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Windows 8.1- Keeping my fingers crossed

Windows 8.1 Preview

Windows 8.1 Preview

I’ve been using Windows 8 since November of 2012, and I really want to like it, but as much as I try to enjoy it, I really find it frustrating.

I’ve been using computers since the days of DOS (Disc Operating System) , and I skipped the move to Windows 3.1 and fought Windows 95. By the time Windows 98 was released, I had accepted that we were going to move forward with a GUI (Graphical User Interface) and mouse, but I continued to use command prompt and keyboard shortcut keys. When I finally embraced XP, it was awesome; and I can still whip around the interface with or without a mouse. XP was straightforward, nothing fancy, and did what it was supposed to do, which is why it’s been around as long as it has. I was even one of those few people who liked Vista (it ran beautifully on my Apple MacBook Pro). Windows 7 was – and is – solid, and again, I could navigate the system without the use of a mouse. When I replaced XP systems with Windows 7, a quick how-to lesson was all that was needed and my users were able to get back to business in no time. So when it was time to replace my last Windows 7 laptop, I decided to order it with Windows 8, since I had to learn the new operating system so I could assist my clients as they move off of XP. (See my first impression of Windows 8 here).

(Really if you are still on XP you NEED to start planning to move off before April 2014.)

My new system arrived and I planned to spend a few hours getting used to Windows 8 (it shouldn’t take more than that to get familiar with the operating system) and setting it up. Two hours in and I was beyond frustrated and I had clients needing assistance ASAP, and I couldn’t figure out the basics. By the time my husband arrived home that evening, I was fit to be tied. I complained about some of my struggles with Windows 8, and how I was under the gun to help my clients, and I couldn’t; and he said I was a “such a user”. Well guess what, I am a typical business user and I don’t have a day off to learn a new system.

After having to Google how to restart the system, then figuring it out, I couldn’t imagine how my clients were going to deal with it on their own. The very thought of  plopping a Windows 8 system on a client’s desk and walking away from it was terrifying. As I start replacing/upgrading XP systems, I am still recommending and installing Windows 7 for my clients.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are some really cool things with Windows 8 which I really like, but as it stands right now, I know my clients will hate the interface and will experience some of the same issues I did. The biggest complaints I have about Windows 8 are:

1. Too many clicks to get access the application/file I need. Overall, I find it takes longer to get to where I need to be.

2. Too many shortcut keys that don’t make any sense

3. That horrible “modern user interface”. This interface makes no sense for business use. I never use it, and curse loudly, with words that would make a trucker blush, every time I am popped into it.

For the sake of my clients, and many others, I hope Microsoft has taken a serious look at how corporate users use Windows 7 and make the operating more business-friendly. From what I have seen so far, it looks like 8.1 will be more business user friendly.  Looking forward to trying it. My 12 yr old son has already installed the preview and is enjoying the new features.

What are your thoughts on Windows 8 and Windows 8.1?

IT and Small Business – It’s the perfect fit!

MSBS Logo“I feel like my business is too small for my IT provider,” I hear on a regular basis.

These small companies are the companies I serve and work with, and so few of them get qualified, professional IT help. As an IT professional, you may think, “why would I want to work with a small business, when I could work with a larger firm, and have more benefits and career growth?” And you may be right, but only to a point.

87.5% of all Canadian businesses have 1-20 employees, and 54.9% of Canadian businesses only have 1-4 employees. These companies are the ones that need talented and qualified help the most. Unfortunately, they’re often the group receiving it the least. Small businesses cannot afford an expensive IT firm to come in and help them, so they end up bringing in someone who may not have the appropriate skill set, and that can lead to insecure, inefficient, and incorrectly configured equipment and networks; not to mention unhappy and frustrated users.

From proper networking and security, to backup strategies and remote access; there are so many technologies we can introduce to small businesses to make their companies more efficient. The technical concepts are no different than with big businesses, it’s just the scope.

Here are just a few rewarding reasons of being a part of this growing group of small business IT professionals:

Uniqueness – Every day, there’s something different. Within a single day, I can work on an accounting solution for a caterer, a remote access solution for a not-for-profit, and a backup strategy for a specialized piece of equipment for a manufacturer. You will always be learning, and coming up with new solutions to meet the unique needs of this group. Working with small businesses is, in my opinion, more exciting than with large ones (and yes, I have worked for very large companies). The budgets and needs are much smaller, so your solutions must be tailored to meet the current business structure, but always keeping the potential growth of the small business in your plan.

Sense of Community – Small businesses talk, work, and network together. With a small IT business of your own, you are also in the 54.9%. It’s amazing how we all help each other. It’s a great feeling knowing that you are supporting and growing your community.

Appreciation – These businesses are so grateful to have an honest and qualified person to assist them.  From my experience, many small businesses aren’t able to hire qualified assistance at a reasonable rate.  If you can come in, offer them the same solutions as the large IT firm, and do it at a fair and reasonable price; you will have a client and friend for life. Providing the correct solution allows them to focus on their business instead of the technology. The greatest compliment I have had from a small business is, “we never have to worry about the computers anymore, it just works”.

So before jumping into an IT department for a large company, consider working with small businesses.  It may end up being the most satisfying career you’ll ever have.

Statistic source: http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/061.nsf/eng/02715.html

Jammies to Bathing Suit – Wasn’t What I Expected

IMG_0302

My first attempt at the “four hour workweek” didn’t go quite as expected. My family and I had a great vacation, but I learned some valuable lessons about working from the beach.  The main issue was that there was no Internet availability. The hotel advertised Internet, but what they consider Internet access and what I consider Internet access are two different things. ,Maybe it was just this resort or maybe it is an issue in Cuba, but either way, I had no access to my clients, or even email. I did have my phone, and in the end, I did have to use it (for a personal issue), and now I am dreading the bill because I didn’t add a roaming plan for the week we were away. If I had known about the lack of Interne,t I would have added a roaming package for the week.

Before I travel again with the intention of working in my bathing suit, I will:

  1. Confirm high-speed Internet access is available.
  2. Add a roaming plan to my phone, even if I have access to Internet.
  3. Ensure a have backup IT support to assist.

On the upside, because I wasn’t able to check email or assist clients, I was able to spend that time working “on” (instead of “in”) the business; but more importantly, I was able to hang out with my kids. I hated the feeling that I had no idea what was happening at home, but my clients knew I was going to be away and promised they would only email if there was an emergency. This relieved some of my “unplugged anxiety”. There was only one minor issue and my backup was quickly able to resolve it. I believe this alone proves that when your IT support does their job correctly, there really is no reason for your IT support to be on-site, excluding hardware issues. If your IT support is always on-site, or you have constant problems, then it may be time to consider having a second opinion.

Our next trip, aiming for the end of January, will probably be in the Florida Keys, where Internet access should not be an issue. I will also add a roaming plan so I can truly work from the beach, if I wish.

I can now take my experiences and help my clients work after they, too, get to play in the waves.

Are You A Prisoner To Your Tech Support?

It’s Monday morning and you come into the office to discover that your network is down for unknown reasons.  You call your IT Professional, only to find out that he/she has been in a serious accident and is in critical condition.  You quickly Google for another “tech” in the area, and call and explain the situation to him/her.  As each moment passes, you are unable to do your job.  Later that day, you see your “geek angel” in the front lobby and you are immediately relieved knowing your problem is going to be fixed.  He/she takes a look at your infrastructure, and tries to access some resources.  He/she suspects it’s a problem on the server, and needs an account with administrative privilege to resolve the issue.  You look at the specialist, and with a sinking feeling, you realize that you don’t have passwords, account information, or any other useful documentations, and the situation quickly goes from bad to worse.

Those of you who know me will hear me refer to the “hit by the bus file”.  This is a file, paper or electronic that documents your entire IT implementation.  Consider this…one day you need IT support and you call your “IT guy” and find out he was crossing the road and was hit by a bus.  You now have to bring in someone else who has never seen your systems or implementation before, and this new person will have to figure out how your tech fits together before he/she can even start to assist you.  He/she can’t start to take anything apart to troubleshoot if they don’t know how to put it back together again for your implementation.  It’s very much like a completed puzzle.  You can see how all the pieces fit together, but without the picture on the box to refer to, the puzzle may not easily go back together again if some of the pieces need to be modified.

Your IT support person is also not un-replaceable.  Any person who holds your IT structure to themselves is (in my opinion) either selfish, lazy, or is hiding something.  Yes, this may sound harsh, but in my experience, it almost always comes down to one of these three factors.

1. Selfish – they want to feel like they are a key element of your companys structure.  You and your data are now hostage of your IT support.

2. Lazy – they don’t want to take the time to document your structure.  This should be part of the contract, and a professional will always include this.

3. Hiding Something – they might not use legitimate/legal software and this could be their way to hide it (follow-up post to come).

You are now at the mercy of whoever holds your information.  You are trapped.

As a small business owner, you need to be responsible for both your data and network.

Your trustworthy IT Professional should be leaving you:

  1. All usernames and passwords for all equipment
  2. A list of all service providers, including ISPs, and any hosting service
  3. A backup number to call
  4. A network schematic
  5. Documentation for custom application
  6. A list and location of all software installers
  7. Backup procedures
  8. Router configuration

This file should be updated whenever there is a change to the infrastructure.  For example, you change your ISP, or add a new file server.  As someone trying to help you, there is nothing more frustrating than realizing the documentation you have is not accurate.

Keeping your documentation current and accurate is critical in protecting your data. If your IT specialist (either on contract or on payroll) does not provide this information, you are at risk of becoming a “prisoner”.  Take the case of Terry Childs, the network administrator for the city of San Francisco.  He refused to give up the administrative passwords to his supervisors, and it cost the city almost $900,000 USD to regain control of their own network.  This is an extreme case, but it demonstrates what can and has happened.

What is the cost of your systems being unusable?  What if those systems are down for an extended period of time?  What would it cost for someone to have to figure it all out before fixing it?

If you don’t have current IT documentation, call your IT Specialist and ask, or if need be, demand that this documentation is updated or created.  Don’t be held captive by your IT support.

Image courtesy of worradmu / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When the Windows Support Team Calls!

After another call from the helpful folks at the Windows Support Team this week, I decided it might be a good idea to explain how this group tries to scare people into purchasing their services to solve your nonexistent computer problem.  This scam has cost people thousands of dollars.

Here’s their basic script:

“Hi, I am (insert name here), calling from the Windows Support Center (or something similar).  Your computer is sending us reports that you have a (insert problem here).”

Now they will try to convince you of this by having you type in commands to prove that your system is really having (insert problem here).

(Insert name here) will instruct you to press the Windows Key and the letter R, and then you will be instructed to type eventvwr in the dialog box.  This will launch the Event Viewer.  The Event Viewer is part of every Windows operating system.  It provides details about the services running on your computer.  He’ll continue to instruct you, telling you to “Click on Custom Views.”  This will display a window with a list of errors and warnings.  I have posted mine for reference.

I know that these are normal errors and warnings, but the friendly folks from (insert company name here) are hoping you don’t know this, and that all these errors and warnings will convince you that there is a problem.  (Insert name here) states that this is a symptom of (insert problem here), but would like to check one more place to confirm.  This is their way of trying to gain your trust and prove that they are really trying to help you, when that’s not their intention at all.

Now he’ll have you press the Windows key and the letter R again and have you type inf in the dialog box.  This will launch the Inf folder.  Friendly (insert name here) will tell you these files are a result of  (insert problem here), confirming your system has (insert problem here).  The INF folder is a normal folder in the Windows operating system and contains driver files, not files related to (insert problem here).

Now they will offer to help “fix” your “problem”.  All you need to do is give them your credit card or visit a website.

This is a scam. Do not give them any information.

Microsoft will never call you about your computer issues. They have issued a statement about this scam here. Your computer is not randomly sending reports to Microsoft or (insert company name here).

After months of (insert company name here) calling to help me solve my computer issue and me poking at them I have learned a few things about their operations.

  • The friendly folks from (insert company name here) will insist this is not a scam and it was your computer that sent the messages.
  • They will be vague about the problem.
  • There is usually a lot of background noise on the call.
  • They only work within their script.
  • They tend to be very demanding and brash.

On average I usually receive a call a week, and it’s become a game for me.  To keep myself amused, I use the following strategies:

  • After thanking them for calling and explaining the problem, I tell them I run Linux/Mac
  • I let them know that I was unaware that my Linux/Mac were sending reports to Microsoft
  • I have them explain what the Windows key looks like – then ask why I don’t have a Windows key on my Mac
  • I ask for help on other Microsoft issues (printer, server, etc. problems)
  • I ask them questions that require very specific Microsoft knowledge – this usually frustrates them
  • I try to sell them something, like an electric dog polisher (thanks Steve Martin)

What do you do when they call you?

Notes:

*Insert Company Name Here – Esolve, Windows Support Company, Windows Technical Support or a variation of these.

*Insert Name Here – Tends to be a generic name.  I have never had a female call.

*Insert Problem Here – Usually they claim it’s a virus or the system is running slow.  Or the system is running slow due to a virus. 🙂

When the Job Goes Wrong

“Oh yes, the past can hurt. But the from way I see it, you can either run from it, or…learn from it.”
-Rafiki, The Lion King

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZfGTL2PY3E


You know the ones I’m talking about: the job or project that seems so fun and almost exciting, until the first “speed bump” pops up. Then it’s like a chain reaction.  No matter which way you turn, there always seems to be another speed bump.  We have all had those jobs.  A communication failure, expectations that fall flat, or personality conflicts; there are a number of reasons why a project can go wrong. But it’s what you do after that really counts.

1. Take ownership if necessary
2. Do what you can to fix it
3. Learn from it

Recently, I have gone through a similar situation myself.  The project did not go as planned, for a variety of reasons, all starting with that first speed bump.  Now some of you may be thinking, “why are you telling people you had a bad project? That just makes you look incompetent and amateurish.” I don’t think so, I think it makes me human. Sometimes, no matter what precautions you take, a project goes a little off the rails.

This was the first project since starting my own business that did not go as planned.  And I admit, it is hard to accept.  What am I going to do about it? First, I have already taken ownership of the aspects of the project that did not go as planned.  (Sometimes there are variables no one can account for). Second, I have done what I could to rectify the situation. And lastly, the most important step has been to move forward and stop reliving it. I have learned from the mistake, so it will not be happen again.

Mistakes happen. No one likes them, but we can either dwell on it or learn from it and move on.

How do you or did you handle a job that did not go as planned?

Does Your ISP have Control Issues?

Earlier this week one of my clients called, saying “The Bell technician just installed an upgraded internet service and now we don’t have Internet”.

I head down to find that the Bell technician had installed a new router and left the patch cable hanging. By hanging I mean not connected to anything.  I didn’t even know if the new equipment had been tested.

Not only was their patch cable home-made, it was not crimped correctly, which could have caused network disruptions, and considering what the client pays for this service, at the very least they should have been left with a proper patch cable.

Notice the difference?  The image on the top is properly crimped. The sheath (blue) is under the pressure point, whereas the one on the bottom (the actual cable the Bell technician left) the sheath (yellow) is not. The individual wires are crimped, causing damage and this connection makes it much easier to pull the cable away from the conductive ends which pass data, resulting in intermittent or no connectivity.

My client currently has a VPN router, which allows them to connect to another office.  Bell provided a new router which meant the VPN would not work with the new hardware without modification to the new equipment Bell provided.  If you want all technical jargon give me a call, but for the purposes of this post, I am keeping it straightforward and simple.  The new hardware had to be configured for Bridge Mode, but the router documentation did not explain how to do this, and I couldn’t find the answer online.  After several attempts to contact Bell (on hold for 30+ minutes, and still no answer), I finally had a technician that would assist with this.  (The first technician insisted I be on-site when configuring the router, but he would not provide instructions otherwise.)

I understand why ISPs do not want to have their customers using equipment they can’t access or monitor (that is a whole other rant), but they should not keep the instructions “hidden”.

Since Bell doesn’t believe in providing documentation on how to Bridge their devices, I have outlined the instructions below.  There is no reason why this should not be available.  Hopefully another small business isn’t stuck in the same position my client was in, because Bell has “control issues”.

Configuring Bridge Mode

Please note: if the unit is reset, it will need to be re-configured for Bridge mode

Steps for setting up Bell Router/Modem Bridge mode:

  1. Connect to the router 192.168.2.1
    1. Username: Admin
    2. Password: Admin
  2. Click on Network

  1. Then Disable DHCP.Save
  2. Re-connect
  3. Click Internet
  4. Remove User ID and Password. Save

The router should now be in Bridge Mode and data should now pass directly to the internal router.

Hope this helps!

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