Do you like doing things first? Do you like discovering cool new operating system features? Do you not mind if your computer has the occasional Blue Screen of Death or Kernel Panic? If so, consider the exciting world of being a public beta tester!
While some Linux distributions are constantly open-source works in progress, Microsoft and Apple were traditionally closed systems that usually only let registered developers install the testing versions of their upcoming operating systems. But that changed a few years ago, perhaps when companies realized they could make better final software with more people banging around on the prerelease versions — and filing complaints about stuff that didn’t work.
So, what do you need to join in? For both Microsoft and Apple, you need to sign up with the respective testing program, agree to install the software and provide feedback on what you see. You also need compatible hardware on which to install the beta software. Important Point: This should be a computer or device that is NOT your primary, mission-critical machine.
Apple’s free volunteer public testing club is called the Apple Beta Software Program. You need to register an Apple ID to get in, but you can play around with prerelease versions of both macOS and iOS.
Microsoft calls its beta club the Windows Insider program. If your PC meets the system requirements and you join to become a member of the Windows Insider team, Microsoft allows you to download each new build of the next Windows version to learn, test and share your feedback. You can sign up using the Windows Insider option within the current Windows 10 Settings app — in Settings, go to Updates and Security, then Windows Update and select Advanced Options. You can also sign up for the program on the Windows Insider page on Microsoft’s website.
As with any unfinished hardware or software, proceed at your own risk. Being a beta tester isn’t for everyone and a some folks may start to feel like the kids that Tom Sawyer convinced to whitewash the fence for him. But for alpha dogs who like to be first, going beta can be very exciting.
The hills are alive with the sound of buzzing drones, leaking data and the thwack of fake news getting smacked down. El Kaiser and J.D. discuss it all, as well as Shazam’s jump into augmented reality, smaller Windows 10 updates and Consumer Reports stepping it up to evaluate the security of new smart-home devices. Just press Play to get a fresh helping of the week’s news, a Tech Term and a (Hopefully) Helpful Hint — all in one episode!
On either platform, you can customize and configure what you want to see when you pop open the info panel. On the Mac, click the icon in the top-right corner of the menu bar to pen the Notifications Center. Within the Notifications pane, you have two tabs: Today and Notifications. The Today tab shows you the date, time from world clocks you’ve added, news stories from favorite websites, Twitter trending topics, a stock ticker and other widgets you can add. Click the Notifications tab to see a collection of alerts you’ve received, Twitter mentions, your current iTunes track and more.
On a Windows 10 system, you can add information about the topics you want to see in Cortana in the Cortana Notebook. You can see your weather reports, track flights, check your calendar, get traffic updates, browse the latest news headlines and info on your favorite sports teams when you pop open Cortana.
Desktop notifications have another advantage: You’ve got more screen real estate and can multitask with other open programs and windows. Trying doing that on a 5.5-inch phone screen…
Forget those grainy old newsreels of Republicans and Democrats putting on large hats and gathering every four years to nominate a candidate for president. Thanks to YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and various other social platforms, wonks and watchers alike have instant access to high-definition video right from the arena floor, plus ongoing commentary from viewers around the world. Will this massive wall of easily accessible data make for a more informed body politic — or just lead to more online body slams? And what about those the hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee that some say were courtesy of Russian operatives trying to influence the results of November? Journalist Laura M. Holson drops by PTJ HQ with her observations on it all.
And, after a week off so J.D. could work on her monitor tan, she and El Kaiser are back behind the mic with a summary of the week’s tech news, including Verizon’s purchase of Yahoo and summer projects from Microsoft and Google. Pour yourself a cool, refreshing beverage and settle on in for a listen!
On the topic of Twitter, the bird-themed is launching a new marketing campaign where it will attempt to explain why it’s a unique delivery mechanism for breaking news and gossip. However, do not expect any mention of the colossal amount of troll poop that clogs the best of timelines.
Microsoft’s free Windows 10 upgrade offer for Windows 7 and 8.1 users ends this month, so if you didn’t get it before July 29th, you probably didn’t want Windows 10 in the first place and fought hard to avoid it. If you did install Windows 10 (or bought a new computer that already had it), look out on August 2nd for the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, the biggest upgrade heave since last November.
Microsoft also announced updates to its Office 365 suite, including a new Researcher service for Microsoft Word that helps you find, fit in and format reliable and legitimate resources to cite in your academic papers. Word has also been updated with a virtual cloud-based writing assistant called Editor that provides better document proofreading and analysis of your writing, which might make it less painful for you to compose and others to read.
Microsoft has added a new feature called Zoom to PowerPoint as well. Zoom can easily create interactive non-linear presentations for those who really don’t care about slide order and want to go freestyle.
The Outlook mail app also got a Gmail-like “Priority Inbox” update that helps weed out distracting fluff in your mailbox. Microsoft calls its version “Focused Inbox” instead.
Google has done some updating of its own this week and has released updates to Google Maps for desktop, Android and iOS. The company tweaked the color scheme and design of the maps to make them cleaner, sharper and easier to read. Google Maps also has new orange-shaded “areas of interest” that show algorithmically selected pods of restaurants, bars and other attractions nearby. According to the Android Police blog, Google Maps is rolling out notifications for mass-transit delays and a Wi-Fi only mode to help you keep your data allowance under control, too.
Nexus and Android Phone users are getting a nice gift from the Google phone app – a warning that an incoming call may be spam. If you do get a spam call, the app makes it easy to block and report the offender.
And finally, Pokémon Go dating was only a matter of time and yes, now it’s a thing. A company name RazorGo will be coming out with a site and app for Pokémon Go players to chat with their teams or privately. And you know that tune…
Love soft as an easy chair Love fresh as the morning air One love that is shared by two I’ve found thanks to Pikachu
Microsoft’s Windows 10 upgrade has steadily grown more persistent since the software’s release last year, even to the point of practically hijacking a user’s computer to ram it on there. While the Windows forums have lit up with complaints, at least one dissatisfied customer has taken Microsoft to court over the unauthorized update. The plaintiff was awarded $10,000 to compensate for lost wages and the price of a new computer to replace the one banjaxed by an unwanted Windows 10 upgrade. Microsoft denied that it had done anything wrong and said it had dropped its appeal in the case to avoid additional legal expense. However, the company said it’s changing that sneaky dialogue box that starts the Windows 10 install when you click the “x” to close the box. (Also disappearing: The Xbox Fitness service.)
Due to copyright issues, many song lyrics sites used to be hosted on offshore servers, but now Google has cut a deal with the Toronto-based firm LyricFind to legally display lyrics in search results. The move both funnels money to the publishers and songwriters of the licensed songs — and might send a few people to Google Play Music as well.
Municipal lawmakers and the Airbnb site for easy short-term rentals have a contentious relationship in places like New York City and San Francisco because of local housing laws, and now the start-up is even suing San Francisco over a new law that says Airbnb hosts must register with the city first. The lawsuit contends that San Francisco is putting the burden on Airbnb to enforce the law by fining the site $1,000 for posting unverified-with-the-city listings on the site. As The New York Times points out, Airbnb originally helped write the law in the first place to quell protests from affordable hosing advocates. The New York Legislature also passed its own bill against Airbnb this month that would impose fines on apartments listed with the service that rent for less than 30 days if the leaseholder if not present. That bill awaits the governor’s signature.
Amazon has added a new feature to its Kindle apps and e-readers that’s designed to make it easier for you to wander around in an ebook without losing your place. The new tool is called, appropriately, Page Flip.
And finally, summer is here and if you need some projects to occupy the kids, Bose has a $150 BoseBuild Speaker Cube kit that shows kids how to make a Bluetooth speaker that works with an iOS device while also teaching them how the principles of sound and speakers work, along with magnets, electromagnets, frequency and waveforms.
Need another educational a summer project? Make has instructions on how to make a Wi-Fi Drone Disabler with a Raspberry Pi, some telnet scripts and a cantenna, but stresses this is an educational exercise to help you “understand the security risks of wireless communications.” Yes. Yes, it is.
This week, Gizmodo has another post up, as several former Facebook contractors came forward to say they manipulated those news topic feeds by suppressing stories that may have appealed to conservative readers. All this brought out a statement from Facebook Trending Topics product manager Tom Stocky, and soon, an update from Gizmodo: “Several hours after this report was published, Gizmodo editors started seeing it as a topic in Facebook’s trending section. Gizmodo’s video was posted under the topic but the “Top Posts” were links to RedState.com and the Faith and Freedom Coalition.”
Researchers at Purdue University say they have developed the prototype for a new system that would allow law enforcement officials and public-safety agencies to tap into the feeds of thousands of cameras used by city and state governments along highways, as well as around national parks, construction sites, parking garages and other public venues. This new system would work with the existing closed-circuit security cameras already available to authorized personnel. The project, dubbed “Analyze Visual Data from Worldwide Network Cameras” won a grant from the National Science Foundation.
Apple’s earnings may have been down the other week, but the company is not alone in weaker sales figures. Shipments of personal computers and tablets worldwide were down 13 percent for the first three months of this year, dropping to a level analysts say they haven’t seen since the second quarter of 2011.
The creator the Siri virtual assistant seems to have found a way to pass the time after selling the software to Apple. At the TechCrunch Disrupt event in New York this week, developer Dag Kittlaus demoed his new artificial intelligence system called Viv for the crowd and said the new system wants to be “the intelligent interface for everything” and that it could “breathe life into the inanimate objects of our life through conversation.”
The Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission want your mobile device to be safe from malware. Both agencies issued statements this week saying they were looking into security practices and said they’ve sent letters to the major mobile carriers and eight mobile device manufacturers. The letter from the FCC to carriers asks questions about the companies’ process for reviewing and releasing security updates while the FTC asked the mobile device makers to give them a report on how they send out security updates to patch vulnerabilities in smartphones, tablets and other devices.
Microsoft has announced that Windows 10 is now running on 300 million active devices and reminds everyone that its free Windows 10 upgrade offer ends this July 29th. For those who spurn the offer now but want to update later, Microsoft said those people can get Windows 10 after July 29 by either paying $119 for it or buying a new machine. So there.
And finally, SpaceX has done it again – this time completing what was called its hottest and fastest landing yet, as it successfully set down one of its reusable rocket boosters on a drone ship at night. Before it happened, SpaceX itself was unsure of the mission’s chances, noting that the landing was “unlikely” — and using a barge called “Of Course I Still Love You” as the booster’s target. However, once the booster nailed it, company founder Elon Musk issued a series of excited tweets, including one that said “Woohoo!” and another that said, “May need to increase the size of rocket storage hanger.” Congratulations again, SpaceX!
Microsoft seems to be makingWindows Blue Screen of Death errors easier to deal with, at least if a recent Windows Insider build of Windows 10 is any indication. Beta testers there have noticed the appearance of handy, scannable QR code on the Blue Screen of Death messages that when zapped by a smartphone QR app, takes you to a Microsoft help page to begin your troubleshooting journey.
If you like making graffiti or ever had fantasies of being a football TV analyst where you get to draw on the video playback, Periscope has something for you. A new beta version of the live-streaming app owned by Twitter includes a tool that lets you draw on your video feeds.
Ransomware — malware that encrypts all the data on your computer until you pay up —has been making a comeback this year thanks to social engineering and the usual tricks, but the white hats are fighting back with a a decryption tool that can unlock files held hostage by the Petya ransomware. The decryption tool is a bit technical and probably not for the novice, but it’s a good punch in the fight against crime.
And finally, while Google Glass may have bombed as a consumer product, the Internet-empowered eyeglasses have found fans with neuroatypical kids. Stanford University’s Autism Glass Project is using the Google specs as a learning aid for autistic teenagers trying to learn social interactions, emotions, recognize facial expressions or even make eye contact. Stanford researchers have created special software to use with the glasses and early results have shown improvement in social acuity for some participants. Perhaps Google Glass has found its mission at last.
What’s up, WhatsApp? As The New York Times reported last weekend, government officials are said to be privately debating about what to do in their similar ongoing squabble with WhatsApp. The program’s encryption is mucking up the Justice Department’s ability to peek at messages, even though it has a judge’s wiretap order to investigate. In a related story, The Guardian of London reports that Facebook, Google and Snapchat plan to step up their encryption to protect the data of their customers.
Google is inviting interested parties to hack its Chromebooks. Few have shown interest in doing so, but to sweeten the pot, they’ve upped the top reward for major bug discovery to $100,000.
Could robots replace salespeople in retail stores? Researchers as Osaka University in Japan have been studying and testing real-life jobs for robots and found that people react well when the robots are used for things like foreign-language practice, or as retail associates because they don’t nag the human to do more — or buy more .
Bored with the current alphabet soup of 802.11 flavors? This week, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced 802.11ah, a new low-power, long-range variation that operates in the frequency bands below one gigahertz. It’s designed to work with smart home, connected car and fitness and medical wearables. This new Wi-Fi also comes with a trendy nickname: Wi-Fi HaLow. (Can Wi-Fi JLaw be next?)
Some analysts are predicting a rough 2016 for Apple, citing a somewhat boring year of products in 2015 — the year that saw the Apple Watch, a revamped Apple TV and a great big iPad. Then again, remember that Apple has $206 billion in cash on hand and is expected to do $77 billion in sales this quarter. Apple does not care about you, analysts.
In the Department of Scary News, security blogger Brian Krebs has a recent post about how some companies don’t properly verify the identifies of their customers for things like password resets. He bolsters his argument with the story of how his own PayPal account got hacked.
Could a power outage in Ukraine last month have been the latest shot fired into the Internet of Things in the creeping cyberwar? Kalev Leetaru, a guest contributor over on the Forbes website seems to think so. He describes an incident that took place in late December where several cities in Western Ukraine lost power for about six hours and very sophisticated malware was found on the computer systems of the power company.
Mark Zuckerberg, boss of Facebook, has some goals for the New Year. As stated on his own Facebook page, this year’s personal challenge is to build his own voice-controlled artificial intelligence powered software assistant to run his home. “You can think of it kind of like Jarvis in Iron Man,” Mr. Zuckerberg writes. We’ll check back on this one at the end of the year.
And finally, the DriveSavers company has been called upon by many to rescue digital data from crashed hard drives and other unfortunate incidents, and the engineering team there has now been credited with excavating text files from 200 old 5.25-inch floppy disks that belonged to the late Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Although DriveSavers said it got about 95 percent of the text back, one thing it couldn’t talk about was the content of the files, which was subject to privacy agreements with Roddenberry’s family. But let’s keep an eye out for some “recently discovered” Roddenberry scripts in the next new months.
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