The First 48: iOS 8

by Moez Janmohammad

iOS 8 was announced Monday, and the beta for developers went out that day. I’ve had it now for about 48 hours, and I’m pleased to say that it’s a pretty solid update, especially for the first beta seed. It’s robust, surprisingly stable, and very fast. iOS 7 was plagued with crashes and glitches in its beta stages, iOS 8 is a different animal. Of course, there are a few issues, but again, it’s the first beta and those will be ironed out.

Users who feared a complete UI overhaul like the transition from iOS 6 to iOS 7 need not worry. iOS 8 looks and feels exactly like its predecessor, albeit with a few functional changes. It was more of an “adding features” update as opposed to a “let’s make everything new” update.

Here’s a rundown of some of the biggest updates:

reply nowQuick Reply: You can now reply to text messages directly from the lock screen, or even in the notifications drawer. Just slide to the left, hit “Reply” and type away! Note that if your screen locks while you’re idly staring at the message you typed, iOS will not save a draft of it, although I’m sure that may be added in a future beta update.

The Keyboard: Since 2007, the iOS keyboard has remained largely unchanged. In iOS 7, it was given a different skin, but the same software laid underneath. Now, you get a “Quick type” bar at the top of your keyboard. It guesses, based on context, your next word and learns as you use it. It understands that the formal way you talk to your boss is different from the informal slang you may use with your friends, and suggests words depending on who you’re texting, and any previous messages you may have sent to that contact. Also, support for 3rd party keyboards is now available. Once companies like Swype and Swiftkey build their iOS version, you’ll be able to use those too.
spotlight search

Spotlight: Until now, Spotlight search was just a way to search documents, music, contacts, and other local files. Now, Spotlight has been revamped to include internet searches, restaurants near you, apps in the App Store, Wikipedia snippets, movie showtimes and even location based data in your own photos.

All in all, iOS 8 seems to be a fantastic step in the right direction for Apple, but the big test will come when all of the paired features in OS X Yosemite start working. Continuity, phone calls on your Mac, and Airdrop from OS X to iOS will push both platforms to the next level.

As with any upgrade, we strongly suggest when iOS8 becomes available in the fall that you delay upgrading for a short time. This allows OIT time to navigate any bugs that may conflict with SMU applications or services. We’ll make sure to give you the green light when our testing is complete.

Posted in Macintosh, Tech News | Leave a comment

You Sent What Email?

outlookWouldn’t you know it, right after I posted my last blog “Never miss an email again“, I found myself being humbled in a conversation saying “You sent what email?”

In my prior post, I talked about setting alerts in Outlook for those critical emails that you need to respond to right away.  However, the messages that rank high in the importance category and require some phone calls or research before I can respond need a different approach. I need those types of messages to stand out in my inbox as a visual reminder of their importance, and for me it’s also a kick in the pants that I better not drop the ball on this one – especially, when it comes to prompt customer service.

How do I solve that dilemma? Conditional Formatting – that is, it’s a great solution if you are a PC user. (Sorry Mac users, it’s not available in Office 2011, but I have read there have been a lot of requests for it in the next release. Maybe you’ll see that in the future.)

conditional formatting

Notice in the above pic, you’ll see unread email in the standard blue font and then one in a bold green font.  I changed my formatting, so every time I get an email from a specific email account, it stands out with that font. You can specify conditional formatting to occur from specific individuals, when certain keywords are used, etc.

Here’s how…

1. Go to your mail, task, calendar etc. (wherever you want to add conditional formatting)

2. From the View tab,  select View Settings view settings

3. Select Conditional Formatting

4. Click Add and type the name of your rule

5. Click Font and specify the font type, size and color that you want your specified email to display

conditional formatting2

6. Click the Condition button

7. Specify the condition for your email

8. Click OK

9. Click OK

Will conditional formatting solve my problems for not missing an email again? Probably not, but between this and setting alerts, I’m hopeful it will keep me more organized and lessen my chances of eating humble pie once again!

Posted in Microsoft, Outlook, Tech Tips | Leave a comment

Webinars & Timesavers in Microsoft Office

I’m constantly looking for tips on how to work more efficiently in Microsoft. The Office suite is so powerful that I’m pretty sure we underutilize the resources at our fingertips.

If you’re struggling with the “I want to learn, but I don’t have time…” sentiment consider sharpening your skills in 15 minute bites. A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled on Microsoft’s Tuesday morning webinar series and was perusing through their archives. You can join their webinars live or watch at your own convenience.

Here’s a sample of their Office Timesavers session:

You can view upcoming Office webinars here. Got your own Microsoft Office tip you’d like to share? Let us know at ittraining@smu.edu and we’ll be sure to pass it on!

Posted in Microsoft, Tech Tips | Leave a comment

Free & Easy Cloud Backup Solutions

As each semester comes to a close, I like to take stock of all of the documents I’ve written over the last few months and make sure they are backed up. There are plenty of options available to backup and sync your data between multiple computers and mobile devices.

You’ve probably seen the commercials on TV or on the radio for paid cloud backup services like Carbonite and BackBlaze. Those services are all well and good, but sometimes the monthly fees can add up, and you may not always need all of the bells and whistles they provide.

Luckily, there are quite a few free solutions that you can use to back up your data as well as have it available from anywhere! Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular choices.

Dropboxdropbox-logo_stacked_2

Dropbox is probably the most popular choice out there. The starting package is completely free and gives you 2GB of space. Since the amount of starting space is so small, Dropbox would be best for those essential smaller documents and files that you use frequently or need access to at multiple devices.

Boxbox-icon

Box is quite similar to Dropbox, but with more options once you get into the pay levels of service. The free version includes more space than the free version of Dropbox, but expect to be persuaded into purchasing a plan.

OneDrive

OneDrive-logo100x100OneDrive is Microsoft’s first big foray into the cloud storage game. If you have a Hotmail, Outlook.com or another type of Microsoft account, you may already have it! You get 7GB as the default for free plans, but you can earn extra space by backing up your cell phone photos, purchasing Office 365 (which is soon to be free for SMU students) or referring friends.

Google Drive

google_drive_logo_3963If you’re more of a Gmail kind of person, Google has you covered, too! Google provides 15GB for free to those holding Google accounts, and more is available for a charge. Of course, Google Drive storage seamlessly works with Google Apps, too.

(Faculty & Staff) CrashPlan Pro

crashplan_clouds eThe University uses CrashPlan Pro for all primary computers. It makes a complete back up of your profile and file folder structure. The above options are great for personal storage, but make sure you’ve installed CrashPlan Pro on your University machine. It could save you a big headache if your machine ever crashed! For full details, visit http://www.smu.edu/BusinessFinance/OIT/Services/Backup.

Posted in Security Awareness, Tech Tips, Technology Discounts | Leave a comment

After finals it’s time to catch up on some sleep!

By Kristina Harris

Have you pulled a few all nighters trying to cram for exams? Now that the semester is winding down you can use this app to track your sleeping patterns and see if you’re using your time off from school wisely.

Enjoy the summer break!

Posted in Apps | Leave a comment

Firefox 29 Is Here…and Very Different

Firefox LogoYou may have already noticed that as of today, your Firefox browser looks a bit different than before. That’s because the Mozilla Foundation has now unleashed the latest version of Firefox – version 29 – to the masses. It’s been in the works under code name “Australis” for around two years. Don’t have the latest version yet? You can upgrade by doing the following:

For Windows Folks:

  1. Click on the orange Firefox button in the top left.
  2. Click on the small arrow to the right of Help.
  3. Click About Firefox.

For our Mac folks, you can update by clicking on Firefox next to the Apple icon and selecting About Firefox. This will automatically begin the update process.

Firefox Menu

The “Hamburger” Menu

Now to talk about what’s different about Firefox 29. This is easily the most drastic change in Firefox’s look since the Mozilla Foundation decided to release updates to Firefox every six weeks. If you have ever used Google Chrome, you may notice that this new Firefox looks very similar. The majority of menu options have been moved from the orange Firefox button to a “Hamburger” icon made up of three bars in the top right-hand corner; just like Chrome. You can also click and drag icons on this new menu as well as add additional icons to suit your tastes by clicking Customize. But, if you still prefer your regular File menu at the top of the screen, just press Alt to have it return for you.

Another big new feature in Firefox is its streamlined sync system. Before this update, Firefox’s bookmark and settings sync service were clunky and borderline unusable. Now, it’s as simple as entering your e-mail address and a password to create a sync account. You can then specify what you would like to sync between your different computers and devices that use Firefox. No longer do you have to use several different apps to sync bookmarks, settings, and open tabs!

This new version of Firefox signals a huge shift in the design language and functionality of one of the world’s top internet browsers. Hopefully this means a much more enjoyable web experience for the rest of us!

Posted in Software Updates | Leave a comment

Illustrator Image Trace Tutorial

By Moez Janmohammad

Most images come in specific sizes, where the file contains each pixel’s information. This means that when a user scales the image to be larger, the program “fills in” the missing information, often making it look blurred or pixelated. A solution to this is a vector image, which contains mathematical expressions instead of pixel data. It uses those expressions to “build” the image, and since it isn’t pixel-dependent, a user can scale the image to be larger or smaller while keeping the lines clean and crisp. An easy way to convert an image to a vector format is to use Illustrator’s Image Trace. With one button, a user can have a vector image from any source format.

Posted in Adobe, Feature of the Week, Tech Tips | Leave a comment

Why is it So Difficult to Play a DVD? (Part 2)

In part one, we explained how to determine if the problems you have playing movies is the result of a faulty disc. Now it’s time to make sense out of the software that you’ll be using to play your movie. All of the computers in the Dedman College classrooms run Windows 7, and most of the time you will play DVDs using a program called Windows Media Player.

Here is the easiest way to start a movie:

1 – Turn on the computer and log in. (Do not put the disc in yet!)

2 – Wait until you are completely logged on and the desktop has finished loading. Now open the DVD tray and put the disc in.

3 – Wait. It can take a few seconds for the computer to respond.

4 – The Windows Media Player will pop up and try to play your disc.

Most of the time, the film starts playing automatically. It may bring up the disc’s main menu and you will have to click on the Play option, just like you would if you were using a DVD player at home.

Sometimes when you put the disc into the computer, you will be given a choice between different programs. Double-click on ‘Windows Media Player’ when this pops up, and you’ll see the movie start in a few seconds.

Windows Media Player

Windows Media Player

If nothing shows up automatically (or if you put the disc in the drive before you logged in), you can start the movie by clicking on the Windows Media Player icon at the bottom of thescreen. (It’s the orange circle with an arrow in it – like the picture on the right.) When the program opens you should see the name of your disc at the bottom of the left-hand side of the window. Double-click the title, and the movie will start.

If you’d like to see this in more detail, Microsoft has prepared a short video for you. Click here to see it.

 

The title of the movie will be at the bottom of the list on the left. (Click on this picture for a better view.)

The title of the movie will be at the bottom of the list on the left. (Click on this picture for a better view.)

Sounds simple, and most of the time it’s not complicated when you know the right steps. If the movie starts playing right away then the only problem you’ll be likely to run into is that the volume is not turned up. Read this older post to be sure you understand how to deal with that. (We have more calls about volume issues than anything else.)

What if this process doesn’t work? Sometimes, Windows Media Player cannot read certain discs. There are various reasons for this. A DVD of a different region is a common roadblock, and this usually happens when using with discs from other countries. Fortunately, we’ve installed a separate program to deal with these discs.

VLC_icon

VLC Media Player

On the desktop (or in the Faculty Applications folder on the desktop) you’ll see an icon that looks like an orange traffic cone (like the picture on the left) called VLC Media Player. Double-click this icon, and when the program opens navigate to Media in the upper left-hand corner, then click Open Disc. In the next window, click Play. This will start the movie. VLC Media player is not as user-friendly as Windows Media Player, but it will often play discs that have been stubborn and uncooperative in other players.

If you are still concerned about playing your movie, feel free to contact us at help@smu.edu and ask us to help you get it started. We will be happy to show up at the start of your class to make sure the movie starts easily and on time.

Posted in Classroom Support, Tech Tips | Leave a comment

Camera RAW

By Moez Janmohammad

Introducing Feature of the Week, where we highlight a feature of a program and give a basic tutorial on how it works. This week we’re focusing on Camera RAW in the Adobe Creative Suite.  Camera RAW is one of the single most powerful tools in a photographer’s arsenal, and often one of the most overlooked tools in the Adobe Creative Suite.  It gives the user extensive control of the post processing of an image, allowing them to edit exposure and distortion before going into Photoshop to make more advanced edits.

Posted in Adobe, Feature of the Week, Tech Tips | Leave a comment

Adobe Bridge CC

By Moez Janmohammad

Adobe Bridge is a digital asset management software that allows a user to organize any kind of media. The name Bridge comes from the idea that Adobe Bridge will be the link between all of the programs in the creative suite. From Bridge a user can drop an Illustrator vector image into Photoshop, or an After Effects video into Premiere. This tutorial covers the basic interface of Adobe Bridge, from selecting images, to the filmstrip view, to reading the metadata of a file.

University owned computers can download any of the Master Collection Adobe Creative products via LANDesk. For more informaiton, visit our service page http://www.smu.edu/BusinessFinance/OIT/Services/Info/Adobe.

Posted in Adobe, Tech Tips | Leave a comment