June 17, 2016
For the next couple of weeks, through end of June, you can buy a Microsoft Surface computer through Friendly Connections IT for LESS than you can get it on Amazon. Here’s the deal:
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 9PY-00001 Intel Core i5 6300U 2.4 GHz 4 GB Memory 128 GB SSD Intel HD Graphics 520 12.3” 2736 x 1824 5 MP Front \ 8 MP Rear Camera Touchscreen Tablet Windows 10 Home
On the Surface that seems like a good deal (sorry, couldn’t resist) but it is even better. It comes with a solid relationship with the best IT company in the area. We support what we sell. Amazon, and all the other on line sites, as good as they are do not do much when you’ve got a problem. You can’t drive up to their store, go in side and ask “Hey, what is this icon on my desktop for?” Friendly Connections IT has a store, a driveway and someone to answer all those small questions.
Want to step it up a bit… larger hard drive, more memory?
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (512 GB, 16 GB RAM, Intel Core i5) is available.
Take a look at them online and give us a call. But don’t wait. This expires with the month of June.
May 30, 2016
I originally wrote this over three years ago but it requires little updating and still holds true.
Why don’t we get viruses?
We frequently get asked here in the shop about malware. One thought I nearly have is why we don’t get malware on our PCs at Friendly Connections IT. So, here goes.
Let’s start with some honesty here. We actually did have a virus on one of our computers. It has been a number of years since this happened and the culprit will remain nameless. And we occasionally pick up some low level malware what we call ‘pup’ or Potentially Undesirable Programs. More about that later. But after over 11 years of being in business that is it. And considering that our entire team is nearly always online searching for parts or drivers, researching malware problems or new technology one might expect problems. I spend some time on social sites as any successful business does these days and our email address is available online all over the internet. Meanwhile in that timeframe we have conservatively taken in over 5000 computers with malware and fixed them.
So, what gives? Here’s the list of what I think makes the difference in our shop:
1 – We use AVG CloudCare on every computer. The CloudCare version is mostly for businesses but it allows us to keep watch for problems on our customer and our own PC’s through an online console. Both the CloudCare version and the standalone version do as good a job as any system I’ve found and neither interferes with the programs we run. I’ve actually never seen AVG interfere with anything which is a major criteria in my selection of an antivirus system. One thing to keep in mind: No antivirus will defeat a user that is so determined to download something that they ignore the warnings. Read the fine print on EVERYTHING.
2 – We update all of the PC’s all of the time. No exception. Our server goes through a separate system of updating as should all servers. But the PC’s, all of the recommended, automatic updates all the time. They are usually security oriented so there is never an exception to this (despite what many techs say, I’ve adhered to this for years).
3 – We don’t always browse but when we do we use the Chrome browser. This would start a war on the tech sites but I’m convinced that Chrome is the most secure browser. I’ve been using it since its inception and am used to it. Next choice would be Firefox but I never really liked the way it operates. Personal preference. A lot of this is personal preference but, hey, it has worked so far. The Chrome browser can be downloaded at www.Chrome.com.
3a – I have Java disabled on my Chrome browser. If I go to a site that requires Java (and the sites will say that) I shift to Internet Explorer. Otherwise I don’t want Java enabled since it continues to have a lot of security problems.
4 – We have an excellent firewall on our network. This is a business class firewall. What that means is that I’ve got an appliance that sits between me and the Internet. Its primary job is to make sure that no one can get into my network who is not supposed to be here. Connecting to the internet is like connecting to a faucet and turning it on. Everything comes through and there are people out there who write programs that constantly look for unprotected connections. Having a good residential router performs a lower level of what we have and is generally enough protection. But a business like ours is more of a target and we have a better system. I am of the opinion that EVERY business should have a good firewall. They are not cheap but pay for themselves many times over with a single prevented incident of hacking. The firewall itself contains antivirus so it offers a second layer of protection in addition to preventing hackers who might want to do us harm.
5 – We fully understand the computer mantra “Nothing is free”. If I download a ‘free’ program I’m expecting either that it:
a – is a lower level trial version (such as AVG Free) or
b – it has some kind of accompanying advertisement (such as YouTube) or
c – it is going to try to scare me into buying something I don’t need (such as RegPro and all of the other
programs that will ‘guarantee your computer runs faster!’) or
d – it will download junkware like special search engines that will direct you to where they want you to go
e – it will download viruses (and the examples of these are endless).
I recently needed something that would allow me to slice up and reassemble a video file. I only needed it
once and so, knowing that I was heading for trouble, I downloaded a free one and then spent about fifteen
minutes uninstalling all the junk that came along with it. I was paying attention so it was not much of an
issue but that is not typically what our customers experience. What I downloaded and removed would no
doubt have eventually resulted in cascading my computer into a ball of useless wiring. This happens
frequently to the people who walk through our doors.
6 – We read the fine print. When setting up a program or driver or anything else there is writing above
the button that says “Next”. The installation has paused to give you a chance to read what is
happening. If you don’t really understand what is going to happen when you click on “Next” then I would
recommend not doing so. When was the last time you actually read one of the licenses that you agree to
during installation? The ones from Microsoft are usually pretty interesting and written in language that is
easy to understand.
6a – If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. We apply a very critical eye to anything that
sounds like any kind of offer. This cuts out most of the helpful applications. We don’t install coupon
trackers, money savers, lottery predictors, and astrology or weather applications. All of those run
constantly in the background chipping away slowly but surely at the performance of the PC and all of them
track your shopping and computing habits reporting back to the mother ship just as the contract presented
above the ‘Next’ key during installation said they would do.
Final note: There is no way to be sure. A computer can become infected or its operating system can
become corrupt for many reasons. Nothing, absolutely nothing, takes the place of a good backup. But
that’s another column.
Questions? Give us a call and we’ll help.
Bill Schubert owns Friendly Connnections IT (www.fcofg.com). We are located in Georgetown and provide
managed and cloud services to businesses in the Williamson County area since 2005. In other words we’re
‘the computer guys’ for our business customers. We specialize in providing an off-site IT department to
companies with 5 to 100 PCs but also provide support to residential customers at 512-931-4134.
23 February 2016
As frequently happens when I start to write articles on topics I know about I realize I don’t know what I thought I knew. And I’ll admit that I’m a little weak in the world of email. Turns out for good reason. About an hour into my research I’ve figured out that it is way too complex for anyone but the most dedicated of techs. I marginally fit that definition but I’m too old to absorb the whole discussion.
That is fortunate for you. I can translate the deep geek to English. Here’s what you need to know.
EMAIL SPOOFING: “Email spoofing is the creation of email messages with a forged sender address.” Wikipedia.com [There’s a very long complex discussion in Wikipedia with links to about five hours of research. Feel free.]
How it happens. Here’s the bad news. You clicked on something in an email. Maybe it was a “Verify your PayPal account” or “UPS has a package for you, click here for tracking”. Or any of a hundred other ways to get people to click on things. You’ve seen them, you’ve clicked on them. No one is perfect and it only takes once to get in trouble.
What happens next. Your email address is compromised usually by a Trojan virus and enough information is sent to the crooks they can use it to solicit money from your friends (the list of which they also acquire from your email address book). You may have heard of the scams:
“I’m stuck in [insert foreign country here] and have lost my wallet, passport and money. Please send a money order so that I can get home” or something similar.
We see this several times a year and there’s not much we can do for our customers after it has happened.
How can I avoid my email being spoofed, you say?
Well my fist answer is a quote from a Lifehacker.com article on email spoofing. You already know this answer:
As always, the weakest link in security is the end-user. That means that you’ll need to keep your BS sensors turned all the way up every time you get an email you weren’t expecting. Educate yourself. Keep your anti-malware software up to date.
The people doing this are part of a huge organized crime and the majority are from eastern European countries. Many of the tools used in these ventures are available for sale on various markets accessible through back end web sites. There are even ‘help’ desks for criminals who are not so technically capable. All of this is beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement. There is a coalition of groups interested in stopping this sort of activity but on an international scale email spamming and spoofing is not today’s top priority.
My recommendation for personal email is to use Gmail. It has the best security track record year over year. I’ve been using it for my personal email since it was in Beta mode and I’ve only seen the security get better. I very occasionally get what I would consider spam, a message I did not request or want. There’s a button at the top of the Gmail screen that lets me report the message (and the sender) while it removes it to the spam folder. This happens maybe once a month and I get hundreds of emails into that box from technology lists I’m on.
1 – Make sure your antivirus is working. (By the way we use, sell and recommend AVG CloudCare, the business version of AVG, for businesses and residential use)
2 – Pay attention to links all of the time but especially in emails from people you do not know.
3 – Consider using Gmail as the most secure service.
The advice is completely different for businesses. Check our March 2016 newsletter where I address that.
Give us a call if you’ve got any questions or comments about this. 512-931-4134
January 3, 2016
Notes on Google Apps vs Office 365
I ran across someone last week asking this question: “We are using Google Apps. Is it worth moving to Office 365?”
My immediate response was ‘Yes’ but then I thought I’d be a bit more thorough in my answer. There are a lot of words on the subject online and I worked through many of them to add to my personal knowledge. I’ve been a user of Gmail and Google Docs from the beginning. First as a consumer, then as a business owner. When it became available I bought into Google Apps (the business version of Google Docs). For the first few years of our business we used Google Docs and Google Drive buying Apps licenses for each employee. We kept our documentation there and it worked fairly well. The biggest downfall is that the versions of Word and Excel are limited and do not always import well into another business’ Office system. So sharing with another business is iffy unless they are also on Google Docs.
Google went out of their way to ensure the Apps platform was stable even to the extent of delaying enhancements to the Gmail in Apps until the business team decided they were sufficiently stable to be included. The business team at Google was more concerned with stability than with rich features. Frequently it occurred to me that this was the difference between Google and Microsoft. MS will roll out amazingly rich features that may have a glitch or two in them. Just a different way of doing business.
A few years back Microsoft decided that the cloud future Google had seen long ago was becoming reality and it was time to get on the train. They moved their Office applications online. And the results were not thrilling. As frequently happens with MS their marketing got ahead of their engineering and the result was a mess of offerings. Weeding through them to get to just what was being offered and for how much was difficult and more than once changed without notice overnight.
But they had Office to work with. The whole thing, enriched, occasionally glitchy but easily accessed and fully available everywhere all the time. Whatever else you can say about Microsoft, once they have found a good product they do know how to groom it. The original version of MS Office on O365 was Office 2013 which was the same thing that you could buy in Staples but now it was online. The latest Office 2016 is the first created for Office 365 and Microsoft continues to enrich the online playground.
Office 365 automatically picks up all upgrades to Office. When you pay Microsoft a monthly fee the upgrades are included. Software as a service. It allows for a flat, predictable, monthly payment rather than the periodic unplanned expense of replacing the entire suite.
Google Apps started out and remains fully in the cloud. Only the product, not the application can be downloaded to the PC. So working off line is pretty much non existent. Google specialized and advertised group integration, group work, with Hangouts, Google Drive cross editing and similar features.
The online versions of Outlook, Word and Excel are nearly identical to the ones on your computer. In addition each user can download their Office suite on up to five computers. What I have found using Office on my PC is that I seldom use the cloud version. This opposed to Google Apps where cloud is the only choice. The PC version of Office apps is far more feature rich and quicker to use. It did not take me long before I completely abandoned Google Apps. The only thing I use it for now is the Gmail.
The two things that Google still does better is search and storage. I keep a copy of all my business email on Google Apps primarily so that I can search it. I’ve got every message ever received for my company out there and Google knows how to search (no surprise there). I can search for something in Outlook and not find it. Same search on Gmail and comes right up. So it is worth it to me to maintain that background email collection.
And I think Google got Drive right. Microsoft has had a terrible time transitioning their storage version (Sharepoint) to a usable business cloud version (One Drive for Business). It is a mess. It is difficult to set up, hard to figure out what goes where and how and hard to back up. We use Dropbox for business at the moment while we wait for Microsoft to settle out on how they want to store things.
With the two caveats of mediocre search capabilities in Outlook and the mess of One Drive storage my opinion is that Office 365 is the only way to go for any growing business. Word and Excel are the platforms all businesses will use for the foreseeable future, the business standard. Microsoft has won that battle long ago. The price for O365 is reasonable. The management (from the perspective of an IT company) is much easier that Google Apps. And Microsoft will only get better at the cloud interaction.
Transition from Google Apps to Office 365 is not difficult. It does require the assistance of someone who has done it before but the tools area available online to smooth the transition and we’ve done it a few times. Just give us a call and ask.
December 15, 2015
Watch what you click.
I feel like I shouldn’t have to say it. But if the fishing scams didn’t work, organized crime would not keep running them.
Not much gets by my email filters (Office 365 and Gmail are both EXCELLENT spam filters) but I received one this morning and it reminded me that I haven’t recently sent out a be careful with what you click email.
Here is the email I received.
I have not spent any money with Kohl’s. But even if I had I would not click on something from @askflecea.com. And this time of year especially I don’t click on ANY link that says “Track your order”.
If you’ve got an order from a store and you want to track its progress go to the web site (eg. – Kohl’s and track it there). If you receive the ever present “You missed a UPS delivery. Click here.” Don’t do it. UPS, Fedex, USPS. They all have sites suited for tracking.
Let’s keep it safe out there this year and keep Christmas Merry!!
November 12 2015
If you have an HP computer or know someone who does this quick note is for you. In the past few days Microsoft has been rolling out an update labeled KB3097877 that will prevent some HP computers from starting up. We’ve had two of these today.
If your computer will not go beyond the start up screen the fix is pretty easy. Restart the computer and as soon as you see the blue HP screen hit F11. From there on the left column of choices choose Microsoft System Restore. Follow the prompts. Choose ANY restore point. Run through the restore. When it reboots it should come up. Open up Windows updates and find the update that should be there KB3097877. Right click on it and select hide. That will prevent a repeat.
If you don’t want to do all that or it does not work just bring it in to us and we’ll look at really sternly and hit a bunch more keys. That usually works with PCs in our shop.
November 4, 1015
The day after Windows 10 came out I upgraded my PC at which point it crashed. I then rolled it back and then wrote about it here. That was last quarter, a long time ago. Lots of changes for us and lots of Windows 10 installs rolled out by Microsoft. I still have not upgraded on my work PC. To do that I’ve got to buy a new video card and pull my PC out and do the whole hardware upgrade thing and… OK, I’m whining here. But I’m just not motivated to do it. And I’m resistant to Microsoft’s constant pop-ups and messages and emails and in your face ‘YOU’VE GOT TO DO THIS NOW!!!” message about Windows 10.
I’m a huge proponent of Microsoft. They have changed and continue to the world in more ways than we can recognize. The systems in our shop and in the cloud are all Microsoft and they work really well. Of course they are set up right and monitored and secured and replaced every three years. But they work well. So when I say I’m really not happy with the way Microsoft is essentially using the public as Beta testers by offering them an operating system that was not quite ready it is not that I don’t like the company.
We have a stream of customers who finally gave up resisting the Windows 10 siren call and attempted to upgrade only to have it fail. Fortunately we’re usually able to roll back the update without losing programs or data but not always. So here’s my take on Windows 10.
Unless and until you have vendors and software that demands you upgrade your computers to Windows 10, I’ve really got to ask why? The standard for a business is to replace their computers every three years. Our recommendation and the one that we follow is to just plan on it. Divide the number of PCs you currently have by three and multiply that by $900 (PC plus install plus software upgrade) and put the money in a technology account to spend at the end of the year. At that point you can take a tax write off for capital upgrade. The new PC will likely come with Windows 10. There you go. Until then, I recommend leaving the exploring new operating systems to recreational time.
I think people just get bored or tired of being beaten up by Microsoft or they just accidentally click on the wrong thing (I’ve done it) and all of the sudden Windows 10 is installing. We’ve seen a lot of successful installs but I have yet to hear anyone say “Wow, am I ever glad I upgraded to Windows 10. It is so much better!” Let’s face it. Most of us use about three or four programs. Email, Internet (Chrome browser, please), maybe some special program like golf statistics tracking software, etc. It does not matter which Microsoft OS you are using. If you right click on the icon that opens that program and select “Pin to taskbar” then it is down at the bottom of the screen and you can click on it any time. Works with Windows 7, Vista, Windows 8 and Windows 10. As long as the window opens and it works does it really matter what the rest of the operating system does? There are hundreds of bells and whistles I don’t use in Windows 8 and it will be the same in Windows 10. I’m not going to talk to Cortana and I don’t use a touch screen so most of that is lost on me. Granted I’m old but I really think that most people use about five percent of the operating system and the rest just runs ignored in the background or pops up trying to get your attention.
If you’ve got good, fairly new, hardware bought in the past couple of years. If you didn’t get that PC that stores advertise for $200 or the laptop for $250. If you are bored and want to do something new then I’d say go ahead. Here and here are some new features that will keep you busy by sites who love Windows 10.
But if you want to wait a bit. It will still be free next June and all of the Beta testing will be done. Or better yet, buy a new PC or Laptop build for Windows 10. They are just starting to come out.
Just a thought.
Got any thoughts for me? I’m glad to here them.
Friendly Connections IT
September 22, 2015
We had a customer come in today, a friend of mine, who is working at a small business. The business had a computer that crashed and their hard drive could not be accessed. It is electronic hardware spinning at 7200RPMs or more and over time things happen. She was asking for recovery options. I gave them to her and just now got back from sending off her hard drive to one of our partners Flashback Data. I highly recommend them, tell them we sent you.
Whether we recover the computer data or not she’s got some decisions to make. Replace the PC? Or just the hard drive? If the decision is to replace the PC, then what to get? And what to put on it to help from this kind of thing in the future.
We get this a lot and I’ve never written about it before. So here goes. My recommendation to small businesses (our primary partners).
PC Choices: A small business will spend about $170 a year on a PC. That’s just the PC itself. I derive this figure from 17 years of watching PC’s come and go. The price is remarkably consistent considering that the capabilities of business level PC’s always go up while the price remains about the same. Here are the two baseline choices, consider them the minimum. Please consider the prices to be approximate. They change slightly over time but are always in the same ballpark.
- Choice one: Refurbished Dell Optiplex PC. They are workhorses. We’ve sold hundreds over the years and hardly ever have a problem with them. Cost is $325. If you get two years out of it, then you are ahead of the game.
- Advantage: Lower front end cost.
- Disadvantage: Older technology, less capable, slower than the new PC’s. Likely to last two years. Warranty for 90 days (but we have Friendly warranty plans that can extend that).
- Choice two: New Lenovo small form factor PC (proven to be a workhorse also) at $649. Lots of technical stuff I could throw at you but bottom line: a good computer for the price. This obviously costs about twice as much as a refurb but the ROI is much better and while you are working with it the experience is better than a refurb.
- Advantage: Likely to last five years. Should be replaced around four. Warranty is for one year (but we have Friendly warranty plans that can extend that too). Runs faster than refurb, more USB and video connection choices. Supports two monitors out of the box.
- Disadvantage: More cost up front. That’s really the only disadvantage.
Recommendation: Get the new PC. Better results over time. Better experience working with it. Only get the refurb if you just don’t have the cash. And in that case, start putting money aside for a new PC immediately.
Backups. Remember how my friend got in the situation of a bad hard drive and having to use a recover service? Backing up data is getting it off site. Out of the building. Monitored by someone and ready to be restored. I wrote about it here. Friendly Connections IT sells a backup package. All the data you have on one PC for $30/month. This includes our assisting in the setup, daily monitoring by Friendly Connections IT, assistance if you ever need it restored and all the questions you can ask. Flat rate. Friendly Backup Service. You need it. Really. Flashback Data would love to get your money once or twice a year. One service with them costs the same as about three years of Friendly backup.
Recommendation: Running your business without monitored, guaranteed backups is like taking a trip cross country on bald tires. You might make it.
Antivirus. We have been working with AVG for ten years now and with AVG CloudCare since it first came out three years ago. We’ve got about 700 clients on it right now and it just works. Period. The cost is around $40/year/computer. Friendly Connections IT puts it on your computers and we monitor it remotely if needed. It updates automatically and never needs to be reinstalled. We invoice in December for the following year. It could not be easier or more effective.
Recommendation: It is an unfortunate truth that every PC needs solid antivirus. Business can be liable for the results of NOT having it. The first domino in the Target credit card data loss was a PC in a small business that worked with Target. The PC did not have a proactive antivirus on it. Forty bucks a year is cheap insurance.
We have partners we take care of. Quite a few of them. We’ve got some customers who bring in their equipment to be fixed but mostly we have partners. For $10/computer/month you can be a Friendly Connections IT partner and we will monitor your computer 24×7, automatically apply updates, automatically fix many common errors and let you know when there is a bigger problem. We call it Friendly Monitor PLUS.
OK, those are the basics. The bottom line for all businesses regardless of size.
Any questions? Give us a call and we’ll talk more.
Friendly Connections IT
4134 Williams Drive
Georgetown, TX 78328
September 15, 2015
The Williams County Sun featured our reboot to Friendly Connections IT in their mid week edition this week.
August 12, 2015
Today is my birthday. I actually count every five years now so the only thing I know is I’m eligible for most of the discounts and not yet for Medicare.
But today is a celebration here as we close down the company that has served Georgetown for 10 years, Friendly Computers. And today the day we reboot the whole thing.
Tomorrow, the 13th of August, is the first day of our brand new shiny company, Friendly Connections IT. This change gives us some new directions and a lot of new possibilities. It is more than a name change, much more. We will be focused increasingly on our business partners guiding them through the expanding complexity that is today’s technology. As always our doors are open to our many residential customers but even with them we have found the most success in an arrangement that goes by the name of Friendly Residential Service or FRS 24. If you look at our testimonial page you will see how successful that has become.
There is a huge difference in process and attitude about what Friendly Connections IT does. We have moved from engaging customers to working with partners. While we will always look at and fix the individual computers that come our way we will always be discussing with that customer the benefits of becoming an FC partner.
We now have more than 50 years of intense technical experience combined in the crew here at Friendly Connections IT. We have not seen it all – every day we learn something new that helps us better support our partners – but we’ve seen a lot. Every one of us enjoys the opportunity to smooth the technology ahead for our business customers.
So we are not the same company. We’re not just the emergency room for broken PC’s. We are the health care professional, the advisor that guides our partners toward better and more secure and healthy technology. We lean towards planning, towards monitoring and intercepting problems before they effect the businesses with which we partner. We stay current on the latest technology threats and work to ensure our partners never even hear of them.
We are the technology department your company should have and we can make it affordable. Give us a call and we can continue the discussion.
Friendly Connections IT