All posts by Wayne Williams

Killed by Google

Wayne Williams

15 Oct, 2020

It’s become a fact of web life that Google giveth and Google taketh away. Just as you’ve become reliant on one of its free tools for managing your photos, streaming your music library or getting your daily news fix, the search giant decides to put it permanently on ice.

Sometimes this happens because Google has launched what it believes to be (but often isn’t) a superior service, while at other times it’s simply because Google has lost interest in that product, even if its users haven’t. It is running a business, after all. 

Fortunately, few Google tools are unique, and there are usually good alternatives available for its abandoned products. In this feature, we round up the best free replacements for tools that have been consigned to the Google graveyard over the last seven years, or that are about to be killed off very soon.

Google Cloud Print

Lifespan: 2010-2021

Why Google killed it: Cloud Print, Google’s cloud-based printing solution, makes it possible to send web pages to printers from any device. Google announced plans to kill the service off late last year, with an execution date of 1 Jan 2021. The company didn’t give a clear reason for the closure, although it did say that Chrome OS, its cloud-based operating system, would be offering improved built-in printing controls.

What to use instead: Google suggests switching to one of its free printing partners, the best of which is PaperCut Mobility Print. There’s even a handy guide that helps you migrate to the service from Cloud Print.

Google Play Music

Lifespan: 2011-2020

Why Google killed it: Google currently has two music-streaming services – Google Play Music, which is the default music player on many Android devices, and YouTube Music – but it now only wants one. Google has been warning users for a while that it will be shutting down Play Music and, in a blog post in August, it confirmed that YouTube Music will replace the service by December 2020.

What to use instead: Although Google would like you to switch to YouTube Music, and is making it as easy as possible to do so, now is the perfect time to move to a better choice. Spotify has a huge library of songs, with both free and paid-for tiers – and, like Play Music, it lets you import and play locally stored audio files.


Lifespan: 2013-2020

Why Google killed it: Google has a number of different messaging apps and is trying to streamline its offerings. It shut down Allo last year (more on that later) and is killing off Hangouts Classic – its most popular messaging app, with more than a billion installs on Android – in December 2020. It might seem strange for Google to shut down its most successful service, but the company is focusing on business communication, which in the light of the pandemic-fuelled rise in working from home, seems like a smart bet.

What to use instead: Google wants you to communicate using Android’s built-in Messages app, or either of Hangouts’ direct successors – Google Meet or Google Chat (its Slack alternative for businesses). There are much better choices available, however. WhatsApp is packed with features including voice and video calls, is available for your phone, computer and the web, and your friends are probably already using it.

Google Chrome Apps

Lifespan: 2010-2020

Why Google killed it: Not to be confused with Chrome extensions, Chrome Apps are hosted or packaged web applications that run using Google’s browser. They are downloaded from the Chrome Web Store and look much like a typical desktop app. The chances are you don’t use these, and that’s the reason Google decided to pull the plug on them. Support for them on Windows, Mac and Linux will end in December 2020 (Chrome OS users will continue to have access), and they will be killed off entirely by June 2022.

What to use instead: Chrome Apps are a nice gimmick, but in truth they don’t serve any great purpose. Rather than installing an app and running it in your browser, just navigate to the actual online service. You’ll get pretty much the same experience.

One Today

Lifespan: 2013-2020

Why Google killed it: Google has a non-profit arm that aims to solve some of humanity’s biggest challenges. One Today was an Android app that made it possible for users to donate money to charities and see exactly how that donation was going to be spent. Google killed it off at the start of February 2020, explaining that “in the last few years, we have seen donors choose other products to fundraise for their favourite non-profits”.

What to use instead: Thinking of You is a free app for Android and iOS that lets you send a thought to someone you know, along with a donation to one of its many supported charities, including Shelter, Stroke Association, Make-A-Wish, Kidney Research UK, Parkinson’s and Children with Cancer UK. You can also donate directly to charities, and Thinking of You gives all transaction fees to the charities on its app.


Lifespan: 2017-2019

Why Google killed it: Google’s Play store is home to millions of Android apps, including many produced by the search giant itself. Datally was a useful free app (called Triangle when it originally launched in June 2017), that helped users manage their mobile data by viewing and blocking the activity of installed apps. Google never gave a reason for why it pulled Datally from the Play store in October last year, but it’s not the only app to vanish in this way.

What to use instead: Data Usage – Data Manager is a good free alternative for Android that can display daily data usage for apps you use and warn you if you go over your limit. It hasn’t been updated in over a year, but it still works fine with newer versions of Android.

Google Daydream

Lifespan: 2016-2019

Why Google killed it: There was a time when virtual reality seemed destined to be the next big thing, and if you couldn’t afford a full-fledged headset such as the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive, you could just drop your Android phone into a VR headset like Google Daydream instead. Developers didn’t flock to it however, and consumers didn’t buy it in any great numbers either, so Google ceased development, stating: “There hasn’t been the broad consumer or developer adoption we had hoped, and we’ve seen decreasing usage over time of the Daydream View headset”.

What to use instead: If you can afford it, buy a dedicated headset; if you can’t, you can pick up cheap phone-based VR headsets from Amazon and eBay. There’s also Google’s own Cardboard viewer which costs from just £15 (it’s only made out of cardboard, after all) and works with both Android devices and iPhones.

Google Trips

Lifespan: 2016-2019

Why Google killed it: This app for Android and iOS was designed as a trip planner that could pull information on upcoming excursions from Gmail and offer day guides to over 200 major cities. Google killed off the Trips app, but still offers much of the same functionality in in Google Maps and on the web at

What to use instead: TripIt is a very similar app available for Android and iOS that helps you organise your travel plans (when you have some again). Just forward your confirmation emails to TripIt and it will build a master itinerary for you, and provide travel stats and carbon footprint details. It also helps you get around and lets you keep colleagues and friends informed of where you are.

Inbox by Gmail

Lifespan: 2015-2019

Why Google killed it: Inbox by Gmail provided a different way to access the search giant’s webmail service, and was designed to cut through the junk in a busy inbox and present you with only what’s important. You could even snooze emails for a later time. In shutting down Inbox, Google said it had been “a great place to experiment with new ideas”, but it now wants to focus on just Gmail.

What to use instead: If you miss Inbox’s clean design, then you can bring it back by installing Simplify Gmail. This Chrome extension was created by Michael Leggett, Gmail’s lead designer from 2008 to 2012, and the co-founder of Google Inbox.


Lifespan: 2011-2019

Why Google killed it: Google+ was the search giant’s attempt to take on Facebook and Twitter, and although Google did everything possible to push it – including integration with the company’s other services, such as YouTube and Google Drive, and continual redesigns to make it easier to use – few people were interested and Google eventually threw in the towel, citing “low user engagement”.

What to use instead: Facebook or Twitter would be the obvious choice, but there are lesser-known services to consider such as the currently invite-only Webtalk or MeWe, which is a privacy-focused social network with no ads.

Lifespan: 2009-2019

Why Google killed it: Google’s URL shortener was a useful service for shrinking long, unwieldy web addresses and making it easier for people to share links and measure traffic. Despite its popularity, Google made the decision to shut it down in 2018 ( due to competition from other services and people moving from “desktop web pages to apps, mobile devices, home assistants, and more”.

What to use instead: is our preferred choice of URL shortener. It lets you shrink long URLs, customise the links, and view the number of clicks for each one – so you can quickly see how many people have looked at things you’ve shared. It’s free to use, but the paid-for version offers extra features.

Google Allo

Lifespan: 2016-2019

Why Google killed it: Rather than be put off by the surfeit of mobile messaging apps, in 2016, Google decided the world needed two more and rolled out Allo – with Google Assistant baked in – and Duo (for video calling). While Duo still exists (for now), Google killed off Allo in 2019 to focus instead on its Messages app.

What to use instead: You could use WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or any of the many other available chat apps. Telegram is a good alternative to Allo, but focuses more on speed and privacy.

Chromecast Audio

Lifespan: 2015-2019

Why Google killed it: Although Google’s Chromecast is best known as a device that can stream video content directly to your television set, there was also a version that could be used to cast audio directly to your speakers from an iPhone, iPad, Android device or PC. It cost £30 and came with a 3.5 mm analogue stereo patch cable and power adapter, but was killed off after the company introduced its own range of Google Assistant-powered smart speakers. The technology lives on in the main Chromecast, however.

What to use instead: A smart speaker such as Amazon’s Echo or Google’s own Home/Nest is great for playing audio, but if you want to ‘cast’ music from your other devices, then the Roku Express streaming media player (£25 from Amazon) is ideal. It can stream video at up to 4K Ultra HD, and also lets you cast music (and photos) to your TV. 

For a software solution, try Nero Streaming Player for Android or iOS. The free app can cast music (as well as photos and videos) to your smart TV or any other UPnP/DLNA compatible Media Player.

YouTube Video Editor

Lifespan: 2010-2017

Why Google killed it: YouTube Video Editor was a web-based tool you could use to edit and enhance your movies and apply some effects before sharing them on YouTube. While it was a great idea, YouTube says as few as 0.1% of creators bothered with it (many probably didn’t know it existed in the first place), so Google decided to drop it.

What to use instead: It’s better to edit video directly on your PC rather than in the cloud, and Shotcut does this with no fuss. Available for Windows, Mac and Linux, this free tool can handle all the main media formats and the editing is done on a multi-track timeline. When you’ve finished making your movie, go to the Export tab and select YouTube to upload and share your video in MP4 format. See page 28 for details.

Google Now

Lifespan: 2012-2016

Why Google killed it: Google Now was a card-based search system for iOS and Android that let you view all sorts of relevant information. Cards would appear when you needed them, and it integrated with your installed sites and apps. Google Now also served as the first iteration of its digital assistant, and was summoned by tapping your phone’s button or by saying “OK, Google”. It was eventually replaced by Assistant, which offers two-way spoken interaction.

What to use instead: If you’re heavily invested in Google’s ecosystem, use Google Assistant. If Apple is your preferred choice, then Siri will be more suitable. For everyone else, Amazon Alexa is the digital assistant you should opt for. It’s embedded in a number of Amazon products, such as Echo and Fire TV, and can do everything from answering questions and giving you the news to controlling your lights and reading you audiobooks.


Lifespan: 2002-2015

Why Google killed it: Picasa was a big favourite for many people, and provided an easy way to organise and edit your photos. It included lots of fun extras such as face recognition, collages and filters, but was eventually replaced by its cloud-based successor, Google Photos.

What to use instead: While you can (and probably do) use Google Photos to back up your phone’s photos to the cloud, there are desktop services that are more in keeping with Picasa’s original design, features and spirit, such as DigiKam, which was recently updated and now lets you organise your photos by face. See last issue’s Workshop 1 for details.


Lifespan: 2004-2014

Why Google killed it: Before Google+ became Google’s main focus, the search giant had Orkut, an online community that was created by employee Orkut Büyükkökten. It was designed to help users stay in touch with friends and was hugely popular in India and Brazil. 

It’s not hard to guess why Google closed it. As the company’s engineering director Paulo Golgher said in a blog post: “Over the past decade, Facebook, YouTube, Blogger and Google+ have taken off, with communities springing up in every corner of the world. Because the growth of these communities has outpaced Orkut’s growth, we’ve decided to bid Orkut farewell.”

What to use instead: While the obvious choices are Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you should also consider the Android/iOS app-based Hello, which is a new social network founded by Orkut Büyükkökten and a small group of ex-Google engineers. It’s different from other services in that it aims to tie people together, based on their common interests.

Google Reader

Lifespan: 2005-2013

Why Google killed it: Subscribing to RSS/web feeds using Google Reader could save you a serious amount of time and effort, especially if you visited a lot of websites on a daily basis. Instead of having to go to each site individually, Reader would fetch all the latest headlines for you, aggregating them in an easy-to-read layout. Also, because it was web-based, you could view your subscriptions from anywhere, including on your phone. 

Sadly, in 2013, Google made the shocking decision to kill off Reader, stating: “While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined”. 

What to use instead: In the run-up to Reader’s closure, plenty of rival services surfaced as potential successors, but many have since fallen by the wayside. One that has continued to serve users well is Feedly, which lets you add and organise feeds and tweets, has light and dark modes, and offers mobile apps and browser add-ons. The free version is perfectly adequate for most users, but there’s a paid-for Pro edition with extra features and speedier feed updates from $6 (around £4.50) per month. 

Stop using software

Wayne Williams

24 Feb, 2020

We all love free software – the joy of discovering a great new program, the satisfaction of a successful installation – but that doesn’t mean we have to rely on it completely.

Thanks to ever-faster broadband connections and cross-platform web technology such as HTML5, it’s now possible to perform an increasing number of previously PC-based tasks without needing to download and install bloated and slow desktop programs. Not only does this save you time and storage space, but it also means you can avoid bundled junk and potential malware threats. 

In this feature, we look at the latest free web-based alternatives to traditional software that let you do everything in the cloud. From security scanners and office tools to image editors and messaging clients – with our recommendations, you can run everything in your browser from any device and it won’t cost you a penny!

Remove junk and free up space

CCleaner is an excellent if controversial (since it was purchased by Avast) system-cleaning tool, but you don’t need to install and download the program. CCleaner Cloud Free offers the same functionality, but runs in your web browser, which means you can completely avoid the bundled junk that plagues the desktop software.

This cloud service lets you manage and maintain up to three PCs remotely (including systems belonging to friends and family), and it can also clean every user profile on your PC, making it more thorough than the desktop version. Other features include the ability to remove junk files, disable unnecessary startup programs, repair Registry issues and defrag hard drives. 

You need to sign up with CCleaner Cloud and run the 14-day trial but, after that expires (no credit card details are required), you will automatically be switched to the free edition. This means losing some functionality, but it’s nothing to be too bothered about.

Software you no longer need: 

CCleaner, BleachBit

Zip and unzip files

Windows comes with built-in zip support, allowing you to compress files and open archives directly in the operating system without needing to install any software. However, it’s not the most elegant of solutions, which is why most people prefer to install a third-party program such as 7-Zip instead. 

An even smarter option, which doesn’t require installation, is ezyZip. This online compression service can create zip files and open archives in a variety of compressed formats including ZIP, RAR, TAR, TGZ and JAR. Usefully, it can also convert one archive format into another – RAR to ZIP, for example – directly in your browser.

Software you no longer need: 

WinZip, WinRAR

Scan your PC for malware

If you suspect that your PC may have picked up some malware but your existing antivirus solution (assuming you have one installed) isn’t finding anything, you can use an online scanner to provide a second opinion, rather than downloading a second security tool that may cause clashes. 

F-Secure Online Scanner is one of the better options and promises to scan and clean your PC for free. To use it, click the blue ‘Run now’ button and it will save a small file to your desktop. Launch this to open the online scanner and click the ‘Accept and scan’ button. This will set up the scanner so it can begin checking for harmful items.

If you don’t want to download anything at all, you can use Chrome to look for malware on your PC. Type chrome://settings/cleanup in the address bar and press Enter. Click the blue Find button and it will begin to look for potential threats. Chrome displays a spinning circle during the process – you don’t get any idea of the progress – so be patient and it will eventually report back with its findings.

Software you no longer need: 

AVG Free Antivirus,

Avast Free Antivirus

Scan suspicious files for threats

The real-time protection offered by reputable antivirus software ensures you’re protected from most threats at all times but, if you’re careful and don’t visit bad sites, download suspect files, or blindly click on unknown email attachments, you may not need this level of security, especially as Windows 10 has Defender built-in.

Google’s VirusTotal service can help keep you safe by analysing suspicious downloads and potentially malicious websites. It uses more than 70 different antivirus engines including AVG, Bitdefender and Sophos. 

To scan an item from your hard drive, click the ‘Choose file’ button and navigate to it. The file will be uploaded to VirusTotal and scanned by all the engines, with the results displayed in your browser. To check a website, click the URL tab and enter the site address.

Software you no longer need: 


How to run classic versions of Windows on modern PCs

Wayne Williams

20 Nov, 2018

Run Windows 95 on any computer

Windows 95 gave us many of the elements of a modern operating system, including a Start menu, desktop and taskbar, but it’s very different from the bells and whistles of Windows 10.

You probably haven’t used the groundbreaking OS in a good 20 years, but you can take it for a spin once more thanks to an enterprising developer who has wrapped it inside a virtual machine. The program is available for Windows, MacOS and Linux, which means you can revisit the joys of Win95 on any computer, within a window on your desktop.

Most features, including WordPad, Calculator, FreeCell and Media Player work just like they used to, with the notable exception of Internet Explorer, which opens but is unable to loads web pages. When you’re ready to go back to your modern operating system, just tap Esc to free your cursor from inside the virtual space.

Travel back 23 years in time by running Windows 95 on your current computer

Run Windows 2000 Professional in your browser

While consumers were running the dreadful Windows Me back at the start of the new millennium, businesses, professionals and those in the know were using the superior Windows 2000. It wasn’t the fanciest of operating systems, but it was stable and fast, meaning you could rely on it when you needed to get things done.

You can run the old operating system directly in your browser by going to This emulator works brilliantly on desktop computers, and you can even run it on your phone or tablet, although your results might vary. Because it’s running in a browser, it isn’t amazingly fast – but that only helps reinforce the idea that you’re using an operating system from 18 years ago.

If you never got the chance to use Windows 2000, you can now give it a go

Download Windows XP for free

Windows 7 comes with Windows XP Mode, a compatibility feature designed to run XP and its software inside a virtual window. If you’re using Windows 10, this option isn’t available to you, but you can still download and run the ancient OS inside your current one, although it takes a little time to set up.

To get started, first download VirtualBox and 7-Zip, if you don’t have them already, and download Windows XP Mode from Microsoft.

When XP has finished downloading, right-click the executable file, select 7-Zip, ‘Open archive’ and pick ‘cab’ in the context menu. Go into the sources folder and double-click ‘xpm’ – the XP Mode virtual hard drive folder – and extract all the files inside to a folder on your hard drive. Click VirtualXPVHD in that folder, and press F2. Insert a full stop between P and V – VirtualXP.VHD – and hit Enter.

Next, install and run VirtualBox. Go to New and name the virtual machine Windows XP. The rest of the information will be filled in automatically below. Use the slider to increase the available memory to 2048MB and select ‘Use an existing virtual hard disk file’ at the bottom. Click the folder icon to the right of the box below, and navigate to, and select, the VirtualXP.VHD file. Click Open.

Hit the Create button. Now click Settings at the top, select System in the new Window, and untick Floppy. Move Hard Disk to the top of the list, select Display and increase the Video Memory to 128MB (the maximum). Close this window, select XP on the left and click Start above. Windows XP will load in the window.

You will need to use your keyboard to navigate the installation pages (tab is especially helpful here) as the mouse won’t work properly. When you see a black screen, press Right Ctrl+R to reset the OS. Select Cancel on all the windows that appear, and then in VirtualBox, go to Devices, ‘Install Guest Additions CD Image’, and install it (select the ‘Continue Anyway’ option when warnings appear). When finished, reboot and you can start using XP, just like in the early Noughties. Switch between full-screen, seamless and scaled modes via the View menu.

Windows 10 users nostalgic for XP can run the classic OS as a virtual machine

Get back classic Windows themes

If you don’t like the modern look of Windows and hanker for the old-school style sported in the likes of Windows 98, you can download a ‘Windows classic‘ theme for Windows 8.1 and 10. Unzip it and move the file to the ‘C:\Windows\Resources\Ease of Access Themes’ folder. Right-click a blank area of the desktop, select Personalise and select High Contrast. Enable the High Contrast option, and then select Classic from the list of themes.

It’s worth pointing out that this more basic theme won’t actually make Windows 10 run any faster, but it will push your nostalgic buttons.

Apply a classic theme to make your modern desktop look like Windows 98

Restore the classic Start menu

Not everyone loves Windows 10’s tiled Start menu as much as Microsoft clearly does. If you prefer the old-style menus found in XP and Windows 7, you can get them back by installing Open-Shell (previously Classic Start).

If it looks familiar that’s because it’s a continuation of the popular Classic Shell app which was discontinued (and open sourced) late last year. The software gives you a choice of three different menu styles – Classic, Two Columns and Windows 7 – as well as other options for customizing various elements of your operating system, including File Explorer.

To complete the retro look, download a high-res version of Bliss – the famous green and blue wallpaper used by Windows XP – from

Undo Microsoft’s unwanted changes to the Start menu using Open-Shell

Run Windows Essentials tools in Windows 10

Windows Essentials (also known as Windows Live Essentials) was a suite of desktop applications that included various Microsoft-developed programs, such as Messenger, Mail, Movie Maker, Photo Gallery, Writer and OneDrive. The last version of the suite was released in 2012, with the final update in 2014, and Microsoft removed it from its website last year.

However, you can still download and install the pack by visiting the Internet Archive. The direct download is pretty slow, but there’s a BitTorrent version on offer if you prefer. Some tools, such as Messenger, no longer work, but Movie Maker and Windows Photo Viewer run perfectly on Windows 10.

Make Windows Essentials essential again by grabbing it the Internet Archive

Get Office assistant Clippy on your desktop

Remember Clippy, Microsoft’s amusing/annoying (delete as applicable) Office assistant from the Nineties? He would spring into life and try to assist you whenever you started a task such as writing a letter or making a spreadsheet. He would also change his shape and perform funny little actions to entertain you.

Well, now you can bring him back, and run him on your desktop for endless nostalgic larks (until he starts to irritate you again). You don’t need to be using Windows either, as he’s also available for MacOS and Linux. Download Clippy from

How to spot and stop false positives in your PC’s security

Wayne Williams

24 May, 2018

No matter how well-intentioned, security software can be a pain when it comes to blocking downloads and access to software, especially if you know for sure that what you’re trying to use is completely safe.

Even the best security tools can get this wrong from time to time, leaving users wondering whether it was worth installing the software in the first place.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to rein in over-zealous security suites, or at least prove them wrong.

Get a second opinion about a threat

Sometimes Avast, Kaspersky, Malwarebytes and other security software flags a program as being infected, when it’s actually perfectly clean – an error known as a false-positive. If you’re in any doubt – perhaps you read about the download in a reputable internet magazine – you should seek a second opinion from VirusTotal instead.

This powerful, online service (which is owned by Google) lets you upload a suspicious file, or copy and paste the potentially malicious URL, to check for threats using more than 60 popular antivirus scanners and URL-blacklisting services. If the item comes back clean, or is only flagged by a couple of engines, then it’s safe to install.

If uploading a suspicious file sounds like too much hassle, the free program Winja provides an easy-to-use front end for VirusTotal that lets you use it like any standard antivirus scanner.

Run software blocked by Windows

Windows Defender SmartScreen springs into life when you try to install an unknown piece of software from an unrecognised source, and sometimes challenges programs from smaller, lesser-known developers. The error message in Windows 10 informs you that “Windows Defender SmartScreen prevented an unrecognised app from starting. Running this app might put your PC at risk.”

It then provides a ‘Don’t run’ button for you to click, with seemingly no way around this block. If, however, you’re completely sure the program in question is safe, you can force Windows to run it. Click the ‘More info’ link under the error message, and a ‘Run anyway’ button will appear. Click this, and Windows will install or run the software without any further warnings.

You can also grant a program permission to open before you run it. Right-click the EXE file and select Properties. At the bottom you’ll see a section relating to Security. Tick the Unblock box, then Apply and OK that window. You will now to be able to run your program.

If you find that SmartScreen regularly blocks programs you want to install, you can disable the feature altogether. Type ‘Windows Defender’ into the search box and launch the Windows Defender Security Centre.

Click ‘App and browser control’ and under ‘Check apps and files’ change the setting from ‘Warn’ to ‘Off’. This page also lets you disable SmartScreen in Microsoft Edge.

Find out what other users think

If a program you’ve already installed is causing problems with your security software – such as your firewall blocking its access to the internet – one of the best ways to check it for malware is using Should I Remove It. This handy free tool scans all your installed programs and provides you with a list that ranks them in order of how highly it recommends you uninstall them. Programs flagged red represent a potential security risk and should be removed immediately, while green ones are safe to keep.

You can visit the Should I Remove It website for a full explanation of what the program in question is, and how many other users have removed it. However, just because other people remove a piece of software, doesn’t mean it’s bad – they may simply have found a better alternative.

Tweak your security settings

If your antivirus software has gone as far as quarantining a program you’ve downloaded, it’s usually possible to unblock it but we don’t recommend doing so. If there’s even the smallest shred of doubt, you should leave the ‘infected’ file where it is and follow your security software provider’s official procedure for querying a potential false positive. That way, you’ll know that the file has been verified by experts before you run it.

If, on the other hand, a program you know to be safe is being blocked by your firewall, then it’s possible to unblock it. Instructions for doing so will depend on the firewall you’re using. In Windows Firewall, for example, click ‘Allow programs [or apps] to communicate through Windows Firewall’, then ‘Change settings’ and select the program you want to unblock.

Deselect bundled junk automatically

A lot of freeware programs come bundled with unwanted extras these days, which may – rightly or wrongly – trigger alerts in your security software. Provided you have your wits about you when installing a program, you can usually spot and reject these extras (choosing the ‘Custom’ install option rather than the ‘Recommended’ choice is always advisable), but an easier way is to use Unchecky.

This free tool runs in the background and monitors all installations, automatically rejecting and unticking any extras and offers that are nothing to do with the main program.

Stop Chrome blocking safe websites

Chrome automatically blocks websites that contain “dangerous and deceptive content” – typically malware, scripts, or phishing links. It usually does a good job of this but occasionally harmless sites get blocked by accident. When that happens, you can bypass the warning to access the content you want. To view a blocked website, click the Details link and select ‘Visit this unsafe site’. The page should then load.

Google will attempt to strip out any unsafe content, but if you want to see the entire site, click the Content Blocked icon at the right of the address bar, and select ‘Load full site’. To download an “unsafe” file using Google’s browser, click the menu button in the top right, open Downloads, locate the file you want and select ‘Recover malicious file’.

Finally, if you want to disable these alerts entirely, Go to More, Settings, click Advanced and under ‘Privacy and security’, toggle the ‘Protect you and your device from dangerous sites’ switch to off.

Report false positives

You can help anti-malware companies reduce the number of false positives their software flags up by reporting files erroneously identified as threats. Most security software developers will provide a way for you to submit files, so they can avoid misidentifying them as malware in future.

Sophos, for example, has a form you can access here. Avast (which also owns AVG) lets you report a suspected false positive here, while Symantec’s form can be found here.

Image: Shutterstock

Best free email backup tools

Wayne Williams

17 May, 2018

Backing up your inbox to your PC or external hard drive gives you access to your messages no matter what happens – even if a hacker attacks your account. We go through some of the best options available, whether you’re looking for something to automate the process, or for a manual tool for only the occasional backup.

Automatic: Thunderbird

In Thunderbird, an email client from Firefox’s creator Mozilla, the Mail Account Setup Wizard simplifies the process of adding an email account down to entering your name, email address and password. It works with all the main webmail and email services, and has a tab-based interface to make it easy to switch between messages.

When setting up you can choose between two email protocols: POP and IMAP. With the former option, messages are downloaded to your computer (250 at a time) and then, depending on your settings, either deleted from the source (Gmail, or, for example), archived, or left alone.

When setting up Thunderbird choose either the POP or IMAP protocol

With IMAP, messages are synchronised. Delete an email in Thunderbird and it will vanish from the web and vice versa.

Automatic: eM Client

eM Client is a more advanced alternative to Thunderbird, containing a calendar, a to-do list and tools for managing your contacts. Like Thunderbird, it works with POP and IMAP, downloads your messages as they arrive, and lets you save them by dragging them to your desktop or a folder.

It automatically sets up Gmail,, and Apple iCloud accounts, and even imports email from other clients you used in the past. It’s free for home users, with no limitations, though you’ll need to register to get a licence.

There’s a 30-day free trial of the Pro edition, but the free version should be enough for your needs.

Automatic: IFTTT

Use IFTTT to set up automatic actions, such as saving email attachments to Google Drive

If This Then That is a useful service that lets you link popular programs and devices so an action in one triggers a related action in another. A simple example is “if I get an email from a specific sender, then forward it to a different email account”. Sign up for an account, choose the options you require, then customise them. You can use it to do all sorts of tasks, such as automatically downloading attachments to Google Drive, OneDrive, or Dropbox.

Manual: MailStore Home

MailStore Home backs up your emails, and works with all email providers. To use it, select the service(s) to back up, then enter your email account details.

Your messages are saved in a central location on your hard drive, from where you can search for and read them. You can also easily restore them back to your email account. You can password-protect your archives, and the software fully encrypts all databases to make it impossible for anyone other than yourself to view the messages. You can run the software from a USB stick if you require.

Manual: Upsafe Free Gmail Backup

Some backup programs come with annoying limitations or, only store emails online (in the ‘cloud’). If you just want to save a copy of your Gmail messages to a folder on your hard drive, use Upsafe’s Free Gmail Backup, which is a breeze to use.

Once you’ve backed up your emails in Upsafe, click ‘View mail backup’ to see them

Install and run it, click the ‘Sign in with Google’ button, then enter your Google username and password and grant the program permission to access your account (none of your login details go to Upsafe).

Click ‘Start backup’ in the program and it will begin downloading your messages. You can choose where to save your backup to and see how much space is being used on your hard drive. Messages are downloaded in EML format (the format used by all email programs), and saved in Zip files. To see your emails in the program, click ‘View mail backup’ button (see screenshot).

Manual: Save and Backup My Emails

Most backup tools save copies of all your emails, which may be overkill. To selectively save emails, use CloudHQ’s ‘Save and Backup My Emails’ Chrome extension, which works in Gmail only.

Select emails to back up using CloudHQ’s extension, then click this button

Once you’ve connected CloudHQ to your email account, select one or more messages, then click the extension’s button under the search bar (see screenshot) to save a copy online.

You can download these at any time as PDFs by clicking the extension’s icon at the top right. If you don’t select any emails, you’ll see a button to ‘Backup all emails’ instead. This might be tempting, but the free version limits you to saving just 200 emails a month.

Manual: Google Takeout

Google lets you download a copy of all your data from its various products and services, including Gmail. Go to the Takeout page, click Select None, then scroll down and switch on the Mail slider (underneath ‘Location History’). Next, click the arrow next to the slide so you can choose to include all of your email or selected labels. Scroll to the bottom and click Next, and select the format to save the data in (it’s Zip by default).

Click this slider to download your Gmail emails using Google Takeout

You can send backed-up data as a download link via email, or added to Google Drive, Dropbox or OneDrive. You can browse this data once downloaded, but can’t restore it or import it into a new account. Takeout is strictly export-only.

Manual: Outlook

The best way to back up emails from is using an email client like eM Client or Thunderbird. To back up in Outlook 2013, click File, then select Open & Export. Click Import/Export then select ‘Export to a file’. Click ‘Outlook Data File (.pst)’, then click Next. Select your email folder, click Next and then Finish. You can import the backup through the Import/Export page.

Image: Shutterstock

Secret Chrome hacks you must try today

Wayne Williams

10 May, 2018

Hidden deep inside Google Chrome are a vast number of secret, experimental options, or ‘flags’. These are features that are in the testing phase and might make it into the browser in due course, or might equally be removed at any time. They are to be found on Chrome’s Experiments page which you can access by typing chrome:flags (or about:flags) into the address bar and pressing Enter – this was recently redesigned to make it easier to browse and search.

Be warned that although enabling some of these features may improve your browsing experience, their experimental nature means that could also ruin it, so you should only enable features you fully understand. As Google itself warns: “By enabling these features, you could lose browser data or compromise your security or privacy. Enabled features apply to all users of this browser.”

Once you’ve enabled some flags, you’ll need to relaunch the browser for them to take effect. The option to do so will appear at the bottom of the flags window.

Give Chrome a Material Design makeover

Material Design is a visual language which, in Google’s own words, “synthesises the classic principles of good design with the innovation and possibility of technology and science”, to make pages look more modern and text more readable. It is now used throughout Google’s products and services, but not everywhere just yet. The Experiments page hosts a number of Material Design flags, which you can enable to improve the look of the browser. These include: ‘Material Design in the rest of the browser’s native UI’, ‘New style notification’ and ‘Material Design Incognito NTP’ (which applies the look to your private browsing), and are worth applying to make Chrome feel fresher.

As of Chrome 64, Material Design will be applied to the browser’s Bookmark manager by default – turn to page 32 to find out more.

Close Chrome tabs more quickly

If you tend to have a lot of tabs open when you browse, you may have noticed that closing unwanted ones takes a little time. To fix this problem, Chrome offers a handy flag that speeds up tab closing by hiding the unwanted tab immediately, and then closing it in the background. To find this option, type ‘fast’ into the flags search box, and enable the ‘Fast tab/window close’ flag. After restarting, you should notice that tabs no longer hang when you click to close them.

Scroll web pages more smoothly

Scrolling down long pages can sometimes get a bit rough, and sluggish, especially if you have a lot of tabs open in your browser. Google has an experiment that fixes this issue, and it’s called, naturally enough, Smooth Scrolling. Type ‘smooth’ into the flags’ search box and enable the Smooth Scrolling option.

Mute noisy tabs with a single click

Sites that play audio or video without your express permission are among the biggest annoyances on the web. If you open a bunch of sites in tabs, and one of them turns out to be noisy, you can identify it quite quickly thanks to the speaker indicator that appears on the offending tab. Google offers a flag that turns this indicator into a button that can instantly mute that site when clicked. It also adds commands to the tab right-click context menu that will let you quickly mute multiple selected tabs. To enable this flag, type ‘audio’ into the search box and enable ‘Tab audio muting UI control’.

Generate and manage passwords

Chrome has a lot of password-related flags, some of which are definitely worth enabling. ‘Password generation’ leaps into life when Chrome detects that you are creating an account on a website, and generates a secure password for you. ‘Manual password generation’ shows a Generate Password option on the right-click context menu for all password fields, while ‘Manual password saving’ shows the password-manager icon when you type in a password. If you click this icon, Chrome will save the password, without you needing to actually log-in to the site in question.

Reload web pages automatically

If you lose your internet connection when browsing the web, or move from one hotspot to
another, Chrome can automatically reload open tabs once it detects you’re back online. There are actually two similar flags for this. Type offline into the flags search box and you’ll see ‘Offline Auto-Reload Mode’, which auto-reloads pages that failed to load while the browser was offline, and ‘Only Auto-Reload Visible Tabs’ which will auto-reload pages that failed to load even though their tabs were visible.

Flip Chrome’s interface around

An interesting – if not essential – hidden feature is the ability to switch Chrome’s browser interface from left to right to right to left. This will move buttons that usually appear on the right side to the left, and vice versa. So the back and forward buttons and refresh will move to the right of the address bar, and the menu and any extensions will appear on the left. This option could prove useful for left-handed Chrome users, or for anyone who fancies a change. There’s also the option to have your text direction switch to right to left, if you’re so inclined. To try these flags, type ‘direction’ in the search box.

Make mobile web pages easier to read

Reader Mode is a great feature in the mobile version of Chrome for Android. When enabled, it removes adverts and unwanted distractions from the page, making it easier to focus on the text. The ‘Reader Mode triggering’ flag lets you choose when the Reader Mode option appears. In the Experiments page of the Chrome app, search for ‘reader’ and click the drop-down menu next to ‘Reader Mode triggering’. Options include ‘With article structured markup’, ‘Non-mobile- friendly articles’, Always, Never, and ‘All articles’.

Stop background tabs wasting memory

All browsers – not just Chrome – tend to be memory hogs. The more tabs you have open, the more RAM they’ll consume. Chrome has an experimental feature that discards tabs from memory when it detects your system memory is running low, thereby freeing up important resources and preventing the browser, and possibly other software, from crashing. The tabs don’t get closed – they’ll still appear on the browser and will be reloaded when you click them. If your PC doesn’t has a massive amount of memory then this experiment is definitely worth enabling. Type discarding into the flags search box, and enable it there.

Image: Shutterstock

How to stop your browser freezing

Wayne Williams

26 Apr, 2018

Although browser software tends to offer a well-refined experience these days, you’re bound to run into the odd crash or freeze that grinds your work to a halt. The reason may not be immediately obvious, and while some may be quick to blame their machine for a lousy performance, chances are the software itself is blame.

Identify and remove dodgy add-ons

Malfunctioning add-ons are the number one cause of browser problems. If your browser starts freezing or crashing, there’s a very good chance that a malfunctioning extension is to blame, so your first port of call should be to see which ones you have installed and remove any you don’t need. In Firefox, go to and check what’s listed there.

Check which add-ons you have installed to see which could be causing the crashes

You can disable or remove any unwanted ones directly from this screen. In Chrome, go to chrome://extensions. You can disable an add-on by unticking the Enabled box next to it, or remove it entirely by clicking the bin icon for that extension.

If you’re not entirely sure that an add-on is to blame for your woes, you can try running your browser in ‘safe mode’ – that is, without any add-ons and using the default settings. If that stops the crashes, you should be able to narrow down the cause. To run Firefox in safe mode, click the ‘hamburger’ button in the top-right corner and go to Help (or just click the
Help menu if you have it displayed), then select ‘Restart with Add-ons disabled’. In the box that opens, click the Restart button.

Reduce your browser’s memory usage

Browsers consume a lot of memory – especially if you have a lot of tabs open. If your computer doesn’t have that much RAM to begin with, you may find this results in your browser slowing down massively, or crashing frequently.

The easiest way to prevent your browser from using too much memory is to close it down occasionally. Right-click the taskbar, select Task Manager, then select your browser in the list and click End Task. When you restart your browser you should be offered the chance to restore all previously open tabs.

Use The Great Suspender to stop tabs consuming memory in the background

Another option is to install The Great Suspender for Chrome. This unloads, parks and suspends open tabs (aside from the one you’re currently viewing), to stop them guzzling resources in the background. Tabs can also be set to auto-suspend after a set period, and you can whitelist any tabs you want leaving alone – Gmail for example.

Alternatively, there’s OneTab for Firefox and Chrome, which converts all of your open tabs into a list. This frees up memory, and can you easily relaunch any tab by clicking on its link.

Disable unnecessary scripts

Disable unwanted scripts on web pages to stop them freezing your browser

Unwanted scripts running in your browser can cause all sorts of problems, including hangs and freezes. NoScript for Firefox and uMatrix for Chrome block plugins such as JavaScript, Java, Flash and more from running on sites other than those you’ve expressly allowed them to work on. Both add-ons let you easily permit scripts to run on sites you trust. For NoScript just click the icon when on a site and choose between Trusted, Untrusted and Temp Trusted.

With uMatrix, clicking its button lets you quickly enable or block various elements, such as cookies, images, media, scripts and frames, to make web pages load faster and keep your browser working smoothly.

Disable troublesome plugins

Most browsers now disable potentially dodgy plugins automatically, but there’s still a chance they could slip through or be re-enabled and cause trouble, so it’s worth checking them manually. Accessing the plugins page in Chrome used to involve typing chrome:/plugins into the address bar, but Google has disabled this option.

Make sure plugins are disabled in your browser to prevent problems

Instead, you need to type chrome://settings/content to access a page that lets you manage the likes of Flash and JavaScript, and instruct sites to always ask when they want to use a plugin.

To manage plugins in Firefox, type about:addons into the address box and hit Enter, then select Plugins on the left. The drop-down menu next to each plugin lets you choose from Ask to Activate, Always Activate or Never Activate. You can also choose here how automatic updates should be handled.

Block cryptocurrency miners

Cryptocurrency miners are a modern scourge. Some websites, including Salon, now give users with an ad blocker installed the option to devote some of their PC’s processing power to mining. Other sites aren’t quite so scrupulous and mine cryptocurrency in the background without informing their visitors, which can cause your browser to slow down, freeze and crash.

To read more about cryptocurrency malware and to check whether your browser is slurping CPU power behind your back, head here.

Cryptocurrency miners are becoming increasingly popular among cyber criminals

Malwarebytes blocks known crypto-miners, or you can install the No Coin extension in your browser. It’s available for Chrome, Firefox and Opera. You can pause the add-on if required, or temporarily whitelist a site if you need to allow mining to access it.

Reset and reinstall your browser

If you’ve tried everything we’ve suggested and your browser is still freezing, the only option might be to reset or reinstall it.

Doing this in Firefox is very easy. Firstly, you’ll want to back up your browser profile which contains all your passwords, bookmarks, open tabs and more. Launch File Explorer and go to %APPDATA%\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\ and copy the profile folder(s) to your desktop.

If freezing problems persist, try resetting Firefox to start afresh

To reset Firefox, click the hamburger button, choose Help and select Troubleshooting Information. Click the Refresh Firefox button. If that fixes the problem, you don’t need to worry about your saved profile folder(s). If it doesn’t do the trick, try uninstalling Firefox, and then reinstalling it and copying the saved profile folders back to where you got them from. You’ll need to close Firefox before you do this.

To reset Chrome to its original defaults, open the menu and go to Settings. Type reset into the search box, then click the Reset result. In the box that opens, click Reset.

Repair or reset Edge if the browser keeps hanging in Windows 10

To refresh Edge in Windows 10, click Start and open Settings. Open the Apps section and search for or locate Microsoft Edge. Click it and select ‘Advanced options’. In the new window, you’ll have the option to Repair or Reset Microsoft’s browser.

How to try out Windows 10 S using a virtual machine

Wayne Williams

19 Apr, 2018

Windows remains by far the most popular desktop operating system, but it faces increasing pressure from rival software. Chrome OS, Google’s browser-based operating system, is used a lot in schools and is spreading its influence in business environments, not least because the Chromebooks that Chrome OS runs on are secure and cheap, which makes them especially popular with students and IT departments.

Windows 10 S – a locked-down version of Windows 10 – is Microsoft’s attempt to challenge Chrome OS. Here’s how you can try it out without needing to fork out for a new laptop.

What is Windows 10 S?

Windows 10 S is, essentially, a more secure version of Windows 10 that can only run apps from the Windows Store. In other words, you can’t install regular Windows programs on it. This might seem like a strange idea but the reasoning behind it is sound – by controlling what software can be installed on the operating system, Microsoft is safeguarding users from everyday threats. Windows 10 S is, for example, immune from most malware, including ransomware.

Where can you get Windows 10 S?

The new operating system is currently only available pre-installed on certain devices, like Microsoft’s Surface Laptop. This will no doubt change in the future, but for now you can’t simply download and install it on any PC you like.

Except, that’s not strictly true.

Microsoft recently made Windows 10 S available for developers on the MSDN network to download in ISO format, and then released an installer (aimed at the education market) which lets anyone take the new OS for a spin. If you want to try out Windows 10 S, but you don’t want to spend money on a new laptop to do so, the easiest solution is to install it in a virtualised environment. The process is a little more convoluted than normal and takes a while longer as a result, but it’s easy enough to do.

What you need to know before you start

Unless you have the developer ISO (from the MSDN network) currently the only way to test Windows 10 S is to install it over a copy of Windows 10.

You don’t need to own or run Microsoft’s operating system to do this, as it’s easy enough to get a free (and perfectly legal) copy to use. This is the main reason why the process of installing and running Windows 10 S in a virtual environment takes so long – you first need to install Windows 10, and then “upgrade” it to Windows 10 S, which isn’t a quick process…

There are some other restrictions to be aware of. Firstly it’s not recommended to install Windows 10 S over Windows 10 Home as you won’t be able to activate it. You’ll also need to be running the Creators Update (1703), or later, which is currently only available as a Windows Insider Preview build.

You don’t need to activate Windows 10 S but if you want to, and can’t, then the troubleshooting option should solve your problem

While you can install a new version of Windows 10 and convert it to Windows 10 S, without a key, you won’t be able to access all of the features – including the personalization options – without activating it. If you plan on activating the installation, you’ll need to activate Windows 10 before starting the upgrade. Windows 10 S may activate once installed, but if not you’ll have to click the troubleshoot option on the upgrade page to do this.

Get a Windows 10 ISO

If you don’t have a copy of Windows 10 to hand (either on DVD or a digital download) you’ll need to get one. In some countries, you can download a Windows 10 ISO direct from Microsoft, but in the UK you need to download and use the software giant’s Media Creation Tool. Head here for the tool, then download and run the program.

The Media Creation Tool lets you download a Windows 10 ISO file to use in VirtualBox

Agree to the terms and then select the option to ‘Create installation media.’ Select the version of the OS you require. If you’re running Windows 10 already, the program will automatically select the same version for you. If that’s not suitable (perhaps you’re running Windows 10 Home but want an ISO for Windows 10 Pro) then untick ‘Use the recommended options for this PC’ and select the version you do want. Click Next and select ‘ISO file.’ Download this to your hard drive.

What’s new or different in Windows 10 S

You can download software from outside the Windows Store as normal but if you try to install it, you’ll be greeted with a message stating ‘For security and performance Windows 10 S only runs verified apps from the Store’. You have to use Microsoft Edge in the OS, not only because you can’t install Firefox or Chrome, but because Microsoft’s browser is the fixed default and there’s (currently) no way to change it.

Windows 10 S looks and behaves much like Windows 10, but starts quicker

Microsoft sees this as a big plus, because Edge is designed to work very closely with the operating system, but if you’re used to a different browser, Edge will seem rather alien. Many of the extensions you might rely on in your regular browser won’t be available to you.

Windows 10 S is tied to Microsoft products, so when you search the web in the operating system you’ll be using Bing (unless you browse to manually).

One good point about Windows 10 S is it’s much faster than Windows 10 because it isn’t bogged down in any way. This means it can run on lighter hardware. It can boot in around 15 seconds and, when installed on a laptop, deliver significantly better battery life. You won’t notice this kind of difference so much in a virtualised environment, though.

Installing Windows 10 S to a virtual machine

While there are a number of virtual machine options available, we used the highly popular VirtualBox application from Oracle.

Step 1

Download and install a copy of Oracle’s VirtualBox here Run the program and click ‘New’ in the Manager window. In the ‘Create Virtual Machine’ dialog box enter Windows 10 S as the name of the operating system. Select Windows 10 as the version or choose ‘Windows 10 (64bit)’ if you downloaded a 64-bit ISO.

Step 2

Click Next, then accept the default Memory Size. Choose to ‘Create a virtual hard disk now’ and click Create. Accept VDI (VirtualBox Disk Image) as the hard drive file type. Choose the option to have your virtual drive dynamically altered (it will resize as required) and increase the default size to 64GB or above.

Step 3

Click Create and VirtualBox will build the drive. When done, select the entry in the Manager
and click the Start button. In the ‘Select start-up disk’ window, click the folder icon and
navigate to the Windows 10 ISO. Select it, click Start and Windows 10 will install.

Select your language settings, then click the ‘Install now’ button.

Step 4

Once Windows 10 is installed in VirtualBox and fully updated, you’ll be ready to convert it to Windows 10 S. Open Microsoft Edge (since this is the only browser you’ll have installed in your new virtual environment) and go to Read all about Windows 10 S and then when you’re ready, click the ‘Download installer’ button.

Step 5

Run the installer and you should see a message stating ‘Congratulations, Windows 10 S can be installed’. Click Next and the installation process will begin. Windows 10 S will be downloaded and once the files have been verified, you’ll be asked what you want to keep from your existing installation. Select ‘Nothing’.

Step 6

Click Next and the installer will fetch some updates, restart your system and begin the full installation. It will reboot several times along the way. When it finishes, you’ll be guided through the usual configuration steps. Spend some time customising the privacy settings. Once that’s out of the way, you can start using Windows 10 S.

Image: Shutterstock