Archive for April 2024 - Page 1


    Apple Announces "Let Loose" event

    Image for the Apple Event that depicts a hand holding an Apple Pencil with a variety of colors that creates the Apple logo.

    Today Apple has sent out invitations to an event happening on May 7th, 2024, titled "Let Loose". The event will be available on and via the Apple TV app at 7 a.m. Pacific Time on Tuesday, May 7th. The graphic for the event depicts a hand holding an Apple Pencil, therefore it is expected that this will be the anticipated iPad-focused event.

    You can watch the event on the Apple Events page or via the Apple TV app.

    As with most events, I will post my predictions sometime prior to the event.

    Image for the Apple Event that depicts a hand holding an Apple Pencil with a variety of colors that creates the Apple logo Via: 9to5Mac

    Microsoft Rewards: Is it Worth it?

    Screenshot of the

    No matter how you slice it, there is nothing free on the internet. There is a maxim that goes “If you are not paying for the product, you are the product”. Spelled out, if you are not paying for a service with money, you are paying with your data. It is that simple. Many websites use ads as a means of paying for supporting their website. Many sites use ads that are targeted towards your interests because it will end up making more money than using generic ads.

    Larger companies sometimes have the opportunity to entice people to use their services with incentives. One example is Microsoft and their Microsoft Rewards program.

    Microsoft Rewards

    Microsoft Rewards is a program that allows you to perform various tasks, like performing searches, completing polls, and performing other tasks. The tasks are not just limited to Bing, but you can also complete tasks on your Xbox or Windows PC. Each of these tasks will reward you some points. The number of points vary on the task. Here are some of the points that you can earn.

    You can earn up to 150 points, per day, by searching on the desktop. You can earn up to 100 points per day for searching on a mobile device.

    You can earn points by playing games on your Xbox, or in the Xbox Mobile app. You can also earn points by completing weekly, and monthly, quests on your Xbox.

    There is no definitive consensus as to how much you can earn per month, but it is close to 20,000 points, if you perform all of the tasks, provided you live in a region where you can earn all of the points.

    Once you have earned enough points, you can trade in your points for gift cards, or you can donate your points.

    Microsoft Rewards Daily Set Screenshot
    Screenshot of the daily set status

    My Experience

    I went back and looked at when I first signed up for Bing Rewards, the predecessor to Microsoft Rewards. The earliest email I could find was from 2014. Therefore, I have been using it for nearly 10 years. Over that time I have earned just over 650,000 points. I am sure I could have earned more over that time, but I know there was a time when I did not complete my daily searches, and therefore did not earn points.

    As you perform the daily tasks on the Bing website you will start a streak. As you lengthen your streak you will end up earning additional points for continuing the streak. These points are on top of the regular daily points.

    For the last few years I have been trying to make a concerted effort to complete the daily tasks and searches to earn a lot of points. I did not have any particular goal in mind, but just enough to redeem some points. It took me years of searching and playing Xbox games, but eventually I did earn a lot of points.

    As of this writing, I have a streak of 364 days. This means that for the last 364 days I have done the daily tasks on the Bing website. I have absolutely been doing the tasks for longer than that, but the Bing website decided, on multiple occasions, to decide that my activities did not count as a streak. This has happened multiple times over the last few years.

    Each time that the streak breaks, it requires me to start the streak again. The streak, in itself, only matters because it would allow me to get a badge. The current set of badges include:

    • Office Mate: 1997 lifetime points
    • Dos Boss: 8088 lifetime points
    • Audiofile: 35,000 lifetime points
    • Local Hero: 98052 lifetime points
    • Founder: 441,975 lifetime points
    • 7-day set
    • 30-day set
    • 180-day set
    • 365-day set
    • 999-day set
    Badges for Microsoft Rewards
    Screenshot of the available badges

    I have earned all but the 999 set. It would take me 21 months to get the 999-day set badge. Honestly, the thought of continuing to do the daily tasks for that length of time is, in a word, tiring.

    I have mostly been doing the Microsoft Rewards tasks to be able to automatically redeem a 1-month subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. The automatic redemption reduces the number of points needed to redeem a code. For the length of time that I had been doing the auto redemption

    In December, I redeemed a vast majority of my points for Game Pass Ultimate. I did this not only because it made sense, but also because I have heard horror stories of some people losing access to Microsoft Rewards, and I opted to redeem my points instead of losing them.

    Now that we have covered my experience, let us look at some recent changes.

    Recent Changes

    Over the last few months Microsoft has been making massive changes to the Rewards Program. They have reduced the amount of points that you receive for various tasks. You are still able to receive enough points to redeem Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, or other gift cards, but the points have been reduced.

    Another set of changes that they have made recently is that you can only earn up to 25 points by clicking on items. Now, you must perform searches in order to redeem points. Beyond this, Microsoft has implemented a delay between all searches in order to receive points. I can understand wanting to put some delay, in order to stop bots, and this is entirely understandable. However, adding a significant delay also means that it takes an increasingly longer amount of time to complete the daily searches.

    Decision to Stop Earning Rewards

    Even though you can still earn enough to redeem a gift card, or Game Pass Ultimate, every month, it takes a lot of time to complete the searches every day. In addition to this, the Xbox Rewards apps, on both iOS and Xbox, also take a lot of time.

    Beyond the time, the apps do not always trigger the rewards, even though you have completed the tasks. With the delay, app issues, and the overall amount of time needed to complete everything, I have opted to stop doing the searches. I am not entirely sure when I will stop but it will likely be when I’m able to redeem another 3-month Game Pass Ultimate. This would end up being the last of my points, which seems like a good time to stop.

    I have already stopped my monthly auto-redemption of my 1-month Game Pass Ultimate and since it is just half-way through the month, it is likely that I will redeem the 3-month Game Pass Ultimate towards the end of the month, and then that will be it for Microsoft Rewards.

    Closing Thoughts

    There are times in life when you have more time than money. There are other times when you have more money than time. I am in the latter portion. Now, I end up paying for things with my own money. I do this instead of using coupons, or in the case of Microsoft Rewards, allowing Microsoft to use my data to, in exchange for free rewards that I can redeem.

    As outlined above, this is because it takes entirely too much time and effort for, what in me, is not worth the trade off. I am not discouraging anybody to use Microsoft Rewards, but for me, it is no longer worth my time. If you want to be able to get rewards, including gift cards, Microsoft Rewards may be worth your time, but expect additional changes in the future.


    Doing Remote Support from a Mac

    Screenshot of the

    I, like many tech literate people, end up having multiple hats. One of those "jobs" that many tech literate people end up performing is being tech support for others. When you do need to provide tech support for others, there are instances when that can be accomplished via email, text message, or even over the phone. However, there are those times when you need to actually see what is happening. This requires connecting to a computer. For this, this is where remote control software can be handy.

    There are a variety of options available depending on your needs. If you only need to connect to your own computers, you can probably use Apple's built-in software. It becomes a bit trickier if you need to connect to remote devices, but there are some solutions. Some of the available options are Jump Desktop, ZoHo Assist, AnyDesk, and Team Viewer, just to name a few.

    Let us look at one in particular, the one I used, Team Viewer.

    Team Viewer

    Team Viewer logo

    For the last decade I have been using Team Viewer. Team Viewer is one of the myriad options available for remotely connecting to devices. The reason that I have been using Team Viewer is because it is cross-platform. I, as you probably guessed, use a Mac, but the other person I support is using a Windows computer.

    Team Viewer offers a couple of different methods for connecting to a remote device. The first is by prompting the remote user to allow you to connect to their computer. This method is good if you are on the phone with them. The second option is by using a password. You can configure one so that you can always connect to the device, provided it is powered on.

    The reason I chose Team Viewer was because it was free to use for personal use. According to their website:

    "...Remote access software connects individuals and devices, allowing you to collaborate, interact, and provide support for free..."

    Team Viewer has worked well for over a decade, at least, it did until earlier this year.

    The Issue

    Over the last couple of months Team Viewer has, incorrectly, been thinking that I am using Team Viewer in a "commercial" manner. Now, I have only ever had two computers connected to my account. One being my own computer, and the second being someone else's. I only ever connect to the other person's computer when they call and need help. When I setup the other computer, I created a password so I could connect automatically if I needed to.

    Because Team Viewer thinks I am using their software in a commercial manner it only allows you to be connected for five minutes. To add even more friction, it is not possible to immediately reconnect. Instead, you had to wait at least one minute between connections. This arrangement effectively makes the software useless for remote support and troubleshooting. I struggled through getting kicked off every five minutes for two different sessions, but ultimately decided this was untenable.

    Possible Solution

    You, reader, might be wondering, "Doesn't Team Viewer have a paid version?". Yes, they do. I am not opposed to paying for software. Not only because I am a software developer and would like people to buy my apps (and books), but because if you like good software, you should probably pay for it. I pay for quite a bit of software, even on a subscription basis.

    Paying for the service is one way of that I could have made the error disappear. Team Viewer has a few options, with different levels depending on your needs. The package that would have made sense for me is called "Team Viewer Personal". When I first encountered the issues I looked into the pricing for this. It would cost just $25 per month, and billed on an annual basis. This is comes out to just under $300 per year. To me, this is an absolutely ridiculous amount to pay, per year, to support a single computer.

    A second possible solution was to contact Team Viewer support and explain that their software had incorrectly identified me as a commercial user. However, I figured that this approach would go nowhere. Therefore, I only had one option remaining; just completely replace the software with another solution, and that is what I did.


    Screens 5 app icon

    Once the trouble started the first time, I thought about what software I could use to replace Team Viewer. I looked at several different options, but ultimately landed on a piece of software that I have used before, Screens by Edovia. I am not new to Screens, I actually use the iOS version regularly to connect to my Macs from my iPhone and iPad. When I am on my Mac and need to connect to another of my devices, I just use the built-in Screen Sharing app.

    I went back and looked at when I first purchased the Screens app, and it was in 2011 when I purchased Screens for iOS. I then purchased Screens VNC for the Mac in 2014. As mentioned above you can use the Screens apps on your local network and connect to other devices, but Screens really comes into play when you use it to connect to remote computers.

    The way that the system operates is by using a relay server, hosted by Edovia, to connect your computers together. This relay software is called "Screens Connect".

    Screens connect runs as a service in the background and will keep your computer connected to relay servers so you can access any registered computer at any point. The use of a relay server means that you do not need to open up ports on your router just to use the service.


    Edovia's marketing image of Screens Connect which shows a Mac, iPad, and iPhone possibly remotely connecting to two Macs and a Windows PC

    Previously, I have done Screen Connects installs on a Mac, but this was my first time doing an install of Screens Connect on Windows. The install was pretty straightforward but one of the steps is to install TightVNC. This is standard free remote connection software. When you set up TightVNC you are required setting up a password, which you can be prompted for when you actually connect to a remote Windows computer.

    This password can be entered every time you connect, or you can configure it to be saved within the Connection Settings for a device. This option is good so you do not need to enter in the password each time. Once you have installed Screens Connect, you will not likely need to worry about managing settings later on, but you can do so by right-clicking on a computer and then clicking on "Edit".

    Screens App

    The 'What's new' popup when you install the Screens 5 app

    In order to use Screens Connect, you will need to purchase the Screens app on your Mac. Technically, the app is free, but there is an in-app purchase.

    Once you download the app you will have a few options. There are two subscription options; a $2.99 monthly subscription and a $24.99 yearly subscription. The monthly subscription is great for those who only need to do remote support, or need remote access to their computers, on an infrequent basis. There is a third option, which s particular good for those with subscription fatigue. There is a one-time "lifetime" purchase. This, as you might suspect, is more expensive. The one-time purchase is $79.00.

    Given how infrequent I need the app, I could have opted for the monthly subscription of $2.99 and just re-purchase it each time I really need it. However, I actually opted to go for the one-time purchase of $79.00. I opted for the one-time purchase partially due to subscription fatigue, but also because I would rather just have a one-time purchase for the software.

    I may have to re-purchase the software again once Screens 6 comes out, but, as of this writing, Screen 5.0 just came out four months ago so it will likely be a while before they end up releasing the next major version that requires purchase. So, I do not have any issues with spending the money.

    Overall Experience

    After I had installed Screens connect on the remote computer, where I previously had Team Viewer installed, and connected using the Screens app I immediate noticed one difference, the screen quality. When using the Screens app the quality was significantly better than when using Team Viewer. It is not like the Windows PC was using a 4K monitor or anything, but it was noticeably clearer and sharper.

    The second thing I noticed was the improved responsiveness overall. Instead of clicking taking multiple seconds for an action to complete, things just actually worked as expected. I would absolutely expect a bit of delay due to the age of the computer, and the fact that it is a remote connection, but I did not realize just how poorly the Team Viewer experience was.

    Screens 3

    As mentioned earlier, I purchased the Screens VNC app back in 2014. Out of curiosity I re-downloaded the latest version of that, which is from 2018, to see if it would work. And, guess what, it actually did run, and it will connect to newer devices. This was simultaneously surprising, and not surprising.

    It means that I did not necessarily need to purchase the Screens 5 app, but I do not know how long the Screens 3 app will continue to run. Besides that, supporting small software companies is always a good thing, particularly if you want the software to stay around.

    Closing Thoughts

    If you have a Mac and are looking for an app that allows you to connect to a remote Windows computer, you may want to look at Screens and Screens Connect. Yes, you will need to purchase a license for the Screens app, but you do have three options, a monthly subscription, a yearly subscription, or even a one-time "lifetime" purchase. The one-time purchase is not an insignificant amount, but it is not exorbitant amount either.

    Screens is designed for the Mac, but the fact that they have Screens Connect for Windows means that they do know that a certain segment of their user base does need to connect to other devices.