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How to use layered security to protect your computer

It seems whenever I tell someone that I repair computers for a living, I almost always get asked the question "What do you recommend for anti-virus software?". I tell them that I use a layered approach to security, not relying on just one program for protection. I personally don't like to use all-in-one security suites. It's not that I don't trust any particular software; I just don't like having just one piece of software protecting my computer. Here's how to use layered security to protect your computer.

Protecting your computer with layered security
Protecting your computer with layered security

Software firewall

Windows has had a pretty good firewall built-in since Windows Vista and it's turned on by default. It comes pre-installed inside of Windows and is ready to go. There are also some great stand-alone programs like ZoneAlarm. This is also one of those additional features of all-in-one security software. It's your choice.

Anti-virus software

This one is a no brainer. There are plenty of free and retail anti-virus programs on the market, and I have used quite few different ones over the years. Some internet service providers like Cox Communications even offer free security suite software. The only thing to keep in mind when picking an anti-virus program is the performance of the system you're installing it on. I would not install a full-blown security suite like Norton or McAfee on a tablet or netbook.

Anti-malware / anti-spyware software

Anti-virus software normally looks for, you guessed it, viruses. I've cleaned out quite a few pieces of ransomware that anti-virus programs missed because it wasn't a virus. Quite a few of anti-malware programs are meant to be run side-by-side with anti-virus software. But there are a couple of exceptions to this rule: McAfee software doesn't like to work with Malwarebytes Anti-malware, but it can. And never install Microsoft Security Essentials along with SuperAnti-Spyware, as they are completely incompatible. It's a long story, but basically they are the same program.

Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET)

EMET actuality works as a shim between programs and the operating system. It looks for known patterns of attack and can prevent programs from getting access to the operating system. It can prevent a hacker from using security holes in programs until the developer issues an update. Just configure EMET to monitor any program that can access the Internet. I've seen it work first hand (rouge flash inside of browser) and it does what it's meant to do.

Creating stunning documents, spreadsheets and slide-shows with OpenOffice 4

With the cost of Microsoft Office going up, not to mention the subscription / non-subscription thing, it's nice to know there are alternatives out there. One of the best office alternatives has to be OpenOffice. And it just so happens that the Apache Software Foundation recently released a new version of their free productivity software, OpenOffice 4.

The main screen inside of OpenOffice 4
The main screen inside of OpenOffice 4

For those who are not familiar with it, OpenOffice is a suite of office productivity programs that rivals Microsoft Office. It has everything you could need for creating great looking documents, spreadsheets and slide-show presentations. Here's a complete list of all of the programs included in OpenOffice 4.

ProgramEquivalent toProgram type
Writer Microsoft Word Word processor
Calc Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet
Impress Microsoft PowerPoint Multi-media slide-show presentation
Draw Microsoft Paint Graphic design
Base Microsoft Access Database
Math Design Science Mathtype Formula creation

OpenOffice 4 has some major improvements over previous versions. There's a new Sidebar that contains the most commonly used functions for that program, which can be docked, floating or completely hidden. There is also greatly improved compatibly with Microsoft Office documents. The drawing, graphics and gallery functions have also been enhanced, along with the copy & paste and drag & drop functionality.

The new Sidebar inside of OpenOffice 4 shown docked and floating
The new Sidebar inside of OpenOffice 4 shown docked and floating

OpenOffice does use Java, but it's not required for installation, as it can be added in later on. Compatibility with other document formats is pretty impressive, but Star Office is no longer supported. OpenOffice can automatically load / convert and convert / save Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) and Design Science Mathtype documents. The only file types that it cannot save to is the Microsoft Office 2007 - 2013 .???x formats.

And since OpenOffice is open-source, there are hundreds of third party extensions to expand on the functionality of the applications. Add in a copy of GIMP or Paint.NET and you have a complete, and free, desktop publishing package.

OpenOffice 4 is available for the Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems. For more information on OpenOffice 4, just follow the links below:

Apache OpenOffice Open Source Project
OpenOffice 4 Release Notes
Download OpenOffice 4

Six ways to make Windows 8 easier to use

Repairing computers for a living requires working on different versions of Windows. Windows 8 must have the most changes out of all the Windows releases I've seen in the last decade or so. It seems like what worked in previous versions of Windows doesn't work in Windows 8. So here are six ways to make Windows 8 easier to use.

1. Create Shutdown, Restart and Logoff shortcuts

Microsoft made shutting down and restarting Windows 8 kind of hard. You have to go to the Start screen and log-off before you can get to these options. Just seemed like too many steps for me, so I just created my own shortcuts and toolbar for shutting down, restarting and logging off.

How to create log-off, restart and shutdown shortcuts on the Start screen in Windows 8.

2. Start menu replacements

Windows 7 style Start menu in Windows 8 using Start8
Windows 7 style Start menu in Windows 8 using Start8

If you're a die-hard Windows user and find the Start screen just doesn't work for you, there is hope. There numerous third party shell menus out there like Start8, Classic Shell and Pokki's Windows 8 Start Menu. Get one and Windows 8 will feel just like Windows 7.

3. Power users command menu

The desktop and laptop versions of the Windows 8 Power User command menu
The desktop and laptop versions of the Windows 8 Power User command menu

This is one of the Windows logo key shortcuts for Windows 8 (see below) but I think it deserves to be listed separately. It contains links to some of the most used programs inside of Windows. From the Control Panel, Computer Management and an Admin Command Prompt, if it's a commonly used Windows program, you'll probably find it here. Add it works on both the Desktop and Start screen.

PressTo
Windows logo key + X Open the Power User command menu. There are over a dozen different apps you can run from this menu.

4. Start screen hidden search feature

Most people find it hard to find programs on the Start screen (Windows RT). But there is one cool feature that actually will help you search for programs. If you go to the Start screen and just type the first couple of letters of the name of the program you're looking for, Windows RT will bring up the Search charm with Apps pre-selected. Remember that there is no box or form field associated with this feature, you just type.

5. Windows 8 Keyboard shortcuts

The Windows logo key Windows logo key has been around since Windows 95 and with every new version of Windows, Microsoft just adds more key combinations .There are now forty (40) different Windows logo key shortcuts in Windows 8.

Windows logo key shortcuts for Windows 8.

6. Windows 8 restart options

Windows 8 restart option screen
Windows 8 restart option screen

It used to be when you had a problem with Windows, you could press F8 at startup and get to the boot options. This was the primary way to start Windows in Safe Mode or boot to other media. But with newer computers using Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) and Windows 8 booting faster, pressing F8 at boot is really hard, if not impossible. But there are a couple of ways to get there once Windows 8 is started. Note: If you want to boot from removable media, make sure that the media you want to boot to is attached (USB) or inserted (CD/DVD) before proceeding.

If you are logged off:

  1. On the logon screen, in the lower-right hand corner, tap or left-click the Power Icon. Hold the Shift key down while you tap or left-click on Restart.
  2. On the restart options screen, tap or left-click Troubleshoot.
  3. Tap or left-click on Advanced options.
  4. From here you can choose what startup settings you want to use or boot to a bootable CD/DVD or USB drive.

If you are logged on:

  1. Press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + C to bring up the Charms bar.
  2. Tap or left-click Change PC Settings.
  3. Tap or left-click General.
  4. Scroll down to Advanced startup and tap or left-click Restart now.
  5. On the restart options screen, tap or left-click Troubleshoot.
  6. Tap or left-click on Advanced options.
  7. From here you can choose what startup settings you want to use or boot to a bootable CD/DVD or USB drive.

And if you would like enable the Advanced Boot Options menu, you can do that too. Just remember that there is no timer on the Advanced Boot menu anymore. If enabled, Windows 8 will wait for user input every time the system starts. How to enable the Advanced Boot Options menu at start up in Windows 8.

Windows 8.1 Preview - user interface enhancements

Microsoft recently released the Windows 8.1 Preview, the future upgrade to Windows 8. Some of the changes are subtitle and are quite easily over looked, others are not. Changes included in Windows 8.1 are B.Y.O.D. (Bring Your Own Device), mobility, security and user interface enhancements. With the promise of better user interaction on personal computers, Microsoft made some tweaks to both Windows RT and Windows 8. Let's take a closer look into the user interface changes inside of Windows 8.1 Preview.

The Start button returns to Windows 8.1 Preview
The Start button returns to Windows 8.1 Preview

The first thing you'll notice is that nothing appears to have changed. Right out-of-the-box the only thing that caught my eye was the return of the Start button on the Desktop. You no longer have to hover your cursor in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. If you left-click on the Start button, it brings up the Start screen, not the Start menu from previous versions of Windows. If you right-click on it, the power user command menu appears without keyboard shortcuts. Pressing the Windows logo key Windows logo key + X does the same thing, but has the keyboard shortcuts (the underlined letter in the name of the program). If you want and/or need a Start menu, you'll need a third party app like Start8.

Smaller tile size on the Start screen inside of Windows 8.1 Preview
Smaller tile size on the Start screen inside of Windows 8.1 Preview

The Start screen has also under gone some changes. The tiles can now be resized smaller for non-touch devices like personal computers. You now have four different tile sizes to choose from: large (8x8), wide (8x4), medium (4x4) and small (1x1). There is now a button at the bottom of the Start screen to toggle in between it and the Apps screen. You no longer have to right-click the Start screen to bring up the Apps command bar. Now when you right-click on the Start screen, you get a customize button for adding names to groups of tiles. You no longer have to zoom out to do it. And now if you zoom out, all you can do is select a group of tiles to zoom in on.

The Personalize options for the Start screen in Windows 8.1 Preview
The Personalize options for the Start screen in Windows 8.1 Preview

The customization options for the Start screen have also been expanded. You can now use one of your own images for the lock screen or play a slide show on it. You can now also change the accent color along with the background color. Not as many options as some third party programs like Decor8, but it's an improvement compared to Windows 8.

Taskbar and navigation properties inside of Windows 8.1 Preview
Taskbar and navigation properties inside of Windows 8.1 Preview

One the most anticipated changes is the boot to Desktop option. It took a little hunting, but I did find it under Personalization > Taskbar and Navigation properties. It's there you can make Windows 8.1 go to the Desktop when you sign in. You can also have the Desktop background on the Start screen and set the Apps screen as the default when you left-click on the Start button.

The redesigned PC settings inside of Windows 8.1 Preview
The redesigned PC settings inside of Windows 8.1 Preview

Another program that got a face lift was PC Settings. Microsoft redesigned it with expanded categories and sub-menus to include more settings. It's still not as complete as the Control Panel, but it's getting better. The new layout seems more proportionate on a computer screen, with the menu titles smaller. Overall, I would say the user interface inside of Windows 8.1 is an improvement over Windows 8. But without a Start menu, it will still be a hard sell to die hard Windows users.

For more information on the Windows 8.1 Preview, just follow the links below:

Windows 8.1 Preview
Windows 8.1 Preview FAQ

Restore the Start button and Start menu to Windows 8 with Start8

The biggest complaint I have heard about Windows 8 is that the Start button and Start menu are gone. No doubt this was a radical change in the way users interact with Windows. Being a Windows logo key fanatic since its introduction in Windows 95, I found the new Start screen to be less of a headache than most. But I still missed the Start button. The folks over at Stardock have recently released a great program called Start8 that brings both of them back and more.

Windows 7 style Start menu in Windows 8 using Start8
Windows 7 style Start menu in Windows 8 using Start8

Start8 is, in my book, the ultimate Start button replacement for Windows 8. Now before I go on, let's see if we can make some sense about all of the Start items. The Start button is located by default on the left hand side of the Taskbar and has the Windows logo on it (Windows 95 - Windows 7). The Start menu appears when you left-click on the Start button (Windows 95 - Windows 7). The Start screen is the Windows RT (Metro) interface used in Tablets and Smartphones (Windows 8).

Windows 8 style start menu in Windows 8 using Start8
Windows 8 style start menu in Windows 8 using Start8

With Start8, you can get back the Start button and Start menu with a choice of what style you would like to use (Windows 7 or Windows 8). The Windows 7 style looks and feels just like the original. The Windows 8 style is kind of a hybrid, with the Start screen appearing in-place of the Start menu. Both are highly configurable and can use custom images for the Start button.

Here's a breakdown of the styles and included features:

Windows 7 style

  • Choice of themes (Windows 7 rounded edges, Windows 8 squared edges, black selection edges)
  • Use large icons
  • Show recently used apps
  • Open submenus when you pause over them with your cursor
  • Highlight new installed apps
  • Show user picture
  • Choice of which shortcuts to display on the right hand side of the menu
  • Add additional shortcuts to the right hand side of menu

Windows 8 style

  • Choice of four different sizes or full screen
  • Display Start menu full screen with the Taskbar still visible
  • Choice of what the Start button and Windows logo key do
  • Can default to the applications view

Start8 is produced by Stardock, makers of ModernMix and Decor8. Here's a quote from the Stardock website:

What is Start8?

Microsoft Windows® 8 is shipped without the "Start" menu. Stardock heard the cries from Windows 8 users. We put the "Start" menu back in Windows 8. We accurately recreated the most used desktop feature billions of users depend on every day and packed it with additional functionality.

    Innovation
  • Windows 7-style Start menu with Windows 8 enhancements
  • Search for Windows 8-style (Modern UI) apps
  • Pin desktop and Metro apps to the start menu
  • Jump List support
  • Unified Search for apps, settings and files
  • Boot directly to the Windows 8 desktop
  • One click access to shut down, devices, music, documents, and videos
    Control
  • Configurable Start menu size
  • Windows 8 Start screen accessible from the Start menu
  • Clean, streamlined UI enhances Start8's usability
    Customization
  • Optionally disable the desktop Windows 8 "hot spots"
  • Supports WindowFX 5.1 start menu animations
  • Includes .ADMX template (in Group Policy folder)

Start8 is only $4.99 and in my opinion, worth every penny. For more information on Start8 or Stardock, just follow the links below:

Stardock
Start8

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Geeks in Phoenix is an IT consulting company specializing in all aspects of Computer Repair / PC Repair / Laptop Repair. Since 2008, our expert computer repair technicians have been providing outstanding Computer Repair, Virus Removal, Data Recovery, Photo Manipulation and Website Support.

Geeks in Phoenix have the best computer repair technicians providing computer repair and service in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe Arizona. We offer In-Shop, On-Site and Remote (with stable Internet connection) computer repair service.

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