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.

Windows 7 End of Life -– Really ??

Posted Jul 15, 2019

This time we are looking into a subject that is obviously of concern to many of our readers who use Windows.  We have been getting lots of calls from people who have received a notice from Microsoft that the Windows 7 Operating System is nearing its “End of Life”.

 

Windows 7 has been widely considered to be the most reliable, comfortable and beloved of all Windows Operating Systems.  Introduced in October of 2009, it quickly snuggled into a niche of high popularity between the much-maligned Vista (before) and Windows 8.1 (after).  It introduced many features and conveniences that we are still enjoying today in Windows 10.  In fact, it was only in January of this year that Windows 10 surpassed the market share of 7 and when we consider that 10 has been delivered on all new computers for four years now, the continued significance of 7 is certainly remarkable.

 

Q:  What is the end of life of an Operating System (OS)?

A:  Microsoft designates a date after which it will stop supporting an older OS.  They will no longer send out updates and will stop monitoring for security concerns.  Otherwise, that OS will continue to run, potentially for many years to come.  If you are extremely lucky, you might never experience a problem as you continue to use an outdated system.  In the case of Windows 7, that end of support will be in January of 2020. (By the way, Apple does not publicly announce an end of life date for a Macintosh OS, but there always does come a time when the support just simply comes to an end.)

 

Q:  So does that mean I can just keep on using it, and ignore all this information and nagging?

A:  Probably not.  Nothing will happen to “shut down” the outdated OS, but there are factors that will seriously compromise its usefulness and reliability.  First is the fact that Microsoft does not (contrary to the opinion of many users) simply send out updates just to be annoying.  Updates tweak and correct little issues that we might not even have noticed and, more importantly, they constantly provide improvements in security, to try to keep the hackers away from the door. The end of updates is more influential than most of us realize.  Second, and probably even more important, is the fact that third-party publishers will also stop supporting the OS.  Soon after January 2020, you will no longer be able to find an anti-virus utility for Windows 7.  Likewise, it won’t be long before drivers will no longer be available to make a new printer or other peripheral device compatible with the old OS.

 

Q:  What are my options?

  1. You could ignore advice, keep using the old OS and hope for the best. (See above.)
  2. You can, potentially at no charge, update your Windows 7 to Windows 10. If you are already very comfortable with using your computer you can do this update yourself.  There are a couple of tricks involved, but you can easily find them online or call your trusty technician for advice.  The mandatory first step would be that you really must be absolutely certain your data has been backed up, so that it won’t be a catastrophe if something goes wrong during the update.  A computer manufactured since 2014, (five years ago) will probably be very satisfactory with Windows 10.
  3. If your computer is older than five years, or if it is now inadequate in any respect, or if you are going to have to pay a technician to update the OS instead of doing it yourself, you might consider watching for a sale on a suitable replacement computer in the next few months, even if it is sooner than you had originally planned. The new computer will come with Windows 10 already installed and so you will be good to go OS-wise, for many years to come.  And, by the way, don’t be misled by the old and overblown horror stories about Windows 10; in our experience it is a reliable OS with convenient features and it is surprisingly easy to use.  If you do decide to buy a replacement, you can look for ways to continue to use also the old computer although keeping it offline would probably be a good idea.

We’re Finally Starting to Understand the Importance of Our Privacy

Posted Jun 25, 2019

 

. . . and that’s not all; lots of recent news reports are making us aware of the extent to which our online privacy is in serious jeopardy and the chances of the resulting serious repercussions.  There seems to be a widespread notion that cell phones are at the root of our current vulnerable state, but clunky old desktops bear their share of the blame too.

This month we are simply presenting a suggested reading (and viewing) list on this subject; in the midst of such a complex and rapidly-evolving issue our 2-cents’ worth would be worth just that, in comparison with the experienced and knowledgeable articles we have assembled for you.  We are technicians and not sociologists or lawyers and so we will let the experts speak for themselves.

https://www.priv.gc.ca/en/privacy-topics/technology-and-privacy/online-privacy/  The most thorough and detailed entry in this list, from the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.  Many of the sections include specific advice on protecting oneself.

https://us.norton.com/internetsecurity-privacy-why-your-online-privacy-matters.html  and also https://www.kaspersky.com/blog/privacy-ten-tips-2018/23022/ It may seem odd to include two advertisements for commercial products in this reading, but if we ignore the sales pitch and focus on the background information (which is readable and not overblown) the articles add to our understanding of the seriousness of the problem.

https://www.wired.com/story/the-next-big-privacy-hurdle-teaching-ai-to-forget/  Wired Magazine makes clear the relationship between Artificial Intelligence (very big in the news these days) and the gathering of data about us that makes experts uncomfortable.

https://www.wvxu.org/post/how-protect-your-privacy-online#stream/0  Listening to this Cincinnati Public Radio documentary is 18 minutes very well spent.

YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgWrD3EJ1Do  TEDx Talk by the Chief Business and Legal Officer at Mozilla.  This video contains brief crude language, used to make an extremely serious point. It is limited to the first 120 seconds.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yG4JL0ZRmi4  Alasdair Allan is a scientist, author, hacker, and journalist.  This TEDx Talk is in a European setting, but the comprehensive list of digital threats applies to us all. For proof, watch carefully for Allan’s description of how this subject could impinge on a farmer stuck on his broken-down tractor in the middle of his field.

On the lighter side:  Rick Mercer ranted about threats to our online privacy ‘way back in 2012  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmW1o6rzI7g

 

No doubt delving into the information above will lead you to even more interesting reading, listening and watching.  We would be very grateful to receive reports of more helpful articles.

 

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

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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!