The world’s fastest budget PC

So, a relative’s PC was getting a bit aged, and runs Windows XP, barely, so I talked them into an upgrade. I noticed that Micro Center had HP/Compaq DC5700s for $99. They were standard issue office PCs a few years ago, and there are a lot of them in the refurb channel. We went and got one over the weekend.

“What are you going to do with that?” the sales rep asked. “We only use them as cash registers.”

“Word processing,” I said.

“You sure you want to run Windows 7 on an 8-year-old PC?”

“I wrote the book on running Windows on older PCs. Literally. It’ll be fine.”

I hate calling rank like that, but sometimes it’s what you have to do.

And really, for $99, it’s awfully good. Web browsing is plenty fast, Libre Office runs fine on it, and think about it. Windows 7 retails for $100-$109. So it’s like getting the hardware for free. Or Windows for free, however you want to look at it.

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If you needed another reason not to buy Windows 8….

I’m still waiting for someone I know to tell me he or she likes Windows 8. I’ve seen some strangers online say they like it, but not a lot of them, and many of them appear to be astroturfers because they just like it too much. I’m sure Apple loves it, because, like my boss told me, a lot of older apps (like anything older than Office 2010) won’t run on Windows 8. So, if you have to re-buy all your software anyway, what advantage is there to buying a Windows 8 machine over a Macintosh?

In fact, that’s exactly what his parents did. They gave up on Windows entirely and bought a Mac Mini.

The other approach, of course, is to buy a Chromebook. A lot of people seem to be doing that too, seeing as it’s the best-selling laptop on Amazon–so much so that they don’t have any stock, and third-party sellers are scalping them for $80 above retail like they used to do with Nintendo Wii consoles. Read more

A skeptic looks at Libre Office

Since MS Office 2003 turns into a pumpkin in April 2014 or so, I decided maybe it’s time to start looking at alternatives. I’ve looked at Open Office off and on over the years but its sluggish performance always turned me off. But I thought I’d give Libre Office, the successor, a look.

And now that I’ve lived with Office 2010, I don’t find Libre Office 3.6 all that bad.

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What to make of this Black Friday’s sub-$200 laptops

It’s still a couple of weeks off, but we already know two retailers will be offering sub-$200 laptops on the day the United States gorges itself on bargains.

The question is, what do you get for your $200 on these minimalist laptops? I’ll answer those questions, then you can decide whether they’re worth $200 and braving the crowds, the weird hours, and likely the cold. (Yes, there are costs beyond the money you spend.) Read more

Hide and unhide whitespace, headers and footers in Microsoft Word

For now at least, I edit a lot of security documents as part of my job. Today, I saw something I hadn’t seen before: Word 2010 was hiding all of the headers, footers, and whitespace in the document. That made navigating the document a whole lot faster and easier, but it also meant I couldn’t verify that the headers and footers were correct. I figured out how to hide and unhide whitespace, headers and footers in Microsoft Word.

The solution was simple but non-obvious, and works in all versions of Word that I know of. Read more

Living with a past-its-prime computer

I’m playing catch-up a bit. This weekend, Lifehacker ran a guide about living with a computer that’s past its prime.

I’ve made a career of that. One of my desktop PCs at work (arguably the more important one) is old enough that I ought to be preparing to send it off to second grade. And for a few years I administered a server farm that was in a similar state. They finally started upgrading the hardware as I was walking out the door. (I might have stayed longer if they’d done that sooner.) And at home, I ran with out-of-date computer equipment for about a decade, just this summer buying something current. Buying something current is very nice, but not always practical.

So of course I’ll comment on a few of Lifehacker’s points.

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Fixing my boss’ Outlook

My boss’ PC went wacky on Tuesday afternoon and wouldn’t let him log in, so he had no choice but to shut down the computer. The computer came back up OK, but Outlook didn’t. He got a lot of weird error messages that I didn’t see, and Outlook created a new OST file on his desktop. But Outlook refused to connect to the Exchange server, and his inbox came up empty.

Like a lot of Outlook problems, the solution was the tag-team of Scanpst and Scanost. Fortunately, you don’t have to have admin rights to run them.

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