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Articles about home, SOHO and small-business IT and networking issues

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

Housewives hooked on the internet as they log on more than anyone else | Daily Mail (UK)

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1093047/Housewives-hooked-internet-log-else.html

Articles posted during New Year’s Day

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7789494.stm 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/dec/31/internet-housewives

My Comments

Affordability of Internet service and computer equipment

Nowadays, a decent-standard broadband Internet plan is at a price that is affordable for most people no matter the financial situation. Increasingly, these plans are becoming bundled with other personal telephony or pay-TV deals so they end up being a no-brainer to consider for the home.  This also includes the arrival of “n-play” deals that encompass personal (landline and / or mobile) telephony, Internet access and multi-channel pay-TV services.

As well, computer equipment of a standard good enough for working on the Web and doing other basic tasks can be purchased for a reasonable sum of money. Similarly, I had talked on the blog about a) repurposing an old business laptop as a general-purpose “kitchen PC” and b) the concept of “netbook” computers like the Asus Eee PC as general-purpose computers. This covers cost-effective laptop computers being able to earn their keep in this kind of situation.

The new computing experience

I have mentioned a lot in my blog of a “new computing experience” that is becoming the norm in most households. The Internet “edge” for this setup is typically an affordable wireless router that provides a WiFi local network segment as well as an Ethernet local network segment. The computer that is typically used in this setup is typically a notebook (laptop) computer that has a built-in WiFi network interface. The printer will typically be an inkjet-based “all-in-one” that is hooked up to the computer as need for printing or scanning arises. Some setups may use a network-enabled “all-in-one” printer that connects directly to the Ethernet or WiFi network segment and uses standard network protocols for handling print jobs.

This experience has been brought about through Intel’s heavily-promoted “Centrino” concept which promotes the WiFi wireless network as part and parcel of laptop use. One main concept that was promoted in the “Centrino” concept was the idea of portability where you can go anywhere in the house in a moment’s notice yet still be within reach of the Internet.

What is this leading to?

The main activities cited in the article include general Web browsing and banking / paying bills online.  It had said that the short amount of time needed to do the business online can lead to more leisure time. In the context of the housewife, this would encompass more quality time with the children.

Other articles that I have read talked about housewives with young children visiting the casual gaming sites like MSN Games and MiniClip so they can play a few rounds of a casual game while their child is having a nap.

Social-networking sites; which are often demonised as huge “time wasters”, a threat to privacy and a hangout for unsavoury types of people, can appeal to this kind of user. The same can hold true of online forums, instant messaging and similar sites.

But primarily, the housewife using the Internet as part of her life means that there is another tool for her association with th organisations that she deals with. Think of being able to view "parent-teacher" information sent by the school that the children go to or putting up online notes for the pressure-group organisation that she and her neighbours are part of.

Conclusion

The remarks made in the Daily Mail article and in this blog commentary certainly show that the “connected” lifestyle certainly appeals to those who spend some of their time alone in the house.

10 December 2008 Posted by | Internet Access And Service, Network Activities | , | 1 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