TWT Newsletter, Issue #065 – Halloween fun for kids and is Windows 8 really “closed” ?
Welcome to our October 2012 TWT Newsletter. Windows 8 is mere weeks away from being launched but there’s still lots of confusion over some of its more controversial new features. For those of you who have been bored of the more technical content lately, we decided to go back to a more traditional newsletter style article this month as we show you how your family can use your PC to make Halloween and other autumn/fall and winter holidays more fun.
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In this months issue:-
1) What’s new at Top-Windows-Tutorials.com?
2) Keep the kids amused indoors as the weather gets colder
3) Tip of the Month – Consider disabling Java in your web browser
4) Free Utility of the Month – Start8
5) What’s the controversy about Windows 8 being “Closed” ?
What’s new at Top-Windows-Tutorials.com?
Just one small update to add some more Windows 8 tutorials to our site last month. Behind the scenes we’re working hard on the new Windows 8 superguide which we’re hoping to launch late October/early November. You can view the newest Windows 8 tutorials added to our site here.
Keep the kids amused indoors as the weather gets colder
The weather might be getting colder and the nights drawing in for many of our readers here in Europe and the Americas, but there’s no shortage of fun events over the autumn/fall and winter seasons. Between now and the next newsletter we have Halloween and in the UK, Guy Fawkes night coming up. Our Canadian readers also have thanksgiving to look forward to this month. If you’ve got excitable kids under your feet, remember there are lots of activities you can organise or create using your PC. Below are just a few ways you can help keep the kids occupied over the next month.
Younger kids love to colour and if you have a printer there are hundreds of free colouring pages on the internet. One of our favourite Halloween themed pages, with some great colouring activities for kids of all ages is here at activitiy village. Even if you don’t have a printer, there are colouring programs that children can use on the computer too. The venerable Microsoft Paint is available on XP, Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 too, just search for “Paint” on your Start menu/screen. Even more fun is the excellent free TuxPaint package. Designed specially for children to get creative with, this fun paint package is likely to be a hit with boys and girls alike. You can download it here. A word of warning if you do own a printer, children love to print their artwork and this can quickly drain your printer ink. To prevent over-zealous use of the printer, you can disable printing in TuxPaint, meaning your little artists will have to ask permission before printing their masterpieces.
Of course, if you have a scanner too, there are lots of great ways your family can use it. Obviously you can scan pictures your kids make and send them to family members around the world, but really that’s only the start of the fun. Why not create scanner art from buttons, ribbons, hair grips or other every-day household objects? Many items will work, as long as they aren’t too thick. Have your young artists arrange these items onto a clear sheet of plexiglass or transparent plastic sheet, then carefully transfer their designs to the scanner and scan them into the computer. Once there, they can be used for desktop backgrounds or edited further in a paint package. Advanced digital artists might want to check out the superb Paint.net package, where images can be combined, rotated and edited in all kinds of advanced ways. For more ideas on scanner art, check out the article at artful-kids here.
Kids of all ages love videogames. If you’re not using your PC for gaming you’re really missing out. Even modest spec PC’s can run some fantastic games. From the spooky (but kid friendly) haunted house to the hilariously slapstick Octodad, there are heaps of great games for Halloween or just any time the kids need amusing. Many great games can be downloaded and played for free too, or played online in your web browser. Older children in particular love the website Kongregate, which not only gives them thousands of games they can play instantly in their browser, but tracks their scores and achievements in their games too. Finally, if you want to give yourself a real scare this Halloween, try the incredibly creepy Amnesia – The Dark Decent here, definitely not one for the kids!
Don’t forget that if you’re having a house party, the PC can make an excellent jukebox for your music too. If you have party music on CD, Windows Media Player can transfer it to your computers hard drive to create your own jukebox system great for kids parties where original CD’s can then stay out of the reach of sticky fingers. Click here for a tutorial on how to do this in Windows XP and Vista and here for a tutorial for Windows 7 and Windows 8.
Tip of the Month – Consider disabling Java in your web browser
Java has been a hotly discussed topic over the last few months in computer security. Java is used by PC users to run certain programs and also to add interactive features to websites. However, Java has proven to be a very popular attack vector for malware, including drive-by malware that installs itself silently on an infected web page without the user ever even knowing about it. At the very least you should make sure that you are always running the latest version of Java, you can check by visiting this website.
Alternatively, you may simply want to disable Java in your browser altogether. If you do this, you will still be able to use Java programs you have downloaded, but websites that use Java will no longer function. To disable Java in Internet Explorer, use the settings icon (the small gear shaped icon at the top right of the window) and choose “manage add-ons”. In the list that now appears, make sure that all “Deployment Toolkit” and “Java(tm) Plug-In Helper” plugins published by Oracle America Inc are disabled.
In Firefox, press the Control, Shift and A keys together on your keyboard to open the add ons manager. Then, choose “Plugins” from the menu on the left. Now, make sure all plugins related to Java (there may be two or more) are disabled.
Google Chrome users should open the programs menu using the icon at the top right of the browser window. Then, choose “Tools” and then “Extensions”. Now, disable any extension relating to Java.
If you find a website that needs Java you can always enable it again by following the same steps.
Free Utility of the Month – Start8
With the release of Windows 8 just a few weeks away, Start8 had to be our free utility of the month. Windows 8 removes the Start Button and Start Menu we’ve all been familiar with since Windows 95 and replaces it with a new Start screen. If this doesn’t suit your way of working, fear not, you can now bring the Start Button and Start Menu back easily using Stardock Software’s Start8.
Start8 can give you a traditional Start menu or, if you prefer, something more like the new Start screen in design instead. If you like the new Start screen but can’t get on with the new hot corners, Start8 can be set simply to give you an easy way to open the Start screen with the mouse. Find out all about Start8 by visiting this link.
What’s the controversy about Windows 8 being “Closed”?
We have discussed this issue in previous newsletters, but there still seems to be a lot of confusion over exactly what is happening regarding Windows 8 and what can and cannot be run on the platform. The issue was once again brought into the limelight when outspoken indie games developer and original creator of the hit game Minecraft, Markus ‘Notch’ Persson tweeted “Got an email from Microsoft, wanting to help ‘certify’ Minecraft for win 8. I told them to stop trying to ruin the pc as an open platform.” Of course, since Markus is something of a minor celebrity in the world of software development, this tweet got picked up by several of the technology sites around the internet, leading to confusion as to what can and cannot be done on Windows 8. If you’re considering buying Windows 8, either as an upgrade to an existing PC or on a new machine, here’s what you need to know.
Windows 8 is still an open platform – Anyone can produce and sell their own Windows 8 desktop software, just like with Windows 7 and previous versions of Windows. As we’ve explained in our last newsletter, desktop software isn’t going anywhere. For any platform that has a keyboard and mouse or other pointing device, desktop software works leaps and bounds better than the touch optimised tiles. Likewise, we cannot imagine most users trading in their laptops and/or desktops for tablet PC’s.
Windows 8 is the first version of Windows to come with an app store – Apps that are sold in this store must be vetted by Microsoft before they go on sale Microsoft also takes a 30% cut from sales.
Windows 8 has replaced the Start Menu with a new start screen, which uses tiles rather than just plain icons to represent programs – This is more than just a new fancy Start Menu replacement however, app tiles can run directly on this new interface, which is optimised for touch computing and works differently from the desktop Windows we’re all used to. Tiles can share information with each other using Windows 8’s Charms Bar and can have ‘live tiles’ on the start screen which show snippets of information or content from within the actual tile itself.
The only way to add new tile-based software is through Microsoft’s store – This is significant, because it means that, if a company or an individual wants to create touch friendly software that uses all the features of the new tile-based interface, they have to go through Microsoft themselves and of course, give Microsoft 30% of all the money they make on the software, a stark contrast to the free and open nature of desktop software development.
There’s nothing to stop people creating touch friendly software that runs in desktop mode – By doing this however, the application will miss out on features like tile snap, or being able to fully use the Charms Bar and other touch friendly features that tile apps use.
Windows 8 RT is not open – The special version of Windows 8 developed for cheaper tablet PC’s and portable machines, runs only software that can be downloaded from the Microsoft store, effectively making it a closed platform.
The real issue here (and, if we’re completely honest the issue that concerns us too) is not that Windows 8 is closed, it’s that by closing off a small part of the OS, even one that many users may completely ignore, Microsoft are setting a precedent to further close Windows in future. This is what Markus Persson explained later in his blog, “I care a lot about my PC, and I want it to stay open, and will not participate in anything that would make it more closed”, he wrote. Although Microsoft claims the store will benefit users, by providing a place where people can download Windows software that has been pre-approved and vetted for malware, we can’t help feeling that a wonderful, varied and vast range of Windows software wouldn’t even exist if the developers had to deal with the bureaucracy of certifying their programs before the end user could even run them.
It’s a shame that Microsoft didn’t give an option for tiles to be installed like traditional desktop software, even one that came with security warnings and disclaimers would have been welcome. An option like this does exist on enterprise versions of Windows 8, to allow businesses to develop their own app tiles to run on their in-house Windows 8 devices, but Microsoft have locked this option out of the consumer versions of Windows 8. It’s possible (and indeed likely) that a workaround or jail-break solution will appear fairly quickly, allowing new tiles to be added from anywhere and it will be interesting to see how Microsoft react to this.
Of course, the Windows store tile is not the first app store to be available on the PC. The very popular Steam store for games has been with us for many years, as have other platforms like Gamestop (previously known as Impulse) and even Microsoft’s own often berated Games for Windows Live service. By making the store tile an integral part of Windows 8’s new Start screen however, Microsoft are ensuring that their store gets the exposure first and of course it’s this fact that concerns other players in the PC digital distribution space.
Like it or loathe it, it seems tighter controls on platforms are here to stay. In the mobile operating system world, Android is the only major OS that even claims to be open (and even then this is somewhat debatable), it’s also the platform that has the most issues with malware. As mobile devices and traditional PC’s continue to converge and malware gets more complex and distributed faster, tighter controls on applications may be the only way to prevent security problems. Let’s hope there’s a solution that satisfies both open platform advocates and prevents the spread of potentially dangerous software.
That rounds off our newsletter for October. On behalf of everyone here at Top-Windows-Tutorials, I’d like to thank you all for your continuing support and we hope you all have a fun Halloween, Bonfire night and/or Thanksgiving. The TWT Newsletter will return on the 10th November 2012 and will bring you more tips, tricks and techniques to help you get the best out of your PC, be it Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 or even Windows 8! We hope that you found this newsletter informative and useful. If you did not then please let us know why, you can contact us by visiting this page or by leaving us feedback in our forum. If you have enjoyed this newsletter, feel free to pass it on to all your friends and family, or better still encourage them to sign up for their own copy. Until next month, keep checking Top-Windows-Tutorials.com, and enjoy happy, safe and stress-free computing!