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Get a Start Button and Menu in Windows 8.1

windowsSo Windows 8.1 is finally here and although it is a massive improvement over its predecessor (I recently had to install Windows 8 on a laptop and couldn’t believe how bad it is in comparison), Microsoft’s new Start button really isn’t what a lot of people were hoping for.

If you want to enjoy the benefits of the new operating system without being bothered by the Modern UI there are lots of alternative third-party options available. And when I say lots, I mean it. Some cost money, others are free. I’ll list my favorite three and then suggest some others to try if those don’t appeal.

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Cheapest 150Mbps broadband in big US cities costs 100% more than overseas

A new study confirms what you might have expected: US customers are getting hosed when it comes to broadband speeds and prices.

The annoying trend holds true in both wired and wireless service. In the Cost of Connectivity 2013 report being released today by the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, researchers note that "in larger US cities, we continue to observe higher prices for slower speeds… In the US for example, the best deal for a 150Mbps home broadband connection from cable and phone companies is $130/month, offered by Verizon FiOS in limited parts of New York City. By contrast, the international cities we surveyed offer comparable speeds for $77 or less per month, with most coming in at about $50/month. When it comes to mobile broadband, the cheapest price for around 2GB of data in the US ($30/month from T-Mobile) is twice as much as what users in London pay ($15/month from T-Mobile). It costs more to purchase 2GB of data in a US city than it does in any of the cities surveyed in Europe." The analysis compares costs across countries by using purchasing power parity exchange rates.

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Malwarebytes Anti-Malware for Android debuts

malwarebytesMalwarebytes products have been protecting PCs since 2008, but the company has now decided to broaden its horizons with the release of an Android app.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Mobile still has plenty in common with its PC cousin, of course. The app is effective, free, and very easy to use: just launch it, click Scan and watch as your apps are checked for malicious code (we found this generally takes less than two minutes).

You also get a Privacy option which scans your apps, checking on their privileges, and grouping these by category. It told us that we had six apps which could "access text messages", 8 which were able to "monitor calls", and 6 that could cost us money, for example. Tapping a category displays its associated apps, choosing one of these provides all its details, and you can close a running app -- or uninstall it completely -- with a tap.

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Google adds handwriting to Gmail and Docs

googleThe jury is out on stylus input on mobile devices, though many people likely are happy if the option is there, even if it goes unused. Drawing or writing on a screen may not be for everyone, but it has its place in the market, and today Google adds support for your handwriting to both Gmail and Google Docs.

"Whether you’re a student trying to include a foreign phrase in your paper or an international consultant hoping to begin your message with a friendly local greeting, now you’ll be able to use your own handwriting to input words directly into Gmail and Google Docs with your mouse or trackpad", states Google Product Manage Xiangye Xiao.

You will need to enable the option in both cases and Google provides instruction for this simple step -- "to try it out, enable input tools in Gmail or Docs and select the handwriting input (represented by a pencil icon) of the language you want to use".

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Firefox devs attacked for Java block

firefoxJava now requires explicit permission to run in the latest version of Firefox, thanks to a patch that rolled out late last week.

Developers at Mozilla, the not-for-profit behind Firefox, are hoping that it will help protect end users from the notoriously unsafe browser plugin – but many have complained that the move has disrupted their businesses (and even the entire nation of Denmark).

Since January, the browser has already blocked out-of-date (and vulnerable) versions of Java. However, in the wake of a particularly nasty SSL-decrypting exploit, Firefox devs made the decision to prevent any version of Java from auto-running.

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Bill Gates Says Control-Alt-Delete Login Was A Mistake

microsoftBill Gates had a chat with David Rubenstein, Harvard Campaign co-chair for a Harvard fundraising campaign. In that Gates revealed that it was a mistake to force users to use hold down “Ctrl+Alt+Del” to log into their computers and he also blamed IBM for doing so.

“You want to have something you do with the keyboard that is signaling to a very low level of the software — actually hard-coded in the hardware — that it really is bringing in the operating system you expect, instead of just a funny piece of software that puts up a screen that looks like a log-in screen, and then it listens to your password and then it’s able to do that,” Gates said.

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Microsoft Security Essentials designed to cover the basics

microsoftMicrosoft has admitted Windows users should install antivirus above and beyond its own Security Essentials, describing its protection as merely a "baseline" that will "always be on the bottom" of antivirus software rankings.

Microsoft launched Security Essentials in 2009, raising complaints from antivirus rivals that such software shouldn't be bundled with Windows for competition reasons.

However, the most frequent complaint about Security Essentials is that it's not good enough: it flunked a pair of tests earlier this year - including one from Dennis Technology Labs.

Now, Microsoft has said it sees Security Essentials as merely the first layer of protection, advising customers to use additional, third-party antivirus - although the company stressed that wasn't because the product wasn't good enough to stand on its own.

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Patch Monday: A way to avoid more Microsoft Automatic Update fiascos

microsoftThis month's Black Tuesday -- Sept. 10, 2013 -- enters the record books as Microsoft's most patch-botching month in history. That's quite an accomplishment, frankly. Having followed Microsoft's bungled patch efforts since long before the ascendancy of Patch Tuesday, I think there's a better -- if rather unorthodox -- way to manage patching.

The release dilemma is quite straightforward: Microsoft has to test the patches without letting them leak to the bad guys. Conventional wisdom dictates that if the bad guys can reverse engineer the patches before they roll down the Automatic Update chute, Windows as we know it will cease to exist. However, given the recent revelations of governmental stockpiling of zero-days, the ascendancy of companies that specialize in selling such zero-days to governments and corporate spies alike, and the fascinating proposal that the U.S. government share its zero-day trove with private companies (for a fee, of course), I think the day-and-date exposure threat is way overblown.

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