26 February, 2007

Why Microsoft annoys me (updated)

As I originally states in my previous post (before updating it), I intended to talk about Windows Speech Recognition and other alternatives today. That entry will be coming shortly, but I needed to take some time right now to discuss something that really bothers me. I mentioned in the original draft of my last post on User Account Protection, that Windows Backup can create a "previous version" of a file or files that you could immediately return to if something goes wrong. This is different from the full system backup. How you ask? It's different because in a full system backup, every file is replaced. That's great if you have a system crash, but what about if you accidentally save two files with the same name? What if you accidentally delete a file the system needs? That's when a system restore or a full backup are not necessarily the appropriate options. In that case you just want to be able to retrieve the missing file or folder without impacting your entire system. That's what the previous version function or Shadow Copy is for. So as I was looking at Microsoft's feature comparison chart for all of the flavors of Vista in an effort to help advise my father on upgrading, I realized that the shadow copy function is only available in Windows Vista Business, Windows Vista Ultimate Edition, or Windows Vista Enterprise Edition.

The reason for my confusion was that originally this was going to be a feature in almost all flavors of Vista. It really annoys me when Microsoft does this. They make so many different flavors of a product; pack a bunch of features into every version. Many of these, most people will never use but the one feature you always need; that would be useful to have is always, and I mean Always, in the more expensive version. Why do they do this to us? Why do software companies feel it necessary to make so many differing iterations of a product. Oh, I know what they say. They say it's to meet the different needs of the market. That's fine. That even make sense to me. If you want to do that, do what they did for Windows XP in the beginning. I know there are other editions now, but in the beginning, there was just Windows XP Home Edition and Windows XP Professional Edition. That made it simple. At home I had the Home Edition and at work, I had the professional, right? Well, not exactly. You see after using Windows XP Home Edition, I discover that there was one single feature I needed that this version didn't have. Of course, this was no problem because as luck would have it, the feature I needed was was in XP Professional Edition. So of course I had to pay the extra money to obtain a version of Windows that was only slightly different from the Home Edition I'd already been using and had already spent money on to begin with. And Microsoft has done it again with Vista. Although I suppose if you think about it, the Vista situation is much simpler. Home Basic is in my opinion, a waste of money. He does the name of a backup that you can schedule. That leaves you with only two choices. Unless you're in business, you're not going to buy Vista Business. So your two choices are Windows Vista Home Premium or, Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. Now there will always be some features that you don't use but my advice is to get the highest level of Windows you can afford.

There is always the anytime upgrade option. This means that if, for example, you have Windows Vista Home Premium and you want to upgrade to Windows Ultimate, you can click an icon, pay for the appropriate key, and immediately upgrade to the next version. This works because Windows Vista comes on a DVD with all the various iterations on it. The version that you get depends on what key you type in during the installation process. Anytime upgrade does have limitations, however. You can only use it once and you can only go to the next highest version. In other words, if you have Home Basic and you want to upgrade to Home Premium, that's fine but if you do that, you cannot then use anytime upgrade to go to Ultimate Edition. You would actually need to buy the Ultimate Edition upgrade at the point. That's why I say get the most advanced Windows you can you can afford. It's a given that you'll not use all of the features in there, but there will be more of the ones you really want and more of an opportunity for anytime upgrade later on.

To clarify any misunderstandings, all versions of Windows Vista have speech recognition. Most versions of Windows Vista have a backup utility that's easy to configure and that will run automatically without prompting or interference thereafter. All versions of Vista have antispyware software built in. Most versions of Vista support the new user interface (Arrow), but not Home Basic. All versions of Windows Vista include User Account Protection / Control and Windows Backup will make a regular backups but only Vista Business, Vista Ultimate Edition and Vista Enterprise includes shadow copying.

Sorry for any confusion. Because I'd been testing this thing for so long, I assumed that they would go with their original plan. Hope this clears up any confusion caused by the misinformation. It wasn't intentional. I'll be back soon with my original plan to discuss speech recognition in Windows and other alternatives.

12 February, 2007

Windows Vista Review Part 2a: user account control, the secure desktop, speech recognition, and, the work around (revised)

In part 1 of my review, I discussed some of the reasons I chose to move to Windows Vista. I feel I should say that my philosophy on technology is that good technology; a good upgrade should make it easier to overcome physical limitations. Vista certainly goes a long way in this regard. The belt in speech recognition, automatic defrag, automatic backup, anti spyware and other security features, make Windows Vista a welcome change for me.The migration to the new operating system is not something I take lightly but having been part of the MSDN beta process throughout the development of this operating system, the benefits of making the transition to vista became very clear to me. I hope after reading part 1 of this review, you may have a better grasp on some of the features that may prove beneficial to users with and without disabilities. That doesn't mean that Vistais perfect by any stretch of imagination and that is what brings us here today.

User Account Control:
What is User Account Control? What does it do? Well, I am so glad you asks these questions. :-) It's wonderful to have such an interactive audience :-). User Account Control is something that Mac users will know about. I'm not sure what this feature is called in the Mac OS, but User Account Control as it applies to Windows, is a way for the operating system to keep track of any software installation or other task that could potentially impact the way the core of Windows itself works. This doesn't apply to everything users do, but it does apply to anything that could alter the system fundamentally at the core level. it is really important that Windows itself have a way to notify the user in these cases because this type of notification to help protect against system failure. It's particularly useful in Windows is Vista Ultimate Edition, where in case it turns out that a piece of software is causing the system to behave in an adverse way, the system keep track of these things, Windows backup can automatically create a full system backup to return to if something goes wrong; if for example, you actually install a piece of spyware that Windows doesn't catch. (note: although there is a backup utility in almost all versions of Vista except Windows Vista Home Basic, the "backup entire computer" function is not available in all versions of Vista.) Sounds wonderful right? It is. It's not the feature itself that's flawed. The problem comes when you use User Account Control in conjunction with the Windows Speech Recognition.

To implement User Account Control/Protection, Microsoft developed the Secure Desktop. Although the Secure Desktop is hard to explain in nontechnical terms, it is very easy to spot. You'll notice it the first time you do anything that could potentially impact the way the System works. Your desktop will go black and a dialog box will appear that will either say something like " this program needs permission to continue with this action". The dialog box may alternatively ask if you want to "allow" a particular action. The problem is that Windows Speech Recognition cannot interact with the secure desktop. Meaning that when the desktop goes black and these dialog boxes appear to ask for special permission, Windows Speech Recognition cannot be used to dismiss or confirm these dialog box questions. So what do you do? First, let me say that although User Account Control/protection does take a little getting used to, it's very important. As such, turning it off is not really a viable option if you truly want to be safer from making potentially system altering mistakes. So what do you do if you can't use the mouse to dismiss Secure Desktop dialog boxes? Well children, that's why we have a section I like to call " The Work Around" :-). (note: this work around is to the best of my knowledge, only achievable in Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. So although all versions of this to have speech recognition built in, if you need to use the computer hands free, you'll need Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. This is true as far as I know whether or not you choose to use Windows Speech Recognition or another program. If I find a work around for other Vista editions, I will certainly post it here.)
Step 1: open Control panel (you may need to be logged on as an administrator to do this)
Step 2: go to " Administrative Tools"
Step 3: open " Local Security Policies" (a dialog box will appear asking for permission to continue, do so.) If any other dialog boxes appear after doing this, simply say "OK" before moving on to step 4.
Step 4: double click on "Local Security".
Step 5: double click "security options" and scroll to the bottom. You don't want to change the one on the very bottom. You want the next one up that says " switch to secure desktop when prompting for elevation." Double click this.
Step 6: click "disable" and click "OK". You will notice the next time that Windows needs permission to perform a task that would normally trigger the Secure Desktop that windows speech recognition will be able to interact with the dialog boxes in question. (note: for the dialog boxes with the choices own "allow" or " cancel", make sure that the dialog box is in focus.) To do this, simply say "which to User Account Control." Then say " down arrow". You can then say " click allow" or, " click cancel"
Disabling the Secure Desktop is not as secure as leaving it on of course, but it does make the feature fully accessible to those of us who have to use alternative user input such as speech recognition. Disabling the secure desktop is certainly far more secure than entirely disabling user account protection / control.

The reason that you need Ultimate Edition to do this is that you need to be able to set the security policies. I suspect that this level of control is also available to business users, but im not as of yet tested this on Vista Business.
I hope this is helpful. Next time, I'll be discussing more on windows speech recognition and other alternatives.

07 February, 2007

Windows Vista review part 1: why I like it

The big news out of Redmond Washington is the release of Windows Vista. You heard the hype; probably read several reviews. I have also read these reviews and I have to say that looking at them on mass, it's very difficult to see just from reading them what the " must have" improvements in vista really are. This is particularly true because many of the features that are beneficial have been overshadowed by the shiny OS X style user interface. So today I thought I would share with you some of the reasons why I as a person with a disability feel vista is in vast improvement over previous versions of windows. Don't worry, I will also be discussing its shortcomings in part 2 of this review. For all you Mac fans, I will also be doing something similar for OS X in the coming weeks. So there's no need to feel left out. This should also alleviate any potential fears that I'm a Windows fan boy of some kind.… One other thing before we begin. Please don't write to me saying " I've had this problem or that problem since I upgraded." Problems and issues and shortcomings of Windows Vista are as I said, going to be discussed in the next part of this review.… Now that that's out of the way, let's get on with the reasons I like Windows Vista.

As I stated in my introduction to this blog, I have cerebral palsy. This impacts my coordination and my fine motor control. It is therefore, very difficult for me to use a mouse for prolonged periods and using the keyboard is completely out of the question! Under Windows XP, I used Dragon Naturallyspeaking version 8 to perform all PC tests. I mean everything, from e-mail to program control. There was nothing I couldn't do with Dragon. There was however a big problem and it was not one that you may be thinking of. I feel I should say that I have been using speech recognition for years. I understand what the software is looking for and am therefore, very proficient in its use. That wasn't the problem. The problem I'm referring to occurs when something happens to Windows that necessitates reformatting the hard drive. Of course I know how to do that. My issue is that after backing up my data and going through the relatively painless process of reformatting my drive, I am then faced with my arch nemesis! He hates me, and I despise him! Every time we encounter each other I feel like the losing victim at the shootout at the OK Corral. Who is this terrible menace who plagues me? He or rather it is the Dreaded Product key. Why do I want to kick product keys and in particular, the Windows product key into a big hole and bury it under 6 miles of something that's brown and sounds like a bell? As any security expert will tell you, product keys are not a good form of security. Hackers know how product keys work and consequently, they are easily cracked. Not by people like us, who are just average users who are interestingly enough, just trying to use the software we purchased, but by others with more time on their hands. Of more importance to someone like myself, however, is that product keys make everything inaccessible. If you can install windows, you can use speech recognition to overcome physical limitations… Oh, but wait, in order to install Windows you have to be able to type the product key into the necessary fields. You then have to be able to use the mouse to click the necessary buttons to answer a bunch of questions before Windows will install. Funny, I thought the whole reason I had speech recognition software is because I Cannot Do This. One of the added little bonuses I got for arriving early, was a vision problem related to the muscles in my eyes. I don't know, maybe it was some kind of door prize for being the one millionth birth that year or something. :-) Product keys are always raining very tiny microscopic print. I don't know, perhaps Microsoft is fond of the old Monty Python sketch " the value of not being seen." In any event, under Windows XP, after you struggle for hours to get the product key in, answer other questions for installation and wait for the product itself to install, you then realize you have to do it all again to install your speech recognition software. So how does this relate to Vista? One of the reasons that Vista is so much matter is that the setup process is extremely simple. Yes, you still have to struggle with a product key, but after you do that there are about two questions and then windows is off on its own to install. No clicking numerous dialog boxes is necessary. Windows just knows what to do. And after the installation? If you go into control panel, a simple few clicks will set up the built in speech recognition software in Windows so that you can control your PC entirely by voice. Worried that Windows speech recognition won't work? Well, I'm using it right now to write this blog. It's simple, accurate with regular use, and most importantly, it's built in. That means that no product key is needed for installation of speech recognition software. Hallelujah! Now I hear you asking, " is it just for dictation?" No, Windows speech recognition gives you full control over the PC. The dictation experience itself is excellent and the system will learn from its mistakes provided they are corrected in the proper manner (not by keyboard). It's a basic speech recognition solution that addresses most of the average user's needs. As with other areas of Vista, I will be dressing its shortcomings in the second part of this review. Speech recognition isn't the only thing that makes Vista my must have operating system. There have been numerous improvements in other areas as well that address other limitations that are part and parcel to my CP.

One such area is in visual scaling. Visuals scaling is the ability to easily; stressing easily; and increased the DPI (dots per inch) of the screen. This enlarges all the fonts throughout the operating system as well as the screen elements without having to adjust these individually. This feature was available in Windows XP however, because Windows XP is not designed for high resolution displays or necessarily for wide displays, it was always terrible looking not to mention hard to find. In Windows Vista, you can simply right click on the desktop and go to "personalize" An item appears on the left hand side of the screen that says " change font size" you can increase the font size to any level you wish using the custom settings, but I have my display set to one of the default settings of 300 DPI. You must have a wide screen monitor to be able to do this and have a look decent. If you don't have a wide screen display, you can still increase the DPI to about 120 and windows will look very nice. The advantage of increasing the DPI over simply using the accessibility options is that by using the DPI adjustments in conjunction with adjusting your display size, you don't lose any of the colors of the interface. On the other hand, if you use high contrast under accessibility options everything becomes black and white or white and black, etc. You then lose all of the potentially helpful animations that are built into Windows now to help you see what's going on. If you need high contrast, by all means use it. If you just need bigger print, adjust your DPI and display size. Visual improvements can be found throughout Vista. The aero user interface is beautiful and is rightly compared with OS X. The transparency can be adjusted to make it easier to see through Windows that are on screen. All in all, I really like the user interface. Vista isn't just beautiful though. The OS is also smarter in settle ways.

The system provides numerous ways to interact with it. In addition to the aforementioned speech recognition, tablet PC functionality is built into most flavors of Windows Vista. This means that if you are unable to talk to the system because your voice is not consistent enough, there is another option beyond typing. Many new PCs are coming with touch screens so that you can take advantage of this tablet functionality. Windows Media Center is also now built into most versions of Windows Vista. Gone are the days when you had to buy a specialized PC in order to enjoy digital media. Although some extra hardware may be required, this is becoming very inexpensive in comparison to a few years ago. Maintains too has become easier. The system will be fragment itself without you scheduling it. Backups are performed in a similar fashion, once the operating system knows exactly where to back up to. Vista also has built in spyware protection. There are also many other improvements too numerous to list here. Overall stability has been improved dramatically. In my mind, anything I don't have to tell the system to do in terms of maintenance is a plus! :-) I have far more important things to do than to worry about maintaining my PC.

With all these great advances, you might think that Vista couldn't be any better. Don't be fooled into thinking that there aren't things that could be improved or that are missing from Windows Vista. We'll discuss those next time in part 2. For now though, I just wanted to give you some perspective on why I as someone with a disability couldn't run any other version of windows. I hope this proves helpful.

03 February, 2007

Introduction: updated

Hi, let me give you a little bit of background on what this blog is about. I was born with cerebral palsy. As many of you familiar with that know, it can impact fine motor skills. For those unfamiliar with CP, it's a brain injury that results from the lack of oxygen (usually at birth, though not always) so the only difference between me and a politician is that I admit that I have brain damage :-)! As I hope this blog demonstrates however, this injury did not impact my intelligence or communication skills. Actually, I think truth be told, it's more likely that due to my physical limitations caused by CP I really had to learn to communicate well with others because my mouth unlike many areas of my body, actually works nearly as advertised :-).

Like a lot of people in my situation, technology holds the key to helping me overcome any limitations or as I like to call them, inconveniences that provide good humor, brought about by my CP. As someone who worked as a computer consultant, I have a very unique perspective on technology. I am Not writing a computer Manual. I'm not here to provide technical support. So please don't write me asking" how does this work or do you know why xy or Z doesn't work? I do not know your particular setup. There are hundreds of variations when it comes to hardware and software interplay. What I'm here to do is to share my thoughts on technology in the amusing way. I'll give you my thoughts on what's going on in the tech world as it relates to my own brand of humor and way of looking at the world. Although I occasionally get frustrated by my physical limitations at times, I do really enjoy the wisdom and humor my cerebral palsy has given to me. I hope you will too. I always write colored by these experiences. I hope this will prove refreshing and informative for those of you kind enough to read this blog. You will hopefully discover for yourselves that although I Physical balance, :-) my views on technology are balanced. Remember, I'm sharing my experiences and thoughts. I recognize that these may not be yours, but that's why I emphasize that these are My thoughts. See, my blog, my thoughts :-)? Really neat how that works. :-) At the same time, if there's something going on in the technology world that impacts you personally that you'd like my thoughts on or my opinion of, feel free to let me know. It's my intent to keep this as lighthearted as possible. I will not argue that one company's better over another. I will not argue that one operating system is better over another. I will however, discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each of these things for me personally. I hope this proves helpful and enjoyable to you. Be sure to check back often even on entries you've already read. In an effort to provide the most accurate and up to date information possible, I will frequently update and revise existing entries.
Thank you, you're a wonderful audience :-)