Compu-Home Blog

These articles by Malcolm and John Harding address current issues in the world of personal computing. We hope you find them helpful! If you have any questions or comments, please let us know.

Some Potentially Useful Software

Posted Apr 6, 2019

From Susan Scott-Parker, our friend from London and expert in all things related to disability in the workplace:

 

bdi-logo4

https://www.businessdisabilityinternational.org/about-us/

 

. . . comes a suggestion of a wealth of software titles designed to help anyone who might have some difficulty in managing a computer and software in the traditional configuration:

Microlink

https://shop.microlinkpc.com/97-assistive

 

Buying a New Computer – Updated for 2019

Posted Mar 22, 2019

Since we do service only, and don’t sell equipment, you might think that we would like to keep on repairing your old computer forever.  Not so; eventually, there are problems and frailties that accumulate to the extent that what was state of the art such a short time ago has to be replaced.  Here are a few bits of guidance on a new purchase.  There have been many developments and changes since our last post on this subject.  The following refers to both laptop and desktop models, unless specifically noted.  Subjects marked * describe the newest developments.

Manufacturer  There is not currently a manufacturer that we would automatically rule out.  Evolution and the marketplace have narrowed the field.  Everyone makes a lemon now and then – that’s where online reviews can be helpful.  A business as small as ours can only judge anecdotally, but we consider Asus, Acer, Lenovo, Dell and Hewlett Packard to be solid choices.  Apple, of course, has a stellar reputation for hardware, with a stellar price to match.

* SSDs, or Solid State Drives are disk drives with integrated circuits to store files, which is the same technology as the USB Flash Drives that we have been familiar with for more than 15 years.  SSDs are often now installed in computers instead of (or along with) traditional hard disks (HDs).  An SSD is many times faster than an HD and has the significant advantage of being more robust, due to the fact that there are no delicate moving parts.  On the other hand, solid state storage technology in the form of computer hard disks does not yet have a long proven track record for life expectancy and reliability.  Until recently, SSD drives were much more expensive than equivalent HDs but their price has dropped radically in the past year, which means that it is now possible to have a reasonably priced laptop with an operating speed quite a bit faster than you might have expected just a short time ago.  We predict that SSD will soon be the norm.

* USB ports that have been common on desktops, laptops, and even some tablets and phones have gone through generations 1, 2 and now USB-C.   This is the first USB port to have a different shape from previous versions and it has the advantage of being symmetrical, meaning that there is no fumbling from trying to plug it in upside down – a deceptively important improvement when the ports are often located in a place on the computer that is hard to see.  Far more important, however, is the speed of data transfer.  USB-C speed rounds off to 10 times faster than USB 2 and several hundred times the speed of USB 1.  This may not make much difference in your connection to a printer, but it is huge for any sort of data transfer.  For example: copying videos or large numbers of photos or data backups may now take seconds instead of many minutes or even hours.  Expect computers to have both older and newer USB ports during this transition, and for awhile you will have to put up with adapters to make the old and new versions fit, but we predict that it will not be very long before you will definitely want to have USB-C ports on your new equipment.

New or Refurbished  In the case of desktop computers, a refurbished unit is often a worthwhile consideration but there are fewer refurbished laptops available and therefore they are not quite such a bargain.

Price  A so-called “bottom of the line” ($500 – $600) machine has the specs to handle easily most people’s needs and much more.  It would take a very convincing argument and specific need to convince us to spend much more than $600.00 these days, even though this might mean having to wait a bit sometimes while stores replenish their stock.

Specifications   

: The great majority of laptops will have the Windows 10 Operating System.  Although this OS is quite different from previous versions, it is not as tough to master as we originally feared, and most people learn to like it quite quickly.

: 4 Gigabytes of RAM is adequate; 6 or 8 are a bit better.  More is probably overkill.

: 500 Gigabyte capacity hard disk (file storage) is enough, but a 1000 Gigabyte (1 Terabyte) machine might not be more expensive.

: An Intel processor has a bit better reliability record than AMD, the major competitor.  We would not refuse to buy a machine with an AMD processor – it’s not a big difference.  The majority of users should seriously consider the Intel i5, or one of the AMD equivalents, because it is powerful enough that it will be adequate for most users for many years to come.  A lesser processor might not stand up well into the future for some users, but more is probably overkill and unnecessarily expensive for most of us.

: Note that most laptops no longer have a DVD drive.  An external USB drive is an inexpensive alternative.

: 15.6 inches (diagonally) is the standard display for laptops.  You may choose larger or smaller depending on preference and need, but you might have to pay more.  (Smaller might not be cheaper.)

: Windows 10 is meant to be optimized with a touch screen and it’s fun to use your fingers to manipulate things, but many people find it awkward to set aside their mouse and reach across the keyboard to swipe the screen.  This is another feature that you really should test for yourself, to decide whether or not the extra $100 or so is worth it.

Source and Warranty

: Staples, Best Buy Canada Computers and Costco are the commonest sources.  Most people prefer one or the other, but they are pretty close.  Dell might be the first brand people think of if they are buying online, but Costco (online or in the store) is also a strong contender, because they offer an extended warranty at no extra cost.

: Laptops, tablets, printers, cameras and phones are just about the only equipment for which we do recommend considering the extended warranty, for several reasons.  Expect usually to pay approximately 20% of the laptop’s purchase price, for a 3-year warranty.

Setup

: New computers nowadays take about 3 hours of a technician’s time to set up when they come out of the box.  They are not ready to use as shipped.  Most stores are anxious to do that job for you but (maybe not surprisingly) we small businesses like Compu-Home or Tony Garcia at Computer HouseCalls, are convinced that we do a good job too.  

: You must also consider whether or not data from your old computer will have to be copied to the new one.  That can be done at the time of setting up, or you can do that yourself bit by bit later on if you prefer.

SEE ALSO: 

Our blog post on the subject of Chromebook:  https://compu-home.com/2017/02/is-a-chromebook-in-my-future/

 

Advice

Feel free to call or write for our 2-cents’ worth when you find a machine that interests you.

Across Our Desk this Month

Posted Feb 24, 2019

February 2019

Be the boss of your software. We are big proponents of the judicious use of freeware.  Virus protection, graphics editors, music players and little make-your-life-easier utilities such as calendars and calculators are old standbys – easily available, quick to install and, best of all, free.  Sometimes, however, there is no substitute for an expensive commercial title.  Tax preparation software, genealogy programs and office suites, for example, do sometimes come in free versions but often for a variety of reasons you have to spring the money for the real thing.

A point of confusion arises when it becomes time to retire the computer where commercial software is installed.  Many people expect that they can simply copy a program from the old machine to the new one, in the same way as they would be transferring their data.  Worse, other users assume that they will have to buy a new copy of that expensive program for installation on the new computer.  Neither notion is correct; the good news is that you probably don’t have to go to the expense of buying the program again, but the bad news is that the process is just a bit more complicated than simply copying it.

Commercial software usually comes with a “product key” also called “activation key.”  If you bought an installation disk this key would have been printed on the package.  If you Activatedownloaded the installer, the key was probably emailed to you for use at the time of installation.  We hope we are not conveying bad news when we emphasize the importance of keeping that key safe for future reference.  One time that you will need it again is if the program becomes corrupted somehow and has to be reinstalled.  Another time that the installation key is required, paradoxically, is for the purpose of uninstalling the program, because you now wish to install it on a new computer.

By the way:  A technician can often help you find that lost product key; it is usually stored hidden somewhere in your computer.

The strategy is to go to your uninstall utility to remove the program from the old computer, entering the product key when required, and to install it in the new location, again using the product key at the right time.  The following article uses the example of Microsoft Office to illustrate the process:  https://tinyurl.com/zxda8uc

***********************

A confusing current Windows update is causing a lot of grief. Several of our clients have been calling us to report that their computers seem to have locked up, with nothing but a big blue screen describing some gobbledygook about “Voice Recognition.”  There appears on first glance to be no way to escape, and many people assume that they have been attacked.

In fact, this is a very poorly designed (but legitimate) Windows update, focused on your computer’s security settings.  You must scroll down through several screens, making choices onVoice each one regarding how several apps and programs will respond to your computer use in the future.  Actually, most users have told us that they emphatically do NOT want these increased interactions – targeted ads, for example – and so their response is  to select the “No” response for every choice.  Unfortunately, even when you have clicked on the “No” box, you must then click on “Accept,” which on the surface seems to be a contradiction.  Rest assured that “Accept” means simply that you are satisfied with the choice you have made on this particular screen.   It’s hard to imagine how Microsoft could possibly have made this more obscure!

New for 2019 – The Exciting and The Mundane

Posted Feb 24, 2019

January 2019

If today’s headline made you think of robots and self-driving cars, we’re afraid that you had better keep looking somewhere else.  This month we are looking especially at some developments, trends and devices for everyday users like you and me that have been in the works for awhile and whose time has (probably) come to shine this year.

SSDs, or Solid State Drives are disk drives that use integrated circuits to store files, using the same technology as USB Flash Drives which have been in use for more than 15 years.      SSD SSDs are often now installed in computers instead of (or along with) traditional hard disks (HDs).  An SSD is many times faster than an HD and has the significant advantage of being more robust, due to the fact that there are no delicate moving parts.  Until recently, SSD drives were much more expensive than equivalent HDs but their price has dropped radically in the past year, which means that it is now possible to have a reasonably priced laptop with an operating speed quite a bit faster than you might have expected just a short time ago.

 

 

 

USB ports that have been common on desktops, laptops, and even some tablets and phones have gone through generations 1, 2 and now USB-C.   This is the first USB port to have a USB3different shape from previous versions and it has the advantage of being symmetrical, meaning that there is no fumbling from trying to plug it in upside down – a deceptively important improvement when the ports are often located in a place on the computer that is hard to see.  Far more important, however, is the speed of data transfer.  USB-C speed rounds off to 10  times faster than USB 2 and several hundred times the speed of USB 1.  This may not make much difference in your connection to a printer, but it is huge for any sort of data transfer.  For example: copying videos or large numbers of photos or data backups may now take seconds instead of many minutes or even hours.  Expect computers to have both older and newer USB ports during this transition, and for awhile you will have to put up with adapters to make the old and new versions fit, but we predict that it will not be very long before you will definitely want to have USB-C ports on your new equipment.

 

6126248-new-modern-black-network-router-isolated-on-white-backgroundImproved routers and range extenders will overcome one of the most common problems that Compu-Home clients have been fighting with.  Annoying connection failures in certain rooms of the house, or when moving from room to room with a portable device are now being overcome with improvements in the strength and speed of new generation wifi gear.  This is due to better equipment being supplied by the Internet providers and/or better devices being available for purchase by the homeowner.  This development is sometimes as much as twice the cost of what was previously available but the resulting reliability means far less frustration.

 

 

Refurbished smartphones are becoming more popular.  Most cell phone plans in the past took advantage of an offer from the cellular provider for a shiny new phone at a Refurb phonegreatly reduced cost or sometimes free, in return for agreeing to an extended service contract.  Nowadays, however, many people are deciding that the fancy features of the most recent smartphones are not worth their exorbitant prices.  (Do you REALLY have to pay $800 for your phone to recognize your face in order for it to unlock?)  As a result, many users are simply buying outright a used or refurbished slightly older phone and signing up for a considerably cheaper cellular plan. You can read  https://tinyurl.com/ycxtu8e4  for a lighthearted discussion of this moneysaving trend.

The Fraudsters Haven’t Left Town

Posted Feb 24, 2019

December 2018

 As you have probably noticed in these columns, we find ourselves returning repeatedly and depressingly to discussions of the dangers and pitfalls of computer and Internet fraud.  (If you got as many calls from victims and near-victims in a typical week as we do, you would probably find yourself focused on the dark side too.)

The crooks nowadays are attacking mainly in three ways: 

1) there are the telephone calls  Phone from the so-called “technicians” at “Microsoft” or “Windows” or some other recognizable tech industry name.   Advice for responding to the phone call is short and simple:  Just hang up – without a word.  Don’t be polite; don’t be angry; don’t be mischievous.  Any response whatever is going to flag your telephone number as a “live one” and will trigger more calls later.  A reputable tech business is NEVER going to call you to report a problem.

 

2) there are sudden pop-up invasions on your computer display with Popup bright flashing graphics and audible alarms.  The smart response to the invasive pop-up is almost as simple; shut down your computer.  If the screen is disabled and you can’t shut down by clicking in the usual way, instead you press and hold the power button for a minimum of eight seconds.  When you restart a minute later it is almost certain that the attack will have disappeared, but when your web browser asks you if you want to go back to the pages where you were when you shut down, the answer is no.

3) there are incorrect (fraudulent) search results in which web pages are cleverly designed to resemble the support sites of legitimate businesses. The end result is always the same:  the state of your computer is worse than anyone imagined, and it’s going to take a lot of money to fix it.  The fraudulent website is just a little trickier.  Let’s say that you are having a problem with your printer and you want to go to the Hewlett Packard site to get advice.  If the page is not really Hewlett Packard, there will be an early and prominent invitation to call a number.  Don’t!  Check the URL (the web address) of the website and see if it seems logical.  If you are at all suspicious, COPY the URL and PASTE it into the Google Safe Browsing Transparency Report - https://transparencyreport.google.com/safe-browsing/overview  which will disclose if that site has a history of problems.

 

For thoughts on fraud in tech areas and a in wider context as well, the basic information in a booklet from the Competition Bureau of Canada called The Little Black Book of  Little-Black-Book-ScamsScams has very worthwhile information and advice to help us keep the bad guys from the door.  You can go to http://www.competitionbureau.gc.ca/eic/site/cb-bc.nsf/eng/04333.html to order a copy or read the PDF right there on the site. Apparently as of this writing they are temporarily out of the hard copy and so there will be a delay if you order one mailed to you. It is 21 pages and so if you’re going to download and print it, be sure to set your printer to black-only.