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Frequently Asked Questions

"What would happen if you lost ALL the data on my PC? All my emails, all my contacts, and all my stored documents?"

What's this "data"?
Anything you have created that you care about. This includes

  • - pictures
  • - videos
  • - sound files
  • - documents
  • - emails
  • - mailing lists
  • - internet favourites

Why should I worry about it?
Increasingly, things stored in electronic form are important to us. At best it would be annoying - and at worst, ruinous - to lose these things. The sort of risks we are exposed to are:

  • - a hard disk fails
  • - a software fault means you can no longer read a disk
  • - a computer or external disk is lost or stolen
  • - a fire or flood damages equipment
  • - you accidently delete or corrupt some files
  • - you lose some files - you think they are there but can't find them

What can do about it?

First - be organised. Structure your files so that you know where they are and you can back them up more easily. Make a note of where your emails and other key pieces of information are stored.

Second - make a copy. If you have an external disk, you can use Windows to make a copy of the files. Don't use the copy for anything except as a backup...if you change the files on the backup disk, you'll end up not knowing which version you are using...Remove the backup disk to a different location, or better still, another building. But be aware that making a copy of your data is not sufficient.

Third - sign up for online backup. If you don't want to set up your own backup server and run your own regular backups (and you probably don't!) consider using online backup. If you have a lot of data this will be chargeable. But if you are prepared to exclude photos, videos and sound files, it may well be available free.

Why can't I just make my own backup?
You can make a backup copy of your data, but this is not the whole solution. Consider the various possibilities... you make a copy of all your data today. You need to keep on making copies, ideally every day, as things change... so what will you do? Keep a complete copy of all your data for each day? No, you'll soon run out of space... Overwrite the backup copy with a fresh copy every day? The danger here is that there is something wrong in today's data (but you haven't noticed) and you write that fault into your backup copy...then you can never recover the good data. Proper backup schemes supplement occasional "full" backups with more frequent "incremental" backups - which store only the changes since the last full backup. Keeping all this organised requires work, and the backups need to be kept on a different machine and preferably at a different location, or else a single accident could take out both data and backups.

Where are my emails stored?
If you use Microsoft Outlook, you can find out by clicking "File", then "Data File Management...". Within the window that appears, look for "Personal Folders" and note the filename and location.

If you use Microsoft Outlook Express, click "Tools", and then click "Options". On the "Maintenance" tab, click "Store Folder". In the "Store Location" dialog box, copy the store location from the "Your personal message store is located in the following folder box".

If you use a web-based mail application (eg Google Mail) the email files are not stored on your computer and you don't need to worry about backing them up. You could, however, back up the emails from the web to your local machine...see, for example, http://ask-leo.com/how_do_i_backup_my_gmail.html.

Where are my Internet Favourites and Cookies stored?
If you use Windows 7, look in C:\users\, where is the username you used to log into the computer. Within there you will find "Cookies" and "Favourites". In Windows XP, look in C:\Documents and Settings\.

What about "My Documents", "My Pictures" and "My Music"?
Look in the same folders as in the section above.

"My Windows PC seemed great when I you first got it - but it seems to have slowed down a lot recently...why is that?"

You have this vague feeling your PC has slowed down. One question to ask yourself...is it really slower, or are you just asking it to do more? Software packages are constantly growing in their demands on your PC. Every version tries to do more things and demands more memory and processing power. If you stick with the old version you will eventually find that you can't read the new file formats defined in later versions. So eventually you will probably have to give in and upgrade your machine.

Below I briefly go over some of the things that might affect your PC's speed...all these issues are looked at, and dealt with, as part of the standard NickWorks MOT.

1. Processor speed

The "processor speed" is the number of low-level operations that your PC can do in one second. A typical modern desktop PC will be rated at 3GHz (that's 3,000,000,000 operations per second) - the higher this number, the faster your PC will work. If you are doing numerically-intensive calculations all day (for example, running programs that simulate the weather and require hours to do so) then this speed is crucial. For normal users, it does not matter that much, and you can get away with a machine that is three times slower (1GHz) and hardly notice the difference. Processor upgrades are not a simple matter, and are rarely worth considering.

2. Memory (RAM)

The "memory" (or RAM) is usually the critical factor. The processor (running very fast, as above) does things so quickly that other parts of the system, including the hard disk, can't keep up. Here is an analogy: If I was talking to you, giving you some information, and you tried to write down each word I said on paper, things would be very slow and clumsy. Much better would be if you stored what I said in your head, worked out what was needed from it, and then jotted down the key results on paper. It's the same with RAM...the processor can't remember anything - it just does sums and other logical operations, very fast. All the data it is currently working with, and temporarily storing, is in the "memory" or RAM. This is a very fast storage area which can keep up with the speed of the processor. When there is a result (something new to put on the screen or write to disk) the RAM will pass this onwards. Because RAM has this crucial role in holding all the data that the processor is currently working on, it is crucial for the machine's speed.

When you run a copy of Microsoft Word, the program is first loaded into RAM so that the processor can interact with it fast. If you try to run several programs all at once, they all need to be loaded...and if there is not enough memory to do this, big problems result. Instead of using RAM, the system starts to use the (much slower) hard disk for the same purpose. Parts of the information in RAM will be saved to the hard disk to free space up for other data. This process, known as "swapping" is quite slow. You will know when it starts to happen because you will hear the machine's hard disk start to whirr constantly. There is no cure, except to close some of the programs - try to do fewer things at the same time.

Fortunately memory upgrades are often possible and not too expensive. 

3. Disk space

Disk space (not to be confused with "RAM" or "memory", above) is something that you don't need to worry about too much - unless it runs out. It makes little difference how much information is stored on your disk, and filling it up won't slow the machine down hugely...as long as it doesn't approach being completely full. Once your system disk (normally the C: drive) becomes full, everything stops working. Normally there is data that can be deleted or moved elsewhere to solve this problem. (Don't delete files at random though - your Windows system can't function if you delete parts of it!)

4. Unwanted programs

Over time, most people install a few extra programs, and gradually these have a negative effect on performance. The problem is this - although you are not using a piece of software, and it's not supposed to be using any of your resources, many programs, when installed, add processes which run every time you log in, whether you choose to use the software or not. If you look in the "system tray" - the area next to the clock in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen - you will see the evidence of this. (You might need to click on a button which says "Show hidden icons".) These unwanted programs can be turned off without any adverse effects.

5. Viruses and malware

Viruses and malware are a very common reason for unexpected slowing down of your system. Sadly, running a Windows PC is a constant battle of wits - you...versus an army of hackers, spammers and hijackers who would like nothing better than to take over your computer and use it to attack further machines. You need to constantly make sure that your machine is protected, updated and secured against these attacks. Tell-tale signs are: unexpected pop-up windows appearing on your screen; uncommon graphic effects on your screen; frequent program crashes; excessive disk activity; unexplained slowness.

6. Windows Update

Windows Update tries to protect your computer by automatically updating system files. Because new insecurities are constantly being discovered and then exploited by hackers, Windows Update needs to be in place and working. Microsoft releases new security updates on the second Tuesday of each month, and your computer should download and install these. Things could slow down while the installs are taking place, and if things go wrong your machine might repeatedly try to download and/or install the same updates. 

"Danger! Windows XP is no longer supported!"

If you have a Windows XP computer, you need to act. It is no longer safe to use it online.

Microsoft has a planned life-cycle for each version of Windows. Support for Windows XP ended on April 8th 2014. After that date there were no Windows updates available, and any computers running Windows XP became vulnerable to any new threats or vulnerabilities.

Whenever Microsoft releases new security updates (which happens monthly), these will be reverse-engineered by people whose intention is malicious. When they find out what vulnerabilities the updates are addressing, they will then seek to exploit these vulnerabilities on unprotected XP machines. This “zero-day vulnerability” means that it is unsafe to continue to use a Windows XP machine on a standard network, and everyone needs to consider their options urgently. Options are:

  1. Buy a new computer. If your PC is aging anyway, and you have been thinking about a replacement, now is the time to act. Make sure the new machine has Windows 7 or Windows 8 installed on it.
  2. Upgrade your existing machine. You can buy Windows 7 online for around £70. Note that “borrowing” a copy is illegal and won’t work. Windows 8 costs a similar amount and is easier to get hold of. Windows 8 has some annoying features if you are a normal desktop user without a touch screen, but there are ways around these features.
  3. Remove Windows from your PC and install Linux. If you aren’t wedded to any Windows-only applications, this would be a good option, especially for older machines. And it’s free.
  4. Take the machine off the network altogether. It could still be used as a stand-alone machine for specific tasks.

Contact Nick Works IT Support if you would like to discuss options further.

"What anti-virus software should I use?"

When you buy a new Windows PC, there is quite often an anti-virus solution installed, such as an offering from Norton or McAfee. You will see an icon in the system tray (normally in the bottom right-hand corner) to show it is running. You need to check how long the license for this runs for – it is probably a time-limited trial. If the bundled anti-virus software has less than a year’s license, or you’re not sure how good it is (there a plenty of online reviews of the different anti-virus software packages), it should be removed.

Windows 8 has Windows Defender built in, and this is generally thought to be sufficient, as long as it is running and up-to date.

For older versions of Windows NickWorks recommends installing and updating the free Microsoft Security Essentials. A common alternative, which is also a sensible option, is AVG Free.

Don’t install or activate more than one anti-virus program! Doing so can lead to serious conflict, with each program trying to disable the other.

Contact NickWorks for further advice about computer support and computer maintenace repair.

"Managing email"

Many people rely on a web interface to access their email. You open a web browser, log in, and see all the mail which is stored on a server. The good thing about this is it is simple…you see all the mail, it looks the same whatever device you access it from, and there isn’t much to go wrong.

But the web interface tends to be quite simple. It’s doesn’t offer all the functionality of a desktop email client. And it doesn’t work at all when you have no internet connection – which is bad for laptop users.

Historically the next step was to use a “POP client”. This program runs on your computer and fetches the email from the email provider, and stores it locally. This means you can always see your emails, and compose new ones, whether you have an internet connection or not. The fetching and sending part of the operation will be carried out when you next go online.

Normally POP clients delete the email from the server when they fetch it to your machine. All this works fine as long as you only access your email from a single machine, but as soon as you look at it from multiple machines things start to get messy. First, you have to tell each machine to leave the email behind on the server when it fetches a copy to your machine. Then, your machine needs to keep a list of which messages it has already fetched, so it won’t try and fetch them again next time. And – as you store local copies of your email on several computers – these copies will become different…you might re-file emails into folders, or delete the local copy. When you send an email, a copy will be stored in the “Sent Mail” folder locally on the machine it was sent from, but will not be visible from elsewhere. It can get very confusing.

 Step in IMAP, a system where you have an email client running on your computer which has a replica of what is stored on the server. It “synchronises” occasionally to keep them the same, and any changes you make are reflected on the server. This keeps everything in step and tidy, whilst allowing you to do things locally, whilst off-line, and then synchronise later. If you use multiple computers, you see the same thing from all of them.

Microsoft Outlook is the standard desktop email client, and allows both POP and IMAP access. For those who don’t run a full copy of Microsoft Office, there is a free desktop email client called Zimbra Desktop, which does all the same things. There are various free email clients from Microsoft, none of which are as good as the above – Windows Mail, Windows Live Mail and Outlook Express.

Contact NickWorks for support with email issues.

Reasons to choose Nickworks