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A Matter of Dates

We have decided to start publishing some website design tricks, there won’t be anything ground breaking here, and nothing that a half decent web designer should not already know, but it may be useful for those hobbyists, or bloggers that enjoy tinkering with their website

Something that is often over looked on a website is the date. A website that has 2005, or worse 1995-1999 on it instantly looks out of date. It is also something that is often visible in the New Year, with some websites keeping the year before’s date on their website for weeks, or even months.

It’s understandable, for most people changing the date means getting a website designer to change it, or tinkering around with the code on all of the pages. There is however an easier way of keeping your website date up to date. It won’t help you the first time (you’ll still have to replace the code on all pages with the code below), but once done you won’t have to change the date ever again!

PHP

If your website or blog uses PHP (the pages will end in .php, WordPress uses PHP), then it is very simple

If your footer code containing the date looks something like this:

© 2006-2010 Horizon Web Development


<p>&;copy; 2006-2010 Horizon Web Development</p>

Then you simply need to change it so that the code is as below:

© 2006-2010 Horizon Web Development

<p>&copy; 2006-<?php echo date(‘Y’);?> Horizon Web Development</p>

That code merely gets the current year and inserts it into the space. Simple. Those not using PHP can use JavaScript to alter the date, but it is slightly more complicated.

JavaScript

Using the same example above, you’ll need to add slightly more code, like so:

© 2006-2010 Horizon Web Development

<p>&;copy; 2006-<script>var now = new Date(); var theyear = now.getFullYear(); document.write(theyear);</script> Horizon Web Development</p>

This works in a similar way to the PHP code, getting the current year and printing it out onto the screen. Once again if you replace the current date with this code, you’ll never have to change the current date on your website again.

The only downside to the latter method is that it will only work if the visitor has JavaScript enabled (it is enabled by default in all browsers), if it isn’t enabled, the visitor will just see a space, e.g. 2006- Horizon Web Development.

Once done, those days in early January where you keep reminding yourself that you really must get around to changing the date, will be a thing of the past.

Apple Launch their iPad, but what is it?

Image Courtesy of Apple“iPad is our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price”
Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO.

The iPad is perhaps the most anticipated product launch of the year and was launched yesterday by Apple CEO Steve Jobs with much fanfare and applause.

As usual with Apple the product looks great, but what is it, and do we really need it?

The iPad

Weighing in at 1.5 pounds (680g), or just slightly less than a bag of sugar, it isn’t light when compared to say a newspaper or paperback but then it is light enough to carry around and hold in your hands for a while, which is precisely what is it intended for.

The device allows the reading and writing of emails, browsing the web, viewing videos and photos, listening to music and even playing games, all through the touch screen whilst on the move.

The device also includes the new iBookStore (an iTunes for books) to download books as well as compatibility with almost all of the Apps in the iPhone store. The iPad will also feature iWork for iPad although confusingly it seems that the actual applications, Pages, Keynote and Numbers will be sold separately at $9.99 each (which works out at £6.20, but will most likely be £9.99).

All this browsing and typing can be done on the screen, the same as the iPhone, or the iPad Keyboard Dock that features a full size keyboard, handy for those long emails. The battery apparently means that you’ll have up to ten hours for all of your music playing, surfing, and emailing, slightly longer than most netbooks.

The iPad is due to be on sale at the end of March and will also come in two versions, a Wi-Fi only version, or a Wi-Fi and 3G version.

Do I need an iPad?

After the clapping and the cheers, the question that everyone needs to ask themselves is: What is it for?

Like the HP Slate it is aimed at the gap between smartphone users and netbook users. What gap? I hear you ask. Well, this could be the product flaw that no-one at HP, Apple and Microsoft seem to be aware of – there is no gap and even if there was, does this really fill it?

The premise appears to be that a phone is too small to successfully browse the internet, view photos and watch videos and this is certainly true, and so the iPad and Slate are meant to fulfill that need. Problem is, in the UK at least, most people aren’t too concerned.

Less than 25% of Brits surf the net on their mobile phone, and even worse, 40% of smartphone users (e.g. Blackberry and iPhone users) don’t use their device for the internet! And with most British mobile phone owners stating that they’d not be interested in getting a phone that can surf the net, you have to wonder just who the iPad/Slate is aimed at?

Will people purchase this device merely to browse the internet and view photos and videos? Presuming that it will be priced around £500, it seems unlikely, particularly as it means no YouTube or Flash video, as the iPad does not support Flash.

The 9.7 inch screen is smaller than most netbooks, which cost half the price, and the iPad/Slate suffers from a killer flaw when compared to a netbook – it does not have a keyboard.

This may not be so much of a problem when merely surfing the internet or perhaps even updating Twitter or Facebook, but what about email? If you’re thinking of writing more than a few lines, the iPad/iPhone keyboard is unlikely to cut the mustard, especially when compared to a proper keyboard like that on a netbook or laptop. Sure it comes with a keyboard dock, but surely carrying that around just in case you’re going to need to write out a long email negates the point of an iPad/Slate?

The iPad also does not support multi-tasking, in other words if you’re writing an email and need to refer to a website, spreadsheet, or word document, tough luck; better use a netbook.

Add to that the possibility of needing to word process or create a spreadsheet and the experience will quickly become annoying and long winded. Far better to wait until you get home to a proper computer to edit that word document or spreadsheet. Which also begs the question, can the iPad print? It seems highly unlikely, which means emailing it or copying it across a network to a computer that can print, far easier perhaps to just use that computer in the first place.

That really just leaves the ebook aspect of the device, but is that going to catch on?

Is the iPad an e-reader?

Image Courtesy of AppleI admit, I may be a little biased in this regard. I am a fan of e-readers, although the technology (and the price!) means that I have yet to purchase one, but the premise is one that I can associate with. An endless supply of books at your fingertips, newspapers, magazines and all on a device that can be carried around with you!

A brilliant concept, but not one that is really ready just yet, but sadly the iPad and even the Slate aren’t even up to that standard as yet. Neither use e-ink, just standard screens and having read books on laptops, PCs, netbooks and smartphones I can verify that it is not anywhere near a replacement for a book.

Add to this the fact that the iPad has a battery life of just ten hours, at best, (compared to e-readers having days) it is unlikely that after a day of browsing internet, updating Facebook and Twitter and emailing, that you’d have enough battery life for a good read before bed.

There is also the point that any decent, and in most cases free, e-book reading software can be used on a netbook, which too can be held like a book and its screen flipped, so other than looks it doesn’t really have one up on a netbook in this regard anyway.

The idea that this type of device will be carried around and used instead of a mobile phone or netbook misses another point. People carry their mobiles phones around ostensibly to make and receive telephone calls, not to check email, update twitter or facebook, surf the net, view photos or even listen to music. The iPad/Slate cannot make phone calls so those that purchase one will still need to carrying their phone with them.

That just leaves it as a netbook/laptop replacement, but who is likely to need to carry around a netbook/laptop with them all day and favour this instead?

Students? Maybe but the device isn’t cheap, and writing emails, assignments and essays isn’t going to be easy. I think that most students would go for the cheaper and more versatile netbook.

That just leaves the business men and women who need to be constantly in touch with the office, but again what does this device offer that their Blackberry or iPhone does not? They can just as easily view emails and their phone (easier with push email), and then struggle to type out a reply on their phone or wait till they get back to the office, as struggle on the iPad. After all who wants to, or can justify, spending ten minutes typing out an email that should have taken one minute?

It seems that the iPad/Slate is little more than a nice viewing screen and rather than filling a gap, actually falls between two stools.

Reincarnation

It is not the first time that we have seen these types of devices tabled as the next big thing. In 2001 they were called Tablet PCs and ran a striped down version of Windows XP, and it was Bill Gates touting them as the miracle machines. Back then touch screens were not good enough so Tablet PCs were really ‘pen enabled PCs’, at least according to Microsoft.

They never really caught on, although the industry refused to kill them off completely.

Next came Project Origami in 2006, otherwise known as the Ultra Mobile PC. The ridiculously expensive and underpowered devices oddly didn’t catch on but did demonstrate that the ‘industry’ wasn’t really sure what the consumer wanted and had misjudged badly. UMPCs are technically still going but the format is in reality, dead.

A little over a year later, it was once again demonstrated to the ‘industry’ that it was the consumer, and not they, who dictated the trends with the launch of the netbook. Netbooks became a huge and to many a surprise hit and almost single handedly kept computer sales going during the recent economic slump. Consumers couldn’t get enough of the small, low powered and cheap mini-laptops, which were almost the complete opposite of UMPCs.

The Future for the iPad

Unfortunately as history has demonstrated, there just isn’t a need for a device like this, the vast majority of users still need a keyboard most of the time. I’m sure that as usual the Apple iPad will do better than Microsoft’s/Various manufacturers Slate’s, but it still won’t do well and certainly won’t be the next big thing.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a future for these sorts of devices, just not in this form and not yet. There could be in the future a market for some kind of flexible e-ink type of wireless viewing screen that can link up to a laptop or PC so that the user can read his emails or surf the net over breakfast, dinner or in bed and still do the real work on a traditional laptop/computer. Such a device would have to be far, far cheaper however, more flexible and with a longer battery life to make it useful.

Another option could perhaps be a netbook/laptop with a detachable touch screen that can easily be slipped off for easy and comfortable viewing, and then replaced for typing. Either way, we’d still need a keyboard and far better technology than we have today.

Sadly, that means that the iPad and upcoming Slates, are nothing more than the next in a long line of dead ends and not the revolutionary devices we are led to believe.

Caveat Emptor – Buyer Beware!

50% Off Web Hosting at Horizon Web DevelopmentThe UK is blessed with some of the best consumer protections laws in Europe, but sadly many people are either unaware of them or are bamboozled by the terms and conditions of various companies into waiving their rights.

With Christmas fast approaching, we thought it a good time to look at what online shoppers should be wary of when purchasing online. We may have the best laws around, but if you are unaware of them, then it really is a case of Caveat Emptor.

Know Your Rights

It is important to know at least a little about the two pieces of legislation that cover online shoppers. The first is the Sale of Goods Act 1979, the other is the Distance Selling Regulations 2000. In both instances it is not possible for a company’s terms and conditions to remove the rights bestowed on consumers by these two laws.

The majority of the time shoppers won’t need the protection of these pieces of legislation, generally most of us order an item from one of the big retailers, it arrives, and then all is good with the world. But the old adage of a true test of a company being when things go round has never been truer, especially this time of year.

So what happens when things go wrong? The DVD you ordered doesn’t arrive, doesn’t play or they sent you the wrong one?

Returns

Returns are one of the most important things to look for when shopping online. The Distance Selling Regulations allow you to return goods purchased online at no cost, as long as you inform the retailer within seven days that you wish to do this. Therefore one of the first things you should do before shopping with a company is find out about their returns policy.

Some companies, like Amazon make it easy for you to return items, even supplying you with a returns sticker on your invoice. Others will supply a returns address on their website, or offer a returns option in your account with them. Still others, like HMV, will make it as difficult as possible to return certain items, such as games, by hiding not only the returns address, but also the information required to contact the returns department.

For such a huge retailer HMV has a bizarre policy on returning games, specifying that you contact the Online Service Team before returning a game to them. Sounds simple, but there is no email address or contact information anywhere on the website for the Online Service Team, giving the option of emailing at random some of the other addresses supplied and hoping that it gets passed onto the relevant department and that someone gets back to you, or calling and going through a call centre.

Returns are unpleasant and generally a hassle, especially if it is for a Christmas present, so you will want to ensure that a company’s returns policy is as clear and as simple as possible before buying. You do not want to spend the few weeks before Christmas waiting for a company to get back to you, so that you can return an item to them, and then wait even longer for a refund.

Restocking Fee

Some companies try and deter returns not by hiding their return information, but by charging a restocking fee. If you are returning an item to a company and have informed them of this within seven days of receiving it, their charging you a restocking fee is ILLEGAL. Under the Distance Selling Regulations a restocking fee, administrations charge or any other fee made against a consumer for returning an item is illegal:

Distance Selling Regulations 2000

If you want the consumer to return the goods and to pay for that return, you must make it clear in the contract and as part of the required written information – see paragraph 3.10. If the consumer then fails to return the goods, or sends them at your expense, you can charge them the direct cost to you of the return, even if you have already refunded the consumer’s money. You are not allowed to make any further charges, such as a restocking charge or an administration charge.

That doesn’t stop companies from doing it however. Memorybits for example charge an illegal 10% restocking fee for goods returned, as well as refusing to offer a refund for opened items, again illegal under the Distance Selling Regulations which give you the right to inspect products, which of course means opening them (DVDs, CDs and software are unfortunately exempt from this). How do companies get away with it?

In the case of Memorybits, they are based in Jersey and so it is a legal gray area as to whether the law fully applies there, as it does the rest of the UK. Others though are able to get away with it because their customers are hoodwinked into believing that because it is the company’s terms and conditions, they do not have a leg to stand on. This isn’t the case, hence why many have the phrase ‘This does not affect your statutory rights‘.

Half Price Web Hosting at Horizon Web DevelopmentEven with the law on your side however getting your restocking fee back can be a real hassle. The best thing to do is to report the company to trading standards and hope that this forces them to return your money. If not, that just leaves the small claims courts and although it is a clear cut case, the small amounts involved make it unlikely to be worth the hassle.

Your best option is to avoid companies like Memorybits in the first place.

Faulty Products

It is a different kettle of fish with faulty or incorrect products, here you are covered by the Sale Of Goods Act and in both cases (faulty or incorrect) the retailer is responsible for all costs incurred in returning the products. Again it is well worth checking the policies on this before buying; for example on HMV you’d still have the same problems trying to return a game if it were incorrect or faulty.

Some faults may not be apparent for some weeks, or even months, so it is important to know how you’d go about returning a faulty item, particularly if it were a Christmas present. Some companies, like Amazon, will send you out a replacement item right away, even a couple of months after you bought the item, and then ask you to return the faulty item to them. This lessens the impact and hassle of returning a faulty product. Others companies however, insist that you return the faulty item to them first before any chance of a refund or replacement. The Sale of Goods Act states that they have to resolve your problem (i.e. repair, replace or refund) in a reasonable amount of time, but it isn’t specific and some companies can leave you hanging around for months. Not really an option for Christmas presents.

Return Delivery

Some companies also penalise customers returning goods. If an item is faulty, the retailer has to bear the cost of all charges, including return postage, but this doesn’t stop some companies charging, so again check their returns policy. If you are returning unwanted items under the Distance Selling Regulations, then in most cases you are responsible for return postage. Some companies do collect or cover the cost of returns, but they are not legally obliged to. However if they do not cover return postage they are obliged to make this clear either in their terms and conditions, returns policy or in your order email so again check their policies.

If you are ordering something that you’re not too sure about and just wish to have a better look at, check to see if you’re liable for return postage, on heavy or expensive items, it can be costly.

Lost Items

Half Price Hosting at Horizon Web DevelopmentThe final thing that you should check for is a companies policy on items lost in transit. It’s all well and good getting your Nan her favourite compilation CD for Christmas, but what if it never turns up? Royal Mail state that an item is considered lost when it hasn’t arrived in 15 working days, some companies however won’t consider it lost until 45 or even 60 working days have passed. So unless you began ordering presents in early October, you could find that some of your presents are MIA come Christmas Day.

Check the policies of the company for items lost in transit. The retailer is responsible for the lost item, which the Distance Selling Regulations make clear:

Where goods are lost in transit from you to the consumer you will need to either send new goods or offer the consumer a full refund, including delivery charges. See paragraph 3.20 for more information.

Unfortunately it doesn’t stipulate just when an item is considered lost in transit, so although the law is on your side, just when you will receive your new item or refund can vary from company to company, so make sure that you check. If you ordered an item in mid November for a Christmas present that is lost, you do not want to be waiting around until February for its replacement.

It is also worth noting that a retailer cannot make you pay for transit insurance, the items are theirs until they reach you, i.e. any insurance or claims of loss are theirs to deal with.

Buyer Be Aware

All in all consumers in the UK are well protected, we simply need to make sure that we are all aware of our rights, and most importantly that the retailers are aware of their obligations under the Sale of Goods Act and the Distance Selling Regulations.

To do this we simply need to read through their policies; of course this could be very time consuming for every purchase, but you’d only need to do this once for each company and as long as you stick to those that operate within the law and provide a good service, and avoid those that do not, you’ll steer clear of any major problems and inconveniences further down the line.

Karmic Disaster

As far as operating system launches go, the launch of Ubuntu’s Karmic Koala 9.10 almost matches Windows Vista in the ‘utter disaster’ stakes. According to polls on the Ubuntu forums, almost half of those installing or upgrading to the operating system had serious problems.

We tried it on several PCs and laptops, and while everything seemed to go smoothly, booting the computer after installation/upgrade invariably rendered the machine unusable. Although we did eventually get it running on most of our machines, we weren’t the only ones having problems.

GRUB 2 is maybe not for you

A lot of the problems encountered, or at least the first problems that many people encountered were with the new GRUB bootloader – GRUB 2. Indeed this is what made many Keen Koala’s very angry, as without a functioning bootloader many lost not only Ubuntu’s Koala, but also their Windows partitions too! This was compounded by early posts in the forums of:

“My install went flawlessly, you’ll just have to restore from backup or re-install. You did back up didn’t you?”

Not very helpful to those early adopters for whom installing the new version of Ubuntu every six months was like installing a new version of Office or anti-virus software, a minor inconvenience. Quite a few probably didn’t bother, thinking that nothing was likely to go wrong. Then discovered that their computers were now unusable.

Karmic Koala, Windows 7 beater?

By all accounts this was the worst Ubuntu release for quite some time, if not ever. Even the die hard fan boys were complaining about it. It hasn’t been good PR at all for Ubuntu, particularly as Mark Shuttleworth had recently said that he was looking forward to a straight fight with Windows 7 and:

“I’ve kicked the tyres on the [Windows 7] beta for a few hours and it was good. They’ve put concerted attention on the user experience with the shell. I think it’s going to be a great product, and every indication is we will see it in the market sooner rather than later.”

He was right, it was released earlier than expected, but unfortunately the fight appears to be a first round knock out for Microsoft.

It really couldn’t have come at a worst time for Shuttleworth, Ubuntu was shaping up to be a serious contender against Windows, but Karmic Koala has been a serious setback.

Indeed the whole launch could be seen as something of a reversal, whereas Windows XP users looking for something different, or Vista users looking for something that works, have had Ubuntu as a viable option to switch to, one has to wonder how many disgruntled Ubuntu users have switched to the brand spanking new Windows 7. After all, Ubuntu has never had a better rival than Windows 7.

Windows 7 – More of the same?

In a months time, Microsoft’s ninth Windows Operating System, bizarrely entitled – Windows 7 (clearly Microsoft doesn’t count Windows 98 SE or Windows ME as Operating Systems, and I remember why), hits the shelves.

This is hugely important to Microsoft, having lost a lot of face, and users, with the disastrous Windows Vista, this could be their last chance to prove that they are top dog when it comes to Operating Systems. If things go wrong again, then it really could signal the end of Microsoft’s dominance in the Operating System market.

Windows

The first version of Windows was released way back in 1986, but it wasn’t the dominant, or even the first Operating System to use a graphical user interface (GUI) system or ‘windows’.

Apple got there first in 1984 with their famous, and uncannily prescient, ’1984′ advert featuring a well endowed blonde lady hurling a sledge hammer at a screen featuring a bespectacled man who represented a ubiquitous and monolithic institution. Unfortunately smashing screens only destroys computers in Hollywood, and said man and monolithic institution merely used another screen to go on to dominate the computing world.

This dominance only really came about with Windows 3.1, probably the Windows version most people remember as being the ‘first’ Windows Operating System as it was used in many workplaces, colleges and universities, which was released in 1992 and had soon given Microsoft a 90% market share. This domaince only increased with the release of Windows 95 in 1995, Windows 98 in 1998 (and Windows 98 SE in 1999) and then the dire Windows Millennium Edition (ME) and Windows 2000, both in 2000, followed the following year by Windows XP.

This was around the time when Microsoft were criticised for introducing operating systems far too often with very little changes. Hence the rather long wait (six years) until Windows Vista.

It was with Windows XP that Microsoft secured it’s largest ever market share, around 97.5% in the middle of this decade. Even today, eight years after it was released, Windows XP alone still accounts for more than 70% of the operating system market.

Vista

Vista on the other hand, despite being just 2 years old, accounts for only 22% of the market and is widely blamed for Microsoft’s market share dropping to around the 90% mark this year. But why was it such a disaster?

The criticisms are many, and to be fair cannot all be blamed on Microsoft, but the first one can – price. Vista was extremely expensive, especially for British consumers who had to pay double what US consumers paid.

Users of Vista discovered what it is like for many Linux or Mac users, when, having installed their new operating system, they discovered that their printer, scanner, and many other hardware, particularly older hardware, simply would not work. And those manufacturers that hadn’t gone out of business or disappeared since XP, simply were not interested in producing new drivers for their old hardware just for Vista users.

The lucky ones spent hours, days or even weeks tracking down the new drivers for Vista, the not so lucky ones were forced to replace their perfectly good printers, scanners and assorted hardware with new ones just to run on Vista. Others opted to downgrade back to Windows XP.

Another problem, again not entirely Microsoft’s fault was UAC (User Account Control) an attempt to make the operating system more secure, that backfired somewhat. UAC was triggered when a program needed administrator privileges to function, sadly because Microsoft previously made all users administrators in other versions of Windows, it meant all software was designed to run with administrator, rather than standard privileges, by default.

This meant that virtually all programs made the UAC pop up every few minutes, even when carrying out simple functions (add to that the Firewall and/or Antivirus pop-ups and Vista as a constant interruption!), or the programs didn’t work at all. Needless to say, soon after Vista was released guides appeared everywhere showing how to turn the damn thing off! This of course completely negated the security benefits of it. 

One of the biggest gripes about Vista was it’s performance. Many users complained that it reduced their computing to a crawl, despite having top of the range computers. Vista requirements stated that it needed 1GB of RAM and a 1GHz processor, but even those with far in excess of those requirements found it slow and unresponsive. Many netbooks for example meet Vista’s requirements, few, if any, are capable of actually running Vista.

Linux

Compare this to Linux, specifically the popular Ubuntu, which requires just a 700MHz processor and 384MB of RAM and yet offers Aero-like effects and a swift and efficient operating system; and it is easy to see why those who splashed out on an expensive new computers, that ended up being slower than their old one, were not happy.

Netbook owners discovered that they couldn’t use Microsoft’s new operating system, being forced to go back to the eight year old XP, or move to the free Linux operating system like Ubuntu. Those that did found that Ubuntu offered a faster, slicker and more stable experience than Vista and more importantly made their new PC or netbook feel like it was supposed to – new.

Apple Mac

Others still, switched to Mac, pushing Apple’s market share up beyond 5% for the first time since 1993. Apple’s OS X was also faster, slicker and much better looking than Vista, and like Linux far more secure, immune to spyware and other forms of malware.

The major downside however was that it meant purchasing a new computer, specifically to run Mac OS X, and Apple Mac’s are very expensive.

So the question is, what can Microsoft offer to compete with the free, virus immune, secure, customisable, Aero-beating effects of Ubuntu; and the secure, polished, beautiful and extremely desirable Mac OS X?

Windows 7

I have to admit, with Windows 7 they have offered a worthy competitor. Unlike Vista it is slick, fast loading and doesn’t hamstring your computer, indeed there didn’t appear to be any difference in speed between Windows XP and Windows 7 on the computer it was tested on – a netbook! Yes Windows 7 runs without any problems on a netbook, despite Windows 7 having the same hardware requirements as Vista.

There was talk of a stripped down version of Windows 7 for netbooks last year, but that now appears not to be the case, not to mention unnecessary, Windows 7 runs fine on netbooks, demonstrating that Microsoft have managed to get rid of the bloat of Vista, whilst retaining it’s look and feel. The Aero effects also ran fine on the netbook we tested.

The taskbar has been altered to something similar to Mac OS X, not in looks, but in making it simpler and easier to use. Rather than having an icon on the taskbar for each application, it now has one and displays all open windows when hovered over. Making things much simpler and productive when working with multiple applications and documents.

There are still problems however. UAC is still a nightmare. While you can install programs as an Administrator, some programs, such as anti-virus and firewall packages, don’t automatically start unless started by an administrator because of UAC. When it is disabled things run smoother, although not safer.

There is also the same driver and software problems that plagued Vista at launch, although Windows 7 hasn’t officially launched yet, but fortunately most of the time the Vista versions of the software or drivers appears to work OK.

All in all this appears to be the best and most polished release of a Windows Operating System for a long time, possibly ever, but one can’t help but wonder whether that is because Microsoft has had millions of beta testers helping to iron out the kinks for the past two years, otherwise known as Vista users.

Windows 7, good as it is, it still doesn’t quite stack up to the much more customisable and safer Ubuntu, nor the better looking and much more polished Mac OS X, it may well be too little too late for Microsoft.

Vista may well have done what the busty blonde with the hammer could not, end Microsoft as a monolithic and ubiquitous entity.

Increase the storage on your Dell Mini 9

One of the best features of the Dell Mini 9 is that it ships with either an 8GB Solid State Drive (SSD), or a 16GB SSD but unfortunately this also has its drawbacks. You may quickly find yourself running out of space, especially on the 8GB version, and as an SSD upgrade would cost about the same price as buying a new netbook, it isn’t really a option.

One alternative, and this applies not just to the Dell Mini 9, but to any netbook that accepts Secure Digital Cards (SD cards), is to purchase a large capacity SD card and use that as an extra hard drive.

This is a lot simpler than you’d think, and provides far more benefits than simply increasing the storage capacity on the device.

Boost your storage

How simple? You need only purchase the card, and then slot it into the card reader. If you’re using Windows XP, you’re done and if you are using Ubuntu, you’re done! In both cases the Operating System will recognise the card as extra storage and use can simply use it as such from then on.

If your netbook supports SDHC cards. like the Dell Mini 9, you can purchase an 8GB SD card to give the device a serious storage boost, alternatively you can purchase a microSD card of a similar capacity. Your netbook may not support microSD cards, but all our microSD cards include an SD adaptor, which means that they can be used as if they were an SD card, as well as being used as a microSD card.

Security

So you have your nice, shiny and new Dell Mini 9 and you take it everywhere with you, and do everything on it; which of course will soon have you wondering – what if! What if you lose it? What if you some miscreant steals it? What information will they be able to get hold of? Sadly, the answer is everything that you have on there, unless you encrypt it.

The next version of Windows, Windows 7, will apparently offer to encrypt your flash memory cards and USB drives for you when you first connect them; giving the option of a password and/or a keyfile. Fortunately, you won’t have to wait for Windows 7, there are free programs that can do similar things. Truecrypt is one of the easiest to use and most versatile.

Simply install the program and then insert your SD flash card. You then have two options; if you are only ever going to use the drive inside your Dell Mini 9, or similar netbook, you can wipe the disk and encrypt the whole disk; if you are likely to take the disk out and use it in other PCs that won’t have Truecrypt installed, you can create a traveller disk.

The former means that you can use the drive like any other hard drive, but with everything that is written to the drive being encrypted ‘on-the-fly’, the latter means that you can use the SD card on any PC and will simply need to enter the password to access the encrypted section of the drive.

The best option is probably the Traveller Disk (Tools > Traveller Disk Setup) option as that means that the disk is usable if it is taken out of your netbook, but whatever option you choose, Truecrypt guides you through it. Like Windows 7 you have a choice of using a keyfile or keyfiles and/or a password.

Unbreakable

A keyfile can either be created or any file used on your PC. A word of warning however, a keyfile is exactly that, a key to open the drive/file if you forget which file you used, or that file is lost or altered in any way, you won’t be able to gain access to your drive/files.

There is no way to crack this type of encryption, it is said that even with all the computing power in the world it would take years, if not centuries to crack a decent keyfile(s) or passwords. Make sure you backup your keyfile(s), just in case.

With Windows XP you have a further option once the SD card has been encrypted. When inserted the card appears under removable storage devices in My Computer. However you can mount it as a new hard drive by simply entering the password and opening with Truecrypt, you can then use it as you would any normal hard drive.

Olympus xD Cards 2 for 1

We are now offering 1GB Olympus xD cards at 2 for the price of 1 (i.e. Buy One Get One Free). And at just £4.99 for the two that works out at less than £2.50 each! We doubt you’ll see a better offer on Olympus xD picture cards anywhere else!

This is a limited time offer so get in quick!

Transparent Pricing

mouse2 We have altered the way that product prices are presented on the website and now all prices include VAT.

This means that the price that you see is the full price that you pay (minus postage and packing), so no nasty surprises at the checkout.

Boost the performance of your Netbook

Netbooks are designed to be low powered, miniature laptops/notebooks, according to Wikipedia:

A netbook is a light-weight, low-cost, energy-efficient, highly portable laptop that achieves these parameters by offering a smaller form, fewer features, less processing power and reduced ability to run resource-intensive operating systems.
Netbook – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Just because it ships with reduced ability though, doesn’t mean that it has to stay that way. Of course you cannot, or at least cannot easily change the CPU of your Netbook, but there is another, arguably better and more noticeable way of boosting the performance of your Netbook.

Speed Boost

It is possible to boost the performance of your Netbook, simply by adding more RAM. Most Netbooks have only one RAM slot, which means there isn’t much choice by way of upgrading your Netbook RAM, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, as it usually means double or nothing.

For example you can double the memory of a Dell Mini 9 by taking out the 1GB memory module that it shipped with and replacing it with a 2GB module. The difference should be noticeable immediately, programs should load faster, the Netbook itself should boot up faster and you’ll be able to have more programs open at once without suffering from lags or delays.

You will have just turned your handy Netbook into a far more serviceable and useful Netbook/Notebook, for less than £20.

Eee PC

The same boost can be had with the Asus Eee PC too, with 2GB of RAM again costing less than £20. The Acer Aspire One however only has a maximum capacity of 1.5GB of RAM and so we only stock a 1GB RAM upgrade for the Acer Aspire One, which still offers a significant boost in performance and for less than a tenner.

If you don’t have one of three Netbooks mentioned above, don’t despair, we can still cater to your needs at these great prices, simply email us with your Netbook name we’ll give you a quote.

RAM is Cheap

As mentioned earlier, adding more RAM is the best way of boosting your computers performance, and this applies to any computer, be it a desktop or laptop.

For example this laptop that I am using right now had just 1GB of RAM when purchased from the retailer. I had the opportunity to upgrade the RAM, or to purchase another laptop with more RAM. The next laptop up had 3GB of RAM and was £100 more, the 2GB upgrade cost £30 or £90 for 4GB. I went for the cheapest option of just 1GB of RAM.

The reason? I knew that I could boost my laptop to 2GB of compatible RAM at Horizon Flash Memory, for just £9.99, or the have the 4GB option for just £35.98! A massive saving.

Always check out the price of RAM for a new computer before purchasing, you may discover it far cheaper to go for the lower specification model and then purchase an upgrade at a later date, this is certainly the case with Netbooks. If in doubt contact Horizon Flash Memory for advice, we are always happy to help.

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SD Cards get upgrade – SDXC

As usual with technology, no sooner have the majority of users become used to the latest technological format, than the new one is announced. This year will see the release of the new format SD cards or Secure Digital eXtended Capacity (SDXC).

The next-generation SDXC (eXtended Capacity) memory card specification, pending release in Q1 2009, dramatically improves consumers’ digital lifestyles by increasing storage capacity from 32 GB up to 2 TB and increasing SD interface read/write speeds up to 104 MB per second in 2009 with a road map to 300 MB per second. SDXC will provide more portable storage and speed, which are often required to support new features in consumer electronic devices and mobile phones.
The SD Association

For those still trying to adjust to the suddenly outdated Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) cards, this will be something of a shock.

What happened to SDHC?

For those that are worried about their new SDHC cards and what it will mean to them, well they shouldn’t be too concerned. As far we know, there are no SDXC compatible devices on the market at the moment, so SDHC is still the best format to have. Presumably the devices will also be backwards compatible with SDHC and standard SD cards too, so no need to throw away your old cards just yet.

For those who don’t know, SDHC was the next generation of SD cards released just a little under three years ago, taking the maximum capacity all the way from 2GB (the standard SD cards maximum capacity) up to 32GB. That wasn’t the whole picture though, there were many problems with the larger format cards, even 2GB SD cards were not always assured to work in SD cards readers, 4GB SDHC cards made the situation even more confusing, and for some it made purchasing a new SD card something of a minefield.

Many devices, such as the Nintendo Wii, did not support the new format SDHC cards, leaving their owners stuck on with a maximum 2GB card. We’ve always advised those looking for a new SD card to check their device for an SDHC compatible logo, otherwise to stick to the 2GB SD cards for best compatibility.

Most new devices do now support SDHC cards, however with the new SDXC format due to appear in March this year, it is likely that the confusion will begin again.

Terrabytes

If you are unsure, anything larger than 32GB is not SDHC, as that is the capacity limit for those cards. 32 Gigabytes may have seemed ample when SDHC was conceived, but in today’s High Definition world, it isn’t really enough. Even the largest capacity SDHC cards could only fit a little over 4 hours of HD recording on the card (a standard 2GB SD card, less than 30mins).

When SD cards were first released we talked in capacities of megabytes, with the emergence of SDHC this soon changed to gigabytes (1024 megabytes) and now with Secure Digital eXtended capacity we have moved up again into terrabytes (1024 gigabytes), albeit only two. Amazingly the SDXC cards have a maximum capacity of 2TB (terrabytes), which means up to 480 hours of HD recording!

A 2 TB SDXC memory card can store 100 HD movies, 480 hours of HD recording or 136,000 fine-grade photos. Faster bus speeds will enable professional-level recording in compact consumer camcorders and increase the number of frames shot in a second with SDXC cameras.

An incredible amount of space, although it will probably be some years before we see such cards on the market, and even longer before they are at an affordable price on a par with today’s popular 8GB SDHC cards.