Readers Ask: Sending DOCX Files To Macs, Troubleshooting Slow Web Sites, Choosing New Computer Hardware

computer-booksI’ve been talking with Fr. Jack Sweeley about whether he should move to Windows 7, Windows 8, or a Mac. After our initial discussion, he had some followup questions, which I am posting with his permission:

Thank you so much, Triona. This is very helpful. However, I have a few questions.

1. As I stated, I have several books written and others in process as well a hundreds of commentaries all written with Word using VISTA. Will I be able to open and edit these on a Mac?

2. From time-to-time I have sent documents I have written to someone who at that time had a Mac and they told me they could not open what I sent written in WORD on a PC. Is this still the case?

3. Contrarily, will I be able to open documents sent to me in WORD using a Windows PC on a Mac?

4. RE Macs: Could you give me comparisons between hard drive space on a Mac v. PC (is a gig a gig on both), for processing speeds what are the terms used and are they the same for a Mac and a PC, what are the terms used for memory and are they the same for a Mac and a PC?

5. What amount of HD space, processing speed, and memory do I need to do what I described in my original letter? I am impatient and go crazy having to wait for Websites to load especially when I have 8-10 sites open at the same time.

6. I know a little about the landscape of PCs and once I know what parameters I am looking for I can find one. However, I have never even looked at a Mac to say nothing about being able to compare them. So, could you cite different kinds of Macs–with their price ranges for what I need–and the pros and cons of each.

Let’s look at Fr. Jack’s needs and see how we can help him.

Opening Word For Windows .DOC and .DOCX Files On Macs

wordmacYes, you can open Word documents, both .doc and .docx, on a Mac. Apple’s word processor Pages (paid; via App Store) can open both but saves in its own proprietary .pages format. NeoOffice (donationware, www.neooffice.org) can also open both .doc and .docx but again, it saves in its own .odt format. You can spring for Microsoft Office for Mac (paid; via Microsoft), which is the most expensive option but can handle Word .doc and .docx files without conversion.

The person to whom you sent the Word file may not have had a recent Mac word processing program, or did not have Microsoft’s free .docx converter installed. You can either make sure all Word files are saved as .doc and not .docx (.docx is default from Word 2007 onwards), or make sure the recipient can convert .docx. Don’t go looking online for free converters, use the genuine ones from Microsoft to avoid viruses.

For the most part, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files can be used interchangably between PCs and Macs. The main exception is if you have code in Visual Basic (VBA) or custom macros not supported by the Mac. Everyday documents work fine, and on the rare occasions they don’t, the one-time installation of a converter tool usually fixes the problem.

Now, if you have print-ready files, a Word document just is not a proper layout tool. Better to save final drafts to PDF which will keep the pagination you want. Professionals do document layout with industry standard tools like Adobe InDesign and Quark.

When it comes to file types and permanent storage – as in, stuff you want to keep longer than the software program that created it – I am a fan of good old RTF, or rich text format. It’s a universal file type that allows formatting like bold and italic but can still be opened by nearly every word processor past, present, and likely future.

Choosing A New PC Or Mac

question-computerA gig is a gig is a gig – 1,024 megabytes, sometimes rounded off as 1,000MB. So yes, hard drive sizes are consistent across Mac and PC hardware. Processing speeds are harder to compare. You can go digging across the Internet for all sorts of bench tests, but you’re better off comparing PCs to PCs and Apples to, well, Apples.

Typically a sub-$500 PC is not going to be worth the cost. In my experience they fail more quickly and catastrophically than more expensive models. A midline PC, in the $700-1,000 range, offers better and faster hardware. Laptops will be more expensive than desktops, and bear in mind that if you choose Windows 8, you’re going to want a screen with touchy-swipey capability for the best experience. That is, assuming you can find one; it’s not available for every model.

Macs may cost more, but in my experience they also make up for the price difference by outlasting their PC counterparts in the long run.

Troubleshooting Slow Web Sites

slowWaiting for web sites to load may be a function of your network connection and not your computer. Or, if your computer is gummed up with adware and malware, you’ll notice the drag particularly when using the Internet. For optimum speed you need to use a modern operating system – Windows 8, Mac, or Windows 7 as long as Microsoft deigns to support it – because you need to use a modern browser.

Your web browser is your window to the Internet. That means it’s also a vulnerable point. If your software is out of date, your connection will seem slow or you’ll be unable to load pages or images. The older the browser, the slower the connection, until you finally throw your hands in the air and buy a new computer. This is another reason it’s good to keep your software up to date, it’ll stave off that new computer moment as long as possible.

If you don’t know which browser you use, you’re probably using the default for your system. Common browsers as of this writing are as follows, but this information changes rapidly. Your best bet is to use the “check for updates” feature of the program to find the current version for your computer.

Windows 7 and 8

Mac

Note: there is no current Internet Explorer for Mac. If you’re still using the old versions, switch now!

Choosing A Mac Model

choose-appleThe easiest way to see the available Macs is to pop over to the Apple store: store.apple.com. They have a clickable list in the Mac section which shows the Mac model options.

In my experience, you are almost always better off opting for an iMac or a Macbook Pro than trying to cut corners with a Mac Mini. For one thing, you have to factor in the cost of the screen, and for another the Mini really doesn’t have the oomph for what most people want. You don’t have to go nuts on one of those bigger, expensive tower Macs. Those are usually purchased by designers and video experts who need the extra processing power and expandability.

When configuring a Mac using the Apple Store tool, get the fastest processor and best graphics you can for the model you want. You can always add more memory or a larger hard drive later, but with an iMac or Macbook you’re stuck with whatever processor and graphics card it has. You can go Macbook Air instead of Macbook Pro but remember you’re sacrificing processor speed for a lightweight form factor.

Apple Store has a nice comparison tool to help you make the choice.

Finding Discounts On Macs

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention you can look for discounts on warrantied refurbished Macs on Apple’s site. You can also find discounts at Mac retailers like Mac Mall and OWC. A good time to buy is right after Apple announces new hardware; you can get a discount on older models that still have solid tech specs. (Insider’s tip: Apple usually has events in the spring and fall; the next one will be in March 2013.) If you’re an educator or student, be sure to check out Apple’s education discount. Many colleges and universities have deals through the campus computer store.

Ask Your Computer Questions On Tech Tips!

Do you have a computer problem? Leave a comment and let the Tech Tips community help. Your question could appear in a future Tech Tips article!

Image courtesy of (1) ddpavumba (2) Danilo Rizzuti (3) Idea go (4) Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dear Microsoft: Why Your Customers Hate Windows 8

The computer industry gives short shrift to small business and home users. This has never been more clear to me than with the introduction of Windows 8, so I wrote this letter to Microsoft on behalf of the Nation of Windows Users.

Dear Microsoft,

We know you’re excited about Windows 8, and you want us to be excited too. And you can’t figure out why we’re all “meh” when you want us to be all “YEAH!”

The Look
We hate Windows 8. You’re forcing a new look on us, when it’s all we can do to keep up with our everyday tasks. Windows 8 may have all sorts of nifty improvements, but that’s no good if it takes us two hours just to figure out how we used to do something.

Don’t make fun of us if we aren’t computer-savvy. Not everybody is a tech guru. For some people, even moving an icon on the desktop is a major change. That’s not our fault. It’s YOUR fault if you don’t understand that some people want to concentrate on what they need to do, rather than trying to figure out how to go about getting it done on an unfamiliar system.

Don’t tell us we’ll learn to love it. We don’t have time. If we have to learn something new, we might as well go over to Apple and see what the fuss is about Macs.

No Start Menu
You spent the last 20 years teaching us the Start menu. Remember how angry we were when you yanked the old Office Toolbar and replaced it with the ugly Ribbon? You told us, “You’ll love it, it’s so much better.”

Well, we don’t, and it isn’t. Some people still haven’t gotten used to it, and haven’t upgraded as a result. You make it much harder for us to want to buy your stuff when you treat us like children who need to have decisions made for us.

Usability Over Security
And when you make us hang onto our old stuff because the new stuff takes too much time and effort to learn, you make it nearly impossible to secure our systems. We’re more concerned about usability than whether or not we’re running vulnerable software. That’s part of the reason there’s such a virus problem on Windows (that, and your sieve-like code).

The Hype
You keep telling us every version of Windows is the best yet. You said Vista was awesome and then you backpedaled because it sucked. Same for Windows ME. You used to tell us the Windows Vista & 7 interface was da bomb but now it’s “dated and cheesy”. Why should we believe you about Windows 8? We know today’s new program will be tomorrow’s garbage. Stop pretending otherwise.

The Tablet Craze
So you’re introducing the Surface tablet. Whoopee. We’ve already got iPads and Androids and other mobile devices. Your Windows Phone may be a technological marvel but it’s got minimal market share.

We know Windows 8 is more about you trying to break into the tablet market to compete with Google and Apple, and less about the people who rely on Windows *gasp* to get actual work done.

In short, we don’t care how fancy your new tablet is, nor how well Windows 8 works on it, if Windows 8 isn’t going to offer us benefits on the PCs we already own.

The Touchy-Swipey Thing
So Windows 8 is all touchy-swipey. No one, least of all you, has any idea how touchy-swipey is going to work with PCs that have keyboards and mice. It may be the wave of the future, but it doesn’t help us get work done. It’s just another annoying change on top of a lot of other annoying changes. Why do we want anything to do with Windows 8 if it’s going to be this much trouble?

No SP2 for Windows 7
And now you’re telling us that you’re not introducing another Service Pack for Windows 7. We’ve been around the block with you a few times and we know this is the death knell for a system you’re trying to obsolete in favor of new products and profits.

Maybe you’re right, Microsoft. Maybe Windows 8 really is the greatest thing in the history of creation… and maybe it’s not. We really want to like you, but we’re jaded after all the promises you’ve broken. You’re going to have to try harder than Windows 8 if you want to win us back.

Sincerely, Your (Former?) Customers

Other Tech Tips articles on Windows 8 you may enjoy:

Want to give Microsoft a piece of your mind over Windows 8? Share in the comments!

What You Need To Know About Mac Viruses

In today’s The Northwest Herald article “What You Need To Know About Mac Viruses“, I talk a bit more about the Flashback virus and how Mac users can protect themselves. From the article:

First, it helps to understand the history behind Mac security. Contrary to popular belief, Macs have never lacked for viruses. The myth that Macs are invulnerable has made it harder to convince Mac users that security is a necessary and vital part of computer ownership. Every once in a while we get a virus like Flashback that catches peopleʼs attention, but eventually we fall back into old patterns. Complacency is a Mac userʼs greatest danger.

Here are several of my Tech Tips articles that will help you get up to speed on Mac security.

Besides installing antivirus, the best thing you can do for your Mac is to keep its software updated. Run Software Updates under the Apple menu on a regular basis, but remember your other software needs to be updated too. Just this week I sent out several warnings via Twitter about emergency Microsoft and Adobe updates that need to be installed ASAP. Don’t forget that security warnings often apply to Mac users as well as Windows ones.

Want more on Mac security? Subscribe to Tech Tips free by email, and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @trionaguidry for breaking computer news and other geeky stuff.

Five Essentials Every Computer Needs

Whether you use your computer at home or work, some essentials are universal. Here are resources for your PC or Mac that can help you out of a crisis.

Related article: Five Essentials Every Computer Needs (The Northwest Herald)

Security

Alternate Web Browser

Easy Backups

Microsoft Office Files

PDF Creation

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Even Offline Computers Are Vulnerable To Viruses

Is it possible to have a truly offline computer? As I described in my recent column in the Northwest Herald, the short answer is no. Even if you don’t need the Internet, your computer does. You can still be infected by viruses even if you’re not online. In fact, your computer will turn into a silent hotbed of virus activity just waiting for the opportunity to infect others. The older the computer, the worse the problem.

The article isn’t available online, so I’ll give you the gist of it:

Pretend you have a Windows 2000 computer that never goes on the Internet. Using it is like traveling through time, ten years into the past. There are plenty of old friends installed: Microsoft Office 2000, Acrobat 5, Internet Explorer 6, programs that were standards at the time but have long since been replaced with newer versions.

You might think you could continue to use this computer in isolation, maybe for basic word processing. It doesn’t matter as long as it doesn’t connect to anything, right?

But, let’s pretend your printer dies. No point in word processing if you can’t print. The new printer says that it’s not really Windows 2000 compatible, but you might be able to find some software on the Internet. You try to log on but poor Internet Explorer 6 can’t handle a modern web site. And, behind the scenes, a virus just snuck through holes in IE6 to infect your computer.

Unaware of the virus, you decide to use your Windows 7 laptop to download the printer software to a USB flash drive. Another virus hitches a ride from the laptop to the desktop, a virus that can’t run under Windows 7 but is more than happy to infect Windows 2000. The Windows 2000 computer is now a hotbed of virus activity, and the only symptom is that it’s increasingly slower.

Other viruses join the party, and pretty soon that Windows 2000 computer is spewing all sorts of junk that infects your Windows 7 laptop, your smartphone, your iPad… then your email and Facebook accounts get hijacked and suddenly your bank is calling about missing funds.

I’ve received a few responses from folks with older computers, disagreeing with my opinion. Most of the responses included the observation: “I’ve been running this version of Windows for umpteen years and I’ve never had a virus.” If I may add… that you know of.

In fairness to these folks, yes, I do know people who use Windows 98 or Windows 2000 without the world grinding to an earth-shattering halt. Most of them are retirees or others who don’t use their computers often. In such cases we try to keep the computer functional for as long as we can. But there are others who – in my opinion – are doing absolutely lunatic things with ancient computers. Like trying to run a business with them: payroll, marketing, the works. And that gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies because there are SO many ways it can go disastrously wrong for both you and your business.

Most viruses and malware show absolutely no signs of their presence. It doesn’t matter if a Win98 or Win2000 computer has antivirus installed or not, because any antivirus capable of running under those versions of Windows is incapable of detecting new threats. It’s like taking a police officer from 1912, dropping him into 2012, and expecting him to cope with modern problems for which he has no frame of reference.

Friends, I’m saying these things to help, not to hinder. I think one reason many people are reluctant to change is because it truly is difficult to get used to a computer with a different interface. Like when we moved from DOS to Windows 95, or Windows XP to Windows Vista and 7. A new interface puts us on edge, even old salts like me. It’s annoying to spend half your morning trying to figure out how you used to do something, but that’s technology, and the only thing you can do is adapt.

You may find it easier if you keep in mind that computers haven’t really changed all that much since the 1980s. Saving a file, typing a document, finding a contact’s address, these things are still the same. It’s the look-and-feel of the computer that has changed, plus the ability to access more information faster. Even the Internet is pretty close to what it was when I started using it twenty years ago. Today I’m using RSS feeds and Facebook chat instead of Usenet news and UNIX talk, but the fundamentals remain.

What do you think? Is there life to be had in old computers, or are the security risks too great?

 

Top Five Computer Nightmares, And How To Fix Them

Since the 1980s I’ve been fixing computers that won’t start up, won’t print, or can’t find files. The Internet adds an extra level of complexity, but we’re still facing the same basic tech support problems.

1. Your computer won’t start up.
There are three possibilities: your computer isn’t getting any power, it can’t find the hard drive, or there’s something wrong with your system software. The latter is by far the most common, and may be the result of a virus, a program conflict, or just bad luck.

First, try powering your computer down. If it doesn’t start up, follow the prompts on the screen. But don’t expect your PC to work properly in Safe Mode, which is meant as a diagnostic tool only. Once you’re in you need to find what caused the error and fix it. Likely suspects are new programs or devices. Run your virus scanner not just once, but several times. If your startup failure is caused by a virus you may need a tool like Malwarebytes to get rid of it completely. Reboot several times to make sure things are working, and make an immediate backup (but don’t overwrite the old one in case you still need it).

2. You can’t print.
Once again, three possibilities: the printer has no power, it’s not connected to the computer, or there’s a software error. Let’s assume you’ve tried rebooting and you’ve checked the cables. If you’ve printed successfully in the past, then it’s probably a problem with the software or file. Try a different file as well as a different program. You can look up any error messages or misbehavior on the printer’s support site. As a last resort you can unplug your printer, remove its software, and reinstall according to manufacturer instructions.

3. Your data is missing.
The default directory for Windows XP files is My Documents. In Vista and Windows 7 it’s Documents, as it is for Mac users. But this is just the default location; files can be saved almost anywhere. If your file or folder isn’t where you expect, try searching for it by name or date.

What if all your data is gone? If your desktop also looks different, you may be logged in under the wrong account. Check under the Start menu in Windows or the Apple menu on a Mac to see your login name.

In the previous case the data was simply misplaced. What if it really is gone? The sooner you try to recover a file, the better your chances of success, although it’s far easier to recover from a backup. In truly grim situations you might have to send your drive to a data recovery service.

4. You can’t get on the Internet.
Sometimes it’s not your Internet connection, just one specific program. But if none of your Internet applications are working and a reboot doesn’t help, it’s time for some diagnostics.

First, check your cables and the lights on our router and/or DSL modem. As I explained in a previous article, you should familiarize yourself with what “normal” looks like for your setup so you know what “not normal” looks like. Power everything off and back on, wait a few moments, and try again.

If it’s a wireless problem you may be able to connect with a wire, and this is a good way to determine if it’s just the wireless or the whole network.

5. You can’t open an attachment.
This almost always means your computer doesn’t know which program to use. You should be able to open anything with a common file type: TXT, DOC, PDF, JPG. But you might receive an attachment created in a program you don’t have. One common example of this is receiving a DOCX file, the new Word format that replaced DOC. If you can’t open DOCX files you either need a plug-in for your word processing program (typically free to download) or the person who created the file needs to resave as DOC.

Once you get the hang of common tech support problems, they waste less of your time.

 

Will The Cloud Kill Traditional Computers?

eWeek recently shared the ten reasons they feel Microsoft must start thinking beyond Windows and Office, and one of the most important is cloud computing. With the success of services like Google Docs and the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, the relevance of traditional computer seems to be fading. Or is it?

In cloud computing, all programs and files reside “in the cloud,” or on the Internet. This means you don’t have to spend as much in hardware, because you don’t need the processing power of a traditional computer. The same data can be accessed from any device that can surf the Web. Even if, say, your smartphone dies, you can still reach your files with another device like an iPad or a netbook.

But there are disadvantages to cloud computing, as I mentioned in a previous Tech Tips article. You don’t know where your files live nor whether they’re secure, and if your Internet or cloud computing service goes down, you’re out of luck. Users of Microsoft’s Office Live discovered this to their dismay recently, when the service went down on two occasions (here and here). As I said before, I personally don’t want to lose access to basic word processing just because some server happens to fail.

For the moment, we’re seeing a mix of both approaches. Most small businesses are continuing to use traditional approaches while exploring new technologies, and I predict that’s going to continue for a while. We’re not quite at the point where people are willing to commit their computing world to the cloud, but we’d better get ready because our world is becoming more mobile, more social, and less private than ever before.

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Getting The Most Out Of Your Mac

Thanks to everyone who attended my seminar last Friday on Getting The Most Out Of Your Mac. I thought I’d share some more great resources for Mac users. Windows users may be interested in tomorrow’s seminar on PC Troubleshooting. You can find more information and registration details here.

In my Mac seminar I mentioned NeoOffice, the free alternative to Microsoft Office for Mac. If you’re interested you can also read my review of the new Microsoft Office For Mac 2011.

As for running Windows on your Mac, the two options I talked about are Apple’s Boot Camp (free) and Parallels Desktop for Mac (paid). The main difference between them is that with Boot Camp you have to reboot into Windows mode, but with Parallels you can run Windows concurrently with your Mac programs. Another program similar to Parallels is VMWare Fusion.

If you’re looking for an email program other than Mac Mail or Entourage, you can try Mozilla Thunderbird. Mozilla Firefox is an alternative to the Safari web browser, although on the Mac I’d go with Safari. On Windows computers I recommend Firefox over Internet Explorer because offers better protection against viruses.

Speaking of viruses, in addition to Intego VirusBarrier (paid) and the new Sophos Antivirus for Mac (free) you can also try ClamX AV, another free antivirus program for Mac.

And if you’d like a sneak peek of Mac OS X Lion, slated to arrive Summer 2011, Apple has a preview.

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Review: Microsoft Office For Mac 2011

At long last, a new version of Office for Mac will be available. Is it worth the upgrade?

The mostly widely anticipated feature is the new Outlook for Mac. Although Outlook previously existed for Mac, it was clunky and slow. It was discontinued and replaced by Entourage, which was widely panned by the IT community for not communicating properly with Microsoft Exchange servers. With this new Outlook, Mac users finally have a version that looks like the PC one and knows how to talk to Exchange (versions 2007 and up). Even better, Mac Outlook can import data directly from PC Outlook. However, it can’t sync calendars with iCal.

Word, Excel and PowerPoint have all been finetuned, both in features and in speed. Mac Office 2011 is lightning-quick compared to its predecessors. It uses the Ribbon toolbar but also maintains familiar menus. Most PC functions are replicated, with only a few exceptions. It offers the ability for multiple users to edit the same document when used in conjunction with Sharepoint or Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud-computing storage. And many users are heralding the return of Visual Basic after an outcry over its removal several versions back.

Kudos to Microsoft’s Mac group for coming up with a Mac version of Office that finally equals its PC counterpart. Office 2011 For Mac is slated to ship October 26, 2010.

No Upgrade Path To New Microsoft Office 2010

Microsoft has unveiled its latest version of Microsoft Office. But Office 2010 offers no upgrade path for previous users of the software suite.

In the past, users of Office were able to purchase upgrades instead of paying full price for new versions. In my opinion, discontinuing this option is a mistake, given the economy and the fact that many Office users see no reason to upgrade.

Microsoft faces competition from the free OpenOffice as well as from cloud-based services like Google Docs. Perhaps Microsoft’s reasoning behind the discontinuation of upgrade pricing is to lure people to the cloud-based version of Office 2010 (which is available free for consumers on Windows Live via an ad-supported service). If so, alienating previous customers is a gamble that may not pay off.

What do you think? Do you plan to upgrade to Office 2010 and if not, would upgrade pricing have altered your decision?