Jul 9

Windows 7 and Linux Mint

Those of you who are following this series of posts where I set up a Lenovo laptop to run Linux will remember that two weeks ago I created an image of my base Windows 7 installation. I’m now at the stage of dual booting the Windows 7 installation with a Linux distro.

Which Linux distro?

One of the first challenges with switching to Linux is the vast choice of Linux distributions (or distros) available. However, for those new to Linux, Ubuntu or Linux Mint are generally highly recommended. But the choice doesn’t end there. Having settled on a distro, you now have to choose a desktop environment, or desktop for short. A desktop is just a set of programs running on a particular operating system and which share a common graphical user interface. Choosing a particular desktop isn’t critical as you can change that later without having to reinstall Linux.

So I settled on the Linux Mint 17 distro with the KDE desktop environment. Why Mint? Well I have a netbook still happily running Ubuntu and I wanted to give Linux Mint a spin. I had read a number of good reviews of Mint 17 KDE and I had already installed KDE’s Dolphin browser in Ubuntu and liked it. Having said that, I’ve just listened to a review of Mint 17 KDE on the latest Mintcast podcast and they weren’t exactly blown away by it. I think I could sum up their review up as: if you like KDE then Mint 17 KDE  is worth checking out.

If you’re undecided about which distro or which desktop environment, or even whether your choice will run on your hardware and what it will look like, you can evaluate them all by downloading the isos, burning them to DVDs or your USB stick and running them from there as what’s called a live CD.

Downloading Mint

This is really straightforward. You just head over to the Mint website and download the iso file you want, then burn it to a DVD or to a USB drive. Here are the current choices for Mint:

Linux Mint versions

I chose Linux Mint KDE 64-bit, downloaded the iso which took about 40 minutes and  burned it to a DVD using my favourite free burner ImgBurn. I then ran the DVD as a live version first. This just means booting up Linux Mint from the DVD or USB drive without installing it first. Everything went fine – it even found my Netgear router straightaway, unlike my earlier Windows 7 reinstall which needed Lenovo utilities to be reinstalled before it would find the router and connect.

Tip: Running a live version is a great way to check out the look of a desktop environment, and whether the distro will run on your hardware and recognise your peripherals like your router, all without installing anything on your hard drive.

Partitioning the hard drive and dual booting

As this was my first time to try dual booting, I did a bit of research online to see what sort of problems people run into. A few places mentioned going into the BIOS first when Windows is booting and making sure that UEFI Secure Boot is turned off and that the UEFI/Legacy Boot Priority is set to Legacy First. I also installed the free version of the utility EasyBCD in Windows as this is required later to add an entry for Linux Mint 17 in Windows 7′s boot menu. It’s all explained in the walk-through mentioned in the next paragraph.

I won’t go into the whole partitioning and dual boot procedure because it will just duplicate what you can already find online. I found a great walk-through for dual booting Windows 7 and Linux Mint 11 at Linuxbs. Although I’m installing Mint 17, the procedure is virtually the same. The only place I found it differed was in Allocate Drive Space. The option to choose here is Manual as the other options are to use the entire disk, which I didn’t want to do as I wanted to retain Windows 7 on a partition.

Tip: I found that dual booting article so helpful that I’ve clipped it to Evernote so if I ever have to refer back to it again for any reason, and the page has been taken down or the website has gone, I have a copy!

You’ll note in that walk-through there are two ways to dual boot. 1. Install GRUB 2, the Linux Mint boot loader, in the Master Boot Record (MBR) of the disk, or 2. Install Windows 7′s boot loader in the MBR. I chose the second option and that’s the option chosen in that walk-through. When choosing partition size for my 500 GB laptop hard drive, I pretty much gave half to Windows 7 and half to Mint 17.

I found the whole partitioning and dual booting procedure went flawlessly and I can now dual boot into either Windows 7 or Linux Mint 17 KDE. The next post in this series will look at getting up and running with Mint.

Have you tried dual booting Windows and Linux? Any problems? Which distro and desktop did you choose? And what are you running now?


Jul 1

Highland forest

I’m at the stage in life where I have more years behind me than in front so I’m starting to get the feeling that time is running out. Running out for doing things I should have done by now… and doing new things before it’s too late. So much to do, so little time. I’ve blogged about making the most of our spare time before if you’re interested.

Stuff I should have done

This probably hits most of us. There’s always tomorrow to do this or that job, or visit this or that place. We’ve just had distant relatives over here from Australia, and they’ve visited parts of Scotland I haven’t even been to yet! Having said that, they are retired and have time on their hands. So I need to put that one right and see a bit more of my beautiful country and try out some of the ever increasing number of pathways through the Highlands of my native Scotland.

What else should I have done – well, I’m an average cook, but I really should try to cook more from scratch. It’s really easy to get a ready meal, shove it in the oven and go back to work while it heats. No excuse really – I certainly have plenty of cookbooks amassed from charity/thrift shops, so I must get into that.

Stuff I should learn

What can I still accomplish? Well I’d love to learn programming. But that’s one area I’ve never really got round to. It’s just so hard to know where to start. There’s no quick way to achieve this without putting in a significant number of hours. I should say that I vaguely remember learning some basic Fortran in school way back in the late 1960s in the days of mainframes and punched cards, but I never saw the possibilities. Who did? Well, I’m kicking myself I didn’t spot it. Who would have imagined that within 40 years, programmers would be coding apps for computers that you carry round in your pocket – or even wear! And I’ve still missed the boat. I must have some deep seated hankering to code though. After all, I’ve bought books on PHP and WordPress, bookmarked loads of webpages on coding and coding courses, learned basic HTML, and just today, I signed up for a bunch of courses on Stack Overflow before I really knew what I’d done, just because I thought it was a bargain. It’s much easier to learn new skills these days with all the online resources we have available now. But can I learn to code at this late stage? Can I spare the time? That’s the big question. Is it too late for me now? What would I do with the skill? Am I better off spending my spare time just wandering through the Highlands of Scotland enjoying the sites, and travelling abroad? How do I best use the time left to me?

It’s never too late

When I look back on my life so far, I can see areas where I’ve devoted time that could have been better spent on other things. Yes, we’ve all been there and it’s only when we look back, we realise what a waste of time that weekly commitment was. Too much time in front of the telly, too much time spent chasing other fruitless pursuits.

But it’s best not to look back too much. Look forward and try to achieve a few more things, that’s my aim now. Who knows when ill-health may strike. So for me, among other things,  it’s cooking, photography, travel more, here and abroad, and learn more about Linux. I’ve just dual booted my Lenovo laptop with Windows 7 and Linux Mint 17 KDE and I’m pleased with the result. More on that in the next post. And finally, I must try to at least open a programming book!


Jun 24

Windows backup system image

This post is part of a series tracking my progress in buying a used laptop and setting it up to dual boot Windows 7 and Linux Mint. I hope eventually to switch to Linux. At this stage, I’ve reinstalled Windows 7 and my essential Windows software. Now that everything is set up the way I want it, before I dual boot, I have to make a backup Windows system image. This will be handy to have should I run into difficulties later and want to get back to a base Windows setup with my essential Windows programs. In this post, I just want to pass on some tips on creating the image.

Before you make a system image, run a program like CCleaner to delete temporary files, etc. The image is going to contain all the Windows files and programs so it’s best to remove all the temporary files first. Also, if in the past you’ve performed a repair install, upgrade install, or a custom install rather than a clean install, then you may have a C:\Windows.old folder left over in your new Windows installation. You can delete this too if you’re happy with your new Windows 7 setup. See this post on how to delete the Windows.old folder.  I plugged my new 1TB WD Elements USB3.0 external hard drive into my Lenovo ThinkPad laptop and then followed this guide to prepare a system image on my external hard drive using Windows System Backup and Restore. There’s not much point in repeating these instructions which can be found on a number of sites with a simple search.  I’ll just add some comments on what I noticed creating the image.

Windows System Backup and Restore mightn’t be the fastest imaging utility or the one with the highest compression, but I found it simple to use. It will create an image of all files on any partition, or drive, on the hard drive and will include the system partition. The destination drive cannot be the same as the original drive. Both the original and destination drive must be formatted to use the NTFS file system. When you use Windows System Backup and Restore  to create a system image, you’ll find there’s no option to save the image file to a custom folder on the external hard drive. It automatically goes to a subfolder (with your computer name) of a newly created folder in the root directory called WindowsImageBackup. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m guessing that if I made a system image from another computer to the same external hard drive, it would be sent to a new subfolder (with that computer name) again in the WindowsImageBackup directory, so you could end up with a number of different images for different computers in the WindowsImageBackup folder.

In my case, my Windows 7 Professional OS and essential programs created a system image of 24GB on the external drive. I wanted to be sure I had a duplicate copy so I plugged in my original 1TB external drive and copied the WindowsImageBackup folder to it.  Now that I have a Windows system image of my laptop backed up on both my external hard drives, I plan to keep one external drive offsite at all times and rotate them onsite every week or so. That way I always have a safe backup of everything in case of theft or fire.

So the next step is to shrink the Windows partition and dual boot Windows 7 and Linux Mint. I’ve never done this before and I know dual booting can lead to problems especially for the inexperienced, so that’s another good reason for creating a backup Windows system image before I go any further.

If you’ve any comments or tips on creating a system image or on creating a new partition or dual booting I’d love to hear them before I go ahead.


Jun 17

If you’ve been following my recent posts, you’ll know I’ve bought a used laptop partly as a backup system for my Windows desktop PC (I work from home and a backup machine is essential) but mainly to check out Linux Mint and other possible Linux distros which I’d like to switch to from Windows in the future.

I’m at the stage where I’ve re-installed Windows 7 on the Lenovo ThinkPad, I’ve run all the Windows 7 updates and I’ve installed all my essential programs should I have to switch to the laptop if my desktop PC fails to boot one day. The next stage is to partition the hard disk and install Linux Mint.

But first, this is a great time to create a backup Windows system image should I ever need to reinstall Windows 7 in the future. It’s set up just as I want it now with my essential Windows programs. I thought it would be useful to make a list of the Windows programs that are essential to me for work and personal use. You’ll probably be familiar with most but if not, you might find the list useful. I’m not going to provide links to all the programs as they can be easily found online, but I’ll try to link back to any posts I’ve made on particular programs in the past. I compiled the list by browsing through all the programs installed on my desktop PC and paring them down to the ones I couldn’t do without.

My essential Windows programs

Microsoft Office (I need this because unfortunately MS Word is still the standard for document creation and editing in the publishing industry)

Microsoft OneDrive (not really essential, but I use it to backup encrypted work files online)

Microsoft NET Framework (needed to run other programs, e.g. doPDF)

Microsoft Security Essentials (many would argue there are better free anti-virus options but I’ve had no problems with it)

Google Chrome

Mozilla Thunderbird

Malwarebytes AntiMalware

xplorer2 Lite (my Windows Explorer replacement)

Irfanview and plugins (image editing)

7-Zip (file compression and file archive creation)

CCleaner

Speccy (hardware info)

Recuva (file recovery)

NotePad++ (text file creation and editing)

Adobe Reader (again unfortunately the standard for annotating PDF proofs in the publishing industry)

doPDF (create a PDF from your Print menu)

PicPick (screen capture utility)

Skype

Cloudfogger (automated cloud file encryption utility)

Evernote

When I dual boot Windows with Linux Mint, I’ll need to find Linux alternatives for some of these programs. Some I won’t need (MSE, Malwarebytes) and others I’ll try to get working under WINE (Word, Evernote), but more about that later. In my next post, I’ll create my backup Windows system image.


Jun 10

Lenovo ThinkPad keyboard

I bought a used Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530c laptop on eBay recently. The idea was to have a backup machine should my desktop Windows PC pack in and also to install Linux Mint on a partition to see if I could move away Windows altogether eventually. I discussed my reasons for buying a used Windows laptop in the previous post.

The eBay seller had a 100% reputation, and his seller’s comment on the laptop was:

This item is as new but has no box. The laptop is unused. I’ve booted it up but never completed the registration. This laptop is in perfect condition.

Yes, I know, it seems pretty unlikely that anyone would buy a laptop and then sell it unused. The machine arrived as the seller said with Windows 7 Professional 64 bit installed. When I booted it up, it was at the point where you enter a user name and computer name so I carried on with that. It didn’t come with disks or a Windows 7 Product Key but I used Magical Jelly Bean KeyFinder on my USB drive with utility programs to track that down. I also installed the system information tool Speccy, which provided all the hardware details, the serial number and the Product Key. I wanted to find out just what I could about its previous life. I already knew that Event Viewer would have a log of previous events but I suspected that the hard drive would have been wiped and Windows 7 Professional installed so Event Viewer wouldn’t necessarily tell me much. So as usual I enlisted the help of Reddit and I asked the Techsupport subreddit about checking out a so-called unused laptop. The thread makes interesting reading and offered a number of great suggestions. I’ll go through how I applied those suggestions to check out this used laptop.

Laptop Condition

Sure enough, the laptop was immaculate so that was a good sign. As suggested out by one redditor, I checked the trackpad and the red nub for wear and there was none as you can see from the header image. So that’s a good start.

Event Viewer

When I ran Event Viewer, I found there were no events before 31-5-14. That was when I booted and completed registration (computer name, network name, windows password, updates, etc). But Recently Viewed Nodes were created on 1-10-12. Recently Viewed Nodes provides information about where events have recently taken place on the system. No idea what that means, possibly the clock hadn’t been set correctly when those events were logged.

Hard Drive Wear

I installed CrystalDiskInfo to check the hard drive. A few redditors said check the Power on Hours.

CrystalDiskInfo

As you can see, Power-On Hours is really pretty low. Hard drive health status was indicated as good. So far so good.

Deleted files

One redditor suggested running Recuva to check for deleted files. This was great advice as I noted a bunch of deleted Windows OS files. Here’s just part of the list of deleted files

Recuva

So it looks like the previous Windows OS was deleted, probably Windows 8.

Date of manufacture

With a Lenovo laptop, it’s possible to determine the date of manufacture from the external sticker or the serial number. I had no external sticker but I had found the serial number with Speccy earlier. I used the serial number to get the date of manufacture. So that gave me these details: Base Warranty Status: Start Date: 20 September 2013; End date: 18 November 2014. So the date of manufacture was 20 September 2013 and the laptop was still under warranty when I bought it.

Hardware scan

Lenovo have software to let you run a hardware scan. Check if your laptop manufacturer has included software to run hardware diagnostics.

Lenovo Hardware scan

The Lenovo Solution Center allows to check a whole bunch of hardware: Memory, Motherboard, PCI Express card, storage devices, WiFi card.

Lenovo Hardware scan results

All the hardware checked out fine.

Putting it all together

It looks like my Lenovo laptop was sold in September 2013 with Windows 8 installed. From its condition, power-on hours and hardware diagnostics, the first owner obviously didn’t use it much, then wiped the hard drive with Windows 8 and downgraded to Windows 7 Professional, and sold it leaving me to complete the registration. I’m still unclear if it was originally registered with Windows 8, but I don’t want to take that any further. I have found the Product Key and from a hardware point of view, the machine is fine.

After a few days of use, a few things started to niggle me. The boot-up time was way too long and there seemed to be quite a few Lenovo Utilities running that seemed unnecessary. I had no programs or data on it to speak of so I decided just to reinstall Windows 7 Professional 64 bit. I downloaded the iso file, burned it to a DVD and reinstalled Windows 7. Everything went fine until it went to search for an internet connection. After a bit of searching online (on my desktop PC!), I discovered that I would have to download a network driver and several ancillary Lenovo utilities from the Lenovo support site. This turned out to be quite a mission, as anyone who has come across the Lenovo support site will know – it’s a real challenge to identify just what you need to download. Anyway, I got there in the end with a great feeling of satisfaction at a job well done.

The laptop now boots quickly into Windows 7 Professional 64 bit and I have a pretty much ‘as-new’ machine. Once I have installed the software I need, and Windows is set up just as I want it, I’ll make an image backup in case I ever need to reinstall Windows. However, this is unlikely because, at the end of the day, the main purpose of this machine is so I can get familiar with Linux Mint, so eventually, I’ll wipe Windows 7. My next step is to partition the hard drive and dual boot Windows 7 with Linux Mint. I’ll let you know how I get on.

How do you check out a used laptop? Anything else I could have tried?


May 13
Buying a Laptop to Run Linux
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Linux | icon4 May 13, 2014| icon34 Comments »

Lenovo_ThinkPad_Edge_E530_thumb336

Deciding on a computer hardware upgrade path can be difficult. Laptop, desktop or tablet? Windows, Linux or Android? I have a desktop PC running Windows 7 but I need a second system partly to investigate whether I can go forward with Linux and partly as a backup for my desktop PC should it go belly up. I finally decided to get a laptop which would run Linux and upgrade my desktop system by adding a SSD running Windows 7 64 bit. But my first priority is buying a laptop where I can install and try out different Linux distros.

Anyone wanting to ditch Windows or Mac and buy a new laptop with Linux installed may find it’s just not as easy as it should be. At least that’s what I’ve discovered in the UK. Perhaps it’s different where you live – if so, let me know. You can’t just walk into a PC retailer and see a selection of laptops with different flavours of Linux installed. Why? Well, as you’ve probably noticed, laptops generally come with either Windows or OS X installed and that’s it, making it pretty hard to start out with Linux. Yes, I know you can take your old underpowered PC or laptop, wipe it or even dual boot with Linux, but what about those wanting to start out with a new laptop running Linux.

So what’s available? Well in the UK, Ebuyer do currently  stock a Hewlett-Packard HP 255 G1 laptop with Ubuntu, or you could go to Cyberpower and order a custom built PC or laptop without an OS and install Linux yourself. But have a look on Amazon (UK) and you’ll pretty much draw a blank if you search for new laptops with Linux installed. And a search suggested that the HP 255 G1 running Ubuntu may not run Linux Mint, the distribution I wanted to try out. I’ll also need to be able to run Wine so I can still access some Windows programs. So as you can see, it’s pretty difficult to make a start with Linux on a new laptop.

What next? Well I thought I’d enlist the help of Reddit and I asked my question on the Linux Mint subreddit and got some great advice. Mostly, they pointed me in the direction of laptops running Windows 7 (not Windows 8 because installing Linux on machines with SecureBoot can be a problem). Factory shipped Linux laptops are generally not cheaper than their Windows counterparts. Three commenters suggested I get a Lenovo ThinkPad business laptop. I was advised to look for a machine with integrated Intel graphics and wifi as they’ll work out of the box with Linux.

But is there anywhere else I can look to clarify which Lenovo ThinkPad laptops will run Linux? Well a search for lenovo thinkpad AND Linux turned up a number of sites listing Linux compatibility with ThinkPads. One of the most useful was LinLap, the Linux Laptop Wiki. So I’m going for a Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 530 with Windows 7 Professional 64 bit installed. This model has an Intel HD Graphics 3000 card and an Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2230 wifi card so I should be able to run Linux Mint. I’ll probably start out by dual booting Windows 7 with Linux Mint.

But why does it all have to be this difficult? I have over 20 years’ experience with PCs and I found it difficult to choose a compatible laptop. Even now I’m not absolutely certain it will run Mint flawlessly. Not just that but having to start off with Windows 7 preinstalled isn’t exactly the way to sell Linux to new users is it. Very disappointing in my opinion. It’s high time that consumers had better, reasonably priced hardware choices with Linux preinstalled and no compatibility issues. What are your thoughts on this?


Apr 25

Are you fed up forking out for a commercial OS, OS updates, and office software? Well, in this series of posts, I’m considering whether I can move away from Windows 7 in the future. So far, things look promising, especially with the explosion of the Android platform and with viable Linux desktop options. As I’ve discussed before,  one thing holding me back is that I need to be able to edit MS Word documents for clients – you may be in the same boat. In an earlier part in this series, I looked at open source software OpenOffice and LibreOffice from one aspect -  editing documents with tracked changes. I ran a test on these two packages to see whether I could:

  1. Open a MS Word doc file with tracked changes in the file and with tracked changes turned on
  2. Edit it adding further tracked changes and comments in OpenOffice or LibreOffice
  3. Save it in MS Word doc format
  4. Open it in MS Word to see if all the tracked changes and comments had been preserved through the process.

In that first test, OpenOffice was just slightly better as LibreOffice introduced some minor formatting errors, but both did a pretty good job.

So what about other free options online for editing MS Word documents? Well as you may know, there have been some developments from Google Drive recently with add-ons to allow, among other things, tracked changes in Google Docs.  Microsoft have also renamed its Microsoft Web Apps to Office Online so I wanted to check that out as well. As I go, I’ll try and walk you through using Google Drive and Office Online. I hadn’t used either before so if you have some comments or tips or if you feel I missed something important, please drop a comment at the bottom and I’ll update the post.  On the other hand, if you want to skip the detail, you’ll find a short summary of my results at the bottom of the post. For fairness, I’ll be using the same starting Word doc file that I used to evaluate tracked changes in OpenOffice and LibreOffice.

Google Drive

If you don’t mind relying even more heavily on Google and allowing them access to more of your data, then this may be an option for editing Word doc files with tracked changes. Obviously, you’ll need a (free) Google account to access Google Drive. Once you upload a MS Word doc file from your PC to Google Drive you can view it, but to open/edit it, you must open it with Google Docs. Right click on the MS Word doc file you want to open and chose open with Google Docs.

Google Drive1

Now, if you want to track changes made to the Google Docs file, you first have to install the Track Changes Add-on. Navigate to Add-ons and select Get add-ons. Then look for the Track Changes add-on and install it.

Google Drive2

 

The first thing I noticed was that some tracked changes that I had already made previously in MS Word didn’t come across into the Google Doc file. For example, deleted and inserted text were not highlighted as tracked changes as they were in LibreOffice and OpenOffice. Comments made in Word did come across but the commenter name was shown as ‘null’ and the comment insertion point was missing. Again, LibreOffice and OpenOffice did this perfectly, so that’s not a good start.

I then made the same tracked changes in the Google Doc file as I had made in the LibreOffice and OpenOffice files. On the Track Changes menu, I had to click Highlight my new changes before I started. When I deleted words in the Google Docs file they only showed in the separate track changes window not in the main document. However, tracked insertions did show up with a purple background in the main editing window. I later discovered that I could actually see the revision history including the comments made in Google docs and all tracked insertions and deletions. You get there by clicking File, See revision history.

Google Drive3

Another minor failing for me was that tracked changes were labelled with my Google username. No chance of selecting another user or commenter name as you can in MS Word, OpenOffice and LibreOffice, so this may be a disadvantage for a freelance worker who may want to use a trading or business name for comments and changes.

I also discovered I should have renamed the file before I started because all changes were automatically added to the original Google Docs file, not what I’m used to in MS Word. I then downloaded the file to my PC. To do this go to File, Download as, Microsoft Word (.docx).

When I opened the file in MS Word and showed Markup, this is what I saw:

Google Drive4

The original tracked changes in Word had disappeared in the journey to Google Docs and back, and the tracked text deleted and comment added in Google Docs had also disappeared. All I had was the tracked inserted text shown with the purple background and the original comments in Word but now with the commenter name replaced by ‘null’. So, all in all, a much poorer result than with OpenOffice or LibreOffice.

Office Online

Office Online is free to use at the moment. The only proviso is that you must have a (free) Microsoft OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) online account as you have to access and edit your MS Word doc files from there. So I uploaded my original Word file with some tracked changes already made in Word, and tracked changes were turned on. Then, click on the file and it opens in the Word Online viewer. Now, to edit the file, click on Edit Document, Edit in Word Online

Word Online1

I found that the tracked inserted and deleted text in the original file were not highlighted in Word Online, and comment insertion points were not highlighted, although this time Word Online had got the commenter name right from the original file. Track Changes was still marked as ON at the bottom of the editing window. I didn’t see any way to turn tracked changes off and on from within Word Online.

There is a review section on the menu, but this only allows Comments to be inserted. So I made my standard editing changes as before. The username for comments was Guest. That could probably be changed if I knew how. Again, as I found with Google Docs, all the changes had already been made to the original file, but the original file was saved in the version history. That’s something I’ll have to get used to. Save the file with a new name before you start editing it online. So I downloaded the edited file from Word Online and found that all the changes made in Word Online had been tracked even though I couldn’t see the tracked changes when editing online!

Word-Word Online-Word

So, apart from the Guest username in the comments, all the tracked changes made in the original Word file and then in the Word Online editing had been faithfully carried back through to the file when reopened in MS Word on my PC.

Summary

I’ve looked at two free online alternatives for editing MS Word documents with tracked changes – Google Drive and Word Online. Perhaps not surprisingly, Google Drive didn’t perform as well as Word Online in my test. I found that, with Word Online, I could open a simple Word doc file with tracked changes and with tracked changes turned on, edit it in Word Online, and download it to my PC and still see all the tracked changes from the original Word file and from the editing in Word Online. The only downsides were that I couldn’t see how to set the username in Word Online, there seemed to be no option to turn tracked changes on or off in Word Online, and I couldn’t view the tracked changes in Word Online (but they were there!).

But for me, from every free option I’ve looked at so far, I’d put Word Online slightly behind OpenOffice from the point of view of editing a MS Word document with tracked changes. I have no doubt that a more complex Word file would have caused some formatting problems but it looks like free alternatives, online and offline, may be able to give MS Word a good run for its money for many of us who perhaps don’t need tracked changes. Have a look at Office Online and see what you think.

Next time in this series, I’ll have a look at editing MS Word documents (for free) on an Android tablet or smartphone and see how that compares to my frontrunners so far.


Mar 11
Dementia: A Carer’s Perspective
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Life | icon4 March 11, 2014| icon3No Comments »

This blog isn’t just about solving tech problems and giving tech tips, sometimes I cover ‘life’ topics.

Well it’s dementia today, from my perspective. Mum is 92 very soon and has had dementia for several years now. A growing number of people are having to care for relatives with this awful condition. If you haven’t come across dementia yet, let me tell you it can be a really trying task for a carer. Nothing really prepares you for the frustrations of the short-term memory loss and change in personality you will encounter. This isn’t the Mum I grew up with. Believe me, you will need deep resources of patience when you have to answer the same questions over and over again…. in just half an hour. And despite taking them for a lovely car outing, don’t expect them to remember much the following day. For Mum, every day is pretty much a clean slate, she lives in the present and in her memories from 40 or 50 years ago.

It’s very easy to get angry, confrontational and frustrated when you come up against dementia – I know, I’ve been there many times. But it all came to a head last week when Mum said something, it doesn’t really matter what. Like a rag to a bull, I waded in with my rant. I don’t know why I bothered because I knew she wouldn’t remember anything the next day anyway. I got home after dropping her off at her sheltered house and I could feel a tightness in my chest. It was at that point I realised things had to change for me. I was getting stressed out for no real reason.

And that’s my point. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t yet experienced caring for someone with dementia or if you’re in the same boat as me, please take one thing from this piece. Try your utmost not to get worked up, angry or stressed out. Think of your own health and remember, your relative really wouldn’t want you to be suffering on their account. Whenever you feel yourself fit to burst, just stop, turn around, don’t get into an argument, just think of yourself and your health. Put on a smile and calmly deal with the problem. You may be glad you did later.

A final note. I’ve held off pushing the Publish button on this post for a few days now. I’m finding it hard to take my own advice, but I’ll keep trying. I know my health is at stake.

Do you have any thoughts on caring for a relative with dementia? Drop a comment below.


Feb 25

I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem with a browser not launching before,  but at some point last year I think I must have installed a dodgy browser extension then uninstalled it. From then on, Firefox just wouldn’t launch for me and I kept getting the Crash Reporter:

Firefox crashed

I tried all kinds of ways to resolve the issue. Having said that, I didn’t know about launching Firefox in Safe Mode (hold down the Shift key while launching Firefox) until just recently and that may have helped. If that doesn’t help,  it does give you an option to restore Firefox to its factory default state while saving essential information. So this may be your best first option if Firefox doesn’t start for you.

Anyway, here’s my troubleshooting routine. I first ran malware scans with Malwarebytes Anti-Malware and SUPERAntiSpyware to see if that might be the problem but my system came up clean. I then tried uninstalling Firefox and reinstalling it. I tried uninstalling it using Revo Uninstaller and reinstalling. I tried launching Firefox from a portable version on a USB drive. I tried older versions of Firefox. None of these options worked and I just got the same old Crash Reporter error. I also tried restoring a Firefox profile I had backed up as discussed in my backup routine. That also didn’t work suggesting that both the profile and the backup profile may be corrupt and the cause of the problem.

So it seemed that as well as uninstalling Firefox I should also delete the browser profile. I tried that knowing that I would have to reinstall my Firefox extensions from scratch. This wasn’t a big deal as I’ve been using Chrome for 3 or 4 years now and I’m quite happy with it. But it’s nice to have a working backup browser just in case I ever experience any problems with Chrome. In Windows 7, the Firefox profile is at C:\Users\Username\AppData\Roaming\Mozilla\Firefox. So I uninstalled Firefox and deleted everything in this folder. I downloaded the latest Firefox installer and installed Firefox. During the installation, you do get the option to import your bookmarks, history, etc from Chrome, which is nice.

Firefox Import Settings

 

However, you have to reinstall your Firefox extensions again. Not really a problem in my case, just an opportunity to start again and install just what I actually need. And that was it, Firefox was working again. So the problem was a corrupt profile.

I hope that’s helped in troubleshooting Firefox when it won’t start. Lessons learned? Well I know about Firefox Safe Mode now, and I won’t backup a corrupt Firefox profile over a good one again.

Have you experienced any problems with Firefox not launching? How did you get it working again?


Feb 11
Finding Great Movies to Watch
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Life | icon4 February 11, 2014| icon3No Comments »

Cinema_Movie_Film_Vector_Stock

I don’t think I’ve mentioned movies in the 300 or so posts up here so far. I don’t torrent movies and streaming isn’t always an option as my internet connection is often too slow at peak times so I’ve found some ways to get great movies for little or no cost without a monthly subscription.

First, if streaming is an option for you, there are a number of sites where you can find full length movies for free. Try Free FilmsViooz, or even try typing  your movie name full length (fill in your movie name) into YouTube. If you use Reddit, there are good subreddits listing full length movies you can stream on Viooz and YouTube.

If streaming movies is a problem for you,  and if you’ve still got an old DVD player hiding away under your TV, there’s another option to pick up DVDs cheaply and give to charity at the same time, at least there is here in the UK.  Charity shops are everywhere here selling donated clothes, books, old CDs and DVDs. If you’ve got the time to go round them, you’ll probably find some great movies on their shelves. Perhaps they’ve been donated because their owners have moved on to streaming or torrenting and don’t need their old DVDs any more. And of course, the money you pay to purchase the DVDs goes to charity. Once you watch the DVD and if it’s not a ‘keeper’, you can always donate it back to your charity shop of choice, so they benefit again.

Not sure if a movie is worth buying? Well, to get round this, I’ve saved a list of Oscar winning movies and IMDb’s top 250 movies as notes in an offline notebook in Evernote on my smartphone so I can spot these movies if I come across them. You can also make up your own list of great movies by searching Google for list of year movies (fill in your year of choice). At the top of the search results, you’ll see a scrolling bar of the movies most frequently mentioned on the web for that year:

movies 2013

You can change the year or select a particular genre at the top right.

Hope that’s given you some ideas for picking up great movies at little or no cost.


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