Ask Rick Maybury 2014



Ask Rick 330 11/10/14


Wiping Windows?

We have a six year-old Dell laptop with Windows 7. As we only use the computer to surf the net and send and receive e-mails using Google Chrome and gmail, we don't need to use Windows and all its applications. Is it possible to delete it and, if so, how?

Robert Cotterill, by email


You can, but your computer would stop working because Windows is the operating system, the software that makes it tick and provides a platform for programs, like your web browser, to run on. Without an operating system your laptop is just a box of bits that do not know how to communicate with one another, or you. Windows is by no means compulsory but it is usually the simplest option for most users because it is pre-installed on most computers, relatively easy to use, and Windows 7 is quite well behaved, but there is nothing to stop you from exploring the alternatives.


The main contenders are Mac and Linux, though a Mac system is only an option if you buy a new computer. Linux is a large family of operating systems; it is Open Source software, which basically means that it is mostly free, and being constantly refined and developed by its users; this also means that there are lots of different versions, or ‘distributions’, which is where it can become a bit of a minefield for novices. However, several popular distributions have a Windows-like appearance – I would definitely shortlist one called Zorin -- and a there is a very good selection of specially adapted versions of the most popular programs and applications, including Google Chrome and excellent office suites, like LibreOffice. However, be warned that Linux is not an easy alternative to Windows and there can be fairly steep learning curve but it is well worth the effort and it has a number of advantages, including a very high immunity to viruses. It also runs faster and more efficiently than Windows on many PCs and can give older computers a new lease of life.


Rather than dispense with Windows altogether I suggest that you install Linux in free space on your hard drive, in a specially created partition; it is a fairly painless procedure, most popular Linux distributions will do this for you during installation, and it means that you can still use Windows, by selecting it at boot up. If you want to see what is involved have a look at the Getting started with Linux guide on the Lifehacker website at:



Radio 5 Squeezed

I have just bought a Logitech UE Squeezebox Internet radio, for my wife to listen to The Archers whilst abroad and myself to listen to Radio 5 Live Sports Extra for Test Match Special. However, reception of this channel is effectively barred due to "Rights Issues" though I am in the UK (Bristol) and reception via the Internet on my PC and laptop is fine. Why is this please, and is there a workaround?

Geoff Hill, by email


Part of the problem is that the Squeezebox servers are in several different countries, all of them outside of the UK, so if the location setting for the radio app that you are using has been left on its default, it can appear to the streamed service that you are in a country where it does not have the necessary broadcasting rights. It is worth trying an alternative receiver app, which you can download from the gallery. TuneIn Radio is generally very reliable, as far as sorting out your location, as is the BBC iPlayer app (not to be confused with the basic BBC radio app), and if you already have it, try installing the latest version by going to Settings > Advanced > Applet Installer.   



Stamp Out Symbols

Formatting symbols have suddenly appeared on all my Word documents. What did I do?  I've tried Help and Wizard but haven't found a way of hiding them.

Christine Highmoor, by email


It sounds as though you have accidentally switched on the option to display non-printing characters, which includes dots between words and the paragraph break symbol, which looks a bit like a filled-in backwards ‘p’. Do not feel bad about it, it is really easy to do, without realising, and usually happens when entering asterisk symbol. All is explained when you know (and now will never forget) that the keyboard shortcut for showing, and hiding the symbols is Ctrl + Shift + 8.



Excel Encryption

I use encrypted Excel 2007 documents to store some sensitive financial information on my Windows 7 laptop. To give me access to these off site I'm thinking of attaching a copy to an email message. How secure is the encryption?


Secondly: on opening the laptop I occasionally get a red tinge on the screen, which disappears when I move the screen slightly. Am I right in assuming that this is probably something to do with the flat cable that connects the screen to the body of the laptop?

Leo Dunwoodie, by email


Second question first, and yes, it sounds a lot like a connector problem. It will probably only get worse so it is worth getting it seen to ASAP, in case you lose the display altogether. If it is just a loose connector it should be a fairly quick and easy fix for an engineer; I would not attempt a DIY repair, though, as dismantling laptops, without the right tools and skills, can be a tricky and risky business.


Up to Excel 2000 encryption was weak and could be broken in a matter of seconds using widely available utilities on the web. It was strengthened significantly in Excel 2002/3, and changing from the default encryption method made it even stronger. Further improvements followed in Excel 2007 and the default settings, in conjunction with a long (9 or more alphanumeric characters and symbols), should be sufficient to keep your files safe from all but the most determined hackers, with access to powerful computers and a lot of time on their hands. Even so, you might want to rethink how you are going to access these files, especially if it is going to involve connecting to the Internet through potentially insecure public wireless networks and hotspots.



© R. Maybury 2014 2209

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