Wednesday 27 February 2013

The Subjective And Out-Of Date Recommendation Post

Probably the second biggest bane of an IT professional's life is being asked for recommendations. (We've already discussed the first). So we're going to take our life into our hands and make some. However, please be aware that they are purely what we like and you may not get on with them. And if you are reading this any time after the day it was posted, then it's out of date.

Dell: Reasonably priced, decent equipment. After-service is pretty ropey though and upgrade prices can be a little steep.
Novatech: Get what you pay for machines, not always the cheapest, but after sales and services is good.
HP & Compaq: Nice equipment, but you get the feeling you're paying more because of the name plate on the front.
Acer: Nice laptops.
Mac: Expensive and not for big game players, but look pretty and are user friendly.

Firstly, the anti-recommendation...
Panda, Norton and McAfee: Overblown monsters that want to take over your entire system. They will slow your computer down and it's a matter of time before you have a problem that was caused by them. McAfee isn't too hot at detecting some basic and common viruses either.
AVG/Avira: One word - free. And for the regular PC user they provide ample protection.
AVComparitives is a useful comparison tool and Bitdefender won its Product of the Year award, with Kaspersky not far behind.

Office software
Microsoft Office: Fine but there's a good chance you won't use everything you've paid for.
LibreOffice: All the mainstream parts of Microsoft's offering with a 100% price difference.

iPad: Still at the top of the heap but there are a number of viable alternatives. Worth trying a few before you commit.
Honorary mention: Paracetamol - Always read the label (True in IT too!)

Philips: Nice clear displays with good colours, recently been finding these to give good value for money too.
LG: Good Prices, good contrast ratios
Relisys: The monitors last, but the power packs fail, and they're not the run of the mill IEC leads which most monitors use, so you find yourself stuffed.

Canon, HP, Epson: Yes.
Lexmark: No.
And if you expect to print from an iPad, ensure the printer supports Airprint.

Trust: Don't. They're rubbish.

We'll try and update this post occasionally, so check back.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Your Password Is 'Out Of Date'

We spoke recently of the survival of the fax machine. There's another technology that has survived despite its inherent weaknesses - passwords.

As has been proved time and time again recently, passwords are all too often not a sufficient protection. We have written before of the importance of creating a strong password but it's almost impossible to get this flawlessly right all the time. In an ideal world, every account you own would have a different password. That password would be a minimum of 8 characters. It would include lowercase and uppercase characters, numbers and preferably some punctuation. No part of it would appear in a dictionary or be a date. Basically, it would be impossible to remember.

There are services that can generate and then store secure passwords. The flaw here is that you will either tick 'remember me', therefore giving anyone who gets hold of your device free access to your accounts, or you will rely on the service to remind you of what the password is. Access to that service is likely guarded by a single password and the circle is complete. If I can crack that password, all your accounts belong to me.

In addition, as computers become ever more powerful, they have the potential to crack passwords ever quicker. Somewhat ironically, graphics cards are better at this than processors. Any password is crackable. It's just a matter of time.

Two-step verification is a way forward. Google, Dropbox and a number of other services offer this and it entails a constantly changing number generated by your phone that you have to type in after your password. Sadly, all too few services offer this and it does take longer to access your account. It's only a few seconds, but they add up.

Fingerprint and facial recognition have bee trialled with limited success. Also, most of these systems have a backup that, if recognition fails, will ask for a password. And here we are again.

So what's the way forward? There is space for a new technology that resolves these problems. But it'll take better men than me to come up with it. Any ideas? Comment below or on our Facebook page if that man or woman is you.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

The Paperless Office

In a slightly risky proposition, I've started writing this article without any clear answers, hoping that I will find them as we go. The question? What is stopping the paperless office?

It's been somewhat of a buzzword for years and it makes sense, on paper (Ha Ha, see what I did there?!). It would save trees, it would minimise clutter, it would speed up searches, it would minimise loss in the event of disaster. To elaborate...

Saving trees: not to be overly 'green', but it's basic maths. Less paper = more trees. More trees = good. So there's that.

Minimise clutter: this is basic business sense. Clear desk, clear mind and all that.

Speed up searches: now we're talking. If I want to find one piece of information that I know was posted to me at some point in the last year, that's going to take a significant amount of time. If I want to find something that has been emailed to me in the same period of time I can probably find it inside of five minutes. It doesn't matter how good your filing system is, if I am equally systematic in my method of electronic storage, I will find it first.

Minimise loss: this is quite a biggie actually. If your office burned down now, what would you lose? If your answer included anything that you consider important and of which the only copies are now ash, you could be in trouble. A good electronic backup (one that is safely stored off-site, either via removable drives or cloud storage) will allow to set up at another location and continue with minimal disruption. In other words, it may well save your business.

So why, in the 21st century, is this still a dream? Let me think...

I suppose there's a comfort factor to paper. As humans we are often rubbish with change and committing to purely an electronic method appears to a step too far.

There's a perception of speed with paper. If someone phones up and says to me 'can I give you a phone number,' I'm going to grab a sticky-note and a pen. It's unlikely I'm going to open a document on my PC, type in the number and save it with some meaningful file name. Effectively, as soon as the computer is off I've lost access to that information. But aren't tablets changing that? Or phones for that matter?

Then there's signing stuff. If I need a document signing I'm going to post or fax it. This probably goes toward explaining the otherwise inexplicable survival of the fax machine, mid-20th century tech. Digital signatures - not a name but a code unique to you - exist but have never really taken off. And again, tablets could be the answer as it is possible to sign an electronic document, as most of us do when we receive a parcel.

Why else is the paperless office not happening? Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.

Friday 8 February 2013


With mobile technology becoming more and more accessible to the general user and the advancement of such technology over the years, it's not uncommon to see people taking their tech into work with them or using such technology instead of work issued equipment.

BYOD or Bring Your Own Device has steadily become a bit of a nightmare for IT Departments because staff are keen to use their devices through work networks, but as ownership of the equipment belongs to the user and not the company, it becomes hard to impose restrictions upon the levels in which the user may gain access.

Is there an answer? Not an immediate or clear one, no. The reason is that staff want access but don't want their equipment touched by the IT team and the IT team don't want the users to have unchecked access or confidential work data on a personal device.

There are a few options:-

  • Have a "Use our equipment or nothing" policy. This will cost the company a little more if technology is required. It will also mean that the user may possibly carry around two phone devices, but the security control on the work device remains under the control of the company.
  • Allow personal devices within the workplace and hook them onto an independent WiFi router which bypasses the main network, keeping the two separate.
  • Allow personal devices to be used, but maintain a strict watch over what kind of company information is accessible to those users
I don't think that there is a perfect scenario. Each company will have to make a decision on the trust and size of their personnel, but with a bit of planning and ensuring that policies are in place, BYOD can be beneficial to all.