What is the difference between “saving” and “running” files downloaded from the internet?

Download Button - 1Actually, probably not much in most circumstances. When you “run” a file from a website, it is downloaded to your own computer and placed in a temporary folder. You probably can’t easily see where that temporary folder is and you probably won’t care as the assumption is that you will “run” the file just once and then won’t need it again. The file that has been placed in the temporary folder will probably be deleted some time in the future (especially if you run a Windows disc cleanup utility or a third party utility such as CCleaner). So, when you take the option to “run” the file, it is downloaded to a temporary location and then run from there.

If you choose to “save” the file then it is saved onto your hard drive in the location that is stipulated in your browser for the storing of downloaded files. You may then need to navigate to that location to double-click on the file in order to run it. This can be made easier by your browser offering a button which opens up a list of recently downloaded files and/or the contents of the download location.

So, a downloaded file is placed in a “normal” folder on your hard drive. It is not going to be deleted by running utilities that clean up temporary files.

Download Button - 4In lots of cases it really doesn’t matter whether you chose to “run” or “save”. If you “save” then you do have the extra steps of opening the file location and double-clicking on the file. This disadvantage is weighed against the advantage of knowing where the file is and knowing you can easily open it again, copy it, move it, etc.

Whether you tend to “run” or “save” downloaded items, it is a good idea to know where downloaded files are saved. The default folder for Downloads depends on the operating system rather than the browser. This means that if you don’t change the Download folder then all browsers will save downloaded files into the following folders:

  • Windows XP – \Documents and Settings\username\My Documents\Downloads
  • Windows Vista/ Windows 7/ Windows 8 – \Users\username\Downloads
  • Mac – /Users/username/Downloads

.. where “username” is the name of the logged-on user.

You can change the default location if you wish (for instance, your hard drive may be partitioned into drives c: and d: and you may wish your downloads to be placed in drive d: rather than c:).

Changing the place where your downloads are stored is achieved as follows in the different browsers:

Firefox

  • Click on the “open menu” button (top right)
  • Click on “Options”
  • Click on the “General” tab
  • Change the Downloads location as shown
  • Close open dialog boxes

Internet Explorer 11

  • Click on the “Settings” button (top right)
  • Left-click on “View Downloads”
  • Left-click on “Options” in the bottom lefthand corner of the window
  • Change the Downloads location as desired
  • Close open dialog boxes

Google Chrome

  • Click on the Menu button (top right)
  • Left-click on “Settings” option
  • Scroll down and click on “Show advanced settings”
  • Scroll down to “Downloads” section and change as necessary
  • Close “Settings” window

Safari

  • Click on the “Safari” command at the top left of the screen
  • Left-click on “Preferences”
  • Click on the “General” tab
  • Change the “Save downloaded files to:” option as desired
  • Close Preferences window

PS: I don’t know why Google’s Feedburner service delivered the blog emails one day late last week. My aim is to publish the post by 12:30 on a Saturday and Google seem to deliver it by about 3pm on the same day. They do pretty well, though, considering that (a) this is only the second or third time they’ve been late in four years and (b) the service is free!

Download Button - 2Download Button - 3

As a Computer Consultant discussing client’s systems, programs and computing choices, it often strikes me that Microsoft have created a lot of confusion by using the word “Outlook” in the names of three different email products. This confusion is particularly marked, of course, if I’m providing telephone support on one of the “Outlooks” but the client is talking about one product and I’m thinking of another. There’s no point in my asking “which Outlook are you using?” because it would be unreasonable to expect the client to know of all these different animals and to know which one of the three they are using. So, I usually have to ask things like “what does it say on the icon you click to get your email”. Thank goodness for remote control support where I can see what the client can see.

So, let’s just see if we can clarify the situation:

Outlook Express

Outlook Express 6 logoThis was the free email program that formed part of the Windows package right up to, and including, Windows XP. It developed into different versions right up to version 6.

Outlook Express was a program installed on the user’s computer. It provided the functionality to send and receive emails and to store them on the user’s computer. It also had a “newsreader” but I’m not bothered about that as I don’t think I ever came across anyone using it. Email programs (also called email “clients”) need to be set up with the information relating to the user’s email account (such as the names of the email servers, username and password, what type of security there is, and so forth).

Outlook Express was succeeded in 2005 by Windows Mail. Windows Mail came as part of the Windows Vista program. Windows Mail was then superceded by Windows Live Mail. So, for anyone who used Outlook Express in years gone by, the natural successor is now Windows Live Mail. A difference between the two is that the user has to download the Windows Live Mail program (it’s part of the free suite of programs called Windows Essentials). This difference is not caused by technical considerations, but is a result of Microsoft being hauled before the European monopolies authorities. Microsoft had to agree to supply its email program separate from Windows as the bureaucrats decreed that Microsoft had an unfair advantage over other email programs if they installed their own program automatically with Windows. Has it made any difference? I doubt it. It’s very rare, indeed, that I come across anyone using a rival product such as Thunderbird.

Outlook

Microsoft Outlook 2013 logo

Outlook 2013 logo.

Like Outlook Express, Outlook is an email program (aka a “an email client”). However, it is not a free product either as part of a version of Windows or as a separate download. It is a paid-for program that is more robust and much better featured than Windows Live Mail. It comes as part of the Microsoft Office Small Business suite of programs or on its own. Microsoft Outlook costs about £110 when bought on its own.

I don’t think I’m sticking my neck out too far if I suggest that Outlook is the most popular email program for organisations. If you are thinking of buying it, it costs the same to buy on its own as the difference in price between the Office Small Business package and the Office Home and Student package. Click this link for a comparison of Microsoft Office products.

Outlook.com

Outlook.com logoThen the marketing bods at Microsoft seem to have had a collective brainstorm. They announced a web-based email facility that they chose to call Outlook.com. I have no idea why they chose to call a product after a website and I have no idea why they chose to confuse everybody by using the term “Outlook” again, meaning something completely different this time. See this link for more information on Outlook.com.

So, Outlook.com works like a Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo account in that you access it via a web browser. All you need to know to access your email is your username and password. Accessing email this way has the advantages that you can access your email from any computer and your data is stored on the server so you don’t need to back it up. The main disadvantages of web-based email are that it can be slower to access, and the functionality of the program is usually simpler than with an email client. To use the vernacular, web-based email is a bit clunky.

So, there you have it, three different approaches to email, all using the same name.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall of a Microsoft marketing meeting…. on second thoughts, maybe I wouldn’t.

Does the Surface Pro 3 do what Microsoft suggest?

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with keyboard/coverThe advertising for the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet PC includes the strapline “The tablet that can replace your laptop”. The most important word in this boast is the smallest – “can”. It doesn’t say “will” or “does”, it says “can”.

I’ve been intrigued by the Microsoft Surface 3 since I saw an earlier model last year. As an IT consultant who almost always sees clients and their problems in front of their own computers, it’s important for me to be as well equipped as possible when looking at clients’ problems. Netbooks were a bit of a revolution in this respect, but they are quite low-powered compared with a “proper” laptop, their screens are small, and they are as slow to boot up as any laptop.

So what does the Surface Pro 3 offer that’s different?

  • The drive is solid state. This means it’s very fast and. more importantly for me when I’m with a client, it boots up in a matter of a few seconds. The other big advantage of a SSD is that there are no moving parts, so it’s much less vulnerable when moving it around.
  • The screen of the Surface Pro 3 is 13″ (across the diagonal, of course). This doesn’t sound much bigger than a 10″ netbook screen, but it is. I don’t feel any discomfort or strain in using the 13 inch screen for extended periods. In most situations, the high resolution screen of the Surface Pro 3 gives a beautiful, crisp, bright image. Read on, however, for the huge downside as far as the screen is concerned.
  • The model that I bought is about in the middle of the range. It has a 256gb solid state drive (SSD), an i5 processor, and 8gb RAM. This makes it a perfectly respectable machine in terms of performance.

Yes, I went and bought one a month or so ago (I don’t event want to think of the runaround that PC World gave me in buying it, and I still don’t understand why John Lewis have decided not to stock a machine in the middle of the range).

Anyway, I was extremely impressed initially, and found that I really did start to carry it around with me instead of my iPad when seeing clients. It certainly does offer more “usefulness” in this type of situation. I do still like it so much that I’m trying my best to live with the downsides, but, frankly, I’d be embarrassed if any of my clients bought a Surface Pro 3 on the strength of my enthusiasm without making the downsides very clear.

The downsides

Magnifying glassThere’s only one USB port – albeit a fast USB 3 port. OK, this is a clear limitation that you may have to live with, and one port is more than you get on an iPad. I dare say you could attach a hub to extend this to four or more ports, but these are never very satisfactory if you’re connecting a CD/DVD drive (which the Surface Pro doesn’t include) or an external drive.

It freezes solid about once an hour. This is not peculiar to my own machine: a bit of googling shows that lots of other people experience it and nobody seems to have an idea of what is going on. A reboot by holding down the on/off switch for about 20 seconds (not the 5 seconds that most machines respond to) is the only solution.

Much, much more important in the real world (well, in my own real world at least) is that there are several programs that I use on a daily basis that have a huge problem when run on the Surface Pro 3. That problem is that text and/or images are reduced in size to the point of only just being legible/visible. I haven’t really got to the bottom of this yet, but I understand it’s something to do with the programs not being able to cope with the high resolution (2160 X 1440) screen. Some of the programs I’m having this difficulty with are:

  • Photoshop Elements 11. The menus and icons are all shrunk, but the images can be viewed OK.
  • Evernote (the Premium version, I’m sure the free version is the same). Things are mainly OK, but images and web pages embedded in a note are horribly shrunk.
  • Faststone Image Viewer. The images can be viewed at the proper size but the menus and other text items are shrunk to near-invisibility.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 in profileI wasn’t quite ready to devote a blog post to the Surface Pro 3 as I haven’t used it enough, but these problems are so big that I really wouldn’t want anyone else to buy one without being aware of them. I should point out that most programs are absolutely fine (eg Microsoft programs, web browsers), but the whole point of my buying the Surface was to know that I could carry with me ALL of the functionality of my laptop. I haven’t given up on it yet: I’m trying to find workarounds. It could also be, of course, that new versions of the affected programs will include solutions.

So, to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this blog post, I think I could just about scrape by with only the Surface Pro, but a great machine is rather badly compromised (for now, at least) by the screen resolution problem.

As we all know, Microsoft ceased support for Windows XP in April of this year

XP logoThis means that any new security weaknesses discovered in XP will not be rectified. All of the publicity about the end of XP has prompted people to ask “when will Vista be pensioned off?” and even “what about Windows 7?” Well, users of those operating systems can relax – for a short while, at least.

Actually, there’s no big secret about these things. Microsoft publish the information. Each version of its products (including all the Windows versions) goes through certain stages between introduction and final demise. Taken together, these stages are known as the Support Lifecycle.

There are two main phases of support – Mainstream Support and Extended Support. You can see the types of support offered during these phases by referring to the table below(source: Microsoft).

Support is generally offered for the version of the product (eg Windows Vista) that has had the latest “service pack” applied. Service Packs are updates to the program that include all of the individual fixes, patches, and updates that have become available since the previous Service Pack was released. It is always best to have the latest available Service Pack installed. If you have your Windows set up so that updates are automatically received then the latest Service Pack should be installed automatically.

What is the difference between mainstream support and extended support?

Microsoft Support Lifecycle Phases

Items marked with a star are only available to organisations who sign up to special “Premier” support deals. (Source: Microsoft)

The cut-off date, after which the support phase finishes, is defined by the lifecycle policy laid out by Microsoft. Click on this link for more information about the Microsoft Support Lifecycle Policy .

Luckily, we normal people don’t have to concern ourselves with the details of the policy as Microsoft have published the dates of the lifecycle “landmarks” for each of their products. You can find the relevant dates for any of their products by clicking this link to Microsoft Products Lifecycles and then clicking on the link to the relevant product.

If we follow the link for Windows Vista, for instance, we find that mainstream support for Vista Business ended on 10/04/2012. We are now in the “Extended Support” period for this product. This means that no new features will be announced and updates will generally relate only to security issues.

Then, on 10/04/17 we’ll go through the same thing with Windows Vista that we went through with Windows XP in April of this year. In other words, Microsoft will stop patching any new holes that are discovered in the security of the product and people like me will be telling you that it is no longer safe to use the product on a machine connected to the internet.

Windows XP TombstoneWhether you continue to use the product after that date is for you to decide. “End of Support” does not mean that the product will stop working or will self-destruct or anything of that nature. It just means that any new bugs or (more significantly) any new security weaknesses, will not be addressed and rectified by Microsoft. This leaves the software wide open to exploitation by the bad guys out there who are trying to get into your computer to steal your information, hijack your internet connection, hold you to ransom, or place viruses on your computer.

So, there you have it. It’s quite easy to check just when your Microsoft product will be consigned to history, so you’ve got plenty of time to plan ahead and make sure you’re not left with an unsupported product. Haven’t you?

… and if reading this blog nudges just one of my computer support clients into replacing their (unsupported) XP, then it will all have been worthwhile!

Yes, it’s that time of year when I congratulate myself on completing another year of weekly blogs

4 years of blog posts

So what’s happened during that year?

November 2013a year of Windows 8.1

Hard to believe that it’s a whole year since Windows 8.1 was released. It’s still with us and I still maintain that it’s not as bad as a lot of people think.

Homer and Windows 8.1December 2013more on Windows 8.1

I said that I didn’t care about the tiled apps in windows 8 and none my clients’ needs have pushed me into spending much time on them in the year that has followed. A client recently asked me if it is a good idea to buy a Windows mobile phone and I had to reply that, even if he does like the tiled apps, he might be better off with an Android phone or an iPhone as the developers of “apps” don’t yet seem to think it’s essential for them to develop Windows versions.

Figures released in June by Statista show the number of apps on the major “platforms” as

  • Google Play (Android) – 1,300,000
  • iPhone – 1,200,000
  • Windows Mobile – 300,000

January 2014making your computer sleep-friendly

I am still a big fan of using f.lux to automatically reduce the blue light emitted from a computer screen in the evening. Whether or not it does actually help in getting to sleep, f.lux certainly makes a computer screen easier to look at in the evening with tired eyes.

Microsoft Ends Support for Windows XP - screen capture from MicrosoftFebruary and April 2014Windows XP is still with us

There’s no sign of XP disappearing just yet. Some of my clients are still using it and I came across it in a local medical centre last week. We haven’t yet seen a massive attack on XP computers, but I still think it’s very likely to happen. If you are still using XP then I urge you to make sure you are taking regular backups of things you can’t afford to lose. See this link as well.


February 2014
PC World

in this blog I said that the service in PC World may be getting better. I was dis-abused of this notion last week when trying to buy a Microsft Surface Pro 3. For some odd reason, John Lewis aren’t stocking the model I want. My saga with PC World went as follows:

  • Oxford Street branch – hadn’t got the machine and they said their Tottenham Court Road branch hadn’t got it either
  • Tottenham Court Road – despite advice from Oxford Street, they did have it – but no matching keyboard/cover
  • Kensington High Street – they told me I needed to have it specially made to order as it isn’t a standard model (huh?)
  • Brixton – their website said they had it but they hadn’t
  • Old Kent Road – success!

Windows Desktop - Cluttered

This is getting silly

February 2014a cleaner desktop

My Windows desktop is still cleaner than it used to be. I now just periodically dump every icon I’ve not used recently into a folder of un-used icons that sits on the desktop. I don’t agonise over which ones to move: I just move nearly all of them. They’re easy enough to fetch back out of the folder, but I rarely need to. Very therapeutic having an uncluttered desktop.

March 2014Windows 8 File History

I still think this inbuilt backup routine is better than nothing, but I was disappointed to find that it can’t be used to automatically create backups to OneDrive (Microsoft’s cloud storage service).

April 2014Faststone Image Viewer

I continue to recommend this to my Windows computer support clients and to install it for them. It may not be cutting edge software, but it makes photo viewing and editing a lot easier and more intuitive than Picasa. Get Faststone Image Viewer from here.

May 2014closing my LinkedIn account

I’m still thinking of closing this account. I am certainly not going to sign into any other account by using my Linked In credentials as I do not trust Linked In not to steal the data that would then be open to them.

Gmail LogoAugust 2014Gmail shortcuts

Do you use gmail’s webmail interface? Try using some shortcuts

September 2014the new “.london” domain

Maybe I got off the mark too soon when I changed from davidleonard.net to davidleonard.london . There are some places in cyberspace that refuse to accept that an email address ending in “.london” is genuine. It looks as if some web programmers need to re-visit the validation routines on their website forms. This is going to become a bigger problem for them as more and more domain suffixes are released. Did you know, for instance, that the following are all new domain suffixes – .mail, .club, .training, .marketing, .photography?

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 in profileOctober 2014the Microsoft Surface

As mentioned above, I’ve gone and got one (despite PC World’s best efforts to quash any impulse buying). Haven’t yet had time to install everything, but it’s definitely a very nice machine. I was right about the small screen, though. I don’t think I could use it for very long towards the end of the day if I hadn’t got a pair of glasses specifically optimised for reading at the distance of a computer screen.

October 2014 Windows 10 Technical Preview

If you’ve heard bad things about Windows 8 then you probably need to hold out for about 10 months before buying your next computer if you want to avoid Windows 8 altogether. It’s likely that 2-3 months before that you will be able to buy a Windows 8 machine with a voucher for a free upgrade to Windows 10 when it is released.

That’s it, then. On to year five…

Is there a market for the Microsoft Surface – if so, where?

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with keyboard/coverThe first version of Microsoft’s Surface Pro was launched in February 2013. Since then, I’ve mentioned it occasionally, en passant, but have often wondered where its market lies and whether that market is large enough to sustain the product. Well, we’re now into the third version, called Windows Surface Pro 3 (natch), so either it’s starting to sell or Microsoft’s pride is as big as its pockets are deep.

The pitch from Microsoft is that it’s a tablet that does everything that your laptop will do. Hasn’t that market been snaffled by iPads and Android tablets? Up to a point, it has. You can get all the internet connectivity you like with a “normal” tablet, but there is one major function that most tablets lack and that is USB connectivity.

You can’t just plug in a USB flash drive and copy stuff between machines without engaging brain. Instead, you have to think about what facilities you have and what’s the easiest way of moving stuff. This is quite likely to be via a cloud service such as Dropbox. Life’s often less complicated if you can just connect a USB drive and do a “file copy”. Well, the Surface Pro does offer a USB port (just the one, notice) so that could be a clear advantage. A USB port also means, of course, that you can use a mouse. It also offers a micro SD card port – handy for data storage expansion, backups, and data transfer. I advise checking this out, though, as some places I looked said that the micro SD port is only present on the top-end versions.

The other major boast of Microsoft is that the Surface Pro lets you run any program that will run on a Windows 8 laptop or desktop. Now this may not arouse more than a “so what?” shrug in most people, but it could be very important to others. It means, for instance that Photoshop, Microsoft Access and Microsoft Outlook should all happily run on it – and you won’t get all those programs running on any other tablet as far as I know.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with screen penThe nearest competition for the Surface in this respect will probably be the Mac Air. The Mac Air, though, is – of course – a Mac machine running OSX and not Windows. I have no doubt that it would run Photoshop and the Mac version of Outlook, but there’s no version of Microsoft Access that will run on a Mac. I would love someone to point out that I’m wrong on this (excluding running Windows under “Parallels” or other virtualization software). Also, I am aware that some versions of Office 365 now include a version of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for the iPad. This is very useful, but you still can’t run Outlook or Access on an iPad.

So why am I bringing the subject up now? Well, a computer support client of mine found a good deal on buying the previous version of a Microsoft Surface RT and we were having fun playing with it. It’s worth repeating here that the RT version of Surface will only run the installed applications and then added “apps”. It won’t run ordinary “desktop/laptop programs”. That might sound like a fatal flaw until you learn that Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint are exceptions to this and that they are included free of charge on RT machines. That’s as much as a lot of people need as far as “serious” stuff is concerned (you can also browse the net and do email, of course).

Getting up close to a Surface for the first time, I was very impressed with the quality of the finish. It just about feels as if it’s gained something of that mysterious quality that only products from Apple usually have. The 12 inch screen might be slightly on the small side for anyone who gets tired reading small stuff and, for my money, that would be one thing that would stop me from being able to use it all day as a replacement for a laptop. You can, however, plug in a larger monitor (but that wouldn’t slide into your backpack with the slimline Surface (weighing only about 800 gms)).

I don’t want to start nit-picking, but I do think Microsoft’s boast that it’s a replacement for a laptop is a bit OTT as a laptop with only a single USB port would probably drive you mad if the Surface Pro was your only machine. USB hubs aren’t a perfect solution for this problem.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 in profileThat aside, the only real gripe that I have is to do with marketing. The beautiful, thin, keyboard/cover is not included in the box (or price). You have to buy it extra and it runs into three figures. OK, so this gives the buyer the option to restrict him/herself to using the Surface just like a tablet (with the on-screen keyboard), but I can’t help feeling that the main reason for splitting the tablet from the keyboard/cover is to do with price perception.

The Surface Pro 3 is expensive. You can see the full price range of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 here, but remember that those prices exclude £100 worth of keyboard/cover. In short, the price (without keyboard/cover) ranges from £639 to £1649 (including VAT).

At those prices, I’m having a very tough time convincing myself that I can’t live without one. Convincing myself, that is, that there’s a gap somewhere between my laptop, netbook, iPad, and smartphone that can only be filled by a Surface Pro. I think I’m just going to have to keep working on myself as there’s little doubt that it’s a very nice piece of kit that I would definitely like to own. If you are thinking of buying one, I would strongly recommend seeing it in the flesh first so that you can weigh up the quality of the finish against the possible usability drawback of the small screen. As usual, I would recommend that the obvious place to go and see one is John Lewis.

I’ve had a first squint at the next version of Windows

Windows 10 Start Button

It’s back! The Start button in Windows 10

The next version of Windows will be with us in 2015 and it’s called Windows 10. A release date is expected to be announced in April for some time “later in the year”.

What happened to Windows 9? I’ve read two different explanations:

  • Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said of Windows 9 “It came and went”. This suggests they might have started down a development path that they abandoned.
  • Terry Myerson, executive vice president of the (Microsoft) Operating Systems group, said “Because we’re not building an incremental product, the new name will be Windows 10”.

Thinking about it, though, these two statements aren’t mutually exclusive. Anyway, Myerson’s point is that Windows 10 will be significantly different from previous versions in that the same operating system will work on smartphones, tablets, laptops, and even other devices that are part of the “Internet of Things”. Or, more cynically, they are trying to big up the “newness” by skipping from 8 straight to 10.


What is “The Internet of Things”

Windows 10 Start Menu

The Windows 10 Start Menu

According to Wikipedia, “The Internet of Things (IoT) is the interconnection of uniquely identifiable embedded computing devices within the existing internet infrastructure”.

An example would be a smart cooker that can be remotely controlled from a smartphone (to switch on the oven as you leave work, for instance). In other words, devices, appliances and gadgets that have embedded chips to control or monitor them can be connected wirelessly to a router (just as tablets and smartphones are already) and then controlled via another device that connects to the same network. Other examples are medical appliances (such as heart monitors) that can be remotely interrogated.

Perhaps we should forget about this potential aspect of the new Windows for now and think about how Windows 10 will function in its main guise – that of a desktop/laptop operating system. The most astounding thing that I’ve discovered so far is the simple fact that Microsoft have finally listened to what their users want and given up trying to impose the “metro” or “tiled” interface on us as a replacement for the good old Start Menu. Yes – they’ve brought back the the Start Menu!

They’ve not given up on the tiles, though. You can access them from the Start Menu (see illustration). Perhaps I should have said before this point that the version of Windows 10 that is currently available is a “technical preview”. The final thing may look very different. This technical preview isn’t even a “beta release” (ie a version that’s almost finished, but which will almost certainly be “de-bugged” by end users putting it through its paces in a real-world environment). Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine them swallowing their pride and bringing back the Start Menu for a “technical preview” and then dumping it again before the final release.

If you’re feeling nerdy, brave, or just bored, you can download this technical preview from Microsoft. The download is in an “iso” format for burning to a DVD that then becomes the source media for the installation. I wouldn’t recommend installing it on your “real” system. I’ve put it on a spare laptop. The installation was quick and painless. Certainly the easiest installation of a new Windows operating system that I’ve every come across.

Logo Under Construction

There doesn’t seem to be a Windows 10 logo yet

A lot of my own computer support clients found that accessing the “charms” bar in Windows 8 is confusing and a bit tedious. This is achieved by scrolling off a right-hand corner of the screen. It’s very easy to do this when actually trying to close a window (top right) or when trying to access the tiny rectangle of taskbar to the right of the date that, when clicked on, immediately displays the desktop. For the technical preview of Windows 10, at least, this behaviour has been removed. But is it any better to have to learn that depressing the Windows key and tapping on the letter “c” brings up the “charms” bar (as it does in Windows 8).

As well as bringing back the “proper” Start button and menu, a right-click on the Start button brings up a list of options just as it does in Windows 8.1. Between left and right clicks on the Start buttons a whole wealth of options can be easily accessed. I haven’t tried it, but I’m sure these left and right menus will be user-configurable.

Windows 10 will also include the possibility of having multiple desktops so that similar tasks can be grouped in different desktops. It doesn’t seem to be working very well in my own installation (and is probably a “work in progress”). If you’d like to learn more about this, have a look at winsupersite.com.

After playing with Windows 10 for a couple of hours, I have to say that I like it. For some reason, it makes a big psychological difference that the “proper desktop” is, once again, the “default” place to be in Windows. Having to see – and then switch from – the tiled interface in Windows 8 really did feel as if Microsoft were trying to herd us in a direction that they wanted us to go, and in which we didn’t want to go! I think it’s even possible that I may now play with some of tiled apps. Previously, I’d just clicked the desktop and refused to get involved with the tiled apps. Now that they are accessed from WITHIN the “proper” interface, I feel much happier.

All in all, I’m rather optimistic about how Windows 10 will perform when it’s finished and released next year.

If you’d like some more detail about the expected features of Windows 10 have a look at Techradar.

Why would you upgrade to Office 365?

A while ago, I blogged about Office 365, pointing out that in this version you no longer purchase the software outright, but license the use of it via a monthly or annual subscription.

Office 365I have no doubt that this change is intended to increase Microsoft’s sales. Let’s face it, Microsoft Office probably does pretty well everything that you want it to do by now. My experience with my own computer support clients suggests strongly that individual users (as opposed to medium-sized or large corporations) probably don’t use more than a small fraction of the functionality already built into Office. Why buy the product again with even more bells and whistles that you don’t care about? By persuading users to take out a subscription instead of buying the software outright, Microsoft don’t need to make another sale to get more money out of you. They know that once you’ve set up a direct debit or agreed to let them charge your credit/debit card when the time comes, then you will keep paying them money. It’s much, much easier to get money out of you this way as they don’t have to sell you anything again or persuade you to take any action at all. As Del Boy used to say, “lovely jubbly”.

And, since the version of Office that you currently receive when you opt for Office 365 is, in fact, Office 2013, then why would you make the switch?

Well, I’ve looked into it again and I have now signed up for Office 365. It may or may not be a good decision for you, but here are the advantages that make it worthwhile for me – an IT Support Consultant – to make the change:

  • It’s the only way to install the latest Office on several machines with one licence. Up to, and including, Office 2010 you could buy a three-user licence of Office Home and Student for only about £10 more than a single-user version. Microsoft have removed this option from Office 2013. With Office 365 Home you can install on five different machines and can even split that between Mac and PC machines. Previously, you had to buy separate versions to install on different operating systems. There is also a version that is less expensive that includes a licence for just one computer and one tablet.
  • There are now tablet versions (iPad, Android, Windows) of Office and you can install on up to five devices as part of the same licence if you opt for the Office 365 Home version of the product. Only Word, Excel and PowerPoint are available for tablets, but this is still a very welcome enhancement.
  • There is now no distinction between “Home and Student”, “Small Business” and “Professional” versions. With Office 365 you get all the modules (including Outlook, Access, and Publisher) automatically. Lots of users might never want these modules but for those who do (including me), then the monthly (or annual) subscription suddenly becomes a much more appealing deal than if we were just talking about the “Home and Student” version.
  • Updates to the software are automatic. This is a bit of a two-edged sword. It’s nice to know you won’t have to fork out anything extra for newer versions, but it can be very disconcerting for software to suddenly change without either asking for it or wanting it.
  • CashCowThe prices are quite good. Office Professional 2013 currently costs £389.99 for a single user. A subscription to Office 365 Personal (one user plus one tablet) costs £5.99 per month (about £72 per annum) or £59.99 for a single annual subscription. So, it would actually take 6.5 years of use for an outright purchase of 2013 to be a better bet than Office 365 Personal. And, if you really want to be pedantic, there are cashflow benefits to paying for it by an ongoing subscription and you are even reducing the risk of making the purchase as you could always choose not to renew an annual subscription. The best value is probably to be found in the Office 365 Home version. This includes a licence to install on five Macs and/or PCs and five tablets.It costs £7.99 per month or £79.99 for an annual subscription.
  • Depending on which version you choose, you can also receive up to 1tb (one terabyte – ie 1000 gigabytes) of Cloud storage with an Office 365 subscription. My computer support clients currently seem to be split about 50:50 on whether they think cloud storage is a good idea. The two main benefits it holds are that you have a remote backup of your data (so if your entire house and belongings suffered devastation by fire, theft, or flood, you would still have a copy of your data) and data created on one computer or device is immediately available to your other computers or devices (iPads etc).

Filing cabinet in the clouds

I seem to be gradually migrating all of my data to the Cloud

I only installed 365 this week, but so far I’ve not found any reason to regret the decision. The installation even seamlessly transferred my Outlook to the 365 version – including email accounts, contacts, calendar, email messages, email signatures, email rules, and add-ins.

If you only use Word, Excel and PowerPoint (of the available modules in Microsoft Office) and only use a single computer, then my previous advice still stands – you are probably better off with Office 2013. If your needs are greater than that then it may pay to investigate Office 365 the next time you want or need to change the software.

By the way, in my earlier blog entitled Buying Office 2013 I originally said that you use the software online rather than installing it on your own computer. That was wrong and I apologise. In fact, the software installs in the normal way onto your own computer.

You cannot ignore Windows Libraries if you wish to use File History

“File Explorer” is the file manager application in Windows that lets you see what files and folders you have on your computer and where they are. You can then move, copy, delete, open programs, open data files, and so on from within a File Explorer window. Note that this is the same function that was previously called “Windows Explorer”.

With the advent of Windows 7 a new concept was introduced into File Explorer. This was the concept of “Libraries”. They appear in the navigation pane at the lefthand side of a File Explorer window. I confess that I’ve often avoided defining “libraries” when introducing my computer support clients to File Explorer as they can be very confusing until you realise what they are. I would probably still be avoiding the issue except that the concept of Libraries is central to how Windows 8’s backup feature works (as mentioned in my blog on Windows 8 File History).

So, what are Microsoft’s Libraries?
Maybe my mind is a bit too literal (pedantic even?), but when I think of a “library” I think of a physical collection of “things” such as books, magazines, CDs etc. The main point about a library (to this pedant, anyway) is that all of these things comprising the library are all to be found in one place. A library is a physical thing that actually includes its contents!

Windows Libraries

These are the default libraries in Windows 7 and 8

Not so with Microsoft’s Libraries. In fact, it’s just the very opposite. A library in Windows 8 is not a “place” or a “thing” at all. It would be more accurately described as a “list” containing items that probably have something in common (eg all of a family’s photos, all documents relating to clients, all items to be backed up). The whole point of the Microsoft Library concept is that the constituent parts are NOT in the same place. They could be scattered all around the computer or, indeed, all around the local network, and a library can even include items that are in The Cloud.

So, for instance, you could have a library that contains all of your folders that relate to your clients. You might have spreadsheets relating to clients and word processing documents relating to clients but these could easily be in different parts of your drive (if you tend to keep all your spreadsheets together and all your word processing documents together). It would be quite simple and sensible to create a “Clients” library and to include client spreadsheets and client word processing documents in that library.

A proper library - this is the new one in Clapham

A proper library – this is the new one in Clapham

The whole point of Microsoft libraries is that they do NOT involve moving the files themselves into the library. You can see (and access) all the files that are in a library by opening up that library, but the files themselves are still actually stored in the same folders as they were and are still accessible via those folders as well as via the library.

Now, you might think I’m making a bit of a meal of explaining a very simple concept. If so, I apologise, but my experience is that for every person that grasps the concept easily, there are many more that can’t get their heads around it.

To my mind, the whole thing would have been a lot simpler to understand if Microsoft had just been a little bit more prosaic and literal in their nomenclature. Why didn’t they just call them “lists” instead of “libraries”? Everyone knows what a list is.

Windows Libraries - one is user-defined

A user-defined library (“Items Backed Up”) has been added here. Note that folders can be included in more than one library (the folder “Documents” appears in two libraries here)

Perhaps a better analogy is offered by iTunes and iPhoto. In these programs you can create “playlists” and “albums” (respectively) that just consist of the tracks and images that you place in them. Putting an item into a playlist or album does not move it physically around the hard drive. It just adds it to a list. And that’s all a Microsoft Library does.

As I’ve already said, I’ve tended to avoid trying to get that across to people just learning about files and folders and so on, but you will find Windows 8 File History very limiting if you don’t get to grips with it as it deals in libraries as its “unit” of stuff to back up. It is libraries that it backs up, and any files and folders that have not been added to a library will not be backed up. Also, any libraries that you have created (over and above the pre-existing default libraries) will not be backed up unless you add them to File History’s schedule.

This week Microsoft ceased to support Windows XP

In practical terms, this means that Microsoft have now issued the last security update that will address vulnerabilities in XP. To summarise the main problems this will cause:

  • Hackers, virus writers and so on may now concentrate their efforts on discovering vulnerabilities in Windows XP, knowing that Microsoft will not be trying to counteract their activities. This is likely to be worth their while as XP is still the second most popular operating system in the world (behind only Windows 7, and far in front of Windows 8, Vista, Mac OS, and all the Linux versions).
  • Manufacturers of both hardware and software that is currently compatible with Windows XP may not be so in the future as the manufacturers take their cue from Microsoft and stop putting effort into maintaining compatibility with an obsolete operating system (and who can blame them?).

So, do I have to stop using XP now?

There may be powerful reasons why you do not want to upgrade your computer at this time, so is it essential to deal with this at this moment?

XP with wingsThat is up to you. The consensus around the bits of the web that I’ve been dipping into seems to be that XP is not expected to become hugely dangerous immediately. Personally, I’m not going to take the risk. My experience of removing malware and viruses from clients’ computers tells me that most infestations can be tackled successfully using a combination of Malwarebytes, SpyBot, AdAware, and some careful googling. Having said that, though, I believe that it is a risk not worth taking. That risk will, of course, increase over time as more and more vulnerabilities are found – and not patched – in the ever-ageing operating system. My advice to my computer support clients is to replace an XP machine as soon as possible if it is exposed to the WWW.

Will XP stop working?

No. There’s nothing to stop you from continuing to use XP if you feel the risk is worth it.

Can it be made safe?

No, but there are things you can do to reduce the risks. These are:

  • Stop using Internet Explorer as your browser. The current versions of both Chrome and Firefox will run under Windows XP and they are both safer than Internet Explorer 9 (the latest version of IE that will run under XP).
  • Install one of the website scanners that warns you before you visit if a website is known to be dodgy (eg McAfee Site Advisor)
  • Install all of the recommended security updates that existed at 8th April. Microsoft have not announced that they are going to remove updates and patches from their website. You will still be able to install all of the currently available updates into the foreseeable future.
  • Make sure that you have antivirus software installed and that it is automatically updating its virus definition files (probably daily).
  • Check for software and driver updates of any software and hardware that is important to you on your XP machine. Manufacturers will undoubtedly stop providing drivers and updates that have been tested and confirmed to work with XP. Get the latest versions while you still can. It would also be a good idea to take backup copies of these if you can.

Can you still support me with my XP machine using Teamviewer?

TeamViewer logoI have spoken with Teamviewer and they couldn’t think of any risks in using the remote control software that might be caused by the demise of XP. Until and unless I learn different, I will continue to offer Teamviewer support to clients running XP.

Can you come and make my computer as secure as possible along the lines you have outlined?

I could (assuming you are in my normal geographical range), but it probably wouldn’t make economic sense. If it took me a couple of hours to do this work for you then that would cost you £130. Now I do realise, of course, that that is much less than it would cost you to get two hours of support from most IT support consultants (!), but it’s still money that you would probably be better off investing in a new computer. The only obvious exception that I can think of is if you have some old software that is essential to you but which hasn’t been developed to run on Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8.

Windows XP TombstoneSo, you can reduce the risks, but they will still grow over time and one day you will probably have to bite the bullet and get a new computer. The good news is that the new one is probably going to cost you a lot less (in real terms) than the doddery old one that you are unwilling to replace at the moment.

PS: at the risk of putting a another big crimp in your day, if you are running any of the components of Microsoft Office 2003 (Outlook, Word, Excel. PowerPoint, OneNote) then you should also be aware that Microsoft ceased support for Office 2003 on April 8th as well as XP. Not as drastic as the XP problem, maybe, but still a security risk.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
Privacy Policy Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha