vendredi 29 novembre 2013

Uniblue refreshes system tools lineup with Powersuite 2014 and DriverScanner 2014

Windows system software developer Uniblue has released two updates to its system tools collection. Uniblue Powersuite Lite 2014 and Uniblue DriverScanner 2014 come with a handful of new and improved features to help keep Windows systems ticking over.

Powersuite 2014 comes with the promise of better in-product help, a new Scorecards feature and improved tools for speeding up PC performance, while DriverScanner 2014 adds improved restoration of previously installed drivers to its feature set.

Powersuite 2014 also debuts a brand new interface that Uniblue claims is more intuitive to the extent even inexperienced users can access many of its new features with ease. This is reinforced by the in-product help improvements, which come in the form of a series of screen overlays that offer an A-Z guide for users.

The overlays are contextual, triggered upon accessing different parts of Powersuite for the first time, and are accessible manually should users require additional clarification.

The new Scorecards feature is designed to let Powersuite users more accurately gauge the effects of using the program over an extended period of time through reviewing results and benefits of using the program.

The update also comes with a complete rebuild of Powersuite’s Live Speed Tools, which Uniblue claims will boost performance even more than previously. Users can now also schedule the tools to work quietly in the background to deliver optimization on a round-the-clock basis.

DriverScanner 2014, which allows users to scan their system for outdated and unidentified drivers, now boasts a library covering over 128,000 devices. The new version also ships with an improved restore-point function, which is used to rollback drivers should updates prove more problematic than the original. Uniblue promises the new function makes driver rollback simpler than ever.

Uniblue Powersuite Lite 2014 is available as a function-limited free download, while Uniblue DriverScanner 2014 is available as a function-limited trial for PCs running Windows XP or later. A three-PC, single-year license for Powersuite PRO 2014 can be purchased for just $29.95 through the Downloadcrew Software Store, a massive saving of 67 percent on its MSRP. Also available for three PCs over a single year is Uniblue DriverScanner 2014, costing just $14.95, a saving of 63 percent on the MSRP.

via BetaNews

jeudi 28 novembre 2013

SiSoft Sandra 2014 adds Windows 8.1 support, new Scientific Analysis benchmarks

UK-based SiSoftware has released SiSoftware Sandra Lite 2014, a major new release of its system information, diagnostics and benchmark tool for Windows PCs.

The 2014 version adds official support for Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2, but also includes a number of new benchmarks as well as updating commercial-only features such as device performance certification validation for benchmark results.

In addition to extending support to Windows 8.1, Sandra Lite 2014 also debuts a new theme for Windows 8/8.1 users, which comes with high-DPI support icons. The Modern UI-based theme is also available in a similar form for earlier versions of Windows too. Also promised is updated hardware support for both current and future hardware.

New benchmarks include Scientific Analysis benchmarks for both graphics architectures and CPUs. These utilize three common algorithms using multiple floating-point precisions and cover multiple interfaces and instruction sets. Also added is a new Memory Latency benchmark.

Updated benchmarks include a graphics-based Financial Analysis benchmark and updated overall score benchmark that provides a weighted average of existing benchmarks covering CPU, software performance, memory and cache bandwidth, file system/storage and graphics performance.

Some of these new features have already been introduced to SiSoft Sandra 2013 through Service Pack updates, but have been further refined and enhanced for the 2014 release in line with user feedback.

Users of the commercial version of SiSoftware Sandra 2014 also gain updated Device Performance Certification validation, which helps users verify the benchmark scores obtained are correct based on other user scores.

SiSoftware Sandra Lite 2014 is available now as a free-for-personal-use download for PCs running Windows XP or later. Some features are disabled in this version -- users must purchase a commercial license to access them.

via BetaNews

The best tools for removing malware

Antivirus software is generally seen as being about protecting your system from infection, but sometimes you get caught out and it's necessary to call on the product's removal capabilities. If you're lucky, or careful, you might never have to try out the malware removal ability of your security product, but it's good to know it can step up to the plate if needed. To help you see if your chosen solution measures up AV-Comparatives has released the results of its latest malware removal tests.

Tests were carried out on a range of 11 malware samples including Trojans, worms, backdoors and ransomware. Using a Windows 7 Professional 64-bit system each infection was loaded, the system rebooted and then the anti-virus product installed, updated and put to work.

The tests awarded scores for each sample based on the effectiveness of removal and convenience of operation -- whether a boot to Safe Mode or a rescue disk was needed for example. Results were then aggregated to give a points score for each product.

Best overall was Kaspersky with a total score of 98 points, followed closely by Bitdefender on 97. AVIRA makes up the top three on 92. At the bottom of the table comes ThreatTrack Vipre with a score of 65. G-DATA and BullGuard tie for second to last slot on 73. Microsoft Security Essentials scored 83 putting it in the lower half of the table.

Interestingly not one of the products received a perfect score -- complete removal using only normal mode -- across all threats. Kaspersky came closest, removing 10 of the threats normally but needing a rescue disk for the 11th. Other than the top three, all of the products completely failed when it came to removing at least one of the samples, ransomware proving the most difficult to shift.

You can download the full report as a PDF from the AV-Comparatives website.

Image credit: DeiMosz/Shutterstock

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CyanogenMod Installer disappears from Google Play -- that's a good thing

When it comes to the Android custom ROM community, CyanogenMod is considered by many to be the holy grail. If your smartphone or tablet receives official support for the ROM, you can be assured of regular updates. However, for many, the stock Android experience has now matured to a point where custom ROMs are no longer needed.

Despite this (or maybe because of this), CyanogenMod decided to monetize its ROM and form a company. To easier facilitate the process of installing it, the company released a helper app on the Play Store. Yesterday, the app was pulled from the store -- and that's a good thing.

"Today, we were contacted by the Google Play Support team to say that our CyanogenMod Installer application is in violation of Google Play’s developer terms. They advised us to voluntarily remove the application, or they would be forced to remove it administratively. We have complied with their wishes while we wait for a more favorable resolution", says Ciwrl of the CyanogenMod team.

He further says, "fortunately, Android is open enough that devices allow for installing applications via Unknown Sources (ie sideload). Though it’s a hassle and adds steps to the process, this does allow us a path forward, outside of the Play Store itself".

I understand the frustration of the CyanogenMod team, but this is for the best. After all, the app does nothing other than help users replace the stock operating system with the custom one. However, since the process can render a device inoperable and lead to a poor experience, making it easy is not a good idea. After all, when users encounter bugs and broken phones, they will come to the cellular carrier or manufacturer for help.

Plus, while I am sure CyanogenMod's intentions are good now, there is nothing to stop the team from introducing malware or nefarious things to the operating system later. Ultimately, Google is protecting the security of its users by removing this potentially dangerous app.

Sadly, CyanogenMod will direct users to sideload the app by enabling unknown sources. This opens up users to further danger as malware and viruses can be installed by this method too. However, the company will also try to submit the application to the Samsung and Amazon app stores.

Ultimately, the stock Android experience is rather good and the benefit of installing a custom ROM like CyanogenMod is debatable. It is worth questioning why the company is so interested in replacing the stock experience, when it can ultimately have a negative impact if something goes wrong.

Let us not forget that a smartphone is a communication device that can save someone's life by calling 911 and other services. I have used custom ROMs in the past that have caused the dialer app not to work or for the other party not to hear me. Luckily, I was not in danger at the time. This may sound dramatic, but it is true -- a buggy ROM could kill you.

via BetaNews

mercredi 27 novembre 2013

Protect your PC from unwanted changes with ToolWiz Time Freeze 2014

ToolWiz has released Time Freeze 2014, a major new update to its system protection tool for Windows. The new build -- version 2.2 -- promises better stability with a brand new kernel and engine, plus adds a few minor features.

New additions include a desktop floating toolbar allowing users to easily see whether the tool is switched on or off, plus the ability to select folders and files for exclusion from the protection feature.

ToolWiz Time Freeze 2014 allows users to put their system partition into a state of stasis. All subsequent changes -- such as installing new programs or browsing risky websites -- are recorded in a virtual disk cache which is automatically wiped the moment the user switches Time Freeze off and reboots.

The tool is aimed largely at those wishing to experiment with their system, such as testing new software or trying hardware updates, allowing them to make changes without worrying about the consequences.

One drawback of the program is that no changes can survive a reboot, so it’s impossible to test software that requires the user restart Windows during the installation process.

Version 2.2 is definitely more stable than previous versions, but this has come at a cost to functionality. Previously users were able to choose whether or not to keep changes when they switched Time Freeze off, but this -- along with the ability to protect specific non-system folders and files from changes (for greater security) -- has been lost.

One additional function the new version does add is to allow the user to select specific files and folders on the main system partition that are excluded from Time Freeze, allowing them to be updated even when other changes are wiped clear at the end of the session. Obvious examples include user folders such as Documents, Pictures and Downloads.

ToolWiz Time Freeze 2014 2.2 is a freeware download for PCs running Windows XP or later.

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Touchscreen notebooks increase in popularity -- but why? Why? WHY?!

We're all used to getting touchy-feely with our phones and tablets, but it's only in the past few months that touchscreen laptops have really gained any ground. A report by NPD DisplaySearch states that by the end of 2013, touchscreen devices will account for 11 percent of all notebook shipments -- that's around 19.8 million notebooks with touchscreens -- and there has been a steady increase in market share since the beginning of the year.

Richard Shim, senior analyst at NPD DisplaySearch explains that "Premium pricing and a lack of compelling uses for touch screens on notebooks continue to hinder adoption", but goes on to say that "as touch interfaces become increasingly common across all mobile devices, it is just a matter of time before the technology also becomes more prevalent in notebooks".

But pricing is becoming much less of an issue. Acer's budget touchscreen C720P Chromebook brings a touch-sensitive screen to a wider audience, though I can't help but wonder whether it’s a feature that will actually be used. In my mind, touchscreen is a gimmick. I'm not just postulating here, rather talking from personal experience.

The idea of touchscreen is appealing. When using a phone or tablet -- unless you're one of the few remaining BlackBerry users -- everything is achieved via touch: web browsing, scrolling through pictures, composing emails, playing games, and much more. It makes sense to add the same option to a regular computer right? It would make life so much easier! But would it... or indeed does it?

I use a Surface Pro day in, day out. It has a great touchscreen and Windows 8.1 is touch-friendly. But I never use the touchscreen when the Surface is in laptop mode. On the odd occasion I whip off the keyboard and use the Surface as a tablet, I'll give it a good touching up, but once that keyboard is snapped into place, it's a regular laptop that may as well have a regular screen. I also have a touchscreen Acer laptop. Touch is never used.

Why? It is just awkward to reach over the keyboard to tap or slide on the screen. Why move my entire arm when a couple of fingers can achieve the same by moving a couple of centimeters on the trackpad? You could argue that not many apps have been designed to take full advantage of touchscreen on the desktop (or laptop), but that doesn’t get over the problem that with a laptop, it is almost always more effort to use a touchscreen than not.

What we tend to use laptops for -- browsing the web, typing email, writing documents -- aren't activities that really lend themselves to touchscreen operation. On convertible devices such as Lenovo's Yoga, I can see the point. Fold the keyboard out of the way to create a tablet or screen stand and you need a way to interact with your video app, web browser, or whatever else you are doing. But on a regular laptop I would argue that touch support is completely pointless.

The gradual increase to 11 percent market share for touchscreen laptops, from just 7 percent in the first quarter of 2013, shows touch friendly devices are set to continue to climb -- all the way to 40 percent by 2017 if NPD DisplaySearch's figures are to be believed. Prices will come down across the board, but touchscreen laptops will, inevitably, remain more expensive than regular laptops. It sounds like a nice feature, but once the honeymoon period is over, how many people will continue to interact with their laptop by prodding at the screen? It seems like something that will be forgotten about like a discarded toy a couple of days after Christmas.

Touchscreens have their place for sure -- I just don’t think laptops are the best use of this particular technology.

What do you think? Do you have touchscreen laptop or monitor that you're happy with, or are you holding off?

Photo credit: Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock

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PayPal Checkout gains support for prepaid gift cards

When you’re short of ideas for presents, the easiest thing to do is to pop a check or some cash in a card -- it may not demonstrate the most thought, but at least it shows you haven't forgotten. More recently, cash and checks have been replaced with gift cards for the likes of Amazon, iTunes and Google Play. There are also prepaid cards from well-known financial institutions such as Visa, American Express, MasterCard, or Discover. These are great in theory, but they cannot be used in every web store.

PayPal found that a quarter of people had experienced problems trying to make online purchases with this type of prepaid gift card and -- just in time for the holiday season -- has come up with a solution.

After "months of research and investigations", PayPal has "discovered a patent-pending and innovative way to allow the usage of prepaid gift cards so that you can seamlessly apply them to the purchase of products and services anywhere PayPal is accepted."

PayPal explains that you will be able to use Visa, American Express, MasterCard, or Discover gift cards to make purchases from any online merchant that already accepts PayPal. No mention is made of any additional fees for using gift cards, although the usual merchant and transaction fees will apply to any purchase made. This is a smart move by PayPal as gift cards become increasingly popular, and more and more shoppers choose to make their purchases online to avoid the crush in the shops.

Photo credit: Oleksiy Mark/Shutterstock

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mardi 26 novembre 2013

Motorola Moto G available to buy now for just $179

Motorola's answer to Apple's iPhone 5c and Google's Nexus 5, the Moto G, is available to order now, starting at $179. Despite coming in at just "one third of the price of current high-end phones", this is an entry-level smartphone that still manages to pack a punch. There's a 4.5-inch display and a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, and Motorola is claiming all-day battery life. It is the GSM version that is available now, and in January it will be possible to buy the CDMA model in the US as well.

It has already been launched in a number of territories including Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Peru and parts of Europe, but now the US is getting some Motorola loving too. Buy direct from Motorola and the handset is free from contract, has no SIM lock, and has an unlockable bootloader -- a tweaker's dream! At 1280 by 720 HD, 329 ppi, the Moto G's screen is above and beyond what you might expect to find on a handset around this price.

The phone is comparable to the iPhone 5c and goes as far as adopting similar multi-colored casing options. There are Shells, Flip Shells and Grip Shells which can be snapped into place to stamp your rainbow-esque mark on the phone. The $179 price is for the 8GB version, but there is also a 16Gb model available for $199. The storage is bolstered for two years by 50GB of space on Google Drive.

The Moto G initially ships with Android 4.3 -- which Motorola describes as "the most up to date Android of any phone in its class" -- and there is a guaranteed upgrade to 4.4 KitKat in early 2014. And this is pure, unadulterated Android, "no skins to clutter or slow the experience and great performance" as Motorola puts it.

Place your order now and handsets will ship from 2 December. While you wait to get your hands on a G, check out the ad that showcases some of the highlights.

via BetaNews

Microsoft offering 'awesome' Black Friday deals on Surface

If my colleague Mark Wilson’s list of five reasons to choose Surface 2 over iPad Air has you considering purchasing one of Microsoft’s slates, you’d better get your wallet ready.

There are always bargains to be found on Black Friday (and the days surrounding it) but you can never guarantee that the tech you’ve got your eye on will be discounted. The good news for would-be Surface owners is Microsoft has confirmed it will be offering "awesome deals" on its tablet PC.

"Whether you’re shopping for a gift for a student, a busy parent, or looking for a great tablet for yourself, this is a fantastic time to pick up a Surface" the Surface Team says in a new blog post, before listing the following offers:

The exact details on all the offers won’t be known until the sales start -- will the price cuts just effect the older models, or will there be discounts on the new Surface 2 line? We’ll have to wait and see…

Sale sign credit: Lena Pan/Shutterstock

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Nero BackItUp 2014 offers 5GB free online storage

A capable local and online backup tool, Nero BackItUp normally comes bundled with the boxed version of Nero 2014. There is also a stand-alone version offering 5GB of online storage for free, though -- so is it worth your time? We took a closer look.

The PC client installs quickly, and has a very familiar interface. As usual, you first select files and folders by checking boxes in an Explorer-type view. And then you choose a local drive or your online account as the destination (although not both as a part of the same job, unfortunately).

This is the point where you begin to notice some of the restrictions in this free version. Like, it can’t back up to network drives, or optical discs; the Compression and Encryption settings are greyed out, and the excellent Scheduler isn’t available either. A pity.

You can still run backups manually, though, and that’s simple enough. A click and our files were quickly uploaded.

Restoration is equally straightforward; just use the client to select the backup job and the files/ folders you’d like to recover. Alternatively, log on via the web interface, where you can see your files and download them as required.

Nero BackItUp 2014 also provides a separate Android app. This can be used to perform simple backups of your Android device to your phone’s memory card, your PC (as long as it has Nero BackItUp 2014 installed) or your online storage space.

The app has a similar look and feel to the PC version, but is more basic in some areas. In particular, there’s not much control over what you back up: you can select each of seven areas (Photos, Videos, Music, Contacts, Call Logs, Messages, System Settings) or deselect them, but that’s it. You can’t specifically include or exclude these images, those videos or anything else, which could be a problem if your mobile is crammed with content.

Nero BackItUp 2014 is easy to use, then, with a great interface. And if you do decide to purchase a commercial plan, the prices are reasonable ($27.99/ year for 25GB online storage, $69.99/ year for an unlimited account). The free version has quite a few restrictions, though. It may be worth a look for Nero fans, or if you need unified PC and Android backup, but otherwise there are better options elsewhere.

Image credit: Modella/Shutterstock

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Plex Home Theater officially launches, brings Plex Media Server-hosted content to the big screen

Plex hits the big screen with the first official release of its media browsing and playback tool. Plex Home Theater 1.0 is the client-side version of Plex’s media suite for Windows and Mac users, and has been 11 months in the making, during which time 15 separate builds were released exclusively to PlexPass subscribers.

Plex Home Theater replaces Plex Media Center, and gives users access to media stored on a computer running Plex Media Server, both over their local network and -- via the MyPlex web service -- wider internet.

Although Plex Home Theater logically follows on from Plex Media Center, Plex is keen to stress there’s more than a simple name change. "Almost every single thing about the app is improved," it claimed in a blog post promoting the new release. "It’s faster, prettier, and more powerful".

The post goes on to point out the new build supports a number of new of media formats, plus promises to play them more efficiently to improve performance.

Plex Home Theater also launches with a brand new skin, which is designed to look particularly effective on large-screen televisions with 16:9 aspect ratio. Aside from the fresh new look, the skin also incorporates some of the more powerful server-side filtering already present in Plex/Web as well both iOS and Android apps.

Initial feedback has been mixed, with some users complaining about the quality of the display on Retina displays and poor performance with specific file formats on the other. Others have also commented negatively on the dropping of WebKit support in Plex channels, but many have praised the client’s new look and enhanced features.

Notable changes over the 11 months of development included support for AirPlay, a 64-bit OS X build, support for playing video from iOS and Android mobile servers and a new universal transcoder.

Also added is support for playing multi-part media, a new automatic crash reporting tool and rewritten Windows build (using Visual Studio 2012). A late development saw the removal of WebKit support and a rewritten Search window that promises to be faster and more reliable.

Plex Home Theater 1.0 is available now as a free, open-source download for Windows and Mac, along with community builds for Linux users. Also available are Plex Media Server for Windows, Mac and Linux, plus Plex for iOS and Android and Plex for Windows 8.

via BetaNews

ScaleXtreme combines server and cloud management in a single platform

The growth in popularity of cloud-based applications has brought new challenges for system admins. Rather than a single set of systems in one place a company's computing may now be spread across a number of platforms and locations.

With the announcement of its new Advanced Cloud Management product ScaleXtreme aims to give its customers a broad set of server, application and service management tools on a single platform.

Generally available from today the product has been trialled in a number of large companies to give central IT control over their public cloud deployments on systems including on Amazon Web Services, Terremark Enterprise Cloud, and Microsoft Azure.

It's fully integrated with the company's existing server management capabilities, including server and application monitoring, patch management, and job automation. This allows enterprises to manage their existing infrastructure as well as taking advantage of public and private clouds to re-engineer and port their applications.

Nand Mulchandani, CEO and Co-Founder of ScaleXtreme, explains, "As enterprises evolve their applications architecture to be increasingly cloud-based, they find themselves having to deal with multiple vendors and management tools. There's usually no 'clean break' between their legacy applications running on virtualized servers in their datacenter, and starting to deploy applications in the public cloud. ScaleXtreme helps IT deal with this complexity. Our Enterprise Platform gives them a single console with which to control all aspects of cloud application provisioning; while still giving them server management functionality for handling the underlying infrastructure on their existing applications".

Features of the ScaleXtreme platform include the creation, deployment and management of cloud applications across private, public and hybrid environments. It provides automatic scaling capability across clouds, enforces access control and compliance, and provides server management tools like monitoring and patch management.

"Today, enterprises live with the reality of highly heterogeneous IT environments. Any platform that can simplify and unify the systems management burden on IT, and accelerate the provisioning of new cloud services for end users, is very welcome," says Rob Green, CEO of Dizzion Consulting, a cloud computing services firm. "We have deployed ScaleXtreme in several of our enterprise clients: from managing application scaling in the cloud, to failover and disaster recovery".

You can find out more about Advanced Cloud Management on the ScaleXtreme website.

Image Credit: everything possible/Shutterstock

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Futuremark delists 'suspicous' HTC and Samsung handsets from 3DMark benchmarking app

A total of six Android devices from Samsung and HTC have been delisted by Futuremark after suspicions were raised about their performance in 3DMark benchmarks. Although no specific details are given about why the handsets were removed, concerns surrounded the performance of particular phones.

It comes after Samsung code appeared to detect the presence of benchmarking software and seemingly increased GPU frequency to achieve higher results. A new version of the Android app implements the delistings.

In a statement on its website, Futuremark explains that people rely on accurate and reliable benchmark results in order to objectively compare devices. The company goes on to say that it has very clear rules about how a device may interact with its software, saying that it should be treated in exactly the same way as any other app. This is precisely what Samsung had previously been accused of: detecting running benchmark software and artificially boosting performance.

The full statement reads:

People rely on Futuremark benchmarks to produce accurate and unbiased results. That's why we have clear rules for hardware manufacturers and software developers that specify how a platform can interact with our benchmark software. In simple terms, a device must run our benchmarks without modification as if they were any other application.

When a device is suspected of breaking our rules it is delisted. 3DMark scores from delisted devices should not be used to compare devices. Delisted devices appear unranked, and without scores, at the bottom of the 3DMark Device Channel and the Best Mobile Devices list on our website.

The affected handsets are the HTC One, HTC One Mini, Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Exynos 5 Octa, Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 MSM8974, Samsung Galaxy Note III Exynos 5 Octa, and the Samsung Galaxy Note III MSM8974.

It is fair? Should it have been done sooner? Do you put any stock in benchmarks or do incidents like this make you distrust them?

Image Credit: Konstantin Faraktinov/Shutterstock

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