As I mentioned in the first 'Free Stuff Friday' article; OpenOffice vs Microsoft Office, there is an excellent free alternative to Microsoft's pricey Outlook program.

From the people that bought you Firefox (also worth a look if you are still using Safari, Internet Explorer or Edge for a web browser), Mozilla also created Thunderbird, a mail client that is much better than the default mail clients that come with Windows or macOS. For most home users it is more than sufficient for reading, organising and writing e-mails. And until the latest versions of Outlook, it is much easier to set up. Upon installation, you simply need to enter your e-mail address and password and it will automatically configure your mail server settings for you, which can confuse a lot of people if they are unfamiliar with it.

You can find out more and download Mozilla Thunderbird for free from https://www.thunderbird.net/en-US/.

Here is another one for all you creative people out there (I will aim to do something non-art related next week I promise).

A lifetime license for Adobe Illustrator CS6 costs over $700. Again, I am sure if you are a professional graphic designer then you are going to want the advanced features and support that Adobe can provide but what are you to do if you only need to create or manipulate vector graphics on a more casual basis or as a hobbyist?

Don't let the fact that it is free make you think it is useless software. You can achieve incredible results if you take the time to learn how to use it properly.

InkScape may be the answer. As with Krita, the interface is designed with Adobe Illustrator users in mind and anyone who has ever used Illustrator will find a lot of the features instantly recognisable.

It may also be a good primer for beginners or students to get a feel for how vector art works before forking out the big bucks for commercial-grade software.

I have used it to manipulate vector images and create DXF files for use in CAD/CAM software and it works well for this. Converting digital images into physical objects using CNC machines (that is a story for another time).

InkScape is available for Windows, macOS and Linux. You can find out more about it and download it from https://inkscape.org.

Anyone who has ever had any involvement in digital art has heard of Photoshop. It is an industry-standard for digital creatives everywhere and most people don't give any alternatives a second thought, it is Photoshop or bust.

While I am not much of a digital artist myself, I have dabbled with it in the past and occasionally I will use Photoshop to touch-up photos or create a graphic for a website.

Recently, while trawling the internet I came across some free digital painting software that has been getting a lot of attention. Krita.

To be fair to Photoshop, Krita is aimed squarely at digital painting, so cartoonists, illustrators, and concept-artists, for example, should definitely check this out. Photoshop is probably still going to excel at photo and image manipulation.

Having used both Krita and Photoshop, I can say, and it is probably obvious from the screenshot above, the user interface and the way Krita works is very similar to Photoshop, so any Photoshop veterans out there will pick this up in no time.

For total beginners, there is tons of documentation on how to use it on their website and there are also a lot of tutorials on YouTube to get you started.

A few examples of digital art created using Krita from https://krita-artists.org

You can find out more and download Krita for free from https://krita.org.

If you are a Windows 7 user you may have been getting bombarded with a big, blue, intimidating warning announcing that your version of Windows is out of support (pictured below). Do not panic, this does not mean you need to rush out and buy a new computer.

Your Windows 7 PC is out of support. As of January 14, 2020 support for Windows 7 has come to an end. Your PC is more vulnerable to viruses and malware due to: No security updates, no software updates, no tech support.

This warning is not a hoax or a virus. All Windows operating systems eventually run out of support as it would be a huge task and a huge cost to a company to support all of its legacy systems.

But don't panic, your computer will not suddenly stop working one day, it will continue to work as normal but there are some things you should be aware of if you continue to use it past it's end-of-life (EOL) date.

These things are outlined in the warning itself.

This does not mean you need to buy a new computer...

As it was alluded to earlier, your computer will still work fine, it will not suddenly stop working one day. If you don't use your computer for anything sensitive. Maybe you watch a bit of YouTube, read your emails occasionally or play a little Minesweeper. In these cases, there probably isn't much point in spending money updating your operating system or computer right away, if at all.

As long as your PC is not ridiculously old and still does what you want it to do then nine times out of ten it is easy to purchase a license for Windows 10, these retail from $225 for the 'Home' edition of Windows 10. The license is basically a big long serial number that is entered when installing Windows 10 that will allow you to use it legally. Get in contact if you need help with this. I am able to acquire licenses and as the situation will vary from user to user, can provide guidance on what will be involved to get you up and running again.

In some cases, it might even be possible to use a legitimate Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 license key (the big long number mentioned before) to activate a copy of Windows 10, meaning it will cost you $0 to acquire a legitimate copy of Windows 10! These numbers are usually located on stickers on the side of your laptop or PC.

Before the proliferation of open-source software, there was not a lot you could achieve on a computer without spending money on software. Quite often the software that you could acquire for free was of poor quality, extremely limited, loaded with viruses and malware and was generally rubbish.

While professional users will want to stick with paid, premium, industry-standard software; Microsoft Office for business users, photographers with Adobe Photoshop & Lightroom, engineers with AutoDesk or SolidWorks as an example, which is fine. Many home or casual users cannot justify spending hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars to achieve what they want. For this reason, I am going to begin a series of articles on excellent and, more importantly, free alternatives to popular software.

OpenOffice as an alternative to Microsoft Office.

A single device license for Microsoft Office Home & Business costs upwards of $340 (at the time of writing) and while Office365 subscriptions are quite a lot cheaper initially, you will be paying a monthly fee for the software indefinitely for as long as you wish to use it.

Anyone who has ever used a computer is probably familiar with Microsoft Office and it is a staple in any business setup. However, it is not always absolutely necessary for small-business and home users to spend big dollars, you can fulfill most of your word processing, spreadsheet, and graphing needs by using OpenOffice.

OpenOffice was released back in 2001 and is still regularly updated and supported to this day. It contains a suite of programs which includes word processing, spreadsheet, and slideshow presentation software among others.

Documents and spreadsheets created in OpenOffice can be opened and edited inside Microsoft Word and Excel. Inversely, any documents or spreadsheets created in Microsoft's suite of software, in most cases, can be opened in OpenOffice.

Admittedly, some of the more advanced capabilities of Microsoft Office do not feature in OpenOffice but 90% of users won't even notice nor require them anyway.

OpenOffice does not include an e-mail alternative to Microsoft Outlook either, but that will be covered in another article.

You can find out more and download OpenOffice from www.openoffice.org.

There is also a similar open-source project called LibreOffice which aims to achieve the same thing. You can find out more about LibreOffice here at www.libreoffice.org.

It is a simple question, but one that a lot of computer users neglect to consider; what would the consequences of a hard drive failure in your PC actually be?

Have you made copies of those photographs from your last overseas trip, new born baby, wedding photos? If you haven't and your hard drive just failed, there is a very good chance that they are gone forever. If you run a business, you may have lost valuable business records, e-mails and other correspondence. The downtime associated with a failed hard drive may also affect your ability to do any business at all.

Whether it is the loss of personal or business data, recovering a computer from a hard drive failure that has not been adequately backed up takes much longer than it would if it was; and is consequently more expensive.

All Computer Hard Drives Will Fail. Eventually.

The majority of hard drives installed in laptops and desktop computers are mechanical. Meaning they have moving parts. Specifically, one or more spinning disks, called platters, that are read and written to using a magnetic head that is only separated from the platter by fractions of a millimeter, in fact the distance between the head and the platters is less than that of the diameter of a human hair. Any shock or impact to the hard drive can cause the head to "crash" into the platter and 99 times out of 100 renders the hard drive completely useless. Sometimes data recovery is possible but it is time consuming, expensive and not guaranteed to work. Even without physical damage a mechanical hard drive will fail eventually, as anything mechanical does, through wear and tear. Statistically, conventional hard drives have an average life span of five years.

Recent generations of computers come with what are known as solid state drives (SSD). They differ from conventional hard drives in that they contain no moving parts at all, you could think of them as giant USB thumb drives. They are able to read and write data many times faster than conventional hard drives can and aren't prone to issues from impacts. They do however still have a life expectancy as they can only be read and written to so many times before they too, fail. A very loose analogy for this would be to imagine writing on a sheet of paper with a pencil and then erasing it and repeating this over and over, eventually you will rub a hole in the paper.

Simply put, hard drive failure is inevitable. If you only have one copy of any important file then make sure you are prepared to lose it.

Hard drive failure is not the only cause of data loss. Corruption of files used by your operating system (ie Windows or macOS/OSX) or computer viruses and ransomware may also cause you to lose data.

But enough scary talk, I am sure the point is clear now. So, what can be done about it?

You need to make complete and comprehensive copies of all of your important files regularly, but this can be a total pain if you do not have a proper back up regime in place. Manually copying photos or documents to your USB stick usually won't cut it, as the routine is soon forgotten after a few weeks. The use of cloud-based services such as Microsoft's OneDrive, Dropbox or Google Drive can help but again these services are not designed for full system back ups. Automated back ups can be set up to copy data to external hard drives but often leave out important system files that are required to make your computer operate correctly when migrating to a new hard drive.

If you want to take steps to protect your data properly, contact WizzIT for advice. WizzIT can get you on track with the right hardware and software whether for personal use at home or a network of multiple computers at your workplace. There are scaleable back up solutions for large and small amounts of data from single or multiple PCs.

If you would like advice on what back up methods might be best for your situation then fill out and submit the form below and WizzIT will get back to you with information specific to your needs. Otherwise you can contact Ben directly, details can be found on the contact page.

Phishing emails flow into inboxes year-round, especially during the holidays. Here are some clues to help your users spot "fishy" emails.

Source: 10 tips for spotting a phishing email - TechRepublic

Windows 7

Windows 8.1

So what is the difference between these various editions? You can find out more on the Microsoft blog post about it.

Download a PDF copy of the newsletter sent to WizzIT clients in June 2015 from here: WizzIT - June Newsletter 15

Originally published by Steven Novella on Neurologica Blog.

I remain endlessly fascinated with the incredible social experiment we have all been living through over the last decade (and I can say, if you are reading this, you are part of the experiment). The internet and social media have changed the way we access information and communicate. The traditional top-down systems of information and opinion dispersion are eroding, being replaced by a largely bottom-up free-for-all.

I think we’re still figuring out all the consequences of these changes, both intended and unintended. One effect that has been casually observed is that many people believe they have expertise they do not have because they have been able to do “research” online. The democratization of information has led to a false sense of democratization of expertise. (more…)

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