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Posted by: David Harper - 25/11/17 @ 8:23AM

The Office 365 subscription service is a new way to obtain the ubiquitous Microsoft productivity software -- such as Word, Excel, and Outlook -- without the need for an upfront purchase. Many people are wary of ongoing subscriptions, so I have put together some information that you can use to determine whether paying an ongoing charge will be as or more cost-effective than an outright purchase.

Currently, Office 365 Home costs around $11 per month when billed on a yearly basis, and includes full copies of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, and Access for up to five PCs, plus Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook for up to five tablets and five phones. By comparison, Office 2016 Home and Business, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook, costs around $300.

Reasons to Subscribe to Office 365 Home

  • More than one device - if you intend to use Microsoft Outlook for email, you will spend around $600 to purchase two copies of Office Home and Business, whereas over five years Office 365 Home will cost $645, and give you far more flexibility
  • iPads and tablets - if you wish to use your iPad or tablet for productivity tasks, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint require an Office 365 subscription to create or modify documents (opening and reading them are free)
  • Publisher and Access users - Office 2016 Professional, which includes these programs, costs almost $600 per licence, so an Office 365 Home subscription will almost always be more cost effective
  • Microsoft service users - Office 365 includes advanced features for Outlook.com users, including ad-free browsing, a generous storage allowance for OneDrive (the Microsoft DropBox equivalent), and up to 60 minutes of Skype-based international calling per month
  • Large family - Office 365 Home allows you to share your entitlements with others in your household, including adult children, and each additional user receives the same advanced features for Microsoft services

Reasons to Purchase Office 2016

  • Small business owners - when you operate a business from your home, technically you are not eligible for Office 365 Home, so if you have no need for Publisher or Access and only have one or two computers, it will probably be cheaper to purchase Office 2016 Home and Business licences for these devices
  • Light users - if you can do without Outlook, Publisher, or Access, have only one or two computers, and see no value in the premium features offered for OneDrive, Outlook.com, or Skype, Office 2016 Home and Student can be purchased for around $175 per computer

Microsoft Office purchases are something I always talk through with my clients when they are upgrading their computers or purchasing new equipment, so if you would like me to discuss your specific situation with you, click here to contact me.

Posted by: David Harper - 27/10/17 @ 5:34PM

When Microsoft first released Windows 10 back in July 2015, it was a mess, and I spent a large amount of time going around and removing it from Windows 7 computers which had been "upgraded" for "free".

Fast forward two years, and Microsoft has released another four major updates, analogous to the service packs of old, for Windows 10. With the forced retirement of Windows 7 in January 2020 rapidly approaching, now is the time to look again at whether Windows 10 is finally ready for general use.

The good news is that despite the occasional flaw or two, Windows 10 version 1709, released this month, is now significantly more stable and far more feature complete, especially on tablets and other touch screen devices. While Microsoft is still slowly adding features with each release, Windows stability is now good, and the app situation -- Windows 10 has a Store like the App Store and Google Play -- is now getting a little better.

This means that for home users, Windows 10 is now as ready as ever it will be – and if you feel like a change, you can upgrade for free at by following the instructions here. (Technically the free upgrade is only for people who use assistive technologies, so to qualify, open the Magnifier application so you can legitimately claim you have used one of these features in Windows.) On the other hand, if you are familiar with Windows 7, you can still use it without any security implications for another two years – so just keep on going for the time being.

For almost two decades, Microsoft Windows has been the default operating system for traditional computers, with Mac OS X coming in a distant second despite strong pockets of dominance, particularly among students and creative users. However, the times are changing, and Windows is now being challenged by the rise of mobile operating systems such as Google Android and Apple iOS.

Often lost in this conversation is the availability of free alternatives for traditional computers. Historically there has been good reason for this oversight, as the low-cost and no-cost software was usually buggy, typically lacking in features, and required higher levels of technical knowledge to administer. However, now that mobile operating systems are on the rise, there are a lot of people who have learned to interact with different user interfaces - Windows on a desktop, and Android on a phone, for example. This makes the idea of using an alternative desktop operating system more viable.

Enter Ubuntu 16.04. Ubuntu is an alternative to Windows developed by Canonical Limited, a UK-based company founded by Mark Shuttleworth, the South African entrepreneur who spent 11 days on the International Space Station as a tourist. Since 2012, Ubuntu has been maturing rapidly, and is now stable and reasonably feature complete. Ubuntu can be downloaded and installed for free, and comes preinstalled with a free equivalent to Microsoft Office. Ubuntu also supports common software that is available for both Windows and Mac OS X, including Google Chrome, Skype, and Adobe Flash Player.

If you have an old computer that needs a boost - particularly a computer still running Windows Vista - or want something that your children can use to get online without having to worry about viruses and spyware, Ubuntu may be worth considering. Although Windows software is not supported, as with iOS and Android the solution is pretty straightforward - just find an alternate app, usually one with a funny name, in the App Store (called the Software Center in Ubuntu) to replace the Windows equivalent.

Deploying Ubuntu is usually pretty straightforward, and it can be tested on your existing computer without any changes being made. If you want to see what Ubuntu looks like without touching your PC at all, no problem! An interactive online tour is available at http://tour.ubuntu.com/en/ so you can take a look for yourself any time.

Microsoft has just released the next major version of Windows. After the disastrous reception of Windows 8, Microsoft has chosen to skip a version number, and thus Windows 10 is born. To help smooth the adoption path, the company has also announced that Windows 7 and Windows 8 users will be able to upgrade for free. Windows Update will download a 4GB file and prompt users to initiate the upgrade.

Unfortunately, Windows 10 is at this point a mess -- buggy, feature incomplete, and in terms of the user interface a kind of Frankenstein monster which combines elements of Windows 7 and Windows 8 together into a single unsatisfying whole.

As a result, I recommend that you avoid upgrading at this time unless you have Windows 8 and really, really wish you still had the more traditional Windows 7 interface, in which case a Windows 10 upgrade might be worthwhile considering. The good news is that the Windows 10 upgrade can be disabled using a behind-the-scenes technique created by Microsoft for systems administrators. For most of my clients, I will be activating this opt-out feature on their computers when I see them for other matters.

If you have accidentally acquired Windows 10, you can seamlessly roll back to your previous Windows version within 30 days of the upgrade. Please contact me for further assistance.

Microsoft released a free service pack for its poorly received Windows 8 operating system last week. Dubbed Windows 8.1, the update includes a large number of tweaks which as a whole make Windows 8 more user friendly and especially more helpful for users who have been stuck with a touch-oriented operating system on traditional non-touchscreen desktop and laptop computers. The tweaks include the addition of a quick help app for new users and the return of the Start button, whose demise in the original Windows 8 last year was the source of much angst and confusion.

The update is available now in the Windows Store, and depending on your hardware is somewhere between 2.1 and 3.5 gigabytes in size. So should you upgrade right away? Our advice is that unless you have a Surface tablet you should wait a few weeks while hardware manufacturers prepare new drivers for your computer. Unfortunately some key manufacturers, particularly the graphics card vendors, have yet to prepare certified drivers for their hardware products. Hopefully these deficiencies will be resolved by the end of the month. As for Surface owners – happy downloading!

If and when you do upgrade, be sure to back up any data which is not stored on your SkyDrive to ensure that if something goes wrong you are able to recover your important information. In addition, please note that if you own Start8 you must upgrade to the latest version before installing Windows 8.1 to ensure that you don’t lose your Start Menu after the upgrade.

Don't know about Start8? Well, if you or someone you know have been stuck with a Windows 8 desktop or laptop and don't like the new touch-friendly interface, Start8 from long-time Windows customisation vendor Stardock is going to be your new best friend. In just a few clicks Start8 – which costs just five dollars U.S. – turns Windows 8 back into something that looks and works almost identically to Windows 7. Aside from re-implementing the Start Menu itself, Start8 also lets you turn off the various touch-oriented Windows 8 features and even allows you to go directly to the Desktop when you log in, rather than having to make your way through the unfamiliar touch mode first. (Note that Start8 is designed for 'traditional' PCs and does not work on Surface RT.)

Posted by: David Harper - 20/01/12 @ 9:12PM

As technology continues to standardise and move online, the value proposition of alternatives to Microsoft Windows has grown. One of these alternatives, Ubuntu - a Linux-based operating system that was founded in 2004 - has grown to the point where it has at least 20 million users worldwide, including large-scale business and government deployments.

Ubuntu is something like a hybrid of its competitors, Microsoft's Windows and Apple's Mac OS X. Like Windows, Ubuntu is designed to work on any PC (whereas Mac OS X runs only on Apple Macs); like Mac OS X, Ubuntu doesn't run Windows software. Unlike either of its competitors, however, Ubuntu is free to install and use, and ships with a standard set of applications for web browsing, productivity and multimedia, including the LibreOffice alternative to Microsoft Office. This means that if a small business' needs match up well with Ubuntu's strengths and limitations there is the potential to save literally thousands of dollars in software licensing costs.

After two years of development and research, the next major enterprise-ready version of Ubuntu is due for release in April 2012. Featuring a brand new desktop interface called Unity, Ubuntu 12.04 promises to be easier to use than ever before, and will include five years of security updates (up from three in the previous version). If the new version lives up to expectations Ubuntu could start to make Windows and Office completely unnecessary for many small businesses. Look out Microsoft!

Posted by: David Harper - 11/09/11 @ 11:42PM

Nokia has been pummelled in the market of late as the Apple iPhone and Google Android continue to gain ground. However, the company has started to fight back by standardising on a single software platform - Symbian^3 - across all of its smartphone, and by developing an impressive software upgrade that will work with all current devices: the N8, C7, E7, and C6-01. That said, the software upgrade for Symbian^3, known as Symbian Anna, has taken almost five months to actually be released; Anna was announced back in April but is only now starting to be rolled out to Nokia owners.

The good news is that Symbian Anna has been worth the wait. It is faster to use, boasts an updated web browser, has more consistent layouts across applications, and - at last - comes with a full on screen keyboard that is available when holding the phone in portrait mode. Of course, users of other phones have had many of these things for some time, but for Nokia loyalists Anna is a welcome and indeed long overdue improvement. Nokia phones are still unparalleled in terms of call quality and battery life, so it's good to see that some of the rough edges are being addressed.

Symbian Anna can be downloaded to applicable devices using Nokia's Ovi Suite, which is available from http://www.ovi.com/suite/

Posted by: David Harper - 02/06/11 @ 7:05PM

As the number of people using Apple Macs has started to grow, so has the target profile for Mac OS X, Apple's equivalent to the Microsoft Windows operating system. Now, finally, after years of grandstanding from Apple about how Mac OS X was "immune" to viruses and spyware, a wave of malicious software, or malware, has hit Mac owners.

These Mac-based malware packages are very similar to those which have affected Windows in recent years: they hijack the computer and pretend that there are a multitude of security and operating system errors, while pestering users to enter their credit card details so that the application can "solve" their "problems".

Fortunately, the current generation of nasties can be removed fairly easily. The broader issue, however, is that as Mac OS X becomes more commonplace, more criminal enterprises will start to target Apple users with increasingly sophisticated attacks. While the number of threats remains small, Apple can continue to release individual remedies; however, this approach will not scale well and is therefore unsustainable. Media reports late last month indicated that Apple already loads Norton Antivirus for Mac on its corporate machines; sooner or later everyone else will need to do the same.

In the meantime, if you have a Mac and are concerned about your security, you can install two free utilities which help to combat malicious software and other Internet threats.

Last month Microsoft officially ended support for unpatched versions of Windows XP and Windows Vista. As of 13 July, computers that do not have the latest Service Pack installed will no longer receive security updates. The announcement, which is in line with standard Microsoft policy, means that users who are still running Windows XP original (RTM), Windows XP with Service Pack 1 (SP1), Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (SP2) and Windows Vista original (RTM) must upgrade immediately in order to continue receiving security updates.

The most current versions of Windows supported by Microsoft are Windows XP with Service Pack 3 (SP3), Windows Vista with Service Pack 2 (SP2) and Windows 7 original (RTM). To check which version of Windows you are using:

  1. Open My Computer;
  2. Click on the Help menu (in Windows Vista and Windows 7, press the ALT key to reveal the menus); and
  3. Select About Windows.

If you are not running the most current version of Windows, then you can download the most current Service Pack from the Microsoft website: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/downloads/service-packs

Posted by: David Harper - 27/05/10 @ 8:20PM

For a limited time, my Internet Safety Book has been discounted by 50%. Plus, until May 31, enter the coupon code FLOWERS to get a BONUS 10% off!

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