InfoBulletin

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May 2008

Issue 100 logo

Outlook Time Recording: Journal, Video to ruin your ISP? Zoho: software at your service, OCR tips, BGInfo, How to audit my PC?

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CONTENTS

*** NewsBytes ***
  1. Time Recording in Outlook, Part 1: Journal entries
  2. Will video be the ruin of your ISP?
  3. Zoho – Software at your service
  4. OCR: a complete lack of recognition
  5. Background info: parade your PC's vital stats
  6. Q&A: How to audit my PC?
  7. The Security Axiom

Clicks of the Trade - Find and Replace page breaks in Word

Recent Issues


*** NewsBytes ***
World's smallest PC motherboard
Intel Moorestown motherboard "What I'm holding in my hand is what is possibly the world's smallest PC motherboard", announced Anand Chandrasekher, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Ultra Mobility Group. The diminutive, showcase circuit board contains the processor, chipset, graphics, memory, plus features for 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS, that could be at the heart of future iPhone-style mobile Internet devices (MIDs).
Seven of Nine
Vista will give way sooner rather than later to its successor. A "super-enthused" Bill Gates hinted that Windows Seven could be with us in 2009, during a speech at the Inter-American Development Bank, according to a post by Ina Fried on CNet.com. The news comes on the back of reports indicating poor take-up by business of the much-hyped, 15-month old Vista.
I, Robot, take thee ...
Love and Sex with Robots book cover Plenty of geeks spend too much time with their computers, but such primitive machines (the computers, that is) will soon evolve to the point where we may become emotionally attached to them, forming deep bonds, falling in love, into marriage even ... and lots of other yucky stuff you wouldn't care to imagine. Only that, David Levy, author of Love + Sex with Robots has already imagined it all for us. If the idea of such an intimate man-machine interface sends shivers up your spine, you probably won't want to know that the author believes it will become common practice within 50 years. If however you get tingles all up your central processing cortex, you're probably a robot; prepare yourself for the concept of being spurned.
Skip surfing: you can't can give it away
Freecycle logo
Years ago, when affluent Japanese were throwing away out-of-date working colour TVs on skips, a humble worker could furnish a flat with perfectly good gear by 'skip surfing'. Sadly the UK has caught up and, while most of us have perfectly useful but retired mobile phones, PCs, clothes and all kinds of low value junk we haven't got round to getting rid off and can't be bothered 'eBay', the WEEE directive doesn't allow us to follow the ancient Japanese tradition. So for those who haven't managed to donate their un-eBay-able stuff to a good cause, it's time to discover Freecycle, a site that puts people-who-need-stuff in touch with people-who-have-stuff-to-give-away, locally. A brilliant idea that really works.
Let them drink coffee
... with a wifi-ccino on the side. From 1 May, Coffee Republic will be rolling out free wireless Internet access for its customers in the majority of its 50-odd coffee bars. The news follows on the completion of Caffè Nero's wi-fi liaison with BT whereby Openzone hotspots went live across over 330 Nero stores in the UK; the service is a branded pay-as-you-go or subscription-based BT Openzone wi-fi service.
2013: the IT Dept to close - virtually
Charles Black, CEO Nasstar, confidently predicts the typical IT department will be a thing of the past in 5 years time. IT's utility status will make way for a simple, virtualised desktop with applications such as Office, accounting and content management streamed from the Internet, despite a lack of IT worker-filled dole queues heralding previous similar predictions. Black also sees further mobilisation of workers freed from the deskbound office environment.
I spy AVG 8.0
AVG free logo
AVG Technologies, supplier of the popular AVG Anti-Virus Free security software, launched version 8.0 on 24th April, the upgrade now combining their free anti-spyware component too. "With the release of AVG Free 8.0, we are underscoring our belief that all computer users, regardless of their computer usage needs, have the right to a safe and worry-free computing experience," says Karel Obluk, chief technology officer at AVG Technologies. "However, it is important for users to remember that AVG Free does not protect against the full range of today's web-borne threats. For complete protection, users should consider AVG’s commercial products, which scan for and block threats before they can infect the computer or disrupt the user experience." Full press release.
Yahoo yah-boo
One could be forgiven for thinking that the Microsoft/Yahoo! bid has been the only IT business story this year, with reporting thereof as thankless a task as predicting April's showers. The month started with a carefully-worded public snub (letter in full 7-Apr) to the unsolicited proposal: "we will not allow you or anyone else to acquire the company for anything less than its full value" - a giant yah-boo-sucks to the giant $43bn MS offer. Later on Yahoo were seen cosying up to MS arch-rival Google, with a test of the latter's AdSense for Search service posting Google ads side-by-side with Yahoo! searches, one result being the officially raised eyebrows of the US Dept. of Justice, concerned that the potentially-combined companies 80% share of the search market could violate antitrust law. As a coincidence, Yahoo was also seen teaming up with Google and MySpace to create a non-profit foundation to help nurture the proposed OpenSocial.org social networking site, a sort of open source rival to Facebook. Industry analysts have summarised the bellowing rhetoric on all sides as the build up to final negotiations for the inevitable 'Microhoo' end game.
Toasted batteries
A recent fire at a major South Korean supplier is expected to force cost increases for laptop batteries, though the company, LG Chem, says it is working with suppliers to limit battery shortages. Major manufacturers are still taking stock to determine whether laptop prices will be affected.
Fundraising Technology Group Conference 2008
For the first time, a limited number of bursaries are being offered for smaller charities attending The Institute of Fundraising Technology Group Conference this year. With 3 streams (covering Data, Online Fundraising and Technology Management) and speakers including Alan Clayton, Comic Relief, Salvation Army, Tangible Data and Sue Fidler, organisers expect it to be their best yet and will cover web-sites, databases, e-fundraising, data analysis, new media and even project management for fundraisers. Sponsored by Progress CRM, Blackbaud, Orca Media, the conference takes place 14th May at Holloway Road in London. Costs range from £50 for Institute members to £100 for consultants and companies. Full information on bursaries and booking at: www.iofitsig.org/conf
*** More NewsBytes ***


^ Back to contents ^
1. Time Recording in Outlook
Part 1: Journal entries
Clock-watching could yield information that shows where all your time goes and makes future fund bidding more accurate.

Help at hand.
Back issues just a click away


OUJournalOptions.jpg

Why monitor time?

The subject of monitoring the time spent by workers on their duties (or otherwise) is littered with insidious corporate, Big Brother-ish overtones, implying cost centres and time sheets and clocking on and off.

However, even social enterprises need to know how much time is spent on projects, campaigns, letter writing, meetings, phone calls, or perhaps just admin tasks and volunteers. If you think that sounds ominous, pity the ‘poor’ lawyer who has to account for every 6 minutes of their time!

OUJournalTimeline OUJournalByCategory

Using Outlook's Journal system, it's easy to add up and see where staff and volunteer time is consumed - answering calls and help-lines, attending meetings, planning printed publications or just stuffing envelopes. Alternatively the total cost of a project can be assessed so you can compare how much of a grant to bid for when the next one comes up.

The journal itself can be viewed as a timeline, by categories or as a table - just 3 of its many possible views - which makes a rough assessment on-the-fly relatively intuitive.

Writing your journal: Day 1

OUJournalAsTable

Inside a new Outlook Journal entry you can start the timer and off you go! Or just drag in a document or spreadsheet you have started and it seamlessly creates the journal entry.

Making Journal entries is dead easy and can be achieved in diverse ways:

  • Start a new Journal task by clicking the New button
  • Drag a prepared document or spreadsheet into Outlook’s Journal area which automatically launches it as a new journal task
  • Automatically 'journalise' certain events, such as a type of document (.doc, .xls), an activity (an email, a meeting request) or events linked to particular contacts in your address book (only D. Smith or J. Bloggs)
OUJournalOptions

This last highly-automated option can be configured from the menu:
Tools | Options | Journal Options button

OUJournalOptions.jpg

Watched by the watch

Click the Start Timer button and the clock face begins whirring round, ticking away those precious minutes, adding them to the entry. Shove the timer window to the top of the screen and it's a real aid to focusing your attention on the job! Whether it's a reminder of how long that guy on the other end of the phone has been rambling on, or a call to action that you really need to finish writing that paragraph now.

Winding the clock back

OUJournalEntry

Of course if you haven't worked with a timer before it takes a little while to get accustomed. Nip out for a coffee, get waylaid in a corridor conversation on your return and you'll suddenly find that 30 minutes has been added to your timed activity! Fortunately you can change it upwards or downwards at any time. Simply pause the timer and edit the number of minutes and hours.

Analysis - a stitch in time

Now that you have recorded journal entries spanning say, a week or a month, it's maybe time to cast an over how much effort has been put into each category of work. A simple export of the journal to a spreadsheet will do it:

  • File | Import and Export | Export to a file | Comma Separated Values Or Excel
  • Select folder (Journal) | Save As

Now open the saved file in any spreadsheet and add up the Duration column and/or manipulate the Categories column by sorting. Beware of creating too many work categories otherwise a very granular framework becomes cumbersome to analyse.

One hurdle to working under the clock is that many ordinary workday folk feel more comfortable with handling a calendar by 'scribbling' their entries in that. Additionally such calendar entries can synced with a PDA or phone when hooked up with their sync software such as MS Active Sync or Sony-Ericsson's Sync Station.

Journal or Calendar?

Unless you separate your work tasks almost completely from your private life - as many employees do - then the Journal system may work well for you. A quick look at work roles helps make the decision.

Suitable users for Journal working
(where private and public time are separate):

  • staff/employees
  • volunteers
  • long-term in-house contractors, eg working on a single project

Suitable users for Calendar working
(where private and public time are mixed):

  • part-time workers
  • short-term contractors
  • self-employed

Look out next month for a really useful plug-in that makes Outlook calendar entries and their analysis a cinch.

Contacts

-IB-


^ Back to contents ^
2. Will video be the ruin of your ISP?
Video may have killed the radio star, but could it put paid to the Internet as we know it?

Help at hand.
Back issues just a click away


An unholy row over Internet television brewed up last month with the publishing of a BBC blog in reply to a Daily Telegraph article. The blogger in question, Ashley Highfield, Director of Future Media & Technology at the BBC, raised some interesting and inevitable questions about the state of broadband in Britain as a well as a few hackles!

Blogging up a storm

'Hidden Costs' Of Watching TV Online?
The controversial blog 'Hidden Costs' Of Watching TV Online.

In a reply to the comments and debate, Highfield was invited to submit a responding article to the Telegraph

The short blog precedes 19 advisory action points for ISPs and content providers, some of which suggest that the former should not charge customers extra for TV-streamed bandwidth while the latter should effectively name-and shame those ISPs who reign in bandwidth in reacting to customer overuse of their services, aka the capping or fair usage policy. A last resort perhaps, but the consensus is that this one's been coming a long time.

And the cause of all the fuss? Well of course, it's the BBC's much vaunted iPlayer software that allows millions of Internet-connected TV-viewers to download and watch the BBC's content again. Or maybe even for the first time, since high-end drama like The Passion has cranked up over a quarter of its iPlayer consumption via the download service.

The reaction in the comments section dwarfed the original blog by easily a factor of ten and racked up over 80 comments before the topic was closed. For those who have the time to peruse it all, the debate provides a summary snapshot of broadband affairs to date, populated as it is by a number of technically competent submissions from the industry.

Now to appreciate the iPlayer's impact on the Internet, we could compare the M6 motorway perhaps - already clogged to the shoulders and unable to accommodate barely another white van - when some vast haulier firm plants itself in the Midlands and unleashes fleets of juggernauts, running day and night. The effect upon M6 users is that everyone slows to a crawl, an effect mirrored on the UK's information 'super highway' with the flood of video-generated traffic such as Flash, YouTube and now iPlayer. The difference being that a YouTube clip may take under 2 minutes to download and view, while a BBC documentary may consume an hour's worth of precious Internet consumption.

So who pays for the highway that will speed all this new traffic? Essentially, we've come to a standoff between content providers and ISPs. Inevitably, the root cause goes deeper than that.

adslfilter
  • Customers won't pay because most have their expectations rooted in the sub-£15 per month broadband tariff they pay to ...
  • ISPs, who won't subsidise rates because margins are a few pence per customer per month and cannot charge more since they must invest continuously in new equipment to keep pace with technology. Their margins are slim because tariffs are determined largely by investment and by the wholesale price they pay to ...
  • BT Wholesale, who cannot reduce their slice because they are regulated by ...
  • OfCom, who have ruled that BT should not undercut competing carriers at exchanges (local loop unbundling) in the interests of a level telecoms playing field.

One could argue that ISPs are regulating customer behaviour with their various rate-capping tariffs and clamping down on unfair usage, but these are often called on as a desperate measure rather than a carefully applied cruise-control when everyone has already been suffering the effects of Internet congestion for weeks or months. It's a little like flashing up "Slow to 20mph" signs on our M6 lanes when there is already a 20-mile tailback, then closing the slip roads hours later.

The likely fate of weaker ISPs in 2008 will be either a slow profit-squeeze into oblivion or a takeover by another competitor, with Tiscali/Pipex starting the ball rolling at the end of last year. Thus it's a good time to be watching your ISP's web site, scanning their news and emails (if they have any) and reading between the lines.

The 40Gbps washing line

Last summer, 75-year-old Sigbritt Löthberg from Karlstad, Sweden became the recipient of the world's fastest Internet connection. The 40Gbps (a 100 times faster than typical current UK speeds) line was successfully installed by her son Peter to demonstrate the feasibility of low price, long distance, high capacity fibre lines capable of transferring data directly between routers up to 2000 km apart. Although the high speed equipment (a big bit of gear that got pretty warm) could allow Sigbritt to download a full high definition DVD in just two seconds, she "mostly used it to dry her laundry".

From Sweden's The Local.

If faster, cheap broadband technology were here right now, none of this would be an issue, but to the extent that current Internet speeds are failing to satisfy the (swelling) appetite of the UK's Internet-connected population, we can only sigh in despair as news of fully-broadbanded Asian sub-continents trickles jerkily on to our screens, while Scandinavian countries seem to live in a Gigabit-paved Internet future known to us only through science fiction.

For the time being we have to live with the irksome reality that our own ADSL sockets are wired not with feisty fibre, but constipated copper, reinforced by BT's recent backtracking on claims that half the country will receive the speeds expected on its new file eraser21CN network

. However, there is light (and hope) at the end of our much abused Internet fibre tunnel, and to illustrate we return to our similarly abused M6 example.

Suppose, instead of flashing up universal "Slow to 20mph" signs for all lanes, that drivers could instead be presented with a higher speed toll road bypass, at a tariff they choose, with a turn-off built instantly to order, microseconds before the traffic starts to slow. And that cars are slotted into and exited from the main flow via slip roads at exactly the right moment, all packed in efficiently bumper to bumper, without an inch of Tarmac to spare. And, needless to say, no collisions whatsoever.

An Internet equivalent solution to this utopian M6 scenario does exist and it's called Contention Management and is being developed by PNSol, the currently tiny Predictable Network Solutions, a bunch of research consultants that have "created a quantitative mathematical understanding of end-to-end network Quality of Service (QoS)". Essentially the technique packs the data packets in as tightly as possible, maximising the efficiency of your broadband connection. To do this requires a bit of software in the user's the home hub/router and a network component in the ISP's core network, the two parts working together to manage inbound traffic to the subscriber.

pnsol logo

Teclco2 have posted an excellent early review of PNSol which is necessarily technical in nature, but the benefits are clear. By dividing up the broadband superhighway into 'lanes', a user can instantly dedicate themselves enough bandwidth to Skype-call a friend, listen to a music track, or watch a film - without needing a punitively expensive broadband connection - then drop the bandwidth down again for email and web surfing. The process is transparent to the user as it lets applications dynamically decide the balance between price, traffic delay and reliability, whereas at present it's all (expensive connection to cover the occasional iPlayer download) or nothing (inexpensive tariff with poor reliability for Skype). This solution promises guaranteed bandwidth for streamed time-sensitive traffic such as Internet telephony, audio and TV, but at reasonable cost. It's a workaround, because sheer high speed should ultimately satisfy users in the long run, but if successful, the efficiency is to be admired and it might just get UK broadband out of a temporary hole.

Ashley Highfield may have started a content provider argument it's difficult to win, but it most certainly won't be the last word on the contentious issue of Britain's broadband.

-IB-

Paul Craig


^ Back to contents ^
3. Zoho – Software at your service
The concept of everyday software streamed from the Internet instead of stored on your computer has finally come to life.

Help at hand.
Back issues just a click away


zohologo

Online hosted applications (Software As A Service)

What now seems like aeons ago, or around the turn of the century, computer owners were already becoming irritated with continually installing and updating software on their computers; little did they know how much broader the range of software packages would swell. And so was born the idea that software would instead be streamed from the Internet to your PC, a panacea continually providing the latest fully-functioning versions of all the applications we used and loved – ad infinitum.

Applications hosted by third party providers, rather than from your own servers, was the next big thing in 2000, but it didn't take off. However, since then a number of companies have taken the SaaS model and made it work. SalesForce.com is probably the best known for their hosted CRM solution for those interested they offer a Not-for-profit licence.

In this article I want to focus on a company that many of us have never heard of, Zoho, who provide an ever-growing range of free and hosted products including Office, Collaboration, CRM and web applications, some of which I cover in this article.

Office tools

ZohoWriter (http://writer.zoho.com/) is a word processor application that is easy to use and does most of what I need. ZohoWriter users HTML formatting when editing but you can save in MS Word, RTF (Rich Text Format) and Adobe's PDF formats too.

zoho_writer

Now I hear you saying, "What happens when I go offline?" Well, this is where Zoho starts to get interesting. You can work offline (as long at you have left its window open), make your changes and save them locally. Once you are back online again, save those changes on the server. At this point in time ZohoWriter is the only application that works offline.

zohoSheet

Crack sheet of the family

ZohoSheet (http://sheet.zoho.com/)is the spreadsheet in the family and it too does the basics, but being a (slower) web application takes a little patience with the mouse when working on multiple cells. You won't find sophistications like pivot tables in ZohoSheet, though you will find a range of standard functions and the ability to export to many file formats, including Excel (XLS) and OpenOffice (ODS).

Database

ZohoDB & Reports (http://db.zoho.com/) is a Microsoft Access-like database application. At this stage there are no forms and data is entered in spreadsheet-like grid. You can link tables, create lookup tables and use standard SQL to query a table. Databases can be created from scratch or imported to build a database from a CSV (comma separated variable) file. The reports are not like Access ones; the term 'reports' refers more to how you present data, where you can select from a range including charts and pivots.

Presentation

ZohoShow (http://show.zoho.com/) is a presentation tool along the lines Microsoft's Power Point. I found it a bit basic and it just doesn't feel as robust as the other Office-like offerings.

To complete the family there are applications for Email, Project, Planner and Chat - none of which I have looked at so far.

Sharing Documents, Sheets and Databases

Zoho allows you to share your documents, data and applications with others. More than anything, Zoho's centralised user/group management and single sign-on across several Zoho Applications thrusts it on to the 'grown-up' playing field of software-as-a-service. There is a built-in group manager so you could arrange sharing based on projects or activities within an organisation or indeed with anyone who has Internet access and an email address. You can even make the data public for inclusion on a web site.

Web application creation - ZohoCreator

zohoCreator_Form_Builder

Perhaps the simplest way to describe ZohoCreator (http://creator.zoho.com/) is as its "web form creator". Which doesn’t do it any justice at all. Creator has built-in form validation (no more people typing dates in the wrong format, email addresses with spaces, etc), views and powerful scripting. Creator is clearly aimed at the non-programmer who needs to build a web application quickly.

One of the example applications is a Help Desk application (see their helpdesk example). I was able to easily modify it by adding new fields and creating input validation.

Application creation is very straightforward. Again like ZohoSheet, your application can be based on a CSV file exported from Excel, and this feature is not only quick but really helps non-techies rapidly gain confidence. Creating a new form manually is easy too; simply drag fields on to the form.

Creator applications can accessed directly and you can embed forms inside an existing web site. Creator creates the HTML for you though if you’re an experienced web developer there is an API (application programming interface) as well. I’ve only touched the surface with ZohoCreator but I hope I’ve wetted your appetite for some exploration.

Google, Gotchars and Gobbled-up

An article about online applications wouldn't be complete without a mention for Google, the search-and-web-app giant that in late 2006 spawned Google Docs & Spreadsheets (now just Google Docs) which boasts a word processor, spreadsheet and basic forms, integrated email and a great calendar. Note also that the offline element of ZohoWriter is based on Google's Gears component.

Where Zoho scores is in it's breadth of applications; where it fails is that each application is a standalone 'gotchar', so there is no way of sharing data between them. That said Zoho is still impressive - let’s hope it stays that way and is gobbled up by some big corporation for further development investment.


Lawrence Griffiths
IT consultant and web solution provider
www.avek.co.uk

-IB-


^ Back to contents ^
4. OCR: a complete lack of recognition
Turning wads of paper-based text into digital documents can be automated through a scanner, but only renders an accurate duplicate if you take care.

Help at hand.
Back issues just a click away



Allen_takethemoneyandrun
Allen (a bank robber), walks up to the teller and hands over a note that reads:
"Please put $50,000 into this bag. I am pointing a gun at you."
The teller, however, is puzzled, because he reads:
"I am pointing a gub at you."
"No, it's gun", Allen says.
"That looks like 'gub', that doesn't look like gun" the teller says, then asks another teller to help him read the note, then another, until finally everyone is arguing over what the note means.

From Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run (1969). Watch the clip

Allen's note could perhaps have been scanned and passed through an early version of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. By contrast, today's suites are much easier to use and highly accurate, but only if handled with respect.

Carbon copy

scannericon

Scanners can be purchased for under £50 these days and are often bundled with an OCR package as part of the deal, but a scanner needs to capable of reasonable resolution if its output is to be further processed to turn scanned content back into readable text.

digitalcamera

More often though, people are turning to a digital camera for capturing documents, simply because they already have one to hand. Or a document may arrive in the form a photo (jpg) attached to an email.

Thus, a person tasked with doing the actual character recognition bit may receive the data in a variety of ways and some 'sprucing up' and realignment of the raw image may be necessary, for those handy with PhotoShop or GIMP or similar image editing software.

omnipage16_std_box

Dotting the "i"s

The OCR's job will be made easier if the initial scan or JPEG image is easy to 'read', try to ensure that the source has a high resolution - a document snapped from a mobile will rarely come up to scratch. Since the source image is basically a bunch colour or black-and-white dots, the more of them you start with, the easier it will be to decipher recognisable letters and words out of them. Although this image may be MegaBytes big, it is only a temporary means of achieving the final text document of just a few KiloBytes in size.

There are broadly four categories into which scanned material will fall:

  • colour photo
  • black-and-white photo
  • colour document
  • black-and-white document
ABBYY FineReader

Both of the 'photo' categories get the scanner to treat the whole page as one big photo, whether or not it contains any text, in other words ignoring any Optical Character Recognition software that is already installed. This is effectively what a digital camera does, not having the wherewithal to know the difference between text and images.

The 'document' categories tell the scanner to perform a scan as above and then apply character recognition via its OCR software to the bits it thinks are characters, and to leave what it thinks are photos as is. The output is a file (typically a Rich Text-formatted document) combining pictures alongside the (hopefully) correctly-transcribed text.

Abbyy FineReader menu

The resulting transcription depends crucially on factors such as the contrast in the textual area, how well the OCR can recognise the font being used (Courier, Arial, etc) and the general quality of the original documents (smudges and poor paper surface confuse it).

To illustrate the ramifications of a 'confused' OCR, consider a scanned phrase that started out as ...

In line with our stated risk profile over time, a good investment

... and that turns into ...

In time will our stated risk profile overturn good investments

... could change the future direction of an unwary financial institution. Such mangled sentences highlight the necessity of proof-reading; you can never trust the machinery and software implicitly.

Scanning tips for OCR preparation

  • keep the paper square to the scanner or camera (if you have control of the original source)
  • crop scanning area (in preview) to show just the final view, not the whole page (re-zoning)_
  • choose a black-and-white setting not colour the content is only b/w
  • look out for punctuation getting mangled into characters and vice-versa

Contacts

-IB-


^ Back to contents ^
5. Background info: parade your PC's vital stats
A utility that places your essential PC measurements on hand 24x7.

Help at hand.
Back issues just a click away


There are plenty of ways of finding out the bare essentials about your PC - those things like its name, the current IP address, how long it's been running, how much free space there is on your hard drives, the type of network adaptor, amount of memory and so on.

Chances are though, you'll have to navigate your way through a minefield of different panels for each and every one of those pieces of info, and that consumes precious time when a support engineer is trying to help you solve your problem.

BGInfo picture

A small 360KB utility called BGInfo (created in the treasure trove that was sysinternals.com from pre-Microsoft ownership days) superimposes all these figures (and everything you could ever want to know about your PC) right there in front of you on your desktop. What's more it can be preset to choose from a whole heap of editable fields such as default gateway, operating system version, boot time and many more, while allowing you to change the font, size and colour and blend it into your existing background – or throw it into stark relief.

BGInfo can also be configured as a pop-up, or reside in the taskbar (if you want to keep that background picture of son-clutching-skateboard/daughter-in-full-bling-garb). For technical admin types, it provides many options for deploying itself across a whole swathe of PCs in your organisation, as well as collecting the data too.

Apart from placing all this useful technical data on hand, BGInfo is simple, informative and completely free.

-IB-


^ Back to contents ^
6. Q&A: How to audit my PC?

Question
Mark

QuestionMark


Hi Mark,

A techie friend has suggested I buy a new PC since mine is out of date. Having lost the original specification, how can I find the information to judge whether I should buy a new one? Or whether I can just upgrade the existing one?

Help at hand.
Back issues just a click away


At certain times in life, it's important to know what's under the bonnet of the glorified typewriter that is your beloved (or perhaps 'hated', given your situation) machine.

Belarc logo

As any accountant will have told you recently, "Audits are not a matter of life and death, it's more important than that!", and so too with computers if you want to avoid wasting a lot of money. In fact many PCs that are a couple of years old can often be given a new lease of life with a memory upgrade costing a few tens of pounds.

E-Z Audit audit my PC logo

Personal audit software for PCs has been around for a long time, with Belarc (belarc.com) and E-Z Audit (ezaudit.net) both establishing good reputations while providing freely downloadable utilities alongside their professional offerings, the latter even demonstrating a working online version to produce an audit of your PC. WinAudit (www.pxserver.com/WinAudit.htm) has also gathered a popular following for its freeware information-gatherer.

Running any one of these will quickly re-generate your system specification, and include any hardware add-ons you made to date, such as better DVD drives or enhanced graphics cards, as well as peripherals like external USB hard discs and digital broadcast TV adapters, if they are plugged in. As a bonus you can usually opt for a low-down on all the software packages you are running (shock, horror: is it really that many?!), should the time come when you have to re-install them on a new machine, and when the old one has long been donated to a good cause. And if you plan to go the give-away route you should find a good file eraser to wipe your disc first

Spiceworks logo

More recently, inventory-style software has seized upon the economies of scale afforded by computers being attached to, and therefore audited via, the network. Larger scale utilities like Spiceworks and OpManager have come to the fore with their browser-based interfaces and online storage of inventories of all kinds. OpManager logo This means not only that information about hardware like printers, routers, servers and switches can be gleaned, but that IT managers no longer have to be present on a particular site to gain access to the stored inventory data since it that is available via any Internet connection. Belarc too has been active in this arena with its BelManage product for creating an up-to-date central repository of all computer and network equipment and their configurations.

-IB-


^ Back to contents ^
7. The Security Axiom

Help at hand.
Back issues just a click away


When making decisions on security, three conflicting parameters always raise their heads:

  • Security
  • User Friendliness
  • Cost Effectiveness
http://www.coopsys.net/images/securityAxiom2.jpg

The really difficult bit comes with the realisation that you can usually only pick two!

-IB-


^ Back to contents ^
Clicks of the Trade - Find and Replace page breaks in Word
--- Quick tips for happier clicks! ---

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Now and again you receive documents with a whole bunch of page breaks and line breaks in places you don't want. Stripping them out can be a tedious process, backing up to each and deleting, then finding you have destroyed some other formatting too.

wordReplaceSpecialChars

You can strip out the tedium too though, since Word's Find and Replace feature does it all for you and a lot more besides.

To find and replace different types of document elements in Word:

  • pull down Edit menu | Find (or press Ctrl+F) | Replace tab
  • click the More button | Special button
  • select Manual Page Break
    (note that a ^m is inserted in the Find what box)
  • click Find Next button
  • leave Replace with empty to delete all breaks
  • click the Replace button or Replace All (to do the whole document unprompted)

Dangling a carat

The Special button reveals a whole variety of hidden characters that can be replaced, such as tabs (really useful) and paragraph marks, all prefixed with a carat symbol (^). Or for real versatility, even any digit or any letter. Select the element that you want to replace and repeat as above.

Works for Microsoft Word 2002 onwards.

OpenOffice.org Writer presents similar features in its Find and Replace tool (under the More Options button | Regular Expressions tick box). Note that they employ the universal codes of \n for line break and \t for tab. More codes shown in the Help manual.

** try it now **

More Clicks of the Trade

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