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Author Archives: Alex Kidman

macOS Mojave: 5 quick tips & tricks

Apple has recently updated its desktop operating system, macOS to version 10.14, better known as “macOS Mojave”. If you’re curious, after years of naming its operating systems after large felines, it switched a few years back to California landmarks.

The upgrade to macOS Mojave is one that you should be prompted to make if you’ve got a qualifying iMac, MacBook, MacBook Pro, Mac Mini or Mac Pro. That’s essentially most of those systems that Apple has sold from around 2012, although predictably you’ll see somewhat better performance out of a new Mac running macOS Mojave than you will an older one. There’s one curious quirk for owners of the 2012 27-inch iMac to be aware of if you’re using Apple’s “Boot Camp” software to run another operating system, such as Microsoft Windows. For that model, Boot Camp isn’t Mojave-compatible, so you’ll have to drop your Boot Camp partition to install Mojave — and you won’t be able to reinstall it after the upgrade either.

Like most Apple operating system upgrades, all you really need is a decent broadband connection for the download and a bit of time for it to upgrade. But once that’s done, what can you do freshly in macOS Mojave that you couldn’t before? This isn’t an exhaustive list — Apple’s made a lot of tweaks to the way macOS works — but just some interesting and fun features to check out:

Go Dark
Dark mode is one of Apple’s most heavily hyped features. If you prefer less eye strain — or just want to indulge your goth preferences — head to System Preferences > General to switch between the standard “Light” or new “Dark” modes for your desktop theme.

Clean up with Stacks
Apple’s offered stacks — where similar file types are collated to fan out at will — for macOS for some time, but in Mojave, you can use it to clean up your desktop. To enable it, click on “View” in the Finder (or anywhere on your desktop if you’re focused on it) and choose “enable Stacks”. As if by magic, your files and folders will magically arrange themselves.

Finder gets smarter
Apple’s replaced the iTunes-centric Cover Flow view, which let you view images and other files types as though they were album covers with Gallery view. While it uses the Cover Flow idea of a large onscreen image for each file, you gain the ability to quickly access a number of quick actions, like editing the metadata for an image or rotate it without launching a separate app.

Quick Look is faster
If you’re a long-term macOS user, you’re no doubt aware of Quick Look, which lets you peek at a photo or view a video file by hitting the space bar. In macOS Mojave, you can do a whole lot more with Quick View, including simple image editing or even clipping down video clips without sending them to iMovie, Premiere or Final Cut Pro.

More iOS interaction
If you’ve got a recent model iPhone, you can use it in concert with macOS Mojave under the new “Continuity Camera” feature, which lets you take a photo on your iPhone that’s instantly transferred to your mac. More than that, four iOS apps have made their way to macOS Mojave, with News, Stocks, Voice Memos and Home all appearing. They’re actually the iOS code running under an emulation layer on macOS Mojave, but they do point to even more cross-correlation between Apple’s software platforms in the future.


What to expect from the next Windows 10 update

Microsoft will shortly release the next major update to its Windows 10 operating system. Initially dubbed “Redstone 5” by Microsoft developers, but now known as the “October 2018 Update”, it’ll bring a slew of new security features, performance upgrades and just a few new front-facing features to your Windows 10 experience.

As with any Windows 10 upgrade, before too long you’ll probably start seeing pop-ups on your desktop advising you to upgrade, presuming you’re not already set on an automatic upgrade path by Windows 10 itself. In that case, you’ll more likely notice it the next time you power up (or power down) your PC and it runs through the installation process for the October 2018 update.

However, before you install the update, make sure you’ve got a reasonable quantity of spare space on your system.

Microsoft’s advice around the October Update is that you’ll need at least 10GB of free space before you install it. Now, on a desktop system or anything with a mechanical hard drive that’s probably not too much of an impost, but if you’ve purchased any of the much cheaper Windows 10 laptops, or some tablets running Windows 10, 10GB could represent up to a third of your available storage space!

Sadly, the October Update doesn’t warn you of this upfront. If you’re stressed about losing your precious files, the smart thing to do (which you should be doing anyway) is to back them up to an external drive or cloud storage solution.

So what will you get once the upgrade is done? Outside of bugfixes and security — which in an ideal world you’ll never really see running anyway — there’s a number of refinements and improvements on the way.

An upgraded “Your Phone” feature will enable you to see messages and notifications from a paired smartphone without having to take it out of your pocket, although there’s some difference depending on whether you’re using an Apple iPhone or an Android device. The more open nature of Android has enabled Microsoft to implement a wider set of Your Phone features for that platform, including seamless transfers of photos from Android devices to Windows desktop without having to worry about cables, synchronisation or any of that kind of hassle. If you’re using an iPhone, there’s a more limited set of features open to you, because Apple holds tighter reins on its mobile platform.

Search should be improved with better previews of multiple document types, making it easier to locate exactly the right document amongst your files. There’ll be an upgraded News app to take on services like Google News and Apple News, and while few have headsets yet, Microsoft’s also talking up improvements to its “Mixed Reality” platform for headset users of Windows 10.

So when will you see the October 2018 update arrive on your PC? The hint is in the name, but Microsoft is yet to formally ink when it’ll actually arrive. Based on prior releases, and Microsoft’s heavy work in bugfixing, the smart money is on widespread release more towards the end of October than the start.

If you’re a Mac user feeling left out, of course, you’ll see the next version of macOS drop before October, with macOS Mojave set to arrive on compatible Mac systems on 24 September 2018. As with the Windows 10 October Update, it’s wise to make sure you’ve got a backup of your personal files before upgrading to macOS Mojave.


Apple updates iOS, macOS, tvOS and watchOS, but don’t rush

As part of its launch of its new, shiny and rather expensive Apple iPhone XS range, Apple also announced when the new versions of its operating systems for all of its products will be available to consumers.

If you’re especially keen, they’ve been available for some months in beta forms, but that carries with it the risks of quite significant bugs. Apple specifically provides public betas as a form of live test to see where those bugs are, and you’re lucky if you don’t hit one of them. A test iPhone X I had running the iOS 12 beta lost the ability to make and take phone calls for a while there, which is somewhat problematic for a device that only has the letters “i” and “X” in its name if you take out the “phone”.

iOS 12, the operating system that runs iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch devices will be available from the 17th of September, and it’s probably around then that your iDevice will prompt you to upgrade. That’s the same day that Apple Watch owners will be able to upgrade to watchOS 5, and owners of compatible Apple TV set top boxes will be able to jump to tvOS 12. Again, expect to see prompts suggesting you upgrade pushed to your devices on that date, or within a few days of it. Apple marks time from its California headquarters, so depending where you are on the planet in relation to that, it might be the 18th of September instead.

Owners of Macintosh computers such as Macbooks, iMacs, Mac Pros or Mac Minis will have to wait a little longer to see the next generation of macOS, but not by much. That’s because macOS Mojave is set to fully release on 24 September, again at Apple’s timing whim.

Apple doesn’t charge a fee for downloading these updates, although you do need to have a machine capable of running the upgrade. For iOS 12, that’s the following devices:

  • iPhone 5s and later
  • iPad Air
  • iPad Pro
  • iPad 5th and 6th generation
  • iPad mini 2
  • iPod touch 6th generation

If your iOS device is older than that — and especially if it won’t already update to iOS 11 — then you won’t even be offered the update. For Apple Watch users, it’s everything but the very first generation of Apple Watches, the ones that Apple now refers to as “Apple Watch Original” models.

For Apple TV, it’s any 4th generation Apple TV — which means the 4th generation model and “4K” Apple TV only.

For macs, there’s a little variance depending on whether you’re updating a MacBook, Mac Mini, iMac or Mac Pro, but the basic cutoff line is 2012. If you’re using a Mac of any type that’s from the 2013 generation of any of those lines or newer, you’ll be able to run macOS Mojave.

So they’re free, and as long as you have the data pipe to get them they won’t cost you anything. So, rush out to download as soon as they’re available, right?

Not so fast — especially if you’re running a Mac. The reality with new OS upgrades is that while Apple does a lot of hard work in squashing bugs, you’re still talking billions of lines of code, and that means that bugs are all but inevitable. You most definitely should not upgrade until you’ve got a good backup in place of all your critical data, because while catastrophic errors are rare, they’re not impossible. Smart money says that within a few weeks, Apple will release “point” updates to deal with the most egregious bugs, and it’s around that time that it might make more sense to update.

All of these upgrades — and the same story is true on the Windows and Android sides of the IT fence, by the way — shouldn’t be ignored, because they also add important security updates to your devices. I’m certainly not stating you should never upgrade. Just that while Apple might hype the new features, unless you need them, there’s really no rush.


Can a redesign save Skype?

It’s often said that we live in an information age, because it’s never been easier to find information about anything, and there’s never been more information about our lives available to others.

The core of that information, however, is the ability to communicate, and that should mean that communications applications should be highly valuable commodities where being first at scale ensures that you’re king of the hill. It’s the reason so many folks are wary of information-centric companies such as Facebook or Google, because they seem as though they’re too big to unseat.

Technology can be disruptive, however, and just because you’re first — even if you’re widely used — doesn’t mean you’ll always stay there.

Take Skype, for example.

Skype started life as an independent company, but as its popularity as a call and messaging application grew, big tech companies came calling. In 2005, it was purchased entirely by eBay, and in 2011, the online auction site sold it on to Microsoft, where it’s remained ever since. At the time, the prospect of folding Skype’s very easy to use video calling service into Microsoft’s existing suite of productivity and operating system products. Skype had a huge user base that should have only grown over time as widespread quality internet access grew over the next seven years.

Fast forward to 2018, and Skype’s a bit of a mess. It’s a complicated and often buggy application, whether you’re using it on a desktop computer or mobile device. It has users, to be certain, but it’s not the dominant player in either the chat or video messaging fields.

Skype has numerous competitors, especially in the mobile space where applications like Apple’s Facetime or Facebook-owned Whatsapp have grown to dominate the space.

Not that Skype is unaware of all of this, although some of its efforts haven’t entirely been warmly welcomed. An announcement that it would retire its desktop app design in favour of a mobile-first kind of view was met with user backlash, and the company swiftly backpedalled from that.

Just recently, it announced a shift towards “simplicity” in an effort to retain its user base. The new Skype, we’re told, will return to an easier to use interface that makes it simpler to see details such your call logs, contacts and ongoing chat messages. Desktop users will still get a desktop-type experience, while mobile users will find it easier to quickly send messages or start calls.

That’s a positive step in the right direction, although it’s also one that appears to be rather inwards-gazing for a service with so many competitors. I intermittently use Skype, partly to stay in touch with specific relatives who have it installed where shifting them to another platform would be more trouble than it’s worth, and partly because the desktop application has a number of add-ons that I use for features like interview recording.

But it’s hardly my first port of call for communication, even though a decade ago it very much was. It’s easier for me to send an email, initiate a whatsapp chat or start a Facetime session. Sadly for Microsoft’s inhouse communications platform, while many of us will opt for simplicity over just about anything, it’s a problem that’s largely already been met by its rivals.


Tablets: Surface Go or iPad Pro?

If you ask Apple, the productivity tablet that you should buy would be its iPad Pro line.

Ask Microsoft the same question, and it would point to its Surface Go tablets, its more “affordable” version of its existing Surface, Surface Book and Surface Laptop devices.

Fully kitted out, either an iPad Pro 9.7 or Surface Go will cost around the same amount, so who’s right in this case?

Having tested out the Surface Go recently, and with considerable iPad Pro experience under my belt, I can confidently state that… it depends.

Now, if you just want a tablet to watch Netflix, browse the web and check in with social media, then Apple’s more entry-level iPad is an easy recommendation, because it’s surprisingly powerful for its price range, well built and has an excellent ecosystem of apps purpose built with touch input in mind. You can score cheap Android or Windows tablets at around the same price point, but I’m yet to hit one as well built, or for that matter with as much battery stamina.

In the productivity space, however, the iPad Pro vs Surface Go argument is a more complex one than you might think.

Apple’s tightly controlled iPad Pro has a much better grasp of working as a touch-enabled system, thanks to the fact that iOS was built from the ground up for touch. As such, the onscreen keyboard always comes up when you need it, icons are large and easy to touch, and for the most part, everything scales to a touch-friendly level. The Surface Go, running on Windows 10 can work with touch, but because it’s an operating system that was built with mouse and keyboard in mind, rather than touch.

That does mean that if you don’t want (or need) the extra expense of an external keyboard, the iPad Pro is undeniably a better bet. I’m still somewhat surprised that neither Apple or Microsoft absorbs the cost of the external keyboard with either device, because having a physical typing interface — even if you’re not a touch typist — makes a big difference to most people’s productivity.

Where the Surface Go scores over the iPad Pro is in the flexibility for proper multi-tasking and file access you get. It’s a full Windows 10 PC, which means you can run multiple apps in their own windows. The simple processor in the Surface Go means you can’t really push it hard for work like video editing or 3D modelling or the like, but it’s a long way ahead of the way that the iPad Pro sort-of manages a couple of apps at once. Likewise, you get full Windows Explorer for access to files locally, on your network and in the cloud, where Apple’s own Files app only offers a partial version of the same flexibility.

Ultimately, though, from a productivity perspective it has to come down to the applications you actually want and need. Microsoft produces Office for Windows (and has done for decades) but it’s also available and quite capable for the iPad Pro. You’ve got a wider choice of browsers and extensions on the Surface Go, but you’ve then also got the issues around running proper anti-virus software on it. The iPad Pro has, to date, remained essentially virus free.

That’s leaving aside, of course, any particular brand loyalty or philosophical objections you might have to either Microsoft or Apple. For my purposes, I like both company’s approaches equally, but then I also don’t feel as though they should be immune to criticism either.

It has been rumoured that Apple is going to announce new iPad Pro models as part of its launch even now confirmed for the 12th of September, so if you are keen, it’s certainly going to be worthwhile holding off until at least then before buying. The Surface Go, on the other hand, is just freshly launched, so it’s a safe purchase option now if you’re keen.


You can now run Windows 95 as an app on Mac, Linux, or even Windows itself.

The pace of technological movement is rather rapid, but there are points in time that can be seen as landmarks in its progression. Microsoft’s Windows 95 was one such shift, taking its visual operating system out to the masses as home computing based around Windows hit absolute critical scale. It certainly wasn’t the case that home computing wasn’t a factor in the late 70s or through the 1980s, but Windows 95 was the point where Windows became ascendant, with competitor brands and environments such as Commodore’s Amiga crumbling away against the Microsoft onslaught.

Then again, Windows 95 is now more than 20 years old as an operating system, and it’s certainly not the computing system you should be running today if you’re online. Microsoft long ago ceased providing any software updates for it, and if you do have a system still running it from back in the day, you’ve also managed an impressive job of keeping its hardware running.

If you’re curious, however, about how Windows 95 compares to today’s operating systems, you can now very easily find out. One canny developer has programmed an app instance of Windows 95 that you can run on computers using macOS, Linux or even Microsoft’s own Windows 10. Yes, that’s right, you can run Windows 95 on Windows 10. Which is slightly mind-bending when you think about it.

Actually, that in itself isn’t a new development. There’s been countless applications that let you run virtual instances of multiple operating systems on computers for decades now, typically for folks developing applications or running business tools that required testing across multiple machines at once.

Developer Felix Rieseberg’s app-based approach is a little less serious, but then it’s also something that can run on what amounts to fumes in a current computing sense. Running Windows 95 as an app only takes up around 200MB of your system’s RAM when it’s running. If you recall Windows 95, it’s a fascinating walk back through the visual style that was computing in the late 1990s, because Windows 95 bridged the gap between more fluid looking operating environments such as the more modern Windows 10 look and its more DOS-based Windows 3.1/3.11 predecessors.

If you’re concerned about the security aspects of running such an old operating system inside your PC, there’s not too much to stress about. The Windows 95 app runs in its own “sandboxed” environment, so it doesn’t look out towards your own computer to speak of. That also means you can quickly shut it down if something does go wrong, because as far as your actual PC is concerned, it’s just another software subroutine.

So what can you actually do with Windows 95 as an app? Well, aside from reminding yourself what a timesink Solitaire or Minesweeper used to be, you are limited to just simple applications, and you’ll have to find those in disk .img format to load them in the first place. While Windows 95 did feature Internet Explorer, it’s a version that sadly can’t load any pages, not that it would be likely to handle a 2018 web page all that well. Then again, Windows 95 also features a number of signup offers for US-based dialup internet service providers, again showing its age.

If you’re curious, you can download the latest version of the Windows 95 app for linux, macOS or windows for free from here.


Will themes be the next big thing for operating systems?

The practical reality for desktop operating systems right now is that most of the pressing issues that people want fixed are fixed, more or less.

Of course, operating systems could be a little faster, or use fewer system resources so that your PC or Mac runs a little smoother, but by and large, until somebody comes up with a completely new way to interface with our computers, they’re doing just about everything that you might want right now, and have done for some time.

That makes it hard to sell a “new” operating system, although again that’s something that isn’t really done at a consumer level anyway. Apple has long used its operating system, macOS to sell mac hardware, and as for Microsoft, its long-term commitment to iterating on Windows 10 means that it’s essentially a bundled product with your laptop or PC unless you’re a keen self-PC builder anyway.

Which is why we’re seeing more features for major operating system updates that interface with other devices, such as mobile phones, or indeed features that are more akin to those you might already use on your smartphone. That’s an area that has plenty of room to showcase “new” features, even if they might not be new computing concepts.

Apple’s already stated that it’s not going to turn macOS into iOS (its mobile device operating system that runs iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch devices), but that isn’t stopping it from making macOS feel a lot more like iOS along the way.

Still, that left it with not a lot else to say about the upcoming update for macOS, macOS Mojave for the average consumer, beyond the fact that it will offer a new “dark” theme for the operating system.

It’s an interesting move for Apple, given its strong history of very tightly controlling the way its operating systems work, but it won’t be alone in the chase for more night-time themed OS.

Microsoft’s latest point release for Windows 10 — which will, as per Microsoft’s existing statements, stay as a product called “Windows 10” on an ongoing release — includes a new “dark theme” available to those who have signed up for Microsoft’s “Windows Insider” program.

Windows Insider is basically Microsoft’s route to providing a public forum to showcase new innovations on the Windows platform, but also to give it access to thousands of beta testers along the way. If you’re running a Windows 10 PC it’s entirely free to join and you will get access to new features faster than on the regular update cycle, but with the understanding that you’re also getting early release software that might not be all that immediately stable.

Is it worth it just for a dark theme for Windows File Explorer? Probably not by itself, and it’s certainly not advisable if you’re talking your only computer. If you’re keen to see what’s coming up for Windows it’s a neat way to get an early glimpse.

If you’re feeling left out on the Mac side of the fence, Apple has a similar setup for macOS Mojave — and indeed its iOS and tvOS platforms — if you’re keen.

Apple doesn’t run its beta software program all year the way that Microsoft does with Windows Insider, although that’s also to do with its commitment to larger named updates on a yearly basis. Microsoft iterates on Windows 10 a little faster than that, so larger updates are simply more frequent.

As always, though, even if you are willing to put up with a little instability in return for new features, make sure you backup your data on a regular basis, just to be sure. Realistically you should be doing that anyway, because a backup now can save you a lot of headaches later.


Fortnite’s Android debut highlights a big security problem

By now, you’ve probably hit at least one headline about the wildly popular Fortnite. Just in case you haven’t, it’s an extremely popular game in the “battle royale” genre where 100 gamers are dropped (virtually) in an environment where they build, but above all fight until only one player is left. It’s cartoonish, it’s free to play, but still wildly successful thanks to developer Epic Games making a variety of cosmetic items, such as outfits and even dances available to buy as add-ons. Its wild popularity has also made it substantial tabloid fodder, in almost exactly the same way that previous popular games have been. Then again, that’s a story that’s also been told about everything from Dungeons & Dragons to Elvis Presley, so some things clearly never change.

Fortnite is pretty clearly the game of 2018, but up until now it’s not been available for users of Android phones or tablets.

That’s set to change with Fortnite heading to Android, but not quite the way you might imagine. Specifically, Epic games has stated that it won’t make Fortnite available on the Google Play app store, but instead for direct download.

Now, Epic’s reasoning behind this is largely financial. If it distributes through Google, then Google gets a cut of revenues, which are currently substantial. The same is true on the Apple side of the fence, where developers who deploy to iOS devices such as iPhones or iPads have to give a 30% cut to Apple.

Fortnite’s already available there, but Apple gives developers no real choice. If you want to deploy to an iOS device, the only reliable way for consumers to install it is through the Apple App store. There are app stores for so-called “jailbroken” devices, but they’re rather wild-west style establishments where you’re taking some genuine security risks installing anything. That’s not the route Epic Games went down, but it’s where it’s going with Android.

That’s because while Google prefers users to utilise its Google Play App environment, it doesn’t actually make it compulsory. You can install Android apps from any source you like as long as you enable the ability to install from third party sources. The first time you download any Android app (typically in .apk format) your device will warn you, and usually ask you to switch over installation for those sources. On some phones you can do so on an app-by-app basis, but for most it’s quite binary. You switch it on or off, and it stays that way until you remember to switch it off.

That’s the issue with what Epic Games is doing. You might not care about games per se, but it’s using the popularity of its app to encourage users to disable what is a pretty important security feature. There’s the risk of fake “Fortnite” apps being mis-downloaded, but also of phones where the third party app install has been enabled being compromised simply because a keen user forgot to switch it off once they’d installed Fortnite. Indeed, without leaving it disabled, it’s not assured you’d even be able to update it over time.

So what’s the takeaway value? In some ways, it’s to the credit of Google that it’s got a very open ecosystem, because it means it can’t censor or control what you do with your own hardware. At the same time, that brings with it considerable risks if you do install apps outside that precise ecosystem.

Google spends plenty of money scanning, checking and intermittently throwing out misbehaving apps on the Google Play App store, but all you’ve got to go on outside that is the word of the developers as to what it’s doing on your device. Above and beyond that, if there’s a solid reason to install a third-party app, it’s very wise to make sure that you disable the installation of other third-party apps once the installation is done.

It’s a simple lock to keep your device secure, but a very important one.


Apple’s hot new MacBook Pro is notably “hot”

Apple often positions itself as a company at the forefront of technology innovations, but there are areas where it tends to play it more conservatively, especially on the straight computing side. Where its iOS devices such as iPhones and iPads feature processors that rather handily beat out their Android competitors, on the macOS side, it’s using the same Intel processors as competitors such as Dell or HP… except that, all too often, it isn’t.

Apple has been downright slow in recent years to adopt new Intel processors for its Macbook and Macbook Pro lines. Where Windows makers are swift to jump on each new generation of Intel processor, Apple’s typically 6 months or more behind the times. Now, it’s true that the advantages we’re seeing with new Intel processor generations are getting slimmer as time goes on.

The days when one generation could boast 20% or more improvements over the last are essentially gone, but still, it leaves Apple’s Macbooks at something of a power disadvantage for much of a given calendar year. As an example, it’s only quite recently that Apple’s updated its professional-grade Macbook Pro lines to use Intel’s 8th generation “Coffee Lake” processors, but we’re expecting to see PCs running 2018 Intel processors quite soon now. Or in other words, just as it catches up, Apple’s likely to fall behind.

The bad news for Apple with its new Macbook Pros doesn’t just end with a speed race against comparable premium Windows laptops.

Sometimes, too, Apple’s own designs can play havoc with its notebook plans. The recent crop of MacBook Pro models, based on Intel’s 8th Generation “Coffee Lake” Core processors hit a noticeable speed bump when they got too hot.

Specifically, the thermal throttling that’s meant to stop your notebook from essentially cooking itself was kicking in, leaving frustrated MacBook Pro owners with shiny new machines that would heat up as they used them, and then slow down far more rapidly than they should have. While you don’t want a fried premium laptop (or a fried lap), the throttling was extreme, leading to very slow Macbook Pros.

Apple admitted the problem, with a spokesperson stating that “Following extensive performance testing under numerous workloads, we’ve identified that there is a missing digital key in the firmware that impacts the thermal management system and could drive clock speeds down under heavy thermal loads on the new MacBook Pro”

The good news here is that Apple rather rapidly pushed out a firmware upgrade for those machines that appears to handle the thermal throttling issue better, allowing new Macbook Pro owners to continue working at near full speed even if they are pushing their machines.

If you’re an existing older Macbook Pro owner, by the way, this isn’t an issue for you, because it appears to be a combination of the current Macbook Pro design and those new processors. That’s got to be galling for those who have invested in the new laptops, because, like all Apple equipment, it’s sold at a serious price premium. Indeed, a fully tricked out new MacBook Pro will cost you serious money, so to find out that your new “faster” laptop wasn’t was a serious problem.

If you’re an owner of a relatively new Macbook Pro, you very much should apply the latest macOS High Sierra update. Actually, while that update will only apply to those systems, it’s also a timely reminder that it’s generally wise to install new small point upgrades to your operating system over time. They’re not all a case of minor bugfixes. Some can affect the hardware performance of your computer in very positive ways, allowing you to keep your cool along with your computer!


How do you stay in touch when you travel?

In today’s hyper-connected world, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with the folks back home, whether that’s for business or personal reasons. The internet age has made it simple to share images and video across national borders in a blink of an eye, not to mention staying on top of your business matters — or just your social media feeds.

However, the moment you leave the country where your mobile provider operates, you’re doing what’s called “roaming” onto other networks, and that can rather quickly get expensive if you’re not careful. There’s actually no “best” way to roam, although there is a “worst” way. That involves travelling overseas and just using your phone as normal, because you’ll typically get slugged with the worst possible rates for calls, texts and data usage.

Or in other words, you should do some preparatory work to keep your smart devices functional while travelling without sending yourself broke. You’ve got plenty of rational choices, each with their own pros and cons.

Use your standard SIM with your carrier’s roaming plan
Most phone carriers will have some kind of international roaming setup, typically based around a prepaid international “pack” that you purchase before you travel. Prices can vary depending on where you’re travelling to, however, because the complex web of deals between each national carrier can lead to wildly varying prices between locations. That’s especially true if you’re heading to more out of the way places where consumer demand for roaming is lessened. Check with your provider for details and pricing.

  • Pros: You keep the same number, so you’re easily contactable
  • Cons: Pricing usually isn’t spectacular, especially for longer trips.

Use a dedicated “travel” SIM
There’s no shortage of international, largely prepaid roaming SIMs that work globally and promise better rates than just using your existing SIM card. They’re typically easy to source before you travel, whether you order online or pick one up at the airport before you leave. You simply swap out your existing SIM, store it somewhere safely and pop the new SIM into your phone.

  • Pros: Cost effective if your travels take you across a lot of international borders
  • Cons: You’ve got to take a SIM removal tool with you (or use a dual SIM phone), you don’t keep your standard number while using it. Rates between nations can vary quite a lot, even with a travel SIM.

Use a local SIM at your destination
If you’ve got the time (and in many cases, enough of a command of the local language) picking up a local SIM card for your phone when you land can save you big money. You’re effectively no longer “roaming”, but instead switching your phone or SIM-enabled tablet or laptop over to the local network, at local network rates.

  • Pros: Highly cost-effective
  • Cons: You don’t have your “real” local number (unless you use a dual-SIM phone), some countries have serious paperwork to sign up for, need SIM tool to swap SIMs.

Rent a Wi-Fi hotspot at your destination
Another popular option of late is to rent a battery-powered WiFi hotspot particular to where you’re travelling to. This lets you keep your standard SIM in your phone, but disable the most expensive part of roaming, which is data. That’s instead handled by the hotspot for you. It’s a very easy and convenient way to keep your smart devices online, and many are rented with large data quotas, or in some cases, “unlimited” data — which usually means a quota, after which your speed is slowed down for daily usage.

  • Pros: Very easy to use, can provide data to multiple devices
  • Cons: Usually a little more expensive than a local SIM, could get pricey if you lose the hotspot device itself.

Go offline and save the most
Of course, if you want the ultimate in data cost savings — or if you really just want to get away from it all — you can always disable roaming on your phone, either just for data, or entirely. If you disable just data, your calls and texts will get through, but check the rates you’ll pay before you make any lengthy calls, as some destinations will even charge you for answering a call, let alone making one. If you do want to escape it all, when you’re told to put your phone in airplane mode in flight, simply leave it there! You can still access public Wi-Fi hotspots (with sensible caution around any financial matters, because that’s not wise on public networks) in airplane mode, and most other functions such as camera and music playback will work just fine for local files.

  • Pros: Cheapest possible option, also removes annoying work calls
  • Cons: Could remove critical contact when needed. Unwise to use public Wi-Fi for any sensitive matter.


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