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Microsoft Surface Tablet

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 (Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB)
(See online!)

When I was looking for a tablet, I didn't really want a tablet as much as being able to be more portable when I do computing. I hoped I could find one that was as computer like as possible which is why I was thrilled to find out that Microsoft actually had a good option: the surface. Originally I had the Surface Pro 2 and it was good and I recently upgraded to the 6. Both provide the most important thing I'm looking for in portable computing: an actual computer.

Unlike Android or Apple tablets, the Surface Pro is an actual computer complete with a real USB3 port that you can use to plug in thumbdrives, gamepads, or anything else you can plug into a full sized computer or laptop. And, because it's a real computer, ANY software that runs on my Windows 10 main laptop runs on the Surface too. I can use all the same office or gaming software that I normally do. Granted, it's not strong enough to run some high-end stuff, but it does a dang good job and I can play many great games that are older, simpler, or allow me to turn down graphics.

Granted, it can be used by touch only, but I leave the removable keyboard/screencover on at all times and use it like a tiny laptop. At first I didn't think that would work, but the keyboard is nearly full sized and I can type on it as fast as I do any other. When I'm done taking notes or browsing, I can flip up the keyboard to put it in low power mode. It's been invaluable when traveling due to it's very tiny size and light weight. I can use it on the plane, in the airport, in class, at the conference to take notes or ACTUALLY get work done because I don't have to worry about translating my notes into my proper notekeeping software later: because the right software is already on it!

Normally, I'd be hesitant to recommend a Microsoft branded portable device, but there's nothing else that touches the Surface Pro. Not by a long shot.
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5 Things I Love and 3 Things I Hate About Windows 7

(Image used under: Creative Commons 2.0 [SRC])

The new Windows is actually very good. Some of the new features are huge time savers and make work faster and more efficient than ever. Here are a few:

Things I Love about Windows 7

Program search

Navigating through a series of menus, no matter how well organized causes a delay in launching programs. For the stuff you use the most, you can just make desktop or taskbar shortcuts, but every now and then you want to run a program you haven't used in a while (and may not remember where it is).

Click in the white text box and type what you want

Using the program search feature of the start menu, you can click the windows button, type a few letters in the search box and up come any matches. Using it, I can find my programs much faster than hunting around in the start menu. It's even better when using someone else's computer where there may be little to no organization to the programs at all!

Matching program names or menu items will appear.

Alt+Tab

The Alt+Tab menu in Windows XP

One problem with having many windows open at once in XP is when you hit Alt+Tab to scroll through the open programs, you only see the program icon which isn't very helpful if you have many browser windows open.

Improved Alt+Tab function in Windows 7

Windows 7 fixes that by using thumbnails of the windows making it far easier to tell WHICH browser window is the one you want. You can very easily see which one you want visually particularly ones that are animated, games, or movies. The thumbnails for these types of windows will be animated too instead of just static images!

Note! If a movie/game is minimized, the thumbnail will not be animated.

Win+Tab

This is a completely new feature from Windows XP, but if you press the windows key and tab, you'll get a scrollable series of large thumbnails. While still holding the windows key, continue to press tab and they'll file forward similar to flipping through a roladex.

The main difference between this and Alt+Tab is that it looks way cooler and the "thumbnail" is actually about half the size of the screen making it even easier to identify the window you want.

Bonus: Both Alt+Tab and Win+Tab include the desktop as one of your windows.

Grouped Taskbar Icons

This is actually a feature I really hated in XP. When it grouped my windows on the taskbar, it made it impossible to quickly click from window to window since I'd have to find the group and then figure out which in that group was the one I wanted.

With Windows 7, all windows for the same program (multiple Explorer windows or Firefox windows etc) will be next to each other on the taskbar. The default is to group them if the taskbar gets full (just like XP), but now, when you hover over a grouping, it shows you a series of thumbnails. When you see the one you want, you can just click it to open that window.

Instead of reading each title, you can tell in an instant which one you want. Even better, the function still works even if you turn grouping off. Just hover over any Firefox window for example and you'll still get a thumbnail list for all open Firefox windows.

Windows Explorer Thumbnail Size Control

Click this on the upper right...
... and you get this menu

For someone who uses images a lot in graphic and web design not even counting the thousands of family photos lying around, I often found myself using the old hack to increase the size of thumbnails in explorer.

Now, thumbnail size is built right into the view options of Windows explorer. You can select medium, large, and extra large (there are some other options, but they don't produce thumbnails):

Medium Thumbnails
Large Thumbnails
Extra Large Thumbnails

Things I Hate About Windows 7

And while there are some great new things about Windows 7, there were certainly bound to be a few things that aren't as good. Here are a few:

User Access Control

Ok, granted this doesn't bother you near as much as it used to in Vista and that's a HUGE improvement. BUT! Why, oh why, is it necessary to be prompted EVERY time a program opens? Firewalls have had a "remember my choice" function since they were created so, what? Microsoft hasn't noticed? They didn't think perhaps I don't want to be asked every single time!?

I'm sure the Microsoft programmers are smart enough to have been able to put a "always allow" and "always deny" option on their UAC prompts. I mean, seriously What excuse do they have for making this kind of mistake after all this time?

Driver Signature Enforcement

In the 64 bit versions of Windows 7, certain programs and hardware will no longer work because they can't afford to purchase Microsoft certification. Either that or it's an old program of yours that you really love, but isn't being actively developed. Because of this restriction, you have to say goodbye… or do you?

Fortunately, there's a workaround for this so if you can't figure out why your hardware is unresponsive or certain programs won't work while others do, try this trick.

Folders Refuse to Expand in Windows Explorer

While browsing around in Windows Explorer, you may have noticed an unpleasant change. It used to be that if you click a subfolder, the folder listing on the left would auto-expand all folders at the same level.

This is the kind of thing that you either notice becuase it bothers you as much as it does me or you don't notice at all because you don't use Explorer the same way. If so, no worries, but if you hate it like I do, here's a simple fix to make it work like it used to.

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Turn Off Driver Signing Enforcement in Windows 7

So here's the deal (my theory anyway); Microsoft is trying to make their system more stable and secure, but to do that, they have to have some standards of quality for drivers used on the system. That's good in theory, but the problem is that the only realistic way of doing that means that Microsoft makes companies pay them to certify and then sign their drivers.

While I can't argue with the theory, the practice is that some of your favorite software and still usable hardware won't work and that's not cool. Even worse, sometimes you won't know what's wrong. There's no indication of what's wrong, just that your hardware or software isn't loading right.

However, there's a trick to make Windows stop forcing drivers to be signed. Before giving up, try this trick. When booting, press the F8 function key a few times until you see this boot menu:

If you have ever loaded Safe Mode in any version of Windows before, this should look familiar. In fact, Safe Mode is one of the options, but in this case, the one you're looking for is a new option near the bottom called Disable Driver Signature Enforcement

Use the arrow keys to highlight it and then press the ENTER key. Windows will load like normal, but now it won't require Microsoft approved drivers.

Making it Easy

So that ends the portion of this post that sounds like every other site online that tells you the same thing. The one thing that they're all missing is this: it's very easy to start booting your computer and turn to check a phone or pick up something off the floor and miss the timing for hitting the F8 key.

If you do, the computer will boot and you'll have to restart it and try again (which is very annoying!). So here's a trick for delaying the boot long enough for you to click the button.

Step 1: Download EasyBCD

First, download EasyBCD from here.

EasyBCD is a program that helps you set up multiple boot options in Windows for when you have more than one version of Windows on your computer and want to be able to choose between them while loading (You're not actually adding a second boot, you just want to activate the menu for one).

Step 2: Open EasyBCD and Add an XP Dual Boot Option

Start up EasyBCD and this is what you'll see.

When you see the Add/Remove Entries screen, on the bottom right, you'll see this:

You may notice that the default options are for installing an XP dual boot option so you can just click to add it now if you want. However, I suggest changing the name from Windows XP to "Delay Option" or "Don't Click Me" or similar first. Click Add Entry and then you should see this:

Step 3: Use it!

You're done! EasyBCD is useful if you want to change the name, you actually DO add a second operating system, or if you experience boot problems (which EasyBCD can help fix), but you can remove it if you want.

So now whenever you boot, it will stop and show you this screen for at least 30 seconds:

All we've done is introduce a delay at the precise point you would need to press F8. As long as you press F8 before the countdown completes and the boot continues, you'll still see the boot menu at the top of this article that will let you pick to disable driver signing. Huzzah!

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Windows 7

Windows is definitely hit and miss when it comes to stability, quality, and function. While I loved XP, I thought Vista was a broken mess. Windows 7, on the other hand, is fast, functional, and good looking too. It has pluses and minuses, but is definitely a win for Microsoft.

That said, it's not perfect out of the box so read on to learn what tools and tricks you can use to make it work better or, in some cases, work the way it should have in the first place.

Windows 7 Tips and Tricks

Windows 7 changed the way folders auto expand, but here's how to put it back the way it used to be.
Windows 7 (64 bit anyway) doesn't like unsigned drivers so many of your favorite programs and devices won't work, but here's a trick to making them work anyway.
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Force Windows 7 To Install No Matter What Kind of Key You Have

(Image used under: Creative Commons 2.0 [SRC])

If you lose or break your original installation CD for Windows 7, you're going to have a tough time. Maybe your neighbor has a copy, but it's the home edition and you have the pro. What can you do? Right now, a Windows 7 installation key is specific to the type of disk. However, all is not lost thanks to the Ei.cfg removal utility.

Although your Windows installation disc may say "Home Premium Edition," it still contains the other versions (such as Pro or Ultimate) on the disc—it just has a very small file called ei.cfg that tells the disc what version to install. The ei.cfg Removal Utility creates a new ISO of your install disc that ignores this file, thus letting you choose what edition you want when you start the installer.

It won't let you upgrade for free since your key will still have to match the version installed, but at least if you and your neighbor have a matching bit version (32 or 64) of Windows 7, you can use their disk for your reinstallation regardless of which package they purchased. Also, for people who routinely help friends with their computers, having a generic disk that can install any version of Windows easily is a huge help and cost savings.

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Wrapping Text in PowerPoint

A friend asked me today how to wrap text around an image in PowerPoint and it occurred to me that I had never done or even tried to do that. So I looked up the answer and found this from Microsoft's webpage:

We want to wrap this
There! That's better!

The trick is to use a built in Microsoft function called the tab key. That right… there is no function. First you put your graphic behind the text (and make sure the textbox doesn't have a background color). Then, Microsoft's own tutorial says you have to use tabs or the spacebar to create empty space over the image.

"Sure", you say, "but that's an irregular object. If I want to wrap around something square on the left or right, that should be much easier right?" Rest assured, it is.

In that case, all you have to do is create three different text boxes. One above the image, one to the side, and one below. Use the same font and size and be sure to place the boxes so they look like the text in the top flows to the one on the side then bottom when they're actually just three different boxes.

Seriously! Those are the instructions for wrapping text. What kills me is that sounds exactly like what I'd tell someone as a hack to make it work when no other way exists which must mean that it's an unsupported feature in PowerPoint. I can only assume that there's so little demand for this feature that they still haven't bothered to add it even to their 2007 version of office. Tags: , , , ,

Microsoft Courier – Touch-Enabled Multi-screen Tablet PC

Microsoft's Courier PC

Today I found this article and short video talking about Microsoft's upcoming Courier Tablet PC. The device is a computer, but uses your fingers and a special pen for its navigation and input. This shows a lot of promise in making computing more intuitive.


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Washington State and Microsoft Sue Companies for Using Fake Security Alerts

(Image is used under the Pixabay license)

Washington state (and Microsoft) are suing companies that use those fake security alerts to trick people into downloading and using their products. You know the ones. They usually say something like "Warning! Your computer is infected with viruses and you must download a quick security update to stop it".

Your first warning should be when they ask for your credit card number, but I don't hold that mistake against anyone. The real problem is the scumbag companies who utilize this kind of manipulation. It makes you wonder how they've gotten away with it for so long in the first place.

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Online Password Checker

(Image used under: Creative Commons 2.0 [SRC])

My first thought is to be very cautious about using an online password checker to test the strength of your passwords because you might inadvertantly give away your password to a rogue site. However, this Microsoft sponsored password checker requires no logins or personal information and being that it's a fairly well-known company, chances are smaller that they would abuse the info if they even store it (which I can't imagine it being cost-effective to do so).

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Vista Death Watch

(Image used under: Fair Use doctrine)

This is funny and informative. I didn't know that the total number of Vista machines is near the same number of Macs out there. What's that? Under 5% market pentatration? Ouch.

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