Category Archives: Rants

New laptop pregame: 2013 edition

I stumbled across an article by Dawn Altnam the other day, Laptop pregame: What to do to your company laptops before you give them to employees. Complete with stock photo of snarky guy holding a laptop.

“Pregame” calls to mind a football metaphor…but after reading the article I got the sense that it could have been written in 2003. Remove all references to “spyware” and “cloud” and it could have appeared in Inc or Forbes magazine in 1993.

In football terms that’s going back to the days of the “flying wedge” and no helmets.

Is this how you’d equip your team in 2013 and beyond?

Of course not.

So what can we do better today for notebook prep?

Security: Virus protection needs to be a closed loop. Most small business owners don’t know the difference between benign reports like toolbars/plugins and the nasty stuff like rootkits, much less how to properly assess and respond to a detection alert.

What does your sales manager do when she sees this?

99% of ’em click “allow” or “allow always.” Which could possibly load the trojan which starts to scan their e-mails and files for account numbers. Most tech service providers offer ongoing services to handle these alerts consistently and affordably.

And today, we have web filtering to limit users’ exposure (and company liability) to non-business stuff like porn, pirated software, hate speech, etc.

Firewall: The Windows 7 firewall is generally regarded as business-grade and up to the task of protecting a typical computer, even in a coffee shop or  other shared connection.

In the Physical Protection section the author drops the ball. At the very least every corporate computer, external disk, etc should have an asset tag. These start at about 50 cents per label.

Beyond that every business should consider a system like Absolute Computrace or Awareness Technologies’ LaptopCop. These solutions allow us to locate and track a lost or stolen computer. And recover the latest versions of files from the hard drive, then securely erase the disk.

Every business should have a “lost device response plan” in place before handing out a single laptop. It may be as simple as “Call Charland Tech and advise them of the lost device.” (Which means that WE need a response plan for each client with remote devices. If you’re our client you should ask to see it. If you’re not our client you may still ask to see it.)

And don’t forget Compliance and Data Loss Protection…software designed to prevent problems like

  • Copying your customer list to a notebook or flash drive
  • e-mailing social security or account numbers
  • flagging messages containing certain words for management review before sending

And another thought: Businesses also need to develop a plan regarding remote access to company resources. Most offices have a collection of “stuff” inside the office, with other stuff in cloud services. Do they have a desktop in-house to remote into through GotoMyPC or Logmein? Is there a Small Business Server to provide Remote Web Access?

Answer these questions before running out to Best Buy and buying shiny things.

Ms. Altnam’s post ultimately points out why professional technology service providers continue to exist in today’s era of iPads and self-service cloud apps. Because anybody can do it but not everyone does things right.

Tech Tuesday #10: 2013 Predictions!

Another Tech Tuesday, where we answer reader questions!

TechTuesdays from Charland Technology

Joan from Athol asks….What are your tech predictions for 2013?

I’ve got a few thoughts, in no particular order:

  1. Windows 8 will fail. Miserably. Sure, Microsoft will make it sound like it’s been accepted in the market, and will use accounting tricks to make it look like money has been made (they count new systems with Windows 7 that include Win8 “upgrade” disks as net sales, for example)

    It will be so bad that Windows 2014 (they’ll change naming conventions again) will come out in December, 2013. Look for 2014 to be like Windows 8 desktop-mode, with a visible Start button and…well…stuff to click.
    Microsoft Surface and Windows Phones will continue to sell to dyed-in-the-wool Microsoft fans. Exclusively.
  2. There will be a new iPhone and iPad. Apple will make them sound magical and revolutionary even though they’re not. They’ll add some nice features and cost a lot of money. Millions will be sold, mainly to Apple fans who are upgrading from their iPhone 5’s.

    Apple stock will continue to rise for the foreseeable future. I still wouldn’t buy it.
  3. As many i-Devices as Apple sells…Samsung will sell twice as many of their not-yet-announced Galaxy S4s (this is a link to a concept video, not even “good” rumor yet.) Still a couple more years before these win the coolness war, though. Here’s a link to a more realistic look at what the actual 2013 S4 could be like. A lot of those will be to Galaxy S3 fans who have gone all cult-like over their phones…becoming every bit as ugly as the i-Fans they hate.
    samsung Galaxy S4 i9500
  4. There will be a major outage and/or security breach involving Quickbooks Online. Intuit hasn’t shown the management wherewithal or the development muscle to keep QBO running as a stable, truly redundant architecture. Many of the promised changes after the last several outages are still in the early planning stages.
  5. Speaking of big companies sucking really badly, I predict outage-prone Microsoft Office 365 will re-brand their service to distance from the current name. Maybe something like Office Anywhere… despite the name change there will be lawsuits from customers who will lose substantial data. Heads will roll, which at Microsoft means several Directors and VPs will make lateral moves to other divisions.
  6. Seems everyone is talking about BYOD (bring-your-own-device) right now. That’ll turn out to be a fad that no one will be talking about this time next year. It sounds good, ’til you think about what will really happen: We’ll “save” the cost of a $1,200 laptop by having Joe co-opt his kids’ computer, or do everything on an iPad. We’ve been hooking up new employees’ phones to the mail server and key resources for year. Add one clause in the employment agreement that says,
    “Employee consents to installation of Company geolocation and monitoring software on employee-owned mobile devices; if such device is lost, stolen, or employment terminated the Company will securely erase all information contained on the device. Employee agrees that personal information on the device will be erased in this operation and holds Company and its agents harmless regarding deletion of such information.” (You should obviously ask you lawyer before you go sticking clauses in your employee handbook!)
    There are some places where BYOD desktop etc strategy can work, and we’re ready to support it there, but it’s just a buzzword that’s going to go away.
  7. We’ll talk about Gesture Control as a next big thing. It won’t go anywhere. I won’t care ’til I can have my own J.A.R.V.I.S. (Y’know, Ironman’s house computer):

  8. This will be the year of the Linux Deskt……HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
    Even IF a good linux-based accounting system came out, and despite the confluence of Windows 8 sucking, Apple being evil, and mobile devices being too hard to actually do work on…it still wouldn’t be enough for a linux desktop to take hold.

I guarantee that at least four of these predictions will be completely wrong and that we’ll laugh about them (hopefully together) in 2014.

Happy New Year!

Got questions? Send them to CharlandTech via Facebook, post as a comment on this article, Tweet ‘em to @gregc00 or @CharlandTech, or find another creative way to get them to us.

Business Lesson: Reaching Out

The postcard came in the mail a couple weeks ago:

  • Single-stream recycling
  • $7 off per month for a year
  • Award-winning customer service
  • New rolling trash carts

Not this one, but similar:

So I called and signed up for a new trash service. Easy enough.

Then I called my old trash service to cancel.
“We offer that too…”
“I can match that price…”
“You should have told us you needed a new cover for your cart…” (this was an issue that annoyed me every week, but didn’t upset me enough to call and complain.

For a moment I felt bad about cancelling my service without letting them match the other offer and solve my problems.

But then I re-framed things in the context of my business.

Sometimes my clients say, “I didn’t know you offered phones…

Or, “I didn’t know you could take care of my internet service…”

Or, “I found a cheaper tech guy!”

After a few minutes of mulling things over, I asked myself a few questions.

  • Who lets my company’s clients know what services and products we offer?
  • How would I know if there were underlying problems annoying them?

In the years I used the old trash company, I don’t remember getting a single communication that

  • thanked me for my patronage
  • introduced a new service or better pricing
  • wanted to make sure I was happy. that there were no lingering issues that made me unhappy.

So when WAS the last time you checked in with your customers? (By the way, we can help with systems to track that…but that’s another story)

Quick Take: Apple Announcements 10/23

Well, the big news today is from Apple. The company has announced some major product updates.

A few thoughts….

In typical self-congratulatory fashion, Apple cheered the iPhone 5 and iOS6, conveniently forgetting the  Maps debacle…  as well as a widespread problem with basic meeting/calendar invite handling. They do sell a lot of phones, though.

New MacBooks were introduced. Apple is firmly committed to killing the onboard DVD drive, so you’ll just buy all your programs Apps from the Apple App Store. Silly me, no one uses programs any more…

I don’t understand the drive to compress Apple displays into the maximum number of pixels. The new Pro has higher resolution than an HDTV, on a 13″ screen. I don’t know about you, but my eyes aren’t good enough to notice that.

“Like all of our products, the team works hard on making these eco-friendly.” Interesting comment by Senior Vice President of Lying Marketing at Apple. The new MacBook Pro build looks very similar to the previous version which is called out in several sources as an example of a sealed, non-recyclable, non-upgradeable design. It seems that Mr. Schiller saying it’s environmentally-friendly makes it so. Seriously, no laptop should have a permanent battery. Even the best ones last 2-3 years tops in everyday work use. Run it flat a few times and it’ll get down to about an hour on a charge. It’s the nature of lithium-ion batteries.

Wow, the iMac is updated after 1-1/2 years. The new version looks really slick. I’m concerned about cooling of the hard drive, and serviceability and lifespan of what look like laptop-type components. Starting price of $1,299 is in the same ballpark as the multi-touch Lenovo A720…which I’d argue is more innovative…

 

 

Apple announces new iMac with 5mm thin profile - Jason O'Grady

Meanwhile the “super user” Mac Pro has gone a full year and a half with no meaningful updates. It’s a very expensive entry in a field of workstations from HP and Lenovo that continue to offer better value. You’ll recall that Tim Cook said earlier this year, “We’re not a computer company.”

If you’re in the Apple iOS ecosystem and like it, you’ll like the newly-upgraded iPad. Except…the only real news is the inclusion of the new Lightning connector. Otherwise it’s kind of like the Cupertino crew needed to release a full-size iPad with the new connector and kept asking, “What’s the least we have to do to get people to buy it?” Gizmodo has an expansion of this line of thinking here.

And finally we get to the iPad mini. It’s magical, revolutionary, and has less bezel around the screen than the Android device.  It’s reasonably priced…from $329 to $659. Interestingly, no mention of the Kindle Fire ($159),  Fire HD ($199), or Fire 8.9, which tops out at $614 but includes high-speed wireless access. I still think the sweet spot of the Kindle line is the $199 Fire HD or the entry 8.9 at $299.

Bottom line

The Kindle Fire line is my favorite tablet right now…a good choice for budget buyers. 2 basic Fire 7″ tablets for the price of one iPad mini! The Fire HD 8.9 at $299 is a nice compromise between size (full-size iPads always seemed too big to me) and price. Amazon has nice integration of apps, books, and video on demand that makes the experience a small step behind Apple. Main drawback: lack of a camera. I haven’t missed having one and I cry every time I see someone taking pictures or video using a tablet.

Other Android tablets are nice for the casual user, Android convert, or the real power-user techie. Root that sucker, build your own baseband, and flash it like you want it! People with lots of android phone apps will feel at home with these devices as well.

And yes, Apple will sell ten million iPad minis. Primarily to people who are already in the Apple ecosystem and own iOS apps, but many of them will go into the education market (and to families) because of the sheer number of apps available.

The Microsoft Surface tablet is expected to cost more than the iPad now, I see Windows Tablets as non-starters. Windows RT Tablets will be sold at fire-sale prices after Christmas but we’ll be living with the legacy of this crap on our desktops and laptops for years to come.

What do you think? Is Apple on the right track? Does any of this really matter?

Tech Tuesday #4: What do you think of Windows 8?

Tech Tuesdays. It’s your chance to send in your tech questions, and we’ll answer one per week for everyone. To ask a question, just message us. They can be on any topic from security to cloud computing, or anything in between. And we’re featuring Media Mondays over on the CT Media sister page. Be sure to fan us over there, too!

TechTuesdays from Charland Technology

Today’s question, from Jim in Gardner: “What do you think about Windows 8?”

Windows 8 is a mixed bag.I’ll be writing in-depth coverage later this month.

Of course the newest version of Windows always has the most up-to-date security features. The Win-X menu is great, the expanded Start menu isn’t my cup of tea but seems useful. The new Task Manager provides loads of useful information for us techies, and the Win 8 systems I’ve used are very, very fast to boot and sleep.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of redundancy…you’ll see two completely separate Internet Explorer items, one of which is an “app” and runs full-screen. Many tasks have changed from clicking things to “hovering” your mouse in a certain corner of the screen, or keyboard combinations. Win-I, Win-E, Win-X are very useful but it’s my opinion that good user interfaces don’t leave the users guessing like Win 8 does. I’m also concerned about patching and updating the multiple Internet Explorers, Flash, Java, etc for each part.

And don’t get me started on Microsoft Office 2013. The previews make it significantly less usable than Office 2010 (which contained a few minor but appreciated improvements over Office 2007)

Bottom line: If you have a convertible system, tablet, or other touch-screen then Windows 8 can work nicely. For instance on a Lenovo ThinkPad Edge Twist it makes perfect sense…Use the tile-y block-y tablet-y “apps” when you’re folded over in Tablet mode, then use the Windows Desktop to run “programs” like a real computer. When properly assembled this Frankenstein makes sense…but on a conventional computer it’s just schizophrenia.

In general, though, Windows 8/Office 2013 are just bad interface design. I’m supposed to say, what? “Move your mouse to the bottom-left corner of the screen and wait for something to happen…now go to the upper-right corner, wait for the icons to slide in from the right, and click the gear.”

To say nothing about running this system remotely…on an unstable internet connection.

Got questions? Send them to CharlandTech via Facebook, post as a comment on this article, Tweet ‘em to @gregc00 or @CharlandTech, or find another creative way to get them to us.

Tech Tuesday #3: Microsoft called ME?

Another Tech Tuesday, where we answer reader questions!

TechTuesdays from Charland Technology

Keith from Hubbardston asks….

Q: I got a call from Microsoft saying there is a problem with my computer. What’s up with that?

A: This is a scam.

There have been recent reports of folks getting calls from heavily-accented people claiming to be from Microsoft or Windows Help Center.

They’ll tell you to go to your computer now, explain how to find all kinds of “problems” with your computer, and download & install antivirus programs. Sometimes they ask for a credit card, sometimes they just install fake antivirus.

No one from Microsoft will ever call you about problems on your computer. Neither will anyone from any legitimate company. They have no way of knowing what’s going on with your computer, and no way of linking your computer to you.

Here’s a link to a recorded scam. The words that the guy says sound like they make sense but are completely untrue.

“I told you many times, I’m not a scammer.”
“Errors are only temporary files on your PC.”

So one more time…there is NO way that someone from Microsoft will be calling about a problem with your computer. No one from a legit tech company will call out of the blue with stuff like this.

Obviously if you’ve got a support contract with a real support company they may call about problems…but that’s another story.

And, you should never pay anyone who calls you unsolicited offering tech support without an agreement already in place.

And here’s what tech guys do for fun:

Don’t fall for it. Don’t let anyone you don’t know take control of your computer.

Got questions? Send them to CharlandTech via Facebook, post as a comment on this article, Tweet ‘em to @gregc00 or @CharlandTech, or find another creative way to get them to us.

Update: The US Federal Trade Commission has taken action against several of these scammers.

aNew MacBook Pro most expensive disposable computer ever

The MacBook Pro Retina akes me want a Mac less. Highlights:

  • A beautiful display with more than 200 dots per inch (resolution of 2880 x 1800) on a 15.6″ screen. Seriously gorgeous display.
  • HDMI video port
  • Standard SSD/flash storage for higher speed
  • Thinner and lighter than most other 15″ notebooks

Lowlights:

  • memory is permanently soldered onto the system board, cannot be replaced, upgraded, or diagnosed
  • storage is a custom flash/SSD, I’d expect Other World Computing and other specialty outlets to have compatible upgrades in a few months but don’t count on it being cheap. The low-end with a NON upradeable 256GB drive is too small. The high-end system with 500GB is about right.
  • Battery is permanently sealed into the unit. Delicate cables are placed in the glue so that you’ll trash the system if you try to replace a battery cell.
  • To crack the system open you’ll need a Pentalobe screwdriver (which unless you’re in the business you won’t have) and a lot more patience than upgrading something like a Dell Latitude or Lenovo T-series.

Our advice

  1. Think twice. You’re buying a $3000 disposable computer. Your average computer shop will not be able to so much as open the case on these. Apple’s track record on new technology rollouts has been worrisome
  2. Don’t consider buying one of these without AppleCare (Apple’s $349 extended/enhanced warranty). Apple’s standard warranty is far below industry norm at 90-days. I don’t expect Apple Stores to do much in the way of on-site diagnosis and repair on these. They’ll hand you a new one and send you on your way.
  3. Avoid the low-end 2.3 unit. The 256G drive is too small and you’ll regret it later.
  4. Buy it with 16GB FOR SURE (which in my opinion is still not enough long-term) and the bigger SSD drive if you think there’s any chance you’ll use it.

Geek out and see the teardown at iFixit’s site here.

If you’re able to wait a few months, Lenovo, Dell, and HP all have interesting new products coming soon. Otherwise the 14″ to 15″ market is filled with good choices in the Lenovo Edge and T series, the Dell Latitude, and HP EliteBook.

If you’re a Mac enthusiast I think the old-style Macbook Pro/NON Retina is a much better value and will be a more reliable and serviceable system in the future.

Apple’s Abdication and the Imminent Death of OSX.

After all the time, money, and momentum put into years of “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” ads, Apple CEO Tim Cook gave nothing short of a concession speech on Wednesday.

Cook’s comments (wrapped around his iPad introduction) are an acknowledgement that Apple has all but given up on servers…and desktops….and soon notebooks. Interesting counterpoint to my recent post on the “Post PC Era.”

Now, Apple compares Apples to Oranges (yuk yuk) by saying that this new-form technology is in the same market as traditional notebook and desktop PCs. It isn’t.  The vast majority of people creating stuff…writing, coding, shooting video, running Quickbooks…are doing so on desktop and notebook computers. Yes, lots of creative-types love their Mac OS notebooks…but Apple’s roadmap for those devices is to make them more like the iOS that runs on iPhones and iPads….the one-thing-at-a-time iOS that runs on iPads and iPhones. The everything-you-want-to-do-requires-touch iOS that runs on iPads and iPhones.

Your new computer. Because you can’t handle more than one thing at a time. You’re welcome.

The first step in this dumbing-down is OSX Lion. With its “simple” interface and introduction of the OSX App Store, this is  part of the roadmap. As Devin Coldewey wrote, “The features added have become increasingly imitative, restrictive, and questionable from a user-experience point of view.”

These features make easy things easier and difficult things impossible. It’s not a problem if you want to install Quickbooks on a single system and run it only on that computer. It is a problem if a network administrator wants to run Quickbooks Enterprise from a server, as in most cases file formats and features are different between Windows and Mac versions of the same program. It’s a problem when you want to do things like connecting to a standard corporate Virtual Private Network, a feature that seems to work in even-numbered version of Mac OS but stops working in odd-numbered versions (without any real ways to fix).

As much as I’ve like Mac OS and recommended it to people, and as much as I like my iPhone, they are not the same and it’s nonsense to try to apply iOS (which is a very good phone/tablet/touch OS) concepts to a desktop or notebook PC.

It was just as ugly when Microsoft tried to apply their desktop concepts to the phone/tablet/touch OS space.

Remember these? Widows Mobile with the “Start” button. Sorry. We’re trying to forget too.

Bottom line: Given Apple’s development strategy and recent developments, I wouldn’t trust that the Mac OS that we’ve known and loved for years will continue to be a useful desktop & notebook operating system in the long run. Good thing you can load Windows on them…


Yes! A real desktop/notebook system! Oh, Metro. Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea after all…

 

New guidance on free antivirus

A few quick thoughts:

1. Use extreme caution with computer and mobile device use! We have seen a major up-tick in virus, malware, and general crappy stuff running on our home clients and new-client systems over the past few weeks. Make sure you go to http://www.adobe.com, click “Get Flash Player” and install/update the latest one. Here’s a good page by Microsoft explaining “How does this crap get on my computer?”

2. We are no longer recommending Microsoft Security Essentials, Microsoft’s free anti-virus/anti-malware protection software. As we noticed a few months ago, there are some pretty bad gaps in MSE’s detection and protection ability. We also saw some performance issues on a few systems. Now it turns out there is a malware version of this package “in the wild.” This one looks and acts exactly like MSE but it periodically asks you to buy and install OTHER fake protection software. From the reports we’ve seen (and our own experiences) this fake version is too close for the average person to be able to tell the difference.

Because of these issues we do not recommend Microsoft Security Essentials for our home or business clients.

At this time we’re recommending paid antivirus for our home and corporate users. We’ve had good results with Sunbelt VIPRE, ZoneAlarm Extreme Security, and eset NOD32 in particular. Contact us and we’ll be happy to provide pricing and other details.

There are some decent free choices for home use. We have had generally good results with AntiVir Free (free download, shows an “upgrade to paid version” during each daily update, Avast! Antivirus (free, requires a free 14-month registration by e-mail), and AVG Free. Given the current state of the Internet and the prevalence of online banking and shopping we feel that most users will benefit from the added security integration and support provided by a paid solution.

We do not currently recommend a free antivirus solution for business use.

Dude, Where’s My Cloud?

Millions of small businesses use Intuit’s Quickbooks accounting software. It’s clearly the market leader in small business accounting.

In the past few years the company has been moving to online services, including Quickbooks Online, a “software-as-a-service” offering that allows businesses to access their accounting data from anywhere with no software to install, no data file to back up, no updates to install, etc.

The company offers similar “hosted” services handling small business payroll, accountant services, and tax processing.

Intuit reports that about 24 hours ago a power failure occurred during planned maintenance work, starting with their San Diego data center. My conjecture is that there were some concerns with corruption and data consistency as the changes were being made as the power outage hit.

The “cloud” has been down since then. First, a little background:

Why the cloud? From Intuit’s perspective

For Intuit the “move to the cloud” makes a lot of sense. Instead of relying on customers to buy Quickbooks every year (in my experience a 2 or 3-year buying cycle generally makes more sense) Intuit gets customers to sign up and provide a credit card on a monthly basis. This ensures a recurring revenue stream for Intuit.

This also makes support easier in most cases, as everybody on Quickbooks Online is on the same version, running the same up-to-date code. And far fewer problems with data storage, network database performance, and file permissions.

Why it’s good for the customer

The benefits for the customer are much the same:

  • customers always run the most up-to-date version with fixes and security updates
  • customers don’t need to worry about managing their data files, updating Quickbooks, or dealing with network administration.
  • customers can access their Quickbooks Online data from any internet connection. Office internet down? Go to the nearest Starbucks or McDonalds.
  • Predictable costs. You know what the monthly cost will be.

QBO Down! OMG! WTFN?

But what happens when your hosted service goes down? Whether it’s planned maintenance, widespread power failures, major Internet routing problems (more common than most people know), or a software glich, bad things CAN happen.

It’s nice to know that you can run to a local wifi hotspot and get to your credit card processor…but what happens when you’re ready for business and they’re the broken link?

A few thoughts:

  1. If you had an on-site server you would have a finite amount of downtime for patching, updates, maintenance, hardware failures, software problems, internet outages, etc.
  2. Your business needs an emergency plan in place before a crisis hits. During the outage, my sources indicate that they were able to call the Intuit Merchant Center and Payroll Processing departments and process transactions over the phone.
  3. Consider your options before you jump into (or out of) hosted services. If you’re spending money the moment it hits your account, can’t live for 1-2 days without invoicing or accessing your data, then the hosted solution may not be the best for you. (neither is a single PC or small business network.) Don’t expect Intuit to pay your overdraft fees, late fees, or pay you back for lost business because their site was down. They’ll give you a month or two free, apologize profusely, and hopefully improve their stuff. But their business frankly isn’t on the line; yours is.
  4. Marketing copy (and marketers) will always overstate the reliability of their services. I worked in Managed Hosting Services for a very large company for several years (in no way related to Intuit). We were a top-notch but small group, with no control over the Internet and at the mercy of our hardware vendors.

Bottom line? It’s my opinion that hosted services (including Quickbooks Online) are still a good value for most small business clients, and on the whole are as reliable as in-office server and desktop software.

But like any major business decision it’s critical to weigh the different options, understand what you’re getting, and have a plan of action in place before bad things happen.

Want to discuss business tech options? Trying to decide between on-site and in-house solutions? Contact Charland Technology today!

Full disclosure: Gregory Charland is a Quickbooks ProAdvisor specializing in Quickbooks installation, migration, and support.

Second Thought: On re-reading this, I’ll concede to being a bit soft on Intuit. Let me make this clear: Intuit needs to do better and make their services more reliable. They NEED to have redundancy and ways to quickly bring backup resources online in a crisis like this. Thus the power of the monopoly comes into play: At the moment I don’t see a viable competitor to the Quickbooks line of products. I don’t think that’s a good thing.

However business owners still need to understand and take responsibility for their own decisions…financial, technical, and operational.