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Posted on Mar 22, 2016 in Newsletter, Welcome | 0 comments

TWT Newsletter NG – Issue 34 – Spring cleaning and technology and Xbox and Windows to merge?

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TWT Newsletter NG – Issue 34

Welcome to the March 2016 TWT Newsletter

As we march into March, the nights get lighter and our gardens get greener, at least here in the northern hemisphere anyway. This month we’ve got some tips on how your Windows PC can help with the spring cleaning, a brief look into Microsoft’s newly announced Xbox service and of course our regular tips and free utilities too.

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In this months issue:-

What’s new at
Time for a spot of spring cleaning? Here’s how your PC can help
Tip of the Month – Want to ‘clean’ your Windows registry? Don’t bother
Free Utility of the Month – Display Changer 2
Windows Store App of the Month – Instametrogram
Is Microsoft going to merge Xbox and Windows?

What’s new at

In February we added several new tutorials that update core concepts for the new Windows 10 desktop. We realise there are still several tutorials that need Windows 10 updates and we’ll keep adding new content.

picture Manually Adding Programs to the Windows 10 Start Menu

Have you ever downloaded a program that didn’t come with a proper installer? If you have software like this, it won’t appear on your Start menu or search results unless you manually add a shortcut yourself. If this is something you need to do, this video will show you how.

picture Customise your Windows 10 wallpaper/desktop background with any picture

Changing the Windows 10 desktop background is one of the easiest and most fun customisations you can do on your Windows PC. You can use any picture from anywhere on the web or from your own personal collection. Click here to watch the tutorial.

picture Changing screen resolution in Windows 10

To get the most out of your computers monitor or screen you should aim to run at its native or optimal resolution. Most systems will already be configured to use the best screen resolution. However, if you wish to check or change this setting you can do so at any time by following this tutorial.

picture Changing font and screen element sizes in Windows 10

If you find the text difficult to read on your Windows 10 PC, it is possible to make it bigger to aid visibility. This tutorial will show you how.

picture Desktop Shortcuts in Windows 10

If you’ve been wondering how to make a desktop shortcut on your new Windows 10 PC, this video will show you how.




Time for a spot of spring cleaning? Here’s how your PC can help

Normally around this time of year, we run an article on how you can spring clean your PC, usually by uninstalling old programs or pruning start-up applications. This year, we thought we’d try a different approach and see how your PC can actually help reduce clutter around the home. Sadly, we couldn’t find a Windows driven house-maid robot just yet, but here are a few ways your computer might be able to help with the de-cluttering.

Digitise your media – One way you can reduce clutter around the home (though not necessarily in the attic) is to digitise your media collection. Here are a few apps that can help with that task.

Compact discs can easily be converted into Mp3 or similar files and played on any suitable phone, tablet or PC anywhere in the house. To do this you can use Windows Media Player, which is available with all modern versions of the operating system.

DVDs can be converted into MKV, a format widely compatible with modern media players, by using the MakeMKV program. If you find that MKV format isn’t compatible with a device you want to use, you can use the Freemake Video Converter program to change the format.

Some Blu-ray movies can also be converted using MakeMKV, though typically Blu-ray movies feature strong copy protection and it may not be possible (or legal) to digitise them. If you like the idea of digital copies of your Blu-ray discs, many films now come with a free digital copy that you can download, though this is usually subject to copy protection restrictions too.

If you want to digitise your old photographs, then any typical flat-bed scanner will usually do the job. Be careful to wipe any dust from your photographs and the scanner bed before you start. For scanning negatives, you can buy a dedicated negative scanner. If you have a large photo collection, you could even go for the Kodak Picture Saver Scanning System, which can scan up to 85 photos in a minute. At over £1000/$1500 it’s not cheap, but you could always sell it and recoup some of the costs when you have finished digitising your photos.

Please remember to respect copyright law as you digitise your media collections. Your old discs should be stored safely in the attic and effectively become your backup copies. Do not be tempted to sell or give them away. Some discs may have copy protection, in this case you unfortunately cannot digitise them. In some countries the copyright law may prevent you from making copies of your own media for your own personal use, so check local laws if necessary.

Re-use an old PC – Okay so perhaps we’re adding to the clutter here, but before you throw out your old computers, consider putting them to another use. IT waste can be quite bad for the environment and an old PC has more uses than people realise.

File server – We all forget to back up on a regular basis, so why not devote one PC just to this particular duty? Add a couple of large hard drives to your old PC and configure software such as Genie Timeline to automatically back up across your wireless network. Or, use the same PC to share media to all your families devices using Homegroups.

Media server – Since you converted your old media to digital format, why not use an old PC to help share it around the home? The Plex software package works with dozens of devices, from games consoles to the Kindle Fire stick. Simply put all your media on your designated server PC and then install Plex. Users around the home can then access music and video on any compatible device.

Homework/child friendly PC – Sometimes its just a good idea to have an offline, distraction free PC that can be used for homework or for younger children to use without worry. Of course, the internet is a super useful reference for children of all ages, but it can also be a tremendous distraction and unsupervised use, particularly by young children, is not generally advisable. By keeping an old PC off-line you can negate these dangers. You could install some simple games for younger players or keep the machine as a stand-alone word processor. Nobody will fight for a turn and it’s always there for report writing and other tasks. If anything goes wrong, simply wipe the PC and start again. Files can be saved onto USB devices for backup and transferred to other, more capable machines when necessary.

Remember, old PCs running Windows XP can be vulnerable to malware. If you’re planning on re-using the machine and having an active internet or network connection, keep this in mind, you may need to upgrade to Windows 10, or even try some flavour of Linux if you’re feeling particularly brave.

Recycle responsibly – Re-using old PCs is a good way to keep them out of landfill, but when it comes to time to dispose of your old IT equipment, you should recycle responsibly and take your equipment to a dedicated IT re-cycling centre. Before you do this, be careful to remove any private data from the machine before disposing of it. Here are several ways you can do that.

If your PC is running Windows 8, you can use the reset feature to completely clean your PC and reset it to factory state. By choosing the “thorough” erase option, you make it virtually impossible for anyone to recover your personal files, even someone willing to go to significant lengths to do so. Windows 10 users can use the recovery/reset option to do the same thing.

If you need to clean an old external hard drive, memory card or USB stick that still works, you can use Bleachbit to clean it. First delete all the files from the drive/card, then install Bleachbit as per our tutorials here. Then, simply start the program and choose “File->Wipe Free Space”. Then, simply navigate to the device you want to clean.

If you have an older PC you can use the “Boot and Nuke” tool. To use this tool you record it to a CD/DVD or USB device then start your computer from the CD/USB device. This process is described more thoroughly in this tutorial. Use this tool with care, it will totally and utterly destroy data on drives. In fact, given that the process takes some time, you could always use that old PC you recycled to wipe/destroy any media you wanted to get rid of, without tying up your shiny new PC.

If your computer won’t read your old media any more, you should physically destroy it. A nail (carefully) driven through a hard drive is usually enough to destroy the data, while memory cards and USB sticks can be snapped in half or destroyed with a hammer.

Finally, if you’re clearing out your old technology, remember that some of it can actually be quite valuable now. Your old Windows 98 PC might not exactly set eBay alight, but old Commodore computers, for instance, change hands for good money between collectors. That goes for your other items too, one mans junk is another mans treasure, so use websites like eBay to recycle your things rather than throw them away, or even check with charity stores. You could even make a list on your smartphone, using Evernote or Onenote, then review it at the comfort of your PC, where you can then easily research the items value. It all helps keep things out of landfill!

Tip of the Month – Want to ‘clean’ your Windows registry? Don’t bother

It’s not often we have a tip that effectively calls for you to do nothing at all, but that’s exactly what we’re going with this month. For more than two decades, vendors around the internet have been peddling so-called “Registry Cleaning” software. This software makes all kinds of claims about how it will dramatically speed up your computer or fix Windows errors. These claims are exaggerated at best, in fact we’d go so far as to call them outright bogus.

In the past we’ve often been approached by vendors wanting us to promote their registry cleaner software. Each time we’ve asked for concrete evidence that the software has any positive benefit on the system, each and every time the vendor has failed to provide any such proof. Microsoft themselves do not support or endorse registry cleaning tools, as documented here.

So there you have it, if you’re thinking of cleaning your registry, don’t bother, the cleaning process will either do nothing or actually cause more problems than it solves.

Free Utility of the Month – Display Changer 2

While few of us ever need to tinker with our computers display settings, those of you who do may find this months utility indispensable. Display Changer 2 allows you to quickly and easily change monitor settings on your PC. This has a number of potential uses. You can use it to quickly change screen resolution when running older games, for instance. You can also create and save profiles. Perhaps you need to change screen configurations quickly when you have your laptop in its docking station at your desk? In that case you can quickly create a profile and then switch configurations with a single click. Here at TWT HQ we use it to quickly switch our main PC between work mode (monitors on the desk) and game mode (using a big-screen TV).

Display Changer 2 is certainly a tool for our more advanced readers, but for a small number of folks (including us!) this tool is a real time saver. Check it out here.

Windows Store App of the Month – Instametrogram

Instagram is a popular photo sharing service and social network. While it lacks some of the advanced photography features of services like Flickr, it’s become popular because it’s so easy to snap a picture on your phone and have it instantly uploaded to your feed.

While it’s clearly aimed at mobile phone users, it’s fun to have quick access to your Instagram feed on your Windows PC or tablet. While there’s no official app yet, there are several unofficial apps that can fill the void. Back in Newsletter 15 we made Instapic our app of the month, but we’ve since experienced some difficulty with that app not fetching all of our pictures. As an alternative, try Instametrogram, which offers similar functionality but seems to have no issues fetching new pictures and updates.

Is Microsoft going to merge Xbox and Windows?

Microsoft’s Xbox One games console might not have had the market impact that the Redmond giant had hoped for, though the machine has far from flopped on the marketplace. Even so, the company has had difficulty keeping up with its competitor, Sony, who have sold far more of their PlayStation 4 consoles. Now, in an unexpected move, Microsoft have announced that they intend to merge the Xbox platform with PC gaming, effectively turning the future of Xbox into a PC-like platform. This is interesting news, even if you’re not interested in gaming, as it has ramifications for Windows 10 and the future of the platform too.

We know a thing or two about gaming here at TWT HQ. You may be aware that two of our sites in our network, and are entirely devoted to gaming. On the face of things, this is good news as it means more great content in the Windows store, both for hardcore gamers and those of you who enjoy a more casual, relaxing game. However, many questions remain about the viability of an upgradeable console and its place on the market.

Console gamers often value convenience above other factors. Despite Windows being much more user friendly than in the past, the millions of different hardware combinations means that gaming on Windows will never be quite as straightforward as gaming on a games console. Making the Xbox platform essentially a PC will mean added complications for the end user. Furthermore, upgradeable consoles have been tried in the past, systems like the Sega 32x, which was an upgrade for the old Sega Megadrive/Genesis system, tended to fail miserably at retail.

Meanwhile, existing PC gamers have been giving a thumbs down to Microsoft’s store as a platform for selling high end games, with this article on pointing out some serious shortcomings with the platform, such as virtually no support for modding or tools such as third-party screen recorders or overlays.

It remains to be seen exactly how far Microsoft take this initiative. Will you be playing Xbox games on your Windows tablet or even your phone in the future? Will Microsoft launch a new, upgradeable Xbox One console? These are all questions that we can’t answer yet, but it does show that Microsoft is strongly committed to Windows 10 and making the content and breadth of the Windows store more appealing. Perhaps a more likely scenario is an affordable, fixed hardware Xbox style console forming the base-line, with its entire catalogue of games digitally downloadable and playable on any Xbox console or powerful enough Windows PC. Although Microsoft’s own Phil Spencer suggested that “We’ll see us come out with new hardware capability during a generation”, he didn’t specifically clarify if Microsoft would be regularly launching new, more powerful games consoles, or simply taking advantage of new developments in PC gaming that could then be used to enhance existing Xbox games when run on the new universal app platform.

That concludes our newsletter for March. On behalf of the team here at TWT, I’d like to say thank you to all our readers, new and old for your continued support. The TWT Newsletter will return on the 10th April 2016 for more tips, tricks and techniques to help you get the best out of your PC, be it Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 10. We hope that you found this newsletter informative and useful. If you did not then please let us know why, you can contact us by visiting this page. If you have enjoyed this newsletter, feel free to pass it on to all your friends and family, or better still encourage them to sign up for their own copy. Until next month, keep checking and enjoy happy, safe and stress-free computing!

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