Tag Archives: computing

EASY PC Tech Advice

TECH ADVICE: Easy PC offers free advice that is easy peasy to grasp

I’VE started writing a weekly tech advice column called Easy PC for a local newspaper supplement. It’s directed at the technophobic and aims to encourage reader feedback and questions. Topics are related to home PC use & computing and the content is really as basic as it gets. Here’s the brief and first installment.

The home PC has evolved into what is now considered a modern-day home entertainment system. Capable of behaving like a television, home cinema, game station, work station, music player and much more, the home PC is far more capable than it has ever been before. But with all these capabilities come complexities, and there are several things to consider when investing in any form of home entertainment. This is what Easy PC plans to simplify.

BUYING A NEW PC

THERE are two options when buying a new desktop PC – having one built from scratch by purchasing all the components you want, or buying a fully built and full functioning PC from a computer store. The latter option is generally cheaper and far easier, but be careful with regards to what bulk packages are on offer – it is also an easy way for PC shops to get rid of old stock.

The biggest bonus of buying a complete PC is that it should come with the latest operating system (a saving of about R1700). Windows 7 is the latest operating system available and is by far the most user-friendly. Ask the salesman if this comes with the PC that you are interested in.

The second thing to consider is storage space. You may think that a terabyte (1000 gigs) is more than what you’ll ever need, but this size hard-drive is now considered as standard. This is where you will store all your data. Also bear in mind that newer software gets larger over time and requires more storage space.

As far as the other components are concerned, simply ensure that they are upgradable. Powerful graphics cards and RAM (memory) are mostly for gaming and advanced video and picture editing. However, having the option to upgrade will allow you to do so if you feel something is lacking.

That’s all for this week! Until next time.

Easy PCKind regards,
That Tech Guy

Microsoft Surface – touch technology

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MICROSOFT SURFACE: Getting to grips with new touch technology

EVEN as a twenty-something, I can fully understand the anxieties experienced when new technologies are released that we would like to try for ourselves, but which seem rather complex and perhaps difficult to handle. Anything that’s more complicated than a remote control has the potential to put anyone who considers themselves as “technologically illiterate” into a mild state of depression.

To generalise, teenagers seem to have a natural ability to immediately grasp and take control of new techno devices without ever having to consult a manual or use the help function. Having to read a manual for anything digital seems like avoidable homework to me, but lately I find myself having to refer to at least three pages of one before I feel that I have at least come close to mastering it.

Technology developers know about this consumer anxiety and most go as far as they can to keep things “simple-stupid”. We don’t necessarily need to understand how a piece of tech works to enjoy the benefits of it, but in order to operate most devices effectively, we do need to know how it communicates.

We are all naturally adept at reading body language and understanding hand gestures, which is something that is now being taught to computers. Touch technology is becoming a revolutionary method of naturally communicating with computers and represents a fundamental change in the way we interact with digital content. This is all becoming possible with Microsoft Surface.

Microsoft Surface

What is Microsoft Surface?
Microsoft Surface is a multi-touch computer that responds to natural hand gestures and real-world objects, helping people interact with digital content in simple and intuitive ways. With a large, horizontal user interface, multiple users can collaboratively and simultaneously interact with data and each other.

It’s as easy as grabbing digital content with your hands and moving information with simple gestures and touches. Surface is also able to “see” and interact with objects placed on the screen, allowing you to move information between devices such as cellphones and cameras.

The technology has been increasingly employed by businesses worldwide as it has proven to be a more efficient method of delivering information and services to customers. Because the interface is so intuitive, people generally find it easy to learn. The multi-touch and multi-user capabilities also help create a collaborative experience, helping to rid one of any anxieties.

How does it work?
As I mentioned, one doesn’t usually have to know how a piece of tech works in order to enjoy the benefits of it, but I can relate to those who have a burning desire to know how everything works.

Microsoft Surface computerMicrosoft Surface uses cameras and image recognition in the infrared range to recognise different types of objects, such as fingers, tagged items and shapes. This input is then processed by the computer and the resulting interaction is displayed using rear projection. The user can manipulate content and interact with the computer using natural touch and hand gestures, rather than using a typical mouse and keyboard.

Microsoft Surface represents a leap ahead in digital interaction, with the ability to wirelessly connect with several other devices such as printers, networks, mobile devices, card readers and more. The sophisticated camera system of Surface sees what is touching it and recognises fingers, hands, paintbrushes, tagged objects and a myriad of other real-world items.

Key capabilities
Microsoft Surface has four key capabilities that make it such a unique experience. (The following is adapted from the Microsoft Surface website):

  • Direct interaction: users can grab digital information with their hands and interact with content on-screen by touch and gesture — without using a mouse or keyboard.
  • Multi-user experience: the large, horizontal, 75 cm display makes it easy for several people to gather and interact with Microsoft Surface — providing a collaborative, face-to-face computing experience.
  • Multi-touch: Microsoft Surface responds to many points of contact simultaneously — not just from one finger (as with a typical touch screen), but from dozens of contact points at once, 52 to be exact.
  • Object recognition: users can place physical, digital objects on the screen to trigger different types of digital responses — providing for a multitude of applications, such as the transfer of digital content to a mobile device.

Under the hood (sofware specs)
Microsoft Surface is based on the Windows Vista SP1 operating system. The rugged table-top structure has powerful processors, a streamlined operating system and intuitive interface, which makes it unlike any computer on the market today.

The current version for the software platform is Microsoft Surface 1.0 Service Pack 1, which gives Surface an enhanced user interface, improved manageability to help reduce the cost of ownership, broader international support, and faster, easier ways to design innovative applications.

Tagged object recognition
TOR is a particularly innovative feature of Microsoft Surface. The tag is what allows Surface to uniquely identify objects — helping the system tell the difference between identical-looking bottles of wine, for example.

Applications can also use a tag to start a command or action. By simply placing a tagged object on the screen, the tag can tell Surface to display unique information about that tagged object, such as showing more information about a bottle of wine, the wine grower, and even the type of grape and vintage.

A tagged object might also identify a cardholder so they can charge purchases. There is a video I saw of Bill Gates demonstrating this by ordering drinks for himself and an awestruck reviewer, and then paying for them by placing his credit card on the computer’s surface.

With capabilities such as direct interaction, multi-touch, multi-user, and object recognition, as well as the means for application deve­lopment, Microsoft Surface certainly represents the next stage of computing. It is also certainly one new piece of technology that we can all get to grips with.

Related article: The Apple of my iPad

Google sounds the bugle!

GOOGLE WAVE: The clash of the computer titans is on. Google has taken on Microsoft by announcing that it’s launching its own operating system — free of charge. The war between the two software giants is likely to change the world of the Internet forever

Alistair Fairweather

IF business is war then two of the world’s biggest companies have finally stopped skirmishing on their borders and brought out the heavy artillery. On July 7, Google fired the first shell by announcing that they will begin offering their own operating system in mid 2010.

Bling bling babyThe warhead — called Chrome OS  — is aimed straight at the heart of Microsoft who have built their entire business around operating systems since the 70s, first with MS DOS and then the globally-dominating Windows series.

But while Microsoft have always charged for their software, Google plan to give theirs away free of charge. What’s more, Google are starting from a completely fresh perspective — one with the potential to undermine Microsoft’s entire business model and loosen their foothold on the software market.

If the name “Chrome” sounds familiar, that’s because it’s also the name of Google’s web browser. And this isn’t just a case of lazy naming. By evolving Chrome into an operating system, Google are planning to turn the entire software world on its head and make browsing the centre of computing.

An Introduction to Google Wave
There is a full 1 hour 20min presentation on YouTube which Philc7753 has kindly and painstakingly edited down for our short attention spans  

Hang on, isn’t an operating system a lot more complicated that a browser? Doesn’t a browser need an operating system to, well, operate? That’s the whole genius of the plan. Google are betting that the centre of influence in computing is moving out of personal computers and into the massive computing power of the Internet, known as the “cloud”.

That means that in future, computers will be dumber and cheaper. They will rely on the enormous banks of computers that power the Internet to do much of their thinking for them.

This is already happening. One of the fastest growing sectors in computing is netbooks — smaller, cheaper, less powerful portable computers with speedy connections to the Internet that focus on tasks like e-mail and browsing the net.

The wave is coming...Currently, Microsoft is tussling with free operating systems such as Linux for ownership of this market, and Google wants its own share of the pie. So what? There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about a free operating system. They have been around for longer than Microsoft have been in existence, let alone Google. And some of them are backed by huge companies such as IBM and SAP.

Yet none of those other companies is as heavily invested in cloud computing as Google. And it’s cloud computing that poses the greatest risk to Microsoft’s dominance.

Microsoft’s bread and butter has always been its desktop applications —  programs such as Word, Outlook and PowerPoint. Operating systems are like plumbing — expensive but necessary — and Microsoft have lost money on them for years. This was justified because they knew that by owning the platform they would be able earn it all back on desktop applications.

Google Docs, on the other hand, is nearly as good as Microsoft’s Office but is free and requires no hard-drive space and much less power (and therefore can run on a cheaper computer). It’s a true “cloud” application  — its platform is the Internet.

So Google have, in effect, pulled Microsoft’s own trick on them but in reverse, and for free. And given how quickly Microsoft are losing market share in the browser market (it’s now just above 50%), they have real cause for concern. If Chrome OS takes off, Google will start to hurt more than Microsoft’s pride.

That’s still a big “if” though. For all their mistakes Microsoft are still the top dog of software. Despite the current media hyperbole about Chrome OS, Windows still commands 90% of the market share in operating systems. Even if Chrome lives up to the hype, it will still take years to get a foothold. Only one thing is certain about this battle — peace talks are unlikely to begin anytime soon.

We’re in for a long slog and I don’t think anyone can accurately predict a winner. What we can be sure of is that the conflict will change software (and the Internet) forever.

– Alistair Fairweather writes for The Witness
newspaper in Kwa-Zula Natal, South Africa