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protonic.com Newsletter
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Issue 29 - September 9, 2009
Table of contents:
Welcome to this edition
Spotify and the future of the Music Industry
Software Review: Dropbox
Why not try... A complete computer cleanup!
Website of the Month: Support Alert/Gizmo?s Freeware
protonic.com is hiring!
Credits

Welcome to this edition[ TOP ]
Welcome back! It?s been a while since we released a newsletter for a number of reasons. What with a particularly busy time at protonic.com it?s been difficult to find people to write articles. Hopefully the newsletter will be back for a while now! - Philip McMahon (Writer)

Spotify and the future of the Music Industry[ TOP ]
Many of you may have heard of Spotify, a music streaming service supported by audio and banner adverts. Users can choose from a huge library of music to create playlists and listen to their hearts content whilst they are connected to the internet. The key selling point of this service is, of course that it?s free and legal music. In reality, however, legality isn?t always the first thing to be considered when obtaining music online and credit must be given to Spotify?s intuitive interface and general ease of use that has drawn people away from the somewhat shadier methods such as limewire and pirate bay. The best way to find out more is to try out the service yourself ? visit spotify.com to sign up. What I?m more interested in is the impact this product might have on the music industry.

It?s no great secret that filesharing has hit hard on music labels and artists alike and there have been many attempts to either stop the pirates through legal action or to provide alternative services. Of these, the latter has had some limited success, the most obvious success story being the iTunes music store. However, Spotify is something new. Rather than fighting unwillingness to pay, they?ve made what is ?free? legal and in doing so have captured the custom of millions of users across Europe. This, however is not their only success ? due to recent investments by none other than the music labels themselves, Spotify?s market value is now roughly $242 million. And the service is yet to launch in the USA, which it should do so this autumn.

In actual fact, the numbers behind the success story aren?t so glamorous. The support of the music labels comes at a price, and spotify has to pay royalties for every track played on the service. Whilst this may be less than a cent per track, with millions of users playing hundreds of tracks a week the cost quickly builds up to a sum far higher, reaching $360 million for the UK alone ? a figure many times greater than what can be obtained via the advertising revenue. So Spotify needs another way of making money ? there is already a subscription model in place that removes the adverts, streams higher quality music and allows the user to use Spotify on their Smartphone. If Spotify is to survive however, they need more subscribers or a different business plan.

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook has taken an interest in Spotify and there is potential for a partnership there to combat the dominance of Myspace in the music zone. With the recently released iphone and android applications perhaps Spotify can truly be the future of the music industry.
For more information on Spotify, visit the companies page on Crunchbase [2]

[1] http://www.spotify.com/ (Spotify homepage)
[2] http://www.crunchbase.com/company/spotify (Spotify on crunchbase)

Software Review: Dropbox[ TOP ]
In the present day much of our lives revolve around computers in some way or another. With more and more information stored digitally there is inevitably increased fear of data loss. Numerous backup solutions are available ranging from simply keeping a hard copy through to the use of more reliable storage methods such as flash memory. More recently, online storage has become popular. There are many good services available such as box.net and the generous 50GB of free storage provided by Adrive [2]. The vast majority of these services offer a free account with limited features and various premium services. In this respect, Dropbox is like no other service, offering 2GB free and then plans at $10 and $20 per month offering 50GB and 100GB respectively. What is great about Dropbox is the way in which it operates.

Upon installing the software, a new folder is created called ?My Dropbox?. Whatever you place inside this folder will automatically be synchronised to your dropbox account and backed up online, where it can be accessed anywhere by logging into your dropbox account at getdropbox.com

Okay, so perhaps not the most revolutionary tool but I think you will be surprised at how useful dropbox is. Sure, with a webmail account it is easy to just email files to oneself but this process is neither as simple nor as fast as Dropbox. Furthermore, it is possible to set up shared files so that whatever you put in your dropbox gets synchronised to your friends and co-workers. They can then edit the files straight from the dropbox and as soon as they click ?save? the files of everybody the folder is shared with will be updated.

If you?d like to keep a copy of files both in your dropbox and in another location on your hard drive then you could use a Microsoft powertool called Synctoy [3]. This allows you to set up ?folder pairs? which, when run, will synchronize together. Even files that have only had one or two words changed should be recognized and updated. The technical blog lifehacker has many fantastic articles on using your dropbox to its fullest [4]. Personally I find that 2GB is more than enough to backup my most important documents, though if you wish to store photos, videos and music then it might be worth going for a premium plan (though flickr [5] offers unlimited photo storage for $25).

Dropbox really is a useful tool so if you have ever felt the need for quick and easy backup and online access it might be just the thing you?ve been waiting for. Go on, give it a go!
Please Note: This article may read something like an advert. I would like to emphasize that my reviews will always be of free software, it?s just that this particular subject of online storage is commercialised in a big way. I?m impressed by Dropbox for its intuitive interface. If you want tons of free storage then you might try Adrive mentioned above.

[1] http://www.getdropbox.com/ (Dropbox Homepage)
[2] http://www.adrive.com/ (Adrive homepage)
[3] http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=e0fc1154-c975-4814-9649-cce41af06eb7&DisplayLang=en (Synctoy synchronization tool)
[4] http://lifehacker.com/search/dropbox/ (Dropbox on lifehacker)
[5] http://www.flickr.com/ (Flickr homepage)

Why not try... A complete computer cleanup![ TOP ]
Anyone with a windows computer will have had all too much experience of a drop in performance over time. The same is true for Macs but perhaps to a lesser extent. There are a number of reasons for this ? viruses, resource-hungry programs and redundant processes. Hundreds of supposed solutions exist with varying levels of success.

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to repair the damage and get your computer running smoothly again. The steps required aren?t always entirely straightforward and can be frustratingly time consuming with little performance increase. However, rather than shelling out on a new machine the steps below could add years to your computer?s life span.
The first steps I?m going to suggest are perhaps the least rewarding and yet are crucial nevertheless. Firstly, uninstall any software that you don?t use. Go through your add/remove programs list in XP or your ?programs and features? list in Vista/Windows 7 and make sure you use everything on there. You can look up anything you don?t recognize with a search engine. Steer clear of anything with ?driver? in the title ? entries such as ?intel graphics something something? are what keeps your computer working smoothly and it can be a troublesome process to reinstall them! Other than this, be brutal and do a full cleanup. Tip: You can remove all but the most recent version of java without any problems. For complete removal of software you could use Revo Uninstaller [1] but I recommend this only for more experienced users ? it cleans up all traces of a program from the registry which can be a risky process.

After doing this, we need to clean the system up. For this I?d suggest using a free program called CCleaner [2] ? analyze your system and then run the cleaner. The list down the right allows you to choose which locations are checked and cleaned; I?d like to particularly draw your attention to the fact that it will empty your recycle bin by default. Not only does CCleaner allow you to clean up files, it also has a handy Startup manager in the tools menu. I will discuss startup entries next. Unless you?re feeling brave I?d steer clear of the registry tool. Tutorials for CCleaner can be found here [3] For a bigger software package with many more features, you might like to try the free version of Tune-Up utilities 2007 [3.1]

Every time you load your computer, a number of processes load up to run in the background. Some of these are entirely necessary, such as antivirus software. Others simply use up valuable system resources at little or no gain to the user. To edit what programs load at startup you can use the CCleaner tool or go to start>>>run and type ?msconfig? - from there select the ?startup? tab. The list of entries may be a little daunting, especially as often the names of processes don?t give much away as to what they do. To solve this problem you can search the name of the file online ? so for example ?jusched.exe? ? in my experience the better sites are liutilities.com and processlibrary.com though there are many other useful sites. (Please be aware that any ?free scanners? offered by the sites are not in fact free ? they will scan your computer, find problems and then make you pay to remove them.) With processlibrary.com there is a description and a recommendation. Sometimes the description will say that a process is essential for a certain program ? if you don?t use that program regularly and the recommendation says that it?s not essential then go ahead and disable it. Note that any problematic changes can be remedied on the next boot but take care as some startup entries are essential windows components.

Okay, the next topic isn?t going to be entirely new. Security and antivirus. This area has been covered all over the internet so I?m not going to delve too deeply here. Suffice to say that for the average home user free antivirus solutions such as Avast [4] and Avira Free [5] provide more than enough protection. For a full guide to free antivirus software see this tech support alert article [6]. It?s probably also worth running a rootkit scan every few months or if you suspect problems [7]. My next point is that even with the best protection in the world you will almost certainly end up with infection if you regularly browse questionable sites, for example those offering music/movie downloads, free screensavers and software crack codes. Filesharing and torrenting is also a risky business ? unless you know exactly what you?re doing or are downloading files from a source you know to be reputable I?d suggest abandoning these methods entirely. If you believe you might have been infected then you could run Bittdefender?s online scanner [8]. A fantastic complete guide to securing your PC can be found here [9]. In summary, malicious software can have a drastic effect on your computer and can be very difficult to remove no matter how many scans you run. Prevention is better than cure!

As a general maintenance task, it is important to defragment on a regular basis. Windows has built in utilities whilst the makers of CCleaner provide another piece of software called Defraggler [10]. Defragmentation basically reorganizes your files so that they are arranged in a way that can be more easily accessed.
All of the methods I?ve mentioned so far may in actual fact have little or no effect. It is important that you are aware of them, however, as following these steps regularly can stop your computer from losing performance in the first place. On the other hand, you might find that cleaning your startup entries provides a great performance boost!
There are numerous other tutorials for speeding up ones PC ([11, 12, 13]) but it?s my belief that if you?ve come this far with little success then a more drastic solution might be necessary. A reinstallation of windows can work wonders on a system and is perhaps the single most effective way of improving performance. It?s not as difficult a process as it seems either! There are a range of options which I?ve outlined below. Before you do any of this, however, you must first backup. This step is often what puts people off entirely. You?ll need to either backup to CD [14] (slow and complex!), external hard drive (a simple case of copying+pasting files over, or you can use synctoy [15]), flash drive (up to 16gb at the moment) or another method. Probably the best folder to backup to be on the safe side is the ?documents and settings? folder in windows XP or the ?users? folder in vista/windows7. Your my documents folder, desktop files etc are all contained within this folder. This should backup files for all users. There are also numerous (free) software packages available to guide you through the backup process [16].

Backup Methods:
* Recovery (Effective, quick and easy, sometimes no disc required) ? some manufacturers have a built in recovery tool that usually involves pressing a couple of keys at startup ? to find out what these keys are you should see your manual/look your computer up on the manufacturers website.
* Non-destructive install/Repair (more complex, disc required) ? a feature provided within the XP/Vista installation disc. See here [17] for XP and here [18] for the Microsoft guide to reinstalling vista.
* Complete reinstall (complex, disc required) ? this involves wiping your hard disk entirely and starting again from scratch. See the above guide for vista and this one [19] for XP
I apologize for not providing more comprehensive instructions and merely directing you to other sites. However, there are so many reinstallation options that it would take me hours (and pages and pages and pages) to go through them all. There are guides all over the web however which can easily be found with a simple search such as ?reinstall windows vista? etc. It is worth the effort as if you can get the hang of reinstallation then you can add years to your computers lifespan.

Note: My suggestions here may be nothing new to many of you but I feel this is a valuable article all the same. Barely a week goes by in which I don?t hear about someone getting a new computer because their current machine runs ?too slow?. Eventually hardware will give up and a new purchase will be necessary but until then keep that machine running!

[1] http://www.revouninstaller.com/ (Revo uninstaller)
[2] http://www.ccleaner.com/ (CCleaner)
[3] http://www.ccleaner.com/help (CCleaner Tutorials)
[3.1] http://www.v3.co.uk/vnunet/downloads/2231665/tuneup-utilities-2007 (Tune-Up 2007)
[4] http://www.avast.com/eng/avast_4_home.html (Avast! Antivirus)
[5] http://www.free-av.com/ (Avira Free Antivirus)
[6] http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-anti-virus-software.htm (Guide to Free AV)
[7] http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-rootkit-scanner-remover.htm (Rootkit)
[8] http://www.bitdefender.com/ (Bittdefender online virus scan)
[9] http://www.techsupportalert.com/how-to-secure-your-pc.php (Security guide)
[10] http://www.defraggler.com/ (Defragmentation software)
[11, 12, 13] http://afreesupport.com/ http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/setup/maintain/improveperf.mspx http://lifehacker.com/5087101/the-complete-guide-to-speeding-up-your-pcs-startup (Guides)
[14] http://www.coe.unt.edu/office-technology/guide-data-backup-using-cds (CD Backup guide)
[15] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWhidVZEG7M (Synctoy backup tutorial)
[16] http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-backup-program (Backup software)
[17] http://www.michaelstevenstech.com/XPrepairinstall.htm (XP repair install)
[18] http://windowshelp.microsoft.com/Windows/en-US/Help/e77344fa-e978-464c-953e-eba44f0522671033.mspx (Vista reinstall guide)
[19] http://support.microsoft.com/kb/315341 (XP reinstall guide)
[20] My sincere apologies for this mammoth selection of links!

Website of the Month: Support Alert/Gizmo?s Freeware[ TOP ]
I first discovered this website whilst searching for the best free antivirus option. This was several years back and since then it has grown and improved massively. With an enormous library of freeware with detailed reviews, rankings and suggestions it could be the last site you ever need to visit in pursuit of new software. Take a look around the ?tech treats? and ?hot finds? sections ? there?s a goldmine of information there. You?ll notice that I?ve used a number of articles from the site in this newsletter and that?s because they?re some of the best I?ve ever seen.

http://www.techsupportalert.com/

protonic.com is hiring![ TOP ]
How would you like to work amongst a team of friendly volunteers, doing a job that provides immense satisfaction every time you complete a task?

My work as a protonic.com technician has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. Once you sign up, you gain access to a long list of requests for help which you can read at your leisure to find a problem you feel you can solve. Sometimes you?ll be able to give a perfect solution off the top of your head, in other cases you?ll need to correspond with the client to obtain more information on the issue at hand. Perhaps the most enjoyable solution I?ve provided took around 3 months to solve but when I finally got the client sorted there was a sense of achievement like no other!

Whether you?re an expert computer scientist or merely have some experience with managing bookmarks and downloading software, protonic.com will have a problem you can solve. Asides from some extremely grateful feedback, you?ll learn a huge amount as you try to not only solve a problem yourself but explain it in such a way so that others can understand it. From the moment you join the team you?ll be allocated to a mentor who will guide you as you get used to the system and answer any queries you have. To begin with all your correspondence will go through a quality assurance team - not only does this give you a safety net in case of errors but the team provides endless encouragement, along with the odd suggestion here and there.

If you?d like to join us, visit http://www.protonic.com/?page=join and apply today.

Credits[ TOP ]
Newsletter Administrator - Ross Connor (ross@protonic.com)

This issue has been entirely written by Philip McMahon (spoon@protonic.com)





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