Archive for the ‘Computer Tips’ Category

Can You Ditch Microsoft Office for Free Open Source Libre Office?

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libre-office4Microsoft Office has grown to become a suite of office document, organization, presentation and organization tools. You probably have heard of some of these applications and perhaps used them all. There may be some too, that you haven’t heard of and wouldn’t have a reason to use. If you fall into the category of a basic office software user, you may be able to save yourself hundreds of dollars by using LibreOffice instead.


Microsoft Office made its debut when the first release of Word was released in fall 1983. Tho not required, Word could be purchased bundled with a mouse. Word could take credit for introducing the mouse to a larger population of computer users. Its dominance in the market was secured by its .doc file type becoming the de facto standard for documents. In 2007 Microsoft Office became compatible with other document types.


Back in the day, Lotus 1-2-3 was the dominant spreadsheet application. But Microsoft quickly outsold Lotus 1-2-3 after it was released first for Mac in 1985 and then for Windows in 1987. Excel is useful for keeping spreadsheets for organizing information, lists, macros, and for doing equations on data.


Powerpoint is used for making slides for presentations. You can use text, graphics, and other objects. It is usually used for presentations where the presenter is using a projector. Its slides can also be printed on transparencies or slides. It is frequently used by students, salespeople, educators, real-estate agents, and others for presenting information when public speaking.


Microsoft Access is a beginners database system that contains an easy to use graphical interface for managing database tables. Powered by the relational database engine, “Microsoft Jet Database Engine,” Access stores data in its own proprietary format based on the Access Jet Database Engine. It also has the ability to link to other data objects in other databases and applications.


Microsoft Outlook (not the same program as Outlook Express) is primarily used for managing personal information (“Contacts, phone numbers, emails, email attachments, calendars etc…” Microsoft Outlook is losing favor for online web/cloud based email systems like Gmail and Yahoo. Outlook is tricky to set up correctly and stores its data file outside of the user directory. This makes it easy to unwittingly erase all of your email, or for it to get out of sync with your phone or another computer that is also running Outlook. South City Computer has assisted many customers with fixing email problems and recovering emails that were caused by misconfigured or misused Microsoft Outlook.

Introducing LibreOffice: Free, open source alternative

“LibreOffice is a powerful office suite – its clean interface and feature-rich tools help you unleash your creativity and enhance your productivity. LibreOffice includes several applications that make it the most powerful Free and Open Source office suite on the market: Writer (word processing), Calc (spreadsheets), Impress (presentations), Draw (vector graphics and flowcharts), Base (databases), and Math (formula editing).”


Much like its counterpart, LibreOffice Writer is an easy to use word processor with a familiar graphical user interface and the ability to read and save to many different file formats. Writer has all the needed features for all day to day word processing and contains other advanced features that enable a poweruser. It is a full word processing and desktop publishing software tool. While basic enough for a quick letter it is powerful enough for you to create complete full length novels and books full of diagrams, pictures, indexes, etc… Writer gives you the ability to work on what you have to say and it will make it look great. This author has been using LibreOffice writer since the early 2000’s. It was used for a college degree, and was used at South City Computer from the beginning. Anyone looking to save money on a word processor should seriously consider LibreOffice as it does everything you need it to do.


Spreadsheets are helpful for organizing everything from shopping lists to complex accounting reports. If you are a newcomer to spreadsheets you will find its interface intuitive and easy to learn. Experienced experts and professional data miners find Calc to be the spreadsheet they always dreamed of. Number crunchers will appreciate the full range of professional advanced features such as build-in wizards and templates that streamline the creation of projects. Plus there is a huge template repository for ready-to-go spreadsheet solutions all downloadable for free. The ability to choose styles and direct formatting make it a joy to engage in flexible cell formating options. Freely rotating contents, backgrounds, colors, templates, borders and more make becoming a spreadsheet expert with Calc within reach of just about anyone. Specialized tools like the Scenario Manager allows you to ask what if and compare such things as profitability with high, medium, and low sales forcasts. And Calc’s Solver Component gives power users the ability to solve optimization problems like what is the optimum value of a particular spreadsheet cell has to be based on the constraints placed on other cells. South City Computer uses Calc all the time. We highly recommend you do too.


Making a multimedia presentation? Look no further. Impress is an outstanding program for creating engaging and effective multimedia presentations. Slides come with different editing and view modes (Normal for general editing, Outline for organizing your ideas, Notes for viewing and editing the notes you can attach to a slide, Handout for printing paper materials, and Slide Sorter that shows you thumbnails to make it easy to locate an organizing your slides), and supports all kinds of media (Pictures, movies, sound files, tables, and HTML links to name a few). There are components for easy to use drawing and diagramming that will allow you to add your own style and some sophistication to your presentation Slide shows and animations and effects all come packaged in Impress. You can also create very nice looking 2D and 3D images from text. You can build and control three dimensional scenes all the while incorporating a large choice of objects and other components.


Base is Microsoft Access on steroids. While still easy to use with an intuitive full-featured desktop database front end. Base is designed to meet the needs of a broadest array of users from simple home to database administrator. Base is built for power users and enterprise requirements so it provides out of the box native-support drivers for some of the most widely employed multi-user professional database engines: MySQL/MariaDB, Adabas D, MS Access and PostgreSQL. Plus, the built-in support for JDBC- and ODBC-standard drivers allows you to the power to connect to virtually any other existing database engine as well. Base is pre-configured with the full HSQL relational database engine making it the idea solution for everyday jobs and for beginners who need an easy-to-use and easy-to-understand database system. Data is stored directly inside the Base file making it highly portable. Base also supports dBase flat files. There are wizards for new users to help with creating new database projects, tables, queries, forms and reports. There are even pre-defined table definitions like templates, that are great for tracking assets, customers, sales orders, invoices and other common business items.

Want to include formulas and equations in your documents? LibreOffice comes with Math, a formula and equation editor that allows you to place your formulas directly in your documents. This is something MS Office doesn’t have.

Like the name says, Charts is an application in LibreOffice that allows you to create charts from various data sources, Calc spreadsheets, or Base databases. Bring color and visual clarity to your spreadsheets and documents.

So Can You Make the Switch and Do the Ditch?

If you already have a Windows license you can always keep using MS Office, and download and install LibreOffice to give it a try. You might be surprised that LibreOffice is a great application with lots more features and more compatibility than MS Office. But if you are just starting out, or for some reason don’t have your costly MS Office license key, you can easily forego MS Office and use LibreOffice instead. The cost savings will be significant and the program will be hardly different. In fact, you might decide you like LibreOffice more.

Laptop Buying Guide: How To Choose A Laptop

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Confused about where to start? In the age of seemingly infinite laptop choices, makes, models, brands, form factors and screen sizes buying a laptop can be a daunting task. At South City Computer we can help you to make an informed choice. Unlike the big box stores that offer the largest variety of confusing choices who employ pushy commission driven sales people, South City Computer focuses on offering its customers high quality affordable choices. We specialize in discounted grade A off lease corporate professional laptops. These laptops are not your Best Buy or Walmart special. In fact, you can only buy our laptops through a corporate dealer, not at a consumer big box store.

South City Computer has repaired thousands of laptops over the many years we have been in business. You could say we are an expert on knowing which laptops are good and which ones are junk (most are pretty junky actually). We cherry pick the best laptops that meet our stringent standards for quality, durability, and longevity. Then we customize them for our customers and include a 1 year in store warranty to set your mind at ease. We are so confident in the quality of the laptops we sell because our customers tell us they are great!

So what should you be looking for the next time you buy a laptop? Which laptops should you avoid?

What To Look For In A Laptop

In our laptop buying guide we’ve come up with a few basic guidelines for judging

Quality Construction and Durability
Screen and Graphics
Hard Drive
Bells and Whistles
Ease of Repair
Pre-Installed Software

What To Avoid When Buying A Laptop

Newfangled Construction
Heat retention
Expensive Repairs and Replacement Parts
Easily breakable hinges
Plastic Standoffs and flimsy construction
Cheap hard drives
More RAM, Harddrive space, processor power than you need to get the job done
Touch Screens
Crappy keyboards

How To Stay Safe on Public Wifi

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Keeping yourself safe and protecting your privacy and personal identity on a public network, like at a coffeehouse is darn near impossible. But you can take some steps to protect yourself from prying eyes as well as prying hackers who might be trying to capture your logins for Facebook, your bank account, to score a free movie out of your Netflix account, or something even more sinister like installing a backdoor on your computer to use later for nefarious and or illegal hacking activities.

Verify You Are On The Network To Which You Intend To Connect

It is an easy challenge for someone to intercept your private and personal data on a public wireless network by performing a man-in-the-middle attack. In this attack a hacker would set up a fake wireless network with an enticing SSID network ID to get you to join the network. They might make the network look like “Free Wifi” or even use a duplicate SSID such as the coffeehouse’s to trick you to join. In this attack, they can collect all the unencrypted data to find usernames and passwords. Luckily most services like the bank or Facebook use an SSL certificate to encrypt the data between your computer and their servers, but even that could be spoofed if they are tricking you into using their network. They could easily spoof the login page by making a page that looks like your bank, but really is just a honeypot where they divert your request to their fake page where they are recording your username and password. Therefore when you join a public wireless network you need to make sure that you are in fact joining the network to which you intend. So, it’s not a bad idea to double check with the coffeehouse staff to ask what the name of their network is before joining. While this won’t stop attackers who may be spoofing their network identity, it will reduce the risk you face by attackers creating fake generic hotspots like, “Free Wifi.”

Keep Away From Prying Eyes

Obviously, when you are sitting in a coffeehouse or other public area, prying eyes can oversee what pages you are going to and even look over your shoulder to see the password you type on your keyboard. Being aware of your surroundings and anyone who may be observing what you are doing on your computer is a good start to preventing these types of attacks. If you are concerned about any of your activity being watched it is a good idea to find yourself a spot to sit that makes it difficult for people to observe your computing activity. We recommend finding a table that you can sit at that faces your computer screen away from anyone who may be looking at what you are doing such as sitting at a table with your back against a wall or corner and making sure you are connected to the actual network you intend to be connected to.

Don’t Let Your OS Leak Info and Share Data

Your operating system will have settings for different levels of security and privacy when joining a network. It is recommended in public places to choose the highest security level to avoid your computer accidentally sharing files or exposing services that may have vulnerabilities that would allow a hacker to penetrate your computer.

If your operating system is Microsoft Windows, be sure to turn off file sharing and mark the Wi-Fi connection as a public network. You can do this the first time you connect. You will be asked what type of network you are joining at the time you join. It is important to choose “Public Network” NOT “Home Network” or “Work Network.” This is because different firewall rules and security settings are set. If you join as a “Home Network.” all your file sharing settings will be discoverable as this is the least secure setting. If you’ve already joined a network at your favorite coffeehouse you can change the setting by opening the Control Panel > Network and Sharing Center > Change Advanced Sharing Settings. Under the Public heading, turn off the file sharing toggle. You may also want to turn on the Windows Firewall when connecting to a public network if it’s not already activated. These settings are also found in Control Panel > Windows Firewall.


If your preferred operating system is Mac, it is as easy as opening up System Preferences and clicking on the Sharing icon. Uncheck the box next to File Sharing to disable file sharing. You may also want to fully disable sharing and remove the public home folder sharing options as well. Enabling the built-in Mac firewall is a good idea. Access System Preferences -> Security and Privacy, and click the Firewall Tab.


Use a VPN When Possible

Deploying and consistently utilizing a virtual private network (VPN) is one of the best ways to keep your web browsing private and safe. A VPN client encrypts all traffic between you and the VPN server, which means it’s far more challenging for a hacker to intercept your data. There are many different VPN programs available and many routers have a VPN server built right in. This would encrypt all of your data, including DNS lookups. When you are on someone else’s router they can see where you go on the Internet and what pages your computer requests. Even this little bit of info about you can violate your privacy if say you are researching a sensitive topic.

In fact, as I write this article from my favorite coffeehouse in Kansas City on my Linux laptop, I am using a poor man’s VPN by tunneling my web and DNS traffic through an SSH tunnel back to an SSH server in my office. Mac and Linux can do this out of the box by starting the SSH tunnel and telling my web browser in its settings to use a SOCKS 5 proxy. Windows can easily to this with the addition of Putty, an SSH client that is capable of acting as a SOCKS 5 proxy.


Always Check for HTTPS

HTTPS “” Always be sure to look for the lock in your browser and the “s” on the end of http in the url to make sure your browsing connection is secure. You can install an extension to your browser such as HTTPS Everywhere. This extension is available for Chrome, Firefox, Firefox for Android, and Opera. If you install this browser extension it will make sure your browser uses HTTPS when it is available.

HTTPS Everywhere operates by making sure all connections are that are encrypted on supported parts of the websites. As it states in its FAQ:

“HTTPS Everywhere depends entirely on the security features of the individual web sites that you use; it activates those security features, but it can’t create them if they don’t already exist. If you use a site not supported by HTTPS Everywhere or a site that provides some information in an insecure way, HTTPS Everywhere can’t provide additional protection for your use of that site.”


Keep Your Operating System and Apps Updated

Keeping your system and apps up to date and patched for security vulnerabilities is one the the most important habits you can develop. Before you go to a public wifi hot spot it is not a bad idea to run updates from your home or a network that you trust.

You can be tricked on public networks to download and install “updates” that are really malware. That is is it is important to perform updates and security patched on a network you trust.


Avoid Using Apps on Public Wifi

Avoid using apps on a mobile device on a public network. Don’t assume that your apps are automatically secure or using HTTPS to connect to their backend services. Unless explicitly outlined by the app developer, it’s best to assume that the app is not connecting securely. So instead of using your app to conduct the transaction you should use your secured browser to log on to the service, and check for a HTTPS connection in the status bar.

Use Two Factor Authentication

Be smart, utilize two-factor authentication on services that support it, such as Gmail, Twitter and Facebook. Even if a hacker does manage to intercept your user credentials when you’re on public Wi-Fi, you have another layer of protection.


Use Different Passwords for Different Services

Using a different password for your banking, Facebook, Email, and other services will create a separation between the services. IF you are in the habit of using the same password for everything, an attacker could easily use that to steal your identity. While remembering different passwords (preferably random hard to remember and guess) is a challenge, there are apps that can help you manage your passwords so you don’t have to remember them. It can be as easy as copy and paste. One such program we recommend is Keepass.

Don’t Forget To Logout

Simple. When you are finished click logout.

Happy safe public internet surfing!

Is your computer Y2K compliant? #tbt

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Y2K Compliant TBT

Will you be ready when the clock strikes midnight January 1, 2000? All chaos could possibly ensue when the Millennium Bug stings. This is the day that all computers as we know it may cease to function. Our telephones, bank accounts, and emails will be lost forever in pile of useless computer junk left over from the turn of the century when Y2K struck hard. Our electricity would shut off the moment the clock struck midnight. Traffic signals would go bazerk. Perhaps it is time to stock pile food and water in case of the worst. There would be no rejoicing in this new year because an “apocalypse” was about to dawn. Right?

Ok, so you probably remember this time in the late 1990s when nobody knew what was going to happen when the computer clock rolled over to the year 2000. There were a lot of doom and gloom scenarios going around. Computers and software were being marketed to the masses as “Year 2000 Compliant” and “Y2K Ready”. You may have been one of the “daring” few who actually set their computer clock forward to watch it roll to the new year in hopes that it would lockup and completely melt down your computer.

Computer experts warned that computer programs that used 2 digit year representation such as 98 instead of 1998 would not function correctly due to the year turning to 2000 and instead would be turned back to a previous year such as the year 0, 1000 or 1900. However most computer programs and software already used 4 digit year representation and so the whole Y2K thing was a bit of a joke, pun intended.

The reality of this event, after years of speculation and discussion of what could and or would happen and or go wrong in this instance of time, was that nothing happened.

Do this before you sell your laptop on Ebay or Craigslist

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Selling your laptop on an online website like Ebay or Craigslist could be a great way to make some extra money.

To sell your laptop you are going to want to make it clean! And I mean clean inside and out. So lets start with cleaning it of all your data. You don’t want the next person to see your browsing history, email accounts, passwords, sensitive personal information, pictures and music collection. Luckily this is easy to do with Microsoft Windows and only requires a few key strokes.


From the Start Menu select the Power Icon and then select to Restart while pressing the shift key. This is going to take you to the Windows Boot Option menu. From here you can reset your computer back to its original configuration when it was new out of the factory. Choose Advanced Options, then select “System Restore”. From here it will ask you how you want to restore your PC. Choose to “Reset your PC”.

After it has finished resetting the operating system now you are going to need to make it clean on the outside. Nobody wants a laptop covered in crumbs, boogers, and what ever else people get onto their laptops. Use a microfiber cloth and an electronic safe cleaning solution. Be sure the cleaning solution will be safe to use on your laptop screen. You may need to consult your laptop manufacturers website for the best way to clean the laptop. You can blow out the keyboard by tipping the laptop and spraying some canned air at the gaps between the keys. You can also blow some air into the cooling vents. So make it sparkle because if it looks like new, then somebody will probably want it.

Before you upgrade to Windows 10

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Windows 10 woesWith the free Windows 10 upgrade window closing next month, some people are still considering whether to upgrade or just stay with the current version of Windows. The final day to upgrade for Free to Windows 10 is July 29. After that date Microsoft will charge $119 for the upgrade. So if you have put off the upgrade this long, here are a few things you should consider doing before upgrading to Windows 10.

Check to see if your computer is compatible with Windows 10. You can do this by checking your computer manufacturer’s website, or you may be receiving pop-ups from Microsoft indicating that your computer is compatible. While this may be true, it could also not be 100% true as many hardware manufacturers have yet to release Windows 10 supported drivers for wifi cards, network cards, keyboards, mouse devices, and also USB ports. You most likely will not know until you have gone through the upgrade what works, and what no longer works.

Back up your data! All of you important data, just back it up. Put it on the cloud, Google Drive, a flash USB drive, an external hard drive, email it to yourself, or burn it to a DVD. Make a backup before you do the upgrade, because something could go wrong and you could lose all your important data.

Create a system restore point. While Windows 10 will allow you to “roll back” your computer to your previous version of Windows, you may just want to create a system restore point before you try the upgrade in case the “roll back” doesn’t work, and sometimes it doesn’t work.

Create a system recovery CD just in case. If you have seen those pesky messages urging you to create a system recovery CD, now is the time. Create a system recovery CD so you can re-install your system back to factory just in case something goes terribly wrong with the Windows 10 upgrade.

If you are still on the fence about upgrading, or you are happy with Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, that is fine! Just stay with your current version of Windows. Chances are you will purchase another computer with Windows 10 before Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 support is ended by Microsoft. Windows 7 will be supported until the year 2020.

If you are eager to have Windows 10, but your computer just doesn’t play nicely with it, then you should consider purchasing a new computer with Windows 10 pre-installed. This will ensure you have a working Windows 10 computer.

If you have tried to upgrade to Windows 10, and now your computer is no longer working, you will need to take your computer to a computer repair store in your area for professional service to get you back to your previous version of Windows. South City Computer offers Windows 10 recovery services.

Turn Laptop Trackpad Off and On by Sensing USB Mouse Plugged In or Not on Linux

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So I am working on making my laptop even more enjoyable to use. I originally wrote a script that would require me to decide whether or not my trackpad was turned on or off. You can get my script to turn trackpad on and off in ubuntu linux here

I wanted to make it more automated and be able to turn it into a daemon on startup. You can find a discussion on how to run a script at startup here.

Below is what seems to be working for me and detecting my USB mouse.

Script to Detect Mouse and Turn On/Off Trackpad
#!/usr/bin/env bash ## Get the touchpad id. The -P means perl regular expressions (for \K) ## the -i makes it case insensitive (better portability) and the -o ## means print only the matched portion. The \K discards anything matched ## before it so this command will print the numeric id only. TID=$(xinput list | grep -iPo 'touchpad.*id=\K\d+') ## Run every second while : do ## Disable the touchpad if there is a mouse connected ## and enable it if there is none. xinput list | grep -iq mouse && xinput disable "$TID" || xinput enable "$T$ ## wait one second to avoid spamming your CPU sleep 1 done

Script to Turn Trackpad On and Off in Ubuntu Linux

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Here is a handy script to turn your annoying trackpad On and Off in Ubuntu Linux. Are you sick of having your cursor bounce and jump all around when you type on your Ubuntu Linux Laptop? Plug in a mouse and use this helpful script to turn your trackpad on and off.
Handy Little Script
#/bin/bash ID="$(xinput list | grep TouchPad | awk -F"=" '{print $2}' | awk '{print $1}')" ENABLED="$(xinput list-props 11 | grep Enabled | awk '{print $4}')" if [ $ENABLED -eq 1 ] then xinput set-prop "${ID}" "Device Enabled" 0 else xinput set-prop "${ID}" "Device Enabled" 1 fi

Howto Launch Taskbar Programs with Keyboard Shortcuts

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Launch taskbar programs with some easy keyboard shortcuts to save time. Nobody likes digging through unnecessary menus and unneeded mouseclicks!

Many computer users, perhaps you, are using the Windows taskbar as a way to quickly launch your favorite applications. You’ve dragged your favorite programs into the quick launch bar. Now, launching those programs is as simple as point-clicking them, but did you know that there’s an even speedier way to launch programs that live in your taskbar? It is totally simple keyboard combinations too!

Each application on the right of the Start (menu) button is assigned its own numerered shortcut: the first program is “1,” the second is “2,” and so forth and so on, all the way to the number 10, which is actually “0.” When you Press the Windows key (opt on some keyboards), plus the number key of the program you desire to launch, it will open it.

In the example below pressing Win + 3 launches the Chrome browser.


Microsoft Pushes Windows 10 onto Users

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We often hear that computers are automatically upgrading to Windows 10 without the computer users knowledge or consent.

Here are just a few messages that appeared on Facebook over the weekend with the identities and expletives removed. You can see the frustration of the Windows users.



At first we thought maybe people were confused by the recommended Windows 10 upgrade message and maybe accidentally clicked to initiate the upgrade, until we noticed the computers for sale here at South City Computer started showing a message indicating that Windows was going to upgrade to Windows 10 automatically. What Microsoft?!?! We didn’t ask or agree to upgrade to Windows 10!


As you can see, Windows is set to automatically upgrade to Windows 10 on May 20th for this computer. Even though we have ignored the pop-ups urging us to upgrade to Windows 10 for months now, we are going to be upgraded unless we take action!

So here is how to cancel this force upgrade. Do NOT click OK, instead click on the word “here” where it says “Click here to change upgrade schedule or cancel scheduled upgrade”.

The next screen you should see is as follows:


Next click “Cancel scheduled upgrade”.

After this you will see the next message:


Again, Microsoft wants to be very sure that we want to seriously Cancel the automatic upgrade to Windows 10. Now click the “Cancel Scheduled Upgrade” button.

After you do this, it should cancel the automatic upgrade that was set for May 20th. If you do not go through this process, then you will be forced into Windows 10. If you want to eliminate the Windows 10 upgrade completely forever, bring your computer to South City Computer and we will disable the Windows 10 upgrade for good!

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