How to use a computer

25 April 2018

I am often asked for advice on doing various things on a computer and I assume that they are doing everything else securely, and then I find that they don’t have the basics right. So here is my guide to doing the basics right.

Don’t use Windows

OK so some people still haven’t upgraded to a Linux distribution, and I have hit brick walls in trying to convince some of my friends to do this. But this is one of the best things you can do to improve your security. OK keep a separate partition with windows for playing games, everything else is better on Linux.

Update, Update, Update

Make sure that you keep all your software up-to-date, not just the operating system, all those other bits and pieces of software need updating.

When you install software always do this by adding a repository to your package manager, that way when you do your apt full-update everything is updated in one go. (this is one of the main reasons why Linux is better)

Backup, Backup, Backup

All computers can fail, taking your data with them, so you need to make sure the rule of 3 is followed. All data should have 3 copies, the live version, a backup version, and a remote backup.

Use a password Manager

We are just frail humans and we can not remember a different, complex password for every site we need or want a password on. The only way to remember all these passwords is to use a password manager. There are better and worse managers out there but you are much safer using a bad password manager than not using one at all.


Linix demand for support

21 May 2013

If you talk to the Mobile operators they don’t support Linux. They say there is no demand. Well the interesting case in point is giffgaff. This MVNO network relies on the public to crowd source their support information on their network.

So with a bit of Goolge hacking we can see the number of support pages that mention Linix on the various networks:

So the level of Linux support provided by a small UK MVNO beats the mighty giants of the world mobile.

ARM rules the world

20 January 2011

The ARM processor architecture has dominated the mobile space for quite a long time. This is primarily because of the much better power performance of the chip. This drives battery size and thus overall weight and size of the device. So the recent announcement from Microsoft to start supporting ARM based computers is quite significant I think.

Firstly the announcement and the move by Microsoft is way too late, and feels like they have been forced into this rather than enthusiastic embracing of ARM. This will tell in the development and deployment of support. They will get it working, but they wont do much to make it work really well. The majority of windows installs will still be on Intel x86 chips for a very long time.

The growth in CPU Power will have to come from parallelism not faster chips. This is illustrated by developments in supercomputers and the quest for the 1000 core chip. A complex CPU, like the x86 will not scale well when we get to this level of cores. There just isn’t space to do this, let alone try and keep the CPUs cool.

The different approach that the ARM instruction set has is to be much smaller and rely on the compiler to perform optimisation rather build these into the silicon. This has been necessary for Intel to maintain backwards compatibility of the x86 family. Whereas the x86 chips have complex look ahead logic to detect loops and branches, in the ARM the compiler encodes these into the machine language.

I was speculating that if Microsoft got a solution together a new wave of netbooks and laptops running ARM chips would come available. Just imagine a netbook that had a 10 hour battery, that you could easily use all day without any power and recharge at night.

This is what the Google Chrome OS should deliver, but if OEMs could sell these with some sort of Windows on them there would be many available on the market so we could run our favourite Linux distribution on them.

Linux Popularity

30 October 2010

I have noticed that there seem to be quite a few magazines popping up covering Linux. Doing a quick count in WH Smiths today there were 7 Linux magazines on the shelves. This compared with 6 different magazines with Windows in the title, and about 20 different Apple magazines.

To be fair I am not counting the generalised titles that tend to be very windows friendly but only those that have Windows in the title.

Mobile networks should support Linux

6 August 2009

Why don’t mobile operators support Linux on their mobile broadband networks.

What would they have to do

List the dongles and distributions that work. That’s all, the community is delvoping everything needed. It all works now.

Perhaps they could add some guides to installing and using dongles on the common distributions. Most distributions use the NetworkManager to manage all network connections. This is supported by default in Ubuntu, SUSE, and Fedora.

From a investment return basis the investment to support Linux is minuscule, the returns will not be major, but could be significant.

Market segment

Although numbers of Linux users are are small they are quite often influential. Accurate numbers of Linux users are hard to come by, as most users will have purchased a system with Windows installed and upgraded their system to Linux. There are well supported estimates that rate Linux desktop usage at around 2%. These numbers are biased toward the large amount of usage in North America as as such probably underestimate the true number.

Still 2% represents a seizable segment of the market to ignore.


The support pages mostly don’t mention Linux, only giving instructions for setting up dongles for use with Windows variants and Apple MAC. A search for Linux on shows only one hit.

The 3 Linux users have discussed their issues on open forums.


Vodafone support the betavine project. The key element of this has been the Vodafone Mobile Connect client. This is small application that manages the establishing connections and sending and receiving SMS messages.
This client can be used to connect any compatible modem to any operators network.


There is no official support from o2, but there is user generated help on their forum pages to help users 1 2 3


There is no official support for Linux on T-Mobile. Though they were selling the Xandros Linux version of the Asus eee netbook with there web and walk offering.

T-Mobile supplied dongles for this review of using using 3G mobile broadband on Linux that was published in Linux Format


Splashtop is a fast booting Linux distribution that is stored in ROM on the motherboard. It is being shipped with many laptops and PC motherboards. This allows a user to use the laptop for some quick email or web activity without waiting for the full OS to boot. Typical boot times for splashtop are around 2 seconds.

Users of these laptops would expect network connectivity from the splashtop environment, and it will work. But it would be good to assure customers of support.

The netbook revolution

Asus started the netbook revolution with the eee PC, and although Asus have abandoned Linux, but the idea of a small computer running a Linux based
operating system is developing. Especially with the use of lower powered CPUs like ARM. Freescale are calling these smartbooks.

FOSS is coming to phones

Nokia has recognised the importance of FOSS in that it spent €264 million acquiring Symbian only to immediately open source the entire software and
release it under the LGPL licence.

Google is putting significant resources into their android project. Although there is only one android phone (the G1 offered by T-Mobile) this is set to be joined by many more soon. Already the application store for android is showing that the open model can deliver new innovations like access to spotify.

The Google OS announcement

22 July 2009

Everyone seems to be going crazy about the new Google chrome operating system. Most of the reports are either saying that it will replace Microsoft, or will only replace Linux as a niche OS offering.

I take a completely different view on this. The important thing is that Google have the business mussel to make sure that there is a choice of OS on computers in the major retailers. When there is a choice of operating systems there will be unstoppable pressure for retailers to offer other choices. This is where the other Linux distributions will get their opportunity. And once the choice is put in front of the non-technical public MS wont have a chance. The range of choices and the speed of development will leave any closed development offerings behind on presentation and functionality, especially if there is a price differential for the Microsoft option.

Microsoft have bought back the netbook market with reductions in price for Windows XP, and probably lots of unethical, or illegal deals with OEM’s. Linux offerings on netbooks have largely disappeared, and the only offering is Windows.

Predictions for 2008

11 January 2008

Everyone seems to be making predictions in the tech world. Kind of a new year thing. So here is some from me.

WiMax will fail

WiMax will fail in the market except for the USA where it will limp on for a couple of years before being replaced by 3G HSPA type network or its successor.

Miniature notebooks will explode and all be running Linux.

The wow around the One Laptop per Child’s XO pc is just starting to build. Those in the west that have seen one are certainly impressed and not just children are impressed.

Then there is the Asus eeePC that is getting rave reviews from everyone, not just because it is cheep, but because it is a well designed and executed machine. When we think about a networked storage model, then you need network connectivity when out and about, thus feeding the need for mobile broadband.

Mobile Broadband will be huge this year.

Up until now it has been a company road warrior thing. Quite expensive, complicated to get working. not much faster than dial-up. I think that there are now enough of a base users who have been making do with hot spots and all the complexity that entails with different groups each wanting a payment or subscription.