Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
Some etoy Christmas presents and tips
Jonal entry 1080 | December 11 2008
Having spent the past week in "computer hades" (which should suffice to explain the absence of any post in this department last week or of any video Jonal on the weekend) I've learned a few lessons that might be worth passing along. Perhaps the most important, though not the most exciting, is the tip that there is good free virus and malware protection available online. My grand-daughter Brandi brought this to my attention (though considering how many computer applications I have obtained online over the years, mostly free, I should have gone looking on my own). Brandi had recently gone through the same kind of woes I was experiencing this past week, having contracted a computer virus or malware attack that rendered our operating systems (Windows XP in this case) useless, or even worse, dangerous. So tip number one is, go to C|Net downloads and look around, or go directly to AVG Free Anti-Virus Protection and download it. There are other applications available, but this one has been downloaded so many times and comes with such high ratings from both C|Net's editors and users that I felt it would be hard to beat. C|Net is one of the longest-running online clearing houses for software both free and for purchase, and has a sterling reputation.
Another highly rated and recommended anti-malware application is Spybot
- Search & Destroy 1.6, also available through C|Net. In fact, I
was first introduced to it by the computer service people who rebuilt
my system earlier this week; they included it in the free software applications
they included in the reformatted system.
Probably the most exciting ("sexy," to use the advertising industry jargon) free application available now is Open Office. I've been using it for some time now and first discovered it when I went online to search for Microsoft Word, hoping some online software stores would have it cheaper than Microsoft's asking price. Word, which is part of Microsoft Office, costs hundreds of dollars, but Open Office can do virtually all that Word does, and also much of what Excel (the Microsoft spreadsheet program), a drawing program, and a webpage design program do as well. The text editing portion (the "Word clone") tracks your spelling just as Word does, and also keeps count of the number of words you've written, which is vital for professional writers. You can open and edit actual Word files in it and save them in Word .doc format to send back to anyone you're collaborating with.
Developed by Sun Microsystems (the company that also owns and develops Java, which is essential on most web pages including the Nanty Glo Home Page), it is intended to challenge Microsoft's near monopoly of the office software field and for use both in Windows and in computer platforms like Linux. It even comes with the capability of turning your text documents into PDF versions, a capability that must be bought separately if you use Word. So, if you hadn't heard about Open Office before this, let it be my most valuable Christmas gift. Go to http://www.openoffice.org/ and download it. There is an appeal for contributions to support it, but doing so is not required (yet, at least). Also, when you open it on your computer, you are asked to register. Go through the initial steps and when you get to the point of actually sending the registration you can select "I don't want to register." I'm all for contributing and registering, by the way, but if you have impediments it's important to let you know this.
There are also some "sexy" freebies from Microsoft itself that you may find both fun and helpful. These are the Windows Powertoys, available here. I've used three or four of them, but the one I can't get along without is the Taskbar Magnifier. It takes only a few minutes to download and install. Note, after you install it you'll probably wonder where it went (there's no sign of it). But to actually use it, you put your cursor on your task bar (the menu bar across the bottom of your screen in the great majority of Windows computers), click the right mouse button, and you'll get a menu that lets you optimize your task bar. Move your cursor to "Toolbars" and hover there, and you'll see another menu. One of the options on that menu (once Taskbar Magnifier is installed) is Taskbar Magnifier. Click it, which will put a check mark beside it. Then the magnifier appears in the taskbar. It's a little "window" on the taskbar which magnifies anything you cursor over or next to. It's vital when you're having trouble seeing whether you've typed a comma or a period, for example, but I use it constantly to get a better view of just about any segment of the monitor.
Another, and an even "sexier" free application I recommend is a new media player, the VLC Media Player. Up till now the Windows Media Player (which comes free with Windows) has been the best, and it still runs rings around Apple's lame QuickTime and RealPlayer, but the VLC Media Player plays even more movie formats than the Windows one, and like WMP, you can just double-click on it to make your movie full-screen. You can even play DVD-format files (as in the Hollywood movies you rent) if for some reason you have them in file form instead of in an actual Digital Video Disk. It plays YouTube's Flash-format clips, and a host of others. And like the best things in life, it's absolutely free (at least thus far). Go to http://www.videolan.org/vlc/.
Another tip I want to share is that you can buy good used computers these days for much less than their new price in stores, and for even less at garage sales, flea markets, and online auctions like eBay. My desktop computer cost me $135, with both a DVD drive and a CD drive (it came with a used keyboard and mouse, but not a monitor, which I already had; but good used monitors can also be found in similar places, and in yard sales and flea markets these days). I bought another several years ago for my grand-duaghter for $85. So look for computer service places in your local directory and call to ask if they have refurbished used PCs available.
My final Christmas present, this week, is another tip. I would have saved days of my computer hades last week if I'd known this sooner: If you're using Windows XP and you have a virus attack or your system is otherwise disabled, you can go to an earlier version of your system and restore it. My daughter Chis knew about this, but I learned it too late to save me a trip to the computer service guys (and a fee, of course). If you have a system malfunction, go to your computer's Control Panel (click "start" in the lower left corner of your screen and Control Panel is one of the menu items you see). Open the Control Panel. On it, select (click) Performance and Maintenance. After the new window opens, on the left column you will see "System Restore." Click it and choose "Restore my computer to an earlier time." This will give you a calendar with up to four active dates earlier than today. If your problem occurred today, you can select yesterday's date, and it will reboot your computer with all the settings you had yesterday and without the malware or virus you were attacked by today. I hope you don't have to try it, but if you do you'll be glad you knew about this feature.