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Posts tagged ‘Microsoft’

Firefox: why it’s my web browser of choice

January 19th, 2016

Martin

I’ve been using Mozilla Firefox since version 0.9 way back in the prehistoric era of 2004. Back then Internet Explorer 5 was by far the dominant web browser, and I admit I was just keen to buck the trend. But it quickly became clear that supporting alternative browsers was (and is) healthy for the growing Web. It’s still my opinion that the Web would not be the thing it is today if not for Firefox and the developments and standards it allowed.

I’ve dabbled with the Google Chrome, and as a web developer I need to keep copies of other web browsers around. But why have I come back to Firefox again and again, and why do I stay? Read more

The problems facing the kids

April 16th, 2015

Martin

When Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple, like many others in the nascent Silicon Valley they started in a garage. In fact, Steve W (for that is easier to spell on this much caffeine) had been visiting the Homebrew Computer Club in their own garage for a while beforehand.

What is the ‘American Garage’? It’s like the good old-fashioned British Shed. It’s a workspace for tools, tables, and downright Getting Stuff Done. Or pretending to, but the Apple founders certainly Did, as did the Homebrew Computer Club. The Garages, like the Sheds, were places to try stuff out, learn new skills, play around, experiment, gather with like-minded souls and swap ideas.

The Homebrew gang were one such gathering, who loved nothing more than to design circuit boards and gadgets, and build fun and new homebrew computers (hence the name). The first Apple computer, the Apple I, was conceived at, and inspired by, one of the get-togethers. It was Steve J who saw the potential in selling it.

Can you imagine that today?

That’s more of a plea than a question. If you have kids, or know someone who does, and those kids are in any way interested in computers, could you imagine them designing one themselves? What if I include teenagers and university students – any computer designers? Real computer designers? Would the Kids even know how to go about designing a computer?

Probably not. And it’s for this reason that new start-ups, like Apple once were, are unlikely to challenge the big boys in the near future. And because of that situation, it’s unlikely that UK companies will be doing the challenging.

The Raspberry Pi is one British exception. Designed by ARM in Cambridge, it’s been an incredible success. But it has (intentional) limitations. It’s low powered, designed to be cheap almost to the point of disposability, making it a good choice for schools teaching computing.

Apple’s business model soon became (and remains to this day) one of complete control over the hardware and software. So you get an Apple operating system running on Apple hardware. The Personal Computer (PC) by contrast, has a (usually) Microsoft operating system running on systems from a variety of manufacturers.

BUT! All those systems are ‘IBM PC compatible’, which means that they are the latest in a long line of computers originally inspired by IBM’s 1981 5150 Personal Computer. They’re essentially an evolution of that ancient ancestor.

What I’d like to see ia revolution.

The problem with evolution

It was great fun following the progress of the PC in the 1990s. The Internet and World Wide Web were just finding their place in the home, and computer speed grew in leaps and bounds. Your 1995 model was almost useless  by 1999, whereas a 2005 PC would probably be fairly serviceable even by 2009.

So, as time has gone on, a ‘new’ PC has felt less and less like a ‘new PC’. It still runs Windows, which hasn’t changed much since Windows 95, it’s more likely to be a non-upgradeable laptop, with only about a 20% increase on power over the last one. And as prices have come down, they’ve only really released a bottom end of plasticky, under powered junk which needs replacing in two years anyway.

Every new PC is barely distinguishable from the next. Tablets are growing ever more popular, and are sealed appliances, thrown away when done with. And the PC and laptop industry is dying as margins are squeezed more tightly. Big names like Sony and Samsung are getting out of the game altogether, which causes the consumer no end of problems.

And from my point of view, as a PC repair technician, the job is becoming ever more difficult as people abandon the repairable PC in favour of the replaceable ‘device’. At the same time, peoples’ expectations of their technology diminish: they are ready to throw stuff away when it gets the hiccups, they expect them to be difficult, fragile, always in need of replacement. And they expect them to be full of junk trials, useless shortcuts and cookie-cutter interfaces.

And they view desktops as antiques, forgetting some of their unique benefits, such as ergonomics, repairability, upgradeability, customisation.

Where are you going with this, old man?

This all adds up to a disillusionment with technology, an ignorance of the joys it can bring, and a pulling of the wool over users’ eyes. There are a few things you can do to combat this.

Consider a desktop computer

Or, at least consider which is the best computer for you. I get asked “Shouldn’t I just buy an iPad?” This is an impossible question to answer, without a host of other questions from me to you. iPads are not ‘the latest computer’, nor the ‘culmination of slim and light computing’. They’re extremely mobile gadgets which let you browse the web, read articles and send email on the go. They also run games, and apps which bring a little taster, a toolkit, to your travels.

But have you ever tried doing a spreadsheet on one? Or a novel? Or fast-paced shooter game, or giant session of Civilisation? Of course not. Apple might like you to think you could, but they’d never go so far as to pretend to your face that you should.

So, when in the market for a new computer, think: where will I use it, what will I use it for? Am I hoping to offload a handful of basic tasks from a different, bigger PC? Or do you need a main machine to store all your music, videos and photos, run your top games, and stream TV programs to your living room set?

Know what you need, and what you don’t

The first thing you should do when you get a new PC or laptop is to get rid of all the junk you find on it. Start with the short cuts on the desktop: are any of them pointing to useless programs you never intend to use? Go into Control Panel > Uninstall a Program and zap it.

While you’re in that list, see if there are any other things in there that can go. I’m thinking anti-virus trials, Free Game (not really free) and video editors. Really, when are you ever going to bother?

If you’ve chosen a desktop, the next thing you have the opportunity to do is to get a professional in to put one together for you. Desktops give you more oomph per pound than laptops or tablets. In fact, for the price of the latest iPad, I could build you an amazing machine which would last years before it needed an upgrade. And it wouldn’t have all the crap I just showed you how to remove. It would be CLEAN. A joy to use.

Encourage your kids to Know Computers

I’m not talking about building you a desktop, although that’s a great start. Get them interested in how they really work, right down to the silicon. Know which bits do what, and which bits are the bits and which are the bytes.

Make sure they understand why one company in Seattle controls the IT viewpoints of 90% of the population, and why Britain no longer holds any sway on the family PC. Help them understand why the 1980s was a beautiful era where dozens of computers competed for your cash, each trying a different way of working but, sadly, unable to talk to each other, leading to the de facto standard we suffer under today.

Lern Yerself Computing

And while you’re at it, make sure you know what you’re computer’s for. Put a bit of thought into why you’ve got the type you’ve got – desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile phone. Take control of your computing lifestyle, and don’t let the cruft build up.

Maybe if we all become more savvy IT consumers, we’ll make the PC manufacturers take more care over what they sell us, rather than them being forced into seeing what junk they can trick us into paying for.

And then, just maybe, a new generation of garage- or shed-dwelling teenagers will bring something new, adventurous and Revolutionary into the world, and make computing fun again.

Why you should hate those Microsoft call scams even more than you do

April 14th, 2015

Martin

On one level, they’re just another cold call. Just another waste of time. Another reason to consider dumping your landline altogether (unless you’re like me, of course, and they have your mobile number too). Gah!

I’m talking about the infamous Microsoft Call Centre Scam.

It starts the same way each time: “Hello, sir, my name is Kevin and I’m calling from Windows Security Centre.”

You wonder whether it makes you a little bit racist to wonder whether you know other Kevins with Indian accents. It does, but you keep listening.

“We’ve been noticing some errors on your computer…”

If you’re one of the unfortunate people who’s not heard of the scam, and are taken in, you’re then guided to:

  1. Give control of your computer to these nincompoops;
  2. Not look too closely at the screen of vague error-looking messages;
  3. Hand over all your cash.

At each stage you’re slowly led into believing that Microsoft have spotted a problem with your PC or laptop, and are fixing it. But all they’re doing is pulling playing cards out from the bottom of the unsteady pyramid that is Windows, and one day soon it’ll all come crashing down.

But by then the Kevins will be long gone, as will that cash.

The man who knew too much (for my liking)

What makes me fume about these pathetic people (even more so than their bare faced cheek in the first place), is demonstrated by the experience of one of my customers, who called me in to check on her laptop, post-scam call.

Kevin began his spiel, but my customer made her suspicions known. This is when Kevin revealed that her laptop was so bad that it was damaging the internet connection of everyone else in her block of flats.

Yes, he knew she lived in a flat. He knew which block, and where. He described the grounds surrounding the block where she lived, and where I visited her. Need I add that this was a sheltered block? The mind boggles at how people can do this to their fellow humans.

Nearly taken in now, my client asked if she could consult the building manager about this, and Kevin agreed to let her call back. I don’t know whether he had nerves of steel (and an extra script to call on), or whether something even creepier was going on, but sadly on this day the building manager was elsewhere at that moment.

The emotional blackmail, once back on the phone, continued, and a credit card transaction took place, for several hundred pounds.

Evil Kevin had succeeded. Nearly.

It’s almost worse when you try to get your money back

Luckily, our would-be victim couldn’t shake her paranoia, and called her bank soon after putting the phone down to Kevin. Said bank cancelled the transaction, and the money was safe. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it.

‘Kevin’ rang back.

Rang back!

And he was angry. I can’t tell you what he called my client, because she refused to divulge it. Her voice at this point in her tale gave the game away all to clearly. They were not nice words.

And as my client stood her ground, Kevin only got worse, and… well, my former amusement at this type of scam evaporated.

Grease stain on the fabric of life

(I got that subtitle from Googling what is an acceptable personal insult on a family-oriented blog. I want to call them much worse.)

To conclude: this is more hateful than a ‘straight’ scam. These people lie, call you names, threaten, cajole and put pressure on innocent and vulnerable people. They leave them with crippled laptops that cost more money to repair.

I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to tell anyone you know, who owns a computer, that this scam is still ongoing, especially if you think they’re at risk from being pulled in. And I’m not looking specifically at the elderly, because this can affect anyone, and my client was certainly not elderly.

And, if you get the call, be polite, let them chat for a moment, introduce themselves as Rachel or whatever. And then, when you’ve responded to the “We’ve noticed…” line with an angry tirade against unauthorised spying (that gets them angry, I tell you), clear you throat, pause…

Then yell ‘NINNYHAMMER!’ at them and slam the phone down.

What to do about Windows 8

December 4th, 2012

Martin

Windows 8 has been out for a little while now, and I’ve already done some repair work on Windows 8 PCs and laptops! It’s also cheap (less than £45 on Amazon), and promises the latest in Windows technology (whatever that is). But is it something you should put on your Christmas list?

I’m not going to be reviewing Windows 8 in detail here. There’s plenty of others doing that now. What I want to do is give you an overview of what it means to upgrade from earlier Windows versions, so you can decide whether to do it now, later, or skip this one altogether. Because, be honest, in this world there’s no getting away from Microsoft’s juggernaut in one form or another. Read more

Re-installing Windows: the simple guide

May 28th, 2012

Martin

Computers running Microsoft’s Windows operating system are notorious for slowing down over time. A lot of my customers come to me assuming that PCs get slower as they age, and need a hardware upgrade – perhaps something as drastic as a new PC.

But this is simply not true.  The main problem Windows users face is a lack of maintenance. Tiny problems accumulate over time, gradually straining the system until it falls down under its own weight. What’s needed is a spring clean.

But sometimes – just sometimes – something more drastic is required. No more time for pruning and shearing: it’s time to wipe the slate clean and start again. It’s time to re-install Windows. Read more