What version of Windows 10 do you have?

Microsoft has said that Windows 10 will be the last version of Windows. To the causal computer user, that is seen as a good thing. However, for tech lovers, this opens up a entirely new can of worms. Microsoft will be putting out major updates to Windows 10 approximately twice per year. The first major update was back in November of 2015. The second major update came out last month (August 2nd, to be exact).

Sometimes the updates will change things enough to make it clear that the updated version of Windows 10 is different. That was the case with last month's major update. 

For example, prior to the update, the Start Menu would only show you all of your apps/programs if you clicked "All apps". Also, the "Power", "Settings", and "File Explorer" icons were all clearly labeled as such as shown in the image below:

The new Start Menu in the August release of Windows 10 now shows all of your apps/programs by default and the "All apps" icon is gone. Furthermore, the icons for "Power", "Settings", and "File Explorer" are no longer labeled as seen in the image below:

Just like with the Windows 10  universal apps, the Start Menu has a Hamburger Menu. Regardless of where you see it, Windows 10, Android, etc, clicking it typically brings up app settings and / or options. The Hamburger Menu is circled in the image below:

Clicking the Hamburger Menu expands the Start Menu and labels the icons as seen in the image below:

Now for the point of this blog post. To see which version of Windows 10 your computer is running, click on the Start Button and then click on the "Settings" icon. The "Settings" icon is circled in red:

Clicking on the "Settings" icon brings up the "Windows Settings" window. Click on the "System" icon. The "System' icon is circled in red:

The "Settings" screen defaults to showing the "Display" section first. Go down to the bottom of the list and click "About". The "About" section has the information we are looking for. The image below has two red boxes. The top box has the Version number and the bottom box has the Build number. 

Microsoft has a support page that lists the Build and Version numbers. You can find that page here: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/12387/windows-10-update-history. Halfway down the page, you will find the Build and Version numbers. Simply match the Version number on your "About" page with the Version number on the website. Then match the Build numbers. 

If your version of Windows 10 is not current you have two options. Option A would be to wait until the latest version is available via Windows Updates. Option B would be to scroll up to the blue "Get the Anniversary Update now" box (on that same Microsoft support page) and click it. That will download a small updater program from Microsoft. Run the program and it will download & install the update. If you choose to go this route, you should disable your anti-virus program (unless you are using Windows Defender) until the upgrade it complete. When the upgrade has completed and your PC has rebooted, you will be greeted by this Window: 

All that is left to do is to re-enable your anti-virus program if you disabled it before the upgrade. I'd also recommend going to the Microsoft Store and checking for updates. Any questions? Leave a comment below.

Public WiFi and safety

You're a road warrior. Or maybe you're a broke college student. Perhaps you just like to hang out at Starbucks for hours on end. Regardless of whether or not this describes you, you have probably used public or free WiFi at some point. I'm not judging you..it's free...and it's easy...and it works. But if there's one thing you take away from this post, please let it be this: NEVER enter a website or mobile app password while you are connected to public WiFi. Banking & shopping on public WiFi is literally that last thing I would recommend doing on a public WiFi network.

Here's why:

Many websites and even mobile apps, transmit your data unencrypted. Or it's encrypted, but it's not implemented properly. When this unencrypted data is transmitted, things like usernames, passwords, pins, and the websites you're visiting are in plain text. This data traffic can be "sniffed" and usernames, passwords, etc., can be pulled out. Now this may sound complicated, but it's actually a trivial affair with the right tools and a Google search or two.

Now as dire as that all sounds, it's actually not a major problem if you mitigate the risks. How do you mitigate the risks?

The answer goes by 3 initials - VPN.

VPN or Virtual Private Network used to be one of those things that was reserved for corporate environments or advanced users, mainly due to the difficulty in setting everything up. The age of the mobile app has changed that and now easy to use VPN programs are readily available and just an app store search away. VPN's encrypt your data traffic. A bad guy sniffing WiFi traffic would see that data is being transmitted, but he or she wouldn't be able to see what that traffic contained.

Currently, my two favorite VPN  programs are proXPN and TunnelBear. Both offer free and paid options and both work on PC's, Mac's, Chromebooks, Smart Phones, and Tablets. There really isn't any reason to use public WiFi and not do it safely.

Start using a VPN and the next time you're in Starbucks and you notice the shady guy with the beady eyes peering over the screen of his laptop, you don't have to worry if he's sniffing YOUR data. 

 

I never use public WiFi without this

I never use public WiFi without this

What to do when your Windows 10 Start Menu isn't working

So, your Windows 10 Start Menu stopped working?

One of the biggest problems people seem to be running into with Windows 10 is the Windows 10 Start Menu stops working. This often goes hand in hand with their task bar items disappearing. Common behavior includes clicking on the Start Button and nothing happens, or clicking on the Start Button and getting a "Critical Error" message. Sometimes right clicking on the Start Button will bring up a quick access menu, but it doesn't happen in every case.

A quick Google search of "Windows 10 Start Menu not working" or Windows 10 Start Menu critical error" brings up millions of results. This problem has been around since the developer previews from over a year ago. Microsoft still doesn't have a concrete answer on how or why this is happening. I believe the answer is tied into Cortana being so closely integrated with the Start Menu. I've seen many websites offer the same generic advice from running powershell to creating new user profiles. Some have said the only way to fix this is to reinstall Windows 10. 

After seeing this problem first hand on a customer's computer, I tried all of the suggested fixes. Keep in mind that none of those fixes are guaranteed to work and it's been my experience that they simply don't work most of the time. In my situation with that customer's computer, nothing worked. After wasting a few hours, I decided to try my go-to Windows 8 Start Menu program from Classic Shell. It worked! The computer had a functioning Start Menu. I wondered if uninstalling Classic Shell would leave behind a functioning Windows 10 Start Menu, by perhaps forcing Windows 10 to reinstall or reengage whatever code was missing or broken (Note - this is an uneducated guess. I'm not a developer). The answer was yes! A few reboots confirmed that the Windows 10 Start Menu was working once more. I think the answer is simple - spend hours trying fixes that might not work, or download Classic Shell and be back up and running in under 10 minutes.

Here's what I suggest:

  1. Download Classic Shell from www.classicshell.net or from www.ninite.com.
  2. Install Classic Shell. Classic Shell will do its thing and a few moments later it will be ready to go.
  3. Verify that Classic Shell is working. It's working when you click on the Start Button and you see a Start Menu.
  4. Reboot your PC.
  5. At this point, you can leave Classic Shell installed or you can uninstall it.
  6. If you uninstall it, reboot your PC. 
  7. After rebooting your PC, click on the Start Button. You should see the familiar Windows 10 Start Menu.
  8. In the event that uninstalling Classic Shell doesn't leave you with a functioning Windows 10 Start Menu / Start Button, just reinstall Classic Shell. Wait a day or two and remove Classic Shell again. Reboot. Your Windows 10 Start Menu should be back.
  9. Classic Shell has fixed EVERY computer I've seen that had Start Menu problems.

Classic Shell is a free program, but they do accept donations. If Classic Shell has saved the day for you, send a buck or two their way -- their donation link is on their homepage. 

 

 

 

Microsoft Store Updates

As detailed in my last blog post, the way you check for Windows Updates has radically changed in Windows 10. You can see that post here. In addition to checking for Windows Updates, Windows 10 brings something new to the table - Microsoft Store updates. That's right, there are now two different places to check for updates. This blog post will show you how to check for Microsoft Store Updates.

The easiest way, in my opinion, is to look at the taskbar on the Desktop. On the task bar, look for the icon that looks like a shopping bag with the Microsoft Logo on it. You can also click the start button and look for the Microsoft Store tile. In addition to that, you can click on the start button, go to "All apps" and scroll down to the "S" section where you will find that same shopping bag icon with the Microsoft Logo on it. Regardless of how you get there, click the icon or tile.

The Windows Store icon circled in red on the taskbar.

The Windows Store icon circled in red on the taskbar.

The Windows Store tile icon.

The Windows Store tile icon.

The Windows Store icon on the Start Menu

The Windows Store icon on the Start Menu

After clicking the icon or tile, the Windows Store will open up. Near the top and to the right of the screen you will see either your account icon or a generic icon depending on if you added a picture to your user account. This icon is located directly to the left of the Search Box. 

Click the user account picture or generic icon and you will see a list of options pertaining to your Microsoft Account. Click on "Downloads and updates" (circled below).

After clicking on "Downloads and updates", you'll see the blue button "Check for updates" (circled below).

Click the "Check for updates" button and if there are any updates available, they will show up on the screen in a list. The updates will automatically begin to download and install. Note that when you click the "Check for Updates" button, the button becomes grayed out and you should see a spinning progress wheel over the button. If there are any updates available, a number will appear next to your user account icon. That number corresponds to the number of updates available. See the screen shot below for an example.

Here's an example of an update that's queued up for updating:

When you are done, all of your Windows 10 apps will be up to date. Any questions? If so, leave a comment below.

Windows 10 Is Here!

Windows 10 was officially unleashed by Microsoft on July 29th, and the reviews have generally been good. I've installed it on a number of PCs already, and it's been a good experience so far. For example, my work laptop is a Sager from 2008. This Sager came with Windows Vista. It had been upgraded to Windows 7 and a Seagate SSD and now with Windows 10. It ran very well with Windows 7 and with Windows 10 it actually runs better.

If you are thinking about upgrading to Windows 10, here are some tips to keep in mind before you make the plunge:

1) This is a major upgrade - back up your data first!! Operating System updates can fail, don't put your data at risk.

2) If you're the type of person that doesn't want to leave anything to chance, you'll want to capture your Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1 product key. There are two easy ways to accomplish this. You can install Speccy from Piriform or Belarc Advisor from Belarc.com. Both of them can give you your Windows product key. In addition to that, Belarc Advisor can give you your Micrsoft Office product key (if you have it installed).

3) In order to get the FREE upgrade, you must do the upgrade from within Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1. Now many experts will recommend doing a fresh install and I have to agree - that is generally going to be the best way to go. Which leads me to point 4...

4) When you do the upgrade from within Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1, Windows 10 does not require you to enter your Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1 product key - it pulls it in from the current Windows installation. When Windows 10 is done installing, you will see that Windows 10 is activated. If you want to do a fresh install, you can then download the appropriate Windows 10 ISO. Burn that ISO to a disk or make a bootable USB drive and you can wipe the hard drive clean and do a fresh install. When you are done reinstalling Windows 10, you will see that Windows 10 is activated. At this point in time, it appears that Microsoft captures a snapshot of your hardware - specifically your Motherboard's ID. As long as your hardware doesn't drastically change, Windows 10 will activate.

5) If you are upgrading an older Windows 7 or Windows 8 PC, now would be the perfect time to buy a SSD drive. You will want to do the upgrade while the old hard drive is installed. When the upgrade is complete, install the new SSD. Reinstall Windows 10. Windows 10 will be activated.

6) After booting into Windows 10 for the first time, you will want to check for Windows Updates. Microsoft has changed where you check for updates. Instead of finding Windows Updates in the Control Panel, you click on the start button and click on "Settings"

Then click on "Update and Security"

Then click on "Windows Update"

If you have other Microsoft products installed, you'll want to click on "Advanced Options" and then check the box for "Give me updates for other Microsoft products when I update Windows".

7) After Windows has been updated, you'll want to personalize your Windows 10 Start Menu tiles. If you don't like the tiles, they can be removed (unpinned) from the Start Menu. Some tiles (apps) can even be uninstalled. Right clicking on a tile will let you know if it can be removed or uninstalled from the start menu. Unpinning a tile removes it from view. Uninstalling a tile removes it completely. If you don't like the way Microsoft implemented the Start Menu, you can download a third-party Start Menu. My favorite is from Classicshell.net

I have found this version of Windows to be very stable. I expect it to get only better as time goes on. Be sure to check for Windows Updates often during the first 3 months - any major bugs should be addressed by then.

Are you ready for Windows 10?

Ready or not, Windows 10 is coming. Next month, July 29th to be exact, Microsoft will be releasing Windows 10 upon the world.  I've been using the Developer Preview on a 9-10 year old laptop with a used SSD I had laying around. From what I have seen so far, everything I have installed has worked fine.  If you've used Windows 8/8.1, the jump to Windows 10 is not that far of a stretch. The big highlight being the return of the Start Menu. Sure, some things are now different, but the overall Windows feel is still there. Windows 7 users are in for a steeper learning curve than Windows 8 / 8.1 users. 

Microsoft has been updating the Windows 10 preview through Windows Update. It should be safe to assume that with a release date of July 29th, Microsoft has switched into bug squashing mode. Still, there are some features in the Developer Preview that could be pulled (or even added) before Windows 10 is officially released.

Before proceeding, make sure you have 3 GB of available hard drive space - that's the amount of space needed by the install file(s) when they download. I expect the download to occur in late July, 2015.

Recently, a new icon started showing up on Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 PCs. The icon looks like a white Windows logo:

Clicking on the icon brings up this window:

Before clicking on "Reserve your free upgrade", I highly recommend you click on the Hamburger menu (circled below):

Clicking the Hamburger menu opens up this view:

Click on "Check your PC":

Clicking "Check your PC" brings you to a screen that points out any issues you might have when upgrading. In my case, using a Laptop from 2008 running Windows 7, my Bluetooth radio is potentially in trouble:

Microsoft is reportedly having issues with some drivers working with Windows 10. That's possibly the issue I'm seeing here. If your PC is showing issues, hold off a few weeks and go through the process again. Microsoft will be working to make sure as many device drivers as possible are working. You might find that a device that is having an issue today, might be fixed in a few weeks. In my case, I reserved the upgrade because I don't use Bluetooth with this laptop. If your machine doesn't show any issues, you can click the "Reserve" button. That will give you the option to enter your email address if you'd like an email confirmation. Otherwise, you are done.

Note that if you reserve your copy of Windows 10, Microsoft will download it to your PC without prompting you first. This download should happen in late July. As mentioned earlier, the download is 3 GB, so keep that in mind if you are low on disk space. Once downloaded, Microsoft will give you the option to install it when you want. I highly recommend backing up your data before updating. The update is FREE as long as it's done in the first year that it's available.

If there are any questions about the developer preview, ask them in the comments section.

My switch to Google Voice

I've been following the wireless industry for the past 5 years. After all,  as an IT consultant, my clients often have questions about wireless technology. I was a Cingular customer (remember them?) when they were bought by AT&T. After AT&T, I moved over to Sprint. I was a relatively happy Sprint customer until their WiMax technology turned out to be the loser in the 4G arena. A move from the Chicago area to a small town 60 miles west of St. Louis meant the end of my Sprint days. Sprint's coverage here was abysmal. From Sprint, I went to Straight Talk. For an MVNO, their service was pretty good. Their Customer Service (like most MVNOs) was lacking, but that's a big reason why the rates are so cheap. I've been a fan of what T-Mobile has been doing for the past 2 years, so I thought I would give T-Mobile a try. I like to support businesses that are doing things right, so even though my home office barely gets a signal, I put my money where my mouth is.

I knew T-Mobile offered an in-home signal booster (CellSpot), but what I didn't realize is that it's useless unless you have WiFi calling. When you are self employed you truly rely on your cell phone...for everything. The shiny new Nexus 6 I got from T-Mobile is supposed to support WiFi calling in a later update, but for now it's a paper weight. (Yes, I know I could return the phone and and walk away with no penalties due to the lack of coverage, but like I said above I really wanted to support T-Mobile)

Enter Google Hangouts.

I knew Google Hangouts was capable of making WiFi calls, but until now I had no need for it. Now that I had a need for it, it was time to get to work. I called someone I knew via Google Hangouts on my Nexus 6. It worked! No cell signal, but the call when through and it sounded great. Only one problem - my call came up as unknown. That's a major problem for a business.

Enter Google Voice.

I spent the next day searching for a way to make my number show up during a Google Hangouts call. The only way I could find that would reliably make my number show up was porting my existing number to Google Voice. There a few posts out there about getting started with Google Voice, but I did run into a few small issues. The point of this post is to cover my experiences and help you avoid any potential pitfalls.

  1. Porting your mobile number to Google Voice ends your current cell carrier contract. If you are under a contract, contact your carrier first before you do anything else. If you are thinking about switching carriers, now would be a great time to do so. Since I was a new T-Mobile customer (with no contract) for only a few days, I didn't know what to expect.  Unfortunately for me, I didn't call T-Mobile first. If I had, I would have learned that my cell number and my T-Mobile account number are merged together in their system. I figured it was just a matter of opening a new line on T-Mobile and transferring the phone to it. Turns out, it's not that easy. I started the process of porting my number to Google Voice and then called T-Mobile. The Representative informed me that I'd be getting a bill for the Nexus 6. I explained that I didn't realize that I couldn't just get a new line added to the account. The representative suggested that I go out and get a new SIM card and call them back after the port process was complete. I ended up having to talk to three different departments, but the end result was a new phone number and avoiding having to immediately pay off the new Nexus 6. 
  2. The porting process took about 24 hours. Google cautions that it can take longer, but since Google Voice has been around for years, I believe they have the process down.  There's really no good time to have not have cellular service, so I picked the end of the week. That way if it took multiple days, it would hopefully be done by Monday.
  3. When you start the port process you have to have current cell service - Google calls you to verify ownership of the number. So don't cancel your current cellular service yet!
  4. When the port process is complete, you'll get an email from Google.
  5. After the port process, before you can make cellular calls via Google Voice, you have to get a new cellular number & service from a carrier. It can be the same carrier you had or a new carrier.  You add that new working cell number to your Google Voice account as a forwarding number.   
  6. I'm self-employed. All of my customers have my phone number. I couldn't afford to lose any business because my number changed. That's why making my existing phone number my Google Voice number was so important. 
  7. Even more important, down the road if I ever change cellular carriers, it doesn't matter what phone number they give me - it will be added to my Google Voice account as a forwarding number. This should be the last time I ever have to port my number.
  8. If your cell number is not that important to you, you can always open a Google Voice account and request a Google Voice number from Google. You'd add your current number from your cellular carrier as a forwarding number to your Google Voice account. 
  9. If you are an Android user, give Google Hangouts a try. It's been a great experience so far. I use Google Hangouts to make calls and send text messages. 
  10. If you want to make WiFi calls and send text messages via your PC, install the Google Hangouts Chrome extension. You can get it here: https://www.google.com/hangouts/ - Note that this also applies to Chromebooks. Also, get a good head set. Thankfully, I have one and after using it for a week I'll be taking all of my office calls that way. I'm using a Sennhieser headset. 
  11. If you want to have a good experience making WiFi calls, make sure you have a good WiFi network. The better the network, the better the experience.
  12. While I'd rather not use my Android tablet to make calls, I know I can if I have to thanks to the Google Hangouts Dialer app.

All in all, I'd have to say I'm very pleased with Google Voice. I'm definitely glad I switched. Do you have a question, or comments? Leave them in comments below.

 

 

 

 

How To: Clean your PC or Laptop keyboard

When is the last time you actually looked down at your computer's keyboard? Now, I'm not talking about looking for a particular key, but actually looking at your keys. The answer for most people is that they don't pay much attention to their keyboard unless it has stopped working. As a guy that works on other people's PCs for a living, the typical keyboard I come in contact with ranges from slightly used in appearance to down right disgusting!

It's widely known the people love to eat while using their computers. From co-workers that work through lunch, eating at their desks to late night gaming sessions featuring pizza, eating at the computer is just something people do these days. The keyboards definitely show it. Have you ever noticed, thanks to Social Media, how people love to tell us that they are sick? Coughing and sneezing into their hands and onto their keyboards, while at home with the flu...if you share your keyboard with other people, stop to think about that one for a moment.

The truth is that a dirty keyboard can make you sick. Literally and figuratively.

I've had customers tell me they didn't know they could clean their keyboards. Take it from me, you can...and should. Here's how to do it:

  1. Turn the PC off. Really. I've had customers accidentally change a password while cleaning a keyboard.
  2. Hold the keyboard upside down and gently shake it. If you have a vacuum cleaner with a soft brush attachment,  you can use that on the keyboard while you've got it upside down. Simply move the brush attachment across the keys.
  3. Next, hold the keyboard on it's side and use a can of compressed air to spray even more junk free. For extra dirty keyboards, repeat step 2.
  4. Do you have built-up crud between your keys? You can use a small flat tip screwdriver, toothpick, or thumbtack to scrape the heavy crud away. Next take a plate and spray the cleaner of your choice on it. Fantastik, 409, Windex, or my personal favorite, Krud Kutter, all work fine. Take a Q-tip, dip it in the cleaner and run it between the keys. DO NOT spray it directly on the keyboard. Take a dry Q-tip and run it between the same keys to soak up any stray liquid.
  5. When you are done with that, take a disinfectant wipe and wipe the tops of the keys and the surrounding surface. Keyboards are generally sturdy, so you can normally wipe as hard as you need to.
  6. If you've gone this far, give your mouse some attention too. Wipe it down with a disinfectant wipe as well.

Cleaning a Laptop keyboard is quite similar:

  1. Turn off the Laptop.
  2. Laptop keys are prone to popping off the keyboard, so use caution here. Starting with the Laptop on it's side (see the image below), use a can of compressed air to blow the dirt out of the keyboard. The flip the Laptop so that the side that was on top is now on the bottom. Repeat with the can of compressed air. I'd recommend staying away from using a vacuum cleaner as that can cause the keys to come loose and / or fall off.
  3. Due to the fact that Laptop keyboards vary wildly by manufacturer and even by model,      only you can decide if it's worth it or even possible to clean between the keys. If you decide to clean between the keys, use caution and take your time.
  4. When you are done with that, take a disinfectant wipe and wipe the tops of the keys and the surrounding plastic. Again, Laptop keyboards can be fragile, so use care while wiping the keyboard.

That's all there is to it - you've now got a clean keyboard. Any questions? Let me know in the comments below.         

                                                                  Put the Laptop on it's side for easier cleaning.

                                                                  Put the Laptop on it's side for easier cleaning.

HP 14" Chromebook Review

Chromebooks are rapidly gaining in popularity. A quick look at the top 10 laptops bought on Amazon.com reveals that Chromebooks populate numerous spots in the top 10. Why is that? If you've listened to the Microsoft commercials, Chromebooks are not "real" laptops. Yet they are selling at a very fast pace. Experts would have you believe that Chromebooks are a fad. I'm not so sure. If you have a firm grasp on what your computing needs are, you just might find a Chromebook is all you need.

Let me explain:

Do you live on the internet? Do you blog, check email, play on Social Media, and consume content? Then a Chromebook is an excellent option. Do you provide tech support for older family members? Then a Chromebook (for them) is an excellent option. If my mom was still alive, I definitely would have bought her a Chromebook. Are you looking for a travel computer? Let's be honest, travel can be rough on laptops. Would you rather lose or damage a $1200 MacBook or a $250 Chromebook? Are you tired of getting hit by Malware? Then a Chromebook might be just what you need. Sure, Mac fans will say that Macs are free of such concerns, but that's just marketing talk. Macs can and do get hit by Malware.

Yes, there are things that a Chromebook can't do, like play a lot of games (you can't install Steam or install downloaded games or install games off of a CD/DVD), use Photoshop (that is changing with Adobe's cloud based version of Photoshop) or do major video editing. But ask yourself this: When's the last time your mother or grandmother edited video or played World of Warcraft? In fact, for many people those same questions are valid.

Let's get this out of the way now: If you use programs for work (or at work) like AutoCad, Adobe Dreamweaver, or QuickBooks, then a Chromebook won't be a valid replacement for your current Mac or PC. Until recently, you would have had to have added Microsoft Office to the list, but with Microsoft releasing Microsoft Office Online, that argument is mostly over. This review was done on a HP 14" Chromebook, model # HP cr3114 (shown below).

HP 14" Chromebook

Chrome OS -

The beautiful thing about Chrome OS is that every time you boot up a Chromebook, it checks to make sure your operating system is current and that it's not corrupt. If there is a problem with the operating system, it will download the latest stable version. Chrome OS also has a feature called "Powerwash". Powerwash will basically do a full factory reset of your Chromebook. Any local files and user profiles will be deleted. Anything synced to your Google Account is safe. Also, just like the Chrome browser, Chrome OS is updated every month. Currently, there have been no reports of Malware or Viruses hitting Chrome OS. If something does go wrong, it's most likely going to be a browser add-on that can quickly be deleted. I stumbled upon a malicious website that tried to hijack the Chromebook with the FBI Moneypak Virus. Simply closing the browser tab fixed the issue. That definitely would not have worked with a Windows PC! As it stands now, Google is saying that Chrome OS doesn't need Anti-virus protection. So far, that appears to be true. Due to the nature of Chrome OS you can't install or run programs outside of the browser. That's what keeps it so safe. No executable files = no malware or viruses. That might change as time goes by, but it holds true now.

Peripherals -

I've tested 3 different USB mice and 2 different USB keyboards with this Chromebook and they just worked. No having to install drivers, no waiting for Chrome OS to discover the devices. They just worked. The onboard card reader works great - just plug in a SD card and the files window opens up. I've even tried my Samsung portable DVD drive that I bought about 3 years ago and that was instantly recognized. So far, regardless of what I've plugged in the Chromebook, it's been instantly recognized and ready for use.

Printing - 

I was able to quickly and easily add my Lexmark X4530 printer from 2008 (which is connected to my desktop PC via USB cable) and wouldn't you know it? It worked great. Now you don't actually plug the printer into the Chromebook.  You add your printer to your Google Account via Google Cloud Print. It really couldn't have been any easier. There are cloud ready printers out there, but you don't have to have one to print from your Chromebook. That was a nice surprise. I wasn't expecting the Chromebook to print so easily. If you have an Android phone or tablet, you can also print via Google Cloud Print. For more information about Google Cloud Print, check it out here.

Images -

Chrome OS has basic Photo editing capabilities built in. If you click on a photo in your storage, it opens up automatically. You can edit photos in Google+ which offers basic editing options. Another viable option is the Picasa App from the Chrome Web Store. This is handy for PC users that already use Picasa. I did a quick search for "Photo Editor" in the Chrome Web Store and I found 60+ options for photo editing apps. Pixlr seems to be one of the go to choices for many Chromebook owners.

The Chrome Web Store

The Chrome Web Store

Games -

While you can't install Steam or install games you've downloaded from the internet, you can run browser based games. That's because Chrome OS supports Adobe Flash and most if not all browser based games are Flash based. HTML 5 content should play just fine as well. The Chrome Web Store has a games section and there is a surprisingly large amount of games listed. I was browsing through the available titles and I actually stumbled upon the classic,  Quake. It's a web version called Web Quake. I wasn't expecting much, but sure enough, it was Quake. It played just like I remembered. That brought back many memories!

Content -

Netflix, Amazon Prime, Crackle, Hulu, Google Play Movies, Google Play Music, Spotify...all present and accounted for! If you are looking for entertainment, the Chromebook has you covered. Some of them run in the browser, some have Chrome Web Store apps.

Screen -

The screen is a 14" diagonal HD BrightView LED-backlit (1366 x 768) display and regardless of what I've read in other reviews, I think it looks pretty good. Would a 1920 x 1080 screen look better? It absolutely would. Does the 1366 x 768 screen look bad? Not at all. One thing for certain - a 14" screen is much easier for me to use than an 11" screen. The brightness control works well. I have a feeling that the lower screen resolution also helps with battery life. After all, the higher the display the resolution, the harder the video chip has to work. That in turn would mean higher battery usage. This Chromebook uses an Intel HD graphics chip. I normally use my computers in darker environments, so I made it a point to take the Chromebook out with me. The glossy screen, while not optimal, does OK. Just like with any laptop with a glossy screen, sitting with your back to a window can cause issues with glare. Bumping up the screen brightness helped with viewing in bright locations.

Battery -

Battery life has been great so far. I've been getting about 8 hours per charge. Closing the lid puts the Chromebook to sleep and when it's asleep it barely uses any battery. I've been able to close the lid at night without the Chromebook being plugged into the charger and upon opening the lid in the morning, the battery has dropped about 5%. Haswell based processors really make a difference with battery usage. The only bad thing about the battery is that it's non-removable.

Sound -

There are two big speaker grills on the bottom of the Chromebook. it's a great idea, because the sound bounces off whatever flat surface you have the Chromebook on. Music sounds decent. Nothing with too much bass, mind you, but decent. You won't want to use it by itself for entertaining guests, but in a quite room, the speakers get the job done. Video streamed on YouTube sounds OK too. During a recent road trip, I used the Chromebook to listen to about 10 hours worth of Podcasts. The audio sounded very good for speech.

Memory -

This Chromebook comes with 4 GB of RAM. For very light usage, a Chromebook with 2 GB of RAM would be passable. Light usage meaning 1-5 Chrome tabs open. I normally have 10-20 tabs open at any time and the 4 GB of RAM really makes a difference. Some early Chromebooks were upgradeable and you could add more RAM, but that has changed with the latest models. The Acer C720 and this HP have RAM that is soldiered onto the motherboard. I'm not a fan of this trend. Chromebooks like the Acer C710 would take up to 16 GB of RAM.

Ports -

There are 2 USB 3.0 ports. One USB 2.0 port. One HDMI port. One headphone-out / microphone-in combo port.

Webcam -

This Chromebook comes with a HP TrueVision Webcam with an integrated digital microphone. There is a camera app that works OK. The quality of the still photos is not great. The quality of the webcam is pretty good though, and for usage with Google Hangouts, it's definitely useable. The microphone sounds good too. On a good Wi-Fi network, I had an excellent experience with Google Hangouts.

Image taken with the Chromebook's webcam.

Image taken with the Chromebook's webcam.

Keyboard -

The keyboard is satisfying. The keys feel good when you type. The keyboard is a little different from standard Windows keyboards. In place of the normal Function Keys (F1, F2, F3, etc) there are configuration keys for changing things like screen brightness, volume, going full screen, etc. The biggest change for people new to Chromebooks is the lack of a Caps Lock key. I have not missed it at all, but you might.

Touchpad -

The touchpad feels very good. It reminds me of a MacBook touchpad. It and the rest of the surrounding surface are plastic, but it does look like metal. The touchpad does operate a bit differently from normal touchpads. You tap the touchpad with 2 fingers and that simulates a right mouse click. It's very easy to get the hang of it. You also use 2 fingers to scroll up and down and 2 fingers to scroll from right to left. That's useful when you have numerous tabs open. For people that hate using touchpads, just plug in a USB mouse.

Storage -

The Chromebook comes with a 16 GB SSD drive. Besides being the home to Chrome OS, you can also use it for local storage. The SSD makes the Chromebook boot up almost instantly. Google gives you 100 GB of drive (cloud) storage for 2 years. After that 2 year period, most Google users will revert back to the standard 15 GB of drive storage. If you aren't over your limit, everything is fine. If you are over the limit, you aren't locked out of your existing files. You just can't add additional files until you fall under the limit. In addition to the Google Drive storage and local storage of the 16 GB SSD, you can use USB hard drives, USB flash drives, and SD cards. If you have other cloud accounts, like Dropbox, Box, or Microsoft's OneDrive, there are Chrome apps that you can add via the Chrome Web Store. If you don't like the Chrome Web Store apps, you can access your other cloud storage files from a Chrome tab. Just like on a PC or Mac.

When you download files, Chrome OS puts them all in the "Downloads" folder. You can create folders as you need them and organize until your heart's content. I have a 64 GB SD card plugged in my Chromebook, but I haven't had a need to put anything on it yet.

Before you say "Hey, I need more space for my music!!!!", don't forget that this is a Chromebook and that means it includes Google Play Music. The same interface you are used to in the Chrome browser on your PC is what you'll see in Chrome OS. Also of note, you can now store 50,000 songs in Google Play Music for free and that doesn't count against your Google Drive Space. You can even add music to Google Play Music directly from the Chromebook.

In a recent Chrome OS update, Google added the option to download Google Play Movies for off-line viewing. If you like to watch movies, you'll appreciate having a large SD card!

The Chrome OS file manager

The Chrome OS file manager

Chromecast -

If you have a Chromecast, it will work with your Chromebook. That could come in handy when trying to do a presentation with Google Slides or just for entertainment purposes. I've tried it with embedded YouTube videos on AndroidCentral.com and it worked well. I've tried it with the YouTube site and that worked well too. For the best quality, you'll want a strong Wi-Fi network.

WiFi & Cellular connectivity -

This model Chromebook comes with 200 Mb of free monthly data for 2 years, compliments of T-Mobile. When you power on the Chromebook for the first time, Chrome attempts to open up the T-Mobile website so that you can sign up for the offer. The area I live in gets horrible T-Mobile reception and no matter what I tried, I could not connect with the cellular radio. I simply turned off the cellular radio and the Chromebook connected to my Wi-Fi network. What happens to the T-Mobile offer if you don't set it up right away? Nothing bad - the first time you are in a strong T-Mobile signal area, turn on the cellular radio and the T-Mobile offer page will open up. When I did it, sign-up was fast and painless. Notable was the lack of any trickery - no bait and switch - the offer details were easy to understand. Wi-Fi performance has been excellent. It comes with 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and I've even been able to connect to 5G networks. This is notable because I've had a few devices in the past that would see 5G networks, but never could connect to them or stay connected to them.

The biggest knock against Chromebooks has been that they are useless without an internet connection. That used to be true. Now, not so much. You can watch movies downloaded to the Chromebook through Google Play Movies, offline. You can download songs from Google Play Music to the Chromebook for offline listening. You can work in Google Docs offline as well. When you go back online, Google Docs will synch with your account. I expect even more offline functionality as well, as Chrome OS matures.

Google Now -

Android users that love Google Now will love it on the Chromebook - it's built into Chrome OS. That means any notifications you'd get on your mobile devices, you'll get on your Chromebook. There is a box on the action bar near the clock / Wi-Fi indicator / battery gauge. The number in the box represents the number of cards available to view. Click the box and the cards show up. Click the box again and the cards disappear. In the picture below, the box with the "1" in it is the box I'm referring to.

Conclusion -

For some users, this Chromebook would be a bad choice...but for the average, casual user, this Chromebook could certainly be a viable option. Great keyboard, good screen, fast boot-up times, easily connectable to peripherals, Chrome extensions, Chrome apps, Google Now, and the increasing amount of off-line capabilities - you get all of that what this Chromebook.  As I mentioned earlier in the review, this review was done exclusively on this Chromebook. Have a question? Leave a comment!

 

Program Spotlight: CDBurnerXP

New PCs typically come with some sort of disk burning software. However, it's normally a lightly featured trial version that's bundled with a larger product. Many of my clients don't even realize they have disk burning software. On top of that, software suites like Roxio will often install many separate components. I have cleaned up many PCs that have had up to 9 different Roxio components installed - NINE! Disk burning software doesn't need to take up that much hard drive space. It also doesn't need to add 7, 8, or 9 different entries to your Add/Remove programs list. Finally, it doesn't have to cost $69+.

One of my favorite Windows programs is CDBurnerXP. Don't let the name fool you, it's not just for Windows XP. I've got it installed on my Windows 7 and Windows 8 PCs. It works great on every Windows platform I've tried it on. One awesome selling point is the programs small footprint. The install file is 5 MB. Installed, the program takes up about 17.5 MB. With the move to SSD drives, a small footprint becomes very important. The most affordable SSD drives are not very large, so drive space is normally at a premium.

It's important to note that some free programs (like those from Adobe) ship with less than desirable software like toolbars or bogus search engines. CDBurnerXP currently comes with no such nonsense.

So, what can you do with CDBurnerXP?

You can burn any data onto just about any type of disk out there. That includes Blue Ray, HD-DVD, and dual layer DVDs. One of the features that I find myself using a lot is burning ISO images to CD and DVD. CDBurnerXP handles the task without skipping a beat. It verifies written data automatically after the burning process. CDBurnerXP even has LightScribe integration. What more could you ask for from a program that works and is free? The program has more features that what I've mentioned. Check out their official features page here.

It's worth noting that in the 5+ years that I've been using CDBurnerXP, I've never made a bad disk. I've used the program for archiving photos and documents. I've used it for burning virus removal DVDS. I've used it to burn installation disks for Ubuntu from ISO files. It's made perfect, error free disks every every time I've used it.

CDBurnerXP is a no-brainer for anyone with a Windows PC. It has a great feature set, it's very easy to use and the price is impossible to beat. It's free for individuals. It's free for companies. Free your computer from crappy disk burning software - give CDBurnerXP a try.

Here is their home page: http://cdburnerxp.se/en/home

*Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with CDBurnerXP*

What to do if you can't upgrade your Windows XP computer

Windows XP has been officially dead for about a year. If you find yourself still using Windows XP, you can follow this guide to make your PC as safe as possible. I highly recommend upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7, but for some people...even a year later...that's not possible.

If you are stuck on Windows XP, read on.

  1. Stop using Internet Explorer! You can't uninstall Internet Explorer, but you certainly don't have to use it. The only excuse for using Internet Explorer at this point is to download Windows Updates. Since there are no more Windows Updates for Windows XP, you have no more excuses. If you have Apple's Safari browser installed, uninstall it. Internet Explorer and Safari have both been abandoned on Windows XP. Google Chrome will stop with security updates for Windows XP later this month. Uninstall Google Chrome as well. Firefox at this point is your only option. Import your browser favorites and  keep the browser add-ons to a minimum. Eliminate them all if you can.
  2. Uninstall Java, Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, and Adobe Shockwave. All of these programs are notorious security holes. You can try other PDF readers. Any of them should be more secure than Adobe Reader.
  3. Uninstall any programs you don't use. The goal here is to keep your exposure to vulnerable programs to a minimum. If you don't know what a program is, Google it first before uninstalling. If you have never used it, and it's NOT a device driver or essential program, uninstall it. Keep the programs you leave installed up to date.
  4. When it first came out, Microsoft Security Essentials was and awesome, free, anti-virus program. It's still not bad, but with Windows XP you need something better. The free version of Avast is an excellent choice.
  5. This is the most important tip - start using a limited user account. Close to 100% of all of last years discovered vulnerabilities couldn't harm a PC if the user was using a limited user account. Here's the best way to go about changing from an Administrator account (the default used by Windows) to a limited user account:

Go to the Windows Control Panel and click on "User Accounts".

UserAccounts1

Click on "Create a new account"

UserAccounts2

Name the new account. Something like "Admin" would be a great idea. For this example, that's what I've used. Then click "Next".

UserAccounts4

Pick the account type. Select "Computer Administrator" then click "Create Account".

UserAccounts5

On the "User Accounts" screen, click the new Administrator account you just created.

UserAccounts6

On the "What do you want to change about Admin's account" screen, click create a password. WRITE IT DOWN!!

UserAccounts7

After you've created the password (seriously, write it down!), click on the "Home" button.

UserAccounts8

Back on the "User Accounts" screen select your user account. This is the account you use everyday.

UserAccounts9

On the "What do you want to change about your account?" screen, click "Change my account type".

UserAccounts10

On the "Pick a new account type" screen, pick "Limited" and then click "Change Account Type".

UserAccounts11

Reboot your PC and select your user account on the login screen.

You now have as secure a Windows XP PC as possible. Keep in mind that there are things you can only do with an administrator account, like install programs and change system settings. That's what keeps you safe. You did write down that new administrator account password like I told you to, right? If you try to do something in your limited user account, and you get an error message saying you don't have authorization, switch over to the newly created administrator account and do it there. Then switch back to your limited user account and continue working. Is it a pain? Yes. Is it necessary? Absolutely!

If you need help, let me know. I can make these changes for you remotely, no matter where you live.