Ask Rick Maybury 2012



Ask Rick 222 15/09/12


The Case For File Synching

Due to an unavoidable family and work split, I have to maintain two desktop PCs in different homes on either side of the Channel. Apart from using the Cloud or lugging a laptop back and forth (both of which I regard as insecure), how can I keep the two machines in sync? Essentially I want to be able to transfer changes, made to files and folders in My Documents on one computer, to the other. Are there any programs that be carried on a USB stick, that detect the changes being made on computer A and then, when plugged into computer B, update only those changes?

Peter Mahaffey, by email


A special folder, called Windows Briefcase should do the trick. All you have to do is copy the files and folders that you want to keep synced into the Briefcase, copy it to a USB flash drive and when you plug it into the second PC the changes you’ve made will be automatically updated. It works on all versions of Windows and there’s a simple tutorial on the Microsoft website at:



iPad Disobeying Orders

I have a collection of holiday photos on my PC, carefully numbered thanks to your recent item on ordering photos for slideshows. When syncing with my iPad, the photos transfer totally jumbled up. How can this be avoided, and the photos on the iPad appear exactly as arranged on the PC?

Peter Rawson, by email


Mac owners can set the order in iPhoto but it’s not so easy for PC users. Apple iOS has some idiosyncrasies when it comes to file handling and it doesn’t help that that there are differences between the various versions. For example, iOS 3 sorts image files alphanumerically, whilst iOS 4 and 5 arranges them by the Date Taken tag, which is stored in the photo’s embedded Exif (Exchange Image File Format) data. There are a number of ways around this and one reasonably straightforward method is to edit the photo’s Date Taken data on your PC using free utilities like Irfanview ( or ExifEditor ( It’s not too difficult on a handful of images but if there’s a lot of them and you want to avoid moving your images back and forth between the iPad and PC there are apps that can create custom slideshows and set the order pictures are shown. The best known is Photo Slideshow Director HD, which costs £2.49 from the App Store.



Licensed To Annoy

I have a hard drive, which came from a scrapped PC. It is loaded with W7 Home Premium with an Acer product key. I put this into a Dell PC, which had suffered a hard drive failure. It installed itself, automatically downloaded the necessary drivers, and works perfectly.  However, it says the product key is invalid, and won't activate. It seems unfair to have to purchase a new key from Microsoft, as this copy has already been paid for. Is there any way to avoid having to pay Microsoft twice for the same product?

Denis F, by email


Unfortunately it’s all there in the small print. The OEM copy of Windows 7 on the Acer hard drive was purchased as part of a package, only licensed for use on that one machine, and is unsupported by Microsoft. This is controlled through the BIOS on the Acer PC’s motherboard, which contains a signature file or SLIC (software Licensing description table) that authenticates that copy of Windows. It would be different if you were re-installing a retail copy of Windows, which you are allowed to move to another machine. You may come across sites on the web that purport to show ways of bypassing the SLIC but be warned that they mostly don’t work, or are fiendishly complicated. Even if you did get it to activate you wouldn’t be able to download updates and you’ll get irate messages from Microsoft saying that your copy of Windows illegal or pirated.



Broadband Buddy

I am trying to access my friend’s broadband via her Wi-Fi router. When I used her password I received the message ‘connected with limited access’. Then searching web I get ‘server not found’ on all sites. Can you help?

David Swift, by email


There are several possible causes and usually a simple solution. Low signal strength is a common problem so make sure that your laptop is close to the router, preferably within a few metres, and try again, re-booting your PC and entering the password. Once the connection has been established you should be able to do so again when the PC is back in its normal location. If that doesn’t work ask your friend to switch off the router and all PCs and devices that connect to it. This should clear and reset any settings that may be causing conflicts. Your PC should also be switched off at this time. She can then switch the router back on, wait for the lights to stop blinking and the Internet light to be permanently on. Her PC should be next, wait for it to reconnect, and then it is your turn. Once again make sure that your PC is close to the router, showing at or near maximum signal strength.



Second Opinion

What is your opinion on buying a second hand laptop, as it is considerably cheaper than buying new? I am only going to use it for emailing, Skype, the odd online booking and Word, Excel etc. I am not especially concerned about future proofing or gaming but reliability and a reasonable speed are important.

Peter Matthews, by email


Buying second hand is always risky for the simple reason that you usually have no idea about the machine’s past history. The guarantee, if it has one, is bound to be short-lived and limited, and if you buy privately you may have no comebacks at all. Any savings could be easily wiped out if the hard drive or screen fails soon after the warranty has expired, and unless the drive is reformatted and Windows reinstalled serious problems could be lying in wait, or worse. It might be infected with malware, spyware or viruses, some of which can be difficult to detect and remove.


© R. Maybury 2012 2707


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