The holidays are upon us and once again I am often asked – what do I get when shopping for a new computer. First let me get the whole Apple vs PC issue out of the way – Unless you are an adult who is great with technology or already use a Mac, then stick with PC’s. Mac’s are not for business use (at least not in the corporate world – and many corporations do not allow Macs on their networks), they are NOT good for students (no one in the job market cares if an applicant has Mac skills, they want PC skills), and in terms of security, while it is true you have less of a chance of getting a virus on a Mac, they are NOT more secure (in fact they are often the first to fall to hackers, and some of the viruses that are out there for Macs are very nasty). Not that Macs are not well made machines (although their latest models are next to impossible to service easily or upgrade), but they are overpriced in terms of hardware (exactly the same hardware as you can get in a PC), and unless you already use one, relearning everything can be challenging especially if you use a PC at work and a Mac at home. I am sure there are those who will argue that they just love their Mac, and to each his own, but we do not recommend them for general and current PC users for a number of reasons including the ones outlined above.
With that out of the way – what to shop for when it comes to a computer? With Windows 8 being sold on almost all new retail computers (if you must have it, you can still get Windows 7 machines from big manufacturers like Dell and HP, but more on that later), the question is do I want Windows 8? (Yes) And what kind of hardware do I want? For the first question, there is really no reason to not go to Windows 8. The biggest complaint about Windows 8 that I have heard from some people is the new start screen and the lack of the Start button on the Desktop mode – if you hate the new Start screen and miss the old Start Button you can get a free download of Classic Shell that gives you the start button back as well as gives you the option to go directly to the desktop mode at startup, bypassing the new Start screen (there are also other free and paid for programs that do this as well). The nice thing about Windows 8 is you can use it almost exactly like Windows 7 after a few alterations such as installing Classic Shell, but you also have access to all the new features of Windows 8 including the fantastically quick boot times, the better security, and the better integration of features (such as native .iso image support, VHD support etc).
The new Start Menu has caused some consternation among old time Windows users, but it is actually pretty cool and the number of Apps are growing every day. Windows 8 is designed to be usable on all kinds of devices, but the Touch features have come a long way and now using Windows on a touch screen PC or a tablet PC is a much more satisfying experience (see our preview of the Lenovo A720 Touch Screen all-in-one). We have also been using Windows 8 on a new Lenovo Yoga 13 convertible laptop/tablet and the experience is awesome! There are quite a few great apps, including productivity apps, entertainment apps, and game apps (Wordament is one of our favs). The cool thing is that many of these apps are free and Microsoft has done a good job so far of keeping the garbage adware kind of apps out of the store.
As far as hardware for Windows 8 goes – if your budget is enough to go with a touchscreen (whether an all-in-one or laptop/tablet), I highly recommend it as the touch experience is very good. If not interested in touch, then make sure that you base your decision on a number of factors – what will you use the computer for? (no need to buy a gaming machine if you are going to be just surfing the internet and checking email – conversely, don’t buy a low end machine and expect to play today’s games on it). What is your budget? (remember, you usually get what you pay for, and sometimes paying a bit more can save you a world of disappointment). Do you need a home use machine or a business machine? (most all local retailers only stock home use machines, if you are buying for work or business, you are much better off going through a major manufacturer like Dell, Lenovo, or HP). Do you want a warranty, and what kind/length? (we never recommend getting a warranty from the store itself, most all computer manufacturers allow you to purchase a warranty directly from the manufacturer within a period of time after buying a computer from a store (usually 90 days, check with the manufacturer before you buy). Store warranties are basically useless as they usually require you to bring the computer to them, do not guarantee your data, and you have no idea how long it will be until you get it back – many manufacturers such as Dell, HP, and Lenovo offer in home warranty service. For business users we definitely recommend going directly through the business websites of the big manufactures as you will get better deals, support and warranties.
As for actual hardware recommendations – We personally recommend the intel core i processors (core i3, i5, and i7) as they are some of the best performing and are good with power usage (make sure to get the 3rd generation i series – denoted with 3000 series numbers as they are the newest). The intels core i series have proven themselves, and generally if you get them, the rest of the hardware will be better than some of the mix-and-match used with other processors. While AMD does make some good chips, and they are generally cheaper, the performance of their chips (as well as the lesser intel chips like the Pentiums, Celerons etc ) are all over the place and can be quite disappointing at times. Stick with the i3, i5, or i7 and you should be happy. If buying a laptop, make sure to check the screen resolution to ensure you are getting enough screen real estate – the resolution is just as important as the screen size itself. Also, if purchasing a laptop, if at all possible, try it out to see how you like the keyboard and how it fits your hands (the smaller laptops especially can cause some issue when typing because of the key placement).
If you have a higher budget, definitely check out the Lenovo a720 27″ all-in-one, and the Lenovo Yoga 13 ultrabook – we have really enjoyed ours!
As always Pensacola Computers is available for all of your PC needs including Windows 8 upgrades and new computer setups. Feel free to visit us on the web at http://pensacolacomputers.com and give us a call with any questions you may have – especially Before you buy a new PC – our general advice is always free!
Microsoft’s Windows 8 has already been released to manufacturers and developers and is scheduled to be released to the general public and for sale on new computers as of October 26th. Windows 8 brings a wealth of new features and better security to the PC as well as tablets. Optimized for touch screens, Windows 8 is a pretty big departure from previous versions of Windows and make take some getting used to. We have been using Windows 8 throughout it’s development cycle and have been playing with the final release version now for over a week and it is impressive.
Starting with the new Start Screen (there is no more start button), Windows 8 brings us live tiles and apps that provide a live link to web content in a full screen app. We were really impressed with some of the start up apps such as Weather, which brings together a wealth of information in an easy to browse format. Also included in Windows 8 are 2 versions of Internet Explorer 10, a full screen one that runs from the app screen (but does not include support for plug-ins) and the normal desktop mode. We found that while the full screen app version does provide both excellent speed and rendering, the lack of plug-in support made us switch to the desktop version quite frequently – this will of course depend upon your own personal browsing habits, but we tend to use quite a few sites that require plug-ins on a regular basis.
Under the hood there have been quite a lot of changes to optimize the Windows experience, both from a performance and a security standpoint. Gone is the resource hogging Windows Aero (which provided the cool transparent windows borders, but also taxed the system), and Windows now sports many updated features including a new Windows Explorer and a much improved task manager. Windows also comes with much better default security and privacy features that offer a much higher level of protection than previously.
Coming in the following weeks will be providing a wealth of info on the new Windows 8 including some galleries and specific hardware review.
For any questions on the upcoming Windows 8, including information on Windows 8 installation and Windows 8 upgrades, please visit http://pensacolacomputers.com
Microsoft is now offering an excellent deal for anyone who purchases a new PC with Windows 7 on it between June 2, 2012 and January 31, 2013. Basically the offer is: Buy a Windows 7 PC and get Windows 8 Pro for $ 14.99. This is good for any computer purchased new that has Windows 7 Basic, Home Premium, Professional, or Ultimate.
After purchasing a new PC you will need to register it at: https://windowsupgradeoffer.com/ and when Windows 8 is released you will recieve an email with a promotion code and insturction for purchasing and downloading the software (the promotion code will allow you to purchase one copy at the promotional price). You can opt to receive a installation DVD for an additional price, but the downloadable version can be used to create your own installation media on a DVD or USB device.
Another cool thing about this offer is that you do not have to install the upgrade on the new computer, you can install it on any one computer that has a valid copy of Windows XP (SP3), Windows Vista, or Windows 7 currently installed. This upgrade offer also includes 90 days of no-charge support from Microsoft that begins once Windows 8 is installed and activated.
Windows 8 is going to be a big change in many areas, and will bring a new level of computing to a wide array of hardware including tablets, touch screen PC’s as well as traditional desktops and laptops. With the new Windows Metro Apps, Microsoft’s aim is to make it easier to find and connect with the information and people you care most about.
At Pensacola Computers, we have been actively involved in testing Windows 8 since the early stages of development and will be available to help local small business and home users in upgrading or learning about Windows 8. For Pensacola computer service and repair, classes, networking, troubleshooting or just general computer questions, visit http://pensacolacomputers.com today. Our advice is always free, so call on us with any questions about your PC.
I am often asked by people if they think they have to get a new computer or can their new one last a bit longer? This is often more of a personal choice unless the old computer is dead or near death. Personally I believe that technology should work for you, and that you should not have to wait on your computer any more than absolutely neccessary. However, just running out and buying a new computer can be a somewhat daunting task – what kind of computer? how much memory? how big of a hard drive?, what kind of graphics? All of these answers will of course depend on your own needs, but there are certainly things you can do to narrow down the choices.
Before you decide to take the plunge, you should look at whether your old computer just needs a good computer service and repair. Sometimes, cleaning out the operating system, or reinstalling Windows can revitalize a lagging system, at other time you may be able to add some RAM memory to increase the capabilities and give your computer a bit longer lifespan. Often, people have accumulated many unneeded programs on their computers which may be slowing it down. In addition, spyware, malware, and adware can be hampering your system. Either of these problems can normally be fixed fairly easily with a bit of time and patience.
You might also be holding on to an old Windows XP machine because you are comfortable with it – while XP was a great a pretty stable operating system, it is going on 11 year old now and is just not capable of keeping up with today’s technology on many levels. If you are still using XP, it is definitley time to plan the upgrade – most XP machines (if they were made for XP) will not easily run a later version of Windows due to lack of hardware drivers, so attempting to upgrade these systems is generally not advised.
Windows 8 is due out later this year, and if Microsoft and the manufacturers run the upgrade process as the have in the past, sometimes the best thing to do is wait until they (hopefully) announce the free upgrade of Windows 7 systems bought after a certain date, and then scoop up one of the Windows 7 systems that comes with a free upgrade to Windows 8 (hopefully at a discount as manufacturers often want to clear their inventory before a new version of Windows arrives). Of course if you want the latest and greatest in hardware, waiting until the first (or second) wave of Windows 8 systems might be a good idea.
Windows 8 is going to bring a lot of changes, and some people may not want to take the initial time to learn something new – for those people, I recommend waiting a bit to see exactely what other people say about upgrading. You can test out Windows 8 by downloading the free consumer preview here: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/consumer-preview
“qwerty”, “monkey”, and “abc123”. These are the 4th, 5th, and 6th most-used passwords of 2011, according to a study [http://splashdata.com/splashid/worst-passwords/index.htm] released by password management software company Splashdata. Also on the list are classics like “123456” and, of course, “password”. It should be obvious to just about anyone that passwords like these are not especially good ones, so why do people keep using them? The mere fact that a password is present is no guarantee of security. Hackers and those wishing to gain unauthorized access to a system have any number of tools at their disposal to help them discover and thus bypass passwords. This does not mean that placing password protection in the way is futile, however. The better the password, the longer it will take for hackers to go through or around it.
So what makes a good password? Cracking passwords is a matter of time, and the time depends on how many characters the program doing the cracking is required to guess. Consider a password with nothing but lowercase letters (a bad idea, but one that will be covered later). There are 26 letters, and thus 26 possibilities for each character. A one-character password thus has 26 possibilities, and for every character past that, the number of potential passwords is increased by 26. A password with five characters has over eleven million possible combinations. Keep in mind, however, that it is a computer doing the cracking in most cases, a machine capable of performing millions of calculations in seconds. That five character, lowercase letters only password would be broken in mere moments by a dedicated hacker. But now consider adding a single uppercase letter in place of a lowercase one. This doubles the number of potential values per character, so that the time-to-crack is increased by a factor of thirty. Adding numbers to the mix triples that time. Then we have what are known as “special characters”, the set including things like punctuation, brackets, symbols, and the like. Since there are tons of these characters, and no pattern to guess which one might be inserted where, the resulting delay in cracking is huge. Special characters can make any password vastly harder to break.
Up to this point, we’ve been discussing a mere five character password, but now we come to one of the most important points: length. Even when using only lowercase letters, increasing the length of the password by one letter multiplies the field of potential passwords by 26. A long password, even without variation in the characters, is much harder to crack by brute force. There are other types of password crackers to worry about, however. The dictionary cracker, for instance, runs through a dictionary stored in its memory and tries every word. Using “elephant” as your password might befuddle a brute force cracker, but the dictionary hacker would figure you out in no time at all. Don’t try to play around with substituting numbers for letters in common words (“passw0rd”) either, as hackers have long since grown wise to this trick and programmed their tools to check for such substitutions; the same goes abbreviations (“trustno1”) and common character sequences (“123456”, “abcde”) . Nonsense passwords, or those which have meaning only to you, are better choices; you won’t find “18kaff?kaff!92cake” in any dictionary, and a brute-force cracker would take months, if not years, to bypass it.
The last point of importance is less about passwords and more about how you use them. While it might be tempting to come up with one good password and use it for all your important business, keep in mind that not all websites are equal in terms of security. If a single site turns out to be less trustworthy than you thought, and hackers gain access to their databases, your password could be handed to them on a silver platter, potentially allowing them access to any accounts, like your facebook or email, using the same password. If you’re really concerned about security, it’s best to change your passwords every few months, ensuring that even if someone got access to old account records, their information would be obsolete and useless.
Unfortunately, in my job I see a lot of computers that have gotten a virus or malware and need to be fixed (and not just PC’s but Mac’s as well lately). While some infections are due to lack of adequate protection – up-to-date antivirus and antimalware/antispyware software, others are due to people falling prey to social engineered malware (fake links on facebook etc), or people accidentally clicking on things, or one of the ones I really dislike – a virus coming in through one of the mass forwarded emails.
It is a misconception that just because you have antivirus/antimalware software that it will protect you 100% – even the best software is hard pressed to protect a computer when someone allows something to come in by clicking ok, yes, or installing questionable software or downloading questionable files (yes, all of the people using limewire, frostwire, or torrent software – you all are at risk every time you download a shared file!). Many times a virus or malware will get onto a computer because someone has installed some ‘toolbar’, ‘searchbar’, screen-saver, coupon printer, rebate searcher, or other such program like those worthless ‘speed up my computer’ programs that are either badly written or are actually malicious and downloads other bad software behind the scenes. **Special note: Almost ALL of the speed up my PC programs are basically worthless and can often do much more damage to your computer than good. Anything that messes with the Windows Registry can damage your Windows installation if it remove the wrong things, and many of them do that!
So what can you do to better protect yourself and your computer from these nasties? Here is a short list of things that I always recommend following to eliminate the most common ways that a computer can get a virus, malware or spyware.
1. Never click on links from social networks such as facebook, or links in emails – regardless of what a link says it is, it can easily be made to hide something else. What you can do is right click on the link, select ‘copy shortcut’ then paste that into the address bar of your browser to see what it really is (or if you have the status bar in your browser enabled, you can often see it there) – if you don’t recognize the link or it looks suspicious – DON’T GO THERE!
2. Never open email attachments unless you specifically know that the specific person who sent you that specific email was sending you that specific attachement – too often people will get an email from a friend or family member that has an attachment and that attachment is a virus that a virus on their computer sent without them even knowing about it. If you don’t know what it is, and weren’t expecting it – DON’T OPEN IT!
3. Don’t download songs, software, videos etc from file sharing networks – when you use software such as Limewire, Frostwire, Vuze, or other torrent or file sharing software to download things you always take a big risk because you have no way of knowing where exactly the files are coming from, or if they have been altered – even a song can hide a virus or malware within it and it won’t activate until you play it. Also the majority of software ‘cracks’ or ‘activators’ have malicious viruses in them. Not to mention that downloading copywrited material is also illegal
4: Keep your antivirus and antimalware/antispyware software as well as your operating system software up to date! It is always important to update your system regularly as the software updates often carry fixes for security issues that have been found and without them you are much more vulnerable. Also update your OS to the latest version (yes, if you are still running Windows XP you might have to get a new computer, but XP is 11 years old and was never designed to handle today’s internet).
5: Beware programs like coupon printers, rebate searches, search toolbars, browser add-on’s, screen savers, and especially the fix all or speed up pc programs. Many times these programs are either malicous themselves or are so poorly coded that they make it much easier for bad things to get onto your computer – IF IT ISN’T FROM A TRUSTED SOURCE – DON’T INSTALL IT!
If your computer does get a virus, try to remove it with your antivirus/antimalware/antispyware software, or you can try to do a Windows system restore to a time before you got the virus (as opposed to a full computer factory restore which will wipe all your data).
Got a virus or malware and not sure what to do? If you run into something particularly nasty or need some advice on how to get rid of something, or just need great computer service or computer repair, visit http://pensacolacomputers.com and give us a call.
Microsoft has just released Security Essentials 2.0 (MSE 2.0), which includes a number of enhanced features. In this latest version there is a updated and reportedly much better hueristic scanning engine for viruses and malware (heuristics look for virus/malware like behavior on your computer). Also included is improved integration with Windows Firewall, and new network traffic inspection. The firewall enhancements are only available to those running Vista or Windows 7 as Windows XP does not have the needed platform to run (if you are still on XP, it is really time to seriously consider upgrading as XP is now 10 years old and was never designed for today’s internet or programs).
Microsoft Security Essentials integrates with Internet Explorer to protect your machine from Web threats like malicous scripts. With the increasing number of viruses and malware spreading to all computers from social networking sites like Facebook, and the constant email bombardment, it is imperative to make sure that you have active and updated anti-virus and antispyware/antimalware software on our computer (yes, even Macs and Linux machines are now getting infected with viruses and malware).
The best part of Microsoft Security Essentials is that it is free for home users as well as being free for small businesses with 10 PC’s or fewer. While only time will tell how effetive this latest version is, I would certainly recommend using it in place of software like Nortons or Mcaffee (both of which are often first targets for virus and malware writers).
You can download Microsoft Security Essentials free directly from Microsoft here: http://www.microsoft.com/security_essentials/
*Note: Microsoft Security Essentials, like most antivirus software cannot be installed with other antivirus software as well as some other security software, so make sure to remove other security software before installing it.
For links to other free security software or help with Malware, Spyware and Virus removal, visit Pensacola Computers Tech Support page
Finally, Google has added a long awaited feature to its Gmail service – the ability to add images and rich text to email signatures! The next time you sign in to your Gmail account, click on the Settings link in the top upper right corner, and on the General tab about halfway down the page you will see the new Signature box with some new features. In addition to the regular bold, underline, italics etc, you can also change your font, change the font size, color and highlight color. YOu can add hyperlinks, and yes you can finally add images!!
While you can’t just upload an image directly (they must be hosted on the web somewhere) – you can easily just upload your image to a free image hosting service such as http://imageshack.us/ or http://tinypic.com/ and then copy the image address into the Image Url into the Gmail signature Add an Image dialog box. Once you have put in the image url, if it is correct, you will see an image preview. The dialog box also allows you to resize the image. **Note: you really should properly size the image before uploading it to the web, as an image that is too big will take a long time to load into an email message. Remember to click Save Changes at the bottom of the pages when you are done customizing your signature!
Email services like Gmail are constanly adding new features and this is one that people have been wishing about for a long time. The signature feature is a great feature, and if you have multiple Gmail accounts you can customize the signatures for each individual account. Unfortunately, the rich text signatures are only currently supported in the desktop browser version of Gmail and not supported on mobile versions. For the desktop version, you must be using the latest non-html version of Gmail.