Posts Tagged ‘Windows’

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.

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.

All Data is Vulnerable

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

Sony. The US government. The news is often filled with ‘the latest’ cyberattack. It seems like all of our data is vulnerable. What should we do about it? What can we do about it?

Can We Truly Secure Our Data?
I think the best answer is maybe, but always keep in mind that if someone who is talented and focused really wants to get to your data, they probably can. It might take them a little time, but no data today is completely secure. Whether it’s someone we know who wants to hurt us (the hardest danger to protect against), a vendor who is careless or not doing their due diligence to protect the data they have, an email or website link we clicked on that gives someone access to our data, or some malicious person sitting on the same public WiFi network we’re using to do some quick shopping, our personal and corporate data is more accessible than we’d like to believe. And if our position in life is such that we become a ‘public’ target, we increase our vulnerability many times over.

Are Some Computers & Devices More Secure?
The quick answer is yes, but that doesn’t mean we’d be willing to focus our lives on the ‘more secure’ systems. Remember that even the US government gets hacked, and we’d like to believe it is doing all that can be done to protect data we have entrusted to it (though we give it some data because if we didn’t– like when we send in our tax returns, we’d be breaking the law).

There are conferences around the world for ‘security’ people that attract a lot of hackers too. The conferences often set up computers for attendees to try to hack, and there are usually rewards given to those who are the first to hack them. Typically, they set up three current computers with current configurations: a Mac OS system, a Windows system, and a Linux system. The Mac OS system is usually the first to fall (often in less than five minutes), followed by the Windows system (usually within an hour), and the Linux system is often the one nobody can hack. But most of us don’t want to work on computers that run Linux; we prefer our Mac OS and Windows systems.

Regarding iOS and Android devices, there are a small number of exploitations for them, but the data they carry is usually much less than computers carry and the risk is, thus, fairly small. Of the two, iOS devices seem to be more secure, perhaps because their filing system is not typically available to users.

What Should We Do?
Be careful! But keep in mind that even if you are careful, your data could still get hacked. Here are some things I recommend:

  • Keep your computers and other devices up to date regarding the patches provided by their operating system and application manufacturers. Many patches close up vulnerabilities that have begun to be exploited.
  • Run anti-malware on your computers, and make certain your email is scanned to prevent most of the SPAM that is sent to try to take advantage of you.
  • Reconsider whether you can really trust public WiFi. I rarely use it– never on my computer, and only sometimes on my iOS devices. If I need my computer to connect to the Internet while away, I use my smartphone’s hotspot feature so that my connection is more secure. Public WiFi is an easy way for malicious people to gain access to your systems and data.
  • Reconsider which websites and public cloud solutions you can really trust with your sensitive data. Some very popular public cloud solutions have track records of poor security.
  • Use good passwords that are more difficult to hack. I recommend passwords with a minimum of seven characters that are a mixture of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and common punctuation.
  • If you use a digital wallet, don’t let it sync your identity and security-related data to a public cloud server. Even though that public cloud vendor may do a good job on their security, they are a target in the hacker community. You personally may not be a hacker target, and so having that kind of data only on your local devices (encrypted, of course), your security may be elevated by your obscurity.
  • Some data is more prone to problems than others. Carefully read each email, tweet, post, and text message you write before pressing ‘Send’ to make certain nothing you send can be misinterpreted or used to hurt you or someone else. The best strategy is to assume each of those communications over any system could show up on the news and be read by everyone you know.

Does It Really Matter?
I was consulting with a church recently when one of the younger pastors said he thought ‘data security’ was a “generational thing”. Unfortunately, he is correct! Many who are younger think the entire data security topic is overplayed. But those of us who are a little older know people whose lives have been significantly damaged because of data theft, identity theft, and other data security breaches. Recovering from some of those data security breaches takes a very long time, and some people never recover from them!

Yes, data security matters. And if there are simple things you can do to improve your data security, even though doing them won’t guarantee your data will be secure, it makes sense to do them.

Protection from Ransomware

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

© 2014 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine

Malware has taken a new direction recently that, if you’re not protected, could cost you all of your data and a bit of money. And it doesn’t matter if you’re on a Windows or Mac computer. How can you protect your and your organization’s data?

Ransomware
The new category of malware is called ransomware because it holds your files for ransom. Some ransomware encrypts files, and some only locks files. In either case, you can’t get to your data unless you pay a fee, which may or may not work. Protecting from such malware and having a plan in case an infection gets through to your data is essential.

Protection
We recommend a multilayered protection plan that runs on your email system, at your firewall, on your servers, and on your computers. Specifically:

  • Protection for Your Email. Most malware is distributed via email. Believe it or not, about 85% of all email is SPAM, and a lot of SPAM has a goal of infecting your computer. A lot of SPAM also tries to phish for information to steal your identity… serious stuff! This is worth paying attention to!

    Most consumer-oriented email services (like Gmail) filter out a lot of the SPAM that comes into their system. But corporations that have their own email servers (like Exchange) need to have a good SPAM filtering solution in place to protect their system’s users. There are many solutions available, but in my firm’s research we concluded that Barracuda offers the best SPAM filtering solution. We strongly recommend that you check to be certain your email is being filtered to remove obvious SPAM.

  • Protection at Your Firewall. The second most popular malware distribution method is via infected websites. If a webhost hasn’t done their due diligence to protect those visiting the websites it hosts, then malware can be injected into otherwise legitimate websites and infect those visiting them!

    It is important, then, to have a firewall that monitors all incoming web traffic to stop malware from infected websites, in addition to stopping other threats like hackers and bots, etc. Once again, there are many solutions available to help in this area. For churches and ministries, the best balance of features and price are found in Dell SonicWALL firewalls. You can certainly spend more, but the additional features in more expensive solutions are rarely, if ever, used by churches and ministries.

    One of the features we really like in SonicWALL firewalls, by the way, is easy-to-configure web content filtering to keep inappropriate websites from being accessed through your Internet connections.

  • Protection for Your Computers. All desktop and notebook computers are at risk if something gets through those first two lines of defense. Notebooks are especially vulnerable because of their mobile nature, since they connect to the Internet when off-site and not under the protection of your firewall. Tablets are also more vulnerable if they have data storage ability (probably not iOS devices since their filing system is inaccessible).

    The solution we recommend for desktop and notebook computers is Sophos; it is capable and does not slow your computers down with burdensome routines. We recommend installing it on every Windows and Mac computer.

  • Protection for Your Servers. If something gets through your SPAM filter or firewall, your servers need to be protected. Every file that gets written to their hard drives should be scanned to ensure malware protection at that level. The solution we like most in that role is also Sophos.

Really? Macs too?
Yes! We see Sophos catch a number of malware on Macs every year! It is true that most malware is not able to exploit Macs (some can, but they’re a small percentage), but the Macs can become ‘carriers’ which can pass issues on to servers, etc.

Don’t Forget Backups!
One of the most important functions in IT is the protection of data and systems. If there’s a problem, there needs to be a way to get completely back up and running as quickly as possible. Backups are an essential piece of disaster recovery and business continuity strategies.

A client recently asked why we spec the backup solutions we do. It was a great question! Here’s my response, which you may find helpful:

First, let me say that anytime you get ten network engineers in a room and ask for the best way to do something, you’ll likely get at least ten different answers. That doesn’t mean they’re all wrong, just that based on each one’s experience a particular strategy has become their preference.

MBS’ Recommended Backup Strategies
We did some fairly heavy research not too long ago on the subject of backup systems. There are lots of possibilities, but we found that tape was still preferred by most of corporate America that had small-to-medium sized networks– and even some very large systems like digital media archives. Here’s what we learned:

  • Large networks rely on SAN devices (Storage Area Networks) in larger onsite and offsite datacenters, and their replication capabilities make backups unnecessary. Those devices typically cost a minimum of $25-$30 thousand each, and larger units cost six figures. (Some people try to accomplish SANs on the cheap using Drobo and Buffalo drives, but they’re unreliable; in our opinion they’re not enterprise grade.) For our largest clients we recommend using SAN devices.
  • Online backup is good for restoring single files or folders, but is inadequate for restoring entire servers in a disaster. And disaster recovery is something that must be planned for. This is the strategy we only recommend for our friends’ home computers.
  • External hard drives seem like a good idea except that they have many moving parts that, when transported offsite (which should happen often as part of the disaster recovery plan), can– and often do– fail. The manufacturers will replace them under warranty, but without any data on them; not good if that happens during a disaster recovery scenario. We never recommend this strategy.
  • Tape technology continues to move forward in development. Our clients typically only need LTO5 or LTO6 (Linear Tape-Open) specs (1.5tb and 2.5tb native capacities), but LTO7 – LTO10 are slated for release. I’ll be surprised if they ever are, however, because an organization with that much data will usually be at the size where they’re investing in SANs.

MBS’ Datacenter
In our datacenter we use SANs that send their backups to another enterprise-grade device called a NAS (for Network Attached Storage) that has large capacity. We use that strategy in the datacenter because we’re not there to change tapes on a daily basis.

I hope you found this helpful and– best of all– that you’re in a safe place! If you have more vulnerability than you’d like, though, the fixes are reasonable in cost and fairly quick to implement.