website-design

Starting out as a Webdesigner

This article is aimed at giving some rudimentary tips and guidelines which help in making a website designing business a successful one. Starting off a new business is as critical as it More »

Pidgin - Multiple Instant Messenger Service

If like me, you find yourself juggling multiple messenger applications to keep your friends, family and colleagues happy you will be glad to hear about Pidgin. Formally known as Gaim, Pidgin is More »

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

I have a saying that goes something along the lines of ‘A penny saved is 1.22 pennies earned’ and while I’ll admit it’s not the catchiest of proverbs it certainly does hold More »

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 »

Spyware

windows-defender

One topic that I get asked about more than any other is that of Spyware & Adware – Software installed without the knowledge of the user in order to track your computer usage habits or expose you to advertising.The majority of you are probably fed up with me bleating on about how to scan and remove this software from your computer but it is genuinely amazing that even with all the programs available in the marketplace today quite how many machines are still infected.I’d say that the majority of computers that I ever sit in front of have at least a couple of pieces of this pesky software installed without the users knowledge so it is important that even if you think your system is clean that you follow my advice today anyway.

The primary problem with Spyware is that whilst the majority of it does no serious harm it can slow your computer down and make it more unstable and because of this is certainly worth doing a check every now and again to ensure that your machine is clean.Microsoft have recently launched an update to their popular program ‘Windows Anti-Spyware’ going under the name of ‘Windows Defender’ and this free application should certainly make life a little easier.

Once you’ve jumped through all the hoops that Microsoft insist on in order to confirm that you own a legal copy of Windows and downloaded the 6.5mb file then installation is pretty straight forward.Once installed the program will automatically perform an update and a quick system scan and then when any nasties have been removed you will be presented with the Windows Defender dashboard.

Because the defender service is always running in the background you will find that the dashboard mentioned above is just a simple front-end which you probably won’t want to use too much as the defender service will automatically update itself and should remove any spyware threats without user intervention.

One of the main problems with the earlier version of the software ‘Windows Anti-Spyware’ was that it was quite an intrusive program that sat in the system tray and popped up every time it saw something slightly suspicious.Of course this would get annoying after a few minutes and served only to panic the less experienced computer user so thankfully Windows Defender is much less intrusive and once you’ve installed it for the first time you really shouldn’t see it again unless you summon the dashboard into action.

The scanning engine is a lot more advanced than the old Windows Anti-Spyware and so is capable of detecting a larger range of Spyware as well as being able to peer inside compressed files.Additionally the software integrates with Internet Explorer in order to preventing the user from accidentally download Spyware in the first instance.

To conclude, every Windows XP user should head to www.microsoft.comand download this application from the front page.Just take five minutes to install the program and then forget about it safe in the knowledge that you are now protected from current Spyware threats – there really is no excuse for not downloading this one!

 

About the Author – Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges who supply low priced printer cartridges for a wide range of printers including the Brother HL-5340D Printer.

First look – Office 2007

Not a day goes by when I don’t use Office 2003 for one reason or another and this morning I became curious as to when Microsoft would release an upgrade that would make my life easier. A quick search on the Internet revealed details of Office 2007 which is currently in second Beta edition and the finished version is due for release at the end of 2006.

The main difference in this new incarnation of Office as far as I can tell is the user interface which Microsoft has dubbed the ‘ribbon’ interface. It has been designed to replace the existing system of menus, toolbars and dialog boxes with a less cluttered system that allows you easy access to the more advanced features of the applications. I think the main drawback with the old system was that whilst it was fine for a while, as more advanced features were integrated into the program it became increasingly difficult for Microsoft to provide the user with each access to them.

The traditional menus and toolbars have been replaced with a set of command tabs that graphically present the most relevant features you require access to based on the program you are using. For example the command tabs in Word will be geared around writing and page layout whereas the same commend tab in Excel would encompass features such as chart and table creation. Additionally these command tabs will change based on the context in which they are being used – For example clicking on a chat will cause the command tab to include options predominately focused to chart editing.

Office 2007 will be provided in seven different versions from the Basic (Word, Excel & Outlook) which the majority of home users will probably end up owning right up to the professional Office Enterprise Edition which includes applications such as Publisher, PowerPoint and InfoPath.

The default file standard for Office 2007 will be XML which Microsoft seems quite keen to start promoting as a viable alternative to current binary formats. XML differs from the current Word, Excel and PowerPoint formats in that it is smaller and the file format allows for easier recovery of damaged files. Of course you will still be able to open the older formats such as .doc, .ppt, and .xls in the new version of the software. Interestingly Microsoft has also added support for the popular Adobe PDF format– this is a welcome addition that is long overdue.

At the current stage of development there doesn’t seem to be anything else remarkable to note about this new version of Office but then again the differences between Office XP and Office 2003 were extremely subtle so this doesn’t surprise me too much. The main thing to write home about is defiantly the new User Interface but whilst I’m sure it will be easier once you’ve got used to it, I am expecting it to upset those that have grappled for years to get used to the old interface that up to now has been standard in so many Microsoft applications! As always I’ll keep you informed over the coming year to any new developments as they are announced.

Wikipedia

Approximately a year and a half ago I took at look at the completely free online encyclopaedia Wikipedia which is kept alive by a combination of user contributions and donations. Back then I had only just discovered its existence and was instantly impressed by the huge amount of good quality reference material that was available. Further down the line the quality of the site hasn’t deteriorated in anyway with hundreds of articles being added or updated on a daily basis so I thought that perhaps it was time to feature it once again for those that missing the first article along with those who simply need reminding of its existence.

The one problem that I have with the Internet is that by doing conventional searches using an engine such as Google you are often relying on pot luck as to the quality of the results that are returned. For example one topic that you search could yield a host of useful material whereas searching for another topic could come back with a load of completely irreverent, badly written articles.

Using a dedicated encyclopaedia such as Wikipedia takes the guess work out of researching articles and topics because all the articles in its database have actually had to be approved by a moderator before they are added. This contrasts to the general Internet which can be used by absolutely anybody in order to publish anything they wish whether factually accurate or not.

I have found that you can type pretty much anything into the Wikipedia search and it will come back with a comprehensive, well written and interesting article. Now, let’s get this straight; when I say anything I really do mean anything – I’ve just spent the last 20 minutes typing completely random subjects into the search bar and it has come back with a result for each of them. Having said that, since there is over 1 million articles in the database this is rather unsurprising.

When viewing a specific topic you will find that the article is nicely structured into appropriate headings and subheadings as well as links to further reading sources present on both internal and external sites. Any technical terms used in the write-ups are hyperlinked so that you can simply click on them and it will be cross linked to a different area of the encyclopaedia that will explain their meaning to you.

As well as obviously the content of the site I am primarily impressed by several other aspects. First and foremost is the fact that it is run entirely from user contributions and donations – To have a resource which makes the Microsoft Encarta website look laughable whilst being completely free of charge is quite impressive. Secondly is the fact that there are absolutely no adverts on the site to impede your viewing which is extremely rare to see from a free resource nowadays. Finally there are the other features such as this encyclopaedia being backed up by a very capable dictionary and thesaurus which will be useful to all those who find the one included in their standard spell checker somewhat limited.

I really don’t think there is a single person reading this who won’t have a use for this website in the coming year so head to www.wikipedia.co.uk then bookmark and use it as your first resource whenever one of those niggling questions pops up in the future!

Distributed Computing

Distributed computing has been around for very many years. Some of my more long term readers will remember that way back in 2002 I featured a program called SETI @ Home which was designed to use the power of thousands of home computers together in order to search for extra-terrestrial radio signals amongst the stars.

Many years on the BBC have recently started another experiment using the same technology designed to use the spare computing power of many home PC’s together in order to run projection models designed to predict how the climate will change on a yearly basis all the way up to the year 2080. Obviously such issues are very much in the spotlight at the moment with some experts claiming that we are now too late to go back even if we were to stop polluting the environment tomorrow.

Basically you can join the experiment by downloading the software provided free of charge at www.bbc.co.uk/climate and installing it on to your computer. At the beginning of your experiment you will be given your own individual climate model that starts predicting climate change from the year 1920 right through to 2080. As bizarre as it may sound starting the experiment so far in the past the idea is that if your particular climate model can predict successfully the conditions in the year 2006 then it is probably a good model and hence worth continuing with through to 2080. If your model however has predicted that the world in the year 2006 would have turned to ice then it is obviously inaccurate and not worthwhile to continue running! Once your model has finished running the results will be sent to scientists in Oxford who will combine everybody’s results in order to predict which scenario is most likely to occur in the future.

The good news is that this process doesn’t actually tie up your computer for any particular amount of time; it will sit in the background and run whenever your computer or Internet connection is idle. As you can imagine the majority of time your computer is switched on it is not being used to its full capacity and the BBC software attempts to take advantage of this.

The software itself is relatively small (10mb) and easy to install and rather than just installing never to be seen again you can choose to monitor the progress of your climate model which can make for a fairly interesting diversion. The program also comes with a special screensaver that will switch to a graphical view of your climate model whenever your computer hasn’t been used for an extended period of time.

Unfortunately if you do not have a broadband connection then this experiment probably isn’t suitable for you as the project does need a pretty much constant connection to the Internet. Having said that though at the currently low prices that are being offered I would be surprised if many of my readers were still plodding along on dial-up!

I seem to be the only one who has seen the irony in getting people to expend electricity and therefore natural resources in the pursuit of predicting climate change so it should be mentioned that you should only run the software when your computer would be on anyway – Don’t leave your computer on just to run the software as this kind of defeats the idea of the experiment!

The BBC plan to provide an update to how this project is coming along in the Summer so do your little bit towards it today, download and install the software then forget about it!

Transferring LP’s to CD #2

You may recall last week that I talked briefly about transferring LP’s to CD’s following a letter that I received from a gentleman who wanted to bring his LP collection into the 21st Century. This week a reader has chipped in with a helpful piece of advice for him and others that may be thinking of doing the same.

I was interested to read your reply to Tony Chidlow in Herald Express on Sat 11/02/06 who wanted to copy LPs to CD. You may not be aware that there are a few CD recorders around that connect to your hi-fi and do exactly that. The cheapest is the Pioneer PDR609 at around £200 but may be cheaper on eBay. The advantage of this system is its simplicity by recording directly to CD. What it won’t do however is reduce the clicks and pops; but if the discs are in good condition it won’t be necessary. On another note, the lead you mentioned in the article to connect your record player to the computer is easily obtainable from Comet or Curry’s.

Peter White, Torquay

I must be honest in saying that I personally didn’t even think about this as being an viable option for transferring your LP’s on to CD’s however now it really does take the complication out of transferring your collection to the newer format. By buying a standalone CD recorder you simply connect it to your existing Hi-Fi, start the record playing, insert a blank CD and hit the record button – There is no need to have to worry about connecting to the computer, checking sound levels, playing about with software and so on.

I have had a check on eBay and standalone CD recorders can be picked up for under £100 which would be a worthwhile investment if you had a number of LPs’ to transfer or if you weren’t particularly technologically minded. Of course the same technology could also be used to transfer other formats such as tape on to CD.

One of the main advantages to recording via the computer is that you can then use special software to clear up pops and cracks that are sometimes inevitable when recording off of LPs’ which as Peter states you won’t be able to do with the standalone CD recorder. Do ensure that your LPs’ are clean and scratch free though and this shouldn’t be a major concern.

I forgot to mention this last week but do remember that in instances when your records are badly scratched or damaged you could always attempt to download the equivalent MP3 tracks off of the Internet using a suitable file sharing program such as LimeWire (www.limewire.com). Usually it would be quite illegal as to download tracks in this program due to infringement of copyright however I believe that as long as you do own the original work then it is legal to download a copy off the Internet for your own use.

Transferring LP’s to CD

This week I’ll be taking a bit of time to delve into a question recently posted to me by one of my readers:

One of the reasons which persuaded me to buy my PC four or five years ago was that I wanted in due course to transfer some of my large LP record and audio tape collection onto CD.
For various reasons (mainly lack of time, although I have now recently retired), I never got round to doing this, although I have a CD writer and Drive and a programme which enables me to copy to CDs.

Having now retired and (potentially) having more time, I would now like to try and make a start on transferring some of my LP’s and tapes onto CD, but although I have read articles saying how easily it can be done and have seen advertisements for software which “cleans up” vinyl LPs and audio tapes, I do not know what connections I need, still less how to fit them!

I am writing to you therefore to see if you have any experience of this, or whether you know anyone who has and could give me some practical help.

Tony Chidlow.

I will be honest this certainly isn’t my forte although I do understand the basics of what is involved so will at least try to point you in the right direction over the next 400 words.

First off you will need to get the correct equipment for the job - You will obviously first need a record player that then plugs into an amplifier as well as a suitable PC with CD Burner. You’ll also need a lead to connect the two of them together and a company such as Leads Direct (0870 755 7610) should be able to sell you a suitable lead with a 3.5mm jack on one side for the PC then whatever connection your amplifier requires on the other end.

You will also need some recording software so check out Audacity (https://audacity.sourceforge.net) for a free and compact sound editor which should do the job perfectly. To be honest this is a very capable piece of sound recording software which many readers will find interesting, not just those looking to transfer their LP’s onto the computer.

Now, it’s time to begin so clean your LP, connect the line out of the amplifier to the line in of the PC install the software given above and then go to the volume control on your PC (down by the clock at the bottom right hand side of the screen) and ensure that the Line In level is turned up sufficiently.

From now on it should simply be a case of going in to the software, start recording from the line in source and then start the LP playing. It may be an idea to record the entire LP in one go and then use Audacity to clean up the one file and then split it up in to the individual tracks which can then be saved in to a suitable high quality .wav file. It is simply now a case of going into your CD burning software, opting to create an audio CD and then drag and drop the tracks you require on to the disc and click the burn button.

This article has of course simply covered the absolute basics and you’ll probably want to look in to the subject in greater detail so do check out www.delback.co.uk/lp-cdr.htm for some helpful tips and tricks.

Internet Explorer 7

This week I’ll be publishing a letter from one of my loyal readers regarding the new beta version of Internet Explorer that has just been published on the Microsoft website:

At last the beta version of Internet Explorer 7 is available for download, at https://www.microsoft.com/windows/ie/ie7/default.mspx - This will be the standard browser in Windows Vista when it is launched in September 2006.

The main emphasis of the new browser seems to be on simplicity, with the interface being considerably simpler than previous versions - This may not please the purists as some features are not now as easy to access as they were in the earlier versions. The main additions are tabbed browsing (which Firefox and Opera have offered for ages) and the built in RSS reader. RSS feeds with the orange RSS logo like this are becoming very common and for example they can be a much quicker way of reading the news headlines on the BBC’s website. IE7 can also display all of the currently open tabs as quick tabs, which is like a thumbnail image of all the open tabs.

Although there is nothing badly wrong with IE7, it is unlikely to bowl over the current enthusiasts of Firefox and Opera. Also worth a mention is the freeware Avant Browser which can be downloaded at www.snapfiles.com and is in my view a better all round browser and RSS feed reader than IE7. As ever Microsoft seems to be playing catch-up to newer and more flexible pieces of software, and nowadays I rarely use Windows Media Player because Winamp is so much better.

Having said the above, market research suggests that Internet Explorer has 90% of the market for web browsing, simply because many people do not get round to trying the alternatives like Firefox and Opera. This is a good time for people to look at the alternatives because frankly although it is okay, Internet Explorer 7 is not the best tabbed browser.

Ian MacMillan, via e-mail.

After downloading the latest version of Internet Explorer for myself I must side with Ian and say that I am somewhat disappointed with the modest improvements that Microsoft have made to the application in this latest incarnation. Rather than innovating in any shape or form they seem to have simply tried to make their browser more like Firefox and whilst imitation is the highest form of flattery I find it quite funny that such a large, expensive programming team should try to emulate a browser which was originally pioneered by a couple of bedroom programmers.

I don’t like the streamlined toolbar; it is missing a load of options that the average user requires and the new design is moving away from the standardised interface we are used to all Windows applications. I can see this leading to a fair amount of confusion as the fact there are no menus present for the ‘file’, ‘edit’ and ‘tools’ functions had me scratching my head for a minute.

The only truly unique feature I can see this application has having is the new ‘phishing filter’ which aims to protect you from websites that aim to gain personal details by deception. For example, a common problem at the moment is websites ripping off the designs of banking websites in an attempt to steal bank details off the unsuspecting. To be honest such a filter is long overdue in any browser as this problem has been around for a while now but quite how effective and up to date it’ll be remains to be seen.

It is also worth pointing out that as mentioned at the beginning of this article Internet Explorer 7 is still in beta format which essentially means it’s unfinished – We could see a fair few improvements before the final version is released and before it starts shipping with the new, unfinished Windows Operating System ‘Vista’. Personally I believe the improvements will be enough to stop many people moving to an alternative such as Firefox however those such as myself who are already using an alternative will have little incentive to switch back.

TVexe.com

This week I’m going to do something a little bit unusual in Click; something that I don’t normally do. Almost every week I go in search of the best free software for you guys to download and give it my full recommendation but instead this week I’m going to review a piece of software that I think is truly awful because I see the potential in both it and other similar programs available on the market.

Broadband connections are continuously getting faster but at the same time also coming down in price; to the best of my knowledge most places in Torbay are now able to get at least a 2 Meg connection with prices starting around the £12.99 mark. For the majority of moderate Internet users there simple is no longer an excuse not to have broadband and the growth of this technology is set to continue at a fantastic rate. Such strides in the technology mean that streamed video over the Internet is now something that everybody can access and this is where our featured program for today TVexe comes in.

TVexe (www.tvexe.com) is a small, free program which sorts out many of the channels that are broadcasting over the Internet into some kind of order. With such a wide choice it helps to have such a system and soon you will have access to over 300 live channels from across the world sorted into categories or simply listed by country of origin.

The first thing you’ll notice is that TVexe doesn’t need to be installed – You simply download it onto your PC and there is only one file which does the lot. Unfortunately the next thing that you’ll notice is that the interface is extremely cluttered and the Interface could have been assembled so much better however the point of todays article is to highlight the potential such software has for the future.

With broadband speeds increasing across the country it is not uncommon for users in more built up areas to benefit from 8 Meg connections and in some areas the speeds are even faster. When viewing streaming video it is of course important that all computers in-between your connection and the TV stations connection work well otherwise bottlenecks will soon reduce the quality of the broadcast. Providing everything runs smoothly a good picture is obtainable and over time it shouldn’t be too long before we can get streamed TV quality broadcasts for free over the Net.

The primary advantage of this technology isn’t hard to see – in addition to gaining access to many UK free to air transmissions you’ll have your pick from a HUGE selection of stations from all over the world. Watching TV broadcast from a different country can not only give you an insight into a completely different culture but also provide you with a completely different perspective on the world. In these modern times such technology is especially important – For example, if we look at Iran who have taken the action of banning western influences from much of their media we can see that the Internet is a powerful tool for reducing the impact of state imposed propaganda.

I do recommend those of you on a broadband connection download TVexe and give it a quick blast on your computer – Asides from keeping you amused for a good few minutes you’ll hate it but things can only get better from here.

Google Earth

Way back in July of last year I reviewed Google Earth – A program that allows you to view the world from satellite imagery. Just to recap once you’ve downloaded a 10mb file from https://earth.google.com and installed the software on to your computer you start with a picture of the Earth zoomed out as if viewing it from space. From this point you can rotate the globe and zoom in to street level or alternatively you can simply type in a place name and the program will automatically do it for you.

Yesterday a new piece of software was pointed out to me from the guys at NASA and thought that it was definitely worth a look at. World Wind (https://worldwind.arc.nasa.gov) is a free to download 50mb file that does something quite similar in design to Google Earth. The main thing that excites me about this program is because of the people who created it because NASA has more experience of space than any other organisation on the planet.

Whilst the detail of the images and the interface itself isn’t as good as they are in Google Earth the experience that NASA has as a scientific organisation does put it ahead of Google Earth in some respects. For example in World Wind you can view the Moon in the same way as you can view the Earth which should be genuinely interesting for many people especially those with an fascination in space. I personally can’t help but think that given support by the Internet community and improved mapping that will come about in coming years that NASA will build on the program to encompass other planets in our solar system. Imagine being able to select a planet from our solar system and to be able to view the surface of the planet as well as the various weather systems and climates that affect that particular planet.

Additionally there are several scientific tools that you can use to actually make full use of the data that is included in the program. For example you can view hurricanes, floods, fires and volcanic activity that have occurred on the Earth over the years as well as looking at weather systems, oceanic movement and so on.

I would recommend downloading both pieces of software as not only are they both completely free of charge but they are genuinely interesting. World Wind has many features that Google Earth doesn’t have and even those that downloaded the latter program when I first recommended it should give it another go has the program has come along in leaps and bounds since then. For example, when viewing most major cities from space you can actually get down to a level where you can see cars and people walking in the street. I won’t start repeating my previous article here but for those of you that missed the original article you can get a copy of it by visiting www.computerarticles.co.uk. It is worth noting that you will only get full benefit from these programs if you’re on a broadband connection as most of the data is streamed over the Internet which would be extremely frustrating doing over a dial up connection.

Google Web Accelerator

After spending last week look at a dial up Internet accelerator which wasn’t recommended for broadband I thought this week that I’d do the opposite and take a look at a similar piece of software designed for broadband but not dial up connections.

Google Web Accelerator although still in Beta format is an interesting piece of free software designed by the same team that have bought us so many other useful pieces of software over the past year. The idea is that you install a small piece of software which then makes use of Googles global network to improve the speed your pages load in several ways.

Such tactics include sending your page request through a dedicated network of machines designed for Google accelerator traffic, storing copies of recently viewed pages, downloading only the changed material in a page since the last time you viewed it, prefetching certain pages, managing your Internet connection and compressing data before it is sent to your computer.

Google accelerator takes literally seconds to install by visiting https://webaccelerator.google.com and once installed it will automatically keep itself up to date. I must be honest in saying that I didn’t notice a huge speed increase when I installed the software however I am currently sat on a 4mb/s Broadband connection so pages tend to load instantly anyway.

Once installed there are several settings that you can play around with to customise how the software works:

Internet connection: Google automatically assume that your connection is below 1mb/s however if it is above this then you should specify this here.

Prefetching: One of the things Google does to speed up your connection is to prefetch pages before you actually click the link. Then if you click a link the information is already on your computer so it doesn’t need to be downloaded. Obviously if you only have a limited download limit every month you’re not going to want to blow it all on Google prefetching pages that you might then not necessary read.

Clear your history: This deletes files stored in your web accelerator cache to clear your surfing history.

Don’t accelerate these sites: This option allows you to turn off Google accelerator for viewing specific sites which is useful if you have a problem with using the software on incompatible pages. You can also choose to temporarily disable Google web accelerator for whatever reason at any point.

The software includes a counter that supposedly shows you how much time you have saved waiting for pages to load whilst using the software although how accurate this counter is I have no idea. As mentioned at the start of this article the software is currently in beta test (unfinished) format and so independent tests on speed gain claims are unavailable at present.

One of the primary concerns with using this software is to do with privacy as the Google team will be able to see all requests for all unencrypted pages along with your IP address. If you fill in a form on such a page Google could also theoretically see personal details although it is worth bearing in mind that this is no more information than your usual ISP can see anyway although understandably this does worry some users. In reality a company such as Google would not ever use this data in any way so you should feel safe and additionally it doesn’t attempt to accelerate any secure websites so online shopping security isn’t compromised.

I would recommend giving the software a run though especially if you have a broadband connection which verges on the slow end of the market. I would appreciate any comments that you may have regarding this software and then perhaps we can do a follow up article when it comes out of the testing period.

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