Monthly Archives: September 2012

Join Me – Should WebEx be worried?

Anyone who knows me will be aware of my passion for high-quality free software – and today I have a real cracker!

This week I was training a friend who lives on the other side of the country on how to use his new software.  I’m too cheap to pay for a WebEx account and so the search was on for a suitable alternative.  Fortunately I quickly stumbled across Join Mea screen sharing tool that promised “ridiculously simple” screen sharing and, for once, they were not kidding!

Installation was a snap.  Download a tiny 4mb file, click install and that’s it!

Sharing the screen was simple too.  Start the software, send an email with the link provided and wait for the software to tell you that people have joined.  No complicated setup, no ads, and nothing for the viewer to install as everything runs in their browser.  During sharing you can see how many people are watching, chat with people, start an internet conference call, share control of your desktop with someone and even pause things if you need to get offline for a minute.  If your viewers are on an iPad that’s no problem either!  They have an app and it works beautifully.

During my session I had some problems with my wireless network and it even handled that with aplomb, providing a nice helpful message on the screen to let me know that no-one could see what I was doing.

So what’s the down side?  Honestly…not much.

The “Basic” (read free) version has a few limitations.  You can only share your entire screen so you had better shut down your email, instant messenger and any browsers connected to ‘interesting‘ websites before you start sharing.  The Pro version provides the option to limit screen areas,  schedule sessions instead of sending out the invitation just before the session and present to more than 250 people.  None of that was a problem for me.

For me the system worked flawlessly with almost no lag and, compared to the complicated and confusing LiveMeeting and WebEx sessions I have used before this was beautifully simple.  It has therefore earned a well deserved spot on my famous Free Software page.

If I were the WebEx CEO I would buy this company out before companies start deserting them on a large-scale.  But if you are looking for a screen sharing tool that is free and “ridiculously easy” then your search is over.

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Filed under Education, Free Software, Linux, Technology, Windows

John Stepper

Could you pick a more mundane use case than reducing how much people print at your firm? Yet a collaborative effort to do this can be worth a lot of money – more than the cost of your entire social business effort. 

In the catalog of solutions we’re compiling, printing is in a class of solutions targeting personal consumption. Printing, mobile phone bills, car service usage, file storage. All of these services tend to be bloated by waste since people typically don’t know how much they cost nor how to access cheaper alternatives.

We’ll examine each of these solutions in separate posts. Just reducing printing by 20%, though, could be worth $6 million to a large firm.

The problem

Although environmental awareness has reduced printing at many firms, we still print too much. And much of what we print is unnecessarily costly.

Without including printing for external clients, a…

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A faster PC in two easy steps.

I received a call the other night from a friend who was complaining that her PC was running horribly slow and taking forever to boot.  Naturally this  only became a real problem when her online games were so slow that she couldn’t keep up.

As is typical in these situation there were two questions running around in her head:

  1. Do I have a virus?
  2. Is my PC so old that I have to get a new one?

The answer to the first one is…possibly.  But if you have an updated anti-virus installed (and see my earlier post here if you don’t!) then you are probably safe.

The answer to the second one is…it depends on what you are doing with it.  If all you do is check in with your friends on Facebook then the chances are that there is plenty of life in the old dog yet.

So, if the PC is OK and we don’t have a virus then what could be causing such bad behavior?  The most likely answer is the dreaded Bloatware!  <cue organ music and loud scream>.  Once installed bloatware sits there sucking the life out of your poor PC forever.

Let’s start by looking at that slow boot time.

When Windows starts it loads a number of programs during the startup.  When you install software companies often add their own items to the list of programs that start every time you turn on your machine.

These can be helpful, such as a program to start iTunes when you plug in your phone, but others do nothing more than run regular checks on their software to make sure that you are running their latest version – but do you really need that running all the time?  Finally others are much nastier and can do things such as monitor your internet traffic and pass information back to the mother ship.

One clue that you have too many of these things is to look in the bottom right hand corner of your screen.  If you have a ton of little icons sitting in the tray near the clock then there is a good chance that you have too much junk in your computers startup.  Just because they are there doesn’t mean they are bad, but you should know exactly what every one of those does and make a conscious decision to keep them.

Let’s start by getting rid of any startup programs that are not adding value.  After all, once these things load they typically stick around in your computer’s memory and just get in the way.  But which ones should you keep and which should you get rid of?  A little detective work is necessary here, but don’t worry, it’s not that hard.  In most cases simply typing in the name of the program (including the .exe) into Google will pull up search results that will tell you what it is, whether it is dangerous, and whether it should be there.

Once you figure out what to keep and what to get rid of, here’s a nice little article that covers how to remove things using the built-in msconfig.exe utility or, my favorite, ccleaner.  http://www.howtogeek.com/74523/how-to-disable-startup-programs-in-windows/

Next, let’s take a look at that browser.  In the case of my friends PC she had 5 browser toolbars running.  I’m surprised she had any room to see any web pages at all!

So if your browser looks like this 

then it might be time to consider getting rid of a few things.  One way to do it is to go into your browser settings and disable them.  That works fine if you think you might want it back one day, but if you aren’t using the darn things anyway then why is it even allowed on your machine?   In those cases the better option is to to remove it completely.

Here’s a simple post that shows how to get rid of those pesky things entirely.  So here’s another post that will help you take care of that:

http://www.pcworld.com/article/241720/how_to_remove_browser_toolbars_in_internet_explorer.html

In the case of my friend about 30 minutes work (plus about 15 minutes waiting for reboots) had her PC  booting quickly and surfing like a Hawaiian native and I (naturally)  was once again the hero.

If you can follow a recipe then you can clean up your PC and have it running like new, so why put up with a slow PC ?

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Filed under Free Software, PC Problems?, Technology, Windows

Programming for kids!

I’m always looking for ‘teachable moments’.  So much so that I’ve heard “Oh Dad!  Why does everything have to be a lesson” on more than one occasion.  

Knowing that the kids will do just about anything to get more ‘screen time’ I have been a long time fan of the Khan Academy to provide additional education without the complaints and with more patience than I could muster.

When I heard that the Khan Academy had come up with a computer science course I was intrigued, but a little skeptical .  But after just two sessions with my kids I have to say that they have outdone themselves!  The lessons are explained in ways that are fun, accessible and very easy to understand.

The best part is that they have an interactive screen right next to the code area where any changes are seen in real-time.   Numbers can be changed using sliders instead of typing, which helps them quickly understand what each parameter does and whether it is the one they were looking for, and any errors are immediately shown along with a helpful message.

Check out the video to see just how easy this is to use.

After one lesson my 9-year old daughter ran off to the kids PC to start creating her own colored shapes.

I can only tell you that I wish this had been around when I was learning to program – it would have saved me enormous amounts of frustration staring at the cryptic “Syntax Error” messages that the Apple II would throw out.

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Filed under Children, Education, Technology