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WEB & IT SERVICES

Quality Web & IT Services, based in Doncaster, Yorkshire. Telephone +44 (0)7578 180443

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Leave Your Computer Switched On!

Now before you accuse me of wasting your electricity and contributing to global warming, I do not mean leave your computer switched on 24 hours per day 365 days of the year. But it would help to switch on your computer and leave it running for a while every now and again, especially if you do not use your computer very often and it is an older one with limited hardware resources.

Let me explain why. Over the past several months I have looked at a few computers with the following described symptoms: it takes ages to start up, it runs very slowly, it is unresponsive, programs take ages to load if at all, I cannot print anything (and I need my airline tickets), I have to force it to switch off. Sound familiar?

Such symptoms can indicated various potential problems with a computer and this is where getting a bit of background information from the customer first can quickly point me to the root cause of the problem. One question I ask is, “Do you use the computer much?” And therein has been the answer to some of their computer problems and the prompt for this item.

Many computers are now set to automatically receive operating system and program updates and install them. This ensures that software patches to vulnerabilities found in operating systems and programs, along with new features and enhancements are promptly installed to keep your computer safe and up to date with the latest features for you to use. In most cases I recommend using the automatic update and install setting for this very reason.

Updates to operating systems and programs can be relatively large download files sizes though and over a slow internet connection and on older computer equipment may take some time to download and install. The fairly recent Windows 10 anniversary update being a case in point.

What I have discovered is happening on some older computers is that the download and install of updates has commenced but the user has only switched the computer on to check a few things online, write a letter or print a few documents and then switches it off again. This does not allow the larger updates to download and install successfully. If this cycle is repeated several times, the computer quickly becomes increasingly unresponsive. The operating system struggles to keep track of where it is on the updates and switching the power off suddenly only adds to the problem the next time it is switched back on again. Sooner or later it grinds to a halt and can potentially corrupt your data by having forced it to switch off – as happened in the case of one customer. Another important consideration is that if you have anti-virus software installed, this may also not have had time to update and keep you safe from any new threats before you go online.

So, the next time you need to use your computer for some tasks, consider switching it on and leaving it for a short while to automatically download and install those important updates first. If you do not use the computer very much at all, do consider turning it on every now and again and leaving it running for a while before shutting it down correctly. There are no hard and fast rules of how long this is needed for as it depends very much on your broadband download speeds, hardware power of the computer and the number of updates that are available. As a general guide for the average user configuration I would say switching on once every 2 weeks or so for about 30-45 minutes should be sufficient. Bear in mind that an operating system service pack update could take considerably longer though.

You can check your update settings from the Windows 10 Start > Settings > Update and Security.

WordPress 4.6 Pepper

I have updated all of my customer’s and my own WordPress based websites to the newly released version 4.6.

You should always update WordPress to the latest version.

Protect Your Inbox

If you are having problems with lots of annoying spam emails clogging up your inbox, read on to learn what software I recommend and best of all you can have a free subscription for 12 months (at the time of writing this blog!).

I use the Thunderbird email client for all my email. I have several email accounts and this brings with it an increased amount of spam emails that I receive.

I have tried various solutions to cut down on spam email that I receive. Web based email accounts like Google’s Gmail and Microsoft’s Outlook are very good at filtering out any spam email. I am mainly talking here about email accounts linked to the various websites I own or host for customers.

About 18 months ago I purchased a year’s subscription to use an anti-spam program on my computer. The program did catch a lot of the spam emails but not all. Over time I noticed that an increasing amount of spam emails were getting through. I changed various settings without much success and eventually contacted the technical support department for advice. I carefully followed the instructions given by the software developer’s support department with limited effect.  As the subscription drew to an end, I looked round for an alternative.

During my search for anti-spam email programs I came across Cloudmark DesktopOne. Two versions were available, a Basic Mode which was free and an annual Pro Mode subscription costing $19.95. Yes, I had also noticed that the amount was crossed out and sure enough it turned out that a year’s subscription was free. I clicked on the Upgrade to Pro button, followed the on-screen instructions and downloaded my free software complete with a subscription for 12 months.

The Cloudmark DesktopOne installed perfectly and was easy to configure; it fully integrated with the Thunderbird email client and monitors my email accounts on various servers. That was a few months ago now and I have to say it works exceptionally well indeed. Spam emails automatically go to a spam folder (you can change this action in the settings). I quickly scan the spam folder as a double-check and then delete all the spam, it is that easy. If you want to protect your email Inbox, you will not go far wrong with Cloudmark DesktopOne. Get it quickly while it is free along with a 12 month subscription.

Old Computer Linux Installation

toshiba_linuxlite2Several weeks ago I visited a customer to configure a wifi printer to his router.  During my visit he asked if anything could be done with an old laptop computer he had.  The laptop was several years old and running Microsoft Windows XP.  Although the battery had long since given up on holding any charge, it worked perfectly well with the mains adapter connected and it was occasionally used for browsing the internet and playing the odd game of Solitaire etc.  It was described as running very slowly.  I had a look at the laptop and it was a Toshiba Satellite Pro A200.

 

Leaving aside that Windows XP support was discontinued some time ago and the potential risks involved in connecting it to the Internet, the computer had minimal hardware specifications, 1GB of RAM memory and a Celeron M processor.  In modern computer terms it would be fair to say it was obsolete and had seen better days.  But having a keen interest in Linux operating systems myself and having rescued a number of similar computers destined for the correct disposal bin at the local recycling centre, I explained to my customer that there is something that can be done to extend the life of old computer equipment.

 

I informed him that I could install a Linux based operating system on the computer.  It did not surprise me that he had not heard of Linux; I find most people haven’t.  I gave the example of another customer last year with exactly the same circumstances.  I explained how I had installed Linux on the computer and spent about half an hour with him showing and explaining the minor differences, from a computer user point of view (technically they are very different), between Windows and Linux operating systems and from this customer knowing nothing about Linux to how he now uses it on a daily basis while sitting watching the television to browse the internet and work on documents using a free office package.   I concluded with my biggest selling point that the operating system and most of the programs are free.  I only charged a small amount for the installation, configuration and time taken to show him the system.  After configuring the wifi printer to the router, I left him to have a think about his old laptop computer and having Linux installed.

 

Well, last week he gave me a ring and asked if I could put Linux on.  I picked the computer up at the weekend and after checking it over and installing Linux Lite OS, it is ready to go back.  There are many different Linux operating systems available and they are called distributions, or more commonly abbreviated to just distros.  My favourite Linux operating system of choice for low powered older computers is Linux Lite OS (www.linuxliteos.com/).  I have tried about a dozen or so different Linux distros in the past and found Linux Lite to work the best with older computer equipment.  I do have the latest version of Ubunto 16.04 LTS installed on one of my other computers and Raspbian on my Raspberry Pie.

 

The old Toshiba computer now has a bit more of a spring in its step and runs reasonably fast again.  The operating system is up to date and it has the LibreOffice www.libreoffice.org/ software installed, along with a Solitaire equivalent game I put on to keep him happy.  There are many other free programs included in the Linux Lite OS package, media player, web browser, email client, cd burning etc etc.  To finish off I also installed the free Clam anti-virus program and downloaded all updates.

 

So there you have it, there is an alternative to scrapping that old computer and alternative operating systems to Microsoft Windows.  If you would like to know more about Linux or would like to have it installed on your old (or new!) computer, submit a support ticket or give me a ring.

 

Windows 10 Taskbar Not Working

My friend rang me this morning because his wife was having problems with the Windows 10 taskbar on her laptop computer. None of the buttons on the taskbar were working when clicked. Everything else appeared to be working fine. It had been like this for a while and it had now reached the annoying stage. The usual programs she used could be started from the shortcuts on the desktop.

I called round to see him later and sure enough the Taskbar was unresponsive as he had described. Placing the cursor over the start button and the other icons did highlight them, but nothing happened when they were clicked.

After a quick look round the computer settings, I noticed that she was using the Avast free anti-virus program. I temporarily disabled real-time scanning but this had no effect on the Taskbar. I then went into the Avast settings to check the update status. The program signatures were up to date and the last check was dated today, however I did see that an Avast program update was available. I clicked on the update button and followed the on-screen instructions. After successfully installing the program update I rebooted the computer when prompted to do so. Windows 10 started up normally and the Taskbar was working fine again.

You may be thinking that this is an unexpected solution to an unresponsive taskbar, but it is sometimes worth temporarily disabling anti-virus programs and or firewalls to see if this has any effect on unusual computer problems you might be having. It is also a timely reminder to regularly check your computer for any operating system or program updates to keep it as secure as possible and functioning correctly. Many updates are automatically applied, but not all, so it is worth checking from time to time.

Moodle Update

I have updated Moodle to version 3.1 on my server. Contact me if you would like your Moodle installation updating or hosting.

iPod Touch 4th Gen Battery Replacement

I replaced a battery in an iPod Touch 4th generation this afternoon. It is not the easiest of tasks, especially as I had not replaced one before. It is now working again and I currently have it charging up ready to return to the owner. One tip I would add to the YouTube videos showing you how to do this, is to use a hair dryer to warm up and soften the glue around the shield covering the battery after removing the screws. I found it easier to prise away from the circuit board without having to apply too much pressure and risk damaging the circuit board. Applying a little heat also made it easier to lift the battery away from the copper foil heatsink. Someone appeared to have been very generous with the glue during manufacture.

Oh, and one more thing. Those of us of a slightly older generation attempting this repair will find a large magnifying glass comes in very handy.

Moodle Installation

I have decided to write a few basic IT training courses using the Moodle platform. Moodle is a learning platform designed to provide educators, administrators and learners with a single robust, secure and integrated system to create personalised learning environments.

The Moodle installation on the server went smoothly and all I need to do now is learn how to use it to create a training course. Hopefully this should not take too long and I will put the first eLearning course on soon.

Server Downtime

One of my hosting providers servers went down early this morning and has been offline for several hours. The server hosts this website and those of two customers. My server monitoring checks alerted me early this morning and I have kept customers informed by text message during the incident. The server is now back online again. I have checked customer websites and they are all working correctly. I apologise to customers for the downtime and any inconvenience caused.

Please keep your contact information up to date so that I can let you know of any future system issues.

Thank you for your understanding. I will be sending customers affected by this incident a more detailed email.

I have received the following report from the hosting provider detailing the cause…

The server was rebooted to finalise the install of our KernelCare software, mentioned in our recent newsletter. Unfortunately after the reboot, the server failed to return to its previous online state. Investigations started immediately and we identified that the likely cause of the issue was severe hardware failure.

Our attempts to repair the server proved futile, despite our best efforts. Ultimately, when these efforts did not pay off, we decided to install the hard drives from the old server into a brand new server to minimise any further downtime.