LINKS - HINTS and TIPS - Etc ...

Using the premise that 'prevention is better than cure' we hopefully can help you avoid having to call us out in the first place. Not that we don't want the work of course, but we understand the frustration that problems cause and would rather you avoided them. We are always here to assist if you do hit snags you can't avoid or solve.

Note - this page is very long but we believe it to be worth the read so please stick with it to the bitter end if you can. Use the in-line links to jump to sections you want to review again, this will save a lot of scrolling. Hopefully the style of text won't be too heavy for the novice user nor too patronising to the experienced - in either case feel free to Email us with your comments or if you need more clarification of a point or two.

First and foremost, for anyone with an Internet connection (and you must have one to be reading this) it is essential to have good Firewall and Anti-Virus programs running ... and keep them up to date!! An out of date Anti-Virus definition is worse than having none at all since you think you are protected when you in fact are not. We make no apologies for stressing this cautious approach to online activity, the fact is that if more users took the simple steps below there would be far less problems.

Both Windows 7 & 8 comes with a built-in Firewall, which is enabled by default. It does the job of protecting you from intrusions and means you have one less thing to worry about.

For Anti-Virus we recommend NOD 32 - this isn't free but the cost is a lot less than what would be run up to clear a system of a virus, not to mention a possibly destroyed Hard Drive!!! A 30-day trial can be downloaded which is fully functional and able to be updated for the length of the trial period. On the subject of updates - daily is not over the top but certainly no longer than a week. If there is a particularly bad Virus on the loose then it's not unknown for hourly updates to be released!

Additionally it is recommended that Anti-Malware software is run which can pick up on things that an Anti-Virus program may miss. The recommendation here is Malware Bytes which is free for home users.

Running these programs together does have a few small downsides. The Boot-Up process will take a little longer and your PC will slow down a fraction. However, with modern PC's and the very fast processors in use this difference is becoming less and less noticable. Games will sometimes not like the interference and give trouble - in that case there are options to temporarily pause the monitoring programs. Note, for ONLINE GAMING it is essential to have them active as it is so easy for a *hacker* to piggy-back into your system over the open connection. In the drive to get the lowest *ping* rate a lot of online gamers turn off their protection systems and the virus writers know that. Better to die a virtual death in a game than have your PC killed in real life?

In case you were wondering - yes these are the programs we ourselves use so the recommendation is from personal experience not from any connection with the above companies. The same goes for anything we might recommend, we do so from the user's point of view not the *establishment* lemming-like attitude towards the major software houses.

E-Mail Tips

The next thing to consider is Email as this is the number one route for virus attack. Having the protection above will save you from most malicious content on the Internet but if you open an Email with a virus in it then your security is breached and you are relying on your programs being up to date. Unfortunately, virus definitions can only be expanded once a virus has been identified ... DON'T LET YOURSELF BE THE ONE TO FIND IT FIRST!!!!

So what can you do ?

The best advice is to be very cautious and sceptical - if something looks too good to be true it generally is, and free offers can be wanting to offer you more than you bargained for. Messages with attachments that you were not expecting are a particular danger. If in doubt, make a note of the address of the sender and verify with them what the attachment is. Of course if the return address is obviously false or merely a random collection of characters then delete it unread. This goes for SPAM too (unsolicited E-Mail telling you you've won this that or the other). Replying to one of those to *take your name off our list* only confirms your E-Mail address as being valid, so far from stopping the SPAM you end up getting more.

The better E-Mail programs offer what is known as a POP3 SCANNER - this essentially only downloads the message headers and a few lines of text so you can decide whether or not you want to get the full message. Items you select to be not received will be deleted from the Mail Server without ever reaching your PC. In this category we would recommend The Bat! as this also has the advantage of being invulnerable to viruses which attempt to gather E-Mail addresses from your address book (and make it look as though the E-Mail is coming from you.)

Another option for email is Thunderbird, made by the same folks as prodfuce Firefox web browser. It has a host of handy features - see the linked page for more details.

For those not wishing to change the E-Mail program they use there are 3rd party programs that will enable you to do that E-Mail pre-scanning. One that has been used to good effect is Mail Washer, this program is free for use with a single e-mail account so worth trying out even if in the end you decide that the extra procedure to your E-Mail routine isn't for you. For those with multiple e-mail accounts there is a small cost to be able to run Mail Washer on all of them.

System Tuning

OK - so you take all the precautions as you should but still find your system becomes less *user friendly* over time. Unfortunately this is a common problem with PCs. In the drive to get the PC to be an *all singing - all dancing* piece of equipment the stability side of things has suffered. Preventing, or at best alleviating, the worst of this comes down to routine maintenance of your system and here's where you will have to get your hands dirty and delve into the workings of your PC - not in the literal sense but more getting to grips with how the thing works and why it can go wrong.

When surfing the net there are a lot of files downloaded and stored on your PC in order to create those wonderful Web Sites you see. All those files are kept when you leave that page so that if you return the amount of downloading will be greatly reduced (and speeding up the displaying of the site). The trouble here is the total number of files can become astronomical and your Web Browser has to search all of this to see if it has already been to that site before. All browsers have the option to limit the amount of these files or even delete them totally when you close down the browser. To give detailed instructions for every one would be too much to go into here, but the included help files with the browser will help you track down the procedure to follow. Unfortunately these options are not usually enabled by default when the browser is installed.

Similarly, programs when installed create temporary files which they are meant to delete when the installation is done. Not all installer programs follow this and leave bits of *junk* behind. Over time these temporary files can build up. The problem here is that Windows also uses the Temporary Files folder in normal operation so excessive files will cause a slowdown of the system. Every now and again it is worth the time to search for these temporary files and delete them manually. To do this, open up Windows Explorer and do a search for [*.tmp] files. In the results window you can select them and press the [ Delete ] key to send them to the Recycle Bin  it is always a good idea to send files to the Recycle Bin first - this is a safety feature in case you accidentally select the wrong file to delete). If Windows will not let you delete a particular temporary file don't worry just delete what you can - the ones you can't remove will be in use by Windows and shouldn't be deleted at any cost. Note, if there only a few files listed then there isn't a problem and they can be left alone. As a rule of thumb, if the files fit into a window without you needing to scroll to see them all then you can forget it for now.

Naturally, the Recycle Bin will start to fill up but if you are sure you've deleted the correct files, or no program you run complains about files missing, then you can empty the Recycle Bin and reclaim that used space. Even today's massive Hard Drives can have problems as the recycle bin is set to a fixed size so if it gets full the whole process of deleting can take much longer as first your system will have to empty the oldest files first. Tip here - try to keep it as empty as possible! Also - it has been known for users to store items in the Recycle Bin as a temporary store. Please don't do this - you cannot easily recover anything that's been removed from there.

Tidying your Hard Drive

Hard Drives store the programs and data that the PC uses and in normal operation the data tends to get scrambled over the disc surface so it takes longer and longer to read a particular file. Eventually this will slow down the system to a noticeable degree. In order to restore things to their former ordered state it is necessary to re-organize the data on the disc surface, making sure all the parts of a file are physically located next to each other. Note, in extreme cases it is possible for a file to be in two parts that are at the opposite ends of the disc recording area!

Windows has a built in program to do this re-organizing for you (Disc Defragmenter, or 'Defrag' for short) which you can find by going to [ Start / All Programs / Accessories / System Tools ]. However before you use Defrag you need to do a few simple things.

1) Make sure your screen-saver is turned off (if the screensaver activates then Defrag will need to start all over again)
2) Turn off any anti-virus program (to speed up the process - but turn it back on afterwards!!)
3) Make sure there are no background programs running that will access the disc (any disc access at all will make Defrag start all over again from the beginning)

If you still cannot get Defrag to run to completion (note it can take many hours on a large drive!) then the best solution is to start up Windows in Safe Mode. To do this, either hold down the F8 key during booting till you get the boot menu, or using MSCONFIG set Windows to show the boot screen on startup (Goto [ Start / Run], type in MSCONFIG and hit the [ Enter ] key). Once in MSCONFIG click on the [ ADVANCED ] button and select the [ Enable Boot Menu ] option. Close MSCONFIG and you'll be prompted to restart, which will then show the Boot Menu as you want.

Once you have the Boot Menu up, select Item number 3 [ Safe Mode ] then let Windows continue the boot up process. The colours will be all wrong and your graphics will look huge ... don't worry, when you restart normally things will be back to as they were! Now you can start up DEFRAG again and it should do its stuff. If you have more than one Hard Drive listed then you'll be better starting with Drive C as this is where the Windows System resides and the bulk of your programs. Defragmenting any other drives is a useful excercise if you have the time. Perhaps it should be noted here that you cannot Defrag a CD or Floppy Disc.

Like all things Windows related there are other (non-MicroSoft) programs that will do the same thing and many of them do a better job. Diskeeper Lite is one of those programs and recently became a free utility. This can run a Defrag in a fraction of the time it takes Windows to do the job and is what we use here exclusively to keep our systems in order. Remember, there is much more to software than just MicroSoft - and quality software doesn't have to cost an awful lot!!

That's more or less it for this section, after all to do a complete 'how to use your PC' would take far more than a simple website and that wasn't our aim here. Hopefully the above tips can help you put off the day when you just *have* to call for Tech Support - but if/when you do you know the place to go!  :-)

Telephone: 01524 781306 (9am - 9pm)