Single candle on calendarIt’s a year since I started writing this blog every week. Before that I’d just dipped my toe in the water, wondering if I’d got anything useful to say on a regular basis to my computer support clients and potential clients. So, this week I thought I’d have a look back on some of the earlier posts and see what’s changed.

Microsoft Security Essentials

MSE LogoOn 16th October 2010 I wrote a post about Windows free antivirus program – Microsoft Microsoft Essentials. I had just installed it on an XP machine, and then I put it on my Vista Ultimate machine. It hasn’t caused me any problems apart from the tray icon disappearing initially on the XP version. The program just quietly gets on with the job. It’s caught a few nasties and seems to have dealt with them without drama. Admittedly, I don’t use these machines much except when providing remote computer support to clients who use Vista and XP themselves, and as destinations for backups from my main machine. Nevertheless, it appears to have done a near perfect job so far. It’s easy to install and very unobtrusive.

I now trust Microsoft Essentials to the extent that I have installed it on my new main laptop – a Samsung RF511 15.6 inch notebook. (This is my third Samsung and, so far, it’s as good as the first two.)

AVG Antivirus

AVG LogoShortly after blogging about Microsoft Security Essentials I covered AVG Free and even then I was complaining about how they try to mislead you into installing a trial of the paid version rather than installing/upgrading the free version. It’s my impression that this tendency has got worse during the last year and, frankly, I’m now too embarrassed to recommend it to clients unless I think they will be happy to do battle with AVG’s mis-directions. Recently, I’ve even seen AVG popups that suggest that AVG has saved the user from innumerable threats in the recent past. This is un-necessary, intimidating and misleading. I’d been recommending AVG for several years, but I now recommend Microsoft Security Essentials instead.

Zen Internet

Zen Internet Logoon 5th November last year I gave a plug, by way of a blog posting, to Zen Internet. They’d just won PC Pro Magazine’s award for Best Internet Provider for the seventh time. Guess what: they’ve just done it again.

As a consultant providing computer support to small organisations, independent professionals, and home users, I am often the person asked to deal with internet provider call centres on behalf of bemused and frustrated clients. I have some clients who call me to their homes and offices specifically to deal with these call centres because they find the experience too stressful, frustrating, and protracted to do it themselves.

Call centres appear to be geared to handling the maximum number of technical support calls with the minimum expertise. The way they do this is to force their support staff to follow a strict troubleshooting sequence that doesn’t require them to think: just to follow the instructions on their screen. The agent isn’t allowed to deviate from “the script”. so no real dialogue takes place with the client. It doesn’t seem to matter very much what the customer tells the “support agent”, the agent will still insist on making the poor client jump through exactly the same sequence of hoops every time. This approach tramples right over the customer’s primacy in the exchange. It’s appalling, frustrating and dis-empowering.

Compare this approach with that of Zen Internet. Their support people (based in Rochdale) actually listen to you, engage with you, and address your issue as a one-off that needs to be solved as such. It’s true that they don’t offer 24 hour support (it’s 08:00-20:00 weekdays and 09:00-17:00 at weekends), but that’s probably because they’re staffed by human beings – who need to sleep. Despite only being available during reasonable hours, Zen provide a much much better service than the likes of BT, Virgin and AOL. It’s true, though, that Zen are not competing on price. You won’t get broadband from them for a fiver a month. I use the Zen Lite service. It’s their “entry level” service and costs £15.31 plus VAT per month. It only includes 10gb downloads, but that’s fine for me as I don’t download movies or watch BBC iPlayer. As far as I am concerned Zen are worth every penny and I am happy to keep recommending them and plugging them.

So, as I’ve kept blogging on a weekly basis for a year there’s every chance I’ll stay with it. The readership is small but very very select! Actually, the readership is growing slowly and steadily, but I’ve not spent time and effort promoting it beyond the readers who matter most – my own computer clients and potential clients. I try and keep the focus on the needs of my own computer clients, but I am, of course, very happy for anyone at all to subscribe to the newsletter or read the blog online.

Thanks for reading!

Wikipedia defines a website thus:

A website (also written Web site or simply site) is a collection of related web pages containing images, videos or other digital assets . . . A web page is a document, typically written in plain text interspersed with formatting instructions of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML, XHTML)

We have all seen the power of websites develop over the years. Originally they were intended just as a method of disseminating text and pictures. They now include programming that allows sophisticated two-way interaction between the site and the user. We now take it for granted that we can access and change our records in databases such as those containing our electricity accounts or our banking information. We can view TV and videos, chat with each other, and so on. As you would expect, this flexibility comes at a price and the price is the complexity of the design process. Despite adverts to the contrary, a complete novice is very very unlikely to be satisfied with a website that they’ve managed to get online in just a few hours. Web design and creation is a complicated business.

Wikipedia defines a blog thus:

A blog (a blend of the term web log) is a type of website or part of a website. Blogs are usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. Most blogs are interactive, allowing visitors to leave comments…..

So, a blog is a particular type of website – one where the important aspect is that the author can write regular content. The emphasis is on being able to get the content onto the web with the minimum of technical fuss. This is great for authors writing regular text articles who don’t want the technology to get in the way of publishing the material. The articles are generally published one after another and accessed by the site visitor either chronologically (eg all the articles – known as “posts” – for Feb 2011) or by typing keywords into a search box (eg all the articles that mention the word “backups”). As well as the facility to leave comments, another great feature of blogs is that the website author(s) can create a “newsletter” service for subscribers so that as new blog posts are published they are automatically sent as emails to the subscribers. I offer this on my own site – see the box on this page.

Over the years the software for creating blogs has grown more flexible (or “more complicated”, if you prefer). For instance, one of the most popular systems for creating blogs is WordPress. Lots of people write freely obtainable fancy bits of programming to add to WordPress. These bells and whistles are called “plugins” and they enhance the power of the software. On my own site, for instance, I use a plugin that allows me to have different background images on different pages. All of these bells and whistles mean that the flexibility of blog design software has grown. It is now quite possible to satisfy all of the needs of an entire website with blog software alone. Note that blog sites are also sometimes described or defined as “Content Management Systems”. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Content_management_system for a fuller description/definition of CMS.

There are many advantages in having a blog and a website as part of the same site. These include:

  • greater visibility to search engines such as Google
  • less to learn to get get a system up and running
  • easier to maintain
  • much more content for visitors – whether they are initially interested in the blog or the more “static” pages of a website
  • a likely increase in the number of pages each visitor views on the site

All of this leads me very neatly into being able to plug my own site. Until recently I had separate website and blog at different web addresses, written with different technologies, looking different from each other, and gaining different sets of visitors looking for different things. I have now combined these by re-writing both into the WordPress Content Managment System. WordPress is a free “cloud” system – ie you do not install WordPress on your own computer, but do all of the development via the web. This has the distinct advantage of not having to buy any software to develop your system but I’ll risk looking a gifthorse in the mouth by saying that I find it rather tedious doing this development work “in the cloud” as it does tend to slow things down a bit. That aside, I do recommend WordPress to anyone considering developing a content management system. Your first port of call would be http://wordpress.org/.

Combining a blog with a website can cause confusion. Judging from the feedback I’ve had this week, I’m guilty of this, so, until I can find a better way of doing things, I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that my own blog is the content that appears on the top righthand side of all the pages on my site. the blog can be accessed from the box that looks like this:
Blog widget

The four clickable headings at the top of the box are very typical of what you will see on many blogs so I will explain each one:

Recent Posts – is a list of the most recent posts that I have written. When the “Recent Posts” option is highlighted (or when that button is clicked), the titles of the most recent posts appear in chronological order (eg “Cloud Computing”, “Telephone Scam”). If you click on any of these titles you are taken directly to the post with that title.

Recent Comments
– is a list of the most recent comments with links (where available) to the author and links to the comments themselves.

Blog Post Archive
lists the months in which blogs were posted. Clicking on any of these causes a long scrollable screen of the contents of all the blog posts for the chosen month.

Tag Cloud is a bit jargony. It shows the most-used keywords that are included in the blog posts. The bigger it appears in this “cloud” the more often the keyword appears. Clicking on any word in the clouds brings up a scrollable list of all the blogs containing that word.

The pages of my website, on the other hand, are accessed via the menu that appears across the top of the screen. This is also repeated on the righthand side in the box entitled “Web Pages”.

Pages menu

or
Web pages widget
So, if you are thinking of having your own website and/or blog soon, it is well worth considering carefully what you are trying to achieve before deciding whether the format that would suit you best is a more traditional “website” approach or the newer “content management system” (“blog”) approach. Whichever approach you take is likely to involve a fair amount of time and/or money and I can tell you from experience that you probably won’t want to change your chosen web technology for quite a while after committing to something. For what it’s worth, my guess is that Content Management Systems (such as WordPress) are the way to go in the foreseeable future.

© 2011-2017 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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