screen resolutionPerhaps it is just a fluke, but it seems monitor manufacturers may finally be realizing they should just tell users what resolution their monitor should be set to.

In what seems like common sense, my latest monitor actually tells me on the built-in menu screen what its optimum settings are.  As somone who has been using computers since 1983, all I can say is, “Well, it’s about time!”

Over the years I have had to play with the built-in monitor settings endlessly to find the correct settings to make everything look normal on my screen.  My latest computer came with my first ever widescreen display, and it was also the first time I had ever had a 22″ viewable area.  I was totally befuddled why things weren’t measuring the pixel size I knew they should like the 125X125 to the right of this very article were showing up well over their set sizes.  Finally, out of pire frustration I opened the menu window to see if I could find anything in the settings I could play with, and I found the above image about the resolution I was set at, and what the monitor suggested.  (Sorry it’s blurry, I had to shoot it with a camera)

I was stunned.  This is the first time I have ever seen a monitor for a PC tell me this, and, sure enough, as soon as I changed it to the wildly large size of 1680X1050, everything looked proper again!

How in the world did manufacturers just finally figure out this was a good idea?  Or has this been going on for a while now, and I just never bought the correct monitor to see it?  Either way, this is a very welcome addition to a monitor, and I hope it is something we see more of in the future to ease everyone’s pain in setting up a new computer.

Categories: General Computing Tips, Opinion   
 

mozbackup logoIf you are a Firefox user, you must be a MozBackup user. There is simply no excuse not to be.

We’ve mentioned MozBackup before when we discussed How To Back Up Firefox, but I had an oppurtunity last night to use it in a way I never had before.

While migrating from a computer that has had way too many malware attacks lately, I decided to backup my laptops Firefox and use it as the basis for my new computer’s copy.  I had never done this before on a totally clean machine with a brand new Firefox installiation, so I wasn’t aware just how much MozBackup truly brings with it.  As I had opted to backup every possible thing the software offered, I knew I would have a lot to import, just not how much.

I am pleased to tell you that it brought EVERYTHING with it.  Browser history, download history, all of my extensions, passwords, cookies… every possible little thing, it came with the backup.  It was like running my laptop copy of Firefox on my new desktop in just a matter of seconds.  No hunting down my extensions, building passwords or anything else, it was ready to go.

The only caveat to this situation, as I see it, is if you backup an infected copy of Firefox.  That is why I chose to do this from my laptop copy instead of the infected desktop.  In case malicious cookies were hiding in the history, I thought it best to do it from a system I knew was 100% clean.  If you backup with malicious cookies, well, they’ll come with you.

As MozBackup doesn’t take long to run, I would recommend making this a regular backup tool.  The only drawback is that Firefox must be closed while you run the process, so you might want to do it say on a Friday night, just as you are closing down.  You’ll have all of that weeks history backed up, and you can go into the weekend knowing you’ve safely backed up all of your precious browser information.

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 

windows 7The beta version of Windows 7 has officially been released, but it is certainly not for everyone.

The vast majority of people like to be on the cutting edge of technology.  If its shiny and new, then they want it.  With the official announcement at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that the beta version of Windows 7 is now available, there are sure to be many people rushing to try it out, but the question is if this is for you, the average computer user.

The shortest answer to this is a resounding “no”.

To expand on this, I have always likened changing versions of Windows on a PC to trying to change the table cloth on a table AFTER you’ve set the dishes.  It is inevitable something is going to break.  Especially with a beta version, meaning a version that is unfinished and almost certain have bugs, you are definitely going to run into problems with your existing programs and drivers.

There is also the issue that this beta has a limited life span that expires at the end of July 2009.  So after you’ve gotten this on your PC, you’ve gotten things to run somewhat correctly, you will have to either revert back to your previous operating system or pay for a fully licensed copy of the final version of Windows 7.

If you are someone with only one PC, then I definitely, and vehemently, do not recommend you try doing this.  Sure it may be tempting to run the new system, but if something goes wrong during the upgrade, you could very well end up with a dead computer.  Even with multiple PCs in my life, it is doubtful I am going to try this because I can’t think of one machine that I am willing to sacrifice to this test for one reason or another.

For now we suggest you remain content with whatever you have because it is probably working.  If you really want Windows 7, you can try it, but we highly suggest you wait for the finished product.

The brave ones amongst us can find the beta version here.

Categories: General Computing Tips, Windows 7   
 

ethernet cableHow old are the cables connected to your computer?

While at the office today, my main computer started having some serious issues with the Internet.  The first thing I did was check to see if the cable modem had stopped working.  All seemed in order, and a second computer in the office was having no problems.

My next thing to do was to test my speed connection by going to SpeedTest.net.  The slow computer was having a problem running the test, but the second computer wasn’t.

So at this point I knew the entirety of the office was online, but not my main computer.  I rebooted the computer and when it came back on it had no Internet at all.  I went to “Start” in Windows XP, clicked on “Control Panel” and then on “Network Connections”.  It showed my connection as being dead and a “Network Cable Unplugged” message.  Okay, so this narrowed down my hunt some.  I unplugged the cable from the bad computer, then took the cable from the working computer and plugged it in to the non-working one.

Presto, I was back on the Internet.

Luckily I always keep spare Ethernet cables laying around, so I took out the apparently dead one, plugged the other computer in to the same port on the switch to test the switch port with a new cable, and it worked.

Just another example of how panic inducing problems with computers often have simple solutions.  Always use a process of elimination to figure out the problem, and it is almost always the simpliest thing as it was in this case.  Just remember to stay calm, no matter how frustrating the situation is, and go step-by-step to eliminate possible causes of your problem.

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 

USB 3.0 has finally received its certification.

Back in August we told you that USB 3.0 was finally on its way, and now it appears it has arrived.  According to CNet, the USB Promotor Group has certified USB 3.0, better known as SuperSpeed USB.  To give you an idea of why it is called “SuperSpeed”, here are comparissons of how fast each version of USB would transfer a 25GB file

  • USB 1.0: 9.3 hours
  • USB 2.0: 13.9 minutes
  • USB 3.0: 70 seconds

In other words, this will radically change how fast you transfer files to things such as thumb drives and external hard drives.  Just imagine that you could back up a 250GB hard drive to an external drive in 11.67 minutes.  There will be next to no reason any more to not back up your files when you can do it at those speeds.

The bad news is that Microsoft is already saying that since it took eight years to go from 2.0 to 3.0, they are nervous about how good it really is.  They are debating if Vista will ever support it, and they are saying it won’t make it into the initial release of Windows 7.  Controllers for the new USB will appear in late 2009 and in consumer products in 2010, so it is likely that consumer outcry will cause Microsoft to have to rethink this policy.

Categories: Gadgets, General Computing Tips, USB   
 

With the winter holidays rapidly approaching, it is time to think about what you can do with sending out the annual greeting cards.

Sure you can head to the store and buy some generic Christmas cards, but why settle for something just anyone can purchase?  With printers getting fancier, and cheaper, why not print out your own?  Yes, they will have fronts that anyone can purchase, but all of the wording can be 100% your creation.

By using companies such as Paper Direct, you can order blank cards that you can customize to your heart’s content by using templates they provide you with for your computer.  As color inkjet and laser printers have gotten cheaper, you can print cards that are barely discernible from pre-printed ones that you buy in the store.

The other bonus to going with this method is that you can print just as many cards as you need, saving the blanks for future years or other purposes.  If you buy three or four different designs, you can cycle through them for years, rotating through them.  (Bonus note: buy more cards after Christmas as they will be heavily discounted and you can be ready for next year.)

You can do this not just with Christmas cards, but postcards, birthday cards, Valentines Day and so on.  Make your printer in to a personal print shop, it’s not nearly as difficult as you may think.

 

Seniors are some of the most tech challenged folks around, but now there appears to be a solution to make them getting online easier.

BigScreenLive is a new software package that you can install on a computer that attempts to make everyday activities like emailing and web surfing more intuitive for older generations.  As an added bonus, if a senior lives in a home, or only has access to a computer in a public space, the software can be installed on a thumb drive which the senior can plug into the computer, and the software will run from it.

The system would be limiting to people who are heavy users, but it could be the perfect way to finally get your parents and elderly family members online.  The service is subscription based with one month, six month and twelve month options.  You can read more details about what the service does on their info page.

While I haven’t gotten to try the service out for myself, it does look fairly intuitive, and I like the use of oversized buttons so that people can clearly see where they are going and what they are doing.  Seeing as they offer a free trial subscription, could certainly be worth some consideration as a gift this holiday season for the older people in your life.

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 

USB, short for Universal Serial Bus, is an amazing technology that allows you to connect hundreds of items to your computer easily.  Somehow this makes companies think they can produce an endless stream of useless gadgets.

While I have seen numerous USB powered devices that have made me wonder why anyone would buy one, the Webmail Notifier worries me in that it is deceptively useful.  The theory is that you hook this device up, link it to your emails, and it will flash different colors telling you when you have received a new personal or business email, and which email account you received it on.

When you think about it for more than two seconds is when it starts to fall apart.

The volume of email I receive in a day across my five main accounts is staggering.  This thing would be lit up from the moment I got up until the moment I went to bed.  Never mind this is taking up real estate on your desk, and you can accomplish the same job with numerous instant messenger programs and plugins for various web browsers for free.

While this is just one of many silly USB devices out there (I am sure we will cover more in the future), this one is a perfect example of how you should think the true usefulness through before purchasing yet another device for your desk.  If you feel a real need for something that may be lightly entertaining, or you just like lights, then you may find this device fun, but we would hesitate to call it “useful”.

Categories: General Computing Tips, USB   
 

It would seem that those of us here at StarterTech aren’t the only ones to think the general public needs more education in some of the basics of every day computing. Google, the search engine giant, has teamed up with AARP to produce a series of videos to education for the associations members about online safety.

In total six episodes have been released, you can see all of them on YouTube, and while they may be directed at senior citizens, they are appropriate for anyone who is looking to learn the basics of online security.  Be sure to check out the series, and let us know if you like seeing things on video instead as we are pondering launching our own series.

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 

Remember how we’ve been telling about cloud computing, and slowly you will find more and more of your life being lived this way?  Well, it seems Microsoft is making this their mantra for Windows 7.

Windows 7, the successor to the pretty universally hated Windows Vista, will be moving some of its previously built-in programs to their Windows Live successors according to CNet News.  Windows Photo Gallery, Windows Mail, and Windows Movie Maker, which were all included with Vista, will be downloadable options for users of the next iteration of the operating system.

While I am not surprised by this move because it will allow for quicker updating of features, it does raise a couple of questions.

- Windows is used by so many types of users, including older users which are the type of people StarterTech is made for, and you have to wonder if they will all be able to understand this concept.  Cloud computing is still pretty radical for some people.

- What happens when cloud computing goes down for any number of reasons, and people are unable to reach their applications?  The masses are not going to take kindly to such a thing happening.

This is going to be a radical change for your average computer user, and not one I’m sure they are ready for.

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 
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