28 January 2013

Nigeria: Windows Eight and Your Data Plan

In Nigeria and many other developing nations, sustained Internet access is often accomplished via the so-called CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) modems. The plans usually require you to select a data or bandwidth size in megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB), which zeroes out after a specified time period - say a month. The amount you pay depends on your plan. For example, on Etisalat network in Abuja, Nigeria, you purchase the modem for a one-time fee of N6,500, while the plan may consist of a payment of N4,000 for 1.5 GB of data that zeroes out after 30 calendar days. Other vendors such as MTN, Globacom, Multilinks, and Starcomm have similar data plans.

Things usually work out okay on the average, at least with Etisalat network, which seems to offer one of the best services in Nigeria in this category. This is the case for yesterday PC or laptop. That is, the ones running Windows 7 or earlier. Alas, the static shortcuts of yesterday, on the screen of PC Windows and laptops, have been supplanted in Windows 8 by live tiles that "bristle with activity." One "PC How-To" guide enthusiastically describes Windows 8 Start screen as "full of animated shortcuts known as Live Tiles, which display rotating information on the fly."

The Windows 8 live tiles are quite pleasing to the eye and they are also endowed with impressive on-the-fly functionalities. The user interface (UI) is quite pretty, and some believe that the operating system is probably the "freshest, cleanest, and most imaginative" one around. The figure below shows the Start screen of Windows 8, replete with live tiles at an instant.

In Windows 8, instead of going to the web to look up the weather, you could view the current conditions and forecast live on a small rectangular partition of your full screen. Live news feed constantly scroll by, so you can click on an interesting news item for details. Changing stock prices from Dow, Nasdaq, and S&P 500, are displayed by the minute and you can watch Norton Antivirus "do its thing" by the second. The list goes on.

These rather impressive live displays in Windows 8 come at a great price as far as your Internet connectivity is concerned, especially if you accept the default settings from the factory. You see, the tiles are made live via web access, which takes place at the expense of your data plan. Depending on the type or number of live tiles that are turned on, as well as other automatically updated applications, data of significant sizes are pulled from and pushed to the web using your bandwidth. Some of the "offending" objects are those that have been "pinned" to the Windows 8 Start screen either by you or from the factory. From the default factory setting, the applications that stealthily sap your data include S&P Stocks, Bing Weather, Bing Daily (News), ESPN News, Bing Trending, Microsoft Mahjong (a card game), Norton Monitoring and all sorts of updates.

The table below is an outcome of a small experiment carried out by Dr. Ken Alabi at TTC Technologies, Inc., New York, to investigate the extent of modem data gobbling in Windows 8 compared to Windows XP, using an Etisalat modem. The data shows significant differences between the two versions of Windows. Moreover, the amount of data usurped does not scale linearly with the duration of the test. In fact, in one instance, approximately 1.4 GB of modem data was lost to live events and other auto updates in Windows 8 in less than one day, from a 1.5 GB, 30-day plan!

Table: Data usage by Windows XP and Windows 8. "KB" stands for kilobytes, or one thousand bytes.

Turning off live tiles

The good news is that turning off Windows 8 live tiles is trivially easy. Besides sapping your modem data, you might have other reasons to turn off the live tiles on your Start screen. For example, it could be the case that a nonstop feed of certain items simply annoys you, or you find it "uncool," or you would rather not be bothered by an email app announcing the arrival of a new message. To disable a live tile, simply right click on the tile, and select "Turn live tile off."

You can also delete live tiles when you decide you have had enough of them. Just right click on the tile and choose "unpin from Start." Remember that, as in classic Windows shortcuts, unpinning a tile from the screen does not mean that you are deleting or uninstalling the program app. You are only removing the reference to the app on the Start screen. To truly delete an app, you need to go to the Control panel and follow the usual "uninstall procedure."

Adding back your live tiles

You can bring back a live tile to the Start screen. To see the master list from which to select, just right click and choose "all apps." This procedure will allow you to see all the apps that have been installed on your system, as well as shortcuts to familiar features like Control Panel and File Explorer. To add a tile to the Start screen, click on it and select "pin to Start." Note that contacts, websites, apps, etc. can be pinned to the Start screen the same way.

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