With access to the final RTM version of Microsoft Windows 8, I just had to get a computer that would handle the wealth of new features. Although Windows 8 will not be available pre-installed on new hardware before October 26th of this year, I did a good bit of searching before I settled on the new A720 27″ IdeaCenter all-in-one computer. The A720 according to Lenovo is built for Windows 8, and includes full 10 point multi-touch (most current touchscreen all-in-ones have 2 point touch) which is amazing to see in action (try the piano app for one!). The A720 I got also has an intel third generation i5 processor, 6 GB of RAM, built in tv-tuner, Blue Ray, Bluetooth and HDMI in and out.
I figured I would try doing an upgrade to the pre-installed Windows 7 so that I would be able to take advantage of some of the pre-installed Lenovo apps as well as perhaps having an easier time with drivers etc. I am still not sure this was the best route to take as I did have to do a bit of tweaking to get everything to work. According to the Lenovo website, they recommend uninstalling most of the pre-installed applications, but I only uninstalled a few that I knew would have issues, such as the basically worthless Mcaffee security software.
The actual installation I will cover in a future post, but for the most part, it was quick and painless, and certainly a much quicker upgrade installation that previous versions of Windows I have done. Once I got the correct drivers updated and installed, I began to play around with the Windows 8 interface using the native touchscreen. While I had previously installed Windows 8 on a few machines, none of them had touch and I hadn’t been able to really see the wonders of a touchscreen with the Windows 8 interface.
Using touch on the Lenovo A720 is fluid and easy, and the Windows 8 charms menu seemed much easier to use with a flick of a finger. Pinching and zooming was also a thrill that most people are used to on their smartphones, but never get to use on their computers. I have found that there are many times that I just don’t want to use a keyboard now, especially when browsing the web. With the use of the touchscreen and the built in speech recognition that has been part of Windows since Vista, there are many things that I can now do without need of the keyboard, and for those times when I do need one, I can always use the on screen keyboard if needed.
This isn’t to say that I want to type a long article or document using the onscreen keyboard, and despite the much improved accuracy of speech recognition, the old school part of me does have the need to keyboard it when writing an article (perhaps it is part of the whole ‘process’ of writing), but the A720 with Windows 8 does have me using a keyboard much less. The new Start page (there is no more start button on the desktop, much to the dismay of many), is actually pretty cool with its live tabs and views that give you a quick insight into things like your email, news, weather, social media etc. I am not sure whether I can use it fully as a replacement of the start button, so I have made my own sort of workaround by writing a small script which copies my start menu items to a folder on the desktop every time I logon, then by adding desktop to the taskbar I have a working kind of start menu that gives me quick access to my programs as well as common folders etc.
Windows 8 is a wonder to behold in many ways, and while I think that most people will not see a huge difference between it and Windows 7 (except for the start menu issue), there are plenty of features that I really like including the new task manager which really has undergone a fantastic evolution, as well as the new and improved Windows Explorer which now features the Microsoft Office type bars instead of the old menu driven system.
Windows 8 is very quick to boot up, and pretty darn responsive in multi-tasking and web browsing, although I do find myself using the desktop browser pretty much exclusively due to the inability of the app browser to use plug-ins (although that feature may certainly save a lot of grief for those who click too much and get viruses malware often).
The Lenovo A720 is definitely a fine choice for the Windows 8 Experience, and I will follow up soon with posts on the installation/upgrade as well as some feature focuses.
Windows 8 comes out to the public on October 28th, but if you have purchased or will purchase a machine with Windows 7 on it between June 2 and January 31st 2013 you can qualify for the Windows 8 upgrade offer with which you can get upgraded to Windows 8 Professional for $14.99 here in the US
For questions about the upcoming Windows 8, or upgrade information for local Pensacola Florida businesses and home users, please visit: http://pensacolacomputers.com for contact information. We have been working with Windows 8 throughout the development cycle and can help you migrate, upgrade or start out fresh with Windows 8.
Once again it is hurricane season with an imminent threat looming over the gulf coast. It is time to prepare for the storm and this includes protecting our valuables including our data as best we can. One of the often overlooked things in the rush to evacuate or stay and ride out the storm (not advised if evacuations are recommended) is the protection of our technology, our computers and most importantly the data stored on them. Having a good backup plan is extremely important as today we often have irreplaceable and important data stored on our computers.
For both business and home users, it is recommended to have a two stage backup plan in force at all times, this includes an on-site removable backup device as well as online backup storage. Keeping a full backup of your computer on a removable hard drive is the best way to ensure a quick recovery in case of disaster as you can store an image of your entire computer on a backup drive. If you are running Windows Vista, Windows 7, or have Server 2008 (R2), there is a Windows Backup program that will make an entire image of your computer for you. If you are still running Windows XP, you can get a third party backup tool, such as Acronis to help you create a computer image backup. You should also have online backup, such as Carbonite, or IBackup as a second line of backup. Online backup will help give you piece of mind should anything happen to your on-site backup, but it is not recommended as your only backup due to the time involved in restoring everything (downloading an entire computer’s worth of data from the internet can take a very long time!).
The best case scenario in case of a hurricane is to take your computer with you, however this is not always practical, and in the case of businesses almost impossible. For businesses it is recommended to move or remove your servers if at all possible before the storm. For computers that must be left behind, it is recommended that both the power and ethernet cables be removed before a storm to prevent electrical shocks from entering the systems – this is true for all electronic devices as well! Also, if the systems are in an area that could possibly be effected by roof leakage or flooding it is recommended that if they cannot be removed, that they are set up off the floor and covered with a water barrier such as heavy plastic bag or tarp.
Having good backup plans as well as equipment protection plans in place is the best way to ensure the safety of your data, and when it comes to irreplacable data, multiple backups are always recommended.
For questions regarding backup systems and backup plans, visit http://pensacolacomputers.com
There is a virus/malware computer scam going around that we have seen already on a number of computers here in Pensacola, FL called the FBI MoneyPak Rasomware aka the Reveton Trojan. This little nasty locks up your computer and programs and tells you that you are guilty of either download illegal copywrited material or porn and that you could be fined and or go to jail. It then tells you that your computer is locked until you follow the instructions and pay $100 or $200 dollars via MoneyPak. The page that is show with the warning may also have the ability to activate your webcam which scares people even more into thinking this is legit – it is NOT legit!!!
The warning also tells you your ISP, which is easy enough to do from any webpage, which is what the warning actually is.
Thankfully, the guys over at bleepingcomputer.com have a guide to help remove this particular nasty – http://www.bleepingcomputer.com/virus-removal/remove-fbi-monkeypak-ransomware - just be careful in doing so as using any of these tools can cause issues if not used properly. If you have any questions, or prefer to have someone else help you remove this, head over to http://pensacolacomputers.com and give us a call.
I am often asked by people if they think they have to get a new computer or can their new one last a bit longer? This is often more of a personal choice unless the old computer is dead or near death. Personally I believe that technology should work for you, and that you should not have to wait on your computer any more than absolutely neccessary. However, just running out and buying a new computer can be a somewhat daunting task – what kind of computer? how much memory? how big of a hard drive?, what kind of graphics? All of these answers will of course depend on your own needs, but there are certainly things you can do to narrow down the choices.
Before you decide to take the plunge, you should look at whether your old computer just needs a good computer service and repair. Sometimes, cleaning out the operating system, or reinstalling Windows can revitalize a lagging system, at other time you may be able to add some RAM memory to increase the capabilities and give your computer a bit longer lifespan. Often, people have accumulated many unneeded programs on their computers which may be slowing it down. In addition, spyware, malware, and adware can be hampering your system. Either of these problems can normally be fixed fairly easily with a bit of time and patience.
You might also be holding on to an old Windows XP machine because you are comfortable with it – while XP was a great a pretty stable operating system, it is going on 11 year old now and is just not capable of keeping up with today’s technology on many levels. If you are still using XP, it is definitley time to plan the upgrade – most XP machines (if they were made for XP) will not easily run a later version of Windows due to lack of hardware drivers, so attempting to upgrade these systems is generally not advised.
Windows 8 is due out later this year, and if Microsoft and the manufacturers run the upgrade process as the have in the past, sometimes the best thing to do is wait until they (hopefully) announce the free upgrade of Windows 7 systems bought after a certain date, and then scoop up one of the Windows 7 systems that comes with a free upgrade to Windows 8 (hopefully at a discount as manufacturers often want to clear their inventory before a new version of Windows arrives). Of course if you want the latest and greatest in hardware, waiting until the first (or second) wave of Windows 8 systems might be a good idea.
Windows 8 is going to bring a lot of changes, and some people may not want to take the initial time to learn something new – for those people, I recommend waiting a bit to see exactely what other people say about upgrading. You can test out Windows 8 by downloading the free consumer preview here: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/consumer-preview
Wolfram Alpha [http://www.wolframalpha.com/], the self-proclaimed “computational knowledge engine” that produces all manner of calculations and factoids from a given input, has been around in its current, free-to-use form since 2009. Last month, however, the makers of the engine unveiled Wolfram Alpha Pro [http://www.wolframalpha.com/pro/], a subscription-based service that offers an even wider range of features.
Where the free version of Wolfram Alpha accepts input only as text, through a search-engine-style interface, the Pro variant can process uploaded documents. Images [http://www.wolframalpha.com/examples/ImageInput.html] can be analyzed and processed with different filters; text in the image can be read into an editable form. Spreadsheets can be uploaded to allow mass computation of various attributes, rather than entering individual equations and numbers as the free version would require. Audio files can be analyzed, and various scientific, mathematical, and geometric formats can also be interpreted.
In addition to the increased format compatibility, Wolfram Alpha Pro also increases the interactivity [http://www.wolframalpha.com/pro/interactive-features.html] of produced results. Parameters of equations can be altered in real-time, without the need to re-submit the equation. 3D graphics and enhanced visualizations allow for results to be more easily interpreted; the ability to zoom and scale output is new to the Pro version. Furthermore, results produced are more in-depth, as Pro users receive additional computation time on all their queries.
Wolfram Alpha Pro is available from the Wolfram Alpha site [http://www.wolframalpha.com/pro/]. Subscriptions start at $4.99 per month, though special discounts are available for students and educators.
On today’s internet, you can never be too careful about what you view or download. A good antivirus is essential for anyone using the internet for more than the most basic of tasks, but there are many options available, and they are not equal in the quality or degree of protection they provide.
Two of the most popular Antivirus software’s are Norton’s antivirus and Mcaffee, unfortunately, due to their popularity and the fact that they are pre-installed as trial versions on so many computers, these are often the first two Antivirus software’s that virus writers work to disable and this greatly reduces their effectiveness. While there are quite a few advanced security suites that are fee based, the comprehensive solutions too often bombard the user with constant pop-ups asking what to do, and for most people these become such an annoyance that they either just click on them to get them out of the way, or disable them, which defeats the purpose of having those features in the first place. Generally for most users, a free version of one of the current Antivirus software’s will provide adequate protection with minimal annoyance.
A good choice, and one that comes without costly subscriptions, is Avast Free Antivirus [http://www.avast.com/en-us/index]. Avast is a very old brand, originating in 1988 as a tiny program designed by two Czechoslovakian university students to remove the then-common Vienna virus. Today, it is a major competitor in the antivirus market, with over 150 million users. The latest iteration of the software has three versions (Free, Pro, and Internet Security) [http://www.avast.com/en-us/free-antivirus-download]. The Pro and Internet Security versions come with some additional features, such as spam blocking and an integrated firewall, but for the majority of users, the free version provides enough security.
The most basic component of Avast (and any antivirus) is the ability to scan your computer for malware and then to remove any that is found. In this field, Avast can hold its own with other similar products. What makes Avast great, however, is the inclusion of so many extra features. First, there’s an entire suite of real-time scanners, checking websites, network connections, emails, and even scripts running in the background. If any signs of malware or suspicious behaviors are found, Avast will alert you and provide options to terminate the connection or process before damage can be done. Also included is “sandbox mode”, which isolates programs from accessing any important system files until you approve them as safe. Avast also makes use of cloud streaming technology. It uses this technology both to stream updates to your computer and to keep a database of programs. When a program is run, Avast checks against the cloud database to see what the reputation of the program is. If the program has been marked as dangerous or is unknown to Avast, it will warn you and offer to run the program in sandbox mode until you decide whether to risk it.
For our Pensacola area readers, if your computer does become infected with a virus, there are a few posts here you might want to read such as “Pensacola – Why do I keep getting viruses and malware on my computer?, and “Pensacola Computers Presents – How to Use System Restore in XP”
Alas, if you cannot get past a nasty virus, please visit http://pensacolacomputers.com where you can find information to help you or contact info for immediate computer service and repair.
“The cloud” is something of a buzzword these days: there’s lots of talk about it, but not everyone knows what it means. Windows Live SkyDrive [http://explore.live.com/skydrive] is a cloud-based document storage service, and what that means is that it can keep your documents safe from damage or getting lost, allow you to copy those documents to any computer at any time, and enable you to share documents via email or collaborative editing. The cloud component refers to where these documents are stored; rather than keeping them on your computer, they are in a password-protected portion of the Microsoft servers, completely isolated from the various threats that go along with everyday internet usage.
SkyDrive is integrated directly with the latest version of Microsoft Office (Office 2010). What this means for the user is that files typed up in Office programs, like Word and Excel, can be saved directly to SkyDrive [http://explore.live.com/skydrive-get-started?T1=t2], saving you the hassle of uploading them yourself. In addition, new Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote documents can be created directly within SkyDrive, and the use of Office Web Apps allows said documents to be edited directly. The Web Apps also allow for collaborative editing [http://explore.live.com/skydrive-share-photos-files?T1=t4], so multiple people can work simultaneously on the same document without the clutter of multiple copies or edit merging.
Another use for SkyDrive is photo sharing [http://explore.live.com/skydrive-get-started?T1=t4]. Whereas normally sending photos in an email would require attaching them individually, and thus being subject to attachment size limits and inbox clutter, SkyDrive can be used to store entire albums of photos and then simply linked to in the email. The recipient can then browse and download photos from the SkyDrive at their leisure. At the same time, permissions can be set on the SkyDrive so as to keep some documents private while others are available to anyone.
While SkyDrive is currently somewhat of a standalone product, it will be much more heavily integrated in Windows 8 [http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2012/02/20/connecting-your-apps_2c00_-files_2c00_-pcs-and-devices-to-the-cloud-with-skydrive-and-windows-8.aspx]. An app under the new Metro interface will allow SkyDrive files to be easily accessed and browsed outside of a browser, as well as making said files and the SkyDrive itself available from any other app. This is built-in alongside the open and save functions, so any app that can access files can access cloud storage through SkyDrive.
One of the greatest thing about Skydrive is the price – Skydrive is Free! 25GB of storage for your files for free! Skydrive apps are available for Windows Phone and iOS and there are currently a number of thrid part Android apps as well as the new OneNote for Android app just released from Microsoft that lets you access your notes on Skydrive from an Android phone.
“qwerty”, “monkey”, and “abc123”. These are the 4th, 5th, and 6th most-used passwords of 2011, according to a study [http://splashdata.com/splashid/worst-passwords/index.htm] released by password management software company Splashdata. Also on the list are classics like “123456” and, of course, “password”. It should be obvious to just about anyone that passwords like these are not especially good ones, so why do people keep using them? The mere fact that a password is present is no guarantee of security. Hackers and those wishing to gain unauthorized access to a system have any number of tools at their disposal to help them discover and thus bypass passwords. This does not mean that placing password protection in the way is futile, however. The better the password, the longer it will take for hackers to go through or around it.
So what makes a good password? Cracking passwords is a matter of time, and the time depends on how many characters the program doing the cracking is required to guess. Consider a password with nothing but lowercase letters (a bad idea, but one that will be covered later). There are 26 letters, and thus 26 possibilities for each character. A one-character password thus has 26 possibilities, and for every character past that, the number of potential passwords is increased by 26. A password with five characters has over eleven million possible combinations. Keep in mind, however, that it is a computer doing the cracking in most cases, a machine capable of performing millions of calculations in seconds. That five character, lowercase letters only password would be broken in mere moments by a dedicated hacker. But now consider adding a single uppercase letter in place of a lowercase one. This doubles the number of potential values per character, so that the time-to-crack is increased by a factor of thirty. Adding numbers to the mix triples that time. Then we have what are known as “special characters”, the set including things like punctuation, brackets, symbols, and the like. Since there are tons of these characters, and no pattern to guess which one might be inserted where, the resulting delay in cracking is huge. Special characters can make any password vastly harder to break.
Up to this point, we’ve been discussing a mere five character password, but now we come to one of the most important points: length. Even when using only lowercase letters, increasing the length of the password by one letter multiplies the field of potential passwords by 26. A long password, even without variation in the characters, is much harder to crack by brute force. There are other types of password crackers to worry about, however. The dictionary cracker, for instance, runs through a dictionary stored in its memory and tries every word. Using “elephant” as your password might befuddle a brute force cracker, but the dictionary hacker would figure you out in no time at all. Don’t try to play around with substituting numbers for letters in common words (“passw0rd”) either, as hackers have long since grown wise to this trick and programmed their tools to check for such substitutions; the same goes abbreviations (“trustno1”) and common character sequences (“123456”, “abcde”) . Nonsense passwords, or those which have meaning only to you, are better choices; you won’t find “18kaff?kaff!92cake” in any dictionary, and a brute-force cracker would take months, if not years, to bypass it.
The last point of importance is less about passwords and more about how you use them. While it might be tempting to come up with one good password and use it for all your important business, keep in mind that not all websites are equal in terms of security. If a single site turns out to be less trustworthy than you thought, and hackers gain access to their databases, your password could be handed to them on a silver platter, potentially allowing them access to any accounts, like your facebook or email, using the same password. If you’re really concerned about security, it’s best to change your passwords every few months, ensuring that even if someone got access to old account records, their information would be obsolete and useless.
After completing 10 OfficeMate upgrade/installations I have come across a number of items that bear discussing as well as a few questions I have run into from others.
When installing OfficeMate v 10.5 on XP workstations, many times you will get a 2 file registration errors – clicking through these seems to still give a successful install.
After a successful server install, if you have installed the client on the server (which I highly recommend doing if not just for troubleshooting issues), and you cannot connect from a networked client workstation, more than likely it is a firewall issue on the server – disable the firewall on the server to see, and if you can then connect, turn the firewall back on and set the proper firewall rules for your SQL server.
Performance issues: In my experience, OfficeMate should have approx the same performance on a workstation as it did on version 8 even if it is below the minimum requirements. **Note: The performance of OfficeMate/ExamWriter v 10.5 may be severely impacted if you are not running a good enough server. Follow the recommended hardware requirements for the server and understand that those requirements are generally fine as long as you are using your server as only a database and or terminal server – this means you generally should NOT use this server as a Domain Controller, DSN or DHCP server etc as these roles can have a huge impact on OfficeMate performance when the server is under load. Also, if using OfficeMate add-on applications such as ECR vault, make sure that your server Exceeds the requirements. Generally I go for dual quad core Xeon processors, minimum 12 GB RAM, and minimum 3 high speed enterprise class hard drives in RAID 5 (Hardware RAID).
Accessing older access backups once you have converted to SQL server: I have had a few people ask my how they could open up a prior Access based backup once they had upgraded to versoin 10.5 with SQL – in short, the easiest way is to use a virtual machine and install OfficeMate 8 on the virtual machine (Windows 7 Pro has the ability to run a virtual version of XP natively - http://www.microsoft.com/windows/virtual-pc/ )
Windows 7 issues – I have run into a few scenarios where the proper Omate32.ini file was not put properly into the user profile. You should have this file in users/%username%/My Documents/Windows/ – if you are getting database errors on startup and are sure your firewall issues with the server have been resolved, check for this file and make sure it is there. (I always keep a working copy of this file on a server share for ease of copying).
Backups: If you are unfamiliar with how to do a SQL dump backup see this article : http://www.codeproject.com/Articles/113461/Schedule-a-daily-backup-with-SQL-Server-Express . You can also use backup services such as IBackup with the MS SQL Server backup plugin which automate the SQL database backup nicely.
* Pensacola Computers is not officially connected to OfficeMate software in any way, and all opinions stated are my own observations and you may experience different results. This guide is meant only as a narrative of my own experiences and is current as of the date posted.
I have been working as an IT consultant with Optometrists that use OfficeMate for over 6 years and have installed OfficeMate numerous times for 9 different practices. I have successfully done 10 upgrades in the past few months and assisted on a few others. Please feel free to contact me via my contact info at http://pensacolacomputers.com with any questions.
Unfortunately, in my job I see a lot of computers that have gotten a virus or malware and need to be fixed (and not just PC’s but Mac’s as well lately). While some infections are due to lack of adequate protection – up-to-date antivirus and antimalware/antispyware software, others are due to people falling prey to social engineered malware (fake links on facebook etc), or people accidentally clicking on things, or one of the ones I really dislike – a virus coming in through one of the mass forwarded emails.
It is a misconception that just because you have antivirus/antimalware software that it will protect you 100% – even the best software is hard pressed to protect a computer when someone allows something to come in by clicking ok, yes, or installing questionable software or downloading questionable files (yes, all of the people using limewire, frostwire, or torrent software – you all are at risk every time you download a shared file!). Many times a virus or malware will get onto a computer because someone has installed some ‘toolbar’, ‘searchbar’, screen-saver, coupon printer, rebate searcher, or other such program like those worthless ‘speed up my computer’ programs that are either badly written or are actually malicious and downloads other bad software behind the scenes. **Special note: Almost ALL of the speed up my PC programs are basically worthless and can often do much more damage to your computer than good. Anything that messes with the Windows Registry can damage your Windows installation if it remove the wrong things, and many of them do that!
So what can you do to better protect yourself and your computer from these nasties? Here is a short list of things that I always recommend following to eliminate the most common ways that a computer can get a virus, malware or spyware.
1. Never click on links from social networks such as facebook, or links in emails – regardless of what a link says it is, it can easily be made to hide something else. What you can do is right click on the link, select ‘copy shortcut’ then paste that into the address bar of your browser to see what it really is (or if you have the status bar in your browser enabled, you can often see it there) – if you don’t recognize the link or it looks suspicious – DON’T GO THERE!
2. Never open email attachments unless you specifically know that the specific person who sent you that specific email was sending you that specific attachement – too often people will get an email from a friend or family member that has an attachment and that attachment is a virus that a virus on their computer sent without them even knowing about it. If you don’t know what it is, and weren’t expecting it – DON’T OPEN IT!
3. Don’t download songs, software, videos etc from file sharing networks – when you use software such as Limewire, Frostwire, Vuze, or other torrent or file sharing software to download things you always take a big risk because you have no way of knowing where exactly the files are coming from, or if they have been altered – even a song can hide a virus or malware within it and it won’t activate until you play it. Also the majority of software ‘cracks’ or ‘activators’ have malicious viruses in them. Not to mention that downloading copywrited material is also illegal
4: Keep your antivirus and antimalware/antispyware software as well as your operating system software up to date! It is always important to update your system regularly as the software updates often carry fixes for security issues that have been found and without them you are much more vulnerable. Also update your OS to the latest version (yes, if you are still running Windows XP you might have to get a new computer, but XP is 11 years old and was never designed to handle today’s internet).
5: Beware programs like coupon printers, rebate searches, search toolbars, browser add-on’s, screen savers, and especially the fix all or speed up pc programs. Many times these programs are either malicous themselves or are so poorly coded that they make it much easier for bad things to get onto your computer – IF IT ISN’T FROM A TRUSTED SOURCE – DON’T INSTALL IT!
If your computer does get a virus, try to remove it with your antivirus/antimalware/antispyware software, or you can try to do a Windows system restore to a time before you got the virus (as opposed to a full computer factory restore which will wipe all your data).
Got a virus or malware and not sure what to do? If you run into something particularly nasty or need some advice on how to get rid of something, or just need great computer service or computer repair, visit http://pensacolacomputers.com and give us a call.