Windows 7 users: Don’t pay for Windows 8

Microsoft has traditionally sold operating systems for a hefty price…currently a full upgrade to Windows 8.1 costs around $100. This meant that most people don’t upgrade to the newest operating system until they buy a brand-new computer. But Microsoft seems to be trying to change that.

Windows 10 logoMicrosoft last month announced the upcoming release of their newest operating system, Windows 10. (Yes, their previous OS was Windows 8. They skipped Windows 9 apparently.)

Along with announcing the new features of Windows 10, Microsoft also announced that Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for users of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 within the first year after Windows 10 is released.

So if you’re using Windows 7, don’t fork over your money to pay for an upgrade to Windows 8.1. Wait a bit longer and get a free upgrade to the newest version — Windows 10.

Microsoft hasn’t officially announced a release date for Windows 10, but it’s rumored to be a summertime release in 2015, and that makes sense so they could have Windows 10 installed on new computers in time for back-to-school shopping.

So it seems the one-year window (see what I did there?) for getting your free upgrade won’t start for at least several months. This means if you buy a new PC before then, it will most likely have Windows 8 installed, but you’ll soon be able to upgrade to Windows 10 for free. 

Also, if your computer is pre-Windows 7 (XP or Vista), you can feel free to buy a new Windows 7 or 8 computer and will soon be able to get the newer Windows 10 upgrade for free.

Windows 10 desktop
Windows 10 desktop and Start Menu (Photo courtesy of and Andrew Cunningham)

Some of Windows 10’s new features will include automatically installed updates, a new web browser to replace Internet Explorer, and Cortana (Microsoft’s version of Siri). And the Start Menu seems to be returning to its more traditional form after being changed for Windows 8.

Got a topic you want me to blog about? A comment or suggestion? Let me know below!


Google Chromebook: Is It For Me?

Welcome to the first of a recurring series here on my Making Technology Simpler blog: “Is It For Me?” I’ll explain a product or technology, then help you figure out if it meets your needs. This week’s subject is the Google Chromebook.

Chromebook laptops
Google Chromebooks (Photo courtesy of

Google Chromebooks are a series of inexpensive laptops with great battery life, strong integration with Google, and little maintenance needed.

Chromebooks use an operating system created by Google called Chrome OS…the whole operating system is basically the Chrome Internet browser that many people use on Windows and Mac computers. The computer hardware is made by companies like Acer and HP.


Here’s another thing that makes Chromebooks unique among laptops: the whole operating system is designed to be used with Internet access, and the hard drive in the computer is tiny.

Google intended for these computers to be used in conjunction with Google’s cloud storage, so photos will need to be stored in Google+ and documents stored in Google Drive. (I wrote about cloud storage here.) With everything stored in the cloud, there’s no need for a big hard drive. The benefit of this is the computer will boot up very quickly.

This reliance on cloud storage has a couple other ramifications. On the positive side, no data backups are needed, since almost everything is in Google’s cloud. And once the computer needs to be replaced, you can sign into your next Chromebook with your Google account, and all your emails, documents, etc. will be available immediately. No file transferring necessary.


On the flip side, you will be limited in what your Chromebook can do without Internet access. You can do some document creation, for example, and the document will save to Google Drive when you connect to the Internet again. Internet access is becoming more widespread, however, and some Chromebooks will allow you to also connect to a 4G network through a carrier like T-Mobile.

Because almost everything you do on a Chromebook involves Internet access, the speed of the computer itself will be heavily influenced by the speed of your Internet connection. If you regularly use a slow connection, be prepared to pay for faster speeds to really enjoy a speedy Chromebook experience.

The other main limitation of Chromebooks is that you can’t install PC or Mac programs on it. So if you really need the full version of Microsoft Office or some specialized accounting program for your work, a Chromebook isn’t for you (unless it’s as a secondary computer). You’re limited to using Google’s apps and others available through the Chrome web store.

Ease of use

Chromebooks are low maintenance devices, partly because they update automatically and Google says they’re very secure and have no need for antivirus software.

Setup is also easy, to the degree that you’re already part of Google’s services. If you already use Google for email, documents, photos, and music, your new Chromebook will be ready to go as soon as you open it and sign in with your Google account.

If you use iTunes for your music and store documents or photos on your current computer, you’ll want to transfer all of it to Google’s appropriate online service before you make the switch to a Chromebook. (And if you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod, know that they won’t sync with music on your Chromebook.)

Remember, third-party apps like iTunes or Microsoft Office can’t be installed on a Chromebook. So you’ll need to use a Google service or a third-party service that can be accessed online (such as Pandora for music streaming or the online version of Microsoft Office).

Is it for me?

A Chromebook might be great for you, if:

  • You use Google for all of your email, documents, photos, media, and calendar (or are willing to move all those things to Google)
  • You have Internet access almost all the time
  • You need a very portable computer with a battery that lasts all day
  • A low up-front cost is important to you

You should probably stay away from a Chromebook, if:

  • You need an application that only runs on a PC or Mac, like Adobe Creative Cloud, Microsoft Office, or iTunes
  • You prefer to store your documents, photos, or media locally (i.e. on your computer’s hard drive)
  • Your computer needs to handle intense tasks, like games or video editing

Have you seen or heard about another device or technology that’s made you ask, “Is it for me?” Let me know below, and I’ll write about it soon.



Mac vs. PC – longevity

Apple's MacBook Air
Apple’s MacBook Air (Photo courtesy of

After reading my earlier post about the differences between PCs and Macs, a reader wrote in with a follow-up question: “I’ve heard the life expectancy is longer for a Mac, is this true?”

That seems to be a fairly common assumption, especially among Mac owners (who probably paid more for their computer than their PC-toting friends).

My personal experience seems to agree with that premise, but I’m one of those Mac owners who paid more for my laptop than the average person.

So I want to see some hard evidence before I call it fact. And I haven’t found any. Every source I’ve found seems to be more personal anecdotes.

I think most people would agree that Macs are built of more durable materials than all but a few PCs (aluminum vs. plastic, etc.)

However, that brings me to one of my biggest frustrations about Macs (and Apple hardware in general): Macs are not user-upgradeable.

Once upon a time, if your Mac was starting to run slowly, you could buy more memory and install it yourself. If your battery no longer held much juice, you could buy a new one and swap it out. That kept the computer functional for at least a couple more years.

Not anymore. Now, the outside of the computer is shut with special screws and most parts inside are glued or soldered in place. This is a trend that Apple began several years ago and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

This may make for a more durable computer (especially in a laptop), but it also means you need to pay close attention to the memory, hard drive, etc. when you’re purchasing the computer because you won’t be able to upgrade them later.[1]

In conclusion: while I do think Macs offer the best user experience for most people, I don’t think they necessarily have a longer life expectancy than PCs.


Fill out the form below with a question or comment. I’d love to hear from you!

1 – I think the RAM (aka memory, or how well the computer can multitask) is a much higher priority for upgrading at purchase, because you can always plug in an external hard drive or thumb drive to add additional storage to the computer down the road. No such options exist for RAM.

Mac vs. PC

Apple and Microsoft logos
Aaaaaand in this corner… (Photo courtesy of

A reader writes in: “At my school, they promote Mac laptops over PC’s. What are the difference between Mac’s and PC’s? Is one better than the other? Thanks!”

When I was looking at different options for universities, I noticed one of my top choices required journalism majors to have a Mac. I’d only used Windows PCs before[1]. So I started researching. I ended up going to a different school, but I did buy a Mac for college.

That computer lasted me 5 years, and when it died I bought another Mac. I know there are a lot of people who are fanatical about one system or the other. I have experience with both Macs and PCs, and I’ll give you as unbiased of info as I can.

First though, check out this Apple ad from 2006:

I think it’s a good laugh (apologies to any of you who have recounted your vacations with a pie chart). In reality though, Macs and PCs are much more similar than this ad implies (and PCs do a lot more than spreadsheets!) There are differences, however, and here are the main ones I see between the two:

Advantages of Macs:

-Apple makes both the hardware and software for Macs. In contrast, Microsoft makes the the software (Windows) for PCs, while other companies make the hardware (Acer, Dell, HP, etc.)[2]. If you buy an HP laptop, it will often have some HP software installed on it, plus trial versions of software like anti-virus. By contrast, all software that comes with a Mac is made by Apple, so no extra, hidden software eating up your computer’s performance.

-Likewise, Macs do come with apps like iPhoto and iMovie, which can be very helpful for organizing your photos and creating home movies.

The vast majority of viruses and malware are created to target Windows computers[3]. These problems are so rare on Macs that many people say Mac owners don’t even need antivirus software. (Of course, you should always use good judgment when clicking on websites and downloading files, regardless of your operating system.)

The parental controls options and backup software included on Macs are much easier to access and use than on PCs (although Windows 8 has made backup simpler).

Apple has better support, both online and in-person at their Apple Stores. In addition, when Apple updates their operating system, Mac users get to download it for free. On the PC side, you still have to pay to upgrade to new Windows versions (unless you buy a new PC).

Advantages of PCs:

PCs have many more options available. In addition to many different hardware manufacturers to choose among, each of those manufacturers often offer more choices than Apple does with it’s PCs. The choices include color, design, size, and many internal choices, too.

PCs are much more upgradeable (is that a word?). Macs are becoming less able to be upgraded without taking them in to an Apple store. By contrast, a PC user could replace almost any internal hardware from home.

-Here is the most obvious difference to most people: PCs are almost always less expensive. The cheapest Mac laptop currently costs about $900 regularly, while comparable PCs run about $700. And there are options among PCs even cheaper than that.


-If your work or school requires a certain operating system, don’t look to me for help!

-If you want specific customization options or want to build a computer for a specific purpose (like computer games), definitely go with a Windows PC.

-If you are interested in trying things like editing photos or videos, or recording music, look for a Mac, which has great apps for those things built-in.

-For the average person, I believe a Mac will give you the best overall experience, due to its simplicity, dependability, and support after the purchase. It’s also similar enough to a PC that switching is not usually a difficult process.

-For a person who expects to only write emails and documents, check social media, etc., a PC is a fine choice. The price difference between a low-end PC and a low-end Mac is big, and both will handle those basic tasks just fine.

Neither option is right or wrong…just a better option for your particular situation. I hope I’ve made things clearer for you. Let me know if you have any questions about this.

Plus, fill out the form below and your question could be the topic next week! I’d love to hear from you.

1 – PC stands for “Personal Computer.” Technically, a Mac is a personal computer, but PC has come to refer only to computers running the Windows operating system. So that’s how I’ll use PC in this blog post.
2 – Laptops running a Google operating system (known as Chromebooks) have been on the market for a couple years. Google’s OS is specifically designed to be connected to the Internet almost all the time.
3 – This is due to a combination of the more secure way Macs’ operating system is designed and the fact that 90% of computer users use Windows.

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