Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Looking for a Tablet? Here's Summer 2013 Buyer Guide

Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition
Tablets are virtually tailor-made for our summer vacations, whether we're checking email at the hotel or watching movies during an airport layover. The manufacturers must know this, as there's a surge of new slates set to arrive while the weather's still scorching. Our 2013 summer tablet buyer's guide will help you decide which of these models is worth space in your travel bag. There are also several veteran tablets we recommend, although some of them could be obsolete soon -- we'll let you know when newer devices loom ahead. Whether or not you want the latest hardware, though, our guide should have the tablet you need.

10-inch tablets

Apple iPad (late 2012)
Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition
While there's a chance that Apple may update the fourth-generation iPad at summer's end, that doesn't minimize its importance among 10-inch tablets. Its A6X chip is still fast; there's plenty of battery life; and iOS still has the deepest library of tablet-native apps. And did we mention that it's one of the few (if not only) mobile OS-based tablets with an option for 128GB of storage? As long as you don't mind shopping for proprietary Lightning-based accessories, the iPad remains the reliable choice.
The bottom line: An old hand among 10-inch tablets, but a safe pick.
Key specs: 1.4GHz dual-core A6X processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB to 128GB of storage, 1.2-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear cameras, 9.7-inch (2,048 x 1,536) display.
Price: $499 and up
Google Nexus 10
Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition
The Nexus 10 will soon lose its edge over rivals in display resolution, but it's still quite the value at $399. Alongside its extra-sharp screen, it offers a reasonably quick Exynos 5 Dual processor and some surprisingly good speakers. For many, though, the real advantage is a stock implementation of Android. The Nexus 10 should stay on the bleeding edge of software, and that could trump the hardware advantages of some Android-based rivals.
The bottom line: The Nexus 10 is no longer cutting-edge, but it remains the definitive large-screen Android tablet.
Key specs: 1.7GHz dual-core Exynos 5 Dual, 2GB of RAM, 16GB or 32GB of storage, 1.9-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear cameras, 10.1-inch (2,560 x 1,600) display.
Price: $399 and up
Sony Xperia Tablet Z
Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition
The Xperia Tablet Z is expensive, but with good reason: it's one of the more alluring designs we've seen so far. Between its extra-slim body, water resistance and infrared blaster, it simply does more party tricks than many of its rivals. A sharp display and brisk performance don't hurt, either. Sony's tablet may have lost some luster now that the Nexus 7 matches some of its features, but it's still a top pick for anyone who wants to use their tablet as a TV remote -- even if it's underwater.
Key specs: 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro, 2GB of RAM, 16GB or 32GB of storage, 2.2-megapixel front and 8.1-megapixel rear cameras, 10.1-inch (1,920 x 1,200) display.
Price: $499 and up

You might want to wait for...

Toshiba Excite Pro
Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition
Toshiba may be an underdog in the tablet space, but its imminent Excite Pro could be a winner. The 10-inch slate is one of the first anywhere to use NVIDIA's Tegra 4, which promises a big jump in computing power versus the fastest tablets in this guide. Combine the new Tegra with a 2,560 x 1,600 display, and the Excite Pro is pushing the limits of tablet technology; let's just hope that the battery life, build quality and software are equally impressive.
Price: $500

7- and 8-inch tablets

Google Nexus 7 (2013, 32GB)
Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition
From a pure technology perspective, no small tablet really comes close to the new Nexus 7. It has the same display resolution as high-end 10-inch tablets, one of the fastest processors in the category and luxuries like wireless charging. More importantly, it's the standard bearer for stock Android. The Nexus 7 is the only small tablet running Android 4.3 as of this writing, and it should get future Android versions quickly. While it's more expensive than last year's model, it's arguably more of a bargain.
The bottom line: Exceptional value for the money, full stop.
Key specs: 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, 5-megapixel rear camera, 1.2-megapixel front camera, 7-inch (1,920 x 1,200) display.
Price: $270
Apple iPad mini
Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition
The iPad mini faces a stiff challenge if you're focused on the price-to-performance ratio. The A5 chip, 1,024 x 768 display and $329 sticker don't look great next to some newer rivals. But if you don't mind ceding ground on value, the iPad mini is a fine choice with a relatively roomy 7.9-inch screen, good real-world speed, solid rear camera and the widest selection of tablet-native apps. It's also one of the few tablets its size with an option for 64GB of built-in storage, which may tip the balance for gamers and media junkies.
The bottom line: The iPad's core values distilled in a smaller, cheaper design.
Key specs: 1GHz dual-core A5, 512MB of RAM, 16GB to 64GB of storage, 1.2-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear cameras, 7.9-inch (1,024 x 768) display.
Price: $329 and up
Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0
Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition
Wondering where the Galaxy Note 8.0 went? It's still in our guide, but the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 is arguably the better value among Samsung's WiFi-only tablets. While it sheds pen input, it offers the Note 8.0's display resolution, storage and camera technology for $100 less. About the only noticeable sacrifice for most will be the drop from a quad-core processor to dual-core, but we'll take that performance hit to avoid a similar impact on our wallets.
Key specs: 1.5GHz dual-core Exynos processor, 1.5GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, 1.3-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear cameras, 8-inch (1,280 x 800) display.
The bottom line: Samsung's best value in small tablets.
Price: $299

Windows tablets

Microsoft wants us to think of Windows tablets as full PCs that just happen to lack built-in keyboards. That's partly marketing bluster, but there's no denying that Windows 8 and Windows RT slates often differ sharply from the rest of the crowd: bigger screens, laptop-grade processors and docking stations are more common. Many of them could be your only portable computer and have the prices to match, so we're putting Windows tablets in their own category to acknowledge that there isn't a complete overlap with the rest of the pack.
Microsoft Surface Pro
Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition
The Surface Pro is the definitive Windows tablet in the literal sense of the word: it's the highest-end system designed by Microsoft itself. And that's really why we're including it here. While it occupies a sometimes uncomfortable middle ground between smaller, longer-running mobile tablets and more expandable Ultrabooks, it's also the ultimate expression of Microsoft's vision with its clean design, 1080p screen and pen input. Just be sure to buy the 128GB model for adequate drive space, and seriously consider holding out for a possible Intel Haswell upgrade and the improved battery life that's likely to follow.
The bottom line: The official Windows 8 tablet, and one of the most powerful.
Key specs: 1.7GHz dual-core Core i5, 4GB of RAM, 64GB or 128GB of storage, 720p front and rear cameras, 10.6-inch (1,920 x 1,080) display.
Price: $899 and up
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2
Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition
If there's a sweet spot among Windows tablets, Lenovo may have found it with the ThinkPad Tablet 2. It's not the fastest, nor is it the cheapest. However, it manages to offer exceptional battery life and truly portable design while maintaining full compatibility with legacy Windows apps, which is almost everything you'd ask from a Windows 8 slate in the first place. The second-generation design can also adapt to your exact needs with options for pen support, 4G data, a Bluetooth keyboard dock and a full docking station. As long as you don't need raw performance or a high-resolution screen, your search for an ideal middle ground may well stop here.
The bottom line: Possibly the best-balanced Windows tablet.
Key specs: 1.8GHz dual-core Atom, 2GB of RAM, 32GB or 64GB of storage, 2-megapixel front and 8-megapixel rear cameras, 10.1-inch (1,366 x 768) display.
Price: $649 and up
ASUS VivoTab Smart
Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition
We enjoyed the lightweight, comfortable design and solid camera quality of the VivoTab RT, but we weren't as keen on leaving all our conventional Windows apps behind; even ASUS' distinctive keyboard dock left us a bit cold. The VivoTab Smart tackles most of those problems in one fell swoop while preserving much of what we enjoyed from its Windows RT cousin. Switching to an Atom CPU brings legacy compatibility without too much of a hit to battery life, and the official keyboard add-on is ultimately more practical in our minds. While the VivoTab RT can cost a bit less as of this writing, we'd gladly pay more for the Smart's versatility.
The bottom line: Like ASUS' Windows RT tablet, but with some key weaknesses ironed out.
Key specs: 1.8GHz dual-core Atom, 2GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, 2-megapixel front and 8-megapixel rear cameras, 10.1-inch (1,366 x 768) display.
Price: $399 and up (at Amazon)

You might want to wait for...

Samsung ATIV Tab 3
Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition
Never mind that there was no ATIV Tab 2; Samsung's number-skipping ATIV Tab 3 has all the early hallmarks of a successful Windows 8 tablet. While the Atom chip and 1,366 x 768 screen aren't out of the ordinary, the 8.2mm thickness and S Pen certainly have our eyebrows raised. Our only initial qualms are with the high price -- Samsung will have to go out of its way to prove the ATIV Tab 3's value when it ships in early August.
Price: $699

3G / 4G tablets

It's hard to resist the call of the outdoors on a summer day, but that usually means giving up a big screen and a constant internet connection. What to do? The solution may be a cellular tablet, and there's thankfully one from virtually every major device maker and platform. Plans are diverse as well, ranging from add-ons for existing services to prepaid plans that should last just long enough for an extended visit with the family. While there's often some premium to be paid for either the device or its data roaming (on locked models), it may be worth the cost to skip packing a big, heavy laptop for that next vacation.
Apple iPad (WiFi + Cellular, late 2012)
Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition
Apple got us in the habit of expecting cellular tablets that come without commitments, and the fourth-generation iPad helps justify that route. If you can accept paying $129 beyond the norm to get that extra dash of wireless, the iPad supplies LTE-based 4G on key networks, and EV-DO or HSPA+ 3G elsewhere, without tying the hardware to a contract or even a carrier. GPS comes along with the upgrade. Some credit is due to Apple for offering the cellular variant in the same capacities and colors as WiFi models; you can pick up a 128GB 4G model if you need the absolute best iPad Apple has to offer. Choose carefully when you buy in the US, though, as getting the AT&T or Sprint / Verizon models will dictate just where 4G kicks in while abroad.
The bottom line: Everything you know from the iPad, with LTE on top.
Key specs: 1.4GHz dual-core A6X, 16GB to 128GB of storage, 1.2-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear cameras, 9.7-inch (2,048 x 1,536) display, unlocked LTE / EV-DO / HSPA+ data.
Price: $629 and up
Apple iPad mini (WiFi + Cellular)
Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition
Second verse, same as the first... only smaller. The cellular version of the iPad mini is noteworthy precisely because it maintains all the color options and wireless features of its bigger counterpart. The only limitation is the absence of a 128GB model, but that capacity isn't as valuable in this category. Apple's emphasis on parity leaves the iPad mini as one of the few tablets in its class that can hop on the 4G networks of AT&T, Sprint and Verizon in the US without having to sign an agreement. The iPad mini's $459 minimum price is a lot to ask this late into the device's lifecycle, but it's the most affordable way to globetrot with an Apple tablet.
The bottom line: One of the most popular LTE tablets, in bite-sized form.
Key specs: 1GHz dual-core A5, 512MB of RAM, 16GB to 64GB of storage, 1.2-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear cameras, 7.9-inch (1,024 x 768) display, unlocked LTE / EV-DO / HSPA+ data.
Price: $459 and up
Google Nexus 7 (2013, LTE)
Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition
We don't need to reiterate how much of a jump the 2013 Nexus 7 represents in terms of performance. However, its cellular variant is truly something special. In the US, the new tablet offers LTE for AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon through one model; American travelers won't have to sacrifice 4G speeds or carrier support as they have in the past. Combine that with global HSPA+ support, and you have a tablet that will rarely let you down when abroad. The $350 price just makes it that much sweeter.
The bottom line: One of the most flexible cellular tablets on the market, at a price that's hard to match.
Key specs: 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, 5-megapixel rear camera, 1.2-megapixel front camera, 7-inch (1,920 x 1,200) display, unlocked HSPA+ and LTE data.
Price: $350
Galaxy Note 8.0 (LTE)
Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition
If you're going to spend a lot on an 8-inch tablet like Samsung's Galaxy Note 8.0, you may as well go whole hog and get a cellular model like the LTE-equipped Note 8.0 at AT&T. On top of getting a quad-core tablet with pen input and TV remote control capabilities, you'll have the freedom to hop online without WiFi. Take care to buy the US edition of the Note 8.0 off-contract, however, as the $100 you save up front at AT&T isn't worth two years of mandatory data.
The bottom line: The Galaxy Note 8.0 is very expensive in cellular form, but it's also extremely flexible.
Key specs: 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos 4 Quad, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, 1.3-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear cameras, 8-inch (1,280 x 800) display, LTE and HSPA+ data for AT&T.
Price: $499
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 (LTE)
Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition
Since the ThinkPad Tablet 2 is already on our short list, it's easy to choose its higher-end configuration as our pick for a cellular-ready Windows 8 tablet. You'll pay $100 more versus the WiFi-only model, but you'll get both AT&T-friendly LTE data and HSPA+ that will work across numerous countries. Buyers can even pick a model with Windows 8 Pro if they need to join a corporate network domain. While it's unfortunate that the 4G ThinkPad loses NFC support, it's still the tablet we'd choose with an IT manager looking over our shoulders.
The bottom line: Possibly the most flexible Windows tablet on the market.
Key specs: 1.8GHz dual-core Atom, 2GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, 2-megapixel front and 8-megapixel rear cameras, 10.1-inch (1,366 x 768) display.
Price: $749


ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7
Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition
The definition of value for money. The ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7 is no threat to the Nexus 7 in terms of performance, but it costs $80 less while preserving important features, such as a color-accurate IPS LCD, dual cameras and a quad-core processor. There's even the microSD slot that the Nexus 7 lacks. Never mind the software upgrade challenges that often come with custom Android; at this price, they're easy to live with.
Key specs: Quad-core 1.2GHz ARM Cortex-A7 processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, 1.2-megapixel front camera, 5-megapixel rear camera, 7-inch (1,280 x 800) display.
Price: $150
Google Nexus 7 (2013, 16GB)
Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition
Google may have drifted out of the sub-$200 price bracket with the new Nexus 7, but the tablet's 16GB variant is still on our short list. After all, you don't need a lot of storage to stream Netflix video at 1080p -- and other budget tablets don't even have that option. When you also factor in the above-average performance, cameras and stock Android 4.3, it could be worth paying the premium.
The bottom line: The entry-level Nexus 7 is more expensive than its rivals, but you get what you pay for.
Key specs: 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, 5-megapixel rear camera, 1.2-megapixel front camera, 7-inch (1,920 x 1,200) display.
Price: $230
Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 7.0
Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition
Yes, it's another Samsung tablet on the list, but bear with us -- the Galaxy Tab 3 7.0 is worth your attention. While it doesn't have the display resolution or quad-core processing of the Nexus 7, it's still quite responsive, carries a rear camera and touts expandable storage. Be ready to buy a microSD card, however, as there's only 8GB of included space on the US model.
The bottom line: The budget tablet that goes with your Galaxy phone.
Key specs: 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, 1.3-megapixel front and 3-megapixel rear cameras, 7-inch (1,024 x 600) display.
Price: $199

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

9 ways to optimize SMB Technology

Small and midsize businesses approach tech spending with an abundance of caution -- but there are numerous strategies for making sure it's money well spent.     
Small and medium-size businesses face daunting competition from larger enterprises. So when it comes to investing in technology, SMBs work hard to get everything they can out of their technology dollars. Sometimes, this isn't so easy. There are "down" years when you know you should invest in a technology, but you simply have to wait until sales pick up. Or maybe you make an investment, but the technology doesn't perform or deliver at the levels you had hoped.

The solutions for moving your technology and your company forward may be obvious in some cases. But in others, there might be effective optimization strategies you haven't considered. Here are 9 ways you can optimize your SMB technology investments, in good times and bad.

1: Pool your resources

Data center co-location (co-lo) is a hot trend in right now, as organizations of all sizes seek ways to avoid further investment in physical, on-premise data centers. You can move (co-locate) servers into a rented space in a third-party data center, link them into your central management network, and never miss their physical presence. If needed, you can even assign employees to the co-lo location to locally manage the applications that perform on these remote servers. Better yet, you can pool your resources into a mutual data center with other SMBs, especially if you are running the same applications. Even SMBs that are competitors in the marketplace have been known to do this! The net result is that you can reduce the energy consumption (and costs) of your in-house data center by moving equipment out. This also reduces your data center's carbon footprint, along with the amount of square footage being taken up by technology.

2: Join the user committees of your mission-critical IT software vendors

Commercial software providers tend to listen most closely to their largest customers when it comes to enhancing their products. This puts SMBs at a natural disadvantage when they are using a standard package of software and must depend on (or hope for) the vendor to put in the types of enhancements they really feel would benefit their businesses.
One strategy SMBs can adopt that will help them get their voices heard by the vendors is to become active participants in the user committees that commercial software vendors form to gather input for what they should work on next in their products. Because it means time away from the office, many companies (including large enterprises) pass on committee participation. An SMB should consider this as a golden opportunity to ensure that an investment already made in software stays relevant to its business.

3: Virtualize your data center

At the end of 2012, 51 percent of worldwide corporate servers were still unvirtualized. With virtualization, hundreds of servers can be reduced to a handful. The savings in floor space, energy consumption, and server investments naturally follows. Everyone knows these facts, but smaller companies tend to delay virtualization because of all the other projects their lean IT staffs have to handle. Virtualization shouldn't be a back-burner project. Eliminating servers (and physical storage) through virtualization can immediately start paying for itself in space and energy savings, with the corresponding increase in return on investment (ROI) dropping directly to the company's bottom line.

4: Consider outsourcing non-
mission-critical applications to the cloud

For SMBs and large enterprises, it still makes sense to keep mission-critical applications under direct management. However, other systems (e.g., payroll, human resources, office applications) are great candidates for outsourcing to a capable cloud provider. The risks of moving to a cloud services provider should first be carefully assessed to ensure that this provider can store your information securely, meet your regulatory compliance needs, and be able to fail over should a problem develop in the cloud. But if these requirements can be met and you have a strong cloud provider, you are in a position to pay for service on a subscription or on-demand basis and to reduce your software licensing fees. These savings enhance your ability to invest in IT elsewhere.

5: Extend the reach of your IT with mobile communications

Tablets and mobile devices are less expensive to deploy than laptops and notebooks, and for employees who use their devices primarily for system access and communications, tablets and smartphones are a great fit. Mobile service can also be subscribed to, so you don't have to invest in your own T1/T3 communications lines. You will save on your telecommunications and personal hardware costs, and most employees will like the move to tablets and smartphones.

6: Develop a strong Internet presence

For an SMB, Internet is the great equalizer with large enterprises. A dynamite Web site can go a long way toward making your company seem larger than it really is. Your firm can also gain credibility with partners and customers. There is an initial investment that can run into six figures if you deploy a high-ranking Web design firm to develop your site. But once it is built, you can run your it yourself and develop you own content.
If you choose to use your Web site for ecommerce, an initial investment of six figures is still far less than what you would pay for most commercial real estate you would build on or lease over time -- and your customer base would be worldwide. Web sites can also be run less expensively than physical facilities, since so many Web site processes can be automated. SMBs can enhance their revenue potential and save on operating costs if they turn to the Web.

7: Establish lifecycle rotations for personal computing equipment

IT departments establish three- to five-year lifecycles for most of the equipment in the data center and then amortize the expense of this equipment over the same number of years. They should also apply this strategy to the organization's personal computing assets, like PCs and laptops -- and many of them do -- but the process can be greatly enhanced if there is also a "cycle down" strategy for these assert as they age. Here's how the "cycle down" works:
You give your newest, most high-power personal equipment to your power users. Then, as you replace these units and the old units become available, you cycle down the older units to your non-power users who have more casual (and less resource-intensive) uses for the equipment. With a "cycle down," organizations can often keep a PC or a laptop in service for as many as seven years. This extends the time that the company recoups its initial investment and defers new investments until they are really needed.

8: Invest in service points of contact (telephone and Internet)

If you want to pick an area where you can outperform your large competitors, focus on technology that enhances your customer points of contact. You don't have to invest in a fancy CRM (customer relationship management) system to do this. Where you need to apply the technology and the effort is to Internet contact (chat, email, etc.) with your customers -- and also to phone contact. Customers want to communicate with a real person when they need to solve a problem or obtain service. If you invest in technology that allows you to humanize the customer experience over the phone and the Internet, you can distinguish yourself from competitors many times larger, because they don't tend to do this well. Your customers will appreciate it -- and they'll stay with you.

9: Set high usage standards for your software

Clients normally utilize only 20 percent of the commercial software they buy. This isn't good economics, because the price you pay for a software license is for the whole thing. Avoid buying software as a gut reaction, or without first mapping out all your requirements for it and what it is supposed to do for your business. Then, try the software out. If it doesn't give you what you want -- plus new capabilities that can further improve your business -- bypass it. If it is so difficult to learn that your users absolutely refuse to use it, don't buy it. Most vendors allow for pilots or "try-and-buys" of the software before your enter into an agreement. Take these opportunities to ensure that the software will really be put to work for the business. From an investment perspective, there is nothing worse than shelfware gathering dust at the back of the data center -- or software that goes 80 percent unused.

The strategies above are a fraction of things your small business can do to optimize your technology plan and TURNkey IT can help with all of them.  Visit us at today or call 866-928-8208.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Do yourself a favor and upgrade to Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 has gone a long way towards fixing some but certainly not all of Windows 8's woes. Here are five ways Windows 8.1 improves upon Windows 8.

Boot to the desktop
Yes, it's finally here. With Windows 8.1, when you log in you can bypass the Start screen, and go straight to the desktop. Given that many people use powerful desktop apps rather than the more anemic Modern-style apps, this is a very big deal.

Improved Modern-style Internet Explorer
Windows 8.1 ships with Internet Explorer 11, and it does the seemingly impossible: It actually makes the Modern-style IE useful. The Windows 8 Modern-style Internet Explorer was by far the worst browser I've ever used. How bad? It didn't have a Favorites manager. How bad? You could only have 10 sites open at once in it. How bad? Well, no need to pile on, but it was pretty awful. The new version includes a Favorites manager and lets you open as many sites simultaneously as you want. I actually use it now.

Better search
Search in Windows 8 was not a pretty thing. Type in a search term, and it searched for apps, settings, and files, but you couldn't see all the results at once. You instead had to look at results category by category. And it didn't search the Internet.

In Windows 8.1 that's all fixed. You see results from your local PC and the Internet, and you see them all at once. There's also every a very nifty "Search Hero" that grabs information from all over the Internet, including multimedia content, and presents it in a visually pleasing, easy-to-scan wrapper.

Better Modern apps
Windows 8's native Modern-style apps were an anemic bunch. Underpowered and often pointless, they were therefore unloved. Windows 8.1 ships with some very nice new apps, and powers up some of the older ones. The Photos app now lets you edit photos -- what a concept! And there's a nice, new Food and Drink app as well.

Better access to settings
In Windows 8, you had to switch between a settings screen in the Modern interface and the Control Panel in the desktop to customize how Windows works. In Windows 8.1, more settings have been moved into the Modern settings screen, so there's less of a need to look for settings in two places.

If you haven't and do it.  Its free!!!  If you are one of those still on the fence about Windows 8, this is a good indication that Microsoft is listening and making improvements. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Disaster Recovery-5 Free Apps you can utilize now

Takeaway: The law of averages dictates that disaster will strike you. When it does, you can only hope you have prepared for it.

You hope it never happens - the need to recover from a disaster. The law of averages dictates, however, that disaster will strike you. When it does, you can only hope you have prepared for it. The depth and breadth of your preparedness can vary, depending upon what you are preparing for. Preparing for a server recovery is much different than preparing for a desktop recovery. You may need a cloned image of a machine that can be used to bring a server (or even a desktop) back to life quickly. You may only need a solid backup of your data. Either way, you need the right tools to do the job.

Many disaster recovery tools are not within reach of many budgets. Thankfully, there are free tools out there that can do a bang up job of getting you back up and running. Let’s take a look at five such tools.  These apps are geared for the administrative IT guy, but not to say that the IT savvy couldn't give these a go!

1. Macrium Reflect
Macrium Reflect is a free version of the Professional product. Intended just for home-use desktop machines (supports XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8 (32 and native 64 Bit), Macrium Reflect can handle: Disk imaging/cloning, access images in Windows Explorer, schedule backups, has a Linux Rescue CD, supports RAID and GPT. With this tool you can create solid disk images that will ensure you can get a machine back up and running quickly. Yes, this software is for personal use. Give it a try and, should you like it, you might want to purchase the Pro version for your business. The Pro version only runs $58.99 for the desktop edition and $199.99 for the server edition.

2. Clonezilla

Clonezilla is a free, open source, bare metal backup and recovery tool. Clonezilla is based on DRBL, Partclone, and Upcast. There are two versions of Clonezilla: Live and ClonezillaSE (Server Edition). The Live version is to be used for a single desktop, whereas the Server edition is suitable for massive deployment (up to 40 machines simultaneously). Clonezilla supports: Numerous file systems, LVM2, unattended mode, Multicast (in SE only), and much more. Images can be saved to local drives, ssh server, Samba server, and/or NFS server. Clonezilla only saves and restores used blocks on the hard disk in order to save disk space. Although Clonezilla does only save used blocks, the destination drive must still be equal to or larger than the source drive. Drives to be imaged must be un-mounted.

3. DriveImageXML

DriveImageXML is similar to Macrium Reflect in that it offers a free version for personal use. This free version allows you to backup, browse, and restore images. With the ability to browse images, this means you can recover files and/or folders (and not just the entire image). DriveImageXML uses Microsoft Windows Volume Shadow Services, so you can create images from drives that are in use. Give the free version a try and see if it will meet your needs. If so, you can then purchase a five user license for $100.00 USD, all the way up to one hundred user licenses for $500.00 USD.

4. Quick Disaster Recovery

Quick Disaster Recovery is a tool that can quickly recover a machine when various built-in Windows administrator tools have been disabled (such as the Registry Editor, Task Manager, etc.). From the GUI you can re-enable the features that have been disabled or use the replacement tools. One way or another, you can get around such “disasters”. QDR also allows you to quickly stop applications from running at startup (by way of taking you directly to that item’s registry entry where you can either delete or disable). QDR is free and is released under the GPL.

5. System Rescue CD

System Rescue CD is a Linux system rescue disk that allows you to administer and repair a system after a crash. You can manage partitions, recover data, edit configuration files, and you can work with both Linux and Windows systems. The kernel supports all major file systems as well as network systems such as Samba and NFS. Included tools are Gparted, Partimage, ddrescue, FSArchiver, Ntfs3g, test-disk, Memtest+, Rsync, and plenty of other tools (think typical Linux tools). System Rescue can be run in both console and GUI mode, is free, and released under the GPL. If you’re up to the task, you could even create your own version of a System Rescue CD and include specific scripts or tools.

Bottom line

There are so many rescue tools available to administrators. One of the single most important tasks you could face is making sure you have the right tools that are adequate for the job and fit your skill set/work style. Give one or more of these tools a try; I am confident at least one of them will wind up in your system administrator toolkit.

Monday, July 1, 2013

How Secure is Your Smartphone?

Are we being smart smartphone users? The upcoming June edition of the Consumer Reports magazine suggests that a lot of us are not. As part of their the annual "State of the Net" report, Consumer Reports surveyed 1,656 adult smartphone users to extrapolate trends about users nationwide. Here are some of the major findings.

Poor Security: Of those surveyed, nearly 40% took no precautions to secure their smartphone: No screen lock, no apps to locate the missing phone or remotely erase data, and no data backup.

Mobility Risks: As more of us send emails, shop, fill out forms and perform other daily tasks on our smartphones, more of our sensitive personal information is at risk of being lost or stolen.

Malicious Software: In 2012, approximately 5.6 million Americans reported instances of unauthorized account access, text messages sent without permission, and other problems due to malware affecting smartphones.

Minimal Privacy Control: Controlling privacy on your computer is a challenge; controlling it on a smartphone is even harder. Those never-ending privacy notices are just not fun to read on small phone screens.

Intrusive Mobile Apps: According to a 2011 study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, roughly one in three Android apps requested more permissions of users than necessary due to confusion on the part of the developers. As a result, users may be agreeing to allow access to email and other personal information even though it is not essential for the app's functionality.

Location Tracking: While a smartphone's location tracking capabilities can be convenient, this information also makes us vulnerable. According to the survey, 1% of users experienced harassment or harm as a result of someone using location tracking to pinpoint their whereabouts. 7% reported that they wished to disable location tracking on their smartphones but did not know how to turn it off.

The infographic below, courtesy of Consumer Reports, illustrates the findings of this survey as well as some tips for securing your smartphone.