Buying a ComputerThis is the first in a series of three blog posts on this subject. If you would like to receive all of the information now and in one go, just drop me an email and I will send you a pdf file. 

You may be thinking of changing your computer (laptop or desktop), but not be sure of what aspects of the specification are important at the moment. In fact, there have not been huge developments in hardware in the last few years, and you are unlikely to come across programs that definitely need a new computer (albeit they will run more slowly on your present computer than on a new, more powerful, one).

The main aspects of a computer’s specification are listed below. Instead of hyperlinks, I have sometimes included search terms that will probably show you relevant products in (at least, they did at the time of writing – January 2019). This is because hyperlinks can go out of date very quickly when linking to specific hardware. I have also listed some hyperlinks that may be useful at the end of the document.

I have listed the different aspects in approximate order of importance (with the most important aspects first). As with this guide as a whole, your own requirements and priorities may be different to what is only, after all, my own opinion.

Operating System

Operating SystemsThis should be the first decision to make as you have to get your hardware from Apple if you want to run their operating system (OSX).

If you want a Chromebook, then the specification of the hardware can be much lower than for a Windows computer as the programs being run will not put such high demands on the hardware. Consequently, Chromebooks are less expensive. Chromebooks run a version of the Android operating system to be found on many (non-Apple) mobile phones and tablets. The Chromebook runs “apps” but not full-blown “programs”. Chromebooks tend to be inexpensive, but make sure that they will do everything you need before committing to one. Most major manufacturers (as well as Google) now offer Chromebooks as well as Windows computers.

For most people, though, the logical decision will be for a Windows computer. This will come with Windows 10. Windows XP, Vista, 7,  and 8 are no longer generally available (but you might just find a Windows 7 computer if you look hard enough).



Most processors (which we can think of as doing the actual work) are from Intel and they come in three “families”. These are i3, i5, and i7. The higher the number, the more powerful and faster the processor. Other components are likely to be approximately matched with the processor so that, for instance, an i3 processor is likely to be found on a computer with a (slower) hard drive, whereas an i7 processor is more likely to be matched with a (faster) solid state drive. The price of the whole ensemble will also reflect the processor (and accompanying matched components) such that computers with i3 processors are the cheapest and i7 the most expensive (with i5 in the middle). There’s some overlap, but we could broadly classify computers (both laptops and desktop computers) as follows:

  • i3 – light use / “entry level”
  • i5 – average use and performance / “mid range”
  • i7 – gaming, or heavy use / “top end”

Other processors are made by AMD. It is more difficult to classify these along the above lines. We would need closely to analyse speeds of the processors, turbocharging, and other parameters that would send the average user running for the hills. If you are looking at an AMD based machine in a shop then it is worthwhile asking what the approximate equivalent type of Intel processor would be.


RAMAs always, the more memory the better Do not buy a computer with less than 4gb RAM. Personally, I would not recommend less than 8gb. 16gb is better – both for speed now and for ensuring that your machine will still be able to cope with the demands put on it in 3-5 years time. Again, i3 computers will have less memory than i5 or i7. The current “average” is probably 8gb but 16gb is definitely worth having if the budget will allow. A good “gaming machine” may currently have 32gb or more. Increasing the amount of memory can significantly increase the overall cost.

To be continued…

Is Microsoft’s bullying about to end?

Hammer and Keyboard

Microsoft has lost an appeal case and must pay $10,000 for forcing Windows 10 onto a user

A Californian travel agent has been awarded $10,000 compensation by a court after successfully arguing that an unauthorised upgrade to Windows 10 damaged her business by rendering her machine almost unusable.

Teri Goldstein said that she hadn’t deliberately installed the operating system. Indeed, she hadn’t even heard of it. The upgrade failed several times, but when it did eventually complete, it left the machine limping and crashing.

Ms Goldstein didn’t simply go straight for Microsoft’s throat by taking legal action. She tried to resolve the issue with Microsoft’s support but didn’t get anywhere. Eventually she took them to court claiming for lost wages and for the cost of a new computer. She runs her own business and claimed that she had to buy the new computer because the mess that her old one was in was costing her business.

Microsoft Bully

Will Microsoft’s bullying stop now?

Surprisingly, and maybe even rather insultingly, Microsoft didn’t send a single one of their legal bods to argue the case in court. Instead, they apparently just sent someone from a local Microsoft store. This strikes me as extraordinary. Or maybe the legal idea of a “precedent” doesn’t carry the same weight in the USA as it does over here. I would have thought that this case could potentially clear the way for any number of upset Windows users to get some retribution after falling for Microsoft’s tricks and bullying in upgrading their machines to Windows 10 against their will. It surprises me that Microsoft seem not to be at all bothered by this possibility.

While thinking about writing this blog post, I have been musing on all those ads we see everywhere from the ambulance chasers – “Are you entitled to compensation for the mis-selling of PPI?” Just imagine the irony if a whole new industry were to spring up based around suing Microsoft for forcing Windows 10 onto us all. The irony that I am thinking of is that it is now becoming an accepted fact that Microsoft will be introducing more and more advertising into Windows 10 itself. What if a sizable chunk of that advertising market turned out to be from legal firms punting for business from dis-satisfied Windows 10 customers? I suppose that Microsoft would just refuse to carry the ads.

On the subject of Microsoft tricking us into installing Windows 10, what do you know? Just weeks before the free update to Windows 10 expires (at the end of July), Microsoft have finally agreed to include a button in their upgrade offer that says “No, I do not want Windows 10. Please go away and boil your head. If I want Windows 10 I will ask for it, but, in the meantime, stop trying to trick or force me into having it”.

OK, it doesn’t quite say that. According to Terry Myerson (Microsoft’s Windows and Devices Group Executive VP), “The new experience has clearer options to upgrade now, choose a time, or decline the free offer”. I think that the cynicism of this move, just weeks before their “free offer” closes anyway, is absolutely breathtaking.

I can’t think of anything else to say.

Windows 10 Decline Free Offer

Microsoft has finally included the option to “Decline free offer”

My previous blogs on Microsoft’s tactics over the introduction of Windows 10 can be found at:

Windows 10 Free Upgrade Offer Will End on 29th July 2016 (supposedly)
Windows 10 Free Upgrade Offer in its last 3 months
Windows 10 – Like It or Lump It

Sources for this blog post include:

The Register
Seattle Times
Ars Technica

So, Microsoft will start charging for Windows 10 with effect from the end of July

Yet another Windows 10 logoThis was announced on the Windows blog on May 5th. The UK price for Windows 10 Home will be £99.99 (including VAT). The US price will be $119. With the US$ currently worth about £0.68, I’d say they’re overcharging us, even allowing some margin for currency fluctuations. Despite the announcement, I still wouldn’t bet against Microsoft introducing some kind of “extended offer due to public demand” between now and the end of July.

It remains to be seen what tactics they are going to use after July to persuade recalcitrant Windows 7 and 8 users to upgrade, but I can tell you that they are certainly stepping up the pressure in this period when upgrading is still free. As long ago as last autumn, we learned that Microsoft intended to “re-style” Windows 10 from being a completely new product to being a “recommended update”. I wrote about this in my blog of November 14th – “Windows 10 – like it or lump it“.

The upshot of this clever bit of legerdemain is that they are able to install Windows 10 without your needing to give them any new permission. If you already allow Windows to install its own updates automatically then you might wake up any day now to find that you’ve been upgraded. This happened to a client of mine last week and I saw him a few days ago to help him get over the culture shock of the new product. And last week I was doing some routine maintenance on another client’s machine and saw a screen come up that included the text “Your free Windows 10 upgrade is scheduled for ….”. Luckily, there was a cancel button (I know the client didn’t want Windows 10), so I was able (I hope!) to avert the problem.

I nicked the screengrab below from a PC World blog (the magazine, not the shop) that investigates the traps and supposed get-outs that Microsoft are laying all over the place at the moment. If you think you might already have seen a warning that Windows 10 is about to be installed on your machine and you want to stop it, then I suggest that you read this PC World blog. Do it very soon but read it slowly and carefully!

Windows 10 - Upgrade Scheduled

I have read in more than one place that it’s possible to reserve your free upgrade to Windows 10 some time between now and the end of July, but to install it at a later time to suit your own convenience. I don’t actually recommend this because I can imagine there’d be tears before bedtime if attempting it. Nevertheless, if the idea appeals to you, here is How-To Geek’s article on reserving your free upgrade to Windows 10.

Microsoft BootI have also read somewhere that Microsoft have promised to stop hassling people to upgrade after the free upgrade period ends, but I can’t find the reference again and, quite frankly, I’m not sure I believe it anyway. Is it just my own world-weariness and cynicism, or is it really an absolute disgrace that Microsoft are bullying, manipulating, and even deceiving us in their monomaniacal mission to get everyone in the Milky Way using Windows 10? No, it’s not just me. One of my computer support clients emailed me just yesterday about this subject and asked “Is this one of Microsoft’s most sneaky, unethical and immoral acts so far?”. I’d say it is.

So, should you upgrade to Windows 10 now? Well, if you’ve managed to dodge the bullets so far, and really don’t want it, then I think I would advise trying to hold out until the end of July to see if the bullying, cajoling, and trickery really do stop. And good luck with that.

Microsoft appear to be pushing their weight around, attempting to foist Windows 10 on users whether they want it or not

Microsoft BootA few weeks ago Microsoft were accused of heavy-handedness in downloading the installation files for Windows 10, irrespective of whether the user had actually asked for the upgrade. The upgrade didn’t install automatically, but the download (in preparation for the installation) could be anything up to 6gb.

Now they’ve gone one step further. The upgrade to Windows 10 (ie its installation – not just the downloading of the files in preparation) is “soon” going to become a “recommended update” alongside other “recommended updates” that you are probably set to receive automatically (because that’s how Microsoft have been encouraging us to receive updates).

So, if you are currently running Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1, and you do NOT wish to upgrade to Windows 10, then you are going to have to turn off automatic updates and manually pick and choose the updates that you do wish to install. I can’t see a lot of “normal” users doing that.

To quote Microsoft themselves:

“We will soon be publishing Windows 10 as an “Optional Update” in Windows Update for all Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 customers. Windows Update is the trusted, logical location for our most important updates, and adding Windows 10 here is another way we will make it easy for you to find your upgrade.”

Or, to put that another way, “We’re going to slip Windows 10 past you without you noticing it happen, because we know that most of you will not learn – until it’s too late – that we’re re-categorising it as a recommended update to Windows 7 and Windows 8.”

Windows Glassy LogoIt is true – as Microsoft point out in the above-quoted article – that you can revert to your previous operating system any time within the first 31 days after installation of Windows 10. But they are not daft: they know that inertia will play its part. Once it’s a fait accompli that you’ve got Windows 10, they know that few people will either want to bother putting it back to Windows 7 or 8, or want to risk breaking something in the attempt.

I appreciate that we can’t blame Microsoft for wanting their new operating system to be as successful as possible, but do they really need to abuse their power by manipulating us in this way?

If you decide that you don’t want to be strong-armed into installing Windows 10 by default, then you need to check, and possibly change, your Windows Update settings. You can read more on this by clicking the appropriate link below:

Windows Update for Windows 7 Users


Windows Update for Windows 8 Users

Windows Vista with haloFor what it’s worth, though, Windows 10 does seem to be being accepted and liked in a way that Windows 8 never was. My own experience is that, apart from initial problems mentioned in earlier blogs, it is stable and seems like a smooth progression from Windows 7. If you happen to have bought a new computer recently and are experiencing Windows 8 for the first time, my advice would definitely be to upgrade to Windows 10 rather than get to grips with the peculiarities and annoyances of Windows 8.

If, on the other hand, you are happy with Windows 7 or 8, then you will need to make an effort to resist the juggernaut that is Microsoft’s bullying, or be run over by it.

Isn’t it ironic that users of the one operating system that was deemed a bit of a disaster (Windows Vista) are the only group of Windows users unaffected by all this? They can carry on using Vista, knowing that it’s still supported by Microsoft, but can’t be updated to Windows 10.

Like a spare key for your Microsoft account?

Key in lockMicrosoft accounts are becoming more important. All downloads of purchases from Microsoft require us to have an account, access to the Microsoft OneDrive cloud storage requires one and, if we do as Microsoft would like us to do, every time we turn on a Windows 8 or Windows 10 computer we sign into our Microsoft account.

What happens if you suddenly can’t access your account? There are several ways this could happen, including someone having hacked into your account and changing the security information. As I’ve written before, (see, for instance, this blog about Gmail passwords) it can be very difficult to prove an account is yours if you’ve been locked out of it.

At the cost of just five minutes of your time
, you can create yourself a “spare master key” that will over-ride all other access methods to your account. This means you can get into the account even if it’s been hacked and the sign-on information changed. This “spare key” is not to be used lightly, though. If you do use it then all your other security information will need to be re-entered into your account (mobile phone number, secondary email account etc).

So, how do you create a Microsoft Recovery Code?

Click on this link:

sign into your account in the normal way, and enter any security information that is required. Yes, that does, of course, mean that you can only create a recovery code when you already know your security information. You can’t (for obvious reasons) create a recovery code if you’ve already lost access to your account.

Once you have convinced Microsoft that you are genuine, you will be presented with a page showing various aspects of your security information. Just scroll down until you see the section headed (natch) “Recovery Code”.

Click on the link that says “Set up recovery code”

You will then be presented with a screen showing your new, 25 character, recovery code. Record this information in the same place that you have recorded the username and password for your Microsoft account.

Close the browser window.

Make cup of tea.

Using A Microsoft Account Recovery Code

If the day comes when you need to use the recovery code, proceed as follows:

Click on this link:

Click on the link that says “Can’t access your account?”

Click in the circle next to the reason that most closely matches your situation and click “next”.

Identify the account you are going to recover by entering the email address associated with the account and enter the information that matches the “captcha”.

Key in lockThe next screen will ask you to choose how you want to receive your security code. Answer by choosing “I don’t have any of these”.

The next screen will then invite you to enter your recovery code. Just do so, and then click on the button that says “use recovery code”.

You will then be back into your account. Note that you will then need to re-enter your security information (mobile number, secondary email address etc). Also note that your recovery code can only be used once, so, now that you are convinced of how worthwhile it was to set up a recovery code, go back to the start of this blog post and create yourself a new one ready for the next time that you need it.

I advise disabling WiFi Sense in Windows 10 (it’s turned ON by default)

What does WiFi Sense do? It’s a new feature in Windows 10 that is supposed to make connecting to wireless networks easier. However, Microsoft seem to have completely failed to consider the security implications. Specifically, It does two things:

  • Connects you to available open hotspots without asking you or telling you. All it takes for this to happen is for at least one other Windows 10 user who has WiFi Sense enabled (anywhere in the world) to have connected to that open network before.
  • Connects you automatically (without a password) to any hotspot that any of your contacts has connected to before (where “contacts” covers anyone in your Skype database, your contacts, or your Facebook friends). And, of course, the corollary is true: those same people can connect to YOUR network without a password.

At first glance, this is horrendous. Do Microsoft think we only have family and bosom buddies in our contact lists? Do they really think that we would want to automatically trust everyone in our contacts lists to connect to our router?

WiFi Sense - signed on to a Local Account

Figure 1. If you see the blue link circled above when you enter WiFi Settings then you are signing on to a local account, so are not vulnerable to WiFi Sense

And it gets worse. Suppose that you give your password to a friend, either in the normal way or by having WiFi Sense enabled. If that friend has WiFi Sense enabled, then my understanding is that that friend will automatically share your password with all of their contacts who have Wi-Fi Sense enabled. This is just appalling and it’s hard to think that it can really be true that Microsoft have invited such a situation to come about.

There have been several blogs written in the last few weeks (no names, no pack drill) that have suggested that that is the exact situation. However, a deeper look at things indicates that you have to do more than just have WiFi Sense “enabled” in order to be put at risk.

WiFi Sense - signed on to an Online Account

Figure 2. This machine is signing on to an Online Account. Slide the slidey things to the left (as shown) to disable WiFi Sense

To be at risk you have to:

  • Turn on the options to enable WiFi Sense (these are the ones that are on by default – see Figure 2)
  • Tick the boxes to select which lists of contacts you wish to share with (these are all unticked by default – see Figure 3)
  • Specifically share the networks over which you have control (none are shared by default – see Figure 4)

So, I would completely agree that WiFi Sense appears to be badly conceived and should be switched off completely (see below), but we haven’t been left as helpless and vulnerable as many bloggers have suggested.

I am grateful to ZD Net for pointing out the real situation concerning Wi-Fi Sense (before I, too, could make a prat of myself……)

There is another way that Microsoft say you can prevent your wifi network from being laid open by WiFi Sense and that is to rename your network so that it includes the text “_optout” (without the quotes) – eg changing your router identification from SkyXYZ123 to SkyXYZ123_optout. Yes, I know, it’s a cheek for Microsoft to cause us to have to do this just because they introduced a security risk. Anyway, almost all of my own computer support clients would not know how to do this. And if you do do it, you’ll have to re-set the connection settings for every computer and device that connects to it. Don’t bother about it. Just make sure Wi-Fi Sense is disabled as follows:

WiFi Sense - Contacts Lists

Figure 3. Even with Wifi Sense enabled (as shown by slidey things), network passwords will not be shared as none of the contacts lists are enabled

If you do log onto your Microsoft Account when your computer starts, then disable WiFi Sense as follows:

  • Click on the Start Button
  • Click on Settings
  • Click on Network & Internet, WiFi, Flight Mode, VPN
  • Click on Wifi
  • Click on Manage Wifi Settings (you may need to scroll down to see this)
  • Slide the two slidey things to the left (so that it says “off” next to them – see Figure 2)
  • Close the Settings window by clicking on the “X” at top right

By the way, if you log onto your Windows 10 computer as a “local user” (ie you don’t connect to your Microsoft Account) then you are not put at risk anyway so you can completely forget the scare stories (see Figure 1).

WiFi Sense - Share Network

Figure 4. Even with WiFi Sense enabled, your own network will not be shared unless you explicitly share it by clicking in the circle

I would recommend holding off from upgrading to Windows 10 for now

A few weeks ago I blogged about the new Windows 10 icon that was appearing on our taskbars as an easy way to download Windows 10. At that time I recommended holding off from upgrading for the time being. Several of my computer support clients have asked me since then whether my advice has changed. No, it hasn’t.

Windows 10 New Taskbar Buttons

The return of the Start button, an improved Search function, and a new “Task View” function that display all open windows

Microsoft staggered the availability of Windows 10 so that it wasn’t trying to download it to gerzillions of computers all on the same day. The Law of Sod held true for me in that Microsoft told me I could have it the day before I went on holiday. Should I wait until I got back or install it while packing my bucket and spade? I must have been feeling a bit light-headed because I went ahead and installed it.

So, come last Saturday evening I’m back home and decide to see if my main computer still works (having decided that I’ll never learn Windows 10 properly if it’s not on my main machine).

At first it looked as if everything was OK. Things were more-or-less where they should have been, programs seemed to open, my data hasn’t just evaporated (but I DID back it up first) and Windows 10 seems reasonably intuitive (certainly in comparison with Windows 8).

Within a day, though, several things had come to light. In descending order of importance these are:

  • Outlook 2013 refused to send messages. Incoming messages were still OK. A bit of googling soon found a suggestion that worked for me. It consisted of running SFC at an elevated command prompt. See this Microsoft page on SFC for details.
  • My calendar (again, within Outlook) has gone. This is connected with iCloud as my diary is also on my iPhone. I haven’t yet had time to get to the bottom of this one but, once again, a bit of googling has shown that I’m not alone with this problem. I’m hoping that this page from Apple regarding iCloud will help me out of this problem.
  • Apart from the good old Control Panel, there is a new “settings” window for changing – well – settings. Parts of it are consistently freezing on my machine.
  • The wifi connection has been a bit recalcitrant. It has finally accepted that I really do mean it when I say that I want it to automatically connect to my own router every time I switch on or come out of sleep mode, but it’s still so slow in making the connection that my email has had a chance to wake up and try (and fail) to do a “send/receive” before the wifi connection has been established. This may be trivial but it is soooo annoying.

Windows10 iCloud Calendars Broken

Where’s my calendar/diary gone?

So, two potentially serious issues and two annoyances. It’s all grist to the mill for me, of course, as this is what I do for a living, but at least two of these problems could be serious and worrying if they happened to my average computer support client. What’s more, I’ve not really had much of a chance to play around with it at all. These problems have come to light without me going looking for them. I have no way of knowing whether I’m going to encounter a lot more and how serious they will be.

Windows 10 has been well received in principle. It seems to be the general feeling that Microsoft have learned from the mistakes of Windows 8, swallowed some pride, and turned their minds to developing something that users will want, rather than something that’s been forced upon them. I would agree with that and don’t feel too perturbed yet at the problems that I have encountered in the few short hours I’ve been using it.

Yes, the Start Menu is back, here shown with one of the Windows 8 tiles ("cribbage") embedded in it.

Yes, the Start Menu is back, here shown with one of the Windows 8 tiles (“cribbage”) embedded in it.

It does seem a bit worrying, though, that my two main problems have occurred when one flagship Microsoft product has been interacting with another flagship Microsoft product (I have a Microsoft 365 subscription, so my Outlook program should always be bang up to date).

In conclusion, I would suggest that if you are so keen to try Windows 10 that you want to install it now, then you will probably be prepared to accept some teething problems. If, however, you are a normal human being and just want your computer to do as it’s told and with a minimum of fuss, then I would say that Windows 10 is almost certainly going to be a good thing, but you might be able to reduce the hassle by waiting a few more weeks until some of the wrinkles have been ironed out.

What does it take to re-install a Windows computer?

Keep calm and Reinstall WindowsIf a mis-behaving computer can’t be fixed by narrowing down the problem and applying a specific solution, then you would expect any software problem to be sorted by applying the most drastic action – re-installing everything.

I’ve been asked the question so often – “what would it take to re-install it from scratch?” – that I’m surprised that it’s never occurred to me before to set out the major steps in a blog, so here goes..

It’s very likely that you do not have master Windows discs for your system, or essential driver files for things such as the graphics card, wireless adapter etc. However, there is almost certainly a “recovery partition” on the hard drive which can be used to take the computer back to the state in which it left the factory. This is a destructive process that will lose your programs and data. It also needs the hard drive to be working.

Assuming the drive is ok and there is a recovery partition, then we can proceed as follows:

  • If possible, take photos of your Windows desktop (eg with a smartphone) before beginning work. This can be used as a “list” of things to re-install later. A more thorough step is to go into Control Panel and “Programs and Features” (or “Add or Remove Programs” in older versions of Windows) to take pictures of the entire list of installed programs. You may not need to re-install them all, but this acts as a good list to work from when re-installing everything.
  • You will need the password (passkey) for your wifi as well as knowing what your router is called as far as your computer is concerned – this is known as the SSID. It may be written on your router. If you connect to the router by an ethernet cable, then no SSID or password is needed.
  • Back up your data. As well as normal files (documents, music, spreadsheets, photos, etc), it’s important to consider your email data. If you are using one of the Microsoft email “clients” (Windows Live Mail or Microsoft Outlook) then your data is quite possibly not being backed up in the normal course of events. This is because Microsoft sometimes “hides” your email data so that you won’t break it. If using an email client (as opposed to webmail), copy all your email account settings for use when re-installing (but you will also need to know your email password, and that isn’t revealed in your email settings).
  • In order to re-install your programs, you will need the original master discs (if provided), or a copy of the downloaded installation files, or the account details (almost certainly the username and password) on the software publishers’ websites from where the downloads can be repeated. A lot of the software we use is, of course, nominally free and can be downloaded again – eg browsers (Chrome, Firefox etc), iTunes, Skype, Adobe Reader, Adobe Flashplayer, Malwarebytes.
  • Your antivirus program could have been sourced in several ways:
    (a) It may have been provided with the computer – in which case it should be re-installed if the computer is taken back to factory settings. It may then need program updates to be applied and it will certainly need the virus definition files to be updated.
    (b) It may have been sourced separately, either from a disc or downloaded from the internet. Again, program updates are likely and virus definition updates are inevitable.
    (c) You may be using Microsoft’s own, free, antivirus. Depending on your operating system, this may need to be downloaded again (no account name or password required) or re-enabled in the Windows Control Panel. Once more, virus definition files will definitely need to be updated.
  • When Windows has been restored, there will be many updates that it needs to do to bring it up to date with security patches, bug fixes, etc. This will almost certainly require several re-boots and two or three checks of “Microsoft Update” before all updates are installed. This is because some updates can not be installed until after earlier ones have been installed. It is tempting to leave the Microsoft updates until later, on the basis that the updates can happen automatically and in their own good time. This is fine, except that if something doesn’t work it could be because you currently have outdated Windows files. It’s better, therefore, to update Windows as soon as possible – and definitely as part of troubleshooting (should any be needed).
  • Drivers and software for peripherals may need to be installed. If the software needs to be downloaded then no account name or password will usually be needed. Peripherals you may need to consider include printers, cameras, mobile phones. Drivers for things like mice, USB flash drives, external CD/DVD players, are usually automatically installed when they are first connected after a re-installation.
  • Programs need to be re-installed and your data files replaced.

Keep Calm and Call DavidThis may not be a full list of the things that need to be done to re-install a Windows system from factory settings, but it should give you an idea of why it takes 3-7 hours (or more) to carry out.

It is very tempting to say “why not start again with a new computer?” Indeed. It is a question you definitely should ask yourself. However, apart from the re-installation of the Windows files as they were originally supplied, all of the other steps will probably be required whether you are setting up a new computer or re-installing an old one. It could well be that a new computer is indicated as this will save repeating the process when the computer would otherwise have been replaced.

It’s not easy to weigh these options against each other, but I would certainly suggest that if a computer is more than three years old then you should give serious consideration to replacing it rather than re-installing, and if it is more than five years old then it is almost certain that it is better to replace it than re-install it. All of these judgements are based on the assumption that you need to pay a professional (hopefully me!) to carry this out for you.

Is It Gonna Blow Cartoon

If you do it yourself (with little or no obvious financial outlay) then re-installation of an existing machine becomes a more favourable option. Re-installing a five year old machine can be very satisfying as all of the software crud and rubbish that’s accrued over the years will have disappeared and your system will probably run much better than it has for some time. Do bear in mind, however, that if it would take me (say) six hours to re-install for you, it might take you two to three times as long, and it can be a long and stressful journey.

Have you recently noticed a new icon that appeared by magic on your taskbar?

Windows 10 Icon

Figure 1. Windows 10 Icon

Confusingly, the icon I am talking about is the same as the icon for the “Start Menu” introduced in Windows 8.1. You can see it in figure 1. This new icon, though, is towards the righthand side of your taskbar in the area known as the “system tray” (known also by Microsoft as the “notification area”).

If you hover your mouse over this icon it will invite you to “Get Windows 10”. Well, you can’t do this – yet. What will actually happen is that your computer will inform Microsoft that you would like to download Windows 10 when it becomes available (July 29th). It will still need to be installed after it’s been downloaded.

Windows 10 will be free for all owners of a Windows 7 or Windows 8 installation who upgrade to Windows 10 during its first year. Thereafter, the price is expected to be £99.99 (source).

I would recommend not rushing into installing Windows 10 in the first few days after it is launched. However well Windows 10 has been prepared and tested, there are bound to be thousands – if not millions – of combinations of hardware and software that have not been tested. Yours could easily be one of them. It’s become customary for “normal” people to wait a month or two after the release of a new version of Windows before acquiring it. This makes sense. Let other people discover the problems and let Microsoft have a chance to sort them out before getting involved.

Windows 10 Ad
Should I upgrade after, say, a month?

That depends.

If you’ve currently got Windows 8 and don’t like it, then you may stand to gain the most by upgrading for free to Windows 10. It’s widely thought that Microsoft have actually listened to the negative feedback regarding Windows 8, so 10 should be better.

If you’ve currently got a perfectly workable and stable installation of Windows 7 then you may prefer to let sleeping dogs lie. Windows 7 works and it is still fully supported by Microsoft. Why fix it if it isn’t broken?

If you’ve currently got Windows Vista then Windows 10 may well represent an improvement. When it came out, Vista was heavily criticised for being slow and bulky and for not playing nicely with a lot of peripherals (printers and so on). Over the years, updates to Vista have smoothed off a lot of the rough edges so you may now be happy with it.

And if you are still using Windows XP then an upgrade would certainly be a good idea as it’s vulnerable to security attacks – see “Stuck With Windows XP For Now“. Whether or not your hardware is capable of running Windows 10 becomes a very important question if your hardware is old enough to be running XP.

Now for the bad news for XP and Vista users – you can not upgrade for free to Windows 10. There is a method of doing it for free, but that involves installing the “technical preview”. See this link for more information on this. I strongly suspect, though, that if you are minded to try this then you probably aren’t my average computer support client, so aren’t reading this anyway!

Whichever version of Windows you are currently running, I would strongly advise running Microsoft’s hardware checker to see if it will run Windows 10. Unfortunately, though, this checker is not yet available. You can see where it will appear as follows:-

  • Right-click on the “Get Windows 10” icon on your system tray
  • Left-click on “Check your upgrade status”
  • Left-click on the “menu” icon (four horizontal bars) at the top lefthand corner of the window that opens up.
  • Left-click on “Check your PC”

Checking Windows 10 Compatibility

Checking Windows 10 compatibility

It is not yet clear whether this checker will look at peripherals such as printers to see whether they will be compatible. It is quite common for printers to get “left behind” when new versions of the operating system (Windows) are released. This is not too surprising. If you made printers, would you want to spend lots of money creating the software (drivers and so on) for one of your old models to work with a new version of Windows? I think not.

So, there’s no easy answer to the question of whether to upgrade to Windows 10 when it is released. At the very least, though, I would recommend caution. Give it a few weeks at least, before upgrading. And do not even think of upgrading without first ensuring that you have adequate backups.

And if you are thinking of buying a new computer in the near future, it might be worth waiting a few weeks until Windows 10 is the operating system installed from the beginning.

Why might you want a bluetooth mouse?

What is Bluetooth?

Bluetooth-LogoBluetooth is a wireless radio technology for communicating over short distances using short-length UHF radio waves. It’s often used between portable and fixed devices. Examples include:

  • Telephone headsets for mobile phones
  • Headphones for music systems
  • Keyboards & mice and their computer

There are three classes of Bluetooth communication:

  • Class 1 has a range of about 100 metres
  • Class 2 has a range of about 10 metres
  • Class 3 has a range of about 1 metre

Both ends of the intended communication need to be equipped with bluetooth technology.

Why use Bluetooth rather than a normal wireless mouse with a dongle?

Sandstrom Bluetooth Mouse

Sandstrom Bluetooth Mouse

Almost all wireless mice communicate with the computer via radio signals that pass between the device (the mouse) and a receiver (often called a “dongle”) that fits into any USB port on your computer. These are extremely reliable. Bluetooth, on the other hand, usually communicates between the device (the mouse) and a bluetooth receiver built into the computer (although you can also buy bluetooth dongles that fit to a USB port). From personal experience, I would say that bluetooth is a more precarious method of communication. First of all you have to “pair” the devices (ie give them permission to communicate with each other) and then you have to keep your fingers crossed that they continue to talk to each other.

The potential benefits of a bluetooth mouse seem to me to be twofold:

  • You don’t need to keep plugging and unplugging a receiver (dongle) into your computer. This could be significant if, like me, you carry a laptop around most working days and may need to connect and disconnect the mouse three or four times a day. It’s not just taking out the dongle, it’s remembering to open up the mouse and stash the dongle safely inside it (or any other place that you’ll be able to reliably put your hands on it). The alternative is to leave the dongle in the laptop, but then you have to remember to always put the laptop away the right way up because you wouldn’t want a significant part of the weight of the laptop resting on a USB dongle.
  • A bluetooth device doesn’t take up a USB port (usually. You would probably only use a bluetooth USB dongle if your device required bluetooth but your computer didn’t have an inbuilt bluetooth receiver/transmitter). This is the real reason I embarked on my mission to find a decent bluetooth mouse. The Microsoft Surface only has one USB port. It really is a pain having to swap between a mouse dongle, a USB flash drive, an external drive, etc. It’s not just the swapping, it’s the constant aggravation with the mouse that no longer works (natch – you’ve just disconnected it!). The new MacBook also has only one USB port (or, more accurately a USB-C port). The MacBook Air has a slightly more generous 2 USB ports, but not taking up one of them with a mouse could still be advantageous.

My mission to find a decent bluetooth mouse has, I hope, finally come to an end. I found a Sandstrom bluetooth/USB mouse in PC World for the reasonable price of £14.99. The fact that it’s also got the standard dongle is great, because I know I could immediately use it on a computer support client’s computer without any messing about with “pairing” etc. In the meantime, the bluetooth connection has been working perfectly with my Microsoft Surface.

Apple Magic Mouse

Apple Magic Mouse

If you are a Mac person, then you’ll probably already know of the Apple Magic Mouse. Sadly, I know I’m not the only person to find that this mouse becomes “disconnected” far too often for a mouse that costs over £50. I don’t know if it’s the mouse or the Mac’s bluetooth receiver (the keyboard disconnects in the same way), but I eventually re-purposed my Magic Mouse (as a paperweight) and bought a less pretty but more functional Logitech mouse for my Mac Mini.

Anyway, there you have it. If you are suffering from having fewer USB ports than you would like, or are fed up with connecting and disconnecting a mouse’s dongle, then it might be worth a £15 punt on a bluetooth mouse.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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