Category Archives: Computers

You Don’t Have Mail

For those of us that have been using e-mail since the 1990’s the prospect of changing a key e-mail address has very little appeal. With decades of accumulated messages, contacts and web site logins any changeover can easily become major task.

man58_160So this month’s announcement that the Tesco.Net service will be closing in June has triggered the need for wholesale changes by everyone still using their service. And, in our particular case, the loss of is the third time that our e-mail provider has closed down; with first Talk21 (British Telecom) and then (BBC) forcing us to look elsewhere for our e-mail.

Back in 2008 the BBC said that just didn’t fit with its core values anymore – i.e. flogging off licence-fee funded content to the rest of the world. And in the case of Tesco the closure of the service seems a minor consideration amongst all their other corporate cut-backs of recent years.

So for those Grandads with ISP contracts that include e-mail services the only problem should the effort needed to make all the changes. But for those wanting to have an e-mail address that is not tied to sticking with their broadband provider the choice is rather limited. The obvious front runner is the Google Gmail service – almost a given if you are also an Android user. But some viable alternatives are Yahoo mail, Microsoft’s Outlook mail or Apple’s iCloud mail. However all of these services are based in the USA so if you want something more local – in either Britain or the EU – then you need to look elsewhere.

One option from a company with a good track record is the GMX free mail service provided by Grandad’s  German Internet service provider; 1and1. But which ever solution you go for you have until 27-Jun-2018 to complete the move. And don’t forget to check if anyone in your contacts list is still using – since it seems that not everyone with an account has been told of the closure!

What’s Changed?

One month without any posts while enjoying a holiday in the sun. So has anything happened while the keyboards have been silent?

Heckerslyke_160Well last Friday saw the flurry of political activity in London and Brussels linked to the announcement of a major milestone in our attempts to leave the European Union. Every effort has been made since the news broke to make the limited progress made sound like some modern equivalent of the Magna Carta. At this rate Whitehall and Westminster are certain to win another Whitehall Farce Award. Oh what a mess they are creating!

Elsewhere the snowfall over the weekend meant great fun for the grandchildren – at least in some parts of the country. It also was fun for the Grandads remembering how many times the author of Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past has been proved wrong since The Independent published the article some seventeen winters ago.

On the technology front Microsoft gave us all the chance to test our patience again while waiting for Version 1709 of Windows 10 to trundle on – Grandad’s laptop has been downloading and installing for the past six hours. Meanwhile Wikipedia keeps ask us for money to help keep itself afloat. A request that seems a bit rich given that much of their content has been created for free by volunteers – many of whom, like us, have to pay for their Internet access. And worst still there are plenty of US tech companies in such strong financial positions that they could easily fund the entire operation without denting their bottom line.

Another Year, Another Windows Update

StocksD_120Little did we know, back in the 1980s, how much time we would all have to spend installing software updates.

Back in 1986 when Grandad installed Windows 1.0 on an Intel-powered PC it was only one or two megabytes of optional software distributed on floppy disks. Now 31 years later much the same process is being repeated as the Windows 10 Creators Update multi-megabit download runs in the background while this post is being typed.

Officially this latest iteration is version 1703. And at times like this it feels like large chunks of my life have been spent installing everyone of them. Hopefully this latest code monster will not  bite – and this does not turn out to be the last before the crash …

Replacement Windows

Windows10_1Starting at the end of this month Microsoft will be rolling out the latest version of its Windows operating system. And every Grandad with a modern PC should already have had a notification to Get Windows 10.

It was only in October 2013 that many hours were spent downloading and installing Windows 8.1 on two PCs at Grandad HQ. Since then a new laptop and tablet have joined the network so that’s four major updates to work through. And with 5 million Insider users expecting to start updating on the 29th of July the world’s network traffic could see a substantial peak. It may be worth waiting a few days before making a start … Once on Windows 10 you will loose the option to defer or avoid OS updates – they will become automatic.

Anyone planning to upgrade should also be aware that Windows 10 is not just about adding new features. Some widely used options are going. The most obvious being the removal of the Media Centre functions and the need for separate playback software to watch DVDs or Blu-rays for all previous versions. Windows 7 users will loose their desktop gadgets and floppy disk users will need to install extra drivers separately.

But luckily there are no Windows phones to worry about at Grandad HQ – as Windows 10 Mobile has yet to prove stable enough to risk a general release. Considering that Microsoft has recently announced that over 6,000 jobs will go in its hardware division (i.e. Nokia) along with a write-off of over $7,500 million then the days may be numbered for Windows on mobile phones. Certainly with less than 3% market share it would be no surprise to see a switch to Android. A move that could increase sales and avoid the efforts that will be needed to get their Windows Mobile software up to Android’s level of acceptance amongst consumers and app developers.

Today’s Phrase for Future Eurocitizens
Können Sie mir helfen? (ker-nen zee meer hell-fen)
= Can you help me?
Sponsored by: Sauerkrauts of Saxony

Big Apple

AppleCarplay1This week Apple reported its financial results for the first quarter of 2015. And few companies could even dream of the figures revealed. In just thirteen weeks the corporation received $58,200 million in revenue but amazingly made some $17,700 million in operating profit. Not only is that 30% up on last year but it means that Apple has a surplus of around $200 million every day to spend on … anything it fancies. And this cash avalanche is before the over-subscribed Apple Watch hits the high street stores.

So what new product line will get some Apple reimagineering next? One rumour predicts that Apple will build a game-changing domestic motor car – most likely electric powered. But others say that would be a step too far. However the Apple Carplay (right) is something that has already been seen at car shows for over a year. And that might just be one more step towards a car and a corporation where desktop computers are just a memory …


Cleaning Windows – First for those who did not recognise the photo and the clues it was George Formby that appeared in the previous posting. And rather than explaining who he was it would be best if you take a look at Frank Skinner’s fine Formby documentary from 2011. It’s here on YouTube ..

Second this latest posting comes courtesy of Windows 8.1 and signals that we have almost reached the end of the upgrades, conversions and re-installs on two PCs. The combination of faster hardware, the latest software and cleaning away old left-overs has made some noticeable improvements – but getting there did use up a lot of time. And NetObjects Fusion may have gained some new bugs with the latest update – since on the convenional web page George’s image jumped to the left despite still being laid out on the right. However switching from HTML 5 to HTML 4 fixed the problem. Elsewhere there are other reports of bugs with – sound output via HDMI stopping, system fonts going missing and usb wifi dongles slowing to a crawl. These could all be due to third party software not being up to date but Microsoft have still been busy issuing important 8.1 updates every day to try to stem the flow …

Cleaning Windows

After three hours of downloading and updating the first of Grandad’s PCs is up and running on Windows 8.1 – and, so far, things seem to be functioning OK. Now we are at the cutting edge – using the latest 64-bit version of an operating system that was first used, as DOS add-on, back in 1986. man7Then Windows needed 256K of memory or greater and MS-DOS 2.0. Soon this minimum memory was expanded to 320K and then up to 512K – when 640K was the memory limit. But in practice most serious software ignored Windows and ran directly under MS-DOS – for obvious performance reasons. It was not until 1992 that we started moving to applications designed for Windows – then just upgraded to version 3.

Now all traces of MS-DOS have been cleaned away – and Windows is striving to become a vehicle for pushing products and services our way day and night. But it is still possible to turn most of the advertising off and stop many (some) of the nosey parkers from spying on your daily life. Better still the sheer power of the latest hardware means that Windows’ massive code burden can be largely ignored. Version 8.1 has only had a few hours of use but seems to have Turned Out Nice Again …

XP Exits

In just six months time Microsoft will end support for its XP incarnation of Windows. Normally software going off support is not newsworthy. But XP was, it seems, Microsoft’s most successful operating system and the one that many IT departments and home users had got most used to. It was – by service pack 3 – that combination of boring and reliable that is ideal for software designed to act as a foundation layer for the more interesting stuff.

MSWinWindows XP was first released in 2001. It remained current until Vista came along in 2007. And despite Vista then being supplied as standard with new PCs, much of the existing XP user base remained faithful. So by 2009 Vista was in turn replaced by Windows 7. By then the phasing out of XP had picked up speed – partly because corporate PC hardware was further into its replacement cycle.

Moving on to October 2012 Microsoft released Windows 8 and XP diehards were firmly pushed towards a stark choice – if they needed to stay within the Windows ecosysem – as April 2014 was set for XP’s exit. The choice being either to stick with the crumbling security of XP or move to Windows 8; a product berated by many critics. Its front-end designed for touch screens remains the main bugbear but there are other issues – such as loosing DVD play back, defaulting to new, poorly featured apps and, critically, needing firmware on the motherboard that supports UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) instead of simply the BIOS. This last technical point would seem to have the effect of killing off almost all domestic PCs from the XP era.

Man1Today we are another year on and Windows 8.1 is due to appear within just days – but it will not really resolve the basic issues. Worst of these is that there is no upgrade path to get an app that is working on XP onto Win8. Such software has to be re-installed from scratch. For anyone with an app, from say 2006, that has been repeatedly updated with paid-for releases (probably as downloads) this seems wildly unrealistic. To go through a process of uninstalling back through the versions and then installing the updates again in order – even if you still had backup copies – is as time wasting as it is impractical. And unlikely to get through the re-entering of all those security keys. The more likely (only?) solution seems to be to buy a compatible copy of the app – possibly even a full copy – and do a clean install.

But there is another less obvious software trap to look out for. PC hardware has moved on hugely since XP was king. Today having a PC with 8Gb of RAM , a few terabytes of disk and a 64bit processor is not unusual – or even expensive. Such a class of PC really needs a 64bit operating system to make the most of its hardware – and even Windows XP was available as a 64bit version. But that’s where you may get really stuck if you have printers, scanners, cameras and even add-on cards that don’t have the drivers that a 64bit operating system expects.

So if you really need  to keep using that expensive scanner or cannot face buying that specialised app again then it may be best to take your XP system off the Internet and instead invest in a new PC, or tablet, to handle your always on-line lifestyle needs …