Microsoft re-enters the browser war!

After Netscape Navigator was eclipsed by Microsoft’s  Internet Explorer as the browser of choice for many – mainly because it was hard-wired into Windows initially – the world of internet browsers has seen first the rise of Firefox from the Mozilla Foundation as an alternative open source option and then the succession to Google’s Chrome and it’s huge market presence.
I’ve written about Google’s dominance and the alternatives to Chrome before in “Just Google it …
Now Microsoft has stirred from its inactivity in the browser market place. It has ditched its proprietary Edge browser and replaced it with … Microsoft Edge. No confusion there then!
It is interesting because it will run on MacOS as well as Windows, something the old Edge didn’t do, and will use the same open source code base – Chromium – as Google’s Chrome and of course Brave (my browser of choice). This allows them to use Extensions written for that code base. I already use many extensions written for Chrome in my Brave browser.
What will this mean for Google especially as Microsoft Edge will effectively have a built-in ad-blocker? Who knows. It’s certain that as more users decide to use the Microsoft version of Chromium, so Google’s business model and revenue stream will come under attack. Will they retaliate in some way? Probably not. Interesting times.
Here’s an article that describes keyboard shortcuts that you can use with Microsoft Edge.

Is it time to move to more paid subscription services?

I have to admit, the events of the past few weeks have made me look much more seriously at paying more for the IT services that I’ve taken for free up until now. Of course they’ve never been free, I’ve had to put up with the adverts and the email messages I don’t really want – alerting me to this deal, or that deal, and I’ve willingly put up with that as a price worth paying for the service I’ve been receiving. But two events have changed my mind, and moreover I feel the IT world is actually changing slowly as a consequence of the mistakes (to be exceptionally generous) of Facebook and Google; and the decision of Apple to switch more attention to Services, targeting this as their  main income stream for the future, and not relying on Hardware alone.
So what were the earth-shaking events in the Harrison-IT-world? Well the first was Google’s announcement that having hidden the news of a potential security weakness in an API, for several months (presumably to secure their stock-market price at the time Facebook was struggling, and presumably also after ensuring that the potential breach was secured) they used this as an excuse to kill-off (sorry “sunset”) Google+ next August. Now this service was not the success Google hoped it to be, and most definitely has not generated the revenue they hoped it might, but for me, my family and for many communities (particularly of photographers – because of the close linkage to Google Photos) – it was a hugely valuable tool. Now, we have to look for another social media platform. It could be Google Photos – Google may have plans to “enhance” it to take on features from Google+, or it could be another platform, but it’s just a pain in the neck having to move off something we’re used to! Google have real history with “sunsetting” tools that people get used to using [Thanks to @MrSimonWood for this link.]
The second was Flickr’s announcement that they were going to limit their Free account to 1000 imagesexcluding those that were licensed under Creative Commons, which a lot of mine are. They are encouraging users to take out a Pro subscription to remove restrictions and allow more and larger images to be uploaded. This didn’t meet with the same “horror” feeling. I immediately felt that this was a decision that would secure the future long-term of the service under the new owners – SmugMug. [A feeling that I didn’t have when 500px made changes to their platform which led me to delete my account.] So I immediately subscribed and took advantage of the first-year discount price (still available for a few more days I believe).
So what am I saying. I’m saying that if there’s a service that I really want, and I really need some feeling that it’s going to be around for a while, I should pay for it. I wasn’t given that option by Google – shame on them; it appears I’ll never be given that opportunity by Facebook. Both of them are essentially marketing and advertising platforms. I don’t see either of them being able to develop a hybrid model as Flickr has been able to do.
This all makes Adobe’s Creative Cloud Photography Plan and Microsofts’ Office 365 seem so much more sensible. I’ll continue with the former, but decline the latter as my roots are now firmly planted in the Apple world where I look to see how they will develop their Service offerings in Music, TV, Home and Car fields.
Interesting times.

Getting to grips with Google Photos

It really is rather surprising that given the widespread adoption and use of Google Photos, that I can not find a sensible, easy to read, introductory guide on how to use it. Perhaps it’s because it’s so easy to use? Well, it is – up to a point. That point being how it works alongside Google’s other cloud-based software, ie Google Drive and Backup and Sync, and the now defunct and disconnected Picasaweb – where your photos are still accessible in your Google Archive.
So this note is an attempt to set out what you can do with Google Photos using images obtained on your phone or tablet, or uploaded from your camera’s SD card. It will principally work from the principle that you’ve taken the photos, you want to upload them to your laptop or desktop (PC or Mac) and then want to work on them there using a web browser. That is not an essential workflow, you can do everything on your mobile device – if that’s where the photos are, even down to editing the photos using Google’s Snapseed application for iOS, or Android devices, it’s just the approach I’ve taken here. So if you want to do everything on your iPhone/iPad or Android device you can learn how to use Snapseed on iOS here, I believe the application is nearly the same on Android.
To avoid duplication of effort however, here is an article that you should read first. It covers nearly all the features of the device apps, and the web browser version, and in particular handles some of the editing functions available, but it doesn’t cover the intricacies and peculiarities of the Backup and Sync tool which replaced the Google Photos Desktop Uploader and Google Drive Client tools last year; it doesn’t cleanly explain the relationship between Google Photos and Google Drive, especially if you’ve chosen to create a Google Photos folder inside My Drive on Google Drive; and most significantly, it doesn’t cover the recent decision by Google to remove the Google Photos tab/icon from the Google Drive browser-window interface.
So … how do you get photos into Google Photos? This Google article tries to explain how you can use Backup and Sync to do that. How does Google Photos work with Google Drive? This Google article attempts to explain how. Confused, I thought you would be! This is what I’ve done, why I’ve done it and perhaps most importantly how I do it!

Sometimes, it’s best to work backwards from Google’s most recent announcement because in doing that you can be reasonably sure you’ll be moving in the right direction … forwards! So, their announcement that the Tab for Google Photos in Google Drive is about to disappear takes on a certain importance. Google is attempting to separate Photos from Drive and encourage users to deal with them separately. It’s a continuation of the separation which started when Photos was spun out of Google+. To continue to see your Google Photos in Google Drive, you need to create a Google Photos folder in My Drive.

This you do from the Gear wheel > Settings in your browser. After doing this you will get a notification that your photos will appear in due course in a Google Photos folder in Google Drive. You can tell they’re not the same when you look at the document I’ve already mentioned (above) – How Google Photos works with Google Drive.
So to me, it’s a no brainer. I won’t use the Google Drive interface as a means of working with my Google Photos. It’s just one level of complexity, and a level of potential duplication, removed. On my system therefore, the box (above) remains unchecked and I don’t have a Google Photos folder in My Drive, on Google Drive.

So how do I get my photos into Google Photos? From the iPhone/iPad (or any other smartphone that has the Google Photos app) it’s quite straightforward.
From the menu iconchoose Settings, enable Backup & sync and then make decisions as to the quality of the images, and when they’ll be backed up (uploaded). I have opted to use the free storage option, and for them only to be uploaded when connected to a WiFi network. The reasons for this are that my main photo software is K=Lightroom and I have a different method of working with that. What I want to use Google Photos for is essentially sharing albums with family and friends.
From my desktop/laptop it’s almost as straightforward. I connect the camera by USB cable to the computer, or insert the SD card from the camera into the SD card reader in the computer and I will be prompted with this message …
 
They should then get uploaded to Google Photos and (as I’ve chosen NOT to have a Google Photos folder in my Google Drive), the images can be found in my Google Drive as an entry under USB Devices & SD cards, which remains even after I’ve disconnected the SD card from the computer.
So there you have it. I’ve disentangled Google Photos from Google Drive; I’ve used Backup and sync to upload photos to Google Photos and I’m now ready to edit photos, create albums and share images through Google Photos.
[By the way in deleting (after copying to another location, just to be on the safe side) my Google Photos folders from my Google Drive, I not only reclaimed a heck of a lot of space, but I also removed a lot of duplicated photos.]
Finally … if you were a user of Picasa and Picasaweb, your photos are still accessible. What you can, and cannot do with them is recorded in this Google Help document. You can still download and use the PC or Mac Picasa desktop client for editing your pictures and if you want a simple photo-editing tool to get started with as long as you’re using a 32-bit operating system (ie not Apple’s Catalina or later), it’s a good place to start, but, it is no longer linked to Google Photos (or Picasaweb).  However, there is a workaround! When you save an image that you’ve edited in Picasa, you can save it to a folder that will then be automatically scanned by Backup and Sync and thus uploaded to Google Photos.
[NB Only those who attended my two sessions on Google Photos will actually understand why I included the really uninteresting image at the top of this post – I’ll leave the rest of you to ponder on what could possibly be the reason 🙂 ]
 

Alternatives to Google Search

At the last meeting of the Cardiff U3A Computer Group I rather fell flat on my face when comparing the returns provided by three different Search Engines – Google, Bing from Microsoft and DuckDuckGo (a new entrant which is open source) and which doesn’t track, or make available to others, what your browsing/searching history is. In other words it protects your privacy and the search results returned are unbiassed by your previous browsing/searching and it doesn’t return results biassed by what advertisers have paid Google to push themselves up the list!
I have tried using DuckDuckGo in its most basic form for a couple of weeks now with a Safari browser and found it to be reliable, fast and pleasant to use. A rather good article of a week’s trial of using DuckDuckGo in preference to (but alongside) Google can be found here, and I would recommend you read it. Another article which summarises the differences of this search engine to Google can be found here. This page might help you phrase efficient searches using DuckDuckGo. You do have to add it to the browser Chrome, unlike Safari or Firefox where it is provided as an alternative automatically from the Preferences Setting.
Bing is the main competitor to Google Search and is now the search engine used by Yahoo. Essentially, it’s very similar to Google and returns the same sort of results – you might find it useful useful to bookmark this page to help you phrase efficient searches.
So you’re not convinced? That’s OK. At least you ought to know how to construct a good Google search to get the best results. This page from The Guardian is as good as any in giving you sound advice. Essentially it makes the following points:

  1. Be specific, by putting your search term in parentheses “search term”;
  2. Exclude stuff you’re not going to be interested in using the – sign, eg -notthis;
  3. Use OR (|) and AND (+) in a search, and combine them with “search term” and -notthis, as desired to improve the search;
  4. Use qualifiers such as inurl:”search term”, intext:”search term”, or intitle:”searchterm” to search for “search term” in the uRL, the body of text of an article, or the title of an article; and finally
  5. Use * (the wildcard character) to extend searches, eg walk* would return walks, walker, walked, etc.

That’s about it. I could go into using Advanced Search (Google) but I think that’s beyond the scope of this post. For me, if I do some of these things I’m sure the quality of my searches will improve.
 

Getting started with Digital Photography: Part 1

A new venture for Thought grazing …
This article starts from the assumption that you already have a digital camera, or smartphone, and doesn’t pretend to give advice on how to proceed to purchase one except to say that I would strongly recommend buying from a camera shop for the after-sales service you would get. In buying a digital camera you’re buying into a system – Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Panasonic etc. – it can be a painful (and expensive) decision to change later, so it’s worth talking to someone who can talk about their experiences, or who can match your needs to what is available.
So therefore this article focusses on the software and in later posts – the processing of images using software.

Photography is a hobby that cries out to share its results (images) with other people and so therefore it’s best to work back from answering the question – what are you going to do with the images? By answering that question, the rest of the toolkit and the workflow you adopt is easier to answer. Typical workflows might be …
I just want to take a photo and print it.
I want to take a photo and possibly share it on Facebook, Instagram.
I want to take photos and make them into photobooks.
I want to take photos and post them to a website.
… of course it could be all of the above. One thing tends to unite them however, you need a place in the cloud to store your photos, from which you can then share them. If at all possible you should adopt a platform t
hat provides the maximum flexibility to allow you to do all of the above, and more, so that you don’t need to keep changing your systems as you develop your hobby. I’ve written about my workflow here.
So apart from the local USB disk-storage I use (with its backups, of course) to store and post-process my images, I use Google Photos as my main way of sharing photos in albums eg Orchids from Changi Airport, linked to the free storage (as long as you don’t store images at high resolution) you get on Google Drive. I do have other cloud storage/sharing platforms, but this is the one I use for photographs. I do also have a flickr account to share images – and I use it occasionally, as I do Instagram. As you develop your interest in photography, you may wish to have a more professional platform (I have used 500px), or the sharing platform that may be provided by your preferred software supplier (eg Adobe).
If you’re starting-out (or don’t want to spend any money) then you can use the editing software available within Google Photos, or if on a phone, or tablet, use Google’s Snapseed apps. You can still get Picasa for Windows 
and the Mac, which is software Google bought and supported for a while, but it is probably better to bite the bullet and use their Photos app in a browser, as it integrates well with Drive and Google+.
Then of course you might (like me) be an Apple user, and could of course use their Photos app and iCloud, but at the moment the editing facilities offered in the app are not (in my humble opinion) as good as Google’s. You can sync your smartphone “camera roll” to Google Photos automatically which is nice.
Other free photo-editing options are available. I will however after reviewing the other possibilities, only mention and discuss Google Photos on this blog.
If you’re a bit more sure that you want to invest in digital photography then there’s no better (imho) software than Adobe Lightroom. I’m not going into a whole set of reasons why you should invest in Lightroom rather than Photoshop Elements, or Apple’s Photo app, Paintshop, or even full-blown Photoshop. However for me these are the main benefits …

  • It doesn’t matter where your images are stored; you don’t have to import them into a database, but you can choose to import new images into a single location of your choice which is unconnected to the software.
  • It employs a catalogue which references where the images are stored. You can have multiple catalogues referencing the same set of images.
  • All changes (edits) to the images are stored in the catalogue. 
  • The original images are left untouched. This is called non-destructive editing.
  • You can go backwards and forwards through your edits, and can even create multiple virtual copies that allow you multiple versions of the same image, but only one actual (original) image.
  • You can store your images in Collections which equate to virtual albums unconnected to the actual folders the actual images are stored in.
  • You are supplied with a huge range of Plugins to allow you easy publishing to social media sites (eg flickr, Instagram, Dropbox), in addition to publishing to photobook websites (eg Blurb) and print sites (eg Smugmug).
  • You can apply presets to your images at import, developing or export so that the same look and feel can be achieved.
  • It integrates well with a whole range of other software such as WordPress (for blogging).

… I just feel that (for me at least) Lightroom is the best at the moment and it integrates with Adobe’s other software. It also now has a mobile version that allows editing on your iPad (or iPhone) if you subscribe to their Photography Creative Cloud Plan. This costs c.£9 a month and gives me both Lightroom and Photoshop, storage space in the cloud, and more besides, plus all the upgrades.
If you decide to go down the Lightroom route then here are a couple of resources you might wish to reference …

Laura Shoe’s Lightroom – http://laurashoe.com/
Lightroom Killer Tips – http://lightroomkillertips.com/
Adobe Training – http://tv.adobe.com/product/lightroom/ and https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/tutorials.html

… and for Lightroom tuition, you’ll do well to beat  …
Scott Kelby’s Lightroom books for digital photographers, New Riders

IT @ 93 – my mother

My 93 year old mother lives nearly three hours away from me, and not much less away from my sister. About 10 years ago I persuaded her to get a laptop, with a printer, and she soon took to emailing friends and family and looking at the photos we shared with her. In her youth she had used a typewriter and those skills very quickly came back.
With the arrival of the first tablets I soon realised that here was a device that she could adopt as her ability to type declined as her arthritis limited her dexterity. She’s now on her second iPad. It’s been a godsend. As well as her email which she still uses regularly, she uses the social network Google+ to chat with her grandchildren, and watch the progress through videos of her great grandchildren. She plays online scrabble with a grandson in Australia, and others as well and she occasionally wins – which gives her a huge amount of pleasure – as does the occasional Facetime (video call – skype-like) session she has with us.
She also reads the news off the web and browses the internet using Google. Just recently she took her first photograph using the iPad and shared it with the family. All of this in a safe and secure IT environment with privacy ensured so that only the family share in these communications.
The iPad has kept her in touch with her family. She passionately advocates its use and adoption to her friends as a way of them keeping in touch with their relatives and with her. It’s become an essential part of our “care package” for her.