Category Archives: Technical Tips

Where’s the beef? Here’s the beef.

Which Program is the Most Popular for Accessing Websites?

Over the years positions have changed as far as which program is the most used to access websites. Years ago and until relatively recently Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was the most used. But that has changed.

Internet Explorer and its successor, Edge (found only in Windows 10), combined user share has recently fallen considerably, mainly due to Microsoft dropping support of the older versions of Internet Explorer (6 through 10) and supporting now only Internet Explorer 11 and Edge.

Despite that drop, Firefox, an alternative browser, has also lost some ground on user share. So which browser has capitalized on all that combined user share and become the number one browser as far as user share is concerned?

Google Chrome.

Windows Operating Systems, a Visual Aid to Understand Their Value

First a disclaimer: this is my personal viewpoint and opinion, so take it with a grain of salt. As a somewhat advanced computer user since the pre-Windows days, I’ve had a chance to see the coming and going of a number of Microsoft operating system versions. Recently, after being asked once again my opinion about the latest one, Windows 10, I thought it might be useful to show it in a graph, compared to a number of earlier operating systems.

This graph shows, from my point of view, the value of the last few Windows Operating Systems, on a scale of 1 to 10:

OS Value

As you can see I consider Windows 7 the unsurpassed pinnacle of Windows Operating Systems. Some may wonder, what was the criteria for the above graph? Is it based on reliability, performance, security, privacy, user friendliness, stability, overall popularity? I’d say all of the above. But again it’s just my viewpoint.

I hope this better answers the question about what do I think about Windows.

 

Microsoft Keeps Pushing Windows 10

A number of users with  Windows 7 and 8 based computers might have noticed Microsoft recent attempts to persuade them to upgrade their computers to Windows 10, in recent months. This included, briefly in October last year, an attempt to make Windows 10 a recommended update in Windows Update, a move from which Microsoft backed off shortly after. However at some point “early this year” Microsoft apparently intends to move the update to Windows 10 back to a recommended update, which means if you are using a Windows 7 or 8 based computer, you’re likely to find yourself prompted to start the upgrade without much choice.

The good news is there are some ways around this. I unfortunately can’t go into too much specifics because 1) It’s a little more involved than what the average computer user normally deals with and 2) the workarounds have been evolving and still are, as Microsoft changes its approach to persuade users to go ahead with the upgrade. But if you are in a position where you need help or coaching through this, I can be of help.

One other thing to be aware of is that if you have gone ahead and upgraded to Windows 10 and it has been less than 31 days since you did it, there is a way to revert back, if you so wish, to the earlier version of Windows you had installed. This is an easier task than the one in the paragraph above so here’s a brief how-to you can follow:

Open the Start menu and select Settings. Click the “Update & security” icon and select “Recovery.” You should see a “Go back to Windows 7” or “Go back to Windows 8.1” option. Click the Get started button to get rid of your Windows 10 install and restore your previous Windows install.

Then contact me if you need help making sure the update back to Windows 10 doesn’t happen again.

Computer Maintenance

When talking about equipment, maintenance refers to the actions taken to ensure its normal operation.

Computers are equipment, and no exception to the above.

There are two kinds of maintenance: Preventive and corrective.

Preventive maintenance include those actions taken to ensure the computer remains in an operational state and to prevent it from failing.

Corrective maintenance include actions taken when the computer has failed, partially or completely, to function properly; Such actions have the purpose of bringing it back to an operational state.

By their very nature, preventive maintenance actions, if performed, will decrease the amount of corrective maintenance that will need to be done on a computer and the amount of computer downtime.

Example: A good security system which safeguards the computer against viruses and other malicious programs’ attacks, when put in place, will prevent the computer from getting infected. If that preventive action is not taken or not taken appropriately, the computer might end up with a virus infection that can make it fail, partially or completely.

In the final analysis, what a computer user wants is a trouble-free computing experience. If he is handling his emails, he wants to be able to read his emails, reply to them, compose new emails, etc. If he is shopping online, he wants to be able to browse through products, select his choices, and order the products he chose in the amount desired in a timely fashion. If he is typing a document or updating a spreadsheet… you get the idea.

Computer slowness, program crashes, program freezes, computer freezes, computer crashes, and erratic behavior in general are most of the time caused by, or at least exacerbated by, lack of computer maintenance.

The correct amount of maintenance actions, performed in a timely fashion, will reduce the possibility of computer downtime. Waiting for the computer to fail and then scramble to get corrective maintenance done on it might not be the best approach to maintaining your computer equipment.

Is your computer operating in tip-top shape, considering its age? If not, most likely  it requires some maintenance. I have developed a comprehensive maintenance checklist for Windows based computers. To one degree or another a percentage of computer users might be doing certain maintenance actions, with variable frequency. But what I think puts this one above the normal maintenance actions checklist is the fact that part of it is to actually analyze each computer I’m handling so as to dovetail the handling steps to what the computer actually needs handled to be performing at its best.

If you have any questions on the subject I’ll be more than happy to answer them.

Windows Updates, a Change in Perspective

This article is aimed mainly at users with computers running on Windows 7 (still by far the most used Windows Operating System currently). Users with computers running on Windows 8 can also somewhat benefit, and for those who have computers running on Windows 10, well, sorry but not much hope as far as this subject is concerned – I’ll circle back to that last statement in a bit.

Windows updates, as most users know, have been generally aimed at improving Windows in one of three aspects: Security, stability, or performance. The subject of this article is the user’s control over what updates are installed and when, and what the best practice on this is at this point. I’m going to sort of start backwards by first stating the conclusion: Turn Windows updates off. Or at least, set them to “Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them”.

Why

It seems Microsoft has recently engaged in a covert effort to gently coax Windows 7 and 8 users to upgrade to Windows 10, whether the users desire it or not.  The way this has been done is by introducing certain Windows updates that will “prepare” your system for the upgrade, download the necessary files to execute such upgrade, whether you want to upgrade or not.

As covered in earlier articles,  upgrading to Windows 10 might not be the best idea right now, so this becomes a problem.

Circling back to what I said in the first paragraph of this article, Windows 10 users are, for the most part, unable to turn updates off. Not a choice anymore. This, along with privacy concerns, a more aggressive cloud based approach, and the normal bugs that accompany a newly released operating system, are factors that have turned off a good percentage of potential users about the idea to embrace the new operating system.

I’ve been an advocate of installing ALL operating system updates to keep your computer in top shape. However in my opinion Microsoft has abused this line by introducing covert elements in updates to migrate users to a newer operating system independent of the users wish, thus this change of perspective.

What to do

As stated above, I’d recommend on an immediate basis to turn Windows Updates off. If you are an intermediate user you can set Windows updates to “check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them” and then hand pick only the Security updates (those updates designed to patch security flaws in Windows), and pass for now on any others. But even that might not be enough since the updates that might have been already recently installed are already working in the background trying to make you upgrade to Windows 10.

If you need help reverting the effect of recent Windows updates in regards to upgrading to Windows 10, or have any questions on the subject, feel free to ask.

Why am I Sometimes Prompted to Restart my Computer?

Most users have experienced in one or more instances, that a computer announces it needs to restart in order to finish certain tasks. Maybe installing a new program. Maybe uninstalling an old program. Maybe installing new Windows updates, and so forth. If you’ve ever wondered why, keep reading.

Although this is not true in all cases, in general it could be said that the reason such restarts (or “reboots”) are needed, is because the computer is actively using certain files that need to be changed but cannot while the computer is fully running by using those very files. But when the computer is restarted, and for a brief moment, those files will not be in use ( right after the computer has shut down and before the computer comes back up in a restart) and those files in need of change will be able to be changed.

Incidentally, that also explains why sometimes those restarts take longer than usual. The computer is, so to speak, in a quick pit stop and furiously getting its tires changed to get back in the race. That takes some additional moments so it’s expected for those restarts to take additional time. By way of the same analogy, it also gives a relatable real world scenario of what would it be like to try and change those files while the computer is running: Try changing the tires of the race car WHILE it’s running the race and you’ll get the idea 🙂

Beware of Online Scams, Fall Edition

It is Fall, but, well, don’t fall for it. These scams are still very much active:

If somebody contacts you by phone and states that he/she works with Microsoft or (any similar variation of it) and it’s been detected your computer is infected, needs handling, its firewall has been breached, etc., etc., IT’S A SCAM. Hang up.

If you are using your computer and browsing through websites and a pop-up window or a full window or the page you were trying to access turns into a window that says your computer is infected, and a number to call for help is given, or a link to download the tool you need to handle the infection, or something of the sort, IT’S A SCAM. Close that window at the very least. You might need to get your computer checked for any actual infections that produced that fake window in the first place.

Do not allow strangers access to your computer,  to your credit card information, or anything like it. Scams like the above abound these days. Don’t become a statistic.

If you have any doubts, you can always ask me.

Why is My Computer So Slow When I First Start It?

I’ve had to mention this so many times over the last few years, I should have realized earlier I needed to write an article about it. So here it is.

The majority of users are probably aware of the fact that when the computer is first started and the operating system and all the initial programs and services are loading etc, the computer seems to be at its slowest as far as responding to user interaction goes. But not as many users know why or what can be done about it.

There is, of course, the fact that the computer is the busiest at that time, because it is trying to load, in rapid succession, all the programs, services, etc. that are supposed to load for the computer to start operating. So obviously if you, the user, at the same time is trying to open programs and files, you will experience relative unresponsiveness and lag, since you are competing with the computer for the same resources. But there is another factor that is not so well known.

The computer keeps a running record of programs and files that have been opened in the recent past and will try to have them ready for faster reload. This existed in rudimentary form in Windows XP but it was from Windows Vista and onward that became more sophisticated. I’ll explain and you can actually test it and see.

Let’s say you just started your computer, waited for a couple of minutes for it to become idle (so you know all the initial programs and services are now loaded). Then you proceed to open your favorite web browser, be it Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, etc. You can count the seconds it takes from the moment you command it to open to the moment it’s completely open. Now close it, wait a couple of seconds, and open it again. You will notice this time around it takes a fraction of the time it took the first time. But no change has been made to your computer, other than closing and re-opening the program!

Subsequent closing and opening of any program that has been opened at least once will make its opening speed similar to the second time in the example above, i.e. way faster. BUT the computer will start from a clean slate if you shutdown or restart your computer, i.e. it will go back to the first slow loading time for every program. That’s why the computer seems to be at its slowest after it first starts. It has to get ready again to reload those programs that have been opened recently and are therefore likely to be opened again.

The information above is another reason to not restart your computer too often. Personally, I don’t shut down my computers, and restart them every 2 or 3 weeks in the average.

What Is The Registry and If I’m Not Getting Married, Do I Need One? :)

Registry: In Windows computers, an organized collection of data, or database, where programs’ configurations and options are stored. Since first introduced with Windows 3.1 in the early 1990s, it has considerably grown in complexity and amount of data it stores.

The question in the title is obviously a joke, but now that we’ve disambiguated the term,  a more pertinent question is, does the normal user need to do anything about it, preventive or corrective maintenance wise? A big number of users may have heard or read about “Registry Cleaners”, which are programs with the stated purpose of keeping the registry in good operating shape.

The short answer to the above question is: it is arguable. A conservative version of the answer would be that at best, the top “Registry Cleaners” have a limited impact in the computer performance, and more often than not, they’re considered “snake oil”, in that the promoted benefits of such cleaners might be inaccurately high in modern Windows based computers.

To complicate matters, a number of fake programs claim to be registry cleaners while being actually malicious,  and utilize a combination of scare tactics and social engineering to confuse the uninitiated into allowing it to run or paying for the “premium” version to correct all the “errors” found in a scam, err, scan.

Make no mistake: The registry is a KEY element in a Windows based computer, and severe corruption of it can cause the computer to not work at all, and it’s one of the items backed up by mechanisms like System Restore, protected by some high end security suites to avoid changes that can affect the computer adversely, and, in some cases, careful and guided cleanup operations can be beneficial for the optimum running of the system. But it is doubtful that the average Registry Cleaner will have a significant positive impact in the registry and therefore the computer.

Windows 10, What You Need to Know After its Release

Avid readers of my articles are aware I’ve written a couple of times about Windows 10, all before the official July 29 release of the latest Microsoft Operating System. This is my post-official-release article on Windows 10.

So, Windows 10. Upgrade to it? My advice is, if your computer is Windows 7 based, don’t do it. And if you do do it, at least don’t do it for now. It is always prudent to wait at least a few months while the initial kinks are being worked out, which as far as I can see, do exist in Windows 10. Ironically, Windows 7 was one of the few operating system that was very stable even from its beta testing stages.

Microsoft has been trying to gently or not so gently coax users to upgrade to Windows 10. The update I talked about in my last article, has been busy downloading Windows 10 in the background and swinging a dangling carrot at users so they will go through with the upgrade.

This additional activity, by the way, might account for some of the slowness your computer might have experienced recently. A hidden folder in your hard drive called “$Windows.~BT” contains the downloaded files that will be used for the upgrade, and by the way they are relatively big, and your Internet connection is what was used to download them.

If you’re not planning to upgrade to Windows 10 any time soon, contact me if you need help making sure the upgrade process is not using resources that slow your computer down. Or if you have any questions on the subject.