Houston We Have a Problem 11



Ask Rick 171 17/09/11


Uni Lateral Thinking

My daughter will shortly be travelling to the USA to begin a four-year University course. I wonder whether it would be best for her to buy a laptop when out there so that it has the right voltage, or should we buy one here in the UK and she take it with her? Also, she has said that she would prefer a Mac, rather than a PC laptop, though I think her desire is style driven rather than based on functionality?

Michael Rackham, by email


At the moment PC prices are more or less the same on both sides of the Atlantic and mains voltage isn’t an issue as all laptops come with universal chargers that work just about anywhere. In fact the only significant difference between PCs sold in the UK and US is the keyboard. For example, on a US keyboard the @ symbol is Shift + 2, and there is no £ symbol so you have to use the shortcut Alt + 0163, but it’s not a big problem and most users adapt quite quickly. However, the balance tips slightly in favour of buying locally, in the US when it comes to getting a laptop repaired or replaced, whilst she is there and it is still under warranty.


I’m not going to get into the well-worn Mac vs. PC argument, apart from saying that in general there’s more choice and you get more bangs for your buck (or pound) with a PC. Apart from that it makes little or no difference for routine tasks like word processing, emailing, web surfing and accessing social networks but if it is to be used for course work then it is worth finding out if she will be using software that might steer her towards a PC or Mac.



Don’t Bank On It!

I have recently been given an iPod Touch and it seems possible that it may save me carrying a laptop on shorter trips abroad as it will let me do a small number of banking transactions. However I worry about security as there is no sign of an anti-virus program and the subject doesn't seem to get discussed. Is the Apple approach to apps responsible for this difference from Windows, and how do other makes of tablet computers deal with the problem?

Ian Gorham, by email


The iPod Touch is virtually immune to viruses and malware but it would be very unwise to use it for online banking. The weak link is the wireless connection and data sent to and from your iPod can be intercepted, especially if you are connected to an insecure or spoof Wi-Fi hotspot. It’s the same for all devices and operating systems using a Wi-Fi connection, and never, ever, use Internet cafes for this sort of thing. The only relatively safe way to access your bank account when you are out and about is via a mobile broadband 3G connection, on a tablet computer or smart phone or laptop, notebook or netbook with a 3G dongle or whilst securely tethered to a 3G smart phone. However, remember all portable devices are easily lost or stolen so do not use them to store PINs, passwords or personal information.



Apples and Shares

I use a laptop with Windows and have a 1Tb external hard drive for storage of photos, music, and backups from the laptop.  I intend to switch to an Apple Mac but will my hard drive then be redundant?  Will I be able to access the data already on it and add new data from the Apple?

Colin Brown, via email


The short answer is that it can be done, but there are a couple of ifs and buts. Macs (OS X onwards) can read and write to drives formatted using the FAT32 system, but the chances are your external drive is NTFS formatted, which is proprietary to Microsoft, and not fully supported by Apple. The Mac should be able to read media files stored on the drive but if you want to use it the other way around, to write Mac files or use it for backup then you will either need to reformat the drive on the Mac or use a third-party utility like MacFUSE (http://goo.gl/L3kua, freeware) or NTFS for Mac (http://goo.gl/HRhQ, $19).



MAC to Basics

We are trying to change our Internet provider. The operator was really unwilling to supply us with a MAC number and cut us off three times. The last time we did it, it took at least 6 weeks before we had our Internet connection back up and running. We had hoped that in this day and age the switchover could be carried out almost instantly.

Lilian Ashley, by email


Under Ofcom rules ISPs are supposed to supply a MAC or Migration Authorisation Code with 5 days of a request but some of them are better at it than others. It’s not a complicated process and basically involves the right person pressing a few keys. If you are kept waiting beyond the 5 days keep pestering, and it won’t hurt to mention that if they don’t comply in a timely fashion you will discuss the matter with Ofcom. You can make it easier next time by requesting your MAC code before you switch providers; in most cases the code is valid for up to 30 days. There are some useful phone numbers, email contacts for most of the leading UK broadband suppliers, plus some helpful advice and a lot of tales of woe from fellow migrators on the maccode.org.uk website.



Recycle Rescue

Help! I have just deleted some important files and then emptied my Recycle Bin. I thought I had saved them to a flash drive but discovered too late that I had not done so. Is there any was I can recover these files?

Carl Dores, by email


When you delete files on a PC all that happens is the reference to them is removed from the drive’s table of contents. The actual files remain intact, though the space that they occupy is marked as free, so eventually they will be overwritten. Provided you don’t wait too long there’s a fair chance they can be recovered. Try a freeware program called Restoration; there’s a link to the download at: http://goo.gl/rfgEF




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