Microsoft will discontinue support for Windows 7 on January 14.

Don’t panic.  Don’t just run out and buy a new computer. You have options. Call me.

“End of support” does not mean Windows 7 will stop working, just that there will be no more security updates from Microsoft.

Over time Windows 7 will  effectively become less secure as additional security flaws are discovered but not patched. Microsoft will issue updates for Windows 8 and 10. Thes updates will be analyzed by hackers to determine what security flaws they fix, and then malware will be written to attack the flaws. Unpatched systems including all Windows 7 computers will be vulnerable because they won’t be updated.

This was a major concern when Microsoft ended support for XP in 2014, although I did not really see this happen with my customers. Many continued to use XP for quite a while without an increase in malware problems. However, it may be worse this time. Windows 7 program code and structure has more similarity to Windows 10 than XP did to Vista and 7.

Most people still using Windows 7 like it and do not want to give it up, especially if they have already tried Windows 10.

If you are a casual home user and your computer has adequate malware protection and you are careful, I think you can get away with continuing to use Windows 7 for a while. But eventually it will become so outdated it just won’t work well on the Internet.

Unfortunately if you are using your computers for business, and particularly if your business or organization is subject to privacy or security regulations, then you probably have little choice but to stop using an ”unsupported” operating system if you want to be in compliance.

Possibly more significant is that within a couple of years support for other software on Windows 7 will be dropped. In particular, out of date Internet-based applications will start to have problems. Anyone who has tried to use an old web browser has already experienced this.

So what can you do?

Many users just go out and buy a new computer with Windows 10, but this is a costly option which may not be necessary. There are alternatives.

You can continue to use Windows 7 for a while as long as you are careful, have all the available updates installed, know your system is clean, and have good antivirus software.

You can update your existing computers from 7 to 10. It is much less expensive than buying a new one. Another advantage is that is you keep your programs, settings, and data.

Most computers in the last 10 years can handle Windows 10. The most likely hardware upgrade required would be an increase in RAM.

But another great option for those who don’t like Windows 10 or Microsoft’s tendency to force you into updates and changes you don’t want, and don’t “need” Windows,  is to dump Microsoft  altogether and switch to Linux.

Web surfing, email, word processing and all the other common things most people do with Windows can be done just as easily with Linux. The graphical user interface of a Linux distribution such as Linux Mint is designed to be very easy for Windows users.

Since Linux is not Windows, it is immune to all Windows malware because programs written specifically for Windows will not install and run.

My favorite Linux distribution is Linux Mint.  The graphical user interface is very similar to Windows and most users have no trouble switching.

So far, I have switched about 30 customers from Windows to Linux. Many of them are still economically and happily using their 10+ year old Windows Vista PCs converted to Linux, but some have just had it with Windows problems on newer computers and dumped Windows 8 or 10 for Linux Mint.

Windows 7 End of Support Information from Microsoft
Switching from Windows to Linux
General Information about Linux on your PC
$79 Risk Free Linux Conversion Offer

The 2019 Halloween storm knocked out power to thousands, particularly in Hamilton County. Those fortunate to have an automatic whole-house generator experienced minimal inconvenience.

A system that automatically starts a generator and switches over the house mains is really handy, but it does have its downsides. For one thing, it’s an expensive system to install. For another, it can lead you into being complacent when the electricity goes off.

Just because you still have electricity, it doesn’t mean you have an endless supply of power, because the generator needs fuel. If it’s connected to a natural gas pipeline you might be OK, but if it uses propane or gasoline (more likely in the north country) you only have what is in the tank.

Perhaps you can get a refill, but maybe not. So it might be a good idea to figure out how to conserve fuel.

Most people can get by for a while without continuous power. Running a generator for a short period every few hours will keep the house warm and the refrigerator cold.

The trick is knowing how to manually control an ‘automatic’ generator. Typically you can put it in manual mode.

You may only need a small amount of electrical power for essential appliances. A small generator can be connected directly to the equipment that needs to be powered, or to the home wiring.

To safely connect any generator to your home wiring, you must disconnect from the power lines first. The safe way to do this is with a transfer switch. This is a double-throw switch that connects the house to either the power line or your generator.

There are basically two types of generators.

A conventional generator must rotate at a certain speed to provide the required voltage (117VAC) and frequency (60Hz.)  While it will use less fuel under no-load conditions than under full load, it can’t actually run slower to conserve fuel.

Inverter generators are a combination of a conventional generator which supplies raw electrical power and electronic circuitry which converts it to the proper voltage and frequency.  The motor only runs fast enough to supply the needed power.

Another advantage of good inverter generators is that the AC power they produce is clean and stable. This makes them ideal for powering sensitive electronic equipment.

“Solar generators” are not really generators. The name is misleading. Generally they are just an inverter powered by a battery, with a small solar panel that charges the battery. They can’t replace an actual generator for long- term or high power use.

Aside from actual outages, momentary power interruptions can occur at any time. They make your computer quit in the middle of whatever you were doing, make clocks flash, and reset various other electronic devices.

The simple solution is an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). This is an inverter powered by a rechargeable battery. If the power drops the inverter automatically switches in and provides power for a few minutes, enough time to save work and shut down your computer. A UPS also provides superior protection from power surges. I have them on all my systems and they are well worth the minimal cost.

Original newspaper column published November 2019

Responding to bogus telephone calls from “Microsoft Support” or “Symantec Norton:”

No one is monitoring your computer for malware or other problems. If you get a phone call from out of the blue, IT IS A SCAM.

Never allow access by anyone who’s identity you can’t verify. Once a scammer has access, you can never be sure what they may have done. It is pretty easy to steal personal data or install monitoring software or a remote access “back door” they can use any time to get in.

Certainly never pay them anything. You are wasting your money and giving away your financial information.

However, allowing remote access from someone you trust is fine. Just make sure you know who you are talking to. Get the phone number from your bill, user manual, or the actual company web site. Do not use search results. They are very misleading.  

Using remote access to get help can be a convenient time-saver. If you call me for support, I will use a remote access tool which is perfectly safe and totally under your control. It only allows access when you run the program and grant access.

Not having a full system backup:

It is very rare these days that you get software installation or “Factory Recovery” disks with a new computer. However, Windows 10 includes the ability to make a recovery drive. Even if your computer is 5 or 10 years old, it’s not too late. Make your recovery media now.

Mobile devices usually have a way to restore to factory defaults.

Not backing up user data on a regular basis:

Reloading the operating system is sometimes the only way to fix problems. However when this is done, all user-installed applications and personal files are deleted.

Files can also be accidentally erased. File systems can get corrupted Ransomware can render data inaccessible. Storage devices can physically fail.

USB flash drives and hard drives are cheap and easy to use. You can get a few gigabytes of free “cloud” storage from DropBox , Microsoft, and many other places. iCloud and Google drive are ideally suited for iOS and Android devices, respectively.

You can simply copy important files to backup storage, or you can automate backup using tools built in to the operating system, or by using a third-party backup program. Backing up to at least 2 other locations is recommended.

Installing junk software:

“Potentially Unwanted Programs” get installed in Windows either by tricking you in to thinking they are actually useful, or as “drive-by downloads” when installing some other program or program update. Be careful what you download and install. Most of the “free” driver updaters, system optimizers, bargain finders, toolbars, and similar programs do more harm than good.

Problems tend to accumulate until the computer becomes slow or actually unusable. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Apps on mobile devices eat up memory. There are many questionable apps that are spyware, just like on the PC. Be careful.

Head off problems with a periodic professional computer checkup and tune up. I can usually do a basic check and tune by remote access. Call me at 315-376-8879. 

Original newspaper column published January 2019