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Category: IT Support, Mobile Computing.

Why is it that manufacturers and the technical media are obsessed with whether laptops will be replaced by notebooks or netbooks? I think this is yet another example of the disconnection between those that immerse themselves in technology and those that operate in the “real world”.

As someone that runs an IT support business I guess I should be equally obsessed with such trivia, but I have a constant battle to ensure that everything we do in The PC Support Group is focused on our clients needs and wants, not just on the technology… The technology is there to do a job!

And this is where my concerns lie with this obsession with these gadgets. In the real world users of this technology don’t care whether it’s a laptop, notebook or netbook. They all perform pretty much the same functions; it’s just a matter of size, weight cost and a few bells and whistles.

Whether in business or pleasure, all that users want to know is will it do the job? Obviously if they want to carry it around a lot then ideally it should be light but robust. If they want to use it a lot and retain their eyesight then a screen bigger than a postage stamp is desirable. Do they want it to cost £200 or £2000? OK. Stupid question!

So, let’s make it clear to manufacturers and technical media alike, we don’t care what you call it or how you market it, to 99.9% of people it’s a portable computer and we will choose the cheapest one that fulfils our needs and wants.

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Category: Home Computing.

Twitter is great for giving and receiving useful, interesting or entertaining snippets of information (usually with links to more info. if you want it) between friends, colleagues or even strangers with an interest in what you do.

However, it does have a couple of downsides that you need to be aware of as a tweeter (giver) or a follower (receiver).

One story today clearly highlighted both of these.

This morning TechCrunch reported that a Twitter account apparently for a UK MP, had said that the next general election would be “in weeks” and then the account was closed down. The account looked very much like the official one for Nick Brown MP and had tweeted in reply to Austin Mitchell.

Shortly after the account was deleted but by then a number of eagle eyed people had already seen it.

So what does this tell us about using Twitter?

Well if this was not fake then it shows how easily private information can be accidentally disseminated around the world with one click in the wrong place. My advice is don’t even think about sending personal information via Twitter, even if you think you’ve used the correct protocol to send to only the person you intended. One character mistyped and the whole world could know.

And what if it was a fake? Well this shows how important it is to choose who you follow carefully and don’t take anything you read on Twitter as gospel. Remember that anyone can set up a Twitter account with any name and use any image.

So will there be a general election in weeks? Who knows?!

But enjoy Twittering anyway, but beware!

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Category: IT Support, Mobile Computing.

Nowadays Mobile Broadband has come down to a price where it is potentially appealing to more than just businesses. In fact it is possible to get a dongle (the little plastic stick that plugs into the side of your computer) for as low as £10 per month. But…

Please read the small print in your contract before you sign as for the unwary there can be a big shock. In fact I just heard the horror story of someone who has only this month just had a bill for over £230!

So what happened? He was unaware of the cap or limit placed on his surfing (in fact he was totally unaware that he had exceeded anything until the bill arrived). Now most deals do include either a 1GB or 3GB cap and for most users this will be adequate for a month but if you exceed this limit there is usually no warning and it can then get VERY expensive.

At the time of writing this it appears that O2 and 3 charge the most for exceeding download limits at 19.6p per MB and 10p per MB respectively whilst Orange & Vodafone come in at a more reasonable 1.46p per MB. The exception to these rules is T-Mobile who actually provide unlimited downloads (lets hope the others follow). Saying that if you stay within the limits set then Mobile Broadband is a great way to surf the web and manage your email whilst almost anywhere in the UK (don’t even think of using it abroad with the standard packages!).

So how can you make sure that you are not the next unfortunate casualty of this opportunistic situation from the mobile operators ?

Well, one option is to use an account from T-Mobile that doesn’t operate any charges for some tariffs. Most of the other providers do provide some software with their service to allow tracking of usage. Do your homework as deals may appear to be very closely matched and it is important to take excess charges into account, as there can be huge differences between one provider and another. Information on excess charges is not always easy to find and is not obviously visible on most advertising.

So if you don’t want to be the next person featuring in the tale of horrors do your homework before running wild with your mobile broadband connection.

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Category: IT Security.

The PC Support Group has discovered a potentially serious problem with version 8.5.322 of the AVG Anti-virus software. It may partially uninstall itself leaving the computer exposed to potential viruses.

Although reported in some other parts of the world it would appear that The PC Support Group was the first company to discover and report the problem in the UK.

Users are typically noticing the problem when they open MS Outlook and get a message relating to the ‘AVG Exchange add in’ being removed or unavailable although they can check by seeing if the AVG icon is still visible (usually on the bottom right of the screen).

The PC Support Group has worked with AVG to understand the problem and ensure its customers are updated with version 8.5.323 which overcomes this issue.

We take the security of our customer’s systems very seriously and it’s one of the reasons that we recommend AVG as over the last few years it has regularly come out as one of the top rated anti-virus packages available. We were therefore very surprised to discover this problem.

AVG responded quickly and a fixed version is already available. Within hours of the discovery we had upgraded most of our customers and the remainder will be completed very shortly.

Business users not supported by The PC Support Group should go to AVG web site, click on Support, choose the Downloads tab and then select the appropriate version to download and run. Then select the ‘Repair’ option and follow the prompts.

If you’re in any doubt then contact your IT support provider who should be able to advise you.

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Category: IT Security.

In this ever increasingly cost concious environment it’s worth remembering that one area that small businesses must not neglect is IT security.

Updating anti-virus software, using encrypted technology and protecting confidential information are all vital as criminals and fraudsters look to take advantage of economic confusion and anxiety to target businesses and home users.

Recent research from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform shows that the average cost of a severe breach of security for small businesses is between £10,000 and £20,000. If news of such breaches leaks out, the damage to the reputation of the business could cost much more.

The PC Support Group has also noticed an increasing trend for potential customers to check whether a firm has suitable technology and policies in place to protect against possible data loss, so taking responsible security measures could also help you win business!

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Category: Email.

Given our massive usage of email (according to latest research 63 billion genuine emails are sent daily!) you would imagine that we are all now experts are making the best use of it. Unfortunately I come across problems every day caused through the misuse of email. Some of these are technical but many are actually related to human nature and are very easily remedied.

Here’s my list of the top 7 issues and annoyances when using email:

1. Sending an email when you are annoyed or upset about a situation.

If something has particularly annoyed or upset you then the last thing you should do is send an email to the person you believe to be responsible. An email can never be unwritten and no matter how carefully you think you have worded it there is a high possibility it will be misinterpreted or that you will simply regret it.

If after sleeping on it you still feel that the subject needs to be raised then either call the person on the phone or even better, arrange a face to face meeting.

E-Mail will never be a tool to resolve issues!

2. Not including your contact details in your email.

Obviously the person you send your email to can reply via email, but there are many times when they may prefer to discuss the email with you and those other contact details are very useful.

Ideally you should set up your email Signature to include these details automatically.

Read more »

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Category: Mobile Computing.

Looking back to my younger days I used to have fond memories of heading out with my parents on a Sunday afternoon to go blackberry picking. And the best bit was when the fruits of our labour (couldn’t resist the pun !) resulted in a delicious apple and blackberry pie for dinner.

BUT we are now in the year 2009 and Blackberry Storm has taken on a whole new meaning. I purchased the device back in November of 2008 so it has now been road-tested for over five months and I have mixed feelings. Unfortunately I’m in an 18 month contract so love it or hate it my options are limited!

The BlackBerry Storm is the first BlackBerry to have a touch screen user interface which I feel has been developed to tackle the ever increasing domination of the Apple iTouch. Ever since Apple released the iPhone, every phone manufacturer has been trying to produce an iPhone killer and this is BlackBerry’s answer. The Storm incorporates two kinds of virtual keyboard – the full QWERTY keyboard and the SureType keyboard – the keyboard switching depending on whether you’re in portrait or landscape mode. The Storm uses a new innovation called ‘ClickThrough’ that means the screen responds to pressure, so it feels almost like you’re using a real keyboard. This actually works really well and I do find that typing is quicker than the old style Blackberry with SureType learning new words as you use it more.

Read more »

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Category: Home Computing.

The Internet has brought many great benefits, not least is that children have a huge wealth of information to tap into. Schools have recognised this fact and actively encourage them to use the internet to assist with homework.

Unfortunately the Internet also contains a lot of unsavoury information and it is with this in mind that you need to consider how to ensure your children can surf safely. As a start it is beneficial to provide some basic rules for them to follow:

  • Encourage your kids to share their Internet experiences with you. Enjoy the Internet along with your children
  • Teach your kids to trust their instincts. If they feel nervous about anything online, they should tell you about it
  • If your kids visit chat rooms, use instant messaging, online video games, or other activities on the Internet that require a login name to identify themselves, help them choose that name and make sure it doesn’t reveal any personal information about them
  • Insist that your kids never give out your address, phone number, or other personal information, including where they go to school or where they like to play
  • Tell your kids that they should never meet online friends in person. Explain that online friends may not be who they say they are
  • Teach your kids that not everything they read or see online is true. Encourage them to ask you if they’re not sure
  • Control your children’s online activity with advanced Internet software. Parental controls can help you filter out harmful content, monitor the sites your child visits, and find out what they do there.

Whilst this will hopefully encourage them to follow “good practise”, I also add to this with some software to monitor and protect them whilst online.There are numerous products on the market but one of the easiest and most effective products is something from the Microsoft stable. It is already installed with Vista and is a free download for Windows XP – Windows Live Family Safety. It is simple but effective and just does what it says on the tin. If your child wishes to access a site not on the “allowed” list then they can send you an email or you can provide access immediately by authorising the request. Having now used it for a couple of months I would recommend it to anyone with kids.

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Category: Latest.

Traditionally PCs have appeared in two main forms – a workstation and a laptop. Saying that, the laptop I used back in the early 90’s actually weighed more than a modern workstation!

With improving technology and everything reducing in size and power consumption, some of the big manufacturers developed a new type of portable machine called the Pocket PC. This was backed by Microsoft who developed the Windows Mobile operating system that included a cut down version of Office to allow viewing of basic spreadsheets and Word documents. Both HP / Compaq and Dell have sold machines in this form since around 2000 but with the advent of Smart Phones this market has all but died.

Smart Phones now include a multitude of applications and with some of the more powerful devices they can manage your email, display your spreadsheets & documents and provide full internet capability. But for me they are still a phone and even with the larger displays have limited appeal for anything but some basic business needs.

In a similar way the iPhone, the Blackberry Storm and some of the more recent offerings from Nokia & Google offer some more advanced functionality with a half decent screen. But again I have real issues navigating some basic websites or reading anything but a basic Excel spreadsheet or Word document.

What has really got me excited has been the introduction of the Netbook. Asus took the market by surprise when they introduced a full portable PC for around £150 in early 2008. It offered a fully functional PC with either Unix or Windows XP and could run all the standard Windows applications with no loss of functionality. Since that time nearly every major PC manufacturer has now brought out something in this form factor and the market is absolutely buzzing with variety. They come in at around 1KG in weight, include 1GB of memory, 80GB hard disk, integrated mobile broadband or Wi-Fi and cost around £250.

As an example of how flexible they are here is a great story – I was working away from the office when a customer called with a support issue on their Netbook. I plugged in my Mobile Broadband Card, connected to their Netbook (which was sitting in the back seat of their car also using Mobile Broadband !) and resolved the issue in 10 minutes.

True Flexibility… and great IT support!

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Category: Podcasts.

For those of you that haven’t already come across podcasts, let me first explain what they are. A podcast is like a radio program except people can download it to a portable media player (such as an iPod or other mp3 player) and listen to it whenever and wherever they want – like they would a downloaded and listen to a favourite piece of music.

Generally speaking a podcast is made available for download via syndication rather than just being a file available for download. The files are usually retrieved with software applications (known as podcatchers) such as Apple’s iTunes so that subscribers can listen at their convenience. The podcatcher can be set up to receive podcasts from web sites of their choice, from specific authors or relating to specific subjects.

So what can a podcast do for you and how do you go about making one?

Podcasts are a great way to get your personal or company profile raised in the world at large. Many people don’t have time to sit and read documents but do have time to listen while they’re on the move – just look at the rising popularity of audio books! So if you create something people want to listen to then more people will get to hear about you and/or your business. There are many syndication sites where you can place your podcasts and if you have a web site you can also place links back to your site which will help with its search engine rankings – further increasing your profile.

Remember that people want to be entertained and/or informed so your podcast needs to do one or both of these, otherwise is will not be listened to or you and your business will gain a bad reputation… exactly the opposite of what you intended.

A few quick tips on producing a good podcast are:

  • Think about how you say things as well as what you say – the tone, pitch and speed of your voice can all make a difference
  • Make sure you don’t record and distribute a recording of anyone without their knowledge and consent
  • Set the bar as high as possible for audio content and production – how it sounds is almost as important as what is being said.
  • Ask yourself if a podcast is the best way to communicate your message – listen to some and experience a podcast from a listeners perspective and then decide
  • Make sure that when you publish any podcasts you describe them fully and accurately – this will help you find the right audience

A simple way to create a podcast is to download an audio editor to your PC, purchase a microphone and away you go. An excellent and free audio editor is Audacity (see http://audacity.sourceforge.net/) which provdes you with all the basic editing functionality (and more) plus it allows you to save files in MP3 format which is the podcast standard.

Happy podcasting!