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Predictions for 2009

predictions-2009

With a New Year looming it seems appropriate to look to what the coming year holds for us from a technology perspective.Although the lack of anything major on the horizon almost caused me to shelve the idea, I am an eternal optimist and so must look forward in anticipation of any planned advancements as well as wait in hope for those that are unpredicted.In no particular order, here are my technology predictions for 2009:

-Solid State Drives: Rather than storing data on a standard hard drive (typically the slowest part of a computer), I predict that in 2009 Solid State Drives (SSD’s) will become more affordable and hence start to make their way in to more machines, especially laptops where size and power consumption are important factors.Conventional hard disks rely on spinning magnetic disks which are typically slow, unreliable and noisy but the move to SSD will mean a tremendous jump in the speed as data is stored on an incredibly fast form of flash memory, similar to that found in a simple USB pen drive.

-Online applications: It does have to be said that while I still don’t really ‘get’ the idea of online applications at present, the popularity of sites such as Google Docs (an online Word Processor) will continue to increase as users discover that they can create, share and collaborate their work online.

-USB 3.0: Expect to see USB 3.0 gaining a fair amount of attention towards the end of the year.USB 1.1 and 2.0 have been incredibly successful and we should be thankful for the changes they have made to computing over the last decade.Although most probably won’t start adopting the standard until next year, it is this year that we will start hearing about incredibly fast external hard drives and flash pens along with video transfer speeds that will hammer the likes of Firewire.

-Portable Computing: Personally I think they look ridiculous, but 2009 could very well be the year for the ‘netbook’.With people increasingly having to carry their computers around, the case for an extremely lightweight laptop with features a small screen, decent keyboard, fast Internet connection, Solid State Drive but no CD Drive or Hard Drive is now incredibly strong.

-Increased use of SaaS: The idea behind SaaS (Software as a Service) is rather than purchasing software on a disc, the license is leased as a service and provided to customers over a network or the Internet.Rather than paying up front for a new version then having to pay for upgrades when they become available, software provided in this fashion will be kept continually up to date for an ongoing subscription fee.While take-up of this technology will still be slow, the economic climate of 2009 may make SaaS a tempting proposition for businesses that are don’t want the immediate expenditure of buying software up front.

-Faster Wireless Networking: 2009 will be the year that the wireless networking standard 802.11n will be finalised and I predict 2009 will be the year when this incredibly fast wireless networking standard takes off.

Unfortunately, that pretty much ties up what we have in store for the coming year and I’m sorry that the list didn’t include any particularly revolutionary technologies, computers or games consoles.While there isn’t anything to get overly excited about please remember that technology continues to bound along at an incredible speed and in some instances we should maybe appreciate simply a year where technology is very much how it has always been, only slightly better.

 

About the Author - Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges who supply a wide range of printer cartridges at the UK’s lowest prices.

Windows 7

windows-7

If I didn’t know better, I’d say that Microsoft were trying to confuse us.

The approach for naming Windows appears to change with every release.Back when I first started using Windows we were running 3.11 which we then upgraded to Windows 95 (although NT 4.0 was also available).Next we switched to Windows Millennium Edition (although a rather similarly sounding Windows 2000 was available) then we moved on to versions named after aspirational monikers such as XP and Vista.

It seems confusing as to whether they wish to name the Operating System after the version number, year of release or an alternative name but thankfully they have decided to make it ‘simple’ by settling on Windows 7 for their next release.This however is the point where the confusion arises once again; Windows 3.11 was obviously a later release of version 3, Windows 95 was commonly considered version 4, Windows 2000 was version 5 and Vista version 6.The more astute among you may notice that Windows XP, possibly the most common Operating System on the market, doesn’t seem to feature in this numbering system so I am therefore assuming that Windows XP must have either been considered unworthy of its own version number or that Microsoft cannot count.

Anyway, back to the point, Windows 7 (although I argue it should be called ‘Windows 8′) will be the next Operating System release from Microsoft.Penned in for a Beta (test) release in early 2009 with the final product becoming available in 2010 I thought it would be worth looking at some of the features they have planned:

Sensors - Windows 7 will include the ability for applications to obtain information through a number of different sensors and act on the information accordingly.An example would be using a GPS sensor so that the OS could establish that you were at work and change your profile accordingly or a proximity sensor that could determine that with no one close to the machine that it could enter power saving mode.

Multi-touch - Windows 7 will include integrated support for multi-touch displays.Conventional touch screen has never particularly excited me but with multi-touch, rather than simply allowing you to crudely point at something you want to click you are able to use multiple fingers from both hands.An example of a practical use would be to select multiple items on screen simultaneously or select an item with your left hand whilst flicking through windows to find somewhere to drop it with your right.Alternatively you could use it in a photo application to resize an image by pulling or pinching either side of it with the index fingers of either hand until you get it to the size you desire.

Speech and Handwriting Recognition –Unfortunately speaking to your computer is embarrassing and writing by hand is usually slower and more laborious than typing although there is the very real need for speech recognition to continue to improve for those with disabilities who cannot use a keyboard.That said, there are those that do see a future in these technologies so they will no doubt be delighted by their inclusion.

The graphical interface has reportedly been tweaked and the user interface is very much customizable with support for ‘gadgets’ (small lightweight applications) that can be added to areas of the Operating System such as Windows Explorer or Media Centre.Of course, a lot of what is being planned is ‘under the hood’ so to speak with Microsoft claiming that Windows 7 will have improved performance on multi-core processors, improved boot speeds and extensive kernel improvements.I will bring you more information as and when I get it.

 

About the Author - Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges who supply a wide range of printer cartridges at the UK’s lowest prices.

Secunia PSI

secunia

News was released this week regarding a potentially serious flaw present in Internet Explorer which potentially allows a hacker to gain control of a computer that has visited a website infected with malicious code.The scary thing about this particular bug is that the user doesn’t need to download or click anything to become infected as simply visiting an infected website is sufficient.

In all reality the chance of the average user becoming infected is extremely remote but the official line by security experts is that until Microsoft have issued a patch that users should either up their security settings from within Internet Explorer or switch to an alternative browser such as Firefox or Opera.

Most people that read my column know that they should either run a half decent browser such as Firefox or if they insist on using Internet Explorer that they should keep Windows updated at all times.Whilst there is no fix for this particular bug, by keeping your Browser and Operating System up to date you are limiting your chances of running in to problems.

Something that is often overlooked by so many, however, is ensuring that all other applications on your computer are kept up to date as it isn’t just browsers that are affected by security issues.Making a list of all the software on your computer and then individually checking the manufacturer’s website for updates would be quite a laborious and time consuming process which is where my recommendation for this week comes in.Secunia PSI is a piece of software which has just come out of Beta testing that is designed to alleviate such problems by checking the majority of the applications currently installed on your computer for known security vulnerabilities.

There are two versions of this application available, one that runs online and one that you download and install; both are available from https://secunia.com/vulnerability_scanning/.Personally I would recommend downloading the application rather than the online test as the 500kb file will scan a greater number of programs than the online version.

Once the scans have completed, Secunia will list any out of date affected software and give you a vulnerability rating along with a link to obtain the latest version of the application if there is one available.You can view details about each individual threat and to be honest the results can be quite startling; although my laptop managed an initial security score of 92% there were several potentially serious problems that it discovered.One rather obscure bug in my PDF reader (Foxit PDF) could have potentially given a hacker full access to my computer.

I think there is a stage where paranoia can kick in and users can be over cautious but a certain level of precaution should always be taken.Even if you are not worried about the potential security implications of running out of date software, Secunia offers a quick and easy way to ensure that you are running the most up to date and hopefully feature rich versions of all your favourite programs.

 

About the Author - Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges who supply a wide range of printer cartridges at the UK’s lowest prices.

Intel Atom

intel-atom-logo

While looking for a new laptop a couple of weeks back I was quite surprised by the sheer number that utilise the relatively new Intel Atom CPU.As I haven’t yet covered this particular processor, today seemed a good day to play catch-up.

The Intel Atom has been designed to compete primarily with the ARM Processor; due to its power saving features this processor is particular popular in mobile devices such as PDA’s (Personal Digital Assistant), GPS (Global Positioning System) and Mobile Phones.Power consumption has often been a struggle for Intel who typically tows the line of creating a processor then providing a lower power version that relies on practically the same architecture; this tactic often results in a slower processor which only offers a slight power saving.By comparison, Atom uses a completely different architecture, one that has been designed from the ground up to consume very little power.

There are different versions of the processor depending on whether it is destined for a mobile device such as a Mobile Phone or whether it will be fitted to a desktop PC or laptop.As it is unlikely you will pick your next phone based solely on the processor it utilises we will today focus on those destined for desktop and laptop computers.

If we begin by considering performance then it has to be said that while the Atom does include a fairly optimised instruction set, relatively fast clock speeds and hyper threading technology it certainly isn’t going to blow your socks off.Personally I would consider a PC designed around the Atom would ideally be a laptop as quite simply the performance of the CPU is underwhelming when compared with faster, more power hungry desktop targeted CPU’s.

As with all processors, the Atom works alongside a chipset, in this case the i945 range.The chipset is designed to provide the CPU with the facility to address memory, access peripherals and often output graphics through an integrated video controller.Unfortunately the i945 is a fairly old chipset, originally released in 2005, which itself draws a very large amount of power and suffers relatively poor performance, especially when trying to handle 3D graphics.

It is this chipset that appears to be holding the Atom back somewhat at present - Whilst the CPU has extremely low power consumption and the ability to jump quickly into and out of sleep mode (a state that only uses 0.3v of supply voltage), the potential power savings are somewhat diluted by the chipset.As an example, the i945GC chipset will typically burn 22W of power which dwarfs the Atoms miniscule 4W load.

In terms of the actual cost of the processor, it does represent a low cost purchase; typically laptops and desktop machines based around the Atom platform are remarkably cheap but capable entry level machines.

As it stands currently however, the Atom does seem to represent a missed opportunity.With some improvements to the chipset however and better models promised for the future (Faster Dual Core Atoms are already starting to make their way to market); this processor could still face a rosy future.

 

About the Author - Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges who supply a wide range of printer cartridges at the UK’s lowest prices.

Doom

doom_logo

I got completely sidetracked when preparing this week’s article after discovering that Doom, possibly my favourite game as a teenager, is now available to play in a browser.Upon finding this link I was hit by a huge wave of nostalgia and decided to delay my article on the Intel Atom article until next week whilst I pay homage to this revolutionary game.

Released back in 1993, Doom has been recognised as a pioneer in several areas of gaming including 3D graphics, network gaming and custom expansion.You take on the roll of a space marine who has been deported to Mars as punishment for assaulting a senior officer after you were ordered to attack civilians.You work your days in a lowly security job whilst a coalition called the UAC, who are also stationed on the planet, perform secret experiments with teleportation.One day they unexpectedly transport back a wave of creatures that overrun the base and either kill or possess the personnel stationed there.A military unit is sent to investigate and you are left guarding the hanger whilst the rest of the group proceeds but after hearing sounds of gunfire and violence it becomes apparent that you are now alone on the base.It is at this point that the game begins and you work your way through hell, annihilating practically everything in your path to try to make it back to Earth alive.

The game itself was distributed as shareware so that users were able to play the first episode completely free of charge but had to buy the game if they wanted to play all three in the trilogy.It is played as a first person shooter so you experience everything through the eyes of the main character with the objective of each level simply being to reach the exit leading to the next area.Unfortunately there are a number of obstacles including hoards of monsters, pits of toxic slime, ceilings that crush your character and locked doors which can only be opened with the correct key card.To encourage you to explore there are numerous weapons and power-ups hidden throughout the level and to assist navigation, an onscreen map is available which charts any areas already explored.

I would have been around twelve when this game was released and my fondest memory of it was hooking up two computers and playing with my next door neighbour either co-operatively or in a ‘deathmatch’ against each other.Although by modern day standards the graphics could be considered crude, at the time they were terrifying; if you turned off the lights and turned up the sound it was surprisingly atmospheric and even fifteen years down the line hasn’t aged badly at all and is still as playable now as it was back then.

Custom Expansion meant players were able to create their own maps and create their own characters to put in to the game; this resulted in literally tens of thousands of additional maps that you could either obtain on disc or download.As the Internet wasn’t too big in the early 1990’s many, myself included, relied instead on dial up Bulletin Board Systems to download our maps.

To obtain the version of doom you can play in your browser simply visit www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/470460 - you should be up and running in seconds which is impressive when you consider Doom used to arrive on a fistful of floppy discs.Of interest is also the website https://prboom.sourceforge.netincludes a ‘port’ of Doom which has been adapted to run on the Windows Operating System; the original was written for DOS which Windows cannot emulate particularly well.You will have to download or buy the map files yourself as they are still copyrighted but a search on the Internet should point you in the right direction.

 

About the Author - Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges who supply a wide range of printer cartridges at the UK’s lowest prices.

Blogging

Blog

We’re just in the process of changing over the design and functionality of the www.computerarticles.co.uk website and rather than creating our own interface again it has been suggested that a far easier and indeed more effective method would be to use the free blogging software WordPress.A blog is a website maintained by an individual or company where a series of regular entries are made relating to a specific subject matter, such as a personal diary or an opinions page.

In the past I have covered the free website blogger.com but have been suitably impressed with WordPress to feel that it also deserves a mention.In much the same fashion as Blogger, WordPress allows you to either host your blog on their website or install the open source code on to your own web server; the latter does of course require a small amount of knowledge relating to uploading files to a web server, or the desire to learn.Going down the route of installing the software yourself is a little trickier although it does allow you to have your own domain name along with complete control over the way things function.Typically, a blog hosted on your own server will also look more professional than if it is hosted as part of the main WordPress site.

Once you have downloaded the installation package from www.wordpress.com and uploaded it to your server, you simply run the configuration file and WordPress will set itself up and present you with the default template which can then be changed to one of your choosing.From the admin section you can begin changing the way your blog site looks and the way that it functions without having to edit any code whatsoever but by simply using the inbuilt tools.For more advanced changes you can choose to use any of the several thousand free of charge plug-ins created by the community; these allow you complete control over practically every element of your blog, from making it search engine friendly to integrating a photo album.

When it comes to actually adding content to your site, you can import from another source if you have previously hosted a blog or alternatively you can simply start typing and copying and pasting in to a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor.Any articles that you produce and tag will automatically be published so that when other users search for a matching subject they will have the opportunity to visit your page; this kind of exposure can be invaluable if you are writing a blog relevant to your business as a marketing exercise to drive more traffic to your website.

If you choose to allow visitors to comment on your articles then you will be glad to hear that WordPress employs a sophisticated anti-spam system so that your blog won’t quickly become a playground for automated comments relating to sexual health products and fake Rolex watches.It is also good to know that they host a support forum and have a technical support team who will be happy to point you in the right direction should you encounter any problems.

If you have an interest in writing and a desire to air your thoughts then WordPress does represent a good quality, free piece of software which will allow you to achieve this.

 

About the Author - Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges who supply a wide range of printer cartridges at the UK’s lowest prices.

Recipe database

recipes-website

I knew that old age was finally starting to take root when I went food shopping this weekend and left with a copy of Sainsbury’s magazine.There was a point in my life when a magazine featuring a car, a scantily clad woman and something relating to general manliness would have been my publication of choice but, at the tender age of 27 it seems I may have consigned myself instead to a publication geared mainly towards the middle aged women market.

So, what was it that tempted me to pick up Sainsbury’s in store publication?Was it the free bar of chocolate, the low down of all the latest beauty products or the four page guide to becoming the ultimate party girl this Christmas?

It was in fact the pages upon pages of recipes that grace its pages as I have to admit that since moving house, I have developed something of a passion for cooking.Don’t get me wrong, neither I nor Hayley could be described as being particularly good in the kitchen but at least we are now making an effort to cook everything from scratch rather than browning some mince before coating it in Dolmio.

Cookbooks have become quite restrictive as finding a recipe that calls for just what you happen to have in the fridge is quite a rare occurrence.To expand my horizons the Internet seemed like the perfect place and I was surprised to find that the two most impressive websites I came across were actually the BBC (www.bbc.co.uk/food/) and Channel Four (www.channel4.com/food) pages.

The BBC site is certainly the most comprehensive, covering over 10,000 recipes from approximately 100 celebrity chefs.If you were to cook just one of these dishes a day, it would take 27 years to exhaust the list.The Channel Four site is less comprehensive with only a couple of thousands recipes but with contributions from Gordon Ramsey, Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall amongst others, it is certainly worth a look.

Both sites allow you to either simply browse what is on offer or alternatively you can enter a couple of ingredients and potential recipe matches will be returned.For example, typing chicken, chilli and onion in to the BBC site result in it suggesting to you that you may wish to cook some hot chilli fajitas this evening.Each recipe has the name of the contributing chef, preparation time, cooking time, a list of ingredients in both metric and imperial and a detailed method.If you are unsure of any particular terminology there is a particularly good glossary on the BBC site which covers everything from basic techniques to preparing a béarnaise sauce.

Both sites have additional video content and of particular note is the BBC page which gives you the ability to watch every BBC food program broadcast over the last seven days along with viewing several hundred video walkthroughs.Channel Four, on the other hand, have an on demand service which allows you to recap on up to thirty days of TV for free along with detailed information to accompany the Gordon Ramsey Cookalong series which is currently being broadcast live on a Friday evening.

Other information that may be of interest includes chef biographies, seasonal suggestions, forums, dietary information and competitions.The wealth of material on offer from either site means that I would certainly recommend bookmarking them both.

 

About the Author - Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges who supply a wide range of printer cartridges at the UK’s lowest prices.

Viruses #2

virus

Last week we started looking at some of the most prolific viruses of the last decade and I finished by promising an overview of a worm called ‘Storm’ this week.It would be accurate to say that on many levels I am impressed by the capability of this particular worm hence it requiring its own article however but since it has been created for ill gain, I am of course impressed merely in a disdained fashion.

The Storm Worm was discovered on January 17th 2007 as it began infecting thousands of computers by using an e-mail message with the subject line “230 dead as storm batters Europe” and after just six waves of attack the Storm Worm accounted for 8% of all infections globally.During its life the worm has continued to primarily infect people in the same fashion by getting them to open an executable attachment (opening executable attachments is NEVER a good idea) by sending e-mails with a catchy subject lines.

The rather unbelievable and arguably impressive stuff begins to happen once a machine has been infected however when, unbeknown to the user, it makes itself part of the Storm botnet; a remotely controlled network of “zombie” computers that have been infected by the Storm worm.Once part of the botnet an infected machine can be told to execute commands given by the authors who have yet to be discovered - worryingly security analysts still have no idea of the country of origin.

Some have estimated that as many as 1 to 50 million infected computer systems comprise the network however one network analyst that claims to have developed software to crawl the botnet estimates a more conservative 160,000 machines.

This network has been known to participate, collectively, in a number of criminal activities from gathering user data, to attacking websites and forwarding the e-mail on to more potential victims.It is estimated that approximately 5,000 zombie machines are dedicated to passing the e-mail on, with a record 57 million messages estimated to have been sent on August 22nd 2007 alone.In order to avoid detection by anti-virus scanners the worm automatically re-encodes the infection software twice an hour meaning that there are many different variants of the same worm.

The system itself works on a peer by peer basis (such as that employed by file sharing applications) so that external monitoring the system and bringing down the network is made next to impossible; the machines all talk independently of a centralised server there is no one point of contact that can be targeted.The remote servers which control the botnet are also hidden behind a constantly changing network of proxies and variable DNS (Domain Name System) addresses changes.The network has also shown signs of intelligent defensive behaviours and whilst it is unknown whether these are automated or human controlled responses, security operators who have tried to probe the network have instantly been punished with a consolidated DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack from the network which instantly cripples them.

The overall power of the network cannot be accurately estimated but if we work on a relatively conservative assumption that there are one million zombie machines (with broadband connections) being controlled from one source then the potential combined computing power and Internet bandwidth is quite staggering.If a network such as that created by Storm can exist by such a simple method of infection as an executable e-mail attachment then we could be in real problems for the future should the method of infection become more advanced and require no user interaction such as that employed by the Sasser worm which we covered last week.

 

About the Author - Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges who supply a wide range of printer cartridges at the UK’s lowest prices.

Viruses

computer-viruses

Anti-Virus software gets a great deal of coverage in Click because ultimately it’s a very important component of any computer system and choosing the right program to protect your computer should be carefully considered.Whilst most understand its importance, not many understand the actual effects that a virus can have on your system.To demonstrate my point I need only think back to a phone call I fielded from a gentleman last week who was convinced that a virus had caused the power supply in his printer to malfunction.I thought it might be interesting to look over some of the more realistic and prolific viruses that I’ve seen over the last decade:

Melissa: Named after an exotic dancer from Florida, this virus tempts users to open an e-mail attachment with a subject line such as ‘Here is the document you asked for’.Once opened the virus replicates and forwards itself to the first 50 people in your address book and whilst it isn’t destructive the resulting Internet traffic caused major problems for web servers around the world when it was created back in 1999.

Code Red: In 2001 this worm exploited a vulnerability known as a buffer overflow in several versions of Microsofts IIS which was used on many Internet Web Servers.The result of infection on the server was defacement of hosted websites, further propagation as the worm and denial of service attacks (Dos) against several high profile targets including the White House.A DoS attack commonly involves flooding a particular machine with an unmanageable number of requests; in this case, infected machines would continually target activity towards the White House with the intention of bringing the server down.

Blaster: Again, this worm targeted a buffer overflow so that no user intervention was required for machines to become infected.This time a Windows service known as ‘DCOM RPC’ was exploited with the goal of infecting machines to create a DDOS attack against the Windows Update.A serious side affect for many users running affected versions of Windows was that the instability in one of this Windows service caused the machine to automatically shut itself down after a 60 second countdown.Unleashed on 11th August 2003 the infections for this worm peaked on 13th August as widespread publicity and filtering by Internet Service Providers curved its progress.

Sasser: This worm which was first noticed on 30th April 2004 works by exploiting a vulnerable network port so that once again, user intervention isn’t required for a machine to become infected. Once infected, a computer will then begin searching for further vulnerable systems to attack.As it didn’t have a malicious payload, the only damage was reduced computer speed and random shutdowns caused by faulty code in the worm crashing a vital Windows service.

Netsky: Created by the same 17 year old author who created Sasser (due to his age he spent no time in jail when caught), Netsky was an extremely prolific worm which first appeared in February 2004.Distributed via e-mail, if a user opened the infected attachment the worm would then scan the computer for any e-mail addresses and forward itself to all of them.The worm contained no malicious payload but provided problematic traffic to servers as it remained the most prevalent until October 2006.

Storm:Possibly one of the most destructive worms ever created, I think an overview of Storm and the vast number of infected zombie computers that it has amassed can wait until next week.

 

About the Author - Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges who supply a wide range of printer cartridges at the UK’s lowest prices.

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