Windows 7, smart home gear, iPad anniversary
Bob's Tech Talk
March 1, 2020
Q. I see that Windows 7 is no longer supported by Microsoft. Do I have to upgrade right away?
A. If you found a 10-year old can of beans in your pantry, would you eat it? How about an ancient jar of mayonnaise? Just like old food hidden away in the back of a cupboard, there is no single magic date when a long-lived tech device is unsafe. So much depends on context. A PC that is not connected to the Internet is reasonably safe for years.
But the Internet is a dynamic environment, and every connected device is continuously subject to attacks. Devices that no longer receive security updates are a big target. Microsoft will no longer update Windows 7 after January 2020, which makes it a dead version walking.
Even after Microsoft pinky-swore they would not do so, customer pressure led them to deliver one more “final” update past the cutoff date. Because there are still millions of people using Windows 7 it will not disappear soon. There may be more updates, but the writing is on the wall.
My advice on Windows 7’s retirement: the less valuable the data, the longer it is safe to keep using an out-of-date operating system. However, if your computer has data worth protecting, that data is worth the expense of updating your system.
Q. I want to control my home lighting with an Amazon Echo, what is the best way to do that?
A. I recommend Welkin WMO Mini Smart Plugs. They are about $20 each and are easily replaced. When it comes to smart home devices, flexibility is the key. While it might be tempting to have an electrician install smart outlets, you should weigh the convenience versus the expense.
Remember VHS vs Beta? Tech history is littered with competing “standards” that disappeared only a few years later. At present, smart home devices are like VHS and Beta – different brands often cannot communicate with one another. As a result, I expect many of these devices will not be supported for the long term.
The recent outcry at Sonos is a good example. Sonos said they would no longer provide software updates to a group of products that they sold as recently as five years ago. Customers, understandably, were furious.
Dropping support for software is not new. But when that software is baked into a speaker or an electric outlet, a perfectly functional device can suddenly become obsolete. When you purchase one of these products, you are dependent on the manufacturer for continued support.
When it comes time to experiment with smart home devices, start small and remain flexible.
Q. Is it time to consider adding a tablet computer to my life?
A. Based on sales, there really is no tablet computer market. There is only an iPad market. Apple accounts for more than two-thirds of the tablets sold worldwide.
This spring marks the 10-year anniversary of the iPad. Since its introduction, the original iPad has blossomed into an impressive lineup of consumer and pro devices that rival laptops.
I believe that most people would be better served by an iPad than a personal computer. The base model iPad is more powerful than most personal computers were a decade ago. If you are new to iPad, I suggest starting with an entry level model. They are very capable devices and can often be found on sale for about $250. The most valuable “extra” is more built-in memory. If possible, choose the 64GB model.
Although the built-in software is extensive, the large App Store delivers lots of additional capability. If you are a Kindle user, an app will turn your iPad into a Kindle. Apps can deliver all the streaming video you can handle, everything from Netflix to Disney+ to Prime Video. Add the right case and it becomes a small laptop. Add a pencil and it becomes a sketchpad.
No other tablet or personal computer packs as much capability as the iPad. When you start thinking about replacing any personal computing device, I suggest that you consider iPad first.
Wander the Web
Here are my picks for worthwhile browsing this month:
Retrace the footsteps of tech progress with this new collection of Apple-related memorabilia. Organized by year, the items include everything from a 1977 TV commercial to the products released late last year. http://www.applearchive.org
Video: Should All Locks Have Keys?
This four-minute video speeds though the differences between real-world and digital-world locks in an age where our phones are our castles.
Computer Science for Everyone
New for 2020, this popular introductory course on how computers work is not suited for everyone, but it is perfect for curious minds who wonder what happens inside when you tap a key.
A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.