This section of this website is broadly devoted to computer software and deals with the operating system (mostly the various versions of Windows - XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8) and all of the various types of software that the operating system runs - web browsers, large applications, single programs and tools/utilities (both provided by Windows and third-party utilities), freeware and shareware software and the difference between them, etc. The third page is devoted to the various types of backup and various methods of creating restorable backups. Because the range is so large, problems and solutions are provided in a separate section of this website consisting of four pages - Software problems: How to fix problems with Windows, programs, and utilities.
This page - General useful information on software and Windows
A vital point to bear in mind is where you stand regarding your computer's software, of which the operating system is the most important, because nothing can run or work without it.
Software, including operating systems such as Windows and Linux, can be broken down into two broad categories - free and paid-for. Windows has to be paid for unless you use a pirated version, which is illegal and isn't worth the problems that it can cause, but all unsupported distributions of the Linux operating system are free to download and install. Many of them, such as Ubuntu can be used to run the computer from the DVD (without being installed to the computer's hard disk drive) that is created by burning the downloaded ISO file to a recordable DVD disc.
Much of the software that a typical home user requires can be obtained free of charge, including viable alternatives to the Microsoft Office suite of office applications, the latest version of which is Office 2010, such as the excellent LibreOffice from libreoffice.org, which is a variant of OpenOffice that came about after Oracle purchased Sun, the developer of OpenOffice, which Oracle did not develop for a few years and has now passed it on to the Apache Software Foundation that has called it Apache Open Office.
Free software is usually called freeware or shareware. Click here! to go to the CNET page of the 20 most popular free downloads for Windows systems. There is plenty of free software of all kinds available on the web. To find it, start with the word free and add its type (image viewers, system/registry cleaners, backup utilities, etc.) to create a search query that you enter in a web search engine.
Shareware is software that can be used for a limited trial period before being paid for. Some shareware continues working if not paid for and may or may not produce nag a message asking to be paid for, other shareware disables features or stops working if it is not paid for. All of the major web browsers (Internet Exlorer, Firefox, Safari, Opera, etc.) are free. The following pages provide information on free and paid-for software and information on creating master images and backups.
The following article discusses free software. - http://windowssecrets.com/top-story/...
Operating system - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operating_system
The following article goes through the evolution of the Windows operating system from Windows 1.0 to Windows 7, (Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro are currently the latest versions for home and small-business use), which, like Windows Vista, comes in several versions. In between the first and current versions (Win8) are Windows 2.0, Windows 3.0, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows Me, Windows 2000, Windows XP Windows Vista and Windows 7.
Visual tour: 25 years of Windows -
"See how the world's most popular operating system has evolved over the last quarter century." - http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/...
Seven years ago there only used to be 32-bit software, there are now 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems and software. Windows XP Professional has a 64-bit version (not so Windows XP Home), and there are 64-bit versions of all of the versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7 (the latest versions of Windows made available for home and business users on 22 October 2009) and Windows 8. Desktop and laptop computers that date back to 2006 should all have a processor that supports 64-bit software.
Essential information on using Windows 8 and upgrading to Win8 from Windows 7, Vista and XP -
Windows 8 problems: How to diagnose and fix problems with Win8 -
All of the versions of Windows from Windows XP to Windows 7 and 8 come with several very useful Administrative Tools that can be accessed under their section in Windows by that name.
Click here! to go to the page on this website that provides information on them.
Windows Update, which is built into Windows and can also be run from Microsoft's website, when configured to do so in the Control Panel, provides security updates and updates for the device drivers that run hardware devices. Most other software provides an option to install updates automatically or to be informed when an update is available so that it can be installed manually. Windows Update is called Automatic Updates in Windows XP' s Control Panel and Windows Update in Vista and Windows 7. There are several third-party tools that scan the system and update software automatically or provide a manual option to do so. The following article provides information on some of those tools.
Software that updates your other software -
It is possible to install and activate any version of Office 2007 (Home and Student, Professional and Small Business versions) on a new PC - even if it is an OEM version licensed for one PC just by clicking on the version that you have on this page - http://www.microsoft.com/office/downloads/ and entering its Product Key. An OEM version has the letters OEM in the Product Key and the retail, boxed copy looks like this: CWRMM-364WT-RTVVY-DKD89-YQ9Y6 (not a real key - the letters and numbers have been changed in a real key).
The Product Key is encrypted in the Windows Registry, so you have to use a tool to reveal it. I have used the free tool provided on this page successfully:
An OEM copy of any software is supposed only to be installed on one computer - the one it was preinstalled on, but, for some reason, probably because there are several free office suites available, Microsoft has allowed an OEM Product Key to be entered to obtain the downloads and for the installation to be actived. (Read the Product Activation page on this website for more information).
You have to download the 300MB file. I have done this successfully with an OEM copy myself. The download page provided above caters only for Office 2007. However, apparently, you can do likewise with the trial version of any version of Office, even Office 2010, downloaded from this page:
I haven't done it myself, so I don't know if it works any way other than is stated on the page, but Microsoft often makes statements that are not accurate. For example, you can install the Upgrade versions of Windows 7 on a clean drive or partition on a drive; you don't need to have a previous qualifying version of Windows installed (XP/Vista) as is stated by Microsoft.
There is now so much choice in the components installed in a desktop or laptop pc, it can be so confusing to buyers that they just make a choice on purely on price or the advice of vendors - advice that more often than not is provided by people who don't know what they are talking about.
To add to the confusion, you can have a 32-bit system or a 64-bit system. The PC's processor can be a 32-bit processor or a 64-bit processor, and the operating system, which is usually a version of Windows can be a 32-bit or a 64-bit version.
All of the latest processors from the two major manufacturers - AMD and Intel - are 64-bit and will run a 32-bit or a 64-bit operating system (Windows, Linux, Apple OS X). Note that a 32-bit processor cannot run 64-bit software, so it must use a 32-bit operating system.
If you're the average user whose computing needs don't require more than 3.2GB of RAM memory, the limit of a 32-bit operating system, that choice will do just fine. It is compatible with almost all software applications, and compatible hardware device drivers are easily available.
64-bit operating systems will one day be the norm as 32-bit systems are now. However, you should only choose a 64-bit system if the programs you plan to use in the future require a 64-bit system, or more than 3.2GB of RAM memory (i.e., you use 3D-rendering software, intense graphics, etc.). Otherwise, there are currently more drawbacks to running a 64-bit system than there are advantages. The non-availability of 64-bit device drivers for peripherals such as printers, routers, scanners etc., is the major drawback. A 64-bit operating system cannot use 32-bit device drivers, they must all be 64-bit. Note well that a 64-bit processor can run both 32-bit and 64-bit software and a 64-bit operating system can run 64-bit and most 32-bit software. There are some 32-bit programs, such as virus scanners, that a 64-bit operating system can't run - and 32-bit device drivers can't be used on a 64-bit operating system; 64-bit drivers are required.
Some 32-bit software runs better on a 64-bit version of Windows than the 64-bit version. This is currently (June 2012) the case with MS Office 2010. Read this tip on this website: Which is the best version to install, 32-bit or 64-bit Office 2010?
The typical computer user is unlikely to notice any gain in performance from a 64-bit system. Visit the Using Windows Vista for more information on the 64-bit versions of Windows Vista. Only Windows XP Professional Edition has a 64-bit version; Windows XP Home Edition is only available in a 32-bit version.
More information on the 64-bit versions of Windows XP/Vista/Windows 7 is provided a little further down this page.
Click the link to read the article on this website on Windows 7, which was superseded by the two versions of Windows 8 for the home user on 26 October 2012:
Windows 8, minus the Home Premium description that was used for Windows Vista and Windows 7,is that version of Win8. There is only one other version for the home user and small business called Windows 8 Pro.
"The Fix it Solutions in this article provide the ability to fully remove Office 2003, 2007 and 2010 suites without damaging other Windows components." -
April 20, 2010. - Microsoft has made available beta (test) troubleshooting software called Fix It Center that works on Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7. Windows 8 is not listed in its system requirements, but it might work with it. You can download it as a file and then install it, or use the Run option (to install it directly) that presents itself after you click on the Try it now button on the download webpage provided below.
In Windows XP, you are provided with five troubleshooting options, but there are many more troubleshooting options with Windows Vista and Windows 7. You are provided with an option to create an online Fix It Center account that puts you in touch with Microsoft's support personnel for additional help. The following webpage provides the download or direct installation option plus information on the new software. -
Note that initial services packs can lose support long before a particular supported version of Windows that has been updated to the latest service pack. If you haven't upgraded to Windows XP SP3 or Vista SP1 or SP2, if your PC has enough disk space, it is advisable to do so before the support for service pack installed on your PC expires. You can download them from http://support.microsoft.com/.
Select a [Microsoft] Product for Lifecycle Information -
All of the many distributions of the free, open-source Linux operating system support 64-bit computing.
Note that almost all applications, programs and utilities that run under Windows XP will run properly in Windows 7, including MS Office 2000, but if software designed for Windows XP doesn't work on its own or by using Windows Compatibility Mode (available in Windows since Windows XP so that it could run Windows 95 and 98 software), you can buy a version of Windows 7 that provides Windows XP Mode (Windows XP itself running from within Windows 7). The Professional and Ultimate versions of Windows 7 provide Windows XP Mode. In Windows Vista, only Windows Compatibility Mode is available for that purpose.
Note also that most programs designed for the 32-bit version of Windows will work on the 64-bit version of Windows. Notable exceptions are many antivirus programs.
The long wait for 64-bit PC software continues -
"Even though 64-bit PCs have been available for seven years, the promise of 64-bit computing has been delayed by a dearth of 64-bit software." -
Essential Information on Upgrading to Windows 8 from Windows 7, Vista and Windows XP -
Windows 8 problems: How to diagnose and fix problems with Win8 -
Windows 8 was made available worldwide on 26 October 2012. The run up to its release was several years long and the difference between Windows 7 and Windows 8, which can be used on a tablet or on a PC equipped with a touchscreen, is very marked, so there is no shortage of free and paid-for, in-depth, written guides and videos available on how to use it. For that reason, I will only be putting pages on this website that provide the news, essential how-to-use and upgrading information and deal with the methods of repair/recovery and problems with Windows 8. Here is an example that I came across recently:
Windows 8: It's Almost Not Terrible -
I adapted to it and was able to find the information I needed fairly easily. It seems to me that if you can use previous versions of Windows you should be able to find your way around Win8 fairly easily and if you can't find something, the web has the information that covers every possible aspect. Unfortunately, people don't like marked changes in the way that anything works and, in my opinion, a negative attitude to Win8 proves this.
Windows 7 is the official name for the successors to the versions of Windows Vista.
You can use the Upgrade version to upgrade Windows Vista to a version of Windows 7, but if you intend to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7, you need to know the information in the following article. It has to be clean installed. An in-place upgrade installation is not possible.
Click here! to go to the Windows 7 section of this website.
How To Upgrade To Windows 7 From Windows XP -
"An in-place operating system upgrade to Microsoft Windows 7 on a Windows XP system is impossible. Here's how to migrate your data and apps with the fewest hassles." -
The following free tool improves Windows Explorer in Windows 7.
xplorer2 Free Lite -
Only available as a 32-bit version, but it works just fine in 64-bit Windows 7. It can be used instead of File Explorer, the new name for Windows Explorer in Windows 8. The Professional version costs $30. You can try it for a limited time before making a purchase. Note that the free version installs software that you probably don't want unless you disable its installation.
Better Explorer - Provides both a Ribbon user interface and tabs for multiple folders -
Autoruns for Windows v11.5 -
The supreme startup monitor that stands on the shoulders of the standard Windows msconfig utility.
If you want better copy controls than the mediocre ones offered by Windows 7, here is a good tool, which is free for personal use:
TeraCopy - http://codesector.com/teracopy
This useful free tool skips bad files and you can pause copying and it doesn't keep interrupting transfers with messages, as Windows does, asking for permission to continue. The Pro version with more features costs $20.
AnVir Task Manager Free - replaces the Task Manager in Windows 7 and adds many of the features of the magnificent Task Manager provided by Windows 8. The Pro version with additional features costs $49.95. -
Microsoft's Windows Vista is the version of Windows that succeeded Windows XP that comes in several different types to suit different users. It has now itself been replaced by Windows 7. Click here! to go to the Windows Vista section of this website.
Microsoft stopped selling Windows XP Home and Professional Editions after June 30, 2008, so no computers sold after that date can have those versions of Windows preinstalled. However, Mainstream Support and Extended Support will continue according to Microsoft's lifecycle timetable. It is still available for sale on auction sites such as eBay. I still use it, because it works beautifully on a computer with 1GB of RAM.
Microsoft Support Lifecycle - main page - http://support.microsoft.com/?pr=lifecycle
Visit Page 3 of this Software section of this website for information on making backups using Windows and paid-for and free third-party backup software.
Most PC users use an office suite. Therefore, they would like to have one preinstalled on a new PC. However, not many new PC s come with the most popular office suite, MS Office, preinstalled unless it is chosen as an optional extra that is paid for. It is done that way in order to keep the cost of PCs as low as possible as the best way of selling them.
If you need an office suite and don't want to pay for it, you can use the excellent Apache OpenOffice suite from http://www.openoffice.org/ that has a word-processor, spreadsheet, database and presentational application, or LibreOffice from http://www.libreoffice.org/, which provides the same office applications.
You can also use the free cloud-based versions of Microsoft Office's Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint that are provided with a Hotmail or Outlook email account that also provides 7GB of free data storage space called SkyDrive. The following computer-forum thread provides some useful information on these free apps.
Are Microsoft's free Office Web Apps good enough for you? -
Here is a good article on Microsoft Office, Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice:
Two free, full-blown alternatives to MS Office [March 2013] -
Here are the Wikipedia pages for OpenOffice and LibreOffice, respectively, that provide information on their history, developement and features:
Ubuntu Linux has decided to replace OpenOffice with LibreOffice as its included office suite. A decision that probably has something to do with the Oracle takeover of Sun Microsystems, which owns OpenOffice. LibreOffice is based on the same source-code as OpenOffice, which is open-source, as the Linux operating system itself is, which means that any developer can develop it.
"LibreOffice is the free power-packed Open Source personal productivity suite for Windows, Macintosh and Linux, that gives you six feature-rich applications for all your document production and data processing needs: Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw, Math and Base." - http://www.libreoffice.org/
If you are a home user, Microsoft Office 2013, which contains Word (word-processor), Excel (spreadsheet), Powerpoint (presentational program) and OneNote (an application for organising notes and important information), is currently available from amazon.co.uk. Any home user or student can buy a copy and it comes with three licences, enabling it to be installed on three PCs. It requires product activation, so any PC you install it on should be online. If you are not online, you will have to phone Microsoft for an activation code. If the software is not activated, after 30 days it can only be used to go online for activation. Office 365, also known as Home Premium, is Microsoft's new subscription cloud-based service.
Office 2007 and 2010, including the Home & Student Edition, is still available new or second-hand on Amazon, eBay, etc.
Microsoft launches Office 2013, Office 365 Home Premium -
Microsoft Office 2010 review -
Microsoft cuts prices for Office suite -
"Office 2010 will launch in June  and be cheaper than Office 2007." -
Microsoft Office 2010 prices: the good, the bad and the costly -
Here are two free desktop publishing applications:
Scribus Open Source Desktop Publishing - http://www.scribus.net/
Serif PagePlus Starter Edition [free] -
In March 2012, the current paid-for version is Serif PagePlus x6, priced at around £54. It was given a five-star Best Buy by Computer Shopper UK/Expert Reviews.
To locate reviews of office suites or desktop publishing software, you can enter those words as search queries in a search engine.
The best photo-editing software is Photoshop (priced at around £670 in May 2012 - the price varies greatly so look for the cheapest vendor), used by professionals and semi-professionals, but it is way too expensive and overkill for most users whose editing needs don't require a top-end product. Most of the courses in website design and photo-editing use it.
However, most people would find that the free photo-editing software Paint.net from getpaint.net is all that they require to edit their photos. It is an excellent piece of free software, which is getting better all the time, so, if you use it be sure to check for updates. It's website provides a forum on which its members can discuss it.
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) from gimp.org can do most of what Adobe’s Photoshop can. The full-CS6 version of Photoshop costs over $600, but being open-source software, GIMP is free. Neither program is easy to master. Indeed, the complexity of Photoshop is such that Adobe created a lite version called Photoshop Elements (dealt with below) that provides basic photo-editing and manipulation tools costing about a tenth of Photoshop C6. Unfortunately, there isn't a lite version of GIMP. If you want to get to grips with this mammoth program, there is plenty of help, tutorials, add-ons, etc., provided from its website, gimp.org.
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) from gimp.org can do most of what Adobe’s Photoshop can. The full-CS6 version of Photoshop costs over $600, but being open-source software, GIMP is free. Neither program is easy to master. Indeed, the complexity of Photoshop is such that Adobe created a lite version called Photoshop Elements that provides basic photo-editing and manipulation tools costing about a tenth of Photoshop C6. Unfortunately, there isn't a lite version of GIMP. If you want to get to grips with this mammoth program, there is plenty of help, tutorials, add-ons, etc., provided from its website, gimp.org.
If you just want to resize image, the free Image Resizer from imageresizer.codeplex.com is ideal.
IrfanView from irfanview.com is ideal for quick crops and high-quality batch resizing of large numbers of images.
The sophisticated capabilities of Windows Live Essentials Photo Gallery can be used for quick color and lighting adjustments and for very easy stitching together of separate images into an almost seamless panorama (many images combined together to create a single large panoramic view).
FotoFlexer from fotoflexer.com is an online service that doesn’t require installation. Reviews say that it is more enjoyable and easier to use than Paint.net.
Adobe Photoshop Elements (cheapest price around £70 but varies greatly from vendor to vendor) is probably the best general-purpose image editor currently available (version 10 in March 2012). It doesn't provide the most features, but it does provide almost everything that most non-professional photographers require and is very much cheaper than Photoshop.
Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 review - Review Date: 20 Sep 2011 - Price when reviewed - L56.00 - Supplier: amazon.co.uk -
Corel PaintShop Pro X4 Ultimate from corel.com, priced at £80 in May 2012, is another excellent image-editor.
If you are interested in learning how to edit digital photos, the following article is a good place to start.
The art of digital photo editing -
Photo-editing masterclass -
To locate websites that provide other free photo-editing software, enter free photo editing software (as is) as the search query in a search engine such as Bing ( I don't use Google due to its underhanded business praqctices and it is no better than Bing).
Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum 11.0 review - Review Date: 9 Jun 2011 - Still the current version in March 2012 - Supplier: amazon.co.uk - Priced at only £60.00 in June 2011, this is probably the best video-editing software for most home users. Certainly it's better than Premier Elements 9, which costs twice as much. -
Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 from adobe.com and computer retailers is the king of video-editing software and it has a price tag to match (around £810 in April 2012).
Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 review -
The art of digital photo editing -
Photo-editing masterclass -
Parental control software allows parents to regulate how long their children spend on the web, blocks websites known to be harmful or unsuitable for children and allows parents to find out what their children have been viewing.
Windows Vista and Windows 7 and 8 provide parantal controls. They have changed markedly in Windows 8. Here are two useful links to relevant pages on Microsoft's website:
Parental Controls - Windows 7 -
What's New in Windows 8 Family Safety -
Third-party solutions are available.
Brightfilter Parental Control 18.104.22.168 review [February 20, 2010 - £25 when reviewed] -
In September 2010, Expert Reviews gave Net Nanny 6.5 from Contentwatch a five-star Best Buy award. A one-year licence costs £26/$40. -
October 21, 2011. - Intuit, the developer of the excellent Quicken personal accounting software, quit the UK market several years ago. Microsoft has also discontinued the UK version of Money, so, now that the old UK versions won't work in Windows 7, that leaves the UK lacking in the best personal accounting software.
Fortunately, there is a solution - you can visit amazon.com, the US amazon site, and purchase the latest US version of Quicken Deluxe, which is easy to configure so that it uses the British pound as its currency. The Americanisms, such as using 'check' instead of 'cheque', aren't a problem.
This is the click path to follow in the program itself to achieve that - Edit => Preferences => Quicken Program => Calendar and Currencies. Tick the box described as Multicurrency Support, then click on Tools in the menu bar, select Currency List, select UK Pound Sterling in the list and click Home and OK. This makes the program use the pound as its currency.
When you register the program, remember to disable the registration prompt, because a US address is required. To do that, hold down the Ctrl and Shift keys, click on the Tools menu and select One Step Update. When setting up new accounts in the program, check the Advanced Setup at the top of the first box and select the 'manual entry' to avoid problems. The US version of Quicken won't be able to restore a backup of your previous Quicken data, so you'll have to set it up anew.
November 20, 2011. - Many Quicken users are reporting that it is no longer launching. Apparently there are plenty of users offering help on the web that is useless. Here is some advice that helps many users.
Right-click the Quicken icon and click Properties. Run as Administrator must be enabled on the General tab. Enable Run this program in compatibility mode on the Compatibility tab and then select Windows XP.
Apparently a necessary Quicken file - qwutilnet.dll - is being treated as a virus by some virus scanners. Checking your scanner's logs should reveal if this is the case. If necessary, restore that .dll by conducting a search for it on the web.
Web search query for more help: "Quicken launcher has stopped working".
Quicken won't load account [after I uninstalled Quicken 2004 and installed the US version of Quicken 2010] -
I use Quicken 2000 and it is excellent - VAT, multi currency, shares and good reports. The UK version of Quicken is no longer available, but Quicken 2000 (US version only) works in Windows 7 and is available for next to nothing on ebay.co.uk. Quicken 98 has the Year 2000 bug, so don't get it. See the list here - http://shop.ebay.co.uk/... Note well that the existing UK versions of Quicken do not work in Windows 7. However, you can use the US version and configure it to use the UK pound as its currency. How to do that and how to avoid registering the program, which requires a US address, is dealt with at the top of this topic.
An Internet or web browser is the software that is used to access the Internet. All of them have been free ever since Microsoft started providing its browser, Internet Explorer, free of charge many years ago. Before then, you had to pay for the only browser - Netscape Navigator, which has become incorporated into the free Mozilla Firefox browser.
There are many web browsers that can be used with a version of Windows XP/WindowsVista/Windows 7/8 or Linux or Apple OS X operating systems. Internet Explorer, now up to version 10.0 (IE 10), is provided as part of Windows 8 and is now available for Windows 7, but not for Vista or XP. It is the most popular browser for that very reason, but there are others, such as Mozilla's Firefox, Opera, Google's Chrome and Apple's Safari, that are just as good or better.
If you value your privacy, you should avoid using the Google Chrome browser, which Google is advertising extensively across its own ad network, or even using a Google account (Gmail, YouTube, Maps, Earth, StreetView, Android phone or tablet, etc.) because, like all Google's so-called 'free' services and products, it supplies Google with information it uses to compile a personal database of each of its users that is used to track them across the web and deliver them with personalised ads. To put that to the test, try visiting, say, a property-related website (e.g., estate agent) and then visit a non-property-related website or blog that runs Google ads and you should see that some of the ads will be property-related. It doesn't have to be a property site, any kind of specialised site, such as a clothing site will do. You may have provided Google with partial information about yourself in more than one Google account, but since March 1, 2012, Google's single set of privacy policies, which has brought about a privacy-firestorm worldwide, allow it to combine all of that information into a single personal profile.
Internet Explorer 9.0 doesn't run on Windows XP, so many users of that version of Windows are abandoning IE for the alternative web browsers instead of having to keep using the poor IE8, which can take up to 10 seconds to open a new tab. The latest versions of alternative web browsers - Firefox, Chrome and Opera - support Windows XP.
In Windows XP, it is not possible to get rid of IE. Removing it via Add or Remove Programs (in the Control Panel) merely Windows reverts to IE7 if you have IE8 installed and IE6 if you have IE7 installed. You should update to IE8 because it is required to run Windows Update and there are still many websites that only work using IE. If you try to access Windows Update by using another browser, this message comes up plus a download link for IE: "To use this site, you must be running Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 or later."
You can install all of those browsers and use them all at once, but only one of them can be made the default browser that is used automatically when, for example, you click on a link in an email. each l of them will ask you to make it the default browser,but you can refuse to do so and keep the existing default browser or make a particular browser the default one via its internal settings options. Every version of windows allows the user to set the default programs. For example, in Windows XP you can set them by clicking Start (button) => Set Program Access and Defaults. In Windows Vista and Windows 7, enter the words Set your default programs in the Start => Search box to be provided with a clickable link that brings up a window with that title.
Internet Explorer 10 comes as part of Windows 8 as two versions - one that works from the Win8 Start screen and one that works from the Win8 Desktop screen. It is now available as a download for Windows 7, but not for Vista or XP. It is now a pretty decent browser that competes well with any of the others for speed of execution, HTML-version compliance, etc.
Internet Explorer 10 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Explorer_10
Here is a good review:
Internet Explorer 10 interview: how Microsoft is bringing touch to the web -
March 15, 2010. - Internet Explorer 9 (IE9), the final-release version of Microsoft's web browser, has just become available. Unfortunately, it is only available for users of the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008, but not for earlier versions of Windows such as Windows 98, Windows 2000 and Windows XP, which, in my opinion, is bad decision because Windows XP is still the most popular version of Windows by far and the other most popular web browsers - Mozilla's Firefox, Opera and Google's Chrome - still support it. The decision can only serve to drive users of Windows XP to those alternative browsers. All of the information that Microsoft has provided, including the downloads of the 32-bit and 64-bit versions, can be found at The Internet Explorer 9 TechCenter. The 64-bit version can only be used with the 64-bit versions of Windows, which can also use the 32-bit version. A qualifying 32-bit version of Windows can only use the 32-bit version. You can find out which bit-version of the versions of Windows that support IE9 is being used by a computer by entering the word system in the Search box and be provided with a clickable link to the System Properties window that can also be accessed via System in the Control Panel.
Test drive and download IE9 - http://ie.microsoft.com/testdrive/
Web Browser Grand Prix: The Top Five, Tested And Ranked -
"We've put Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla FireFox, and Opera through a gauntlet of speed tests and time trials to find out which Web browser is truly the fastest. How does your favorite land in our rankings?" Note that the tests don't include Internet Explorer 9, which was released on March 15, 2011. -
Most of the available software is run on suitable desktop and laptop/notebook PCs.
Visit the Desktop PCs section of this site for information on how to buy, build, repair, fix, and protect the various types of desktop PCs.
Visit the Laptop/Notebook PCs section of this site for information on buying and protecting them, and fixing problems with them.
Click here! to go directly to the page on this site devoted to Linux if you're interested in the Linux operating system. Some interesting information is provided there, such as how to go about successfully installing Linux on a laptop computer.
Microsoft provides all of the information on the lifecycle support of its products. Here are some relevant pages on its website:
Microsoft Support Lifecycle - main page - http://support.microsoft.com/?pr=lifecycle
Select a Product for Lifecycle Information - http://support.microsoft.com/gp/lifeselect
Table showing support dates for the different versions of Windows XP -
Windows Vista was released in January 2007. Support of Vista with SP1 installed ends on 12 July 2011, so users that have not done so are advised to update to SP2. For other lifecycle information, visit this page: http://support.microsoft.com/gp/lifeselectwin
The first Service Pack for Windows 7 (SP1) was made available in February 2011, so the all of versions of Windows 7 have several more years of mainstream support left.
OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer. OEM hardware or software is supported by the business concern that uses it in the manufacturer of its own equipment instead of by its manufacturer.
For example, if a hard disk drive made by one manufacturer is used in a computer made by a PC manufacturer, the PC manufacturer is the OEM hardware manufacturer that provides the support for the drive, not its real manufacturer.
A useful piece of information to bear in mind with regard to the software that comes with a computer is this: does the software come with its creator's support, or is it an OEM version that is only supported by the computer's supplier - and even then usually only via premium-rate phone lines.
In other words, apart from the exception in which the purchaser is the OEM, if the software on your computer is OEM, you will have to contact the computer's vendor for support, often over premium telephone lines, or on lines that are so busy that you can be kept waiting hours before your problem is dealt with - and then usually by inadequately trained personnel that do not have the depth of knowledge that the software company's support staff will hopefully, but not necessarily, possess.
Indeed, it is often a better bet to subscribe to the computer newsgroups provided by your Internet Service Provider (ISP), register with computer forums, and visit pertinent websites for information than it is to rely on vendors and manufacturers to provide hardware and software support. This is where having a brand-name motherboard installed is invaluable, because all of the major motherboard manufacturers have an ALT newsgroup which has this address alt.comp.periphs.mainboard followed by its trade name. For example the MSI alt newsgroup is:
Moreover, most manufacturers of computer components, including motherboards, have FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) pages, which should be the first source of information to resort to if you are having problems with a particular component. Most of the most frequently experienced problems will usually be dealt with there. Over the course of time, the motherboard manufacturer's newsgroup will discuss everything that can go wrong with it, or with any expansion cards or devices that can be attached to it. Moreover, you can, of course, post messages to the newsgroup, which will almost certainly receive pertinent replies.
Note that Windows XP Home and Professional Editions are no longer available from retailers or installed on new desktop and laptop PCs.
The versions of Windows 7 are the latest versions of Windows, having superseded the versions of Windows Vista, OEM information about which is provided further down in this section of this article. Here is a relevant thread on the windowssecrets.com computer forum that deals with OEM licences for Windows 7:
Can I build my own Win7 PC with an OEM version? -
"I am confused! I have built my own PCs, for my own use, for 15 years. I want to build my own Windows 7 PC. I intended to buy an OEM version from one of the myriad of legitimate sellers, like NewEgg, or Tiger Direct, etc, along with the components. However, I just read that there is confusion in the licensing language and its interpretation, as to whether an end user may use an OEM version on his/her own computer."
Note also that, due to price drops, it is now a better option to buy the retail Upgrade versions of Windows 7, the replacement for the versions of Windows Vista, than it is to buy an OEM version of Windows 7. There is very little difference between the pricing of OEM and the Upgrade product, which can be installed on an empty hard disk drive (just like the full retail product that cannot be used to perform an in-place upgrade from, say, Windows Vista to Windows 7). This is against the licence agreement of the Upgrade product, is therefore illegal, but Microsoft has not designed the Upgrade product to prevent this from being done. Moreover, an OEM copy of Windows can only be used on the first computer that it is installed on, whereas a retail copy can be installed on multiple PCs provided that it is installed on only one at a time. So, if you change PCs you can stop using the old computer or remove Windows from it when you sell it and install the retail copy on the new one. If you had an OEM copy, you would have to buy a new copy or a new licence from Microsoft.
Full Windows Vista operating system licences (US: licenses) for desktop PCs can be acquired only either preinstalled on a new PC by an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), or as a retail product, which is also known as full packaged product (FPP).
Click here! to download a 52K MS Word document that covers Microsoft Volume Licensing - "Microsoft Operating System License Requirements: Initial Operating System, Transfer of License, and Reassignment of License".
Note that many software retailers that sell computer components are allowed to sell OEM versions of Windows Vista. The technical support is provided by the person or company that installs the software, so you will have to provide your own support for it.
If you purchase an OEM copy with hardware from a site such as eBay, e-mail the seller to make sure that it comes with a Product Key, because without one you will not be able to obtain a Windows Product Activation (WPA) key from Microsoft.
You can make use of a search engine to search for oem windows vista, which finds OEM versions of the full products of Vista Home Basic, Home Premium, Ultimate, and Business Editions.
Note that most versions of Windows Vista were still available new in August 2011 from online stores such as Amazon, Vista was replaced by the equivalent versions of Windows 7 in February 2009, so pretty soon the versions of Vista will only be available from online auction sites such as eBay. OEM versions of Windows 7 are available.
A version of Windows Vista that has a Product ID such as this one - 76588-OEM-0032903-02827 - is called an OEM copy that has been pre-installed by the computer's manufacturer. It can only be used on the same computer. If, say, a significant component, such as the motherboard, is changed, the PC cannot be used, because Microsoft's Product Activation deems that it is installed on a different computer. You would then have to buy a new licence for that computer.
However, it is known that some users have got around this limitation by calling Microsoft and reporting that their motherboards had died, so they had to replace them. It is Microsoft's policy to allow motherboard swaps in instances where a system is defective or has suffered a hardware failure. However, if you are really just an upgrader taking advantage of that policy, you shouldn't rely on it, because Microsoft may rule that you have to install the same make and model of motherboard so that none of the other components need to be upgraded. In that way, Microsoft can be reasonably sure that you have not just upgraded the computer.
Buying OEM versions of Windows Vista: the facts -
"A Certificate of Authenticity (COA) is a label that helps you identify genuine Microsoft software. Without it, you will not have a legal licence to run Microsoft software. A COA is not a software licence - it is a visual identifier that assists in determining whether or not the Microsoft software you are running is genuine. A COA should never be purchased by itself without the software it authenticates. To help you verify the authenticity of the Microsoft software you acquired, be sure that your software came with one of the following COAs (or a previous version) and that the COA includes the advanced anti-counterfeiting features described." - For more information on COAs, visit this webpage:
The web has many sites that provide PC optimisation information, or that provide or run optimisation programs from their websites. However, you may want to read the information on the following webpages before indulging in any performance-tweaking yourself.
Windows tweaking and optimization: myths and reality -
But if you want to try tweaking your computer for performance, you can make use of a search engine to locate system-tweaking websites. If you are running, say, Windows 7, you could use a search query such as: tweaking windows 7. Here are a few relevant websites that I found:
Tweak Windows 7 - http://tweaks.com/
Windows 7 tricks: 20 top tips and tweaks -
"Getting to know Windows 7? Here are 20 ways to get around the interface and make it act the way you want." -
Here is an optimisation/optimization website with a good reputation:
PC Pitstop Optimize -
"Run our free Optimize scan and identify many common problems that plague most computers. Find out what it takes to get a better performing computer without the expense or difficulty of adding new hardware." -
Ever since Windows 95, Windows has used a database of entries called keys that configure the computer system that Windows is running on. The database is called the Windows Registry.
When a program is installed it enters information about itself in the Registry. However, when a program is uninstalled, via Add or Remove Programs in the Control Panel, or by making use of its own uninstall feature, it can leave most of its entries in the Registry, which are then increasing its size for no useful purpose. Running a good Registry cleaner, such as RegSeeker or CCleaner (which has a Registry cleaner and a system cleaner), remove many redundant entries, thereby allowing Windows to access the valid entries more efficiently.
To find download sites for RegSeeker and other cleaners, you can enter the name, or a suitable search query (registry + cleaner + windows + 7) in a search engine.
In order to fix certain software problems, you may have to edit the Registry. To open the Registry Editor in all the versions of Windows since Windows 95, just enter regedit in the Start => Run box.
Before attempting to edit the Registry, in case you make a mistake that render Windows unbootable, you should create a restore point in System Restore (available in Windows Me, Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7) that can restore the main system files, including the Registry from Safe Mode, which is accessed by repeated pressing the F8 key at startup just before Windows starts to load.
How Can I Delete a Key and its Subkeys from the Registry? -
How To Recover From a Corrupt Registry That Prevents Windows XP From Starting:
How to back up, edit, and restore the Registry in Windows XP:
Note that software such as the operating system and office suites can be supplied on CDs and DVDs. Do not buy the DVD version if you do not have a DVD-ROM drive, because it will not install from an ordinary CD-ROM drive. But CDs will install from a DVD-ROM drive. This is because the track on the disk that the laser follows is much finer on a DVD disk than it is on a CD disk, so an ordinary CD-ROM drive's laser beam cannot follow the finer track. CD and DVD writers can read DVD-ROM disks.
The most important software used by a computer is the operating system, without which the computer itself can't work, because the operating system runs all of the other software.
For ordinary home use, the operating system installed on a new PC should be Windows XP, (Home and Professional Editions), or one of the versions of Windows Vista or Windows 7 for home use installed. In spite of first being released in 2001, by October 2011, Windows XP was still being used on almost half of the world's computers.
Although the versions of Windows Vista suitable for home use were made available on January 30, 2007, Windows XP is set to receive mainstream support from Microsoft until April 2009 and update support until June 2014.
Click here! to go to the section of this website devoted to Windows Vista.
Click here! to go to the section of this website devoted to Windows 7.
Click here! to go to the section of this website devoted to Windows 8
Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 have to be activated on the Internet or by telephone, otherwise they both cease to work after a notified period. If Windows XP or Windows Vista or Windows 7 produces a message saying that it requires to be activated, and you don't know how to go about it, to find out, open Start=> Help and Support and enter product activation in the Search box. In Windows 7, just enter the term in the Start => Search programs and files box to be provided with a link to that information. You can be provided with links to information about any feature or hardware (Device Manager, Disk Management, mouse, keyboard, etc.) that Windows 7 provides or runs by entering its name in that box.
Note that you will only have to activate Windows XP/Windows Vista/7 if you purchased and OEM or retail copy and installed it yourself. If you have purchased a brand-name PC with Windows pre-installed, it will already have been activated.
If you have to activate Windows XP/Vista/7 and the activation process fails to finish successfully because Microsoft's records show an irregularity to do with that particular licence number, you will be supplied with a telephone number of one of Microsoft's support personnel. You provide the Product ID number that you will have with the documentation that came with Windows, or which is on the installation CD/DVD, and in exchange you will be provided with a Windows Product Activation (WPA) key as a means of preventing Windows XP/Vista/7 from being loaded on to more than one PC. The idea is not to allow more than one Product Activation key to be issued per product unless a further license is purchased for each additional PC.
Visit How Microsoft Windows XP Product Activation (WPA) Works on this site for the latest information on WPA.
Note that you should be able to buy a brand-name computer (Dell, HP, Acer, etc.) without an operating system (usually Windows), or any software installed. Pre-installed software is not free; it increases the price of the computer, because the manufacturer has to pay license fees for it. Therefore, you should be able to obtain a brand-name computer at a reduced cost if it is supplied without an operating system or software.
You will probably have to buy a computer with or without any software, not just minus the operating system. This is because the manufacturer cannot load any software applications without an operating system being installed. You will therefore not be supplied with a recovery CD/DVD, which restores the whole system (Windows and the applications) to the state they were in when the computer left the factory), unless you have the whole package pre-installed. However, some brand-name computer manufacturers supply the software on CD/DVD disks, so, in this case, you will probably be able to negotiate a deal in which the computer comes supplied with only the software that you want to install.
Therefore, look hard with educated eyes at what is on offer before you buy. If your eyes are not educated read all of the information provided by websites such as this one before you start looking.
See the information on the Warranty page on this site for more information on how PC manufacturers are behaving or can behave with regard to warranties.
According to the Windows End User License Agreement (EULA) that everyone agrees to before installing the operating system, a single computer can only have one copy installed. Moreover, if, say, the user used the upgrade version of Windows XP to upgrade the system from, say, Windows 98, the user won't be able to install Windows 98 in order to have a dual-boot system, because it's illegal, and in any case, Windows 98 will refuse to install.
This would not legally be the case if the user owns the full versions of Windows XP and Windows 98. Then the user would be entitled to install both versions. But if Windows 98 detects that another version of Windows is installed, it will refuse to install, because it wants to be the only operating system. However, if Windows 98 is already installed, a full version of Windows XP or Windows Vista can easily be installed, because it has the capacity to install itself as part of a multi-boot system, and it will even install a boot menu that allows the user to choose which version to boot with. A full version of Windows Vista can easily be installed on a separate partition of aPC running a version of Windows XP, simply by running the Vista installation DVD (requires a DVD drive). The Vista setup routine installs a boot manager that allows the user to choose which version to boot. Note that Vista is the default option that boots after a set number of seconds. Visit the Using Windows Vista section of this to find out how to set Windows XP as the default boot option.
It is still possible to add the full version of Windows 98 to a system already running Windows XP, but the user would have to implement the workaround of the kind provided on the site of MVP, Doug Knox.
Note the MS Office comes with a license that allows it to be used on one desktop and one laptop computer. If you are a student, or even the parent of students, you can buy Microsoft software with a student license at much-reduced prices.
Because Windows 95/98/Me and Windows XP systems have completely different architectures, some programs written for Windows 95/98/Me simply won't run at all or won't well under Windows XP, no matter what you do to rectify the situation.
However, there is a way of making such programs run properly under Windows XP - run the Program Compatibility Wizard.
I used it when MS Excel 97 and MS Word 97 wouldn't work. After running the wizard, they worked as they had done under Windows 98. I chose Windows 98 as the operating system to emulate.
To run the Program Compatibility Wizard in Windows XP, follow this path:
Start => All Programs => Accessories => Program Compatibility Wizard.
In Windows Vista, open the Program Compatibility Wizard by clicking Start => Control Panel => Programs => Use an older program with this version of Windows.
For information on using another method, visit this relevant Q&A on this site: How can I get an old program that requires 256 colours (US: colors) to work in Windows XP?
If you require more information on how to make Windows 95/98/Me programs and games run better under Windows XP, visit the following pages on the Microsoft site. The information there also applies to virtually any program that anyone might want to run under Windows XP.
How to use Windows Program Compatibility mode in Windows XP -
Click here! to go directly to the information on a page on this site that contains some useful tips and tricks specific to Windows.
Here are the pages on this website that provide recovery, repair and reinstallation information on Windows from XP to Win7. Click on the relevant link to go to that information:
Click here! to go to Page 3 of this article on the programs and methods used to create backups.
It's possible to transfer files - or even a backup image of a whole system created by using programs such as Norton Ghost or Drive Image - via a USB cable that links computers together. [Note that Symantec, the developer of Ghost, is discontinuing it from April 30, 2013. No version of Ghost supports Windows 8]
Visit http://www.windowsnetworking.com/... for a full explanation.
First of all, if you can possibly avoid doing so, never have a computer that contains valuable or strictly private information connected to the Internet, either as a stand-alone unit or as part of a network. Secondly, use Windows 2000 or XP with the NTFS file system installed, and enable data encryption on a folder-by-folder basis rather than global encryption of the whole system.
See the next item for information on data encryption.
Visit the Security section of this website for more security-related information and links to security sites.
If your hard disk drive failed and had to be send back to the manufacturer, it could contain private information that could be recovered when the drive is repaired, returned to you, or resold. If your computer is accessed by a hacker, or stolen and accessed, your private information could fall into the hands of those you would least want it to. Therefore, if you have data you want to keep private, you should consider using data encryption to protect it.
You can use encryption to protect a whole hard disk drive, or just to protect a particular file or folder. It is up to you to decide which is the best option for your particular circumstances.
However, note that the NTFS file system that is native to Windows XP, makes you choose between encryption or compression. If you use NTFS for either one, you have to use a third-party utility for the other.
Click here! to read an article on the subject if you need to know how to use encryption, or which method of encryption to use.
Only Windows XP Professional version supports encrypted files via the Encrypted File System (EFS).
To encrypt a folder/directory, in Windows XP Pro, right-click on it, and click the Advanced button that opens the Advanced Properties windows. Enable the option Encrypt contents to secure data, and click OK. Thereafter the contents of the folder are encrypted. If you copy a new file in the folder it is automatically encrypted, and if you open the file it is decrypted automatically. But note well that it is your responsibility to obtain and manage the digital certificates that are used in the encryption/decryption process from Microsoft's site.
The same Advanced Properties window has the option to compress data. As I said, you can only enable encryption or compression, not both. Enabling either of these features slows the system down slightly because of the additional processes involved. Because of today's huge hard disk drives, it is advisable to use encryption instead of compression because of the security it provides. No one will be able to access the folders/files that are encrypted should the computer be stolen or the hard drive fail and have to be returned to the manufacturer. Only the person logging on to XP via your user name will be able to access the folders/files.
If you have valuable data that you cannot allow to fall into anyone else's hands and the hard drive fails and the data is not encrypted, you would not be able to return the drive to the manufacturer in order to obtain a replacement under the terms of the warranty. You would have to smash it to pieces, because the data would be accessible by anyone if the drive were repaired.
The encryption provided by Windows 2000 and XP (none is provided with Windows 9.x) is relatively weak, so you are advised to employ a third-party program.
If you want to conduct your own search, use the search query data encryption in a search engine and add the version of Windows you are using. Windows 8 Pro has the most advanced encryption provided by a version of Windows to date (Dec. 2012).
"How Encryption Works" - http://www.howstuffworks.com/encryption.htm
You should never try to remove a program by deleting its folders or files manually. Always use either the Windows Add/Remove Programs utility, or, preferably, the uninstaller that the program itself installs and makes available - usually from the Start => Programs (Windows 95/98/Me) or All Programs menu (Windows XP/Windows Vista).
The Windows 95/98/Me Add/Remove Programs utility in the Control Panel is a very basic uninstaller, so it is always better to use the uninstall feature of the program itself if it has one. The program's uninstaller should be programmed to know exactly how to uninstall the program, and hence be able to handle aspects such as unlocking files in use so they can be deleted, and removing data files specific to the program.
Microsoft has been getting much better at creating its uninstallers. Uninstallers under Windows 95 made a pretty crude job of it, while the uninstallers used by Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Vista do almost as good a job as the program's own uninstaller.
It is always a good idea to uninstall the previous version of a software package before installing the latest version, because the previous version might leave parts of itself that are not compatible with the latest version. This is especially advisable with antivirus and firewall utilities.
You should consult the software's Help files to find out if more is required to remove it than merely using the Add/Remove Programs utility in the Windows Control Panel.
For instance, removing the ZoneAlarm firewall completely is a bit complex. The Windows Registry must be searched and edited, and all residual files and folders must be located and deleted (according to ZoneLabs Service & Support). Otherwise, Internet access is blocked the next time the computer is rebooted. This is because of a failsafe lockout program that is installed by the latest versions of the ZoneAlarm firewall.
Using Add/Remove Programs to remove a program or utility almost always leaves entries in the Windows Registry, and folders and files left intact that should be removed before the new version is installed.
You should also make sure that antivirus and firewall software is completely removed even if you are installing the same kind of software made by another manufacturer, because leftovers from the previous manufacturer's software can adversely affect the new installation.
Note well that if you are going to reinstall or upgrade Windows, you should uninstall all of the security programs, because security programs are more complex than ordinary programs, and consequently reinstalling or upgrading Windows without removing them as completely as possible can result in all kinds of weird problems, such as Windows refusing to reinstall the security programs themselves, or having them block all Internet traffic.
Note well that if you are upgrading from an earlier version of Windows to Windows XP, you should always uninstall the security programs (virus scanners and firewalls, etc.) beforehand, and then reinstall them after the upgrade has taken place.
This advice is especially applicable to the Norton security programs, such as the Norton Personal Firewall. It would be a good idea to comb the computer for all references to Symantec's products (the makers of the Norton products) and deleted them, and then search the Registry and delete all the items you can find, using Norton and Symantec as the search terms.
If you want to make sure that Norton AntiVirus is removed, a file called Rnav2003.exe is available from symantec.com that removes the programs files and Registry entries for Norton AntiVirus 5.0, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003.
There are also sites that provide removal instructions for Symantec software, which is the developer of the Norton products. You can find them by using a suitable search query in a search engine. Here is one that I found:
Symantec NAV, NIS, NSW Removal - http://basconotw.mvps.org/SymRem.htm
You should not have more than one software firewall installed, because such a setup can be the cause of numerous problems. Also don't forget that the installation of one make of firewall can affect the installation of another make of firewall, even if one make of firewall has been uninstalled before the other make is installed. This is because entries are always left in the Windows Registry, and these entries can interfere with the operation of the new installation.
Indeed, you may not even be aware that the system has two software firewalls installed, because Windows XP installs its own rudimentary firewall that remains invisible to a user who hasn't become familiar with the list of start-up programs and services, and McAfee VirusScan also installs McAfee's firewall.
Fully Uninstall Software Firewalls - http://www.scotsnewsletter.com/35.htm#csavvy
You should always close down any programs that are running before installing new software to the system, because programs that are running can bar access to files that the installer requires to access, and therefore the installation can be ruined. This is especially the case with active virus scanners.
If you have a virus scanner installed that is set to monitor the system, you would be wise to disable it before you attempt to install software.
An active virus scanner can ruin the installation, because it can block the installation of files that it is programmed to regard as being suspect.
This is often what happens when the Windows Media Player is installed. The virus scanner blocks the installation of the codec files, which it scans as being suspect, and their absence makes the player unable to execute the functions that require these files. So, if you have installed an application or utility that malfunctions, disable an active virus scanner, use the Add/Remove Programs utility in the Control Panel to uninstall the software, and then reinstall it, and reactivate the scanner.
If you are planning to change your operating system from say Windows 98 SE to Windows XP (a major change), save yourself a lot of hassles by checking the motherboard/PC manufacturer's website for a BIOS update. A large percentage of operating-system upgrade problems would be avoided just by reflashing the BIOS with the latest update file.
But you probably wouldn't have to take that action if you changed from Windows 98 to Windows 98 SE, because that is not a major change. Both versions of Windows 98 use the same architecture, but Windows XP uses a totally different architecture.
If you cannot obtain a BIOS update for the existing motherboard, try making the changeover, or dual-boot Windows 98 and Windows XP to experiment safely, but if it doesn't work out, you will probably have to install a new motherboard with a BIOS that supports Windows XP if you want to use it as the operating system. And given how fast technology is changing, you will almost certainly have to purchase new RAM, and a new processor for that motherboard, because the RAM and processor on the old motherboard won't be compatible with the new motherboard. And if you choose an Intel Pentium 4 (Socket 478) motherboard over an AMD (Socket A) motherboard, you will also have to purchase a new case, because Pentium 4 motherboards require a special power-supply unit and special case mountings. But if you choose an AMD solution, you will be at least be able to reuse an ATX case if the existing power-supply unit meets the processor's power requirements. (Check AMD's website for recommended cases and PSUs.) If not, they you will just have to install a new power-supply unit into the case.
Note that motherboards with built-in sound and video chips use much less power than motherboards fitted with PCI and AGP sound and video cards respectively. Therefore, the latter solution might require a 300W or 350W power supply unit, whereas the former solution might be able to run easily on a 230W or 250W power supply unit.
See the Build a PC set of pages on this site for information on how to install a PSU - and all of the other components.
Instead of backup CD or DVD disks (discs), most of the prominent direct and mail-order dealerships in the UK (and US) provide a Recovery Disk that allows you to restore the application software from a space-wasting master image of that software created on the CD/DVD itself, or from a hidden partition on the computer's hard disk drive. In the latter case, if the hard disk drive is rendered inoperable, all of that software will be lost. And if the system is backed up on to the Recovery CD itself and it becomes unusable due to damage or is lost, you'll have to buy a full version of Windows XP, because you won't have a version to legitimise using an upgrade version.
THEREFORE, IT IS ADVISABLE TO MAKE SURE THAT A COMPUTER COMES WITH FREE RETAIL OR OEM CD/DVD VERSIONS OF ALL THE PRELOADED SOFTWARE BEFORE YOU BUY IT, THE USE OF WHICH IS UNRESTRICTED.
If it doesn't, then I would strike a deal with the vendor to sell the computer minus the software, and I would buy my own retail versions of Windows XP and other software. For example, it's possible to buy a full OEM version of Windows XP Home Edition (that the user supports) together with a qualifying piece of computer hardware (that the OEM license stipulates must be purchased) for half the price of the (non-OEM) retail product that is supported by Microsoft.
I personally would never buy a computer that comes with a Recovery Disk or a recovery system instead of the Windows CD, if only because of all of the useless and/or intrusive software that is preloaded.
A few manufacturers/vendors include a genuine Windows CD with their computers. Others that don't include a Windows CD might post one to you if you specifically request it. There will probably be a cost, because an OEM license is cheaper for the manufacturer if no Windows CD is provided.
Dell has developed a unique method of allowing the owners of its computers to create a Windows CD by including a utility that can only be used once to create a customised Windows XP setup CD that is specific to the system it is made from that includes all of the necessary device drivers. The utility also preserves the original Windows Product Activation. Therefore, when the contents of the CD are installed, Windows runs exactly as it did before whatever occurred to make the use of the CD necessary.
Note well that OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) software, which is provided and given customer support by the manufacturer of the equipment, such as Hewlett Packard, not the manufacturer of the software, such as Microsoft, is often customised. That is, it can be restricted in ways that reduce support costs, reduced in size, (with bits such as resource kits removed), or in functionality.
Note that some Recovery Disks are now provided in the form of a CD/DVD disk - depending on whether the computer was supplied with a CD or DVD drive - which contains the whole master image of the system as it was when it left the factory.
You restore the system by running the recovery procedure from a CD/DVD drive. Any additions that you have made to the system could be lost after the system has been restored, because some recovery systems destroy any data that has been added to the system during the process of restoring the system to the state it was in when it left the factory.
Note, however, that not all recovery systems destroy the user's data. For example, Advent Computers, a brand from the Dixons group in the UK, uses a recovery system whose default option is to restore Windows XP without destroying any of the user's data.
A brand-name computer's user manual should provide all of the information required to make use of its recovery system.
Another common method already mentioned is to have a hidden partition on the hard drive that contains the master image, plus system diagnostic utilities. You would then use a start-up CD or floppy disk that provides the options to restore the system or run diagnostic tests, etc.
Click here! to read the Q&A on this site called: How can I remove a hidden partition on a computer from Time Computers?
I know of someone with a Compaq Presario 6000 that came with Windows XP pre-loaded. He didn't like Windows XP and wanted to wipe his hard drive and install Windows 98 SE, but he was told by Compaq support that he could not do that because he would be rendering his warranty void, and, in any case, Compaq use its own customised versions of hardware devices in the system that require Compaq's device drivers, which are not available for Windows 98.
The problem is, you can never tell if information provided by the technical support of a company such as HP/Compaq is true or false until you put it to the test yourself.
For instance, you could backup everything on a Compaq Presario 6000's hard drive to CD-R disks, and then use the Windows 98 FDISK utility (on a Windows 98 start-up floppy disk) or Partition Magic, to remove the partitions (hidden and accessible), reformat the hard drive, disable any virus protection in the BIOS, and then install Windows 98. You will soon find out if Windows 98 doesn't have the device drivers for the hardware devices if, instead of installing them automatically, it asks for their manufacturer's CDs from which to load them. You won't have the drivers' CD because Compaq uses a System Recovery feature, so you will have to try downloading and installing the device drivers obtained from the device manufacturer's sites, and you'll soon find out if they install and work or not.
If any of the drivers don't work, you'll be able to restore the whole system by using the backups you made. You could also restore the backups if the computer has hardware problems that require Compaq's installation of software installed to make the warranty valid.
The use of a Recovery System by the likes of HP, Compaq, and Dell may cut their support costs, but for anyone who wants to customise the computer for his or her own use, it is a serious impediment. For that reason alone, I would never consider buying a brand-name computer. In my opinion, anyone who uses a computer for serious professional purposes, or needs to customise it, should follow the self-build route.
Note that if you have a brand-name computer that came with a Recovery CD instead of a Windows installation CD, you will have to buy a full version of a newer version of Windows in order to upgrade it. For instance, the system might have Windows 98 SE installed, which can be recovered by using the Recovery CD, but if you were to purchase an upgrade version of Windows XP Home edition, it would refuse to acknowledge the Recovery CD as being valid to upgrade from, so you would have to buy the more expansive retail copy of the full version (or a much cheaper OEM license of the full version that must be purchased with a piece of qualifying computer hardware) and use it to perform a clean installation of Windows.
You can buy the reduced-price full versions of Windows XP Home and Professional Editions under an OEM and OEM DSP (Delivery Service Partner) licenses from certain vendors licensed to sell those licenses. You have to buy an item of hardware, such as a heatsink and fan unit or hard disk drive to qualify for it.
Hewlett Packard, Compaq, Dell, and most of the major PC manufacturer's make use of recovery systems, each of which will differ in detail and policy and so require individual investigation.
Believe me, you will have to reinstall a computer's software several times over the course of the computer's life; the more often the more experimental you are.
If you install a program or utility that has been badly programmed, it can do things that will require the use of the Recovery Disk to run a complete restoration of the master image, which, if it hidden on the hard disk drive, can take up a gigabyte or more of disk space, depending on the amount of software that the computer came loaded with.
Having a Windows CD is always a much better option than only having the use of a Recovery Disk in order to recover from problems. Even if the recovery procedure of a Recovery Disk doesn't destroy all of the data files on the computer by returning it to the state it was in when it left the factory, which most such recovery procedures do, it will be a lengthy procedure compared to just inserting the Windows CD when it is asked for in order to achieve the same type of recovery.
If a PC you want to buy provides a Recovery Disk instead of a Windows XP CD, it would be a good idea to ask the vendor if you can buy it at a reduced price without Windows XP or any preloaded software, most of which is rubbish anyhow. You can then buy your own retail or OEM copy of Windows XP and use the excellent, free OpenOffice instead of MS Word/Excel, or MS Works.
The full versions of Windows XP (Home and Professional Editions) with an OEM license cost less than half the price of the retail versions. You have to purchase it with a qualifying item of hardware and provide your own technical support for the OEM versions, but you're entitled to all of the updates and to use free programs such as AntiSpyware.
To find local vendors, try using a search term such as oem + "windows xp" as the search query in a search engine.
It would be much better to have the software disks so that you can delete the master image and restore the software from them instead.
Disk space is not much of a problem nowadays, but on an older system, the loss of 2GB or more of space given over to the master image can be a real handicap, both from a space and performance point of view.
In short, minus the master image, the computer will load its software faster at start-up, can be serviced, and will run much faster - even if you have a monster-sized drive in relation to which two gigabytes represents only 5 to 10% or less of its capacity.
HP, Compaq, Dell, and Packard Bell make use of recovery systems as the cure-all for software problems. Their support staff merely tell clients with software problems to run the recovery procedure, which deletes all of the installed software and replaces it with the master image that was created of the system when it was first installed.
If you have not been provided with backup CDs of this software, all of it will be lost if the computer's hard disk drive dies - an all-too-common occurrence.
Read the complaints with regard to this in the postings in the Compaq and Packard Bell newsgroups.
Unfortunately, something else to look out for is a new or second-hand computer that comes with beta version software - for example, an experimental beta version of Windows 95 or 98 - preloaded. The large suppliers would not dare to use these, but the smaller fly-by-night firms struggling to survive might be tempted to load them in their computers. A second-hand computer could easily be loaded with pirate copies or beta versions of the operating system and the applications. Microsoft releases beta versions of its software, free or at reduced cost, to volunteers who test them and report any bugs. Although it is illegal to resell them, it is not impossible for these versions to find their way on to the open market. In any case, you should never buy a computer that comes without all of its preloaded software on CDs, so if you are not sure of the version you are being sold, telephone Microsoft with the details on the CD packaging, or obtain a translation of the version number from Microsoft's website.
There is a list of the different official releases of Windows from the original retail version of Windows 95 to Windows 98 Second Edition in the Motherboard, Cases and Power Supplies section of this website.
Windows Me has not been included, because the general consensus of opinion on the web is to avoid it if you can.
The thirty-two bit version of the Windows XP operating system for home users, is expected in the shops on 25 October 2001, and will come bundled with new PCs in advance of that date. But, you should be aware that a sixty-four-bit version will be available in a year or so, which will be supported by sixty-four-bit processors, so why be lumbered with thirty-two-bit kit if you can wait for the next generation of sixty-four-bit operating systems and processors?
Knowledge of Windows Product Activation (WPA) - is essential if you want to keep on top of the policies Microsoft has incorporated into these products. The most important of them is this one. - If you fail to register them according to a predetermined time limit or number of uses, they disable themselves. Windows XP disables itself completely after a time limit, and all of the Office suite programs become partially disabled after a certain number of uses.
You can obtain an immense amount of software legally free of charge from websites, or from the cover disks that come with computer magazines.
Apart from free downloads that most of the distributions of Linux provide, the OpenOffice office suite and its offshoot, LibreOffice, is probably the best free software available at the moment.
And, as you can see from the website links provided at the end of this article, a great deal of very useful free software that is not also 'spyware', such as Microsoft Security Essentials, X-Setup, AVG Anti-Virus Free (or paid-for), Spybot S&D, Ad-aware, ZoneAlarm, can be obtained legally for the cost of the downloads.
Note that Microsoft has directed computer magazines not to include any of its software on its cover CD/DVDs, which used to be a good source of it for those with slow dial-up connections. So, the only way you can obtain programs such as Internet Explorer, DirectX, the service packs that update Microsoft software and operating systems, and the numerous security patches is by downloading them from Microsoft's site, or by purchasing the service-pack CDs that Microsoft has made available.
If you want to make your own searches of the web for software or information about software, create a search query using its name and any other term, depending on what you are looking for, such as libreoffice review to find reviews of that free office application, based on OpenOffice (capital letters are not necessary for a search).