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Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft’

How to do a little spring cleaning on your Windows PC

April 24th, 2012 No comments

Spring cleaning Windows

Performance on Windows PCs degrade over time, but you can perform some spring cleaning on them to reclaim lost performance. Take a look at these tips to revive your Windows PC:

Read more at CNET.com

How to automatically start a program minimized in Windows

August 14th, 2011 No comments

Microsoft Windows
Some Windows programs are better run in the background and out of the way.  To avoid having to manually minimize a program every time you run it, you can configure the program’s shortcut so it will automatically run minimized.  Here’s how:

Read more at CNET.com

Categories: How To Tags: , , ,

Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000

June 18th, 2011 No comments

2 Stars- techdad

Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000-side

The Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000 is Microsoft’s latest budget HD webcam offering ($39.95 MSRP). As far as webcams go, it’s pretty much been a two horse race for the past few years, with Logitech being the other horse. The HD-3000 boasts 720p support and other enhanced quality features. The last budget Microsoft webcam I reviewed was the LifeCam VX-3000, which was an outstanding webcam value at the time. Can the HD-3000 equal or even best the old king of budget webcams? Let’s find out.

PROS

  • Budget price
  • Flexible mount(literally)
  • Decent video chat quality
  • Good mic

CONS

  • Only VGA quality for chat
  • High requirements for 720p video recording
  • No lens cover
  • Does not swivel up and down
  • LifeCam software is a resource hog

VIDEO QUALITY
The first thing I have to mention is that the 720p HD designation only applies to local recordings. For video chats, only VGA is supported. I think Microsoft should make this clearer as I’m sure many people think that the HD-3000 supports chatting in HD. This is not the case. Still, I found the VGA quality to be improved over the older VX-3000. The fixed focus lens did pretty well at keeping everything clear and focused. For recording, I thought the video quality was acceptable, but certainly nothing to write home about. I also experienced some sync problems where the audio was not in sync with the video. My system did not meet the CPU requirement for 720p HD recording, so that may have been the culprit. I think an Intel Dual Core 3.0 GHz CPU is a hefty requirement for a webcam. The software effects were pretty useless and caused my system to display low resource warnings whenever I used them. By the way, I have an Intel Core 2 Duo running at 2.53 GHz with 4GB of RAM and an NVIDIA GeForce 8600 GT graphics card. Still photos at 4MP were okay but my Android smartphone takes better photos, by far.

MOUNT & MIC
Microsoft designers seem to be in love with bendable hardware. Their Arc Touch Mouse has a bendable section of the mouse and the HD-3000 uses a bendable mount that works pretty well. It fit over my 24″ Samsung LCD monitor and my laptop lid just fine. The rubbery surface kept it from sliding around too much and can be folded to allow the webcam to sit on a flat surface.

The mic on the HD-3000 worked well in my tests. Background noise was audible, but my voice could be heard over the background noise without difficulty.

MISCELLANEOUS
While the HD-3000 swivels from left to right, it does not swivel up and down. The blue LED light turns on during webcam use and is bright and distracting. I also wish webcams would come with lens covers. I think I once had a Kodak webcam that had a lens cover and I feel that all webcams should come with one. Have you read about that tech support guy who installed some nefarious software on women’s computers that allowed him to turn their webcams on remotely? Or the IT guy of a school district that spied on kids? Yes, I am paranoid and I would like the option to cover the lens. Lastly, I wish Microsoft would get rid of that Windows Live Call button. While adjusting the webcam, I kept pressing it accidentally. Each time, a popup message would appear asking me if I wanted to install Windows Live Messenger 8.1.

CONCLUSION
The Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000 is an okay value but it hasn’t been improved a great deal from the old VX-3000, which is about four years old. I expected more in four years. Unless you absolutely need the ability to record 720p videos with your webcam, or take 4MP stills, I recommend saving a few bucks and going with the Microsoft LifeCam VX-5000. You might even consider spending a few more dollars to give the Logitech C310 a look.

Available from Amazon.com.

Review unit provided by Microsoft

Categories: Reviews Tags: ,

Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse

February 2nd, 2011 No comments

4 Stars- techdad

Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse

Microsoft’s Arc Touch Mouse is a variation of their original Arc Mouse. Though they are similar in name, they are quite different. The original Arc Mouse was reasonably popular so following that up with such a different mouse was risky. I’m not so sure that it will become as well-liked as the original Arc Mouse did but it is sure to find some fans.

PROS

  • Folds flat for easy storage
  • Tiny nano wireless transceiver
  • BlueTrack Technology tracks very well
  • Very stylish
  • Touch scroll works well
  • Battery rated for 6 months

CONS

  • Awkward ergonomics
  • Finding sweet spot for left/right buttons takes practice

When I received the Arc Touch Mouse, I was pretty surprised at how small and thin the box was. When I opened the box, I was further surprised at how thin the mouse was. It was nothing like I’d ever seen or used before. I have several desktop mice and a few mobile mice but the Arc Touch Mouse is definitely the most unique and stylish of them all. But did all that glam translate into a functional, usable mouse?

COMFORT
It took me about an hour to get used to the form of the Arc Touch. As you can see from the photos, the approximately 5″ long flat mouse bends to create a curved surface to support your palm. The part of the mouse that curves is covered in a soft neoprene-like material. I think the reason why it took me so long to get comfortable with this arc form was because I was used to having my ring and pinkie fingers resting on the side of most mice. In the Arc Touch however, I had to find some place else to put those fingers because of the open space. Placing those fingers underneath the mouse helped with the grip so that is where I ended up putting them most of the time. While I did eventually get used to it, I didn’t find it nearly as comfortable as regular-shaped mice. I could see myself using it for a couple of hours a day, but a full work day wouldn’t be very comfortable.

Arc Touch Mouse - curve

TRACKING
Microsoft’s BlueTrack Technology works very well on a variety of surfaces, including those that have historically proved challenging for optical and laser mice. The Arc Touch has two gliding feet at the surface contact points and glide very easily. I’ve read that the sensor’s DPI is 1000, which if true, is quite good for a mobile mouse.

Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse Config

TOUCH & BUTTONS
The Arc Touch, at first glance, appears to have no physical buttons at all. The left/right button areas are flat, as is the space between them where the scroll wheel is usually found. It turns out that the only surface that has a touch sensitive interface is that gray rectangular strip in between the left/right buttons. And yes, there are physical left/right buttons. The touch surface is primarily a scroll wheel replacement. It does not support gestures but works very well as a scroll wheel replacement. Slide your fingers up and down in order to scroll the page. Additionally, you can tap the very top or the very bottom of the touch surface to scroll more lines at a time. With the Intellipoint software, which you have to download because it’s not included in the box, you can also program the center tap to perform other functions, like Back. I chose to program it for Back because unfortunately, the Arc Touch does not have a physical Back button. I personally cannot stand mice without a back button but in this case, the programmable tap worked pretty well. The two buttons that the Arc Touch does have, left/right click, worked well when you could find the sweet spot. Unfortunately, the actual button doesn’t run up far enough so you have to readjust your grip to move your fingers further down the mouse to find the sweet spot.

Ooh, I almost forgot. You can also turn on the touch “flick” feature which allows you to flick the touch surface to scroll faster. This is functionally similar to how Logitech implemented “free-spin” in their well-designed hyper-scroll wheels. Microsoft’s version of it on the Arc Touch works awesome. I was able to scroll through an entire 72 page PDF document in 4 “flicks.” You can also adjust the vibration feedback from the touch surface to give more or less feedback. I chose to decrease it by a lot from the default setting. I like the touch scroll wheel surface so much, that I am hopeful that Microsoft includes in more products. I would love to have it available on a full-sized desktop mouse.

WIRELESS
The Arc Touch uses a nano transceiver, which is ideal for use with laptops and netbooks. It’s so small that you can leave it plugged in without fear of it breaking. When not in use, the transceiver can be stored magnetically underneath the mouse. I had no problems with the 2.4GHz wireless mode, even though I used it near my wireless router. Range was good as well. I walked 10 feet away from my computer and it worked flawlessly.

BATTERY
The Arc Touch takes 2 AAA batteries, which are included. Microsoft rates battery life at up to 6 months. My past experiences with Microsoft mice make me believe it’ll fall well short of that. I would guess probably closer to 4 months but it obviously will depend on usage. Straightening the mouse automatically turns it off, which will help extend the battery life.

Arc Touch Mouse ON/OFF

MISC
The Arc Touch looks much more stylish than the original Arc mainly because it’s sleeker. This design choice obviously required sacrifices. The original Arc was bigger and felt more comfortable. Additionally, the original Arc had a physical back button. The Arc Touch also does not come with a carrying case, even though the original Arc did. Lastly, the Arc Touch is backed by a 3 year warranty.

SUMMARY
The Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse is an interesting mouse. The touch strip replacement of the scroll wheel is implemented very well but the overall ergonomics isn’t ideal for long mousing sessions. Fortunately, the unique form factor is useful for travel. I don’t think that the Arc Touch will appeal to a large group of people but it might be a very good solution for frequent travelers who value space over all else. If that’s you, then have at it.

Available from Amazon.com.

Categories: Reviews Tags: , , ,

Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 6000

December 5th, 2010 No comments

The Microsoft Mobile Mouse 6000 is my third mobile mouse in two years and I’ve had a mostly positive experience thus far. I used to have the Logitech VX Nano and more recently, the Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000. I loved having a Bluetooth mouse to save a USB slot and not worry about transceivers but I found that when awaking from sleep, there was usually a few second lag to reconnect. I decided to try the MMM 6000 in hopes it would it would be just as good as the MNB 5000, but without the reconnection lag.

PROS

  • BlueTrack tracking as advertised
  • Ambidextrous design
  • 5 total buttons
  • Great battery life RATING
  • Attractive appearance
  • Strong wireless connectivity
  • Tiny nano transceiver
  • Windows XP/Vista/7 & MacOS X 10.2 compatible
  • Great Microsoft hardware support

CONS

  • No auto-off feature
  • Real-life battery life significantly less than rating
  • Glossy plastic hard to keep clean and hard to grip
  • No carry case

The blister pack was actually easy to open and did not require any tools. I inserted the included AA battery, turned the mouse on, then plugged the transceiver into a free USB port on my laptop. Within 15 seconds or so, Windows 7 recognized it and installed the appropriate working driver for the MMM 6000 and I was off and running.

COMFORT
The first thing I noticed about the MMM 6000 was that it was a tad bigger than my MNM5000, which I quite appreciate. I actually do not travel with my laptop that often so I could probably get away with using a normal-sized mouse. As it is, the MMM 6000 is large enough for daily use and small enough for travel as well. I use my laptop probably 3-4 hours/day on a small desk so the size is perfect for me. It’s not contoured for righties specifically so lefties can use it just as comfortably. The thumb button is located almost near the very front of the mouse so it feels unnatural clicking it. I have to actually use the tip of my thumb rather than the base, near the joint. The scroll wheel is free rolling without ratcheting and feels rather good to use. It does not spin the same way as the advanced Logitech scroll wheel does however.

WIRELESS PERFORMANCE
The 2.4GHz wireless performance is perfect without interfering with my other devices. My Droid mobile phone occasionally would cause my Bluetooth mouse to hang for a couple of seconds whenever I received a new e-mail, text, or IM. I notice zero lag and it connects to Windows 7 instantly, even when waking up from sleep mode! The transceiver is so small that it only sticks out a quarter of an inch from the USB port. This is ideal so that I never have to remove it even when placing my laptop into my case.

TRACKING
I have to admit that the tracking technology was the least of my worries. On the other hand, when I took my VX Nano on my travels, it would not track on the glass tabletop in the hotel room and I had to use a USA Today newspaper as a mousepad. I’m happy that I won’t have to do that on my next trip :) It does track significantly better on my textured desk than laser mice so I can attest to BlueTrack’s effectiveness.

BATTERY LIFE
The included Alkaline battery only lasted me just over a month. I use the mouse about 4 hours a day. That is significantly less than the 10 month rating, but I probably use it a lot more than expected. An auto-off feature would’ve probably added at least a couple more weeks of use. At least I get to use my rechargeable AA batteries, which are more plentiful than AAA’s. There is also low battery indicator just below the scroll wheel than blinks red when your battery is low.

MISC
I’m surprised that Microsoft did not include a carry case, like they did with the MNB 5000. The VX Nano also came with a nice case. The package came with Microsoft Intellipoint 6.3 but I did not install it.

SUMMARY
The 6000 is a good overall mobile mouse. The BlueTrack technology and nano transceiver make this an admirable mobile mouse for non-travelers and travelers alike.

* Review sample provided by Microsoft

Categories: Reviews Tags: , ,

Microsoft Windows 7 Operating System

December 5th, 2010 No comments

4 Stars- techdad
Microsoft Windows 7

Here comes Windows 7, nearly three years after Windows Vista and eight years after Windows XP. By most accounts, Windows 7 is what Vista should have been. Do we finally have a worthy successor to XP?

PROS

  • Fast startup and performance
  • Stable
  • Nice aesthetic and functional changes to the desktop
  • Improved networking, power management & security
  • 32-bit & 64-bit versions included
  • Windows Media Center
  • Windows XP Mode (Professional & Ultimate only)

CONS

  • User Account Control still annoying
  • Upgrade can be challenging

I had been running the Windows 7 release candidate for 3 months and the full version 2 weeks before official release date. The experience convinced me to finally upgrade my Windows XP systems to 7. This review briefly touches upon some of the key features and enhancements of Microsoft’s latest OS.

PERFORMANCE & STABILITY
One of the welcome enhancements Microsoft made was start-up time. The shutdown time has been improved as well. Also, in my non-benchmarked experience, Windows 7 has been at least as fast as XP if not faster. The kernel changes and ability to run the 64-bit version probably has a lot to do with that. Most benchmarks from around the Internet seem to support my observations.

64-BIT
I am elated to finally upgrade to a 64-bit operating system in order to take advantage of more memory support and modern processors. I have Intel Core 2 Duo processors in both my systems with 4GB of physical RAM but XP only allowed 3.25GB for system use.

DESKTOP
At first login, you’ll notice the changes to the taskbar. The taskbar is no longer just a place to store quick launch icons and view open windows. It now provides functionality in the form of Jump Lists, which allow you to select your most frequently opened files or links from the apps you have “pinned” on the taskbar. The clock and calendar are improved and the Show Desktop icon is now integrated in the far right corner. Other desktop enhancements include Aero Peek, Aero Shake, Snap, new themes and wallpapers. You also get gadget support. All of these features combine to create a much improved and enjoyable desktop experience.

LIBRARIES
Windows 7 introduces a new feature called libraries. Previously, your system had shortcuts to My Documents, My Music, My Pictures, etc. which had files residing in only those specific folders. Files can now reside anywhere on your system and be organized inside libraries. It’s similar to how many music and photo applications organize files.

NETWORKING
Even as good as XP was, networking was cumbersome. Windows 7 makes connecting two or more Windows 7 systems together easy, using HomeGroup. This enables easy sharing of files and devices. One downside is that HomeGroup is only supported between Windows 7 systems. File transfer performance between computers has been vastly improved and connecting to a wireless network has never been easier on a Windows machine.

SECURITY
Security in Windows 7 is good and comes with Windows Firewall and Defender. Still, you’ll probably want to invest in a more comprehensive Internet security suite, like Norton Internet Security or Kaspersky Internet Security. User Account Control (UAC) has been tweaked in order to give user accounts more flexibility in controlling their own security as well as providing more detailed information so the user can make better decisions about whether to allow certain actions. Coming from XP however, it is still annoying and I choose to turn it off. Also, in Windows 7 Ultimate, you can encrypt entire hard drives as well as external portable storage devices, like USB thumb drives. Though this is a welcome integrated feature, much of the functionality can be found in a popular open-source program called TrueCrypt. If you want encryption but not multi-language support, you could just get Windows 7 Home Premium and use TrueCrypt.

POWER MANAGEMENT
Power management has been improved overall and you should be able to squeeze more battery life out of your laptop, even when using your DVD drive. Sleep and resume has also been improved. XP wasn’t always consistent when entering or resuming from sleep mode, but Windows 7 has been perfect.

WINDOWS MEDIA CENTER
I’ve only briefly played around with WMC but it looks promising. It has some fun options for media, especially when you’re connected to the Internet. Netflix for example, is integrated so I can use WMC to stream Netflix movies rather than using a browser. It may even be an adequate replacement for component DVR’s should you choose to use it as the centerpiece to your entertainment center. The biggest advantage for me is that Windows 7 now includes a DVD decoder. This means that I can now watch DVD’s natively. WMC is available in all Windows 7 editions except Starter.

WINDOWS XP MODE (Professional & Ultimate Editions ONLY)
For applications that ran in XP, but won’t on 7, there is now XP Mode. It isn’t perfect and your system has to have virtualization support and turned on. Go to your system BIOS to check. If supported, then install Windows Virtual PC and Windows XP Mode. Check your hardware if you intend to use XP Mode.

UPGRADING TIPS
It seems that a lot of upgraders have had problems during the upgrade process, especially from XP. Most of us expected to be able to format our hard disks and be prompted for either the XP disc or product key. Alas, this is not the case. The upgrade is much more complicated than it should be and some workarounds have been discovered.

Method A (simplest)
If you already have an older version of Windows on the hard drive, finish the Custom Install, without entering the product key. After installation, go to your System Properties and click the link to activate Windows. Enter your product key and it should activate. This has worked for me twice.

Method B (hardest)
If Method A doesn’t work, try the registry hack.

  1. Finish the custom install without entering the product key then click Start and type regedit.exe into the “Search programs and files” box.
  2. In the registry, navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/Software/Microsoft/Windows/CurrentVersion/Setup/OOBE/. In the pane on the right, you’ll see an entry for MediaBootInstall. Double-click on it and change the value from “1″ to “0″ and click OK.
  3. Close regedit and go to Start -> All Programs -> Accessories then right-click on Command Prompt and select “Run as administrator.” You’ll get a UAC alert, click Yes.
  4. At the command prompt, type: slmgr /rearm and hit Enter. Reboot.
  5. Now try to activate. If it fails, make sure there are no pending Windows Updates to install. If there is, install them, reboot and start over from Step 4.

Method C (most time consuming)
Perform the Custom Install and skip the product key. Once completed, run the upgrade again from within Windows 7 but this time, enter the Windows 7 upgrade key and then activate Windows.

RECOMMENDATION
If you’re an XP holdout, like I was, I recommend upgrading. Vista SP2 users may have less reason to upgrade but might want to just for the changes to the taskbar and the UAC improvements. For users who don’t need to use their computers in a corporate environment, then Windows 7 Home Premium edition is a good choice. I’m guessing most power users will choose Professional, which adds XP Mode and Domain Join. Ultimate also adds drive encryption and multi-language support. I suggest a clean install for best results. If you’re a Mac OS X user, there is probably nothing in Windows 7 compelling enough for you to consider switching.

SUMMARY
Windows 7 is the premium Microsoft OS that Windows users have been waiting for. It’s fast, secure, stable, visually appealing and fun to use. Windows 7 will make your old system feel fresh and new again. New system owners with Windows 7 pre-loaded can feel confident that they’re getting the best Windows OS ever produced.

Categories: Reviews Tags: , ,

Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000

December 5th, 2010 No comments

5 Stars- techdad

I gave away my Logitech VX Nano to my father who needed a mobile mouse.  I needed to replace it.  I was just going to get another Nano but thought why not try a Bluetooth mouse since I paid extra to have built-in Bluetooth support on my Dell laptop?  I’m glad I did.

PROS

  • No transceiver necessary, freeing up a USB port
  • Ergonomic design for either hand
  • Back button
  • Comfortable, responsive scroll wheel
  • On/Off button
  • Low battery indicator
  • Reliable connection
  • Nice solid feel
  • Looks nice
  • No driver or software install required (or offered)
  • Compatible with Windows XP/Vista/Windows 7/Mac OS X
  • Supported by Microsoft’s great hardware warranty for 3 years

CONS

  • Somewhat short battery life
  • Doesn’t automatically turn off to save battery
  • AAA batteries difficult to remove when replacing
  • Connection doesn’t always reconnect when resuming from sleep mode

Next to the scroll wheel, a back button is a mouse feature I cannot live without.  Many mobile mice do not include a back button so it was easy to narrow down my choices.  Guess how many mobile Bluetooth mice have a back button?  Try 1.  The Microsoft Notebook Mouse 5000 was the only one I could find.  That made my choice even easier.  I love not having to fuss with a transceiver.  Even though the VX Nano uses a micro-USB receiver, it still took up 1 of only 3 USB ports on my laptop.

I like the way the mouse feels and looks.  It also comes with a nice padded case with a velcro enclosure.  The scroll wheel is nice and comfortable to use and doesn’t feel flimsy like some tend to do.  Battery life is just okay.  It’s rated at 3+ months but I have seen real-world results of closer to 2 months.  I use it for probably 2-3 hours/day 7 days a week and I never turn it off.  When I’m connected, I stay connected without any drops.

I view the lack of driver or software for required on the 5000 as a welcome feature.  I rarely  install Microsoft’s driver software or Logitech’s SetPoint software for my mice and keyboards.  Sometimes I lose some functionality, mostly in programmable buttons and keys, but I’ve had enough driver-related issues on my system to cause me to avoid installing them.

I have only a few very minor complaints.  Instead of only offering an on/off button, adding an automatic sleep/off feature would greatly improve battery life.  When you do have to replace the batteries, you’ll struggle with removing the batteries a bit because the little pulls that help you remove the batteries are undersized.  I don’t have long enough fingernails to easily grab the pulls.  Lastly, whenever my laptop goes to sleep, I have to cross my fingers that the Bluetooth connection gets reestablished.  Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t.  I have used the 5000 on my laptop with both Windows XP and Windows 7.

I thought that after being out for so long, surely a new Microsoft, Logitech, or even Kensington bluetooth mouse would’ve been released that would take praise away from the 5000.  Nope.  This is still the best notebook Bluetooth mouse on the market.  The 3 year warranty isn’t as long as I would like, but Microsoft’s hardware warranty is easier to deal with than any other company’s I’ve experienced.  Logitech’s support is great, but Microsoft’s is excellent.

Categories: Reviews Tags: , , ,