Category Archives: Uncategorized

Go Big or … Go Small

Here’s a dilemma that most small businesses face: when you need a service (banking, web design, cleaning, etc.) do you choose a small company or a large one?

You go through the usual pros and cons – a small company will give you more personal attention but have a narrower focus. A large company has more to offer but is going to be less responsive, and almost certainly less personal.

What’s a decision maker to do?

The answer, as always, depends on what you need. If you are going to need a business loan, you look for a small bank where you can develop a personal relationship. They may have  limited online features, however. If you need a bank with a national or international presence, you look for a large bank. You will be a number to them, but that’s the trade off.

Big companies need to keep growing. To do that, they need to be constantly eating, like a shark. They can’t be content with today’s income or today’s client list. So the service level will be lower and slower. A small company can be more flexible with its rates and still provide excellent service.

Here’s the bad news: big companies these days are getting larger and larger while small companies either stay small, sell out or go out of business. I can think of at least a dozen guys I know who have quit running their own companies and gone to work for a big company.

Now, you might think that’s OK if everyone has a job, but remember that small business has been a constant driver of innovation and is the real backbone of the economy. Think the richest companies like Google and Amazon hire a lot of people? Wrong. Wal-Mart is a much larger employer — but they only pay minimum wage. Do you really want everyone to work at Wal-Mart instead of the mom and pop shops that line the main streets of most towns across the US?

In the final analysis, you need to choose a company, large or small, that will fit your business but hire local where you can. Be prepared for the trade offs you will face and never forget to communicate.

Passwords – The Downfall of Civilization As We Know It

I often think, “Wow, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve helped someone reset their password, I could pay all my bills” — then I remember, I do have a dollar for every time I’ve helped someone reset their password! It’s paying my bills, but it’s a fundamental weakness in the information age. How long can we pretend that we are identifiable by a username or an email address and a password?

There have to be a hundred better ways to identify someone that can’t be hacked by running scrambled combinations through a graphics card? Actually, I’m really hoping the passwords have at least been encrypted by the storing server, in a format that doesn’t have a security hole [ahem, NSA — all those backdoors you wrote/required are either discovered or on their way to being discovered, thank you very little].

The sheer number of sites that have been hacked and the billions of passwords exposed make me seriously wonder why we continue to rely on a device that’s literally thousands of years old. Shibboleth may have been good enough for the Old Testament, but it’s a spectacular failure in the 2010s, when computing power has become so strong that all previous flaws have been exposed and exploited.

The easy answer is that it’s too late, at this point, to go back — there are billions of devices out there, running on username and password combinations, that are incompatible with whatever might replace that, and reprogramming those devices will be impractical, if not impossible. True, it will be difficult to go back and change the old stuff. But we can’t we learn from our mistakes, cut our losses, and start moving forward now?

The sad answer is, because that’s the way we’ve always done it. But guess what? That’s not good enough!

So while we wait for the next billion-password hack, remember — longer passwords beat complex passwords, so use an easy phrase like “ThisIsMyAmazonPassword2017” for Amazon, “ThisIsMyNetflixPassword2017” for Netflix, and so on. And don’t write it down! Especially not on the back of your keyboard! Passwords, while we have to use them, should be easy enough to remember! If you can’t, you’re using the wrong password.

Actually, if you have an Apple password, you can’t use the above examples, because they contain the word “password” which is a brain-dead rule if I’ve ever heard one. Apple, smarten up. You can’t ban the word password or the number 1999. It just makes things harder for your users.

As for the technicians who are still requiring username and password combos, please stop! Before the Russians hack your databases, too.

These Are The Dark Days of Technology

I have had some interesting experiences with Google and Apple recently, and it has made me think about their imminent demise. Yes, both of them.

What brings down behemoths? Size. At some point, a company becomes so large it can no longer respond to the market. Or, in this case, individuals.

Both Google and Apple (and, let’s be fair, Microsoft) have been guilty of forcing changes down end users’ throats, Changes that have no clear benefit for anyone except the companies in the form of better surveillance and chasing each others’ new “features”.

I recently tried to get Apple’s help in rescuing a fried MacBook Pro. Their response? They will take it back to their workshop and do it themselves, for $1200. Or you can buy a new one! — How about tools so I can do it myself? No. Apple doesn’t sell tools. Don’t open it.  — Here, I removed the hard drive myself. Do you have a reader, can you pull data off for me? — No. We don’t do that. You have to bring the whole thing in and we’ll do it for you. For $1200. Or you can buy a new one, see how shiny it is?

And it’s true, Apple uses such proprietary materials, it’s very hard to find even the correct screwdriver to open a MacBook (it’s available here if you need one), and it’s even harder to find an adapter to attach one of their solid state hard drives (ironically made by Samsung). But Apple isn’t in the business of selling technology you can repair, they are selling Apple mystique. You don’t take them apart, you don’t fix them, you use them until they break then you buy a new one. And they have built a huge empire on that. But very soon, that model will fall when people realize they can get the same functionality for much less from Samsung or even Amazon (sorry Microsoft, but your OS is so complicated and ugly it doesn’t compare).

How about Google? Their sin is thinking they’re smarter than everyone else. While it’s true that most people at Google are actually smarter than most everyone else, they can certainly stand to learn a few things. But wait — you can’t get in touch with them! So there is no way to let them know you have a good idea, or that their products need help, or that someone is abusing their software.

I have been in touch with Google’s paid support for a Google Apps G Suite migration recently. It took 5 calls to get most of the way there, because the good folks who answer the phones in the Philippines and in Central America were friendly but clueless — they can only look at their screen and tell you to open another web page or download another program. They can’t actually help. They work for a call center, not for Google.

We know that the giants are all watching us and are out to buy or crush anything that looks like competition. But I suspect that they will all topple when a responsive, value-oriented alternative comes along. One that offers a configurable interface and listens to the people who use it.

Until then, we will continue to suffer products and features that these companies foist on us. In 20 years, if we’re still here, we’ll look back and say, Wow, I can’t believe how low they set the bar! These are truly the dark days of technology.

The Future of Office Apps is Cloudy

I have recently finished writing a novel and had the chance to compare and contrast Google Docs vs. Microsoft Word (2010, 2013 & 2016). I have decided that the future of office apps like word processing and spreadsheets is definitely online. However, there are drawbacks and limitations.

I loved using Google Docs for writing. It’s fast and easy. I can open it from anywhere and be on the latest version. No need to worry about saving or crashing or duplicates.

I did run up against the following limitations, though: Google Docs was only good for up to about 50,000 words. After that, it crashed repeatedly and I had to break the novel into four parts. I couldn’t figure out how to substitute an M dash for 2 hyphens, or an ellipsis for 3 periods. Also, the pagination options were limited. I couldn’t start page numbering on page 6, after the introduction and title pages. And printing took forever.

Microsoft Word is a mature technology with all the bells and whistles. But, as advanced a desktop program as it is for things like page numbering and substitutions, it felt like a dinosaur. I couldn’t load it on my subnotebook, so I had to use a desktop computer, which meant downloading a copy of the file from Google Drive, working on it, then uploading it back to Google Drive and deleting the copy from the hard drive.

To work on another computer, I had to repeat the procedure. It became tedious and I had to be very careful not to leave an old version on a computer that I was going to work on again, to avoid duplicate copies and to avoid working on an old copy that didn’t have the new changes. To download the file onto a laptop, copy to a flash drive then to a desktop, work, save, copy back to the flash drive and back to the laptop to upload to Google Drive was a harrowing experience and left too much room for error.

I could have loaded Google Drive sync on each computer I worked on, but the configuration required — not to mention the additional hoops with 2-step authentication and the subsequent hundreds of files now on some else’s computer — made that option a non starter.

For the record, I also tried Word Online, but it wouldn’t load my file since it was too large.

All this demonstrated the need for centralized document storage and for the need for online apps to mature. Documents have to be protected but accessible with automatic saving and version control built in. Although the online programs available today work for 80% of what is needed on a daily basis, there has to be an allowance for the remaining 20% — whether through plugins or a premium version of the service.

Services like Google Drive, that offer some online editing as well as desktop sync, are probably the best bet. Second best are programs like Dropbox or Sharefile that allow sharing and sync, but lack built-in editing.

In the meantime my novel, Less Than Perfect, should be out in a few months, so look for it!

The Easy Way To Better Passwords

I know I’ve touched on this topic before, and I have lectured dozens of clients on the importance of strong passwords, but here is a really easy way to dramatically reduce your risk of having your accounts hacked:

Ready?

Here it is:

CHOOSE A STRONG PASSWORD AND USE A DIFFERENT PASSWORD FOR EACH ACCOUNT

Simple, right?

So why do so many people insist on using their pet’s name as their password for their email, their bank account, and a dozen other sites, when they know they shouldn’t? Because it’s TOO HARD to remember all those passwords! Here is a perfect example:

Source: http://xkcd.com/936/

So here’s my other secret to good passwords: use a passphrase. Make it something simple, like for email, you can use “Getting Spam Since 2006” — yes, spaces are usually allowed, and if not, use punctuation: “Getting.Spam.Since.2006” — wow, that’s a 23-character password with upper case, lower case, numbers and special characters! What’s more, it’s easy to remember, easy to type, but very hard to guess. It’s also clear that it applies to your email. For your Amazon account, how about “Spending$More$Money$Since$2002” — again, easy to remember, but hard to guess. Hint: don’t get too tricky, or you’ll forget a detail like whether you use percent signs or dollar signs or whether you capitalized some words but not others.

If you don’t like to remember your passwords, use a password manager. Those are built into Firefox and Chrome browsers. There are also several good standalone products on the market. PC Magazine has a recent article covering the most popular.

So just start today. Change your email password. Tomorrow, change your Amazon or bank password, and the next day change another. Write it down in a notebook if you have to, but I think you’ll find you will remember these new passwords.

And while we’re on the topic, if the service offers 2-step authentication, USE IT! Sure, it’s another step, but you won’t regret the extra security.

As always, Local Computer Pros can help!

Windows 10: The Real Price of Free and Steps To Take Back Your Privacy

Microsoft has once again proven how devious they can be, and introduced even more ways to get you away from any service except their own in Windows 10. Not only will your favorite programs be hidden or uninstalled, you will be presented with Microsoft’s own alternates. But such is the cost of a “free” upgrade.

I wonder how much Microsoft paid to the US Anti Trust and Judicial departments to allow them to basically wipe out the competition from the desktop. Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time Microsoft has used their monopoly power in this manner. Just the most recent.

I installed Windows 10 as a professional obligation. And while I see many colleagues who have drunk the Kool-Aid trumpeting how much they love it, I find much to be concerned about.My advice, do not create a Microsoft account – use a local account – and choose custom install and uncheck all the opt-in choices. Really. It’s for your own good.

Update: even though I unchecked all those boxes, I still found a hidden setting called “Let Apps Access My Name, Picture and Other Account Info” and it was turned on! (Settings > Privacy > multiple tabs – go through every tab and turn them all off. Microsoft does NOT need your data in order to run!)

The first thing I noticed about the Windows 10 upgrade, aside from the creepy “Hi, we’re getting things ready for you” message, was the options available. The default is to let Microsoft “take care” of everything — which does the following:

  • Sets the new Microsoft browser as your default browser, hiding or even removing Chrome or Firefox
  • Removes your antivirus if the version is incompatible or out of subscription and does the same for any other observed incompatible programs
  • Sets your home page to Microsoft properties, sends your Internet browsing history to Microsoft
  • Allows Microsoft to track you and your data on your computer and on the Internet
  • Serve you ads based on your observed preferences
  • Sends your name, your photo and your location to third parties

So I know some of you will say, “So what? Apple/Google/Microsoft already has me do that on my phone!” Which may be true, if you opted into everything. But for some of us that read the fine print and believe that we are legally entitled to a shred of privacy, it’s important to NOT let just anyone have that access. Remember, Microsoft is out to make money, not to make your life better. They have demonstrated clearly that they will go to any means, including illegal ones, to stifle and even crush competition in order to stay in your face. They are now doing everything they can, with Windows 10, to know as much as possible about your digital life. After all, their survival depends on it.

Set Up a Local Account

To set up a local account, see the following. Note that the link is almost hidden, and Microsoft will ask you if you’re sure you want to proceed (after all, they really want your data!)

How to install/upgrade to Windows 8.1 RTM without a Microsoft account (works for Windows 10, too)

http://i.stack.imgur.com/3rU1a.png

Uncheck all the opt-in Boxes

Unless you really want Microsoft to sell your name, photo and location to undisclosed 3rd parties, and to send your Internet browsing data to Microsoft for their use. Click Customize and uncheck all those invasive choices!

Disable or Remove OneDrive

OneDrive not only replaces any link to a service you may have installed for Dropbox, Google Drive, Box.net, or any other file sharing service, it is also impossible to remove through any method other than the following commands. Open the command window as an administrator and run the following commands in order. If you’re having trouble, you can always leave it, and decide to use Microsoft’s service instead of the one you’ve been using for years that they have hidden from you. Just remember who’s got your data now!

taskkill /f /im OneDrive.exe
%SystemRoot%\SysWOW64\OneDriveSetup.exe /uninstall
rd "%UserProfile%\OneDrive" /Q /S
rd "%LocalAppData%\Microsoft\OneDrive" /Q /S
rd "%ProgramData%\Microsoft OneDrive" /Q /S
rd "C:\OneDriveTemp" /Q /S
REG Delete "HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{018D5C66-4533-4307-9B53-224DE2ED1FE6}" /f
REG Delete "HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Wow6432Node\CLSID\{018D5C66-4533-4307-9B53-224DE2ED1FE6}" /f

Restore your Dropbox, Google Drive, or Other Service You Actually Use Once OneDrive is Gone

Open the program of your choice from the system tray, or search for it on your computer with Cortana (without clicking on any of the web links, which obviously won’t work), click Open Folder, which will open Explorer. Drag the icon for the folder back to the Quick Access section (formerly known as Favorites).

Set Your Default Browser Back To Your Choice

You really don’t need Microsoft making decisions for you. Here’s a very easy way to set your browser back to Firefox. Works for Google Chrome, too, but that’s only if you don’t mind letting Google track you instead of Microsoft. At least Google has committed to “doing no evil” and offers privacy settings. Firefox does NOT track users.  From the Firefox help page:

  1. When you open Firefox for the first time, you will be asked if you’d like to make it your default browser. To do so, click the “Use Firefox as my default browser” button.
  2. The Windows Settings app will open with the Choose default apps screen. Scroll down and click the entry under Web browser. The Web browser icon will say either “Microsoft Edge” or “Choose your default browser”. It may not be intuitive, but you need to click on the Microsoft Edge logo to open the window that will let you choose another Web browser as your default.
  3. This will open the Choose an app screen. Click Firefox in the list to set it as the default browser.

Find Your Installed Programs

Thanks to the makers of Classic Shell, which is a legitimate start menu, that actually lists programs and gives a semblance of normalcy to the monstrosity that is the Windows 10 start menu. I was hoping that MS bringing the start menu back would mean I would have access to my programs again (after the Windows 8 debacle) but no, the start menu in Windows 10 only shows recently used programs and “All Apps” — a whole host of Microsoft’s preinstalled so-called “Metro apps”, no actual programs.  Customization is limited at best. I felt like I was using Windows 95 again, trying to find my programs on the C drive. My advice is to install Classic Shell as soon as you install Win 10 (or even before, if you’re stuck with Windows 8).

More Start Menu Terror, Part II – Remove Extraneous “Live Tiles” From Start Menu

Sorry, but the 2-column Start Menu is gone. In its place is the single column, with the right side replaced with various Microsoft apps – their calendar, dumbed-down mail client (easy access to lure you away from Thunderbird, I guess), weather, Cortana (their version of Siri), Microsoft Sports, and other junk that you probably don’t need cluttering your Start menu and getting in the way of productivity. Luckily, you can remove these from the Live Tiles area. Unfortunately, the trimmed-down or empty area doesn’t resize. It just remains a large, empty blob, filling up screen real estate.

Customize Your Desktop Background

I was a little peeved to find my desktop background photo had disappeared, to be replaced by a Windows logo. You can replace that either by right-clicking on a picture and choosing “Set as desktop background” or by searching for Personalization in the Search box. Speaking of that box,

Removing The Search Windows and The Internet Box

Stealing a page from Apple’s Spotlight feature, Microsoft is using the opportunity to hijack your search for a document to redirect you to a Bing Web search. You can remove this box by right-clicking on the taskbar and going to Toolbars, where you can uncheck Search. Clicking on Cortana brings the search feature back, and under settings you can actually tell it just to show you computer results, not Web searches (which you normally do with Chrome anyway).

Removing MS CrAPPware

Clicking on Settings > System > Apps and Features brings you to a screen where some of the preinstalled Apps can be removed. Interestingly, I was unable to remove Xbox, Groove Music, Microsoft Maps, OneNote, Movies & TV, and a few more.

So now you know the cost of free: it was too good to be true, wasn’t it?

Wait, Don’t Run – Windows 10

To quote Newsweek, Windows 10 is out and “you’re probably going want to refrain from upgrading right away.” A couple of good reasons: it’s Microsoft — so it’s probably full of bugs and problems. Wait a month, there’s no rush. Second, your computer is probably working the way you want it to (more or less), so why mess with that? Guaranteed there will be some SNAFU in the upgrade and you’ll lose programs or settings.

If you’re using Windows 8 (rhymes with Hate) and are desperate for 10 just to get a start menu, install the excellent, free menu from www.classicshell.net — it works great and gives you back the control you lost over your desktop.

If you are running Windows 7, arguably the best OS Microsoft has ever produced, why would you want to mess with that? Things work. It’s relatively robust and mostly trouble-free, and MS says they will support it for the next few years.

Worst Software of The Year Award Goes to Server 2012 and 2012 R2!

I had another terrible experience with Server 2012 this week. This time it wasn’t the server restarting during the middle of the workday to install updates for 1/2 hour — that was another client. This one involved adding a server to an existing domain network. There is no automatic way of moving data and having it be recognized. Not only did I have to restore files from a backup, I actually had to import permissions! Of course, permissions don’t carry from one computer to another, even in the same domain. Why would they, right? I’m sure that’s not what domains are for.

QuickBooks was a similar issue — even through the QBData folder had the correct permissions, they were the permissions from the other server, and not the new server. Same user, but different. Hmm.

On top of that — and this was the head-scratcher — when you set up Server 2012 with a shared folder, it is not indexed, which means it can’t be added to a Windows 7/8 “library”. So what, you ask? So you can’t redirect someone’s desktop or document folder to the server. At this location, we use a server folder for the My Documents folder, so no matter where a user sits, his or her documents are always available…except it wouldn’t work until I found a post that mentioned that you have to manually add the Windows Indexing role to Server 2012, and then, once it’s added, you have to start it, and then you have to specify the folders you want it to index!

To add insult to injury, there is no direct way to access the Computer Manager. You have to go through Server Manager, which is a dashboard with nothing but links to things that actually work. And, if you don’t install a Start menu to actually get some work done, then you have to deal with the ignominy of the tiled and much-reviled start screen. On a server. Who thinks up these things?

Does anyone else see the irony of this brain-dead software that Microsoft is pushing? It’s like a drug dealer with badly cut heroin. “Buy this! It won’t help you, it will probably hurt you, but it makes me richer!”

On the other hand, I shouldn’t complain — it’s the built-in incompetence that keeps me in business. If Microsoft could write decent software, I’d have to find another line of work! I keep thinking that in 50 years, people will look back at this era and marvel at how Microsoft kept computer users in the dark ages for so long.

The Importance of a Running Server (Microsoft engineers, please read)

So it turns out that Microsoft has gotten serious about security in Windows 8. So serious, in fact, that they have enforced computer restarts when security updates need installing.

So instead of installing updates while the system is running,which would be the right way to handle these things, Microsoft has decided to force your computer to reboot to fix its own security flaws.

Given that the code jockeys can’t figure out how to install updates without rebooting (ahem, Linux), they could at least bug you to restart or at least let you schedule a restart like with Windows XP (which bugged you every 5 minutes), Vista and Windows 7. But the Windows 8 developers — who are much smarter than you or I, obviously, and know better than we do — decided they weren’t going to wait for unreliable users who keep hitting “Postpone.” So they force a shutdown, usually in the middle of the day. And since Windows 8/8.1 updates are complicated affairs, the computer routinely takes 30 minutes to restart.

Meanwhile, the employee, locked out of the computer, is lost productivity. In some situations that I have seen, the computer might be a Point of Sale system, which means the register is down for business until Microsoft can get its act together.

It is also fairly common for Windows 8/8.1 updates to fail after 10 – 15 minutes, adding an additional retry. I have seen updates fail twice, bringing the total wait time for a reboot of Windows 8.1 to about 1 hour.

It would be bad enough if these updates merely took down an individual or a single point of sale station. What’s worse is when the server does the same thing. Since Server 2012 and 2012 R2 are based on the same code as Windows 8, they also force shutdown whenever they feel like it, and usually in the middle of the workday. There is nothing worse than getting a call from an irate client whose server has just kicked 12 engineers off of their work because it wants to install updates from 2:00 to 2:30 Thursday afternoon. You can bill Microsoft for that lost productivity, guys.

Now, I’m no software engineer, but if I were, I think I would have put in a requirement to NOT RESTART THE SERVER DURING BUSINESS HOURS. Sounds like a no-brainer, but again, I’m not a software engineer!

The solution? Disable automatic updates, of course! Install them manually when you have downtime. It’s ironic that we need to disable security updates in order to keep our companies productive. Pretty stupid, too, Microsoft. Fix it.

The Monopoly & Power of That Blue E on Your Windows Desktop

It’s harmless, right? Not only harmless, it’s the gateway to the World Wide Web — and Microsoft has conveniently put it right there under your nose, you are just a click away from their MSN website and their Bing search engine. Isn’t that nice of them to do you that service?

By now you should have realized that Microsoft has never done anything to be nice or helpful. Never. Ever. Unless cameras were there while they gave a computer to a school in Africa or something, but even that was for the extra attention, not out of the goodness of anyone’s heart.

And that browser icon? It looks like they’re doing you a favor, giving you access to the #2 search engine and a news magazine (à la AOL.com circa 1996). But looking more deeply at the numbers, you come to realize that the browser baked into your desktop is the only reason Bing is so popular. In Europe, where IE was banned over a decade ago, Bing accounts for less than 10% of Internet searches. That means that in countries where the IE browser is preloaded, the sheer force of inertia (people NOT choosing their own search engine) is the reason Bing is on the list at all.

Google’s billions of dollars that come through advertising revenue are a strong beacon to anyone who can compete — especially Microsoft, a company with a history of using its monopoly to put [potential] competitors out of business. Having IE preloaded on your computer is just another way they take advantage of their effective monopoly status to make more money. Nothing to do with quality or results. Just money.

God Bless America. With all this money running the legal system, we need it.

 

Source of statistics: http://www.smartinsights.com/search-engine-optimisation-seo/multilingual-seo/search-engine-popularity-statistics/