EXESlide creates photo slideshows as EXE, SCR, SWF, AVI, GIF -- and more
Posted by Mike Williams on 07 December 2013 07:29 AM
Alternate Pic View EXESlide is a lightweight free tool which helps you build extremely basic slideshows. And we really do mean "basic": you can’t annotate an image, add captions or apply effects, and there’s no support for transitions at all.
EXESlide does excel in one area, though -- export formats. The program's slideshows may be limited, but once built they can be saved as self-launching EXEs, screensavers (SCR), Flash animations (SWF), AVI videos and animated GIFs. There are even bonus tools to present individual images as simple games.
Making this happen starts by building a list of the images you'd like to use. You can do this within EXESlide, but a poor interface makes this frustrating in the extreme, so it's easier if you just use Explorer. Create a new folder somewhere, fill it with whatever files you’d like to use in the slideshow, and rename them to ensure they're in the right order ("1.This.jpg", "2.That.jpg").
Launch Alternate Pic View EXESlide, browse to your Slideshow folder, and you’ll see your chosen photos in the image list. Drag and drop photos if you'd like to rearrange the order after all, or select an image and press Delete to remove it from the list.
While short on slideshow-building features, EXESlide can save your work in a host of formats and fie types
Various slideshow options are displayed at the bottom of the screen. You’re able to set the default time each photo will remain on the screen, as well as varying that for an individual image when appropriate. The slideshow can be given an MP3 or WAV soundtrack, and clicking View > Slideshow displays a preview of the results so far.
When you're happy, just click File and choose one of the Create options to export your work. Create Executable File, for example, saves the slideshow as an EXE or SCR file. Launch this on any modern PC and its images should be displayed immediately.
Export your slideshow as a Flash applet and it should be visible from any browser (depending on your device, anyway). A sample HTML file is included for easier viewing.
There's also the option to save the slideshow as an animated GIF. This limits you to a 256-color palette, though, so while it can work for presentations, it's fairly useless with photos.
In theory you can also export your photos as an AVI video. This didn't work for us -- we were left with a huge video file which displayed nothing at all -- but you might be luckier.
And as a fun extra, you're even able to export a single image in the form of a simple game. "Puzzle", for example, converts your first image into a mosaic, rearranges the tiles, and leaves you with the task of putting them back in order.
Alternate Pic View EXESlide is horribly limited as a slideshow builder, then, with a poor interface which really needs replacing immediately. But it can string a few images together, with a soundtrack, and if you can use one or two of these export formats then the program could be worth a look.
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AOC e2752She 27-inch monitor -- a Black Friday bargain [Review]
Posted by Brian Fagioli on 27 November 2013 05:51 PM
During the month of November, the advertisements for Black Friday sales start coming fast and furious. It is easy to miss the truly good deals among the noise. However, one such sale caught my eye -- a 27-inch LED LCD monitor by AOC for $179. When I worked at CompUSA, I sold many AOC monitors and really liked them. Not only were they inexpensive, but they proved to be reliable.
According to the monitor manufacturer, "the limited time promotion on the e2752she is available Nov. 28 to Dec. 2 at Office Depot, OfficeMax, Best Buy, Newegg, Staples and Amazon, among other retailers". In anticipation of the sale, I obtained this model to see if it is worth your money on Black Friday.
When taking it out of the box, I was surprised by just how large a 27-inch monitor is. Quite frankly, it is monstrous, and that is a good thing. After all, I spend a lot of time at my computer, so my eyes appreciate the increased size.
I was particularly happy with how subdued the design is. It is all black, with a standard base and the AOC logo on the bottom bezel. However, there is no obnoxious flashy lights or obnoxious stickers on the front. The power button is located underneath the bottom bezel and shines a very clear blue that is not bright or distracting. There are no integrated speakers or webcam, which is a plus. I would rather use my own accessories and not ruin the minimalist look.
I was surprised to see that there are two HDMI inputs on the rear. While I hadn't planned on connecting more than one computer, I am now considering connecting my PlayStation 4 to it, to save space. Believe it or not, this monitor is larger than the TV which is currently connected to the video game system. In addition to the HDMI ports, there is also a VGA port. While this will likely never be used, it is nice to have. As someone who fixes old computers from time to time, it may find a use in that regard.
Here are the full specifications:
As you can see, this monitor is rather impressive on paper. However, the big question is, how does it look? Awesome. Text is crisp and images are beautiful. The screen is matte and not glossy, which I prefer. You see, a glossy screen suffers from reflection. Here, there is no such issue. My office has overhead lighting and I cannot see any reflection. There is also not one dead or stuck pixel -- it is flawless.
My test system is a desktop running Windows 8.1 with a Nvidia GeForce GTX 650 -- a very modest video card. When watching video or playing games, there was absolutely no ghosting, and movement was seamless and fluid. Of course, I watched a ton of 1080p movie trailers on YouTube and they were amazing. Colors are well represented, especially black. That color in particular can be challenging for displays. Here, black is black, it is superb.
If you are going Black Friday shopping and need or want a new monitor, this AOC provides amazing value. The $179 price starts on Thanksgiving day and lasts until December 2. However, I would be shocked to see stock last that long. With a price this low, there is no justification to hang on to your old tiny monitor anymore. Just don't trample any fellow shoppers to get it, OK? Recommended.
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Feenix Nascita 2014 gaming mouse and Dimora mousepad [Review]
Posted by Brian Fagioli on 25 November 2013 06:47 PM
Whenever I buy anything, the old adage "you get what you pay for" is always with me. Whether it is a computer, a car or deli cold cuts, I am willing to spend more for quality. However, I do not just throw money around -- I prefer quality and value. Shoes are something I wear every day, so I am willing to spend a lot for comfort. In other words, I know where not to be cheap. Much like shoes, I use a mouse every day too. Sure, I can buy an inexpensive mouse, and it will be functional, but since I use it so much, don't I deserve the best? I think so.
I've been using a high-end mouse for a few weeks, the Feenix Nascita 2014. This is a peripheral from a relative newcomer to the industry -- Feenix Gaming LLC. Please read on, to learn of my thoughts and impressions.
Feenix Nascita Gaming Mouse ($97)
Upon receiving the box, I was immediately impressed with the outside packaging. You see, it is entirely white, save for a gray phoenix, which is the Feenix logo. Inside, the contents were sparse, seemingly intentional to put the focus on the hardware. And focus, I did -- the wired gaming mouse is jaw-droppingly beautiful.
You can tell that care and love went into the product. The USB connector is gold-plated, which is gimmicky, but so what. Feenix says the gold connector provides "unwavering digital transference". Do I think a gold connector on a digital device matters? For performance, probably not. However, for longevity, it should provide a long term quality connection.
The cable is of the braided variety and this is no gimmick. This prevents the cord from becoming tangled. I have appreciated braided cords in things like headphones for the same reason. It adds a level of class as well, and let's face it, while function is paramount, form is needed too. I like beautiful computer accessories.
Speaking of beauty, the Feenix logo is emblazoned on the mouse and lights up. While there is no way to turn this off, it is very subtle and will not distract you. In fact, I enjoy it as it looks beautiful and sexy. It is a conversation piece if anyone visits you.
The feel of the mouse in my hand is wonderful, as not only is the shape ergonomic but the materials are soft and dreamy. Like I stated earlier, much like your feet to a pair of shoes, your hand is to a mouse -- heavy use.
On the left-hand side of the mouse, there are back and forward buttons. These can be used by default in your web browser to go back and forward. However, as this is a gaming mouse, you can also assign specific tasks to the buttons using the in-game options.
On the top, there is a vertical scroll-wheel, which sadly does not move horizontally. While many people do not use horizontal tilt-wheels often, I do for work in large Excel sheets. However, I can get by without it. Also on the top is an LCD screen which displays the current DPI, plus 2 buttons to move the DPI up or down (800 to 8200).
This is an impressive feature, which Feenix refers to as "driverless". In other words, the DPI is controlled directly by the hardware and not the software. This puts more power in the hands of the user and prevents large bloated software from being installed. While other mice may offer this too, they typically use LED lights to relay the DPI to the user. The LCD on the Nascita, is awesome -- it looks cool and is functional.
On the bottom, are two teflon feet, which add to durability and movement. Feenix even included replacement feet for the future at no charge. This is very much appreciated.
It is also worth mentioning that the company seems to be heavily focused on customer service. On the website, the company says, "All Feenix products are sold exclusively through our online store. Our boutique approach allows us to maintain the company's service and quality control standards. These standards include hand checked inspections for all our peripherals before they are shipped, as well as our commitment to providing personal support managers to all Feenix owners".
More impressive, is that each person that buys a Nascita mouse, gets a dedicated Client Service Executive. In the box is a thick index card, with the name of my executive, plus his email address, phone number and Skype name. It makes me feel special and well taken care of. My guy is named Chad, but I haven't needed to call upon him yet. Maybe I will message him on Skype if I get lonely.
Below are further specs of this mouse:
Feenix Dimora Gaming Mousepad ($36)
To complement the Nascita mouse, Feenix has also released a heavy-duty mousepad. This hard-plastic pad, is designed for gaming with optimal tracking. However, in my testing, it works wonderfully for any purpose -- office work, surfing the web, etc. It allows the mouse to glide comfortably, which maybe your desk surface does not. In my case, I noticed a drastic improvement in glide, compared to my Ikea pressboard desk.
The length is 350mm and the width is 280mm. While not the largest mousepad I have seen, it does take up a good portion of your desk. I rather like this as it helps me keep my desk organized. Before having this mousepad, I would navigate my mouse around coffee cups, Perrier bottles and Pringles cans. Now, I've dedicated the surface area of the mousepad to be a mouse-only zone.
Both of these products are relatively expensive, so you must decide if they are worth it. I would ask, are you worth it? In other words, do you deserve an extremely comfortable, well-built mouse? Well, I cannot answer that for you. However, if you use a mouse all day for work and you are either a casual or hardcore gamer, I would venture to say you do. Highly recommended.
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Meet the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 [Review]
Posted by Alan Buckingham on 23 November 2013 01:12 PM
There is no shortage of variety in today's Android tablet market. Devices come in a range of functionality and price, and from a host of makers. Two prominent tablets on the market are from a couple of the web's biggest sites, and both Amazon and Google are hoping their devices will land under your tree this holiday season.
The second generation of the Nexus 7, manufactured by Asus and sold by Google, has been on the market for some time, but now Amazon is pushing the third version of the Kindle Fire tablet. This latest iteration is, of course, purported to be the best, but is it? Can the HDX really be better than the 2012 HD?
Head-to-Head HD vs HDX
We are not going to focus on specs. You can find those anywhere. Instead, let's compare devices, side by side. The size (seven inches) and shape of the two models are identical, but the similarities stop there.
The most obvious change is along the edges and even that is an understated design difference. While the old tablet is rounded, the Kindle Fire HDX has a bevel. It's not a huge deal, but it makes a difference in the feel of the tablet in your hand. It means the edges are thinner, making it easier to hold onto.
The buttons are another big design change. The Kindle Fire HD contains volume and power switches -- one under the other -- on the right side of the device, and they are flush with the edge, making it difficult to find by touch. The HDX shakes this design up a bit, making the buttons much easier to access.
While the volume remains on the right-hand side, the power switch has moved to the left and both have received an indentation that allows them to be located without having to turn the tablet on its edge so you can look for them.
The speakers on the rear have also moved. While there are still two of them, one on each side, they have relocated from the middle of the device to the top. It's an improvement because holding the device no longer lends itself to having your fingers partially blocking the sound.
Like its predecessor, the HDX has a front-facing camera, but no rear lens. It also contains a much larger Amazon logo emblazoned across the center of the rear.
The New User Interface
Since its release, the Kindle Fire HDX has already received an update, taking Fire OS to version 3.1. The change added Goodreads, the popular social book service now owned by Amazon. There is also new second-screen functionality and better integration for enterprise.
While those changes are all nice, the real differences came with 3.0, which launched with the new tablet. The familiar top menu is still there, and can still be swiped down for additional options. The center, which is the main part of the screen, also remains unchanged, allowing you to swipe left and right to find your apps. A Quiet Time option has been added for easily muting the device.
However, a new swipe-up feature reveals an addition -- an Android-style app drawer. It makes it easier to access apps like the Silk browser, Shop Amazon, and open the camera, calendar, contacts and whatever you have chosen to install.
A feature that has received considerable attention is the new Mayday button. It's accessed by swiping the top menu down and hitting the option that now resides there.
I gave this a real-world test after installing Plex on the Kindle Fire HD and not finding it listed under "cloud" in the app store on the HDX, though all other apps were ready and waiting.
The service is available 24/7 and Amazon promises a quick reply from one of its technical support representatives. The retailer did indeed answer very quickly and video displayed the young woman with whom I was speaking, though the video is one-way, as I was not visible to the rep.
However, when I inquired about the missing app I was told that Plex license was only for one device. It was a logical and quick answer, but it also turned out to be wrong, as the app finally made an appearance on the HDX a couple of days later. It is working just fine on both tablets, not to mention a second-gen Nexus 7 and a Nexus 5.
I confess to being a big fan of the Kindle Fire HD. It is a highly customized version of Android -- almost unrecognizable, in fact. But if you are a customer of Amazon Prime, then the tablet must be given serious consideration because of its tight integration with the service. The HDX only enhances this perception, with better features and a huge design improvement in the form of the buttons.
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Nexus 5 -- meh, it's OK [Review]
Posted by Brian Fagioli on 13 November 2013 09:31 AM
While I love Android, I am open-minded. Despite the fact that I collect Android figures, I am no "fan-boy" of Google's mobile operating system. My choice to use the OS is because I like it. Over the years, I have tried Palm OS, iOS, Blackberry, and Windows Phone -- all of these smartphone-focused operating systems are good in their own ways. However, I fell in love with the counter-culture aspect of Android -- hacking, rooting, flashing roms; it was fun.
The holy grail of this sub-culture of Android is the Nexus smartphone. You see, these phones are easy to tinker with because you can easily unlock the bootloader, plus they have a pure Android experience. The newest such smartphone, the Nexus 5, has the Android community giddy with excitement. The phone sold out almost immediately and it is currently on backorder for weeks. If you check eBay, you will find the device selling for more than MSRP. You must be thinking that this phone is amazing right? I am sorry to say it's not. It's just OK. It's also one of the best Android phones you can buy. Confused? Read on.
Upon removing the Nexus 5 from the box, I was immediately impressed with the build quality. It feels remarkably light and doesn't creak. Comparatively, my last Nexus device, the Galaxy Nexus by Samsung, was a plasticy creaky mess. It felt cheap and squeezing the chassis produced audible creaking -- yuck!
The Nexus 5 design is very understated; black and minimalistic with Nexus etched in the back. In other words, it is sexy as hell. While the back of the phone is a bit boring compared to the flamboyantly checkered glass-backed Nexus 4, the Nexus 5 goes for function over form -- no glass but more durability. Kudos to LG and Google for this.
On the subject of hardware, let's get the full specs out of the way:
This phone can be used on any GSM carrier in the USA and amazingly, Sprint's CDMA network too. This should give the device a much higher resale and overall value, since your pool of interested buyers will be larger. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, Verizon is not supported. While this carrier is very good from a coverage standpoint, its treatment of the Android community has been poor. The Galaxy Nexus for example, the last Verizon Nexus device, was infamous for its lack of timely updates and attention from the popular carrier. Verizon is also blocking the Nexus 7 2013 LTE from its network. Boo!
Google has aggressively priced the Nexus 5 as well. The 16GB variant is $349, while the 32GB variant is $399. My suggestion would be the 32GB model since sadly, there is no microSD slot. Similarly specced smartphones usually cost close to double without subsidization. It is worth questioning if Google is losing money on each handset.
I successfully tested the wireless charging with the Nokia DT-900 charging plate and it worked brilliantly. It even worked with a case on the device. This is one of my favorite features of the Nexus 5 as I hate fumbling with a wire in the middle of the night searching for the correct way to insert it. Mindlessly placing it on a charging pad is a refreshing and rewarding experience.
Much has been said about the rear camera on the Nexus 5 on various Google+ and forum posts -- much of it negative. However, any negative sentiment is grossly exaggerated because the camera is actually good. While the pictures are not as brilliant as the ones produced by my Nokia Lumia 928, they are far better than the ones taken by the Moto X. I would trust the Nexus 5 and its optical image stabilization to capture my precious family memories.
Battery life is a bit disappointing. The 2,300 mAh variant inside the Nexus 5 is not sufficient for all-day use. I often found myself having to charge it during my day. This is in stark contrast to the Droid Maxx or the Nexus' sister device, the LG G2 which can go multiple days without charging (both devices have larger batteries). While the overall slim-build of the Nexus 5 is appreciated, I would have preferred a thicker device with a larger battery -- function over form.
Of course, hardware specifications are only a small part of the allure. The other huge selling-point is that this is the first phone running Android 4.4 dubbed "KitKat". While I am less than enthusiastic about the corporate candy logo tie-in, the operating system is very good. However, it does not differ very much from the Jelly-bean variation. The most noticeable change really is not part of the OS at all -- it is the launcher.
Starting with the Nexus 5 and KitKat, Google has introduced a much smoother and buttery launcher. To many users, the launcher is the operating system (even though this is not correct). After all, that is really what they interact with. And so, the most interesting thing about KitKat technically isn't KitKat at all. In fact, this launcher can run on Jelly Bean devices with the proper files.
Other than the launcher, it's really the same-old Android that we have seen. Nothing has been radically changed on the surface. For some, that is a good thing. After all, you don't want to re-learn your operating system with every update. However, why does the the media and tech community attack Apple for not innovating, while Google is essentially doing the same thing? Heck, at least the iPhone 5s has a fingerprint reader, what is new here?
Shockingly (to me at least), the touch-less voice interactions of the Moto X and Droid Maxx are not found on the Nexus 5. While this can be expected due to the different hardware and software designs, it is still disappointing that Google has chosen to fragment the experience between Nexus and Moto X users. It is a sad state of Android-affairs when the brand new Nexus smartphone is lacking a crucial feature already in the wild (especially since Motorola is a Google-owned company).
I can talk price, specs and software versions until I am blue in the face but the ultimate test is the experience. In other words, how does the Nexus 5 make you feel? This is where the "meh" comes in. It feels very boring -- evolutionary rather than revolutionary. From the Galaxy Nexus to the Nexus 4 and now the Nexus 5, the experience is pretty much identical. Sure, the Nexus 5 is faster, has a better camera and wireless charging but there is no excitement or warm fuzzy feelings.
With that said, even though I am less than blown-away by the Nexus 5, it is still the best Android device you can buy -- if you want an unlocked smartphone or the pure Android experience. If you don't care about pure-Android and just want a cheaper or free smartphone with subsidy, look elsewhere. Overall, it is inexpensive, unlocked for multiple carriers and fast as heck. Recommended.
Photo Credit: Brian Fagioli
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Avast Premier 2014 [Review]
Posted by Mike Williams on 12 November 2013 02:49 AM
Avast is probably best known for its free antivirus, but if you need more power then the company has plenty of commercial alternatives. Pro Antivirus extends the package with online banking and shopping protection, for instance, while Internet Security further adds a firewall and spam filter.
Top of the consumer range, though, is Premier. Along with the usual antivirus, firewall and browsing protection, this includes a tool which will automatically detect and install updates for key applications. The Data Shredder securely wipes confidential documents, while AccessAnywhere allows you to access and control your PC over the Internet.
You don’t have to install everything, but we accepted the default settings and waited. Installation took a little while -- no surprise when the suite requires some 550MB -- but was otherwise hassle-free. There were no demands to remove "conflicting" applications, no other issues, and setup was complete within a few moments.
The suite handled its first steps just fine, too, automatically downloading the latest definitions and launching a Quick Scan. Okay, this did raise a false alarm over a little-known utility we’d installed, but that’s not unusual, and at least Premier 2014 detected our malware samples correctly. Not a bad start, but now it was a time for a closer examination.
The first big change you’ll notice in Premier 2014 is the new interface. A dark console displays your current security status (though no smiley face any more, sadly); the left-hand toolbar organizes the suite’s functions into 8 categories (Status, Scan, Tools, Settings and so on); and four configurable shortcuts provide one-click access to whichever feature you like.
Everything is drastically simplified, too. There’s no lengthy list of shields, no bulky text explanations of individual features, everything is stripped back to the bare minimum. Even when scanning, say, you don’t get all the stats displayed previously: figures like "run time", "speed", "test files/ folders" and "amount of data tested" are no longer displayed (they’re available in the logs, just not at scan time).
The overall effect is Windows 8-like, without being a blatant copy. And generally it works well, although perhaps like Windows 8, it sometimes feels as though the interface is more designed for a tablet than PC desktop (the Settings panes require plenty of unnecessary scrolling, for example).
Running your first system checkup is easy enough, thanks to the "Quick scan" shortcut on the Premier 2014 console. You may have to wait a while for the results, though. Premier 2014 has much-improved in-memory scan times for EXE and text files (up to 10x faster), but in our experience overall performance remains only average. Quick Scans started at around 17 minutes on our test PC (42GB data checked), and even with the persistent cache enabled, we were still typically waiting around 8 to 9 minutes.
Accuracy is what really matters, of course. The independent test labs have been giving Avast mixed scores recently, but we had no problems at all, with the suite detecting and properly removing everything we threw at it. Avast says Premier 2014 has improved cloud scanning, crowdsourced analysis and cleaning, as well as more frequent updates (350-400 a day), so perhaps that helps. But whatever the reason, Avast Premier 2014 does offer excellent malware detection.
Move away from the core antivirus engine, though, and it was a very different story.
Problems, problems, problems
The problems started with Internet Explorer 10, which regularly crashed when running Google searches. Chrome and Firefox worked fine, but IE remained crippled until we removed the Avast browser addon.
Usenet reader Grabit, a standard component in our test procedures, also had issues running newsgroup searches. We’re not sure why, but disabling Premier 2014′s shields got the program working again.
We wanted to try Avast’s SafeZone, a secure and isolated browser which aims to keep your online banking transactions safe. But on launch it displayed an error telling us "a breakpoint has been reached". We persevered, only to be rewarded by a blue-screen crash and a forced reboot. We uninstalled Premier 2014, used Avast’s cleanup tool and did a clean reinstall: no change.
And there were other issues, too, from occasional dialog box issues (clicking buttons with zero response) to system freezes which left our test PC completely unresponsive for up to two minutes.
This build clearly had some major bugs, then, at least on our setup (64-bit Windows 8). But if we picked around them, maybe we could get a feel for what else Premier 2014 had to offer.
Avast’s browsing protection starts with your search engine results, where two icons are added to every link. The left is green for safe, red for danger; the right warns you of sites with a poor reputation, and hovering your mouse cursor over either displays more information. It’s a simple system and works well.
If you just click on a link elsewhere -- in an email, say -- then the Web Shield steps in, hopefully detecting and blocking any malicious sites. Avast has never impressed us with its antiphishing abilities, but this time it did reasonably well, blocking 65 percent of our test URLs.
We couldn’t get SafeZone working, unfortunately, but if you have more luck then it’s a useful feature. Especially as you can now add the URLs of your favorite banking and shopping sites, and Premier 2014 will switch you automatically to the secure SafeZone whenever you visit, helping to keep your details safe from keyloggers or other malware.
Premier 2014′s firewall was more of a plus point; it correctly stealthed our ports, blocked network attacks and did a good job of monitoring incoming and outgoing internet connections (apart, perhaps, from blocking Grabit), and we were never hassled by a single question or alert.
The spam filter performed well, too, blocking 85.5 percent of the spam in our real world test. Impressively, it incorrectly flagged just one legitimate email, and even that was a mailing list message which looked very spam-like.
New and Premier-only features
Premier 2014 now includes Avast’s DeepScreen technology, an improvement on the previous AutoSandbox feature which, reportedly, makes more intelligent decisions about how to handle unknown files. Sounds great, but we were unable to come up with a test for this, so can’t deliver any verdict.
The new Hardened Mode is a little more interesting. Turn it on (Settings > Antivirus, check "Enable Hardened Mode") and Premier 2014 immediately blocks any suspect executable which would normally be sandboxed by DeepScreen. Or set it to "Aggressive" and the system will only allow known safe executables to run.
As usual with this kind of whitelisting scheme, Hardened Mode blocks plenty of legitimate applications (Cloudmark DesktopOne, our perfectly safe spam filter was disabled). It also blocks all malware, though -- even the very latest threats -- and so could be a simple way to protect a basic PC with just a few known applications.
The real value in Premier 2014, though, supposedly comes in its three bonus features. And these start with the Software Updater. Just as in the lesser Avast packages, this monitors key applications -- browsers, Flash, Adobe Reader, iTunes and so on -- and alerts you to any updates. But the Premier edition can also download and install updates automatically. This isn’t as useful as it sounds because Software Updater only supports a few applications, and some of these must still be updated manually (Java, VLC Media Player), but it could save you a little time.
Next up is the Data Shredder, which can securely delete files, folders, free drive space or entire partitions. It’s a handy feature, but more awkward to use than it should be, and the tool isn’t significantly better than the freeware competition.
The most powerful Premier 2014 extra is probably AccessAnywhere, its remote control tool. The idea is that you set up your Premier 2014 to be accessible from the web, linking it to your Avast account. You can then use the "Remotely control a computer" feature on any other computer using Avast to log in to the Premier system, view its desktop, launch programs, transfer files, even reboot the system if necessary. It works well, and it’s genuinely useful, but again there’s plenty of even more capable free competition around.
Avast Premier 2014 has plenty of solid and likeable features. The firewall is intelligent and reliable, the spam filter works well, there’s effective and configurable sandboxing, it’s easy to use, with a host of handy extras, and of course all this is wrapped around an accurate antivirus engine.
It’s a pity, then, that so much of the suite either didn’t work, or didn’t work reliably, during our tests. The conflicts with Internet Explorer would have been bad enough, but interfering with other applications, blue-screening our PC, the broken SafeZone and assorted other problems took the program to a whole new level.
To be fair, these are issues with the current Premier 2014 build and our system, rather than the fundamental design of the program. You may not see these problems yourself, and even if you do, they could all be fixed tomorrow. So it’s important to keep these bugs in perspective: they were bad for us, but probably won’t mean much in the long (or even short-) term.
Unfortunately, even if Avast Premier 2014 runs perfectly for you, it just doesn’t have enough extra firepower to justify the higher price. If you’re an Avast fan, take a look at Internet Security 2014 instead: you’ll get all the functionality that matters, and save yourself $20 as well.
The core product design is good, but a host of bugs meant Avast Premier 2014 ran poorly on our test PC, and it doesn't have enough extras to justify its price anyway. If you're an Avast fan, wait a couple of weeks for the next build, then focus on Internet Security 2014 instead.
Accurate antivirus engine, intelligent firewall, effective spam filter, powerful sandbox, whitelisting-like "Hardened Mode", easy to use.
We Don't Like
SafeZone didn't work, IE addon crashed the browser, can interfere with legitimate applications, some interface design issues, not enough power to justify the price.
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The most popular stories on BetaNews this past week -- November 3-8
Posted by Mark Wilson on 09 November 2013 04:09 AM
Another busy week with more news than you could shake a stick at. Following the release of KitKat, Google was riding high as figures revealed that Jelly Bean is now installed on more than half of Android devices. It’s a similar story for Microsoft. Its previous operating system, Windows 7, is still the most popular while growth for Windows 8 and 8.1 remains slow. It was better news for Windows Phone which is making serious inroads into Android and iOS's share of the mobile market in Europe, and even managed to overtake Apple in Italy.
It seems that more people want to be able to use the latest and greatest version of Android, and following the announcement that the Galaxy Nexus would not receive a KitKat update, a petition was quickly launched to try to change Google's mind. Showing that the march of progress will always leave casualties, Google announced that Internet Explorer 9 will no longer be supported by Google Apps, and Windows 7 users gained Internet Explorer 11. To push the launch, Microsoft unveiled a new Anime ad campaign focusing on the browser's improved security.
In the world of apps and services, Google launched Helpouts, a help-based version of Hangouts that can be used to give or receive help for free or for a fee. Dropbox may be branching out into new territory with its purchase of Sold, and BitTorrent Sync received an update that brings speed improvements and better iOS support. Digg announced a video only category and Microsoft made a number of key improvements to Office Web Apps.
While Fedora Linux celebrated its tenth birthday, Canonical was busy trying to shut down a website for using the Ubuntu name and logo. The FAA lifted a ban on the use of electronic devices on flights, and Amazon celebrated with a quick Kindle sale.
Things took an interesting turn at BlackBerry when the expected sale to Fairfax Financial Holdings fell though and CEO Thorsten Heins' imminent resignation was announced. Over at Twitter, things were very much looking up as the company debuted on the NYSE and share prices quickly rocketed.
Fuel buyers in the UK could soon see video adverts tailored to them as they fill up thanks to face recognition software. This might not go down too well as research by Outlook.com found that most people in the UK are opposed to the idea of email scanning to deliver targeted ads. Microsoft started to take advantage of the public's desire for privacy, and launched an anti-Google campaign focusing on email scanning. Apple was the latest company to reveal details of government data requests they have received.
Joe took a look at the iPad Air and was impressed by the evolution of a product into something he felt could be a serious laptop replacement. Brian was rather less taken with the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 10 which he liked the look of but ultimately felt was slow and underpowered. The eagerly anticipated Kindle Fire HDX started shipping, and Nokia's latest Windows Phone handset, the Lumia 1520, became available for pre-order. Another piece of Microsoft hardware was showcased as the company released a video showing what the Xbox One is like to use.
That's it for now -- same time next week?
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The good and bad of Outlook.com, more than one year after its launch [Review]
Posted by Mihaita Bamburic on 04 November 2013 08:07 AM
In late-July 2012, Microsoft launched Outlook.com, a new consumer-oriented email service set to replace the cluttered and dated Hotmail. Its long-term mission would be to take on Google's prevalent Gmail and establish itself as a product with widespread appeal. By grandfathering-in those who used Hotmail, Microsoft announced, in early-May 2013, Outlook.com had reached 400 million users.
I delivered my review of Outlook.com two days after its launch. My impressions were positive for a product that, at the time, was still undergoing testing (the official public launch happened in late-February 2013). Still, I concluded that the service was not up to par with Gmail, because it was missing key functionality. But lots of things have changed in the meantime, which is why I decided to write this long-term review of Outlook.com, outlining the most important changes and detailing the positives and negatives of the service, now that it has reached maturity.
Microsoft has not changed the recipe behind Outlook.com. And it did not have to. The email service still looks great and fresh inside a browser, more than a year after its launch. There is little to dislike about the interface -- my only gripe is still the extra click needed to mark emails as read. The clean and simple design remains one of the best Outlook.com features, which Microsoft should in no way try to alter significantly. Like I said, it does not have to.
The complementary services -- Calendar, People and SkyDrive -- now feature the same look as Outlook.com, which was not always the case. Some parts of the interface had the Hotmail look and feel, while others had the new one. The new design was rolled-out across the board, with all Outlook.com parts now looking like they always should have.
Microsoft took a cue from Google by allowing Outlook.com users to archive emails by pressing a single button, like on Gmail. The behavior, however, is different because the former service will actually move the selected items in a folder that the user previously chose to use for the archive (instead of changing the label like its rival does). It is a minor change, but it enhances the appeal of Outlook.com for migrating Gmail users.
Microsoft has added a number of major features and improvements to its service, including:
The Google Talk integration was meant as way of keeping in touch with acquaintances who use Gmail. Google refreshed its service with Hangouts, but this has not affected the corresponding Outlook.com functionality.
The two-factor authentication feature is not designed specifically for Outlook.com, but the functionality extends to it as the service is part of Microsoft accounts. The setup is simple, and the feature works as expected -- security codes can be received via email, SMS message, or call and can also be pulled from an app that's able to generate them.
The Skype integration was initially missing from Outlook.com, but it was an obvious addition seeing as Microsoft owns the VoIP and messaging service. The problem, and I have pointed this out as one of Microsoft's main bad practices, has been the roll-out. The integration was available in a limited number of markets from the get-go and has reached remaining ones at a slow pace. That said, most (if not all) Outlook.com users should be able to take advantage of it by now.
The improved alias management means that Outlook.com users can use any of their aliases to sign in to the service and set as primary, while being able to send emails using any of them.
The IMAP support is probably the most surprising Outlook.com addition. Microsoft's long-term preference for Exchange ActiveSync is well known, but the software giant gave in and flipped the switch on IMAP support. The benefits are obvious: third-party services can integrate with Outlook.com, users are no longer limited to the outdated POP support and emails can now be synced with the server. This is one of the best new features that Microsoft added so far.
When Microsoft released the first Outlook.com Android app I was highly disappointed by what it offered. Put simply, there was no good reason why anyone would have wanted to use it at the time. But the following major updates made the app pleasant to use and actually very useful, thanks to a number of new added features like server-side search and alias support. It unquestionably makes Outlook.com a better alternative to Gmail for Android users.
The aforementioned changes have improved the service tremendously since its launch and, as a result, I would definitely recommend it now over its arch-rival Gmail. Google's attempts to improve its service have resulted in a less pleasant user experience, which also helps tip the balance in Outlook.com's favor. Thankfully, Microsoft has yet to mimic its rival.
Truth be told, there is little to fault Outlook.com for, but there are still some issues which have yet to be addressed so far. Microsoft has told me that it is looking to improve the service and add new features, but until that happens here are the bad points about Outlook.com.
The email sorting rules have not changed much (or at all) since launch. This may be fine for those who have basic needs in this regard, but power users will be left disappointed. Even something like sorting emails based on the address of the sender and the use of a word in the title is impossible to do at the moment. A more fine-grained approach is needed.
While the Google Talk integration works well for the most part, it seems to have difficulties in picking up all Google Talk contacts; I've had to resort to some trickery to be able to talk on Outlook.com with all my friends who use the messaging service (I had to copy their Google Talk handle and add it manually to affected contacts, which is a drag since the handle is not easy to find).
Microsoft still makes it difficult for users to easily migrate aliases from one Outlook.com account to another -- there is a 30-day waiting period between removing an alias and being able to attach it to another Outlook.com account. This happens even when the two accounts share the same security information (the same user name, the same phone number for two-factor authentication and so on), which is counterintuitive.
The strangest thing about Outlook.com is that even though Microsoft firmly believes Exchange ActiveSync is superior to every other protocol, most non-mobile email apps are unable to connect to Outlook.com via Exchange. Why? Because Microsoft has yet to flip the switch on Exchange Web Services, which is an additional requirement for this to happen. Based on what the Outlook.com team told me, only Microsoft's non-mobile apps and software can connect to Outlook.com via Exchange. Every other non-mobile app has to use either IMAP or POP, which forgo syncing calendar entries and contacts.
Another issue is that adding send and receive email accounts to Outlook.com results in a less than ideal experience. To give you an idea, if you want to be able to send and receive Gmail emails through Outlook.com, Microsoft's service will only use POP to fetch them which means that delivery is not immediate (POP fetching usually happens in 15 minute intervals). Why? Because IMAP, which supports push email, is not a supported protocol for this feature. The workaround is to forward emails from the other service and set it as a send-only account through Outlook.com.
A Better Service?
Unquestionably, Outlook.com is much better than it was in the beginning. The changes that Microsoft added since then have made the email service better in the ways that most people care about. I am using Outlook.com for my personal account, with Gmail relegated to work email exchanges and I am working towards switching entirely to the former service.
From my point of view, Outlook.com is better than Gmail is right now and it will only get easier to reel folks in if Microsoft ups the ante with frequent enhancements. Microsoft got in touch with me to ask for my Outlook.com feedback, so I took this opportunity to inform the company of said issues, bar the Google Talk problem, that I sadly forgot about at the time.
Hopefully, the announcements that follow will reveal improvements in these areas.
Have you tried Outlook.com yet? Have you switched from Gmail? What is your experience?
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