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Posts for November 2012

TOTW: how to reopen a website you closed by mistake

November 30, 2012 by John McGarvey

Repoen closed browser tabs{{}}

Does your web browser have this many tabs open?

Have you ever accidentally closed a web page you were only halfway through reading? When you have lots of browser tabs open (see image), it's easy to close the wrong one by mistake.

Fear not! Every major web browser has a shortcut to undo this mistake. So next time you click the close button without meaning to, don't swear under your breath. Just hit the correct key combination for your browser.

If you're using a Windows PC:

The shortcut is the same for Google Chrome, Firefox and Microsoft Internet Explorer:


If you use Safari for Windows, you just need do use the standard shortcut for 'undo':


If you're using a Mac:

If you're on a Mac, you just need to substitute the CTRL key in Windows for the Mac's command key (it's the one next to the spacebar that says cmd on it).

So, in Google Chrome and Firefox, use:


And in Safari, it's:


Once you get familiar with this shortcut, you'll find it can be a real time-saver - especially if you're click-happy when jumping between website tabs.

Should you buy a Microsoft Surface?

November 27, 2012 by John McGarvey

Should you buy a Microsoft Surface?{{}}

Microsoft Surface, complete with Touch Cover

Should you buy a Microsoft Surface, the tablet computer Microsoft launched alongside Windows 8Billed as an iPad beater, Surface is the tech giant's big bet to carve itself a space in the tablet market.

A month after the tablet hit the shelves, we've trawled the web to try and answer the question: should you buy a Microsoft Surface?

Buy a Microsoft Surface

Microsoft Surface is available direct from Microsoft. Most other online IT firms don't currently sell it.

The entry-level model costs £399, but we'd recommend adding the Touch Cover for an extra £80


Surface is boxier and slightly heavier than most of its rivals, but none the worse for it. Most reviews agree it has a distinctive design, with a clever kickstand that supports the tablet in portrait mode. PC Pro's Barry Collins explains:

"The mechanics of the kickstand are beautifully simple. The bottom half of the back of the tablet casing flicks out to create a stand, turning the device into a pseudo-laptop when used with one of the keyboards."

Ah yes, the keyboard. The Touch Cover is a thin screen cover for Surface that incorporates a touch-sensitive keyboard. It costs £100 if you buy it separately (and you'll almost certainly want one if you're going to buy a Microsoft Surface). There's also a thicker Type Cover (£110) which features a more traditional keyboard.

Review sources

We referred to these Microsoft Surface reviews when compiling this blog post:

PC Advisor tried both:

"The Touch Cover is strange to use at first but is something you can get used to after a while. It's just 3mm thick and uses pressure-sensitive touch pads. The Touch Cover is fine for the odd bit of typing but anyone wanting to do any serious work will benefit no end by opting for the Type Cover."

In general, reviews praise the design and build quality of Surface, putting it up there with other leading tablets like Apple's iPad.

Software and apps

Surface runs a special version of Windows called Windows RT. This caused some consternation among reviewers, because it means Surface can't run the Windows software you already own.

Next year you'll be able to buy a Microsoft Surface that's thicker, heavier and able to run standard Windows apps. CNET UK's Andrew Hoyle explains:

" can only use software from the Marketplace app store, which is missing many big-name apps and is currently a low priority for most developers,"

 Similarly, Information Week, complained about some obvious omissions:

"There are a lot of go-to apps that still aren't there. Microsoft's SkyDrive was the only cloud storage service available on day one, though DropBox was added shortly after. Others, like Google Drive and Carbonite, still aren't available. There's still no dedicated YouTube app. Social media staples like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are absent..."

TechRadar agrees, in more scathing fashion:

"Windows RT won't run old PC programs [...] It has the potential to cause mass confusion and the power to sink Microsoft's figurehead before it's even taken off."

Having said that, Surface can run a special version of Microsoft Office, which is not available for non-Windows tablets.

Display and interace

On paper, Surface has a distinctly average screen. It's not as crisp as the iPad's Retina screen, nor as sharp as the displays found in many other tablets, like Google's Nexus.

However, as is often the case when it comes to displays, the screen's specifications don't tell the whole story. CNET found it well up to most jobs:

"I found it to be perfectly sharp enough for working on documents in Office, or indeed in Google Docs. Videos looked crisp, clear and bold, thanks to the display's good use of colour. It doesn't excel in any area, but it's a decent all-rounder."

Ease of use and performance

As we've mentioned before, Windows 8 has been designed for touch screens. And if you buy a Microsoft Surface, you'd expect it to make full use of these touch-enabled features. Wired found this aspect of the interface doesn't disappoint:

"It is delightfully gesture-friendly, and Microsoft has clearly spent much time thinking about and creating an entirely new interface."

However, Windows RT also incorporates elements from older versions. Most prominent is the old-skool Windows Desktop, which you have to use in order to run Microsoft Office. ZDNet found this is where the interface suffers:

"...any time you're forced to use the desktop interface (safely removing a USB stick or accessing Task Manager are other examples), you'll have an experience akin to finding a hand-crank starter on an otherwise sleek and modern-looking automobile"

Expert Reviews judged the tablet's speed and performance to be fine in general use, but discovered the Surface slows down when asked to perform more demanding tasks:

"In general use the tablet is as responsive as an iPad, with touch elements and web pages gliding around under your fingers [...] but the moment you try to do anything serious in Office things start to chug a little, while demanding 3D games such as Pinball FX 2 didn’t run as smoothly as we expected."


Surface is a really interesting prospect. Microsoft should be commended for creating a tablet that does things a bit differently. The Touch Cover and kickstand are genuinely innovative and useful, and for day-to-day internet use you won't be disappointed if you buy a Microsoft Surface.

The ultimate vision of creating an environment in which software and files can move seamlessly from tablet to PC and back again is also attractive. But Microsoft isn't quite there with Windows RT. The mix of touch and traditional interface elements can be jarring, and there are notable omissions from available apps.

Those gaps are likely to get filled over time, and when Surface becomes available with the full version of Windows 8 next year you'll be able to run all your usual Windows software too.

If Microsoft manages to get that experience right, that's when Surface will become a compelling business tool. And that's why most businesses will probably want to buy a Microsoft Surface only once that new model becomes available.

You can buy a Microsoft Surface online now. Prices start from £399.

Watch out - the tech-savvy young entrepreneurs are coming

November 26, 2012 by John McGarvey

Laptop and notepad{{}}

A laptop and notepad - all you need? (Image: slightly everything on Flickr)

Forget the briefcase and the sharp suit. Ditch the oversize Filofax. Never mind the company car. The most important piece of equipment you need to successfully start a business is a laptop.

That, at least, seems to be the opinion of the next generation of entrepreneurs. Dell asked 380 students aged 15 - 24 about their business aspirations. Around 63% wanted to start a business after college or university.

What's more, 70% said they felt a laptop was the most important item for business success. 13% said a mobile phone was more vital.

You could file this in a folder marked 'the bleeding obvious', but actually I think it highlights the ongoing shift both in how business is run and where the greatest opportunities lie.

With flexibility and mobility increasingly contributing to business success, the laptop can be your mobile office. Connect to a wireless network, log on to a cloud computing service, and you have everything you need to work from anywhere.

That means you can be more efficient, with minimal overheads. And that might enable you to undercut competitors and win more business.

Clearly, these soon-to-be-entrepreneurs get it. If your business hasn't yet investigated how mobility and the cloud can help you work more efficiently then perhaps now's the time. Otherwise you might soon find there's a young business owner stealing your customers.

TOTW: send sensitive information in a self-destructing message

November 23, 2012 by John McGarvey screenshot{{}}

Image: creating a self-destructing message

Sending sensitive information through email: most of us know it's a bad idea, yet we've all done it at some time or another. Whether it's providing the password to access a protected file or confirming your mother's maiden name, email often seems like the easiest option.

Yet email is inherently insecure. Not only can emails be intercepted as they travel through cyberspace, but if the recipient isn't strict about deleting messages, your information could sit in their inbox for months or years. If their account ever gets hacked, your data is in the hands of the bad guys. Email hacking happens a lot, so it is a real risk.

So, for this Donut tip of the week, we wanted to show you a handy online tool that lets you send sensitive information in a form that self-destructs once it's been read. Sort of like Mission: Impossible, only with fewer pyrotechnics.

To get started, hop on over to Then it's really easy to create your one-time message:

  1. Click the blue Create One Now button.
  2. Type your message into the big box on the screen. You can use up to 1,000 characters.
  3. The message will be deleted once it has been viewed by your recipient. However, in case they don't look at it, you can set the message to self-destruct after a period of time. Choose this from the drop-down menu.
  4. Click the Create Link button.
  5. You'll see a link to your message appear. You can copy this and paste it into an email before sending it to your recipient.

That's it! The link uses SSL encryption, which means the message itself is protected from interception when the link is viewed.

Obviously, anyone with access to your link can click it to see the message - but as messages self-destruct once viewed, you don't have to worry about who sees the link once your recipient has used it. Certainly, deals with the problem of having important information sitting in inboxes.

Now there's no excuse for putting your password in an email ever again.

Skype's version of online dating for business

November 23, 2012 by John McGarvey

Skype screenshot{{}}

The Skype in the Workspace homepage.

Skype recently announced a new service, Skype in the Workspace. The online communications firm - which was bought by Microsoft in 2011 - reckons its platform is an ideal way for small businesses and entrepreneurs to find potential partners and suppliers.

Signing up is easy and takes less than five minutes. You just need to enter a little information about yourself and your business. You can then create opportunities for people to connect with you by saying what subject you want to talk about. Alternatively, you can search for interesting opportunities yourself.

Make new connections

It seems a bit like online dating for business - you search for what you're looking for, and then you can use Skype to chat to people who offer it. Being able to make instant contact is a big part of the service's appeal, because it encourages new connections and communication.

Indeed, Skype believes firms can use the service to demonstrate products to a wider audience. Users can also book appointments with potential customers or suppliers, and keep track of these with a meeting notification service. When an opportunity is over, users can instantly give testimonials on the product or service offered.

Not much happening

At least, that's the theory. At the moment, Skype in the Workspace seems somewhat sparsely populated. My search for 'accountant' returned one result, while 'lawyer' returned three, all located in the US. Searches for things like 'web development', 'marketing' or 'design' return lots more possibilities, although the quality varies quite considerably.

It's early days for Skype in the Workspace yet, and businesses who've had success in finding partners and customers through channels like Twitter and Facebook might well appreciate it as another string to their bow.

The international dimension is interesting too. Alison Coward is owner of the London creative collaboration agency, Bracket, and reckons the service has extended her reach considerably.

She says: "With Skype in the workspace, I am visible to quality leads without even leaving the office. With no travel time to contend with, it’s also now far more feasible for me to grow my business outside of the UK into Europe and the US."

It's too early to say whether Skype in the Workspace is really going to take off. My gut feeling is it's more likely to become a niche channel than a broad tool like Facebook. But as it only takes a couple of minutes to create an opportunity, what's to stop you trying it?

Four reasons to mourn the death of the typewriter

November 22, 2012 by John McGarvey

Typewriter keys{{}}

A really old typewriter (Image: Flickr user jetheriot)

From a glance at the title of this blog post, you could be forgiven for thinking we're a little late with it. Typewriters? Didn't they die off years ago?

And you'd have a point. When was the last time you saw one in the wild? Most businesses replaced them with PCs years ago, swapping fading ink ribbons and copious Tippex for the ubiquitous Microsoft Word.

But typewriters have hung on in there for far longer than you might have imagined. As the BBC reported on Tuesday, manufacturer Brother has just closed its UK assembly line, which operated from 1985.

According to the report, Brother still sees demand for around 30 typewriters a day - mainly from the legal profession (perhaps this sector has an aversion to Microsoft Word's red squiggly lines).

Indeed, the firm will continue to make typewriters in the Far East, to meet demand in the US and other countries. But it's the end of the line for UK-manufactured typewriters, and the very last one to roll off the production line is destined for the Science Museum. (You can, if you wish, still buy one online for around £100.)

Sure, modern word processing software is more versatile than old-fashioned typewriters. But even years after we all stopped using them, the typewriter still trumps the PC in certain ways. Here are four things we miss about the typewriter:

  • Their distinctive sound. These days, your average open-plan office is filled with the faint clatter of cushioned keys and mouse clicks. But back in the day, typewriters were LOUD, making a distinctive clacking noise that evokes the drama of Mad Men.
  • They make you think before acting. When every keypress commits a letter to paper indelibly, you stop and think about exactly what you want to say. In this world of instant emails, perhaps we need a little more consideration before we type.
  • They don't think for you. In my opinion, the very lowest point of human computer interaction is probably Clippy, Microsoft's much-maligned virtual assistant which interfered whenever you tried to do anything. Typewriters don't randomly change your bullet points, mess up your titles or ask if you need help writing a letter.
  • They never lose your work. They don't freeze, crash, unexpectedly quit or suffer from malware infections. They just make letters appear on paper, as you type. There's something to be said for that.

Have you ever used typewriters in your business? Do you still use them for some specialised work? Leave a comment and let us know if you miss this classic piece of office technology.

TOTW: Always check the small print

November 16, 2012 by Imanuel Votteler

Small print{{}}We’ve been moving offices recently which has meant lots of IT changes and renewals, all under time pressure to get us up and running as smoothly and seamlessly as possible.  As I quickly completed a software installation, I once again found myself agreeing to some terms and conditions I quite simply didn’t read. Why? Because they’re at least 5,000 words long, and because at least 90% of those words are undecipherable even by your average IT geek.

You or your client need the software (“urgently!!!”) so what do you do? Whatever it takes to get it installed – which happens to include completely ignoring the legal agreement. I wonder how many times I’ve sold my soul to a software provider by blindly accepting these agreements.

I propose a 20 word limit on such legal agreements. Just give me the key points in bullet form because otherwise I’d waste at least half of my day reading agreements I don’t understand, and rashly succumbing to whatever clauses they’ve dreamt up.

The business risks of smart phone apps

November 12, 2012 by Paul Ridden

The business risks of smart phone apps{{}}Smart phone applications could pose a significant threat to your company’s IT system in terms of security, availability or mobile data costs if left unchecked.

In a worst-case scenario, valuable and sensitive data could be at risk if you allow employees to download and install apps at will to their personal and work devices.

Read the terms and conditions

While smart phone settings can vary from device to device, all potentially leave a company open to abuse. Every time you install an app, it's important to check what resources and data the app is requesting permission to use.

At some point, everyone has skipped through lengthy terms and conditions to save time. It's these terms and conditions which often explain what data the app will use and how it will use it - so not reading them could mean unwittingly giving an app control over sensitive data, or even the phone itself.

Although an app may appear to be a harmless game or a useful productivity tool, there is nothing to stop it from including code to send a text message, make a phone call or even read data stored on the phone and upload it to an external server.

Minimise app risks

To minimise these risks, your business and its employees should consider some simple steps:

  • Only use apps from credible sources. Check the app's website to see who created it. Search online for the name to see if anyone else has reported problems with it.
  • Ask if you really need each app. The fewer new apps you install, the lower the risk.
  • Check the developer behind the app. Are they established and trustworthy? Do they have something to lose?
  • Check what permissions the app is asking for. Are these what you'd expect? For instance, a collaboration tool might need access to the phone functions or the internet, but would a standalone game?
  • If in doubt, say no to the download or modify the permissions (if you can) to only let it access the features you'd expect it to need.
  • If you are unsure about anything, seek advice from someone who knows what it all means - such as your IT manager, your IT supplier or an expert.

How sure can you be that a company promoting an app has not included hidden features or a developer has not included some malicious code? Software vendors with a track record of delivering solutions to businesses generally have the development disciplines in place to protect you from these risks, so beware the unproven startup or one man band developer.

Smart phone apps are extremely attractive, but it’s important not to forget that under the veneer of simplicity, IT is extremely complex. Your systems can be manipulated by people who understand that complexity, if they are left unchecked.

Paul Ridden is Managing Director of Skillweb, a privately owned, UK based business that provides technology solutions designed to help organisations manage their mobile workforces and track the movement of their goods.

Panasonic CF-C2: a rugged laptop that can take a knock

November 12, 2012 by John McGarvey

Panasonic CF-C2 rugged laptop{{}}

If you're looking for a portable computer that can stand up to rougher treatment than your average wafer-thin ultrabook or tablet computer, and you're keen to move to Windows 8, Panasonic have a new combined laptop-tablet that'll be right up your street.

On paper, the company's new CF-C2 model looks pretty good. There's a mid-range Intel CPU, which is more than up to regular business jobs. The 12.5" screen has touch capabilities, so you can try out all the new Windows 8 features that are designed for touch screens. The claimed battery life of 11 hours is up there with other properly portable computers.

One notable feature is the way the screen can swivel, allowing you to use the CF-C2 either as a normal laptop, or folded flat as a tablet.

Other rugged laptops

Panasonic has long produced rugged laptops, from its flagship CF-31 (a scary £4,000) to the better-value CF-53 (£1,500).

See more Panasonic models >>

Dell also offers rugged laptops, including the Latitude E6420 XFR, possibly the toughest-looking laptop ever.

But it's when you actually see this computer's rugged, don't-mess-with-me design that you realise it's a little out of the ordinary.

In fact, Panasonic has taken to calling it a 'toughbook'. Seems a fair description, even if it's not a category of computer we've encountered much before.

While it might look a little conspicuous in the boardroom, this rugged laptop is going to be at home out and about. It's been tested to withstand drops of up to 76cm, and has a water-resistant keyboard and strengthened glass on the screen.

For your average business, it's overkill. But if you work somewhere your laptop stands a good chance of taking the odd knock - on building sites, a factory shop floor or a warehouse, say - it could be a good buy.

It will go on sale in December. The price is likely to be a rather steep-sounding £1,700 or so. Get more information from the Panasonic website.

Dell Vostro 3560 business laptop review

November 07, 2012 by Imanuel Votteler

Dell Vostro 3560 laptop{{}}

Dell's Vostro range of laptop and desktop computers is aimed specifically at smaller businesses. We got our hands on the company's 15" Vostro 3560 laptop, and tried using it day-to-day in our company. Read on to see what we thought.

Design, size and weight

The Vostro 3560 has a pleasing appearance and a sleek, classy look to it. As with many laptops, the outside of the case is made of metallic-effect plastic. We'd prefer it to be actual metal, but that was probably outside Dell's budget.

Having said that, it looks and feels solid. The matte grey plastic around the screen is a little thicker than we'd like, but the overall effect is great.

At 2.57kg, the Vostro weighs about average for a laptop of this size. It's fine for mobile working now and again, even though it's not super-light.

The keyboard is well-spaced, making it harder to hit the wrong keys, even if you have sausage fingers. It has a positive action and is nice and quiet, so you can type for extended spells without having to connect an external keyboard.

In line with recent trends, there's a nice large trackpad with two wide buttons. You can scroll using two fingers on the trackpad, rather than having to click and drag scroll bars on screen.


The 15.6" display is bright, and lacks a glossy coating, which makes it well-suited to use under bright lights. You can see the screen clearly from a wide viewing angle, so this could be a good laptop for giving ad-hoc presentations in meetings.

The version we tested had a crisp, clear full-HD screen, so you can watch HD video on it at the full resolution. It's also available with a lower-resolution screen.


The Vostro 3560 we tested had an Intel i5 processor. It was well up to anything we threw at it during day-to-day business use. It's well-suited to running apps like Microsoft Word and Outlook, or running several programs at once.

We tested it using Windows 7, which loaded in under 30 seconds. The 3560 now ships with Windows 8.

The model we tested had an optional dedicated graphics card. This makes a big difference to the graphics performance and is a good option if you want to play games or run graphics-intensive software like Photoshop.

It's worth noting that the base level model only comes with 2GB (gigabytes) of RAM, which is borderline adequate nowadays. You can upgrade after buying, or opt for a model with 4GB, 6GB or 8GB instead.

Storage and connections

Even the entry-level Vostro 3560 comes with a 320GB (gigabyte) hard drive, which should provide more than enough storage for general business use. There's also a built-in DVD writer, so you can read and burn DVDs easily.

There are a generous 4 USB connections, all of which are the fastest USB3 type, so they can transfer data nice and quickly. The connectors are close together, which means a chunky memory stick or mobile broadband dongle can block the adjacent ports.

You can also connect external displays or a projector via VGA and HDMI ports.

Vostro 3560 conclusions

We really enjoyed using the Vostro 3560 for a few days. It has a classy, solid feel that belies its price, and it's more than capable in a business context.

True, it's not incredibly light, and it lacks the touch screen features appearing on other laptops. However, performance is good, the screen is excellent and with an entry-level price of £299 (plus VAT and shipping), it represents great value for money.

Buying the Dell Vostro 3560

The Dell Vostro 3560 is available direct from Dell. Prices start at £299 + VAT and shipping. The £479 mid-range model looks like excellent value.

Get 10% off when ordering online from by using the promotional code H3983?MGC4XBL4

Posted in Computer hardware | Tagged review, laptop, Dell | 0 comments

Five key risks of bringing your own device

November 05, 2012 by John McGarvey

Given recent coverage of 'bring your own device' (BYOD), the phenomenon which sees employees using their own IT for work, you could be forgiven that it's open season on IT in the workplace.

There are undoubted benefits from giving staff freedom to choose their own IT equipment. But before you open the floodgates and let tablet computers, iPhones and other gadgets into your company, it's worth considering the downsides too.

James Easton{{}}James Easton, right, from IT modelling and data visualisation company Real Status, reckons BYOD can create five key issues:

1. Viruses can 'jump the perimeter'

Viruses, malware, spyware and hackers can jump the security perimeter by being brought into the company on an employee's own device. Once inside your business, they may be able to bypass the firewalls that monitor your network.

2. Patch management is trickier

When you have a wide range of devices in your business, it can be hard to apply security updates consistently across all of them. Falling behind with even one update can allow a new virus or piece of malware to slip through undetected.

3. Password security and encryption can be weaker

Every mobile device should have data encryption (to scramble data, keeping it safe if the device is lost), password protection and the ability to lock users out if a password is repeatedly entered incorrectly. However, this is tricky to enforce across a wide range of devices.

4. It's harder to monitor time management

BYOD makes it harder to keep track of staff going onto Facebook and Twitter, or playing with apps which would might normally break your IT policies.

5. Preserving data privacy is difficult

As soon as BYOD becomes TYOD, or 'take your own device,' any data stored on each device is vulnerable. For example, when employees share their devices or passwords with other people, when their devices are lost or stolen or when data is accessed over public Wi-Fi hotspots.

This isn't to say that BYOD is fundamentally flawed. We've explained the benefits before, and there's a certain inevitability to it in any case. It's just a good move to be wise to the risks before you embrace it wholeheartedly.

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