized. Scanning our test bed was nearly as quick, too.</p> <p>ZoneAlarm also includes identity protection, Facebook privacy scanning, advanced do-not-track controls, and 5GB of online backup. It’s a well-rounded feature-set, and it’s all available in the free version, too. There’s just not enough added value to recommend the paid suite.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/zonealarm_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/zonealarm_small.jpg" alt="If ZoneAlarm detects an issue, the corresponding module in the dashboard will turn red." title="ZoneAlarm" width="620" height="403" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>If ZoneAlarm detects an issue, the corresponding module in the dashboard will turn red.</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2013</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="lowdown"> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/" alt="score:7" title="score:7" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$80 (3 PCs, 1 Year), <a href="" target="_blank"></a> <br /></strong></p> <hr /> <h3>Norton - Internet Security</h3> <p><strong>Big-time protection with a small footprint</strong></p> <p>First things first—last year, we said that if Symantec ever removes <a title="Norton Internet Security 2012 review" href=",1" target="_blank">Norton’s real-time (and real hokey) Threat Map</a> from the UI, we won’t have anything left to piss and moan about. Well, guess what? Symantec finally got rid of the useless Threat Map, which displayed hotspots of AV activity around the world, and wouldn’t you know it, we’re fresh out of complaints.</p> <p>That doesn’t mean we can’t nitpick. At nearly 24-and-a-half minutes for an initial sweep of our test bed and a little over 10 minutes for a subsequent scan, Norton finds itself a few car lengths behind pole position in this roundup. And as long as we’re picking nits, we’re a bit disappointed Norton still hasn’t adopted a virtual keyboard as an added layer of protection against keyloggers, which would come in handy when signing into banking sites. Oh, and it’s not free.</p> <p>Big whoop—our manufactured reprimands notwithstanding, Norton Internet Security (NIS) is the total package. Notice we left out the year from the product name. That’s because Symantec dropped the annual label and has promised to push out new product and feature updates throughout the year so that you always have the latest version, so long as your subscription is current.</p> <p>On the surface, NIS looks similar to last year’s release, minus the Threat Map and with larger tiles on the main screen. Between automatic background scans and pulse updates that are doled out every five to 15 minutes, there’s really no reason to bring up the interface, unless you want to check how many days are remaining on your subscription or need to adjust advanced settings. In case of the latter, Norton allows you to dig as deep as you want to go.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/norton_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/norton_small.jpg" alt="Norton Internet SecurityIn addition to virus scans, Norton will analyze your Facebook wall and check the trust level of programs running on your system." title="Norton" width="620" height="414" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>In addition to virus scans, Norton will analyze your Facebook wall and check the trust level of programs running on your system.</strong></p> <p>Symantec is constantly improving its SONAR technology, which analyzes how programs behave to determine if they pose a threat. It also takes into account how old a file is and how many other Norton users have downloaded it. This can be problematic for inexperienced developers learning the ropes of clean code, though SONAR is easily disabled. In most cases, we recommend leaving it on and letting it zap potential threats.</p> <p>Speaking of which, NIS pounces on poisonous downloads like a fumbled football. That is, if it doesn’t block the offending site first. On top of it all, Norton had the least impact on system performance out of all the paid suites.</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>Norton Internet Security<br /></strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="lowdown"> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/" alt="score:10" title="score:10" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$80 (3 PC, 1 Year), <a href="" target="_blank"></a></strong></p> <h3>AV Does Not Mean Immunity</h3> <p>Just because you have antivirus software installed doesn’t mean you can roll around the web with impunity. New and emerging threats, also called <a title="Adobe Zero-day exploits" href="" target="_blank">“zero-day” attacks</a>, are those that are so recent that software developers haven’t had a chance to plug up the vulnerability they’re trying to exploit. The same holds true for your AV software—until there’s a definition update, zero-day threats have a free pass to run amok. That’s why behavior-based scanning is so popular, but even the best-rated apps sometimes fall short in this area. It’s all the more reason to be vigilant, but how?</p> <p>Well, your best line of defense is to practice smart computing habits and avoid putting yourself in high-risk situations. Pirating software is one the quickest ways to contract a digital disease, but it’s far from the only one. Venturing over to seedier sides of the web—the URLs that only get typed into incognito browser sessions—is another hotspot for malware (excuse the pun).</p> <p>None of this means you need to be a nervous Nelly when surfing the web. There are things you can do to tip the scales in your favor, like making sure your operating system and browsers are all up to date and fully patched. The same holds true for plugins, especially Flash and JavaScript.</p> <p>As an added layer of protection, consider surfing with Sandboxie (free, <a href=""></a>), which wraps a virtual layer around your browser so that any changes programs make while surfing the web are isolated from the OS.</p> <h3>Avast - Free Antivirus Version 7</h3> <p><strong>Pro-level protection that’s pro bono</strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><img src="/files/u152332/avast_small.jpg" alt="At first, Avast is almost relentless in trying to get freeloaders to upgrade, but over time, its solicitations calm down considerably." title="Avast" width="620" height="476" /></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>At first, Avast is almost relentless in trying to get freeloaders to upgrade, but over time, its solicitations calm down considerably.<br /></strong></p> <p>For some, a paid security suite is a luxury that just doesn’t fit within the budget. Luckily, there are programs like Avast you can enlist as your PC’s personal bodyguard for nothing in return.</p> <p>Well, that’s not entirely true. Avast requires a modicum of system resources to work its mojo, and though it’s free to install, Avast frequently tries to sway you into purchasing additional protection. It starts during the installation scheme, and again you’re encouraged to upgrade to a paid package when you fill out the registration form, which you have to do within 30 days for it to continue working. On top of it all, there’s a persistent banner ad integrated into Avast’s main menu.</p> <p>Should you remain steadfast in your conviction to save your money, you won’t be the worse for wear since the free version takes security just as seriously as its paid brethren. The level of fine-grain control is almost dizzying, and one setting we recommend checking right off the bat is to scan for potentially unwanted programs (PUPs).</p> <p>Avast usually scores high marks from independent testing labs, and we can see why. It’s very good at sniffing out hidden dangers, and when we were finished stepping on virtual landmines, Avast mitigated the damage, leaving just a few harmless remnants behind. Only Norton blocked more malware.</p> <p>Avast automatically shoves suspicious programs into a sandbox, thereby isolating them from the OS. Unfortunately, you can’t invoke the sandbox at will, nor will you find a firewall or antispam controls, features that are reserved for the Pro version.</p> <p>Unique to Avast is a remote assistance tool. If you (or your parents) run into a jam, you can share a special code with another Avast user to open up a remote support session similar to programs like LogMeIn—nifty!</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>Avast Free Antivirus Version 7<br /></strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="lowdown"> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/" alt="score:8" title="score:8" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong>Free, <a href="" target="_blank"></a> <br /></strong></p> <hr /> <h3>Microsoft - Security Essentials 4.1</h3> <p><strong>Decent option for low-risk users</strong></p> <p>Move along, Windows 8 users, there’s nothing for you to see here. Windows 8 already has its own built-in antivirus solution called Windows Defender, which acts more like MSE than like Windows Defender on older versions of Windows, Microsoft claims.</p> <p>If you’re rocking Windows 7 or earlier, MSE offers more robust protection than Windows Defender, and it’s free to boot. But it’s also somewhat limited in scope compared to its freebie competitors. There are just a handful of settings to play with, such as enabling/disabling real-time protection and setting up file-type exclusions. You can also schedule an automatic scan and (optionally) allocate CPU usage from 10-100 percent in 10 percent increments (50 percent is the default setting). Beyond those controls, micromanagers will quickly grow bored.</p> <p>MSE wielded one of the lowest system footprints of all the antivirus solutions we tested. It had virtually no impact on PCMark and only added a few seconds to our 6GB file transfer test. That’s impressive, but lest Microsoft pull a muscle patting itself on the back, MSE’s scan engine ran abysmally slow in our tests. It took over an hour to sweep our hard drive, more than twice as long as the next-slowest contender, and even a subsequent scan took a comparatively lengthy 25 minutes to complete.</p> <p>So the scan engine is slow, but is it methodical? That’s a bit harder to assess. MSE was recently criticized for failing to receive certification from, though Microsoft contends that 0.0033 percent of MSE users “were impacted by malware samples not detected during the test.” Other labs rate MSE favorably, though in our own tests, MSE was average, blocking most dirty downloads but also letting a few malicious programs write to the registry.</p> <p>MSE passes muster for low-risk users, but there are better AV solutions.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mse_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mse_small.jpg" alt="Once you initiate a scan, you either have to let it complete the run or cancel the process; there’s no pause button. " title="Microsoft Secruity Essentials 4.1" width="620" height="434" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;">Once you initiate a scan, you either have to let it complete the run or cancel the process; there’s no pause button.</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>Microsoft Security Essentials 4.1<br /></strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="lowdown"> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/" alt="score:6" title="score:6" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong>Free, <a href=""></a><a href=" /" target="_blank"></a></strong></p> <h3>AVG - Antivirus Free 2013</h3> <p><strong>An old favorite now faces stiff competition</strong></p> <p>You know that long-distance friend of yours who looks drastically different every time you meet up? If he were an antivirus program, he’d be AVG, which once again is sporting a new style. This latest version is clearly influenced by <a title="Windows 8 news" href="" target="_blank">Windows 8</a>, though the tiled interface only runs skin-deep. Once you click (or touch) through to the advanced settings, the tiles disappear and a new two-pane window pops up with categories on the left-hand side and checkboxes shoveled to the right.</p> <p>There are plenty of options to keep you busy, and like last year’s release, you can upload custom sounds and attach them to specific events. One thing we found annoying is that a few of the settings are ploys to upsell AVG’s paid security software, and it’s not always clear at first glance. For example, one of the main tiles reads Fix Performance, yet there’s nothing to indicate it’s not included in the free version until after it’s finished analyzing your system for registry errors and other potentially performance-hobbling cruft.</p> <p>For anyone paranoid about privacy, the <a title="Internet Ad Tracking Mozilla Firefox" href="" target="_blank">Do Not Track feature</a> integrated into AVG’s browser toolbar tattles on websites and advertisers trying to collect data about your online activity. It works with IE, Chrome, and Firefox. There’s also an Identity Alert feature (not to be confused with Identity Protection, which AVG uses to describe behavior-based scanning), but that’s another paid extra.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/avg_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/avg_small.jpg" alt="AVG’s interface is a little cluttered, in part because it lists modules that are only part of the paid security suite. " title="AVG - Antivirus Free 2013" width="620" height="481" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>AVG’s interface is a little cluttered, in part because it lists modules that are only part of the paid security suite. </strong></p> <p>Large file transfers are noticeably slower with AVG installed, though not much else gets bogged down. Scan times were among the fastest, and though we were able to overwhelm AVG’s defenses with dirty downloads, it defused most of the payloads, and was especially adept at blocking browser exploits.</p> <p>Out of the three free AV contenders, Avast offers the best balance of performance and features; AVG is a close second.</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>AVG Antivirus Free 2013<br /></strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="lowdown"> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/" alt="score:7" title="score:7" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong>Free, <a href=""></a><a href="" target="_blank"></a></strong></p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><a class="thickbox" title="AV Specifications" href="/files/u154280/av_features_and_performance_photo_0.png" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u154280/av_features_and_performance_photo.png" alt="AV Specifications" title="AV Specifications" width="600" height="425" /></a></div> <div class="module orange-module article-module"> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><span style="font-style: italic;">Our test bed is an Intel Core i7 930, Asus P6X58D Premium, 4GB Corsair DDR3/1333, a Radeon HD 5850, a Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB 7,200rpm, and Windows 7 Professional.</span></div> </div> April 2013 2013 anitvirus avast AVG best free antivirus maximum pc Mcafee norton Software Office Applications Software News Features Mon, 15 Jul 2013 19:05:23 +0000 Paul Lilly 25710 at How to Set Up a PC <!--paging_filter--><h3>Set up a PC the right way</h3> <p>All expecting parents have read <a title="what to expect when you're expecting book" href="" target="_blank">What to Expect When You’re Expecting</a>, because when that little bundle of joy drops out of mommy, you’d better be ready with lots of paper towels and a whole lot of specialized knowledge about what to do from that moment forward. Though it’s not quite as messy (or scary), setting up a new PC requires a similar sort of informed approach if you want to raise it properly from the moment it squirts out of the Fed Ex truck and into your life. You’ll be tempted to pick it up and coo, “Who's a widdle PC?,” and then immediately benchmark the shinola out of it. We understand the impulse, and the excitement, but hold your horses, cowboy. You’ve got to take it slow with a new rig, and get it set up correctly the first time, or else all your future efforts will be for naught. That’s where we come in. We'll show you how to <strong>set up a PC</strong> the right way!</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/beauty_5222_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/beauty_5222_small.jpg" alt="set up a PC" title="set up a PC" width="620" height="878" /></a></p> <p>In this handy guide, we’ll show you what to do with your new PC in those first crucial out-of-the-box moments, and will hold your hand all the way from the first boot until the PC is ready to run its first benchmark. With our help, your bundle of bits will quickly grow from a fragile, schizophrenic rig to a fully up-to-date, crap-free machine that’s secure, tweaked for maximum performance, and ready to make daddy or mommy proud. Sniff—they boot up so fast!</p> <h4>Kick the Tires</h4> <p>You just unboxed your new desktop, all-in-one, or laptop, but do you really know what’s inside of it? After all, like doctors, lawyers, and journalists, system builders make mistakes, too. It’s a good time to grab the spec sheet that came with your PC and do a quick system inventory to make sure that if you paid for a machine with a $230 CPU, you actually got that CPU. You can poke and prod through the specs using tools such as CPU-Z (<a href=""></a>) and GPU-Z (<a href=""></a>) and check the Device Manager and BIOS/UEFI for hardware IDs, or just run a system audit using Belarc Advisor (free from <a title="belarc" href="" target="_blank"></a>). Belarc Advisor will query the hardware and software in your PC and present you with a tidy list of everything that’s installed. Pay particular attention to what CPU is in your box, the SSD and HDD models and capacity, as well how much RAM and how many DIMMs are installed.</p> <p>The inventory isn’t enough, though. You should also verify some key parameters to make sure your box is running at speed. Run CPU-Z while also running the Prime95 (<a href=""></a>) stress test in order to record the clock speed the chip is running at. With various turbo techs being pushed, you might also want to see how your chip performs under light loads. We generally run the Sunspider browser benchmark (<a href=""></a>) to try to coax turbo speeds out of our CPUs. While you have CPU-Z running, click the Memory tab and verify that your box is running the correct memory channels.</p> <p>Those of you running an SSD on an <a title="intel" href="" target="_blank">Intel</a> system should verify that the drive is hooked up to a SATA 6Gb/s port and that Trim is enabled. Just download Crystal Disk Info (<a href=""></a>) to see what state your SSD's run state.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/belarc1_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/belarc1_small.jpg" alt="Inventory your PC’s hardware with Belarc to make sure you got what you paid for." title="Belarc" width="620" height="383" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Inventory your PC’s hardware with Belarc to make sure you got what you paid for.</strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/crystaldiskinfo_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/crystaldiskinfo_small.jpg" alt="We like to verify that a new SATA 6Gb/s SSD is actually running at that speed." width="620" height="528" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>We like to verify that a new SATA 6Gb/s SSD is actually running at that speed.</strong></p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Restoration Software</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">Old-timers, aka geezers, will remember when every new PC would ship with a set of restore discs. Well, buddy, those days are over for most large PC manufacturers. And don’t you kid yourself; even though <a title="Windows 8" href="" target="_blank">Windows 8</a> has the capability to factory reset itself before your lunch break is over. Windows 8’s reset feature won’t do squat if your HDD or SSD decides to go south on you, or if some OS fault or infection is so bad you need to nuke it from orbit.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">It’s not that Microsoft is preventing PC vendors from providing restore media, either—it’s just that most PC OEMs don’t want to pay for it anymore. Why bother if they can make you burn it instead? To be fair, the vast majority of folks never have issues and skip this step. We, however, like to hope for the best but plan for the worst, so burning the disc before your drive blows a motivator is the proper course of action.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Every major OEM seems to handle restore discs differently, so hunt around on your system for the utility and look for the “factory restore disc” feature. When we set up a new box for Aunt Peg recently, the first thing we did was burn a set of restore discs and then taped them to the back of the machine.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">If your new notebook doesn’t have an optical drive, consider creating a recovery USB key, which most factory utilities support as an alternative to creating discs. Just make sure it’s big enough. A Windows 8 Pro installation asked for a minimum of 23GB for our factory image.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/recover1_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/recover1_small.jpg" alt="Take the time to create factory recovery discs, since few systems ship with them." title="Lenovo" width="620" height="417" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Take the time to create factory recovery discs, since few systems ship with them.</strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><br /></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/backupmedia_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/backupmedia_small.jpg" alt="Interestingly, miserly HP allows you to create only one set of recovery discs." title="Hp" width="620" height="469" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Interestingly, miserly HP allows you to create only one set of recovery discs.</strong></p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">The Nuclear Option</h4> <p>Rather than trying to remove the megabytes of trialware your OEM has preloaded on a new machine, some enthusiasts prefer to forgo the hour spent uninstalling unwanted crap and reach right for the nuclear launch codes instead. Yup, that’s right, they take a perfectly good, brand-new PC and immediately nuke-and-pave over the OS with a full, clean install. In the days of <a title="windows xp" href="" target="_blank">Windows XP</a>, such an option probably made a lot of sense, but factory preinstalls of the OS from large OEMs are quite complicated and messy. What’s more, the factory-restore will quite likely contain all the same trialware. While nuking the OS from orbit was perfectly acceptable to many of us years ago, these days we think it’s just easier to declutter the box by hand first (continue reading below).&nbsp;</p> <p>Still, there are times when the nuclear option is preferable. Some OEMs prefer to ship with a 32-bit version of the OS installed for compatibility reasons, but make both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions available. In this case, nuking the OS and reinstalling the 64-bit version is required if you want to upgrade.</p> <h4>Windows Update It!</h4> <p>With your new PC connected to the Internet, the absolute first thing you should do is manually run Windows Update. Once it’s done, run it again. Why? It’s not because <a title="windows 7" href="" target="_blank">Windows 7</a> and Windows 8 are particularly soft targets, but as the world’s dominant operating systems (well, Win7 anyway), they’re basically the biggest targets around. With the dangers of infected Flash ads, JavaScript exploits, and an untold number of threats poised to attack unpatched machines, wading into the Internet with an unpatched box is about as wise as running buck naked and blindfolded into a cactus patch.</p> <p>So before you step one foot onto the Internet, run Windows Update at least twice—some updates require the presence of a preceding update in order to be installed. Then you can run out to procure the other much-needed utilities and tools for your new PC. On Windows 8 machines, go to the Modern UI and start to type update. On Windows 7, go to Start and search for update.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/windowsupdate_small_1.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/windowsupdate_small_0.jpg" alt="Once your networking is up, run Windows Update immediately." title="Windows Update" width="620" height="517" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Once your networking is up, run Windows Update immediately.</strong></p> <h4>If It’s Broken, Fix It</h4> <p>Former Maximum PC columnist Alex “The Saint” St. John said it best: “Drivers, she is always a-broken.” OK, we added the Mario Brothers' sentence structure and accent for style, but he was right on. Drivers are usually a work in progress and they are often the cause of system wonkiness, even on brand-spanking-new machines. In fact, new machines are often the ones most in need of updated drivers, given their state-of-the-art hardware. Case in point, we unboxed a brand-spanking-new Windows 8 notebook for some testing and immediately had to update no fewer than four drivers.</p> <p>This is where the big-boy “tier 1” OEMs often have the edge over the smaller companies. Most pack their own driver update applications that will hunt down the latest drivers for their machines. On an <a title="HP" href="" target="_blank">HP</a> Win8 laptop, for example, rather than having to chase down individual drivers, the HP update app did the work for us. This can work against you on occasion, though, as big companies often don’t want headaches, so once a driver reaches a certain level of stability, they don’t push new updates unless absolutely needed, even if the new driver may add improved features or performance. Then, a manual search will produce more satisfying results.</p> <p>If you don’t want to hunt for every single device driver by hand, there are alternatives, such as Slimware’s SlimDrivers Free (<a href=""></a>). This utility uses “crowdsourcing” to do what the large OEMs do with their driver updaters. Running SlimDrivers Free on another big OEM laptop, for example, yielded 14 updated drivers, while the OEM’s update tool said nothing new was available.</p> <div> <div>Which drivers do we typically recommend that you update on a new box? The most obvious are GPU drivers. Next up would be chipset drivers. We will add that results of driver updates will vary depending on your OS. Windows 7 is quite mature and drivers at this point are unlikely to add much beyond bug fixes. Windows 8, though, is constantly changing, so GPU, chipset, audio, USB, network—basically everything—should be checked for new drivers and generally installed.</div> <div style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/hpdriverupdate_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/hpdriverupdate_small.jpg" alt="Take advantage of integrated driver-update tools on your PC." title="driver-update t" width="620" height="372" /></a></div> </div> <div style="text-align: center;"><strong>Take advantage of integrated driver-update tools on your PC.</strong></div> <div style="text-align: center;"><strong><br /></strong></div> <div style="text-align: center;"><strong><br /></strong></div> <div style="text-align: center;"><strong><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/driverupdate_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/driverupdate_small.jpg" alt="Slimware’s SlimDriver Free hunts down new drivers for you." title="SlimDriver" width="620" height="373" /></a></strong></div> <div style="text-align: center;"><strong>Slimware’s SlimDriver Free hunts down new drivers for you.</strong></div> <h4><span style="font-size: 1em;">Beware the BIOS</span></h4> <p>We used to believe the conventional wisdom that if it ain’t broke, don’t break it by touching it, but not anymore when it comes to the BIOS. We’ve experienced so many fits of weirdness that were fixed by updating the BIOS in the last couple of years that we now recommend updating the BIOS/UEFI as a top priority on a new PC. We’ve seen Wi-Fi that wouldn’t install properly get fixed with a BIOS update, and overclocking-gone-whacky similarly remedied, so we say just do it. Even on notebooks, which many people believe don’t need a BIOS update, an updated BIOS can correct serious performance issues. Case in point: The BIOS often has direct control over acoustics on a laptop. Updating the BIOS could add new fan profiles that either make the laptop quieter or enable higher turbo clock speeds because the fan will spin up higher. You simply don’t know. Even more interesting, newer machines, especially new laptops, often benefit the most from BIOS updates, as the engineers tweak them in response to the feedback they’re getting as the products actually reach consumers' hands. Since BIOS updates are often handled differently for each PC, we can’t walk you through it step-by-step, but we recommend that you visit your vendor’s website to check the BIOS versions and/or run any built-in update utility to check for a new BIOS.</p> <h4>Lighten the Load</h4> <p>Do you know how you got your PC at such a fantastic price? Well, it’s partly the result of the preinstalled and subsidized trial software. So while you gnash your teeth at the 12 trial apps clogging your hard drive, remember those same software vendors helped pay for your new rig.&nbsp;</p> <p>So please mouth a quiet thank you and then download PC Decrapifier (<a href=""></a>) stat. This handy utility will let you quickly and easily uninstall most of the preinstalled software in one single swipe. And after you’re done blowing out the hundreds of megabytes of trial software with as much effort as it takes you to eat a delicious Big Kahuna burger, also thank your PC for even letting you uninstall the trialware, unlike your blasted smartphone, which has precious, precious space being wasted by trial apps you never, ever use, either. Freedom!</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/decrap_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/decrap_small.jpg" alt="We love how easily PC Decrapifier makes it for us to bid adieu to unwelcome preinstalled software!" title="PC Decrapifier" width="620" height="450" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>We love how easily PC Decrapifier makes it for us to bid adieu to unwelcome preinstalled software!</strong></p> <h4>Clutter It Up</h4> <p>You just spent an hour decluttering your new PC of trial applications (if you didn’t use PC Decrapifier), now it’s time to clutter it up—your way. Rather than download each app one-at-a-time, point your browser at <a title="" href="" target="_blank"></a>. Once there, you’re presented with a page of popular applications that just about everyone installs on a new machine—<a title="chrome" href="" target="_blank">Chrome</a>, <a title="dropbox" href="" target="_blank">Dropbox</a>, <a title="foxit reader" href="" target="_blank">Foxit Reader</a>, <a title="7-zip" href="" target="_blank">7-Zip</a>, <a title="steam" href="" target="_blank">Steam</a>, <a title="teracopy" href="" target="_blank">TeraCopy</a>, <a title="revo" href="" target="_blank">Revo</a>, <a title="digsby" href="" target="_blank">Digsby</a>, <a title="vlc" href="" target="_blank">VLC</a>, etc. Simply scroll through the list looking for an app, utility, or runtime that appeals to you and check the box. Once you’ve picked from the menu of software, click the Get Installer button and you’ll get a small executable to download. Once you’ve downloaded the executable, run it, and Ninite will automatically download and install the software you selected. Just drive on down to the In-N-Out Burger near Radford, grab your lunch, come back, and voilà, it’s done. The only improvement we wish Ninite had is an enthusiast utility selection that includes CPU-Z, GPU-Z, and other handy-dandy tools we all use.</p> <p>While we’re on the subject of installing software, if you’re planning to install free antivirus software, you can do that as well with Ninite, which gives you the choice of <a title="security essentials" href="" target="_blank">Microsoft Security Essentials</a>, <a title="avast" href="" target="_blank">Avast</a>, and <a title="avg" href="" target="_blank">AVG</a> for real-time scanners; and <a title="malwarebytes" href="" target="_blank">Malwarebytes</a>, <a title="ad-aware" href="" target="_blank">Ad-Aware</a>, and <a title="spybot" href="" target="_blank">Spybot</a> as secondary, on-demand scanners. <a title="superantispyware" href="" target="_blank">SuperAntiSpyware</a> is also an option but the app has real-time protection, which may be an issue for any AV app you run. More on this later, but if you’re going the cheap route with AVG, MSE, or Avast, now is the time to do it, or install a paid solution. For your info, Windows 8 boxes come out of the, um, box with Microsoft’s creaky-old Security Essentials installed and running.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/ninite_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/ninite_small.jpg" alt=" automagically installs all your popular apps and utilities in one swoop. " title="" width="620" height="649" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong> automagically installs all your popular apps and utilities in one swoop.</strong></p> <h4>Secure It</h4> <p>Your work is just getting started after you’ve installed an AV product. The old-school scan-your-drive-for-an-infected-file model has long been worthless. These days, malware often is installed in a nanosecond, using zero-day infections via broken browser plugins and scripting exploits. As much work as Microsoft has done to enhance security in Windows 15 (7 + 8), that doesn’t help if you have an unpatched version of <a title="quicktime" href="" target="_blank">QuickTime</a>, VLC, or <a title="adobe reader" href="" target="_blank">Adobe Reader</a>.</p> <p>First, may we recommend that you consider paying for a good AV product such as <a title="f-secure" href="" target="_blank">F-Secure</a>, <a title="kaspersky" href="" target="_blank">Kaspersky</a>, <a title="norton" href="" target="_blank">Norton</a>, or <a title="bitdefender" href="" target="_blank">BitDefender</a>, among others? These products are highly rated for their ability to intercept zero-day attacks, and with rebates you can get enough keys to cover all your devices for a few dollars a year. If you’re too cheap, consider using <a title="AVG free" href="" target="_blank">AVG Free</a>, which is better at stopping zero-day attacks than Microsoft’s Security Essentials product. MSE is the least bothersome, but it’s lost a lot of luster of late.&nbsp;</p> <p>With a proper AV app in place, you now need to be wary of your browser plugins. We recommend weekly checks of your browser using <a title="Qualys" href="" target="_blank">Qualys BrowserCheck</a>. This free web tool will check your browser’s plugins to see if they’re the latest available. The intermediate and advanced options offer checks of all browsers as well as Windows Updates, too. Keeping your applications updated is also a key to avoiding infections. For that, we turn to Secunia PSI or the web-based OSI (<a title="secunia" href="" target="_blank"></a>). Secunia’s tools will check your installed apps and inform you if there are any risks, and either automatically download them or offer you a download link.</p> <p>Running two AV apps is not recommended, but keeping one around for a second opinion isn’t a bad idea. We often keep Malwarebytes installed just in case we need it. You should also consider installing VirusTotal Uploader (<a class="thickbox" href=""></a>). This lets you right-mouse-click a file to have it sent to VirusTotal where it will be analyzed by more than 40 virus engines. Even more trick, if you suspect a process is mal, you can use the&nbsp;VirusTotal Uploader to send the executable that is running the process to be analyzed.</p> <p>This is only the tip of the iceberg. Just remember security guru Bruce Schneier’s words: “Security is not a product; it’s a process.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/qualys_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/qualys_small.jpg" alt=" Staying on top of the state of your browser plugins is key to a good security regimen." title="security regimen" width="620" height="558" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Staying on top of the state of your browser plugins is key to a good security regimen.</strong></p> <h4>Have a Backup Plan or Two</h4> <p>The system-restore discs you created earlier will get you back in business should you experience a total meltdown, but you should also strongly consider setting up a backup plan now, not a day after your drive has died and you’ve lost all your data. For those times, we’ve found Window 7’s <em>Backup and Restore</em> to work amazingly well. You’ll need a second drive on the machine for the backups; we highly recommend that its capacity is equal to or larger than that of your primary drive. Remember to heed the warning that one is none and two is one.</p> <p>With a USB optical drive plugged in or a second HDD in place, use Backup and Restore to create a system image, and then burn a boot disc that you will need should your drive fail. Now, also set up a file backup from your primary drive to your secondary drive and set it for a schedule that you're comfortable with. In the event of a primary drive failure, just replace the drive, boot to the restore disc you created, and point it at your backup images and files. When completed, you should be back in action with access to the files you had just before the failure.&nbsp;</p> <p>Windows 8 users can set up the same file and image backup system from Windows 7, but it’s called Windows 7 File Recovery. Just pull up search and start typing file recovery and look under Settings to access the same utility. Win8 actually has different options: <em>File History</em> will create backups on a file every hour, whereas Windows 7 File Recovery will run only once a day. What’s better? Since our time and data is invaluable, we do both. File History is the Omega 13 of backup that lets you, say, go back to a file version from three hours before. Refresh is a great feature that “resets” the OS but it won’t help if the drive has died. In that case, having a disc image and Windows 7 File Recovery backup set lets you drop in a new drive and be back up and running in a couple of hours, rather than the usual 12 hours of manually installing apps and recovering settings.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/history_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/history_small.jpg" alt="Not to be confused with the Windows 7 File Recovery, Win8’s File History makes hourly backups of your document files." title="Windows 7 File Recovery" width="620" height="425" /></a></p> <p><em>Click the next page for pro tips on how to transfer your data</em></p> <p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3 style="text-align: left;">Transfer Your Data</h3> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>Best practices for moving files from your old PC to a new one</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">Once your system is set up how you like it, it’s time to fill your fresh drive(s) with all your documents, music, and games. Follow these instructions for getting those various files situated in their new digs.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">How to Transfer… Documents!</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">So, you have your new Windows 8 PC all ready to go. The problem? All of your important documents are stuck on your older system.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Assuming that you’ve been making ample use of Windows’ My Documents folder to store just that, then transferring your files over is as easy as copying your entire C:\Users\[your name]\My Documents folder to a flash drive (or USB-based hard drive, depending on how much you’ll be transferring). Connect the key or drive to your new system and copy the files over—it couldn’t be easier.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">If you’re a bit messier, however, and have documents strewn all around your hard drive, then you’ll probably want to make use of Windows’ built-in search tool to find your documents. Assuming you’re on <a title="windows vista" href="" target="_blank">Windows Vista</a> or later, you just have to pull up Windows Explorer, highlight your Computer in the left-hand sidebar, and type *.doc* in the upper-right-hand search box—assuming, of course, that we’re talking about .doc or .docx files. Sort the search results by Type to ensure you’re looking at just your documents, and then highlight and copy them over to your external storage in the same way you’d transfer any file.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/screenshot_95_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/screenshot_95_small.jpg" alt="Lesson learned: Keeping all of your documents in one place makes it much easier to transfer them over to a new desktop or laptop at some point in the future." width="620" height="374" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Lesson learned: Keeping all of your documents in one place makes it much easier to transfer them over to a new desktop or laptop at some point in the future.</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">You also might want to investigate the free app <a title="teracopy" href="" target="_blank">TeraCopy</a>&nbsp;if you’re likely to be copying a ton of small files over to your external storage for transfer. While the third-party file-transfer app has proven to be a bit slower than Windows’ built-in transfer tool for big files, it’s a star for smaller files. Additionally, it also gives you the ability to pause your transfers (similar to Windows 8’s file-copy tool), skip transfers that you’ve queued up, and have your computer automatically shut down once the transfer has finished.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">How to Transfer… iTunes!</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">We’ll pause for a moment while your fellow <a title="maximum pc" href="" target="_blank">Maximum PC</a> readers look at you with suspicion, you <a title="itunes" href="" target="_blank">iTunes</a> fan you. Now that that’s over with, we’ll show you how to move your iTunes library to your new Windows 8 PC.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">First off, you’ll want to find your iTunes Library. To note: We’re assuming you’re using iTunes itself to organize your music, as any tunes you drag into iTunes’ interface are automatically copied and placed into a specific location by the program. If not, you’re on your own to hunt down where on your computer you’ve stashed your MP3 files. (Try using the same process we just described for Documents to get all of your MP3s onto a single piece of external storage.)</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Pull up iTunes’ Preferences windows and click its Advanced icon. iTunes will tell you exactly where it’s keeping its Media folder. Navigate to this location within Windows Explorer and copy all the directories representing your music to some kind of external storage device.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/screenshot_96_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/screenshot_96_small.jpg" alt="iTunes’ ability to automatically organize your music library folder is an invaluable tool when it comes to moving your music around. In other words: Don’t just copy your music in File Explorer!" title="iTunes" width="520" height="564" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>iTunes’ ability to automatically organize your music library folder is an invaluable tool when it comes to moving your music around. In other words: Don’t just copy your music in File Explorer!</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">Before you go dumping these tunes onto your new Windows 8 PC, download and install iTunes, and then head back to the same Preferences &gt; Advanced window we just mentioned. Make sure the location you want iTunes to use for your new Media folder is set, and check the following two options: “Keep iTunes Media folder organized,” and “Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library.” From there, all you have to do is drag-and-drop the folders full of music on your external drive directly into your new, empty iTunes folder on your Windows 8 PC—the app will take care of the rest.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">How to Transfer… Steam!</h4> <p>Do your poor router a favor—don’t just re-download all of your games onto your new PC. You don’t have to, thanks to <a title="valve" href="" target="_blank">Valve</a>’s built-in backup feature within Steam.</p> <p>Click the Steam menu in the upper-left corner of the app and select “Backup and Restore Games.” Since you’ll be moving all of your downloaded games from your old PC to your new one, make sure that “Backup currently installed programs” is selected in the window that appears and click <em>Next</em>. After that, select your games and click <em>Next</em>.</p> <p>You can directly create this backup on your external media, but it might go a little faster to just find a temporary location on your hard drive (assuming you have the space) for now, and then copy over the Steam backup to external media after the fact. Click <em>Next</em> and you’ll be given the option to assign your backup a name and file size—in other words, the size of the (possibly many) archives that Steam will create, if you’re going to try to burn these to discs instead of just copying them en masse to removable storage. Click Next and go find your favorite movie to watch—this might take a while.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/screenshot_97_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/screenshot_97_small.jpg" alt="In the olden days, there was no way to just transfer stream games via the app itself you had to re-download everything you wanted to play (after walking miles in the snow to do so)." title="Steam Backup" width="400" height="396" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>In the olden days, there was no way to just transfer stream games via the app itself you had to re-download everything you wanted to play (after walking miles in the snow to do so).</strong></p> <p>Once Steam’s Backup and Restore program finishes, you can copy these files to an external drive and use the same process—but selecting Restore this time—to transfer these games over to your new system.</p> <h4>How to Transfer… Games!</h4> <p>There’s really only one tool that we trust when it comes to scanning our systems for our games’ many different save files: the freeware app Gamesave Manager (<a href=""></a>). Using this one is simple—heck, you don’t even have to install it. Download the app and fire it up, and make sure you’ve updated its database to the most recent version (this is how the app figures out where your save files are).</p> <p>From there, click the “Make a backup” link on the app’s main screen. Select the games whose saves you want to back up, and then click the icon in the upper-right corner that looks like a file “wooshing” to the right (it’s next to the big “X” icon). Pick a location for your backup file and let ‘er rip—we recommend placing the saves on some external storage device.</p> <p>Once you’ve finished reinstalling (or Steam transferring) your games to your new system, use Gamesave Manager to restore your saves by clicking the Open Archive(s) option on the app’s main screen. Hunt down the files you previously created with Gamesave Manager (on the external storage device, we hope), and use that same oddly shaped file icon to restore your precious game progress.</p> <h3>Connection Speeds Compared</h3> <p>What’s the best way to transfer your files from one PC to another? Easy: drag-and-drop. OK, there's a bit more to it than that.</p> <p>Researching all the theoretical maximum speeds of various connection types is easy. Trying to gauge just how they’ll perform in a real-world environment is a bit trickier, given the multitude of factors that go into getting your files from Point A to Point B. And by factors, we really mean “bottlenecks.”</p> <p>It’s time you accepted the honest truth: Your file transfer speeds will never be as fast as your research suggests. Your USB 3.0 connections aren’t going to blaze by at 640MB/s (or soon, 1,280MB/s, once the connection standard is bumped up to 10Gb/s), nor will your Gigabit network cough up 125MB/s each and every time you go to copy a file over to your network storage device.</p> <p>So just how do some of the more popular connections for file transferring stack up in a typical, real-world scenario? Spoiler: Not exactly as you might think.</p> <p>A SATA 3 (6Gb/s) connection won big on our read and write tests of a single 6.01GB file (copied between a <a title="Samsung 830 Series SSD" href="" target="_blank">Samsung 830 Series</a> SSD, our system’s boot drive, and an <a title="ocz agility" href="" target="_blank">OCZ Agility 3</a> SSD). In second place, however, was the Gigabit Ethernet transfer of that same file between our desktop PC and an Iomega StorCenter PX2-300d-2 NAS box (onto its RAID 0 array of two 2TB Hitachi Ultrastar drives).</p> <p>Why didn’t our USB 3.0 file transfer between our desktop’s SSD and a USB 3.0–friendly <a title="corsair flash drive" href="" target="_blank">Corsair Flash Voyager drive</a>—with a theoretical connection speed much faster than that of Gigabit networking—win out by a landslide? A few thoughts on that: Our Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3H-B3’s USB 3.0 controller or associated driver might not be up to snuff, but it’s more likely that our flash drive itself is the performance bottleneck. Based on reports of other users’ experience with this flash drive, the approximately 40MB/s transfer speed that we were topping out at seems reasonable.</p> <p>And, to note, it took quite a bit longer to write our test file to our flash key via USB 3.0 than it did to read off it. A similar discrepancy appeared when copying the file between our two SSDs, a clear example of the differences between read and write performance across your file transfers. In other words, you can’t necessarily freak out because files heading in one direction appear to be going slower than you might expect; try it the other way, too.</p> <p>Our test transfer across USB 2.0 was the tortoise in our transfer race, and we look forward to the day when this legacy connection standard is finally put out to pasture.</p> <p>So, what’s there to learn from our crude look at file transfer performance? It’s not the connection you have to be as concerned about as it is the devices involved in the transfer. The storage— flash or mechanical—that you’re using on both sides of the transfer plays a big role in the performance you’ll experience when you go to copy files. SATA 6Gb/s and USB 3.0 are plenty speedy, but only when both sides of the transfer play along.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><span class="module-name">INTERFACE COMPARISON</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;SATA 6Gb/s</td> <td>SATA 6.0 Gb/s</td> <td>USB 2.0</td> <td>USB 2.0</td> <td>USB 3.0</td> <td>USB 3.0</td> <td>Gigabit</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Samsung 830<br />Series SSD to<br />OCZ Agility 3 SSD</td> <td class="item-dark">OCZ Agility<br />3 SSD to<br />Samsung 830<br />Series SSD</td> <td>Samsung 830<br />Series SSD to<br />Corsair Flash<br />Voyager</td> <td>Corsair Flash<br />Voyager to<br />Samsung 830<br />Series SSD</td> <td>Samsung 830<br />Series SSD to<br />Corsair Flash<br />Voyager</td> <td>Corsair Flash Voyager to Samsung 830 Series SSD</td> <td>Samsung 830 Series SSD to Iomega StorCenter PX2-300d-2 NAS box</td> </tr> <tr> <td>27 seconds</td> <td>29 seconds</td> <td>207 seconds<strong>&nbsp;</strong></td> <td>182 seconds</td> <td>156 seconds</td> <td>77 seconds</td> <td>94 seconds</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p><em>Chart shows time it took to transfer a 6,154.24MB file between the respective two devices.</em></p> <p><em><strong>Click the next page to learn how to make Windows 8 more workable.</strong></em></p> <p><em>&nbsp;</em></p> <hr /><em><br /></em> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3>Make Windows 8 Workable<em>&nbsp;</em></h3> <p><strong>A little bit of tweaking goes a long way</strong><em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p>All right, all right—we get it. We’re not going to take potshots at Windows 8. That’s too easy. The fact is, most any new PC you buy is going to come with Windows 8 installed, so the task now falls to us to show you how to make the most of it. And the fact is, there’s a lot to like about the new OS, once you get it tweaked and optimized. Here’s how.<em>&nbsp;</em></p> <h4>Bypass the Windows 8 Lock Screen<em>&nbsp;</em></h4> <p>Little is more frustrating than having to click or keyboard-press yourself out of Windows 8’s lock screen just to pull up your password prompt. Sure, it just takes a key to do so, but you’ll be amazed at how annoyed you get with this additional step between you and your official login screen—especially if you’re rocking Microsoft’s new operating system on a non-touchscreen-friendly device.<em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p>To ditch the lock screen once and for all, you’ll need to change a small setting in Windows 8’s Group Policy Editor. Type gpedit.msc on your Start Screen (the Modern UI interface, in other words) and pull up Group Policy Editor by clicking the related icon. Surf on over to this section: Computer Configuration &gt; Administrative Templates &gt; Control Panel &gt; Personalization. Once there, you’ll want to find the policy labeled, “Do not display the lock screen.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/screenshot_91_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/screenshot_91_small.jpg" alt="There are plenty of options worth playing with in the Group Policy Editor—a powerful tool for bending Windows 8 to your iron will!" width="620" height="421" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>There are plenty of options worth playing with in the Group Policy Editor—a powerful tool for bending Windows 8 to your iron will!</strong></p> <p>Double-click it and set the radio button in the upper-left corner of the window to Enabled. Voilà—no more lock screen, and you’re one step closer to logging into your desktop or laptop PC.<em>&nbsp;</em></p> <h4>Bypass Logging in Entirely<em>&nbsp;</em></h4> <p>Either you’re the sole user on your PC or you trust your roommates a great deal. Regardless, you live your life on the edge and can’t bear the thought of wasting time typing in your Microsoft account password or Windows 8 PIN—or drawing lines all over your Windows 8 picture password—every time you boot your system.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/screenshot_92_490_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/screenshot_92_490.jpg" alt="One caveat: If you have multiple accounts on your system, Windows 8 isn’t going to wait for you to pick one to log into (sans password) when you boot your system." width="490" height="530" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>One caveat: If you have multiple accounts on your system, Windows 8 isn’t going to wait for you to pick one to log into (sans password) when you boot your system.</strong></p> <p>We understand. To rid yourself of having to enter any kind of password to access your operating system, which allows Windows 8 to boot straight into the Start Screen without any input from you beyond hitting the power button on your system, you’ll want to adjust a setting within Windows 8’s User Accounts window.</p> <p>To jump to the exact place we’re going to highlight, head over to your Windows 8 Start Screen and type in netplwiz. Click the icon to pull up your User Accounts window and deselect the checked box that says, “Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer.”</p> <h4>Bypass the Start Screen<em>&nbsp;</em></h4> <p>There’s nothing wrong with Windows 8’s Start Screen, per se—it’s a lovely search tool as far as we’re concerned. It just fails to live up to expectations in a typical desktop or laptop PC environment as compared to the trusty ol’ Start Menu of yesteryear.<em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p>So, let’s fix that. Go download and install a free app called Classic Shell (<a href=""></a>). Once you’ve installed it, you’ll notice that your computer will have bypassed the traditional Start Screen the next time you boot into Windows 8. As an added bonus, a brand-new start button— complete with traditional start menu functionality—will appear in the lower-left corner of Windows 8’s Desktop Mode.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/screenshot_94_small_1.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/screenshot_94_small_0.jpg" alt="You can use Classic Shell to completely disable Windows 8’s “Active Corners” feature, if you want absolutely nothing appearing when you move your mouse around your screen." title="Classic Shell" width="620" height="417" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>You can use Classic Shell to completely disable Windows 8’s “Active Corners” feature, if you want absolutely nothing appearing when you move your mouse around your screen.</strong></p> <p>You can right-click this new start button for a quick shortcut to Windows Explorer. More important, however, is Classic Shell’s Settings menu, which you can use to customize all sorts of items related to the new start menu that you’ve created for yourself. Get into the nitty-gritty of the available options if you want. Otherwise, you can simply select a style—Windows Classic, Windows XP, or Windows Vista/Windows 7—that you’d like your start menu to emulate.</p> <p>And if, for whatever reason, you want to enable Windows 8’s Start Screen (traitor), you can turn that back on within Classic Shell’s “Windows 8 Settings” tab. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.</p> <h4>Ditch the Defaults</h4> <p>There’s absolutely nothing good to be had from Windows 8’s default apps for multimedia—here’s looking at you, Videos, Music, and Photos. We dislike you immensely, mainly because you’re really just a front for Microsoft to sell content versus actually provide tangible playback or browsing features that aren’t more annoying than they are useful --&nbsp;Yes, we went there.</p> <p>Go grab yourself an awesome multimedia app like Media Player Classic or VLC and install it. Once you’ve done so, head on over to your Windows 8 Start Screen, type default programs, and click the corresponding icon. Click the option named “Set your default programs.” In the window that appears, scroll down to find your multimedia player of choice—either Media Player Classic, VLC, or good ol’ Windows Media Player—and select it. From there, click the option to, “Set this program as default.” It’s as easy as that.</p> <p>While you’re there, be sure to hit up Windows Photo Viewer and set that app to open all of your pictures by default, as well. You’ll be glad you did.</p> <h4>Learn Your Gestures</h4> <p>We hope you were paying attention the first time you booted your system into Windows 8, because Microsoft’s cursory overview of gestures—if you can really call it that—is the best you’re going to get out of the box. But it’s not really fair for you (and your touchscreen device or monitor) to jump into the wide world of Windows 8 without a life preserver for your fingers.</p> <p>If you want to get a better sense of the gestures Windows 8 supports, Microsoft provides a fairly thorough list within the Developer Center for its Windows Store apps. Hit up the “Gestures, manipulations, and interactions” page (<a href=""></a>) to see exactly what your Windows 8 system will recognize.</p> <p>If you’d rather print out a detailed list of the differences between a desktop tap, finger-pinch, and greasy-hand-smear, then HP has you covered. Head over to its generic “Windows 8 Touch Gestures and Keystrokes” page(<a href=""></a>) to see which gestures map to which actions within the Windows 8 environment. And to look at things a different way, David Pogue of The New York Times breaks down the Windows 8 basics by action(<a class="thickbox" href=""></a>)—telling you which finger-driven actions, mouse manipulations, or keyboard hotkeys accomplish which tasks, like opening up the Charms panel or splitting the Start Screen into two apps.</p> <h4>Store Your Space</h4> <p>One of Windows 8’s fancy new features is called Storage Spaces, a kind-of software RAID you can use to create heaping pools of storage out of, well, any kind of storage you have attached to your system, be it a physical hard drive, an external eSATA drive, a flash drive, etc. What you lose in speed over a hardware RAID, you gain in convenience—to an extent—through your ability to add and remove storage from the “pool” at will.</p> <p>Setting up a Storage Space couldn’t be any easier. Hit up your Windows 8 Start Screen, type in storage spaces, and then click the Settings button on the right-hand toolbar to bring up the official Storage Spaces icon. Click it. Select the option to “Create a new pool and storage space.” Windows 8 will ask you which of your attached disks you’d like to use to populate your pool—note that you can change this configuration at any point afterward, if you desire, but any disks you select that have data on them will be wiped. Click the Create Pool button and get ready to set some options.</p> <p>On the next screen, Windows 8 will ask you for a name and drive letter for your new Storage Space. Easy enough. It’ll also ask you which resiliency type you want to employ. You get one of three options on this one: two-way mirroring (requires at least two disks), three-way mirroring (requires five disks), and “parity” mode (requires three disks; more usable space, but worse performance).</p> <p>On the next screen, Windows 8 will ask you for a name and drive letter for your new Storage Space. Easy enough. It’ll also ask you which resiliency type you want to employ. You get one of three options on this one: two-way mirroring (requires at least two disks), three-way mirroring (requires five disks), and “parity” mode (requires three disks; more usable space, but worse performance).</p> <p>Once you’ve finished your configuration, hit the Create Storage Space button to do just that—your new storage area will appear within File Explorer as if it was a conventional volume.</p> <h4>Organize Your Tiles</h4> <p>One of the banes of Windows 8 is that installing any new application—that’s “desktop application,” not “Windows 8 app,”—is likely going to dump a whole ton of tiles onto your Start Screen. The second you touch a web app like Ninite, it’s going to look like a tile explosion went off within your Windows 8 installation.</p> <p>To quickly remove tiles from your Windows 8 Start Screen, simply hold down Control and start clicking them. Once you’ve highlighted the icons you want to remove, just select the “Unpin from start” option that appears on the bar at the bottom of your Start Screen. Simple, right?</p> <p>Windows 8 also lets you organize your tiles under named groups, if you want to be sure that you’re lumping all of your “Games” in the right place, for example. On your Start Screen, move your mouse cursor to the very bottom-right of the screen and click the square that looks like it has a minus sign within it. This will zoom out your tiles and allow you to better see the various icon groups that you’re currently using. Right-click any of these groups and select the Name Group option to do just that.</p> <p>Now if only Windows 8 were smart enough to help you automatically sort new icons into your preset groups…</p> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> March 2013 2013 antivirus applications backup free maximum pc programs set up a PC Software Steam uninstall bloatware Office Applications Software News Features Tue, 09 Jul 2013 00:45:37 +0000 Gordon Mah Ung and David Murphy 25586 at How to Build a Linux Gaming PC <!--paging_filter--><h3>We show you how to build an affordable Linux gaming PC</h3> <p>The free <a title="linux" href="" target="_blank">Linux</a> operating system has been around for ages, but its inherent complexity and limited support has always relegated its use to extreme enthusiasts, programmers, and other hardcore types. That might be changing, though, as a lot of loyal PC enthusiasts are less than pleased with <a title="windows 8" href="" target="_blank">Windows 8</a>, and gaming juggernaut <a title="valve" href="" target="_blank">Valve</a> has thrown its hat into the ring by launching a Linux version of <a title="steam" href="" target="_blank">Steam</a>, its popular online content delivery service. Given the lackluster reception of Windows 8 and the renewed popularity of Linux, we decided to build a Linux gaming box to see for ourselves whether the OS, at this time, could be a reasonable alternative to <a title="windows" href="" target="_blank">Windows</a> for gaming.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/linux_pc.jpg" alt="linux pc" title="linux pc" width="620" height="552" /></p> <h3>Choosing the Hardware</h3> <p>Our Linux machine was built with a low target price of $650 because we wanted this project to be semi-easy to duplicate by anyone. With this in mind, we started with <a title="i3 intel" href="" target="_blank">Intel’s Ivy Bridge Core i3-3220 processor</a>, as it comes at a reasonable cost, gives us a great upgrade path, and its low TDP of 55W means we won’t need a massive CPU cooler or PSU. Our <a title="asus mobo" href="" target="_blank">Asus P8Z77-V LE</a> motherboard is also affordable while offering both <a title="SLI" href="" target="_blank">SLI</a> and <a title="crossfire" href="" target="_blank">CrossFire</a> support, as well as two USB 3.0 ports. Power is provided by a <a title="Corsair CX430" href="" target="_blank">CX430 Corsair</a> power supply from the company’s low-cost Builder series. Given our modest build-out, we figured anything bigger than 430W would be overkill.</p> <p>GPU duties are handled by a <a title="GTX 650 review" href="" target="_blank">Gigabyte GTX 650</a> video card, which at $120 performs better than a Radeon HD 7750 and should be sufficient for our Linux adventure. The system requirements of the available games are very low, so a more powerful GPU would be wasted. As our budget didn't allow for an SSD, we went with a 500GB, 7,200rpm <a title="wd caviar blue" href="" target="_blank">WD Caviar Blue</a>. We scored 8GB of <a title="ram" href="" target="_blank">G.Skill Ripjaws RAM</a> because it was dirt cheap at just $45. Holding all the gear is a <a title="Corsair Carbide" href=",2" target="_blank">Corsair Carbide</a> case, which is just $60 but has USB 3.0 front panel ports, cable routing, and tool-less drive bays.</p> <p>With the hardware in hand, it's time to build the machine. If you need any guidance putting it together, check out this <a title="how to build a pc" href="" target="_blank">step-by-step PC building guide</a> from a previous build.&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, let's turn your new box into a Linux gaming rig.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><strong><span class="module-name">INGREDIENTS</span></strong></div> <div class="spec-table orange"> <table style="width: 627px; height: 270px;" border="0"> <thead> <tr> <th class="head-empty"> </th> <th class="head-light">PART</th> <th>URL</th> <th>Price</th> </tr> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td class="item"><strong>Case</strong></td> <td class="item-dark">Corsair Carbide 200R</td> <td><a href=""><span class="thickbox"></span></a></td> <td> <p><strong>60</strong></p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>PSU</strong></td> <td>Corsair CX430W</td> <td><a class="thickbox" href=""></a></td> <td><strong>$50</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item"><strong>Mobo</strong></td> <td class="item-dark">Asus P8Z77-V LE Plus</td> <td><a class="thickbox" href=""></a></td> <td><strong>$160</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>CPU</strong></td> <td>Intel Core i3-3220</td> <td><a href=""><span class="thickbox"></span></a></td> <td><strong>$130</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>Cooler</strong></td> <td>Stock Cooler</td> <td><a href=""><span class="thickbox"></span></a></td> <td><strong>$0</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item"><strong>GPU</strong></td> <td class="item-dark">Gigabyte GTX 650</td> <td><a class="thickbox" href=""><span class="thickbox"></span></a></td> <td><strong>$120</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item"><strong>RAM</strong></td> <td class="item-dark">8GB G.Skill Ripjaws</td> <td><a href=""></a></td> <td><strong>$45</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>Optical Drive</strong></td> <td>Samsung S224BB</td> <td><a href=""><span class="thickbox"></span></a></td> <td><strong>$20</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>Hard Drive</strong></td> <td>500GB WD Caviar Blue</td> <td><a href=""><span class="thickbox"></span></a></td> <td><strong>$65</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>OS</strong></td> <td>Ubuntu 12.04 LTS</td> <td><a href=""><span class="thickbox"></span></a></td> <td><strong>$0</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>Total</strong></td> <td>&nbsp;</td> <td>&nbsp;</td> <td><strong>$650</strong></td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> <p><em>Click the <a title="linux pc page 2" href=",1" target="_self">next page</a> to see how to install Linux.</em></p> <hr /> <h4>1. Download Your Distro</h4> <p>We chose the <a title="ubuntu" href="" target="_blank">Ubuntu</a> flavor of Linux for this project because it’s considered the easiest to use for beginners. To get started, we headed to the website (<a href=""></a>) and downloaded our preferred flavor (<strong>image A</strong>). We chose version 12.04 LTS because it will be supported for five years rather than the latest 12.10 version, which will be only be supported for two years. After the download was complete, we prepared to burn the ISO image to a blank CD-R.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/a_small_4.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/a_small_3.jpg" title="Image A" width="620" height="384" /></a></p> <h4>2. Burn the ISO to Disc</h4> <p>We had to find suitable software for burning the ISO to CD-R (at 695MB, the distro fits on one disc). We then used the free and easy-to-use Active@ ISO Burner to burn our distro to a CD. Go to <a href=""></a> for the download, then run it. Browse to the ISO, select your optical drive, and hit the Burn button (<strong>image B</strong>). When it's done, pop the disc into the optical drive of your new guinea rig, and prepare to install Linux.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/b_small_4.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/b_small_3.jpg" title="Image B" width="620" height="387" /></a></p> <h4>3. Install the OS</h4> <p>The biggest decision you’ll have to make when installing Linux involves drive partitioning (a partition is a chunk of a storage device that appears to the OS as a separate volume). If you’re multibooting, install Linux to a separate partition, but if you’re like us and just want to run it off one storage device, you can ignore partition options (<strong>image C</strong>). After you’ve finished (or skipped) partitioning your hard drive, the OS will begin to install. It took about 30 minutes on our 7,200rpm drive, but it will take about 10-15 minutes on an SSD (we tested it just for fun).</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/c_small_5.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/c_small_4.jpg" title="Image C" width="620" height="356" /></a></p> <h4>4. Update the OS</h4> <p>Just like with Windows, the first thing you’ll want to do after you’ve installed Ubuntu is update the operating system. To do so, you will need to grab the latest updates from the Update Manager. Do this by clicking the power button in the right-hand corner of the screen and then clicking Update Manager to see a list of the latest updates; click Install Updates (<strong>image D</strong>). Unlike with Windows, which can take days to get up to date if you’re not using a Service Pack, the update process for Ubuntu took about 15 minutes. After that and a single reboot, we were up to date.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/d_small_5.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/d_small_4.jpg" title="Image D" width="620" height="503" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><em>Click the <a title="page 3" href=",2" target="_self">next page</a> to read about how to install the video/sound drivers.</em></p> <p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h4>5. Install Video/Sound Drivers</h4> <p>The last thing you’ll need to do before installing <a title="steam" href="" target="_blank">Steam</a> is to install the latest video drivers and other non-open-source or proprietary drivers, such as those for your motherboard. To install these drivers you’ll simply click the green video-card icon in the right-hand corner of the screen, which pops up a window that displays the proprietary drivers for your computer (<strong>image E</strong>). One of the cooler features of Ubuntu Linux is that it finds all the available drivers for your system, so you don’t have to visit the manufacturers’ website to download them. After you’ve finished downloading the drivers, you’ll need to restart your system, and then you’ll be completely set up and ready to tackle some games with Valve’s Steam client.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/e_small_5.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/e_small_4.jpg" title="Image E" width="620" height="422" /></a></p> <h4>6. Install Steam</h4> <p>Installing Steam is fairly simple. Download the client from <a title="valve site" href="" target="_blank">Valve’s website</a>&nbsp;and then double-click it to run the installer, which takes you to Ubuntu’s Software Center. This Software Center shows you any newly installed software, and it's where we’ll install Steam (<strong>image F)</strong>. Once it’s installed, you can run the client. But first, you might want to check out other open-source games that are listed in the Software Center, which is a mini app store providing a few games and other small applications for Linux users.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/f_small_6.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/f_small_5.jpg" title="Image F" width="620" height="353" /></a></p> <h4>7. Set Up Steam</h4> <p>After Installing Steam, you will need to log into your account and authenticate your computer via email. You can start installing games on your Ubuntu 12.04 machine (<strong>image G</strong>) after your first log-in. As of this writing, there were 41 games available, and just like in Windows, each of them (aside from TF2, of course) costs money. You will also be able to download any of your previously purchased games that are Linux-compatible (<a title="tf2" href="" target="_blank">Team Fortress 2</a>, for example). Although 41 games isn’t very many, Valve has been adding new titles at a steady clip. The company added 15 of the 41 titles in its Linux library in just the first month of the new Steam client’s existence.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a href="/files/u152332/g_small_5.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/g_small_4.jpg" title="Image G" width="620" height="394" /></a></p> <h3>Living La Vida Linux</h3> <p>Overall, we were impressed with the experience we had using Linux for Internet browsing, word processing, and playing games. The OS ran surprisingly well on our modest rig. It booted quickly, shut down in a heartbeat, and handled multitasking without any problems. When it comes to gaming, our feeling is that it handles the games we play just fine, but the test bed of 41 offered by Steam at this time is too small a sample—we want more! We know Steam is not the only supplier of games, but we’re still talking about a relatively small gaming universe on Linux. As an example, Steam offers more than 6,000 titles on the Windows platform, so clearly no hardcore gamer can survive on Linux alone. Also, there are zero triple-A titles on Steam for Linux at this time—that right there is a deal-killer for us, at least in the long run. In testing, we sampled Team Fortress 2, <a title="Trine 2" href="" target="_blank">Trine 2</a>, and <a title="waveform" href="" target="_blank">Waveform</a>, and they all ran with ease at 1920x1200 on our budget box, with all settings maxed. We were greatly impressed by just how smoothly the games hummed along.</p> <p>Just because we can’t survive on Linux alone doesn’t mean we didn’t like experimenting with it on the side, however. Building the Linux gaming box was a fun experience, and we’d recommend any enthusiast take it for a test drive. Besides, both Linux and Steam are free, so trying either one won’t cost you a dime.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/guts_5226_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/guts_5226_small.jpg" width="620" height="551" /></a></p> March 2013 2013 affordable Build cheap free gaming pc ivy bridge linux linux games maximum pc ubuntu Office Applications Software Features Mon, 24 Jun 2013 21:05:08 +0000 Chris Zele 25623 at Stardock Start8 vs. Classic Shell <!--paging_filter--><h3>Stardock Start8 vs. Classic Shell</h3> <p>Most power users would be perfectly willing to upgrade to <a title="Windows 8 maximum pc" href="" target="_blank">Windows 8</a> if it weren’t for two things—the tile-based “Metro” interface and the missing <strong>Windows 8</strong>&nbsp;<strong>Start button</strong>. While Metro is like a rash in that you eventually get used to it, we can’t imagine getting used to the lack of a Start button. It’s too bad Microsoft didn’t give us the option of using both features, but fortunately, two third-party utilities do. If you want the speed of Windows 8 and your old buddy the Start menu, one of these utilities belongs on your system. Let’s find out which one.</p> <h4>Round 1: Installation</h4> <p>The <strong><a title="Stardock Start8" href="" target="_blank">Stardock&nbsp;Start8</a></strong> install begins with choosing which style of OS to use for the Start menu, what the button looks like, and options relating to the behavior of the start menu. Once you’ve made your choices, the Start menu reappears and you’re ready to compute. <strong><a title="classic shell" href="" target="_blank">Classic Shell</a></strong>, on the other hand, is much more old school and feels like a registry-tweaking program from five years ago. Once you’ve selected your Start menu style—Classic, XP, or Vista/7—you can choose whether you want to have the classic look be applied to four areas of the OS—Explorer, Start menu, IE9, and the Windows Shell. From there, it installs and—voilà—the Start menu has returned. Both applications offer a hassle-free install, so we’re calling this one a tie.</p> <p><strong>Winner: Tie</strong></p> <p><strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><a href="/files/u152332/start8_3_1.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/start8_3.jpg" title="Stardock’s Start8" width="620" height="437" /></a></strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong><strong>Stardock’s Start8 is easy to use and lets you pick and choose from a mix of Windows 7 and 8 Start menu&nbsp;<br />styles. It’s well worth the $5.</strong></strong></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h4>Round 2: Options</h4> <p>Both apps offer a plethora of configuration options, but Classic Shell offers more tweaks while Start8’s are easier to digest. For example, Start8 presents you with easy-to-use menus that let you choose between bits and pieces of <a title="Windows 7" href="" target="_blank">Windows 7</a> and Windows 8 UI features, such as using the Windows 7 Start menu but opening Metro when the Windows key is pressed on the keyboard. But Start8 only offers two configuration panes with a handful of options in each. Classic Shell offers similar configuration options but lets you tweak every variable imaginable, presenting you with a wall of radio buttons that will instantly bring you back to the days of hacking the delay time for menu animations and other UI tweaks. When it comes to sheer number of options, Classic Shell wins hands-down.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Winner: Classic Shell&nbsp; </strong></p> <h4>Round 3: Functionality</h4> <p>Though Classic Shell wins the prize for offering the most options, Start8 is easier to use since everything is presented in a more sophisticated and simpler manner. Plus, since it costs money, Start8 has a lot more polish (as expected) compared to the freeware Classic Shell. Both apps easily walk you through the Start menu selection process, but once you’re on the other side, Start8 gives you easy-to-understand options and basic tweaks required for an enjoyable Windows experience, while Classic Shell drops you into the deep end of the radio button pool. Both apps offer roughly the same options, and both let you use a Classic Start menu and access Metro, so there’s little functionality lost between the two. We’re choosing Start8 though, because it gives us the options we want in an easier-to-understand interface.</p> <p><strong>Winner: Start8</strong></p> <p><strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><strong><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/classic_shell_2_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/classic_shell_2_small.jpg" title="Classic Shell" width="620" height="417" /></a></strong></strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong><strong>Classic Shell is open-source and free to download, and brings back all the Start menu options of yore, including&nbsp;<br />a Windows XP Start menu.&nbsp;</strong></strong></p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">Click the next page to see which one is easier to use and our pick for overall winner.</span></p> <hr /> <h4><span style="font-size: 1em;">Round 4: Ease of Use</span></h4> <p>At this point the winner of this category is hopefully quite clear, as Start8 is much easier to use and configure than Classic Shell. This is not to say Classic Shell is like a Rubik’s Cube or something, impossible to decipher and poorly coded. It’s not at all, it’s just that we’ve gotten used to UIs that are a bit more intuitive than the “classic” menus we used to wade through into the wee hours of the morning. The downside to Start8’s simplicity and ease of use is that it has fewer options than Classic Shell, but we’re fine with that. Classic Shell also has a “simple” mode that offers just basic tweaks, but once you dive in deeper, things can get somewhat confusing.</p> <p><strong>Winner: Start8</strong></p> <h4>Round 5: Price</h4> <p>This category is pretty cut-and-dried, as Classic Shell is free and Start8 costs $5. In the name of rational decision-making, we’re calling this one for Classic Shell, but also feel the need to point out that $5 is still a great price for Start8, as it may just be the best bang-for-your-buck piece of software Windows 8 users ever install. We’re not sure at this early stage how popular, or unpopular, the Windows 8 Metro UI will be, but our guess is that a lot of people will miss the familiar Start button, making these apps essential. And Start8 feels like a fully formed piece of commercial software, whereas Classic Shell is as rough around the edges as you would expect. We’re not complaining—it is free, after all—but one look at it and you know it’s freeware.</p> <p><strong>Winner: Classic Shell</strong></p> <h3>And the Winner Is…</h3> <p>This is a nail-biter, because both of these apps execute their primary mandate quite well while being easy to navigate and totally affordable. If you just want your old Start menu back, Classic Shell offers a quick and easy remedy to your dilemma, and the fact that it’s free removes all risk from the decision to try it. That said, we prefer Start8 even though it costs $5, because it is so polished that it looks and feels like a Windows Power Toy, and we like being able to open a mini version of Metro, too. It’s also easier to use and configure, and provides more than enough functionality to justify its price.</p> <h4 style="text-align: center;"><strong><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/start8_small_1.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/start8_small_0.jpg" width="500" height="734" /></a></strong></h4> <h4 style="text-align: center;">Start 8</h4> 2012 Classic Shell free Holiday 2012 maximum pc Stardock Start8 versus windows 8 start button Office Applications Software News Features Tue, 12 Mar 2013 21:13:08 +0000 Josh Norem 25012 at Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4.0 Review <!--paging_filter--><h3>The premier asset manager</h3> <p><a title="Adobe" href="" target="_blank">Adobe’s</a> Lightroom has never been an easy application to explain to the uninitiated, but we’ll give it a shot. <strong><a title="Lightroom 4" href=";sdid=IBFII&amp;skwcid=TC|22181|lightroom%204||S|e|16986570022&amp;ef_id=S01QSSwHgLAAAEmA:20130116214515:s" target="_blank">Lightroom 4</a></strong> is, at its core, two things: a DAM (digital asset manager) and a raw-file developer. Sure, it also comes with new or updated modules for mapping and creating books, slide shows, and the like, but the key features are its Library and Develop modules.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/lr4-screen-shot_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/lr4-screen-shot_small.jpg" title="Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4.0" width="620" height="388" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Lightroom 4.0 allows you to bulk-edit images quickly so you don’t have to sit in one photo for hours.</strong></p> <p>Unlike a pure photo editor such as <a title="CS6" href="" target="_blank">Photoshop CS6</a>, Lightroom will change your photo workflow significantly. Gone are the days of “open file A, adjust file A, save file A, close file A, open file B...” ad nauseam. In fact, it doesn’t even make much sense to think of files as being “open” or “closed” when working in Lightroom. This new workflow makes it possible to handle huge volumes of images quickly and easily and in a truly nondestructive manner.</p> <p>Lifelong nerds may not be comfortable letting Lightroom 4 do all their image management, but once you learn to trust it and let go, Lightroom 4 makes it possible to get a ton more work done. In the end, as you use Lightroom 4, you’ll learn to like the way it organizes things.</p> <p>Furthermore, Lightroom 4 makes it possible to create multiple versions, and still only save a single master file to the drive. If you love testing different treatments of the same image, then comparing them to find the best, Lightroom 4 will save you a lot of disk space over time.</p> <p>Major changes in this version of Lightroom include an upgraded process version, a new map module for geotagging, a book module for basic books, and enhanced video support in the Library and on export.</p> <p>Perhaps the most important feature to a photographer is the new‑and‑improved Process Version 2012. Lightroom 4 comes with major upgrades to its raw-processing engine and compared to Lightroom 3, we experienced more latitude when making exposure corrections, even better highlight recovery, better noise reduction, and a much improved clarity slider. Adobe has tweaked the layout and naming of the individual controls to be more consistent and easier to understand than the previous versions, too. For those who don’t like change, the older controls and process versions are available as well. And in the way-overdue department we finally have graduated filters, as well as white balance on brushes.</p> <p>One yardstick we’ve long used to measure Lightroom is whether or not we have to launch Photoshop CS6 for deep edits. We’ve always felt that if we have to launch another app to finish a job, Lightroom has failed us. Lightroom 4 has gotten better, but it’s definitely not a full-tilt photo editor. For instance, we often need to open Photoshop to liquefy, build layers, swap heads to correct a blink, and make advanced spot corrections. Don’t get us wrong, though: If the bulk of your editing involves whitepoint, exposure, contrast, tone curve, cropping, split toning, or lens-correction adjustments, you can probably do 95 percent of your work without ever leaving Lightroom. But any serious photographer will still need to have a full-service image editor on standby.</p> <p>Another area where we’ve wanted improvement from Lightroom is in the efficiency of the codebase. We’ve found that it’s just very difficult to coax more performance out of the program. Adding cores, increasing clock speeds, and adding RAM hasn’t seemed to move the needle very much in Lightroom, and nothing changes with LR4. Even more perplexing, we’ve personally seen Lightroom bog down on Core i7 boxes with 16GB of RAM and an SSD but fly on a 3-year-old Hewlett Packard laptop.</p> <p>So should you buy Lightroom 4? We think it’s indispensable for any serious hobbyist and pro-photographer who is overwhelmed by the number of photos that he or she takes. For those thinking of an upgrade from Lightroom 3, the new process-version engine and the new low price make it a no‑brainer. However, we’re dinging Lightroom 4 and Adobe for the simply whacky performance issues we’ve experienced with the app.</p> Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4.0 application` Media Applications review. maximum pc Office Applications Software Utilities November Reviews Wed, 16 Jan 2013 21:30:56 +0000 Gavin Farrington 24701 at