Monday, April 8, 2013

Which computer is the easiest to use?

Which computer is easiest to use? 

This question is often asked by those starting to use a computer or going back to a computer after a long time away from computers.

 The question is really two questions. The first is what is easiest to learn to use and the second is what is easiest to use after you have learned. 

Tablets are probably the easiest computers to use but do take some time to learn to use. 

If you have some familiarity with Windows or Macs, you might want to use a familiar version of these. You might want to avoid Windows 8 or XP and stick to Windows 7. But all Windows and Mac computers have problems. Both require maintenance and have limited support for seniors. 

A better alternative than either would be the Chromebook, which resembles Windows or Mac and is more intuitive to use and more free of trouble than Windows. As for the Mac, it is a whole lot cheaper. 

If you have old Windows or Mac computer, it is even possible to make it work like either simply by plugging in a specially prepared USB stick with Zorin (free).

Even better, if you're daring, you could plugin a new $60 so-called PC stick between a display or TV, and a keyboard, to create the latest least cost PC. If you are comfortable with Android cell phones, or are a quick learner, this is the best and cheapest way to go. If you do that using a TV, you also get big screen access to all of the huge library of video and recorded TV on internet. 

Now, once you have learned the basics, then the choices are different. Tablets are clearly the best choice for ease of use for access to information, while keyboard devices are better for document creation. The lowest cost keyboard device which requires the least learning and periodic maintenance would again be the Chromebook. (Chromebooks are totally dependent on wifi and require wireless printers.)

Tablets now start at $150.Tap or click for the newest one as of 4/8/2013.

For the long term, while tablets are the best choice for ease of use, they do require that initial learning. That learning is worthwhile in order to get the full benefits.

But if all you want is email and browsing, a reasonable choice for someone starting back into use of computers again would be the familiar looking least cost Chromebook laptop, and later a tablet. The heavy maintenance of both Windows and Macs would be altogether avoided, plus their cost.

Better Tools for Getting Information

We are losing Google Reader "app" in July. Google has determined that it needs its resources for another unannounced purpose. We do not know what that is. 

This has hit the Internet community hard, as we have realized there is no tool quite as good to sift out and aggregate information. 

In other words, there is too much information out there for us to absorb it and we need a tool to extract what is of particular interest to us individually. Google Reader simply brings us the latest information from our preferred sources. No other tool does that as well and we are losing it.

Before Google Reader we initially had to go to each source ourselves regularly. It was a great leap forward when we could automatically subscribe to a given source. That technology was called RSS or really simple syndication. Google simply aggregated feeds of our choice. 

For example, we could subscribe to the latest stories from the New York Times. Google simply did that for us and aggregated those feeds into one up to date listing. Simple, but also breaking into new territory. 

Innovation was the way Google got started. Originally search engines depended on humans to figure out where to go to get the information you needed. Google found a way to get the computer to do that work. That also was simple but broke into new territory. 

There are those who claim Google has never reveals its secrets. Not true. It laid them out in its original proposal in 1992. Google simply uses the history of similar searches to get you where you need to go for information you want. No other search engine does it as well. 

So Google has been an innovator ever since. Now, however, others will need to assist us in a reader aggregator. Many of us will turn to Feedly to replace Google Reader, a worthy choice. 

However, the internet world is discovering that there is a better way. Instead of searching for sources, it may be better to search for subjects. That is simple but groundbreaking, too.

That brings us to Taptu, a better tool. In many ways we really do not need or want to go to specific sources or feeds. We simply want to go to get the latest information on a particular subject. That makes more sense. 

Of course, we also need to see how different sources handle the same news. We also want the absolute latest information, such as we get from Twitter. We need it in the most accessible format. 

For example, Flipboard aggregates feeds into a familiar magazine like format. This way we can skim off latest information in a format as familiar to us seniors as the old Saturday Evening Post.

 I use these tools to find out what impacts seniors particularly. This website is to pull together what is important for seniors in technology. There are few resources in Internet to do that for seniors. 

Similarly, our retirement community, Willow Valley, collects and aggregates information of more general interest to seniors and presents it on it website as a public service. There are few other places to go for such directed information. In the future better ways are coming to get the information you need. 

We need ways to connect the dots. We need to be able to relate different things together. We need for that to happen automatically without human intervention. 

One developing tool is Wolfram, a search engine which scours the internet to pull together related information from different sources. Another good, just announced, tool has come from that 17 year old Brit who has found a way to distill lengthy information into a few words. That is an enormous breakthrough, and he deserves the many millions he has already earned.

We need that capability. For example in linguistics studies we learned that most written documents are highly duplicative in presenting the same information over and over again. A professor in Germany made the point to us American students that we could learn without reading the entirety of German documents simply by skipping through them. 

You do not need to eat all of an apple to know that it is bad. Now we will be able to have a computer do that skipping for us and distill more and more information into digestible bites or bytes. Forgive the pun.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Alternatives to Windows Maintenance Chores


Recently our Computer Club president gave an excellent talk on how to maintain Windows integrity to avoid problems.  Lots of routine things to do.

These revolve around using utilities like  Ccleaner, Malwarebytes, Defraggler, and Windows Defender, all of which can be downloaded on internet.  Using them can be burdensome.  It can also be risky.

For those who would rather avoid such efforts, or suspect they already have malware or viruses, here are some alternatives.

Above all, consider reinstalling your operating system.     It will take less time and insure that vestiges of malware do not remain on your system and compromise it later.

If most of your files and applications are already on the cloud, then reinstallation will be easy.

If your computer has XP, you may want to upgrade to Windows 7.  Windows 7 makes it easy to find files to keep safely elsewhere.  Windows 7 puts like files into libraries, greatly speeds searching, and lets your preview files easily.   Windows XP will not be supported much longer.

If your computer is slow anyway, it may be better just to install a clone of Windows which looks just like Windows and lacks virtually all the maintenance problems: Zorin.  This way, Windows problems will not come back on you.

Or, if you  are a smartphone user, and know the Android system (or iPad), you could just connect a ”PC stick” to your (HDMI input) TV (or computer display) and let that TV/display be your computer.    Your old keyboard and mouse will work with it.   These cost about $60..

Or just switch to a tablet.   These are getting cheap and some even also work like TV sticks.

If that old computer hardware is still physically working, but Windows no longer works well or at all, you could still also keep it going for some of your work with Zorin above, while buying a tablet for most of your work.

I suggest these alternatives because Windows is getting more and more problems you cannot avoid easily, or avoid at all, such as from Java.    I am seeing them every week.  I am seeing them coming back after reinstalls.   Java has deep roots in Windows and Mac.

Especially, if you still want to do maintenance faithfully, and want to follow the procedures outlined in the talk mentioned above, be very careful WHERE you get the maintenance software.

Malware sites offer the legitimate tools and send malware into your system along with legitimate tools.    Even routine Adobe and Java updates carry malware exposures with them’ ’regularly.

Apple’s McIntosh offers an alternative, though, to Windows.   The Mac is also exposed to Java malware, and residents here come back with reports of poor support from the local Apple store. (I have approached Apple about the problem.)

Now that your only other Windows alternative in a new computer is Windows 8, also confusing to use, it may still be better to avoid Windows altogether.   Time will tell.

Want a new machine and avoid both Windows and Mac?  Consider a ChromeBook, starting at $200 for a slick light laptop.    You MUST have a good WiFi connection to use it.   How to get that WiFi working well?    Keep tuned!!!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Apple and Windows Drop the Ball

Sometimes you forget, when fighting alligators, that your mission was to drain the swamp.

Accordingly, though my mission is to empower seniors with new tech, the last ten requests for help did not advance that objective.

Four were complaints that the local Park City Apple store was not providing support.  When some seniors got there for help, they felt intimidated.

Four were to remove Windows malware.  For safety, that means re-installing the operating system, and takes many hours.

Two were to grapple with Windows 8, and its whole new "tablet" overlay.

All came from seasoned users.

What to do?----Clearly find a better way.

When it takes less than five minutes to install a lookalike for Windows or turn your TV into a computer with a PC Stick, alternatives are promising.

These alternatives do away with, for example, the exposure to the sieve of vulnerability from the JAVA programming language used since 1995 for both Apple and Windows (excepting tablets such as the iPad).

Then, when tablets do away with most of the above woes, and offer more easy functionality, it is worthwhile investing the time to learn to use one.

Keep posted!!!

Meanwhile tap or click for help from AARP.

or here to learn about Android.

For your old computer, tap or click for a better way to use it.