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LIVE LONGER LOSE WEIGHT SLEEP BETTER p42 



■ 6 Stunning laptops on test p78 

■ Google Now: make it work for you p32 

■ Disaster-recovery cheat sheet pio8 

■ The first £299 3D printer p77 

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Windows 10 

The review. 


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ISSUE 251 SEPTEMBER 2015 £4.99 


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September 2015 Issue 251 


In this issue 


LIVE LONGER LOSE WEIGHT SLEEP BETTER p42 



■ 6 stunning laptops on test prs 

■ Google Now: make it work for you p32 

■ Disaster-recovery cheat sheet pios 

■ Thefirst£299 3D printer p77 


BONUS 

SOFTWARE 

4 full products 

WORTH 

£7T 



Windows 10 


The review. 




Publish an Amazon bestseller pse Outsource your IT support pio6 


^THE 

TECHNOLOGY 

PODCAST 

Don’t forget to 
download the latest 
TeehnologyPodeast, 
from the experts at 
PCProandAlphr. 
There’s a newshow 
everyThursday; 
subscribe on iTunes 
ordownloadfrom 
alphr.com/podcast 



FEATURES 


11 BRIEFING 


COVER STORY 

42 Live longer through technology 

An explosion in health teehnology is putting us 
in eontrol of our own wellbeing. We reveal how 
this is transforming the medieal profession. 

52 How tech is changing language 

OMG LOL - the online world has seen the 
introduetion of a range of new voeabulary. We 
diseover the impaet on the English language. 

56 Going pro: rip-off or wise choice? 

Many individuals and small businesses are 
tempted by free software and serviees - but 
are the Pro versions worth the money? 


PROSPECTS 


10 Apple changes its tune on privacy 

The Worldwide Developers Conferenee saw 
the eompany promise that it would leave data 
in users’ hands. We explore what it’s worth. 

14 us tech giants under EU scrutiny 

Amazon and Apple are feeling the wrath of the 
European Commission’s antitrust investigators, 

16 Grey imports - are they 
worth the risk? 

It’s often eheaper to buy teeh produets from 
overseas, but the diseount might be down to 
tax avoidanee. 


PROFILE 



VIEWPOINTS 


22 FreeAgent 

After a eareer as a fighter pilot, Ed Molyneux 
developed a eloud-based finaneial software 
solution that has gone from strength to strength. 


DARIEN GRAHAM-SMITH Is too mueh 
teehnology bad for a ehild? 


BARRY COLLINS Can anyone eope with the 
barrage of eloud eollaboration serviees? 


NICOLE KOBIE Ad bloekers will remain 
popular so long as adverts irritate. 


DICK POUNTAIN There are some things 
SD printing just ean’t handle. 


COVER STORY 

32 Make Google Now work for you 

Coogle’s personal assistant is a key feature of 
your smartphone and tablet. We show you how 
to make the most of its features. 


COVER STORY 

36 Publish an Amazon bestseller 

It may be easy to publish your own book, but 
the ehallenge is getting punters to download 
it. Diseover how it’s done. 


40 Careers: VR consultant 

Enter the world of virtual reality. 
Dan Page reveals how you can 
be a part of this exciting 
new industry. 


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September 2015 Issue 251 



REVIEWS/LABS 


REGULARS 


Editor’s letter 7 Subscriptions 94 

The A-List 18 Coding challenge 129 

Readers’ comments 28 One last thing... 130 


THE NETWORK 


96 Backup appliances 

Backup is a crucial part of your IT infrastructure. 
We explain how to pick the solution appropriate 
for your needs. 

COVER STORY 

106 Should you outsource IT support? 

We explore the benefits of hiring an independent 
consultancy to take care of your IT needs 

COVER STORY 

108 Cheat Sheet: disaster recovery 


BACKUP 


SOLUTIONS 


HEADLINE REVIEWS 

Microsoft Windows 10 
Google Chromebook Pixel (2015) 
Lenovo Yoga314in 
HP Pavilion Mini 
Adobe Creative Cloud 2015 
Android M Developer Preview 
Apple 0SX10.11 ElCapitan 
AppleiOSQ 
GarminVivoactive 
XYZprintingdaVinci Jr 


60 

66 

68 

69 

70 
72 

74 

75 

76 

77 


Arcserve U DP 7200V 
Barracuda Backup 190 
DataFort Critical Care 
Netgear ReadyDATA 
516 with ReadyRecover 
Quorum onQ-T20 
Unitrends Recovery-201 


LUXURY LAPTOPS 

Apple MacBookProlSin 

with Retina display 

DelIXPSIS 

Apple MacBook 

Asus Zenbook UX303LA 

Lenovo ThinkPad XI Carbon 

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 


84 

86 

88 

89 

90 

91 


98 

99 
100 


WIN 

A 

DRONE 

Vote 
in the 
2015Tech 
Excellence 
Awards- 
seep67 


y p LABS: LAPTOPS OF DESIRE COVER STORY 

I O They’re stylish and lightweight, with a variety of processors, storage 
optionsand displaytechnologies. If money is noobject thenyou’re sure to 
find a laptop here that will offer the perfect portable experience. 


REAL WORLD COMPUTING 


^ JON HONEYBALL Windows 10 is a much cleaner, more 
I I w coherent OS than Windows 8 or 8.i; even business users 
should be getting ready to make the leap. 


Is your business ready for the worst? Diseover 
how to minimise the damage if things go wrong. 


FUTURES 


Q PAUL OCKENDEN Why do so many “smart” heating systems 
I I O operate on a single eontroller, with only one thermostat? 
Honeywell offers something truly elever. 


124 Lift-off for EasyJet’s drone crew 

From maintenanee drones to sD-printed 
replaeement parts, the budget airline is investing 
heavily in future teeh. We find out why. 

126 A taste of 3D: food printers 
heading for coffee shops 

We speak to XYZprinting CEO Simon Shen 
about the eulinary applieations for printers. 

Plus: heating your home with a data furnaee 
and the advent of smart doorbells. 


1 1 C OLIVIA WHITCROFT As teehnology inspires new serviees, 

I I O eustomers and suppliers need to ensure the terms of the 
eontraets between them keep paee with reality. 

I I Q DAVEYWINDERSeeurity that isn’t implemented properly 
I I O isn’t of mueh use, but the solution needn’t be eomplex or 
expensive. The eredit-eard-sized Qwertyeard may be all you need. 

1 Q ^ STEVE CASSIDY The British Met Offiee has plaeed an 
I ^ w order worth $ioo million with Cray. Are the serviees 
of the supereomputing veteran worth it? 


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September 2015 Issue 251 



SHE LEANED OVER, ^vhispercd in my ear: “I have a eonfession to 
make.” I took a slug of wine to steady the nerves. “Go on.” 
She nudged her ehair eloser, making absolutely sure our 
table eompanions eouldn’t hear. “Last month, my boss 
bought me a tablet to use at work. Top of the range.” She 
hesitated before revealing her guilt-laeed eonfession. 

“I haven’t opened the box.” 

This was three years ago, and while my fading memory 
ean’t reeall my reaetion to this revelation, the one thing 
I’m eertain of is that my nameless dinner eompanion 
wasn’t alone. Thousands of tablets must litter the desk 
drawers of businesses around the eountry, abandoned 
onee their owners had eompleted the False Tablet Hope 
Curve: exeitement about what this magieal deviee eould 
bring; experimentation as they tried to fit it into their daily 
workflow; disappointment when they hit the glass eeiling 
of its limitations; and boredom onee they realised it was 
just another deviee to lug around to meetings. 

Now I realise that many have sueeeeded in plaeing 
the tablet near the heart of their business lives. There are 
great apps out there, and produetivity tools sueh as Offiee 
eontinue to improve. But for me, there will only be one 
king when it eomes to getting stuff done: the laptop. 

For proof, I need only look at my eurrent state of giddy 
antieipation. At some point this week, our IT department is 
going to give me a new laptop. Not just any laptop, but the 
laptop I fell in love with at CES earlier this year: the Dell 
XPS 13. It’s slim, super-light and drop-dead gorgeous. 

Most of all, it’s a maehine I ean do real work on. 

I struggle to put my absolute joy into words; forget 
“Twittersphere” and other new voeab that’s found its way 
into dietionaries thanks to teehnology, as Nieole Kobie 


diseusses on P52. Beeause what we really need is a word 
to sum up that feeling. The partnership between man and 
maehine, a tool tuned to my needs. Fast enough to handle 
the tougher tasks I oeeasionally throw at it. Equipped with 
the weapons I need to eomplete jobs quiekly, whether 
that’s a pleasant keyboard to type on or a large enough 
sereen to view a big spreadsheet. 

To be fair, my eurrent Latitude laptop does all those 
things perfeetly well. It still has more than enough grunt 
to handle my proeessing demands. In reality, the biggest 
ehange between my 2012 vintage Dell and the elass of 
2015 boils down to form rather than frequeney: the new 
model is so mueh lighter and more eompaet. And for 
someone who lugs their laptop home with them every 
day, I ean’t understate the value of that ehange. 

If I’m honest, there’s another physieal ehange I’ll 
appreeiate as well: the Dell XPS 13 is just a little bit sexy. 
It’s a laptop I’ll be happy to be seen with, whether on 
the morning eommute or in a meeting with the hipster 
entrepreneur behind a trendy Californian startup. 

For let’s not fool ourselves, the laptops we use have 
beeome a shorthand for deelaring who we are. More and 
more people will be asking for MaeBook Pros - the winner 
of our Laptops of Desire group test on pyS - to replaee their 
battered Dells. The only question is: when junior exees are 
using the MaeBook Pro, what do you offer the CEO? The 
answer is obvious: an 18-earat Yellow Gold MaeBook Pro 
is surely only weeks away. 

Tim Danton 

Editor-in-chief 


CONTRIBUTORS 



Darien Graham-Smith As 
our cover oh-so-subtly 
hints, Windows 10 has 
landed. Our in-depth 
review on p60 explains 
why this is one upgrade 
worth grabbing. 



Stewart Mitchell Can tech 
help you lose weight, sleep 
better and live longer? 
Stewart and our team 
of lab rats explore how 
health tech can change 
your life. See p42 



Olivia Whitcroft Don’t just 
sign on the dotted line, 
implores Olivia, a lawyer 
who specialises in tech. 
Check through the Ts&Cs 
of your service contract or 
be left stranded. See pi 16 



Nik Rawlinson It’s never 
been easier to make 
money through self- 
publishing. On p36 ebook 
author Nik reveals some 
cunning ploys to make 
your words pay. 


7 




Bl September 2015 Issue 251 


Q@PCPR0 FACEBOOK.COM/PCPRO 


EDITORIAL 

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF 


Tim Danton: editor@pcpro.co.uk 
DEPUTY EDITOR 
Darien Graham-Smith 
REAL WORLD COMPUTING EDITOR 
Dick Fountain: rwc@pcpro.co.uk 
BRIEFING & FUTURES EDITOR 
Nicole Kobie 
REVIEWS EDITOR 

Jonathan Bray: reviews@pcpro.co.uk 

ONLINE EDITOR 

David Court 

ONLINETEAM 


How has the 
internet changed 
the way you 
communicate? 


Ian Betteridge, Vaughn Highfield, Thomas McMullan, 
Curtis Moldrich, Sasha Muller 


ART& PRODUCTION 
ART EDITOR 

Paul Duggan 


“I’ve forgotten what it’s 
like to trust someone to 
meet me at a specific 
time and place." 


FREELANCE DESIGN 


Bill Bagnall, Sarah Ratcliffe, Heather Reeves 

PRODUCTION EDITOR 


Monica Horridge 

FREELANCE PRODUCTION 



EDITORIALTel: 02079076000 
LETTERS letters@pcpro.co.uk 
TWITTER @pcpro 
FACEBOOKfacebook.com/pcpro 
SUBSCRIPTION ENQUIRIES 0844 844 0083 
PC Pro, 30 Cleveland Street, London W1T 4JD 
Dennis Publishing Ltd. 

GROUP MANAGING DIRECTORIan Westwood 
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DIRECTOR OF ADVERTISING Julian Lloyd-Evans 
FINANCE DIRECTOR Brett Reynolds 
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CHIEF EXECUTIVE James Tye 
COMPANY FOUNDER Felix Dennis 

PRODUCTION & DISTRIBUTION 


Priti Patel 

CONTRIBUTING EDITORS 

Tom Arab, Steve Cassidy, Jon Honeyball, Dave Mitchell, 


Stewart Mitchell, Mark Newton, 


Paul Ockenden, Kevin Partner, 
Davey Winder 


“I’ve worked 
with Darien for eight 
^ years, and we’ve 
never actually spoken 
face to face." 


CONTRIBUTORS 

Adam Banks, Barry Collins, David Hunt, Dan Page, 

Nik Rawlinson, Lise Smith, Dave Stevenson, Olivia Whitcroft ] 
PHOTOGRAPHY & PRE-PRESS 
Danny Bird, Henry Carter, Phil Dawson, 

Jenni Leskinen, Russ Nicholas, James Walker 

ADVERTISING TEL: 020 7907 6662 
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STRATEGIC AD DIRECTOR (DIGITAL) 

Julie Price: julie_price@dennis.co.uk 
COMMERCIAL DIRECTOR (DIGITAL) 

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STRATEGIC AD MANAGER (DIGITAL) 

Matthew Sullivan-Pond: 001 646 717 9555 
matthew_sullivan@dennis.co.uk 

AD PRODUCTION TEL: 020 7907 6055 
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CIRCULATION & SUBSCRIPTIONS 
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NEWSTRADE DIRECTOR David Barker 

COVER DISC TECHNICAL SUPPORT 
coverdiscs@servicehelpline.co.uk 

REPRINTS TEL: 020 7907 6625 
BenTopp: ben_topp@dennis.co.uk 


“‘FFS’ makes for a 
satisfyingly vigorous 
outburst that won’t 
offend the in-laws." 


“I find I can no longer 
write with a pen." 


“I’m trouserless during 
business conversations 
far more than I was 20 
years ago." 


“01001001 0111010000100111 
01110011 00100000 01100001 
01101100 01101100 00100000 
0111101001100101 01110010 
0110111101100101 01110011 
00100000 01100001 01101110 
01100100 0010000001101111 
01101110 01100101 01110011 
00101110 ." 


Printed by BGP. Distributed by Seymour Distribution, 2 East 
Poultry Avenue, London EC1A 9PT. Tel: 020 7429 4000. PC Pro is 
published monthly by Dennis Publishing Limited. Company 
registered in England, number 1138891. 

COPYRIGHT 

© Dennis Publishing Limited. PC Pro is a trademark of Felix Dennis. 

This publication may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form 
in whole or in part without the written permission of 
the publishers. 

SUBSCRIPTIONS 

Price: UK £49.99; Europe £70; Rest of World £90. Visit 
dennismags.co.uk/pcpro for our best offers. To renew a 
subscription, change an address or report any problems, visit 
subsinfo.co.uk 

LIABILITY 

While every care has been taken in the preparation of this 
magazine, the publishers cannot be held responsible for the 
accuracy of the information herein, or any consequence arising 
from it. Please note that all Judgements have been made in the 
context of equipment available to PC Pro at time of review, and 
that “value for money" comments are based on UK prices at the 
time of review, which are subject to fluctuation and are only 
applicable to the U K market. 

SYNDICATION & INTERNATIONAL LICENSING 
PC Pro is available for licensing overseas. Licensing contact: 
Nicole Adams, nicole_adams@dennis.co.uk,+44 20 7907 6134. 
Reprints and syndication: Wright’s Media, 0800 051 8327 
(toll-free). 



CERTIFIED DISTRIBUTION 
31,176 (Jan-Dec 2014) 



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Briefing 


EO 



■ 

Domestic notspots 


Amazon under, scrutiny 


pc Probe 

P 


Which regions have the poorest 
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EU competition chief launches 
investigation into ebook deals 




Grey-market goods could 
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J 


Apple changes its tune on privacy 

Amid a raft of new product launches at the Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple also 
wants to sell us something different: our privacy. Nicole Kobie explores what it's worth 



■ Serious Siri privacy 

At WWDC, Apple announced iOS 9, 
saying that smart assistant Siri 
and advanced search tool Spotlight 
v\^ill gain “proactive” intelligent 
capabilities, knowing what users 
want before they ask for it. They 
achieve this feat by sharing data 
between apps and looking for 
patterns. Siri, for example, will 
pull event data from emails into the 
calendar. If that sounds familiar, it’s 
because such a feature already exists 
on rival platforms, and Google plans 
to beef up the predictive capabilities 
of its Google Now assistant in the 
next version of Android. 

Apple may be playing catch-up 
with such features, but it’s taking the 
lead with privacy, stressing that all 
personal data will be held on your 
phone, not its servers. Senior vice 
president of software engineering, 
Graig Federighi, stressed that none of 
the data gathered for Apple’s smarter 
search would be associated with an 


Guardian. Federighi stressed that 
none of your individual data will be 
shared with third parties and what 
you read won’t be linked to other 
Apple services. 

Preventing the free flow of 
personal data isn’t the only privacy 
measure in iOS 9. Apple’s mobile OS 
will also allow developers to make 
ad-blocking tools - handy for those 
who dislike behavioural advertising 
systems - and will offer an API for 
virtual private networks. 

■ Privacy sales pitch? 

Apple’s striding purposefully towards 
the moral high ground, but is privacy 
a consideration for most consumers 
when it comes to buying a smartphone 


1 Microsoft releases 
WindowslO 

Microsoft has M 


WindowslO, ^ 
with free 
upgrades for those 
running Windows 7 or 8.1 . 
Otherwise, it will cost £99 for 
the Home edition -a premium 
compared to the US price of 
$119,even with VAT considered. 
Head to p60 for our full review. 


A NEW VERSION of iOS (scc pjs ) , a revamp 
of OS X {see P74) and the long-awaited 
launch of Apple Music may have 
been what everyone was waiting 
for at the Worldwide Developers 
Gonference (WWDG), but Apple 
had one more thing to sell to us 
this year: our privacy. 

Personal privacy has become 
Apple’s unique selling point, with 
new features announced alongside 
promises to leave data in users’ 
hands. The shift follows GEO Tim 
Gook’s headline-grabbing speech 
from a few weeks earlier, in which 
he accused rivals such as Google of 
cashing in on its customers’ data 
(see pcpro.link/25itcspeech). 

With no search-engine business 
to prop up (unlike Google and 
Microsoft) and $200 billion in 
the bank, Apple can comfortably 
afford to shun the opportunity to 
sell customers’ data. But does Apple’s 
privacy pledge make its products 
any more attractive to end users? 


ABOVE Apple CEO 
Tim Cook is making 
personal privacy 
the company’s unique 
selling point 


Five 
stories 
not to 


Apple ID, nor linked with other Apple 
services or shared with third parties. 

“Apple is competing head-on 
with Google, with iOS 9’s proactive 
intelligence and improved search 
throughout the iPhone and iPad UI,” 
noted IHS Technology analyst Ian 
Fogg. “Apple hopes to differentiate 
by protecting users’ privacy, but it 
must ensure that such protection 
doesn’t cause the intelligent services 
it delivers to be anything but the best.” 

The protection of personal data 
was a consistent message with other 
new features, too. For example. News 
is an app with content pulled directly 
from and curated by top publishers, 
such as The New York Times and The 


10 





Q@pcpro Hfacebook.com/pcpro 


Briefing Apple WWDC m 


Swift beats Apple Music 


Apple has finally entered the music- 
streaming market with Apple Music - 
although it was forced to make changes 
to the service before it even launched, 
thanks to pop star Taylor Swift. 

Apple Music is different to rivals 
such as Spotify and Google 
Play Music. While you can 
stream your choice 
of song from the 
30 million track 
catalogue, there’s 
also a curated radio 
station called Beats 1 
with DJs picking the 
tunes. “Apple Music has 
a vision that’s at odds 
with iOS 9’s proactive 
intelligent assistant,” said IHS 
Technology analyst Ian Fogg. “While iOS 9 
aims to deliver intelligent experiences 
automatically, Apple Music seeks to 
differentiate with human cu ration.” 

The service costs $9.99 per month 
or $14.99 for up to six family members 
sharing an account, but you don’t need 


an iPhone to listen; it will also be 
available on rival platforms. “Strikingly, 
Apple announced that the service will 
be available on Android devices in the 
autumn,” said Fogg. “This will be the first 
branded service to reach Android and 
is a strategic shift for Apple in 
its approach to the main 
rival platform.” 

Apple is offering a 
three-month free trial, 
and had initially told 
record labels it 
wouldn’t pay them for 
music streamed during 
that period. After a few 
hours of pressure from 
chart-topping Taylor Swift 
- who threatened to withdraw her 
latest album from Music - Apple caved in 
and declared it would indeed pay 
royalties during this period. 

The firm that once dictated terms 
to the entire music industry was 
cowed by a 25-year-old singer. 

How times have changed. 



or tablet? “I don’t think privacy is 
likely to be a major factor in people 
choosing a handset for a long time, if 
ever, but it could be a contributory 
factor, and could certainly be part of 
a choice of brand or ecosystem,” said 
Dr Paul Bernal, a lecturer in tech law 
and privacy at the University of East 
Anglia. “I suspect Tim Cook’s doing a 
mixture of things here: differentiating 
Apple from Google is a clear part of it, 
but it may be more direct in the sense 
that privacy could become part of the 
‘coolness’ that Apple likes to surround 
itself with,” he added. 

Digital privacy is in the spotlight in 
this post-Snowden era, but it remains 
to be seen whether Apple can make 
privacy “cool” enough to counter 
cutting-edge but invasive features 
such as Google Photos, which 
organises photos across devices and 
understands them well enough to 
let users search for all the images of 
them having breakfast, for example. 


Benedict Evans, an analyst at 
venture-capital firm Andreessen 
Horowitz, suggested in a tweet 
after Cook’s speech that Apple’s 
aversion to data mining may 
leave it behind - just as 
Blackberry was once left in 
the dust by the iPhone. In 
2007, the company then 
known as RIM stated that 
nobody would want an 
iPhone as there would be 
battery-life trade-offs; now, 
Apple is saying “no-one 
wants image search - there 
are privacy trade-offs, ” 

Evans remarked. 

In the battle between 
privacy and features, can 
Apple win on the former? 

Bernal said he’d trade in his 
handset for a more privacy- 
friendly one, although he 
admitted: “I don’t think 
I’m a typical consumer.” • 


BELOW iOS9will 
feature proactive 
intelligent capabilities 



The 
Secret 
Diary of 

Tim Cook 


We had this incredible vision for 
Apple Music. We wanted to say hey, 
come and try this service for three 
months, and enjoy all the music you 
love, and you won’t have to pay a 
cent. And neither will we. 

It’s the kind of innovation that runs in 
our blood. When we look at the world, 
we ask ourselves how it could be 
made better. Last year, more than 
500 million iTunes users were able to 
enjoy U2's amazing album on day one. 
That was truly an exciting moment in 
history, and to make it happen we 
ended up paying the band $100 
million. So then we thought, how 
incredible would it be if we could 
make that magic happen for free? 

But sometimes people are 
invested in their old ways of doing 
things. And we say, that’s great. At 
Apple, our mission is to help people 
do the things they love. 

Well, it turns out that one of the 
things Taylor Swift really loves is 
getting paid. So we said okay: let’s 
dial back a little and give our friends 
the space they need to catch up. 
We’ve made some changes to our 
licensing deal, and I knowTaylor’s 
going to love being on Apple Music. 

But we’re not stopping there. 
Apple has always been about 
challenging old ideas, and our 
accountants are going to keep on 
innovating, and find new ways to 
charge the world. It’s in our DNA. 


2 Adobe CC update 

Subscribers to Adobe’s Creative 
Cloud suite have received a host 
of new features, including a haze 
removal tool in Lightroom, U1 
and app design tweaks for 
Photoshop, and performance 
boosts for InDesign (see 
p70). Plus, Adobe is finally 
bringing CC to Android, 
and added a photo library 
following its purchase of 
Fotolia last year. 



3 Lenovo’s£130 PC 
on a dongle 

Lenovo has unveiled its first 



system based on Intel’s 
Compute Stick spec, which 
crams a full computer into a 
dongle-sized device. 

The Ideacentre Stick S 


300 features runs 
Windows on a 1.33GHz 
Atom processor, with 2GB of RAM and 32GB 
of storage for £130. It connects via H DM1 to a 
TV or monitor. 


4 Amazon to pay 
authors by the page 

Put a Kindle ebook down without 
finishing it, and Amazon may not 
fully pay the author. That’s under 
a new system Amazon is trialling. 
Amazon pays authors when their 
books are digitally loaned out, 
but will now scale that rate based 
on how many 
pages readers 
actually get 
through. 



5 Project Lightning 
hits Manchester 




media 


Work has begun 
on Virgin Media’s 
£3bn project to 
extend fibre 
broadband to four million more 
homes and businesses in the UK 
by 2020. Manchester is first to 
benefit from Project Lightning, 
with would-be customers being 
asked to log their interest at 
virginmedia.com/cablemystreet. 


11 







ll Briefing News 


Q @PCPRO El FACEBOOK.COM/PCPRO 


British homes are mobile notspots 

You may need to step outside to make that call, research into blackspots reveals 



Liverpool 


^Birmingham 


Leicester 


Bristol 


Sending a text message? Get out of the 
kitchen - especially if you’re in Liverpool 
- because that’s one of the worst spots for 
connectivity in Britain, according to 
new research. 

Under Ofconn rules linked to spectrum 
sales, mobile operators need to provide a 
certain level of coverage. For 3G, operators 
had to cover 90% of the UK. For4G,02 must 
cover 98% of the UK population by the end of 
2017- and that’s indoor coverage. 

Reported notspots in 
British homes by room 


Bedroom 


Flowever, according to research from 
Global Wireless Solutions (GWS), 40% of 
Brits face mobile notspots inside their 
homes, with Georgian architecture 
seemingly acting as a Faraday cage. 

While operators have reached good 
coverage levels for 4G outside of homes, the 
service degrades as soon as we step inside. 
“The UK is no longer a ‘fixed-line’ nation," said 
Paul Carter, CEO of GWS. “The best phone is 
the one you’ve got on you - not the one sitting 
in its dock out in the hallway.” 


Reported notspots in British 
homes by age of home 


Worst British cities 
for notspots 

percentage of 
people polled 
reporting 
connectivity 
issues 


Bathroom 


Georgian 

54% 2000s 

45% 


Dining room 


Living room 


, 44 % 67 ^ ■! 

hnd ■■ 


Victorian 2010s ^ ^ 

42% 42% /lo) P Car.« 

41 / 0 ^ 54 % 


Norwich 

48% 


GCHQ accused of hacking 
antivirus software 


HACKERS SEARCHING FOR 

vulnerabilities in antivirus 
software is no surprise, but 
for the past eight years our 
seeurity serviees have been 
doing the same. 

That’s aeeording to 
doeuments leaked by 
Edward Snowden, the 
whistleblower hiding 
in Russia following 
revelations two years ago 
of mass surveillanee and 
snooping undertaken by 
the US government. 
Doeuments diselosedby 
The Intercept showed the 
NSA and our own GCFfQ 
were reverse-engineering 
antivirus software in order 


based in their home 
eountries, notably 
Russia’s Kaspersky, 
Finland’s F-Seeure and 
Romania’s Bitdefender. 
US firms MeAfee and 
Symantee and Britain’s 
Sophos weren’t targeted. 
Kaspersky appeared to be 
a key target; the NSA saw 
emails sent to the firm, 
user data, and malware 
that was being targeted. 

The Russian antivirus 
firm denied user data was 
leaked, but said it was 
“extremely worrying” - 
if not surprising - that 
seeurity serviees would 
work to “subvert seeurity 
software that’s designed 
to keep us all safe”. 



to diseover flaws they 
eould use to monitor online 
traffie, ensuring their own 
spying teehniques weren’t spotted. 

The spying ageneies speeifieally 
targeted seeurity firms that weren’t 


What we think: “It’s eertainly 
not surprising to see the NSA 
and GCFfQ targeting antivirus 


software - or taking aetion that 
eould reduee online seeurity for 
the rest of us,” said Briefing and 
Futures editor Nieole Kobie. 

“Poking holes in antivirus and not 
alerting the eompanies making it 
would be eonsidered irresponsible 
for any seeurity researeher, but 
intelligenee agents elearly work 
under different rules to the rest of 
us - and of eourse we must assume 
seeurity serviees for other nations 
are doing the same.” 

What you said: On Alphr, Martin Fox 
wondered why people eontinue to 
be surprised by the spying aetivities 
of the NSA and GCFfQ. “I would be 
more eonfused [or] eoneerned if 
a spy ageney weren’t engaging in 
sueh aetivities,” he said. 

Indeed, isn’t that the job of MI5 and 
MI6, agreed eommenter Severn sea? “I 
think it would be very naive to believe 
we live in a soeiety where this sort of 
thing wasn’t going on,” he wrote. 

Others disagreed. “Deep eoneern 
is natural when we see the extent to 
whieh boundaries of demoeratie 
aeeountability and due legal proeess 
have been seeretly and insidiously 
pushed baek,” noted AndyDay. 


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Amazon broughttoebookas 
European Commission bares itsteeth 

The EU's competition chief has announced another pair of investigations into 
American tech firms. Nicole Kobie reveals why Amazon and Apple are under scrutiny 


AMAZON AND APPLE are the latest 
Ameriean teeh firms to feel the wrath 
of the European Commission (EC) over 
alleged anti-eompetitive behaviour. 

In June, the EC opened an antitrust 
inspeetion into Amazon’s ebook 
deals with publishers, and it’s also 
investigating how Apple signed 
up labels to its musie streaming 
serviee {see Apple to face the music, 
below ) . In May, Google was eharged 
with abusing its dominant seareh 
market position and faees a potential 
€6 billion fine - after thriee failing to 
reaeh a settlement - and the EC said 
it was also investigating e-eommeree 
aeross the eommon market. 

The EC’s sudden burst of energy 
appears to be down to the new head 
of eompetitionpoliey, Margrethe 
Vestager. Sinee Vestager took 
power in November, she’s shown 
a willingness to loek horns with the 
biggest names in teehnology, leaving 
many wondering: who’s next? 



■ The case against Amazon 

While Vestager’s investigation 
against Amazon has only just started, 
eoneerns over the ebook market go 
baek years. While the EU opted not to 
fine Apple in 2012, alongside the five 
largest book publishers, for eolluding 
to drive up priees - a direet response 
to Amazon’s sueeess in driving priees 
down - the US Department of Justiee 
pushed for a finaneial settlement 
worth hundreds of millions of dollars. 
Eollowing that, Amazon was last year 
embroiled in a dispute with publisher 
Haehette over the setting of ebook 
priees, pulling some of the publisher’s 


titles from its online store. The pair 
have sinee reaehed an agreement. 

Now, the EC is looking into elaims 
that Amazon forees publishers to offer 
it the best terms, ensuring Amazon’s 
rivals never get a better deal under 
what’s known as “most favoured” 
status. Vestager said: “It is my 
duty to make sure that Amazon’s 
arrangements with publishers are not 
harmful to eonsumers, by preventing 
other ebook distributors from 
innovating and eompeting effeetively 
with Amazon. Our investigation will 
show if sueh eoneerns are justified. ” 

The investigation will foeus on 
German- and English-language 


Apple to face the music? 


ABOVE Margrethe 
Vestager believes 
that US giants may 
be engaging in 
anti-competitive 
behaviour 



Apple’s streaming service, Music, was only 
announced in June (see plO), but as far back as April 
the European Commission was reportedly sniffing 
around its relationships with music labels, sending 
questionnaires to partners and rivals. 

At issue are Apple’s reported attempts to 
convince top-selling musicians to offer their music 
exclusively via its own service and lock out its 
competitors, but Apple has other means of enticing 
artists from its rivals. Music will be preloaded on 


iPhones, making it easier to sign up users to the 
free trial. If it converts them to paying users, Apple 
gets to keep the whole fee, while it charges other 
app makers 30% for subscriptions generated via 
its devices. This makes it easier for Apple to offer 
more generous terms than Spotify, for instance. 

The EC hasn’t formally announced an 
investigation, but the New York Attorney 
General’s Office has, suggesting pressure may 
build on both sides of the Atlantic. 


markets, the largest for ebooks in 
Europe. There’s no timeline for 
when the investigation will come to 
an end. “Amazon is confident that our 
agreements with publishers are legal 
and in the best interests of readers, ” 
a company spokesperson said when 
the investigation was announced. 

Richard Mollet, CEO of the 
Publishers Association, welcomed the 
investigation, saying his trade body 
has been calling for action for the past 
few months. “It’s been felt for some 
time that it isn’t clear in the UK 
whether the market conditions 
are fair,” he told PC Pro. 

Pointing to Amazon’s 
dispute with Haehette, he said 
that “clearly, there were practices 
going on in those markets that didn’t 
appear to be fair” , and it was time to 
“smoke out” the situation. Amazon’s 
decision to drop key Haehette titles 
following the dispute between the 
two “showed that the potential for 
harmful consequences are there,” 
Mollet added. 

So why did it take so long 
for there to be an investigation? 

“The ebook market is still pretty 
nascent across Europe,” Mollet 
said, noting that the UK fiction 
market is 37% ebooks, and that’s 
the largest proportion in Europe. 


14 






Q@pcpro Hfacebook.com/pcpro 


Briefing News m 


Plus, some companies may be 
“reticent” to come forward 
with evidence. “It’s obviously 
a potentially difficult step for a 
company to raise a flag against 
what it might perceive as unfair 
practices, so these things take 
time to come out,” he added. 

Amazon is also being investigated 
by the EU over whether its tax 
structure violated competition 
laws, and has already said it will 
alter how it pays taxes across the 
EU, following the introduction in 
the UK of the so-called “Google Tax” 
that bills companies 25% on any 
profits being routed offshore. 

That suggests that American 
giants can indeed be brought to 
heel by European lawmakers. 
Taming Amazon’s competitive 
streak may prove more difficult, 
but Vestager seems more than 
up for the fight. 

■ Anti-Americanism? 

Vestager’s activity hasn’t won 
her fans across the Atlantic. 

Earlier this year, US president 
Barack Obama warned against 
European protectionism, although 
Vestager has stressed she’s not 
picking a fight with Silicon Valley. 
“We’re not actually targeting US 
companies - we don’t have a 
geographic bias, ” she told 
Bloomberg. “This just reflects that 
there are many strong companies 
in the US that influence the digital 
market elsewhere.” 

Indeed, Vestager has taken 
efforts to praise such companies, 
saying she uses Google’s “very good 
products” herself, while calling 
Amazon a “successful business that 
offers consumers a comprehensive 
service”. That said, Vestager’s also 
made it clear in interviews that she 
doesn’t take on companies unless 
she believes she’ll win. • 



The confusing shift 
to honest broadband 

Ofcom is making it easier to switch to a new ISP if your broadband doesn’t 
live up to what was promised - but moving may not yield faster speeds 


OFCOM IS MAKING it casicr to leave your 
ISP if your broadband speeds don’t 
live up to its promises - but the move 
may not actually benefit consumers. 

Broadband ads lean heavily on 
speed figures, but research by Which? 
revealed that only 17% of Britons get 
the average speed advertised by their 
ISP - and even fewer during peak 
times. As usual, rural customers suffer 
the most, with only 2% achieving the 
advertised speed. 

This is despite Ofcom signing up 
ISPs to a code of practice five years 
ago that was designed to provide 
more clarity about speeds via 
more accurate advertising, 
and to let customers switch 
to a new provider in the 
first three months of a 
contract if speeds didn’t 
live up to expectations. 

It’s not known how many 
people have exercised this 
option, since Ofcom doesn’t 
collect such data. 

Ofcom’ s new chief Sharon 
White addressed the issue in her 
first public speech, unveiling a new 
code of practice with one maj or 
change: you can now leave at any time 
in your contract if your speed falls 
below the “minimum guaranteed 
access line speed”. However, this 
figure isn’t fixed for every customer: 
it’s the bottom 10% of speeds that 
“similar customers” would receive - 
a figure that ISPs don’t have to reveal 
unless you ask specifically. 

■ Time to move? 

Ofcom is trying to make it easier for 
consumers to leave their ISP in other 
ways. A new switching process makes 
it simpler to move providers, and an 
investigation has been launched into 
ISPs that use “deliberate obstruction” 
to try to “hold on to customers who 
want to leave at the end of their 
contract,” said White. 

Andrew Eerguson, an analyst at 
Thinkbroadband, questioned whether 
moving ISP was the best solution for 
customers. “There’s a danger that the 
new rules about being able to walk at 
any point may see people doing the 
merry-go-round of moving providers, 
chasing an elusive better speed, when 


the reality is they’re 6km from the 
phone exchange,” he said. “[With] 
no cable broadband available, 
they’re never going to get better 
than iMbit/sec until a fibre-based 
solution arrives in the area.” 

“If the same technology is used 
by different providers [then] 
connection speeds will be largely 
the same,” Eerguson predicted, 
although he noted that quality of 
service, especially at peak demand 
times, can vary between ISPs. 

■ Forget advertising 

Gonfusion over what speed 
you’re likely to receive is 
one issue, but Eerguson 
said that slow broadband 
is the root of the problem. 
More honest, easier-to- 
understand marketing 
would be welcome, but 
‘it will not improve speeds 
for people” , he noted. 
Advertising rules 
dictate that ISPs can advertise 
a maximum speed only if at least 
10% of customers can actually receive 
it. According to Which?' s research, 
ISPs aren’t reaching that target, 
with only 4% of customers on 
TalkTalk’s lyMbits/sec service 
achieving that speed - and only 1% of 
BT’s 76Mbits/sec package seeing such 
dizzying download rates. Both ISPs 
disputed Which?’s figures, saying 
that their own data shows that 
they’re meeting the 10% threshold 
and in many cases exceeding it. 

Ofcom has attempted to ensure 
that customers signing up to new 
contracts have a realistic idea of what 
to expect by requiring ISPs to quote 
a range of speeds, showing what 20% 
of customers are likely to get and what 
80% are expected to get, based on 
distance from the exchange. In other 
words, customers must be given a 
range of speeds that people in similar 
circumstances would get - a more 
complicated message, but a more 
realistic one than previous averages. 

“We must remember that an 
advert is not a promise, ” said 
Eerguson. “The key thing for the 
consumer is to learn their personal 
estimate at the time of signing up.” 



ABOVE 

Disappointment about 
slow broadband may 
not be solved simply 
by making it easier for 
customers to move 


15 




Grey imports - are 
they worth the risk? 

It's often cheaper to buy tech products from overseas, but that discount might be 
down to tax avoidance. Adam Banks investigates 


■ Common complaints 

Unfortunately, not all resellers provide a good 
serviee. Many buyers of eamera kit report 
reeeiving lenses or bodies that have been 
split from kits then repaekaged, redueing 
their seeondhand value. There are reports of 
inaeeurate photos and orders. Interpretations 
of “in stoek” ean be elastie: vv^hile a vv^ait of five 
or six days is usual, there are tales of items not 
showing up for a month. SLRHut eustomers 
noted that the firm phoned them before 
proeessing their online order; while some 
appreeiated the personal toueh, others 
objeeted to being offered alternative produets. 

Don’t expeet to reeeive “UK stoek”: goods 
may eome from China, Russia or anywhere 
outside Europe. Whether this matters depends 
on the manufaeturer. For example: Olympus, 
aeeording to several users, will honour an 
international warranty based on any valid 
reeeipt, while lens-maker Sigma voeally 
opposes grey imports. Reportedly, Apple 
doesn’t eare where a produet was bought, but 
wateh out for teehnieal differenees, sueh as 


T hese days, the best priee for a gadget is only a eliek 
away. Google even helpfully lists promoted suppliers 
at the top of your results. But when some retailers 
offer priees that are 30% to 40% lower than others, is the 
deal too good to be true? Not neeessarily. Weleome to the 
eomplieated area of grey imports. 

Grey importing is when produets are sold outside of 
normal sales ehannels: the sale itself is legal, but the goods 
are often shipped from outside the final market, raising 
issues of tax, duties, warranties and returns. 

How ean you spot a grey importer? Just beeause a site 
shows a UK phone number, that doesn’t mean the firm 
is based here; many sueh sites operate from Hong Kong. 
That means your usual eonsumer rights won’t apply, so 
eheek eustomer reviews before buying. 

The busiest souree of ratings is Trustpilot, a sort of 
equivalent to TripAdvisor for retailers. Most reviews you’ll 
find on this site are glowing. A few sites, not mentioned 
on Trustpilot nor found in Google-sponsored results, are 
seams; you’ll spot them by searehing their name plus 
“review” or “problem” . But those genuinely targeting UK 
eonsumers tend to attraet loyal eustom. 


ABOVE Grey-market 
goods can be much 
cheaper than buying 
from the UK 


RIGHT Trustpilot 
reviews can help 
you find a reliable 
overseas retailer 


PAL versus NTSC or different power-supply requirements. 

Sinee you’re not buying within the EU, you don’t get a 
two-year guarantee as standard either. Grey importers 
normally offer their own, usually bought in from an 
international provider. If you need to use it, it will 
mean sending your produet to a third-party workshop. 


Panamoz reviews 


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16 





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Briefing PC Probe m 



Buying goods on the international wholesale market 
and offering them direet to UK eustomers isn’t illegal 
(although it may involve a breaeh of eontraet somewhere) . 
But in today’s global market, it’s not obvious why it’s 
eheaper. Retailers sueh as Cama and Tin Cheung advertise 
the same priees online as in their Hong Kong shops, and it’s 
rare you’ll find them for less than the pre-VAT priee in the 
UK. Yet mueh lower priees are advertised for UK imports. 

■ Paying VAT 

Presumably suppliers know where to go for the best 
wholesale deals. Could there also be an element of tax 
evasion? When goods are shipped from outside the EU 
to a personal eustomer, a tax bill is sent - usually via the 
eourier firm -either to the supplier (if they’ve agreed to 
pay it) or to the eustomer. A known method of VAT evasion 
is to mark paekages with a false value of less than the £15 
threshold, rather than the real priee paid. 

We make no suggestion that any eompany named here 
is involved in this praetiee, but there are plenty of eustomer 
stories doing the rounds; one affirmed that his supplier had 
failed to “do an aeeurate eustoms deelaration, to dodge the 
VAT. My eamera was deelared as low-value toy aeeessory . ” 
The gamble doesn’t always pay off: “I’ve sinee ordered 
a eamera from another Hong Kong firm, whieh was 
delivered after being held by eustoms for seven weeks. I’ve 
paid the VAT and hope to be refunded [by the supplier] . ” 

The Home Offiee’s Border Foree, not HMRC, now has 
responsibility for eustoms enforeement. A spokesperson 
told us that the ageney aims to “disrupt any fraud whieh 
eheats UK taxpayers and undereuts honest businesses”, 
and that it earries out eheeks to “assess whether the values 
on eustoms deelarations are eredible”. Border Foree will 
also “respond to any speeifie intelligenee about the 
suspeeted undervaluation of goods”. 

Some grey suppliers promise a refund if you 
reeeive a tax bill. That’s highly suggestive of attempted 
misdeelaration, although it eould happen due to error. 
Others just say you won’t have to pay any tax, without 
explaining why. Simply Eleetronies is unusual in 
diselaiming responsibility for tax and duty, eorreetly 
warning that the eustomer may have to pay it. 

We phoned several grey-importing eompanies for 
details. Twiee we reaehed automated messages. A third 
supplier, based in England but under a name listed by 
Companies House as “dormant”, answered; following 
four attempts to traek down an elusive manager, we had 
to give up. Finally, at Expedite Eleetronies, a woman with 
a professional telephone manner answered our questions 
briskly. Did the priees inelude VAT? No, beeause “the main 
eompany” was based in Hong Kong. Did that mean we 
might get a VAT bill? No: “You don’t have to pay any 
VAT and the import duty and tax is already ineluded.” 


ABOVE Expedite 
Electronics told us 
that we wouldn’t have 
to pay VAT on top of its 
advertised prices 


If eompanies bring goods from outside the EU into UK 
warehouses and sell them on, they’re responsible for the 
VAT, not the eustomer. If the goods are shipped direetly to 
you from abroad, however, you’re probably liable to pay 
the VAT on reeeipt. One problem is that there’s no way for 
a eonsumer to easily eheek the tax has been paid. And if 
you’re a VAT-registered business, you ean’t elaim baek the 
tax if it was paid by the importer. That adds 20% to the priee 
you’re paying, although you eould still be saving overall. 


■ Grey advice 

If you’re eonsidering buying grey, go in with your eyes open. 
First, do the researeh. We found many items for hundreds 
of pounds less than regular UK priees, but a few items were 
aetually eheaper in the UK. Read the terms and eonditions, 
whieh will often be found on an “FAQ” or “Shipping” page. 
They vary from explieit - for example, requiring you to 
return faulty goods within a limited period - to insidious: 
when “shipping insuranee” is an option, guess what that 
says about your position if goods arrive damaged? 

Do pay by eredit eard (as a eonsumer) , beeause the eard 
issuer is jointly liable for purehases of more than £100, 
regardless of where it’s from. Some debit eards offer 
voluntary proteetion too. You ean request a ehargebaek 
against any eard if goods aren’t delivered, but you’ll be 
relying on the eo-operation of the merehant’s bank, 
so don’t hold your breath for a quiek resolution. 

If things do go wrong with a purehase, badger the 
retailer until it’s put right. Insist on a replaeement or 
refund, not a repair; if goods arrive faulty, eite breaeh of 
eontraet - a eoneept understood by eourts everywhere. If 
neeessary, log in to Trustpilot and post a eomplaint: many 
of these eompanies monitor reviews and may reply, and 
at worst you’ve helped to warn others of the pitfalls. • 


Other ways to buy abroad 


Grey imports are distinct from personal 
imports. Foreign retailers may simply 
offer delivery to the UK, leaving itto you 
to pay the VAT and duty. For example, 
New York firm B&FI (bhphotovideo.com) 
usefullyshowsacalculation of shipping, 
tax and duty while you're browsing an 
item. Foreign eBay sales work similarly, 
but misdeelaration isn't unknown here. 

A few UK-based firms also sell grey 
imports, one example being FIDEW 
Cameras (hdewcameras.co.uk). 


With prices as low as anywhere, and the 
reassurance of English law, it could be the 
best of both worlds. But some customers 
say the firm could be clearer about what 
you're getting, including kit splits. 

One way to legally avoid some of the 
tax is to bring products with you when 
travelling into the UKfrom outside the 
EU. If the goods are worth more than 
£390 in total, you must go through the 
red channel, but you only have to pay VAT 
and duty on the value above that level. 


17 




The ultimate guide to the very best 
products on the market today 


The A-List 


LAPTOPS 

1 1 

SMARTPHONES 

Aoole MacBook Pro 13in with Retina disnlav 

Samsuno Galaxv S6 


2015 model, from £999 

apple.com/uk 

With its innovative Force Touch 
trackpad, new Broadwell processors 
and the same excellent Retina screen, 
the MacBook Pro is better than ever. 
It’s fast, with superior battery life to the 
previous generation, and that trackpad 
adds to all-round usability. 

REVIEW: p84 



Android, 32GB, free phone, 
£35/mth, 24mths 

omio.com 

With the Galaxy S6, Samsung has 
finally created a phone as beautiful as it 
is capable. Superb performance, a nigh on 
perfect display and an astonishingly good 
camera provide the perfect foil to the most 
attractive Samsung handset yet. 

REVIEW: pcpro.link/algalsG 



ALTERNATIVES 


Lenovo IdeaPad 
Yoga 2 

A versatile hybrid laptop 
with the best IPS screen in 
its class - now available at 
an irresistible price. £380; 
argos.co.uk REVIEW: 
pcpro.link/alyoga2 


AsusZenbook 

UX303LA 

The latest Broadwell Core 
i7 and a quality screen 
make this Ultrabook both 
desirable and great value. 

£699; laptopsdirect.co.uk 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/ 
alzbSOS 


HP Stream 11 

Good-looking, well built 
and equipped with a 
decent display, the petite 
Stream 11 is as good as it 
gets for the money. £179; 
hp.co.uk REVIEW: 
pcpro.link/alhpll 


ALTERNATIVES 


Motorola 

MotoG (2nd Gen) 

A bargain: Sin screen, 
good battery life and 
4G too. From free, 
£20/mth, 24mths; 
omio.com REVIEW: 
pcpro.link/almotog2 


SonyXperiaZ3 

Compact 

Speedy performance, 
decent battery life and 
a fine camera - all for a 
great price. From free, 
£25/mth, 24mths; 
omio.com REVIEW: 
pcpro.link/alsonyZS 


Apple iPhone 6 

Apple steps up to a 
larger screen size with 
the classy, long-lasting 
4.7in iPhone -but it’s 
pricey. 64GB, from 
free, £35/mth, 24mths; 
omio.com REVIEW: 
pcpro.link/alip6 


TABLETS 


II PCs 


Apple iPad Air 2 

9.7in tablet 64GB, £479 

apple.com/uk 

Even faster, even lighter and just as 
pretty as ever -the iPad Air 2 takes 
everything that made the original 
great and improves upon it. Updated 
cameras and the arrival of Touch ID are 
welcome upgrades, too. Its only real 
rival is the original 32GB iPad Air, now 
discounted to a tempting £359. 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/alipair 



Chilibiast Fusion Quasar 

Base unit, £600 

chillblast.com 

Chillblast’s Fusion Quasar is 
the very definition of a classy 
all-round base unit. A Core iS CPU 
overclocked to 4.3GFIz delivers 
plenty of raw power, combined with 
good gaming capability and serious 
upgrade potential. A five-year 
warranty seals the deal. 

REVIEW: pcpro.link/alchill 



ALTERNATIVES 


Tesco HudI 2 

Tesco’s budget Android 
tablet sports a high- 
quality 8.4in IPS display 
and great design. You 
can’t top it for value. 

£99; tesco.com REVIEW: 
pcpro.link/alhudl2 


LinxB 

Part of a new wave of 
ultra-affordable compact 
Windows tablets, the 
Linx 8 squeezes in plenty 
for the price. £80; 
pcworld.co.uk REVIEW: 
pcpro.link/allinx8 


SonyXperia 
Z2 Tablet 

The most desirable full- 
sized Android tablet yet, 
thanks to great design 
and battery life. 16GB, 
£330; johnlewis.co.uk 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/ 
alxz2tab 


ALTERNATIVES 


Apple IMac 
21.5ln 

A classy all-in-one with 
a compact frame, ample 
power and a colour- 
accurate screen. From 
£899; apple.com/uk 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/ 
alimac215 


Apple IMac 
27ln with Retina 
5K display 

Astonishing image quality 
and stunning resolution: 
a great PC. From 
£1,599; apple.com/uk 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/ 
alimac275k 


Acer Revo One 
RL85 

An elegant but versatile 
compact PC with great 
expansion options and 
a competitive price. 

From £230; 
currys.co.uk REVIEW: 
pcpro.link/alacerrevo 


HALF-PRICE READER OFFER 


iwti 



Buy lyr protection, 3 devices, for £24.99 (RRP £49.99)1 




18 












Q@pcpro Hfacebook.com/pcpro 


Briefing Best buys m 


MONITORS 


AsusPBZ87Q 

Premium monitor, £400 

ebuyer.com 

Not so long ago, a 4K display for less than 
£500 was unimaginable. Asus delivers 
exactly that: a razor-sharp image on a 
28in panel at a very reasonable price. 

REVIEW: pcpro.link/alpb287q 



Eizo ColorEdge CS240 

Eizo ticks almost every box 
with the 24.1in, 1,920x1,200 
ColorEdge CS240. With a highly 
colour-accurate IPS screen, 
it’s the first truly professional- 
class monitor we’ve seen at 
anywhere near this price. 

£462; wexphotographic.com 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/alcs240 


A0Cq2770Pqu 

A feature-packed, 27in 2,560 
X 1,440 display offering a huge 
workspace, an adjustable stand, 
a four-port USB hub - and a 
three-year warranty. Super PLS 
technology gives great viewing 
atngles too. At this price, it’s 
a steal. £330; overclockers.com 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/alq2770 


PRINTERS 


Canon PixmaMG6450 



All-in-one inkjet printer, £67 


pcworld.co.uk 


The MG6450 inherits its predecessor’s 
status as PC Pro's favourite inkjet 
all-in-one, offering high-quality 
output at a very reasonable price. 

REVIEW: pcpro.link/almg6450 


Canon Pixma 
iP8750 

Canon’s mid-range inkjet is ideal for 
anyone with a fancy for prints larger 
than the usual A4. It can print photos 
at up to A3+ in size, and its six-ink 
cartridges produce immaculate 
photographs, yet the price is very 
reasonable. £219; parkcameras.com 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/alip8750 


Epson Expression 
Photo XP-950 

Epson’s high-end inkjet all-in-one 
is a fantastic all-rounder for the 
enthusiast photographer. It combines 
high-quality prints with a decent 
scanner, a great touch interface 
and the ability to output photos at up 
to A3 in size. £200; currys.co.uk 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/alxp950 


ROUTERS 



Netgear R7500 Nighthawk X4 


AC2350 router, £170 


broadbandbuyer.co.uk 


Top Wi-Fi performance close up and at long 
range, swift USB NAS performance and all the 
latest Wi-Fi goodies make the new Nighthawk 
router our Wi-Fi router of choice. 

REVIEW: pcpro.link/alr7500 


D-LinkDIR-868L 

This 802.11ac wireless router may 
not have the most impressive set 
of features, and it lacks an internal 
modem. Flowever, in our tests it 
outpaced models costing twice 
as much, making it an affordable 
way to get speedy wireless 
performance. £79; ebuyer.com 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/aldir868l 


Netgear Nighthawk 
AC1900 Extender 

The most powerful wireless 
extender on the market, Netgear’s 
Nighthawk marries five Gigabit 
networking ports with fast, 
dual-band 802.11ac support and 
a host of features. 

£130; broadbandbuyer.co.uk 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/alngex7000 


HOME NETWORKING 



Synology DiskStation DS214play 


Network-attached storage, £219 


broadbandbuyer.co.uk 


A hugely versatile NAS with built-in Wi-Fi and some 
of the best media-streaming and cloud features 
we've seen, as well as eSATA and USB extensibility. 
It packs a lot of power into a solid, compact unit. 

REVIEW: pcpro.link/alds214play 


Netgear 

ReadyNAS314 

This NAS drive isn’t cheap, but it’s 
fast, reliable and easy to use - while 
offering advanced features such as 
unlimited block-level snapshots and 
iSCSI thin provisioning. The best 
buy is the diskless model. 

£380; pcworld.co.uk 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/alrnas314 


Google Chromecast 

This is the future of TV streaming 
- cheap to buy and simple to use. 
Plug the Chromecast into a spare 
FIDMI port at the back of your TV, 
then browse on your smartphone 
or tablet and beam Full FID content 
directly onto the big screen. 

£30; play.google.com 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/aiccast 


WEARABLES 


Pebble Steel 

Smartwatch, £146 

ebuyer.com 

The Pebble Steel isn’t the flashiest smartwatch 
out there, but it offers great battery life, brilliant 
apps and a simple interface with solid physical 
controls. Plus, it supports both iOS and Android. 

REVIEW: pcpro.link/alpebsteel 



LG G Watch R 

Android Wear smartwatches don’t 
tend to have great battery life, but 
the G Watch R is the best we’ve seen. 
With an attractive, round-faced 
design, a punchy and colourful 
display and a heart-rate monitor, 
it’s the best Android Wear watch 
so far. £170; expansys.com 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/aigwatchr 


Apple Watch 

The long-awaited wearable from 
Apple is here, and despite a high 
price, it’s excellent. The scrollwheel 
crown takes navigation up a notch, 
while the advanced haptics have 
to be felt to be believed. For iPhone 
owners, it’s the watch to buy. From 
£299; apple.com/uk REVIEW: 
pcpro.link/alapplewatch 


19 












Bl Briefing Best buys 


Q@PCPR0 f3FACEBOOK.COM/PCPRO 


SECURITY SOFTWARE || PRODUCTIVITY SOFTWARE || CREATIVITY SOFTWARE 


Kaspersky Internet Security 2015 

Another year, another . . 

excellent performance KAiPERlKYli 
for this super-secure, 
lightweight and unintrusive security suite. 

3 PCs/lyr, £25; store.pcpro.co.uk 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/alkasisIS 


Microsoft Office 2013 

Microsoft retains the top spot 
for the ultimate office suite, 
although tablet users may be 
disappointed by lacklustre touch support. 

From £110; office.microsoft.com 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/alofficelS 


tj Office 


Adobe Creative Cloud updated 


The licensing model won’t suit everyone, f 
but Adobe's suite of creative tools keeps 
getting better, covering everything from ^ 
photo and video editing to web development. 

Complete plan, £46/mth; adobe.com 
REVIEW: p70 



Avast Free 
Antivirus 

Still the best free 
antivirus, although 
others are catching 
up. It offers dependable 
protection -and it 
doesn’t nag you about 
upgrading. Free; 
avast.com 

REVIEW: pcpro.link/ 
alavastlS 


Norton Security 
2015 

It’s not the cheapest, 
but the protection 
provided is good and it 
covers up to five devices, 
from laptops to tablets 
and smartphones. 

5 devices/lyr, £42; 
amazon.co.uk 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/ 
alnortlS 


LibreOfficeA 

The UI looks a little 
dated, and Microsoft 
Office has the edge 
on features. All the 
same, LibreOffice is an 
impressively powerful 
office suite -and it 
won’t cost you a penny. 
Free; libreoffice.org 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/ 
allibreoffice 


Scrivener 

A brilliant package for 
serious writers: not just 
a word processor, but 
a tool that helps you 
organise your ideas and 
manage the process 
of composition from 
start to finish. £28; 
literatureandlatte.com 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/ 
alscrivener 


Adobe 
Photoshop 
Elements 13 

Adobe’s home image- 
editing tool is a terrific 
and powerful buy, 
although users of older 
versions won’t find 
much reason to upgrade. 
£64; amazon.co.uk 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/ 
alelementsIS 


Steinberg 
Cubase Pro 8 

A big bump in 
performance and 
a handful of UI 
improvements keep 
Cubase at the top of 
the audio-production tree. 
A worthwhile upgrade. 
£369; dv247.com 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/ 
alcubaseproS 


SERVERS 


HP ProLiant DL80Gen9 

Massive storage capacity combines with a 
high-speed Xeon E5-2600 v3 CPU and a scalable 
design to push this HP rack server to the top of the 
tree. The price is very reasonable as well. £989 
exc VAT; hp.co.uk REVIEW: pcpro.link/alhpdl80 



HP ProLiant ML150Gen9 

HP’s compact tower server packs in a huge range of 
high-end features, alongside impressive expansion 
capabilities so it can grow as your business does. £853 
exc VAT; hp.co.uk REVIEW: pcpro.link/alhpplml150 


STORAGE APPLIANCES 


QnapTS-EC880 Pro 

Qnap’s eight-bay desktop NAS sets new standards 
in the desktop NAS appliance space, combining 
ultra-powerful hardware with every storage 
feature you could wish for. It has huge expansion 
potential, and lOGbE 
networking seals the 
deal. Diskless, £1,381 
exc VAT; ballicom.co.uk 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/ 
alec880pro 


Synology RackStation RS2414RP+ 

Built with speed and expansion in mind, this 2U rack 
NAS offers a veritable feast of storage features and 
plenty of expansion potential. It’s good value, too. 

Diskless, £1,362 exc VAT; ballicom.co.uk 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/alrs2414rp 


SECURITY 


Sophos SG 115w 

A security appliance that gets 
it right on almost every level. 
Easy deployment, a huge range 
of features and a tempting 
price make this the perfect 
choice for SMBs. With 
lyr FullGuard, £809 
exc VAT; sophos.com 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/ 
alsophossg 


Sophos Cloud 

User-based policies and slick mobile support make this 
a top-class cloud solution. Performance is impressive, 
too. It isn’t the cheapest option, but it’s a pleasure to use. 

10 users, £510/yr exc VAT; sophos.com 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/alscloud 





BUSINESS PRINTERS 


Epson WorkForce Pro WF-5620DWF 

Shatters the myth that inkjets are only for 
low-demand use, delivering fast output 
speeds, low running costs and tons of features. 

It prints at 20 pages per 
minute, and quality is 
perfectly acceptable - 
it can even print glossy 
photos. £187 exc VAT; 
printerland.co.uk 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/ 
alwf5620 


HP Color LaserJet Enterprise M553dn 

HP’s latest colour laser is an astonishingly good 
printer, offering an unbeatable combination of value, 
low running costs, performance and excellent output 
quality. £382 exc VAT; printerland.co.uk 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/alm553dn 


BACKUP 


Barracuda Backup Server 290 

A beautifully simple appliance that brings together 
on-site and cloud backup. There’s block-level 
deduplication, extensive support for Windows 
systems and applications, integral Exchange MLB, 
and simple deployment and management. 

£4,446 exc VAT; barracuda.com 
REVIEW: pcpro.link/alserver290 



DataFort Critical Care 

HEW EHIIT Data Fort’s managed backup service takes 
care of everything, even bringing up virtual clones of 
your systems should disaster strike. Per-server pricing 
means it’s cost-effective too. One server, £350/month 
exc VAT; datafort.com REVIEW: plOO 


NETWORK MANAGEMENT 


Paessler PRTG Network Monitor 15 

A network-management solution that’s ideal 
for businesses on a tight budget. Supports a 
wide range of devices, which are included in 
the price, and licensing is based purely on 
sensor count, so there are no hidden costs. 

An excellent way to keep tabs on 
what’s going on in your network. 

500 sensors, lyr, £847 exc VAT; 
paessler.com 

REVIEW: pcpro.link/alprtg15 


SolarWinds Orion NPM 11.5 

Offers excellent value for money, packing in a 
huge number of monitoring features as standard, 
including support for 802.11 wireless access points 
and virtual machines. 250 elements, £4,110 exc VAT; 
solarwinds.com REVIEW: pcpro.link/alnpm115 




PRTG 

network ManitDT 


20 

















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BACKGROUND INFO ON INNOVATIVE BRITISH COMPANIES 


FreeAgent 

After a career as a fighter pilot, founding a financial software 
business isn’t a traditional next step. But Ed Molyneux and 
partners had an idea that took off like a rocket 



KEYFACTS 


IN A NUTSHELL 
FreeAgent is 
the cloud-based 
accountancy 
software aimed 
exclusively at 
freelancers and 
small-business 
owners. It was 
recently named 
one of Britain’s 
fastest-growing 
tech businesses. 

FORMED 2007 

LOCATION 

Edinburgh 

STAFF 73 

WEBSITE 

freeagent.com 


RIGHT The software’s 
approachable 
interface has 
made it a hit 


F rom Top Gun to tax returns: it doesn’t sound like the 
most thrilling of eareer paths. Yet, for fighter pilot 
turned FreeAgent CEO Ed Molyneux, plunging into 
the aeeountaney software business was as mueh a leap 
into the unknown as anything he did when in the eoekpit 
of an RAF Harrier. Molyneux admits that he and his two 
eo-founders were “absolutely elueless about aeeounting” 
when they first had the thought that there must be a 
simpler way for small businesses to manage their finances 
and decided to solve the problem themselves. 

Eight years later, FreeAgent’ s fortunes continue to 
climb skyward. In 2013, Deloitte ranked FreeAgent as 
the eighth fastest-growing tech business in the country, 
having posted 2,128% revenue growth over the previous 
five years. Since then, the company has increased in 
number by almost half, now employing 73 people at 
its Edinburgh headquarters and supporting more than 
40,000 paying subscribers. 

The company’s journey to success provides some 
unusual insights into how to build a software business that 
stands apart from the rest of the market - and even more 
surprising revelations about what it’s like to be dependent 
on the co-operation of a government department with as 
fusty a reputation as the Inland Revenue. 

■ Preparing for take-off 

Molyneux didn’t leap straight out of the cockpit and into 
his own accountancy software business. He graduated 
from Oxford with an engineering and computer science 


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degree before joining the RAF, and set himself up as a 
“one-man-band technology consultant” immediately 
after leaving the Air Force. 

It was while working as a freelancer that Molyneux 
discovered how desperately difficult it was for micro- 
sized businesses to keep their financial affairs in order. 

“I had to set up a limited company and run that, and the 
financial-management part was a bit of a train wreck, ” 
he admits. “I had an accountant who’d give me a 
spreadsheet. I’d fill that in - mostly - and wouldn’t 
have enough money set aside for my tax bill.” 

Molyneux was “looking for a project to get my teeth 
into” at the time, and so decided to try to make juggling 
cash flow easier for himself - and the millions of 
freelancers and small-business owners in the UK. He 
wrote the first version of what was to become FreeAgent 
in the summer of 2006, and by 2007 he and his two 
co-founders - Oily Headey and Roan Lavery - decided to 
make a business out of it. “We all came from contracting 
and freelancing backgrounds and we all agreed it was crazy 
how things [such as tax returns] were being done at that 
time. Of course, if you’re in software you know there’s one 
thing you can do and that’s build something to fix it, and 
that’s what we did.” 

Good at writing software they may have been, but 
Molyneux and his partners certainly didn’t have the 
accountancy expertise required to pull together a piece 
of software that could calculate National Insurance 
contributions and the like. Yet Molyneux regards that as 
a strength, not a weakness. “If you 
understand the problem and you 
have a technical background, you 
can get some really clear insight 
into the solution,” he said. “If 
you’re a businessperson who gets 
the problem, but doesn’t have a 
technical background, you never 
know whether things are hard 
or easy. 

“One of the real advantages 
we had when we started out was 
that we were absolutely clueless 
about accounting,” he said, with 
sincerity. “It’s actually a real 
strength. We laid out the interface 


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22 







Q@PCPR0 nFACEBOOK.COM/PCPRO 


Profile ■ 



■ Shortage of expertise 

Although FreeAgent eventually relied on the expertise 
of trained accountants, it v\^asn’t a shortage of financial 
know-how that was the company’s biggest problem, but 
finding sufficiently skilled software engineers to grow the 
business. “Good engineers are the hardest of all to hire,” 
said Molyneux. “We’re in Edinburgh. It’s not a centre for 
engineering or computer science businesses. For the first 
couple of years, we kind of wished we were in London. ” 
Now, however, he’s glad the company decided to 
stay put. Talent is starting to emerge from the local 
universities, and convincing 
good candidates to move to 
Edinburgh has become easier. 
“We’re not competing with the 
Silicon Roundabout, high-churn, 
sexier product companies that 
we would be if we were in 
London,” he said. “When we 
get people up here, we really 
do hang on to them.” 

Neither does the company outsource development, 
claiming the quality of the software is dependent on 
having different teams working closely with one another. 
“We need engineers to be sat next to an accountant, or a 
support member of staff or a designer, to get the best out 
of them,” said Molyneux. 


kk If we’d started out 
knowing much about 
accounting, we’d have built 
a product similar to what’s 
already out there ff 


in that hateful electronic form 
might assume that dealing with 
HMRC would be more painful 
than having wisdom teeth 
extracted without anaesthetic, 
but Molyneux insists the taxman is 
very accommodating, offering a “very 
comprehensive API” for the software 
companies with which to work. 

“They’re very open with the 
software industry,” said Molyneux. 
“Their remit is to increase the tax 
take, but they can’t have any more 
staff; they can’t have any more money. 
They have to find some technical 
solutions to that, so they’ve turned 
to the accounting software industry 
to help them do that.” 

HMRC is even prepared to 
disclose sensitive secrets to the 
software firms. “We talked to HMRC 
last year, and they were offering to 
share with us the rules that they’re 
using internally to assess the risk of 
various different tax returns being 
submitted to them, ” said Molyneux. 
That could eventually help FreeAgent tell its customers 
if what they’re about to submit is likely to be flagged as 
suspicious. “I thought it was extraordinary,” Molyneux 
added. “ [But] they want to reduce their investigations 
burden, so why not share that?” 

Where dealing with HMRC can become tricky is 
when translating ambiguous tax legislation into software 
rules that don’t result in customers paying more or less 
than they should. “What’s hard sometimes is that we 
need a lot of detail and formality in the way rules are 
expressed,” said Molyneux. “Sometimes there’s room 
for interpretation. We have to make judgements on how 
to write a rule into the software, just as an accountant 
would have to when dealing with a client.” 


■ Cutting outthe money men? 

With customers paying more than £200 per year for access 
to FreeAgent, many may resent having to pay even more 
to an accountant to check their tax return at the end of the 
financial year. Does FreeAgent ultimately aim to put the 
accountants out of business by giving its subscribers the 
confidence to file for themselves? There’s a pregnant pause 
before Molyneux answers the question. “We work with a 
lot of accountants as well,” he explained. “It’s actually the 
fastest-growing part of our business, getting accountants 
to get their clients on FreeAgent.” 

Molyneux said that products such as FreeAgent mean 
the days of throwing a box of receipts, invoices and a few 
hundred quid at an accountant to file your return are over. 
People enter the data themselves. However, they do still 
want that “warm, fuzzy feeling” of having an accountant to 
check over their numbers, and if that’s all neatly formatted 
in FreeAgent before it’s submitted to the expert, it’s less 
arduous and less costly for an individual than before. It’s 
also less of a pain for the accountant, who becomes more 
of a business advisor than a bookkeeper. 

Software that keeps accountants happy? Now that is 
something... BARRY COLLINS 


ABOVE Ed Molyneux 
developed FreeAgent 
following his own 
experiences working 
as a freelancer 

ABOVE LEFT The 
data collected by 
FreeAgent means 
less need for costly 
accounting services 


based on what we wanted. Now we have this packed 
timeline, so you get this chronological list of when all 
the deadlines are and what the proj ections of the liabilities 
are. Of course, at the time we didn’t realise that you need 
to build a double-entry accounting engine, nor model 
every aspect of VAT for small businesses and every aspect 
of income tax and corporation tax. We filled in the gaps as 
we went along. 

“If we’d started out knowing much about accounting, 
we’d have probably built something that looked like the 
products that were already out there,” he claims. 


■ Tax really isn’t taxing 

One of the biggest dependencies in FreeAgent’s business 
is the Inland Revenue. FreeAgent’s software automatically 
fills up to 90% of the electronic tax return for sole traders, 
but achieving that requires the close co-operation of Her 
Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Anyone who’s had to fill 


What about you? 

Do you work for a British technology company that could be 
profiled in PC Pro? If so, get in touch: profile@pcpro.co.uk 


23 


N 



Might too much 
tech be bad 
for a child? 

You tell me 

Parents today are having to make 
judgements about tech issues they 
know little about - so what's new? 


When I was growing 
up, parents and 
teachers tended to 
regard technology 
with distrust. I 
suppose at first they 
had been swept up 
in the idea of home 
computing as an 
educational resource 
- after all, when the 
BBC Micro Model B 
came out in 1981, it 
cost the equivalent 
of £1,200 in today’s 
money, so it’s not as if we kids were buying 
them for ourselves. 

That wore off quickly, though, and it 
was replaced by the idea that computers 
were solely for playing games. This was an 
infuriatingly difficult perception to shake: 
a friend of my mother’s, after I had proudly 
shown him the text-based adventure I’d 
created, insisted on referring to my hobby 
as “sitting on your bottom going beep-boop” . 

Thanks to films such as Electric Dreams 
and Weird Science, there was even a 
suspicion that PCs might be an immoral 
influence. In reality, the closest my friends 
and I ever got to digital turpitude was 
“Samantha Fox Strip Poker” on the ZX 
Spectrum. The graphical limitations of the 
platform meant that this was considerably 
less corrupting than what you could see 


every day in The Sun; the most shocking 
thing was the fact that someone had the 
cheek to charge impressionable youngsters 
£8.95 for it. 

In short, personal technology got an 
unfair rap. My imagination was dancing to 
the potential of programming, of computer 
graphics and synthesised sound, even of 
business tools such as Lotus 1-2-3, which 
opened my eyes to new ways of looking at 
numbers - and grown-ups were telling me 
that I ought to switch the thing off and go 
for a walk. 

Yet in the past few months. I’ve found 
myself mentally revisiting the issue, for one 
very particular reason. My wife and I are now 
expecting a child of our own - and suddenly, 
instinctively, before she’s even born, I find 
myself worrying about my daughter’s future 
exposure to technology. 

I have to admit, I didn’t see this coming. 
With me as a father, you might have 
expected that the child’s problem would 
be a surfeit of technology. Put the pony 
down, darling, and come and play with 
the nice app. And of course I hate the idea 
of being a hypocritical parent. 

But the truth is that her experiences are 
going to be very different to mine. Until I was 
six or seven, my parents never really had to 


think about my relationship with tech, 
because home computing as we know 
it barely existed. Today, there are entire 
libraries of iPad apps aimed at children as 
young as 18 months. Inevitably, that sort 
of early exposure to technology is going 
to affect her development in some way. 

I’m not saying it’s necessarily going to be a 
harmful influence. Since receiving our happy 
news. I’ve once or twice found myself idly 
searching online for a copy of Laszld Polgar’s 
Bring Up Genius!, a 1989 treatise in which 
the Hungarian psychologist argues that 
“geniuses are made, not born”. Polgar taught 
his daughters to play chess from a very young 
age, and all three of them went on to become 
grandmasters, so I’m inclined to think he’s 
onto something. Handled correctly, I believe 
that embracing technology early on could be 
fantastically beneficial for our kids. 


The question is, how do we handle it 
correctly? How can we ensure a child is 
learning spatial reasoning and dexterity, 
and not simply developing a destructive 
addiction to in-app payments and Snapchat? 
The answer is that, since no previous 
generation in 50,000 years of human history 
has ever had to address these issues, no-one 
really knows. One of the nurseries near my 
home prides itself on offering an iPad for 
every toddler, while another emphasises 
traditional activities such as sports and 
stories. The fact that both are rated 
“excellent” by Ofsted isn’t very reassuring. 

There’s another aspect to consider too. 
Back in the 1980s, computing was very much 
a solitary experience. In truth, I can see how 
a kid sitting alone in their bedroom for hours 
on end, with only the glow of the screen for 
company, must have seemed rather weird 
and unhealthy to their parents. But give 
me that a thousand times over, rather than 
the connected world of today, in which 
every computing device worthy of the name 
is a gateway to a mosh pit of pornography, 
gore, cyberbullying, stranger danger and 
good old-fashioned malware. 

When I think of all the unsavoury and 
disturbing content that’s out there. I’m 
tempted to try to keep my daughter off the 
internet entirely. But then I know 
how I’d have reacted if anyone 
had tried to do the same to me 
when I was growing up. If I hadn’t 
understood the technology better 
than the adults at the outset. I’d 
have made it my business to learn. 

So Plan A is simply to hope that 
my daughter turns out to be a bit 
more pliant than I was. And if she 
isn’t, I can at least reassure myself that my 
concern for her isn’t mere prejudice. It’s 
prompted by the unarguable fact that the 
technology around her as she grows up will 
be more pervasive and influential than 
anything we had in my day - and nobody 
knows exactly how it might affect her. 

Then I realise this is precisely what my 
parents and teachers would have said about 
my own relationship with PCs in the 1980s. 
So perhaps instead I can take solace in the 
knowledge that it will probably be her, and 
not me, who has to worry about kids who 
want nothing more than to lie passively on 
their beds, getting up to who knows what 
inside their VR headsets. My whole life I’ve 
been impatient for more transformative 
technology; as parenthood looms, I find 
myself grateful it hasn’t gone further. 

^ darien@pcpro.co.uk 



Darien Graham-Smith 
is PC Pro’s deputy 
editor; he’s currently 
torn between Ada 
andTrillian. 


a The technology around her 
as she grows up will be more 
pervasive and influential than 
anything we had in my day yf 


24 



N 


Q@pcpro facebook.com/pcpro 


Viewpoints 


Stop, 

collaborate 
and, well, just 
stop. Please 

Can anyone cope with the barrage 
of cloud collaboration services? 
Our returning correspondent can’t 



Barry Collins is a freelance 
editor, writer, football 
director and photographer. 
Don’t message him. You 
might tip him over the edge. 


A few things have 
ehanged around 
here in the two 
years sinee my last 
PC Pro eolumn. 

The website’s 
beenreplaeedby a 
magnifieent new 
speeimen (although 
I’m amazed nobody’s 
spotted the typo in 
the URL). The offiee 
is full of enthusiastie 
young reeruits 
with trendy names, 
sueh as Curtis and Vaughn (whom I suspeet, 
with his hereditary aversion to the letter “a”, 
was responsible for naming said website) . 
And there’ s a barrage of new tools us old 
haeks must eope with if we want to be 
part of the gang. 

When I was the new kid baek in the 1990s, 
when Vaughn and Curtis were still rattling 
around their mothers’ ovaries, it was a 
simpler age. The post eame at 9am, the 
phone was tied to your desk, and email 
arrived whenever the editorial direetor 
remembered to reboot the mail server. 

There was no website to speak of, and 
the only real interaetion we had with 
the readers was on CIX, an online forum 
that’s still going strong. 

The other day, Vaughn was elearing out 
a desk in the offiee when he stumbled aeross 
something he didn’t reeognise. Of eourse, 
he did what every 15 -year-old does when 
eonfronted with something unfamiliar: 
he tweeted about it. “What the hell is a Zip 
disk?” he asked. “Anyone remember these?” 
If you, too, want to remove his frontal 
eortex with a teaspoon, ean I suggest 
you join the queue? 

Baek in the day, we used said Zip disks 
for baekup. At 6pm every night. I’d pop 
one into the drive attaehed to my PC, eopy 
over the My Doeuments folder, and pray I 


kk We think the next service 
will be the one to solve all our 
problems, when in fact it 
merely adds to them 


didn’t hear a strange elieking noise during 
that five-minute proeedure (Vaughn hasn’t 
got the first elue what I’m talking about 
here). When the job was done. I’d pop 
the Zip disk into my bag, and that was 
PC Pro’s off-site baekup. 

T oday that seems laughably 
quaint. Instead, we have a 
barrage of different servers and 
eloud serviees for doeument storage. 

As I work largely from home, I store my 
doeuments in Dropbox and share the folder 
with the subs desk when I’m submitting 
eopy. However, when the subs desk wants 
to share deadlines with me, they put them 
into Google Drive, beeause “that’s where 
they’ve always been”. When Darien sends 
me the magazine’s upeoming features list, it 
too is in Google Drive, but when I asked to see 
the same list for Alphr, the editorial direetor 
sent me an invite to Trello, yet another eloud 
eollaboration serviee. That’s three different 
doeument shares within the same team. 

It’s the same when it eomes to 
inter-offiee eommunieations. PC 
Pro’s Generation Y never bothered with 
email: they prefer Slaek - a real-time 
messaging serviee that’s used for exehanging 
ideas, assigning stories to writers and the 
dissemination of an awful lot of animated 
GIFs. Slaek has replaeed a lot of the internal 
email traffie, but it hasn’t replaeed email. 

PRs still need somewhere to send their 
press releases, websites still need an email 
address for registrations. Slack still needs 
somewhere to send its notifications. So 
Slack’s become just another thing to check. 

Then, of course, there’s Twitter, also 
frequently used by my PC Pro colleagues. 

It’s just announced that it’s doing away with 
the 140-character limit on direct messages, 
making it even more likely that in future 
people will begin to use Twitter’s private 
messaging channel as an alternative to email. 
An alternative, mind, not a replacement. 

It won’t handle attachments, calendar 
invitations, read receipts or any of the dozen 
other reasons people still cling to email. 

It isn’t only the inherently tech-savvy 
PC Pro that deals with a mother lode of 
different services, either. In the spare 
time I’ve acquired since I relinquished the 
editorship of PC Pro, I’ve become a director 
of a non-league football club: not a sector 
that’s exactly renowned as a febrile hotbed 
of tech innovation. Yet, even there, we use 
Dropbox for swapping board minutes and 
scouting reports; email, Twitter, Skype 
and WhatsApp for communication; and 
we’ve dabbled with both Slack and 
Trello. Why? Because we’re drowning in 
communications, and for some daft reason 
we think the next service will be the one to 
solve all our problems, when in fact 
it merely adds to them. 

I have nothing against Slack, 

Trello, Yammer, Dropbox, Twitter 
or whatever future collaboration 
services will emerge over the next 
couple of years. There are just too 
many of them, and none of them 


is a perfect substitute for what went before. 
They just add to the din of notifications 
buzzing away on my smartwatch. 

The winner will be the product that 
manages to replace most, if not all, of these 
other services. Until that all-encompassing 
behemoth emerges, you know where to 
find me. 

^ barry@mediabc.co.uk 


Don’t blame 
Apple for ad 
blocking: blame 
advertisers 

Ad blockers will continue to be 
popular for as long as online ads 
continue to be annoying 



Nicole Kobie is PC Pro’s 
Briefing and Futures 
editor. She turns her ad 
blocker off when visiting 
our new site alphr.com 


I have a confession 
to make: I use an ad 
blocker - which is 
rather hypocritical 
given that a high 
proportion of my 
pay as a journalist 
is indirectly 
funded by online 
advertising. Yet a 
recent experience 
reveals why I’m 
embarrassed to run 
ads, not ashamed 
to block them. 

I was doing a shift on the news desk over 
at our sister title IT Pro, using a laptop that 
wasn’t my own. This meant Adblock Plus 
wasn’t installed in Ghrome, and ads were 
on display. Being lazy, I didn’t bother 
to reinstall Adblock, even though I 
was logged in to Ghrome. 

Laziness was also the reason behind 
my having shopped online for underwear 
a few days before said shift instead of 
wandering down the high street to browse 
in the shops. It’s probably already apparent 
where all this is heading: yes, you’ve got 
it - half of the business websites I had 
open in the office were mortifyingly 
covered in behavioural ads for knickers. 

Advertising isn’t inherently evil, 
of course. The print ads surrounding 
the reviews, features and columns in this 
magazine aren’t going to suddenly expand 
and cover the text, begin playing jingles, 
or randomly start displaying images of 
embarrassing products you’ve searched for 
in past few days. This isn’t the case online, 
however, where ads slow down page-load 
times to a crawl with their annoying (and, in 
my case, face-flushing) marketing, and are 


B 


25 



N 


Viewpoints 


Q@PCPR0 fJ^AC^BOOK.COM/PCPRO 


especially problematic for metered 
mobile connections. 

No wonder, then, that ad blockers are 
increasing in popularity. The makers of 
Adblock Plus claim it has been downloaded 
more than 300 million times, and a 2014 
report from Adobe and PageFair showed use 
of such extensions was up almost 70% year 
on year. Now, their use looks set to skyrocket 
as Apple has officially supported the creation 
of ad-blocking tools for the mobile version 
of Safari, making it possible for iPhone and 
iPad users to avoid online ads and wreak 
further havoc on websites’ bottom lines 
(no knickers pun intended) . 

H ow will sites - such as the ones that 

pay my rent - continue to earn money 
if the majority of visitors are blocking 
out their sole source of income? Sites could 
encourage users to turn off ad blockers: I 
already flip mine off for a few sites as a show 
of support for their content and their saner 
advertising. Others don’t give me a choice; 
Channel 4 refuses to show on-demand TV 
shows until you’ve switched off the ad 
blockers. But it’s my computer or mobile, 
and if I don’t want to wait ten seconds for a 
page to load, that’s my business - you can’t 
force me to see something I didn’t ask to see. 

There have to be other ways to make 
money online. Whenever I visit the Guardian 
website, it pops up a banner along the bottom 
of the page saying: “We notice you’ve got an 
ad blocker switched on. Perhaps you’d like 
to support The Guardian another way?” It 
links to the newspaper’s membership page, 
where you can sign up for £50 per year and 
receive benefits such as advanced tickets 
and live streams of its events. As weak as 
the supporters’ club may sound, it’s clever, 
since displaying a polite request triggers the 
guilt reflex that’s naturally strong among 
Guardian readers. 

Here’s my idea. The use of online 
micropayments to fund websites and services 
has never convinced me nor anyone else, but 
how about an ad blocker run by a non-profit 
organisation that charges a subscription, 
and then doles out micropayments to the 
sites its users visit? Would that work? I 
think it’s worth a shot. 

Even without ad blocking, revenue at 
many news sites is already suffering. Overly 
intrusive ads are popping up everywhere 
because they’re worth more to publishers - 
they’re a symptom of a web economy that 
doesn’t work, not a solution that we need to 
protect. Let’s all sign up to ad blockers to kill 
off that model faster - but while it’s dying, 
let’s come up with something else. And 
please work quickly - those knickers don’t 
pay for themselves, you know. 

^ work@nicolekobie.com 



Dick Fountain edits Real 
World Computing. He 
wants a 3D printer loaded 
with liquorice, to make 
avant-garde allsorts. 


I 


The maker 
movement is 
built on fragile 
building blocks 

3D printing might be great, but it 
needs to tackle some fundamental 
problems before it will truly count 


I’d Started to write 
that I’m as fond of 
gadgets as the next 
man, but in truth I’m 
only as fond as the 
one after the one 
after him. So while 
I get enormous 
pleasure from my 
recently acquired 
Zoom Gion guitar 
effects pedal. I’ve 
resisted the hottest 
of today’s gadgets, 
the 3D printer. 

This is in part because I have no pressing 
need for one, being neither a vendor of 
cornflakes nor a devotee of toy soldiers. What 
deters me more, though, is the quasi-religious 
atmosphere that has enveloped 3D printing, 
as typified by the terms “making” and 
“maker” . People want to bridge the gap 
between digital representation and the real 
world, between CGI fantasy and life, and 
they’ve decided 3D printing is a step on 
the way; if so, it’s a tiny step towards a 
very short bridge that ends in mid-air. 

One problem is precisely that 3D printing 
tries to turn bits into atoms, but pictures 


kk People want to bridge the gap 
between digital representation 
and the real world, between 
CGI fantasy and life f f 


don’t contain the internal complexity of 
reality. Serious applications of 3D printing 
include the aerospace industry, where 
components can be printed in metal more 
quickly, more cheaply and with greater 
geometric complexity than by traditional 
forging or casting techniques. Even so, two 
issues remain: such parts are typically 
homogeneous (all the same metal) and 
must be made in relatively small quantities, 
since 3D printing is slow. If you need 100,000 
of something then 3D-print one and make 
a mould from it for conventional casting. 
Printing things with an internal structure 
of different materials is becoming possible. 


but remains topologically constrained 
to monolithic structures. 

And there’s the second problem: 

3D printing encourages thinking about 
objects as monolithic rather than modular. 
Modularity is a profound property of the 
world, in which almost every real object is 
composed of smaller independent units. 

In my Penguin Dictionary ofGomputing I 
wrote: “Modules must be independent so 
that they can be constructed separately, and 
more simply than the whole. For instance, 
it’s easier to make a brick than a house, and 
many different kinds of house can be made 
from standard bricks, but this would cease 
to be true if the bricks depended upon one 
another like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. ” 
The basic module in 3D printing is a one-bit 
blob firmly attached to the growing object. 


recently watched a YouTube video 
about a project to 3D-print mud houses 
for developing countries, and it was 
fascinating. But it struck me that, given the 
computing power attached to that printer, it 
would be faster to design a complex-curved 
brick mould, print some and then fill them 
with mud and assemble the houses manually. 

The ultimate example of modularity, 
as I never tire of saying, is the living cell. 

Gells have a property that’s missing from 
all man-made systems: every single cell 
contains not only blueprints and stored 
procedures for building the whole organism, 
but also the complete mechanism for 
reproducing itself. This mind-boggling 
degree of modularity is what permitted 
evolution to operate, by accidentally 
modifying the blueprints, and has led to 
the enormous diversity of living beings. 

No artificial “maker” system can possibly 
approach this status so long as fabrication 
remains homogeneous and monolithic, and 
once you introduce heterogeneous materials 
and internal structure, you’ll start to confront 
insuperable bandwidth barriers, as an 
exponential amount of information must be 
introduced from outside the 
system rather than being stored 
locally. A machine that makes a 
copy of itself seems to impress the 
maker community, but you just 
get a copy of that machine. A 
machine that copies itself, then 
makes an aeroplane, a bulldozer 
or a coffee machine out of those 
copies is further down the road. 

I was led to these thoughts recently 
while watching Alex Garland’s movie 
Ex Machina (spoiler alert) . In its marvellous 
denouement, the beautiful robot girl 
Ava kills her unpleasant maker and 
escapes into the outside world to start 
an independent life. First, though, she 
has to replace her arm, damaged in the 
final struggle, with a spare one. Being 
self-repairing at that level of granularity 
is feeble by biological standards, and as she 
stood beaming at a busy city intersection, 
it struck me that such spare parts would 
be in short supply at the local hospital. . . 

^ dick@dickpountain.co.uk 


26 




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N 


Readers’ comments 


Your views and feedback 
from email and the web 


Star letter 


The end of OS innovation 

Windows lo is here, but in its 
scramble to rebuild an ever- 
dwindling market share, I’m 
afraid Microsoft has lost its way. 
Windows 8 was a strong step in an 
exciting direction, with its scrolling 
UI and swipe-in controls. All that is 
now gone, replaced by hamburger 
icons (as found in Windows i) and 
dropdowns. How is tapping a small 
icon easier than swiping with my 
thumb? Why would I want to abandon 
full-width, graphical menus for a 
text-only dropdown? 

The return of the Start menu 
has also been hailed as a great step 
forward, but reinstating something 
that’s been around for decades is 
hardly progress. I’ve been pressing 
Microsoft for years to introduce 
Jump List-style app-group icons to 
the taskbar, and I know the company 
has looked into the concept - but it 
hasn’t been implemented. The idea 
may not be a magic bullet, but nor is 
a 2o-year-old UI that takes five clicks 
to launch an app. 

Windows lo will also be the last 
major version of Windows - and that, 
sadly, brings me to the conclusion 
that the new interfaces coming to my 
desktop, tablet and phone are the last 
ones I’ll see in my lifetime. Pretty soon 
every platform - be it Windows, iOS, 
OS X or Android - will look and work 
almost exactly the same. 

For those of us who gaze at 
our PCs and dream of limitless 
possibilities, it’s depressing. I’m left 
with a thumb that’s been quickly 
rendered obsolete, and wishing my 
icons could at least have a little 
cheese in them. Mike Halsey 

Are VPNs vulnerable? 

As someone who’s a wee bit paranoid 
about online security. I’ve always 
read articles such as issue 249’s 
feature on oversharing, and Davey 
Winder’s columns on shortened 
URLs and VPNs. Personally, I’m 
of the opinion that security is 
more important than anonymity, 
so using a VPN to connect to the 
internet securely from a cafe 
or through a hotel Wi-Fi service 
sounded good to me. 

With this in mind, I tried out 
a couple of free services, namely 
CyberGhost and Steganos. I also tried 
F-Secure’s Freedome - a paid-for 
service that offers a free 14-day trial. 


Like many techies my age, Fve reached the point 
where I need to wear glasses for reading. At the 
same time, as we struggle for capacity in our data 
centres, everything is becoming smaller- including 
the text on equipment, such as serial numbers, port 
numbers and so on. 

It doesn’t help that such information is often 
printed in grey onto a grey case. Combine this with 
poor lighting and the results would have makers of 
digital camouflage gear envious. If you want a secure 


way of storing passwords print them the same 
way - nobody will ever be able to read them. 

So here’s an idea. If the text can’t be made any 
bigger, due to the size of the kit, then let’s at least print 
it in a nice bright colour. That might go against what 
the marketing people want for their pretty brochure, 
but they aren’t the ones having to read this stuff at 
stupid o’clock when things have gone bad. Test the 
results in an old people’s home: your users will 
thank you forever. Shaun Pugh 


This month’s star letter wins a Corsair Force Series LS 120GB SSD worth £75. Visit corsair.com 



BELOW Make your 
own T esia Powerwall 
for a fraction of the 
cost of buying one 


I must say that they all worked as 
expected, with no noticeable impact 
on performance and no alerts from 
Kaspersky. But as I say. I’m a wee bit 
paranoid about online security, so I 
thought I’d test my connection using 
GRC’s ShieldsUp. When connecting 
without the VPN service, all ports were 
marked as hidden (stealth mode), 
with the exception of one, which 
was “closed” . No port was reported as 
open, or responding to GRG’s probing. 

Imagine my surprise when I 
reconnected via a VPN to find that 
some of the ports were now open, and 
failed the probing test performed by 
GRG. I’m concerned that these open 
ports might be a bigger threat to my 
online security than using an open 
connection in a cafe. Do the open 
ports identified by GRG indicate 
that the VPN connection isn’t as 
secure as it could be? 

Glearly I’m no expert in such things 
- an in-depth article on VPNs would 
be welcome. In the meantime. I’ll 


forget about using a VPN other than 
to access the BBG when travelling 
outside of the UK. Charlie Hunter 

Davey Winder replies: A VPN works by 
creating a ‘tunnel’ through which encrypted 
traffic is sent. This tunnel needs to connect 
somewhere: that somewhere is the port that 
you see opened. If you're connecting over an 
unsecured public network then you're still 
safer using a VPN - but I’d recommend 
investing in a subscription-based service. 

Nothing new under the sun 

On listening to your recent podcast 
discussion about the Tesla Powerwall, 
it occurred to me that the idea isn’t 
new. My friend has had a secondhand 
forklift-truck battery - charged from 
a solar panel - powering his lights 
for about ten years, needing only 
infrequent and undemanding 
maintenance. And the setup certainly 
didn’t cost $3,000 - more like £50. 

The Powerwall’ s specifications 
are impressive at first glance: the unit 



28 




M 


Q@pcpro (3 facebook.com/pcpro 


Viewpoints 


Readers’ poll 

We asked you: would you buy a domestic serving robot? 



stores at least loo times as much 
power as your laptop, and its quoted 
92% efficiency seems high. However, 
you can’t power your whole home 
with one: the maximum continuous 
power draw is only akW. And the 
92% efficiency doesn’t include the 
required DC-to-AC inverter, which 
will lower that figure to 85% or less. 

What’s more, the actual value of 
the electricity it can store is only 
around £1. Factoring in its inefficiencies, 
I calculate that it could save you a 
maximum of 33p a day, or £120 a year. 
So it will take about 16 years to pay for 
itself, based on current market rates 
- and presumably (the website isn’t 
very informative) that excludes the 
cost of the inverter, shipping and tax. 

As a load-balancing investment, 
it doesn’t look very good. For power 
off-grid, there are better, cheaper, 
solutions available. Henry O’Keeffe 

Unsatisfied with 
software support 

I read with interest Darien Graham- 
Smith’s comments last month 
regarding “Panda-monium” (see issue 
250, P29) . “Things will go wrong from 
time to time,” he wrote. “Glitches 
have also hit Avira, Kaspersky and 
Microsoft. ” It brought to mind my 

lA None of the backup 
providers offered 
any compensation 
for all the trouble 
Fd experienced ff 

own experiences with online backup 
software over the past few years, 
during which I’ve had to move from 
provider to provider because of 
“glitches”. Garbonite kept crashing; 
Livedrive kept creating new backup 
sets; IDrive kept freezing... now I’m 
trying Amazon S3. 

Needless to say, all of this involved 
the usual rounds of reinstalling, 
disabling firewalls and security 
software, and hours on the phone to 
technical support. None of the backup 
providers I tried offered any refunds 
or compensation for all the trouble 
I’d experienced. Gonsumers and 
businesses have lost unimaginable 
hours, and probably millions if not 
billions of pounds, to poor software. 
The publishers get off scot-free with 
no accountability, via the “supplied 
as is” clause in software licences. 

In reply to Darien, I’d say his head 
is buried in the sand. But the longer 
this attitude of indifference goes on, 
the more likely that legislation will 
be brought to bear. I can’t wait, and 
am actively lobbying for this to 
happen. Lylmik 


This month’s poll was inspired 
by Channel 4’s Humans, a 
science-fiction thriller in 
which intelligent humanoid 
robots (known as Synths) 
act as domestic servants. 
Needless to say, all doesn’t 
go smoothly with the robots 
in the programme, but PC 
Pro readers have faith in 
technology: most respondents 
declared they’d welcome the 
convenience, with only a few 
touching on the potential for 
things to go wrong. Almost 
no-one expressed concern 
over the idea of humanoid 
robots; evidently it will take 
more than a machine that 
looks and talks like a person to 
shake our sense of humanity. 

Join the debate ^ 

n Join the growing Pro community 
on Facebook at facebook.com/pcpro 

■ Get the latest news and 

- updates by following us (gipcpro 

^ Emailusatletters@pcpro.co.uk 

J 


ii Yes: robots are ideally suited to 
menial jobs, instead of exploiting 
humans with low wages ff 

No - the cost would be 
astronomical, and a robot would be 
unlikely to have any common sense 
in emergencies ff 

Yes. As someone with a 
disability, such an advancement 
would be life-changing for me f f 

iA No, but the interesting question 
raised by Humans isn’t the idea of 
machines taking over the world, 
but what we would lose in terms 
of human interaction, such as 
with our children ff 

14 Yes. If they had proper 
intelligence it would be nice to 
have one as more than a domestic 
servant. It would be interesting 
to converse with something with 
a very different viewpoint f f 

44 No way - these things always 
go rogue 


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29 



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Prospects » 

Discover the features and tools The secrets of writing and Brave new world: the 

that can make your life easier I marketing ebooks that sell 1 life of a VR consultant 


Make Google Now 
work for you 

Google's personal assistant is a key feature of your smartphone 
and tablet. Barry Collins reveals howto get the most from it 


G oogle Now is arguably a better 
eleetronie PA than Apple’s Sir! 
or Mierosoft’s Cortana. For 
starters, it’s the only one of the three 
virtual assistants that’s properly 
eross-platform. Google Now eomes 
built into Android smartphones, 
tablets and smartwatehes, but is 
also available on PCs - through the 
Chrome browser - and rival mobile 
platforms via the Google app. 

Undoubtedly, however, it works 
best if you’re fully eommitted to the 
Google lifestyle. If you eolleet your 
email via Gmail and plug your 
appointments into Google Calendar, 
it gives Google Now a wealth of 
information from whieh to learn. 

But it’s smart enough to learn your 
habits without help. Visit the gym 
every Tuesday night at 7pm, and 
before long Google Now will be letting 
you know when you should set off 
to get there, taking into aeeount live 
traffie or publie-transport delays. 

It’s also possible to set reminders, 
send messages, open apps and mueh 
more with simple voiee eommands. In 
faet, the problem with Google Now is 
that it does so mueh, you ean easily 
miss the best of it. 

■ How to get Google Now 

If your smartphone or tablet runs the 
stoek Android OS, you’ll find Google 
Now by swiping up from the Android 
homesereen to reveal the system’s 
eharaeteristie “eards”, whieh earry 
information on different topies. If 


your OS has been eustomised by the 
deviee manufaeturer, this may not 
work, but you ean put Google Now 
at your fingertips by installing the 
free Google Now Launeher (pcpro. 
link/25ignow). This replaees the 
manufaeturer’ s homesereen with 
one that looks and feels more like 
stoek Android, with the Google 
Now eards available by swiping 
to the right instead of upwards. 

iPhone and iPad owners aren’t 
left out either, although it’s not as 
eonvenient to aeeess Google Now 
on an iOS deviee thanks to Apple’s 
insistenee on looking down the 
homesereen. To find the eards. 


RIGHT Google Now 
can read your 
calendar and emails 
to give you advance 
warning of 
upcoming 
appointments 



-> Man City vs West Ham 

V-' 




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9 

Man City 


West Ham 

htan City 

32 18 

32 11 

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10 11 4Z 

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LEFT If you miss the 
match, full results 
for your team will 
pop up automatically 


■I 0 



you must install and launeh the 
Google app, and then swipe upwards 
from the bottom of the app’s sereen. 
Alternatively, the latest version of the 
Chrome browser for iOS eomes with 
an optional widget that allows you to 
issue voiee searehes and eommands 
from the iOS Notifieation Center. 

Google Now also runs on Android 
Wear smartwatehes; alongside app 
notifieations, you’ll see all sorts of 
handy information pop up on the 
small sereen via Google Now eards, 
whieh you ean seroll through using 
the deviee’s touehsereen or swipe 
away to dismiss. And, of eourse, 
Google Now’s voiee-eontrol 
eapabilities are key to using it on a 
wateh, sinee the hardware doesn’t 
have a keyboard. Likewise, Google 
Glass - the eompany’s experimental 
augmented-reality headset - ean 
show eards for sports results, 
upeoming appointments, nearby 
restaurants and more. Now has to 
be aetively switehed on for Google 
Glass, though: if you’re one of the 
few people out there using the 
headset, go to the My Glass website 


32 








Q@PCPR0 E3fACEBOOK.COM/PCPRO 


Prospects Google Now M 


Nearby attractions 

Heraklion Archaeological 
Museum 

4 r' * * * * < 4 - . 

M " ; r„, C, elan ptefhiior^ 4 



ABOVE Google Now comes into its own when 
you’re in unfamiliar surroundings 

(google.com/myglass), click on 
Glassware and toggle the Google 
Noweard to On. 

On the desktop, Google Now is 
available via Ghrome notifieations. 

To eheek your settings, elick on the 
bell ieon in the system tray at the 
bottom right of the Windows desktop, 
then eliek the eog that appears in the 
bottom right of the pop-up window 
and eheek that Google Now is tieked. 

If it is, you should reeeive notifieations 
for stoek priee ehanges, upeoming 
meetings and all the other things 
that Google Now handles, whieh 
weTl diseuss further below. From 
here on, weTl assume you’re 
using Google Now on an Android 
smartphone or tablet, sinee this is 
the most eommon scenario, but the 
system works similarly aeross 
wearables and the desktop. 

■ Training Google Now 

To get the best from Google Now, you 
need to train it so that it gets a feel for 
your interests. To begin with you’ll see 
a seleetion of default eards - things 
sueh as weather, stoek priees and 
news. You ean temporarily dismiss a 
eard by swiping it away; if you don’t 
want to see a eard permanently then 
eliek on the three dots ieon just above 
the eard. You’ll be asked questions 
that ean help make the eard’s eontent 
more interesting - do you want to see 
a eertain team’s sports results, for 
instance - and given the option to 
switeh off the eard. If you run out of 
interesting eards, swipe to the bottom 
of the pile and seleet More. Google 
will then suggest other eategories 
of eard that may be of interest. 

In the first few weeks, Google Now 
will ask you lots of questions. Are you 
interested in travel updates to this 
plaee? Do you want to see news on this 
topie? The questions ean be tiresome, 
but they help Google Now get a grip on 


your interests; the nagging slows in 
time. You don’t have to repeat it on 
multiple deviees: the preferenees 
you speeify on your Android phone 
will earry aeross to your iPad. 

As we mentioned above, Google 
Now works best in partnership with 
other Google serviees. If you’ve 
previously entered your home address 
into Google Maps, for instanee, Google 
Now will automatieally let you know 
when the last train home is leaving. 

If Amazon and others are sending 
delivery updates to your Gmail 
address then Google Now ean traek 
your pareels’ progress. If you’re 
getting sueh information sent to other 
inboxes, it might be worth migrating 
to Google if you want to make Now 
as useful as possible - or at least 
forwarding eertain messages to 
your linked Google aeeount. 

■ Customise your cards 

Google Now offers a wide range of 
eards, many of whieh are eontext- 
sensitive: for example, some will 
appear only when you’re away from 
home; others appear only at eertain 
times of day. Here’s how to get the 
most from the more useful eards. 

Events Google Now keeps track of 
upcoming appointments in your 
Google Galendar, and seans Gmail 
messages for mentions of timed 
events. If it finds something that 
looks relevant, Google will often 
highlight the relevant text (“meet 
you at Vietoria station at 4.30pm 
tomorrow”) and ask you if want it 
to keep traek of this event. 

You’ll then be told how long it will 
take to get there, and reeeive a Leave 
Now notifieation when it’s time to go. 
Google will try to guess your mode of 
transport; if it gets it wrong you ean 
eliek on the down arrow next to the 
journey time/leave now warning and 
seleet ear, bike, publie transport or 
walking. Direetions and journey 
times will ehange aeeordingly. 

Travel If boarding passes or flight 
eonfirmations are sent to your Gmail 
aeeount, Google will automatieally 
extraet the flight number and show 
departure information in the hours 
before take-off, as well as reminding 
you when to leave for the airport. 

Then, onee you reaeh your 
destination, Google Now turns into a 
tourist guide. Nearby attractions are 
highlighted, along with ratings and 
distanees from your accommodation. 
You can swipe away an attraetion 
you’re not interested in, or eliek on 
one to get direetions in Google Maps. 
Leave the map open and you ean use 
GPS to plot your walk/drive on that 
map, without having to keep your 
expensive roaming data switehed 



Make sure Google's 
always listening 

On some native Android devices, Google is always listening for 
the “OK Google” command - so you can access it when you’re using 
an app, or when the device is locked. If you’re using the Google Now 
Launcher, however, Google listens to your voice only when you’re 
on the Android homescreen. If you want to be able to bark “OK 
Google” at any time, find the Google Settings app on your phone, 
select Voice and click ‘“OK Google’ detection”. Here, there’s an 
option to set it running from any screen. You’ll be required to say 
“OK Google” three times to make sure the device is fully trained 
to your voice. Be warned, though - having your phone constantly 
listening outfor your voice will have a small but detrimental impact 
on your battery life. 


on. Other tourist tools that 
appear in Google Now include an 
instant translator (when you’re in 
non-English-speaking eountries) 
and a eurreney eonverter. 


News and website updates Google 
uses your web history to promote 
news stories in whieh it thinks 
you might be interested. It does a 
surprisingly good job, 
but to further train it you 
ean swipe away stories 
you’re not interested in 
(Google may ask if you 
want to continue to reeeive 
updates from that site) . 

Or click the three dots 
above the eard and answer 
questions on your interests. 


“Inthefirst few weeks 
Google will ask you lots of 
questions; while tiresome, 
they help Google Now get a 
grip on your interests” 


BELOW Reminders 
and notifications can 
be sent directly to 
your Android Wear 
smartwatch 


Sports For sports fans, Google Now is 
the new Teletext. The first time you 
eliek on the Sports eard, Google will 
ask whieh team you support. A day 
or two before fixtures, you’ll see a 
reminder eard appear, and live seore 
updates will be posted during and 
after matehes. If you’re holding out 
for Match of the Day and don’t want 
to know the outeome, eliek the three 



33 




^ Prospects Google Now 


Q@PCPR0 nFACEBOOK.COM/PCPRO 


= show my biEb 


3 


Your bills 

Only you can see these lesuJts 


bafclt]ycard@emiJiJ.barGlayc.- jq qq 
Due Mcnday, April 20 


WordPress.com 

$13,00 

Due Wednesday, AprtI 29 


B VI e w e I for this bill 


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ABOVE Bill-tracking is one of Google Now’s 
lesser-known capabilities 

dots above the Sports eard and fliek 
through until you see the option to 
hide seores to avoid spoilers. You ean 
also enter additional teams here if 
you’re interested in more than one 
elub - prominent football, erieket, 
rugby and other teams are available. 

TV and video This oeeasional eard 
reeommends films and television 
shows that are being broadeast now 
or are available through streaming 
serviees, based on your seareh history. 
Tapping the listings will often take 
you direetly to the relevant app 
(sueh as Netflix) . If you eliek on the 
“hamburger” ieon (three horizontal 
bars) in the Seareh bar, and navigate 
to Settings I Customise I TV & Video, 
you ean tell Google Now whieh video 
providers you use, and optionally tell 
it to only notify you about shows that 
you ean wateh via a Chromeeast. 

Fitness tracking If you’re using an 
Android wearable, you monitor your 
daily exereise targets via Google Fit: 
its Google Now eard will tell you how 
mueh aetivity or how many steps you 
need to hit your daily target. You ean 
also eonneet apps sueh as Strava and 
Runtastie to Google Fit; they have 
their own eards for Google Now. 

■ Google Now actions 

Google Now isn’t just about pushing 
information at you. You ean also give 
it instruetions, in the way you would a 
real personal assistant. Most of these 
ean be issued verbally, by saying “ OK 
Google” at the Android homesereen, 
or tapping the mierophone button in 
the seareh bar. 

Set reminders You ean set time- or 
loeation-based reminders, either by 
speaking or typing them into the 
seareh bar. You might say “remind me 
to email Tim tomorrow morning”, or 
“remind me to piek up flowers when I 
leave work” . By default your reminder 


will be a disereet notifieation; to set 
more audible notifieations in Android, 
open Google Now’s settings, Seleet 
“Now Cards” and ehange Urgent 
Updates to Ring Tone. 

Take notes Ask Google Now to “take 
a note” and it will listen while you 
dietate a short memo. Don’t pause 
for too long between words or it will 
assume you’ve finished. Onee you’ve 
dietated the note, Google will ask you 
whieh app you want to file it in. If you 
have a dedieated note-taking app sueh 
as Evernote, the text ean be added 
automatieally; you ean also file a note 
to Gmail, whieh will send it to you via 
email marked “Note to self”. 

Set timers and alarms Got something 
in the oven? Ask Google Now to “set 
timer for 20 minutes” and it will beep 
when your meal is ready. Likewise, 
tell Google Now to “set an alarm for 
6.15am” and you ean be assured of 
an early-morning wake-up eall - 
provided the phone’s switehed on. 

Keep on top of your bills If eredit eard, 
utility or web-hosting bills are sent to 
your Gmail inbox, Google Now may be 
able to piek out the amount owed and 
the payment deadline. Ask Google 
Now to “show my bills” and you’ll 
reeeive a list. 

Fire up the satnav Ask Google Now to 
“navigate to 30 Cleveland Street” or 
“navigate to home” and it will launeh 
Google Maps Navigation, ehoose the 
fastest route and start announeing 
turn-by-turn direetions. It’s a handy 
feature if you have the phone 
mounted in the ear and need to get 
somewhere, all without tapping 
repeatedly at the sereen. 

Play your music If your MP3 library 
is stored in Google Play Musie, you 
ean simply tell Google Now to “play 
some musie” for a random hop 
through your eolleetion. Or ask 
it to play speeifie traeks, albums 
or artists by saying “play” and then 


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Tom orrowf, 15.00 

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. . .be and so we woukl like 
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penalty shoot out at out last.. 


Torque: Microsoft’s 
answer to Now 


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Android users aren’t stuck 
with Google Now if they want 
a voice assistant. Microsoft 
has some skin in this game 
too, with its free Bing Torque 
app available for Android 
smartphones, tablets and 
selected smartwatches. 

Torque shares many of the 
features and commands of 
Google Now, although it isn’t 
activated by voice, but rather by 
shaking the handset. And unlike 
Google Now, it opens in a tiny 
window overlay within your 
existing application, so -for 

example -you can perform a quick search for the dollar exchange 
rate while planning your forthcoming trip to the US. 

Torque can be used to place calls, set alarms and open 
applications, but not everything works quite as smoothly as it does 
with Google Now. When we instructed Google Nowto “text Darien”, 
for example, the system would always find our very own Dr 
Graham-Smith. Torque, by contrast, was constantly looking for a 
“Darren”, and struggled similarly with other place and company 
names. When we did manage to access our address book and 
dictate a text message using Torque on our HTC One handset, 
we found the message sitting in our Drafts folder after it had 
supposedly been dispatched. 

Overall, we found Google Now more useful, but Torque is handy 
for quick searches, and there’s no harm in having both - not least 
because we suspect Torque will only get better as Microsoft 
extends the features of the Cortana voice assistant in Windows 10. 


the relevant name. If you have 
multiple music apps installed, you 
might be asked to choose which one 
to play with. Alternatively, you can 
issue app-specific commands such as 
“play Elbow in Spotify”, which starts 
a random selection from that artist. 


Send messages or emails Dictating 
an SMS or email message can be 
faster than fiddling with a software 
keyboard. First say “text Steve Pooley” 
or “email Dad” (if Google Now has 
learnt your relationships) ; you may 
be asked to choose between different 
accounts or numbers. Google will 
then invite you to speak your message. 
You’ll be asked to confirm whether 
you want to send the message, as 
transcribed, at the end. You can make 
any corrections using the software 
keyboard at this confirmation stage. 


LEFT Google Now 
can set reminders 
for events mentioned 
in your email 


Other actions Discover more 
Google Now capabilities by simply 
saying or typing “help”; you’ll be 
given a selection of suggested 
voice commands. Setting calendar 
appointments, calling up flight 
information and checking stock prices 
are among dozens of other options. • 


34 


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How to write and sell 
an Amamn bestseller 

Amazon makes it easy to publish your own ebook - but the challenge is getting 
punters to find and download it. Ebook author Nik Rawlinson shows how it’s done 


I t’s never been eheaper or easier 
to publish a book. Agents and 
traditional publishers are being 
squeezed out, and writers are selling 
direetly to Kindle, Kobo and iPad 
owners. The trouble is, it’s beeome 
too easy: the market has exploded, 
and you’re now eompeting with a 
greater number of potential JK 
Rowlings than ever before. 

On these pages, we’ll explore 
how to give your work the best ehanee 
ofsueeess. Ifyou haven’t already 
written your masterpieee, it begins 
with ehoosing a subjeet that people 
want to read about - but one that isn’t 
already saturated. We’ll also show you 
how to work around Amazon’s bloek 
on free books if using Kindle Direet 
Publishing (KDP), boost series sales by 
letting readers borrow seleeted titles, 
and navigate the pros and eons of 
enrolling your books in KDP Select. 

■ Choosing a subject 

The adage that you should write what 
you know is only partly true; given 
time, you can research any subject. 

If you want to make money on 
Amazon then the trick is to write 
what you know will sell. 

Here’s an example: let’s say you 
want to earn £150 per day to kick 
off a career as a professional author. 
Pricing your book at £2.99 will deliver 
royalties of £2.10 per sale, so you’ll 
need to shift around 71 copies every 


24 hours to hit your target. While this 
number may not sound like much, few 
titles achieve it: doing so would give 
you a Best Sellers Rank of somewhere 
between 1,000 and 2,000. (Amazon’s 
Best Sellers Rank measures exactly 
what its name suggests, with lower 
numbers denoting higher sales, 
just as in the music charts.) 

Your best chance of hitting these 
numbers is to find a subject that’s 
currently under-represented on 
the Kindle - so you have minimal 
competition - and for which existing 
titles are already achieving a decent 




Nik Rawlinson has 
published multiple 
ebooks on Amazon, 
from novels to 
how-to guides 


“The adage ‘write what you 
know’ is only partly true; 
to make money on Amazon 
you should write what 
you know will sell well” 


LEFT Writing a 
serial or series gives 
you the opportunity 
to upsell your readers 
to a more expensive 
box set 


Best Sellers Rank, revealing that 
customers are hungry to read about 
the topic. 

■ Finding your niche 

To work out where your potential 
profits he, start by going to the 
Amazon website and hovering over 
Shop By Department. Pick Kindle 
Books from the Books & Audible 
fly-out menu, then click the Best 
Sellers link below the page title. 

Click through the sidebar categories 
to gradually narrow down the books 
on display. Stop when 
you find a topic you think 
you could write about, but 
which currently contains 
100 titles or fewer. 

Next, open the full 
product description for 
each of the top five or 
ten performers in the category, and 
check their Best Seller Ranks. You’re 
looking for titles whose ranks would 
deliver the kind of revenue you could 
live on - we suggest you look for a 
rank of at least 20,000. If nothing 
in the category is selling that well, 
backtrack through the subject tree 
and keep exploring until you find 
an area with high sales and a small 



36 










Q@pcpro facebook.com/pcpro 


Prospects Self-publishing 



number of titles on a subj ect you 
can research with authority. 

This can be a time-consuming 
process. If you want to take a shortcut, 
an app such as the KindleSpy plugin 
for Chrome can automatically 
generate a list of ranked books, 
projected sales and, based on price, 
likely revenue for all titles in a specific 
Kindle Store category or page of 
search results. Hey presto: you get an 
immediate idea of what you’re likely 
to earn if you hit the top spot. The app 
isn’t cheap - it costs $37 (around £24) 
from kdspy.com - but the potential 
rewards are considerable. 

KindleSpy also offers a word-cloud 
view, which picks out the most 
commonly used words in the top- 
selling books’ titles. You can use this 
information to choose a title that will 
help buyers find your book - and to 
guide your writing, so that when they 
download your book the content will 
match what they’re looking for. 

■ The value of free 

It’s tempting to publish your work 
at 99p. At that price, you’ll undercut 
traditional publishers and compete 
head-on with your homespun 
rivals. Unfortunately, you won’t be 
earning much. Amazon pays only 35% 
royalties on anything priced below 
£1.99, soa99psale will earn you 34p. 
To hit that £150 target, you’d need to 
shift 441 books every day. Few ebooks 
achieve such numbers, and none can 
keep it up for long. 

If you can push up the price to 
£5-99 - similar to what paperbacks 
sell for on the high street - you’ll 
qualify for 70% royalties (£4.19). A 
price point of £5.99 is certainly less of 
an impulse buy, so you’ll have to work 
harder to make those sales. But a tactic 
you can employ is the old supermarket 
favourite: the loss leader. 

In this context, it typically 
means writing a series, or a serial. 

The distinction is a fine one: a series 
comprises multiple self-contained but 
linked stories in separate publications 
(think James Bond) , while a series is a 
single tale split across multiple books 
(Harry Potter). Many self-publishers 
have adopted one or other of these 
formats, because they provide an 
opportunity to hook in the reader 
with a free or cheap first edition, 
then continue selling through the 
run with links in the back of each 
book to promote the next volume. 

Amazon US even has a dedicated 
Serials store that highlights individual 
episodes and collected Kindle “box 
sets” . Although this store’s not yet in 
the UK, there’s nothing to stop you 
publishing a serial or series within 
the regular listings, and pricing the 
episodes so that the first one draws in 
the reader. We suggest you make your 


rTunes Connect Sales and Trends - 
Untitled Report ^ s 


Ufite ■ Pre-onlera 

346 0 


CiOntefll i f.'i 1 . i" V T ' ■, Pubt " 

per Week 



ABOVE Setting 
one volume of a 
three-volume 
reference work to 
£0 on Apple iBooks 
boosted sales of its 
companion titles 


“By publishing a series, 
you can hook in the reader 
with a free or cheap edition 
and continue selling 
through the run” 


first volume free, and price the box set 
so it’s around two-thirds as much as 
the sum of its parts - so that buying 
individual titles looks like slightly 
poorer value than the full set. 

As an illustration, let’s imagine 
that your serial comprises six episodes 
and you want to charge £5.99 for the 
box. If you price parts two to six at 
£1.49 each, your customers should 
realise that buying them all will cost 
them £7.45, so they have 
an incentive to buy the 
box set instead. This is 
the outcome you want: 
since the box set qualifies 
for 70% royalties, you 
make £4.19 on each sale 
- whereas if a reader 
were to spend £7.45 on buying the 
parts individually, you’d get only 
35% of each sale for a total of £2.61. 


BELOW KindleSpy’s 
word-cloud feature 
reveals the most 
commonly used 
words in the titles 
of the bestselling 
books in a category 


■ The £0 workaround 

So far so good, but there’s a catch. 
Although we’ve suggested that you 
make your first volume free, you’ll 
find that Amazon insists that you 
charge a minimum of 99p per item - 
or, if your compiled book consumes 
more than 3MB or 10MB, £1.49 or 
£1.99 respectively. The solution is to 
play Amazon off against its rivals. 


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When you sell through Kindle 
Direct Publishing, Amazon reserves 
the right to cut the cost of your book if 
it finds it cheaper elsewhere. So if you 
post your book for free on a competing 
ebook store such as Apple’s iBooks 
(itunesconnect.apple.com) or Kobo’s 
Writing Life (kobo.com/writinglife), 
Amazon’s crawlers will spot the price 
disparity and make your title free in 
its own shop. This might take time, 
so plan ahead - especially if your 
advertising will be based on the 
fact that the first part is free. 

Not every work is suitable to be 
broken up into a serial. Non-fiction 
readers won’t be happy if they 
find themselves stranded through 
a practical project. Nonetheless, 
the power of free can be just as 
persuasive when it comes to 
selling complementary products. 

The graph above shows sales 
of my own series of books, sold 
exclusively through Apple’s iBooks 
store, on the iWork office suite. 

It comprises three apps - Pages, 

Numbers and Keynote - with one 
book covering each, published at 
various times throughout last year 
and priced at £7-99 apiece. First-year 
sales totalled 144 units combined. On 
1 January this year, I republished one 
of the three with an extra page at the 
end of each chapter promoting the 
other two volumes. At the same time, 

I set the price of the re-published book 
to £0, leaving the others at £7.99. 

This turned the first book into 
a loss leader, whose purpose was 
to advertise charged-for products to 
people I already knew had an interest 
in them (that is, iWork users) . Cutting 
the price removed any resistance 
readers may have had to downloading 
the first book, and over the first three 
months, overall downloads increased 
to 315 units, of which 65 were paid-for 
sales. As a result, revenue for that 
quarter was 51% higher than in the 
previous three months. i] 


37 




^ Prospects Self-publishing 


Q@pcpro facebook.com/pcpro 



Presenting yourself 

I Make use of HTMLto formatyour book listing. Check 
amzn.to/1DYQX9p for a list of available tags. 

2 Establish a page in Author Central and add your books. 
Don’t link to your Twitter account if it’s not updated daily. 

3 Include a linkto your website atthe back of your book. Put a 
clear newsletter sign-up box on the homepage and use the 
newsletter to promote upcoming titles. 


4 

5 


Soliciting reviews on the last page of the book improves reader 
response. More (positive) reviews drive higher sales. 

Join the Amazon Associates programme and use it when 
linking to your books for additional commission on each sale. 


■ Capturing free readers 

Every time someone downloads a 
free book, you want it to drive sales 
elsewhere - on a eomplementary 
title, as above, or on a book yet to 
eome. If your free book isn’t doing 
that, there’s no point in forgoing 
theproeeeds. 

If the intention is that your free 
book will promote sales of a future 
publieation, you’ll want a way to 
remind readers when the next 
instalment is ready. Add links to 
newsletter sign-up forms (hosted 
on your author site) at the front 
and baek of eaeh book. 

If you haven’t already signed 
up with a mailing-list provider, 
eonsider MailChimp (mailchimp. 
com) , whose free plan lets you send 
up to 12,000 emails per month to 
2,000 subseribers. Its Dashboard 
ineludes sample sign-up forms to 
embed on your site or blog. 

Eaeh book should also inelude 
links to your other titles - ineluding 
those you haven’t yet written. Use 
a plugin sueh as Pretty Link for 
WordPress to bounee the elieks baek 
out to Amazon, so you ean monitor 
traffie as it passes through your 
server, and direet any elieks on 
links for books you haven’t yet 
written to promo pages on your 
own site. Again, this ean drive 
newsletter sign-ups by 
promising readers that 
they’ll hear about the 
subsequent titles first. 

In addition, eonsider 
advertising a 99p launeh 
priee, valid for only the 
first two days that the 
book goes on sale, as an 
ineentive to drive 
newsletter subseriptions (on 
the basis that anyone who 
isn’t subseribed will miss it) . 

When the next book 
launehes, re-point the 


link from the promo page to its listing 
on the Kindle Store so it sends readers 
direetly to Amazon. 

■ KDP Select and Kindle 
Unlimited -friends or foes? 

If you prefer not to sign up with 
multiple ebook stores, there’s 
another way to get a free book onto 
the Kindle Store: signing up to KDP 
Seleet through the Kindle Direet 
Publishing Dashboard lets you run 
time-limited free promotions, with 
the downloads eounting towards 
your overall sales rank. 

This requires thought, however. 
Any ebook enrolled in KDP Seleet 
must be an Amazon-exelusive title 
for the period it’s in the programme 
- you ean’t offer it through your own 
website during that time or you risk 
being taken off Amazon. 

Signing up for KDP Seleet 
also means your book will be made 
available for Amazon Prime members 
to borrow for free, and will be 
ineluded as part of Kindle Unlimited, 
allowing subseribers to download it 
at no eharge. This may eost you sales, 
but it isn’t all bad. You’re giving 
readers a reason to sample your work, 
and you’ll earn a payment as soon as 
they borrow the book from the Kindle 
Owners’ Lending Library or read past 
the 10% point after downloading it 



R ■‘ ■■I I J »»■ tif/ - > 
■ill* *u!l?>iii ' 


ABOVE LEFT The Best 
Sellers Rank shows 
how well a book is 
performing relative 
to every other title in 
the Kindle Store 


“Every time a free book 
is downloaded, you want 
it to drive sales on a 
complementary book or 
on one that’s yet to come” 


BELOW Use links 
inside existing titles 
to point to promo 
pages on your site 


from Kindle Unlimited. The payment 
varies from one month to the next 
depending on the total payment fund 
(Amazon reveals what this is on 
a monthly basis) and how many 
times your work was borrowed, as 
a proportion of aggregate borrows 
across all titles on the store. 

As far as the borrower is 
concerned, your book is free - even if 
it costs a regular Kindle owner £9.99 
- so you’re getting the benefits of 
publishing a book at no charge, with 
the bonus of payments from Amazon. 
This means you can afford 
to write a greater number of 
more speculative, shorter 
titles for enrolment in the 
borrowing programmes, 
since potential readers will 
be tempted to borrow such 
books rather than buy them. 

You’re free to choose which of your 
books you enrol in Select (and, hence. 
Unlimited), and you’re not committed 
to publishing your complete library 
this way. You can use free borrowing 
as a tool to drive sales of later books 
in a series, by enrolling just the first 
episode in the programme. 

■ Playfair 

Whichever approach you employ, 
don’t forget that your name is your 
brand; if you try to scam your readers 
by putting out poorly researched 
books simply to target a high-selling 
niche, or conveyor-belting a series of 
low-value, high-priced pamphlets in 
the hope of striking it rich through 
Select and Unlimited, your reader 
ratings will give you away. 

The time invested in writing a 
fact or fiction book, conversely, will 
repay itself many times over, often 
for years to come. While smart sales 
tactics can certainly help, they’re no 
substitute for doing your research 
and crafting something worthy of 
bearing your name. • 


38 




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^ Prospects Careers 


Dan Page 

VR consultant 


■ What does your job involve? 

I do internal and client consultancy at a studio called Opposable 
Games. My role includes brainstorming and working out what will 
and won’t work when it comes to VR. I might advise a client on tools 
for gestural input or haptic feedback, or on gaze direction. VR is a 
learning curve for the whole industry right now, but because of my 
contacts, and the fact that I’ve tried many of the available demos, 
attended various conferences and read a lot on the subject. I’m often 
called upon for advice. 

■ How did you get into this line of work? 

Originally I saw the job opening in the Bristol Games Hub newsletter; 
it was really a part-time marketing position. But I’ve always been 
very passionate about VR, and Opposable Games was already into the 
technology - it had already made an Oculus game called Tear Bears, 
which was one of the first on the Oculus Share site. I was quickly able 
to get involved in that side of things and make the job my own. 

■ What originally attracted you to VR? 

It goes back to being a kid and reading lots of sci-fi books, and 
never really losing my interest in that. As soon as the Oculus Rift 
Kickstarter appeared I began to pay close attention to what was going 
on. When a local VR developer came to a Bristol Games Hub social 
with a Development Kit, I had the chance to have a go. Since then I’ve 
become a VR news addict - and that’s a big part of my job now. I run 
the Southwest VR social-media accounts and put out a regular VR 
newsletter. I keep an eye on the Oculus forum on Reddit (reddit. 
com/r/oculus), and my TweetDeck is verging on the ridiculous. 

■ What technical skills do you need? 

I wouldn’t say mine is a technical role as such - I’m not trained as a 
developer - but I do work with people who are technically minded, 
so need the ability to understand what is and isn’t possible with 
both the hardware and software. As an example, if a client wants 
to make something for Google Gardboard, they need to know that it 
won’t be particularly high-res, nor be very good in terms of latency. 
For something hi-res, I might advise upon a Samsung Gear VR 
experience instead; it won’t be able to handle a high-poly 3D load, 
but they could use 360 video and have something that looks great. 
Basically, if someone is planning a VR proj ect, they might ring me 
up wanting to know what is and isn’t viable. 

■ What advice would you give to someone wanting to take on 
a similar role? 

It’s a very interesting time for VR. There are startups everywhere 
taking on both hardware and software specialists. However, 
startups don’t often have the money to pay for recruitment 
agencies; when they’re looking to fill a role, they might just 
put out a tweet or post something on Facebook. So it’s really 
about keeping your eye on the ball. 

Also, try to find your own niche: you might want to learn what 
you can about using virtual reality in car design, engineering or 
architecture, or even in medical training. Or perhaps you just want 
to focus on making games - whatever it is, read what you can, and 
try to get as much hands-on experience as possible. For VR to make 
sense, you have to have a go. 


Q@pcpro facebook.com/pcpro 



£30k 

Approximate 
starting salary 


19 

permanent jobs 
(itjobswatch. 
co.uk) 


£47k 

Average 

earnings 


■ What opportunities are there for 
career progression? 

VR is very much an emerging market right now. 
It’s the Wild West out there; kind of a land-grab 
situation. So there isn’t much of a logical 
progression: it’s more about seeing what can be 
done and using your imagination to see where 
things can go. In my case, shortly after joining 
Opposable Games, I came to the conclusion that 
maybe we should put on a conference about VR. 
So we did; all the big players turned up and it 
went really well. I was proud of that. I believe 
that as the company expands, things will 
naturally progress and my traj ectory will move 
forward. Which is much the same for everyone 
in this industry right now. 

■ What isn’t so great about the job? 

At the moment, since VR is all new and exciting, 
it’s an incredibly friendly industry, with 
everybody helping each other out. In a few 
years, I think that will come to an end - it’s going 
to be quite fierce in terms of competition. It’s a 
shame but inevitable in any industry. 

■ What’s the money like? 

I left a full-time job and started out part-time, 
so the money was a little tight to begin with. But 
now that I’ve been with Opposable Games for 
more than a year full-time, life is good! There’s 
no standard salary in VR yet; I’m not so sure 
there are many people that even share the job 
title. What you earn in the VR sphere - in 
different roles and different companies - is going 
to be all over the place for a while. It’s a new 
world right now. It really is a fresh industry. • 


Where to start 

■ Meant To Be Seen (MTBS): 3D certification and advocacy (mtbs3d.com) 

■ Virtual-reality news at Road to VR (roadtovr.com) 

■ News and reviews at VR Focus (vrfocus.com) 


40 



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0 


□@Fr-FRn f] 







How health technology 
can changeyour life 

An explosion of health-tracking technology is putting us in control 
of our own wellbeing - and transforming the medical profession 


Contributors: Stewart Mitchell, Darien Graham-Smith, Lise Smith, Dave Stevenson 


A longer, healthier life is part of the promise of 
technology. Science and medicine have alv\^ays 
progressed together, ever since humans began 
to develop plant-based remedies. But the 
arrival of \vearable sensors is perhaps the most 
revolutionary development in the history of medicine. 

That’s partly because it upsets the traditional 
patient-doctor relationship. In the past, monitoring and 
diagnosing an individual’s health were the preserve of 
the medical professional. Today, apps and devices that 
track your fitness and measure your vital signs put 
that information in the hands of the patient. 

The implications of this are huge. 

First, constant monitoring means that 
potentially dangerous conditions can be 
identified at the earliest possible stage. 

“Technology is emerging that not 
only measures how much exercise 
you do, but complex changes to your 
physiology, such as your heart rate, 
your respiratory rate, and whether 
you have excess fluid in your body,” 

Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director 
of NHS England, told us. 

“In the future, people with conditions such 
as diabetes, heart disease, liver disease or asthma 
will wear devices, skin sensors or clothes capable of 
detecting deterioration, bringing this to the attention of 
the healthcare professionals through mobile phones.” 

Health technology can be transformative on a larger 
scale, too. The growing availability of medical data is 



I 


enabling initiatives to build platforms that can collate 
the data from entire populations to improve diagnoses 
and ongoing care. 

Yet, at the same time, putting health technology 
into consumer devices and uploading it to online 
services raises knotty problems. Who ends up with 
access to the data? How can patients’ privacy be 
protected? And indeed, how far should consumers 
rely on all this new technology? 


Lifestyle or serious medicine? 

Most current fitness devices detect your activity 
and track simple health metrics, such as 
temperature and heart rate. With plugins, 
some can also add extra measurements, 
such as weight and blood-pressure 
readings, to their respective apps. 

Linking these readings to rewards 
programmes and social-media sharing 
represents a “gamification” of health 
that, manufacturers argue, encourages 
people to persevere with healthy 
activities. While some may see tracking 
such information as an exercise in self- 
congratulation for fitness fanatics, medical 
experts insist that far from being a gimmick, the 
motivation provided by tracking apps is invaluable and 
could prevent, delay or help treat medical conditions. 

“After a heart attack, raising physical activity levels 
and improving your diet is just as effective as any drug in 
preventing a second heart attack,” said Professor Iain 


B 


43 



WithActicheck, 
friends and family 
will be contacted 
if the wearer’s 
readings indicate 
that they may be ill 




Buchan, clinical professor in public health 
informatics at the University of Manchester. 

“Combining care for health vv^ith wellbeing 
interventions holds great promise for big 
improvements in health outcomes, beyond 
the reach of the clinic. The same applies to 
tackling public health problems such as 
obesity: top-down, state-run interventions 
don’t work, and medicalised interventions 
aren’t sustainable or practical. There’s a 
need for citizen-driven approaches that 
tap into our daily rhythms of eating and 
physical activity. 

“Consumer health technologies are 
showing promise as they transition from 
toys for the worried to ubiquitous kit. For 
example, 1 can now buy a wristwatch with an 
eight-month battery life that measures my 
physical activity and talks to my smartphone 
or other ‘hub’, without my having to feed it 
with power or user input. It nudges me into 
a healthier energy balance or sleep habit 
when I’m open to persuasion,” he said. 

By promoting fitness, such personal 
devices can stave off many conditions 
and health issues, and NHS bosses believe 
that apps and consumer tech will play an 
increasingly central role within healthcare 
services in the coming years. With growing 
patient numbers, an ageing population and 
budget cuts all adding to the pressure on 
health services, the idea of cutting costs and 
waiting lists while improving public health 
is a very attractive one indeed. 

Another benefit for doctors and 
hospitals is the potential for medical 
conditions to be monitored remotely; apps 
and tools on smartphones or dedicated 
devices can monitor illness-specific data, 
and feed it back to doctors. The patient 
and medical staff don’t waste time 
on routinetests when intervention 
isn’t needed, but can respond quickly 
if readings fall outside a safe range. 

Apps in action 

T rials are already taking 
place to explore how apps can 
improve treatments. One app 
asks schizophrenia sufferers 
to regularly complete a short 
digital questionnaire about 
their state of mind and 
medication. This provides 
vastly more diagnostic data 
than can be captured during 
home visits by carers, and if the 
results indicate a deterioration 
in mental health, it can be 
flagged up immediately. 

“The app extends the 
snapshot you’d get from a 
paper questionnaire to a 
‘conversation’ of short 
questions via smartphone,” 
explained Professor lain 
Buchan. “The app must learn 
not only about mental-health 


Indeed, in doetors’ surgeries, experts 
say the information eolleeted by personal 
deviees is already starting to provide useful 
diagnostie data - even if, at present, the 
system is as simple as the patient handing 
their phone over to their GP to show 
historie readings. 

“Someone might be sitting in a surgery 
and telling the doetor they feel unwell, but 
before these apps the doetor had no idea of 
what the patient’s heart rate or temperature 
were before they eame in,” said Lloyd Priee, 
co-founder of medieal appointment-booking 
serviee Zesty. 

“A doetor might ask how a patient felt last 
week or three weeks ago, but this isn’t mueh 
help if the patient ean’t remember preeisely , ” 
he added. “Now there’s a reeord; patients 
ean hand over their smartphones to give 
GPs mueh better information on whieh 
to base their assessment.” 


else, so that they feel involved 
and can take action, such as 
resuming medication. It’s 
hoped that self-monitoring 
could be more effective than 
routine check-ups. 

“The surveillance system 
in the health service is a six- 
weekly visit from a psychiatric 
nurse. A lot of people relapse 
when the signs are there, 
but hidden,” said Buchan. 

“Now we’re picking up those 
signs from the app responses, 
and that’s important, because 
you’re putting individuals in 
control of their own treatment. 
If a person with schizophrenia 
goes off medication and 
relapses, it can result in 
years of misery - which could 
perhaps have been prevented.” 


Quality control 

While personal health teehnology 
has obvious potential, eonsumer 
gadgets aren’t required to pass 
the same rigorous tests as the 
medieal equipment used in 
hospitals - and this inevitably 
raises questions about their 
aeeuraey. Manufaeturers of 
wearable deviees tend to deseribe 
their wares as “fitness” deviees, 
and shy away from terms sueh as 
“health” or “medieal” in produet 
deseriptions. While there are 
many good apps, there’s a risk 
of patients plaeing faith in those 
that aren’t. 

“We’ve seen apps that are 
using smartphone eameras to 
deteet skin eaneer, and there’s no 
aeereditation needed, no medieal 
tests needed, nor authorisation,” 
said Simon Etehells, head of 
business development at Aetieheek, whieh 
is developing a smartband monitoring 
system, designed to eontaet family or 
friends if a wearer’s readings indieate 
they might be ill or ineapaeitated. “And 
what they’re finding is that they ean lead 
to false negatives.” 

“If the user has a lesion, and they’re 
using an app that says ‘no, you don’t 
have eaneer’ , that’s not good, ” Etehells 
added. “We’re very eonseious to say 
we’re an alerting system rather than a 
medieal-deviee provider. If something is 
going wrong, then we eall in a human to 
respond in the appropriate way. We’re 
not a medieal app.” 

To help eonsumers avoid dangerous 
misinformation, the NHS has eurated 
a library of apps that it’s eonfirmed to 
be elinieally safe (apps.nhs.uk) . In this 
naseent market, however, things are 
eonstantly ehanging, and the faet that 
a partieular app hasn’t yet reeeived the 
NHS stamp of approval doesn’t neeessarily 
mean it’s untrustworthy. That’s a bone 
of eontention for eompanies working to 
produee medieal-grade equipment, but 
eompeting with less stringently tested 
rivals. Yet aeeording to the experts, the 
two approaehes ean eoexist, and the 
overall benefits of health apps outweigh 
the potential problems. 

“There’s a blurred boundary between 
wellbeing and healtheare apps, and 
eommon sense needs to prevail,” said 
Buehan. “The biggest risk to human 
health isn’t from a faulty deviee - it’s 
from inaetion. It’s from all those missed 
opportunities to get someone moving, or 
to ehange their lifestyles or the way they 
take their medieines.” 

Data-centric medicine 

While apps and shiny gadgets eapture the 
headlines, the real driver behind the health 
revolution is the data - both for individuals 
and at the level of whole populations. 



measurement, but also engage 
the user without boring or 
annoying them... and give the 
user a greater sense of control 
over their symptoms.” 

If a user’s symptoms 
appear to be deteriorating, the 
app alerts them before anyone 


Continued on p50 


44 




It @PCPRO f FACEBOOK.COM/PCPRO 


Health 0 



T he UK Sleep Couneil reports that 70% 
of Brits sleep for fewer than seven 
hours a night; a third of us get only five 
hours in the Land of Nod. Sleep deprivation is 
associated with issues ranging from impaired 
cognition and weakened memory to reduced 
immunity, so getting a good night’s rest 
really is as important to your wellbeing 
as regular exercise and a healthy diet. 

Enter the growing range of apps and 
gadgets aimed at helping you understand 
your sleep patterns and to get not only 
more shuteye, but a better quality of rest. 


The more upmarket 
Basis Peak (£170) also 
tracks heart rate and 




unknowingly awake in the night - explaining that 
sluggish feeling the next morning. The Jawbone 
Up Move, meanwhile, revealed that my bedtimes 
were much less consistent than I had thought. 

But these devices can’t help you get to sleep, 
or silence a noisy neighbour, and it’s up to you to 
draw connections between the pretty graphs 
and your sleep experience. Data from the 
low-cost Up Move helped me adopt a more 
regular routine, after which my sleep quality 
definitely improved. To go further, a holistic 
approach is needed, to transform sleep tracking 
into meaningful sleep coaching. LISE SMITH 


called NeuroVigil has already developed a 
lightweight EEG reader for home sleep 
tracking (pcpro.link/25ieegreader), and 
while it’s currently focused on medical 
research, it’s the logical next step for 
consumer sleep tracking. 


Everyday relaxation 

Tense muscles, stress and anxiety can all 
scupper your sleep; before you turn in, 
a calming yoga session may be exactly 
what’s needed to help you relax. There’s 
no shortage of apps that can help you 
explore yoga postures (or asanas) using text, 
image and video. It’s best to use these to 
complement a regular class with a qualified 
instructor, however, as getting it wrong 
could lead to injury. 

When it comes to hardware, two 
companies are currently developing smart 
mats that can help you achieve the correct 
alignment and balance. Quirky (quirky.com) 
has developed the Beacon, a pressure- 
sensing mat that uses LEDs to tell you 
when you’re correctly in position. The 
company is now looking for business 
partners to take the product to launch. 

SmartMat (smartmat.com) has got further, 
raising more than $350,000 via Indiegogo 
to manufacture its intelligent mat, which is 
now available for pre-order and due to start 
shipping worldwide later this year. B 


Smartphone apps 

The simplest way to track your sleep doesn’t 
require dedicated hardware. Leave your 
smartphone lying on the bed overnight and 
its built-in accelerometers can monitor your 
nocturnal movements. An app such as Sleep 
Cycle (£1.49; Android & iOS) 
can then use this information 
to determine when you’re in 
light or deep sleep. 

This allows the app to 
calculate the best moment 
within a specified half-hour 
window to wake you with a 
mellow alarm, bringing you 
gently out of light sleep 
instead of crashing into the 
deepest part of your sleep 
cycle. It will also give you 
a report on the quality of 
your sleep, which you can 
record against notes on 
your pre-sleep activity 
(a stressful day, caffeine 
before bed or an evening 
workout) , so you can 
keep tabs on what works 
for you. SleepBot (free; 

Android, Blackberry, iOS 
& Windows Phone) does a 
similar job, with slightly 
cruder graphs. . ( 


Wearable devices 

If you’re wearing a wristband 
or armband as part of your 
fitness regime, it may already have built-in 
sleep-tracking functionality. The lightweight 
Jawbone Up Move (£40) uses a triaxial 
accelerometer to sense periods of light and 
sound sleep; you’ll need to remember to set 
the device to “sleep” mode to begin tracking 
(and switch back in the morning so that your 
data is synced to a phone or tablet) . After a 
few days’ use, the app’s Smart Coach begins 
to offer tips on how to achieve your sleep 
goals and rewards you for a good night’s kip. 


Tracking could help you improve 
the quality of yoursleep 


calorie burn, and 
automatically senses 
when you’re asleep, so there’s no 
need to change mode as you doze off. 

You can set daily and weekly sleep targets, 
so there are plenty of short-term rewards 
en route to your long-term health goals. 

The battery only lasts for a few days, 
however, so if you’re wearing it overnight 
you’ll need to remember to top it up during 
the day - a limitation shared by most 
current-generation wearables. 

In-room devices 

If you’re serious about shuteye, it’s possible 
to spend some serious money on sleep 
technology. The Withings Aura Smart Sleep 
System (£250) features 
an under-mattress 
sensor that monitors 
your motion, heart rate 
and breathing, while a 
bedside monitor tracks 
noise, light and room 
temperature, providing 
a comprehensive 
overview of your sleep 
environment. A soft red 
light and soothing music 
lull you to sleep; and in 
the morning, the Aura 
wakes you with blue light 
and soft sounds - more 
pleasant than a noisy 
alarm clock or radio host. 

The Luna smart 
mattress cover (lunasleep. 
com) , although not yet on 
sale, promises to go one 
' better, managing the 
temperature of your 
surroundings as well as 
) ‘ tracking sleep stages with 

built-in sensors. You can 
even set the two sides of 
your bed to different 
temperatures - ensuring 
cool, crisp sheets for you and a toasty duvet 
for your cat. The manufacturer plans to start 
shipping worldwide next year. 

What’s next in sleep technology? All 
of these devices use motion detection - 
sometimes partnered with heart-rate 
tracking - to track your sleep patterns, but 
an electroencephalogram (EEG) to read your 
brainwaves directly will provide a more 
accurate picture. Believe it or not, that 
technology may not be far off: a company 


Vf[^iA}6ek 
of deep 

The Sleep Cycle app was a 
revelation. More than once 
it showed that I’d been 



45 





0 Health @PCPRO f FACEBOOK.COM/PCPRO 

LOSE WEIGHT 

I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I 


L osing weight is a challenge for 
most of us, and frankly there’s a 
limit to how far technology can 
help. While a wearable gadget can 
automatically track your exercise, 
it can’t directly determine how 
many calories you’re consuming. 

However, technology can help you 
keep track of your own intake. The 
free MyFitnessPal app (myfitnesspal. 
com) - available for Android, 

BlackBerry, iOS and Windows Phone 
- provides an easy interface for 
recording meals and snacks, drawing 
on a vast database of more than five 
million food types. That means no 
more squinting at the “nutritional 
information” on the back of a packet: 
you can simply type in “Monster 
Munch”, tap the relevant flavour and 
pack size, and get on with your life. 

As the name implies, MyFitnessPal 
isn’t just about calorie-counting; you 
can also record exercise, to get the 
credit for calories burnt. The app integrates 
with a huge range of fitness-tracking apps 
including Runtastic, Garmin Connect and 
Fitbit Tracker. 

The app keeps a running total of 
your daily calorie intake, so you can 
see at a glance how you’re doing as the 
day draws on, and make an informed 
decision about dessert at dinner time. 

You can also set a weight-loss target, so 
you can choose a daily calorie allowance 
that will get you to a certain weight by 
a specified future date. 


Tf\i^i^eeko( 
toss 

My first impressions of 
MyFitnessPal were very 
encouraging. After I’d entered a 
few vital statistics, a weight-loss 
target and a timescale, it plotted out a calorie 
plan, promising that if 1 followed it I’d lose 4kg 
in a month. It seemed excitingly achievable. 

The trouble is that a month is a long time to 
remain vigilant about entering everything you 
eat and drink into an app. Within days 1 started 
to become careless, with depressingly 
predictable results: my 4kg target began to 
seem like a mere fantasy. The developers 
proudly claim that the app’s played a part in 
millions of weight-loss stories, and 1 can believe 
it - but the commitment and willpower still 
have to come from you. If tech is to make 
weight-loss genuinely easy, a more drastic 
approach might be required. Fat-digesting 
nanobots, anyone? DARIEN GRAHAM-SMITH 



& 



distance 

8.05 

MILES 


Watching your 
weight 

MyFitnessPal relies on you 
to be honest about your 
progress; if you want a 
gadget to track and analyse 
your weight-loss results, 
consider a set of smart 
scales for your bathroom, 
such as the Withings 
Smart Body Analyzer 
(around £130 from 
withings.com). It can 
record your regular 
weigh-ins and 
transmit them to 
your Android or iOS 
device over Wi-Fi, to 
automatically build 
up a motivational 
weight-loss graph. 

It’s not necessarily just about weight, 
either. The Smart Body Analyzer can take 
your pulse (through the soles of your 
feet) , and factor in your height to calculate 
your body-mass index. It can even zap you 
with a very weak electrical current and 
measure the impedance, to assess how much 
of your weight represents healthy muscle 
tissue, and how much is less desirable fat. 

For those who enjoy a home-cooked meal, 
smart scale technology can also help in the 
kitchen. The SITU food scale (around £95 
from situscale.com) hooks up to an app on 
your iOS device, through which you can 
tell it precisely what sort of food you’re 
weighing. With this information, the scale 
can tell you the total calorific and nutritional 
value of each ingredient. The Orange Chef 
Countertop system works similarly; its app 
goes one step further to recommend recipes 


TrME 

1:21:41 

•at GOOD 


10:09 

AVGMlM/rMlI 

7343 

CALCffljes 


T32 60-70% (Wefght Conrroi) 


illlliilll 


and complementary 
exercises. US residents 
can pre-order the smart 
scale now for $200; UK 
availability is to follow. 


Slow down, you 
move too fast 

One appealingly lateral 
approach to weight loss 
is the HAPIfork, a $99 
Bluetooth-enabled 
fork that focuses not 
on what you eat, but how 
quickly you eat it. Since 
excess calorie intake tends 
to be associated with 
gobbling things down 
quickly, the HAPIfork 
vibrates a warning if 
it detects you’re 
shovelling food too 
urgently into your 
mouth. It also records 
how many forkfuls 
you eat at each sitting, 
and how long you 
spend over each meal, 
so you can track your 
eating habits over 
time and settle into a 
healthier, more relaxed 
eating routine. 


DUBflENTPAee 

10:01 

MIN/MILES 


oiop I Pause 
T rack your calorie intake and 
exercise through MyFitnessPal 


Balloons 
and pills 

The future of weight 
loss takes a variety of 
forms. One approach 
that’s being developed 
involves implanting 
soluble balloons into 
the stomach, to create 
feelings of fullness for 
a limited period, after which 
the balloon dissolves without needing to be 
surgically removed. Earlier this year in the 
US, the FDA approved an electrical device 
called Maestro that works similarly to a 
pacemaker - but instead of regulating the 
heartbeat, it stimulates the nerves that create 
sensations of fullness. 

Frankly, though, most of us don’t 
want to have a device inside our bodies. 

Our hopes might be pinned instead on 
chemical solutions: research laboratories 
have for decades been working on pills that 
suppress appetite, promote feelings of 
fullness, prevent the absorption of fat or 
stimulate the body to burn more calories. 
Concerns over side effects have kept such 
medicines out of the mainstream, but as 
and when a safe formulation is found, 
the world of weight loss could be 
transformed forever. 




46 




Mechanical Gaming Kevbqard 



FULL LED J 

brckligmt 






"...a very solid keyboard, with nearly everything you 
could want in terms of backlighting" 

- Antony Leather Bit-Tech.net 


"Primarily the big change is the removal of the numpad. 
This has major benefits to the footprint of the Rapid-i" 
-OC3D 


"Build quality is exceptional on this keyboard, it's 
easily one of the toughest in its class..." 

- Peter Donnell eTeknix.com 


"The ability to illuminate only the keys that you're play- 
ing with and having four Profiles to use means you can 
pretty much have this Iced Cake and eat it!" 

-James Crewe pcGameware.co.uk 


0 Health 


@PCPRO f FACEBOOK.COM/PCPRO 


CHEAT DEATH 

I I I I I t I I I I I I I I I I I I I 1 I I t I I I I I I I I I I I I I I 



LEFT Dr de Grey is perhaps the 
best-known anti-ageing evangelist 


Young again 

One of the most prominent 
individuals in the fight 
against ageing is Dr Aubrey 
de Grey, a Cambridge- 
educated scientist and 
author. Previously a soft\vare engineer 
at Sinclair Research, in 1999 de Grey 
published The Mitochondrial Free 
Radical Theory of Ageing. In it, he linked 
ageing with cells becoming damaged, 
failing to function as they should or 
accumulating “junk” molecules - and 
he believes that by combating these 
processes it ought to be possible to 
prolong life almost indefinitely. 

Dr de Grey’s hopes for anti-ageing 
research were set out in a 2005 TED 
Talk (pcpro.link/25ited): 

“If you’re only 50, then 
there’s a chance that you 
might be able to... start 
becoming biologically 
younger in a meaningful 
sense, in terms of your 
youthfulness, both 
physical and mental, 
and in terms of your 
risk of death from 
age-related causes. And 
of course, if you’re a bit 
younger than that, then 
you’re never really even going to get 
near to being fragile enough to die of 
age-related causes.” 

In 2009, de Grey co-founded the SENS 
(Strategies for Engineered Negligible 
Senescence) Eoundation in the US, with the 
aim of promoting and bringing to reality 
“the repair of living cells and extracellular 
material in situ”. 


Cryonics 

Technology that can restore our youth and 
cheat death won’t come soon enough for 
everyone. Enter cryonics: the field of science 
that deals with freezing just-dead or dying 
humans, with a view to resuscitating and 
restoring them to health in the future. 

By contrast with the cutting-edge work 
that’s being done in genomic anti-ageing 
research, cryonics certainly isn’t a new idea. 
It was popularised in 1962 in a book entitled 
The Prospect of Immortality, written 
by US academic Robert Ettinger. In 1967, 
psychology lecturer James Bedford became 
the first person to be frozen immediately 
after death with a view to future revival. 

To date, no-one has yet attempted to 
revive a frozen person from a cryonic state; 
it’s feared that the organs of older subjects 
may have been permanently damaged by 
the water in their bodies forming 
crystals as it freezes. But, 
amazing as it sounds, the 
idea could work. 

In 2005, researchers 
at the University of 
Pittsburgh managed to 
place dogs safely into 
suspended animation 
by draining their blood 
and replacing it with an 
ice-cold saline solution. 
The dogs spent three hours 
in a state of clinical death 
with no heart or brain activity; 
when the blood was returned, and 
the dogs’ hearts were stimulated by electric 
shock, they returned to life, in most cases 
with no visible ill effects. In the future, the 
technique could be used for the victims of 
critical injuries, to buy time for treatment 
to be arranged. Or it could be used to freeze 
people with currently incurable diseases, 
until such time as a cure can be found. 


If you’re 
only 50, then 
there’s a chance 
that you might 
he ahle to start 
becoming 
younger 


W hile fitness gadgets can help you 
live longer, some see that as a 
mere step on the road to a far 
more ambitious goal. Scientists are talking 
seriously about pushing back the final 
frontier, enabling humans to live vastly 
longer lives - possibly even forever. 

The idea might sound outlandish, but the 
replacement of old cells with new ones is a 
regular biological process. There’s no reason 
why, with technological know-how, we 
shouldn’t be able to prolong it indefinitely. 

There’s evidence to suggest that ageing 
isn’t an inevitable part of 
being alive. Back in 1993, 
in a groundbreaking 
research paper. Professor 
Gynthia Kenyon showed 
that disabling a specific gene 
in worms led to their living 
twice as long as normal. At 
the University of Southern 
Galifornia, gerontologist Dr 
Valter Longo has shown how 
disabling genes can similarly 
increase the lifespan of mice. 

Now, research is underway 
into whether such techniques 
could defeat ageing entirely 
- and whether they can be 
applied to humans. 


The initiatives 

Hedge-fund manager loon Yun is promoting 
such research in a very direct way. He’s put 
up a million dollars under the banner of the 
“Palo Alto Longevity Prize” - a prize for 
finding ways to combat ageing and restore 
vitality in mammals. That second part is 
important, of course: living for hundreds of 
years would be a dismal experience if it came 
with the frailty of extreme old age. Therefore, 
half of the prize money will go to a team that 
manages to restore the vitality of an ageing 
animal to match that of a younger specimen, 
while the rest is for extending its lifespan by 
at least 50%. The vitality contest closes next 
June; the longevity prize closes in 2018, so 
we’II have to wait to see if either can be won. 

A venture with a more hands-on brief is 
the Galifornia Life Gompany - Galico for 
short. Pounded in 2013, its work so far has 
included collaborations with multiple 
medical institutions exploring age-related 
diseases and cognitive decline. Its research 
staff comprises experts from the fields of 
medicine, drug development, molecular 
biology and genetics -including the above- 
mentioned Gynthia Kenyon, who holds the 
title of vice president of ageing research. 
There are plenty of other institutes working 
on similar projects, but Galico looks like an 
unusually good bet since it’s exceptionally 
well funded - being, as it is, founded and 
backed by Google. 




48 


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F itness goals are easily quantifiable, 
whether you’re shooting for 10,000 
steps a day or 1,000 ealories burnt. 

So if you’re trying to get fit by running, 
swimming, riding a bike or playing sport, 
there’s probably already a wearable deviee 
on the market to help. Is it worth the money? 
Well, an Ameriean study by the Brigham and 
Women’s Hospital and the National Caneer 
Institute looked at the impaet of exereise on 
more than half a million adults and found 
that those who took the reeommended 
minimum of exereise lived on average 
three and a half years longer. 

Running 

Running paee is one of the 
easier things for modern 
gadgets to measure: rattly 
pedometers have been doing 
the same job (albeit less 
aeeurately) for years. You 
don’t even need a dedieated 
deviee: a smartphone with 
MapMyRun (free; Android, 

BlaekBerry & iOS) installed 
will ehart where you go on 
your runs, how long it takes, 
your paee, and how many 
ealories you burned doing it. 

Even apps that ostensibly have nothing 
to do with running are getting in on the 
aet: an in-the-works update to Spotify’s 
iPhone and Android apps will introduee a 
Running mode, with eurated playlists and 
the ability to measure your speed and play 
appropriately paeed musie. 



V/l^iAieek 

affi.in£66 



As someone who’s worn the same 
watch for 13 years, 1 hated putting 
on the Microsoft Band. It’s not comfortable, 
and it doesn’t even show the time unless you 
tap a button. 

But in a few days things started to click. 
After a photography workshop at Whipsnade 
Zoo, 1 was proud to find I’d taken 18,630 steps 
over a distance of 9.72 miles. After a second 
day, 1 found I’d burnt almost 5,000 calories. 

Really, this data only underlined what 1 
already know: walking burns calories and 
elevates your heart rate, while flopping on the 
sofa does neither. For now, though. I’ll carry on 
wearing the Band: filling in each day’s activity 
in the Dashboard software is quite addictive, 
and if it inspires me to keep active then so much 
the better. DAVE STEVENSON 


50 


When it comes to 
dedicated hardware, 
there are plenty of 
options, although 
they aren’t created 
equal. As we’ve 
noted before, the 
Microsoft Band’s 

(£170) optical heart-rate monitor doesn’t 
measure your pulse frequently or accurately 
enough to track a serious cardio session. 

The Apple Watch (£299) generates more 
accurate results, and while it lacks the 
cross-platform appeal of the Microsoft Band, 
it also enjoys much broader 
app support: on the day of 
the Apple Watch’s launch, 
RunKeeper was made 
available for the new 
platform, and with third- 
party native apps (apps 
that don’t rely on an Apple 
Watch’s host iPhone) due 
for release in autumn, the 
, Watch is a strong contender 
with bags of potential. 

What is the future of 
wearables for running? In 
a press release at the end of 
last year, Sony announced 
its SmartEyeglass Attach concept. Using 
a tiny OLED screen attached to a pair of 
sporty-looking glasses, the Attach gives you 
a real-time view of fitness data, gleaned 
either from onboard sensors or a Bluetooth- 
connected smartphone. Eor those interested 
in developing apps for the platform, the beta 
SED-Ei can be had for £624. 

Cycling 

Cycling technology is already big 
business, so the treasure trove of cycling 
gadgets comes as no surprise. Those 
looking simply to map their rides, and 
track speed and gradient information, can 
use the Strava (free; Android & iOS) app, 
which uses a smartphone to record the 
relevant data. Competitive types can then 
compare their stats with others’ on Strava’ s 
website - turning a gentle Sunday 
morning ride around popular ^ 

locations such as Richmond Park 

into gruelling tests of stamina 

against the personal bests of 
superior athletes. 

Garmin has created an 
interesting cross-genre 
device in the VIRB Elite 
(£250 for the cycling 
bundle). A loSop camera 
with built-in Wi-Ei and 
GPS, plus Bluetooth and 
compatibility with 
Garmin’s ANT+ heart-rate 
monitors, the Elite allows 


Activity 15:23 


you to turn your rides into data-rich, 
audiovisual feasts. Or there’s Recon’s Jet - an 
Android-powered Google Glass-type affair 
with a tiny WQVGA display that, according 
to the company, is like looking at a soin 
monitor from 7ft away. The display can 
keep cyclists up to date with things such as 
distance travelled and speed, while ANT + , 
Bluetooth and Wi-Ei all make appearances. It 
can pair with a phone to work as a hands-free 
kit, but because it’s powered by a iGHz ARM 
Cortex-A9 processor and has its own GPS 
unit, it doesn’t need one to work. It comes 
preconfigured for popular exercise services 
such as Strava and MapMyPitness; cycling 
geeks will appreciate the ability to export 
raw data files into other applications. 

Einally, there’s a very real way technology 
could prove a life-saver. The IGEdot Grash 
Sensor (£96) is a small puck-style device that 
connects to a host smartphone (Android and 
iOS are supported) via Bluetooth. If the 
sensor’s internal accelerometer detects a 
sufficiently violent blow, a countdown is 
triggered, at the end of which the host phone 
delivers an emergency text, including GPS 
co-ordinates, to a pre-entered number. 

Football 

Although overall fitness plays a big part 
in football, there’s also a host of football- 
specific smart devices and wearables aimed 
at helping Sunday-league players hit peak 
form. Adidas is leading the charge with 
miGoach, a fitness-tracking system that 
includes running, football, tennis and 
general fitness via a host of gadgets such 
as the Speed_Gell (£55), a Bluetooth sensor 
that sits on your trainers and records up 
to eight hours of fitness activity. This can 
be synced to a smartphone (Android, iOS 
and Windows Phone are all 
" supported) and stored online. 

^ The website can then be used 
to measure your performance 
against other athletes, 
including - a mite 
depressingly for anyone 
who reckons they’re 
half-decent - data gleaned 
from Argentinian legend 
Lionel Messi during a 2012 
friendly against Germany. 

Adidas also makes the 
miGoach Smart Run, a £300 
Apple Watch-alike that 
does a similar job to the 









@PCPRO f FACEBOOK.COM/PCPRO 


0 


J I I I I I I I I I I L 


Continued from pU 


Speed_Cell with the addition of a heart-rate 
monitor and a i.45in, 184 x 184 display. 

Finally, for the truly data-driven, there’s 
the miCoaeh Smart Ball, a regulation football 
whose differenee isn’t just its steep £145 
priee. A triaxial aeeelerometer inside it 
reeords data sueh as speed, spin and 
preeisely where the ball was hit, to help 
you improve strike teehnique. Data is fed 
baek to an iPhone for later inspeetion. 

Swimming 

Combining teehnology with water is 
normally a reeipe for disaster, but deviees 
sueh as the Garmin Swim (£94) are turning 
the tide: this sports wateh is 

waterproof to 50m and eapable 
of deteeting whieh stroke is 
being used, along with a 
length eounter and the 
ability to measure your 
stroke andpaee. 

Then there’s its 
ineoming rival: Swimmo, 
an aquatie smartwateh, 
launehed on Kiekstarter 
earlier this year aiming to 
raise a modest $39,000 
(around £25,500), but 
attraeting more than $184,000 
(over £120,000) in pre-orders. The 
first bateh is set to be delivered to dedieated 
dippers in Oetober 2015. Like the Garmin, 
it offers a length eounter, with paee and 
distanee traeking; unlike Garmin’s offering, 
there’s also a heart-rate monitor and a 
full-eolour i.29in sereen. Its data is also 
eompatible with apps ineluding Strava, 
RunKeeper and, usefully for Apple users, 
HealthKit. Swimmo ean be preloaded with 
workout goals, and an internal motor 
provides a vibration alert if you’re 
falling behind or steaming ahead 
of where you want to be. 

Golf 

Golf has a reputation as an 
expensive sport, and golf- 
orientated GPS deviees 

- handy for measuring the 
distanee to the hole, and 
alerting you to hidden traps 

- have been around for some 
time. Lately, they’ve taken on a 
wearable dimension. TomTom’s 
Golfer wateh (£165) has a monoehrome, 
o.45in, 168 X 144 sereen, and looks 
suffieiently like an Apple Wateh to make us 
suspeet a dedieated iOS app ean’t be far off. 

Alternatively, the £130 Zepp Golf 
Sensor attaehes to a glove and uses a pair of 
aeeelerometers and a three-axis gyroseope 
to provide its eompanion app (Android & 
iOS) with a 3D render of every swing, to 
help you study and improve your form. 


“The fastest-growing area for this is 
remote monitoring,” said Priee. “It’s 
where people wear a braeelet that eolleets 
data and sends it baek to a server, where 
it’s monitored by a hospital or a patient’s 
elinieian. So, for example, if you have 
someone who’s a diabetie, what’s 
happening to their bloods is regularly 
fed baek, so that doetors ean ehange 
treatment levels if neeessary. ” 

While helping individual patients, 
the data ean also be used - onee suitably 
anonymised - for large-seale researeh. 
Colleeted together, the data from 
a large number of diabetes sufferers 
provide an overall pieture of their 
habits and health. 

“Doetors like it, beeause it’s inereasing 
how mueh data they’re seeing, ” said 
Priee. “Instead of information about 
20 people from their surgery, it’s 200,000 
all sharing - and the sharing is key to 
the medieal eommunity. It isn’t in dribs 
and drabs; they’re seeing what 200,000 
diabeties are doing in the UK; there’s a 
pool of information. ” 

There’s some way to go when it eomes 
to data sharing. Currently, mueh of the 
information that’s gathered is loeked up 
in standalone smartphone apps, beeause 
the different software platforms don’t yet 
talk to eaeh other, and developers are 
understandably wary of sharing sueh 
valuable and sensitive data. 

“If you think about the Apple Wateh, 
and sueh produets, it’s easy to say ‘this 
ean be integrated with my health reeords, 
and the data ean go straight to my GP and 
they ean monitor my health’,” said Silvia 
Piai, senior researeh manager for IDG 
Health Insights. “But there’s a real 
question over the interoperability of the 
data, and how to integrate it with the 
systems used by the doetors. That’s 
the diffieult part. The huge benefit 
will eome only if we ean integrate 
better between the medieal and 
the eonsumer side.” 

The issue isn’t a showstopper, 
though. Teeh eompanies, ineluding 
Apple and Google, are positioning 
themselves to provide a platform for 
health professionals to use and ereate 
healtheare apps, and to enable them to 
talk with eaeh other. For example, a 
heart-monitoring app eould exehange 
data with a blood-pressure app to build a 
more detailed pieture of any signifieant 
ehanges over time. And with a eommon 
platform, the information eould be 
passed direetly to a doetor if the data 
indieated a need for medieal attention. 

Already, Apple is talking to hospitals 
in the US about how its offerings ean be 
integrated into eurrent medieal systems. 





BkMiicmedicine 

Today’s emerging health technologies focus 
largely on healthy living outside of the doctors’ 
surgery. But work is also underway in developing 
new in-hospital technologies that can transform 
treatments for illnesses and disabilities. 

For example, the University of Leeds is 
working on a system to provide amputees with 
sensations from prosthetic limbs, by plugging 
sensors directly into the recipient’s nervous 
system. “We can embed sensors in the fingers 
of the prosthetic hand, and those signals will be 
delivered wirelessly to the original nerve in your 
arm,” said Dr Rory O’Connor, senior lecturer in 
rehabilitation medicine at Leeds. 

“So when you’re picking up an object, you 
won’t know it’s not your original hand touching 
the object. We’re embedding sensors that are 
40 microns in width, which can be put into the 
peripheral nerve and integrated into the body’s 
own sensory system. The electrodes will go into 
the bundle of nerves for touch, temperature, 
vibration and sensation. 

“There are lots of people living with damaged 
nerves from diabetes, and this would allow us 
to bridge the gap. It could be used anywhere in 
the body, from peripheral nerves to the spinal 
cord, if it’s been severed.” The researchers 
hope to develop a working prototype within 
three years. 

Meanwhile, researchers at the Swiss Federal 
Institute of Technology in Zurich are working 
on nano-scale robots that will carry a medical 
payload through the bloodstream to deliver 
treatment directly to the affected area. The 
researchers have started tests for treating 
age-related eye disorders, but the concept 
could be used for more complicated treatments 
as it’s developed over the next decade. 

“If we can make tiny things that can move in 
intelligent ways, a good application would be 
small devices that carry drugs and target 
particular locations in the body,” said project 
leader Professor Bradley Nelson. 

“For example, we can deliver drugs to very 
specific locations in the retina. Over the next 
decade, 1 think we’ll see devices that can do 
this - perhaps delivering stem cells to various 
locations to help treat things.” 


and Google looks likely to follow suit. How 
far the tech industry succeeds in establishing 
a common platform will determine more 
than anything else just how beneficial these 
tools can be, for both individual patients 
and human health in general. • 


51 





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52 





@PCPRO f FACEBOOK.COM/PCPRO 


Language 0 




^gu^e 


New ways of speaking, new ways of writing, new ways 
of emailing. Nicole Kobie asks whether our language 
can withstand the OMGs, LOLcats and smiley faces 



T he English language is totes 

changing, because internet. If 
that sentence makes you grit 
your teeth, it’s probably best 
you don’t spend too much time online. 

Like any community, the internet has 
developed its own vocabulary and slang 
- and while much of it is silly, from “LOL” 
to “OMG”, some of it has slipped into the 
mainstream. Selfie, anyone? 

Is this invasion of new words destroying 
the English language, or is it no more than a 
next step in a continual evolution. Here’s 
what the experts say. 

Ermahgerd! English? 

Professor David Crystal is a leading 
researcher in online linguistics - he literally 
wrote the book on the subject, and is seen 
as the originator of the academic field. We 
asked him if the web is ruining English: 

“No,” he said. “No, is the short answer.” 

The web is hardly the first technological 
innovation to impact English, he pointed 
out. The advent of broadcast television led to 
similar concerns, but Crystal said the actual 
shift in language from that technological 
revolution was “really very small” . 

This is true of the internet and other 
modern technology. “If you make a list of 
the bits of internet slang that have crossed 


the divide, we’re talking about just a handful 
- you know, LOL, that sort of thing,” he said. 
Back in 2004, Crystal tried to count such 
words, building a glossary of “netspeak”, 
“textspeak” and other tech terms that were 
being used in mainstream discourse. “I 
remember spending a very boring week 
trying to count all the new words and 
sentences that had come about in the 
previous ten years because of the internet, ” 
he said. “I ended up with a total of about 
1,000, or maybe 1,500.” If he repeated the 
word count today, he reckons that figure 
would top 5,000, especially if variations 
such as “Twitterverse” and “Twittersphere” 
were included. 

This may sound a considerable tally, 
but Crystal pointed out that English already 
has “heaven knows how many million” 
words, and with this genre we’ll see a few 
more. And this is why it’s “nonsense” to say 
the internet has caused a deterioration in 
the English language, because the impact 
on vocabulary has actually been tiny. 

Grammar is changing, 
because internet 

The internet’s impact on English is even 
smaller on grammar than vocabulary, 
despite the outcry surrounding the evolution 
of “because” into a preposition. Crystal said. 


You’re likely to have seen that sentence 
construction in headlines or social media 
posts. As linguistics blogger Stan Carey 
notes: “‘Because’ has become a preposition, 
because grammar.” 

The use of “because” in this manner isn’t 
new, however, said Crystal. “It’s been in the 
language for hundreds of years. It’s a 
fashion. It’s always happened to grammar - 
certain things become fashionable and are 
very widely used for a time, and then they 
go out of fashion again. It’s not a novel 
construction in any way, or a novel usage,” 
he added. 

“A typical example of a construction 
that nobody had noticed before, and then 
suddenly everybody was using, is ‘Yes we 
can’ from Obama. Suddenly, for a few years 
everybody was saying, ‘Yes we can’ or ‘No 
we can’t. ’ It became a bit of a meme. ” 

IDK, check the OED 

There are many examples of web slang 
slipping into our everyday conversations, 
but a word hasn’t officially made it into 
our language until it’s been included in 
the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) - and 
that’s not easy for words to do, said Denny 
Hilton, senior assistant editor at the 
dictionary. “Eor inclusion in the OED, 
we’re really looking for sufficient evidence B 


c 


53 



0 



that they’re established items [of] 
voeabulary in English,” he explained. 
“We’re looking for evidenee from a variety 
of sourees, for a reasonable amount of 
time, to indieate that they’re aetually in 
established usage and worth being ineluded 
in the dietionary.” 

sharing economy noun ■“* 


Many teehnieal words stem from the 
early eomputing days of the 1960s and 
1970s, and Hilton said the OED team 
examines the arehives of Usenet forums 
from that era to uneover origins of words. 
“‘User-friendly’ is a elear example of a 
word that started out speeifieally in the 
realm of eomputers 
in the early 1970s 
and transferred to 
mainstream use, 
developing the 
more general 
extended sense 
‘aeeessible, 
manageable’,” he 
said. Inereasingly, 
however, the origin 
ofteeh words is 


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Normally, that would take at least a 
deeade of evidenee, but Hilton admitted that 
the fast paee of teehnologieal ehange means 
“we’re aetually ineluding some words 
a bit sooner than we might have done 
in the past, beeause their use is so 
obviously widespread”. 

Some words to have made the eut are 
elearly new - reeently, “hashtag”, “retweet” 
and “selfie” have all been added to the OED 
- but other words we assume are modern 
aetually predate the web. Eor example, many 
of us believe OMG - an abbreviation of “oh 
my God” - eame about via texting teenagers, 
but its first reeorded use was baek in 1917. “It 
was a one-off at the time, but it isn’t unusual 
to find that a lot of these terms go baek 
further than you might expeet , ” Hilton said. 
Even LOL - laughing out loud - goes baek to 
1989, and was also used as an abbreviation 
for “little old lady” baek in the 1960s. 


likely tobesoeial 
media sueh as Twitter. 

While other dietionaries add sueh 
words more quiekly, the OED avoids 
ineluding terms too early, beeause it’s 
diffieult to determine whieh of them 
will remain in use. 

“You’ll have this sort of flurry of 
linguistie aetivity and lots of invented 
voeabulary, and you get people playing 
with voeabulary and turning nouns into 
verbs, and adding linguistie suffixes, and 
inventing new ways of using the language, ” 
he said. “Then, after a eertain period of 
time it all settles down. The words are 
useful if they fulfil some kind of semantie 
purpose. In this ease they’ll survive; 
they’ll have longevity.” 

Hilton believes that with a lot of the 
emergent internet voeabulary we’re 
seeing right now, we’re in that initial 
period of aetivity. 


TTFN, abbreviations 

Language evolves without every word 
being ineluded in offieial dietionaries - 
indeed, the best souree for looking up an 
odd term online isn’t the OED but the Urban 
Dietionary. Sueh slang isn’t limited to the 
internet of eourse, but many of us are more 
likely to eome aeross words on the web 
than those verbally traded by teens. 

And it is beeause of this that shortened 
phrases (“totes” from totally, “amaze” 
from amazing”) , as well as abbreviations 
sueh as LOL, deteriorations sueh as from 
OMG to Ermahgerd, and entirely new 
words sueh as “derp” make their way into 
our speeeh, as well as our dietionaries. 

“Slang is limited to speeifie groups, even 
if they’re large ones sueh as regular web 
users,” saidGrystal. “It’s an identity thing for 
that partieular group. No general dietionary 
will inelude a word just beeause it’s got some 
slang use by a group of nerds in Galifornia. ” 

As ever, sueh slang is more likely to be 
used by younger erowds, eonfounding older 
generations. Grystal said the best example 
of that is texting abbreviations - the L8Rs 
(laters) and so on. As sueh eonstruetions 
have beeome more mainstream, they’ve 
fallen out of favour with younger people. 

He reeounts a visit to a sehool where he 
eolleeted examples of text messages to 
analyse and was surprised by what he found. 
“There wasn’t a single abbreviation to be 
seen. You know, not a single LOL, not a 
single GU Later, or anything,” he said 

He asked the teenagers what happened. 
“‘We don’t do that any more. It’s not eool’,” 
he revealed. “And one lad said to me - and 
this is the most illuminating point of all - 
‘I’ll tell you when I stopped abbreviating... 
when my dad started’.” 



INDEX FINGER CR( 


PREGNANT WOMAN 


CALL ME hand 


FACEPAIAI 


SELHE 


EVOLUTION OF EMOJI 

Emoji this year finally got diversity, with the Unicode Consortium behind the icons 
approving images of a variety of races. However, many concepts remain outside 
the emoji circle - there’s still no way to use emoji for pregnancy, in case that’s 
how you wish to share the news of a looming bundle of joy. 

Next year, the standard is set for another update with the addition of 
emoji for a pregnant woman, a dancing man (to accompany salsa-dancing lady), 
a “face palm” to show frustration, and food (croissants, cucumbers and bacon). 
There are also plans to include a nauseated face (handy for hangovers), a hand 
taking a selfie (of course), and an avocado. Because sometimes the word itself 
just simply isn’t enough to describe the idea of avocado. Check out prospective 
candidates at pcpro.link/251pcpemoji. 




Language 0 


@PCPRO f FACEBOOK.COM/PCPRO 



I CAN HAZ NEW LANGUAGE? 


The web isn’t only responsible for new words, it’s led to 
entire new languages- silly though they may be. This being 
the feline-friendly net, one of the best is based around cats. 

LOLcat is a degraded version of English that ‘s 
deliberately incorrect in terms of spelling and grammar. It 
stems from a now-famous image of a cat captioned with “I 
can has cheezburger?”, evolving into website, a meme of 
pictures of cats, and the speech itself, which is sometimes 
called lolspeak or “kitty pidgin”. Or, in the language itself, 
via the LOLcat translator at speaklolcat.com: 


IT STEMS FROM NAO FAMOUS IMAGE OV KAT 
CAPSHUND WIF“ICAN HAZ CHEEZBURGER?”, AN EVOLVD 
INTOWEBSIET,MEMEOVPICTUREZOVKATS,ANTEH 
SPEECH ITSELF, WHICH IZSOMETIMEZCALLD LOLSPEAK 
OR “KIHEH PIDGIN”. 

It works better with shorter sentences. If you’re not 
a cat lover, don’t worry, there’s a dog-based alternative 
called Doge, which involves heavy use of the word 
“wow” and “very”, a picture of a Shiba Inu dog, and the 
Comic Sans font. Yes, the internet is an odd place indeed. 


Thumbs up for emoji 

Abbreviations may be dying, but multiple 
reports suggest a growth in the use of 
emoji, the small pictures you can embed 
in messages to show you’re happy, sad, 
or a dancing lady in red. Research by 
Instagram revealed that 40% of comments 
on the photography app feature emoji, and 
earlier this year, Australian foreign affairs 
minister Julie Bishop even responded to a 
BuzzFeed interview using the icons (pcpro. 
link/25iemoji) . 

Vyvyan Evans, a professor of linguistics 
at Bangor University, examined emoji usage 
for a TalkTalk report, finding that 80% of 
2,000 Brits polled said they regularly use 
emoji, with 40% saying they’ve sent 
messages entirely using the icons. As before, 
the shift to pictures has been fastest among 

NSFW abbreviation 


younger people, with Evans saying his 
research found that 31% of people over the 
age of 40 don’t use the icons, and more than 
half aren’t clear what most of them even 
mean. “There’s a definite age split,” he said. 

Indeed, three-quarters of those between 
the ages of 19 and 25 said that “it’s easier to 
express emotions through emoji rather than 
text, ” Evans said, adding that many of the 
age group believe that “using emojis in 
conventional text can improve their ability 
to interact”. 


Evans suggested that emoji can help 
“punctuate” a sentence. Body language, 
intonation, sentence pace and other verbal 
queues can all help suggest meaning, Evans 
pointed out, and all are missing from the 
written word. “Communication... doesn’t 
just require language, which is basically a 
system of meaningful symbols and a syntax 
of grammar that combine them together,” he 
said. “It requires these other features as well. 
And that’s what emoji is doing in digital 
communication - it’s enabling people to add 
additional meaning [that’s] not coming 
through necessarily from the text. ” 

If you’ve ever suffered from a colleague 
interpreting your email not as intended then 
you’ll see the value in appending a cheerful 
face to a sentence to make your meaning 
clear. Indeed, Evans believes emojis have 
already started to sneak 
into business emails, 
following their simpler 
predecessor the 
emoticon, combining 
punctuation symbols to 
make expressive faces. 

“I suspect that the 
increased use of emoji 
will come in a sort of 
standard email context where they weren’t 
before,” he said, pointing out the rise of 
devices such as smartphones and tablets, 
which include emoji in their keyboards. 

Playful twenglish 

You may not understand every word you 
read online or every emoji in text messages, 
but then you’re not supposed to - all that 
slang is designed to make communities 
mesh, and that necessarily means that 
everyone else is left out. 


Perhaps the best example of that 
divide comes from Christopher Poole, best 
known as the founder of messaging 
board qchan. Back in 2010, he was asked 
to explain some terminology during the 
trial of a man accused of hacking the 
email account of former US politician 
Sarah Palin. The court asked him to define 
“Rickrolling” - tricking someone into 
clicking a link leading to a video of Rick 
Astley’s “Never Give You Up” - as well 
as “lurker”, “troll” and some other terms 
not suitable for a family magazine. 

That the judges and barristers weren’t 
aware about Rickrolling may well be 
amusing to those of us long tired of the 
joke, but it doesn’t mean the structure or 
vocabulary that is the English language is 
in danger. It’s so flexible you can’t hurt it, 
no matter how many LOLs, derps or icons 
of Japanese food you throw at it. 

Indeed, Crystal suggested that the 
silly terms Poole was asked to explain 
may not be a sign of degradation of English, 
but of creative language skills. “I love the 
language play that comes up, ” he said, 
pointing to Twitter-inspired slang. “That 
‘tw’ consonant cluster at the beginning 
of the word is a very unusual consonant 
cluster for English. I mean, if you look 
it up in the dictionary, you don’t find 
many words beginning with ‘tw’ . And 
so, it was ready for exploitation. . . [and 
we’ve] generated a huge number of 
playful expressions.” 

He said words such as “twictionary”, 
“twitterholic”, and even “twitterrhoea” 
show “how the human propensity for 
language play is alive and well”. 

So OMG, maybe the internet is good 
for English, because imagination. © 


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if nrt HfCibit bf Mmng « pnoM ptfCH of tmpbvni*rit 

you CM IM MW EOmpiny PC* bt nen-wh Wib brmrwng. bu( yw dMl fWft lo M 

]h«iftii*4 ArSFHAultt RubMkifig PCAbgnin 21 Jm 20t4> 



55 






Going pro 


a,. 


Q@£CI>Hd -fjFACEBOOK.COM/R^MO 




I 


W alk into any British 
Airways business 
lounge and you’re 
unlikely to find 
seats occupied by 
the self-employed. Instead, they’ll 
be filled by the employees of large 
corporates, running up the bill on the 
company credit card. So why should 
sole traders and freelancers go to the 
expense of business class when it 
comes to software or services? 

Certainly, the companies do 
everything to warn you away from 
“consumer-grade” products. 
Everything from Windows to 
antivirus, from broadband to 
webmail, adds a premium for 
“pro” or “business” versions that 
vendors tell business owners 
they’re foolish not to buy. 

If they can’t convince customers 
to pay for the business-related extras 
through choice, they’ll try to bully 
them through dubious licensing 
conditions. That copy of Office 365 
Personal you bought for your home 
laptop? The Ts&Cs say you shouldn’t 
be using it, for anything work-related, 
even just working from home for a 
day. Same goes for the PowerPoint 
iPad app you downloaded from the 
App Store. 

Yet, if you’re prepared to risk 
the infinitesimal chance that you’ll 
be prosecuted for using the wrong 
version of Office, is there any good 
reason to pay for premium business 
software? Does a business broadband 
connection really offer greater peace 
of mind, or is it just the same wire 
with a £i5-per-month surcharge? 

We’ve been talking to the 
companies selling these premium 
services to find out if there’s anything 
that can justify the cost. 


BELOW The time 
you’re most likely to 
appreciate a business 
broadband package is 
when something goes 
wrong, with faults 
repaired within a 
working day 


However, it most certainly does 
pose a problem for those planning to 
take their own devices to work. As 
Microsoft’s own literature states: “If 
you allow users to connect their BYOD 
devices running Windows 8.1 to your 
network, your organisation probably 
requires them to join the domain. 
Domain Join requires Windows 8.1 
Pro or Windows 8.1 Enterprise.” 

Eew consumer laptops are sold with 
Pro versions of Windows, meaning 
companies will either need to foot 
the bill for Pro Pack upgrades (around 
£100) or have no control over the 
BYOD devices on their network. 

The situation is even murkier 
when it comes to Microsoft’s other 
software cash cow: Office. Again, 
there are home and more expensive 
business subscriptions for Office 365. 
A freelancer working from home 


activities,” state the software licence 
terms for the Home, University and 
Personal editions of Office 365 . By the 
letter of the licence agreement, you 
can’t even bring work home from the 
office. Someone really needs to inform 
Microsoft’s own support staff. We 
asked the online chat facility on the 
Office 365 subscriptions page if we 
could “use Office 365 Personal for 
working from home” and the advisor 
replied: “Yes, that is possible”. 
Possible, but frowned upon. 

It’s not only the full-blown PC 
apps that aren’t meant to be used for 
business purposes; the same goes for 
the Office iPad apps. The blurb on 
Word’s App Store entry promises 
you can “pick up where you left off” 
and “rest assured that you don’t lose 
your work while you’re on the go” , 
but click on the licence agreement 



Does abusiness broadband 
connection offer greater peace 
of mind, or is it jnst the same wire 
with a £i5-per-month snrcharge? 


Paying for pro 

Microsoft recently confirmed that 
Windows 10 will follow the pattern 
of every release since XP, with a 
Pro edition to accompany the Home 
versions of its operating system. 
What’s the difference between the 
two? Zero, at least in terms of the 
CodeBase. But Microsoft locks some 
potentially business-critical features 
in the Pro version to ensure it gets 
a pound more flesh from professional 
users and corporates. 

The good news: few of these 
features are of much use to 
homeworkers or micro-businesses. 
You’ll need Pro to join a domain, 
unlock some network-management 
features and take advantage of 
BitLocker encryption, but most 
small-business owners can live 
without those. 


might be attracted by the Office 365 
Home package, for example, which 
allows them to install all of the key 
Office applications (including 
Outlook) on up to five PCs. They might 
even get away with the Office 365 
Personal tariff, which gives a single 
installation for only £6 per month. 

Yet delve into the terms and 
conditions and you’ll find that this 
isn’t allowed. “The service/software 
may not be used for commercial, 
non-profit, or revenue-generating 


and you’re told that your usage rights 
permit you to “create, edit or save 
documents for non-commercial 
purposes”. Even if you’ve signed in 
with an Enterprise subscription! 

Does Microsoft have any hope 
of enforcing such conditions? Is 
there anything to stop homeworkers 
or micro-businesses from working 
with Office 365’s Home packages, 
which have all the features that 
most professional users would 
need? We spoke to Julian Heathcote 
Hobbins, general counsel at the 
Eederation Against Software Theft 
(EAST) , of which Microsoft is one 
of the most prominent members. 

Hobbins said he hadn’t specifically 
studied the licensing terms on 
Windows and Office products, but 
“if you pay for something, you ought 
to play by the rules ” . B 


57 




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However, he eonceded that 
anti-piracy organisations such 
as FAST are predominantly 
concerned with commercial pirates 
and companies that are running 
numerous instances of a single 
licence, not picking on paying 
customers who might be breaching a 
technicality in the licence agreement. 
“My hunch is a big, well-known 
household name isn’t going to crack 
down on its customers,” Bobbins said, 
adding that he hadn’t been instructed 
by any of his clients to take action 
against customers who’ve used home 
licences for professional purposes. 

A Microsoft spokesperson told 
PC Pro that the company “advises 
sole traders/small-business owners 
to use the Office 365 business plans 
because they’re specifically designed 
for professional use, and are simply 
a better fit for businesses” . The 
company also reiterated that 
the Home and Personal Office 
365 subscriptions were only 
“licensed for personal use” and 
that “by signing up for a plan, each 
customer is agreeing to the terms 
and conditions of that plan” . 

It’s not only Microsoft that uses 
its terms and conditions to freeze 
out businesses. Security software 
vendors often state in their EULAs 
that their product is not to be used for 
commercial purposes, but the owner 



It’s fairly common to pass plumbers’ vans and see business 
ads with Gmail contact addresses. What’s Google’s take on 
consumer services being used for work? “If you are using 
our Services on behalf of a business, that business accepts 
these terms,” Google’s general service terms state, before 
going on to waive any “liability or expense arising from 
claims, losses, damages, suits, judgments, litigation 
costs and attorneys’ fees”. 


In other words, do what you like, but don’t blame 
us if you lose business because your webmail goes down. 
And although Gmail for Work offers professional features 
such as using your own domain. Exchange migration and 
99.9% guaranteed uptime, the maximum compensation 
you can get from Google if your paid-for business email 
does go down for prolonged periods (more than 5% of 
the month) is 15 days’ credit. 


of an online software store - who 
asked not to be named - told us that 
vendors don’t care about micro- 
businesses using home products for 
work. “If you have a small business 
or a home office, you’re more than 
welcome to use off-the-shelf security 
software, as an example, on a PC you 
use for business,” he told us. “I have 


Security software vendors often 
state in their EULAs that their 
product is not to be used for 
commercial purposes 




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LEFT Can you 
use Office 365 
Personal to edit 
work documents? 
Chat assistant says 
yes, licence says no 

BELOW Windows’ 
“pro” features cost 
an extra £100 


Windows 81 
Pro Pack 

M'tAi- ijp g 


(Vltcrosoft 


four people who work for me, only 
one in this office. On his computer. 
I’ve installed my own admin login and 
Kaspersky Internet Security, which 
also works on his user account. This 
is fine under the EULA, as I own and 
control this computer and it’s within 
the three-PC licence agreement.” 

Similarly, some small-business 
owners might be tempted to go for 
the cheaper Photoshop Elements 
(available for as little as 

£50 online) rather 
than full-blown 
Photoshop (£8.57 
per month), if 
they’re only 
looking to do 
the occasional 
piece of photo 
retouching, not 
least because 
the Expert tab 
contains many 
of the same 
features as its 
professional- 
grade sibling. 
Ditto Premiere 
Elements for 
video editing. 



We can find nothing in Adobe’s 
sprawling EULA for these packages 
that overtly bans business use, 
but there is a worrying clause for 
business owners that, once a year 
at a week’s notice, gives Adobe the 
right to “inspect customer’s records, 
systems, and facilities to verify that 
its installation and use of any and 
all Adobe software or service is in 
conformity with its valid licences 
from Adobe”. 

Broadband bills 

It’s not only for software that business 
users are expected to pay over the 
odds, but for services too. Choose 
BT’s consumer-grade ydMbits/sec 
fibre connection and you’ll pay £26 
per month inc VAT (prices correct 
at the time of writing) . What’s more, 
the BT Sport channels, weekend calls 
and a £100 prepaid Visa card are 
thrown into the deal, all of which 
may prove attractive to freelancers 
working from home. Jump over to 
the business side of the fence, and 
that same ydMbits/sec connection 
starts from £40 per month exc VAT, 
or £48 inclusive. What are you paying 
almost twice the price for? 

The raw connection will be exactly 
the same whether you opt for a 
consumer or business variant. BT and 
other business ISPs prioritise traffic 
for business customers at peak times, 
but with a 76Mbits/sec downlink and 
iQMbits/sec up, your cabinet would 
have to be spectacularly busy for 
contention to be an issue for the 
vast majority of business tasks. 

That said, prioritisation could be 
genuinely beneficial for those still 
stuck in ADSL-only areas. “We code 
or identify packets of data from 
business customers,” says Nick 
Rawlings, commercial director of 
BT Business. “At times of high usage 
on our network, that’s useful. You get 
the maximum speed that line is able 
to deliver at any one time.” 


58 




1 


1 . 



Going pro 


Q@PC.PRO QFACEpOOK.COM/Pi^RO 


BT does throw in a few extras with 
the business connections, too. All 
business tariffs come with a static IP 
address, which could prove critical 
for anyone needing remote desktop 
software and a VPN connection (or 
for that increasingly rare breed of 
person who wants to host their own 
email or web servers) . Premium fibre 
connections also come with one Office 
365 Small Business subscription. 

BT insists the big difference - 
the one that really makes that 
£264 extra a year worthwhile - is 
the level of support. “The standard 
service on business lines is next 
working day,” said Rawlings, 
explaining BT’s fault-repair times. 

“On consumer lines, it’s the next 
working day plus one.” 

Dedicated business ISP Spitfire 
agrees that avoiding call-centre 
hell is a very good reason for 
homeworkers to shun consumer 
broadband packages. Spitfire 
customers are assigned a member 
of the company’s support staff when 
they first ring in with a problem, 
who will attempt to see that problem 
through to its conclusion. The 
company’s sales director, Tom 
Fellowes, claims more than 80% of 
support calls are resolved by the first 
person a customer speaks to, rather 
than being pinged from one assistant 
to another, as can happen in consumer 
call centres. That can actually speed 
repairs, explained Fellowes, even 
though line faults are handled by BT. 

“Standard repair time for any BT 
Wholesale line is 40 clock hours,” 
he said. “BT stops the clock and passes 
it back to its client, the service 
provider, to carry out things. So if 
they ask [end] customers to do a 
reboot, BT will stop the clock. If 
you’re dealing with a business 
provider, that message will pass 
straight through [to the customer] . 

If you’re dealing with a consumer 
ISP, how long will it take for that 
message to get through? Will you 
get it in a call? Will they try to 
send it via email, even though your 
email is possibly down? Rather than 
taking one hour to get that 20-minute 
reboot done, it could take overnight, 
half a day, a day.” 

What’s more. Spitfire and other 
business ISPs can offer 20-hour or 


even seven-hour repair times, at 
additional cost, which simply aren’t 
available on consumer tariffs. “If 
you’re a small business and this is 
your livelihood, that can make a big 
difference,” Fellowes pointed out. 

How likely is it that your 
broadband will go down for a 
sustained period of time? BT doesn’t 
disclose figures for the uptime of its 
network, but figures published by 
Openreach show it takes an average 
of 2 . 67 days to fix the most severe 
faults, with minor problems taking an 
average of 1.79. Could you survive a 
couple of days without broadband, 
especially if you have a 3G/4G data 
connection as backup? That’s the 
£264 question in BT’s case. 

Even BT admits that most sole 
traders won’t pay that price - at 
least, not initially. “A lot of small 
businesses, when they first start 
and work out of a home office, 
commonly begin with a consumer 
connection,” said Rawlings. “As 
that business grows, generally 
there’s an event in their life that 
causes them to reconsider their 
priorities, and the clearest probable 
event is going from zero employees 
to one employee. They then start 
choosing business broadband.” 

Proceed at. 
your own risk 

Ultimately, running consumer 
software or services instead of 
business variants comes down to 
your appetite for risk. The cheaper 
Home versions of Windows, Office 
or security suites will contain all the 
features most sole traders or micro- 
businesses need, and the chances of 
vendors such as Microsoft sending 
round the licensing cops seems 
remote, bordering on non-existent. 

When it comes to services such as 
broadband and webmail (see What 
about your webmail?, psS) the risks 
are more tangible. Gould you afford to 
wait the extra day for your connection 
to be fixed? Is it essential you get the 
maximum possible speed from your 
line? Or does that free subscription to 
BT Sport and the couple of hundred 
quid you’ll save mean more to your 
business and family? Despite what 
the ISPs may argue, there are no 
right or wrong answers. • 


Avoiding call-centre hell is avery 
good reason for homeworkers to shun 
consumer broadband packages 


Take a free trial 

Free trials are great if you only need an application for a short 
period of time. For instance, Adobe offers 30-day free trials of any 
of its Creative Suite applications, so you can benefit from the power 
of Photoshop or others without handing over credit-card details. 

Buy an old version from 
which to upgrade 

Many professional software packages offer substantial discounts to 
upgraders. If you can pick up an earlier version from eBay or elsewhere, 
you can benefit from the upgrade price. There’s an element of risk here: 
you need to ensure the licence hasn’t already been used for an upgrade. 
Ideally, buy unopened older versions rather than second-hand. 


Tryabetaapp 

Anyone who says you can run a business entirely on beta software 
is talking out of their USB port. A mission-critical system isn’t the 
place to test Windows 10 or Office 2016. However, if there’s a 
specific, limited function you need, a beta product may give it to you 
for free. Betabound (betabouncl.com) rounds up current betas, 
which at the time of writing included video converters, a service 
allowing content owners to spot copyright infringements and other 
business apps. You might just find a freebie that does ajob you need. 



Take academic pricing 

This one falls under “iffy, but very unlikely to get your collar felt”. 
Many software vendors offer sizeable discounts to students and 


teachers. Adobe, for instance, offers 65% off Creative Cloud 



subscriptions, bringing the price down from £45.73 to 
£15.49 per month. If you’ve got a teacher or student in 
the house and you work from home, you’re quids in. 


Use referral codes 


Some professional packages offer a discount or extra 
features for encouraging others to Join. Accountancy 
software provider FreeAgent offers a 10% 
discount for the lifetime of your subscription 
for every new subscriber you refer - 
refer ten and it’s free! Online 
backup service Livedrive 
gives you three months’ free 
service for every referral, 
and many others do likewise. 


59 






Reviews » 



Following nine months of public testing, Windows 10 is 
ready for prime time. Has Microsoft’s experiment paid off? 


SCORE QQQQQI 


PRICE Upgrade from Windows 7 SP1 
and 8.1, free; Home, £99 inc VAT; Pro, TBC 


I f ever an operating system has 
grov\^n up in publie, it’s Windov\^s 
10. Sinee the first preview release 
appeared last Oetober, its every 
tweak and transformation has been 
pored over by hordes of volunteer 
testers - almost five million of 
them, aeeording to Mierosoft’s 
own stats on its Windows Insider 


Programme, feeding baek usage 
reports and feature requests. 

But on 29 July, Windows 10 
makes its real debut. On that date, 
retailers will be selling PCs with 
Windows 10 preinstalled, and users 
of Windows 7 and 8 who have elaimed 
their upgrades - more about this 
later- will be able to move up to 
the final release of the software. 

Exeept that in the ease of Windows 
10, there’s no sueh thing as a final 
release. The new version of Windows 
brings a new philosophy, whieh 
Mierosoft ealls “Windows as a 




serviee” . Just as the Insider builds 
have progressively introduced new 
features and interface elements, the 
public release of Windows 10 will 
continue to develop over time. There 
won’t ever be a Windows 11 - major 
features that would previously have 
been saved up for a major release will 
now trickle out through Windows 
Update as they become ready. 

This makes Windows 10 very 
much a moving target - a platform 
that might work in one way when 
you install it, but turn into something 
quite different in a year’s time. 


61 




Reviews 



ACEBOOK.COM/PCPRO 


For businesses, Mierosoft is providing 
options to keep things stable {see 
Windows lofor business, pds) , but for 
eonsumers running the Home edition 
of Windov\^s lo, Mierosoft has taken 
the bold deeision to disallo^v the 
skipping or deferring of updates. 

Like it or not, upgrading means 
taking an open-ended leap of faith. 

So it’s time to take a proper look at 
what’s eoming on 29 July, and give a 
verdict on the upgrade that will be 
most people’s first taste of Windows 
10. Although the final code hasn’t 
yet been signed off, we spoke to UK 
Windows boss Robert Epstein who 
confirmed that, with the launch 
in sight, the latest Insider build 
reflects the user experience day-one 
upgraders will see. “There might be 
a few icon tweaks, but now it’s all 
about polishing,” he revealed. 

■ Why WindowslO? 

To be clear, the product that’s being 
released on 29 July is a new operating 
system for your PC. Like previous 
versions of Windows, it’s offered in 
both 32-bit and 64-bit variants, and 
in Home and Pro editions, alongside 
packages for education, enterprise 
and industry. 

But Windows 10 is about more than 
a single piece of software. It represents 
the transformation of Microsoft’s 
business, from a PC software company 
with a smartphone division into a 
grand unified platform, spanning 
from mobile devices to servers. 

Soon it will also take in consumer 
devices such as wearables and the 
Xbox One, as well as interesting 
one-offs such as the Surface Hub - 
a whiteboard-sized conferencing 
system and display - and the 
HoloLens, Microsoft’s forthcoming 
augmented-reality headset. 

It’s all underpinned by the idea 
of Universal apps - touch-friendly, 
mobile-style applications that 
will run on a Windows 10 device. 
Fundamentally, it’s an evolution 
of the Windows 8 concept, but 
we’ve come a long way since then. 

The old Metro app platform 
(latterly renamed Modern) was clunky 
and ill-suited to desktop and laptop 
PCs. It made more sense on tablets, 
but here Microsoft was pushing 
Windows RT, and consumers were 
reluctant to buy in. They were wise 
to stay away: the platform has proved 
an evolutionary dead end, incapable 
of being upgraded to Windows 10. 

Windows Phone, meanwhile, 
despite sharing design cues with 
Metro, was a different platform with 
a separate app framework. No wonder 
the Windows Store was initially 
a bomb, setting back Microsoft’s 
dreams of emulating Apple’s success 
in the emerging tablet-friendly world. 



Universal apps make the idea work 
at last. In Windows 10, it’s possible 
to open a Universal app in a window 
on your desktop PC, then grab an 
Atom-powered Windows 10 tablet 
and carry on working with the 
selfsame app - in full-screen mode 
with touch controls. It will even be 
possible to run the same software on 
your Lumia phone once the Windows 
10 Mobile update arrives - although 
that won’t be until later this year, 
or perhaps even early 2016. 

And we’re not just talking about 
games here. Microsoft has already 
unveiled Universal ports of the Office 
apps, and it’s making a strong case 
for businesses to adopt the platform 
for internal projects (see overleaf) . 

How this plays out in the real world 
depends on third-party support, of 
course, which has so far been the 
Achilles heel of the Windows Store. 
But the proposition will be far more 
attractive to developers than it was 
when the Store launched three years 
ago. Thanks to Microsoft’s generous 
upgrade terms, Windows 10 will 
be a huge market, with the company 
aiming for one billion installations 
by 2017. In short, this time, Microsoft 
has got the ingredients right. 


ABOVE The Start 
menu returns, now 
with added Live Tiles 


‘Thanks to the upgrade 
terms, Windows 10 will 
be a huge market, with 
the company aiming for one 
billioninstallationsby2017” 


BELOW In tablet 
mode, the full-screen 
Start interface 
echoes Windows 8 


■ What’s new in Windows 10 

Windows lo’s “new” features are 
already familiar thanks to the 
multitude of preview builds. The 
headline, of course, is the new Start 
menu. Not just a reinstatement of the 
old Windows 7 orb, this now offers 
Live Tiles with at-a-glance updates 
from Modern apps such as News, Mail 
and Calendar. By default it’s a rather 
generous size, taking up at least a 
quarter of a Full HD screen, but you 
can resize it both horizontally and 
vertically, and if your tiles don’t all fit, 
you can scroll to view them. On touch 
hardware, the Start menu opens in a 
full-screen view reminiscent of the 
old Windows 8 Start screen. 

Start typing to search for an 
application or item and you’ll meet 
the second major innovation in 
Windows 10. Cortana, the smart 
personal assistant introduced in 
Windows Phone, is now the default 
search agent for Windows 10 , and can 
be invoked from the Windows key or 
with a three-fingered tap on your 
touchpad. The system finds programs 
and documents as before, 
but can also respond to 
other types of request: 
type in a calculation or a 
phrase such as “weather 
Sheffield” and results will 
pop up directly from your 
taskbar. It’s a clever way 
of dissuading people from going to 
Google for simple errands, but not yet 
smart enough: after a few requests 
such as “show me bus times” yielded 
only dumb Bing searches, I found 
myself falling back on the browser. 

Interestingly, Cortana keeps the 
speech-recognition capabilities of its 
original smartphone incarnation. If 
you choose to enable your device’s 
microphone, you can simply declare 
“Hey Cortana” , followed by your 
request. As well as carrying out 
searches, you can perform simple 






ABOVE The Action 
Center combines 
notifications and 
quick-access settings 


for future reference - and across 
Windows lo devices. There’s Cortana 
integration too. Visit a restaurant’s 
website and you’ll see a Cortana 
prompt in the address bar: “I’ve got 
directions, hours and more.” Click 
and the details appear in a pop-up 
pane at the side of the window. 

Those major updates sit alongside 
a range of smaller tweaks. One simple 
but very likeable new feature is Snap 
Assist. It’s an upgrade to the old Aero 
Snap feature in Windows 7, which let 
you dock windows to the sides of the 
screen by dragging or pressing the 
Windows key plus the left or right 
cursor. In Windows 10, when you 
snap a window into half-screen view, 
you’re presented with thumbnails of 
other open windows: a click expands 
one to fill the other half of the screen. 

Nobody at PC Pro is so keen on the 
interface revamp that turns all title 
bars either white or grey - it creates a 
dull appearance that makes it harder 
to see at a glance which window is 
active (see 10 great new features 
in Windows 10, P64). 


■ Worth the upgrade? 

In previous years, most of us only 
moved to new editions of Windows 



actions such as setting a reminder, 
checking your calendar or opening 
applications. It’s certainly a plus for 
tablets that lack a physical keyboard. 

The third big feature in Windows 
10 is Microsoft’s all-new web browser, 
codenamed Project Spartan and now 
called Edge. After 20 years of service, 
Internet Explorer has been deprecated 
in favour of something much simpler 
and slicker. Some might say Edge is 
too simple, since there’s currently no 


support for plugins (a planned 
update later in the year should add 
this). Otherwise, it’s responsive 
and easy to use, and because it’s a 
Universal app there’ll be no culture 
shock if you move between devices. 

Edge even introduces a few 
interesting items, including an 
annotation feature that lets you 
scribble with a stylus onto a web page, 
or type into sticky notes, and 
save or share your markup 


LEFT Cortana 
information opens 
in a side pane within 
the Edge browser 


“Microsoft no longer 
wants to be held back by 
the inertia of huge numbers 
of customers using oid 
versions of Windows” 


Jon Honeyball's 5 reasons to upgrade 


1 Latest design of underlying kernel 

The Windows 10 core is literally years 
ahead of previous editions: don’t you 
want to take advantage of the latest in 
performance and security? 

2 Return of the desktop 

Windows 8 was designed for tablets, 
and ignored the needs of the rest of us. 
Nowit’s time to get some work done. 

3 Latest specs in power management 

Battery life is a huge issue for mobile 
devices - and businesses running banks 


of workstations don’t want to 
waste energy either. 

4 Longest support window 

If Microsoft is true to its word, 
Windows 10 Pro comes with perpetual 
support. Where else can you get such 
a deal? 

5 It’s not Vista or Windows 8... 

Historically, Microsoft gets some 
things very right, and others decidedly 
wrong. Let’s rejoice that Windows 10 
falls firmly into the former camp. 



when we bought a new PC. With 
Windows lo, Microsoft aims to change 
that. If you’re currently running a 
non-enterprise edition of Windows 7 
or 8, you may already have seen 
a pop-up notification on your 
desktop inviting you to “reserve” 
your upgrade to Windows 10. 

Eor once, there’s no catch. As 
Microsoft moves to “Windows as a 
service” , it no longer wants to be held 
back by the inertia of huge 
numbers of customers 
using old versions of 
Windows. So for the first 
year of Windows lo’s 
availability, Windows 7 
and 8 users are entitled to 
a free in-place upgrade. 

It’s worth noting that the upgrade 
requires you to be using a fully 
up-to-date release of Windows 7 
SPi or Windows 8.1, so if you’re not 
getting the pop-up, try running 
Windows Update. Those using 
compact tablets may also find they 
don’t have enough storage for an 
in-place upgrade: Microsoft says it’s 
working on a solution, which will 
probably involve a USB flash drive. 

The upgrade process is almost 
entirely automatic, and keeps your 
existing applications, so it’s an easy 
offer to accept. If you’re running a 
professional edition of Windows 7 or 8 
you’ll be moved up to Windows 10 
Pro, otherwise you’ll receive the 
Home edition {see Windows 10 for 
business, opposite, for a rundown 
of the differences). 







If you’re wondering whether 
the new OS will run satisfaetorily 
on your PC or laptop, the good news 
is that Windows lo has the same 
official hardware requirements as 
Windows 7 and 8, so performance 
shouldn’t be an issue. As for stability, 
PC Pro staff have certainly seen blue 
screens and quirky drivers during 
the preview period - but after 
nine months of public testing and 
telemetry, Windows 10 is the most 
scrutinised edition of Windows ever, 
with every crash relayed back to 
Microsoft and analysed. If you’re 
happily running Windows 7 or 8, 
there’s no reason to expect trouble 
from the final release of Windows 10. 

What about the user experience? 
If you’re coming from Windows 8 
on a laptop or desktop, you have 
everything to gain. While the latest 
8.1 update resolved the worst quirks, 
the lack of a desktop-friendly Start 
menu remained a frustration, as did 
the very limited support for running 
apps apart from in full-screen mode. 


The same is true for compact 
touchscreen devices. Alongside the 
new features detailed elsewhere, it 
brings a choice of operation modes - 
Desktop and Tablet modes - which 
you can switch between by dabbing a 
button in the notifications centre, or 
by docking or undocking a convertible 
device. You get a full-screen 
Start menu and apps when 
you want them, while the 
conventional desktop 
remains always at hand. 

There’s yet more for tablet 
users. The new OS refines the 
touch controls, replacing the 
awkward edge-swipes of old 
with multi-finger gestures. 

Plus, while Universal apps 
can be made compatible with 
Windows 8.1, we anticipate 
that developers will focus 
on Windows lO: Microsoft 
has led the way, releasing 
previews of the Office, Excel 
and PowerPoint mobile 
apps as Windows lo-only. 


LEFT Snap Assist 
makes it easy to work 
with two documents 
side by side 


+ The best 
Windows yet, for 
both traditional 
and touch 
hardware: opens 
thedoortoanew 
way of working 
with apps 
“Anew 
approach to 
updates nneans 
user experience 
could change 


BELOW The new 
Battery Saver helps 
mobile devices spend 
longer on the go 


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The only constituency with a good 
reason to stick with Windows 8 is 
Media Center users. The much-loved 
media manager has been discontinued 
in Windows 10, considered redundant 
in an age of smart TVs and Xbox One 
media apps. Everyone else, though, 
will surely be happier and more 
productive after the upgrade. 

If you’re currently using Windows 
7, you may be more apprehensive. The 
veteran OS still does a perfectly good 
job, and if you’ve been using it for this 
long without feeling the need for 
mobile-type apps, you may not 
be eager to jump onto a platform 
designed for a different world. That 
will surely be the case if you’re using 
Windows 7 for work, as many are. 

But although Windows 10 aims 
to be more than just a desktop OS, 
Microsoft knows that the non-touch, 
standalone laptop is still the most 
common Windows platform. 

You can still use the Start menu 
as before, and run all the same 

applications: there’s a 
slight learning curve 
involved in the new 
Settings app and the Edge 
browser, but to offset that 
you get the benefit of the 
new Explorer features. 

It’s easier than you might 
think to keep on trucking. 

Upgraders from 
Windows 7 will also 
gain all the best features 
introduced in Windows 8: 
the enhanced Task 
Manager provides a 
welcome insight into 
system activity, and 
OneDrive - with a generous 
15GB of free space - makes 


Windows 10 for business 


Companies running Windows 7 or 8 Pro can 
upgrade their desktop clients via the free 
upgrade programme, while those on a volume 
licensing agreement can roll out Windows 10 
Enterprise whenever they want. By now the 
feature set will be familiar: the professional 
releases include everything in the Home edition, 
plus BitLocker encryption, Hyper-V, group policy 
management, domain support and the ability to 
act as both client and server in a 
remote desktop session. 

These editions of 
Windows 10 also feature 
Windows Update for 
Business, which frees 
businesses from 
having to keep the OS 
constantly up to date. 

Devices running 
Windows 10 Pro have 
the option to switch to 


an update stream entitled “Current Branch for 
Business”, which allows non-critical updates to be 
deferred to allow time for testing. Note that they 
can't be skipped altogether, and it remains to be 
seen how long the window will be in practice. 

Windows 10 also introduces the new idea of 
Long-Term Servicing Branches (LTSB) - builds of 
the operating system that can optionally receive 
critical updates but don’t otherwise change at all. 
New branches will be issued periodically, and 
will receive mainstream support for 
five years after their issuance, with 
a further five years of extended 
support available. Only 
Windows 10 Enterprise -and 
the Education edition - have 
access to these branches. 
LTSB installations of 
Windows 10 Enterprise also 
come with Internet Explorer 
as the default browser rather 



than Edge, to maintain compatibility with legacy 
applications, while Pro users have the option of 
using either. 

When it comes to device management, 
Windows 10 builds on Windows 8, with new 
options for administering company-owned 
hardware: there’s support for managing multiple 
users on the same device, using a container 
model. Clients can also log in using their Azure 
IDs, and connect directly to Azure Active 
Directory resources. 

Finally,Windows10 brings the ability 
for firms to curate their own app stores, for 
easy distribution of bespoke apps. Of course, 
this requires an investment in the Universal app 
platform, but since these apps are lightweight 
and sandboxed, and easy to assemble in a visual 
environment, it’s a good fit. It doesn’t hurt that 
they’ll also run on Microsoft smartphones -as 
well as tablets and laptops - once Windows 10 
Mobile arrives. 


B 





10 great new features in Windows 10 

If the Start menu, Cortana and Edge aren't enough, check out these additional enhancements 



5 The Quick Access section in Explorer 
windows lets you jump instantly to recently 
accessed folders - one of those capabilities that 
quickly becomes indispensable. 

6 The Battery Saver feature dims the screen 
and disables app features when your 
battery charge falls beneath a certain level. 

It can also track how much battery power 
individual applications have used. 


I The Action Center slides in from the right of 
the screen with a fuss-free tap, letting you 
review recent alerts. You can also easily access 
settings such as brightness and networking. 

2 The Task View button gives an instant 
overview of your windows, from which 
you can click tojump directly to a particular 
application or document. 


3 For those who like to compartmentalise 
their windows, a new virtual desktop 
feature lets you set up and switch 
between workspaces. 

4 The Settings app offers almost every 

adjustment you’ll want to make - ending the 
confusing split between the control panel and 
Windows 8’s full-screen PC Settings interface. 


7 Windows Hello lets you log on biometrically, 
using hardware such as a camera or 
fingerprint reader, while the new Passport 
framework carries your identity forward 
to applications and websites. 


8 


System files are automatically compressed 
to save space on compact devices. 


9 Wi ndows 1 0 can connect to your Xbox One 

console, allow you to stream and record 
console games on a tablet or PC. 

Forgamers,DirectX12 promises 
I improved performance, through a new 
architecture that gives developers better 
access to the graphics hardware. 


it easier to hop between deviees. 
There’s improved multimonitor 
support, and the File History system 
that permits eontinuous baekup to a 
eonneeted external or network drive. 
And that’s in addition to mueh faster 
startup and reboot times. All told, 
Windows lo makes abetter desktop 
OS than Windows 7. 

There’s one more eonsideration: 
Windows 7 is now out of mainstream 
support. Seeurity patehes will 
eontinue, but otherwise the software 
is frozen, and in 2020 , it will stop 
being supported altogether. By 
eontrast, Windows 10, with its rolling 
update model, should never expire - 
so there’s every ehanee you’ll want 
to get onboard sooner or later. That 
being the ease, it’s a good idea to 
elaim your upgrade while it’s free. 

It’s eoneeivable that Mierosoft might 
end up making the OS free forever - 
but we wouldn’t bank on it. 

For those running a Windows 10 
Insider Preview build, your upgrade 
options depend on how you installed 
your preview. If you upgraded from 
Windows 7 or 8, then you’ll get the 
option to install the full release when 
it’s available; if not, you’ll need to 
reinstall your old OS to upgrade. 
Otherwise, you’ll eontinue to reeeive 
preview builds of fortheoming 
updates indefinitely. 


■ Looking forward 

As we’ve indieated, switehing to 
Windows 10 isn’t a one-off ehange; 
it’s a step onto a perpetual eonveyor 
belt of upgrades. The first update 
is expeeted as soon as this autumn - 
perhaps updating the Edge browser - 
with a more substantial update 
eoming down the line next year. 

That being the ease, you might 
understandably be eoneerned 
that your hardware eould start to 
struggle as the OS develops. The 
user experienee eould be volatile too: 
Mierosoft has already showeased 
the idea of interaetive Live Tiles for 


BELOW The Settings 
app makes a tasteful 
alternative to the old 
control panel 



a future update. With a few ehanges 
like that, Windows 10 eould morph 
into something quite different to the 
platform before us today, and there’s 
no guarantee that we’ll like it. 

Yet there are reasons to be upbeat. 
So far, Mierosoft has shown good taste 
with Windows 10, listening to 
eustomer feedbaek through the 
Insider Hub app. And sinee the Insider 
Programme eontinues after the formal 
release of Windows 10, volunteer 
testers will have a ehanee to flag 
up any disastrous deeisions before 
they’re rolled out to regular users. 

So overall, Windows 10 is a hit. 

On the desktop it feels as right as 
Windows 7, yet it’s equally at home on 
eompaet tablets. Is it the perfeet OS? 
No: Cortana falls some way short of 
the perfeet virtual assistant, while 
aspeets of the design laek sliekness. 

But it’s absurd to foeus on sueh 
little things when the signifieanee of 
Windows 10 is so big: if universal apps 
take off as they deserve to, that will be 
a persuasive reason to eonsider 
Windows 10 for your next tablet or 
smartphone. Even if that doesn’t 
happen, Windows 10 is still - without 
a doubt - the best OS for any desktop, 
laptop or eonvertible that’s eapable 
of running it. If you haven’t already 
elaimed your upgrade, hesitate no 
longer. DARIEN GRAHAM-SMITH 





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Reviews 


Google Chromebook 
Pixel (2015) 

A beautiful, powerful and 
thoughtfully designed piece 
of technology-yet still 
hampered by Chrome OS 


Q@PCPR0 K3fACEBOOK.COM/PCPRO 


PRICE Core i5/8GB RAM/32GB SSD, £666 
(£799 inc VAT); Core i7/16GB RAM/64GB 
SSD, £833 (£999 inc VAT) from store. 
google.com (pcpro.link/251pixel) 


T he new Chromebook Pixel is 
a world apart from the eheap 
and eheerful hardware that 
usually populates the eategory . 

Like Google’s original flagship, it 
has more in eommon with the luxury 
laptops in this month’s Labs (see pyS ) . 

As soon as you start to use it, 
you notiee thoughtful touehes. 

The speakers are sited beneath 
the keyboard to preserve the 
Pixel’s sleek lines. The sturdy “piano 
hinge” serves both as a heatsink and 
a Wi-Fi antenna. The multieoloured, 
segmented LED on the lid glows all 
the eolours of Google’s logo when the 
Pixel is on, and doubles as a battery 
gauge when the lid is elosed: just tap 
the lid twice and it will show you how 
much power you have remaining. 

The keyboard backlight glows 
only when you rest your fingers on 
it; when you lift your hands off, its 
gentle glow fades away. Careful 
thought has even been put into the 
arrangement of ports: the Pixel offers 
one USB Type-C port on each side, 
so you can choose which side to 
plug in the charger. There’s also a 
pair of USB 3 ports and an SD slot, 
so you can transfer files and plug 
in peripherals too. 

The Pixel’s most conspicuous 
strength is its screen. It’s immensely 
satisfying to use, offering a spacious 
3:2 display ratio, and a razor-sharp 
2,560 X 1,700 resolution. Viewing 
angles are perfect, colour accuracy 
is decent, and it’s bright and punchy. 

It’s also a touchscreen, allowing 
you to prod, poke and swipe your 
way through Chrome OS. It responds 
perfectly, although whether you 
really need it is another question. 

I found myself rarely wanting to 
jab at the display, simply because 
the glass-topped touchpad is so good. 


BATTERY: video playback, lihrs 24mins 



iiiiiiiii 


The keyboard is a 
different matter. The layout, 
spacing of the keys and feel are all 
fine, but I’d hoped for more positive 
feedback and travel. Given how good 
the rest of the Pixel’s design is, that 
was a disappointment. 

Still, there’s very little else here 
to grumble about, least of all the 
hardware. The £799 edition I tested 
has a 2.2GHz Core is-ssooU processor 
backed by 8GB of RAM, which is more 
than generous for a Chromebook; the 
£999 LS (“ludicrous speed”) edition 
features an even faster Core 17 CPU 
and 16GB of RAM. 

The Core is edition zooms along 
at such a speed that we can’t see why 
you’d ever need the Core 17. Even with 
20 Chrome tabs open, it flew along; 
we never witnessed the slightest lag 
while scrolling and zooming around 
hefty webpages. 

Running a few browser-based 
benchmarks produced suitably 
impressive figures: the Core is Pixel 
finished the SunSpider browser 
test in a rapid 196ms, delivering a 
Peacekeeper result of 4,432 and a 
WebCL Cubes frame rate of 3ofps. 
Needless to say, this is the fastest 
Chromebook we’ve tested. 

One reason you might consider 
the Core 17 model is that it also has 
a larger 64GB SSD than the Core is’s 
32GB drive. But since you can add 
extra storage via the SD slot, this 
isn’t particularly cost-effective. 

The most impressive thing about 
the performance of the Pixel is its 
battery life. Google hasn’t published 
a milliamp-hour rating, but where 
most Chromebooks can’t stretch 
past seven hours of continuous video 
playback, we found the Pixel kept 
going for more than 11 hours. This 


ABOVE The new 
Chromebook 
Pixel is as stylish 
as any Ultrabook 


“The Pixel’s most 
conspicuous strength 
is its screen, offering a 
spacious display ratio and 
razor-sharp resolution” 


+ Superb design, 
screen an(d 
perfornnance 
-and great 
battery life too 
" ChronneOS still 
can’tfully replace 
the traditional 
desktop 


means you can expect a 
full day of use, and then some, 
without needing to reach for its 
charger. And since the Pixel is so 
efficient in standby, similar to an 
iPad, you can leave it in this mode 
without having to worry about the 
battery being dead when you return 
hours or even days later. 

All told, if you’re tempted by a 
Windows Ultrabook or a MacBook 
Air, you’ll find plenty to like about 
the Pixel. The issue is, as ever, the 
limitations of Chrome OS. For sure, 
it’s matured greatly over 
the years, gaining offline 
capabilities and hundreds 
of new features and apps; 
as Wi-Fi has become more 
pervasive, it’s become a 
perfectly viable OS for 
casual tasks. Yet there are 
still plenty of professional tasks that 
simply can’t be done satisfactorily 
on a Chromebook - no matter how 
powerful, no matter how beautiful. 

When you consider what else you 
could buy for a similar sum - or, at 
worst, a few hundred pounds more - 
that makes it very difficult to justify 
the Chromebook Pixel. It’s a superb 
machine, of that there’s no doubt; but 
at this price it needs to be a complete 
alternative to an Apple or Windows 
laptop, and we’re sorry to say that, 
as a platform. Chrome OS still isn’t 
quite there. JONATHAN BRAY 

SPECIFICATIONS 

2.2GHzIntel Core i5-5500U •12.9in 2,560x 
1,700 touchscreen# Intel HD Graphics 5500 
• 8GB RAM# 32GB flash storage • 2x USB 
Type-C # 2 X USB 3 # SD slot # 720p front 
cannera# 802.11ac Wi-Fi# Bluetooth 4# 
Chrome OS # 2yr RTB warranty # 298 x 
225x15mm (WDH)#1.5kg 


66 


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SCORE QQQOOl 


Lenovo Yoga 3 Min 

The Yoga 3 is a limber 
Min hybrid with a potent 
specification -but it’s found 
lacking where it counts 


PRICE £708 (£800 inc VAT) from 
lenovo.com/yoga (pcpro.link/251yoga) 


L enovo’s Yoga hybrid design 
is elegant in its simplieity. 

Take a standard laptop, add 
a touchsereen and throw in a 
hinge that allows the display to 
fold baek through 360 degrees. 

The deviee ean thus transform 
into a giant tablet, prop up in a “tent” 
mode for video or presentations, 
or eontort into “stand” mode with 
the keyboard faee down. 

With its i4in sereen, the Yoga 3 
is the largest Yoga yet: at 1.65kg and 
18.5mm thick, it’s not a device you’ll 
want to use in tablet mode regularly. 
It’s not much of a looker, either: it 
lacks the fancy watch-strap hinge 
of the recent Yoga 3 Pro, and the 
matte-silver plastics covering the 
base and lid (retail models will also 
be available in white) fall short 
of delivering a premium feel. 

Thankfully, the same isn’t true of 
the internals. The £650 model comes 
with a 2.2GHz Core i5 Broadwell CPU, 
4GB of RAM and a standard HDD 
paired with 8GB of solid-state cache. 
The £800 model on review here 


61% off the 
pace in the 

multitasking tests. The 
CPU doesn’t run hot and there’s 
no obvious throttling; nor are there 
any rogue processes languishing in 
the background - it’s thoroughly odd. 

Battery life was pretty good, 
however. With a 720P video looping 
constantly, Wi-Fi switched off and the 
screen brightness set to l2ocd/m^ the 
Yoga 3 lasted a credible 8hrs 22mins. 

The Full HD touchscreen looks 
good too, at least on first glance. The 
IPS panel is crisp and consistent from 
every angle - an essential trait for 
a display designed to be used 
in multiple modes. The gloss 
finish also helps images 
pop off the screen. 

Look more closely, 
however, and it’s clear Lenovo 
has cut a few corners. Contrast 
hits an impressive ratio of 
1,193:1, but brightness tops out 
240cd/m^ - not much better 
than we’d expect from 
a budget laptop. 

Colours lack punch 
too: our tests revealed 
that the IPS display can reproduce 
only 60% of the sRGB colour gamut. 
Dark shades in particular get crushed, 
so watch a moodily lit movie and 
you’ll be left wondering what’s 
happening in the shadows. 

Despite the Yoga 3’s size, 
connectivity is limited, with 
only two USB 3 ports available for 
connecting peripherals. However, 
since the power supply connects via a 
modified USB connector, you can use 
the socket as a supplementary USB 2 
port when you’re not charging the 
device. The micro-HDMI connection 
is maddening: there’s plenty of space 
for a full-sized port. The SD slot leaves 


ABOVE Aside 
from the hinge, the 
Yoga 3’s design is 
quite ordinary 


ABOVE The Yoga 
design enables the 
screen to be rotated 
into stand mode 


+ Good 
specification 
forthennoney, 
flexible design 
“ Mediocre 
touchpad, 
uninnpressive 
display 


the card 
jutting out by 
a centimetre or so, 
as well. Still, 8o2.iiac and 
Bluetooth 4 are welcome, and 
the 0.9-megapixel webcam is fine for 
video chats - even if images do fizz 
with noise and edge-enhancement 
artefacts. 

The Yoga 3’s keyboard feels good 
thanks to the snappy feedback from 
the rubberised, backlit keys, but the 
layout takes some getting used to, 
primarily due to the row of buttons 
to the right of the Enter key. I often 
found myself hitting the End or 
PageUp keys by mistake. 

The touchpad is mediocre, with 
0 much friction to deliver 
mooth control, and a buttonless 
design that’s plain aggravating. 
Thankfully, the touchscreen 
is sensitive, responsive 
and accurate. 

I’m a fan of Lenovo’s 
Yoga range, but for 
£800 1 expect a great 
display and ergonomic 
design as standard. The 

Yoga 3 doesn’t deliver on either 
count. In fact, it doesn’t really deliver 
on the Yoga concept at all: it’s too 
bulky to use effectively as a tablet, 
while limited connectivity and a 
middling screen make it a poor 
laptop. I suggest you check out the 
Asus Zenbook UX303LA {see pSg) 
instead: it’s faster, better-looking 
and far more refined. SASHA MULLER 


SPECIFICATIONS 

2.4GHz Intel Core i7-5500U •8GB DDRS 
RAM •256GBSSD#14inl, 920x1, 080 
touchscreen • Intel HD Graphics 5500 • 
802.11ac • Bluetooth 4 • lyr RTB warranty • 
335x230x18.5mm(WDH)#1.65kg (1.85kg 
with charger) 


bumps up the specification to a 
2.4GHz Core i7-550oU CPU, 8GB 
of RAM and a 256GB SSD. 

Yet despite those powerful 
components, the Yoga 3 fared quite 
poorly in our benchmarks, with an 
overall score of 33 - 26% behind the 
similarly equipped Asus Zenbook 
UX303LA. While right on target 
in the image-processing section 
of our benchmarks, the Yoga 3 
dropped 16% behind the Asus in 
the video-encoding test, and was 




68 






Q@pcpro Ofacebook.com/pcpro 


HP Pavilion Mini 

An attractive desktop, 
the HP Pavilion Mini joins 
a growing band of sensibly 
priced, compact PCs 


SCORE OOOOO 


PRICE 300-030na, £298 (£350 inc VAT) 
from store.hp.com (pcpro.link/251hpmini) 



A quiet revolution has been 
taking place in the desktop 
PC world. As big-box 
systems have dropped out of sight, 
manufacturers have turned to 
minimalist boxes. Now, HP is 
throwing its hat into the ring with 
the Pavilion Mini. A design that calls 
to mind a more rounded Mac mini, 
and with plenty of space for movies 
and photos, it joins a steadily 
growing clan of like-minded 
machines aimed at reclaiming 
the PC’s place in the home. 

The Pavilion Mini is a small but 
handsome machine. The silver plastic 
chassis is sufficiently neutral to 
complement most home or office 
surfaces, and stylish enough that 
you won’t be ashamed to leave it 
on show. If you do want to tuck 
it out of sight, it’s small 
enough that achieving 
this feat shouldn’t be too 
hard: it’s about the size 
of a soup bowl. 

Despite the size, there’s 
plenty of flexibility on offer. 

At the front, you’ll find two 
USB 3 ports next to the power 
button, while the right-hand 
side houses an SD slot. At the back 
is the neatly arranged business end 
of the machine, where you’ll find 
the power connector, an audio combo 
jack, a Kensington Lock slot, a Gigabit 
Ethernet port and two further USB 3 
ports, plus an HDMI port and a 
full-sized DisplayPort. 

If you’re looking to upgrade, it’s 
easy to get at the guts of the Pavilion 
Mini - although doing so will void 
your warranty. You can easily 
remove the rubber base to expose 
three screws; undo these and lift the 
chassis to reveal the Mini’s innards. 
From here, it doesn’t take much 




work to replace the hard disk, access 
the motherboard’s pair of SODIMM 
slots (one of which is free) and get 
at the system’s wireless card. 

This makes it a touch more flexible 
than a Mac mini, but it can’t match the 
Acer Revo One RL85, with its instantly 
accessible twin hard disk bays. There 
are design disappointments, too. The 
basic 802. iin wireless card is only 
single-channel (so you can’t connect 
to a 5GHz network) , although you do 
get 2x2 MIMO support. The power 
supply is an ugly black brick that 



undermines the elegance of the 
chassis - and, unlike the Revo 
One RL85, the Pavilion Mini comes 
entirely without accessories: you’ll 
need to supply your own keyboard, 
mouse and monitor. 

The HP Pavilion Mini isn’t much 
of an athlete either. Our review 
model sports a dual-core 1.9GHz 
Intel Gore 13-40250 processor, 

4GB of RAM and a iTB mechanical 
hard disk. That’s not bad for £350, 
and there’s a Gore is version with 
8GB of RAM and the same-sized hard 
disk available for £100 more. At the 
budget end, the 300-020na features 
a less powerful Pentium edition with 
4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard disk 
and is priced at £270. 

But while this compact PG might 
serve as a replacement for a bulky 
desktop, performance won’t match 
a full-sized PG. Our Gore 13 system 


ABOVE The physical 
design is tasteful, but 
still conveys a likeable 
sense of personality 


BELOW The Pavilion 
Mini offers a decent 
range of ports 


“The Pavilion Mini is a 
handsome machine; the silver 
plastic chassis is stylish 
enough that you won’t he 
ashamed to leave it on show” 


+ Cute design, 
decent range 
of ports for its 
size, possibility of 
user upgrades 
™ Unrennarkable 
perfornnance, 
last-gen Wi-Fi 


achieved a credible score of 46 in 
our image-editing test - indicating 
enough single-threaded power for 
everyday desktop tasks, from web 
browsing to HD movie streaming. It 
struggled with the most taxing test, 
however, with a poor multitasking 
score of 5 that dragged its overall 
score down to 21. That’s on par 
with the Gore i3-equipped Revo 
One RL85, which scored 19. 

With Intel HD Graphics 4400 on 
board, graphically demanding games 
won’t be on the menu, but mid-level 
titles such as Minecraft and League 
of Legends are perfectly playable. 

At £350, the HP Pavilion Mini 
is certainly affordable, but its 
rivals are competitively priced 
too. Apple’s Mac mini is £50 more 
expensive at its base configuration, 
but it boasts a beefier Gore i5 with 
Iris Pro graphics - which drove it 
to a much more impressive overall 
score of 46 in our benchmarks. 

And while the HP has a bigger 

hard disk than the Mac 
mini, it’s more than 
outmatched in that area 
by the Gore i3 Acer Revo 
One RL85, which boasts 
double the storage, at 
2TB, with room for an 
extra pair of hard disks 
- and it comes with a keyboard and a 
mouse in the box for a similar price. 

Overall, the HP Pavilion Mini is 
a practical little PG, and attractive 
too. But it’s not the most desirable, 
powerful or flexible compact PG 
around. THOMAS McMULLAN 

SPECIFICATIONS 

1.9GHzIntel Core i3-4025U • Intel HD 
Graphics 4400 •4GB RAM«lTB5,400rpnn 
hard disk# Gigabit Ethernet# 4x USB 3 # 
HDMI# DisplayPort# SD slot# 802.11n Wi-Fi 
# Bluetooth 4# Windows 8.1 64-bit# lyrC&R 
warranty# 144 X 144 X 52nn nn (WDH)# 630g 


69 






Adobe Creative 
Cloud 2015 

Another round of updates 
for Adobe’s Creative Cloud 
suite, including an intriguing 
glimpse of the future 


SCORE QQQQQI 


PRICE Complete suite, £38/mth 
(£47/mth inc VAT) from adobe.co.uk 
(pcpro.link/251adobecc) 


L ast year’s Creative Cloud update 
was the most signifieant sinee 
the inauguration of Adobe’s 
subseription payment model; 2015’s 
“milestone” release is less extensive. 
The applieations do benefit from 
updates, but the biggest development 
doesn’t relate to the suite’s major 
applieations. Instead, the major 
addition in CC 2015 is a new serviee 
that plugs into those apps: having 
already extended the suite with the 
Typekit font library, Adobe is now 
getting into stoek photography. 

■ Adobe Stock 
and Linked Assets 

If the bank of images, illustrations and 
veetors in Adobe Stoek looks familiar, 
there’s good reason. Its 40 million or 
so images eome direetly from Fotolia, 
aequired by Adobe earlier in 2015. It 
won’t have had mueh ehanee to stamp 
its own ethos on the eontent just yet. 

Rather, the work has been on 
integration with the Creative Cloud 
apps, and here Stoek works in a 
similar way to Typekit. At its simplest, 
you ean earry out a keyword-based 
seareh from the Adobe Stoek website, 
and then download images in the 
browser. But this is possible with 


any stoek-image website; the 
advantage of Adobe’s offering is that 
you ean earry out searehes within the 
Creative Cloud applieations. Seareh 
results appear in a web browser, but 
seleeted images are then imported 
into your Creative Cloud Library 
folder, whieh ean be aeeessed within 
the CC applieations themselves. 

It’s important to note that Adobe 
Stoek isn’t free to Creative Cloud 
subseribers. Single images eost £6 
eaeh, while the basie subseription 
eosts £20 per month for up to ten 
images; these priees won’t seare 
other photo providers. 

Stoek’s big selling point is that 
users ean download and work with 
free watermarked images within 
Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign, 
then seamlessly update those 
images with the full-resolution, 
non-watermarked versions by simply 
elieking the “Lieense image” option in 
the Library panel. That’s eertainly an 
improvement over most stoek-image 
workflows, but Adobe’s system needs 
some work. For instanee, the web 


TOP After Effects 
gains new face- 
tracking features 

ABOVE Add clarity to 
photos that are low 
on contrast using the 
new Dehaze tool 


BELOW Adobe Stock 
allows you to search 
for photos from within 
its applications 


interfaee is basie, yet still manages to 
eonfuse. If you eliek on an image for a 
eloser view, the option to save direetly 
into your libraries disappears. And 
while working with watermarked 
photos is fine, it’s not as effeetive for 
veetors, as you ean’t tweak elements 
until you purehase the photos. 

Another new eross-CC feature is 
Linked Assets. This builds on CC’s 
existing Libraries features, allowing 
users to keep eommonly used graphies 
up to date aeross multiple projeets. 
Edit the graphie, save it into your 
library and, as long as that graphie 
has been plaeed as a linked item, it 
will instantly update aeross all the 
projeets in whieh it’s been used. 


■ Photoshop and Lightroom 

With all the work going on in Stoek, 
the major apps haven’t reeeived as 
mueh attention. Photoshop’s big new 
feature isn’t new at all - it’s inherited 
from Illustrator. The Artboards 
feature allows you to set up several 
differently sized workspaees within 
a single PSD file. It’s aimed at those 
designing artwork for several deviee 
types at the same time - for an app and 
a responsive website, for example. 

You get presets based on popular 
deviees and sereen sizes, plus the 
option to define your own eustom 
artboards, should the need arise. The 
most powerful feature of Artboards is 



Q ^nbe Alber Elbert! CC 2015- - C''Unn5\DBir\E)tiiurMfilsVUnlilfed Prrnjr: 




70 





Q@pcpro facebook.com/pcpro 


Reviews ^ 


its ability to work in conjunction with 
the new OS X-only Device Preview 
app, which can pipe previews direetly 
to USB-eonnected iPhones and iPads 
for a real-time, real-world preview. 

Both Photoshop and Lightroom 
gain a new tool as well. “Dehaze” 
proves remarkably adept at adding 
elarity to photos that are low on 
eontrast. It ean also be used to add 
haze to an image for a more dreamy 
quality. The standalone Lightroom 6 
produet won’t reeeive this update; 
it’s for CC subseribers only. 

Elsewhere, there’s an overhaul of 
the Layer Styles box, so you ean now 
add multiple instanees of the same 
effeet to a layer - allowing the ereation 
of multilayered drop shadows, for 
example. The Photomerge tool ean 
now take advantage of Photoshop’s 
Content-Aware Fill feature to fill in 
the jagged eurves along the top and 
bottom of multi-photo panoramas - 
a feature that has already been in 
Photoshop Elements for years. 

There’s also an interesting preview 
feature dubbed Design Space, whieh 
is essentially a eut-down Photoshop 
UI implemented in HTML5. It’s too 
simple for serious use, but in a world 
inereasingly moving to platform- 
independent tools, it’s a faseinating 
hint that the ultimate endgame for 
Creative Cloud might be online apps. 

■ Illustrator and InDesign 

While the photographic applications 
get some deeent new features, the rest 
of the eore apps haven’t been so lueky . 
Headlines for Illustrator inelude a 
performanee boost and a (currently) 
limited update to the eharting tools. 

The former eomes thanks to GPU 
aceeleration, allowing real-time 
eliek-and-drag panning and zooming 
- just like Photoshop, in other words. 

The new Creative Cloud Charts 
feature is part of Adobe’s “Teehnology 
Previews”, and as sueh, it’s officially 
a work in progress. As the name 


suggests, this isn’t a eonventional 
upgrade, but a new hybrid, eloud- 
based serviee, whieh (peeuliarly) 
requires ehart values to be entered in 
a browser instead of a dialog box. The 
graphs appear in Illustrator as normal, 
but this isn’t a regular graphing tool: 
it’s aimed speeifieally at the ereation 
of infographics, with the ability to 
seale graphies based on values, rather 
than using plain bars or eolumns. 

Finally, Illustrator gains a crash- 
reeovery feature, similar to that of 
InDesign. If you run out of battery 
mid-task or Illustrator erashes, you 
ean now pick up where you left off 
when the app restarts. 

InDesign’ s major new feature is 
Publish Online, another Teehnology 
Preview, whieh lets you share 
doeuments over the internet via the 
browser. Available through the File 
dropdown menu, this mirrors your 
InDesign document to a publicly 
accessible URL, and ean preserve even 
the most advanced features - sueh as 
animations and embedded video - all 
using the magic of HTML5. 

■ Premiere Pro 
and After Effects 

The major ehanges in Premiere Pro 
focus on colour workflow. The app 
gains the real-time videoseopes 
previously only available in Adobe 
SpeedCrade, and there’s also a new 
set of eolour-eorrection tools via 
the Lumetri Color panel, opening 


+ Progressive 
improvements 
to almost every 
application 
“The larger 
updates make a 
big difference to 
most workflows 


“Illustrator gains a 
crash-recovery feature, 
so if you run out of battery 
mid-task you can now pick 
up where you left off’ 

and so on - 


BELOW With Creative 
Cloud Charts, you can 
create infographics 

BOTTOM Create 
multilayered drop 
shadows using the 
Layer Styles box 



up more refined eolour eorreetion 
to videographers and film editors. 

Slightly less universally important, 
but useful in eertain eireumstanees, 
is the new Morph Cut feature. This 
uses faee-traeking to remove material 
in interview sequenees, and smooth 
out jump euts by interpolating 
(morphing) between frames, with 
the idea that you don’t need to apply a 
distraeting erossfade or eut to B-roll. 

It works well: depending on the your 
subjeet’s mobility, it ean be tough 
to spot the transitions if you’re not 
looking for them. 

After Effeets takes a similar taek, 
with one enormously praetieal, yet 
rather dull, update and a eouple of 
more eye-eatehing 
ehanges. The first will 
have an enormous impaet 
on anyone who spends 
their days in After Effeets: 
at last users ean make 
ehanges to an open projeet 
- adjusting parameters 
while a preview is playing, 
without it pausing. 

The Faee Traeker and Charaeter 
Animator features are a bit more fun. 
Faee Traeker allows you to apply 
effeets to people’s faees within a 
elip and have them follow that faee 
around the frame. It’s handy if you 
need to blur out a ehild’s faee in a 
news elip, for example, and features 
sueh as the eyes, nose and mouth ean 
be traeked independently. 

That data ean then be exported for 
use in the new Charaeter Animator 
applieation, eurrently in preview. 
With this applieation, you ean either 
use eaptured faeial information from 
After Effeets to animate 2D eharaeters’ 
features, or use your webeam to 
eapture faeial movements and 
apply them in real-time. 


■ Verdict 

Other ehanges of note inelude 
Dreamweaver’s improved tools for 
responsive website design, the 
integration of Typekit with Adobe 
Muse and the introduetion of the 
Adobe Photoshop Mix, Brush CC, 
Shape CC and Color CC mobile apps to 
Android. Other improvements are 
mostly small and ineremental. Still, 
Adobe’s applieations are already so 
powerful, and Creative Suite so vast, 
that it eontinues to amaze me that 
Adobe ean find anything at all to add 
or make better. 

Perhaps features sueh as the new 
HTML5 Design Spaee interfaee. 
Creative Cloud Charts and the move 
into stoek photography point the way. 
Bit by bit, Adobe is extending its 
behemoth online; it ean’t be long 
before Creative Cloud’s entire eentre 
of gravity starts to shift in that 
direetion. JONATHAN BRAY 



71 





Reviews 


PREVIEW 


Android M Developer 
Preview 

Google delivers the first 
taste ofAndroidM for 
developers and brave 
early adopters 


T he latest version of Google’s 
mobile operating system was 
introdueed at the eompany’s I/O 
eonferenee in San Franeiseo in May. 
For now it’s known only as Android M: 
a proper eonfeetionery-themed name 
will be unveiled along with the final 
eode, probably around September. 

For app ereators who need to test 
their work, however - and tinkerers 
who want to try the very latest eode 
- a Developer Preview release is 
available right now. We’ve taken the 
plunge and installed it on the Nexus 6, 
to see how the new features are 
eoming together. 

■ Setup and UI changes 

Google ehanged the Android setup 
proeedure substantially last year, 
introdueing a eleaner, simpler 
proeess, with seleetive restoration 
from your eloud data. This year, bar a 
slight eolour ehange from light-blue 
to dark-blue graphies, the proeess is 
largely the same. 

It’s a similar story with the general 
look and feel of the UI; there’s no 
ehange to the overarehing design 
language of Android. Throughout the 
OS, Google has maintained the visual 
motif of floating flat eards - a look it 
ealls “Material Design” - whieh it 
introdueed last year. 


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There are, however, 
some smaller visual 
ehanges. The most 
signifieant of these 
sees a dramatie 
retooling of the 
app tray. Instead of 
serolling sideways, it 
now serolls vertieally, 
with a seareh field and 
a list of four “favourite” 
apps up top to help you 
jump straight to what 
you’re looking for. If 
you prefer to seroll and 
browse, there’s also a 
letter index running 
along the left-hand 
edge of the sereen. 

The latter is a niee 
toueh, but dividing 
apps into alphabetieal 
bloeks leads to a 
ragged, ugly-looking 
list. It doesn’t help that 
on the Nexus 6 the view 
eurrently defaults to 
three ieons aeross, 
whieh, on the large 
5.96in display, looks 
oddly empty. We hope 
Google will introduce 
scaling options 
for larger phones 
before Android M 
hits the mainstream. 

There are also improvements to 
the way volume control is handled 
between apps, alarms and ringtones 
- something for which the current 
Lollipop release has been criticised. 
Android M makes this useful part 
of Google’s mobile OS much 
simpler: the confusing “None”, 
“Priority” and “All” links below 
Lollipop’s single volume control 
have been replaced by a new “Do 
Not Disturb” button in the toggles 
area of the Notifications dropdown 
menu. Tap this icon and you’ll see 
three options, which are again much 
easier to understand than before: 
“Total silence”, “Alarms only” and 
“Priority only”. Each of these can be 
activated indefinitely, or for a set 
period of time. 

And that’s not all. The volume 
slider that appears whenever you 
click the up/down rocker buttons 
on your phone now has a dropdown 
arrow to its right, which allows you to 
quickly tweak media and notifications 
volume. Another big improvement. 

■ Now on Tap and 
multiwindow mode 

Sadly, the most interesting new 
feature announced by Google is 
missing from this early Developer 
Preview. From what Google 
has already revealed, however, 

“Now on Tap” looks very promising. 


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ABOVE The app tray 
is now a vertically 
scrolling list , with 
alphabetic headings 
to help you navigate 


LEFT Permissions 
become both simpler 
and more granular 
in Android M 


Simply put. Now 
on Tap is a proactive 
implementation of 
Google Now. It’s 
designed to work not 
only with information 
gleaned through your 
email and search habits, 
but also with any 
third-party app you 
might have installed on 
your phone or tablet. 
Chatting with a friend 
on WhatsApp about the 
pub you’re meeting at 
tonight? Now on Tap 
will pop up details of the 
drinking establishment 
in question, delivering 
information such as 
reviews and directions. 
It has the potential to 
be a huge addition to 
Android, and we can’t 
wait to see how it works 
in practice. 

One innovation 
that Google didn’t 
flag up at I/O is a new, 
“highly experimental” 
multiwindow mode that 
lets you run two apps 
side by side- a great 
idea, especially for 
larger screens. At 
present, however, 
the feature is hidden away under 
Developer Settings, behind a warning 
that apps may crash or malfunction 
when used in this mode. It remains to 
be seen whether it will reach maturity 
in time for Android M, or whether 
we’ll have to wait for a future release. 

■ Permissions and 
under-the-hood changes 

One system-wide change introduced 
in Android M is a revamp of the 
permissions system. Google has 
adopted a dual-pronged approach 
here, making the system more flexible 
and less cumbersome to use in one 
move. There are fewer permissions 
that apps can request, making the 
system far easier to understand, and 
users can now view and revoke those 
permissions on an individual basis - 
great news if you want to try out 
an app without granting it a raft 
of questionable privileges. 

Better still, the new system no 
longer requires you to agree to all 
permissions at the time of installation; 
it will only ask you to authorise a 
particular type of activity when the 
app - or a specific feature within the 
app - is used for the first time. 

We suspect that only a handful of 
users will really grasp the opportunity 
to take charge of their permissions - 
the settings remain somewhat hidden 
away - but at worst the ability for 


72 






Q@PCPR0 I3fACEBOOK.COM/PCPRO 


Android Wear 5.1 


Android Wear 5.1 was recently rolled 
out to Android snnartwatches. It doesn’t 
change nnuch, but it nnakes Android Wear 
feel more rounded, more controllable 
and more intelligentthan before. 

The first big change is a new app 
launcher. It’s available with a quick swipe 
from the right edge of the screen (or a tap 
of the watch face), revealing a vertically 
scrolling list of apps with the three most 
recently used at the top. 

Swipe right again and you can now view 
recently accessed contacts - it’s possible 
to dial or text directly from this screen - 
while a third swipe brings up the old 
Android Wear actions screen. 

Thelatestversionof Android Wear also 
reduces the need to use two hands to 
operate your watch. “Wrist gestures” let 
you scroll through notifications with a 
quick flick of the wrist, without having 
to use your other hand, or employ the 
ungainly “nose dab” technique. 

Other enhancements includethe 
ability to respond to incoming 
texts by drawing an emoji 
onscreen, which Wear cleverly 
converts to a proper icon. 

Google Maps on Wear now 
displays afully moving, 
scrollable map when you 


ask Google Nowfor directions, and Wear 
finally has its own “Find my phone” option. 

Possiblythe mostsignificant 
development is thatthird-party apps can 
now make use of Wear’s “Always-on” 
displayfunction- handy for features such 
as countdown timers and stopwatches. 

These updates are all very welcome, 
but there are still areas that need work. 
Adjusting screen brightness still requires 
too many taps if your watch lacks an 
ambient light sensor. And while the new 
Wi-Fi sync feature works well, for times 
when you’re out of Bluetooth range, it 
tends to hammer the battery. 

Still, Android Wear is clearly coming 
on in leaps and bounds. It may have 
been basic at first, but it’s now a 
mature operating system thatfeels 
fully part of the Android family-and 
the watches themselves are becoming 
far more useful as a result. 



apps to defer permission requests 
should save time and hassle during 
bulk and automatic updates. 

Another feature that could have 
hidden benefits shows up as “Domain 
URLs” in the Settings menu. This 
allows apps to effectively “own” 
links from a certain domain, ensuring 
those open with the same app. Thus, 
Twitter links will always open in the 
Twitter app and Facebook links in 
the Facebook app - unless, of course, 
you specify otherwise. Again, it’s 
far from an exotic addition, but it 
should reduce the occurrence of those 
annoying “Open with...” messages - 
and thus remove another irritation 
from the Android experience. 

■ Performance 
and battery life 

In terms of performance, not much 
has changed. Geekbench scores were 
effectively identical to what we’ve 
seen from Lollipop on the Nexus 6, 
with single-and multi-core scores of 
1,011 and 3,219 respectively. Browser 
performance has dropped a little: the 
SunSpider browser test took 1,080ms 
to complete on Android M, versus 
806ms on Lollipop; that may be 
tightened up before the final release. 
Sadly, we haven’t yet been able to 
persuade GFXBench to install. 


We had high hopes for battery 
life in Android M, courtesy of a new 
feature called Doze, which disables 
background processes during 
periods of low use. In this way, 

Google claims that Doze can extend 
standby endurance by a factor of 
two on the Nexus 9 tablet. 

On a phone, though, we doubt 
you’ll see a dramatic improvement. 
Doze uses your device’s movement 
sensors to detect idle periods, so it 
won’t kick in when your phone is 
being carried around in a pocket or 
bag. In our tests, we’ve noticed no 
real benefit so far. 

■ Conclusions 

Unless you’re a developer with apps 
to test, we don’t recommend you rush 
to install the Android M Developer 
Preview. We’ve found it remarkably 
stable, but since the headline feature 
- Now on Tap - hasn’t yet been 
plumbed in, there’s not really a 
lot here to play with. 

All the same, what we’ve seen 
so far is all good stuff, aimed at 
making Android cleaner, smarter 
and more usable than ever. The 
new version of Android may not be 
as much of an upgrade as Lollipop, 
but we’re looking forward to an 
M-powered future. JONATHAN BRAY 



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PREVIEW 


Apple0SX10.11 
El Capitan 

As the annual upgrade cycle 
continues, El Capitan brings 
a modest but well-thought- 
out set of new features 


A pple has got into the habit of 

unveiling a new release of OS X 
eaeh year at its Worldwide 
Developers Conferenee, and this 
year’s update - OS X lo.ii, also known 
as El Capitan - is now available as a 
developer preview. A publie beta is 
expeeted to follow, with a final publie 
release in the autumn. 

Aeeording to Apple, El Capitan 
foeuses on performanee and 
“experienee” , rather than new 
features. That’s no bad thing: at this 
point, the OS doesn’t need a major 
revamp. However, this isn’t another 
Snow Leopard. El Capitan brings a few 
new trieks that will affeet the way we 
use our Maes for years to eome. 

The biggest improvement is a 
ehange to full-sereen view. Taking 
a single app full-sereen has been 
possible sinee OS X 10.7 Lion, but one 
applieation ean’t always give you 
everything you need; while writing, 
for example, I often find I want to refer 
baek and forth to a browser. 

The answer is El Capitan’s new 
Split View. Cliek and hold on the green 
button in an app’s window bar and 
you ean “snap” the window into half 
of the sereen. You then seleet a seeond 
window to fill the other half of the 
sereen, from a Mission Control-style 
view. You get a full-sereen view of two 
applieations side by side, and you ean 
drag the divider between them to 
make one wider and the other thinner. 

This is of eourse very similar to the 
Snap Assist feature in Windows 10 - 
but that’s not a eritieism. Snap is one 
of my favourite features in Windows, 
and having something similar in OS X 
helps me to be more produetive when 
I’m working on the Mae. 


■3 


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You ean also now ereate a new 
full-sereen workspaee by simply 
dragging a window up to the top of 
the Mission Control view. Previously 
you eould add a new Spaee via the “ + ” 
button at the top of the sereen, but 
dragging windows around direetly is 
mueh more natural. Put these two 
ehanges together and it’s elear 
that Apple is determined to make 
full-sereen mode a more viable way 
of working on the Mae. 

As usual. Safari has been updated 
too. The big new feature is ealled 
Pinned Sites: any website ean now be 
“pinned” to the left-hand side of the 
browser window, where it will stay 
open at all times. Pinned sites are 
represented by a single letter or ieon, 
making them spaee-effieient. 

Safari also now ineludes a simple 
system for showing whieh tabs are 
playing audio with an ieon on the tab, 
and allow them to be muted quiekly . 

It makes it mueh easier to find and 
silenee irritating auto-play videos. 
You ean also play pieture-in-pieture 
web video, and use AirPlay to send 
web video to an Apple TV. 

The other bundled apps have 
reeeived updates, too. Mail now lets 
you open multiple tabs for emails, 
and you ean minimise open email 
windows to a bar at the 
bottom of the sereen, as in 
iOS 8. Notes gains the ability 
to save eontent from other 
apps via the system-wide 
Share button. This eontent is 
grouped intelligently by the 
Notes applieation, so you ean 
quiekly survey your saved 
URLs, images and maps. 

One elever little update 
will please those who use 
multiple monitors, or a 
Retina iMae. If you rapidly 
waggle your finger on the 


ABOVE The updated 
Mission Control 
makes it easy to drag 
an application into 
full-screen view 


“Snap is one of my favourite 
features in Windows, and 
having something similar 
in OS X helps me to he more 
productive on the Mac” 


LEFT Split View is 
a great step forward 
for desktop 
productivity 


traekpad, or your mouse, the eursor 
temporarily grows larger, allowing 
you to immediately see whereabouts 
on the sereen it is. It’s a small but 
thoughtful detail. 

Another signifieant ehange isn’t 
immediately visible. Metal for Mae 
is a eore graphies teehnology 
in El Capitan that promises huge 
improvements in performanee for 
applieations that use it. Beeause it 
originated on iOS, it should also make 
it easier to port applieations between 
the two platforms. Expeet a slew of 
new, high-performanee 
games to eome to the Mae 
on the baek of Metal. 

Lastly, something 
that’s not eurrently in 
the developer release is 
a fortheoming update to 
Spotlight, whieh is set 
to gain the Siri-like ability to parse 
natural-language queries, sueh as 
“show me all my doeuments from 
Mareh” . It will be interesting to see 
how that works when it arrives. 

Although OS X El Capitan is some 
way from final eode, I ean already say 
that the new full-sereen features are 
really weleome. This partieular aspeet 
of OS X has felt half-baked sinee it was 
released; Split View, Mail tabs and 
the improved Mission Control make 
it mueh more useful. 

It’s also interesting to see how 
OS X and iOS eontinue to move eloser 
together, in terms of usability and 
appearanee; iOS 9 and El Capitan 
really look like siblings these days. 
Apple elearly isn’t going to make the 
mistake of trying to merge the two 
platforms fully into one, but they are 
gradually - and to the limits of their 
respeetive hardware - beeoming more 
like eaeh other. That’s what makes El 
Capitan and iOS 9 together an exeiting 
pair of releases. IAN BETTE RIDGE 


74 







Q@pcpro O facebook.com/pcpro 


PREVIEW 


AppleiOS9 

A promising update, with 
new storage- and battery- 
saving features that every 
iOS user will welcome 


T he latest version of iOS is here 
- or at least the developer 
preview is, giving us an early 
look at what’s new. For iPad owners, 
the headline is the new Slide Over 
mode, whieh, for the first time, lets 
you view two apps onsereen at onee. 
You aeeess it by swiping in from the 
right edge of the sereen; you’ll then 
see a list of app ieons. Tap to launeh an 
app and you’ll see it overlaid on top 
of your eurrent app in a narrow strip. 
This makes it a snap to, say, refer to 
and seroll through a web page while 
writing an email. 

if you have an iPad Air 2 , the new 
Split View goes further, letting you 
run two apps side by side, jumping 
baek and forth at will. In landseape 
view you ean ehoose a 50:50 or 70:30 
split, depending on your needs. 

Only Apple apps are eurrently 
supported - third-party developers 
must hook into the relevant APIs to 
support the features. And apps in Split 
View ean’t interaet with eaeh other 
- there’s no drag and drop, for 
example. The whole thing works 
better in landseape orientation than 
portrait: hold the iPad upright and 
you’re stuek with an awkward 60:40 
split. There’s definite room for 
improvement before the final release. 

Taking a leaf out of Google Now’s 
book, iOS 9 also introduees a more 
“proaetive” Siri, whieh attempts to 
offer information before you ask for 
it. It ean now aeeess information from 
your apps, email and other resourees, 
as ean Spotlight seareh - whieh makes 
a weleome return to 
the left of the main 
homesereen. All 
of this eontextual 
information is kept 
loeally, so personal 
information isn’t sent 
up into the eloud. 

On the subjeet of 
seeurity, iOS 9 now 
defaults to a six-digit 
unloekeode - an 
option in iOS 8 that 
few ehose to aetivate. 

And a few spaee- 
saving measures will 
please those running 
short of storage: the 
installer has been 
squeezed down to 
1.8GB - mueh more 


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eonvenient than the hefty 4.6GB 
iOS 8 update - and Apple’s new 
“app-thinning” proeess shrinks 
app footprints by installing only 
the assets for your speeifie deviee. 
On-demand resourees will let 
developers split their apps into ehunks 
that ean be downloaded on demand, 
and eleared when no longer needed. 

Another weleome addition is a 
Low Power mode, whieh reduees 
performanee in order to extend 
battery life. It kieks in onee your 
battery drops to 15% eapaeity, or ean 
be enabled manually. The sereen will 
also stay dark for notifieations when 
the deviee is faeing downwards. Apple 
elaims this ean save iPhone users an 
hour of battery life on average, with 
Low Power mode extending use by 
a further three hours. 

iOS 9 brings two major new apps: 
News is a Flipboard-style magazine 
app that aggregates new stories from 
multiple sourees, while Musie is 
Apple’s all-new 
streaming serviee, 
rivalling serviees 
sueh as Rdio and 
Spotify. Our feature 
next month will 
explore how Apple 
Musie staeks up to 
its eompetitors. 

Meanwhile, Maps 
has been updated 
with publie transport 
planning, although 
its reeommendations 
aren’t neeessarily to 
be taken on trust: it 
suggestedi wait 20 
minutes for a bus to 
a Tube station that’s 
only a nine-minute 
walk away. iOS’s 


ABOVE The new Slide 
Over and Split View 
modes add a new 
dimension to iOS 


“iOS 9 also introduces a 
more ‘proactive' Siri, 
which attempts to 
offer information 
before you ask for it” 


LEFT The Spotlight 
search screen gains 
“Siri Suggestions” and 
links to nearby places 
and amenities 


long-negleeted Notes app also gets 
a boost, with sketehing tools and 
eapabilities for embedding eheeklists, 
maps, URLs and photos. You ean even 
add attaehments from other apps, via 
iOS’s Share infrastrueture. 

Finally, there’s a host of small 
ehanges. The letters on the keyboard 
finally ehange ease dynamieally when 
you press the Shift key. In the Photos 
app, you ean now seleet multiple 
images by dragging, rather than 
having to tap eaeh one 
individually. If you launeh 
an app from a pop-up 
notifieation or Spotlight 
seareh results, you’ll get 
a handy “Baek to” link in 
the top-left eorner that 
returns you to where you 
were before. 

It’s also now possible to seareh 
the Settings menu by keyword, so you 
no longer need to hunt around. And 
if you look really hard, you’ll see iOS 
has switehed to the San Franeiseo font 
introdueed with the Apple Wateh. The 
differenee is subtle, but the result is 
a slightly more spaeious look. 

The publie release of iOS 9 is 
promised for this autumn, whieh 
probably means September. Before 
then it would be niee to see Split View 
and Slide Over beeome more versatile, 
and we hope the new transit funetions 
get smarter too. 

Overall, though, it’s a ease of so 
far, so good. Although many ofiOS 9’s 
new features have been seen before on 
other platforms, it’s an unequivoeally 
positive update. It’s paeked with 
improvements, and Apple’s foeus 
on boosting power and storage 
effieieney means that existing iPad 
and iPhone owners have mueh to gain 
from the update. JONATHAN BRAY 


75 






GarminVivoactive 

Long battery life, 
integrated GPS and ANT-i 
compatibility make for 
a great fitness watch 


PRICE £143 (£171 inc VAT) from 
amazon.co.uk(pcpro.link/251garmin) 


T he Vivoactive is Garmin’s 
attempt to ereate a mass- 
market, do-it-all fitness 
wearable. It offers both basic 
smartwatch functions and activity- 
and exercise-tracking features. 

It’s not exactly stylish, but at only 
36g, it’s i8g lighter than the Basis 
Peak - and thanks to the comfortable 
rubber strap, it’s easy to forget you’re 
wearing it. Another strength is battery 
life: thanks partly to its transflective 
screen, which remains legible even 
when the backlight is off, a single 
charge saw me through more than 
five days of active use, including 
regular GPS tracking. 

At £171, the Vivoactive is around 
the same price as the Basis Peak and 
the Microsoft Band, but it’s a much 
simpler affair. You get GPS and an 
accelerometer for step tracking, and 
it’s water-resistant to 50m. But as 
far as built-in features go, that’s it. 

However, in addition to Bluetooth 
LE, the Vivoactive also supports 
ANT + , which means it can connect 
to dedicated exercise sensors such 
as heart-rate chest straps and cycling 
speedometers. If you’re serious 
about exercise, this is 
great news: the optical 
heart-rate sensors 
found on most 
smartwatches are 
nowhere near as 
accurate as a £20 
ANT + strap. And for 
runners and cyclists, 
the option to track 
cadence information 
is a major plus. 

Using the Vivoactive is 
straightforward. Your steps and 
sleep are both tracked automatically, 
with manually activated modes for 
running, cycling, swimming, golf 
and walking. Starting an activity is 
a simple case of bringing up the app 
list, selecting the desired activity 
and hitting the Action button. 

You’re then faced with a scrollable 
list of information, such as speed, 
pace and time elapsed. Thankfully, 
there’s no need to physically scroll 
- that would be tricky while running 









PC 

10 




RECOMMENDED^ 


BELOW The 
Vivoactive uses a 
transflective screen 
that helps extend 

r battery life 


0 






l_ 


0 


LEFT You start an 
exercise session by 
simply tapping the 
relevant icon 


+ Strong battery 
life, works with 
professional- 
grade fitness- 
tracking sensors 
“ Linnited built-in 
features, slightly 
clunky software 


76 


or cycling. Instead, tapping the screen 
flicks through all the available data 
fields page by page. 

The display is highly customisable: 
you can rearrange the data fields in 
activity screens and replace existing 
fields with the data you want. This 
is fiddly, but you don’t have to do 
it regularly. And if you log on to 
Garmin’s Gonnect IQ app store, you 
can download alternative views that 
squeeze more data onto a single page. 

When it comes to uploading your 
data, Garmin’s Gonnect app is the hub 
for tracking all your activities. It’s 
available for both Android and iOS, 
and your data is uploaded into the 
cloud, so you can keep track of your 
achievements from any browser. You 
can also link up your Garmin Gonnect 
account to Strava and have your runs 
and rides imported automatically. 

In addition to exercise tracking, 
the Vivoactive conveys text 
messages, emails and social-media 
updates to your wrist with a buzz of 
haptic feedback. There isn’t much 
granularity to this: you can only 
choose to receive all notifications 
or none, although you can choose 
different settings for rest and exercise. 
Also note that the i.qin, 205 x 148 
colour LGD doesn’t offer a huge 
amount of space to display texts and 
emails, and longer emails and texts 
are cut off, so you need to pull out 
your phone to read them in full. 

There are other shortcomings 
too: the touchscreen sometimes 
feels laggy, and sleep tracking is basic, 
merely producing a graph that shows 
your movement levels throughout 
the night. The range of software on 
Gonnect IQ is limited compared with 
more mainstream platforms, although 
there’s always the possibility for 
that to improve. Given time, and a 
suitably enthusiastic community 
to back it up, it could prove a 
major asset for Garmin. 

The Vivoactive doesn’t try to be a 
sleek and sexy do-it-all wearable: it’s 
a GPS-enabled fitness watch with a 
smattering of semi-smart features. If 
you’re more interested in fitness than 
fashion, that’s almost perfect, and it’s 
comfortable to wear too. Factor in the 
great battery life and a display that’s 
perfectly suited to outdoor use, and 
I’m sold. I’ve tried out numerous 
fitness wearables, but they’ve all 
fallen short. The Vivoactive is the first 
I’d deem to be worthy of a permanent 
place on my wrist. SASHA MULLER 

SPECIFICATIONS 

1.4in 205x148 transflective colour 
touchscreen • GPS • Bluetooth LE • 

ANT+ •water-resistant to 50nn • 
rechargeable Li-ion battery • iOS and 
Android app compatibility •lyr RTB 
warranty«42x8.1 x50mm (WDH)#36g 



Q@pcpro Ofacebook.com/pcpro 


Reviews ^ 


XYZprintingdaVinciJr 

There’s more to this 3D 
printer than an arresting 
price: the da Vinci Jr has 
a real low-tech charm 


PRICE £249 (£299 inc VAT) from 
amazon.co.uk(pcpro.link/251davinci) 


A tawhiskerunder £300, the 
da Vinci Jr is comfortably the 
cheapest 3D printer we’ve 
ever seen. Surprisingly, it doesn’t 
look it. While the likes of Velleman’s 
£400 K8200 printer are built on 
rudimentary frames, the da Vinci Jr 
is a solid-looking enclosure in thick 
moulded plastic. It even sports 
a four-line LCD screen and control 
panel on the front. 

Part of the price saving is probably 
down to its compact design: the Jr 
measures a relatively desk-friendly 
43cm on its longest edge, with a 
maximum print volume of iscm^. 

But the real savings come from 
simplified internals. The extrusion 
head is specified only for PLA, not 
the more brittle ABS, and rather than 
having its own feeder for the filament, 
plastic is pushed into it by a separate 
motor inside the casing, through a 
tube that loops out of the top. 

The boldest omission, without a 
doubt, is the heated print platform. 
Normally, 3D printers keep the print 
bed hot throughout the process, to 
ensure that your model doesn’t 
contract and deform as it cools. 
Delightfully, the da Vinci Jr instead 
comes with several large squares of 
masking tape, which you stick onto 
the glass print bed to produce a rough 
surface for your model to stick to. 

The nozzle cleaning procedure is 
similarly low-tech, requiring you to 
poke a narrow piece of metal up into 
the extruder to dislodge any wayward 
bits of plastic. And while XYZprinting 
doesn’t publish details of the da Vinci 
Jr’s internals, it appears to be very low 
on internal RAM too: the first time we 
tried to send it a model, it refused to 
print until we inserted a 4GB SD card 
into its internal slot. 

None of this immediately rules the 
da Vinci Jr out of contention. Indeed, 
as we started setting up our first print, 
impressions were positive. The 
XYZware printing client is basic, but 
it gives you a clear 3D overview of the 
models you import, and lets you scale 
and rotate your print job as desired. As 
usual, support material can be added 
automatically, and you can optionally 



add a raft or a brim to your print to 
help keep everything together; the 
printer comes with a scraper 
and wire brush for tidying 
up your model once 
it’s complete. 

The printing 
process is slow, but not 
conspicuously more 
so than with other 3D 
printers we’ve tried. 

The extruder nozzle 
measures 0.4mm in 
diameter, but you can 
set the print resolution 
from 0.1mm to 0.4mm, 
to balance precision 
against speed: at 
the standard 0.2mm 
setting we found it took 
around 40 minutes to 
print a Lego brick, and 
approximately eight hours 
to produce a small model skull. The 
whirring of the stepper motor as the 
extrusion head moves back and forth 
is all but inaudible over the hum of the 


small integrated fan; hands down, this 
is the quietest 3D printer we’ve tested. 

Inevitably, we didn’t get to the end 
of our tests without a few hitches. At 
first, the plastic didn’t set properly on 
the bed. We deduced that the nozzle 
was at the wrong height - something 
we had to correct manually through 
trial and error, stepping it up and 
down in 0.05mm increments and 
firing off test prints until we’ d found 
a setting that worked. If this needs to 
be done only once then fair enough, 
but if the height drifts over time this 
will become tiresome. 

Once we’d found a successful 
nozzle-height setting, things went 
more smoothly: small models stuck 
cleanly to the masking-tape bed, 
making us wonder why anyone 
ever thought a heated platform 
was necessary. Unfortunately, 
larger models detached from the base 
once they grew beyond around 5cm in 
height. Since it can easily take around 
five hours, and a quarter of a spool of 
filament, to reach this point, this was 
frustrating indeed. We found a light 
coating of Pritt Stick on the base 
helped keep the model anchored, but 
- as is common with 3D printing - tall 
models still proved liable to collapse 
during printing if not 
assisted by plenty of 
support material. 

The items that 
we did manage to 
produce were of 
quite respectable 
quality. The tops 
and bottoms of our 
Lego bricks were 
clean enough to 
fit together - not 
something one can 


ABOVE Despite the 
low price, the da Vinci 
Jr looks like a proper 
consumer appliance 


HK Ahighly 
capable 3D printer 
for a steal 
“ Slow and 
wayward, like all 
such devices 


BELOW Print quality 
isn’t bad, but larger 
models didn’t always 
complete successfully 



take for granted with this technology 
- while flat surfaces were regular and 
gapless. The undersides had a 
tendency to curl up away from the 
platform, and vertical detail is a 
challenge for any 3D printer, but 
we’ve seen worse results from far 
more expensive hardware. 

There’s one catch that must be 
mentioned: the da Vinci Jr takes 
proprietary filament spools, with a 
chip that tells the printer when the 
reel has run out. This means you 
can’t feed it generic PLA at around 
£20 per kilogram: you have to buy 
da Vinci-branded spools at £30 for 
6oog. That’s a real swizz, since 
there’s nothing at all special about 
the plastic itself, but considering 
the upfront price of the printer, 
it’s not too difficult to suck up. 

Will the da Vinci Jr finally bring 
3D printing to the mass market? Not 
a chance. Like every 3D printer we’ve 
seen so far, it’s quirky, unreliable and 
nowhere near the quality of industrial 
injection-moulding. It’s also limited 
in terms of material and print size. 

For the curious tinker er who 
hasn’t already taken the plunge, 
however, the da Vinci Jr really 
could be a watershed device. With 


its comparatively desk-friendly 
design, quiet operation and 
unbeatable price, it’s hard to 
resist. DARIEN GRAHAM-SMITH 

SPECIFICATIONS 

0.4nnnn extruder head •0.1 mm print 
resolution • supports PLA only# USB 2 • 
microSD slot# 2.6in four-line LCD panel # 
build volume: 150 x150 x150mm (WDH)# 
external dimensions: 420x430x380mm 
(WDH) # 15kg # lyr RTB warranty 


77 




Contents 

Apple MacBook Pro 13in 
with Retina display 84 

DelIXPSIS 86 

Apple MacBook 88 

AsusZenbookUX303LA 89 

Lenovo ThinkPad XI Carbon 90 
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 91 

How we test 80 

Has the Ultrabook 
had its day? 81 

Feature table 82 

View from the Labs 92 

Test results 92 



From the sleek Asus Zenbook to the powerful Apple 
MacBook Pro, the laptops here offerthe ultimate in 
design and desirability 


T he luxurious laptops in this month’s Labs 
are the finest portables money can buy. 
All are stylish and capable - but within 
this elite group there’s a variety of processors, 
storage options, display technologies and other 
variables. Here’s our guide to what gives each 
of these laptops its unique character, and how 
to decide which will work best for you. 

■ Processors and graphics 

Five of the six laptops on test stick with Intel’s 
tried-and-tested Core is and 17 processors. 

One, however, opts for Intel’s low-power 
Core M design, it’s intended specifically for 
ultra-thin devices, and no laptop comes 
thinner than Apple’s lain MacBook. 


Built on a i4nm process, the tiny Core M is 
designed to run cool, removing the need for an 
internal fan. That means the MacBook is the only 
laptop here that runs silent, no matter how hard 
it’s being pushed. However, it also means Intel 
has had to rein back the clock speed to prevent 
tablets and laptops from overheating. The Core 
M-5Y31 inside the MacBook is nominally a 
900MHz part, and how long has it been since 
we talked about laptop processors in terms 
of megahertz, rather than gigahertz? 

To speed things up, Apple has boosted the 
processor’s core clock speed to i.iGHz, but 
that still leaves it lagging behind the Core is 
processors, as is reflected in our benchmarks. 
And achieving that higher speed has meant 




79 



raising the processor’s TDP 
from 4.5W to 5W. While we 
suspect the impact on battery 
life is slight, the MacBook 
does have the joint worst 
score in our battery-life tests. 

Even though Apple has sliced 
its batteries into thin layers 
to ensure that every cubic 
centimetre of space inside 
that tiny shell is filled with 
power, the MacBook will still 
require a charge before the 
end of the day if it’s pushed 
even moderately hard - more 
on this later. 

Although the rest of our 
laptops all use Core is and iy 
processors, they don’t all hail 
from the same generation. 

The Core is-qsooU inside the 
Surface Pro 3 is from the 22nm 
Haswell generation, launched 
in 2013, and uses the older HD 
Graphics 4400. The rest of the laptops 
use the more modern i4nm Broadwell 
architecture and the latest HD 
Graphics - with the exception of 
the MacBook Pro, which features the 
superior Iris 6100 graphics processor. 
That enhanced chipset is one of the 
main reasons why the MacBook Pro 
surges ahead of the Windows pack in 
our benchmark tests. Where the HD 
Graphics 5500 offers 24 execution 
units, capable of 364.8 GFLOPS, the 
Iris Graphics 6100 has double the 
number of execution units, running 
at slightly higher frequency and 
delivering 844.8 GFLOPS. 

■ Displays 

One of the reasons Apple has chosen 
the Iris processor for the MacBook 
Pro is that it has to push around more 
pixels than any other laptop in the 
group. The 2,560 x, 1,600 resolution 
of the MacBook Pro’s screen equates 
to 227ppi - a pixel density that only 
its i2in MacBook sibling matches. 

(The fact that the MacBook has to 
use less powerful HD Graphics 5300 
to drive such a high-resolution 
display is another reason it does 
so poorly in our benchmarks.) 

There’s simply no doubt that OS X 
handles these ultra-high-resolution 
displays better than Windows. 
Everything on one of Apple’s Retina 
displays is perfectly scaled for the 
screen size, so that menu text never 
becomes unreadable or blurry. 
Although Windows’ handling of 
high-resolution screens has improved, 
it’s still far from perfect. With default 
settings, the text in Explorer windows 
on the 2,160 X 1,440 Surface Pro 3, or 
the 2,560 X 1,440 Lenovo ThinkPad 
Xi Garbon, is tiny, almost forcing 
us to squint at the screen. Open a 
PowerShell window on either device 
if you want a real eye test: it’s worse 



ABOVE Intel’s Core M 
processor focuses 
on battery longevity, 
not performance 


than the bottom row of an optician’s 
chart. There are workarounds, but 
you shouldn’t have to rely on them. 

It’s also interesting to see how 
laptop manufacturers still regard 
touchscreens as an optional extra 
rather than a must-have, even at 
this upper end of the market. Apple 
is famously averse to the idea of 
bringing touch controls to OS X, 
but Asus also spurns a touchscreen 
on its Zenbook, while the Dell XPS 
13 and ThinkPad Xi Garbon offer 
touch only as an optional extra. 
Intel’s Ultrabook specification 
stipulates that laptops must have 
touchscreens, so evidently laptop 
manufacturers have a lesser regard 
for that branding than they did a 
few years ago (see opposite). 

We still believe that a laptop 
intended to run Windows 8.1 - or 
soon Windows 10 - is generally 
enhanced by a touchscreen, not 
least because many of the apps 


Howwetest 


All six of the laptops in this month’s 
Labs are put through a comprehensive 
series of tests. Our new benchmark 
suite measures the performance of 
each laptop across three different 
types of workload: image editing, video 
editing and multitasking. These push 
the laptops’ CPU and memory to full 
utilisation for sustained periods of time, 
ensuring you get a true reflection of 
the capabilities of these machines. 

The laptops are scored against our 
reference machine - a desktop PC with 
an Intel Core i5-4670K CPU, 8GB of RAM 
and an AMD Radeon R7 26CX graphics 
card, which gets a score of ICC. So a 
laptop with a score of 5C is half as fast 
as our reference PC. The two Macs were 


(particularly games) in the Windows 
Store are designed for touch controls. 
But touch does have downsides. The 
touchscreen layer on the ThinkPad’s 
i4in screen, for example, creates 
a visible mottling effect, which 
softens the appearance of its 
MacBook-rivalling resolution. 

■ Ports and connections 

Another major point of differentiation 
between these laptops is the number 
of ports and connections they offer. 

At the minimalist end of the scale, 
the MacBook has only one port: the 
new, reversible USB Type-G connector 
that’s used for everything from 
charging the laptop to connecting 
external displays and storage. With 
only a single port, you’re going to 
need adapters to do more than 
one of these tasks simultaneously, 
which for us crosses the tipping 
point of form over function. The one 
notable advantage of USB Type-G on a 
laptop is compatibility with portable 
power supplies, which could help the 
MacBook keep going for the duration 
of a transatlantic flight, for example. 

The Surface Pro 3, meanwhile, 
betrays the fact it’s a tablet by 
providing only a mini-DisplayPort 
and a single USB 3 socket, in addition 
to its power connector - and even 
that single port is incapable of 
powering some external hard drives. 
The conventional laptops offer more 
ports, none more so than the MacBook 
Pro, which offers two different types 
of display output, two Thunderbolt 2 
and two USB 3 ports. 

Ethernet ports have been expunged 
from all of our laptops, but for those 
who need the stability of a wired 
connection, both the Asus and the 
ThinkPad come with adapters in 
the box. You’ll have to buy USB 
adapters separately for the rest. 


benchmarked using Windows 8.1 
on a Boot Camp partition. 

We also test the quality of the display, 
using an X-Rite ilDisplay 2 colorimeter. 
We measure the maximum brightness, 
contrast ratio and colour accuracy of 
each screen, as well as drawing on our 
own impressions of the screen quality. 

Finally, we measure the battery life of 
each of the laptops. We do this by setting 
the brightness of the screen to 120cd/m^ 
(measured using the colorimeter) and 
playing a 720p video on loop using the 
laptop’s default video application. All 
wireless connections are switched 
off while the test is running. Our 
battery-life scores thus provide 
a realistic best-case scenario. 


80 


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Labs Laptops 



HastheUltrabookhaditsday? 

Intel’s Ultrabook initiative saw mobile computers become thinner and lighter- but other 
firms are now offering the same for less money. So what’s next? 


W hen Intel unveiled the 

Ultrabook eoneept in 2011, 
Windows laptop design was 
in a sorry state. The original MaeBook 
Air had been launehed three years 
previously, but PC manufaeturers 
were still struggling to deliver an 
ultraportable with even a fraetion 
of its desirability. 

So Intel deeided that something 
had to be done. Through Intel Capital, 
its investment arm, it launehed a 
$300 million (£192 million) fund to 
promote the ereation of a new, sleeker 
generation of laptops. “The Ultrabook 
Fund will foeus on investing in 
eompanies building teehnologies that 
will help revolutionise the eomputing 
experienee and morph today’s mobile 
eomputers into the next must-have 
deviee, ” said Arvind Sodhani, 
president of Intel Capital, at the time. 

Intel also teamed up with leading 
PC manufaeturers to ereate the 
Ultrabook speeifieation. Only laptops 
less than 21mm thiek (or 18mm for 
i3.3in sereens) , with a battery life in 
exeess of five hours, would qualify. 

Oh, and they needed to use Intel Core 
proeessors, ofeourse. Maehines that 
met the eriteria would use the 
Ultrabook logo and benefit from 
Intel’s marketing push, rewarding 
the manufaeturers for their efforts. 

The initiative has had an 
undeniable effeet over the past four 
years. Although the MaeBook Pro is 
this month’s Labs winner, its 
Windows rivals no longer look like 
ugly dueklings. Hide the Dell logo on 
the XPS 13 and you might even fool 
people into thinking it’s a MaeBook. 
Industry watehers agree that the 
initiative has given the market a 
shot in the arm: “Intel played a very 
important role in making the redesign 
of the laptop happen, and the eventual 
revival of PC sales,” Maeiej Gornieki, 
researeh manager at IDC, told PC Pro. 

Yet here’s the odd thing. The Dell 
XPS 13 doesn’t bear the Ultrabook 
logo. Nor does the equally 
eye-eatehing Asus Zenbook. 

In faet, only two of 
our six deviees 
this month 
eome with that 
onee-eherished 
stieker. What’s 

happened to the Ultrabook name? 
Does it still mean anything? 


■ Today’s Ultrabook spec 

Sinee its launeh, the Ultrabook 
speeifieation has been through two 
major revisions, most reeently in 2013. 
Today, an Ultrabook must be 20mm or 
thinner if its display is smaller than 
iqin, or less than 23mm thiek if it has a 
bigger sereen. More interestingly, that 
display must also be a touehsereen, 
leading to a situation where some 
models within a laptop range are 
Ultrabooks and some aren’t. For 
example, the Dell XPS 13 on test 
doesn’t meet the eriteria, but the 
touehsereen variant - whieh looks 
outwardly identieal - does. 

Intel also uses the Ultrabook 
speeifieation to push eertain 
teehnologies, and not only its Core 
proeessors. All modern Ultrabooks 
must support the eompany’s WiDi 
protoeol, for example, whieh allows 
you to wirelessly beam video from 
your laptop to eompatible television 
sereens or projeetors. If that’s missing, 
there’s no stieker for you. 

■ Where now for 
Ultrabooks? 

Four years on, the Ultrabook initiative 
has arguably done its job. “Although 
Ultrabooks initially were offered at 
very high priee points (and a majority 
of them still are) , their introduetion 



ABOVE Intel’s 
brand is no longer 
a must-have for a 
lightweight laptop 



led to an overhaul of the majority of 
portable PC designs in the market, 
irrespeetive of their teeh spees, ” said 
IDC’s Gornieki. “Even though an 
Ultrabook is quite prieey these days, 
many vendors offer less expensive 
models, with less power inside, whieh 
are still very light and attraetive for 
the average eonsumer to buy. ” 

The analyst also elaims that the 
Ultrabook stieker does little for sales. 

“I think that in the majority of eases, 
eonsumer’s purehasing deeisions are 
not influeneed so mueh by whether a 
portable PC is aetually branded an 
Ultrabook or not,” he said. “There are 
more important faetors sueh as priee 
or performanee that influenee 
eonsumer behaviour. ” 

Meanwhile, Intel has seemingly 
shifted its foeus onto laptops that ean 
be eonverted into tablets, sueh as the 
Mierosoft Surfaee Pro 3, whieh earries 
the Ultrabook stieker. 

“I’m not entirely sure where 
Intel will go with its Ultrabook 
eampaign in the future,” said 
Gornieki. “The eompany did a great 
job in transforming the industry 
to offer mueh thinner and lighter 
maehines. But my impression is that 
for the past two years Intel has been 
foeusing more on promoting two-in- 
one designs, whieh is yet another step 
on the road to transforming a laptop 
into a more attraetive and useful 
produet. It’s already beeome slim; 
now it’s time to bring more 
versatility, by offering a 
rotating or detaehable 
toueh-enabled sereen.” 

On the sehedule for the 
Intel Developer Forum held in 
Shenzhen in April, you’ll see 
not a single session devoted to 
Ultrabooks - but there is one 
entitled “Design eonsiderations 
and referenee designs for value 
and mainstream two-in-ones”. 

The aeeompanying presentation 
perhaps gives a elue as to 
why Intel has shifted its foeus: 
“Two-in-one buyers refresh their 
PC approximately one year earlier 
than notebook buyers, ” it reveals. 

With the overall PC market 
eontinuing to shrink, Intel is 
perhaps banking on eonvertible 
deviees to give the market a fresh 
shot of adrenaline, just as the 
Ultrabook did four years ago. B 


81 



M Labs Laptops 


Q@pcpro facebook.com/pcpro 








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82 


1. Mainland UKonly.2. Parts and labour, UK mainland, unless otherwise stated. 3. Laptop reliability/support rating in reader-voted PC Pro Excellence 
Awards 2014. Where N/A, companies didn’t receive enough feedback to be rated. See pcpro.link/pcproawards2014 















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Apple MacBook Pro 13in 
with Retina display 

A near-perfect balance of 
portability and power, with 
a stunning screen and an 
updated trackpad to boot 


SCORE QQOQQI 


PRICE £832 (£999 inc VAT) from 
apple.com/uk(pcpro.link/251mbpro) 


T he MacBook Pro is a familiar 
design: it hasn’t received a 
significant makeover for a fev\^ 
generations, but it still strikes the 
right balance between practicality 
and poise. The i3in model is heavier 


than most laptops here, and that’s 
compounded by a chunkier charger. 
But you get plenty for your money. 

For a start, it’s exceptionally 
comfortable to work on. A MacBook 
Pro on your lap feels like a deceptively 
expansive workspace; even at a desk, 
it feels generous, rarely leaving us 
tempted to plug in an external screen. 

That’s partly down to the vast 
2,560 X 1,600 resolution of the built-in 
panel - and OS X’s clever graphics 
technology, which scales applications 
for a high-DPI screen considerably 
better than Windows. Another reason 
we’re happy to forgo the external 
display is that you’ll struggle to find 
one as sumptuous as the Pro’s built-in 
panel. When you’re sitting next 
to a bright window, the 400cd/m^ 
maximum brightness ensures 
details are perfectly visible, even 
though it’s more reflective than 
the screen on the Dell XPS 13. The 


ABOVE The MacBook 
Pro sticks with the 
design formula of 
previous models 



97.7% coverage of the sRGB colour 
gamut and near-flawless colour 
accuracy will delight filmmakers and 
photographers, and contrast is stark 
at 994:1. If there’s abetter laptop 
screen out there, we’re yet to see it. 

Looks aren’t everything, of course, 
but the Pro isn’t found wanting for 
connectivity or power either. With 
mini-DisplayPort (in the form of 
Thunderbolt) and full-sized HDMI 
outputs, you’re not short of options 
for connecting external displays. The 
Intel Iris graphics can easily handle 
full native resolution - as well as two 
external displays running at up to 
3,840 X 2,160, which is surely more 
pixels than anyone could need. 

Two USB 3 connections and the 
aforementioned Thunderbolt 2 
sockets also provide ample options 
for connecting high-speed external 
storage - which is just as well, since 
the base model comes with only 128GB 


84 






Q@pcpro 




Labs Laptops 



Olhe MacBook Pro’s design has 
barely changed in several years, but 
its simplicity still looks fresh 



O&0 A generous set of ports 
ensures you can hook up to external 
storage and displays with ease 



of PCI Express-based flash. The step 
up to a 256GB model adds £200 to the 
price, but is the least that you should 
consider if you plan to split the storage 
with a Windows Boot Camp partition. 

Unlike the i2in MacBook (seep88), 
the Pro doesn’t offer the new Type-C 
USB connector, instead using Apple’s 
regular MagSafe connector to charge. 
That’s fine, not least because the 
connector has a handy indicator light 
on the top of it, letting you know the 
charger’s plugged in properly. An LED 
battery indicator like the Dell XPS 13 ’s 
would have been better, but with the 
MacBook Pro lasting 9hrs 4omins in 
our video-rundown test, you won’t 
be concerned about running out 
of battery until pub time. 

When it comes to processing 
power, the MacBook Pro is right 
up there with the best. Its overall 
benchmark score of 56 was head 
and shoulders above every other 


contender this month. The Core is 
processor and Iris GPU particularly 
told in the video-editing test, 
which the MacBook Pro completed 
in less than half the time it took the 
Core M-equipped MacBook. 

The Pro is also a strong multitasker; 
its performance edge can be seen with 
the naked eye. Applications open just 
as quickly as OS X’s animations can 
carry them, 4K video footage plays 
without stutter, and you can keep a 
whole dock-full of apps running 
without unduly burdening the 8GB 
of RAM at your disposal. 

That’s not to say the MacBook Pro 
is flawless. It split the office, but some 
of us prefer the bigger, shallower keys 
on the new MacBook’s keyboard to the 
well-spaced ones on the MacBook Pro. 
Music sounds slightly tinnier from 
the Pro’s speakers than it does from 
the MacBook’s, even though it has a 
larger casing in which to house them. 


But this is nitpicking. The i3in 
MacBook Pro is a fabulous laptop that 
puts its Windows rivals to shame. The 
touchpad controls alone make the 
competition seem clunky; you can 
glide smoothly through web pages 
and flick effortlessly between apps, 
and this will only improve 
when developers start taking 
advantage of the new Eorce 
Touch control, which can 
detect a hard press on the 
touchpad as distinct from a 
regular tap, adding a new 
dimension to the desktop. 

Trying to make sense of Apple’s 
pricing is always a fool’s errand, but 
we’re baffled as to how the MacBook 
Pro can cost less than the i2in 
MacBook. It has a bigger display, 
better connectivity and far more 
power. The one thing the MacBook Pro 
lacks is a touchscreen - but there’s 
still simply nothing to touch it. B 


“Looks aren’t 
everything, but the 
MacBook Pro isn’t left 
wanting for either 
connectivity or power” 


85 






DelIXPSIS 

A truly exceptional 
ultraportable, let down 
only by an uneven and 
inconsistent screen 


SCORE QQOQ' 


PRICE £791 (£949 inc VAT) from dell.co.uk 
(pcpro.link/251xps13) 


T he Dell XPS 13 is the closest rival 
to the MacBook and MacBook 
Pro in this group. In fact, it’s 
probably the closest Windows-based 
alternative to a MacBook there is. 
Although it shares the same nominal 
screen size as the MacBook Pro, it’s 
almost a halfway house between the 


two Apple laptops in terms of both 
performance and size. 

We have to applaud Dell’s 
attention to detail in the design of 
the XPS 13. Its aluminium casing is 
virtually indistinguishable from the 
MacBook’s, giving this dinky laptop 
a reassuringly solid feel. Look more 
closely and thoughtful design touches 
can be found all over. On the left-hand 
flank there’s a discreet five-LED 
battery indicator, allowing you to 
press a button and check how much 
juice remains without firing up 
the laptop. This is handy, since 
both of the Dell’s USB 3 ports support 
PowerShare, allowing you to charge a 
smartphone or other USB device even 
when in standby. The power cord 
also has an LED indicator, providing 
instant reassurance that it’s plugged 
in properly, and the Dell uses one of 
the dinkiest power bricks we’ve ever 
seen - it’s roughly the size of a deck of 


ABOVE The XPS 13 
takes design cues 
from the MacBook 



cards. The only thing we don’t like 
about the exterior is a daft little flap 
on the underside, which hides the 
serial number and safety information. 
We snagged it on our trousers when 
using the XPS on our lap, and we can 
see it snapping off down the line. 

Elip open the laptop and the design 
excellence continues inside. The 
palm rest is made from an attractive 
chequered carbon-fibre material 
that’s pleasingly smooth to the touch. 
The trackpad is a decent size and super 
smooth in operation - the closest any 
of the Windows touchpads come to 
matching Apple’s. And although the 
keyboard is a tad rattly for our liking, 
it’s by no means a weak spot. 

Then we come to the XPS 13’s 
most divisive feature: its screen. 

With its ultra-thin bezel and matte 
finish, the display has an almost 
paper-like quality to it. It’s offered 
in both Pull HD, as reviewed here. 


86 



Q@pcpro 




Labs Laptops 



Ooell ’s aluminium casing is 
understated but elegant - and tough 


O&O At the sides, a “sandwich” 
design exposes all the important ports 



and in a Quad HD+ 3,200 x 1,800 
model. Even at the lov\^er resolution 
it looks stunning. 

Sadly, it’s let down by two 
huge flaws. When we reviewed the 
ultra-high-resolution model earlier 
this year, the experienee was marred 
by visible baeklight bleed, and that’s 
also apparent on this Full HD model, 
partieularly in the bottom-left eorner. 
Worse, Dell has deployed a dynamie- 
eontrast system that boosts the 
sereen’s brightness when there’s light 
eontent onsereen, and dials it baek 
when the sereen is dark. It’s highly 
notieeable when you fliek from a 
dark Windows Start sereen to a 
Word doeument, as the display 
takes a seeond or two to adjust to 
peak brightness. Sinee you ean’t 
switeh off this feature, the XPS 13 is 
useless for anything eolour-eritieal, 
as you simply have no eontrol over 
the display. Now that the XPS 13 has 


been on sale for a few months, we’d 
hoped Dell would have offered a 
workaround, but no joy. 

The XPS 13 doesn’t disappoint 
when it eomes to performanee, 
however. Even though our review 
model is the seeond-lowest spee 
that Dell offers, its 2.2GHz Intel Core 
i5-520oU and 8GB of RAM powered 
it to an overall benehmark seore of 
39, making it almost twiee as fast as 
the i2in MaeBook and a third faster 
than the Surfaee Pro. It still trails the 
MaeBook Pro by a signifieant margin, 
but everything on this little laptop 
feels suitably snappy. The XPS 13 
ehewed through demanding Windows 
Store games sueh as Asphalt 8, and 
although the fans do kiek in after a 
eouple of minutes of 3D aetion, they 
never reaeh irritating noise levels. 

If that fan noise does beeome a 
distraetion, you’ll be able to drown 
it out with the surprisingly powerful 


“With its ultra-thin 
bezel and matte finish, 
the display has an 
almost paper-like 
quality to it” 


speakers, whieh don’t distort even 
with the volume eranked all the way 
to 100 (although musie laeks almost 
any traee of bass) . Battery life is 
exeeptional, too: the XPS 13 lasted 
lohrs 23mins in our video-rundown 
test, whieh is 43 minutes longer than 
the MaeBook Pro. 

Overall, the XPS 13 is one 
of the most alluring Windows 
ultraportables we’ve ever 
seen. It’s a real shame that 
Dell’s baffling deeision to 
impose dynamie eontrast 
rules it out as an option for 
photographers, or anyone 
who needs fine eontrol over eolours. 
All the same, it’s unlikely to ruin 
the laptop for most. Only the 
marginally more expensive 
MaeBook Pro stops the Dell XPS 13 
running away with this month’s 
Labs Winner award, and that’s by 
no means damning with faint praise. 




87 






Apple MacBook 

A hugely desirable design - 
but too many shortcomings 
mean this isn’t the best 
option even for Apple fans 


PRICE £874 (£1,049 inc VAT) from apple. 
com/uk(pcpro.link/251macbook) 


A pple ditched the suffixes when 
it launched the lain MacBook 
- but if you want to trace its 
pedigree, it’s a laptop that’s much 
closer to the Air than the Pro, in terms 
of both performance and panache. 

Without question, the MacBook 
is the laptop we’d want on a 
business trip, it’s light, at 0.92kg, 
and perfectly proportioned. Most 
compact laptops are tough to type on, 
but the MacBook’s backlit keyboard 
is a delight: well spaced, with just 
enough travel beneath the keys; our 
only gripe is the half-sized Enter key. 

The trackpad is great, too. It’s 
huge in comparison to the rest of 
the laptop, roughly the size of a 
compact smartphone, yet it responds 
to every glide of the finger with 
precision and doesn’t get in the way. 
It’s also pressure-sensitive, allowing 
you to push down firmly to register 
a Force-click - a third option beyond 
the conventional left- and right- 
clicks. Right now, that delivers little 


ABOVE Perfect for 
business trips, the 
MacBook is compact 
and lightweight 



more than Wikipedia definitions of 
words Force-clicked in Safari, but 
we can’t wait for other applications 
to exploit this option. 

The one regard in which the 
MacBook is more Pro than the Air is 
its screen. The 2,304 x 1,440 Retina 
display is astoundingly sharp, and 
both our eyes and measurements tell 
us it’s among the best here. Its colour 
temperature of 6,683K is only slightly 
away from perfection, and with 93% 
of the sRGB colour gamut covered, it’s 
plenty good enough for professional 
photo jobs. The black bezel running 
around the edge is conspicuous only 
next to the almost-edgeless Dell XPS. 

What’s much more noticeable 
is the MacBook’s lack of ports: 
everything has to be plugged into the 
same single USB Type-C connector 
that’s used to charge the laptop. 
Apple, of course, sees this as a design 



ABOVE Connectivity 
is limited to a single 
USB Type-C connector 


feature; we see it as a compromise 
too far. Without a hub or adapter to 
hand, you can’t pop as much as a 
memory card into the laptop, and 
adding one makes things more 
awkward - and expensive. Apple 
wants £65 for its USB-C Digital 
AV Multiport Adapter to drive 
an external screen, for example, 
although this also provides one 
additional standard USB socket. 

The MacBook lacks raw power too. 
While the i.iGHz Gore M processor 
and 8GB of memory keep OS X ticking 
over flawlessly, this isn’t a laptop 
that’s going to churn through a batch 
of raw images or scream through edits 
in Final Gut Pro. An overall score of 20 
in our new benchmarks confirms the 
MacBook as the worst performer on 
test by a distance, and you won’t be 
able to run demanding games at 
anywhere near native resolution - at 
least, not at acceptable frame rates. 

That lack of grunt does have its 
upsides. You’ll never hear a whirr or 
hum from the MacBook, because the 
chassis is entirely fanless, and even 
when you’re pushing the MacBook it 
doesn’t get unreasonably hot. It came 
joint bottom in our video-rundown 
battery test, lasting yhrs lomins, but 
this isn’t at all bad or surprising 
considering the limited size of 
chassis. It might just get you 
through a transatlantic flight. 

And that, ultimately, is what 
the MacBook is for: it’s the finest 
executive toy ever invented. Arguably, 
it’s even the most desirable laptop on 
test this month - but it’s also the most 
impractical. If you need a laptop for 
web browsing and punching words 
onto a screen, the MacBook is simply 
magnificent. For more demanding 
work, its award-winning sibling is 
by far the better option. 



LEFT Keys 
are well 
spaced and 
the touchpad 
responds 
with 

precision 


88 




Q@pcpro facebook.com/pcpro 


Labs Laptops 




AsusZenbookUX303LA 

A capable laptop at a 
tempting price, but small 
disappointments diminish 
the overall experience 


SCORE QQQQQI 


PRICE £583 (£699 inc VAT) from 
currys.co.uk(pcpro.link/251zenbook) 


T he Zenbook packs in one of the 
most powerful processors in 
this month’s test - yet it’s the 
cheapest of the lot. It comes with a 
2.4GHz Core i7-550oU, which Turbo 
Boosts to 3GHz, and 6GB of RAM, 
which helped it land a strong overall 
benchmark score of 45. That wasn’t 
quite enough to make it a winner in 
the performance stakes, however: 
while the Apple MacBook Pro is only 
kitted out with a Core is, its extra RAM 
and faster storage helped it outpace 
the Asus with a score of 56. 

That Core iy power doesn’t have 
an adverse effect on battery life, 
thankfully. The Asus looped happily 
through our 720P video for just seven 
minutes short of nine hours, leaving 
it trailing only the MacBook Pro 
and the diminutive Dell XPS 13. 

Graphics-wise, Asus relies 
on Intel’s integrated HD Graphics 
5500 GPU, so the Zenbook won’t 
get hardcore gamers’ adrenaline 
pumping. To get Crysis up to a 


ABOVE The Zenbook 
UX303LA lacks 
the premium look 
and feel of a truly 
high-end laptop 



ABOVE The Zenbook is 
well connected, with 
three USB 3 ports 


just-playable asfps frame rate, we 
had to drop the resolution to 1,440 x 
900 and keep the graphics quality to 
Medium. Casual gamers should find 
Intel’s integrated GPU powerful 
enough, though: the Zenbook strolled 
through Asphalt 8 from the Windows 
Store, with no tearing or stutter 
evident throughout gameplay. 

The real compromise here is 
the screen. Although the Zenbook’s 
i3.3in IPS panel is nominally around 
the same size as the display on the 
MacBook Pro, it offers a much lower 
Full HD resolution, which in turn 
means a much lower pixel density. 

That’s not to say it’s a poor 
display: a contrast ratio of 925:1 
gives images a decent amount of 
punch, colour accuracy is respectable, 
and there isn’t a hint of the backlight 
bleed that mars the Dell XPS 13. 

When you place the Asus next to 
the MacBook Pro, however, you 


can’t help but notice that photos don’t 
quite have the same depth of tone or 
fine detail. 

The Zenbook’s full metal shell 
doesn’t feel quite as solid we’d like 
- there’s certainly a little give in the 
lid - but it won’t be easily dented, 
either. The circular brushed-metal 
design on the lid gives the laptop the 
appearance of a vinyl LP, which 
isn’t unattractive. It’s not exactly 
upmarket, though; it doesn’t quite 
have that premium look and feel. 

The keyboard is well spaced and 
stays just the right side of rattly. An 
ambient light sensor automatically 
adjusts the keyboard’s backlight, and 
the LED indicator cut into the F2 key 
that tells you when Flight mode is 
engaged is a nice touch. We had to 
reinstall the trackpad drivers to get 
Asus’ Smart Gesture system to work 
properly, however, and even when 
working as it should, it’s nowhere 
near as smooth at two-fingered 
scrolling or gesture controls as the 
MacBooks or the Lenovo ThinkPad. 

The speakers are a disappointment, 
too. An etching beneath the keyboard 
suggests they’re powered by B&O, but 
the experience is more Olufsen than 
Bang, with the maximum volume 
level proving barely sufficient even 
in a quiet room. At least your chances 
of accidentally disturbing colleagues 
are kept to a minimum. 

Overall, we’re a smidgen short 
of smitten with the Zenbook. It has 
plenty of power, it doesn’t sacrifice 
battery life and it’s pleasant to use. 

But the little things - such as that 
iffy touchpad and lacklustre 
speakers - betray the budget. If 
you’re looking for a luxury laptop 
that you can be proud to own and use, 
we recommend you skip the Zenbook 
and spring for one that doesn’t cut 
corners with the design. 





89 






Lenovo ThinkPad 
XI Carbon 

Dripping with features 
that professionals will 
love, but the steep price 
is hard to justify 


PRICE £1, 608(£1, 929 inc VAT) from 
lenovo.com/uk(pcpro.link/251x1carbon) 


T he ThinkPad Carbon is this 
month’s most businesslike 
laptop, offering enterprise- 
grade features that even Apple’s 
“Pro” -branded laptop laeks. For 
one, it’s the only laptop here with an 
integrated 4G adapter, so you won’t 
be left scouting for a Wi-Fi hotspot or 
faffing with smartphone tethering. 

Then there’s the fingerprint 
reader, now tucked to the right of the 
keyboard rather than on the palm 
rest as on previous Carbons. Intel’s 
vPro technology lets IT departments 
remotely secure a stolen laptop, and 
unlike Apple’s highly nickable 
MacBook Pro, the Xi Carbon comes 
with a security lock slot, so you can 
bind it to your desk or a sales stand. 

With a top-end Core iy processor 
and 8GB of RAM to play with, we had 
high expectations of the Xi Carbon 
- but in our benchmarks it achieved 
only the same overall score as the 


ABOVE The full-metal 
shell means this 
Carbon won’t suffer 
the scuff marks of 
previous models 


ABOVE A security 
lock slot ensures the 
XI Carbon can be 
secured to a desk 


Asus Zenbook. Evidently thermal 
throttling holds back the processor 
during sustained periods of peak 
load - so save yourself £150 and don’t 
bother with the upgrade from the 
Core i7-550oU to the iy-sbooU. 

It was a shame that the ThinkPad’s 
battery ran dry almost two hours 
sooner than the MacBook Pro’s in our 
video-rundown test - but it was no 
surprise since its battery is soWh, 
compared to the MacBook’s y4.9Wh. 

The laptop has a reassuring 
solidity, yet, despite boasting a bigger 
screen than both the MacBook Pro 
and the Asus Zenbook, it’s at least 
loog lighter than both. The relatively 
lightweight power brick doesn’t add 
undue bulk. The rubberised lid of 
previous Carbons was easily scuffed, 
so we’re glad to see a full-metal shell 
on this third-generation model. 

There’s little to fault on the inside. 
The keyboard is well spaced, with 


plenty of cushioned travel under each 
of the keys and a lovely big Enter key. 
Slap bang between the G, H and B keys 
you’ll find the trademark Lenovo 
TrackPoint -but those who prefer the 
touchpad will find it flawless, with a 
delicate clunk to confirm that a click 
has been registered. While it’s not 
as sizeable as the MacBook Pro’s 
touchpad, there’s not a great deal in it. 

It’s also less of an issue, because 
this high-end variant of the Xi comes 
with a Quad HD touchscreen. It works 
perfectly - flicking through the Start 
screen or a web page is beautifully 
smooth - but the touchscreen coating 
visibly mars the display; as with 
previous Carbons, the screen looks 
like it’s been sprayed with a fine 
mist, almost as if you’re looking 
through a sheet of cling film. 

Colour is another issue. Photos 
don’t look bad in isolation, but they’re 
slightly duller than on either of the 
MacBooks. The maximum measured 
brightness of 304 cd/m^ is dim in 
comparison to Apple’s displays, 
and colour accuracy was wayward, 
with an average Delta E of 2.98. 

For all those reasons, the Xi 
Carbon wouldn’t be our choice 
for photography or video work. 

The big issue with the Xi Carbon 
is its staggering price. Features such 
as 4G, a fingerprint reader and a 
three-year on-site warranty are 
significant add-ons that shouldn’t be 
discounted, but when the MacBook 
Pro offers more power, a vastly better 
screen and longer battery life for 
around half the price, we can’t 
endorse spending this much on 
the ThinkPad. If you’re prepared 
to sacrifice power, screen resolution 
and the touchscreen, you can buy the 
entry-level ThinkPad for £1,200 - but 
in comparison to our Labs winner, 
that model looks even less alluring. 



LEFT The 

trademark 

Lenovo 

TrackPoint 

works 

flawlessly 


90 



Q@pcpro facebook.com/pcpro 


Labs Laptops 




Microsoft Surface Pro 3 

By far the best Surface yet, 
but it doesn’t quite cut it as 
the laptop replacement 
Microsoftwantsittobe 


SCORE QQQQOI 


PRICE £708 (£849 inc VAT) excluding 
Type Cover, from microsoftstore.com 
(pcpro.link/251sp3) 


M icrosoft touts the Surface 
Pro 3 as “the tablet that can 
replace your laptop”, but in 
terms of raw performance, it falls 
rather short. An overall benchmark 
score of 29 represents less than half 
the performance of the MacBook Pro, 
even though the two cost more or less 
the same - once you add the cost of the 
Touch Cover keyboard to the £849 
asking price. 

That price gets you a 1.9GHz Intel 
Core is from the Haswell generation, 
and only 4GB of RAM, which explains 
why the Surface struggled in our 
multitasking benchmark. You can 
step all the way up to a Core iy with 
8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, but that 
will set you back a handsome £1,549. 

The Surface Pro 3 is also light on 
ports: mini-DisplayPort is the only 
video output, and there’s only one 
USB 3 port to play with. Note that 
this has a maximum power output 
of 900mA, which wasn’t enough 


ABOVE The updated 
design results in a far 
better experience in 
desktop mode 



ABOVE With only a 
mini-DisplayPort and a 
single USB 3 port, the 
Surface Pro 3 suffers 
poor connectivity 


juice for one of our USB 3 hard 
disks. At least there’s a spare USB 
port on the charger for keeping a 
phone topped up. 

Despite its limitations, the Surface 
Pro 3 is usable as a day-to-day laptop. 
Previous versions of the Surface have 
always worked better in tablet mode, 
but Microsoft has now refined the 
design considerably, with a kickstand 
that can be set to virtually any 
practical angle, to suit a lap or a desk. 

The Type Cover - a £109 “option”, 
which we’d regard as mandatory - is 
also much improved. It doesn’t flex as 
much as previous models, which helps 
you work with the device on your lap, 
and the Touchpad is bigger than on 
previous models, too, although still 
tiny in comparison to that of the 
similarly sized MacBook. 

Thankfully, you don’t need to 
rely on the touchpad to scroll through 


pages and swipe through apps, 
because the Surface has a splendid 
i2in touchscreen. It’s not quite as 
high-resolution as the MacBook’s, 
but when the two devices are placed 
side by side, it’s impossible to spot a 
tangible difference in detail. Apple’s 
displays also give a slightly warmer 
image, although here we’re talking 
fine margins. The Surface Pro’s 
measured average Delta E of 1.77 and 
96.2% coverage of the sRGB colour 
gamut tell you there isn’t much wrong 
at all with this display - although the 
maximum brightness of 325cd/m^ is 
down on both previous Surface Pros 
and the Labs-winning MacBook Pro. 

In tablet mode, the Surface Pro 3 is 
heavier than the iPad Air, but at 8oog 
it doesn’t make your arms ache, and 
the supplied N-trig stylus delivers the 
most paper-like writing experience 
we’ve encountered on a tablet. 

For quick notes or sketches, it’s 
sensational. Microsoft’s still 
struggling to find a home for it, 
though: the stick-on fabric loop for 
the bottom of the Type Gover is 
easily knocked off in a bag. 

The screen, meanwhile, feels 
natural in portrait mode, thanks to its 
3:2 aspect ratio - a big improvement 
on the 16:9 of previous Surfaces. And 
the Surface Pro 3 is much kinder on 
the battery than its predecessors: set it 
down overnight and you won’t come 
back to find the charge half gone. That 
said, it lasted only 7hrs lomins in our 
video test, the joint worst score here. 

Overall, the Surface Pro 3 is a 
huge improvement on previous 
models, but it falls just short of 
Microsoft’s claim: as a laptop it has 
too many shortcomings for its price. 
All the same, if you’re searching for 
a lightweight hybrid, it’s one of the 
best we’ve seen. 





91 






M Labs Laptops 


Q@pcpro facebook.com/pcpro 


View from the Labs 


Advances in build quality and higher screen resolutions are welcome, 
but some upgrades offer little true benefit, warns Barry Collins 


T he first takeaway from this 
month’s Labs is that, these 
days, if you have £700 or more 
to spend on a laptop then you’re going 
to get a very deeent maehine indeed. 
There isn’t a single deviee here, even 
the eompromised Surfaee Pro 3, that 
we wouldn’t be very happy to tuek in 
a laptop bag. 

One thing that’s notably improved 
in reeent years is build quality. I 
remember spending upwards of 
£1,000 on a laptop four or five years 
ago, only to see port flaps snap off, 
the easing eraek and key tops start to 
rub off within a year of daily toil. We 
feel eonfident that none of the laptops 
in this test would suffer a similar fate. 

Unibody metal easing has 
beeome the norm for premium 
laptops, a weleome trend for whieh 
we elearly have Apple to thank. And 
it hasn’t eome at the expense of added 
weight: the aluminium shells on these 
laptops are as light as - if not lighter 
than - their plastie aneestors. They’ll 
withstand far more punishment too. 
We’ve seen a MaeBook Pro dropped 
off the side of a desk, and while it may 
have ended up with an unsightly dent, 
that’s far preferable to eraeked plastie 
exposing the eomponents inside. The 



Barry Collins is a 
former editor of 
PC Pro 




“There isn’t a single 
device featured in this 
test that we wouldn’t be 
very happy to tuck into a 
laptop bag” 


days of seeing expensive 
laptops patehed up with 
gaffer tape are eoming to 
an end. 

The other big advanee has 
been in sereen resolution. A 
lain deviee with a 2,304 x 
1,440 sereen would have 
been utterly unthinkable 
justa few years ago - not 
only beeause sereens 
were offering nowhere 
near aayppi, but beeause 
the integrated graphies 
proeessors wouldn’t have been able to 
eope with pushing around that many 
pixels. So here we have Intel to thank 
as mueh as the display manufaeturers. 

However, there’s a sense of 
diminishing returns with these 

ultra-high-resolution 
sereens. There’s no 
denying that the displays 
on the MaeBook and 
MaeBook Pro look 
phenomenal, espeeially 
for watehing 4K video. 

But one of the reasons 
the Dell XPS 13 offered twiee the 
performanee and three hours 
more battery life than the MaeBook 
is beeause our review model was 


ABOVE Although offering superb quality, will a 
Retina screen impact too heavily on battery life? 

limited to a Full HD sereen. Sure, it’s 
not as sharp, but it still offers bags 
of detail. We’d take the improved 
performanee and battery life over 
an expensive upgrade to the Quad 
HD version of the same laptop. 

Indeed, our parting shot is to 
be wary of paying for the upgrades 
on offer with all of these maehines, 
partieularly CPU bumps. As we saw 
with the ThinkPad, spending £150 on 
a slightly faster proeessor ean end up 
making no real-world differenee at 
all. Buy the spee that you need, not the 
one the manufaeturers want you to. • 


Test results 




1 Benchmarks 

Intel Core i5-4670K, 8GB RAM = 1 | 

1 Battery life -video playback 

hrs:mins | 



Microsoft 
Surface Pro 3 


Apple 

MaeBook 


Labs Winner 56 




Microsoft 
Surface Pro 3 


92 




















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The Networks 

Practical buying and strategic advice for IT managers and decision makers 


Business Focus 

The Business Question 

Cheatsheet 


Backup appliances that take the 

Is it time to outsource your 

Disaster recovery: preparing 


pain out of business continuity p96 

IT support? pio6 

for the worst p :08 



BUSINESS FOCUS 


Choose the right 
backup appliance 
for your business 


Backup is a crucial part of your IT infrastructure 
Dave Mitchell explains howto pick the solution 
appropriate for your needs 



B ackup protection for critical 
systems and data ought to 
be high on the agenda of any 
business, but SMBs in partieular 
are faeed with a daunting range of 
options. A purpose-built baekup 
appliance (PBBA) ean make the big 
deeisions a lot easier. Onee eonsidered 
the domain of well-heeled enterprises, 
there are now plenty of PBB As aimed 
at smaller organisations, with 
affordable priee tags to suit. 

At its foundation, a PBBA 
is a software baekup system 
that eomes preinstalled on a 
standalone hardware platform, 
offering everything you need 
for baekup and reeovery in 
one paekage. However, the 
vast majority of PBBAs now 
go way beyond this simple 
premise. As well as providing 
target serviees for data baekup 
on multiple elient systems, they 
often inelude sophistieated 
features sueh as eompression, 
deduplieation, eneryption 
and replieation. 

We’ve assembled six 
solutions from the big names 
in the baekup market. On the 
pages that follow, we put them 
through their paces in the lab. 


and eompare their features and 
eapabilities to help you make the 
right buying deeision. 

■ Keep it simple 

A key benefit of PBBAs is their ability 
to simplify backup operations. Having 
a eentralised system to handle all 
elients, with a single management 
eonsole, minimises support overheads 
and ean reduce operational eosts. 


BELOW Restoration 
using Arcserve’s 
UDP appliance is 
quick; the software 
lets you browse 
recovery points 


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Deployment is also swift, as a 
PBBA will normally provide a full 
set of elient agents for various OSes 
and platforms. For the easiest 
installation, look for those produets 
that automatieally push out the agent 
to eaeh system as it’s deelared to the 
PBBA. Manual agent installation 
takes slightly longer, although in our 
experienee it shouldn’t be a major 
projeet. Predefined baekup polieies 
also speed up the proeess: onee the 
agent has been loaded, it ean take a 
base set of instruetions from the PBBA 
and start proteetion immediately. 

You ean minimise the need for 
future maintenanee by ensuring you 
get a PBBA with the right storage 
capaeity and expansion options. Most 
vendors offer a ehoiee of eapaeities, 
with priees rising signifieantly as 
they get larger. Consider your eurrent 
baekup storage needs, then ealeulate 
how mueh extra you’ll need in a year 
or two. When you outgrow your 
eurrent PBBA - and you will - you’ll 
want to uplift to the next size without 
major disruption. 

This ealeulation isn’t always as 
easy as it sounds, sinee on-applianee 
compression and deduplieation are 
often faetored into the advertised 
capaeity of a PBBA. These teehnologies 


96 







Q@pcpro If} facebook.com/pcpro 


The Network Business Focus 


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can make big savings v\^ith common 
files and documents, but if you’re 
backing up large, unique files, such 
as multimedia projects or big medical 
images, you v\^on’t see anyv\^here 
near the claimed reduction ratios. 

■ Licence to backup 

Licensing can have a big impact on 
backup costs, especially for systems 
vv^here you pay for each system or 
client that needs to be secured. 
Fortunately, few SMB appliances 
use such a model. If you’re planning 
on backing up your workstations as 
well as your servers, check that your 
preferred option includes unlimited 
client licences in the price. 

Also consider which types of client 
you need to secure. It’s a given that 
Windows desktops will be on the list. 


but check that the appliance also 
supports Windows servers. If you 
have Mac users or Linux systems, 
make sure they’re invited as well. 

Don’t forget virtual clients, 
either. SMBs are increasingly taking 
advantage of virtualisation to cut 
costs and gain flexibility, so check 
that your PBBA can secure and restore 
virtual machines. All good PBBAs will 
integrate with VMware and Hyper-V 
environments; many offer agentless 
backup that’s aware of applications 
hosted on the VM. 

■ Application backup 

For this roundup, we wanted to see 
not only how good each product was 
at securing Windows workstations, 
but also how each handled Windows 
servers and the latest Microsoft 


ABOVE Unitrends’ 
handy colour wheel 
shows available 
recovery points 


“Backup appliances 
represent a significant 
investment. If a vendor 
won’t provide an evaluation 
unit, look elsewhere” 


business apps. To test this, we 
configured one system as a Windows 
Server 2012 R2 Active Directory 
domain controller running the 
Hyper-V role. We then created two 
VMs, loading Exchange 2013 on one 
and SQL Server 2014 on the other. 

None of the products on test had 
any problem backing up these systems 
and applications, but there were 
significant differences when it came 
to restoration. It was easy enough to 
reinstate entire SQL databases and 
Exchange data stores, but to restore 
individual mailboxes, or even emails, 
you need support for message-level 
backup. Restoration was much easier 
on some products than others, so it 
pays to investigate further. 

■ Replication and the cioud 

Although a PBBA can handle all your 
on-site backup needs, we strongly 
recommend that you keep secondary 
copies of your data securely stored 
off-site in case of disaster. There are 
various ways to achieve this, but 
some PBBAs allow you to attach 
external removable storage or a 
tape drive for data archiving. 

Online replication is a far more 
efficient solution, however, allowing 
the contents of the on-site appliance 
to be copied automatically to a 
secondary unit located elsewhere. If 
you don’t want to devote manpower 
to backing up your backups, look for 
an appliance that can automate this. 

The cloud is good too: here. 
Barracuda sets the standard, since 
its PBBAs offer a simple, one-click 
process that automatically replicates 
data from selected 
backup sets to cloud 
storage. Options from 
other vendors include 
support for third-party 
cloud providers such 
as Amazon S3. 




LEFT With Quorum, 
you can define backup 
frequency and the 
number of recovery 
points you want 


■ Try before you buy 

Backup appliances represent a 
significant capital investment, so it’s 
imperative that you choose the right 
one for the job at hand. We believe the 
facility to test an evaluation unit 
before buying is essential, since it 
allows you to try out the appliance’s 
features, see how easy it is to deploy 
in your business and make your final 
purchasing decision from a fully 
informed position. If a vendor can’t 
- or won’t - provide an evaluation 
unit, look elsewhere. 

By centralising, managing and 
fully automating the protection 
of your critical systems and data, 
a PBBA can make your life much 
easier. Not all have the same 
features and strengths, though, 
so read on to see which will help 
you sleep most soundly at night. □ 


97 





EXCLUSIVE 


ArcserveUDP 7200V 

Simple to deploy, with 
a large backupcapacity- 
a top choice for protecting 
physical and virtual systems 


SCORE OOOOO 


PRICE From £11,350 exc VAT 
from arcserve.com 


A reserve’s Unified Data 

Proteetion (UDP) software 
has impressed us before, and 
now you ean get it in a purpose-built 
applianee. The new 7000 Series runs 
Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard 
with UDP preinstalled and ready to 
protect all your physieal systems 
and virtual environments. 

The 7200V model on review has 
a large baekup eapaeity , with 5 . STB 
of available space; Areserve elaims 
that deduplieation and compression 
can push effective storage as high 
as 17TB. All models use an SSD for 
the deduplication hash tables, and 
they eome with UDP Advaneed, so 
Exchange granular backup comes 
as standard. 

The “V” in the model name refers 
to Areserve’s Virtual Standby feature, 
whieh uses reeovery points to create 
on-appliance VMs of protected nodes. 
The 7200V supports up to three VMs, 
whieh can be fired up automatieally 
if the source node fails. Another 
eentral feature is the recovery point 
server (RPS); this defines data stores 
on the applianee to where data is 
baeked up, and provides replieation 
and deduplication services. 

Setup was swift. First contaet 
is via a local monitor, mouse and 
keyboard, and we simply followed 
the quiek-start wizard. Within 15 
minutes we’d added the appliance 
to our domain, enabled AES-256 
eneryption for the data store and 
created our first proteetion plan. 

Systems to proteet were declared 
using Aetive Direetory diseovery, 
after whieh the applianee pushed 
the UDP agent to them. The agent, 
whieh took around ten minutes to 
install, provides baekup and 
bare-metal recovery 
serviees. It also 


areserve- unified data protection 



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an initial full backup, followed by 
regular incrementals. We chose to 
run these daily, but you can make 
them as frequent as every 15 minutes. 

Once the backup was started, the 
Areserve’ s powerful hardware made 
its presence felt: the 260GB on our 
domain controller was secured at 
an average of 79MB/sec. Subsequent 
incrementals took less than five 
minutes, and deduplication and 
compression managed to squeeze 
our dataset down to only 65GB of 
on-server storage. 

For our Hyper-V VMs, we created 
a separate plan using the agentless 
option, browsed the Hyper-V host 
and imported selected VMs. This 
only took a minute; we then applied a 
schedule to back them up every hour. 

When it comes to recovery, the 
options are extensive. To access them, 
we loaded the node’s agent interface 
from the UDP console; then, using its 
wizard, we browsed recovery points, 
selected drives and folders and 


ABOVE The UDP 
software provides 
a well-designed 
central console, and 
the appliance delivers 
fast backup 




.RECOMMENDED. 


“The powerful hardware 
made its presence felt: 
the 260GB on our domain 
controller was secured at 
an average of 79MB/sec” 




loaded the extra 
plugins for our 
Exchange 2013 
and SQL Server 
2014 systems. 

These systems were then 
assigned a backup plan, which 
defined a schedule and a number of 
recovery points to save. Our plan ran 



LEFT The setup 
process is swift: 
it took only 21 minutes 
to add the appliance 
to our domain 


decided where to restore them to. 

SQL databases can be restored using 
the same method, and we had no 
problems with Exchange granular 
Recovery. From the agent’s wizard, 
we simply had to select the Exchange 
restore option and choose our data 
store. From there, we could view 
all users and mailboxes and 
restore individual emails. 

The ability to make data stores 
accessible as network shares is a 
particularly useful feature. Once 
a user logs in, they can browse 
recovery points from Windows 
Explorer and restore data themselves 
using drag-and-drop. 

For the Virtual Standby function, 
the appliance runs the Hyper-V role. 

After adding our Windows 
SQL Server node, we could 
see from the Hyper-V 
Manager that a new VM 
had been automatically 
created; when we 
powered down the source 
node, UDP fired up the 
standby VM as soon as the 30-second 
heartbeat we had set timed out. 

The UDP 7200V has a high upfront 
cost, but it’s extremely easy to use, 
delivers a generous backup capacity 
for the price and offers an excellent 
range of data-protection features. 

SPECIFICATIONS 

SupermicrolU rackserver# 2.4GHzIntel 
Xeon E5-2620 v3* 32GB DDR4 RAM • LSISAS 
9271-8i PCI-E RAID • 4 X 2TB Seagate SAS 
hard disks in RAIDS array • 120GB Micron 
SSD • SAS iPass card for optional tape drive • 
2 X Gigabit Ethernet • 3yr hardware warranty 


98 









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The Network Business Focus ^ 


EXCLUSIVE 


Barracuda Backup 190 

It’s lean on storage capacity, 
butscores highly for its 
simple backup and cloud 
replication features 


SCORE OOOOO 


PRICE Appliance and Syr subscription, 
£1,797 exc VAT from barracuda.com 


S mall businesses seeking 
hassle-free local and cloud 
backup should take a close look 
at Barracuda’s Backup 190 appliance. 
This diminutive desktop box supports 
an impressive range of client systems, 
and the icing on the cake is one-click 
cloud replication. 

What you don’t get on this lov\^-end 
model, however, is much space. The 
Backup 190 has one 500GB SATA hard 
disk; once the OS has taken its bite, 
you’re left with only 250GB of usable 
space. That said. Barracuda’s variable 
block level deduplication can increase 
the capacity available significantly: 
during testing, we backed up 220GB 
of data and saw the Barracuda scrunch 
it down to 142GB . if you need to back 
up terabytes of data, however, you’ll 
need a more expensive model. 

Installing the Backup 190 is a 
breeze: setup took us less than half an 
hour. After a quick local session to set 
the appliance’s static IP address and 
DNS details, it was straight over to the 
Gloud Gontrol portal for all further 
management. Using the serial number 
and code provided in the box, we were 
able to add the appliance to our cloud 
account easily; then, we moved on to 
setting up backup schedules. 

Finishing the job required a little 
manual setup: an agent must be 


SKf» Jwwq 



downloaded from the portal and 
installed on all backup candidates. 

But this is an easy task, since all 
Windows systems use the same agent, 
which takes seconds to load. From the 
portal, we declared each client using 
its IP address or domain name, and 
could then browse file systems, audit 
system states and applications, choose 
what we wanted to secure, and assign 
backup schedules. 

When it comes to cloud backup, 
things don’t get any easier. Your local 
storage is automatically linked to a 
cloud account of the same capacity; 
if you tick the relevant box when 
declaring a system, cloud replication 
is handled transparently thereafter, 
with no further intervention required. 
If you want off-site replication too , 
Barracuda can do that. You can link 
the Backup 190 to a remote appliance 
from the portal, then tick another 
when adding your sources to have all 
selected data replicated to that system. 

In testing, the appliance didn’t 
complain about any of our backup 
choices. We had no problem declaring 
our Windows Servers, Hyper-V hosts 
and VMs, Windows workstations. 
Exchange 2013 data stores and SQL 
Server 2014 databases. Message-level 
backup for Exchange wasn’t tricky to 


II II II II 


Inn 


U| 


ABOVE The Backup 
190 can be managed 
remotely using 
Barracuda’s Cloud 
Control portal 




RECOMMENDED 


“Your local Storage is 
automatically linked to 
a cioud account; cioud 
repiication can be bandied 
transparently thereafter” 


LEFT Barracuda’s 
message-level backup 
support makes light 
work of restoring 
individual emails 
for Exchange users 


set up, either: we followed the clear 
instructions to create an Exchange 
service account and were happily 
backing up our user’s mailboxes 
ten minutes later. 

Backup performance wasn’t great: 
a full 39GB backup of our Windows 
AD server averaged only 22MB/sec. 
That’s not necessarily a big problem, 
though, as Barracuda employs an 
“incremental forever” system that 
runs one full backup followed by 
regular incrementals; we found these 
took only a few minutes to complete. 
Schedules can be set for specific times 
and days of the week and repeated as 
often as every 15 minutes. 

To restore our data, we selected 
folders and files from the portal and 
simply decided where to send them. 
Entire Exchange data stores and SQL 
databases can be restored, and you 

can browse mailboxes and 
reinstate individual 
messages. To restore files 
from cloud storage, you 
can select the Download 
option from the Restore 
page and specify where to 
copy them. This works for 
SQL and Exchange backups as well as 
regular files; we downloaded databases 
as Zip archives and individual email 
messages as EML files. 

With only 250GB of raw backup 
space, the Backup 190 is pricey, but 
you won’t find an easier way to 
implement local and cloud backup. 
Deployment is quick, and ongoing 
management is simplicity itself - it 
really is a complete data-protection 
solution in a box. 

SPECIFICATIONS 

Desktop chassis • 500GB SATA hard disk • 
4x USB 2# Gigabit Ethernet# Externai PSU# 
inciudes Syr Energize Updates and Instant 
Repiacennent subscriptions • 254 X 210 X 
59nnnn (WDH) • optionai cioud storage: 
200GB/yr,£385: uniinnited/3yr, £1,099 
(both exc VAT) 




99 






O The Network Business Focus 


Q@pcpro facebook.com/pcpro 


EXCLUSIVE 


DataFort Critical Care 

This managed backup 
service takes care of 
everything, giving you data 
security without the stress 


SCORE OOOOO 


PRICE From £300 exc VAT per server 
per mth from datafort.com 


I f you’re short on time, short on 
staff and laeking in teehnieal 
expertise, DataFort’s Critieal Care 
serviee may be just the thing your 
business needs. The eompany 
provides on-site and off-site 
proteetion, with disaster reeovery 
for key systems, and the real 
elineher is that DataFort looks 
after every aspeet of it for you. 

The Critieal Care prieing structure 
is based on the number of servers to be 
protected, rather than the amount of 
data being secured. This means you 
don’t have to worry about getting the 
right-sized appliance upfront, and 
you can keep to a predictable budget 
no matter how your data-storage 
needs grow. Prices start at £350 per 
month for the first server, and £300 
for each extra system. DataFort also 
offers a granular email recovery 
service for Microsoft Exchange, 
which costs an additional £50 per 
data store per month. 

As mentioned above, the basic 
price also includes disaster-recovery 
invocation. So if you can’t get into 
your office - perhaps due to a flood. 



a fire or the like - DataFort can fire up 
cloud-based VMs of your protected 
systems, so you can carry on working 
from another location using the 
supplied VPN router. In case of 
hardware failure, DataFort can also 
image a replacement server for you. 

Getting set up was as easy as 
picking up the phone to call DataFort, 
and then pointing to where we wanted 
the on-site appliance to be located 
when the technician arrived. DataFort 
provided a good-quality HP DL160 
Gen8 rack server and set it up to take 
image backups of our Windows Server 

2012 R2 domain controller. Exchange 

2013 and SQL Server 2014 systems 
every 15 minutes. 

Once full image backups 
had been taken, these were then 
automatically updated at the desired 
intervals using snapshots. There 
was nothing at all for us to configure 
ourselves; indeed, we had no access 
to the on-site appliance, which is 
managed and monitored remotely by 
DataFort. Backed-up data is replicated 
to servers at DataFort’s Tier 3 data 
centre, and the installation technician 
took away an encrypted copy of our 
data on removable media to seed 
the cloud vault. If data retention 
is an issue for your business, then 
DataFort’s off-site archives can also 
be used to meet Financial Gonduct 
Authority compliance guidelines. 


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ABOVE DataFort’s 
local backup appliance 
isatop HP ProLiant 
Gen8 rack server 




RECOMMENDED. 


“Failover was so seamless 
that when users loaded 
Outlook and 0 WA they 
were unaware they were 
using the local backup VM” 


LEFT After the 
simulated disaster, 
our Outlook users 
continued working 
as normal using the 
DataFort cloud 
backup servers 


After leaving our systems 
running for a few days, we ran 
through a variety of scenarios to 
see how DataFort responded. To 
test file recovery, we deleted a 
folder containing 300 files on the 
AD server, then phoned DataFort 
to request restoration. Our call was 
answered immediately, and the folder 
was restored from the latest local 
backup in less than four minutes. 

For our next test, we then deleted 
all emails from two users’ inboxes, 
then called up again and asked for 
them to be restored from the latest 
backup. After 30 minutes, the 
operation was complete and all 
emails had been recovered (to 
the obvious relief of our users) . 

Next, we instigated a simulated 
Exchange server crash: we powered 
off the VMware VM running this 
service and asked DataFort to instigate 
failover to the local appliance. This 
took 35 minutes, and was carried out 
so seamlessly that when users loaded 
Outlook and OWA they were entirely 
unaware they were using the backup 
local VM instead of the main server. 

Finally, we powered 
down the entire VMware 
host to simulate a 
complete loss of all 
services, and asked for 
full cloud invocation. 
DataFort called us back 
an hour later to confirm 
that all our systems were now running 
in the cloud. Once again, our users 
continued to use Outlook and OWA 
to access their mail as normal; using 
DataFort’s VPN router meant they 
didn’t need to change any application 
settings, and when we turned our own 
systems back on, DataFort brought 
everything up to date by applying all 
changes from the cloud servers. 

Time-poor businesses will love 
Gritical Gare, since it takes the entire 
data-protection load off their 
shoulders. We found the managed 
backup and recovery processes 
seamless, and basing costs on 
protected systems rather than 
capacity makes it very affordable too. 

SPECIFICATIONS 

HP ProLiant DL160Gen81U rackserver 
(local appliance) • hardware specification 
built to customer requirements • Includes 
9am-5pm recovery services • Optional 
Exchange granular recovery: £50 per data 
store per mth B 


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NetgearReadyDATA 
516 with ReadyRecover 

An expensive system that 
didn’t work smoothly for 
us -ifyou’re seeking peace 
of mind, look elsewhere 


SCORE OOOOO 


PRICE Diskless appliance, £1,053 exc VAT 
from netgear.com 


N etgear’s SMB backup and 
recovery solution pairs 
ReadyDATA appliances with 
StorageCraft’s ShadowProtect 5 
software to deliver image-based 
backups and fast block-level, 
incremental snapshots. While the 
ReadyDATA 516 on test offers six 
hot-swap SATA bays, there’s a catch: 
they accept only Netgear-signed 
drives, with 4TB models costing 
an exorbitant £600 each. With the 
appliance priced at more than £1,000, 
you’re looking at nigh on £3,500 for 
a 16TB unit. You also have to buy a 
ShadowProtect licence for each server 
workstation and virtual host, costing 
£649, £60 and £268 respectively. 

Netgear has done a reasonable 
job of integrating the hardware and 
software. To get started, we logged in 
to the appliance’s web interface and 
created a RAID5 array from the four 
iTB signed drives provided. From 
here, ShadowProtect takes over. Only 
one system requires the full product, 
which includes the management 
console and agent. For the rest, an 
agent must be manually installed and 
a reboot is required. The user guide 
fails to mention that the custom 
install option must be selected. 

For our Exchange 2013 and SQL 
Server 2014 systems, we chose the 
custom install and selected the agent, 
snapshot driver and mount service 
components. Using the backup 
wizard, we picked the drives 
to be secured and chose the 
predefined ReadyDATA 516 
option as the network location. 

After connecting, the console 
displayed our RAID volume, 
asked for login details and let 
us decide when snapshots 
should run, which can be as 
often as every 15 minutes. 

ShadowProtect created a 
dedicated network share on the 
appliance for each system and 
got on with the full first backup. 
Performance was good: the 
two drives on our AD server 
were secured at an average of 


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43MB /sec, with further incrementals 
taking less than four minutes. Next, we 
manually declared our other servers 
to the console using their domain 
names and administrative accounts. 
We used the same procedures to 
create backup strategies for each. 

The appliance’s web interface 
shows how much storage each client 
is using and whether their agents are 
connected. All recovery points on 
the appliance are made available as 
network shares, so you can browse 
within Windows Explorer using UNC 
paths. From a Windows 7 client, we 
selected a VHDX file, mounted it using 
the ShadowProtect Quick Mount 
menu option and restored data using 
drag and drop. The ReadyDATA’s own 
deduplication feature isn’t enabled 



ABOVE The console 
can access other 
systems running 
the ShadowProtect 
agent and manage 
their backups 


“Performance was good: 
the two drives on our 
Active Directory server 
were secured at an 
average of 43MB/sec” 


LEFT We hit problems 
when trying to access 
recovery points from 
our Windows Server 
2012 R2 systems 


on these shares, but compression is, 
so there are space savings to be made. 

We achieved the same results 
from the management console on 
this client - but we hit problems 
when trying to access the recovery 
points from our Windows Server 
2012 R2 systems. All attempts to 
mount the VHDX files failed with 
corruption errors; Netgear said 
the only solution was to repair the 
ShadowProtect installations on all 
clients, requiring further reboots. 

There are no options 
for the swift recovery 
of SQL databases, and 
the optional Granular 
Recovery for Exchange 
tool isn’t easy to use. It 
runs on any system other 
than the Exchange host, 
and opens ShadowProtect image files, 
allowing you to browse mailboxes and 
restore items using drag-and-drop. 

Netgear’s ReadyRecover didn’t 
impress us enough to justify its cost. 
Indifferent documentation hampered 
setup, and the errors we encountered 
made us wary of using it to protect 
data on critical systems. 

SPECIFICATIONS 

Desktop chassis • 3.3GHz Intel Core 
i3-3220 #1606 ECC DDR3 RAM • 6 x 
hot-swap 2.5/3.5in SATA drive bays • 
supports RAIDO, 1, 5, 6, 10, 50, 60, hot-spare, 
JBOD# 2xGigabit Ethernet# internal 200W 
PSU • web browser management • 192 x 
288 X 259mm (WDH) • 5yr RTB warranty 


102 




Q@pcpro If} facebook.com/pcpro 


The Network Business Focus ^ 


EXCLUSIVE 


Quorum onQ-T20 

SMBs worried about their 
server-protection strategy 
can rest easy with Quorum’s 
recovery-testing features 


SCORE OOOOO 


PRICE From £5,162 exc VAT 
fromquorum.net 


Q uorum’s onQ-T20 offers 

one-click backup operations 
for Windows servers, and 
also has a clever sideline in 
disaster recovery validation. Supplied 
as a Dell PowerEdge Tiio II tower 
server, the appliance regularly tests 
its own backups in the background 
to ensure you won’t be caught out 
if something goes wrong. 

Getting started with the onQ-Tao 
was almost effortless: the appliance 
integrated into our Windows test 
network in less than ten minutes, and 
our first backup was running five 
minutes later. Setting up clients is a 
simple case of opening the appliance’s 
web console on each system and 
clicking the Protect Me button 
to install the onQ agent. You’ll be 
asked how you’d like protection and 
recovery to be configured, and then 
the backup kicks off. 

With agents on our Windows 
Server 2012 R2 AD controller. 
Exchange 2013 and SQL Server 2014 
systems, our first complete backup 
took around two hours. Once it was 
finished, the appliance created a 
recovery node (RN) for each system - 
a complete VM kept permanently 
on standby for when it’s needed. 
Subsequent runs take only a few 

Qu .rum' 



minutes; the agent takes incremental 
snapshots and updates the RNs with 
deltas. Schedules can be assigned to 
each system, ranging from 15 -minute 
to 24-hour intervals. 

Internally, the appliance runs 
Citrix XenServer, but you can ignore 
this, since everything is managed 
from the web console. The dashboard 
provides a display showing activity 
and updates on the status of protected 
nodes and RNs, and you can choose 
how many snapshot versions to keep, 
along with the number of virtual 
CPUs and the amount of memory to 
be assigned to their RNs. This is also 
where you can set the timetable for 
recovery tests: at scheduled intervals. 


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ABOVE Quorum’s 
recovery nodes can be 
fired up either in the 
production network 
or a private one 


“The only disappointment 
is the onQ Monitor utility: 
it provides iimited activity 
information, but it’s devoid 
of usef ui reporting toois” 


LEFT Quorum creates 
recovery nodes for 
your servers and 
tests them regularly 
to make sure they’ll 
load up 


the Quorum checks that each 
RN is readable and will boot 
up. If it fails, an email alert is 
automatically fired off. You 
can also run manual tests 
where the RN is loaded in a 
private network. 

The only disappointment 
is the onQ Monitor utility: it 
provides limited information 
about activity, along with basic 
pie charts showing backup and 
recovery status, but it’s devoid 
of any useful reporting tools. 

We tested Quorum by closing 
down our Exchange 2013 system 
and opening its RN in the 
production network, accessible 
via the system’s connection 
status icon in the dashboard. 

In around five minutes, the RN 
had loaded and presented us 
with a perfect duplicate of our 
production server. Erom our 
user’s perspective, this might as 
well have been the real deal, as their 
profiles continued to work perfectly 
in both OWA and Outlook 2013. Eor 
simple file and folder recovery, we 
browsed the contents of the RN 
snapshots from the onQ console’s 
Restore tab and copied them back 
to selected destinations. 

Eull system recovery is a 
lengthier process. When we 
brought our original Exchange server 
back online, we had to boot it from the 
Windows PE-based Quark (Quorum 
Ultimate Automated Recovery Kit) 

ISO, which we downloaded from the 
appliance, in order to synchronise 
all the changes made while the 
Exchange 2013 RN 
was in use. After 
connecting the Quark 
recovery environment 
to the onQ appliance, 
it took around an 
hour for all the latest 
changes to be applied 
to our Exchange 2013 server. 

The onQ-T20 can store up to 
1.25TB of data and comes with an 
unlimited server licence, but Quorum 
recommends it for no more than two 
recovery nodes: after all, these VMs 
require a certain amount of CPU 
power and RAM, and also need as 
much disk space as the original 
production system. Even so, the 
one-click backup and automated 
recovery testing make this a great 
choice for situations where failure 
is not an option. 

SPECIFICATIONS 

Dell PowerEdgeTIIOIItowerserver* 

3.4GHzIntel Core 13-3240# 16GB1, 600MHz 
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3yr on-site N BD warranty B 


103 




O The Network Business Focus 


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Agent deployment could 
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T he Unitrends Recovery series 
of appliances promise backup 
and recovery with no hidden 
costs. They’ll protect all your servers, 
clients, OSes and apps out of the box, 
so the only calculation to be made is 
how much data you need to protect, 
and whether you need redundancy 
- and hence which model to choose. 




The entry-level Recovery-201 is a 
compact desktop unit that comes with 
the Unitrends software preinstalled. 
All key features are enabled, and it 
supports Windows, Unix, Linux and 
OS X; applications such as Exchange, 
SQL Server and SharePoint; plus 
Hyper-V and VMware environments. 

Storage in this model is handled 
by a single iTB SATA hard disk; if you 
want local redundancy, consider the 
larger models which have mirrored 
or RAID5 arrays. The Recovery-201 
provides up to 600GB of usable 
backup space, which is stretched as 
far as possible by inline compression 
and block-level deduplication. 

The appliance also offers one 
USB 3 and four USB 2 connectors, 
which can be used to archive data 
off the appliance. iSCSI LUNs and 
NAS shares are also supported, and 
the Unitrends CloudHook feature 
supports Amazon S3, Google and 
Backspace for cloud archiving. 

Setup took ten minutes, but 
agent deployment was a lengthier 
process. Due to security changes 
made by Microsoft, the agent-push 
function doesn’t support Windows 
Server 2012 R2 or 8.1 systems, so 
had to install the agent 
manually on these systems, 
then add the clients from 
the console with the “Establish 
Trust” box unchecked. The 
appliance was also aware of 
Hyper-V and Exchange 2013 
and, with the latest updates 
installed, SQL Server 2014. 

The default “incremental 
forever” backup method runs 
one master backup when a system is 
first connected, then follows it with 


regular incrementals as often as every 
15 minutes. However, if you wish, you 
can configure custom settings using 
master, incremental, differential, 
selective and “bare-metal” backups, 
which can be further customised 
with inclusion and exclusion lists. 

With automatic settings, our 
Exchange 2013 and SQL Server 2014 
databases were secured without any 
problems. Backups of our Hyper-V 
VMs could also be scheduled, and 
these occurred regardless of whether 
the VMs themselves were running or 
shut down. 

Performance proved variable: 
a Windows 8.1 Hyper-V VM Master 
backup averaged ayMB/sec, but 
Exchange database backup was much 
slower, at lyMB/sec. A 70GB Master 
system backup of our Windows Server 
2012 R2 AD controller took almost two 
hours, but was squashed down to only 
40GB, and subsequent incrementals 
completed in less than five minutes. 


ABOVE You won’t 
find a larger choice 
of client agents 
than those offered 
by Unitrends 


“Backups of our Hyper-V 
VMs occurred regardless 
ofwhethertheVMs 
themselves were running 
or shut down” 


BELOW The appliance 
comes with every 
agent imaginable, 
as well as excellent 
scheduling features 


Recovering files and folders is 
quick and easy: from the console, we 
chose a machine, picked a recovery 
point and watched as a 1.2GB folder 
was restored to a Windows server 
in only 65 seconds. Our Exchange 
database was just as easy to reinstate, 
but message-level restoration 

requires additional tools, 
such as Kroll Ontrack. 

The Unitrends Instant 
Recovery feature can also 
create a VM from a system 
backup and host it on the 
appliance, but the low- 
end Recovery-201 lacks 
the power to do so. What you can do, 
however, is build a VM from a backup 
and run it on a Hyper-V host system. 

Users can also be permitted to 
run their own backup and restore 
jobs, but the local agent interface 
has been deprecated and no longer 
works. Therefore, we had to go into 
the appliance’s own interface to 
configure users, grant them access 
privileges and allow them to use 
the web console on their machine. 

Hiccups such as this reflect 
the fact that the Recovery series 
is going through a transitory 
upgrade phase, but none of 
them are insurmountable. The 
Recovery-201 is still a decent choice 
for small businesses that want total 
protection at a rock-bottom price. • 


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Desktop chassis • 2.41GHz Intel Celeron 
J1800 #806 DDRS RAM • 1TB Seagate 
Constellation SATA hard disk# USB 3# 
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104 






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THE BUSINESS QUESnON 


Should you outsource 
your IT support? 

Do you still need to keep your IT support station the payroll? 
Darien Graham-Smith explores the benefits of outsourcing 


I T support underpins almost every 
business. If your eomputers don’t 
vv^ork, your employees ean’t vv^ork. 
But rather than investing in full-time 
support staff, many eompanies have 
turned to independent eonsultaneies 
to keep their systems running 
smoothly. Is it time your business 
followed suit? Or is putting your 
operations in the hands of a third 
party asking for trouble? 

■ The benefits of outsourcing 

The ehief attraetion of outsoureing is 
obvious: it saves money. “Outsoureing 
your IT support, with the right 
provider, is a great way of maintaining 
your systems without the eost of 
employing full-time IT staff,” pointed 
out Piers Davies-Smith, lead engineer 
at One IT Support in Tynemouth 
(oneits.co.uk). That applies espeeially 
to smaller organisations: “We support 


some elients as small as two users,” 
he revealed. “Our eontraets are 
mueh eheaper for them than hiring 
qualified staff. The same rings true 
of medium-sized businesses with 
10-20 employees.” 

Then there’s the question of 
experienee. If a small business wants 
to take on staff, it’s unlikely to be able 
to afford a highly qualified systems 
administrator. “If you have a elient 
database that your eompany needs 
to funetion every day, do you want 
someone with minimal experienee 
maintaining it?” asked Davies-Smith. 

And then we eome to availability. 
“Your IT guy is a single resouree, 
and ean realistieally perform only 
one task at a time,” said Jamie Wilson, 
teehnieal direetor at Novateeh in 
Portsmouth (worryfreecomputing. 
com). “Dedicated staff will have 
holidays, sick days and so forth. 


“If a small business 
wants to take on staff, 
it’s unlikely to be able to 
afford a highly qualified 
systems administrator” 


An off-site service provider will 
have a pool of resources available to 
respond to problems, and escalation 
procedures for urgent issues.” 

■ One size doesn’t fit all 

Outsourcing isn’t suitable for every 
business. As a rule, it makes the most 
sense for small organisations. 
“Companies much larger than 30 
employees often debate the pros and 
cons of external support,” said 
Davies-Smith. “At this size they 
typically could afford to employ a 
reasonably qualified engineer to 
maintain their network.” 

Former support agent Peter Snow 
agrees that the calculation changes as 
an organisation grows. “Larger 
companies are better off having their 
IT in-house. It’s more controllable in 
terms of management, and it’s a lot 
better for the experience of the user 
when you’re dealing with someone 
who’s based in the building and really 
knows about your systems.” 

For a mid-sized company, a 
combination of in-house and external 
expertise maybe ideal. “Some firms 
prefer to have someone on the ground 
to assist users with minor issues, but 
opt to outsource network and server 
maintenance,” said Davies-Smith. 
“Many IT support providers offer this 
service as an option, allowing their 
clients to keep the critical stuff under 
heavily trained supervision minus the 
associated costs of desktop support.” 

■ Caveats and cautions 

If you’re considering outsourcing, 
there are risks that you should be 
aware of. For a start, it’s vital to make 
sure your chosen service can cover 
your needs. “Any managed service 
agreement should be structured 
around predefined service levels, 
including response and resolution 
times,” explained Novatech’s 
Wilson. Unfortunately, things can fall 
through the cracks: “Some IT support 
providers don’t have adequate staffing 
or training,” warned Davies-Smith. 

And what happens if you enter a 
contract that doesn’t fully match your 
needs? “One of the support providers 
we’ve had to work with has no 
service-level agreement (SLA) with 
the client in relation to speed, and 
takes days to respond,” Davies-Smith 
told us. In a case like that, you may be 
out of luck: “IT companies only want 
to work to their SLAs,” noted Snow. 

“If a job falls outside of their remit, 
they don’t want to know. ” 

One specific issue 
Snow warns against 
is relying on remote 
support. “If a support 
company wants to do 
everything remotely, I 
start to worry. The way 


106 


Q@pcpro Hfacebook.com/pcpro The Network The Business Question ^ 


they look at it, if they have someone 
sat at a desk then that person ean be 
looking after ten eompanies at onee. 
But ^vhat’s the eost to your business? 

If your workforee isn’t getting 
responsive IT support, then they’re 
not happy and they’re not produetive. 
It just drags your vv^hole team do^vn. ” 

Lines of aeeountability ean also 
blur when a eontraetor has aeeess to 
business-eritieal operations. “If an 
engineer is on site when something 
goes wrong - but they have aeted 
eorreetly, and the failure is out of their 
eontrol - then no liability is generally 
ineurred,” said Davis-Smith.“Read 
the small print to find out where 
liability begins and ends.” 

When it eomes to data seeurity, 
a good support provider should give 
you options. “Most eompanies proteet 
their data by way of a non-diselosure 
agreement, signed by the eontraetor,” 
said Davies-Smith. “We’ve done just 
this with a solieitor, whom we offer 
fully outsoureed IT support.” 

Novateeh adopts a more formal 
approaeh: “We ensure that all 
helpdesk staff go through an 
enhaneed DBS [diselosure and barring 
serviee] eheek,” Wilson told us. “We 
then ensure that the elient’s data is 
struetured eorreetly, with appropriate 
permissions to ensure that we don’t 
have aeeess to things we shouldn’t 
see. In this way, we ean make sure 
that key tasks (sueh as baekups and 
antivirus seans) are performing as 
they should, while ensuring that the 
eustomer’s data remains seeure.” 

■ What to look out for 

The key message is that moving 
to outsoureed IT support isn’t 
something to be done lightly. The 
first priority should be to ensure that 
your ineoming serviee understands 
and ean provide the serviee required. 



Wilson noted: “Before taking on a 
eustomer, a managed serviee provider 
should perform a full audit of the 
infrastrueture and equipment 
they’ll be supporting, as well as 
visiting sites to meet people to 
talk about the IT issues they’re 
eurrently faeing.” 

Onee the terms are agreed, “the 
best option is definitely a transition 
period”, reeommended Davies-Smith. 
“Make sure it’s written into your 
eontraet that your support eompany 
will spend time on site working with 
your existing IT resourees to get to 
grips with your network. ” 

The harder part is ehoosing a 
firm to work with in the first plaee. “In 
our line of work we hear many horror 
stories, as well as ones of praise, ” said 
Davies-Smith. “It’s about finding the 
right provider - whieh often doesn’t 
mean the eheapest . ” 

As someone who’s worked on 
both sides of the business, Peter 
Snow agrees wholeheartedly: “I 
used to work at a eonsultaney ealled 
KTS Computers, based in St Ives, and 
we would frequently visit eustomers 
whose previous IT provider 
had left them in the lureh, or 
turned around and said ‘do it 
our way, or we’re not doing 
anything for you’ . We had 
to go in and say ‘not all 
eompanies are like that!’ 

“One issue ean be the 
eapaeity of the outsoureing 
ageney. I did some work at 
a eompany based in Ely, 
whieh had been using a small 
firm for its IT needs. The firm 
had aetually done a great job 
- but as the elient grew to 20 
or 30 users, the eompany 
eouldn’t keep up,” Snow said. 

“At the other end of the 
seale, there are support 


“Make sure it’s written into 
your contract that your 
support company wiii spend 
time on site working with 
your existing IT resources” 


BELOW Check the 
small print, and make 
sure you understand 
who’s accountable 
in the case of a 
system failure 


eompanies that are too 
big and eorporate. If their 
representative eomes in 
with glossy broehures, I 
suggest you show them 
the door right away - 
that’s a salesman, not 
an engineer. I don’t want to hear 
‘we ean support x eomputers for x 
pounds a day’ - 1 want someone 
who will ask me what we need, and 
invest in my business as mueh as I’m 
investing in them.” 

“The final thing I’d say is to keep it 
loeal. A loeal firm will know the loeal 
infrastrueture: they’ll know the best 
serviee providers, and where to souree 
equipment at very short notiee. 

“Plus, there’s the time issue. At 
KTS we’d regularly say ‘sorry, we 
ean’t support you’ to eustomers 
more than an hour’s drive away. 
Teehnieally, we eould have supported 
them, but when a elient’s server 
has gone down and they have a 
presentation in 30 minutes, we don’t 
want to be saying ‘sorry, it’s not going 
to happen’ , just beeause we ean’t get 
there in time.”# 



The expert view Steve Cassidy 


f As a consultant, I should really 
be in favour of outsourcing. In 
reality, nothing could be further 
from the truth. Most of my work is 
with board members, and what might seem 
clear-cut to a manager tasked with saving money 
rarely looks so plain and simple at board level. 

It’s certainly true that there are successful 
outsourcing companies, and happy outsourcing 
clients. But there are also departments, crucial 
to their respective businesses, that are far from 
happy to seethe arrival of outsourced support. 
Sometimes the contract involves the in-house IT 
staff actually being taken on by the outsourcer - 
popular among larger companies because it 
promises continuity while getting them out of a 
pension commitment. But things don’t always work 


out so well in practice: I know of one business that 
transferred its IT staff to an outsourced provider, 
which then treated them so badly that a number 
of vital people simply resigned. 

So when you’re thinking about whether 
your business fits the outsourcing model, it’s 
absolutely vital to clearly appraise the role of your 
IT resources - not just how many Excel licences 
you have, but what your people actually do, for and 
inside your business. I realise I’m implying that 
many businesses undervalue their in-house IT staff: 
the reality is that this is frequently the starting point 
for a courtship ritual with an outsourcer. 

Once you’ve made that appraisal, you may 
conclude that outsourcing is indeed right for you. If 
you’re absolutely reliant on one person who has an 
overview of all your systems, then maybe winkling 


them out is good for all concerned: you get lower 
dependency, and they get a career-advancement 
path. Yes, I realise that involves being fired, and 
nobody welcomes that. But if you’re that useful to 
one company, you can be that useful to others too. 

The posh term for this overall problem is 
intellectual property. Companies value their 
trademarks, their designs, their media and so forth, 
but they almost never put the same value on their 
procedures, their custom systems, or the expertise 
of their staff. Outsourcing throws a stark light on 
this gap in valuation. My advice, every time, is that 
low-expertise roles are ripe for outsourcing, but 
high-expertise ones aren’t. Which type of roles 
you’re dealing with is something you’ll have to 
figure out: an outsourcing company representative 
certainly isn’t the best person to tell you. 


107 



^ The Network Cheat Sheet 


Q@pcpro facebook.com/pcpro 


Disaster recovery 


parts in floppy drives and CD-ROM drives, 
but entirely overlook the potential dangers 
of a glass touchscreen. Evidently, the nature 
of the last recorded disaster is no guide to the 
source of the next. 


Is your business ready for the worst? 
Steve Cassidy explains howto minimise 
the damage when things go wrong 



■ Our business isn’t based in an earthquake zone. Do we really 
need to worry about disasters? 

Of course, it’s unlikely that you’ll be struck by an earthquake, 
flood or terrorist attack. But, from a business perspective, a 
disaster doesn’t have to be a major physical incident: it could be 
any unexpected change that interrupts your ability to operate. 

This means you can’t stay safe by focusing on only a narrov\^, 
^veil-understood category of disturbances. You must plan for 
the unexpected. 

■ We already have backups and UPS, so surely we’re covered? 

Back in the days ^vhen a company’s IT department was responsible 
for a few hundred megabytes of files and the odd database or two, 
these measures might have been considered sufficient. Today, 
the technology resources we rely on are much more varied than 
anything a simple tape archive can protect. This includes the 
disaster-recovery system itself: one of my most confident clients 
was very proud of the UPS they’d bought for their “definitive 
email archive” PC; unfortunately, the unit was positioned 
beneath a window, which had been left open on a hot day 
when a thunderstorm hit. Do I need to draw a picture? 


■ Why is our disaster-recovery consultant 
telling us to write down our passwords? 

Isn’t this supposedly a bad idea? 

Yes - if a malicious intruder were to get hold 
of your passwords, it could be a disastrous. 

But if your business relies on a password 
that’s known only to one person, you’re 
setting yourself up for trouble when that 
person leaves the company or can’t be reached. 
In the past, when businesses relied largely 
on local servers, databases and so forth, the 
administrator could always reset a password 
if need be, but things aren’t so simple with 
external services. Ideally, you’d ensure 
you weren’t reliant on a system that ties 
security to a specific individual. Of course, 
this isn’t strictly a disaster-recovery plan, 
but rather a business-continuity 
strategy, since it’s based on avoiding 
problems in the first place. 


“Disaster recovery can’t 
ever be a finished project, 
nor is it something that 
can be entirely placed 
in one person’s hands” 


■ So, what should we be doing? 

Someone in your organisation needs to wear 
the disaster-recovery hat. It need not be 
someone senior, nor someone techie, although 
either or both can help. Don’t assume that the 
most organised person is the best candidate: 
someone who’s accustomed to order may not 
respond well to unexpected events. 

Whomever you appoint, don’t expect them 
to keep you perfectly safe. Disaster recovery 
can’t ever be a finished project, 
but almost any plan is better than 
nothing. Nor is disaster recovery 
something that can be entirely 
placed in one person’s hands: 
make sure that people who might 
have to make decisions or adapt 
their procedures in a disaster 
know what’s expected of them. 

Consider a close-to-home example: when 
the EyjafjallajdkuII volcano erupted in Iceland 
in 2010, leaving PC Pro’s editor stranded in 
Japan for a week, the office-based staff had 
no specific contingency plan for what to do. 
But clear lines of responsibility allowed the 
team to adapt and keep the production 
schedule on track. W 


■ Should we protect ourselves by moving everything into 
the cloud? 

Moving data and services into the cloud can protect you from 
certain types of disaster, but it brings new risks, too. You need to 
maintain access to your online resources, and be sure that your 
cloud provider can provide the performance and availability you 
need. Recently, for example, data centres in Texas have seen outages 
caused by storms and flooding. Quite a lot of nominally cloud-based 
businesses now use local servers as backup environments, which 
is the opposite of the way things used to be. 

■ Our suppliers say they’re fully ISO -certified, so at least we don’t 
have to worry about them - right? 

An ISO certificate certainly isn’t a bad thing, but the process of 
getting one is inevitably backward-looking. We have educational 
suppliers shipping iPads whose safety tests focus on the moving 


The jargon 


Gap analysis A retrospective 
study of recovery procedures, 
carried out after a real or simulated 
disaster. What went wrong, why 
did it go wrong and what lessons 
can be learned? 

RPO Recovery point objective: 
the last known good state of the 
system being recovered. The point 
you need to get your business back 
to in order to effect a recovery. 


RTO Recovery time objective: how 
long it should take your business 
to get up and running again after 
a disaster. Taken with RPO, this 
gives an overall picture of the 
business impact of a disaster. 

Secondary site A location 
hosting unused duplicates of 
critical systems, ready to be 
switched to should the main 
site be out of action. 


108 




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computing 


EXPERT ADVICE FROM OUR PANEL OF PROFESSIONALS 


JONHONEYBALL 

“I'm going to stick my neck out and 
suggest that moving onto Windows 10 
sooner rather than later will payoff’ 

Windows 10 is a much cleaner, more coherent OS than Windows 8 or 8.1; 
even business users should be getting ready to make the leap 


T he rush to get Windows lo 
ready for release continues 
apace. It’s only a few weeks 
until the planned escape of the 
product, and there’s still much to be 
done - in fact, there’s too much being 
changed in these last moments to 
make me feel entirely comfortable. 
However, launching anything of this 
size is always going to be a massive 
undertaking, and it’s easy to forget 
just how complex a process it is. Am 
I still confident about Windows lo? 
Yes, but I’ll confess still somewhat 
guardedly. It’s definitely so much 
better than Windows 8/8. i that 
any comparison feels unfair; I can’t 
wait to move all of my desktop test 
computers in the lab onto Windows lo 
and be able to put the nightmare of 
8/8.1 behind me. I hated the bizarre 
thinking behind Windows 8 from 
the start, and 8.i helped only 
partially. Windows lo is like 
a welcome breath of fresh air. 

However, I’m concerned by the 
number of businesses still content 
with Windows 7 64-bit (not that 
there’s much wrong with that; it 
works very well, in the same way 


that XP worked so well in the business 
environment for so long). Getting 
businesses to make the transition 
to Windows 10 will be critical for 
Microsoft, since the company needs 
to reduce the spread of versions of its 
platform out in the wild. Another area 
that’s giving me concern is the speed 
of both upgrading and updating. 

I’m finding that these Fast-ring 
interim builds are taking a long time 
to install, and continue to be plagued 
by those old Microsoft bugbears - fuel 
gauges of task completion that linger 
around like limp corpses but suddenly 
leap into life, or that crawl to some 
arbitrary amount and then hop 
straight to 100%. 

As part of my self-cleansing 
from Windows 8.1 , 1 upgraded a 
stock Toshiba Ultrabook that I bought 
about a year ago - a moderately nice, 
thin device that I haul around in my 
travel rucksack whenever I need to 
take a Windows laptop alongside 
my usual MacBook Pro. It’s never 
been particularly great at running 
Windows 8.1, always feeling just 
a little bit underpowered; a seven- 
stone weakling, to misquote Charles 



Jon is the MD of 
an IT consultancy 
that specialises 
in testing and 
deploying hardware 
0@jonhoneyball 



Atlas. Upgrading it to the current 
10 build took a while - enough 
time to watch a full-length feature 
film - and the subsequent upgrade 
to the latest Fast-ring build took 
another Hollywood blockbuster’s 
worth. While I’d like to point the 
finger at the Toshiba, I’ve seen the 
same performance when running 
in a VM on my Mac Pro, which 
is hardly short of horsepower. 
Hopefully there’s something here 
that can be tuned to be significantly 
faster before product release. 

The overall experience of Windows 
10 on my Toshiba is much better than 
8.1, feeling cleaner, more coherent 
and logical. All those nonsense 
Charms - and the other items that 
might have made some sense on 
a touch tablet -have disappeared 
when operating in Desktop mode on a 
proper laptop. Upgrading the Toshiba 
to Windows 10 has worked well 
overall, and I can’t imagine anyone 
currently on 8.1 wanting to stay there, 
given that Microsoft is making it free 
for home users to make the switch. 

Business users will need to 
consider carefully how and when to 
upgrade as part of their upgrading 
and management process, but 
- while it’s rather tempting to 
suggest that anyone running 
Windows 7 in a business should 
stay with it for the time being, on 
the principle of “better the devil 
you know” - this time I’m going 
to stick my neck out and suggest 
that moving onto Windows 10 
sooner rather than later will pay 
off. Don’t forget that despite all the 
desktop nonsense of 8 and 8.1, there 
was clearly a stronger and more 
secure core OS at its heart, and this 
continues with Windows 10. 

The evolution of Internet Explorer 
is a rallying cry to developers: build 
to current web standards and do it 
now. We must put the horrors of 
Internet Explorer 6 firmly behind us. 
There are still far too many company 
intranets that run hack-o-matic 
HTML, and other bits of lash-up 


110 



JonHoneyball Paul Ockenden Olivia Whitcroft Davey Winder Steve Cassidy 

Opinion on Windows, Apple and Unique insight into mobile Practising solicitor specialising Keeping small businesses The wider vision on cloud 

everything in between -p110 and wireless tech -p113 in IP and computer law- p116 safesince1997-p118 and infrastructure -p1 20 



Fk d 


code lurking around on company 
networks - a thorough cleansing 
is now well overdue. 

Packet sizes 

Here was a curious thing: my Mac 
Pro workstation was generally 
operating just fine, but couldn’t 
connect reliably to a few specific 
websites; it didn’t matter whether 
I was using Safari or Chrome, the 
problem remained. A Windows VM 
running on the same machine didn’t 
have the issue, however, which was 
truly strange. It pointed to something 
in the base OS X operating system 
- but only on that machine, and not 
on others that had the same DHCP 
settings! It was particularly annoying 
because one of those sites was Adobe 
Creative Cloud, which meant that I 
couldn’t update the Adobe software 
on this Mac Pro - every attempt to 
connect just resulted in a time-out. 

It took some digging to unearth 
the answer. At some point, I’d 
manually overridden the MTU 
packet size value of 1,500 with a 
jumbo packet size of 9,000. I’d 
been playing around with some NAS 
boxes and experimenting with jumbo 
packets, then had of course forgotten 
to reset this value to the default. I 
should have done this experiment 
on a separate Ethernet interface, but 


fiddling fever had gotten the better of 
me. Although everything worked on 
the LAN, and the firewall was happy 
enough to send out these fragmented 
packets, some website servers weren’t 
so happy about handling them. 

I’ll confess I’m no expert on this 
level of TCP/IP plumbing, and nor 
should anyone need to be, unless 
they’re involved in the careful tuning 
of large LANs. But it was interesting 
how almost every site was fine, apart 
from those few that didn’t work. 
Returning the MTU size to normal 
resulted in immediate and solid 
connections to Adobe and all the 
others. As always, fiddling with these 
things is fine, provided you remember 
to undo what you’ve done: just 
because everything seems to be 
working doesn’t mean you can neglect 
resetting everything. Sometimes I’m 
my own worst enemy - but at least I’ll 
own up to it when it happens. 

Cisco cloud stuff 

On the subject of firewalls, I’ve 
been doing some rethinking at the 
office about our firewall and Wi-Fi 
infrastructures. We’ve tended to use 
Apple AirPort Extreme devices for a 
while, along with a few Netgears and 
some from other vendors. Especially 
when we’re dealing with a leading- 
edge technology such as Soa.iiac, 
there can be some odd interactions 
that can be traced back to the base 
station, and so having a few 
alternatives is often a good thing. 

Apple’s base stations are supposed 
to support up to 50 concurrent 


“Monthly or 
quarterly 
firmware 
updates don’t 
cut the mustard 
anymore” 


devices, and the other vendors make 
similar claims. However, I’m 
somewhat sceptical about these 
claims. Get a dozen devices onto a 
Wi-Fi base station, even if they’re 
doing minimal work, and you’ll see all 
sorts of weird blocking, slowdowns, 
disconnects and so forth. This 
applies in the home environment, 
too. It’s especially insidious there 
because you might have acquired a 
range of Wi-Fi-enabled devices such 
as cameras and smart TVs, and hence 
increased your connection count 
without really giving it much thought. 
The move towards the Internet of 
Things (loT) will only make this 
problem worse, of course. 

I’ve also become somewhat wary 
about firewalls. At the office we have 
a very expensive industrial-strength 
firewall, which was one of the few 
that was actually able to cope with a 
looMB/sec in/ out internet connection 
when I bought it around four years 
ago. Other vendors’ kit, despite 
claiming adequate throughput, 
seemed to choke when given any 
real work to do. I pay an annual fee 
of several hundred pounds to receive 
the latest firmware for this device, 
and have to say that I do trust it. 
However, I can’t shake off the fear 
that the toxic environment of today’s 
internet is such that monthly or 
quarterly firmware updates don’t 
cut the mustard any more, especially 
if they have to be applied manually. 
Surely we need something more 
proactive in this space? 

After I’d talked to specialists in the 
field, it became clear that others are 
thinking the same, but have found 
the manageability of both Wi-Fi 
and firewalls to be a problem that 
increases almost geometrically 
with complexity. Most of these 
conversations seemed to come back 
to the Cisco Meraki range of products. 

Meraki was acquired by Cisco a 
few years ago, and is notable for its 
cloud-managed devices: you get 
one dashboard for all your devices, 
presented in a clear and coherent 
fashion. All devices receive cloud- 
pushed updates, and configuration 
and management promise to be a 
breeze. Better still, there are useful 
capabilities such as simple site-to-site 
VPN tunnelling built in. I’ve ordered 
three of these firewalls for my three 
sites, and four of the Wi-Fi base 
stations. I’ve been promised that 
configuration of the real units will 
take only a few moments, and that 
management will be equally quick. If 
so, I’m really looking forward to them, 
because the current generation of 


111 


^ Real world 

computing 


traditional firewalls are almost, but 
not quite, as nasty to eonfigure and 
manage as VoIP phones. They really 
do take the biseuit when it eomes to 
sheer hostility. Next month I hope to 
update you about what happened, but 
it’s already elear that a eloud-managed 
and eontrolled infrastrueture sueh as 
that offered up by the Meraki range is 
the best way forward. 

The priees aren’t too horrendous; 
they’re affordable even in the eontext 
of serious home networks. I think we 
plaee far too little weight on the real 
issues raised by home network routers 
and prefer to turn a blind eye to their 
seeurity issues. I’ve raised this before, 
but industrial-strength firewalls 
- eoupled with elean ease of use and 
management - should be more than 
just a pipe dream for home users. This 
is espeeially true if you’re serious 
about loT and having ever-more 
enabled deviees arrive in your home. 


struetured information about 
the ineoming speeeh so that apps 
ean easily parse the intent of the 
speaker, and subsequently drive 
further aetion.” 

Image APIs ean do a range of 
things, ineluding analysing an 
image to ereate properly adjusted 
thumbnails for it based on its 
eontent. In addition, it ean provide 
sophistieated filtering to remove 
eontent sueh as pornography; it’s 
used in the Content Moderator 
serviee to alert you to inappropriate 
imagery on your network, and even 
to work in the spaee of images of ehild 
exploitation. Finally, the Language 
Understanding Intelligent Serviee 
(LUIS) lets you use natural language 
within your applieations, with 
eommands tailored to your own 
needs. This ean help Bing and Cortana 
to understand eommands sueh as “set 
an alarm for Sam” or other items that 
may well be applieation-speeifie. 


ABOVE Microsoft’s 
Project Oxford 
includes a facial- 
recognition API 


BELOW Apple has 
reduced the vertical 
movement of the keys 
ontheMacBook’s 
keyboard, which 
feels rather odd 


exaetly where the eloud exeels, and 
it’s good to see Mierosoft pushing 
forward with sueh eapabilities for 
the wider developer eommunity. 

MacBook, USBType-C 
and Thunderbolt 

The new MaeBook is intriguing me. I 
bought it to have a good poke around, 
to see what Apple had managed to 
do with its leading-edge engineering 
this time. There are some things about 
this produet that I love: its thinness, 
its lightness and its display. The 
keyboard is a eurate’s egg: Apple 
has deliberately redueed the vertieal 
movement of the keys on its keyboard, 
whieh eould have resulted in a very 
odd aetion. I’ll eonfess that it does 
feel rather strange, but it’s more to my 
liking than I’d feared. That’s beeause 
there’s a elearly defined over-eentre 
motion resistanee to eaeh keystroke, 
with a solid bottom end point. I ean 
see that many people will not take 
well to this keyboard aetion at all, 
but I found myself typing away at 
high speed and with full eonfidenee 
within a few minutes. While it isn’t 
as good as a proper IBM-style desktop 
keyboard from the 1990s, almost 
nothing is. 

The USB Type-C port really 
interested me, too, beeause Apple has 
never been shy about implementing 
new emerging standards - it was, 
after all, one of the first firms to put 
the original USB into a eomputer. 

With Type-C it has leapt in with 
both feet and remarkable eonfidenee. 

I like the Type-C eonneetor, whieh 
demonstrates exaetly what’s been 
wrong with USB up until now, and 
brings in the useful parts of Lightning 
too. Indeed, its data eapabilities are 
sueh that it arguably eelipses both 
Lightning and Thunderbolt in one 



high-power eloud 
based serviees are 









All these serviees 
are eurrently free, and 
you’re eneouraged 
by Mierosoft to 
ineorporate them into 
R&D work that you’re 
building yourself. 
There’s no indieation 
yetofprieingfor 
this teehnology, 
but I think it’s fair 
to assume that if 
Mierosoft does eharge 
for it, the prieing will 
be vastly less than 
anything you eould 
implement yourself 
using more traditional 
tools. These sorts of 



Microsoft’s Project Oxford 

Praise is due to eompanies sueh as 
Mierosoft and Google for opening 
up more and more eapabilities 
to developers, espeeially in areas 
where it simply isn’t possible to do 
anything equivalent yourself. Take a 
look at Mierosoft’s “Projeet Oxford”, 
whieh is a eolleetion of eloud-based 
teehnologies in the field of maehine 
learning. Currently there are four 
main areas - Faee, Speeeh, Computer 
Vision and Language Understanding. 
Taking these in turn, the Faee APIs 
ean take an image and work out 
where the human faees are in it, 
and also take a guess at whether those 
users are male or female. The system 
highlights the eyes, noses and mouths 
in the images that you load into it, and 
its sueeess rate is very high. 

Speeeh lets you 
eonvert text to speeeh in 
a natural-sounding way, 
and ean also eonvert 
speeeh baek to text. An 
additional advaneed 
feature is eonverting 
speeeh to text with 
intent: in Mierosoft’s 
words: “This is similar 
to Speeeh Reeognition. 

With Speeeh Intent 
Reeognition, in addition 
to returning reeognised 
text from audio input, 
the server returns 


112 


Q@pcpro ^ facebook.com/pcpro 


swoop, especially following Intel’s 
announcement that Thunderbolt 3 
will actually be a superset of USB 
Type-C. Finally, we have one plug 
that can do it all, and it’s been better 
designed than the nonsense that is 
USB, and the issues of mini- and 
micro-USB, both of which are 
utterly hateful connectors. 

The Type-C connector appears to 
be able to deliver huge amounts of 
power too, as well as bleeding-edge 
data rates for 5K monitors and the 
like, so I think we might be onto a 
winner here. However, the MacBook 
has only a single port, and it’s 
normally used for battery charging. 

If you want to connect up a “ legacy” 
USB device, you’ll need to spend 
more money on an adapter. I’d have 
been impressed if Apple had bundled 
one of these with the MacBook for 
free, especially given the high price 
tag of even the basic MacBook. But 
no, it’s an extra cost. 

Of course, it’s a brand-new world 
for Type-C devices, and things will 
change rapidly over the coming 
months. I think Apple has identified 
an interesting market for this new 
MacBook, namely people who 
want the lightness and portability 
of an iPad but with the power and 
flexibility of a real keyboard and 
full-power OS. I’m typing this on a 
new i3in MacBook Pro that I recently 
bought in New York, after unwisely 
setting off for a business trip without 
my normal laptop; while I love 
the power and connectivity of the 
MacBook Pro, the smaller and lighter 
form factor of the MacBook has a 
certain appeal. Does the MacBook 
set a new design reference for truly 
portable Ultrabooks, a new class of 
super-ultraportable? I think it does, 
and I suspect Apple will be walking 
away from the MacBook Air range 
soon. It did its job, but engineering 
has moved on. 

One last thing - on the MacBook 
Pro 13 , 1 find the screen size to be 
wrong for me, so I’ve been into 
the Settings app and changed 
the scaling from the default to the 
point between “Default” and “More 
Space”. The screen is of high enough 
quality to support this, and the result 
is a better working space on the 
screen, more akin to a isin display. 
Try it - it might work well for you too. 
^ jon@jonhoneyball.com 


PAULOCKENDEN 


“Imagine living in a house with a 
single light switch -one where all 
the lights go on and off together" 

Such a system would be bonkers - so why do so many “smart” heating 
systems operate in this way? Honeywell offers something truly clever 


T his month. I’m mostly going 
to be writing about central 
heating. Don’t worry, the 
printers haven’t accidentally slipped 
a page from Plumber’s World into 
your magazine - this is central 
heating with a hi-tech twist. 

You’ve probably heard of 
Google’s Nest thermostat, or the 
Hive system promoted by British Gas, 
both of which allow you to control 
your heating remotely from your 
smartphone. There are other players 
in this market, too: Tado, Inspire, 
Netatmo, PassivSystems - the list goes 
on, with new competitors popping up 
on the various crowdfunding sites on 
an almost weekly basis. 

Most of these devices are designed 
to replace the traditional thermostat, 
and will usually supplement it with 
a little added intelligence, perhaps 
setting different temperatures at 
various times of the day, or allowing 
you to turn the heating on and off 
from your phone while you’re out and 
about. Some will even “learn” how 
you live your life and start adjusting 
the stored schedule to match this. 

Truth be told. I’m not a great fan 
of such learning systems. If your life 
is fairly structured, it’s easy to create 
a schedule to match, but a learning 
system won’t stand a chance 
if you’re more chaotic - if 
you take a couple of days 
off work, for example, it 
will think that’s your 
new daily routine. 

I much prefer a system 
where you can override a 
fixed weekly pattern for 
specific events such as bank 
holidays, sick days and the 
odd week away - perhaps 
with added automation to 
cope with exceptionally hot 
or cold days, and maybe some 
geofencing so that you don’t 
heat an empty house but 
always return to a warm one. 

All the systems I’ve listed 
have one thing in common. 

As with traditional heating 





Paul owns an agency 
that helps businesses 
exploit the web, from 
sales to marketing 
and everything 
in between 
Q @PaulOckenden 


BELOW The Evohome 
controller is the heart 
of the heating system 


thermostats, there’s a single 
controller, with one thermostat 
covering your whole house. Just 
think about that for a moment. Gan 
you imagine living in a house with a 
single light switch? One where all 
the lights go on and off together? 

For starters, it would be an 
incredible waste of energy - you’d 
be lighting rooms that weren’t in 
use. It would also be uncomfortable, 
since the person cooking in the 
kitchen under bright lights would 
inconvenience those trying to watch 
TV in the dimly lit living room or 
sleeping off a migraine in a blacked- 
out bedroom. A single light control 
would be bonkers, so why are we 
prepared to put up with a single 
control for our heating systems? 

Okay, thermostatic radiator valves 
(TRVs) can help, but they just seta 
target temperature for each room; 
they have no idea whether that room 
will be occupied at certain times of the 
day, or on certain days of the week. If 
you want your bedroom to be nice and 
toasty when you get out of bed in the 
morning, a TRV will keep it at that 
temperature all day. We spend a 
fortune on energy-saving light bulbs 
to reduce our electricity bills, but 
lighting accounts for less than 10% 
of the energy costs in a typical house. 


1930 t 


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Kitchpfi 

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1 

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12 ° 

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Dlntjig room 

Bedroom i 

Eathf&otn 

47° 

15° 

19 ° 

23 ° 

• 

Irr 

1 

25" 

OptinaHOon 

SETTINGS 

ini SCHEDULE 





113 







Real world 

computing 


Heating and hot water usually make 
up more than 8o% of the bill, so surely 
that’s where we need to look for 
improvements and make savings. 

In the zone 

The best way to achieve this is through 
zoning: that is, splitting your home 
into separate areas so that each has 
its own heating schedule. Some 
upmarket homes come with such 
systems in place, with valves near 
the boiler opening and closing as 
required to heat different zones. If 
you live in a more traditional house, 
however, perhaps with an ancient 
boiler and hot-water setup, it’s 
possible to retrofit a zoning system. 
Usually this works by replacing all 
your radiator valves with intelligent 
controllers, so that various “setpoint” 
temperatures can be sent to each 
device at different times of the day. 

There are several such systems 
on the market, although many suffer 
small niggles that work against them. 
Some require a wired connection 
to every radiator valve, which is 
bonkers in this day and age. Others 
employ one-way communication 
from a central controller to their 
radiator controls, simply sending 
the setpoint temperature. The 
problem here is that the system 
doesn’t know when the whole house 
is up to temperature and all of the 
valves have closed, so the boiler 
continues to churn away wastefully . 

After a lot of research, the system 
I eventually chose for my own house 
was Evohome from Honeywell. 

This consists of a central controller 
device and others that you fit to 
each radiator, plus a few optional 
bits and bobs. 

Why did I choose Evohome over 
the other systems? Well, mainly 
because it’s a mature system. The 
Evohome controller is now into 
its third generation - although it’s 
actually older than that, since its 
roots lie in an earlier system called 
Hometronic. Even Honeywell’s 
radiator controllers are now 
second-generation, whereas newer 
competitors are very much version 
1.0, with the associated problems 
that version i.o devices suffer. 

The Evohome controller is at 
the heart of the system. It talks 
wirelessly at 868MHz to all the other 
components. These can be sensors 


(such as thermometers) or actuators 
(such as relays, and valves that turn 
radiators on and off) . Some devices 
contain both: as well as turning 
radiators on and off, the TRVs also 
contain a temperature sensor. 

The communication between 
most nodes is two-way, which is 
important for two reasons. Eirst, it 
means that local changes on any 
TRV or room thermostat will be 
reported back to the Evohome 
controller. Second, devices 
can report their demand 
for heat, so the boiler need | 
only fire up if at least one 
radiator (or other heat 
source) is calling for it. 

Evohome is therefore 
ideally suited to older 
properties with old- 
fashioned boilers and 
radiators, although it can 
also cope with underfloor 
heating and electric heat 
sources. If you have a 
system with a stored 
hot-water tank heated 
indirectly by your boiler, 
it can even control that. 

Let’s take a more 
detailed look at each of 
the components of this 
system. The controller 
is a 140 X 100mm box 
with a 4-25in colour 
touchscreen. This allows 
you to view and control 
the temperature of every 
zone (you can put several 
rooms into the same zone) 
and your hot water too. 

Different target temperatures 
can be set for various times of 
each day. And you can override 
the temperature in any zone, and 
several “quick actions” are available 
to turn down the whole house by a 
few degrees, for example, or set the 
system into “working from home” 
mode, where it treats a weekday as 
though it were a weekend. 

There are two mounting options 
available for the controller: there’s 
a tabletop stand, or you can attach it 
to a wall. It contains a rechargeable 
battery, so the unit can be removed 
from the wall or table for short 
periods, but it will start to beep 
at you if you keep it away from 
the mains supply for too long. 

Until recently, controlling your 
heating and hot water via an app 
on your smartphone or tablet 
required an Internet Gateway 
Device that connected to your 
broadband router. However, 
the latest version of the Evohome 


BELOW The Evohome 
app gives you full 
control of your 
heating while out 
and about 


“Heating and 
hot water make 
up more than 
80 % of the 
energy bill, so 
surely that’s 
where we need 
to look for 
improvements 
and make 
savings” 



controller no longer requires this 
gateway; it talks to your router 
via Wi-Ei. 

The smartphone and tablet apps 
largely mirror the facilities available 
via the Evohome controller, although 
they don’t talk directly to the device 
- everything goes via a US-based 
cloud service. In addition, APIs are 
available that let you write scripts to 
monitor and graph the temperature 
in the various rooms of your 
home, and even control those 
' temperatures. (I’ll cover how 
to do this in a future column.) 

You’ll need to control 
the heat source in each 
room - in most cases, a 
radiator - by using HR92 
controllers. If you already 
have thermostatic radiator 
valves, you can simply 
remove their existing heads 
and replace them with the 
HR92. Most brands of TRV 
are supported, although a 
few will require an adapter. 

The HR92 senses the 
temperature in the room - 
it’s designed to measure 
the temperature of the 
updraft that occurs around 
the edge of a room - and 
tries to maintain the set 
temperature by opening its 
valve proportionally, not just 
on or off, and demanding heat 
from the boiler if needed 
(more on that in a moment) . 
There’s a large LCD panel on 
each HR92 that displays the 
current set temperature for that 
zone; you can change this to show the 
room temperature instead. A rotary 
dial lets you override the temperature 
set by the Evohome controller; such 
local adjustments will apply until the 
next scheduled temperature change. 

I’ve been impressed by how 
well isolated the temperature 
sensing of these HR92S appears to be, 
considering they’re attached to hot 
pipes and sit next to huge heaters. 
Even when a radiator is extremely 
hot, the white body of the device 
seems to remain at room temperature. 

Also impressive is their battery life: 
despite all the mechanical opening 
and closing, RE comms and LCD- 
panel updates, two standard AA 
alkaline batteries will last around two 
years (you’ll receive a notification on 
the Evohome controller when they 
need to be replaced) . If you have 
underfloor or electric heating, there 
are other options available, but since 
I have neither I can’t comment on 
them in a real-world sense. 


j 


114 


Q@pcpro ^ facebook.com/pcpro 


Multiple sources 

You might have multiple heat sourees 
within a zone, and Evohome provides 
some flexibility with regards to how 
these are treated. Eaeh ean work in 
isolation, or one radiator (or other 
sensor) ean beeome a master, 
eontrolling all the radiators and 
other heaters. The latter is the 
default behaviour, and it sometimes 
works better if you have an open-plan 
spaee or one large room with several 
radiators. The former seheme is 
designed for a single zone that eonsists 
of multiple rooms. Having played with 
both, I reekon that, even for large, 
open spaees, the multiroom option 
usually works better. 

In situations where you have a 
radiator behind a sofa or a bed, say, 
or in a radiator eabinet, the sensor 
in the HR92 won’t give you a true 
refleetion of the room temperature. 

In this ease, it’s worth mounting an 
external sensor in that room. 

There are two main options 
and, as with the radiator eontrollers, 
they’re wireless. There’s a stylish, 
round, wall-mounted thermostat 
ealled the Y87RE and a more 
utilitarian-looking deviee known 
as the DT92E. Both have fairly large 
sereens that display the eurrent room 
temperature. With the Y87RE, you 
ean adjust the zone temperature up 
or down by rotating a large bezel 
around its display, while the DT92E 
employs more eonventional push 
buttons. In faet, it goes two steps 
further than its more stylish eousin 





by offering an “eeo” 
button, whiehyou 
ean push to ehange 
the temperature 
ofthezonefor a 
number of hours 
(this is performed 
independently 
of the eeo 
settings available 
on the Evohome 
eontroller), and 
a button to switeh 
off the whole zone. 

Another advantage 
the DT92E has over the 
Y87RE is that it eomes with a 
table stand as well as a wall mount, 
whereas the Y87RE is wall-mount 
only (it eomes with serews and 
Rawlplugs in the box, but I’ve found 
that VHB tape works really well too) . 
If you’re the kind of person who likes 
to fiddle, the DT92E is probably your 
best bet, but if you want something 
that looks stylish on the wall then 
I’d reeommend the Y87RE. 

When it eomes to how the system 
interaets with the boiler, there are a 
few options. My house has what’s 
known as an S Plan heating and 
hot-water system, in whieh there 
are separate motorised valves for the 
heating and hot-water eireuits; a feed 
from eaeh of them fires up the boiler 
onee its valve is fully open. With 
a eonventional eentral-heating 
eontroller, a time eloek and a room 
thermostat would drive these valves. 

When retrofitting Evohome, 
you’ll bypass the eloek and 
thermostat and feed power to the 
two-way valves via a small wall- 
mounted relay box known as a 
BDR91. This is a reeeiver that takes 
eommands from the Evohome 
eontroller whenever heat from 
the boiler is needed, either to heat a 
room or for hot water. (Ineidentally , 
the temperature of the hot-water 
tank is sensed using yet another 
battery-powered wireless sensor.) 

I have 14 radiator valves in 
my house, plus both types of 
room stat, a hot-water sensor, 
two BDR91S and the Evohome 
eontroller itself. You’d think 
this would eause a lot of RE 
energy to fly around, and 
that there would be either 
interferenee or eollisions, but 
this isn’t the ease. The RE side 
of things has been designed 
to work on the 1% prineiple 
- 1% eommunieation, 99% 
silenee - and the timings of the 
various deviees are staggered so that 
there’s never any notieeable wireless 



ABOVE TheY87RFisa 
stylish, wall-mounted 
thermostat 


“Even if you 
ignore the 
economics, the 
big thing for 
me is comfort; 
as a result of 
Evohome, the 
whole house 
feels far more 
comfortable” 


LEFT TheHR92 will 
replace the head on 
most thermostatic 
radiator valves 


eongestion. I’ve 
watehed these 
eomms using my 
trusty RE Explorer 
(as deseribed in 
several previous 
eolumns), and 
they all seem to 
oeeur quiekly. 

So, the big 
question: is it 
worth it? Eitting 
an Evohome 
system isn’t eheap, 
but neither are fuel 
priees. Honeywell 
reekons the system will 
typieally save you around 40% 
on your fuel bills. It’s too soon to 
know whether or not this is aeeurate 
in my ease, but the boiler definitely 
isn’t firing up as often, or for as long, 
as it used to. Plus, I’m not heating 
unused rooms, so I’d expeet the 
paybaek time to be quite rapid. 

Even if you ignore the eeonomies, 
the big thing for me is eomfort. 

With my old system, a radiator 
would either be going at full blast or 
stone-eold, and room temperatures 
would eyele too. As you walked 
around the house, there would be 
poekets that were too warm or too 
eold. Evohome has ehanged all of 
this. Radiators are now warm - just 
warm enough to hold eaeh room at 
the temperature requested - and 
there’s no more notieeable heating 
up and eooling down as the heating 
eyeles on and off. Beeause of this 
smoother eontrol. I’m able to set 
a lower temperature than before, 
knowing it will never fall below 
this level. As a result, the whole 
house feels far more eomfortable. 

My system was installed by an 
aeeredited installer, but there are 
plaees online sueh as The Evohome 
Shop (pcpro.link/25imw) that 
will sell you the bits if you want 
to install the system yourself. 

There’s no plumbing involved, 
unless you don’t already have 
TRVs, You might need a sparky to 
wire up the BDR91S if you’re seared 
of eleetrieity , though. I’d reeommend 
an installer, but make sure you quiz 
them on how many similar systems 
they’ve fitted, sinee Evohome is 
relatively new. 

Over the eoming months. I’ll 
report on how my system is working, 
as well as eovering how to extraet 
and ehart data, and the additional 
levels of eontrol available by 
interfaeing with third-party 
appsand systems. 

Q @PaulOckenden 


115 


Real world 

computing 


OLIVIA WHITCROFT 

“If terms are far removed from 
reality, then this defeats the purpose 
of having a written agreement at all" 

As new technology inspires creative services, customers and suppliers 
also need to be creative with the terms of the contracts between them 


P icture the seene: it’s 1993 
and the forward-thinking 
teleeommunieations manager at 
Big Industry Ltd has decided that this 
new-fangled email eommunication 
will be good for business. He clears 
it with the operations direetor and 
before long they’ve deeided upon 
a provider. 

Initially, email will be set up on one 
PC for one user, but if all goes well, the 
intention is to roll it out across other 
eompany eomputers. Praeticalities 
such as phone lines and modems are 
diseussed, fees and setup dates agreed, 
and then the small matter of a eontract 
is raised. The company requires all 
providers to sign up to its standard 
terms, and it’s explained to the 
provider that a few additional 
provisions are required for these types 
of services, ineluding responsibilities 
for the BT line and so on. The contraet 
is drawn up and sent (by post) to the 
provider for review. 

Casting his eye over the document, 
the provider soon realises that he’s 
been presented with a eontract for 
fax-machine maintenance, eomplete 
with response times for fixing 
hardware faults, paper and ink- 
eartridge replacement. He raises 
these concerns with Big Industry 
and is told that it will aeeept a few 
tweaks, but there’s no time for 
lengthy negotiations or for a new 
eontract to be drawn up. The provider 
signs the eontract and the parties 
move forth into the unknown 
territory of providing email within 
a framework of fixing fax maehines. 

This isn’t a true story, but it 
represents the frequent diseonneet 
between the terms of technology 
contracts and the serviees that are 
being provided. This is emphasised by 
the rapid development of technology, 
presenting new environments 



Olivia Whitcroft is 
principal of the law 
firm OBEP, which 
specialises in 
technology contracts, 
IP and data protection 
Q @ObepOlivia 


BELOW Check those 
Ts&Cs carefully 
before you sign a 
cloud contract, 
because who knows 
where your data will 
be stored? 


for delivering serviees and 
new opportunities for business 
collaborations. Insufficient 
time and resources are allocated 
to producing a bespoke contraet, 
so providers are presented with 
“standard” terms. These are generally 
used for more established methods of 
service delivery, but are felt most 
appropriate to mateh the context. 
They range from something slightly 
inappropriate to eomplete nonsense: 
as in my example above, it really 
can be the difference between 
provision of email serviees and 
fax-machine maintenance. 

More up-to-date examples include 
contracts for face-to-face or web 
delivery of services, where in reality 
they’re being provided over a mobile 
app; or end-user agreements for 
technology services, where in praetice 
the serviees are being resold. Software 
development agreements often don’t 
refleet intended use of source code 
or copyright. Contracts involving 
use of customer data are frequently 
unsuitable: terms requiring a party 
only to process data upon instruction, 
when it’s clearly taking action under 
its own steam; promises to keep data 
on a fixed server in the UK, when 
it’s actually being entrusted to a 
subcontracted cloud provider. 



If terms are far removed from 
reality, then this defeats the purpose 
of having a written agreement at all. 
The point is to document how the 
relationship is intended to work, 
which may act as a guide to the 
parties’ actions (such as delivery 
of serviees and payment) , protect 
certain assets (such as copyright 
and know-how) and give a clear basis 
for legal recourse in the event that 
something goes wrong. Inappropriate 
terms may fail to achieve any of these. 
The most they may do is meet internal 
administrative requirements. 

So what? 

Of eourse, the parties may earry 
on their relationship in harmony 
regardless of the written terms. So, all 
may be well. However, sooner or later, 
one party may want something to be 
done or may dislike something that 
the other party has done, and will 
refer to the agreement. At this point 
they’ll discover that the terms say 
something different, haven’t eovered 
the issue, or don’t really make sense. 

Both parties eould then agree to 
amend the eontract to fix the problem, 
or find a practieal way forward, and 
this may resolve matters. However, if 
they remain in disagreement, they’ll 
want to rely on the existing terms 
to protect or defend their position. 
Unfortunately, the legal position with 
those terms may be extremely hazy! 

Taking one extreme, the agreement 
maybe enforceable as it stands; in 
other words, the parties will need to 
comply with the terms as written, 
even though they both had something 
else in mind. This may happen where 
the eontract is disadvantageous for a 
party, but isn’t too far from the core 
intention. At the other extreme, the 
agreement may be ineffeetive due to 
a mistake or lack of certainty. This is 
generally unhelpful for both parties, 
but may result in one side being put 
at a greater disadvantage. 

Where possible, a eourt will try to 
construe the wording of a eontract in a 
way the parties intended, or may infer 
terms to give effeet to that intention. 
Or, if a party ean show there’s been 
a mistake, a eourt could order the 
contraet to be reetified. This eould 
help, for example, if the word “fax” 
was used instead of “email” and it’s 
clear the parties meant “ email” . 
However, giving new meaning to 
the terms is unlikely if the terms can 
reasonably be given their ordinary 
meaning, or if they’re far removed 
from reality; a party is unlikely to 
provide evidence of eompletely 
different terms having been agreed. 


116 


Q@pcpro ^ facebook.com/pcpro 


Unsuitable terms ean also 
eause eomplianee problems or 
have knoek-on effects on other 
relationships. For example, it can be 
a breach of data-protection law not 
to impose security obligations on a 
service provider, and ineffective 
assignments of copyright may mean 
intended onward licences to others 
are ineffective. 

As can be seen, resolving the 
consequences of inappropriate terms 
can be time-consuming and costly, 
and even then may not achieve the 
desired result for either party. It’s 
much better to get the terms right 
from the start. 

What can be done about it? 

The overall message isn’t new: a 
contract needs to be tailored to the 
context of the intended relationship. 
As new technology inspires creative 
services and methods of service 
delivery, customers and suppliers 
also need to be creative with the 
terms governing their relationships. 
Standard terms can be useful for the 
basics, but bashing out terms to apply 
unamended to all technological 
scenarios is unlikely to be achievable. 

The argument against this 
approach also isn’t new. Getting 
external lawyers involved can be 
costly; getting in-house lawyers 
involved for each project can be 
time-consuming. Standard terms 
and procedures help to keep control 
of legal risks within the available 
resources and budget. Each new 
relationship may not justify the time 
and costs involved in producing a 
“perfect” contract. 

However, this doesn’t mean that 
a middle ground can’t be reached, 
showing some flexibility in approach. 
If time and resources are limited, 
a shorter agreement may be an 
option, with a clear description of the 
intended relationship, but without 
addressing every scenario. This is 
likely to be better than a mesh of 
terms that sound good legally but 
are potentially useless in practice. A 
more all-encompassing agreement 
could then be produced at a later 
date if things go well. 

If terms are added to address a new 
technological issue, remember also 
to adapt the terms that are already in 
there. The repeated addition of new 
layers of terms often results in overly 



complex contracts. For example, 
new terms may be added relating to 
online delivery of digital content 
without removing terms about 
physical delivery. The intentions may 
be good but, before long, the simplest 
route forward may be to rip up the 
contract and find a blank piece of 
paper to start again. 

Effective communication can also 
reduce the time involved in getting 
the terms right. This includes input 
from those who understand the 
technology, and appropriate lawyer- 
to-lawyer discussions. It may sound 
crazy, but contracts aren’t just for the 
lawyers - the terms should ideally be 
read and understood by commercial 
and technical teams as well. 


What happened next 

Let’s pick up our story from where 
we left it in the early 1990s, with Big 
Industry starting to use email. There 
soon followed business networks 
and websites, and into the late 1990s 
e-commerce became the big thing. 
Search engines became sophisticated, 
websites started to interact with 
customers, and digital content became 
an alternative to physical equivalents. 
Employees were becoming more 
mobile; laptops replaced desktops, 
mobile phones were standard issue, 
and they could dial up to the work 
network from home. Psions and 
PalmPilots went into pockets or 
handbags. The “tele” was slashed 
from the telecommunications 
manager’s job title. 

In the noughties, dial-up was soon 
replaced by broadband, and PDAs by 


“Contracts 
aren’t just for 
lawyers -the 
terms should 
he read and 
understood by 
commercial 
and technical 
teams as well” 


BlackBerrys to access email on the 
move. Pretty soon competitors had 
arrived on the scene offering 
smartphones and tablets. Moving 
into the current decade: VoIP, 
webinars and social media became 
established business tools; apps 
started to challenge websites 
and other traditional methods 
of service delivery. 

Alongside all this, IT services 
and licensing models were 
changing. Software downloads 
were superseding floppy disks 
and CD-ROMs, and open source was 
added to the mix in development 
projects. Alternatives to traditional IT 
outsourcing were evolving, moving 
through application service providers 
and reaching cloud computing in the 
2010s. Infrastructure-, platform- and 
software-as-a-service started being 
provided using intricate partnership 
and subcontracting models. 

Just over 20 years down the line 
from introducing email. Big Industry 
is now looking into BYOD, Big Data, 
the Internet of Things, 3D printing 
and augmented reality. Big Industry’s 
relationships with its providers 
and partners continue to evolve to 
capture these new opportunities. 

All it has to do is ensure that its 
contracts with these parties 
continue to evolve as well. 

If all you have is standard terms, 
everything looks like a fax machine. 

The above commentary provides general 
information on the subject matter and is not 
intended to be relied upon as legal advice. 

^ olivia.whitcroft@obep.co.uk 


117 


Real world 

computing 


DAVEY WINDER 


“Security that isn’t implemented, 
or isn’t implemented properly, is as 
much use as a chocolate padlock" 

However, the solution needn’t be complex or expensive. 

The credit-card-sized Qwertycard may be all you need 


F or the longest time, the adviee 
was never to write down 
passwords. There was good 
reason for this, namely that the key 
to your network was often found 
dangling from your monitor on a 
stieky note. Then things ehanged, 
and everything needed a password - 
so many passwords, in faet, that for 
many small businesses their seeurity 
options lay somewhere between 
“one ring to rule them all” and 
“write them all down” . The former 
often took the form of a password 
vault, in whieh your written-down 
passwords are encrypted and stored 
in a file that requires you to remember 
only one super-strong password to 
open it. 

I said “somewhere between” 
there, because two problems arise 
from this multiple-password mess 
we find ourselves in today. First, 
there’s the temptation to cut down 
on the number by sharing the same 
passwords between several sites and 
services, the consequences of which 
are obvious and oft-exploited - an 
attacker who compromises one login 
has a good chance of compromising 
the others too. 

Second, and perhaps a little 
less obviously, many users of 
password-management vaults 
soon find themselves back in Post-it 
note land. This means there’s still a 
chance someone could find that 
sticky, connect it to your vault file 
and hence gain access to everything. 
However, in the modern working 
age it appears to be the best option. 

There is a third way. You can keep 
multiple passwords - the “something 
I know” in the theoretically perfect 
identity-authentication formula - but 
add an extra layer of “something 
I have” , which is how two-factor 
authentication (2FA) works. 



Daveyisan 
award-winning 
journalist and 
consultant 

specialising in privacy 
and security issues 

o 


BELOW Does your 
password reuse 
pass the acceptable 
security test? 


LastPass tTm 


This requires not only a master 
password to achieve stage one, but 
also a token to complete stage two: 
that token could be in the form of a 
code sent to your mobile phone via 
text message or one created by an app. 
Or, it could be a physical token that 
generates a one-use code on the fly 
when plugged into your machine. 

For some time now I’ve 
recommended to both consumers 
and small-business users that a 
combination of password-vault 
management and 2FA is the 
way forward. I have first-hand 
experience of small-business 
clients whose data integrity has 
been preserved by the adoption of 
2FA security following the breach of 
a third-party service. Unfortunately, 
not all third-party services will offer 
2FA. In fact, scrap that, not all the 
services you use that are password- 
protected will offer 2FA. And while 
I remain convinced that, where 2FA 
is available, it’s common sense to 
employ it, where it isn’t available I’m 
going to rip up the rulebook and go all 
old school with some contradictory 
advice: write your password down. 
Not only that, but keep it with you 
in plain sight so you don’t forget it. 


Your Security Score 


Your LastPass Standing 


Challenge your blends 


Master Password Score 


1 mprove Your Score 

Q r - Change Compromised Passwords 

+ 

Q Siep 2 - Change Weak Passwords 

+ 

^ Step 3 - Change Reused Passwords 

— 



0 


i na duol cstg 



While I have you totally confused 
I’ll also thrown in this extra corker: 
reuse the same password across all 
your logins. Of course, all this isn’t 
as chaotic and insecure as it may 
first appear, and I most certainly 
haven’t lost the plot; instead I’ve 
found a remarkably simple and 
elegant solution to one part of the 
secure-password puzzle, called 
Qwertycard (qwertycards.com) . 

In the world of security, the 
paradox rules supreme. You might 
think that the more complex and 
ingenious the solution the more 
secure it will be, but that doesn’t 
allow for the fact that if the person 
using it finds it time-consuming, 
confusing or overly expensive then 
it’s less likely to get used. Security 
that isn’t implemented, or isn’t 
implemented properly, is about 
as much use as a chocolate padlock. 

Qwertycard recognises this and 
turns the security proposal on its 
head, making it as simple as it can be. 
It’s a credit-card-sized item that slips 
into your wallet/purse and has your 
password printed on it in a way that 
can’t be deciphered by anyone other 
than you. 

The Qwertycard is well named: 
it comes in the form of a printed 
black card with a white Qwerty 
keyboard on it. Below the keyboard 
is a spacebar on which you’ll find 
printed some random characters. 

And that’s it, apart from the 
seemingly counter-intuitive (when 
it comes to security) instructions 
printed on the reverse: “space bar 
code + your secret + site name”. 

The spacebar code contains at 
least one number, one lower-case 
letter, one upper-case letter and 
one non-alphanumeric character to 
ensure all Qwertycard 
passwords meet the 
minimum criteria across 
most sites and services. 
This code is the first thing 
you’d type when entering 
a password into an online 
service, exactly as it is 
printed on the card. So 
in the screenshot (see 
opposite) that code would 
be wKjH!o$Y, which isn’t 
the easiest string of 
characters to remember, 
and that’s the point. 

It contains random 
character combinations 
that make it harder to 
crack than dictionary 
words or supposedly 
random words that 
aren’t: most random 


118 






Q@pcpro ^ facebook.com/pcpro 


words you come up with won’t be 
truly random, whereas this one 
is created using a random code 
generator to do a slightly better job. 

The people behind Qwertyeard 
selected code characters from 8o of 
the characters found on a standard 
keyboard, excluding a small number 
considered to look too similar or 
potentially confusing for users. 
Obviously, every Qwertyeard has a 
unique spacebar code printed on it, 
and the digital versions of both data 
and codes are securely erased as soon 
as the card itself has been physically 
printed. What’s more. I’m assured 
that no record is kept anywhere to 
link each customer’s order to the 
cards that were shipped to them. 
Instead, every card is shipped with 
a eovering letter that contains the 
only copy of its Qwertyeard code as a 
backup - and hence a potential weak 
point in the password security chain; 
you must store this securely (my inner 
cynic wants to suggest a password 
vault would be a good place) . 

Code creation 

Okay, putting irony to one side for 
now, let’s move on to the next part of 
your Qwertyeard password-creation 
system, namely your secret word. This 
is something that only you know; 
you can make it as long as you like. 

It doesn’t need to be overly complex 
or composed of special characters, 
upper- and lower-case and so on, 
although once again the seeurity geek 
in me wants to suggest that it would 
make sense to create it in that format. 
Not least because it’s just this one 
word, so if you keep its complexity 
simple (if you see what I mean) it will 
increase the overall strength of the 
passwords you end up creating. 

So, for example, instead of using 
“JeanClaude” as your secret word 
(that’s the name of my van in case 
you’re interested) you might use 
“Je@nCl@ude”. That’s no more 
difficult to remember once you have 
it in your head, but as part of a more 
complex character string it makes 
cracking the whole thing much 
harder. Make your secret word 
something that isn’t easily guessed, 
though; here the name of my prized 
van probably isn’t a great choiee! 

If you want to be sneaky with 
your secret word, why not encode 
the word using the Qwertyeard itself, 
as you must do with the site name? 
“JeanClaude” would then become 
“!q,6GS,6pq”. This word is then 
used as the middle part of all your 
passwords, which still makes 
Qwertyeard appear pretty insecure 


SPACE BAR 
CODE 

4. YOUR . SITE 
^ SECRET ^ NAME 


@019 

QSO 

QMERTYCARDS.COM Dfi30 


w wVoWoVAkmm 

wKjH!0$Y 


when you consider that it’s now using 
something printed on the card itself 
plus a word that’s shared across every 
site or service you use. 

The final piece of the code-creation 
jigsaw may not seem to add much to 
the security either, since it’s just a 
code created by the cipher keyboard 
visible on the card. However, cards 
come with different ciphers and the 
site name you choose doesn’t have to 
be an obvious one. So instead of using 
“eBay” to create a code of “q5,6”, you 
could use “Auction”, which gives 
“,6goVP6”. I wouldn’t get too 
paranoid, since this part of the 
password system is really just to 
ensure that you have truly unique 
passwords for each service, to prevent 
online attackers from easily guessing 
them. Once you have all three parts of 
a password in place it becomes both 
eomplex and strong, yet at the same 
time easy to use and remember. 

Qwertyeard is cheap - at £5 
per card - and safe enough, when 
used properly, to increase security 
wherever 2FA isn’t an option. Even 
where 2FA is available, Qwertyeard 
provides a low-rent yet secure 
method to both create and remember 
complex passwords. 

I’m not going as far as to suggest 
that Qwertyeard is the holy grail of 
eonsumer/small-business security. 

It patently isn’t, and there are some 


ABOVE Qwertyeard, 
the new old-school 
way to protect 
passwords by 
writing them down 


“Qwertyeard 
provides a 
iow-rentyet 
secure method 
to both create 
and remember 
complex 
passwords” 


rather obvious 
weaknesses. The 
three biggest are: it 
reveals part of your 
password, which 
makes it less work for 
someone to crack the 
remainder; it creates 
more work if you ever 
need to change your 
password, whether 
following a security 
breach or for 
housekeeping 
purposes; and some 
websites disallow 
certain characters 
that the Qwertyeard 
will want to use. 

Of all these, the 
last is my biggest 
concern. After all, 
the success of 
Qwertyeard hinges 
largely on its 
ability to generate 
complexity without 
making the user 
experience too 
nasty, so anything 
that diminishes 
both at once 

needs to be taken seriously. As 
a pragmatic workaround, the folk 
behind Qwertyeard suggest that 
you manually substitute allowed 
characters (normal alphanumeric 
ones) for the disallowed ones for 
those sites only. This does deal with 
the usability issue, but at the cost of 
complexity. Thankfully, fewer and 
fewer sites are imposing insecure 
restrictions over character types 
and password lengths, so this may 
soon become a problem of the past. 

The password length will vary, 
depending upon your secret word 
and the site name you use - as will 
its randomness - but typically you’re 
going to be looking at a password 
string in the region of 20 characters 
or more. And what if you need to 
change a site’s password regularly? 
Again, there’s no ideal solution, only 
another workaround, namely to add 
the month in a three-letter format, 
encoded of course, to your secret 
word. This wouldn’t show the month 
in plain text, so if a password were 
compromised on the site, it wouldn’t 
be obvious what you were doing. 

As an honorary Yorkshireman, I 
feel compelled to throw in that you 
could print your own version of a 
Qwertyeard for next to nothing. 

When I spoke about Qwertyeard to a 
local small business - and by small I 
mean fewer than six employees - they 


119 







Real world 

computing 


Continued from previous page 


STEVE CASSIDY 


could see its benefits, but were put 
off by the perceived complexity of 
managing it at their own business 
level (where their IT department is 
a woman called Shirley who opens the 
mail and also makes the tea) . A valid 
eoncern, although the cards are so 
easy to understand and implement 
that staff “training” is a doddle. 

Management can be as simple 
as keeping those master letters 
stored securely, although a 
better option would be to sean 
them and then burn them, keeping 
the digital versions in an enerypted 
format, enabling some onwards 
management eapability if the 
“secret word” is added. Of course, 
Qwertycard’s model isn’t really 
aimed at the serious end of the 
business market, and nor would 
you expect it to be, but as a partial 
solution to many of the problems 
I’m seeing in the real world at a 
more macro-business level it surely 
deserves some serious consideration. 

My Little Google 

Google comes in for a fair bit of 
stiek. The social media world 
aecuses it of not really being a 
serious player with Google+ , and 
those on the more aeeusatory side 
of the privacy debate regard it as 
something of a Data Dyson, sueking 
up all the information it can about 
everybody and everything. 

For once, though, I won’t 
be beating Google with its own 
“don’t be evil” commandment, 
but rather applauding it for following 
Faeebook’s lead. How so? Well 
Facebook has faeed up to its privaey 
eritics by introducing a central 
security settings interface, where 
everything privaey- and security- 
related ean be configured. Now 
Google has caught up, with its “My 
Google Aceount” interfaee. It’s early 
days yet, but a quick play with the 
eontrol panel suggests that it’s a big 
step forward in security strength. 

The inelusion of privaey and security 
checkup systems, with step-by-step 
guides that handhold you through 
their options, is a real advance 
and one I suggest that everyone, 
no matter how seeure they think 
they are, should take. 

davey@happygeek.com 


“How many of the world's top 500 
fastest computing facilities are 
Cray shops? (Answer: 28%)" 

The British Met Office has just placed an order worth $100m with the 
company - are the services of this supercomputing veteran worth it? 


W hat would you pay for a Gray 
supercomputer, today? Yes, 
that would have been a silly 
headline, but hear me out. I appear to 
have attracted the attention of the 
supercomputing crowd after writing 
about my eneounters with IBM’s 
Watson and the Dell/Gambridge 
University monsters of computing, 
which led to an invitation to the offices 
of Gray Ine (founded 1972) . 

The firm is presently located in the 
smoking-hot tech hub that is Bristol, 
and it’s not only there to churn out 
racks full of standard components 
with vinyl stickers covering their 
standard tin. This is Gray Gomputers, 
dammit, the inheritor of Seymour 
Gray’s mighty brand and pioneering 
attitude to very high-performance 
computing. The firm was only too 
pleased to make a proper splash when 
opening this new UK office, whieh 
isn’t here only to support the recent 
(and impressively prieey) purchase 
of $100 million’s worth of kit by 
the British Met Offiee. No, Gray has 
development and implementation 
projeets running out of Bristol in 
whieh Ameriean staff take orders 
from British global projeet leaders. 

Whoa, headspin moment - this 
definitely is not a PG company. Gray’s 
roots stretch back to the early 1970s, 
when it ereated the 
key inventions and 
algorithms that made 
supercomputing viable, 
and which still give it an 
edge today. These aren’t 
like my friends in the 
Fens, who distribute 
raeks of top-end 
supermicros that 
can be built into 
supercomputers. This 
isn’t a hot startup that 
stuffs all your data in the 
cloud and mumbles about 
scale-up versus scale-out 
- Gray’s president, Peter 
Ungaro, dismissed my 
cloud questions as 
quickly as he eould 


Steve is a consultant 
who specialises in 
networks, cloud, HR 
and upsetting the 
corporate apple cart 
O ©stardotpro 


BELOW Peter Ungaro, 
CEO of Cray, quickly 
dismissed my 
questions on cloud 
computing 




without being rude. He knows that 
for real supercomputing you keep 
the brains and the storage elose, 
linked by the fastest communication 
fabrics; you don’t leave them dangling 
at the end of dubious, inconsistent 
internet pipes. His interest lies in how 
many of the world’s top 500 fastest 
eomputing faeilities are Gray shops 
(answer: 28%). Nowadays, quite a 
few of these top 500 are evangelising 
a “build it yourself from plain white 
boxes” approach, but Peter and his 
team are quite clear about what 
buying Gray adds to that basic, 
building-blocks outlook. 

If you need to know how much 
such machines cost, the answer is 
that you probably can’t afford one - 
prices start at half a million dollars. 
Now I’m going to forswear the usual 
attempt to crunch such huge numbers 
down to the everyday seale, but I’ll 
just mention that last time I saw 
someone put together a “white 
box” commodity supercomputing 
environment, comprising two 
fairly full racks, they paid just 
over £300,000; you don’t need 
to be a red-braces Gity type to see 
that $500,000 and £300,000 are 
actually quite close, allowing for 
the exehange rate. 

The basic Gray is a rapidly mutating 
beast, but I just managed to grab a 
fleeting reference on one of the firm’s 
slides to “Haswell” , which pegs these 
boxes as being out of last year’s Intel 
parts catalogue. That passing moment 
made it sound as if “Gray” was 
just a stieker, using the same chips 
everybody else has in their far eheaper 
platforms. (I did notiee stiekers on the 
lids of the entirely standard laptops 
visible on the Gray offiee desks, which 
read “My other computer is a Gray” - 
and no, I didn’t manage to snaffle one.) 

Now I realise there are lots of folk 
who fervently, even obsessively, 
believe that the cheapest and most 
straightforward server designs are 
just as fast and long-lived as the 
machines made by their more 
ambitiously priced competitors. 


120 



Q@pcpro facebook.com/pcpro 



I’m reminded of eheery blogs from 
the early days of Linux in aeademie 
institutions that showed dumpsters 
full of retired “Windoze” workstations 
being reinearnated as bizarre (but 
very fast) Beowulf elusters of 
mismatehed bits. I’m sure this kind 
of experiment has been repeated 
several times, with the final results 
being trumpeted as vietories for 
penniless geniuses who need to run 
some vast eompute-pool task - and, 
while they’re at it, to take side-swipes 
at the massive ineffieieney of the 
Windoze environment. 

However, when I watehed a real 
supereomputer being speeified, 
ordered, built up and run, the 
relationship between this and 
“eommodity” hardware (stuff I eould 
grab online in a few minutes and 
expeet delivered the same week) 
was tenuous to say the least. If you 
streteh the definition of “eommodity” 
to inelude preeisely matehed, 
leading-edge, fully populated 
raek-dense maehines interlinked by 
state-of-the-art InfiniBand erossbar 
intereonneets, then I suppose this is 
eommodity of a kind. 

This stuff had to eome all the 
way from Japan, and had very 
grumpy requirements for sueh 
things as IP address ranges and 
aeeess to the internet - none of 


your hi-teeh business. It also gave me 
a good 15-20 minutes to look around 
the room and figure out what I was 
seeing, and henee formulate some 
more apposite questions - onee the 
painful business of tape-eutting and 
standing holding the strip of the loeal 
football team had eome to an end. No, 

I didn’t understand that bit either. 

Things beeame more teehnieal 
in direet proportion to the degree 
of relaxation and the amount of 
ehampagne eonsumed: the Met Offiee 
ehaps talked about their $100 million 
order, although, onee again, this was 
more about “what it does” than “how 
it does it” . I know from a previous 
life hanging around the edges of the 
insuranee business that there’s a huge 
market for more aeeurate weather 
foreeasts from business users - 
farmers are merely the tip of this 
ieeberg. The Met Offiee boss pointed 
out that in a single severe weather 
event - those St Jude’s Day storms 
that I remember elearly - the money 
saved by emergeney serviees by being 
in the right plaees (and not the wrong 
ones, sueh as near the sea, or on top 
of a hill) , and by various eommereial 
operators not sending out trueks to 
suffer nasty weather-related erashes, 
was already enough to pay for this 
new maehine. That’s not 
money saved in a year, it’s 
money saved in that single 
event - most reassuring if 
you were thinking that $100 
million is a lot of money. 

The interesting point 
about this $ioom in 
partieular - aeeording to his 
foreeast-versus-aetual 
graphie - is that the extra 
horsepower it buys 
makes today’s 
three-day 
foreeast as 
aeeurate as 
a one-day 
foreeast of 
around ten 


ABOVE Cray’s XC40 is 
powered by Intel Xeon 
CPUs -but is a world 
removed from a 
regular server 


“The more 
calculations he 
can cram into 
the interval 
between a buoy 
bobbing up and 
down and rain 
smacking my 
windowpane, 
the more 
accurate his 
warnings will 
become” 


BELOW The classic 
CrayX-MP/48:an 
iconic supercomputer 
design 


intelleetual property that date 
baek to 1972 -to spend sueh eash? If 
you’re just erunehing petaflops, then 
you eould simply sit down with a 
spreadsheet and a parts eatalogue 
and build your own, right? Anything 
else would just be the Apple Tax writ 
larger, money grabbed from people 
not smart enough to get the same 
thing for less... 

Er, not quite. First of all, the 
building-bloeks method of buying 
eommodities rests heavily on an 
assumption that there are no 
bottleneeks in the arehiteeture, and 
no limits to the ability to eompute. 
This is an assumption I’ve seen 
manifestly disproved many times 
over, even before straying into 
supereomputer land. I also started 
to reeognise a eommon theme from 
all the ease studies that the Cray guys 
and their assembled eustomers 
offered: it’s all about veetors or, in 
more modern eases, graph theory. 

I’m not aiming to summarise this 
entire braneh of mathematies, but I’d 
just like to point out a very subtle 
distinetion between looking for a 
shape you already know is in a 
pieture and letting that shape make 
itself known to you. Sound almost 
mystieal? Well, here’s one perfeetly 
mundane example of how this kind of 
maths ean aehieve results from a pool 
of unstruetured data. A partieular 
travel firm had a database of every 
holiday taken by its German 
eustomers. A traditional business- 
intelligenee question may take the 
form “how many people went to 
Turkey?”, but veetor-orientated 
questions would be more like 
“whieh are the fastest-growing 
destinations?” or “whieh are the 
least popular airports?” Graph 
theory allows data to 
present emergent 
behaviours 
or properties 
with minimum 
presumptions on the 
part of the questioner. 


years ago. So in this very speeifie 
field I have an equally narrow 
answer to that question with 
whieh I started the eolumn: 
he’d pay whatever they ask for 
this Cray eomputer, and for 
the next one, beeause the more 
ealeulations he ean eram into the 
interval between a buoy bobbing 
up and down and rain smaeking 
my windowpane, the more 
aeeurate his weather warnings 
willbeeome. 

But why go to Cray - a eompany 
with traeeable ehunks of 


whieh I’m used to seeing even 
with enterprise-grade maehines 
operating as eompute servers, 
never mind eommodity-grade ones. 

Cray struggled with my questions 
about this. Mr Ungaro was polite, but 
was elearly distraeted by the non- 
teehnieal mission of making The Hon 
Edward Henry Butler Vaizey MP, HM 
Minister for Culture, Communieations 
and Creative Industries - alongside 
loeal Bristol dignitaries - feel 
weleome. The Rt Hon Ed’s speeeh was 
great fun, aetually, very mueh in the 
Boris style, but it wasn’t really about 
anything teehnieal; more about how 
lovely Bristol is as a plaee to set up 


121 


Real world 

computing 


Q@pcpro facebook.com/pcpro 


This might feel a million miles from 
modelling anew jet-engine design, 
but from the twinkle in the eyes of a 
few of the Cray engineers I gleaned 
that it aetually might not be all that 
far - they’re all very firmly eonvineed 
that you ean’t get real supereomputer 
performanee from mix-and-mateh 
environments. 

I rather suspeet that these same 
eoneepts from graph theory underlie 
the design of proper supereomputers 
with tens of thousands of eores. To 
eompute all that data and have the 
answers thrown baek onto some 
lesser device for you to read, the 
secret sauce lies in the OS. It’s the OS 
that has to figure out a whole lot of 
dataflows, quite irrespective of what 
those dataflows represent. They could 
be Germans going on holiday; they 
could be meteorological readings from 
sensors in the North Atlantic; they 
could be obscure statistics about 
baseball players (one US baseball team 
uses a Cray that it consults in the short 
interval between a new pitcher being 
presented and a batter being chosen to 
respond - and no, I didn’t understand 
this either). 

I suspect the gap in comprehension 
between Cray as an old-school 
supercomputer maker and these new 
plug-and-play evangelists boils down 
to a very unfashionable word indeed: 
maturity. Even though almost none of 
that original 1972 business remains, 
what has been carried over is far more 
than all the clever code libraries and 
approaches to computing, embedded 
in bits of hardware that don’t even get 
rated in the speed-comparison charts: 
it’s a far longer-term understanding of 
businesses, too, and of how they may 
try to use information technology, 
without some of the sacred cows and 
crazy constraints of the IT business as 
we’ve all come to know it in the early 
21st century. 

Of clouds and hosts 

Oh boy, is Red Hat ever excited about 
its Cloud Suite for Applications. This 
is a platform that gets laggy, lazy 
developers up to delivery speed with 
whatever funky web widget they’re 
trying to put together, without 
having to necessarily kowtow to 
those equally laggy and lazy web 
hosts, who can’t see that the world has 
changed. Everyone is tearing up even 
those transformative cloud strategies. 


LDDC 



40 -DC - liKlepen>derTt UK data centre, cloud provider and iSP 


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which had already torn up the old 
guard of hosting. Yes I know, after 
you’ve listened to too many cloud 
industry presentations, the words 
kind of tumble into one another until 
you can’t identify what they think 
they’re saying, let alone what it 
might mean for you (the presenters 
have promoted themselves from 
merely “excited” - so 2009 - to 
“super-excited”). That’s why it was 
ideal timing to go straight from the 
Red Hat briefing over to a far calmer 
and more down-to-earth chat with 
David Barker, technical director at 
4D-DC (4d-dc.e0m). 

He has a new architecture for 
hosting, which is why we were 
chatting, but I was more interested 
in some counterpoint to the super- 
excitement of the Red Hat launch. 

We ended up talking about the way 
his existing customers had driven 
his interest in putting the dreaded 
“c” word into what had been a 
pretty straightforward hosting 
and rack-space business. 

He was clear about this: while the 
leading-edge announcements are all 
very clever (and there’s no doubting 
that, in some distant lands, the high 
pace of change at work will lead us 
into a very different web-server 
world), from his perspective, his 
clients are much more interested 
in long-term stability. Where a 
cloud platform helps with that - 
for instance, through its ability to 
move a running VM from a host 
that develops problems onto one 
that’s working okay - they’re 
exceedingly interested. But go too 
far with the highfalutin, scalable, 
transportable, standards-driven, 
containerised OpenStack-ready 
blah, and those same customers 
will just stop listening. 


ABOVE 4D-DChas 
a refreshingly 
grounded take 
on the cloud 


“After you’ve 
listened to too 
many cloud 
presentations, 
the words kind 
of tumble into 
one another 
until you can’t 
identify what 
they think 
they’re saying, 
or what it 
means for you” 


My relief at hearing this 
verged on the boundless, 
because that’s more or less 
what I’d been saying earlier 
that day to Lars Herrmann 
of Red Hat, while he was 
getting carried away and 
amazed by the possibilities 
presented by Cloud 
Suite for Applications. 
Unfortunately for my 
frazzled brain, he grabbed 
the down-to-earth point 
and ran with it. 

The whole proposition 
for Red Hat is that asking 
hassled developers - who 
have websites they need to 
bang out - to keep careful 
track of where the hosting 
business would like to 
pigeonhole this or that resource (Is 
it laaS? Is it PaaS? Who really cares?) 
just slows everything down. It makes 
it much harder for them to prepare 
their site designs for the brave new 
world of OpenStack, and that includes 
the database and the workflow an end 
user has to undertake, not merely the 
chunks of Java or CSS sheets or such 
like. This is where I think Red Hat 
needs to listen very carefully to 
people such as qD-DC’s David Barker. 

Not once in his positively over- 
brimming presentation did Lars 
mention cost, which is a classic 
omission for a Red Hatter, what with 
them being so open and all. Neither 
they nor the bigger beasts they’re 
targeting with this toolbox (AWS 
and Azure) like to make the pricing of 
the final, delivered web-commerce 
application easy to discern during 
the design or testing phase. The 
costs will rise as your traffic rises 
of course, but when your traffic 
does rise you’ll be making more 
money - so what do you care if the 
bill goes up, right? 

David, as a long-term hosting 
specialist, knows very well that 
customers are going to care a great 
deal about the bill, and many of them 
don’t take kindly to being told they 
ought to be “more responsive to 
flexible demand” or some other 
rapid-fire, cloud- jargontastic 
nightmare. Customers are far more 
likely to choose trailing-edge, simple, 
predictable products and companies 
over the big players if they start to get 
the uneasy feeling that they’re being 
blinded by gobbledegook. This is a 
profound truth of the commercial 
market that both David and I seemed 
to understand, without having to get 
“super-excited” about anything. 

^ cassidy@well.com 


122 




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Futures 


We explore the trends and technologies that are set to shape the future 

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Lift-offfor 


EasyJets 


drone crew 


The budget airline istrialling maintenance 
drones, 3D-printed replacement parts and 
much more. Nicole Kobie reveals why the 
company is looking to the future 


A maintenance drone buzzes 
through the air, scanning 
every inch of the surface of 
the aircraft. On the ground, engineers 
viewing images from the drone 
discover the problem: the exact 
spot where lightning struck the 
plane, weakening the structure 
and forcing it to be grounded. 

This is a scenario EasyJet is 
trialling, in an attempt to reduce 
groundings of aircraft from days to 
only hours. It’s but one of a series of 
cutting-edge techniques the budget 
airline is testing to ensure its fleet 
remains in the air as much as possible. 

■ Eyes in the sky 

Lightning and bird strikes can ground 
a plane for days. Engineers must 
inspect the entire body of the aircraft. 


going up in cherry pickers to enable 
them to examine the plane from every 
angle. Now, EasyJet wants drones to 
carry out the exploration, with 
engineers examining the video from 
the ground - cutting turnaround 
time to just hours. 

“A lot of people have thought that 
the drone is doing the inspection,” 
Mark Bunting, EasyJet’s drone 
programme manager, told PC Pro. 
“But our first version of this is [for 
the drone] to provide video footage 
to an engineer. It’s actually an 
engineer’s aid.” 

The initial thought was to 
manually fly a drone around planes, 
but that would require staff and a lot 
of setup, and would be harder to do 
outside without infrastructure to 
aid the drone. Instead, EasyJet 


ABOVE Drones will 
carryout an initial 
assessment of 
EasyJet’s fleet 


BELOW The Riser uses 
Lidar lasers to detect 
issues on the surface 
of aircraft 


worked with drone manufacturer 
Blue Bear and its Riser hardware, 
which is already used to carry out 
inspections of tall buildings and ships. 

The Riser uses a pair of lasers, 
known as Lidar, for detection and 
ranging. Tell the Riser drone to stay 
several inches away from the plane, 
and it simply works its way around 
the surface from that distance. “The 
[drone] is able to fly safely around 
the aircraft and map all of it,” said 
Bunting. “It’s able to take a visual 
record of all of it.” 

Engineers appreciate the drone, 
because it spares them from having 
to clamber up and down in heavy 
machinery to examine planes. 

Plus, there’s no concern over the 
drones making the engineers’ jobs 
redundant. Bunting said the work still 
requires a human to judge the damage 
and assess what needs to be fixed. 
“There’s no machine that can do 
that sort of job,” he explained. 

The next goal is to provide 
engineers with a better user interface. 
They aim to map the video onto a 



124 




Q@pcpro facebook.com/pcpro 


Futures EasyJet drones ^ 


Software plane-spotters 



Of course, none of 
technologies mentioned will 
helpyou getthrough check-in 
queues any faster- but EasyJet 
has built an app for the Apple 
Watch with which to book and 
manage flights, too. 


It isn't only new hardware on which 
EasyJet has its sights; it's also 
looking to new fault-predicting 
software, virtual reality for 
training, and much more. 

Working with aircraft maker 
Airbus, thefirm is developing a 
“state-of-the-art, early-fault- 
prognosistool”thatwill use 
in-flight telemetry to spot technical 
flaws before they become an issue. 

The software pulls in real-time 
data, mapping it on to an animated 
schematic that can be used to 
troubleshoot technical faults -even 
before the plane lands, according 
to an EasyJettechnical document. 

Planes aren't the only concern, with EasyJet 
working with virtual-reality firms Output42, 
Design Q and Mediasphere, to make training 
and maintenance tools for cabin crew. The 
airline istesting a 3D lasertechnology that 
scans plane interiors, producing a 360-degree 
digital model in which crew can train; they learn 


their way around using an Oculus Rift 
headset. The firm is also using games 
with simulated customer-service 
scenarios to improve interactions 
with passengers, and developing a 
cabin-maintenance app to replace 
paper-tracking systems. 


digital model of the plane, making 
it easier to loeate the damage and 
automatieally link to the relevant 
seetion of the manual, where 
material limits are doeumented. 
Currently, engineers still have 
to flip through doeumentation 
to look up sueh details. 

The airline said it’s planning to 
bring the drones into serviee at up 
to ten of its engineering bases, 
ineluding Luton and Gatwiek, 
by the end of 2016. 

■ 3D-printed planes 

The interior of EasyJet’ s planes might 
soon be notable for something other 
than their orange deeor, with plans to 
sD-print window blinds, dropdown 
trays, armrests and other eabin 
furniture. Currently, spare seats and 
other replaeement parts are stored in 
a warehouse, and shipped to airfields 
when needed, or they have to be 
manufaetured on demand. “So the 
part is sitting on a shelf or it has a 
long lead time, ” said Bunting. 

To eounter sueh issues, EasyJet 
wants to set up a high-end 3D printer, 
at Luton or another airport, whieh 
eould be used to print parts for all of 
the airlines that operate there. It may 
seem surprising that airlines would 
use a 3D printer to replaee seat parts, 
but in-eabin items are a pain point in 
the industry, not least beeause every 
airline has different seat designs. 
“Seating manufaeturers ean’t keep 
up with maintaining stoek, beeause 
EasyJet eomes along and wants a 
slightly different seat design,” he said. 



At the moment, the EasyJet trial 
is restrieted to in-eabin items, but 
in the future the airline is hoping 
to use the printing teehnology for 
engine parts too. Eor that, it has to 
wait for the arrival of the LEAP 
(leading-edge aviation propulsion) 
engine, whieh features earbon-filter 
fan blades and a 3D-printed fuel 
nozzle. The latter was designed 
to be 3D-printed beeause it 
eombined what was previously a 
multipart objeet into a single pieee, 
simplifying assembly and redueing 
fuel eonsumption. “Theyean 
effeetively make a nozzle to 
workperfeetly,” Bunting said. 

“And that’s where the future 
in manufaeturing with 3D printing 
is - design-to-print, rather than 
printing an old design,” he said. 
“They’ve designed a fuel nozzle for the 
printing method, instead of designing 
a nozzle and then printing it.” 


“EasyJet plans to bring 
drones into service at up 
to ten of its engineering 
bases, including Luton and 
Gatwiek, by the end of 201 6 ” 


BELOW 3D printing 
could be used to 
replicate engine parts 


It may be surprising to see sueh 
bleeding-edge innovation eoming 
from an infamously eost-eonseious 
airline, but EasyJet has a relatively 
modern fleet with whieh it’s prepared 
to experiment. It eurrently hasmore 
than 200 planes, and is looking to add 
more than loo new aireraft to its fleet. 
“We give people who are willing to 
eome up with eutting- 
edge ideas aeeess to our 
planes, our expertise and 
operation,” said Bunting. 

The ideal outeome for 
EasyJet is diseovering 
finaneial and time 
effieieneies - anything 
that would “make a huge differenee” 
to how the eompany operates. “But we 
don’t aetually do mueh of the work 
ourselves,” he said. “We engage with 
the people who are going to make 
money out of it. We have no interest 
in the intelleetual property, nor in 
owning the produet.” 

Instead, people sueh as Bunting 
work with teeh suppliers to develop 
ideas and trial them. And it’s a 


win-win situation. If the idea works 
for EasyJet, it’s saving the airline 
money while, beeause of the size of 
the its fleet, the supplier has a large 
market to instantly sell into. “And 
beeause of the size of our Airbus 
fleet, there’s a knoek-on [effeet] 
into the aviation eommunity, as 
everybody else benefits from it 
as well,” Bunting said. 

In other words, expeet drones 
and 3D-printed armrests to take 
off for other airlines, too. • 


125 






A taste of 3D: food printers 
heading for coffee shops 


3D printers may be adept at knocking out plastic toys and components, but 
what if they could rustle up grub? Well, thanks to XYZprinting, that's soon 
to become a reality. We spoke to CEO Simon Shen to find out more 




ABOVE Theda Vinci 
Jr, available in the 
UK for only £299 

RIGHT The Nobell 
uses SLA technology 
to print more quickly 


3D print jobs you do now, but with 
cookie dough instead of plastic, and 
you get the picture. 

■ From an engineering standpoint, 
what’s the difference between 
printing in plastic and printing 
with edible ingredients? 

“The hardware design was not as 
difficult for us ... as the food, ” he said. 
The company hired a eonsultant to 
experiment with different ingredients 
and the “so-ealled eompounds of the 
food”. So far, the consultant has 
created reeipes for eookies, 
choeolates, eupcakes, 
pizzas and macaroons. 


Taiwan and Japan. “The 
idea they have is to put 
a 3D printer in hotels or 
coffee shops. For example, 
if you go into a coffee shop 
[with a food printer] , you 
can have eookies made 
instantaneously with ... your own 
design, your name, the Hello Kitty 
sign, whatever,” he said. 


3D PRINTING HAS been used to build 
apartment blocks and create body 
parts - and now it’s being used to 
construct lunch. XYZprinting’s food 
printer was on show at January’s 
CES, and it’s set to arrive in the UK 
this year, enabling coffee shops to 
offer bespoke cookies and the rest 
of us to create a meal via tubes of 
ingredients that are sprayed onto the 
plate. We spoke to CEO Simon Shen to 
find out if this is a tasty idea or 
a weirdly eomplieated way 
to make a pizza. 

■ XYZprinting isn’t 
new to printers. 

How did you come 
to develop a printer 
for food? 

“We started in paper 
printers, meaning 
inkjet and laser printers, 
and we’ve been doing that 
for 15 years,” said Shen. “We 
still produee 15 million printers 
per year. ” Two years ago, the 
company asked eustomers if they’d 
be interested in a 3D model. “They 
told me the 3D-printer market is very 
small, it’s too early, they may not be 
interested at this point in time,” he 
said. “However, we decided we 
may not be able to wait until the 
market matures. We need to 
spend our resources and 
develop 3D printers.” 

That led to the da Vinci 
line of eonsumer 3D 
printers, which picked 
up awards at CES, and 
the Jr edition, 
whieh arrived in the 
UK at only £299 (seepyy). 


■ How does a 3D food 
printer work? 

One machine can print a 
variety of foods. As with 
existing 3D printers, it 
feeds the material through 
a nozzle, using different 
tubes of ingredients to 
make up the recipe. “You 
just pick up a tube from 
the refrigerator and you 
print with it, ” said Shen. 
“Then, it has to be baked 
afterwards.” Imagine the 


■ Who would buy 
a 3D food printer? 

Shen is already in talks 
with food retailers in 



It’s not only for novelty desserts. 

A Taiwanese convenience store is 
looking to use the machine to offer 
a wider range of products. “All the 
[food] right now in the convenience 
store is prepaekaged,” he said. “But 
with 3D they can just print it. ” 

■ Will this eventually end up 
in people’s homes? 

“I think every home will have one, 
just like every home has a eoffee 
maker,” Shen said, adding that the 
printer will hopefully come to the 
UK this year. “Three years, five years, 
ten years down the road, if the price 
point drops to a certain level ... every 
home will eventually have one. 

“In Japan, they are able to print 
bread. You can actually print that 
at home instead of buying it from the 
store,” he added. 

But the future may be odder still. 
“Some eompanies are trying to use our 
3D printer to print meat . . . and eggs, ” 
he said. Vegetarians may rejoice, but 
we’ll reserve judgement until we’ve 
had a taste.# 


126 



Q@PCPR0 nFACEBOOK.COM/PCPRO 


Futures ^ 


What is... 
a data furnace? 


Put the heat generated by a computer to good use: 
data furnace firm Nerdalize is offering free heating 
in exchange for running a server from your home 



Data centres create huge amounts 
of heat, and keeping them cool 
can be a challenge, not to mention 
expensive and damaging to the 
environment. Research suggests 
that as much as 1.5% of electricity 
use around the world is devoted to 
powering and cooling data centres. 

Rather than let that heat go 
to waste, some data centres are 
using it to warm other buildings - 
Swedish firm Bahnhof pumps it 
into Stockholm’s municipal heating 
system, for example. Data furnaces 
take the concept further, placing the 
servers in people’s homes, where 
the heat they generate is used for 
domestic heating. The first firm 
offering the service is Nerdalize, 
based in the Netherlands. Here’s 
how it works. 

Nerdalize turns your home into 
a server farm? Cosy. Not quite. 
Instead, it attaches a radiator-style 
boxto an external wall in your home. 
Inside that lives the server equipment, 
which connects overyourfibre 
internet connection to provide 
distributed cloud computing services 
to Nerdalize’s customers. It’s slightly 
larger than a standard radiator, and 
pumps outIkW a day- about half the 
output of a standard radiator. 

What about in the summer? Or if 
the internet goes down? Nerdalize’s 
server radiators can be switched off, 
with the excess heatfunnelled outside 
-which is why they must be installed 
on an external wall. And if your internet 
connection goes down in the winter, 
you won’t freeze: the server has 
dummy equationsto run if it has 


nothing bettertodo,soyour home 
will be kepttoasty. 

Won’t this just rack up my electricity 
bill? Nerdalize will payforthe 
electricity it uses. There is a €400 
(£283) setup fee, and the startup 
won’t payforyour internet connection. 

How does Nerdalize earn from this? 

It sells access to the servers to firms 
and universities. The startup claims 
the cost of its service is 55% cheaper 
than rivals, because it doesn’t have the 
overheads created by data centres. 
However, because the servers aren’t 
all in one place, the service isn’t ideal 
for all, particularly those who require 
fast processing. Nerdalize says its 
grid computing is used for video 
transcoding, engineering models, and 
scientific computing - anything that 
benefits from parallel computing, but 
doesn’t need to be done in a hurry. 

What if the homeowner fiddles with 
the server? It’s secured, but if you 
tamper with it, Nerdalize can wipe 
the server so that you can’t access the 
data. Plus, all data is encrypted. The 
creators argue that the distributed 
system is more secure than a 
centralised data centre, since it would 
be tough for hackers to locate all the 
points to target a specific company. 

Free heating, environmental 
benefits, plus geek credentials? 

Sign me up! Only if you’re Dutch; 
Nerdalize isonly available inthe 
Netherlands, and there’s no word yet 
on whether it will come to the UK. 

Give the startup a nudge by signing 
up for updates at nerdalize.com. 


Crowdfund 
this! 


OurpickofUKtech 
projects on Kickstarter 
andindiegogo 


Chatrbell 
smart doorbell 

What is it? Chatrbell is an update to your 
existing front doorbell, which is a rather 
analogue idea: when else would you ring a 
bell to get someone’s attention? This isn’t the 
Victorian era, when we had butlers to attend to such 
interruptions. Instead, Chatrbell sends a notification to your 
phone, after which you can either get up and open the door, 
ask visitors to identify themselves via the built-in chat service, 
or ask them to send a photo for identification. 



So you still have to get up and answer the door? Yes, it simply 
lets you ask who’s there, but this means you won’t miss a visit if 
you’re in the back garden, or can make arrangements if you’re 
away from home. For example, you can send a courier a message 
to direct them where to leave your package. 

How does it work? The Chatrbell “Flare” is a small device you 
stick on the inside of your door that sends your home ID signal 
out to visitors’ apps. The signal is sent over Bluetooth via the 
iBeacon system on iPhones; Android isn’t yet supported. 

Wait, so visitors need the app too? Yes, and that’s one obvious 
downside to this project: both parties need to have the Chatrbell 
app installed, which seems rather optimistic. It would be simpler 
to tape a note on your door asking visitors to call your phone 
when they arrive - it’s hard to imagine that couriers infamous for 
failing even to ring doorbells to speed “deliveries” will take the 
time to install an app when faced with your doorbell-less home 
and a Chatrbell sticker in the window. 



That sounds like a downgrade to the system, not an 
improvement. Chatrbell’s London-based creator Andy Young 
says doorbell notifications are only the beginning. Features 
he expects to see in the future include remote door-lock 
controls, integration with existing entry intercom systems, 
built-in camera systems, and e-signatures for deliveries. 

How much will this doorbell revolution cost? For £15, you 
receive your very own Chatrbell Flare. At the time of writing, 
the project had raised only £987 of the £85,000 target, with a 
deadline of 27 July. 

Link: pcpro.link/251chatrbell 


127 



Futures 




Geek Day Out; 
At-Bristol 
Science Centre 

See the universe in 4K at the At-Bristol Science Centre's new 3D 
planetarium - before spacing out on 300 other exhibits 


Poming up 


Wood chips 


As the mountain of 
discarded silicon goods 
grows ever higher, 

US scientists have 
invented what could be 
the first biodegradable 
.processors 


We're churning through new 
gadgets faster than ever, plunging 
even more toxic materials into 
landfill. But researchers in Wisconsin 
may have a solution: processors 
made mostly from wood. 

The chips still use standard 
semiconductor materiaisforthe 
key parts - you wouldn’t get a 
great clockspeed out of timber 
transistors. Yet as Zhenqiang Ma, 
acomputerengineering professor 
atthe University of Wisconsin, 
pointed out, the majority of material 
in a chip is simply there for support. 
“We use less than a couple of 
micrometers for everything else,” 
he said. 

Ratherthan use relying on toxic 
ingredients such as gallium arsenide, 
Ma has built those support layers 
with a wood-based biodegradable 
material called cellulose nanofibril 
(CNF). “Now the chips are so safe you 
can put them in the forest and fungus 
will degrade it. They become as safe 
as fertiliser.” 




D ual 4K projectors powered 
by 16 PCs offer a 1.6 billion- 
pixel, 3D view of the universe 
at the At-Bristol Science Centre’s 
new planetarium. 

“Using this system you can have 
an astronaut’s eye view of Earth, peer 
inside a glowing nebula, and even fly 
through the rings of Saturn, ” said PR 
manager Jen Forster. 

Once you’re done exploring space 
in 3D, there are 300 other exhibits 
to gawp at. Highlights include 
Eye Witness, which showcases the 
software the police use to “evolve” 
faces using facial recognition; Space 
Walk, which makes good use of a 
Kinect hack; and the Surprising 
Sounds listening game, which is a firm 
favourite of visitors. “In a day, visitors 
can walk through a tornado, test the 
speed of their reactions, build a house, 
pull a bubble over their whole body, 

M In a day, visitors can 
walk through a tornado, 
build a house, and even 
take a trip to the stars 
in the Planetarium ff 


talk to a robot waiter, take a trip to the 
stars in the Planetarium, freeze their 
shadow and more,” Forster said. 

The centre is designed for all ages 
- the planetarium even goes 2D for 
younger visitors - and features 
Toddler Takeover days for little tykes 
and after-hours events for adults. The 
next adult-only event is 8 October, 
and if you’re making plans for next 
year already then summer 2016 will 
see a “Make It” exhibition focusing on 
the maker movement, with robotics 
and coding playing a central part. 

The At-Bristol Science Centre is 
open daily. Tickets cost £12.60 for 
adults and £8.10 for children. To 
save cash, try a late-entry ticket: 
arrive 90 minutes before closing for 
half-price entry. The planetarium is 
an additional £3. For more details, 
visit: at-bristol.org.uk. 


ABOVE Made from 
wood, these chips are 
environmentally 
friendly 


Using wood or paper in the 
production of electronics raises 
concerns thatthe chips will expand 
when heated, or lack the smoothness 
required in processors. An 
epoxy coating solves 
both challenges. 

The researchers 
claim they’ve 
assembled 
CNFchips with 
“performance 
comparable to 
existing chips”, 
but admit it 
may be some 
time before the 
technology iswidely 
used. “Mass-producing 
current semiconductor chips isso 
cheap, and itmaytaketimeforthe 
industry to adapt to our design,” Ma 
said. “But... we think we’re going to 
be well ahead of the curve.” 


ABOVE Visit the UK’s 
first 3D planetarium, 
and have fun with 
bubbles too {left) 


128 



w 


ACEBOOK.COH/PCPRO 


Brainteaser Q 


Coding challenge 


Deciphering amibiguous Morse code messages 


11 The Victorian internet 

The first Morse code message was sent in 1844, which is why 
Morse code sent over the telegraph is sometimes called “the 
Victorian internet” - it was the first system that allowed global 
communication. By tapping out dots and dashes, an operator 
could send messages at up to 35 words per minute - faster 
than most modern teenagers can send messages from their 
mobile phones. 


- A 

— ... 0 

— . c 

— D 

E 

■— F 

— G 

.... 1^ 

I 

.— J 

— K 

— L 

— M 

- N 

— 0 

— P 

Q 

R 

... s 

- T 

— U 

— - V 

— w 

— - X 

— - Y 

— • Z 



The sequence of dots and dashes is sent with a short pause 
between each letter, allowing the listener to tell where letters 
start and end. Without the pause, this wouldn’t be possible and 
the message would be ambiguous. For example, the sequence 

for CAT would be “ •- but with the spaces taken out it 

would be “ ” . There are many different ways of interpreting 

this depending on where you put the spaces: 


.- 

- 

.. -- 

CAT 

TEXT 

K I M 


Can we use a computer program to decode a word written 
in Morse code without spaces? In a word, yes. One way to do this is 
by using a brute-force attack. Morse code letters never have more 
than four dots or dashes, so we know that an incoming message 
must be broken into chunks of one, two, three or four characters. 

Since our sample code has seven characters, we could break 
it into seven one-character chunks. Alternatively, we could divide 
the code into three two-character chunks with one character left 
over. These could be arranged in a number of ways, giving us four 
permutations to test: 


2 2 2 1 

2 2 12 

-. -- -- - 

-. -- - -- 


2 12 2 

12 2 2 

-. - -- -- 

- -- -- -- 


To help generate these possible chunks of code, we could 
use a string of digits to describe the size of the chunks. For this 
example, a possible solution will be formed from up to seven 
single-character chunks, up to three two-character chunks, 
up to two three-character chunks and up to one chunk of four 
characters. If we make a string out of all these possibilities, 
“1111111222334”, we can create an iteration function (or use an 
existing one, such as the one found in Python’s itertools library) to 
generate all the possible permutations of different-sized chunks. 

Many of these permutations will be invalid, of course. We can 
ignore chunking sequences that don’t add up to the total length 



kk An incoming Morse 
code message must 
be broken into chunks 
of one, two, three or 
four characters Vf 


of the original Morse message, so (1,1,2) and 
(3,3,4) can be ignored. We can store the valid 
chunk patterns in an array, meaning we can 
easily work our way through them later. You 
should end up with 56 valid chunk patterns, 
from (1,1,1, 1,1, 1,1) to (4,3)- 

The next step is to check each of these 
possible chunking sequences to see if the 
chunks described convert to letters of the 
Morse alphabet. An easy way to do this is 
to use a dictionary data structure, in which 
each unique Morse code chunk points to a 
capital letter of the alphabet. If if doesn’t 
map to any letter, the whole sequence can 
be ignored. Otherwise, we can build up and 
output a translation - from “TETEETT” 

(1,1, 1,1, 1,1,1) to “CW” (4,3). 

You could also 
cross-check the translated 
string against a dictionary 
file and output only real 
English words. Be warned, 
though: as you work 
with longer phrases, 
the number of possible 
translations increases 
exponentially, meaning 
that your processor might take a long time to 
crunch through all the possible codes. 


II The challenge 

The following Morse code words have had 
their spaces taken out. Can you write a 
program to translate them into words 
that make a phrase? 




-# 


Once you’ve solved the challenge for the 
words individually, can you find a solution 
where the characters are combined into a 
single word with no spaces? DAVID HUNT 


129 





B One last thing... 


Q@pcpro facebook.com/pcpro 





- \ 



I ’m not a political animal at heart. 1 can see 
much of benefit in what most parties have 
to say, and the rest makes little or no sense 
to me at all. I have no time for the political 
process either, noting just how few pre-election 
promises seem to make it through to reality. And 
I’ve nothing but loathing for those who do their 
best to climb the greasy pole, and to ensure their 
snouts are dug deep into the communal trough. 

There are, of course, the rare exceptions - 
politicians who appear to have some element 
of moral fibre, of real public work ethic, and 
who bring experience of the wider world to 
the job. But I fear they’re few and far between. 

So when I point the finger of ridicule at a 
particular politician, don’t make the mistake of 
believing I’m making a party political statement. 
I’m not. In my view, all MPs should stay in their 
constituencies, video-conference everything, 
and vote securely online. It would save a fortune 
on expenses, allow MPs to spend more time 
with their constituents, and make lobbying so 
expensive that no-one could afford to do it. All 
of which sounds like good democracy to me. 
However, we all know that the Civil Service and 
the whips simply couldn’t allow power to slip 
from their fingers in such a way. I refer you to 
the great analyses of parliament written by 
Messrs Jay and Lynn for further education. 

Now it’s easy to take something said out of 
context. But I just want to lay this paragraph 
here for your consideration, taken from an 
interview with Yvette Cooper in The Guardian 
on 23 May: 

“In her own Yorkshire constituency, where 
closure of the Ferrybridge power station was 
announced last week, she wants the children 
of the skilled workers who had jobs there for 
generations to be able to train for hi-tech 
leadership positions. ‘The sons and daughters 
of miners should all be learning coding. We 
have such huge advantages because of the world 
wide web being invented as a result of British 
ingenuity,’ she says. ‘We also have the English 
language, but what are we doing as a country 
to make sure we are at the heart of the next 
technology revolution?”’ 

Be in no doubt, the closure of a large 
infrastructure item such as a power station is 
a terrible thing, and has effects that reach out 


Westminsterwoes: 
Jon Honeyball offers 
some harsh advice 
to a prospective 
Labour leader 


right across the local population. But what is her answer to this? 

The sons and daughters should be able to train for hi-tech leadership 
positions. Not just any old tech jobs, but “leadership” positions. 

They should be learning coding. And, to cap it all, we possess a huge 
advantage because the web was invented by British ingenuity. 

Let’s leave aside that Web 1.0 was a slim, feeble thing designed for 
a very specific task; and that the current web bears little meaningful 
resemblance to it. Let’s leave aside that it was invented by someone 
who was working in Switzerland at CERN, using a computer from 
California. No, according to Ms Cooper, these daughters and sons of 
miners should be learning coding to get hi-tech leadership positions 
because of this heritage. And that English will and should be at the 
heart of the next technology revolution. Note: English, not American. 

You might think these are the deranged ramblings of an idiot. I 
wouldn’t disagree, although I suspect it’s somewhat more likely that 
she’s just being staggeringly ill-advised. In which case, Ms Cooper, 
my contact details are at the bottom of the 
page, and my rates are reassuringly large. 

I will gloss over the fact that, according to 
Wikipedia, she has never had a real job in her 
life, skipping from university to being an 
economic-policy researcher for John Smith in 
1990, then to a bunch of other similar positions 
until sliding gracefully into the safe seat of 
Pontefract and Castleford in the 1997 general 
election. She has never, I presume, had to 
run a business, small or large. Or do a quarterly VAT return. Or 
worry about meeting the payroll. Or work her way up from being 
the daughter of a miner, or laid-off power-station worker, to train 
for a hi-tech leadership position. No, none of that. 

Here’s an idea. Why don’t we get all those coders to write this 
new system that allows MPs to work from their constituency offices. 
The public purse could fund all these hi-tech leaders who could 
then excel in this era of technical innovation - and, best of all, they 
wouldn’t have to be housed in expensive offices in Hoxton (such a 
short, photo-op-friendly hop from Westminster, don’t you think?) . 

So Ms Cooper, there’s your remit as prospective leader of 
the Labour party. Let’s see you do something meaningful, and 
help those people up there. And do it without sounding like a 
horrifyingly out-of-touch, London-centric MP. 

■ Jon Honeyball is a contributing editor to PC Pro and M D of an IT consultancy. In 
the event Yvette Cooper does want to get in touch, emailjon@jonhoneyball.com 


M You might think these 
are the ramblings of 
an idiot; 1 suspect she’s 
just being staggeringly 
ill-advised f f 


130 




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