May 1997

How To Fix Your Computer

Computers are complex devices, and many things can go wrong. Sometimes you can't even tell whether the problem is hardware or software.

Recently we've seen several instances of apparent keyboard failure using Windows 95. The mouse works fine, but the keyboard doesn't work at all. Even shutting down and restarting Windows won't fix the problem. But the interesting part is this: if you turn off the computer, wait ten seconds, then turn it on again, the keyboard works!

The lesson here is that a problem that looks like a hardware failure is sometimes a temporary "glitch" -- some unusual hardware or software situation that goes away if you turn off the power. Incidentally, printers are also susceptible to this kind of problem. So this is our advice on fixing your computer: try the power switch before you call for repairs.

The Windows 95 Keyboard

If you've bought a computer with Windows 95 recently, you probably have a keyboard with extra "Windows 95" keys on it. Ours has two Windows keys (which have the Windows logo on them) and one menu key (which has a cursor pointing to a menu on it). Microsoft calls the menu key an application key.

The Windows keys, one on each side of the keyboard, open the Start menu. You can just as easily click the Start button on the taskbar, or if you prefer to use the keyboard, type Ctrl-Esc. Mostly we find these extra keys an annoyance, because they pop up the Start menu when we really meant to hit Ctrl or Alt.

If you insist on using these Windows keys, they can be used in combination with other keys to perform a few additional operations:

Windows-R Run dialog box
Windows-M minimize all
Shift-Windows-M undo minimize all
Windows-F1 Windows Help
Windows-E Windows Explorer
Ctrl-Windows-F Find Computer
Windows-Tab next taskbar button
Windows-Break System Properties dialog box

Each of these operations is easily performed with the mouse, even the obscure "minimize all" and "undo minimize all," which require a right-click on an unused portion of the taskbar.

The menu or application key is also redundant. It performs the same function as right-clicking the mouse. Usually this brings up a context menu for a selected item. If you want a keyboard shortcut, use Shift-F10.

What did we give up when these three keys were added? The previous keyboard layout had room for two more keys, because there was empty space between the Ctrl and Alt keys on each side of the keyboard. The third key required taking away a chunk of the space bar, which is now roughly one key shorter on the right side.

A Better Keyboard Layout

The pre-Windows 95 keyboard layout was introduced by IBM with the IBM PC-AT computer in 1984. The absence of change since then indicates that the existing layout has met with general acceptance. However, we think at least a couple of changes would be worthwhile.

First, the Scroll Lock key and corresponding light are useless and should be removed. Put the Windows key or the menu key up there if we must have one.

More importantly, we need a Tab key on the numeric keypad. Tab moves from one item to the next in Windows dialog boxes, and it moves from one cell to the next in spreadsheets and word processing tables. Yet this key is only on the far left edge of the keyboard, which prevents one-hand operation in many programs.

Where can we put the Tab key? That's easy -- put it where the Num Lock key is now. The Num Lock key and its light are obsolete.

The Num Lock key was useful way back in the days of the original IBM PC. At that time, the keyboard did not have the inverted-T arrangement of arrow keys and the six keys above that. Those editing functions "shared" the numeric keypad, and so the Num Lock key switched between the editing keys and the number keys. Even today you'll notice that your numeric keypad has the editing functions inscribed on the keypad keys.

Once the IBM PC-AT gave us the extended keyboard, with separate editing keys, the dual role of the numeric keypad became unnecessary. It's about time we acknowledged this improvement and eliminated the Num Lock key forever.

We admit that notebook computers, with their smaller keyboards, may still require the Num Lock key. But there is no standard keyboard layout for notebooks, so they can put the Num Lock key elsewhere.

Damaged 3.5" Disks

The metal shutter on a 3.5" disk protects the plastic disk from dust and scratches. When the disk is inserted into a disk drive, the shutter slides to one side so the read/write heads can touch the disk surface.

Although the disks are generally quite rugged, the shutter is easily bent. We recently had two disks completely mangled in the mail.

If you have this problem with a disk you cannot easily replace, there is a simple solution. Carefully remove the bent shutter completely. Then insert the disk in the disk drive and copy its contents to another disk. Of course you will want to discard the damaged disk as soon as you copy the information from it.

RTG Bills Slide Shows On The Web

RTG Bills is our time-and-billing software for small law firms. If you visit our Web site you can learn more about this software by viewing several brief slide shows. Each slide show demonstrates the use of the software to perform a common task, such as changing an attorney's billing rate or entering a new fee transaction.

You don't need to download any special software. Our slide shows use your Web browser (such as Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer) as a slide viewer. Each slide show is a long Web page which we've formatted so that one slide at a time fits in the browser window.

RTG Bills and RTG Timer are trademarks of RTG Data Systems. Other company and product names may be trademarks of the companies with which they are associated.

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