Monday, July 06, 2009

Taking Care of Your Computer

Keep Your PC Lean and Clean

A survey done of some of the guys who do tech support in Staples stores have turned up some interesting tips regarding routine maintenance that a lot of people seem to skip out on. The number one takeaway from that particular article is to keep your computer physically clean. Keeping your keyboard clean doesn't really correlate to computer performance, although it may help you type better if you use a small vacuum or pressured air, but more important are your internals. Desktop PCs can get lots of dust very fast, even faster than laptops, I'd say. With laptops, it's pretty easy to get a can or compressed air and just blow the dust out of the vents, but taking off your desktop PC to clean it out is definitely worth the trouble on even as infrequently as a bimonthly basis. Laptop users though have no excuse to not do it at least monthly - you will definitely seek a marked performance improvement.

The other tips are pretty standard stuff: keep your anti-virus software up-to-date and scan regularly (at least bi-weekly, I'd say), keep your OS up-to-date, defrag regularly (at least bi-monthly), clean out useless junk from your hard drive (at least bi-monthly), and backup the irreplaceable stuff (at least monthly), like music and photos and videos you've taken. Preventative maintenance really is key with extended the life of your computer just as living a healthy, balanced lifestyle is key to prolonging our own life. Certain mechanical failures can't be avoided, but you can definitely delay their arrival. My computer in college was over 4 years old by the time I graduated and still going strong (I only didn't keep it because I wanted a laptop for ease of portability).

Part of the problem is that people generally don't go through training before they start using a computer and develop bad habits, and so Makeuseof has 3 very basic tips that are pretty critical to the long-term success of a computer user. I can't stress enough how important it is to be able to type without closing watching your fingers in this day and age, and it's going to make your computer usage much more efficient. Nowadays, it's easier than ever with all the free software available online to help you learn and e-mail and IM to help you practice. The second tip is a biggie: be selective with your software. You're probably picky with the stuff you buy for your home, so why not be picky with what you install on your computer? You don't want something that's going to hog resources, and you certainly don't want to keep stuff around that you never use. You should audit your computer usage every few months and decide if there's crap on there you never use and stuff you wish you had. I'd roll into that tip that you need to arm yourself with good anti-virus and anti-spyware software to keep your computer clean. The last tip isn't as useless as it may sound: stay organized. Being organized in your home helps you find stuff faster to get done what you need to get done in your life and in your chores, and the same goes with your computer. I've become pretty proficient in getting a lot done on my computer in a short amount only because I've spent years refining how I organize things. It really does go a long way.

Firefox 3.5

Firefox is back with a bang in version 3.5. I've talked about it off and on for a few months and now it is finally in public release. I have it installed at work but not at home because not all my extensions are compatible with it yet, but it seems to be a very welcome upgrade. Ars Technica gives a pretty good, concise rundown of the new features, which includes privacy mode, UI improvements, performance tweaks, support for HTML 5 video embedding, and support for some neat API additions for developers (including a geolocation library). The best UI improvement, in my opinion, is improved crash recovery and session restoration: you can select what you care to restore now. If you had 40 tabs open before a crash but only need 20 tabs now, why waste time opening all those tabs? The biggest deal in this release are probably the improvements in the TraceMonkey Javascript rendering engine, which were definitely long overdue. It's incredible how common AJAX is nowadays, so improving that performance is going to really improve your browsing experience. The only feature in this release, it seems like, that wasn't catching up with other browsers was the added support for HTML 5 embedded video, which is still years out probably from being viable as an online format while everyone gets browsers that support it, but it's gotta start somewhere.

All-in-all, it's clearly not a major release, but definitely a welcome one. If you can't live without all your add-ons, you should wait a couple of weeks to upgrade. Otherwise, definitely jump on it.

Bing Adds Twitter Search, Loses Loyalty

The press has taken a surprising interest in Bing, but it's still struggling to gain market share against Google and is probably only doing as well as it is right now because of all the press coverage it has been getting. While its search results may not always best Google, its real biggest issue is getting the loyalty people seem to have to the Google brand. If the first thing you type is the Google URL when you need to search (in the case of the Pre, it's staring right at you when you enter in a search term from the home screen), it's hard to rewire yourself to think of Bing instead. I've actually been trying to use Bing more because I like that it gives you rollover previews of pages, but even my muscle memory is wired to use Google. In a focus group created by the Catalyst Group, people liked the results and visual layout offered by Bing, but weren't interested in switching because the results didn't seem to be any better than Google's and they were already using a lot of other Google services. Bing is definitely trying to build up other services to bring people in (like Travel and Maps), but it could really use a killer app to bring people into the Bing brand. Short of that, they're not going to be able to put a significant dent in Google's market share.

It is nice though that they now include some Twitter results. Right now they only include a few esteemed twitterers, but they intend to include all of Twitter. This may seem silly, but the power of searching social networking sites is that you get a pulse on what people are generally thinking at any given moment. What people are thinking may be stupid, but it is what it is and sometimes it happens to include actually interesting information.

Windows 7 Versions

Maximum PC has a nice article that accurately explains what's included in the various editions of Windows 7 to help you decide on which you need. I think the bright side is that Home Premium, which most new computers will include, genuinely includes all the stuff that the average person will care about. Professional feels more like it's for small businesses or users who are really afraid to cut the cord with XP, but I don't know why anyone would really need Ultimate, unless you often work in various languages. It included BitLocker encryption, but you can download TrueCrypt for free.

Augmented Reality

I think that the idea of augmented reality is really cool: it's basically a virtual layer over the world you see to provide additional information. This is nothing new for most gamers: if you've ever played a game that involved flying or a mech then you're familiar with a heads-up display that helps you identify enemies and friendlies and all that jazz. In the real world, it could help you orient yourself in a new place, and there's actually already an Android application that's soon to be released that gives a pretty good demonstration of its power. The applications aren't hard to see in video games with Project Natal and the Wii and just the fact that 3-d controllers seem to be all the rage now - with augmented reality the possibilities in that space are really endless.

Anyway, there's not a whole lot to say about it right now, but it's something to keep on your radar because I'm sure we'll see it again in the near future on other mobile platforms (i.e. please port Layar to webOS!).

The Short Stuff

As you can probably tell, this was a pretty uneventful news week, and so the remaining stories are pretty short to talk about.

Joost has given up on consumer-video and is now focusing on just partnering with cable and satellite providers to help them deliver online video services. I think this was definitely a smart move for them.

Steve Jobs is CEO of Apple again!

The founders of Engadget have started Gdgt, which is a pretty risky project from them that seeks to catalog all the gadgets out there and bring a slight social networking spin to the mix in creating an interactive gadget community. It's an interesting concept, and they explain it best.

Lifehacker has a fun article explaining how easy it is to crack WEP security on a wireless network. I learned all the gory details in college, but these are pretty nice crib notes.

PC World has some hands-on impressions of Moblin and they seem to be fans of it as a different kind of operating system: a platform specifically for the netbook market. Rather than being considered as a thin laptop OS it should probably be considered in genre as an offshoot of a mobile phone platform.

The webOS Mojo SDK has been leaked, and I haven't gotten a chance to play with it but I'm dying to devote some time to it.

If you're interested in what cell phone provider provides the best 3G service in your area, you'll really like this comparison. It looks like I picked the right provider in Seattle: Sprint.

Have a pleasant post-holiday hangover, everyone! I'll leave you with one of my best pictures from my weekend (click on it to enlarge):

This is one of my favorite shots from yesterday's trip to Dec... on Twitpic

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