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Tech Talk with Which? Computing

Welcome to our tech talk area! This is your place to discuss all things tech, get updates on Which? Computing, and discuss the latest goings on with our Computing editor, Kate Bevan.

Hello, world. Welcome to my tech talk area on Which? Conversation.

It’s been six months now since I took over the editorship of Which? Computing, and one thing I’m particularly keen to do is find ways to meet, chat with and learn from Which? members and our community.

I want to be able to be a bit more nimble about reacting to, commenting on and explaining what’s going on in the wider tech news world, and so we thought that opening up this space would be a great way to do that.

A tech space for everyone

This space is as much for you as it is for me. I’m not only keen to share with you what we’re working on in Which? Computing, but I very much want to hear what you’re doing with your technology; what you’re thinking about technology-focused news, and what you’re considering building, buying and tinkering with.

I’ll be posting here in the comments on a wide range of topics. Next week, for example, is Google’s annual event at which they launch their latest consumer devices. Sadly, I won’t be going to New York for that, but I will be at the London event, and I’m planning to report on that as it happens.

I’ll also be letting you know what we’re up to with planning the Computing magazine; I’ll be sharing news stories and – hopefully – helping those of you outside of the tech bubble make sense of everything that’s going on.

But most of all I’m here for the community. It’s a conversation, not a broadcast, and I hope you’ll be joining in and helping to shape it. I’m really looking forward to it.

From the Convo team

This tech-focused area of Which? Conversation is the first of its kind from a Which? editor.

Much like the Lobby, it was born out of an idea from our community – we’ve been asked for a more tech-focused discussion area in the past, and this can act as just that. This area isn’t only for Kate’s updates, but for you all to discuss the latest tech news, reviews and issues you’re interested in.

Kate will continue to write separate Which? Conversations for the ‘big’ tech stories, which we’ll also link to here for reference.

09/10/2018 All the latest from Google’s annual hardware launch

02/10/2018 Was your Facebook account accessed by attackers?

29/09/2018 A brief history of tech: what got you into computing?

16/08/2018 Do we really spend too much time on our phones?

Otherwise, for all things general tech chat and questions for Kate, feel free to get inolved!

Guidelines

To ensure the Computing Corner remains a healthy and friendly place for you all to share your thoughts and musings, all of our Community Guidelines apply.

Comments

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Duncan – that only shows there’s a _potential_ threat.

It fails to show that the threat has ever been realised or exploited from the code needed to handles emojis.

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Replies out of sequence are a consequence of how you respond. If you respond at the top level – i.e. in the left-most position on the screen, then your responses will be posted only after all the sub-thread replies have appeared, thus pushing your response further and further ‘down’. To ensure you keep your response close to the original comment to which you’re responding, you have to post it as close as possible to the question but always – always – in an inset: i.e. the sub-thread.

Of course, eliminating the sub-thread completely would be a good idea…

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Ah, but if that post is an originating post – i.e. not a sub-thread – then your reply will get moved down unless you use the ‘reply’ button on the original post. If you simply use the ‘Join the Debate’ box at the bottom then your reply becomes an originating post.

There’s one other aspect: even if you use the ‘reply’ button on the post concerned your reply can appear lower down if there has been a number of replies made – say in a short time on a hot topic – and these haven’t shown up in the ‘All Recent Activity’ listings, which they don’t until you refresh it.

Best to abolish the sub-thread system completely, IMV.

…and it is possible to cite the post that you are replying to, via a link:

conversation.which.co.uk/technology/which-computing-editor-tech-talk/#comment-1554748

or via quoted text.

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Duncan that will occur if you reply to anything other than a top level comment.

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Sorry Duncan, I was presuming that you were an old hand at Which? Conversation.

To post a top level comment – post in the box below “Join the debate”

To post a reply to any comment, click the Reply button in the comment and type into the box that then appears.

All Replies are listed, in order of posting, below their parent top level comments.

Hence, as already noted in posts above, Replies to Replies are not necessarily listed immediately below the Reply being Replied to.

When a topic is ‘hot’ or flooded, of course, while you’re mentally composing a reply, several other replies might have been submitted, but won’t appear in the index listings so you won’t know they’re there, and your reply will appear to be immediately below the comment to which you’ve replied. One way to check that is to refresh the page in the browser after posting. If your reply then suddenly jumps down three or four posts, it’s because they were posted before yours, but didn’t appear so, until you refreshed the page.

It’s an absurdly convoluted system to try to explain – less so to use – but a consequence both of sub-threading and flood topics. We could eliminate the former but not the latter.

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I’ve always argued that W?Cs uses a very outmoded and clunky threading model. But I suspect that’s the penalty for using blog software instead of a decent forum package.

Don’t worry Duncan it’s only software engineering 😉

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They do use a configurable version of WordPress, Duncan, but the inherent limitations do, I think, make it unsuitable for a fully interactive forum.

One slight advantage from the deluge effect when Which? provokes thousands of its “supporters” to respond to an emotive topic is that most comments come in as originating posts [top level] and it is therefore often possible to reply directly following the comment. Of course, if the new comment has sparked a sub-flood of responses then you have to be quick to get in first and it will be a case of the first arrivals will show first on the screen irrespective of how competent they are or pertinent to the point at issue.

When new comments are arriving thick and fast and it is tempting to respond to them bear in mind that each reply takes time to compose and submit during which time the Conversation continues moving along at a pace and you cannot keep abreast of it. Sometimes it is better to just note some comments and return to them a day or so later when the activity has subdued. If there is still a need to submit a reply [the point might already have been covered by someone else] you can then reference the comment being replied to in one of the ways that have already been suggested.

I feel that many correspondents are not actually expecting an answer [despite the use of a question mark sometimes], have no interest in the Conversation after they have posted their point, haven’t read the preceding comments and explanations given, probably can’t find it again anyway, and their attention has moved to something else, so to the question – are we wasting our time? – I think the answer is probably YES, most of the time unfortunately. It’s a case of being selective, I suppose, and choosing those comments that really are engaged and deserve a helpful response. In my opinion most points raised by new comments on the broadband and mobile phone-type conversations have already been answered many times [which is possibly why most ‘regulars’ abstain from joining in as they have nothing new to contribute].

It is noticeable that Which? shows no particular interest in such Conversations either – it is just a harvesting process for dubious statistical purposes.

The modus operandi is predictable, too. Attention grabbing headline followed by carefully crafted suggestion that Which? has won / is fighting / is about to launch some sort of major offensive.

But then, that methodology is hardly restricted to Which?, is it?

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So are you saying BT was wrong to take the decision [even if after consultation with the government] to replace the Huawei apparatus in what it stated was in the interests of national and commercial security?

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I am not disagreeing with you about the amount of US influence over any decision here to replace the Huawei apparatus, and I don’t for one minute believe the UK government didn’t play a part in it [because BT & Openreach carry all telecoms traffic for the police, military and security services as well as other vital communications services between government departments and their outstations] but I was wondering whether you thought that was a wrong decision. I think it was absolutely the right decision whether or not any traces of spyware have been detected. Huawei might be “the biggest world player in that field” but they are not necessarily the best supplier to use.

BT not saying that it has found any spyware in the Huawei system is not the same as saying there isn’t any. I would not expect the company to make any comment one way or the other.

By the way – you say you get “constant updates with all Donald’s sanctions /wars /etc” – first, how do you know you get all of them? And second, how do you know that some of what you get are not planted to see where and how they emerge?

Given the US President’s aberrational decisions this last week I don’t know how anyone, not even his closest aides, can say they “know US policy inside out”. Did you spot any of these recent events coming?

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I admire your attention to American intelligence, Duncan, but you have still not said whether you think the decision to stop using Huawei equipment is a good one.

One of the problems with studying one situation closely in one direction and in one dimension is that it is possible to miss other more important issues that appear from a different direction and have a different context. We can never be sure that we see or know everything relevant to a particular situation or that what we are seeing is coming from a trusted and reliable source.

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Duncan: you have resolutely refused to answer the question directly. You always attempt to divert the course of the thread, you continually hint that there may be dark forces at work somewhere, you imply that you have special access to the US intelligence services, you suggest – often saying so directly – that the US dominates the UK’s political decision-making processes, yet when pressed you never, ever provide links to unassailable sources.

This Huawei issue is a prime example. Kate herself agreed Bloomberg might have got this completely wrong so it comes as no surprise to any of us. But what’s lacking are facts. You don’t know the facts in this story, and you don’t know for sure that no bugs were found (you can’t prove a negative).

But when John asked a simple and direct question “(are you saying BT was wrong to take the decision [even if after consultation with the government] to replace the Huawei apparatus in what it stated was in the interests of national and commercial security?)” you would not answer, instead preferring to hint at conspiracies, as usual.

You also make claims which have no basis whatsoever in reality: exactly the basis for fake news yet the majority of the UK public believe everything they read in newspapers. That’s certainly not my experience, and – I suspect – not John’s, nor Derek’s nor Wave’s nor Alpha’s…

Diverting yet again you mention the Gatwick couple being questioned and suggest strongly that they could / will be named as “Russian Agents” but we don’t even know that these are the couple who were responsible. And suggesting that in itself reveals you believe there are governmental conspiracies afoot to defame Russia, at the very least.

I really do believe it’s unhealthy to believe there are conspiracies taking place around us. There may well be some, but not – I suspect – on the scale you seem to believe. In my experience I find governments and people are largely too incompetent to mount decent conspiracies.

Ian, I certainly don’t believe everything in the papers. I have personal experience of being involved with what we now call fake news.

Further to the topic of BT and Huawei, the following links may be of interest:

From June 2013: bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22803510

From June 2018: bt.com/tech-gadgets/future-tech/bt-huawei-5g-mobile-technology-partnership-11364119667641

From Dec 2018: bbc.co.uk/news/technology-46453425

Ian – Duncan did eventually answer my question on 22 December when at the end of various other comments he wrote, somewhat indirectly, “In answer to your question John I think you know the answer in matters like this I am pro government thinking ,in other words I hold the same view as you.” [See comment – https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/which-computing-editor-tech-talk/#comment-1554826%5D
in which he was referring to my comment earlier that day where I wrote “I was wondering whether you thought that was a wrong decision. I think it was absolutely the right decision whether or not any traces of spyware have been detected. Huawei might be “the biggest world player in that field” but they are not necessarily the best supplier to use.” [See comment – https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/which-computing-editor-tech-talk/#comment-1554818%5D

Thanks, John; I had seen that but – as you said – it was very indirect and evasive. I simply wondered why “I agree” or “I don’t agree” didn’t appear.

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Meh…not quite. I don’t need you to spell it out in blood, Duncan, but simply to answer the questions. You start with attention-grabbing comments, such as

As the UKs BT rips out Huawei,s 4G circuit boards and wont get its 5G on instructions from the government who got their instructions from the USA…

but you don’t directly address John’s question anywhere, as far as I can see, and you again make assertions which you fail to prove:

the government who got their instructions from the USA..

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It is possible, Duncan, that Which? wants to be first with this sort of news and to verify the source and consider the implications before publishing.

It could also be the case that Kate has requested the moderators to refer all such comments to her for clearance before posting them. I can understand why caution is advisable – and it’s not exactly urgent.

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Duncan, your post with those links appears to be visible now – and seems to have been for a few days.

Having read the links, I think most of that news is much more relevant for web developers than for home PC users.

For that latter group, I think Windows will be their dominant PC OS for years to come, both at home and at work.

That said, I think mobile devices, e.g. using either Android or iOS, are already being used by many as their first port of call for internet access.

With regard to OSes for mobile devices, M$ really did miss that boat and are beginning to adapt Windows to co-exist alongside those Linux and Unix based platforms.

For example, the latest W10 upgrades enable much better interoperability with Android phones while the adoption of Google’s Chromium code into Edge will prevent Edge from becoming marginalised as a poorly functional browser.

As any kind of potential threat to consumers, I really cannot see M$ as public enemy No.1, simply because home users now have many diverse viable alternatives to using anything from M$ at home. Thinks aren’t quite the same in the workplace, but so what? It’s been a long time since any of my employers wanted me to handle “business documents” on any of my home computers.

Also, as most home computing now involves the use of internet based resources, I think it is much more important to be keeping an eye on how those services might abuse our privacy and our data.

I think your last sentence sums it up, Duncan. Those with an interest in this sort of news are already aware of it through their own channels.

There seems to be no point in continued speculation over why Which? has held up your comment but it will be wary of items of commercial sensitivity. I don’t think you should be so aggrieved over it; you have brought the matter to attention but have to leave it to editorial judgment over its presentation. I expect it will emerge in due course.

Hi all. No need for the speculation – it appears the post went to moderation because it contained multiple links. I didn’t see it originally as it was posted on a Sunday, must have missed it on the Monday, and Tuesday was a bank holiday. I was back in this morning, spotted and approved.

Sometimes it’s as simple as that 🙂

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Duncan – I appreciate that you give a lot of useful information to people who comment in this Tech-Talk Conversation. George has now clarified the mystery of your missing comment and it all seems very innocent to me with no suggestion of GCHQ interception [so far as we can tell . . . !].

This Conversation was specially created to give an outlet to those with more of a technical bent but luckily it still seems to remain accessible to people like me, and I hope it remains so. I happen to find Derek P’s contributions closer to my wavelength because, although I started using a PC about twenty years ago, I haven’t really got out of second gear and am well behind the curve on modern facilities. Derek is way ahead of me but hasn’t neglected the needs of those of us with a more basic approach. He also assists novice users in his community. My computer needs are simple although extensive, but I seem to have very few of the problems that many seek Which?’s advice on. I am quite happy with what comes in the box and have rarely been let down or been afraid of what might happen next.

You raise an interesting point about the connexion between activity here and subscriptions to Which? It would be good to have that confirmed. Do you also subscribe to Which? Computing by any chance? I don’t get it myself but, like the other Which? mags, I think it tries to present topics and solutions in ways that most people can relate to. Of course, there are those who avidly look forward to Geek Weekly and Nerd On-Line who regard Which? as far too dumb and distant so, as far as I am concerned, it is good that they also have their niche.

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I can’t even work out which post of yours was held up in moderation. Can you give the opening few words and the date so I can look for it?

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Thanks, Duncan. Strange, because that post has been visible for a few days now, as Derek reported. Perhaps the red links were withheld initially.

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Interesting to learn that John could see it too.

Perhaps Which?’s system flagged it for moderation – and flagged that up to Duncan, but then auto released it anyway, as W?C seems to do for a select few that are trusted to post complete links.

Given that low life scum such as me can get away with the unrestricted posting of partial links, Which? probably ought to review the inconsistencies in that position, along with their legal needs and duties as the publisher of W?C.

Sometimes it is possible to catch things before they get dragged off to the moderators.

Loved that, Derek: Given that low life scum such as me can get away with the unrestricted posting of partial links…

Perhaps we could start a new Low Life Scum topic? 🙂

Here, all posters are equal but some are more equal than others 😉

Ah, you mean there are both Low-life and High-life scum? Verrry interesting, Meester Bond…

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Duncan – that sounds almost too good to be true.

Do you know why its German authors have released it as royalty free s/w and what’s in it for them?

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Thanks Duncan – that’s interesting.

That’s from the web site of Emsisoft Browser Security, I see.

Looks very interesting. Sadly, not sure it works on Macs.

Ian, thanks for the reveal. I guess it won’t work with them funny webkit based proprietary Apple browsers 😉

…but it ought to work with Chrome and Firefox, if those were to be installed on a Mac.

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Our community guidelines say:

“Please don’t promote your own business, either in your comments or in your profile. We don’t allow promotional content on Which? Conversation and so we will remove it when we see it.”

So I think it is OK for us consumers to talk about products that we use and like on here, but not for manufacturers or retailers to shamelessly promote their wares.

Quite. It’s always been that way, too. And I’m not advertising it, Duncan; I’m revealing so that others can comment objectively on the content. Such as whether it would work on a Mac…

duncan lucas says: 2 January 2019

have you noticed since I have been giving detailed replies many technical minded users have been posting here with technical issues

I did a quick analysis of posts and poster since this place started. I’m not sure it bears out your observation, Duncan:

Poster and number of posts:

Staff: 44
Derek: 42
Ian: 41
John: 18
Duncan: 43
Wavechange: 13
Larry: 3 (on Macs)
PT: 3 on email
Malcolm: 6
Alpha : 5
Wev: 2
Alison: 1
Vynor: 1

This place is great for those of us who enjoy getting down and dirty with the tech; of that there’s no doubt, but it does seem only to be interesting the regulars.

Ian – thanks, I think those are interesting data.

That said, the drawback is the above data only show the involvements of active posters and not the benefits (if any) of these posts to lurkers.

If anything, and perhaps with rose tinted recollections, Which? Tech Daily used to be more active as a forum for tech enquiries and discussions. I think we certainly had some productive discussions there about the demise of XP, the rise of W8 and W10 (and their teething troubles) and whether or not ordinary mortals should be attempting Linux installations, e.g. to replace XP (or even other Windows versions).

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Well, you’re welcome to check, Duncan. Although why you’re taking this so personally I can’t imagine.

This page, for example, doesn’t have anyone other than the regulars posting on it and in total on this topic we’ve only had nine ‘one off’ posts and they were from a total of three, non-regular posters.

Now, you might well have dealt with technical queries in other places, but all I’m saying is that this topic wasn’t one of them.

DerekP says: Today 10:56

Ian – thanks, I think those are interesting data…the above data only show the involvements of active posters and not the benefits (if any) of these posts to lurkers.

Yep, I agree and in one sense that’s the issue that bedevils all forums. People might well get the answers they want from simply looking, and we don’t know how many of those are out there.

Posting in any public forum takes confidence, especially when asking questions, as there are those on forums who delight in belittling those who ask simplistic questions, or – conversely – who delight in displaying their technical expertise and make no concessions to the newcomer. Been there and seen that. I think that’s why stopping outright poor behaviour on a forum is important, if that forum is to grow.

Ian, I agree with your comments here.

It would be great to see W?C breaking away from the typical behaviour of most forums, e.g. where about 10 regulars are responsible for about 90% of all posts. (I haven’t attempted an exact analysis of W?C, so these are made up numbers, based on judgement.)

To help achieve this, I think we all need to follow the community guidelines as fully as we can, i.e. by trying to remain polite and courteous, even when we passionately disagree with what others are posting.

We should encourage people to post information on these Convos in the hope that they will help those who read them. I hope that Which? will use the valuable material that is provided appropriately in their publications to help a wider audience.

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Duncan, I think Ian’s observations were general observations about all forums. I don’t think he was specifically referring to you. As you may have noticed, some of us on here don’t beat about the bush when it becomes pertinent to question or challenge some of your posts.

I’m going to step in here because there’s no need for this to go any further. From what I can see some observations have been made about forums in general – there haven’t been any direct accusations aimed at anyone here – I don’t want to see an argument arise.

This Tech Talk section is indeed about technology; from new hardware releases (phones etc) to software and broadband. That all comes under tech, and that’s what’s been discussed here, with Kate contributing with live posts from events and updates on what she’s up to with the Computing magazine.

Which? Conversation is very inclusive and encourages discussion from everyone of all ability levels/understanding when it comes to tech – whether it’s high-level engineering or a basic question about MS Paint, we want everyone to feel welcome.

I’d like to see contributors addressing the topic, and the comments made by others rather than the commenters themselves being criticised and personal disagreements arising. I watched with despair at the way some exchanges developed in November and December, a couple requiring the intervention of the moderators. It made me wonder how many potential contributors might be put off bothering in case they were subjected to the same treatment.

Human nature is to react to adverse comment or criticism. Should we expect the moderators to remove all personal criticism by editing posts, or deleting them, when such negativity slips through, deliberately or inadvertently?

Maybe when such problems arise the aggrieved party should use the reporting button (“other”) instead of reacting in public to allow the moderator to email some advice?

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To clarify and put your mind at rest, Duncan, I can confirm I was commenting on (and lamenting about) the dismissive attitudes than many encounter in forums in general. It was not aimed at you. As Derek notes, when there’s an issue we tend to address it directly in here; beating about any bush is hardly the preferred style.

For instance, when you say “I realize the political dogma nowadays hates Engineering and loves cooking” I disagree profoundly and would invite you to submit any evidence whatsoever that would substantiate such a claim. I’ve never encountered anyone in here who’s been even mildly averse to reading technical explanations.

Actually, thinking about that a little more, I believe there is a cultural and social resistance to people having their English corrected which doesn’t seem to have a mirror in technical or scientific corrections.

Does that include colonic or semi-colonic irrigation or just a way to avoid a syn-tax.?

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As part of my continuing interest in finding ways of making PC’s easier to use for “entry level” users, I am now trying out Endless OS.

Endless OS is a very interesting version of Linux, it is certainly not just “Yet Another Linux Distro”.

In terms of its look and feel, it is much more like Android or Chrome OS or Cloud Ready than a typical Windows or Linux system. That said, it also provides easy access to many “proper” apps, e.g. LibreOffice. In many ways its overall approach seems to be quite close to Apple’s operating systems. However, I don’t have much actual usage experience of those, so I wouldn’t like to say for sure.

In common with Android, Chrome OS and Cloud Ready, the Endless OS is maintained and updated regularly (and automatically) by its publisher, Endless. So that removes this chore from users, but relies on trusting Endless to do a good enough job. Endless also comes pre-configured to use internet services like Facebook, YouTube, Gmail, WhatsApp (etc.) so it would be a good choice for those who like to use such services. [At the other end of the Linux scale, anyone who wants to exercise complete “control freakery” over their PC should probably seek out one of the FSF approved 100% open source GNU/Linux versions, e.g. Hyperbola, PureOS or Trisquel, to name but three.]

Installation was easily carried out onto one of my test laptops, an old HP dv6000. Making the bootable installation media needed for that was straightforward on one of my other Linux PC’s, but not exactly a beginner task. I had to read, follow and trust the instructions on the Endless website, but they did work perfectly. Endless themselves actually sell a range of mini desktop PC’s that come pre-loaded with their OS, but I don’t know if these are sold in the UK.

Overall, Endless OS looks like an interesting compromise between the simplicity and ease of use of Chrome OS and the excessive power and complexity of any full functional PC operating system.

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Duncan – thanks. I read those reviews too before going to the effort of downloading and installing Endloss OS. Aside of the reviews that were obvious adverts for it, I thought most of the other reviews were fair and honest.

As regards speed, it is actually OK on my ~10 year old (ex-Vista) AMD Turion 64×2 HP. Whilst I would expect the likes of Puppy or antiX to be noticeably faster on such machines, that would only be achieved at the expense of extreme nerdiness, so I think that’s a good trade-off here.

When you get to ~15 year old PC’s, speed really does begin to matter, especially with single core CPU’s. My oldest working machine is now a VAIO PGC-7G1M and that actually works fine with the 32-bit version of MX. My Presario 2100 has finally been passed to a new owner, so she can play Tweenies videos and some nice Pepper Pig games on it.

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I noticed Manjaro was now at No. 1 on Distrowatch, with MX at No. 2 and Mint at No. 3.

I’m surprised that both of those are scoring higher than Mint, which is very good overall. I still prefer MX, because it boots faster on old machines.

I also noticed that those Distrowatch scores need to be taken with a pinch of salt – e.g. both antiX and ReactOS score about the same. From bitter experience I know that ReactOS is useless if you actually need a working OS, whereas antiX is fully functional, very minimal and very fast, but a bit lacking in creature comforts.

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Thanks Duncan.

I think pretty much everything you say about Manjaro also holds good for MX, antiX and LMDE, as those are Debian based.

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I suppose hacking into an occupied hot tub and surprising the users could be some form of juvenile fun, but how would the perpetrators be aware of the results of their interference? Turning up the hot water jets or emptying the tank might be amusing if you were present to witness it but otherwise I don’t see it having much mileage. Or have I missed something?

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Sorry, I must have missed the Which? review of smart IoT hot tubs….

I believe it’s all part of a new scam. The hack sends details of the water cleanliness, the numbers using the tub and their proximity to each other to a third party, who then threatens to release details to your social circles. Imagine the shame when the vicar learns the organist was sharing your hot tub, or when Mrs Prendergast-Huffley discovers you’re not quite as sterile-clean as she thought. And as for sharing the tub with your poodle…

We had Mrs Baddely-Warne and the Rector round for Fireworks and Therapy in our hot tub on New Year’s Eve. Now one of our loofahs is missing.

But the fireworks were…good?

… sounds like another pressing 1st world problem.

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There doesn’t see to be a reliable and trustworthy equivalent for the Mac, sadly. And by its very nature it’s going to make calls out, which is something about which I’ve learnt to be wary.

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I’m also wary about having to run anything as root…

PS – Good to hear some Russian speakers are monitoring Which? (But don’t all their best spies speak best Oxbridge English, like wot I do?)

This could be very useful for those of us currently pondering how to make our sites HTTPs:

https://www.theregister.co.uk/2019/01/09/certs_resh_security/

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@katebevan or anyone else……….

I want about a 10″ notebook, laptop or tablet, something that will fit into a bag.

I am not looking for cheap but….., it is not going to be used that much, so I can’t justify spending silly money on it, but there is no point in getting too low a spec if I end up swearing at it.

What do I want it to do:
Internet browsing.
Read and display word and excel docs. Editing would be a bonus, could be other software like Libreoffice.
Image editing.
Easy to use keyboard.
Photo editing and display
Not to bothered about syncing.
Skype a bonus.
Camera a bonus.

Any suggestions? Or what should I be looking out for/avoiding?

Hi all,

From where I’m sitting, £800 plus “small and dinky” spells “MacBook 12in”.

Currently I have two small PC’s that I carry round with me when doing my computer buddy work – and I was recently advising a family member about buying a new “up to £600″ laptop.

For web browsing and other very simple tasks, including posting here, my 11” Acer Chromebook CB3-131 wins hands down – and it only cost me £60 second hand. That machine only has 2GB ram and a 16GB internal hard disc. It’s lightweight (1150g) and feels very robust for a cheap machine.

Windows 10 is much more resource hungry and needs at least 4GB ram and 64GB internal disc.

Those parameters are met by my Linx 12×64 tablet/convertible. It also has a full 1920x1080p HD screen instead of the old fashioned “HD-ready” 1366×768. The Linx is about 150g heavier than the Chromebook and is less well balanced too, because almost of of its mass is in its screen. It also seems to have a shorter battery life. Still, it’s not too shabby for a PC that was only £80 secondhand.

For me, the Linx feels far less robust than the Acer and its flexi bendy clip on keyboard is not really any better than a cheap accessory bluetooth one. So I wouldn’t recommend one of those – or anything vaguely similar to alfa.

For alpha’s need to edit photos and view office docs, I’d also recommend sticking with Windows or Mac and using a genuine version of Word, if at all possible. I’m currently using LibreOffice and/or Office 2003 to avoid having to fork out for a modern version of Office, but doing that I have to work around some compatibility limitations.

As currently stocked by John Lewis, the Lenovo YOGA 330 81A60009UK Convertible Laptop, Intel Celeron N4000, 4GB, 128GB eMMC, 11.6”, Mineral Grey might be worth considering.

A lower cost option from Argos would be the ASUS VivoBook E203 11.6 Inch Celeron 4GB 64GB Laptop.

For a lot more money, both of those places also offer the Samsung Galaxy Book, Intel Core m3, 4GB RAM, 64GB eMMC, 10.6″ but can any small “home use” laptop really be worth £650?

PS – for what I hope are obvious reasons, I have included any offerings from a certain retailer here.

PS PS – that last sentence should have said “haven’t” not “have”.

It’s worth thinking of future needs when buying computers. When I bought a laptop I chose a MacBook Pro with 16GB RAM, an I7 processor and an SSD. I’m still very happy with the performance five years later.

Apple sell refurbs – mostly returned DOAs and good as new.

wavechange said “I chose a MacBook Pro with 16GB RAM, an I7 processor and an SSD. I’m still very happy with the performance five years later”.

I’m not surprised by that. But exactly how much computational biochemistry are you using that machine for now? Or do you just like to have an enterprise class machine for W?C ?

Kate – alpha wasn’t very specific about the nature of her “photo editing” needs on an “infrequent use” PC.

I know at least one keen amateur DSLR user who is still satisfied with running an XP era version of Adobe Photoshop in 2GB ram under XP, but I expect he should aim for at least 8GB if/when he upgrades to Windows 10. (My experience with the bloatware that is Windows 10 is that it needs at least 2GB just to run Windows 10, never mind any apps.)

In effect, the PC and software in this example are contemporary and compatible with the DSLR but their user does recognise a new DSLR wouldn’t be supported by XP, so he might eventually be forced to upgrade for that reason or for the eventual demise of support for security software and web browser support to XP.

He’s also still using that XP box as his main home computer and, so far as is known, has not suffered any adverse security impacts from still surfing with XP.

Some of us use an 8-core Mac Pro desktop for W?Cs but, to be fair, also use it for editing and rendering 4K video – a lot. Nice machine, though: supports 3x5K displays, graphics that fly, 2x1TB SSDs plus 4 x 4TB HDs.

Most photo editing will be done on my desktop PC but it would be useful to do basic editing like resizing or selecting an area to save and attach to an email.

I still have an XP PC that hasn’t been turned on for a while that has Adobe Photoshop. Although I have a newer free editing software like Gimp & Inkscape, I mostly use Jasc Paint Shop Pro 7 that came free with a computer mag nearly 18 years ago !!!! Newer software doesn’t seem to be have improved that much.

One thing I find very useful and will definitely miss in the future is MS Paint and I must use it several times a week for a quick diagram or image manipulation. Not sure what would replace it.

Derek – I take your point but I do believe that it’s always worth buying a better spec computer than needed at the time of purchase – especially with laptops, which might not be easily upgraded.

Alfa – Can you go on using your familiar image editing software on a new PC or would it not be capable of running under a modern operating system? I have gradually had to move to running some of my favourite software from the laptop to a desktop computer running an older operating system.

Sounds nice, but I bet that cost much more than the £60 I paid for this used Chromebook.

My pair of ten year old quad core desktops are currently working flat out running some intensive Monte Carlo simulations for me. Each set of calculations is taking about 3 or 4 days to run, so the noisier machine of the two has been confined to the utility room for the duration of this exercise. Still, at least they’re also keeping the house nice and warm.

In my experience, most “legacy” Windows software does actually run on Windows 10, as it did on Windows 7 and XP.

I suspect many believe it doesn’t because CPCW sales folk tell them that as part of the great up-sell.

Windows 10 also seems to come with “Paint 3D” which seem to also include some 2D paint capabilities.

It might still work although some featues like scan and help don’t appear to work.
https://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/forum/all/is-jasc-paint-shop-pro-version-7-compatible-with/0e282238-5d86-4e20-bb71-6929caa86417?page=3
I don’t think anyone in the thread tried compatibility mode.

When Windows 7 came out, Microsoft listed a load of old software that was compatible, but I have only found a user created Windows 10 Games Compatibility List:
https://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/insider/forum/all/windows-10-games-compatibility-list/a31335a8-730f-4ac9-8c19-7c8c3a664ced

I offer a non-tech reply from experience rather than inside knowledge. My brother wanted a new lap top and bought an inexpensive one at just under £300. He now regrets this because he waits for things to happen longer than he would like. Tablets don’t usually have keyboards and I wouldn’t want to do any serious typing on a screen keyboard. It might be possible to attach one to a tablet, but that is extra to carry round. You need to have a lap top or notebook which is big enough to have a decent sized keyboard that is comfortable to type on and feels positive to use. Image editing will be the thing that takes most computing power, the rest of the things on your list are less demanding. I have two lap-tops, both quite expensive. one has a solid state drive the other a rotating disc drive. The solid state one is pretty much instant in everything I ask of it, I wait around for the disc drive to work and it slows the rest of a relatively high-spec system down considerably. You might want to check how many ports (and what they are) the laptop/notebook has, since you might wish to plug things into it, like a c.d. drive, camera and a back up external hard drive, a printer or a bigger monitor for home use. The i5 chip used on many machines is a good average performer in the i3 – i7 range and newer chips are arriving. Apple Mac versions have their own chips but their machines are usually a lot more money for the same spec. For that, you get a different operating system and good build quality. I prefer the Windows based machines, but others are ardent Apple fans. Which has tested many lap tops and notebooks, some of which convert into tablets. They can provide information on battery run times between charging. Screen size dictates keyboard size and layout. Adding a monitor makes photograph editing easier, but this has to be done at home. Smaller machines fit in bags better, larger ones are easier to work on and to see the display.
I would suggest a two prong approach. A wander round a computer store poking prodding and looking at what’s on display. This gives an idea of what’s available, and what it looks and feels like. If you go armed with a few figures, gained from research (Which and a couple of computing magazines from the High Street) you can compare your ideal spec with what’s on offer and the kind of prices being charged. When you have found a couple of likely contenders you can either buy in store or on-line. My guess is that you will find an ideal computer for around £500 to £600. It will be big enough and it will have a solid state drive and a good memory capacity of around 250gb. Disk drives have much more memory, but access it differently and are slower in doing so.

I have a Lenovo laptop which has proved reliable. They have a wide range of products. H.P. Acer, Asus all advertise machines at different price points.

“Apple Mac versions have their own chips but their machines are usually a lot more money for the same spec”

Not necessarily, Vynor. What you get with an Apple laptop is a host of extremely useful programs, including iMovie and a lot of apps to make day-to-day working that much easier. Pound for Pound they’re about the same as top of the range windows machines.

If you buy direct from Apple you are likely to receive very good support too, because you will be dealing with the company and not a retailer.

Thanks Vynor. As we haven’t bought new computers for a while, that is an excellent reminder of things to consider when buying.

I agree with an SSD. I put one in my desktop and it made a big difference.

Looking at Apple, I think the minimum I would be happy with is the 10.5-in. iPad Pro 256GB at £769, maybe more than I was thinking of spending but we shall see. How much space does the operating system need Ian?

I started typing this a couple of hours ago and have been on the phone to my dad who keeps having trouble with his Win10. It is not easy providing remote support for Win10 when I don’t have Win10 myself made doubly difficult when my dad is reading the screen with a magnifying glass. He has lost his wi-fi a couple of times and I have talked him through getting back online, but this time it doesn’t want to connect. He found a ‘Connect in 1 hour’ so we shall see after lunch !!!
Maybe it is time to bite the bullet and go for Win10.

A trip to that place that only sells upgraded machines will probably be the first step.

And I have just Kate’s suggestions so will check them out also, thanks for those.

alfa – with read to your father’s problems reading Windows 10, I find that W10 uses terribly tiny type faces by default.

On my 12″ W10 tablet, I’ve used the “Ease of Access… Make Everything Bigger option to scale up text by 150% and it will also go up to at least 175%.

I also use the “Make everything brighter” option there too.

An an alleged “computer expert”, I still find Windows 10 very annoying and I think most home users would be better on on almost any other OS. (Please note here, an “ex” is a has-been and a “spert” is a drip under pressure.)

I do also agree with Ian here. Anyone with about £800 to spend should just get a Mac and learn their way around its “different” keyboard. If you like W7, you’ll probably like MacOS far more than W10 – and moving to either option requires a transitional learning curve.

About 7-8Gb, Alfa.

The connect in 1 hour didn’t work so will have a few hours of patience tomorrow. You would not believe how long it takes to identify the teamviewer icon on his taskbar.🙄

W10’s taskbar is fairly slim and so the icons thereon are a bit small and weedy.

I don’t know if it easy to make the W10 task bar taller and the icons bigger, but doing exactly that is quite easy with the Xfce desktop on MX Linux, when I setup its look and feel for anyone who would benefit from bigger icons.

I recently returned a very nice but ageing XP era Sony Vaio to its original owner, after upgrading it from “no longer safe to use” XP to MX Linux. If she actually gets round to using it, it will be interesting to hear how she gets on with it.

But for a really interesting take on putting the full power of a Linux PC behind something almost as simple as an Android desktop, I recently discovered the Endless OS version of Linux. Although I think it is doomed to be “just right” for non-tech savvy PC users, most of those won’t get the chance to ever use it, unless they are lucky enough to have someone else install it on a PC for them.

A quick search found instructions to increase the size of the taskbar and to increase the size of the icons in Windows 10, but I don’t know if they work.

If I get back on his PC I will see if I can make the icons larger. I have an image copy of his desktop so can talk him through them. Part of the problem is the screen size being too small for him and partly his specs.

I haven’t yet delved into other operating systems. I tend to do as wavechange and buy PCs better than needed so they do last a long time. Unfortunately, broken parts no longer available or viable to repair end their lives so I don’t have an old machine to play with.

It seems to me that Windows 10 doesn’t seem to cater for users who need large task bar icons:

microsoft.com/en-us/windows/forum/windows_10-desktop/windows-10-how-to-make-task-bar-icons-larger/aa13cdbd-bb67-467e-b19d-d3e504d38dbe?page=5

It is easy to make the desktop icons bigger and to increase the task bar height, but allowing bigger task bar icons seems to be too difficult for Microsoft to manage.

My dad is back online. Ease of access enlarged everything not just the task bar icons, he didn’t like it, so it’s back to the magnifying glass !!!

I don’t know why, but your link doesn’t work Derek, but it should without the page=5
https://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/forum/windows_10-desktop/windows-10-how-to-make-task-bar-icons-larger/aa13cdbd-bb67-467e-b19d-d3e504d38dbe

Hi All,

I thought I should share the information that free upgrades to Windows 10 are still possible.

This year old YouTube video provides more details:

youtube.com/watch?v=-Xb6eMGhrVw

In the last few days I have verified that valid Windows 7 licence keys can be used to activate new Windows 10 installations. (I expect Windows 8 keys would also work.)

I also discovered that installing Windows 10 alongside a existing Windows installation can give the option to boot into either OS. (So I now have a test box that will boot either Vista or Windows 10.)

Currently, on 14th January 2020, Microsoft is planning to terminate free software support to consumer copies of Windows 7, so home Windows 7 users should not expect to receive any security updates after that date.

Moving to Windows 10 is likely to be the best option for many Windows users. Other options are available, including, of course, upgrades to replace Windows with Linux.

Help……….
I am trying to create a greetings card using MS Publisher 2013, Windows 7, old printer HP C6180.

Sheet of paper is A4 selected booklet
Front of card is fairly simple with picture in the middle, writing above and below.

Problem is when I go to print, the A5 size card front expands so the top and bottom get cut off and the width spills over onto what is the back of the card.

I have fiddled around with the settings but still no joy. Current settings are:

Publisher Printer Settings
Print pages 1,4 (front and back of card)
Booklet, side-fold
Borderless A4 210x297mm
Print One Sided

PRINTER PROPERTIES
Advanced Settings Tab
Minimize margins – Off
Overspray – Automatic
Poster Printing – Disabled

Printing Shortcuts Tab
General Everyday Printing Can also have Photo Printing-borderless, Photo Printing with white borders, Two-sided (Duplex) printing, Presentation Printing, Fast/Economical Printing, Postcard Printing, Factory Defaults
Options with drop-down choices……..
Paper Source – Automatically Select also Main Tray
Paper Sizes – A4, 210x297mm
Paper Type – Automatic also Plain paper
Print Quality – Fast Draft
Orientation – Landscape also Portrait

Features Tab
Paper Type – Automatic can choose various types of paper
Paper Source – Automatically select
Print Quality – Fast Draft
Portrait
Resizing Options
Borderless A4, 210x297mm
Borderless (Ticked)
Print at actual size (selected)
Scale to printer size (not selected)

Any suggestions other than reinstalling Publisher or updating printer drivers? It must be the settings somewhere, maybe in the Publisher settings.

Hi alpha,

One extra process step that I’d recommend is to first print or export the editable document to a PDF file, which you can then print later, once it is free from formatting errors.

That way you can see if any picture formatting problems are down to your printer or your app of choice.

In my local library, I sometimes help folk to print simple cards in the format you described.

We do use Windows 7 there, but we don’t have Publisher, so we use Word instead.

In broad terms we follow the sort of approach described here:

goodtoknow.co.uk/family/how-to-make-your-own-birthday-cards-92603

and we also noted that, at least for Word, many websites (including Word’s template repository) seem to mate card templates freely available, e.g:

air-it.co.uk/2011/09/how-to-create-greetings-cards-in-microsoft-word-2010/

Irrespective of whether or not you use Word or Publisher, I expect that either app would be capable of meeting your needs here.

As a simple test, I’ve just produced a simple card with a full picture on its cover and printed text on its rear. As I was working on Linux, I used LibreOffice Writer to a simple two column landscape page, with the picture on the right hand column and the rear page text on the left hand column.

As an image control freak, I used LibreOffice Writer’s picture formatting controls to position the image to start at the the top left of the column and then sized/cropped the image to exactly fill the column. All margins and column borders were set to zero width.

This exported fine to PDF, but, from Linux, would not print with the graphic as a borderless image. To perfect that last step, I have to use proper Windows drivers for my Canon MP750, which I have on my legacy copy of XP.

Those drivers warned me against borderless printing to plain A4, but did allow it after I’d overridden that warning.

If your problem is “Problem is when I go to print, the A5 size card front expands so the top and bottom get cut off and the width spills over onto what is the back of the card.” my guess is that is more likely to be a problem in Publisher than with your printer. A quick test might be to check that, after making appropriate print settings, you can print borderless A4 graphics.

Hope that helps and have fun 🙂

Thanks Derek, will give that a go.

Well that nearly drove me barmy. 🤯

I tried saving the card as a PDF but the error remained.

I tried Word 2013 but couldn’t enter anything into column 2 and didn’t want to spend time learning how to do it today.

Unbelievably, the small logo I put on the back of the card was the culprit. It was so small and innocuous, it didn’t occur to me it could be the problem. Once it was removed, the front of the card returned to borderless, normal size.

Anyway, card now printed.

I’ve occasionally had a similar problem when using a drawing package, where a small object off the page has messed up printing or pdf creation. Selecting everything will find the offending item, which can then be deleted.

I’m having fun with an update of a file done in an old drawing package. When I create a pdf the text has vanished. All I did was resize the notice. I ran out of time and laminated the one that was slightly too small.

Good to hear that this did eventually get sorted.

In olden days, we just made physical paper masters, cutting with scissors and pasting with glue (ie “paste”) and then scanned or copied those masters.

Snazzy two column conference papers used pasted up masters, on template sheets posted to us by the conference organizers.

As I’m sure wave change already realises, once you have a suitable PDF file, any real programmer worth their salt can just edit that as required, using their text editor of choice, which better be either vi or emacs 😉

Recourse to tools such as Ghostscript or ImageMagick would be considered the last resort of a scoundrel….

I just use Acrobat Pro to make small changes in pdfs, and did one yesterday morning. It was quicker than finding and editing the original file.

When I started using pdfs it was a good way to prevent others from making changes but that changed a long time ago.

On a Mac Preview is now a very competent PDF editor…

Yes, in Mojave it’s a lot more than a pdf reader. I did have a play when I bought a new MacBook Pro last year. I’ve found a few YouTube videos that look useful, so thanks for the reminder, Ian.