Category Archives: Tips and Tricks

Is Windows 8 Really So Bad?

Restore the Start menu to Windows 8 Desktop Mode

Restore the Start menu to Windows 8 Desktop Mode

One of the more common questions we get these days is “Windows 7 or Windows 8?” It seems a lot of people are hearing that Windows 8 is a bad operating system and so they are nervous about a switch. The biggest fear or complaint about Windows 8 is the disappearance of the “Start” button, but don’t worry: there is an easy and free fix for that which we describe later in this article.

The first advice I would give is to not worry too much about choosing Windows 7 versus Windows 8. Despite Microsoft marketing and media attention to the contrary, Windows 7 and 8 are not much different under the skin. Either one will be perfectly fine for the vast majority of users. The most prominent differences are cosmetic, and while these can seem daunting to the casual user, the fact is that it is not difficult to make Windows 8 look and feel very similar to Windows 7. Continue reading

A Windows 8 Tablet for Free? Sort of.

One of the more intriguing developments in computing today is the introduction of Windows 8 on touch-screen tablets. Unlike an iPad or an Android tablet, a Windows 8 tablet allows you to access all of your normal desktop applications and documents. But if you already have another tablet, you might not be ready to buy another one, and full Windows 8 tablets are not cheap: prices range from about $900 to $2000.

Well, here’s a way to turn your iPad or Android tablet into a Windows 8 tablet, for free.

If you happen to have a Windows 8 computer, you can tie it into your tablet. If you don’t have a Windows 8 computer, but you have a spare desktop or laptop computer sitting around, you can upgrade it to Windows 8 inexpensively. (If you need help upgrading, of course you can bring the computer to us.)

On your tablet, download an app called Splashtop. The Splashtop app allows you to remotely connect to other computers. If that computer is running Windows 8, all of the “touch” features will be available on your tablet even if the remote computer does not have a touch screen. Essentially, your iPad, or an Android device such as a Samsung Galaxy, will mimic a Microsoft Surface tablet.

The Splashtop app is free so long as you connect to the remote computer over your local network. If you want to connect across the internet, there is an annual fee of $16.99, which is awfully cheap compared to a Windows 8 tablet computer.

Your Antivirus Is Worse Than You Think

We have always taken the position that antivirus software is necessary but not sufficient, and is best viewed as a second line of defense against malware threats. A recent study published by the Imperva Hacker Intelligence Initiative confirms our suspicions in stark terms. According to this study, on average your antivirus software has about a 5% chance of detecting a new threat on the day that the threat is released by the bad guys. Given that as many as 100,000 new “strains” of malware are released every single day, chances are you will be easily infected if you are trusting your antivirus as the first line of defense.

The good news is that within one to four weeks after a given new threat, most antivirus products are able to detect and eliminate it. The bad news is that it’s a losing battle.

So if antivirus software is not your first line of defense, what is the best way to combat infection attacks? Good old fashioned vigilance and common sense. The vast majority of infections enter your computer through attachments or links in email. Spammers distribute millions of bogus emails daily that find new and creative ways to try to fool you into opening an infected attachment, clicking on a link to an infected web site, or getting you involved in some sort of fraudulent con game. The best defense is to be suspicious of each and every email, even if it appears to be from a company or person that you know and trust – often the “from” information is faked by the spammer through one means or another.

Never open an attachment if you can help it, particularly if it is unsolicited. If you think it is from someone you know, contact that person by phone to verify before opening the attachment.

Never click on a link in an email unless you first verify that the link is legitimate. Remember that the visible text showing for the link may be different from the actual link. In most email programs, you can see the actual link by hovering your mouse over the link (but don’t click). When you hover, the link will appear either in a small pop-up, or in the status bar at the bottom of the window. For example, this link actually goes to our home page. For example, if the email claims to be from FedEx, but you hover over the link and it reveals something strange like girlsinbikinis.com, then hit the Delete key.

Another common avenue for infection, particularly where teenagers are in the home, is by file sharing. Many people enjoy downloading “free” games, music, and software from file sharing sites. But a very high percentage of such files are infected. The best rule of thumb is to never download from file sharing sites. If you absolutely must do it, then download to a computer you don’t care about.

We have written in the past about a completely different form of attack that has gotten a lot of traction in our area – phone attacks. It works like this: you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft and claiming that they have detected problems on your computer. They ask you to allow them to access your computer so that they can resolve the problems for you. Once you give them access, suddenly they find all kinds of “problems” that can be “resolved” only if you pay them a fee for what turns out to be fake software. In the meantime, they have infected and hijacked your computer and can even encrypt it and hold your data for ransom. A number of our customers have received this phone call, and we’ve even gotten them here in our office.

ScreenShot1199The scam is effective because the scammers make the safe bet that everyone has at least some problems on their computer, and further bets that they will trust a caller who claims to be from Microsoft. It is far more personal than anonymously distributed spam email. The scammer is usually calling from a noisy call center, with poor phone quality, and in our experience always has an Indian accent. Needless to say, never give any information to such a caller. We recommend you tell them something like this: “I appreciate your call. Please hold on the line while I forward you to my cousin who works for the FBI and who will be able to assist you in this matter.” This will terminate the call quickly and ensure there are no further calls.

Many people ask us if using a Mac will ensure safety. Mac are not immune to attack, although viral infections are rare on that platform. But Macs are equally vulnerable to email phishing and phone scams, and increasingly are seeing other types of malware attack. As on Windows computers, your best bet is to be careful, and to always keep a backup of your data just in case.

It’s an ugly world out there, but if we are vigilant we can stay safe from all of these attacks.

Seven Secrets Computer Retailers Don’t Want You To Know

We’re all in the same boat, working hard to navigate the rough waters of a weak economic sea. We need to be careful to spend our money wisely, and this includes how we approach the purchase of a computer. We’re going to get a little wordy in this tutorial, but if you are thinking of buying a computer at some point, you might want to read this now or save it for future reference.

Many people purchase the cheapest computer they can find, but this can be as much of a mistake as buying the most expensive computer available. It’s far more important to focus on value rather than price. That doesn’t mean you need to spend a lot of money, but it does mean you need to be aware of what to look for and what to avoid. At the time of this writing, one local retailer is selling desktop computers ranging from $310 on the low end to $3500 at the high end, and for 99% of our clients we would advise not purchasing at either extreme, or even buying at retail at all. We’ll elaborate on the reasons why we feel this way by revealing some little-known or poorly understood secrets of the consumer computer industry.

Continue reading

Santa Brings a Dell?

We all know that the holidays means, aside from mangers, red noses, and airport body checks. It also means big business for technology companies. Lots of stuff is for sale, but not all of it is good. Cheap can mean low price, but it can also mean low quality.

We suggest avoiding the trap of buying computers at retail. The fact is that computer manufacturers lose money on low end computers sold to consumers at retail. They make up for that fact in two ways:

  1. Cutting corners by using cheaper components and weak warranties. This means more trips to Computer Troubleshooters for repairs, and as much as we like to see you, we’d rather see you under better circumstances.
  2. Loading up the computer with tons of “junkware”. In effect, the computer manufacturers rent out the space inside their computers to other companies who are paying to promote their wares to you. Just because a computer comes pre-loaded with a trial edition of Norton, for example, it doesn’ t mean it’s a good deal or that the manufacturer is endorsing the product as “best in class”. It just means Norton was willing to pay more to get in front of your face. Continue reading

What Your Web Site Says About You

First impressions count and today it’s likely that the first impression of your business will come from your website.  So what does your website say about you?  Is it permanently ‘under construction’?  Was it last updated in 1998?  Or is it an effective and measurable marketing tool?

To begin with, your website must say who you are, what you do and why you are different than or better than your competitors.  Deciding on a structure for your website doesn’t need to be daunting.  Go back to the basics and decide what the purpose of your site is.  Is it to close a sale and deliver a purchase or is it to inform and interest the reader enough to contact you?  If your website doesn’t provide the delivery mechanism for your products, then don’t try to jam it full of every single reason to buy from your business.  Instead, decide on key groups of customers and focus on the issues and challenges that cause them to look for a business like yours.  Next, pick out your unique selling points that show why you are different than your competitors.  If you say that you do the same things as the rest of your industry, people will have nothing to compare you with except your price.

While these marketing concepts are universal and can be applied to any advertising media, websites carry some unique capabilities that not everyone uses to their fullest potential.  Make sure that your website:

  • Is technically well designed to enable a better ranking in search engine results (e.g. Google).
  • Is updated regularly.  Search engines love regularly changing, relevant content so you want the ability to be able to add and change your text without it being a lengthy chore.
  • Captures the interest of visitors that meet your demographic goals. This is most effectively done by offering valuable information that is important to your target profile (age, gender, business size & type etc).  Remember, you know more than your customers about your product or service so you probably have the contents of a ‘free report’ in your head.
  • Tracks statistics such as referring pages, which of your pages are the most popular and which pages your customers last read before they leave.  This detailed information will enable you to see the impact of any changes that you make to your site’s contents or structure.

Talk to your Computer Troubleshooters about how to turn your website into a valuable marketing resource.