Thursday, June 27, 2013

Windows 8 (mis)adventures: Oops! Can I have that back, please?

Remember the delete confirmation dialog?

"Are you sure you want to move this file to the Recycle Bin? (Yes/No)

I say "remember" because in Windows 8 it is a thing of the past. You press Delete and you delete! Many might see this as an advance. How many times have we clicked on or pressed Delete to be asked, "Are you sure you want to move this file to the Recycle Bin?" only to have the thought cross our minds, "Why do you think I pressed Delete?!"

I thought it was cute the first few times I clicked on delete and saw files disappear without further prompting, but it quickly started making me nervous, especially with trackpads that make hair-trigger responses for us. I think of the dialog as like the guard on a power tool. Most of the time it's unnecessary or an annoyance, but if it weren't there the one time you really needed it...

It's a trivial matter to restore the prompt. Right click on the Recycle Bin, choose Properties, and check the box that says "Restore delete confirmation dialog". All done!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Windows 8 (mis)adventures: Some Unprintable Words About Printers

If I were starting out today, I'd have no problems with printers. I'd get a printer that could be networked, network it, and that would be that. I suppose I could disconnect everything, network the pieces as though I were starting fresh, and have no problem, but it's sooooooo easy to stick with what one has! (As I type this, I'm getting tempted to do it even though I resolved my latest issue!)

I got my first printer before there were were networks to network it into. It is connected directly to my desktop PC. All of the laptops in the house access the printer wirelessly through the desktop. This was easy to do when all of the computers used the same version of Windows. Today, the desktop uses XP. (It's old, but it's rock-solid with a quad-core processor, works just fine, and meets my needs.) Each new laptop brought a new iteration of Windows--there was 32 bit Win 7, 64 bit Win 7, and now 64 bit Win 8--bringing its own set of issues. In each case, it was a painful experience that took hours and, when I was done, I was never sure what it was that I did that eventually got things working.

Once again (with Win 8) I went through the exercise, but I may finally have a sense of what's going on. I can't provide a detailed flow chart that guarantees results, but I can describe some things that cost me a few hours each trying to resolve. (At least, they felt like a few hours each. The grief certainly took a few years off of my life...each!}

  • Be sure the printer is set up to be shared! Go to Printers & Faxes in the Control Panel of the computer to which the printer is physically connected (the host computer). Right click on the appropriate printer. Go to Printer Properties. Click on the Share Tab, and put a check mark in the appropriate box.
    • Be sure the the latest printer drivers are installed on the host computer. This may have been what was causing the problem with Windows 8. When a new computer seeks to use the printer wirelessly, it downloads the drivers from the host computer.
    • Recheck the share status of the printer. Permission to share the printer may be rescinded at part of the installation process when drivers are updated.
  • OTOH, the Windows 8 issue might have been this. (I say "might" because I did this before the previous step. In the end, I ended up doing them both, so I'm not completely sure what got everything to work, especially in light of the next step! Were I to start all over again, I would leave this step last.)

    I tried getting the latest driver onto my Win 8 laptop by downloading it from the manufacturer's site. However, the only way the installation program would run is if the printer was physically connected to the laptop. So, I connected the printer to the laptop, installed the drivers, and then uninstalled the printer (through Devices & Printers) without uninstalling the driver.

    This step may have been unnecessary had I performed the previous step first, but I don't know for sure so I list it "just in case".

  • When all the steps have been accomplished and the printer still doesn't work, Restart the computer(s)! I'm so accustomed to having software tell me when it's necessary to Restart, that I don't restart unless I'm told to. However, the only thing I did between the last failed attempt to print a test page and the first successful attempt was to restart the computers.

I don't know if this will solve all issues, but I'm not dreading the next time nearly so much as I have in the past.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Microsoft is getting it right with Windows 8

As I threatened earlier, I'm about to start a series of posts about my (mis)adventures with Windows 8 while they are fresh in my mind. However, I wanted to start off with a short introduction.

I admit it! I bought into the press's feeding frenzy about how Windows 8 was terrible, how the user interface was confusing, how Win 8 was unsuitable for computers without touch screens, and so on. Oh, and how Microsoft (aka M$) is the great Satan. But, I had occasion to get a new computer to familiarize with Windows 8 and I like what I see.

It struck me that Windows 8, with its two interfaces (tiled and desktop), is what MS needs to remain viable. It used to be that the big war was between MS and Apple. Apple won a good chunk of the market, but MS pretty much ruled the roost. Linux has such a small percentage of the market that neither Apple nor MS had anything to fear from it. But, now there's Google's Android and a whole new pricing scheme dictated by the iPhone and Android. Tablets will soon be outselling laptops (if they haven't already) and MS is threatened with becoming another Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC)--great in its day, but no longer relevant.

The dual nature of Windows 8 (tile an desktop) will insure its success.

In many ways, I'm a typical over 30 user who's gotten very used to Windows' desktop interface. Small tweaks are okay, but anything more than that would have me sticking with what I already know. Windows 8 with only a tiled interface would never fly. (Even if I were to consider a tiled Windows, I've got 4 tablets--two Android and two Kindles, which use Amazon's version of Android. What do I need with another tiled interface and having to buy my software all over again?) OTOH, anyone under 30 is going to look at a Win 7 type of interface with disdain.

It is often hoped that when two thing are merged, the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. That's the hope. Windows 8 may be one of those rare instances where the hope is realized. A Windows 8 that can be run as either a modern tiled interface or a familiar desktop-styled interface means that anyone can use it effectively by using only the parts that work for him or her! Anyone who grew up with Smartphones is immediately using Win 8's tiled interface. I go to my desktop, which behaves very much like Win 7. However, the Win 8 tiled interface is there for me to play with as the mood strikes me.

Windows 8 is not a kludge of two interfaces but an integrated system to woo over younger users with its tile interface while allowing long time users to remain comfortable with their desktops.

Microsoft did make one huge mistake with Windows 8 when it removed the Start button from the desktop interface, but it is to be restored with the free Windows 8.1 upgrade due out in August.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Back up your computer!

I've been using PCs for 30 years and I was terrible about backing up my work until the last few years*. I admit it. BUT, I have an excuse. I've been using computers for 30 years. In the early days, backing things up was a major undertaking, so it often didn't get done. Once you get into any mindset, it's hard to get out of it. Today, there's no such excuse**.

You are reading what follows at your own risk. I accept no responsibility for what you might do after reading this post.

Sorry for the scare tactics. Backing up your files is A Good Thing (tm), but it is possible to get into all sorts of trouble.

I use SyncBack. When I was looking for backup software years ago, I went to their user forum to get a sense of the program. I found a post in which the writer complained that the software had erased her entire hard drive. And yes, it's possible. However, she had to do the software equivalent of a Rosemary Woods to do it. She likely accidentally configured the program to erase her files, but the program told her that it was about to erase them. It then asked for confirmation...and she gave it! Was it the user's fault for ignoring the warnings or did the program confuse her? Some might argue that a user should have to jump through so many hoops to erase an entire drive that even the least sophisticated user could not do it by accident. In any case, you might want to find your own software by running a search for "Windows backup software".

There are a few points to consider.

  • Backup medium: If you can afford it...the Cloud! which is just a fancy name for someone else's file server. For most of us with large amounts of data to back up, the solution will be a hard drive of some sort, although a large flash drive might suffice depending on one's needs. Since I was concerned with backing up my desktop, I chose a large external drive with its own power supply so that I don't tax the computer's motherboard and USB ports.
  • File format: Many programs use proprietary formats. This supposedly allows them to be faster and more efficient. Maybe it does, but it also means that the files cannot be recovered without the software that backed them up. This poses a problem if the backup software itself is compromised or when restoring to s different computer. SyncBack stores files in their original format as though the files and folders were dragged-and-dropped to the backup medium. But, that's me. YMMV. Rumor has it that Windows 7 may have all the backup tools one needs.

Like Nike says, "Just do it!" You will rarely need to access the backup, but when you do, you will be so glad it's there. And should disaster strike (spilling your coffee into the keyboard, dropping your computer or having it stolen, or having the hard drive fail), you will thank your lucky stars (and me?) that all was not lost.

*I wasn't a complete reprobate. My backups were spaced months apart rather than days, and most of my files were duplicated on my home and office computers. Still...

**There is a new own, however. Many use only a notebook or netbook of some sort. They are rarely connected to the backup hardware. Don't let it be your excuse. Resolve that whenever you charge your computer overnight, you'll plug in your backup device, too. (Maybe Sunday night?) Wireless backup will eventually resolve this issue if it hasn't already.

Synchronizing files across computers: new and noteworthy!

[I found this in Drafts. I meant to post it on June 14, but got interrupted. So, here it is now.]

I'll skip the narrative other than to say that I was shocked (no exaggeration) to find out that Syncbox was changing the time stamps of files to the time it was transferred. I ripped it off of my computers immediately.

I began giving AeroFS another try, but one thing I don't like about most synchronization services (including AeroFS) is having to move files into a single folder controlled by the service. It also means that when the folder is synchronized with a folder on another computer, everything is synchronized. Also, most services require that files be backed up on their servers. While all of the services are happy to provide a free account, they are hardly large enough for even moderate sized music collections.

BitTorrent Sync (BTSync) has the potential to solve these problems. BTSync is a peer-to-peer solution that lets the user specify which folders are to be synchronized on which machines.

  • Pick a folder to be synchronized.
  • BTsync generates a key.
  • Use the key to link the folder that generated it to folders on other computers.

While programs like BTSync do not require their users to buy online storage, it means that there is no online backup. A file that is erased from one computer is erased from every computer.

The world is evolving rapidly. The latest bunch of letters to learn about is NAS (Network Accessible Storage).

Last word on Syncing...for now (Yeah...sure...)

I may eventually get around to completing my re-reviews in "Syncing devices: June 2013 edition", but it may take awhile, a loooong while. I'm pleased if others find my experiences useful. However, I tend to focus on my specific needs rather than on things for their own sake, so information may not be as detailed as some would like.

I think (I've said this before!) I'm where I need to be at the moment and my next project (tackling Windows 8!) awaits. So, here's where I'm stopping for a spell.

It's hard to be critical of Dropbox. Dropbox is the granddaddy of all of the synchronization/backup services and it does it all well. But, after a colleague's activities resulted in my computer being audited, I decided I needed a second service to use for business so that I could restrict my use of Dropbox to my personal needs. And so the journey began.

Most services create a special folder on one's computer (Dropbox creates Dropbox, Syncbox creates SyncFolder, and so on). File and folders to be synchronized or backed up are moved to that special folder. The more I investigated and used these services, the more it bothered me. I hate moving things around. If I could specify individual folders to be synced, I'd need only one service. I could separate work and personal files by backing up different folders on different computers. Many services are promising this feature, but there aren't many that have it, yet. I know of two worth mentioning.

After a rough start up that had me demanding (and receiving!) a refund for their Pro service, LogMeIn's Cubby has become a viable option.

Pluses worth mentioning

  • Backup on LMI's servers, up to the amount of space one purchases (5 GB free, %50/100GB).
  • Unlimited Direct Sync that does not get backed up. Just the thing for large music libraries. However, if there is no backup, then erasing a file from one computer erases it from all others, as well.

Minus worth mentioning: I'm not sure how much of a minus this is, but Cubby almost always seems to be doing something in the background that involves 3 to 6% on my CPU's processing power. I'm not sure what impact this is having.

Then there's BitTorrent's BTSync. It's free. It's much like Cubby's Direct Sync. The only downside I can see at the moment is that it doesn't provide for cloud storage.


  • I continue to use Dropbox for personal files, largely out of habit, but also because I like the feature that automatically uploads photos from my Smartphone to my Dropbox.
  • I continue to use Cubby for two work-related folders, but am having second thoughts.
  • I'm using BTSync to sync my music library between my desktop and laptops. I'm thinking of replacing Cubby with BTSync as I become more comfortable with BTSync.
  • Since BTSyc does not provide for cloud storage, I purchased a large external drive and configured my desktop computer to back itself up regularly. That way, if something bad happens, the worst it can be is that I lose files that have not yet been backed up.

I need to say something about backups. I will in another post.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


I'd been using Syncbox to synchronize my mp3 files between my desktop and laptop. As part of a re-review of synchronization services, I've been double-checking them all only to find that Syncbox changes the time stamp on EVERY FILE from date last modified to the date copied! I don't kow how I missed this before. Likely because I seeded everything before running Syncbox. In any case Syncbox is being removed from my computers as I type this!

Monday, June 3, 2013

PC makers do sooooo not get it!

Today's Wall Street Journal is reporting PC Makers Fight Back Against Mobile Devices.

How will they do this? Why, with "much less expensive laptop computers that have touch screens for tablet-style operation", of course. Well, forget it. Time to sell short.

It's not about hardware. It's about software. Specifically, it's about software pricing. Long gone are the days of one user, one device. Multiple devices in the form of phones, tablets, laptops, and desktops (home and office versions for some) are becoming more often the rule. I have multiple laptops, notebooks, and desktops that are in active use. If I am lucky, a(n expensive!) piece of PC software will let me install it on any computer over which I have exclusive control. I expect this to become the exception as companies monitor installation and use over the Web. I have many programs that monitor installations, and one that, if I make the mistake of leaving it running on any one machine, refuses to run on any other machine. Thank heavens for remote access services so that I can shut it down when it is running on a computer I am not actually using at the time.

Let's contrast this with Android. All of my devices are known by the accounts they are signed registered with. The Google Play Store (nee Market) knows my devices by Gmail account. Amazon's app store knows me by my Amazon account. I have four tablets and three smartphones. When I buy an Android program (most of them costing less than the sales tax on a comparable PC program!) I can install it on any Android device I own. Just knowing I can do that is worth a great deal to me. Getting a new device? No worries. Just enter my Gmail and Amazon accounts and everything is available. Try doing that with a PC.

So, PC makers, you may get me to buy a Windows 8 device if I need it for something I can't do with my other hardware, but give up Android? This is "fighting back"? Well, I suppose if you're trying to break the other guy's fist with your chin...

Syncing devices: June 2013 edition

As long as this notice appears, this is a work in progress. I will be reevaluating many services that keep PCs synchronized. I will be reporting on each service as I consider it, rather than wait 'till the end to report on all of them at once.

When necessity dictated a few months ago that I find a method of synchronizing my PCs to work along side of the venerable Dropbox, I found, literally, a half dozen new services just entering the market. I reviewed them as best I could and came up with a(n interim?) solution that proved serviceable. Things were evolving so rapidly then as the services shook their bugs out that I ended up relying on one product that I originally found entirely unacceptable! Since two months has elapsed since those investigations, the time seems ripe to have another look.

Everyone will have his/her own criteria for choosing a particular service. These are the ones that turned out to be important for me. I list them because these are the lenses through which I'm making my evaluations. As they say on the Internet, YMMV.

  • Are files kept synced, without noticeable lag time for small updates?
  • Are the time stamps right? Many services were stamping files with the date they were synced rather than the date they were last modified. (Imagine twenty years worth of memos with the same time stamp!)
  • Can synced directories reside anywhere on a drive or must they be subfolders in a folder specific to the syncing service?
  • When a folder already exists on multiple machines, will the service recognize this, or will it insist on copying everything over from what it identifies as a "master" version? This is not an issue for a few gigabytes of files but can loom large when music libraries of tens of thousands of files and hundreds of gigabytes are involve.

So, here we go...

  • Jottacloud: No change. I copied a multi-level directory with 4,000+ small files (mostly html). I then installed Jottacloud on another machine and checked to see if any of the downloaded files were tagged with the time they were copied rather than the time they were last modified. Just 1, darn it! An executable.

    It struck me that I should run the same directory through all of the services.

  • Dropbox: No problems.
  • Cubby: No problems.
  • Syncbox: OMG!!! Syncbox is changing the time stamp on EVERY FILE! I don't kow how I missed this before. Syncbox is being removed from my computers as I type this!