Computer Tips and Tools
I don't claim to know everything or to be an expert, but I've spent enough time working on computers and the Internet to have found some wonderful tools that I heartily recommend to people. All are totally free, and I personally use them.
If you have any comments, or if perhaps you know of a Tip or Tool that you think we should include on this page, please click below to send that information to the WebServant at Hope Church.
Free Anti-Virus Software
When you bought your computer, it probably had anti-virus software like Norton or McAfee pre-installed with a free trial period. These are good products, and I have nothing against them. Their marketing gameplan or tactic is that after the free trial period is over (generally 3 months, 6 months or even 1 full year), they require that you purchase a subscription so you can continue to get updates to their software. Most people do not know that there are alternatives, and they buy the subscription for $60 or more per year. So you might ask, do I really need anti-virus protection, and are there any alternatives?
The answer to both questions is "yes." Yes, you need to protect your computer, and yes, there are alternatives. You can certainly buy Norton or McAfee if you prefer, and it's very convenient because their program is already installed on your computer. But if you would prefer NOT to pay for anti-virus software, there are ways to get all the protection most people need, absolutely free - I have tested several, and I think the best and most dependable is Microsoft Security Essentials.
Microsoft Security Essentials is a new, free consumer anti-malware solution for your computer. It helps protect against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software. It is available as a no-cost download for Windows XP SP2 and higher, Windows Vista, and Windows 7.
My recommendation is to (1) keep whatever virus software is already on your computer UNTIL about 60 days before the free trial period or your current subscription expires, and then (2) install Microsoft Security Essentials and then (3) uninstall whatever other anti-virus software is on your computer. When you install Microsoft Security Essentials, make sure you allow them to automatically update their program; that way whenever they identify and "cure" a new virus, they will update their software to protect you from infections of that new virus. In our house, we have our computers automatically check for updates several times each day and run scans in the middle of the night.
Malware Detection and Removal
Malware, short for malicious software, is any software, code or script designed to infiltrate a computer system without the owner's informed consent. Malware includes a variety of forms of hostile, intrusive, or annoying software or program code, including computer viruses, Trojan horses, rootkits, backdoors, spyware, botnets, keystroke loggers, data-stealing software and dialers.
At the very least malware is a harmless nuisance, and in worst case scenarios, malware can steal your identity or the "contacts" in your email program, or hijack or even crash your computer.
If you are running anti-virus software like AVG (or Norton or McAfee), and you are keeping that software up-to-date, then these nuisances are probably not going to be a problem for you. But sometimes people call me with a problem, and I find out that they do not have any anti-virus protection, or that their subscription for anti-virus updates expired long ago, and now one or more of these forms of malware has attacked their computer. Probably the most obnoxious of these is a hostile takeover of a computer that displays a screen masquerading as a friendly warning that your computer has a virus. The screen uses scare tactics in an attempt to panic you into buying their non-existent scam anti-virus software so you can remove the new virus it supposedly "found" on your computer. They hijack your computer, and you can't get their "warning" off your screen unless and until you buy their product! These people should be in jail!
When I help people remove malware invaders from their computers, I use MalwareBytes, an awesome and totally free tool. I recommend you install it, then run a full scan of your computer so MalwareBytes can track down and kill any known malware that is hiding in your computer. They have a paid version, but their free version is a wonderful tool and will certainly be all you need.
Open Office - A Free Alternative To Microsoft Word and Excel
I love Microsoft Word and Excel, and I used them for perhaps 10 years. I considered myself to be an expert user of the software, knowing all the bells and whistles, shortcuts and formulas. However, when I purchased a new computer with a Windows 7 operating system, I was unable to install the old Microsoft software that I had owned for years and installed on my previous computers - it was not compatible with Windows 7. Microsoft had pre-loaded a new version of their Office software on my computer and after 60 days expected me to purchase the software if I wanted to continue using Word and Excel.
Rather than automatically purchasing Office and the updated versions of Word and Excel, I first looked around to see if there were any less-expensive alternatives. I found and tested Open Office and discovered that not only is it an amazing tool, it's absolutely free! I cannot imagine ever again buying software like Office, Word and Excel when there are excellent free alternatives. For experienced Word and Excel users, Open Office has a very slight "learning curve" and in fact in many ways is almost identical to Word and Excel - many of the commands, options and formulas are the same as Word and Excel. Open Office also has alternatives for PowerPoint, and although I have not tested it yet, I am sure that I will be equally happy with it.
A great feature of Open Office is the option of opening and creating files with the "doc" and "xls" files extensions - so you can send and receive files via email just as before, and with people who have Word and Excel on their computers.
Unable To Open Some Attachments To Emails?
People sometimes are unable to open documents that have been sent to them as an attachment to an email. The reason they cannot open the document is usually because their computer does not have the program that was used to create the document, and/or their computer does not know how to open it. The most common problems people have are with "pps" documents (PowerPoint) and "docx" (newer versions of Microsoft Word) documents.
A bit of info: the 3 or 4 characters at the very end of a document name (after the period) are called the document's extension. The extension is a code that tells your computer what type of document it is, and what program it should use to open that document.
If you cannot open either of those two types of documents, Microsoft has free programs that you can add to your computer so that you will be able to open them - one is a PowerPoint viewer, and the other "teaches" your computer to use whatever version of Microsoft Word you already have on your program to open "docx" files.