US Border Laptop Searches

This week in the US many news outlets are reporting a story that relates to how private the data on your computer, hard drive or mobile phone may be when passing national borders.

In a legal ruling a judge has in effect supported immigration officials’ rights to look inside your computer if you want to bring it in to the USA. The court ruling relates to an incident in 2010 when Pascal Abidor, a student crossing from Canada, had his laptop confiscated and searched.

A Laptop Search

A Laptop Search

The student claimed that this was unconstitutional as the 4th amendment states that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated….” The US has long held however that this amendment cannot be upheld when dealing with people entering the country.

The judge ruled however that “The agents certainly had reasonable suspicion supporting further inspection of Abidor’s electronic devices”. What is not widely reported is the circumstances that lead to this decision. Abidor has both French and US passports, and upon entering he chose to show the passport that did not contain Visas that demonstrated that he had visited Lebanon and Jordan,  giving officials the impression that he was trying to hide something.

Agents spent five hours searching his laptop and USB drives, and then demanded that he write down his passwords and hand over the laptop and storage media. The laptop was returned by post 11 days later.

There are rules about what the authorities must do with data seized in these cases. All data that is deemed innocent must be destroyed within 7 days of seizure unless permission is given to keep it for longer. Many blogs however cast doubt upon whether an unregulated and poorly reported system can actually enforce this however, an online search of the story gives many different perspectives. The Homeland securities News Wire has one of the most informative.

I presume that like me many of you keep a great deal of personal data on your laptops, from tax returns, bank details, love letters and personal photos, and all of these things may be accessed in a case like this. One issue that has come to the fore has been brought by researchers and reporters, who may not be able to reveal sources of information for ethical, security or legal reasons, but may unwittingly do so by leaving evidence of their informers’ identities on their computers.

The line is blurred here, as today smuggling must include information smuggling and authorities may need to search information media, but an individual must be aware that all information carried over an international border is open to search. This must have repercussions in terms of industrial as well as personal privacy.

Sponsored: A look at the Aspire S7 Ultrabook

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Two weeks ago today I wrote a post which explored the rise of the Ultrabook – a new compact, portable and superfast variation of the laptop. Yesterday I wrote about Windows 8 and how it is changing the way we use our gadgets. Today I want to take a look at a laptop which I feel is a great example of how Windows 8 is changing the way we use out PCs.

The Acer Aspire S7 is a new, top of the range Ultrabook, which is even better than the Acer Aspire S5 that I talked about two weeks ago.

The Aspire S7 is designed to work seamlessly with Microsoft’s new Windows 8 operating system. How you may wonder? What makes the Aspire S7 so perfect for Windows 8?

The Technical Spec

The first feature which is primarily aimed at Windows 8 is the amazingly thin, extremely strong, easy clean scratch resistant Gorilla Glass. To find out more about Gorilla Glass, check out this Wikipedia page. The glass is a great way to take advantage of Windows 8’s touch screen capabilities.

The laptop is also the thinnest and lightest laptop that Acer have ever made, meaning that definitely it fits the criteria of an Ultrabook – super portable.

Being so thin, keeping cool is a problem. Acer use a very cool technology to get over this issue though. It uses two fans, (located at the back of the laptop) one to pull cold air in, and another to push hot air out.

Acer Aspire S7 air ventsA cool new feature the Aspire S7 is its electroluminescent backlit keyboard. Quite a mouthful that! What does it mean though? Well basically the laptop works out what the light level is, (where you are) and then it adapts the glow it places under the keyboard accordingly, so that you can see the keyboard and the laptop looks really cool, but it doesn’t create a nasty glare on the screen.

Take a look at Acer’s promo video which stars Megan Fox for more.

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Okay maybe it can’t help us speak to dolphins, but it is a pretty cool new Ultrabook, which is a prefect example of the sort of technology that Windows 8 was designed to run on.

Is Windows 8 an attempt to create a united Windows?

It has been nearly two weeks now since Microsoft released its latest operating system: Windows 8. Windows 8 is probably the most extreme overhaul Microsoft have given its operating systems to date.

It would appear that Microsoft’s aim is to unify all devices with one standard operating system – which works on desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets. Since the launch of Windows 7 just over three years ago, tablets have revolutionised the technology market – when Windows 7 was being developed, they didn’t exist. Windows Phone – the mobile operating system family – was also not around when Windows 7 was launched.

Until recently, the general perception of Microsoft was that it was falling behind in the rapidly evolving technology industry. Microsoft appear to have been aware of this, and that is reflected in the changes and developments they have made with Windows 8.

Tablets and smartphones are becoming widespread and more heavily depended upon than ever before, so Microsoft has moved to ensure that its new operating system works seamlessly with all our devices.

To do this the firm has simplified the range of operating systems that it offers. If you wanted to purchase Windows XP, then you could choose from XP Home, Professional, Media Center Edition and 64-bit Edition – among others. Vista made the choice even harder with Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, Enterprise, Ultimate and then other 64 bit variants to choose from. Windows 7 similarly offered many different versions of what is arguable the same operating system – give or take a few features.

Microsoft Windows 8If you want to buy Windows 8, your choice is much simpler: Windows RT, Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro. Microsoft believes that those three variations of Windows 8 are all the consumer will ever need, no matter what their device or needs. Windows 8 and its three variations will (Microsoft believes) cater for all uses of the operating system (e.g. educational use, entertainment use, business use, etc.) and all devices that you might want to use it on – i.e. tablets, smartphones, desktops and laptops.

Windows 8 is a bold move by Microsoft, and it appears to be working for them – at least at the moment. I get the perception that the industry is a little taken aback by the release.

Major Features

There is no-doubt in the fact that Windows 8 is a major change from the operating systems we are used to from Microsoft, but what are the most notable changes?

  • No start button – for the first time since its introduction in 1995, Microsoft have decided to remove the iconic start button from the operating system. It is possible to get the button back if you want, but its not how the operating system is designed.
  • Touch-enabled – all three variations of Windows 8 are touch screen compatible. If your computer supports multitouch, then you will be able to control your PC via touch! All versions also support the conventional mouse and keyboard.
  • Cross device compatibility – Windows 8 can be run on tablets as well as laptops and desktops.
  • Tiles replace the desktop – no longer does the operating system revolve around the desktop, as it has done for so long, users now access software and applications via a start screen which is a series of ’tile’ style menus – similar to the way many smartphones operate. Windows Phone 8 and Xbox also run a similar tile welcome screen interface. The desktop is still there, just not the main focus.
Windows 8 tyle start screen

Windows 8 new tile style start screen

So, what do these changes mean to me and you? Well it would appear that there is a really big move towards more integrated, purpose built systems, or as they are starting to become known all in ones. This is mainly due to the touch screen capabilities that Windows 8 offers.

Devices which need fewer input devices (like mice and keyboards) and have inbuilt screens are really those best suited to Windows 8. If you want to see some examples, take a look at some of the all in ones from Ebuyer.

What are your thoughts on Windows 8? Do you like the idea of a more united Windows, or do you prefer your devices to work independently?

How to get great gadgets on a budget

It’s a very easy – and all too common – mistake to see your student loan arrive in your bank account and rush out and spend it all on the latest must-have gadgets. Smartphones, laptops, tablets, printers, they’re all “essential” to student life, (well, in a social capacity in most senses, but to some they’re essential).

Obviously going off to University is an exciting time and you want to go fully prepared for the academic year, and to make an impression on your new friends and flat mates. But you can do all of this without breaking the bank.

For instance there are some great laptop deals for students specifically which enable them to get the computer they want as well as all of the software they’ll need to help with the course, and even discounts on devices like printers and wireless routers.

When you think about it, you can get what you consider to be brilliant deals on your computer, printer and tablet – to name just three you might buy together – getting discounts on all three, but it can still add up to upwards of £1,000. But one of the advantages of being a student is being eligible for a package tailor made for getting you through the late night group projects and the 10,000-word essays that you finish at 4am.

National Union of Students card

An NUS student card

You might not think that some of the devices in the offers are what you would call “top drawer” or even as cool as what your friend has bought, but if you’ve spent £500 and they’ve spent £1,500, you’ve got an extra thousand left in your bank account to enjoy yourself with while taking the necessary “study breaks”, or to keep in hand for emergencies and all-important food shops. There are only so many times you can buy own-brand beans after all!

Budgeting is a key part of Uni life, something you don’t tend to realise until the end of the year (or the end of your third year in a lot of cases) but anything you can save before you start your first term is going to benefit you later on, allowing you to upgrade your gadgets in the future when you’ve got a little bit extra that you can spend without getting into financial difficulties.

The deals on laptops and other tech for students really are worth looking into. A lot of the top brands produce models and packages designed purely for students at prices made for students. If I had one tip, check them out, don’t just splash the cash on the biggest and best because you want to be cool.

Could Samsung and Apple have another big competitor

For the past month or so, Samsung and Apple have dominated headlines with their patent trial. Such a case was probably inevitable – how many ways can you design a smartphone? – but any such case would inevitably gather daily headlines. After all, it was Apple and its iconic iPhone vs. Samsung and its status as world’s largest smartphone manufacturer. They’re both kings of the industry in their own ways. Yet they could have a competitor breathing down their necks before they know it.

Lenovo has been around for a while, and in their time they’ve made some waves in the laptop sector. Remember the IBM Thinkpad? In the late 90s and early 00s it seemed as though everyone had one. When IBM exited the consumer electronics business, they sold the brand to Lenovo, who have continued to the line to this day. They’re not quite as ubiquitous these days – the MacBook has taken over the role of the Thinkpad – but it’s still a high-quality Windows offering. In fact, it’s one of the main ways in which Lenovo competes with Apple.

ThinkPads on the International Space Station

ThinkPads being used on the International Space Station.

The present: laptops

Let’s face it: laptops won’t be around forever. They’ve evolved to get smaller and smaller, but the latest round of laptops appears to be their evolutionary end. The only way to make them smaller is to remove the hinge, and when you remove the hinge from a laptop you don’t really have a laptop at all anymore. Still, the latest round of laptops, dubbed Ultrabooks, has made quite an impression on the market.

Apple started this trend years ago with the MacBook Air, but that model went through a few generations before it became a viable product. Once Apple got it down other companies followed. Lenovo got right on the trend, coming out with two lines: the ThinkPad, that business-class continuation of the IBM line, and the IdeaPad, a ligthweight, affordable Ultrabook meant for the consumer market. They are directly comparable to the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air.

The difference, of course, comes in the price. The 13.3-inch IdeaPad runs more than $450 cheaper than the 13-inch MacBook Air, and more than $250 cheaper than the 11-inch MacBook Air. The ThinkPad compares even better to the MacBook Pro. The Apple faithful might not have much of a need for a different line of laptops, but the average consumer can benefit greatly here. Fact is, most people simply do not need a Mac. PCs can do pretty much the same, and oftentimes more. The saved dollars can go towards products of the future.

The future: tablets

To complete the thought above, when you remove the hinge from a laptop you don’t have a laptop. You have a tablet. While tablets aren’t quite to the level of replacing laptops, they’re certainly travelling that path. Just take a look at the super-thin keyboard cover for the Microsoft Surface. The writing is pretty much on the wall. Soon enough manufacturers will deliver laptops that make us look at laptops like clunky relics of the past.

In this territory, Apple is the undisputed king. People often ask me for advice on buying a tablet. They’ll ask, “is the new iPad worth it? Or should I get an Android tablet?” And I tell them that no, the new iPad isn’t really worth it; the iPad 2 is the second-best tablet on the market, and you can find it at a significant discount. Android tablets just aren’t there yet. But Lenovo has an idea.

First, they’ve put down the idea of competing with Apple on features. Samsung did this with the Galaxy Tab 10.1, pricing it at the same as the iPad. Seeing the two products next to each other, who was going to choose the Galaxy Tab? Lenovo has dipped below the iPad’s $500 base price. They’ve also differentiated, offering four different tablets: three Idea Tablets, ranging from 7 to 10.1 inches, and a ThinkPad tablet, designed for business.

Again, Android has a ways to go when it comes to tablets. But it appears that Lenovo has something going with its segmented offerings and skinned Android interfaces.

Smartphones in the offing?

It would be interesting to see if Lenovo decided to compete on all levels by offering a smartphone. It seems as though everyone’s doing it these days, and with AT&T and Verizon supposedly pushing customers away from the iPhone there might be an opening here. And again there’s a chance for Lenovo to segment its offerings, using Android for consumer and BlackBerry 10 for enterprise.

Yes, BlackBerry is something of an afterthought these days, but they do appear to have a strong offering with their BlackBerry 10 operating system. Problem is, they might need some licensing help to get it off the ground. Lenovo, which already has inroad to enterprise customers, could combine with RIM, which is – or at least was – the enterprise leader. On the other side, creating Android smartphones shouldn’t be such a big deal.

The Logo of BlackberryYet the competition issue comes into play here, too. Apple dominates its own little space, which consumes quite a large portion of the overall market. Samsung seemingly dominates the Android space. No one really dominates the Android tablet space, though, because it hardly exists. But if carriers really are pushing Android smartphones, there could be opportunity there.

Age of the smart consumer

I’d like to believe that we’ll soon enter the era of the smart consumer: one not dominated by fads and iconic brands, but rather by utility. The average consumer does not need a Mac, yet might feel as though they need one because everyone else has one. In truth, many other companies can fit the bill. Lenovo fits right in there.

And if you don’t need a product and can save money buying a comparable one, doesn’t that make the most sense? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to buy a $700 laptop and a $400 tablet for less than you’d spend on just a MacBook Air comparable to the other laptop? It makes sense to me.