Category Archives: software

LibreOffice a serious contender in the office suite competition

LibreOffice’s launch screen gives quick access to all the components

So I’ve been using Microsoft Office since at least 2004 – I forget exactly when but the fact that I’m still running Office 2004 tells me at least that much. Yes this is a 10 year old software package, and yes it is outdated and showing its limitations on a daily basis. However since I’m no longer a student I just can’t find the need to spend $100 or so on Office.

I had tried the open source alternative, OpenOffice, several years ago but found it just annoying enough to keep me from switching over completely. But LibreOffice 4 is really making my head turn in that direction.

I’ve been using LibreOffice on my laptop which is currently dual-booting Windows 7 and ElementaryOS. I’ve been using Elementary primarily on it, and installed LibreOffice as my office suite so I had something to do my work on. The semi-steep learning curve I had with prior versions is gone, and my satisfaction is so far good. I’ve found some minor translation issues in opening Excel files in LibreOffice, but nothing serious. Most of the issues seemed to center around default fonts being different in the programs, meaning that sometimes they overflowed the cell leading to “####” instead of my data. But these have all been minor.

I use Excel and Word quite a bit in the MS Office suite, and found both versions in LibreOffice easy to use. I haven’t tried the other parts of it so I can’t say much about them.

I’ve found that the more you use a particular program the less likely you are to move to something else, especially if you’ve spent a long time learning how to use that program. If you’ve invested a lot of time and energy into learning Office 10, chances are you probably won’t switch even if you don’t love it simply because of the investment you’ve made in it. However if you’re just getting in to documents and spreadsheets, or are in need of a free alternative to Office, give LibreOffice a try. It takes a little time to learn, but it’s well worth it.

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Linux gets interesting again with Elementary OS

This image is from the beta version of Luna, but it’s very close to the actual release

I haven’t been that interested in the Linux world for some time. I had installed a version of Ubuntu several years ago and had tried a couple of other distributions but found that I simply couldn’t unchain myself from Windows XP. I couldn’t get my printer to work, had issues with WINE, and the learning curve, while not steep, was enough to be a nuisance. However the recent release of Elementary OS caught my eye for several reasons.

Elementary OS initially started out as a theme for Ubuntu but eventually developed into a new distribution package, complete with its own look and apps. The first thing you’ll notice about Luna is that it looks and acts very similar to Apple’s Mac OSX. It’s clean, sharp, and minimalist, while at the same time very intuitive. The “intuitive” part is the thing I had found most lacking in Linux distributions in the past. OSX users will probably take right to it.

Once you get Elementary installed (you can dual boot any Linux distribution alongside Windows 7 or Windows 8) the next thing you’ll notice is how fast it is. Applications load quickly and animations are quick and responsive. Elementary was designed to use a few resources as possible, so even older computers should perform well. It has a few custom apps that look very appealing, especially the iTunes-like music player. Check out the video below (courtesy InfinitelyGalactic on Youtube) to see it in action.

As with most other Linux distributions, Elementary is free (donationware), open source and community driven – very hipster. You’ll also be likely to find some of the same drawbacks associated with Linux, namely the search for odd drivers and the need to cut the ties with a good chunk of your Windows software library. If there’s a particular Windows program you need to run in Linux check the Wine database to see if and how well it performs. The good news is that there are very good Linux-friendly and open source programs out there such as Gimp, Steam and OpenOffice that are very good Windows alternatives.

I’m tempted to try this on my laptop and will report as time goes on.

 

Defend Yourself from Computer Bugs and Viruses

Most of the computer problems I encounter are in some way related to malware and viruses. With news of a very nasty new virus that actually ransoms your own files I wanted to review some basic steps to help avoid problems.

Read the rest of this entry

Get 8 awesome EA games, pay what you want, and support charity!

…but its a really good bow and arrow

EA’s Humble Origin Bundle lets you get up to 8 select games from their library for as little as $5, and the proceeds go to support charity. As of the time of this writing over 73,000 bundles were sold! Titles in the bundle are Dead Space 1 & 3, Mirror’s Edge, Crysis 2 Maximum Edition, Burnout Paradise: Ultimate Box, and Medal of Honor. Donate at least $4.74 and get Battlefield 3 and Sims 3 Starter Pack.

Hawken a great free-to-play online FPS

the view from the cockpit of your mech

There are a ton of online FPS games out there, and Hawken – currently free and still in Beta for now – is standing out among them for its graphics, gameplay, and cool environments. It is free to play, but you can pay for credits that will help you progress faster and customize your rig. While it is a lot of fun and very addictive, it has its problems.   The unique thing about Hawken is that rather than using human characters you are piloting mechs, which are sort of like walking tanks. There are a wide variety of mechs available from ones geared towards sharpshooting and sniping to repair and heavy firepower. The look of the vehicles themselves is remarkably realistic – your beginner mech looks a bit like the cab of a Mack truck with legs, complete with windshield wiper. You can change the look of your mech if you like, but that will cost you in the real world. Read the rest of this entry

Is PC gaming really dead?

Game is huge in the US, if not the whole world. In 2011 people spent over $16.6 on games in the US alone. As the industry has evolved over the years it has changed rapidly from favoring consoles like the NES, then shifting to PC’s, and then breaking out into multiple competing consoles like the XBox and Wii. As the market has evolved, console manufacturers seem to dominate the field in terms of market awareness: when people think of gaming, I think they picture an XBox 360 or PS3, or maybe even their iPad, not the big black box on their desktop.

The fact that some major titles like Halo 3 and 4 have avoided the PC has also lent credence to the idea that PC gaming is headed out the back door. Read the rest of this entry

Windows Blue may save Windows 8’s legacy

image source: ieverythingtech.com

Microsoft has a real hit-and-miss history with operating systems. Windows 95 and 98 were hits, while Windows ME and Vista were both flops. Recently it’s been pretty cyclical, with a hit (XP) flop (Vista) hit (7) flop (8 – ok it’s too soon to call 8 a flop, but people are not accepting it nearly as well as 7 or even XP). So everyone’s hoping that Windows Blue (or 8.1 depending on who you talk to) will be a hit.

There’s some hints now that Microsoft is going to learn from its failures in 8. Ars Technica reports that Microsoft is at least now considering replacing the Start button that it did away with in Windows 8 and allowing users to boot straight to the desktop. This is one of the primary gripes users have had, myself included. When 8 came out and I had the chance to try it on an ultrabook, I found it very puzzling to use. Perhaps it’s because, like many Windows users, I’m accustomed to doing things a certain way even if that way is not the most efficient or easy way. If I want to open a program or go to the control panel, I know that I can go to the bottom left of the screen and click on a button that will help me do that. This usually involves drilling down through multiple menus but I’m OK with that as I’m used to it. But when faced with the Metro interface, I just stared at it. I didn’t know what to do. And then when I was able to get to the desktop I was really lost; things flew out of the sides that didn’t make much sense at the onset and again I just felt like I didn’t know how to do something simple.

Bringing back a more familiar experience while allowing users to choose how to fine-tune that experience further with enhancements like Metro would be a wise move on Microsoft’s part. Andrew Cunningham writes,

“Even if both the Start button and the boot-to-desktop option are disabled by default in the next major Windows update, restoring the option to use both without resorting to third-party utilities or hacks seems like a prudent move. In particular, businesses afraid of retraining costs or user backlash will likely appreciate the ability to take advantage of Windows 8’s under-the-hood enhancements and features without giving up a Windows 7-esque interface, to say nothing of people who are simply allergic to the new Start screen.”

Personally I would love to take advantage of some of the features of Metro if it could come in some other form than the default start screen. Incorporating live tiles onto the desktop seems like a no-brainer. However, we shouldn’t expect things to revert back to Windows 7; in whatever form Windows Blue takes it will still remain based on Windows 8’s interface.

Windows Blue is expected later this year.

Windows 8 is a Very Mixed Bag

I live in Pittsburgh where, thanks to Sandy, it’s been raining for the past week. That put a serious damper on Halloween last night. However my kids still got a decent haul. Of course one of the best parts of Halloween is dumping your bag out on the floor and sorting out your King-Size Snickers bars from your junk: Super Bubble bubble gum, Dum-Dums, pencils…

Windows 8 is kinda like that. There’s a lot to love, and a lot to hate. Read the rest of this entry

AMD/BlueStacks Provides Optimized Android Store for Windows 8, Dusts Intel

photo: AMD/BlueZone via Wired

The bed shared by Microsoft and Intel just got a bit more crowded.

A joint venture between chipmaker AMD and software manufacturer BlueStacks will provide an  optimized “App Store”-like experience on AMD powered Windows 8 tablets and PC’s, giving the chipmaker an edge compared to its rival Intel.

BlueStacks makes software that allows PC and Mac users to run Android powered apps on their respective platforms. However this new program called AppZone Player will take full advantage of AMD’s specialized GPU and APU processors, and will feature nearly half a million titles. AMD hopes that this will make its platform and architecture more appealing to manufacturers and give it an edge over its much larger rival Intel.

Intel and AMD have had a long rivalry: Intel has a greater market share and its processors are often faster than AMD’s, but AMD has occasionally beat Intel to the punch with innovative multiple-core chip designs and lower prices. Intel’s prevalence in the marketplace and in advertising has made AMD appeared second-class to your average user. However more mobile technology has been built around non-Intel chips, making its brand weaker in those markets. AMD can hopefully capitalize on this in the near future.

Microsoft is even touting the AppZone rather loudly, and given that Windows’ own app store isn’t ready for prime time yet, AMD may have a home run in the AppZone.

Windows 8 Phones Have a Lot to Prove in an iPhone 5 World

While the iPhone 5 announcement left a few writers disappointed, the majority were wowed by it. Whether this is simple bandwagon-jumping or continuing evidence of Jobs’ “reality distortion field” from beyond this plane I can’t say. But the ball is squarely in Microsoft’s court now, and phone manufacturers such as Nokia and HTC have to really show up to make an impact in the phone market.

Some Windows 8 phones have been trotted around and the Nokia Lumia 920 has garnered a lot of attention with a pretty advanced feature set, including such things as wireless charging and a display that automatically adjusts to sunlight glare.

Matthew Miller at ZDnet writes:

Given the incremental and expected updates in the iPhone 5 and iOS 6, the innovations we have seen from Nokia and Microsoft in Windows Phone 8 may be compelling enough to generate the excitement and sales that Microsoft and its OEMs need to gain significant market share in the mobile space. I know I am MUCH more excited about Windows Phone 8 than I am about iOS 6 and the iPhone 5. I will be buying a Nokia Lumia 920 with the advanced display technology, enhanced camera, wireless charging functionality, and more.

While the software will likely be a huge step forward for Microsoft, I find it hard to be excited about Windows 8 Phone as of yet because Microsoft hasn’t been able to really show it off much. The software has been running behind and has just started releasing the SDK to developers, but only to select ones and not to the general public. The long wait and shadowy-ness is starting to anger developers, who are the last people you want against you when your product goes on the market.