Permalink 07:50:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General, Articles

I have previously written about the waste of time and resources that are programs, usually initially free, that suggest they can improve performance, enhance your registry, or pretty much any other simple maintenance task.

There are a catagory of programs designed to help you maintain device drivers at the latest version.  Sometimes they claim to fix problems by modifying drivers.  Do not waste time or money installing any of them.  Here's why.

A device driver is simply an interface between hardware and Windows.  If the hardware works there is liitle scope for improvement.  On a test system it has been shown that false concerns are raised by suggesting that old drivers are installed, but this is nothing more than a blatant attempt to upsell the paid version of the program.

The updater software suggests that old versions ?can cause problems, system slowdowns and bluescreen errors.?  This is technically true, but very unlikely.  It?s also technically true that updated drivers could cause problems, system slowdowns, and blue-screen errors by introducing new bugs. It?s a wash.

The fact is that with the possible exception of graphics drivers for hardcore gamers you don't need driver updates.  Any necessary legitimate updates will arrive automatically via Microsoft Update so nothing further needs be done.  If you have the urge to see what genuinely is running an old version it is a simple matter to manually run Device Manager then right click each device and 'Update Driver...'. 

The concern is partly the waste of money and poor performance that is introduced but also the corruption that often occurs from installing the wrong driver.   The difficulty is that to ensure you are not using Windows on more than the number of computers it is licensed for, Microsoft records some details of the hardware and firmware that are not usually changed and compares those each time Windows starts.  If there is a difference then they assume that you are trying to run Windows on a different PC and cause the current installation of Windows to become marked as counterfeit.  This results in all future genuine Windows updates failing and the computer becoming less secure.

Even worse, unsigned or correctly validated drivers run in protected (kernel) mode and do cause computers to fail to start.  In this case reinstalling Windows will not help unless the disk is formatted first.

So the take away message is if it ain't broke don't fix it.  If Windows is reinstalled from a generic disk then manufacturer supplied drivers will usually be better than Windows default, but using the right driver is far more important than using the latest version.


Permalink 12:44:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General

It's been three years since I last blogged about femtocells - the little devices that you can plug into the back of your router and act as a miniature mast for the mobile phone signal.  If you have a reasonable (perhaps greater than 4 Mbps download) speed broadband line, adding a femtocell can boost your ability to send texts and phone considerable - up to about 15 metres from the device anyway.  

You can pick up these devices from between free (from your provider) and £100 but note that it is illegal to use those not sanctioned by your network provider.  Whatever it says on eBay, ask for proof of legality before clicking the buy button.

There is a good tutorial on all aspects of the technology over at radio-electronics.com

There are four main networks:

  • Three.  Their 'Home Signal' is free to customers with poor reception. £75 charge applies if not returned.
  • EE.   They sell a 'Signal Box' but it's only available to business customers.  A wi-fi calls app is available for home users though.
  • Vodafone.   'Sure Signal' costs £69 from the Vodafone Shop.
  • O2.   'Boost Box' is only available to business customers.  Residential customers can use TuGo, a free mobile app available for Apple and Android devices.


I think it may be interesting for readers to know that the following graph shows wireless signal strength over a period of 90 seconds as measured from a laptop positioned 2 metres from a router in the same room using the 2.4 GHz frequency band.   This is why a wired Ethernet connection is preferable where consistent connection strength is required.
Image taken using LinSSID

The red line indicates my connection and the other lines come from my neighbours' routers.  Note that the brown line would cause huge interference for me if both were on the same frequency/channel as is often the case by default.


Permalink 05:04:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General

FreedomPop have at last launched in the UK.   The standard free package is 200 minutes, 200 texts and 200MB of data a month and is guaranteed to be free for life.   They have plans for folks who use more airtime and they are competitively priced - especially if you sign up during their introductory trial period. 

You can roll over any unsued date to the next month.  At £1.49 a month, it doesn't cost a lot, but it is more than free.  You can roll over up to 500MB of unused data per month, and store a total of 20GB of roll over data in all.

You can share data with friends and family, but only if they're on FreedomPop.  You can sign up to receive usage alerts so that you won't incur any additional charges, and you can be assigned a virtual international phone number so people in other countries can call you for free.

https://www.freedompop.com/uk   takes to to a place where you can select the type of Sim you want and buy it for about a fiver.

Claimed benfits include:

  • Free calling app with free phone calls to anyone in the UK and anyone in the world with FreedomPop app
  • Free texting app with free messages to any UK mobile number
  • Free UK phone number to take with you anywhere
  • Free SMS app to stay connected with app and non app users alike
  • Free international phone calls to up to 50 different countries around the world
  • Use Freedompop as a free second phone line
  • Make free voice calls and send free texts anywhere over Wi-Fi
  • Try our Free Basic Plan (includes 200 Texts, 200 Mins -- 100% Free for life!)
  • Turn your iPad, iPad Mini, or any iOS device into a phone. Make free phone calls and send free text messages to anyone.
  • Free Wi-Fi texting and voice calling
  • Free texting and voice calling back to the UK when traveling abroad
  • Save tons of money on your mobile plan with free texting and free voice calls
  • Make HD-quality phone calls on Wi-Fi. Also works over 3G and 4G connections
  • No up-front costs, contracts, or hidden fees
  • No advertisements
  • No spam
  • We don't share your number with any third parties

However there are things to note:

  • It only works on Android based or IOS phones (which covers about 90% of them)
  • It's VoIP provider using mobile data.  No GSM/3G calls/texts.  That therefore means you won't be able to make/receive calls where signal is weak.  So network coverage is smaller than 3's but still not too bad.
  • It's not pre-paid. They keep your card details and will charge it for any out of allowance calls/texts/data so consider paying for usage alerts if you may exceed the free threshold.
  • There is currently no number porting - so you can not retain your current mobile number.
  • There is a one time £6.99 charge for shipping the SIM and activation.


Permalink 08:48:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: Security

There be confusion in the shires as people receive "Password Incorrect" errors when the password has been held in the mail client (Windows Live Mail, Outlook, Thunderbird, 3rd party email apps on Android devices etc.) unchanged for years. This causes folks to think their account has been hacked so they change the password; but woa - the same error message pops up again ! What's that about ?

The security minded people who run Gmail unilaterally decided that the old way of authenticating: passing your username and password in unencrypted form, is too insecure for comfort. So rather than setting an appropriate error message they chose to frighten folks with a cryptic puzzler.

This only applies with mail clients using the older 'basic' authentication methods such as those above; clients using OAuth 2.0 will not suffer so. What's to be done ? There are three possible solutions.

  1. Switch to a better secured mail client. Sounds simple enough but it's a right pain to get all old messages, contacts, and calendar entries moved. Never mind learning a new interface.
  2. Switch on two factor authentication. This is a good balance between increased security and spending a lot of time reconfiguring. You will need a second device to authenticate with, but who doesn't have a smartphone these days. If you don't there are alternatives such as Google Authenticator and GAuth Authenticator. You may need to create an app specific password in the process for the app or service too.
  3. Turn off Gmail's enforcement of the limitation by modifying your Google account to "allow less secure apps".


Permalink 09:13:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General, Articles

It's been publicly available for a few months and in public beta test for several before that so all the teething troubles that are going to be found and removed probably have been.  So should you upgrade ?  

If you are reasonably competent with administering your computer then I suggest you should as the benefits are certainly worth having.  There are, however, a few points to follow before the upgrade to save yourself a pile of pain.

  1. Run the Upgrade Assistant.   This will draw attention to any incompatible hardware or software.  The Assitant will appear in your system tray as long as you have the fiollowing updates installed: for Windows 7 (KB3035583 and KB2952664) and for Windows 8.1 (KB3035583 and KB2976978).

  2. Perform routine housekeeping.  You do this every quarter anyway, right ?  The key things would be to uninstall any programs and browser helper objects that you no longer use.  Now delete the contents of the %Temp% folder, browser cache files, and the recycle bin. Perhaps the Downloads folder too.

  3. Take an image of the system partition - something I have had cause to be thankful for having on several occasions.  Also check that your last regular file backup is recent, complete, and recoverable.  Ensure these potential saviours are not on the disk that Windows 10 is to be installed on, and physically disconnect the media after they're written.  The image will be invaluable should things go wrong, and the backups too could be helpful depending on the way in which an upgrade fails.

  4. Uninstall internet security, anti-virus, and firewall software just as soon as you have confirmed you have the installation kit, product keys or online account details necessary to enable it to be reinstalled in a later step. 

  5. Record the activation keys or serial numbers of any programs that require them.  Make sure you have a note of any passwords necessary to reinstall an application should it be necessary. 

  6. Save current device drivers.  It is unlikely these will be needed as Windows 10 does a good job most of the time, but it is always prudent to stash these somewhere. 

Now you're ready to kick off the upgrade.  Make sure the power cable is connected and if possible, provide a wired internet connection to speed things along.  There are a couple of screens to go through but after 5 - 10 minutes you are ready to get on with something else and pop back in 2 to 3 hours depending on the speed of your computer and the internet connection.  After the task is complete you have a few post upgrade tasks to complete.

  1. Reinstall your internet security, virus protection, and firewall software.

  2. Go to Settings and update Windows then restart when instructed. 

  3. If you have wigets or gadgets they will probably need to be installed again.  You may like to check that the most important programs are working as they should.  
  4. Check that the default programs are as you wish; make sure network folders are accessible; and confirm that System Restore is active.
  5. Take your first backup of the new system.  If coming from Windows 7 see if File History is better than your old program.

Now you're ready to check out the new features and have some fun with them.  Note that to get anything from the Windows Store - even the free apps - you will need a Microsoft account.  This is also necessary to make use of the (free) 15GB OneDrive storage that can be used for sharing photos etc.  You can use your existing email address to do this.

There will be a new app installed called 'getting started', this is an introduction to the new features of Windows 10 and certainly worth a gander.


Permalink 02:44:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General, Articles

Having now installed Windows 10 several times a few gotchas and tips are ready to leave my fingertips.  Things normally (anecdotally 85% of the time) go well but I have personally encountered several failed installs so it is essential to take an image of your system partition before you begin.

  • Virus and firewall protection is removed as part of an upgrade.  Make sure you know your account details or license key ready for a clean install (not repair) after Windows 10 upgrade completes. This must be your first job after the last automated reboot.
  • Similarly Gadgets and widgets are likely to be messed with.  Simple to fix but preparation can ease the resolution.
  • Video drivers - If you have a second (or third) monitor prepare for all bar one to be disabled.  Also, screen resolution may be changed.  The (Nvidia 353.62) driver update I tried to resolve this failed.  However, sit back and bide your time: Windows will automatically get a default driver soon that works just fine.
  • One PC with an (AMD Radion) graphics card hung for 2 minutes at boot time.  Disabling the graphics driver removes the fault but causes lousy display.
  • Wallpaper may be messed with.  Under 10 you cannot use a library so all images will have to be moved to a common root.
  • Roboform password manager does not work in Edge - a second browser is therefore essential.
  • Internet Explorer is well hidden on a clean install - you can get to it fom the setup menu of Edge.
  • On at least one PC the taskbar got locked open and could only be rejeuvenated by restarting Explorer (from task manager) two or three times a day - there is currently no fix that I am aware of.
  • If you already have a Win7 or Win8 PC you must upgrade BEFORE doing an clean install - the activation key will not work otherwise.  Subsequent clean installs are not a problem as keys are now held in MS servers.
  • Some default programs are reset to their Modern equivalents, you may need to reassign after the upgrade.
  • System Restore may be left off and need to be manually enabled.
  • Although we lose control over updates we don't have to put up with loss of control over restarts after they are installed - Settings > Updates > Advanced > Notify to schedule restart.
  • Access control on shared and network folders can be reset to defaults so needs to be checked.

These are just the issues I have personally encountered.  The forums are full of other problems that some people have bumped up against.  However, as time goes by it is expected that Microsoft will address these issues by way of updates.  It is probably wise to ensure you have a clean system before you start by following the process described in an earier blog.

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