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Posts for September 2012

Netbooks lead your worst tech buys

September 28, 2012 by John McGarvey

Keyboard with 'oops' key{{}}The worst bit of technology I ever bought was the original SPV smart phone. Launched in 2002, it was the first mobile phone to have a version of Microsoft Windows on it.

Even by the standards of early smart phones, it was dire. Crashes, freezes and dropped calls were normal. I cut my losses, flogged it on eBay and bought a Sony Ericsson instead.

Your worst tech buys

I don't think I'm alone. When it comes to technology, most of us have made decisions we've come to regret. Maybe you paid £400 for a HP tablet computer right before they slashed the price to £89. Or perhaps you thought that Amstrad E-m@iler thing would look great on your desk.

We asked our Twitter followers to tell us which tech purchases they regret most. From the response, it seems those small, light, cheap netbooks that took the world by storm a couple of years back didn't live up to their promise.

From Unitycomm, @unitycomm on Twitter:
"I was stupid enough to buy a netbook when came out. Great for weight but useless as a computer."

From @duncangeere:
"I only used my netbook about 5 times :("

Netbooks caused a big splash when first released a few years back. At around £200 or less, they promised portable computing at a low cost. Unfortunately, many people found the performance inadequate for even simple tasks.

These days we have ultrabooks instead. They're like netbooks, but a bit bigger, more powerful and much more expensive.

Well-regarded models include Dell's XPS 13, Acer's Aspire S5 and the Apple MacBook Air.

Your other mistakes

Twitter user @ndwebb told us his mistake was a BlackBerry mobile phone:

"Blackberry Torch, looks great but battery runs out 2/3 way through working day if you dare do anything beyond text + short call."

Poor battery life is a regular complaint with smart phones, creating a real market for items like the Mophie Juice Pack that adds extra battery capacity to an iPhone.

But the final word on poor tech purchases has to go to Alexandra Coleman, @tangfastics, who summed up what happens when you get sucked in by a new project's marketing hype:

"The Wii Fit. It did not make me fit."

Surely a salutary lesson for anyone currently contemplating a technology purchase.

Image of 'oops' key: Marcin Wichary on Flickr.

TOTW: Control yourself (and your emails)

September 28, 2012 by Imanuel Votteler

This week's Friday tip is about a couple of overlooked features in Outlook 2010 that could save your bacon. Please note that some of these features may only work if Outlook is connected to a Microsoft Exchange server.

When editing a message in Outlook, have a look under the File > Info menu. The first option, 'Restrict permissions to this item' allows you to control whether the email you send can be forwarded to other recipients. This is handy for anything confidential, including HR and salary related emails. 

The second option of interest is the message delivery report. If the message you're looking at has already been sent, selecting this option will take you to a web based service that shows you if the email was delivered or not. Sometimes this might prove useful with clients that aren't receiving your emails but don't check their spam folders.

Next we have 'message resend and recall'. As the name suggests, this allows you to resend or recall emails. Resending an email this way is different from just sending it again, as it will delete your previous email from the recipient's inbox, and replace it with this updated version. Very useful for correcting mistakes you noticed after the email was sent. Recalling an email works in a similar way, where the email is removed from the recipients inbox. (Note: you can only recall an email if the recipient has not already read it, but I suppose in that case it's too late anyway.)

The last button on the info page brings up properties of the message. Here you can control any flags, such as 'high importance' or 'sensitive', as well as controlling message expiry date (if desired). This will notify the recipient that the message is out of date if they read it after the date you specify.

Bonus tip: Many of these features can be added to your Outlook ribbon toolbar, by right-clicking on it and selecting 'Customise the ribbon'.

Work anywhere, anytime

September 27, 2012 by John Lissenden

Work anywhere, anytime/earth network{{}}“We have gone from a world that was connected, to a world that is hyper-connected” – Tom Friedman, author and New York Times foreign affairs correspondent.

The idea of a traditional office space is changing quickly. We are no longer confined to our desks and as such more and more people are working from locations that are far more convenient.

The hyper-connected world that Tom Friedman refers to is allowing us to talk 24/7 to people all over the world. Business does not switch off in the evenings or weekends, in our hyper-connected world we are talking to and working with people all over the world at all times of day and night regardless of where you are, be it the office, home, Starbucks or a hotel reception.

The reason that we can work anywhere, anytime, is thanks to the developments in cloud computing. In most cases, on-premises hardware limits a business to a physical office space and if the hardware has an issue then business is heavily impacted. The majority of hosted IT services now offer 99.99% uptime with inbuilt resiliency so that if there is an issue, a backup machine is on hand to take the workload and your business operation is not affected.

Being able to access your business information online opens up huge possibilities. Many of the benefits are in areas that are often overlooked. Job satisfaction can be greatly increased if your employees can work one day a week from home. This allows them to cut out commuting time and spend more time with their family and friends. 

Working from a location of your choice can greatly increase productivity thanks to the reduction of involuntary distractions (meetings, colleagues wanting to engage in chit-chat, managers asking for updates when you’re in mid-flow).

Expand your employee and partnership horizons. By having hosted IT services you can look beyond the local pool of potential employees and partners. With cloud computing you can have employees all over the world connecting to a central space to work from which opens exciting opportunities for business owners of all sizes.

The world is changing fast and traditional views of work life are changing with it. If your business is not looking at allowing its employees to work anywhere, anytime and your competitors are then they will have access to the best talent and be a more attractive place to work.

Now is the perfect time to begin to look at what cloud computing can do for your business and how you can ensure you stay ahead of the competition.

John Lissenden is business development manager at Fasthosts Internet Ltd. John is an expert in helping businesses find a money-saving IT solution, and advises on cloud computing and virtualisation.

Smart socks take technology to new levels of ridiculousness

September 26, 2012 by John McGarvey

Smarter socks{{}}

Too busy running your business to worry about what's on your feet? A new app from Blacksocks - pioneers in the world of sock subscriptions (honestly, I had no idea - whatever happened to just buying them in John Lewis?) - helps you keep track of all your socks.

When you buy the company's starter kit (just £119 - bargain!), you'll get ten pairs of chipped socks and a Sock Sorter, which can communicate with your iPhone. 

When you hold the Sock Sorter over each sock, an app on your iPhone will identify it, then show you a whole raft of statistics. See when each sock was manufactured, and when you bought it. View the number of times you've washed it, and make sure you always put the same socks together in pairs.

You can even measure how black your black socks are using your iPhone's camera. It uses a simple traffic light system to warn when your socks are so faded that they need replacing. No need to use your eyes, like ordinary people.

Your troubles are over. No more mismatched pairs. No more lone socks. If there's a better use for a brand new £600 iPhone than this, I've yet to see it.

Coming next, an app that reminds you to shave?

Posted in Communications | Tagged mobile app, apps | 1 comment

UK broadband: still not good enough

September 25, 2012 by John McGarvey

Car in motion - fast broadband?{{}}

How fast is your broadband? (Image: krossbow on Flickr)

Come on coalition, pull your fingers out and get us the broadband we need. That could be the message to take from a recent ISPreview.co.uk poll, which found that of 1,600 broadband users questioned, only 34% actually received their desired internet connection speed.

Yes, that is the reality of the 'broadband Britain' we live in today. Most internet connections still rely on shonky old copper telephone wires, a technology which has been around since Alexander Graham Bell invented the dog and bone. As a result, we're stuck with connections that regularly fail to meet our expectations.

Broadband frustrations

Just to muddy the waters further, internet service providers frequently use best-case connection speeds in their advertising, even though most people don't have the slightest hope of ever achieving them.

It's no wonder we get frustrated. And that's before you bring the government into the picture. It has set a target minimum connection speed of 2Mbps (megabits per second), saying everyone in the country should be able to achieve it by 2015.

But to put things into perspective, the average connection speed in Latvia is 8.8Mbps. In South Korea it's over 15Mbps. (Source: Akamai State of the Internet.)

What's more, only 4.7% of the poll respondents said that 2Mbps was adequate for their needs. As Mark Jackson, founder of ISPreview.co.uk, explains: "Clearly 2Mbps isn't enough with only 4.7% of respondents claiming to need such a speed and everybody else wanting something far faster."

Perhaps the EU's Digital Agenda for Europe is more realistic. It wants 100% of people to have access to broadband at 30Mbps or above, but not till 2020.

Broadband bright spots

Although much of the UK still isn't getting the broadband it deserves, there are some bright spots. BT continues to roll out its Infinity service. Business packages start from £30 a month and include a prioritised service so your connection doesn't suffer at peak times. Its biggest competitor is Virgin Media, which offers its 60Mbps service for under £30 a month.

Both these services are good deals and should seriously outperform any broadband connection based on old-fashioned ADSL technology. But - of course - they're only available if your business is based in an area these providers cover. And that's the sticking point for many companies, particularly those based in more rural locations.

Is your broadband connection adequate? Do you pay through the nose for it? Leave a comment and let us know.

Posted in Networking | Tagged Internet, broadband | 0 comments

Why every business needs a wireless network

September 24, 2012 by John McGarvey

Wi-Fi hotspot sign{{}}Laptops, tablets, smart phones ... as the number of wireless devices we have grows, so do the demands they place on the wireless networks we use. If you have wireless in your business, how's it coping?

Often, the answer is 'not that well'. In many companies, wireless access was first added on an ad-hoc basis, simply by purchasing a wireless access point (they can cost less than £25) and plugging it in. Wireless network created. Job done.

Although that approach was fine when wireless devices were a rarity, it takes more consideration to build a network that's you can rely on day in, day out.

We're all going wireless

"The balance is shifting towards wireless," explains Ian Kilpatrick, chairman of Wick Hill Group. "However, most companies just aren't ready for that shift. They have wireless hotspots which can't reach everywhere; or worse still, have implemented wireless networks which can't be easily upscaled."

“Wireless is more cost-effective, more convenient, less disruptive, encourages productivity – and users want it,” he continues.

"That’s great, but who is thinking about the fact that each device makes an incremental load on the network and that each user will typically look to increment their usage? And that companies are going to want to put not just their web browsing and email onto wireless, but also their business critical applications and multi-media – and they’ll want it to work faultlessly."

In short: wireless is brilliantly convenient and fantastically popular. But that means people are going to want to use it more and more. Your company's wireless provision needs to be up to scratch, especially if your staff are relying on it to do their jobs.

Is your network up to it?

Signs that your wireless network is starting to creak under the strain of extra traffic include slow access, dropped connections and poor signal coverage. If you're experiencing these, it's a good idea to review your wireless provision before it gets worse.

If possible, seek advice from your IT supplier. They can help you understand how to make the best use of your existing wireless equipment, and whether new access points or signal boosters can help you increase capacity.

The latest wireless equipment tends to be much better than that from a few years ago too. Access points have more range and are better equipped to handle interference, so you can often benefit from updating your equipment.

Wireless kit is available from online IT suppliers like Misco, PC World Business, eBuyer and CCL Computers.

But for many businesses, the biggest change they must make is to stop regarding wireless as a useful extra, and start seeing it as a key tool for employees. Because there's a good chance the people using your Wi-Fi already view it as essential.

(Image of a cold wireless hotspot: woodleywonderworks on Flickr.)

Posted in Networking | Tagged wireless | 0 comments

When will your battery last the entire working week?

September 24, 2012 by IT Donut contributor

Do you ever get tired of the battery running out on your laptop just as you're finishing a crucial bit of work? You're not alone. And although we're still a little way off having a laptop where a single charge lasts a full working week, computer-maker Lenovo reckons it knows when that day will come. Check out its infographic for the full story of laptop battery life:

When will your battery last the entire work week?{{}}

Friday Donut tip: how to speed up your broadband connection

September 21, 2012 by John McGarvey

Dodgy looking phone socket{{}}The most common form of internet connection in the UK comes down a standard telephone line. It's often called ADSL, and while it does the job, it can be a source of speed-related frustrations.

This is because it relies on hundred-year-old technology (copper telephone wires) to deliver fast, modern broadband.

Connection speeds are determined by a range of factors, including the distance between your premises and the local telephone exchange and local electrical interference. Our internet speed checker will indicate how fast your connection is.

To make sure you're getting the best connection your phone line can manage, here are three things to try:

1. Plug your router into the master phone socket

The master phone socket is the telephone socket on the wall where your phone line enters your business premises. It's best to plug your broadband router in here, because the master socket is least suscecptible to interference. 

If the master socket is a long way from your business computers, plug the router in there anyway and run a network cable from it to your computers. Network cables are not affected by interference in the same way.

2. Use a good quality phone cable

The quality of the wire between your phone socket and broadband router can have an influence on speed too. Use the shortest wire you can - usually the best option is to use the wire supplied with your router.

Keep the wire away from sources of intereference, like other cables, mobile or cordless phones.

3. Disconnect the bell wire

This step is a little fiddlier and means taking the front off your telephone socket. If you're not comfortable doing that then skip it!

The bell wire (also called the ring wire) is a hangover from the days when old-fashioned telephones required an extra wire to make them ring. Many phone lines still have this wire, but the only thing it's good for is causing interference.

You can remove it quickly and easily - there's a really good online guide here, which even has nice clear photos.

How's your broadband connection speed? Have you found any easy ways to speed it up?

 

Windows 8 to spark tablet war?

September 21, 2012 by John McGarvey

Dell tablet{{}}It's rather got lost in all the recent hype over iPhone 5, but Windows 8 - the next version of Microsoft's dominant operating system - will be available from 26 October.

It can be a risky business being first to adopt a new Windows version. As with any major new software, there are usually a few bugs that need ironing out. Canny companies hold off upgrading until these teething problems are solved.

Windows on a tablet

Having said that, a big Windows 8 push is just round the corner. And it's not just from Microsoft. There are plenty of hardware companies hoping Windows 8's innovative new interface and touchscreen features will drive up their sales too.

What's more, Windows 8 is the first version of Windows to cater seriously for tablet computers. There will be lots of new features to take advantage of touchscreens, and so one exception to the 'don't be first to buy it' rule might be if you want a new tablet computer.

A new tablet from Dell

Take Dell. Anticipating a Windows 8 buzz, the hardware giant has just announced a new tablet that'll launch on the same day as Windows 8. It's the Latitude 10, and it promises to make the most of the tablet-focused features in Windows 8. 

Done right, a Windows 8 tablet could be ideal for smaller companies. It should give them all the convenience of a tablet without requireing them to learn how to use lots of new software, or convert files between different formats.

Sure, our experiences with Windows 7 tablets have been underwhelming, but initial reports suggest Windows 8 will be an entirely different beast.

Security in a crowded market

Expect tablets like the Latitude 10 to be of particular interest to companies which handle lots of sensitive data. Dell's tablet puts a big emphasis on security, with support for two-factor authentication. This means you need something you know (like a password) and something you have (like your fingerprint or a smart card) to log in.

But it will be a crowded market. There's Apple's iPad (from £399), of couse. But recent months have seen Google (from £159) and Amazon (from £129) launch keenly-priced tablets. Even Microsoft will be launching a Windows 8 tablet. As Windows 8 draws closer, more Windows tablets will join the fray.

This all means now's a great time to keep an eye on the market, particularly if you like the idea of having a tablet but aren't quite convinced yet. Windows 8 will prompt new models, extra competition and - with luck - some aggressive pricing and innovative features.

Does Samsung care about its older customers?

September 20, 2012 by John McGarvey

Over the last day or so a Samsung video has emerged that pokes fun at Apple and its customers.

It shows a bunch of people waiting in line outside a shop to buy a new mobile phone. To pass the time, they discuss the phone's exciting new features, like a connector that's 'all digital' and 'the coolest adaptors'.

The ad is clearly aimed at Apple, the tone is of friendly mockery, and it makes some good points. Many new iPhone features have been standard on Samsung phones for some time.

But around a minute in, one member of the queue reveals that - shock, horror! - he's not there to buy a phone himself. He's just saving a spot for his parents.

"Thanks for holding our spot," says his coffee-cup-clutching mum, while a bearded, grey-haired chap (dad, presumably) looks on with a benevolent smile.

The implication is clear: the iPhone is for oldsters. If you're hip, with it and under 30, a Samsung phone is way cooler.

Just a bit of lighthearted fun, or casual ageism? I can't quite decide, but in this day and age it seems patronising to suggest older people are behind the times with technology and have a tendency to make poor purchasing decisions.

We've mentioned before how research shows the stereotypical view of older computer users isn't very fair or accurate. Yet in the process of having a dig at its biggest rival, isn't Samsung needlessly reinforcing those stereotypes?

Watch the video here and decide for yourself:

Buying an Apple or Samsung phone

If you want to buy a new phone without a contract, you can order iPhone 5 on the Apple website (from £529). Samsung's Galaxy SIII is available from online retailers like Simply Electronics and Misco (£400 - £500)

For a phone on a new contract, both handsets are available from networks like Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone.

The four touchstones of business IT

September 19, 2012 by Craig Sharp

The four touchstones of business IT/building blocks{{}}I often speak to people who’ve worked for a big company for many years before deciding to start their own business. They are used to being in an office where they can pickup the phone, say “I need a BlackBerry next week,” and it just arrives.

But when they set up their own business, they have to deal directly with a mobile phone provider. Then they have to set the phone up, make it work with their email system … and often eventually throw the thing out of the window

The four touchstones to focus on

When you first start your own company, it can be hard to adjust to this DIY approach. And in order to get the maximum value from your IT investment, you need to consider a few touchstones of IT and telecoms: 

  • A functional email system that links to your laptop computer, desktop computer and mobile phone.
  • Some form of regular backup procedure that allows company documents and files to be stored and recovered.
  • Protection from the increasing number of internet threats, including spam, malware and viruses.
  • Business grade IT hardware that’s built for business users, not home users.

If you invest time and put thought into getting these four key areas set up correctly, or decide to outsource the management of these services to an external supplier, you can be more sure of being able to: 

  • Respond to email enquiries rapidly and retain an audit trail of messages sent from all your different devices.
  • Have confidence that you can recover lost or deleted information without it affecting your business or your clients.
  • Avoid threats that could damage your business or put clients at risk.
  • Rely on your IT hardware over the long term – you’ll know it’s giving you good value and increasing staff efficiency.

It really works

While running my company, Abussi, I’ve seen again and again how focusing on these areas has transformed how businesses operate and made them more efficient.

If you just tackle one of these areas, you can transform your business. So imagine what a difference taking care of two, three or four of them could make.

Here’s an example for you. Have you ever spoken to a larger company and been told “…oh, we are having some IT issues today so we can’t help you on that I’m afraid”? What impact would it have on your business if you couldn’t help a client when they called?

So, if you run a small business then don’t settle for second best or a home spun solution to your IT and telecoms needs. You need an IT system to match that of bigger companies. One of the best ways to to achieve this is to work with a local, focused and dedicated IT support provider.

Craig Sharp is the MD of Abussi IT, who provide Small Business IT Support in Birmingham

Three luxuries that make working at your desk a pleasure

September 18, 2012 by John McGarvey

An interesting looking desk{{}}

If you spend lots of time there, make your desk interesting. (Image: Dee Adams on Flickr.)

We weren't built to spend all day with our legs folded under a desk, staring at a large illuminated panel and tapping out words on a keyboard. So it's no wonder that sitting at a desk can get a bit tedious at times.

Actually, if you are stuck in front of a computer for most of the day, it's worth taking a good look at your working environment. You deserve to be comfortable, as do your employees. And when you are, you'll be more relaxed and productive.

In fact, it's worth spending some money to keep everyone comfortable. So, here are three luxuries that can make a real difference to how you feel at your desk.

1. A really good chair

If you're going to spend eight hours a day sitting in the thing, it's worth splashing out for more than a basic office chair. The Herman Miller Aeron is the Rolls Royce of office chairs, but at around £900 it's really not cheap.

They last for years though, so a more affordable option is to grab a secondhand model. Check what's available on eBay - prices start from around £300. Once you've tried one, you won't want to go back to a lesser chair.

2. Noise cancelling headphones

Wearing good noise cancelling headphones is a bit like going to the bottom of a swimming pool. The way they block external sounds can be unsettling at first, but once you adjust to it they're a great aid to concentration.

At around £280 from Amazon, or £300 direct from the manufacturer, Bose's QuietComfort 15 headphones get great reviews. But beware: wearing them constantly in an open plan office will kill off conversation.

3. A monitor with wide open space

When it comes to computer screens, the bigger the better. Apple Mac users will lust after the company's 27" screen, which has a bright, crisp picture few other screens can equal. And so it should, because it'll cost you around £800 from Amazon or PC World Business.

For PC users or those on tighter budgets, the Iiyama ProLite E2773HDS is another 27" screen with room for all your windows to breathe. It gets excellent reviews, but clocks in at a much more manageable £250. Buy from Novatech, Amazon or eBuyer Business.

The people who use them say they make a real difference, but would you spend £800 on a computer monitor? £900 on a desk chair? In the current financial climate, is that wasteful or forward-thinking? Leave a comment and let us know.

Be one of the first to get iPhone 5 with 4G

September 17, 2012 by John McGarvey

EE logo{{}}Last week's iPhone 5 launch was thin on surprises, but many will have been excited to see that the new iPhone includes 4G connectivity. This new mobile internet internet standard allows for much faster connections than the current 3G networks.

We tested a 4G connection earlier this year and we were impressed. It managed to beat most broadband connection speeds convincingly, even from the top deck of a number 25 bus.

4G is coming soon

Back then it looked like we wouldn't see 4G in the UK till next year. But things have changed since, and EE - a new network from the same people who run Orange and T-Mobile - is set to launch 4G in selected UK cities before the end of the 2012. Superfast mobile connections could be closer than you think.

In a bit of a double blow to the other UK mobile networks, not only is EE launching 4G first, but it also looks like it'll be possible to get an iPhone 5 on the new network pretty much from day one.

Sign up now for a 4G iPhone

If you do want to be a 4G trailblazer with an iPhone 5 the advice is to move quickly. Pre-order your iPhone 5 now with Orange or T-Mobile and you'll be able to move to a 4G EE contract once the network launches properly. And - of course - in the meantime you'll be able to use your shiny new iPhone 5 on the Orange or T-Mobile networks.

You will have to lock yourself into a two-year contract (at a minimum of £36 a month), and pay anything up to £269 up front for the phone, depending which model you want and which monthly plan you choose.

It's also not clear exactly how much an EE tariff will cost, although you should be able to switch without penalty and it sounds like prices should be fairly comparable.

In all, if you want to be at the forefront of mobile internet access then this doesn't look to be a bad way of going about it.

(Before you order, make sure you have a read of the EE website. At launch it looks like 4G will only be available in London, Birmingham, Leeds, Cardiff, Bristol, Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Sheffield, with more cities added by the end of the year.)

Achieve security standards quickly and cheaply

September 17, 2012 by Dave James

Achieve security standards quickly and cheaply/approved stamp{{}}Many companies are finding it’s becoming more common for them to have to comply to security standards.

These include as PCI DSS, which demonstrates you can hold customers’ payment details safely, or ISO 27001/2 which shows you use adequate, proportional controls to protect information.

Complying with standards like these can seem like a costly process. But if you look to change the way you do business rather than making big changes to your existing systems, you can reduce the cost and associated disruption considerably.

Change how you do business

The traditional way in which companies achieve standards compliance is to retrospectively add protective measures to existing business processes.

Having worked in this area for many years, I often see organisations with business processes that really are not set up to make it easy for them to comply with certain standards.

At such times it is worth taking a long hard look at your company. Instead of trying to tag compliance controls on to your processes, take a good look at how you do things.

Wasted technology

I have worked with many companies that have brought in new technology so they can comply with certain standards. However, often this technology is wasted because it is not properly set up. Managers lack either the time or expertise to use it properly.

This technology is only in these businesses because the standards demand it. It’s a tick in the box, but it is neither effective nor doing what it was intended for. In short, it is a waste of money.

The first law of any technology is that it needs to be managed. The second law is that any technology you are unfamiliar with needs to be managed far more than technology you are familiar with.

The problem with standards is that they tend to mandate technologies that many organisations are unfamiliar with.

How it works in practice

I worked with an organisation in the entertainment industry that acquires customer payment card details in two main ways: selling tickets and selling merchandise:

  • The organisation’s IT infrastructure was old and had suffered many years of underinvestment.
  • The organisation needed to become PCI DSS compliant quickly due to pressure from its bank.
  • It would have cost £3m – £4m to update and improve the company’s systems to the required standards.

With a little lateral thought, we realised that ticket sales could be outsourced to the current market leader and merchandising could be moved to stand alone machines.

This meant the organisation didn’t have to worry about achieving compliance at all, and so could focus on redeveloping its network to meet business requirements rather than compliance obligations.

It does sometimes require some creative thinking, but it’s clear that making relatively simple business operational changes can lead to real savings in standards compliance costs.

Dave James is managing director of Ascentor, a company which helps businesses manage information risk. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Posted in IT security | Tagged IT security | 0 comments

Friday Donut tip: get the software you need in one go

September 14, 2012 by Imanuel Votteler

Ninite website{{}}

Choose your software on the Ninite website, then download to install.

Once that first flush of excitement about getting a brand new computer has faded, you have to cope with the annoying job of installing all your usual software. What should be a simple process often involves downloading lots of different files, waiting while each package installs, and scrabbling around for software CDs.

Even worse is when you're having to reinstall everything on your computer. Nightmare.

However, this week I found a tool that makes this process a bit more straightforward. Ninite lets you choose what you want to install on your computer, from a big list of popular software. Then it bundles your choices up into a single file for you to download and run.

Here's how to use it:

  1. Go to the Ninite website (www.ninite.com)
  2. Scroll down the page to see all the software you can install
  3. Click each item you want to install, so there's a tick in the box (see image above)
  4. When you get to the bottom of the page, click the Get installer button
  5. A file will download to your computer
  6. When it's finished downloading, open the file
  7. Follow the instructions on screen to install all your chosen software

Depending on the packages you've chosen, it could take a while to install everything, but you can just let your computer get on with it while you go off and have lunch or something. When you return, all your software will be ready and waiting.

It also looks to be a great way to install a standard set of programs onto company computers. In fact, Ninite offers a Pro version, with the ability to manage computers remotely, over your company network. We've not tried it, but it looks to have some really handy features for managing computers on small networks.

Previous Friday Donut tips:

Emma Watson could bring down your company computers

September 14, 2012 by John McGarvey

Emma Watson{{}}While the world's attention is diverted by a story involving a member of the Royal Family and partial nudity, don't let your guard down. Although the Duchess of Cambridge may be in the headlines today, there's a far more urgent threat to your IT systems out there: Emma Watson.

Security firm McAfee reckons the Harry Potter star is 2012's most dangerous celebrity. And it's not because she's particularly adept at hacking into Windows XP or an expert at guessing passwords (although who knows what damage a few well-placed spells could wreak?).

No, according to McAfee's research, anyone searching online using terms like 'Emma Watson and nude pictures' runs a high risk of landing on a dangerous website that's infected with malware. As the firm explains:

"McAfee research found that searching for the latest Emma Watson pictures and downloads yields more than a 12.6% chance of landing on a website that has tested positive for online threats, such as spyware, adware, spam, phishing, viruses and other malware."

Now, you might justifiably argue that anyone searching for things like that deserves everything they get from the web's seedy underbelly. But if they're doing it on work time, using your company computers, you should be worried.

Sure, you can discipline the employee responsible, but if your server's infected with a virus or a trojan has stolen your customer list then you'll have bigger problems to worry about than whether your staff member actually found what they were looking for.

Your company policies should - of course - make it clear that this sort of thing is not allowed, but that's not much use either once your computers are infected. And that's why every single PC in your company should have security software installed and up-to-date.

Packages like McAfee's own All Access software (£74.99) will guard against viruses, trojans and spyware, and show a warning screen when you try to visit a dodgy website. Alternatives include AVG Internet Security (£97.99) or Kaspersky's Small Office Security package (possibly best value of the lot because it covers five computers for £159.99).

While packages like these won't entirely guard against employee mistakes, stupidity or bad luck, they do provide a strong line of defence for your company. Even if you're not in the habit of searching for nude pictures of Harry Potter actors.

Image of Emma Watson: Flickr user david_shankbone under Creative Commons.

Posted in IT security | Tagged security, IT security | 0 comments

.co domain names: not just a load of hype?

September 13, 2012 by John McGarvey

Anything is possible in the .co era image{{}}

Just over two years ago, it became easy for anyone to register and own a domain name ending in .co. This meant you could have www.yourbusiness.co as your website address.

The .co mascot appears to be a flying pig (see image), which seemed suitable - because at the time, we were we were sceptical. Who'd want a .co domain name? It just looks like you've missed the .uk off the end of it.

A couple of years later, I'm starting to wonder if we called it wrong. Seeing a .co domain name on a business card or sign still looks weird to me, but the fact I've been noticing them 'in the wild' at all suggests they are gaining in popularity.

Is .co more recognisable?

Of course, the more companies that use them, the more recognisable .co domain names will become. That means even more businesses will starting using them, which means ... well, it means that if you have your eyes on a good .co domain name, you might want to grab it sooner rather than later.

Aside from Joan Rivers - whose website, joan.co, is proudly cited by the official .co registry - I've noticed a few small businesses using .co domains in the last few weeks:

Sure - it's still early days for .co domains, and they're a long way off from becoming mainstream. But I just wonder: if these pioneering companies do mark the start of the trend, now would be the right time to grab a decent .co domain name for your new business, or for that business idea you'd like to get off the ground one day.

How to register a .co domain

Most domain name registration companies offer .co domain names, although prices can vary quite a lot. Here are some of the best options out there at the moment:

  • 123-reg has .co domain names at £14.99 for the first year, rising to £29.99 for subsequent years.
  • GoDaddy has .co domains at £18.89 a year, with £10 off for the first year.
  • Easily has .co domains for £24.99 a year.
  • 1and1 has .co domains for £29.99 a year.

As with most other domain names, you must buy your domain for a minimum of a year. You can then choose to renew if you want to. If you buy a domain with any of the companies listed above then it should be relatively straightforward to use it however you wish in future: to set up a website, for email addresses, and so on.

What do you think of .co domains? Are they a worthwhile investment, or a waste of money?

Five ways to create strong passwords that are hard to crack

September 12, 2012 by Dave James

Five ways to create passwords that are hard to crack/password box{{}}Hardly a week goes by without one company or another being hacked and user passwords being made public on the internet. Do we have any hope of keeping our passwords safe?

Actually we do have some hope, but we all have to play our part and choose strong passwords.

Hopefully, the websites we have online accounts with are doing their utmost to protect our personal information, and in particular our passwords. But even if they are, that’s not the end of the story as simple passwords can be cracked quite easily by hackers.

We need to do our bit by making sure we have strong passwords that are hard to crack. Here are five ways.

1. Think of a word and a number

Word: Olympics

Number:  1066

All you need to do is mix these up a bit to come up with a good password. For example:

 10Olympics66

Olym10pics66

1Ol0ym6pi6cs

Top tip: make sure you mix it up. The password Olympics1066 is not as strong as the others.

2. Think of a lyric, name and a number

Lyric: She was more like a beauty queen from a movie scene

Name: Michael Jackson

Number: 1983 (Song released in this year)

Choose the first letter from the phrase and mix the initials and number in. For example:

SwmlabqfamsMJ1983

MJSwmlabqfams3891

M19Swmlabqfams83J

Top tip: once you decide how you want to mix it up, stick with it. If the mixing it up part could confuse you then you could write down a memory jogger – read on to find out how.

3. It doesn’t have to be too long

Phrase: Just like that

Name: Tommy Cooper

Number: 1921 (his birth year)

Password:

JltTC1921

You get the idea!

4. Write down a memory jogger

We all need help remembering things so why not write down something to help jog your memory? It is very unlikely that someone will be able to decipher a decent memory jogger, because you can write things down in a way that makes perfect sense to you but is useless to anyone else.

Lets take the Tommy Cooper example. You could have ‘Tommy’ written down in your address book, followed by a memory jogger, like this:

Tommy: Idp-pdI

In this case the memory jogger stands for initial-date-phrase-date-initial

Using this would give a password of:

T19jlt21C

5. And finally…

Remember, that really need to change your passwords every so often, because you can never be quite certain if your password is in the wrong hands.

The biggest problem most of us face is that we have so many online accounts that we forget what they are. Give yourself a fighting chance and keep a list somewhere. As you join new shopping sites, social sites and other sites, add them to the list. If you want to change a password, you will at least know where to look! 

What to expect from iPhone 5 ... and the phones that already deliver it

September 11, 2012 by John McGarvey

Apple Store queue{{}}

A queue outside a London Apple Store for iPhone 4. (Image: Eddie Shannon on Flickr.)

Unless one of the world's most valuable companies is trying to mislead us all, Wednesday will see Apple unveil iPhone 5. The latest in its line of smart phones, the shiny, desirable object will almost certainly prompt long queues at Apple stores and deliver a surge in sales. Shareholders must be rubbing their hands with glee.

Rumours abound about what new features iPhone 5 will have, and some of the less outlandish suggestions seem pretty much guaranteed. We look at three top feature rumours and ask whether they'll really make a difference to how your use your phone. We've also rounded up some phones which already offer them.

1. A bigger screen

Although smart phone screens have grown larger over the last couple of years, Apple has stuck with a 3.5" screen for its iPhone. Expect that to change for iPhone 5, which looks likely to offer a 4" screen that will be taller, yet no wider. It'll allow more space for apps, email, websites and maps, without making the phone harder to use one-handed.

Is it worth having?
Probably. A larger screen may appeal to existing iPhone users, and taller-but-not-wider proportions would keep the phone more pocket-sized and easy to work with one hand. However, big screens often mean reduced battery life, and can an extra half inch really make that much difference?

Other options
There are heaps of smart phones out there with bigger screens. But if you really want a phone with a large screen, why hold back? The Samsung Galaxy S3 has a huge 4.8" screen, which is certainly handy for viewing websites and documents. It costs around £450 to buy outright, or you can get it for £25 when you sign up for a £36 a month contract with T-Mobile.

2. A new connector

Apple's range of iPods and iPhones uses a long, thin connector for charging and transferring data. But to keep the phone as small as possible, it looks like the company will move to a smaller connector with iPhone 5. This will frustrate existing iPhone owners, who will - presumably - have to ditch all their accessories if they decide to upgrade.

Is it worth having?
No. Engineering benefits aside, any change to the connector will simply spell inconvenience for existing iPhone owners who are upgrading. It also means none of the super-cheap iPhone cables you can currently find online will work. 

Other options
Apple seems to take pleasure in forcing its own standards onto things like connectors, yet there's a perfectly good universal connector out there. It's called Micro USB, and you'll find it on many other handsets including the Nokia Lumia 800. This mid-range Windows Mobile handset is available for free with a £30 a month Three Mobile contract, or for £300 outright.

3. A faster processor

Today's smart phones are super powerful. Pretty much whichever one you buy is likely to have more than enough oomph for web browsing, playing games and so on. I've had an iPhone 4S for months and it's still snappy with no sign of slowdown. However, many experts expect iPhone 5 to come with a quad-core processor, which should make the phone faster when you're running several apps.

Is it worth having?
At the moment, there's little benefit because few apps require all that processing power. Fast forward a year though, and you might be glad of the power - historically, the iPhone's new features have only been fully exploited over time. 

Other options
There's no shortage of quad-core smart phones on the market at the moment. The HTC One X is a monstrously-powerful handset that's received excellent reviews. It's free with a £36 a month T-Mobile contract, or you can get it with no ties for £419.

Apple's box of tricks

The big unknown with any Apple launch is, of course, which of the more outlandish rumours are true. Could we see a phone with a built-in chip that allows you to pay for things, fingerprint recognition ... or something that nobody has guessed yet? Find out on Wednesday.

Amazon lights a fire in the tablet market

September 09, 2012 by John McGarvey

Amazon Kindle{{}}If you live under a rock or something (or, y'know, just don't spend your days obsessively reading technology news websites) then you might have missed the exciting news that Amazon made a big product announcement a few days ago.

The online giant's Kindle Fire tablet computer has been available in the US for quite some time now. Now the company has announced that two improved models are coming to the UK. On paper, they're a tasty proposition:

  • The Kindle Fire, a £129 tablet with a 7" screen and 8GB or storage space (not masses, to be honest, but enough to be useful).
  • The Kindle Fire HD, which costs from £159 and has a higher-resolution 7" screen, more power and more storage.

Neither of these will be available until 25 October, so it's very hard to say how much of a good buy they'll be until they're out there where we can test them. But they should really do something for the tablet market, posing a serious threat to Google's Nexus, another 7" tablet which gets good reviews and is available from PC World for under £200.

However, although all the attention has been directed at the Kindle Fire, I reckon it's a different Amazon product that's going to be a must-buy for many people.

The new model of its Kindle e-reader will be here on 12 September, and it looks good. Already the best-known e-reader out there, this Kindle is smaller and lighter than any previous models.

But it's the price that's the real eyecatcher. At just £69, it costs about the same as ten paperback books, putting it well into impulse buy territory if you read a lot or commute regularly.

The weight reduction means it might just be the best e-reader yet. The only downside I can see is that there's no 3G connectivity, which means you need to be connected to a wireless network to download books and content.

Whether for reading business bibles on the train or escaping into a novel when you need a break, I think the new Kindle will be making its way into the bags and briefcases of many business owners.

Getting your hands on a Kindle

The new Kindle e-reader is released on Wednesday, and the two colour screen models will be available from 25 October. You can order all models now direct from Amazon.

Friday Donut tip: don't let your Android phone or iPhone be a weak point

September 07, 2012 by IT Donut contributor

Today's Friday tip is from the IT support experts at Inbay.

iPhone passcode{{}}

If you don’t already have a smart phone, then chances are you will soon. These small gadgets are great for organising information and work.

But with so much information stored on it, your smart phone can be your worst enemy if you misplace it.

To protect it, the most basic thing you can do is set a security passcode. This will prevent anyone using your phone without entering the right code first.

Protect your iPhone

For Apple devices, like iPhones, here's how:

  • From the home screen, tap Settings
  • Tap General
  • Tap Passcode Lock
  • Tap Turn Passcode On, then enter a four-digit PIN
  • Re-enter the same PIN

Protect your Android handset

If you have an Android phone, like Samsung's Galaxy SIII or the HTC One X (both recently named among TechRadar's best Android phones), choose Settings, then Security, then Select screen lock.

Depending on your handset, you'll be shown a number of options for locking and unlocking your phone. You can have to draw a pattern, enter a PIN, choose a password or even use facial recognition!

Further precautions

Although a passcode provides basic protection and stops other people using your device, it can be essential to know that your data is not accessible to even the most determined thief.

Android, Blackberry and Apple devices all have features to allow your handset to be wiped remotely. Some can even be set to scrub all data if an incorrect passcode is entered too many times.

This Friday Donut tip is a guest blog by Mark Howe and Gary Mercury from Inbay, a support firm that's redefining the way technology and technical assistance is delivered 

Previous Donut tips:

Could your firm be penalised for software piracy?

September 07, 2012 by Lucy Hunt

Pirate CD{{}}When it comes to protecting its copyrights and financial interests, the software industry is very meticulous indeed. And for businesses that, even unwittingly, use unlicenced software or have insufficient licences for each copy, the financial fall-out can be severe.

The Business Software Alliance (BSA) and other trade bodies that represent the interests of software manufacturers have recently stepped up their efforts to hold businesses of all sizes to account. Software audits are on the increase, and according to recent figures from Gartner, your company has a greater chance of being audited this year than not. And with the main aims of the BSA being to raise money for their members (including Apple and Microsoft) and encourage businesses to ensure licence compliance, don’t expect them to show any lenience for accidental infringements either.

What are the consequences of inadequate software licence management?

 If your company is found to be non-compliant with licencing requirements then the costs can be significant, and include fines for each piece of offending software and the price of purchasing additional licences to achieve compliance. In 2010, the cost of poor software licence management for one London education firm was £80,000, in the form of a £40,000 settlement with the BSA and another £40,000 to purchase sufficient licences for the Adobe and Microsoft products in question.

Protecting your business

 The problem of unintentional over-deployment of software is a common one, particularly for rapidly expanding or changing businesses. What is needed to prevent problems arising further down the road is careful and diligent software licence management. Someone, somewhere in the company must be aware of exactly what is installed on individual machines or on the network, and be able to correlate this to the number, type and details of the relevant licences for each piece of software installed.

Implementing software asset management is essential for all businesses — including SMEs — as it safeguards them against the risk of fines in the increasingly likely event that they undergo a software audit at the hands of a vendor or an organisation like the BSA.

In fact, attentive and methodical software licence management can actually reduce the risk of being audited considerably. In many cases software audits are a result of tip-offs from current or former employees seeking the maximum £20,000 reward offered by the BSA. Of course, if your business remains in compliance at all times then there will be nothing to tell.

Lucy Hunt is a technology and business blogger and she also writes on behalf of License Dashboard, a software asset management and software management solutions vendor.

 

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