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Author Archives: Alex Kidman

Apple surprises with quick release of iOS 14

Apple typically holds a launch event in September for its new model iPhones. Whenever those new phones launch is when the new versions of its mobile operating systems launch as well.

They all used to be called “iOS”, but this now encompasses iPadOS, watchOS, and tvOS. iOS itself covers phones and iPod Touch only.

Usually, you don’t see the new version of iOS until you can lay down some cash for a new iPhone.

This year, that’s not what happened. Apple did hold a launch event with the label “time flies”, but it didn’t announce the iPhone 12. Instead, it announced new Apple Watch and iPad models, as well as announcing that all its mobile operating systems would see an update arrive the very next day.

For iPhone users, that’s iOS 14, and it’s now available for eligible devices to upgrade to.

Which devices are eligible?

Apple’s become a little nicer in this respect over the years. iOS 14 is available for iPhone models released since late 2015.

You can upgrade to iOS 14 if you’ve got one of the models of phone listed below:

  • iPhone 11
  • iPhone 11 Pro
  • iPhone 11 Pro Max
  • iPhone XS
  • iPhone XS Max
  • iPhone XR
  • iPhone X
  • iPhone 8
  • iPhone 8 Plus
  • iPhone 7
  • iPhone 7 Plus
  • iPhone 6s
  • iPhone 6s Plus
  • iPhone SE (1st generation)
  • iPhone SE (2nd generation)
  • iPod touch (7th generation)

How do I upgrade?

Apple by default tends to push you towards automatic updates. It’s possible even by the time you read this that your iPhone may have upgraded itself. If you don’t want to wait, it’s a very easy process.

  1. Open the Settings App
  2. Tap on General
  3. Tap on Software Update

Software Update will check which version of iOS you’re running, and whether you’re eligible for an upgrade to iOS 14.

You’ll need to agree to Apple’s terms and conditions, as well as download the update file, which can be quite large. It’d be a good idea to be on a fixed broadband connection to do this.

The process does take some time to download and install. You can use your iPhone while it’s downloading and verifying. However, once the device reboots it’ll be out of action for a little while as it installs. It’s a good idea to set the process going when you don’t need your phone active.

Should I upgrade?

This is always a tricky question, but the broad answer these days should be yes for most folks.

Apple hasn’t always had the best track record when it comes to how well iOS upgrades take on older hardware. Also, you may not get every new feature if you’re using a much older iPhone.

However, what iOS 14 also includes is all the company’s latest software patches and security upgrades. Those are important to have running, given how much we all use our smartphones as an integral part of my digital life.

Does this mean the iPhone 12 will have iOS 15?

No, Apple won’t release iOS 15 until 2021 on current trends. It just means that whatever hooks Apple wants to use to sell its next generation of iPhones will have to rely on hardware more than software – because you can already get the software running on current models of iPhone

What features do I get with iOS 14 that I didn’t have before?

Some of the changes in iOS 14 are subtle, and some less so. There’s an increased focus on permissions, so when you do upgrade, expect apps to ask afresh for permission to do things like access photos, the local network or your location if that’s what they want to do.

iOS 14 features a new App Library view that tries to automatically group your apps by type, as well as a more flexible (and frankly, Android-style) approach to widgets and default apps.

If you’re curious, Apple has the full set of upgrade details over on its web site.


Lenovo’s Duet Chromebook sings a different laptop song

Chromebooks are laptops that use Google’s Chrome browser as the basis for their operating system. We’ve discussed them before but to date most of the models sold in Australia have tended to be low cost models pitched at the education market.

As a much more controlled computer there’s less that can go wrong with a Chromebook, although they can be a touch less flexible as a result. Still, a Chromebook is a basic laptop computer, right?

It doesn’t have to be so. I’ve recently spent some time testing out Lenovo’s clever new Duet Chromebook. It takes a distinctly different look at the way you might want to use such a device.

The heart of the Chromebook Duo is a 10.1 inch tablet. It’s entirely possible if you wish to use the Chromebook Duo just as a tablet device. Chromebooks support running Android apps, so you could just use it as an Android tablet.

However, it’s a bit more than that, because it also ships with a magnetically attached keyboard that includes its own trackpad.

This is rather similar in design as a result to Microsoft’s lower cost Surface Go 2 2-in-1 device. That’s definitely the kind of market that Lenovo’s targeting for this particular device.

The one downside there is that a 10.1 inch device isn’t going to accommodate a large keyboard as standard. You could always connect one up via Bluetooth or a USB C adaptor if you needed that. Still, the idea is to type on the Duet Chromebook’s smaller keyboard, which does take some getting used to.

It has a single input in the form of a USB C socket that’s used for charging and connecting external peripherals. If you do need external storage or to connect up other devices, investing in a simple USB C hub would be a good idea.

The Chromebook Duet runs off a MediaTek Helio P60T processor with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of fixed storage.

That’s quite a moderate laptop recipe, although for the kinds of tasks most laptops run it’s essentially adequate.

I’ve used the Chromebook Duet to create more than a few reviews during my test period using Google Docs without issue. Of course, as a device that can run any Chromebook or Android app, you can stretch it further than that.

You may want to look at external storage, however, because that 128GB of onboard memory can fill up fast if you want or need a lot of apps on board.

Of course, the reason to be keen on this kind of computing is for the portability, and here the Lenovo Duet Chromebook Duet impressed me.

Not only is it nicely small and light, but it’s also got quite a decent battery on board. Lenovo rates it as good for “up to” 10 hours of usage, but with a simple looping video test, I got more than 15 hours of life.

Naturally the apps you use and matters like volume, brightness and network usage could drain it a lot faster than that, but as a go-to portable device there’s a lot to like about the Lenovo Chromebook Duet.

The one drawback is that you’re not playing in that super-cheap typical Chromebook space. Pricing online varies a little, but the Lenovo Duet Chromebook typically retails in Australia for around $599. That’s cheaper than the comparable Surface Go, or indeed an Apple iPad and one of its additionally priced keyboard folios, but still higher than you could pay for a simple laptop.


Apple iMac 2020: The last great Intel iMac?

When Apple announced recently that it was going to shift from producing computers using Intel processors to its own “Apple Silicon” it also said that it would still produce some Macs with Intel inside over the next couple of years.

That’s just what’s happened with the very first Mac Apple’s released since dropping its Apple Silicon news being an Intel-based upgrade to its venerable iMac line. I’ve been testing out a review iMac for the past couple of weeks to see where it still impresses – and ponder on whether it’s worth buying what might be the last of the Intel iMacs at all.

Design:

Physically Apple’s done very little that you’ll notice at first with the 2020 iMac line, for better or worse. Apple isn’t alone in the all-in-one desktop space, but its iMac design remains quite eye catching, with a thin profile and simple but durable aluminium stand that looks great. The 2020 iMac ships with either a 27 inch or 21.5 inch display, and it’s the former I’ve been testing out.

While it’s a design that looks nice, there are elements that irk me that have never changed, and probably never will. The iMac isn’t particularly upgradeable, with only the included RAM being user changeable, because everything else is fused to the primary motherboard. This means choosing your storage is vital when buying, because if you want more onboard storage, you’ll have to plug in an external drive. Apple has shifted over purely to using SSDs in this year’s iMacs where it used to offer “Fusion” drives that combined SSDs and traditional mechanical hard drives, which does give them a potential speed boost.

I’m also not a fan of the way that Apple hides all the ports at the back of the iMac. I get that it’s aesthetically nice, but if you do add or remove USB peripherals or plug headphones in or out, it’s a chore to stretch around to the back, or play the guessing game as you try to negotiate them by feel.

Screen size aside, there’s one other upgrade perk with the new iMacs, in the form of an anti-reflective nano texture coating on the primary display. My review model had it, but after several weeks I can’t say I can entirely see the $750 upgrade in it, but I suppose if you were constantly annoyed with reflection on the standard glass of an iMac in a very bright area it might be worth it.

Performance:

The real changes are of course underneath the display, where the iMac sells with a variety of 10th generation Intel processors, and optionally AMD graphics processors in the higher end models. My review model featured a 3.6GHz Intel Core i9 processor and a hefty 32GB of RAM, which is on the pricier side of the iMac family.

Predictably it means it’s a very fast machine that tends more towards the professional end of the spectrum. Also on the welcome side is a Full HD webcam where Apple’s “FaceTime” cameras on Macs have been only 720p in prior years. In a year where I’ve been doing a lot of remote working and video conferencing, the difference in video quality jumping from 720p to 1080p is quite noticeable.

Still, there’s that prospect of this being perhaps the last Intel iMac looming over the whole enterprise. Apple has said that the next generation of macOS, “Big Sur” will work across both Intel and Apple Silicon Macs, and while it won’t be drawn on precise timelines, it seems likely that there should be at least 3 or so years of actual macOS upgrades that will still work in an Intel world.

Verdict:

The 2020 iMac is, ultimately, a very nicely built Mac, and a good upgrade if you’ve got a much older iMac.

For those looking long term it’s probably wise to hold off at least until the first Apple Silicon Macs emerge. Given the late in the year announcement of this iMac, and Apple’s statement that it will release a Mac running Apple Silicon before the end of 2020, that’s likely to be a MacBook of some stripe, but at least that will give us an idea on pricing and capabilities – and it’s not as though the end of 2020 is all that far away anyway.


25 Years Since Windows 95 Changed Computing For The Better (Mostly)

We live in an age where it’s absolutely assumed that the vast majority of your interactions with computers will be with visual interfaces – strictly speaking Graphical User Interfaces if you want to get on the jargon bandwagon – but it certainly wasn’t always that way. To get to the touch, voice and mouse-activated interfaces we enjoy today, large scale steps had to be taken.

One such step was the release of Windows 95, which happened almost exactly 25 years ago as I’m writing this. Windows 95 was made available for consumers to buy on the 24th of August 1995, and it sold well. Microsoft’s estimates suggest that around a million copies were sold on the first day of availability, which were huge numbers for what was an operating system.

Windows 95 wasn’t Microsoft’s first GUI – far from it – and Microsoft didn’t even invent the GUI either. That credit strictly speaking goes to a team at Xerox Parc, whose ideas were then either stolen or iterated upon by Apple with the first Macs, depending on your perspective, as well as by platforms such as the Commodore Amiga or Atari ST in the 1980s. Microsoft had Windows up to version 3.11 before it launched Windows 95.

These days many look back on Windows 95 as a land of broken promises and badly working software. That’s a little unfair, I think, because what Windows 95 was trying to do was pretty revolutionary at the time. It couldn’t quite live up to all the promises Microsoft made for it, but it was a definite stepping stone towards the computing experiences we have today.

Windows 95 saw Microsoft more fully embrace a graphical user interface and a future not dependent on its frankly very-creaky-by-then DOS underpinnings. That emerged in a number of ways in Windows 95, from the Start button that was at first a curiosity but became such an expected part of everyone’s Windows experience that when Microsoft looked to remove it in Windows 8, there was an uproar.

Windows 95 also made adding hardware to a PC – whether that was an internal card or external peripheral – considerably easier through the use of what it called “Plug and Play” drivers. These largely 32-bit drivers replaced an archaic and often befuddling array of ISA card switches that you had to set before putting a card in, then config.sys and autoexec.bat settings you had to configure before hoping that your application would actually see your new device.

In its early days, Plug and Play was derisively called Plug And Pray, because it did have problems, but those were in themselves stepping stones to the days of USB peripherals. These days, you can grab just about any USB device, plug it into your PC and after some quick but essentially invisible configuration, it’s good to go. You don’t get that without the work laid down in Windows 95.

What’s more profound was the huge push that Microsoft put forward to sell Windows 95 as a consumer-level operating system for everyday users. Sure, there were home computers in the late 1970s (if you were very keen) and through the 1980s, but it was still very much an environment where home computing was the exception, because it was either a business tool or the interest of the seriously geeky.

Microsoft took what it had in its existing Windows and worked very hard to make it considerably easier to use for most users. By no means flawless of course. You could still hit a classic Blue Screen of Death if there was a driver or memory issue, typically right in the middle of preparing a vital document. Still, that ease of use and stronger reliance on visual metaphors that have largely been retained to this day form the basis of what we’re accustomed to right now.

Should you still be using a Windows 95 PC? By no means at all, especially if you wanted to take it online, because the list of security nightmares and online exploits you’d hit would be immense. There’s a small community of folks who run it in emulation, largely in virtual sandboxes to protect the host machine it’s running on, but that’s largely if they’re keen on older software – mostly games – that only run in those older operating system environments.


Why is Google saying that its search is at risk?

Google recently started adding something to its search results in Australia. If you’ve searched with Google or watched YouTube in Australia, you’ve probably seen a small alert or popup window telling you that “a new law will hurt your search experience”.

If you’re a YouTube creator in Australia you may have had an email from Google. Same story in place, telling you that the same new laws may mean that you earn less from your YouTube channel.

I’ve had that one myself for my own YouTube channel, but then I knew what Google was getting at.

Click on any of the links and you’ll see an open letter than Google’s penned. It relates to the proposed news media bargaining code that the ACCC wants to put in place.

The code means to support Australian media businesses, especially the big players and owners of the larger newspapers around the country.

Many of them have seen revenues dip in recent years as news gathering and propagation has proliferated online. They have struggled to come up with workable market models in an arena where so many consumers expect information itself to be free. News gathering certainly isn’t free.

At the same time, advertising revenue has shifted almost entirely to two companies. Google and Facebook have an absolutely dominant market position in this respect.

It’s fair to say that Google isn’t so much a search company as an advertising agency that gives search away for free.

Google’s position is that there are troubling aspects of the code. It’s also not particularly interested in sharing any of its advertising revenue, and that’s business for you.

The code isn’t signed and sealed just yet, with a consultation period for the draft code that will conclude at the end of August.

Google’s taking its complaints very public to drum up support for its position. It states that its search activities bring traffic to news sites, not take it away from them. Moreover, it posits that parts of the code are unworkable.

Google may have a point.

There’s a provision within the code that states that Google would have to make changes to its search code available to media companies in Australia 28 days before they’re implemented. That’s worrying both in the context of feasibility and impact.

The underlying search algorithms at Google are its “11 secret herbs and spices”, but unlike Colonel Sander’s recipe they’re constantly undergoing changes.

Some of that is the nature of software, where it’s always possible to tweak code for improvement alone. It’s also because there are entire industries built around what’s called search engine optimisation (SEO).

Making it clear that changes are coming, let alone that what they’re going to be ahead of time would make it much easier for firms to game SEO.

That could push results up the Google ladder even if they’re not accurate or the best match for a given search term.

There’s also the added complication that the code only applies to larger media firms. That brings with it questions around accuracy and impartiality. Then there’s the question of how smaller operators might compete if the larger media outfits can outfox them on SEO before any actual news gathering happens.

Not that Google isn’t guilty of a bit of hyperbole. Google’s claims around “free” services being at risk aren’t held up in the code as the ACCC notes. Neither are claims around having to share user data either within the code.

It’s somewhat alarming to be pestered with Google’s position if you’re not ready for it. Once you are, it shifts to being a tad annoying once you’ve seen it 50 times in your working day and you want to get to your search results. Ultimately, it’s a question of big businesses jostling for position, with the truth of the situation lying somewhere between both camps.


Epic Games takes on Apple and Google, but there’s more than gaming at stake

Chances are decent that even if you’re not a gamer, you’ve probably heard of Fortnite, the massively successful online battle shooter game produced by Epic Games that has earned millions upon millions of dollars for its creators. Fortnite is very big business, and it’s a game that’s available across just about every potential gaming platform you could name, from dedicated games consoles like the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One to PCs, tablets and mobile devices.

Fortnite is itself free to play, but it makes its money by selling a virtual currency that can then be exchanged for what are essentially visual flourishes for your player avatar, most infamously dances that the characters can do when they win.

Epic Games has made a lot of money out of selling Fortnite’s inhouse currency, but if you were buying that currency on Apple’s iOS (iPhones, iPads) or Google’s Android platforms, then 30% of that asking price went directly to Apple or Google respectively. That’s the rate that either firm imposes on any app purchases through their stores.

Epic Games wasn’t entirely happy with that set split and engineered a way in-game to sell currency itself, offering up distinct buttons in-game for purchases either directly from it, or from Apple/Google. However, the Apple/Google prices were higher, which naturally would prompt any keen gamer to opt for the better value deal.

That 30% cut is the basis of how Apple and Google run their app stores, however, and neither was happy with Epic Games, promptly booting Fortnite off their services entirely.

That doesn’t mean that if you have Fortnite on your iPhone or Android tablet that it’ll stop working, although future OS upgrades might make that happen.

It’s also very important to note that if you don’t have Fortnite but want it, you should under no circumstances just download the first installer package you find online on a web site. That’s very likely to rapidly become an avenue for malware on your device. Epic Games does still offer an Android installer that you can “sideload” onto Android devices, although it lacks the same ability to offer an installer for any iOS phones or tablets.

Epic Games very clearly knew that the ban would happen, almost immediately (and simultaneously) launching a legal challenge to their ban as well as a PR/charm offensive, using a take on Apple’s own classic and iconic “1984” themed Macintosh ad.

Apple and Google’s position is that it funds running their app stores and applying security and oversight through those funds, so it’s not likely to shift any time soon, even though Fortnite is a very significant title. You may think that you’re not a gamer and this isn’t a story of interest to you, but if you’ve got a smartphone and you buy apps of any sort, there could be some very wide-ranging implications down the track.

In one sense, this is just the jostling of billion dollar corporations trying to seem like the “good guy” to regular consumers, but Epic Games has stated that it doesn’t intend to settle for just a smaller cut for its own products, instead looking for a general lowering of rates across the board.

If that happens – and legal processes being what they are, this could roll on for years through the US legal system – it would alter the economics of app stores markedly, because it could lead to slightly cheaper apps, or developers having slightly more funds to put towards long-term support of their products.

On the flip side, it’s feasible that it could also lead to legal pressure for a more “open” app store setup, but that’s not necessarily a totally desirable outcome. Apple’s position on this – not entirely unjustified – is that its closed model app store encourages security, because it can rapidly block misbehaving apps, as it’s done with Fortnite. Conversely, Google’s more open Google Play Store environment has seen more than its fair share of impostor apps and outright malware.


What to expect from Mac OS Big Sur

Apple has a major update to its macOS operating system coming, although if you’re particularly keen — and happy to take on a few risks — you can install the next generation of macOS onto a qualifying Mac computer right now. I’ve been testing out the new macOS in its beta form for a little while, and Apple’s just made it possible to install as a public beta for anyone who wants to sign up over at Apple’s beta software site.

Be warned however that when Apple says it’s in beta, it’s not kidding; it’s not really a good idea to install this on your work Mac, or a personal one if it’s the only machine you’ve got, because as early software it can be a little buggy at times. In all cases you absolutely must back up your personal files before switching to Big Sur, and that’s advice that will be true once the final version arrives as well.

Formally, it is called macOS Big Sur, but also Mac OS 11, the first numerical update to Mac operating systems in more than a decade. Apple’s been rolling out annual updates over that time, but they were all Mac OS X.1, X.2 and so on.

It won’t take you long once it’s installed to see why Apple’s decided that this release deserves the full numerical point release, though, because it’s both a major visual overhaul of the way the Mac looks, as well as a pretty big revision under the hood.

In terms of the user interface, everything is a lot more reminiscent of Apple’s iOS in terms of the way icons are laid out, as well as the use of colour — and a lot of white space — around application menus. Elements that you might not need are popped out of view until you mouse over them, and design ideas like the control center from iOS are now present for quick checking of WiFi, Bluetooth, volume and battery status on laptop Macs.

It’s a design that’s meant to make you focus more on the apps you’re running, although long term Mac users may find it a bit disorienting at first because it feels like all the menus are missing. Although if you are a long term Mac user, you might be pleased to find out that the classic Mac startup chime is back when you first fire up your Mac running MacOS Big Sur.

There’s a raft of new changes to the core Mac apps such as Safari, Mail, Photos and Calendar of course, and because it’s still in beta there’s some small scope for further changes to appear there.

Under the hood there’s a slew of software upgrades, with a strong focus on security. Apps that run on Big Sur are meant to tell you more about the information they’re sharing online, especially when surfing the web. What you do with that information is up to you, and there may be some balancing required for some sites that rely on tracking cookies for matters like simple sign-in to consider.

Apple’s MacOS Big Sur also looks forward to the next generation of Mac hardware that will run on Apple’s own ARM processors. Current Intel-based Macs will run macOS Big Sur now, but it’s also the software foundation for the Macs that Apple will release in years to come.

The full upgrade to MacOS Big Sur is scheduled to appear as a full non-beta upgrade later this year; Apple typically releases it around the same time we see new iPhones hit the market, but there’s a lot of indications that the pandemic issues of 2020 may see that schedule disrupted a little. It will run on most Macs from around 2014 or later, but 2012 and some 2013 models will not be able to install it when it becomes fully available.


ACCC takes on Google in court, but what can you do to stay private online?

One of the big tech news stories to break recently was the Australian Consumer And Competition Commission’s decision to take search giant Google to court.

The ACCC alleges that Google “misled consumers when it failed to properly inform consumers, and did not gain their explicit informed consent, about its move in 2016 to start combining personal information in consumers’ Google accounts with information about those individuals’ activities on non-Google sites that used Google technology, formerly DoubleClick technology, to display ads.”

Which all sounds very legalese, but what it boils down to is the ACCC alleging that Google wasn’t quite upfront enough about the changes it made a few years back around the way that it harvests users’ data when they use its services. Prior to 2016, according to the ACCC, Google only really tracked user activity on its own sites – services like Google Search and YouTube – and not across the wider web. Thanks to its ownership of at-one-time-rival DoubleClick, it could expand its ability to more directly track users across a lot, if not all of their web activity.

For its part, Google refutes the allegations, saying that it’s played within the letter of the law, and no doubt that is a matter that will very slowly grind its way through the courts. Presuming the ACCC gains some kind of victory eventually, it could lead to more disclosure on individual web sites as and when you land on them, similar to the way websites work in the EU. If you’ve ever travelled through the EU and gone online, you will have quickly realised that many sites require an explicit acceptance of tracking cookies, thanks to an EU law called the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). Australia doesn’t have a GDPR equivalent, but this could be a slow first step towards that kind of transparency.

Many people seem to just assume that Google knows and tracks everything, and it is very much the price you pay for using its services. You’re not paying in subscription terms – mostly – but instead by making yourself a more attractive target to advertisers, because Google can more directly frame ads likely to be of interest to you. For many of us that’s a bargain we’re happy enough with, and if it does fuss you, it’s always feasible to use more privacy-centric browsers such as Firefox or specific cookie-blocking extensions to your browser to limit this kind of activity.

No matter which side of the privacy fence you sit on, it’s worth actually checking what Google knows about you, or at least what it thinks it knows about you. Google provides a simple tool for this purpose within your Google account to check this. Once you’re signed into your Google account – signified in Chrome on a Google page for example by your account icon coming up in the top right hand corner – head to myaccount.google.com and click on “Manage Your Data And Personalisation”.

From there you can check where Google’s tracked your movements on that browser, as well as your ad preferences, which provide an interesting if not always accurate view of what Google thinks that you’re keen on. For example, within my own profile, Google reckons I like Sci-Fi & Fantasy TV shows – accurate enough – but also that I’m keen on sports, and Rugby in particular. Sorry Google, but I’m not in any way interested in Rugby, so I don’t know where that’s come up from.

The My Account portal is also where you can track Google’s location history of you. Depending on your mix of devices and where you’ve logged into a Google account, this could have just a little bit of data on you – or possibly a whole heaping load if you’re using an Android device and constantly use Google Maps, for example.

Again, though, while accessing this data for the first time can be a little eye opening and sometimes alarming, it’s also a useful reminder of the deal that Google strikes. As a user of its services, you’re not actually a Google “customer” to speak of, unless you’re paying for additional services like Google One or YouTube Music. Google’s primary customers are its advertising partners, and they’re paying for the information that you trade to Google every time you search, use Google Maps or watch a YouTube video.


Laptop buying: Windows PC or Chromebook?

Back when Google introduced the concept of a Chromebook – a laptop computer not running Windows 10, Linux or Apple’s macOS, but instead an environment essentially running on Google’s own Chrome browser – they were pitched as low-cost student computers, and built accordingly.

Which is the terribly polite way of saying that there weren’t terribly enticing unless you were already heavily into the Google ecosystem. Sure, they didn’t cost much, but those early Chromebooks had woeful displays, terrible keyboards and ordinary battery life. To make them even more challenging, they were heavily predicated on the idea of always-on Wi-Fi and cloud saving, which made them tricky in an Australian context where broadband access in many places can be a challenging matter.

In 2020, however, Chromebooks have stepped up a lot, with a wide variety of models on sale. Yes, you can still buy very cheap Google Chromebooks for basic needs, but there are also a lot of premium devices that compete much more directly with their Windows 10 counterparts. Apple isn’t even in this discussion, because its cheapest laptop costs far more than the most expensive readily available Chromebook in the local marketplace.

If you’re in the market for a low cost or mid-range laptop, though, you may find yourself faced with the Windows 10 or Chromebook choice. There are obvious differences in matters like screen size and onboard storage to consider, and honestly, both options have their appeal. Here’s the big pros and cons with going down the Chromebook path when buying a new laptop.

Chromebooks: On the plus side:

  • Few malware problems: Because ChromeOS is a highly controlled environment, it’s less prone to malware issues than Windows 10 at a comparative level.
  • Android app compatibility: ChromeOS used to be a closed environment, but it’s now open to running Android apps, so if you’ve also got an Android phone or tablet, you’ll have software ready to go
  • Runs better on lesser hardware: Chromebooks tend to have to do less, and that means they can make do with less in terms of system resources. 4GB of memory on a Windows 10 laptop is a little pokey, but it’s fine for Chromebook use
  • Cloud-based backup: While you can get Chromebooks with expanded local storage, the primary storage concept here is to use Google Drive, which means that your documents are safely backed up online automatically
  • Quick booting: Most Chromebooks wipe the floor with cheap and mid-range Windows machines when it comes to starting up or shutting down.

Chromebooks: On the minus side:

  • App availability: As more apps have moved online or as web-based apps this is less of an issue than it used to be, but it very much depends on the apps you need to use every day. Google’s Docs and Sheets are of course available, and so is Microsoft Office, either through a web browser or their Android apps, but if you need, say, Photoshop you’re not going to be satisfied with a Chromebook
  • Online is still key: You can totally use a Chromebook offline, but it’s not the way that most apps are configured, so if you need a computer that’s mostly offline, a Chromebook could be a compromised choice.

As you can imagine, picking a Windows 10 based laptop rather flips that script. You really do need to look at malware prevention and security on the Windows side of the fence, and that’s very much reflective of the larger market share it holds. While aspects like Cloud backup are entirely feasible on Windows, there’s usually more configuration involved. However, the decades of Windows development means that the whole application ecosystem is far, far wider than it is on ChromeOS.

The one aspect you’re more likely to hit with either, especially for cheaper laptops is mediocre battery life. It’s one aspect where manufacturers tend to cut corners to cut costs the most frequently, although some models do buck that trend, so it’s worth checking battery capacity and battery life claims carefully before you buy either.


Twitter hacked, but there wasn’t much users could do to stay safe

Late last week, a whole host of very prominent Twitter accounts – folks like Tesla’s Elon Musk and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, alongside major brands such as Apple – all started promising that they were, quite literally, giving away money.

Digital money to be precise, with the promise being that any sum of cryptocurrency bitcoin that was sent to “their” bitcoin address would be returned in double to anyone who provided their funds in the first place.

If you’re thinking that sounds rather too generous for some of the world’s richest people and biggest brands, congratulations. You’re thinking, and probably not likely to fall for what was a rather blatant scam. Sadly, not everyone thought, and reportedly the scammers made more than $US100,000 very quickly from more gullible folks.

Online scams are of course nothing new, and neither is impersonating celebrities as part of these scams, but what was interesting about this particular scam was that it wasn’t run from fake accounts. These were the actual accounts of those compromised individuals and brands, and it wasn’t the case that each of them had somehow been scammed out of their passwords.

So how did that happen? According to Twitter itself it appears that instead of targeting, say, Kanye West, the scammers instead targeted Twitter employees with access to Twitter’s own administration tools. Access at that level means that they could bypass any passwords or two factor authentication those accounts had, and mass post from them. According to Twitter’s claims on the incident, 130 prominent verified Twitter accounts were targeted, with 45 of them having password resets initiated. A further 8 had their Twitter data downloaded, including private direct messages, which is, needless to say, rather alarming.

In some ways, the fact that the hack was used for what ended up being a pretty rudimentary scam was a minor blessing, because control of tools like that should be more heavily guarded. It’s fair to guess that after this, Twitter will indeed be locking down its most powerful administrator tools more carefully!

In this case, while the odds are low that your account was compromised – the scammers targeted so-called “verified” or “Blue Tick” accounts with celebrity value of some sort – there wouldn’t have been much that you could do.

However, it’s still worth looking over your social media accounts – and indeed any online accounts you have – and making sure that your security is up to date. This includes having a good, strong, individual password for each service. Please don’t use “Password” or “123456”, because that’s just asking to be hacked. If you’re aware of any kind of breach like this, it’s also decent practice to change up your passwords, just in case.

Also, if an online service of any type offers two-factor authentication, such as SMS passwords or the use of external authentication apps or devices, use them. Yes, it’s slightly more inconvenient, but it’s also generally (where admin tools aren’t included) more secure.

No, it wouldn’t have made a difference in this case, but it’s the functional equivalent there of saying that burglars could use sledgehammers to break into your house – which, if they were keen enough, they could – so you shouldn’t have a decent front door lock. Lax security is never a good idea, and with our lives led so heavily online these days, that includes online security too.


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