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Starting out as a Webdesigner

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Pidgin - Multiple Instant Messenger Service

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Spider Player - Free music only media player

Despite the fact there are an inordinate number of media players available, it is difficult to find one that is quite as well rounded as Windows Media Player; the application included as More »

Cashback Websites - Get money back on online purchases

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Windows 7 Hidden Gems - Additional functionality

I’ve been living with Windows 7 for a good few months now and in that time have discovered a couple of little ‘hidden gems’ which I wanted to share with you: Aero More »

Spam

montypythonspam

‘Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam! Lovely spam!Wonderful spam!Spam spa-a-a-a-a-am spam spa-a-a-a-a-am spam.Lovely spam! Lovely spam! Lovely spam! Lovely spam! Spam spam spam spam!’

Before I’m accused of losing it, could anybody reading the above that’s not aware of the Spam Song sketch, please look it up on YouTube immediately.I have to admit that I’ve dipped back in time to the era of Monty Python but it seemed somewhat relevant this week when I heard the news that a man dubbed the ‘spam king’ is to be tried by a Seattle court.

Robert Soloway has been responsible for sending billions of unsolicited junk e-mails (spam) worldwide since starting his illicit empire which funding a life of luxury including a water front apartment in Seattle and a top of the range Mercedes Benz.

It is almost certain that anyone reading this article has received an unwanted e-mail from Mr Soloway in the past due to the extensive reach of his company over the Internet.He is accused of hijacking thousands of computers, infecting them with a virus and then using them as ‘zombie computers’ to send messages to millions of inboxes across the world.These users of these computers would not have known that their machines were sending illegal spam and many of his e-mailings were sent under their legitimate e-mail addresses.

Mr Soloway is also being tried for a total of 35 different charges including fraud, identity theft, money laundering and email fraud.If convicted he could face decades in prison, a hefty fine and in addition prosecutors want to seize $773,000 that it’s estimated that Soloway made from his firm.The true extent of his financial empire is uncertain as despite four of his bank accounts being seized by authorities, police believe he has dozens more.

In 2005 Microsoft won a seven million dollar judgement against Mr Soloway after they sued him over spam sent through Microsoft’s MSN and Hotmail services.Later in the same year an ISP in Oklahoma won ten million dollars against him but neither company managed to get a penny.

I personally am bored of having to spend hours of my life every month sifting through spam.I do use an e-mail filter that blocks 99% of it but unfortunately it can also pick up genuine customer e-mails; this results in me having to sift through my junk folder to retrieve these messages.The arrest of Mr Soloway is symbolic more than anything else; it is unlikely to have any real impact on the number of spam messages we receive as many of them originate from places such as Russia and the Ukraine, and authorities there are a lot more relaxed about the issue.

This arrest is certainly a step in the right direction and I hope that over the coming year we see a couple more convictions as it’s only when the message that spam doesn’t pay gets across that we will eventually see this reflected in our inboxes.

 

 

About the Author – Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges who supply a range of printer cartridges including the OKI 43865724.

The Commodore Legacy – Part III

commodore-64

Considering the Herald Express is a local newspaper I’m often surprised by some of the letters I receive from across the UK.After my Commodore legacy article last week I received this letter from a PR company based in London.

I read your article in the Herald Express this morning, and I thought you’d like to know that the Commodore brand was recently resurrected in the PC industry.While the original owners of the brand led it to bankruptcy, the new owners of the brand aim to restore the Commodore brand to it’s former glory.You can see what they are up to at www.commodoregaming.com

If you’d like any further information or images, please visit our press site at www.zen128487.zen.co.uk/Commodore_Press_Site/

Jools Moore, Naked Ape PR

I will be honest in saying that I did know about the new Commodore Gaming PC but choose not to mention it last week; I was unsure what relevance this new brand of gaming machine had to the old computers which won me over all those years ago.After having a look through the Commodore Gaming website I can unfortunately confirm that the new gaming PC’s have no real connection with the old Commodore brand, other than by name.

I mentioned this to Jools Moore who confirmed ‘The new Commodore Gaming PCs are Windows Vista based, the thought behind that being that a whole new Commodore OS would not fit into the way the world has progressed.The guys at Commodore Gaming did consider it though.

The components are hand picked, and the quality of build is foremost in the design of the machines – all wires inside are trimmed and tidied, and the cases themselves are uniquely decorated using a vacuum to burn images into the case itself without bubbles or similar – they are not just vinyl decals…Also, there’s no extra cost for the designs to be added, unlike the high cost of airbrushing or decals.

I am a little disappointed but somewhat unsurprised that the only salvageable thing left of Commodore is the name; these new machines really are essentially custom, high spec PC’s running Windows Vista and have no real connection to the machines of yesteryear.Let us remember that the PC was one of the primary reasons for the demise of Commodore so I don’t know what Jack Tramiel and the original Commodore engineers would think of this unholy alliance.

Whilst I believe there is a market for something other than the ultra competitive, no frills PC’s that Dell and the ilk seem to be producing of late, I still wish something more could be done with the branding.Personally I would have like to have seen a Linux distribution customised to make it look a little more like the more recent Amiga OS operating systems and used in place of Windows Vista.Unfortunately I am getting carried away with myself here because, due to compatibility issues, Linux is considered unsuitable for gaming and so I do understand why the Microsoft offering was chosen.

The Commodore Gaming PC looks to be a fine, bloody powerful machine albeit costly, with the Commodore XX starting at £2,899. This seems to fly away from the original Commodore philosophy of bringing technology down to a price where it was accessible to all.

Having said all of the above I do still wish the company the best of luck; the Commodore name seems to be cursed and changes hands regularly; it’s about time someone had some luck with it.

 

 

About the Author – Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges, a company that supply inkjet and laser cartridges with free delivery, including the Samsung MLT-D1052L cartridge.

The Commodore Legacy – Part II

Commodore_Amiga600

Last week I started talking about the history of the now bankrupt computer manufacturer Commodore; a company that undeniably had a profound effect on the IT industry.

We left off last week after talking about the Commodore 64.This was a machine priced so aggressively that, along with bringing down the cost of computing to the home user, also marked the departure from the market place of several high profile computer companies.

Despite Commodore gaining a large market share during this period the board of directors didn’t agree with the slashing of prices and profit margins.This sparked a power struggle which ended with the departure of Commodores founder, Jack Tramiel who later started his own company along with a number of key Commodore loyalists. A year later Tramiel purchased the Consumer Division of Atari who one of Commodores most high profile rivals at the time.This situation was made worse as Tramiel began recruiting Commodore employees which resulted in several court appearances over theft of trade secrets allegations.

The remaining Commodore management was left to salvage the company and did so by buying a small company known as Amiga who had a strong interest in developing a 16-bit computer.In 1985 Commodore released the Amiga 1000; a fantastic piece of equipment at the timewhich boasted a 7 MHz processor and 256kb of RAM.Unfortunately the Amiga 1000 was outside the budget of many home users which is a shame when you consider the price point of the Commodore 64 was so low that it made computing accessible to all.

The Amiga 1000 went head to head with the Atari ST and both machines secured a pretty much equal market share until Commodore went on to release the Amiga 500 in 1987.This machine was released at a much more accessible price to the average home user and as such outsold the Atari ST 1.5 to 1 in the United States.

Whilst Commodores fortunes were fairly strong at this point in time the company was now facing the beginning of the end; the reasons for this downfall were numerous and in hindsight seem obvious.

Whilst previous machines such as the C64 had enjoyed a large amount of mass media advertising that the current management were reluctant to repeat, Commodore also began to favour authorised resellers rather than mass outlets such as supermarkets and toy stores that they had exploited in the past.These two factors alone meant that the machines weren’t in the public eye and when the market began becoming saturated with PC’s and Apple Macs in the late 1980’s there seemed little reason to choose an Amiga.

The technology also failed to keep up with the advances that were being made in the PC market and in some instances the company released computers that were actually a step back from what they were previously offering. The Amiga 600 for example which was released in 1992 didn’t offer any real improvements on the A500 which was released 5 years earlier.In reality there were actually several disadvantages to the A600 such as the absence of a numeric keypad and the industry standard SCSI functionality which many A500 users appreciated.The processor was exactly the same speed and the only noticeable improvement was that the machine included a little more memory.

Commodore also released several consumer related products which simply weren’t in demand at the time; the CDTV and CD32 home entertainment systems are just two examples.These were commercial failures for the company which never received any significant market share.

The final nail in the coffin came when software developers began moving away from the Amiga in favour of the PC and Apple Mac.There simply was no reason for a consumer to choose an Amiga system and with sales floundering, Commodore eventually declared bankruptcy on 29th April 1994.

Whilst the twilight years of this company were ultimately very disappointing, the advances made in the early years to make home computing more enjoyable and affordable will be remembered in IT history forever.

 

 

About the Author – Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges, a company that supply inkjet and laser cartridges with free delivery, including the Samsung ML-1610D2 cartridge.

The Commodore Legacy – Part I

commodore-pet

Although at times I may try to hide it, at times there is unfortunately no escaping the fact that I am what many would consider a ‘geek’.The last two weeks have seen me lying on the sofa for an hour at a time reading a fantastic 520 page book entitled ‘On The Edge – The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore’.

The majority of you will probably not know that twelve years ago, at the tender age of thirteen, I started producing a fanzine entitled ‘Zine 64 which focused on the Commodore 64 computer; a machine released in 1982, just one year after my birth.Although many would consider such a machine long in the tooth when I started writing the fanzine, it had a fantastically hardcore user base who all pulled together to try and prolong its’ already long existence.As I write today, there are still peoplesupporting this twenty five year old machine; the passion this machine instils means that, even to this day, it still has a very special place in my heart.

Whilst what I write below may not be to the taste of every reader, I just wanted to take a moment out of looking to the future but instead glance back at the past at one company who arguably changed the world.

Commodore International was started back in 1954 as a typewriter company who due to fierce competition then started producing adding machines in the late 1950s, and then electronic calculators in the 1960s.In the late ’70s an engineer working at Commodore named Chuck Peddle convinced the founder Jack Tramiel that calculators were a dead end, and that they should turn their attention to computers.

In 1977 Chuck Peddle packaged an existing microcomputer kit into a metal case along with a QWERTY keyboard, monochrome monitor and tape recorder to create the Commodore PET which was relatively successful in both the UK and US/Canada.Commodores’ next major computer release was a colour capable machine, the VIC-20 which sold at the remarkably low price of $299 from its introduction to the market in 1981.The low price of the machine, along with an advertising campaign featuring William Shatner resulted in the VIC-20 being the first computer to ship one million units.

In 1982 the Commodore 64 was released to the world; this was a machine that would be produced until the year 1994 and would ship approximately seventeen million units making it the best selling computer of all time.The Commodore 64 was an impressive bit of kit; the combination of high specification and low price lead to the famous Commodore advertising slogan of ‘You can’t buy a better computer at twice the price’.

In 1983 Commodore cut the price of both the VIC-20 and C64 which drove one of their main competitors, Texas Instruments out of the computer market, almost destroyed Atari and bankrupted many of their smaller rivals.Whilst this price war was bad for Commodores’ savings, not to mention the profits of its competitors, it did mean that affordable computing was finally within reach of the general public.

The specifications of the C64 seem almost laughable nowadays; a 1 Mhz processor and 64k of memory however the machine packed in many features not present in computers of the time.The C64 for example supported 16 colours when many were still monochrome, additionally it has a dedicated sound chip capable of playing three synthesised voices simultaneously when most machines simply utilised a buzzer.Such technical advices that Commodore had made in the field of home computing were relatively modest compared with what was to come.

It was my original intention to squeeze all of this in to one article I’ve only just scratched the surface of the impact that Commodore had on the market so this feature will conclude next week.

 

 

About the Author – Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges, a company that supply inkjet and laser cartridges with free delivery, including the Samsung MLT-D1092S cartridge.

Wireless Security

wireless-security-padlock

We’ll start this week with a letter from one of my regular readers and contributors who starts off mentioning my rant last week about how the banks and police deal with credit card fraud.This was an extremely popular feature, with random people literally walking in my shop, shouting ‘good on ya!’ and then walking out again.For those that missed my rant following the poor handling of the situation by my bank when my card details were compromised check out www.computerarticles.co.uk.

I’ll hand over now to Ian MacMillan who makes some interesting points about wireless security.

It was interesting to read your rant about credit card security in this Friday’s Click.Recently there has also been quite a fuss about wireless network security. Nowadays routers are becoming very affordable and most new laptop computers are already equipped with wireless networking cards - This brings with it some risks.Recently the police in Redditch, Worcestershire cautioned two people after they were found hacking into insecure wireless networks.

If someone gains access to your wireless network they can potentially retrieve sensitive personal information off your computer, delete files, use up your Internet bandwidth allowance or even use your connection for a whole number of illegal activities on the Internet which will be pinned to your IP address.

All of this can be prevented by setting up a password on your wireless network, but surveys show that up to 60% of users have not done this.When new, most routers either have no password set up or a standard password such as admin which is easily guessed.

There are products like McAfee Wireless Home Security but these are not free and the best thing to do first is to look at the instruction manual of the router to find out how to set up a password.Whilst the range of a typical home wireless network is no more than a few hundred feet, this still gives potential for misuse.

The points raised by Ian are very genuine and password protecting a wireless network should always be your first priority when setting one up in your home or workplace.I more than anyone am aware of the importance of doing this as I know of several people who obtain free Internet, simply because their neighbours haven’t bothered password protecting their routers.Although they would not dream of doing so, should these individuals wish, they could quite easily access their neighbours’ hard drive through the wireless router or, as Ian mentioned use their connection for illegal activities.I am also aware of instances of fraudsters literally driving round towns and cities with a laptop in hand looking for unsecured wireless networks in the hope that they can gain access to sensitive information.

Luckily securing your network should literally take a couple of minutes.If you consult your router manual then full instructions will be given but broadly speaking it will involve the following:

-Going to an IP address specified in the manual by using your usual Internet browser.For example, you may be required an IP address in the address bar such as 192.168.0.1 rather than the website addresses you’re used to entering.

-Enter the default user name and password as specified by the manual.

-Head to the security tab and enter a passphrase that will then be automatically translated to a secure wireless key which you should make a note of.

-Save the new settings and shut down your browser.

-Try connecting to your network using any of the wireless machines you have in your home and when prompted enter the new wireless key.Windows will save this key and you won’t have to enter it again.

That’s it; your wireless network is now secure.I think many readers would be surprised to know that anyone with a wireless laptop could potentially access to their network and as a result should take two minutes to ensure they are protected.

 

 

About the Author – Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges, a company that supply inkjet and laser cartridges with free delivery, including the Samsung CLP-K300A cartridge.

Windows Gallery

windows_photo_gallery

After talking about Vista so much just recently I got thinking about new gadgets that I could download and integrate into the Windows sidebar when I came across the Windows Live Gallery website (https://gallery.live.com).This particular website which has been set up by Microsoft contains literally hundreds of small pieces of software that can be used alongside a Vista installation, along with software compatible with previous versions of Windows through the Windows Live service.

The Windows Sidebar is one of the new developments built into Windows Vista - it sits on the right hand side of your screen and contains ‘gadgets’ which can be best described as mini applications.Out of the box Vista contains eleven gadgets, Calendar, Clock, Contacts, CPU Meter, Currency conversion, RSS Feed Headlines, Notes, Picture Puzzle, Slide Show, Stocks, and Weather.Fortunately the community is free to develop further gadgets and this is the main interest of Windows Live Gallery as there are literally hundreds of them.

Below I’ve picked a couple of gadgets that took my fancy and this should give you a rough idea of what is available already for your Vista installation:

eBay Sidebar Tool – This gadget allows you to keep an eye on your eBay auctions so you can view at a glance items you’re bidding on, selling or just watching.

BBC News Feeder – With this gadget installed you will get news updates posted directly to your sidebar.The gadget will check for new stories every five minutes.

Calculator – Does exactly what it says on the tin; this gadget will add a calculator function to the sidebar so it’s always close to hand.Also check out the ’10 in 1 conversion calculator’ gadget which allows you to convert between different units of measurement.

Media Player – Can be used to play media from the Windows Media Player Database, or directly from an individual file.It can also be used to play TV and Radio Internet stations directly from the Windows sidebar.

Messenger Gadget – This is the gadget to install if you often use MSN Messenger as it allows you to see your contacts status, start chat sessions and change your online status all directly from the sidebar.

Finding a gadget you require is made easier as they are all sorted into different categories and you can also choose to search by rating, downloads and the date added.Of course there is a lot of rubbish out there but considering how young the Operating System is, there are already a lot of good gadgets available for your Vista installation.

An application that isn’t Vista exclusive is the Windows Live Messenger application and this is also supported by the Windows Live Gallery website.Online you’ll find dozens of games, add-ons and also bots, which can be easily integrated into this instant messaging application.Most of the downloads are all pretty standard stuff but one interesting resource is a list of online ‘bots’; these are automated contacts which can allows the user to get information, complete tasks or be entertained.They talk in a natural language format so you can just talk to them as you would a usual online human contact and some of them can be genuinely useful.

Working our way through the website, there are a number of Windows Search items which allow includes tools for searching specific file types – for example you can download a small add-in which allows you to index all the information within a zip archive.

Finally we have toolbar items which can be integrated in to Windows to offer functionality such as Wikipedia, eBay and Amazon searches directly from your Windows toolbar.If you want a laugh check out the ‘urban dictionary’ toolbar which allows you to convert urban phrases such as ‘disco nap’ and ‘epiphanot’ into proper English.

 

 

About the Author – Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges, a company that supply inkjet and laser cartridges with free delivery, including the Xerox 106R01331 cartridge.

OpenOffice 2.2

openoffice-2

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been driven slowly mad by Microsoft Office 2007 and its new “easier to use” interface which I just can’t get my head around.The problem is that I’ve always been used to using keyboard short cuts and knowing exactly where to look for a particular function within a given menu or sub menu.I can go for hours on end without even thinking about touching the mouse and now Microsoft have completely changed everything around and whilst it looks very pretty it is seriously slowing me down!

Don’t get my wrong, all in all Office 2007 is a lovely new piece ofsoftware, but it’s because of these teething problems that my mind started wondering back to several years ago when I first used a piece of open source software going by the name of OpenOffice and decided to give it another go.

Now up to version 2.2, OpenOffice has developed quite nicely since I last had a play around and best of all it’s still completely free of charge.I’m not going to advocate for a minute that those who have already paid for a recent version of Office should make the switch over but for those without an Office Suite installed on their computer (or even worse, the dreadful Microsoft Works), OpenOffice is a fine choice.

There are six main applications which make up the OpenOffice suite which include:

Writer – This is essentially Microsoft Word which we will all be familiar with.As you would expect it has all the usual features of a Word Processor along with the ability to export files in PDF format which is certainly a handy feature.

Impress – An alternative (albeit cut down) version of Microsoft PowerPoint which is used for generating presentations and slide shows.

Math – This application will be next to useless to everybody but for those that need it this allows you to create mathematical functions and equations for text documents.

Draw – Again not necessarily suitable for all users, Draw is a vector drawing tool which would be ideally suited for creating diagrams and flowcharts.

Calc – All of the primarily functions of the spreadsheet application Excel have been covered in this application with no major omissions and a couple of nice improvements compared with the Microsoft offering.

Base – I don’t recall this functionality being present when I last used OpenOffice but the base application is designed as an alternative to the Microsoft Access database package and packs some pretty powerful features.

Those used to previous versions of Microsoft Office will not have any trouble whatsoever picking up any of the above applications as particular effort appears to be made OpenOffice look as familiar as possible.In addition to this it’s nice to note that you shouldn’t have any problems opening your old files or saving in an industry standard format as OpenOffice does support an impressively large number of file formats.

Whilst not a tiny,the Windows version of OpenOffice weighs in with a fairly modest 93mb download which is extremely comparable when pitted against the huge Microsoft Office package.It is worthwhile mentioning that there are other versions also available for both Linux and Mac users, and all these versions can be downloaded free of charge from www.openoffice.org

 

About the Author – Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges, a company that supply inkjet and laser cartridges with free delivery, including the Xerox 108R00723 cartridge.

Windows Vista Part II

windows-vista-2

Last week I talked to you about Microsoft’s new Operating System ‘Windows Vista’ and discussed the functionality updates that have been introduced and how they could possibly benefit you.Those that missed my original article can check out www.computerarticles.co.uk to download a copy.

As half the measure of a good Operating System is determined by its applications I think we now need to focus on this particular aspect of Vista.I promised last week that we would look in to the bundled applications and as I see it the below points highlight the most significant developments in this particular area of Vista:

Windows Sidebar – This is a transparent panel anchored to the side of the screen which allows the user to place small applets (known as Desktop Gadgets) which are designed for a specific purpose such as displaying your instant messaging contacts or the day view from your calendar.You aren’t confined to just the gadgets that come with Vista either as new ones can be downloaded free of charge off the Internet.

Internet Explorer 7 – Whilst not necessarily a reason to upgrade to Windows Vista as this browser is available separately for Windows XP, it’s still nice to see a version of Windows bundled with a moderately advanced browser.I’m still a firm advocate of Firefox but no one can deny that IE7 is a big step up from insecure IE6 that ships with Windows XP.

Windows Mail – Although this is a replacement for Outlook Express, the two look so similar that I’m not entirely sure why Microsoft bothered with a name change.What this new application does offer however is greater stability along with a spam and phishing filter which was sadly missing from Outlook Express.

Windows Media Player 11 – This is a major revamp of the music and video player which includes a new interface, new sharing capabilities with Vista machines and Xbox 360 integration.

Windows Media Centre – Whilst not present in all versions of the new OS, Windows Media Centre is included in the Home Premium and Ultimate versions of Vista.This application is designed to allow your PC to serve as a home entertainment hub as with suitable hardware your PC can act as a high definition video recorder and player or a music jukebox.

Speech Recognition – This has been greatly improved when you compare it to the speech recognition present when you installed Office 2003 (reviewed several months back in Click) along with Windows XP as you can now control the entire OS by voice commands rather than just individual applications.

Backup and Restore Centre- This application gives users the ability to schedule periodic backups of the machines as well as restoring files from backup when required.Whilst tape support is no longer present it’s nice to see an easy to use and low maintenance backup application in a Microsoft Operating System.

Parental controls – I’m sure I don’t really need to go in to much detail here; the parental controls allow users with administrative privileges (parents) to control which websites, programs and games each standard user (kids) can have access too.

Improvements have also been made to the Windows Update tool, Calendar, Photo Gallery, DVD Maker along with dozens of other bundled applications and whilst I’m still sticking to my point that Vista is overpriced, overdue and in some cases resource hungry would I go back to Windows XP?Not a chance!

 

 

About the Author – Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges, a company that supply a wide range of inkjet cartridges with free delivery.

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