Avoiding WordPress and ‘Cloud’ Pitfalls

From its beginnings as a “blog engine,” WordPress has grown to be one of the most popular systems for building large websites. Their beauty is their content management capability. Once a website is set up and published, anyone who can type and work with images can update the content. The ugly part is that many WordPress users don’t understand the basics behind the system. I know. I learned some hard lessons when revamping our site. Here are some things that deserve your attention.

WordPress has a built-in back-up system. However, that back-up covers your website’s infrastructure. It won’t cover your posts. So, if you make major changes to your site, such as the overhaul we did early this year, you’ll lose your archives – and you probably won’t notice that until somebody tells you they can’t find a post they wanted to read.

The same can be true with any files you access from “the cloud.” We are seeing more and more collaboration among businesses of all sizes, committees for volunteer groups and students working on a special project. We rely on everyone having access to the latest file for making comments and revisions, but more important, we rely on the host to deliver the correct file – as long as we’ve faithfully followed the procedure for getting it, saving it and returning it to the correct place.

Yes, attention to detail is the key to using technology efficiently. Data systems cannot understand intent.

Thus, the first detail you need to button down is to know who is hosting your website or all the programs and data files you and your employees or collaborators need to access and maintain. In some cases, it’s readily apparent. In others, it’s not. Track down a point of contact for each provider and make sure you have that information on paper.

Next, find out what they back up and how long they hold it. I learned the hard way that WordPress only backed up my infrastructure. None of my posts, such as articles written for this newsletter and other comments or articles I posted to the website, made it onto the new site. If your host doesn’t back up data files, find a place – or two – to stash yours, you might be best served by having an online storage provider, which keeps your files stored one or more servers. You back up that with some sort of in-house storage device, such as a portable hard drive.

After that, find out explicitly how you can back up your files and where they will be backed up. Just as immediately, get explicit instructions on how you restore everything. Commit all those steps to paper. All the value you have invested in your work – whether for business, volunteer work or academic projects – can vanish in a nanosecond if you can’t retrieve and restore your files.

The overriding question you need to answer is: Do you want to have this conversation before a disaster or in the middle of one? Getting all of this information is like having an insurance policy. We’re happy to be your “insurance agent” for these matters.  We can help you determine the right questions to ask and the people likely to provide the answers. Just call us – 973-433-6676 – or drop us a note to start the conversation.

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

Update for Security, Performance and ROI

Simply having the latest operating system or software for your apps and browsers doesn’t guarantee top performance and tight security. You have to keep all of your programs updated from the day you install them.

Everything starts with the Internet. Whether you’re setting up a new computer or installing a new application, you’re almost always prompted to connect and download all the updates required to bring your programs up to date. Begin your installation by calling up your browser of choice and updating it. (Firefox usually sends out updates automatically as its default configuration.) As we discuss in the article When They Pull the Plug on XP, your browser is the first door hackers try to get into your computer, so make sure you have all the security updates and bug fixes.

When you begin to install the program or application from a website or a disk, you likely will be prompted to check for software updates. If the installation process doesn’t take you there automatically, answer “yes” when prompted. It’s especially true when installing from a disk. Even a disk that comes with a new computer is likely to be several months old.

In general, your rule of thumb should be to check for updates as second nature – and it doesn’t take much effort. You can set Windows Update to check for and install updates on a regular basis, even specifying days and times. For example, you can designate every Monday at 3 a.m. as your update time. Just go to your Control Panel, click on Windows Update and select Change Settings from the menu on the left. Just remember to have all of your files saved and backed up because updates can require you to restart your computer.

Here are some things to keep in mind when putting programs on a computer.

Many businesses have a mix of old and new technologies; it’s an economic reality. That means they’ll be installing some older (but still mostly serviceable) applications on new machines, recognizing that they won’t get full performance out of the new technology.

Therefore, it’s important to note that installing an old program, such as Office 2007, on a new computer will require you to get a series of updates in a specific order. That’s because each update, such as Service Pack 2 or Service Pack 3, builds on previous updates.  So, make sure you give yourself enough time to download and install them. The time will vary, depending on your Internet connection and network speed and capacity.

If you’re migrating from an XP machine to a new Windows 7 machine (which we implore you to do if you still have XP), you’ll need to go back to Service Pack 1 and download all the critical updates that Office will require. You should also note that you may have been using a 32-bit computer and now have a 64-bit computer. In that case, make sure you install all the updates for your new technology.

It’s the same with your Internet browser – whichever one you use. With the Internet such a presence for handling commercial transactions as well as for conducting business operations, programming becomes like its own ecosystem. It constantly responds to new hardware, new software and the ideas that lead to new applications. The continuing growth of cloud-based applications and the integration of mobile device into business demands more adaptability.

Because of that, we highly recommend that you and your employees and family members update browsers on a regular basis. You’ll get more efficiency, which can translate into better business profitability at the office and more learning opportunities for students at home.

Updated browsers also will be more secure, preventing more hackers from getting into your systems and stealing information they can use to take business and personal assets.

Keep in mind, too, that at some point, hanging on to old software or an old computer will put you past the point of diminishing economic returns. The investment in new technology – and new infrastructure for your networks, too – can pay for itself faster when you take advantage of all that technology can offer.

Contact us – 973-433-6676 or [email protected] – to set up an appointment to evaluate your current technology, your needs and available options to make your systems more cost-effective. The solutions may be less expensive than you think.

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

When They Pull the Plug on XP

Back in 1999, everyone worried about what would happen with Y2K. Would major data systems worldwide crash when on Jan. 1, 2000, when the first digit of the new year changed from 1 to 2? Fear of the unknown greatly motivated fixes and preparation, and the moment passed without a pause. On April 8, 2014, Microsoft will pull the plug on the XP operating system, still a workhorse for many small businesses. We know exactly what will happen, and we know how to prevent problems. If you don’t heed the warnings, here’s what you’re in for.

The security of your data and any sensitive information you have stored on a computer with Internet access will be at high risk for being hacked. April, 8, 2014 will be the second Tuesday of the month – Patch Day – the day Microsoft releases upgrades and bug fixes for all of its programs. On this particular day, there will be NO updates or bug fixes for XP. To paraphrase Edgar Alan Poe’s raven, there will be XP support “nevermore.”

For hackers, the doors to XP-based computers will be wide, wide open – “evermore.” One way they’ll get into your computer is through your web browsing. All they need to do is a set up a website that entices you. It can be about anything that interests you: bargains, great utility software, etc. Once you visit the site, they can use analytics to capture information about your computer. It’s the same information your favorite websites gather to send out cookies – those bits of information they use to tailor your visits to your preferences.

The information they get will include the browser you used – and its version – as well as your computer’s IP address. They can easily sort that information to find who, for example, used IE 8 and XP to visit their site. IE 8 is the last browser that had any support for XP, so once they see that combination, it’s like finding an unlocked door.

But wait, as they say on the TV shopping networks. There’s more.

If your XP computer crashes, do you have the disks to reinstall the operating system and your critical business applications? (See Update for Security, Performance and ROI) You won’t be able to get the OS software from Microsoft, and your application software publisher likely won’t have versions old enough to support XP.

The latter point is simple business. Programmers and publishers don’t make any money from old stuff sitting on an electronic shelf. Like everyone else, they need to move on to newer and more robust products. So, finding the software you need may be more difficult than finding a tube for an old table radio.

Even if you find the software, you’ll need to find someone who knows how to work with the old software and all of it quirks. Newly trained technicians likely haven’t worked with XP and may not understand its evolution to be able to fix your problems. On the other hand, someone who can support your XP systems will hold the advantage in supply and demand. The fewer people who have the knowledge you require will be able to charge more, and you could quickly lose any economic benefit you gained from holding on to old technology.

If you insist on keeping your XP systems, are there work-arounds? Yes, but they’re detours from the path of operating and cost efficiency. We can, for example, isolate XP computers from the Internet. That will help keep them safe and free to access files and applications on an internal network. However, the user – and the business – will lose functionality.

What’s the best way to stay plugged in when Microsoft pulls the XP plug? We have advised our clients – and will continue to advise them – to migrate to the Windows 7 operating system.  We can’t beat this drum loud enough or long enough. Windows 7 will enable your business’ users to continue with a familiar interface and a system that should still be around for a long time (for technology). Large corporate users, which we can define as any company large enough to have a “Fortune” designation, have not moved to Windows 8. They are staying with Windows 7, and that means Microsoft will continue to support them with updates and bug fixes, and programmers and publishers will continue to develop new and improved business apps. It’s where the money is.

With the announcement that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is stepping down, we expect Windows 7 to be a bellwether OS until the company sorts out its management issues and decides its technology direction.

You still have seven months to plan and budget for your escape from XP. We can help you avoid the XP jail. Call us (973-433-6676) or email us to discuss your best options.

Another Reason to Avoid Windows 8

An ominous security issue with Windows 8 was raised recently by The Motley Fool. Those of us who follow the investor-targeted newsletter know they look below the surface when giving their advice. Thus, it was no surprise to us to read that the German government, which supports the world’s fourth largest economy, said that Windows 8 is unsafe due a backdoor called the Trusted Platform Module. While the article discusses Windows 8 alternatives from a business point of view, there are some good technology underpinnings to their contention. You can read it here. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your alternatives Windows 8 for life after Windows XP

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