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Saturday, August 11, 2012

1258. New email service from Microsoft

Tom asks: I heard there's a new free email product available from Microsoft. What would it get me? Is it worth looking into?



It's true: The day before we created this tip (in mid-summer 2012) Microsoft released a pre-release version of their new Outlook.com email product. It's free, and it has a nice clean interface that looks like Outlook 2013, which I'm guessing most people haven't seen yet. It includes Facebook and Twitter integration so that if you have a Facebook account you'll be able to view photos of the senders of the email right there in the email interface.

Large attachments that you might want to send can be sent via SkyDrive, another free Microsoft service. You attach the file to the email, but Outlook.com stores the document on SkyDrive and inserts a link instead. Instead of emailing large files, you email links to large files that the receiver of your email can download at will.

Another nice feature:  Because it's a new service, there's a better chance you'll be able to log on and select an email address that matches your name. For example I logged on the first day and I had no problem getting my own name at Outlook.com. That's a nice feature because certainly all the straight-forward names are gone at Gmail.com

Give Outlook.com a look. It's a nice, new, free email service from Microsoft.

1257. Upgrade my Mac to new OS

Penny asks: I have a Mac that's a few years old, running Mac OS X 10.4, and I'd like to upgrade to a later operating system. The machine has 1GB of memory in it. What do I have to do at home before taking it into the shop to be upgraded?



This version of the operating system was released in 2005: It's 7 years old at this point, and I'm guessing the machine is just about the same age. With 1 GB of memory, you really won't be able to upgrade much more than one operating system version to OS X 10.5 or maybe 10.6 (the current version is OS X 10.8). Your technician can help you with that. But most importantly, before you take it anywhere, is to back it up. 

You should make a good backup copy of your computer's hard drive. Time Machine, Apple's built-in backup software, didn't exist in that version of the operating system. Instead, look for third-party solutions like Superduper or Carbon Copy Cloner to make a complete operating system backup before you take your computer in for any sort of repair or upgrade.

You'll also need to consider adding some memory to your system. One gigabyte of memory really isn't enough to run any modern operating system. These days, 2GB is the minimum required and 4 would be a lot better. Memory is cheap, so go for it.

1256. Create source from PDF file

Julie asks: I have a PDF and I've lost the document I used to create the PDF file. Is there some way to convert the PDF back to an editable format?


As you probably know, a PDF document is an Adobe Acrobat file and it's not editable. If you want to be able to edit the document, you must convert it back to some format that you can edit. It's always best to save the original document, so you can recreate the PDF if necessary, but if you lose the original document, there are lots of different ways to convert a PDF back to editable format. If you own a copy of Adobe Acrobat (not the free Acrobat Reader, but the full version),  it can do this job.  And for most text it does an excellent job. The process is called OCR (optical character recognition) and almost any software that includes this feature can convert from PDF back to editable text. One of Ken's favorites is the Mac app, PDFPen, which includes OCR functionality and does a fine recognition job.

If you search the web for "PDF to Word", you'll find several tools online that will do this conversion for you as well. All isn't lost if you can't find the original document, but clearly the best solution is to hold onto the document from which you created the PDF file, so if you need to make changes you can edit the original and then recreate the PDF.

1255. Create PDF files from Microsoft Word.

Sue asks: I need to be able to create PDF files from within Microsoft Word. Is there some trick to doing this?


Well as my friend Sue found out, all she had to do was send me the file via email and ask me to save the file in PDF format for her. And that's how you get it done!

On the other hand, if you are using a Mac, just about every software product can print to a PDF file. Select the option to print the document, and then find the PDF option in the print dialog box.

On Windows however you may have to take extra steps.  Microsoft Word, in its latest versions, can save a document to PDF format without extra tools, but earlier versions cannot.  There are tools you can add into Microsoft Word to print to PDF format, including one that Doug and I both use, called CUTEPDF. It's free, and you can download it from the web. 

For current versions of Word, on Windows, look into the options to share the document as a PDF file. It's built into the product.


1261. Include original email when replying



Cindy asked: When I look at email messages sometimes I see the entire thread of the email conversation. How can I do that in my email messages, and is this something I should be doing?


One benefit of email over SMS text messages is that email maintains a thread of the conversation, so you have some idea of the context of the response. Generally, it's a good idea to include the entire email thread in your emails (although there are often reasons to "prune" the thread of messages, if it gets too long).

Most email systems provide some means of including email threads in reverse order each time you respond to an email message. If you're using a browser-based email (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, and so on), find the settings for your email server and look for the option to include original email in response to messages. You can search the internet for information on exactly how to do this for all of the popular email clients and email systems. 

Most email clients support this feature, as well, including Microsoft Outlook and Mac Mail. The exact steps to turn it on differ, depending on the version of the software, but in every case, look in the options or preferences, and look for options dealing with replies or responses, and turn on the option to include or quote the text of the original message.







1259. Don't Touch Outlook 2011 for Mac Email Messages from Finder

Peter is using Outlook 2011 on the Mac, and noticed that in his All My Documents folder, he sees a file corresponding to each and every email message. There are thousands of them! He wonders if he can delete the files corresponding to spam and junk messages directly from this folder.


Just because you see the files in Finder doesn't mean you have the right to delete them.


This didn't actually happened to "Peter". It happened to me. I saw thousands and thousands of spam messages in my "All My Files" folder and I said "Why can't I just delete them - they're spam!" So I deleted a big hunk of the messages. Within seconds, Outlook started complaining that its database was out of sync and needed to be rebuilt. And it never worked again. Not ever.

I kept trying to rebuild the database and before I could rebuild the database, Outlook would complain again, making it impossible to rebuild the database. In other words: don't do this! Don't even consider deleting Outlook messages from within Finder on the Mac. This action will cause you unknown amounts of grief. Instead delete the messages from within Outlook so it maintains its database correctly. 


1262. Replace your Internet modem



Monika is having trouble with her AT&T internet connection. She wants to know "Is there something she can do to make it work better, and more reliably?"

When you sign up for DSL service with AT&T, the installation includes a modem, the hardware that connects your computer or home network to the AT&T DSL internet service. Your modem may also include a wireless router so that you can connect wirelessly.

Most AT&T modems/routers include only a 1-year warranty. After that period, you can purchase a replacement from AT&T, but that's not your only option. You can also purchase a replacement modem/wireless router online, or at your local office supply or computer retailer.



The important detail to look for is that the device supports the standard ATT-ADSL connection, and as long as you're purchasing a new one, you might want to consider getting one that includes a wireless router, as well. AT&T will tell you that they won't support a non-AT&T modem, but if you have problems connecting, you don't need to tell them that you purchased a new one, and the manufacturer will provide support, as well.

In order to hook up the new modem, you will need to know the original username. Generally, the user name is an email address (like yourName@sbcglobal.net) as well as your modem's password.  Hopefully you wrote this down, but if not, AT&T can reset your credentials. (Remember, don't volunteer that you replaced the modem yourself!)

Follow the instructions provided with the new equipment and you should be connected to the internet in no time.










1263. Quicktime stopped working in Internet Explorer

Tina asks: I like to watch various web cam sites including nevadacitywebcam.com and suddenly they stopped working in Internet Explorer. It appears that Quicktime (which is required in order to view this site) no longer works. Is there something I can do to fix this problem? 

There could be many reasons for this type of problem--a quick search on the internet found many different answers, none looking completely promising. Your best bet when encountering a problem like this is to search the web, supplying the exact error message that you're seeing in quotes as the search text.


As it turns out, Tina's problem was simple: she was running a 64-bit version of Windows, and had recently started using the Internet Explorer 64-bit version, thinking that 64 bits has to be better.  Unfortunately Quicktime does not work in this environment.  In her case, the quick solution was to go to the Start Menu and make sure she starts the 32-bit version of Internet Explorer (that is, the version that doesn't have 64-bit attached to its name).  


You should not have this type of problem unless you're running a 64-bit version of Windows. For most people, there's no reason to run the explicit 64-bit version of Internet Explorer. (And, by the way, it's always worth trying web sites in a different browser if they fail in a specific browser. Google Chrome and Firefox are both excellent replacements for Internet Explorer, and each provides features that Internet Explorer does not.)

Friday, August 10, 2012

1266. Should I upgrade to Windows 8

Steve currently runs Windows 7 and wonders if there is a reason to contemplate upgrading to Windows 8? Is there anything to be gained for most users?

We have had the pleasure to be involved with testing the new Windows 8 system. We like what Microsoft is doing. They are clearly looking at making the regular computer and the tablet be something that is easier to use.

Today if you have a computer laptop or desktop and you also have an iPad or Android tablet they are so different in how they are used and how the User Interface works that it is sometime difficult to quickly move from one device back to the other.

With the direction of Windows 8, Microsoft is trying to make the touch and feel of the computers (laptop, desktop, or tablet) be more like each other. Maybe the best of both worlds. 

If you have seen many of the CSI shows where people are sliding things across screens, Windows 8 will be using technology like this. Their new tablet computer from Microsoft is called Surface and is very exciting. Other manufacturers will have computers that specifically support the new Windows 8 features.

However I would wait until later in the year before I upgraded and you really need a touch screen or new Windows Surface computer to take advantage of the new technology.

And the good news is Apple will counter with new technology that will continue to make it all better for us the consumer.


Here are some specific reasons to consider upgrading:

1. Make the PC, tablet and smartphones easier to use.

Windows 8 will attempt to unify all of your devices.  aims to successfully unify all your devices, from your PC to you tablet to your smartphone. The current Windows smartphones however will not be able to upgrade to Windows 8.  You will need to uy a new Windows smartphone to use Windows 8.

You will be able to "Sync" your Metro UI between your devices.  Login credentials will also work across the PC, tablet, and smartphone.

2. The all-new Metro user interface


What is the Metro UI? The Metro UI displays Windows 8 applications on your home screen as a mosaic of tiled boxes of different sizes, shapes, and colors. These tiles represent everything from applications running in the background to incoming email and messages to shared photos.

The app tiles update in real time for events including Twitter messages and upcoming calendar events. Metro UI renders well on tablets, especially since if you own a tablet, you're already used to swiping between home screens. But on computers, you have to get used to scrolling sideways to get to the home screen where you placed the app you want to launch.


3. . More energy-efficient than Windows 7

According to some independent tests Windows 8 uses less power than Windows 7.  This is critical for your battery life.  It also shuts down ports you're not using rather than running them needlessly.

4. Speedier performance

Yes it is faster! The Consumer Preview version of Windows 8 has so far proven to be faster than older Windows versions in various speed tests. In many tests the boot time has been shown to be up to 25 seconds faster that Windows 7.

5. Easier to use with multiple monitors

If you decide you want a computer setup comprised of more than one monitor, then Windows 8 may be the operating system that will work best for you. Designed with multi-monitor use in mind, it lets you customize your taskbar settings for each monitor or open window. Microsoft even lets you customize a different desktop background for each monitor or stretch one image over multiple monitors. You'll also be able to run slide shows over multiple screen screens.

6. Limited third-party browser access

Recent reports indicate that Windows 8 RT, one of the platform's versions meant for use on devices with ARM processors such as one of the Surface tablets, could limit third-party internet browsers. Those of you who prefer Firefox or Chrome over Internet Explorer may be out of luck. This has yet to be confirmed as of this writing, but keep it in mind if you're buying a new Windows computer or tablet in the future.

7. No support for Windows XP by 2014

As of April 2014, Microsoft plans to stop supporting Windows XP.  You should concider upgrading to Windows 8 now.  If you use Windows Vista consider upgrading just because.  If you have Windows 7 it will be supported until at least 2020.

8. Flash in the Metro Web browser:

This one comes with a caveat: You don't get full Flash capability in the Metro interface's Internet Explorer, and you don't get it for all sites. Microsoft worked with Adobe to create a subset of Flash 11.3, and only sites on an approved list will be able to use Flash. But it should also note that the desktop flavor of Internet Explorer offers full Flash functionality.

9. Updated Windows Store:

Windows 8 is starting to take hold in the developer community, and particularly among major software houses. The Windows Store was closed the day before Release Preview launched, so what's new? The Store itself has undergone some tweaks, as detailed in the Windows Store Blog. Desktop applications, as well as Metro apps, can now appear in the Store, but you still have to obtain the desktop apps directly from their publishers via a link.

10. A little too techy oriented, perhaps. Maybe "Easier to use UI, supports touch screens, supports wide range of hardware, from tablets to laptops to desktop computers, includes integrated support for social media like Facebook and sharing from almost every application, new easy-to-use built-in applications for mail, photos, media; a touch-friendly interface for existing applications like Microsoft Office, the ability to easily refresh the installation without having to completely reinstall (so you can "start fresh" with Windows), completely customizable start screen. That should be enough. Mostly about ease of use.




1264. How can I get SMS text messages sent to me as an email?

Dee uses SMS a lot--for her job, she receives a lot of text messages on her phone. She needs some way to archive those messages, and wants them sent to her email address. Is there some way to track SMS messages using email, or just have the text messages appear in her email inbox?

Although there are for-pay services that will act as a bridge between SMS/MMS/text messages and email inboxes (see TXTImpact (http://www.txtimpact.com/), for one), none is free that we know of.

The easiest solution is free, and again it turns out to be our favorite, Google Voice. (http://www.google.com/voice). 

Google Voice allows you to sign up for a free account and select an incoming voice phone number. One of its many features is that it allows people to send text messages to your Google Voice number, and those text messages can be forwarded to your mobile phone, as standard text messages, and can also be forwarded to your inbox as email. 

The trick is convincing people to stop texting you at your direct mobile number, but to text you at your Google Voice number, instead. (Actually, the goal would be to stop giving anyone your mobile phone number at all, and only give them your Google Voice number. Once you set up your mobile phone with your Google Voice account, you can have calls to your Google Voice number ring on your mobile phone, as well. But that's another issue.) You can tell: We love Google Voice. It's free, and it certainly solves this particular problem. If Dee would have people text her only at her Google Voice phone number, all messages would go to her email inbox as well, and her problem would be solved.





Thursday, August 9, 2012

1265. Don't be scammed by TV computer "speed-up" offers

Brian asks: I see ads on TV advertising that they can make my computer run faster. Is this a scam or does it really do anything? Should I look into getting these products?

If it sounds too good to be true it probably is! I have not tried all of these services, but I did try a few just to see. They are not free, even though their ads make it sound like they are. They will download software and test your computer for free, find many "problems" and then if you want them to fix the "problems" it will cost you, usually an annual fee.

There are two simple ways to improve your computer's speed: add more memory to your computer (memory is currently inexpensive, and there's no reason not to have less than 4GB of memory if your computer supports it), also replace your hard drive with a solid-state (SSD) disk drive (this is an all electronic disk instead of one that spins). These are more expensive than the regular disk drives, but are much faster and can be more reliable,

If you're running Windows, you may find that a complete re-install of the operating system can drastically speed up your computer. This generally requires a lot of effort, and some skill (you must back up your data files before performing the installation), so it may be best left to a professional. This operation will give Windows its "new car smell" (just a metaphor) and make it run as smoothly as possible.

In any case, the products you see advertised on TV won't do any of these things, they won't fix your computer in any way, and they'll just waste your money. At best, they'll do nothing; at worst, they'll infect your computer with a benign or malicious virus. Save your money and don't be scammed.






1260. iPad or laptop?

Kenny asks: I'm contemplating getting an iPad or a new small computer, and can't decide which would be right for me. Do you have any suggestions?

I do love my iPad for consuming content (viewing videos, listening to music, reading magazines and e-books, browsing web pages), and of course you have other options as well. If you want something cheaper, you can look into the Kindle Fire, or one of the many Android Tablets. They all do well at showing you content. 

None of these does a great job when it comes to creating new content--the form factor and the lack of a physical keyboard and mouse make things difficult. The iPad (and any Android tablet that allows hooking up a keyboard) do the best because you can easily hook up a Bluetooth keyboard and use the thousands of apps available on the device for creating creating music, videos, and documents. But it's still not as easy as using a laptop, because without support for a mouse, you end up having to take your hands off the keyboard and point at the screen far more often than I like.

If your goal is to create content, whether it be the written word, music, or video; my guess is that you'll be happier using a full-fledged laptop. Either a full-sized laptop or a new Ultrabook,  like the MacBook Air or some of the other Windows-based Ultrabooks, should do fine.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Wireless coverage in house not good

Susan asked: I added a new addition to my house.  I can't get my computer to connect to my current internet network.  Do I need to get another DSL line?

No.  You can add a second access point or a wireless extender.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

1252. Enable Windows Restore


I've heard about the ability to revert back to a previous level of the Windows operating system.  I heard that I may need to do this because of a bad Windows update or if I tried installing new hardware or software that didn't work. How can I set this up?


Start by doing a Right click on your My Computer icon and click on Properties. Under properties, click on Advanced System Properties (left sidebar) and select system protection.

In the Protection Settings section make sure the Windows7_OS protection is set to "On" protection.  This was the original default setting when your Windows system was installed.  If  it is not you will not be able to do a restore.  So if you do nothing more with our tip, check to make sure your Windows 7 System drive protection is set to "on" or you will not be able to recover in the future.

For now we will assume your System7_OS drive was protected.

All you need to do is click the System Restore button and you will be able to walk through the steps to revert your Windows 7 system to a previous backup. You will see a list of the restore points available.  Choose one, click next, and confirm the restore.

Good luck and remember to always have a current backup of your system.  You never know when you will need to be able to recover your data.

Also Go to the Restore Point settings now and make sure your system is currently set to backup your System drive.

Restoring Windows XP and Windows Vista have similar procedures.  See the links below:

1254. Email access to Office 365

My office is switching to Microsoft's Office 365 for email service and other features and I can't get used to the new user interface--I'm used to working in Outlook, and now they want me to use a browser. What's the benefit of this new-fangled stuff?"

Office 365 uses a browser to give you your basic access to your email. It also provides a web based user interface to word documents, excel spread sheets, powerpoint, and OneNote.

This is valuable when you need to access your data and the computer you are at does not have the regular Microsoft Office products.

The Web Apps are very similar to the full Office products but do have some limitations.

Office 365 will also allow you to "license" the Office products on a monthly basis. So you don't have to buy Office products and you will always have the latest release.

So if you have Microsoft Office or Outlook you can use these familiar applications to access the Office files in Microsoft Office 365. You are not limited to the browser view. This includes using a Mac as well as Windows computers.

Using Outlook 2007 or higher to access your Office 365 email is the same as using Outlook to access any other email systems. Follow the instructions on how to set up Outlook at the Microsoft Office 365 help center.

Visit the Microsoft Office 365 website or go to the Malibu Software website and sign up for a free trial of Office 365.

It is a great product that has arguably the best email, website, document sharing and Meeting presentation software in the industry.







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1250. Cell service over Internet

I was at a friend's house and they mentioned that their cell service at the house was almost non-existent, but they do have high-speed internet service. Is there some way to use the internet to make and receive calls on their cell phones?

Ken uses a service from AT&T that allows cell phones in the house to use the existing internet connection to make and receive cell phone calls, even though he lives far out in the country and has almost non-existent cell coverage.

Verizon, T-Mobile, and other cell providers provide similar services.

If you have a cell plan with many minutes you may want to use these minutes instead of paying extra for the long distance service on your land line. If you have an internet broadband connection you should call your cell service provider to see if they have the ability to use your internet connection to route your cell calls while you are at home.

In the case of AT&T, the MicroCell service provides a small box that connects to your internet connection and routes incoming and outgoing cell calls through your internet connection. The device does require a connection to the cell network to initialize itself.

For information on AT&T's service, visit their site here

Remember to call your cell service provider not your ISP for this service. And when you call tell, them your cell service at home is very poor (if it is) and you may get the service at no additional charge. At one point, AT&T sent out free certificates to many rural customers (that's how Ken got his MicroCell device).

1249. Internet Explorer Errors.

Mike asked: I use Internet Explorer and when I go to a specific site I get an error message that pops up and I can't continue. This particular site used to work. What can I do to get past the problem?


The problem could be caused by any number of issues. The key is to try to isolate the cause so you can focus on the likely problems. This is the key to fast technical support solutions.


We always try to "cut the deck in half" so each time you chose a possible solution you are narrowing down the places to look the most efficiently.


If you are asked to guess a number between 1-10 and they will respond that your guess is high or low, you don't want to start guessing at number one. Cut the deck in half and start with 5.


Whenever I get an error the first thing I do is the search the internet with my favorite search engine, identifying the error in the search criteria. This usually finds a solution. In Mike's case this didn't help.


Microsoft told Mike to reset all of his Internet Explorer settings but Mike didn't want to lose this data.


Because Mike didn't have access to another computer and the web site data was password protected, I suggested to Mike to install another browser, such as Chrome, Firefox, or Safari, and try to access the site using the other browser.


Doing this isolated the problem to the browser versus Mike's computer operating system, or the actual web site. In other words, by trying another browser and verifying that the site worked correctly in the other browser, we verified that the problem was neither the site nor the computer--it was, in fact, the particular browser. Next, Mike tried disabling each add-in in Internet Explorer until he found one that was causing trouble.


The next time you have a problem, think about what will eliminate the largest area of potential problems and continue follow that path until you isolate the problem.

1251. Testing my internet service.

Scott asks: I just changed my internet service to a new faster service. But it seems like it is still slow compared to the speeds I used to see. How can I tell what speed I am getting?

We don't think anyone feels their internet connection is as fast as they feel it should be--it's just the "nature of the beast". You get used to your internet speeds, and over time it always seems to get slower. In many cases it has nothing to do with the physical connection. Sites you visit publish more and more content that is physically larger and takes to download. You didn't previously stream movies, and now you watch Netflix all day long.

It is possible that your browser could cause the throughput to be slow down progressively because of browser extensions--add-ins for your browser which may give you a better presentation of data, but which may cause the throughput but it requires more bandwidth and computer power which can cause the perceived speed to be slower.

You may notice that the speed is also different based upon the time of day. For most home internet users, you effectively share your internet connection (your bandwidth, at least) with your neighbors. When everyone is home streaming movies, you may find that the speed is slower than it is in the middle of the night.

Are you sure other people in your own home are not downloading large video files? Ask them.

There are multiple tools that can test the upload and download speed of your internet connection. We find http://www.speedtest.net to be the simplest to use (you can also use http://www.att.com/speedtest).

It's unlikely you'll ever see numbers on the speed test web sites that match your settings exactly--there are many factors that affect the exact speed of uploading and downloading at any given moment. You can use the speed you're paying for (generally a different number for upload and download) use the online tools to track trends. If you find that your connection speed is always much lower than specified, call your internet provider and complain. It's also useful to turn off the modem, wait 30 seconds, and then turn it back on. This reboot can sometimes help.