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Should you upgrade to Windows 10?

windows10installissuesThe great thing about Windows 10 is that it just works. There’s not really a learning curve as there was with Windows 8 or 8.1. Even if you don’t get to grips with features like the task-bar, search or Task View, it won’t actually take anything away from your experience of Windows 10. And there are no navigational hassles, as there were with the charms menu; pretty much everything that you need can be found in the Start Menu or Action Centre.

However the most successful Window 10 upgrades seem to be from Windows 8.1. Upgrading from Windows 7.1 can sometimes be fraught with problems. In fact, some upgrades from both Operating Systems have just failed and others have led to the loss of all the data from a PC’s hard drive.

So before you even click a button to download your upgrade to Windows 10 or begin to install it from a DVD make sure you back up your entire Windows PC. Make sure you have a full image backup so that if anything does go wrong you can at least recover from it and get back to a fully working computer once again.

That’s not saying you should stick with Windows 7 or Windows 8, because Windows 10 is Microsoft’s best ever Operating System. Just be sure to prepare an image backup first, and test that it works before you begin the upgrade process.

Note: The free Windows 10 upgrade offer is only available until 29th July 2016.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 Features 3

windows10actioncentreresize-200New Mandatory Windows Updates

Microsoft will issue regular updates just as it always has. Only this time it’s different. You will not find an option in Windows 10 Home to turn off updates – updates are now mandatory.

Updates contain drivers as well as security (and non-security-related) patches, which may worry some people. For example, since Windows 10 launched, a broken NVidia driver has already caused problems for some Windows 10 users. No doubt Microsoft will figure out the best way to deal with problems like these, as it will not want millions upon millions of Windows users complaining when an update breaks all their machines in one fell swoop.

There are of course benefits to forced updates. Vulnerabilities and security holes will be addressed and patched on all Windows 10 machines (aside from Enterprise versions) at the same time, and people won’t be running vulnerable 6-year-old versions of Internet Explorer.

Windows 10 Privacy Issues

Much has been made of the ‘spyware’ and privacy issues in Windows 10, and rightly so. Windows 10 is the most connected, cloud-focused Operating System Microsoft has ever released and for the most part this is a good thing. Using a Microsoft account instead of a local account, for example, means your settings, wallpaper, start menu configuration and other things can be synced across all your devices – even to your Windows 10 phone.

Cortana, one of the best new features, needs to access personal data – emails, location etc. – if you want to use her full capabilities. Plus, OneDrive integration means your files are accessible from any computer, tablet or phone.

Note: The free Windows 10 upgrade offer is only available until 29th July 2016.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 Features 2

windows10actioncentreresize-200
The New Settings Menu

Control Panel is still available in Windows 10. And if you’re a technical user, you will come across it from time to time. But most of us will never see it.

The New Settings Menu is now a far more comprehensive solution and much more logically arranged.

Compared to Windows 8.1, Windows 10’s Settings menu is a more robust and more Control Panel-like version of the Settings charm. In the new Settings menu, you’ll find some familiar prompts: System, Devices, Network & Internet, Personalization, Accounts, Time & language, Ease of Access, Privacy, and Update & Recovery.

Each category in Settings leads you into a wordy sub-menu. It’s not quite as intuitive as the Control Panel was, but you can always find what you want.

What’s more, you can search in Cortana on the taskbar for a setting and you can search within the Settings app itself.

Windows 10 Task View

To the right of the search box you’ll notice an unfamiliar icon. Click it and Task View will open. It’s a lot like the view you get in Windows 7 or 8 when you press Alt+Tab. You can still use Alt+Tab in Windows 10 but the short-cut for Task View is Win+Tab.

Click the new Task View button on the taskbar and you’ll get an overview of all of the apps you’ve got open. Drag one of those apps onto the “new desktop” link, and it will be moved to its own independent workspace (a virtual desktop).

You could use one workspace just focused on work and then have a separate virtual desktop for gaming forums or playing games. In fact there’s no limit to the amount of virtual desktops you can create, and each one is treated as its own little private workspace.

You can quickly flip between desktops using Ctrl+Win+left cursor or Ctrl+Win+right cursor. This is much faster than using Alt+Tab and trying to find one Word document from 20 open windows.

Unlike the situation with Windows 8.1 you can use the new-style apps from within the Desktop area. This helps Microsoft make good on its claim that Windows 10 will feel familiar to Windows 7 users.

Note: The free Windows 10 upgrade offer is only available until 29th July 2016.

Next Month: New Mandatory Windows Updates and Windows 10 Privacy Issues.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 Features 1

windows10-desktopWi-Fi Sense
While technically not a new feature Wi-Fi Sense (it’s also part of Windows Phone 8.1) connects your devices to trusted Wi-Fi hotspots.

If you leave it enabled, the keys (passwords) to Wi-Fi networks that you add to your device are encrypted and stored on a remote Microsoft server. If one of your contacts comes within range of one of your Wi-Fi networks, that network’s key is automatically fed to the Wi-Fi access point to grant the contact access to that network.

The purpose of Wi-Fi Sense is to make sharing Wi-Fi Internet access easy, according to Microsoft. You don’t have to give the Wi-Fi key to a visitor to your home or office (assuming they are in your Contacts list), and the visitor doesn’t have to enter it in his/her device. So Wi-Fi Sense is more secure than the usual person-to-person sharing method because your contacts never see the actual key(s).

It’s important to note that only Internet access is shared via Wi-Fi Sense. Guests cannot rifle through shared folders and files on your local network, or use shared devices such as printers. They can only really surf the Web and check their email.

Password sharing via Wi-Fi Sense is enabled by default for Outlook, Outlook.com and Skype (all owned by Microsoft) contacts. You do have to give permission to make it available to your Facebook contacts. Your contacts in any of those three services who are using Windows Phone or Windows 10 can access your Wi-Fi networks via Wi-Fi Sense.

Obviously, your contacts must also be within range of one of your Wi-Fi networks. They must also have Wi-Fi Sense enabled, sharing their Wi-Fi networks with you and their other contacts.

If you are concerned about this sharing technology you can disable it in one of two ways. You can go to the Windows Wi-Fi Settings menu and uncheck the box labelled “Share Wi-Fi networks I Select” option. Alternatively, you can add the string “_optout” (note the underscore) to the end of your Wi-Fi access point’s SSID (part of your routers online settings).

Ultimately, Wi-Fi Sense probably isn’t the most secure feature in the world, but it isn’t that bad either. As with many things in life, you have to choose between convenience and absolute security.

File Explorer Enhancements
File Explorer has been given a little bit of a makeover. You now have a Quick Access area to which you can pin and unpin any folders you want to regularly access. In the ‘home’ screen of File Explorer you can also see Frequent Folders and Recent Files. This all makes File Explorer a much more helpful tool for everyday use.

You can pin things permanently to Quick access by right-clicking them and selecting Add to Quick access.

There are a lot more file operations that you can access on the ribbon at the top of the window without the need to use the right-click menu.

The old Windows 8 Share logo is now used for File sharing from all apps. You can choose to email a file straight from the File Explorer window or add it to a zip file.

As you’d expect, OneDrive is also incorporated within File Explorer. While it’s now an integral part of Windows 10 it’s not a pain to dismiss, and you can quite happily use Windows 10 without it, if you want to.

Note: The free Windows 10 upgrade offer is only available until 29th July 2016.

Microsoft’s Virtual Assistant Cortana and How She Works

hicortanaMicrosoft’s virtual assistant Cortana isn’t exactly a new feature, as she’s been on Windows 8 Phone for just over a year. But the company’s answer to Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Now has made the transition to the desktop with Windows 10, taking over the search functionality, while also handling quite a few housekeeping duties.

You can have Cortana trawl through your email and calendar, and keep you notified of any upcoming flights you’re taking, or packages you’re expecting. She can set reminders and track stocks, and you can even dictate email messages for her to send to your contacts. Cortana can also be set to listen for you to say ‘Hey, Cortana,’ and can be trained to recognise several different voices.

Ask Cortana “What do I have next week?” and she’ll helpfully show you all of the events you’ve got lined up. (on the desktop, she attempts to search for documents).

But there is a lot more you can do, as all the features from Windows Phone are now in Windows 10. So you can type or ask, ‘What’s the weather going to be like this weekend?’ and Cortana will display a forecast. You can also say ‘Remind me to fill in my tax return tomorrow night’ and you’ll get a reminder at the appropriate time.

Reminders go even further, as Cortana can tie them to people and places. So you can also say “Remind me to ask James about that money he owes me” and Cortana will ask whether you want to be reminded at a specific time or place.

For places, you can say ‘Remind me to get milk and bread when I get to Tesco’ or ‘Remind me to water the plants when I get home’.

Cortana will show the top news stories, identify music playing and has a ‘Daily Glance’ which displays a summary of your meetings, today’s weather, information about your daily commute, sports scores and more.

If you allow it, Cortana can access information from emails, such as flight numbers and warn you if there’s a delay or if there’s heavy traffic on the way to the airport and you need to leave earlier than you might have. If Cortana can’t answer a question directly, it will launch the new Edge browser and display search results.

Finally, Cortana can set alarms, record notes, play specific music, launch apps and give you directions on a map. Cortana works well, and is one of Windows 10’s biggest draws. Learn how to use her many capabilities and you will be more productive in whatever you’re doing.

Note: The free Windows 10 upgrade offer is only available until 29th July 2016.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 Feature Tour

windows10installissuesThe Windows 10 Start Menu and Features

The Start menu is very Windows 8 like in that it features Live Tiles for at-a-glance information in apps. These were largely redundant for many Windows 8 users because of the lack of decent apps. But that’s changed in Windows 10, as the available apps are much more useful and a good many have been completely redesigned.

The remainder of the Start menu is more like the Windows 7 version, with controls for turning your PC off and restarting, as well as most-used apps and the ability to scroll down through all your apps in alphabetical order through an All Apps menu. File Explorer and Settings are also present.

You can scroll down through the Live Tiles. The tiles also animate (as if the tile itself is rotating) if there’s new content for you to check out. You can group and rename the live tiles just as you could in Windows 8.

You can resize the start menu itself by dragging the sides, which is a handy new feature. However, you cannot switch the live tiles section off completely.

The taskbar itself is mostly unchanged, but open apps have a subtle coloured bar below them, while the new Search bar (which you can reduce to an icon or get rid of completely via the taskbar right-click menu) and Task View icons are there to stay, alongside the Start button.

Once again, you can minimise everything by clicking in the far right-hand corner of the taskbar.

Multiple Virtual Desktops

Unless you have a multi-monitor setup it can be easy to run out of screen space. For that reason, Windows 10 provides multiple desktops that you can work in and quickly switch between.

To use this feature, just click the new Task View button on the taskbar. This is located between Search and the new Edge Browser. This brings up the Task View interface, where you can see your open windows on the virtual desktops you’ve added.

When you open the Task View interface for the first time, and you only have one desktop, the new add a desktop button is available. Click the plus sign to add another virtual desktop.

You can create an unlimited number of multiple desktops, and switching between them is just a matter of clicking the Task View button again and moving your mouse over the thumbnail of the one you want. You can also switch between your desktops by pressing Ctrl+Win and tapping the left or right keys. When you have highlighted the desktop you want to switch to, press Enter.

Moving open apps and windows between desktops is very straightforward. Right-click the window to move (in the desktop switcher screen), select “Move to”, and then choose the desktop you want.
To close a virtual desktop, hover your mouse over its thumbnail and click on the X that appears.

The Action Center

The former Charms functions of Windows 8 are contained in a new Notifications panel, called Action Center.

This is launched from the notifications area of the taskbar. When you launch Action Center, a full-height bar appears on the right of the screen – it’s designed to match the Notifications setup in a Windows 8.1 Phone.

A raft of individual settings (called Quick Actions) resides at the bottom of the Action Center. This includes features such as toggling Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or Location on and off or switching in and out of tablet mode. If you’re coming from Windows 7 and have no idea where to find some of the settings you are used to, there’s a good chance you’ll find them here, in the Action Center.

You can also get to Settings from here as an alternative to the Start menu, and there’s also now a Note feature for instantly launching OneNote ( OneNote is a powerful Evernote-style app which lets you create notes that are a mixture of text, lists, images, maps and more).

Maps have been improved too. Microsoft has added StreetSide – the equivalent of Google’s Street View – so you can take virtual tours of places, as well as getting directions and finding nearby places of interest. For directions, you can choose driving, walking or public transport.

You’ll also notice that other connectivity features are available from here, such as the ability to connect to devices such as Bluetooth speakers. You can also lock rotation if appropriate – this option is context sensitive, so on a non-touch device it’s just not there.

In the Settings app you can select which of these Quick Actions appear in the Action Center, as well as which apps can send you Notifications. When notifications appear, you can swipe them away on touch, flick them with the mouse or just click the X to close. Tap or click the down arrow to see more detail. There’s a Clear All option, too.

If you’re coming from Windows 7 and have no idea where to find some of the settings you’re used to, there’s a good chance you’ll find them in the Action Center.

Note: The free Windows 10 upgrade offer is only available until 29th July 2016.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 update choices

windows10-familyMicrosoft’s Windows 10 update choices

This is the first in a series of articles all about Windows 10.

Windows 10 was launched onto the market on 29th July 2015. The good news is that it’s free to upgrade to Windows 10 if your PC is running either Windows 8.1 or Windows 7.1. But is it a worthwhile upgrade for you?

Let’s have a closer look at Windows 10 so we can all make an informed choice.

The first thing to take on board is that the free upgrade offer is only available until 29th July 2016.

If you have Windows 8.1 (on a PC or a phone) there should be no issue in installing Windows 10. If you have Windows 7, you’ll need to make sure you meet Windows 10 minimum requirements:

Latest OS: Make sure that you are running the latest version of either Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1 Update.

Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster processor

RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) for 32-bit or 2 GB for 64-bit

Hard Disk Space: 16 GB for 32-bit OS 20 GB for 64-bit OS

Graphics Card: DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver

Minimum Display: 800×600

Even though the free upgrade version of Windows 10 is only available for 12 months, Microsoft has stressed that those updating during this promotional period will be able to use Windows 10 at no cost forever (i.e. for the “supported lifetime of the device”). And when you upgrade, you’ll be upgraded to the appropriate version. For example, if you’re running a Professional version of Windows 7 you’ll be upgraded to Windows 10 Professional.

If you’re on a version of Windows that can be upgraded you might well have seen an icon appear on your taskbar via Windows Update (providing your machine is up-to-date, of course). Clicking the icon launches a window that enables you to reserve your place in the queue to download the free upgrade.

After the free offer period you will presumably still be able to upgrade your PC, but you will have to purchase an upgrade version of Windows 10.

Next Month – More details about Windows 10 and its new desktop layout.

Its a wise move to keep checking your Hard Drive for errors

checkdiscChkdsk inspects the physical structure of a Hard Drive to make sure that it is healthy. It can then repair any drive problems that it finds, related to bad sectors, lost clusters, cross-linked files and directory errors.

These types of problems can arise in a variety of ways. System restarts, crashes or freezes, power glitches and incorrectly turning off a computer, can cause all sorts of corruption in the drives file or folder structure.

Once an error occurs it can develop to create more errors, so regularly running Chkdsk should be made part of your routine PC maintenance.

Chkdsk can also serve as an early warning that a hard drive is deteriorating. Drives gradually wear out and sectors may become bad. If Chkdsk starts finding bad sectors, that’s a sign that your hard drive may need replacing.

Find out more about Chkdsk – http://www.qbs-pchelp.co.uk/pchelparticles/chkdsk.html

Planning to Buy a new graphics card for your PC? – Part 3

radeonx1300-2The Power Requirements

Even if you have PCI Express x16 slot and plenty of room, you’ll need extra power for most modern graphics cards.

Your power supply will most likely have PCI-E power connectors, but they may be bundled up and tied out of the way if no graphics card is currently fitted. These connectors are usually black, marked as PCI-E and have six pins in a 3×2 arrangement. If your Power Supply Unit does not have these, you can buy adaptors which connect to the standard four-pin power or SATA connectors.

Be careful with graphics cards that require two PCI Express power connectors as each of these should be connected to a different 12v rail of the power supply. On most Power Supply Units this means connecting each of the two adaptors to a different ‘daisy chain’ of power connectors and not to the same chain.

Finally, make sure your power supply is powerful enough to work with the existing components in your PC. This can be tricky to work out, but a good rule of thumb is that high-end graphics cards will require at least a 600W PSU and may be even more.

It’s wrong to assume that a Power Supply Unit can output its maximum power rating continuously, so you could run into problems if your components are drawing more power than around 80% of the power supply’s top rating.

It’s fairly easy to check how much power a graphics card draws by searching online for the make and model you are planning to buy.

Planning to Buy a new graphics card for your PC? – Part 2

radeonx1300-2With Desktop PCs, there will be a few expansion slots located on its motherboard. Typically they will all be PCI Express slots, but for a graphics card you need a PCI Express x16 slot. There are three versions of this slot, but they are backwards compatible, so a modern PCI Express 3.0 graphics card will work in a motherboard with a PCI Express x16 2.0 slot.

If your PC’s motherboard has two PCI Express x16 slots it’s most common to use the top one for fitting your new graphics card, but if you’re fitting two cards in an NVidia SLI or AMD Crossfire setup, you’ll need to use both of them. Check which standard your motherboard supports before investing in a pair of cards, though.

How to know if a graphics card is compatible: length and height

Powerful graphics cards tend to have large fans to keep them cool and this makes them twice as thick as a ‘single-height’ card. The way most computers are built means that the fan assembly will often be underneath the card rather than on top of it, so you’ll need an unused slot – and back plate – directly underneath the PCI Express x16 slot.

You also need to measure the distance from the back plate to any components which would block a long graphics card at the front of your case. Don’t forget that some cards have their power sockets on their back edge rather than the side, so you’ll need to add about 30-40mm to the length of your chosen card to guarantee it will fit comfortably.

If you’re unsure how long a card is, ask the manufacturer, seller or try pc forums and blogs to find someone who owns that card already and can confirm how big it is.

Next Month: How to know if a graphics card is compatible: power requirements