Macs have long had a backup system (called “Time Machine”) that the user simply “sets and forgets”

I’ve often wondered why Microsoft can’t do something similar as the whole area of backups is one that a huge number of users find too complicated, too confusing and too tedious to engage with. All the advice I ever give about the importance of backups is probably ignored at least half of the time because it’s just too complicated a subject. Beyond Microsoft’s offerings, I’ve also been looking elsewhere for years for a simple, trustworthy backup system that manages to square the circle of combining simplicity with flexibility. I have yet to find such an animal but it seems that Microsoft may now provide an adequate solution built into Windows 8.

It is called “File History” and is available from the Control Panel.

File History Main Menu

The main menu is reasonably straightforward

It provides flexibility and ease of setting up by assuming that you will wish to back up all data found in your libraries plus the contents of your desktop, contacts, and favorites. If you always save your data in the recommended locations (eg in “My Documents” or “My Pictures”) then your data will be backed up without any further ado. If you keep data in folders that are not contained in libraries then you can add those folders to existing libraries or create a new library where you can place all of the extra folders that you wish to back up.

But – and it’s a very very big “but” – there are folders that could contain absolutely crucial data that would not be included in the backup unless you knew about them and dug deep to find them and add them to the backup schedule (by adding them to a library). The most obvious of these that comes to mind is the “pst” file if you use Outlook. Why on earth do Microsoft hide this most important of data files in a folder that is not only kept apart from other data files, folders, and libraries, but which is also hidden by default? The “pst” file contains all of your email messages, calendar, contacts, and task lists. As far as my own business is concerned, my Outlook PST file is the most important file I have (together with my Clients database). The same applies to other “email clients” from Microsoft. Outlook Express and Microsoft Mail also set up your data files, by default, in a hidden place that’s really tricky to find unless you know what you are doing.

Select a drive for File History

External drives, USB flash drives and network drives can be used for backups

File History is quite flexible in letting you choose where your backup is going to be made. You can not create the backup on your main “c:” drive (as a hard drive failure could lose you your backup as well as your normal files) but you can use USB flash drives, external hard drives, and even network drives. You could also back up onto a different partition of your main drive, but that’s risky, of course, in the event of a total hard drive failure. If the backup location isn’t available when the backup is made then the program caches the backup on the hard drive ready for when the backup drive is available. Personally, I don’t like this as it could lull you into a false sense of security about the state of your backups. I’d rather be told if a backup is not possible because the backup location is not available.

You can choose how long you wish to keep your backups (weeks, months, forever while there’s still disc space) but I need to do more digging to see if backups are automatically removed when they get to a certain age (very very bad) or removed when they reach a certain age provided that there are newer versions available (much better).

You can choose how often backups are taken, ranging from every 10 minutes to once a day. The backups then take place quietly in the background, without (apparently) causing any noticeable effect on the performance of your computer for whatever else you are doing.

Exclude from File History options

Folders and libraries can be excluded from backups as well as being added to them

From what I’ve found out so far, there are other weaknesses in File History. For instance, if you change the name of a file then that name change is not applied to backups: it’s as if you’ve created a new file. For now, though, I’m so pleased that Microsoft have, at last, built some kind of simple data backup system into Windows that I would encourage you to use it if you are not doing any other kind of backup. I could probably help you to set it up by remote control (using Teamviewer), but remember that it is only available in Windows 8 – not in either Vista or Windows 7.

File History Restore Menu

Restoring files just requires “stepping forward or backward” through time and then “drilling down” to select the files(s)

If you don’t take backups then it probably means that you’ve never had a serious data loss yet. And that’s the key word – YET. I’ve seen a few heart-breaking data losses over the years, but I know that it’s difficult for the average user to get their head around the subject. Looked at from that perspective, I think File History in Windows 8 is certainly better than nothing.

I’m going to be testing it in the coming weeks and months by running it side by side with my normal backup routines. I’ll come back to the subject if I find any fatal flaws or useful tweaks.

Recently, I decided to tidy up my Outlook email folders

Microsoft Outlook 2010 logo

Outlook 2010 logo

This entailed moving lots of sub-folders between folders. You can move a folder (or sub-folder – which simply means a folder that is within another folder) either by “cutting and pasting” it or by simply dragging it from one location to another. The latter is usually easier, but if the list of folders that you have to “drag past” is longer than the screen height available then you have to drag the folder to the bottom of screen and then hope you can keep control as the list of folders scrolls upwards in front of your eyes. Tricky to explain and even trickier to perform.

Exactly the same thing applies, of course, if you need to drag upwards past the top of the screen rather than down past the bottom. The speed at which the column scrolls down or up is, I think, a function of exactly where you stop moving the folder being dragged and also a function of just how long the column is that is being scrolled. All of this makes dragging a folder past the top or bottom of the screen a bit of a hairy process. It’s very easy to let go of the mouse button at the wrong moment – dropping the folder in the wrong place.

If this only happened when moving folders around in Outlook then I wouldn’t bother telling you all this, but it also happens in other programs, so this bit of advice will, hopefully, have wider use (in Windows Explorer, for instance).

So, is there an easier way to re-organise files and folders when the list is longer than the screen?

Well, the answer seems to be “maybe” – depending on the program you are using. If you can open two windows, side by side, with each showing the same thing, then there is probably an easier way:

  • Start in the “destination” window by displaying the part of the list where you wish to deposit the folder (or file)
  • Click on the other window and navigate to the folder (or file) to be moved
  • Drag the folder or file across the boundary between the two windows and let go at the appropriate position

2 Microsoft Outlook Windows side by side

It is easier to drag between windows than dragging off the bottom of a single window.

Using this method, the scrolling to the destination has been completely separated from the dragging of the file/folder. Much easier. It probably wouldn’t be worth setting up windows side by side if you are only intending to move one or two folders or files around, but it’s definitely worth it if you are doing some more substantial re-organising.

How do you open the second window?

  • Start by opening the first “instance” of the program in the usual way
  • Right-click on the icon of the program that is now present on the task bar (the bar at the bottom of the screen)
  • Left-click on the program name that appears in the list

Alternatively:

  • Start by opening the first “instance” of the program in the usual way
  • Shift-click on the icon of the program that is now present on the task bar (the bar at the bottom of the screen)

Microsoft Outlook 2013 logo

Outlook 2013 logo. Why did they change it from yellow to blue?

Whether you can open the same program in two different windows at the same time seems to depend on the program. The above works for Outlook, but I couldn’t get Windows Mail to open in two different windows. Every time I tried to open a second window, the focus (ie the cursor) just moved into the existing window. I wondered if it would work in Gmail (webmail), but you can’t drag anything out of the original window.

I haven’t yet experimented to see if this tip is useful when using a Mac, but it’s my guess that it’s likely to be useful in that parallel universe also.

By the way, at the same time as playing around with multiple windows, I also had another look to see if there is any way of selecting more than one folder at once in Outlook so that they could be moved in a single action. Not only could I not find a method, but I came across a special utility that appears to be written solely to solve this problem. This suggests, of course, that there isn’t an obvious method within Outlook that I am missing. The utility can be found at http://pandali.com/pfm.html. It costs $29 but there’s a 30 day free trial.

One more tip when cleaning up Outlook folders

If you wish to delete a complete folder of emails in Outlook then the program gets a bit solicitous and asks whether you are sure. This can get tedious after a while so, if you are doing a major clean-up involving the deletion of lots of folders then a more efficient way is to drag those folders into a special folder (that I call “Doomed” because it sounds so wonderfully dramatic – yes, I need to get out more). When the re-organising is complete, just delete the “Doomed” folder. That way, you only need to confirm the action once. This tip would also work when cleaning up normal files and folders in Windows Explorer.

I live in a small flat and I know that the ONLY way of managing this is to keep it fairly tidy

Windows Desktop - Cluttered

My Windows desktop. It’s getting rather silly

I’m not obsessive or over-fastidious: it’s just that I know that life is more manageable, and easier in the long run, if I try and keep everything more or less in its place. It’s the same with my physical desktop: when I finish work I like nothing but mice and keyboards on it.

This tidiness extends to all my computer filing. PDFs of different subjects all have their place, clients have their own email folders, and so on. I don’t understand people who say things like “where are my keys?” whenever they want to go out. If you always put your keys in the same place when you come in, then you always know where they are when you go out. How simple is that?

So why is it that my Windows desktop has over 100 icons on it and I can never find the shortcuts to things I use every week (if not every day)?

I reckon my computer support clients divide into four groups on this subject:

  • Group 1 contains the people for whom any new shortcut or other type of icon goes straight into the recycle bin unless it’s essential. It’s almost a point of pride not to allow anything new to remain on the desktop.
  • Group 2 is populated by the sensible ones. They have shortcuts to programs they use often and maybe a few shortcuts to data files they use often (Word documents, spreadsheets, PDF files and so on). If they’re really good, there are no actual data files on the desktop – just shortcuts.
  • Group 3 comprises those that have shortcuts to programs, but who also store actual files and actual folders on their desktop (maybe dozens and dozens of them).
  • Group 4 consists of those – like me – who are in danger of losing the plot. By the time we’ve found what we are looking for, we’ve forgotten why we were looking for it.
  • Those in Group 1 don’t need any help. Do it your way. Good for you.
  • Those in Group 2 don’t need any help either. I think that this is probably how Microsoft envisaged us using the desktop. Keep things handy that you need often, but tidy away everything else.
  • The best suggestion I have for those in Group 4 is “get a grip”. I was just about to start cleaning my own desktop when it occurred to me that it would be more fun to blog about it than to actually do it.

Cluttered Desk

Where’s my laptop gone? This is NOT my desk!

Now, finally, to Group 3 – those who store actual files and folders on their desktop. Ever since Windows came out, I have understood that anything that is on the desktop is stored in memory. If you have actual data files on your desktop totalling 500mb then you have almost 500mb less RAM available for programs and other tasks. If I’m right on this, it simply doesn’t make sense to “waste” your RAM in this way. It is far more efficient to create shortcuts to files and just store the shortcuts on the desktop.

You can also create shortcuts to folders such that clicking on the folder shortcut will open a window revealing all the files in that folder. So why store the entire folder and its contents on the desktop?

I’ve been trying to find some definitive proof that precious RAM is wasted by storing files on the desktop. I can’t find any. There’s any number of opinions – agreeing with me, disagreeing with me, and also loads of plain rubbish as well. See this thread, for instance.

You’d think Microsoft could provide the best answer. The nearest I can find to corroborate my opinion that files on the desktop are wasteful of RAM can be found here.

It clearly says on that page:

Don’t store files on the desktop

To improve your computer’s performance and find files more easily, it’s best to store files in the Documents folder rather than on the desktop.

To access files from your desktop, create a desktop shortcut instead.

They then offer a link to show you how to create or delete a shortcut.

Tidy Desk

That’s more like it!

So, I reckon I’m safe in continuing to give the advice that it’s best not to store actual folders and files on the desktop.

As far as the multiplicity of program shortcuts is concerned (and this is what makes up about 90% of the clutter on my own desktop at the moment), my tip is to create a special folder.

In fact, I do keep this one actual folder on the desktop as it will only contain shortcuts (so it will remain small). Into this folder (which I call something obvious like “Rarely used shortcuts”) I drag all those shortcuts from my desktop that don’t need to be there. That way, they are easily accessible if I need them , but not getting in the way in the meantime. If necessary, they can be dragged back out to the desktop later. This tip doesn’t save RAM, but it certainly makes using the desktop a lot easier.

Right, just for once I’m off to practise what I preach…..

Figure 1

Figure 1

At the end of last week’s blog about Windows 8.1, I pointed out the option to go straight to the desktop when opening Windows. If you’ve been to that dialog box you will have seen that it also offers the option to tick a box to display the desktop background image as a background image on the Start Screen. This does make the switch between desktop and Start Screen less jarring. See Figure 1 for the full dialog box.

You will also see another option in this dialog box that suggests that Microsoft have been listening to feedback from users. A lot of us found it a real nuisance that navigating to the top righthand corner of a screen in order to close a program would often bring up the list of so-called “charms” because we’d moved the mouse past the corner of the screen. This unwanted result can now be prevented by unticking the box next to “When I point to the top-right corner, show the charms”. There is a similar option to stop the intrusion of the last “app” used when sliding off the top lefthand corner of the screen.

How do I get the upgrade to 8.1 if I declined it when the offer popped up on my screen?

The upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 takes place from the Windows Store. It is not just a link in any old Microsoft web page. This means that even if you normally sign into Windows 8 with a “local account”, you will need to sign into your Microsoft account to get at the upgrade (see this recent blog re signing in to Windows 8 ). So, if you are one of those people who found it a pain creating a Microsoft account when installing Windows 8, and didn’t think you would ever need it, here’s an example of an occasion when you will need to have its details handy.

I suppose it’s just possible that I had a senior moment during the upgrade process and that something happened (or didn’t happen) that left me needing to sign in to my Microsoft account to open Windows 8.1 when the upgrade had taken place. The cynic in me says that Microsoft have nudged me in the direction they want me to go. The pessimist in me says that I’m probably losing the plot and took a wrong option somewhere during the upgrade process. The realist in me reminds me that it doesn’t matter as it’s possible to switch back to using a local account as detailed in this recent blog.

Tiled Apps

There are many changes, additions, and enhancements to the “tiled apps” available from the Start Screen. I’m not sure whether I ought to apologise for not being able to give you an enthusiastic, in-depth analysis of these changes. The truth is, I just don’t care very much about this side of Windows 8 computing. If I want to do “fun things” I’ll pick up my iPad.

Homer and Windows 8.1Of course, if my computer support clients want to know more about these “apps” then I will pay them more attention. As I recently said, though, I’ve only ever had one client even mention Microsoft’s Surface computer to me (where these “apps” presumably shine), and I can only think of one client in the last year (since Windows 8 was released) who has shown any real enthusiasm for the Start Screen and its “tiled apps”. Maybe you all love them but don’t want to risk incurring my disdain by saying so. I doubt that, somehow, so I’m going to continue not paying them much attention. If you’d like a more enthusiastic view of this aspect of Windows 8.1, then try this blog.

There are also changes to how things are displayed in “File Explorer” (or “Windows Explorer” as it was called prior to Windows 8). We used to look for “My Computer” as the option to prowl around the contents of the computer. This became less patronising in Windows 7 by just calling it “Computer”. In Windows 8.1 it has become “This PC”.

Summary

8.1 Install Screen

ZZzz………zz…….zz…….

I must stress that this is the first time I’ve upgraded Windows 8 to 8.1 so the experience may not be typical. Yours may be different. If it’s possible to conclude anything from a single instance, I would say that the upgrade process is slow but that 8.1 seems to have user advantages over Windows 8. Whether you actually need to perform the upgrade is another matter, but I’d say that the security argument probably wins the day. I can’t yet say whether it was Windows 8.1 that broke my Outlook calendars, but I’m glad I took a copy of my Outlook “pst” file just before the upgrade.

And now, after one more week’s experience of 8.1, I’m happy to report that everything seems to be back to its previous speed. Not only that, but my calendar synch is working again – with no intervention from me. Nothing else has happened that shouldn’t have, and I’m a happy bunny who is glad to have Windows 8.1 instead of 8.

Last month, I mentioned that the latest release of Windows 8 (Windows 8.1) appeared to cause problems sometimes

– see this previous blog post on Windows 8.1

Not having heard any more discouraging tales, I bit the bullet earlier this week and started the download. If you have been receiving nags from Microsoft that 8.1 is available now and that they recommend that you go for it, then be warned – it’s a big download and then it takes forever to install. I didn’t time it as I wasn’t expecting time to be an issue, but I think it must have been about three hours in all. Admittedly, it doesn’t need much intervention, so you don’t have to attend to it all the time, but don’t start the process when you’ll need the computer in a few minutes.

Should you bother upgrading to 8.1?

The rather modest new Start button

The rather modest new Start button

It does seem to me that there are improvements as to how you move around and find things. What may be more important is that the security is better than in Windows 8. I don’t pretend to be a computer security expert and I certainly don’t have the inclination to research just what security improvements have taken place in Windows 8.1. It’s enough for me to follow the common sense notion that it’s worth keeping vulnerable software up to date (eg browsers, emails programs, operating systems) wherever possible and wherever there is no reason not to. Yes, it is a bit of a hassle being without your computer for hours and having to keep checking on it to see if it’s finished the update or is waiting for some input from you.

Windows needs to be secure. We don't want to let just anyone in.

Windows needs to be secure. We don’t want to let just anyone in.

As I’ve said before, though, there are some things about computers that we just have to accept as being part of the nature of the beast. Computers and the internet give us instant access to information and people all around the world. That’s absolutely marvellous and would have been almost inconceivable longer ago than just one generation. The flipside of that same coin is that all the scumbags, ne’er-do-wells, hucksters, cheats, and slimeballs also have the same access and also see huge opportunities in all this global access and global connection.

We can’t have one without the other. Therefore, we just have to accept that security is important and that we really should take reasonable steps to keep it current. In my opinion, running the latest version of the operating system, and keeping it updated as much as possible, is a large part of the task of “taking reasonable steps”. So, as long as Windows 8.1 isn’t going to break anything or cause any other major problems, I’d recommend going for it.

What did I find on updating to 8.1?

The first thing I noticed when it had finished was that everything seemed so s—–l—–o—–w—-. Booting up, opening everyday programs such as Firefox and Outlook – it was all a pain. And then my Outlook broke. The calendar synch with Gmail (and thence to Macs and iPads, but that’s another story) stopped working and even send/receive wouldn’t work. Falling back on the timeless advice of both Douglas Adams and Corporal Jones (“Don’t Panic”), I just re-booted the machine two or three times. It definitely started getting back to normal as far as the speed was concerned. Outlook send/receive eventually came back (phheww) but the calendar synch is still broken. Maybe it’s a coincidence. I haven’t investigated yet.

So, what’s new?

Figure 1. Right-clicking on the new Start button brings up a useful menu.

Figure 1. Right-clicking on the new Start button brings up a useful menu.

Well, as promised, they’ve brought back a Start button. All it seems to do at first, though, is toggle between either the last start screen app used and the start screen itself, or between the desktop and the start screen (depending upon whether or not you’ve just been using a start screen app). As far as I can see, it’s exactly the same as the Windows key has always behaved in Windows 8. That doesn’t make it any less confusing: just no more useful. Anyway, I think the usefulness of the Start button is apparent when you right-click on it. This brings up the menu as displayed in figure 1. As you can see, a lot of these options have been brought back from the “old” start button menu – including the options to switch off. I won’t go through all these options now, except to point out that they’ve also included some of the more useful options that have always been present, but buried deep in the Control Panel – such as Power Options, Event Viewer, and System. To my mind, this Start Menu is a useful improvement.

Booting into the desktop instead of the Start Screen

If you don’t use the “Start Screen”, with all its bells and whistles and animations and stuff, and just want to go straight to the familiar territory of the desktop whenever you boot up, this is now possible with a little tweak:

  • Right-click on any empty part of the desktop taskbar (the line at the bottom of the screen that includes icons for open and “pinned” applications etc)
  • Left-click on “Properties”
  • Left-click on the “Navigation” tab
  • Tick the box next to “When I sign in… go to the desktop instead of Start” (see figure 2)
Figure 2. Tick the box to avoid the Start Screen when you boot up in future.

Figure 2. Tick the box to avoid the Start Screen when you boot up in future.

Maybe I’ve whetted your appetite – in which case, look out for the second part of this review of Windows 8.1 next week.

The newest version of Windows (8.1) was released a few days ago. Should you get it?

Windows 8.1 LogoIf you are feeling intrepid today, you could visit the Windows Store to download Windows 8.1 before it is offered in the normal course of automatic upgrades.

Aha“, you might think, “I’ve heard this is going to give me back my Start button and make Windows 8 as cosy and usable as Windows 7. Let’s do it“. Well, it might not go according to plan and it’s not quite like that anyway.

If you are going to bravely go, then please please back up your data first. I don’t recommend doing it yet, anyway, for reasons described below. But if you are going to be a trail blazer at least make sure you don’t lose any precious data if things go wrong.

Clipart - "new" - version 2So why wouldn’t you go ahead?

It seems from what I’ve been reading that there are many setups that may not upgrade successfully. These include:

  • Windows RT upgrades (Windows RT is the special version of Windows 8 that runs on Microsoft Surface tablets – see this BBC report). These problems may now be resolved – see this link.
  • Laptop upgrades where the Windows 8 is installed on a solid state drive (SSD) and the data is stored on a conventional hard drive.
  • Other laptop upgrades where the installed drivers are not compatible with Windows 8.1.

Windows Surface computer

Windows Surface computer – some wouldn’t start at all after upgrading to Windows 8.1

In some cases (particularly running Windows RT), the upgrade doesn’t just fail – the whole setup is broken. This is clearly not good news.

What to do, then?

I would recommend just waiting and avoiding the upgrade for now. I think it likely that 8.1 will soon be offered as part of the routine Windows updates. When I checked the state of pending updates on my own Windows 8 machine a few minutes ago there was just one update available – KB2885699. Investigation of this update reveals that:

“After you install this update on a computer that is running Windows 8 or Windows RT, a notification that helps you update to Windows 8.1 or Windows RT 8.1 may be displayed when you unlock or log on to the computer.”

So, it looks as if KB2885699 will usher in the update to 8.1. Don’t hold your breath, though, as Microsoft will be staggering the availability of the upgrade, so you may not even be aware that it is available for your computer for a week or two yet.

Clipart - "New"The other big reason for not hurrying to install Windows 8.1 is that it won’t do what it’s been rumoured to do – it won’t bring back the “Start” button! My understanding is that some pale imitation of the Start button will re-appear where the old one used to be, but all it will do is take you back to the “Metro” (tiled) start screen. In other words, it will do the same as hitting the windows key when in desktop mode. It will, however, have one other feature in that a right-click on this new “Start button” will present options for closing down the machine.

There is also one other noteworthy enhancement to Windows 8.1 in that it will be possible to start the machine directly into the old “desktop mode” instead of having to arrive at the desktop via the Start screen. It must have really upset Microsoft to have to give in to popular demand on this point. After all, it will mean that you can pretty well avoid the tiled interface altogether if you want to.

So, it’s tempting to dismiss all of the hype about upgrading to Windows 8.1 as a lot of fuss about very little. More than that, it would be easy to conclude that the best thing to do, for the time being, is to avoid it completely if you don’t want to run the risk of breaking your system.

For my own part, I am going to keep an eye on things every time I re-boot (which is when the option to upgrade to 8.1 is likely to make itself known), but I’m going to be very wary of proceeding when it does offer itself. It’s probably safe to say that the later the option pops up, the more safe it’s likely to be.

We can exercise a (tiny) bit of control over Microsoft programs!

Individual programs in the Microsoft Office suite (Word, Excel, Access, Outlook, PowerPoint and OneNote) have their own set of “Options” that can be used to help you to use the programs in the way that you want.

Here is a guide as to how these work by giving some examples of configuring some options in Word 2010. The 2007 and 2013 versions of Microsoft Office programs work in a similar way. If you are still using a version of Office that is older than 2007 then it would be a good idea to upgrade as older versions are inherently less secure and more likely to harbour viruses and other such nasties.

There are several ways to access the “Options” for Word. The easiest way is to select the “File” tab and then click on “Options” near the bottom of the menu. The screen that opens shows the options grouped down the lefthand side and the individual settings for the selected group of options are displayed to the right of the options menu.

Word Options

Figure 1 – Word Options

For instance, in the “General” group (see figure 1) there is an option that turns on or off the “Live Preview” throughout the use of Word. In some cases, as here, there is a small letter “i” in a circle that shows some more information about a particular option if you hover your mouse pointer over that letter “i”. “Live preview” is the feature that shows you what would happen if you actually chose the option you are currently hovering your mouse pointer over (eg the “styles” options on the “Home” tab). Some people find the “live preview” a bit confusing and intimidating, whereas others find it useful. So, here in “Options” is the ability to turn it on or off.

OK, don’t worry – I am most definitely not going to go through every item that can be changed in “Options”! Let’s just look at a few others that you might find useful in the hope that you might be encouraged to have the occasional look at “Options” to see if you can “tweak” Word to work more closely to your own wishes.

Click on the “Proofing” group (lefthand side of screen) to show the “AutoCorrect Options”. The dialog box that pops up is very useful in showing what text replacements are already configured. For instance, if you type “(c)” (without the quotes) then Word will automatically change this to the copyright symbol (a letter “c” in a circle). You can add your own replacement text in the empty boxes above the current replacement list (see figure 2).

For instance, I get niggled at having to try and remember how the word PowerPoint is capitalised to make it appear the way Microsoft would like. Therefore, I have created replacement text so that when I type “ppoint” (without the quotes), Word replaces it with “PowerPoint”. Likewise, my fingers seem to insist on typing “Microsoft” as “Microsfot”, so I have instructed “AutoCorrect” to replace the wrong spelling with the right one.

Click the “OK” button at the bottom of the dialog window if you wish to save any changes made.

Word AutoCorrect Options

Figure 2 – Word AutoCorrect Options

Also in the “proofing” group is the option to “check spelling as you type”. This is another option that seems to polarise users into those who like the program to help them out with their spelling and the others (like me) who are disproportionately indignant at the idea that a computer program could possibly have anything to teach them about spelling (especially an American program teaching us how to spell English!) Well, here is the option to turn realtime spell-checking on or off.

In the “Save” group is the option to change the “default file location”. If Word assumes that you open and save your documents from/to a different folder than your preferred one, then you can change it here. Whenever you have the option to either type in a location or “browse” to it (as here), then I would always recommend “browsing” to it as there is much less chance of making an error in specifying the location.

Also in this group is the option to change the type of file that is created by default when you save a document. There is just a chance that you may wish to save as a Word document (1997-2003) if you habitually share documents with someone using a very old version of Word (as versions earlier than 2007 can not normally read documents made in Word 2007 or later).

So, if you find that you consistently need to change a setting that Word assumes you want, it may be worth spending a few minutes scanning through “Options” to see if there is a way of changing that particular setting to the default that you would prefer.

Windows XP will not be supported, or updated, or patched by Microsoft after April 2014

Windows XP Logo - crossed outI have argued before that it will not be a good idea to run Windows XP after Microsoft cease support for it in April 2014. The main argument is quite straightforward – from the point of view of people wanting to do you harm, there will probably be so many installations of XP running after that date that it will be worth spending time and effort exploiting vulnerabilities that they know Microsoft will not be fixing.

Here’s another argument – taken directly from an official Microsoft Security Blog:

Whenever Microsoft become aware that there is a vulnerability in one of their products, they always check all other SUPPORTED Microsoft products to see if the vulnerability also exists in those other products. If it does, then it fixes the potential problem in all places at once. The reason they do this so assiduously (and not just because it is good housekeeping) is that the bad guys analyse security updates to see if they can find what it is that the update fixes, and then see if other products are affected in the same way.

Since Microsoft release the update for all products at once, the bad guys can’t use the knowledge to exploit an “unfixed” program. However, after Microsoft stop updating Windows XP then the bad guys can use knowledge gleaned from analysing updates to Windows 7 (for instance) to discover an unfixed vulnerability in Windows XP.

And this risk is by no means just hypothetical. To quote the Microsoft blog referenced above:

How often could this scenario occur? Between July 2012 and July 2013 Windows XP was an affected product in 45 Microsoft security bulletins, of which 30 also affected Windows 7 and Windows 8.

In other words, it could happen two or three times a month. And the effect will be cumulative as older vulnerabilities won’t ever be fixed.

Windows XP TombstoneI’m tempted to apologise for bringing this subject up again. After all, it probably won’t affect most of the readers of this blog as most people will be using either Mac OSX or a more recent version of Windows. But what about that old computer you’ve got in the spare bedroom on the third floor? You know, the one you boot up just occasionally when you can’t be bothered walking all the way downstairs? What about the computer you passed down the line to a family member? Are they likely to be using it next year and beyond? For all the users out there who change their computers every 2-5 years there are also plenty who don’t, as they only use their computer for the internet and don’t need the fastest and newest.

No-one knows for sure just what will happen after April 2014. Maybe nothing at all will happen (remember the Millennium Bug that turned out to be more of a damp squib?) Personally, I’m not going to risk it (unless I choose to do it on purpose on a computer completely isolated from the network of my others). However, I can just hear plenty of people saying “I’ll carry on just the same and do something about it if I have to”. But by then your data may be well and truly messed up, corrupt, missing. “OK”, you say “I’ll throw a six and start again on a new computer”. Fair enough – but be prepared to discover there are all kinds of passwords, account details, purchase histories, old correspondence, and goodness knows what else that you may have lost if your old machine has become well and truly messed up.

Viruses

Is it worth risking?

Windows Vista was released worldwide in January 2007. Lots of people still specified Windows XP on new machines after then. So let’s just estimate that any Windows XP machine is going to be no newer than, say, April 2008 (16 months after Vista was released). This means that by the time April 2014 comes around, any XP machine is likely to be six years old at the very least. Are you really going to risk all the potential problems just to prolong the life of a computer at least six years old? I don’t advise it.

PS: I do realise that many organisations were still deploying new XP installations well after the dates above, but my own IT support clients tend to be individual professionals or home users (or both). They are the readership I am addressing. Besides which, there’s an argument for saying that it’s even more important for organisations to move away from XP than individuals – even if those installations are newer.

“Recommended”, “Maybe”, and “Time for Something New”

Anyjunk

Not so long ago, I blogged about the pile of redundant and knackered stuff that has been sitting in my flat for months. I stopped driving many years ago, so I couldn’t just take this to the nearest proper place myself, and I didn’t want to presume on friendships to get it done. So I had to find a commercial solution. Well, it’s done and I’m happy to recommend the company – Anyjunk – who took it all away. They charge by volume, with the minimum being 1 cubic yard (but, no, they don’t charge in groats or £sd). They gave an estimate over the phone and we agreed a final price when they arrived.

AnyJunk logoThe final pile was a bit smaller than the one featured in my blog a few weeks ago, but it’s still a reasonable guide as to their prices. The total cost was £120. The two guys who took it away were friendly, efficent, and didn’t huff and puff about climbing up and down 53 steep stairs several times. So, Anyjunk might work out too expensive for just a few items, but if you’ve got a load to get rid of, then have a look at their website.

AVG Mis-direction

The AVG logoI used to recommend AVG Free antivirus software, but became too embarrassed at the number of my clients who fell into the many traps set by AVG to “encourage” their users to trade up from the free version to the paid one. Well, I know they’ve got a lot better, but they’re still not completely squeaky clean. I have AVG Free on my netbook and the box displayed here in Figure 1 popped up today.

AVG Program Update - figure 1

Figure 1 – AVG tell me they need to update my free program

“Here we go again”, I thought, “I’m ready for you this time, watching your every step”. So, I clicked the “update now” button. Then up pops Figure 2. I won’t go banging on again about all the nice friendly green ticks in the column they want you to go for. Suffice to say that they have put a little dot against “Ultimate Protection” at the bottom of this column. If you just click the “Next” button then you will install a trial version of the paid product. In order to update your Free product to the latest version of the Free product, click on the dot inside the red elipse I’ve put on Figure 2 and then click the “Next” button.

AVG Program Update - figure 2

Figure 2 – you must click the button in my red elipse if you want to update your existing, free, program.

Then all will be well. In fairness to AVG, they have definitely made things simpler than before. There is now only this one trap you can fall into, and if you do accidentally install a trial copy of the paid version then uninstalling it (using the standard Windows method) will prompt AVG to offer to install the free product you wanted all the time. Sharp as knives, aren’t they? Let’s hope they stay as good at antivirus protection.

Microsoft OneNote vs Evernote

Why don’t Microsoft make much fuss about their note-taking/organising software, OneNote, that is part of all the Office versions? Perhaps they don’t think very much of it. I’ve finally given up on it altogether. It’s just too tedious and idiosyncratic in how it organises the blocks of text on a page. That may sound like a minor gripe. If you think so, I challenge you to try it. It’s infuriating.

The Evernote logoSo, I have had another look at Evernote. This seems to be the only other serious program around for organising all the disparate parts of your digital life. Everything from note-taking, to picture embedding, to voice-notes, web pages. I’m sure I haven’t yet found just how much it will do, but I’m delighted by what I keep finding and I’m writing this blog on my Windows 8 PC using it now. If I want to look really cool, I can take my iPad Mini (with its Logitech keyboard, of course) and do some more work on the blog somewhere more public than my own flat.

That’s because it’ll work on all devices and the data is in the cloud, so I can get at it anywhere that my iPad has either a 3G or WiFi connection. I was initially put off Evernote as I thought it was “cloud only”. Not true: I am confident that I have a backup on my PC in a place of my choosing. I am contemplating taking out a subscription so that I can also work on my iPad or iPhone when no internet connection is available. That will also remove the ads that are (not unreasonably) earning Evernote a few bob in the free version. I’d prefer a “one time purchase”, but the main offering is the ongoing use of their servers to store the data and make it available on all devices, so I can’t blame them for preferring the subscription option.

… and Evernote has a “word count” option that tells me I’ve written 872 words (before revisions), so now I can go out to play.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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