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Since Windows 95 I’ve partitioned my main drive into two virtual drives c: and d:. I put Windows and applications on the C: drive and store documents on the D: drive.

Separation means I’m left with completely intact data following a system or software meltdown.

I was going to write the word ‘always’ in that last sentence, but some apps insist on storing data in tucked away corners of the C: drive. In fact, this is even more common with Windows 7 than it was in earlier years.

Another advantage of my approach is my data backups are simple mirrors. No stuffing around with sorting files or compression, straight one-for-one copies.

In the next couple of days I’m upgrading to new Windows 7 system with a 1Tb hard drive.

My question is, do I stick with my tried and tested disk strategy or is it time to dump this approach and put everything on a single C: drive?

Distraction-free writing tools like Q10 help writers focus on words.

Q10 is the nearest PCs get to acting like a typewriter. It is a stripped-down Windows word-processor without ribbons or menu bars. It doesn’t distract.

All you see is text. Your words appear as you write – and nothing else except for a greyed-out status bar across the bottom of the screen. There’s a deliberately-limited set of function keys, including one to toggle the status bar on and off.

In practice this Spartan approach means there’s nothing other than your words to look at and no opportunity to play around with the way a document appears on screen.

Writing with Q10

It may be stripped down, but Q10 is a real word processor – not a text editor.

Out of the box it displays brown characters in the Courier typeface on a black background. You can change the standard setting – I increased the character size and switched to the more readable Calibri typeface. I also added the New Zealand spelling dictionary.

I could almost switch to using Q10 instead of Microsoft Word 2010.

Microsoft Word 2010 has little I need for day-to-day writing that I don’t get from Q10.

There is no reason why I couldn’t send stories written in the .txt format – especially when I cut and paste copy directly into editorial CMS or file stories in the body of emails. But Word is the industry standard. Editors expect to see copy arrive in the .doc or .docx format.

It is years since I worried about formatting a word processor document or included graphics, tables or lines. I never move beyond a single typeface when I write.  I use bold for headlines and occasionally use italics, but neither is essential.

So why haven’t I switched from Word to Q10? In my next post, I’ll tell you why.

File compression works because document files store data quickly and inefficiently – like carelessly throwing clothes in a suitcase before a trip. Taking more time and care makes it possible to pack more in the case.

File compression tools are like vacuum luggage packs that squeeze half as much again into your bag.

You could be forgiven for thinking file compression is past its sell-by date in this era of huge hard drives and broadband. Compression is still useful because broadband speeds are still not spectacular and modern multimedia files are enormous.

You probably use compression all the time without thinking about it because it is hidden from sight.

Take, audio. A file on a standard music CD is many tens of megabytes in size – typically 50 MB. The same song stored as an MP3 file might be only 4MB. MP3 is a compressed data format – in effect it squeezes out the blanks between sounds.

If music wasn’t compressed, you wouldn’t be able to get many songs on an iPod and it would take forever to download from iTunes. Compression removes some music information along the way – that’s why MP3s rarely sound as good as the original audio files.

In a similar way jpeg compresses pictures and movies are compressed with a range of different formats.

Compression is not built-in to office applications like word processors and spreadsheets. Third-party compression tools to fill the gap.

Zip is the best known file compression format. Another popular format is .rar, there’s a good chance you’ll come across other formats.

Windows now has built-in support for Zip files. You can create a new compressed folder or create a new one directly in Windows explorer. Dealing with other formats requires a compression application – most, including some of the best are free. My favourite is jZip (www.jzip.com) JZip is a fast tool that handles most formats you’ll encounter in day-to-day computing.

You don’t need to overdo compression. In many cases it is more trouble than it is worth because it slows things down. Be selective about what you compress.

It’s hard to tell if AVG Anti-VIrus Free 9.0 offers decent PC security. That’s because the application is so annoying, it imposes such an overhead that it had to be deleted before testing finished.

At times free is too high a price.

AVG Anti-Virus Free 9.0 is still only two weeks old. It arrived about the same time as Windows 7 and is compatible with Microsoft’s new operation system.

The program is available at AVG’s free web site – but I don’t recommend it.

It is only a small download at 869Kb. It takes seconds with broadband. The first file is a downloader which fetches and installs the rest of the software.

The process is easy enough. Yet the second screen you see is only the start of what becomes an annoying and shrill sales pitch designed to control your choices and trick you in to paying money. It appears AVG has learnt from the scam artists the software promises to protect you from.

Flakiness abounds

Your first choice is to select either free basic protection or a 30-day trial of the company’s comprehensive protection.

The implication is responsible people will choose the second option. Which means in 30 days AVG will ask you for money. Don’t worry – you’ll get plenty more opportunities to pay AVG if you choose not to do so at this point.

I thought I was downloading the free software – that’s what I clicked on at the AVG web site – so that’s what I proceeded with.

During the download AVG asks you to remove existing anti-virus software. This makes sense, anti-virus applications can conflict with each other and anyway, as each program imposes an overhead, the performance drop can multiply.

Annoyingly AVG doesn’t remove the other software. It halts and opens the Windows uninstaller so you can manually remove it. Even more annoyingly, the AVG installer closes itself at this point. You need to hunt around in your download folder to find it and start all over again – by now many megabytes have been wiped off your download cap.

Click, click, bloody click

There’s a lot of clicking throughout this process – some of it unnecessary. Then it asks if you wish to install the AVG Security Toolbar.

The software has also helpfully pre-selected the option to change your default search engine to Yahoo. This is spam – of a sort. In both cases I choose No.

It is tricky – if you click off the first box, the Yahoo box stays ticked but grayed out. This can only be designed to trick you into selecting the search engine choice.

At this point the installer had to close Firefox. Not wanting to be sent all the way back to the start like that horrible long snake at the end of a game of Snakes and Ladders, I clicked to close Firefox held my breath. Phew. The install resumes.

We are now 40 minutes into the process. Even at minimum wage rate this free anti-virus program has cost me the price of lunch and a clutch of grey hairs.

Finally

Suddenly the process is over. A box appears telling me the install has finished. But wait, what is this?

More stuff to click.

Do I agree to give anonymous information? Oh alright then. And now would I like to receive spam? (Sorry news and alerts). Please enter your email address. Are you kidding? No.

While AVG starts its first scan. I reload Firefox. In the meantime I notice the program has installed an icon on my Windows desktop. Did I ask for this? No I damn well did not. AVG asks tons of questions during the install – but doesn’t allow me to choose whether the icon despoils my desktop. At this point I’m starting to get angry.

Not responding

Meanwhile Firefox is failing to load. What’s going on here? There was a string of open tabs – none of them are visible. Windows tells me Firefox is “not responding”.

Eventually – more than an hour after the first download, Firefox opens. And what’s this? AVG has installed AVG Safe Search. Is this the toolbar I choose not to install? The name is different, so let’s assume it isn’t the same thing. I wasn’t warned or asked about it, but hey, let’s go with the flow for a moment.  So, Firefox opens at the home page – my tags are all lost.

AVG is now scanning my computer looking for viruses. I open up the scanner’s display and see what looks like a banner ad for the paid for software at the bottom of the screen.  Fair enough, the software was free and these people have to eat. I can accept advertising as the price to pay for free anti-virus.

It has to go

Before long my computer started crashing, randomly. And things went s l o w   l i ke  w a d i n g t h r o u g h m o l a s s e s. There could be only one explanation for this. I removed AVG, reinstalled Microsoft Security Essentials and performance returned to normal.

Of course, you mileage may vary. AVG Anti-Virus may rock your boat. But for me it has proved so disastrous I couldn’t even test its efficiency as an anti-virus tool. I give it zero stars out of five.

I’m impressed with Windows 7. After running the beta for months it is everything Windows should be.

Sure there are niggles – but that would be true of any alternative.

I was so impressed I decided to buy the operating system. Imagine my surprise when I discovered Dick Smith lists the Windows 7 Ultimate and Professional upgrades at $499 each.

The price is ridiculous. The same Dick Smith has notebook computers with Windows installed starting at $899. That’s notebook not netbook.

OK. I understand the $899 notebook might not ship with Windows 7 Professional. That’s not the point.

For just $400 more than the cost of a software upgrade I can have a new computer. The cheapest netbook on sale in New Zealand is $425 – just $25 more than the upgrade to Windows Professional.

At Digital Shop I can buy a desktop for just $487.64 with Windows 7 Professional installed.

That’s right. In effect I can pay just $87.64 for a new computer.

So here are my choices:

  1. Buy a new PC with Windows 7 Professional. Throw my existing, perfectly serviceable machine into a landfill. Have a better computer experience but stop sleeping at night because I’m destroying the planet.

  2. Revert to Vista or XP. This costs nothing – but will give me a more annoying computer experience than at present.

  3. Look once again at Linux.

What would you do?