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davidbrentforPM
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    • LG W2234S-BN / LCD Monitor / 157 Readings / 151 Ratings
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      29.03.2011 10:11
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      A product which appears to be sound, but is ruined by poor quality internal components

      A few years ago when I first got a job ahead of sixth form, I decided to pursue one of my early life ambitions; to build a computer. "Alas, a source of money has at last made itself available to me", I thought to myself, as I schemed (well, researched) the various bits and bobs I needed for said project. I sourced my parts, began putting them together, mucked it up, and to cut a long story short, didn't get it set up until just before Christmas (with a little help from the school 'techies'...). Why am I telling you this? I'll answer that question with another; what is a computer, without a screen? It's a computer! Fair enough. Unfortunately, following the hassle of the PC build, I rushed my research for the rest of the hardware, and resorted to an old friend for the visual department; Tesco. I saw, I checked to see if I'd remembered my wallet, and I bought the LG 'silly name' W2234S.

      Now you may be thinking that a lot of that introduction is irrelevant; usually it would be, but I'll warn you now, this review isn't going to compliment the product in question too often. I felt that to avoid looking a complete tool, I should justify the rushed nature of purchase, and explain my predicament - I wanted a merry Christmas. I wanted a computer that worked, and that also had a display. For one Christmas at least, that is just what I received...

      Indeed, I was very happy with my purchase. Setting me back a very reasonable £119 at the time, I got myself a 22" flat panel LCD TFT wide-screen. Although this was three years ago, the price still isn't bad now, and LG's equivalent offering today is around £15 cheaper from the most competitive supplier, though with LED becoming the newly sought after technology, prices for monitors such as these will only continue to drop.

      Physically, it's not spectacular to look at, but I didn't care much for looks at the time; I just wanted it to fit in with my computer colour scheme. Yes, I had a colour scheme for my hardware, what's wrong with that? The scheme was black (without wanting to be gothic), with a hint of blue LED lighting (without wanting to be, um, cold), so this fitted the bill perfectly! The screen frame and base is designed with a simple, plain black, plastic finish - not glossy by any means. The 'on' button is a merry blue LED smile, which happily lights up as if to say, 'hello', without freaking you out by actually saying "hello"...

      The base is detachable for both ease of storage and in case you should wish to mount the thing to a wall, and pairing the two together is seamless and straightforward. The base only allows for angling the screen backwards; if you wish to twist the angle sideways, the base must move with it. As for forwards; well, you'll just have to sit up straight! One of my reservations with the design is the black buttons, and black labels for said buttons. Remember, the frame is black, so to then put black text on there does not make for easy reading. If this review was in white text then it'd be useless, and it's not too dissimilar here. It's a nuisance, and whilst it's not as if I couldn't just memorise which was which, it's one of those problems that shouldn't be there in the first place; it's very much avoidable!

      I'm going to flash forward a little here, to just over 12 months after I bought the LG. I'd been noticing some fuzziness appearing on the screen, text becoming blurry and images not as crisp as they once were. I tried using different cables, different PCs, but unfortunately it seemed the problem was with the monitor. My worries were confirmed when the screen decided to through some sort of attack (whereby the above symptoms took place but far more violently), before dying altogether. It was quite a show, just an unwelcome one.

      Now the screen would still turn on and work temporarily; it still does. I decided that a component within the screen must be overheating as it only becomes apparent that there is a problem after a few minutes of usage, before slowly deteriorating towards death. This was confirmed by an owner of a local PC repair shop, who said the cost of repair would probably make it more worthwhile to just buy another screen, instead of shelling out nearly as much just to repair an old one.

      The major problem in all of this, and when I say problem, I also mean infuriating pain, is that the warranty that came free with the screen (supplied by Tesco), covered the product for 12 months. It was in the thirteenth month that the LG decided to contradict its own slogan, and throw away its life. So with no warranty cover, and no point in paying almost the original cost in repairs, this screen is now useless and whilst once quite a bargain, now rather costly.

      Nonetheless, I have to cover what it did in its short lifetime, and to be fair to LG, it wasn't bad at all. One of the great things about this screen is that once plugged in and connected via VGA, it was rocking! There was no fiddling with settings to get the right amount of this, or the right amount of that; the presets were spot on for me. It was only when I was bored one day that I thought I'd try to alter them to try to get a better picture, after which I continued to experiment, probably only resulting in me returning the original state!

      As for the picture, I always found that it was superb. The screen has a response time of 5ms; this refers to the speed with which a screen can respond to moving images, so lower is better here. It's a feature which is more important to gamers, or if you enjoy watching football online for example, and even by today's standards, 5ms is about the norm, or better, for around this price, at least. When I did fancy killing something on Gears Of War or destroying an opposition on Pro Evolution Soccer, I always found it a pleasurable viewing experience, with blood spewing intricately, and footballs nestling into nets beautifully. The only thing which ever lessened the viewing experience was a very selfish thunder fly, who decided to get himself (or herself) stuck within my screen after enjoying a little stroll; honestly.

      Wide-screen viewing is very enjoyable also, with an aspect ratio of 4:3 (this ratio is simply the width of the image to its height) providing beautiful appreciation for films and videos, but not so wide that twigs turn to trunks. With a maximum resolution of 1680 x 1050, I was always in the position to be flexible, and using my usual BBC website standard resolution tester, I was well ahead of the game. The contrast ratio is 1000:1, which tends to be typical of many screens of this calibre. Contrast ratio effectively refers to the range of colours between the brightest and darkest, thus meaning the higher the better. Today screens will often offer Dynamic Contrast Ratio, which is far too complicated for me to understand, and something not present here, meaning I'm not obliged to!

      Overall though, one cannot really reward many points for these good performances, because the poor quality of components inside the screen meant they were all made ineffectual anyway. Just like any product, you need a good core, a solid foundation to build upon, and whilst all of these features worked well for me, they pale into insignificance because they can no longer be appreciated. The experience has completely brought down my opinion of LG as a brand, and I'm now left feeling like it is one who pretties up its products, only to hide the poor quality within. I hope, however, that I was just unlucky with my purchase, because aside from the major fault, it served me well. Unfortunately though, it is now Long Gone.

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      • Compaq Mini 110c-1110SA / Netbook / 107 Readings / 95 Ratings
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        01.03.2011 01:04
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        It's not useless, but the alternatives that there are out there make it just about pointless

        I'll get it out of the way nice and early; I don't like netbooks. Indeed, they once appealed to me somewhat, but now I hold firm the view that they are completely, and utterly, silly. Irritatingly small, inexcusably slow, and generally rather incapable, they seem rather pointless to me. I may well have a slightly biased opinion, due to the fact that most it stems from the netbook in question, which has warped my once neutral opinion into a horribly negative one - but moan I shall no longer, until I have put forth my evidence, and then a judgement will be made.

        So, the question you're all dying to know the answer to; why on earth did I buy it? I didn't. I run song words/presentations/videos at my church, and was presented with this oversized pocket calculator, or as I have since been informed, Compaq Mini netbook, to perform such operations with. As it was given to me, I have no original purchase price for you, but I believe the figure was around the £200 mark, as it remains now. A smile spread across my face when I was given an actual laptop replacement a couple of weeks ago and could finally say farewell to the Mini, but before we went our separate ways I thought I better give it one last chance - and what better way to do so than a review?!

        So, all important first impressions. Where is it? Oh, there it is! Even for a netbook, it really is tiny. The screen is a measly 10.1", which is horrendously small. It's an LED backlit TFT monitor, meaning you get a much crisper picture, but it's not LCD, and being so small it's difficult to appreciate. You won't get the screen resolution any higher than 1024x600 pixels, which means that even the generous page widths of the BBC website will only just fit on the screen (apart from, of course, if you zoom out to make it unreadable). This netbook does, however, fit* in my trouser** pocket, which I guess is a bonus for those who don't have any pencil cases, sorry, netbook cases to hand (*it sticks out rather precariously. **fleece joggers, not jeans - that would be impressive!). With small size comes small weight, and at just 1.17 kilograms, it really is a feather; very useful for portability, but not so useful when sat on your lap, as it almost becomes a balancing act to make it stay put at times.

        First impressions appear to be, rather unavoidably, focussed on the size. However, it doesn't actually look too bad (though considering its size, there's not much to look at even if you don't like it). The exterior is a glossy plastic black, which actually works quite well, with very light grey circles spread across the black, but hidden until you have a closer look. Apart from the horrible Compaq logo it looks rather fetching! However, it's when you open it up that the reality hits; your phone screen probably is bigger than the one before you, and that keyboard is so crammed in that one of the keys will probably ping out and hit you in the eye at at any moment. The interior casing is horrid, a rough, unpleasant plastic which doesn't act nicely as a palm-rest at all. But hey, it's a netbook; all about good value and no frills net browsing - so let's turn it on...

        I said, let's turn it on. It's odd, it really is. On the central horizontal side, you have two flick-switches, very similar to that of laptop old screen clips which you would have slide simultaneously whilst lifting to bring up the screen. To turn this netbook on, you have to flick the left switch (the right operates the wireless - you know, in case you want to turn it off. Yes, in case you want to turn off the wireless on your NETbook). It really is peculiar - no big round button, not even a small round button - a flick-switch. Ridiculous.

        On, and a torch-like light beams out of the switch (which is very irritating at eye level), and the screen brings forth to you the very retro Windows XP. Old school, oh yes, though very much preference over the failure that was Windows Vista. Do note that the screen seems quite liable to attracting dirt, so be sure to make sure you give it a regular clean and try to avoid getting fingers on it.

        Once you've established where the screen is, it's time to start browsing the web! It's the netbook's time to shine! Or...not. I know I've made quite a point about the size of the screen already but it really does make browsing difficult, and not just because of the width. In fact the main problem is the length. You constantly find yourself scrolling up and down, and this is something you tend not to appreciate with notebooks and desktops - it's a pain and it slows you down awfully.

        Being such a small unit there were obviously space limitations when it came to fitting the touchpad, which is, as you've guessed, small. Small touchpad means more finger wagging to navigate through pages, which can only be resolved by jacking the scroll speed to full whack, which, unless mastered like a circus act, incidentally slows you down further as you try to slow the thing down again to click on that little link in the corner of the page to which you've just taken five minutes to scroll down to! Sigh.

        Unfortunately, things don't get better with the keyboard either. On first glance, it looks like the guys at Compaq have done well to fit everything in rather comfortably. However, the keys are poor, and whilst none have fallen off, appear to be stuck on with some PVA glue and a spring, in that they are very wobbly and aligned poorly too. The keys are far too close together, and touch-typing is a nightmare. On the other hand, one point is awarded for a full size back space key.

        Performance wise, I could just say it's a netbook, and you'd have your answer. The Mini boasts a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom Processor, which does OK, but it's by no means full steam ahead. Projecting videos was often a struggle, with HD or even relatively high quality videos a no-go. Programme performance was relatively good on the whole, but start-up from dead is, traditionally with Windows, slow. It has 1GB of RAM, which is about average, and 160GB of hard drive space, the suitability of which is really down to your needs. With no DVD drive, gaming and watching DVDs are out of the question anyway; however, should you oddly decide to invest in an external hard drive, then make sure it is just for the latter. I've not bothered testing any games, but really, it would be embarrassing if I did. It's a netbook. Simple as.

        One of the real let downs for this netbook is battery life. These days you can make a netbook out of pastry and no-one will bat an eyelid as long as the battery life is decent - with the Mini though, it is particularly poor. Claiming to be give up to three hours battery life, it's more like two to two and a half. Charging is quite slow too, though I'm going to be generous and put that partially down to the fact that this is now ageing. Despite being quite an old model however, the battery life is inexcusable, and it's not a surprise that they fail to make much of a point of it. Unless you're planning to use this in the house as a notebook replacement/alternative with a socket readily available, then this ultimately could be the final blow that leads you to deciding to look elsewhere.

        There is a positive in that the Mini seems to do quite well at keeping itself cool, although in all fairness, there's not a lot there to get hot over. One feature included that I haven't mentioned is the awful webcam, so there's the mention. There's a useful 5-in-1 card reader thrown in, and they do manage to provide three USB hubs, which is rather good. It's worth mentioning that the VGA connection is very poor indeed, with no screws (which in fairness is unsurprising), but for some reason far too much close casing. What I mean by this is that instead of cutting it back slightly around the VGA connection to allow for input, the connection is ridiculously enclosed, making the cable very liable to fall out (many, many times). It's a terrible flaw. The speakers on the other hand are quite good for a netbook, or even for a notebook, though they're nothing to behold as such, and as with any such device, I suggest you just invest in some decent headphones or external speakers.

        Overall, it's just not something I can recommend, and that's not because I don't like netbooks. If you want something that can be used portably, and particularly for browsing the web and managing documents, then by all means, a netbook may be for you - but it's when a netbook can't even set out to meet those criteria that I really get annoyed. The screen, despite being LED backlit, is far too small, whilst the tiny touchpad and awful keys make navigating tiresome and slow, not to mention trying to type up documents. The poor VGA connection and silly little front flick-switches do nothing for the design of the thing, and though it's a feather, the horrendous battery life means that even portability is limited. It's a netbook, that for me, can't even serve as one, which is I why I just cannot recommend it to anyone. Good riddance to it.

        I don't want to leave things on a sour note though, so I shall recall a quote from my girlfriend, from when she first saw the Mini; "Aw, it's so cute!", she said. To which I replied, "What is, where? I still don't see anything..."

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        • Nokia 6700 slide / Smartphone / 62 Readings / 58 Ratings
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          18.02.2011 00:10
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          Why did Alex cross the road? To go and return his slide.

          When one thinks of possibly the most annoying, unreliable, poorly developed and yet unfortunately essential assets to life these days, one probably thinks of the mobile phone. Whatever your brand and model of preference is, like your local football team, they'll bring out a new strip every season, and within a few months of buying you'll be utterly out of date with your neighbour, who of course, happens to have just purchased the upgrade to yours. Best keep that cover on at all times then. But who says you should conform to the ways of the world and go 'smart' or 'shiny with a strong scent of Apple' - nay, may I bring your attention back to a 'standard' phone. I introduce to you, the Nokia 6700 Slide.

          It may surprise you to hear that smart phones just aren't for me. For someone who seems slightly obsessed with computers and all things technological, phones just baffle me. It's not that I don't understand what they do, it's that I don't understand why they do what they do. Stay with me. Take the name, 'phone'. If you phone someone, you are making a phone call. Alongside this, you should be able to send texts. That is all I require. "Are you 'aving a laugh mate, they don't even make them sort any more!". Oh yes they do...

          After inheriting my brother's old Nokia 6500 Slide, I fell in love. We were made for each other (I mean the phone, sorry, just to clarify! Gosh). After my old Samsung SGH-700 tragically (alright, pathetically) died in my arms (hands), I was left homeless. Sorry, phoneless, but it felt pretty bad. The Nokia was a breath of fresh air. Everything was kept simple, but with a professional sense of superiority and experience that the Nokia brand seemed to bring. Being second hand, it didn't last long, but it had done enough to win me over; both the brand and the model. I snapped up the 6700 Slide for about £100 from very.co.uk, deciding that a sim-only option would be better value for me.

          It arrived, and to be honest, I was disappointed. It didn't seem to have the elegance of the 6500 - the slick aluminium style finish seemed to have been replaced with a cheap plastic alternative, whilst below-screen buttons seemed to have also been treated to a nice bit of TLP (tender loving plastic). It gets much better in terms of the shape, which loses the cuboid effect that haunted the younger brother, and gets the right measure of curves and soft edges. It's by no means horrible to look at, but the casing budget for this phone seems to have been sliced in half.

          The keypad isn't bad, split into four horizontal splits, which get rather annoying when first texting as keys merge together under one's finger tips, but I seem to have got used to it somewhat. Once I get in the swing I can text at supersonic speeds, but when I'm tired and using one hand it can get very tiresome indeed, as keys get in each other's way. The screen is surprisingly good; no 3D LED by any means, but I don't recall squinting in the sunlight to read texts, though that's not really an issue in England these days. All of the inputs are positioned efficiently at the top, keeping things organised and simple, just the way I like it.

          When you pick the phone up, it just feels far too light. Again, comparing it to the previous model, it seems to have gone on a serious diet, but is light necessarily a good thing? Nope. When you're holding it, you barely realise. When lying in bed, I sometimes like to text whilst lying on my back (what a weird thing so say!). However, the weight in the phone is distributed ridiculously northwards, leaving me to misjudge the weight of the thing overall, relax my hands somewhat, and see the thing topple out my hands, onto my head. Ow! A phone that attacks you cannot be a good investment! The cheek! The weight issue also arises when you have the thing in your pocket. You don't notice if it's there or not. I wouldn't have been too disappointed if it wasn't after that viscous attack, but it's not great. It's not big, it weighs nothing - so what are you buying? Let's hope what you get inside makes up for things.

          When you load the phone up you're greeted with the pleasant shaking of Nokia hands, which makes you feel all warm and welcome, and then you're rushed through a wizard which is refreshingly quick - very nice. However, why are you still doing this when I turn you on from dead many months on? It's not the whole wizard, but would I like to set up email? Still no, as I still don't use Internet. Anyway, after the annoying questionnaire, you're taken to the home screen, which, much like the Yahoo! home page, has everything thrown on to it that can (reasonably) fit. Whichever way you click the keypad arrow, something pops out from the appropriate side, and annoyingly, these can't be customised. So even though I'm never going to touch the Internet tab, I still have to look it should left click. Where's the freedom of choice?

          Effective phones are the ones that give you the core, and let you mould yourself around it. This one just won't let you. Not even if you give it a hug. Now I'm not going to lie, there are an endless amount of settings on this phone - so how can I complain about the home page not being customisable? Simply because it is not! There is an option to change the bottom arrow clicker, but only to one other thing. It's one or the other! It's utterly ridiculous. I can't even access contacts from the home screen. I have to navigate to it through the menu screen. This is a one of the real let downs about this phone, and something they've certainly let slip from its predecessor.

          If Nokia are going to restrict the ways in which users can personalise the phone to suit them then they have to get it right in the way *they* put it together - but they just don't. There are no quick texts - one has to arrow up, then navigate down to create, and then you're in. It may sound lazy, but functions such as texting and calling really do need to be one click. The point of technology is that everything is getting faster for us. This phone has gone backwards and slowed me down! Predictive is also far from intelligent, picking up on one-off capital lettering and assuming forever more that you wish to text in capitals, not to mention that failure to put commonly used words to the top of the list. I must say however, calling, once you've navigated through to who you wish to call, is a pleasure, and I appreciate being able to navigate around the phone whilst still in a conversation - useful for those, 'have you got so-and-so's number?' calls.

          One area you do seem to be able to customise is a section called 'shortcuts', which is under the rather formally titled 'my stuff' tab, accessible from the home screen. It's still fiddly to get into, but is a welcome bit of responsibility awarded to me, the user. One function aside from calls and texts that I do rely on my phone for is an alarm, which is actually one of the more successful areas to the 6700. The set up for the alarm is clear and sleek, and one can easily check alarms which have been set (perfect for me, the slightly OCD), and set up new ones. You're even told how long you have between setting and your alarm going off - not great for those late night, early rise mornings. "Sorry, two hours? There must be some sort of mistake, Nokia..."

          As well as an alarm clock you're given an abundance of online compatible apps (not for me), as well as the basics. All that's missing is a stopwatch - I genuinely think they must have just forgotten. The camera included isn't actually *that* bad, and decent enough to capture the quick shot of, say, a pig that's running riot in the town centre. However, a flying pig - no good.

          Finally, one must consider performance. Battery life is difficult to accurately measure with a phone, as it really depends on usage, and quoting manufacturers is generally pointless. I tend to text more than call, but I usually top up the power every three to four days, through which I'd have probably sent 40-50 texts, and called/received about 60 minutes worth. Charging is very quick indeed, so much so that I tend to do so in the day instead of night as it will have finished within 30 minutes and be wasting energy if left plugged in all night.

          The positives come to an abrupt end there. Temporary screen freezes are seen all too often, and if you go from one thing to another too quickly, they become an inevitability. Basic applications such as the calender occasionally crash completely, which requires a restart, a nightmare in itself. Turning the phone off gives mixed results, with shut down lag common, and an incredibly loud and scary vibration attacking you upon switching off and on (not useful when you're on the quiet coach of the train writing this review). Considering how light it is, it's difficult not to drop it when it does this, so it's best to perform this manoeuvre on a table/floor.

          Overall, it's a real disappointment. OK, so I still use it day to day, and it serves me quite well, but let's be fair, I'm not asking much of it am I?! It lacks a sense of class that the 6500 had. With smart phones taking the spotlight, basic phones need to step up a gear in terms of finish, design, and customisation, but the 6700 takes a step back. There really is very little to pick out that makes this phone stand out from the rest. It's not an expensive phone, but it doesn't make good value. It's not an ugly phone, but it doesn't stand out from the rest. It's not even a failure of the phone; but it's far from a success, and Nokia really did shoot themselves in the foot with this one.

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          • More +
            28.11.2010 23:36
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            A beast from Corsair that'll take the hits for at least ten years

            As much as I love Daft Punk, the answer is no, I'm not reviewing one of their illustrious albums; perhaps merely celebrating the genius of their lyrics, or rather recycling them five years on. No, I'm reviewing a technological item which is like no other you can buy. "How can this be so?!", I hear you shriek in disbelief and with a distinct lack of faith in what I claim. The answer is simple and yet staggering: it is very likely that it will last more than a week.

            Ridiculous I know. A week is a perfectly reasonable time for an electrical item to last, for your TV to be flicker-free, for your mobile to be calls-capable, and your headphones to be sound-supportive. Alright, so I'm exaggerating somewhat, but it has to be said, they don't make 'em like they used to do they? So then, what technological product could possibly last a reasonable amount of time, and not pack up as quick as you could say 'should've bought that extended warranty'? Of course, I'm talking about the Corsair Flash Voyager GT 16GB.

            Computer memory is one of the fastest moving technologies in the industry, an industry in which only a few years ago one would have to shell out a crisp twenty pound note (probably one of the old ones, mind) for the honour of owning a prestigious 256mb flash drive; not one of your cheap 128mb ones. Pah. Before then, one was limited to data CDs, or even floppy disks. As awesome as they were (with their 1.44mb standard memory), they were, rather unfortunately, awful.

            Roaring in to save the day was the blessed flash drive, and they're still roaring and rocking. With standards increasing in an ever more competitive market, the quality does likewise, with high-definition the [fairly] new must-have, whilst audio is doing its best to keep up. Increased quality, increased file sizes, meaning your twenty pounds 256mb flash drive is now fairly incapable, compared to the 16GB drive you can snap up for the same price today. Of course, within another five years this review will probably too become void, but for now, let's press on.

            The flash drive is somewhat of a must have these days, even with the online world making file sharing that much easier. The fact of the matter it is that until Internet speeds pick up and reach a new universal standard, flash drives remain the easiest way to move around your chunky files around, without shelling out for a more costly external hard drive (and far susceptible to breaking at the slightest knock, too).

            So, the Corsair GT holds all the solutions - but why not the local supermarket's own brand alternative, which is a fiver cheaper too? Indeed, a play.com 16GB served me well for a nearing 12 months, and that was only about £17, great value at little over a pound a gigabyte. The Corsair on the other hand will set you back £21.99 from the best retailers. What really makes up those five pounds?

            Reliability, strength, and assurance. Ever heard of planned obsolescence? This is basically when manufacturers design a product with the view of it lasting for a fixed amount of time in a useful state, before becoming, well, useless and obsolete, thus forcing the consumer to make another purchase. Of course, the manufacturer must ensure the product lasts a 'reasonable' amount of time, in order to keep the consumer's faith in their product. To me, there are many brands which use this policy far too much, and whilst it's something we have to live with, I very much dislike it. However, is there ever a way around it?

            Ah yes, the faithful warranty. Shining with trust and assurance, you can sleep easy knowing that whatever you shelled out [for the warranty] has merrily covered the unfortunate event of you spilling your glass of orange juice all over your new 32" television. All very well and good, but it's those free warranties which really fill one's heart with joy. It's one of the few signs that mean you can have confidence in a brand and their product. Corsair - you have a place in my heart.

            It's no ordinary warranty you see. It's a *ten year* limited warranty, you see. If you were a goat, that would last you a lifetime at least, and you might even be able to leave it to your kids (whey! Ooh...). Ten years though. That's peace of mind alright. Of course, whilst it does claim to be rugged, the various activities described in the title were carried out by third party review experts, activities through which it survived. The warranty won't, however, cover the following claim (example claim, not my own experience, thankfully):

            "Well I dropped it in a lake to test its durability, and it got pecked a few times by a duck, then got caught in a boat's motor. When I got home and plugged it in, it didn't work the way it used to, in that it, um, didn't work".

            Rather, the warranty ensures that the product 'will be free from defects in material and workmanship for a specific length of time from the date of purchase'. In this case, that length of time is a very generous ten years, as aforementioned. Full details of this warranty can be found at Corsair's website.

            This was the selling point to me. Yes, *the* selling point, aside from it being 16GB, which was the minimum for me in my search for a new flash drive. The transfer speeds are good in my experience, though I don't ask for much, as I'm never transferring too much, or needing it be done too quickly. It is high speed though, setting the pace as one of the fastest units when it was released back in 2008, and still roaring now (write speed 19mb/s, read speed 25mb/s).

            On top of the flash drive itself, you also get a handy extension cable and perhaps less so handy Corsair lanyard, you know, just in case. Perhaps I'm being negative, some people do wear them. Just, not me...

            Moving on, one has to consider if there are any negatives to this product after giving such a shining review thus far. Honestly, there's not much to slate. The one thing I have picked up on is the lid. The product itself is made up of a thick rubber material, which acts as the casing to the far more fragile insides. The lid is also rubber, and uncomfortably slides off. It's the only part of the design which doesn't feel secure, and does raise questions (in my head at least) over its waterproof status. For something which isn't securely attached, I don't see how it can be waterproof, but I'm yet to test it... Whilst it annoys me, I've not experienced losing the lid at all, and the fact that the keyring hole is on the drive end rather than lid end actually makes sense - after all, which would you rather have fall off?

            Overall, I think GT barely puts a foot wrong. I snapped it up from a website called mymemory.co.uk (well worth checking out) for just £21.99 - that's cheaper than Amazon (yes, price matching Amazon) by over £5. I always stand by the belief that if you pay that bit extra for added quality, you benefit in the long run, and with a superb ten year warranty, and a rugged design, you certainly get that here. What wins it for me is the reliability factor, and the trust that you buy in Corsair - it's smart, it's solid, it's superb, and it really is a steal.

            Technologic.
            Technologic.
            Technologic.
            Technologic.

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            • More +
              22.11.2010 00:34
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              An elegant masterpiece from Acer, which combines style, performance, and a superb range of features

              If I were a laptop, I would want to do three things; look good, perform efficiently, and be wholly relied upon. To be honest, that sounds like me in my current human state, but that just shows how far laptops are advancing I suppose. With this is in mind, I set out out on my search at the beginning of July 2010 for a laptop that met those criteria, with my three important characteristics at the top of my priorities, as well my various other desires. After one month of research, advice, and late nights, I came home with this: the Acer Aspire TimelineX 5820TG.

              That name is just bursting with power and masculinity, is it not? You might think I say this every time (and I probably do, which does raise questions over my so-called 'research'), but what a name! 'Aspire', a word which fills one with hope; 'Timeline', a term which suggests that even if I haven't, they have done their research; and the 'X', a little kiss for good measure. A paragraph on the name - over the top, or simply in awe?

              First and foremost, this is a laptop. Not a silly little netbook with a 2" screen and no room for a DVD drive, and not a Macbook, with, you know, its price. As for the price of this; I snapped it up for £699 from John Lewis (with a free two year warranty). This is well and truly, a laptop, and a very fine looking one too. So appearance isn't everything, OK, but it became increasingly difficult to keep telling myself that whilst I was carrying out my product research. You refine your search, you filter it out so you're left with the cream of the crop, and then you click on 'show gallery', and this garish, glossy red lidded thing flies out of the screen and splats you right in the face. You can't be doing with that.

              Acer have engineered a masterpiece. It's slim, it's sexy, and it's in a stylish silver/black combination that works fantastically well. Everything about it speaks of its class. It's the 'stylish black aluminium finish' that works so well, from the simple exterior lid, to the beautifully laid out interior, there's not a corner cut.

              It's the keyboard that impresses most if we're going to judge it on first appearances, though. It is a keyboard very similar to that of a Mac, with each key spaced out intricately for a stylish finish. When you're going for that Mac-look, you either get it right, or get it terribly wrong - Acer get it utterly right. It looks good, it feels excellent, and is also very easy for touch-typers to get the feel of. You even have the luxury of a full number pad to play with, and a full sized backspace key! Don't you just hate those tiny little ones that you can never find?! The only problem is dust and other bits of dirt finding their way in between keys, but as long as you look after your laptop sensibly, you should be fine.

              Working closely with the keyboard is the trackpad, which whilst casually merged in with the palm rest, shouldn't be overlooked, for it too has a host of talents! It includes one universal clicker instead of the common pair, or even trio of keys which sometimes get in the way of each other, and works simply but very well. It's one of those features you don't notice, but appreciate very much so. The multi-gesture track pad is where you get your money's worth though. Simply 'pinch, flick, or swirl' your fingers across the trackpad for enhanced website browsing, as well as video and photo viewing. It makes zooming in and out of web pages or images much easier, and where desktop users laugh in the face of us 'laptoppers' (that was a last minute name) with their scroll wheel, now we can hold our heads high! It is good though, jokes aside. Genius, in fact.

              Other physical features the Timeline includes should be by no means overlooked, but it's like the Brazil football team; unfortunately, when your team's that good, you have to put even well known stars on your bench. A star of this laptop that only now gets a mention is the super-multi DVD RW, the external drive of which I own and am very fond of. It delivers top notch burning speeds, and is one of the best re-writers you can get - and it's in this laptop, what a bonus! There's Dolby Home Theatre Virtual Surround Sound, which isn't the best you'll find in a laptop, but for a machine that doesn't boast to be entertainment orientated, it ain't half bad, and makes watching films and listening to music a much more pleasurable experience. Thirdly, you've got the Acer Crystal Eye Webcam, which again, isn't a high-end webcam, but makes skype calling the Mrs at university easy and timely in between whatever she or I may be doing in our busy schedules.

              Weighing in at 2.24kg, it's not so much 'ultra-portable', but is by no means a sack of potatoes. For a 15.6" screen, with the specifications you're soon to hear of, it's actually ridiculously light, and another factor that got a big thumbs up from me, especially considering that I would be wanting to take this on the train every fortnight or so, as well as using it in various places for various needs. Portability - tick!

              So we've covered its beauty, and some of its core features, but there's that middle and all all important one; performance. Arguably the most important contributing factor to performance is the processor, and I made sure that I myself didn't cut any corners on this one. The Timeline comes in a slimmed down model, with a smaller hard drive and poorer processor, but I chipped in a few extra pennies to get the much acclaimed Intel Core i5 processor, which gives not only superb performance, but also that extra boost in speed. Applications run smoothly with one another, and as the processes mount up, you don't even notice it until you look down at your task bar.

              Supporting the great performance is a hard drive that gives you a generous half a terabyte in storage (500GB), which lets you comfortably store the music collection you've built up for years, and even pop those favourite films or TV programmes you may have downloaded, perfect viewing on those long train journeys to see the Mrs. The graphics card is something that I've not extensively tested, simply because I'm not much of a gamer, but it's another bonus for me. I do like a bit Football Manager and the sort, so to have a decent graphics card to rely on when I am feeling in need of some entertainment is another win. It's not just the gaming side it boosts of course, with DVD viewing superb alongside the surround sound audio.

              It all sounds quite wonderful thus far, does it not? You're thinking, "yeah, but now he's going to tell us everything that's wrong about it". Nope. In fact, I'm saving the two best bits till last. Ready yourselves. Fetch your cuppa.

              The screen is stunning. The reason: a high definition, 15.6" CineCrystal LED (yes, LED) widescreen (16:9) display. It's beautiful, it's wonderful, it's every incredible adjective you could throw at beauty itself. Images jump out of the screen, a screen which delivers crisp and vibrant visuals. Watching DVDs is, well, marvellous. Remember what you're combining here; the 5.1 virtual surround sound, the HD graphics support, and then the HD, LED screen. It's a winning combination and one that really can't be put into words, even though I've done my best to. It's something else.

              So what's left? What couldn't I have covered that is so significant, I've left it till dead last, like Everton on Match Of The Day (sorry non-football fans, and Everton fans alike). Well, if you're reading this on a laptop with a poor one, then you may not find out. Of course, I'm referring to the all important battery. How many hours? Well, 12 obviously. 12?! Oh yes. Indeed, that is on minimum workload and optimal power saving techniques, but you can easily get 9 hours out of this thing, and it really is quite freakish. The Powersmart technology includes a conveniently placed button toward to the top right of the keyboard, which allows for easy optimisation of power settings, but it really is an asset which makes this laptop what it is; the Timeline. The only negative note on the battery is that it does stick out of the back (behind/under the screen) somewhat. This is due to it being a 9 cell battery, and whilst being a little annoying, it doesn't make it uncomfortable upon your lap, and sits happily on a flat surface just as with any other laptop.

              Finally, you've got the software itself. With Windows 7 in full 64-bit, you know you're up to date and fully compatible with all new release software and games. As with most laptops these days you get a healthy amount of software pre-installed, although it's down to personal preference if this is more of an annoyance or a bonus. Amongst the bits included there's a McAfee Internet Security Suite trial, Microsoft Office 2007 trial (and Microsoft Works 9...), and Norton Online Backup, to name just a few.

              Overall, I love this laptop, and that's not just because I have to (you know, all that research). I wanted a lot from my laptop, and that's on top of those three factors I highlighted earlier. The fact of the matter is, this beast ticks all the boxes. It's stunning, it's technically inquisitive with a multi-gesture trackpad and an upper-class keyboard, it's effectively an ultra-portable when you look at *that* battery life, and it's packed with features which make it an incredibly generous and high end laptop, and that all important third factor; wholly reliable.

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              • Trek 7.0 FX / Bikes / 156 Readings / 131 Ratings
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                01.06.2010 00:49
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                The perfect bicycle for regular commuting and journeying at tip-top speeds!

                Ah, the humble bicycle, does it even need an introduction? I'd say so, because this is no ordinary bicycle. Well, conventionally it is; it doesn't have its own stereo system and set of indicator lights (why ever not?). By ordinary, I mean your standard Tesco's own, bright gold, steel heavyweight tragedy - that gives you a good few months of steady riding. This however, the extraordinary, is quite sublime; slick, solid, speedy, silver and sexy (I can say that, it's mine); the Trek 7.0 FX.

                Now normally I wouldn't make such a fuss over a brand, but to disregard this one as nothing more than a 'maker of bicycles' wouldn't just be wrong; it would be a criminal offence. Ever heard of Lance Armstrong? Yes indeed, his bikes are made by Trek. Of course, we've all heard of David Beckham and Nike, and have probably all got one product with their tick of approval, but I just wanted to make one thing clear; Trek are right up there at the top when it comes to the cycling world. Cue a truly sensational biking quote from Trek themselves:

                'The bicycle is the most efficient form of human transportation. It can combat climate change, ease urban congestion, and build human fitness. It brings us together, yet allows us to escape. And it takes us places we would never see any other way.'

                For me, that quote pushes through two notions: that cycling is an efficient means of transport and undoubtedly a very viable part-solution to many environmental problems; and that the brand to go with is Trek. Not only can they persuade people with their emotive words, but they take issues with the environment very seriously indeed, implementing various initiatives; 'we [Trek] continuously evaluate our manufacturing processes and business practices to be sure our actions, and those of our employees, reflect our better-world goals'. These initiatives include using green energy, smarter shipping strategies and employees commuting by bike (well, you'd hope so wouldn't you?). I'm just trying to convince you that cycling is splendid; and that cycling with Trek is magnificent.

                The FX 7.0 comes under the category of 'bike path' on the Trek website, and is very much in between being a hybrid and a road bike; a road bike is, surprisingly, designed specifically to be used on the road, whilst hybrids are supposed to be more versatile, adapting to both road surfaces and more off-road trails and paths. Of course you can use the FX on off-road paths, it won't suddenly dismantle itself into a box ready to be sent back to your supplier; it's just not built for it, that's all. I suppose it's in the same way that a Ford Focus wouldn't be suited to a dirt track as a Land Rover Discovery would be, for instance.

                This is very much a commuter's bicycle. Being a hybrid-type design of a bike, you don't have to lean forward as you do on a racing bike (they're the ones you'll often see on television). What I love about the FX is how it brings the best of two designs into one (reminds me of Hovis' 'Best Of Both' - or not). Firstly, it brings with it the 'traditional' and more commonly found upright riding geometry, as aforementioned. None of this racing bike leaning, or penny-farthing wobbling; surely neither can be good for your back? Rather, it's simple, it's comfortable and it's just the way I like it. The seat is easily adjustable, with a twisting device which rids the need of one of those annoying metal tools which just always gets lost; just make sure you tighten it well, otherwise you'll be twisting round with every corner that you take. Yes, it's fun at first, but after a while...just trust me.

                Secondly, the wheels. Now, at this point I should say that I'm really not an expert in bicycles; I'm somebody who wanted a bike to use for commuting to work, and my girlfriend's house (which is just over 3 miles away). So if I said, 'Alloy hubs w/Clix; Bontrager 550, alloy 36-hole rims', that might not mean much to you, or to me. However, I know a bit, and what I don't I can research! 'Clix' is a wheel release system, allowing for removal of both your wheels in just seconds. However, the benefits for a commuter's bicycle; not much. If you're going to be locking your bicycle up in a public place then you'll have to ensure the frame and both wheels are locked up, which is rather annoying. This is more of a racer bike feature, and whilst it's not incredibly frustrating, the way the bike is advertised does contradict the reasoning behind such a feature. Nevertheless, Bontrager is another brand that only speaks in quality, with a quick slogan reference that sums things up nicely; 'Lighter. Faster. Stronger.' (reminds me of a certain Daft Punk song).

                Looking at it from my terribly uneducated perspective once again, the wheels are a convenient in-between from racer to, say, a much more 'typical' bike. Racer wheels are agonisingly thin; you feel like you're constantly cycling on a tight rope. Your standard and 'typical' bike is likely to have much thicker wheels, ones that will happily adapt to any surface, but not specialise in any particular one. The FX, whilst designed for the road, does seem to be the in-between, with much thinner wheels, but not scarily thin. They allow for faster riding; the thinner the tyre and the better quality the material, the lighter and more efficient it will be, thus providing fast-rolling wheels, and fast get-to-work times.

                Whilst your handlebars, saddle and wheels are all Bontrager developed, both the brakes and the gears system are made by Shimano; Trek seem to have a theme of unquestionable quality going on here... Integrated in the FX 7.0 is a 7 speed Shimano EF50 trigger, which is superb. Whilst there's only a certain amount of ingenuity a developer can carry out with your brake handles, the way in which the gear-change has been developed is just wonderful. It uses a trigger mechanism, which just feels like you're pressing the trigger buttons on a PS3 or XBOX 360 controller, every single time; it's awesome! It works incredibly well too, and adds to the ability to gain top speeds with this bike, as well as of course quick acceleration, as you glide through the gears.

                The design of the FX 7.0 is simple and effective, just the way I like it. The colour is described as 'matte silver' - it's silver. It has been said many a time to me that this bike is 'rather feminine' - 'neutral', is the phrasing I'd use. Doesn't look half bad either. The finish of the paint work hadn't even been considered by myself due to there simply being nothing to question; the quality shines through this bicycle. The versatility of it must also be appreciated. Unlike many racing bikes, you can easily install mud-guards on the FX 7.0 (very, very useful for the commuter), as well as having plenty of room on your handlebars for lights too. Speed and versatility seems difficult to come across in cycling, but the FX 7.0 just handles it so well.

                Overall, I have to say that I'm really pleased with the Trek FX 7.0. You may well jump out of your seat when I tell you that this bike will set you back in the region of £300, even with it being an entry-level for its kind. However, when you consider that your cheapest road bike won't be any less than £500 then it does start to put things into perspective. Indeed, if you're not going to use it at least a few times every week then perhaps the price-tag will seem outrageous; but if you have a regular commute to work, to a friend's, or even just as a daily means of exercise, then I really can't recommend this enough. With a design of such simplicity yet such versatility, components of exceptional quality, and a brand that stands by the unquestionable finish of all its products, the Trek FX 7.0 is a bicycle that will last, but will also happily rack up the miles as you sail through that traffic jam that you were once part of!

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                • Auslogics Disk Defrag / Utility / 109 Readings / 104 Ratings
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                  24.05.2010 11:39
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                  Diamond Defragging: Disk Defrag does delightfully!

                  You might not think it but humans are a lot like computers. "Oh what, because as time goes on we get smaller just like computers seem to be doing too?". No, I mean - "oh, because when we've got two or more processes going at once we're liable to crashing (especially on Windows/with customer services)?". No! Well yes, but that's not what I meant. I meant that we're both good at reading things and processing them in our brain (or in our processor...), but when those things are in order, it gets a whole lot easier for us both.

                  Taking the human example; we are able to read words with their letters jumbled up, as long as the first and last letters are in their correct positions. Now taking the computer example; they are able to open your files casually and smoothly a lot of the time, although whilst it may seem it, these files are often all over the place in little bits (I'll explain in more detail later on); that is, unless you take action! If these bits of files are in order, then it makes it easier for the computer to find them and hence allows it to open the file more quickly. So, what can sort out all our files and bits of files into order and bring speedy opening times to us as a result? I'll tell you what: Auslogics Disk Degrag (DD).

                  A defragger (that's short for defragmenter) is an essential system utility in my book; so essential in fact, that Windows are kind enough to throw one in with your operating system. Only thing is, it's not very good; it's slow, it's unhelpful, it's boring, it's minimalistic - fine, it's pretty crap. Auslogics has come up with something that is very much the opposite. A leading piece of software for its kind, DD claims to be 'intelligent', 'compact', and 'fast'. Sounds like me.

                  Available for download from all good online download sources, DD (for Windows, XP to 7) weighs in at a ridiculously tiny 2.16mb. It's a feather, if that. Installation is just as light, and with only one little advertisement for one of Auslogic's other products, it's quick, simple, and done in seconds; just like it should be. You can launch on Finish, so all in all you should be running the programme within about one minute from downloading it. In fact scrap that: I just timed it and it took less than twenty seconds; truly sensational. It's safe to say that I am in awe.

                  Let's not jump to conclusions just yet though, for we've not seen the programme itself. It looks OK. That's a very vague statement, I know, but it's really difficult to evaluate. There's certainly nothing much wrong with it; your main interface is large and clear with sections split up tidily and tabs used effectively, whilst you've got a blue left-hand side bar which includes two buttons - one for the main interface (which is for some reason titled 'list of disks' - suppose it kind of rhymes) and another for 'Auto-Defragmentation' (a scheduler). These buttons are a little small and it took me a while to realise they were actually buttons and not graphics that were part of the somewhat indecisive design. You've also got your conventional toolbar running along the top of the window which does seem to question the point of that left-hand side bar (with its two lonely buttons). Certainly a very confusing design. Maybe they're going through a transitional period or something, who knows?

                  Now, on to the main game: defragmenting. Towards the top of your main interface you have your hard drives listed, along with details and statuses. Firstly, pick your drive(s). Secondly, I recommend analysing your hard drive before you get defragmenting. It's not as clear as it could be, but the option to analyse is hidden underneath a single 'Defrag' button (why they couldn't provide multiple buttons I don't know). So, hit analyse, and your interface will suddenly come to life!

                  Before we analyse though, I did say I'd explain this defragmenting malarkey a bit more, so I shall. Now, whilst it doesn't appear like it to us, files will often be in lots of little bits that all over the shop (of your hard drive...). Now of course to open the file the computer needs all the little bits; but if they're all over the place, then inevitably it is going to take longer to open said file. So by bringing all of the little bits together in order, the computer can access them far more efficiently.

                  Bizarrely, I'd like to take my lounge as an example. When it's particularly messy, it is fair to say that the time it takes me to find the Radio Times is probably nearing one minute; the remote controls, at least five minutes. When we tidy the lounge though, we can easily find everything, so the process of checking when Match Of The Day starts, to grabbing the remote control and hitting '1' is reduced considerably in length, and thus becomes far more efficient.

                  Back to the analysis! The middle third of the interface is a chart which maps out your hard drive, and this shows what files are fragmented, not fragmented, unmovable etc. This will develop as files are being scanned, and these files are detailed in the progress section (the bottom third), which is under the 'general' tab (why it's called 'general' I do not know - why not call it 'Status'. I think this programme needs to rethink its titles). This includes a handy progress meter and also details how many files are fragmented; all very useful indeed.

                  Done, and the results are in. Thankfully it's not like those annoying television contests where they pointlessly build up the 'tension' before cutting to a break and then deciding to not tell you until next week anyway - no, they break the news when it finishes, good or bad. Depending on when you last performed a disk defragmentation (if ever), your results will vary from 'this disk does not need defragmenting', to 'below is the list of one or more disks which require defragmentation'. The annoying thing is, the former will be stated even if you've got a good amount of fragmentation building up (say 4%), which is irritating because it's a bit misleading. Perhaps the sentence could be re-worded into more of a recommendation than a statement.

                  Nevertheless, having let the fragmentation on my hard drive build up over the last couple of weeks, I am now being told to take action! Yay? In your second tab in the bottom third of the interface you have a big ol' list of the fragmented files - for reference, you know?

                  So, you've seen the damage and are ready to defragment; but there are two options: 'defrag' and 'defrag & optimise'. What's optimise? Help! 'Unlike simple defragmentation, 'Defrag & Optimize' mode applies several optimization techniques' (it goes on to list). Basically, it's considerably longer but does further help your computer to open its files quickly and efficiently. For your first scan though, I'd go with just 'defrag' - when you've got the time you can do some optimising.

                  When you hit 'defrag' the disco in the centre of interface will resume, with colours flashing around very merrily indeed. I must say that I love the design of the hard drive map; each individual square block will vary in colour depending on its status, and as well as a legend beneath you also have little dialogue boxes which appear beside the boxes upon them being highlighted. The progress bar in the bottom tab indicates what percentage of the job is done as well as time taken, but isn't able to supply you with any predictions for when the process will be completed. Probably just as well, because it'd undoubtedly be way off anyway. Scan speeds are quick and certainly competitive with other leading defraggers, though regular scanning will of course reduce this considerably.

                  You've also got some handy defrag features bundled in there too. Auto-defrag is a fantastic feature which allows for ongoing defragmenting throughout the time that your computer is on. You can set DD to come into action when your computer is idle, and easily adjust the length of time that the programme will wait before kicking in. You can even manage the CPU levels, setting the defragger to pause if levels exceed your set value. Finally you've got a handy shut-down feature which can be implemented on any scan, should you wish your computer to be shut down for you upon your scan completing; very handy indeed, and a welcome sight before my eyes!

                  If you were wondering what lay within that third tab then I'm afraid it's nothing special. Rather, some system scans (none of which you can take direct action over) which try to convince you that getting their 'Boost Speed' product is the solution to the nightmare that is your computer. Of course, it's hardly surprising, but at the same time it's not very well received by myself, either.

                  In terms of accessibility, it's all fine, with memory consumption being more than manageable, rarely peaking 40k. Ongoing scans do begin to sap memory though, but not substantially, and shouldn't really reach much higher than 50k. The help section shouldn't really need referring to, but what's there is useful and it's clearly displayed and structured. Why the internal programme link to the help section goes to the Auslogics Support Contents page (which lists all of its products), instead of straight to the Disk Defrag contents, I do not know. A bit silly really. Finally, updates can be easily made via the help menu, linking you to a page on their website which will inform you of any updates available. There doesn't appear to be automatic updates, which I really don't mind.

                  Overall, I think Auslogics Disk Defrag is a great little utility, and a very handy one too. With defragmenting being such an essential part of computer management, it's important to have an efficient defragger that will effectively get the job done. With a clear and well explained interface, an easily operated set of controls, and some useful scheduling features, I struggle to see where you can go wrong with this piece of software. Now to just find an equivalent for my lounge...

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                  • Pure One Elite / Portable Radio / 102 Readings / 94 Ratings
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                    16.05.2010 22:10
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                    Maybe not quite 'Elite', but it has got a smiley face!

                    It seems like just about everything that could only ever be simple is getting 'with the times' these days, that is, technologically. We've got phones that can do things that no phone should be able to do, and it's quite likely they'll soon be painting our portraits and making us toast in the morning; indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if there was already 'an app for that'. When it comes to the humble radio though, there's not much they could do, is there? Well, going digital isn't a bad start.

                    With the new digital age came a whole host of new radios, and from one direction in particular; a company known as 'Pure'. What a name. Being someone that is easily won over with words, it wasn't long before I chose one specific line from this brand of apparent quality: the 'Pure One Elite'. At this point I wonder if I even need to continue the review. Those three words are just speaking quality. At least, one would hope they are.

                    If you're still living in the dark ages with analogue (nothing to be ashamed of - I still have an analogue television), then you may wish to know what makes it worth shelling out the extra for a digital radio. For indeed, they are considerably more expensive; take Argos as an example. Their cheapest analogue radio is just under £10, yet their cheapest DAB sits at just under £25. So why can you buy five analogue radios for the price of two DABs?

                    There's a whole host of reasons, but the main two for me are the guaranteed quality, and the station availability. Needless to say the Elite more than fulfils these claims, as well as an absolute catalogue of other quality features. Prices for appliances like this go up and down quite a bit so I won't list the current asking price, but I do strongly recommend shopping around; Amazon are doing it for at least £15 cheaper than Argos at the moment. Also note that you may have to pay more for the popular colours. I got stuck with the far less attractive white as the black was £10 more, and I wasn't that preferential.

                    The box is rather no-frills, but it was nice to see a big focus on the environment all over. There's a considerable amount of information about 'EcoPlus', a family of which this radio is a member. I was very impressed with the claims made, explaining how the product in its entirety had been made with the environment in mind; power consumption within the appliance is made minimal, components are selected that will have the least effect on the environment, many materials used are recycled, whilst the smallest possible amount of packaging is used. It's a very impressive start to the product, and on opening the box it's certainly testament to the claim of minimal packaging, with nearly no plastic in sight at all.

                    As well as the radio and AC cable, you have a rather chunky owner's manual (chunkiness due to the six considered languages - another plus). This acts as a superb reference throughout, and is concise and yet very much informative. You also have an online product registration form (which enters you into a nice little competition too), and another form to send off for a Pure ChargePAK C6L - this is a very efficient rechargeable battery for the Elite, racking up an impressive 35 hours per charge. Quality comes with a price though, and at £30 it's by no means cheap - but if you're going to be using it for portable purposes then it's far more effective than going through all of those bulky batteries. Finally you have a digital radio mini guide - how exciting! Whilst small this is still a very useful little introduction to digital radio, which includes (amongst other information of course) a link to find out what stations you should receive in your location (www.getdab.com). I must mention that Boris Johnson also finds his way onto the front cover of this mini guide - yet another plus.

                    Getting your wondrous new radio out (that measures in at 256mm wide x 155mm high x 88mm deep - not particularly portable if you ask me) you shall be met by a big smiley face! No, there's not a freakish little man in your box too, it's just that the layout of the radio front looks quite like a smiling face. You've a perhaps slightly too small rectangular display, below which is a well-sized volume/stations wheel, and around this are various smaller function buttons, before finally you have a standard standby button - acting somewhat as a chin in this face. It's an effective centred layout, and allows for wide speakers on either side, the left of which has a sticker stating, 'BIG Stereo Sound'.

                    The sound is indeed big. It's emitted powerfully through 'two full-range 3" drive units', and on full blast in alarm setting it will not just wake you up, but probably the rest of your street also. One annoyance I do have is the minimum sound level - it's not quiet enough in my opinion. I have the alarm on volume one, but if it's right next to your head then it can more than wake you up on some occasions - it'll fire you into the wall on the other side of your room. Well, maybe not. Whilst it's not ridiculously loud, I'd still prefer it if the volume were somewhat more staggered. In terms of audio as a whole though, it's certainly excellent. You're guaranteed to always receive a crisp sound, and of course that little bit of analogue buzzing is long gone.

                    Plug in the Elite and there's practically nothing to do other than entertain yourself whilst it Autotunes for a minute or so - perhaps you could try to figure out why Boris was on that front cover? Of course there's no need to ever-so-precisely set up the time according to that clock that you call up for an extortionate rate any more - it's all digital now! By the time you've realised that there's no reason for why Boris was present, the Elite should have finished. It'll pick a station (I think it was BBC Radio 2 for me - no thanks), and you'll be met with that Pure digital sound. Sweet.

                    Review done? I think not! There's got to be more than just a good sound and an average of double the amount of available stations against the analogue to convince me to dish out those pounds. First up, it's presets. Elite radio, elite standards, and with the ability to store up to 50 DAB and FM preset stations it's certainly doing well so far. OK, so the fact that I've got less than 25 stations available to me anyway does make this a somewhat dispensable feature, but still - you can of course add FM stations too; it doesn't have to all be DAB. Also, I live in Peterborough. Not London.

                    The alarm - everyone's personal hate. We all have our favourite radio breakfast presenters though, who we just can't hate. So let them wake you up - it's simple, it's efficient, and unlike my Nokia, it always works. You pick the station (or tone - but why?!), the day(s) and also the volume frequency (aka the how-wakeable-are-you dial). It lacks a 'snooze' option, but the radio has always been the best way of getting me up anyway, so I'm not missing out, personally. You can also use the alarm feature to put you to sleep - no, honestly. This is through using it as a sleep timer, which plays the radio for anything between 15 and 90 minutes as you drop off. You can even use the alarm as a kitchen timer - oh, the potential!

                    The 'ReVu' feature is a personal favourite of mine, and not one that I'm limited with because of where I live... This is one of the major potentials that DAB radio provides; being able to pause and play live radio, as well as then fast-forward and rewind what you've recorded since pausing. So you're listening to Radooyoo FM, you've answered four out of five questions in the super-duper prize extravaganza that will win you a brand new pair of curtains, and the last question is just coming up. Then there's that phone call from your favourite salesman, who, conveniently, is trying to sell you some curtains. Miss out no longer! The feature works amazingly well and you can easily return to live radio once you've paused and played. It's also great if you just need to pop out for ten minutes. You can come back, press play, and if it's that crap song again - fast-forward! Oh yes.

                    'Intellitext' is another feature which makes superb use of the facility that is DAB. It allows you to view news headlines and sports results from certain stations - I say certain stations because most don't make use of the feature. The only one that does for me is BBC Radio Five Live. Even then, it must be said that you are limited even in headlines, and information isn't often very fresh (as in, updated). Also, twice whilst I was using feature the entire radio crashed, forcing me to unplug it to force a shut-down. When I pay for an elite standard I expect that and nothing less - therefore, this annoys me very much so.

                    The 'textSCAN' feature is a simple and yet a most useful one. On the Elite you receive 'scrolling text' on most radio stations, which includes various bits of information such as who's currently presenting, or on Radio One, which song is currently playing - such a quality feature! Anyway, you can easily scroll your way through this information using 'textSCAN', which reduces the suspense of finding out who was right in the 'guess the song' competition between you and your fellow listeners yet further.

                    The Elite also has a bonus feature built-in, which is a Line In input. This is an analogue input which allows you play your iPod or MP3 etc., through the radio. The sound quality is sometimes lacking in this department, though it's still a nice feature to have added in. Note that whilst the input is there, the cable is not, so don't expect one. You also have a USB connector (again, no cable of note), which is present in case software upgrades should become available. If you register your Elite using that form from the box then you'll be informed of any via email - handy indeed.

                    Whilst you can include a catalogue of features within a product, these do become useless if accessibility is not structurally sound. Thankfully, it is. Navigation through stations is simple, although very occasionally slightly annoying using that stations wheel (which sometimes just suddenly starts adjusting the volume if you scroll too quickly). All of the features are easy to use and set up, and work efficiently and generally as described in the manual, which itself is a lesson in instructing and informing to all other manufacturers out there. Finally, the signal works wonderfully also, and very rarely do I pick up interference (if you do, then it's quite painful to listen to), even with the aerial barely out of its holder. All in all it's Pure and it's simple.

                    It's all rather good isn't it? A few other niggles however, I do indeed have. Firstly, the radio itself. It's of a good build and is fairly robust; the battery cover is quite poor though, and very liable to falling off at the slightest tug due to the not-so tight clips inside. The screen could be brighter, and just made clearer as a whole, even when the back-light is on. The cable is also a bit dodgy. I had to exchange my Elite radio due the cable developing a fault. This is because it's one of those annoying bendy-end power cables, for want of a better word (though I think that's quite technical). I much prefer the ones with a secured end as this seems to reduce the chances of a fault developing, as it did. Saying this, I did have my radio moved around a lot, due to it being used at work. If you're unlikely to move yours around much then you shouldn't face any problems. Finally, the Standby function; the button sometimes needs several pushes after it has been in standby, which I find quite annoying - especially so if I'm late listening to the start of a football game (why do they always score in the first minute when you're late?!).

                    Overall, I think it's a splendid DAB radio for me and the purposes for which I bought it. The benchmark it sets for certain features is phenomenal, and the way in which it 'doesn't just stop at that' amazes me; to throw in all those features under the alarm, for example, is exceptional. The structure to the radio is generally sound (no pun intended), whilst the sound quality is, well, quality. Admittedly, it's not the most portable of portable radios, and does have its minor flaws, even if it does claim to be 'Elite'. However, when you combine the range of features with the energy-saving initiative that the manufacturers have implemented with this little wonder, you can't help but genuinely appreciate it a lot of the time. Boris would be proud to own this One.

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                    • Download Accelerator Plus / Utility / 58 Readings / 54 Ratings
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                      05.05.2010 10:56
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                      Speedy Gonzales makes his Internet exit

                      Foreword: This product *is* still available for free download - just visit: http://www.speedbit.com/dap/


                      I'd like to think I was a patient person, somebody who waited for things in calm; I'm sure we'd all like to think this. I'd like my peers to think, "wow, he's a patient kind of guy", and I'm sure we'd all like this to be thought of us (apart from women, maybe). However, we are humans, and even if it doesn't necessarily come across too obviously in our actions, we're not the most patient of species. The train's a minute late - our day has been ruined, and so has our week. It's fair to say that snails and turtles and the sort must hate us with a passion. The solution? Avoiding the need to be patient; and thankfully, in the online side of things, this comes in the shape of Download Accelerator Plus.

                      Great name isn't it? Not to be mistaken for some music festival crossed with a rubbish computer game and yet further crossed with a heavily advertised television package, either. No, of course not. Download Accelerator Plus (that's DAP for short - also not to be mixed up from the chap from N-Dubz) is a piece of software developed by Speedbit that, to put it simply, accelerates your downloads, plus some other wonderful features (that's what the plus is for, you see). How does it miraculously perform such a task? Allow me to explain. It's not magic, no.

                      Say you were constructing an important alphabet jigsaw puzzle, but four pieces were missing when you put put it all together. Now Jigsaw Mania, where you got your Jigsaw from, only has pieces B and Q immediately available, and won't be getting pieces H and M for another week. However, Jigsaw Super-Duper can get you H and M immediately. So, naturally, you'd order from both and have it all in three days as opposed to waiting a week for Jigsaw Mania? Well, when you download a file in your browser it will be through one connection, so one source if you like. What this software does is split the file and seek it out from various connections. It can reach four connections easily, meaning that four smaller parts can be sent more quickly and then seamlessly form one file upon arrival.

                      Does it work? Well, it claims to be able to easily reach speeds that are 200% quicker, sometimes up to 400%. That's like having your own pigeon delivering your letters. Of course claims are never conclusive, so I shall be exploring these bold words a little later. For now though, it's installation time!

                      That is, if you're a Windows user (that's 2000 right up to 7, very nice indeed). Theoretically this should be your last period of impatience, for all downloads hereafter will be super fast like lightening! No, still not optimistic? Oh. Either way, 11.7mb is no mammoth to download (not that you can download mammoths), and you'll have it in seconds (52.52 seconds if you're downloading it from my household). The installation is ever so slightly annoying though...

                      You'll be met with a window that includes an oddly mysterious looking graphic, that could have been pulled from some terribly fake MI5. I can look past this though; what I don't like is being asked to install an Internet toolbar. If I'd wanted to download one of them then I would have asked. What I do like is the range of 38 languages being available, albeit in basic translations. Installation itself takes 30 seconds or so, and you're then met with more pain. They try to convince you to buy two of their other products, and change your home page in their favour. Again, I'd have asked; leave me alone. Make sure you untick the home page box, and stay selected on the free version. They then give you the option to receive special offers and recommendations via email. Seriously? DAP recommends some things to us next, add-ons if you like. I've not installed them, though they could be useful depending on your needs, so it's a nice feature I suppose; albeit an unnecessary something-else to throw into the mountainous installation. They try to add desktop icons before finishing off, but do at least give an option which is very welcome indeed. Finally you are taken to a pointless online finish page, pointless because it's mainly taken up by yet more advertisements for their other products. Oh well. The installation is over. Goodness gracious me.

                      You should note that you won't be prompted to restart your browser(s), something you'll need to do to install the DAP extension add-on. It's not a bar, but a key part of the download process I do believe. Well, they're not exactly going to throw some pointless thing in there are they? Needless to say, it was nice of them to tell us to restart our browsers. Not.

                      The DAP main interface is a bit of a disaster area. Split into three tabs, you're met by the 'Internet' tab by default, which is basically an internal browser that looks and feels ten years out of date. It's also host to a home page (fileratings.com) that just comes across as being ever so dodgy, with ridiculously high download figures (5 million for the top charted), over double that of my good friend 'download.com' (1.6 million for the top charted). Indeed, Alexa (a web information company) gives 'fileratings.com' a global traffic rank of 25,075 - that is against a rank of 140 for 'download.com'. But the download figures... I know, I know, it's just not right. Let us move on.

                      The third tab is 'FTP browser', something I'm not familiar with and can find little guidance on, which is disappointing. Why so many programmes can't explain their software comprehensively I'll never know. We'll focus on the first tab ('downloads'), and seemingly, the only useful one. The interface is clear with a horizontal toolbar and left-hand side bar keeping things tidy, whilst the main body is big enough to detail your downloads efficiently. Your main toolbar includes buttons that that consist of good quality graphics (I must admit that I was most surprised) whilst your left-hand side bar categorises the various statuses that your downloads can be at. No let-downs? Of course there are - advertisements in the right-hand side bar. As if there hadn't been enough already. A bit pathetic really.

                      On to those claims of 200% and 400% increases. Now I tested these claims extensively and was very disappointed; but before you throw those claims back at DAP in anger I must say this: my Internet connection is rubbish. We were once promised an 8mb line upgrade, and they then said they couldn't give it to us because our line didn't support any greater than what we were on. With my speeds not able to physically reach any higher my tests are far from conclusive, so I challenge you to carry out your own!

                      It's not all about the download speeds though; indeed, if it was, then this piece of software would be one of most pointless things ever to reach the hard drive of my computer. No, it's the way that this programme manages your downloads which impresses me. When you select a file to download from within your web browser, DAP pops up with its own little download box. It includes various options including where to download to and how, as well as scheduling options for downloads, such as 'schedule' and 'download later'. Scheduling is oddly placed in the 'Options' menu (why oh why?), and gives you the option to have a start and end time for downloads on selected days. It's a useful feature, though the accessibility of it really does need reconsideration.

                      Furthermore, you can easily pick up those downloads that you thought were lost forever (that is, from when you were using this software). If your Internet connection is anything like mine then it'll occasionally get bored and decide to pop out (no pun intended) for a quick stroll. This is all very well, but when you've a gigabyte download on the go it can be rather frustrating. DAP makes easy work of it though, resuming downloads as if the connection was there all the time. I conveniently hit 'disconnect' on my Internet connection to test this feature whilst mid-way through a 40mb download from 'download.com'. It resumed perfectly, and the file worked perfectly. Splendid. I did find, however, that some broken downloads couldn't be resumed at all, whilst others would just restart. All of this seems to be again unexplained, which is rather annoying and actually quite confusing; just as I thought this software was going somewhere...

                      That's the bulk of the software, though there a couple of other features included such as the ability to view download history, and even Tweet (on Twitter) about your most exciting downloads! There are other pointless features too, including the option to play sounds as various tasks begin, such as 'download success' and 'download failure'. Of course, no sounds are provided, you have to provide those yourself. Perhaps they want you to look online and download some tunes.

                      In terms of accessibility it's a mixed story. On the one hand the memory consumption is nothing major, and is in fact quite good, rarely peaking 20k. The help section seemed to contain a good deal of information, but I could never seem to find what I was looking for. Whilst screen-shots were used to illustrate points more effectively the content was often a bit too basic, and even then failed to cover what I wanted to know! Finally, the unwelcome welcome. It sounds like a rubbish new music band, but it's DAP greeting you as you turn your computer on. An advertisement takes up the majority of the 'DAP Status' box, and they've even made room to include a figure of how many Facebook users 'like' Speedbit. Let me assure you, not one of those users is me.

                      Overall, I feel disappointed. I've used this software for a month prior to reviewing it and thought it to be rather handy, and an efficient tool for downloading. However, carrying out this review has led me to believe otherwise, and with consistently poor performance in nearly all areas I can't quite put my finger on what led me to want to keep it. Indeed, re-reading this review I can see how my opinion seems to deteriorate as it goes on. Whilst download speeds are hard to increase with a terrible connection, I felt that they should have at least seen some sort of increase, but the fact is they didn't. Broken downloads cannot always be fixed, and when I compare DAP to the in-built download manager within Firefox I can see very little that goes in former's favour, which really is disappointing. Unfortunately, I think it's fair to say that Sylvester has caught Senor Gonzales on this occasion.



                      I can't believe it. A flashing light bulb just began to display in my system tray, in the bottom right-hand corner of my screen. I thought my computer was going to tell me that it was about to blow up or something. No. It was Speedbit, telling me that the 'Springtime Sale' had only one day left. DAP: you don't even have that. Goodbye.

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                      • CCleaner / Utility / 101 Readings / 95 Ratings
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                        05.04.2010 08:07
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                        Who'd have thought cleaning crap would be such a clean process?

                        How often do you say to your computer, "Piece of crap", or something along those lines, at least? OK, maybe I should be asking myself this as opposed to asking readers, but the matter of fact is that in most cases, it is actually still a computer; but rather, a computer full of crap. Why am I using this terribly rude term so fluently? Well, they started it.

                        CCleaner, formerly known as 'Crap Cleaner', is 'the number-one tool for cleaning your PC' (and it's whole-heartedly free!). "Number One?! With such a title!?". It was subtlety re-branded by Piriform (the developers), with the 'Crap' being shortened to 'C'. Very sneaky indeed, as they can now claim, "Oh, the 'C' represents your hard drive, which is typically the 'C Drive'". For the sake of politeness, I shall now refer to the mysterious 'C' as cabbage.

                        So, how does this piece of software remove the cabbage from your computer? Let's think of it as if you're down t'market, and buying some fruit and veg. When you're picking out the fruit, you want fruit that is just about to ripen. You'll see some that's got quite a way to go until it's ready to eat, but there's also some that was perfectly good last week, but now is showing signs of mould - it's no longer of use to the grocer on t'market. In terms of a computer?

                        When you install software, browse the Internet, download files, run scans or perform actions on various applications on your computer, you create temporary files that make these processes quicker and far more simpler. Unfortunately, whilst these are useful at the time, they're often left to rot and build up on your computer, and the overall quality and performance of your machine begins to gradually get bogged down by these needless files. We need a cabbage cleaner! Oh, how very convenient.

                        Available to download from various sources (it's a regular top 40 appearance on download.com), it's by no means a hefty set-up package at 3.2mb, so it won't be adding cabbage to what is already your fruit-stand of a computer. Available in an impressive 35 languages (that's the programme also), the installer is elementary. My own gripe is the request for me to install the Yahoo! Toolbar, although this does come along with the claim that you can use Ccleaner within your browser. No thanks. Where's the need? Still, installation is a quick process, though you should note that the application will ask for Internet access during the process - I assume for a quick update check. It's generally a happy little installation, and on finishing you'll be thrown straight in at the deep end. That's right - no quick start guide, let alone a 'thanks'. After all, you'll be the one doing the thanking after all that cabbage has gone.

                        First impressions? Very good indeed. To pull off a grey/silver/white colour scheme quite as it does is a success in itself, but the general layout and structure to the utility is equally intuitive. When you do away with the conventional menu bar you have to ensure that the body interface is suitably usable, and it really is a master-class in getting the right measure between simple and comprehensive. The four utility sections are split into tabbed buttons on the left pane, the graphics of which are of splendid quality; something that's seemingly lacking in similar free applications. Each section is tidy and by no means overloaded with endless actions for you to perform.

                        There are a few nice little features; firstly, your computer specifications sit nicely below the programme title in the top left-hand corner. I think this is a great little plus, and adds to the understanding and authenticity of the utility, providing that edge of, "uh-huh, we know your specs, we'll get rid of your cabbage". You also have a nice little Pear logo in the top right-hand corner which represents the developers, Piriform. Not only is this funny because we're all used to the Apple Logo being branded around everywhere and here it's a pear (though it's not a joke!), but it also lights up upon being highlighted! Amazing, but also showing how unobtrusive it is upon the interface as a whole, blending into the grey background as if it were in a fruit bowl. You've also got links to 'online help' and 'check for updates', which are placed conveniently for easy reference.

                        As I mentioned, you've four tabbed buttons along the left-hand pane, the first of which is 'Cleaner'. Yes, this is where we say goodbye to the majority of that cabbage. Within this section's main body you have another pane on the left side, which is split into two tabs, 'Windows' and 'Applications'. Talk about tidiness. In each tab you have items listed under various sections of your computer which can be cleaned. By default CCleaner will automatically select the vast majority of options within each tab, though only the items that cannot cause a significant loss to you. For example, for Internet Explorer (within Windows, of course), the 'Cookies' option will be ticked but not the 'Autocomplete Form History' option. Indeed, removal of cookies will be an annoyance in some cases, but losing all of that form history - I may just have a little tantrum if that were to happen to me. Anyway, you can exempt certain cookies from the sweeper of death (no, it's not that one from Total Wipeout), which is one of many options to explore within the 'Options' tab. We'll delve into that little wonder later.

                        Of course I'm not going to run through each and every nook and cranny that this utility sweeps through, but it's perhaps an understatement to leave it at; 'it's pretty bloomin' thorough'. Nearly everything you could think of is taken into consideration in your Windows tab, though you may be wondering about those greyed out options, which you daren't select in fear of what they could do. Thankfully, the help section is a superb reference to use. It can look a little complicated at first glance (it's an online help section, by the way, so offline - no help. Help!), but it's tidy and easy to sort through and you'll find what you're looking for swiftly. Everything's explained very well indeed - it's one of the best help sections I've seen in some time.

                        The applications tab is an ever-growing one. This utility doesn't just cover Internet Explorer; nor does it just cover Firefox also; it also has a cabbage-removal tool for Google Chrome, Safari, and Opera. That's absolutely exceptional cross-platform support! A lack of individual browser support is often a flaw in utilities like this, but CCleaner doesn't mess about. It handles a whole host of other applications also; I was impressed to see WinRar, AVG and ZoneAlarm all in there (a full list can be found on the developer's website). You may be wondering what it can remove for these applications - you'd be surprised. There are all sorts of temporary files and logs in use by these programmes, but needless to say, CCleaner will happily hoover them up for you.

                        So after checking through all the options carefully, just hit 'analyze' (I know, American spelling). You can easily see what's being scanned, and you'll be prompted if anything requires your attention (such as having to close Firefox to remove the cache). You've also got a nice little progress bar, though this isn't the most effective due to its lack of consistent time measuring. Note that scan times will vary depending on your computer specifications and how regularly you carry out scans of a similar nature - it took well under a minute for me. The results are in. This is another great feature, allowing you to analyse the results before you depart with your cabbages. I had just over 1.5GB in there. Gosh. That's what you get for forgetting to empty your Recycle Bin for a couple of weeks (of course, it covers that too). The scan results are displayed very efficiently, with items tabbed under applications and sections, and further details under each tab. It really is top quality.

                        Hit 'Run Cleaner', and you'll warned that this will permanently delete the files from your computer. There's no turning back. The cabbages will be gone - forever. Yes! As with the analysis, removal times will depend on your computer specifications and how often you carry out procedures of a similar nature. It's well worth the wait either way. It's certainly been one of my favourite cabbage removers for some time now.

                        The registry cleaner is one that requires very little input on your part. All options in this section are checked by default, and it's safe to just 'scan away', as it were. You'll get a mixed bag of results depending on the frequency of your computer usage, as well as the number of times you've performed registry scans in the past. The scan should be quite a quick process, and when results are displayed you need not spend too much time reading into them. Upon hitting 'Fix selected issues', you'll be asked if you'd like to backup these changes - this is very useful for just in case it does pick up on anything that is actually genuine and critical. It's extremely unlikely that this would ever happen, and certainly hasn't been experienced by myself. Still, I backup every time, and with the backup files rarely reaching more than 30KB, you're not exactly paying for the insurance.

                        The fixing process is excellent; each fix displays a dialogue box which explains what the problem is in each case, which means that whilst you're letting the programme get on with its job, you're still gathering an insight into what's going on. The process is quick, and you can easily skip through all of the fixes automatically should you not wish to read the dialogue.

                        The third tabbed button is 'Tools'. These are all tools that you can find within Windows, but are far more simplified here, as well as being far more accessible also. You've got a speedy little uninstaller, which comprehensively displays all programmes available to remove, and does of course allow you to efficiently depart with any of said programmes. And yes, you can remove Ccleaner using the Ccleaner uninstaller. That's just a bit rude though, isn't it?

                        Within this section you also have 'Startup'. This allows you to simply enable or disable programmes to run at startup. It's simple, yet detailed and very clear, so one can have few complaints; it works well for me. Finally, you have a 'System Restore' section, allowing you to manage all of your system restore points (well, remove them). System Restore points are used for if you install new software; if there were to be a major mess-up as a result, then you could go back to before it happened. I generally steer clear of this section, as I've no real need to rid myself of any of these. After all, you never know with computers these days.

                        The fourth and final section is - you guessed it - 'Options'. Again, it's just a master-class in tidiness. One cannot help but admire the structure to this utility. Your options are sectioned off neatly using buttons as navigation, and the consistency of the design is very well-considered. The options included aren't pointless ones either (such as 'Leave pear permanently lit up'). As well as the basic ones, there are also management options for cookie removal, as well as some very useful advanced options, including 'close program after cleaning'. Useful indeed, though it'd be nice to see a shut-down option also. I'm just picky though.

                        Do I have any other little niggles? No. "What?!". It really is that good. Accessibility is well covered too. The programme rarely peaks 15K in consumption from my experience, which is superb. Scan times will undoubtedly increase CPU consumption, but the memory consumption is very efficient indeed. Updating is good too, with the programme informing you of updates within seconds of launching the thing, whilst you can also check manually using the link at the bottom of the interface. The update doesn't take place within the programme itself, requiring you to download the new installation file and clean install. This is a bit of an annoyance, but it's very little to ask of you considering all of those cabbages it's removed for you.

                        Overall, I think it's just magnificent - and it's hard to say that about software, for there are always some quite major flaws. I set about writing this review thinking that I'd give it four stars, as it can't really do an awful lot. OK, so it hasn't got a whole array of features and separate utilities - but so what?! Let's look at the title again shall we? 'Crap Cleaner', a piece of software that is, supposedly, looking to clean the crap from your system. Not only is this piece of software superbly designed and structured, it performs efficiently also, and supports a fantastic range of programmes in its cleaning regime. Pretty mediocre? Now that's a load of crap.

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                        • LG GE20LU10 / DVD Burner / 92 Readings / 86 Ratings
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                          28.03.2010 22:39
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                          A superb desktop burner - if it were a cricketer, it'd be an all-rounder

                          The DVD burner; hot stuff, it is. Ever becoming more of a compulsory part of your new laptop or PC, these are continuously advancing in speed and efficiency, as well as of course in size and style. If you're looking for something that ticks all of those boxes (pretty much...) then look no further. It's LG; it's super; it's the LG External Super Multi (pause for breath) DVD Rewriter! Yes, there were fifteen syllables in that title.

                          Built in with Securdisc technology for added security, LightScribe disc labelling as well supporting all current standard disc formats and covering multiple operating systems, it certainly lives up to its 'Super' title. I'll be delving into each of these features later, but for now it's important to consider suitability.

                          Now, if you're building a computer and looking for an internal DVD burner to implement then this won't be suitable. That's because it's external, and you'll have a tough job trying to slot one of these chunky boxes in a PC tower. Why go for external? For me, it was the fact that my first PC build didn't go to the script, and the two internal DVD drives I tried to install failed miserably. So, being that 'impossible is nothing' man that I am, with that committed 'never-say-never' attitude - I gave up and bought this instead. It's also useful to use with netbooks - quite a few of these baby laptops lack a DVD drive, so if you're looking for a suitable solution then you may wish to consider this. You may not want to on the other hand; reason being, the size of the thing.

                          One and half kilograms! I have considered buying another one so that I could take the pair down to the gym and lift them instead. Unsurprisingly it's not small either, at 160 x 50 x 230mm - I don't want to make another joke here, but on a serious note, if you are going to take it on the bus then you'll need to buy a separate ticket. So on this front it's fair to say this should be used more as a desktop burner than a portable one. You should also note that this needs to be AC powered, and can't be run solely by USB. Even if you are a regular gym-goer and have the muscles to handle it (and a spare socket to power it), the size of the burner means that you'll have to buy a whole other laptop case just to carry it around. Is it worth the effort? Not particularly; I'd go elsewhere if that's what you're looking for. Desktop though - it's all good!

                          If it's going to be big then it better look good - and it does. As with the rest of my PC hardware it needed to be black and basically quite sexy all round. It's finished extremely well with a smoothed-off outline and silver ridges around the front-view edges. Corners are difficult to find due to the curve-corner nature of the drive, and the product logos are by no means intrusive, being far more translucent, as it were.

                          Designed specifically for XP, it also supports the predecessor, 2000, and the next in line, Vista. Whilst it does not support Windows 7, it is Mac compatible - very much a plus-point to the product as a whole. The box states that you will require 20GB of available space; I was sure this was a mistake at first. However, looking in the manual I've discovered the statistic once again (suggesting it wasn't a typo), though with further detail; 'The free space needed for the writing depends on the quantity of data'. So I think this must be where the files associated with the writing of your DVDs and CDs go - albeit temporary, but necessary.

                          As I purchased this burner well over a year ago I shall be reinstalling it - but on a little Netbook instead. In terms of packaging, it's all fairly standard, and needn't be talked about endlessly. Everything is packaged securely as expected, and you have a DVD which comes with the various pieces of software for you to use in alliance with your new burner. I should also mention the little surprise I received within my package - a DVD exclusive of 'Burn Notice', season one, episode one. I've never watched it, so don't worry, I won't be reviewing it within this review. Looking at the cover I'd be more likely to just burn it. I'm not suggesting I judge a book by its cover or anything though. Maybe I will watch it...

                          Distraction over, it's time to install your new little beast. If you're one to read instructions then you'll find two perfectly reasonable, though not ever so colourful (due to them being black and white...), quick start guides; one for the drive installation, another for the software set-up. Whilst there's not too much to say in either of these, though there could perhaps be a few more diagrams with annotation. Possibly I'm being a little unfair; indeed, I do act under the pretence that pictures make any read much better...

                          It's an incredibly simple process, with Windows (or Mac) doing the majority of the work for you. Just plug everything in in the correct order (as explained in the guide), and it's then just a case of waiting for the hardware to be installed. You'll be watching or burning your DVDs within seconds. Well, hopefully they weren't that bad.

                          The speeds speak for themselves. I won't run through each and every one otherwise this would end up very much not being a review; however, with a DVD-R write speed of 20x and CD-R write speed of 48x, you'll be dishing those discs out quicker than the baker down the road can shell out their fairy cakes. It was remarkable when I first used it when importing a CD into iTunes - I minimised it and before I knew it, the little 'ping' alerted me to it being complete! It was truly sensational. However, it's not just the superior write speeds that make this product what is. The package has a lot more to offer.

                          On the disc you have six other elements that you can install. These come in three groups, though unfortunately cannot all be installed in one go. However, the process is very simple and is well explained along the way. Firstly you should note that one of these is 'USB Booster', and is required to achieve those DVD-R 20x write speeds. As well as this, you have 'Power DVD', 'the most popular DVD player for you computer', so it states. It is quality though, featuring a vast array of features allowing you to optimise your viewing just to your liking. Alongside this you've got 'PowerProducer' (lots of powerful stuff here), which is your one-stop piece of software for ripping DVDs. It comes with a bundle of useful features for capturing, importing and editing content, providing various means of ripping your video to DVD.

                          At this point I must state something important. I left this review last night, to continue with today - in that time unfortunately, I've broken my burner. Firstly, I think it's harsh to be thinking the thoughts that you're obviously thinking; "Not so super any more, is it?". Secondly, don't leave this burner on the arm of an armchair, as if it falls off, it breaks. It's currently not being detected by my computer, although the mechanism itself is working. Frustrating indeed. A lesson well learnt; though I'd have preferred to have learnt it from somebody else.

                          Anyway, there are two features that can't go unmentioned before I burn out this review. First up; SecurDisc. What is it? Well, according to the company: 'SecurDisc is an innovative hardware and software based technology that provides robust and highly secure data protection and content access control for information recorded on regular CD and DVD media'. Basically - it's all about securing personal and private data. Now I never had a need for this, since I'm such a sharing and open person... However, from looking through the software and having a read of the quick start guide provided, I must say that it's all explained very well indeed. Whilst I wouldn't have run through it all with you anyway, it would have been utterly pointless due to the process being described so well. There are a range of measures you can take to protect your data, from password protection, to digital signature, as well as even including the ability to implement copy protection on PDF files. There's some amazing potential there, and I was very impressed indeed! One down side is the way in which you have to access the files; a normal drive does not support the SecurDisc features, and thus, users with standard drives will have to download software online, which is, admittedly, a bit of a hassle. Saying that, if you need security on your disc content, then SecurDisc isn't half bad.

                          The second feature which must get a mention is LightScribe. This is absolutely superb. At first I just thought it had a special embedding technique in the burning that meant tracks were labelled properly on discs as opposed being called 'Track 1', 'Track 2' etc. I made a series of CDs for our family holiday last year, and seeing the titles on the CD player in the car just amazed me. I'm easily amazed. But no, LightScribe does something incredible. The artwork you see on the physical disc; yep, that. 'LightScribe is a disc-labeling technology that lets you laser-etch a label directly on your disc'. Once again, I've not had a need for this, yet my in-depth online research brings good results. The final product looks fantastic, albeit you are limited in terms of colour; though by no means is it a difficult process. All the software needed comes on the DVD included in the package, and it's just a case of forming your template. When you're ready, you burn the disc as you would any other, then, upon completion, turn it over and put it back in! Bit like making a pancake, really. You do have to use specifically designed discs, though these are by no means any more expensive than standard ones. It's not a professional production, but it's certainly one that will add a sense of professionalism to any CD you make. That is, regardless of the terrible music you may have put on it.

                          Overall, I think it's a good showing from LG here. I bought this for £50 from Maplin, though I'd advise shopping online if you can; I was desperate and couldn't wait (so I went, and then bought it...). Of course, prices will vary enormously, so do shop around. Saying that, for what you're getting, I think £50 is perfectly reasonable. With a slick design, relentless speeds, some powerful DVD viewers and burn programmes, well considered security potential, and some quality disc labelling thrown in too, it's not a bad deal really. Just remember though; don't, whatever you do, leave it sitting precariously on the arm of an armchair. Sigh.

                          Oh, there's a package for me. 'Burn Notice', the complete season one. Um...

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                          • Process Explorer / Utility / 93 Readings / 90 Ratings
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                            23.03.2010 00:23
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                            A splendid little explorer which will efficiently rid you of your unwelcomed guests

                            Sometimes if you're having a pleasant little social gathering or party then you won't mind if the odd 'plus-one' or 'extra' turns up - not that people in the parties I go to are actors or anything. Indeed, if they are, they're likely to be nothing more than an extra. However, when a big group of bad-boys turn up that you're not particularly fond of, you may just have to ask them to leave, albeit ever so politely and in an understanding and friendly way that doesn't insult them in the slightest. Thankfully, you don't have to be quite so friendly on a computer when someone turns up that you secretly have a passionate hate for. Yes, this is just one of my rather odd metaphors for another piece of software, in this case I'm slyly introducing you to 'Process Explorer'.

                            When you turn on your computer (I'm talking Windows here - so you could say when you open your curtains) a whole array of processes begin to start up in the background (that is, when loading from dead, not from standby or hibernation etc.). The more software you have on your computer and the less attentive you are to what is lingering on your hard drive, the more processes there are that will be present.

                            So let's flash back to the start of the (computer-turning-on) party shall we? So the guests start arriving (you've just turned the computer on). You see a few good friends; there's your mate Nor Ton sitting in the corner, though he looks like he's caught some sort of virus, not looking well at all. Meanwhile a little green man has arrived at your door claiming to be a Messenger. You ask him what the message is. He says that your wall is on fire; turned in to some sort of Firewall. For goodness sake.

                            Anyway, the party's well under way (everything's loaded up), so you start a few games (open up some applications). Things soon get nasty though; there's Ite Oons having an odd little fight with your Hi-Fi that's on the window-sill (aka your Windows Media Player...), and you've only just put out the fire on the wall before you notice a fox prowling around that has also somehow caught fire. It's talking too! Says it's just a Firefox. Goodness gracious me.

                            You've seen it all before though; it only starts getting serious when you notice some people you don't recognise. There's some sort of spy waltzing around, claiming to be known by his enemies as Spy Ware, whilst yet more animals are arriving; now it's a Trojan Horse. I've had enough of this. I need someone to sort this party-gone-bad out. I need an explorer to help me who knows what he's doing. Hmmmm.

                            Hmmmm no longer! It's Process Explorer, the most experienced party-goer who's ever walked this earth. He's seen every party crasher that's ever attempted to ruin a good old gathering of golly-goers, and can assassinate them too.

                            Process Explorer is Windows software, although exact platforms that it works on is unclear. The maker's website (which is actually Microsoft) states 'Windows XP and higher' - I use XP and it works very well indeed, and is the platform that I think this software was originally aimed at. Saying that, I recommend it on any Windows operating system, so if you Vista or 7 users are slightly sceptical thus far, I recommend you to stick with me. At least for a little while longer, anyway.

                            One of the great things about this software is that it is absolutely tiny. If it were a person you could fit them inside a suitcase. Funnily enough, in the computer world he actually comes within a little zipped up suitcase (ZIP format), rather than the traditional .exe, which is your standard installer. The reason for this is that it never actually installs anything. Once you've downloaded the 1.5mb zip file, you unzip it, select the programme file and are away. The only other two files in the package are the EULA (user license agreement) and the help file. I'd recommend you create a folder somewhere appropriate and unzip the files into there, just for the sake of tidiness. Remember: a tidy computer, is a happy computer. Fact.

                            Moving on, and you might have been wondering what makes this process explorer anything better than the Task Manager you get within Windows already; for that, ultimately, is what it is. That is what I shall now explain, for there are numerous reasons.

                            I will however, get the worst out of the way first. The interface, as a whole, isn't great. It looks pretty terrible in all honesty, with graphics of minimalistic quality. However, this was never supposed to be an art gallery. Saying that, if you could press Ctrl+Alt+Del and get an art gallery it would be very good indeed; and quite funny at the same time. To conclude that point, it's not an art gallery. However, the general design is effective, if a bit simple. Who says simple can't be good though?

                            Not me. It's the design that sets this apart from the ever so outdated Windows Task Manager (well, at least in XP - 7 could probably learn a few lessons too though). What makes this explorer so distinctive is the way in which it displays processes. On the left-hand side of the main body you have your processes in a tree format, meaning they are actually sorted into categories that make them far more accessible. For example, one of these categories is 'explorer.exe'. This is your desktop, and branching off from this tree are all the applications you have starting up when you turn on your computer; that's (hopefully) your anti-virus, firewall etc. This makes finding a process far easier and is much more effective than the original task manager. Furthermore, you have another simple and yet ingenious feature; programme icons. So incredibly simple and yet such a great idea. It's extremely useful as it allows you to easily recognise the programmes that you're familiar with, and easily pick out those culprits that have sneaked in naughtily.

                            By default you'll have four other columns, the first of which is 'PID' (process identifier). This is literally an ID number for a programme that is used by the programme (as far I'm aware) and is of no use to you whatsoever. I did some research as I was intrigued, but found nothing of use within the help section, and nothing much online. I've no idea why it's there to be honest, it's just a bit annoying really, and often gets me confused as I mix it up with other columns. If you delve deeper into Windows Task Manager then you'll find this column there too, so I think it must just add a sense of authenticity to the process - perhaps relatively useful then. The next column is your conventional 'CPU' column. This percentage figure basically gives you an idea of how much your processor is having to devote to running a programme, allowing you to see which are the best performers, and which need a kick. The last two columns are 'Description' and 'Company Name', which do just what they say on the tin, though are very useful nonetheless. For XP users this will be a wondrous sight as we're not as privileged as Vista and 7 users, who get a nice little description themselves. They don't get company name though, so we shouldn't feel too aggrieved. These columns help identify lesser-known process names, and are another very useful feature of the design as a whole.

                            You may be wondering where that other column is though, 'Mem Usage'. By default, it's hidden away in the column options. Again, I'm confused, especially after the inclusion of that ever-so not useful PID column. Anyway, heading into the 'Select Columns' options, and then the 'Process Memory' tab, you can tick the 'Working Set Size' to have this figure in your main interface. It's an annoying process (no pun intended) and why it's not included by default I shall never know.

                            So it all looks well and good and pretty and handsome (kind of), but what's it like when it comes down the all important take-out; that is, the assassination; that is, killing the process? Well, before you can do any sort of killing you need to know what you're killing. Some pieces of less well-known software for example, will not have a company name, and therefore no description either, so if you've not got a clear process name (if it's dodgy then it probably won't be clear) then you've no real way of knowing what you're doing. Apart from simply taking a shot in the dark, that is; which you really don't want to be doing. So what's the solution?

                            It's a 'Search Online' option, accessible by simply right-clicking on a process. This opens up a new window in your default browser which searches Google with the process title. What does Google know though? A lot (well, the Internet knows a lot, I should say). Before I used this software there was an occasion where my parents' computer was subject to multiple viruses, and an imitation of a genuine anti-virus had been installed on their system (it was trying to look like AVG - not a bad disguise either), under the name of 'Personal Antivirus' (never install this if you come across it). I looked in Windows Task Manager and noticed a process I didn't recognise (pav.exe), Googled it, and found out several ways to easily remove it. The fact of the matter is that it's extremely unlikely you'll ever be the only victim to an attack, so online solutions are practically always available. There are several online libraries which cover every process out there by using user feedback to decipher whether or not these processes are genuine or not. You'll soon know what you're dealing with, and if it is bad then the first process in removing it from your computer will most likely be to kill the process. In 'Personal Explorer' just hit the cross button on the main toolbar and, should the option still be ticked as default, you'll be asked to confirm the kill, before waving goodbye.

                            Of course this programme can also be used for processes that you feel are just taking up a bit too much memory for your liking. Or perhaps you've had a bad day at work and feel like taking it out on someone; let that someone be your computer. Just make sure you know what it is you're taking your frustration out on before you get too trigger happy. There are a good few other options available within this little gem of a programme but I don't want to give any spoilers, so I'll let you find them for yourselves.

                            In terms of accessibility, it's just a case of running the .exe file that you get in the zip package. You can easily assign 'Process Explorer' to 'replace task manager' from the options menu, and this is a seamless procedure, and a very useful one too. Updating, as far as I can tell, has to be done manually online, but isn't exactly a regular occurrence so don't worry to much about keeping up with the times on that one. As with any piece of software it does take up memory itself, though I found it never peaked 10k which is perfectly reasonable. In an application like this I feel it's also important to consider the help section; it's not the best, but considering the size of the programme it is reasonable. As with most Microsoft help sections I find it can be quite tedious, with what appears to be bundles of information, but, conveniently, never actually what you're looking for. Nonetheless, it's still a decent reference for first-time users.

                            Overall I can't really fault this programme too much. When you consider that it's completely free, it's tiny, and it adds so much to such a simple part of a Windows operating system, you do begin to really appreciate it. A simple and yet very effective design makes for easy process management, and the online searching facility is another piece of genius for me. It's a top piece of software and one that I'd fully recommend you take advantage of - if you've had enough of those computer crashers thinking they're all that, then your solution is here. No joke.

                            On the other hand, I walked down a street where the houses were numbered 64K, 128K, 256K, 512K and 1MB. That was a trip down memory lane...

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                            • weebly.com / Internet Site / 103 Readings / 97 Ratings
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                              15.03.2010 11:26
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                              Weebly put it how it is: web creation made easy

                              Websites are wonderful. I love them, and with the Internet becoming an ever more reliable source of information and answers, providing ways to interact with others all over the world, more and more people are looking at creating their own sites. At this point you may be thinking, "What?! No! I could never do that!". Indeed, some may not realise that publishing your own website, in one form or another, is a lot easier than often made out to be. Now, I'm not here to give you a template similar to the likes of the BBC website (wouldn't want that anyway, half of it would be empty rather soonish...), but what I do have is an online tool that will set you on your way. It provides you with massive potential from absolutely nothing, and having to give absolutely nothing. What is it? It's, um, Weebly.

                              Yes, Weebly. Not the most formal of names, but don't let that put you off, really. Weebly is basically an online service that allows you to create and publish your own website, to use for whatever you like (to a certain extent, ahem), from creating portfolios to planning or reviewing entire weddings; there really is that much potential. I'm going to be putting its slogan to the test; 'web creation made easy'. If it were that easy then I'd have a website to show you by the end of this review, surely? Well, we shall just have to wait and see... Before we can do anything though, we need to register.

                              Being an online service it's not like you have to install anything, though the most 'conventional' browsers, as it were, work best. Internet Explorer works well of course, whilst I use Firefox and shall be throughout this review. I've tried using Safari (for Windows) before but have found some elements in the editing process don't work so well, but it may work differently on a Mac platform. I was unable to find any minimum requirements online, which is rather annoying, though regardless of your operating system you just need a compatible browser.

                              Registration is quick and easy, requiring you to fill in three basic fields, which you do from the home page in fact. After completing a quick captcha (those security things that make sure you're not evil), you're straight into choosing a title for your website. Yes, it really was that simple.

                              Picking a name is undoubtedly a tough task. My parents, for example, each had a different idea for a name for me, so ended up putting those two names into the middle and sticking 'Alex' in front of them. However; it's not quite like a birth certificate with your website, and you can go back and change it (not after 16 years either) whenever you like, certainly very useful for the indecisive like myself.

                              The next step is picking a domain, the address that will undoubtedly soon become famous worldwide. No? Oh thee of little faith. You've got three options, the first being to use a Weebly sub-domain (example.weebly.com), which is entirely free. It's also adjustable, which I think is a fantastic privilege. Alternatively you can set up your own domain (example.com, .net, or .org) through Weebly, which costs money of course. Finally you can use your own domain if you happen to already have one. I'm going to use a free URL redirection service, which will give me a slightly more professional looking domain whilst still keeping the pennies in my pocket, though I'll still need to use the sub-domain for now. Once you've done that, your editor will load up - this is where the fun begins!

                              The editor may take a few seconds to load first time round as there are quite a few bits and bobs to set up for you. Once loaded you'll see that Weebly has been to work already, providing you with a basic default design, and titled the site according to the, well, title, that you already gave it - earlier, remember? Don't worry about it.

                              If you treat Weebly as software (it's not, but I'm trying to get you to think like that) then this is the editor part of the programme. You'll see a 'close' button top right of the page which will take you to your main account interface. We'll look at that interface later, but for now it's all about the editing.

                              Your editor screen is made up of three sections, all separated horizontally. At the top you have your four main tabs, as well as options for publishing and seeking help. Under this bar is your main toolbar, where you have all your main editing features. This toolbar features separate options for three of the four tabs, splitting up the options further through the use of sub-categories that work well in keeping navigation through the editor a simple task. Finally you have your main body, which is where most of the work goes on. This shows you each page and allows you to see what's going on with the pages as you make changes. There's absolutely no code required (code is what makes up websites - just right-click on this review and select 'view page source'), only if you wish to fiddle around with the designs.

                              On your first flurry of editing you will be met with some fun little pointers which help you on your way, albeit rather minimally. I say this because they're just one-liners (no, not jokes) that whilst helping the first-time users somewhat, could still do with development. If, like me, you click through all the tabs rather quickly to have a merry look around, in a similar fashion to how you do when you go on a family holiday and search out the best bedroom in the house, then these pointers will disappear forever. Once they've been displayed once, they never seem to return again. However, it's not the end of the world, or the end of the Weeble... The fact of the matter remains - it's so, so simple, that a drawing of a person could probably make a decent effort using it - and that person is not even real (because they're a drawing).

                              It's the drag-and-drop that works so effectively for me. The first tab is 'Elements', where you have sections of features from 'basic' to 'revenue'. So you want some sort of title, a paragraph to introduce the website, and maybe a nice warming picture or photo, yeah? There's an element for that (oh dear, I sound like that Apple advert guy). As well as the individual elements you are also provided with bundles (now I sound like the Carphone Warehouse guy) to save you time, such as 'paragraph with picture'. You drag the element from the toolbar onto the page; then it's a simple case of filling in the fields and clicking elsewhere on the page to save. Every single element saves individually, so you can only ever lose however much text you have in one field, for example. Saving takes milliseconds, and once saved elements can only be lost should you decide to give them the chop. As for that picture I wanted - it's simplicity defined once again. You pick your pic, wait for the upload and quick virus scan (not that it doesn't trust you or anything) and then it's there, safe as houses. You've then got a whole array of further options for your images such as alignment and bordering, captions, links, as well as alternate text - useful if your image doesn't load for whatever reason, and providing that professional edge to your site at the same time.

                              There are far too many elements to review individually, but some are of real quality. The photo gallery is fantastic and really customisable, with a professional look that really does stand out and shine with class (yes, I love it). Uploading is simple as is the editing process, and the latest changes to the site have seen the availability of captions and improved navigation through galleries for users. You can easily add YouTube videos, and there's the option to add elements through the use of HTML, for the more adventurous users out there. Contact Forms are another recently updated feature, with shed-loads of customisation available and response reviewing easier than ever.

                              So you may have written a little introduction, and put in a nice little picture of yourself, but you might not like the default white and green design (not saying anything against Dooyoo...), so head into the designs tab. One of the great things about Weebly is that there is a massive range of designs to pick from - that is, massive for a service such as this, when you consider that these are all free to use. One of the not-so great things about Weebly is that most of these designs are repulsive. There a few needles in the crap-stack though; you can mouse-over any design to preview it in the main body which is a nice touch, then simply select to put into permanent use. You also have effective design options which allow you to adjust default fonts for titles and links etc, as well as adjusting the colour of links; new, visited, or just hovering. You may also notice on some of these themes that there are header images of things completely irrelevant to what your site is about - these can be easily changed however, though you'll need an image that fits the resolution suitably, so be prepared to do some editing externally beforehand. You should also note that whilst Weebly promise not to advertise on your site (well, unless you choose to yourself), they do place 'Create a free website with Weebly', with links, at the bottom of each of your pages. This is compulsory if you have a free account with Weebly, and whilst a very appealing 'Remove' button sits next to the text in the editor, this only takes you to a 'sign up' screen - in other words, hand over the dosh. I'll talk a little more about the benefits of forking out later. As for the link, I don't find it much of an annoyance, it's certainly not intrusive.

                              As most websites have more than one page (well, hopefully), you'll want to create a few more. The 'Pages' tab is where you'll find the solution to all your page needs, and it really doesn't get any harder here. The interface is nice and clear, though you may want to refer to the help section about how best to use it structurally for more complex websites. You can group pages together by using the drag-and-drop feature (I love drag-and-drop!), and the 'show in navigation' options allow you to configure your main navigation bar, as well as create drop-down menus also. It's really easy to use and requires very little 'getting-to-know-it' - it's so simple! As well as the option to create new pages, you can create new blogs. The blog is a blog (yup), acting far more as a 'live' section to your site, with posts dated and having the option for comments also. One annoyance is the way in which users have to post comments on your published blog, with the blog posts lacking an actual 'comment' link, rather requiring you to go into 'comments' and post in the form below, or by going into the individual blog entry. This applies even if there are no comments, quite an annoying annoyance for me simply because it could so easily be resolved! You have new elements to add to your blog within the editor, with various useful features including a Twitter badge for all you twits; tweeters sorry, out there, as well a few other social networking links to add. This allows you to add an extra sense of interactivity to your blog and it all ties in with the professional theme that you can easily run throughout the site. That is, should you wish to.

                              Your fourth and final tab is 'Settings', which opens as an internal pop-up within the interface. Here you have basic options for changing your site address and title, and yet another useful feature, SEO; Search Engine Optimisation. This is what (hopefully) gets people onto your website. Basically, when you Google a Google (for instance), it uses the keywords that you've Googled and runs it across its vast database of keywords. These keywords are known as meta-keywords, and are what you can enter in this settings section. Websites won't automatically be indexed by Google (added straight into their database), but you can do this manually yourself if you'd like. You also enter a site description, which search engines and browsers alike will use. You have basic e-commerce settings which you only need to worry about should you be making use of the 'revenue' features, as well as options to un-publish published sites, or download them in a big old zip file - I don't see the need, personally.

                              That's the editor, but like I said, it retreats into the main interface should you close it. The main reason for this interface is your account settings. Here you can manage multiple sites (you can have a maximum of two as a free user), as well as manage your standard account settings. Site management includes a useful little feature which is 'site statistics'. This shows you how many visits you've had each day, including 'unique visitors', a useful feature which allows you to ensure that your website is actually drawing some attention, hopefully. Also on the page is the day's featured site; not always the most interesting of choices, but different, if not. You've also got the Weebly Blog, which keeps you filled in on new features and competitions etc. Finally you have an odd little 'To-Do List', which is a list which ultimately leads up to Weebly begging you to buy their pro account. So what exactly are they offering?

                              Well, you basically get to 'unlock' things - sounds like an old GameBoy game. Several elements are limited to the Pro Account such as sound and video players (just embed your own!), as well as the ability to embed documents. Other features include password protecting certain pages, removing that not-so annoying piece of advertising from the bottom of your pages, and creating a favicon (an icon) for your website. File uploads get upgraded from 5mb to 100mb, whilst your limit of 2 websites is expanded to 10. The price? Well it varies depending on how long you commit to, but for two years it is just over 70 dollars, which is nearing 50 pounds. Is it worth it? It really boils down to your needs, but for me, no.

                              In terms of performance, it does have its downsides. Most of the time it's quick and very efficient, though it has been subject to several server attacks throughout my time of using it (coming up to two years I think). This results in websites being inaccessible - definitely not good. They have promised, however, that they've invested in new technology to ensure it doesn't happen again. Jolly well hope so.

                              Now of course there is loads more to this service than the areas that I've lightly covered, but this is not an in-depth tutorial and was never meant to be. Rather, I've hopefully been able to give you a small insight into the potential that this service provides. I'd probably have to create a whole website if I wanted to run through every individual element available. What I loved doing when I first started using this package was exploring it; messing about with features and reading up on things I was less knowledgeable on. The Help section acts a superb reference for both first-time and long-term users, with FAQs and step-by-step tutorials.

                              Overall, I can't really question the quality that is present here too much. It's just such a fantastic service, and writing this review has made me realise that fact all the more. I run a website on no budget whatsoever, and have tried so many alternatives both before and during my time with Weebly; but none have compared. Weebly doesn't sound great, and at times I wonder why I ever considered it all. I'm so glad I did though. When you consider what you get from this service for absolutely nothing it's quite incredible. Every single element and design layout and page is rendered for you - there is so little effort on your part; that's what amazes me. Will Weebly win when weaving websites?

                              Well, I hadn't forgotten, don't worry. The last step of course is publishing your site! Hit the publish button in your editing interface and your site will be online within seconds (note that these seconds may turn into minutes with much larger sites), drawing in thousands within seconds, surely? Well, maybe one or two. You can have a look at what I've made in the time I've been writing this review by heading to:

                              http://allaboutalex.co.nr

                              Note: This website was made as I went along writing this review, purely as an example for readers of the review to refer to. It is not the website I've been managing for nearly two years. If it was it would be most embarrassing...

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                              • WinRAR / Utility / 94 Readings / 89 Ratings
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                                09.03.2010 11:34
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                                A great piece of software that can make file management and sharing a whole lot easier

                                I suppose I should firstly clear up that I'm not reviewing a really bad cover of Lady Gaga's 'Bad Romance'. No, no, why would I do that? Instead, I'm looking at something that we have more issues with in life than one may first think, both in the 'real world' and online. For as quality gets greater, as do the file sizes, unfortunately. This can make accessibility an issue, as well as making online sharing nearing impossible. As Adidas once boldly said however, 'Impossible Is Nothing'. We all know that's a load of rhubarb, but as I said, this is addressing the nearly impossible, so on with the review!

                                WinRar is a piece of file compression software for Windows users (if it were called MacRar then I'm sure it'd be compatible with Mac. As it is, it's not). File compression may well mean nothing to you, so I'll explain in the most non-technical way I can. Now, it's basically what it sounds like, which is file compression; making the files smaller, squeezing them down or in as it were. Say you had a big old chair that you were sending to your uncle in Glasgow. If you were to send this in a big square box that fitted around it, then great; but it's bigger than it needs to be. If you were to send it in a big chair-shaped box, then even better; it's the smallest it can be, but it's still all there. Likewise when you have several items; if you're going on holiday it's an essential skill to be able to cram as many clothes into that suitcase as you can. Imagine if you could get someone to do that cramming for you. Shame, you can't.

                                Online though, and you can, with WinRar - hurrah (or should that be hurrar?)! I'll get quite a controversial issue out of the way with this now, which is cost. Do you have to pay for it? Yes, you do - 29 dollars (about 20 pounds). Upon downloading the 40-day trial version you'll read, on several occasions in fact, 'Anyone may use this software during a test period of 40 days. Following this test period of 40 days or less, if you wish to continue to use WinRAR, you must purchase a license'. If you continue to use the software after this period then you'll be met with a reminder dialogue box each time you use the programme, telling you that you'll need to purchase the software. So yes, as it's not free, you do have to pay for it.

                                If WinRar has wonyar over so far then you'll want to download it, which you can do easily enough from various online sources (make sure you get a genuine source though, download.com's recommended). At 1.4mb, it'll be downloaded quicker than the probably not-so funny photo that you've been forwarded by a 'mate' and that's still loading in your other tab, so on with the welcome distraction of installation!

                                Unconventional springs to mind, for it is like no other installer. Everything is placed into this one window, with three basic options included. I'd take a quick read of EULA (user license agreement) simply because of what I mentioned earlier about paying for this product. Hit 'install' and if you blink you shall miss it, though there's not much to miss; it's not exactly a performance, as such. You won't miss the next window though, with its vast range of diverse file formats that I'm sure half of which are made up... As ever though, defaults are good and you can safely select 'OK' without too much hesitation. On the final window you have another reminder about the license as well as some useful links and a very healthy looking help section to get you on your way. Select done, and you're done. Done.

                                Whether WinRar just likes to be unique I don't know, but unconventionally once more it continues, as it takes you to its new Start Menu folder. Seriously? Most odd. One shall not dwell though; open up WinRar and take in its ever so stylish interface.

                                I know appearance isn't everything, but it's fair to say that a little effort goes a long way. There's very, very little effort in terms of style, class, general representation; it's all quite poor. Conventional does mean, however, that you have your usual menu bar at the top of the screen, with various options and features tidied away nicely, albeit lacking a 'View' menu, options for which have to be hunted out within the options. Below the menu bar is the main toolbar, on which you'll notice (you'd do well not to) some very oversized buttons for various features. It wouldn't be so bad, but the graphics on these buttons are just horrendous, simply because it looks like effort has been put into making them, and yet they're still awful. If you adjust the settings to make these buttons smaller however, they change all together, with new graphics that somehow look even worse. So it's your call on that one. Text is displayed under the buttons to make clear what each is for (apparently the enormous buttons don't illustrate in enough detail, making them all the more pointless), as well as mouse-over texts which expand ever so slightly on the already present text.

                                Now your main body is basically a Windows Explorer folder, in that it lists all files and folders within a folder, along with details of the size, type, and last date of modification. As with Windows Explorer you can easily choose how you wish to sort your files and folders according to these values, and basic navigation in finding your way to what you're looking for is straightforward and not over-complicated in the slightest. You also have a useful address bar under the main toolbar which acts as a further guide. Double-clicking any of the items simply opens them, which acts as a useful way of ensuring you have the right file or folder before you start compressing them.

                                Before you set about archiving there is a useful feature which displays compression potential for files. Some files simply have no potential at all because of the format they are are and they way they're constructed, but you'll easily be able to see from the data that is presented.

                                To archive (that is, compress) your files and folders, first simply select your targets as you would in Windows Explorer and then select 'Add' (that's the big stack of books that are sealed up). A window titled 'Archive name and parameters' will display, and at first it will seem like there's loads to do, but most of this is unnecessary for basic archiving. Firstly you'll need to select a name (by default, the first original file name will be used) and a destination folder (again, by default this will be where the original file was placed). Still with me? Hope so!

                                Now that really is largely it, but there are a bundle of other options at your disposal. One option is to password protect your archive so that its entire contents can only be accessed once the password has been submitted. This is useful for if very personal or private data that is being shared as it means that should the file somehow fall into the wrong hands, they'll have to crack your hopefully not-so predictable password first. There's loads of other useful features included such as shut down upon completion, which is especially handy for those HD Video archives you may be wanting to make. If you genuinely intend to archive your archive then comments can be helpful too, as a reminder to exactly what it is you've buried away in this folder that's hidden away in your documents.

                                The archiving process itself can take from a matter of milliseconds to a matter of hours, depending on the files you're archiving and the options you make. Compression speeds are adjustable, with the quickest options compressing the least effectively right down to not at all (i.e. you could still fit several pairs of flip flops in that suitcase), whilst the best and slowest options will do the job much more thoroughly (i.e. the suitcase may well explode when you open it).

                                As you are archiving you'll face a 'creating archive' box window, which displays statistics of progress on your file(s) and folder(s) very well indeed. Details are kept simple yet you can clearly see the process as it's taking place through the use of two progress bars; the first detailing the individual files and folders that are being added to the archive, the second detailing the progress for the archive as a whole. You can pause the process at any time, as well as setting it go into the 'background', which minimises it to the system tray whilst you do whatever else you want to do (Dooyoo?). You can even change the speed mode during the process if you're not happy with proceedings, as well as being able to set the computer to shut down if you've realised that it's going to take a little while longer than anticipated. Upon completion you'll hear a thud (well, 'that' Windows sound) and that's about it. No essay detailing the whole affair or anything like that. Simple and to the point.

                                So you're probably wondering about results, whether it actually makes that much of a difference. It varies on the file type, but on the whole it can make a significant difference, especially if it's several files that you're archiving. Saying that, it barely made a difference to a photo album that was at 300mb, knocking just one of those out, whilst a smaller folder of minute mp3 files totalling at 620kb was reduced to under 500kb. As for archive performance the speeds aren't the very quickest, but the compression is renowned (statistics show that compression is significantly better than the Zip format), so I don't mind waiting a second extra or so! I found that memory was certainly not being sapped from my system as usage never peaked 35k during an archiving, dropping back down to below half that upon completion. Finally, in terms of updating the software I was unable to find an internal means to do so. From this I assume one has to update manually via the website, though updates are rare so it's not too much of an issue.

                                Overall, I think that this piece of software is ideal for any user looking to pack their files and folders up for whatever purpose. If you're looking to send numerous files via email then you can easily group them all together in one universal file using this tool, rather than sending them individually, not to mention the space saved. Password protection means that you can build folders that are accessible only by you and people of your choice, ensuring your privacy always comes first. Whilst cost is an issue you cannot take too much away from a product that offers such a simple service, whilst still keeping everything in consideration. It can be a very useful product indeed, though whether I'd write a song about it - that's another story...

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                                • OpenOffice / Office Software / 98 Readings / 93 Ratings
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                                  04.03.2010 12:39
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                                  An outrageously outstanding packed-package of office software!

                                  //Foreword//

                                  Please note that this office suite is practically five products in one, so this review is likely to be quite long. For that reason I'll be adopting more of a structured review style, you could say. I just thought I'd give you a heads-up about the headings...

                                  //Introduction//

                                  If you write reviews, type up essays for work or school (or enjoyment...), or occasionally send out one of those long emails to far-away relatives, then the chances are that you use either Microsoft Office or OpenOffice.org (AKA OOo - ooooh!). If at this point you're thinking to yourself, 'No, I use Notepad', then I'm very sorry for you. Your pain need last no longer. If you're just thinking, 'yes, I use Microsoft Office, what are you trying to say?', then I'm trying to say that there's an alternative out there! Not your everyday alternative either; it's got it all (pretty much), it's well and truly professional, and the main selling point: well, that's just it, they're not selling it - they're giving it away for free. Open for all, it's Open Office everybody!

                                  OOo claims to be the leading open-source (free) office software suite. It's not just your core suite either; could say it comes with its own en suite if anything. As well as software for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, it also includes programmes for graphics and databases. It's completely free: within the package you get all the individual programmes with absolutely no limitations or any type of trial period. The most that OpenOffice will ever do is ask you to donate upon downloading, which is a more than reasonable request considering what they're offering. Interested? Best check you fit the bill first.

                                  //Suitability//

                                  OpenOffice is superb in the respect that it is so widely available and open for all users. To be able to fulfil this statement of equality they must cater for all major operating systems; they do. Windows, Mac and Linux are all supported, as well as Solaris. You should check the version requirements before attempting to install (or bothering to download), as in some cases it is only the newer versions that are covered. Saying that, I was surprised to see that Windows 7 is not yet supported, and whilst I'm sure that this is a working progress it was still an unpleasant surprise. Java is also required, but if you've not got it or are outdated then Open Office will do the honours of setting it up for you. You'll need to give up 650mb for default install on a Windows machine, though after installation and removal of temporary files this should go down to about 450mb. Mac users will be pleased to see that they require much less all together, having to sacrifice just 400mb. Yeah, yeah, congratulations. Anyway, hopefully it's good news so far, so on with installation! That is, hopefully.

                                  //Downloading and Installation//

                                  Before you can install you will have get a chunky 150mb installation file on your computer. You can download this directly from the OpenOffice website, which will take a good few minutes depending on your Internet connection. Alternatively, you can get a CD from one of Open Office's external distributors. This will however, set you back about £6 including delivery; so if you can afford to wait for the download, then you needn't afford the cost of that CD.

                                  Installation is simple but takes, understandably, a bit longer than your everyday piece of freeware. You'll notice that OpenOffice will ask where it can unpack its contents; that's basically put its toolbox somewhere whilst it's setting up for you. You'll be able to delete (or remove, as it were) this afterwards. Unpacking takes about thirty seconds - there's lots of tools, you see. You'll be asked for a user name, but apart from that it's all rather similar to any other installation. The set-up process itself takes about a minute, perhaps slightly longer depending on your machine. Upon completion you'll be met with a friendly online 'thank you' from OpenOffice, and a very brief introduction to the service as a whole. That's nice, isn't it? Back to the set-up wizard and it's just a case of hitting 'finish', upon which the programme will not automatically run. OpenOffice will, however, kindly put an icon on your desktop without an option. I'm picky, so this annoys me, though if they're not going to launch automatically from finish then I suppose this is useful for getting you on your way. So, on your way!

                                  //Meeting OpenOffice.org//

                                  Opening the OpenOffice link will take you to the 'Home Page' of the suite if you like, allowing you to easily choose from any of the six programmes as well as being able to access other options. You may find that initial load-up is quite slow; I say slow, rather just not quite as quick as Microsoft Office. Whilst this again, depends on your machine, I do find Office to be quicker at loading from 'dead' (first load-up). The layout of this main interface is kept simple, which is good, as I really would be put off if they were to try to go too crazy with the colour scheme or graphics. As it is, you'll be met with a pleasant white/blue colour scheme, and a rather elaborate office-style graphic.

                                  By default you'll also have a 'Quickstarter' that launches upon your computer's load-up. This speeds up the loading process, though will undoubtedly slow down start-up speeds for your computer overall, so it's up to you whether you stick with it. I don't, personally. If you'd like to stop OpenOffice from inviting itself in to your computer on load-up then you can right-click on the icon in your system tray, and untick the 'Load OpenOffice.org 3.2 Quickstarter'. Alternatively, head into the options within the programme itself.

                                  So you're in, let's see just what you've got in this package of wonders!

                                  //OpenOffice.org Writer//

                                  Ah, it's good to be back in OOo; I had to use Wordpad whilst I reinstalled OOo for this review! It's nice to be home. Why? Simply, because it is such quality. Now, if we're to compare it to Microsoft Word for instance, then there really is very little in it, apart from one very noticeable difference. OpenOffice looks like Word 2003; very much not like 2007, let alone the wonders that are probably forthcoming in the new 2010 version. It's a grey/silver design, and it's just not attractive. If you can see through this, however, then you'll notice very little that's lacking.

                                  I won't run through the features because all that you'd expect to find in a good word processor is present. It's more a case of accustoming yourself to the perhaps unfamiliar design and layout, as some features may be tidied away differently to Microsoft Word. Icons along the toolbars are clear and very user-friendly, illustrating what they are used for, with supporting mouse-over text immediately displayed if you're unsure. You also have easily customisable page viewing settings towards the bottom right, with page form and a zoom scroller both effective tools.

                                  It's those extras that make the difference though, and that's what you miss out on here. Image formatting is minimal in terms of effects, whilst ClipArt is non-existent. The usability factor is also something that lacks somewhat in OOo, with basic accessibility frustrating at times. For example, heading into the 'Gallery' of repulsive and useless graphics, you want to close it quickly before throwing up. However, there's no close button! It's ridiculous; you have head back into Tools, and select 'Gallery' once more to bid it good riddance. Annoying, to say the least.

                                  It's quite a customisable product though, with toolbar adjustment readily available to users. It's a relatively easy process, simply requiring you to pick the toolbar to customise, then the feature you wish to add. The features are categorised and some can take a while to find. I managed to add 'Word Count' (it's not in screen by default, as with Word) within about a minute of searching - it's a bit of trial and error really, as the categories aren't all that clear. Needless to say, customisability is certainly a plus.

                                  //OpenOffice.org Calc//

                                  This is your 'Excel' (Microsoft Office's equivalent) of OpenOffice. Does it excel? Yes. Yes it does. In case you don't know, Calc/Excel is basically spreadsheet software in which you can record data in various means and use formulae to calculate things that no human brain could ever possibly dream about working out.

                                  Once again lacking the cutting edge finish and design that Excel boasts, Calc still looks the part with its array of features filed along the top toolbar, and clear main body. It works even more similarly to Excel than Writer does against Word. It's incredibly easy to get to grips with for users that have used spreadsheets before, whilst the Help section is a good reference for those that may be unfamiliar with its layout.

                                  You may be thinking that this is completely pointless for you as you hate Maths, don't go to school and simply have no need for this sort of software. There's loads of potential though, from managing finances to making sure you're getting paid correctly at work! Using basic formulae I was easily able to keep a record of the hours I was doing at work to calculate how much I should be getting paid against how much I was getting paid. Let me say now, this software has actually earned me money! I didn't even pay for it. Splendid.

                                  Does it really match up to Excel though? On the most part, yes. All your standard features are there, including freeze panes for easier navigation through worksheets, all your basic text and cell formatting; everything you'd expect to be present is indeed, in attendance. The graphs aren't that bad either. Of course, they don't quite meet the standard of Microsoft's glossy and expansive charts that can actually sometimes be mistaken for works of art. However, they represent the data clearly and as you would like it to, so you really can't complain.

                                  //OpenOffice.org Impress//

                                  No actually, this isn't a badly worded conclusion. Not just yet, anyway. This is the presentation programme. Unfortunately, this is where the lack of a cost becomes somewhat more noticeable.

                                  Before you can do anything you run into a wizard, who is here to help you. Unfortunately he has little to offer, and you'd be forgiven for doing your best to completely disregard him in every way. Firstly, you'll be asked how you wish to create your presentation; you choose from an empty presentation, or making one from template. Should you head into templates you may get confused. That is because there are two templates to choose from. Looking at them (briefly, very briefly), I'd say he'd have been just as effective asking you if you were male or female. There is hope, however! A quick Google search should find you an online templates saviour, and I found I was quickly able to download and put a selected template into place. Phew.

                                  Next step is backgrounds. Do not view them, and select next - trust me on this one. Thirdly and finally we have something beneficial, which is slide transition settings. From here you can quickly set up effects to happen when slides advance, as well as sorting out timings. I can't complain about the effects, there's plenty available and there's only a certain amount of eccentricity that you can add to a transition. Not that they'd go that far anyway.

                                  Hit 'Create' and you'll be met with a much finer looking interface. It's to be admired, actually. Your right-hand sidebar provides convenient access to slide layouts, table designs, as well as editing slide transitions and setting up custom animation for your slide elements. These animation options are versatile and have a good range available, showing that OOo are certainly keeping up with PowerPoint (that's Microsoft's version) in some respects.

                                  I have to say that if you manage to sort out those templates from the off then there's little you can go wrong with using this programme. You might not have thought it initially, but you may actually impress with Impress! Sorry. Moving on...

                                  //OpenOffice.org Draw//

                                  For me, this is where it gets a little confusing. I don't use this feature, but had a mess around with it and did a little research into what exactly it offered. I've found that it's basically offering what Word incorporate into their programme anyway; that's development of things like flow charts and diagrams, and editing of graphics. OpenOffice actually claim that 'a Draw image is worth a thousand words'. Wow.

                                  However, maybe I shouldn't have been so assumptive. It's got some useful tools laid out for you, but I think it's just a case of experimenting until you get the hand of it. There's no wizard present here (he must have got upset with me for rejecting him earlier...), so you're on your own. You can develop some useful diagrams though, with a range of tools on toolbars at the top and bottom of the interface to get you on your way.

                                  You can also edit graphics to a certain degree, but by no means should it be treated like a photo manager. I did come across a couple of interesting effects though, including 'convert to polygon', which resulted in quite an impressive finished product.

                                  Whilst I'd liked to have seen some of these features more readily available within the 'Writer', it's still a useful little programme, and anything you do develop can be easily passed across to your other documents, since it's all in the same package. Can't beat convenience.

                                  //OpenOffice.org Base//

                                  I'm really not an avid user of this part of product, since I simply have no use for it at all. I've used Microsoft's 'Access' before though, so I know the sort of standard that is being set. Once again, it's good news!

                                  Our wizard is back, but he must still be upset because he's not actually very useful at all to begin with, providing you with just a couple of options that weren't much help at all, merely starters. He does pop back whilst you're using the programme though, and is significantly more assisting in guiding you on your way.

                                  The programme itself provides all the key features to database software, and rivals Access well right up until you get to what can be quite important - the forms. The designs are inevitably awful and also rather limited. I did a quick search on Google once more, in hope that another blessed person had kindly uploaded something more easy on the eye. However, these templates seem a little harder to get hold of.

                                  My advice is that if you need this software for databasing then go for it. However; if you need to produce some professional looking reports from these databases, then certainly don't count on Base to do it for you.

                                  //Other bits and bobs//

                                  As if those five programmes weren't enough, OOo offers yet more services within its package of good will. One other programme on offer is 'Math'. This may initially look like a dream piece of software for anyone looking to offload their ridiculously complex equations to a piece of software that can do it for you. Unfortunately it is not that. Rather, it is used as an equation editor for documents, a useful feature if you happen to be in this department. On trying it out however, I found it difficult to actually transfer the finished formula to a document, again highlighting some of the usability issues within this package.

                                  Other useful features included in the package include the ability to create labels and business cards. These use similar tools to those in the 'Draw' programme, and whilst being rather simple, still act as a useful tool for simple and quick development. There are also a growing number of extensions being developed for OOo, which you should look into depending on what it is you use software like this for.

                                  //Saving and File Formats//

                                  You may be sceptical to venture into this new office suite because you already have so many documents developed in Microsoft Word or Excel etc., that you still need to access on a regular basis. This isn't a problem though, as OOo handles formats well, especially since the release of its latest version. As well as supporting the latest Microsoft file formats (such as docx, xlsx etc.), it also caters for other recognised formats such as being able to export to PDF and HTML. Being constructed differently however, you may find that files developed in Microsoft Office that include templates and graphics don't transfer over quite so smoothly as documents which simply include text. This is understandable, but still something that I think could do with being worked on.

                                  By default Open Office will save files in its own format, ODT. I don't use this format unless I need to password protect files (which can only be done in ODT), and opt to keep to the classic Microsoft Office format for now (doc, xls etc.). You can easily alter the default by heading into the options, from which you can change other defaults such as the font. Got to love Tahoma.

                                  //Usability//

                                  Being such a big package you wouldn't be surprised to hear that this likes to eat up your memory for fun. You would be surprised however, to be informed that it doesn't. Indeed, it doesn't. Most of the time the memory usage should be limited to below 50k, but it really does depend on usage. I'm currently peaking 100k (that is, OOo is peaking 100k - I've not suddenly started climbing a big mountain, don't worry), but that is largely down to the fact that I've been using each element of this package in the space of about three hours!

                                  In terms of updating, OOo will check by default on a weekly basis for any updates. You'll see a download icon towards the top right-hand corner of the interface when any updates are available. I've found that when trying to update manually however, it quite often fails, so perhaps it's better to leave it to do it its own way.

                                  //To Conclude//

                                  Overall, I think this package is quite remarkable really. You might be shocked reading that statement after I've slated it so much, but you really do have to consider the fact that this is absolutely free. Microsoft's core package alone will set you back in the region of £50, and there's only 3 or 4 products within that. Of course, you pay extra for quality in most cases and indeed, that is clearly evident in some aspects of OpenOffice. However, you can't help but admire the quality of this suite a lot of the time. It's full of, at the very least, the basic elements that will get you on your way with any document. Each programme within the package seems capable of supporting another in some shape or form, and they generally coincide well. This is a package that continues to impress me, and I really do recommend you to give it a try-out, especially if you're considering a purchase of Microsoft Office. To put it simply: never has an open-source product been of such depth, and such quality.

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