Every so often I will discuss terminology that might not seem relevant to someone who’s just trying to get their cell phone to work or open files on their computer. I do so somewhat selfishly, as a reminder to myself of important concepts that have played a part in my career and that are likely to do so again. And while these terms may not seem immediately relevant to you, you may someday find yourself in a decision-making position where this knowledge proves critical.

Today’s example: Ever watch a software demonstration where the product performed amazingly well on a mediocre machine? The company powers-that-be ate it up hook, line and sinker. They bought the product and a bigger, faster machine on which to run it. They installed it, loaded production data and guess what happened? That faster-than-a-bat-out-of-hell product they saw at the demo ran more slowly than the thickest molasses. Why?

The answer involves a concept called scalability. Scalability is a product’s ability to perform consistently regardless of the volume of data processed. Let’s say the demo you witnessed processed was a billing system. You witnessed the input of ten invoices; each invoice took 30 seconds. Assuming the invoice content was similar to that of your business, you might think your normal load of 100 invoices would take 50 minutes, maybe an hour. But it takes two hours instead, and only gets worse over time.  It’s unfair to call it “not scalable” without comparing it with its competitors. But it’s clearly disappointing.

If you’re ever in the situation of evaluating software for purchase, you need more information than a demonstration can provide. You need to learn if that dazzling performance holds up in the real world. Ask the representative for benchmark test results. Check reviews. Ask users. Your investigation may reveal that the performance you experience is the most “scalable” available. Even if that’s so, you’ll have a more realistic idea of how your new software affects your processing time than if you had let yourself be wowed by that out-of-sight demo.

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32-bit or 64-bit: That is the question

“Which Office 2010 should I install, 32-bit or 64-bit?” I’m not going to answer that here. Well, almost not. I realized that you may or may not have a choice. If you look at your computer’s Properties page and don’t see a phrase like “64-bit Operating System,” this whole debate is for naught. You MUST install 32-bit Office. However, most new computers that I see on retail shelves are 64-bit these days, so it’s a valid question for many.

Why should you care which is which? The quoted bit size refers to the largest “chunk” of information a computer can process at once. So a 64-bit operating system can process bigger chunks than a 32-bit operating system. This also means that a 64-bit operating system can manage larger amounts of memory than a 32-bit operating system. So you get bigger chunks processed and more of them loaded into memory. That should result in fewer trips to the hard disk for new content which should mean faster performance. To learn more about 32-bit and 64-bit Windows, visit

The prevailing wisdom says to install 32-bit Office. There’s some logic to that. It will run on most Windows systems and is probably safest for mixed environments, places where not every computer is 64-bit capable. However, because I could, I installed the 64-bit version, and am mostly satisfied. However, there are a few observations I’d like to share:

  • Installation requires effort. Not much, but the default installation is the 32-bit version. That’s most likely because it will run with any supported Windows installation (like I already said). So if you insert the Office 2010 DVD and expect the automated startup to give you a choice of 32-bit or 64-bit, prepare to be disappointed. You’ll get a 32-bit install every time.

To install the 64-bit version, exit the automated setup and start Windows Explorer. Click the Office 2010 DVD. Click the “64-bit” folder. Double-click “setup” or “setup.exe.” That will start the installation of 64-bit Office 2010.

  • Memeo backup programs want 32-bit Outlook. I mean the free backup software that comes with many external hard drives. It seems to be hard-wired to find 32-bit mail applications, and issues an error message when it doesn’t. I don’t think that’s a show-stopper as far as backup goes, but it interferes with Memeo’s attempts to sell commercial products, including a 64-bit backup program that should address this issue. I have not confirmed this, I’m too cheap. Have you?

    It’s often true that if one program behaves in a certain way, so do others. I haven’t found any yet. Again, have you?

  • Office updates fail. Microsoft Update usually works great. But there are a few Office 2010 updates for which it seems to default to the 32-bit versions, even when the update title says “64-bit.” How did I discover this? When I discover that an update has failed, my usual workaround is to check the update log for the Knowledge Base (KB) article, look up the article online, then download and install the file. However, using the article number by itself only gave me the 32-bit download. Hopefully a fix is in the works, but what I do for now is this: After obtaining the article number, I do a Google search that adds “+64-bit,” to the number, as in “KB982726+64-bit” which takes me to the 64-bit version. I download the file and install. It hasn’t failed me yet (knocks on wood).

Do you have something to say on which Office 2010 version you use and why? Drop us a line.

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Security Made Easier (a little)

Security is inconvenient. Whether it’s longer lines at the airport, access control on a network or antivirus software on a computer, security measures consume time and resources that we’d rather devote to other things. Unless, of course, you work in the security industry.

If you use Microsoft Windows, I’m going to make coping with a common security policy more convenient for you. If only I could do something similar for airport lines!

“Locking” a computer is the practice of hiding your work and disabling input until you re-enter your login credentials. Many employers require locking computers before you leave your desk. This is the most commonly taught way do so on a Windows computer:

  1. Hold down the Ctrl, Alt, and Del keys simultaneously.
  2. Click Lock Computer or Lock this computer. A message announces the computer is locked.

Two steps. Simple, right? But let’s break it down further.

  1. Press and hold down the Ctrl key.
  2. Do not release the Ctrl key. Press and hold down the Alt key.
  3. Do not release the Ctrl or Alt keys. Press and hold down the Del key. (This combination is often called the “three-fingered salute.” A window opens with options to lock the computer, change password, log off, shut down, or start Task Manager.
  4. Find and click Lock Computer or Lock this computer. A message announces the computer is locked.

You had to open the dialog with the “three-fingered salute,” find the mouse pointer, move it into position and click the locking button. It still sounds simple, but think about having to leave hurriedly for lunch or a meeting and nearly forgetting this chore. Which would be faster, the steps above, or this:

  1. Press and hold the Windows key.
  2. Press and release the “L” key. The system locks.
  3. Release the Windows key.

Two fingers and done. No mouse, no pointer. Which works faster? Which would you be more likely to use?

We’ll put more things like this in future posts. We’ll look for Macintosh equivalents as well.

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Welcome to GuidePosts

Welcome to GuidePosts, the Digital Tech Guide blog. I’m Philip Schawillie, and this is where I’ll be aharing my observations about the personal technology world.

As is noted elsewhere, I’ve been involved in the IT, technical writing, and personal technology worlds for roughly 20 years. Now I finally have a soapbox. And from this soapbox I plan to “tell it like it is,” at least to me. And I’ll also take time to explain some concepts that may make your interaction with technology easier. They may sound like old hat to veterans of this world. But if only clear up one person’s confusion with a particular post, I will consider my time well spent.

Today I will illustrate why I feel there is a need for what we do. I want all of you computers users to take a minute and think about this, “How many ways are there to start a program on my computer?” Don’t move on until you have an answer.

What did you get? I did this exercise on my Windows 7 laptop. Here, using Microsoft Word as an example, are some options:

  • Click the Start button. Click All Programs. Scroll (if necessary) to the Microsoft Word menu item and click.
  • Click the Start button. If Microsoft Word has been “pinned” on the menu, it displays as a large icon. Click that menu item.
  • Instead of accessing the Start menu with the mouse, press and release the Windows logo key. Use the arrow keys to find Word. Press Enter.
  • Instead of accessing the Start menu with the mouse, press and hold the Ctrl key. Press and release the Esc key. When the menu appears, release the Ctrl key. Use the arrow keys to start Word. (If you decide not to start a program, press the Esc key to clear the menu.)
  • If there is a Microsoft Word icon on the desktop (screen), double-click the icon.
  • If there is a Microsoft Word icon on the desktop (screen), right-click the icon. A “context” menu appears. Click Open.
  • If there is a Microsoft Word icon on the desktop (screen), right-click the icon. A “context” menu appears. Click Explore (Windows XP) or Open this location (Windows Vista or 7). The folder that contains the Microsoft Word application opens. Locate and double-click “winword.exe.”
  • In Windows Vista or 7, open the Start menu. Type “winword” in the Search field and press Enter. Under “Programs,” click “winword.”
  • Open the Start menu. Click “Run.” Type “winword.” Click OK. (This option may not be available on your system.)

How many options did you get? And which ones weren’t on the list? (I can think of two: using the Quick Launch bar in Windows XP and double-clicking a program icon that’s pinned to the taskbar.) The point of this list is not to overwhelm you with choices. It’s to illustrate that alternatives exist. So, for example, arthritis sufferers who find double-clicking a mouse button challenging can often use keystrokes to accomplish the same thing. As trainers, it’s our job to observe your needs and communicate options. It’s also our job to help you distinguish procedures that offer choices from those that do not. Then we work towards developing methods of personal technology use that match your unique style and point of view.

Our next post will offer a simple example of how to save yourself time when performing a common office security task. Stay tuned.

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