Stories by Jon L. Jacobi

HP Officejet Pro 8600 Plus inkjet multifunction printer

In a world filled with cheap but underpowered inkjet multifunction printers (MFPs), using the HP Officejet Pro 8600 Plus is a pleasant departure. One of the most competent MFPs for the price (US$300 as of 12/05/2011), it lacks nothing in its features, is solidly constructed, fully supports legal-size paper, is faster than everything else in its price range, and even offers dirt-cheap ink. There's not much more you could ask for.

LaCie CloudBox: Compact drive tightly integrates with Cloud storage

The minimum "best practice" backup arrangement for your vital data is to maintain three copies of the data: the original, a local backup, and a second backup offsite. With LaCie's CloudBox NAS device, you simply back up to the ethernet-connected unit, which then automatically backs up to LaCie's own online backup service. But easy as it is, CloudBox is also expensive, capacity-challenged, and slower than average.

Dell Vostro V131 ultraportable business laptop

Dell's Vostro V131 is sedately handsome and a good performer, but has little else to distinguish it from the corporate-targeted ultraportable crowd. Unless, that is, you count eye-catching prices for various configurations, two USB 3.0 ports, and a generally excellent set of features.

Oki MC561 colour laser multifunction printer

Oki Printing Solutions' MC561 colour laser multifunction printer is well equipped for a busy workgroup, with full print/copy/scan/fax features, outstanding speed, and superior text quality. Graphics quality fell short of my expectations, however, and Oki still has a lot to learn about ease of use. Among MFPs at roughly the same price as the MC561 (US$750 as of June 29, 2011), the slightly less expensive Brother MFC-9970CDW is a bit slower but offers comparable or better features -- and better graphics quality.

Use Linux-like virtual deskops with VirtuaWin

Anyone familiar with Linux is probably familiar with virtual desktops. If you're not, download VirtuaWin and take a look. This utility takes your Windows desktop, clones it up to nineteen times, then lets you switch between them. The idea is to keep a set of related programs or documents on each desktop to help organize things for people who leave lots of applications and documents open.

Able utility O&O DiskRecovery finds, restores lost data

Recovering data is no small deal -- as anyone who's lost some will attest. But with so many programs out there, it's had to choose. The latest version 7 of O&O's DiskRecovery ($100. feature-limited demo) is making a strong argument to be your first choice, although at $100 is pricing itself beyond trusted veteran software such as R-Studio Data Recovery and Active@ File Recovery.

Lenovo Thinkpad X220

Lenovo's Thinkpad X220 ultraportable, replacing the X201, is sure to be a hit with ThinkPad fans -- as well as most everyone else. It's fast, light, has a great 12.5-inch display, and continues the company's tradition of superb input ergonomics with an innovative button-less touchpad and long-stroke keyboard. It also offers excellent battery life that you can stretch to a whopping 23 hours with a bottom-mounted battery slice. The downside? Not much really. The boxy, business-like appearance and somewhat cluttered keyboard deck might lack the sex appeal some users are looking for.

TestDisk, PhotoRec fix disks, recover files

If you're a fan of character-based interfaces -- such as DOS -- and free data recovery, you're going to love TestDisk and its companion utility, PhotoRec (a brother program included in the TestDisk download). Both free programs run in a DOS box or from a command line and test, report on, fix common disk boot problems, and recover files from damaged hard drives. All this is done at low level, below the operating system.

Digitize your movies

Analog movies can be the easiest--or the hardest--medium to digitize, depending on the format you're working with. While older camcorder and video formats such as 8mm and Hi8 or VHS and Betamax tapes are easy to transfer, digitizing film can be difficult at best.

Digitize your documents

The space required to store paper documents can be a problem. Digitizing your documents renders them exquisitely portable--you can store an entire library on your e-book reader with ease. And because paper documents can be turned into editable computer documents, they become searchable. Compare typing "Roosevelt" in a search field with spending all day scanning microfiche and old newspapers by eye to research the Square Deal or the New Deal. The digital document is a boon to researchers the world over.

Digitize your pictures

Today the digital camera is ubiquitous, but photos used to be taken by momentarily exposing something called "film" to light. Yes, film--the ode to photo-sensitive chemical reactions that produced all of the pictures made before 1990 or so. Those images were, and quite of­­ten still are, transferred to photo paper and pasted into coffee table al­­bums. Sometimes they were processed into transparent 35mm slides and projected onto white screens for everyone's en­­joyment (or boredom, depending).

Digitize your music

In my lifetime, music has been delivered on vinyl, cassettes, eight-track tapes, CDs, and audio DVDs. How do I listen to it now? Usually with a PC or a smartphone, and occasionally with an MP3 or other media player. I downloaded much of that music or ripped it from CDs, but the rest of it came from LPs and cassettes.

HP Mini 1103 netbook: Solid, old-school

The business-oriented HP Mini 1103 netbook is good-looking and solidly designed, and it has great battery life. Two years ago it would've earned high praise. Today it reminds us how inadequate Atom-based netbooks are for all but the most basic computing tasks. If the basics are all you need to cover, however, at $299 (as of February 28, 2011) this machine is a good deal with nice ergonomics.

Secure flash drives lock down your data

Hollywood makes secure flash storage look easy. If the bad guy steals a thumb drive, it either blows up or some secret counterintelligence agency marshals the nation's resources in a no-holds-barred data hunt -- most likely with Bruce Willis or Tommy Lee Jones working the streets. If the good guy steals the drive, it goes to a special-needs, special-deeds sidekick in a basement somewhere who cracks the code in 5 minutes.

Optimize your router for VoIP and video

We're at an awkward stage as the age of network-streamed multimedia matures. Broadband and cell providers have only recently realized the public's enormous appetite for streaming video, VoIP, and the combination of both.

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