PDF- An acronym now in Webster Dictionary!

Merriam Webster dictionary result for pdf:

noun

\ ˌpē-(ˌ)dē-ˈef  \

variants: or PDF

Definition of pdf

: a computer file format for the transmission of a multimedia document that is not intended to be edited further and appears unaltered in most computer environmentsalso : a document that uses this format

 

PDFDictionary result for PDF:

pēˌdēˈef/

Noun COMPUTING

a file format that provides an electronic image of text or text and graphics that looks like a printed document and can be viewed, printed, and electronically transmitted.

a file in PDF format.

“I sent him a PDF of the article”

 

So how did this acronym become a word?  Used as a noun quite frequently, this three letter acronym has changed how we save and handle files.  If you want to create content to share with others, pdf file format is the best.

Pdf files are self-contained, they are easy to send to a printer, they are compatible with most browsers and the format is great for setting up interactive forms.

A PDF file itself contains all the formatting, fonts, and layout designs. They will render the same way every time without relying on the operating system, hardware, or software.  Sharing a Microsoft word document with others can result in the end user losing formatting and the document not looking the way you intended.  Because PDF files are self-contained, print shops will happily accept them. They often won’t accept files created in Microsoft applications or other kinds of productivity software.

PDFs are going to look the same to all users, no matter what computer or browser they use to open the file.  As long as they have a program that will open pdf files, you can be sure your file will look the same way on other devices.   Page layouts, images and formatting will not be affected.

You can save most files as a pdf document and if your software doesn’t have that option, there are pdf printers you can install that behave just like a printer.  Once installed, you tell it to print, choose the pdf printer and it lets you save the document as a pdf so you can send it on.  This can be handy if you are worried someone may edit your content.

Using a pdf format for forms like applications or feedback forms are a better choice than a Microsoft or other productivity software option.  This is simply because pdf files use fixed fields for input and the person filling out the forms can’t delete fields or miss a question.  When you create a pdf form, you can add instructions to the users in the margins to help them file it out.  It is also possible to have formulas calculate amounts in a pdf.   There are some services like Adobe Sign and DocuSign that let you add a signature securely.  (To create these kinds of files, you may need more advanced software than programs like Adobe Reader.)

While there are good things about using both browsers and specialist PDF readers, just the fact that the person receiving your file has a browser installed on their system, will allow them to be able to open your file.

The cons of pdf format are the opposite of the good things we just discussed!  In a pdf document composing text, editing content, handling images and collaborating with others on a document are not easy.  If you need these things, it’s best to stick with your favorite document program (Microsoft Word, etc.), and save the pdf file for the final product.

Dagscammit! On Phone Scams

“Hello, my name is Bob with Microsoft tech support; we’ve detected viruses and hackers on your computer.”

“Hello, my name is Joe with Microsoft tech support; we’re showing that your Windows license is invalid.”

“Hello, my name is Sam with Microsoft tech support; our records show that you’re eligible for a refund on your Microsoft product licenses.”

And on. And on. And on.

Phone scams from people claiming to be from Microsoft have been running rampant for the last couple of years. We see it all the time. No matter what the script, the end goal is either to weasel you out of money, or to remote in to your system, fuss around a bit, and charge an exorbitant amount for the “service.” And, of course, to sign you up for a three-year protection plan for only two hundred more dollars!

I’m sure that the majority of people reading this have gotten one of these calls. The scammers doing this are persistent, frustrating, and frequently use enough technical jargon to confuse a layperson. They hit on the key phrases that you see in the news—things like viruses, worms, Russian hackers, or Trojans. Your average person doesn’t necessarily know exactly what these things are, but that person knows one thing: they’re bad.

So what do I do? Really, the answer is straightforward: hang up the phone.

If they haven’t taken you down the path yet, you can just hang up on them. The most they can do then is to try to call you back and convince you to grant them access, and you can keep hanging up or you can block their number.

What if I already paid them? There shouldn’t be a huge concern here, either. Take your system to a repair shop (like us!), explain your situation, and leave it with them to run scans and check for open doors that will allow the scammers back into your machine. Change passwords to anything that might be compromised—if you’re the type of person who stores a spreadsheet or a document with all of your passwords written out, then yes, this means all of them. If you don’t store passwords in a document, but you have accounts that automatically log you in (if you don’t need to enter a password every time you access your email or Facebook, then the password is stored on your machine), you’ll need to change those passwords to insure your security.

The next step is to contact your bank to reverse the charges on whatever card you gave the scammers. In our experience, the banks have dealt with this kind of thing no small number of times, and it’s usually a minimal hassle to reverse the charges.

Once you’ve verified that your system is clean, reversed the charges, and changed your passwords, you should be in the clear.

What if they’re in my machine right now? Turn it off. If it’s a desktop computer, just pull the power cord from the back. If it’s a laptop, hold the power button down for 5 seconds to force the machine down. Alternatively, if you’re using a wired internet connection, you can pull the Ethernet wire from your computer. Because you’re no longer connected to the internet, they can no longer do anything.

In this case, you’ll still want to change passwords and have a repair shop scan your system for unwanted software—but at least you haven’t paid the scammers anything.

Another thing to note is that these scammers, once they think they had you on the line, may try calling back repeatedly to convince you. The thing to do is keep hanging up, ignore their calls, or block their number. We’ve also (very rarely) received reports of these guys cursing and yelling at people once they wised up to the scam, so if you’re going to confront them, then be prepared for a little vulgarity.

If you’ve had your system remoted into by a scam support company, definitely take it to professionals to have it looked at. You can always call About-Face at (413) 863-5447 if you’re uncertain whether you were scammed, or if you have any questions.

The Little Insecurities

Computers have now advanced to the point where we use them as an everyday tool, and, just like pretty much anything else that we do on a daily basis, we like to make things easier on ourselves. For example, if you’re running into a store for just a few minutes, maybe you won’t bother to lock your car in order to simplify your life when you return with bags in hand.

These same sorts of little things apply to computers, too, and just like the example above, they can lead to insecurities.

One of these insecurities is saving passwords in your web browser. This is something that many people do for their emails, social media sites, etc., so that when they go to that website, they don’t have to bother entering a user name and password. Convenient, right?

Problem is, when the browser is saving passwords, it’s incredibly easy for anyone with access to your machine to get your passwords. There are certain tools that will do this automatically, or, alternatively, if someone knows where to go in the browser settings then they can access your passwords there. This vulnerability is fine for some people, depending on use (maybe you live alone and no one else ever uses your computer), but please use it with the knowledge that it’s not secure.

There are small programs that you can use that secure all of your passwords in a database secured by a master password that can help with this minor inconvenience (we recommend Keepass).

Another insecurity that can have a detrimental effect is simply online ads. Ads are, of course, annoying. They can also slow your system down, since your machine has to reach out to whatever server is hosting those ads in addition to the webpage that you are trying to view before it can load the page.

Ads are also a substantial vector for malware. These ads can either have a small payload of software that infects your machine or they can redirect you to various sites. Some of these sites are just more advertising, but some of them want you to download junk programs. You’ve probably seen things like Your computer has 3,051 problems impacting its performance. Download now! You’ll often get redirected to this sort of garbage.

In the worst case of redirects, you’ll dive headfirst into a scam. They can take you to a page with a popup that won’t let you close it, claiming that either your hard drive is failing or your computer is infected, and Call Microsoft support at <phone number>. Note that nothing is wrong with your machine; you’re simply on a website with an obnoxious popup. If you call the number, you will not be talking to Microsoft support; you’ll be talking to a scammer. You can usually remedy this issue by rebooting your system or crashing your browser.

But why bother? You could avoid all of these little invasions from malicious ads by simply installing an adblocker (we recommend uBlock Origin for Chrome or Firefox). It’s a nice, straightforward way to keep yourself secure against junk programs and scams.

So those are just a couple of small insecurities that live out there, constant but little threats and annoyances that we deal with every day. There are ways to secure yourself against them—very small things you can install and use in order to fight back.

As always, however, your best defense is yourself and your awareness. Analyze things that you’re seeing online. Keep your head up.

If you ever run into any issues like these that you’re uncertain about, feel free to give us a call at (413) 863-5447, and we’ll steer you in the right direction.

Buying a New Computer

It’s confusing, and even a little scary. You’re getting ready to put down hundreds of dollars, and want to be sure you’re getting a computer you’ll be happy with, but… How much should you spend? What should you look for? What do all of those “specs” mean? How many GHz or GB or whatever do you need?

 

Let’s take away some of the mystery. Just like there are various kinds of cars, and pricing directly reflects the quality of what you get, there are various kinds of computers, and pricing vs. quality (and performance) works the same way. This post will give you some working knowledge about purchasing a new (Windows) PC.

 

Laptop or Desktop?

 

First, decide whether you want a desktop or a laptop computer.

Desktops are good because:

  • They are upgradeable
  • They tend to last a bit longer than laptops (due mainly to better airflow and cooling)
  • They stay where they are

Desktops can be bad because:

  • They’re not portable
  • They take up more space than laptops
  • The wires! All those wires!

 

Laptops are good because:

  • They’re portable. They’re self-contained, so you can use them anywhere
  • They can run on battery, even when the power is out
  • You can hook them into a display, keyboard and mouse and make them act like a desktop

 

Laptops can be bad because:

  • They’re portable, making them theft targets, or something you might leave behind
  • They’re not as upgradeable as desktops
  • Because they tend to move around, they are more likely to get damaged

 

How Much Do I Spend?

 

Price determines what you get. Here’s the breakdown, generally, for new PC’s (not Macs!):

If you spend:                     You can expect:

$200-400                            A low-end system; It’s a Kia.

$401-700                            A mid-range consumer system; it’s a Chevy or a Ford commuter car

$700-900                            A higher-end system; it has more features, power windows, heated seats

$900+                                  A high-end or business system; think Lexus, or Cadillac

$1500+                                The start of gaming and high-performance systems; sports cars

 

What About GHz and GB and That Stuff?

 

The brains of your computer is the processor, or CPU. Typically CPUs are described in terms of “clock rate” (that’s the GHz stuff) and how many “cores” it has. Higher clock rate and more cores are usually beneficial. I like to see CPUs running at 2 GHz or higher, and I like to see either dual(2)- or quad(4)- cores. (My own laptop has a 2.4 GHz quad-core CPU).

 

Computers have two kinds of “memory”: RAM and disk. RAM is the workspace where things get done. Think of a workbench – a space for active work. Disk is like a filing cabinet, where things get put when they aren’t immediately needed. Think passive storage. Both RAM and disk are described in terms of GB – gigabytes or TB – terabytes. I won’t get all technical here, but just know that a TB is 1,000 times as much as a GB.

 

More RAM is better. 1 GB is not enough. 2 GB is barely enough, but you will not be happy with the performance of the system. 4 GB is where I like to start, and, these days, I prefer to have 8 GB of RAM. (My own laptop has 8 GB).

 

More disk space is better, to a point. Since this is the filing cabinet for your system, you want to be sure you have enough room to store all of your important stuff, as well as some room for system maintenance and the Windows system itself. If you don’t store a lot of pictures and/or music on your system, you can go as low as 128 GB or so. If you store an “average” amount of stuff (say, a couple thousand pictures, and a music library with a thousand songs), you’ll be fine with 250-500 GB. If you store much more than that, or lots of videos (which tend to be large), you’ll likely be needing 1 TB or more.

 

So, What’s the Bottom Line?

 

For an average use computer, we usually recommend at least the following:

  • 2.0 GHz or higher CPU
  • 4, or more preferably 8 GB of RAM
  • 128 GB up to 1 TB of disk, depending on how you’ll use the system.

 

Hopefully this post demystifies some of the numbers and terminology that you are subjected to when buying a new computer.

 

We are always here to help you make your buying decision, even when you aren’t buying a system from us. You can stop in with specs from a couple of different systems you’re considering, and we’ll help you compare the systems to find the best fit for you.

 

We also help you move your stuff from your old system to your new one, once you’ve made that purchase.

 

Good luck with your new computer system!

 

 

A Couple Of Analogies

Here at About-Face, we pride ourselves on explaining various computer-y things in layman’s terms so that you can understand them and therefore understand what we’re talking about when we prattle on about gigabytes and megabits and RAM and hard drives. So, we’ve come across a couple of analogies that work to simplify the understanding of a couple of different computer terms.

RAM And Hard Drive

The best way to describe the RAM and the hard drive is to imagine yourself sitting at a workdesk. The tabletop before you is the RAM on your machine—the things that you are currently actively working on. The larger this tabletop is, the more things you can be working on simultaneously as you spread them across the tabletop.

The filing cabinets underneath your desk are your hard drive. You tuck things in them to save them and stash them away, and open your filing drawers when you need to access them and work on them. Therefore, when you need to work on something that’s filed away, you pull it from your filing cabinets and place them on the tabletop. However, fishing something out of the filing cabinet and placing it on the tabletop takes more time, right?

Well, that’s the relationship between RAM and your hard drive. When you need to access the contents of the hard drive, it takes your computer more time, since it has to rifle the data on the hard drive and find the appropriate 1s and 0s to load into RAM before it can be worked on. If, however, you’re accessing something in RAM, it takes significantly less time, since it’s already in the “active work” sections.

File Deletion

It’s possible that you’ve heard before that when you delete things off of your computer, you don’t truly delete things. This is true up to a certain points. Most operating systems have a recycle bin or a trash, and once you delete something, you can venture in there and recover those deleted files if you need them back. But what about when you empty the trash?

Still, the files aren’t truly deleted. Files are only permanently deleted off of a drive until after the drive space that the files used to inhabit has been overwritten with new files. So, here’s the analogy:

Imagine you have a sandbox, and, within it, a finite amount of sand. Over time, you utilize all of this sand to build a variety of sandcastles. Now you want to build a new sandcastle, but there’s no sand left, which means you must get rid of an old sandcastle.

File deletion is not the same as destroying an old sandcastle to build a new one. Instead what you do is you take pieces from an old sandcastle to build the new one—but there is still remaining sandcastle structure left behind after you take pieces off for the use of the sand. This remaining structure would be the files that are left over and can be recovered off of your drive. In order to completely erase the old sandcastle, you must build a new sandcastle by utilizing all of the sand from the old sandcastle. Only once you use all of the previous structure does it become unrecoverable.

So I hope these analogies helped to understand a couple of things, and as ever, feel free to call About-Face Computers at (413) 863-5447 if you want to discuss anything or if you’d like more help understanding your system!

What was that password?

What’s a password?  ….. Necessity, Aggravation, Security?  No one describes creating and maintaining passwords as fun!

Any online site that you give personal information to requires a password.  Some are more critical in that those sites have access to your finances.  All should have secure passwords, but have you counted how many passwords you currently are supposed to know?  Let’s say your online presence is small and you have five email accounts, three credit card accounts, two bank sites, five online shopping sites, three medical sites, two utility accounts, two tax related sites, one investment account, and two social media accounts.  5+3+2+5+3+2+2+1+2= 25.  So that’s twenty-five passwords.   They should all be different, they should all be complex and they all have various questions or codes associated with them for recovery purposes.   And of course some sites require that you regularly change your passwords.

DANGER DANGER!  What if my memory can’t handle all that?   If you keep your passwords listed on index cards, in a word document, or in an excel spreadsheet, imageyou are providing any hacker or do-badder access to your whole life!  It’s time to work on your security and peace of mind but where do you start?  Eating ‘brain food’ doesn’t fix the I FORGOT MY PASSWORD! Problem, I can personally vouch for that.   Here, I will give you some ideas but they aren’t gospel.  Think this through and come up with your own plan.

ORGANIZE  – The first thing you should do is figure out what you need passwords for and if you remember the passwords.  Using a program like KeePass (there are others so ask around, but I’m using this as my reference) will let you store all your passwords in one encrypted file, with one password to unlock it.  You’ll need to create your own password file in your secure password program.  This program is just a database of your passwords.  In a KeePass file you create, for example, you can set up folders to organize your passwords into manageable groupings like banking, social media, shopping, online games etc.  You can enter a user name and password.   The program will even generate a random password for you, if you’d like.   There is a space to enter a hyperlink to the login site.  Also included is a memo field for any security questions, pin information, etc., that you might need to gain access to the site if you password is corrupt or needs to be reset.  I have found this part extremely helpful since more and more sites are requiring you to change your password frequently.  If you haven’t logged on in a while, they might require some of this information to let you reset your password.  If you have multiple emails and the user name isn’t your email address, it doesn’t hurt to record the email registered with the site in case they send you a password reset link.

THE ONE PASSWORD  You will need to create a password for your password file, but in theory, all you have to remember is that one password.  Make sure that one password is a) strong and secure and b) one you can remember (I’ll speak to this a little later.)   I’d like to tell you that this works perfectly, however, I can’t stress enough that you won’t be able to hack into your file if you forget that one password.   After you’ve created this one password, you can start to generate secure passwords and info for all your login sites.

CREATE SECURE PASSWORDS- Strong passwords generally contain both upper case and lower case letters, numbers and special characters, in an order that is random.  123456abc would not be a strong password!     The second part of that, making a strong password you can remember is the trickiest part.  Some suggest thinking of a phrase or something you are looking at and varying letters and numbers enough in a mutated form of the phrase or object that no one could guess it but you.   Here’s an example (don’t use it, create your own!)  The sentence “The cat ate the canary.”  can generate a wide variety of passwords, for example ‘tHct8Thcanry!’, but there are many ways to take that one sentence and make a secure password.  Other ways to generate your passwords are to use the program to generate random passwords for you and to use a word that pops in your head with random numbers and symbols in it.  Make it fun!

MY NEW PASSWORD PLAN  You’ve set up your file, you remember your secure password, and you are now at your computer or on your phone ready to log onto a site.  You can open your password program, click the hyper link to the website and copy and paste the user name and password or just type it as you see it in your file.  If you are asked security questions, you have the info recorded right there.  Don’t forget to close your file after use, so it is not available to any ne who might walk by your computer or, worst case, hack onto your system.

We’ve discussed an outline of a plan to organize your user names and passwords.  Your next step is to look at the different programs available and figure out which ones would look better for you.  Some are portable (i.e., can be carried on a flash drive) some run on a Windows system, some on a Mac.  And some like KeePass can run on your Android phone.  Some keep your password  records online, so they are accessible to you anywhere.    BUT, as with everything, there are risks  associated with keeping sensitive info online, and this is understandably sensitive info!  You have lots of options.  Stay tuned to our blog for more info!  And as always, feel free to call About-Face Computer Solutions at (413)863-5447 or contact us via our website, www. about-facecomputers.com if you need more assistance!

It’s An Embarrassment

(But not mine!)

Warning: this is not an informational post. This is a rant from your friendly neighborhood computer tech!

I share your frustration. I even share your pain. Or at least, I suffer similar pains.

From what? Microsoft. Apple. Google. All of them.

These multi-billion dollar companies have been making software (Windows, Office, OSX, Android, Google Docs…) for more than a decade (or in Microsoft and Apple’s cases, more than 30 YEARS!), and they still can’t get it right?

They can’t give us stable systems that just work the way we expect them to? That don’t change every other month into something that’s broken, or with new “features” that most of us don’t want?

All of us run our businesses on Microsoft or Apple platforms, with some supplementation by Google. These companies are responsible for providing us (yeah, we’re paying them to do this) with stable, usable work environments. And yet, every year, things seem to be getting worse, not better.

It’s an absolute embarrassment that an industry that has been in operation for the last 30 years (it’s really been longer than that, but I’m being generous here) cannot deliver the products we need with the stability that we require to run our businesses.

At About-Face, we have always prided ourselves on providing services to our customers to help make your systems run smoothly, with as few “glitches” as possible. Our view is, and always has been, that the computer systems we support are tools to help you get your job done. And we’ve generally been able to deliver on our goals – we minimize emergency calls; we warn you when bad things might happen; we recommend the simplest, most direct solutions to your issues. (Some of our customers I’m sure can remember times when Dana or I have been at your company and said “This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be done, but we know this will work, and it will be stable for you.”)

But recent events show that Microsoft and Apple are making this much more difficult for us. Every few months, one or the other of these system software companies comes out with a new “security update” or “feature update” or some new version of the environment we have to use to make use of our computers, and, for all of the fanfare of new features or security improvements they seem to be breaking things as fast as they fix them.

Meanwhile, the “experts” (notice we at About-Face shy away from that term!) keep pushing us to put more stuff into “the cloud,” as if it is some new and wonderful thing. But it isn’t. The cloud is a marketing term that was made up a few years back to refer to… are you ready?… The Internet.

We are, all of us, stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place. And I don’t have a solution to this today. Neither do they. They’re so busy trying to come up with the latest and greatest thing, that they are sacrificing the stability and usability that we all need to get our jobs done.

Want an example? Let’s go after Google for a moment. Go into your Google account (everybody has one, right?), click into Google Docs, open a Word document, and type in a bunch of stuff. Now try editing it. Notice that lag? The hesitation your system has when you move around, or, especially when you’re doing something complicated like copying and pasting 100 words of text. Now run up Word on your own system and take it through the same exercise. Works better, doesn’t it? Responsive, almost instantaneous!1

So what’s the difference? In the Google Docs case, you are operating “in the cloud”, which means you are using your web browser (Firefox/Chrome/Explorer/Edge/Safari) to do the job. But we don’t use our web browsers as word processors generally, because we’ve got other websites open (and busily doing things like Pandora or streaming the stupid ads that we’re only now getting the power to shut off). So we are overloading the browser with work. In the case of using Office locally, Word is the program that is running – not a web browser – so the job gets done more efficiently, locally, without relying on our Internet connection. That means we almost invariably get better performance.

I, like many of you, hate the situation we’re in with these companies. But there are no easy answers. There are serious limits to what I can offer you for encouragement here, but I can make a few recommendations to help maintain your sanity some. Office 365? NO. Google docs? NO. iCloud? NO. Not for my day-to-day operations. These tools have their uses, but not as my primary tools. Permanent installed versions only, please.

One recommendation I can make regarding buying new systems is: get Windows 10 PRO. Putting the Home version of Windows 10 into your company is really asking for trouble. At least Pro is able (and should continue to be able) to deal with shared files, etc., that Microsoft may decide isn’t necessary for the Home version. In addition, Pro gives us a few options to try to delay installation of the inevitable updates until they have been proven. Getting the consumer-grade system for $600 with Windows 10 Home edition may seem like a bargain at purchase time, as opposed to something toward $1,000 for a business-grade system, but you will likely pay more for technician time downstream trying to get that Home version to do things it wasn’t designed to do in most networked environments.

One last recommendation: back up your stuff! Either to flash drives (have more than one), or external hard drives, or even that darn “cloud”… but if you’re using the cloud, be sure to use a service (such as Carbonite, http://www.carbonite.com) that will encrypt your stuff when it’s stored. Dropbox, OneDrive, and iCloud don’t cut it for security, unless you take additional measures before you send your stuff to their servers. But, definitely back up your pictures, documents, even music. If something goes seriously wrong with your system, you’ll be so glad you did!

This is more than a simple rant. We are an independent computer shop, here to provide help to our customers. The things these companies are doing isn’t fair, to you or to us. We want you to know that we agree this isn’t right, and that we’ll do everything we can to help keep your systems running properly, despite the efforts of Microsoft, Apple, and/or Google to derail our efforts. We are on your side, and we hate the current state of affairs as much as you do.

1 Note: if it isn’t almost instantaneous, and if you don’t have your system busy doing a whole bunch of stuff, and you don’t have a dozen Chrome/Firefox/Edge browser tabs open, maybe you should have a chat with us about cleaning up your system!  Call us at (413) 863-5447, or stop by our shop at 151 Avenue A in Turners Falls.

I supposed I should note that references to Microsoft, OneDrive, iCloud, Dropbox, etc., are only that. The names used are the property (trademarks, registered trademarks, whatever) of their respective owners. Further, any recommendations I’ve made are for the benefit of computer users. We don’t have special “deals” with any of the companies mentioned for mentioning them.

System Restore: A Valuable Tool

Sometimes when you’re trying to do something on your computer, things just go wrong. Sometimes you want to install a program and get a whole host of other programs (that you didn’t want) along with it, sometimes your computer goes through that Windows is updating, please wait… message, and then things are either different or working incorrectly. The point is, a whole host of things can go wrong and change settings on your machine.

Enter System Restore. System Restore is a valuable tool that restores the registry (essentially, the backbone of the system) to an earlier point in time. System Restore does not change any files you may have saved, but it will eliminate programs that you have installed, or even help to save your computer when an update or installation renders your machine unbootable. In all versions of Windows, you can just type System Restore into the search box, and it should take you there. Below, I will assume your machine has been rendered unbootable by an installation or by (grr) Windows Updates, and I will go through the specific steps for Windows 7 and 10, bearing in mind that the steps for Windows 8 and 8.1 are almost exactly the same as Windows 10.

If you are attempting this repair, please read through all of the instructions carefully before you begin the process. If you are in any doubt, please feel free to call us at the shop at (413) 863-5447 and we’ll clarify whatever steps you’re in doubt about.

Windows 7

                For Windows 7, the first step is to power the machine off. If the system is not booting, this will have to be done by holding down your power key for a good 5-10 seconds. You should hear fans and things stop moving inside the machine. Then, you’ll power it back up, and repeatedly rap the F8 key as it boots. This will take you to a menu with options like Safe Mode, Safe Mode With Networking, etc. You’ll want to select Repair Your Computer, bearing in mind that without a mouse, all menu navigation is done with the arrow keys on the keyboard and then hitting the Enter key when your selection is highlighted.

The machine will go through a loading process, and should come up asking you what language you want to use. Click the next button (the default language is English), and then it should ask you for a username and password. Users are in the drop down box at the top (It will probably default to something like $HomeGroupUser$, but just ignore that). Select your user name, enter your password, and you should be in! If you have no password on your computer, leave the password field blank and it should work the same way.

This will take you to a menu with all kinds of repair options, one of which is System Restore. Select it, and a new box will pop up. Simply click the Next button until you’re presented with a list of dates, select the most recent date that the computer was working properly, and tell it to proceed with the restore. Note that sometimes in this Repair Mode, System Restore will falsely report that it failed. If this happens, go ahead and try to reboot the machine anyway. If System Restore worked, then viola! Your system should be working again.

Windows 10

                Windows 10 can be a little bit more tricky. In order to access the Repair Options easily in Windows 10, you need the machine to actually boot, then hold down the left Shift key as you restart the system. As we know, this isn’t always feasible. With Windows 10, eventually the machine will keep crashing and you’ll see a black screen that says Attempting Automatic Repair. If not, you can always manually crash the system by starting to let it load, then hold the power button down and force it to think that it crashed—although this option is not recommended. More often than not, Windows will tell you that it couldn’t fix your problems automatically. You’ll have two buttons to click, Restart or Advanced Options. Select Advanced Options. The next screen you will see will have options to Reset this PC, which is not recommended as it will wipe all of your programs and potentially your data. Underneath that, you’ll see Troubleshoot. Select Troubleshoot. Once more, you’ll see all kinds of options, with System Restore being one of them. Select System Restore, and from there a new window will pop up and the steps should be the same as Windows 7, including (but not always) requiring your user name and password. Simply select the date that you want to restore to and tell it to proceed, then reboot and see if it worked.

Please note that System Restore will not fix everything, and if it doesn’t do the job then it may be time to bring the machine in to see us at About-Face. This is, however, a solid first step in troubleshooting that can get rid of either unnecessary clutter or a machine that has been rendered unbootable. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to call us at the shop or send us an email. We’re happy to help!

Oh %$*#$!!&#, I lost Data! How Not to Be There In Four Steps

My Biggest nightmare is losing my data.  You can lose not only business data but pictures, recipes, family treasures and all kinds of other things.  I’ve been lucky over the years, only losing a hard drive one time but that was enough to give me the nightmares.  And I was lucky enough to recover most of my files from the failing drive. (Really Lucky! We’ve seen customers’ drives fail so that absolutely no data could be recovered.)  Even though I’ve been a computer tech for twenty-five years, it’s hard to stay focused on a good data management plan. It’s come down to four things for me: 1) Organization of data, 2) direct back up of my documents, 3) a system image for my drive(s) and 4) redundancy.

It may be an anal retentive tech thing but think of your hard drive as a filing cabinet for your computer data.   Organizing your files will make your life much simpler. Not only will you be able to locate your documents more easily, this organization will help you plan a good backup system for yourself.  For example, the operating system has its own folder, a ‘Windows’ folder. There are also specific folders for things like users, program data, drivers and temporary files to name a few. But all you, the end user needs to think about are files in the ‘Library.’  These are the ‘My Documents,’ the ‘Pictures,’ the ‘Music’ and the ‘Videos’ folders. Consider that to be your own private filing cabinet. Set up folders in there for your main areas of interest. In My Documents, you can set up folders for things like recipes, travel, Household, taxes, family etc.  In pictures you can organize by date or by topic. Relax and spend a little time dragging files to these main folders. You may even want sub folders, an example being folders within your recipe folder for desserts, main courses, hors d’oevres, breakfast and so on. You can trust me that organizing like this really makes a difference.  As you save documents, save them to the proper sub folder, and if there isn’t one, create one as you are saving. Organize your picture, video and music folders in the same way. You can move and rename folders later if you don’t like the way something is setup. Go for it!

Not that you have an organized documents folder, it’s a simple thing to back up the whole folder to an external hard drive or to the cloud, if you prefer….  If you back this up regularly and lose your whole system, all the files and the organization scheme you have set up can easily be restored to a new or upgraded system.  Some will want to back this up daily, some weekly. This is going to depend on how often you add or update files and on whether you have critical information that would change your life if you lose anything.  People with home business would want a very regular and frequent backup schedule. I once knew a father who lost the first two years of their son’s pictures because the data drive crashed and wasn’t recoverable.  There are many free and paid options for backup software that will run on a schedule. Online backup systems have a monthly or yearly charge but back up frequently. If you’re not backing up, do it now!

Now you need to think about your programs and program data.  Programs that you purchased or downloaded and installed are not located in the Library.  You can’t just copy program files because they have files and info scattered over your drive – that’s how they function so accept it and move on!   For my peace of mind, I like to make a system image weekly. Windows has a built in backup program that will easily create a system image for you and let you set this up on an automatic schedule.  The dreamy thing about a system image file is that you can restore the image to a new drive and if all goes well, the computer will boot to that drive and look exactly like the old one, with all the programs, settings etc. that you had.  Even your favorite desktop background will be there! If you’ve ever had a system crash, you’ll know that it is irritating to say the least when the many setting you created to make your system perfect for you are no longer there. Things like your screensaver, font settings and internet browser settings will not be there, just to name a few.  You’ll need an external hard drive at least as big as your current drive, but typically they’re less than $100. What are you waiting for?!?

Now that you’ve done all this, the last step to data security is to have some redundancy in your backups.  Make two or three! It’s good to have at least two backup drives and to interchange them on a regular basis.  Label them A, B and C or Mary, Harvey and Twit! But each time you back up cycle the backup drives. Having a third lets you keep a backup of your data off site or in a fire and waterproof storage box.  For the extreme catastrophe that would make this important, you would be happy to have this updated every month or two!

I’m hoping you will take this seriously enough to set up your own backup program!  Remember, four things: Organize! Backup Files! Image your drive! And create multiple backups!   And of course, if you need help, feel free to call us at About-Face Computer Solutions for some assistance or training.

LibreOffice: The Free Replacement Application for Microsoft Office

Getting tired of paying for Microsoft Office?

There are many free office suites out there. The one that we recommend, LibreOffice (which can be found at http://www.libreoffice.org), has the ability to save files in the same file extensions as Microsoft Office (for example, it can save in Word’s .docx format or Excel’s .xlsx format). This allows for cross-compatibility, which means you can write a document in LibreOffice and email it to someone who will open it with Microsoft Word. The only difference is that you downloaded LibreOffice for free and saved yourself $120-$300.

Some of you may have heard of OpenOffice, which is (or was) one of the most popular free office suites. Unfortunately, OpenOffice is currently not being updated. OpenOffice and LibreOffice are close cousins. LibreOffice has the ability to type documents, create slideshows, and create spreadsheets, among other things. You may recognize these abilities as the core three components of Microsoft Office – namely, Word, Powerpoint, and Excel.

The only real drawback to LibreOffice is that it doesn’t have a mail client that emulates Microsoft Outlook (although there are other free programs that do!). But if you use your office package for simpler tasks, LibreOffice is worth looking into. The only caveat is that we’ve run into some minor compatibility issues, mostly regarding formatting, when a LibreOffice document is opened with Microsoft Office. If you’re engaging in simpler word processing and spreadsheet documents, LibreOffice could be perfect for you. If you like to use a lot of formatting (fancy fonts, pictures, and the like), then it could be problematic.

If you decide to install it, come on in and talk to us for some advice on how to tweak some settings to make it a seamless transition. If you’d like to install it, please simply visit www.libreoffice.org. We have no affiliation with LibreOffice, we simply think that it’s a great program.

You might even save yourself some money!