Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A little Tuesday tech

I wanted to touch on a few pieces of technology that I’ve been exploring recently: as always, if you have experiences or alternatives that you like, I’m interested in trying them out.

As always, these are my own opinions: nobody asked me or paid me.  And, yes, it’s Microsoft-centric, but so is my computing world.  Not because it’s better, but because it always has been.

skydrive-logoSkyDrive:  I have been slow in adopting cloud-based storage: I worry about the security and availability of things that I offload from my PC.  Still, I have a need for shared storage since I work on several computers and with dispersed colleagues.

I use USB hard drives for backups (syncing with Beyond Compare) and DropBox to exchange files at work.  But mail sync is harder, and I’ve been tempted by the way that Live Mail keeps files on the server, accessible from any machine. that I log in from.  This will be more important in Windows 8 and as I use mobile devices with limited memory more and more.

Windows uses SkyDrive as its cloud-based storage app, and I’ve started moving the rest of my local mail and document folders to it.  It works well: it mounts like any other hard drive, indexes into Libraries, and syncs across machines without slowing performance.  The initial synchronization is tricky, getting all the computers pointing to one version, but it seems fast enough that I don’t notice the change (even over Barrington dial-up speeds).  I’ll move music and pictures up as I gain confidence, keeping local backups on my USB drive.

outlookOutlook Mail:  Microsoft is clearing away Hotmail and Live Mail in preparation for Windows 8 this fall.  Having been burned when they killed Small Business last spring, cutting off web site and email, I took migration more seriously this time.

The new program is Outlook Mail, which went live last week.  I’m no fan of the bloated Outlook client in Office, but the web interface isn’t much different from GMail or Yahoo, and the configuration with PC-based clients was straightforward.  I used this guidance, which assures that I do the right migration and that I’m ready for mobile access.

One important task is to set up an outlook.com alias that includes your normal email address, then pointing it to your existing account.  That way you reserve a familiar name for yourself in the future when Microsoft cuts off the old services completely.

TechnetTechnet:  A lot of Microsoft’s core programs will update this fall, including Office, Windows, Visual Studio, and Web Servers.  I’m not sure I like the new interfaces and am not ready to spend time and money until the programs are familiar.

TechNet is a subscription service that provides access to current releases under one flat fee.  For a couple of hundred dollars you receive downloads and license keys for all the major software categories, less extensive than MSDN but still covering the major components that I use.

I’ve picked up Office 2010 and am able to experiment with the new versions of Office and Windows, as well as install full versions when they are released in October.  It seems like good value this year in particular,  and gets me past the hump of trying to decide on whether to shell out for individual programs.

Posterous-SpacesPosterous Spaces:  I understand what to do with Facebook, Blogger, and LinkedIn, but still struggle to find a purpose for Twitter, Pinterest, or Klout.  Somewhere between these lies Tumblr and, now, Posterous: Miniblogging sites that allow rich multimedia postings in public streams and pages.

I still haven’t found exactly the niche where these fit: they promote it for photo galleries (I use Flickr) and announcing blog posts (I use Twitter).  Still, since it’s been acquired by Twitter, it’s likely to be in my future somewhere, so I’ve established an account and am looking for the sweet spot.

OneNoteOneNote:  This is a  note-taking program that is part of Office, but I’d never paid for it / played with it until I was on TechNet.  It’s good: I like the way that I can sprawl quick ideas and outlines across a page, copy in multimedia from the web, and have it all auto-sync to the cloud.

I’ve been using it to take notes and capture content during meetings, and to brainstorm ideas and expand to-do lists as a sidebar to other work.  I wish there was a more associative-style MindMap mode, and an easier way to pan and zoom across extended content windows.

I think that this will really shine on tablet devices like Surface, and I can see where it has potential to replace my spiral notebook.  Until then, I still struggle to copy / sync content between screen and paper – I’m not quite ready to cut the cord.

VaioVaio:  My EeePC netbook finally gave up the ghost. It has been an absolutely rugged workhorse of a machine, stuffed into shoulder bags, logging miles, surviving falls, for over two years without once failing (despite a cracked hinge and with only one new battery).

I headed to Media Markt to find a replacement and was sad to find that Asus (ad most others) have abandoned the category.  There were no low-priced, full-featured 10” netbooks any more – it sees like they’ve all given way to tablets.

A tablet is great for content consumption, but I’m heavily tasked with content creation.  An iPad won’t work (I have doubts about Windows 8 for the same reason).  A salesman suggested a Sony Vaio SVE subnotebook, and it seemed to fit most of the qualities that I needed.  Performance is peppy, graphics are clean, there’s a full keyboard, and connectivity is there.

I’ve had problems with my Sony Z being fragile and having a flaky hinge: the new one is redesigned to be more rugged.  The touchpad is occasionally a problem and the case feels flimsy, but I’ve logged a month of use now and like it a lot.  No extended warranty was available, but I’ve told myself that if it lasts a year, then I’m happy for the discount introductory price I paid.

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