One reason why I don't use Windows at home

Occassioinally I will be asked why am I a Mac user. The main reason of course is I want a computer that just plain works when I am home. My day job is spent fixing (or doing a nasty workaround) for the latest bug in Microsoft Windows. The last thing I ever want to do is tackle a Windows computer at home that is acting up. Yes, I could easily fix it. I just don’t want to deal with it.

Well, another reason I don’t use Windows anymore at home is worrying about activation issues. For those of you who don’t know, Microsoft has this “feature” called Windows Genuine Advantage. In a nutshell, occasionally your computer will give Microsoft a ring so Microsoft can tell Windows “yes, you are a legit copy” (it is more complex then that, but that is the gist). If it isn’t legit, Microsoft can turn off some Windows features until it is validated again.

Apparently Windows Genuine Advantage is having a worldwide outage and could be down for a few days. That means if your computer tries to download and install any patches, it could “fail” the WGA check, which could leave you with one giant lemon of a computer. If you are trying to activate your newly installed copy of Windows Vista, you could run into issues too.

Seriously kids, go Mac at home.

There is a limit now

I learned an important lesson today.

About a week ago, a person I know asked me where they could get antivirus protection for free on their computer. Due to budget constraints, they weren’t willing to buy any of the common antivirus products.

Being the type of person I am (always trying to help those with computer issues), I offered to help by recommending they download a free copy of AVG. I wrote down some simple instructions on how to get AVG and gave it to this person.

A few days ago, this person came back to me showing a rather shady looking receipt for a $49 purchase of AVG but they didn’t receive any software and were getting worried. The URL printed on the receipt definitely didn’t look like anything legit as well.

First thing I thought (and secretly hoped was the case) was this person somehow purchased a commercial version of AVG. Looking around their web site, I found a $52.95 collection of software, but nothing that was $49. This person was very firm that they went to the web site I wrote down, yet I couldn’t find what they purchased.

I did some more looking around and it grew more apparent to me that this person must have had spyware or a virus on her computer that redirected any attempt to reach known security software web sites to scam sites.

We e-mailed AVG with the “order number” to find out if it was a legit order number. It wasn’t.

Unfortunately, this person didn’t have enough computer knowledge to recognize the warning signs and fell for what appears to be a scam. Even though I told her originally it was free software, this person still got tricked into inputting their credit card information and purchasing something that turned out to be nothing. This person is now working with their bank/credit card company to see if this charge can be removed and is canceling the card.

I should have seen some of the warning signs myself. This person had a dial-up internet connection, so who knows when the last time it had any Windows updates (if ever). I remember at my previous job, it was quite common to come across dial-up users who still didn’t have Windows XP SP2 (or worse, had Windows 98 or ME!). Not to mention, if there was an old version of antivirus software, it would be way out of date since nearly every home user in existence clicks away the expiration dialog without second thoughts. A prime sitting duck for spyware/spam.

I feel absolutely horrible (this person is very kind to me, even though I kept apologizing for the trouble they were in).

I decided today I have a few rules when it comes to computers now and people asking me personally for help:

  • I must know the person very well and how solid their general computing knowledge is.
  • The only time I will ever recommend security software, unless I am certain that person knows what they are doing, is if I personally install it on their computer. That way I can ensure their computer is clean of spyware/viruses and is properly secured.
  • I have officially retired from helping people who use dial-up internet. The odds of their system being up-to-date in patches, antivirus, and be clean of virus/spyware are next to nill. In many cases, installing security software after the fact can cause even more issues (I have seen viruses actively stop antivirus installations halfway through for example, leaving some rather ugly errors in its wake). These days many phone companies offer very basic broadband services roughly ~$19 a month and supporting/protecting a computer on these connections is so much easier. If they don’t want to spend a little extra money to ensure their computing experience is safe, I don’t want the stress of cleaning up the mess afterwards.
  • When people ask what will be a good home computer, I am recommending Macs for now on. Simple as that. Windows has too many security issues for the average home user to deal with.

It is a cruel reality, but I have learned today that I must accept it. offers Mac support

Ever wanted a quick and easy way to remote control your Mac (or PC for that case) from any Internet connection? Try out Fantastic service, secure, it is free, and works great.

I have mine setup to remote into my home Mac and my family’s computers.

Only downside is now I can’t use the “oh, I will have to take care of it when I am visiting” excuse when someone has a computer problem…

Off-site backups with Mozy

Those of you who have read my blog know how long I have been searching for the perfect backup solution. Specifically, one that allows me to do easy off-site backups.

Mozy now has a Mac version (they also have a Windows version) and I installed it last night. They offer 2GB of space for free, unlimited bandwidth, and it is all encrypted (448-bit Blowfish). Every hour, their software checks my computer and uploads any changes I have made to their servers. I also have a daily backup scheduled at 1am, just to be safe.

Since my iTunes and iPhoto libaries cannot fit on the 2GB space Mozy gives for free, I am not backing them up, which is ok at the moment since I do manual backups of those. However, my entire Documents folder, e-mail, address book, iCal, Firefox bookmarks, etc. are all backed up. Even files that are open or locked are backed up!

It is refreshing to know that some of my most important data is backed up off-site. If I ever wanted, just $4.95 a month will get me unlimited disk space as well on Mozy. It is something I am thinking about, although backing up all of my music and photos will probably take a couple of days.

Of course, I still have my nightly SuperDuper! backup to my external hard drive in addition to an occasional DVD backup that I take off-site.

For the first time, I am feeling more confident that during a major disaster, my data is safe. Try out Mozy so you can make sure at least some of your data is safe.

Windows Home Server

I have to admit, even though I am rapidly heading towards a Windows Free Home ™, I am quite intrigued by Microsoft’s Windows Home Server. It is the exact product I have had floating around in my head for quite some time, an easy way to store all of your home’s data in a central location for backup purposes.

Of course it requires Windows, which limits its usefulness in my case. However many homes have easily 2-4 PC’s and could definitely use this. Microsoft could have a winner here.

However, there is probably a catch: how much will Windows Home Server hardware be sold for?

Random brain dump

Some random stuff that I have been meaning to write about:

  • What is up with the weather? Tonight it is going hit -2 degrees according to and my morning commute looks like it will be in the 4 degree range. It is so cold that my stereo system in my car takes a few minutes to heat up before it will talk with my iPod (note to self: gotta get that fixed). By 3:00pm on Saturday (roughly 42 hours from now), it will be 47 degrees out and all next week we will be flirting with 50 degrees. Welcome to spring in New Hampshire.
  • It has been about 9 weeks since I started using Invisalign braces. I just started aligner set #5 (of 12 for my bottom teeth, of 24 for my top teeth), so I am almost halfway done the bottom teeth and almost a quarter done the top teeth. I switch to a new set of aligners 2 weeks on Wednesday. Usually by Friday (48 hours or so), my mouth is no longer sore from the new set and I can easily take them off. So really, it is just 2 days of being sore and having a relatively difficult time taking them off. I think that with the last set is the first time I think I started to notice something, but it is tough to tell since each set does such a small amount of change on its own. I think I will have to look at the before/after photos to really appreciate the amount of change.
  • I have a good feeling about the Red Sox this year. This is one of the deepest starting rotations around (even deeper then 2004’s) if everyone stays healthy. The offense looks pretty well rounded. Only concern is the bullpen, but those are always a crapshoot and it is the one thing Theo can’t seem to get together (outside of 2004).
  • Speaking about good feelings, how about the Patriots? They are schooling everyone in free agency. So much for being “cheap” like some members of the media (*cough* Ron Borges *cough*) think they are.
  • On the other hand, those Celtics are doing a great job working for that #1 (or #2) pick!
  • On the geek front, the DST changes are a bane to my existence. This is one of those (many) times where the government did more harm then good…why break something that was working fine? I think at work we got everything patched up on the Windows side, but I am worried about Lotus Notes…calendar systems are really weird to begin with when it comes to time zones. Nothing can be simple and easy I guess.
  • I have been reading Barack Obama’s two books and I don’t think I ever been more impressed with a politician. He is exactly the type of leader that should be President.
  • Tomorrow marks the return of me to the gym at work. Actually, technically I returned yesterday when I got fitness tested (being entered in a drawing for a new iPod had nothing to do with that, I swear). So anyways, tomorrow I going to restart working out and be very sore this weekend.

Why the Zune 1st Generation will fail

Fellow geeks today probably know that Microsoft has released the long awaited “iPod-killer”, aka the Zune.

Already there is two big issues Microsoft has to overcome in my above statement:

  • Geeks know about the Zune, but not the average music listener. I just asked my fiancee if she knows what a Zune is. She gave me one of the weirdest looks I have seen.
  • The fact that people want to label the Zune as an iPod killer.

A huge reason why Apple scored it big with the iPod is marketing and the fact that it really backed up what its marketing says the iPod can do. There is no better device that integrates every part of the process from buying music (iTunes Music Store), to listening to and ripping music on your computer (iTunes), to the syncing part. It is so easy that anyone can walk into a store, find an iPod, and set it up in minutes. A minute of experimenting with the iPod and the scroll wheel really makes the buyer have a lot of fun.

The word-of-mouth from all of this integration instantly gives Apple a ton of free press. Combined with stellar marketing and that is why the iPod is successful.

Compare this with the Zune: It isn’t cheaper then an iPod, it doesn’t play previously purchased music from iTunes. It isn’t compatible with other Windows-based stores like Napster and Rhapsody. It is thicker, heavier, requires you to purchase points, cripples the wireless features to the point where it is annoying to use, has more barriers of entry, and doesn’t even use the one piece of software that Microsoft already has marketed as its music jukebox (Windows Media Player).

I don’t see how that will kill the iPod. It won’t, I guarantee it. The iPod has so few barriers to entry that it really makes people want to buy an iPod and they enjoy every second of the exprience.

I can just picture people being frustrated during the long/buggy install of the software, learning a whole new piece of software, wondering why they have to purchase points when it is just $0.99 to buy a song on iTunes, struggle to find someone to try the wireless features with, curse at why their iTunes Store music doesn’t work on it, curse as to why Naspter/Rhapsody music doesn’t play on it, and so on.

Microsoft whiffed on Zune 1.0. I give it a D-, with it missing a failing grade because of its slightly larger screen compared to an iPod and a wireless feature that has potential if they ever make it usable.

Again, the barriers of entry have to be non-existent or Microsoft will not make even a minor dent into iPod sales. Microsoft has to make people say that not only does the Zune have more and better implementations of features, but that the Zune is simpler to setup, simpler to use, just as fun to talk about, and just as fun to use.

Basically, the Zune has to stand on its own without being compared to an iPod. Instead, it has to make people want to compare iPod’s to IT!

Else, it will be an expensive failure. At least the first XBOX actually offered something against the PS2.

What if your computer is stolen?

Just now I was catching up on some articles posted on Digg and stumbled across an interesting one: How to Prepare for a Stolen Mac.

Most of the tips apply to any computer, Mac or PC, so it should be a good article for anyone to read.

This has been something that has been bothering me greatly lately. While I backup my computer nightly to an external hard drive, it doesn’t help much that my backup is sitting on my computer desk, just 3 inches from my Macbook! In the event of theft or fire, I am almost guaranteed to be screwed big time.

What do I plan on looking into to solve this issue?

  • I am going to look into either a fireproof safe or a safe deposit box at my local bank. I can then burn a weekly backup of my data onto DVD’s and keep it protected.
  • I will make sure my renter’s insurance covers all of my equipment (laptop, printer/scanner, external hard drive, wireless router). That way I can get up and running as quickly as possible.
  • Right now I have a Dashboard widget that e-mail’s me whenever my computer’s public IP address changes. If someone activates Dashboard and they are online, my e-mail account will get an instant e-mail containing the new IP address. In theory, this would let myself and law enforcement to track down (or at least narrow down) a search for a stolen laptop. I will look into other solutions that make this happen automatically, regardless of Dashboard being activated or not.

You can never be too safe.