2014


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t h i s    o s
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procedures                 

h o m e   p a g e s
computing for nothing?     
recommended sites         
prognostications           
contact me                
d o n a t i o n s
My hope is that everyone who reads this site saves some money and gets a more reliable computer from the advice on it.

If you feel this site is worthwhile a donation will help cover some of the expenses.

Email and Paypal information is available in the 'contact me' link above.
s o u r c e
I don't normally keep copies of programs on this site - instead there are links to the download pages of the copyright owners. This means you always download an up-to-date version of the program. While I don't have any use for continual updating (change = trouble) it seems reasonable to start a new install with an up-to-date version.

The exception to this rule is if I can't find the original author's site.
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F R E E    P R O G R A M S


s e c u r i t y    &    m a i n t e n a n c e
For a computer to be secure it must also be well-maintained. Checkout the 'procedures' section of this site to see how to maintain and repair an installation of WindowsXP. The only cost involved is a little time every couple of months.

Security:
If you're going to connect a computer to the internet there are four forms of security you must have:
   o   Firewall - controls the flow of data in and out of your computer,
   o   Anti-virus - examines data for virii as it arrives on your hard drive,
   o   Anti-malware - used to identify and remove unwanted programs and popups (malware),
   o   Anti-spyware - used to identify and remove programs which report on your activity (spyware).

In practise there's a lot of overlap in the four definitions above. Virii can be both a virus and spyware. Likewise the functionality of the programs to defeat these threats overlaps considerably so you may not need them all - judgement call.

Maintenance:
This is a matter of checking your computer for:
   o   The accuracy of the operating environment,
   o   Unwanted programs loaded and stealing resources,
   o   Unwanted drivers
   o   A healthy filesystem

Most of this can be done with tools already in WindowsXP but the addition of a Registry Checking program is essential and an Advanced Task Manager is useful.

Below is a list of my current choice of programs for these tasks:

    F i r e w a l l
Description - Controls network traffic to and from your computer and protects from net-bourne attacks.
Recommended - Privatefirewall.
Comment - This is better than the Windows firewall but it needs to be properly setup on installation. Its possible to set this up without needing to read instructions so that part is good. The interface is simple and easy to use but it does do the job. It also includes a process version checker which you can can turn off if its too much of a nuisance.
Usage - Should be started when the system starts and then run continuously. Do not allow auto-update.
Download - here

    A n t i - v i r u s
Description - Prevents virus-laden programs being installed on your computer.
Recommended - Avast Free Antivirus
Comment - Now on version 5, I've been using this for five years and only recently had my first problem with it. Look at the 'Procedures' page to see how to set it up.
Usage - Should be started when the system starts and then run continuously. Always allow auto-update but turn on the 'delay after start' feature.
Download - here

    A n t i - m a l w a r e
Description - Can remove malware programs and pop-ups from your computer.
Recommended - Malwarebytes' Anti-malware.
Comment - I had to use this recently on my own computer. It works well.
Usage - Run only when in difficulty with unwanted popups, an uncontrollable internet browser or very slow computer. Boot the computer in 'safe' mode and run a manual update on the program before use.
Download - here

    A n t i - s p y w a r e
Description - Can remove spyware and logging cookies from your computer.
Recommended - Lavasoft Ad-Aware
Comment - I've used this on several friends computers. It works well, they're still friends.
Usage - You'll need to run a scan regularly if you setup your browser to accept all cookies. Run a manual update before use. This can be dispensed with if you set your browser to refuse all cookies except from websites you approve. Accepted cookies should be on a 'per session' basis only. Its a good idea to set your browser to delete all cookies when you close it.
Download - here

    R e g i s t r y     C h e c k e r
Description - Can examine the WindowsXP registry and remove problematic statements.
Recommended - Eusing Free Registry Cleaner.
Comment - This is a recent aquisition for me, but it seems to be working well.
Update1:    It turned out this was a renamed and updated version of the program I had been using for the last four years. Ah well...
Usage - Run a scan once a month and always after uninstalling a program. Run a manual update before use.
Download - here

    H a r d    D r i v e    F a u l t    P r e d i c t i o n
Description - Can read the SMART performance log information stored on your hard drive.
Recommended - Hard Disk Sentinel
Comment - This is definitely a recent aquisition and it does a lot more than I use it for.
Update1:    I've now had it for 3 months and its working well - recommended.
Update2:    Now I'm getting occasional nag screens when I start it. Prepared to live with it so far.
Usage - Take a look once a month - it only takes a second or so. It gives an idea of how well your hard drive is working, also whether its likely to go belly-up in the near future. Close it with the File->Exit sequence, otherwise it stays loaded.
Download - here

    A d v a n c e d    T a s k    M a n a g e r
Description - Displays information about programs and processes running on your computer. A good one will allow you to control the programs which start with WindowsXP.
Recommended - Anvir Task Manager Free
Comment - Another recent aquisition. I'm quite impressed with it. There is a small nag message in the program header.
Update1:    Well impressed. Don't know how I managed before.
Usage - Deselect all the extras on installation, it does try to take over your computer. Run regularly to see if any programs are using a high proportion of your processor cycles or if there are any strange progrrams in startup. You can use WindowsXP Task Manager for this but its hard work.
Download - here

    B a c k u p    C o p i e s
Description - Makes copies of your files for safe-keeping.
Recommended - ViceVersa Free
Comment - I've been using ViceVersa for a couple of years now. It does the job very well.
Strictly speaking its not a backup program in the generally accepted sense, its a synchronisation program. It makes an exact copy of the folders you select, comparing them with the previous backup and copying only the changes. Its best used for copying complete folders or drives. So you have a data drive you work with and a backup drive which is regularly synchronised when you choose. If you do lose a file there's no messing about 'retrieving' files, you just copy it from the backup drive.
Usage - Run regularly.
Download - here

    ' A c c e s s    D e n i e d '    U n l o c k e r
Description - Releases files which have been locked-up by Windows.
Recommended - Unlocker
Comment - A tiny program which takes up residence in your context menu. When you get an 'Access Denied' error, right click on the file and select 'Unlocker' from the displayed context menu. Voila - no more problem. Worth its weight in gold for WinXP.
update: Now has an aggressive download page demanding money for a freeware program (full screen popunders etc).
Usage - As required.
Download - here

    C D / D V D    B u r n e r
Description - Burns CDs and DVDs.
Recommended - DeepBurner Free
Comment - A small program which is simple to use and does its job well. Can burn a collection of files or an ISO onto CD/DVD.
Usage - As required.
Download - here
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o f f i c e
These days office programs tend to come in small collections. Typically you get:
   o   Word processor - for mainly linear text-based documents,
   o   Spreadsheet - for sequential connected calculations,
   o   Database - for collections of related data,
   o   Presentation - used to produce mainly text-based slide shows.

In addition there may be one or more of a number of other programs including:
   o   Graphics - a simple drawing program,
   o   Flowchart - a program to lay out process flow diagrams,
   o   Database - for collections of related data,
   o   eMail - a program used to access pop-based email services,
   o   Organiser - appointment and contact related database program.

Other useful office-type small programs are included with WindowsXP eg; a character mapper, a calculator and a jotter. In fact you could add any number of programs as being useful in an office environment.

    O f f i c e    S u i t e
Description - A collection of programs for office-type tasks.
Recommended - OpenOffice.org
Comment - OpenOffice.org is a collection of five programs:
   o   Writer - the word processor,
   o   Calc - the spreadsheet,
   o   Impress - the presentation/slideshow product,
   o   Draw - the graphics program,
   o   Base - the database.

Its written by Sun Microsystems and a huge array of other contributors, so its not exactly a fly-by-night operation. Its easy to use and as capable as 98% of users will ever need. It can read MS Office formats and can be set to default to them if required.
Although I'm talking about the Windows version here you can find exactly the same software in most major Linux distributions (not Puppy).
Usage - Use as required. Do not allow auto-update.
Download - here

    D e s k t o p    P u b l i s h e r
Description - A page layout program.
Recommended - Serif PagePlus
Comment - This is a new aquisition for me. Its a desktop publishing program which works well and has everything required to produce professional results. You need to register with the publisher to enable the program after installation but the email address I used for that remains spam-free.
Update1:    Getting a little spam now - three emails in a month from Serif.
Update2:    After 3 months the spam is now up to an email every couple of days.
Usage - Use as required. Do not allow auto-update.
Download - here

    F o n t    M a n a g e r
Description - A program to help you choose and manage fonts.
Recommended - The Font Thing
Comment - Over a career of many years of technical writing I've acquired fonts like a dog acquires fleas. There are 850 installed on my main computer. Some sort of manager was badly needed.
    The Font Thing displays fonts by type (serif, sans, mono, deco etc) and displays samples which help you to choose the right font for the job. You can look at folders full of uninstalled fonts and install the fonts you want. You can look at the list of installed fonts and remove fonts no longer required. First class.
Usage - Use as required.
Download - here

    F o n t s
Description - Source of free fonts.
Recommended - Urban Fonts
Comment - This is not a program, its a website. Its a good source of interesting fonts, some of which are well known. The site has an excellent mouseover feature which displays more characters, though not its numerals.
Usage - Use as required.
Download - at www.urbanfonts.com
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t e l e p h o n e
These are the programs your telecoms company is fighting to convince you not to use. The technology is called Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP). Simply put, its the transmission of a conversation without the use of a telephone. Since 'landline' telephones have always been a major ripoff money spinner the telecoms companies are fighting a desperate rearguard action to keep them in use.

Free VOIP programs do the same job as a landline telephone plus much more:
   o   voice phone
   o   video phone
   o   instant messaging
   o   sms messaging to mobile phones
   o   chatlines
   o   conference calls
   o   voicemail
   o   contact list
   o   call logfile
   o   free calls to another VOIP anywhere in the world
   o   cheap calls to landline phones
   o   cheap(ish) calls to mobile phones
   o   hifi sound quality when calling VOIP to VOIP
   o   hands-free calls

When I first started using VOIP programs I found I could call a friend a mile away for a quarter of the price my telco was charging and the sound quality was a revelation. That's on a call routed via the USA (I live in the United Kingdom).

They are so good there have been rumours that the telcos (who also supply broadband connections) are going to interrupt or delay internet packets generated by VOIP programs. I've seen no evidence of this yet.

To use a VOIP program you'll need to add a microphone and loudspeakers to your computer, although you may find a headset is easier to use. A webcam is optional. If you want to call landlines and mobiles you'll need to create a prepay account with the VOIP program company and load in a few pounds.

    V O I P
Description - Does everything listed above.
Recommended - Skype
Comment - NO LONGER RECOMMENDED

In December 2010 Skype started a regime of hidden and compulsory updates. I didn't spot this until May of 2011 when I started Skype and it immediately started downloading code. The only way I could stop it was by killing the download process in task manager. This is the sort of behaviour I expect from a program taken over by a piece of malware, hence the panic. So for five months Skype had been downloading and modifying code on my computer without my knowledge. When I complained about it on the Skype forum my access to the forum was cut off after three posts.

      http://forum.skype.com/index.php?showtopic=817691

Sorry it took so long to spot this, I'm urgently trying to find a replacement.

Usage - Use as required. Do not allow it to auto-update. Skype is available for some smartphones.
Download - here
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e m a i l
Backgrounder - email comes in two flavours:
   o   web-based,
   o   internet-based.

Web-based email requires starting an account with Hotmail, Yahoo, Google etc. and logging on to a page on the Web to access your mail. I have used this form of email but never been keen on it for obvious security reasons. Your emails are retained on the internet server of the email company. If files aren't on your own computer they are at the mercy of someone else's security. A recent occasion when my Yahoo account was hacked caused me to shut it down for good. Not recommended.

Failing that you need to start an account with an internet service provider. Your broadband subscription will almost certainly include an email service but that can bring its own complications. If you change broadband supplier your email address and account go down the tubes.

The best option is to have an independant email account. Buying a website and address gives you this automatically, as well as being an email/website address of your choice.

    e M a i l
Description - Creates, collects and displays email messages from a pop3/smtp mail service.
Recommended - Thunderbird
Comment - I've been using this for a while now and its an adequate pop3 mail client. Its not as smooth as Outlook 2007 but its free and much safer than leaving your mail on the internet.

Update1:    I've now had one of my pop3 email accounts hacked. Don't use weak passwords on Facebook! Most of all don't use the same password for anything else.
Update2:    My impression of Thunderbird is now much improved, I now think its better than Outlook 2007. It handles multiple accounts well and with the 'Silvermel' add-on it looks very good.
Update3:    Thunderbird now has a Calendar/Task add-on called Lightning. Recommended. Make sure T-Bird is updated to at least v3.1 before installing Lightning.
Usage - Use as required. Do not allow it to auto-update.
Download - here
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a r t    &    g r a p h i c s
Art and Graphics programs are fairly closely associated with Office programs. There are two main kinds of pictures on a modern computer.
   o   Bit-mapped (rastor) pictures - where every pixel (dot) of a picture is described.
   o   Vector based pictures - where pictures are described by lines and fills.

Each requires its own type of program to display and edit it. However vector graphics is now really the preserve of the professional, so I'll confine myself to bit maps.

I like to keep three kinds of bitmap picture editor on my computer:
   o   A powerful editor which can do pretty much anything,
   o   A fast 'viewer' type of program with very limited editing facilities,
   o   Something beween the two, which I end up using most of the time.

    P o w e r f u l    P i c t u r e    E d i t o r
Description - Capable of running complex filters and multiple layers.
Recommended - Gimp
Comment - Let me quote from the Gimp website:
"GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed program for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring.
       It has many capabilities. It can be used as a simple paint program, an expert quality photo retouching program, an online batch processing system, a mass production image renderer, an image format converter, etc." Nothing I would disagree with there. To get a better idea of what it can do look at http://www.gimp.org/about/introduction.html
       Although I'm talking about the Windows version here you can find exactly the same software in most major Linux distributions (not Puppy).
Usage - Use as required. Do not allow auto-update.
Download - here

    M e d i u m    P i c t u r e    E d i t o r
Description - A picture editor which can do most things most of the time.
Recommended - Jasc PaintShop Pro 7
Comment - Actually this is a failure. Its a ten-year-old program I paid for. I'm still trying to find a replacement for it. The problem is I know my way around it so well I don't have to think about how to do something, I just think about what I want to do to the picture. Later versions were produced by Corel and got the bloat and something much like spyware. I'm still looking.
Update1:    I've now got a replacement I'm pleased with. Checking it out - more anon.
Update2:    I'm using the replacement in Windows7, its good, the only thing it hasn't got is a screen grab facility.
Usage - Use as required. Don't auto-update.
Download - here - but it costs $80, sorry

    P i c t u r e    V i e w e r
Description - Fast and lightweight picture and slideshow viewer.
Recommended - Irfanview
Comment - This is probably my longest-serving program. It was originally recommended in the early days of Jerry Pournelle's blog "Chaos Manor". It is one of the few programs I know which has grown more powerful over the years without losing its focus and starting to bloat and slow down.
Simple to use and deceptively sophisticated.
Usage - Double click on a picture to expand or contract it to full-screen. Roll the mouse wheel to index through all the other pictures in the folder. Use as required. Does not auto-update.
Download - here
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m e d i a p l a y e r s    &    c o d e c s
Media player conjours forth visions of a program which plays sound recordings and videos. My idea of 'media' also includes; photos, comics, newspapers, magazines, novels and anything else which might reasonably be included. I would like one player to play them all. Failing that a graphical database of my media which calls relevant players transparently and updates automatically.

Well its a nice thought.

    V i d e o    P l a y e r    &    C o d e c s
Description - Plays video files.
Recommended - K-Lite Mega Pack (Media Player Classic)
Comment - This downloads a package of updated codecs and Media Player Classic. It has the ability to replace a couple of other players - let it! The Codecs are updated regularly on the website so return visits are recommended. I use it only to play video. Although it is a perfectly capable audio player it doesn't have a database.
    Release 5.8 had a tendency to crash explorer.exe, the WindowsXP shell program. This is now fixed - in release 5.8.2 or later. As ever change=trouble, however there is genuine development work happening in these codecs, they get better with each release.
Usage - Use as required. Do not allow it to auto-update.
Download - here

    A u d i o    P l a y e r
Description - Plays sound files.
Recommended - MS Windows Media Player 11
Comment - Yeah, I know. But MS had to get something right and this has the best graphical database/archive for audio files I've yet seen. I use it only for audio because its control of video images is not good.
Usage - Set it up carefully and strangle its accesss to the internet as much as you can. Block it with a firewall. Use as required. Don't let it auto-update. It is, just about, worth the aggravation.
Download - here
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t e x t    r e a d e r s
Text readers are really another sort of media player (likewise picture viewers).

The problem here is there are several different formats and no universal player. Not that I can find anyway. There are six main formats and I've listed the players by the three letter filename suffix:
   o   .lit
   o   .pdf
   o   .doc
   o   .rtf
   o   .htm (aka .html)
   o   .txt

If you can't see the suffix on your computer look at the processes section on this website where I describe how to turn it on.

    . l i t    P l a y e r
Description - Plays .lit text files.
Recommended - Microsoft Reader
Comment - The advantage of this format is that Microsoft do a version of the player which runs on a smartphone using the same file format. So you can read novels on your smartphone. Surprisingly enough it works well on the small screen.
Usage - Use as required. Do not allow it to auto-update. It works without 'activation'.
Download - here

    . p d f    P l a y e r
Description - Plays .pdf text files.
Recommended - Foxit Reader
Comment - Invented by Adobe as a 'universal' format, it has never been as common as the Microsoft .doc format. Adobe's own reader (Acrobat) has long since suffered from the bloat and the format itself has become over-complicated for its purpose. However its still common enough that you will need a player for it. Foxit is light and fast. It does have a small nag message.
Usage - Use as required. Do not allow it to auto-update.
Download - here

    . d o c    &    . r t f    P l a y e r
Description - Plays .doc & .rtf text files.
Recommended - OOo Writer
Comment - Any number of programs can read these files. If you've installed Open Office the 'Write' word processor will let you read both formats. Word processors don't make the best readers, they forget where you were and have far too much clutter. They do the job though.
Usage - Use as required. Do not allow it to auto-update.
Download - here

    . h t m    &    . h t m l    P l a y e r
Description - Plays .htm & .html text files.
Recommended - Firefox
Comment - .htm and .html are the same thing. Primarily they are used for the pages of websites but many books are encoded in this format. Use your web browser to read them. Again its not ideal but it gets the job done.
Usage - Use as required. Do not allow it to auto-update.
Download - here

    . t x t    P l a y e r
Description - Plays .txt text files.
Recommended - Notepad
Comment - Notepad is part of windows and as long as you're using WindowsXP or later, the old file size limits of 54KBytes don't apply. What the new limits are Microsoft are very coy about. I did some practical tests and couldn't find a limit. You can also use OOo Write to read .txt files.
Usage - Use as required. Do not allow it to auto-update.
Download - not required
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b r o w s e r s
One of the main problems designed into MS Windows has always been that the program which provides the user shell (the menus and mouse/keyboard interactions) is Windows Explorer. Along with some extra parts this program is also used to browse the web as Internet Explorer and browse files on the computer as Windows Explorer. I've always been under the impression that Microsoft only did this so they could claim the browser was part of the operating system. There is, of course, no reason why it has to be.

Unfortunately it does mean that any problem with the web or file browsers tends also to crash the user interface and thus the whole computer. So its better to use any browser other than MS Internet Explorer. If possible, browsing files with a program other than Windows Explorer is recommended.

Whether Microsoft ever fixed this with Vista I neither know nor care.

    W e b    B r o w s e r
Description - Displays website pages from the internet.
Recommended - Firefox
Comment - Of the available web browsers I chose Firefox fairly early while I was having trouble keeping WindowsXP going. I have had no reason to change.
        There are two add-ons which make Firefox into a killer app (nearly): Adblock Plus and Flashblock. They remove advertising and the jittery jumpers caused by Flash. My only complaint with the developers of Firefox is that they should hold their new versions until matching releases of Adblock Plus and Flashblock are ready.
Usage - It does need to be carefully set up. Refer to the Processes section on this site. Use as required. Do not allow it to auto-update.
Download - here

    F i l e    B r o w s e r
Description - Displays the folders, files and programs on your computer.
Recommended - UltraExplorer
Comment - Perhaps a bit over-complex but you can't deny its all there.
Usage - Use as required. Does not auto-update.
Download - here
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f i l e    s h a r i n g
Despite misleading pronouncements by the music/movie distribution bandits and the government, it is still legal to share your files if you want to. I do this myself. Look on my personal website and on deviantArt.com

What isn't legal is to share files copyrighted by someone else.

If you are tempted to download someone else's copyrighted files remember this: files cannot be downloaded to your computer without knowledge of your router/modem's ISP address. It doesn't matter whether you use proxies, spoofing or rely on peer-to-peer anonymity, your router/modem's ISP is on the internet and can be tracked.

Note also that if you use WiFi without encryption other people can log onto your ISP and download files, some of which may be illegal. There is no way in which data trackers can tell where these downloads originated after your router/modem. The powers that be may try to blame you for these downloads. Many people turn off WiFi encryption because it slows the network down too much - up to 75% depending on the type of encryption you use. If you should turn off your WiFi encryption make sure you have disabled file and printer sharing on your firewall.

Addendum:
April 2010 - The wonderful british government has now passed a law which makes a person renting an ISP liable if someone else hacks into it and downloads software which is copyrighted by the media distribution bandits. It bypasses the legal system to make the ISP companies into a private police force/court system who must examine their customer's activities on the internet and enforce punishments. What a wonderful country...

    e D 2 k / K A D    C l i e n t
Description - Share files on this system.
Recommended - eMule
Comment - I've been using this for a while now and it works well.
Usage - For eMule to work well you need to open ports in your firewall for it. Use as required. Do not allow it to auto-update.
Download - here

    B i t - T o r r e n t    C l i e n t
Description - Share files on this system.
Recommended - µTorrent
Comment - I've been using this for a while now and it works well.
Usage - Use as required. Do not allow it to auto-update.
Download - here
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g e o g r a p h y
I'm a bit out of my remit here but Google Earth is an impressive piece of kit.

    M a p p i n g    P r o g r a m
Description - shows 3d mapping and photos of the whole planet.
Recommended - Google Earth
Comment - It takes a powerful computer with a good graphics card and good broadband connection to run it well.
Usage - Use as required. Do not allow it to auto-update.
Download - here
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d e v e l o p m e n t
This is a selection of programs for writers of website code. In particular if you write raw code using JavaScript and HMTL of one flavour or another you may find these suggestions useful.

I use the following collection of programs for specifically for coding:
   o   editor
   o   monospaced font
   o   syntax checker
   o   ftp client

Although most of the other programs on my computer are pressed into service at one time or another when I'm building a website.

    E d i t o r
Description - A multi-featured code editor.
Recommended - PSPad
Comment - Until quite recently I used an editor which had syntax highlighting and not much else. Just a couple of months ago I found PSPad. I was very impressed, I switched immediately and this site has been written with it. The features which impressed me most include:
   o   project orientation
   o   syntax highlighting
   o   syntax checking
   o   hidden character display
   o   ftp client
   o   a well arranged toolbar

This program has probably halved the amount of time it would have taken to produce this site.
Usage - Use as required. Do not allow auto-update.
Download - here

    M o n o s p a c e    f o n t
Description - A code-oriented font.
Recommended - DejaVu mono
Comment - What's a code oriented font? Its one where you can easily tell the difference between the characters:
                  0 and O
and
                  1, l, I and ¦

This text is in Tahoma, a proportional font. Its not bad, though its difficult to work out which is which in the 0 - O combination. Anyway I prefer a monospaced font for coding. DejaVu mono at 8 points is a good fit on a 24" 1080p monitor. It takes the load off working out what's on the screen and leaves you free to write.
Usage - Use as required.
Download - here

    S y n t a x    c h e c k er
Description - A program to check code validity.
Recommended - PSPad
Comment - I never used these things. I figured that if it worked the code must be OK. My first run was a humbling experience, 150 warnings in 1200 lines of HTML. None of them were show-stoppers but it surprised me how fault-tolerant modern browsers are. Some of the errors were linked of course and some were trivial but the majority were genuine mistakes.

I was in the process of looking for a good, free syntax checker when I came across PSPad which has an excellent one built right in.
Usage - Use as required.
Download - here

    F T P    c l i e n t
Description - A file transfer protocol client program.
Recommended - FileZilla
Comment - Not too much to say about Fileilla. It does connects and transfers as well as it is possible to do them and also has a small database for your connection data. URLs, passwords etc. I've been using it for years and had no reason to get out of the habit.
Usage - Use as required. Don't allow it to auto update.
Download - here
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o p e r a t i n g    s y s t e m s
Historically the phrase 'operating system' is an abbreviated version of 'disk operating system'. This was the software which controlled the permanent memory (usually a disk or drum) of a computer. The original user interface was completely text-based, so you could argue there actually wasn't much of a user interface at all.

It changed with the advent of the WIMP user interface. (Window, Icon, Mouse, Program). WIMPs were invented by Xerox, then Apple and Microsoft both produced their own commercial versions and the WIMP became part of the operating system. Later WIMP interfaces were added to Linux, giving a three tier power/complexity structure:
   o   Apple - Simple to use & maintain, limited user control of interface,
   o   Windows - Moderate difficulty to use & maintain, reasonable user control of interface,
   o   Linux - Difficult to use & maintain, very good user control of interface.

    R e p l a c e m e n t s    f o r    M S    W i n d o w s
There are many flavours of Linux available and they are all free. Note that Linux is not just an operating system, each 'distribution' includes all the programs that most people could need. I guess you could call it an operating environment rather than an operating system. Unlike MS Windows and Apple systems, where you're expected to buy the programs.

I used two older computers; a Toshiba Tecra 8200 and a Tiny 636. Neither of these has anything strange about their hardware configuration. I divided each hard drive into three 'partitions'. Two for Linux and one with WindowsXP Home in it.

    L i n u x    'P u p p y'
Puppy is famous for being a very small installation. At a pinch it will fit in less than 100MBytes. When installed it took a tiny amount of hard drive space and went like a rocket on a really old computer (a 150Mhz Pentium I). It worked well on both the Toshiba and the Tiny. The only problems I had were with the setup of the boot loader, Grub.

Pros:   Much to my surprise it had every program I needed and a few I wasn't expecting. The user interface is good and can be customised far more than Windows.

Cons:    I have yet to persuade it to work with a WiFi dongle and it does not work at all with a dual monitor setup.

Download:    here

    L i n u x    'U b u n t u'
As I write this at the start of 2010, Ubuntu is the popular distribution of Linux. It is very complete and operation is very similar to MS WindowsXP. Ubuntu has every program you could ever need in the distribution. They aren't all installed becuse there are just too many but they are on the disc, ready for installation as required.

For some reason Ubuntu have chosen a ridiculously ugly brown theme and desktop as default, but this is easily fixed.

I never tried Ubuntu on the old 150MHz computer because its too big for the drive but version 9.3 installed and ran very well on the Tiny. With the Toshiba I had a lot of trouble persuading Ubuntu to run the monitor at full resolution. It took about two full days of research on the Ubuntu forums to sort this out.


Ubuntu worked well untill it was updated to release 9.10 and I tried to do an upgrade. For no apparent reason this made it boot only on one attempt in five on the Toshiba. The update refused to see the existing Ubuntu partition in the Tiny. I gave up at this point.

Pros:   The user interface is far better than anything Microsoft have ever produced. It's good looking, clear and almost completely customisable. It comes complete with any program you could ever want.

Cons:    Unreliable. Ridiculous permission requirements. Poor driver availability. Udates which don't work. Hardware changes cause major problems.

Download:    here

    C o n c l u s i o n s
Linux still has problems finding drivers for new or old hardware. If you've got the time and spare hardware Linux can be rewarding. If you have a project to complete don't touch it.

If you have no experience with Linux and you want to try it:
   o   Download the latest production release.
   o   Try it on an unimportant computer first.
   o   Or get a new hard drive, replace your current hard drive with it, then install Linux.

Then try it out exhaustively. If you're lucky enough to get a good installation that works well don't change it. Don't update it, don't change the hardware, just use it...

Having two different installations of Linux on the same computer is a good idea - you can use the one that's still working to try to fix the one that's just gone tits-up.

    W i n d o w s X P
Can be free:
   o   Scout round for an old computer that's been thrown out.
   o   With the advent of Vista Service Pack 3 (aka Windows7) lots of them have XP licence stickers.
   o   If you can find the old owner ask if you can have it.
   o   Read the code and remove the sticker.
   o   Even if it comes off in pieces keep the sticker.
   o   Borrow a CD and Install XP on your new machine, then register it using the sticker code.
   o   Sellotape or glue the sticker onto its new home.

Failing that, shrink-wrap copies of XP can be purchased on eBay now for Ł25, which is not a lot.

Which version to get. WindowsXP Home Edition is lighter and faster and my choice in most instances. It supports multi-core processing but not multiple seperate processors. If you need to connect to a domain-based network Home Edition is not suitable.

Having said that my installation of WindowsXP Professional Edition cold boots in 45s and warm boots in 6s. Thats with a loads of programs and a very complicated menu system. Look in the 'processes' section of this site for instructions on how to set up and maintain WindowsXP.

I will never own a computer with WindowsVista. Life's too short.


Pros:    Fast and reliable if you set it up properly.

Cons:    Does need a fair bit of configuring to get it working properly.

Recommended - Microsoft WindowsXP Home Edition, for the time being at least.
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Last update: 29th June 2010
Site & Contents Copyright © 2001-2010 Gerry Parnham BSc - All Rights Reserved



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I update this site on a regular basis, so what's here reflects my current kit.

If you find a broken link or a piece of freeware that no longer performs as I describe, please let me know. I'll sort it out. Mail me by clicking on the 'contact me' link at top left of this page.
p r o c e d u r e s
Microsoft have never had the faintest idea of how to design and explain a user interface, you only have to look at an Apple computer to see that.

I've always complained about how badly WindowsXP is set up when first installed. The icons are jammed together, the taskbar is locked in place and too small to use properly and to cap it off the main colour is bilious blue. This is caused by the fact that Microsoft is populated by engineers who designed Windows to be an engineers toy, then tried to make it easy to use by giving it big letters.

The best way to make XP easy to use is to run it on a large, high definition screen and then follow my setup instructions in the 'procedures' page of this website.
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