The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for the iPad Mini

iPad Mini Logitech Keyboard Cover - WhiteI recently blogged about the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for the iPad Mini. Well, it has now arrived in the shops (John Lewis and Apple, for instance). From what I had previously read, there were some minor gripes about some keys being too small to hit automatically if you are a touch typist. Well, I’m not a touch typist and the key placement and action is everything a messy typist like me could want in a keyboard of this size. I think it’s a very real enhancement to the iPad Mini. Last week I spent a very productive 20 minutes on a train between Ilford and Liverpool Street with it on my lap, writing the beginnings of last week’s blog. As far as I am concerned, that’s 20 more minutes available to my working week. For some reason, I could never be bothered firing up a netbook for just 20 minutes, even if it had been in sleep mode in my bag. The iPad is up and running in a flash. And here I am now, writing this blog in Cafe Nerd (as my sister calls it).

The design, build and quality match the iPad itself very well and there’s one other advantage – cursor keys! The lack of cursor keys on iPads drives me bonkers. Now I can cursor up, down, left, and right, accurately positioning the cursor before adding, deleting or amending. It’s almost worth the £69.99 price for this alone!

The only minor gripe I have is that the cover doesn’t close against the iPad quite as firmly or convincingly as it’s big brother on the full-sized iPad. A couple of times I’ve taken it out of my bag to discover that it feels warm and, yes, the display is on. The auto shut-off hasn’t worked. Not a big issue, but it’s tempting to play the game of opening the fridge door to see if the light’s still on.


Computer Fairs

Computer FairA while ago, I wrote that I thought that the Tottenham Court Road Computer Fair seemed to be “dying on its feet”. I popped in two weeks ago and was told that they’ve re-introduced an admission charge. After I’d performed my Victor Meldrew Tribute Act and pointed out that there seemed to be few enough punters already without putting us off with an admission charge, I was told – perhaps inadvisedly – that the fair would have to close if the admission charge didn’t work (no, I can’t figure that one out, either). Cutting my nose off to spite my face, I refused to pay it.

I’m going back today (rather sheepishly, but I’ll hide behind my cool new shades), to see if they’re still open as I think it’s time to get some contact details from the better dealers in there. I must also get some broadband filters as they’re about a quarter the price in there that they are elsewhere. These are needed for a client with a property on several floors who has, of course, got lots of telephone points. You must have a broadband filter (also called a “splitter”) on ALL telephone points, irrespective of whether they’re connected either to a telephone handset or the incoming broadband line.

Readers’ Comments

Woman Touching iPhone to NoseI recently mentioned seeing a lady on a 37 bus operating her iPhone with her nose. This prompted a response from a reader who says that this was commonplace in Russia when the iPhone first came out. Perhaps the lady I saw was part of the Russian diaspora. She certainly looked more elegantly dressed against the cold weather than the average Londoner.

The Ted Talks LogoAnother reader responded to my mention of Ted Talks recently by suggesting that I might like to “look under the hood”. He says they have a “right-wing, US Evangelical” agenda. I agree that I have definitely seen a couple of very odd talks, but I’ve simply stopped watching them. I did a Google search to see if there is any evidence for his viewpoint. I couldn’t find any and, anyway, I would like to credit my readers with the same ability to discriminate as I credit myself with. On the other hand, I’d be the last person to wish to promote right-wing or evangelical organisations, so I’m grateful to that reader for marking my card.

Office 365Finally, I should have delved deeper into Microsoft Office 365 before writing last week’s blog. Some versions of Office 365 do include full desktop applications. This is definitely not the impression I gave last week. Sorry. I obviously need to do a lot more work unravelling the complexities of Microsoft’s new product range.

Have Microsoft released a product they don’t want us to buy?

Years ago it was usual to buy Microsoft Office “bundled in” with a new computer. You acquired the package cheaper than buying it separately but it was only licensed for that specific computer: you couldn’t transfer it to a new computer later on. Fair enough, you got it for a good price.

Office 2010 LogoThings then changed and it became the norm to buy Office separately. If you wanted the “Home and Student” version (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and OneNote) then the best option was to buy a package that explicity said on the packaging that it was licensed for three machines. This only cost about £10 more than the same package licensed for only a single machine. In both cases you could move the package to another machine(s) simply by installing on a new machine and uninstalling from the original. This was perfectly acceptable as far as the licensing was concerned and meant that you didn’t subsequently have to buy Office again when you bought a new computer.

No problem and all very reasonable – especially as the price of Office has come down considerably over the years. I remember paying about £400 for a version of Office (’95?) that came on about 26 floppy discs! Things have certainly improved since then.
Office Home and Student 2013
Anyway, back to the present.
If you are thinking of buying the new Office 2013 then be aware that Microsoft have changed the licensing. The three user package is no longer available and, much more importantly, the licence is only valid for the machine upon which the package is first installed. Initially. you could not move it to a new or different computer. This, not surprisingly, caused a bit of a to-do. What happens, you may ask, if your computer dies a month after installing your shiny new Office 2013? To start with, Microsoft made some kind of woolly-headed concession whereby they will help you out if the computer is still under warranty. This, of course, was still rubbish. They have now conceded – up to a point – and will allow you to move your Office installation, but no more often than every 90 days. How nice of them.

And what’s behind this insanity? Office 365, that’s what. Office 365 is Microsoft’s new version of Office. Instead of paying an outright price, you pay an annual subscription. And that, of course, is nirvana for a software manufacturer. Lovely jubbly. Keep the money rolling in on an annual basis instead of convincing the punter to upgrade to a newer, better, version every three to five years. What’s more, they have no costs or hassle in distributing the product. No problems in having to disseminate upgrades and bug fixes: they just change the versions on their own servers. All this is wonderful for them but means that we, the users, are losing control of the programs we buy and use.

Office 365I confess that I haven’t used either Office 2013 or Office 365 yet so I can’t comment on their merits. I’m not the only one, however, who suspects that the dreadful licensing terms on Office 2013 are there solely to hamper sales of this product in favour of its sibling. As part of my research for this article, I was looking to find Microsoft’s main web page selling Office 2013 so I tried the obvious search term “microsoft office 2013” expecting to find Microsoft’s own site come very high in the results (as you would). The first Microsoft site that comes up doesn’t even mention Office 2013 – just Office 365. So I tried narrowing the search by using the term “buy microsoft 2013”. The first three results that came up were punting Office 365. Finally, the fourth related to Office Home and Business 2013. Not for the first time, I feel as if I’m being bullied by Microsoft.

Office 2010 is still available to buy in the usual way and is a good product. However, the cheapest I can find Office Home and Student 2010 today (30/03/2013) via Amazon is £182. Unless I’m losing the plot, this is considerably more expensive than it used to be. Amazon are selling Office 2013 Home and Student at just £92.99 today. But this is definitely a case of caveat emptor. If you are tempted to go for this (single user) deal, be sure that you are happy with the licensing (that restricts its use to a single machine and is transferable to different machines no more often than every 90 days).

By the way, if you are one of the millions of happy campers still using Office 2003 then please be aware that Microsoft will cease support for this product in April 2014, at the same time that Windows XP is officially being buried. As with that product, security updates will not be issued after that date so it will become increasingly vulnerable to attack by hackers and ne’er-do-wells.

STOP PRESS: Argos are currently (30/03/2013) selling Office 2013 Home and Student for £109.99

When Microsoft released Office 2007, the new “ribbon” caused a fair amount of consternation

The ribbon is the band at the top of the screen that contains icons grouped by function. Depending on the program (Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc), there are several sets of these bands, collected into named “Tabs” (eg Insert, View).

I remember several of my own clients feeling quite overwhelmed by the amount of “stuff” on these ribbons. My general advice at the time – and it is still the same today – was to say “don’t worry too much about the stuff you don’t understand on the ribbon. Try instead to concentrate on finding the stuff that you DO want. Move from the known to the unknown.”

Quick Styles menu

The Quick Styles Menu on the Word 2007 ribbon

One area that seems to cause particular consternation is the Styles Group on the right-hand side of the Home tab of the Word program.

The reason for this minor apoplexy is fairly clear. As soon as you move your mouse over any of the “Quick Style” icons in the Styles Group, your eye is caught by changes immediately happening to your document. This tends to cause minor panic but, in fact, the document hasn’t been changed at all. The preview is just showing how the document WOULD look if the new style were to be applied (achieved by clicking, rather than just hovering over, the Quick Style icon). When you get used to the fact that these changes are just previews and not actual changes then minor panic gives way to mere confusion. ..

What are these “Quick Style icons”?

Quick Style elements

Quick Style Elements

All of the visible icons are part of one single cohesive style that is intended to cover all the different parts of the document you are currently working on. The “quick style” icons do not represent different styles. Rather, they are definitions of the style of different parts of the same document (eg headings, the main body of the document, tables, lists). If you click on the button marked by the line and downward triangle (to the right of the Quick Style icons) then all of these formatting elements are revealed.

To apply the style for a particular element, you just click anywhere in the paragraph to be changed and then click on the relevant style icon. The style of the selected paragraph is then immediately changed.

Word Styles Box

Styles Box

There is also a refinement to this in that some style aspects are applied to paragraphs, whereas others are applied to specific words. You can see which style aspect is applied to which part of the document by expanding the Style box as shown. The style aspects accompanied by “a” affect individual words, whereas the paragraph marker (that looks like a backward letter “p”) indicates that the entire paragraph will be affected.

What Are Styles Sets?

The next thing to know is that there are several inbuilt style sets that are each complete sets of the definitions of headings, the main body of the document, tables, lists etc, that look good together. These predefined sets are called Style Sets. They are accessed by clicking on the “Change Styles” button, then clicking on “Style Set” and choosing a different set.

Also, there are different sets of colours that look good together when applied to different styles. You can also choose different combinations of fonts used for headings and the body of documents. If you add the definition of a style with the definition of a set of colours and definition of the fonts that are all used together, then you get what Microsoft call a “Theme”. Themes can be applied using the relevant option on the “Page Layout” tab.

As well as using these styles and themes “as is”, we can also use them as the basis for our own tweaked versions. We can modify any aspect we wish and save the results.

If you want or need to produce documents with a professional look, then the effort required to get to grips with “Styles and Themes” will probably be recouped fairly quickly. A standard “look” and “house style” can be generated for all of an individual’s or organisation’s documents.

If that’s all too much for your needs, then just ignore the Styles Group entirely. If your mouse happens to stray over a “Quick Styles” icon and your document seems to change alarmingly, just move your mouse away. No harm will have been done.

Click on the link for a detailed article from Microsoft called Style Basics in Word.

“How on earth do you switch Windows 8 off?”

Last week’s blog looked at how the new “Start Screen” in Windows 8 replaces the old “Start Menu”. The old Start Menu was one of the main ways of launching programs and searches. It was also the way to access the button to close the computer. This week’s blog looks at how we close the machine now that we no longer have the old Start Menu with its shutdown button.

Windows 8 LogoFrom my experience with many computer clients over the years, I would say that the vast majority of my clients do want to close their computers at the end of the day. I get the distinct feeling that a lot of users experience a scintilla of relief when the screen goes black and the fan shuts down. For a lot of people, I think that closing a computer down is a bit of a ritual. It’s a marking of the end of a period of fighting with an alien force: a sign that it’s time to return to the “real” world (or maybe they are just pleased that it’s a sign that I will soon be leaving them).

Well, like it or not, the old shutdown button has gone. Microsoft don’t want us to switch the computer off. Windows 8 has been designed so that the Sleep mode is very efficient: there just isn’t any need to power the machine down when you are not using it. Putting it to sleep reduces the power requirement to a very low level and waking up from sleep is almost instantaneous.

Windows 8 Charms Bar

Windows 8 Charms Bar on an otherwise empty desktop

If you really do want to switch it off, the easiest built-in way to do it is from the Charms Bar (yes – that is really what it is called – see illustration).

To access the Charms Bar:

  • Touchscreen – swipe inwards from the right edge of the screen
  • Mouse – point at the top or bottom corner of the screen at the right edge
  • Keyboard – depress the Windows key and, while it is down, type the letter “c”

Then

  • Click on the “Settings” cog wheel
  • Click on the “Power” icon
  • Click the desired shutdown action

Windows Shutdown IconIf you find that rigmarole a bit of a pain, then here is a method for creating a desktop shortcut that immediately closes the machine. This is not a complete replacement for the old method as it doesn’t offer options for re-starting etc., but if you just want to make sure your computer is switched off before getting back to the real world, then this is how to create the shortcut:

  • Go to an empty part of the desktop (ie a part where there are no icons) and right-click your mouse
  • Look down the menu that pops up and left-click on the option labelled “new”
  • Left-click on the option marked “shortcut”
  • In the space below the text “Type the location of the item” enter the following text:
    C:\Windows\System32\shutdown.exe /s /t 0
  • Click “Next”
  • Enter a name (eg “quick shutdown”)
  • Click “Finish”

You can change the icon of the new shortcut as follows:

  • right-click on the new shortcut
  • Left-click on the “properties” option
  • If necessary, click on the “shortcut” tab at the top of the window
  • Left-click on the “change icon” button
  • A warning message will pop up that there are no other icons available in that file. Just click on “OK” and a whole bunch of different icons from different places will be offered. Just click on one to highlight it
  • Click on the “OK” buttons until all windows are closed


Voila
– you have your own “shutdown” shortcut. You can drag it onto the taskbar so that it is always available while you are in “desktop mode”.

Sleepin LaptopAfter a few week of using Windows 8, I have to say that I think too much fuss is being made of the demise of the Start button. It’s probably true, though, that the main reason I don’t miss it very much is that I never turn my computer off. It goes to sleep at night (just like I do), and wakes up really quickly in the morning by opening the lid (just like I don’t).

You may be thinking of buying a new PC and be wondering how you will get on with Windows 8

Windows 95 Start Button

Window 95 Start Button

In particular, you may have heard that Microsoft have done a strange thing by removing the “Start” button. This has been a part of Windows since the introduction of Windows 95 (was that really 18 years ago?) I remember the first time I encountered Windows 95 and my irritation at not being able to find any way of closing it nicely. Surely I can not be the only person who found it completely ridiculous that the option to “close” would be found within a button marked “start”! Anyway, we all got used to the Start button and a lot of users are rather upset that it’s gone.

It appears that people are missing two main things:

  • The ability to launch programs and system items from the Start menu
  • The ability to switch off the computer from the Start menu

So let’s deal with the first of these:

After a couple of weeks of “real” use of Windows 8, I find the tiled “Start Screen” irritating and pointless. If I want “apps” I’ll reach for my beautiful, light, well-behaved iPad Mini or maybe even my iPhone. So, the first thing I always do when I start Windows 8 is to click on the “Desktop” tile and get back to familiar territory.

If, however, I think of the Start Screen as being a replacement and evolution of the Start Menu (instead of a “re-imagining of Windows ” as Microsoft would like us to think), then things get better. Remember, for instance, the “search” box in the Start menu of Windows 7? Well, just click on the Windows key to go to the Start Screen and you can just type in the first few characters of any installed program to launch it. Once you get used to it, this is far quicker than searching through the old “desktop” for a particular icon. It works just like the “search” box in the Start menu of Windows 7. The key is to think of the “Start Screen” as being a replacement for the “Start Menu”. Just get used to accessing it with the Windows key instead of clicking on a Start button.

To illustrate, I am writing this blog in OneNote. If I now wish to launch, for instance, Adobe Acrobat (assuming that there’s no shortcut pinned to the taskbar) then I just hit the Windows key, type “acr” and the Enter key. That’s just five keystrokes. Let’s try another one. I can launch Opera by hitting the Windows key followed by “op” and the Enter key. Just four keystrokes. No Start button needed and no hunting through an insane confusion of desktop icons.

What about system utilities? No problem: the good old Control Panel is accessible by just typing the Windows key, “co”, and Enter.

Windows 8 Start Screen Icon

Start Screen Tile

There is an alternative way to access the Start Screen and that is to aim your mouse cursor at the bottom lefthand corner of the screen and click when a little “Start Screen Tile” appears. Don’t make the mistake of trying to move your cursor over the top of the tile before clicking as that will just make the tile disappear. Very annoying. So, just head for the corner of the screen and click as soon as the tile appears.

Directing search results to installed apps

When you start typing anything from the Start Screen you will see that the Windows search options that pop up are far more sophisticated than I suggest here. You can type your search term and then choose to narrow your results to “Apps”, “Settings” or “Files”. There are also a host of other places whither you can direct your search. For instance, I typed “cla” into the search box and then clicked on an app I have installed called “London Tube Map”. My search was then directed specifically to that app and the results returned were Clapham Common, Clapham North, etc. Clicking on one of these then displayed the tube map with the chosen station bleeping away at me. This was just for the purpose of illustration, of course. I’m afraid my mind really has decided that “apps” are for an iPad or Android tablet, and that “applications” are “proper” programs for a laptop or desktop.

Windows Key

Windows key – aka “winkey”

Maybe I can be lured away in time by Microsoft’s attempts to get us to view both “desktop” and “smartphone/tablet” app(lication)s on one device, but I must agree with what seems to be the prevailing opinion so far – Windows 8 is a bit clunky as a result of merging a desktop operating system with a mobile/tablet one. For the time being at least, I am choosing to view Windows 8 as being “desktop based” and the new “tiled apps” as a bit of nonsense. And I’m not going to be seduced by Microsoft’s (presumably intentional) use of the word “apps” to include both proper “applications” and mobile “apps”.

But, to return to the main topic of the missing Start button, I found that as soon as I started to think of the Start Screen as a very big replacement for the Start menu (instead of being the main way to use my computer) then I started to progress in using Windows 8. I’m still “desktop focused” and I’ve quickly learned to access the Start Screen with the Windows key (aka “winkey”) instead of aiming for a missing Start button.

Next week I’ll look at the other main gripe about the lack of a Start button in Windows 8 – and that is the lack of a “shutdown” button within it. And just in case I can’t convince you that you don’t need it, I’ll show you how to create a shortcut for your desktop that will let you shut the computer down with a single click.

Have you noticed the “casual dishonesty” by commercial enterprises on their websites?

Cartoon robber stealing away from laptopWe all know – I hope – that there are some out-and-out villains trying to deceive us online, but many otherwise highly-regarded organisations also appear to be “ethically challenged” online.

You can sign out if you are not you

Take Amazon, for example. If you want to sign out of your Amazon account you need to click on the link at the top of any Amazon page that says “Hello, David, your account” (assuming, of course, that, like me, you are called David). The option that allows you to sign out is at the bottom of the menu that pops up. But it doesn’t say “sign out”, it says “Not David? Sign out”.

Amazon Sign Out Option

The Amazon sign-out. The only way to sign out is to pretend not to be David

The way that I read this is that this option is only for use by someone other than me. Is there any other interpretation that can be put on this? Hence, if I’m a bit overwhelmed by all this stuff I might not want to use this option to sign myself out and might look in vain for an alternative way of doing it. No doubt Amazon would say that they give an option to sign out. My guess is that their weasely wording just nudges the “sign out” rate down a smidgeon, so they can gather even more information from people who have failed to find the non-existent unambiguous sign-out option.

Go, Don’t Go

Green Button

Is this the nice, friendly, button …

A favourite trick is to style the button they want you to click as a green one, and the one they don’t want you to click on as a red one. This looks incredibly crass once you’ve spotted it, but I suppose that the whole point is that you don’t spot it: you only apply a part of your attention to what you are doing and the green button looks safe and suggests “go ahead, this is the safe way forward”. So, the green button is likely to represent “upgrade to the paid version” and the red button means “stick with the free version”.

Red Button

… or is this the one you were looking for?

You wanted to continue with the free version, but before you know it you’ve clicked on the green button and you’re on your way to paying for it.

The Microsoft Upgrade Assistant

I was thrown off balance last week by what semed like similar behaviour by Microsoft. They very helpfully provide a Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant so that you can check to see what problems (or “issues” as everyone calls them these days) you might encounter if you upgrade your existing operating system to Windows 8.

The Upgrade Assistant analyses your current setup and then gives you a report. This divides the results into two sections. The first section is headed “For you to review” and the second section is headed “Compatible”. Included in the first section of my report was an entry with a yellow icon of a “warning triangle” and the text “paid update available”. Given that other items in that section had red crosses and text such as “go to the app website for help”, I think I can forgive myself for believing that Microsoft were telling me that I had to pay for a newer version of the (Microsoft!) product flagged with the yellow warning triangle.

I actually ran the Upgrade Assistant twice on different days. Perhaps I was hoping for a second opinion. Not surprisingly, it gave the same result on both occasions. I decided to bite the bullet as it’s time I got to grips properly with Windows 8 and the only way to do that is to use it for real on my main computer.

Guess what? The “flagged” item runs perfectly happily with Windows 8 (as does almost everything else). No paid update needed. For a few minutes I felt a bit of a ‘nana for letting myself be misled like this. Then I remembered that Microsoft – like all the other major web presences who are trying to lead us by the nose down paths that they choose – are paying lots of intelligent people to tweak web pages to the nth degree so as to get the very best response rates. Why would those people care too much about pushing the boundaries of ethical standards? They’re not standing in front of the end user, looking them in the eye and telling a barefaced lie. No, they’re sitting in front of their computers, tweaking their web designs so as to squeeze out the very last fraction of a percentage point of “response rate” or whatever it is they’re seeking to maximise. Or am I just being too cynical – again?

The end of Windows XP. Should you panic? Can you ignore it? And what does “support”mean anyway?

Windows XP LogoWell, if you are not a user of XP, you can ignore the news. But if your system is in the 14% of all systems in the UK still using it (as at November 2012), then you’ll have to wake up to reality some time in the next few months.

“Mainstream Support” for Windows XP ended in 2009. Since that time, we have been in what Microsoft calls “Extended Support”. During this phase the only changes to XP are those called “security updates”. These are the changes needed to keep up with new security threats as they crop up when the villains out there find new ways to exploit weaknesses in Windows XP. At the beginning of April 2014 Microsoft will stop fighting new threats to XP. They will no longer update XP to ensure that it is safe to use. In computer jargon, Microsoft will cease to support XP. Source.

What does it mean to “support” something in computer terms?

If we just look at a manufacturer “supporting” its own product, then it means that it will continue to make necessary changes (to remove bugs, for instance) and that you should be able to get help from the manufacturer if that product has a problem. So, if MegaBrill Software announces that it is no longer supporting MegaBrill 2002 it means that you are on your own if you still use that version. It doesn’t mean that the program immediately stops working.

Windows XP FlagIf we look at how products interact, then “support” means that the software was specifically designed to work with whatever it claims to “support”. It also means that the program will be tweaked and updated to cater for the changes and updates to whatever it is supporting (Windows XP, in this case). So, if MegaBrill Software say that MegaBrill 2009 supports Windows XP then you can expect it to work on a system running Windows XP. It’s just possible that the two items would work together without official “support” but if anything goes wrong then there would be no help available from the manufacturer. It could also mean that the version of the program you have been using may work with something else now, but that a newer version won’t.

So, if you have been using Megabrill 2009 quite happily with Windows XP and you decide to upgrade it to the latest version – MegaBrill 2013 – you may find that it won’t run with your Windows XP. You might then find in Megabrill’s product information that MegaBrill 2013 only supports Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8. This means that it probably won’t work with your XP. In the computer jargon, “MegaBrill 2013 does not support Windows XP”.

You may encounter the same problem if you buy a new piece of equipment such as a printer. It may not support Windows XP. If you think about it, it makes sense. If the printer manufacturer is bringing out a new product in 2013, why spend time and money to make it work with an operating system (Windows XP) that is not going to be supported by Microsoft beyond Spring 2014?

More and more software and hardware will cease support for Windows XP as they release new versions of their products. Again, why would they spend time and money making sure that their software works with an operating system that it will become increasingly dangerous to use. So, an existing piece of software that you have that currently works with XP may become “unupdateable”. It will also mean, of course, that XP users will not be able to use brand new software as that new software will not have been written to be used with XP right from the start of that software’s life.

Windows XP StickerApart from software compatibility problems, Windows XP will become increasingly unsafe to use after April 2014 as the bad guys find new ways to exploit XP in order to mess up your system, extort money from you, steal data, and so forth. They may even increase their efforts to exploit XP and its users. For a while there will be a lot of opportunity for them as they know that their efforts to undermine XP will not be counteracted by Microsoft. Likewise, they will know that it may be worth spending some time and effort exploiting programs that stop supporting XP as they know that XP users will continue to use the vulnerable, unupdated versions of those programs.

There are going to be a lot of people affected by the withdrawal of support for Windows XP by Microsoft. In November 2012, Windows XP was still being used by over a quarter of all computers worldwide. Even in the UK, Windows XP is still the operating system on 14% of systems – more than the figure of 12% for Mac OSX (the operating system for Mac desktop and laptop computers). Source.

So, if you are still using windows XP, there’s no need to panic but it really would be a good idea to start thinking about replacing it. If you are still using XP then it’s almost certain that the hardware you are using it on should also be replaced. My guess would be that the hardware is at least five years old (as that was when Vista was released. So, even if you are a “light” home user who doesn’t need to be at the cutting edge of dekstop/laptop technology, I reckon you’ve had your money’s worth out of that computer and it’s time to move on. For what it’s worth, I advise my own computer clients that four years is long enough to expect a “business” computer to last and five years for a home user.

It’s a whole year since I was congratulating myself on a whole year’s worth of weekly blog posts

2 candles on a calendarSo, what’s the same and what’s changed in the last year? To begin with, an update on the items I mentioned a year ago

Microsoft Security Essentials

I had recently introduced MSE as the antivirus program on my main computer. It’s behaved perfectly in the year since then. No viruses, no dramas, no complaints. It’s free, unobtrusive, and has a reasonable reputation for doing its job properly. I can’t imagine why I would want Norton, McAfee, Kaspersky or any of the other paid-for, bloated, antivirus programs.

AVG Free Antivirus

I said a year ago that I’d stopped recommending this as their marketing tactics (in leading users of the free product to upgrade to the paid product) had become too aggressive. They must have been listening to complaints such as mine as one client asked me this year to backtrack their system from the accidental installation of the paid version, and AVG offered to reinstate the free version that the client had previously been using. This is an improvement. Apart from the their marketing tactics, my experience of AVG Free antivirus had always been positive.

Zen Internet

Zen keep on winning awards for the best ISP. If price is the most important aspect of your broadband provision then I recommend investigating PlusNet as their support is also based in the UK. If you just want the best service and think it’s worth paying to make sure you get it, then I would continue to recommend Zen. In all the support calls I’ve made to ISPs on behalf of clients in the last 12 months I’ve seen nothing to suggest that the likes of BT, Talk Talk, AOL, Virgin, have done anything at all to improve the service they provide when something goes wrong with their broadband service.

What else has changed in the last year?

Dropbox

Dropbox logoDropbox is a cloud-based storage system that allows you to synchronise content between your different computers, access your content from other computers, and share folders (and their contents) with other people. It’s gained a really strong foothold over the last year or two and there are “apps” for other devices (such as iPhones and Android devices) that give you access to the contents of your Dropbox folders on those devices. Plenty of other apps are now also allowing you to share their data between your different computers/devices by using Dropbox. Dropbox doesn’t give you the most free space of the cloud-based storage systems. If you need lots of free space, look at Google Drive or Box or Microsoft’s SkyDrive. It does seem, though, that Dropbox is the most prevalent of the cloud storage services. If the initial 2gb of free space is not enough, you can either pay for more space or “earn” more space by recommending new users and/or jumping through other hoops that Dropbox offer you. Click here to get your free Dropbox account (and you’ll earn both yourself and me more free space if you use this link!)

Windows 8

Windows 8 LogoWindows 8 has just been released. It’s too soon to say how it’s being received but the predictions were that it might just not succeed in combining the requirements of touchscreen devices (such as tablets) with the requirements of a “proper”, keyboard and mouse, system. From what I’ve seen of it so far I think it might be OK.

I was thinking that it might be time to install it on my main machine, so I ran Microsoft’s Upgrade Assistant to see if any problems were anticipated. I was quite surprised to find that Windows 8 claims not to be compatible with Microsoft’s Access 2007 (although other modules in the 2007 version of Office appear to be ok). Life starts to get a bit complicated at this point as Office 2013 is expected to be released in the first quarter of 2013. So would people in my position upgrade to Access 2010 now or wait for Access 2013?

If it wasn’t for the fact that I need to get a grip on Windows 8 in order to help out my computer support clients then I’d let sleeping dogs lie for the time being. Another reason for waiting a while is that iTunes for Windows is not currently compatible with Windows 8. I think that most of my clients would only need to think about Windows 8 if they are going to buy a new machine. At the moment, if you buy a new Windows 7 machine you can upgrade to Windows 8 later for just £15, and maybe that would be the simplest decision to take for now. However, if you are thinking of buying a new Windows 8 machine then I would definitely run the upgrade assistant on your present setup to see if any other software will need to be upgraded or replaced.

Every time a new version of Windows is imminent, people who are thinking of buying a new computer ask the same question: is it better to wait until the new version is released so that the new computer will be up-to-date?

There used to be so many people pondering this question that it seriously affected computer sales in the months leading up to the release of a new version of Windows. Microsoft dealt with this problem in a very sensible way in the run-up to Windows 7: they offered a free upgrade to the new version when it became available. So, people carried on buying computers with Vista, knowing that it would be relatively simple – and free – to upgrade to Windows 7 when it became available. As well as being able to buy a new computer without being disadvantaged by a near-obsolete operating system, this also meant that the buyer could wait a while before taking the plunge into Windows 7. In other words, they could let other people do the “real world testing” before taking the plunge. In the meantime, they had the use of their new machine (albeit with the much-reviled “Vista”).

Windows 8 LogoWe are expecting Windows 8 to be released some time in the autumn (probably) and Microsoft has just announced a similar offer. This time, however, there is a $14 charge for the upgrade (I’m not sure if that’s also the exact price we’ll see in the UK). It will upgrade from any version of Windows 7 to the best version of Windows 8 – Windows 8 Professional. Microsoft say this on their blog

… starting on June 2nd, 2012, Microsoft will roll out the Windows Upgrade Offer in 131 markets including the US and Canada. Consumers who purchase eligible Windows 7 PCs that are preinstalled with Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, or Ultimate and include a matching and valid OEM Certificate of Authenticity through January 31, 2013 will be able to purchase an upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for $14.99 (U.S.) which will be redeemable when Windows 8 is generally available (the program expires in February 2013).

Windows 8 (screenshot 1)However, the decision to buy a new machine immediately is not as easy as it was when Windows 7 was imminent. Windows 8 includes a lot more functionality for interacting with a desktop or laptop computer in the same way that we interact with a smartphone or tablet computer. In other words, there’s going to be less typing and mouse-clicking, and more “flicking” and “tapping” and “swiping” of the screen. Touchscreens for Windows computers have been around for some time, but they are still not the norm and the “trackpad” on laptops is also not yet working optimally with this new way of interacting with the computer. Microsoft are currently working on this with Synaptics (the company who write the software that makes the trackpad work on laptops).

You may or may not wish to consider all this new “flicking” and “swiping” when thinking about buying a new desktop computer or laptop. Even if you do wish to consider it, we’re not yet sure just how good it’s going to be in practice. But we know that Windows 8 will not require any more sophisticated hardware than Windows 7, so all of the touchscreen stuff mentioned above is an optional alternative to the mouse or keyboard. In other words, you could just ignore all of this and use Windows 8 in the same way as you currently use XP, Vista or 7.

Windows 8 (screenshot 2)So, it appears that with Windows 8, Microsoft are trying to bring together the two different worlds of screen-based interaction and keyboard/mouse interaction. I can’t yet offer an opinion as to how good this is, but I’m sure you can already find many different opinions by doing a bit of googling (a word that is now in the OED – “search for information about (someone or something) on the Internet, typically using the search engine Google“).

You could judge Windows 8 for yourself by downloading the newly-available “Release Preview”. It’s meant to be fully functional and it’s completely free of charge. Be careful, though, as you can not easily go back to your previous operating system without re-installing it from scratch from recovery media. I would very definitely advise installing it on a different machine than your “normal” one. If you wish to install the Release Preview onto a separate partition of your hard drive, then it can be done by installing it from an iso image that can be downloaded from here.

Click here to read more about Windows 8 and the upgrade offer.

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

Microsoft Security Essentials

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

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

AVG Antivirus

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

Zen Internet

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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