Upgrade from Windows XPThe deadline is fast approaching, and this time Microsoft mean it! After 8th April 2014, they will no longer provide support for Windows XP, consigning it to the history books and pleasant dreams of a legion of devoted followers.

What does this mean?

Well, it is not the end of the world, and your current copy of Windows XP will continue to function, but you will no longer receive any updates from Microsoft. As of April 9th 2014, you are on your own if you continue to use Windows XP.

As anyone who even mildly observes them will notice, our weekly batch of Windows Updates tends to include a load of ‘Security Updates’ – which protect our computers from harmful viruses, hacks, and general malware. There are also regular ‘Driver Updates’, which will begin to dwindle as manufacturers stop writing updates for XP, these will no longer be offered through Windows Update.

If you are dependent upon 3rd party software to maintain your business (Accounts packages, Manufacturers proprietary software, etc), you will find that, as they provide new versions or updates, they will begin to ignore Windows XP and specify/support only later versions.

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Microsoft Windows 8.1 is now released

The eagerly awaited Microsoft Windows 8.1 has finally been released. Windows 8 was Microsoft’s flagship project, and it was intended to bridge the gap between touchscreen/mobile devices (such as smartphones and tablet computers) and the more traditional laptop/desktop PC. The interface a user was presented with when encountering Windows 8 was designed to look like the tiles that we have been getting used to swiping on our mobile devices.

Windows 8 was a great-looking, highly sophisticated (yet easy to use) interface on mobile devices, and we at Comspec had a personal liking for the Nokia Lumia range of smartphones running Windows 8 (quite apart from the fact that Microsoft now own Nokia). The Operating System worked well on mobile devices, and it was very easy for users to pick up and run with, using little or no previous knowledge.

Not so on the PC unfortunately. Microsoft tried to push the average PC user towards a touch-screen type of device operation, having the normal tiles we were used to on a smartphone/tablet presented on a PC screen. This led to a backlash from the PC user market, who found the new operating system cumbersome and who did not take to the touchscreen operation on PC’s readily.

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Skype Video Calling ProblemWe have had a spate of customers in the past few weeks who have had problems getting Video Calling to work properly on Skype, when it had been working fine for a lengthy period.

What has been happening is that Skype have distributed a new version of their Windows Desktop software application, which has some problems working with WebCams on older PC’s, particularly those running Windows XP SP3 or anything earlier.

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Windows 8.1 to include a Start Button and a Boot to Desktop option

After finally listening to their disgruntled customers, Microsoft have allegedly been preparing to bring back the Start button for Windows 8.1.  They removed this in Windows 8, and it did not seem to go down well with their users, with downloads of 'Start Menu Replacement' applications soaring.

This new development will roll out with Windows 8.1 and will provide a simple Windows 8 flag-styled button which will take the user to the Start Screen.  There will be no programs menu on there as previously, and you won't be able to launch programs from it.

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Having been asked this a few times lately, there is a very simple solution.  This works for Vista and Windows 7.

  • Log into a User Account with Administrative privileges
  • Go into your Start Menu (icon bottom left of the screen)
  • Type CMD into the Search box to display the CMD Icon
  • Right click the CMD Icon and choose Run As Administrator
  • When the Command Prompt appears, type one of the following lines:

net user Administrator /active:yes

(to show the Admin User)

net user Administrator /active:no

(to hide the Admin User)

You will get a message confirming success, and that's it done!

We don't recommend using the Admin User as your only/main User Account, it is best left as a back door entry in the event of Operating System problems.

Windows 7 is all the rage at present, and it is generally agreed that it is a serious improvement from the short-lived, much hated, Vista.

We were all warned that, when Vista came on the scene, support for XP was going to disappear quickly and everyone was urged to migrate across as soon as possible. The well-documented problems with Vista, and its general sluggishness, caused an outcry and XP was left alone, to potter along until Microsoft could release Windows 7.

For the portable market, where the numbers are increasing year on year, the choice is very limited. Most come now with Windows 7, Vista is sold mainly on older stock, and XP is scarcer than hens teeth.

Let's have a look at all 3 versions of Microsoft Windows, and consider some of the issues surrounding each:

Windows 7

Windows 7 Logo

  • Definitely sleeker, much faster and generally better to use than Vista (some argue its faster than XP, but the most of the hardware it runs on is vastly superior, we have the slowness of Vista to thank for this shift in PC specifications).
  • Still a few compatibility issues, particularly as regards legacy/old software applications. Some hardware doesn’t seem to work totally with Windows 7 as yet, but we’d have to assume the manufacturer will release drivers for W7 quite quickly now.
  • Laptop manufacturers have all jumped on the bandwagon, and the vast majority of new laptops come only with Windows 7 as their Operating System (OS). This is less of a hassle to the domestic market, but can prove to be a headache for the business market, since they are more likely to have legacy applications/hardware to take into consideration.
  • Layman customers, particularly domestic, are being mis-sold these new laptops and Windows 7, with little being told to them of the differences between 32-bit and 64-bit operation. Lots of the new laptops are being shipped with Windows 7 64-bit, which can cause some problems when running legacy applications, designed for 32-bit operation. Before installing 64-bit Windows 7 onto any existing hardware, ensure that ALL components are 64-bit compatible, and that you have no specific software applications which will not run on 64-bit.
  • Microsoft has thrown everything at Windows 7, so it is here to stay. We will all have to get along with it one day, as new hardware comes with Windows 7 pre-installed. So maybe embracing Windows 7 earlier rather than later, might be the best way forward.

Windows VistaVista Logo

  • Whilst Vista SP2 (Service Pack 2) definitely brought Vista and its operation forwards leaps and bounds, it is still considered slow and cumbersome, and riddled with spurious errors.
  • Vista is not the Operating System of choice for new laptops, so sales of it should die out quickly. Most will prefer Windows 7 to anything Vista has to offer.
  • From an IT support point of view, Vista still has way too many spurious errors, which can take some time to repair, than Windows 7 or XP.
  • Those who managed to miss Vista altogether are the real ‘winners’, because they will eventually have to move to Windows 7, but have managed to avoid the nightmares Vista has caused some users.
  • Support for Vista RTM (ie version before any Service Packs are installed, SP1 or SP2) is set to be withdrawn on 13 July 2010, so we would urge users to upgrade to SP2 as soon as possible. Sometimes these Vista SP’s can cause problems when attempting installation. A quick trip to your local computer repairs guy will cost little, but will allow the repair guy to upgrade machines to SP2 manually.
  • We do not recommend that users spend the money migrating from Vista to Windows 7 on existing platforms, unless there are specific reasons. We do, however, recommend you ensure your existing copy of Vista has been upgraded to Service Pack 2 (Vista SP2).

Windows XPWindows XP Logo

  • XP is still a very popular choice of Operating System and, even with its Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) errors, it is still a solid choice of OS.
  • IT system builders have been threatened since the first release of Vista, that support for XP would disappear relatively quickly. The backlash, mainly due to the poor performance of Vista, meant any such ideas had to be shelved quickly.
  • Some legacy applications still run best on XP, and will continue to do so, until developers come out with a new version of the application, designed specifically to run under Windows 7.
  • Support for XP Service Pack 2 (and previous) will be withdrawn on 13 July 2010 (source: OEM System Builder Team on Twitter), so we would urge all users to ensure they have Service Pack 3 (SP3) installed as a matter of urgency.

Conclusions

We see no reason to run out and buy Windows 7 to replace an existing Operating System version, and maybe it is best your existing hardware remains on the OS it currently has.

You will have to consider Windows 7 at some stage, choices are particularly limited with new laptops, but you need to look very closely at your existing applications and whether or not they are fully compatible with Windows 7 before you take the plunge.

Windows 7 has a ‘Windows Program Compatibility Troubleshooter’ added, which allows you to run specific applications in a compatibility mode, or as older versions of OS. This will work in most cases, but some legacy applications will not even install properly, so this tool is useless in that event.

We have noticed some poor selling of Windows 7 machines, as 64-bit is becoming as widespread as 32-bit with some manufacturers in particular. The layman user is not aware of 64-bit and the fact that it has serious compatibility issues with some specific applications, which were designed primarily for 32-bit operation. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous retailers are simply forcing this onto the unsuspecting buyer, without checking to see if it will cause them problems. 64-bit is definitely faster than 32-bit, and will be the architecture of the future, but until all applications and hardware components are totally compatible, it cannot completely replace 32-bit just yet.

If you were lucky enough to avoid Vista, then ensure you have upgraded your XP to Service Pack 3 and run a while yet with it. As and when you purchase new hardware, look towards introducing Windows 7 and migrating your whole system across over a period of time.

Home users tend to have less legacy applications, than business users, so the jump to Windows 7 is not such a drastic move. Still, the Home user nowadays has loads of little applications, performing a multitude of specific tasks, and these would need to be looked at (Google them for known Windows 7 issues) prior to making the jump.

Don’t just dump XP yet. It has been supplied up until very lately on the new Netbook range of PC’s (mainly because Vista runs way too slowly on their cut-down hardware capabilities), and Vista scared a load of people away from jumping forwards from XP. We can still purchase it and sell it with new PC builds (though this might dry up sooner rather than later), and all in all it seems XP is going nowhere just yet. The removal of support for versions up to SP3 is a bit of a red herring, as the vast majority of XP users will already be using SP3, and can happily work away with their existing setup.

Our advice – only move to Windows 7 when considering new hardware, and we would still urge you to watch out for Service Pack 1 to be released (past experience has told us this is a necessity for new Microsoft Operating Systems).

If any of our customers has any specific issues with Windows 7, or would like to discuss a potential new hardware purchase before taking the plunge, please call us, advice costs nothing but saves a lot in some cases.

Windows Vista Service Pack 2 is now available for download, and you should start to notice it appearing in your 'Automatic Updates' very soon, if not already.

Microsoft Windows Vista SP2 now  available for download

What is the purpose of SP2?

  • Program compatibility fixes (including all previous Vista updates, and some specific compatibility fixes for certain programs)
  • Hardware support (additional support for Bluetooth wireless technology and improved performance for Wi-Fi connections after the computer resumes from 'sleep mode'.  You can also record data to Blu-ray disc media.
  • Operating system updates (including Windows Search 4.0, plus improvements for TV recording using Media Player)
  • Hotfixes (a number of hotfixes to improve Vista, and repair bugs)

Important points to note, before you install SP2:

  • It takes at least an hour, so if you are using a laptop, ensure you have it plugged into the mains
  • Your PC will restart a couple of times, so ensure you have all other applications closed prior to installation
  • You must already have Vista SP1 installed before you can install SP2
  • There have been some problems with certain sound drivers and other hardware, but this is not a big issue, you simply need to update these drivers after you have completed the SP2 installation.
  • If you had previously installed the 'pre-release' version of SP2, then this will have to be uninstalled before you install the full SP2 release.  The 'pre-release' version has a limited 'shelf life' anyway.

For further information regarding Vista SP2, and installation problem information, visit Microsofts website HERE.

Well, we have been test-driving Firefox version 3 for the past week or so, and it is great. A vastly improved web browser than its predecessor, which I have been using for quite some time very happily (until now).

Firefox Logo

Mozilla say that Firefox 3 has the following improvements:

  • More secure (in that they have really upped the protection offered to users from Malware, Virus attacks, etc)
  • Easier to use (Lots of little improvements to password-handling, downloading, add-on handling, etc)
  • More personal (Lots of improvements to help you be more organised, and to save you time)
  • Improved platform for developers
  • Improved performance (Speed, memory usage and reliability all improved)

More details on the specific improvements offered can be found HERE.

We have been running the RC1 version, and it is definitely much improved in terms of performance, which was a slight issue with previous versions. This version of Firefox is definitely the best web browser I have ever used personally, and it makes much better use of my time when browsing, something I spend quite a portion of my day doing.

Things like the improved 'Location Bar' are just stunning improvements, and the added security it now has built in makes life quite a bit safer online. The visual improvements are quite good, with some nice icons for XP & Vista.

Firefox 3 is not on full release yet, and Mozilla have been flooding the internet trying to drum up support for their 'record' attempt on their proposed release date. They have been running a campaign to get people to 'pledge' to download version 3 on the release date to allow them to attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the most downloads in a 24 hour period.

There is no definite date for release yet, but it is expected to be mid-June, and we will be recommending to all our users to get Firefox 3 - we love it !

Anyone wanting a detailed review of Firefox 3 should visit Mozilla Links.

UPDATE 17th June 2008:

Well, today was the day that Mozilla decided to release Firefox 3, the eagerly awaited free web browser, with an ever-increasing following.

Firefox 3

It can be downloaded HERE (there is also a brief tour video near the bottom of the page).