Trade War’s Perfect Tech Storm

You could see this one coming way off on the horizon. Computer users on Windows 7 are starting to move to Windows 10 as the date approaches in 2020 – it’s eight months off – for the end of Windows 7 tech support. The shortage of chips is starting to abate, but with tariffs looming on chips imported from China (which means just about all chips), prices will rise – possibly affecting supply and demand. We’re finding ways to work around the issues for many of our clients, and we can still keep options open for those who call quickly to get equipment ordered and work scheduled.

For clients still running Windows 7 who have computers with the capability of upgrading to Windows 10, we’ve been able to execute a two-step strategy. Success depends on having a good processor and enough RAM (random access memory). The first step is to install Windows 10, and the second step is to install a new solid-state hard drive (SSD). The combination of the new OS and SSD makes those computers run like new, and that will buy you time to make a bigger investment in a new computer.

The new SSDs we’re using are mostly 256 GB hard drives, and they are providing enough space for users with 500 GB mechanical hard drives – and even some with 1 TB hard drives. For those who need to store a lot of files or may want to store them, we’re installing 500 GB SSDs.

There are two primary reasons why the smaller SSDs work for most of our clients. First, SSDs are a different technology. They don’t require the space to physically access, use and store files. Second, our clients with Office 365 packages, including those with the $5, $8.25 and $12.50 monthly plans, can store files on OneDrive and access them on any device from where they can get to the internet. Personally, I have 32 GB of files on OneDrive and keep only a handful of files on my hard drive.

With OneDrive now making the storage space part of its package and integrating it with Office 365, we believe it is now a better value than Dropbox. While Dropbox has a free plan, it is limited to use on three devices, and it can easily escalate to more than $100 year just by itself. OneDrive also gives you a better feature set, including Mile IQ, which we talked about in our opening letter in the email.

With prices expected to rise because of market conditions and/or tariffs, anyone who can solve their Windows 7 and upgrade issues with a new SSD hard drive can do it at a reasonable cost. A 256 GB drive costs $125, and 512 GB drive is $200. We generally need about 1-1/2 hours of time to set up the drive, including file transfer. While we can’t predict what prices will be in the near or long-term future, we can look at Apple for some guidelines. If a new iPhone costs $1,000, a 25 percent tariff increase will raise the price to $1,250. The supply chain can only absorb so much of the increase for a limited time, and once the prices go up, they won’t come back down.

If you are an Office 365 user, see our article Setting Up and Using Microsoft OneDrive to learn how to get ready for migrating to a new hard drive or computer. We recommend you call us to help you get your OneDrive account set up, and then you can manage the transfer of files on your own.

Again, we urge all who need or want an upgrade to Windows 10 and a better hard drive to call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your best migration path, order the required equipment and schedule the work.

Setting Up and Using Microsoft OneDrive

Microsoft OneDrive may be as close as we’ll get to finding a safe harbor in the perfect storm created by the end of Windows 7, chip shortages and trade wars. Even without the storm conditions, it can give you smoother sailing.

We’ve found that OneDrive fits several trends we’ve seen among many clients, including more mobile computing, more collaborative work, and the need to work with larger files across all platforms. For those of you with Microsoft Office 365 plans starting at $5 per month, you get 1 TB of storage as part of your plan. If you need to access a lot of large files, including huge spreadsheets as well as photos, music and movies, this a good place to keep them. You can send collaborators links to any files in your OneDrive folder, and they can make changes, just like people do with Dropbox. This eliminates the need to send emails with attachments back and forth. As an added bonus, files are automatically saved in real time when working with a file in a OneDrive. And, finally, you can get Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other Office 365 apps for mobile devices, enabling you to view, edit and even create documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Granted, it may not be the same as on a computer, but it’s another tool at your disposal.

In addition to being free for Office 365 users, you also get a couple “blow-away” features. One of them is a version history, which is great for tracking financial reports on Excel spreadsheets or changes to Word documents. Instead of saving umpteen million versions, you can go back to a date and see the file as it was. It was meant as an autosave feature for data recovery, but it’s certainly not restricted to that.

We also like Mile IQ, which we discussed in our email for this newsletter. It works on your phone, and it senses motion when your car moves and starts to track miles. At the end of a trip, you swipe right for business use, and left for personal use. You can always go back and add details for each trip you track. It’s not a well-publicized feature, but it’s great. You can sign up through their website.

Installing OneDrive is not a particularly difficult process, but it has a few complexities in the setup. We recommend you have us help you with the setup so that you can work more easily with your file. The first two steps are:

  1. Select the Start button, search for “OneDrive”, and then open it. In Windows 10, select the OneDrive desktop app. In Windows 7, under Programs, select Microsoft OneDrive. 
  2. When OneDrive Setup starts, enter your personal account, or your work or school account, and then select Sign in.

At this point, we’ll help you configure OneDrive to match your needs and get you started on transferring your files. We recommend putting all of your files on OneDrive for two reasons: 1.) You’ll have them there for recovery in case your hard drive crashes, and 2.) you can always select files to put back onto your hard drive.

By having access to all of your files but only having a percentage of them residing on your hard drive, you’ll free up space that will allow a mechanical hard drive to work more efficiently, or you’ll be able to get by with a smaller hard drive.

In operation, you’ll access your files from your OneDrive folder instead of from your File Explorer and work on them through your application program. If you turn on AutoSave, everything you do will be saved in real time, and you’ll never lose data due to a power outage or hard drive crash. Yes, if you lose your internet connection, you’ll lose OneDrive, but you can continue to work on your files and save them. When OneDrive access is restored, the changes will be saved.

If you are getting a new hard drive or computer, we use OneDrive to transfer your files. We believe that if you have an Office 365 plan and if we’re doing the work already, you are better off keeping your OneDrive and using it. You’ll find more benefits as you go along.

Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to get your OneDrive set up. If you’re an Office 365 subscriber, it’s there for the taking. If you don’t have Office 365, let’s talk and see if it’s right for you.

Microsoft Goes Passive on Passwords

Microsoft recently announced it will not enforce password policies that require you to change your Windows password periodically. One reason is that most passwords and password changes are pathetic. Microsoft’s Windows Hello can eliminate some password requirements now, and it will eliminate more as website owners and developers catch on. Right now, it’s available for Windows 10 Home and Business users.

Windows Hello logs you into your Windows devices three times faster than a password, using your camera to recognize your face or a fingerprint reader. Just to put you at ease from the start, you can always keep your PIN as a backup.

Windows Hello addresses our biggest concerns with passwords:

  • Because strong passwords can be difficult to remember, many of us reuse passwords on multiple websites. If your password is hacked and works on one site, you can bet that cybercriminals will use it on every site they know you visit.
  • Server breaches can expose symmetric network credentials, which is a technical term for passwords.
  • Passwords are subject to replay attacks, which happen when an attacker copies a stream of messages between two parties and replays the stream to one or more of the parties. Consequences can include redundant orders of an item.
  • Users can inadvertently expose their passwords due to phishing attacks.

We’ve cited all of them in one way or another when discussing the need to be extremely careful about what you click on a website or in an email.

Right now, Windows Hello lets you authenticate access to:

  • A Microsoft account
  • An Active Directory account
  • A Microsoft Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) account
  • Identity Provider Services or Relying Party Services that support Fast ID Online (FIDO) v2.0 authentication, which is now an official web standard for making the web more secure – and usable – for users around the world

The last item in that list will be the key to implementing better security for everyone who has a presence on the internet. Even though we have a way to go before it’s fully implemented, Hello can give you a head start.

After an initial two-step verification during enrollment, Hello is set up on your device. Windows asks you to set a gesture, which can be a biometric, such as a fingerprint, or a PIN, which Windows uses through Hello to authenticate users. It works across all Windows 10 devices. Individuals can create a six-digit PIN or a biometric on their personal devices. Unlike the business application, it is not backed by a public/private key or certificate-based authentication, but it’s still more secure than passwords.

PINs provide better security because you still need the device to access websites – or ATMs. Someone may know your number, but unless they have your device or ATM card, they can’t get access.

For businesses, we’ll help you set up Hello for your organization, including setting policies to help you manage access to computers and mobile devices. This will eliminate the practice of employees in an office putting their passwords on sticky notes that they attach to monitors. (Did you ever stop to think that anyone in your cleaning service can empty your data files as easily as they empty your trash cans?)

In our opinion, Hello is the most compelling reason to update your Windows 10 operating system or upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10. Again, we can’t over-emphasize that Microsoft will discontinue its technical support for Windows 7 in February 2020, and that will leave security holes in an already out-of-date, obsolete OS.

Windows 10 will step you up to the next level of security and protection and put you on track to take advantage of advances as they happen. Technology changes fast, and security improvements are always significant. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about upgrading to Windows 10 or adding Hello to your personal or business systems.