Computing on the go

  • Computing on the go
  • Computing on the go
  • Illustration by Andrew Rae
  • Illustration by Andrew Rae
  • Computing on the go
  • Computing on the go
Date:30 June 2010 Tags:, , , , , , ,

Mobile generation
Today’s workplace can be a cubicle in an office, a seat in an airport lounge, a queue or a coffee shop. Whether new-wave collaborative software or pocket-sized portables, mobility solutions are cutting the ties that keep us deskbound.

Total cover
Adventurous go-getters who can’t leave their laptops safe at home are sure to appreciate Thule’s 20-litre Crossover Backpack TCBP117. The padded, integrated notebook compartment is big enough to hold a 43 cm MacBook Pro. A lockable crushproof compartment protects your iPhone, sunglasses and other fragile gear (it can be removed whenever you need additional space).

The bag is made out of water-resistant nylon and features die-cut EVA shoulder straps with mesh coverings to provide ventilation and breathability. Compression straps customise the bag to the size of your load. An organisation compartment keeps cords and other accessories at hand, but out of the way. Drinks bottles fit in convenient side pockets, and multiple grab-and-go handles make the bag ideal for weekend getaways, hikes, mountain bike excursions and daily commuting. Price: about R1 200. Contact Thule Car Rack Systems on 031-579 1515 or visit www.thule.co.za

Laptop for the road
Road warriors and frequent travellers wanting a powerful, full-featured notebook with enough battery power to get some proper work done need look no further than Sony’s Vaio Y115. Based on Intel’s Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage (CULV) platform, the Y115 is designed to last six hours with the standard bundled lithium-ion battery, and nine hours of use with the optional L battery – that’s enough to see it through a working day, with space to spare.

Besides the 33,7 cm ClearBright display with LED backlight, it features WLAN and Bluetooth, a webcam and HDMI output for connecting to a large-screen TV. It also comes equipped with an Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 1,3 GHz processor, 2 GB of DDR3 RAM, a 320 GB 5400 r/min SATA hard drive, and is driven by Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium.

The Vaio button, which activates the media gallery, provides quick access to photos, videos and music. The Assist button offers instant access to Vaio Care, which simplifies basic maintenance and troubleshooting tasks. An i.Link port provides access to consumer hardware that uses Firewire, including video cameras.

Price: about R13 000. Contact distributor Rectron on 011-203 1000 or visit www.sony.co.za

Tough data protection
Losing valuable data while on the road can bring your business trip to a grinding halt. Transcend’s 640 GB StoreJet 25C portable hard drive, boasting an ultra-slim form and luxurious polished chrome case, is about as good looking as portable hard drives get. But don’t let its svelte design fool you – this drive is one tough cookie, making it an ideal mobile travel companion.

Aside from rugged anti-shock protection, it comes with a non-slip coating on the bottom of its case to prevent it from sliding or moving while in use. And, besides providing a high storage capacity, it incorporates a variety of software tools to make your life on the road easier. The SecretZip feature uses AES encryption to protect zipped files, catering for users who require secure backups and storage. It facilitates Internet browsing on other machines without leaving any trace. You’ll also find intelligent backup scheduling, security and file compression functions.

Price: about R1 500. Contact distributor Rectron on 011-203 1000 or visit www.rectron.co.za

Power to go
There’s nothing quite like a flat battery to bring home how dependant we all have become on powered devices. The myPower ALL Plus external laptop battery from Tekkeon not only effectively doubles the life of your laptop’s battery, but can simultaneously charge other small portable devices, too. It provides about 3½ hours of extra computing power on a charge and comes with nine adaptor tips (including a mini USB), so you can charge portable media players, mobile phones, camcorders and the like. As it is modular by design, you can add a second optional battery to double the capacity whenever necessary.

Selecting the right voltage for your portable gadgetry is a quick, easy affair. Because it automatically resets to the lowest setting after a device with adaptor is connected, you’ll never fry any of your expensive toys by mistake. It weighs 433 grams and measures 8,4 cm (W) x 17,3 cm (L) x 2,2 cm (D). And its rechargeable lithium polymer battery takes four hours to charge.

Price: about R1 900. Contact Linkqage on 021-514 4800 or visit www.linkqage.co.za

The great migration

Moving from an old computer to a new one takes organisation, patience and a good strategy. Here’s how to do it right.

Windows Vista was, if anything, an excellent excuse to hold on to an old computer. Microsoft’s last-generation operating system was so widely ridiculed that a whole generation of PCs running the previous OS, Windows XP, was kept in service long after the hardware had become creaky and outmoded. That has largely changed with Windows 7 – a system that, although not a complete reinvention of Vista, is a vast improvement in terms of performance, reliability and usability. In fact, the past year has brought us new operating systems from both Apple and Microsoft. Apple’s new version of OS X, Snow Leopard, along with a host of updated desktops and laptops, has introduced plenty of innovation to the Mac platform, as well.

So now is a natural time to think of upgrading to a new computer. But if it’s been four years or more since the last time you migrated from one computer to another, you’ll find that the logistics of moving have become far more complicated. The days of throwing all of your files on a floppy disc or even burning them to a CD are over.

Computers are now often our main repository of music, photos and even movies – which have both sentimental and real monetary value that may exceed that of the computer itself. That means that one’s personal files may amount to a multi-gigabyte transfer that requires both capacity and organisation. Plus, the longer you’ve waited since your last computer upgrade, the higher the chances that software you’ve grown accustomed to may not transfer at all.

Whatever your situation, make sure to allot a decent amount of time to the process (it can eat up a full weekend). Our own PoPular Mechanics assistant editor Erin McCarthy recently switched from a three-year-old Dell laptop running Windows XP to a new Intel-based MacBook running OS X Snow Leopard. She’s impressed by the performance of her new laptop. “It’s so much faster than my old computer,” she says. But she was also humbled by the work involved in the data transfer from her old PC. “The amount of time it took to get everything the way I like it was ridiculous,” she recalls. “But I wasn’t going to let the machine win.”

Step 1: Get organised
Think of moving to a new computer like moving to a new house. First figure out how much stuff you’re taking with you (2 GB? 10 GB? 100 GB?). Then box it up logically (photos, music, documents, videos). Finally, determine what type of moving equipment (DVDs, memory keys, external hard drives) you’ll need. A network attached storage (NAS) drive can make the process easier, as it can serve as a waypoint between your old PC and your new one.

You may have kept your files well organised (or not), but even if you think you know where most of the files on your old computer are, use the search tool built into your OS (in Windows XP, it’s called Search Companion; in the Mac OS, it’s referred to as Spotlight) and look for files by type and/or extension: photos (.jpg, .jpeg, .bmp, .raw, .gif); documents (.doc, .docx, .txt, .rtf, .pages); music (.mp3, .wav, .aac, .m4p, .m4u); and movies (.avi, .mov, .mp4, .wmv). Many of the files you find will be sample files that came with the OS or other programs, but you may also discover a hidden repository of forgotten gems.

Speaking of things you might forget, don’t overlook the browser bookmarks, iTunes playlists, passwords, software preferences and printer and network settings that made your personal computer personal to you. Some of these can be easily exported. (Firefox, for example, allows you to make a transferable bookmark backup file.) For other things, such as program settings, it may be necessary to take an old-fashioned paper and pencil and browse through the various menus in each program’s preferences section, taking notes on how you set it up.

If you’d rather save time and pay to migrate the simple way, then it’s worth considering solutions such as Belkin’s Easy Transfer Cable (about R300), which uses software to find and move all media files, documents and settings over a special USB cable. Macs make the moving process a bit easier with OS X’s built-in Migration Assistant, which moves most of the data and settings from an old to a new Mac via FireWire. For converts moving from a PC to a Mac platform, Apple offers datamigration services at the company’s in-store Genius Bars as part of its One to One service. If you’d rather not leave your personal files in the hands of Apple’s geniuses, try Move2Mac (about R300) software by Detto Technologies, which automatically transfers files over a network or via external drive. For those migrating from Mac to PC, there really aren’t a lot of third-party solutions – which maybe tells you something.

Step 2: Sort out software
Software presents a different challenge. Any software that you have purchased or downloaded for your old computer will have to be reinstalled on your new machine. Some software will need to be deactivated from your old computer before you install it on your new one. (Some programs, such as iTunes, must be deactivated from within the software; others, such as Microsoft Office, automatically deactivate when uninstalled.) Software that you paid for will probably require its activation code on reinstall, so hopefully you kept that – if you didn’t, look around the program’s About This Product menu, and the activation code may be there.

Keep this in mind as you switch: many programs don’t work across platforms (PC to Mac or vice versa), and it’s more than likely that if you are jumping at least two generations of operating system (XP to Win 7 or OS X Tiger to Snow Leopard), the software you used on your old machine will either not work on your new one or will be so out of date it’s worth considering an upgrade.

Another thing: many new operating systems can be installed as 64-bit versions (older PC and Mac OSs were 32-bit), which allows computers to operate faster by processing larger chunks of data. Both Win 7 and OS X allow older 32-bit software to operate in a compatibility mode, but that can be a pretty glitchy proposition – and it doesn’t mean that older 32-bit drivers for peripherals such as printers, scanners, etc., will continue to work.

Adding to the confusion, when you purchased your old machine, it most likely came bundled with OEM (original equipment manufacturer) software. Computer builders have special deals to distribute software such as Microsoft Office and Roxio with new computers, but the licenses on such software don’t necessarily allow you to reinstall it on a new computer when you upgrade. So as a rule, if you never got an individual serial number for your program, it’s probably not coming with you to your new computer.

After culling out all the programs that are either unlicensed or outdated, you might suddenly find yourself surprisingly softwareless. For some essential programs, the only reasonable option is to upgrade to the latest and greatest version. Subscriptionbased software, such as antivirus programs, can usually be installed on a new computer and activated from the same account. There is also a surprisingly sophisticated pool of free software worth considering, if only as a stopgap between purchases. For instance, Open Office and Google Docs offer no-cost alternatives to Microsoft Office and can save files in formats compatible with Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Plus, light photo editing can be handled by Google’s Picasa software, while high-level photo manipulation can be done with the open-source GIMP software.

What equipment should you take with you?

Screen

Keep it: Even if your new computer comes with a screen, an extra LCD can create a dual-monitor setup.
Ditch it: An older CRT monitor is probably not worth the trouble.

Cables

Keep it: Any USB, SATA, DVI and even power cables can be handy as spare parts.
Ditch it: Really old wires, such as serial cables and parallel printer cables, are now officially outdated. Throw ’em out.

Printer

Keep it: Inkjet tech hasn’t advanced much in the past few years, so if your printer’s not too old (that is, if it has a USB connection), it’s fine.
Ditch it: On the other hand, printers are cheap. If yours is acting creaky and is almost out of ink (ink’s the expensive stuff), it might be time for an upgrade.

Mouse and keyboard

Keep it: If your new computer is a laptop, it’s always good to have a full-size keyboard and mouse around for desktop duty.
Ditch it: Older mice and keyboards use an antiquated PS/2 connection standard. If they’re not wireless or USB, toss ’em.

Webcam

Keep it: If you’ve recently bought a USB webcam, it should work on your new PC.
Ditch it: Many new computers have webcams built in, so you might want to post your old one on an online for-sale site.

Office anywhere

The 2010 version of Microsoft’s productivity suite soars into the cloud.

Mobility rules in the latest version of Microsoft’s Office suite. Office 2010 enables people to work on files from any PC, any browser and nearly every smartphone.

The company’s South African head of Office Business, Albie Bester, says the 2010 version of the suite will make a significant difference in home and business users’ lives, especially if they centralise their working lives around e-mail.

It’s all about finding new ways to work together – whether you’re in the next cubicle or on the other side of the world.

One of the big-deal aspects of the new suite is what Microsoft calls co-authoring. Several people can work on a single copy of a document, whether online or offline, at the same time or different times.

Essentially, documents sit online, in “the cloud”, where they can be edited by users in the familiar Office 2010 applications such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook – without necessarily having those applications residing on their machines.

What makes this work is Web Apps – lightweight Web browser versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote. They will be available to consumers free of charge through Windows Live. Business users licensed for Microsoft Office 2010 can run Office Web Apps on-premises via a server running SharePoint.

“This version of Office allows people to work smarter from virtually any location using any device. Given that many people ‘live’ in their e-mail these days, this is a critical factor. Outlook 2010 takes this to the next level,” Bester says.

The integration of increasingly popular social media channels is a key feature.

“Through Outlook, people can keep track of e-mail conversations, stay up-to-date with their co-workers, friends and family, see Facebook updates and LinkedIn pictures for their e-mail contacts and add a contact as a friend on social networking sites – without ever leaving the application,” he adds.

The company says this is a significant statement of its intent to assert itself in the cloud computing space against other Web-based productivity applications. Google Documents, anybody…?

Web Apps allows people to open and work on Office documents on any device with an Internet connection. They can also share documents with friends, family and co-workers anywhere.

Editing in the cloud does have its limitations. “You can do some lightweight editing, but if you need do some more heavyweight stuff then you will have to have the actual program on your PC,” says Microsoft solutions manager Danie Gordon.

Getting social
In Office 2010, Outlook is now heavily integrated with social networking sites. For one thing, it lays emphasis on a conversation to make threads easier to follow. It’s also notable, with Outlook 2010, that simply creating a new e-mail and putting a contact’s name in the address line can bring up a staggering variety of information about the contact. That can range from whether an out-of-office reply is active or not, to minute detail about the contact’s activities on everything from Facebook to LinkedIn to blogs.

“There’s greater activity… Wikis and blogs can now live in the enterprise,” says Gordon.

PowerPoint makes it possible to view a presentation (currently video only, not sound) over the Web without the need for the viewer to have a PowerPoint program installed. It also allows video editing within the application.

Other highlights of Office 2010 include a new feature in spreadsheet application Excel called Sparklines. These are tiny graphs that can fit in a single cell of a spreadsheet.

Free – kind of
Consumer versions of Office 2010 were due to go on sale in South Africa in July. Offi ce Starter Edition is a new product. No activation is needed – it’s pre-loaded on new PCs. They’re basically calling it “Microsoft for free”. “We see it as a great introduction,” Bester says.

Then there’s the Home and Student package, which will sell for about R1 000. Incorporating Word and Excel, it can be loaded on up to three PCs. There’s no mail program like Outlook; typical users will manage their e-mail by means of an online account like Hotmail.

All Office options are already pre-loaded in a single image on the new PC’s hard disc. Essentially, buying one of the upgrade packages involves getting a software key to unlock the required upgrade.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch or free software. The entry-level Starter package will be advertising-supported. This won’t necessarily mean video clips or cunningly placed logos urging you to change your brand of fried chicken or financial planner. However, it will involve constant “upsell” messages. And no, they can’t be turned off. Microsoft is banking on users being convinced of the upgrades’ advantages.

Expect to pay about R800 for the Home and Student edition upgrade key, with the Home and Business upgrade costing R1 900. If you’d like an actual box with a disc in it, add R100 to the price. For comparison, Microsoft points out that the outgoing equivalent to its Home and Business package costs about R4 000.

A full Professional package will retail for about R3 700 or, for the boxed version, R5 200.

The competitive pricing of entry level packages is aimed at emerging markets, Bester says. And just in case anybody is wondering, no, a package bought on the local market won’t be able to be activated in the USA, for example.

If you’ve already committed to buy the current version of Office, there’s an option to change to the latest specification during the rollout of the new range.

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