When I’m asked whether it is safe to download files from the internet I can only give the very irritating response of “it depends….”.

There is no absolute way of knowing if a download is safe, but there are some rules of thumb that I tend to apply:

  • Have I downloaded safely from this site before?
  • What prompted the question? If something’s just popped up out of the blue, as opposed to my asking for it, then I’m going to be more suspicious
  • Does the message/website look real? Look for spelling errors, grammatical errors and peculiarities. Most major companies offering genuine downloads will have very few such problems and peculiarities whereas fakes/scammers are less good (but getting better!)
  • Do logos, “legal statements”, etc look genuine and credible?
  • Does my system automatically scan downloaded files? I’m going to feel more comfortable if I know my antivirus program either automatically or manually scans downloaded files.
  • Does the filename look odd? If you think you are downloading an image and the filename is, for instance, piccy.jp.exe then steer clear as it’s the last characters after the last dot that tell you what type of file it is and a file ending in “.exe” is an executable file – ie a program, which is much more likely to be a virus or spyware than other file types. If you are expecting a picture or a document or a music file and you are being offerred an “executable file” (ending in .exe, .bat, .com, .pif, or .scr) then steer clear.

There is nothing you can do on the internet that is totally risk-free. By definition, you are connecting to other computers and you can never be absolutely certain that you are safe. However, this is no different from saying that every time you open your front door you are at risk from criminals. That doesn’t stop you from opening the door: it just means you take reasonable care and, without even realising it, you balance risks all the time and make judgments as to whether the person standing on your doorstep is genuine or not . Using the internet is the same, and I can’t see that changing.

Dilsblog - safe to downloadThe biggest single tip I can give to anyone seeking out specific downloads of programs, drivers, etc is to start at http://download.cnet.com/windows/ and see if you can download the file from there. Be careful, though, as there are many distractions on the site for downloads that you don’t want or need (eg utilities that offer to scan your system for “problems” – avoid them).

This is a huge, popular, and respected source of downloads. My judgment is that there’s still no guarantee that they won’t get caught out by offering a bad file but the chances are very very small and well within what I would call “acceptable risk”.

For a list of no fewer than 1515 file extensions and their descriptions, see http://filext.com/alphalist.php?extstart=^A

When I train clients who are new to computers, I like to mention keyboard shortcuts. The basic facts I like to get across at this stage are:

  • keyboard shortcuts are a matter of choice – they are an alternative way of achieving something that can be done with the mouse
  • there are far too many of them to learn all at once, so don’t even try
  • a few shortcuts are very useful as they work in the same way in most programs and are often used

The common ones I mention first are:
Ctrl a = Select all (eg all the text of a document or every file in a listing)
Ctrl c = copy (put a copy of whatever is currently selected into a memory area called the “clipboard”)
Ctl v = paste (put a copy of whatever is in the clipboard into the current cursor location)
Ctrl x = delete (delete whatever is currently selected from the current location but put it in the clipboard)

Note that these shortcuts are executed by depressing the key marked “Ctrl” (the “Control” key) and then, while the Control key is down, touching the letter that goes with it (eg a,c,v,x). These commands can also usually be carried out by right-clicking on the mouse and then selecting the relevant command that appears on the “context menu” that pops up.

I usually advise my trainees not to worry too much about shortcuts to begin with as there are probably more urgent things to learn, but that if they find themselves repeating what seems to be an awkward task there may be a shortcut for it, so it’s worth looking.

The moral here, though, is that I should practise what I preach. A few days ago I was having a phone conversation with a fairly novice trainee and it was important that she could navigate back to her desktop so that we could then start a remote control session. No way could she get to the desktop. It started to get quite frustrating. If only I’d remembered that there’s a shortcut for getting back to the desktop wherever you are. Simply depress the windows key (the one with the Windows logo on – see image) and then press d. Easy. Repeating the command takes you back where you were before.Winkey

So, I think I’ll run an occasional item on this blog of a few useful shortcuts at a time that it may be worth committing to memory (assuming your memory is better than mine).

In the meantime, you can find a full list of shortcut keys that use the Windows key at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_key.

Ok, I don’t deny that I can be a bit pedantic at times (the rogue apostrophe, for example), but shouty emails irritate lots of other people as well as me, and even seem to have got at least one person the sack – see this item in The Telegraph, for instance.

What’s a shouty Email?



Email is much less formal than, for instance, writing letters. Nevertheless, you don’t have to be as pedantic as me to be put off by emails that irritate, confuse or upset the recipient by the way in which they are written. There are some “rules” (or, shall we say, “guidelines”) that have grown up around this subject and they go under the name of “netiquette”.

And it’s not just a case of violating netiquette. Spam filters treat manic capitalisation and punctuation as indicators of spam so, ironically, your efforts to really get your point across by SHOUTING could undermine the chances of the message even being delivered.

If you use AVG free then you will no doubt have noticed the popup screens that have been appearing in the last week or two (as below)

AVG Free update screen

Once again, we are being led by the nose to “upgrade” to a paid version of a product that is perfectly adequate in its free version. They highlight the “Recommended Protection” option in orange, hoping you’ll click on this button. To install the latest free version, however, you should click on the “Update Your Free Protection” button.

It seems to me that the free version is still perfectly adequate and I myself am going to continue to use it.

Monthly broadband costs can now be reduced to well under £10 per month. If you are paying substantially more than this – because, for instance, you’ve had your current contract for a couple of years or more – then it may well be worth either shopping around or contacting your current provider to see if they can offer you a better deal (I’ve heard that AOL will now drop your monthly charges substantially if they think you are about to abandon them – how the mighty are fallen).

If you have been wondering if your broadband speed is all that it should be, or wondering whether you are getting a good deal on your broadband contract, or puzzled about the terminology or technology, it could well be worth visiting http://www.broadband.co.uk/

A good site for checking your current speed and comparing it with other people in your neighbourhood is http://www.broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk/

Personally, I think that the overall service and the quality of the technical support are more important than the monthly cost or the speed of the connection (within reasonable limits, of course). I’m paying about £18 per month to Zen and I’d much rather do that than pay £7 per month elsewhere.

Why? They answer the phone quickly, they are based in the UK, and their focus is on solving the problem rather than obeying the list of instructions they have been given regarding support calls. They don’t spend 20 minutes asking you everything from your postcode, to your mother’s maiden name, to your inside leg measurement, and then force you to do the umpteen checks that you already did before picking up the phone (eg re-booting the router). If the problem isn’t fixed there and then, they send progress emails and these are signed by the person responsible for the issue. Why can’t other organisations realise that this is the way to keep customers?

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© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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