19 December 2008

December bugs

You can hardly have missed all the news about Microsoft's Internet Explorer 7 having a pretty disastrous hole that could let sites you visit collect data.

According to The Register, an estimated one in 500 users worldwide have been exposed to the vulnerability, Microsoft estimates. The volume of attacks grew by 50 per cent from Friday until Saturday alone with little sign of a let-up. It's highly unusual for Redmond to quote such stats, and the fact it has underlines the mounting seriousness of the problem.

At first it was reckoned that only IE 7 users were affected, but further analysis suggests that versions 5.01, 6, and 8 of the browser are also vulnerable.

A patch has been released by Microsoft so do make sure you get it and install it. If you have Windows updates turned on to automatic then it should by now have been downloaded but you may still have to click a little yellow shield icon in the tray near the clock to install it. If you aren't sure, just visit Windows Update and follow the instructions.

While you're at it, download Firefox or Google Chrome and use one of them instead. You may still need Microsoft's product for some banks and other sites but the alternatives are currently safer (and quicker!)
A couple of viruses are also doing the rounds:

If you do have either, there are removal instructions available. Let me know if you need them.


This virus copies itself to removable storage (flash drives, external USB drives etc).

A quick way to discover if your PC is infected is to search for the following file:

Windows Vista Home Premium/Vista Home Basic/XP: C:\Windows\System32\dll.dll
Windows 2000: C:\Winnt\System32\dll.dll
Windows Me/98SE: C:\Windows\System\dll.dll


As with the previous virus, W32.Randsom.A copies itself to removable storage.

A quick way to discover if your PC is infected is to search for the following file:

Windows Vista Home Premium/Vista Home Basic/XP/Me/98SE: C:\Windows\TEMP\errir.exe
Windows 2000: C:\WINNT\Temp\errir.exe

20 November 2008

Anti-virus: Morro to replace Live OneCare

Microsoft's Live OneCare has been around for a while and I have taken advantage of what seems to be a very long free trial period on some equipment. It was the only product that managed to remove a nasty trojan on my daughter's laptop some time ago but other equipment has survived reasonably well with Avast and a selection of other excellent freeware tools such as CCleaner, WinPatrol and Threatfire.

What was a bit of a pain was the nannying that came with it - until I eventually told the software that I didn't want it checking this and that or backing up things. So hearing that Microsoft will cease offering Live OneCare on a subscription basis is fine by me. The replacement, called Morro, will be essential an anti-virus product and will be available free but not installed by default with Windows or IE.

All seems well with that world, then.

17 November 2008

W3C standards resources

This may sound a bit grey and I have to admit that for a long time I couldn't get excited about these. I mean the idea of over 450 organisations and experts ever being able to agree on anything, let alone publish anything in a way that could be helpful for those of us who don't start creating web pages by writing code or can manage only some pretty basic code and only when we have to, seemed highly unlikely.

I am pleasantly surprised, therefore, that, having finally got around to finding what The World Wide Web Consortium was all about, they talk a great deal of sense. Anyone who has had to struggle with making pages look good in umpteen different browsers or had to explain to a client why that beautifully crafted png file looks dreadful on the ancient IE6 browser his office is still using will appreciate the excellent work being done and will be in favour of their desire to make the web a better place - and a more consistent one - where we make one page and that's it, it works.

By way of introduction and to gather a bundle of links together for students and colleagues, I have made some resources available at this link which, whilst pretty basic, may help someone.

I do love CSS stylesheets and the ease with which I can switch the appearance of content but they're still a bit of a pain in that I have to write out all the code and I just wish I could find some nice software that recognises what I'm doing and translate my efforts into acceptable code for a sheet. I have to say that the ease with which very attractive pages can be put together by complete amateurs utilising software like Serif Web Plus and Coffee Cup is going to have an impact sooner or later and someone simply will have to come up with an application at a reasonable price that does the same job and meets the standards. 

To make a small site using tables I need a quiet evening a a couple of cups of coffee. To recreate the same thing using CSS takes me ages unless I borrow someone else's template. And several glasses of alcohol to calm my frustration at getting layouts to behave as I'd like and easily been able to do in the old way. So, for the sake of my health, driving licence and possibly future career, software suggestions welcome!

14 November 2008

Will w3c validation help your Google ranking?

There has been lots of debate about this. w3c validation may mean that you have clean code on your web pages which will ensure they appear consistently in most people's browsers and that they can be better interpreted by small screens on PDAs and phones and, in particular, will have many of the features that make them more accessible to those with some disabilities. This, in itself, though, whilst commendable, does not mean they'll get higher ranking in search engines.

I have just come across this quote from an interview with Adam Lasnik (SEO Strategist at Google) in which he says:

[T]here are many great reasons to have your site validate, and to do validation checking. It can help your site, and could be more accessible to a lot of different people and browsers. But, here is the core problem why we cannot use this in our scoring algorithms currently: There are a ton of very high quality sites, pages and sites from universities, from research institutions, from very well respected ecommerce stores, of which I won't name any, that have really crufty sites, and sites that won't validate. On some of these you can view the source and cry. And, because this is quality content, we really can't use that as an effective signal in search quality. So, you can quote me a saying, I would be thrilled, it would make my day if people would decruft their sites, but it's not going to directly affect their Google ranking.

I thought it was worth adding it here. Not the sort of thing that all readers will be interested in but those working with CSS will. What I particularly liked, though, was his comment that there are many crufty sites from respectable and often-consulted organisations and insitutions that do not qualify for w3c validation yet have considerable merit and deliver what people want (albeit not in the best way, perhaps).

I have never encountered the word crufty before. A combination of crap, rough and grotty perhaps.

28 October 2008

Lost files and folders

Several people have been telling me that they have lost files or folders - even My Documents and e-mail - recently. Whilst one or two may have been a little unimaginative in their excuses for not doing something, most I reckoned were genuine. Often a careless sweep of a mouse or unfortuante combination of keys, especially involving Alt or Ctrl instead of shift, can have strange effects - the important thing to remember is that nothing just disappears.

Everything you've ever done is there somewhere (unless you have formatted the whole disk). You just don't know where. Searching is worth a try but not using Microsoft's sluggish tool. Get Google Desktop and give that a whirl once it's indexed your drive. Take a peek in your Recycled bin too. Failing that, and especially if there have been visual changes to the desktop, try going back to a recent Restore Point. Start>Control Panel>Performance & Maintenance>Restore Points.

Files never actually leave the hard disk, even when deleted. If there's something important stll missing then you may be able to find it using a program like Recover4All which is worth keeping a link to for another day too.

27 October 2008

"Sorry - forgot the attachment . . ."

We've all had to say that - in my case on umpteen occasions! In fact I had a standard phrase worked out to add to the second message which ran along the lines of why on earth doesn't someone come up with a little program that scans your mail for certain words like 'attach' or 'enclose' and warn you when you forget to do so and planned to paste this in each time.

At last someone has come up with just that! Gmail users can now get a simple add on created by someone called Jonathan K (hopefully not singing Everyone's Gone To The Moon). Look in Settings and then Labs and scroll down to the required entry. Click Enable and that's it. Great!

Now maybe someone can make something as simple for the tediously ill-featured Microsoft Webmail I have to use for College mail.

05 October 2008

FAQs they can answer

The CNET Community is one of those nice sites where you can get answers to problems and, in particular, read other people's questions and see what sort of replies they got. Yes, there are a few very geeky ones and a few more that even my daughter (she's the non-techy one) can answer but you can ignore all those if you like.

Here's the link. That'll take you to the Archives.

19 September 2008

Internet Country Codes

If you've ever wondered where that .ky site relates to or what the suffix is for Guernsey then this list provides all the answers.

Now, can I find someone in Lesotho to register bal.ls . . ?

18 September 2008

XP Antivirus that isn't anti at all

This article is from CNET (Download.com) and, having experienced this one myself and knowing several others who are still suffering from it, any free help is more than welcome.

Kill Antivirus XP 2008 for good

Masquerading as software to protect your machine from threats, the "rogue" security program Antivirus XP 2008 uses deceitful and invasive tactics to con users. The fraudulent software will detect nonexistent viruses and other malware and use continuous pop-up windows to advertise the scam. Although Antivirus XP 2008's antics are well known, it seems to have lately affected a rash of new users. It's also doubtful that the scamware will disappear anytime soon. Sunbelt's Alex Eckelberry recently noted the arrival of a new rogue clone, named XP Protector 2009. One interesting aspect of the recent Antivirus XP 2008 outbreak is that many users with adequate protection are still finding themselves infected. If you're one of the many unlucky PC users to get stuck with this malware beast, you don't need to reformat your hard drive (unless you prefer to, of course). At the least, first read Seth Rosenblatt's instructions for removing Antivirus XP 2008. He has step-by-step details in plain language for kissing that rogue spyware pest goodbye forever.

Read more about removing Antivirus XP 2008

03 September 2008

Google chrome shines

It just works. Really well. Very quick and simple download. Your Firefox bookmarks get imported and there you have it in pretty minimalistic Google style. I've always thought Google should employ some good graphic designers and the pale blue may not be to everyone's taste but, when you think about it, a browser really just needs to show pages accurately and efficiently and make it simple for you to get around. Google Chrome does just that, with a few nice touches. The screenshot above is a visual guide to your history which I particularly like, although a clear list is available too.

Chrome will also keep track of the sites you visit most often and automatically provide fast access to them which I really appreciate. Firefox's address bar behaved similarly but this is even simpler.

This really does make Internet Explorer awkward, bloated and old-fashioned.

26 August 2008

Google for webstarters

How did I miss this? Google have substantially improved their provision of web pages for all and sundry. So if you want a web site you can have one. Free, and not too bad looking. At the moment it seems so new that it is definitely experimental but I would expect it be to be running well soon.

Google Pages never really caught anyone's imagination although, at the time, it was quite unique. Google Sites is much better. As usual, it doesn't get much promotion and is buried deep in the More section of their tools and services.

They'll have to work hard to catch up with Microsoft's Offoce for Small Business offering which also gives us a nice free domain of our choice. I still find that amazing and the tools are dead easy to use. Two quite different approaches and, whilst Big Blue are out in the lead, I still fancy a tenner on Google in the long run. Remember Moonfruit anyone?

Google for webmasters

Sometimes Google doesn't exactly make a brilliant job of helping us to find their own services. There are lots of useful tools lurking in strange places behind the familiar search page that we all stare at at some point in the day.

One of these is their webmaster tools section. The main reason you'd want to go there is to get Google to recognise your site and some nice reports on who knows about it as well as lists of what Google perceives as problems.

On the search page, there's something called Business Solutions. Click that and then look for Web pages. (I guess you'll need a Google account but it's free and well worth getting anyway.)

Click that link and you'll be able to register you sites and get all sorts of useful information. Registration is reasonably straightforward and certainly quick. You simply enter the site address in a box and then will be asked to verify the site. This is to make sure that you are actually a webmaster and not just a passer-by. Verification can be done in a couple of ways but the easiest is probably to add a new page to your site. Google will provide the name - some long combination of characters.html - so you just make a new page and save is as whateveritis.html (best to copy and paste the name!) Keep the Google webmaster tools page open.

Upload that file to your server and then click the box on the webmaster tools page to get Google to verify the site. A second later and there should be a nice tick appear and Google will start doing what Google does best.

There's a bundle of stuff about sitemaps too. It's all pretty heavy stuff, though, and the help files and further links seem to have been written by aliens. Do I have Python on my server? is a frequent question, for instance. I don't think I shall worry too much about sitemaps just yet.

14 August 2008

There are more than 2 fonts on your computer

Sometimes even the several hundred fonts that you'll have on your computer don't provide quite the one you want. There are lots that are almost the same too which can be quite annoying but I have never managed to pluck up the courage to delete them or, at least, stop them taking up space in the font list in programmes.

In fact, that reminds me of another question. In Excel, if you want to change the font for a header or footer you have this tiny box to scroll through. Typing an initial letter, which usually focuses in well in other places, doesn't seem to do much so you're left struggling from Arial to Verdana. I'm afraid that I dislike Arial. Helvetica's fine and I can see the point of that but Arial just never, ever looks right to me. A particular hate of mine is getting mail in Arial bold, size 12+. I could even cope with Times New Roman bold and italic for a while longer before running for cover as long as the sender didn't add underscore which, unfortunately, many do for good measure.

On the underscore front, there are precious few occasions now when that U button is needed. There isn't one in my menu as I type this blog. On the web it tends to mean this is a link (especially in that colour) so if a designer does go for the U button he's risking a lot of users' frustration in meaningless clicking. In documents, headers look good in a bold font of an appropriate size. I'd go further and say that you really shouldn't underline very big headings, and certainly not title page stuff. In Word or Word-like applications it is simple enough these days to add a whole line background too which is often far more appealing than the line. And don't even mention individual word underlining, please. The very thought makes me worry that I may even recall the shortcut for it if I linger any longer!

If you must have a line then use the whole line line thing which can look quite reasonable. It's in the Borders menu somewhere.

This post started with fonts and that's where I need to return if my sanity is to remain. Handwriting fonts can be great but there are few in that long list. Whilst Windows provides you with umpteen whacky fonts and a myriad Times clones it doesn't do much on the writing side, other than some very old fashioned scripty things that you'd only use to invite Grandma to a wedding. What you may well look for in vain are some fun but not over-the-top or excessively childish fonts. There are lots around and many are free.

Take a look at http://www.getfreefonts.info/ where you have pages and pages of the things.

To install a font in Windows, download it, unzip it if necessary then move the font file to the Windows | Fonts folder where it should install itself happily and be available next time you open applications.

Spaces on the web

In the old days we were taught to leave two spaces after a full stop. Unless you're trying to reproduce an old letter in Courier, though, that's a rule you can forget now, especially on the web.

Thought of this when someone asked me about spaces on the web. The basic rule is that web pages don't recognise any more than one spacebar space. The reason is mainly because spaces need to have a flexible size (eg for justified text). I usually find that it is no problem and you should use a table where you simply need to separate things more.

Occasionally, I suppose there will be a desperate need to have more space and a table won't do what you want. In those instances, there are a couple of tricks:

The space gif
Make an image the size you need (or, if you don't know, make one that is 1 pixel wide and 1 pixel high). Save the image as something like space1x1.gif. Then you can put as many as you need next each other to build up an 'invisible' space. Beware, though, as images can move when browser windows are resized but small ones ought to be OK. They need to be aligned correctly or may break text lines where you don't expect! (You can do this simply in Serif DrawPlus, GIMP or similar or may be able to do this in Paint but you must save it as a transparent gif. If you can only make a bmp in Paint then use Irfanview to save as a gif afterwards.)

The text colour cheat
Just type something to fill the space required and change the colour to the background of that part of the page. This is a quick and dirty fix, and will only work if you have a solid colour background, a very tight texture or can be sure that the text is placed over an appropriate part of an image the same colour.
Beware, though, that some people's browsers may change text on web pages to a default colour and show it after all (pretty rare) and if they were to highlight the text by dragging the mouse across the page your text will show (possible) and, of course, printing the page may well include your text, either because white text is printed as black or because the browser is set not to print web page backgrounds thus revealing the fix (common)!

The code for a space is #nbsp but, as I said, browsers seldom seem to recognise two in a row. The moral of the story is, basically, find another way to present information and use a table. It's like Word in many ways - you should never, ever, use more than two spaces in a row in word processing and I can't quickly think of an occasion when, in fact, I would use more than one nowadays.

09 July 2008

The ultimate re-install

A couple of weeks ago Firefox started misbehaving, claiming that it couldn't find various files and refusing to start, closely followed by Internet Explorer coming out in sympathy and eventually even the portable applications gave up the ghost. Usually, when something goes wrong I find myself in good company and someone somewhere out there has experienced the same symptoms and published some nice instructions to get it sorted. Not this time. Whilst there were some posts here and there on similar lines, no-one was offering any helpful suggestions. So there was nothing for it but, for the first time in all my years of computing, wiping the thing clean and starting again. (I did have to do my daughter's laptop a couple of times when a trojan simply refused to budge but she had little on it she wished to keep but mine was a different story.)

This used to be a complete pain because you'd have so much data by way of documents, photos and music files etc. that it was really difficult and very time consuming to back up everything before it all got wiped. Now we have SD cards and USB drives and wonderful gadgets for transferring files in an FTP-like manner from one computer to another and several gigabytes were simply moved somewhere safe for a while.

It still took an age, a couple of hours just for Windows, and all the extra programs I had have to be re-loaded or downloaded which is a long evening's work but well worthwhile as things do zip along afterwards.

It's so good not to have to worry about e-mail in the process as, of course, Gmail is all on-line and stuff now stored in Google documents and similar places is unaffected. I guess it won't be long before the whole pile of applications themselves are running on-line and all we need is a computer that accesses them with nothing being stored locally at all. More drops in the price of 'normal' computers too and we may well find ourselves just buying a new one when they stop working! I mean the screen seldom gives up, nor do the keyboard or other peripherals and components so it could be that we'll see a sort of plug-in thing that does all the processing work which will enable manufacturers to make smart, trendy designs that last for the bits that don't go wrong. Some programme or Windows not working? Unplug that bit and chuck it away. The ultimate re-install?!

You read it here first, possibly.

That reminds me of an argument I had in a College staff room in 199something. "Google?" they said. "That'll never catch on. Yahoo! Ask Jeeves and MSN Search (or whatever it was then) do all we need already."

It's not what you do . . .

It's the way that you do it. Microsoft's Service Pack 3 for XP may have all sorts of good things in it but if you're still using Internet Explorer 6 you could find yourself heading for problems. Now, you shouldn't be using IE6 still as IE7 has been out for ages and is a whole load better but I know plenty of people that haven't updated and I found myself back in IE6 land when all my browsers ceased to function and I finished up having to re-install Windows. (More about that in another post!)

To give you the advice first: install IE7 before XP SP3. If you don't then you may find that none of the updates they release will install successfully, and there are lots of them. I have to say that I find it really annoying that Microsoft didn't think about this before and included some sort of fix for the problem in the Sevice Pack download, or warn people not to download. After all, you have to wait while their on-line tool checks every nook and cranny of your computer before recommending what you should have and you'd have thought that this would have been simple to include in that process. Anyway, it wasn't. The subsequent updates are important, though, and you do need them, if only to stop the list of updates that Windows tries to install growing ever longer (and they include IE7!) and Live One Care or One Live Care or whatever it's called warning you every few minutes that you might be at risk! To which I have been yelling "I know, I don't want to be but you won't let me do anything about it!!"

The reason for this post is that I did a search for IE7 install problems and landed on a whole pile of articles, written by people far more qualified than me, which were without exception doom and gloom-laden and, basically, saying not much more than "you shouldn't have done that" which didn't help much. For a few days I carried on with Firefox, which I much prefer anyway, and just ignored the dire warnings but today I decided that this was ridiculous and Microsoft really should give me a hand.

I went to their Updates support area and after several attempts found the right combinations of words to get what I wanted - a solution at last. It seems that, to work properly, the Updates installation tool needs a certain file buried deep in your registry to work which, if you have things in the wrong order, it doesn't. In my case, I had reinstalled Windows from a CD probably created in the dim and distant past so the file wasn't as it should be.

To save you the trouble, Microsoft offer two methods to get out of trouble at this link. I've seen clearer instructions and if you've never used Start>Run before you may need someone more technically inclined to hold your hand but Method 1 worked for me and I now have IE7 and all the recent updates at last.

The browser does now say it is without add-ons which I've never seen before and so far I have failed to find a way to get it to work normally but as I shall probably only use it for those sites that refuse to function properly in Firefox (Facebook picture uploads, the bank and a few others) I can live without add-ons, I hope.

23 June 2008

The Universal Edit Button

I can think of a number of things something with such a name could be useful for but this is actually for giving you access to edit web pages that have a format of a wiki or similar. These pages are increasing in popularity, especially as the technology has now got round or over many of the barriers that prevented people using them. Now, in many cases, like PBwiki for example, it really is just a matter of clicking and typing or adding an image or link.

The Universal Edit Button will allow you to do just that, where you have access, of course. Eventually this will be a standard feature of any browser but until then download the Button from this link to get the Firefox extension. Some say it works in IE but I have no idea how.

05 June 2008

Top ten annoying software programmes

Every day I get interrupted at work. There I am, happily writing something and 'zap!' Windows wants me to restart, there's an update for something or I land on a link to a pdf file and Adobe tell me I need version 9 when I only got 8 a few weeks ago. Then there are the virus warnings - don't tell me, just sort it out, OK! And yes, I am sure I want to close something down! That's why I clicked Exit.

It was wonderful to read Rupert of ZDNet fame saying exactly what I thought, and here is his list. This originally appeared as a photo gallery written by Rupert Goodwins, published on ZDNet.co.uk, ZDNet, and TechRepublic.

The Internet has brought us many joys. It's rewritten the rules of business and pleasure.
And pain. For it allows what may have seemed like bright ideas at the time ('Let's use it to make sure our customers have the latest software,' for example) to turn into a stinking pit of misery—usually, but by no means always, after marketing gets its fangs in. Here are just 10 of the guilty parties that try to do the impossible: to make us hate the Internet and wish it had never been invented—and who very nearly succeed.

1 Adobe Reader

What does Adobe Reader do? Displays PDF pages. How does it do it? With as much bloody-minded bureaucracy, delay, and needless interaction as possible. Perhaps it's because we humans have been spoiled by books, where the gap between wanting to read something and reading it is as short as the time taken to lift the cover. But Reader's incessant updates (demanding you reset your computer—why?), thundering great list of modules to load, and hour-glass-provoking pauses for thought have given Portable Document Format a reputation for being as welcome as a flatulent camel in the kitchen.
Which is a shame, because other lightweight PDF readers seem to manage perfectly well.

2 Apple

Oh, Apple. You created a domain where humans came first. You took usability and distilled it into an art form. Now look at you. iTunes is a music player the size of a fat-bottomed whale that gobbles resources like krill. It spends half its time trying to sell us stuff and the other half trying to stop us using it. But that's not as bad as your auto-update policy: slipping us stealth copies of Safari under the cover of important version updates to iTunes and Quicktime—what is this, Make Microsoft Look Good day?

3 Windows Update

Your machine will reset in four minutes. Your machine will not shut down until these five updates are installed. You must restart your machine now. You will install Microsoft Genuine Advantage. Please wait while these updates are installed. Please shut down all applications before applying this update. Pop! New updates are ready to be installed. And now that we've stopped you doing whatever it was you were doing (like we care), shall we go ahead and install them now, or would you rather be interrupted yet again later?
We've been kind and not talked about Vista.

4 RealPlayer

If this software turned up at your door, you'd call the police. RealPlayer commits just about every sin in the book, sprinkling itself across your desktop and offering "Free games!" It installs a "Message Center" that tells you about microcelebrities. There is more advertising embedded in the application than used to be on the front page of The Times. And you just wanted to stream The Archers.
At least Europe's been spared Real's Rhapsody music shop. When we looked at a beta before a subsequently abandoned UK launch, we were given software to install. 'Disable your firewall," it commanded. "Drop dead," we replied.

5 Java

Java doesn't do anything by itself. It's a programming language. Programming languages are like sewage plants: If the average user becomes aware of them, something's gone wrong.
Java doesn't know this. Java wants to be in your face. Java wants to be updated. Java wants to tell you the good news about Sun. Have you heard about Sun? Here's a nice picture of our logo. And fancy a copy of OpenOffice? No? Well, never mind. Java's installed a copy of Yahoo Toolbar in your browser instead. Because that's what programming languages are there to do, right?

6 Yahoo!

And talking of Yahoo. Please stop. Please stop trying to take over my e-mail, my search engine, my home page. Please stop "updating" your IM client to include more emoticons, animations, noises, and whatnot—or at least have the good grace to produce a grown-ups' edition I can use at work without feeling like I should still be reading Smash Hits. And yes, when I ask to exit the software, that's because I really want to, not because I'm having a crisis of doubt.
And there is absolutely no point in a toolbar that just replicates all the options on your Web site's front page. Not unless you want to come across as the sort of shrill, desperate, needy software company that makes big noises about user relationships but in fact knows less about its users than the Queen does about shopping in Lidl.

7 Norton Antivirus

It's a little unfair to pick on Norton Antivirus and make it carry the sins of half the desktop malware industry—but only a little unfair. If ever a class of software deserved to be cast into the lower reaches of Hell and run on Satan's own desktop, it is this. Performance-sapping, space-hogging, noisy, irritating, and prone to inducing just as many problems as they purport to solve, these horrible, ineffective, expensive lumps of digital thuggery keep entire platoons of support engineers in business and home users in tears. We know. We get the phone calls.

8 Preinstalled software bundles

After a quarter of a century of the IBM PC, we still don't understand why so many companies feel obliged to create swathes of below-par software to install on the computers they sell. Notebook makers are the worst, and Sony the king of them all: The first job for any new Vaio owner is to strip out the layers of desktop "enhancements," media '"managers," and system "control software" that serve only to get in the way of doing things the way you know how to do them, interfere with other software packages, and suck up such enormous amounts of resources on start-up that two weeks after you've bought one, you're still not sure whether it's broken or not.

9 Outlook/Exchange

Free, Web-based e-mail systems have more storage than you can use. They have powerful, accurate, swift search systems. They have clean interfaces, with threaded conversations and sane attachment management.
Then there's Microsoft's Outlook. Things have been getting better for those whose corporate upgrade strategy allows it, but with major updates happening every four years or so, that's a long time to be looking at a non-threaded, license-restricted storage-squeezed, treacle-slow-searching e-mail system. Especially while the online services get better and better, and doubly so now that e-mail is the single most important business application ever created.

10 Flash

There's nothing wrong with Flash, provided you don't use it to construct Web sites where people want to find information, navigate easily, or do anything beyond passively consume exactly what you choose to give them in exactly the way you've decided. There's also nothing wrong with using it for a splendid splash screen replete with movies, sound and animation—if you don't mind frustrating, annoying, and possibly even driving away people who might, just might, have something better to do.
In fact, Flash-based Web sites are quite possibly one of the most useful pieces of network technology around. Like heroin or microlights, they ensure that those who think it's a good idea aren't around to annoy us for too long.

09 May 2008

OpenOffice 3

There's a beta version of this popular and free Office package now released for public testing. By this point most bugs have been sorted and it ought to function smoothly. From a quick glimpse this is a genuinely new version and offers a smart interface and plenty of features. Of course, two reasons alone make it worthwhile for many (other than being free!).

You can save as or open pdfs which Office 2007 will not. You can open Word2007 documents which WordXP will not (without a shove and a push from a converter you need to download).

Give OpenOffice 3 a try - and do feed back any things you'd like changed to the OpenOffice developers. Links to how to do that are available at the software download site.


15 April 2008

100 exabytes of data

An exabyte is a billion gigabytes. It is believed that Google has 100 exabytes of data. There's a good article at Tech Republic that makes sobering reading and suggests that the sheer size and potential influence of Google and their developing applications may force governments to take action and the world according to Microsoft looks like changing quite significantly in the next couple of years.

Worth a read if your into this sort of thing. Link here.

And it was only today I learned (from a student!) that the word for 1000 terabytes is perabyte.

11 April 2008

Really slow typing

As if poor old Vista users haven't enough problems, here's another for those who may be using a keyboard that uses a PS/2 socket (i.e. not a USB connection).

It seems that in the upgrade to Vista some vital bits of code were left out and systems will return to s default setting that, for reasons best known to themselves, shows the characters typed 12 milliseconds after hitting the key. Now 12ms may not sound long but it will result in you valiantly typing away and the letters appearing in a delayed fashion that can be quite odd.

In some cases it may also appear that the lovely new and zippy processor you have isn't coping well at all with a simple task and your computer may even freeze. (Remember those days? Well Vista brings them back!)

All this can be fixed, though, so don't panic. I would be inclined to get a new keyboard - you've probably worn out the E and backspace keys by now or scratched off bits of the N. However, if you want to adjust the settings to put things right there's a bit of Registry editing to do. Write to me for details.

29 March 2008

XP one more time

I said I'd publish the replacement kit when I'd found something. Well, these were so well-priced at about £400 each I've ordered two of each! Mesh have served me well for many years and supply them with the following spec which ought to do me until operating systems settle down and do a bit more than look pretty. And who knows? Maybe Linux or even another will have broken through into the mainstream and we'll all be able to turn on and tune in without waiting for ages.

ASUS F5V-Pro Laptop

Windows® XP Professional Edition.
Intel® Core™ Duo T2250 Dual Core Processor (1.73GHz, 2MB L2 Cache, 533MHz FSB)
15.4" WXGA TFT with Active Colour (1280x800)
512MB (128 Dedicated) ATI Mobile Radeon X2300 Graphics
1GB DDR2 677MHz Memory (1 x 1GB)
120GB Serial ATA Hard Drive (NB)
DVD Super Format Dual Layer DVD Writer +R/-R/RW/RAM
Wireless LAN - 802.11b /g (with Built in antenna)
Built in Webcam (1.3M)
3-D Stereo Sound + Internal Dual Stereo Speakers
Gigabit LAN Ethernet (on-board)
56k v90/92 Fax Modem
3 x USB2, Line-in, Mic, Headphone, VGA, Gigabit LAN (X50, F5V)
Windows 88 keyboard with "Fn" key for extended function,
USB Mouse
ASUS carrying case with shoulder strap and pouch for accessories
367mm(W) X262mm(D) X35mm(H), Weight: 2.6 Kg - Inc Battery (F5V)
2 Years Worldwide Warranty Parts & Labour

Mesh Matrix xxx+ PC

AMD Phenom 8400 Triple Core AM2+ ( 2.1GHz, 2MB Level 3 Cache)
Windows® XP Media Center Edition 2005
New MESH Mini-Tower Micro ATX Case +300W PSU
AMD PCI Express Mainboard AM2+ Phenom MATX
4GB DDR2 667MHz Memory -( 2x 2GB )
500GB Serial ATA Hard Drive with 16MB Buffer
LightScribe Super Format 20x Dual Layer DVD Writer +R/-R/RW/RAM
256MB Integrated On-board Graphics (SMA)
19" Widescreen LCD TFT Display with internal speakers
5.1 High Definition onboard sound card - 6 Channel Cinema sound
Logitech Cordless Keyboard & Cordless Optical Mouse
Free Microsoft® Works® 8.5 + 60 Days Microsoft Office Trial
Free Cyberlink Video Editing Suite - 7 titles (oem)
4x USB 2.0 Ports (onboard)
Network Ready integrated 10/100 Ethernet
Multi-format Memory Card Reader (matx)
1 Year Hardware Warranty - Back to Base (UK Mainland only)

28 March 2008

Plug and go go

With a computer on its last legs and a laptop down to its last GB of space I've got some new equipment coming. That's nice but how on earth do I move all the files from one to another? External hard drives would work but less than £10 got me a USB Data Link cable from Gizoo. It's great, plug one end into one computer and the other into another and you get a split screen with the local files in one part and the remote machine's in the other. Moving stuff is just a cut and paste job and several gigabytes that would have needed several trips by normal USB stick were almost instantly transferred.

Another gadget I got is a Pama bluetooth hands-free box. Intended for the car, as I seem to get more calls when I'm driving than I do when I'm not, it is a slightly revised version of something I bought a couple of years ago. That refused to recharge for some reason I never discovered and, as it had been a bit scratchy and basic I didn't bother getting another. This version is much clearer and displays caller ID too which is useful. Only about £30 from Amazon and it also has another use - I live in an area of poor mobile reception with none anywhere inside the house where I can sit in any comfort. With this device, the phone can be placed wherever the signal's good and I can just chat to the box in the warm and dry. Few of you will appreciate the difference but those that do should take a look. It's cheap and works.

25 March 2008

XP vs Vista revisited

I was thinking that it might be time to dip a toe in the Vista water as I'm about to buy some new computers and laptops. First run through the ads produced some good prices and interesting products but all with Vista and no obvious alternative which was what prompted the idea that maybe it might not be so bad now. I mean it's been a while, a Service Pack is on the way and surely by now all the problems people had been having with it not recognising their hardware or other applications had been resolved?

And Vista is better than XP, isn't it? Like faster, more secure, more efficient in the way it manages files, prettier . . . ? Well, it seems that, apart from prettier, it is none of the above and no, IT service staff at retailers and elsewhere are still running around like mad trying to find drivers for customers and fixes for applications that don't work like they used to.

As someone who does have rather more odd applications than average and zero time to mess around trying to find solutions to problems, and having just about got the hang of how to fix the few problems that I do encounter in XP from time to time and who really does need to be up and running as close to 100% of the time as possible, Vista is still not for me and I am seriously thinking about hanging on until Windows 7 (or whatever it will be called, hopefully next year,) arrives.

Helping to convince me that I'm not really odd, or stuck in a time-warp in this respect, is an excellent article by Randall Kennedy in the latest PC Advisor magazine. Well worth a read, particularly if you're about to make the switch or thinking about buying a new computer.


My problem now, though, is finding somewhere that will supply XP instead of the advertised Vista and it looks as though many of the best-looking offers won't be much good. I'm actually wondering whether some of the very good prices for kit I've seen could even be because retailers are having trouble shifting it with Vista installed.

I know it'll be hard work and I may even have to spend a bit more but I am definitely sticking with XP. I'll publish the best of the places I find in my search which may help others who feel the same.

25 February 2008

DreamSpark - free software for students

Microsoft have launched a programme called "Microsoft DreamSpark", which allows university and college students to download a range of free development and design software resources to help them in their studies. The applications are pretty 'geeky' and I guess their main appeal will be to Computing and Art & Design students but there may be something in the offer that might appeal to people in other fields.

This is a remarkable offer for anyone who knows about these things. To access downloads students will need to identify themselves as genuine students and I understand Microsoft recognise Athens accounts which we would probably have to create for them. There is some well-presented information for anyone who wants more information at either

the UK Further Education Blog (staff)

Microsoft DreamSpark (students)

Do pass this on to anyone who might be interested.

And don't forget that 'students' are eligible for the full, Office 2007 Professional suite, at a ridiculously cheap £30 or so. That was in another of my posts some months ago.

03 February 2008

Why do people feel they have to put images in Word to send them?

I notice that what a lot of people do when they want to share pictures by e-mail is paste them into a Word document and attach that. This is a pain from several angles for the recipient
1, they may not have Word and are left staring at a load of code and, more relevant as most people do have Word,
2, the pasted image can only be as big as the width between the document margins so if anyone wanted to look a bit more closely at it for some reason then they're stuffed,
3, the paste operation turns it into some weird .wmf type of file which no-one uses anymore and the only way to extract it and use it somewhere else if they wish to is to screen print the flaming screen print in the attachment which is silly,
4 Word can take an age to open if you haven't already got it open and
5, the file size is much bigger than it need be for the size of image sent.

This often is used for Screen prints. OK, so it's dead simple for you to hit PrtScr and paste into a handy new Word doc. That's the + point but it's all one-sided and selfish. Here's what you should do:

1. Do the Prt Scr thing
2. Open IrfanView which you should now have. It's instant and just zaps open no messing.
3. Paste.
4. Save the file (usually as a jpg)
5. Send that as the attachment.
6. Smile - you've been a good boy/girl and they'll appreciate it.

I reckon that, from scratch, with no apps open already, this route is also quicker so maybe the + point isn't such a + point after all. Any image editor will do, of course. It's just IrfanView is so fast and doesn't ask complicated questions. I particularly like closing things and not being asked a million times if I want to save changes and not finding another 79 files also open behind it that need closing too.

Of course, if all you want to do is send an image that's already an image then just attach that and forget Word altogther! If it's an original modern digital camera (or even mobile camera image nowadays) then it may be a good idea to resize it and compress it via IrfanView or whatever first. I must have written about that a hundred times before so you should have that message by now.

15 January 2008

Access Denied (but maybe not for long)

You may really have a good reason to access a web site that has been blocked by your employer's IT Services or some catch-all, over-protective bit of management software.

You can. Try this. Type
in the address bar, replacing www. site.com with the url required.

This often works because Google has a translation service to help others understand our sites and vice versa. They use a proxy service to present the new page and this may get around Big Brother. Of course, when you have time you should also get the site you want removed from the blacklist or included in a permitted list and discuss matters with him.

07 January 2008

13 Biggest Tech Flops of 2007

I reproduce below extracts from PC Advisor's list, presented in reverse order, just to keep you guessing! One thing they all have in common (apart from my agreement with all that they say!) is that we all had expected so much from them but have instead been left either a bit disappointed or frustrated. Here goes . .

#13. Screwed up to the max:

It sounded like a great idea: big cities would offer wide-area wireless internet access as part of their infrastructure, the same as roads, traffic lights... and sewers. A cheap, fast net connection anywhere within the ringroad, 24/7. What's not to love?

US cities blazed a trail of this net bonanza. Then public and private WiMax ventures started dropping like flies. Sprint and Clearwire called off their plans to build a nationwide WiMax network in the US, after Sprint CEO Gary "bet the company on WiMax" Forsee got canned in October 2006.

Then early in 2007 EarthLink bailed on its offer to foot the bill for a Wi-Fi network in San Francisco.

Similar city-funded projects have bought the farm in Chicago; Milwaukee; and Anchorage, Alaska. Even Silicon Valley - arguably the most net-centric community this side of Mars - has had a hard time getting its WiMax plans off the ground. The big reason? Cost. Unwiring the whole valley would cost an estimated $200 million, or $133K a square mile. SV geeks can always park their cars near the Googleplex in Mountain View, whose wireless network covers 12 square miles.

As for the rest of the US, well, they can hope and pray that the search titans win the FCC auction for the 700MHz wireless spectrum in January, and then decide to open their network to the world.

Does Google have to do everything? And even then, that's not going to help British geeks toiling away in the Thames valley. So much for WiMax.

#12. Web 2.0 woe: social networks

Memo to Badoo, Bebo, Catster, Dogster, Facebook, Faceparty, Flickr, Flixster, Hi5, Hyves, Imbee, Imeem, MySpace, Mixi, Pizco, Pownce, Takkle, Twitter, Virb, Vox, Xanga, Xing, Zoomr... and the 3,245,687 other social clamouring for our limited attention spans: we got it.

Making connections between friends is cool. Sharing photos and videos, even cooler. But it's all so... 2006. Haven't you got anything new to show us?

Here's a safe bet: Two years from now, 90 percent of these networks will be gone and their founders will be back working at Starbucks. I'll have a double mocha frappucino, please.

#11. Just Another Oxymoron: internet security

In 2007, the words "internet security" joined the ever-growing list of self-cancelling phrases, alongside "business intelligence", "government ethics" and "Microsoft Works".

This year, bot herders proved they could harness enough zombie PCs to take down an entire country's infrastructure for a month. Estonia eventually recovered, but our notion of net invulnerability hasn't.

According to McAfee's Virtual Criminology Report, some 120 governments are actively engaged in web espionage and cyber assaults.

Meanwhile, private criminals used the Storm worm to created a botnet for hire containing millions of zombies - enough to take down a major network.

As with global warming, there's plenty of blame to go around - for everybody from developers of insecure software to home users who blithely log on without inoculating their PCs. Let's hope they get more of a clue in 2008.

#10. Singing an old familiar Zune: Microsoft Zune

Microsoft ZuneMicrosoft got a chance to do things right with its "iPod Killer" in 2007. And Zune 2.0 was certainly an improvement - offering 80GB of storage instead of 30GB, wireless syncing, improved touch controls, and a choice of nano-like 8GB players in a variety of bright colors (Gaviscon pink, anyone?).

But Microsoft failed to lose the Zune's proprietary DRM scheme or remove all its restrictions on wireless music sharing (you can share songs with other nearby Zune users, but they can listen to them only three times before the songs go up in smoke).

#9. Sorry, we already gave: Office 2007

Many of us spent a decade learning how to use Microsoft Office. So now that we finally have it all down, Microsoft changes almost everything about the interface in 2007, and not for the better. Instead of simple-if-prosaic toolbars, Office 2007 serves up a jumble of confusing icons known as the 'Ribbon.'

Microsoft Office

Robert Luhn, editor in chief of DrBicuspid.com, says the new version was a stumble backwards. "Scrambled interface, incompatibility with old macros, but hey, I do get in-context spell checking," he says. "Is that worth the £200 upgrade? Me thinks not."

Overall, we liked the added support for XML and online collaboration tools when we reviewed Office 2007 late last year. But Ribbon schmibbon. We'll take the classic menus, please - even if we have to spend £20 for an add-in program to get them back.

#8. Needs to change its spots: Apple "Leopard" OS 10.5

Maybe we just got spoiled by the iPod and iPhone, but the glow came off Steve Job's halo after this feline fleabag debuted. Within days of its release last October, Mac users reported dozens of problems with the new OS, some more serious than others.

Among the many: wireless connections that slowly petered away, administrative logins that mysteriously disappeared, and a disturbing tendency to nuke data when moving it between two drives if the connection is interrupted.

Worse, a security bug that was fixed in OS 10.4 in March 2006 resurfaced in Leopard, according to Symantec. The Apple Mail vulnerability allows malicious attachments to execute code.

German security researchers discovered that Leopard came with its firewall turned off, leaving users vulnerable to attack. Adding insult to injury, some upgraders even reported a Windows-like Blue Screen of Death when upgrading from previous Mac OSes.

#7. Cannot be completed as dialed (sic): voice over IP

Here's a recipe for disaster: Have the market leader in your industry sued by three of the biggest telecom companies on the planet. Have second-tier players go belly up overnight, leaving thousands of business customers without any phone service. Add in a healthy dose of security vulnerabilities, and bake at 450 degrees until crispy.

Any way you slice it, 2007 was a crappy year for VoIP. Oh and by the way, your VoIP line may be bugged.

In November a UK-based security researcher released SIPtap, a proof-of-concept exploit that allows remote users to tap into and record voice streams across the net.

#6. 'Up to' something: the broadband industry

In 2007 US users learned that some of the largest ISPs in the country - Comcast, Cox, Qwest, Cablevision, and Charter among them - throttle or otherwise interfere with BitTorrent traffic on the sly. Comcast denied it at first, then admitted to "traffic shaping" to discourage bandwidth-sucking peer-to-peer users. Now it's being sued by angry customers. Suddenly the whole net neutrality argument doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

Meanwhile, all the major telecom providers who blithely handed their bitstreams over to the NSA without a subpoena are now demanding retroactive immunity for the deed. Whose bits are they, anyway?

But before UK users get too smug, try to remember the last time your broadband connection was as fast as the 'up to' figure you were quoted led you to believe. And then try to define what is meant by 'fair useage' on your ISP's download policy. Perhaps talk to Sky and Virgin subscribers about their ugly spat, or ask Ofcom to comment on the speed and build-quality of the UK's broadband infrastructure.

Add in ISPs merging left, right and centre, and 2007 was a less-than auspicious year for the broadband industry. As always, it was the poor old consumer who felt the chill.

#5. The great, the bad, the ugly: Apple iPhone

Apple iPhoneYes, we know. Sliced bread only wishes it were as great as the iPhone. And aside from minor flaws such as a tiny touch keyboard and lack of Flash support, the phone itself is pretty terrific. But the phone's 'broadband' mobile internet service and single (long-term) contract with only one carrier? Definitely second-rate. But if you want to switch from O2 to a different carrier - or pay as you go - you have to take your chances with the hackers.

The massive price tag doesn't help. If you've just shelled out the best part of three hundred quid on a phone, a monthly tariff of up to £55 is less than welcome.

And those who did try to open their iPhones to other carriers or third-party applications found themselves owners of £269 iBricks when Apple tweaked the firmware to lock them out.

Memo to Apple: it's time to treat iPhones for what they really are - pocket computers with phone functions built in - and open them up the world. Just a thought.

#4. No friend of dissent: Yahoo

We can't say we really expected much out of Yahoo in 2007. Giving CEO Terry Semel the boot was probably a good thing - especially after his $230m compensation package came to light.

Installing the original Yahoo, Jerry Yang, as head honcho also seems like a smooth move, even if the company seems permanently stuck in the number two position behind Google.

Yet there's one area where Yahoo can lay claim to being number one: creating political prisoners. At least three times over the past five years, information supplied by Yahoo to the Bejiing government has led to the incarceration of Chinese dissidents.

#3. The antisocial network: Facebook Beacon

We have to hand it to Facebook for stealing the social-networking spotlight from MySpace this year. But once it got up on stage, Facebook laid an egg.

For example, opening up the Facebook platform to third-party developers was inspired. Now, six months later, those viral-to-the-point-of-influenza Facebook apps are mostly just irritating. (For the 27th time: no, I do not want to spam everyone in my network with another movie quiz, thank you. Now go away.)

The introduction of Facebook's Beacon advertising program was more than disappointing - it was disturbing. Suddenly, anything you purchased on Amazon or three dozen other sites would be broadcast to your Facebook friends.

#2. What is it good for: the high-def format war

February 2007: Sony declares its Blu-ray the winner of the hi-def format wars.

April 2007: Toshiba announces its HD DVD player is the first to sell more than 100,000 units.

July 2007: Blockbuster Video says it will carry only Blu-ray discs in more than 1400 of its retail outlets.

August 2007: Paramount and DreamWorks announce exclusive support for the HD DVD format.

September 2007: God help us, a third HD format has emerged: HD VMD (Versatile Multilayer Disc).

Enough already.

#1. Significant how? Windows Vista

Five years in the making and this is the best Microsoft could do?

It's not that Vista is awful. The integrated security and parental controls are nice, and the Aero interface is as whizzy as it gets. Searching and wireless networking are much faster and easier than under XP.

It's just that Vista isn't all that good. Many of the innovations the operating system was supposed to bring - such as more efficient file and communications systems - got tossed overboard as Microsoft struggled to get the OS out the door, some three years after it was first promised. Despite its hefty hardware requirements, Vista is slower than XP.