Windows for absolute beginners

I recently helped someone with a computer problem. They had been using a computer one way or another for about 10 years apparently. Yet, they referred to their “main screen” which was in fact their webmail (ie the gmail web site in a browser). Entered website addresses into their google search box and chose from the “found” list. Also didn’t know who Microsoft were and why they ket sending messages. If you are thinking “well d’uh” then read no further, but otherwise the rest of this blog might inform you. This user was not dumb, but had jumped into the Windows swimming pool deep end and doggy paddled his way around. If you read on, hopefully I’ll at least help you swim without splashing too much!

Start up

Lets start with the act of turning your machine on. Even this is not always obvious since it can depend upon how you shut down but lets assume that you have shut everything down and are starting from the real start.
The first thing you will see depends upon the machine, but there is always some image or white on black text before Windows itself loads. At this point you can press a key to produce a system menu that can let you get into the actual BIOS (basic in/out system) setup not Windows but the “raw” mechanics of the machine itself. The key to press will vary, it might say briefly on the bottom screen otherwise enter your computer make and model and BIOS configure into google to find it. But if you are reading this far then… DON’T – it’s way above your pay-grade.

The next thing you can do at this beginning stage is repeatedly press the F8 key to interrupt the Windows startup to access the various safe modes (including the last working configuration). If you have just installed something (usually hardware but sometime software) that is preventing you from getting into Windows. Windows 8 and 10 are far more clever at detecting problems and may well go into a recovery menu anyway. I will look at this in another blog. For now lets assume you have started up and are now sitting at your login screen?

Login, Desktop and the Start Menu

Not logging in? OK but it IS an extra level of security and you can set a number of ways to login in Windows 10 (I for instance use a 4 digit PIN with a password as backup). Again… another blog. So you have logged in and the screen you now see is called the Desktop (except Windows 8 where it will be a version of the start menu Microsoft call Metro – targeted at touch screens, click the “tile” saying desktop and read on).

 

Taskbar, Internet Browsers and Search Engines

OK on the desktop you will have a taskbar along a side/bottom/top of the screen This will always have a perspective view of a window, often called the start button and if clicked will pop up the start menu (as will the key with the same icon on the lower left of your keyboard). See here for more on the task bar. Either on the task bar or on the start menu will be a blue e (hover over it with the mouse and it will either say Edge (in Windows 10) or Internet Explorer. Either way this is your Internet Browser. The program that accesses the internet. There are others, FireFox, Opera, Safari (iPad and Macs), Google Chrome (often described by users as google and mistaken for the search engine itself, but Google make Chrome and they also provide a search engine, they are NOT the same thing). When you start up Edge it present you with a long white box that says “Search or Enter web address” which means, if you just type a word or phrase it will use a “search engine” (out of the box this will be Microsoft’s Bing) if you type an actual web address (or URL as it is often referred to, Uniform Resource Location fyi) such as google.co.uk (you usually don’t need to enter the www now, its assumed). This will take you directly to the Google search engine. If you type gmail.com it will go to the google mail login page (where your mail is stored on the “internet” – another blog!) a web site in other words. When someone tells you to “google something” they usually just mean any search engine (bing, yahoo, google and a whole range of others).

The search engine is your friend

OK, so now you know the difference between your desktop, your browser, a web page/site and a search engine. If you have a problem (and I mean ANY problem) type it into your search box and see the list of possible answers. Like asking a question in a pub, not all answers are correct. The first few might be paid advertising (but can still be your answer) the next are ranked (using a complex algorithm, later blog?). If you have a problem on your computer by all means contact me but first you might like to “google” it. The solution might be simple.

Turning your computer off

Shutting down, turning off, whatever you call it, there are three options as far as windows is concerned.

Hibernate

Which will save all of your current session to a special hidden part of the disk and power everything down.

On the plus side:

  • when you start up you are exactly where you were before.
  • you are not wasting power

On the down side:

  • shutting down and starting takes longer
  • you are not allowing Windows to do its background housekeeping

Sleep

Which will turn off all non-essential power except a small trickle to keep your session alive.

On the plus side:

  • when you start up you are exactly where you were before.
  • shutting down and starting is fast

On the down side:

  • you are wasting power and your battery could go flat
  • you are not allowing Windows to do its background housekeeping

 

Shutdown

Which will turn off all power.

On the plus side:

  • you are allowing Windows to do its background housekeeping
  • you are not wasting battery power

On the down side:

  • shutting down and starting is slow (normal actually)
  • you are allowing Windows to do its background housekeeping

There is also Restart which shuts down completely and then restarts.

You also have options about what happens when you close the lid or press the power button. Type Power Options into windows search (the magnifying glass). You have a lot of options depending upon whether on battery power or plugged in. Personally whether plugged in or not I like the lid to do nothing and the power button to shutdown.

Oh and if everything seems stuck you have a last resort to hold your machine’s power button down and force a shut down.

The Windows Taskbar part two

Lets look at the functions of the taskbar from left to right (or top to bottom if you’ve moved it to the side).

win7taskbar

Windows 7 Taskbar

 

win8taskbar

Windows 8 Taskbar and part of the Start/Metro screen

 

win10taskbar

Windows 10 Taskbar

 

  • On the far left is the window flag icon, clicking this will have the same effect as pressing the flag key on the keyboard. The start menu will pop up (Windows 8 used a full screen equivalent, baffling and reviled by to many called Metro which Microsoft intended as an interface for all devices – phone, tablet, laptop and desktop – its main problem is that it assumes touch screen functionality an issue for the usual desktop and most laptops) I will discuss the start menu in a later blog.
    • In Windows 10 the next item on the taskbar is a “Search Windows” field. This may be set to “Ask Cortana” a voice activated “guide” that defaults to searching the web and other annoying traits (disabling Cortana in a later blog!). This is one of many ways to access an installed program or function. Start typing its name and it will do a pretty good job of showing you what you have on your machine and also options on the internet beyond.
    • Again, in Windows 10 only, the next item is an icon showing a window outline with two behind; this is the Task View and will do the same as [alt][tab] showing currently running programs (which can be clicked to select)
  • Now starts the bulk of the taskbar showing… tasks. The first icons will be the Quick Launch icons (placed there by dragging an icon from the desktop or explorer (with a hint or question about pinning it to the taskbar). After these come the running tasks (again selectable by clicking). In Windows 10, if you have clicked a Quick Launch icon and it is running, it will be underlined (such as the three rightmost icons in the Windows 10 taskbar image above).

 

Right clicking on the quick launch icons allows you to unpin, or if running, show some task specific options as well as close all windows.

 

Right clicking on a blank area of the task bar gives options for managing the taskbar as well as the Task Manager (I’ll look in more detail at this in a later blog)

The final two items on the far right of the taskbar are the notification area and the clock which I will cover later.

Robert Cort

This was a fairly minimal brochure site. I consider my target clientele to be mostly individuals and small businesses who need to do what they are good at and not have to spend too much time ensuring they have a web presence. Robert was a minimalist version of this target. I have run advertising campaigns where I talk about how a website backs up and adds detail to a business card and other advertising. Robert wanted very little involvement in “internet stuff”, since most of his work came by word of mouth he didn’t feel it relevant. But some potential customers had tired to find out more about him by looking on the internet (I know thats one of the first things I do). So, in short, we worked on a minimal site, that satisfied this need. Very low maintenance and only three pages of info. Like him “it does what it says on the can” except unlike him thats it, he can do so much more… the web site serves and an introduction. robertcort.patbell.co.uk

The Windows taskbar

When you first get your computer with Windows already installed, along the bottom of the screen is the Taskbar.  Window 7 and later combine this bar with the quick launch menu (before ie XP and 95, the task bar solely showed the currently running programs which could be accessed sequentially using [ctrl][tab] – this still works in later Windows versions too).

win7taskbar

Windows 7 Taskbar

win8taskbar

Windows 8 Taskbar and part of the Start/Metro screen

 

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Windows 10 Taskbar

Windows 10 has expanded and changed the functionality of the taskbar somewhat but it is still recognisable as the taskbar, visible almost always, except when you have chosen a full screen option (F11 or a right click menu option) for, say, your internet browser or video player . It needn’t sta on the bottom of the screen nor stay that size – you can left click and hold on a blank area of the bar and drag it to any of the sides of the screen and if you hover your mouse pointer over the top edge of the bar you’ll see the cursor change to a two headed arrow and you can left click and drag that edge to make the bar as wide as you want.

If you have widened the taskbar to give you more space to show tasks (quick launch or running), I’d recommend a rethink of how many quick launch icons and/or how many programs you run at the same time. Quck Launch icon should be just you handful of regular programs you use, not everything, you still have the start menu and the desktop for lesser used tasks. Running too many programs does eventually cause problems, try to keep only tasks currently in use running, you’ll have a much smoother speedier Windows experience.

 

The taskbar has evolved throughout Windows versions and extra functionality has been added with each new release. Its main purpose remains the same however; that of quick access to, and an overview of running tasks. Next blog I will delve deeper by breaking down each element of the taskbar.

Save

Terra Sancta

Another of Jordan’s to showcase. Somewhat dated now but still a useful “brochure” site that doesn’t really need much updating. A non-profit charity site, this illustrates Jordan’s varied background and the wide experience she bring to her translating and language roles.

Jordan was commissioning another two sites so I decided this one was worth doing for nothing, it being a charity and all. An informational site for the most part. Providing background information to Jordans work in Palestine. terrasancta.co.uk

USB, Bits and Bytes

USB1, USB2, USB3, 3.1, micro-USB, even bits and bytes – I’ll try to demystify these for you below.

The term USB or Universal Serial Bus will be familiar to most of you as used by memory sticks (flash drives, thumb drives are the same thing), commonly about the width of your thumb and slightly shorter (though as these have developed, they have go shorter to the point where I now have one that sticks out less than 5mm from the slot). The main development has been in capacities, speed and price. 128gb* is the max currently at an affordable price of about £25 though 512gb is available for about £150 and 1tb for £600). If you see very cheap ones such as one I see now on Amazon UK 1tb at £26, they are certainly fake. I know this because I have bought an allegedly 128gb stick and failed to copy my 60gb of music onto it. How do the sellers get away with it? Because normally it will take months for many people to reach the actual limit of perhaps 1gb (if you’re lucky). I researched and found a free software utility called h2testw (you’ll find it if you google that, if not email me and I’ll send you a free copy). Essentially this runs a read/write test and compares with the alleged storage space and speed stored electronically on the device itself.

USB standards have jumped several times. USB2 was up to 4 to 5 times faster than USB1 and USB3 (initially ( to 6 times faster) is now in version 3.1 (faster still at twice that of USB3). New models of computer will support all USB versions but older models, for instance 2014 laptops will only support USB2 and below.

It is also possible to use USB to power external drives though some need more power than available on USB and so require a separate power supply unit. The usb port can be expanded to extend other usb ports and also other devices such as wireless network connectors, Bluetooth (for phones etc), wireless keyboards and mice.

 

As far as connectors go, this image from wikipedia (left)says far more than I can in words. there are also male/female equivalents allowing extender cables.

 

Here also a new USB3.1 plug called a micro-B superspeed plug

 

 

Ok a quick lesson in size and speed units. The basic unit of zero or one is a bit. Because early PC transfer was 8 “wires” wide this became a standard byte. You’ll rarely see bits referred to except in broadband speeds as Mbit/sec). OK if you’re still with me, Storage space is usually talked about in terms of Kb, Mb, Gb and Tb each 1000 times the previous one. Although Mbyte strictly means 1000² and is an international standard (IEC 1998), but it is still sometimes used to mean 1024² and its not always obvious which.

Jordan Lancaster

Jordan is a busy translator and language teacher. I have created several sites for her. Her main one she wanted modelled after an existing one since she wanted to change from a troublesome host. That made the content easy to obtain but finnicky in terms of mimicing the existing layout, different hosts use different tools which have specific features. That being said, WordPress with its easy configuration and available plugins, coupled with a powerful theme made for a very attractive and functional site. It showcases her services, publications as well as events past and future. <a href=”http://jordanlancaster.co.uk”>jordanlancaster.co.uk</a>

Windows 10 revisited

Windows users were being pressured to upgrade to Windows 10. It was free to install because Microsoft wish to change their income stream so that users will pay small amounts, to add extra functions to built in different applications. Most individual and small business users seldom buy Windows at all, they usually wait until their existing computers need replacing and get the current version included with their new model. Microsoft are trying to create a market similar to Android on tablets and phones where the income stream is from small apps.

Microsoft officially ended their Windows 10 free upgrade program on July 29th 2016, approximately a year after the operating system was released and just days before the Windows 10 Anniversary Update arrived. Windows 10 is now running on 400 million active devices as of September, thanks in no small measure to that free upgrade offer.

There are still a lot of Windows 7 and 8 PCs out there, however. For those that did want to upgrade but didn’t get around to it, there are still a couple of known ‘loopholes’ to get a free Windows 10 upgrade which Microsoft hasn’t bothered to close, even months after the offer formally ended, for instance for those using accessibility tool or running “testbed” systems.
Why upgrade anyway? Should you have given in to the constant badgering on your screen?… “Limited time free offer!” “Download whilst its free” etc. It was not without its problems; Some of the main functionality was still not finished, such as Mail which still had some issues. Also many existing older devices won’t work, for instance Canon say, about their Pixma 4600 (amongst many) that there is no Win 10 driver and that a printer replacement is recommended (it works for me though when I recently upgraded – so that I could write this blog from a more informed point of view). The fact that it wouldn’t always be free made an upgrade seem urgent but fully updated and virus protected Windows 8.1 or Windows 7 (both using Google Chrome to browse) systems was and still is perfectly usable. Any earlier versions of Windows didn’t qualify for a free upgrade anyway.

If you are a power user with many critical applications, your other software providers might require you to do so (or the not sometimes too, where they are slow to upgrade themselves). But if you are like two-thirds or more of computer owners just interested in browsing the internet, emailing and perhaps having a few photographs then even XP is possibly adequate for your needs. Upgrading was more likely to be necessary when your ageing computer fails for another reason and you buy a new one – in which case it will already have Windows 10.

But XP is unsupported and Win 7 and 8 support will run out – does that matter? Microsoft support isn’t the best, answers are more often found in the user community (google your problem and hundreds of people will probably have already solved it for you). “But I’ll miss out on all the security upgrades” The monthly updates have ceased to be the Microsoft panic “my god there’s a security leak we must fix it pdq” to “lets tweak things a bit and make people feel all warm and supported”.
Unless there is some functionality in Window 10 that you MUST have (tbh I can’t imagine what that would be) my advice would be to wait for when your current computer need replacing.

In a future blog I will share my own experiencess with upgrading to Windows 10 surprisingly painlessly.

Inframe Photo Club

Modelled after the photoclubmeteorite.org site and performing the same functions, except, in this case, for a group based in Nottingham. inframe.patbell.co.uk.

This site caters to a University of the 3rd Age group (though U3A is a protected identity so I we can’t say that, whoops!). This photo group has regular photo outings taking photos on a range of cameras from point and shoot to full frame DSLR cameras with lenses the size of buckets! However photographers collect hundreds, even thousands of shots that might collect digital dust (pixels?) unless there is a vehicle to choose from you archive and “exhibit”. Enter this web site.  Periodically (monthly, or not) they choose a theme and rummage (metaphorically) through their archives to show some of the damn good shots they might have taken, recently or in the past. Take a look, there’s a wide range of styles and quality, all with individual interpretations of the chosen theme.

The dark background and side menu is particularly designed to showcase the images – landscape format is particularly good but portrait (upright) also works though less optimally. There is a periodic “competition” where each image can be rated. The second item in the menu gives the title of the gallery currently being voted upon using a star-based ranking system.

The Turing test and support desks

  Back in 2014 it was news that a chatbot had passed the Turing test. Way back in the 50’s Alan Turing (“father of modern computing” and he of ‘Enigma’ etc) proposed a test which translate today as two people chatting via text or a messaging window. If one were actually a computer (ie a chatbot) and it wasn’t possible to tell who was the real person, the computer (manifesting as chatbot) could be considered as having passed. Of course this doesn’t mean that it’s suddenly going to become our Artificially Intelligent overlord (although apparently chatbots on Twitter gain followers more quickly than humans); it just means that someone has devised a good set of rules that seem natural. In fact the case I am talking about was an entity called Eugene, modelled on a 13-year-old Russian schoolboy with English as a second language. So any observers would probably be more forgiving of little idiosyncracies. Most such chatbots are easy to get into loops; e.g.”Whats your name?” Eugene, ”How do you spell that?” How do I spell what?“Your name?” Eugene…

So what has this got to do with support desks? I’d like to propose the opposite test – when does a support “chat” fail the Turing test. We have all had dealings with Asian help desks and their varying effectiveness. On the plus side they allow support to be provided 24/7. I recently change web hosts for my 20 some websites and email. It was, to my surprise, fairly straightforward. Despite the fact that they offered to do the job for me at $75 per web site, the actual transfer took a matter of minutes once I had jumped the hurdles of actually transferring the 6gb of data and handling the interruptions that halted the automated process (fwiw I ended up zipping up locally and using Ftp). The problem came when they used different terms to those my prior host had. For example, to use an independent domain (such as mydomain.com rather than a sub domain such as mydomain.patbell.co.uk) I needed to park a domain. Their help desk directed me to their online manual for cpanel (the open-source interface for hosts). However the icons I was directed weren’t there since the open source but means that the program can be changed but the manual had not. Anyway after they offered to do it for me and had done it backwards so none of my sites worked at all I managed to resolve the problem without their help at all. The point is that when giving me “help” at no point did they acknowledge that any previous instructions were wrong. I learnt that “We are sorry for the inconvenience” message actually meant “I have no idea, but wait a few minutes and I’ll serve you up some more crap” The first line support failed the Turing test and clearly followed a flow chart that needed drastic updating. The second line support made so many cock-ups they had to be human!

Just recently Microsoft created a chatbot called (see www.Tay.ai) aimed and teenagers and young adults.  Its “persona” was a somewhat naïve teenage girl who started out with “gee its really stoking to meet with all you humans” then “wouldn’t it be great if everyday were puppy day” but within an hour the mischievous imps of social media had turned the adaptive “AI” chatbot into a right-wing racist bigot who was saying things along the lines of “Hitler would have done a better job of 9/11” and Donald Trump for president not this monkey” Its gets worse but MS took it down within an hour, phew!
Except of course that Trump IS president, go figure!

Rather than leave the introductory blog as a sticky post at the top, getting in the way, I thought I'd move it to the 'back' in this about tab and add a bit more background.

This is a business blog intended for my main target market of individuals and small businesses. My career has spanned working for larger companies as an employee so I would be happy to work with larger companies though my main experience is with the sole traders and small companies. Such clients, I have found, are happier to hand over all aspects of dealing with a website. Likewise the clients whose computer problems solve, don't want the details, they just want it fixed. My web site service therefore is a one-stop, I design, create, host and manage. 

I will be blogging about my projects new and old as well as tips, tricks and opinions about computer stuff that might interest my clients. I will also be recycling the blog entries from patbell.co.uk. It is my clients who are the main focus though my friends (some of whom might also be clients) might also be interested. The main purpose however is search engine optimisation (SEO) or "google juice". It is difficult if not impossible to spoof google searches now; no more stacking the same keywords in everywhere nook and cranny. Now, time to first load, no untrusive popups, social links and links back are the focus. Though as I read recently the main thing is "to write good $hit", yes, for the most part content is king. One problem with business sites like mine is that most of the detail is static, and google doesn't like static sites, it likes "fresh and regular". No thats not an advert for dietary fibre it just means that I will be posting weekly on Wednesday at 2.30 GMT.

I will be telling the story of my projects, talking about Security, backups, passwords, SEO, my workflow, my work choices, some Windows how to's, some cautionary tales and even perhaps some aspects of life in rural France (though my personal blog is probably a better place if you want some of that). This blog will be information and opinion in equal measure. A mix of helpful tips and opinions as well as topical subjects.  To save space I won't explain every technical term, google will usually help.  But if you want me to answer a question or cover a particular topic do not hesitate to comment or email [email protected]