On Tuesday, October 28th, the library’s public computers and printing system will be out of service from 9am until approximately 3pm for a planned software upgrade. Wi-Fi will still be available, and laptops are available for checkout from the Reference Desk with a signed agreement for use within the library. Thank you for your patience as we continue to improve our public computing system.
Staying current with IT news, trends, and tips is a fundamental part of my job in the library. While I get this information from a variety of resources, there is one website that keeps surprising me with helpful information on a variety of subjects of interest to me and the patrons I assist. I’d like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to MakeUseOf, a free online resource with timely articles, reviews, and help guides for all things tech. What really makes this resource shine is its ability to speak to both new and veteran users at the same time without confusing or boring either!
The home page at MakeUseOf displays headlines and teaser text for their most recent articles. I find this layout somewhat chaotic, so I prefer to sort the articles by category before browsing. Selecting “Topics” in the header menu will display the articles by category. The “Answers” section leads to a user forum where registered members can ask and answer questions from the MakeUseOf community. Check out the “Top List” section for “best of” lists for a variety of software and services on multiple platforms. For in-depth technology guides, have a look at their “E-books” area.
As a registered user of MakeUseOf, you can earn points for sharing their content on social media, as well as participating in the forum, polls, and other activities. Those points can be redeemed for rewards, such as entries in drawings for free hardware and software. My favorite benefit of membership has been receiving the newsletter. Each email has a few headlines with teaser text that can be easily scanned, with more information just a click away. I have happened upon lots of very useful information in these newsletters that I didn’t even know I needed! You can opt-in to the newsletter by selecting the social media icons at the top of any MakeUseOf page, and then selecting the blue “Email” button.
Have you ever used a computer that was running suspiciously slow? This is a notoriously difficult problem to diagnose. If you’ve been keeping up with your regular maintenance, then it’s probably not just a matter of a cluttered browser or hard drive. Chances are, there is a program running behind the scenes that is consuming your resources. It could be an anti-virus scan, or it could be something more sinister. How can you tell for sure?
1. Windows Task Manager: If you are on a Windows PC, hit control-alt-delete (three keys at the same time). On the resulting screen, select Task Manager. The Process tab is the most telling. If you click CPU (top of the column), it should put the process using the most memory at the top. If not, click it again. DO NOT stop a process without knowing what it does. This can cause major damage if the process is necessary for normal computer operation. Instead, look up the process name on a reliable site like ProcessLibrary.com. The site will give you an idea which program is associated with the process, what it does, and whether it can be shut down safely.
2. If the Task Manager doesn’t tell you what you need to know, try What’s My Computer Doing. It’s free software that gets more in-depth than Task Manager. The paid version will dig even deeper.
If you’re like me, you don’t like to spend a lot of time thinking about computer maintenance. The most importance part of maintenance is backing up your data. If you back up your data on a regular schedule, you will almost never lose an important file due to unexpected computer failures.
With regular use, your computer gathers and stores all kinds of information behind the scenes. Every time you move or delete a file/program, traces are left behind. In fact, just about everything you do on a computer causes digital clutter! Over time, this clutter can slow down or corrupt your computer. This is where the other side of maintenance comes in. A regular cleanup regimen is all it takes to keep your computer running swiftly and smoothly. While I take these maintenance steps weekly, computers that are used only casually could push to a monthly schedule. All utilities mentioned in this post are free and (in my personal experience) easy to run. Of course, here is where I insert the disclaimer that the library is not responsible for how these products interact with your machine.
Whether you are running Windows XP, Vista, or 7, the routine is basically the same.
1. CCleaner: This utility is great for cleaning up junk left behind by your browser, email client, software uninstalls, and more! I have found the running the file cleaning module (open program, click “run cleaner”) with the default settings to recover a lot of space without dumping anything critical. After running the file cleaning module, you can also run a registry cleaner. Select “Registry” in the left menu. Again, I have found the default settings in the module to be thorough without being destructive. Click “Scan for issues” to begin. When the scan is finished, select “Fix all issues.” The program will prompt you to backup your registry. This is a good idea – just remember to delete the old backup next time to run CCleaner. Finally, click “Fix all selected issues.”
2. Disk Defragmenter: This utility is included with every Windows installation. This utility is used to rearrange data on your hard drive, making for faster access. For a more thorough description, please see this article by Microsoft. In Windows XP, go to Start>All Programs>Accessories>System Tools>Disk Defragmenter. In Vista/7, click on the start orb and type “Disk Defragmenter” into the search box. Click on the program when it shows up in the list. The good news is, you can schedule this task to run automatically on a daily, weekly, or monthly schedule. In Vista/7, the scheduling component is easily found inside the program. Unfortunately, it is a bit trickier to schedule in XP. Thankfully, Microsoft created a step-by-step article to refer to. One caveat – if your computer is turned off when the defragmentation is scheduled, it will not run until the next scheduled time. If you miss a scheduled session or prefer not to automate the task, simply click “Defragment Disk” to run manually. The program will let you know when it is done.
3. Windows Update: For the average user, I also recommend setting Windows to retrieve updates automatically. Sometimes complicated or tweaked installations of Windows may have trouble with certain updates, so advanced users may want to manually update to avoid conflicts. Microsoft generally releases updates on the second Tuesday of the month, affectionately referred to as “Patch Tuesday.” Occasionally, an out-of-cycle patch will be released if it is deemed too critical to wait for the next batch release.
4. Anti-Virus: I am a huge fan of Microsoft Security Essentials. In fact, I highlighted it in my very first post on this blog. I still love it just as much – especially that it updates and scans automatically. I have been prompted, on occasion, to run a manual scan. If you have MSE installed, you will know it needs attention if its icon is orange or red. Otherwise, it is humming along without intervention. If you use a different anti-virus/anti-spyware product, make sure it is set to run automatically for the best protection.
And that’s all it takes to keep even aging computers running smoothly. Happy computing!
We are all familiar with the nightmare scenario – a Blue Screen of Death or some other indication that your computer irrevocably damaged. While many people have precious documents, pictures, videos, etc. saved on their home computers, few have committed to a backup plan.
The good news is, backing up doesn’t have to be a huge chore. This is especially true if you have Windows 7. There are tools built in to Microsoft’s newest operating system that can allow even a novice user to create reliable backups. For a fantastic, step-by-step article on how to back up a Windows 7 machine, head to the Windows Secrets article, “Build a complete Windows 7 Safety Net.”
Windows Vista also has some built-in backup capabilities. Again, someone else has already written a great article, so I won’t reinvent the wheel here.
Backing up data on Windows XP can be trickier, since the native tools aren’t as comprehensive. One of these tools is System Restore. When enabled, this tool creates “restore points” by essentially taking note of your settings and installed software at a particular point in time. If data becomes corrupted, sometimes System Restore can help. However, System Restore can also create a hideout for viruses to reassert themselves after you think you have uninstalled them. There is a backup utility included in Windows XP, but automated system recovery is not supported.
When dealing with XP, there are some very good third-party backup tools. For instance, if you plan to backup your data to an external hard drive, many brands pre-load software precisely for this purpose. I have use the Seagate software at home, and have enjoyed years of successful backups.
If you are willing to pay for reliable backup software, Acronis True Image is one product about which I often read stellar reviews. It allows for full backups, incremental backups (shorter sessions that only note changes since the last backup), and disk imaging. Disk imaging not only saves all of your folders and files, it takes a full snapshot of your computer, including the operating system, programs, and settings. Restoring from an image can save lots of time and headaches.
No matter how you go about it, backing up your data is a crucial element of smooth computing. Bizarre, unexpected things could happen to your computer at any time. Wouldn’t you feel better knowing that your precious photos and videos were residing safely elsewhere, should your computer take a turn for the worse? In fact, I would suggest keeping backups in multiple locations. External storage has really come down in price, and it could be worth the investment to keep one external drive for regular backups at home and another in a safe deposit box that gets backed up less often. This way, your data is protected even if you encounter a situation more catastrophic than computer failure.
That reminds me, I think it’s time to backup my work files…