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‘Hello’ to a Better Camera Angle
The next big update for Windows 10, coming to your computer next month or in May, will feature the ability to switch between two webcams. For many that will be toggling a built-in laptop camera and a second camera mounted on a separate monitor. It will help you make better eye contact during meetings. But remember, not all devices are created equal.
The “most equal” device for Windows Hello is the Microsoft Surface, which I use regularly along with another computer and multiple monitors. Its built-in camera is high resolution, but like with all built-in cameras, you get locked into a single direction and camera angle. If I’m video conferencing with a client through my Surface and need to look at data on another monitor, we lose eye contact. We all know eye contact is critical for effective personal communication. It’s why we are more aware of it now that the pandemic has forced us to work from remote locations.
By placing a second camera on the monitor I use for the extra data I need, I’m able to make better eye contact with the others on the video conference. With Windows Hello, the biometrics make it possible to use facial recognition to essentially “toggle” the camera I’m looking into directly. It can all be configured in the settings for my Surface and a Hello-compatible external camera. It’s all done through the Device Manager settings in Windows.
The key is to make sure your external camera is compatible with Hello. It gives you a plug-n-play setup, and once it’s configured, you can use its facial recognition to sign onto other devices connected through Hello. It’s faster and avoids the need to enter multiple passwords. The benefit of that, too, is that you can use a single, secure routine for logging in on everything. (Remember, one of the benefits of new technology we always push is eliminating the need for passwords.)
If you don’t have a computer or device that works with Windows Hello, you can still use multiple cameras or an external camera with Zoom, Microsoft Teams or other platforms. Most external webcams can be mounted on a monitor – or even a large flatscreen TV – and connected to your computer. A USB connection is most common, and we recommend using the fastest USB connection available. If you have Bluetooth capability in the device you’re using for your video conference, that will give you more flexibility in placing your camera. Either way, you also have the option to mount your webcam on a tripod, with Bluetooth most likely extending your range.
External webcams with Hello and Bluetooth compatibility are readily available for anywhere from $30 to $70. You should look for 1080p resolution because it will work much better for anyone who’s watching on a large TV. Just think of what you like to view when you’re watching a show or streaming content on a large TV. You can even go to 4K resolution, but for most of us, 1080p does very well.
If you don’t have Windows Hello, you can still connect an external camera – even with Bluetooth if your computer or device supports it. You’ll need to go into your Zoom settings and select the camera you want to use. Most people use the built-in camera as their default device. (It’s the same with their microphone and speakers.) However, you have several options with both an external camera and your built-in camera. These include setting the video ratio and – if your camera supports more adjustments – the ability to set a closer (zoom) or wider viewing angle.
Again, not all devices are created equal, so you’ll need to live with the technology you have or upgrade.
We can help you determine what hardware will provide the videoconferencing capabilities you want and help you configure your hardware to maximize its capabilities. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your needs, your current technology and your budget. They’re all factors in making your system as “equal” as you want it to be.
New Shortages Popping Up
Late last year and early this year, we warned of Intel chip shortages, which made it difficult to get new computers for those who needed them to run Windows 10. Now, we have other shortages, compounded by some Apple decisions. So, who’s coming up short? It could be Apple.
Getting Apple stuff for our clients is becoming more challenging for the more expensive, high-end devices. The wait can be up to two weeks for things we used to get right away, and some of that is because of varying store hours.
One of our clients is waiting for a Mac with an SSD hard drive and a 27-inch monitor. It’s a combination that’s out of the ordinary, but it was never a problem to walk out of the store with that system. Now, we’re hoping the wait is only two weeks.
Looking ahead, Apple is expected to start making its own chips later this year for the 2021 Macs. It’s a logical move for the company, which is looking for more end-to-end control of its systems. Whether they’ll be able to produce enough chips because of COVID-19 concerns is one thing. Another thing is that when it drops the Intel chips (which could free up chip production for Windows-based computers), we think it may become harder to run Windows software on a Mac.
This has the effect of drawing a new line in the “cybersand” when it comes to compatibility, and that could be a problem in the business world. A lot of business applications are written for Windows, but the Apple platform has been able to accommodate them. For Mac fans, it’s the best of both worlds. But unless the app developers and Apple can up with apps for the platform, there’s another issue to add to our woes.
For those of you sticking with Windows systems, you can expect Intel’s supply problems to persist through the rest of this year. That is forcing some manufacturers to switch to AMD chips to meet the demand for their products. We’re still a fan of Intel chips, but if you need a new computer, we can certainly take a look at the AMD-equipped machines and see which one can work for you.
On the phone front, Apple is beating the drums for the iPhone 12, and it’s scheduled for release in the fall. Football is also scheduled for this fall, but we live in unusual times. Since all we can deal with at this time are rumors and speculations, this is expected to be the first year that Apple introduces 5G support in the iPhone. This will allow the new phones to connect to much faster networks. While all the phones will have 5G connectivity, we don’t know if all models will have super-fast mmWave support in all countries. Of course, if you can’t travel, you can hold on to your current phone or, if you must upgrade a phone within your family or business, you can go with any of the less expensive iPhones, which are more than serviceable, and upgrade later.
While we don’t have a crystal ball, we can discuss your current and future computer and phone needs and help you find the best solution for your needs. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about it.
New Company, Old Stuff…Old Company, New Solutions
A recent acquisition of a company by one of our clients illustrates the problems you can face with old software as well as old hardware. And our onboarding of a new client illustrates the problems that compound each other after neglect and poor shortcuts. Here’s how we tackled them together.
The software issue, which involved an old, old version of QuickBooks, drove home the benefits of keeping applications up to date. Our client, an accounting firm, recently acquired another firm, and we knew the technology had lapsed, and we even developed a budget number to bring it all up to date. Our question was whether to implement our project now or wait until after the upcoming tax season.
Wanting to do it right, we decided to move forward. Based on the problems we encountered, we made the right decision – because it was not a simple file conversion process. The old version of QuickBooks was from 2008; 2019 is the current version. There was an interim version is 2012. As with Microsoft Windows updates, we had to go through numerous updates because each update was built on a previous update.
In addition to the QuickBooks updates, we had to work with various versions of Windows and aged computers that couldn’t run Windows 10 and the current QuickBooks. Complications arose when people didn’t know the administrative emails and passwords required to set codes and perform updates. We tried numerous combinations, but the problem was solved by talking to the owner of the acquired company, who recalled a Hotmail account for QuickBooks. We had to work through additional emails and passwords – and inconsistencies on security questions.
We finally got it all done after several extra hours of time and another access issue. Our client is set for tax season, but we can’t help but wonder about the cost difference between software updates and the time and expense of the extra work.
Similarly, with old and new, we recently added a client who had been disenchanted with the managed services (monthly fee) program of their previous IT provider. We bid against another company that also offered managed services.
We don’t offer managed services because we believe it shortchanges clients. They pay a monthly fee but never know what the provider is doing for them. When we bill for the hours we work, we always provide a detailed description of our services.
We also don’t like to scare new clients into buying and installing new equipment, such as a server, until we take a deep dive into their systems and their needs. The bidder said the client needed a new one ASAP, which was logical because the server was eight years old. But when we talked to people there and learned how they work, they hadn’t been using the server, which had an old firewall that had never been registered. We registered the firewall and upgraded the software, putting off their need for a new server, which they were using to scan files to send to their printer.
Going forward, we’ll show them a different way of doing things without a server, and it should save them several thousand dollars.
We pride ourselves on being trustworthy, and we build our business on that trait. If you know a company or individual who’s looking for a new IT service provider, we hope you’ll refer us. And if you need a look at your systems, you can rely on us for an assessment that will show you the most cost-effective options. Contact us by phone – 973-433-6676 – or email to set up an appointment for you or a referral.
Tech Upgrades for New Year
New technology is a great value. You can improve the performance and cost-efficiency of business and home systems by investing in new hardware and upgrading application software. Consider some of these upgrades.
December is always a good time for businesses to look at technology investments because it can affect your taxes. Your CPA or tax advisor can tell whether a year-end expense can help reduce your taxes while increasing your capabilities, and we can tell what might work best for you to make those capability increases a reality.
First, look at your operating system. If you are on Windows 7, remember that Microsoft’s support of this ancient OS will go away in a year. They’ll no longer provide security updates and bug fixes. Cybercriminals salivate when they see any outmoded system because they can likely pull a hacking technique off the shelf and get into your system.
Yes, there will be some workarounds for you to continue to use Windows 7, but why do it? Windows 10 is much more efficient and secure, and Microsoft is dedicated to supporting it. Most common business apps running Windows 7 are easily upgradeable to run on Windows 10. If you have customized software from a publisher that’s still supporting it, they should be able to help with a conversion to the newer OS. If not, you may want to move to a new app, especially for the security aspects.
You should also look at your hard drives for business and home computers. Solid state drives (SSDs) have come way down in price this year, and while they’re not necessarily Walmart specials, they are good values.
SSDs are faster and more reliable than mechanical hard drives. The mechanical drives have moving parts that can wear out and crash, putting your data in jeopardy. They also require more space to move files around, and as they become fuller, they are less efficient. SSDs have no moving parts and don’t physically move around files. That makes them immune from physical crashes, and you only need a drive half the size to hold the same amount of data.
Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us with questions about technology upgrades or to help you install new technology. You can hit the ground running in 2019 or get up to speed early on in the new year.
Hello, New Security Technology
Passwords are on the verge of becoming extinct, and for many people, the passing of passwords will be like getting rid of a migraine. With the latest Windows 10 major update from Microsoft, your computers and devices may now say “hello” to you to access Microsoft accounts, and additional security measures may now work together better with smart devices. Facial recognition is playing a big role.
Security is more important than anything in today’s world, and hackers keep cyber defenders back on their heels in many instances. Our message continues to be that you need to harden your security measures while you have control of your computer, device, network, etc. If you wait until it controls you, it can cost you a lot of time, money and aggravation.
Combining facial recognition with another authentication factor is one element of Hello, which is available on certain computers with Windows 10 installed. It replaces a password with biometrics to authenticate secure access to devices, apps, online services and networks with a fingerprint, iris scan or facial recognition. It’s considered to be more user friendly, secure and reliable than traditional passwords, which are easy to crack because most people use simple ones they can remember or leave written notes in easy-to-find places.
You can authenticate a Microsoft account or a non-Microsoft service that supports Fast Identity Online (FIDO) by setting up a facial scan, iris scan or fingerprint to log into a device. Hello uses 3D-structured light to create a model of someone’s face and then uses anti-spoofing techniques to limit the success of people creating a fake head or mask to spoof the system. Once you set up your initial scan, the image will enable you to unlock access to Microsoft accounts, core applications and third-party applications that use the system. You can modify facial and iris scans, and add or remove additional fingerprints, and you can uninstall biometric identification.
Microsoft has updated Hello to support new security keys and offers two-factor authentication. There are keys to authenticate users for Azure Active Directory without requiring that a user enter a username or password, or even set-up Windows Hello beforehand. Technology advances could include authentication through a smartphone, but don’t expect any of those to involve text messages. Your cell phone number can be easily highjacked, and a perpetrator can simply have all of your passwords sent somewhere else without you ever knowing about it.
Windows’ latest update, version 1809, which is being pushed out this month, will increase the number of computers able to use Hello, and that will certainly help expand its user base – which, in turn, will spur more development of more ways to use it.
Microsoft is working with a growing number of service providers and device manufacturers to give its users a more seamless method to authenticate multiple accounts. Ultimately, the industry needs to tighten its false rejection rates and “liveness detection,” which ensures that the scan is that of a living person.
We’re confident that use of these new systems, such as Hello, will make us more secure, especially for business systems. We still see so many offices with passwords attached to computer monitors. Hello will go a long way to eliminating this particular potential for security breaches.
If you have computers that can work with Hello, we urge you to take a close look at implementing it. If you have questions about getting computers that are compatible with Hello or will be, we can help you set it up or prepare you to set it up. In the meantime, we can perform a security assessment to make sure your information technology system has no open backdoors or trapdoors that can allow access. This can be especially important, as one client discovered after they bought a company and started to merge IT systems.
Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about your security.
Personally Improving Tech Service
As I’ve said many times before, the greatest value of going to conferences is talking to people. We continuously develop better networks among colleagues and voice concerns to the many techies who man the booths at expos.
One of my crusades for this year’s Ignite conference, Microsoft’s annual tech extravaganza, was to talk with the engineers from the hardware and software companies we do business with on your behalf and my IT colleagues. We get together annually and stay in touch all year long. My specific beef this year was documentation.
In one instance, I had an error message on of our clients’ system. Trying to find the resolution through the manufacturer’s documentation had me going in circles. Then, I remembered a conversation I had with one of my Ignite colleagues about a major issue he had with a piece of HP equipment. It seems that a low battery problem showed up as a “not installed” message, which left me dumbfounded because all the installation steps checked out. Resolving the battery issue resolved the “not installed” error message but having accurate documentation would have resolved the problem much faster.
I talked to Microsoft engineers about documentation for setting up encryption through Office 365. Encryption is a hassle for computer users, but it can play a key role in protecting the security of information. They admitted that documentation was a problem, and my reaction was, “What am I supposed to tell my clients?”
I’m hoping that being able to talk to engineers personally about the issues we face as IT professionals will be addressed. And with many former IT independents in my network going to work for hardware and software companies, my personal connections might help my colleagues and me get better resolutions to the issues we face. Those personal contacts will go a long way to providing you with better service.
The personal connections may prove to be even more valuable as Microsoft rolls out its new Windows 10 updates, version 1809. It has extensive updates and changes that may require tweaking for some clients, and our goal is to make your transition as seamless as possible.
If you need help with installing or tweaking new hardware and software, be sure to call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for help. It’s likely we’ve picked up a trick or two that the documentation doesn’t cover or make clear.
Refreshing Devices Re-Energizes Them – Up to a Point
Refreshing your computers, peripherals and devices requires you to take a long pause, but in the end, it still might leave you thirsting for better results. If you’re hanging onto old equipment, Tech Data reports a few facts that might make you change your mind.
First of all, the report says, some 46 million small and medium-size businesses rely on devices dating back to 2014. That’s approaching five years, and that can be a lifetime in technology. Second, repair costs for equipment four years old or more can be 1.5 times the cost of repairing newer technology. Finally, PCs older than four years can be less than half as productive – costing an average loss of productivity rate of $1,260, according to an internal study by Microsoft.
Microsoft, which is phasing out Windows 7 because of its increasing inefficiency (Windows 7 Support Ends in January 2020), certainly has an interest in seeing you buy new computers with their operating systems. But they also know that the more efficient and productive their customers are, the more likely they’ll continue to use Microsoft software.
So, with that last point out there, what are your considerations for refreshing or replacing a computer? If you’re running Windows 7, we see replacement as a no-brainer. One client engagement illustrates how extreme it can get. We were tasked with refreshing a 10-year-old computer to get it to run better, which we did at a cost of $200 or so – after we advised our client to replace it. Refreshing, in this case, meant reinstalling software and updating it as much as possible. A 10-year-old computer cannot run the latest versions of Windows or any application software, and you cannot install the latest, most secure browser software. If we had installed a new hard drive and added licensing fees and our setup time, it would have been about $570. A new computer would have been around $800 plus some setup time to properly install the operating system and applications and transfer some data files.
With that as background, let’s delve more into a cost-benefit analysis.
Performance: Older PCs, according to Tech Data, can only run approximately five applications simultaneously without performance degradation, while newer PCs can easily run eight or more, according to a 2016 study. On the other hand, new Windows 10 Pro devices with 7th and 8th generation Intel® vPro™ processors keep users more productive with up to 25 percent more time efficiency. They are also up to 28 percent faster for startup on average compared to Windows 7. Batteries can last up to three times longer on newer Windows devices.
Repairs: We mentioned early on that repairs can cost 1.5 times more for older computers than for newer computers. Some of that extra cost can come from more time to find parts. Generally speaking, older parts are scarcer and more expensive.
Security: We’ve harped on security, and here’s something to add: More than 50 percent of smaller businesses have suffered a data breach or cyberattack with the cost averaging more than $84,000 per breach. Older Windows devices are likelier to lack the latest hardware and software security features, putting data at risk. When you factor in the fact that small-business customers are prime targets for security breaches, you can be looking at costly recovery. Upgrading to a computer that can run Windows 10 Pro will give you more built-in defenses and increased support for the lifetime of your device.
To translate all this into an action plan, we recommend refreshing and some component replacement for computers three years old or younger. For older computers, especially those running Windows 7, we recommend replacement. Business users will benefit from improved performance and security, and home users will benefit from better security. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your refresh/replacement needs.