04.4–How to simplify your multi devices computing environment (PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones, …) – 2016-03-29

When we started using Windows PCs, in the early 80’s, it was very easy to know where to store and find your information. Everything was stored into “This PC” / “Documents” folder. Over time, when it became possible to store Music, Pictures and Videos, the following folders were added under “This PC”: “Music”, “Pictures” and “Videos”. Quite straight forward!

By 2010, following the advent of smartphones and Cloud services, everything had changed. From this point on:

  1. You had to select from a limitless number of options and Apps.
  2. The need to make all your stored data available on all your devices became paramount.
  3. The need for automatic updating and synchronization between all your devices became imperative.

From this point on, users had to make choices for which they were not prepared and did not have the knowhow to do so. Furthermore, most individuals have yet to recognize the need to properly organize and manage their information. Let alone do it!

Most of the time, when someone ask me for assistance, it has to do with data management and/or complex computing environments with lots of Apps that overlap and/or outdated versions of the products they use. They often have lost access to some important information or something is not working properly and they have no clue why. Very often, they have installed Apps that they don’t master and cannot get help for since few people are familiar with these Apps. Plus, their computing devices are full of useless Apps which does complicates their lives for no reasons at all. Finally, they don’t maintain up to date the products they use.

One of the reason that promotes this comes from the fact that each major software provider tries to induce users to use their own products and their own Cloud services. Others provide free (for a while) Apps that come pre-installed on new devices.

Users using multiple products (PCs, tablets, smartphones, …) and technologies (Microsoft, Google, Apple, …) end up with a multitude of similar products that automatically store their files by default their own Cloud service. This in turn results with user information being scattered all over the place.

To put the above in perspective, below is a table showing ONLY some of the most commonly used products from the major suppliers. This does not show the multitude of similar products from smaller suppliers.

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As you can see, each supplier has a word processing app, a music app, an email app, …

How to address this problem?

The FIRST thing to do is to sit down, select and limit yourselves to a VERY LIMITED set of technologies and products, selecting ONLY the ones that work across all the technology platforms that you commonly use. This is imperative!

  1. You must limit yourselves to VERY FEW technology suppliers for all needs.
  2. You must select ONLY ONE product for each type of application. For example: use Microsoft Office 365 products, that work on most technology platforms, for all your office type needs.
  3. You must select ONE Cloud service to store all your data.

Highlighted below are the choices I have made and that I strongly recommend.

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Apple products users

If you are an Apple product user and want to stick exclusively with Apple products, making this choice is a valid choice if you mostly use Apple computers, tablets and smartphones.

On the other hand, if you are an Apple user that wants to be open to the rest of the world, then I would recommend that you embrace the market leading and most used technologies that work on Apple products. This will allow you to take advantage of the best products and technologies that are or will become available in the future.

This will allow you to enjoy the best products on existing and future technologies, in addition to increased functionality, because very often Apple products are perceived easier to use because they offer limited functionality, so there is a lot less to learn. 

Few technology Suppliers

Communication and Time Management Type Apps

Google is the uncontested market leader when it comes to emails, contacts and calendars. Since all of Googles products work on Android, Microsoft and Apple platforms, I strongly recommend Google Gmail, Google Contacts, Google Calendar, Google Maps, …

For more info on these products go to: 07.4-Google’s recent Gmail, Contacts and Calendars updates offer unsurpassed functionality and ease of use for multi device users.-2015-04-02 

Office Type Apps

Microsoft is the uncontested market leader when it comes to Office type Apps such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, … Since Microsoft Office 365 works on Android, Microsoft and Apple products, I strongly recommend Microsoft Office 365 for ALL your office type needs on all your technology platforms.

Cloud Providers

When it comes to Cloud storage and seamless synchronization between ALL your devices, nothing comes close to Dropbox in terms of ease of use and synchronization speed. I have implemented and used Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive. Even though, I had 1 Tb of free Cloud storage with each Google Drive and OneDrive, I have elected to pay U$99/year for 1Tb on Dropbox. If this is not enough to convince you, then I don’t know what will!

For all those for which the Cloud is mysterious, let me simplify things. If you can store a document in a folder under “This PC” / “Documents” in Windows, you can use the Cloud because it’s that simple. The only difference is that instead of storing your document in a folder under “This PC” / “Documents” you store your document in a folder under “Dropbox” on the same screen where “This PC” / “Documents” is displayed. It’s that simple! Dropbox does the rest!

For more information on Cloud computing and Dropbox, go to: 06.03 – Cloud services – Dropbox, SkyDrive and Google Drive – 2012-12-25

I store ALL my information other than my music on Dropbox. Properly configured, the photos you take with your smartphone will automatically be downloaded into the “Dropbox” / “Camera Uploads” folder. I have added into this folder ALL my other digitized photos so that I only have one place to go to find any of my photos.

When it comes to storing and playing music, I have selected Google Play Music as my Cloud music provider. The reasons are very simple: you can upload 50,000 songs for FREE (I only have loaded 11,500 up to now) and it works very well on ALL my Android, Windows and Apple devices. It’s hard to beat!

Video Phone Services Providers

Microsoft Skype is the uncontested market leader when it comes to Video Phone Services Providers. I have implemented and use Skype on all my devices, including Apple iPhone and iPad. If you use FaceTime on your Apple devices, you can ONLY communicate with other Apple devices users.

Since I live in different locations throw-out the year, I could not receive text messages from my out of the country phone services providers when I was in another country. In addition to free telephone calls, using Google’s Hangouts has allowed me to receive text messages from the USA when I was away. This is very useful when you use two step logging verification that requires that I input the code received on my USA smartphone. It is also useful to send and received text messages while in Gmail.

Apply the KISS principle to minimize potential problems

If you are not very knowledgeable with computers, tablets and smartphones, and even if you are, you should always apply the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle. As mentioned earlier, this means that you need to keep the number of Apps on any of your devices to a minimum. You should delete any software that you don’t use regularly from any of your devices. Be very careful not to delete operating systems software! You should keep to a minimum the number of Apps vendors you deal with. You should always deal with market leaders such as those recommended in this article. If you apply these recommendations, you should avoid a lot of potential pitfalls.

Other very useful Apps from market leading providers

In addition to the basic operational Apps stated above, there are a few very useful other Apps. These are:

1 – A computer backup App, such as Acronis True Image, to make regular backups of your computer software and data on a stand-alone hard drive in case of a catastrophe.

2 – Computers come with drivers to operate various computer components supplied by various components manufacturers. These drivers are generally up to date when you purchase a new computer. But as time goes by, updated and newer drivers become available. AVG Driver Updater is a low cost App, from a market leader company, that will warn you every time a new driver come out and ask you to install it to keep your computer updated at all times.

3 – Throughout the day, you download stuff, update Apps, … which all use temporary memory, create temporary files, … that are often not deleted and impair your computer storage and performance. AVG PC Tune Up takes care of this. It constantly monitors your computer and suggest or apply fixes, clean unnecessary and redundant files and enable or disable computer Apps that would impair performance. All this is done automatically with a provision to override what you don’t want done. In other words, it optimizes your computer performance throughout the day in real time.

4 – One very important security task is to use complex passwords to protect your data and money. I know this is not popular with many, but the day that you get hacked you will be very sorry not to have protected yourself properly. The next best thing to using the same simple password is to use a password vault App. You only need to remember the password vault password. In many previous articles, I have suggested eWallet which I have been using for many years. Please read article 15.4–Implementing eWallet as your secure Password Magager-2015-11-05 for more info.

Keep every device up to date

The information technology world evolves quickly. Apps are updated every day. New functions are created every week. New technology products are introduced every month. Once you start using technology devices, YOU MUST STAY UP TO DATE AND IMMEDIATELY INSTALL ALL UPDATES. This is paramount. You may have noticed that Windows Defender security software gets updated almost every day to protect you from newly discovered threats. If your computer is not kept up to date you increase your risks of potential problems, and that is just the beginning. Software bugs get discovered and corrected almost every week. Why risk bug problems? New versions and functions get introduced almost every month. Why not take advantage of these?

Regularly, I see friends running Windows 10 on their new computer while still running Windows 7 & 8.1 on other of their PCs. Why have multiple computers? Why not have one powerful laptop with multiple monitors in each of your residences when you move around. Why not make things simple for you?

Configure ALL your devices for AUTOMATIC UPDATES

In Windows 10

  • Click on the “Start button” (bottom left corner)
  • Click “Settings”
  • Click “Update & Security”
  • Click “Advances options”
  • Choose “Automatic (recommended)” in the upper window
  • Check “Give me updates for other Microsoft products when I update Windows

Please read: 10.01–Windows 10, why should you upgrade? -2015-08-03

On Android 5.0 devices

  • Go to ‘Settings”
  • Go to “General”
  • Go to “About Device”
  • Go to “Software Updates”
  • Check the “Auto update” box

On iPad iOS9 devices

  • Go to “Settings”
  • Go to “General”
  • Go to “Software updates”
  • Follow the instruction to update

Whenever one of your device inform you of an update, please do the update immediately so that you don’t forget it.

NOTE: Make sur that your device is plugged in or has enough power for the whole update process to complete and NEVER shut down a device while it is updating otherwise you may run into serious problems.

Conclusion

If you follow the above recommendations, you will end up with a very simple technology environment:

  1. You will have a very limited set of the most generally used products for which you will be able to learn and get help from almost anyone.
  2. All of your data, other than your music, will be stored on one Cloud service Dropbox. You will just have one place to look for anything you have previously stored on any of your devices. In addition, you will have instant backup. Just by signing on with a new device, it will be synchronized automatically.

What are you waiting for before you simplify technology environment? I can assure you that your situation will only get worse before you have no choice than to do it! Why not do it today?