Tech Help for the Holidays

We’re available to help make sure all of your technology gifts are fully up and running. Nothing is more frustrating than technology presents that don’t work as they should, and sometimes only an IT specialist can orchestrate the solution.

That was the situation last year, when one of clients bought some new cell phones and wanted to pass down the older phones to children. We went there on Christmas Eve day to do what the carriers’ retail stores can’t or won’t do: Complete all the data transfers and phone number activations necessary to make Christmas Day merry.

We looked at all the contacts, apps and other data that needed to be transferred to the new phones. In some cases, data can hide in places where most retail techs don’t know to look. In other cases, for example, contacts can be in different places on different phones or not match exactly. The danger in not knowing where to look is that a technician can erase data from the old phone. Once that happens, it’s gone.

We also took the time to understand how each family member planned to use his or her device so that we could set up each one properly. We also made sure they all knew how to access all the features.

We had to program five phones, and that took the better part of a half-day. But the next day, when the stores were closed, everyone enjoyed their new phones.

Whether you are buying new technology for your home or business, you can maximize performance and by making sure your infrastructure has the capability to handle increased traffic.

For homes, this means having the pipeline to handle streaming to new, large flat-screen TVs and/or multiple devices that play streaming content. For businesses, this means being able to handle the newer, faster systems that help you process more business faster – along with a twist.

Some of those Christmas gifts, namely phones and tablets, will likely wind up coming into your office. Whether they’re for business or personal use, they will tap into your office’s network.

So, tap into our service. We can make everyone’s holiday gifts are running properly. Drop us an email to schedule an appointment, but make sure you call us if you need us (973-433-6676) – especially on Christmas Day.

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

1040 Over and Out

We brought this up before, and we believe it’s worth talking about again. Tax deductions for business expenses are always available, but there is at least one special deduction you may be able to use if you act before the end of the year. It’s Section 179 of the Tax Code.

Section 179 lets you claim a full deduction of the price you pay for new and used computer hardware and off-the-shelf software purchased or leased and put in service between Jan. 1, and Dec. 31, 2013. That gives you two weeks to place your orders.

Off-the-shelf software is software available for purchase by the general public – not custom-written. Most commonly used software for small and mid-size businesses is off-the-shelf, so this provision of the Tax Code should cover just about any programs and applications you use.

As we pointed out earlier, the value of all qualified purchases and leases is limited to $500,000, but a good shopper or a good shopping helper can help you maximize the value of your qualified purchases. Just remember that you must use those purchases for business at least 50% of the time.

If you will not make a profit in 2013 and will not pay taxes (this is separate from not filing a tax return), you can carry forward a 50% deduction to a year when you will have a profit and pay taxes.

You should check with your tax advisor to make sure you apply the provisions of Section 179 correctly. In fact, your tax advisor could find more benefits for you depending on how your business is structured, the type of business equipment you use and your tax filing status.

Once you understand your financial situation and have your shopping list, we can help you find the best values and schedule your installations. Time is ticking away, so please don’t hesitate to call us (973-433-6676) or email us to beat the clock and get your tax breaks.

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

The Cloud and Reverse Back-Up

More and more of our programs and data are moving to the cloud. In some cases, we’re accessing the cloud for the applications and files we use for business and personal computing. In other cases, we’re using the cloud for backing up our hard drives. We don’t give it a second thought – but we should.

Backing up your programs and files is like having insurance. Backing up in more than one place is like having better insurance coverage. In this case, you want to insure that you protect the economic value of programs and data – so that you have immediate access when something goes wrong with your system.

Just as insurance policies have fine print to detail what they cover – and don’t – you need to look closely at the user agreements for every cloud-based server that houses your valuable data.

The first thing you should know is what happens if the company storing your data goes out of business? This could be the worst case scenario. Is there a provision for somebody to notify you of a pending problem or actual problem? Will you have time to download your data and move everything to another site? If you rely on this server – cloud – to store the programs and files you access every day for your business or to store valuable personal data such as photographs and home videos, you must know how to protect them and your access. If you can’t get a satisfactory answer, don’t put your data there.

The next thing you should know is who owns your data? If you access programs through a subscription, the ownership is likely to be straightforward; the publishers own them. However, you must be able to have access to your specific data files – all of your business records, correspondence (business and personal) and files.

How reputable is the company that stores your programs and data? If feel like you can’t get a straight answer from them about any of the points we just raised, you’d certainly have to wonder about them.

Again, to continue the insurance analogy, any of these issues only become problems when something goes wrong and you lose valuable data and time. While there are very few iron-clad guarantees in life, you can buy insurance with “reverse backup” and with multiple backups.

Let’s start with the premise that storage – as a raw cost – is cheap. You can buy one or two (or more) external storage devices for less than $200 apiece and back up data files. Online backups to the cloud can cost less than $25 per month, depending on the service and your volume. Your options are limited only by what you want to spend to ensure you have access to all of your data. You can:

  • Back up all of your files multiple times using different devices, which can cover you if your cloud vaporizes and one external device crashes.
  • Back up selected files to specified devices.
  • Physically move backup devices offsite periodically to cover yourself if a disaster strikes your home or office.
  • Use automated programs to back up your data files onsite and offsite.

Along these lines, clients often ask about when they should delete files. Our answer is never. Again, because storage is so inexpensive, it can actually cost you more to delete files than to simply file them away in archives. Our archived files take up much more space than our active files, for example, but we have an electronic filing system that enables us to find any information going back more years than we care to remember. If longtime clients have questions about something we performed or proposed, the answers are at our fingertips.

In addition to backing up data files, you should have copies of your program and applications disks safely stored. As we noted earlier this year, it’s nearly impossible to restore program files without the originals. We’re often called to restore program files as part of a disaster recovery or when we begin working for a new client, and we always ask for the original disks if they were used to load the programs requiring restoration. (See our article on Unlicensed Software.)

We can help you design and implement a backup system using the cloud and external storage devices to meet your specific needs. Just send us an email or give us a call (973-433-6676). It’s something you’ll want when you can’t get what you need.

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

Microsoft Matters

We use the word “matters” as a noun and a verb. In the matter of Windows XP and Windows 7 and Microsoft’s OS odyssey, migrating to 7 still makes the most sense. Despite all the chatter about Windows 8 upgrades and moving to Linux, Microsoft remains the dominant OS in the PC world for many reasons.

OS performance aside, Microsoft has done a great job of penetrating the market. Despite all the Apple devotees, the vast majority of businesses and government agencies (from national to municipal) run on Windows, and they have hundreds of millions of computers. Hundreds of millions of iOS and Android mobile devices tie themselves to the networks that tie together all those computers.

With the end of the XP operating system plainly in sight – April 8, 2014 is the day Microsoft pulls the plug – we see migrating to Windows 7 as the only viable option for our PC-based clients. Here’s why:

  • Linux is simply too cumbersome for home, SOHO, small business and mid-size business use. Yes, it has great flexibility, and because it’s open software, anybody can add great new features and upgrades at any time. But there’s a downside to all of this.Home and SOHO users may not have the technical knowledge to install, configure and use Linux software and upgrades. A few users may like the hobby aspect of playing with Linux, but if you are running a business from your home, you probably don’t want to mix business and play time.For businesses, you’ll just spend way too much time and money training and retraining employees. You need to assess how many of your employees have the ability to absorb all of the training and if you have the ability to absorb the loss of efficiency as they navigate the learning curve. For the most part, you didn’t hire them to become geeks.
  • Everybody knows Windows, especially the straightforward XP and 7 systems. In addition, many business applications from accounting to manufacturing operations are written for commonly used interfaces. That means Microsoft Windows – along with Apple and the common iOS and Android devices.
  • Better business software and upgrades will continue to be written for Windows. Why? It’s basic business: Everyone uses it, creating a lot of profit opportunities. Highly popular consumer programs and apps will continue to be written for Windows for the same reason.

If you are a small to mid-size business, we believe it’s imperative to migrate to Windows 7. Besides tax advantages for acting now (See 1040 Over and Out), you need to stay on the good side of the law – the law of supply and demand. Right now, Windows 7 computers are available, and prices are stable. But as we get closer to April 8, 2014, any increase in demand can rapidly deplete supplies; that’s a prime condition for rising prices. Even if supplies are stable, a sense of urgency can trigger a price increase. On top of that, the available IT resources to install, configure and test systems will be strained. You could wait longer for service, or it could become more expensive, especially if you lose production at an inopportune time.

Our solution? Call us (973-433-6676) or email us to assess your technology needs and develop a schedule to get your new systems up and running in a timely and efficient manner. Microsoft matters, and it really matters that you resolve any issues as quickly and effectively as possible.

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