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Posted on May 5, 2018 in Newsletter, Welcome | 0 comments

TWT Newsletter NG – Issue 59 – Recycling an old PC and is Microsoft abandoning Windows?!

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TWT Newsletter NG – Issue 59

Hi, welcome to the April 2018 TWT Newsletter.

We’re still munching our way through our easter eggs here at TWT HQ and the nights are getting shorter and the days longer. Hopefully we’ve seen the last of the bad weather and can look forward to a reasonable spring and summer here on our little island. As spring has well and truly sprung, you might be considering some traditional spring cleaning. If so, check out our tips this month for how to re-use an old PC.

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In this months issue:-

Spring cleaning? Don’t throw out that old PC!
Tip of the month – Check your PCs performance
Free utility of the Month – Sticky Password
Windows Store App of the Month – WhatsApp Desktop
Is Microsoft shifting its focus away from Windows? 

 

Spring cleaning? Don’t throw out that old PC!

Now that spring has sprung (at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere!) you might be thinking of that spring tradition of cleaning and de-cluttering. If there’s an old PC lurking in your house that hasn’t been used in some time, you might be thinking of sending it to the electrical recycling centre. Before you do that though, have you considered other uses for it? PCs can do more than just sit on a desk or in a lap and surf web pages or help with writing assignments, here are several uses you could put an old PC to.

File server – Like many IT ideas, file servers first appeared in corporate environments, but soon began to appear in homes too. A file server is simply a computer on your home network that you use for storing files. Great for backups, for homework projects or for any files you want to share amongst the family. 

Setting up a file share is really easy. Browse to any folder on your PC and right click on it, then choose the “Sharing” tab and click the “Share” button. A file sharing permissions window will appear.

If you log in with the same username and password on all your PCs, just click “Share” again. Enter your password and/or click “Yes” if Windows User Account Control prompts you to do so. Windows will then say that your folder is shared. To access it from any other PC in your home, just enter the link that’s provided into File Explorer. Usually the link consists of two backward slashes (\\) followed by the computer name then a single slash and the folder name. For example “\\W10-Games\Games” would be the link to the “Games” folder on the “W10-Games” PC. Alternatively, just use the Network icon in the navigation (left hand) pane in File Explorer to browse all available PCs and shared folders. If it sounds complicated, just give it some practise, try sharing a spare folder and see how you get on.

There’s more, tools like Goodsync or Syncback SE can help you keep two folders synchronised. This means you can use one folder as your working folder and another as a backup, or perhaps, work on your files while you’re out on the road then synchronise them when you get back home. The alternative to this is, of course, cloud storage, but with online security breaches and data miss-use rife, perhaps you’d prefer to keep things on your own network.

Before you rush to blow the dust off that ancient PC, A word of warning. Very old PCs, the kind that still run Windows XP or even Windows 98, are capable of sharing files, but they use an older, outdated method for doing so. This old file sharing protocol has several security vulnerabilities in it and, because of this, Windows 7, 8 and 10 will no longer connect to shared folders on a Windows XP machine. On a PC like this, swapping Windows for Linux might help make it useful again, but of course this requires some know how with the open source OS.

Disc checker – Have you ever had an external hard drive suddenly die on you? You’re not alone. Hard drives are mechanical devices and, unfortunately they all fail eventually. Even solid state drives will eventually wear out. There’s nothing you can do to stop this, that’s why you should always have a backup copy of any important files. While you can’t stop hard drives from failing, you can at least test them and spot any errors on a drive before it degrades any further. The Chkdsk (check disk) command can be used to quickly check a drive and we have a tutorial here that shows you how you can do that.

The only way to thoroughly check that a hard disk is healthy is to use a tool like HD Tune to check it sector by sector. This takes a very long time, 5 or 6 hours or more is not uncommon for a large drive. Rather than tie up your computer waiting for this, why not use your old machine to do this work? The old PC can be put in a spare room or somewhere out of the way where it’s noisy fans won’t prove a distraction and left to plod along with the task as long as necessary.

Plex server – Plex is a program that, in a nutshell, lets you create your own, custom Netflix. Simply load a PC with media, perhaps converted from your old DVD collection using a tool like MakeMKV https://www.makemkv.com/ , then install Plex server. Once installed, you will be able to access your media from a variety of devices, including Roku, Shield, Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire stick, as well as smartphones and games consoles. Plex will help with sorting and cataloguing your media, even downloading information about the film or show in question to make browsing more enjoyable.

Unfortunately, for a Plex media server to run smoothly, you will need a reasonably fast PC. This is especially true if you want to stream high definition media, so an older PC might not cut it. Check the page here for the minimum system requirements.

Minecraft or other game server – Kids gone Minecraft crazy? Help them play together with their friends, siblings or even parents by making your very own Minecraft server from an old PC. The server will run the persistent world, saving all the progress they make together. By having your own server, you can also prevent strangers connecting and interacting with your children too. You can block outside connections to the server entirely if you prefer, simply skip over the instructions for “port forwarding” on the Minecraft Wiki.

Setting up a Minecraft server takes a little technical know how, so you might need to call in the help of the family IT expert, but it’s well worth it if your kids are Minecraft crazy. Check the article here for more information.

Kids a little bit older, or not into Minecraft? Perhaps there’s a server for a game they enjoy playing together or with their friends. Most likely, your children will be in the know about such things, so you can ask them.

If you have to dispose of an old PC – If you decide you really can’t find a good use for that old computer, please dispose of it responsibly. If the machine still works, you may be able to give it away. There are often local groups such as Freecycle or Freegle where you can advertise unwanted items and people can come and collect them. Failing that, check with the local authority to locate your nearest electrical recycling centre. 

Remember to remove all your personal data from your PC before giving it away or taking it to the recycling centre. In Windows 10 you can use the “Fresh Start” feature under “Device performance & Heath”. In Windows 8 it’s called “Reset this PC” and it can be found under Settings -> Update and Recovery -> Recovery. For Windows 7 and earlier things are a little more complicated. You can format and wipe the hard drive using a tool called DBAN, but if you’re giving the PC away rather than recycling it then you, or whomever your giving it to, will need to reinstall Windows. 

As we’ve seen, there are many uses for an old PC above and beyond the usual desktop computing tasks. Hopefully some of the ideas we’ve given you here will help keep older PCs out of landfill for a bit longer.

 

Tip of the month – Check your PCs performance

Since we’re on a spring cleaning tip this month, here’s a little tip to help you determine which of your old machines to recycle and which to keep. By using the performance test software available at Passmark.com, you can quickly get a “pass mark” score of your PCs performance. You can then compare that to other machines in the house and you will easily be able to identify the fastest and slowest of your current crop of PCs.

 

Free utility of the Month – Sticky Password

We’ve talked at length about password managers before. Way back in our April 2009 newsletter we showed you how password managers work to protect you when you use multiple websites on the internet.

If you’re looking for a free password manager that isn’t excruciatingly difficult to use, check out Sticky Password. This friendly password manager can keep track of all your logins for free. It can save you time by automatically filling forms on web pages and if you upgrade to the premium version, it can also synchronise your passwords across your PCs and even your smartphone devices.

 

Microsoft store app of the Month – WhatsApp Desktop

Instant Messaging software has been around for decades, and while services such as Yahoo and MSN have closed down, dozens have popped up to replace them. One such service is WhatsApp. Beloved by mobile phone junkies but not so much by desktop die-hards, WhatsApp works great on the smartphone in your pocket but has always been a little shy of running on the desktop. Enter the WhatsApp desktop app, which finally bridges the gap between WhatsApp and the PC. No more fiddling in your pocket and prodding a touch screen to reply to a message, now you can type from the comfort of your computers keyboard. Grab this handy app from the Microsoft Store here.

While we’d still recommend Telegram over WhatsApp, for those contacts who refuse to make the switch, this handy little app will make communicating with them a lot less inconvenient.

 

Is Microsoft shifting its focus away from Windows?

In typically click-baiting fashion, popular business news website Bloomberg recently ran an article with the headline “Microsoft Is Officially Not the Windows Company Anymore”. Ask someone to say the first word that comes into their heads after you say  “Microsoft” and most will say “Windows” (though a few might say Office). Windows has been the centre of Microsoft’s plans for some time now, so it’s a little shocking to hear reports that it’s no longer the core focus of the company. So, what’s going on with Windows, is it about to become a computing relic? Short answer, no of course not!

Microsoft’s dreams with Windows 10 were to extend the OS across all devices, however that vision has failed. Rather than try to conquer the mobile device market, Microsoft is now changing focus to bring its apps to Android and iOS devices, making your iPhone work better with your Windows PC, if you can’t beat them, join them.

Now that the dream of Windows on all your devices is finally over, the problem that Windows faces is that the PC market has reached a point of saturation. Computing tasks that were once done exclusively on a PC are now often done on mobile phones or tablets. Furthermore, PCs are lasting longer too. We have PCs here at TWT HQ that are coming up for ten years old. Using a ten year old PC when those machines were new would have been unthinkable for most people.

Despite the change in market conditions, Windows is still a huge part of Microsoft’s business, the OS netted the company $15 billion in sales over 2017, not chump-change even for the biggest multinational corporation. However, you might be surprised to learn that this puts the operating system behind Office and server and cloud products in terms of revenue. Clearly the popularity of Microsoft Office is well known, even in the face of competition from free alternatives like LibreOffice and OpenOffice. Just how profitable Microsoft’s server and cloud products are might come as a surprise for some. Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform lets businesses all over the world access distributed computing resources and crunch numbers on a grand scale. Need a new PC or server for your multinational corporation? These days you can just create one in Microsoft’s cloud and deploy it in minutes. Providing this kind of flexible infastructure is clearly big business for Microsoft. 

Clearly Windows is not going anywere any time soon, but will there ever be a time Windows goes the way of the dinosaur? Nobody can see into the distant future, but it seems likely that, for the next decade at least, Windows will still be powering computers for work and play for some time to come. We can say with some confidence that we won’t be giving up our keyboard and mouse for writing and producing website content any time soon.

That rounds off the newsletter for April. On behalf of everyone here at Top-Windows-Tutorials, I’d like to thank you all for your continuing support. The TWT Newsletter will return on the 10th May 2018 and will bring you more tips, tricks and techniques to help you get the best out of your PC, be it 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 Top-Windows-Tutorials.com, and enjoy happy, safe and stress-free computing!

 

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