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Feature Article – Repurposing that ex-business laptop computer for home use

Originally published at my previous Windows Live Spaces blog in May 2007
First published on this blog in November 2008. Updated 31 July 2009
 
If you are repurposing an ex-business laptop computer for home use, you need to make sure that it is safe as far as the computer’s former life is concerned and able to perform well in the home. Here, you would need to “detach” the computer from its former business life by removing line-of-business applications and data; and business-specific configurations like network, VPN and terminal-emulation setups used in the business. In some situations like ex-kiosk computers where the computer was heavily locked down, you may have to research the Internet to find out how to reset the BIOS settings so you can boot from the optical drive for example.
 
1. Make sure that you have the original media and licence information for the operating system and any other software to be used in the home context.
2. Visit the computer manufacturer’s Website and obtain the complete driver set for the computer’s current configuration. Copy this driver set to a CD-R or USB memory key. You might find it better to work the computer directly with the operating system’s abilities like Windows Zero Configuration rather than use the software supplied by the system manufacturer.
3 Do any necessary repairs to the computer like replacing damaged keyboards. This could be a good time to track down replacement batteries, AC adaptors or AC cords for the computer. If the computer doesn’t have built-in wireless or isn’t able to have wireless networking retrofitted at a later date, track down a wireless-network PCMCIA card or ExpressCard to suit your home network.
4. Format the primary hard disk and install the operating system and other software from the original media. Activate XP / Vista / Windows 7 and Office as applicable and deploy the driver set from the CD-R or USB memory key that you prepared in Step 2.
5. Register the computer with network services that are part of the home network like the network printer. If the printer is hosted by a Windows box, you may be able to set it up using “Point and Print” where you load the printer drivers from the Windows box.
 
As far as software is concerned, you can use a basic “office” package like Microsoft Office Home and Student Edition as well as Screen Paver (the shareware photo screen-saver that I use) and the latest version of AVG AntiVirus Free Edition or Avast AntiVirus Home Edition for your additional software. Most functionality is catered for by the software that is part of the operating system.
 
If you are working with a Windows-based computer, it may be worth downloading Windws Live Mail, Windows Live Messenger and Windows Live Photo Gallery from http://download.live.com . These programs provide the essentials for instant mesaging, desktop POP3 or IMAP mail, RSS-feed management and digital-image management.

31 July 2009 Posted by | Computer setups, Feature Article, Mobile Computing | , , , , | 2 Comments

The European Commission vs Microsoft anti-trust fiasco – or “Web-browser delete”

Over the last week, Microsoft put up the idea of offering the “E” versions of all of its Windows 7 operating system packages sold in the European Union. This version, which doesn’t include Internet Explorer, is an attempt to appease European-Commission anti-trust action that was instigated at the behest of Opera. This was even though the European Commission may require Windows-based computers to have a “ballot-screen” where the user chooses which Web browser to install when they set up their new computer.

The main issue that I was thinking about with the fiasco is whether a computer supplier will have to do what vehicle builders did before the 1980s with the car radio. That is to offer a “radio-delete” option where you bought the vehicle at a slightly-reduced cost if the radio wasn’t supplied. Most people took advantage of this option to allow the purchase of a better car radio from the retail sector, where as some just saw it as a way of reducing the cost of their vehicle purchase. This kind of packaging was more feasible with vehicles that were to be bought new off the showroom floor because the motorist was in a better position to have the desired package.

Could there then be a requirement for all computer retailers in Europe to provide computer systems with a "Web-browser delete” option where they provide the computer with no Web-browser. Users would then be supplied with a DVD-ROM disc or USB memory key that has the installation packages for four or five different Web browsers. It may appear easier to provide this option for computers that are being sold “to order”, which is practised mainly with small independently-run computer shops; or online computer resellers like Dell. On the other hand, it may not be feasible where computer equipment is sold “off the rack” like in most non-specialist stores like department stores or discount electrical stores. In these locations, users also expect to buy a particular package of equipment for the price quoted on the sticker. They can satisfy these requirements by providing the aforementioned DVD-ROM disc or USB memory key with the Web-browser installation packages.

The main issue for most users, especially those buying their first computer, is that they will go for the browser they are most familiar with, whether the one that is supplied by default with the operating system for their platform or the one that their school or workplace uses.

15 June 2009 Posted by | Computer setups, Industry Comments | , , | Leave a comment

Stronger Economy May Weaken Netbook Sales

Stronger Economy May Weaken Netbook Sales | Wi-Fi Planet

Netbook growth might end when economy recovers, says iSuppli

My comments on this issue

The “people’s cars” that were built in Europe.

Between the 1930s and the 1960s, VW, Citroen, British Motor Corporation and Fiat had put in to their lineup a small simple car which sold at a price affordable for most people in the country they were sold in. Before these vehicles came on the market, vehicles that were on the market wore priced out of reach of most people living in Europe. In some cases, the national governments were involved in the manufacture and sale of the vehicles to their citizens.

The vehicles, which were the VW “Beetle”, the Citroen 2CV, the Morris Minor, the Mini and the Fiat 500, had minimal equipment levels and were powered by a low-power engine which was of a simple design with the power going via a three or four-speed manual gearbox. These cars, which were of the sedan (saloon) body style, were able to comfortably accommodate four adults including the driver or a family of two adults and three children at a pinch.

But through the life of the models, they had undergone significant revisions to make them to the same standards as one of today’s small cars. For example, some of the cars were equipped with more powerful engines and had equipment which they did not have previously like electric windscreen washers or wind-down windows. The vehicle builders also had issued the vehicles in different body styles such as a delivery van, or convertible as well as the standard sedan (saloon) body style. In the 1960s, most of these vehicles had undergone a “rework” which had modern conveniences, improved performance and compliance with newer road-safety expectations integrated in to their design.

Now these cars had acquired “cult status” especially amongst people of the “baby-boom” generation. This was due to the vehicles being used by their family as the main household vehicle or these people buying them as their first car. The minimalist design that these vehicles had also been valued by the 1960s hippie culture.  The vehicle builders had responded with or are responding with “one-more-time” designs of these vehicles which look similar to the original model but have a design based on a current-issue small car. These cars are still considered “cool” and fashionable amongst today’s generation.

How this relates to the netbook.

I see the netbook as being akin to these “people’s cars” – a computer designed with a quaintly simple design with a simple outlook for a simple purpose. Then, like the vehicle builders had done with the “people’s cars”, the manufacturers will supply newer models with improved performance, capacity and functionality but in the same form factor, especially as the financial situation improves. Similarly, operating systems available for installation on these devices will end up being able to do most of what a full-size computer can do.

How the netbook could be relevant in a stronger economy

The netbook would evolve as a lightweight small-unit alternative to the economy notebook for the entry-level computing market. This class of users will want to start out on something simple so they can “get the hang” of the technology and work out their direction with it.

It would then exist as a secondary-computer option especially for users like journalists or students who want a highly-portable computer to take “out and about”, especially for notetaking or liveblogging. On the other hand, it could exist as an alternative to the mobile Internet device or the smartphone as one’s personal computing device.

It can also exist simply in a home network simply as a secondary “floater” computer that is moved between the kitchen, main lounge area (where most of the TV viewing is done), the outdoors entertaining area and similar common areas for online activity like interacting with TV-show Websites or responding to social networks and Web-based e-mail.

The thing to remember about these devices is that they won’t be used by most computer users as a primary desktop or laptop computer. They will simply be seen as an extension of one’s computing life.

7 May 2009 Posted by | Computer setups, Mobile Computing | | Leave a comment

Getting the most from Windows Vista

Over the past few weeks, I had received a recent-issue motherboard, CPU, graphics card and RAM as a gift from a friend who likes to “tinker” with computers. Then I had moved my Windows Vista-based installation to this installation and had noticed a significant difference in the performance of this operating system.

Previously I was running Windows Vista on a very old motherboard, CPU and graphics card and it was definitely sluggish. This was more so with how the system handled graphics and the older setup had a Windows Experience Index of 1.0 with the graphics card holding it down. The card was an older AGP-based card with an older ATI chipset that didn’t have drivers optimised for proper operation under Vista.

Now the system is reporting a 3.0 Windows Experience score with the ability to use the full Windows Aero Glass trim and quicker response from the display.

You are much safer buying a new computer if you want to work with Windows Vista. On the other hand, if you intend to deploy Vista to an existing computer, make sure that the system is running with hardware made since 2006. You have a greater chance of the computer performing properly for Vista and working with drivers that take advantage of this operating system.

16 April 2009 Posted by | Computer building and repair, Computer setups | | Leave a comment

Adding Optical Drives to Non-Computer Devices Using USB – What Can Be Done?

The typical network-attached storage, electronic picture frame or printer is now equipped with a USB host port, typically for connecting USB flash drives and other similar devices. Even a lot of boomboxes and clock radios which have a dock for an iPod have a USB host port so they can play MP3 files held on a USB flash drive. But what about connecting a USB-attached CD or DVD drive.

This could allow, for example, a typical network-attached storage to work like the RipFactory RipServer and “rip” audio CDs to the hard disk so they can be shared to DLNA-compliant media clients. Similarly, those CDs that we “burn” photos on to for sending to other people or viewing on our JPEG-compatible DVD player can be viewed on an electronic picture frame or select pictures can be printed from these discs using an “all-in-one” printer or the pictures that are on these CDs can be copied on to a network-attached storage so they are available on the home network. Approved DVD-playback software could be installed in an electronic picture frame so that one can turn it in to a personal DVD player by adding an optional DVD-ROM drive. Similarly, an MP3 player that doesn’t have a built-in optical drive could become a CD player once a CD-ROM drive is connected to it. The same holds true for such players that have a built-in optical drive but the optical drive has failed, thus extending the useful lifespan of these devices.

The main problems about this is the ability for these devices to support optical drives as part of the USB Mass-Storage device-class specification. Then there is the issue of providing enough power at the USB socket to support a “single-cord” USB optical drive of the kind sold as an accessory for portable computers like laptops or netbooks. This is because the USB cord in these drives is required to supply power as well as data. The power-supply problem can become more intense with devices such as electronic picture frames that are built to a limited size budget and have to work from internal batteries or an external power supply.

If this is implemented, the idea of an “add-on” optical disk drive for the likes of network-attached storage units, electronic picture frames and “all-in-one” printers that the user can buy at a later date can extend the value of these devices through their working life.

5 February 2009 Posted by | Computer setups, Network hardware design | , | 1 Comment

The “netbook” computer – now every manufacturer is selling one of them

A “netbook” computer is a low-cost portable computer the same size as a classic “Day-Planner” or “Filofax” personal organizer but is primarily designed to be used for basic computing tasks like Web browsing, e-mail work or basic word-processing. Typically they will have up to 1Gb on the RAM and up to 80Gb on a solid-state disk or 120Gb on a mechanical hard disk. They will use a processor like the Intel Aero that is pitched at ultra-portable computer work by being designed to offer basic processing power without much energy being used. . The display won’t have the kind of performance that you would expect for intense game play or video editing but would be suitable for most tasks including playing casual games.  Typically, they will have built-in wireless networking support primarily for Internet access. The operating system they will often run with is either a customised Linux build or the latest “out-of-box” build of Windows XP. They usually don’t come with any sort of “load device” like an optical disk drive because you are expected to work with the software that is supplied as part of the unit or download extra software from the Internet to suit your needs. If you do need auxiliary storage or a “load device”, they may come with an SD card drive or you plug in a USB Mass-Storage compliant device like a memory key or external optical drive.

This class of computer was born out of the “One Laptop Per Child” project where the idea was to provide computer and Internet access to children in marginalised Third World countries.  They have also gained appeal in Western countries as a small secondary computer for e-mail and Web use or as an entry-level computer for the likes of students. One area that they can come in handy in the home is as a “Web terminal” that is used in the kitchen or lounge for casual Web browsing. This would be set up in a similar manner to what I have suggested in a previous article about how a secondhand computer could be set up as a kitchen computer.

For most people, it may be preferable to work with Windows XP-based netbooks rather than the scaled-down Linux units. This will provide a lot more operating room through the unit’s working life. If you do a lot of work with Linux, I would suggest that you go for the high-end Linux units and know how to keep their software up to date. This may involve “rolling in” the latest version of a standard distribution like Redhat or OpenSUSE with all its functionality. Some Linux “geeks” may be interested in using a “netbook” for modelling programs that they are developing or building the “perfect” distribution.

I would still certainly say that these “netbooks” still have their place in the computer market in all market conditions.

30 November 2008 Posted by | Computer setups, Mobile Computing | | Leave a comment

Feature Article – Using an ex-business laptop computer as a kitchen PC

When I originally wrote this post on my old blog site in May 2007, a close friend of mine was given a computer by her partner who is in the business-computer trade and the partner had, at that time, inherited a recent-model ex-business laptop which he was going to give to her. Here, I had pointed out a useful article written by Sharon Crawford for the Microsoft Windows XP Expert Zone column about this kind of situation where recent-model secondhand laptop computers can come in to their own as a computer for use in the kitchen. The article, which is located at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/web/learnmore/crawford_kitchenpc.mspx , explained about use of a computer in this situation.
 
There are many reasons why I certainly agree with the use of a laptop for this kind of application. One main reason is that the computer can be quickly and easily stowed away when not in use. This is certainly of importance in this close friend’s kitchen where she had cats that were prone to spraying on anything they could when she is not watching. Similarly, you will have to clear away the computer when you need more space to put those dishes when you are preparing or serving food or cleaning up after the meal. The other main reason that is enhanced by the portability of these laptop computers is that they can be moved around as the user desires.
 
As far as software is concerned, I would deploy Windows XP or, if the computer is capable enough (i.e. made in the last two years), Windows Vista Home Premium or Windows 7, and a basic office suite like Office 2007 Home and Student.
The kind of use that I am likely to see out of these computers would be Web surfing with IE; e-mailing which can be done with Outlook Express, Windows Vista Mail, Windows Live Mail or a Web-mail service like Hotmail, Yahoo or GMail or your ISP’s Web mail front; and instant messaging with Windows Live Messenger for example. Let’s not forget basic word-processing and spreadsheet work which would be used for recording information; as well as access to some casual games ie Solitaire, Spider Solitaire or Mahjongg Titans that are good for whiling away the time during a long cooking process or long phone conversation. Windows Media Player 11 and Windows Live Photo Gallery would come in to their own for music, pictures and video in the kitchen.
 
As far as working out the shortcuts for the Favourites Menu is concerned, I would certainly add the following shortcuts:
* Any Website for any organizations (school, community / faith organization, business or government department)  that you have regular business with
* Transport information websites, including the departures / arrivals information page provided by your local airports
* Online navigation sites and street directories
* The local "White Pages" and "Yellow Pages" websites
* The box offices for your local cinemas or theatres – you can book online for that upcoming show that you want to attend
 
As far as printing is concerned, you don’t need to attach a printer to the machine if you have a reliable network printer on your home network. If you need to use a mouse with your computer rather than the inbuilt joystick or touchpad that is part of the laptop, make sure that it is an optical type because there is less likelihood of the kind of dirt and crumbs that appear on kitchen benches getting in to these mice and affecting their performance. Here, you could get away with a basic 2-button or 2-button + wheel mouse for this application.

30 November 2008 Posted by | Computer setups, Feature Article | , , | Leave a comment