Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Inkjet Cartridge Refills or Generics: Just Say No

Pretty much everything I write about here is a result of my experiences; I don't make this stuff up. I tell people I've made all the mistakes so they don't have to. Here's a big one to avoid.

Inkjet printers use ink, in disposable/recycleable cartridges. Manufacturers of almost any type of equipment will tell us to use only their accessories, usually "for best performance". Sometimes we listen, other times we are enticed by lower prices or convenience found elsewhere. 

Inkjet printer cartridges should be one of our exceptions when we're looking for cheap or convenient. We make the decision to buy a new printer, perhaps studying the options and picking out just the right one for our needs. Then we fill it with cheap ink and ruin the printhead, carriage, rollers or the entire inside of the printer. I suppose it's human nature - wanting the best price for a consumeable that tends to be pricey in the first place.

Besides the fact that using anything other than the manufacturer's branded ink cartridges will void your warranty, it's not a matter of if, but when the generic or refill will ruin your printer.

You see, there's no good way to repair a printer that has experienced a leaky or explosive ink cartridge. You can find instructions online to attempt a cleanup of the internal parts, but I can tell you if you take a printer apart it will not go back together again the same way and there will be extra parts.  And it still won't work, and even if it's in warranty the manufacturer will tell you "So sorry - we have a great deal today on new printers".

Why am I so sure about this, despite the handful of clients who insist they use remanufactured cartridges all the time and have never had a problem?  Because I have twice as many clients who did have a problem, and suddenly had a new boat anchor.

Oh, and I did it myself.  As usual.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mac vs. PC - I've Finally Got It

I've worked with computers since 1980. Along the way I've worked on very few Macs. My clients don't use Macs. Hundreds of individuals, scores of businesses, libraries and non-profits later, I've been asked to look at exactly two Macs.

Now, some of you Apple people are begging to jump in with "but they don't NEED service!", and I'll simply point you to a Google search for "Mac" and "problem".

Occasionally, when it's time to look at new computers, someone will ask me about getting a Mac. I've been at a bit of a loss to explain to people who've heard/read/believe a Mac will solve their computing problems that it's simply the result of a great rivalry and outstanding marketing campaign. Training and education - now *that* would go a long way to solving your computer problems.

So I thought I'd do some research about Macs and PCs. And I asked on Facebook and Twitter for people to tell me what it is that a Mac can do that a PC can't. Here's what some people said.

Mac people (aficionado sounds so... stuffy) will fall over themselves to tell you they don't get viruses or malware. Neither does anyone else if they pay attention, but that's another conversation. While it's true Macs aren't targeted for viruses and malware as much as PCs, it's not true that they can't get them.

They'll tell you Macs are so easy to use. Wouldn't anything that didn't give you any choices or ask to you make a decision be pretty easy to use?

One guy on Facebook even told me he uses PC software ON his Mac... to make it more PC-like, perhaps? (Thanks, Kirk - keep reading :)

There's nothing you can do on a Mac that you can't do on a PC. They both provide tools to do email, surf the Internet, watch videos on YouTube, make, edit and post your OWN videos, pictures and Great American Novel. You can balance your checkbook, save your recipes and grandkids' pictures and listen to music - Internet radio, cds, mp3s, whatever you like. iTunes works on both. You can even play Freecell and Spider Solitaire, though you have to pay extra for them on a Mac.

The best analogy might be that Macs are like Democrats and Liberals and PCs are like Republicans and Conservatives.

Macs tell you not to worry, they'll take good care of you. Just give us your wallet, because all this perfection costs money. Your money. Yes, Macs have always been much more expensive than comparable PCs.

Mac lovers, we'll make all your decisions for you and there will be no problems. Want a new program? Great! We'll form a committee, create something and release it in the next version of the operating system. Oh, you'll have to pay a bit more whether you use it or not, since it's for the good of all humankind.

PCs are pure capitalists. Anybody can build one, with parts they scrape up in the garage or at NewEgg. Anybody can sell one, and anybody with the desire can learn to feed and maintain one. Want a new program? Hey, so do a handful of others. Let's get together, build the code, release it to the public for their input and improvements and call it Open Source. Oh, you can download and use it free. However, the model works because people who like and use the free software make a donation to the people that built it.

Want more memory or a better video card? Grab it at Staples, or online. It'll be cheap and it will fit your computer if you paid attention to the specifications. Need some help? There will be a neighbor, or co-worker or grandchild that can help. Macs... not so much. You need to go through the Mac System and they'll charge you a lot for parts and more for the labor. Supply and demand means that the microscopically small demand for Macs and their parts will make them much more expensive. Oh, and pack up your Mac and take it to the store - they don't come to you.

Ok, I've had my Mac fun and veered dangerously into political waters and will now acknowledge Macs do have a certain draw for me.

They look great with that poodle you're carrying under your arm. And now I've got a poodle.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Firefox 3.5.3 update - Download It Now

An update to fix stability and security issues has just been released. Install it by opening Firefox (some insist on calling it Mozilla or Mozilla Firefox - isn't that like calling someone by their whole name all the time?). Go to Help - Check for updates and follow the prompts.

You may then be prompted to update Adobe Flash - again, follow the prompts and let it happen. Be sure to uncheck any other "free" stuff they want to install along the way, like the McAfee Security Scan.

I've not been a huge fan of Firefox until version 3 - now I use it more than ever. It's especially useful when Internet Explorer 7 or 8 refuse to cooperate with certain sites. The first thing I tell people who ask why they can't do something online or even get online is to try doing the same thing in Firefox. Usually, Firefox just works. I install it on every computer I touch, so if I've seen yours you have some version of it already.

For those who want to download a fresh copy of Firefox, it can be found here: http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/

And for those who want to know the changes from the previous version, read about it here: http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/3.5.3/releasenotes/

This is not an optional update, considering the security and stability fixes - do it now.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

iTunes 9 - Just Released

In keeping with today's theme of 9, Apple just released iTunes version 9 for download. If you have iTunes set to notify you when a new update is available, you may have already seen the prompt. Otherwise, you can open iTunes, then go to Help - Check for updates. You can decide if you also want the Safari browser and the new iPhone plugin.

Billed by some as the best version of iTunes ever, the changes include LPs (like bonus cds), Extra, and a redesigned Store and user interface. Read more here: http://bit.ly/21HXdN here: http://bit.ly/UhzCi and here: http://bit.ly/1PQlsg

The full download has now bloated to nearly 90 MB, and still takes 15 - 30 minutes to download and update, depending on your network and computer. This is not great news to those of us who update lots of computers. While I've seen alternatives to RealPlayer and Windows Media Player, iTunes doesn't seem to have much competition. If anyone knows of something else that syncs with iPods and iPhones and does what iTunes does, please let me know.

If you're downloading and installing the full version (it doesn't take any longer to install new over the old than it does to update the old), be sure you've got the right version. If you use Vista 64-bit, you need iTunes 64-bit. Go here and you'll be offered the right version for your operating system: http://www.apple.com/itunes/download/

As usual, unless you have a compelling reason not to upgrade (and there are few), take the plunge and get it done.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Backups - worth the effort

There's a saying in computing about hard drive failure - it's not about if it's going to happen, it's about when it's going to happen.

Computer hard drives are intricate pieces of machinery and many things can cause errors or corruption to occur - either on the physical drive itself or in the files on the drive. Bad downloads, files that didn't completely transfer, software or driver updates that don't complete properly and viruses and trojans all can spell disaster for your data.

If your data are important to you (documents, pictures, music, email, addresses - things you've added or created), they need to be protected for the time when a failure happens. Waiting until something happens to try to retrieve and repair or clean your data is time-consuming, expensive, and not always possible.

There are a number of backup solutions, many automated. An external hard drive is probably the safest and easiest way to make copies of things you don't want to lose. You can find fancy backup software to buy that claims to make your backup chores simple. Just be aware you don't have to and probably shouldn't buy anything; external hard drives ususally come with their own software. However, for me, the safest way to save your data is to simply copy it in it's current format to another type of media. Burning cds and dvds is another good, long-term solution. The best backup plan includes both external drives AND burning dvds.

Many people have become satisfied with using USB flash drives to "back up" their important data. While flash drives are a good way to transfer data from one computer to another, they cannot be considered safe or long-term storage. Although many flash drives have survived repeated trips through the washer and dryer, many others (my own included) have simply failed to read the data just copied to them for a multitude of reasons. Consider them convenient and temporary.

If you have questions or want help implementing a regular back up plan, send me an email and we'll put something together. Somewhere down the road we'll both be glad you made the effort.

Friday, September 4, 2009

New updates for early September

There are lots of new updates and versions of the best "helper" applications available now. Be sure to update your current versions of the following utilities.

Be SURE you are downloading the free version!

CCleaner 2.23.999: http://www.ccleaner.com/

SUPERAntiSpyware 4.28.1008: http://www.superantispyware.com/

RealPlayer SP 1.0: http://www.real.com/

Opera 10: http://www.opera.com/

Skype http://www.skype.com/

Foxit Reader (Adobe alternative): http://www.foxitsoftware.com/pdf/reader/