LibreOffice: A Free Office Suite

The best free office suite just got even better as LibreOffice 7 was released recently. It’s the nearest you’ll get to Microsoft Office without having to pay a penny, and the latest version is even more compatible to it than previous versions.

LibreOffice includes several applications that make it the most versatile Free and Open Source office suite on the market: Writer (word processing), Calc (spreadsheets), Impress (presentations), Draw (vector graphics and flowcharts), Base (databases), and Math (formula editing). Source.

So, if you don’t want to pay for Microsoft Office and like to use software installed on your computer (rather than in the cloud) this might be for you. There’s also a portable version that you can run directly from a USB flash drive, and you can even install it on your Chromebook.

Note: I currently use both LibreOffice and Microsoft 365 (as Microsoft Office is now called) because a subscription to the latter includes OneDrive cloud storage.

Debunking Chromebooks Myths

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Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

If you’re having to self-isolate or work from home (or simply not going out so much) in the current coronavirus pandemic you might be considering some new computer equipment. A Chromebook is an excellent choice, but you might have some reservations or even believe some of the myths.

For a start, Chromebooks are not just a browser with a keyboard. There’s so many apps (probably the same ones you use on our smartphone) that you can install to do all the things you do on a laptop. You can easily stream music and watch movies, even in full HD if you go for that option. Editing photos is a breeze.

“Ah, but I can’t use Microsoft Office!” Sorry, yes you can! You can use the Microsoft Office Mobile App or Office 365 online, and there’s an app for OneDrive.

You might think that Chromebooks are cheap and not worth buying. Not true. Yes, you get what you pay for, but there are some excellent budget models as well as very high-end ones.

Finally, you might think switching to a Chromebook is complicated. Sorry to disappoint you again, if you can use a laptop and a mobile you can use a Chromebook. You can also access your work on all three and synchronise etc.

Oh, and I didn’t mention that they’re stylish, light, have an incredibly fast start-up time, and a battery charge lasts forever! See also here.

Note: You can also make your own Chromebook from an old laptop, it just won’t have the same battery life etc.

Microsoft Office Mobile App

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Until now, if you wanted Microsoft Office on your mobile device you needed an app for each of the individual elements, namely Excel, Word and the like. With the recent release of a great new mobile app, all these have been combined into one app, including Microsoft Office Lens. You can uninstall the individual apps and enjoy a fully-integrated experience.

The apps have been redesigned from scratch and there are some new features, one that I’m finding especially useful is the ability to make notes with simple formatting that synchronise on all your devices. For me, the latter has obviated the need for a separate app I previously used for notes. All in all, an app well worth checking out.

Microsoft Office Lens

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Years ago you used a photocopier, more recently scanners became available, firstly on their own and then incorporated into printers. You could also get portable scanners, where the document to be scanned is drawn through the device (I’ve still got one somewhere). But then came along the smartphone.

It’s so easy to snap a document on your mobile these days, and there’s also some great scanning apps available that add a myriad of features. One that I use practically every day is Microsoft Office Lens, usually sending the scanned image straight into Evernote (my note-taking app of choice that is multi-platform and synchronises across all devices). Why not check it out? It’s free, by the way.

Please note: Since posting this, the app has been included in the new Microsoft Office Mobile App which combines all the individual office apps into one.

Closer to the Edge

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Having recently posted about the updated Edge browser from Microsoft, here are some of its features that might convince you to try it. It’s being rolled out now and replaces the original Edge released originally with Windows 10. Microsoft is particularly keen to get users of Google Chrome to change, especially in the light of privacy concerns, although I’m not sure if there’s much difference in that respect between huge corporations.

So, the first benefit of Edge is the ability to import browser data from Chrome. In order to get you to switch, Microsoft has made this process as painless as possible with many options when you install Edge for the first time, or you can do it later. You can also synchronise your data across devices (although fairly standard these days) and switch easily between multiple accounts.

One of the criticisms of the original Edge was the lack of add-ons, but now you can install extensions from the Microsoft Store, but (and this is probably a clincher) from the Chrome Web Store. You can also switch between light and dark modes.

There’s easy customisation of the home, new tab pages, and news feed. A built-in task manager enables you to identify and kill resource-hungry processes. You can hear web pages read aloud at different speeds and jump backwards and forwards from one paragraph to another. You can also turn websites into standalone apps and pin sites to the taskbar.

One ‘good news/bad news’ issue is that although Edge is multi-platform, a Linux version will likely to be some time arriving on the scene.

Why not have a go with it? If you alter too many settings, you can easily reset Edge to default settings. Oh, and did I mention, there’s a dark mode!

A great browser from Microsoft?

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“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” is a question posed by Nathanael (a disciple of Jesus) in John1:46. The same question is often directed at Microsoft, and the surprising answer is often yes! Admittedly, Windows 8 was something of a dog’s breakfast, especially because its predecessor Windows 7 was much better, but Windows 10 (there was no Windows 9) is remarkably good in my humble opinion.

However, Microsoft web browsers have never had a good reputation. The old joke went that Internet Explorer was only good for one job, namely downloading the vastly superior Mozilla Firefox (or more recently Google Chrome). But that negative reputation could well be about to change.

Microsoft Edge first came out with Windows 10 and was better than Internet Explorer, but many people again only used it to download Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome. So, what’s all the fuss now?

Well, last month (January 2020) Microsoft released an updated version of Edge and it’s being rolled out to users now. It’s totally revamped, Chromium-based, and it looks like they’ve finally got it right – a browser that’s fast, secure, open-sourced and packed with useful features. Some have gone as far as suggesting that it’s as good as, if not better than Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

Part 2 of this post Closer to the Edge can be found here.

Windows is NOT the only OS

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I’ve previously posted about making your own Chromebook from an old laptop (or netbook) using CloudReady, well here’s another way to do it using Linux.

Now that I have my own Chromebook, I’ve installed Linux on both an old laptop and netbook; Linux Mint on the laptop and Puppy Linux on the netbook, although there are many Linux operating systems (or distros) to choose from.

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You will need to download and install your Linux distro of choice onto a USB flash drive, and then use it to boot your laptop. This is a little bit technical, but don’t let that put you off, find a geek to help you (or ask me nicely and buy me a coffee). Then it’s a simple process. The process wipes the laptop, so backup first.

What are you waiting for? Your new FREE Linux laptop awaits you!

Note: I tried Linux Lite before Puppy Linux, but had some keyboard issues. Having said that, Puppy Linux is great and very fast on an old netbook.

Windows Defender

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I have a policy of never paying for anti-virus software; but is this stance justified? Why pay for software when the free Microsoft Defender comes with Windows?

I agree with those who say Defender isn’t the best out there, but it has to be said that no anti-virus software is 100% reliable. Defender’s advantages are that it integrates perfectly with Windows 10, it’s free and it’s not system hogging. I also immunise my PC regularly with SpywareBlaster and scan regularly with Malwarebytes (the free versions of both).

This is how I live with Defender’s limitations. But the best anti-virus protection is the PC user; don’t go to dodgy[dot]com and always pay attention to potential threats. This is my joined up plan around Defender, one that has served me well for many years, and remember that most PCs get viruses (and the like) because of users’ ignorance or gullibility. So, as I often say, ‘Keep up and pay attention’ – security is your responsibility, you know it makes sense.

Update January 2020: Windows Defender has recently been beefed-up and was recommended by WebUser magazine in 2019. Often paid-for anti-virus software is bloated and slows down your system, Windows Defender (or Security I think it’s called now) integrates perfectly with Windows 10.

Microsoft Windows 10

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I’ve now had experience of upgrading three computers to Windows 10, so I thought it might be helpful to share my thoughts as you may be undecided.

My first upgrade was on a Windows 7 work laptop which I upgraded before the [Get Windows 10] taskbar icon appeared. I started the process on the Microsoft website, and this went smoothly with no problems. My wife Naomi’s Windows 8.1 laptop had been having a few problems and eventually wouldn’t boot up, and so I did a factory reset followed by the Windows 10 upgrade (called a clean upgrade) which again went well.

Things started to go wrong when I was upgrading a work Windows 7 netbook. It was a simple job to backup the files on the netbook to a USB flash drive before doing a clean upgrade. So far so good, and Windows 7 successfully updated to Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1). The problem came when Windows Update froze during the upgrade to Windows 10, and the process wouldn’t complete. A little research (in the form of a Google search) showed this to be a common problem, and a simple manual fix from Microsoft sorted out the problem. On my third attempt, Windows 10 installed successfully.

A couple of things are worth mentioning. It’s a good idea to review the default settings in the final stages of the upgrade, and to switch on System Restore when it’s completed (it’s off by default). System Restore is necessary to return your computer to an earlier state after you’ve made changes and can sometimes be a life saver. Also, the option to return to your previous version of Windows remains in Settings for a while should you wish to go back.

Windows 10 retains the feel of Windows 7 and integrates the new features fairly seamlessly. The distinctive features of Windows 8 (generally not well-liked by users) are there, but in a restrained way, unless you choose to make them more prominent. In fact, it’s worth finding your way around Windows 10 and tweaking it to your personal taste.

Overall, I think ‪‎Windows 10‬ is a big improvement on both ‎Windows 7, 8 and 8.1, but this is possibly down to personal preference. If you’re upgrading from Windows 7 you’ll find 10 easy to use, and if you don’t like 8 you’ll love 10. However, the free upgrade period has now passed, and the latest version is the Anniversary Update (an improvement on the original release).