Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Invasion of Windows 10.

So..you got the Windows 10 upgrade, huh?

Recently, Windows 10 has been marked as a "Critical Update" for Windows 7/8.x users.  This means if you've got Windows setup to automatically update, you're going to automatically be upgraded to Windows 10.  (At least until July 29, 2016, when it's not longer a free upgrade.)

This automatic update/upgrade has been referred to as a 'nasty-trick' played by Microsoft.

And if you click that Red X in the upper right-hand corner, they're going to install the upgrade for you, you're not actually cancelling out of it.

But, that's okay.  If you got the upgrade, and just really don't want it, there's good news:  In the first 30 days after the upgrade, you can roll back to your previous version of Windows!  But, let me be clear, you have to roll back in the first 30 days after the upgrade.  If you wait longer than that, it's not an option.

How-to-Geek has a good step-by-step on how to Downgrade to Windows 7/8.x on their website.

However, if you're daring enough to keep Windows 10, at least for the first week or two, and try it out, you might find that you like it.  It's good a fair number of ways Microsoft is hooking you in the way Apple might.  But, overall, the only significant complaint I've heard is the Windows Start Menu is closer to Windows 7, but people just hate the Metro tiles still.

As a result, I'd recommend giving Classic Shell a try.  They let you swap out the Windows 10 hybrid Start Menu for the Windows 7 version we're all more used to now.  You even have several ways to make that Windows 7 version look.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Improving Computer Performance (PC & Mac)

Improving your computer performance
Upgrading your computer hardware

If you've worked through all the typical things to clean up your computer, such as using CCleaner, making sure your system is free of spyware and other things with Malwarebytes, even used something like Defraggler to optimize your spinning hard disk for PC's, or OnyX for Mac to make sure things are as optimized as you can make them, the next step to consider are what hardware upgrades you can do to extend the life of your computer, increasing your performance.

It's been my experience that there are two upgrades you can do to get the best 'bang for your buck' when it comes to relatively modern computers.  First is RAM.  RAM is the work space your computer uses to run applications.  Usually it's the least expensive upgrade you can do.

The second upgrade you can do is trade up from a spinning hard disk to a Solid State Drive.  This is a hard drive that has no moving parts, but is based on faster, non-volatile memory technology, the same sort that's used in USB drives.

There are several ways to go about figuring out what you need, but I'm going to recommend using Crucial to learn what sort of options you might have available.  There may be better deals to have, but it's been my experience that Crucial does a decent job offering things at a fair price.  If you want to search out other options, I would encourage you to do so.  I'll list some of my recommendations at the end of this article.

If you'll point your browser at the Crucial website, you'll find on the front page a section called "Crucial System Scanner."  Check the box and click the button below it.  This will download a CrucialScan application, which you'll want to run.

Running the application will open a new web page for you on the Crucial website.  This page will be tailored specifically for the computer (PC or Mac) that you run it on.  As you can see in my example, it shows you how many memory slots you have in your computer, and what's currently in them.  Additionally, it tells you what the maximum amount of memory you can have in your system is.  To the right, you can simply purchase the RAM upgrade you want to have shipped to you.

You can also see below the memory your system has, some details about your hard drive.  In the lower left side of the window, they show you options for upgrading your hard disk to a Solid State Drive (SSD) for increased speed and performance.  I'd recommend a drive at least the same size as yours, or the next size up.  (The rule of thumb for storage is that you'll find and keep more data if you have room for it on your drive.)

As promised, some of the SSD recommendations I have outside of those offered by Crucial.  I'm a fan of the Samsung EVO and Samsung PRO lines, currently the 850.

The EVO line is meant for consumers, and has a 3 year warranty.  At the time of this writing, I see that the 500GB Samsung EVO 850 is pricing at about $150.

The PRO line is meant for professionals, and comes with a 10 year warranty.  Again, at the time of this writing I see that the 512GB Samsun PRO 850 is pricing at about $220.

There is a new Samsung EVO line, the 750, that's meant to be a lower, entry-level with a lower price and size options.  Tom's Hardware gives a review and some details about it, along with some of the average price range.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Remote Access Applications - Mac and PC

Remote Support or Remote Home Access for the Mac and PC

Previously I talked about several options to let you get back to your home workstation, or perhaps you're the "IT-Guy" in the family and you need to help some friends or relatives who aren't nearby with a computer problem.  I've found a couple of videos that will give you some additional information about the products that I talked about for remote-controlling a Mac or PC.

Remote Utilities for PC's.

Currently, my software of choice for remote access to PC's is Remote Utilities.  You can setup a system with host-based software, so you can get in any time you need to, or you can have someone download an agent-version that allows for a one-off remote-control of their system to help them out with a support issue.  The host-mode might be more useful for assisting aging relatives who look to you as their defacto tech support; while the agent-version would be something where you get a call from a friend who has a virus scare.

Remote Utilities has their own Youtube channel with a number of videos, but this is a simple install video that will help you get familiar with what it looks like and how it might work for you.

TeamViewer for PC's and Mac's.

When it comes to Mac's, the product that many have come to use is called TeamViewer.  Much like Remote Utilities, it has a host-based software so you can leave it running on a computer at home to get back to.  Plus it also has what they call a QuickSupport version that you can have your friend or relative download to do one-off support.

This video by JAGTutorials demonstrates how you can get in and setup TeamViewer, as well as how to use it to remote control another computer.  This demonstration is done on a PC, but works very similarly on the Mac.

While both tutorials may be a version old, their functionality hasn't changed noticeably, mostly just the website look.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Cleaning up your PC - CCleaner

Cleaning up your home PC (or Mac) with Piriform's CCleaner.

From time to time, you feel like your home computer is running slow and you'd like to tune things up to regain some of your lost feeling of quickness.  One of the tools useful for doing that is Piriform's CCleaner.

CCleaner is a utility that's good for going through your home PC to look through your system and remove any temporary files, cookies, and so forth that you no longer need but may now be dragging your system down a little.  Removing this 'cruff' will free up some space, and give your computer less to do when looking through it's temporary storage space, making you feel like you're regaining some of your speed.

Malware Doctor has done a very in-depth tutorial that covers far more than the regular home user needs to know about, but it's very good at showing you the first two key sections that you'll want to know about and see how to use:  Cleaner and Registry.

Cleaner is the primary section that removes old data, temporary files, things your computer no longer needs and frees up space that isn't really in use any longer.  There are a few things you may decide you want to un-check from the defaults, such as browser history, cookies, recently typed URL's; but that's up to you to decide.

The secondary section is the Registry.  It's debated back and forth if this really helps or not.  I believe that it does, but remember you really only see this help out mostly a boot time.  It may not be something you need or want to clean up regularly, but it's generally not something that will hurt you to do; as long as you backup the things you're removing.  (Which is covered in the tutorial.)

Tech Coach Albert also has a more basic tutorial about CCleaner, including download and installation instructions.  (Both tutorials are on an older version of the application, but they still apply to the current version.) He doesn't cover more than the Cleaner section, but it's again, the primary section you want to know how to comfortably get around in.

As a final word, this application is also available for the Macintosh, and the instructions in Tech Coach Albert's tutorial will apply to that version too.

Fighting Malware - Malwarebyes for the PC

Software to help fight Malware

If you've got your antivirus running, but from time to time you feel like you might have something 'funny' going on, there are tools out there I've talked about before to use to help double-check and make sure you're squeaky-clean.  One of those tools is Malwarebytes.

They have a paid version that adds some real-time protections for you for $25/year.  I'm not against the paid version, but I typically leave the active defenses to the antivirus and use the free-for-home-use version as a double-check and more in depth cleaner.  The free version doesn't run any scheduled scans, but it's an on-demand version only.  You have to tell it to run a scan.  However, if it does find things, it will work to remove them if that's what you tell it to do.

I'm including a video clip here from Tech Coach Albert that's a beginners guide to Malwarebytes Anti-Malware software.  This video should walk you through installing and running the application, as well as what to do when it finds things you should have removed.

Just remember:  If Malwarebytes finds a problem, unless you're 100% sure, it's probably something you want to let it remove.

Backing up at Home - Mac Advanced Edition

Backing your Mac up at Home - Advanced Edition

So you've bought into the idea that you really do need to backup your data at home.  Good.  But you want a little more details on just how this is done?  Or maybe you want to have more than just your 3 copies of data from the "3-2-1 backup" rule, because you're running a little home-business and you want to not be down while you wait on getting your Mac back up and running.  This is the place to get that figured out.

Time Machine

First thing, let's make sure you're using your built-in Time Machine backup that came with your Mac to get your regular, daily backups.  This video from Tech Talk America gives a good demonstration on how to setup your Time Machine backup:

Bootable Clone Drive

Now that you've got your base backup running, let's talk about that extra layer, the 4th backup set that you won't likely do every night, but something you might do once a week.  This is a cloned backup.  For making this, I recommend the software by Bombich: Carbon Copy Cloner.

You can use this as free software, in manual mode.  However, for $40, you can get the extra features, including scheduling your backups.  If this is for a home-business, I highly recommend buying the full software.

Once again, I'm going to refer you to David A. Cox for a video tutorial about how to setup making a bootable, cloned copy of your Macintosh HD.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Backups at Home.

Backing up your data at home.

At work, you let the IT Department work about backing up your data, right?  You just have to follow their rules to make sure it happens.  You know, put the stuff on the server drive, that F-drive, or your G-drive, or maybe the H-drive.  Or maybe you're at Office 365 shop, and they want you to put it all in your OneDrive so it's backed up.

But, there's no IT Department to really help you with how to do things at home.  So I'm going to go over a few things to help you over that hurdle.  First we'll talk about the basic rule of backup and then we'll talk about both Mac and PC options for doing that.

You've heard that there are two things that are certain in life:  Death and Taxes.  I'm here to tell you that now there are three things that are certain in life:  Death, Taxes and Data Loss.  You will, at some point in your life, have data loss.  Your hard drive will crash and stop working, either stop spinning with a standard hard drive, or will become non-functional as a Solid State Drive.  As a result, you want to have your data backed up.  You have photos and videos now that you're storing on your computer, not just the negative and film versions that we used to have.  When that drive fails, (not if, but when), you will want to have those precious memories stored somewhere you can get them back.

The basic rules for business are still valid for home.  It's referred to as the "3-2-1 Backup Rule."  You want to have at least 3 copies of your data, on 2 different media types, and store 1 copy off site.

"3 copies of my data?!"  Yes, 3 copies.  But I'll point out that the live, real data you're using, on your computer, your laptop, your Mac...those are the first copy.  So, all you need is 2 more after that.  Not to worry, there's lots of options out there to help you with this, including some built-in options with your typical operating system.

So, you have 1 copy of the data on your computer; great.  Now we need to make a backup.  Normally this is all that anyone thinks about, having that external hard drive you copy data to and it either sits on your desk with your computer all the time, or gets put away in the corner.  The problem is, that backup (and I'm glad you have it), is still susceptible to the loss of your home, such as fire, flood, tornado, etc...  But, you still should have it.

You want that copy for quick access to restore onto your computer when that hard drive fails, or the laptop is lost or destroyed by accident.  Your Insurance Company may get you a new computer, but they won't get your data back; only you can do that with backups.

Now, if whatever caused your computer to fail and lose data was something like a tornado, fire, flood, or other natural disaster, you want to have your data somewhere safe.  And that may not have been in your own home.  A water-tight fire safe may, or may not meet your needs.  As a result, you want one of those copies of your data off site.

Typically these days, that is done with a cloud backup service.  There are a number of options, and many of them are very reasonably priced.  They can be as simple as a set-it-and-forget it thing.  Once installed, it dutifully backs up your data on your computer every day, any time you have a live internet connection.  This meets the need of having one of your copies off site.

Are these services safe? Can I trust my data to them?  I'm sure there may be exceptions to the rule, but overall, this is how these companies make a living, with multiple, large data stores, encrypting your data with your username and password.  If they don't have your password, they can't get at your data.  If they could get at your data, there wouldn't be the trust in their service necessary to keep doing business.  I'm sure there's more depth we could go into on this, but suffice to say that if you're storing your photos and videos, tax returns and general documents there and using the provided encryption options, then you're going to be fine.

Backing up your PC.

Windows comes with its own built-in backup software, called Windows Backup.  This should allow you to set up regular backups to an external hard drive in a file format that the Windows operating system can use to restore data from.

Windows 7 lets you setup those backups to your external hard drive under Control Panel > System Maintenance > Backup and Restore.  There's more details and some specifics on how to set that up on the Microsoft website under the article: Backup Your Files.

Windows 10 users can find similar details about how to setup your Windows Backup here: Get Started with Windows 10 - Backup.

If you'd rather not use the built-in tools from Microsoft, there are other, free for home use, options out there. The one I prefer is Macrium Reflect - Free Version.  They can let you make an exact copy of your hard drive (called cloning), or you can make file backups of your whole drive or just your data.

Backing up your Mac.

Apple's built-in backup is called Time Machine.  Much like the PC version, once you set it up, it should run automatically to an external drive on a schedule to make sure you have a copy of your data there as well.  It will do the whole computer, not just your data, by default.  But, you can go in and tell it to exclude things like your App folder, System folder, etc.. if all you want is your data.

Setting up your Time Machine backup is very straightforward.  In your System Preferences under Time Machine, you'll be able to turn it on, and plug in an external hard drive.  Select that drive, and make sure the control panel knows it, and you are good to go.

The key to remember when using Time Machine, is that once your external hard drive fills up, it will start dumping old, duplicate data.  So, you may, at some point, lose the ability to go back to the very first version of a document you've revised a number of times.  Normally, that might not matter, but you need to be aware of it.

Again, if you decide you don't want to use the built-in tool from Apple, there are third party applications you can use.  One that I'm fond of is Carbon Copy Cloner.  It will also let you do that exact duplicate of your hard drive (called cloning), but will also simply copy files to another drive for you, even on a schedule.  Unfortunately, it's not free for home use.  It comes with a 30 day trial, but costs $40 for the application for that, which often includes updates.  Personally, I believe it's worth the price if you might want to use its features.

Backing up to the Cloud.

Backing up to the cloud comes down to finding a service that meets your needs when it comes to price and service.  Some services allow for you to backup an unlimited amount of data from one computer, some from up to 3 or 5 computers, some limit the size of a file to between one hundred megabytes and two gigabytes and some limit the amount of data you can back up to a few hundred gigabytes or a terabyte.  (All of which may be enough data for the 'average' home user.)  So, the things to consider when looking for a service:

  • Price.
  • Number of computers you can back up.
  • File size limits.
  • Overall data size limits.
There may be other factors that you should consider, but most likely if you need to weigh those items, then you're a more advanced user and your skills likely exceed the scope of this article.

Here are several services I've used, and I think they may meet the needs of most home users:

All of these services come in around $60/year for a single computer.  They each have a little bit different feature set, depending on your needs.  They're all compatible with both Mac and PC.  And if what you want is to have a copy off site and in the cloud, they should all meet that need.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Remote Access to your Workstation at Home

Remote Access to your Computer.

There are a few times when you might find you need to access your computer remotely:

  • You're on vacation or visiting family and realize you need to get at something back home, such as photos or a video you took of something.
  • You're the 'computer savvy' one in the family, and a relative needs some help but you don't want to or can't drive over to help them out.
  • You're in the office and realize you forgot the most current draft on your computer at home!
  • You're in a meeting and realize you forgot a file or two for your presentation!

For me, the most common thing for me is I'm the IT-Guy in the family, so I get requests for help with this, that or something else.  Sometimes it's something simple as: How do I do XYZ?  But, it's a 15 minute drive over a 5 minute fix, then a 15 minute drive back.  Now some things, you can walk folks through on the phone.  Some things, it's just easier to show them or if it's something they'll likely never do again, do it for them, (like turn on automatic updates.)

I've found that sometimes, being able to do some of these things remotely helps me feel more productive, because I can reclaim the windshield time for something else.  One of the key things of being able to do this is not to have to deal with any of the network configuration typically necessary to allow remote access to work.  As a result, there are a few products you can use on each end, that use a service in the middle to make the connection.

When it comes to PC's, I've become fond of the free utility: Remote Utilities.

Remote Utilities can be used in a couple of ways.  If there's a computer you need to remote into semi-regularly, you can set it up with a Host Connection, then with the Client software, you can connect to it from anywhere you have a working internet connection.  If you need to use it for a one-off instance, there's a Agent that you can have the remote party download and then read you the InternetID and Password over the phone and let you get in to remote-control the system.

While Remote Utilities supports PC, Android and iOS, it doesn't (yet) support OS X.  And you can use it for a number of Host Mode computers before you have to go beyond the free version.

When it comes to Mac's (and PC's), I will typically rely on: TeamViewer.

TeamViewer works much like Remote Utilities in that you can setup a full version in Host Mode to let you access it any time as long as you have an internet connection with an ID and Password, additionally, they have the option of having a one-off use with their QuickSupport app you can have your remote end download and run, then read off the ID and Password for you to get in and help them out.

This is also free for personal use, but the business version quickly gets more pricey.  It does, however, support PC's, Macs, Linux, ChromeOS, Android, iOS, Windows App and Blackberry.

For a paid application, I would suggest: Parallels Access.

Parallels Access is a reasonably priced software as a service for remote-access.  Like it's free-for-personal-use cousins listed above, it lets you get into a computer setup in Host Mode, but isn't as focused on the one-off use case.  It costs as little as $19.99 a year to get started on up to 5 Host Mode computers.

Parallels Access supports Mac, PC, iOS and Android and is focused mainly on getting back to your Mac or PC from your mobile device.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Mac Startup Key Combonations

Key combinations for booting your Intel-based Mac.

When you are having trouble with your Mac, there are some key combinations you might want to know about in order to help you do some of your own troubleshooting, especially if your system is outside it's AppleCare or base Apple warranty.  There's a great reference on the Apple website that I discovered while listening to Adam Christianson's Maccast podcast.  (His details can be found in the December 29, 2015 show notes, under the OS X Startup modes and keys section.)

Some of these modes are really for more advanced users, such as Single User Mode or Verbose Mode, however there are several handy modes that the average user may find useful:  Safe ModeRecovery Mode or the testing modes for diagnostics - Apple Hardware Test (post June 2013 Macs) or Apple Diagnostics (pre-June 2013).

Apple Support Article: Startup key combinations for Mac.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Malwarebytes for Mac

Malwarebytes comes to the Apple platform.

It's been a good long while since I posted, but I wanted to start sharing some things I've uncovered that are worth having out here at least for reference.

The tool that I've recommended for using on PC's for some time now, as an extra step to find and remove malware/spyware and other such unwanted applications that have made there way into your system is now available for the Mac.

Like the PC version, when you install this on the Mac, it'll want to do an update to make sure it has the most current version of it's database, as well as make sure what you installed from is the most current version of the application.  With all of that done, you'll click the scan button and let it do its thing.

When completed, if it finds anything it doesn't like, you'll be presented with a list of things it would like to bring to your attention.  Generally speaking, if it finds something, you want to remove it.  Make sure everything is selected, likely with a check-box, then tell it to remove the items.  When it's done that, it make tell you to reboot your Mac; please do so.  That's it.

I use this tool when I think there's something "funny" going on in the system, or I suspect there's a virus or malware doing something I don't want it to do.  Such as serving up "extra" advertising or pop-ups when I surf the web.

Good luck and hopefully this is helpful!