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Author Archives: Alex Kidman

If you’re running Windows 10, you need to update it right now

Statistically speaking, you’re probably running a Windows PC – it’s still the world’s most-used operating system, and not by a small margin, and it’s fairly likely you’re on Windows 10. With the recent removal of support for Windows 7 operating systems, it’s even more likely.

Being big and popular means that most applications are written with Windows in mind, and that’s very useful, but it also means that it’s the single largest target for hackers looking to pry into people’s private affairs, whether that’s for outright identity theft, using a PC as part of a botnet or an attempt to get access to your financial affairs or business details.

Typically speaking, when there are flaws in Windows (or for that matter Apple’s macOS) they’re disclosed by security researchers, or quietly patched by Microsoft’s own rather busy security team. As an example, it recently disclosed a security issue with its older Internet Explorer browser, although it’s yet to issue a patch to resolve it. Internet Explorer probably isn’t your browser of choice anymore – even if you wanted to stay in-house with Microsoft you’d be better off with its newer Edge browser – but it’s still lurking in the background of Windows 10 code.

Still, that pales next to the discovery by the US National Security Agency of a very serious flaw in Windows 10 in both its desktop and server implementations. It’s a flaw that undermines the cryptographic security used by Windows 10, and the picture the NSA paints is pretty grim. In its advisory, it states that:

NSA assesses the vulnerability to be severe and that sophisticated cyber actors will understand the underlying flaw very quickly and, if exploited, would render the previously mentioned platforms as fundamentally vulnerable. The consequences of not patching the vulnerability are severe and widespread. Remote exploitation tools will likely be made quickly and widely available.

The NSA’s focus is on businesses and government enterprises that could be compromised by the flaw, but make no mistake – any tool developed to crack those kinds of systems will most likely be flung out far and wide as possible, because while your own files might not be as interesting as some of the US government’s activities, if there’s money to be made, somebody will try everywhere to get it.

So, what should you do? At this stage, you absolutely should make sure that your Windows 10 PC is as up to date with patches as possible. Sadly, there’s some reports that the specific patch to deal with this vulnerability may not install cleanly on some Windows systems – hopefully that’s something that Microsoft can smooth over quickly without issues for most – but it’s absolutely imperative that you at least try.

The easiest way to do this is to type “Windows Update” into the text search box on a Windows PC, where it says “Type here to search” which should bring up a search option that says “Windows Update Settings”. Click on that, and it’ll bring up Windows Update. With some luck it may say that you’re up to date, but in any case, you should click on the “Check for updates” button and make sure that it hasn’t missed any updates or fresh patches.

This may take some time depending on the speed of your connection and the number of updates needed, but it really is vital. In this case, prevention will be way, way better than the possible cure.


How to select your next mouse

You can’t do much at all about the trackpad on your laptop in terms of usability and sensitivity for the most part, but what you can do if your trackpad won’t cut it – or if you just want more features or don’t like selecting with a flat pad – is buy yourself an external mouse to control your PC or Mac.

Now, the reality here is that you could drop less than $10 and pick up the cheapest options available, which will work (at least for a time). But if you’re smart, you’ll buy a mouse that meets your needs for years to come. Everyone’s needs with a mouse are going to be a little different, but here’s what you should consider when making your choice beyond the simple matter of your budget:

  • What sensitivity do you want or need? Typically expressed as DPI (dots per inch), the sensitivity of a mouse directly relates to how frequently the optical sensor reads the surface below it, which translates into both the accuracy of its movement and the speed at which your operating system moves it around the screen. Higher end mice – especially gaming-centric mice – may offer variable DPI switches so you can go from fast to slow as your needs suffice. That’s not just a gaming play, however; if (for example) you’re doing photo editing the ability to more precisely tune your mouse’s output can make them much easier to work with.
  • How many buttons do you want? Every mouse will come with two, but that’s just the start of what’s feasible with a good quality mouse. Again, gaming mice tend to dominate in the multi-button space, but with configuration options open to you it’s feasible to configure additional buttons for macro functions to meet your needs.
  • Wired or wireless? A wired mouse should offer dependable connectivity without the need for batteries or recharging, but it also brings with it cable clutter – and of course you’ve got to have a spare USB port to plug it into. Wireless mice can be had at surprisingly affordable prices, but again you’ve got choices to make, typically between 2.4Ghz wireless mice that require USB receivers to operate, and Bluetooth mice that don’t.
  • Do you want your scroll wheel rough or smooth? Rather like peanut butter, it’s possible to get mice with the central scroll wheel that runs with a smooth action, or with a rougher, more ratcheted action. Again, look to gaming mice if you want both options; some users find a more granular approach fits their mousing style, while others prefer an infinitely spinning wheel.
  • PC or Mac? These days most mice will work just fine across either Microsoft’s Windows 10 or Apple’s macOS Catalina, but if you are buying a fancier mouse for use with a Mac, check that it has specific drivers for macOS. What typically happens here is that macOS will identify any mouse with more than two buttons as a “keyboard”, and unless you’re able to run specific software to configure those buttons, it’ll drop to only looking to the primary left/right button configuration.
  • Ergonomic? Lightweight? Heavy? Cheap mice tend to opt for a simpler oval shape, but there’s near infinite variety in the way that better mice will take your hand grip. If you’re left-handed, there are options for mice that will fit you a little better than the assumed right-hand shape. If you want the lightest mouse touch option, some specialised mice come in at under 100 grams, while others allow you to add weights to make your mouse work the way you want it to – although predictably, you’ll pay a little more for those.

How bad are your passwords in 2020?

A friend of mine recently went through an issue with his Facebook account. Unbeknownst to him, it was posting links to dodgy “investment” opportunities seemingly promoted by major Australian celebrities.

Quick tip: If you see an investment “opportunity” on Facebook, run a mile. Maybe two or more, because they’re ALL scams, and, sadly enough they’re wildly profitable for the scammers. According to the ACCC’s figures, Investment scams of all types were the most prevalent way that Australians were defrauded in 2019, with more than double the losses of the next most common scam type, relating around romance and dating.

Now, this friend had changed his password a few times, so I advised him to carefully check the apps that he’d given posting access to in Facebook. If you’re curious, the easiest way is to go into the settings section of Facebook, select apps, and you’ll be told exactly which apps and services have access. In her case, the best approach was to deny access to everything, and then only permit access on a needs basis.

But it was his comment about passwords that got me intrigued. He said he was “running out” of passwords, which suggested to me that he wasn’t really thinking that hard about new password combinations.

Which is a big mistake, but it’s one that many of us fall victim to.

Each year, security firm Splashdata releases its list of the worst passwords revealed through leaks and breaches that are still in common circulation. You can read the full list here but the top ten makes for rather depressing reading.

You can probably guess what some of them are outright, and any password that a human can easily guess isn’t a security measure at all. Let alone one that any kind of computer might be pointed towards, because the technology there can scan through literally billions of combinations in near no time at all.

Here’s the top ten list; if any of your passwords are here, I have no psychic powers – and you really don’t have a “password” at all.

10. 123123
9. 111111
8. iloveyou
7. 12345
6. 12345678
5. 1234567
4. password
3. qwerty
2. 123456789
1. 123456

Mind you, if you find your password anywhere in the top 100, or in any dictionary, you’re also running a huge risk of being compromised online in some way. That could be with your Facebook account posting dodgy ads in the guise of your personal recommendation – or the loss of access to your own bank accounts.

So, what’s the solution here? Use strong passwords, preferably secured behind an encrypted password manager, because that way you only have to remember one strong password, not many of them. Use two factor authentication when it’s offered, because while it does introduce a layer of difficulty while you procure your secondary authentication code, it also enhances the security of any account you add it to.

It’s 2020. It’s far past time we got past simple to use but simple to remember passwords. It’s a little more work to keep yourself safe online, but with so many of our activities, from simple social media to online banking to just about everything else being secured this way, it’s vital that we all take it much more seriously than using a password such as “123456”.


Best tech of 2019

Technology moves at a rapid-fire pace and picking the “best” technology in a given year is always going to be a highly subjective enterprise, coloured by everything from assumed budgets to technology needs. Still, in my day-to-day work as a technology writer, I’ve come into contact with just about every gadget released this year. The following list is far from comprehensive, and it’s almost entirely personal – albeit from a quite well-informed perspective.

Best Smartphones: Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, Google Pixel 3a, Nokia 800 Tough

Three very different phones, with very different price points and target markets, but each of them represents a “best of breed” approach.

After a number of years where Apple rather coasted on its iPhone laurels, the iPhone 11 Pro Max brought it to the fore, not because Apple was innovating – triple cameras and good battery life are nothing new – but simply because it brought together a real “complete package” of a smartphone. It’s not cheap, to put it politely, and were it not for Huawei’s ongoing issues with the US government and uncertainty around what that’ll mean for its future for Android phones, the Huawei P30 Pro could well hold that premium spot.

Mind you, most of us don’t have the budget for a premium handset, and that’s where the excellent Google Pixel 3a comes into play. With a clean simple Google interface, size that’s easy to slip into a pocket and a truly great camera experience, it’s enough phone for just about anyone’s everyday use. Google set itself a bit of a trap with the more affordable Google Pixel 3a this year, because following it up with the more expensive Pixel 4 left it too large a mountain to climb.

If you’re in the camp that doesn’t want a “smart” phone but still needs the basics of calling and texting, you’re left with far fewer choices. I was astonished at how much I actually liked HMD Global’s Nokia 800 Tough, a feature phone with the essential Google experiences baked in, great battery life, and above all durability baked in. I’ve never been quite so cruel to a handset as I was the Nokia 800 Tough, throwing it down stairs, directly onto concrete and even off a balcony – and somehow it survived it all! I don’t recommend you try that, by the way, but the point here is that it’s an astonishingly durable phone if you’re stressed about breakages.

Best laptops: Apple MacBook Pro 13/Microsoft Surface Pro 7

Laptops are a super-mature market, so there’s much less innovation at play here. It’s entirely feasible to buy a very good laptop for general everyday use for a budget price, but in that space there’s almost nothing that really “stands out”, apart from perhaps scoring a bargain on a model that has more RAM in it than a comparable model from another vendor.

Which is why my picks here come down to Apple or Microsoft’s portable own brand devices. The Microsoft Surface Pro 7 is definitely coasting on its momentum in its 7th generation, but the basic design and experience is still absolutely top notch. Microsoft has signalled that it’s going to move into new designs in 2020 for its Surface range, so the Surface Pro 7 might just be the last model we see with that familiar kickstand-and-keyboard-cover design. I do wish Microsoft would bundle the keyboard cover with it as standard, however.

I did have to consider whether to pick the MacBook Pro 16 I recently reviewed on the Apple side of the fence; I do like its superior keyboard quite a lot. However, it’s big and bulky, and the 13 inch model gains the portability that I’d prefer while still providing plenty of power. Apple does charge a premium for its brand, but my own experiences with it tend to suggest that both resale value and outright durability are a tad better than with many comparable Windows laptops.

Best tablet: Apple iPad

The tablet market is essentially Apple’s to lose; while you can buy Android tablets for very low prices, there’s really no standout models to speak of that make the most of Android. Indeed, Android can often be stymied by apps designed for much smaller screens, a problem that hasn’t been the case for iPads since the very first generation.

Apple did release new iPad Air and Mini models this year, but for most folks the basic entry level iPad covers the essentials of what you’ll want out of a tablet. Apple keeps pushing the idea that tablets can be productivity tool, and while that’s somewhat true depending on your needs, realistically most folks use them for web browsing, content watching and games. The entry level iPad can handle all of that quite nicely, and while the 2019 iPad Air and 2019 iPad Mini are technically more powerful, that’s a distinction you’ll really only notice if you put them side by side.


Windows 7 support is about to end: Here’s what you should do

Windows 7 was first introduced by Microsoft back in 2009, which means that’s just a shade over a decade old as I write this. While we’ve seen Windows 8 and Windows 10 since then, a lot of figures suggest that the number of computers still using Windows 7 isn’t insubstantial, with some stats suggesting that around a third of all Windows PCs are running the older operating system.

This is a big issue, because Microsoft has announced the end of support for Windows 7, and it’s a deadline that’s very rapidly approaching. To be specific, from the 14th of January 2020, Microsoft will no longer publish software or security updates for Windows 7 PCs, and it won’t provide technical support for any issues you may have with it either.

If you are amongst that up to a third of PC users, you’ve got a few hard choices to make, and it’s well worth knowing the range of those choices, as well as their potential consequences. Microsoft has reportedly been alerting Windows 7 users with pop-up screens to let them know about the end of its support period, but you might be confused about what that really means.

It doesn’t mean that on the 15th of January you’ll wake up and your PC will be inaccessible. In one respect, Windows 7 PCs will continue to chug along as they always were, so you won’t automatically be locked out of your PC.

However, the fact that Microsoft won’t produce any further security updates means that using a Windows 7 PC after that date automatically becomes a risky prospect if that PC is ever connected to the Internet. If you’re using that PC in a totally standalone way, then in theory you’re no worse off than you were before. However, any Internet-connected Windows 7 PC will from then on be on its own when it comes to vulnerabilities that malware could exploit. Windows is the world’s most widely used operating system, and that means that it’s constantly under attack from malware authors looking for software gaps, bugs and weaknesses to exploit. That’s what security patching looks to overcome, but there won’t be any more patches for Windows 7 after mid-January.

If you’re on Windows 8 PC, by the way, you’ve got until 2023 before you face this exact scenario.

So, what are your options? It’d be unwise in the extreme to continue to use a net-connected Windows 7 PC for any considerable time after mid-January, which means some kind of update is in order. When Microsoft first introduced Windows 10, it did so with a “free” upgrade offer for Windows 7 and Windows 8 PCs. If you’re still running Windows 7 you presumably avoided that offer, but some reports suggest that if you are prompted to upgrade (and never did so before) Microsoft’s servers may give you that upgrade still for free. It’s by no means guaranteed, however. You’re not risking much by clicking the upgrade prompt and seeing what the server says, however – the worst it can do is tell you to pay for the upgrade.

There’s an open question about whether that’s a worthwhile matter, however. Not that I’m advocating for a macOS or Linux approach, but more that a Windows 7 PC by the nature of its age is going to have more than a few years on it, and with that, a few years of wear and tear. A Windows 10 Home software licence upgrade will run you some $225, and it may make more sense to consider this an opportunity to look at an upgrade to an entirely new PC instead. If you’re still rocking on with a Windows 7 PC that was sold back in 2009, even the PCs that typically sell in the $299 price range will run quicker than it does anyway.

Microsoft’s position on Windows is that while support for Windows 8 will cease in 2023, it’s viewing Windows 10 as its permanent software platform, with no intention to shift to a “Windows 11” at all. That does mean that once you make that jump up to Windows 10, it’s not a scenario you should have to face again at all.


Google reveals what Aussies were looking for in 2019

Google is so synonymous with Internet search that for many people, it simply isn’t “Internet Search” at all. It’s Googling. There are some trademark issues for Google with that, but it does demonstrate how much mindshare and practical dominance of the local search market the US tech giant actually has.

But have you ever wondered what people actually search for? There’s all sorts of tools you can play around with if you’re curious about the prevalence of a particular search term, as well as pro-grade tools that folks who worry about Google search engine placement use to try to ascertain how they can get a place or two up the rankings. Plenty of research suggests that most folks who go searching never look beyond the first result or three, and practically never beyond the first page of results, so those placements in some businesses are vital.

For more of a fun approach, you can use services such as Google Fight which lets you pit one search term against another to see which is more popular. It’s not an official Google product, but it takes into consideration both the number of search results and the number of times that query is used across Google itself when weighing up your search terms. If you’ve ever wanted to settle that age-old argument between Sydney and Melbourne it’s one way to do it… albeit one that will inevitably leave one side arguing the validity of the result anyway!

Google’s own Google Search Trends will also let you see how a search term has run over time, so you can track interest in a topic or search term. Google annually also releases country specific details on the most popular searches within that location, including Australia.

So in 2019, what occupied Australian search time?

According to Google, in terms of trending searches, “Fires near me” predominated, followed up by folks searching for Rugby World Cup and Cricket World Cup, and then the results of the Australian Federal Election.

In terms of local figures, Ash Barty topped the list, followed by Fraser Anning, Israel Folau, Cody Simpson, Scott Morrison, Bill Shorten, Jack Vidgen, George Pell, Tayla Harris and Chris Lilley. Bear in mind, no matter your opinion of some of those individuals that Google’s just reporting on what we’ve been searching for, not making value judgements per se, although certainly in some cases you can expect the articles you may find could have done just that.

One of the search queries I always find interesting are the top placements in searches that include “how to…” in their text, and in 2019, the top search query was “how to vote”. I’m still not sure if that’s a sign of a healthy democracy, or that our voting system is still incomprehensible to some. I guess it’s at least good that people are researching how to do so!

The slightly less politically fraught – if only slightly so – “How to watch Game of Thrones” came in second place there, and further down the list was “How to win Powerball”. Mathematically speaking, your chances there only marginally improve by winning a ticket, but then Australia is a country that loves a flutter.

It’s also a good reminder that searches that run aren’t just there one second, gone the next. A huge part of Google’s market power comes from the fact that it records and tabulates this kind of information – amongst other factors it’s a key way it works out how much it charges advertisers for particularly popular search terms – and builds profiles of its userbase – and that’s you and me.


Apple MacBook Pro 16 Review: Serious computer, serious price

Apple recently released the latest in its long running line of MacBook Pro laptops. While Apple has somewhat muddied the water around what it means by “Pro” with the release of the Apple iPhone 11 Pro and Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max phones, in the laptop space, they’re very definitely meant for folks who need particularly high-end computing power.

That’s especially true for the new MacBook Pro 16 inch model, which ships with either ninth generation Core i7 or Core i9 processors. While Apple has offered some lower-tier processors in earlier MacBook lines, the MacBook Pro 16 only comes in configurations that offer plenty of power.

One catch here is that everything in the MacBook Pro 16 is absolutely soldered in place, and that means that while you can order them with different RAM and hard drive storage configurations, there’s no user-upgradeable parts in them at all. The baseline model of either the Core i7 or Core i9 MacBook Pro 16 comes with 16GB of RAM, but you can bump that up to 32GB or 64GB for a price if need. Likewise, storage starts at 512GB onboard, but it’s possible to pack in as much as 8TB into one of these machines. Again, have your credit card ready for that if it’s needed.

In power terms, though, there’s no doubting the prowess of the MacBook Pro 16. I’ve been using one for audio and video editing work over the past few weeks, and it simply hasn’t missed a step the entire time. That’s even true of the battery, and that’s not something that’s usually the case for larger laptops like this.

While specification bumps under the hood are an essentially expected part of any year’s new computer models, Apple has also made some significant changes to the externals of the MacBook Pro with the 16-inch model. The display screen has minimal bezels, and as such it’s only slightly larger than the MacBook Pro 15 inch line it replaces. The speakers have been punched up a notch, and while you may not need them at work, they do work well for any after-work Netflix binges you may have planned. Just, you know, don’t tell the boss about that.

There’s also a seriously good inbuilt microphone on the MacBook Pro. If you work with pro-grade audio it won’t likely be enough for your tastes, but I recently used it as the backup recording methodology for the weekly podcast I produce, Vertical Hold and it performed very well indeed.

However, that’s not the biggest change in the MacBook Pro 16’s build. That’s in the form of what Apple calls the “Magic” keyboard. For the past couple of years, Apple’s sold all models of its MacBook line, including the Pro models with very flat keyboards using what’s called a “butterfly” style switch. They look good on a show floor, but the keys don’t move much, and many users – myself included – tended to find that they locked up more than they should if even the slightest bit of dust or grit got under them. For the MacBook Pro, Apple’s returned to a more conventional “scissor switch” style keyboard. The end result is a more comfortable typing keyboard that should also be considerably more durable. I’m hoping this means that future 13 inch models of the MacBook Pro will also include the Magic keyboard, but we’ll have to wait and see about that.

Are there downsides to the MacBook Pro 16? Like any 16-inch laptop, it’s large and somewhat heavy, weighing in at 2kg. That might not sound like much at the start of the day, but if you have to carry it around all day, you’ll be feeling that extra weight. Like Apple’s other MacBooks, charging is via USB C with 4 USB-C ports, and any of them can be the charging port. However, that’s your lot, so if you need an external card reader, optical drive or other connection, you’ll need an adaptor to do so. For such a large laptop, it feels like a waste to not have more connectivity running down the sides.

Then there’s the price, as I’ve already alluded to. Apple pitches the MacBook Pro 16 towards the professional crowd, and that’s a crowd that’s willing to pay Apple’s price. The entry level MacBook Pro 16 Core i7 will set you back a hefty $3,799, and the Core i9 model I’ve been testing out runs $4,399. That’s without RAM or storage upgrades, either. Were you so inclined, you could configure a top-end variant of this laptop that would set you back $9,679. You’d get a lot of laptop for that money – but if you spent that much, you’d expect that, wouldn’t you?


Twitter backflips (mostly) on its inactive account push.

Social Media can have profound effects – for good or bad – on the lives of many people, but what do you if your name is, say, Roger Smith or something equally common and you want to make yourself easily locatable on the biggest social media platforms?

The chances are that another Roger Smith has already nabbed that username, potentially across multiple platforms. The chances are decent that RogerSmith7896543 is available as a username, but then how do you get folks to realise that this is you? It’s a particularly sharp problem if the actual Roger Smith registered an account across Facebook, Twitter or any other social network many years ago but then seems to have done nothing with it. It almost seems unfair that a username you could use is essentially dormant with no way to claim it for better uses.

Twitter recently announced that it would start enforcing its policy on inactive accounts more vigorously to ensure that usernames and accounts that were no longer active would be reclaimable by the company. You can read the full policy here, but in essence, if any Twitter account isn’t used for at least 6 months, Twitter reserves the right to permanently remove an account.

At that time, at least in theory, the username associated with it might become available for you to grab. Of course, if you are RogerSmith7896543, there’s roughly 7,896,542 other Roger Smiths who would also be keen, so there may well be some luck involved. Twitter didn’t officially say when it might make reclaimed usernames available, although it did appear that the push to start more aggressively pursuing its inactive account policy was going to be an ongoing process. As such, inactive account names might only appear as freshly available over time.

There’s an obvious point to be made here that if you do have a Twitter account you’ve not used in a while, it might be wise to at least load up the app and have a look at it if it’s a contact point you want to maintain. It’s also a timely reminder that any social media platform that offers access for free isn’t looking to you as their customers – you’re the content that they sell, and they can yank that access as suits their needs.

However, in the social media age in which we live, talking about enacting a policy that’s actually been in place for years but not often invoked raises some challenging edge cases. Twitter’s position was largely that it would be reclaiming unused usernames and also potentially complying with legislation across the globe relating to rights to be forgotten and data retention, but it rather rapidly faced an interesting backlash around accounts that by every definition weren’t going to be updated any time soon.

Twitter (and indeed other social media platforms) has been around long enough that there’s a sizeable array of accounts that effectively serve as memorials to their users who have sadly passed away. Twitter’s help channel responded to those complaints, noting that it hadn’t entirely considered that scenario but that it doesn’t really have a formal way to declare an account as an effective memorial.

Digital memorials understandably give some people the shudders, but for others who live (or have lived) substantially online, they’re both a way for friends and family to remember them in their own thoughts, words and tweets, as well as potentially a good historical resource for everything from political discussions to analysis of social trends. There’s also value here, if nothing else, in considering what you’ve done with your own online accounts – social network or otherwise – and who you’d want to have access to them were something to happen to you. That’s true whether you’d prefer an online memorial or for your accounts to be swiftly shut down and cleared in your absence.


Google’s Cloud Print runs out of ink

Google is a company most closely related to search and search-based products, which is why it’s nearly always teetering on the edge of becoming a verb in its own right. Plenty of folk don’t even think of it as “searching” — they simply “Google” their queries day in, day out.

Search isn’t all that Google does, having spent serious money either developing software products in-house, or in some cases buying out interesting smaller companies or competitors.

The brutal reality of being a Google product, however is that despite being owned by one of the world’s biggest tech companies, you’re not actually assured of survival. Quite the opposite actually; the range and variety of applications, services and software packages that Google has killed is so extensive, third parties have actually tracked all of them in a virtual Google graveyard. While there’s plenty of esoteric Google software and services listed there, there’s also some heavy hitters such as Google Reader, Google Inbox, YouTube Video Editor and plenty more besides.

The latest Google service to head to that great big factory in the sky is actually one of Google’s longest survivors in the software space, Google Cloud Print.

First announced back in 2010 — almost a different age in IT terms — Google Cloud Print allowed you to print to any Google Cloud Print-enabled printer from just about any device you’d care to name. If you’ve ever struggled to install a driver on a PC or Mac for a printer, or just pondered how you were going to print if all you had on you was a smartphone or a tablet, you’d appreciate how potentially useful that was. Once connected, a Google Cloud Print enabled printer wasn’t just limited to your home or office Wi-Fi, either; in theory you could print from anywhere, presuming there was somebody nearby the printer to collect the finished document. Google Cloud Print couldn’t deal with other printing annoyances like low ink or toner, or for that matter paper jams, but it was (and for the time being is) a decent solution to the printing problem.

Google Cloud Print was never developed to the point where Google declared it to be out of “beta” status, although that does rather make a mockery of the idea of “beta” software if you’re in beta for a full 9 years. It’s not an issue that Google Cloud Print will have all that much longer, however, because Google has announced it’s killing off the service from December 31, 2020.

That does give you a fair amount of time to work out an alternative solution if you’re an existing Google Cloud Print user. Google notes that the reason for its impending extinction has a large part to do with the way that it’s integrated printing services into its own Chrome browser. It’s what it calls “native print management”, largely aimed at enterprise users, but the advantage of that development for all Chrome users is (in theory) that well before that end-of-2020 deadline, you should be able to set up and access printers from devices using Chrome in any case. That does give you a potentially wide spread of available print types, especially if you’re happy importing documents such as Word or Excel files into Google’s own Chrome-based Docs and Sheets applications.


Disney+ in Australia

This week we’ll see the local Australian launch of Disney+, the latest in a very long line of streaming subscription services. While there’s still clearly a place in Australian homes for free to air television (at least for live events such as sports), it’s also clear that on-demand streaming services delivered over a home broadband connection are where the market’s shifted. Disney+ is just following in the footsteps of services such as Netflix and Stan, although, being Disney, it’s doing it somewhat differently. Here’s the rundown of what you need to know about the House of Mouse’s streaming service.

How much does it cost?

Disney+ will either set you back $8.99 per month on a month-to-month basis, or $89.99 upfront for a year’s subscription, bringing that effective monthly price down to $7.50 per month.

Of note, where some of its competitors offer differentiated pricing for access to HD or 4K content, Disney+ is a one-price-fits-all service, so there’s no additional charge to watch higher definition content, presuming your display screen and Internet connection is up to the task

Can I get a free trial?

Like competing streaming services, it is feasible to get a “free” taste of the content on offer, although Disney+ is a little more miserly than its competitors, with a 7 day trial available to consumers when it launches on 19 November.

What devices will it support?

At launch, Disney+ should work across web browsers, iOS and Android devices, Google Chromecast, Apple TV and the Microsoft Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4 console platforms. We’re actually getting the service a week later than its US launch, where there’s also support for selected Samsung and LG Smart TVs, but it’s yet to be confirmed if any of the locally available smart TVs will offer up Disney+ at launch or later down the track.

What content will it have?

Unlike competitors such as Netflix, Disney+ is largely targeting a family audience, although that doesn’t mean it’s going to offer only kiddie fare. Yes, there’s a wide range of Disney and Pixar movies both new and old on the service, but it’s also incorporating content from (US) National Geographic channel, and selected titles it’s acquired as a result of Disney’s buyout of 20th Century Fox, most notably the entire current run of The Simpsons. Although in that case US fans are already up in arms, because the 16:9 widescreen presentation of that show has meant early episodes are presented in a frame cropped format, at least for now.

However, like Netflix, Disney+ is also planning on hooking folks in with exclusive original content built around its well-regarded franchises, particularly Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. At launch, its flagship show is The Mandalorian, a show set in the Star Wars universe that will see weekly episode releases to keep the fans of Force enthralled. Later down the track we’ll see the re-emergence of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki from the Marvel movies in his own show, along with a number of other Marvel-themed shows.

What you won’t see on Disney+ is content aimed at a much older audience than that; in the US Disney is the sole owner of Hulu, a service that includes more content aimed at mature audiences, but for now that’s not going to be part of the Disney+ mix. There have been rumours for years that we might see a Hulu launch down under, but so far, it’s yet to materialise.

One big key component of the launch of Disney+ is that it’s pulling the rights to that content — especially the hyper-popular Star Wars and Marvel movies — from any competing service. Disney’s already announced the end of its streaming deal with Netflix, so Marvel and Star Wars content is either gone or going there. For users of Channel 9-owned Stan, the Disney content it’s been hyping for the last year has been removed mere days before the launch of the service here. The picture is a little murkier for Foxtel subscribers, but it’s entirely likely that we’ll see less Disney-owned content on Foxtel’s subscription platforms over time.

Is it worth it?

Like any subscription streaming TV service, the value you get out of it depends on how much entertainment it affords you. I doubt too many Aussies would be clamouring to spend $8.99 per month to watch 1969’s “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes” (even if it does star Kurt Russell), but for quick access to everything Star Wars and Marvel, including content that won’t be legitimately found elsewhere, at a price point less than its competitors could make it a genuine family hit.

That being said, you’ll need a decent internet connection, especially if you want to watch in HD. Video is very data intensive, and if you’re still on an older non-NBN connection, or just on a slower-rate NBN 12Mpbs plan, you might find the Disney+ experience — and indeed any streaming video service — a bit more miss than hit.


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