Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Windows 8(.1)’s missing Start Menu!

When users complained about the lack of the Start Button in Windows 8, I think they were really complaining about the inability to bring up the Start Menu of Programs. So when the Start Button was partially restored in Windows 8.1, yes, it was now easier to get to the Control Panel, Task Manager, and Shut Down, but, really, who cared?

Sometimes things nag at me, such as…  Installation programs still ask if I want to send a shortcut to the Start Menu.  I say “Yes” for old-time’s sake and maybe because, in the same way young children believe in the tooth fairy, I had hopes that a real Start Button would magically appear. But, what was happening when I said “Yes”?  Did Windows simply ignore the instruction?

For reasons I’m not sure, one day I decided to search for StartMenu…and I found it!

Here’s how to create the Start Menu on the Desktop!

·        Right click on Start Button.  Choose File Explorer.
·        Click on View and then check the box that shows Hidden Items
·        Click on drive C:, then Program Data (not Files!)
·        Click on Microsoft, then Windows, then Start Menu
·        RIGHT-CLICK on Programs and Send to: Desktop.

All done!  You might want to move the Shortcut to the lower left hand corner next to the Start Button and change the icon to something distinctive.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

micro SD cards: exFAT to NTFS

A form has two boxes so that respondents can enter "Age in years", which works fine until the 102 year old person comes along.

That's the idea behind different file systems. In the beginning, there was FAT16. As disks got larger, there were more files than FAT16 could handle, so FAT32 was invented. Disks got larger still. Welcome NTFS. But, wait! Microsoft doesn't own NTFS! So, there is also exFAT!

I like to use the Everything Search Engine utility from Voidtools. It works only with NTFS disks. I just got an Asus T100TA Transformer Book with 64 GB of its own storage and a micro SD slot that can accommodate a 64 GB micro SD card. I got a 64 GB micro SD card, which came unformatted. However, when my computer asked if I wanted to format the card, the only choice I was given was exFAT.

The solution:

  • Attach unformatted card to computer.
  • Go to Device Manager. (Win-Pause/Break followed by clicking on Hardware, is one way to get there.)
  • Right click on SD card. Choose Properties.
  • Policies tab. Choose Optimize for Performance.
  • Go to the Command prompt. Assuming Z is the drive letter (but be sure you get it right or disaster could strike!), type
    format Z: /fs:NTFS

This helped me better understand when and why one has to be careful removing USB drives.

Drives can be set up two ways:

  • Optimize for Quick Removal: This setting disables write caching on the disk and in Windows, so you can disconnect the device safely without using the Safely Remove Hardware notification icon.
  • Optimize for Performance: This setting enables write caching in Windows to improve disk performance. To disconnect this device from the computer, click the Safely Remove Hardware icon in the taskbar notification area.

NTFS is optimized for performance. exFAT is optimized for quick removal. While no drives should ever be removed while an operation is in progress, it's easier to be sure there's nothing waiting in the wings if a drive is optimized for quick removal. Since I expect to rarely be removing this card from the tablet, the advantages the NTFS system provide more than outweigh the convenience of quick removal.

Windows 8 tablet?!?!?!

I do all of my computing on Windows machines, if you don't count Android smart phones and tablets. I have a bunch of Android tablets, mostly as a result of my search for just the right device to hold and display 1,000+ PDFs of song lyrics. I often wished there were one device that could do it all.

There have been Windows tablets, but they suffered from two serious handicaps. The first was price. The early ones cost more than $1,000, which I could never justify for just another tablet. The second is Windows itself. (Note the intentionally careful use of "was" and "is".)

I'm writing this on an Asus T100TA Transformer Book--a full Windows 8.1...well, you tell me. Is is a 10.1" tablet with a docking station or a 10.1" computer whose screen separates from its keyboard? Regardless, the whole package--with 2 GB of memory, 64 GB storage and a micro SD slot that accommodates cards of up to 64GB and a licensed copy of Microsoft Office Home and Student Edition--went for $399 at both Best Buy and the Microsoft Store.

As a computer, it feels just like a 10" netbook with chicklet keyboard. I really like it, but I really like netbooks. Nice screen. Anyone who cares can look up the epecs. Windows 8 gets a well-deserved bad rap, but it can be made to function a lot like Windows 7 for ordinary tasks.

As a tablet...at the moment it suffers from Windows 8.1. It works smoothly enough, but the variety of available apps is nothing like what's available for iOS or Android. A nice file manager would be welcomed.

Still, it's a nice device overall and has become my new default go-to computer when I don't need a desktop. Updates will follow if anything changes.

Last But Not Least Department: It comes with a 32 bit version of Windows 8.1!!! I'd heard rumors that such a thing existed, but never thought I'd actually get my hands on one! Most people won't know what I'm talking about, or care. Some will find this a real turn off. It means that the device cannot run 64 bit programs, which are the "wave of the future"...just as they've bee for a long time now. But, it can run old legacy programs, of which I've many, that won't run under 64 bit Windows! For those who really care, the processor is 64 bit, so presumably a 64 bit version of Windows could be installed if one were hell bent, determined, and wanted to undergo the expense.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Backup and Sync...months later

I went back to have another look at the synchronization services I reviewed last year. I felt overwhelmed! Everything has a more polished look. Each service has its own fans. Maybe there's now one among them that would put all of the others to shame. I don't know. I've found a system that works for me, so I now leave the task of further reviewing to others. I'd love to read it, but not to do the basic research myself.

As of the moment, there are three services I find worth considering.

  • The first, no surprise, is Dropbox. It's the service that defined the category. It seems to work almost flawlessly. It not only synchronizes files across devices but also backs them on line, to be there should disaster strike.

    It has a few shortcomings, however.

    • Everything has to go into a single Dropbox folder.
    • The Android app. Because Android devices often have limited storage, the Android Dropbox app behaves differently from the desktop program.
      • With the desktop program, all files are automatically synchronized across all computers.
      • With the Android app, the names of files and folders are synchronized automatically, but files are not downloaded automatically, to avoid taking up all available space.
      There is an option to designate favorite files that do get updated automatically. However, unless things have changed, there's no way to update the contents of a folder automatically. There is an Androd app, DropSync, that adds this feature, but it is not part of Dropbox, itself.

The other two services I like allow users to designate as many folders as they wish for synchronization. Different folders can be synchronized across different sets of devices. My work files might get synchronized across all of my devices while my personal files never appear on any computer owned by my employer.

  • Cubby allows any folder to identified as a Cubby. Think of each Cubby as its own Dropbox. You can have as many as you want and synchronize each Cubby over as few of many devices as you choose. Data are backed up on the company's servers. A paid account includes Direct Sync to synchronize as many Cubbies as one wants without having the data backed up online. Direct Sync protects privacy and has no size limits. The annoying thing about Cubby is that it is constantly using 3 to 6% of the CPU when it should be idle. Others have reported higher numbers. I imagine some polling is necessary, but I don't see anything like this with other services.
  • BitTorrent Sync (BTSync) is like Cubby's Direct Sync. Any folders can be designated for synchronization on as few or many devices as one wishes. There is also a Read Only option, so that changes made on that device are not reflected on other devices. I use this for folders of song lyrics on my tablets to guard against accidental erasures. BTSync is free. The downside is that there is no option for online storage, so you need your own disaster plan. Mine is an automatic weekly (soon to be daily) back of my desktop computer.

Right now,

  • I use Dropbox for sensitive files where I want the security of online backup copies.
  • I use BTSync for everything else.
  • I'm not using Cubby at the moment due to what appears to be an excessive use of resources. However, its ability to make any folder a Cubby and provide online backup keeps me from crossing it off of my list entirely.
I'm not arguing that this is what everyone should. It's merely what I do, and why. Please leave a comment if you've got what might be a more effective approach. I'd love to read about it and consider it for myself!