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Are lower EU roaming costs a good thing?

July 22, 2014 by John McGarvey
Man using phone on beach{{}}
Does mobile roaming make you anxious?

New rules have come into force that slash the cost of making and receiving calls, sending texts and using mobile internet in other EU countries.

Recent years have seen the EU clamp down on roaming charges by introducing caps to limit how much extra mobile phone networks can charge when you visit another EU country.

EU roaming is cheaper than ever

Over time, the maximum charges allowed under the caps have been reduced. Under the latest rules, you can be charged a maximum of:

  • 20 cents per megabyte (MB) of data
  • 19 cents per minute to make a call
  • 5 cents minute to receive a call
  • 6 cents to send a text message

The European Commission has created an infographic to show you roughly what €10 should now get you.

Ultimately, European leaders hope to eliminate roaming charges altogether. Yes, one day you may be able to use your phone anywhere in the EU without paying extra for the privilege.

So, this is the perfect good news story for the beginning of the holiday season, right?

Well, while most people would probably agree that roaming costs have been too high for too long, there are a couple of less-positive aspects.

Should you choose a bundle?

For a while now, many UK mobile phone networks have offered add-on bundles to people who are travelling abroad.

For instance, if you’re travelling in Europe, EE will give you 100MB of data for £3. The data expires after 24 hours, but it’s a good deal if you plan to use the internet a lot, even compared to the new capped prices.

The thing is, many people get confused about how much data they actually need.

With standard roaming costs now lower than ever, it may be in the interest of mobile networks to push people towards bundles — even if that’s often not the best option for their customers.

Opting out of roaming

Now EU roaming is cheaper, you can bet we’ll do more of it. And that raises a broader question: when we’re on holiday trying to ‘get away from it all’, is it really a good idea to stay in such easy contact with the office?

Going on holiday can make you feel better for weeks or months afterwards. Switching off completely lets you relax properly, rather than thinking about all the things happening back in the office.

That temptation to check your email while you’re on a break just got slightly stronger. Can you resist it?

John McGarvey is editor of the IT Donut

How managed security software can keep you safe

July 21, 2014 by Guest Blogger

How managed security software can keep you safe{{}}Earlier this year, hundreds of thousands of websites were affected by the heartbleed security flaw.

Heartbleed was a massive headache, but also acted as a reminder that large-scale security breaches can — and do — happen.

It’s not just down to IT staff and security experts to take action. Business owners have a role to play, too.

There are many things you can do to protect your business from online threats. The security section of IT Donut is an excellent place to start.

One of the most important things to think about is anti-virus and security software. These programs scan your computers for viruses, spyware and other malware. They also monitor your network for suspicious activity, and can identify and remove email threats.

Just a single piece of malware can leave your systems wide open, paving the way for hackers to enter and steal your data. Security software is a key countermeasure.

Finding the right security software

It’s easy to realise that you need security software. But there’s a bewildering choice of options, making it actually quite hard to pick one that meets your needs and budget.

And even when you’ve chosen your security software, just having it isn’t enough. In order for it to be effective, it needs to be:

  • Installed on every computer and server you have
  • Kept up to date, with details of all the latest threats
  • Turned on and set to perform regular scans

If you don’t meet these three requirements, your company will be at risk of a malware attack and data breach.

What do your users do?

Got all that sorted? Great. The next things you have to worry about are user habits.

Security software is only effective if it’s running on all your computers at all times. Unfortunately, it can sometimes slow computers down, block other software or force you to wait while it performs a scan.

For these reasons, you might find that your employees close the security software on their computers, disable the scanning functions, cancel updates — or change settings in some other way that makes the software less effective.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the job of making sure your security software is running properly and checking your employees haven’t interfered with its settings.

And that’s where managed anti-virus and security software comes in.

What is managed security software?

Managed security software works much the same as other security packages. It helps keep your systems secure and free of malware.

The main difference is that the software is managed by someone else. This is usually done by an IT provider (like your IT support company), but can be done by someone in your business, if you have the expertise in-house.

Whoever manages the security software takes responsibility for ensuring the solution is installed on every system and is always kept up to date.

Usually, software on individual computers and servers will be managed from a central control panel. For instance, changes to settings and updates can be rolled out across all computers automatically.

This is great for many smaller businesses because it means they don’t need to worry about the installation or day-to-day management of security software.

If you adopt managed security software, it can give you the benefit of knowing your systems and data stored are secure, without having to get into the ins and outs of checking every computer and every setting yourself.

(c) Mirus IT, provider of managed security software to smaller companies.

Tagged security | 0 comments

Do you understand contactless payments?

July 17, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Do you understand contactless payments?{{}}The ways we pay are changing fast. No matter what sort of business you run, customers will expect to be able to pay by their preferred method.

If you only accept a limited number of payment methods, people may be put off buying from you. With that in mind, perhaps you should be thinking about contactless payment, because this is one option that has really taken off in the last 12 months.

Contactless growth

Contactless payments are growing fast. Monthly spending on contactless cards exceeded £100m for the first time in March 2014, according to the UK Cards Association.

More than 370 contactless transactions are made every minute in the UK. That’s six per second — three times more than a year ago.

Although contactless is seen as a new technology, it’s actually been around since 2008. The same technology powers Transport for London’s Oyster card system, where passengers pay for public transport journeys via contactless cards pre-loaded with credit.

How contactless works

Contactless cards use a short-range wireless system called near field communications (NFC).

Contactless debit and credit cards are fitted with an antenna that connects them with devices up to 5cm away. When the cardholder passes their card close to a contactless payment machine, their payment is registered.

Because it’s so easy to make a payment, the contactless system has been designed to minimise the chance of duplicate or accidental transactions.

The terminals make sure only one payment is taken per transaction. To make a second payment, the card has to be taken out of range of the card reader, and then reintroduced.

Even then, a second payment will only be taken if the sales assistant has initiated a new transaction.

Software in the cash register or point of sale terminal also checks if there’s more than one card within range. It will reject the transaction if there’s a risk of the wrong card being charged.

The contactless advantage

‘Tap and go’ contactless transactions take less than a second, making shopping quicker and easier. If you run a shop, this reduces queues, makes customers happier and gives you more time to engage with them.

Major high street names such as Marks & Spencer, Costa and Boots are all using contactless. Although uptake among smaller businesses is harder to measure, it seems widespread.

There’ll already be at least one business on your local High Street that accepts contactless payments. More are joining every day.

This post is by Andy Macauley, chief operating officer at Handepay, which offers a free guide to contactless payments.

Tagged payment | 0 comments

IT for Donuts: how to reduce the size of a Microsoft Word file

July 17, 2014 by John McGarvey

Compress images in Word{{}}IT for Donuts is our regular weekly feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT.

This week, see how to reduce the size of Microsoft Word documents containing images.

Images make files larger

If you're working on a Microsoft Word document, you might have notices that the file size increases — often significantly — each time you add an image.

This is because images take up much more space on disk than text. Long documents with lots of images can grow unfeasibly large, making it harder to work with them or to share them with other people.

How to reduce file size

Microsoft Word includes an feature that reduces the amout of storage space images take up. It does this by compressing the image files in a document.

This slightly reduces the quality of images, but you can balance quality vs. size by choosing from a range of compression levels.

You should only compress images once you're sure you don't want to re-crop them or change the size again, because the compression option optimises the image for its current size.

Here's how to do it (these instructions should work with recent versions of Microsoft Word on Windows computers):

  1. In Microsoft Word, select the picture you want to compress. You can do this by clicking it once.
  2. Under Picture Tools on the Format tab, select Compress Pictures
  3. Beneath Target Output, select the resolution you require.
    The descriptions in the drop-down will help you understand which resolution is most appropriate. Normally, you'll probably select either Print (if you'll be printing the document) or Screen (if you'll only be viewing it on screen).
  4. To compress all images in the document, make sure Apply only to this picture is unticked.
  5. Select OK.

That's it. When you save the document again, you should notice that it takes up less space on your computer.

Previous IT for Donuts tips:

M&S shows the dangers of redesigning your website

July 14, 2014 by John McGarvey
Marks & Spencer store{{}}
Copyright: Tupungato

Marks & Spencer’s new website — which launched in February — reportedly cost an enormous £150m. No, we’re not quite sure how on earth it’s possible to spend that much on a website, either.

Yet despite this huge investment, things haven’t gone quite to plan.

The company’s online sales dropped 8% in the 13 weeks previous to 28 June, despite this shiny new site that was — presumably — intended to make it easier for consumers to part with their cash. Oops.

High stakes website redesign

It’s tempting to chuckle at the online misfortunes of a big retailer like this. But in truth, launching a new website is a high-stakes game for anyone.

No matter whether your online business is a one-person micro-company or a 130-year-old icon like M&S, you never quite know what’s going to happen when you flick the ‘on’ switch.

For starters, some current customers will almost certainly be confused by and resistant to the change.

Even if your old website was a nightmare to navigate, your most loyal visitors will have got used to it. When you redesign it, you force them to learn a new way of doing things.

Every website redesign faces this problem, but M&S appears to have compounded things by forcing existing customers to re-register on the new site.

Yes, even if you’ve made regular online purchases in the past, you’re apparently forced to re-enter your details before you can buy online. As anyone with any experience of selling online will know, that’s bound to affect conversion rates.

We can only assume that some kind of serious technical issues prevented M&S keeping the old user database, because it’s hard to understand why any retailer would choose to start from scratch again in this way.

Does M&S face fundamental issues?

More worryingly, some industry commentators think the site faces fundamental issues. According to this Marketing Week piece, retail analyst Neil Saunders reckons the new M&S.com has forgotten some of the basics:

“…it falls down in the more critical function of making it easy for customers to purchase. Indeed, there are some parts of the site where it is extremely difficult for customers to understand the path they need to take to buy product.”

It’s far too early to tell whether the M&S website will be a long-term success. But if you’re planning to re-launch your ecommerce website, here are three ways to avoid similar problems:

  • Stay focused on conversion. Your website is useless if it doesn’t sell. When considering design approaches and evaluating features, ask one simple question: ‘will this improve our conversion rate?’

If not, or you’re not sure, steer clear. It’s easy to get distracted by bells and whistles during the exciting process of creating a new site. Yet visitors want a simple site so they can buy what they want, fast.

  • Show customers your website early. Share wireframes, prototypes and designs with current and potential customers to see what they think.

    On bigger website projects, it can be helpful to build a basic prototype, to see how people fare when they use it. Is it easy to find your products? Can customers figure out how to check out?

  • Consider a limited release. If you run an online company, your website pretty much is your business. When you launch your new site, see if you can find a way to run it in parallel with the old for a while.

    For instance, you might use A/B testing tools to show 20% of visitors your new site, while the other 80% see the old one. Once you’re confident the new site is performing, you can roll it to 100% of visitors.

Have you launched a new online shop recently? How’s it performing? Leave a comment to let us know.

IT for Donuts: add headers and footers to Microsoft Word

July 10, 2014 by John McGarvey

IT for Donuts is our regular Friday feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT.

This week, see how to add a header and footer to Microsoft Word documents.

Headers and footers explained

Headers and footers are standard items that you can insert at the top and bottom of pages in Microsoft Word.

Unsurprisingly, the header is at the top of the page and the footer at the bottom. Headers and footers often contain page numbers, a company logo or a small amount of text.

Header and footer example{{}}

Microsoft Word includes an option for headers and footers. This allows you to create a header or footer once, then add it to every page of your document.

How to create a footer

Here's how to create a footer in Microsoft Word. The process for creating a header is exactly the same, except you should edit the area at the top of the page rather than the area at the bottom.

(These instructions apply to recent versions of Microsoft Word.)

 

  1. To edit the footer in your document, scroll to the bottom and then double-click just above the end of the page. This should open the footer.
  2. You can now edit the footer just like any other part of your document. First, we'll add a page number.
  3. To add page numbers, position your cursor where you want to add the number. (Page numbers will appear automatically on each page.)
  4. On the insert tab, choose Quick Parts and then Field.
  5. Select Page, then choose OK. You should see a page number appear in the footer. You can use the usual Word tools to change the font, size and alignment.
  6. To add a logo, select the Insert tab, then choose Pictures.
  7. Now locate an image of your logo on your computer. Double-click it.
  8. The logo will be inserted into the footer. You can resize and move it just as with any other image in Word.
  9. Once you're happy with the positioning of your logo and page number, double-click outside of the footer area to move back into your document's body.
  10. The footer you've created will automatically appear on every page. If you want to change it, just double-click back inside that area.

 

There are lots of other things you can do with headers and footers, and there's plenty of information about working with them available on the Microsoft website.

Previous IT for Donuts tips:

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