546 - When to Buy a Cheap PC

Fry’s, Staples, Best Buy and other big box stores often have eye-popping ads for super cheap PC “specials.”  When you ask to see the “special”, you’ll find the sales person eager to show you something else. They’re on commission and the “special” pays them peanuts. Their job is to “bait and switch” you to a pricier system. If you insist on the “special” you’ll get a very tepid response or be told, “We just sold out of that model.”

Hardly anyone goes out car or house shopping with the plan to buy the cheapest product on the market. If that were the case we’d all drive a “Smart Car” and live in a “single wide” in Hemet. We seem to be able to distinguish between value and price in televisions, washing machines, cars and houses, but when it comes to personal computers, a significant percentage of Americans simply assume that a computer is a computer and the smart way to buy one is to find the lowest price.

Since any computer can handle basic tasks like E-mail, Internet surfing and word processing, it may seem logical to buy the cheapest PC available. The problem is cheap PCs are cheap because they are made with the cheapest components available. This leads to reliability and maintenance problems that make your cheap PC no bargain in the long run. We would never recommend buying one of the “specials” for yourself, your business or a loved one, but there are times that a “special” may be the perfect choice; for example. 

Let’s say your wife tells you that her ne’er do well brother needs a desktop computer to find a job. You know this bum will never look for a job. He’s going to spend his days on dating sites, gaming and porn surfing. To keep peace in the family you’re off to Best Buy for the $249 weekly “special.” Perfect.

Then there’s your nephew’s high school graduation present. The little turkey barely scraped through high school but his folks managed to get him accepted at some backwater college in Arkansas. He wants a notebook PC. You know this kid will be lucky to survive freshman orientation much less make it through the entire first semester. The Fry’s $299 laptop “special” should keep him company until he dumps beer in it at his first kegger.

Now let’s say by some miracle your brother in law actually gets a decent job or that the lights suddenly come on for your nephew and he makes the dean’s list. You don’t want to be remembered as the one who bought them “the special” if they seem to be destined for a successful life. 

Pay them a visit ASAP. Knock it over, sit on it, spill a drink on it, whatever it takes but destroy that “special.” Then apologize profusely and promise to replace it. Take the broken PC to your car, drive around the block and return with the new, high quality PC you purchased earlier in the day from The Computer Factory. Then bring that “special” to us and we’ll recycle it for you. Glad we could help.

545 - Malware and You - Part#2 (Social Engineering)

Game sites and social network locations are places malware lurks. They hang around these sites and try to trick you into clicking on their links. They also lurk in places like YouTube and Google Earth pretending to be an innocent  ad-on or tool bar. “Social Engineering” is the broad term for the way they get you to click on their invitation. The appeal to you by exploiting you own personal likes, dislikes, fears, greed, sympathy paranoia, lust or pet perversions. In other words they exploit what makes you a unique human being in order to line their filthy pockets.

544 - Malware and You - Part #1

“Malware”, short for “malicious software,” is the generic name for programs that infect devices for purposes other than those of the legitimate user. This week we’ll discuss malware that is downloaded onto your desktop, notebook, tablet or cell phone, from the Internet. This malware is of no benefit to the user but seeks instead to accomplish some purpose for the perpetrator. Various types of malware include viruses, worms, Trojan horses, ransomware, spyware, adware, scareware etc. Today we will start with the basic malware defense strategies.

1. Anti-virus/malware software

Whether you use a free Antivirus program (like the Avast or Avira we currently put on unprotected PCs that leave our shop) or a paid version like our favorites, Kaspersky, Panda and  NOD 32, you must keep it up to date and check it regularly to be sure it is active and running. You should also activate your Window’s or anti-virus program’s firewall.

2. Keep Your Operating System Current

With Windows Vista, 7 or 8, you must either enable the automatic update feature or run “Windows Updates” weekly. The Windows security patches will help to keep your system secure. Windows 10 will update automatically whether you like it or not and Windows XP has had no security updates since April of 2014.

3. Secure Your Network

Many PCs access files, printers, or the Internet via Wi-Fi. Make sure your passwords are strong. Never broadcast an open Wi-Fi connection. Don’t broadcast your SSID (the name of your Wi-Fi network). If you frequently have guests who use your Internet, provide a guest SSID that uses a different password.

4. Think Before You Click

Avoid websites that provide pirated material. Do not open email attachments from unknown sources. Do not click on an unsolicited email links. Hover over any suspicious link before you click it to see where it’s taking you. If you download a file from the Internet, an email, a file-sharing service or any FTP site (file transfer protocol), scan it before you run it. Your anti-virus software should do it automatically, but make sure it is being done.

5. Keep Your Personal Information Safe

Hackers will compile your information and personal data from account to account until they have enough to access your banking data or steal your identity. Be cautious on message boards and social media. Lock down all of your privacy settings, and avoid using your real name or identity on discussion boards. Use multiple passwords. Be very careful using the open Wi-Fi hot spots like Starbucks, McDonalds, the library, and airports. Use only sparingly and never to access personal or password protected sites. The bad guys are listening in.

6. Back Up Your Files

Any files that are important to you should be backed up. Backing them up on an “always connected” storage device like external or internal hard drives is not reliable back-up. Malware that infects your PC can infect a back-up drive if it is connected when the PC is attacked. The safest back up is a “cloud storage” service like Carbonite. Your files are safe and accessible, the cost is less than $60 a year and it is automatic. If you do use an external back-up, then back up frequently and disconnect when you’re finished. Don’t leave your back-up device connected.

These are basic simple practices everyone should follow. Next week we will discuss the kind of attack that none of these practices can prevent. Social Engineering exploits.

532 - Windows 10, The Win10 Upgrade

What is an upgrade?  In computer terms a true “upgrade” is the latest version of, and an “improvement” over, something you already have. In the case of Microsoft’s Windows OS (operating systems,)”upgrades” are inevitable, “improvements” are not. Windows ME, Vista and Win 8/8.1 were called “upgrades” by Microsoft but they weren’t “improvements.” Those products failed when users decided that old versions were better than the “upgrades.” On the other hand Win 98, Win XP and Win7 “upgrades” were successful because users saw genuine “improvement.”

So is the Win10 “upgrade” an “improvement?”  Since Win10 is essentially a “go-back” to the popular Win7, it allows unhappy Win8 users to dump the tiles and go back to the Win7 style desktop. For Win8 users, Win10 could be considered an “improvement.” However, there are four times as many Win7 users as Win8 users and for them, Win10 offers no “improvement.” So is Win10 another Microsoft OS “upgrade” without being an “improvement?” Not to Microsoft. There may be no “improvement” for users but for Microsoft Win10 represents a dramatic “improvement” in their ability to capture information about you. For Microsoft, Win10 is definitely an “upgrade.” 

While Win 10 does little for users, Win10 is a true “window” into Microsoft’s future and your privacy. Windows10 allows Microsoft to snoop, record, evaluate and sell every aspect of your private computer experience. That’s a giant leap forward for Microsoft in the Internet war to monetize every aspect of your life. 

Once you accept the reality that anything you do or say on a PC, phone or tablet is fair game, Win10 is not a bad OS. It is essentially a bugged version of Win7. If you already have Win7 you probably won’t want to install Win10. If you have and hate Win8 you will probably consider installing Win10. There are some problems.

I reality Win10 has been around for about eight years. Vista, Win7, Win8 and Win10 are all the same basic platform. Win10 should work just fine on almost any modern PC as long as it is a “clean” installation. In order to do a “clean” installation on an existing PC you must “erase” the hard drive and start over. If you want to keep your files you must store them somewhere, erase the old hard drive, install the new OS (including all drivers and updates) then copy your files back into the hard drive and reinstall your applications (programs, printer, etc.). That sounds like a lot of work to most people and Microsoft is afraid you won’t upgrade if they tell you to do it the right way so they tell you to simply push the button, sit back and enjoy an “easy upgrade.” That’s like painting your house without doing the prep work.

Your old OS has suffered from “bit rot”, corruption, malware invasions, installing and uninstalling of applications, power failures and a thousand other unpleasant things since it was installed years ago. The chance that Win10 is going to do an “easy upgrade” over this mess is not good. Even if everything looks good when it finishes, the next “automatic update” three days later is likely to shut you down.  

A clean install of Win 10 will work. If you have the time, tools and knowledge it can be a fun way to spend a day. If you feel frisky and want to try Win10’s “easy upgrade” we say go for it, you might “get lucky.” If you don’t have the time or the inclination to “do it yourself” we can handle the “clean” install for you. It costs between $90 and $135. It cost about the same to fix the “easy upgrade” when you don’t “get lucky.”

531 - Windows 10, In Case You Didn't Know

Here at The Computer Factory we build new business and home PC systems as well as repair, upgrade and refurbish existing PCs. Each day we deal with problems involving OS (operating system), applications, Internet connections, networks and PC component (hardware) failure. August marks our twentieth year in beautiful downtown San Marcos. No one in the industry has a clearer more up to date understanding of exactly what’s happening in the world of Windows PCs. We share our experience with our viewers every week in this column.

  1. Neither DSL Extreme nor Uverse (Uverse is DSL) will improve your Internet service, If you switch from cable to any DSL you will see a slowdown in Internet speed.
     
  2. Unsolicited contacts by phone or Internet regarding problems with your PC are scams. If there are exceptions to this rule we have not yet seen them.
     
  3. When your ISP (Internet Service Provider) tells you the reason you can’t connect to the Internet is your problem not theirs, they may be right, but often they aren’t. Bring your PC in to our shop. It takes about five minutes to determine whether it’s their problem or yours.
     
  4. These days the customer service “help” desks for ISP, Telephone and PC companies are no longer staffed with their own employees. Cox, Time Warner, Dell, HP, AT&T and others routinely employ third party foreign contractors  located in “low rent” countries to man their customer service operations. This can be a problem when the “mother company” fails to provide adequate oversight. These contractors have been known to transfer customers to “Windows” technicians in order to “fix” PC problems. The customer thinks he is being referred by his/her trusted provider (AT&T, HP, Cox etc) to a real Microsoft technician and allows the “Windows” technician access to the PC.  In reality it is a scam to extort money from the unsuspecting customer after disabling their PC. Don’t fall for it.
     
  5. When seeking help from one of the above service or product providers either by phone or on line, take care to make sure you are actually contacting the real provider. Scammers make it very easy to contact them instead of who you want. Never use contact information that comes to you unsolicited on the Internet. Always go to the corporate website for contact information.
     
  6. You have until July 29th of 2016 to accept the free “upgrade” from win7 or 8 to Win10.
     
  7. If you made a Win10 “upgrade” reservation you will not lose your right to upgrade by not using it now.
     
  8. You can return to Win7 or Win8 after a Win 10 free “upgrade” but only for thirty days following the “upgrade.” After that, going back to Win 7 or 8 will require a full re-installation.
     
  9. If you do go back to your old OS you will not lose your right install the free upgrade at a later date.
     
  10. At least half of our work orders last week were Win10 upgrade related problems. Many early adopters are having problems. It is rarely a good idea to install a new Microsoft OS within six months of its release.
     
  11. Some features like Spider Solitaire, Mah Jong and others that once came free with Windows are not included with Windows10. They are available at Microsoft’s “on line” store only.
     
  12. Microsoft has installed a “nagger” on your Win7 or Win8 task bar. If you want them to stop bugging you to accept Win10 you need to delete it. Don’t know how? Call and we’ll tell you.
     
  13. We get it why many Win8 users want to “upgrade” to Win10. We don’t understand why anyone with Win7 would want to “upgrade” to Win10

530 - Windows 10, Please DO NOT Install Win10 Upgrade

The PC industry is spending billions to put a positive spin on Win10 (Windows 10) hoping to outshout those who are revealing the dark side of Microsoft’s latest. Acceptance of Win10 is key to Microsoft’s future and critical for the entire computer industry. Win10 hopes to reverse the retail sales slump that started when Microsoft released Windows 8 in August 2012.     

As we expected, many early adopters of the Win10 (Windows 10) upgrade are running into problems. We received five PCs with Win10 upgrade blow-ups late last week.  Not everyone is unhappy with the Win10 upgrade. The PC equivalent of “shade tree mechanics” are having a ball. These folks love solving PC problems. Some folks had no problem with upgrade process itself but after they saw Win10 wanted to go back to Win7.

In theory the Win10 “upgrade” is designed to be a simple operation that any user can successfully negotiate. In practice it rarely actually works that way. There are “bugs” in the “upgrade” that can cause serious problems for some users. Microsoft will eventually resolve these issues but we can think of no good reason to “upgrade” to Win10 at this time. Wait at least a month or so if you decide to do it at all. 

There are two reasons for the existence of Win10. First, Microsoft was forced to create Win10 in order to revive the three year plunge in retail PC sales caused by the unpopularity of Win8. Second and more importantly, because PC sales are no longer growing, Microsoft needs to replace the loss of revenue from the sale of operating systems to manufacturers. Win10 Is designed to replace that lost revenue by selling advertising, applications and services. 

Microsoft’s Internet advertising revenue in 2014 was $4 billion, Google’s was $65 billion. In order to get a bigger share of the pie, Microsoft needs to know more about you. Win10 will change all that.   
“From the moment an account is created, Microsoft begins watching. The company saves customers’ basic information – name, contact details, passwords, demographic data and credit card specifics, but it also digs a bit deeper. Other information Microsoft saves includes Bing search queries and conversations with the new digital personal assistant Cortana; contents of private communications such as email; websites and apps visited (including features accessed and length of time used); and contents of private folders, furthermore, your typed and handwritten words’ are collected.’” Newsweek.

A default installation of Win10 will quietly track your behavior keeping tabs on your location history, data from messages, calendars, contacts and more. Microsoft will tell you that this information is used to provide better service to you, but in reality they will use it or sell it in any way they see fit to increase their share of Internet revenue. Win10 is the first Windows OS to give Microsoft complete control of your Internet experience by eliminating your ability to control access to your own PC. Whatever Microsoft wants on your PC will be a mandatory update. 
Manufacturers who sell direct to end users like The Computer Factory will continue to sell new desktop and notebooks with Win7. Dell and HP and other major brands will continue to sell Windows 7 PCs to large corporate users. Microsoft will continue their practice of not allowing retailers like Staples, Best Buy, Office Depot, Costco and other “big box” stores to sell PCs with any OS except their latest, in this case Win10. It’s a jungle out there.

528 - Windows 10 D-Day

We’re delaying the discussion on PC options until next week to cover Win10s debut. 

We need to restate our warning concerning yesterday’s (July 29th) release of Windows 10.  Win 10 is not an “upgrade.” It is a modified, slimmed down combination of Windows 7 and 8. It was not designed to improve your computing experience. It was designed to allow Microsoft to control your operating system (mandatory updates, no longer optional). Microsoft needs this control in order to enhance its ability to sell advertising to third parties and applications and cloud services to you. Microsoft is not playing games. Developing these revenue sources is critical to Microsoft’s survival and they will do whatever it takes to survive.

“Pioneers” are the “early adopters” who upgrade to a new OS or buy a new PC with the newest OS in the first few months after product release. Microsoft needs lots of Win10 “pioneers” in order to get the ball rolling and to help them debug the new OS. In the case of Win10, businesses won’t touch it and Win7 users would get no benefit from it. That leaves unhappy Win8 users as Microsoft’s primary “pioneer” candidates for the “free upgrade.” That’s unfortunate because, while the majority of Win8 users may be unhappy, there just aren’t that many of them. Win8 was so bad that only 15% of users have it. The second unfortunate circumstance is that, as a group, the 15% who actually have it are fairly naïve users. Microsoft would have preferred to have more sophisticated “Guinea pigs” helping them debug Win10.

Microsoft’s chance of getting a large pool of “Pioneers” from new PC sales doesn’t look good either. There appears to be little pent up demand and even less enthusiasm for new PCs with a new OS. XP and Vista users who might need a new PC represent only 15% of users and have proven fairly resistant to change. Those “pioneers” who do buy new Win10 PCs will tend to be retail store customers who simply don’t know any better. This gives Microsoft another fairly unsophisticated “pioneer” pool. In the computer industry there is an old adage that goes like this, “You can always tell who the “pioneers” are by the arrows sticking out of their backs”

Microsoft announced that Win10 will be their last “Windows” OS. In reality Vista was their last OS. All subsequent OS (7, 8 and ten) are simply refinements on the basic Vista platform. Win7 was modified to resolve the user problems in Vista. Win8 was modified in a failed attempt to sell Microsoft phones and tablets. Win10 has been modified to help Microsoft sell advertising, products and services. 

Microsoft will continue the evolution of this OS now called Win10. Perhaps someday they’ll find time to consider their user’s needs. If that happens Win 10 may indeed eventually morph it into something we all want and need. That would be the time to adopt it. For now our advice is to let the “Pioneers” handle the arrows. 

Next week we will continue the conversation on new PC options for business and home.

526 - Windows 10? Beware!

Everyone in the PC Industry (except Apple) is rooting for Win10 (Windows 10) to be a roaring success. Money talks, so nearly everything written, broadcast or blogged will tout the virtues of Windows 10. How much money Win10 sales generate for PC manufacturers, distributors and retailers will depend upon how good a job they do convincing retail buyers that Win10 is a good thing. Enterprise (big business) buyers will ignore the hype and continue to buy Win7 PCs just as they have for the past six years.

Last week Microsoft acknowledged its failure to gain traction in the tablet and smart sector when it announced the layoff of eight thousand employees and an eight billion dollar write down linked to its 2013 purchase of Nokia’s smart phone and tablet business. Microsoft will continue to produce some tablets and smart phones mainly as “Technology Flagships” for promoting the “Microsoft ecosystem.” These products will not compete seriously with potential Windows OS customers like Samsung, ASUS, and Lenovo.  The “Microsoft ecosystem” is the entire range of services, applications, OS and devices marketed by Microsoft. 

As a result of their failure to establish a viable foothold in mobile hardware and OS coupled with the fact that stagnant PC sales are drying up their main revenue source, Microsoft needed a new revenue plan. Win10 is critical to that plan. The Microsoft ecosystem” anchored by Win10 will spearhead its new focus on generating revenue from the sale of advertising, services and applications. Win10 is specifically designed for that purpose. 

Win10 is unlike any previous Microsoft OS in that Microsoft has removed the user option to refuse or select updates and upgrades. That means that Microsoft is in complete control of your Win10 PC. Some enterprise versions will allow corporate users of Win10 to control the OS, but that option is not for you.  Having Microsoft control your OS at a time when they are feverishly seeking new ways to pile up revenue from services, applications and advertising is not a comforting thought.

The retail debut of Win10 PCs this summer will be complicated by the fact that there are huge (2-4 months) inventories of unsold Win8 PCs in retail and distribution warehouses. We’ve already seen some spectacular pricing as retailers try to dump these unpopular PCs. The Win10 free upgrade offer has done little to stimulate Win8 PC sales. Many still remember the regrets associated with accepting the “free” upgrades from XP to Vista and from Win7 to Win8. An “upgrade” from Win8 to Win10 would be jumping from a bad OS to an unproven one, not a compelling option. An “upgrade” from Win7 to Win10 would be plain foolish. 

Our recommendation for business and home PC shoppers is to do what the “big boys” do. Make the risk free decision to stay with Win7 PCs.  Win7 is used on over 60% of the World’s PCs and will be the dominant PC OS for several years. In the event that it ever becomes advantageous to “upgrade” to Win10, you can do it. It will always be a simple and free or low cost “upgrade,” far beyond 2016. 

At The Computer Factory we will keep building and selling new Win7 Home and Pro desktop and notebook PCs as long as our home and business users need them. We will also continue upgrading Windows XP and Vista notebook and desktop PCs to Win7. We’ve installed Win7 on dozens of PCs born with Win8 and we will no doubt soon be providing that service for Win10 PCs. Save yourself the extra expense and stay with Win 7.

Next week we’ll discuss the latest options in desktop and notebook PCs for business, home and school.

525 - Big business vs. Small, Viva la difference

Readers have commented that our occasional criticism of the “competition” might be interpreted as being a trifle too convenient. The implication is that we bad mouth the big boys in order to toot our own horn. Perhaps there is a sliver of truth in what they say but we can’t help it. We feel that we’re the only source of truth and justice for our customers and readers and by golly we’re going to tell it like it is. About 10% of the public is savvy enough to fend for themselves and don’t need us, but the rest you are potential victims of the self-serving misinformation  campaigns spewed forth by the major players in consumer electronics.

Of all consumer electronics, those relating to computers, communication and the Internet are the least understood by the general public. Smart TVs, tablets, smart phones and PCs and all the related gadgets, geegaws, gimcracks and play-pretties are mysteries to most of us. We use them and we spend a lot of money on them but we really don’t understand them.  

So how do companies promote the virtues of their high tech product over those of the competition when the public doesn’t even understand the technology? The short answer is that you don’t even try. For the most part ads for consumer electronics products are aimed at “image building.” They appeal to your emotions, not your logic. If you buy Apple products you are young, hip, urban, unique, exciting and cool, PC users are trite and boring. Apple also spends millions making sure that its logo is on nearly all PCs that appear on TV shows and in movies leaving the impression that everyone uses Apple when in reality less than 10% actually do. Rob Lowe’s Direct TV ads, “don’t be like this me,” made it plain that Direct TV customers were suave and debonair while their competitor’s   customers were just plain creepy. These ads say nothing about the functionality or usefulness of the product; they simply leave you with the vague impression that using the advertiser’s products will make you smart and beautiful while the competition caters to doofus knuckle draggers.

Even when ads address some aspect of technology, it is typically superficial and non-technical in nature. They create a “buzz word” to identify a technology associated with their product and then hype the buzz word.  Apple hypes its “Retinal display” screens and “Face time” and “iSight” cameras yet these components are actually products made and sold to Apple by their arch enemies Samsung and Sony. It seems unlikely that Samsung and Sony sell Apple better screens and cameras than they use in their own products. Intel creates product esteem and demand for their CPUs through image advertising and repetition, not by comparing technology head to head with their only real competition AMD. Four ding-dongs and an “Intel Inside” slogan say nothing about product technology but the public perception of value that Intel creates through advertising enable Intel to charge a premium price for its CPUs over comparable AMD CPUs. Yet AMD beats Intel handily in price/performance competition. 

The point is that unless you really understand the technology and do the research, you’re buying decisions are likely a result of image advertising and/or misinformation. Lenovo, HP and Dell together sell over 50% of the World’s PCs. They all use the same components and they are all manufactured by the same company that manufactures Apple products, China based Foxxcon. Price, service and warranties are pretty much alike so your purchase decision won’t be based on price or competing technologies, it will be influenced by whichever company has the most favorable image in your mind. That’s what these companies spend billions to create.

In big business, management’s primary responsibility is to the bottom line and to the stockholders. It is naïve to believe that customer satisfaction will take care of the other two. Their customers are only pawns in a complex chess game of mergers acquisitions and competitive one-ups-manship where technology evolves rapidly and market leadership is fickle.  

For small businesses it is entirely different. Success in small business is based on face to face relationships. You can’t misrepresent your product or services and expect to stick around. You must provide a quality product every day. Unlike the big boys, you have to answer your customer’s questions directly and honestly, so you’d better know what you are talking about. 

For twenty years we managed very large operations for multinational corporations. This is our twentieth year running this small business, The Computer Factory. We like small a lot better.

524 - Windows 10, Part 3-conclusion

Microsoft’s failure to recognize the significance of the Internet in the 90s and mobile Internet use in the 2000s left them badly behind the learning curve in those technologies. Complacent with their 92% share of OS (operating systems) for PCs, Microsoft lost the early opportunity to leverage their dominance in PCs into dominance in smart phone and tablets. Now Google and Apple share and profit from over 90% of that business while Microsoft has less than 3%. With mobile device sales still growing and PC sales not growing, Microsoft is desperately trying to find a way to capture revenue from mobile devices, applications and advertising. So far their attempts to crack the mobile markets have met with limited success. In a June 2015 shake-up, Microsoft put “Windows and Devices” under a single VP. They probably should have done it years ago. Windows 10 is their latest gambit in a strategy to regain relevance in the constantly evolving Internet mobile technology. 

The most significant improvement in Microsoft’s OS s has been the upgrade to 64 bit code circa 2007. Until then, the old 32 bit OS could address only 3.2GB of memory. A 64 bit OS can address virtually any amount of RAM. In the past 15 years Microsoft’s OS have done little to change or improve the way we use our PCs. 

A brief history of Microsoft’s OS since the coming of 64 bit follows. Vista (2007) was 40% slower than XP and stuffed with goofy ideas from the “propeller heads” on Vista’s development team. Win 7 (2009) was basically Vista with the goofy stuff removed. Windows 8/8.1 was basically Win 7 with the much hated “Metro” touch screen style user interface. Its unpopularity broke the previous records held by Microsoft ME and Vista. Win 10 is basically Win 8 without “Metro” (which makes it Win 7) but slimmed down so it fits on smart phones and tablets as well as PCs. In order to do that Microsoft had to dump some features like Media Center, games and a few other things that we don’t know about yet. Windows 10 will not allow you the luxury of controlling upgrades. When Microsoft changes something it will automatically install on your Win 10 PC, phone or tablet.

Win 10 is supposed to stimulate the sale of Windows branded mobile devices by giving users a seamless Microsoft OS linking all Microsoft powered devices (Xbox, smart phone, tablet and PCs). Since phone and tablet makers have had little incentive to switch from Android to Windows, Microsoft bought Nokia’s phone and tablet business in 2013 in order to have a captive manufacture of mobile devices. Another purpose for Win 10 is to stimulate the sale of “Cloud” and Microsoft “company store” apps. In theory Microsoft’s business and retail customers will be able to buy all kinds of useful and fun stuff for their phones, tablets, game boxes and PCs at the Microsoft on line “App Store.” If Microsoft succeeds in boosting its mobile presence they will also enjoy increased advertising revenue opportunities from their browsers and search engines. 

Microsoft has made a very good living for decades selling OS to PC manufacturers and software to users. Now as their OS sales are in decline Microsoft must find a way to replace that lost revenue. They seek to do that through the sale of mobile devices, applications, cloud services and Internet advertising. Windows 10 is a key part of that strategy. The problem is that Win 10 has nothing new to offer Win 7 or 8 users. Microsoft will surely sweeten the pot as users continue to hold off on the free Win 10 upgrade. Our advice is to stand back and wait a few months. Don’t rush to do a potentially problematic, one way upgrade that may give you less than you already have. Let’s wait and see.

523 - Windows 10, Part 2 of 3

“XP and Vista users as well as Windows 7 and 8 users can have the Windows 10 upgrade “free.” “Windows 8 revenues down 26% in latest quarter” “Microsoft fires VPs in management shake- up.” These events at Microsoft last week need to be discussed in the light of the impending release of Windows 10 in July.

Microsoft is a ponderous bureaucracy. They have been famously slow in reacting to trends and technology. They were late to understand the importance of the Internet and late to understand the impact of mobile technologies. Now they are desperately trying to catch up. With their main revenue source, OS (operating systems) for PCs drying up, they’re a late entry into the mobile markets (phones and tablets.) dominated by Android (Google) and iOS (Apple). They hope to morph Windows into a single OS that will work on Mobile devices and PCs. Google provides the mobile Android OS at no cost to mobile device makers. They make profits from device sales and Google gets the revenues from ads and apps. On Apple devices, Apple gets all the money and that’s what Microsoft wants to do. 

 Microsoft developed and manufactured the “surface” tablet and spent 7.2 billion dollars in 2013 to buy Nokia’s struggling phone and tablet division. In 2013 Microsoft’s Windows was being used in only 3% of mobile devices. By 2015 with Windows 8/8.1 Microsoft’s market share had dropped to 2.7%.

Last week Microsoft made several changes. They combined Windows OS, PCs and mobile devices under a single VP, Terry Meyerson. It’s called WDG (Windows and Devices Group). Most of the top executives from Nokia have been let go including Stephen Elop, Nokia CEO and once touted as Ballmer’s successor at Microsoft and Mark Penn the man responsible for Microsoft’s advertising and market strategy. 

Meyerson has the tough job of building Microsoft’s mobile presence and selling the Windows 10 cross-platform technology to users. Much of the blame for Microsoft’s current predicament gets heaped on Ex Microsoft CEO “Monkey Boy Ballmer” (if you want to see why Ballmer is called “Monkey Boy” simply type Monkey Boy Ballmer into your search engine and watch the You Tube video. It’s worth the trouble) Ballmer bullied a reluctant board of directors into endorsing the costly Nokia deal and presided over the Windows 8 disaster.  

If Windows 10 doesn’t succeed Microsoft’s risks joining the legions of great American companies that slowly wither away. Make no mistake; Windows 10 was designed to save Microsoft, not to benefit users. It is no surprise that Win 10 is now being offered free of charge to XP and Vista users. Microsoft only delayed that announcement in the hope that Vista and XP users would pay for an upgrade to Win 7 or 8 in order to get the free Win 10 upgrade. It will be no surprise when Microsoft extends the one year free upgrade period indefinitely. Microsoft needs everyone to be on Win 10.

Windows 10 may indeed be something you will want to have on your PC, tablet or phone someday. If you have and hate Win 8/8.1 you may want to switch to Win 10. If you have Win 7 you probably won’t. Whatever your situation, it is foolish to “upgrade” to a new OS until it has been debugged and proven in operation for a few months. 

Next week we talk about Win 10, what it’s for, what’s it missing and how Microsoft plans to make money by giving it away.

522 - Windows 10, why? Part 1 of 2

Microsoft keeps pestering users with pop-up requests to make “reservations” for an “upgrade” to Win 10. Is there some advantage to doing this? The answer is absolutely not. The free upgrade is good through July of next year and no doubt will be extended indefinitely for all Win 7 and 8 users. If you have a Win 7 PC you may never wish to “upgrade?” to Windows 10 and certainly not for at least a year. Even Widows 8/8.1 users are well advised to wait a few months until Microsoft works the bugs out. The Win 10 “upgrade?” is a one-way-street. Once you do it there is no going back.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 “reservation” is a “social engineering.” strategy. The idea is to get you to think there is some great advantage in making a “reservation.” It conveys the impression that there will be high demand for Win 10 and that it will be in short supply. This feeds the natural human aversion to being left out. If they can get you to make a “reservation”, you are sure to show up on day one to grab your share. The whole idea is to create a feeding frenzy so they can boast that Win 10 is a smashing success. It’s a trick they picked up from Apple. When Apple releases a new product, they take “reservations.”  Apple then creates an artificial shortage to give the impression that demand for their new product has exceeded their wildest dreams. It’s that “jump on the bandwagon” mentality that Microsoft is trying to create. While these strategies may seem a tad manipulative or even sinister they’ve been widely used in commerce ever since Eve marketed the very first Apple to a skeptical user, Adam. 

So why is Microsoft trying so hard to promote a product that it is giving away? You can’t make money giving stuff away. Is the free Win 10 upgrade Microsoft’s way of apologizing for Win 8? It’s true that Win 10 is basically Win 8 with a Win 7 style desktop. Win 10 could and probably should have been released as a free upgrade to Win 8 (like Win 8.1). The obvious reason that Win 10 is not being released as Win 8.2 is that Microsoft is trying to distance itself from the Win 8 disaster by renaming it Win 10. That in a nutshell is why Microsoft really can’t charge for the Win 10 upgrade.

Microsoft’s marketing strategies are aimed at only half the Worlds PC users, the “dumb half.” That would be the small business and home users who buy PCs in retail stores. The “smart half” are corporations that buy their PCs direct and employ IT (information Technology) professionals who are far to savvy to pay attention to Microsoft’s marketing drivel. Microsoft controls the distribution of OS so “dumb half” buyers find only PCs with Microsoft’s newest OS in stores (Win 8.1 today).  Corporations can order PCs with any OS they choose.

Corporations jumped on Win XP in the early 2000s, ignored Vista (2007-2009) and began upgrading to Win 7 in late 2009. They ignored Win 8 (2012-present) and will ignore 2010 and continue to buy Win 7 PCs. If you want to join the “smart half” you can buy new Win 7 notebooks and desktops here at The Computer Factory. 

Microsoft has “bet the farm” on Win 10. Changing technology has clouded their future and they need to change their business plan. Next week we’ll explore how Microsoft is trying to become an Apple clone.

520 - How Does Apple Do It? (Conclusion)

Last week we asked how Apple blends its small but passionate “fanbois” cult, its unique operating system (iOS) and the total control over its products to create its present success, and can it last?”

The “cult” helps Apple in a several ways. They line up to buy Apple’s newly released products creating a bandwagon mentality, they believe that whatever Apple offers is the best there is and worth whatever Apple wants to charge for it and they assume that any problems or deficiencies in the product are unavoidable and not Apple’s fault. They are generous and vocal in their devotion to Apple products and influence the purchasing decisions of friends, family and acquaintances to a degree that far outweighs their number. The competition has no champion like the “fanbois.” There are no Samsung, Dell or HP cults. These companies face the cold, steely-eyed glare of skeptical buyers, critically evaluating the technological and practical worth of competing products, all with the same OS (operating systems) and applications.

Since Apple products (PCs, tablets and smart phones) have their own unique OS and applications, there is no head to head competition with the other industry leaders in the product arenas they share. Apple is free to set their prices based on whatever the market will bear. Apple’s profit margins are many times those of their competition.  

Having ownership and complete control over the OS and applications make integrating hardware and software design an easy job for Apple. Conversely their competition has little control over the OS they get from Google or Microsoft or the thousands developers creating applications making hardware integration more complicated. The downside for Apple comes from the fact that there are many more engineers and developers designing applications and hardware for Android and Windows than there are for iOS. In the long run Apple invariably falls behind in product and applications technology.

It is a pattern that s all too familiar with Apple products Their new products are well received at introduction  and lead the industry (In the USA) for a year or two, then competitive technology pushes past them and they start to lose market share. Apple loyalists will continue to buy Apple products regardless of the technology so sales eventually stabilize at some lower level (like Macs and Tablets) and Apple cash cows the products indefinitely. 

Apple’s spectacular profits today are driven almost solely by iPhone sales. Apple PC sales are stagnant and iPad sales have fallen for the past five quarters. The worldwide demand for smart phones has grown so fast that iPhone sales have continued to rise even as Apple loses market share to Android smart phones. The huge surge in iPhone sales over the past two quarters has been a result of iPhone users pent up demand for a large screen iPhone. Apple held off releasing large screen models for years in order to protect iPad sales. The release of large screen iPhones last Fall created a large but unsustainable bubble in iPhone sales and profits.  Worldwide Smart phone sales are expected to slow in 2015 as markets become saturated.

So with their flagship product, the iPhone, on the downward slope, what will drive Apples future growth? Certainly not the iWatch. It’s years late to the “wearable technology” scene and offers nothing new. Even the “fanbois” are tepid on the iWatch. The original “Fanbois” from the 1980s are pushing into their 60s now and later generations are not nearly as committed. The Apple cult is an American phenomenon with little impact outside the USA. The Androids hold only a small lead over iPhones sales in the USA but Androids outsell iPhones ten to one in the rest of the world. While the USA is still the World’s largest technology product market, the rest of the world is catching up rapidly and China may pass us this year. Apple’s markets are shrinking.

Has Apple reached its peak and started the long slide into oblivion like so many once high flying companies? Probably not, Apple is not a manufacturer or wedded to home grown technology. Apple is a “marketing company” with one hundred and fifty billion dollars in the bank. While Apple’s current products are in decline and will likely have a near term negative effect on earnings and stock prices, Apple has the money and the smarts to reinvent themselves and continue to thrive. What’s next for Apple? Who knows, maybe they’ll even come up with something we can sell here at The Computer Factory.

519 - How Does Apple Do it?

Last year Apple made 40 billion dollars profit on 200 billion in sales. In the first half of Apple’s 2015 fiscal year their profits were $32 billion on $133 billion sales. No other American company even comes close. Yet Apple is not a technological innovator or even a manufacturer. Basically they’re a marketing company. Apple’s products haven’t been technology leaders since the early 1980s and they don’t develop their technology, they buy it, often from competitors.  Apples mainstream  products are suffering from loss of market share (iPhones) or shrinking sales (iPads and Macs). What the heck is going on?

Over the years Apple’s fortunes have been up and down like a toilet seat. Recently Apple has benefited from a perfect storm of circumstance. Call it Steve Jobs brilliant strategy or call it dumb luck but the truth is that Apple’s success today is largely due to Steve Jobs elitist personality and the creation of the Apple “Fanbois” cult. No company in the computer/communications industry has anything like the “Apple Fanbois.” They are without a doubt Apples greatest strength. The cult was born in the early 1980s and marks its rise to prominence from that iconic one minute Apple commercial at the 1984 Super Bowl. (Check it out on the WWW“1984 Apple Super Bowl ad”) 

Apple fired Steve Jobs in 1995 but Apples marketing strategy had been carved in stone. No longer would they try to compete head to head with computer technology. Instead they would target a niche market based on psychology. Their appeal would be aimed at those who felt different, special, a cut above the hoi paloi. Apple sought to fill an emotional need for those who felt the need to be part of something special.  The strategy was brilliant. Brand loyalty built on technology is fleeting but an emotional commitment is forever. Though the “fanbois” cult has never represented more than a single digit percentage of computer users, their influence far outweigh their numbers. They are passionate missionaries for Apple and blindly loyal. They don’t question Apple’s technology or price. When Apple releases a new product they happily queue up to buy it patiently enduring new product bugs and deficiencies secure in the knowledge that they are a part of something bigger and more important than technological excellence.

Another major factor in Apples success is that they control and reap the profit from the hardware, operating systems, content and applications employed in the products they sell. Contrast that with their competitors in PCs and mobile products. HP or Samsung can make money on the computer or smart phone but they must rely on Microsoft or Google for the operating system and other companies own and profit from the content and applications used by their products. 

Apple products use the same hardware technology as their competition. Apple products roll off the Foxconn assembly line in China beside Dell, HP and other “non-manufacturers”. Apple is unique only in the exterior design and the use of the iOS (operating system). Virtually all the rest of the smart phones and tablets use the “Android” OS and PC’s use “Windows” That means that while the rest of the industry competes among themselves with “me to” technology, Apple stands alone as an alternative. 

How does Apple blend the three factors, small but passionate “fanbois” cult, unique operating system (iOS) and total control over its products to create its present success and can it last? Tune in next week for the conclusion.

518 - Trending in Tablets and Smart Phone

When the first iPads were shipped in 2010, Apple’s Steve Jobs famously announced the “end of the PC era.” Jobs was somewhat premature. While mobile devices (tablets and smart phones) have become a vital part of our private and business lives, there are a lot of things a tablets or smart phone just don’t do as well as a PC. Smaller screens, finger poke interface, dinky keypads, battery limitations, low power CPUs and limited data storage make mobile devices inappropriate for many business and home applications. Mobile devices have revolutionized the way we communicate but they just don’t cut the mustard when it comes to replacing PC functions. 2014 saw a growth spurt in PC sales that is expected to continue through 2015. 

Tablet sales are beginning to slacken. The new lightweight but full function notebook PCs are eating tablet sales from the top end while “phablets” are chewing at them from the bottom. “Phablets” are the new large screen (5 to 7 inch diagonal) smart phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note. They have all the functions of a smart phone with a screen large enough to enjoy streaming video, reading and web browsing.  

In the competition for smart phone OS (operating system/s), Android (Google) and IOS (Apple) have succeeded in replacing early industry leaders Blackberry (RIM), Symbian (Nokia) and Palm (Access) and now own 96% of the smart phone market. Newcomer Microsoft with its Windows mobile OS is the only serious competition with about 3%. 

Many of our customers are surprised to learn that Android (Google) smart phones outsell IOS (Apple) smart phones by a margin of more than five to one worldwide. Only in the USA do iPhones even come close to competing for market share with Androids. In the USA Android smart phones outsell iPhones by a 3 to 2 margin. Outside the USA Androids outsell iPhones ten to one. Apple boasts of making major inroads in China, the world’s largest smart phone market, but even in China, Apple has only a 15% share and China’s smart phone sales are actually shrinking.   

Although tablets have been around since the 1980s, that market didn’t take off until 2010 when Apple shipped its first iPad. By 2011 there were several Android based tablet brands, but only iPads used the IOS operating system and iPads made up 80% of tablet sales. Tablet sales grew by over 40% each year as Apple, Google, and Microsoft fought for market share. In 2013 “Android” tablets surged past the iPads to become the leading OS. Today, the first quarter of 2015, Apple’s iPad has fallen to a 24% market share while Android at 70% and Microsoft Windows tablets at 6% are both gaining ground. 

Apple is losing market share to Google (Android) and Microsoft in all of its mainstream product lines and Apple’s new product, the iWatch, does not look like a winner. Much of their technology has been licensed or purchased from their own competition and they are a “marketing” company, not a “technology” company. They don’t even manufacture their own products.

It sounds like a recipe for disaster but Apple keeps piling up record profits each quarter. They are the most valuable company in America and perhaps the world, they have nearly 150 billion dollars in their mostly offshore piggy banks and their stock makes new millionaires every month. How do they do it and can they keep it up? Tune in next week as we attempt to uncover Apple’s secrets.

516 - How to avoid spending money at The Computer Factory- Part #4 (conclusion)

This series of columns has been aimed at helping our business and home readers avoid preventable computer problems. We conclude this series with a conversation on software programs designed to protect your PC.

Malware consists of viruses, rootkits, adware, bots, ransomware, worms and more, delivered to your PC via the internet and USB devices. Our defenses are anti-malware programs, spam and pop-up blockers, firewalls and common sense. You can spend hours studying the methods of infection and purposes of the various genre of malware but it all comes down to this. What’s the best way to protect your PC, how can you tell when it is infected and what can you do to fix it?

Do not rely on either Microsoft Security Essentials or Windows Defender. Both of these free, often pre-installed defensive software packages have fallen to the bottom of the “effectiveness list.” The free versions of Avast and Avira top that list today. The free versions are as effective as the paid versions for most users. Paid versions have features mainly used by professionals. For “paid” versions we like Kaspersky, Panda and NOD 32. We don’t like Norton or McAffee. In addition to the Anti-virus package, you’ll want the free version of “Malwarebytes.” You don’t need to buy a third party firewall. The combination of your router acting as a “hardware” firewall and the software firewall in your MS Windows OS are protection enough for most users. 

Some “malware” infections are obvious. Your PC locks up, slows down, opens up unfamiliar home pages, denies Internet access, constantly flashes banners and pop-ups, won’t open files, won’t allow updates, won’t run malware software. When that happens, try to run your defensive software from “safe mode.” If that doesn’t work, you have a problem. The longer your PC runs with infections, the more likely you are to wind up with corrupt Windows and/or lost data. You need to act. Internet help sites are rarely helpful and usually scams. Subscription and mobile on-site services like “Geek Squad” are expensive and questionably effective (see comments on WWW). Malware removal and OS reinstallation should be done in the shop. 90% of this work is automated and doesn’t require the technician’s  attention. In the shop a tech can work on several systems simultaneously. On site or on the phone that tech is charging 100% of his/her time to you. That’s why on-site and subscription tech services are expensive and marginally effective.     

Some malware infections use your PC as a “robot” in a “botnet.” This is a criminal network used to “mine” data for the purpose of identity theft or fraud. They don’t want you to know they are inside your PC so they try not to interfere with its normal operation. Millions of Americans are, at this moment serving the evil ends of the “botnet herders” without a clue. Are you?

Most of the infected PCs that come to us have adequate protection software but malware protection software can’t keep users from falling for “Trojan Horse” scams that trick them into inviting the bad guys in. Our advice is to make sure your virus scan is up to date and running and scan your PC once a week with Malwarebytes. Make sure you are running the latest and most secure versions of your OS (operating system), browser (Chrome, Mozilla) and third party ad-ons (Java, Reader, Flash etc). Use the automated update feature in these programs up BUT- only as a reminder. For example, when a screen prompts you to “click” to update your Reader, Java or Flash, DON”T DO IT! It may or may not be legit. Use that prompt as a reminder to go to the legitimate Adobe, Java or Flash website and download the latest versions.

Avoid all these problems and just buy an Apple? Not really. Apple has its own malware and other issues and costs 2-3 times as much as a comparable PC. There are many reasons why Apple’s 7% share of the worldwide PC business continues to shrink. Apples iPhones and iPads are also rapidly losing worldwide market share to Android devices and the iWatch looks like a low tech, late to market flop. Sure the Apple cultists and Fanboys will prop Apple up for a couple more quarters but in our humble opinion, Apple has peaked. Take your profit and run.

515 - How to Avoid Spending Money at The Computer Factory - Part 3

He figured he’d done something illegal and got caught and now he was embarrassed. The “home page” of his Dell notebook featured an FBI “wanted poster” with his picture. Perhaps he’d been “porn” surfing or downloaded music from a questionable source. He never told us what he had been doing when the wanted poster first appeared. The notice claimed he had been observed committing one or more Internet crimes from a list of illegal acts. He was ordered to pay a $350 fine within 72 hours or a federal warrant would be issued for his arrest and he would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Upon conviction there would a fine of up to $10,000 and a sentence of 5-20 years in federal prison. If he paid the fine, the case would be dropped and his computer would be restored. The method of payment must be “Money Pak.” He complained that he’d paid the fine more than a week ago but the FBI never unlocked his computer. He was surprised when we told him he’d been scammed but happy to know he would not have a criminal record or be listed as a registered sex offender. This “drive by” malware was probably attached to a porn or music site. When it popped up he was easily convinced that he’d committed a crime. His own web-cam was used to create a “mug shot” for his wanted poster. 

One lady told us that Norton (her anti-virus provider) contacted her saying that they needed access to her PC in order to clean it up. After an hour they informed her that the cost would be $199 and that it would take another hour to finish the job. Reluctantly she gave them her credit card number but when they finished her PC was a mess. She wanted to know what to do. We told her the first thing to do was cancel the credit card. “Oh” she said, “that’s how I knew it was a scam. While they were fixing my PC, my credit card company called to tell me that my card was being used all over the world. They recommended that I cancel it. I told them to cancel it immediately” she said proudly. “That was weeks ago.” I shook my head and started to say something but she had already figured it out. “Oh my God” she blurted out with her hand to her mouth. “It wasn’t them was it? I didn’t really cancel my card. That’s why they never sent me a new card.” She dashed home to contact her card company.

So what should you do when “Windows” calls to warn you that your PC is infected, when your anti-virus says “click here”, when Yahoo wants your password for a security update, when a third cousin is mugged in Istanbul and needs you to send money, when you get an offer to speed up your PC, when UPS tells you they have a package for you, when Adobe wants you to update “Reader?” 

Next week we will talk about anti-virus, anti-spyware, pop-up blockers, firewalls, parental controls etc but the real key to “safe surfing” is PARANOIA. Assume that everyone and everything on the Internet is out to get you. It may be a terrible way to live your life but it is the best way to survive on the WWW.

514 - How To Avoid Spending Money at The Computer Factory - Part #2

Last week we discussed ways to avoid non-Internet related hardware and software problems. This week we’ll start a discussion around how international criminals use “Social Engineering” techniques on the Internet to line their pockets, torch your PC and ruin your life.

“Social Engineering” is a term that has been co-opted to describe a genre of Internet exploits aimed at defrauding innocent users. Up until the Internet revolution” Social Engineering” was used to describe how Governments use policy and legislation to create change in society. Probably the best examples of Government “Social Engineering” are the series of post war welfare programs exemplified by Lyndon Johnson’s “The Great Society.” These well intentioned policies were meant to morph undereducated, marginally productive poor folks into happy, well adjusted, educated and productive middle class families. Instead these welfare programs created generations of un-productive, ill educated, broken families captive to the crime infested inner city ghettos that provide the government handouts to which they became addicted. Government “Social Engineering” efforts often result in unfortunate albeit unintended consequences. Internet “Social Engineering” lacks the innocence of good intentions. Its unhappy consequences are deliberate. 

Modern Internet “Social Engineering” exploits are varied, sophisticated and effective. There is something for everyone. The techniques are designed to use our own human frailties and biases to make us take action that benefits the perpetrator at our own expense. Whether by nature you are greedy or generous, suspicious or trusting, thoughtful or reckless it doesn’t matter. The bad guys have an exploit designed to fit your particular biases. All they need to do is find a way to get their story in front of you. 

One way they do it is to broadcast their scam to everyone on the WWW. The Nigerian Bank Manager scam has been around the Internet for twenty years. We see a variations a couple of times a month. They ask for your bank account number so they can smuggle millions of dollars out of Africa. As a reward you get to keep a few million for your trouble. How could anyone fall for it? Most folks don’t. But if they send out a million requests each week and only one person out of a thousand responds, they get a thousand new victims.

It’s much easier if they can narrow their target and fine tune their “pitch” to potential victims. That’s why Internet privacy is such a big deal. Internet companies sell their customer contact information. Browsers track your surfing patterns and sell your information. Everywhere you go everything you buy, every donation you make and all the personal data you post on social media can be consolidated to create an accurate profile of your preferences, biases and fears. Psychologists use this information to create a demographic group made up of you and people like you. Their criminal clients are then able to “phish” for you with exactly the right bait.  

Each week we see several examples of “phishing” exploits. Some are sad, some are hilarious but one thing they all have in common, they all rob users of time and money. Next week we’ll continue the “Social Engineering” discussion with some highly entertaining examples from our experiences here at The Computer factory.

513 - How To Avoid Spending Money at The Computer Factory - Part #1

The next couple of columns are devoted to some things you can do to keep your home or business PC from needing a trip to the PC repair shop.  

It gives us a good feeling when we sell new desktop or notebook PCs to business or home customers. We get the same feeling when we successfully upgrade PCs thereby extending their useful life. We know we’ve helped someone make a good decision and given them quality products, service, value and reliability. We feel good and our customer feels good. But when someone brings in a PC that needs fixing, they don’t feel so good about it and neither do we. Spending money to fix something isn’t nearly as gratifying as spending money to improve something or to buy something new. The customer has to spend hard earned cash just to get back to where they already were. We do our best to make it as painless as possible but it’s still a bummer.

 Here are some tips on how to care for your PC and avoid hardware problems. When you’re finished using your PC and aren’t going to be using it again for several hours, turn it off. We don’t care what your Uncle Charlie told you, just turn it off. When running, PCs collect dust, emit heat, burn electricity and wear moving parts. When your PC boots up, it cleans out the cache and RAM and refreshes its drivers. It will run better, cooler and faster after a rest. Turn your PC off the right way by using the “start” button on the screen or by tapping the power button on the computer. Only as a last resort should you pull the plug or hold down the power button to shut off your PC. Use canned air or a vacuum cleaner to clear the dust from the air vents and fans every few months. Try not to bump your tower while the hard drive is spinning and when using a notebook, make absolutely sure it has fully shut down before you move it or slam the lid. It’s also a good idea to avoid using your notebook during “happy hour.” Merlot will leave a mark.  

While Internet “malware” is the source of most software problems, there are some steps you can take to avoid off-line software problems. When installing and uninstalling applications always use the utilities that Windows provides for that purpose. If the software maker offers a removal tool, use it and unless you really know what you are doing, don’t mess with the registry or bios set-up. Avoid using commercial PC tune-up and clean-up programs or services. They invariably do more harm than good. The only one we trust is CCLEANER by Piriform. 

This morning I had an E-mail titled, “Final Warning.” Inside it said. 

DEAR CUSTOMER,
Due to recent account maintenance at Yahoo to
provide more security to your account. 
Click here to update
Note:This is mandatory to continue the use of internet

I deleted this message without “clicking.”  It was a typical “phishing” exploit designed to entrap the unwary. Next week we will discuss the single biggest problem for all PCs, Internet “malware.” If you’d like to get a head start, read the “malware” section in Wikipedia.

483 - The Computer Store That Wouldn't Die - Part #3

In part I and II we discussed how The Computer Factory got started in 1995 and how we survived the great PC store shakeout in the early years of the new millennium. By 2003 we were on cruise control and life was good. Then “Disneyland for computer geeks” came to town. Of all the empty lots in North County, Fry’s had to land on the one only a three iron shot from our front door.

We knew that Fry’s was coming for more than a year before they finally opened their doors. We visited the store in San Diego and several other Fry’s stores in the LA area. We checked their product, pricing and service policies and procedures. We talked to independent PC store owners whose stores clustered around Fry’s. We concluded that Fry’s offered no threat to our business. Fry’s product pricing was pretty much the same as every one else’s. Their reputation as a low price competitor was based on full page ads which often featured spectacular prices on refurbs, rebates, limited quantities or otherwise distressed merchandise. Their prices and margins on normal stock items were pretty much standard. Fry’s service pricing was higher than ours because Fry’s wasn’t looking for computer service business. Their service department’s job was to install items sold in the store and process warranty and returns. We were happy to welcome them to the neighborhood.

Fry’s opened two weeks prior to their formal “Grand Opening.” on D-Day (June 6 2003). As a director of the San Marcos Chamber of Commerce I was among the VIP guests for the pre-opening breakfast and pep rally. John Fry, Fry’s CEO, confided in me at breakfast that our “mom and pop” computer store would do just fine next door to Fry’s but Comp USA, Staples and Best Buy would be in Fry’s cross hairs.

As the opening hour arrived thousands of customers formed a line that snaked throughout the parking lot. Fry’s had some great deals for opening day and the turn-out was tremendous. Fry’s senior executives, the press and VIP guests all crowded around the main entrance to see the “Grand Opening.” Security struggled to allow the first customer through the door while holding everyone else back. The idea was to allow the press to take pictures and interview Fry’s first “official” customer. A small Asian man squeezed through the door and the cameras started rolling. John Fry beamed as one of the reporters stuck a microphone in the startled man’s face and yelled “what are you buying today.” The Asian man raised his hand and shook a Fry’s bag in the reporters face. “I buy nothing, I’m returning this camera.” John Fry’s smiled faded as he turned and yelled to security “let another one in.”

Fry’s was a great neighbor. Their infamous “Great Quality” house brand of low end PCs provided a powerful counterpoint to our product quality. Selling components to the “do-it-yourself” crowd had always been a problem for us. Amateurs often misdiagnose their PCs problems or purchase the wrong components. Returned components must be retested and the necessary restocking charges often rankled customers. With Fry’s just across the street we were able to establish a policy of selling only components that we install. That way we warranty the parts and the installation. The “shade tree PC techs” could simply buy their parts at Fry’s. No one is better at taking parts back than Fry’s.

Tune in next week for part IV as Microsoft sticks it users with Vista and Apple, Dell, HP, Gateway and Packard Bell flee the country leaving “The Computer Store That Wouldn’t Die” alone to build PCs in America.