Category: Saving Money

LibreOffice: Free Office Software

There are plenty of reasons to pay for Microsoft Office, but if you don’t have any, don’t immediately buy it. Try LibreOffice first– it’s legitimately free and can do almost everything that Word, Excel and PowerPoint can. You might just save $150 (for Microsoft Office 2019) or $70/yr (for Microsoft 365).

LibreOffice has been around for years, and is maintained by a non-profit company and nice tech community members. You can install LibreOffice on Windows, MacOSX and Linux machines. If you want an app for your mobile device, it looks like The Document Foundation recommends a partner company, Collabora, for that.

But to be absolutely clear: LibreOffice is a full-featured program that can stand-in for Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. It can open your existing Office files without changing or harming them. LibreOffice will open Word, Excel and PowerPoint files that are sent to you, allow you to edit & save them, and send them off to other Microsoft Office users.

There is no risk here, and if for any reason you don’t want LibreOffice after using it, you haven’t burned any bridges! You may uninstall LibreOffice at any time and move to another Office suite, without consequence.

Changing the File Type Defaults

Once you install LibreOffice, though, you should tweak a few settings, so that it saves your new files in Microsoft formats. By default, Libre offers to save your files in Open Document formats, which aren’t widely used. Follow these next steps to make sure that all of your new work will be compatible with everyone else:

  • Open LibreOffice and go to the Tools menu, then to Options.
  • On the left, click the Plus Sign next to Load/Save, then click General.
  • To the right, change ‘Document Type’ to ‘Text Document’.
    Set the ‘Always Save As’ field to ‘Word 2007-365 (*.docx)’.
  • Next, change ‘Document Type’ to ‘Spreadsheet’.
    Set the ‘Always Save As’ field to ‘Excel 2007-365 (*.xlsx)’.
  • Lastly, change ‘Document Type’ to ‘Presentation’.
    Set the ‘Always Save As’ field to ‘PowerPoint 2007-365 (*.pptx)’.
  • Click OK at the bottom, and you are done.

PS: MacOS users cannot go to Tools -> Options in these programs. Instead, go to LibreOffice -> Preferences, and then the rest of these instructions should line up.

How Much Internet Do I Really Need?

Most Internet Service Providers have different prices & speeds of broadband to sell you. When it’s time to choose the right speed for your household, your ISP is the last person you should ask for advice. Almost every internet company will upsell you and convince you to overspend on your internet.

You’ll want to figure this out on your own, or with help from someone who doesn’t benefit from the sale. Please consider my commentary below and talk with other people you know and trust before picking/changing your internet speed. And don’t fret! Most ISPs will allow you to change your speed package, if you opted for something a little too slow or fast.

You don’t need as much bandwidth as your ISP claims. I just took a quiz on Xfinity’s website, answering honestly about what I would do if I bought their cable internet. Yes, I have multiple computers. I stream video. I have a lot of smart home devices on my Wi-Fi. I game online. They recommended I buy their 1G (1000Mbps) service for my lifestyle.

This is a stunner to me, because I currently have 50Mbps service in my home, and have never felt the need for higher speed. And I know that Xfinity offers 25, 100, 200, 300 and 600Mbps in my region. But their website is full of dark patterns and they aim to hide all of those more-affordable options from me. And I don’t mean to single out Comcast for this sneaky business: Shentel, Verizon and many other ISPs are guilty of this type of salesmanship.

Each household’s internet needs are different. You’ll want to take stock of what items in your home draw heavily on the internet, to know what speed to choose. Basic internet and email is not so important to worry about. And many of your smart home devices, like thermostats and smart bulbs, won’t need much bandwidth. Don’t factor them too heavily in your considerations.

Streaming Video is where you should start your focus. A single Netflix movie, played back in HD, is going to require 5Mbps. Other streaming services require between 5-8 Mbps to run well. So count up the members in your household who might be streaming at any time and multiply that by 5Mbps (or 10Mbps, if you want to estimate high). That amount of bandwidth should have you covered, in case all of them decide to all watch a different movie at the same time.

Next would be Online Gaming. If you have some gamers in your house, their bandwidth needs could be high. The lowest speed a gamer can get by on is 3Mbps, but most will excel with bandwidth in the 10-25Mbps range. So if you have 4 people connecting in the evening to various online games, you may need 100Mbps to keep them all connected and happy.

Now, let’s cover some other types of video: Got internet-connected security cameras? You can usually look up their internet needs on the manufacturer website, but just as an example: A Ring camera needs 2Mbps. Nest cameras can vary, but need no more than 4Mbps per camera. Going to video chat with other people? Skype recommends having 1.5Mbps for basic HD video calling, but upwards of 8Mbps if you’re roping many others into the same video call.

With all these examples in mind, imagine The Perfect Internet Storm, in your home. Visualize a day where you have maximum internet usage on all your heavy-hitting internet devices. Your teenager is gaming, while you watch a Netflix video and the spouse is Skyping with people on the Left Coast. All of that easily can be done with a 50Mbps connection.

Add it all up, and you’ll come up with a much more realistic speed number than your ISP would have you buy. If you find you’re already overbuying on internet, you can call your ISP and ask to downgrade, try something a little more affordable. Chances are good it’ll work well and save you a lot of money.

Dark Patterns: Auto-Renewal Traps

ABCMouse was recently punished by the FTC, to the tune of $10 million. They were fined for a variety of deceptive practices, including recurring charges to customer credit cards for membership renewals that were either not disclosed or difficult to terminate.

Auto-renewal traps are nothing new. ABCMouse is certainly a big name, but many other companies do business this way. They store your payment info and charge you periodically, even after you’ve stopped using the product. They sign you up for automatic payments, and create a confusing or complicated process for defeating that feature.

These dark patterns are widespread on the web, and I encounter them most commonly with antivirus companies and other software services. But to focus solely on auto-renewal traps, here’s what I can recommend:

  • Review your credit card statements every month, to catch unexpected charges.
  • Track down and disable any renewal options you don’t want, by logging in to your account at the relevant company website. Don’t remember your account password? Use the Forgot Password tool at that website to get logged in.
  • If using the website proves difficult, instead chat or call the company and ask for auto-renewal to be turned off. Expect that they will try to dissuade you. Repeat your request as often as you need to, don’t let them sidetrack you, but also don’t mistreat the agent. They are programmed to act in their way, and you should persist as you would against a stubborn computer.
  • When all else fails, or if you simply run short on patience or time, disconnect and then call your credit card company. Explain that you tried and failed to work with the company. Ask to dispute the renewal charge and they should promptly help you get your money back.

And if you feel any company is breaking the law or hurting people with their tactics, report it to the FTC.

Please Don’t Buy That Laptop

Just don’t. It’s a trap. No good can come of it. It’ll all end in tears.

I’m talking about the Windows laptops that are out there for $200 (or less). They look and sound awesome, from the marketing! Especially on Black Friday, but you can find them everyday, at the back of your local Buy n Large store.

If you want an exhaustive write-up on how bad these laptops are, check out this article over at Ars Technica:

https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2020/06/we-bought-walmarts-140-laptop-so-you-wouldnt-have-to/

But here are the problems more concisely: manufacturers can’t build a $200 laptop to run Windows 10 properly. For $200, a Chromebook would be great, but Windows 10 demands a lot more of the hardware.

In a $200 traptop, the 32GB of storage is too small for Windows 10. Yes, the manufacturer can cram Win10 in there, but the first updates from Microsoft will gobble the remaining free space on the drive. Within a few days of you unboxing the computer, you’ll be seeing messages about “Low Disk Space on Drive: C.” For a Windows computer, I would suggest 128GB or more for the main storage drive.

The RAM is the next shortcoming. 2GB is enough in a Chromebook, but not for Windows 10. 4GB is enough for very basic needs on Windows, but I personally recommend 8GB of RAM or more to run Windows.

There are more downsides to these laptops, but the final nail in the coffin is that they are usually non-upgradeable. I’ve torn into some of these laptops to find that the storage drive is soldered to the motherboard (not removable). Or the system cannot accept more RAM. This means that even a professional technician will be unable to improve the PC for you.

I see solidly-built Windows computers available for $400-600 these days. Plan on spending in that range. If your budget only allows for $200, then please consider a Chromebook.

Woot! & Meh.

I’d like to mention a couple of my favorite “daily deal” websites, Woot.com and Meh.com .

Woot.com started some 16 years ago as a site that sold just one item, each day. That item changed everyday — today it could be a vacuum, tomorrow it could be gourmet coffee from Guatemala. Whatever it was, it was offered at a truly low and incredible price.

But in 2014; Amazon bought Woot, and the site branched out, offering a greater number of daily discounts, as well as other bargains and flash sales. It still offers many good deals, but Amazon did manage to kill off a lot of the site’s quirk and charm.

Following the acquisition, the former owner of Woot.com bided his time and later launched a new site. Meh.com became his new project, and it is a revival of the original Woot. Only one item a day, at a crazy unbeatable price, take it or leave it.

I think both sites have merit and are worth visiting each day, just to see what’s offered.

CheapShark Helps Gamers Get the Best Prices

For the gamers out there, please check out CheapShark: https://www.cheapshark.com/

This website collects the prices of video games from all the big sites that sell them. You can quickly find the best price on the game you’re about to buy. You can search for sales and super-low prices. You can even set price alerts and get notified when a game price drops.

I know a lot of you are at home and gaming a whole lot more than usual — hope this saves you some money!

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