Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Brief Guide To The Secrets Of The Windows 8 User Interface

A Brief Guide To The Secrets Of The Windows 8 User Interface:
For most users, Windows 8 will come as something of a surprise when it is released, thanks to the unusual implementation of the Metro UI. If you’re not inclined to make use of whatever methods are available to disable Metro, you will be left with attempting to understand the tile-based user interface.
Whether you’re using Windows 8 on a keyboard-and-mouse device such as a desktop or laptop or enjoying it on touch-based hardware such as a hybrid or slate, Windows 8 takes some getting used to.
There are swipes and gestures for touchscreen users which have to be replicated by mouse on standard computers, while the controversial Start screen itself is full of secrets…

Swipes and Gestures

If you have any familiarity with Windows Phone, you might already be aware of the finger gestures required to use Metro UI on a touchscreen device.
The most basic is the tap, employed to select items to launch from the Start screen, open menus and type. Following this is the tap and hold, or long tap, which on the Start screen can be used to rearrange the tiles by simultaneously dragging them to the preferred position.
Using a mouse, this process is tricky, requiring you to left-click and hold. While the motor aspects of that are simple enough, the user interface is geared to respond to a finger.
Fortunately there is a better option for scrolling left to right on the Start screen and other wide Metro screens, in the shape of a scroll bar at the bottom. Meanwhile, touchscreen users can simply swipe a finger left to right across the display.

Understanding the Start Screen

The Start screen itself is something of an enigma on Windows 8. While it does a good job in presenting the main apps that are installed on the system, it fails to allow users to see what other options are available, and this could be described as true in all screens, certainly in the Consumer Preview release.

An example is the “quick return” button, found in the lower left corner of all screens except Start. This is only available by tapping or dragging your mouse into the corner, and unless you know it is there it might be completely overlooked.

On the Start screen itself there are a couple of other useful but hidden features. Right-clicking your mouse, for instance, will display the All Apps button, which is currently hidden away at the bottom of the screen. There is a strong argument for placing this in its own tile, however.

Similarly, by dragging the mouse into or tapping the lower right corner of the display, you can watch as the Start screen falls back, Mac OS X style, so that the groups of app tiles can be rearranged.

You’ll also find that there is a hidden menu on the right edge of the screen, found by tapping and holding or leaving your mouse over that side of the screen for a few moments. Search, Share, Start, Devices, and Settings can all be accessed from here.

Metro Conventions

The Settings screen introduces some other conventions of the Metro UI – that of switches. Our previous guide on downloading and purchasing apps and games will give you an idea of the clarity of the new user interface, and this is clearly demonstrated in the Settings screen, where various options can be enabled and disabled at the swipe of a finger or click of a mouse.

For instance, if you tapped Settings – Notifications you would be able to alter how notifications are displayed, which apps display them and whether or not they should be accompanied by sounds or display on the lock screen.
Clearly these are useful features, but long-term Windows users will notice that there is an absence of an OK or Apply button. Instead, graphical switches must be flicked in order for you to specify your preference.


Remember, of course, that Metro is largely an overlay for an operating system that bears a strong similarity in all other ways to Windows 7. The Desktop view is a clear giveaway for this, as is the presence of Windows Explorer, complete with a strangely anachronistic ribbon toolbar.
We all know that Windows 8 is going to be a big deal, one way or another. It will either be warmly received when released later this year, or cast aside with derision after failing to convince reviewers that Metro UI is a useful implementation.
Whichever way it goes, the Start screen will remain tile-based and the user interface optimized for fingers and thumbs rather than a mouse. As easy as it is to use, Metro UI is going to represent a considerable culture shock for many users.
Of course, let’s not forget Xbox 360 in all of this, where a working implementation of Metro UI can already be found, one that can be controlled either via a controller or Kinect. Along with Windows Phone, Xbox 360 represents a success story for Metro, so don’t be discouraged – this user interface can be mastered and enjoyed.

Top 5 Places To Wax Philosophical Online

Top 5 Places To Wax Philosophical Online:
There are days when you just feel like you’ve got great questions about the world which just need to be asked. Your mind is clear and the question just jumps in to your head unbidden: What if I…? Why do we…? How does this…? Would anyone be able to…? The question is there and you just need to get it in front of a willing audience and get people talking about it. Where do you go?
Perhaps you’re trying to work out why something is how it is, or maybe you want to brainstorm a way to change the world a little. Whatever those burning questions that you have are, there are some great places online you can ask them in order to get some real conversation going within the wisdom of the crowds. And if you don’t have any great questions, but just want to brighten up your day with something worth considering, head on over to one of these spots to broaden your horizons.

Ask Reddit

Ask Reddit is a place where any question goes – and the weirder it is the better received it is (as you can clearly see in the screenshot). If you have a particularly meaty question, these people will be all over it. If you don’t have time to browse Reddit every day, you can check out the Redditor Magazine to find out the best of Reddit, including the best of Ask Reddit.

Ask Science

The scientific sibling of the Ask Reddit subreddit is Ask Science. This is where you will find all sorts of science-related trivia that you might never have thought about. With all the best questions getting all the votes, you can be sure that the answer is rarely as straightforward as it seems on the surface. This is a dinner party conversation gold mine.


Early adopters of the Quora service may be surprised to note that Quora still exists – even after the masses got involved. But the people of Quora love questions, so if you pick a relevant board to post your question on it will usually receive some decent attention.

TED Conversations

Most of us internet dwellers know and love TED for its insightful videos about life, the universe and everything. Happily, the TED folks realised that their audience is often as insightful as their featured speakers, so they’ve opened up TED Conversations to let like-minded people discuss big questions about humanity and changes we’d like to see in the world. When you start a conversation, choose to categorize it as an Idea/Question/Debate and choose an end-date for your conversation. The conversations are curated and moderated to keep them relevant, respectful and interesting.


While many people use Formspring for very specific questions, I personally like to use it to ponder the weird and wonderful things about our fellow humans. Consider asking and answering questions which read like something out of a personality test. Many questions can show you personality traits you never expected. You can essentially create your own psychological experiment using your friends as the willing subjects. Or perhaps you could ask something a little out of the ordinary in order to get your friends thinking outside the box. Formspring can be good intellectual fun, really.

More Questions And Smart Chat Online

Some of you may still be on the hunt for the best place to ask your question or to chat to smart people online, so here’s a few more things to check out:
Where did you ask your burning questions? Did you get some great answers? Let us know in the comments!
Image Credit: ShutterStock

Set Yourself Apart When Upgrading And Repairing PCs For A Living

Set Yourself Apart When Upgrading And Repairing PCs For A Living:
Trying to make money by offering tech support with your own small business isn’t exactly easy. In the computer field, so many people think they know how to fix computer problems that within most families there are always one or two “experts” that everyone turns to for computer support.
This means that by the time an issue gets to you, it has gotten so bad – and someone has probably messed the computer up so much – that recovery is going to turn into a major nightmare.
Offering tech support needs to include more than just solving a crisis for people. That will always be a part of it, but it also means educating your new customers about the value of a long-term “support contract” for their computers, and the importance of a regular preventive maintenance program.
Once they understand how not maintaining their computers will cost them far more in the long run, you can then offer them your menu of tech support maintenance services. What might those services include?
In this article I’m going to cover 5 really cool tech support services you can offer to your customers that will not only offer you a regular monthly income from maintenance contracts, but it will also help you to get a leg up on the competition.

Stand Above Competition With Useful Remote Support

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average number of computers in the typical American household has nearly doubled from 2000 through 2008.  What this means is more computers in every family, and a greater demand on those computer for doing critical household chores like paying the bills or working.
These days, when a family loses a computer or *gasp* Internet access – it hurts.
There is most certainly a niche available for the tech support guru that can fill it. Sure enough, there are families in your neighborhood that could benefit from having a tech support guy not only available when things go wrong, but available to make sure everything is always going right.

Offer Regular PC Maintenance

The most important service you can offer to your clients is regular maintenance and cleaning of their computer systems. Yes, that means you should load up mobile version of your favorite antivirus and anti-malware apps to run regularly on those systems. However, it also means that you should regularly “clean up” those computers of regular trash files using software like CCleaner or BleachBit.
CCleaner is great software, but I have to admit I really like BleachBit and feel it should be a part of any tech support arsenal.
BleachBit is just remarkable when it comes to the number of applications that it takes care of, like Adobe Flash, Microsoft Office, Silverlight, WinRAR and much more. It does a deep scan and will make a huge impact on performance for systems that haven’t been cleaned in a long time.

Offer Remote Monitoring of PC Health

Imagine if your clients received a phone call one night, and you were on the other end of the line informing them that you’ve identified an issue with their home office PC, and that you would like their permission to make a service call to remove a virus.
Wouldn’t they be impressed? In fact, most people really don’t want to have to worry about whether or not their computer is virus-free or infected with Malware, and some people even ignore all of the warning messages that pop up when they are infected. It isn’t always that they don’t care, it’s just that they don’t understand what’s going on. However, with an open source application called PCNetMonitor, you could remotely monitor your client’s computers for odd processing spikes or memory issues, indicating a problem.
PCNetMonitor uses WMIC commands to remotely obtain stats and performance info from the remote computer, so you’ll need to make sure that you can access the PC through the client’s router, and that you have an account set up with admin permissions to issue WMIC commands on that computer.
The best part of PCNetMonitor is that you can log information from the computers and output them to an Excel log file where you can perform your analysis on those stats and look for any telltale signs of problems.

Offer Phone Support

Offering phone support to your clients doesn’t mean that you have to install some expensive VoIP solution, all you really have to do is just sign up for Google Voice.
When you’re logged into your Google Voice account, just go into settings and “groups” and make sure that you’ve enabled your “mobile” phone to ring when there are incoming calls.
If you have a WordPress blog, you can install the Google Voice CallMe plugin to embed a Google Voice call button right into your blog by highlighting the embed text in the plugin and pasting it right into your site’s widget code.
Now on your tech support site, you can have a “Call Me” button where your customers can contact you directly via your phone whenever they have any tech support issues.

Obviously, you’ve included pay for on-call tech support in the maintenance contract.

Offer Online Chat

Another service you could offer your clients is access to a live tech geek over the Internet whenever they have any questions or problems. Obviously, you’d charge a premium for such a service, but there are lots of people that would love to have a tech guru right at their fingertips. I covered one service that you can install on your web host to do this called LiveZilla, which is an awesome live chat service.
That is, until I discovered Mibew Live, which is even easier to install and simpler to use.
The nice thing about Mibew Live is that the interface for your users are really easy to use, and the interface for you as the tech support person will increase your efficiency by letting you pre-program commonly typed answers or explanations. That way, if you get the same questions over and over, you’ll have the explanation all typed up and ready to go at the click of a button.

Remote Control of Client PC

Obviously, the most commonly used tool as a remote support tech person will be the ability to remotely connect to the client’s PC and either fix a problem from your own office, or to teach the client how to do something.
We’ve covered a ton of remote control applications here at MUO, including Netviewer and Instant Housecall, but I think most readers agree that one of the best free remote support applications out there is TeamViewer.
This application will let you take a quick look at your client’s computer whenever they call you or chat with you about some strange problem they may be having. Nine times out of ten, a problem isn’t really a problem, it’s just a person misunderstanding what exactly their computer is doing. By quickly connecting and showing them what’s going on and why, you’ll become a valuable person that they’ll depend on for guidance and support when they’re on their computer.
Remember though, if you use TeamViewer as part of your business, do the right thing and buy a commercial copy.
What that turns into is a reliable client that is guaranteed to renew their support contract with you every year, because ultimately tech support comes down to more than just fixing computer problems. It’s about helping people make full use of everything that computers can do for them.
Are you a remote support technician or do you have a PC repair business? Have you ever used any of these apps, or do you have your own recommendations? Share your own advice in the comments section below.
Image Credit:Aluminum Keyboard Image Via Shutterstock

10 Great Strategy Games You Can Play On Your Mac

10 Great Strategy Games You Can Play On Your Mac:

Mac gaming can be frustrating at times. The problem is finding games that are available on the platform. Even today, after Steam’s adoption of the Mac, finding games to play can be difficult.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some excellent games. You just have to do a little extra work to find them. Let’s have a look at ten strategy titles that are sure to please any fan of the genre.


Mac games are relatively rare, and their scarcity increases as they age. The production runs are smaller, which results in fewer used copies, which results in higher prices.
I’m capping the price for games at $60. This leaves out games like Rise of Nations. It’s an excellent title, but the few new copies I could find are priced at over $100. All of the games found here are affordable, which means they are relatively recent releases and many of them are sold on Steam.

AI War: Fleet Command

If you’re a fan of the space-strategy genre and you don’t mind a steep learning curve you’ll love AI War.
This massive game offers players the chance to conquer the stars with gigantic fleets. Building them requires the management of complex resource system, though with that said, this is far from the most hardcore title you can buy.
AI War is available on Steam for $9.99. There’s also a demo available.

Civilization IV and Civilization V

The Civilization titles have supported Mac for some time. The newest version is Civilization V, but its focus on making the series more accessible has angered some gamers while pleasing others.
Fortunately, you have a choice. Civilization IV: The Complete Edition is also available for Mac and it still feels quite modern, so gamers who prefer more complex strategy can pick it up.
Civilization IV is about $40 on Amazon, while Civilization V sells for a tad over $20.


This unique title is story-driven, making it different from most strategy games. It places you in charge of saving a virtual world called Darwinia. A virus has assaulted it and its virtual citizens – and only you can stop it.
Darwinia’s lo-fi graphics style is beautiful but also makes the game easy to run on almost any Mac made in the last five years. The game is relatively simple to understand, so it’s a good choice for those unfamiliar with the genre.
You can buy Darwinia for $9.99 on Steam. There is a demo available.

Frozen Synapse

One of the newest games here, Frozen Synapse is a turn-based title focusing on squad combat. It’s one of the few games of its kind to be released in the last decade and it’s probably the best of the bunch.
There are only a few units, so understanding the basics isn’t difficult. However, the complex interactions between units, terrain and fog-of-war result in a deceptively challenging game. Units die quickly to gunfire, so a single round rarely lasts more than thirty minutes.
Frozen Synapse is $24.99 on Steam. There is a demo available.

Gratuitous Space Battles

As the name implies, this game is all about space battles. Fleets of 2D vessels are pitted against each other and attempt to achieve victory with beam weapons, torpedoes, missiles and rail guns. If you’ve ever found yourself re-watching the space battles in Battlestar Galactica or Babylon 5 you’ll love what this game offers.
This game sets itself apart from others by taking away direct control of battles. Players are responsible for designing ships and determining deployment. This sounds unusual, but the design lets you focus on building ships and enjoying battles instead of worrying about split-second changes in starship tactics.
Gratuitous Space Battles is $19.99 on Steam. The Complete Pack, which includes a number of DLC expansions, is $39.99.

Hearts of Iron III

Hearts of Iron has been considered the definitive World War II strategy game since the release of the original in 2002. The game has never been accessible to strategy newcomers, but that’s sort of the point.
The latest edition refines the interface and updates the graphics, but it remains a hardcore title targeted at history buffs and World War II fanatics. The huge number of possible strategies and large number of playable countries makes this a title that you can play for hundreds of hours without exploring every possibility.
Hearts of Iron III is just $9.99 on Steam.

Rome: Total War

The Total War series is one of the best strategy franchises on the market, but the latest games have not come to the Mac. The most recent title you can purchase is Rome: Total War.
That’s not to imply the game is bad, however. Rome: Total War is about eight years old, which means the graphics aren’t the best, but the battles themselves are as enjoyable as any Total War title. Anyone who wants to enjoy real-time strategy with extreme tactical depth needs to pick this one up.
Rome: Total War is available through a number of major retailers for $29.99.

The Sims 3

Yes, the Sims is a strategy game.  It doesn’t involve killing or conquering – but it does require proper resource management if you want your Sims to be successful.
This is the most approachable game on our list. Strategy fans shouldn’t write it off automatically as too simple, however.  The Sims 3 is the most engaging game in the franchise from a strategy perspective. Managing day-to-day life of an entire family can become a serious challenge.
The Sims 3 is available for $27.99 on Amazon.

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty

Blizzard’s long-awaited installment of the hugely popular Starcraft franchise was certain to make this list. It is the only strategy title on this list that was built for professional competitive play. This focus is evident in the game’s excellent balance and fast pace.
Gamers who are looking for an engaging single-player experience may need to look elsewhere. The multi-player, however, is enjoyable for both newbies and experienced gamers. Blizzard’s ladder does an excellent job of gauging skill levels and pitting players against others that are approximately as skilled.
Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty is available for $39.99 on Amazon.


All of the games listed here are enjoyable and affordable. Together, they represent hundreds of hours of gameplay. But if there a title that you enjoy which isn’t listed here let us know by leaving a comment.