Standby, Reboot

When your computer is idle for a specified length of time, it automatically goes into standby mode. It uses less power, and your applications or programs are usable faster when you go into operating mode. Some people contend it’s greener to shut down the computer when it’s not in use. Technically, it is, but we don’t think it makes that much of a difference. Further, we can make a good case for leaving it in standby mode overnight.

Why leave it in standby mode? In many cases, you can set your operating system, anti-virus program and other programs to download and install updates overnight or run system scans. In some cases, this all happens seamlessly, and your computer is ready for action when you summon it to duty. In other cases, you may need to reboot your computer for the changes to take effect, but that usually takes a lot less time than going through the entire process.  You can shorten the reboot time by closing down all applications before you go into standby mode. Once you’re back and running, your computer will perform better with fewer applications open.

So, if you’re asking our opinion about standing by or shutting down, we think you’re better off on standby. But you’re also fine with shutting down.

As for rebooting, we’re strongly in favor of doing it on a regular basis. It’s a good idea to shut down programs or applications on computers and devices when they’re not in use. Regular reboots shut down the programs or apps and any extra baggage they may have picked up as part of their normal operation. When you reboot, they’ll start fresh, and your computer or device will run better.

Any questions or concerns about having your system run better? Contact us by phone – 973-433-6676 – or email.

This article was published in Technology Update, the monthly newsletter from Sterling Rose LLC.

Making Your ‘Bargain Computer’ a Real Bargain

SOHO business users and home users are always tempted by low prices when it comes to buying a computer. That low price – the $399 special – may truly be a bargain, but you can negate any cost-saving benefits if you don’t set up your system properly, especially in an office with two or more units and in any location with a network. We can help you get off to a running start by covering a few out-of-the-box basics.

Depending on who built your computer and where you bought it, the new computer could be several months old. While the manufacturer loads OS software, depending on the available version they had and how long the computer sat on a retailer’s shelf, there’s no telling how out-of-date your OS might be.

So, the first thing to do after getting your computer out of the box and online is to check for OS updates. Microsoft has now made this easier for most Windows 7 users. Until recently, installing SP 1 (Service Pack 1 – a comprehensive upgrade) was optional. If you exercised the option, you had to install all the updates required before you could download SP 1. A lot that had to do with corporate IT managers wanting complete control over their large data systems and networks, but it was not good for SOHO and home users.

You can now do all the updates for the OS and the Windows Internet Explorer web browser when you set up your computer, but that’s only part of what you really should be doing.

A lot of SOHO users are tempted to buy the Home Premium version of Windows 7 because it’s cheaper. After they get up and running, they realize that the Professional version of the OS is better. With Windows’ Anytime Upgrade, you can get the more powerful OS, and you don’t need to backup and reinstall all of your other software as part of the process.

However, the upgrade has a lot of options, and installing it requires a lot of time and monitoring to make sure you select the right options at the right time. If you don’t make the correct choices for how you use your computer, you won’t get the full value of your investment in the computer and the software you’ll be using.

How can we help you?

By having us do your setup – especially if you are adding new computers and other hardware such as printers or upgrading your router for your Wi-Fi network – we can head off compatibility issues and help you select the options that best match your technology system and the way your office functions.

We start by taking an inventory of your IT system and how you use each piece of equipment and mobile devices. Then we review the capabilities of the new OS and the requirements for any programs you will run to make sure you understand any compatibility issues that may crop up. Before we do any work, you may need to decide whether to upgrade any hardware or software in your office, which parts of the new OS to install or whether to forgo installing the new OS.

Unless you have a compelling issue to resolve, your decision will be the result of a cost/benefit analysis that we’ll guide you through. If you decide to go ahead, we’ll escort you through the installation of all hardware and software to maximize the system-performance level you selected. This is critical with the OS installation to make sure you have all the updates properly loaded and that you select the correct options. The process takes about an hour for an OS installation, but it can take a lot longer if you need to restart your computer unnecessarily.

We don’t want to scare off anybody from software and system upgrades. We want to make sure you fully understand all the cause-and-effect possibilities that will result from your decision. Many people are intimidated by technology changes, and that can reduce their productivity. But when you make a carefully considered decision, you can quickly increase your ROI. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to see about a better bargain ROI.

This article was published in Technology Update, the monthly newsletter from Sterling Rose LLC.

Fresh Fruit? Rotten Fruit?

With Blackberries and Apples, it’s easy to slide into all sorts of juicy metaphors about comparing products and their underlying technologies. We’ll resist taking this any farther, but here is some food for thought about where and how technology companies move forward and what it means for us.

RIM (Research in Motion) started a technology revolution when it introduced the Blackberry, the first smartphone, as we know it today. But the company almost died on the vine (sorry about that) when Apple launched its iPhone and a slew of Android-based smartphones soon followed. One of those smartphone makers, Samsung, has the most popular phone in the world – for now – the Galaxy s4, and we’re hearing rumors that Samsung will drop it Android operating system (from Google) in favor of its own OS.

If we’ve learned anything at all from the history of smartphones and tablets, it’s that the technology arms race forces hardware and software providers to innovate constantly. The results are good and bad, and they affect us in many ways. Sometimes we buy and use the right products and increase our productivity and enjoyment immensely. Sometimes we don’t, and often we do OK but think we may have made better choices.  In those last two instances, we’re always comforted by the prospect that something better is just around the corner.

Sometimes, I wonder if we are going to see a “technology bubble.” In 25 years in the technology business, I’ve seen a lot companies and ideas come and go. Blackberry was given up for dead by many of us, but the company may rise like a Phoenix to be a big-time player again. Microsoft has been a giant in the industry, yet we’ve seen it struggle with mobility issues with devices, and Windows 8 is an acute pain or giant ache to many.

Apple has avoided compatibility issues by being a single-source supplier of hardware and software, but sometimes its independence gets in the way of the user experience – like in the iOS maps misadventure. Google, in the meantime, is doing some housecleaning of its own by getting rid of some products, Samsung, as we mentioned, may be looking to put its own operating system on its mobile devices.

But for most of us, a lot of this is secondary to our own experience. What concerns us is: How cool is this new product? How innovative is it? Is it compatible with what I have and need to use?

This is where a technology advisor can help. We’re always looking at and testing out new technology as it hits the market. We see how it can fit into the various technology systems our business and residential customers use so that we can make solid recommendations when you ask for our opinions – or provide effective solutions after you run into problems.

To go back to our “fruit” analogy, some innovations are really fresh, and others are destined to rot very quickly. Sometimes, a technology’s life will depend on how well it meets your needs. Talk to us. We’re always available by phone – 973-433-6676 – or email to help you sort through all the temptations of technology and find the ones that will be delectable for you.

This article was published in Technology Update, the monthly newsletter from Sterling Rose LLC.

Windows XP – Countdown to Cutoff

An era is coming to an end! All support for Microsoft’s Windows XP will end April 8, 2014 – less than a year away. While the clock is ticking, many small businesses are really watching or listening to a time-bomb ticking. We can help you understand how it can affect your business and defuse an impending IT disaster.

What does this mean?

We’ve covered this ground before for many of our small business customers. Once Microsoft support ceases, there will be no more software updates and security patches. While XP will continue to work, computers on your network will be open to security weaknesses and vulnerable to cyber-attacks and malware. Running Windows XP and Office 2003 in your environment after the end of support will expose your company to risks.

Let’s face it. When Microsoft issued XP, it was great technology with really good security features. It became the operating system of choice for business-computing environments of all sizes. Because it was so widely used, hackers looked for all sorts of ways to breach its security systems and do their dirty work. Updates and security patches were designed to keep users one step ahead of the bad guys, and those who have been diligent about keeping their systems up to date have kept unwanted intruders out of their systems. But Microsoft and other software developers have pushed the envelope as far as they could. Three operating systems – Windows 7, which we like, and Windows Vista and Windows 8, which we never liked – have come on the market since then. XP and its users have had a good run. It’s time to move on.

Can I continue to use XP?

Yes, but why would you want to do that? With more malware than ever, unsupported and unpatched environments are vulnerable to bigger security risks. Using XP will be like putting out a huge, brightly lit sign that says: “Hey, our system is wide open, and all our sensitive data is there for the taking.”

XP will become, by far, the most vulnerable platform ever when connecting to the internet.

Do I have to use Windows 8?

Pardon the play on words, but the window to get Windows 7 is closing. Some computer manufacturers will allow you to downgrade to Windows 7, but you are better off doing it before you start to use a new machine.

What should a business owner do?

Definitely start planning your exit strategy now. There are many things to consider with the expiration of Windows XP. Give us a call – 973-433-6676 – or drop us an email to discuss your best technology solutions and map out a plan to protect your IT investment and business operations.

This article was published in Technology Update, the monthly newsletter from Sterling Rose LLC.

Which cloud-storage service is right for you?

Cloud storage gives you 24/7 access to your documents, photos, music, and you can access them wherever you are and on whatever device you’re using. It also makes sharing photos, videos, and documents easy. Even better, a number of services are free. Here’s the scoop on four of the biggest cloud services:

Apple iCloud: Best for Apple users. Apple iCloud is built into many Apple apps, including Keynote, Pages, and Numbers. You can start writing a to-do list in Notes on your iPad, for example, and finish it later on your iPhone. iCloud also syncs your e-mail, contacts, and calendar on whichever Apple gadget (or Windows PC) you’re using.

Other cool ways iCloud automatically syncs your stuff across all of your Apple devices: Snap a shot with your iPhone, and you’ll find it on your Mac. Buy a song on iTunes on your desktop, and it downloads to your iPod Touch. Bookmark a site on Safari on one device, and it updates your bookmarks list on all of your gadgets. 5GB of storage is free; you can add more starting at $20 a year for 10GB.

Dropbox: Best for sharing files. Store and sync documents, photos, videos, and other files on your computer, tablet, or smart phone, then invite others to download. Just be aware that your allotted free storage includes data others share with you, so clean out your folder periodically and ask people who have shared their folders with you to remove them from your account. 2GB is free; add 100GB for $99 a year.

Google Drive: Best for collaborating in real time. Two things distinguish Google Drive from iCloud and Dropbox; first, you get the tools you need to create presentations, documents, spreadsheets, and drawings right from Google Drive. And once you create a file, you can not only share it with someone else, but you can also work collaboratively on it. When you make a change, the person you’re sharing with sees it right away.

It works well for work but has handy personal uses, too. For example, you and your siblings can work together on an anniversary-party invite for your parents, even if you live miles apart. Whenever your device goes online, Google Drive automatically syncs the latest versions of all of your documents. 5GB is free; add 25GB for $2.50 a month.

Microsoft SkyDrive: Best for Windows fans. It’s a no-brainer for Microsoft users, but SkyDrive has another big upside: It’s the best deal of these services. You can collaborate on projects and edit documents with free online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. SkyDrive works on computers using Windows 8 (including Surface tablets), 7, and Vista, and Mac OS X Lion. You get 7GB free; add 20GB for $10 a year.

Some final advice: Always be familiar with your chosen service’s policies. And never use a cloud service as the only storage for files you can’t afford to lose. Your best option for backing up everything on your computer is still an external hard drive.

This story originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of ShopSmart magazine.

Happy World Backup Day! Go Backup Your Stuff! Seriously.

Hard drive backups are like the socks of gifts you give yourself. They’re initially about as unexciting as gifts can get, only to become the best gift ever in a pinch. Got a meeting in 20 minutes and your normal sock reserve is empty? Thanks for the bag-o-socks, Uncle Steve! Your hard drive just exploded, taking the past 3 years of your digital life with it? Thanks for the backup, past-me!

Besides being the day that keeps the people who make Peeps in business, today also marks the Third Annual World Backup Day. World Backup Day is a tradition that started on reddit back in 2011, and has been rippling out through the rest of the tech-loving world ever since.

Making today’s Backup Day particularly special is the fact that it falls on Easter, which, if nothing else, means you get to use “BRB! Gotta go check my backups!” as a way to escape any awkward family conversations that pop up before the ham is done. Or you could be a cool guy and introduce your less tech-centric family members to the concept of backin’ up their bits.

Oh, and tomorrow is April Fool’s day. Probably not the safest day for data, you know?

So, how should you go about backing things up?

If you’re trying to keep it simple, just go buy/find a big ol’ external hard drive, plug it into your operating system’s built-in backup tool (Here’s a guide to Backup on Windows, or Time Machine on OS X), let it do its thing, and then stick the backup somewhere safe. If you can find somewhere off-site (like a trusted friend’s house), that’ll help you retain your data in case of fire or flood.

If you want to get fancy and push your backups online, a couple of the big backup guys are doing deals in honor of today’s techno-holiday. Crashplan dropped their annual price from $71 down to $42 for the day, and Backblaze is giving away 3-months free to all newcomers. If you’ve only got a handful of files that you need to keep backed up, Dropbox’s free 2GB plan is a solid option.

Hard drives are cheap. Lost data isn’t. Go, go, go!