For whatever reason, I have seen a big increase in the number of my clients who are reporting various tech support scams online. I’ve even had a few who have been called on their home lines from scammers who claim to be from well-known technology companies such as Microsoft. Usually, the scam is the same no matter how it is carried out. You are notified that viruses or malware have been detected on your computer, or that your computer is “not protected”, or some other similar danger and you need to call to have your computer fixed. Usually there are dire warnings about bad things potentially happening to your computer or data and that you should call immediately to have the problem taken care of. Fortunately, most of my clients realized these warnings are scams, but I’ve had several fall for it, at least initially.
Please be aware that these scams exist and do not fall for them. If you see scary warnings of viruses or other problems and you are asked to call a phone number, ignore it. These scammers will usually try to get you to allow them to remote control your computer to “prove” to you that you have issues. Oftentimes, when they take control of your computer, they will create problems themselves so they can remove them later (after you’ve paid a hefty “service” fee, of course). I had one unfortunate client last year who allowed this to happen. When she began to realize she was being scammed, the scammers became belligerent and locked her out of her computer unless she paid a ransom. Luckily I was able to unlock her computer for her, but I almost ran out of options and would have had to completely reformat her computer and reinstall all her software if I had not been successful. These scammers are not interested in helping you, they only want to get your money and/or credit card info.
These scams are often web-based, which means that usually all you need to do to get rid of them is to close your web browser. But sometimes scammers take advantage of quirks in web browser software to make it very difficult to close your browser when their warnings are being displayed. If you run into this situation, call your trusted technology professional to help you out. It is possible that you do actually have some sort of adware that is causing additional pop-ups to display, which may include these scams.
Again, NEVER call a number you are told to call if you see this type of scam. If you receive a call from someone claiming to be a computer company, end the call. Tell them you will call your local computer expert and hang up. The bottom line is to only work with reputable tech support professionals whom you personally know. Do not be frightened by warnings of viruses detected on your computer (especially if you have a Mac, since viruses are so rare, or an iPhone or iPad as there have been no occurrence of malware for those devices) as calling a scammer and letting them take control of your computer would usually be worse than any type of malware. As long as you have a trusted technology professional taking care of your computers and network, they will be able to take care of any real problems you may have.
If you have any questions about these scams or any other technology issue, please feel free to contact me.
Have you personally seen these scams or know anyone who has fallen for one?
If you, like many of my clients, use the Google Chrome web browser for accessing web sites that utilize the Java environment, you may have recently started having trouble. Without getting too technical, the simple explanation is that Google has disabled the software interface that add-ons like Java have used to integrate into Chrome and other web browsers. For the time being it is possible to re-enable this interface, which I will explain later in this article. But it should be noted that Google plans to completely eliminate the interface within the year, so it may be worth looking at a different browser if you need to continue using Java going forward.
The main problem with this entire situation is that Google Chrome tends to automatically update itself, so many users suddenly found themselves in trouble without any warning. This situation will likely replay itself every time Chrome updates over the next few months until Google completely eliminates the interface later this year. The question at large is whether Oracle, who currently develops Java, will modify it to work with Chrome at some point soon or if Chrome users who need Java must move to another browser. For Windows users, Internet Explorer still works with Java, but for the long term, Mozilla Firefox may be the best bet since future versions of Internet Explorer (or whatever Microsoft ends up calling it) will also eliminate the software interface that Java currently uses. Chrome users on the Mac platform can also use Safari as well as Firefox.
If changing your browser is not convenient at this time and you want to re-enable the use of Java on your Chrome browser, at least temporarily, simply follow these steps:
chrome://flags/#enable-npapiin the URL bar at the top of the browser window
- Click the Enable link where it says Enable NPAPI near the top of the browser window.
- Click the Relaunch button at the bottom of the browser window.
This procedure should work on either Mac or Windows. If your Java application still isn’t working, this site may be able to help.
If you have questions about the continued use of Java, please do not hesitate to contact me.
April 15th is normally known as tax day, but it is also the day I started MB Tech full time. A lot has changed in thirteen years, especially where technology is concerned. While it is fun to look back, it is also important to understand how the trends of the last thirteen years will continue to affect the technology industry and impact your technology needs and purchases going forward.
In April 2002, Windows XP had just been released the previous fall. Microsoft Windows in general was the dominant operating system and over the next few years Windows XP was about the become the most popular version of Windows ever. Windows had just suffered a few rocky years of fast-spreading virus epidemics but as Microsoft was working to harden their operating system from traditional viruses, the era of spyware and new types of malware was just getting started. This is the first trend to pay attention to. Windows users have continued to suffer from increasingly advanced and sophisticated malware attacks. High-profile malware attacks against companies like Target and Home Depot have caused hundred of millions in losses in credit card fraud. This is one of the reasons the Windows platform is in decline. People are sick and tired of malware and in this day and age there are viable options outside of Microsoft Windows.
Two days before the release of Windows XP, Apple released their first iPod. This device was about to revolutionize the music industry and change the fortunes of the computer industry in general and Apple in particular. The runaway popularity of the iPod and the companion iTunes Store made Apple a strong, profitable company once again and paved the way for the development and introduction of the iPhone, which ushered in the era of mobile devices. Later, the release of the iPad effectively signaled the end of the PC Era and the start of The New World of Technology. This trend is noteworthy for two reasons. First, the resurgence of Apple has provided a viable alternative to Microsoft Windows for those people who are looking to move away from Windows, as I mentioned above. Second, the mobile device revolution that Apple ignited is truly just getting started. As one example, Google just recently announced that mobile-friendly web sites will begin to rank higher in their search results. Whether you are marketing your business online or managing the technology infrastructure for your business, mobile devices have completely changed the game.
One of the biggest impacts of mobile devices has been the rise of cloud computing. As more and more people began using mobile devices, the demand for remote data access exploded. Existing cloud services, which had been languishing for years, began to take off. As well, a generation of new cloud services launched to meet the needs of The New World of Technology. Today, cloud computing has changed the game for small business technology. With the proper application of cloud computing resources, small businesses can take advantage of technology advancements that once were the sole domain of large businesses with large IT budgets and staff. This has sparked a proliferation of mobile workers who are better able to respond to customer needs and increase their productivity. As a small business owner, you must stay abreast of the rise of mobile devices and cloud computing and how it is impacting your industry.
If you have any questions on technology trends, please feel free to contact me any time. If you are interested in the history of technology, please visit my blog, This Day in Tech History, for a daily dose of technology history!
Unless you have been living under a rock lately, you certainly have heard something about the upcoming Apple Watch. However, unless you are a technology professional like myself or seriously into technology gadgets, you probably have a lot of questions about the Apple Watch. As with any new technology, understanding what impact it will have on your everyday life can be very difficult to grasp. Given that over the last 15 years or so, Apple has released product after product that seem to completely change our lives, it is probably in your best interest to know at least a few things about the Apple Watch so that you can be better prepared going forward.
First things first, the Apple Watch will be available for pre-order April 10th with a public release on April 24th. Expect that there will a frenzy of buyers during this time frame as those who want to be on the cutting-edge will rush to be the first to own one. I expect that the demand for the Apple Watch will be high during the early summer this year and that demand will likely continue through back-to-school time. It may be a hot item for graduation gifts or back-to-school purchases. As with any technology device, demand may taper off after back-to-school season until the holiday season ramps up. If past history with Apple devices are any indication, the Apple Watch may well be one of the hottest gifts of the year, so pay attention if your gift recipients are hinting at an Apple Watch so you can plan early to get your hands on one.
So what is an Apple Watch exactly? Of course, as with any watch, it will keep time. But unlike most watches the display will be fully customizable. So you will be able to display the time with a variety of watch faces from analog hands to digital numbers or a combination of these traditional views. However, you will also be able to display more information on the face than just time. For example, upcoming appointments, moon phases, stock tickers, etc. will all be able to be viewed from your standard display setup. If you are one who keeps a tight schedule, it could be very handy to see your next appointment when you glance at your watch. Finally, as a timekeeping device, the Apple Watch automatically syncs to global standard time found in GPS satellites. It also automatically adjusts for Daylight Savings Time as well as automatically adjusting when your move into different time zones. Basically, you will never need to manually set the time on your Apple Watch.
Moving beyond the timekeeping features of the Apple Watch, the device also extends the way you can communicate. First understand that owning an Apple Watch requires that you also own an Apple iPhone for full functionality. A lot of the communication features of the Apple Watch depend on interaction with the iPhone. That being said, the Apple Watch can notify you of incoming calls, text messages, remind you of upcoming appointments, and a myriad of other notifications. Besides audible notifications, the Apple Watch can “tap” you on your wrist. This can be great for situations where you must turn off your iPhone’s volume. You will still know you received a notification because your Apple Watch will silently notify you. You will be able to use the watch to talk on phone calls (a la Dick Tracy), which is a great feature if you left your iPhone in a purse or in another room and you want to quickly answer a call. You can also use the Apple Watch to “tap” other people with Apple Watches. This could be useful if you want to get someone’s attention discreetly. It is also possible to read e-mail on your Apple Watch, which is probably mostly useful for quick glances at important messages.
Probably one of the most compelling feature sets for early adopters of the Apple Watch will be its fitness functions. With a built-in heart rate sensor and accelerometer, the Apple Watch can keep track of your activity and intensity levels throughout the day. This will give you a more accurate picture of your exercise levels. The Apple Watch can also remind you to get up and move periodically, which can help sedentary people get more simple exercise. With all this data, the Apple Watch can act as a virtual coach, keeping track of your progress over time and encouraging you to reach your fitness goals. All these basic fitness functions can be extended through the use of third-party Apps, which brings us to the next major feature of the Apple Watch.
Just like the iPhone, the functionality of the Apple Watch can be extended through the installation of third-party Apps. Already there are apps available for the following:
- Make purchases by using Apple Pay through your Apple Watch
- Check in to a flight using your Apple Watch, as well as receive gate change announcements and baggage claim details.
- Automatically checking in to your hotel and then unlocking your room with your Apple Watch
- Check baseball scores or other sports information from your Apple Watch
- Social media services are creating apps for Apple Watch
- Breaking news reports are available through a CNN app for Apple Watch
- The Apple Watch can let you listen to online radio stations
- Many other Apps have already been announced and certainly many more will be available after launch.
Certainly there are more details to the Apple Watch that we will all learn going forward, but these are the main functions of the Apple Watch that you should be aware of. This should give you enough knowledge to know whether or not you want to buy one for yourself or as a gift. Speaking of purchase price, the Apple Watch starts at $349 and goes up to about $17,000 for the 18K gold versions depending on the type of band purchased. Certainly, most people are going to purchase the lower-cost varieties, but be aware that the Apple Watch, like any other high-end watch, can get pricey depending on the materials it is made with.
If you have any questions regarding the Apple Watch or other mobile technologies, feel free to contact me today!
Last fall, Office Depot stores began closing as the company completed their merger with Office Max and consolidated local stores (which was odd, since the combined companies are using the Office Depot name). Unbeknownst to many, the old Office Max stores carry a smaller selection of ink and toner supplies than Office Depot stores carried. So many people with less common or older printers suddenly found themselves in a lurch when their Office Depot store closed as they couldn’t get the ink or toner they needed from a local store. Now Staples and Office Depot are in talks to merge so this situation could change again!
I learned this tidbit of information talking to Steve Clark of Metro East Office Machines. He said he can help people who need a local supplier of ink and toner for all types of less common and older printers. If you need help with your printer or toner supplies, call Metro East Office Machines at (618) 234-5628 or e-mail email@example.com. Unlike many “Toner Pirates“, they are a reputable company, having been in business since 1969.
Home Automation isn’t just for techies anymore. It is helping people with disabilities, parents of young children, and others who could benefit from a helping hand. Home Automation technology has been around for a long time, but obscure protocols, difficult setups, and high cost have generally relegated it to only the most geeky (or rich) among us. The good news is that The New World of Technology is ushering in a new age of Home Automation products and services that everyday people will finally be able to take advantage of. The year 2015 could be the year that Home Automation finally breaks out into the mainstream.
One of my daughters is part of a “Botball” club at her school where they design robots for competition. They are learning the basics of how to program the robots to do certain things based on the input the robots receive from various sensors. When it comes down to it, the robots are only as good as the input they receive from their sensors and the actions they are programmed to perform based on that input. Home Automation is very similar in this regard. Good automated homes have various sensors that feed information into some type of system. This system is programmed to perform certain functions based on that input. For example, when the house senses that someone has entered a room, the lights turn on. Another example is that when there has been no activity in the house, the thermostat automatically adjusts the temperature setting to save energy.
All of this might sound fairly simple, but until the last few years technology had not advanced to a point where devices with good sensors were reasonably priced. Additionally, there were few standards on how devices could interact with each other and most products were geared toward techies. So while Bill Gates could understand how to create (and afford) a highly automated home, most people could not. Even those of us who could do some automation around our house were limited to what we could do unless we were willing to pay through the nose. The key factor to making Home Automation accessible to mainstream users is the availability of inexpensive and easy-to-use sensory devices. I have been watching the evolution of this industry for over 15 years now and I can say with confidence that this year should see a burgeoning market of these devices. Additionally, technology from companies like Apple are set to make the integration of these devices much simpler.
If you have even the slightest interest in automating your house, here are some of the ways you could do so.
- Saving energy. A lot of home automation technologies are designed to intelligently use energy only when you need it, and turn things off when you don’t. Light and thermostats are a couple of the most common applications.
- Remote Control. Being able to control things in your home from a remote location can provide peace of mind when you are away. One example is your house telling you that the garage door was left open so you can then shut it using your smartphone.
- Security. Automated security systems can provide increased security over traditional security system. They may also be able to save you money on monitoring.
- Monitoring loved ones. The ability to see loved ones while away can allow people more freedom in leaving their homes. New health-based automation technologies can also notify caretakers and doctors that emergency situationa may be imminent.
- Sheer convenience. Don’t dismiss the convenience factor! Our homes are our castles and if we want to be able to push a button to automatically adjust things in our home then should be able to do that!
Bottom line is to start investigating your options now because I believe Home Automation technology is about to get very popular this year. If you want to be able to take advantage of it, knowledge is power. If you have questions about Home Automation technologies, or need some help implementing a solution, please feel free to contact me.
Something must be in the proverbial water around here in regards to computer upgrades. For about a solid month, I’ve been extraordinarily busy upgrading many of my clients’ older computers. Truthfully, I know exactly why this is and it points to a larger trend in the technology marketplace. It is something you should pay attention to as well, as you are likely to join my clients in upgrading your older computer.
With the prevalence of mobile devices taking over as the preferred computing devices for many people, a lot of consumers simply aren’t buying new laptops and desktops as often. For what a lot of users do with their older computers, they would like to keep them running a while longer. But as personal computers age, they tend to run slower. Fortunately, there are a couple of simple upgrades that can significantly revive older computers and in many cases make them feel almost like new computers.
The first upgrade is RAM, otherwise known as “memory”, but not to be confused with storage space (i.e. hard drive space). A lot of people use the term “memory” to describe storage space on their computers but when talking with computer technicians, the term “memory” almost always refers to RAM. RAM can best be described as the working space of a computer. Too little RAM and the computer simply can’t work efficiently. When many computers were purchased several years ago, the amount of RAM they had was sufficient to run the software and operating systems of the time. But as the years have passed by, upgrades to operating systems and software generally require more RAM. If the computer still has the original about of RAM it was purchased with, it will generally run a lot slower than it used to. The good news is that RAM generally is a very simple and economical upgrade and can significantly improve the overall performance of an older computer.
The next upgrade is the computer’s storage, which has traditionally been hard drive technology. Hard drives are a mechanical technology, with magnetized platters inside them spinning at thousands of revolutions per minute. As with anything mechanical, they will eventually fail over time. In my experience, hard drives start to fail at an increasing rate in the 3-5 year timeframe. But even if they continue to work, what I’ve observed is that older hard drives start to slow down with age. Sometimes this slowdown is a sign that the drive is starting to fail and it should be replaced. Other times it simply seems to be a function of age. As with RAM, replacing a hard drive is an economical upgrade and can revive the speed of older computers. However, while replacing the hard drive with another hard drive might restore the speed of a computer, there is a way to actually boost the performance of an old computer beyond what it was when it originally shipped.
In the technology industry at large, hard drive technology is gradually being supplanted by Solid State Drive technology (SSD). The main advantage of SSD is that by eliminating the mechanical aspects of a hard drive and using only solid state circuitry, the drive can transfer data significantly faster than a hard drive. Solid state drives are also more reliable and use less power. In many computers, particularly laptops that generally used slower hard drives in order to maximize battery life, the replacement of a hard drive with a solid state drive can make them perform like newer computers. The main problem with solid state drives was that they were significantly more expensive than traditional hard drives. However, last summer the prices of solid state drives dropped by about half, making them much more affordable. Since that time I’ve been replacing a lot more hard drives with solid state drives and making a lot of clients very happy.
The bottom line is that with two relatively inexpensive upgrades, older computers can be made to feel like new again and even rival the perceived performance of brand new computers. If your computer is still in good physical shape and you would like continue to use it, these upgrades can “supercharge” it and extend its life for at least a few more years. I’ve found that laptops generally get the biggest benefit from these upgrades, especially Windows 7 laptops and MacBooks from the 2009-2010 and newer timeframe. Many iMac owners from that same timeframe are also seeing big improvements with these upgrades. But any computer from that timeframe (or even a couple of years earlier) can see big improvements from these upgrades so don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like to keep your computer humming.
I just had a client send me a screenshot of a “warning” they received while browsing the Internet on their Macintosh computer. It is another phishing scam reminiscent of the FBI “Ransomware” phishing scam that I wrote about last year. To quickly sum up, on a Macintosh computer, this is NOT a virus or a malware. It is simply a trick to try to get you to call the number on the screen so that you can be fooled into buying whatever it is this fake tech support is selling you. The resolution is the same as the FBI phishing scam:
- Click on the Apple Menu in the upper left-corner of your screen and choose “Force Quit” from the menu. The Force Quit window opens.
- Make sure Safari is highlighted and click the Force Quit button. This should shut down Safari. Close the Force Quit window.
- Hold down a Shift key on your keyboard as you relaunch the Safari browser (usually by clicking the Safari icon on the dock)
Holding down the Shift key while launching Safari forces the browser to not reload any previously open web sites, bypassing the fake warning page. For more details about this type of phishing scam targeting Apple Macintosh users, read my previous article, FBI “Ransomware” Phishing Scam Affects Mac Users – How To Bypass.
FYI, Apple’s real tech support phone number is 800-275-2273.
This year’s Holiday Tech Toys list is a little different than previous iterations. All the items on this year’s list are devices I have personally been using over the last year. Needles to say, I have extensive experience with every item on this list. Also, many of these items are great for those on your list who are picky about their technology. Beyond the short write up I will give each item, I will also follow up soon with more in-depth reviews. So keep an eye out for those upcoming reviews, but in the meantime, if you have more questions about these devices please let me know.
The Automatic is a device that plugs into the OBD-II port in your car and transmits data about your car’s health and your driving habits to your smartphone. I bought it primarily to help me monitor my fuel efficiency, which it does well, but I also started using the data it stores about where and when I drove to help me monitor how much time I spend in the car. It is amazing to see hard data about just how much time I spending in the car! Based on the information I am getting from the Automatic, I know I am driving fuel efficiently, but I also know that I could literally get one extra working day a week if I didn’t drive so much! The Automatic would be a great gift for anyone who is concerned about their fuel or time efficiency.
I wanted a device that had a silent alarm so I could wake up without disturbing my wife. The Fitbit Force “fit” the bill nicely. I was also interested in the activity and sleep monitoring features. Ironically after a couple of months of using the Fitbit Force, it was recalled due to some people suffering skin reactions. I did not have any reaction to the Fitbit Force so I kept using mine. The redesigned replacement for the Fitbit Force is called the Fitbit Charge. After several months of using the Fitbit Force, I did enjoy the silent alarm function, but I didn’t use the sleep monitoring feature much because I had to remember to enable and disable it each night and morning. The activity monitoring was neat, but it only truly worked for walking. It was not accurate for things like skating (I play a lot of hockey), nor would it really monitor activity of any other sort. My thought was that if the Fitbit Force had a heart rate monitor it would be perfect. That being said, within the last couple of months, Fitbit released an upgrade for the Force that added a few nice features. Now the Force will automatically monitor your sleep as well as integrate with your smartphone to vibrate when you have a phone call. This has made me happier with my Fitbit Force, but I still wish it had a heartrate monitor.
The reality is that the upcoming Apple Watch is going to completely change the landscape of the fitness technology market. The Apple Watch will have the heart rate monitor that I had wished for and now it seems that in response, Fitbit will be releasing new models that include a heart rate monitor for only about $20 more than what I paid for the Force. That being said, in a market that is about to be dominated by the Apple Watch, the Fitbit could still find fans among people who want a heart rate monitor but at a lower price point than the Apple Watch. If you have someone on your gift list that is a walker or runner, a current Fitbit model might be a great gift. Otherwise, wait for the new models next year.
Apple iPhone 6
What is there to say about the iPhone 6 that hasn’t already been said? The iPhone is still the standard that all other smartphones aspire to and now that the iPhone comes in larger sizes, competitors suddenly must find something else that make their phones different. I will say that I was hesitant about the iPhone 6 being too big, but I have found that the iPhone 6 is a nice comfortable size for a smartphone. The iPhone 6 Plus is simply too large for my usage, but for some it might be just what they want. Either way, the new iPhones make an amazing gift. Just be sure to add the AppleCare Plus coverage so that accidental damages to the new iPhone are covered.
Multiport USB Chargers
The more mobile devices families acquire, the greater the need for a “charging station” to recharge all those devices. The problem is that it is difficult to plug in a bunch of chargers into one standard outlet. Sure, power strips can be used, but they are big and bulky. The best solution I’ve found is a multi-port USB charger. As my household has need of several different charging stations, I have purchased devices from both Anker & Photive (specifically the Anker 5-port 40W, the Anker 5-port 25W, and the Photive 6-port 50W). So far, the chargers have been working great with a variety of devices, such as iPhones, iPads, iPods, plus many other gadgets that my family owns, including several that are on this Holiday Tech Toy list. They even charge our Playstation 3 controllers, which are notoriously hard to find third-party chargers for. The key when shopping for chargers like these are to look for devices that use “intelligent” charging technology. This will allow one charger to charge a variety of different devices from different manufacturers, since many manufacturers use different charging specifications. If you know gadget-people who need help charging all those devices, a multi-port USB charger could be just the gift they are wishing for.
Chamberlain Smartphone Ready Garage Door Opener with MyQ Technology
I moved into a new house a couple of months ago. The garage door opener that came with the house was from 1991. Besides the fact that it didn’t have the safety features that newer garage door openers have, there was no way to use it with devices that integrated with smartphones. So I decided to purchase an entirely new garage door opener that had built-in integration. Never having installed a garage door opener, I was a little hesitant to tackle such a project. However after researching this particular Chamberlain model that I could buy at Home Depot, I went ahead and made the purchase. It turned out it wasn’t that hard, even for someone like me who is much more comfortable with electronics than mechanical things. This garage door opener is has nice features like a motion sensor for the garage lights, a battery backup so it will still open the garage door if the lights go out, and a wireless keypad so the garage door can be opened from the outside. All this was on top of the ability to monitor the status of the garage door as well as being able to open and close it from a smartphone from anywhere in the world. I also really like the fact that this garage door opener is extremely quiet. The best part was that it is less than $250! Now maybe a garage door opener isn’t exactly what someone thinks of as a Christmas gift, but I’m sure there’s someone on your list that would appreciate it.
I am a big fan of home security systems. I am not a big fan of the installation process, the complexity of the systems, or the pricing. I am glad I found SimpliSafe because it solves most of these problems. The pricing of the equipment is reasonable, the equipment is wireless so setup is simple and a technician is not required. The best part is that the basic service is only $15/month and no contract is required. My only complaint is that some of the more advanced features (being a “techie” I would like to use) cost an additional $10/month. I’ve not found that these features are worth the extra $10/month so far. Most people would probably not need those features, so it isn’t really a huge problem. I’ve read rumors that the next generation of SimpliSafe equipment will be much more advanced. I can’t wait to find out. Home security systems may not be a traditional Christmas gift, but if you at least let your friends and family know about SimpliSafe before they buy a traditional home security system, it may be the best gift you could give them!
Plantronics Voyager Legend
I wrote a review of the Plantronics Voyager Legend Bluetooth headset earlier this year. Six months later and I’m still very happy with the device. I can say it worked really well on my iPhone 5S and so far just as well on my newer iPhone 6. I have had clients say they’ve noticed an improvement in call quality, which is an excellent proof that this headset is doing its job well. I can find the Plantronics Voyager Legend on sale for around $80, which is a really great price for the quality of headset. Read my more extensive review on the Plantronics Voyager Legend and if you have someone that could use a Bluetooth headset, this could make a very good gift.
Smartbean Bluetooth Wireless Receiver
When I purchased my iPhone 5S last year, I had to change how my iPhone connected to my car. My previous charger also integrated audio to my car stereo directly. However, there was no equivalent device available for a new iPhones with Lightning connectors. So for a time I had to also connect an audio cable to my iPhone if I wanted to listed to music from my iPhone in my car. This was a bit of a pain. I wanted something that would let me stream my music from my iPhone 5S (and now iPhone 6) to my car stereo without wires. And I didn’t want to purchase a new stereo receiver for my car (at least not yet). I stumbled upon a deal on the Smartbean Bluetooth wireless receiver. Simply put, I can keep the Smartbean connected to my car stereo and send music from my iPhone via Bluetooth to my car stereo. After several months of using it, I can say it does the job very well, with a few minor inconveniences. The biggest issue I have with the Smartbean is that I can not easily charge it in the car. I need to bring it inside to charge it when it runs low on battery. However, the battery lasts several weeks between charges so it’s not a huge deal. The Smartbean (also known as the A.M.P. Bluetooth Receiver) lists at $39.99, but you can usually find it on sale for half that price (check Groupon), so find a deal before purchasing. The Smartbean makes a great gift for people to use in cars as I do, but also people who are into fitness, as the Smartbean can clip to clothing for use with wired headsets.
On a few occasions in the last couple of years, my iPhone ran out of battery. This is a rare occurrence, but when it happens, it is a real pain, especially while traveling away from home. On those occasions that my iPhone was running out of charge, all my travel companions were also running out of battery. I wanted to find a device that could recharge my iPhone while on-the-go, but also be powerful enough to recharge multiple smartphones. I did some research and was finding products that were simply too expensive for my wishes. I did a little more research and found the Limefuel company. Their battery-based external USB chargers had larger capacities and were about half the price of the other devices I was finding. I decided on purchasing the Limefuel Blast L130X, which I liked so much, I went ahead and bought two so that my wife could have one in her car as well. So far, after many months of using the Limefuel Blast, I am very happy with the purchase. It has come in very handy on several occasions and often my friends are using it more than I am. I make sure to send one with my daughters if they are going on a field trip and they end up sharing it with their friends as well. Limefuel has improved upon the model I purchased and it the now has 4 ports that can simultaneously charge multiple devices. The Limefuel Blast makes an amazing gift for people who travel a lot, especially those who go to remote locations.
Crucial M100 Solid State Drives
There have been few advances in computer technology in the last 10 or more years that have had the impact of Solid State Drives (SSD). Simply put, replacing a traditional hard drive with a solid state drive can significantly boost the performance of a computer, especially those that are more than a few years old. In addition, solid state drives are more reliable and use less power than hard drives. The only problem with solid state drives was that they were significantly more expensive than hard drives. However, earlier this year, Crucial introduced their M100 line of SSDs, which basically slashed the going price in half! Other companies have begun to drop their prices in response, but Crucial is a great brand with a great product. If you know someone with a computer, especially laptops, that are more than a couple of years old, an SSD upgrade could be like giving them a new, faster computer. Plus, since the computer no longer has a hard drive, an SSD upgrade will likely extend the lifespan of the computer for several more years. An SSD may not be the flashiest gift, but it may be the most practical, especially when combined with my Laptop Supercharge service.
As we approach the end of the year, many of us go into evaluation mode. We look back at the year and figure out what we did well and what could use improving. As a technology professional, I encourage everyone to consider what they can do to improve their technology situation going into a new year. The speed that technology changes necessitates that smart business owners (and individuals as well) review what new technologies are available and what older technologies are becoming obsolete. As we begin the transition into 2015, we should pay careful consideration to one particular technology change that could significantly impact us going forward.
To understand why this shift is so important, we simply need to review the last two years of technology news. In the area where I live, in early 2013 Schnucks supermarkets was the first major example of security breach resulting in the compromise of millions of credit card numbers. Late last year Target was the next big victim. This year Home Depot was the first big name, followed recently by Kmart. Along the way, other well-known companies such as Nieman Marcus, Dairy Queen, Michaels, and PF Chang’s were also hit. From my research, thousands of other smaller companies may have also suffered credit card compromises. Major examples also can be cited in other countries around the world. Why have so many businesses been hit in the last couple of years? Is there a common thread? In fact, there is.
The method of attack in every single one of the well-publicized data breaches was a malware infection. But deeper than that, the common vulnerability was the operating system used by all of these companies for their point-of-sale terminals. Yes, the Achilles heel for every single example was Microsoft Windows. When it comes to malware, there is no more fertile breeding ground in existence than Microsoft Windows.
Besides the highly publicized credit card data breaches, another disturbing trend in the last two years was the rise in Ransomware. Malware authors devised methods to encrypt victim’s data so that they could not retrieve it without paying a significant ransom. The best known example of this was the Cryptolocker malware. This type of attack affects not only businesses, but individuals as well. Once again, the only operating system that is vulnerable to this type of malware infection is Microsoft Windows.
Perhaps it is obvious by now that my recommendation for the most important technology shift you can make in 2015 is to eliminate Microsoft Windows from your technology usage. But I can already hear the panicked screams coming my way. We’ve been with Windows for so long, how could we ever get away from it? Am I crazy? However, before you go off the deep end, allow me to enlighten you.
First, realize we are entering the year 2015 – not 1995 or even 2005. Where 10-20 years ago switching away from Microsoft Windows was virtually unfeasible for many, the mobile device revolution has broken the stranglehold that Windows held over the technology industry for so many years. In The New World of Technology, many individuals and businesses have already significantly shifted their main technology platforms away from Microsoft Windows to other options such as Apple’s iPad and Macintosh. So I’m not talking about some pie-in-the-sky fantasy. Where moving away from Microsoft Windows may have been unrealistic for many in years past, it is much more reasonable to achieve and in fact has become almost commonplace in today’s technology environment. Only advice based on woefully outdated technology models would suggest that moving away from Microsoft Windows is not feasible.
There are still a lot of companies and people out there who have not shifted away from Microsoft Windows for a variety of reasons. One of those perceived reasons has been cost. True, any major change in technology involves cost, but the question now is can you afford NOT to switch away from Microsoft Windows? Ask Schnucks, Target, Home Depot, or any of the other companies affected just how many hundreds of millions of dollars using Microsoft Windows has cost them. Or ask anybody who had to pay hundreds of dollars in ransom to criminal organizations to get their data back, on top of the cost to clean their PCs from Cryptolocker.
I can hear the grumbling from other technology experts who claim that no platform is truly immune to malware. From a theoretical perspective, I agree. There is in fact no 100% safe technology system. However in the real world, we can look at example after example of just how bad it is for users of Microsoft Windows compared to users of any other operating system. Other operating systems, while they may have their security issues here and there, are no where near as vulnerable to malware as Microsoft Windows has proven itself to be. To say that the amount of malware that exists for Microsoft Windows dwarfs the number for all other operating systems combined is just scratching the surface. Doesn’t it make sense to move away from a platform that is known to be a haven for criminal malware to another platform that has nowhere near the vulnerabilities?
Usually the other argument made against moving from Microsoft Windows is that other operating systems are simply not popular enough to have yet gained the attention of criminals and therefore are going to be just as vulnerable in the future. I’ve debunked this argument so many times it grows tiresome and to fully explain it would require another article in itself. But let me sum it up for everyone here: Due to the superior core security designs of most other operating systems, malware simply can’t be created in the same way that it is for Microsoft Windows. Most other operating systems (or at least their basic cores) have been in existence for at least 15 or more years and malware authors have had ample time to attack them if no other reason than to prove they could. Aside from some minor examples that could cause very little damage, most other operating systems are virtually malware-free. Arguing that other systems are just as vulnerable as Windows shows a lack of understanding of the underlying technology and the situation at large. Along with Microsoft Windows, it is time to retire this argument in 2015 as well.
Let’s think about the situation from another perspective. If many large corporations with massive technology budgets and highly sophisticated security infrastructures couldn’t keep out malware that compromised their point-of-sale systems, what chance realistically do most of us have in keeping our Microsoft Windows systems free of malware? Reading any common advice for keeping your Microsoft Windows system secure almost always involves using your PC with a paranoid mindset. Literally, there is much advice out there that suggests limiting the use of your Microsoft Windows PC in order to keep it and your data secure. What is the point of using a computer where one must be constantly vigilant for attack and resign oneself to limited use for their own protection? Especially considering there are other platforms readily available where no such paranoia is necessary.
The reality is that moving away from Microsoft Windows is entirely possible and often very cost-effective with today’s technology. However, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m not advocating that everyone quit using Microsoft Windows “cold turkey”. There are many businesses that still need to retain the use of legacy software that only runs on Microsoft Windows for the time being. However, even for those who seem to be stuck in an uncomfortable marriage with Microsoft Windows, there are many options available to mitigate and isolate the risk from the highly vulnerable operating system. Don’t let outdated information and old-school ways of thinking stop you from pursuing a path away from Microsoft Windows. Your valuable data and a lot of time and money are at risk.
While some of us may truly be in positions where we will be stuck with Microsoft Windows for a while longer, the worst thing we can do is to pretend the problem doesn’t exist. Ignoring the issue only works as long as you are not a victim of the next major malware attack. It is now time to take the necessary steps to reduce your exposure to malware, which means reducing your dependence on Microsoft’s malware magnet of an operating system. Even if you can’t completely eliminate your use of Microsoft Windows at this time, anything you can do to reduce your usage now now while planning for your eventual exodus will be in your best interest.
I predict that sometime in the future, people will look back at the PC era and be perplexed as to why we put up so long with an operating system that was this incredibly vulnerable to malicious software. I hope that future comes sooner than later and you can help make that a reality starting in 2015. But certainly this task is not something that you should pursue alone. There are many things to consider in such a migration and it is easy to let something slip through the cracks if you are not a technology professional. Please consult with a trustworthy technology professional who is well-versed not only in Microsoft Windows, but also the range of other technology options available in this post-PC era. I’m certainly happy to answer your questions and help you develop your own plan to migrate away from Microsoft Windows, as I have done with many clients over the last several years. Feel free to contact me today if you have any questions or concerns.