Windows XP Is Dead. Now What?

Windows XPAs you may have heard, Microsoft has ceased support for Windows XP. Many people assume it’s okay to keep using it. They’re dead wrong.

WinXP is already vulnerable to viruses because it’s been out so long. Now we have the nightmare scenario in which bugs are discovered but not fixed. Here’s how it goes: Microsoft announces a security vulnerability and offers patches for Win7 and Win8. The hackers rub their hands with glee and start testing to see if WinXP has the same vulnerability. Lo and behold it does, and they have an easy way to sneak into your computer.

Like the recently discovered Internet Explorer bug, which gives hackers a way to take over your entire system. It’s the first major vulnerability since XP’s demise. We know the bug exists in IE under XP. At first Microsoft said they weren’t going to patch it for XP, but now they’ve changed their minds. The question is, what about the next big bug? Using WinXP is like leaving your front door keys in the lock with a sign that says “Come on in, the best valuables are right over there!”

This isn’t a marketing gimmick or a way to increase PC sales, though I’m sure tech vendors don’t mind if you give them money. This is about you and the real-world repercussions of a hacked computer. Do you want your bank accounts wiped out? Do you want your identity stolen? Do you want your online identities hijacked? If not, then get off Windows XP.

Some of you will decide you don’t want to upgrade. That’s up to you, but I strongly recommend you reconsider. A very few of you – less than you think – will have some business-critical function that requires XP. Unless you are in that infinitesimal group, upgrade now.

What are your choices? Windows 7, Windows 8, or Mac. I did a rundown on them a while back based on a question from a reader. At this time, my recommendation stands at Windows 7 or Mac depending on your preference, with Windows 8 a distant runner-up due to its unfamiliar interface and lack of apps. Or, you could go pure mobile with tablet and smart phone.

For those of you who really, truly, honestly cannot upgrade from Windows XP, you have my condolences and some advice:

  • Use a browser other than Internet Explorer. Never use IE even for a moment.
  • Make sure you have the last round of updates Microsoft offered for XP. You can still use Automatic Updates to install them.
  • Run a good antivirus program.
  • Double-check regularly with Malwarebytes and CCleaner.
  • Don’t use Windows XP for finances or online purchasing. Ever. Your smart phone is safer at this point and I don’t advocate using smart phones for finances.
  • Don’t use WinXP to access social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, etc). Social media is a virus cesspool and you don’t have a lifejacket.
  • Plan your upgrade. This is not a permanent solution. Eventually your PC will fail and you will have to replace it.

Do you have questions about Windows XP’s end of support? Ask in the comments, and don’t forget to subscribe to Tech Tips by email and follow on Facebook. You can also follow @trionaguidry on Twitter.

Six Things Every PC User Needs To Know About Windows 8.1

Windows81The new Windows 8.1 affects you, even if you’re still using previous versions of Windows. Here’s what you need to know about the upgrade.

First Rule of Windows 8.1: There Is No Start Menu
Microsoft’s been shouting it from the rooftops: “The Start button’s back! The Start button’s back!” Except that doesn’t mean what you think it means.

What Windows 8.1 does is stick a Start button in the lower left corner, which brings up the new Start screen – not to be confused with the old Start menu you’re probably looking for. Dizzy yet? To make matters worse, not all applications will support the returned Start button, meaning it’s less of a fix than a kludge. A Start button that isn’t always present is as confusing as a Start button that’s missing entirely, if not more so.

Second Rule Of Windows 8.1: The New Look Is Here To Stay
Regardless of what they’ve done with the Start buttonmenuscreen, the Windows 8 interface (which I would call “Metro” except Microsoft says we’re not supposed to call it that anymore) is the future of Windows. So don’t expect Windows 8.1, or any other update, to restore your computer to yesteryear. The new look and feel is here to stay, and it’s time to get used to it if you intend to stay in the Microsoft world.

Third Rule Of Windows 8.1: Say Goodbye To Your Keyboard And Mouse
Windows 8 is made for tablets. In fact, many of us are still trying to figure out why Microsoft thinks a tablet interface is a good idea in a PC environment. If you don’t have a touch interface, it’s klunky to use – in other words if you’re one of the 99.99999% who still have a keyboard and mouse, which is SO 2012, PEOPLE.

Fourth Rule Of Windows 8.1: You Need It, Unless You Like Viruses
If history is any indication, expect Windows 8.1 to become the only acceptable version of Windows as far as being able to fix problems or install updates. Doesn’t matter if you want it or not, eventually you’ll have to install it or your computer is guaranteed to become a writhing infestation of identity-stealing viruses and malware.

This means you, Windows XP people – you need to upgrade. Now. I don’t care if you go Win7 or Win8, either is better than what you’re using now. Don’t wait until your computer is unusable, your financial data stolen, your accounts hacked, and your personal information spread across the Internet.

Fifth Rule Of Windows 8.1: It’s Not That Bad And In Some Ways Good
If it weren’t for the klunky interface and the lack of training for the average consumer (you know, the people for whom it’s purportedly designed), I would like Windows 8.

It’s fast. It’s powerful. It doesn’t take up a ton of memory (looking at YOU, WinME), doesn’t throttle your processor (Windows Vista), doesn’t cause incompatibilities with every single piece of hardware you own (Windows 95).

So, yes, it’s a technically superior operating system. So was OS/2 Warp, only it wasn’t widely used because it was hamstrung by a lack of apps and a failure to educate people on how to use it. Ironic that Microsoft may be following the same road to ruin decades later.

Sixth Rule Of Windows 8.1: You’re On Your Own Learning It (But I’ll Help!)
Microsoft has information online, but you have to hunt for it – using an unfamiliar touch-swipe interface, unless you happen to have another device handy, and doesn’t that eliminate the point? It’s no wonder many businesses have decided to hold off on upgrading. I don’t know why Microsoft has such blinders on when it comes to understanding that your average, everyday person needs to be able to use this without spending the entire morning trying to figure out how to accomplish a task.

To that end, here are some resources to get you started with Windows 8:

And don’t forget to follow Tech Tips for the latest on Windows 8, Mac, and more:

Once again we come to the age-old dilemma: Do you put up with the new features for the sake of security? If I were you, I would either a) get on Windows 7 ASAP, b) get on Windows 8 ASAP, or c) pick another platform (Mac? tablet? phablet?) because the Windows 8 train has left the station and anybody who didn’t jump on board is going to get run over eventually by viruses, malware, and other Internet scum.

What do you think about Windows 8? Love it? Hate it? Cowering in a corner hugging your Timex-Sinclair and dreaming of punchcards? Share in the comments!

 

How To Backup And Restore Files On Your PC Or Mac

backuprestoreEveryone knows you’re supposed to make backups, but choosing a method can be confusing. Here’s a rundown of your choices for Windows and Mac.

Built-In Backups
All modern computers come with utilities which you can use to back up to an external hard drive. The hard drives themselves often come with user-friendly utilities as well.

Third-Party Backups
If you don’t like the built-in options you can choose a third party backup – but watch out for lookalike viruses that pretend to be backup or “computer cleaner” programs. Your best bet is a solution from a reliable software vendor.

Cloud-Based Backups
Cloud backups are convenient because all you have to do is let the utility lurk in the background. Your backups are always current because the software is always running, always backing up changed files.

The danger with cloud backups is that you don’t know who has access to them behind the scenes, or whether the backups will remain available to you if the service goes down or bankrupt. If you’re going to store backups on the Internet, make sure you keep a copy on a local hard drive.

Encrypting Backups
The best way to secure your data when using cloud backups is to encrypt it. Mac users, there’s an easy trick you can pull with Disk Utility: creating a protected disk image.

Windows users, you’ll have to find a third party utility like TrueCrypt. But bear in mind, most encryption utilities were developed for tech professionals so they’re not always the most user-friendly. Also, any utility that works with files at a fundamental level runs the risk of damaging those files. Run your encryption on copies, not originals. I also recommend against encrypting your entire hard drive unless you really know what you’re doing.

Testing And Restoring Backups
Backups don’t do much good if you can’t restore the data on them. You should periodically run a test restore, to make sure you can before an emergency strikes. You should also maintain multiple backups in case one backup device fails.

Another way you can back up your files is with a drive imaging program that takes a snapshot of your entire disk. I’ll post about that in a separate article. Want a head’s up? Subscribe to Tech Tips by email and follow on Facebook. You can also follow @trionaguidry on Twitter.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Adobe’s Moved Creative Suite Exclusively To The Cloud. Is This Good Or Bad?

cc-toolsAdobe has announced that, from now on, the only way to get Creative Suite is via the cloud. That’s right, no more boxed versions of CS – you get it via the Internet or no Photoshop or Illustrator for you. Many people are wondering how this is going to work in the real world, myself included.

Related article: The Register: Adobe kills Creative Suite – all future features online only

I’ll preface this by noting that I’ve worked with graphic designers throughout my career, and do web design myself. These are tools I use, so I’m more than a little concerned about what this is going to entail. I have my doubts as to whether making CS exclusively cloud is such a great idea.

I can’t help but think of all the graphic designers I know who are still using older versions of CS, either because they can’t afford to upgrade their computers or because they have client requirements that can only be met with older versions.

Bear in mind, a graphic designer’s computer is not a $500 PC. (Or, it shouldn’t be.) Most of them use Macs because it’s the standard in graphic design. Yes, Macs are more expensive, but in my experience they last longer than those bargain basement PCs. Those who use PCs use the super-high-end models. Why? Because that’s the kind of processing power you need if you’re doing 3D rendering or serious layout.

But graphic designers are poor sods like the rest of us who can’t afford to buy a new computer every five seconds. This means there are a ton of graphic designers out there with slightly or more-than-slightly obsolete computers using old versions of Adobe CS to make a living.

They need those boxed versions of CS. If their computers die, they can’t just go buy a new one. Maybe they have to scrape up the money for a new hard drive and pray the computer holds together until they get paid for their current gig. Maybe they have this one client who absolutely refuses to use anything but Photoshop 6 and insists upon files in that format – and they’d love to tell this particular client to jump out a window only it’s their most lucrative contract and they need to pay rent.

Similarly, I know a lot of graphic designers whose Internet connections are far from always-on. Have you heard about the PR gaffe about Microsoft Xbox and the always-on connection? I happen to live relatively near Janesville, Wisconsin (the town mentioned in Microsoft’s PR gaffe) and there are plenty of people around here who do not have reliable Internet access.

If Adobe CS is cloud-only, what happens to graphic designers if their Internet connection dies? Because right now, if their Internet connections are down they can still Photoshop all they like and send files to their clients on CD, if it really comes down to it.

Now, if you read Adobe’s FAQ they make it clear you can use your software offline. But personally, I don’t trust that. They don’t even call it Creative Suite anymore – it’s Creative Cloud. What if there’s some special filter you need that they decide to make online only? What if your licensing gets screwed up and you need the connection to re-enable the software? I’m sure the graphic designers out there can tell you the number of times they’ve had to contact Adobe to fix licensing issues. Let me put it this way… it’s enough of a problem that Adobe has a Licensing Repair Tool.

I can tell you what it’s like to have software that requires the Internet for full functionality because, putting on my gamer hat for a moment, I have a video game I play (Might & Magic Heroes VI) that Ubisoft REALLY REALLY wants you to play online. You can play it offline, but you’re prohibited from using certain spells or abilities. In other words if you want to play offline you have to put up with a limited version. This could quite easily happen to Creative Suite, if it hasn’t already.

(May I note that Ubisoft just had a major outage that prevented Might & Magic Heroes VI fans from using the program? Didn’t affect me. I play offline.)

I’m also concerned about costs of Creative Suite… er, Cloud. On the face of it, $50 a month seems reasonable compared to $1,500-$3,000+ for upgrades or new versions, right? Well… maybe, until they start upselling. How soon does this become like in-app purchases? You get the basic game free but if you want to be able to play more than a crippled edition you have to buy the in-game purchases. Will $50 a month become $50 a month plus $20 for these filters and $15 for those filters and $25 to be able to export to a particular file type?

Okay, my graphic design peeps, sing out: What do you think of Adobe’s decision to move CS exclusively to the cloud? Will you be grabbing a boxed copy of CS6 while they last? Reply in the comments, and don’t forget to subscribe to Tech Tips by email and follow on Facebook. You can also follow @trionaguidry on Twitter.

 

How To Prepare Your Computer For Recycling Or Donation

computer-recycleIf you have old computers and cell phones lying around, you’re not alone. Many of us hang onto old devices because we don’t know what to do with them. Sure, we want to donate or recycle, but what about the data?

Here’s how to erase your computers, cell phones, and tablets prior to donation or recycling. Don’t forget printers, copiers, and fax machines too! You can find more details on e-waste and e-cycling on the EPA’s web site.

Warning: This article presumes that you’ve either backed up or don’t need the data on the device. Make sure you have everything you need before you do this!

Computers

If you’re recycling you can simply format the drive. Try DBAN for Windows to erase your hard drive thoroughly. Mac users can use their Apple system software utilities.

If you’re donating, presumably you want to present a usable computer with an operating system on it. In that case you’ll want to do a factory reinstall from the original disks or hard drive partition. Check your manufacturer’s instructions for details on how to restore to the original factory software. This turns your computer back into what it was when you bought it, without your personal data.

When in doubt, you can always remove the hard drive and smash it to pieces.

Smart phones and tablets

First, delete all contact, calendar, and other private data. For both tablets and smart phones, perform a factory reset to zap any remaining data. If it’s a phone, remove the SIM card (check your manufacturer’s instructions).

Printers, scanners, copiers, and fax machines

Computers and phones aren’t the only devices that keep a record of your data. Fax machines and copiers do too, and even some printers and scanners (usually the big fancy ones). Check the manufacturer’s instructions on how to perform a power reset or factory reset. Afterwards go into the printer’s configuration settings and make sure no private data remains.

Where can I donate or recycle?

The EPA has a web site with information on where you can recycle or donate your used equipment. Check with your local schools, libraries, and charitable organizations. You never know if your used computer might fill a need right in your own community.

Bear in mind that these techniques may still result in recoverable data, if someone tries hard enough. It’s always best to double-check. You can also reformat multiple times to reduce this risk.

Do you have questions about how to recycle or donate your computer? Ask in the comments, and subscribe to Tech Tips by email and follow on Facebook. You can also follow @trionaguidry on Twitter.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

How To Create Secure Passwords (Revised Edition)

Computer SecurityMany people say to me, “I don’t need a secure password. I don’t have anything sensitive on my computer, so I don’t care if a hacker gets in.” You, my friends, are a hacker’s dream. Because it’s not necessarily your personal information they want, although they’ll happily steal your credit card info if they can. No, what they really want is control of your computer, your email address, your Facebook page… anything and everything that will let them do their dirty work from behind a smokescreen.

I originally posted this on Tech Tips in 2010, based on many years of teaching tech support clients about password safety. But some of the old rules no longer apply, so this is my newly revised edition. If you think you can still get away with slapping an exclamation mark on the end of a word, you need to read this revised advice.

Strong passwords must be:

Not in use on any other system
This is perhaps the biggest no-no in the password rulebook. When hackers nab passwords, they try the same account/password combinations on popular sites like Google, Facebook, Twitter. If you’re using the same password you just let them in. Do not ever, ever, ever use the same password anywhere. Before you despair, keep reading. There are tools to make it easier.

Changed regularly
Yes, you have to change your passwords. And yes, they still have to be different everywhere. Use a secure password management tool if you find it unmanageable (see below).

12 characters or longer
Think passphrase rather than password. We used to say 6-12 characters was enough, but we’ve found that the longer and more complex a password is, the less likely it can be cracked.

A mix of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols
Some systems won’t allow you to use a range of characters in your password, in which case I suggest you reconsider using that site. Do you really trust someone who isn’t going to allow you to secure your account properly? Makes you wonder how secure everything else on the site is.

Not common words or proper nouns found in a dictionary
An analysis of the recent LinkedIn breach found that many people were using ridiculously simple passwords like “password” and “123456.” If your passwords sound like these, change them now.

Not the names of your spouse, kids, pets, or other personally identifying information
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s online accounts were hacked via the very simple expedient of answering security questions with information that had been made publicly available. Same thing happened to Sarah Palin. Don’t create passwords out of information that can be gleaned about you, and don’t share information that can be used to guess security questions.

Examples of good and bad passwords

Good passwords (but don’t use these!)

AP@ssw0rdIJustMADE!UP!4U
Here’sAnOtHeR1FOR$You

Bad passwords

password
password1
password!
123456
<blank>
mypassword
spouse’s name
pet’s name

Password Don’ts…

  • Don’t rotate between the same two or three passwords. It’s just as bad as using the same password everywhere.
  • Don’t send passwords via email, Facebook, Twitter. Use other means like text message or fax, which goes directly to the recipient. Or, even better, a phone call.
  • Don’t stick passwords on Post-It notes. Whether it’s under the keyboard or on a bulletin board, it’s exposed. Be like Gandalf: Keep it secret, keep it safe.
  • Don’t share passwords and accounts. This is especially prevalent in small businesses. Don’t create one account then share the password; create multiple accounts for each person who needs access. More time consuming? Sure. More secure? You bet.

Tools to manage your secure passwords

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t worry, there are plenty of password management tools available. With a password management tool all you have to remember is one master password and the software takes care of the rest. I recommend KeePass, 1Password or LastPass. Even better, you can use the same password management tool on your computer and on your mobile devices.

Why not take this opportunity to change your passwords? It’s the best thing you can do to protect yourself against identity theft and cybercrime.

[Originally posted in 2010 as How To Create Secure Passwords. This version has been updated with the latest advice on secure passwords.]

Holiday Tech Gadgets: How To Choose A Mobile Device Platform

It’s an exciting time in mobile technology as three major vendors vie for our holiday shopping dollars. In this month’s The Northwest Herald I’m discussing the season’s hottest gadgets. From the article:

Mobile technology is hot this holiday season, and you’ll find gadgets to fit every interest and budget. I visited AT&T and Verizon to get the latest news. (read more)

Smart phones and tablets are this year’s top sellers, which begs the question: What’s the difference between the Big Three mobile platforms, iOS, Android, and Windows?

Apple iOS
Runs on: iPhone, iPad, iPod
You may not know iOS by name, but if you’re familiar with an iPhone screen, you know what it looks like. iOS is Apple’s proprietary system for its iDevices. iOS is known for its ease of use and its seamless compatibility across all your iPhones, iPads, and iPods.

Google Android
Runs on: Tablets and smart phones
When it comes to Android, Google makes the software and other manufacturers like Samsung make the hardware. Android is a powerful and flexible platform but may be too complex for the beginner. There’s also a rampant malware problem on Android because of lax standards in Google’s Marketplace plus a rash of lookalike app stores.

Windows Phone / Windows 8 / Windows RT
Runs on: Tablets and smart phones
If you don’t know what to call Windows on mobile devices, you’re not alone. Windows Phone is simple enough; it’s Windows on a phone. Windows RT is Windows 8 on ARM-based tablets, notably Microsoft’s own Surface. However, WinRT is not as flexible as the full Windows 8 on a PC.

How do you know which mobile platform is right for you? It depends on what you’re currently using. If you have a Windows Phone and love it, then it makes sense to stay with Windows for your mobile devices. If you adore your Samsung Galaxy, you’re an Android fan. All platforms offer similar features as far as email, web, and social media. As far as ease of use, I would say iOS is the easiest, followed closely by Windows 8 with Android last because of its complexity

What about other mobile platforms like Blackberry or Symbian? At this point, Blackberry manufacturer RIM is having so many problems they can barely compete – they released Blackberry 10, but the universe barely blinked. Symbian is still around but has been largely supplanted by Windows Phone.

What tech gadgets are you considering for the holidays? Find anything fun and exciting? Share in the comments and don’t forget to subscribe to Tech Tips by email and follow on Facebook. You can also follow @trionaguidry on Twitter.

 

 

Readers Ask: Should I Buy Windows 7, Windows 8, Or Mac?

My recent post about why people hate Windows 8 sparked a lively discussion on the merits of Windows 7, Windows 8, and Mac. In the commentsFr. Jack Sweeley asked a number of questions that epitomize what everyone wants to know. You can read the previous post and comments here: Dear Microsoft: Why Your Customers Hate Windows 8.

Let’s start with Fr. Jack’s letter.

Dear Triona,

I need to get a new computer and have heard the hype about Windows 8 as well as how many tech people hate it because it is obtuse and does not really add anything new for home and small business users. Also, I have read to use the features on Windows 8, I will need to buy a new touch screen monitor.

However, as the hype goes, Windows versions below Windows 8 will become obsolete re: security updates and new software will eventually be incompatible with Windows versions below Windows 8. So, if I don’t want to be up the creek I need to get Windows 8 now and suffer through the learning curve.

So, I am in a quandary. My old computer keeps sending me “low memory” messages, if I have too many windows open the page fades and locks up, and sometimes I have to shut down the computer and restart it just to keep working.

Yet, I am by far the world’s worst technophobe, squeak by using WORD, and have no idea how an operating system works–and yes, I got sucked into VISTA because I needed a new computer when VISTA came out.

I am on the computer 10-12 hours per day. Much of the time I am doing research becasue I am a writer and need to have many Websites open at the same time. I currently have 8 completed manuscripts on my hard drive as well as 3 more I am working on. I also have about 300 commentaries I have written and over 1,000 photos I have downloaded from the Web.

Basically, I use the computer for my work, email, my 2 websites, and am building another website for my artwork. I am also planning to create a series of videos for Youtube.

What I am looking for in a computer is a hard drive big enough to hold my work with a lot left over and the fastest speed I can get for opening Websites and downloading material from the Web. Also, a desk top because I have tried my wife’s laptop and type like I have fumble fingers on it.

I have no idea about computer prices but hopefully can find something between 700-1,000 dollars.

That said, I don’t know anyone who uses an Apple-Mac–at least they haven’t told me they do–but given the already bad reputation of Windows 8 can getting an Apple-Mac be any worse of a learning curve?

So, my question is, “What are my options?”

– Fr. Jack Sweeley

Many people are in the same boat. You just want a working computer but you’re not sure which way to go.

Computer Crossroads
I have a question in return: What do you envision as your computer future?

We’re standing at a computer crossroads. Ahead lie three paths: Windows 7, Windows 8, and “Something Else”. Down the “Something Else” path you can barely make out a few more signposts: “Mac” and “Mobile” are the only ones you can read. Which path do you take? You’ll have to make some decisions.


Path Of Least Resistance: Stay On Windows 7

If you are a Windows user and want to stick with the closest thing to what you have now, consider Windows 7 – with a few caveats.

Bear in mind this is a dead-end operating system. Microsoft has dedicated its not-inconsiderable resources toward pushing Windows 8, to the point of discontinuing Service Packs for Win7. That’s a bad sign.

Also, there’s still a learning curve to Win7, although not as bad as Windows 8′s. Given that Win8 is the future whether we like it or not, you have to ask yourself whether it makes sense to learn something that you know is going away in the near future.

Learning Curve: Upgrade To Windows 8
Let’s say you’ve decided you’re riding this thing out at Microsoft’s side, no matter what. In that case you are committed to learning Windows 8.

The interface is designed for touchy-swipey and not the traditional keyboard-mouse. I’m interested to hear how that’s working out, for better or for worse. My anecdotal evidence so far indicates that Windows 8 is awesome on tablets but kludgey on standard PCs.

Windows 8 will take considerably more effort to learn than Win7, but Microsoft has promised big rewards for those who take the plunge. We’ll have to see if the results match the hype.

Gearshift: Move To A Mac
Some people think I’m a rabid Mac fangirl because of my Mac tech support experience. Actually I think you have to use the right tool for the right job, and sometimes that ends up being a PC.

But not this time. Given Windows 8′s uncertainty, I see no reason why every consumer out there shouldn’t go get themselves a Mac. It’s either that or wait around for Microsoft to figure out how this whole Win8 thing is supposed to work in the real world. Want to be a guinea pig? By all means – but if you want to know why Steve Jobs used to say “it just works”, get a Mac.

Are Macs are more expensive? Not in the long run. The lowest-end Mac costs significantly more than the lowest-end PC BUT – and I am basing this on 20+ years of PC and Mac experience – Macs last at least twice the lifespan of most PCs.

Worried about the learning curve? Don’t be. Apple has some nice starter guides for those moving from Windows to Mac (much better, in my opinion, than what Microsoft has offered for Win8). You should also read my advice about Mac antivirus: How To Remove A Virus From Your Mac.

Off The Beaten Path: Move To A Tablet
Some people have found that they can do the majority of their work (surfing the Web, checking email) with an iPad or other tablet. If you choose Microsoft’s Surface you’ll still be using Windows, of course, but there are a variety of options including tablets like iPad and Android and e-book readers like Kindle and nook (now partnered with Microsoft).

If you want to see my experiments with this, read my previous post: How To Ditch Your Computer For An iPad.

Pros And Cons By Task
Still not sure which path to take? Let’s go back to Fr. Jack and see if we can find the right choice for him. I’ve broken down the needs he mentioned into five basic categories.

  • EASE OF USE
    Winner: Windows 7, Runner-Up: Mac
    If you are a previous Windows user and want a reduced learning curve, Win7 is the closest to what you have now, and it comes with drawbacks as explained above. Hanging onto an old interface doesn’t seem like the best option to me, and Mac seems easier to learn than Windows 8.
  • WORD PROCESSING
    Winner: All
    There isn’t a computer out there you can’t use for word processing. If you want stunning-looking software go for Apple’s Pages app for Mac, but otherwise word processors have similar functionality across the board.
  • SECURITY
    Winner: Mac, Runner-Up: Windows 8
    Windows 7′s days are numbered. Security-wise it will eventually fall by the wayside and you’ll have to use Windows 8 for the best cyber-safety. The Mac is not immune to viruses (read my advice on Mac antivirus). But, in my experience, it has far less security troubles than Windows as long as you keep up with basic maintenance.
  • WEB DESIGN
    Winner: Mac, Runner-Up: Windows 7
    There’s a reason Mac is the standard in the design world. I am going to call Windows 7 as the runner-up because of the current lack of applications for Windows 8. I expect this to evolve in Win8′s future favor, however.
  • PHOTO AND VIDEO
    Winner: Mac, Runner-Up: None
    Hands down, what you want for this purpose is a Mac. Photo and video can be done on a PC, but what most people want is something that’s easy to use and produces gorgeous results. That’s where the Mac really shines.

Conclusion
For Fr. Jack, I suggest either Windows 8 or a Mac depending on whether he wants to stay in the Microsoft world or not. Personally I would go for the Mac. He can meet his target budget with a low end model, but I would bump up the budget to about $1,500 for additional processor and memory.

Stay Tuned For Part 2!
I sent the previous post to Fr. Jack, who had a number of questions based on my analysis. Next week I’ll post Part 2 where we’ll discuss word processing compatibility, hardware specs, and available Mac models. Want to stay tuned to Tech Tips? Subscribe by email, find Tech Tips on Facebook, or follow @trionaguidry on Twitter.

What’s your experience? Do you have questions about whether to switch to Windows 7, Windows 8, or Mac? Ask in the comments!

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / 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!

Why Hackers Attack Your Computer – And What You Can Do About It

“Why would a hacker try to get into my computer? I don’t have anything they’d want!”

As an expert in small business and consumer security, this is the number-one question I’m asked. The answer? Money.

Earning Big Bucks The Hacker Way
Cybercrime is a multibillion-dollar business. Hackers can earn up to $100,000 per day with these scams. That kind of money certainly sounds tempting, doesn’t it? Poor economic conditions and high unemployment make hacking an attractive, if illegal, option both in the U.S. and abroad.

Installing viruses on your computer, stealing your password, hijacking your accounts – all these things bring in some seriously big bucks.

So how do hackers earn their ill-gotten gains? By taking advantage of you in two ways:

1. Commandeering your computer
Installing viruses on your computer allows criminals to control it. They can do everything from redirecting your web searches to capturing your passwords and credit card numbers. They may also install adware from which they get a kickback.

Why do they want to control your computer? Because it’s far more useful to command an army of ten thousand computers than it is to do their dirty work with one. It also creates layers of confusion between hackers and law enforcement.

Even better, they can sell access to their thousand-bot army to other scammers who might want to pull off fake pharmaceuticals, pay-per-click surveys, or 419 scams.

Plus, it gives them ammunition for…

2. Stealing your online identity
If you receive a message from Joe Neverheardofhim, you’re unlikely to click the link or attachment. But if you get a message from your best friend who says she’s stuck overseas and got mugged and desperately needs you to wire money, you might do it.

That’s a real-life scam, by the way. See the Snopes article here.

People are more likely to click on links from people they know. Hackers take advantage of that by breaking into legitimate accounts: email, Facebook, Twitter. If you see a weird message from a friend, hesitate before you click – they may have been hijacked.

Hijacking accounts feeds back into commandeering computers, which leads to hijacking accounts. It’s a perfect world for the hackers, in which their every action can have multiple lucrative rewards.

How To Protect Your Computer
The best way to prevent yourself from becoming a victim is to protect your computer. Here are some more Tech Tips to get you started:

Do you have questions about how to protect your computer from hackers? Ask in the comments! You can also subscribe free to Tech Tips by email for more computer news, security tips and social media advice!