Author Archives: Lincoln Spector
We all know about good habits – exercise, brushing your teeth, putting your dirty dishes in the sink. Here are nine good habits I’ve picked up in 35 years of working with computers. Some of them I learned the hard way. Good Habit #1: Back Up Daily When I wrote PCWorld’s Answer Line column, I got several emails a week from desperate people who had lost their data. When I asked if they had a backup, the usual response was “I was going to get around to that.” Back up to an external drive, even if you’re backing up to the cloud. The first rule of computing: Never have only one copy of anything. Second rule: Each copy should be on a different storage device. Arguably, this may no longer need to be a habit. With online backup tools such as Carbonite, you can set up your backup and forget about it. This article is part of our premium content. Join Now.Already a paid subscriber? Click here to login.
I’ll try not to make you envious. I have what is probably the fastest home Internet connection in the country – a theoretical gigabit: 1,000Mbps. And it’s synchronous, as fast going up as down. To add icing to the cake, my ISP bill is dropping almost by half while my speed increases exponentially. To make you feel better, let me tell you that my actual speeds aren’t anywhere near that. And yet the speeds I do get are many times faster than before. I’m here to discuss the experience of having a fiber to the home (FTTH) Internet service. I’ll tell you how I got this service, the experience of having it, and why you probably can’t get it where you live. Better Living With Fiber This is not the kind of fiber you want in your breakfast cereal. It’s made of glass. Fiber optic cables are extremely thin – almost a hair width – but they can handle huge amounts of data. Just one of these thin strands can carry a gigabit going down on one frequency, and another gigabit going up on another frequency. This article is part of our premium content. Join Now.Already a paid subscriber? Click here … Read More
You probably have tens of thousands of photos on your PC. Finding the one you want is a daunting challenge — unless you have a system for organizing them. Windows 10 comes with two programs that can help you organize and touch up your photos. One is plain old File Explorer — let’s assume you’re familiar with that one. The other is simply called Photos, although it’s often referred to as the Photos app. Each has advantages and disadvantages. This article contains a lot of my personal photos. For privacy reasons, I’ve avoided pictures of actual people (other than myself). When faces couldn’t be avoided, I blurred them. Why Use Windows Apps? Why Not Use Google Photos? Once upon a time, both Microsoft and Google offered very good, free programs for organizing and editing your photos: Windows Photo Gallery and Picasa. Both have since been discontinued. Google replaced Picasa with a cloud-based tool called Google Photos, which seems like an excellent choice for the job. It’s simple. It can create albums. It has face recognition. But it has a serious drawback: It’s a closed system, meaning you’re locked into organizing photos like Google wants you to — and it holds on … Read More
If you subscribe to Microsoft Office 365, you already have a full terabyte of data in the cloud. And thanks to some recent changes to OneDrive, it’s now a usable place to back up to. I wrote an article in 2014 on using sync services, such as Dropbox and Google Drive, as backup, and I disqualified Microsoft’s OneDrive because it only versioned Microsoft Office file types instead of all file types. Versioning – a necessary feature for a decent backup system – allows you to recover not just the most recent version of a file, but also any reasonably recent version. You’d want this feature in case the most recent version of a file was corrupted or if you had to walk back some of your work. Because OneDrive limited this feature to Microsoft’s own formats, it didn’t cut the grade until this summer. Now Microsoft is rolling out a OneDrive update that fixes the problem. When the feature hits your PC (I got mine weeks ago), you’ll not only be able to recover last Thursday’s version of your Excel spreadsheets, but your Photoshop files, as well. I tried recovering old versions of files in eight different formats — .pdf, .kdbx, .zip, … Read More
Windows 10 works on desktops, laptops, tablets, and laptops that can turn into tablets (sometimes called convertibles or laplets). But its touchscreen interface is far from perfect, especially when you compare it to Android or iOS. There are good reasons to use a Windows 10 laplet instead of a dedicated tablet with an Apple or Google operating system: You have access to more powerful applications, you have a real, user-controllable file system, and most Windows 10 tablets can turn into full-fledged laptops. But when you remove your keyboard and mouse, and depend entirely on touch, Windows 10 turns clumsy. I’ll describe some of Windows 10’s worst touch UI problems, and hope that someone at Microsoft reads this article. I’ll also provide the few fixes and workarounds I could find. The Big Tiny Problem Consider selecting a folder from a dropdown menu in File Explorer. It’s easy with a mouse. But when the only pointer available is your finger, you have a good chance of selecting the wrong folder. This article is part of our premium content. Join Now.Already a paid subscriber? Click here to login.
The WannaCry ransomware attack made massive headlines, and with good reason. But who’s to blame? As I see it, four separate entities caused the disasters: the criminal hackers, Microsoft, the NSA, and the victims. If any one of them had acted as they should have, the disaster would never have happened. Appearing on Friday, May 12, WannaCry – also known as WannaCrypt, WanaCryt0r, and Wanna Decryptor – infected nearly a quarter million computers in a very short time. And it didn’t just hit hapless users in one or two countries. Victims included Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), FedEx, and Deutsche Bahn. According to Wikipedia, the worst-hit countries were Russia, Ukraine, India and Taiwan. Let’s take a look at all four of the culprits, and one important hero. Culprit #1: The Hackers These are the culprits who belong in prison. They’re criminals, using their computer skills to extort money from people and organizations. Like all forms of ransomware, WannaCry is basically an extortion racket. When the malware infects a computer, it encrypts all data that it finds. Then it pops up a message demanding a ransom payment in untraceable bitcoin. If you don’t pay up in time, you lose family photos, business records, … Read More
If you’re like me (and a whole lot of other people), you have Android as your mobile operating system and Windows as your desktop OS. In fact, recent stats show Android is the dominant operating system for getting online — 38%, edging out Windows by 1%. And that’s with Windows still commanding the leading place in desktop operating systems, with an estimated 84% of all desktop PCs running Windows. So you’re a mixed-OS household, using both Android and Windows. You need access to your files, your notes, your photos, and even your music on both devices. But sharing all this information between two very different machines with two seemingly incompatible operating systems can be tricky. Here are five ways you can get Android and Windows 10 cooperating nicely. One caveat: There are a lot of versions of Android around, and they all behave differently. Your phone may not behave exactly like mine, but it should be close. For what it’s worth, I have a Nexus 6P running on Android Nougat 7.1.2. Cooperative Tactic #1: Transfer Files Via the Cloud Somewhere along the line, some genius at Google decided to discourage transferring files from computer to phone via cable. You must find … Read More
If you work a lot with spreadsheets, you know how difficult they can be once you get beyond simple tables and equations. And you know that data entry can be boring beyond belief. The more complex the table, the more confusing it is to evaluate. Shouldn’t there be quicker and easier way to do some of these tasks? Microsoft Excel has a lot of nifty shortcuts that can help relieve the tedium of data entry and provide clarity with complex tables. Here are six features built into Excel 2016 that can ease creating spreadsheets and understanding the ones you (and other people) create. And after those six, I’ll treat you to 20 keyboard shortcuts that – if you can memorize them – will make your jobs lighter. Some of these tricks will be found in earlier versions of Excel; others are exclusive to Excel 2016. Remember that if you subscribe to Office 365, you currently have Excel 2016. Tell Me What You Want To Do Do you always remember how to create a pie chart, freeze the left-hand column, or name a range? I didn’t think so. Excel’s “Tell me what you want to do” can help you complete a chore even … Read More
Personal computers make our lives easier. Typos fix themselves and numbers recalculate as you change individual figures to be added, subtracted, multiplied or divided. But PCs never really seem as easy as they should. Here are eight small programs, most of them free, that simplify common tasks and ease your burden. You probably won’t want all of them, but some will almost certainly be useful. None of these utilities come with potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) hiding in their installation routines. Install any of these, and you’ll only get the programs you want. Just remember: A few choice tools can ease the chores. But too many tools can slow down Windows. Pick the tools that seem most useful to you, personally, and let the others slide. Remove Formatting Quickly and Easily with PureText We all copy and paste text from one place to another, and when we do, the formatted text appears in its new location. But sometimes, you don’t want the italics, the special font, or the link; you just want the text. This article is part of our premium content. Join Now.Already a paid subscriber? Click here to login.
All Sorts of People Can Read Your Email. Here Are Five Ways to Send Messages Only the Recipient Can Read
Credit card numbers, Social Security Numbers, scanned passports, plans for world domination — these are only a few of the items that you may be tempted to send in an email. But unless you have encryption, you shouldn’t hit “send” on any of them. A message can pass through numerous servers on its journey and can be read on any of them. Encrypting a message can be much more complicated than encrypting a file or even a drive. There are other people involved. And they may not be as tech savvy or security conscious as you. So you need encryption that won’t confuse someone who panics at the thought of downloading a file. Another issue you need to consider: Just how much security do you need? It’s one thing to protect your information from run-of-the-mill cybercrooks. It’s another to keep your private words from the government. And remember that there is no perfect security. Even the best encryption algorithm can be cracked if someone uses a password like 123456. The goal is to find something both practical and sufficiently secure. The Weak Encryption You Probably Already Have Your messages probably already travel encrypted from your email client to your email provider’s server, … Read More