4. CLIENT COMPUTING
4.1Personal Computing Advice
Advice is provided, within certain "consulting hours" on a wide range of in-depth matters
relating to microcomputers, with some 1,895 in-depth problems addressed during the year.
This includes help in identifying computing needs, guidance as to what computer to buy and
where to purchase, how to upgrade computers to make the most of existing investment,
assistance in recovering from serious system failures (eg disk crashes), and a myriad of other
problems (see Figure 17). In addition, the general advisory service and the Shop provide help,
typically for less-demanding questions (see Section 5.2).
Efforts are being made to distill much of this advice into electronic guides (eg how to buy a
personal computer, and how to configure one to use the Internet).
The staff who provide this service (part-time) are under heavy demand from microcomputer
users, not just at the advertised sessions, but also by post, phone and email. The appetite of
users of personal computers for advice or assistance seems insatiable. There is no doubt that
more and more staff and students are becoming aware of the power and convenience of
personal computers connected to the University's communications infrastructure and are keen
to take advantage of it.
4.2PC Virus Service
Personal computer viruses continue to be a hazard. In the last 12 months a new and potentially
troublesome type of virus has appeared. This type of virus includes the Word Macro viruses
which are spread when infected Word documents are shared. It is unfortunate that Microsoft
made a design choice with this application which makes this particular virus type so common.
Those who are in a position to choose between WordPerfect and Word can avoid the issue by
using WordPerfect - macro viruses cannot be spread by WordPerfect documents.
A site licence for F-Prot professional, one of the most respected anti-virus software products
in the world, has been taken out for the University. This complements the existing site licence
for the Sophos anti-virus software. Having two strings to our bow in this area is important.
No serious virus outbreaks causing significant loss of data have come to the attention of
OUCS. To educate personal computer users at the University in some of the basic issues
involved in living with computer viruses, a second edition of a User Guide on the subject was
published in 1995 and is available from the OUCS shop. It may seem to be a boring
document, but it is recommended reading for novices to enable them to achieve a balanced
understanding of the issues and adopt good practices for their own protection. The most
essential information relating to virus issues and up-to-date information about virus alerts is
maintained in the Computing Services section of the University's WWW pages
4.3PC Upgrade Service
OUCS' Microcomputer Group also offers a PC upgrade service. This includes providing
advice about the need for and viability of undertaking an upgrade (as opposed to a complete
replacement), as well as actually undertaking the upgrade when requested. This service is
offered to enable PC users to build on the investment that has already been made in their
equipment, when they find that they are unable to undertake some task (usually because of the
growing hungriness of software packages for resources). More than half of the upgrades are
to increase the computer's memory, with the balance being split between installation of floppy
or hard disk drives and system board replacement. Upgrades to PCS and to Macs are
undertaken, but the Mac service is limited. Component costs for this service are passed on to
the user, and usage mounts steadily (without ever publicising it) - see Figure 18.
4.4Personal Computer Maintenance Service
The Personal Computer Maintenance Service is available to all departments, colleges, staff
and students of the University whose equipment is located anywhere within mainland Britain.
There are currently over 3,900 items of equipment registered on the service, consisting of
2458 computers and 1,194 printers, with the remainder consisting of an assortment of external
devices such as CD-ROM stacks, scanners, hard disk, etc (see Figure 19). Full details of the
service can be found in the Computing Services section of the University's WWW pages.
The Shop continues to increase its range of software which is distributed in accordance with
the various site licences. Many customers are now preferring to take delivery on CD Rom,
rather than using large numbers of floppy disks. Sales of consumable items continue with
inkjet supplies taking over from traditional printer ribbons. High density 3.5"disks are still the
most popular product; these are now available ready formatted.
Hardware sales are becoming more important and we have now equipped a demonstration
area where computers and printers from various manufacturers can be examined.
Since January 1996 we have been able to offer an increased level of service to our customers
in the form of longer opening hours. The recruitment of a part time member of staff has
enabled us to maintain our counter service at all advertised times.
Shop stock listings, hardware prices and some product information is now available via OUCS
web pages. This information service is currently being extended to enable up to date pricing
to be available at all times.
This year the turnover of the Shop at £650,622 together with the procurement service for
Humanities faculties and staff at £186,512, was 14% less that during 1994-95. We intend to
increase levels of service and the ranges of hardware available from the Shop to address this
situation. See Figures 20 and 21.
4.6Humanities Faculty Purchasing
As an adjunct to the Shop, OUCS offers to handle the purchasing of computers and related
equipment and software direct for members of the Humanities Faculties who have received a
University equipment grant. This differs from the normal Shop service in the degree of
special requirements, and the extent of personal attention. The service is subsidised by the
University, representing a substitute for the administrative staff that departmentally-organised
The service had a busy and successful year with turnover increasing by over 100% - to
£187,828. The greater part of this increase appears to have resulted from enlarged individual
financial allocations, and not from a significantly increased customer base.
Use of the software licensing services has experienced another boom year, with the total
numbers of licences issued again more than doubling (see Figure 22). Use of Microsoft Select
products continues to show sharp growth, despite the less attractive terms of the new deal, on
which much time was spent negotiating and publicising during the year.
The services provided include administering the University's centrally-purchased site licence
scheme, which enables users to have many key software packages free of charge (apart from
the media). Bulk purchase deals are also negotiated, and OUCS also acts as a "broker" for a
few site licences where the demand is confined to a few users.
The list of software available through the first two of these services is shown in Table 4.
The negotiation and administration is backed up by a bulk copying and distribution service.
This unit provides the bulk copying service for the Software Site Licence and Bulk Purchase
deals, and also provides a disk conversion service, enabling a wide variety of disks to be
converted into standard PC and other formats. The total amount of copying declined a little
during the year (see Figure 23), partly because last year (due to the start of the Microsoft
Select deal) there was an amount of exceptional copying, partly because we now have a
facility to copy CD-ROMs (an increasingly popular software distribution medium) which
reduces the raw disk counts, and partly due to sickness and staff changes in the group.
4.9Microprocessing Hardware Services
This unit continues to provide University departments with a source of specialist hardware and
software expertise particularly in the area of data acquisition equipment. Work has included:
Substantial work, on a charged-for basis, has continued to be carried out for the Hardware Compilation Group at the Computing Laboratory of the University. The work involves both hardware and software development including designing, building and testing the HARP2 programmable hardware device - an enhanced version of the HARP1 board developed last year.