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Check how Reliable your PC is using Windows 7

By on May 24, 2010

Windows 7 comes with a built-in tool that graphs the reliability of your PC

Being away from Windows made me miss out on some of its functionality and today, I discovered a tool called “Reliability Monitor” that can actually be quite helpful in troubleshooting your PC. I don’t know if this was included in Windows Vista but it is a part of Windows 7.

Reliability Monitor basically records any hardware and software problems/changes that have occurred on your PC and based on that, provides an index that ranges from 1 to 10 with 10 being the most reliable. You can launch it by clicking on the start menu and type reliability which bring a result to “View reliability history” on which you can click. Let me post a screenshot from my Sony laptop and then explain the information this tool collects.

The first thing on top in that graph is whether to view your information in days or weeks. When your PC is new, the days link is selected which shows you information about your PC on a daily basis. Once your PC becomes a few weeks or months old, you would probably want to switch to a weekly view.

As you can see, my PC has been fairly reliable over the last over the last twenty days with the graph closer towards the top (10) than the bottom. There are three types of icons in that graph- the red x is a show stopper while the yellow triangle is a warning. The blue circles are just information dialogs that tell you if an application was installed/uninstalled or a Windows Update applied. The yellow triangle you see informed me that an application was unsuccessfully installed which in this case was the older version of the Flip Share application that was on my Flip MinoHD video camera.

The red x signs are the one that you should be concerned about and two of those on my graphs are due to improper shutdown of windows which generally means that your PC crashed. Unfortunately, Reliability Monitor doesn’t provide you with the exact information on what caused the error. For that, you will probably need to look at system logs. The third red x on my graph was for Superfetch that had stopped working. Superfetch is a disk caching mechanism in Windows and since I have an SSD (Solid State Drive) on this laptop, I disabled this service as it’s a lot more helpful with standard mechanical hard drives.

It would be interesting to find out what others are scoring. Please do share your index and your PC make with us.


Twitter has completely replaced RSS feeds for me

By on May 18, 2010

There was a time I used to subscribe to RSS feeds. No more since twitter has taken over

Twitter has become quite popular in the last couple of years with its micro blogging features. However, I primarily use for a different purpose. Being a tech news junkie, I used to rely on RSS feeds before twitter. However, any news offering website worth visiting auto tweets their articles as soon as they are published. We’ve been doing it across our network for a few months now as well.

So now instead of my RSS application, I use twitter everywhere- my desktop, my notebook and my Smartphone to keep up with what’s happening around the world. The process is generally quite simple. Almost all websites that offer their updates through tweets should have a link to follow them on their homepage. For us, you can see it right on top where the search bar is. Just click on that and start following and your twitter client should start fetch any new tweets from that website the next time it updates.

I would be careful on the number of people/websites I follow and not start adding just about everyone on my list for the simple reason of avoiding being bombarded with new tweets. Think about it as your email inbox- you’re generally more productive if you have ten or fifteen unread messages. You tend to ignore your emails or keep tapping that delete key faster than you really should if that number goes up to a couple of hundred. Same principle with twitter- you might miss out on important information if you frequently use the “Mark all as read” option.

There is one issue that I would like to see sorted. Since I use twitter on multiple devices, things I read from one device don’t necessarily get tagged as read on other devices. Twitter should update its protocol to provide an IMAP like flag on every tweet to mark it as read and unread. That way, I won’t have to scroll through the list of tweets every time I switch to another device and simply pick up where I had left off.


Time to go back to Windows.

By on May 11, 2010

Juggling Macs and PCs seems to be the way forward.

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Being a tech write means staying ahead of your game and sometimes, that means letting go of technology you love. I had fully converted to Macs about two years back but realized recently that I was falling behind in Windows. People used to ask me questions about their computers and I could answer them without thinking twice. But lately, many questions about Windows produces that blank look that nobody expects out of me.

So that has prompted me to sell my MacBook Pro and instead, I have gotten the Sony VAIO Z as that seemed to be the only notebook that offered the functionality and form factor that could match my MacBook Pro. In fact, after using the Z for a couple of weeks, I’ve realized that Windows has come a long way with the release of Windows 7 and I’m very much liking the experience- hardware included.

This has prompted me to replace my aging Mac Pro at the office as well and I am building a kick-ass PC with an Core i7 CPU and the HD 5970 graphics card. I forgot how much fun it was building a PC. Expect a read-up on the Dream Machine 2010 in a couple of weeks as well.

So the score is tied at 2-2 for the moment. Until last month, I had 3 Macs and no PCs but over the last few weeks, the Notebook and Office machines have been replaced. I will continue using the iMac at home as both my wife and daughter like it very much- and so do I. A new introduction to the family is the iPad which will act very much as the in-house quick-usage device.


The best thing about HTC HD2

By on April 25, 2010

A well-kept secret of the HTC HD2 is that it can operate as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, giving any Wi-Fi device access to the Internet through it’s 3G data connection.

Abbas reviewed HTC HD2 in February and said it’s “probably the best Windows Mobile phone you can purchase today.” For the most part I agree with that. I’ve said to friends, put Android 2.1 on the HD2 and you have the best smartphone around today. I think the hardware of the HD2 is great looking as well as high performance but the big problem is that it runs Windows Mobile 6.5.3.

There is however one aspect of the HD2 that I think takes it that step further compared to its competitors and it’s something that Abbas left out of his review as far as I can tell. That is that the HD2 can work as a wireless base station letting any Wi-Fi device connect to the Internet using it’s 3G data connection. It’s kind of like having a Mi-Fi device and a smartphone in one package.

We’ve had issues with broadband Internet in our home for the last while. I won’t go in to why, that’s a whole other post, but we’ve survived with tethering our iPhone and other solutions. Nothing’s been as simple and effective as the HD2 set up as a Wi-Fi access point.

The speed is not the greatest, but that will obviously depend on where you use it, but it gives us a Wi-Fi network to which almost any device can connect. So far I’ve only found one thing that apparently doesn’t connect and that’s our Apple TV (the Apple TV doesn’t seem to even “see” the HD2′s Wi-Fi network.) But overall it works fine and this functionality alone may be reason enough for someone to consider getting the HD2.


The tale of two Android devices

By on April 19, 2010

Sony Ericsson’s Xperia X10 and Motorola’s Milestone are two Android smartphones released just about a week apart in the Middle East. They are similar in some ways but different in many others.

The opening to Charles Dickens’ “A tale of two cities”, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” must be one of the most-quoted pieces from literature. You may think what does Dickens have to do with modern smartphones (because that’s the topic of this article) and we’ll get to that. Suffice to say there is a connection, I promise you, albeit a thin one.

In recent weeks I’ve had the pleasure to spend considerable time with two of the latest smartphones to hit the Middle East market, Sony Ericsson’s Xperia X10 and Motorola’s Milestone.

They are both Android-based, they both have touch screens, but that’s about where the similarity ends. I’ll be up front with you and say that personally I prefer the Milestone and I think it offers a better option for most consumers but that’s not to say it’s the perfect choice for everyone.

So, they are both running Android but in very different ways (here’s where it’s “worst of times, best of times”.) The Milestone runs the latest Android, 2.1, with full Arabic support in both input and interface. The X10 runs the old-ish Android 1.6 with no Arabic support. Why is that a big deal? Actually it may not be but consider that these two smartphones are released almost at the same time (only a week apart) in the Middle East and the matter gets a bit confusing. These are both from major electronics manufacturers and presumably, since Android is open source, they have access to the same building blocks to start with and yet they arrive at so different destinations.

Sure, Sony Ericsson has included some of their own apps, mainly Timescape and Mediascape, which Sony Ericsson told me make up for the difference between Android 1.6 and 2.1, an argument that I don’t really buy. Add to that, that at least Timescape runs pretty slow even though the X10 is powered by a 1GHz processor. The Milestone, powered by a 600MHz processor, actually feels at least as fast even though it’s slower when it comes to the hardware at least.

What I do really like from the X10 is the 4 inch display. The Milestone is slightly smaller at 3.7 inches. Even though the Milestone can show more colors I would like to see the X10′s display on the Milestone. I’d also like to see some of the X10′s camera functionality, like smile and face detection, on the Milestone. Motorola didn’t exactly go out of their way to add great functionality to the camera on the Milestone.

Even thought the X10 is not “the worst of times,” far from it actually, I can’t help but feeling it could have been so much more. The Milestone, although it also has faults, is a much more mature and finished product. I’m not sure it could really replace my iPhone but it’s the smartphone that has come closest to that among all devices I’ve tried.

Now if Motorola could just “forget” that I have one of their review Milestones and I could keep using it. Oh well, it’s time to stop dreaming and get on with some more work.


iPad price-war brewing in the UAE

By on April 13, 2010

Since the launch of iPad in the US, there has been tremendous interest from the local market to acquire these devices that will probably not be available officially for at least a good three months.

Don’t look- but it seems that an iPad price war has been brewing between a few UAE based online resellers. Since the launch of iPad in the US, there has been tremendous interest from the local market to acquire these devices that will probably not be available officially for at least a good three months.

The first devices that arrived here obviously fetched the top Dirham with bandits getting away by charging AED 4,500 for a 16GB unit that sells for US$500 or AED 1835. Add 10% tax, 4% duty and shipping charges and you are probably looking at a cost price of 2,200 Dirhams. That means that the initial ones sold locally made a profit of 2300 Dirhams or over 100%. That probably triple of what Apple is making on these devices!

Once the initial wave of bandits finished off their deals, prices obviously started lowering. While Al-Shop is still charging the insane price of AED 4,500 with a banner highlighting “best price”, the slightly less greedy bunch of resellers at souq.com are asking about 3,000 Dirhams for it. If you shop around a bit more, you’ll see that nahel.com is charging a better price of 2,799. To match that, I got a tweet saying emiratesavenue.com has them on sale for 2,690 which is a lot more reasonable price to pay for something that costs 2,200 on the higher side.

I expect prices to fall slightly more as demand decreases. If I were to guess, I’d say that AED 2,500 would be the price its settled at with the one-off deal or desperate seller unloading it for a few bucks less. I don’t really know what the official price would be when its released in the UAE but I’d say that it would be right around that.

So- have you gotten your iPad yet? Would be awesome if you can comment with the price you paid for it and the place you picked it up from.


Thoughts on iPhone OS4.0

By on April 13, 2010

Apple announced their iPhone OS4 in an event held last week and numerous additions were made to bring the OS one step closer to what everybody wants from it.

Apple announced their iPhone OS4 in an event held last week and numerous additions were made to bring the OS one step closer to what everybody wants from it. There were a few things that Apple left out as well which should come as no surprise to anyone as Apple has always said that they will only implement something when they feel they have done it in the best possible way. Yes, I know that Apple’s way is not necessarily the best way for everyone but since it is their hardware and software, there isn’t too much you can do about it.

About the announcement- lets look at some of the things that Apple will introduce. Starting off, Multi-tasking is probably the most wished-for feature and I like the way Apple has allowed this by only allowing access to APIs that an application needs to exist in the background. So, for example, Pandora only using the audio API and Skype only using the VOIP API are great examples as those application really only need to stream audio or keep a data connection and not much else while in the background. This will certainly help with battery life as not all features will be required for all apps. For example, when you leave a game, you really do not want that game eating any resources so the best option for that game is to save itself in a paused state and not take any resources whatsoever.

Speaking of Gaming, the new Game Center in OS4 brings social gaming aspects to the iPhone- somewhat like the XBox live kind of environment. In multi-player games, your friends can send you challenges or Game Center can find players for you. Leaderboards and achievements are also part of the platform with your overall rankings and in-game achievements shared with friends and the community. Considering the impact that the iPhone has had over mobile gaming, this is sure to spark a lot of interest.

Unified Inbox is the next thing which has been around in other platforms for a while and I’m glad to see I wont have to tap the screen four times just to see a message in my Inbox from another account. Interestingly, the new Mail app also allows multiple Exchange accounts and threaded displays for people that like how Gmail handles mail viewing. Finally, you can open attachments with other apps installed on the iPhone.

The iPhone is now capable of organizing your apps into folders which is great considering the tons of applications that one carries on the iPhone. You can simply drag one icon on top of another to create a folder and once the folder is created, you can drag any applications into it. You can drag the folder to your dock as well. Also coming in OS4 is iBooks which is carried from the iPad allowing you to buy and read books on your device. Better Enterprise Support is also present for data encryption, Mobile Device Management and wireless application distribution.

Last and possibly me least favorite is iAd which brings Mobile advertising to the mobile platform. Think of it as next-gen Google Ads where ads within apps will show up that can be tapped to bring a full-screen ad. The silver lining is that “Apple” is handling this so hopefully most ads will look great and something you’d want to click.

So those were some of the key features of OS4 as presented by Apple. There are two things that I would’ve loved to see out of which one may happen. With Multi-tasking, an Apple designed chatting service such as iChat would be a great addition and some hints in the developer version of the iPhone make me think that we might see it soon. I would have also loved to see a new lock-screen that shows my upcoming appointments and emails etc., very much like lock screen allows me to, but with a Jailbroken iPhone. But then again, if those were already present in OS4, there wouldn’t be much to look forward to OS5 :)

The new OS should be available for the iPhone in Summer and the iPad in fall. Owners of the 3GS and the latest generation of iPod Touch will get all of these features but older models such as the 3G will have a restricted version with things like Multi-tasking not working. First gen iPhone users need to upgrade their phone.


Tired of iPad news? What would you want in your perfect tablet?

By on April 6, 2010

Apple iPads have started to arrive in the Middle East, not through official channels though, and iPad chat is all over blogs, Twitter and more.

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Apple iPads have started to arrive in the Middle East, not through official channels though, and iPad chat will be all over blogs, Twitter and more, if it’s not already.

Some of you may already be checking a courier’s web site to see how your iPad is progressing from China to a friend in the US and then on to you in the Middle East.

But of course not everyone is excited about iPad. Are you one of those that have not pre-ordered an iPad and really have no intention of not getting one at all?

I don’t mind confessing that I’ve not ordered one myself and probably wouldn’t buy it until it’s officially in our market. But don’t take that as a sign that I’m not excited about iPad. From what I can tell from everything I’ve read about it, I think the iPad will be very attractive to me.

Of course there are competitors coming out. Having been at CES in January it seems obvious to me that pretty much every company that in some way or another puts together products with chips in them is working on tablets. And we’re not talking about what’s by some called crisps nor about medicine pills.

Asus, one of the biggest players in computers, has said that they’re ready to bring out two tablets – one Windows and one Android – in the next few months. That comes as no surprise and I’d expect many others to follow suit.

What would I be looking for in a tablet? I want something that is mainly a good web browser. I’d prefer it if it could run Adobe Flash, have some local file system, but it doesn’t have to have lots of space, I live mainly in the cloud anyway. If it had a slot for a regular-sized SIM card so I could use 3G data on the go, that’d be great, but I’d be okay with tethering with a smartphone too.

Something like that, running Android, Google Chrome OS, or some Linux version, could persuade me to miss out on the iPad. But it’d have to be considerably cheaper than Apple’s offering, which is not the case with the JooJoo at least.

Assuming your at all interested in the tablet form factor, what would the perfect tablet look like if you could design it?


Using WhatsApp for cross-platform mobile instant messaging.

By on April 5, 2010

Send Instant Messages between an iPhone and a Blackberry using WhatsApp

While the iPhone is great at many things, one area where the Blackberry shines for a general consumer is Instant Messaging. I know that in the UAE, the Blackberry Messenger is the biggest reason why the phone is so popular with the younger generation. In fact, the whole social aspect is catching up so well that Etisalat, one of the local ISPs, created a special package for Blackberry users called Gen Y-Not that give unlimited local access to not only Blackberry Messenger but also Facebook and a bunch of other IM services like Yahoo! Messenger and ICQ.

I constantly switch between the iPhone and Blackberry. Generally, when I’m traveling, I take the Blackberry with me because of its unlimited data package and excellent battery life (I have the 9700- courtesy of RIM) but when I’m back home, I switch to the iPhone because I love its interface and the apps- especially some of the ones available by Jail-breaking it, such as Lock Info. When I do switch over to the iPhone, I miss the blinking LED on my Blackberry and the “Ta-ting” sound made by Blackberry Messenger.

The iPhone does not have a native Apple instant messaging app but there are a couple of apps present in the App Store that allow you a somewhat ok IM’ing experience. You have applications like BeeJive and IM+ that connect to many of the popular IM services like MSN, Yahoo and ICQ but when I’m on my phone, I actually prefer a phone-to-phone IM service as the person on the other end with a laptop or desktop can get carried away. The iPhone and blackberry keyboards are great but I cannot imagine pounding at them continuously for more than three minutes. Luckily, there are a couple of good phone-to-phone IMing apps for the iPhone such as Ping! and WhatsApp- one that I use and recommend to my friends with an iPhone.

Now, like I’m divided between the iPhone and the Blackberry, so are many of my friends and family- quite a few of them carry a Blackberry while some have the iPhone. The Blackberry crowd is generally stuck chatting on the Blackberry Messenger while the iPhone guys use WhatsApp. Luckily WhatsApp just got released for the Blackberry. Sorry, it was available for Blackberry for some time now but only on the Blackberry AppWorld which is restricted to a handful of countries. Thankfully, WhatsApp Inc. realized this (probably with the annoying number of tweets they were getting) and have released WhatsApp as a paid download (http://www.whatsapp.com/ota) for just $2.00 to everybody anywhere in the world.

I downloaded the application on my Blackberry and although it takes a while to start-up, it works and I was able to communicate with my friends on the iPhone. Unfortunately, the Blackberry client is nowhere near as polished as the iPhone client. At its current stage, you can communicate through text but there is no option to attach pictures or other types of media which is possible on the iPhone version. Group chat does not exist in either the iPhone or the Blackberry version so BBM users that use group chat will have no reason to switch to WhatsApp unless they want to send a message to their iPhone carrying friends.

However, this is a step in the right direction for cross-platform mobile chatting. Yes, SMS has existed since forever but it costs to send each SMS and you may argue that one can easily setup a Yahoo or MSN account and use many other applications, but I feel that all those apps have been created with a computer user in mind and not a mobile user. For example, you cannot create an IM account for MSN or Yahoo using BeeJive on the iPhone or a GoogleTalk account using the Blackberry Application. You have to go to their relevant website and create an account first. Not so with Blackberry Messenger or WhatsApp where you account is created with your device.

I think WhatsApp has its work cut out for it. It needs to improve the Blackberry client fast and continue improving their iPhone client as well before Apple decides to release a native one for iPhone OS.


Tips for taking care of your laptop

By on March 31, 2010

Binu Thomas, Regional Service Manager MEA, Computer Systems Division of Toshiba Gulf shares the latest tips to keep your laptop healthy.

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It is important to take care of your laptop to keep it in good working condition and increase its lifecycle. There are a number of easy steps that will help you to ensure that your laptop will last longer and will need less maintenance.

Keep liquids and food away from your laptop
As tempting as it might be to drink coffee, water or any other liquid near your laptop, accidents can happen all too easily. Spilt liquids may cause electrical faults to the laptop. Food crumbs can get in-between the keys in the keyboard and provide an invitation to small bugs and may force the keys to become sticky or jam.

In addition, clean hands make it easier to use your laptop touchpad and there will be less risk of leaving dirt and other stains on the computer. Even if you’re careful, someone else might bump into your desk or you. Or you can use a cup with a cover on it, so even if it does spill, the liquid doesn’t go anywhere! So it’s best to keep food and drinks away from your working area.

Play it cool
Your laptop generates a lot of heat, especially if the processor unit or hard drive usage is always running high-powered applications. Keep your laptop in a well-ventilated position and don’t block the fan grills on the sides. Laptop coolers are also a great accessory to help extend the life of your computer. Coolers have several fans to help reduce the heat and heated feeling on your thighs and hands. It also helps if you store in a well circulated area.

Protect your LCD display
Always close down the laptop lid when you are not using your laptop to protect it from dust and dirt, and make sure there is no small item such as pens or anything that will damage the screen when shut. Avoid touching the LCD screen that leaves fingerprints. Regularly clean it with cloth or an anti-static monitor wipe to keep your visual experience to the max.

Don’t drop it
As we spend more of our time on the go, a good and durable carrying bag reduces the risk of damage due to laptops being dropped or bumped when moving around or travelling. Also, your laptop bag should be big enough as to suit the size of your laptop perfectly, hold the power supply, files and papers in the other chambers provided in the bag and to avoid scratching and squeezing. Moreover, don’t leave your laptop on the edge of your desk because one ill-fated drop could mean goodbye to your mobile device.

Battery life
To increase the battery life of your laptop, ensure that all chemicals in the battery are fully activated by cycling the battery (fully charge, then fully discharge) three times. If you are using your laptop for the first time, charge your battery for 12 hours continuously. This procedure is also recommended if you stored the battery for a few months. Remove the battery pack and keep it in a cool place if you won’t be using the laptop for a long period.

Keep accessories in good condition
Do not connect devices with damaged connectors/cables to your laptop as it may also damage your machine. If you use your laptop as desktop replacement, do not leave it plugged most of the time to avoid detrimental effect on your battery life. Or you can keep it plugged all the time but remove its battery. This will help your battery last longer.

Back up your data
Back up all data that is sensitive or cannot be easily replaced. Back up data to a safe location on the corporate network. After confirming a successful backup, delete all data—both work and customer related—that is not essential for the job being performed. Be sure to empty the Recycle Bin as part of the process too.

Clean up your system
Make sure you have the latest patch for your operating system and latest definition for your anti-virus. For Microsoft® Windows®, go to http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com.
If this webpage doesn’t open Windows Update automatically; click the Start button, All Programs and then click Windows Update. For other software, go to the manufacturers’ Web sites. Defragging hard drives not only speed up data access, it also improves performance. Remove unused programs and other components that only consume memory. Clear your temporary internet files folder and cookies. Delete duplicate files or other huge files you no longer use to free up space.

Data Protection
Never write down or leave access numbers or passwords in the carrying case. If a laptop is stolen, immediately do the following: report the theft to the local police and to Corporate Security; if customer data was on the laptop, contact your manager; change the password associated with the corporate user ID and if you can’t, contact your helpdesk for assistance. To avoid virus, ensure that the latest antivirus software is loaded and running on your laptop. Also, you will want to make sure the firewall on your computer is turned on. For maximum security, use a strong password on all local accounts, especially the Administrator Password. For a protected screen saver, you can use password-protected screen saver set to activate after a maximum of 15 minutes of inactivity.

If you are a Toshiba notebook owner and you register, you will be able to receive updates and information specific to your machine. This includes driver and download alerts and information about options and accessories created for your notebook.Toshiba Notebooks are covered by one, two or three year’s standard warranty depending on the model, effective from the date of purchase.

To ensure optimum service and support, please register your standard warranty. Toshiba also provides warranty extensions which allow you to extend your standard International Limited Warranty up to four years. During this period, you can take or send your defective Toshiba notebook to a Toshiba Authorised Service Provider, and all service parts and labour costs required to repair the Toshiba notebook are provided free-of-charge subject to registering the unit online.


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