Monday, November 30, 2009

Half Price Christmas Sale

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This offer ends on Christmas Eve, so hurry to bag your Christmas bargain.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Windows Vs Karmic Koala

2009 has been a good year for operating systems, or at least the past few months have been. Mac's latest operating system, Snow Leopard was released just a couple of months ago and this week two of the best operating system ever devised are released: Windows 7 and Ubuntu's Karmic Koala.

Windows 7

Microsoft's new operating system has a lot to make up for, namely Vista and the lack of a decent Microsoft operating system for almost a decade.

The fact that the most used Microsoft operating system is still Windows XP, which was launched eight years ago, demonstrates just how tough a job selling Windows 7 is going to be for Microsoft, especially after the Vista disaster.

So what's new in Windows 7? Very little compared to Vista, indeed some critics are calling Windows 7, a Vista service pack or update. Certainly Windows 7 is the operating system that Vista should have been and there are some great improvements.

Performance

This is the important improvement for most people. Vista had a tendency to turn their fast PC into a slow coach, making the user experience a frustration for most people. These issues have been fixed in Windows 7 and the operating system is very nippy, even on netbooks. Yes, Windows 7 even works on netbooks, something that Vista could never do.

Windows 7 boots swiftly, the desktop effects work brilliantly, even on a low powered netbook, and the suspend/resume is almost instant. Performance wise, Windows 7 is a joy to use, it is brisk, even with many windows open and even on our netbook we never noticed any lag.

Taskbar

In Windows 7 Microsoft have altered the taskbar, no longer does it display the number of open windows, instead it just displays a single icon for each application, which, when hovered over, displays thumbnails of the open windows. You can also 'pin' applications to the taskbar, similar to the quick launch area of XP and Vista, and they glow a different colour when they have an application window open.

Initially the new taskbar seemed like a great idea, but this quickly becomes annoying when you have two or more firefox or explorer windows open and have to hover over the icon, and then the thumbnail, and then click it the thumbnail just to get the window you wanted; only to have it revert back to the previous window when you didn't click it hard enough or in the right place!

Gadgets and Themes

Windows 7 has gadgets similar to Vista, except they are no longer in a sidebar by default, instead floating on the desktop in a similar way to those on previous versions of Ubuntu.

Windows 7 now also supports themes, something that has been promised since XP. You can now alter your theme and download new themes. There are also country specific themes included, in the UK theme you get desktop backgrounds of places like Stonehenge, Tower Bridge and the White Cliffs of Dover.

Another great feature is the slideshow, which changes your desktop background automatically after a certain period. This is another feature that should have been available years ago, and it is great to be able to choose your own pictures and have the desktop change periodically. Previously third party applications were needed to do this, indeed they still are in Ubuntu.

Program Search

Although introduced in Vista, the program search in the start menu is also worth a mention. After using XP for many years this is a great time saver, simply start typing the name of a program and Windows begins narrowing it down to a few possibilities and then click the program you require. So simple and yet so useful.

Libraries

Libraries are one of the changes that I found annoying at first, but have since found to be quite useful. Windows 7 automatically sorts your files into categories (or Libraries) of Music, Videos, Pictures and Documents.  This makes it much easier to find files, however not so easy when sharing files as it can cause confusion as to actual file locations.

Cost

As usual Windows 7 comes in several varieties, the cheapest home retail version available in the UK is Windows 7 Home Premium. Don't be fooled by the 'Premium' in the title, this is the worst one available, yet it will still set you back about £100. If you want useful things such as the very good backup utility, drive encryption, remote desktop and Windows XP mode (to run your old XP programs), well that costs extra, about £50 extra!

To get all the features of Windows 7, one needs to stump up about £180. 

Karmic Koala

Having used Ubuntu for many years, initially being drawn to it just as something different (it was a long wait from XP to Vista), it has to be said that many of their recent operating systems have been more than a little underwhelming. Indeed the last few appear to have been a step backwards in some cases.

Past disappointment and releasing their new OS at the same time as the top dog, meant that Ubuntu also had something to prove.

Performance

Performance in the last couple of Ubuntu operating systems has also been less than impressive, Intrepid Ibex 8.10 and Jaunty Jackalope 9.04 particularly, displayed degraded performance on laptops that had worked great under Hardy Heron 8.04 and Gutsy Gibbon 7.10.

Karmic Koala 9.10 however is the fastest Ubuntu has been for a while. Boot time is very fast, boot time on this laptop was just under a minute on Gutsy Gibbon 7.10, but it hasn't been near that since. Running 9.10, this laptop boots in around 30 seconds. Suspend/Resume is also much quicker, indeed resume is almost instant, faster even than Windows 7. Shutdown is also super fast.

The desktop effects that worked flawlessly on even low powered laptops in the Hardy Heron 8.04 days, have suffered from inexplicable CPU spikes and lags since, but now seem to be on top form again.

Karmic Koala has made Ubuntu swift again, very similar to Windows 7, but even so it has to be said that Windows 7 is still smoother; the long speed advantage that Ubuntu has had over Windows (and that always amazed Windows users) may finally have ended with Windows 7.

Gadgets and Themes

As usual Ubuntu is far more customisable than Windows, with more gadgets and far more themes than Windows 7 (Ubuntu even has Windows 7 style themes). However it is a shame that Ubuntu's gadgets, or screenlets, are not installed by default, but at least like everything else on Ubuntu, it is easily installed.

Like other versions of Ubuntu, 9.10 offers the ability to change the desktop effects, but again this isn't installed by default, but once installed the user can choose from many, many different effects for closing, opening or minimising windows.

Sadly there is no option for timed desktop background changes like on Windows 7, at least without installing additional software.

Program Search

Arguably the best piece of software on Ubuntu is Gnome-Do, this is like a cross between Windows program search and Google Desktop Search, but better than both. With a simple keyboard combination (Super/Windows Key + Spacebar) a box pops up that can do everything from simply finding a program as you type its name to searching for files, definition of words or even posting to Twitter.

Once again this isn't installed by default but is available to install. Installation is pretty simple however, Ubuntu have replaced the Add/Remove program with Ubuntu Software Store which allows the user to search for software and install it with a single click. Future versions will also allow developers to sell their software via the store but at present only free software is available.

This makes things even easier than before, and with the added bonus of an Installed programs list, it means that Ubuntu users can finally keep track of what is installed and uninstall all those programs that were installed, used once and promptly forgotten all about. A great move by Ubuntu, but something that has been possible in Windows since its earliest days.

Cost

Obviously Ubuntu is free, but to give a basis for comparison it comes in only one variety - Ultimate. Ubuntu Karmic Koala offers encryption options during start up, such as creating an encrypted home partition, Remote Desktop software by default, and simple backup and Windows XP emulators can easily be installed, all for free.

Karmic Koala also offers 2GB of cloud storage with Ubuntu One, again installed by default and also free.

Windows 7 Vs Karmic Koala

Ubuntu's new operating system is its best yet, it is fast, slick, and seems to get Ubuntu back on track, however other than in performance, it differs little from other versions of Ubuntu.

Windows 7 basically is an updated Vista, but it is also arguably Windows best ever operating system. Both Windows 7 and Ubuntu 9.10 offer the best performance and stability yet seen from their respective series, but Windows 7 seems to edge it in terms of speed and stability, having never crashed on our netbook.

The let downs in Windows 7 are the lack of ability to alter or customise the Aero settings, which, although they look great, quickly become boring, and cannot compete with Ubuntu effects like Burn, Paper Airplane or Beam; and the fact that the Home version is lacking some vital components, particularly XP mode, which you'd expect in a £100 OS.

Apple were able to offer their great operating system Snow Leopard for just £29.99, yet Microsoft, who control 90% of the PC market, charge £100 for their bog standard version.


This is a great offering from Ubuntu, but it also has to be said that Windows 7 is also a great operating system and shows that Microsoft have really raised their game, and we have the likes of Ubuntu and Apple to thank for that. However Windows 7 doesn't feel like a complete operating system, and not just because of the things missing from the home version.

Ubuntu 9.10 too feels like it is still unfinished, and doesn't quite feel as polished as Windows 7.

Overall I'd say that Windows 7 just edges it as the best operating system around, but when you take into account the cost to upgrade, the fact that it doesn't include any Office or other useful software for free, Ubuntu 9.10 seems the better option.

Vista has 20% of the desktop market, XP about 70%, so Microsoft is going to have its work cut out tempting those users to upgrade, especially with such steep pricing. These are tough economic times, so forking out around £200 on a new OS and assorted software, or more on a new computer with Windows 7, is likely to be viewed as an unnecessary expense, particularly if their current computer is running fine.

Add to that Ubuntu's excellent Karmic Koala being free, and Microsoft may have shot themselves in the foot yet again with their exorbitant pricing policies.



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Monday, July 06, 2009

The Decline of Internet Explorer

During the browser wars of the mid to late 1990s many initially had their money on Netscape to win as Microsoft were mostly playing catch up. However the sheer monetary might of Microsoft soon told and at the turn of the century Internet Explorer was used by 96% of web surfers.

I am sure that when the developers of Netscape fragmented and announced that they were working on a new browser, Microsoft were hardly shaking in their boots. After all by 2002 Netscape was effectively dead, although it took several years for Netscape to realise this.

Firefox

However it wasn't long before Microsoft once again underestimated the browser market and announced that they would no longer be updating their browser after IE6, instead stating that IE would be updating only when new versions of Windows Operating systems appeared.

Indeed Microsoft's IE6 came out in 2001, IE7 at the end of 2006, about the same time as Windows Vista. A lot had happened in that time and Microsoft had left themselves once again with a lot of catching up to do. In the same time Mozilla had released 3 versions of their new Firefox browser and made tabbed browsing, search boxes and Extensions/Add Ons the way to go.

The browser wars have been raging again ever since. Apple joined in 2007 with Safari and Google at the end of 2008 with Chrome.

2009

2009 has been a great year in terms of web browser development, Firefox released version 3.5 of their browser, Apple version 4 of Safari, Microsoft IE8 and even Google updated Chrome. With the greater choice this entails, it seems that many people are jumping ship and swapping browsers.

Today, Internet Explorer has just 59% of the browser market, the lowest for more than a decade. This is despite the recent release of IE7 and IE8. Firefox has shot up from about 5% in 2005 to now account for about 31.2% of the browser market.

Even new boys like Safari and Chrome have overtaken Opera (1.56%), with 4.07% and 3.3% respectively.



What is apparent is that despite the release of IE8 this year, Microsoft have still lost almost 10% of their market share in just 6 months. This trend is only likely to continue, especially as Microsoft have announced that in Europe, they won't be releasing Windows 7 with Internet Explorer, or any browser for that matter. Giving much more incentive to switch to Firefox, Safari or Chrome.

Browser of Choice

Although IE still has around double the market share of Firefox, its closest rival, it is much closer when the browser versions themselves are compared.

IE7 had 45% of the market share at the start of the year, now it is down to just 29%, with Firefox 3 right behind at 25% (up from 20%). Of course many of those who stopped using IE7 switched to IE8, but not all of them, clearly some are moving to Firefox. If more make the switch from IE7 to either Firefox or IE8, then, for the first time in more than a decade, Internet Explorer will no longer be the world's most popular browser.

Web surfers have never had such a rich choice, nor such a rich browsing experience as they have right now, and things look as though they will just keep getting better.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Facebook

facebook The world's most popular website has reached another milestone, it now has 175 million active users worldwide.

This is an amazing achievement for a website that was started just four years ago, and it has made it's founder a billionaire, even though he's not yet 25. 

Harvard

Mark Zuckerberg set up Facebook (then known as thefacebook) whilst studying at Harvard in 2004. The original site was only open to students at the University, but this was soon expanded and grew into the multi-million pound business that it is today.

So, you may ask, how did Mark Zuckerberg come up with such an amazing idea it made him a billionaire before his 25th birthday?

The origins of Zuckerberg's billion dollar idea are somewhat clouded. Several former classmates took legal action against him claiming that he had stolen their idea.

His classmates, the owners of ConnectU.com, claimed that they had hired Zuckerberg to make them a dating website for Harvard students whilst they were all studying at Harvard with Zuckerberg and that Zuckerberg used this idea and their source code to create Facebook.

Whether this was the case or not, an out of court settlement this month gave his former classmates $65 million in cash and shares, meaning that Zuckerberg isn't the only Facebook millionaire.

Privacy

Along with the lawsuit, something else had dogged Facebook throughout its development - privacy.

Two MIT students managed to download 70,000 Facebook profiles using a simple script in 2005 and as recently as last year the BBC demonstrated that a simple data mining application was able to gather information on profiles and the profiles of friends.

The more information that is placed in the user profiles and the more accessible it is (i.e. public) the more likely it is that the information could be stolen. Sure, with 175 million users on Facebook the odds may be in the users favour, but security by obscurity is not the wisest option.

Other concerns are highlighted in Channel 4's The IT Crowd's parody of Facebook - friendface.

Sure it's funny, but some of the points raised in the joke advert are very real. Facebook does, for example, state in their terms and conditions:

"We may share your information with third parties, including responsible companies with which we have a relationship."

Your information literally means anything that is uploaded to the website, from profile information and messages through to pictures and video. Like the in the spoof advert, Facebook promises not to hand over information to third parties, at least according to a spokesman:

"Simply put, we have never provided our users' information to third party companies, nor do we intend to."

The very fact that such a clause is in the terms and conditions would seem to imply otherwise.

What's more Facebook altered their terms and conditions on 4th February 2009 to make clear that they wish to keep your information, permanently, even after an account had been cancelled!

This caused something of an uproar when spotted by and pointed out by a consumer rights blog and a few weeks later Facebook was forced to back down and revert to its previous terms and conditions.

Beacon

In November 2007 Facebook launched an advertising programme called Beacon, which again raised serious privacy concerns. Privacy advocates main concern with Beacon was that it sent information back to Facebook from partner sites, so that Facebook can better target adverts, all without the users permission.

Even when Facebook made this an opt in only service, it was still discovered that information was being sent to Facebook, even when users had opted out, or were not logged in.

A lawsuit was filed against Facebook and its partners in the Beacon program in 2008, alleging that the system broke several laws.

Income

The concerns about Facebook are likely to be well founded, after all it is a business and businesses are there to make money. At the moment and despite the massive user base and the apparent worth of the business, it doesn't have a clear way of making money.

Facebook had an estimated turnover of $300 million in 2008, but this doesn't tell the full story. Those servers, bandwidth, staff and other facilities do not come cheap, estimated expenditure in 2008 was $200 million, so they are not getting much change from that $300 million.

It is believed that Facebook generates most of its revenue from advertising but with the click through rate apparently at around 0.02-0.04%, its no Google search.

Google itself is having similar problems with Youtube, the site is popular, it has millions of users but it just isn't making enough from advertising, especially when it spends so much on servers, bandwidth and so forth. It isn't enough just to have lots of visitors to a website, you need some way to convert these hits into cash.

Google is also looking at other ways to make money from Youtube. We can expect the same from Facebook, after all they are not running their respective websites for charity. There are only a few ways of making money from a website, even popular ones, so it will be interesting to see what direction both of these huge websites take in order to monetize their user base.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Internet Explorer 8

Microsoft disables automatic IE 8 downloads | The Register
Microsoft will cushion you from the Internet Explorer 8 standards mess with software to prevent automatic download of its next browser to your machine.

Ask any web designer what their least favourite browser is and it's a good bet that Internet Explorer will be their reply. It isn't because of some anti-Microsoft sentiment, or because it isn't as cool or as customisable as other browsers, nor even anything to do with page loading speed, but quite simply because it doesn't follow the official W3C web standards. Microsoft acknowledges this problem and since Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) has been working to bring its browser into line with W3C specifications.

The Browser Wars

The browser wars of the 1990s between the now defunct Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer started off this problem, as each browser began following only some standards, or worse, only following their own standards.

Surprisingly, back then it was Microsoft's browser that was the most standards compliant, and Netscape that used its own 'standards'. By the time that IE had won the browser war and was used by 96% of web surfers, it too had moved onto supporting its own proprietary standards. At this point it wasn't too much of a problem, as web designers could simply design for IE, as it was a fairly safe bet that most of the viewers of a website would be using it.

It wasn't all rosy however, the browser war had meant there had been a stagnation in bug fixes and actual development, web designers were stuck designing in lengthy, bloated code as the slicker design method of HTML and CSS didn't work properly with Internet Explorer.

CSS

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) were meant to make the design process far, far easier and also make the viewing of web pages faster and more aesthetically pleasing. Web pages using CSS load faster, are easier to alter and allow more complicated layouts, but for years after CSS was accepted as a standard, web designers were stuck using the older, more troublesome table based designs.

With the decline of Netscape that preceded its eventual demise, it was clear that Microsoft were in the driving seat of website design. From 2002 many web designers created websites aimed only at IE5.5 and IE6,  by this point IE had become mostly CSS compliant. Anyone attempting to design to official W3C standards, was asking for trouble and many headaches.

Then the second browser war started.

Firefox

Firefox was more standards compliant than IE, which meant that website designers had another browser to consider when designing a website, especially as Firefox became instantly popular and standards compliant websites were back in vogue.

Many designers were therefore creating W3C compliant websites, and uncovering the power of CSS. But upon viewing them in IE, they'd discover things like the double margin bug, three pixel bug, float drop problems and also the fact that IE6 doesn't handle transparent PNGs.

More than a few of them were scratching their heads and wishing 'If only IE were like Firefox!' With the popularity of Firefox soaring, accounting for 21% of the browser market by the end of 2008, it seemed that Microsoft heard.

IE7

There are workarounds and so called hacks to get websites to look in IE6 as they do in Firefox but they were a hassle and meant much fiddling on the part of the designer. Firefox and Apple's Safari were far more forgiving and getting more and more popular with users, in response Microsoft released IE7.

Although still not fully standards complaint, IE7 was the most compliant browser yet and Microsoft promised to go even further with IE8.

IE8

IE8 is fully standards compliant, but after a decade of IE only designs, that may not be a good thing. If your website is fully standards compliant, or was aimed primarily at Firefox but with a few IE hacks, you should be OK, but if it was aimed mainly at IE6, you may have problems. It is certainly worth checking out IE8 to see what your website looks like as you may find, particularly if it is a few years old, that is doesn't look as good as it did.

It seems that Microsoft have delayed IE8 to allow businesses to do precisely this. Microsoft did see this problem coming and have added two viewing modes for IE8, the default mode which is the standards compliant viewing mode and compatibility mode, which allows the user to view the website as if viewing with an older version of IE. Sadly though, few people are switching modes, meaning a lot of websites are not displaying correctly in IE8.

Although this may not be too much of a problem at the moment, especially with Microsoft's delaying the release of the browser, it could become a problem very quickly. Although it was released only two years ago, IE7 accounts for 50% of the browser market,  the previous version, IE6 just 20%.

Two events this year are likely to push the uptake of IE8 to be faster than that of IE7.

The release of Windows 7 later this year, which will most likely ship with IE8 as standard and also the fact that mainstream support for Windows XP ends in April 2009. Those buying a new PC will have the choice of Vista, or Windows 7, both of which will likely have IE8 as their default browser.

If you're not sure what your website will look like, you can use this website to preview your website in IE8 (and other versions of IE) for free. Needless to say the Horizon Web Development website and the Horizon Flash Memory website display perfectly.

Others, aren't so lucky.   



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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Get the most from your website

coin_stack Many people see the Internet as a fast track to cash, and while you can make a lot of money on the Internet, it is not the fast track, or get rich quick scheme that many people believe it to be.

That said there are ways to maximise your website's potential, and we'll take a look at them below.

Running a website for profit

Like any other kind of business, running a website for profit, be it an e-commerce website or otherwise, is hard work. If you are expecting to simply create a website, place it on the Internet and have customers beat a path to your door, you are in for a rude awakening.

This is no different from running a small shop, sure you may get a passing trade, but to really get your business doing well you have to get the brand out there and well known, normally through advertisements.

The Internet is no different, if you have a website and are looking at making a profit from it, the search engines hold the key.

Visitors

Visitors to your website can usually be broken down into two categories, those who found your website from information in the real world, such as adverts in the local press or word of mouth, and those that found your website via the search engines.

If your business is wholly web based and you do not have any other way of advertising then the search engines are even more important to your business.

Organic

The most common way for visitor to find your website is by searching for your product and services in the search engines, known as natural or organic search results.

The success of your website in the organic search results depends on a number of factors; if your website was built by professionals using modern and search engine friendly techniques, such as XHTML and CSS then it has a good start. A good mix of keywords is also needed on the pages, again this relies on a professional website designer as keywords spamming or writing page content without thought to things such keywords could leave your site very difficult to find.

A simple example is if you want people searching for Acme XL Widgets to find your website, then you must have that phrase somewhere on the website, and not in picture or flash format.

Importance and Relevance

It's not enough just to have the right keywords on the page though, to ensure that your website comes in the top rankings and not on page 506 you have to make sure that the search engines see your website as important (or authoritative) and relevant.

The more links from quality websites that you have, the more important your site will be considered by the search engines. Of course getting quality websites to link to your own site is not easy, but the first step is to have interesting, useful and informative content on the pages that people will want to link to.

To show the search engines and visitors that your site is both important and relevant, you must update it regularly. Google and the other search engines see websites that do not change their content as less relevant and out of date. If Google checks your website every few months and find the same content, neither it nor any visitors are going to be in any rush to return.

A simple way of have useful and regularly updated content is to have a blog.

Blogging

Search engines love blogs and we advise every business to have some kind of blog on their website. Blogs offer a simple way of having regular content and information on your website, even if it is just product reviews or the latest information about your services.

Discussing issues relevant to your industry, giving help and advice or giving something away for free is a great way of getting lots of hits on your website and also some good quality links to it. 

Adverts

The quickest and easiest way of getting people to your website is through Pay Per Click (PPC) Advertising, such as Google's Adwords program. Those searching for keywords that you have chosen will view your advert, and hopefully click it to visit your page.

Although getting the visitors (or hits) is fairly easy, getting a return on your advertisement investment is not. Unlike other ways of having search engines refer visitors to your website, it isn't free. Moreover as you pay for every visitor, so getting as many visitors as possible isn't the idea, rather getting the right visitors to your website.

People clicking your advert by mistake or visiting your website looking for something that you don't sell all cost money. The trick with PPC advertising is to get only those that are interested in purchasing your product/service to click on your advert. This was covered in more detail in an earlier article, How to get the best from Google Adwords.

If you are already using Google Adwords but have found that you are getting a low return on your investment, lots of impressions but a low Click Through Rate (CTR) and a high cost per click, you should consider our Google Adwords Consultation.

Frugal

Google Product Search (formerly Froogle), offers those with a smaller budget a way of advertising their products for free. Signing up for a Google Base account allows website owners to submit a list of their products so that they appear in Google Product Search.

The ability to localise products and services means that even small, local business can target the right customers.

To get the best overall benefit from the search engines, Google's Product Search and Adwords, you need a fully e-commerce website.

E-Commerce

Once, such websites were prohibitively expensive to all but big businesses. Today however, you can purchase a fully automated, custom designed e-commerce website for one off payment of just £249.

Such a website allows you to add your own products quickly and easily, describing in as much detail as needed your product/service. This of course allows you to cover the keywords aspect of your website as well as the relevant and constantly changing content that the search engines like.

Such websites also allow you to better tailor Google Adwords and Products Search to link directly to a specific product or product category and get a better return on your time and investment.

Our package includes Google Adwords setup, a free blog, optimised website code and text and an excellent hosting package.

There are cheaper e-commerce website packages around, some are also open source and free, but to make sure that all the boxes are ticked; including the vital and often overlooked ones, such as security and usability, you should purchase a professional package from a reliable company.

Remember, you pay for the website not only in the short term, but you will also bear the long term costs of having a website on the Internet, so your best bet is a site that will give you a return on your investment and an advantage in making money online.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Keeping Passwords Safe

Keeping your information safe and private in today's online, information hungry world is no mean feat. Give your telephone number to one company and within a year or two you find yourself receiving calls about insurance almost every day.

Give a company your email address and you'll find your inbox stuffed full of recommendations for cheap medications, Russian/Indian business partners, dating websites and of course porn. (At Horizon Web Development we never pass on your email address).

Unfortunately, short of changing your telephone number and email addresses regularly, there is little that you can do to prevent the two above situations from occurring. 

There is however some information that you absolutely should keep private and safe, no matter what - your Internet passwords.

Memory Aids

We all have them, we all have to in order to access the countless websites that we need to use and we all have our own memory aids to track the countless PINs and passwords, simple memory aids so that we can remember them all.

The simplest is of course to use the same password for every site; this is also the most foolhardy.

Many users, when they set up a new account online, will give their email address and a password, those that use just one password will have therefore given the same password that they log into their email with.

While this isn't in itself to much of a concern, should the website ever get hacked, the criminal would not only have access to the unfortunate users email account, but they wouldn't have to be a criminal mastermind to work out their password for shopping or banking websites too.

A recent example of this is the hack of US political commentator Bill O'Reilly whose website was hacked and a list of users, their email address and passwords was published online.

"A case in point is Carolyn Carpenter, 68, of Henderson, Nevada. The list showed she used a six-letter word from the English language to access her account. Early Friday evening, when told she should change all accounts that used the password, she replied: "Oh damn, I use it all over the place."
The Register | Bill O'Reilly's website hacked

No doubt she spent most of the night changing all of her passwords to another six-letter word from the English language, but hopefully she learnt her lesson and used a different password for each.

Other tricks to remember passwords are to use birthdays, a mother's maiden name, football teams or pet's names.

Sadly this is also bad practice as the first technique a would-be hacker would try is, is to go through all the words in the dictionary.

The experts warn us that to combat this, the best passwords are those that are not found in the dictionary, those that combine letters and numbers so rather than Horizon - H0r150n. It just gets a little tricky to remember what letters were substituted for what. Also after a few words, it becomes impossible to keep track.

Password Manager

Another option is a password manager. There are plenty of them around, such as Keywallet, Passpack and Keepass.

These programs create random passwords for you, and more importantly store them, along with the website and username so that they can be retrieved easily. Such programs make it easy to go from using passwords such as rover, to fS8cSh;o.sPiiMGBuZoqmRgdBotS9N which no one is going to guess, or even crack easily.

The ability to have completely random and also unique passwords for every website is extremely reassuring and one of the best ways to stay safe online. Should one password be compromised somehow, all your others are perfectly safe. You just have to remember the Master Password that accesses all of your other passwords in the program.

There are however downsides to password managers; should you decide that you current password manager isn't for you, well changing it may not be easy. Some like KeePass have the option to import and export passwords to and from other programs, however compatibility between programs is patchy.

Even two programs that import/export in the same formats, won't necessarily understand each other's password lists. Which means if you use one, it is best to use it on all your PCs and laptops.

Portable Use

Another drawback of password managers is apparent when out and about and struck by the need to check your email. fS8cSh;o.sPiiMGBuZoqmRgdBotS9N is not a password that is remembered off by heart, especially when you have 30 or more similar ones.

Some password managers, such as KeePass have portable versions that you can use on a USB memory stick. The safety of this however is debatable. The master password has to be something memorable because if forgotten, there is no way to access all those other passwords.

This of course means that the master password tends to be something like a birthday, a mother's maiden name, football teams or pet's names. Which, as mentioned earlier, is easily guessed or cracked. Carrying around a USB stick crammed with passwords, as well as the corresponding usernames and website addresses, would seem a little risky, especially as they are only protected with a simple password.

Web Based Password Manager

There is however another way of generating random passwords, whilst also getting away with using simple, easy to remember memory aids and passwords. Password Chart offers the ability to create long and seemingly meaningless passwords from simple everyday words.

For example, Horizon Web Development would be:

+7C#S*6C#SHC84nT6h!4C#SKiG8

Easy to remember, whilst also being a strong password. Of course this has its drawbacks too, if the site is offline, or Internet access is not available, you're completely lost unless you printed out the chart.

The best solution is probably to use a mixture of passwords and memory aids, and not rely too much on one product, because if that fails, there will be lots of clicking on Forgotten Password links and waiting for the emails, assuming that you haven't lost access to your email too.

 

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