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Blog posts in Business software

IT for Donuts: the quickest way to make text bigger in your browser

April 11, 2014 by John McGarvey

Mouse wheel{{}}

IT for Donuts is our regular Friday feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT.

This week, we reveal the fastest way to make text bigger (or smaller) in your web browser.

Why change the text size?

There are lots of reasons for changing the text size in your browser. Maybe you're finding a website hard to read, or you want to fit more onto the screen at once.

Either way, it's super-easy to zoom in and out. If you're using a Windows PC, try these shortcuts:

  • Hold down the CTRL key, then move your mouse wheel up (to make text bigger) or down (to make it smaller)
  • Hold down the CTRL key, then tap + (to make text bigger) or - (to make it smaller)
  • If you want to reset everything back to normal, hold CTRL and tap 0 (zero). This shortcut is handy if you've changed the zoom setting by accident.

On a Mac, use the same shortcuts but hold CMD instead of CTRL. 

It really is that easy — so you never need to squint at a website again!

Previous IT for Donuts tips:

A simple tool for effortless website feedback

March 31, 2014 by John McGarvey

A simple tool for effortless website feedback/Bounce app in action{{}}How often do you have to give your feedback or comments on something visual? It might be a web page design, a photo, a flyer … or anything else you can look at on screen and comment on.

If it’s a task you have to do once in a while, you can probably make use of Bounce. This free tool lets you draw feedback straight onto an image, instead of having to write comments into a wordy email.

To share your feedback with colleagues and invite further discussion, just send them a web address. Easy!

Here’s how it works: 

  1. Go to the Bounce home page.
  2. To add feedback to a live website, enter its address and select Grab screenshot. Alternatively, select Upload an image, then Choose file to upload an image from your computer.
  3. After a moment, you’ll see your web page or image appear on the screen.
  4. Type your name into the ‘Hey stranger…’ box at the top of the screen.
  5. To add a comment, click and drag with your mouse to draw a box around the relevant part of the image.
  6. Then just type your comment into the box.
  7. You can add as many comments as you like. Once you’re done, hit Save at the top.
  8. You can share your feedback with others by copying the link from the Share this feedback box. Just paste it into an email to your colleagues.

Bounce is convenient, fast and free. I’ve been using it for a few months now and I’ve found it a really useful way to share ideas quickly.

What online tools do you find yourself turning to frequently? 

Posted in Business software | Tagged apps | 0 comments

Windows XP is dying - here's what you need to do

March 18, 2014 by John McGarvey

Windows XP is dying - here's what you need to do/Broken window? The end of XP{{}}Are any computers in your business still running Windows XP? If so, listen up. The information in this blog post could help your company avoid unnecessary risks over the next few weeks.

As you might be aware, Microsoft is retiring Windows XP on 8 April 2014. After that date, Windows XP will no longer receive updates from Microsoft.

Security issues will not be fixed and bugs will no longer be resolved.

You can keep using Windows XP after 8 April, but that would be taking a gamble. With Microsoft no longer actively fixing security vulnerabilities, you can bet hackers will redouble their efforts to find new holes in Microsoft’s venerable operating system.

You must replace Windows XP

If your company is still using Windows XP, it’s not alone. By some estimates, worldwide there could be 100 million computers still running Windows XP when Microsoft pulls the plug. (Somewhat worryingly, 95% of cash machines are based on XP, although they tend to use a special version that will remain supported for a couple more years.)

For you, by far the safest option is to stop using Windows XP by 8 April. But how?

Well, if your computers are under four years old, it should be possible to upgrade them to a more recent version of Windows. (You might consider a memory upgrade, too.)

Microsoft is keen to push users towards Windows 8. However, it’s still possible to buy Windows 7 from some suppliers. Many people prefer this because the interface is more familiar if you're used to XP.

If your computers are getting long in the tooth anyway, it’s probably time to bite the bullet and invest in some new hardware. New computers are typically cheaper to maintain than older machines, which are more likely to break down.

Before you upgrade, check software compatibility

Before you rush out to buy new copies of Windows and install them on your computers, it’s important to do a few checks.

First of all, make sure all your current software and data will work with the new version of Windows you choose. Some older software packages don’t play nicely with newer versions of Windows.

Pay particular attention to business-critical applications, like your customer database or accounting software.

If you find software compatibility is going to be a problem, consider upgrading that software too, or switching to a different package.

It’s not too late to get Windows XP help

It’s wise to speak to an IT supplier. They can help you understand your options and make sure you haven’t missed anything that might cause problems.

For example, it’s not possible to install Windows 8 straight over Windows XP. You must perform what’s called a ‘clean installation’. This gives you the Windows 8 default settings, instead of carrying your existing settings over.

A good IT supplier may also be able to buy you some breathing space. For instance, in the short term you might continue running Windows XP on a computer that’s not connected to the internet, so hackers can’t attack it.

There’s plenty of official advice on the Microsoft website, although keep in mind that this will push you towards Windows 8 instead of Windows 7. If you’re not sure which version of Windows you have, you can also use Am I running XP? to see if you need to worry about upgrading.

Finally, a number of IT manufacturers are offering deals or trade-in programmes to businesses ready to move away from Windows XP. There’s a good round-up on the PC Pro website.

Posted in Business software | Tagged microsoft | 0 comments

What to do when your software does too much (or not enough)

March 05, 2014 by Martin Bridges

What to do when your software does too much (or not enough)/Swiss army knife - software does everything{{}}You know your company’s admin process better than anyone. But can you find software that matches it?

No. Of course you can’t.

Why? Because the software companies always come up with generic, one-size-fits-all solutions. Allegedly, that’s the most cost-effective way.

And it works, up to a point. For instance: 

  • If you only sell to companies in the UK, you can still use accounting software that has fields for international business addresses.
  • If you’re not VAT-registered, you can use a VAT invoice template by just leaving the VAT boxes blank.

It’s a little frustrating, especially when you remember how much you paid for your software. But at some point, you’ll run into a problem that requires a workaround.

Perhaps this means you have to do your calculations in a spreadsheet and then copy the result into your accounting software. Or you end up producing quotes for work in Microsoft Word, but then create the invoice in Excel.

Wonderful extras

Sure, off-the-shelf software has wonderful extras, like storing people’s birthdays or converting yen to sterling. But there’ll still be no way of making your phone number print on delivery notes, or placing your logo exactly where you want it.

You can spend months looking for the right software, then more months trying to learn it. And even then you have to spend more time adapting your company’s processes to fit it.

But doesn’t every business have to waste months working with inadequate, inappropriate software?

No, I don’t think they do. Often, the answer is a bespoke relational database.

A database for your business

When you build your own database, an expert looks at how your business works, figures out which bit can be automated, and then makes that happen. The learning curve is shallow, because the new system is designed to fit around how you already do things.

You don’t have any features you won’t use. And as your company grows, you can adapt the database to suit.

You’ll save some time because you won’t have to continue the ongoing search for software. And you’ll save more because everyday processes will be updated and speeded up.

Martin Bridges is an expert in office admin and developing relational databases who works at dataBASED.biz.

Posted in Business software | Tagged software | 0 comments

The confusion of master spreadsheets

February 12, 2014 by Martin Bridges

The confusion of master spreadsheets/Spreadsheet numbers{{}}Spreadsheets are great. They’re easy to set up, personalise, and use. Except when you want more than one person to access the information in the spreadsheet. That’s why it gets trickier.

However, there are a number of ways to work around the problem.

1. Use a master spreadsheet

This method doesn’t require much technical knowledge, but can be labour-intensive, especially if you work with big files.

To begin with, set up a spreadsheet with all the calculations and fields in place, laid out and formatted exactly as you want.

Give a copy (with or without data) to each person who needs to use the spreadsheet. Let them add or change data according to their requirements.

Once everyone has finished changing the spreadsheet, someone has to manually open each edited file and collate the information back into a single spreadsheet.

This master copy can then be copied and disseminated, starting the process again.

If you take this approach, it’s important to have a convention for naming the files so you don’t get confused. I tend to use a combination of file name, user name and date. For instance:

  • ItemPrices_John_19.1.14.xlsx
  • ItemPrices_Martin_21.1.14.xlsx

Sometimes I have to add the time to a file name too, like ItemPrices_Martin_21.1.14_11:33.xlsx.

2. Have one spreadsheet file on a server

If your business has a server — whether in your office or in the cloud — you can keep a single copy of the spreadsheet.

Because only one person can open the spreadsheet at a time, there shouldn’t be any data issues, because one person has to close the spreadsheet before another can open it.

However, you'll inevitably find that more than one person wants access to the data in the spreadsheet at any one time. So what happens is one of your team takes their own copy, changes it … then confusion reigns and you’re back at method one again.

3. Set up shareable spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are just tables, with columns (field names) across and rows (records) down.

Instead of storing your data in a spreadsheet, you can save it using database software. This still keeps your data in a table (or several tables), but is superior in several ways:

  1. You are not visually limited to a grid format. You can take (some or all of) the fields and lay them out however you want. Perhaps as a form on the screen, as a report, as a customer receipt … or anything.
  2. You can filter your records easily. Select data using almost any criteria you can come up with, then view only the matching records.
  3. Lots of people can use it. Anyone can create a new record at anytime. Only one person can edit a particular record at a time, but their changes become immediately available to everyone.
  4. You can save more data. In spreadsheet software, you usually end up using multiple spreadsheets when you have lots of types of data. However, a single database can contain several tables that are linked.

    For instance, you can have a table of customer details and a table of invoices, linked together.

The advantage of using a database like this is that you only ever have to enter information once. You can simply re-use it when you need to. That avoids cut-and-paste errors and eliminates worries about which copy of the data is the right one.

 Martin Bridges is an expert in office admin and developing relational databases who works at dataBASED.biz.

Posted in Business software | Tagged staff | 1 comment

Which card payment terminal is right for you?

January 06, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Which card payment terminal is right for you?chip and pin credit card terminal{{}}If you want to start accepting card payments, there’s a wide range of card payment machines to choose from. With so many options available, it can be hard to know where to start.

The first thing to do is consider your business and your customers. What do you sell? Are you always at a desk or are your customers spread out? How do you carry out most transactions: face to face, over the phone, online?

Once you answer these three questions, the type of card payment terminal you need should become clear. There are three basic types: 

  • Countertop card payment terminals. These operate from a fixed location. They can operate via dial-up (using your phone line) or over your existing broadband connection, and fit on to most shop counters.
  • Mobile card payment terminals. These have a SIM card like a mobile phone and are used mainly by delivery services, market traders and other businesses on the go — anywhere where there isn’t a fixed point of sale or broadband connection.
     
    You need a mobile phone signal to use a mobile card payment terminal. Some of use an app on a smart phone along with a Bluetooth connected chip and pin keypad.
  • Portable card payment terminals. These are popular with hotels, restaurants, bars, hairdressers, coffee shops and in other situations where the customer is not always in the same spot.
     
    The terminal will operate within a certain radius of its base unit, which connects to your phone line or broadband like a countertop terminal.

One other thing to consider is whether you’d like to have the ability to take contactless payments, where customers can pay smaller amounts by waving their card over a card reader, instead of having to input a PIN.

To encourage use of contactless payments, some payment providers are offering lower commission rates on debit card payments, so if this appeals to you and your customers, it could be worth your while.

All types of card payment terminals are available with contactless functionality.

Andy Macauley is chief operating officer of Handepay.

Posted in Business software | Tagged payment | 0 comments

The end of Windows XP: what you need to know

November 12, 2013 by Adrian Case

The end of Windows XP: what you need to know/windows XP logo{{}}Microsoft recently reminded Windows XP users that this venerable operating system is being retired in April 2014.

Windows XP has just passed its 12th birthday, and on 8 April next year Microsoft will end support for it. If you’re still using it, this means you will no longer receive security patches or updates — and Microsoft won’t be able to provide you with any sort of support for Windows XP.

Time to ditch Windows XP

Because Microsoft will no longer be updating Windows XP to guard against new security threats, it’s important to move away from the software before April next year.

This may pose a challenge for any companies still using Windows XP — and there are plenty of those. Despite just passing its twelfth birthday, according to Net Market Share Windows XP is still the second most popular operating system, with a significant 31% market share.

XP has been a great choice for businesses. It was relatively easy to pick up because it feels familiar to many users and supports a lot of bespoke business software. As a result, many businesses have been reluctant to upgrade. 

Software has moved on

However, desktop software has come a long way since Windows XP was released in October 2001. So has hardware. In fact, Microsoft released three new versions of Windows over those 12 years: Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8.

Vista never really gained a foothold with businesses, but Windows 7 now enjoys considerable market share.

How to cope with the end of XP

If you currently use Windows XP on any of your business computers, it’s time to take action. Don’t put it off — once Microsoft drops support for Windows XP, so will many other software companies. You could soon find you’re unable to run some of your key business software.

More worryingly, in six months time you will be at an increased risk from malware and viruses, as hackers begin to target the unmaintained operating system. Consider your options now and plan to replace Windows XP before the deadline.

Upgrading Windows XP: your options

The most recent Microsoft operating system is Windows 8. It has a significantly different interface compared to its predecessors and has attracted some criticism for this, so you may be more comfortable upgrading to Windows 7, with its familiar look and feel.

There are also hardware factors to consider when you upgrade. A computer running Windows XP is likely to be as dated as the operating system itself.

Even if it can handle a newew operating system, it’s likely to be considerably slower than Microsoft intended — and this could hit your productivity. The end of Windows XP could therefore be a good time to replace your business computers, too.

Can we keep using Windows XP?

On the morning of the 9 April, your Windows XP computers will still start up as they have done for the past decade. However, the lack of support and updates — not to mention the increased threat of malware — should be enough to put you off of doing so.

Quite simply, after 8 April, the longer you hold on to Windows XP, the greater the chance you’ll suffer some sort of problem or catastrophe from which it’s hard to recover.

Microsoft is keen to see businesses upgrade, as this allows it to focus resources on developing new software, rather than maintaining older versions. However, it costs to upgrade, so there’s certainly a commercial incentive too.

In all, Windows 8 is a considerably more advanced and future-proof operating system than Windows XP. If you’re currently persevering with this old software, there’s no better time to make the leap and upgrade.

This is a guest post from Adrian Case, technical director at Akita IT support in Kent.

Posted in Business software | Tagged microsoft | 0 comments

Friday tech tip: save time and find things faster with CTRL + F

October 04, 2013 by John McGarvey

CTRL + F — timesaving shortcut{{}}

Sometimes it's the simplest IT tips that can save you most time. So, for this week's Friday tech tip, we've identified a simple shortcut that'll help you find what you're looking for more quickly.

It works in almost every application, but it's particularly useful when you're looking for information on a lengthy web page, in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or Word document.

Instead of scrolling through pages of text and figures to find the thing you need, hit this easy shortcut:

CTRL + F

(That means hold down the CTRL key, tap the F key, then release the CTRL key. If you use a Mac, hit CMD + F instead.)

In almost every major piece of software on your computer, a 'find' box will appear or pop up. Just enter in some text to identify what you're looking for, and hit the Enter key. The display on screen will highlight where that text appears.

This simple time saver is one I use several times a day. Once you become accustomed to it, you'll be using it to make life easier in all kinds of circumstances.

Friday tech tip: how to cut the background out of an image

August 30, 2013 by John McGarvey

We recently stumbled upon an amazing website that can automatically remove the background from photos and other images.

To do this properly, you usually need a copy of photo editing software (like Photoshop or the free Paint.NET), a steady hand and some patience. But now this site promises to do the whole thing for you.

It's great for achieving effects like cutting a person out of a photo or removing a dark background from an icon. For this week's Friday tip, we explain how to use it.

The website is called Clipping Magic. It's currently being tested, but seems to work very well. Here's how to give it a try.

1. Find an image to work with. We're going to use this photo of a boat, because it was the first photo that came to hand:

Original image of a boat{{}}

2. Go to the Clipping Magic website and select Choose file to upload your image. You can also drag and drop the image file into the page.

3. While the image is being uploaded, you'll see instructions about how to use Clipping Magic. Have a read if you like — it's pretty straightforward.

4. Next, you'll see your image on screen twice. On the left will be your original. On the right is how it'll look once the background has been removed.

5. To tell Clipping Magic which areas are the background, select the red minus sign, then click and drag to highlight the background on the left image.

6. Next, select the green plus sign, and use it to highlight the bits of the image you want to keep. Once you release the mouse button, the right image will change to preview the new image:

Clipping magic preview{{}}

7. If the preview doesn't look right, you can highlight other areas to help Clipping Magic work out what to remove. Use the eraser icon to remove highlighting and the 20px dropdown to change the width of the highlighter.

8. Once you're happy, select Download to get a final copy of your image. Here's how ours turned out:

Finished boat cut out{{}}

There are other settings to play with as well. It's best to just experiment with them to see what gets the best results.

We think that's not bad at all for a couple of minutes' work. Go on, give it a try yourself at Clipping Magic.

Friday tip: two handy web browser shortcuts

July 12, 2013 by John McGarvey

Web browser shortcuts{{}}Keyboard shortcuts can make a big difference to the speed at which you use your computer, yet many people aren't aware they even exist.

We've covered some key keyboard shortcuts before (like copy, cut and paste), but here are two web browser shortcuts that will come in handy when you're browsing the internet.

Both shortcuts work in almost all common web browsers.

Never type .com again

If you're typing an internet address like 'www.microsoft.com' into your browser, you don't actually need to type the '.com'.

Instead, you can just hit CTRL+ENTER. This web browser shortcut will add the '.com' to the end for you, and take you to that website.

Move back through forms

You might already know that you can tap the TAB key to move to the next field in an online form. That's handy when you're entering your details or registering on a website.

But you might not realise that if you make a mistake, you can hit SHIFT+TAB to go back to the previous field.

What are your most-used web browser shortcuts?

Friday tip: easily enter repetitive data into Excel

May 31, 2013 by John McGarvey

{{}}It's not much fun being an Excel novice. While undeniably powerful, Microsoft's spreadsheet tool is pretty intimidating if you don't know your way around it properly.

One of the most common Excel tasks is to enter repetitive information, like a list of sequential dates or the same number over and over again.

These tasks are time-consuming and soul-destroying, unless you know these handy shortcuts.

1. Enter a list of dates in sequence

Ok, say you want column A of your spreadsheet to contain a list of dates, running from 1 May - 30 May. You could type in each date manually. Or you could just follow these steps:

  1. At the top of the column, type in the start of your sequence of dates. For instance: 1 May, 1/5/2013 or 01-May-13
  2. Now, click to select that cell, and hold the left mouse button.
  3. Drag the mouse down the column, still holding the button.
  4. You should see a date appear next to the pointer, which changes as you move down the screen.
  5. When you release the mouse button, a list of sequential dates will appear in the cells.

This also works for other data, including numbers, days of the week, times and more.

2. Enter the same thing into lots of cells

Sometimes you might need to enter the same number or text into several cells dotted around your spreadsheet. Here's how:

  1. Click one of the cells into which you wish to insert the data
  2. Holding the CTRL key on your keyboard, click the other cells into which you wish to insert the same data
  3. Once you've selected all the cells, type in your data
  4. Hit CTRL + Enter and the data will be added to all selected cells

What are your most-used Excel shortcuts? Leave a comment and let us know.

Friday tip: create an electronic signature on your Mac

May 24, 2013 by John McGarvey

Has a client or business partner ever emailed you a PDF contract, asking you to print it, sign it, scan it and then send it back by email? Creating your electronic signature will save you all that hassle.

What's more, if you have an Apple Mac then you can pop your signature on the bottom of a PDF without requiring any special software. This tip should work on any Mac as long as it has a webcam (all recent MacBook laptops have webcams built in).

Here's how to create your electronic signature and sign your first document:

1. First, get a blank piece of paper and sign it. You'll need this later.

2. On your Mac, open Preview. It's the icon that looks like a couple of photographs:Preview icon - electronic signatures{{}}

3. Click the Preview menu, then choose Preferences.

4. In the window that opens, click Signatures.

5. Click the Create Signature button.

6. A window will open and your computer's webcam will turn on.

7. Hold the paper up to your webcam. You'll see your digital signature appear on screen:

Electronic signature photo{{}}

8. Once you've positioned it so you're happy, click Accept. Your signature is now saved.

9. Close the window by clicking the red button at the top left.

10. Next, open the PDF to which you wish to add your signature (go to File > Open and select the file).

11. Click the pen icon to show the annotations toolbar:

Annotation tool{{}}

12. Click the 'S' signature icon, then choose your signature from the dropdown:

Electronic signature dropdrown{{}}

13. Click and hold the mouse where you want to add your signature. You can set the size of your signature by dragging while you hold the mouse button.

14. You can click and drag the signature to resize and reposition if required:

Electronic signature on document{{}}

15. Once you're happy, click File, then Export. Enter a file name and click Save.

That's it - you've saved a copy of the PDF with your signature. And your signature will be saved in Preview so you can use it next time you need to sign a document too.

ISS it time to ditch Microsoft Windows?

May 09, 2013 by John McGarvey

Windows blue screen{{}}

The Windows blue screen of death. Seen one lately? (Image: namho on Flickr.)

We tend to focus on Microsoft Windows here on IT Donut. Although there are many alternative operating systems that are reliable capable and even free (like Linux), we've taken the view that it's easiest for small firms to stick with the status quo.

Quite simply, Microsoft Windows is one of the few pieces of software that's used almost universally by companies across the UK. Sit a new member of staff in front of a computer running Windows and there's a good chance they'll know how to use it.

Windows gets the job done

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That's not to say for a moment that Windows doesn't have its problems. From the famed blue screen of death (see image) to the ridiculous Windows Update system that seems designed to kill productivity dead, Windows can be frustrating at times.

But by and large it gets the job done. And although it's arguable that the dominance of Windows has stifled innovation, if you're just trying to get stuff done then there's a lot to be said for having what pretty much amounts to a standard operating system.

Is change in the air?

However, having said all that, we're starting to wonder if change might be in the air. The ties that bind that businesses to Microsoft Windows may be loosening. Here's why:

  • Although Windows dominates laptop and desktop computers, the picture's less rosy in smart phones and tablets. Apple and Google command the lion's share of these emerging markets. This means that as more businesses use tablets and smart phones in place of traditional computers, Windows may become less crucial for business.
  • Windows 8 - the latest version of Windows - has an entirely new interface, which means bits of it are like learning to use a new operating system. Many companies seem reluctant to upgrade. Is it too much of a leap to imagine them considering entirely new operating systems?
  • The cloud is making Windows less important. You can use online cloud services to replace much of your traditional software. These work on any computer, regardless of the operating system. They just run inside a web browser. Google's Chromebook works on this principle. Could it be the future of business IT?

But one story emerged this week that'll bring cheer to opponents of Windows, particularly those who prefer to use Linux. As it turns out, the International Space Station (ISS) is moving from Windows to Linux in order to improve reliability.

And let's be honest. If it's good enough to run the ISS, it's probably good enough for your average business.

Posted in Business software | Tagged microsoft | 1 comment

TOTW: how to remove comments from a Word document

April 19, 2013 by John McGarvey

Remove comments like this from a Word doc{{}}If you've been working on a Word document in a team or have to send a report out for comments and approval, you may end up with a file that's covered in comments, tracked changes and markup.

You'll probably want to remove the markup and comments from your Word document, particularly if you're sending it outside your business (tracked changes have embarrassed organisations many times over the years).

So, for this tip of the week (TOTW), we explain how to remove markup, comments and other hidden data from your Word documents.

Use the Document Inspector

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Recent versions of Microsoft Word include a tool called the Document Inspector that helps you identify and remove comments, markup and hidden information. Bad news for Mac users though: the Document Inspector is only available on Word for PCs.

Here's how to use it:

  1. Open the document from which you want to remove comments and hidden data.
  2. Click the File tab in Word, then click Info.
    (If you don't see the File tab, click the Microsoft Office button at the top left, then select Prepare > Inspect Document. This will open the Document Inspector, so you can skip step three.)
  3. Select Prepare for Sharing > Check for Issues > Inspect Document.
  4. The Document Inspector will open. You can choose which items you want to check for. Make sure every box is ticked.
  5. Click Inspect. You may have to wait a moment if it's a large document.
  6. The Document Inspector will show all the comments, changes and data it has found.
  7. You can remove these items by clicking Remove All on each line.
    Note: most of these changes cannot be undone.
  8. You can rescan the document by clicking Reinspect.
  9. Click Close once you're done.

That's it. Now you can save your document as normal and send it out without worrying that it might contain any hidden text or information.

TOTW: shortcuts to help you use PowerPoint professionally

April 12, 2013 by John McGarvey

PowerPoint shortcuts{{}}

Giving a presentation can be nerve-wracking. And let's be honest: although PowerPoint is a useful aid, many presenters rely on it too much.

But once you've made sure you're not committing any crimes with PowerPoint, here's a tip of the week (TOTW) with some useful shortcuts to make your presentation run smoothly and professionally:

Presentation gear

The right equipment can go a long way to ensuring a smooth presentation. You might need:

Move through your presentation

Most people who use PowerPoint will know this already. However. if you tend to flail with your mouse to move through your presentation, why not try using the left and right arrows keys instead?

Tap these to step through your presentation one slide at a time - forwards or backwards.

Alternatively...
For a more professional look to your presentations, consider using a presentation remote control. This will allow you to step through presentations without having to stay by your computer. Kensington and Targus both make good models.

Presentation books

Presentation technique matters just as much as the kit you use. Why not get advice from these great books?

How to take a break

If someone interrupts your presentation unexpectedly, or you want to hold a group discussion without the distraction of what's on screen, use these shortcuts:

  • Tap W to turn the screen white
  • Tap B to turn the screen black

Just tap the key again to resume your presentation.

Scribble on your slides

You can literally underline a key point in PowerPoint, by drawing on the screen:

  • Press CTRL + P to turn your mouse pointer into a pen icon
  • Then click and hold the mouse to draw on your slides
  • When you're finished, press CTRL + A

(If you use a Mac, tap the Command key instead of CTRL.)

Alternatively...
You can use a laser pointer to point at key items. These are available for a few pounds - just be careful not to point it in anyone's eyes!

The end is near for Windows XP

April 12, 2013 by John McGarvey

Dead end sign - the end for XP{{}}

The end is nigh for Windows XP

If your business is one of the millions still using Windows XP, it's time to start thinking about moving to a more modern operating system.

Actually, you can consider this your early warning that Microsoft will be ending support for Windows XP in just under a year's time, on 8 April 2014.

After that date, Windows XP will no longer receive software updates from Microsoft.

That means no more security patches to protect you from viruses, spyware and hackers. No more fixes for software bugs. And no more updates to improve performance and stability.

Windows XP: 11 years and counting

Upgrading Windows

If you're using Windows XP, you can upgrade to Windows 7 or Windows 8.

It's a good idea to discuss the options with a reputable IT supplier.

You can purchase Windows from these outlets:

If you keep using Windows XP after 8 April next year then it will keep on working, probably. But the longer you keep using it, the greater the risk you'll be running.

The truth is Windows XP is more than 11 years old. Business technology has changed immensely in that time, and you're still reliant on this outdated software then you'll be doing yourself a real favour by upgrading.

If your computers are under three years old then you should be able to upgrade them to a more recent version of Windows without needing to invest in new computer equipment.

If your computers are older than that, then you might benefit from investing in new hardware at the same time.

Have the conversation now

In either case, it's worth discussing the issue with your IT supplier or support company now, so you have an idea of what you might need to do over the next few months.

You'll probably be presented with the option of upgrading either to Windows 7 or 8.

Windows 7 is a couple of years old and has been tried and tested in companies of all sizes. Windows 8 is the newest version, but has a revised interface that takes a little getting used to.

Which option is right for you will depend on the compatibility of your existing software, and your own preferences.

Don't panic though - you're hardly the only business out there still using Windows XP. Some statistics suggest nearly 40% of businesses are still are using the venerable software, with many experts expecting most of these companies to choose Windows 7 over Windows 8.

Do you still use Windows XP? Are you worried about the end of support?

TOTW: four great Easter eggs - secret software features

March 28, 2013 by John McGarvey

Google Earth flight sim Easter egg{{}}

Flying over London in Google Earth.

As we're about to head off for a nice long weekend, instead of the usual useful business IT tip of the week, this time round we thought we'd give you some useless ones. They're arguably more fun though.

Easter eggs aren't just big bits of chocolate you eat at this time of year. They're also hidden features in software that can be revealed if you know how. Here are our top four Easter eggs.

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1. Fly a plane in Google Earth

You'll need to have Google Earth installed on your computer for this one, but it's worth getting just to see it in action.

Once you've opened Google Earth on your computer, press CTRL + ALT + A on your keyboard (on a Mac, hit CMD + ALT + A).

You'll enter the secret(ish) flight simulator mode, which allows you to pilot a plane through Google Earth. Be warned though, it's not easy to get the hang of. More instructions here.

2. See the beginnings of Firefox

Firefox may be losing ground to Google Chrome in the web browser wars, but it still has a surprise up its sleeve.

To see this Easter egg in action, open a new Firefox window, type about:mozilla into the address bar, then hit Enter. You should see a quote from The Book of Mozilla about the birth of Firefox. (Mozilla is the non-profit organisation behind Firefox.)

3. Turn your search on its head

Go on, hop on over to Google. Then type in do a barrel roll and hit Enter. You can also try searching for tilt.

(Warning: not for those who get motion sick easily.)

4 Play Snake on your Mac

Readers of a certain age will remember the game Snake from their Nokia phones with fondness.

But did you know you can play it on your Mac? Go to Applications, then Utilities, then Terminal. In the windows that opens, type emacs, then hit Enter.

A text editor called Emacs will open. Hold Esc and tap X, then once the cursor is at the bottom of the screen, type snake and hit Enter. Then prepare to waste the rest of your afternoon.

I'd hoped to include more Microsoft Easter eggs here, but it seems that by-and-large the company has stopped including them in its software. Spoilsports!

TOTW: play a warning sound when you hit Caps Lock

March 22, 2013 by John McGarvey

It's really irritating when you hit Caps Lock by mistake. Suddenly IT LOOKS LIKE YOU'RE SHOUTING and although there are ways to change how text is capitalised, it's nicer to avoid the problem in the first place.

There is an easy way to banish this annoyance, so for this Tip of the Week we explain how to make Windows play a sound whenever you hit Caps Lock.

1. Make sure your speakers are on

To get started, make sure your computer's speakers are turned on and turned up.

Click the speaker icon at the bottom right of your screen and check the volume there is turned up too:

Speaker icon{{}}

 

2. Open your Control Panel

To find the setting you need, go to your Windows Control Panel:

  • In Windows Vista or 7, click the Start button, then click Control Panel.
  • In Windows 8, reveal the sidebar by moving your mouse to the bottom right corner of the screen. Then click Settings followed by Control Panel

3. Change the Ease of Access settings

In the Control Panel, click Ease of Access Center:

Ease of access center icon{{}}

At this point your computer may start reading the items on screen. To switch this option off, untick the Always read this section aloud option:

Always read aloud option{{}}

Next, click Make the keyboard easier to use:

Make the keyboard easier to use setting{{}}

The setting to play a sound when you hit Caps Lock is called Toggle Keys. To switch it on, click the checkbox beside the Turn on Toggle Keys option:

Turn on Toggle Keys{{}}

Click OK, and then tap your Caps Lock key to make sure the new setting works. You should hear a high note when you turn Caps Lock on, and a lower tone when you turn it off again.

Four tools to help you get ready for Real Time PAYE

March 20, 2013 by Liz Dawe

Four tools to help you get ready for Real Time PAYE/sun dial made in the stone{{}}If your business has employees, you've probably already heard about Real Time PAYE.

Also called Real Time Information or RTI, it will require you to submit payroll information to HMRC every single time you run payroll.

Never heard of RTI?
Visit our Real Time PAYE resources page >>

Real Time PAYE software

Real Time PAYE comes in for most businesses from 6 April. If you outsource your payroll, then just make sure your payroll provider is fully prepared for RTI, and check if they need anything from you to get ready.

If you run payroll in-house, then it's inportant you're using payroll software or a payroll cloud computing service that can send your Real Time PAYE information to HMRC.

You need to use software because HMRC will only accept Real Time PAYE information sent over the internet.

Here are four reputable software packages that are ready for Real Time PAYE and can help you get prepared:

  1. Sage One Payroll. This easy online payroll system lets you log in online to run payroll and perform RTI submissions for up to 15 employees. Prices start from £5 a month and include 24/7 support in case you need help getting started.
  2. QuickBooks Payroll is traditional software you install and use on your computer. It's currently on offer at £22 a month, but that includes payroll for up to 99 staff plus fully-featured accounting software.
  3. BrightPay is another payroll tool you can install and run on your computer. It's a good option for small companies as it's free to run payroll for up to three staff. Get unlimited employees for £89 - make sure you order the 2013/14 version for RTI functions.
  4. Moneysoft Payroll Manager. It ain't a pretty website, but MoneySoft will get the Real Time PAYE job done for you. You'll pay £56 for the basic package, allowing you to run RTI payroll for up to 20 staff.

How prepared do you feel for RTI? Leave a comment to let us know.

 

Posted in Business software | Tagged RTI | 0 comments

TOTW: How to edit a PDF file

March 15, 2013 by John McGarvey

Edit PDF file{{}}

PDF files aren't designed to be edited. But how many times have you received a PDF by email, only to find you need to make a change to it?

For this tip of the week (TOTW), we explain how to edit a PDF.

You probably use the free Adobe Reader software to open PDFs, but this is no good for making changes. One option is to fork out £250+ for Adobe's Acrobat package. But if that doesn't appeal, there are a number of free tools out there that let you edit PDF files.

Edit a PDF with PDF to Word

Because PDF files simply aren't designed to be edited, it's a good idea to convert your troublesome PDF into something more edit-friendly.

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That's where PDF to Word comes in. It's a free online tool that converts your PDFs into Microsoft Word files. You can then open and edit them with a recent copy of Microsoft Word, which you'll almost certainly have on your business computers.

If your PDF has a complicated layout, lots of graphics or unusual fonts then PDF to Word isn't always able to convert perfectly. But it does a really good job most of the time, leaving you with a nice Word file that's easy to make changes to.

How to use PDF to Word

Here's how to convert your PDF into an editable Word document:

  1. Make sure your PDF file is saved somewhere you can find it, like on your desktop
  2. Go to the PDF to Word website
  3. Click the Choose File button
  4. In the box that appears, find and double-click the PDF file
  5. Type your email address into the Your email address field
  6. Fill in the awkward CAPTCHA (the distorted letters and numbers) to prove you're human
  7. Click Convert to Word

Your PDF file will be uploaded to the service, and after a minute or two you'll receive a Word document in your email. When you open it, it'll be the same as your PDF, but in fully editable form.

TOTW: How to save screenshots on your Mac

February 15, 2013 by John McGarvey

Mac screenshot{{}}Saving a screenshot on a Windows PC is easy. Just hit the Print Screen key, then paste the image into a document or email (more details here).

However, if you use a Mac, you have to learn a different shortcut combination.

In fact, Macs have a number of different functions built-in if you want to save a screenshot. Here are two of the main options.

1. Take a screenshot of your whole screen

If you want to save an image of everything you can see on your screen, hold down the Command and Shift keys, then tap the number 3. This will save an image of your entire screen to your Mac's desktop, with a filename starting Screen Shot. You can open and edit this in normal graphics software.

Alternatively, press Command, Shift, Control and 3 to copy the image to your Mac's clipboard. You can then use the Paste option (Command-V) to paste this image into an email or document.

2. Take a screenshot of part of the screen

If you don't want to save an image of your whole screen, try Command, Shift and 4. This will turn your mouse pointer into a cross-hair. Click and hold the mouse to draw round the area you want to save. When you release the mouse button, the area you selected will be saved to the desktop.

Similarly, you can use Command, Shift, Control and 4 to copy the selected part of the screen to the clipboard. Easy!

TOTW: get the Recent Documents option back in Windows 7

February 08, 2013 by Imanuel Votteler

Document file - recent documents menu{{}}If you've been struggling to cope without the Recent Documents folder in Windows 7, this tip of the week explains how to get it back.

The Recent Documents folder appears in your Start menu, giving you an easy way to access the files and documents you've been working on most recently. However, it isn't switched on as standard in Windows 7, which can be confusing if you usually rely on it to find your files.

Here's how to get it back:

  1. Right-click the Start button and choose Properties.
  2. A dialog box should open. If the Start Menu tab isn't already selected, click it.
  3. Click Customise.
  4. Scroll down to the Recent Items check box.
  5. Click the box so a tick appears in it.
  6. Click OK to close the dialog, then click OK again.

That's it - you should now see a Recent option in your Start menu, which you can use to open the documents and files you worked on most recently.

(Image: Flickr user Marcin Wichary.)

Microsoft Office 2013 arrives quietly

February 04, 2013 by John McGarvey

Like death, taxes and your train being late when you're in a hurry, having to use Microsoft Office is one of life's certainties.

Microsoft Office 2013 logo{{}}

Competitors have come and gone over the years. There's even an excellent free alternative available. Yet nobody has made an impact on the Microsoft juggernaut, which is responsible for about a third of the company's total revenue and has 90% market share.

Microsoft Office: ingrained and ever-present

Microsoft Office has become so ingrained in the world of work that we never give it a second thought. It's an ever-present piece of software that we take for granted - both the good bits and the bad.

Some of its capabilities are genuinely impressive, and yet it can also be incredibly frustrating. Most of us just get on with it when Word keeps messing our bullets up or PowerPoint keeps reformatting a crucial presentation.

Introducing Office 2013

It was against this background of indifference that Microsoft last week launched Office 2013, the new version of its ubiquitous software.

It has the usual smattering of new features, and a refreshed look and feel. Here are a few of the key changes:

  • As with Windows 8, Office 2013 has been redesigned to work better on computers with touch screens. Some buttons are bigger and it's possible to pinch-and-zoom documents.
  • Several people can now work on the same Word or PowerPoint document at once, if it's saved to Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud storage. However, early reviews suggest this function is a bit clunky.
  • Microsoft has opened Office 2013 up to app developers, who can build their own apps and make them a part of Office. You can downloads apps via an app store - there aren't many available yet, but there's huge potential.

There are many other improvements and tweaks too. PC Pro has an excellent review examining some of the new capabilities in detail.

Rent or buy Office 2013

Although the home version of Office 2013 is available to buy now, the business packages won't be on sale until 27 February. Touch screen users will find it worth upgrading immediately.

It will be possible to rent Office 2013 from Microsoft too. As with many cloud services, you'll pay by the month. Stop paying, and Office will stop working. This version is called Office 365.

Over the long term, paying monthly is unlikely to work out much cheaper than buying the software outright. But renting will be more flexible, because you'll be able to cancel any time after the first 30 days - and you'll receive updates to new versions of Office as they're released.

Microsoft also promises some useful extra features for Office 365, like Office on Demand, a special copy of the software you can temporarily use on any PC.

Business package pricing and options should become clearer in the next week or two, but going by prices currently shown on the Microsoft website, you could be looking at anything up to £15 per person per month for a fully-featured version of Microsoft Office.

TOTW: how to add a start menu to Windows 8

February 01, 2013 by John McGarvey

Start menu in Windows 8{{}}

If you've recently made the move to Windows 8, you might be finding it tricky to adjust to life without a start menu. So, for this Friday's tip of the week, we explain how to add a start menu to Windows 8.

Because Windows 8 doesn't have a start menu at all, the best way to add one is to download and install a program that does the same job.

We like Classic Shell, because it's free and closely mimics the start menu from previous versions of Windows. Here's what you need to do:

1. Download Classic Shell

Go to the Classic Shell website and click the Download Now! button.

2. Install Classic Shell

Once the file has downloaded, run it to start the installation process. Just follow the instructions on the screen.

When it asks which features you want, leave the defaults selected.

3. Set up your start menu

Shell icon{{}}

Once Classic Shell has finished installing, you should see a shell icon at the bottom left of your screen (see right). Click it.

This should bring up your new start menu. To control how it looks, go to Programs > Classic Shell > Classic Start Menu Settings.

(You may find the settings box opens as soon as you click the shell. If so, don't worry - that's where you want to be.)

Now you can choose between styles of start menu. Just click the one you feel most comfortable with. Then click OK.

Other start menu options

That's all you need to do to add a basic start menu to Windows 8. You can play around with the advanced settings in Classic Shell if you like.

There are other programs you can use to add a start menu too. You might want to experiment with Pokki, IObit Start Menu 8 or Start8 (which is super-slick but costs a whole $5, or about £3).

The best free software that everyone should know about

January 28, 2013 by John McGarvey

Free stuff sign{{}}

(Image: Flickr user frankh.)

There are some pieces of free software that are too good not to share. In many cases, they're heaps better than paid-for alternatives that have crammed in useless feature after useless feature in an attempt to justify their cost.

Everyone should know about these great free tools, so to get your week off to a good start here's our guide to some of the best free Windows software out there. Please add your own suggestions in the comments too.

Audio and video

  • For playing video, get VLC. It's a small video player that's fast, reliable and can handle virtually any type of file.
  • If you need to record and edit audio, Audacity is probably all you'll need. It makes it easy to record, edit, chop and change audio.

Documents

  • Sumatra is a super-fast PDF reader. It's a decent alternative to Adobe Acrobat Reader (which everyone uses), because it's very fast and small.
  • A good free alternative to Microsoft Office is LibreOffice. It can even open Microsoft Office files, although you may run into the occasional layout glitch.

Security

Photos and images

  • Paint.NET is superb free software for editing images and photos. It's not as good as Photoshop, but it's much, much cheaper and easier to use.
  • You can also try the unusually-named GIMP. It's a little more powerful than Paint.NET, but also a little harder to get to grips with.

DVDs and CDs

  • To burn CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, just grab ImgBurn. It's free, lightweight software to burn discs flawlessly.

IT management

  • Zip over to PortableApps.com to get portable versions of key software that you can run from a memory stick. (I used to use the portable version of Firefox on an employer-provided computer than only had Internet Explorer on it.)
  • Every now and then we rave about CCleaner, simply because it's the best tool there is to speed up your computer by removing junk software, settings and files.
  • Ninite lets you install all your standard software in one go. It's great for setting up new computers and we've even explained exactly how to use it.

What are your favourite freebies? Leave a comment to share your recommendations.

Posted in Business software | Tagged software, free | 0 comments
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