Author Archive Charles Bunn

Print Screen on Steroids

For many novice users, not realizing that the PrtScn key (Print Screen on some keyboards) was not printing their screen became a revelation when they understood that it was instead sending the image to the clipboard. Combining ALT with the PrtScn key brought them a new nirvana when they realized that would capture the active window. Capturing multiple active windows or one screen of a multiple screen setup did not seem possible unless you knew about Microsoft’s Snipping Tool. The Snipping Tool comes with Windows 8, 7, and can be installed on Windows Vista and XP via the Microsoft Experience Pack for Tablet PC.

  1. On Windows 7 we need to open the Snipping Tool and there are several ways to do this. Using the Windows menus we select Start → All Programs → Accessories and the Snipping Tool appears under the Accessories folder. The tool can also be opened by clicking on Start and then typing Snipping Tool followed by Enter in the Search box.

    Snipping Tool location in Accessories menu.

  2. In Windows 8 open the Snipping Tool by swiping in from the right edge of the screen, tapping Search (or if you are using a mouse, pointing to the upper right corner of the screen, moving the mouse pointer down, and then clicking Search), enter Snipping Tool in the search box, tapping or clicking Apps, and then tapping or clicking Snipping Tool.
  3. If you can not find the program, press the Windows key, type Programs and Features, and press Enter to open the Programs and Features control panel applet. Click “Turn Windows Features On or Off” in the left pane and then click through the User Account Control dialog Box, if necessary. Check Tablet PC Optional Components, click OK, and then close the Programs and Features applet.
  4. If you wish to pin the tool to the Taskbar then right click the program name Snipping Tool and select Pin to Taskbar.

    Snipping Tool Pin to Taskbar

  5. A short cut can be created on the desktop by right clicking the program name Snipping Tool and then select Send to → Desktop. You now have handy access to this tool at any time.
  6. If you are a little more adventurous you can also create a Shortcut for the Snipping Tool. Right click the program name Snipping Tool or its shortcut and select Properties. A window will pop up, click in the Shortcut key box under the Shortcut tab, enter your chosen key combination (CTRL-ALT-P is popular) directly by clicking on the keys you want to have as shortcut keys and then click OK or Apply.

    Creating a Shortcut to Snipping Tool.

  7. In the Snipping Tool, tap or click the arrow next to the New button, choose the kind of snip you want, and then pick the area of your screen that you want to capture. The snip is automatically copied to the Snipping Tool window. You can copy the snip from the snipping tool to the clip board by just clicking on the Copy icon in the Snipping Tool workspace when it is open.

    New area to use Snipping Tool on.

  8. You can capture the following types of snips:
    1. Free-form Snip. Draw any shape around an object with your finger (Windows 8), mouse or tablet pen.
    2. Rectangular Snip. Drag the cursor around the object to form a rectangle.
    3. Window Snip. Choose a window – like a browser window or a dialog box.
    4. Full-screen Snip. Capture the entire screen.
  9. You can capture a snip of a menu by doing the following
    After you open the Snipping Tool, press Esc, and then open the menu that you want a picture of.
    Press CTRL + PrtScn.
    Tap or click the arrow next to the New button, choose the kind of snip you want, and then pick the area of the screen you want to capture.
  10. When you capture a snip from a browser window and save it as an HTML file, the URL appears below the snip. To remove it:
    Tap or click Tools, and then tap or click Options.
    In the Snipping Tools Options dialog box, clear the Include URL below snips (HTML only) check box, and then tap or click OK.

    Snipping Tool options.

  11. Another big feature of the Snipping Tool is its ability to mark up the Snipped image. This means you can create just about anything on the image such as a circle around content, or an arrow pointing to the content. This markup is limited so if more professional markup is desired then you can use the Open Source program Gimp. Just draw on the image to accomplish this.
  12. If you want to customize the color, thickness or tip of the pen then click on the down arrow next to the pen and then click on the Customize drop down choice. Once you have the changes you want you can then select Custom Pen to use your changes for document markup.

    Snipping Tool pen color.

Capturing multiple active windows or one screen of a multiple screen setup did not seem possible unless you knew about Microsoft’s Snipping Tool, so now you know.

Dangerous Path for Small Business

I find myself recalling the early days of PC’s when the mantra of the day was mainframes and modems and you rented the software you used for your small business. The PC brought freedom from this model, in that once you bought the software you owned it, well at least in theory. The rapid change in hardware and software brought about a dilemma of how to get but fixes and updates. The Internet came along at just the right time and solved the whole delivery issue. No more having to call vendors like HP for drivers and then waiting for the disk to come in the mail, but that was the time when we rode a dinosaur to work. Now it seems Microsoft and others really don’t want to sell you software anymore they want to rent it to you.

 I see this trend as going backwards right into the good old dark days for small companies. PC and now mobile devices give a small company great flexibility, but what happens if cash gets tight or the economy turns south, do you suddenly stop using your accounting system and creating documents, I don’t think so. Cash flow with rentals is great for software companies but it sucks for a struggling start-up. I understand the whole centralized maintenance advantage of the cloud, as we now call it, now with the added advantage of true collaboration. I get that we want to use our documents everywhere and on any devices and somehow that is being translated into a requirement to rent our software. There is an alternative, though not perfect, it can replace almost everything on the prosperity model and is free or nearly free.

 Open source, the words Steve Balmer of Microsoft associates with communism but in reality is just another model for software distribution. Instead of requiring you to pay up front for the software, you pay for access to real time help and documentation, otherwise the software is free. Many Open Source projects have great online forums and community that can provide help but in a somewhat delayed manner, hey I said free didn’t I… I need the answer now, so that won’t work mentality is understandable but even paid help is getting slower or more difficult to use. I just see too many small companies unable to do some of the necessary day to day work without some sort of Office suite, upfront affordability is a big issue and often you see every machine has a different version of Microsoft Office or no Office software at all. Small companies are confused when a document created on one computer cannot be used on another or worse, a document modified on a second computer renders it unreadable on the machine that originally created the document. I know you can control this directly in Office by specifying the file type, but most people just don’t understand why it does not just work out of the box.

 I have never understood why Microsoft chose to constantly change the default document types for each version of Office. I know that advances are made but why can’t an older Word 1997 document be opened in the new version with features that didn’t exist turned off and then saved back to the 97 format without a problem. The only thing I can think of is that Microsoft wants to force you to think you have to upgrade to make things work, and that is just want many people do. Most people just don’t understand enough about file formats to understand why one is not compatible with the other, they just want it too work. Standardization has been attempted through the OpenDocument Format but Microsoft only grudgingly supported the format and still defaults to their native proprietary formats (the default can be changed). There is also no standardized interface for all of the document types, of text, image, vector drawing, spreadsheet and database, etc, each one has a unique but similar interface. You cannot open a spreadsheet in Word and have it switch to Excel, instead it will try to open the file in Word as a jumbled mess.

 There are a quite a few choices for Office suites but few can do as much as office can. One contender OpenOffice became the default choice for an Office replacement until Oracle obtained Open Office as part of their Sun acquisition. Oracle just didn’t know what to do with an open source product and tried to monetize it by offering help for a per seat charge. Fearful that development would languish under Oracle a critical group of developers left and created a fork called LibreOffice, and they proceeded to rapidly fix some of the short comings of OpenOffice. Oracle decided too late that it was not up to the open source challenge and gave the software to the Apache foundation (Most WEB servers use Apache software). The damage had been done though, many had defected to the more rapid development cycle LibreOffice offered. LibreOffice has also become the default Office application installed with most versions of the Linux operating system due to its more forgiving licensing requirements. LibreOffice is also working of adapting their application to the touch interface of tablets and mobile phones as well as providing version for both the iPhone and Android mobile market. Open Office, at this time, has no such development under way. The coming release of a touch interfaces and Android version sold me on switching to LibreOffice, at least they seem to realize that is where the market is going.

 Even more impressive is LibreOffice’s ability to read old Visio files and create new ones readable by the latest Microsoft version, no good replacement for Visio existed until they did this. The last piece which I am sorry to say they don’t seem to be working on is a replacement for OneNote. I had chosen to use OneNote over it closest rival EverNote due to the ability to ‘Print’ documents directly from any application right into OneNote and the ability to create folders instead of having to tag everything. Perhaps they will see the light one day and remedy this but for now I will be creating some training documents using LibreOffice as I see this as the best application to serve the small business market I am focused on.

 Last but not least is collaboration. Microsoft handles this on an Enterprise level through a SharePoint server or on a smaller scale through the use of Microsoft SkyDrive cloud storage and the Office Web Application for Office 365. LibreOffice on the other hand now integrates with Content Management Systems and online document storage via the CMIS standard. This allows you to access directly documents stored on ECM systems, such as open source projects like Alfresco, Nuxeo or proprietary, like Microsoft SharePoint. A growing office does not need to increase the number of seat licenses as one would have to do with Microsoft’s proprietary solution, instead a small company can control its cost while providing the document manage capability and security a true collaborative environment provides through Open Source. Renting seems like a dangerous dead end to me, so I will be steering my clients to solutions that can grow and if necessary shrink as they do…

Microsoft and Pitchforks

Microsoft never seems to be far from some sort of spite whether it’s the poorly designed security of Windows, virtual disdain for open source (I think they compared it to communism at one time…), or being the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room. Microsoft though, reached a new low recently with the announcement of the Xbox One. Microsoft arrogantly assumed that it’s dominate position in consoles would allow it to dictate what the customer wanted. Personally, that seems to be one of the big problems at Microsoft, they don’t really innovate they just want to dominate. Apple is refined the art of innovation and integration, funny thing is I have problems with Apple because of their closed system, but that’s another blog. Well I was excited as my son was when I saw the demo footage of Titan Fall at E3 2013, that is until the fine print was read…

The reaction from my teenage son was, well, something I can’t even print. Let’s just say he was pissed off in a big way. Even more surprising was the comments coming from my early twenties daughter that I didn’t even know was a gamer; fathers are always the last to know, she was as equally upset. The theme common between them both, they would never buy another Microsoft game or console ever again. I am thinking, holy cow this is the teen that made me take him to midnight release parties for several of the Halo games. What in the world has Microsoft done to piss off these teens and X-Geners. By now it was coming clear this was just not limited to my quirky family but there was an army forming. Soon I was reading commentaries and blog full of spite and hatred (gamers can get a little emotional at times). I had to do a little investigating before my son and daughter went out the door with torches and pitchforks.

What had Microsoft done to earn such vile, well there were several things. First an internet connection was required to play Xbox One games, and after 24 hours the game would be disabled, yikes. On top of that the online check-in would only be supported in twenty-one countries and the system would be region-locked. The DRM system enforcement required the check-in to ensure you were on the up and up.  Second Only Microsoft-approved retailers would be able to sell used games. I should have been paying closer attention and shorted GameStop’s stock, after that announcement. Third, indie game developers (can you say small shop, small budget and almost no marketing) will be required to pair with a 3rd party publisher to distribute their games on Xbox One’s marketplace, or make a deal directly with Microsoft itself. Holy bat guano Batman big brother has come to town, what do we do? Titan Fall was supposed to be the talk of E3 instead it was these crazy controls. In one day Microsoft had angered every gamer, X-Gener and even the military deployed overseas. They poured gasoline on the fire when a reporter asked what the soldiers overseas would be doing and Don Mattrick, president of the company’s Interactive Entertainment division,  said “Fortunately, we have a product for people who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity; it’s called Xbox 360,” Mattrick said. “If you have zero access to the Internet, that is an offline device.” Ouch…

Competition being what it is Sony instantly realized what Microsoft had just dropped in their laps. They immediately went to task pointing out how their next generation console would have no such controls. Then the wave hit, preorders for the Xbox One started to slow on Amazon and Sony’s console started to gain the upper hand. Wave after wave of complaints filled in and in the end Microsoft realized their big mistake. They quickly removed the 24-hour connection requirement and the used games sales restrictions. Later they removed the third and opened up the development market for indie games. There actually is a fourth issue and another backlash I did not mention, primarily because they are still unresolved. The price of the Xbox One was set $100 higher than the Sony console at $499 because of the inclusion of the Kinect camera and microphone where built into the new console. Oddly enough there is a move to push Microsoft to resume the restrictions they originally planned, as they are necessary to allow a form of cloud based game sharing that Microsoft had come up with (something similar to what Steam does on the PC), and you thought we were the only banal generation. For now my son and daughter have put down the pitchforks and are oohing and awing at the resolution and complex game play made possible by these next generation consoles. The torch is still burning though, as they are less trust worthy of Microsoft more so than ever, I say that since Microsoft managed to undue years of trust building they had done with their console in only a single day. Somehow I don’t think my son or daughter will forget this, and that they wonder if at some time in the future Microsoft might try it again with and unsuspecting update. So for now they look in wonder at the products coming out but seethe with resentment at what Microsoft thought they could pull over their eyes…

The Amazon Tax

Recently the web, news channels, blog sphere and just about every other media outlet has been abuzz about proposals and amendments now making their way through the house and senate of the US. In a nutshell congress is proposing to eliminate the so called exemption that has existed through court tests and legislation, that has eliminated sales tax, when purchases are made online unless the company has a physical presence in your state. Most ecommerce sites do not have to collect sales tax from purchases outside the states where they have operations. Just as long as the laws have existed that prevent the websites from collecting sales taxes, many brick and mortar sites have been complaining of the unfair advantage that ecommerce sites enjoy. The advent of mobile devices that can search the web for products based on a photo of a product bar code have increased the advantage even more, as brick and mortar establishments have become the showroom for ecommerce. Smart competitors are fighting back by investing in such companies as ‘Sensewhere’ and ‘Point Inside’ that can provide customers with coupons for items that are near their in store position. Many stores, such as Best Buy and Sears, are using slightly different product models that make comparison shopping difficult, and many other methods are being used to entice customers to buy now. That being said, some establishments are still bankrolling the legislation to, as they call it, level the playing field.

There have been plenty of coverage about the fairness the bills would bring about or the disaster just lurking behind the curtain. My take is from a small business standpoint, in particular from a small ecommerce merchant’s perspective. Let’s take for example my state, North Carolina; there is slightly over one thousand zip codes (the preferred way to determine the point of taxation) contained in about one hundred counties. The state determines the taxation point for online sales not by the location of the business, but by the delivery point of the product, so that means that an ecommerce site would file sales tax receipts in over a hundred jurisdictions in North Carolina. The law requires the filing of a return even if no tax is collected (once you start filing you can’t stop). So, as the law stands now, business are supposed to be filing a return whether tax is owed or not. Multiply that by all fifty states and in addition, the filing frequency can be monthly, quarterly, semiannually or annually depending on the revenue.  Some states let you change filing status based on the amount owed without declaration and some states don’t  such as New Mexico, they must tell you how to file (I found that out the hard way and had to refile dozens of returns in New Mexico). Local counties control the sales tax rate or a portion of it, as in my present state of North Carolina, rates can vary frequently and a whole cottage industry has sprung up just to keep in compliance.

Many small businesses are running web sites with razor thin margins already (don’t believe those so called talking heads that say there is millions to be made, it’s a hard business), and now face losing even that margin to compliance, if the new legislation goes into place. I already pay Internet tax, in my state, and it is called ‘Usage’ tax. I record it for every item I buy online. Most accounting software such QuickBooks does not even handle ‘Usage’ taxes. I had to create a hack to properly adjust my revenue collections, the hack can be found here if you are interested. Presently paying sales tax takes about five minutes every quarter thanks to the hack. I have several clients though, that may be facing a daunting challenge if this legislation is passed. There is talk about phasing in various plans or some exemptions for small business but in the end if the legislation passes it will eventually be required by all sizes of business. I know you’re thinking you poor slob, you make all that money and you’re complaining about paying some taxes, well it’s not the taxes that worry me, but the cost of staying in compliance. You either pay a service, pay someone or do it yourself, either way it will cost more to deliver products to customers and so not only will product prices rise but it may also reduce product choices to help pay for the change.  If government would just set the rules and then leave them alone for awhile things would be easier, but if you have ever used tax preparation software or an accountant you know that every year the rules get changed. This is where my beef is, governments continue to look hard for new revenue sources from increasing parking tickets, to hotel room taxes (my city just did that a few years ago) etc. What I can’t understand is why they can’t cut spending like the rest of us do when times get tough. Somehow I just wish we could take the checkbook away from the tax and spend bureaucrats and put it into the hands of people that understand what it means to run a business.