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Expert Articles

An impressive training resource for software .. and lots more besides

When computers first started to encroach into business, it was usual for training to accompany a new system. This enabled the company to get the best out of the system and employees to be most productive. These days however, upgrades are done, new systems introduced and new employees are often “plonked” in front of the computer and expected to work it out. This has become so endemic that many training companies have fallen by the wayside … and it shows.

During my daily rounds I often see people from receptionists to MD's fraught with software, newer versions of common applications like Office and new operating systems; it is a frequent occurrence for someone to confide in me that they are struggling. As technicians we can often address specific queries, but where do you go to these days to get something a little more comprehensive and structured?

I personally had cause to get my head around some specific features of Microsoft Project; so I headed off to YouTube .... where else? I discovered a very informative video tutorial published by a US company called Lynda.com which coupled with a recommendation from one of my weekly podcasts; then led me to trial their full services. I have to say I was impressed.

After the trial they offer personal, academic and business accounts starting from £12.95 per month (if paid annually) or £14.95 on a month by month basis. Definately worth a look I think.

Get 10 days of free unlimited access to lynda.com

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Advisory: Windows 10 upgrade – a cautionary note for business users

In the next few weeks, Microsoft is rolling out Windows 10, and for uses of Windows 8 and Windows 7 this is a free upgrade. Users will start to see an icon on their system offering the opportunity to update. I have included an example of what you should see opposite

We have been using Windows 10 for some months through its various beta stages and we like it very much, however; we would caution you and your team not to follow through on any upgrades before first carefully considering the implications. It is known that older versions of Office will not work with Windows 10, but our real concern is for legacy 3rd party applications and devices you may rely on and their compatibility ... especially for those updating from Windows 7.

The update is due to start rolling out from the 29th July 2015.

It is our intention to publish compatibility between applications and Windows 10 here. This is likely to be an dynamic list and as we discover or encounter issues we shall update appropriately

Hardware Compatability

Current "preview" Microsoft requirements for your PC or laptop. This should be representative of the full release: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/preview-faq-system-requirements-pc

Software Compatability

(Updated 2nd June 2015) Current advice is that the same applications that work with Windows 8.1 should work with Windows 10, however you may end up reinstalling them .. so ensure you have any disk and / or keys available for your applications. Although Windows 10 doesnt yet have an upgrade advisor, Windows 8.1 does have one and it is available here http://windows.microsoft.com/en-gb/windows-8/upgrade-assistant-download-online-faq 

(Updated 2nd June 2015) Office 2003 is not compatible with Windows 8.1 and therefore by extension Windows 10. Likewise Visio 2003, Project 2003 and Access 2003 runtime derivatives are problematic . Office 2007 is shown as compatible according to the Windows Compatibility Centre

(Updated 2nd June 2015) Sage Accounts: Sage Accounts 2011 v 17 - not compatible. Sage 50 Accounts 2012 v 18 - compatible. Sage 50 Accounts 2013 v 19 - compatible. Sage 50 Accounts 2015 v 21 - compatible. (Source: Windows Compatibility Centre)

(Updated 2nd June 2015) Sage Payroll: Sage 50 Payroll 2008 - not compatible. Sage 50 Payroll 2010 - not compatible. Sage Instant Payroll v 12 - compatible. Sage 50 Payroll v 18 - compatible. (Source: Windows Compatibility Centre)

(Updated 2nd June 2015) Intuit QuickBooks:  Intuit QuickBooksPro 2007- not compatible. QuickBooks 2008 Pro v 18 - not compatible. QuickBooks 2009 Pro v 19 - not compatible. QuickBooks 2010 Pro v 20 - compatible. QuickBooks 2011 Pro v 21- compatible. QuickBooks 2012 Pro and upwards - compatible (Source: Windows Compatibility Centre).

Windows Compatability Centre

An excellent searchable resource and also includes a Windows 10 Preview check for many popular devices and applications http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/compatibility/CompatCenter/Home

 

 

This information is provided in good faith and based on information harvested from credible and verified sources, but no warranty is provided or implied. We advise you discuss in more detail with your IT support provider or software vendor prior to updating

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Lindsey Hall, MD of EasylifeIT explains that despite being the cause of some heavy weather recently; the cloud has a silver lining

Lindsey Hall - Managing Director of EasylifeIT™You will have doubtless seen the media frenzy surrounding the recent exposure of private pictures of high profile celebrities, reportedly obtained through compromised Apple iCloud accounts, which has generated many headlines recently; all very embarrassing for the individuals concerned and for Apple.


The cloud is increasingly being used not only by celebrities with a proclivity for naked selfies, but also by businesses large and small for services ranging from simple file storage to complete CRM (customer relationship management) and other databases.


Whilst the security of cloud based  data stores for general business are nowhere near as interesting or sensationalist to the headline writers, they certainly are to the owners of the files which can often include financial, confidential and commercially sensitive information, the type that most of us would really rather not see in the hands of unauthorised individuals or competitors.


While the cloud undoubtedly provides a myriad of compelling and difficult to resist benefits, giving a competitive advantage to businesses; security concerns have dogged the cloud concept since its inception, and is usually one of the first objections raised by my clients when discussing their options.


Last  February, at a joint press conference at RSA; Microsoft and Google declared that “that it's time to stop fearing cloud security and embrace the future.” In light of the recent hacking of iCloud accounts, should that now be revised? Should you consider moving some or all your most important and personal data off the cloud? Should this prevent you from considering a cloud based option?


The answer to that is an emphatic no!


 As with anything in life it is a question of relative risk vs benefit. I can’t personally see the appeal or fascination of taking naked selfies and it is doubtful that the hackers who expended considerable time and effort to seek out said pictures of international female celebrities will find equal motivation in the contents of a Cambridgeshire SME’s Dropbox account. That isn’t to say however that you should be complacent and the best way forward is to better secure your data


How do I do that?


The first step is simple; get a good password for your cloud system and ensure your colleagues do likewise. The recent iCloud breach was blamed on easily guessed passwords and this is the rule, not the exception. We frequently see individuals using the same, often weak and predictable password for many uses and if one is breached then all are consequently at risk. Mix it up a bit in terms of both complexity of password and also which passwords you use for each system. The Linkedin breach last year caused quite a panic; not because of the data on Linkedin itself necessarily, but because many used the same password as they used on their company networks and cloud systems.


What else can I do?


Avoid traps that can compromise your information in the first place. Ensure you have an effective antivirus. Be especially careful about clicking on suspicious emails or website links. Don’t respond to emails purporting to be from your provider, such as the very credible looking “Apple iCloud” email sent so us by a customer just last week; asking the recipient to click on a link and confirm their iCloud credentials. Refrain from downloading anything from untrusted websites, and try to stay off WIFI networks you can’t be sure are reputable.

Final thoughts


The last thing you should do is stop using the cloud because something went wrong. Similar to driving, which carries inherent risks, stay alert and be aware of what happens around you. Cloud security is generally fairly impressive, and while Apple, Google, Microsoft and the rest can undoubtedly (and will) do more,  the human element and desire to “get on” often leads to weak and overused passwords, easily researched security questions compounded by the casual use of WIFI networks where availability seems more important than security.
Don’t assume! You may not be an international movie star, however,  your data will be be of interest to someone, perhaps a competitor as an example, but equally don’t become risk averse and a cloud Luddite; there benefits far outweigh the risks and there are endless possibilities  you will miss.

 

Lindsey Hall

Published in Business Matters - Oct 2014

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The benefits of a server and Active Directory in a cloud world

It cannot be denied, the advent of the cloud has undoubtedly provided many benefits and introduced profound changes into the IT world. It has however, led to many companies who still make extensive use of local resources, simply not adopting or abandoning the idea of a local server. I believe this is an error for a growing company where reliability, security and management of data are increasingly important. Over recent months we have seen ever increasing examples of this when visiting and addressing the concerns and frustrations of new prospects.


Many small businesses can and do manage without Windows Server Active Directory, but in the long run trying to manage a fleet of unmanaged PC’s effectively and securely is often difficult to achieve and akin to trying to “herd cats”. Making life easier for IT support would feature pretty low down on the list of priorities for most companies, but think of this - what makes our life easy ultimately saves money for the customer, especially when using a “pay as you go” service.


Microsoft  now offers entry level server products such as “Server Essentials” which are inexpensive and extremely cost effective, providing the management and security features of its bigger brothers, which, when teamed with entry level server hardware and a couple of big disks, ensures a large, centralised and protected space to store your valuable files. This can be achieved for little more than the price of a professional NAS (network disks) device.


In summary, the key benefits to most organisations of a server and Active Directory are;

  • Enhanced data security through centralised data storage, user administration, security policies and groups.
  • Reduced burden of IT administration and associated costs by providing a single management point and the ability to deploy changes at the centre. Modern versions are also able to administrate and secure Microsoft cloud offerings such as Office 365.
  • Increased user productivity through automatic access to resources, roaming settings between PC’s and redirected folders.

If you are at the point of deciding to purchase, renew or abandon a local server, the benefits to many organisations of a local server and effective management are still as relevant in a cloud world as they ever were.

 

Lindsey Hall - EasylifeIT

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