How do you move the focus between open windows? There are several ways to do this, but I’ve noticed during one-to-one computer training sessions that most people are only aware of the method they already use. It could be, of course, that you are already using the method that suits you best, but let’s look at the options.

The Slowest Way

The very slowest way to move between open windows is to minimise one window and then restore the one you want next. “Minimising” is achieved by clicking on the “dash” icon in the top righthand corner of the window. This shrinks the window to just a name and/or icon and places it on the bottom row of the screen (known as the “Taskbar”). Clicking on a different icon on the taskbar will “restore” that window and make it the current one (ie the one in which the action will take place if you click the mouse or hit a key). A bit of computer advice: if this is how you are moving between windows then it will almost certainly pay you to learn a different method. Read on…

Better Than The Slowest Way

Just omit the “minimise” action in the method above. As soon as you click on an item in the Tasbar it will pop up and become the current window. The previously current window will then “move backwards” – probably out of sight. It can be recalled to the front just by clicking on its icon/thumbnail in the taskbar.

Escape Key (esc)The taskbar, by the way, is the row of easily-accessible icons presented at the edge of the screen. It is usually shown at the bottom of the screen but if you’re bored and looking for something to do you can click on a vacant part of it (ie a part where there are no icons) and drag it to a different edge of your screen. Something that’s marginally more useful to know about the taskbar is that you can make it bigger so as to accommodate more items. Very slowly move your mouse pointer over the inside edge of the taskbar (ie at the margin between the taskbar and the rest of the screen) and you will see the mouse pointer change to a double-headed arrow. When this happens you can then drag the edge of the taskbar inwards to give room for a second – or even third – row of icons. “Dragging”, by the way, means depressing the left mouse button and then moving the mouse (while the left button is still down).

A Very Popular Way – Alt Tab

Tab KeyDepress the key marked “Alt” (usually on the bottom row of the keyboard) and, while it is pressed, hit the “tab” key. The tab key is usually to the left of the “Q” key.

A display will pop up of all the open windows. In Windows XP and Vista the display will be of icons representing the open windows. In Windows 7 there are thumbnail views of the windows themselves and the “backdrop” of the screen you are looking at displays the currently selected window. Whichever operating system you are using, keep the Alt key down and press the Tab key several times. You will see a frame moving between the icons/thumbnails. As soon as you let go of the “Alt” key the currently selected (“framed”) program will come to the fore.

A Rather Silly Way – Windows Flip

Windows KeyIn Windows Vista and Windows 7, pressing the Windows key (usually on the bottom row of the keyboard and marked by some kind of representation of the Windows logo) and then the Tab key will pop up an angled view of the open Windows, stacked one in front of another. Repeated pressing of the Tab key moves different windows to the top of the stack. Letting go of the Windows button will then focus on whichever window is at the top of the pile.

Control Key (ctrl)If you want to get even sillier, hitting the Control key (usually marked “Ctrl”) at the same time as the Windows key, and then hitting the Tab key, will bring up the same 3-D view but it stays put if you let go of all the keys. You can then point the mouse and click on whichever Window you want. Apart from the fact that you have to hit 3 different keys at the same time, you also have to grab the mouse, work out which window you want, and then click on it. Thank you, Microsoft.

Often The Quickest Way – Alt Esc

Alt KeyIf you depress the “Alt” key, and keep it down, then repeated presses of the “Esc” key (usually in the top lefthand corner of the keyboard) will take you from one open window to the next. As soon as you see the window you want just let go of the Alt key.

When I am providing computer support and training I try to avoid jargon that doesn’t mean anything to normal people. Nevertheless, we can’t avoid new concepts when learning about computers and some of these entail words with specific meanings. It really is worth getting to grips with concepts and words such as taskbar, minimising, maximising, open windows.

Although this blog is about moving efficiently between open windows, it describes uses of several different keys that aren’t the standard letters and numbers. If you’d like to know more about the different parts of the keyboard you might like to look at these previous blogs:

Of Toggles And Missing Favorites 
Basic Keyboard Shortcuts 
What Are The Function Keys For? 
More Key Explanations 

Remote Support may be suitable for this topic

F11 keyI often say, when delivering computer training, that it’s not worth trying to learn all the keyboard shortcuts that you come across as there are just too many of them. However, I recommend noting new ones from time to time and seeing if they’re worth committing to memory. Here’s one such – the F11 key “toggles” the full-screen mode when using a browser in Windows (except when using Safari – which is a Mac program).

I’ll explain that bit by bit:

    • The function keys are those at the top of the keyboard numbered F1 – F12. They perform different functions in different places and in different programs. See my blog on Function Keys for further information.
    • A browser is the program that you use to view web pages. The most popular browsers are Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and Safari. See my blog on browsers for further information.
    • Normally, when you are looking at a web page, a fair proportion of the screen is taken up with toolbars, status bar, taskbars and the like. You may be doing far more scrolling up and down to see the content of the web page itself than you would like. Hitting the F11 key maximises the size of the window and hides all the un-necessary stuff – leaving you to concentrate on the web page itself. Hitting the F11 key again puts the window back to the way it had previously looked.
    • A “toggle” switch is a bit of computer jargon that you may come across from time to time. It means a switch that is operated in the same way irrespective of its current setting. Imagine a light switch in the form of a cord. If the light is off and the cord is pulled then the light goes on. If the light is on and the cord is pulled then the light goes off. This, therefore, is a toggle switch. You pull the cord and the light changes its current state. So, in the case of the F11 button, repeatedly hitting it while viewing a web page turns the full-screen view on and off.

    Clipart star
    Internet Explorer 9 Favorites

    Two clients asked me for computer support this week after their favorites disappeared following an upgrade to Internet Explorer 9. If you can’t find yours, don’t panic – they’re there. It’s just that Microsoft is following the trend of making their browser look less cluttered. Look for the cluster of three icons at the top righthand corner of the screen. It looks like this:

    IE9 Favorites Icon

    The middle icon of these three is for Favorites. If you click on the star it will open a window with your Favorites displayed. This is a toggle switch so clicking on the star again will hide them again.

    If you are also missing your Favorites Bar (that used to display your favorite links across the top of the screen), then you can set this to display – as well as other items – by clicking on the relevant option that pops up if you right-click on the star icon. Just to emphasise that – you RIGHT-click on the star to display the toolbar options menu. The menu that pops up is like this:

    Menu of options for displaying IE9 Favorites

    Select or de-select the various bars by clicking on them (yet more toggles). Items that are currently being displayed have a tick next to them.

    In fact, the way that the Favorites works in IE9 is very similar indeed to the way that it works in Firefox 6, except that Firefox calls them Bookmarks (which does have the merit of not upsetting pedantic Brits like me who were taught how to spell properly).

A lot of business users and home computer users automatically turn to Microsoft Word every time they want to create text that needs to be saved. Word is a great fully-featured “word processing package” but using it often seems like using a sledge-hammer to crack a walnut, and it doesn’t necessarily offer a good solution in terms of organising snippets of information and finding them again in a hurry. Indeed, a lot of people would argue that Word has now become too clever and complicated for its own good, confusing average users with a plethora of options while not answering the real-world needs of data storage and retrieval.

Think, for example, of wanting to record notes about household things such as car maintenance records, or recipes, or anything else where you want to record information that you might just need to find again in the future. It seems to me that the trick is to make it as easy as possible to do the recording while, at the same time, making it as easy as possible to find something in, say, a year’s time.

Let’s take this a bit further by adding the possibility of including images (including screen captures), links to web pages, and links to files on your own computer. What we are beginning to see now is not just a program for recording text but an entire “information management system”.

Microsoft does have its own program for this kind of need. It’s called OneNote and it’s included in all Microsoft Office packages. However, in all the years that I’ve been providing computer support in London I have never heard a single client mention it. I’ve been testing it for myself for the last three months or so. If I decide it’s worth using I’ll write a blog post on it, but I have to say that so far I’m finding it a bit irritating and possibly resource-hungry. On the other hand, it does seem quite powerful and useful.

In the meantime, the program I use for this kind of thing is one called “Treepad”. Indeed, I write these blog posts using Treepad and then copy and paste them onto my website. The reasons for using Treepad in this context are:

  • I can concentrate on creating the text without worrying about formatting etc.
  • I can easily drop images into the text that I might want to include in the blog post.

I also use Treepad for all kinds of computer technical notes that I may never need again or that I might just need one day. I have found that the really important thing is that the effort of writing down and saving information like this is only repaid if it’s easy to find it again. That also means that it has to be easy to do the recording. Treepad is excellent in these respects.

Treepad - showing the tree and part of an article

Figure 1 - Treepad - showing the tree structure on the left and part of an article (the contents of a node) on the right

Treepad is basically a text manager that allows you to organise content in a “tree structure”. On the left of the screen is the structure, and on the right is the content of the particular “node” that is currently selected. Nodes can be “nested” inside nodes in much the same way that Windows organises folders within folders (see Figure 1). By the by, you can see from the top of Figure 1 that I keep my Treepad files in my Dropbox folder so that they are always available on all my computers – see my blog about Dropbox.

But it is not only text that can entered into a node. We can also paste images, hyperlinks to programs or data files on the same computer, hyperlinks to websites, and links to other nodes in the same Treepad data file. It’s very easy to use and it’s powerful.

The only major gripe that I have with Treepad is that there is no inbuilt “tagging”. By that, I mean the ability to define each node as belonging to one or several user-defined “definitions” or “groups”. For instance, I might want to tag the content of nodes with “computer support London” or “silver surfer pc training” or “one-to-one computer training” or “blog ideas” so that all nodes with one or more specific tags can be selected easily. This is not absolutely critical, though, as there is a search routine, so I try to remember to add the words that I would like to treat as tags to the top line of the content of nodes. If I then search for a specific word it will list all nodes that include that word.

Treepad search results

Figure 2 - Treepad Search Results

Figure 2 shows the results of searching my Treepad file for “AVG”:

I can then click on any selected node to see it in its entirety.

Treepad is available in several versions. There is a free version so it costs nothing except a bit of time to give it a try. If you are the sort of person who is forever mislaying bits of information that you think should be easily accessible on your computer then it could pay you to have a look at it. I’ve been using the “Business” version for several years.

I started looking at Microsoft’s OneNote because it appears to be a more sophisticated program (you can scan documents directly into OneNote for instance), but I find its text handling a bit, shall we say, idiosyncratic (ie annoying) so I don’t know yet whether I would recommend it. Treepad is beginning to look a bit long in the tooth but it’s easy to use and repays the minimal effort required to use it.

I’m going to have a look at how good Treepad might be as a password manager program as I know that most of my IT clients do not have a simple, effective, consistent way of storing these and could do with a bit of well-aimed computer advice on the subject. Watch this space….

Remote Support may be suitable for this topic

Yes, personal computing is 30 years old. The IBM 5150 was launched in August 1981. It wasn’t the first self-contained desktop computer: IBM had been producing them since the mid 1970’s. This one, however, was much cheaper and it sold by the bucketload.

The idea of devolving control of computers to the actual user of the data seemed quite revolutionary. I was in Marketing Management at the time and it was the realisation that I could soon be using a computer to provide me with marketing information derived from sales information, customer information and so forth, that led me off to Manchester to study Systems Analysis and Design. Not everyone bought into the idea so quickly, though. For a long time there were a lot of managers (male) who wouldn’t touch a computer on their desk as they associated them with typewriters and typewriters, of course, were used by (female) secretaries and not by (male) managers. At this time I think everyone thought of the PC as something for business users. The home computer user hadn’t really been invented yet. Lots of people had BBC and Sinclair computers, but these were thought of as games machines and “educational tools”.

IBM 5150 Personal ComputerYou can’t tell by looking at it but the IBM 5150 weighed a ton. The screen, the monitor, and the keyboard were all extremely solid and heavy. No colour, no internet, no USB ports, no music, no Windows, not even a mouse. Even then, though, we had word processing (eg WordStar and WordPerfect), spreadsheets (eg Supercalc and Lotus 1-2-3), and database systems (eg dBase and others). I spent my first years in computing developing database applications using a program called Everyman.

Note the twin floppy disc drives on the photograph. The 5.25 inch removable and changeable floppy discs that went into these drives had to hold everything – operating system, programs, and data. Some machines only had one floppy drive – and the earliest discs only had a capacity of 160kb.

The “operating system” is the programming that controls the actual programs and data, and makes it all play nicely with the physical hardware. The most common operating system in those days was “MS-DOS”. IBM did a deal with the creators of “MS-DOS” (Microsoft) to use their own version of this (called “PC-DOS”) in IBM personal computers. The operating system designated the floppy drives as “a:” and “b:”. When hard drives came along the operating system – naturally – used “c:” as the letter to designate the hard drive. Life’s got a lot more complicated since then but almost all Windows computers still use “c:” to designate the first (or only) hard drive and then other devices (such as DVD drives, USB pen drives) are allocated letters further down the alphabet.

A single jpg photo from a modern but ordinary 7 mega-pixel camera is probably going to be about 1.8mb in size (say, 2000kb). Therefore, one single photo from an average digital camera in 2011 is about 5-6 times the size of the entire disc space available to the first PCs (which may have had to contain, remember,the operating system, the program and the data all on one disc).

Olivetti M21 Transportable Personal ComputerMy own first proper computer (let’s not count my Sinclair ZX81 – great fun and very instructive but no business tool) was an Olivetti M21. This was designated as a “transportable” because the screen and system unit were integral and the keyboard clipped to the front. I had a mid-engined Fiat X1.9 at the time and the Olivetti would just – but only just – fit in the luggage space under the bonnet so that I could carry it around for onsite computer support. There wasn’t any room left to carry anything else. If I had a passenger they had to nurse my briefcase on their lap. I did try to carry the M21 on the tube once or twice, and that probably explains why my knuckles now hang rather close to the ground. Officially called a “transportable” computer, it was more often known as a “luggable”. At 15kg, it weighed about as much as 6 or 7 modern 15inch laptops – and you also had to carry boxes of floppies, the mains cable and adaptor, manuals etc. All this and no internet! I can’t imagine that in those days I ever thought of possibilities like remote computer support, but I do remember having a modem and some sort of online connection as far back as about 1984 or 1985.

Red Fiat X1.9 sports car

Completely gratuitous picture of a Fiat X1.9

The screen on the Olivetti M21 was just 9 inches across the diagonal (as all screens are measured). The whole machine measured 40 x 32 x 10 cm. Like the IBM 5150, my M21 started off with twin floppy drives (but we had, at least, progressed to 360kb discs by then). It was a huge milestone in my computer consultancy career when I bought a hard drive from a client when we upgraded him to a bigger drive on his Olivetti M24. We still argue about just how big those drives were, but they were either 5mb upgraded to 10mb or 10mb to 20mb. A good, big drive today is 2 terabytes (approx 2,000,000 mbytes) so a modern drive is 100,000 times the size of a drive from 1984.

My M21 cost about £2000 in 1983 or 1984. Together with a printer (a Panasonic dot-matrix) and some essential software, my first “system” came to about £3000. That’s about £8000 in today’s terms. Hmm, maybe that iPad wouldn’t be such an expensive luxury after all.

Many people have Microsoft Office but have never used the spreadsheet application (Excel) that is part of it. Every now and again someone asks me what a spreadsheet is, so I’d like to give an overview. This is not a tutorial for financial or computer geeks: it’s just to give you an idea of whether you think spreadsheets could be worth investigating further.

A spreadsheet is a computer application that stores and calculates text and figures on documents that are like sheets of paper divided into rows and columns. These “sheets of paper” can then be saved in much the same way as Word documents.

Excel spreadsheet example with data

Excel Spreadsheet - figure 1

Each row and each column of the spreadsheet is labelled (with letters for columns and numbers for rows). Therefore, each individual box formed by the conjunction of a row and a column (called a cell) will have its own unique address – eg C2 or F19. Rows go down the page and columns go across the page.

Looking at Figure 1:-

  • The cell that is labelled C2 contains a piece of text (“Year 1”). It is actually possible to perform calculations on pieces of text but in most cases – as here – the text in the cell C2 simply labels the data that appears below it.
  • The cell C3 has a number in it (200), as do the rows below it.
  • The cell C7 contains a calculation. In this case, the calculation tells the spreadsheet to add up the contents of the cells in the rows above and to place the answer in the cell C7. The actual calculation placed in the cell in this case is “=sum(C3:C6)”.
  • The calculation in cell E3 tells the spreadsheet to subtract the contents of C3 from the contents of D3. The actual calculation is “C3-D3”.

For the sake of clarity I have colour-coded the cells in this example. Blue cells are text, orange cells are numbers, green cells are calculations. We enter text, numbers and dates just by typing in the data. To enter a calculation we begin by typing the “=” sign and then enter the formula.

Now, the beauty of spreadsheets is that having created this structure we can change any of the data and all of the formulae will be re-calculated immediately. So, for example, if we change the 200 in C3 to 500, then the totals immediately change as highlighted in yellow in figure 2 below:

Excel spreadsheet example with changed data

Excel Spreadsheet - figure 2

This means that we can create a structure that we want to use time and time again but only have to create that structure once. So, I might create the following structure (figure 3) and save it with the name of “expenditure template”:

Excel spreadsheet example with of template

Excel Spreadsheet - figure 3

This template has the text and calculations in place but no actual figures. When I want to put in figures I open this spreadsheet, enter my figures, and then save it with a different name (using the “save as” command) so that I still have my empty template available to repeat the process in the future and also have a saved copy of the spreadsheets that include my figures. I can, of course, do this as often as necessary (eg monthly).

Spreadsheets can range from the very simple to the enormously complicated. The calculations I showed above include just the instruction (known as a function) to “SUM” (ie “add”) the contents of some specified cells, and the simple arithmetic operation of substracting the contents of one cell from another. There are many in-built functions and operators that can handle, for instance, date arithmetic, statistical functions, logical comparisons etc, but you don’t need to be intimidated by all this power. It is fairly simple to grasp enough of the concepts and techniques to handle most daily requirements.

Something it’s difficult to appreciate in this static article is that it is easier to create the structure and the calculations than you might think at first. This is mainly for three reasons:

  • We can select the cells we wish to include in the calculation by “pointing” at them rather than manually typing in the cell co-ordinates.
  • Once we have created an initial calculation we can “copy” that calculation to other rows or columns where that makes sense. For instance, having created the calculation in E3 (where the calculation is “D3-C3”) we can just copy that calculation down to the next four rows. The program will automatically adjust the cell references (eg “D4-C4”, “D5-C5” etc) as it makes the copies.
  • Rows and cells can be inserted and deleted and the contents can be moved around as well as copied. The spreadsheet will automatically make changes in the calculations to adjust for these changes. This means that the design process can be very fluid: we don’t have to get it right first time.

A slightly different use of spreadsheets is to keep a kind of “database” of information (although I hesitate to use the word database as that has a more specifc meaning in computer terms). For instance, you could have a list of names, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses etc in which each record (each person) is contained on one row and each different piece of information is in a different column (eg name, landline number, mobile number). This kind of list also has the advantage that in a modern spreadsheet application such as Excel, email addresses and website addresses are automatically recognised as links so you can click on them to create emails or go directly to websites (actually, the email part of that statement won’t work if you only have webmail on your computer).

Some of the different spreadsheets that I have cover the following uses:

  • Comparing budget (or target) figures with actual figures.
  • Comparing expenditure between different time periods.
  • Keeping simple lists of items with values and their totals.
  • Analysing the results of Google AdWords advertising.
  • Computer support logs.
  • Costings.
  • Price lists.
  • Sales figures.

Some of these spreadsheets are “one-offs” that help with specific individual projects and others are repeated on a regular basis, with the structure evolving over time.

If you have requirements that you think could be helped by using the Excel spreadsheet program just give me a call. I can offer 1:1 basic computer training so that you can then develop your own spreadsheets and/or help with developing specific spreadsheet structures.

“Run commands” can make your Windows usage more productive.

There are often several ways of achieving the same end in Windows. An example of this is “run commands”. A “run command” is a an instruction to run a specific program or utility. It is an alternative to finding the program name or icon in Windows that would have achieved the same end. The advantage, of run commands, of course, is that you don’t have to hunt around Windows to find them.

As an example – in Windows 7 we can change the appearance of the desktop by navigating to the “personalization” screen as follows:

  • Start button
  • Control Panel option
  • View by small icons or large icons
  • Personalization

This can be achieved with a run command:

  • Start button
  • Run option
  • type in “control desktop” and then click on OK

In this case “control desktop” is the run command. There are well over a hundred of these. In each case, they are executed by opening the “Start menu”, clicking on the “run” option and then typing in the specfic command. I find that that it is worth remembering a few that I use often and, just as importantly, knowing where I can find a list containing many more. This can often cut down the frustration of not being able to find a particular command in Windows that you know is there but which you can’t find. In these cases, scanning through a list of run commands can be quicker and less frustrating.

If the “run” command does not appear on your Windows 7 start menu, you can configure it to do so by following Microsoft’s instructions.

Windows 7 Run Box

Windows 7 Run Box

Also, you can bring up the run box even if it does not appear on your start menu by depressing the key with the Window logo (if your keyboard has one) and typing the letter r. This brings up the “run box” ready to type the command into.


Windows remembers the previous run commands that you have issued and these can be accessed by clicking on the triangle at the right of the text-input area. This means that you don’t have to remember the name of the command if you have used it before: you just have to recognise it as the one you want when you see it.

I’ve sifted through lists of these run commands and selected 25 that you may find useful. I’ve tested these in Windows 7 but they may not all work in earlier versions of Windows. You can find more comprehensive lists and more information here.

Description Run Command
Add/Remove Programs appwiz.cpl
Administrative Tools control admintools
Calculator calc
Character map charmap
Computer Management compmgmt.msc
Control Panel control
Date and Time Properties timedate.cpl
Device Manager devmgmt.msc
Disk Cleanup Utility cleanmgr
Display Properties desk.cpl
Fonts control fonts
Malicious Software Removal Tool mrt
Notepad notepad
Power Configuration powercfg.cpl
Printers and Faxes control printers
Regional Settings intl.cpl
Security Center wscui.cpl
System Configuration Utility msconfig
System Information msinfo32
Task Manager taskmgr
Ease of Access Centre utilman
Windows Explorer explorer
Windows Firewall firewall.cpl
Windows Magnifier magnify
About Windows winver

What is The Registry?

keyboard with toolsThe registry is a huge database on Windows computers that stores information essential for running Windows and the individual programs that are installed. It also stores information such as the lists of “most recently used” documents that are often available in programs such as word processors and spreadsheets. This database is automatically updated by Windows and the programs using it. The registry is absolutely essential for the running of a Windows computer and the integrity of its structure is also absolutely essential. Never mess with the registry unless you know what you are doing and what the consequences might be.

Why clean it?

Cleaning the registry used to be just a part of “housekeeping” to keep a Windows computer running smoothly and as fast as possible. Nowadays, though, users often encounter registry cleaners when surfing the web to find solutions to problems involving malware and viruses. In this context, the registry is a place that can harbour nasty things, so cleaning it is intended as a way of removing these.

What are Registry Cleaners?

Genuine registry cleaners are programs that scour the registry looking for, and fixing, problems with individual items such as orphans items (settings that refer to programs that are no longer installed) and redundant items (such as those referring to previous versions of installed programs). They now also claim to search the registry looking for (and removing) entries that enable malware to run. These are all tasks that are very difficult, if not impossible, to carry out manually on account of the sheer size of the registry and the difficulty for humans in deciphering just what the individuals entries are.

Why not use Registry Cleaners?

Even if they do any good at all, the benefit is an insignificant drop in the ocean. I have been unable to find any evidence whatever that there is any measurable improvement to a system that has had its registry cleaned. Also, as the hardware resources have improved (size and speed of memory, hard drive space, processing speed and power), the effects of having a marginally sub-optimal registry database have probably become less significant. Indeed, Microsoft don’t even provide any method of cleaning the registry. They used to have a product called Windows Live OneCare that included a registry cleaner but support for that ceased in April 2011 and I don’t know of any successor.

Even if the registry cleaner is “well meaning” and is trying to do nothing but good to your system it may break it. And when I say “break it” I mean “really break it” – from rendering individual programs unusable to rendering the entire system unbootable. Short of a hard drive failure, this is just about as serious as it gets. Even if the risk of breaking the registry is low, the consequences of breaking it are very high so the potential marginal benefits are just not worth seeking out.

Moreover, a lot of so-called registry cleaners are not only ineffective and/or incompetent, they are also intent on doing harm. This usually takes the form of trying to convince you that your registry is full of problems and that you must pay for the program to clean the system up. This “persuasion” (by what is usually called a “scareware” program) can even extend to hijacking your system and holding you to ransom. In this case, the “registry cleaner” is out-and-out malware. The program takes control of your computer and holds it to ransom – you must buy the program to get control back. It gets much worse than that, of course, as buying their program does not guarantee that that will be the end of the issue and you have now given your credit card details to extortionists. Not wise.

What are the alternatives?

As far as optimising the registry is concerned, forget it. Life’s too short. It’s not worth worrying about and not worth taking the risk of breaking it.

As far as malware removal is concerned, use a free reputable malware removal tool such as MalwareBytes and/or SpyBot.

If you have an older version of Microsoft Office (Office 2003, Office XP, Office 2000), or just an individual component of one of those packages (eg Word or Excel), then you may have difficulty reading documents created by newer versions (Office 2007 and Office 2010). To put the boot on the other foot, you may have emailed a document of the newer type as an attachment, only to have the recipient tell you that they can not read it.

That is because the structure of the documents changed with the 2007 version.

File Extensions

Depending on how your installation of Windows is set up, you may or may not see the “file extension” of each file when you view a list of files in Windows Explorer. The file extension is the part of the file name that comes after the full stop. The file extension tells Windows what type of file it is and Windows maintains a list of which program is used with each file type (in Windows jargon, each file type is “associated” with a specific program).

In Office 2003 and before, Word files had a file extension of .doc (eg “Letter to Father Christmas.doc”). Excel spreadsheets were .xls files (eg “Scalextric Costs.xls”) and PowerPoint files were .ppt files (eg “Pitch to Father Christmas For A Scalextric Set.ppt”).

From Office 2007, Word files have become .docx, Excel files are .xlsx, and PowerPoint files are .pptx. These file types are not compatible with earlier versions of the programs.


If you have one of the newer versions of Office then you have no problem in opening, viewing and editing files created in an earlier version. However, if you have an earlier version you can not open files created in a later version.


Save As

If you have a later version, and are preparing a document for opening on an earlier version, then the simplest solution is to create a version of the document that is in the format of the earlier version. To do this, open or create the document and then use the “save as” command instead of the normal “save” command.

Normally, the different ways of saving a file are as follows:

  • Use the shortcut key combination of Ctrl s (hitting the “s” key while simultaneously holding the Control key down).
  • Click on the little blue icon of the floppy disc that is probably visible on the top line of the screen.
  • Click on the “Office” button and then click on the “save” command.
Office Button

Office Button

Each of these methods will save the file in the newer format. What you need to do instead is to click on the “Office” button, then take the “save as” option, and then take the “..97-2003 document” sub-option (as illustrated). The recipient of your file will then be able to use it as if it had been created in the earlier version of the program.

file save-as dialogue box



I’m having to give up my previous practice of always quoting hyperlinks in full as some of them are just too long. If you are viewing this as a post on the blog then, depending on your internet browser, you can probably see the full version of the link if you hover your mouse over the link and then look towards the bottom of the browser window. If you are viewing the newsletter version, then hovering your mouse over the link should show you the full address of the link.

There are, of course, a lot of scams and attempted frauds connected with computers and the internet. Most of these involve something that originates on the computer itself, but one scam that’s been around for a couple of years seems to take people by surprise and make them wonder if it’s genuine.Microsoft scam - looking through magnifying glass

This involves an unexpected phone call from someone purporting to work for Microsoft who tells you there are problems with your computer. (S)he may suggest that they have been informed by your internet provider that your computer has been infected with viruses or malware, or a variation is that your “warrantee is about to expire so your computer needs checking” (!) They then get you to log onto a website. This website may or may not include logos suggesting that the website owner is a “certified partner” of Microsoft. The idea is that the website reassures you that they are genuine and provides the means for them to remotely access your computer (with your permission). It’s not then difficult for them to show you your Windows Event Viewer. This will have entries in it that are accompanied by warning triangles and the like. At this point they will say “there you are, told you so, your computer is in a mess. Pay me £90 (or £180) by credit/debit card now and I’ll clean it up for you”. As well as the financial fraud, they could also plant viruses or spyware at this time and/or steal data from your computer.

This is a scam. Entries in your Event Viewer do not, per se, mean there’s any problem (let alone a virus or malware infection). And think about it – when did you give Microsoft your phone number? Probably never. Where did they get your phone number from, then? It looks very likely from the evidence that people are gathering about this scam that they get your name and phone number from the phone book. As simple as that. When they call you they don’t even know that you’ve actually got a computer – but it’s a fair bet that you have, and it’s cost them very very little if you haven’t.

I’ve had three people contact me about this in the last six months. That’s not very many until you consider that I don’t know millions of people so this seems to me to be a significant proportion. I understand that this problem has been around for a couple of years, but it seems that it is becoming more common.

This scam is known to the UK authorities but there’s little they can do as the perpetrators are based abroad (India seems to be getting the blame). The originating phone call is routed via the internet so it can’t be traced.

Don’t bother asking them to prove their bona fides by speaking to a supervisor or asking for a number you can call back and don’t believe anything you see on any website they direct you to. Anyone can answer any phone call saying whatever they’ve prepared beforehand and anyone can create a website and put whatever they want onto it – genuine or otherwise. These phone calls are a scam. Do not be fooled or worried. Just hang up.

Microsoft is aware of this problem and they explicitly state that they wouldn’t phone you out of the blue.

Oh, and if you have already fallen for this scam I suggest you cancel the credit/debit card you used.

Microsoft will soon end support for some versions of Windows. When support ends, security updates will no longer be provided. This means that computers running these unsupported versions will become more vulnerable to malicious attack.

The versions and cut-off dates are:

Windows Vista without any Service Packs – 13th April 2010
Windows XP Service Pack 2 – 13th July 2010

For further information, see

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Computer Support in London
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