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Technology Today – April 2008
by Robert Sanborn 

Vista Upgrades 

Well, after a lot of testing and commentary, the update to Windows Vista is finally here. It is now a year after the program was released and according to Microsoft, they have sold millions of copies but you know, from what I hear, a lot of people are still installing Windows XP on their new systems unless you are stuck with a big box brand and have to go with Vista.  You still can get Windows XP on your computer and Microsoft says that it will still be available to purchase from dealers up till the end of June of 2008, and from independent builders until January 2009.  The Vista Service Pack 1 Update is a huge file, 450mb or so and unless you have high speed internet access, wait for a CD or have someone download it for you. Couple of different things about this update that stand out is that this one is removable after the fact. It also takes a long time to install so be patient. And, if you have anything critical on your computer, then back it up first. 

One thing I have always hated about computers, and especially Microsoft Updates, is that they often change the way you connect to other computers. For instance, I have several computers running on my network, all with different versions of Windows operating systems, and even after I set things up and can see everyone, as soon as an update comes along, one of them disappears off the network.  

With my Media Center pc having lots of problems, and I suspect, showing its age, I made the switch on a new computer to Vista Ultimate. My first impressions are not all that good. The easy transfer cable system I got with the system wasn’t and in fact, on my Media Center XP machine, refused to work at all. Since I was prepared to do a manual transfer of my programs and files, that really didn’t bother me much until I got to Outlook.  When you backup Outlook to a pst file, it does a good job of backing up your messages, contacts, and calendar, but doesn’t at all do anything about the settings, signatures, and most important, email accounts. I found another program that was reported to do a great job of it but it didn’t and ended up having to delete several of the email accounts and rebuild them. Oh yes, it also forgot the dictionary, the drop downs of remembered addresses for quick entry, and all the rules I had setup.  

Now this new computer is certainly fast enough, dual 3 gig processors with tons of cache and memory and fast hard drives but Vista is much slower than it should be. Internet Explorer is glacial at times (more on that one later) and of course, I had to download tons of new drivers for everything from the scanner to printer to Skype phone and PDA. Reinstall software including the Trend Micro and naturally forgot that its default scan time is like 2 in the afternoon so that slowed things up quite a bit. The good news is that nearly every software package I have works just fine, the bad news sends us directly to the next topic. 

New Computers 

If you are thinking about buying a new computer, here are some things to think about when you do that. Old hardware does not work well with Vista. The odds of finding a Vista driver for an old printer or scanner are slim. Worse yet, if that old printer or scanner or what ever device you use is connected via a Serial, Parallel, or SCSI port on your old computer, the chances are very good that you won’t have such a connection on your new computer. In fact, I am seeing a lot of new computers that don’t even have plugs for the PS/2 mouse and keyboard. If it isn’t USB, forget it. So if you have an old favorite keyboard, mouse, touch pad, or joystick, it won’t work. And speaking of USB, make sure it is version 2.0 and there are a ton of the ports, both back of the computer and front.  You will need them.  

To give you an example, you could easily have attached to your computer, a scanner, printer, Skype Phone, PDA, Keyboard, and Mouse plugged in at one time. Six devices, not to mention that you could also have a digital camera, camcorder, memory sticks, GPS, MP3 player, Blue Tooth and I am sure that there is something else to plug in when needed.  How about Joystick, speakers, and a TV Tuner stick, along with cell phone charger, and a USB light. And best of all, I have a hot plate and chiller to keep my drinks hot and cold.  That is a total of 19 different items. And there is more like the Car MD check engine system I found last year. You will need a lot of USB ports. 

Safe Computing Tips 

You have seen much of this before but it bears repeating.  Be careful of what you click on, you might get it. Rules of thumb for browsing the internet.  1. Never buy or download anything from a pop-up window unless you went looking for it.  2. If it is too good to be true, you will pay for it later. 3. The best place to download spyware is to either download a screensaver or music or file sharing program. 

The latest scan is from bogus emails telling you that you have an e-card from someone like “Dear Friend”, “Schoolmate”, “Silent Admirer”… get the drift.  Besides the usual Nigerian scams, I am seeing a bunch of email lottery winning notices. If life was only so easy. 

If you do need help getting rid of spyware that might be on your system, then here are three things to try. My favorite right now is Sunbelt Software’s CounterSpy. http://www.sunbelt-software.com/, It comes with a free trial of the full package.  Number 2 would be Webroot’s Spysweeper, http://www.webroot.com. Only $30. They do have a free scan but the scan won’t clean up anything.  

Don’t allow programs to install tool bars on your computer, they take up overhead, slow things down, and can cause problems with other programs. Another that slows your computer down would be the Google desktop search engine. 

Another tool I use all the time is McAfee’s Site Advisor. Really handy when you do Google or Yahoo searches for something. http://www.siteadvisor.com/.  Take a look, it puts a flag beside each of your search results in Google that tell you whether the site is safe to browse to. 

Finally, get a good anti-virus program. Best rated right now is the Norton Internet Security 2008 package. Another good one would be the Trend Micro PC-Cillin 2008. If you have to go the free route, then get the AVG antivirus program from Grisoft. http://free.grisoft.com/. They also have a pretty good anti-spyware program as well. 

More Vista Gripes 

I mentioned about Internet Explorer being slow as a glacier and I am not kidding. Chased around the google groups and came up with something that cured my problem and that was the Microsoft Phishing filter that gets turned on with IE 7. Click on tools, Internet Options, Advanced, and look for Phishing Filter. Turn it off. Problem goes away. If you are running Symantec’s Internet Security or Trend Micro’s PC Cillin, both of those products have its own Phishing filter so not to worry.  Then again, if you are dumb enough to click on an email you get telling you that you need to reset your user/passwords or other security information online, well, no sympathy from me. No legitimate bank, credit card company, or PayPal will ever do that. 

Had my first real crash of a Vista system the other day. Vista has a recovery procedure that actually works pretty well. You start up your computer with the Vista disk in the drive and let it go through the recovery options.  In my case, lots of file checking but it eventually ran system restore (without letting me choose the date), and that did bring the system back to life. I did have to go back in and change the permissions for networking settings and had a few other things that were a bit off but the good news is that the computer is running again. And no, checking the logs revealed nothing of why it crashed. 

Windows XP had a really nice feature for putting graphics on your desktop. You go to display properties, desktop tab, hit customize, go to the web tab, and there you can put all sorts of graphics on your desktop. On mine, I had a live box of a stock index chart from bigcharts.com, a weather map from weather.com, and a couple of images of pictures I had taken resized to give me a nice layout on the screen. The links from the web I set to update automatically every hour so just a glance at my desktop gave me a current weather map and stock index chart. Of course, it helps to have a fairly large screen or two to do this with but it turns out pretty cool. So, when I got the Vista machine, I wanted to do the same but guess what. Forget it. All Vista will allow you to do is to set a picture as wall paper and that is it.

Yes, Vista has the cool feature of desktop gadgets that you can add to a sidebar and yes, I can include a slide show of some favorite pictures and have the weather listed for five different cities but you just don’t have the flexibility as I did with XP. 

Used to be that the best deal going for getting a copy of Microsoft Office was to buy the Student Teacher edition. It included Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. You get a three user license all for around $129. To me, one of the best features of that was that Outlook was included and it really has some of the best anti spam features you will find and it makes for much easier email management than outlook express. Unfortunately, when Microsoft gave us the 2007 version, they took out the Outlook. Still a great deal if you need Word, Excel and PowerPoint but I was really sorry to see Outlook go.

Robert Sanborn is a technology analyst for PC Lifeline. You can reach him through the net at robert@pcll.com

 


 

 

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