Monday, August 1, 2016

Basic Windows Concepts

This will be a very short post... rather than write a new post, I've just provided a link to a Windows Basics tutorial I wrote in 2009.  Not for a minute do I maintain that it's anything like complete, thorough, definitive, or any other pretentious bull.  But you'd be surprised how many people still aren't comfortable with these simple concepts.

Windows 101: Basic Concepts

Monday, June 20, 2016

Backups... You Know You Oughta

I had a minor disaster today. I inadvertently wiped a file containing hours of research; I'm still not quite sure how it happened, but that's immaterial... what matters is, there wasn't a second copy of the file that could be used to recover the data.

Several months ago, I had an even worse calamity, when I was working from a Linux boot disk, and mistakenly wiped the hard drive in my laptop... my intention had been to wipe an external drive of similar size.

In both cases, there were warnings I ignored before shooting myself in the foot... my bad. Also in both cases, had I followed the backup rules I suggest to all my clients, there would have been no real harm done... definitely a case of "Do What I say, Not What I Do."

Three Simple Rules:
1. There should be at least two copies of ANYTHING that matters to you.
2. You should backup your personal files every day or two; more often if a particular file represents any significant amount of work.
3. You should back up your entire hard drive... programs, operating system, the whole shebang... every few months.

And backups are so easy to do nowadays, there's just no excuse not to do them. I wasn't a big fan of the backup utility that came with earlier versions of Windows, but starting with Windows 7, it seems pretty easy to use and does a good job.
Start => Control Panel => Backup and Restore; from there, it's pretty self-explanatory.

I prefer a couple of alternative programs. Don't ask me why, I just do. I've had good luck with both of these.

  • Macrium Reflect is a commercial program out of England, but it's free for personal use. The version in the link will work with any Windows version from XP SP3 on; if you still have XP SP2, drop me a line, tell me whether you have 32- or 64-bit Windows, and I'll send you a link to Reflect Free version 5. The free version will only do full partition- or disk-image backups, not individuals files and folders, but it will let you restore individual files and folders from the full disk images.
  • Clonezilla is a free and Open Source backup and restore program. You need it if you're using your computer to make a buck and don't want to buy the commercial version of Macrium Reflect. You might want it for personal use, just because it's fun to play with. As far as I've discovered so far, it's only good for full disk images, and only for full disk restores... you can't recover individual files. I could be wrong...
Daily backups of your personal files can be accomplished by the built-in Windows Backup utility, just using different settings. I prefer using this DOS batch file I wrote, and its partner file for restoring files from the backup.
  • Once you download each file, move it to your desktop; right-click it, and select Edit.
  • Press and release Windows-E (the Windows logo and the letter E at the same time) to open Windows Explorer.
  • Connect a large thumb drive or external drive, just the one drive, and see what drive letter appears in the Explorer window; in the Notepad window, scroll down to the series of letters in parentheses, and remove the letters corresponding to CD and memory cards, making sure the external drive you inserted is still in the list. Close Windows Explorer, Save and close the batch file. Remember to do this for both batch files.
  • Lastly, move the Restore... batch file to your personal folder: C:\Users\[your user name]; it might even be displayed on your desktop, in which case you can just drag the file over the icon and release it to move it.
Got any questions? Click this link to send me an email; I promise I'll respond PDQ.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

To Be, Or Not To Be... (a Windows 10 User)

I posted on this subject back in December, but there's lots more needs to be said, so...

More and more, I see folks, on social media and in emails from my clients, saying they got a free gift from Microsoft, in the form of a drive-by installation of Windows 10. And so far, none of them have been expressing their gratitude and pleasure at receiving the gift.

Don't get me wrong here... Windows 10 is a vast improvement over Windows 8.1... if you currently use Win 8, you should get a full disk image backup of your computer, then upgrade to Windows 10.

But if you have Windows 7, Windows 10 isn't an improvement. The learning curve is considerable, and there's no commensurate improvement in speed or usability to make it worth the trouble. Here's step-by-step instructions on how to avoid having Windows 10 inflicted on you.

  • From the Win 7 desktop, click on Start => All Programs => Windows Update (in the list of programs ABOVE the first folder).
  • In the Windows Update window, near the top of the left pane, click on Change Settings.
  • In the Change Settings window, make sure all boxes are checked, then use the drop-down arrow under Important Updates to change the setting to Never Check For Updates. Click OK.
    (If you're running WinPatrol, you'll get a dialog within a couple minutes, asking if you want to accept the new setting; click Accept.)
  • Back in the Windows Update window, near the bottom of the left pane, click on Installed Updates. Wait for the progress indicator in the Location box to sweep all the way to the right, then disappear... then click the Name heading in the list to sort by name and number.
  • Scroll down past the Office Updates, the Hotfixes, and the Security Updates, to the plain old Updates for Microsoft Windows. They should be in numerical order.
There are three updates you need to find and uninstall. You might not have all of them. They are...
  • KB3035583
  • KB3123862
  • KB3150513
For each of these updates you find on your list, highlight the listed item, then click Uninstall => Yes. Wait for the uninstall to complete. If you get asked about rebooting, click Restart Later; if you just get an Uninstall Complete message, click OK. Scroll down and look for the next update on the list above.

When you've found and removed all three suspect updates, or verified they aren't there to be removed, reboot the computer. After the reboot, come back to Windows Update, and click on Check for Updates. Wait... When the update check completes, look at the list to see if any of the updates listed above are there; if so, remove its check mark, then right-click and select Hide Update. When you're done, click OK. No need to install updates right now... after the next step, it will happen, eventually.

Finally, click on Change Settings again, change the setting to Check For Updates But Let Me Choose Whether To Install... (Again, if WinPatrol asks, accept the change.) Every now and then Windows will offer you updates. Accept all Security Updates, but look down the list of plain old updates and make sure you're not getting one of the three listed above.

One last thing: If you're running Advanced SystemCare, un-check the box next to Vulnerability Fix before you scan. IOBit Tech Support insists they're not restoring the hidden updates, but I'm not sure I believe them.

And, as always, if you have questions, just click this link to send me a trouble report.

Till next time...


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Where To Buy Computer Parts

I've been pushing TigerDirect, and their predecessor CompUSA, for years. But everything changes: circumstances, opinions, you name it. And from this point on, while I might occasionally buy computer parts and peripherals from TigerDirect, I'm not comfortable advising anyone else to do so. And I'll only use them when all my other sources fail me.

Why the change of heart? Last year, TigerDirect closed nearly all of their stores, becoming primarily a mail-order-only business. And Dec 24, they stopped accepting returns, stopped allowing refunds, FOR ANY REASON. Manufacturers' warranties are still as good (or otherwise) as they ever were, but the minute they ship your goods, TigerDirect has finished with the deal; if your item is DOA, it's between you and the manufacturer. Maybe that's your idea of customer service, but it's certainly not mine.

Read their new policy here:

So, What Are Your Alternatives?

If you're lucky enough to have an electronics distributor nearby who stocks computer parts, I envy you... they're getting more and more scarce, especially outside the major metropolitan areas. And, as in all else, you'll pay for the convenience, in cash.

As always, I recommend the nearest Dollar Tree for USB connectors, cheap earplugs/headphones, and cheap styluses for tablets and phones. Mice, keyboards, powered speakers, and laptop cool pads, I get at Big Lots. For parts and peripherals, check out, eBay, Amazon, and/or Google Shopping.  Best Buy is my store of last resort, though I love that they recycle just about anything you can think of, for free... and if you're in a hurry, it's awfully nice not to have to wait for shipping.

Here's a few considerations when shopping online:
  • Read the product descriptions VERY carefully. If you buy the wrong item, even if they take it back, you might still get hit with the return shipping cost.
  • Always use Paypal or Paypal Credit to buy online. In case of dispute, the buyer is always right: the seller takes all the risk in every deal. And all Paypal Credit purchases are "6 months Same As Cash."
  • Use a tabbed browser, and shop several sites at once for the same item. This is the best way to compare 'apples to apples', so to speak.
  • Make sure you include shipping charges when comparing prices. I've seen items sell for a fraction of the nearest competitor's price, but with outrageous shipping costs, while the other guy included free or nearly-free shipping... again, be sure you're comparing apples to apples.
  • Don't be afraid of buying an item because it says it will ship from China; if you can stand the increased shipping time, the smaller purchase price will leave you feeling good about the deal. Remember, chances are the item you buy here and the item you buy from China were made in the same Chinese factory; you're paying considerably more for the convenience of getting it in less time from a nearby middle man who already stocked up from the Chinese manufacturer. Again, use Paypal.
There are a couple of additional considerations when using Google Shopping:
  • After you've typed in your search term and gotten your first page of results, look at the top of the list, on the right... where it says  Sort: Default, click the downward-pointing arrow, and select  Price - Low to High. You need to do this every time you type in a new search term.
  • It's even more crucial that you read the item descriptions thoroughly on Google Shopping. A large number of merchants post a picture of an item, but the description of a component part or accessory for that item: what you see ain't necessarily what you get. Even using Paypal, you could still get burned if you don't read the description.
Hope I've helped...