ABC Tower   ABC Nightlife 15 December 2006

Tips & Hints

Posted 2 January 2007

The last Nightlife for the year looked at Windows Vista, the successor to Windows XP. Our callers asked about wireless networking, Macs vs PC, data recovery and stopping teenagers accessing websites. We also mentioned the passing of Al Shugart, the inventor of the floppy and hard drives and Microsoft Window's 21st birthday.

Windows is by far the most popular computer operating  system and it turned 21 on November 20. Windows 1.0 had little effect in the market. Seven years later with, Windows 3.1, Microsoft released the product that guaranteed their computer dominance.

Fifteen years later, Microsoft is releasing the latest version of Windows. Naturally we'll be seeing a lot of marketing around this new product. Like all marketing, it needs to be treated carefully.

There's no doubt Windows Vista will add improvements and be a success, but like all new computer releases it's best to wait to allow the industry to get used to the new system. Being the first to buy a new system means being the first to deal with new problems and bugs.

Our advice is to wait at least six months before buying Vista. If you do, we'd suggest buying it as part of a new system and avoid upgrading an existing Windows XP system. Whatever you do, you should not update simply to overcome problems on your existing systems.

Mac or PC

Judith raised the old question of Mac or PC. The quick answer to this question is what do your friends, relatives and colleagues use? Using the same system as your peers saves a lot of problems and means you have quick IT support if you hit trouble.

While peer support is the main reason for choosing between the two, there are some significant differences between the two. The Mac is far more secure than Windows PCs, while Windows systems are generally cheaper than Macs. We look into the differences on this web page.

Wireless Networking

John asked about wireless networking. Wireless is touted as the technology to liberate your PC from wires, unfortunately we find they work 50% of the time. Factors such as concrete, sandstone and marble slabs and walls, mirrors, water, windows, neighbouring systems, cordless phones and microwave ovens can all interfere.

For working wireless networks security is important. Despite the propaganda, wireless networks can never be as secure as wired networks. It is possible to make it difficult for all but the most determined and skilled hackers to get onto your system.

The first step is to encrypt the signal. The older system is Wired Equivalent Privacy which will protect from the neighbour accidentally logging on, but offers little protection from amateur hackers. The newer system, Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) is far more secure, but requires a good long passkey.

The second line of defence is MAC address filtering. All network devices have their own unique MAC address, most wireless access points allow you to restrict access to only your devices. Your MAC address is either found written on the device or can be found in the device settings.

A third line of attack is to disable name broadcasting. This means the device may not show up on the neighbour's list of available wireless networks. The downside with this is that it breaks the wireless networking standards and some equipment won't work properly.

There are a number of other advanced tactics, such as Virtual Private Networking and disabling DHCP. Using these can secure your network effectively, but take time and add complexity. Again it's not a good idea to do any of these things unless you know what you are doing.

Recovering lost profiles

In Windows, most user's data is saved within a profile; address books, bookmarks, documents, photos, music and emails all reside in that profile. Delete it and all the data is gone. Bob had done exactly that.

The most important thing with recovering data is to act quickly. Windows computers don't actually delete data, they just mark the space the data occupies as being available to be written over. This means data you think is deleted may remain on the computer indefinitely.

In Bob's case, this was three months ago so his chances are slim to say the least. But there are tools to recover data. A free one we like is Restoration, paid for ones include the Australian Recover My Files from

Restricting Website Access

Michael called in about his daughter circumventing his PC-Cillin firewall by using USA Tunnel. This site is used to get around website restrictions and is very popular with teenagers. We strongly recommend avoiding this site due to the spyware driven adverts, this is another reason why we recommend only giving kids restricted profiles.

Trend Micro have instructions on their website how to block this site and others. If you aren't using PC-Cillin, you can block sites using the hosts file. This requires a little PC knowledge and you should be sure of what you are doing, if you don't then call a tech. 

As usual our apologies to the many callers who couldn't get through. The next Nightlife computer spot will be at 10pm January 26 and we'll be looking at Broadband Internet survey. If you"d like to be kept up-to-date with our schedule then subscribe to our newsletter
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ŠTechnology Publishing Australia, 2007