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News, Information and Updates on Hardware and IT Tools to help improve your Medical practice
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Classic Shell and Start10 banish Windows 10 Live Tiles, bring back Windows 7 look

Classic Shell and Start10 banish Windows 10 Live Tiles, bring back Windows 7 look | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

For anyone having regrets about upgrading to Windows 10, there are now two good options for bringing back the look of Windows 7.

This week, Classic Shell officially added Windows 10 to support for its free Start menu and File Explorer replacement. With this program (pictured above), users can switch to Windows 7’s dual-column view, with pinned and recent applications on the left, and common folders and locations on the right. Classic Shell also includes a classic version of the Windows File Explorer, with a customizable toolbar and a more useful status bar that shows both free disk space and the size of any selected folder.

Meanwhile, Stardock has just released Start10 out of beta for $5. Much like Classic Shell, Start10 allows for a two-column view that resembles the Windows 7 Start menu, and brings back the ”all programs” menu that groups applications into folders. There’s also an option to hide Cortana from the Windows 10 taskbar, while restoring program and file search in the Start menu proper.

I gave each of these programs a quick go-round, and in practice the differences between them are subtle. If you’re just looking for the familiarity of Windows 7, either one should do the trick (though Classic Shell has the advantage of costing nothing). Start10 may be more useful for people who still want access to Windows Store apps, as you can preserve them in the right-hand column while tweaking other aspects of the Start menu. Both apps have plenty of customization options, however, and are far more flexible than the default Start menu.

While Classic Shell is free, Start10 does offer a 30-day free trial, so you can try them both to figure out which Start menu replacement suits your needs.

Why this matters: Although Microsoft has dialed back some of the radical changes that it made to the Start menu in Windows 8, it can still feel pretty unfamiliar coming from Windows 7. If you’re not really using Windows Store apps, the emphasis on Live Tiles in Windows 10 isn’t much help, especially since it comes at the expense of Jump Lists, quick Control Panel access and the old Recent Items shortcut. It’s unlikely that these replacements will see the tens of millions of downloads that they did with Windows 8, but they’re still helpful for people who’d rather keep things the way they used to be.


Windows 10 likely to land at PC makers this week

Windows 10 likely to land at PC makers this week | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Microsoft keeps wending its way past the mile markers en route to getting Windows 10 out to the public on time.

The software titan is putting the finishing touches on the operating system software and will finalize its prerelease development by July 10, The Verge is reporting, citing people who claim to have knowledge of the company's plans. This version ofWindows 10, called "release to manufacturing," will then be sent to PC makers to be bundled into their products.

Windows 10, which is slated to launch on July 29, comes at a critical time for Microsoft. While Windows overall remains the dominant force in desktop operating systems, running on over 90 percent of computers worldwide, according to NetMarketShare, the last big release -- Windows 8 -- proved a marked disappointment. According to NetMarketShare, Windows 8 musters just 13 percent market share worldwide, far behind the 61 percent share for Windows 7 and just ahead the 12 percent share for the now ancient Windows XP.

The issues with Windows 8 were numerous, ranging from Microsoft's design choice, called Metro, to a steep learning curve for those used to the old days of Windows. Windows 8, which launched in 2012, also came as consumers and business users were increasingly attracted to tablets and smartphones, which typically ran either Apple's iOS software or Google's Android.

Microsoft tried to respond by offering its own tablet, the Surface, and partner with third-party tablet manufacturers. The efforts, however, have done little to kick Android and iOS from the top spots.

Realizing its own miscues and the changing market dynamics, Microsoft has tried to address its Windows 8 woes with Windows 10.

The Start button is back and the design a bit more traditional, while Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has made clear that Microsoft is a "mobile-first (and cloud-first)" company that will allow for Windows 10 to run on multiple device types without sacrificing features. To boost adoption, Microsoft will offer free upgrades to customers currently running Windows 7 and Windows 8 -- a first for the company. Microsoft has even softened its stance in its longstanding battle with pirates, saying that any pirated copy of Windows can be upgraded to Windows 10 free-of-charge.

For months now, Microsoft has been offering preview versions of Windows 10 to developers and consumers who want to take the operating system for a test drive. Operating systems go through a series of "builds," or versions, during their development phase. Once the company's development team has finalized the operating system, it goes into RTM phase, which means it's ready to be passed on to hardware vendors for bundling into the PCs they sell. Assuming the report is accurate, hitting the RTM phase this week would ensure Windows 10 would be available later this month, as anticipated.

That said, while Microsoft seems to be on-pace for a July 29 launch, the company has cautioned thatthe rollout could be slow going.

Microsoft said last week that it "will start rolling out Windows 10" on July 29, but will roll out the operating system "in waves" after that date.

"Each day of the rollout, we will listen, learn and update the experience for all Windows 10 users," the company said in a blog post. "If you reserved your copy of Windows 10, we will notify you once our compatibility work confirms you will have a great experience, and Windows 10 has been downloaded on your system."

The blog post seems to indicate that while Windows 10 may be released to PC vendors soon, it will continue to fine-tune the operating system after the July 29 launch date.

Microsoft has yet to say when its operating system will hit the RTM phase, but in the past, the company has announced the milestone on its site. Microsoft will likely do the same with Windows 10, once it has officially gone RTM.

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How to avoid getting hacked due to vulnerable WordPress plugins

How to avoid getting hacked due to vulnerable WordPress plugins | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

I’m a huge WordPress fan because it’s a very powerful, effective, and amazingly extensible platform which is why it’s used by 60.4% of [websites with identifiable content management systems which amounts to] 23.7% of all websites. But there’s a risk with any platform that’s extensible trough the use of third party software (called “plugins” in WordPress): That risk is from software vulnerabilities.

Part of the reason for these vulnerabilities is that WordPress is fairly complex so interactions with plugins can produce unwanted and occasionally dangerous security issues. The other major reason is that the coding practices of third parties can be inadequate so dumb vulnerabilities such as buffer overflows and SQL injections can be part and parcel of some “must have” feature added by a plugin. For a summary of current Wordpress vulnerabilities check out the WPScan Vulnerability Database, a “black box WordPress vulnerability scanner.”

If you’re running a WordPress site and given the number of potentially show-stopping problems that exist, get fixed, and are replaced with new problems that are just as bad then you need to be on top of what plugins you’re using and what problems they might have. Rather than scanning through loads of vulnerability notices and checking each plugin’s Web site for news there’s not only WPScan, there’s also a free plugin that check the plugins you use for known issues. It’s called Plugin Vulnerabilities and published by WhiteFirDesign.

The publishers also offer another free plugin, Automatic Plugin Updates that, as its name implies, will update your plugins automatically as new versions become available (you can also set up an “ignore” list to exclude specific plugins from automatic updates).

When you activate Plugin Vulnerabilities, all of your other plugins are examined and checked against WhiteFirDesign’s database of vulnerabilities. They’re also rechecked whenever a plugin in manually updated or an update executed by the Automatic Plugin Updates or by any other method.

WhiteFirDesign’s vulnerability stats were, as of April 6:

  • 257 vulnerabilities included
  • 61 included vulnerabilities are in the most recent version of plugins (57 of these plugins have been removed from the Plugin Directory)
  • 24 vulnerabilities have been fixed in part due to our work on this plugin
  • 5 included vulnerabilities in security plugins
  • Top vulnerability types:
    • cross-site request forgery (CSRF)/cross-site scripting (XSS): 52 vulnerabilities
    • reflected cross-site scripting (XSS): 45 vulnerabilities
    • arbitrary file upload: 45 vulnerabilities
    • arbitrary file viewing: 23 vulnerabilities
    • SQL injection: 16 vulnerabilities

This plugin is, in short, something you shouldn’t do without if you’re running WordPress. It could make the difference between smooth, uninterrupted operations and spending lots of time rebuilding your WordPress site after being hacked.

The Plugin Vulnerabilities and Automatic Plugin Updates plugins both get a Gearhead rating of 5 out of 5.

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Microsoft reveals minimum spec for Windows 10

Microsoft reveals minimum spec for Windows 10 | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Windows 10 is going to be released in just a few short months, and you might be wondering whether or not your system will handle the upgrade. Don’t worry: it almost certainly will.

Things really haven’t changed much between Windows 8 and Windows 10, and that’s no surprise. Back in October of last year, Microsoft announced as much — a logical move since they’re doing their best to wipe the Vista deja vu from people’s memories.

Microsoft’s new OS will still run on some pretty basic hardware. To run the desktop OS, all you’ll need is 1GB of RAM for the 32-bit version or 2GB of RAM for the 64-bit version. In terms of hard drive requirements, you’re looking at a minimum of 16GB and 20GB, respectively. Processors must be able to run at 1GHz or better and GPUs need to support at least DirectX 9.

The consumer edition of Windows 10 will run on displays 8 inches or larger. That doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t see any 7-inch tablets running the desktop OS — manufacturers just have to pre-load the Professional version on them instead (possibly because 7-inch Windows devices work well in certain enterprise settings, but have slid in popularity with consumers).

Anything below 8 inches  (from 7.99 all the way down to 3) for consumers is Windows Mobile territory. Phones and tablets in this category need just 512MB of RAM, at least 4GB of internal storage, and a display with a native resolution of 800 x 480 or better. Even the dirt-cheap Lumia 520 checks all those boxes.

One particularly interesting slide in Microsoft’s deck is the one that spells out optional components and connectivity. All types of sensors — including accelerometers — are listed as optional, even for mobile devices. It’s hard to imagine a smartphone launching in 2015 without an accelerometer.

It’s even harder, though, to imagine one launching without a touchscreen, yet on Microsoft’s slide it, too, is labelled as optional for mobile devices. Either someone goofed while editing this slide, or Microsoft is planning on letting OEMs build feature phones powered by Windows 10.

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Lenovo will stop preloading Superfish adware on PCs

Lenovo will stop preloading Superfish adware on PCs | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Lenovo found itself in a bit of hot water when some customers started noticing weird sponsored links in the search results on their brand new PCs. The culprit it turns out was a little piece of adware called Superfish the company was shipping on laptops. The company listened to customer complaints and turned off the server-side portion of the app in January. It also stopped pre-installing Superfish on new machines around the same time. While Lenovo said originally that it had "temporarily removed" the software from new machines while its developers worked on an update to address concerns, it now says that it will not preload the software ever again.

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We're One Step Closer to Blazingly Fast Computer Chips Made of Silicene

We're One Step Closer to Blazingly Fast Computer Chips Made of Silicene | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Move over graphene, today is silicene's day to shine. Silicene is a single-atom thick layer of silicon, whose theoretical properties could have exciting applications in computer chips. Now, scientists have made the first silicene transistor, and guess what, it's amazingly fast.

Graphene and silicene are both single-atom thick materials (though graphene is made of carbon), whose structure allows electrons to zip through them at crazy speeds. Computer chips are already made of silicon, though, so it stands to reason that silicene could be easier to integrate.

Deji Akinwande of the University of Texas Austin found a way to make transistors out of silicene, a tricky procedure because silicene is an unstable material. Technology Review explains:

Once silicene is made, its instability means it must be protected, and that makes it difficult to work with. Akinwande found a way around this problem by growing silicene on a thin film of silver capped with aluminum oxide. The whole thing is then peeled off, and then placed on a silicon dioxide wafer with the silver side up. Finally, the silver is patterned to make the electrical contacts for a transistor. Once the device is finished, it is stable under vacuum conditions.

This is an exciting advance for silicene, but it's still far from coming to a computer near you. Computer chips are made up of millions of transistors, and silicene is still pretty darn hard (and expensive!) to make. Silicene may be not practical yet, but these transistors just proved its potential is not entirely theoretical either.

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Fly Or Die: Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 Pro

Fly Or Die: Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 Pro | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

The Lenovo Yoga Tablet Pro 2, while long-winded in name, is pretty interesting when it comes to form and function. The kickstand-equipped tablet offers pretty standard capabilities, with a 13.3-inch (2560×1440) IPS display, an Intel Atom processor, 2GB of RAM, 32 GB of internal storage, and an added surprise.

The 13-inch tablet also comes with a built-in pico projector so that you can blow out movies or presentations on a nearby wall.

We brought the Yoga Tablet Pro 2 into the office for an episode of Fly Or Die, and to my shock and awe, John Biggs is impressed. He thinks the projector is a helpful addition to a tablet of this size, which could work well for travel or in-home use.

I’m not quite as wooed by the projector, which doesn’t seem to work well in anything but pure darkness, and the UI that Lenovo slapped over the Android 4.4 tablet is a bit too bare bones.

One fly and one die, meaning you’ll just have to check it for yourself.

The Yoga Tablet Pro 2 is available now for $499.

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Microsoft rolls out new Windows 10 preview with Cortana and Continuum

Microsoft rolls out new Windows 10 preview with Cortana and Continuum | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

We spent a decent chunk of our Wednesday getting a load of what Microsoft's added to Windows 10 since the last time we saw it, and now the bravest among you can take (most of) that new stuff for a spin. The company launched the next build of the Windows 10 Technical Preview earlier this afternoon, and with it comes long-awaited features like Continuum -- for when you're running Windows on shape-shifting devices -- and a new Xbox app that focuses on "the basics."

And the biggest addition to the mix? Cortana has finally migrated from her home on Windows Phone to the desktop, though not everything works the way it should just yet. A post on the company's Windows blog written by Microsoft engineering general manager Gabe Aul confirms that the virtual assistant can take down notes and answer questions about weather and finance, but she still has a little trouble transcribing more complex reminders. And the rub? A few of Microsoft's juicier tidbits still aren't ready for public consumption. There's no mention made of the new Project Spartan browser or the company's updated take on Office, but they're expected to become available to Windows Insiders later this year. Patience, grasshoppers. Meanwhile, the rest of you can mosey over to the Windows Insider site to take Windows 10 for spin right here and now.

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New Intel graphics driver adds 4K video support, Chrome video acceleration and more

New Intel graphics driver adds 4K video support, Chrome video acceleration and more | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Intel has released a new graphics driver package that promises to boost 4K video playback and playing videos using Chrome. It also is the first driver to support the 5th-generation Intel Core chips, known as Broadwell.

Version is important for just about everyone, because it impacts both the 4th-gen Core chips, known as Haswell, and the new 5th-gen Core chips, including the new Core M. (You can download the 32-bit version from Intel’s site, as well as the 64-bit version.) Windows 7, Windows 8.0, and Windows 8.1 are all supported.

According to Intel, the benefits of updating to this driver include the addition of partial hardware acceleration of the VP9 video format, used in Chrome video playback and Google Hangouts; GPU-accelerated decoding of the HEVC video format (for 4K Ultra HD video playback); as well as expanded Open CL and Open GL extension support. 

The driver is also the first to support the Intel HD Graphics 5500, HD Graphics 6000, and Iris Graphics 6100 graphics cores, which will roll out as part of the Broadwell generation. Intel previously said that Broadwell notebooks should enjoy about 90 extra minutes of battery life compared to a similar 4th-gen Haswell Core chip, with 22-percent faster integrated graphics and 50-percent faster video conversion—although it’s not quite clear whether that was supposed to come about before the driver release, or after it. 

Intel has also said that a new Core i7-5600U Broadwell chip with an Intel Graphics 5500 GPU would be 22 percent faster than a Haswell-based Core i7-4600U with an Intel HD Graphics 4400 GPU, running the 3DMark IceStorm 1.2 benchmark. Business travelers should benefit from an additional 90 minutes of HD video playback, from about 7.2 to 8.7 hours, Intel said. (For a complete breakdown of the new Broadwell chips, see our previous story.)

The release notes for the new driver package also note that the updated software fixes issues in several popular games, as well as a bug where the screen occasionally froze while using Skype.

Why this matters: New graphics drivers generally add performance and features at no penalty—especially if they’re part of the driver's 'stable' (tested, rather than beta) release, as these are. Millions of PCs have a Haswell chip inside, too. Your PC will probably eventually download the drivers by itself, but if you want an early jump on things, hit the download links above. `

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This Is Windows 10’s New Web Browser and Dark Theme

This Is Windows 10’s New Web Browser and Dark Theme | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Microsoft is preparing to unveil a new browser in Windows 10, code-named Spartan, and leaked images are providing an early glimpse at the Internet Explorer successor. Chinese site Cnbeta has published screenshots showing the simple interface of Spartan and the Cortana digital assistant integration. The Verge revealed yesterday that Spartan will include digital inking support to share and annotate webpages, and deep Cortana integration in the address bar and throughout the browser.

Cnbeta’s screenshots also reveal Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 10 user interface. Sources familiar with Microsoft’s Windows plans tell The Verge that the company is planning to build light and dark themes with color accents for Windows 10. The look and feel will be similar to that of the existing user interface for Windows Phone, and these leaked screenshots provide an early look at an internal Microsoft concept and the aim for the final UI. They do not represent the final interface, as Microsoft will be tweaking it a number of times over the coming months. Some of these user interface changes have started appearing in recent builds of Windows 10, with the new dark taskbar surfacing in a leaked version last month. Microsoft is also tweaking its built-in apps to match the new color schemes, with a new Xbox app that hints at what the company is planning for the final version of Windows 10.

Microsoft is expected to unveil these user interface changes and a mobile version of Windows 10 for tablets and phones at a press event on Jan. 21. The software maker will also likely detail its plans for the Spartan browser across PCs, phones, and tablets.

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Apple's Next Macbook Air Detailed | Computer Hardware Reviews -

Apple's Next Macbook Air Detailed | Computer Hardware Reviews - | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Apple will be refreshing their popular Macbook Air very soon. The new Macbook Air will have a 12-inch screen, and we have heard the rumors as we are sure you have of a retina screen. No word yet on that, but we also have details on other aspects of the hardware inside the next Macbook Air.

The next Macbook Air will feature Intel’s latest Core M “Broadwell-U” SoC that combines a dual-core “Broadwell” CPU with graphics, has a dual-channel DDR3L IMC, and system agent all within a single chip. It will have an overall TDP of only 15W. Apple is also working on a new fanless cooling system for the chip. The other big upgrade will be the introduction of the USB 3.1 port. USB 3.1 doubles the bandwidth to 10 Gbps and has better power delivery that will allow you to charge your portable devices faster.

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Microsoft Rolls Out The Latest Windows 10 Build To Its 5 Million Testers

Microsoft Rolls Out The Latest Windows 10 Build To Its 5 Million Testers | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Late last week, Microsoft kicked out another Windows 10 build, numbered 10162, to the ‘fast ring’ of its testing community.

The larger Windows Insider program has two groups, fast and slow, allowing people to select how raw they want their code.

The build was rolled out to the larger group of testers today, those in the slow ring. Given that Windows 10 is now just 23 days out, it’s worth taking a moment to dig into what is being released.

The 10162 build, according to Microsoft’s Gabe Aul (see below), isn’t focused new features, but instead contains “bug fixing and final polish.” The company has released a number of builds in recent weeks that were of similar ilk, aimed at beating the operating system into shape, instead of expanding its capabilities.

The code was first pushed to the ‘fast ring’ of testers on the second of this month.

So, consider this to be a build akin to done, but not quite. That means that if you are currently testing Windows 10, regardless of what group you are in, you can now use Windows 10 in a nearly-normal capacity. How polished it is remains your own judgement.

Microsoft recently explained to the public how it will roll out Windows 10. The company intends to deploy the final build to its testing community on the 29th of this month. Following, in waves, other groups will be brought into the fold.

Earlier this morning, The Verge’s Tom Warren reported that Microsoft intends to RTM Windows 10 and distribute it to equipment manufactures (OEMs) later this week. That makes it not too surprising that the software company is working to get fresh code out into the hands of its community.

The long Windows 10 dance is nearly to its first conclusory benchmark. Microsoft has made noise for some time now that it will continue to update the code in perpetuity. But all races, even those that don’t end, have a day one.

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    Your next laptop might have a touch-sensitive spacebar

    The spacebar might be the most used button on your keyboard, but that doesn't mean that it can't do even more. At least, that's what Synaptics thinks. The company — best known for its laptop trackpads — wants to make your spacebar touch sensitive.

    That means that you may soon have two different ways to click on your spacebar. You'll still have that satisfying, traditional physical click for typing, but if your laptop or desktop keyboard has the "SmartBar," you can set custom actions for when you merely tap on the spacebar. In fact, Synaptics says you can set five different actions for when you tap on the SmartBar, presumably depending on where you tap the bar.


    Perhaps more useful is a feature that lets you highlight the word directly before or after your cursor with a single swipe of the bar, to the left or right, respectively. (If you don't do a lot of typing, the old school way of doing this is control-shift-arrow, or option-shift-arrow on a Mac.) Another gesture that sounds decidedly less useful lets you pinch-to-zoom with your two thumbs across the spacebar.

    The most important thing, however, isn't the list of gestures Synaptics has come up with. It's the hardware itself. If and when manufacturers like HP, Lenovo, or Dell decide to put the SmartBar in their laptops, they can easily modify the software to accomplish different tasks.

    We'll have to wait until we can get our fingers on an actual unit before determining how useful the touch-sensitive spacebar is. We do know that it will have to be very good at ignoring errant touches for it to be anything other than a nuisance while typing. However, if it works out, it could do for keyboards what Apple's Force Touch did for trackpads by bringing a new input method to an overlooked part of our computers. The company says that the SmartBar is available now to manufacturers, so the first products with the high-tech spacebar could hit shelves later this year.

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    4 Ways Technology Is Making You Age Faster

    4 Ways Technology Is Making You Age Faster | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

    You can't deny technology has made many things easier. But, like with so many good things, too much can be a bad thing. And with people using their smartphones, tablets and laptops for nearly everything, including work, scheduling and socializing, sometimes there's hardly a moment of the day we aren't connected.

    We're living in the first era of such connectivity and only starting to discover the downside of our connectedness. Technology has not only made us less active, but it also has the ability to age us faster than we'd like. Here are four innocuous ways technology is actually making us older:

    1. It's making you lose sleep.
    Of course the constant pinging of emails and text messages will keep you up at night, but studies have shown that using tablets, smartphones or your laptop near bedtime can disrupt your natural sleep schedule. A study published last year by the Brigham and Women's Hospital concluded that using these light-emitting devices suppresses your melatonin levels, making it harder to fall asleep and get more restful sleep.

    And besides feeling sluggish the next day, poor sleep can cause dark circles, a lackluster complexion and fine lines, thanks to elevated cortisol levels which can lead to collagen breakdown. A solution: make your bedroom a technology-free zone and create a bedtime ritual which involves putting away your gadgets before you go to sleep.

    2. It's causing "tech neck."
    In 2014, researchers discovered that staring down at your phone as you text puts five to six times the weight pressure on your neck, creating posture problems and added stress to your spine.

    "The problem of wrinkles and sagging of the jowls and neck used to begin in late middle age but, in the last 10 years, because of 'tech neck', it has become a problem for a generation of younger women," Christopher Rowland Payne, a dermatologist, told The International Business Times.

    Besides, hunching over only makes you look older. The study's author, Kenneth Hansraj, says it's important to keep your neck straight and to bring your phone up to meet your eyes.

    3. It's aging your eyes.
    Whether you notice it or not, you're probably not blinking nearly enough when you're furiously texting or shooting off emails. Some doctors say you blink around half as much as you normally do when you're not staring at computer or smart phone screens. Not blinking enough can contribute to problems like dry eyes, blurry vision and even headaches.

    Plus, if you're having trouble reading your phone, you're probably squinting, which can cause fine lines and wrinkles, especially around the eyes.

    To combat the stress, there are several things you can do. Make your font size bigger so you don't have to strain your eyes to read. Make a conscious effort to blink more. Take a break from your screens every 20 minutes for around 20 seconds (or more) and focus on something far away. Or even better, get up from your desk, and take a quick lap around the office.

    4. It may be affecting your memory.
    Remember the good old days when you used to know all your friends' phone numbers by heart? These days, it's a miracle if we don't forget our own, thanks to the contacts you store on your phone. In addition, the use of a GPS to help you navigate means we're relying less on our own brain power.

    A McGill University study found that people who use spatial navigation (things like remembering landmarks, etc.) to get around had a higher hippocampus volume than people who relied on a GPS. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that processes and stores memories.

    Another study found that taking photos of things can impair your memory. Researchers at Fairfield University had subjects go to an art museum and observe some objects without taking photos -- and then observe other objects while taking photos. What they found was that memories were weaker for the items that were simply photographed.

    It's important not to be entirely reliant on your phone. Try to use the GPS sparingly. Try to memorize a couple of new phone numbers. Try to calculate how much to tip the waiter all on your own.

    You can do it.

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    OpenDNS trials system that quickly detects computer crime

    OpenDNS trials system that quickly detects computer crime | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

    A security system undergoing testing by a San-Francisco-based company aims to speed up the detection of websites and domains used for cybercrime.

    The technology is being developed by OpenDNS, which specializes in performing DNS (Domain Name System) lookups. The DNS translates domain names such as into an IP address that can be called into a browser

    OpenDNS offers a secure DNS service for ISPs and organizations that blocks requests from Web browsers to sites that may be associated with cybercrime or spoof a company such as PayPal.

    The company, which was founded in 2005, has grown so much that its systems respond to some 71 billion DNS requests per day. That’s just 2 percent of global DNS traffic but is enough of a sample to pick up on many cybercrime campaigns.

    The new system, called Natural Language Processing rank (NLPRank) looks at a range of metrics around a particular domain name or website to figure out if it’s suspicious.

    It scores a domain name to figure out if it’s likely fraudulent by comparing it to a corpus of suspicious names or phrases. For example,—with zeros substituting for the letter “o”—would raise a red flag.

    Many cybercriminal groups have surprisingly predictable patterns when registering domains names for their campaigns, a type of malicious vernacular that OpenDNS is indexing. Bogus domain names use company names, or phrases like “Java update,” “billinginfo” or “security-info” to try to appear legitimate.

    But there’s a chance that NLPRank could trigger a false positive, flagging a variation of a domain that is legitimate, said Andrew Hay, director of security research at OpenDNS.

    To prevent false positives, the system also checks to see if a particular domain is running on the same network, known as its ASN (autonomous system number), that the company or organization usually uses. NLPRank also looks at the HTML composition of a new domain. If it differs from that of the real organization, it can be a sign of fraud.

    NLPRank is still being refined to make sure the false positive rate is as low as possible. But there have been encouraging signs that the system has already spotted malware campaigns seen by other security companies, Hay said.

    Earlier this month, Kaspersky Lab released a report on a gang that stole upwards of US$1 billion from banks in 25 countries. The group infiltrated banks by gaining the login credentials to key systems through emails containing malicious code, which were opened by employees.

    Hay said Kaspersky approached OpenDNS before the report was published to see if it had information on domains associated with the attacks. NLPRank was already blocking some of the suspicious domains, even though OpenDNS didn’t know more details about the attacks.

    “We caught these things well back,” Hay said.

    In some cases, NLPRank could allow a domain to be blocked even before one is actively used. After cybercriminals register a domain, they’ll often visit it once to make sure it’s accessible. It may then go dormant for a few days before it is incorporated in a campaign, Hay said.

    If a fraudster is connected to an ISP that uses OpenDNS’s service, just a single DNS query for that new domain would allow OpenDNS to analyze and potentially block it before it is used for crime.

    “As soon as we see that little bump on the wire, we can block it and monitor to see what’s going on,” Hay said. “It’s almost an early warning system for fraudulent activity.”

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    New standard paves way for 8K display in all-in-ones, laptops

    New standard paves way for 8K display in all-in-ones, laptops | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

    A new standard that supports higher-resolution displays should help move 8K screens from the realm of high-end TV and into laptops, all-in-one PCs and possibly even mobile devices.

    The Video Electronics Standards Association’s Embedded DisplayPort (eDP) 1.4a will boost image quality on screens through faster video transfer rates. The newer standard is for displays inside computers, and it will replace the older 1.4 standard that was released in early 2013. With 8K, displays will show images at a 7680 x 4320 resolution.

    Displays based on the new technology will start appearing in computers and mobile devices by 2016, VESA said.

    Screens with 8K resolution could find their way into high-end laptops and all-in-one desktops. Apple has used a modified version of the eDP standard in its iMac with 5K Display. Some high-end gaming and business laptops already have 4K displays.

    At the moment, 8K resolution is the province of high-end TVs. Japan’s NHK is testing 8K broadcasts in time for the 2020 Olympics, which will be held in Tokyo.

    Tablets and smartphones don’t have 4K screens yet, and may not get 8K screens. It’s hard to differentiate pixels on small screens, and 8K screens could be expensive for device makers. For now, mobile devices have powerful graphics processors that are able to process 4K video, which can then be shown on external displays.

    Displays are the most power-hungry components in laptops and mobile devices. But the new eDP standard could improve battery life by reducing display circuitry and improving processing of pixels. For example, the new standard will allow a graphics processor to refresh pixels in only parts of the screen, as opposed to over the entire screen as is the case currently.

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    Motorola sales double in 2014 as the brand re-enters China

    Motorola sales double in 2014 as the brand re-enters China | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

    Lenovo reported its earnings for the past quarter on Tuesday. During the quarter, the company officially completed its $2.91 billion acquisition of Motorola from Google.

    Lenovo announced its smartphone brand sold over 10 million handsets in the most recent quarter. Sure, that pales against sales figures from giants like Apple and Samsung, but at least it’s going in the right direction.

    When Lenovo and Motorola smartphone sales are combined, the company is one of the top five smartphone makers in the world, behind Apple and Samsung and in fierce competition with Huawei and LG.
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    Lenovo Group’s revenue includes laptop and desktop sales, in which Lenovo is the world market leader. Lenovo reported that total revenue was up 31 percent to $14.1 billion. But Lenovo has thin margins, around 2.8 percent, and managed a net profit of $253 million.

    Motorola sales were up 118 percent to $1.9 billion. Lenovo once again confirmed that it plans to sell Motorola phones in China, and said it believes Motorola can become profitable in the next year.

    Lenovo also completed its purchase of IBM’s server business for $2.1 billion in October.

    More importantly, it appears that the Motorola brand resonates in massive and growing smartphone markets like China and India. Motorola announced Monday on Weibo that it had seen 1 million reservations for the decidedly high-end Moto X. In India, Motorola previously said it had sold 3 million smartphones last year, probably mostly the more affordable Moto E and Moto G models.

    Because Lenovo didn’t officially complete its acquisition of Motorola until the end of October, much of this success isn’t from Lenovo’s input — it most likely stems from decisions made while Motorola was a Google company, such as the decision to streamline and simplify its main product line under the Moto moniker. Motorola was the hardware partner for the Nexus 6, Google’s reference device for the latest version of Android. Motorola also produces one of the better-received Android Wear smartwatches, the Moto 360.

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    Dell Is Back

    Dell Is Back | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

    Dell is the company building the most interesting computers right now. Dell is making computers interesting again, period. Who would have thought?

    Feast your eyes on the gorgeous tablet in the picture above. Then take a peek at the sleek laptop below. Those barely-there bezels. That premium ultrathin construction. They came from Dell.

    They're not all looks, either: the new XPS 13 laptop and Venue 8 7000 tablet are among the best we've ever reviewed. And not just that. The laptop starts at $800. The tablet is $400. Two premium products that you could actually afford to take home.

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    Completely open source, high-end laptop gets closer to reality

    Completely open source, high-end laptop gets closer to reality | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

    If you've wanted a laptop where all the software is free and open source (FOSS), you've usually had to settle for mediocre hardware. Even FOSS champion Richard Stallman is making do with a ThinkPad that's several years old. At last, though, it looks like you won't have to compromise your ideology for the sake of keeping up with the Joneses. Purism has successfully crowdfunded the Librem 15, a portable PC that combines modern parts (such as a 3.4GHz Core i7 and an optional 4K display) with software that's accessible from head to toe. The operating system (a variant of Trisquel GNU/Linux), hardware drivers and included apps are all free and open -- Purism is even trying to loosen up the BIOS and firmware.

    There's still some time (as I write this) to make a pledge and set aside a Librem 15 for yourself ahead of the planned April 2015 launch, although it's here that you'll find out that software freedom can be very expensive. Get in on the "earlier bird" special tier and you'll pay $1,649 for a system with just 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, a read-only DVD drive and a 1080p screen -- it's easy to get a closed source Mac or Windows PC with better memory and storage at a similar price. And while a release is theoretically close at hand, it's often an uphill battle to get completely open computers to market. Even the Novena project, which got its hardware funding last spring, is trickling out just a few of its finished PCs. If you absolutely refuse to run proprietary software, though, you'll at least want to give the Librem a look.

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    Microsoft Has Ended Free Tech Support and Feature Updates for Windows 7

    Unlucky for some: it’s 13 January 2015, and that means the end of free support for Windows 7.

    Happily that doesn’t mean your computer is going to automatically break or stop working, but it does mean Microsoft will no longer offer free help and support if you have problems with your Windows 7 software from this point on. No new features will be added either.

    Microsoft is keen to move users onto Windows 8 instead — to find out more, check out our how-tos, troubleshooting, news and reviews of Windows 8. Alternatively, you can wait for Windows 10 later this year.

    Windows 7 was released in 2009. It sold over 100 million copies in six months and remains hugely popular. More stable than predecessor Windows Vista and more familiar than its radically redesigned successor Windows 8, version 7 is still estimated to be running half of the world’s PCs.

    As of today Windows 7 has moved from mainstream support — free help for everyone — to extended support, which means Microsoft will charge for help with the software. That will end in 2020, when Microsoft turns out the light on Windows 7 for good.

    If you’re worried about security, Microsoft will continue to patch security issues, so if you do stick with Windows 7 your computer shouldn’t suddenly become vulnerable to hackers targeting the software.

    The next generation of Microsoft’s venerable operating system is Windows 10 — they’re skipping 9, for some reason — which is due in the second half of this year. Microsoft is set to make an announcement about Windows 10 a week from now on 21 January, so stick with us to find out what Gates’ mates have up their sleeves.

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    Microsoft may be creating entirely new browser with Windows 10 - CNET

    Microsoft may be creating entirely new browser with Windows 10 - CNET | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

    There's been talk for a while that Microsoft will make some big changes to Internet Explorer in the Windows 10 time frame, making IE "Spartan" look and feel more like Chrome and Firefox.

    It turns out that what's actually happening is Microsoft is building a new browser, codenamed Spartan, which is not IE 12 -- at least according to a couple of sources of mine.

    Thomas Nigro, a Microsoft Student Partner lead and developer of the modern version of VLC, mentioned on Twitter earlier this month that he heard Microsoft was building a brand-new browser. Nigro said he heard talk of this during a December episode of the LiveTile podcast.

    Spartan is still going to use Microsoft's Chakra JavaScript engine and Microsoft's Trident rendering engine (not WebKit), sources say. As Neowin's Brad Sams reported back in September, the coming browser will look and feel more like Chrome and Firefox and will support extensions. Sams also reported Monday that Microsoft has two different versions of Trident in the works, which also seemingly supports the claim that the company has two different Trident-based browsers.

    However, if my sources are right, Spartan is not IE 12. Instead, Spartan is a new, lightweight browser Microsoft is building.

    Windows 10 (at least the desktop version) will ship with both Spartan and IE 11, my sources say. IE 11 will be there for backward-compatibility's sake. Spartan will be available for both desktop and mobile (phone/tablet) versions of Windows 10, sources say.

    Spartan is just a codename at this point. My sources don't know what Microsoft plans to call this new browser when it debuts. The IE team hinted during a Reddit Ask Me Anything earlier this year that the team had contemplated changing the name of IE to try to get users to realize the much more standards-compliant IE of today is very different from older, proprietary versions of IE.

    Microsoft may show off Spartan on January 21 when the company reveals its next set of Windows 10 features. But my sources also aren't sure if Spartan will be functional enough for inclusion in the Windows 10 January Technical Preview and mobile preview builds that are expected to be available to testers in early 2015. It may not show up in the test builds until some point later, they say.

    Will Microsoft end up porting the Spartan browser to Android, iOS and/or any other non-Windows operating systems? I'm not sure. The IE team said a few months back that Microsoft had no plans to port IE to any non-Windows operating systems. But Spartan isn't IE. And these days, Microsoft is porting much of its software and services to non-Windows variants. So I'd say there's a chance that this could happen somewhere down the line.

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    Defending Against 'Wiper' Malware

    Defending Against 'Wiper' Malware | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |
    In the wake of the FBI issuing a warning that a U.S. business has been attacked using a dangerous form of "wiper" malware, security experts say businesses must protect themselves against attack code that aims to delete the content of every hard drive it touches.

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    Defensive measures organizations can take include segmenting important information to hardened networks, backing up data offsite in case systems get wiped, and investing in appropriate resources to detect breaches quickly (see: Speeding Up Breach Detection).
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    The FBI alert is reportedly tied to the Nov. 24 hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment, which locked employees out of their PCs, instead displaying a message that their system had been "Hacked By #GOP," referring to a group of attackers calling themselves Guardians of Peace (see Sony Hack: FBI Issues Malware Alert).
    Malware Characteristics

    The alert is notable because attackers rarely employ wiper malware that's designed to delete the content of drives. To date, wiper malware has only been seen in a handful of attacks, mostly in the Middle East or South Korea, Costin Riau, who heads the information security research team at anti-virus vendor Kaspersky Lab, says in a blog post.

    But many information security experts say they've never seen such an attack launched against a business in the United States. "This is somewhat of a watershed event," says Alex Cox, senior manager at information security research organization RSA FirstWatch. "Up until now, we have had very limited examples of large-scale data destruction."

    That's because the majority of attack code is designed to steal data - and especially financial or intellectual property details - rather than destroy it. "Wiper-type malware is rare because the motive of modern virus writers is to infect machines silently and avoid detection for as long as possible to enable attackers to control the infected machine for longer and to steal [valuable] information," says Brian Honan, who heads Ireland's computer emergency response team. "Wiper malware, in contrast, is noisy [and] those infected will know straightaway."

    Wiper malware attacks the master boot record and core file system operations, says David Kennedy, CEO of TrustedSec, an information security consulting service. "It makes it hard to recover from the malicious software, which could be disastrous for organizations," he says.

    This form of malware also operates fairly swiftly, says Shirley Inscoe, an analyst at the consultancy Aite Group. "Once the malware gets into a system, it spreads and could be very difficult to detect and shut down in time to avoid major disruption."

    As a result, many information security experts believe that the attack referenced by the FBI may not be the work of garden-variety cybercriminals. "Data deletion would typically be associated with hacktivism - deletion of backups - or strategic political or wartime goals, such as Stuxnet," Cox says. "Destroying access to a network doesn't really fit the cybercrime model - where criminals want to retain quiet access to continue their theft - or the APT model where nation-states want to retain access for espionage purposes. A dead network is a network that gives no data."

    As the Sony Pictures attack demonstrates, wiper malware can also be used to disrupt an entire business. "When I think of such threats, it's Shamoon that comes to mind," says Sean Sullivan, security adviser at Finnish anti-virus firm F-Secure, referring to malware that was used in August 2012 to wipe an estimated 30,000 PCs at Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia's state-owned petroleum and natural gas producer. Security experts never identified exactly who launched Shamoon.

    Wiper malware has typically been the domain of someone who wants to air a grievance, says John Hultquist, who heads the cyber-espionage practice at threat-intelligence firm iSight Partners. "Even though it has practical effects - for instance, halting oil production or shutting down operations - its greatest impact is perception - the message being sent," he says.
    Defensive Measures

    Organizations can take several steps to protect themselves against wiper malware, starting with using segmented networks, F-Secure's Sullivan says. "Isolate important intellectual property to hardened networks," he advises. "Access those networks 'remotely' - [using] some kind of remote desktop software." That adds a security layer that makes it more difficult for attackers' malware to access - or wipe - PCs connected to that network.

    Backing up data is also essential, in case systems get wiped and must be reinstalled, and such backups must be disconnected from the network, lest they get deleted by the same wiper malware. "Continual, offsite data backups are critical for any organization," says Michael Sutton, vice president of security research at cloud security firm Zscaler. "Backups can be a challenge with a mobile workforce when devices rarely return to the corporate office, but Internet-based backup solutions provide a means of remote backup so long as an Internet connection is available."

    In addition, organizations that received the FBI alert can use the file structure for the malicious software, which was provided, to help detect a malware intrusion, Kennedy at TrustedSec says. "However, note that these [file structures] could change when deployed in other systems," he says. "The best approach is still having multiple layers of defense in order to prevent an attack from occurring in the first place."

    The attack against Sony also illustrates the critical importance of having business continuity and disaster recovery plans, says Rick Holland, principal security analyst at Forrester Research. "InfoSec teams need to be highly engaged with the groups that put these plans together," he says. Servers are obviously included in such plans, but they also need to extend to workstations and desktops that are critical to business operations, Holland adds.

    "Events like this could lead organizations to research virtual desktop deployments, which make recovering from these types of attacks much easier," he says.

    Investing appropriate resources into quickly detecting breaches is also essential. "The unfortunate reality of today's threat landscape is that enterprises will be breached," Sutton says. "When that occurs, it is essential that the breach is quickly identified and isolated as to limit the overall damage."
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