Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to catch up on your favorite TV shows, buy or rent the latest movie releases and discover new music while you’re travelling abroad or simply away from home? Well, believe it or not, there are several ways you can do exactly that!
Want to catch a movie or watch your favorite TV show? Consider checking out a video-on-demand service like CinemaNow or Netflix.
CinemaNow offers the ability to download many popular TV shows the day after they air. New movie releases are also available the same day they hit retail store shelves. Since CinemaNow doesn’t charge a monthly subscription fee, subscribers only pay for the content they choose to watch. The service can be accessed from a wide variety of Internet connected devices, including TVs, Blu-ray disc players and computers.
Netflix is a monthly subscription-based service that allows members to instantly watch select TV shows and movies on their PC, Mac or video game console. It’s also available as a downloadable app for a variety of mobile devices, such as tablets and smart phones. Netflix even offers disc rental services to its U.S.-based customers for a small additional fee.
Would you rather kick back and relax with some new tunes? Then maybe a music streaming service like Napster or Pandora is more your speed.
As both an online music store and music streaming service, Napster provides members the ability to download copies of their favorite songs and listen to as many as they like in any order. It’s available on most computers, iPods and other MP3 players, a large number of smart phones and home theater equipment. It’s even integrated into some car stereo equipment and adapters. Napster’s streaming services are subscription-based, but no subscription is required to purchase individual songs from the online store.
Pandora is a personalized Internet radio service that provides automatic artist, song and genre recommendations based on each subscriber’s individual musical tastes. Melody, harmony, rhythm, lyrics and a whole bunch of other factors are taken into consideration whenever Pandora recommends songs. Subscribers can give individual songs a “thumbs up,” allowing similar songs to be played more often, or a “thumbs down,” preventing that song or artist from playing again.
Pandora is available on computers, many smart phones, iPads and on select home theater equipment. Additionally, two different types of subscriptions are available: free subscriptions with advertisements and fee-based subscriptions without advertisements.
Sometimes simply sharing photos, pre-recorded videos and messages with your family and friends isn’t enough – you want to hear their voices and see their reactions. This can often be difficult though, especially if you’re separated from your loved ones by a great distance. If this sounds like a problem you've experienced, then an Internet video chat service may be the solution you’re looking for.
What is Internet video chat?
Internet video chat is a technology that allows two or more computer (and smart phone) users to communicate in real time. Like the name implies, the connection takes place through the Internet instead of a traditional phone line. Many different Internet video chat services exist, such as Skype and Qik.
What do I need to use Internet video chat?
Computer users will need a webcam, a microphone and an active Internet connection. Once you’ve decided which service you wish to use, you may also need to download a dedicated program from that company’s website. Smart phones typically only need an application to be downloaded from their respective app store (iTunes App Store, Android Marketplace, etc). Each program and app will have different system requirements, so make sure to read any available FAQs included with the download!
Unlike still pictures, videos don’t often require detailed explanations or backstories for their viewers to appreciate what's being shown. Up until a few years ago, however, videos were awkward and cumbersome to share – the most efficient distribution method was to mail a tape or disc. Fortunately, a number of online services now exist that allow anyone to easily share video with their family, their friends and the world as a whole.
YouTube is perhaps the world’s most well-known video sharing site, if not the largest. Registration is required to upload videos, but not to view or share them. Videos are restricted to 15 minutes in length, with their maximum size dependent on how they are uploaded to the site (2GB for website-based uploads, 20GB from a Java-based Advanced Uploader).
While most content on YouTube is publicly viewable, you do have the option of making individual videos private. Doing so limits the number of people who can view those videos to 50 plus the original poster. Private videos do not appear in search results, in groups, or on playlists.
Vimeo is a video sharing site similar to YouTube, but with a few key differences. First, it does not allow commercial videos, gaming videos or any videos that aren’t user-created to be posted. Second, it has two different types of memberships: Free and Plus. Free account holders are limited to 500MB worth of storage each week; Plus account holders can upload up to 5GB worth of data per week.
You guessed it! Facebook has its own video sharing capabilities. Videos can be uploaded to the site following the same basic process as pictures or they can be recorded to the web using your computer/smart phone’s camera. You can even use your webcam to send video messages. Just keep in mind that unlike photos, videos uploaded to Facebook cannot be sorted into categories.
How to Get Started
There are a few things you’ll need to take full advantage of any of these services:
1) A computer
2) An Internet connection
3) A webcam or camcorder
If you own a compatible smart phone and would rather view videos from there, then you’ll simply need an active data plan and the appropriate app or mobile website:
Want to share your latest photos with family and friends, but don’t want to deal with the hassle of sending e-mail attachments or physical duplicates? There’s an easy solution for that: photo sharing websites. These online services allow users to upload their favorite images, sort them into albums and categories, caption them, and make them available for anyone to view.
As I mentioned in an earlier article, Facebook has its own photo sharing capabilities. Users can upload as many as 200 pictures per album they create and can create as many albums as they wish per account. You can also restrict access to individual photo albums by changing their security settings, just like your main profile page. Photos can even be posted on other people’s Walls, as well as be sent in private messages.
Picasa is a free image organizer, viewer and photo sharing service supported by Google. Just like Facebook, it can be used to sort your photos, label them and post them online for your friends and family to see. Picasa also allows you to create a collage of your uploaded photos, resize them, and combine them into a movie you can post on YouTube.
In order to use Picasa, you’ll need to download an application from http://picasa.google.com/ and install it on your computer. Once you’ve done so, the program can then scan files and folders you designate for photos to be uploaded. It can even upload video clips and add geographical data (longitude and latitude) to your photos.
Flickr is an image and video hosting service provided by Yahoo! It offers users several different ways to upload files, including by e-mail, web browser and smartphone app. Flickr also offers two kinds of accounts (Free and Pro) that feature different monthly upload caps and file restrictions. Free accounts have a 300MB monthly upload cap, but this restriction does not apply to Pro accounts.
Similar to other photo sharing services, Flickr provides you the ability to label and group your photos, search your collection using key words, and restrict who has access to your photos. It also includes an RSS feed feature and geographical tagging capabilities. There’s even a visual representation of everything you’ve ever uploaded to Flickr called a photostream.
What’s the easiest way you can protect your personal information online? By creating strong passwords for every site you visit! Here are a few Dos and Don’ts when it comes to passwords:
Remember that your personal information is only as safe as you make it - the more complex you make your passwords, the harder they will be for others to guess.
Just how strong are your passwords? You can find out on Microsoft’s official safety and security site:
The trials of tax season may be drawing to a close, but keeping tabs on your personal finances is still a year-round job. It can be a difficult one, in fact, if you’re away from home, stationed overseas or are frequently travelling abroad. Thankfully though there are a number of tools you can use to manage your savings and plan your budget when walking into your favorite bank isn’t an option.
Personal Finance Software
Need an easy way to track what you’re spending and where? Consider picking up a basic personal finance management program like Quicken. Many of these programs can automatically sync with your bank, credit card and other accounts, providing you one convenient place to view your income and expenditures. Some titles also include goal management aides that can help you plan how to save for that next big purchase.
If scheduling an appointment with the local tax specialist every spring isn’t your cup of tea, then tax management software like TurboTax or H&R Block At Home may be the solution for you. New versions of these programs are released every year to reflect the latest tax code changes, and many include online or downloadable audit support centers. They’ll even guide you through the process of filing your federal tax return online, as well as double-check your return for errors before you submit it.
Online Banking Apps
Don’t have access to a computer? No problem! Many banks offer free downloadable smart phone applications that allow customers to view their accounts, transfer funds from one account to another, and set up automatic online bill payment. Features and availability vary from bank to bank though, so make sure to ask a representative at your local branch for full details.
Money Management Websites
If you’d rather do everything online, sites like Mint.com can perform many of the same tasks as the aforementioned software titles. Mint.com specifically is a “read-only” service, so no one can move funds out of your accounts or from one account to another. It even provides e-mail and text alerts whenever a large purchase is made or a significant change occurs.
In the past, you would’ve been required to either e-mail documents or copy them onto external media if you wanted to share them with your family and friends. Those days have come and gone now and there currently exist a number of publicly available online tools that allow you to easily create, edit and share documents. Here’s a brief overview of two of those services:
Google Docs is a free web-based service provided by Google. It includes word processing, spreadsheet creation and presentation tools that allow multiple computer users to collaborate on the same project in real time. It also allows you to upload documents directly to the Web for viewing by others or distribution via e-mail.
Want to keep your documents private? Google Docs lets you to control who views your documents. You can even choose to publish them as a web page, post them on a blog or share them with a group – then make them private again at any time.
Docs.com is an online editing suite similar to Google Docs. It’s the collaborative effort of Microsoft FUSE Labs and Facebook and offers computer users the ability to create, modify and share Office documents with their Facebook friends. It even allows you to create documents online without having Office software installed on your computer.
Don’t want to bookmark the website? You can easily integrate the service into the Profile Tab of your Facebook account. User generated templates also allow your family and friends to make copies of the documents you post, then respond back with any changes they make.
Looking for a way to stay in touch with your family and friends, but don’t have time to compose an e-mail? If so, then Twitter may be the solution for you!
What is Twitter?
Twitter is a social networking and microblogging service that allows users to communicate via brief text messages. These messages, called tweets, are limited to 140 characters and can be created and viewed on a variety of devices (computers, smart phones, etc). Tweets are publicly viewable by default, but users can also send each other private messages. You can even subscribe to other users’ tweets by following them. Doing so will make their tweets appear on your personal page.
How does it work?
First, you’ll want to sign up for an account by visiting http://twitter.com/. Once you’ve done so, posting a message is really quite simple:
1) Log into your account
2) Type your message in the “What’s happening?” box at the top of your screen
3) Click on the “Tweet” button to post your message
And that’s it! Twitter displays how many characters remain for any given message just beneath the text entry field, so you never need to worry about counting characters before you post.
How do I tweet to specific users?
You can send messages to other users two different ways: by @ message or by private message. To send an @ message, simply begin a tweet with the @username of the person you’re trying to reach. For example, you would begin your message with @BestBuy if you wanted to send Best Buy a message.
Sending a private message is just as easy. There is, however, one restriction on doing so: you can only send private messages to users who follow you. To send a private message:
1) Log into your account
2) Click on the “Messages” button at the top of the page
3) Click on the “New Message” button on the following page
4) Type the user name of the person you want to reach in the pop-up box that appears
5) Type the message you want to send in the box below and click “Send”
I’m seeing the pound/hash symbol in a lot of tweets. What’s that?
Twitter users frequently use hashtags (the # symbol followed by a keyword or phrase) to mark topics that are important to them. Hashtags provide users a quick and easy way to search for tweets about a specific topic, as well as help Twitter identify the most popular topics of the day.
Want to learn more about Twitter? Make sure to check out Twitter’s official support site: http://support.twitter.com/
E-mail and instant messages are both great ways to stay in touch with loved ones, but they both have their limitations. With e-mail, there’s no way to chat with multiple people without the conversation eventually becoming disjointed – sooner or later someone will forget to select “Reply to All.” With instant messages, everyone you want to chat with needs to be online at the same time. Fortunately, there are a number of online services that allow web surfers to work around these limitations. Facebook is one of them.
What exactly is Facebook?
Facebook is a social networking site that allows web surfers to post daily updates for their family and friends, share photos and videos, play games, and reconnect with people they know. Facebook also allows web surfers to get the latest news from their favorite media outlets and companies without having to subscribe to an RSS feed or visit a number of individual web pages.
How does it work?
Signing up for an account is easy. It’s also, in Facebook’s own words, “free and always will be.” Simply visit http://www.facebook.com/ and follow the instructions on the page. You’ll then be able to access your account at any time from a computer with an Internet connection. Facebook is also available on a wide variety of other Internet-connected devices, including smart phones and video game consoles.
What are a few of Facebook’s key features?
The Wall is a portion of your personal page where you can leave messages for your friends and family. They can leave messages for you too, as can anyone with permission to view your full profile. The Wall also keeps track of users and posts you’ve “Liked,” making those posts and conversations visible on your personal page.
Photos & Videos
Facebook allows you to upload photos to your personal page, leave comments about them for others, and to categorize photos using tags. This application can also help tag photos using facial recognition technology. Video files can be uploaded and tagged as well, but unlike photos they cannot be sorted into categories.
Facebook is a home to a variety of games. Many are designed to be single-player, but some (like FarmVille) encourage players to invite their friends to join in. Multi-player functionality varies from title to title, sometimes requiring players to performing various in-game tasks for other players.
You can reconnect with family, friends and coworkers by searching for them using Facebook’s People Directory. Simply enter their name on the search page to view the profiles for everyone who matches that description.
Remember that your Facebook profile may be shared publicly! You can restrict access to your page and personal information by adjusting your account’s security settings.
It isn’t always easy to remember web addresses. They’re often long, complex, and being even one character off can result in the wrong site being displayed. There are, however, a few tricks you can use to make navigating the World Wide Web a breeze.
The simplest way to keep track of your favorite websites is to let your computer (or other device) remember them for you. This can be done by using a tool built into most Internet browsers called a Favorites List or Bookmarks List. The name will vary depending on which browser you use, but the overall function remains the same: they mark an individual web page for quick and easy access. Check out the links below for several browser-specific “how to” guides.
You can also get news and updates from your favorite websites by subscribing to Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds. RSS feeds automatically scan sites you designate for new content and forward them to you using either a software or web-based interface. They can also eliminate the need to visit each of those sites manually, streamlining your browsing experience.
In order to use an RSS feed you’ll need an RSS reader. A wide variety of readers can be found for free online, including the examples provided below. Some e-mail applications like Microsoft Outlook 2007 even include an RSS reader as part of their basic features.
Pulse News Reader (Android)
Want to subscribe to Best Buy’s RSS feed? You can do so here: http://bbyurl.us/RSS
Staying in touch with loved ones can be challenging when you’re spending time abroad. This is especially true if you have limited access to telephones, are working on a tight budget, can’t use instant messaging or don’t have a microphone for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technologies. Fortunately, there are a number of free webmail services out there that can make communicating with everyone back home a little bit easier.
Gmail is the webmail service provided by Google. It features an interface similar to the Google search engine, as well as an option to view messages as they would appear if they were posts on an Internet forum. To set up an account, simply visit https://mail.google.com/ or click on the “Gmail” link at the top of the page on Google’s main site (http://www.google.com/). Once you’ve done that, click the “Create an Account” button on the side of the page and fill out the form that follows.
Yahoo! Mail is the webmail service provided by Yahoo! It also features two different layouts: one that’s similar to Microsoft Outlook and another full-page scrolling version. You can set up an account by visiting https://mail.yahoo.com/ or by clicking on the “Sign Up” link at the top of the page on Yahoo!’s main page (http://www.yahoo.com/).
Windows Live Hotmail
Windows Live Hotmail is the webmail service provided by Microsoft. It offers support for over 30 different languages, was one of the first web-based e-mail services, and was one of the first free e-mail providers. To create a Windows Live ID, simply visit http://login.live.com/. You can then use that ID to access Hotmail, Windows Live Messenger, Xbox Live and a number of other Microsoft services.
Internet service providers (ISPs) often provide webmail services as well, so many other options may be available. For information regarding the availability of these services though, you’ll want to contact the ISPs that offer service in your area.
The Internet’s a pretty amazing place. It’s a place where anyone can stay in touch with family, connect with friends, shop, learn and explore. It’s also a place filled with more dangers than many people realize. Online scams, computer viruses and spyware are just a few of these dangers and each one represents a serious threat to your privacy and personal information. So how can you protect yourself from these dangers? It’s easier than you might think.
First and foremost, it’s important to practice safe browsing habits. When visiting a website, type the address directly into your web browser rather than simply following links. Don’t provide personal information on sites that don’t display an SSL lock icon in your browser window. Also, make sure that you’re using the latest version of your web browser:
Second, consider installing a reputable, subscription-based antivirus or web security program. These programs not only protect you from malicious programs, but can also help you identify any that may already exist on your computer. Kaspersky Antivirus, Trend Micro Internet Security and Norton 360 are excellent examples of such programs and many more are available. Just keep in mind that more is not necessarily better! Most antivirus and security programs are designed to be used as stand-alone tools and may not function properly if a second program of the same type is installed or running at the same time.
Third, create strong passwords for your e-mail, online services and favorite websites. This means using a combination of numbers, letters and special characters (when allowed) to create your password. The stronger your password is, the harder it will be for others to guess what it is. You’ll also want to use different passwords for each site or service. For suggestions on how to create passwords, make sure to check out the following article from Microsoft’s Safety & Security Center:
Last, but certainly not least, never install a program simply because it’s free! Many malicious programs masquerade as free tools or utilities and are difficult to remove once they’ve been installed. Always research free programs thoroughly before downloading them and make sure to read their licensing agreements before you install them.