Microsoft is constantly updating Windows 10 with new features, security patches and general system adjustments. To keep your PC in good condition (including minimising the risks of malware and viruses), you’ll want to make sure these updates are being implemented. Remember that Windows 10 is a large and complex piece of software, which needs to be constantly tweaked to maintain optimum performance and correct any little bugs that can enter into systems.
Windows Update is the software that checks to make sure that Windows and the driver software that runs displays, peripherals and printers work the way they were intended. It also adds new features to existing software such as OneNote, the Edge browser and the operating system itself. Unsurprisingly, security is the most frequent and important type of update as it limits dangerous attacks. It therefore goes without saying that Windows must be kept up-to-date.
Very occasionally updates may cause things to stop working, or even create new problems. In fact, last December, a small update affected internet connectivity for about 2% of users. The fix was simple though – a simple restart instead of shutting the PC down and turning it back on again. But for the most part Windows Update is definitely something we recommend.
When Windows 10 launched, automatic updates were the default setting. This means that unless you have changed the setting manually then you’re already receiving the updates as soon as they come out. You can check to see if this is that case by typing “Windows Update” into the Cortana search bar (or by clicking on the Start button, then Settings, then Updates and Security).
Once the Windows Update window is open, it will tell you if any updates are due and when they are scheduled to take place, which is usually outside of active hours (you can customise your active hours if 8am -5pm doesn’t work for you). If you want to see if there are any new updates available then click the Check for Updates button.
One thing you really need to check is whether your PC is running the latest version of Windows 10. Go into the Cortana search bar next to the Start button in the bottom left hand corner of your screen and type WINVER then Enter. This will give you the Version number, which should be 1703 (at the time of writing 14/09/17). If not, you need to hit that Check for Updates button as you’re not using the latest version.
We’re only a couple of weeks away from version 1709 (Fall Creators Update), which has some exciting new features that we’ll be looking at over the next month or so.
Star Chart (contains in-app purchases)
Hold your tablet up to the night sky and it becomes - in real time – a brilliant star finder. If you are curious about a bright star, point your device at it and Star Chart will tell you what it is. It displays all the planets of the solar system, including the sun and the moon and if you tap on an object it will display facts about it.
Great British Chefs
This app provides over 300 recipes, for cooks of all abilities, from great chefs such as Marcus Wareing and Tom Aitkins. It features a handy shopping list tool so once you’ve selected your chosen dishes, the ingredients can be added to your shopping list. There is also an app for kids – Great British Chefs Cooking with Kids.
Phototastic Collage (contains in-app purchases)
This app offers a simple way to create eye-catching collages from your photos. It includes templates of greeting cards to which you can add images and you can also enhance photos with colours, drawings and stickers. There are loads of colour effects and frames to choose from and you can even create photo albums – great for holiday photos or to remember baby’s first year.
Fresh Paint (contains in-app purchases)
This is a fun and creative way to unleash the artist in you! It’s a painting app (best used on a tablet) that provides realistic oil, watercolour, pencil, pastel and pen tools as well as a selection of canvas styles. You can even use one of your own digital photos as a base for your artwork. It features a fan button to "dry" the paint and cleaning your brush in the water is fun as the 'liquid' turns the colour of the paint you put in it.
If you’re a radio fan, this app is a must as TuneIn has the largest selection of real radio stations from around the world. You can listen to your favourite talk shows and podcasts live and on demand and enjoy live coverage of sporting events, concerts and more. It’s also possible to filter the thousands of stations by language.
Elements - The Periodic Table (contains in-app purchases)
Tap on any element and you get a detailed breakdown that includes, among other things, physical properties, images, a short history of the element and details of what it's used for, as well as links to websites for further reading.
This week we thought we’d have a look at some of the top FREE software available for your PC.
BACKUP: EaseUS ToDo Backup Free
Computer users should always perform two types of backup: one for files and documents, and the other for the system. EaseUS ToDo Backup Free is reasonably good at both types of backup and is straightforward to use. It can back up everything from selected files and file types to entire partitions or drives and includes cloning tools for upgrading from one drive to another. It provides you with backup scheduling options and support for incremental updates so backups are kept as small and efficient as possible. When restoring data, EaseUS Todo Backup gives a timeline of the date and exact time of backups so you can easily pick a point in time in which to find a backed-up file.
OFFICE SUITE: WPS Office Free
Available completely free of charge (although there are ads associated with certain features), WPS Office includes tools for word processing, presentations and spreadsheets and is fully compatible with Microsoft document formats. It includes hundreds of free fonts and templates and has a clear, easy to use interface. All of the most common tools and options are intuitively placed so you won’t spend ages searching for the setting or tool that you need. It even allows you to convert PDF files into Word format.
PHOTO EDITOR: GIMP
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a brilliant photo editor for Windows. It has many excellent tools that are on a par with those you'd find in premium (and not free!) photo editing software, with more being added all the time. It has just about all the essential photo editing tools, features and commands that most users want: special-effect filters; exposure controls, and colour controls, such as hue/saturation; replace colour, bucket fill, paintbrush, eraser, selection tools, etc.
MEDIA PLAYER: VLC Media Player
VLC Media Player has a simple interface and is compatible with almost all video and audio formats. It supports DVDs & Blu Rays, plus MPEG and DivX streaming and can play videos as they're downloading, so you can watch the beginning of a film and then decide whether it's worth downloading in full. It can also search for album covers and a playlist function allows you to play multiple films one after the other.
Image Editor: Paint.NET
This is an image and photo editing software for PCs running Windows. It has a clean interface with support for layers, special effects, and a wide variety of useful and powerful tools. The program includes everything you would expect to find in an image editing package, but there are plenty of surprises considering that this is free software.
Cloud Storage: Dropbox
Nowadays storing information in “the cloud” is pretty much the norm. Dropbox offers 2GB of free storage, which isn’t much, but you can increase it by referring friends and other tasks. Dropbox offers an app for every major device so you can take your files anywhere. It’s also easy to share files with others, and the service has a great interface on the web and desktop. Whether you use it for backup, as a cloud flash drive, or for setting up shared folders with others, you can’t go wrong with Dropbox.
PC Cleaning / Management: CCleaner
Over time, Windows builds up useless files that take up space. CCleaner is our favourite disk cleaner and the foundation to a clean Windows 10 system, but it also has many more useful features inside its toolkit.
Aside from cleaning the caches of all kinds of software, CCleaner lets you easily disable startup programs, find which files are taking up the most space, clean up your messy context menu, and create a quick text file of all installed programs.
Browser: Google Chrome or Vivali
Although Microsoft Edge comes pre-installed on Windows computers, there are several excellent free alternatives which can often be faster, have more options, and in many cases, be more secure than Edge.
Chrome is an extendable, efficient and stable browser that takes up the minimum of screen space. It has many easily obtained and installed extensions as well as support for parental controls. Admittedly it's not brilliant on machines with limited RAM, and because it is developed by Google, you might be uncomfortable with the ways in which your browsing data may be used.
If you haven’t tried Vivaldi, you should give it a go. You might be surprised by how much you love it, as a backup browser if not your main. Since it launched in April 2016, it has grown a great deal and is becoming increasingly popular. It offers great flexibility, and features such as web panels make it attractive as a browser option. However, you may find it a bit slow compared to other browsers and the unfamiliar interface takes a bit of getting used to.