Tag Archives: Mac

What’s e-new? How to be your own IT department

This article by Andy Coulson, for the regular What’s e-new? column in members’ newsletter The Edit, looks at how to cope when things go wrong with your technical set-up, from initial troubleshooting to simple fixes, and where to look for more help and advice.

The article covers:

  • Backing up before you start
  • Being methodical
  • The power of the off button
  • Diagnostic tools.

As self-employed professionals, we have to wear a number of hats. One of the least popular and worst fitting is the IT hat. Let’s face it, for most of us faced with IT problems the challenge is avoiding a rapid descent into playing laptop frisbee. But there is a lot you can do to resolve IT problems for yourself and build your confidence and skills in tackling those in future.

Before you start

If you read no further, please, please, please take this one thing on board. Back up all your important files regularly. Also, do it before you try making changes to your system. If you have Microsoft 365 and Windows 10 this should be automatic for a lot of your documents, but here’s how to do it: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/back-up-your-documents-pictures-and-desktop-folders-with-onedrive-d61a7930-a6fb-4b95-b28a-6552e77c3057. If you use a Mac, it is a little more complex: https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/office-for-mac/how-to-use-onedrive-for-backup-on-mac/m-p/29589. Both Mac (Time Machine) and Windows (Backup/File history in settings) have good internal backup systems that also back up the Windows or MacOS. Take a little time to learn how to use them, buy an external disk drive and set them to automatically back up on a regular basis.

When you have a problem with IT there are typically three areas: simple hardware, like a loose plug, covered below in ‘Be methodical’; simple (often inexplicable!) software issues, covered in ‘The power of the off button’; and more complex problems, covered in ‘IT A&E’.

1. Be methodical

When a problem occurs, you need to step away for a moment and be really methodical about it. Say your printer isn’t working. The first port of call in the absence of any other clues (such as a message on screen) is to check physical things: Is it switched on? Is the power plugged in? If it uses a cable to connect to the computer, is that plugged in? At both ends? You don’t need to know much about computers to check these things – you need to look carefully, wiggle plugs to make sure they are fully pushed in, and follow cables to make sure the right ones are plugged in. But the point is to be methodical and thorough.

2. The power of the off button

If a program appears not to be working then closing and restarting it is a good starting point. If the program has frozen, then in Windows, press Ctrl, Shift and Esc at the same time. This causes Task Manager to pop up, and from here you can right-click on the frozen application and select ‘End task’ to close it. On a Mac you use the Option, Command and Esc keys, select the app in the Force Quit Applications window, and then click on ‘Force Quit’. If you then reopen the application, it should run normally.

If this doesn’t work then try restarting the computer. I’m always slightly concerned by how often turning something off and back on is a solution to software issues, but it is nevertheless a fairly reliable method. This can cure some apparently serious issues. For example, if I try and do a reboot on my laptop, I get an alarming-looking blue screen saying ‘Do you want to start Windows in Safe Mode?’ when it restarts after shutting down. With a little help from Google I quickly realised a) this was not a drastic problem, and b) I couldn’t fix it easily, and if I simply used the power button to switch off and then start up again all was OK.

A related solution worth trying if you are having Word issues in Microsoft 365 is to use the repair function. In Windows 10 if you go to ‘Settings’, then ‘Apps’ and find Microsoft 365, click on ‘Modify’ and you will get a pop-up that prompts for a ‘Quick repair’ or ‘Online repair’. Try a Quick repair, and if this doesn’t work run the Online repair (but be prepared to be patient).

3. IT A&E

If you have an error message or make no headway with the earlier fixes, then you need to try some diagnostics to get to the bottom of things.

Google is one of the simplest diagnostic tools to use. If you have an error message, search for the text and any error number in Google. For Windows and Word issues it will often have answers from Microsoft’s knowledge base near the top. These can sometimes be a bit techy, but they are generally accurate and safe. As you get away from Microsoft and Apple’s pages be prepared to be cynical and critical about where the information comes from, as there are bad sites out there. (For example, I would trust a reputable technology site or magazines like Tech Republic or ComputerWorld over a random post on Reddit.)

Device drivers (the software that speaks to the hardware) have a reputation for being a source of problems. With Windows 10 these are generally updated automatically, but occasionally a manual install can resolve a problem. This windowscentral.com article – windowscentral.com/how-properly-update-device-drivers-windows-10#page1 – can guide you through the various options in the order in which you should use them. If you can use the first method, it will be the safest as it uses drivers that Microsoft has tested.

Both Microsoft and Apple provide inbuilt diagnostic tools that can help to identify issues, particularly in hardware. For example, Windows has a number of these tools:

  • Task Manager – Run this using Ctrl-Shift-Esc to see what software is running and how much memory and CPU effort it is using. This can help you spot programs that are doing something odd (for example using a lot of CPU %).
  • Performance Monitor – This can give you an idea about what might be slowing your PC down. You can find it under the ‘Windows Administrative Tools’ section in the Start menu. You can also see something similar under the Performance tab in Task Manager.
  • Reliability Monitor – This is quite well-hidden, but it allows you to visualise how reliable your system is and get historical access to error messages. The easiest way to find it is to search for ‘Reliability history’ in ‘Settings’.
  • Windows Disk Management – This can flag potential issues with disks. This is under the ‘Windows Administrative Tools’ section in the Start menu.

As you go along, it is worth keeping notes on things you fix, preferably not on the computer. This will help by reminding you of what you have done, so you can fix things that happen again. It’s also a good thing to look back over and realise how much you have learned.

Finally, it is worth finding a local computer repair person and building a relationship with them for the times when you can’t fix it yourself.

Summing up

The article has looked at:

  • The importance of backing up files before performing fixes
  • Where to start with diagnosing and fixing problems
  • Simple fixes
  • Finding out more about problems
  • Where to go for more help

What else is e-new?

Andy has written many articles demystifying software and technology. Check out:

About Andy Coulson

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: dog desktop support by Pavel Herceg; blue screen by Joshua Hoehne, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Windows options for Mac users

In March 2016, the SfEP released a new online course, Editing with Word. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person looking forward to this course, especially as I hadn’t had the chance to attend either of the Society’s old onscreen editing workshops. Editing with Word would be ideal, I thought, because it would be full of up-to-date content, and, crucially for me, I’d be able to take the course online. Contributors to the course included Paul Beverley, Daniel Heuman and Paul Sensecall – all well-known names in the editorial community – so this was a course not to miss.

Perfect.

Then I saw that three of the course’s ten chapters would require some sort of access to Windows. And that got me wondering about how suitable the course would be for Mac users.

Like many writers and editors, I’m a big fan of Apple Macs. But there are times when an important piece of software works only on Windows, and that gives Mac users some questions to answer. Should we stick to using only those tools that work natively on our Macs, foregoing Windows software that might have saved our bacon? Should we keep a PC on standby just in case? Are there any other options?

Below are some examples of software that Mac users might find very useful if only they could get access to Windows. The first three of these feature in the SfEP’s Editing with Word course:

(SfEP members receive a 15% discount on PerfectIt and on ReferenceChecker. Discount codes can be found in the Benefits section of the Members’ area.)

So, there are times when having Windows to hand could really be of help to a Mac-using editorial pro. Now we need to consider what that means in practical terms. Let’s look at the options.

Option 1: use a real PC

PC

There are no two ways about it: for the authentic Windows experience, use a real PC. That doesn’t mean you need the full-on desktop ensemble. An old laptop, netbook or PC tablet might do the job, depending on what software you’re trying to run.

Pros

  • Low-cost option if you already have any Windows-compatible hardware on standby.
  • PC keyboard may be best to use for Windows-specific shortcuts.

Cons

  • Need to use home networking, Dropbox or other sharing methods to move files between Mac and Windows.
  • More clutter: you may need to make space on your desk for that extra computer, monitor, keyboard and mouse.
  • It’s a PC. Prepare for hardware wrangles, blue screens of death and more besides. Why did you buy a Mac anyway?

Option 2: use Boot Camp

icon-bootcamp

Boot Camp is Apple’s built-in software that lets you install Windows on part of your hard drive.

Pros

  • Uses native software built in to the Mac, so should stay up to date so long as your Mac does.
  • No need to install third-party software to run Windows.

Cons

  • Need to restart to switch between Mac and Windows, which significantly slows down workflows and makes it more difficult to share files between operating systems. You’d need to use Dropbox, a USB thumb drive or an external hard disk to shift files between systems. Fun!
  • Usual home-networking routes won’t work: your Mac will be rendered invisible while Windows is running, and vice versa.
  • Requires your hard drive to be partitioned, so you need to decide how much space to reserve for Windows (a headache if you need to change your mind later).
  • Requires installation of a licensed copy of Windows and any other software to be run on the system (e.g. MS Office).

Option 3: use a ‘virtual machine’

icon_parallels

A virtual machine is software that allows you to access an entire operating system (such as Windows) and its programs via a single window on your Mac desktop.

Pros

  • Very easy to share files between Mac and Windows.
  • No need for a second machine, monitor, keyboard or mouse.
  • Windows runs inside a self-contained app.
  • Can share the host Mac’s internet connection or can be used in offline mode, providing strong protection against viruses, worms, etc.
  • Takes up only as much disk space as is required (no need to partition your hard drive).
  • Can inherit an existing Boot Camp installation of Windows.

Cons

  • Requires a powerful Mac.
  • Not the cheapest route (see requirements below).
  • Requires installation of a licensed copy of Windows and any other software to be run on the system (e.g. MS Office).

My recommendation: use a virtual machine

I’ve tried all of the methods above and, for me, the best option has been to use a virtual machine. My old PC took up too much space and was a pain to keep updated and protected. Boot Camp appealed for a while, but losing access to my Mac while Windows was running soon became a no-no. The final option I tried – a virtual machine – is what I’ve stuck with quite happily since around 2010.

There are a couple of big players in the virtual-machine market. In my case, I’ve opted for Parallels. The main alternative is Fusion. Both products do the same job, so, before committing to a purchase, you might want to take advantage of a free trial of each to see which software you prefer. Prices are also almost identical, with each product costing around £65 for a one-off licence. The software is updated every year and there’s a charge for upgrading, but upgrades aren’t mandatory. The latest versions of Parallels and Fusion work well with all modern versions of Windows, so you probably won’t need to upgrade for a few years.

Requirements for running a virtual machine

Here’s what you’ll need in order to run a virtual version of Windows on your Mac:

  • A powerful Mac: running one operating system inside another requires a powerful machine. If you’re using a mid-range MacBook, your computer might not have enough resources to adequately sustain a virtual machine.
  • Virtual-machine software: Parallels and Fusion are the main players. Each offers a free trial.
  • A licensed copy of Windows: even if you already own a PC with a pre-installed version of Windows, you’ll probably need a separate Windows installation disc for your Mac as well as a licence key. If you’ve previously installed Windows via your Mac’s built-in Boot Camp software, you can make Parallels or Fusion use that existing installation rather than having to install Windows again.
  • CD/DVD drive: you’ll probably be installing Windows from an optical disc, but new Macs no longer come with an internal disc drive. If your Mac doesn’t have a slot for CDs and DVDs, you’ll need something like the Apple USB SuperDrive.
  • Licensed copies of all software: an Office 365 subscription is a good option if you wish to run Word and the other Office apps on both Mac and Windows. (Office 365 now works quite well on the iPad, too.)

Note that if you want to make a wholesale move from an existing PC to a virtual machine, Parallels can migrate your entire Windows installation, meaning you won’t need a separate Windows licence, installation disc or CD/DVD drive.

Still, the above represents a substantial requirements list. Take a look at what you already have and see whether running a virtual machine is going to be the right choice for you. In some cases, it will work out better to accept the cons of running a cheap, second-hand PC.

A note about anti-virus software

When Mac users think about installing Windows, they often wonder whether they need to install anti-virus software on their virtual copy of Windows. Strictly speaking, the answer is yes: you’ll be running a fully functional version of Windows that will have access to the internet, and therefore it’s possible for it to be infected in just the same way that a real PC might be. However, there are some mitigating circumstances that might change your thinking on this topic:

  • Your use of the internet inside the virtual machine is likely to be very limited. Do you think you’re likely to use an email program inside Windows, for example, when you already have access to email on your host Mac? Will you be browsing the web inside Windows? Wouldn’t you just use Safari or Chrome on your host Mac, as usual?
  • Virtual machines don’t always need access to the internet. You could disable internet access inside the virtual machine, leaving Windows offline and therefore protected from almost all threats. Even in this state, you could still share your Mac’s files with your Windows installation and vice versa.
  • Virtual machines allow you to take snapshots of your system, so any unforeseen problems (e.g. a virus or worm affecting your installation) can easily be rectified by rolling back to a previous snapshot. You can also delete your entire Windows installation without it affecting your Mac, and then reinstall. This is easier to do with a virtual machine than it is with a real PC.

But I just want to use PerfectIt!

All this information might appear complicated and scary if all you want to do is use the PerfectIt add-in for Word on your Mac. If the above methods aren’t for you, there might yet be hope …

Intelligent Editing, the makers of PerfectIt, intend to release a cloud-based version of the software in late 2016. When this happens, PerfectIt will be able to run on any system, including your Mac. No firm release information is available at this time, but I’ll be keeping a keen eye on developments and will update SfEP members when I know more.

A note about Wine

The more technically minded readers, particularly those familiar with Linux, will probably be wondering why I’ve neglected to mention Wine. This software provides another route for Mac users to run Windows software, but I’ve never had a good experience with it and therefore wouldn’t recommend it. Still, it might be worth a go if the other options above aren’t right for you.

What do you think?

If you’re a Mac user who sometimes uses Windows, which method suits you best and why? Post a comment below to let us know.

John EspirianJohn Espirian (@espirian) is the SfEP’s internet director and principal forum administrator.

As a freelance technical writer, John specialises in producing online help content that’s actually helpful.