Bob Rife's Image  The Rife Report 
Vol 1 Issue 187

Number Crunch; Win8 Instability;
Acronis 2014 and the Cloud

This past summer siesta, I spent some hours going over my personal computer backups - made through regular scheduling using Second Copy software to interior drives and secondarily by the same favourite simple automated software setup to exterior HDs. It was and remains a secure backup system.

The looksee-cum-review provided a real shock. I now realize that these Rife Reports, my techno scribbling, has been going on for almost 15 years! Egads! What a number to crunch! Where did those years go?

In the world of which I write, any equipment or software reaching a mere 3 years of age is considered old. Driver updates beyond that seemingly tender age are, in fact, actually rated ancient. And my epistles have hung out there, been rambling about for more than 15 years! The reality led to other thoughts - tech beginnings, tech transitions.

My first PC, for example, was an IBM XT, 5160, complete with keyboard and monitor. It also came with big, hardcover manuals ( loose-leaf binders) in company-branded, open-end boxes. Talk about ready reference. It was indeed a mighty desk-top assemblage. It cost a pretty penny too - close to $ 3,000.

Yes, it used DOS (disk operating system). Yes, it had 5 ¼-inch floppies (they really were bendable), not like those hard-cased 3 ½-inch ones that came later. Yes, the monitor had green type on a black screen. But it worked! That was the early 1980s - more than 30 years ago! Now that's ancient!

My memories wandered back to my early years at The Globe and Mail when we switched from typewriters to desktop computers. I was one of the young guns in sports there at the time and embraced change, as you might expect. But I recall an older co-worker who, after weeks of frustration with the "D . . . gadget," vented his ire by hoisting the bulky machine from his desk and tossing it to the floor. Crash! Wipeout!

I haven't reached that stage in the current, fast-evolving very mobile era of smartphones, tablets and apps, but have been given something to think about. Where does a desk-topper fit into the scheme of things? All has changed, amazingly! Win8's vault into new spaces, not the least of one's woes.

Win8: The Instability Factor

A major player in current tech changes is Windows 8. It was, and remains jarring.

Nevertheless, I have the 64-bit Pro version in regular use - admittedly with my own "fix-its." I do like its speed. But, I still maintain Windows 7 Pro in both 32- and 64-bit architectures on other machines. One for older software that works more efficiently there, in a manner I like. The other (often refreshed and updated) serves as an able security blanket for those situations where Win8 raises a distress flag.

I don't know your experience, but after a year of Win8 usage, the moments of tech stress have been upsetting and frequent. I rate Win8 "touchy"(laugh here), a tad buggy and unstable. Recently some of this could be laid to both Internet Explorer 10 and, surprisingly Microsoft's updates.

My troubles have even included a BSoD (blue screen of death). It has shown on two different occasions. BSoD are not to be sneezed at. I never had a single one with Win7 or XP. Though there were times of such stress with Windows' forebears - Vista, 98, 95, 3.0 and such.

Win8 problems included tiles (or Apps) not responding to clicks. Often a click (or touch) resulted (oddly) in recycling back to where I started - Win8's opening page. When it crashed in this manner, the hoped for cure, by means of Refresh, resulted in my being returned to the crippled state with an on screen apology, that "Your computer could NOT be refreshed." What?

My prime suspect is IE10. In case you didn't know, Win8 provides it in two modes: Windows Store mode: the version with a new appearance. And Desktop mode: the version that's more similar to previous versions. Unfortunately, there are "issues" with both. The prime one is for users playing rich media content on embedded Adobe Flash Player. Again, in case you didn't know, Flash Player is integrated with IE in Win8.

Happily, after August and September Patch Tuesday updates, some stability has returned. Yes, there have been updates to updates (problems with updates! Seriously, what`s next?). IE10 remains high on my list of dubious software.

Solution? Forget IE10. MS has IE11 as an integral part of the upcoming Win8.1. They also made Release Preview of IE11 for Win7 available on Sept.18, with the final version due some time "later this fall." IE11 for Win7 includes many, but not all, of the same features that are in the Win8.1 version. For details, see Mary Jo Foley's ZDNet article.

There have been other problems for testers and writers like myself. Microsoft decided for some reason, to hold back the final download bits of Win8.1 from MSDN and TechNet subscribers until Oct. 18. This resulted in loud and persistent howls of complaint. Then, Microsoft reversed course, releasing the bits to those persons (mainly developers, now) on Sept.9.

The company admits the earlier plan was a mistake. In case you are not aware, Microsoft also had, earlier this year, made huge changes to the Technet program to which I then belonged. It included new (and prohibitively high) membership pricing and new short-term only usage regulations.

I did not, for obvious reasons, renew my subscription. Thus, I continued testing and using Win8 and have hopes to work on a much-improved, more stable version 8.1 in October.

Adding to that last hope was a recent statement by Jon Dalveen, Microsoft's corporate Vice-President for Windows Development. Paul Thurrott, in an article written for Windows IT Pro says Dalveen, in a congratulatory memo to his team . . . "expects Windows 8.1 to be much more reliable than Windows 8 and to have a fighting chance of approaching the reliability of Windows 7 in some areas." That viewpoint, Thurrott adds, is: "something MS has never made known publicly."

So, I look forward to Microsoft's major UPDATE that is version 8.1 due for GA (general availability) on October 18. Many of my trusted online tech reviewers see it as the solid system Win8 should have been, with a multitude of changes. It comes free, but apparently will NOT have the Win7 look or feel that desktoppers want.

Which means, for me, relying again on Stardock's Start8 to bring back some useable features.

I considered running and testing the Win8.1 Preview, but with the October release so near and the fact that first class reviewers online (who can afford to stick with Technet pricing) now have and are writing about the final RTM (release to manufacturing) bits, I've decided better to wait until the Win8.1 public release, before starting my test exercises all over again. And don't forget, Microsoft says there could easily be further changes before that date, Oct. 18.

I remain curious, still searching the web, still experimenting with software and hardware. And I recalled a proverb from school days that suits things now, even better than then: "The world is moving so fast that a person saying it can't be done, is interrupted by someone doing it."

All of which has resulted in my deciding that the Rife Report will continue - albeit delayed and less frequent. The issues will bear appropriate numbers, based on my count of previous issues. As usual with topic selection, hopefully perking your interest. For example . . .

How did I escape from the troubles with Refresh and those BSOD? Simple - I used Acronis backup images. These were made earlier at appropriate times and resulted in a quick recovery. Now read about the newest ATI version:

Acronis True Image 2014 Arrives

Remember: Backup, Backup, Backup!

That's probably the best advice ever given a computer user, novice or old hand. But these words are, more often than not, shunted aside for a more convenient time - tomorrow, or another day - and then Whump! System crash! Hard drive failure! Electrical failure! Whatever! Vital copy lost! Disaster!

Now IS the time for prevention - the time for backup. In my case that has meant (for some years) leaning on Acronis. The new version of this software carries the shortened label of last year - True Image plus the model year - 2014.

I was interested to learn via Venture Wire ( a Dow Jones subsidiary) that Serguei Beloussov, one of Russia's best known venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, has "stepped back from some of his duties at Run Capital and is again, running Acronis International GmbH, one of the first companies he founded."

The item added: "Mr. Beloussov is now chief executive of Acronis, a storage management and disaster recovery company founded in 2001. He said it was not now growing to its potential, despite having three teams of professional managers in eight years."

His appointment came last spring, May 20. On that day he said: "we will take a very good company and make it a great company." His first public move: the release, August 28, of True Image 2014.

According to Jon L. Jacobi in his review for PC World True Image 2014 is: "still the most powerful and feature-rich imaging/backup program on the market." Further, it is: "far friendlier than it used to be." High praise.

The product comes in three varieties: Acronis True Image Lite ($ 29.99), True Image 2014 ($ 49.99) and True Image 2014 Premium ($ 79.99). The last includes what was, in former years, an extra-cost standalone piece of software called Plus Pack. The threesome comes in advancing prices, each adding potential to meet your backup-recovery requirements. For example the two higher-priced units include 5 GB of free Cloud storage.

Upgrade prices are available for owners of earlier product - for example, a Premium upgrade is $ 59.99 and True Image 2014 upgrade is $ 29.99. Get details here.

Is True Image 2014 worth upgrading to if you're a 2013 or 2012 owner? I'd say only if you're planning to take advantage of Acronis Cloud. Some online reviews suggest that if you currently are running either Acronis 2013 or 2012, you could, unless you do the cloud thing, stick with what you have and skip the 2014 upgrade. Older versions, probably do require an upgrade.

Further on the cloud storage - note that after a year, that 5 GB will cost $ 10 per year. If you want more space, Acronis has competitive pricing: $ 30 a year for 50 GB, $ 40 for 125 GB, and $ 50 for 125 GB.

If you use cloud storage, Rob William of Techgage says: "We saw good integration of Acronis' cloud service with True Image 2013, but this year's version takes things to an all-new level." Again, high praise.

I'll zero-in on the Premium software, because it is the only version that contains the no-longer separately available Plus Pack. As a tech software/hardware fiddler, I've found Plus Pack's Universal Restore feature is a great addition to my utilities, allowing a multiplicity of hardware to be used conveniently.

Acronis explains: "Easily restore files, programs, or your entire system anywhere you need, including dynamic disks, and Microsoft's Windows Pre-installation Environment (WinPE).

"It lets you restore an image of a Windows operating system to a different hardware environment. You can restore information on independent computers regardless of the hardware used on the independent computer."

Which leaves the issue of Cloud storage - a major focus of the new software. Do you understand it? Do you use it? Do you trust it?

I'm not yet a true believer. I trust my backups to external hard drives. Backups are thus in my hands, not someone else's. I know their security, that they are in good shape, well maintained. How safe is cloud? There have been problems - server outages for one, and there is a continuing cost factor.

A recent query to a trusted online Windows Secrets forum, by someone considering cloud use, showed answers tipped toward those NOT trusting cloud for important backups. Here's a sampling:

"Ted USA

I have been happy with Sky Drive for the limited usage I have used it for. I have put files that I share with others, but do NOT feel comfortable putting secured files there.

"Kermidge USA

Some storage places have you download a client or browser plug-in that encrypts your files before sending them - you only have to decide if you trust the company, and let's face it, a company that peeks into people's files isn't going to be around long.

"DrWho USA

Your data is NOT SAFE, unless you know for sure where it is and who is in charge of it. I want to keep all my personal info CLOSE, and so I use a 1 TB external drive and a 32 GB Flash drive, to back up all my important files."

Cloud storage is one of those current transitions in technology. Is Serguei Beloussov's product emphasis valid?

Microsoft COO Kevin Turner is a believer. At the company's Financial Analysts Meeting in San Francisco, Sept. 19, he said: "We're bullish on how fast customers are moving to the cloud."

He expects this market to exceed Gartner's prediction of being a $ 180 billion opportunity by 2015. Turner added that: "Microsoft's consumer cloud services - such as SkyDrive, Office 365 Home Premium, Xbox Live, Bing - experienced 13 percent user growth in financial year 2013."

So, it looks like cloud storage will continue and flourish. Changes, transitions - it is, after all, part of life . . . .

The Rife Report has been featured by the DPCUC for more than 10 years.
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