SCHOOLS and small businesses are at risk from unscrupulous IT firms who talk them into inflexible technology they simply don’t need, leave them in the lurch as soon as things go wrong, and force them to pay breathtaking sums for the privilege.
But Fresh Consulting is there to ensure you’re not one of them.
They design and deliver the unique package that’s perfect for you – anything from a dedicated on-site engineer to strategic advice, a few new computers to a total overhaul of your networks and servers. Plus, bespoke sessions to get your people clued up and switched on.
And the most remarkable thing? Fresh people are more driven by making a difference than making a profit.
Fresh by nature
Eight years ago Casey Farquharson was working for the local council, offering IT support to schools in west London. He could see smarter technology meant smarter opportunities for youngsters but his ideas kept getting strangled by red tape. So he decided to start Fresh.
Casey says, “IT is now fundamental in today’s society so, if you don’t have the right IT system, you can’t be productive. It is important that children learn about IT and how to use it to prepare them for the future, otherwise we sell them short.
“It does make me angry when I hear of IT companies wo have flogged schools expensive systems or contracts that schools don’t need. They are adversely affecting the next generation’s education.
“And the same companies are harming local businesses, too. That’s why we need Fresh. A company with more than just expertise and ambition – one with true integrity and community focus.”
Not that Fresh lacks ambition. Because Casey has got big plans for the future. He says, “We already run ICT clubs for schools and they’re great fun. So eventually I want to set up high-tech youth clubs and community hubs, particularly in deprived areas.
“Technology is a powerful tool for education, for business, and for bringing people together. And if the government’s going to keep scrapping community initiatives, it’s up to us to fill the gap.”
For the Fresh perspective call 01895 77 52 10.
1 Super Why £1.99
Help your child recognise and read letters
2 Star Walk £1.99
A must for any budding star gazers
3 Little Writer Free
Tracing letters and learning sounds and formations
4 Eggs on Legs £0.69
Solve the maths problems to crack open the quirky eggs on legs
5 Music Sparkles Free
Children learn about and can ‘play’ different musical instruments
6 Pop Math £0.69
Learn maths: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division
7 Monster Time £1.49
Helps children learn about digital and anaolgue clocks
8 Percy Parker £0.69
Helps children memorise and learn their tables
9 Lola’s Alphabet Train £1.49
Solve letter matching and reading puzzles
10 History: Maps of the World Free
Travel back in time with historical maps of all kinds
Source: NetMums.com, October 2012
Apple iPads are turning up in classrooms more and more as an educational device rather than a fun gadget. Are these tablets a new craze that have teeth in helping our young children learn or is it just another fad? Shaka, one of the IT Engineers for Fresh, takes us on a journey through the portables maze and explains how the decision was made for the iPad to be used in one of Fresh’s local schools.
A school was looking at using portables in education and wanted to know whether these would be a good route to go and if so, which portable device would be best for education. Fresh’s consultation services were utilised and the school was provided with the options below for portable devices (Google Nexus was not out at the time but would have been included if it was):
- Apple iPad with iOS (Apple’s own Operating System (OS))
- Netbook with Microsoft Windows 7 Starter
- Samsung Tablet with Android Operating System
- Amazon Kindle Fire with a customized Android Operating System
With the above options, Fresh investigated how each device performed against a very simple criteria as listed below:
- Educational Value
- Ease of Use
Once the school had this information they could then evaluate whether or not going the portable route in the school would be a good educational choice that was going to benefit the school, or whether it would just be ‘a gadget’ and one more thing teachers needed to learn that may or may not have a benefit.
Results of Investigation
At the time, Fresh were only able to investigate three devices as the Kindle Fire had not yet hit the English shores and Google Nexus was not even out. The results are of the devices only with no additional licences, warranties or accessories and are ranked 1 (first place/best) to 4 (last place/worst):
Price (using today’s pricing)
This was a relatively easy criteria to mark against, although due to differences in hardware it can be a little misleading. However in terms of budget it is very clear.
- Amazon Kindle Fire 7” HD – Around £179
- Standard Netbook 10.1” with Microsoft Windows 7 Starter – Around £200
- Apple iPad 2 16GB WiFi – Around £329
- Samsung Galaxy 2 10” Tablet – Around £379
As you can see from the above the Amazon Kindle Fire 7” HD wins on price but does have a smaller screen size than the netbook and the iPad. If you are taking screen size and price into the equation then the standard netbook would win.
This criteria is somewhat more difficult to measure against. We have to look at this in terms of what we believe the benefit would be in helping children to learn. All portable devices provide additional benefits, so the question here is which one is more likely to provide a higher educational value.
- Standard Netbook 10.1” with Microsoft Windows 7 Starter
- Apple iPad 2 16GB WiFi
- Samsung Galaxy 2 10” Tablet
- Amazon Kindle Fire 7” HD
The Standard Netbook wins here hands down because there is a huge amount of educational tools that will work with a standard Microsoft computer. Productivity is much easier on a netbook in terms of typing and navigating. It is a device that most staff understand and recognise and hence will not have so much of a learning curve to utilise it to its fullest potential.
The Apple iPad comes before the other two devices here. Due to the buzz it creates it is getting a much bigger following at the moment in terms of app development for education. Additionally it also has some excellent accessories to help in education. Developments in the Apple educational arena are growing more each year thereby providing more options for learning.
The Samsung came in a close third due to the hardware specification being similar and the fact there is a good selection of education apps in the android market as well.
This criteria focuses mainly on whether the devices are secure for children to use rather than any other area of security.
- Standard Netbook 10.1” with Microsoft Windows 7 Starter
- Apple iPad 2 16GB WiFi
- Amazon Kindle Fire 7” HD
- Samsung Galaxy 2 10” Tablet
The standard Netbook wins again in this arena as all Microsoft computers can be fully customised to be locked down as much or as little as a school would like. This means the netbook can be very secure.
The iPad takes second place here behind the netbook but sits easily above the other two devices due to the fact that the apps in the Apple App Store are checked and verified by Apple before being listed. This means there should be minimal exposure to problematic or dangerous apps when purchased from the Apple App Store.
As the other two devices are on the Android OS the apps that can be installed on these devices are not as secure as there is no real central management of which apps are listed.
This is a bit of a red herring criteria as all these devices are portable, however in simplistic terms, how easy are they to move around with and store.
- Amazon Kindle Fire 7” HD
- Samsung Galaxy 2 10” Tablet
- Apple iPad 2 16GB WiFi
- Standard Netbook 10.1” with Microsoft Windows 7 Starter
The Amazon Kindle Fire wins on the portability stakes primarily because it is in fact a smaller device therefore easier to handle by young children and easier to store.
The two 10” tablets are basically on a similar par as far as size and portability are concerned but the Samsung beats the iPad due to the fact that it connects via the generic USB cable rather than the bespoke Apple connector.
The standard Netbook comes last as it is quite a bit bigger than the tablets so therefore not as easy to move around with. The plus side is that the connectors on the standard Netbook are all generic cables and therefore easily usable in different environments, unlike the iPad which requires the specific accessories and cables.
Ease of Use
Ease of use is a different criteria as this is definitely in the eye of the beholder.
- Standard Netbook 10.1” with Microsoft Windows 7 Starter
- Apple iPad 2 16GB WiFi
- Joint – Samsung Galaxy 2 10” Tablet / Amazon Kindle Fire 7” HD
Ultimately the standard Netbook wins because again it is already well know and has the simple keyboard and mouse interaction that we are all familiar with. The software that comes with the Standard Netbook is the normal stuff that we will use at home and the dominance of the PC is still quite high.
The iPad comes in second here as Apple do have an excellent reputation for the software they produce and there is no exception to this where the iOS is concerned. Added to this the syncing between devices is generally very simple and easy to use.
The last two are both based on the Android system and hence come in joint third place. This operating system is getting better and better with each incarnation and may soon compete very strongly with the iOS.
Conclusion from Results
As you can see from the table below (lowest being better), the Standard Netbook is the best solution for education in our opinion, although it is not very new and hence does not necessarily have that WOW factor that may add that little bit extra for kids wanting to use them.
|| Kindle Fire
|Ease of use
With the information provided the school did decide that the iPad would be the way forward for them.
The Fresh Solution
With a confirmation from the school, Fresh procured one iPad to be evaluated by one key member of the school’s staff and if all was okay, the school would go ahead and purchase more devices.
The school had already used laptops and felt netbooks were not what they were after in the portable market place and wanted to try something new. One thing tablets bring to the table is a different way of thinking and interacting which can be utilised in a very different way when it comes to educating.
With this in mind and the iPad coming a close second as the best tablet, the school purchased around 30 iPads with WiFi and Fresh negotiated an excellent discount on the school’s behalf.
Important points to consider
Something that came up was the fact that the teacher wanted to use the iPad with the Interactive Whiteboard (IWB). With this in mind Fresh once again investigated the market and came up with a few different options. The best choice in this instance was to go with Apple TV. This provided a wireless connection to the IWB.
With this in mind the price per device has to include for budgetary purposes the additional cables and accessories that are needed by the school to utilise the iPad to its fully potential.
As the iPads are quite fragile it is wise to invest in a protective case. These can range from screen protectors to full wrap around protective cases. Would be wise to earmark an additional £30 or so for budgetary purposes to make sure this is covered.
There are two main ways an iPad can be set up:
- you can have one specific set up with all the apps you want replicated/synced to all the other iPads so everything is the same;
- you allow each iPad to be individually set up.
Each method has pros and cons but essentially if you are providing the iPads for your staff then the latter is the best way to set them up and you can agree a yearly budget for staff to spend on apps; but if you are providing the iPads to be more for pupils, then the former is the better option with a generic set up on all the iPads controlled from a central master image.
One additional thing to consider with the specification of the iPad is whether or not to have mobile anywhere access or such wireless access aka WiFi vs 3G/4G. If the iPads are going to be used in schools and not really leave the school then stick with just the WiFi version (and make sure you have an excellent wireless infrastructure set up or call us for information on this), but if you want children or staff to have access away from wireless enabled locations, then you need the 3G/4G mobile sim option.
Some initial apps to get started
Some excellent starting apps to get for your iPad might be things like Keynote, Cloud On, Pages, Good Reader as these are useful tools that mimic mainstream software like Adobe Reader and word processing packages. Microsoft has yet to provide Microsoft Office on the iPad, although it is said on the rumour mill that this is around the corner.
Brief pros and cons of iPad
|Intuitive usage for most
||None of your current software will work with it
|Lots of optional accessories for different tasks
||Bespoke connectors so will need new cables and accessories
|Some excellent educational apps available and getting more by the month
||Lots of rubbish apps
|Need to learn a different way of working
||Need to learn a different way of working
Reactions from staff
The school staff have been mostly receptive to the introduction of the iPads and the children, as you can imagine, have been very excited by having them in the school. Group learning is certainly an area where the iPad has excellent usage and interaction with the interactive whiteboard also adds an extra dynamic to teaching. The iPad has also provided an advantage when it comes to story-telling and music based activities.
Overall the iPad has been well received and with another year or so under the belt, the planning will adapt to have the iPad help more and more in the children’s education.
Fresh are now monitoring apps for the iPad and provide a few good finds in its newsletters or mailers. These include apps that are generally useful, as well as apps that are educationally useful. As we talk more with our schools that have the iPad solution we are also hearing of more and more ways the iPad is being utilised in education.
For more information on the Fresh Perspective please call on 01895 77 52 10, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
At Fresh we love to share helpful tools and here’s a website we know you’re going to love playing around with.
Wolfram Alpha is basically a website (they call it an engine) for computing answers to a wide range of questions and it displays or provides the knowledge and/or answer in a variety of ways.
It essentially works by using its vast store of expert-level knowledge and algorithms to automatically answer questions, do analysis, and generate reports. How cool is that?!
Whether you’re at school and have a tricky equation you want to solve AND see the answer displayed in different graph forms or whether you’re just trying to calculate the amount of interest you’re going to pay on a mortgage or loan, this resource will soon have you addicted to putting in all kinds of information!
Have a play around with it and let us know what you think. www.wolframalpha.com
As you can imagine, assessing the “best” websites is dependent on one thing: Any one person’s specific interests or needs at a given moment. Making home repairs? A person may well avail themselves of the local building supply website and take advantage of the products there, as well as the robust free advice. However, someone interested in the latest fashion trends, and who would never think of a self-performed home repair, would hardly rank these sites as “best”.
It is interesting, therefore, to Google something like “best home repair website”. In fact, substitute any concept or interest for “best home repair”, and you receive a nice list of sites for anything you may wish to consider under the sun.
Something I stumbled upon recently: The 100 Best Websites. It doesn’t get much more empirical than that. Let’s hope they are accurate in their estimations! In their regards, they place a lot of stock in simple utility, ranking Yahoo!, Google, Amazon, About and Bartleby as the Top 5. Areas that are a little more fun, like eBay and CraigsList (numbers 9 and 11, respectively), follow that other dry stuff.
A site that I had forgotten about, Download.com, is actually quite nice. There are all kinds of entertainment features, education software, developer tools, software for iPods, graphics design software – you name it, they have it. A nice feature on this site is the “Most Popular Downloads” list at screen-right. Interestingly, and in keeping with our previous article about troubleshooting, the most popular download is AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition 2011 – with 1.3 million downloads.
Being that “best” is a completely subjective term and beholden to any moment’s particular need or whim, let’s throw in something fun: The Record Collector’s Guild. Amazingly, record (LP) production has gone up for each of the years post-2000. Why? Because younger collectors are being smitten with records. They’re tactile – you can hold them; you can read interesting liner notes; some come with oversize posters; some open as gatefolds (particularly double-LPs); and some have devices such as fold-out pop-ups, die-cut covers with windows that change views, and all sorts of other gimmicks. Anyone remember the Stone’s album with the working zipper on the cover? Try effecting that in iTunes or with an iPod.
Other popular sites? Probably your bank’s mundane website when you’re expecting a big payday! But seriously, expend a little whimsy and Google these phrases for yourself: “best websites”, “best websites for […]”, or “top 100 websites” and you just might find an interesting way to spend your day.
If you are like many households these days, your home has several computers. Perhaps you have critical, reinforcing content dispersed across several machines. You’d like to leverage this information for home reports (tax time, anyone?), or perhaps you’d like a centralised backup methodology, collecting and protecting all data across your various computer repositories.
No problem: It’s simply time for a home computer network.
Home networks today are fast, efficient and wireless. Most transmit data at 2.4 GHz at a speed of 54 Mb/sec. New wireless standards (802.11n) are coming along with faster speeds and even longer ranges. Happily, wireless home networks are the least expensive and simplest way to connect computers. Gone are the days of sawing into walls, threading cables, second-guessing computer location(s) based on accessibility or hiding places for cables.
Gone too are cumbersome troubleshooting routines when a computer suddenly goes offline: Did a mouse chew through a cable? Where in the wall is the break – if that’s the suspected problem? Today’s wireless networks make networking totally flexible. The absence of wire and cables means that you can reconfigure locations to your heart’s content. You can likely even take your laptop outside, onto a deck, by the pool, have it out on the garage workbench, and stay connected – if just to monitor a critical e-mail’s arrival, for instance.
When building a wireless network, you’ll need to procure a wireless router. You’ll generally get about a hundred feet of signal in all directions, but recognise that walls and other large physical objects may pose an interruption to the signal. You can always buy a range extender, or a repeater, to expand coverage.
Also necessary is a wireless adapter installed to each of the computers you wish to hang on your network. Further, you can have printers and other core devices serving all computers by being a central resource serving everything and everyone.
Recognise that a wireless network can be less secure than a wired one. Take the appropriate security measures – secure your wireless router by setting/configuring its security features. Most wireless routers ship with a default password – it might even be “password”! Whatever it is, change it.
Recognise too that your typical router is going to be broadcasting an SSID (Service Set Identifier). This makes setting up client computers easy, as they will locate and configure to the SSID – but so will anyone else within proximity of your network! (Neighbours, folks in parked cars looking to hop on, etc.). Turn this off once your network is set.
These days, homes with multiple computers can really benefit from a home wireless network. You can leverage printers, scanners, fax capability, file sharing, backups, etc., all by virtue of this relatively simple setup.
When it comes to freebies in the computer world – that is, the online world – it seems the sky’s the limit. We’ve spoken of freeware before: virus and malware protection, Skype phone and videoconferencing, various online tools and the like. But what about the rest of the universe of free stuff? Fun stuff? There’s lots of it out there.
First, there are all manner of games, whether you compete against yourself, such as with puzzles, or join an online community whereby you compete with other fellow enthusiasts. There are also discussion forums, debate societies and educational support forums.
If you are looking for everyday business software, consider low-cost fax software. Need core-business critical software? Office suites, such as those available from Google (document preparation, spreadsheets, presentation graphics, calendaring and scheduling, and so forth), are just a few clicks away.
Want to dress up your PC or Mac? Download some fun wallpaper, screensavers or system audio files to reflect your style or that of your business.
But what about video and music? Here, we have to be careful. There is an abundance of copyrighted material floating around, and we can’t advocate the download, use or re-purposing of that material. Having said this, YouTube is but one area of exploration for you to try out. Metacafe is another high-traffic video service. Want to talk about efficiency? Explore Traffic Geyser in making maximum distribution of your videos to the most popular sites with the most traffic. Top sites include Google Video, BrightCove, PhotoBucket, DailyMotion, iFilm, Lulu, Pandora and even StupidVideos.
In the case of music, consider sites such as jazz24.org or Google “free radio” – and pick your preferred genre of music. Music is quickly becoming a ready Internet universe for exploration. Jump into Pandora Radio, Slacker, Jango, live365 and a whole host of other popular “stations”. Pop your wireless device into a simple garage stereo and some speakers on the deck, and you can work all day in the lawn whilst listening to your favourite music, talk, sports, etc.
Got kids? Surf for free games. How about these enticing titles: Apple Shooter, Dark Orbit, Amateur Surgeon (for those budding doctors!), Rocket Toilet (don’t ask), or Impossible Quiz. For those who desire the “dark side” of gaming, there are games such as Buried Alive, Miami Shark, Rabbit Sniper, Casualty!, Gunblood and others. As in all areas of computing, be certain to assess sites and associated downloads for security. It is always advisable to perform scans after any sort of downloads or modifications to your computing environment. Participate only in trusted forums and discuss with others the worth of sites that you find interesting – what looks good at first glance, on the surface, may in fact be something you’d rather avoid. User forums are invaluable in your search for safe, virus-free sites.
Skype represents a powerful communication means for individuals and small-to-medium businesses (SMB). Basic Skype is free. It provides audio and video communication and performs on whatever medium works best for you: phone, computer or Internet-compliant television. Calls to other Skype users are free; it is estimated that over 600 million people presently use Skype (as of 2010) and that number is growing. Further, call ability is available by fee to traditional landline phones and non-Skype mobile phones, thus making Skype very versatile.
Consider: You can speak to and see other people. In other words, you have videoconferencing at your disposal. If you are interested in something a bit plainer and simpler, you can instant message with Skype, as well. The latest version of Skype offers group video – an essential enhancement to group projects involving people and elements of business in dispersed geographic locations. Skype is unique in that it not only runs on servers, but utilizes client software running on computers, thus capturing the power of client-to-client, non-centralised, communication.
Upon registration, a user becomes identified by a unique Skype Name. If desired, the user can be registered in Skype’s directory of names. Users have their choice of communication via voice chat or instant messaging. In the cast of text-based chat, Skype supports group chat, emoticons, chat history, user profiles and user status indicators such as “online”.
Perhaps most impressive is the free videoconferencing for up to 5 people at a time. Presently, Skype supports high quality video, with features such as full-screen display and “screen-in-screen” modes, rivalling other mid-range systems. Need to include more than 5 people? Skype’s audio conferencing presently handles 25 people at a time.
It’s important to note that Skype is considered a secure communication means: It is encrypted, that encryption cannot be disabled, and it is transparent to the user. Just as importantly, realise that security involves more than secured data: There is an unmonitored registration system with no control for users’ identities. In other words, no proof-of-identity is required. Users can choose any name they wish, and the recipient of a Skype call cannot rely on a display name as any sort of guarantor that the caller is who they purport to be on their say-so alone.
As with anything that’s free, often the old adage, “You get what you pay for” holds true, and Skype has had complaints about customer service (even in areas of paid fee services). There have also been downtimes, outages and apologies for foregone, or lost, calls.
Amazingly, according to most recently available data (2009), Skype accounted for 13% of all international call minutes: 54 billion minutes out of 406 billion international call minutes. This statistic clearly indicates that users have confidence in Skype and its services, and that it offers a service that is of immense value to many people all over the world.
There is no dearth of free online tools available to the average computer user. An internet connection and a browser will grant you access to a universe of more things than you could possibly explore in several lifetimes of computer use.
So what’s practical, worthwhile, and necessary? Like most things in life, it depends on the individual: Her or his usage, the areas of travel (Internet and otherwise), and engagements/activities (with online users, sites, downloads, etc.).
An obvious and perhaps absolute first consideration is Anti-Virus software. All manner of free downloads are available from various vendors, whether AVG, avast!, MS Security Essentials – take your pick. A simple Google of “best free antivirus” will give you an abundant yield, with all attendant details for best fit to your situation and needs. More confident with a paid solution? Just Google “best antivirus” to open up a world of premium anti-virus protection for your system.
Next to virus and general malware monitoring, it’s nice to have some sort of general Internet security in place. This is a discipline specific to threats that channel their way to you through a largely unregulated public pipe, the Internet: an insecure channel pouring straight into your computer. The Internet represents a risk for intrusion, fraud, phishing (stealing your sensitive personal information for identity theft purposes, for example), and even posing such threats as denial-of-service attacks. If you sense that your personal business or business-business is vulnerable, Google around and do your own vetting of the tools available online to help protect and secure your environment, and whatever you do in it.
Of course, when dealing with the Internet, the browser is your main enabler for the transfer of information – both in and out. You may wish to investigate a browser defender. It will rate sites according to a standard of risks. Of course, a site rating for risk – in and of itself – will not provide protection if you decide to ignore a warning and proceed irrespective of that alert. It is the user’s judgment that is crucial – some sites may be rated as a risk and be relatively sound. Conversely, there may be other times when a site is rated as safe, or perhaps even unknown as to its status, and again, user judgment is the final arbiter as to how to proceed.
Other tools include survey measures for spyware, not only warning about resident programs, but offering a utility for removal. In the case of computer performance, tools are critical to evaluating system statuses, areas for improvements and the mechanics of making those improvements.
In evaluating your areas of need, don’t overlook these other fertile areas: programs such as file recovery software (for corrupted files, helping to reconstruct or even to make unopenable files operational again); backup programs and schemes; registry cleaners; and the venerable disk defraggers and optimisers.
Today, many a photo that would have been a throw-away in the past can be salvaged through powerful photo editing utilities. Further, good photos can be made even better.
Digital photos are easiest to work with, as they can be opened in an image editor and manipulated. However, physical analogue photographs can be scanned and digitized too, with the same subsequent manipulations and improvements to such things as colour balance, enhancement of details and lightening of dark and murky areas. In fact, in the case of physical photographs, scuffs and tears can be fixed in the digital realm, often with no discernable effects, making the picture remarkably whole again and ready for reprint.
Essentially, a raster graphics image, or bitmap, is a grid of tiny picture elements: pixels. Pixels are what contain any image’s brightness and colour information. By operating on and changing these pixels, an image editor performs its editing magic.
All manner of photo imperfections can be cleared up. Red-eye marring a family portrait? No problem – photo editing can often automatically be cued to fix imperfections such as this. In fact, a whole host of colour and detail manipulation is available: changes in hue, brightness, and sharpness or even focus. Photos can be cropped to cut out peripheral elements in the image that were not intended for inclusion. Aside from cropping, other elements can be removed while retaining what was behind or around them. A common example is tree branches that have dangled down into the top of the photo. By cloning the surrounding sky and colouring over the branches, this distraction can be removed, returning the viewer’s central focus to the centred subject of the photo.
Photo editing can be employed for more than just visual manipulation, however. Images can be compressed, saving precious disk space. JPEG is a common digital image storage format and provides compression by virtue of that native format. Computer programs and cameras can each offer the user compression opportunities, including the level of compression. Be careful with compression, though. Some compression formats retain all information and full image restoration and quality can be restored, while other formats, such as the aforementioned JPEG, involve loss, and thus, compression will inevitably lead to information loss that is unrecoverable, which means that image detail and associated quality is lost and cannot be restored.
Always be sure to create a copy of any images you are about to edit and save the full original as a backup. If you make changes that are not to your liking, you can always recover by deleting the disappointing result and then copying the backup (original) file to another file name for another try or tries, as the case may be.
Perhaps one of the biggest laments as concerns any computer is: “My computer isn’t as fast as it used to be. Why is it so slow?”
Age considerations aside (we all have to replace eventually), in this circumstance, first and foremost, take a look at the hard drive and its remaining storage. Operating systems need to “flex” by writing temporary files to disk. The OS needs at minimum 200 Mb of free space; better yet is 500 Mb or more. In recovering drive space, go into larger data folders, sort files by date, and look at the oldest files. What can you eliminate?
E-mail is another prime opportunity for cleanup. Sort e-mails by date and delete the oldest stuff when of dubious value. All those joke e-mails with pictures and motion video? Put them in the trash. Be sure to clear out the Recycle Bin when finished. Also, be certain to have your Auto-Archive function invoked. Allow your e-mail system to compress your oldest (retained) e-mail so as to minimize disk storage considerations.
Survey your machine for old programs that you no longer use. Many users download demos, decide against a particular program and forget to remove the demo; even forgetting to Uninstall a full-blown installation of a program. Also, be certain to use Uninstall, as opposed to just deleting a program directory. Merely deleting a program’s directory can leave all sorts of collateral Registry entries, hidden folder information, and impacts to storage, disk space, and processing efficiency.
Speaking of disks, run ScanDisk against your drive. It will identify bad sectors, marking them as unusable, and it will also assess unsteady areas, moving critical data to better sectors and again marking suspect sectors of the disk. ScanDisk will help your disk’s health and surety – and thus yours!
Further, run Defrag. Files become “fragmented”. Whether docs, databases, presentations, videos, etc., files are frequently amended and they flex in size. When a file can’t “shoehorn” back to its physical disk space, the overage is stored elsewhere. Not only that, your system has to expend space, coding where disparate locations of a cohesive file (to you) are stored. Now, when you call that file up, or a program puts out a call for data, instead of loading it from one physical location on your disk, it has to pull it from many disparate locations and assemble its “bloom” before popping it up on your screen. Defrag finds all disparate and scattered pieces of files and reassembles stuff for optimal storage and retrieval. It’s good to run Defrag periodically, depending on your system’s use. Remember: Do a backup before running defrag or any comprehensive system utility.
Do a scan for malware; there are many fine utilities available for purchase, along with quite a few free ones that are very effective. Run a scan, too, for “background” processes that are running – you may find some that aren’t doing a thing for you but are taking up processing power and memory.
Today’s home user has at least one computer filled with critical data. Oftentimes you have tax data (current and history), business correspondence and even some measure of official work-type content. There is no excuse to not perform regularized backups: Whether nightly, weekly or monthly. Although, I would recommend weekly at a minimum, with immediate backup of any critical file that undergoes significant change.
There is no excuse: Large-capacity USB outboard drives are affordable. So-called “shotgun” backups can be easily configured; kicking off at midnight or another advantageous time, copying an entire hard drive’s content to the outboard drive. Uncomfortable even with the automated kick-off? Invoke the backup manually, whenever you feel there is sufficient change of content that warrants a backup. Total peace of mind.
Uncomfortable with all that drive activity – particularly in cases of daily/nightly backups? Do an incremental, merely backing up those files that have changed since the last backup. You can also explore other alternatives, such as drive synching.
What about homes with multiple PCs, laptops, Smartphones, etc.? No problem. Fire up a home network (if you don’t have one already, in this circumstance). Get a wireless router and hang a drive off of it. What’s interesting about this solution is the fact that you can set a continuous wireless backup scenario: As you work, changes on the computer are immediately backed up: It doesn’t get any tighter than that.
What about continuous backup in the case of a laptop? You go offsite – what happens to the backup scenario in this case? Simple – as the laptop goes out-of-range, the backup suspends, marking its place. When you return home, the laptop returns to range, the backup is polling for the laptop’s return and the backup picks up once again.
Of course, a true backup scenario does not only involve data and content. The scheme must include power. What good is data security if it is stored on dead and inoperative devices? The concept of data loss includes loss of access to data. Non-access to data has the exact appearance of lost data. Invest in a UPS: an uninterruptible power supply. Power outage? You not only keep working, sustaining your computer, processing, printing, online functions, etc., you avoid breaking your backup routine; you avoid conditional loss of access to data. Just as importantly, you can keep working, socializing, administering, installing, and so on. If you do not have a backup means and routine in your home now, do not wait – back up today.
Today, users and even small companies don’t need to host expensive backup solutions. No need for expensive backup clients, dedicated backup servers, disk arrays, etc. An online backup service can direct critical data to a dedicated area in the cloud – an Internet hosted repository for data. A client software runs in the environment, either on a specific user’s PC, or in a company’s network environment, generally beginning a process of backup once per day at a specified time. The backup routine operates on areas of storage as specified in the backup programs setup and configuration. Central data stores, such as fileservers, are natural targets for backup – this can include not only the servers’ content (user/company data; documents, spreadsheets, presentation graphics, databases) but also core mission-critical apps and key system configuration settings.
One key consideration when backing up to any outside entity, and particularly over the ‘Net, is Data encryption. The last thing you want is to lower your data security considerations by virtue of hacked or compromised data/content. Something to consider: Many online solutions offer free trials. Take advantage of this. Assess backup routines for ease-of-configuration, ease of maintenance and change, efficiency of backups (how quickly are they performed and completed?) and ease and quickness for recovery of data.
Of course, for individuals, free online storage might be an option. It is not recommended for companies of any size: For them, remember that any free service is almost certainly to come with no guarantees. You likely cannot recover damages from lost, stolen or corrupted data. As to the individual, particularly on a strict budget, a free online storage solution may be just the ticket. Certainly better than having no backed up data at all. There are sites, amazingly, that offer up to 25 Gb of storage free (http://skydrive.live.com, www.adrive.com)
Another aspect of online storage, and no less important than other considerations, is the fact that it is off-site storage. As uncomfortable as it is to ponder, it does no good to an array of backup tapes or discs in a computer room if the whole building goes up in flames. Any real backup scheme involves off-site storage. Most firms pay for offsite storage, sending media to a company that files physical media. Sometimes after a period of time, media with old content cycles back in to be re-written with current backups, and you simply turn the wheel, maintaining perhaps a month’s data, a quarter’s, a year’s – whatever your backup policies require.
Other companies will choose to retain everything – storage is, as they say, cheap these days. Remember, though, that generally if something is old enough that it loses business-value, it is best to get rid of it. Otherwise, you eventually end up with an unmanageable glut, whether online, offsite or onsite.
Internet scammers, identity theft perils, automated downloads of data-mining tools, etc., are enough to challenge adults. But kids? It’s not just that kids lack judgment and the ability to assess threats: They often don’t even recognise a threat as a threat. Kids not only need protection, they deserve protection.
Fortunately, there’s a variety of products out there to help with the job. One of the most well-known and robust products is Net Nanny. It has an intuitive interface and is quite easy to use. However, unlike many “easy” programs, Net Nanny does not sacrifice effectiveness: It is consistently rated as one of the best parental control programs. It is secure from kids’ tampering, too, even as it provides analysis and blockage of content in real-time for outside threats. It can monitor areas of extreme liability, such as social networking sites, online gaming, and can block peer-to-peer networks – all while providing detailed tracking reports to parents.
Another strong contender is CyberPatrol. Here, parents enjoy customization options that allow very finely tuned grants and accesses. You can block entire websites; you can also fine-tune to screen objectionable content within pages, based on your definitions. You can also set profiles for different users, fully customizable. This is important for children of different ages. A 15-year-old researching the Holocaust would need more web latitude than, say, a 5-year-old.
In that regard, Online Family.Norton has an interesting feature. It emphasizes communication between child and parent. In this regard, children can send their parents a message of explanation when they want to access a website that, on the surface, may appear inappropriate. In fact, it may be something of a controversial nature, but in support of a school assignment. One could even make the argument that this helps the parent to know what the child is being assigned at school, supporting a holistic parent-educator-child endeavour.
Parents can do their own Googling, searching, and researching. Products have strengths and weaknesses. One product that is strong in precluding sign-ups for sites requiring registration may be weak in other areas, providing too much “greenlighting” of sites that don’t require sign-up. If your household has children that know better than to sign up through solicitations, then examine products that are strong in match to your children’s possible vulnerabilities.
Generally, once having procured a strong product, be sure to monitor the product’s effectiveness according to the rules and settings you’ve tweaked. If too constrictive, try relaxing certain areas. Too, if you sense vulnerability, tighten.
Stay safe out there.
When considering a laptop, the next important considerations to price are size and weight. Performance is important too, naturally, but consider: When you’re in a store, physically looking at laptops, what do you notice first? Size. And you likely grab a few to get a sense of their heft.
Laptops are portable, after all, and portability has to be efficient. However, these days, screen size, processing power and battery life are very important considerations – and so a trade-off in extreme portability is sensible, in terms of a little more weight. A little more size also supports a larger, friendlier, screen.
Let’s get down to the other no-less important considerations. If possible, go dual-core on your processor. They’re faster than single-core and are particularly effective when multi-tasking. Unless you’re going for an extremely low-end laptop, remember that your laptop will likely be with you for several years at least. Get something you’re comfortable working with that is going to support your activities.
One of the most effective ways to extend the useful life of your laptop is to get enough system memory: RAM. If you’re buying a laptop with a 32-bit operating system (OS), it can’t really utilize more than 3Gb of RAM, so don’t over-buy. If, on the other hand, you can afford a 64-bit OS, more RAM is beneficial.
If you’re into gaming, do a little research on graphics memory. A detailed discussion here would be beyond the scope of this article, but briefly, a gamer is going to want an advanced 3-D graphics chipset, and you’re going to need 512Mb of dedicated graphics memory, preferably more.
Perhaps the most manifest change in laptops, from beginning to present, is screen size and shape. Today, screens are not only bigger, they’ve gone “wide”. This has enabled the mundane and the fun: More efficient viewing of spreadsheets in the case of the former, and accurate viewing of wide-screen movies, in the case of the latter. Weight, size, and cost considerations aside, recognise that in terms of easing your work and play: Bigger is better. Bigger is more efficient – less scrolling, and you get the big picture – literally.
Another top consideration is battery life. Check the manufacturer’s estimations for not only life, but charge time to 100% capacity. Then, check elsewhere – don’t take their word for it. Read the reviews, do your research, and survey friends and associates. Also be sure to assess the keyboard and pointing device. You want to be comfortable using the thing.
Generally, aside from price, remember that with laptops: You want to be comfortable getting it from point A to point B; you want to be comfortable inputting and outputting; you want to be able to see what you’re inputting and outputting; and you want some measure of outside power independence for a decent measure of time.
Add to that: You want something with a little longevity. Don’t skimp too much.
I confess: I think transacting and computing on a Smartphone is… well… a sort of torture. Small screens and buttons just aren’t my thing. But – in a pinch, whereby you have to get something done and the phone is the only means handy (any port in a storm), I sure wouldn’t want a dumb phone. It’s 2011, after all.
Today, you can have a mobile Office suite wrapped nicely for your use on your Smartphone. But there are also compatible alternatives for Word and Excel, likely just as powerful. And these days, phones have now incorporated QWERTY keyboards. Screen displays are larger too – so my own prejudice is likely outdated.
The Nokia E61 has a very good Office-compatible suite; further, there are more choices such as QuickOffice and Mobile Systems Office Suite. What about Palm? Try Documents To Go, Quickoffice and others. Keep in mind that for many users, document creation, editing and versioning/sharing/updating is rather a bit much to expect to do with much efficiency on a Smartphone. Having a simple reader for plain old viewing is quite sufficient.
What about the general running of your day? Here is where a Smartphone can really assist. MS-Outlook can keep your day under control. With one of the many project planners and managers, you can even integrate important milestones and reminders to kick you along as you travel between remote offices, from home-to-office, or elsewhere: You’re in the loop.
One of the most beneficial “smart” assists for many people is GPS navigation. It seems incredible for those old enough to remember – or perhaps younger people have seen this in an old movie – that people used to unfold unwieldy maps. It seemed they were about 3 feet by 6. Even those large cardboard-cover Atlases were unwieldy – and dangerous. Too many people were tracing a route with a finger, while driving. GPS on a phone? Plug in an address, relax and drive. The phone talks to you, telling you about upcoming turns, traffic congestion, alternate routes, and even which side of the road your destination is on. Smart.
Of course, there’s all the other bells and whistles: Address book/contact manager; personal and business finance managers; text messaging; e-mailing; web browsing… you can even edit photos.
Of course, Smartphones won’t impress me until they are truly smart: Doing the bulk of my work, making complicated decisions better than I, and learning and growing on their own – all while dedicated to my own selfish pursuits and interests, naturally.
Proprietary, commercial products have their advantages. Deep customer support (ok, that may be arguable sometimes! Who hasn’t had an abysmal customer service experience with even the best of companies/products?), a product that has usually grown and expanded its utility over the course of many versions, with ultimate fit to whatever niche support and solution that it has evolved to, and even led; the main need that the software is supposed to serve.
However, today, you can find many open source (that is, free; easily procured via the web) software solutions that fit like a glove. And… did I say they’re free?
Unlike years past, these are not nefarious, fly-by-night, endeavours – cobbled and hobbled by contributors who barely know what they’re doing in the dark of night. On the contrary, open source, freeware solutions are quite robust, stable and easy to procure and learn. Benefits are virtually immediate. In fact, for any main sort of software need you care to name for the average user, there is a mirrored open source alternative to what people think of as the “best game in town”. Whether word processing, spreadsheeting, presenting, or other things, such as firewalls, virus and malware protection, backup routines, if you need it, open source exists. Check out http://www.osalt.com, http://alternativeto.net or http://www.alternative.to to start looking at some alternatives that are free.
Let’s start with the “back side of the screen”. Need an operating system? Tired of the Microsoft near-monopoly in the PC realm? Why not jump into Ubuntu? It’s easy to install and easy to learn. I was rather surprised to find that you can now purchase a Dell computer with Ubuntu as the OS! Tired of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer? Grab Mozilla’s Firefox. What is great here is the interesting add-ons created by users – just peruse those and grab whatever you like in that realm, too. Want an idea for the power and utility of this fertile world? Click here.
What about “office suites” – you know, an alternative to the venerable MS-Office? Plenty to choose from. Google is a fairly obvious alternative, with Gmail, Google Docs and Google Presentation as a start.
Let’s not give Mac users short-shrift. You can replace MS’s Mactopia with NeoOffice, for example. This is a nice suite of applications for the Mac OS X, including word processing, spreadsheeting, drawing, presenting and database programs. Alternatively, you can break the MS office suite down piece by piece – you don’t need to swap out presentation graphics, spreadsheeting and word processing as one big block, accepting an open source solution that may be strong in one area, but rather weak in another. Break the “block” apart and surf for the best pieces of your particular puzzle – assemble the best integrated solutions based on the wealth of available solutions out there.
The world is indeed changing. In tomorrow’s near-term world, open source may become the rule, rather than the exception.