Windows XP – is it time for an upgrade?

April 8th, 2014 – Its the drop dead date for Windows XP Support from Microsoft. After that date Microsoft will no longer be providing any updates to Windows XP. Most importantly this means no more security updates for Windows XP and Internet Explorer. While you can still use browsers like Google Chrome and use a good Anti-Virus, it doesn’t mean you will be protected at the level you should be.

What can you do? If you want to risk it and keep using your Windows XP machine – then go for it. Just download Google Chrome and get yourself a good Anti-Virus. We recommend and sell AVG. One thing to remember is that Windows XP is older and came on older hardware. Sooner or later it will get to a point where the hardware won’t work. I would be very careful on what you do as far as accessing the internet. Don’t log into any websites that need log-in information – like your bank, Netflix, or your email. Better safe than sorry.

There are a few things that Windows XP will still do well and you can keep doing for years to come. These activities mainly include the offline variety. Windows XP computers will still be good for holding files, pictures, movies and music for years to come. Just make sure you have a back-up. But you can very easily use Windows XP to host these files and share with the other computers in your household. Got an old version of office you like to write with? Windows XP will still be able to do that. Like the photo editor and organizer? That will still work.

So have you thought about doing an upgrade?

We can help with that. It doesn’t have to be scary. We can hold your hand for the whole process.

You can go out and buy a new Desktop or Laptop. The downside to this is that the majority of all new PC’s and Laptops come with Windows 8. While Windows 8 has some good points and bad points…the big concern is do you want to take the time to learn it? There is a large learning curve for Windows 8. Going to Windows 7 is a much easier transition for Windows XP users. It looks similar and functions on the surface very similar as well. It’s just a lot prettier and better on the back end.

One advantage Windows 7 has over Windows 8 is if you are moving from Windows XP and have some old programs you want to use – Windows 7 Professional has a Windows XP mode that will help you to use those. Windows 8 does not include compatibility modes to help user older programs. It doesn’t guarantee that all old programs will work, but you have a much better chance of it being successful with Windows 7.

We can help you either get your Windows XP machine upgraded and into Windows 7 or we can get you into a Refurbished PC or Laptop with Windows 7 already loaded on it. Either way you want to go we can help you.

Bring your PC or Laptop by the store today at 606 N Sullivan Rd in Spokane Valley or give us a call at 509-315-9492 to talk to us about what we can do for you and your Windows XP machine.

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Are PC’s Dying? Of Course Not, Here’s Why!

Reports of the PC’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. We’ve all heard that everyone’s just buying tablets and throwing out their keyboards and mice. But if you live in the real world, you see people using PCs every day.

The statistics show that PCs are still selling in large numbers and are used much more than tablets. But we don’t need statistics to see this — we all know that huge amounts of people still use and need PCs.

PC sales are declining fast. Soon, no one will buy them anymore. Everyone’s just buying tablets, and tablet sales are skyrocketing! That’s the established wisdom, anyway. But is that what the statistics really say?

Gartner reports that 82.6 million PCs were shipped in the fourth quarter of 2013. That’s a 6.9 percent drop from the fourth quarter of 2012 and the seventh quarter in a row of declining shipments. This sounds like bad news, but the decline in PC sales has actually been slowing. Gartner believes that PC sales have “bottomed out” — while PC sales are dropping, it’s hardly a market in free fall. But it’s not really the sales that are important — it’s what people are actually using.

StatCounter’s browser usage data for January 2014 shows that desktop browsers accounted for 71.89% of visits, while mobile (smartphones) accounted for 22.42% and tablets accounted for just 5.69%. Most people are clearly using desktop web browsers to access the web. If they’re not, they’re probably using a smartphone browser — tablet browsers are far behind.

But perhaps we’re just looking in reverse. What’s really important is the long-term trend. If tablet sales are accelerating, then tablets may just “kill” PCs.

Here’s the thing: While more tablets are being sold than ever, the growth of tablet sales is slowing. IDC reports that 76.9 million tables were shipped in the fourth quarter of 2013. That’s a 28.2% growth in shipments over the same quarter in the previous year, but that  previous quarter had an 87.1% growth over its previous year. In other words, tablet sales are growing more slowly — sales aren’t accelerating, but are slowing down. Many of these tablets are also cheaper, smaller, lower-end tablets that are even less prepared to replace a PC than premium tablets like the iPad. IDC concludes that “markets such as the U.S. are reaching high levels of consumer saturation.”

And, did you catch that? In spite of all the doom and gloom, more PCs than tablets were shipped worldwide in the fourth quarter of 2013.

We Don’t Need to Replace PCs As Often

IDC used a word — “saturation” — that perfectly describes a big part of what’s going on. You don’t have to replace your computer as often as you used to. There was a time when each new version of Windows, Office, and even your web browser was heavier than ever. You saw a big speed improvement when you bought a new computer. You needed to keep buying new computers, because Windows Vista definitely wouldn’t run very well on that PC you bought when Windows XP came out. Today, Windows 7 and 8 run faster than Windows Vista on the same hardware. Even gaming PCs built years ago can likely still run the latest PC games at high settings.

People just don’t have to replace their PCs as often, so of course PC sales are falling. PCs have reached a point where they’re “good enough.” People aren’t scrambling to upgrade their PCs every few years — they’re replacing them only when they need to. People have more PCs — laptops and even desktops — lying around than ever.

On the other hand, tablets are still a new thing. Many people still don’t have tablets, so people are buying them more and more. If you want a new gadget and you’re perfectly happy with your laptop, of course you’re going to buy a tablet instead. And, like smartphones, tablets are improving faster than ever. Tablets from a few years ago have noticeably worse screens and slower hardware. They’re improving fast, just like PCs used to. You’ll see more of a benefit from upgrading an iPad that’s a few generations old than you will a laptop that’s a few generations old. Eventually, tablets will get to that “good enough” point where people won’t have to upgrade every few years, too. Tablet sales will slow and people will be saying “tablets are dying” because everyone is buying those new virtual reality headsets instead.

So What’s Going On?

Let’s analyze this data using some common sense. In the real world, multiple types of products can coexist for different people.

First, tablets aren’t just a fad. In the past, everyone who wanted to browse the web, send some email, watch YouTube, do online banking, and play simple games needed an expensive PC that required regular maintenance. Now, if someone just wants an easy little device that lets them get online, they can get a tablet. Not everyone needs a PC, and even people who need PCs for some reason may want to use a tablet in their downtime instead.

Second, PCs are still useful. They’re not an obsolete piece of technology. iPads, Android tablets, and even Windows 8 devices with their half-baked “Store apps” are no substitute for real PCs when it comes to doing many things. Whether you’re writing, coding, editing images, doing CAD work, doing other productive work — or even playing PC games — there’s a good chance you depend on a mouse and keyboard. You also depend on having a larger screen — maybe even multiple displays — and the ability to have more than one thing on screen at a time.

People are using tablets, but people are also still using PCs. As usual, the answer is somewhere in between “PCs are dying” and “tablets are a fad.”

What is a PC? The Lines Are Blurring

But what is a PC, anyway? “PC” really just stands for “personal computer,” but it’s become synonymous with Windows, Linux, and even Mac OS X desktops and laptops. Really, smartphones are tablets are just as much personal computers as laptops and desktops are. They run software and are much faster than the PCs many of us grew up with.

This isn’t just a hand-waving distinction. The lines are blurring. For example, is a Surface 2 tablet running Windows RT a PC? Maybe not — it’s just a tablet and can’t run typical Windows desktop applications! But what if you connected a keyboard, mouse, and connected it to an external display? What if you spent all your time using Office applications on the desktop on a large monitor? What about those new 8-inch Windows 8.1 tablets with an Intel chip and a full desktop — are they PCs? If they’re not because the screen is too small and they don’t have a keyboard, what if you connected a keyboard and an external display? Do they stop being PCs when you unplug your peripherals?

It’s not all about Windows, either. Would an Ubuntu Phone be a PC? Of course not, it’s a phone! But what if you plugged that Ubuntu phone into an HDMI port, connected a mouse and keyboard, and used the full Linux desktop on an external display? It’s clearly a PC now — but it’s running on a phone.

Tablets and PCs are growing closer to each other. Tablets are becoming more capable, and many PC laptops are becoming more mobile with better battery life. Microsoft is forcing tablets and PCs together — with mixed success — but Ubuntu is also working on creating a single operating system that can run on your phone and also be your desktop PC with the appropriate peripherals.

In reality, there are more different types of hardware and software than ever. Not everyone is forced to use a beige tower running Windows. But PCs aren’t dying just because people have more choice. Some people will always need large screens, multiple windows, mice, keyboards, and all that other good stuff. Not everything will be done on a 10-inch or smaller touch screen.

If we all end up running powerful software on Android, iOS, or another “mobile operating system” and using devices with large screens, multiple windows, keyboards, and mice — well, then we’re just using a different type of PC. PCs are more than Windows and desktop towers. That said, there’s still a place for both Windows and desktop PCs in this new order.

So, can we all please stop saying the desktop PC is dying? Thanks!



Fast, Friendly Service from Friendly Computers in Spokane. Why Call a Geek When You Can Call a FRIEND? We come to YOU! We specialize in laptop repair, hard drive failures, and virus removal. We fix it all.

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Keep unwanted programs out with Unchecky

You recommend a program to a family member, and they proceed to install it along with five other junkware programs that sneak their way on to their computer in the installation process.  Sound familiar?  Unchecky prevents these unnecessary programs from installing themselves by unchecking the appropriate boxes.

What is Unchecky?

Unchecky is a lightweight application that aims to “keep your checkboxes clear.”  It automatically unchecks the boxes that allow companies to install promotional crapware on your computer, and issues warnings if you accidentally agree to install something you may not want.

For the casual computer user, Unchecky is something of a godsend.  How many times have you heard “But I swear I didn’t install any of these toolbars, I don’t know how they got there!”  Indeed, most people are smart enough to avoid deliberately installing junk, but it’s a lot easier to inadvertently install something unnecessary when you’re going through the installation process for a legitimate program. is notorious for sneaking absolute crap on to your system, and passing off the option as an End User License Agreement, something that most people are accustomed to automatically accepting without reading.  As you can see in the screenshot below, Unchecky was able to detect the scam and issue a warning.


For a competent computer geek, Unchecky is probably not really necessary.  However, if you find yourself skimming through installations and ending up with coupon offers you don’t remember asking for, it may be a good idea to install Unchecky.  Even the most careful geeks can be duped into accepting a promotional offer, or maybe you just want to save some mouse clicks and make installations faster.

Installing Unchecky

This is probably the easiest program in the world to install.  Head over to and click on the big button that says download.  Run the file, click install, click finish, and you’re done!  Since Unchecky is mostly meant for novice users, its simple installation process is well-suited.

Wait, is it running?

Unchecky remains completely unobtrusive, working in the background to keep you safe from junk offers, without even displaying an icon in your notification area.  If you need to make sure it’s running, you can check the task manager.

Updates are automatic as well, so you can literally install Unchecky and then forget about it.  You should never actually notice that it’s running, until you go to install a program and see that all the junk offers have been unselected for you.

How well does it work?

Unchecky is still really new, as you can see by the short changelog.  It’s still in a very early beta version, and its first release was only a couple months ago (November 2013).  When we put Unchecky to the test, it failed to detect a lot of offers.  It seems to work particularly well for really popular and current versions of software.  When we tested against old software, it failed nearly every time.

On older software, we also noticed some mixed results, such as in this example where it succeeds at unchecking several boxes but leaves one checked and consequently installs some crapware.

As with all software, we expect these shortcomings to be addressed and become few and far between as it continues to mature.

The Verdict

Unchecky is an up and coming program that’s showing a lot of promise.  Its biggest faults are with old software and really obscure programs – the only people who really download that stuff are geeks, who should be competent enough to read through installation menus anyway.  Therefore, Unchecky caters perfectly to its target audience of casual computer users.  If you don’t want to download it, at least consider recommending it to your parents so you can save yourself (and them) a bunch of headaches later.



Fast, Friendly Service from Friendly Computers in Spokane. Why Call a Geek When You Can Call a FRIEND? We come to YOU! We specialize in laptop repair, hard drive failures, and virus removal. We fix it all.

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Keyloggers Explained

A keylogger is a piece of software — or, even scarier, a hardware device — that logs every key you press on your keyboard. It can capture personal messages, passwords, credit card numbers, and everything else you type.

Keyloggers are generally installed by malware, but they may also be installed by protective parents, jealous spouses, or employers who want to monitor their employees. Hardware keyloggers are perfect for corporate espionage.

How a Keylogger Would Get On Your Computer

Most keyloggers on average computers arrive as malware. If your computer becomes compromised, the malware  may include a keylogger or function as a Trojan that downloads the keylogger along with other harmful software. Keyloggers are a popular form of malware because they allow criminals to steal credit card numbers, passwords, and other sensitive data.

Keystroke-logging software may also be installed by someone close to you. A protective parent might go beyond typical parental controls and install software that includes a keylogger, allowing them to see everything their child types. A jealous spouse concerned about their husband or wife cheating might install a keylogger on their computer to keep tabs on them — it’s not necessarily a good thing, but it happens.

Some employers might install keystroke loggers on their employees’ computers to monitor everything they do, or just to investigate employees they’re suspicious about. Laws vary about when this is legal from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.


Hardware Keyloggers

Some keyloggers can be implemented entirely as hardware devices. A typical desktop computer has a keyboard that connects to the back of the computer using a USB cable. If someone were to sneak in, unplug the keyboard’s USB cable, then attach a specialized USB device between the computer’s USB port and the keyboard’s USB connector, the device could function as a keylogger. Sitting in the middle, it could intercept keyboard signals from the keyboard, store them on the device, and then pass the keystrokes to the computer so everything would appear to be working normally. Security software on the computer wouldn’t be able to detect this keylogger, as it runs entirely in hardware. If the computer were hidden under a desk, no one would notice the device.

The person could then come back a few days later to grab the device and sneak off with it, leaving no trace of keylogging software or suspicious network activity.

If you’re worried about hardware keyloggers, just check the back of your computer and ensure there’s no suspicious device between your keyboard cable and the computer itself — of course, there probably won’t be. (And if there is, it’s probably some sort of legitimate adapter like the one below.)


How Keyloggers Function

Keylogging software runs hidden in the background, making a note of each keystroke you type. Software could scan through the file for certain types of text — for example, it could look for sequences of numbers that look like credit card numbers and upload them to a malicious server so they can be abused.

Keylogging software may also be combined with other types of computer-monitoring software, so the attacker would be able to see what you typed when you visited your bank’s website and narrow in on the information they want. A keylogger could detect the first keystrokes you typed into an online game or chat program, stealing your password.

Someone could also look through the entire log history to spy on you and see what you search for and type online. Computer-monitoring software intended for use by parents or employers may often combine the keylogger with a screenshot program, so someone can read through a history of what you typed combined with screenshots of what was on your computer screen at the time.

Ensuring You Don’t Have Keyloggers

Keylogging software is essentially just another type of malware. You can avoid keylogging software in the same way you avoid other malware — be careful what you download and run, and use a solid antivirus program that will hopefully prevent keyloggers from running. There are no real special tips for avoiding keyloggers in particular. Just be careful and exercise basic computer security practices.

If you’re feeling really paranoid about keyloggers, you could try logging into your bank’s website or other sensitive websites with a software keyboard — in other words, you click buttons on the screen rather than pressing buttons on your keyboard. This won’t protect you from many keyloggers that monitor multiple forms of text input beyond just logging keystrokes, so it’s probably not worth bothering with.


Keyloggers are one of the more dangerous forms of malware, as you won’t realize they’re running if they’re doing their job well. They hide in the background and don’t cause any trouble, capturing credit card numbers and passwords for as long as they can evade detection.


Fast, Friendly Service from Friendly Computers in Spokane. Why Call a Geek When You Can Call a FRIEND? We come to YOU! We specialize in laptop repair, hard drive failures, and virus removal. We fix it all.

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Top 25 Worst Passwords

If you have these as your passwords – you need to change them. These are the Top 25 worst passwords you can have.

1. 123456

2. password

3. 12345678

4. qwerty

5. abc123

6. 123456789

7. 111111

8. 1234567

9. iloveyou

10. adobe123

11. 123123

12. admin

13. 1234567890

14. letmein

15. photoshop

16. 1234

17. monkey

18. shadow

19. sunshine

20. 12345

21. password1

22. princess

23. azerty

24. trustno1

25. 000000

Fast, Friendly Service from Friendly Computers in Spokane. Why Call a Geek When You Can Call a FRIEND? We come to YOU! We specialize in laptop repair, hard drive failures, and virus removal. We fix it all.


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How to Lock Down Your iPad or iPhone for Kids

iPads and iPhones give you control over how your kids can use your devices. You can quickly lock your device to a certain app before handing it over or lock down an entire device with comprehensive parental controls.

These features are named Guided Access and Restrictions, respectively. Guided Access is ideal for temporarily handing your iPad or iPhone to a kid, while Restrictions are ideal for locking down a device your kids use all the time.

Guided Access

Guided Access allows you to lock your device to a single app. For example, you could lock your device to only run a specific educational app or game and then hand it to your kid. They’d only be able to use that specific app. When they’re done, you can unlock the device with a PIN you set, allowing you to use it normally.

To set up Guided Access, open the Settings app and navigate to General > Accessibility > Guided Access. From here, you can ensure guided access is enabled and set a passcode.


To enable Guided Access, open the app you want to lock the device to — for example, whatever educational app or game you want your kid to use. Quickly press the Home button three times and the Guided Access screen will appear.

From here, you can further lock down the app. For example, you could disable touch events completely, disable touch in certain areas of the app, disable motion, or disable hardware buttons.

You don’t have to configure any of these settings, however. To start a Guided Access session, just tap the Start option at the top-right corner of the screen.


If you try to tap the Home button to leave the app, you’ll see a “Guided Access is enabled” message at the top of the screen. Press the Home button three times again and you’ll see a PIN prompt. Enter the PIN you provided earlier to leave Guided Access mode.


That’s it — whenever you want to enable Guided Access, just open the app you want to lock the device to and “triple-click” the Home button.


Restrictions allow you to set device-wide restrictions that will always be enforced. For example, you could prevent your kids from ever using certain apps, prevent them from installing new apps, disable in-app purchases, only allow them to install apps with appropriate ratings, prevent access to certain websites, and lock down other settings. Settings you select here can’t be changed without the PIN you provide.

To set up Restrictions, open the Settings app and navigate to General > Restrictions. Enable Restrictions and you’ll be prompted to create a PIN that you’ll need whenever you change your Restrictions settings.


From here, you can scroll down through the list and customize the types of apps, content, and settings you want your kids to have access to.

For example, to enforce content ratings, scroll down to the Allowed Content section. Tap the Apps section and you can choose which types of apps your kids can install. For example, you could prevent them from installing apps with the “17+” age rating.


Tap the Websites option and you’ll be able to block the Safari browser from loading certain types of websites. You can limit access to certain types of adult content or choose to only allow access to specific websites. You can customize which exact websites are and are not allowed, too.

If you wanted to block access to the web entirely, you could disable access to the Safari browser and disable the Installing Apps feature, which would prevent your kids from using the installed Safari browser or installing any other browsers.


Other settings allow you to lock certain privacy and system settings, preventing them from being changed. For example, you could prevent your kids from changing the Mail and Calendar accounts on the device. Near the bottom, you’ll also find options for Game Center — you can prevent your kids from playing multiplayer games or adding friends in Apple’s Game Center app.

The settings you choose will always be enforced until you enter the Restrictions screen in the settings, tap the Disable Restrictions option, and provide the PIN you created.

iOS still doesn’t provide multiple user accounts, but these features go a long way to letting you control what your kids can do on an iPad, whether the iPad is primarily yours or primarily theirs.

Guided Access and Restrictions will work on an iPod Touch, too. If you purchased an iPod Touch for your kid, you can lock it down in the same way.



Fast, Friendly Service from Friendly Computers in Spokane. Why Call a Geek When You Can Call a FRIEND? We come to YOU! We specialize in laptop repair, hard drive failures, and virus removal. We fix it all.

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New RansomWare

Ransomware: Why This New Malware is So Dangerous and How to Protect Yourself


Ransomware is a type of malware that tries to extort money from you. One of the nastiest examples, CryptoLocker, takes your files hostage and holds them for ransom, forcing you to pay hundreds of dollars to regain access.

Most malware is no longer created by bored teenagers looking to cause some chaos. Much of the current malware is now produced by organized crime for profit and is becoming increasingly sophisticated.

How Ransomware Works

Not all ransomware is identical. The key thing that makes a piece of malware “ransomware” is that it attempts to extort a direct payment from you.

Some ransomware may be disguised. It may function as “scareware,” displaying a pop-up that says something like “Your computer is infected, purchase this product to fix the infection” or “Your computer has been used to download illegal files, pay a fine to continue using your computer.”

In other situations, ransomware may be more up-front. It may hook deep into your system, displaying a message saying that it will only go away when you pay money to the ransomware’s creators. This type of malware could be bypassed via malware removal tools or just by reinstalling Windows.

Unfortunately, Ransomware is becoming more and more sophisticated. One of the latest examples, CryptoLocker, starts encrypting your personal files as soon as it gains access to your system, preventing access to the files without knowing the encryption key. CryptoLocker then displays a message informing you that your files have been locked with encryption and that you have just a few days to pay up. If you pay them $300, they’ll hand you the encryption key and you can recover your files. CryptoLocker helpfully walks you through choosing a payment method and, after paying, the criminals seem to actually give you a key that you can use to restore your files.

You can never be sure that the criminals will keep their end of the deal, of course. It’s not a good idea to pay up when you’re extorted by criminals. On the other hand, businesses that lose their only copy of business-critical data may be tempted to take the risk — and it’s hard to blame them.


Protecting Your Files From Ransomware

This type of malware is another good example of why backups are essential. You should regularly back up files to an external hard drive or a remote file storage server. If all your copies of your files are on your computer, malware that infects your computer could encrypt them all and restrict access — or even delete them entirely.

When backing up files, be sure to back up your personal files to a location where they can’t be written to or erased. For example, place them on a removable hard drive or upload them to a remote backup service like CrashPlan that would allow you to revert to previous versions of files. Don’t just store your backups on an internal hard drive or network share you have write access to. The ransomware could encrypt the files on your connected backup drive or on your network share if you have full write access.

Frequent backups are also important. You wouldn’t want to lose a week’s worth of work because you only back up your files every week. This is part of the reason why automated back-up solutions are so convenient.

If your files do become locked by ransomware and you don’t have the appropriate backups, you can try recovering them with ShadowExplorer. This tool accesses “Shadow Copies,” which Windows uses for System Restore — they will often contain some personal files.


How to Avoid Ransomware

Aside from using a proper backup strategy, you can avoid ransomware in the same way you avoid other forms of malware. CryptoLocker has been verified to arrive through email attachments, via the Java plug-in, and installed on computers that are part of the Zeus botnet.
  • Use a good antivirus product that will attempt to stop ransomware in its tracks. Antivirus programs are never perfect and you could be infected even if you run one, but it’s an important layer of defense.
  • Avoid running suspicious files. Ransomware can arrive in .exe files attached to emails, from illicit websites containing pirated software, or anywhere else that malware comes from. Be alert and exercise caution over the files you download and run.
  • Keep your software updated. Using an old version of your web browser, operating system, or a browser plugin can allow malware in through open security holes. If you have Java installed, you should probably uninstall it.

For more tips, read our list of important security practices you should be following.


Ransomware — CryptoLocker in particular — is brutally efficient and smart. It just wants to get down to business and take your money. Holding your files hostage is an effective way to prevent removal by antivirus programs after it’s taken root, but CryptoLocker is much less scary if you have good backups.

This sort of malware demonstrates the importance of backups as well as proper security practices. Unfortunately, CryptoLocker is probably a sign of things to come — it’s the kind of malware we’ll likely be seeing more of in the future.


Fast, Friendly Service from Friendly Computers in Spokane. Why Call a Geek When You Can Call a FRIEND? We come to YOU! We specialize in laptop repair, hard drive failures, and virus removal. We fix it all.

Friendly Computers can help you be prepared for this. Give us a call – 509-343-0273.

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Something to keep in mind while TV shopping this holiday season

Smart TVs Are Stupid: Why You Don’t Really Want a Smart TV


Wouldn’t it be great to have a smart TV? Well, not really. If you do have a smart TV, you’d be better off combining it with a cheap set-top box rather than actually using its smart features.

Smart TVs are actually a decent idea. The problem isn’t that the idea of a smart TV is stupid, the problem is that the smart TVs themselves are stupid — or, at least, not very smart.

Smart TVs in Theory

A smart TV may also be referred to as a “connected TV.” Essentially, it’s a TV that’s connected to the Internet. It has built-in apps to take advantage of this — for example, a smart TV would likely have apps for playing videos from Netflix and YouTube. Smart TVs generally also have other built-in apps — a web browser, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Angry Birds, and so on.

In theory, having a smart TV would be great. The TV would have a network connection and be able to connect to the Internet to play videos from sources like Netflix and YouTube without needing a separate box. You get a web browser and everything else you’d want to use. It’s all integrated into the TV, saving you money and eliminating the clutter of additional boxes and cables.


The Problem With Smart TVs

In practice, smart TVs just aren’t that great. Smart TVs have software made by TV manufacturers like Samsung, Sony, LG. Their software is generally not very good. Smart TVs usually have confusing, often baffling interfaces. Controlling the smart TV’s features will generally involve using a remote, probably using on-screen buttons on the the TV. The menu interfaces usually feel old.

But don’t take our word for it. A report from NPD last year indicated that only 10% of smart TV owners has used the web browser on their smart TV and about 15% had listened to music from online services. The majority of them had used video apps, however — for example, to watch Netflix on their TV without plugging in additional boxes.

Smart TVs will become dumber over time as they don’t receive updates. New video services won’t work on old TVs, and their operating systems may never receive updates from the manufacturer. Some smart TVs may already lack services you’d want to use. For example, Amazon notes that “Amazon Instant Video is available on select 2012 and 2013 LG Smart TVs.” Not all of them, in other words — just some of them. You’d have to do your research before buying a smart TV to get the services you want.

Even if you choose a smart TV with all the services you want, you’ll likely have a bad interface for them and may never get updates for existing services or new services.


Every TV is a Smart TV, But…

You may want to keep a TV for 5-10 years, but there’s a good chance the smart TV’s software won’t be working too well by then. You may need to upgrade the smart bits in 2-3 years. This is good for manufacturers, but bad for TV buyers.

Manufacturers want every TV to be a smart TV. In an ideal world, smart TVs wouldn’t really exist — or, at least, they’d have much better interfaces and be more easily upgradable.

Rather than getting a smart TV, you should buy a dumb TV or buy a smart TV and ignore the smart parts. Once you have, you should connect a separate set-top-box to it. This set-top box will supply better “smarts.”

Dedicated boxes have a variety of advantages: They’re made by companies who actually care about the software user experience, they’ll receive updates, and they’re cheap at $99 or less. If you’re not happy with your smart TV software in two years, you can buy inexpensive box and swap it out instead of replacing your entire smart TV.


Set-Top Box Options

There are a variety of set-top box options. They’ll have more polished interfaces and good mobile apps so you can control them from your smartphone or tablet.  They’ll also generally have more streaming services available and will receive updates for much longer.

  • Roku: Roku’s boxes are probably the most complete solution for typical TV users, starting at $50 and offering over 450 “channels” of video and music services you can stream directly to your TV. Roku includes a remote and offers a remote app for iPhone and Android so you can control your TV from your phone. You’ll be much happier with a Roku than you will be fighting with your smart TV’s clunky, old interface.
  • Apple TV: Apple offers its Apple TV box for $99. It allows you to play content from iTunes as well as from other popular services like Netflix, HBO Go, and Hulu Plus on your TV. It’s most compelling feature is AirPlay — if you already have a Mac, iPhone, or iPad, you can use AirPlay to stream content from your device’s screen to your TV wirelessly. This is the ideal device for people who already own Apple devices or want access to iTunes content on their TV.

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  • ChromecastGoogle’s Chromecast is new,  but it’s very cheap and has a lot of potential. For just $35, you get a little stick you can plug into your TV’s HDMI port. You can then stream content from Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Google Play Movies and Music, Pandora, and any Chrome browser tab directly to your TV. More services are being added over time. You control the Chromecast with an app on your existing Android smartphone or tablet, iPhone, or iPad. Available services are currently a bit limited here, but the experience will be nicer than using smart TV software.

Game consoles can also offer you access to video-streaming services and built-in web browsers. If you already have a game console you use, you’re better off using your game console rather than the software integrated into your smart TV.


In summary, forget all your fantasies about smart TVs. They’re just not very good — even if you have a smart TV, you’re better off picking up a cheap streaming box and using it instead of your smart TV’s software. You’ll also be way better off in a few years when that box is still getting updates while your old TV is forgotten by its manufacturer. Even if the box becomes outdated as fast as the TV, it’s much cheaper to replace the box than the entire TV set.



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How to Avoid Installing Junk Programs When Downloading Free Software

The web is littered with traps for novice users when downloading software, from fake “Download” buttons that are actually advertisements to installers full of bundled toolbars and other junk software. Learning how to avoid the junk is an important skill.

As geeks, we know how to dodge all the junk when downloading free software for our Windows PCs. But not everyone knows how. People must be falling for these tricks or they wouldn’t still be in such wide use.

Fake Download Links

When downloading free software, the first trap you’ll encounter may be a fake download link — or multiple fake download links — on the software’s web page. You’ll often find large, brightly colored buttons with text like “Free Download” or “Download Now.” These are often just advertisement banners designed to mimic real download links, tricking you into clicking them and installing different software.

Be aware that such advertisments are trying to trick you — that’s the first step. To identify fake download links, you can generally hover your mouse cursor over the link and look at where it leads.

In the below example, the fake download link leads to a page at “” — a clear advertising link. If we moused over the real download link, we’d see that it leads to elsewhere on “”, the current website we’re on.

Additional Software Bundled on Web Pages

Even legitimate, popular software providers want to trick you into installing additional software you probably don’t want.

For example, when trying to download the Flash Player from Adobe’s official download page, you’ll find McAfee Security Scan Plus is checked by default. Users who accept the default option or don’t read it will end up with this additional software on their computers. McAfee is clearly paying Adobe for this inclusion.

To avoid this sort of thing, be careful on download pages — uncheck any additional software you don’t want to install before downloading the intended installer.

Junk Selected By Default in Installers

Software installers often bundle browser toolbars and other junk software. The developer distributes their software for free and makes some money by including this junk. Some installers may even try to change your browser’s home page and default search engine to a different home page or search engine — almost always a clearly inferior one with a worse user experience.

Don’t be fooled — the installer may say the developer “recommends” the software, but the only reason they recommend is it because they’re paid to do so. The bundled software is probably fairly bad — if it were good, you would seek it out and install it on your own.

When installing software, always be careful to uncheck any toolbars, junk software, or home page and search engine changes. It’s usually possible to disable this stuff during the installation process. Read carefully — sometimes you may have to check a box saying you don’t want to install the software or click a Decline button instead. Developers are hoping you’ll quickly click through the installation wizard and install the junk — so be careful when you install new software.

Uninstalling the Junk and Reverting Your System Settings

If you slip up and accidentally install some of this stuff, you’ll have to remove it later. While you can generally turn down the additional software by unchecking it during the software installation process, it’s often harder to remove it afterwards.

For example, the terrible Ask toolbar bundled with Oracle’s Java and other software is sneaky. After you install the software, it lies in wait for ten minutes before installing itself. If you accidentally leave it checked during the installation process and try to uninstall it right afterwards, you won’t find it there. It will only appear in your list of installed software ten minutes later.

To remove the bad software, you’ll generally just need to hunt it down in the list of installed programs in the control panel and uninstall it. A particularly bad installer might pull in multiple junk programs that you’ll have to remove. You may also have to install the toolbar or other browser extensions from within your browser. If you’re having trouble removing something, perform a Google search for it — you may need a specialized removal tool or instructions.

If an installer changed your browser’s home page and default search engine, you’ll have to change those back manually. These changes won’t be reversed, even if you uninstall the unwelcome software. Use your browser’s settings to change your home page and search engine back to your preferred choices.

If you have an infestation of particularly bad junk software, you may need to use an antivirus or antispyware program to remove it from your system.

Sadly, we probably won’t see the situation improve any time soon. Bundling unwanted software with installers has become widely accepted in the Windows software ecosystem, with companies as big as Adobe and Oracle bundling junk software along with their free downloads. Oracle even bundles the terrible Ask toolbar and other junk software along withJava security updates.



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11 Simple Ways to Protect Your Privacy

Privacy is an increasingly rare commodity these days. Just search for yourself on—you might be surprised at the number of companies that claim to have information about your family, income, address, phone number and much, much more.

That’s because your personal information, including your email address, phone number and social security number, is worth a lot of money to legitimate businesses and bad guys alike. The bad guys just want to steal from you. Companies want to know as much about you as possible so they can sell you more products and services or serve you ads that are highly relevant to your demographics and preferences.

So take these simple steps to protect your valuable personal information.

1. Don’t fill out your social media profile.

The more information you share online, the easier it’s going to be for someone to get their hands on it. Don’t cooperate.

Take a look at your social media profiles and keep them barren—the people who need to know your birth date, email address and phone number already have them. And what exactly is the point of sharing everything about yourself in your Facebook profile? If you care about your privacy, you won’t do it.

2. Be choosy about sharing your social security number—even the last 4 digits.

Think twice about sharing your social security number with anyone, unless it’s your bank, a credit bureau, a company that wants to do a background check on you or some other entity that has to report to the IRS. If someone gets their hands on it and has information such your birth date and address they can steal your identity and take out credit cards and pile up other debt in your name.

Even the last four digits of your social security number should only be used when necessary. The last four are often used by banks an other institutions to reset your password for access your account.

Plus, if someone has the last four digits and your birth place, it’s a lot easier to guess the entire number. That’s because the first three are determined by where you, or your parents, applied for your SSN. And the second set of two are the group number, which is assigned to all numbers given out at a certain time in your geographic area. So a determined identity thief with some computing power could hack it given time.

3. Lock down your hardware.

Set up your PC to require a password when it wakes from sleep or boots up. Sure, you may trust the people who live in your house, but what if your laptop is stolen or you lose it?

Same thing with your mobile devices. Not only should you use a passcode to access them every time you use them, install an app that will locate your phone or tablet if it’s lost or stolen, as well as lock it or wipe it clean of any data so a stranger can’t get access to the treasure trove of data saved on it.

And, make sure your computers and mobile devices are loaded with anti-malware apps and software. They can prevent prevent criminals from stealing your data. We recommend Norton Internet Security ($49.99 on or $17.99 on Amazon) in our computer security buying guide or stepping up to Norton 360 Multi-Device ($59.99 on or $49.99 on Amazon) if you have mobile devices. And, you’ll want to double up your protection on Android devices by installing , since we found anti-malware apps are dismal at detecting spyware.

4. Turn on private browsing.

If you don’t want anyone with physical access to your computer to see where you’re hanging out online you should enable “private browsing,” a setting available in each major web browser. It deletes cookies, temporary Internet files and browsing history after you close the window.

Every company that advertises online is interested in knowing what sites you visit, what you buy, who you’re friends with on social networks, what you like and more. By gathering information about your online activities they can serve you targeted ads that are more likely to entice you to buy something.

For instance, the Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ buttons you see on just about every site allow those networks to track you even if you don’t have an account or are logged into them. Other times information collection companies rely on embedded code in banner ads that track your visits, preferences, and demographic information.

If you truly care about your privacy you’ll surf the Internet anonymously by hiding your IP address. You can do this using a web proxy, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or Tor, a free open network that works by routing your traffic through a series of servers, operated by volunteers around the world, before sending it to your destination.

5. Use a password vault that generates and remembers strong and unique passwords.

Most people know better than to use the same password for more than one website or application. In reality, it can be impossible to remember a different one for the dozens of online services you use. The problem with using the same password in more than one place is if someone gets their hands on your password—say, through a phishing attack—they can access all your accounts and cause all sorts of trouble.

To eliminate this dilemma, use a password manager that will not only remember all your passwords, but will generate super strong and unique ones and automatically fill them into login fields with the click of a button.

LastPass is an excellent and free choice.

6. Use two-factor authentication.

You can lock down your Facebook, Google, Dropbox, Apple ID, Microsoft, Twitter and other accounts with two-factor authentication. That means that when you log in, you’ll also need to enter a special code that the site texts to your phone. Some services require it each time you log in, other just when you’re using a new device or web browser. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a great overview of what’s available.

Two-factor authentication works beautifully for keeping others from accessing your accounts, although some people feel it’s too time consuming. But if you’re serious about privacy, you’ll put up with the friction.

7. Set up a Google alert for your name.

This is a simple way to keep an eye on anything someone might be saying about you on the web. It’s just a matter of telling Google what to look for (in this case, your name), as well as what kinds of web pages to search, how often to search and what email address the search engine giant should use to send you notifications. Set up a Google alert here.

8. Pay for things with cash.

According to Business Insider, credit card companies are selling your purchase data to advertisers. Don’t want companies knowing how much booze you’re buying or other potentially embarrassing habits? Buy things the old fashioned way—with coins and bills.

9. Keep your social network activity private.

Check your Facebook settings and make sure only friends can see what you’re doing. Go to the settings cog in the upper right hand corner of your screen, then click on Privacy Settings >> Who can see my stuff.

On Twitter, click on the settings cog, then Settings. From there you can adjust all sorts of privacy settings, such as a box that gives Twitter permission to add your location to tweets as well as the ability to make your tweets private, meaning only people you approve can see them. You can also stop the microblogging platform from tailoring your Twitter experience based on other sites you visit.

If you use Google+, go to Home >> Settings. There you can adjust things like who can interact with you, comment on your posts or start a conversation with you.

10. Don’t give our your zip code when making credit card purchases.

Often stores will ask for your zip code when you’re checking out with a credit card. Don’t give it to them unless you want to donate your details to their marketing database, warns Forbes. By matching your name, taken from your credit card, with your zip code, companies can more easily mine more information, including your address, phone number and email. address.

11. Lie when setting up password security questions.

“What is your mother’s maiden name?” or “In what city were you born?” are common questions websites often ask you to answer so as to supposedly keep your account safe from intruders. In reality, there’s nothing secure about such generic queries. That’s because someone who wants access to your account could easily do some Internet research to dig up the answers.

Not sure you can remember your lies? You can create “accounts” in your password manager just for this purpose.

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