Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Windows 10: When to Update and When Not

Since Windows 10 officially launched at the end of July, I've been getting questions about updating library computers to the new operating system. My general suggestion is, wait. But let's break it down to some common situations.

Microsoft's Windows 10 Specifications

You can check and see if your computer meets these minimums by Computer - System Properties. If your computer doesn't meet these, you can stop right there. If it does, you have some decisions to make on whether or not it's worth the cost and/or will be an improvement.

Windows XP - most of the questions I'm getting are from people who are continuing to use Windows XP computers despite admonitions to upgrade or recycle when Microsoft ended Windows XP support on April 8, 2014. These are probably older machines. You're really going to want to check on hardware specifications for these. And you're going to want to consider cost. There is no free upgrade from Windows XP to 10. You're going to have to pay for it along with other new software. Chances are most of your existing Windows XP programs are not going to run on Windows 10. Generally, the choice is between sinking a considerable amount of money into old hardware that's probably nearing the end of its lifespan or just buying some new or newer computers with all new OS and other software. Most of the time, going new is going to be your better option.

Windows 7 - most of the tech pundits say that if you have Windows 7 era software and computers and they're running fine, leave them be. There's no reason to upgrade. Windows 7 is a stable platform. It's the one used by most enterprises. Why fix something that isn't broken?

Windows 8 or 8.1 - this is where most of the upgrades will most likely take place. Many users were not happy with Windows 8. Windows 10 promises to be an improvement. And this is most likely running on newer computers that you're planning on keeping for a while. So, you probably want to have the best software options to make the experience better.

So, if you have Windows 7 computers that you want to upgrade despite suggestions to the contrary and/or Windows 8.1 computers that probably should be upgraded, when should you do so? I'd wait for a while anyway for library computers.

  • First, you want to make sure that the necessary software you use on a regular basis, e.g., Workflows will run on the new OS. Also check into other software that your library patrons depend on. 
  • Second, the Windows 10 version currently in circulation does not appear to be the final product but more of a beta version. That makes it fine to use if you want to try it out on one computer so that you can see what it's like and become comfortable with it. It could pose challenges if you were to load it on all the library computers and/or an essential work computer. Some interesting bugs are being reported on a regular basis. It's best to let others work those out. Often in the past, it's been suggested that libraries wait to upgrade to a new Windows version until Service Pack 1 or 2 is released. In this rollout, they seem to be using the term Threshold for significant updates. Reportedly Threshold 2 is due to come out in November. I would certainly wait until then before considering upgrading public access computers. Hopefully, many of the bugs will be worked out and features will be functional.
Here are some of my favorite sources for Windows information:
For Montana public librarians, I, or one of the other consultants would be happy to discuss your options with you.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Pintroduction to Pinterest - BayNet 2015 at the San Francisco Public Library

Wondering how to use Pinterest in your library? Here are some great tips from a presentation at San Francisco Public Library.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Apple Watch - Early Days

In answer to all of those who wondered whether or not I was getting the latest gadget - Of Course! I get these things so you don't have to.

I got my Apple Watch on Tuesday evening. It was back ordered but delivered about a week before Apple's original projection.

Having lived with it for a few days now, I'd have to agree that it's not something everyone needs. It's tied to the iPhone so it's definitely not for the Android faithful or for those people who still insist that they just want a cell phone.

It's the first iteration of a first gen product. I expect it will look and act quite a bit differently in the future. For now, it seems a bit busy and over complicated. Does anyone really want to replicate everything they can do on their smart phone on a tiny square on their wrist? Probably not. It may be up to the users to pare it down to just what we need and what it does well.

It's a very nice, if pricey, fitness app. Not only does it keep track of steps, it also monitors your heart rate, reminds you to get up and move around once an hour (great for those of us who are desk/computer bound for most of the day), keeps track of exercise events, and integrates with the iOS health kit. I'm not sure what that means for now but I expect this will be even more of a focus in the future.

The collection of health data is likely to give many of us pause. And it is one of those times when you may want to consider which large faceless corporation you're willing to entrust with this, if any. Apple is promising to keep user data anonymous and secure. They remind us that they don't make any money off selling personal information and data. They make it off the hardware and software. And they're rolling in it, so it seems to be working for them. I probably feel more comfortable using their apps than I would Google's or perhaps even companies about which I know very little, e.g., Fitbit. I'd like to see more attention paid to data collection and privacy in this area.

It enables you to get text, email and phone notifications on your wrist without having to find and pull out your phone. You can see whether or not it's something you need to deal with right away. You can make a call from your watch. I just tried it in a restaurant last night with a friend across the table so I'm not sure how well it really works. But Dick Tracy eat your heart out. I really like the text notifications, however. A friend has been texting me this morning. I can look and see what it's about. The reply options from my wrist are somewhat limited which is no doubt good if you're going to be mucking around with this while driving or walking in a crowd or anywhere you should be paying attention to your surroundings. You can choose a stock reply message from a few options, send a creepy animated 3D emoji or use voice. You might need to be near the phone to use voice. It seemed to lag for me.

You also get glimpses from apps you set up. I get NYTNow for news updates and emails from Gmail. It's all pretty brief. You're not going to want to read much on such a tiny screen but you can see what might be important and require closer attention. Most of it can be quickly and easily deleted or dismissed.

I have yet to use it with Apple Pay but I did buy my coffee with my watch and Starbucks card via Passbook the other day. That was pretty cool.

Those are pretty much the useful features I've discovered thus far. As far as design goes, it's Apple, they know how to make pretty products. The navigation, however, is far from intuitive. Interesting how they could go from the simple one button design of the iPhone and iPad to a a dial, side button, touch and haptic (pressure sensitive clicking) combination of navigation tools. It's unclear whether you swipe up, down, across or press once or twice to get to where you want to be. Yes, technology has made all of our lives so much simpler that we now spend countless minutes clicking and swiping to find the weather. We used to just stick our heads out the door. :)

Siri is also on the watch. We'll see if he proves more useful there than he has on my iPhone. But I imagine voice activation would make some of the navigation issues less annoying. I'll have to play around with that. I'll also be eager to try it with maps for navigation. Let's see if it helps me get around San Francisco in June without having to pull my phone out all the time to see if I should be going left or right at which corner.

My overall review - fun and interesting if you are an Apple person and have at least $349 you don't need. For the rest of the world, don't worry, you can wait. It's far from life changing.

Monday, February 23, 2015

OS choices in 2015

I've had some interesting discussions of late about phone and computer Operating Systems. Some time back, I pulled out my BHi (Big Hunking iPhone) at a table in a bar and the guy next to me asked if it was an iPhone and proceeded to tell me about his daughter's problems with backing up to iCloud. We won't mention my assumptions about anyone who would trust their backups to iCloud. He then went on with a monologue about the superiority of Android and Linux. Basically I just let him talk. And then there was Ron White's Point - Counterpoint at Offline a few weeks ago.

These exchanges do bring to mind some of the differing expectations people bring to their devices and computing experiences. As I've spent some time in just about all the camps, I feel qualified to make some generalizations.

I now consider myself more an Apple person because I've come to the point where I just want my devices to work. Yes, I've rooted and jailbroken phones, and installed 3rd party ROMs on them. I've also installed and used Linux on laptops. There is that feeling of control and jubilation when you actually get these things to work and are customized to your specifications. There are also hours of frustration where you spend time on various forums looking for answers as to why it's not working. So, for people who like to hack and customize, I can see the appeal of Android and Linux. For the rest of us, we may have other ways we like to spend our time.

With Apple, most of the big decisions are made for you and you just agree to them. They do know what's best after all. It's probably the most locked down of all the hardware and software platforms. But by and large it works. And if you're willing and able to afford to drink the KoolAid, it all works pretty well together in the Apple universe. My iMac and iPad and iPhone should sync pretty well with the new updates to Mac OSX Yosemite and iOS 8.1. With outside control, comes the promise of seamless integration. And also fairly high expectations. So when they don't pull it off, you hear a lot of screaming.

I think that Apple also makes the most user friendly devices. You do pay a premium for that. But it's what I would choose for mom or grandma if I didn't want to have to do a lot of tech support. And if you do need tech support, Apple support is excellent. If you're lucky enough to live in an area with Apple Stores, you'll also have access to classes and support there.

I don't think that a lot of laptop or desktop computer buyers are likely to buy a Linux machine by mistake so I'm not too concerned about that. But I think there are a lot of people who buy cheap Android phones and/or tablets strictly based on price and often come to regret their decisions. Don't get me wrong, the high end Android phones: Samsung Galaxy S and Notes series, Motorola Moto X, Nexus 6, etc. are all excellent hardware and software wise. But while some people love to argue about the relative merits of Android vs. Apple as well as the relative merits of those who choose one or the other, it's kind of a silly distinction for most. If you're in the Apple ecosystem, you'll probably go with iPhone. If you're not, you have a choice to make, whose ecosystem do you want to buy into? Google and its hardware partners? If so, which hardware partner? Other than that, the products are pretty similar. But you may well reach a point with Android where your device is not working exactly as you want it to and it may be difficult to find help. Perhaps your cellular carrier or the box store where you bought it can help. But because of the insanely large number of Android devices and OSs out in the wild at any one time, it may be difficult to find someone with expertise with your exact device to help you through your problem. This is great for hackers who view this as a challenge, but not so great for people who just want Apple-style reliability.

And I have to offer a huge caveat about the cheap Android devices! You're usually buying an older Android OS that may be buggy and will never be updated. You have to deal with phone manufacturer and carrier user interface decisions and apps. If grandma doesn't understand that she's starting off with an inferior product, she's probably not going to be hacking it to make it work better. If you're comfortable playing that role, so be it. If not, spend a little more at the outset and at least get her a flagship device.

One message Apple is trying to get out now is that they're more respectful of your privacy. This started right after the iCloud photo debacle. But the main point is a valid one. Apple wants to sell you their hardware and software. They also want to take a cut of apps, music and movies you purchase through iTunes. But other than that, they're not interested in collecting your personal data or selling it to others. With Google, that's how they make their money - collecting your personal data via search and free apps and then selling it for advertising. I may be in the Apple camp but I use a lot of Google products so they're both making money off of me. Obviously, this is not an issue for me but it may be for some of you.

Another message Apple is pushing at the moment is the desirability of their products for creatives. You can create art using their devices - music, film, design, etc. I think this is also an interesting strategy and seems appropriate. A lot of the anti-Apple arguments I hear seem to come from people I would designate as more left-brained analytical types. Apple is pitching to the right-brained creatives. These are the people who would most likely appreciate the design and style of the device itself and appreciate the fact that the Apple approach would seem to be helping them bring their creative visions to fruition without having to struggle with the technology.

I will include a brief note about the often maligned Windows. Most of us who've been in technology for a while have worked with Windows. It wasn't necessarily by choice. It's what was out there. I started with it in the MS-DOS days and moved into Windows 3.1 and all along the line. I've had my share of blue screens of death. But by and large it and the Office suite of applications has enabled me to do what I've needed to do personally and professionally. In fact, I have an Office 365 subscription for my iMac and iPad. Microsoft is not particularly concerned about the hardware you use, and they're even willing to accommodate different OSs. I do wish they had a more compelling entrant in the phone market. I think it might have offered a good alternative to Android and iOS for the majority of Windows computer users. I got Nokia Windows phone for my work phone. While I like the design, I find updates buggy and the lack of apps frustrating. Consequently, it's difficult for me to recommend it.

Of course, there isn't one answer for everyone. I'm glad there are choices out there.

Would love to hear comments on your choices and why? How do you help people in your communities navigate through all of these technology choices?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Faster, smaller, connected: Web 3.0 challenges for libraries by Danny Choriki


Resources and References

  • Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet by Katie Hafner
  • The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder
  • What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry by John Markoff
  • From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism by Fred Turner
  • Technics and Civilization by Lewis Mumford
  • The Gutenberg Galaxy by Marshall McLuhan
  • The Global Village: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan and Terrence Gordon
  • Future Shock by Alvin Toffler
  • When Prophecy Fails by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken and Stanley Schachter
  • The Mature Mind by Harry Allen Overstreet
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Downloaded Documents

Monday, December 29, 2014

How much bandwidth do I need to stream Internet TV?

This post is an answer to one of the comments about Internet TV options. We've been using the Montana Broadband Speed Test over the past couple of years, including a customized version for assessing Montana public library speeds. One of the things I really like about the test are these two charts posted at the end explaining what the test results mean:

Netflix gives Internet Connection Speed Recommendations

So, to interpret all of this, in order to satisfactorily stream Internet content via one of these devices, you probably need at least a 3.0 Mbps consistent connection speed. That's not the advertised speed, That's the bandwidth you are actually getting when you sit down to watch a movie or streamed Internet program. With a 3.0 Mbps connection, you can probably expect more freezes and buffering but that can also happen on a much faster cable connection as well. Part of that will depend on Internet traffic in your area, as well as traffic on the server. There are a lot of complicating factors.

Quite simply, if you have multiple users, you'll want to multiply the number of users by the desired amount of bandwidth. If you have 4 persons in your household who all want to watch streaming video or play games (note: games also often require attention to upload speeds), you'll want to multiply 3 X 4 and look for at least a 12 Mbps connection.

In my experience, Netflix gives the best overall viewing experience with rare instances of buffering. That's probably because they're caching content all over the country and working with ISPs in a very non-net neutrality fashion. I have a cable Internet connection which generally tests in the 20s. I just tested it today and got 11 Mbps download. I don't know what it was yesterday but I tried to watch football on the NFL Now app and it was hopeless, freezing about once every minute. Fiber is looking better all the time. :)

Friday, December 26, 2014

2014 Tech - Internet TV

Looking for ways to stream Internet content on your TV? There are a number of low cost options that don't require you to buy a smart TV.


Roku is my favorite. I've been using a Roku box for several years now. I'm not even sure which generation it is as they seem to have changed the remotes. It's a great device with easy setup and a lot of channel options, including: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon, Google Play. There are a wide variety of other channels free and paid. Roku does seem to cover most of the options. There are currently 4 versions of the Roku box available from the Roku website ranging in price from $39.99 for the Roku LT to $99.99 for the Roku 3. They also offer a Streaming Stick for $39.99. The website claims the stick is best for wall mounted TVs. It's also very portable so you could easily take it with you when you travel or move it from one TV to another in your house. There are Roku apps available for smart phones and tablets so you can control your Roku either with a remote or with the app.

Roku also seems to have gotten into the Smart TV business recently. They now have that option on their website. I don't know anything about the quality of the sets but the prices seem good. $598 for a 55 inch Smart LED TV from Amazon. I would imagine it's easier to set up than many smart TVs as it's Roku. But I happen to be a fan of separating functions.

Compare Roku Players

Google Chromecast

There was a lot of excitement when Google Chromecast first hit the market about a year ago. For one thing it was only $35. Initially, there were very few apps that ran on it. But it has gradually added most of the big players: Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, MLB.tv. All also available on Roku by the way. It doesn't play Amazon content. It also offered a great way to view YouTube content that was pulled from Roku for a time. In theory, you could also "chromecast" web pages and other content to your TV via your Chrome browser. Others will have to tell me in Comments whether or not they've actually gotten this to work. The thing that's a little different about Chromecast as opposed to Roku or Amazon Fire or Apple TV boxes is that you're actually using another wifi enabled device to play the content and then casting it to the dongle and your tv. So, it does require another device that will run the Chromecast app. The good news is that they've made it compatible with Windows PCs, Apple products running iOS and OSX as well as Android. So, it's not difficult to find a compatible device. Nor is it particularly difficult to set up. It's just not quite as easy and straightforward and open as Roku.

Google Chromecast website

Amazon Fire TV

Amazon Fire TV usually sells for $99. It's currently on sale for $79. It does have some nice features that its competitors lack: games, Dolby sound, voice search. It also allows you to mirror content from Amazon Kindle Fire phones and tablets. The website claims that this feature will also be available to other Android phones and tablets. Once again, let me know in comments if you have experience with this and how it works. All of the major suspects are available for streaming through the Fire TV: Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc. Google Play, no and you need to have a separate Amazon Prime subscription to make use of the films and television shows available for free via that service. Otherwise, you can pay per show. You can also get a Fire TV remote app which allows you to use your Android or iPhone as a remote.

Amazon also offers the Fire TV stick for $39. The remote app allows you to use voice search on the Fire TV stick as well.

Amazon Fire TV on Amazon

Apple TV

Are you getting the idea yet that these are all pretty much black box hockey puck like devices? The key distinction with Apple TV is its connection with iTunes. None of the other boxes allow you to stream bought or rented iTunes content on your TV. Welcome to Apple exclusivity. It will stream all of the third party apps mentioned above: Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, etc. It won't stream either Amazon or Google Play content. If you're in an Apple household with Macs, iPads and/or iPhones, it does have an AirPlay feature than enables you to play content from your device on your TV including games, photos, etc.

Apple TV on Apple website

Roku vs. Apple TV vs. Chromecast vs. Amazon Fire TV: Which streamer should you buy? - CNET Review