Tag Archives: Software

Spanish Class with Duolingo

DuolingoFor the past several years we’ve been using Rosetta Stone for Homeschools to provide foreign language training for the kids. We are required to have 2 years of a foreign language in order to meet state guidelines for high school students. The boys each have 4 or more years of training and the girls are just getting started (Emma has a year already). It seems that one of the security patches that Microsoft pushed out caused the software to stop working correctly. I contacted their support line, but was told that the version that we had was no longer supported and that we would need to upgrade to version 3 (latest version).

I had heard a couple months back about a new app for the Windows Store called Duolingo that provided learning tools comparable to Rosetta Stone, but was free. Duolingo actually started as a website and later added iOS, Android and then finally Windows 8 apps that provide device specific versions. Most people seemed happy with it, so we’ve been testing it this week. Given that the website is free, my expectations were a little low as to how useful it would be. They did have a classroom system where I could have all of the kids linked together into a virtual classroom and oversee their progress from there. So that was at least a good thing.

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Not Crazy About Universal Windows Apps

Across the Windows 10 platform, Microsoft has put forward Universal Windows applications as the future. On the surface (no pun intended), it’s a great idea to build one set of source code to run on multiple devices.. each with their own user interface (UI or HMI). The downside is that the interface tools available aren’t sufficient to support large and complex applications. For media consumption, chat, mobile games and small utilities, they are okay. For enterprise and / or large scale scientific applications, they aren’t fast enough and they don’t collapse under the weight of a complicated UI requirements. They just don’t support 20+ possible displays for different sets of software features. The vast majority of Windows 10 users aren’t interested in these apps, but they are the ones that are running a lot of the businesses out there.

So two years after Windows store apps hit the market, the situation has definitely improved. Usage is going up with the release of Windows 10 and the new Visual Studio is great. All that said, we’re still a couple years away from where enterprise app development needs to be for Windows 10 apps to gain traction in businesses. The platform has to mature enough to handle the complexities of large apps. This includes more detailed, built-in controls for the UI and new ways to modularize large apps so that all the memory for UI isn’t loaded at one time.

I’ve started up the learning curve and hopefully I’ll be ready when the time comes. Until then I’ll be busy with web apps and old fashion win forms. Progress seems slow (which is ironic given the fast pace of technology).

Windows 10 – Post Upgrade

Windows 10After a couple weeks with Windows 10, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the new OS. I’ve been running Windows 10 Home on my Surface 3 that was part of the Windows Insider program and Windows 10 Professional on my primary desktop (upgraded from Windows 8.1 Pro).

Overall I really like the new look and feel. The Start menu with the tiles really works for me. I do think it is tough to scroll through the list of all installed programs, but that’s a minor annoyance. It’s very configurable (right clicking is your friend), so even that might be an option. The notification panel on the right (which is accessible with a swipe from the right or a click on the system tray icon) is fantastic for accessing features quickly (just like it is on mobile devices). The OS starts fast and seems to run most stuff well.

The new Xbox App and it’s usage with the Xbox One is fantastic. It’s probably one of the nicest new features of Windows 10. I’m able to stream the Xbox One here at my desk and even join in party sessions with friends. It’s convenient to turn it on and stream it from my desk because the living room is occupied by others at times when I want to play a game.

I haven’t found any “show stoppers” in terms of bugs or missing features. Some “show stopper” candidates might be the lack of a DVD player (you can purchase on for < $15) or the death of the MCE interface, but I believe most stuff works good. It’s pretty easy just to install the app that you want (Chrome, iTunes, etc..).

The Edge browser is sort of annoying right now. It does have “Ask Cortana” support by highlighting text and right clicking on it. It doesn’t sync my bookmarks between different machines though. You also can’t “Save As” on right click. It’s bearable though and I expect it to improve quickly. There have been several updates that improved the OS and hopefully that continues at a brisk pace. Supposedly they passed the 50 million install mark, so they need to keep those people happy. For me, both the tablet and desktop are doing great.

Windows 10 on the 29th

In 3 days, Microsoft will release the next version of their Windows OS. Windows 10 is their effort to win back the majority of their users after what could only be described as a disastrous Windows 8 (and 8.1) release. Many of those users have already moved on to iPads, Macs or Android Tablets, but a few are still holding on to Windows 7 (or XP unfortunately). I’ve been testing it out for a few months and I think that for most of the people that hate the “metro” interface (desktop users specifically), this version will be a big improvement. For me, it’s a mixed bag.

The good news for many is that the OS works a lot better for people with keyboards and mice. It’s almost like Windows 7.8 really (with a bunch of improvements under the hood, including the new browser Edge). The tablet interface is not as powerful as Windows 8, but it’s much more predictable and I think it will work better in the long run.

So who should upgrade?

  • Those with Windows 8.1 on their desktop (primarily mouse/kb) should upgrade right away. Windows 10 will be much easier to operate.
  • If you like “new” stuff, this is for you.

Who should wait?

  • Windows 8.1 touch users should probably wait until a secondary release of Windows 10. I don’t see a lot of initial problems, but there might be some day 1 “gotchas”. The Fall release will include more things that didn’t make it into this release and will make it more of an upgrade.
  • If you are happy with Windows 7, just keep enjoying it until you get a new computer. 10 is better than 7, but not so much that you need to cause yourself a lot of headaches.

What about those on XP, Vista or other version? For you, start saving up for new hardware and plan to get off those OSs before the end of the year. They are a security threat that you don’t need. Computer hardware gets cheaper every year and a new system will be a breath of fresh air. You could also just jump on one of the competing OSs and see what it’s like there.

From my perspective, Windows 10 offers a lot of new stuff (security, browser, apps, …) yet it doesn’t have a polished feel yet. It seems rushed (especially the Edge browser). It’s a work in progress and I’m sure that by the end of the year will feel much more complete. I do love the new Xbox integration. I would probably love the “Hello” instant login support if I had the hardware. It will be good, even great…. eventually. Grab some popcorn, because this is going to be interesting (and who doesn’t love some popcorn).


Lenovo Goes Too Far

It’s been the habit of PC manufacturers to pre-load software onto their computers before selling them. The software that gets loaded was originally suppose to be software drivers that was specific to the hardware (hard drives, CD drives, video card, etc…). That quickly turned into software to promote other services that the companies sold. The next thing to happen made matters much worse, software companies would pay the PC manufacturers to pre-install their software on the machines (limited function software that would get the consumer to buy a paid version, virus checkers, adware, etc.). It was this class of software that led to people to consider Windows as being slow and bloated. It was actually the manufacturers that were the root cause of the problem (though OS design did play a part).

Dell, HP and many other PC makers follow this practice, but Lenovo has crossed the line as of late. It was discovered that Lenovo was pre-installing Superfish software. From the linked article on ArsTechnica above:

The critical threat is present on Lenovo PCs that have adware from a company called Superfish installed. As unsavory as many people find software that injects ads into Web pages, there’s something much more nefarious about the Superfish package. It installs a self-signed root HTTPS certificate that can intercept encrypted traffic for every website a user visits. When a user visits an HTTPS site, the site certificate is signed and controlled by Superfish and falsely represents itself as the official website certificate.

Translation: This is bad…. really bad. Read the article for all of the details.

If you have a Lenovo system, you will want to make sure that you use a software tool to remove it. Microsoft recently updated their Windows Defender software to detect and remove it as well.

The action should be a wake up call for consumers. Do not purchase PCs from manufacturers that load their computers down with trial versions and adware. Microsoft offers a “Signature Edition” of many popular PC models (including their own) without any additional pre-loaded software. It’s a clean OS install that should run faster and be more stable over the long term. It’s not just an annoyance anymore, it’s actually a danger to your privacy as well. If Microsoft doesn’t reign this behavior in (which they are limited as to the tools they can use by the anti-trust consent decree), then I suggest using Apple as an alternate vendor (Google already has too many privacy issues for me to recommend). Manufacturers have already proven that they will not do it on their own.