G-TechNote™: It’s About Time: Microsoft Releases Free Office for Mac 2016 Preview

For the last 12 months, Microsoft has focused on getting its flagship Office suite on screens where it’s never been before—iPhones, iPads, and Android tablets. The Office for OS X apps were left behind, though. Microsoft released a new version of Outlook and an official OneNote client, but the core Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps were stuck back in 2010.

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That changes today. Microsoft has just released a preview of Office 2016 for Mac, a suite which will include the current versions of Outlook and OneNote alongside newly updated versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The preview runs on OS X Yosemite, it’s free to use, and it includes a tool for providing feedback to Microsoft. Once the final versions of the apps ship “in the second half of 2015,“ users with Office 365 subscriptions will get the new apps immediately. There may be some kind of standalone version available for those who want it, but Microsoft hasn’t said.

The new apps take the styling introduced in OneNote and Outlook for OS X and apply it to the other apps in the suite. The ribbon interface now more closely resembles the one in Office 2013 for Windows—Office for Mac 2011 was closer to its Windows counterpart than older versions, but it still looked like a product from another company. The apps integrate much better with OneDrive than the previous versions did, and they support the standard collaborative editing features present on other platforms. All apps also play nice with OS X-specific features, including Full Screen mode, sandboxes for apps, and Retina display support.

Interested users can download the beta here, and it can be installed alongside Office 2011 if you’re not comfortable doing all your work in beta software. Microsoft’s auto-updater will patch the apps as new versions are available. Microsoft says that each build will expire after 60 days, so don’t expect free software in perpetuity.

G-TechNote™: Windows 10 - Will Your PC Run It?

The Windows 10 Technical Preview has been out for some time now, which means that it won’t be long until the Windows upgrade cycle kicks into high gear once again. But if my inbox is anything to go by, a lot of readers are still confused as to whether their existing hardware will allow them to make the leap to Windows 10.

We should not be surprised if people are confused. There’s a lot of well-meaning yet inaccurate information out there written by people who don’t really understand what makes PCs tick. It’s understandable because tech can be confusing, and the Windows 10 system requirements throw a few curve balls into the mix.

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The basics

OK, so what do you need to run Windows 10? Well, fortunately for us, Microsoft has already published the system requirements for Windows 10. Fire that page up because I’m going to step through the important bits of this document.

First thing that should pull your attention is this:

“Basically, if your PC can run Windows 8.1, you’re good to go. If you’re not sure, don’t worry—Windows will check your system to make sure it can install the preview.“

This is an oversimplification (we’ll get to why in a moment), but it’s a useful one nonetheless. Basically, most people running a Windows 8/8.1 system are good to go. And if you’re not sure, the installer will run a check to make sure before trying to shoehorn the operating system onto hardware it’s incompatible with.

So, what if you’re not running Windows 8/8.1? How can you decide if your hardware is up to the challenge of running Windows 10? This is where the hardware specs come into play.

Here’s what Microsoft says you need to run Windows 10:

  • Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster
  • RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)
  • Free hard disk space: 16 GB
  • Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver
  • A Microsoft account and Internet access

Beyond the basics

Now if you’re the sort of person who is a walking encyclopedia of tech trivia, then you might notice how these specs are the same as those for Windows 7. But there is one gotcha that you need to be aware of, and this only becomes apparent if you pull up the specs for Windows 8/8.1 and look closer at the processor specs:

  • Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster with support for PAE, NX, and SSE2

So in order to be able to run Windows 10 (or Windows 8/8.1), you need a processor that supports PAE, NX, and SSE2. Without this, your Windows 10 fun comes to an end.

Microsoft offers a handy primer on what these mean.

  • PAE gives 32-bit processors the ability to use more than 4 GB of physical memory on capable versions of Windows, and is a prerequisite for NX.
  • NX helps your processor guard the PC from attacks by malicious     software.
  • SSE2 is a standard instruction set on processors that is   increasingly used by third-party apps and drivers.

There’s more technical information on these features H E R E.

G-TechNote™: The Apple Watch’s Beautiful Face Is Also Its Fatal Flaw

Apple is hoping its new smartwatch will become a genre-defining device, much as the iPhone did with smartphones a decade ago. But unlike that groundbreaking technology, the Apple Watch will need to beat expectations in a huge way if it’s to set the tone for the rest of the industry. And therein lies a big opportunity for the company that can come up with a better alternative.

Because the truth is, the Apple Watch is probably not the smartwatch we’re looking for. It’s a compromise device, one riddled with too many tradeoffs to be the killer gadget of the decade. We can do better. But it requires letting go of a key feature, one that hardware makers have been trying to shoehorn in ever since they decided smartwatches were the next hot thing.

The touchscreen has to go.

Touchscreens have no business being on a smartwatch, and here’s why: They suck up far too much battery power to be worth it. Even the most efficient displays work against a smartwatch’s most basic function, which is to talk to the Internet. Without connectedness, a smartwatch isn’t much more than an ordinary timepiece. It’s even less than that if it spends more time being charged than out in the field.

“There are minimums — you certainly can’t be [recharging] more than once a day,“ said Preston Moxcey, the head of wearable technology at Fossil.

Apple has apparently grappled with this question, too. Recent reports about the Apple Watch’s battery say it’s fit for no more than two to four hours of active, continuous usage. And while your mileage may vary under real-world conditions, even Apple may be worried about how long users will be able to go on a single charge.

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The company, which declined to comment, has reportedly prevented developers from accessing the very features that would make the watch a revolutionary accessory.

“Apple is limiting all this nice stuff, all these sensors, NFC, haptics, heartbeat sensor, gyrometer — everything,“ one app-maker told Business Insider this week.

It’s these components that could help end grocery checkout lines, unlock the door to your home or car on approach, turn your wrist into a way to control other devices with a wave of your hand, or monitor your vitals in real time, all the time. Nobody’s quite sure how far we can stretch the smartwatch’s capabilities. But as long as battery life remains a concern, this future will be a distant one.

Battery technology will keep improving, but eliminating the display would go a long way toward bringing that future into reach. Lest you think there aren’t many savings there, consider the latest reports about the Apple Watch. If they’re accurate, the battery lasts anywhere from two to four days when the screen is kept off and the watch is on standby.

Its passive mode, then, is the source of its greatest power. And in this respect, the smartwatch is totally different from a smartphone.
iphone battery

Smartphones are large enough that manufacturers can squeeze in heftier batteries. These batteries allow you to use your phone more actively — to browse the Web, check e-mail, play games. As I write, my iPhone’s home and lock screen account for 16 percent of my battery drain. It’s the second-most energy-intensive application on my device. That’s okay, because even at those levels I probably won’t have to charge my phone until tonight.

But in something as small as a watch, space is a luxury. That means smaller batteries, which means energy efficiency becomes a higher priority.

This is why touchscreens on a smartwatch make no sense. A mature smartwatch that’s actually useful would keep a traditional analog or LCD face and forsake the high-powered display, saving all of the juice for advanced sensors. At that point, the watch would simply blend into the digital environment. But don’t let the thought of a screenless smartwatch disappoint you. Behind the low profile would be tremendous potential. This is a case where less is more — a philosophy that should really resonate with Apple’s minimalist sensibilities.

The idea makes even more sense when you think about how little information you can actually read on a smartwatch touchscreen. There are tough design limitations related to the size of the display, said Fossil’s Moxcey.

“There’s only so much space — if you just shrink everything that’s on your phone, you can’t read it,“ he said. “So you need to make some creative choices.“

That may include new ways of conveying information, such as through subtle vibrations. New forms of iconography and more abbreviated text could also be a workaround. This may be useful as far as it goes, but if you wanted more you’d have no choice but to turn back to your other devices, or else swipe endlessly through a user interface that’s even more limited than what you get on a phone.

How can a smartwatch be useful if it can’t display information? you ask. How can it be useful if there’s no screen for you to give it instructions?

Well, although touchscreens have become our primary interface with technology, it doesn’t have to be that way. For decades, watches have come with these things called buttons. Some fancy ones come with little twisty bits that rotate around the face. Think of how cool it would be to give these features a 21st-century upgrade. (Hipsters and nostalgics would love it.) And they’d be super energy-efficient, to boot. Apple already knows how to do physical interfaces — it developed the first computer mouse, after all, and the original iPods all came with a trackwheel and buttons, too.

I’ll close with one last thought. The name Apple is nearly synonymous with the word “apps.“ This helps explain why the company may be so committed to touchscreens on its watch today. But as we’re beginning to see with smart thermostats, smart electricity grids, smart refrigerators and smart vehicles, the future will be increasingly about Internet communications between objects. And the Internet of Things is not primarily about apps. Or screens.

What we need is not a miniature smartphone strapped to our wrists. What we need is a timepiece filled with enough working gadgetry to make James Bond jealous.

G-TechNote™: FTC Wants to Know How Companies Are Tracking You across Computers and Smartphones

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Consumers these days connect to the Internet using lots of devices—a person might move almost seamlessly between a laptop or tablet at home to browsing on a smartphone during a commute. Companies are increasingly trying to capture that movement to build more comprehensive profiles of people.

And now the Federal Trade Commission says it will look into just what this so-called “cross-device tracking” means for consumers.

The FTC will put on a workshop on the topic this fall, Chairwoman Edith Ramirez announced during a summit held by the International Association of Privacy Professionals on Thursday. The details of the workshop aren’t yet clear, but such events are often the first step to the agency releasing reports and ramping up enforcement on practices that may negatively affect consumers.

“We want to make sure to highlight for consumers practices that have significant privacy implications,“ Ramirez said.

The Federal Trade Commission is the de facto federal privacy watchdog. Ramirez has made protecting consumers online and on mobile devices a priority during her tenure. Last year, the agency held a workshop on mobile tracking and released a report on the how data brokers collect information on Americans’ digital habits.

Cross-device tracking can be done by asking users to sign in while using multiple platforms—think signing into Facebook or Google on your computer as well as your smartphone. But there are other ways, such as observing shared behaviors between the devices—for example, if two devices show a pattern of connecting to the same IP addresses or from the same locations, or even sharing similar browsing habits like frequenting certain Web sites.

The result is that companies can create more detailed profiles than what can be gathered about someone by simply observing their habits on just one device—especially given the capacity to track locations inherent in the ways mobile devices are often used.

But another major benefit of this for online advertising companies is being able to see if an ad on one device results in a purchase made on another. This is attractive because the payouts are bigger for demonstrating an ad resulted in a sale than just displaying it to a user.

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