Debunking Chromebooks Myths

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Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

If you’re having to self-isolate or work from home (or simply not going out so much) in the current coronavirus pandemic you might be considering some new computer equipment. A Chromebook is an excellent choice, but you might have some reservations or even believe some of the myths.

For a start, Chromebooks are not just a browser with a keyboard. There’s so many apps (probably the same ones you use on our smartphone) that you can install to do all the things you do on a laptop. You can easily stream music and watch movies, even in full HD if you go for that option. Editing photos is a breeze.

“Ah, but I can’t use Microsoft Office!” Sorry, yes you can! You can use the Microsoft Office Mobile App or Office 365 online, and there’s an app for OneDrive.

You might think that Chromebooks are cheap and not worth buying. Not true. Yes, you get what you pay for, but there are some excellent budget models as well as very high-end ones.

Finally, you might think switching to a Chromebook is complicated. Sorry to disappoint you again, if you can use a laptop and a mobile you can use a Chromebook. You can also access your work on all three and synchronise etc.

Oh, and I didn’t mention that they’re stylish, light, have an incredibly fast start-up time, and a battery charge lasts forever!

Note: You can also make your own Chromebook from an old laptop, it just won’t have the same battery life etc.

Closer to the Edge

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Having recently posted about the updated Edge browser from Microsoft, here are some of its features that might convince you to try it. It’s being rolled out now and replaces the original Edge released originally with Windows 10. Microsoft is particularly keen to get users of Google Chrome to change, especially in the light of privacy concerns, although I’m not sure if there’s much difference in that respect between huge corporations.

So, the first benefit of Edge is the ability to import browser data from Chrome. In order to get you to switch, Microsoft has made this process as painless as possible with many options when you install Edge for the first time, or you can do it later. You can also synchronise your data across devices (although fairly standard these days) and switch easily between multiple accounts.

One of the criticisms of the original Edge was the lack of add-ons, but now you can install extensions from the Microsoft Store, but (and this is probably a clincher) from the Chrome Web Store. You can also switch between light and dark modes.

There’s easy customisation of the home, new tab pages, and news feed. A built-in task manager enables you to identify and kill resource-hungry processes. You can hear web pages read aloud at different speeds and jump backwards and forwards from one paragraph to another. You can also turn websites into standalone apps and pin sites to the taskbar.

One ‘good news/bad news’ issue is that although Edge is multi-platform, a Linux version will likely to be some time arriving on the scene.

Why not have a go with it? If you alter too many settings, you can easily reset Edge to default settings. Oh, and did I mention, there’s a dark mode!

A great browser from Microsoft?

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“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” is a question posed by Nathanael (a disciple of Jesus) in John1:46. The same question is often directed at Microsoft, and the surprising answer is often yes! Admittedly, Windows 8 was something of a dog’s breakfast, especially because its predecessor Windows 7 was much better, but Windows 10 (there was no Windows 9) is remarkably good in my humble opinion.

However, Microsoft web browsers have never had a good reputation. The old joke went that Internet Explorer was only good for one job, namely downloading the vastly superior Mozilla Firefox (or more recently Google Chrome). But that negative reputation could well be about to change.

Microsoft Edge first came out with Windows 10 and was better than Internet Explorer, but many people again only used it to download Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome. So, what’s all the fuss now?

Well, last month (January 2020) Microsoft released an updated version of Edge and it’s being rolled out to users now. It’s totally revamped, Chromium-based, and it looks like they’ve finally got it right – a browser that’s fast, secure, open-sourced and packed with useful features. Some have gone as far as suggesting that it’s as good as, if not better than Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

Part 2 of this post Closer to the Edge can be found here.

Make your own Chromebook

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Have you got an old laptop (or netbook) that you don’t know what to do with? Maybe it’s running slowly and driving you to distraction? Perhaps you’ve got your eye on a shiny new laptop, but can’t afford one? Or what about a Chromebook, although you hesitate because you’re not sure?

Well here’s an answer for you! You can turn your old laptop into a Chromebook, give it a whole new lease of life, and it will cost you nothing! Everything is done online with Google apps in the Chrome browser, a bit like using an Android smartphone (and you can synchronise all your devices). I use Windows 10 mainly, but have a spare laptop running CloudReady for ease of use and ‘relative’ portability (it’s a heavy laptop).

You will need to download and install CloudReady onto a USB flash drive, and then use it to boot your laptop. This is a little bit technical, but don’t let that put you off, find a geek to help you (or ask me nicely and buy me a coffee). Then it’s a simple process, all you need is here. The process wipes the laptop, so backup first.

What are you waiting for? Your new FREE Chromebook awaits you!

Note: you can also revive an old laptop with a Linux OS, you can find about it here.

 

Spotting Hoaxes and Scams Online

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I’m sometimes amazed at the things people share on Facebook and other social media sites without first checking their veracity. NO, Facebook doesn’t have a new algorithm that limits the number of friends you see, and NO, your favourite supermarket isn’t going to give £75 to every customer – just STOP and think before sharing.

There’s a great way of checking if something is a hoax or a scam, it’s called Google. If you come across something you think might be a hoax or scam on Facebook or elsewhere, simply Google it and add the word ‘hoax’ or ‘scam’ to the search terms. Always works for me. There’s also a couple of useful sites for checking; namely Snopes and Hoax-Slayer, and both have a presence on Facebook.

Fake news is something else altogether, that’s sometimes more difficult to spot; but also watch out for satirical sites before reacting. Think before sharing, if it looks dodgy it probably is. Rant over!

See also: Living in a social media bubbleSecurity for Facebook

An Unfortunate Geek Fail

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For a while now my Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 has been stuck in a reboot cycle, it restarts for no obvious reason, and is therefore totally useless. I was unable to perform a ‘soft’ factory reset because the tablet restarted before I could get to the appropriate menu item. It was possible to get to the ‘hard’ reset menu by pressing a combination of keys after the tablet had been switched off, but then the factory reset option always failed. I installed Samsung KIES synchronisation and update software on my PC, but again the tablet rebooted before I could connect the two devices. The last option was to reinstall the latest Android operating system from Samsung via Odin software (again on my PC). Sadly, this failed several times (see screenshot above) and so I’ll have to take the tablet to a local service centre in the hope that something can be done that won’t cost too much.

On the plus side though, I found out that PC World were doing a good deal on the Amazon Fire 7″ tablet: 16GB plus case plus 64GB microSD card all for £59.99 as a bundle. I’m enjoying using it, the quality isn’t as good as the Samsung (unsurprisingly), but it was a great deal. The only downsides are that they try to sell you lots of stuff (the tablet is basically a shop front) and the tablet won’t let you install Google apps via Play, but there are always workarounds for a geek!

Update: My local service centre unfortunately informed me it was beyond repair.

Living in a Social Media Bubble

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Oxford Dictionaries decided that the word post-truth (or is that two words?) should be Word of the Year for 2016. They define it as an adjective ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. Two major news events of 2016 illustrate how untruths (or should I just say lies?) were an an illustration of this; namely, the debate prior to the UK referendum vote to leave the European Union and the campaign that resulted in the election of Donald Trump in the United States of America (even if he didn’t win the popular vote).

Many people were surprised by these two events, and one explanation is the so-called social media bubble. This is a phenomenon which links us to like-minded friends and others; sharing and liking similar news stories, views and opinions. The algorithms of Facebook (and the like) decide our friends for us, those with similar views. Yes, this goes on in the everyday world, but the effect is magnified by the very nature of the medium. It’s like living in an echo chamber.

Many were surprised by Brexit and Trump because they weren’t aware of many people who favoured them, they just weren’t in their circle of friends, or possibly kept quiet. Add to this the problem of hoaxes, fake news and unreliable quotes, and things can get quite messy. What is truth in a post-truth world after all? Falsehoods are easily spread by people unwilling (or too busy) to make a simple check of their veracity – Google can be your friend, or possibly your false-friend in a post-truth world, who knows anymore? See also Spotting hoaxes and scams online.

In the space of two days I’ve heard both Brian Eno and Laurie Anderson speak about the feature on Amazon that shows what other people bought after you’ve made a purchase. Another example of the bubble effect? Wouldn’t it be better to have a reverse filter suggesting what they didn’t buy? We can so easily inhabit a social media echo chamber. Shouldn’t we be reaching out those with different opinions to our own and seeking to understand? Just my recent reflections, but what do you think? Do you possibly disagree with me? That’s OK, right?