TWT Newsletter, Issue #070 – Big changes coming to Top-Windows-Tutorials and the TWT Newsletter!
Welcome to our March 2013 TWT Newsletter. We’re excited to announce that this will be the last issue of the old TWT Newsletter. Fear not however, as we will be back with a fresh new look and feel in April, but more on that later in the newsletter.
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In this months issue:-
1) What’s new at Top-Windows-Tutorials.com?
2) Big changes coming to Top-Windows-Tutorials and the TWT Newsletter
3) Stop press! Stardock brings tiles to the desktop with ModernMix!
4) Do you need to spring clean your PC?
5) Tip of the Month – Pay and surf securely online by checking for https
6) Free Utility of the Month – Bluestacks
7) What is CISPA and why is it so dangerous?
What’s new at Top-Windows-Tutorials.com?
We added just one new tutorial in February to our Skins and Themes section. If you’re using the new tile interface on your Windows 8 machine and you want to add your own personal touch to the machine, then take a look at this tutorial. The video also covers how to change the lock screen to any picture you like.
We weren’t idle for the rest of the month however! We have started rolling out the first of our major changes to the site. Video playback problems have plagued our content for many months, but now we’re rolling out a new player that not only fixes the playback problems but allows you to playback the video on your mobile devices too! For the first time you can access our video content on your iPad or iPhone, on a Windows RT tablet, on an Android device or on any number of other convenient, portable devices. So far we can confirm compatibility on iOS, Android 4.2, Windows Phone 8 and Blackberry Tablet OS, but any modern mobile operating system should be compatible. Look for the “Mobile friendly” text underneath our videos. Any video with this text below it is using our new player and is mobile compatible.
Big changes coming to Top-Windows-Tutorials and the TWT Newsletter
Top-Windows-Tutorials has grown from a small niche site with a handful of useful videos to probably the biggest free source of Windows tutorials and training on the internet today. In our time online, we’ve changed our design once, from a two column layout to the three column layout we have now. However, we feel that the limitations of our current hosting platform have been reached and in order to move the site forward, we’re changing our design significantly. We’re going to make the site easier to navigate based on which version of Windows you are using and bring back commenting for each tutorial too. The new changes should go live sometime in March, so keep an eye on the site!
As part of the re-vamp, the TWT newsletter will be changing too. You won’t need to re-subscribe, simply look out for the improved edition next month.
Stop press! Stardock brings tiles to the desktop with ModernMix!
Windows 8’s new tiled interface often seems like a solution to a problem that simply doesn’t exist. While almost all of us are using Windows on traditional PC’s with keyboards and mice or trackpads, Microsoft launch a version of Windows that, initially at least, seems like it would be more at home on something like an iPad or similar tablet device. For most Windows 8 users, the tiles have become a bigger Start Menu and that’s all, in fact many newcomers to Windows 8 have elected to disable them entirely and use one of the many Start Menu replacements such as Start8 or Classic Shell.
Microsoft, of course, are keen to support their new platform and especially their new app store, where they take a cut from any sales. If you’ve avoided the app store up until now, simply because you didn’t like using the awkward new user interface, Stardock Software have some new software that could be a game changer. ModernMix takes those new tile applications and magically transforms them into windows that will run on your desktop. No longer will you have to contend with awkward mouse gestures for switching between apps or closing programs! What’s more, tile apps can now be resized to any size you like (just like regular desktop programs) and can span multiple monitors! Full screen mode can be restored at the click of a button and when used with Start8, programs launched from the Start Menu will start in desktop mode, while programs launched from the Start Screen will start in modern/tile mode, ideal for anyone lucky enough to have a hybrid tablet/convertible PC.
ModernMix really transforms the Windows 8 experience and opens up a range of tile applications that were simply too awkward to bother with before. To find out more about the software, visit this page.
Do you need to spring clean your PC?
One of the oldest and most popular parts of our website is our “How to make Windows faster” section. We all like our computers to work as fast as possible and there are a number of products on the market that claim to do just that. Spending a few bucks on a program that promises to dramatically speed up your PC might seem like a great idea, especially when buying new hardware can be prohibitively expensive, but do any of these programs actually work? Let’s take a look at some common types of system optimisation tools and techniques:-
Registry Cleaners – Perhaps one of the oldest of the system tweaking utilities, registry cleaners have been peddled ever since the Windows 95 days. Making all kinds of claims that they will fix errors on your computer and dramatically speed up your machine, these utilities rarely, if ever, have any noticeable impact on your computer. Worse still, when they go wrong, they can cause more problems than they fix. We’ve been approached by several vendors asking us to promote their registry cleaning software and our answer has always been No, unless these companies can produce some evidence to show that Registry cleaning has any measurable benefits on system performance. So far not one vendor has produced any such proof. You can read more about registry cleaners in our article here.
System optimisation suites – These kinds of utilities claim to be able to tweak Windows settings to optimise your PC and improve its speed. These tools might alter Windows services or turn off startup applications. Again, typically the results are disappointing, think carefully before you spend money on a tool like this and be prepared to be disappointed if you do.
Startup optimisers – Tools like the in-built System Configuration Utility (in Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7) or the Task Manager (on Windows 8) can manage which programs start up with Windows. Too many programs launching when Windows first starts will slow down your system, particularly in the first few minutes of use. Tools like Soluto and Startup Delayer aim to optimise your PC by more efficiently launching startup programs. These types of program can have a noticeable difference on how your PC starts and can improve startup times in some cases. While turning off unnecessary startup programs isn’t likely to have dramatic results, it is one of the most effective ways to clean and tune up your computer without buying new hardware.
A fresh start – Lots of Windows users advocate simply reinstalling Windows from scratch every year, or whenever the system feels sluggish. This method can yield noticeable improvements in system speed or stability, but has the drawback of being a very inconvenient, long winded process that will involve backing up all your programs and data then painstakingly reinstalling them again later. If you are considering doing this on your troublesome PC, read this article first.
One convenient alternative to reinstalling Windows, which brings most of the benefits but few of the drawbacks is to use the excellent Reimage tool. Reimage is one of the most impressive system repair utilities we’ve ever reviewed. Using its online database of Windows system files, Reimage can check for system corruption and replace any damaged files with fresh, good copies. You can read our full review of Reimage here. Alternatively, try a free scan for yourself by visiting this link.
Phew! Remember, however you optimise your PC, take regular backups of your important files. In the unlikely event that the system optimisations you carry out cause a serious computer failure, you can at least rest assured that your important files won’t be affected. Even the healthiest, fastest and newest PC’s can experience sudden and unexpected hardware failures that could mean you lose all of your important data in the blink of an eye, so never neglect your backups! You can find out more about planning a backup strategy by visiting this link.
Tip of the Month – Pay and surf securely online by checking for https
When you shop online and it comes to checkout time, how do you know if a site is using a secure checkout system for handling your payment details? Do you look for the padlock icon on the page, or do you simply take them at their word? The best way to check is to glance at the address bar at the top of your browser. You should see a page address that begins with the letters “https”. The ‘s’ in this instance stands for secure, and means that your connection is encrypted.
Https websites use a system called “SSL” for security. This system uses digitally signed certificates which websites use to prove they are who they say they are. If you ever get a warning about an invalid SSL certificate, it is not safe to submit your payment details even if you see the https letters at the top of your browser window.
Free Utility of the Month – Bluestacks
Do you own a Windows 8 tablet or convertible PC? Perhaps you’re jealous of some of the games and apps your friends have on their devices that you don’t have access to. Maybe you own an Android phone or tablet but would love to play some of the games you have on your portable device on the big screen of your desktop PC. Whatever the reason, if you want to run Android software on your PC, then Bluestacks is the answer. Currently in Beta, this software will allow you to play thousands of Android games, or even run Android productivity software. Although not all Android software is compatible yet (one or two games we tried simply crashed), this is still an impressive achievement.
Bluestacks even puts shortcuts to all your Android programs in a folder called Apps inside your library folder. You can pin a shortcut to your favourite Android app to the Start Menu or Start Screen and launch it just like a native Windows application. If your curious about this interesting piece of software, head over to the Bluestacks website here.
What is CISPA and why is it so dangerous?
Here at Top-Windows-Tutorials we like to help our readers to be savvy internet users. We all know the internet has its dangers, but taking all things into consideration, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives. We’ve explained before about being careful what you store online and reminded you that systems like e-mail are inherently not secure. Of course, we know there are risks, but most of us expect, rightfully so, that the companies that we trust our private data to will do their utmost to safeguard it from falling into the wrong hands. In most cases companies do take their privacy responsibilities seriously, but you may be shocked to know that a newly proposed law would make it legal and perhaps even encouraged for businesses to share your private information with each other and the government, without a warrant or any due process. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what CISPA does.
CISPA, like many badly thought out laws, was probably, at one time at least, conceived with good intentions in mind. Promoted as a law that would help companies share “threat information” with each other and the government on a purely voluntary basis. At first glance this might seem like a good idea. Cyber criminals move and act fast and sharing information that can help counter these attacks might seem like a good idea. However, the powers that CISPA would grant are ridiculously broad with virtually no privacy safeguards whatsoever.
Imagine if, for example, A Facebook administrator feels that posts you made on your wall were subversive in some way. Perhaps you ranted at a local politician. Facebook could then, at their discretion and with no threat of legal recourse, send all your private Facebook information to federal investigators for evaluation. Neither Facebook or the government would even have to notify you at any time that this has taken place.
Once this information was the property of a government agency, they could use it for any means, not just for cyber security. As we’ve seen here in the UK with the controversial RIPA act, which gives local authorities broad snooping powers supposedly to tackle terrorism and serious crime, it wasn’t long before such powers were being used to find and punish parents who sent their children to the wrong school.
As if this wasn’t enough to worry about, CISPA actually grants companies immunity “for decisions made based on cyber threat information”. What this means is, your ISP could cut you off if it believed you were a hacker (rightly or wrongly of course) or even hack into your computer under the premise of “defensive” hacking. Even if they were completely wrong in their assumptions, there’s no comeback for you, the victim of the allegations.
If all this sounds a little scary or far-fetched, perhaps it is now, but we have seen time and again that laws designed to protect national security and fight serious crime are themselves open for abuse if not worded correctly and not written with adequate safeguards. If like most of our readers you’re a US citizen then you can find out more about this latest piece of chilling legislation and take action by vising the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website here.
That concludes our newsletter for March! It’s been a great pleasure to bring you no less than seventy TWT Newsletters over the years and we hope that you’re all looking forward to the new look newsletter. The new TWT newsletter will launch in April, hopefully on or around the 10th of April 2013 (baring any accidents or emergencies that hold the process up). Until then, keep visiting Top-Windows-Tutorials.com and enjoy happy and stress-free computing.