Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tech Savvy or I.T. Ignorant?

Technology can be so confusing, even to those of us who consider ourselves "tech saavy".  I am slow to accept change in some areas and on the fast track in other areas.

I was slow to upgrade my laptop because I have some software that can be very persnickety. I am still using Microsoft Front Page to update our website.  Front Page won't run on anything newer than Windows XP so I keep an old laptop around just for that purpose. I'm considering migrating our website to blogspot once the old Windows XP laptop bites the dust.

Anyway, when it was time to upgrade to a new laptop (several years ago), I shopped around and stupidly decided that I needed a Windows Vista gaming laptop with a 64 bit operating system, a 1TB hard drive & lots of bells & whistles.  The thing is HUGE and weighs a ton.

The 64 bit operating system wouldn't run a lot of my old software so I had to buy new versions of the ones I could & run some of it in emulation mode, and some of it just wouldn't run at all. I thought maybe Windows 7 would be better so I upgraded, but that didn't help.

I managed to get it working well enough though, so I put off the next upgrade until this year when it started to become unreliable.

After lugging the albatross around for so many years, I went to the opposite extreme with this purchase. I got the tiny Microsoft Surface Pro with the Windows 8.1 operating system.  What a learning curve this one has!

  • The Cloud
    • The Microsoft Surface Pro has very little onboard memory so everything is "cloud" based.  I'm not a trusting soul, so I don't really want my data on a cloud that I have no control over. My solution for this was to purchase my own cloud, the WD MyCloud. The MyCloud has frustrations of its own. 

    • Some software (namely Neatworks & Outlook) won't let you keep your database remotely so a lot of the onboard memory of my Surface is eaten up by my Neatworks documents & receipts.
    • Offline backup of the data on MyCloud is difficult. Many of the backup companies don't back-up LAN attached devices (or charge an arm and a leg for it).  I finally found one that does, and at a reasonable price - Zoolz
    • The WD MyCloud software that is used to access the device remotely does not allow searches so if I don't remember where I put something, I am stuck.
    • Using the touch screen with the WD Mycloud software sometimes causes me to accidentally drag and drop a folder into another folder and then I can't find it again.
    • There are some good things about having a LAN attached device though - namely, Tony and I can share files. We did this before by sharing files on my laptop but when I wasn't at home, Tony was out of the water. Also, a local backup of the drive is easy. You can just plug an external hard drive right into the USB port on the MyCloud.
  • Software
    • Some software just won't run on Windows 8.1.
    • My old, old, old version of Microsoft Office (from 2002, I think) won't run on Windows 8 so I had to buy a new version. The good news is that they've made a few improvements since 2002 and I'm learning to like them. I got the Office 365 version which is actually a subscription service. For something like $100/year, I get 5 licenses to use as I see fit. I can even share them with friends.
    • I don't remember whether my financial software wouldn't run or I just chose to upgrade, but I bought new versions of Quicken & Quickbooks as well.
    • The majority of the problems I had loading software related to the issue of limited onboard storage and needing my software programs to access the cloud.
  • Apps, apps, apps
    • I don't really understand the concept of apps when it comes to a laptop. I'm fine with the apps on my Android phone, but I just don't see the purpose on a laptop. What was wrong with programs?  And don't get me started on the Microsoft apps that require you to watch a 30 second commercial over and over unless you want to upgrade from the free version to a paid version.
    • Switching between apps and programs is confusing. When I am running a program, I see a list of other running programs at the bottom of the screen, but the apps I am running don't appear here. The easiest way I have determined to get back to an app is to use the alt-tab. You can use the touch screen by swiping left to right as well, but that's not really intuitive to me.
  • Touch Screen
    • The touch screen is sort of a neat feature - sort of...  It takes some getting used to though and for those of us with fat fingers, it can cause us to drag & drop things in places we didn't intend. (see WD MyCloud above).
    • I was really excited about the pen that comes with the Surface that would allow me to draw on the screen as though it were a pad. The pen turns into a cursor when it gets close to the screen. It can be used in lieu of a mouse. It is supposed to be stored magnetically on the side of the screen in the same port where the power cord attaches. When the power cord is attached, there is no place to put the pen. So, of course, I lost it. A replacement one is upward of $32 and I'll just lose the next one too, so I won't replace it.
    • A mouse is essential for me. I just can't get the precision I need with my finger so I got a cordless mouse for home & a tiny corded one for travel.
  • Portability
    • The best thing the surface has going for it is its portability!  
    • Out of the box, all you get is the device which just looks like a screen - about the size of an I-Pad, a small power brick and a pen/stylus.  You can purchase a keyboard separately (in your favorite color which attaches magnetically & acts like a cover.
    • I also purchased a neoprene case for mine which is large enough to hold the surface, the power brick, and a few accessories. I blinged mine up a bit to match the keyboard & make it "findable" in my black suitcase.
  • Screen Size
    • The tiny screen is sometimes difficult to see, and while adequate for travel, is not optimal for home office use, so I purchased a docking station that would allow me to attach an external screen.  I like to use the screens in dual mode with reference material on one screen and a working document or application on the other screen.
  • Docking Station
    • The docking station is essential if you are going to use this like a real workstation. It has 2 USB ports and an external monitor port. (You'll probably need an adapter for the monitor port)
    •  2 USB ports are not enough either, so I purchased a USB hub which gives me additional ports.
All in all, I'm pretty satisfied with my current set-up, albeit a bit messy (but that just describes me).  I have made a desk from a sofa table so that my "office" can be part of the living space so I won't be shoved off into the office upstairs all alone.

I could really use a bigger desk, but I would just clutter it up, so its probably best that I have limited myself to the sofa table.

And if this isn't enough change for me, I just upgraded my phone from the 4 year old T-Mobile MyTouch 4G (held together with scotch tape) to the latest and greatest HTC One M8.  So far I'm loving it!

Now if I can just figure out how to fire the cable TV company and come up with an acceptable and affordable solution, I think I'll be set for at least a month or two!

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