If I asked the average computer user “What part of a computer makes the biggest difference in speed?”, what do you think the answer would be? Most people would argue that the Central Processing Unit (or CPU) would determine that. And in a lot of cases, this might be correct – the CPU does determine how fast a computer gets basic jobs done… Others might say the amount of memory affects the speed. Once again, this is not bad information – after all, how much Random Access Memory (or RAM) you have influences the workload that your computer can handle. Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s, CPU designs were taking huge leaps ahead, and programs, even basic ones, were using more memory with every new version. That computer you bought even a couple years ago would soon feel sluggish and outdated, as technological improvements would continue to drive the market forward.
In the span of twenty years, computers have gone from the steam locomotive to the jet airliner in terms of how powerful and sophisticated they are. However, there is one component that everyone neglects – one that hasn’t grown at the same rate of speed as those above: the hard drive. Most modern hard drives are still very similar in design to their predecessors from the 80’s. Although they have continued to increase in storage space, modern hard drives haven’t gotten a whole lot faster. While most components of a computer are electronic in nature, a hard drive is still mechanical – it relies on physical moving parts and a spinning disk to read and write information. Every time your computer starts up, loads a program, or opens a file, the hard drive is tasked with finding and reading that data. Multiply this by thousands of individual files to be read and you can see where a slowdown occurs. The CPU and RAM don’t have this limitation – they can read similar amounts of data in the tiniest fractions of a second. We call this a bottleneck – where one slow car on the off-ramp leads to an entire traffic jam. Your computer can only go as fast as its slowest part.
So, what’s the solution for this? If manufacturers could make hard drives significantly faster, they would have. Competition drives innovation in the technological market. So, as propeller planes couldn’t go any faster, they invented the jet. A different type of drive altogether, the Solid State Drive (or SSD), has been around for a similar period of time as the Hard Disk Drive. However, they have only recently become inexpensive enough to be practical. Major companies have recently begun to see the advantages of using said types of drives. Apple has been using them as the standard drive of choice in the MacBook lineup for several years now, and Microsoft has been putting out advertising campaigns advising PC buyers to opt for systems with these drives.
For the vast majority of computer users, modern CPUs and RAM have been powerful and plentiful enough for some years now. While technological advancements have come to the these particular parts, the hard drive that supplies critical data has been the limiting factor. Even older systems can feel snappier and more responsive than their brand new counterparts when equipped with these new drives. And when the relic from 2009 can run circles around a computer 10 years newer, there should be no question as to which of your parts should get a face-lift.
As many users of older Macs and PCs are probably aware, there is a rather finite amount of time most companies will continue to support their software products and operating systems. Long term support for older versions of software and operating systems can be hard to find.
In the case of Microsoft, each version of Windows has a sort of “shelf life” that usually lasts around eleven years, during which time Microsoft moves from adding new features to just patching bugs and security problems. Eventually, the version reaches a point called “end of life”, wherein Microsoft releases one final update and then ceases work on the product.
Former Windows XP users are probably the most well aware of this, as XP still had a massive share of users when support for it ended in 2014. It was so widely used, that Microsoft had to extend their deadlines (twice!) to give time for the adoption of newer operating systems by XP users to reach acceptable levels. This has become relevant once again, as Windows Vista is the latest on the chopping block. Thankfully, not many people still use the ill-fated operating system, and most of its users have since moved to the more stable and well-designed 7, 8, and 10. However, there will definitely be some people left behind by this shift. Not to mention, a pretty large sum of people still use 7, which at the time of this writing has less than three years left. As with XP and Vista before it, once this deadline comes around, Windows 7 will stop receiving updates and security patches. These types of patches help keep people safe from major threats and security holes such as those exploited recently by the WannaCryptor Ransomware virus. Thankfully, with the advent of Windows 10, Microsoft has abandoned their previous release strategy, and are simply going to add new features to and update Windows 10 indefinitely.
On the Mac side, things aren’t so cut and dry. Apple does not exactly support older versions of Mac OS X, instead releasing major bug fixes for the current version between major releases. However, versions come out much more frequently than with Windows, with a new Mac OS 10.xx being released almost once a year. Not to mention, upgrades to the new versions are free, which is a move Microsoft has only made once, for users of 7 and 8 to move to Windows 10. Because every system running Mac OS is made by Apple itself, as well as the reasons listed above, Apple decides on update support by the Mac models instead.
Sometimes there’s a very real limitation, either in technology or design, for Apple to cut out support on a new update for certain models. For example, when Apple switched to Intel processors over a decade ago, the new version of OS X released at the time wasn’t compatible with the older Macs running IBM chips. Similarly, several years later, certain Macs weren’t “64-bit” compatible – as a result, they too were left behind. In some cases, certain Macs might be supported by an update, but simply don’t have the specifications to handle it. This time, the decision seems to be a bit more arbitrary in nature. However the line has been drawn pretty clearly – No Mac made before the end of 2009 can update any further than 10.11 El Capitan.
For those considering Windows 10: Take these steps first!
It’s been almost a year since the launch of Windows 10, and with it have been many people taking advantage of the free upgrade. However, we still get (even this much time later) many people who willingly take the upgrade, only to find that their computer was not properly prepared and has thusly been adversely affected. Contrary to popular belief, the Windows 10 upgrade does require some preparation to ensure the best chances of a clean, working installation.
With there being so many different manufacturers and models using so many different designs and configurations, it can be difficult to guarantee proper compatibility when you’re going from one version of Windows to another. A good deal of people had a similar experience during the days of Windows 8, when many users were trying to install Windows 7 on brand new computers that were built for use with Windows 8. Unfortunately, in many cases, some parts of the computers simply would not work with the older version, and even in the best cases there might be undesirable side-effects.
Thankfully, given the wide-spread availability of the Windows 10 upgrade, many manufacturers and brands have started listing the compatibility status on their websites for different models, giving their customers an idea on what will work, what will not, and what might need some finesse to be made to work properly.
That brings us to the first step of a prospective update – check with the manufacturer to see if your model is compatible. Below are some examples of what you might expect to find on a manufacturer’s support pages regarding Windows 10.
Dell’s Windows 10 compatibility is listed under the support page for the specific model.
HP has a support page for looking up Windows 10 compatibility as well.
In our experience, most Windows 8 users should expect full compatibility and a relatively painless upgrade. However, Windows 7 users have to be more careful, as often-times most Windows 7 computers are now more than 3 years old, which is long enough where some manufacturers may stop testing or providing new updates for them. Beyond this, it’s important to consider the fact that Windows 7 is now 7 years old and two versions behind Windows 10. As a result, it has to make a larger “leap” in software than Windows 8.
The second step that many people gloss over is to use the built-in compatibility checker on the “Get Windows 10” app itself. While limited in its capacity to fully check a system over, it can easily provide a good reference of what applications or hardware (if any) may be incompatible if the user attempts to upgrade. Simply opening the “Get Windows 10” app,
selecting the options icon in the top-left of the window,
and then clicking “Check your PC” under the “Getting the upgrade” section
will present the compatibility checker.
Keep in mind, however, that there’s a reason this is step two – the compatibility checker is not a sure-bet and can very often miss items that could cause problems after the upgrade.
The third step, which Microsoft decided would be best left to the fine print section that no one actually reads, is to disable or uninstall your antivirus before beginning the upgrade. We typically recommend uninstalling the antivirus altogether to be on the safe side. Unfortunately, this step is probably one of the most harmful steps to skip, as it usually won’t outright prevent an upgrade from happening, but it can very easily cause major hiccups or problems after the upgrade is complete. Problems we’ve observed as a result of this crucial step being overlooked have ranged from an unresponsive Start Menu, to a desktop or home screen that constantly flashes black, to even a computer that simply can’t log in to any of its user’s profiles.
There have been many more issues than these, but the aforementioned symptoms are some of the more common ones. In order to disable your antivirus before an upgrade, usually right-clicking it’s icon in the lower right-hand corner of the screen will yield the option to “turn off protection” or something of that verbage. However, to uninstall it altogether (given you have the product key or account information required to reinstall it), simply navigating to or searching out “Control Panel” and then “Programs and Features” or “Add or Remove Programs” will allow you to uninstall it.
Then, once the upgrade has gone through, simply use the same method as before to re-enable your protection if you simply disabled it, or reinstall it from the disk or website it came from, so long as you have the account information or product key available.
Whether you’re upgrading from Windows 7 or Windows 8, always bear in mind that not every upgrade will go smoothly. This type of procedure is probably the most significant software change one can make to a computer, so there is always a good chance something might not go as expected. However, with the right preparation, you can minimize your risks of encountering problems after the switch. Of course, if any problems are encountered, you can always seek help from your local technician.
Parents: did you ever keep secrets from YOUR parents when you were younger? Information such as where you went after school, if you were dating anyone, or where you spent your money? If any of this sounds familiar, you are definitely not alone. In those days, however, the exchange of information was a lot more limited, and with some things it was nearly impossible to keep a secret from your mother or father. Unlike those days, there are now far more ways in which kids can hide information from their parents, and in many cases, this information can put them in danger.
Many parents these days probably remember having a hard time getting secrets by their parents when they were younger. They had many tricks up their sleeves – skills they learned, often from being busted by their own parents. Secret contacts, convenient and unexpected schedule changes, random check-ups, or just plain intuition. You might think you had gotten off scott free, but a friend’s parent would tell your parents that you were over their house, or your parents would stop by your own house unexpectedly when you were playing hookie, or one of your friends would slip up and indicate offhandedly that you had actually visited the arcade or the movie theater instead of the book store. Whatever the case, at the end of the day, you would be in trouble. For some, that part is probably the MOST familiar part. But either way, both the rebellious acts, as well as the consequences that came with them, would be valuable experiences. After all, a bird has to stretch its wings sometime, even if that means crashing into the ground on more than one occasion. However, as technology has begun to outpace the rest of society, the amount of information that can be shared online has become far more dangerous to the well-being of many, and kids have only been finding more new ways to circumvent their parents.
One of those new methods is through a new set of secret or otherwise hidden apps, capable of doing anything from hiding pictures and text messages, to disguising themselves as other apps for privacy, to even sending temporary messages that “Self Destruct” after a time has passed. With these new tools at their disposal, gone are the days in which a parent need only look at their kids’ text logs or their internet history to see what they’ve been up to. In this case, the kids have begun developing tricks of their own.
One of the newest and most popular applications is, at first glance, a simple calculator app called “Calculator%“. This application is not just a dummy app, it actually is a fully functional calculator. However, the magic happens when you hit the decimal key, input a series of numbers, which can be set by the user, and then hit the decimal key again. Just like that, the calculator app reveals a hidden space where the user can save information at will, information which cannot be accessed any other way. Beyond this level of functionality, the app is also designed in such a way to protect its user, even if the app is found out, by taking pictures of the person trying to log in, whether they are successful or not, and including them with a time, date, and GPS coordinates of the attempt in a log that cannot be altered. This app in particular has become SO popular that an article about it was even featured on ABC news, analyzing the different ways in which this app functions, and warning parents to keep an eye out for it. Again, to parents, watch for suspicious look-alike apps like these – if they’ve gone through the trouble of setting something like this up, you can be sure that they have something serious to hide.
Another powerful asset to those looking to hide their messages specifically is a unique project called “Kaboom“. This application allows one to post or send messages that have a sort of “self-destruct” timer built into them, which causes them to disappear after a certain amount of time. This does resemble what other apps are already doing, but there are some differences. In the case of Snapchat, users can send images and videos to each other that will disappear after a single viewing. The app is quite popular among millions of people, even many celebrities, and is typically innocent enough, but its temporary nature opens it in some kids’ minds as an excellent means of sharing sensitive information that cannot be saved. What many don’t realize, however, is that receivers can still screenshot the open picture or a frame of the video, and thus save it permanently. On the other side, an app like Wickr offers an entire Instant Messaging service with self destructing text messages. The app is so secure and well designed, that it’s even used among state officials and journalists in oppressive countries to communicate discreetly. Thankfully, it’s not too popular among kids yet, but the potential it represents makes it certainly worth mentioning. What sets Kaboom apart from the former two is that it does not require users to switch to a new app or service to use, and instead allows users to send self-destructing messages through the services they already use. Nearly any major messaging application or social network can be used with the app; this includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others, but it also includes forms of communication everyone has access to already, such as Email and Text Messaging. This leaves Kaboom as one of the more potentially widespread methods of discreetly messaging.
Needless to say, this caliber of unmoderated communication that many kids have access to can be very dangerous, and the news is always rife with stories of abductions, kidnappings, or dangerous behavior. Naturally, many parents try their hardest to keep a protective eye on their kids’ online and social activities, but doing so can quickly become a full time job, and with some of the applications above, almost impossible. Thankfully, there are some good practices to follow that can significantly improve one’s chances at keeping their kids safe, and ensuring their security online.
First, the tried and true method of keeping an open contract of communication with your kids is important – talking about a problem with your kids, rather than just jumping right to a punishment, can help them understand why you feel the way you do, and that you aren’t just being completely arbitrary and controlling. Make the problem real; remember, the things you’re worried about don’t actually exist to your kids, and as you might remember, in their minds, they are invincible. Being a resource for discussion, rather than an authority to hide from, can definitely help in removing the need for such apps or secrets in the first place.
Secondly, keep your hands on the reins, but don’t hold them too tightly. As a young adult, I can definitely attest to the fact that I was more likely to fight back the more I felt the prying eyes and meddling claws of my parents in my affairs. Some kids see their parents almost as a government or state of sorts, and romanticize the thought of breaking free from their proverbial shackles. Don’t let them feel like they have anything to hide, as before, but most of all don’t let them feel like they’re being watched. You have to stay involved to keep them safe, but being subtle and non-invasive about it can make them feel a lot more comfortable. Imagine how you might react if some government agency like the FBI showed up and started installing cameras and listening devices around your house. You would protest and act pretty rebelliously too, I would imagine. Keep in mind how you want to be seen; do you want to be the noble Jedi protecting the innocent, or the sinister Galactic Empire, destroying worlds and oppressing the masses?
Third, if it seems to be turning into a real problem, you can always enforce your rules technologically, too. Don’t use passwords on your devices; they’re often easy to guess, and if you enter them around your kids enough, they’ll know them in no time. Instead, use something they can’t fake. Namely, many popular smartphones and tablets these days have fingerprint scanners; those can’t be tricked by the press of a few buttons. For those devices that don’t have fingerprint scanners, applications often exist that can allow you to log in with other more secure means. Any device with a camera will usually have the capability of working with a facial-recognition app, and some devices have other unique password-substitutes such as knocking a rhythm on the screen or drawing a pattern with your finger. While fallible, these latter methods are much harder to guess or remember to an observer than a passcode.
Beyond this, you can secure devices against the installation of applications on their own devices by a few means. In the case of a Mac or PC, making their account a standard user account one while keeping an administrator account locked with your own credentials on the same computer will require them to ask you to install the application from your own account, giving you a chance to see it for yourself prior to installation. For Android and iOS devices, where having multiple accounts on a personal phone or tablet does not make sense, you can register your child’s account for the app store under your own, and invoke the requirement of your approval for all app purchases or downloads. This is where the above methods of keeping your own devices secure is especially important, as all this is for naught if your kids can simply get into your accounts and give “your” permission.
As a parent, keeping your kids safe can be difficult, but there are always options available to you to make the job easier. If you have questions or concerns about these types of applications, as well as the methods by which you can better protect your children, feel free to call us at RGB, or contact your local technician.
If you’re like me, and indeed most people, you tend to have a bit of trouble remembering passwords for your different online accounts. At the very least, you may remember the passwords themselves, but not what they go to. What’s worse is that many account-connected services will auto-lockout when hit with too many wrong passwords. It’s almost like having a lock that breaks and becomes unusable after you try the wrong key.
Thankfully, as many companies and developers have become aware of this common problem, a good number of tools, features, and programs have cropped up over the years to help. We’ll be looking at some of these solutions, from built in features to standalone programs, and comparing the capabilities and convenience of everything from the basic to the advanced.
The most basic form of password management is the built-in password autofill option incorporated into most modern web browsers.
Now, for the most commonly used browsers out there, any new webpage or account that is signed into with a username and password will prompt the browser in question to ask if the user wishes to save that information for easy access later. If the user chooses to accept the prompt, then the browser will automatically enter the correct information to log in to a webpage every time the user accesses said webpage. In addition to this convenience, most browsers also have synchronizing capabilities to some extent, and as such can log a user in and provide usernames and passwords for the user’s accounts, even on a computer that wasn’t originally used to save the password, so long as the user is logged into the browser itself.
However, this method has its disadvantages. First off, the very fact that the information is not itself password protected means that anyone with access to your computer, or one of the computers you are signed into with that browser, can access any of your accounts without having to directly know the information required to do so. Besides this, the feature itself is usually not very easy to control. Once a password is saved, some browsers require you to go through a mess of menus and interfaces to manage or remove this type of saved information, and some don’t let you pick and choose, requiring you to remove all of the browser’s data, even down to your history and your bookmarks, in order to get rid of a saved password. For another thing, the browser’s password saving is obviously limited to only things you can open in said browser, and will not be effective on applications loaded onto your computer such as Adobe Creative Cloud, QuickBooks, ACT!, etc.
Identity Safe is a free program provided by Norton, and is frequently bundled with their antivirus package, making it one of the more commonly seen options on this list. Although it has some of the same limitations as the browsers’ integrated options, it definitely surpasses them in a few key areas. For one thing, it protects your many passwords with a master password, which is immediately more secure than browser-stored passwords. It still stays synchronized across different computers and devices since it is cloud based, meaning wherever you go, your passwords are just a log in away. It has an account and password manager for deleting or altering login data for different websites and specific accounts should they change or become out of date. It can also conveniently import existing passwords and account information from a web browser of your choice, so upon setting it up it is not necessary to go through and re-enter every piece of information you already have stored. It can also remember multiple logins for the same site, should you have multiple accounts.
Unfortunately, it still faces certain disadvantages, just like the options listed above. For one thing, Identity Safe only works, once again, on webpages. It has no support for logging into applications outside of a web browser. It also is not as secure as many would like, as all those passwords you have stored could be the most secure in the world, but that wouldn’t protect you if someone were to guess your master password. Beyond this, it also reportedly has trouble with identifying certain web pages that it should save the passwords for, but doesn’t. All in all, it’s a good option for the fact that it’s free, and it’s more secure than not, but it still has its disadvantages.
If you are looking for essentially the last word in secure passwords, look no further than products such as LastPass and Roboform.
Both programs rectify every weakness seen in the previous options, and include every feature already seen. However, both add the ability to generate large, randomized, and complex passwords. Both also work on external applications as well as webpages. both allow for numerous different form autofills and account logins for as many websites and applications as you wish as well. Security wise, both are heavily encrypted and virtually impossible to breach, as well as having the capability to set up a two step-authentication, which is a method of logging in that requires more than one password or method. In fact, the user has a good deal of options for authentication methods, even down to their fingerprints if the device has a fingerprint reader.
All in all, you cannot get more secure than these. Their convenience parallels their effectiveness, removing any real difficulty in choosing or managing what information is to be protected by these applications. In this day of identity theft and cyber crime, it is all the more important to remain vigilant and well guarded online.
Back in February, Microsoft announced it would be resetting Windows 10’s status from an “Optional Update” to a “Recommended” one. While this might not seem to be a big deal, it has become a potential problem for millions of unwary Windows 7 and Windows 8 users out there. You see, by default, Windows 7 and Windows 8 are set to automatically install Recommended updates.
Now, we’ve spoken before about what a Windows 10 upgrade could mean for a lot of people, and it’s safe to say that an unexpected or ill-prepared-for upgrade could even be dangerous to a computer or its data. Thankfully, it’s not a difficult process to prevent the upgrade from occurring automatically, and there are only a few steps required.
First off, clicking the start button in the bottom left of the screen will bring up the start menu. Besides containing a number of options for viewing files, opening programs, and shutting down the computer, there is also a search box at the bottom for finding specific options. You’ll want to use it to find the “Windows Update” option. (Windows 8.1 users should still be able to perform these actions. However, when the Start Screen opens, either starting to type or clicking on the magnifying glass icon in the top right should allow you to search.)
The Windows Update control panel will open, which is used for managing and choosing updates to be installed on your computer. In this case, the order of business is to keep Windows from installing “Recommended” updates automatically, so click on the “Change Settings” option.
On the following screen, the option to “Install Updates Automatically” should be selected and changed to “Download updates but let me choose whether to install them” instead. This will keep Windows 10 from being unintentionally installed unless you are ready and willing to make the switch.
For many parents out there, keeping a watchful eye on the types of content their children are exposed to online is an order of high priority. To reflect the importance of this task, both Microsoft and Apple have stepped up to the plate with their own parental controls systems built right into the latest versions of Windows and Mac OS.
In the case of Microsoft, the parental control system for Windows 10 has been improved and revised somewhat from previous iterations, and is now controlled primarily through the Microsoft Accounts. Parents will set up an account for their children, and add it to their “Family”, which is a sort of administered account group. Special steps are taken to ensure the account is properly classified, allowing parents to provide the right level of protection based on the child’s age range, among other factors.
The “Child” account, once set up, is registered under the “Parent” account’s contact information for recovery purposes, just in case the account gets hacked or the password is forgotten. The parent also has the option to receive weekly activity reports regarding what the child has been up to, what sites they’ve visited, etc.
By selecting the “Manage Family Settings Online” option under the “Accounts” and “Family” settings menu, parents will be redirected to a webpage that will allow them to disallow access to inappropriate websites, as well as restricting specific undesirable, but not explicitly “Inappropriate”, websites from access. Beyond websites, the control system can also limit applications and games to specific age ranges and rating levels, or similarly, on a subject by subject basis.
In addition to Application access controls, the control panel also has the capability of limiting access to the computers during specific times, and even has functionality for restricting the total time on the computer for a given day to a specific number of hours. These types of settings are geared toward enforcing bed times and keeping kids from spending too long on the computer on school days and the like.
For Apple, setting parental controls is similarly simple, but there are a few differences. To start parental controls, the parent must obviously choose or add a child account. However, in this case, the “Managed” account does not necessarily have to be an online account, but can instead be localized to only that computer in particular.
Once the parental control system is enabled and one or more managed accounts are chosen, parents have control over many of the factors their Windows counterparts do. These include setting which applications can be used, what websites can be accessed, and the time during which that user can log in.
Beyond a blanket filter of websites the computer deems objectionable, the parent can customize what they don’t want the child to see, allowing certain websites to be blocked or allowed in particular. Alternatively, it can act with a whitelist instead, blocking every website except the websites provided on the list.
In addition to this, Mac users can also affect control over what items can be purchased in the different app stores available, as well as who the user can email or have contact with.
All in all, both systems have their merits, and with keeping children safe on the internet, parental controls have come a long way.
For many years, the vast majority of users on the internet have mostly used one or two internet browsers: Internet Explorer or Safari. Those options were always laid out as plainly as the platform they were built on, being Windows or Mac OS, respectively. However, around 2010, that started to change. With the major performance issues of the now-defunct Internet Explorer 10, and the lack of features or real change presented by Safari, more and more users began looking toward alternative web browsers.
We’ll be going over some of those options, and why you should (or shouldn’t!) make a switch, depending on your tastes.
Mainstream Web Browsers
Microsoft Internet Explorer
First off, we have the most historically widely-used internet browser, the mainstay of Windows, and probably one of the longest-running ones on this list, Internet Explorer 11. Because of its long history, it also tends to be compatible with a lot of commercial sites, which tend to be slow to change or update. This makes it a very important asset for corporations and enterprises, especially those whose size make major system changes cost or time prohibitive.
However, Internet Explorer still suffers from a bit of instability when viewing certain content, and has been known to become sluggish or unresponsive in some situations. Also, being one of the historically most popular browsers has made it a target, in the past and present, of malware and adware attacks. Older versions are probably the most vulnerable, so especially for those running 10 and prior, which are no longer supported by Microsoft, it becomes very important to upgrade or, barring that, switch to another alternative.
Next up, we have Safari. Apple’s mainstay internet browser has shown a long history, and like IE has shown considerably wide compatibility with many websites, whether they were made yesterday or fifteen years ago. Safari has also been shown to be more stable than Internet Explorer, and barring the occasional mishap, has had a very strong record of good performance and good security. With the recent integration of Siri, it has also entered the same smart browsing space as Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge. Its exclusive presence on the Mac and iOS operating systems makes obtaining and using it prohibitive to anyone not owning an Apple-branded product, but for those that do, it remains a good option.
Naturally though, there’s no such thing as a perfect product, and in a number of places Apple’s Safari web browser falls short. For example, synchronizing settings, bookmarks, and the like is not possible, except between Apple devices. Being so restricted to exactly one brand of products means cross-compatibility is non-existent, and if you find yourself using a Windows, Android, or Chrome OS device (which tend to be far more commonly available), you will have no access to the data on your Safari browser. This was somewhat excusable in the case of Internet Explorer due to its widespread availability, as well as the ability of most other browsers to import settings and favorites from it on request. Even Mac users have the capability of running Internet Explorer via Bootcamp or Virtual Machine software like Parallels, but on such a closed platform, having no presence on other systems is inconvenient.
As far as both Microsoft and Apple’s original offerings go, both offer strong compatibility, good performance, and a simple interface. However, the lack of any real customization or the lack of a centralized location to get a decent selection of addons or extensions leaves them feeling bland and somewhat limited. As mentioned before as well, being the “original” essentially paints a target on your back in regards to security breaches and annoying or less than useful toolbars and hijackers looking to hit the widest number of potential victims.
Alternative Web Browsers
Chrome has a lot of things going for it, and a lot of the changes Google has made have been pretty beneficial. First off, Chrome, especially when it first came out, was the fastest web browser around. Since its inception, it has also expanded to every platform imaginable, and can be used on Windows, Android, Mac OS, iOS, and even Linux. It also takes advantage of its cross-compatibility with its synchronizing capabilities. If you are reading an article on your Android phone, you can pick it up on your iPad or Windows PC, or any other device for that matter, right where you were. If you save a bookmark, add an extension, or save login details for a website, you will find that Chrome will have them handy on whatever device you use. Its connection to everything Google also gives it the interesting ability to allow for voice searches using “Google Now”, in which users can actually talk to the web browser to get answers on different subjects and perform searches. Chrome also has a massive library of extensions, from ad blockers to productivity tools, as well as a huge selection of themes, designs, and other tweaks to personalize it how you see fit.
Once again however, this is not to say Chrome is perfect. Unfortunately, since its now been on top in popularity for a few years, it suffers from the same targeted bloat and malicious software that the previous options have, and its extensibility has also amplified the problem to a degree, causing many Chrome users to unwittingly install such software alongside seemingly benign programs. It also seems that every piece of adware these days has some sort of hijacker or toolbar forcing victims to be annoyingly revisited by such content. Besides this, Chrome has also started picking up a bit of a flaw in its design in more recent versions. It has become very memory demanding, and although it still runs well on higher-end systems, lower-end or older hardware will suffer considerably from its hunger for more and more resources.
Whereas Google Chrome is something of a newcomer to the field of alternative web browsers, there are a couple that have persisted for much longer. One such example is Mozilla’s Firefox web browser.
Firefox is a rather interesting animal in that it stands out from the pack when it comes to a different emphasis on a few of its key features, and has historically been one of the first to develop or adopt a lot of capabilities we take for granted today. Every browser worth its bits these days has tabbed browsing, which is the ability to have multiple pages open simultaneously within the same web browser. Although so many use this feature in the present day, Firefox was the first, and it still has the most refined tab experience. It allows users to efficiently group multiple tabs into organized groups relating to certain subjects, almost akin to how one might organize a set of paper documents in a file folder. Another development is the smart location bar, which allows users to find webpages and information they frequently access or have recently visited simply by typing a related term or even a few letters into the address bar. Besides it features, however, Firefox has probably the greatest emphasis in the group on privacy and security, and tends to be the least vulnerable to phishing attacks looking to steal user information, and even goes so far as to actively block sites that it detects are dangerous or misleading. Firefox seems to focus a lot in areas different from the other browsers here, and to further fill that idea, it has shown to be the most lightweight web browser around – using about half the average memory of Chrome and significantly less than any of the aforementioned options.
Where Firefox excels in some ways over other options, it also has some weaknesses in comparison. Partially as a caveat to its low memory usage, Firefox has one of the slowest startup times on this list, and does not reload recently closed pages or tabs nearly as quickly as some others. In addition to this, with how its (admittedly plentiful) addons work, running multiple instances of Firefox or mutliple addons can cause a significant slowdown or instability. Finally, it is still somewhat less compatible with some websites than other options, and it can be almost overprotective in some cases, occasionally blocking perfectly legitimate websites or services it believes are harmful in some way.
Over the years, Opera has accumulated quite a troupe of interesting capabilities, most of which have remained to the present day. First and foremost, there’s Opera Turbo: a function that compresses website data before sending it, decompressing it on arrival. This provides the benefit of loading pages more quickly on a slow internet connection, as well as saving data on a metered or limited internet connection, for example on airline flights or with mobile hotspots and smartphone networks. Furthering the idea of getting to the pages you want quickly, Opera also has a feature called “Speed Dial”, which, in the same vein as a telephone, is a fully customizable menu which Opera opens to by default that can store links to frequently used or important websites.
There are also a variety of other handy features built right into the web browser, many of which often exist as dedicated programs elsewhere. For example, it has a built in Email client which can handle multiple accounts, an RSS reader, a note manager similar to Evernote, and even a Torrent downloading client. Other minor features involve the ability to preview tabs by hovering over them, reload webpages automatically on a set schedule (for those bloggers and bidders out there), and control common browser functions (Back, Forward, Refresh, New Tab, Etc.) with mouse gestures. It’s also built on Chromium just like Google Chrome, but it lacks a lot of the vulnerability to bloat with a tighter sense of security and, partially thanks to its uncommonness, much less of a focus by malicious software writers. It also manages to be one of the lightest on memory usage, trailing only behind Firefox on its lack of resource demand.
Opera is an interesting project in that it rectifies a lot of the flaws in some of the other browsers on this list, but it doesn’t particularly excel at any one thing. It’s features are numerous and different, and it comes with a lot of capabilities pre-packaged, but also because of its uncommonness, it doesn’t have a strong following in the extension development community. On the performance side, it doesn’t really stand out from the others either. It’s not the fastest, nor the lightest-weight, nor the most secure, nor the most extensible, nor even the most widely compatible browser on this list. It gets good scores on average where a lot of the others will flop in at least one area, but it never tops the charts. As they say: jack of all trades, master of none.
But wait! You didn’t mention this browser under the mainstream browsers section. It’s a Microsoft product, and it’s meant to replace Internet Explorer! Doesn’t that automatically make it a mainstream browser?
Well… Not quite. Microsoft Edge may be the “powerful new web browser” built from the ground up to serve as the heir apparent to Internet Explorer, but it’s not quite mainstream yet. For one thing, Edge was in experimental stages as early as six months ago. All things considered, it’s very young. Secondly, it is not backwards compatible with versions of Windows before Windows 10. That’s right, it’s a Windows 10 exclusive. However, that doesn’t mean it should be discounted. In fact, if you’ve bought a computer in the last few months, you more than likely have Edge already, and if your current computer is from within the last six years, you probably have the chance to get Windows 10 for free. But this isn’t news, as everyone has seen the upgrade option at some point or another.
Regarding Edge though, it definitely lives up to the hype regarding its performance over Internet Explorer. Pages load faster, its more secure, it launches more quickly, and it is designed more intelligently. From my article regarding changes in Windows 10, “It has a very clean aesthetic, and most of the menus and settings are laid out in a very straight forward manner. In terms of integration, it works quite well with Cortana, allowing her to learn about the user’s needs over time, as well as allowing her to assist you and carry out functions within the browser.” It also has the unique feature of allowing users to capture entire web pages, even space outside the boundary of the screen (which alone functions better than any screenshot software I’ve ever seen), and write on them or edit them for collaborative projects or presentations. It also appears to be far less vulnerable to intrusion or exploitation than most browsers currently, and it has solid security.
It uses a good deal of memory, but it actually relinquishes it when closing tabs much better than Google Chrome seems to want to, and that’s alright with it being part of only the latest iteration of Windows. It doesn’t have support for extensions at the present time, but it’s planning on having them in the future. It’s still somewhat buggy, though, and that’s its greatest weakness: its age. Tabs don’t always close, some websites don’t display completely, and occasionally it lags for a second or so when loading new webpages. However, it’s solid otherwise and should improve on its deficiencies in time. Remember when I said that Microsoft Edge is Internet Explorer’s “heir apparent”? It hasn’t deposed Internet Explorer or anything. IE is still present, even in Windows 10, for “compatibility purposes”. This simply means that Microsoft acknowledges that Edge is not yet fully matured, and some things might not yet work with it. For those things that don’t, users have something to fall back on.
A lot of Microsoft’s talk about Windows 10 has been dedicated to its enhanced security features and has even gone so far as to make the claim that a third party antivirus is no longer necessary for Windows users. Windows Defender was originally provided as a free download from Microsoft for the Windows XP platform, but it has recently been completely rebuilt and overhauled for Windows 10.
Now, it is true that the effectiveness of Windows Defender has been improved dramatically over previous versions, and the platform has a lot of advantages over other mainstream antivirus products, especially among its free peers. In addition to this, its actual effectiveness at stopping malware in its tracks is good, too. It will nab the vast majority of dangers on the web, and it gets a lot of help being the native favorite of Windows. However, the bottom line is, among the top performing paid antivirus products on the market, Windows Defender does fall somewhat short of some of the others. Is it bad? Not by a long shot. But does it still have room for improvement? Definitely.
As we’ve already established its performance as being sufficient for most potential threats, albeit not to the same degree as some higher-end products out there, it’s important to mention its advantages and its potential improvements over other products.
For one thing, it doesn’t bother you and ask you for money on a regular basis. It’s free. That alone is enough for many people. Not only that, but it’s “free” in the literal sense, and not in just the “doesn’t cost money” sense. Many other “free” antivirus programs out there, while not actually charging you for money, will often do everything from continuously harassing you to buy their premium editions, or even installing junk software and useless or annoying programs on your computer in addition to themselves.
Secondly, it ships with Windows. Every new Windows machine has it pre-installed. This saves users the hassle of even having to make a decision or go looking in the first place. And in this day and age of look-a-like knockoffs, trojan horses, and misleading website adverts, not having to go looking for this piece can save you a lot more trouble than just finding the website download page.
Thirdly and lastly, it’s built to fit into Windows 10 rather well. It does not take up much space, it does not use many resources, and it does not constantly pop up asking to be updated to the latest version. It updates automatically and quietly, just like Windows itself does these days, and that’s a good thing. The less direction you have to give it, the better. And as it stands, no antivirus is as silent a protector as Windows Defender.
So, if you prefer a quiet, lightweight, well integrated, and free antivirus, give Windows Defender a try. It might not be the best out there, but at its huge price tag of $0 (both in terms of your money and your trouble), it’s definitely a tough one to beat.
For the past 20 years or so, websites and applications across the world have relied on platforms such as Shockwave, Java, Flash, and Silverlight to show everything from video games to interactive graphics and financial graphs. Although many have declined in use over the past decade, most of the computers in the world still run Java or Flash Player, but the vast majority of people don’t know what either of them are for, only that they might be “important”. For this reason, it is important to understand more about Flash and Java updates.
Unfortunately, the almost universal adoption of these two programs opens up an easy target for scammers looking to steal user information or fool people into installing less than legitimate programs on their computers. The weakness comes from both sides in the form of updates for Flash,
as well as Java.
As far as the first group is concerned, their objective is to hit people who have not updated in a while, and who still have outdated versions of either program, in attempts to exploit glitches or chinks in the program to their advantage. This is usually with the intention of stealing valuable information such as credit card or social security numbers, online banking logins, et cetera. For this group the best defense is to always stay up to date and never open any emails from senders you don’t recognize. Frequently, links or attachments to any such exploits are sent via email in a message that may seem completely innocuous.
Now, this brings us to group two. Group two relies on the fact that most people have Flash and Java, and most people wish to keep them up to date, and so disguises their malicious or unwanted software as Flash or Java in order to trick people into downloading them. This method is typically more prevalent than the first, and ironically takes advantage of people’s fears concerning not being up to date and protected. More often than not, these types of illegitimate “updates” are shoehorned over webpages in the form of popups such as the one below.
The average person might see this and choose to download the “update”, believing it to be to their benefit. However, at the very least, the resulting program will be annoying, and at the very worst, dangerous to your security. The best defense against these types of attacks is to never download anything from a popup, and to always take careful notice of details in the popup itself. Ask yourself, “does this look legitimate?” Comparing the two Flash “updates” above, we see that the bottom one has several tells that indicate it’s not what it says it is. For example, the bottom one lacks any sort of officially licensed Adobe markings or insignias, is filled with jargon intending to sell itself rather than inform users of improvements, has no option to install the update later, and it possesses no End User License Agreement.
All the same, it’s usually best to avoid any sort of popups claiming to be updates or “free downloads” if possible. When you see a popup, even one that seems legitimate, there’s a fool-proof way of telling. Go straight to the developer’s website for the product, whether it be Flash or Java, and you can get the latest version from adobe.com and java.com, respectively.