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Posts tagged ‘software’

Free lunch: why that free thing is not free

December 8th, 2015


How many times do you see the word ‘Free’ plastered all over the internet?

Whether it’s free phone apps, free ebooks or free training courses, we’re bombarded with this word every day. It’s a marketer’s best friend, and a consumer’s greatest temptation.

But they say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Does that apply here? Read more

Keep your PC simple, stupid!

December 1st, 2015


Minimalism is quite a fad at the moment. Whether it’s decluttering your bookshelf or chucking out the chintz, from the piles of stuff in your house to the very patterns our things are decorated with, plain and simple is “in”.

Why is this? And is it something we can apply to our computers in a useful way?

There are a million reasons why minimalism might be the fashionable thing right now. I’m not going to go through every single one, but I’d like to suggest that it’s the feeling of freedom, of knowing that everything in your house it useful or beautiful, and that you know where everything is.

There’s also something about deciding what you need, and also being more certain of what exactly it is that’s lost when something goes wrong. Read more

Backup: your complete guide

September 17th, 2015


Backup: everyone knows they should do it, but so many don’t. Whether it’s your family albums or your business’s accounts, you need to protect what’s on your PC from loss or damage.

You may worry that it’ll take ages, cost a fortune, or that you’ll forget to keep it up. In this guide I’ll show you the different types of backup available, the software to use, and how to get around all these problems and worries.

Basic Backup

There are two types of backup you can do right now (as long as you’re reading this on a desktop or laptop!). They’re not the perfect solution, but they’re infinitely better than doing nothing.

Copy and Paste

At its most basic, a backup is just a second, reserve copy of your files so that you can recover from accidentally deleting things, or if your computer breaks down. So, the easiest way to back up is simply to copy and paste all your files to a new, second location. Try copying everything to a dedicated folder on your C:\ drive, or – even better – onto an external disk. That’s it – you now have an infinitely better backup than you did a moment ago!

System Restore, or Recovery

Open the Windows menu and search for ‘restore’. In Windows 10, open ‘Recovery’, from where you click on ‘Configure System Restore’, then ‘Create…’ to save your computer’s current state. With Windows 7 you should look for System Restore.

If Windows suffers a problem, such as being unable to boot, you can roll back to any of the system restore points that have been created, and essentially undo any damage. This tool does not back up your own documents etc., so use it in conjunction with (at the very least!) Copy/Paste to preserve your machine properly.

Proper Backups

There are much better ways to backup your computer than the ones mentioned so far. There are a handful of different types, and so the following will give you an idea of your options. Choose the one which suits your needs the most.

1 Synchronising backup

This type creates a copy of all your files, and then whenever you run this backup again it simply updates any files which have changed at the source, deletes files which have gone from the source, and adds new files which have been created since the last run.

This is one of the smallest backup types, and takes up the least space. The second run, and all runs after that, are quick. However, if you accidentally delete something but don’t notice until after the next backup run, the file will be gone entirely. Therefore it’s not very sophisticated.

Examples: Create Synchronity, GoodSync, Allway Sync.

2 Incremental backup

Incremental backups first make a copy of all your files. Then later runs make a record of all new files, deleted files and changed files, and notes the date.

That means that updates after the first one are quick, and you can roll your computer back to any date on which a backup was taken. It takes more space than the Synchronising type, but it means that every file that’s ever been on your PC is preserved, until the drive is full. At that point, your software should start deleting old backups as it creates new ones.

Examples: Time Machine (for Macs), Backup4all, EaseUS.

3 Disk Image

With a disk image backup, your entire hard drive with all its contents – program files, documents, photos, registry – is wrapped up into a single huge file, and put away for safe keeping. If your computer was to be abducted by aliens, or fall into a canyon, then as long as you had the image, and built a computer identical to the one it came from, you could restore the disk image and carry on from there.

It’s a long process to create a disk image, and every new backup takes the same amount of time to make. This type of backup also takes up the most space, as your whole computer is effectively cloned every time. However, it’s also the most comprehensive, taking in everything in one go, and has other uses, such as duplicating systems in offices and the like without having to install Windows on each one.

Examples: Macrium Reflect Free, Acronis True Image.

4 NAS and Cloud backups

NAS stands for ‘network attached storage’, and usually refers to a dedicated box linked to your router or modem at home. It can be used to share storage across all your computers, or maybe to stream digital media around your home. It can also be used to store your backups. ‘Cloud backup’ is a similar idea, except that the data is uploaded to the ‘Cloud’, i.e. the Internet. Both processes might use one of the methods already mentioned in this article, such as incremental or disk image.

The big advantage of these network locations is that your files are secured away from your PC. If possible, you should always keep them in a different location to your computer, so that if something happens to the computer it is less likely to happen to your backup too. Imagine if your files were on a USB disk in your laptop bag, and your laptop was stolen, USB disk and all!

A big disadvantage is that transferring your files over a network connection is always going to be slow compared to backing up to a disk connected to your PC. And if your internet connection is limited, then backing up 200 gigabytes (GB) of photos to the cloud might use all that up in one go (or might take weeks)! You also need to pay a subscription to a company if you want cloud backup, and you need to trust that company not to spy on your stuff.

Examples: SpiderOak (cloud), Carbonite (cloud), Western Digital My Cloud (home NAS box).

Back up today!

However you do it, backing up your computer’s files and folders is arguably the most essential maintenance task you can do with your PC or laptop. It’s the first thing I do when a customer trusts me with their machine, and I make sure all my own computers are backed up at all times.

I must admit I got burned once many years ago, and nearly lost some valuable and much loved files. Luckily, even in those prehistoric days a computer repair shop saved things for me, and I learned my lesson. 🙂

Speed Up Tools, Registry Cleaners and Driver Updaters

September 1st, 2015


We’re always looking for ways to speed up our PCs and laptops, aren’t we? We want to make them run more smoothly, reduce errors and Blue Screens of Death. There are plenty of free downloads which promise to help. But are we putting our computers at risk?

Registry Cleaners

The Registry is infamous, and hundreds of software titles claim to be able to solve the problems it causes. These programs strip out bits of the Registry which they claim are useless or broken.

But the Registry hasn’t benefited from cleaning since Windows Vista, and doing so will not speed up your PC. You could even end up breaking Windows by using one of the poorly-programmed titles which are a bit gung-ho about their job.

Driver Updaters

You see the adverts everywhere online, trying to get you to scan your PC and ‘Update Your Drivers’. You can download software tools which will do this for you, and bring all your hardware drivers up to date.

But bringing a driver up to date only helps in very specific cases, and can actually cause more problems than it solves. Many crash-prone Windows systems have bad drivers as their cause, and some newer drivers are not compatible with your laptop from a few years back.

PC Speed up tools

You can find dozens of all-in-one suites which will clean the Registry, update your drivers and strip out tonnes of ‘unnecessary’ Windows components to help give your PC a speed boost.

As you can probably tell by now, carrying this out without the proper caution can really chop mighty holes in an otherwise healthy computer. You really need to know what you’re doing to make proper use of these software suites.

How to solve the problem

So are all these programs mere snake-oil, to be avoided at all costs? They certainly can bring unwanted extra malware onto your computer, and some titles try to get you to phone premium rate international numbers.

But not all these titles are untameable monsters. Here’s how to stay safe, while getting the best out of these titles:

  1. Only use these tools to target specific problems. If you’re having trouble uninstalling a program, a Registry cleaner might be needed, but only remove those entries related to your problem software. A good cleaner will let you do this.
  2. Only use software that’s been recommended by an expert, or someone you know who’s used it. I’d go with CCleaner for junk file clearance, SlimDrivers for driver updates, and System Mechanic for all-in-one cleaning. These titles let you pick and choose which problems to solve. Avoid the temptation to tick all the boxes!
  3. Backup, backup, backup your whole system before you do anything! And know how to restore from the backup when something goes wrong.

At Ship Shape Computers, I’ve seen my customers use every type of program to speed up their PC, often with devastating results. So think about what you’re trying to do, and use a tool that is accurate and reliable. And most importantly of all, make sure you can roll back any changes you make, before you risk making a bad situation worse.

Alternatively, call in someone who can carry out the pinpoint repairs needed without resorting to these scanners and Russian Roulette repairs!

Image: Crash at St.Marys Corner – Andrew Beaumont – LDS Alfa Romeo – Glover Trophy practice – Goodwood Revival 2013 – Driver ok by PSParrot (Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0))

Stop software hijacking your computer

April 28th, 2014


Every week, I get calls from people who’s computer has been hijacked. Their favourite search engine is covered in adverts, or there are pop-ups stopping them browsing. Many of these problems are caused by software sneaking onto your computer when you’re trying to install something useful.

I’m going to show you how to stop yourself being a victim. Read more