Cautionary Tales and Reading Microsoft’s mind

By | October 15, 2012
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A bit of a different mix today – a “cautionary tales”, what Microsoft are up to and a handy website.

An odd twist – why electronic information is more permanent than paper
It’s a bit of a cautionary tale – and you hear it every so often. Someone has put a photo on the web, written about something on their blog or put a snippet on Facebook.

Then, perhaps a year or two later, they wish people didn’t know about whatever it is. Maybe it’s someone who had photos of embarrassing parties when they were a student and are now going for a respectable job. Maybe it’s something entirely innocent – but still awkward. Or just misleading, like something saying you work for Bloggs and co when you’ve now moved on to Jones PLC.

Of course, you can delete the photo, update your blog or change Facebook. But something not everyone realises about the internet is once you’ve put something up on it (whether it’s a photo on Flickr, a comment on your blog or someone else’s or even just an email) it’s pretty much impossible to completely get rid of it.

For a start, Google make “cache” versions of the internet that let you see earlier versions of webpages. It can be particularly handy if a website is currently “down” – you can see it as it was a while ago. Also handy if someone updates (say) a news site and you want to see that news article you noticed the other day.

But that’s not all – other people might have linked to the photo or put it on their webpage in the meantime. Or it could have been recorded in all sorts of other way.

And storing things on the internet is so easy, quick & cheap, that people will link to something or copy it without having to go to lots of effort. So even if you delete the original, all those copies or references to it might still be there.

I’m not trying to make it sound scary – like people are going to deliberately copy any information you put online. In general, it’s not something I’d worry about – and I know readers of my newsletter are far too sensible to put anything really embarrassing on the internet! But it’s worth knowing that anything you put online might still be there, years later.

It’s odd in a way. Since it’s easy to delete electronic things, you’d think they’d be easier to get rid of. But because they’re so easy to copy as well, it’s much harder to get rid of them than it was to get rid of information stored on paper.

Windows 8 – an insight into what Microsoft are up to
I’ll admit it – I’ve never claimed to be able to read minds. But Microsoft are up to something a bit different with this version of Windows and it’s likely to affect lots of people.

They’re not trying anything underhand. It’s just that they think the future of computers is changing. Instead of people in general having a desktop PC or maybe a laptop that they use at home, usually in one particular place on a desk or table, they think things are going to change.

They think people are likely to use smaller touch screen tablet PCs, with no built in keyboard and no mouse. Or even to use a fancy “smart” mobile phone to access the internet.

The idea is that people will use these sorts of devices for accessing the internet, reading email and so on. And generally only people who need to sit at a desk and work will use normal PCs – for things like writing a book, editing video or creating webpages. Though even there, it’s possible to do those things on a tablet PC – just not as convenient if you’re doing it all day.

I think they’re probably right, though I don’t know whether it’ll happen in the next year or so or whether it’ll take a longer time. I’ve been experimenting with a tablet PC and have found it quite handy for things like checking the weather forecast, checking my emails and reading the paper online. (Alastair likes it for watching Raa-raa the Noisy Lion and says “Raa-raa?” in a hopeful voice every time he sees me turn it on.)

This is a bit of a problem for Microsoft, since a lot of their money comes from Windows, which runs on desktop and laptop PCs. So they’re not only making sure that the new version will run on mobile phones and tablets, they’re really pushing this aspect of it. They’re promoting the fact that it means you can have the same system on your tablet and a desktop PC.

And they’ll be working very hard to get everyone to switch to Windows 8 on their PCs. That way, you’ll get used to it and if you later on buy a tablet PC, you’ll be more likely to get one with Windows 8 on it, rather than one of the other options – because you’ll already be used to Windows 8.

That’s why they’re so keen to get everyone to use Windows 8 rather than an earlier version, which is why (for example) upgrades are so much cheaper than they’ve been in the past (£25 to switch to Windows 8 – or possibly less if you bought your PC recently). It’s also why they’ll be doing so much promotion about how much better Windows 8 is. And why they’ll be making sure you see it all over the place, running on all sorts of devices – so you get used to it and are likely to want t use it.

It doesn’t mean you have to switch, of course. But Microsoft will be very keen to convince everyone that they should.

A handy website of free software
I’ve mentioned different websites you can download various bits of free software from before. But here’s a good one that I haven’t mentioned before:

They don’t make programs themselves – it’s a sort of online catalogue of programs made by lots of different companies.

There are all sorts of programs you can download free there. Some are limited versions where you can use the basic version free to promote a “paid for” version with extra fancy features. Some are programs you used to have to pay for but are now free. And some are free to help make life easier for people who’ve bought other products from that company (for example Microsoft produce a free viewer for Excel files so people who create files in Excel can send them to someone who doesn’t have Excel).

Anyway, if you’re after a program to do something in particular, it’s worth having a look on the site. You can use the search box near the top of the page or click on the “categories” on the left. It’s a handy collection of free programs.

What we’re doing about Windows 8
As I’ve said, you don’t have to upgrade to Windows 8 – at least not straight away. But I know some people will want to. And others might buy a new PC that has Windows 8 on it to start with. Even if you don’t, over time WIndows 8 and it’s new, different way of working is going to become so common it’s worth knowing about.

So I’ve been hard at work updating PC One Step at a Time and The Internet One Step at a Time. I’m waiting until Windows 8 is actually out in case there are any last minute changes (who knows?) but there will be an updated version available… watch this space.

Well, that’s all for now… I’d better get on with the last bits of updating these books!