Archive for Software

New Years Computer Resolutions

New Years Computer Resolutions

New Year resolutions can come and go, but if you would like to keep your computer running smoothly, here are a few tips that can help.

Running the Best Security Software

Most computers today run at least some form of basic antivirus.  In the modern day however, threats have evolved to be more sophisticated, more damaging, and much more common.   Ransomware, malware, phishing, and zero-day attacks all work to attack unpatched systems without strong security.

Today, to keep up with increasing threats, you need a complete internet security package.   A layered system means more than just virus scanning.  A comprehensive security package includes prevention, detection, firewall and system monitoring at a minimum.   These layers work together to provide security many times stronger than a stand-alone system.

Reliable, up-to-date, security keeps you safe online.  It’s a resolution you simply can’t afford to skip.

Clean Up Files

Cleaning up unnecessary files is the number one way to gain additional storage space on a typical device.  It’s cost-effective without any extra hardware purchases too.

Almost all computers have files hanging around from old software, data or applications they no longer need.  Just like tidying the spare room or de-cluttering the kitchen, clearing files off your desktop and organizing your emails will leave your computer feeling refreshed and new again.

Restart Your Computer

Fully shutting down a computer and rebooting can take time.  When you are watching the clock, waiting to start a task or get work done, it can feel like an eternity.  Most of us enjoy simply opening the lid or powering on the screen to have everything ready to run.

Many times, we come across a computer that has not beeen fully restarted in weeks and these habits can cause issues with running software and the operating system too. Hardware updates, security patches, and critical updates often wait for a reboot before they install and reboots or shutdowns perform essential maintenance tasks too.

Merely performing a reboot at least every once in a while can secure your system and help get rid of software problems and updates can prevent new issues from cropping up too. Our general advice is to shutdown daily, unless there is a reason not to do so.

Use A Password Manager

Hacks of large institutions and popular websites are frequently in the news today.  Almost every month a major service reveals they have been hacked, their database compromised, and their customer credentials have been stolen.

For this reason, it is very unwise to use the same password to access multiple websites.  This can be a challenge for many.  It’s clearly impossible to remember a unique and secure password for every site you visit.  We recommend using a password manager that can store and recall your passwords for you.

A good password manager relies on just one, very secure, remembered password to safeguard an encrypted database of all your login credentials.  The password database is often stored in the cloud for access from all your necessary devices.  A manager can typically assist in creating a strong, secure password for each of your accounts too.

Using a good password manager and unique password for every site protects you against the attacks commonly in the news.  Hacks compromising major services from your providers will be powerless against directly affecting your other accounts and services.

Keep Your Computer Away from Dust

Dust, hair, and household debris are one of the major causes of premature death for computers.  Fans, used to cool components, suck in house dust as well as the air they need.  This dust often clogs up the inside of the device and overheats internal components.

If possible, keep a tower PC off the carpet and don’t run your laptop sitting on the floor, blanket, or other soft furnishings.  Cleaning out your device is as good a resolution as any, and there’s never a better time than now.

For a little help sticking to your digital new year resolutions and starting off on the right foot, give us a call today on 01455 209505.

Are Registry Cleaners a Good Idea?

Are Registry Cleaners a Good Idea?

We regularly see programs on customer computers that claim to be “Registry Cleaners”, “PC Boosters” or similar names, so we thought it best to talk about these so-called ‘helpful’ bits of software.

For example, a recent virus infection near Lutterworth was the direct result of one of these software programs.

You may have been alerted by popups while browsing the web, by (often flashing) advertisements claiming that your computer has hundreds or even a thousand errors requiring urgent attention to fix. Perhaps helpfully, these popups offer a solution to cure your computer with a click of the mouse and buttons marked “fix now” appear to offer a simple fix to all your computer troubles.

These advertisements are often described as “Registry Cleaner”, or by a few other names that attempt to convince the user they will somehow clean or improve their computer, such as “Optimizer”, “Tune Up” and the like. Within the IT industry they are known as “scareware” – they are software programs designed to convince you that your computer has problems that it might not have.

Are they trustworthy?

Almost all popups and advertisements that use banners saying “Fix now for free” are not trustworthy at all. They are little more than a scam attempting to take your credit card details, PC data or both. These programs might claim to scan your computer and show a convincing list of plausible sounding computer problems. Using this, they will ask for payment to “fix” these problems, to get your PC back in shape again.

At worst, these advertisements can be downright malicious. Some may attempt to use fake warnings and scare tactics to trick customers into installing spyware on their own computers. When installed, spyware will attempt to steal information in the background. Attackers may use this technique to steal usernames, passwords, emails, and credit card details and sometimes the first sign a user has that something is wrong, is when a virus scan detects software doing something it shouldn’t be.

Quite often, you can find that the program itself will automatically download further scareware or malware.

Do I need to clean the Registry?

The Windows Registry is a collection of settings that essentially cover everything on your computer, from the desktop that you see when you log in (which may be different to someone else’s) to important settings for programs that are installed. The Registry is vital to your computer and if it is corrupted or incorrectly modified, it can cause your computer to be unusable.

As professional technicians, we do not go into the Registry unless we have to and then only after backing it up first, so that it can be replaced if necessary. Even though searches on Google, Bing etc. and forums show entries routinely talking about changing this and modifying that in the Registry, we do not recommend doing so.

More importantly, we do not recommend letting any computer program do it either, but don’t just take our word for it. Microsoft do not supply a Registry Cleaning program for good reason and they actively discourage people from using one.

What about Optimising?

The Windows system and various applications installed on your PC do leave files stored your computer. These files can stay behind or go out of date even after the application that initially made them has been removed. These files can use up a little space on the hard drive and generally cause minor clutter within the system.

Despite the large amount of “scareware” and fraudulent computer cleanup scans out there, legitimate applications designed to clean your system do exist. This can be something we cover and is often done as a single small part of a complete computer tune up. Keeping up with out of date files and freeing up unused space is worthwhile and can be considered “good housekeeping”.

However, the vast speed boosts many online advertisements claim to unlock, by simply moving files around are almost always false.

Do your research before installing any program that purports to “Optimise” your computer, especially from an advert or worse still, a pop-up. Also check to see if that program has a Registry cleaning module and if it does, switch that module off.

Remember that computers are commonly upgraded and can be boosted by more conventional means. If the speed of your PC is no longer up to the task, there are ways in which we can unlock far greater gains than simple housekeeping chores.

PC “Boosters”

Some programs claim to boost the performance of your computer, but again we do not recommend letting a computer program automatically change important system settings, which may have a negligible impact anyway.

Relatively low-cost hardware components such as memory can often be added to boost the speed of even an older PC and unlock a new lease of life. Depending on the computer, upgrading the computers RAM can double the working memory available to the operating system. With extra memory, many programs can keep more information available to work with and this upgrade can reduce loading times and increases the computers ability to run more programs at once.

Another common speed boosting upgrade involves how we store and load data from the computer. Switching from an older style mechanical hard drive to a modern Solid State Disk (SSD) can bring down the startup and loading time of any PC – again depending on the age and condition of the computer in the first place.

These upgrades offer boosts in speed to rival a modern system at only a fraction of the cost originally paid for the computer. Upgrading the RAM, swapping to an SSD, or doing both will provide an instant, dramatic, and safe improvement to the speed of your PC, without introducing dodgy or po.

The most important thing to remember, is to not trust Registry Cleaning programs if at all possible and if you must access it, back up first or better still, get a professional to help you. When it comes to Tune Up programs, check the programs out by reviews and search engine research, before letting that program anywhere near your computer, let alone paying for it.

If your computer is running slow give us at a call on 01455 209505 to arrange a real and professional cleanup.

Is it Time to Retire That Program? Here’s How to Tell

Is it Time to Retire That Program?

Most businesses have been using the same set of applications for some time, sometimes since the business started. This also applies to most Homes too, although with businesses the need to upgrade can be essential to business efficiency.

While you’ve been replacing computers and devices regularly to maintain your advantage, the standard installation has remained largely the same. The programs do the job and everyone knows how to use them, so why upgrade? In some cases, it’s completely fine to keep that legacy program.

However, all users of older programs should consider these aspects:

Support Available

Occasionally, and more frequently with software from smaller developers, the author has moved on from supporting the program, such as what happened with an old DOS program used by a Fleckney business. Their very old program was vital but the author of the program was no longer involved with it and it was running on an old, failing Windows XP machine. It needed to be transferred to a new computer.

Luckily we were able to get the old program running on a new PC, inside a ‘Virtual Machine’ (a computer running in software within another computer), which extended the programs life and also gave that business a bit longer to find a replacement program. The point is that it could have gone the other way and the author was not there to help.

Perhaps the author has closed the business, sold it, or changed directions completely. Either way, they’re no longer interested in helping you get the best from the program. Every time your employees come up against a problem they have nowhere to turn and productivity takes a hit as they try and come up with a workaround.

Meanwhile, you run the risk that an older program could suddenly stop working after a Windows update, begin clashing with other essential software, or even create gaping holes in your security. As you are aware, even the bigger companies like Microsoft stop supporting software after a while, as they have with earlier versions of Windows. Having support available to both assist and protect is a huge asset to your business.

Hardware Compatibility

Imagine picking up a brand-new computer and trying to insert a 5 ¼ floppy disk – that’s the 1980s retro square ones bigger than your hand – it doesn’t matter how effective that program will be, modern technology simply has no idea what to do with it. Thanks to the rapid advancement of computer hardware, you may find a simple component refresh leaves your legacy program completely incompatible or inaccessible.

The latest CPU (computer processor) that’s supposed to speed things up, suddenly brings an entire business to a standstill, purely because it’s too advanced. Many owners work around this by keeping some older systems running exclusively for that program, but as the classic hardware fails, you may find yourself struggling to find replacement parts or technicians able to install them.

Security Vulnerabilities

Broadly speaking, the longer a program has been around, the longer hackers have had to discover its weaknesses. It could be a flaw in the program itself, or in the operating system that runs it. For example, the application may only run on Windows XP, but Windows XP is one of the earlier versions that Microsoft has stopped supporting. As the older operating systems and programs aren’t being patched, cyber criminals pour more energy into finding flaws they can exploit.

It’s how hospitals across the UK found themselves infected with ransomware last year, simply because they were running programs with known weaknesses.

As it’s not always feasible to replace a program immediately, we can help you run it on a virtual machine as explained earlier. You’ll have increased security, an element of support and a strong backup system while you work to find a replacement program.

These types of solutions are very specialized and resource hungry though, so let us know if you need help.

The other option is to migrate to a new program that does what you want, and is supported, hardware compatible and secure. If you’ve been running the old program for some time, this may feel quite daunting at first. Before you rule it out, keep in mind you’ll also be gaining the benefits of faster software, more integrated processes and a highly flexible system.

Need to talk through your options? Give us a call on 01455 209505.

A Free Alternative to Microsoft Office

A Free Alternative to Microsoft Office

When buying a new computer or even reinstalling Windows on an existing computer, many people do not realise that there is no way to reliably transfer a program from one computer to another. That is fine so long as you don’t need to reinstall a program, but there are no guarantees that you will never need to replace your hard drive, or have to reinstall Windows due to a virus infection or some other cause of data corruption, so you may have to reinstall software.

In the past week alone we have had to repair a local PC in Broughton Astley due to a power surge that corrupted the computer file system and also had to reinstall Windows on a local laptop in Hinckley that had a failed hard drive that needed replacing.

Also when we deliver a new computer, we often see a frown on customer’s faces when they try to remember where they put those program installation disks from years ago.

Many times you can just download new device driver software, but when it comes to something like Microsoft Office, it’s a whole new ballgame. All those documents, spreadsheets, etc. need a program to open them and if you don’t have one, you can have a real problem.

If you have found the installation disk, great. If you just have a card with an activation code, you may be able to download the Office software again, depending on the version of Office that you have. Similarly if you bought a download installation package, you may be able to download it again.

But if you do not have the original Office installation disk or installation package, what are your options? Microsoft no longer supply CDs of their software and similarly you can no longer buy individual Office programs such as Outlook or Word. Essentially you have two choices – you either buy an expensive download or rent the Office software on an annual basis.

The Free Office Alternative

There is however a free alternative to Microsoft Office, called Libre Office.

This is an alternative Office suite that is compatible with Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, Powerpoint files and more, and it is free because it is Open Source software. So you can carry on using the files that you already have, without having to buy another copy of Office.

Libre Office is not just for use in the Home, we know of small businesses that choose to use it for general office tasks too. It is reliable and is compatible to a high degree.

Unfortunately, this free software does not provide an alternative to the Outlook email program.

Be careful what you download

If you want to get the Libre Office download, you can get the software from their website at https://www.libreoffice.org/.

If not going straight to the website to get the download, be very careful where you download it from as there are websites out there that try to get you to download it from them, but it is not the genuine article and may even contain malware.

Why not try it out? You may find that you can save yourself some money!

If you need help in transferring your data or installing software, give us a call on 01455 209505.