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Browsing for browsers

by Andy Thompson on December 12, 2014

There are two main themes to present – choice and browser clean up.  As for choice… not all browsers are created equal.  Most all of us start off with what comes with our PC – Internet Explorer.  For some people, this is the only choice they know.  While all browsers have the ability to access your favorite sites and create bookmarks, there are very real differences between the top most widely used browsers.  This could be the time for you to look into the options.  As for browser clean up, we have new functionality to roll out with our PC Clean Maestro application.  As we are well aware, browsers start out with the basics and then, through the installation of extensions, they can get bogged down or in some cases are altered without our approval – most frequently, our homepage or search engine changes.  It’s time to take charge and have your browser function as you would have it.

 

Here is what we will cover:

  1. Components:  We’ll start with a breakdown of the components.
  2. Top Picks:  We’ll look at the top three browser candidates.
  3. Our App:  We’ll describe how you can make full use of our latest release of PC Clean Maestro.

Without getting into too many of the details and specifics of this technology we will point out some basics.

Components

We will focus on components related to what we see when we bring up our web browser, namely the user interface.  We will also talk about the items that are referred to as “extensions” that can be added to a browser after you have installed it.

Typically the user interface (UI) consists of three areas:

  • The toolbar area at the top.
  • Main viewing area sometimes referred to as the viewport.
  • The status bar at the bottom.

The toolbar is used for navigational purposes as it has buttons such as back, forward, refresh, stop, and home (to get you back to your homepage).  It also has an address bar so you can type in a web address and you likely have a search bar to enter in words that can bring up a list of applicable web pages to the subject you are interested.

Two Most Frequently Altered Areas of the Browser: We get a lot of feedback and reports of how alterations have been made to the Search engine and the homepage.  The Search engine is designed to search for information and content on the Internet.  Examples include Google, Bing, Ask, Yahoo! Search and the like.  These are sophisticated programs that crawl the web and quickly provide results of your inquiry.  A homepage is the page you first see and want to access when you open your browser.

All users want to make a choice of a Search engine and homepage that they are both familiar with and meet their needs.  It becomes all that more frustrating when installing something that modifies these areas of your browser without consent.  We will show you how to return your browser to its default settings in a later section of the article.

Extensions: Components that can be added to the browser to increase functionality are referred to as extensions.  These can be in the form of toolbars and other add-ons or plug-ins.  Examples include toolbar extensions to provide some specific functionality such as web searching using a specific search engine, better access to installed applications, or providing convenient links or categorizations of media sites.  In some cases they can provide extra functionality as with Ad blockers that block ads on the sites you visit and terminate items that collect and send your data.  The challenge with all extensions is identifying what each of these are, making absolutely sure they are from trusted sources, and knowing that they are not bogging down your browsing experience.

Top Picks:

Google Chrome came into the browser fray in 2008 and this brought about new advances in browser technology in terms of speed, standards, and design which forced the other players to catch up.  And catch up they did.  One review by PCMag put the independent open source Mozilla Firefox at the top of their list for best browser:

With a beautifully redesigned interface, excellent performance, thrifty memory use, helpful browsing tools, and leading customizability… [1]

But the “best” is a matter of preference and to a large extent will depend on your needs. The three most commonly used browsers are: Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft IE.  These take top honors and we can focus our attention on them.

Most Popular:  In terms of popularity, at this time Google Chrome ranks number one, with Mozilla Firefox second and IE in third place.[2]

Speed: Most reports[3,4] related to speed (startup and web page load times), put Chrome at the top followed by Firefox and then IE.  It is important to note, no browser reviewed here is in any way sluggish and there are trade-offs for speed as described below.  Based on our experience of browsers, we concur with these findings.

Operating System (OS): Finding the right browser can depend to a great extent on what OS you are running on your PC.

  • Windows 8: If you use touch screen technology then IE is the best choice.  However, both Firefox and Chrome are better in terms of being expandable and offering device synchronization of program settings.
  • Windows 7: IE has some advantages (easy to use), but both Firefox and Chrome are better in terms of expandable functionality.
  • Windows XP:  The best choice is Google Chrome based on how far back it supports early versions of XP. IE is not supported on Windows XP.

Privacy: The three browsers each have private browsing modes.  Firefox and Chrome lead the way in this arena.  Note: browser privacy means not saving cookies or browsing history but does not protect you from websites that can collect or share information about you.  To take it to the next level you need to look into extensions, such as HTTPS Everywhere, Disconnect, or AdBlock Plus.

Extensions:  Firefox takes top place with a combination of add-ons, pin tabs, web apps and more.  Next in line is Chrome which taps into Chrome desktop apps and Google Now notifications.

Google Chrome:
+ fast and reliable
+ good customization with exclusive access to the Google store extensions
- fast but uses up considerable computer memory; sluggish on older PC’s
- some operations are not very intuitive
- compatibility issues on some sites (especially if using the 32-bit version) 

Mozilla Firefox:
+ open-source means available to all developers; transparent and trustworthy
+ good set of available extensions for customization and functionality
+ intuitive in terms of creating bookmarks and changing options
- slower than Chrome for starting up and for loading web pages
- requires considerable memory; sluggish for older PC’s
- compatibility issues with some sites; you sometimes have to install add-ons

Internet Explorer (IE):
+ easiest browser to use in terms of functionality
+ fewest compatibility issues
+ fully compatible with Windows 8 and has access to Windows store add-ons
- not as customizable and less extended functionality
- it has a history of being exploited and plagued by security issues
- slower than Chrome and Firefox by some reports
- also requires considerable PC resources

Price:  When making your choice you will want to know what the costs are and what it takes to try out a new browser.  Internet Explorer is included with Windows operating systems and can be downloaded for free.  All browsers are free to download and run and you simply have to go to the website (such as Mozilla.org or Google.com).  This makes it possible to pick and choose one – or more than one – without worrying about the price tag.

Browser Clean Up with PC Clean Maestro

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Making a decision about which browser to use could depend largely on how well you can customize it and take advantage of extended functionality.  However, some things have a way of taking on a life of their own.  You can start off small – with the basics – and soon you have more than you bargained for.  This can happen all too easily with browser extensions.  At times these little program tidbits can get installed without our expressed knowledge or consent.  Situations occur where your homepage or our favorite search engine is modified.  In the worst case scenario, rogue or malicious software can make alterations we do not want.

The most recent version of PC Clean Maestro now comes with new functionality to provide you the ability to examine browser extensions and disable them.  Once you open the program you can click on the “Browsers” tab in the left pane and you will see the following:

Now the steps are easy…

  1. Review the list and select an item.  Note: you can also search for an item by typing the name in the Search box and then make a selection.
  2. Click the applicable action button: Disable or Enable.

You’ll note with the example above that extensions are organized in categories specific to the type of browser you are using.  Also, as in this case, more than one browser can be installed to your system and you can examine these one at a time using the tabs at the top (for example, “Chrome” or “Firefox”).

Restoring Settings:  You can easily restore the browser settings that you had by default when first using your browser.  This is especially useful if they have been altered without your consent.  Frequently, new software installations like to make changes to your search engine or your homepage to direct your web surfing.  To restore your settings do the following:

  1. At the top of the Browsers page, select the browser tab (“Chrome”, “Firefox”, or “IE”).
  2. Click the Restore button located at the top right.

Note:  If you have customized your settings you will have to repeat the process by opening up the Browser settings and choosing the homepage and search engine of your choice.

In Summary:

Being able to pick a winner from the top three most popular browsers is a personal decision for most of us but one that needs to be based on PC capabilities and individual needs.  We appreciate that there are these choices available to us and that the competition spurs on better technology.  We promote good ethics when it comes to PC technology.  Browser extensions need to be installed with our knowledge and consent and from trusted sources.  PC Clean Maestro offers the ability to have you turn off add-ons that are unwanted.

We will continue to provide story lines like this that benefit all of us and we will describe them in a manner that is within reach of everyday computer users.  If you have some ideas of topics you would like us to cover, email us at: newsletter@compuclever.com

DIY vs. Repair Shop

by Andy Thompson on November 14, 2014

Why is it that asking for help can be an overwhelming obstacle?  The reality is… there is a certain shame that comes from seeking help when we don’t know something.  No one wants to admit to being lost and needing directions and no one wants to feel like they are not smart enough.  Plus, we all want to join the ranks of DIY – Do It Yourself.  To be real, this takes assessing the situation and knowing if the issues are outside our expertise.  When we are simply spinning our wheels, it’s time to take it to the professionals.  The next task is to get good and reliable service that will lead to a real solution.  This article segues from some of our recent articles that focus on assessment of PC problems.  We’ll cover this in brief and provide links.  The main impetus for this article is to shine some light on PC repair technicians that are not trustworthy and to strongly emphasize how our users can benefit from available tools and services including those offered by our CompuClever support team.

Here is the article menu du jour:

  • Background:  We’ll start with the background story of one man’s experience with a not-so-honest repair shop.
  • Assessment:  How to assess what’s up with your PC.
  • What to Do:  Get the right tools and utilize the services that are available.
  • Repair Shop Pointers:  When all else fails and you need to take your PC to a paid professional.

Background

In today’s world, certain buzz words can cause a great deal of stress and concern such as “terrorism” and “virus” (in this case PC virus or “malware”).  We all look on those responsible for the creation of these as being deplorable.  And then there are those that reap a reward by taking advantage of the fear generated from these malevolent and disruptive acts.  In our example we highlight a true case that came directly to us when a PC repair shop accused our software of infecting a user’s PC.  Let’s start with the details.

In the spring of 2013 we received correspondence from a Consumer Protection agency on behalf of a private individual who had been charged a fee for services incurred by a PC repair shop (name withheld).  The specifics begin with a frustrated man who was unable to get an online connection and decided to take his computer to a repair shop.  The technician there said he needed a new hard drive in order to back up his data and that they would need to reinstall his operating system.  This was all done to the excessive tune of $340.

What strikes us as interesting up to this point, and we will put aside how purchasing an external HD can be done fairly cheaply and how it was likely unnecessary to reinstall the OS… what really is of concern is that it could have simply been something related to configuring his online connection.  What is the most outlandish aspect of this story, and how it specifically came to our attention, was that the repair technician had stated that CompuClever Systems had purposefully placed malware on his computer by planting a cookie without the user’s knowledge or consent while he was online.  There was also an accusation that CompuClever software was on his system by means of a silent install.  In the end, this individual put his trust in the repair shop technician, made all these changes to his system and paid a fee far in advance of what was required.

Assessment:

Let’s just say upfront – there are grey areas when determining causes of PC issues.  When it comes to examining symptoms it is a challenge to determine if the culprit is a virus or something else.  Certain conditions such as a slow performing computer, popup messages, applications slow to open, are common to both malware related causes or items referred to as PUP – Potentially Unwanted Programs.  The best thing to do is to retrace your steps and find what the most recent changes were leading up to the issue.  If you can identify some software that was installed on your system you can then begin to examine it more closely – was it from a trusted source or is it a known virus?

Trusted Source: If you have done an examination and find that there are PC cookies on your system be advised – this is not an indication of a virus or malicious program.  As our readership is aware from our previous article on this matter, it is not possible to infect a computer using PC “cookies” – they cannot run programs that deliver viruses or malware to your PC and they cannot access your PC.  We recommend removal of cookies from unknown sources and keeping those from trusted sources.

A definite way to tell the source is a trusted one is to check credentials.  For example, CompuClever Systems is certified as a Microsoft Partner and an Intel Software Partner.  As such explicit user consent is required to install software certified through Microsoft and Intel.  In order to get this kind of Microsoft and Intel certification the software must not contain any virus, malware, or other forms of destructive code.  This means the software undergoes rigorous and thorough review.  Not only does this level of software require user consent to install, all certified software must completely uninstall at the request of the user and at his/her sole discretion without any confusion or any complications.  So… if the disgruntled user in our background story was in the least bit uncertain about CompuClever software he could simply uninstall it.  Or, he could have contacted us and we could assist him in uninstalling it.  What other software companies can uphold this level of support and service?

It is vital to use proper discretion when installing items to your PC.  As we have pointed out in previous articles there are cases where you want to install one program and you end up getting a bundle of apps some of which include annoying popup messages.  Reading the fine print as you go from one page to the next during the install process is critical.  In most cases you have the option of selecting only the program you want to install.

Virus / Malware: Without going into too much detail we will revisit this area briefly and encourage you to look more deeply into the differences between virus/malware and other PC annoyances and unwanted programs.   For more information on this see our article: Virus vs PUP. We also have covered “foistware” – the annoying software that has been forced onto your PC.  See this article for more information.

Basically, a virus is a type of malware (malicious software program), that is installed on your system without consent and will replicate itself in whole or in part.  It behaves in a manner that can be thought of as an infection by targeting one or more areas of your PC.  You can often expect to experience harmful activities or negative impacts such as monopolizing system resources (disk space and CPU), gaining access to private data, sending out spam content, corrupting data on the system, and displaying messages on the screen (popups).

The following are definite and true characteristics of a virus/malware infection:

  • Inability to remove cookies or software from a computer system.
  • PC security software and/or firewall become disabled.
  • Computer starts acting on its own.

If something has gotten onto your system without your knowledge or consent you have some options available to you: find a solution online, try out a trusted virus removal product, get available technical support (by phone), or… take your PC to a repair shop.

What to Do:

Free Solutions:  Do you have anti-virus protection for your PC and is it active?  Recent Windows operating systems provide anti-virus protection (see article: Virus vs. PUP).  There are also other third-party anti-virus tools available and some are even free.  We encourage you to go online and research this by using customer reviews and finding out whether there is a solution that meets your needs.  We are confident that in the very least anti-virus tools will not steer you in the wrong direction by placing the blame on legitimate software.  The shortcoming here is that they may not get the job done that is specific to your problem.  If so, you can take it to the next level… get some support that is available to you.

Available Support:  CompuClever offers a TuneUp Service for performance related issues as an alternative to taking your PC to the repair shop.  What you get is a one-on-one direct PC tuneup service through phone and remote desktop connection.  With remote desktop connection we are able to view and run your desktop environment from our offices to assist with your issues.

Note: This is a free service offered to our full license users.  We will also be offering this to any and all PC users for a fee so as to assist with solutions related to PC performance.   We emphasize here that our service is focused on PC’s that perform poorly and require optimization – at this time we do not repair PC’s suffering from virus/malware infections.

This service is conducted by our senior technical support specialists and our aim is to solve your PC performance issues and enrich your experience and knowledge of our software solutions with our assistance.  The list of symptoms and issues we address include the following:

  • Uninstall unwanted programs:
    Review installed applications with you the customer.  Research and remove unwanted or suspicious applications.
  • Remove junk:
    Use PC Clean Maestro’s scan to remove files considered junk that clog your PC.
  • Optimize startup and shutdown:
    Review the StartUp Manager and disable unnecessary or unwanted startup apps.  Use “System TuneUp” from PC TuneUp Maestro to optimize both StartUp and Shutdown speed.
  • Remove browser add-ons:
    Review the add-on list(s) for the default browser and disable unnecessary or unwanted add-ons.  This could result in the removal of annoying popup messages.
  • Reset and optimize browser settings:
    Reset your browser to factory default settings.
  • Registry cleaning:
    Use PC TuneUp Maestro’s registry cleaning function to clean and optimize the registry.
  • Registry defrag:
    Defrag and optimize the registry using PC TuneUp Maestro’s registry defrag feature.
  • Hard Drive defrag:
    Perform a deep defrag on your hard drive using PC TuneUp Maestro to free up space and improve PC performance.
  • Privacy and security scan/clean:
    Use PC Clean Maestro to clean privacy and security items.
  • System and Internet optimization:
    Use PC TuneUp Maestro’s System & Internet Optimization functionality.
  • Check and ensure Windows Update is turned on:
    Check to ensure that the mechanism is turned on so you receive Windows updates.

If your PC issues are outside our scope of items listed here we will give you our recommendation of taking your PC to a computer shop for hands on repair.  We would also give advice on options related to necessity of repair service and whether the cost of repair is reasonable versus purchasing new.

PC Repair Shop:

Be aware – PC repair shops can rip you off!  An easy way to make a quick buck as with our example in this article is to take advantage of a situation where it is difficult to know the root cause of an issue as well as the actual repair effort that went into the fix.  As with any professional that gives you advice and offers their service, you have to ask the right questions up front before any work starts.  Here are the questions you need to ask:

  • How much do you charge per hour?
  • How many hours do you estimate this will take to fix?
  • Do you guarantee your service?
  • If you run into difficulties can you call me ahead of time to get my approval?
  • Can you save my data?

What you should expect to get in terms of answers are:

  • Cost per hour: somewhere in the range of $50 – 100 per hour.
  • Time it takes: somewhere within 2-3 hours.  They may need to actually see your PC beforehand but they should give you some estimate of time.  If not – do not employ their services.  If they do need more time for repairs then agreed upon, make sure they contact you ahead of time and get your approval.
  • Guarantee of service: Yes.  Somewhere in the range of 30 – 90 days.
  • Call for approval when faced with situations that are beyond the agreed estimate: Yes.
  • Save data: Yes.  In extreme situations where the PC cannot be salvaged and the files can be accessed, they can be saved to external storage.

Other tips:

Keep in mind that you may have to pay a minimum fee – usually the first hour – just for them to look at your PC.  It’s worthwhile to check into this as well.  Also, check to see what the reputation of the company is beforehand.  AND, as with any professional services – get a second quote for purposes of comparison.

Note: After you get an estimate take a step back and think.  How long have you had your PC/laptop?  What are the advantages of repairing this versus buying a new one?  Keep in mind that entry level PC’s and laptops are becoming lower than $500.  And with entry level computers we are talking about specifications that exceed what was offered three years ago!

In Summary:

At CompuClever we are committed to creating PC utility software that improves the performance of your PC and we also offer support designed to address PC issues related to performance.  You can save yourself time, money, and headaches by looking for solutions that address your PC issues rather than getting stuck with a bill from a disreputable PC repair shop.

We will continue to provide story lines like this that benefit all of us and we will describe them in a manner that is within reach of everyday computer users.  If you have some ideas of topics you would like us to cover, email us at: newsletter@compuclever.com


 

CompuClever Free Functionality

by Andy Thompson October 17, 2014
Thumbnail image for CompuClever Free Functionality

We’ve mentioned before in previous articles how there are some companies of poor repute that offer “free” stuff. But what you actually get is something not entirely free. At best you get a free time trial of the product; at worst you get a free app bundled with a bunch of add-ons that you didn’t want resulting in a clogged system with popup ads or other system modifications you didn’t ask for. CompuClever provides applications that have some functionality enabled for you to try for free. If you want the full program you can upgrade. There are no tricks or deceptions. We want you to try our products and see if they meet your needs. As you do have one of our paid programs we encourage you to look at our entire application suite and try out anything that looks of interest.

Read the full article →

Virus vs. PUP and how to remove both

by Andy Thompson September 12, 2014

We are going to tread carefully and examine two areas of PC ailments. We will strive to make this more understandable and to provide effective and free solutions for both. If you look at how Microsoft deals with these categories you will find that they admit these two areas are not mutually exclusive and certain terms are used interchangeably. For our purposes we want to be more definite so that we can pinpoint what steps you need to take in order to deal with these items if you are or ever have experienced them. This article also assists you in preventing them from happening, provides free tools, and outlines the steps to get rid of both types.

Read the full article →

Improve Startup

by Andy Thompson August 12, 2014

Why settle for a computer that is slow? Maybe we come to expect that our PC is just not as fast as it used to be – but why? There are a number of reasons why you are getting poor performance. We are going to narrow it down in this article to one area of concern: Startup time. Typically, we download applications and they will by default run when you start your system. Do you need these to be running every time you start the computer? It is not likely. There is no advantage to having them run prior to when you need them. Software programs are designed to start very quickly. So let’s use your available tools to trim this list of startup items. If there is still an issue with performance we can try out a few other available tools.

Read the full article →

Cookie Time

by Andy Thompson July 9, 2014

There is one type of cookie that the Cookie Monster would not find appealing – computer cookies. But what are they and what are we to do with them? We are going to expand on what is known as “web” or “browser” cookies that are stored on your PC as a result of online browsing. The benefit to keeping these on your system is minor and they can be used in ways we do not wish. As a result, we pass on instructions on how to safely get rid of them.

Read the full article →

Spring PC Cleaning

by Andy Thompson June 6, 2014

It’s spring time. What a wonderful time of the year. We tend to feel energized from a restful winter season and it’s time to take on chores that were neglected or “to do” items that set the stage for our busy endeavors ahead. One of these tasks is cleaning your PC so that it runs efficiently. Believe it or not this process does not have to be equivalent to tearing one’s hair out and it can be very fast using the right tools. In the end you may have two important chores accomplished – a better organization of personal files and dead weight that we can refer to as “clutter” is removed.

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Tech Support Fraud

by Andy Thompson April 9, 2014

Have you ever played that “Whac-A-Mole” game? It’s the one where moles pop up out of a hole and you bonk them on the head and down they go. It doesn’t matter how many you bop on the head – they keep popping up. That’s pretty much how it is with fraudulent phone call scams. There have been some fines handed out to companies and individuals engaged in these scam activities, but they still keep popping up again and again. If you have ever had one of these phone calls you would agree – the callers are convincing.
We’re going to start off with a description of how this scam works followed by legal action taken against the scammers, and recent activity. Following this we will offer advice in terms of what to do when getting called and what to do if you or someone you know has already had a call and been the victim of technical support fraud.

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Facebook Uncovered

by Andy Thompson March 12, 2014

There is a real and strong allure to joining the crowd on Facebook. Its popularity and set of features makes email look like VHS in comparison to DVD. Make no mistake – this is a sticky subject. There are many criticisms that have surfaced and we will make the attempt to sort through these. We don’t want to get too bogged down with all the information and ultimately each person has to weigh out the pros and cons to make a decision for themselves.

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Hack, Hack

by Andy Thompson February 13, 2014

Yes it is cold and flu season. But we are referring here to another kind of viral risk – online hacking. It has again crept into the news and hit some of us right in the pocketbook. We explore two recent hacks that have had an impact on the financial security of millions of users. While not much information is released as to how these attacks occur – perhaps so as to not promote further offenses – we can focus on the effects of these attacks and what can be done to protect ourselves. A counter measure to these breaches is the onset of new technological security advances. It can be a challenge for us to keep up with it all but we endeavour to understand it and explore the options.

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