Finding your way around Windows 8.1

March 21st, 2014

Win 8_1

Windows 8.1 is the new operating system from Microsoft. Released in October 2012 it caused something of a stir with it’s new ‘Metro’ interface but as time has gone on, and with the release of 8.1, it has proven to be a stable system and, if you spend some time finding your way around, not so different to use after all.

The Metro Interface was definitely designed with touch screens in mind. The large Charms display your applications boldly. Some Charms, such as those for social media or email applications, can also display current content and alerts, so everything you need is there as soon as you switch on your PC, laptop or tablet.

Navigation is via a combination of swiping in from the sides on a touchscreen or moving the mouse cursor to the corners of the screen. For example, top-right or bottom-right will show you Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings. Bottom-left will take you back to the Start screen.

For users that prefer a more traditional view, the Desktop charm will take you into a more familiar desktop environment.

desktop

 

There is no Start Menu but clicking the Windows icon, bottom-left will show you all your available applications as Charms. Any applications you use regularly you can pin to the Taskbar by right-clicking on them and selecting pin to Taskbar.

For those that like the more technical aspects, in the Desktop view the Windows logo key Windows-logo-s +Z will bring up a menu with more technical utilities such as Control panel and Command Prompt.

menu-trimmed

 

In Windows 8.1, Search is a very good way to find any files, applications, settings or virtually anything you require. Move the mouse cursor to the top-right, or swipe in from top-right, and type in whatever you are looking for. If you are in the Metro interface you can just start typing and it will automatically open the Search box.

search

For many more details on the various key board and mouse shortcuts available and finding your way around Windows 8.1, Microsoft have produced some great guides, which can be found at
http://windows.microsoft.com/en-gb/windows-8/mouse-keyboard-whats-new
and
ttp://windows.microsoft.com/en-gb/windows-8/getting-around-tutorial

PC, laptop, ultrabook, tablet? Which is best?

January 14th, 2014

If you are looking to invest in a new system  the choice can be daunting.  But don’t panic, by considering a few simple questions you should be able to determine the best solution for you.

Start by asking yourself the following questions.

iPadWhat do I want to use it for? Browsing the web, checking emails and a few apps?  If so, a tablet or ultrabook would be suitable.  If you want to start opening and creating documents, editing photos or playing serious games then a PC or laptop would be better, or you will need a hi-spec tablet or ultrabook.  Remember that Tablet devices only have the onscreen touch keyboards as standard so are not that great for typing long documents.

Are you going to be traveling with it? Do you want to take your device on holiday or away on business?  Would you like the flexibility to use your device around the house? If so, then you’ll need to look at a laptop, ultrabook or tablet, depending on your answer to question 1.  If you’re just going to have the system set up in an office or spare room then a PC would fit the bill though this will need either a wireless card or a cable to your router for Internet access.

What sort of features do you want? If you are looking for something low to mid-range for everyday home computing then either tableta laptop or PC would suite.  If you want to look at video editing, high end gaming, design or graphics works then you would probably be better off with a PC.  PC’s are much easier to add additional hardware and upgrades to, plus you have a choice of monitors, speakers and other peripherals.  Of course, you can also add larger monitors, keyboards etc. to laptops if you want the best of both worlds!

Tablets and Ultrabooks have limited features and ports so don’t expect to be able to automatically connect lots of external devices.  They will also only have Wifi and possibly Bluetooth support for networking.

Windows 8 laptopDo you need plenty of storage? If you want to download a lot of photographs, videos or movies then you will need to look at either a PC or laptop with a large hard drive or an external storage device to accompany an Ultrabook or tablet.  You can watch videos and TV without storing them locally on the device but this will require good WiFi access to the Internet or a good mobile signal (and data tariff!)

Do you need compatibility with other software or devices? Many Tablets and Ultrabooks will not run the Windows operating system.  They may be running Google’s  Android operating system, Apple’s iOS or maybe a version of Linux.  This means that it may not be possible to install or use existing software, open existing files on them or connect other devices such as cameras or printers.  If you need to have compatibility with existing software, files or devices then you would be better with a device running a full Windows or Mac operating system (depending on what your old device was using)

Don’t forget to consider the cost of additions such as office software, anti-virus and any accessories.  Not all licenses can be transferred from an old system plus you may find that older software is not compatible with the new operating systems.  Also be wary of systems being offered pre-installed with software as often these will only be trials and will require additional purchases once the trial finishes or for full functionality.

If you need help choosing a new system, would like to purchase a new item and/or would like your new system setting up, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

Life after Windows XP – What will happen when Microsoft stops support?

January 6th, 2014

As we are all aware, everything comes to an end eventually.  That includes your white goods, your TV, that lovely bottle of wine and your PC’s and laptop’s.

Microsoft has announced that the Windows XP Operating System (the software that runs your PC or notebook) will become end of support in April 2014.  Basically this means that after next April they will no longer provide any of those updates that it keeps prompting you to install (but which keep your system safe from all those little security loopholes that people have found!).

Windows XP logoWhy?

Well, XP was initially released 31st December 2001 so has been around for over 12 years!  In technology terms that’s an awfully long time and it has been superseded by 3 further editions of Windows!

What will happen in April 2014?

  Your PC won’t suddenly stop working next April if you are still running XP.  However, Microsoft will no longer offer any form of support.  This means that if a hacker finds a loophole in the software they can exploit with a virus for example then Microsoft won’t issue an update to fix that loophole.  Also, they won’t fix any further faults that arise with the software or any compatibility issues.

What does that mean for me?

If you are using Windows XP then we would strongly recommend looking at upgrading your software to a current Operating System.  After April your PC or laptop will be open to any vulnerabilities that hackers and viruses decide to exploit.  Nobody knows exactly what effect this will have or how quickly, however, it would be wise to be prepared.

Windows 8 laptopWhat can I do to protect my system , data and identity?

If you are looking to replace your PC or laptop anyway then we would suggest doing it before April and then you’ll not get caught out. Have a look at our current laptop, tablet and PC offers as a guide.

Due to the age of XP it is likely that most machines are going to be of quite an old technology and not up to running the latest Operating Systems.  However, if you happened to buy a top end machine then it may be possible to just upgrade the Operating System software rather than having to replace the whole machine.

If you really can’t afford or don’t want to upgrade or replace your PC or laptop then make sure that it is fully patched up to date by going to http://update.microsoft.com in Internet Explorer and following the instructions.  Make sure you have a valid, paid for anti-virus product installed which is activated and up to date.  Finally, be savvy when using email, the Internet or working online.  Be careful of clicking on links in emails that you don’t know for sure where they have come from.  Avoid clicking on pop-ups when surfing the Internet and be aware of anything that seems unusual when online banking, filling in forms online or if the PC becomes slow or starts to crash regularly.

Windows XP screenshotHow do I know if I have Windows XP?

  If you are not sure if you are running Windows XP on your PC or laptop it is simple to find out.  Firstly, when you first turn your machine on then you should see an image displayed showing the operating system that is being loaded (Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 etc).  If you miss this (as it can flash by quite quickly!) you can hold the mouse over the My Computer icon on the desktop, click the right mouse button and select properties.  A window will appear showing your computers properties including the operating system.

What if my machine becomes infected with a virus and I lose access to my data?

 Depending on the impact of the virus, you may be able to run a variety of software to remove it. But if are worried about doing this yourself, most IT Support companies offer a service to deal with such problems. Please do take a look at the Virus Removal Service that we offer.

Don’t get scammed!

November 17th, 2011

Search for “computer scams UK” on the world’s favourite search engine and you get over 5 million results. Start to look through and the first 5 pages all talk about the recent fake phone scams affecting UK home computer users.

The fraudsters prey on computer users’ lack of knowledge where technology is concerned and persuade them that their PC’s are faulty or infected with viruses. They will often say that they can see the computer has been connected to the internet or sending emails, which builds up the fear in the user that someone can see what is going on within their home. They will normally claim to be from a well-known company such as Microsoft or a computer related company to add kudos.

The scammers will then try to gain remote access to the computer with the users help, claiming they will fix the problem and/or will ask for credit card details as payment for resolving a fault that never existed or that they created.

Other scams include emails asking for you to confirm account details, whether that is from a bank, PayPal or other social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Hotmail. The emails can look very genuine but no company will ever ask you for your account details via email.

Another scam is a play on the postal courier scam, where a card is left claiming a parcel tried to be delivered and asking you to call a number, which of course is a premium rate number. The electronic version is an email saying the same sort of message but asking you to open an attachment to view the delivery details. This contains a virus and as soon as it is opened the PC gets infected.

Finally, there’s the web based scams. You’re browsing the internet, on a reputable site, and suddenly a pop up says you have loads of viruses. It looks very genuine and so you, understandably, follow the instructions to clean the PC. As soon as you click on the image, a virus is downloaded to the machine and that’s it. if you’re lucky, you’ll get some annoying messages keep appearing and the PC will be a bit slow. More unfortunate users can suffer from the PC becoming unusable.

So how do you avoid the traps?

Generally, no company will telephone you to tell you your computer has a virus. The only exception to this is your broadband or email provider, who may call you if they see a significant amount of email traffic or broadband access which is not normal and exceeds their fair use policies. This may indicate a virus or spamming from your account. Definitely do not allow any one remote access to your PC unless you know who they are, where they are from and you have requested them to do so. Definitely do not give any cold callers access to your PC or credit card details over the phone.

If in doubt take as much information as you can get out of them such as company name, individual name, telephone number etc. and say you will call them back. Most will hang up at this point.

Never give any account information such as passwords or pin codes in response to an email request. Again, if in doubt, telephone the company to confirm that the request is genuine, but check the contact details from your own bank statements or correspondence, not from those given on the email or any associated web links. These can all be spoofed to get you to call the fraudsters.

Be wary of any emails with attachments when you do not know the sender or do not recognise their address. Read emails carefully before opening attachments or clicking on links and remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is! Only open attachments or follow links where you are sure of the sender and that it has genuinely been sent by that person.

Finally, if you are browsing the web and suddenly get a pop up regarding security or virus issues, and it is not from your own anti-virus package, don’t click on anything. Don’t even click the No or Cancel buttons. The best thing to do is to shut down the computer by clicking on the Start button. If this won’t work, hold in the power button until the PC or laptop turns off. It’s not ideal but it will limit damage from the virus.

If you think you have been affected by a scam or virus, check that the PC is working correctly, is not unreasonably slow, has not got more pop-ups or that your web browser is not redirecting you to strange sites. If you get any of these symptoms it’s likely your PC is infected so either contact your anti-virus provider or your local computer repair company to get it looked at quickly.

Generally, with any security issues, the more you use a PC the worse it will get so it’s best to get it checked out quickly. Remember that many viruses will disable or affect installed anti-virus packages but having a good security package installed on your PC, which is kept up to date will help to stop infections to your system and can help in damage limitation and removal should you get a virus or malware.

If the worst happens, @home IT offer a fixed price virus removal service for £82.50 including vat. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like any advice or help with PC security.

Is your network secure?

November 2nd, 2010

Google has recently been accused of gathering personal information gained from their Street View cars whilst gathering WiFi hotspot information for the software. This information was only gained via unsecured and open networks which could have been accessed by anyone with a limited amount of IT knowledge. So how can you be sure that your network is safe and secure?

You should ensure that your wireless network is secured using the latest technology available on your device such as a WPA or WPA2 key. This is a strong form of encryption which prevents people without the key accessing the network.

You can hide your wireless network from being discovered by other wireless devices, although this is easily circumvented and can cause problems if you regularly connect different devices. If you don’t want to hide your network then give it an obscure name that does not relate it to you or your property. Older security technologies such as mac addressing and WEP are more easily cracked and should be avoided.

On most modern routers the wireless security key is printed on a sticker on the router along with the SSID or network name. It is a good idea to log into your router and change the default information such as the administration password, SSID and key so that they cannot be known by anyone but you. Just remember to keep a note of them for future reference!

When you are out and about with your laptop and do not want to use wireless or Bluetooth, turn off these services. This will prevent people finding and connecting to your machine. There should be a switch somewhere on the laptop for these services or possibly one of the Function keys on the numbers at the top of the keyboard.

When connecting to unsecured networks such as hotspots make sure your anti-virus and firewall protection is enabled and up to date to prevent unwanted access. Also, avoid sharing drives on your computer. Although this may be convenient when you are at home, if you are out and about and connected to Public networks your data could be available to everyone!

Finally, if you need any help setting up or securing your network please contact us on 01628 819515 or email help@athomeit.co.uk.

Forget the mouse – keyboard shortcuts

October 26th, 2010

Have you ever been completing a monotonous task that involves typing a bit then moving the cursor to another area of the document? Been typing a long document and have to keep stopping to click on different toolbars and options?

Maybe something has gone wrong and the mouse has stopped working.  Do you carry on regardless or have to stop everything because of a faulty mechanical rodent?

Don’t worry, help is at hand.  Do you know it is possible to access almost every menu, option and tool on your computer with the press of a key, as well as the click of a mouse button?  Here are a few of the most used options which should help make life a little easier.

The Windows Key – this can be found on most keyboards to the left of the space bar.  It has the Microsoft Windows symbol on it. This will open the Start Menu and you can then navigate using the cursor (arrow) keys (to the right of the main keyboard).  When you have highlighted your item, press enter.  To open a sub-menu (like All programs) press the right arrow.  Don’t have a Windows key? Control + Escape does the same thing.

Selecting text – Use the Shift key.  This can be found to the bottom right and left of the keyboard with an upwards pointing arrow on it.  Hold the Shift key down and at the same time use the cursor (arrow) keys to move along the text.

To select whole words, hold Shift + Ctrl and use the cursor keys.

To select whole lines use Shift + End or Home (can be found to the top right of the main keyboard section)

Copy, Cut & Paste – once you have selected your text you may wish to copy or cut it to do this use Control + C to copy or Control + X to cut.  To paste the text back use Control + V

Menus – most menus can also be accessed via the keyboard.  Any time you see a menu item with a letter underlined, this is the shortcut key for that item when used with the Alt key (next to the spacebar).  This will vary between applications but in Microsoft Office for example,  Alt+F will open the file menu and allow you to scroll down through print, save etc. If you are using Office 2007 or 2010, just pressing the Alt key will show you all the relevant keyboard short cut keys. Ctrl+P will open the print menu and Ctrl+S the Save menu in almost all applications.

Made a mistake? Ctrl+Z will undo your last action and Ctrl+Y will redo it. How many actions this will work for depends on the application but it can be a useful ‘get out of jail’ card!

Moving between documents – pressing Alt+Tab will take you through all the documents you have open.

The right-click menu. Some modern keyboards have a special key to the right of the spacebar for this, it has a symbol like a square with horizontal lines and an arrow, but if you don’t have this key it can also be accessed using Shift+F10.

The F (function) keys are located along the top of the keyboard and all have their own uses both on their own and when used in conjunction with the Shift and Control keys. F1 will usually open Help for the application you are in, F4 will close the application, F5 will refresh the view you are looking at.

Hopefully this has given a taster of the options available!

Problems with BullGuard Internet Security Suite and latest Microsoft LiveMail updates

October 25th, 2010

We have been made aware of an issue with BullGuard anti-virus spam filters and Microsoft LiveMail.  The latest LiveMail updates have a conflict with the Bullguard splam filter.

After installation of the updates the conflict means that you cannnot access LiveMail.

Disabling the BullGuard Spam Filter will allow LiveMail to start working again.

As a permentant resolution, Bullguard recommend that users upgrade to Version 10.  This can be downloaded from http://download.bullguard.com/BullGuardDownloader.exe

If you have already uninstalled BullGuard then the latest version can be downloaded from the following locations.  You will need to re-enter your account information and key code to activate the full version.

http://downloads.bullguard.com/BullGuard_100.exe (for 32-bit)
 http://downloads.bullguard.com/BullGuard_100_x64.exe (for 64-bit versions of BullGuard).

Do you know what you’re downloading?

May 6th, 2010

We all download software, tools and utilities from the Internet. Maybe you need to do something as a one-off, want to trial some software or find a free tool that might be useful.

But do you know exactly what you are downloading and where it is coming from?  Is the site reputable?  Are there other things that might be included in your download apart from the particular item you require?

There are a few hints and tips you can use to check your downloads are not going to catch you out!

Check the reputation of the site

Use a free web browser security tool such as McAfee SiteAdvisor which will stop you inadvertently going to a site known for viruses, spam, malware and other nasties.  As well as blocking known dodgy sites it will also display symbols next to your search results showing which links are safe to follow and which you should treat with caution.

What are you downloading?

It’s easy to get distracted by the wonderful advertising and wording on some sites.  If you are downloading something which is supposed to be free, be wary of entering any payment details or too much personal information.  You may find yourself subscribing to a service you don’t want and which is difficult to cancel.  Sometimes you can find yourself following 2 or 3 links before you finally think you’ve found your download link only to find it’s for something else, so double check before clicking the download button.

Check the small print

Read through the license agreements and any small print before clicking the ‘Agree’ button.  Check what any information you enter will be used for and the license terms for the software or downloads.  There are lots of things which can be downloaded and used for personal use but not for commercial purposes for example.

Only install what you need

When you’ve found your file, on a reputable site, and it’s been downloaded you may think you’re home and dry, but there are still some things to look out for.  Read the installation instructions carefully.  Watch out for tick boxes that relate to other items such as unrelated toolbars, security products and search tools.  These items are generally not related to the software you are installing and can use up resources on the PC.

Finally…

If there is a piece of software or a utility that you want and it’s not available free of charge then you are unlikely to find a copy or a key code on the Internet.  There are crack-sites out there offering serial numbers or free downloads of games and software but normally all you’ll end up with are viruses, malware and spam.  Most software manufacturers are wise to the trade in illegitimate software and keycodes.  Most applications need to be authenticated online before they will work and once the key has been used once or twice it won’t work again without speaking to the manufacturer and providing proof of purchase.

On the plus side there are lots of open source and free applications available to download from reputable websites and as long as you take care over which sites you visit and what you download then have fun experimenting with some new applications!

Don’t buy more than you bargained for

May 6th, 2010

When ordering items online make sure you don’t end up subscribing to a service that you don’t need – or don’t even know about!

Make sure you read the small print on each page of the checkout process and double check anything that has a check box next to it.  These often relate to how the company can use your data – for it’s own marketing purposes, to keep you informed of updates or maybe to ‘share’ your data with selected 3rd parties – i.e. sell it on.

We have had reports lately of people finding strange charges on their credit card bills.  These turn out to be for subscriptions they have unwittingly subscribed to by not unticking a box whilst buying something online.  Often the websites and items they have bought are completely unrelated.

So, when buying online, keep safe by reading the small print and checking what those ticks mean, and remember to regularly check your credit card statements for unusual charges.