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David Harper
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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!

With more and more "real world" activity moving onto computers and the Internet or being supplemented by digital tools, parents need to manage the risks that are part of this new medium. This handy eBook will help you to understand the risks and address them in a constructive manner.

Support independent publishing: Buy this e-book on Lulu.

Click here for more information.

Posted by: David Harper - 19/01/10 @ 8:02PM

There has been a lot of commentary about Microsoft Internet Explorer over the past few days, after a number of European governments issued security advisories regarding IE.

In most cases, it is simply not necessary to use another browser for security reasons. Internet Explorer is generally no better or worse than any other modern browser. Hackers target browsers where there is money (or intelligence if one is a spy agency) to be had. If Internet Explorer were to suddenly disappear in favour of Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome, then the new majority browser would be in the headlines instead. Mozilla Firefox already has major security issues on a regular basis, as its market share grows rapidly.

The bottom line here is that every web browser has security problems, often major ones, but because Internet Explorer has the biggest market share, it's the poster child for security breaches.

As long as your computer has the latest release of Internet Explorer, version?8, you have an adequate security application installed, and you install Automatic Updates as soon as they are available, you're unlikely to be seriously affected.

However, there are a few exceptions:

  • If you have an interest in sensitive topics, particularly regarding anything political, and have a web-based email account such as GMail or Hotmail (ordinary ISP email addresses are less likely to be an issue)
  • If you use high-risk websites such as MP3 & movie sharing, BitTorrent, pirated/cracked software, pornography etc.
  • If you only have a free antivirus program and not a paid one

In those cases, you should consider the Opera?browser, which is so little-used that it is far less likely to suffer from a major security incident -- nobody cares enough about Opera to bother attacking it.

It's pretty common knowledge that when Microsoft tried to replace Windows XP with Windows Vista, things didn't go quite as planned. When it went on sale in 2007, Windows Vista required an expensive new PC to run properly, and didn't work with a lot of XP-era software to boot. Although things gradually improved since the initial launch, Windows Vista has often had a bad reputation.

Fortunately Microsoft hasn't taken this disaster lying down. Julie Larson-Green, who was in charge of development for the widely acclaimed Office 2007 suite, was appointed to oversee the creation of Windows 7.?As luck would have it, Larson-Green has succeeded in fixing Vista. Windows 7 is everything that Vista should have been - faster, easier to use, and much more compatible with old applications. Finally there is a viable replacement for Windows XP.

So, should you upgrade? If you are running Windows Vista and are reasonably happy with it, my advice is not to fix what isn't broken - stay with Vista. Likewise, if you're happy with your existing Windows XP computer, there's no desperate need to upgrade just yet, although you should be aware that Microsoft will likely retire support for Windows XP in the middle of next year. On the other hand, if you put off purchasing a new desktop or laptop because you didn't want to touch Vista, or if you have Vista and hate it, Windows 7 is definitely for you.

If you have a Vista computer and wish to upgrade to Windows 7, it's more than likely that you will not need to purchase any new hardware. However, if you are running Windows XP, you may need to purchase a new PC as part of your move to Windows 7. If you do need a new computer, I recommend that you consider business-grade machines from either Dell or Hewlett Packard, whether your purchase is for professional or personal use. In addition, always purchase a three year warranty for peace of mind.

The good news is that you probably don't need a supercomputer to run Windows 7, which will run much more comfortably on mainstream hardware than Windows Vista ever could. However, if you need to run old XP applications, you may under some circumstances need to purchase a computer capable of running Windows XP Mode, which starts a "virtual" copy of Windows XP on top of Windows 7, and therefore requires a more capable machine.

As always, be sure to contact me before purchasing any new hardware or software for the latest tips and advice.

To take a look at the latest Dell machines pre-loaded with Windows 7, visit http://www.dell.com.au/

Posted by: David Harper - 13/07/09 @ 11:18PM

My new business entity, Akania Pty Ltd (ACN 137 621 400) has officially launched. From now on, all of my services will be offered through Akania. As promised, the Fees?page has been updated with my new fees and charges.

I have also moved my small business support work into a new entity, Workgroup Technology Solutions. As of July 1, all of my business customers will deal with this new entity.

If you have any questions, please contact me?for more information.

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