August 2010 - Q & A
Q: How much difference is there between Linux and Windows?
Toby: I would say that Ubuntu is as close to Windows 7 as Open Office is to Microsoft Office. There are differences, you do have to learn some things and different ways of doing things, but you can arrange the desktop, you can do the setup, you can change your wallpaper, and more. Understand for Linux it is just the kernel, there is nothing … with Linux all you can do is a DOS-type prompt. It is very limited in what it can do and even a lot of the other functions you would add on will not work out of the Linux kernel. Then they have what they call distributions, so then different groups of people will get together and they will have distributions and a lot of times the distribution will have a major focus. Some of them are designed as web servers for ISPs and there are a lot of major ISPs who have web servers that you go to every day that are just farms of Linux boxes, just different favors. Then there are ones designed for not very sophisticated users that are easy out of the box. Ubuntu has a reputation now as probably being the easiest and most accessible of the distributions. I played with an older version when I needed the computer for something else and I overwrote it. You can download off the internet if you have a spare box some place you can try installing it. Linux takes awhile to get used to particularly in the set up and installation of programs, but other than that, it works quite similarly. Once you have it up and running, the start menus for a lot of the desktops look much like Windows, a little icon on the lower left and you click on it opens up a menu and blah, blah. If you want to try them, several of the distributions have packages they call live CDs. Knoppix, I believe was the first in the general distribution, but there are a zillion of them now.
You can create a bootable CD and when you boot to it, you are running Linux off a CD. You cannot make any changes to it.
Mike: - this might be the solution for those who travel and want to surf the internet from a Starbuck's. No one can see anything on your computer if you are wirelessly using Ubuntu on a live CD. If they did get into your computer, so what, take the CD out. They cannot hack your CD; however, you do not want to give away any passwords.
Toby: - there are Linux distributions that will boot from a USB drive on a little pocket flash drive. Get a 4GB flash drive -- some computers will boot from USBs and some will not. Many times, you have to go into the BIOS to enable it, but they will do it.
Q: What is the difference between DVD+R and DVD-R?
A: There is very little difference. Previously, they were competing specifications at one time and if you were in DVD+ land, you could not read a DVD- and the opposite was true. If you have anything in the last three years, nobody cares. Every body can read + and - because most of the disks will only burn one-way or the other. Unless someone has a real old DVD player, all the current writers will read both.
Q: How do you know what your burner does?
A: Read the documentation that came with the disks. The name, DVD+ and DVD- is written on the disk itself. The new burners will burn either + or - depending on what kind of disk you put in. The formatting is on the disk so whatever type of disk you put in will result in what type of CD will burn. If you have a recent computer, it does not make any difference. If you have a relative that you want to send a DVD to and they have a computer that can only do -R, go out to the store, and buy yourself a stack of -R disks to burn your files and the opposite is true. Your computer will not care; it will burn whatever you stick in it.
Q: Why did Craig buy -R instead of +R for raffle prizes?
A: Mike: I have a very old DVD player attached to my TV. It will only play videos that are -R. So, -R are more common unless you have a very old DVD player, -R is more common than +R. If you paid more than $39 for your DVD player ten years ago, then it is probably a -R. Now you can pay $30 for a DVD player and it will play anything in the world.
Q: I have a similar question about DVD players. If I buy one of those stacks of DVDs, I cannot change the time on them, but if I get some different ones, it will record SP or LP. Why are these stack ones limited only to two hours and you cannot change the time. Does that make sense?
Mike: That is a very specialized case. It has to do with your DVD recorder attached to your TV and your cable, etc., etc. However, it would be also true that whatever you paid for the DVDs would make a difference. If you paid $10 for hundred you are going to get the minimum time, but if you paid $30 for the same kind of disks, but it is brand name you will note there is a difference. There is a quality difference.
Go and look on the disks that burns for hours, look at the brand and model number of the DVD and you can buy a big stack of that kind, but they will be a lot more expensive. Once you know it works, you can do it.
Q: Would you comment on the pluses and minuses of reinstalling the operating system from time to time?
A: That is a very reasonable question. When I first switched to NT4, I burned it down every six months, copied all the stuff I needed and started over. When you install a program, but later decide not to keep it and you do an uninstall, it leaves all kinds of garbage in the registry. If you had a operating system for a period of time, you will have a bunch of stuff in the registry that is no longer needed for anything. Do not use registry cleaners to get out the stuff. Registry cleaners will speed up your computer by 1% or break it completely; it is not worth the cost. It is one of those things a little bit of help, a little bit of help, then disaster. Do not get yourself in that box. Besides that, they do not get rid of all the stuff, so the registry will get bigger and bigger and as it does the footprints on your operating system gets bigger and bigger and your computer gets slower and slower.
There are some good advantages to burning down and starting over. However, there are a couple of Gotchas - 1) if you purchased the software you better have the install disk and product key code, usually 25-character code to install the program. Otherwise, you'll be looking at a new operating system, with no programs. It is better to be prepared when talking to some person in India; you do not want to say, "I voluntarily reformatted my hard drive." Instead say, "My old operating system died and I had to put in a new one and this is a new install on the same computer." If you tell them that, you will be able to talk your way through, but it is a nuisance. It may happen with some software.
If you are a neat freak and you saved all of your CDs and have all of your codes to verify authenticity, you can do it. With Windows 7, you can get a clean install with most of the drives and everything else; you are looking at about 25-30 minutes by the time you re-register. With Windows XP, you will need to do a manual install of all of the device drivers, the motherboard driver, the sound drive, network driver; you had better have all of it on CD because without the network driver, you will not be able to get out to the internet to download any programs. You cannot go to Dell.com if you cannot get on the internet. If when you installed the computer and you made a clean backup at the time of installation, which when you first boot the new computer, it usually tells you to do that and often people do not. At least in our experience we have never had anyone come into the shop that had the install disk, but if you did, you can reinstall from those. If you are the kind of person who thinks they may want to do it to get the computer up, and running, burn yourself a set of DVDs, it will take 3-4 of them. If you bought a computer with all the software installed, you should burn a set of install disks for later use, if necessary. For a lot of you, if you are not careful about key codes, burn a copy of your working operating system now. If someone put it on for you and did not give you a real install disk and a valid key code (it should be on the side of the computer), think long and hard about reinstalling that computer. It is always nice to get back to your data. Particularly, if you have your household finances in Quicken and you can no longer get into Quicken, you are more than likely be heading down to somewhere like Fry's to buy another copy.
The short answer is, if you are prepared and know what you are doing, it quite nice, it can clean up many errors and make your system much more responsive like when it was new. The negative part is that it takes a fair amount of time. Vista is not that old and it is already up to SP-2. Windows 7 is not that bad because it has not been out that long. For some computers, it can take 20 minutes to download just the latest Microsoft security package. Then there are your printer drivers that take about 20 minutes to download. If you have Windows 7, it will install automatically. I cannot tell you how nice Windows 7 is and if you were ever thinking about upgrading to Windows 7 you need first to run the Windows 7 compatibility tool to make sure that everything you have on your computer will be compatible with Windows 7. If it is and you are thinking about doing an upgrade, for $150 to buy the Windows 7 disk and upgrade to Windows 7, it is probably worth it.
There is a thing called the Windows XP file and transfer settings wizard in Windows XP or the easy transfer to Windows 7 and run those. If you have a big USB drive, not a flash drive and you run this, it will back up My Documents, My Videos, My Graphics, etc. In addition, it will back up your e-mail, bookmarks, and all the different users on the machine and save it in one big tarball file. As I said, you need a big USB drive, not a little flash drive, but you can back it up to that and when you format the hard drive it will wipe out the hard drive, but then you can use the file and transfer wizard to transfer everything back. Caveat - Intuit does not install their data by default to any known human location. You had better have a good backup. Quicken and Quick Books are notorious for blowing up, but you probably want to make sure you know where you data are and do a manual backup. Same thing with Firefox and Thunderbird, do the MozBackup as well - that's a Mozilla backup and it will backup all the Mozilla products the same way Microsoft file and transfer wizard does Microsoft's.
In the process of upgrading from XP to Windows 7, go out to the internet and download the XP to Windows 7 file and easy transfer wizard. When you run that and it will take your XP stuff and convert the format so that Windows 7 can import it. When you get into Windows 7 and have multiple users, go to restore, click on "custom" and make sure that the user names are correct. Before you restore, set up your user names, if you have more than one user on the computer. It is very quick and will do about 80-90% of the transfer work, but be careful if any of you have the Hallmark greeting card program; it puts stuff up in the program files, which is a definite no-no. If you have the old version of Quicken, before 2000, or 2002, it puts it in the C:\quickenw file or it puts it in program files. Be careful about the Quicken data files. Some of the earlier genealogy programs also put their data in Program Files. You will want to be careful where your data goes. Once you do all of that, the operating system will run more responsibly if it has gotten slower over time. Viruses and root kit will be gone if you had any of those.
Q: My computer slows down and when I go to Task Manager, it shows 100% processor and 100% RAM, is that a virus?
A: It is a virus or something else. Do a Ctrl-Alt-Del and then select Device Manager. go to Processes then click CPU (top of the column) and you can see what is using cycles. Watch that. Programs tend to time slice, so when a program uses up 100% of the clock cycles and then it will not use any, so that it will drop down and come up. When something is using up 98% of the computer, that is when your mouse stalls when you are trying to move it and you get that kind of behavior and nothing shows up at first. When that happens you have some kind of program running in the background and it will use up 100% or nearly 100% of the clock cycle and then it uses up none and then nearly 100%. You can see that stuff, the programs that are up there. The system idle means that is 97% (or whatever the reading is) of your computer is doing nothing, barely working. If something replaces system idle, which is probably what is using the resources? If it is an applications that is running it's easy to uninstall it. If it's a svchost.exe or other service, it's more difficult. Something is using your resources, and you probably have a Trojan, virus, spy ware or other malware. Applications lock up and you go to the application thing and close the offending program.
Your physical memory should be below half and CPU usage should stay reasonably low. That is how you track down what the computer is doing. If you see a svchost.exe and nothing associated with it and nothing in the system tray is working, it probably, but not a guaranty, you have virus, spy ware, malware, etc.
For getting rid of spy ware, I prefer Spybot, Michael prefers Malwarebytes and I believe we agree that those are the only two worth anything, accept for a couple of expensive ones. Ad-Aware use to be great, but is worthless now. Again, the two we would recommend is Spybot and Malwarebyte for freeware, which is on the CIPCUG flash drives. Caution if you download Spybot you should know it has a disadvantage, by default it installs a thing called TeaTimer. Make sure you unclick TeaTimer. I would rather have a virus than TeaTimer running in the background. Malwarebyte has the advantage that it has a quick scan and many times, if you think you might have something, a quick scan will pick up stuff in a lot less time than a full scan in Spybot. Both will catch stuff the other one does not. You can run a scan in one and it will catch stuff and run another quick scan in the other, and it will pull up more stuff.
Once I had a computer in the shop where I ran Spybot and it had over 2,000 spyware instances, I could not understand how the computer could boot, but it was very slow. I got rid of them all and Spybot said it cleaned all, then I ran a Malwarebyte scan and I got 400 hits, finished cleaning all that out, and ran another Spybot scan and got 20 hits. It is a matter of peeling the onion and finally I ran them until both came back clean.
Mike: - a quick commercial - Once a month Windows updates something called Malicious Software Removal Tool, and what would be very helpful for you is - Start + MRT + Enter - this will start the Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool. Click on Next + Full Scan + Next and let your computer go. That might catch things that your anti-virus or anti-spyware does not. They are updating this every month. It does a great job on spyware. It takes awhile just as Malwarebyte and Spybot do, it takes over an hour on most computers. However, if it catches things, that is a good thing.
Toby: - Suggestion - Take your family out to some nice restaurant spend an hour, hour and a half, and before you leave put on a full scan. By the time you return, the scan should be complete. Yes, it takes a long time, but how hard is it to leave the computer running while you go do something else.
Q: Is there a way for screen savers to do that procedure.
A: Not that I know of.
Q: I have a Blackberry and I was wondering if there were anything, you would recommend protecting a Blackberry?
A: My wife had a real problem with her Blackberry. She put it in her shirt pocket, bent over, and dropped it in the toilet. It does not work after that. So that is one thing, but there is not a lot that anybody can do to a Blackberry in terms of hacking into it because it does not have a hard drive that has a configurable operating system to any great extent. Again, there is not a lot you need to concern yourself with; passwords are reasonably safe, but I would not use my Blackberry to get into my bank account unless I was really strapped.
Mike: - Something cool about Blackberries, you may have heard something on the news about Blackberries and Saudi Arabia. Blackberries are made by a company called RIM, Research In Motion, a Canadia- based company. The way they set it up, your Blackberry has 256 bit encryption and the Blackberry company has no idea what you are sending at all. They cannot read it until it reaches the server and once it reaches the server it is sent to someone else. The server can interpret it, but nothing can read your Blackberry. The problem is that in Saudi Arabic, they say, "Excuse us, we want to see text messages, we want to read those because terrorists might be using Blackberries." RIM said, "We are sorry, we cannot read it because it is going through the air so encrypted we cannot break it." Saudis said, "Okay, then you cannot use it in our country." RIM came back with we will put a server in your country with one of your government employees attached to it so they can read things and spy on your own people if you want. That is what they have to do because it cannot be read it is so secure.
Same thing in India, and elsewhere, they will have to put separate servers in countries that want to spy on people. The message needs to be relayed that if your country is doing this, do not use a cell phone, because your country is spying on every single test message and e-mail you send, no matter what phone you have.
Every other cell phone operating system like the iPhone is trivial to get into, but with the 256 encryption, your Blackberry is safe.
Q: What about a Droid?
A: Especially not a Droid because it is open source and anyone can read a Droid.