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PC Rescue newsletter January 2008

The Christmas period turned out to be a busy time in the tech world with lots of new products and some big changes. So we have a packed newsletter for January. The common factor is prices are falling in all technology sectors.

Wireless broadband is where we expect to see the biggest drops as increased competition bites Telstra. The other big area to watch is in small protables where the Apple Mac Air and the Eee PC are the first of a wave of small, cost effective laptops.
Other topics we look at this month are some product recalls and a useful software application that checks your software is up to date and secure. We also explain what the differences are between the different versions of Wireless.
One thing that's constantly changing are Internet plans. If you want to get the best deal from your ISP you need to give them a call at least once a year. That's our first topic for this month.

New business tech column

From Tuesday Paul will have a weekly blog on the Smart Company website.

Smart Company is a completely free news, information and resource site for Australia’s entrepreneurs and SMEs.
You can subscribe to Paul's, and other articles, for free by registering on the website.

ABC Radio Spots

Our ABC spots are back up and running after the Christmas break. We kick off with a Sydney Weekend spot this Sunday.

702 Sydney Weekends

The first spot for 2008 is at 10am Sunday, January 20 when we'll be looking what's happened with computers and the Internet over the Christmas break.

Nightlife, nationally on ABC Local Radio
The next Nightlife spot is Thursday, January 31 at 10.15pm and we'll be looking at the trends to watch in 2008. 

If you'd like to call, or offer any suggestions about the shows, please contact us.

Who says you can't get a good computer manual? Our Dummies books are now available online. If you want to learn more about your computer, we have the answers.

PCs for Dummies

Internet for Dummies

Laptops for Dummies

Ask us a question

Our website, IT Queries answers common computer problems.

If your computer has a frustrating problem, have a look for an answer at IT Queries. If you don't find one, just ask on the IT Queries site and we'll get a solution for you.

PC Rescue Blogs As well as our IT Queries website we also have two blogs commentating on current issues.

Cranky Tech is where we vent our spleens on issues relating to IT support and small business.

The Australian Technology Blog examines technology and trends that affect Australians    


Check your Internet plan

One of the big trends of 2008 will be the continuing improvement of Internet deals. Commercial pressures mean Internet Service Providers are continually having to offer more features for less money.

A habit of ISPs is not to look after their existing customers. When they offer a great deal to new clients they rarely let their existing customers know about it in the hope their current customers will continue to pay more for less.

A current example of this is Telstra Bigpond. Bigpond have recently introduced higher download limits on their Liberty plans, this means the 10Gb cap has gone up to 12Gb. Existing subscribers have to ask Bigpond to increase their limits.

If you are a Bigpond subscriber call them or logon to check you are getting full value from your current plan. We recommend home Bigpond users should be on the 12Gb or 25Gb Liberty plans.

What's going to be big in 2008

2008 is going to be a big year for technology with new releases in computers, Internet and mobile phones. Some of the issues to watch are;

1. Windows Service packs
The release of the Vista Service Pack will be the biggest IT news of the year. This will see Windows Vista finally being accepted in the market as some of the bugs and incompatibilities are ironed out.

The long overdue release of XP Service Pack 3 will be a must have for the majority of Windows users who see no need to move to the newer operating system.

2. The release of the iPhone
We expect to see the iPhone available in Australia some time this year. This will change the way phones are bought and sold in Australia. While you may not buy an iPhone yourself, some of the innovations will be in the next phone you buy.

3. The opening of the Sydney Apple Store
Apple will open their first Australian concept store in Sydney this year. If the experience of Apple stores overseas is any guide this should raise the bar for Australian computer retailers.

4. Windows Home Server
The idea of both Microsoft and Apple is to replace the DVD player and HiFi with a computer that will control everything and stream it through the house. Windows Home Server has been quiet for sometime but we expect this to start to take off in the market place.

5. Smaller laptops
The Asus EeePC created a new market for ultra small laptops and Apple have joined it with the MacBook Air. This is the first of a wave and we can expect laptops to become cheaper and smaller throughout 2008

6. lower prices
It won't be just portable computers where we’ll see lower prices. Internet access, wireless equipment and mobile phones will all see some substantial falls.

7. consolidation of smaller providers and shops
A consequence of the lower prices will be fewer shops as the dollar margins get tighter. This isn’t going to be helped by even faster changes in inventory. We're seeing some of these problems already which we discuss later in the newsletter.

8. Green IT
Sustainability, reducing energy costs and minimising the carbon footprint will be one the greatest issues of the year. The IT industry will be part of this and we'll be spending a lot of time looking at how to reduce the effects of technology on the environment.

9. More Web services
Web 2.0 is sooooo 2006, but we’ll continue to see more so called 2.0 applications available. Some of them will be useful to your home and business.

10. The Australian broadband mess will continue
2008 will see Telstra and Optus frantically try to shore up their declining mobile and fixed line revenues. We can expect a big battlefield will be broadband and wireless Internet. This is why you should keep a close eye on what's available.

Smaller Internet operators will suffer as the tightening credit markets make their funding more difficult. We expect a big rationalisation of providers this year.

The government will try a number of ways to undo the damage of twenty years of misguided policy by both political parties. We think they will fail or end up with an even worse problem.

11. Internet filtering
This is another area the government will grapple with. Over time this will probably whither away given the resistance of the industry and the massive resources required to filter the Internet effectively.

12. Privacy
Privacy will continue to be an issue with people continuing to find confidential information leaked. Services like Facebook will have to confront even more issues while governments and businesses will have to beef up their systems.

13. Wireless services
We'll see the price of mobile phone based services continue to tumble as 3, Optus and Vodafone compete with Telstra's Next G. Already Telstra are finding their margins being undermined. If you have a wireless Internet plan, keep an eye on what's on offer.

14. The life or death of WiMax;
WiMax is the wireless technology that's promised a lot and delivered little. 2008 is the crunch year for WiMax. If the OPEL consortium in Australia can take off, WiMax may survive; otherwise it is dead. 

Keeping up to date with software changes

One of the constant battles for computer owners is to keep their computers up to date with the latest software versions. Security company Secunia has released a free patch detection tool that will check your computer for out of date software.

This is well worth downloading and running on your machine to check that everything is up to date.

One word of warning, if you are running Windows XP, the program will warn you that this should be updated. It's probably best to ignore that message.

Avoiding dodgy salesmen

A few newsletters ago we mentioned door to door salespeople selling broadband contracts. This has now extended to sales pitches over the phone. We strongly advise you to avoid these deals and just hang up politely.

Stories we are hearing are of customers finding they haven't got the features they thought they were getting. Often they find what the salesman promised was impossible. Of course, the salesman has moved on.

We strongly recommend you do not enter any plan without having first received a written contract with the details clearly stated.

Bizarrely both of the biggest telcos are using these tactics in a way to retain market share. In the past this has been a PR disaster for them. Make sure you don't become part of the problem.

Jargon Watch: Wi-Fi and 802.11a, b, g and n.

Wireless networking and Internet is one of the boom technologies of the last five years. The idea is you can connect to the Internet or a network without plugging in an ugly blue wire.

The most common way to do this is using Wi-Fi connections. Wi-Fi is the most popular wireless networking standard and is included on most laptops. The 802.11refers to the official technical standard.

Unfortunately the IT industry being what it is, we couldn't help but fall for the temptation to confuse everyone so there are currently four types of Wi-Fi equipment on the market.

802.11a is very rare and is limited to corporate or industrial networks.

802.11b is the older, slower standard. This equipment is no longer sold but is still common. It doesn't support the newer security settings so we recommend upgrading these at the first opportunity.

802.11g is the most common standard at the moment. It supports WPA security and speeds of up to 54Mbps. With some gimmicks by the suppliers you can squeeze out 108Mps.

802.11n is the newer standard with speeds of up to 254Mps. While some suppliers are advertising "Pre-N", "draft N" or "MIMO equipment which claims to be 802.11n, the standard itself is yet to be settled.

Because the 802.11n manufacturers are guessing at what will be in the final standard, we'd recommend sticking with system that works which is 802.11g.

In case you're wondering what happened to all the letters in between b,g and n, we don't know either.

Shopping online

Back in October we had a feature on shopping online and how to protect yourself. The failure of online retailer Nintek over Christmas is a reminder of how things can go wrong.

The sorry tale of Nintek's failure shows why it's important to take care when shopping online. Once, Nintek were once one of the best online stores in Australia but management incompetence bought it down.

The big victims are those who have paid directly using money orders or direct transfers.These people have very little chance of seeing a fraction of their payments back. The moral here is to pay for online transactions by credit card or a third party online services.

Product recall

We're not fans of equipment where the network runs over your power cables. We find it unreliable and prone to surge  damage.

If do have this equipment, check the model number as Netgear have recalled one of their popular models due to fire risks. More information is available on the Product Recalls Australia website.

Coming up on the website

All the topics in this newsletter are currently on, or will soon be on, the website. If you have any suggestions, comments or have spotted one of our numerous errors, let us know.


Paul Wallbank

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