Posts Tagged ‘Mac’

Five Things Worth Doing in January

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Uncategorized

© 2017 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

January, 2018! The start of a new year! New beginnings are part of the Christian life, and January is a great time to make certain a few IT items are ready for the New Year. Let’s focus on protecting systems and data….

Firewalls
The most common entry point for malware and other system ills is the internet. The best way to protect your system and data from bots, rascals, and compromised websites is to be certain your firewall is adequate and is current. Some points worth examining:

  • Is your firewall adequate? There are many options to consider when buying firewall solutions– whether hardware or software. My firm’s preference is SonicWALL firewalls (we don’t sell or benefit from our hardware and software recommendations). We find the features and price point are a good ‘sweet spot’ for churches and ministries. Yes, you can buy more expensive and capable firewalls, but very few churches and ministries benefit from any features beyond what SonicWALL includes in their firewalls. We also recommend purchasing their Total Secure package, which can filter internet content.
  • Is your firewall subscription current? Regardless of which firewall you use, make certain that if it requires a subscription to stay current, your subscription is current and in force. Not doing so is the equivalent of welcoming intruders, rascals, bots, and malware that have developed new methods for gaining access to your systems and data.
  • Make certain there is no connection from your systems to the internet that don’t go through your firewall. We have seen many churches and ministries mistakenly connect their internet connection directly to their network switch. The internet connection should connect to your firewall, and then your firewall to your switch so that all internet traffic MUST go through it.

SPAM
The second most common way for malware to access your systems and data is via email attachments and links. SonicWALL is not our preference for this important role; we prefer the Barracuda SPAM Filter. It is best of breed and a best practices solution.

My firm inexpensively hosts SPAM filtering for many churches and ministries. I don’t mention that to try to sell our service, but to point out that we were surprised to see how many users of Microsoft O365 email use our hosted SPAM filtering solution (yes, we use a Barracuda SPAM Filter, model 600). We moved our email to O365 for six months and were shocked at how much SPAM got through Microsoft’s filter! Now we know why so many O365 users have their email scrubbed by other solutions!

Anti-Malware
Protecting systems and data requires multiple layers. An important one is your anti-malware solution. And simply purchasing and installing it is not enough! These solutions also have subscriptions that keep them updated and identifying new methods used to cause  harm. It is essential that the subscription on your anti-malware not be allowed to lapse– the same as your firewall subscription. I know churches and ministries that have been hit by new ransomware methods because they didn’t keep their subscriptions current.

The anti-malware my firm recommends is Thirtyseven4.com. It is capable, and it is reasonable in cost.

BTW… it should be installed on every Windows and Mac computer– whether notebook, tablet, desktop, or server. Some say it’s not necessary on Macs, but that isn’t true. Even though few anti-malware threats are written to impact Macs, Macs can be carriers that infect shared data drives and more.

Passwords
What is your password policy? Here are some quick thoughts on this important topic:

  • Passwords should be strong (minimum of 7 characters that include uppercase and lowercase alpha, numbers, and common punctuation).
  • Passwords should not be required to periodically change! Our firm has been saying for many years that forcing users to change their passwords actually lowers system security. In 2016 the U.S. Federal Trade Commission agreed with us based on two studies! You can read about it at https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/blogs/techftc/2016/03/time-rethink-mandatory-password-changes.

Backup
Some say protecting the integrity of system data is IT’s most important responsibility. Do you have a comprehensive backup strategy? And do you test it? An untested strategy is dangerous! Here’s what we recommend:

  • Establish a strategy that makes certain all important data is on your server. This is worth doing because 1) it is the organization’s data, and 2) it eliminates the requirement that all systems need to be connected to the network (facilitating notebooks, etc).
  • Backup all system data nightly to an appropriate device. LTO tape is the most affordable and durable technology for this, and is preferred by most of corporate America. Our favorite backup solution is Veeam. It’s powerful, easy to use, and they offer churches and ministries very reasonable pricing.
  • Take a copy of your backup tape off-site weekly to protect your organization from a larger disaster.
  • Create a monthly task in whatever task tracker you use (like Outlook) to test the backup. You can do this by restoring a random file or folder, and then confirming that the restored files are intact.

These five things will likely take less than an hour to check, and can help ensure that your organization’s systems and data are well-protected for 2018! Happy New Year!

Helpful Computer Hacks

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2017 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

I grew up in an age when a ‘hack’ was someone who was incompetent. In those days there were no personal computers or mobile devices. Now everyone has access to multiple computers and various mobile devices. And wouldn’t you know it– ‘hack’ has a new meaning! Today a hack can be a clever way to get things done well.

Following are some hacks that can really help improve your efficiency on a computer!

Hacks for Computer Users
The following hacks are especially helpful for computer users.

Keyboard shortcuts. In today’s world of Windows and Mac operating systems we have become dependent on pointing devices. Granted, those devices are very helpful. But before these current operating systems, we used keyboard combinations to do some of what we now do with a mouse or track pad. Those keyboard shortcuts are still available to use, and they can save time! Here are six I still use often:

Function

Windows

Mac

Print

Ctrl + p

⌘ + p

Copy

Ctrl + c

⌘ + c

Cut

Ctrl + x

⌘ + x

Paste

Ctrl + v

⌘ + v

Italics

Ctrl + i

⌘ + i

Bold

Ctrl + b

⌘ + b

Multiple Monitors/ Displays. For those who’ve always used one monitor or display, having two or may three seem excessive. But the increase in productivity with two or three is surprising! I always recommend at least two now; the cost is minimal and the benefits are significant! My desk is configured with three: the one on my left always has Outlook running on it, the one in the middle is where I do most of my work, and the one on my right is for research references (browser, database, etc). I also find it helpful when opening large spreadsheets to stretch them across my middle and right displays!

Recurring Tasks. We all have them: recurring deadlines that are due every Wednesday, once a month, quarterly, etc. I use Outlook’s task functionality to set the reminders I need to help me hit my deadlines. This is one of the most helpful and least used tools available. I also use Outlook tasks to remind me to do things I’ve promised to do, helping me avoid them falling through the cracks of my active schedule.

Managing Email. Email consumes a larger part of our days than most of us want. I have three email hacks that help me stay focused and efficient, even though my average daily email count is well over 100.

  • Inbox. I keep my Inbox as empty as possible so I don’t waste time reading the same emails over and over. When an email comes in I either respond and then delete the original (a copy of the original is in my response!), put a flag (due date) of when I want to respond by and drag it to a subfolder based on the type of email it is (personal, business, etc), or delete it if it’s one I don’t care about (like an ad).
  • Sent Items. Once I send an email I delete it unless I need a reminder that I’m waiting for a response or it was a topic that could have legal ramifications (if it was, I make a PDF copy and store it).
  • Trash. I empty my trash at the end of every day. In the rare case that I need to find something I deleted, I log into our email server via browser (using Outlook Web Access), search deleted files, and restore it.

Automatic Backup. I always feel bad for someone who says a hard drive crashed and they lost all of their files, including photos that were irreplaceable. Losing important files is painful. There are many cloud services available to consumers that will automatically back up files to their cloud servers. There are also utilities in the Windows and Mac operating systems that will automatically back up files to an external drive.

Hacks for IT Professionals
The following hacks are especially helpful for IT professionals.

System setup checklists. As IT pros, we often set up new systems. If the process isn’t automated, I recommend creating a checklist to help achieve standardization. In addition to improving setup consistency, checklists save time because you don’t need to review your work to determine what you’ve already done after an interruption.

Professional Relationships. It’s so helpful to build friendships with people you can turn to when a challenge comes up that stumps you! Those ‘lifeline’ calls can save so much time! The best professional organization I’ve found for those in church and ministry IT is The Church IT Network (http://churchitnetwork.com). They have a low-cost annual gathering in the Fall, and low-cost regional gatherings in the Spring.

Monthly Backup Test. Set a task in Outlook to test your backup monthly. A good test is to restore a file or folder structure and then open the file(s) to verify the backups you’re relying on are good.

Those are some hacks that can really help!

Nick’s Software Picks

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2016 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

Our team is privileged to have served many hundreds of ministries nationwide as IT strategists, engineers, and consultants. We don’t sell or profit from any of the software we recommend, but in those IT roles we’ve found that some software works better in church and ministry offices than others. It is with that perspective that we make the following recommendations.

Software comes in three general categories: operating systems, applications, and games. Although games are the most fun, in this article we will only look at operating systems and applications.

Workstation Operating Systems
Operating system software (often called the OS) is what helps computers know what to do with the commands they receive from users and programs. Desktop and notebook OSes today are mostly from Apple or Microsoft.

Our current Windows OS preference is Windows 10 Pro. Win10 is consumes fewer computer resources (processor, RAM, etc) than its predecessors, but to run it well we recommend buying the fastest processor you can afford with at least 4Gb of RAM. We also recommend avoiding Home and Student editions in office environments, and Microsoft agrees.

Our current Mac OS recommendation is 10.11, El Capitan, but that will likely change this Fall when Apple releases Sierra.

Network Operating Systems
The discussion of Linux vs Novell NetWare vs Microsoft Windows Server has been settled, and Microsoft has won the NOS (Network OS) wars. Our current recommendation is Windows Server 2012r2, but that may change once we’ve seen and evaluated the final release of Windows Server 2016 (due out this Fall).

Hypervisors
Hypervisors turn computers we’ve historically called servers into hosts for many virtual servers. Though it sounds complex, it’s actually simple once seen.

Some of the reasons this new category of software has gained so much acceptance in corporate America are:

  • The computer’s processor chip is the most expensive component in the computer. Most servers’ processors only use 5% – 10% of their processing capacity after they’ve started, and so this very expensive component usually goes mostly unused. By installing a hypervisor and then hosting virtual servers on top of it, you are able to get more use out of your physical server computers, achieving a much higher return on your investment.
  • Windows Servers function best–most reliably–when they only run one service, like Exchange, for instance. That means in a Windows network you’re best to have many servers, which can be expensive if they’re physical servers. Using hypervisor technology reduces your cost significantly because you’re able to run many virtual servers on one host, and the only additional cost to configuring a host is that it may need more RAM.
  • In most church and ministry networks, the version of hypervisor software needed is completely free!

Hypervisor software is the latest battle focus for IT domination, which is good for consumers. The company that invented the technology for the PC platform is VMware, and their software is currently the best—no contest. Microsoft, Citrix, and others are also in the marketplace, so that may change someday. But for now, VMware is the software to go with. You can download it for free at www.vmware.com.

Network Utilities
The simplest tool for distributing standardized workstations across a network is still Symantec’s Ghost. It allows you to create an image of a workstation hard drive, store it, and then distribute it to other similar workstations; in effect, cloning them.

Our favorite network back-up software is from Veeam. There’s no better protection available today to help protect the valuable data on a Windows network—virtualized or physical.

The best anti-malware for churches and ministries is Thirtyseven4 (www.thirtyseven4.com). It is capable, works on Windows and Mac computers and servers, and it is affordably priced for churches and ministries.

And speaking of protection, we recommend purchasing uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) with software that communicates with each server. This kind of protection keeps the server and those logged in to it aware of any power changes that could impact the network. The best is PowerChute, which ships for free with American Power Conversion’s Smart UPSes.

Applications
The programs we use to get our work done (I refer to this category as productivity software) can come in separate modules or in suites.

Microsoft Office 2016 dominates the productivity software field.

Word Processor & Layout
Church word processing is highly layout and mail-merge oriented, as opposed to simple document processing. If your team uses Microsoft Word, then you probably augment the layout function with a light desktop publisher like Microsoft Publisher (Windows only). The most capable and preferred desktop publisher suite, however, is Creative Cloud from Adobe. Creative Cloud includes many powerful tools like InDesign, PhotoShop, LightRoom, and Acrobat that can take your publications—print and online—to the next level.

Spreadsheet
The best spreadsheet available is Microsoft Excel. The formula, charting, pivot table, and diagnostic functions are powerful and easy to use. And Excel spreadsheets and charts paste easily into Word documents. Excel can also link to databases (using pivot tables), providing real-time diagnostic charting to help make good management decisions.

Presentation
This software lets you put together lessons, sermons, classes, and more in outline form. Those outlines can be presented as attractive slide shows that can be projected through monitors or projectors with attention-getting graphics and animation. The best app in this area is Microsoft’s PowerPoint.

The two greatest benefits are:

  1. Reduced preparation time since the software works in outline form; and
  2. Enhanced delivery of your message because it involves more senses and can be graphically memorable.

Email, Calendars, & Task Management
Outlook and Exchange are the combination of choice for this category. Exchange is the email server, and Outlook is the client that presents Exchange’s contents to the user. Beginning with Office 2011, Outlook is included in Office for Mac, allowing better collaboration among all team members!

Database
Most ministries are best to buy a ministry or church management system (ChMS) that is designed to serve the needs of ministries rather than to buy a database engine and develop a database of their own. There are many good ChMS providers listed in this journal. But don’t try to buy a database engine and develop your own; it takes too much time and is too hard on the staff.

Bible Study Tools & Libraries
There are many good tools to help in this area. My favorite two are Logos for study and prep (www.logos.com), and YouVersion—free!—for devotions and reading on the go (runs on any SmartPhone). YouVersion can even be incorporated into your live events! See www.youversion.com.

Brainstorming / Note Taking Tool
A great tool for brainstorming and note taking is iThoughtsX. It runs on any platform and is terrific for meetings, workshops, sermon preparation, and more.

Electronic Wallets
There are many electronic wallet solutions available today. My favorite is eWallet from SPB. The data is stored on my devices rather than on someone’s server (those servers are big hacking targets), and each of my devices synchronize changes made with each other. Great security and convenience!

Happy Shopping!
Churches and ministries qualify for steep discounts for many of these solutions! If you’re a church or ministry, never pay retail without first checking with others or the manufacturers to make certain you’re not overspending.

Microsoft O365 – What You Need to Know

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2016 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

Last year I reported a charity license issue breakthrough that now has many considering migrating to Microsoft Office 365 (O365). There are some limitations you need to know about, and there are ways to save considerable dollars. Here’s what you need to know.

The Charity Licensing Issue
Until last Fall Microsoft had this restriction in its O365 charity licensing program:

“Organizations that engage in discrimination in [employment practices] based on… gender identity or expression… [or] sexual orientation… other than as allowed by law are not eligible to participate in this program.”

This was an issue for many Christian churches and ministries. Thankfully we were connected with the right people in Microsoft (no small feat– and possibly even miraculous!) to address the concerns of those who had issues with that language. The result was that Microsoft made some changes in October that eased those concerns!

  • Microsoft added a statement to their website that says, “The only exception to this [anti-discrimination] policy is for religious organizations that are exempt from laws that prohibit such discrimination.” (see https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/nonprofits/eligibility under “Anti-Discrimination Policy”)
  • Microsoft also added some FAQ points that explained its intention. The FAQ clarifies why Microsoft is excluding religious organizations from the anti-discrimination policy. It also answers two important questions about how to determine if an organization may be exempt from discrimination laws and whether Microsoft will be policing compliance. The FAQ can be found at https://www.microsoft.com/about/corporatecitizenship/en-us/nonprofits/faq under “Program Eligibility”.

Organizations interested in O365 charity licensing discounts must still be 501(c)(3) tax exempt, or under the umbrella of a larger organization (like an association or denomination). But the non-discrimination language issue has been solved for most.

What About Google Apps?
Google still has LGTB employment non-discrimination restrictions in place for charity licensing, which can be found at https://www.google.com/nonprofits/account/signup/us. Churches that want to use Google’s business tools under their charity licensing program should note these restrictions.

O365 Limitations
O365 is a great option, but it is not for everyone. Here are some limitations we’re aware of that, if important to your organization, may mean avoiding or limiting the benefits you choose to implement:

  • Passwords must be complex and at least 8 characters, but cannot exceed 16 characters (unless integrated with your local network’s Active Directory — AD).
  • If you have a local area network managed by AD:
    • Integration between local network AD and O365’s AD is problematic unless the local AD has been appropriately cleaned up; you may be best off not trying to integrate the two. Ideally, though, they should be integrated.
    • Changes to AD, when integrated, can take awhile to replicate across both ADs, though password changes and disabling accounts are supposed to happen instantly.
  • OneDrive (in place of an on-site file server)
    • Many churches and ministries rely on a large file folder structure for shared files that may have departmental security.
      • OneDrive currently doesn’t handle that. There is a beta client showing promise, however.
      • Another possible solution is O365 Sharepoint.
    • OneDrive does not work well for Mac users. In its current version, the beta client does not resolve this issue.
    • Not nearly as simple to use as Dropbox or Owncloud.
  • Exchange (email, contacts, calendars, etc): For churches that send large group emails, unless using a 3rd party communication service, relay, or mailing list product, O365’s Exchange Server limits sending when emails:
    • 30 messages per minute, and
    • 10,000 recipients per day.

Best O365 Practices that Save
Even with the limitations mentioned above, it is likely your church or ministry would benefit from O365 at some level! Here are some best practices approaches.

  • For non-academic charities, there are basically two licensing options (see https://products.office.com/en-us/nonprofit/office-365-nonprofit-plans-and-pricing):
    • E1 – FREE!
      • Does not include the fully installable version of Office, but does provide online browser-based versions.
      • File storage in OneDrive, up to 1tb per user.
      • Exchange Server.
      • IM, teleconferencing, video conferencing.
    • E3 – $4.50/month per user – Everything included in E1 plus:
      • The fully installable version of Office and mobile apps.
      • AD management.
  • There’s another option that may make the most sense for many.
    • Combine the free E1 with O365 ProPlus for Nonprofits (only $2.00/month per user), listed at the bottom of the web page!
    • The O365 ProPlus for Nonprofits option includes the fully installable version of O365 and mobile apps.

Can You Still Just Buy Office 2016?
Many prefer to just buy their Office app, paying a one-time fee with no further subscription fees. You can still do that, and the charity licensing cost is still about the same; just contact your preferred vendor.

So whether you only want the installable version of Office, or want to add to that an Exchange server and more, Microsoft O365 now makes a lot of sense for many more Christian churches and ministries.

OS Version Update: Windows, OSX, Android, & iOS

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2015 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine

The Operating Systems (OS) on our computers and devices impact our computing experience and productivity. Whether it’s about Windows, OSX, Android, or iOS– the question I often get is, “What’s current and, even more important, what’s dependable?”

The Purpose of the OS
People get very excited about new operating systems! People are excited about what’s coming! They want to know what we think, and whether it’s okay for them to upgrade!

All of that excitement is good, and we’ll talk about the latest OSes in this article, as promised. But before we do, I’d like to inject a little reality into the discussion. You see, OSes should have very little impact on what we do and how we do it. An OS is really the foundation that allows the apps we do our work (or play) in to function. And it’s the apps– like Microsoft Office– that really impact what we do and how we do it.

Every OS comes with some small applications we like to call applets. Windows comes with Notepad and WordPad, and OSX comes with TextEdit, for example, that can do very light word processing. Does anyone use those applets? Not typically! No, we use Microsoft Word or Apple Pages because we want the full-featured word processing experience. So, it’s not the OS that helps us be productive, but the apps we install on top of the OS that really affect us.

But the OS can have an impact too. If it’s buggy, our apps won’t work as well as we need them to. OS quality can, thus, impact our productivity.

I mention this because running the latest and greatest OS isn’t always as important as the marketing and hype would have us believe. I’m not opposed to new OSes; I like how they add a freshness to our lives. But the bigger issue is productivity, and productivity happens mostly in our apps.

Windows
The new version, Windows 10, is about to hit the streets! It is a vast improvement over Windows 8 (and 8.1), and in our testing has proven itself to be solid! That’s great news, because Windows 8 wasn’t so great; it had a very steep learning curve and was not fun to use on systems without touch screens. Windows 10 includes a Start button (one of the biggest complaints from users when Windows 8 debuted was the absence of the Start button) and even re-introduces the Start menu! And Windows 10 is a solid network citizen.

Windows 10 is also free! Well, free to most users of Windows 7 and Windows 8 systems anyway. Microsoft wants everyone to move up to this OS, so they’re giving it away to most Windows users! My firm (MBS, Inc.) will be encouraging folks to move to it. Here is Microsoft’s minimum specs for Windows 10:

  • 1ghz or faster processor
  • 1gb RAM (for the 32-bit version) or 2gb RAM (for the 64-bit version), though I would recommend doubling those RAM minimums
  • 16gb storage (hard drive or flash)

Some changes you’ll notice in Windows 10:

  • Internet Explorer has been replaced! The new browser is called Edge. It’s a lot less bloated than Internet Explorer, and looks good!
  • The lock screen is more functional than it was in Windows 8, allowing you to see notifications, etc while the computer is locked if you want to (this is a configurable feature so folks won’t see notifications while you’re at lunch).
  • You can now talk to your computer– or yell at it!– and it will talk back! The feature is called Cortana; think Siri with a Seattle accent.

Microsoft has said this will be the last version of Windows– ever. Perhaps this will be like OSX where everything is a version of OSX 10 (10.1, 10.6, 10.10, etc). More interesting, perhaps, is why they skipped the numeral nine in naming this version. There are lots of theories out there, the most likely of which is that various apps call out Windows 9* in their code because of Windows 95, 98, etc. But my favorite theory continues to be that “seven ate nine.”

Mac OSX
When Apple released OSX 10.9 (Mavericks), they broke the system that reads and writes files over networks. I worked with some Apple engineers, hoping they’d fix that. They didn’t though; they made it worse by spreading the ‘joy’ to also affecting reading and writing local files, treating most users to spinning color wheels throughout their day. Proving the saying, “Free isn’t always worth what you pay for it”, my firm never encouraged anyone to move to Mavericks.

When Yosemite (OSX 10.10) came out, there was marginal improvement, and then a couple of updates improved it a little further. The result was our conclusion that it would not get back to what it was before Mavericks, and that we should probably approve Yosemite so folks could move forward. The latest version is 10.10.3, and we recommend it.

Android
Android OS updates are a challenge because many device providers (for smartphones, for example) are slow to update the OS. Going outside of the providers’ recommended OS sometimes means not being able to use the device on their system, so upgrading can be risky. The latest version is Lollipop (5.1.1), and it’s predecessor is KitKat (4.4w2). We recommend checking with your device provider before upgrading.

iOS
The latest version is 8.3, and it seems solid. Apple controls the OS closely, and this one is good!

My favorite part of iOS 8 is the ability to pay for things with Apple Pay. Apple Pay is the most secure payment method available because it doesn’t actually transfer credit card or debit card information, but instead transfers a token, and the token will expire. Apple Pay requires an iPhone 6 or 6+, a newer iPad, or an Apple Watch connected to an iPhone 5 or 6.