Happy New Mac

or should that be PC on earth?

mac vs pcWith the festive season upon us, the question we are being asked is, should we buy an Apple Mac or a PC.

Ask this question of a computer person and you’re likely to get a black and white answer: it’s all a bit tribal. Mac fans will quote “once you’ve gone Mac, you’ll never go back”. PC and Windows fans see Mac as being a bit limited and a triumph of style over substance.

Of course the real answer is that both have their merits and your choice depends on what you need the computer for and how much you can afford.

ipad and iphoneIf you’re new to computers, and you want something simple to set up and use, a Mac is ideal, especially if you’ve already got iPhones or iPads in your house. It’s easy to learn the systems and Apple send out regular updates to keep your computer current. And everything will play nicely together.

Similarly, if you need to sort out a mass of photos, movies and music, a Mac comes with pre-installed, lifestyle-focused software made by Apple (iLife), and it all works perfectly, straight out of the box.

On the other hand, most of us grew up using a PC and if that’s what you’re used to, there are lots of great options, at a wide range of prices. If all you want is something to browse the Internet and send a few emails, you can pick up a PC for around £250. However, you’ll need to add extra for some bundled software (like Microsoft Office at around £70) and anti-virus software is recommended too – and that’s where it can start to get a bit Vaiocomplicated.

If you quite like the complication and you prefer to have the freedom to choose your own software then you’re a PC person.

It would be easy to sit on the fence, but that doesn’t really help anyone. So we’d say that if you’re after a cheap option with the minimum amount of fuss, go for an entry-level PC. Or choose a powerful PC if you have high-end computing requirements, such as our Kodak photo scanner that only runs with Windows. For everything in between, we would recommend a Mac.

 

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Top Tips 5 : Getting started with Windows 8.1

Window Start

Those of you who read Top Tips 4 will know we were getting quite grumpy with Microsoft. Two weeks on and our laptop has a new hard drive, we’ve installed Windows 8.1 and we’re almost back on speaking terms with Microsoft. We’ve had 3 days with their new OS.

Here’s what we like:

The Start button – This is the “click here for everything” button in the bottom left corner of your screen. Windows 8 didn’t have one, which was a bit like driving without brakes. With 8.1, the Admin menu is back when you right click – including all the old start button options such as “Control Panel” that you need to stay in control of your computer. In a face-saving move by Microsoft, the left click is reserved for alternating your desktop between the Start screen (see above – the big, brightly coloured square tiles preferred by Microsoft executives and children) and the Windows desktop (see below – the way you expect a computer to look, preferred by grown-ups).Desktop

Start screen – OK, maybe we’re showing our middle-agedness a bit with that last comment. Now that the traditional desktop is just a click away, we quite like the tiled Start Windows 8 App PiningScreen. It is very easy to set up with shortcuts to all our favourite apps (that’s a “programme” for the traditionalists amongst us)  and websites, including a big coloured square that takes us to our preferred desktop.

Here’s how:

click the down arrow (at the bottom left of the Start screen) to bring up the apps screen, click on the app you want and at the bottom of the window choose ‘Pin to Start’ to put a coloured tile on the Start screen and ‘Pin to taskbar’ to put an icon in the taskbar that runs along the bottom of your regular desktop.

Boot to desktop – If you’re not as down with the kids as we are and you just want things to be back to normal, then you can set your computer to skip the big coloured squares altogether and start up with the more familiar desktop:

right click the taskbar (the strip along the bottom of the desktop)

choose Properties then Navigation.

under ‘Start screen’ select

‘When I sign in or close all applications on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start’.

Apps charmsCharms  these are a selection of useful shortcuts. When you are in an app such as Word, either move your mouse up to the top right corner (no click needed) or press the Windows key and the letter C at the same time. Take a minute in each app to familiarise yourself with its Charms – once you start using them, they can save a lot of time.

Keyboard shortcuts  There are 4 other short-cuts that we think are worth learning:

Windows + S (press the Windows button and the letter S at the same time) – this opens a search box: just type in what you are looking for and the computer does all the hard work of finding and remembering where you put something 

Windows + X – this opens the Admin menu – the traditional Start menu mentioned earlier

Windows + I – this opens the Settings menu for the app you are working in, as well as volume, brightness and power 

Windows + H – this is the shortcut to the Share menu, which allows you to instantly send an email with the thing you are working on or post it on a social network 

One to avoid: Windows + Enter – this starts the Narrator reading everything on your screen. To stop it, use Caps+Esc key

That should be enough to get started.

Don’t download that update yet – Top Tips 4

mavericksThe operating system (or OS) on your computer is the main programme that controls the way your computer works, looks and interacts with the world. So you’d think it makes sense to keep your OS right up to date. But that’s not always the case.

This week Apple launched a new OS called Mavericks. Like every Apple update, it is evolutionary and everything looks familiar – so it feels just like the old system and nobody gets stressed. Mavericks promises to make your computer more secure, easier to use, faster and more energy efficient. Best of all it’s free, so it’s a no-brainer to download and install it. It works with every Apple made after early 2009 and some older computers too.

Apple store queuesBut a word of advice – wait a while. Pretty much every piece of new technology is launched with bugs. These are uncovered by the early adopters (the people who queue outside Apple shops) and ironed out in the first few weeks. We loaded Mavericks yesterday (OK, sometimes we’re in that queue) and we’ve already had a few issues with a scanner and the music in the office. Nothing serious, but unless you need to discuss the new OS on day 2 in the playground, it’s worth waiting a month.

With Microsoft, it’s sometimes worth waiting much longer.

Windows 8.1Windows 8 launched a year ago and most people who moved to it (us included) wish they hadn’t. It’s a lemon. Many have reversed the move and gone back to Windows 7.

Windows 7 is still used by half the world’s computers (as opposed to the 8% that run on Windows 8) because it is more straightforward and reliable. If you’ve got Windows 7, cherish it. Say “Yes” to all the updates that will keep your computer safe and running smoothly, and wait to see what Microsoft launch next year.

Similarly, if you’re running an older Windows OS (Vista, XP or 2000) then don’t stress yourself or your computer with a change – wait until you buy your next computer.

If you’re stuck with Windows 8, then this month’s 8.1 update comes with a health warning. We ignored our own advice and tried to install it in week 1. The result is a dead laptop (properly dead; fully bereft of life; an ex-laptop). We’re working on a resurrection, but with no help from Microsoft, who have hung up on us twice. If you hold stock, sell.

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