Preparednesss

Sorry, Apple People, You’re Just Not That Popular

I know, you think I’m less than smart, but let me assure you, I have some idea what I’m talking about. I began as a wildly satisfied Apple ][+ user many decades ago. While others bought “inferior” computers that hit the market, from PET, Commodore, Atari and TRS-80…well, Atari was the bomb for gaming….I was forging ahead. I moved to the Mac line with a 512K, then an SE, a Mac II, then a IIcx. I learned how to make a computer work for humans because of Apple.

However, here’s the reality. Macs aren’t that popular. I support this by playing into the meme that Macs don’t get viruses, ergo, they are superior platforms. Nope, you have that wrong, but there is the genius of not only Apple, but the evangelized Apple faithful that have somehow missed the point of their lack of bad programmings disrupting their lives at the worst moment, as PC users have come to know and still not love.

Here’s the truth staring you in the face, Apple fanatics: You’re not popular with the people who create viruses, and therefore, you don’t get them. It’s not that your computer is in this uber operating system world, impenetrable by mere mortals out to steal credit card and bank account numbers. I know, in just about every single movie where the earth is saved from alines of environmental disaster, Apples are prominently displayed and used in the crucial scenes. I also know some of you believe that to be the real case.

What’s really up is this: The MacOS is built on top of UNIX, which is very secure, but the face that, depending on the link, the Apple market is about 10-12% and therefore, the effort to infect them is not worth the ROI, on one analysis point. Take the next step: How many Macs are used to manage and handle credit card databases, and large customer files? Pretty much none. Besides taking quite a bit of effort to learn the system inside and out, even if they could find ways in through security flaws, they would most likely find intellectual property, but not something they could make money on, like entire user profiles of banking/financial services, a key set of data for identity theft.

Consider, from a business owner’s view point: If you could set up to serve 87-90% of the market for the same effort to serve 10-13%, with the return per customer the same, which direction would you head? There will be a minnow out there (thank you, Scott Weber!) who gets this answer wrong and insists loudly they are correct, but you all know the right answer to remain viable in the market. That’s why you’re also not infected. Far more ROI in spending your energy developing and working the PC market and the associated Windows based server farms. Not to mention, Apple made a run at the server world and built a very cool piece of technology, but like Beta tape, the public went for the lesser versions in the PC based systems using LINUX and Windows.

That all being said, there are those, because the Apple market share is growing no doubt, who are taking up the challenge to infect the Apple Faithful. You’ve been spared due to not being attractive (I’m not talking the aesthetics of the device design, but the ugly fact that Apples aren’t used to conduct serious financial business). That’s my tough love for you. Some are coming after you and the good news is you can now enjoy virus and malware protection as we PC users do.

Now let me, after turning your meme upside down, drop it on (your) its head: If the MacOS doesn’t get viruses, as some smuggly post to Facebook, why, pray tell, would giant anti-virus companies have software on the market to provide anti-virus for the MacOS that doens’t get viruses? Oh, yeah, it would be a very silly and costly idea to serve a market that has no need, right? Software costs money and then, as any product has to return some what of a profit, or it will be dropped from the company offerings for failing to add to the bottom line.

Check this Dogpile search out: Looks like Symantec, ESET, Norton and Webroot, Avast, AVG just to name a few “small” companies trying to sell something “real” Mac users don’t need.

I’m hoping this dose of reality spurs the Apple faithful to break down and admit they have been a tool in the greater Mac propaganda machine, but then get online and download an appropriate software package to protect themselves. Speaking as a complete PC/Windows user for all my own (too) many computers, it’s a pain to get them, I have two layers of anti-malware/virus on all my systems, just to practice as much safe computing as possible. I encourage you Mac types to do the same. I see the helplessness in people’s eyes all the time, when they have contracted such an infection. Trust me, you don’t want to feel that way, let alone missing your working hours while I or your Mac tech (who should have already advised you to get software – if they haven’t, send them this link so they can be better providers for their customer base) conduct the technical exorcism rites.

If you need help in getting protected, contact me and let’s get you into the real world you actually live in.

SSDS: A blessing, a curse and a cautionary approach

Just built another systems up, with a Samsung 840 240GB SSD. While I’m used to spending the next few hours wandering by the bench, clicking restarts, get updates, etc (some of you know the drill well), it was strikingly different last night.

I pieced a small form factor Dell Optiplex together (and saw issues with cable routing and screw heads and fan blades – another post worth making) and fired it up with the install disk inserted.

About 1.5 hours alter, I had gone from Win7/SP1 to all updates loaded (more than 103), and application software loaded (Office, Reader, Flash, and security). Usually I get most of the way there and then it’s a few more overnight hours and a few more reboots first thing in the morning.

I’m getting jealous of these systems, as they go from off to Desktop in about 15 seconds…

Oh, an high speed cable connection (about 39M download) didn’t hurt either, but I’ve used it for builds before, too.

As I was being dazzled at the rapid completion of progress bars, I reflected on a comment from a shop owner here I occasionally drop in on regarding his experience as an early adopter.

Kirk mentioned he had gotten and SSD about a year ago. It was great, but one day it was dead…as in really, really dead. Think about it: While disk errors send shivers up our spines, unless we hear that horrible grinding, and/or screeching noise, we techs have a degree of comfort that the data is not really gone, just accessible as a non-boot drive, and all is mostly right in the world.

An SSD? It’s common failure mode is DEAD! no connecting via a USB adapter (which is ever present with me, like a credit card, when I leave the house), as it’s DEAD!

Blessing: FAST!

Curse: Dead usually really means dead.

Cautionary approach: Back up, back up, and back up. And did I mention backup? Expensive? Not near as much as a data recovery specialist…and I haven’t even done my homework to see if that’s a function out there yet (I suspect it is, and I also suspect it’s costly).

How to resolve the risk? RAID 1. Bite the cost bullet and get two, if you’re going to get one…and than have a “conventional” drive the same size you can clone to, or a partition on a larger drive you can image to….Couple that with an offsite cloud service to ensure a redundant, real time data set is stored for a rainy day SSD drive failure.

Those who know this know I don’t need to say anything else on the topic. In many ways, it’s current common sense, even for conventional, mechanical drives, but it’s one now where a safety net for data recovery from the local failed drive isn’t really there anymore.

UPDATE 3/8/13: As I stated about, the end of life of an SSD drive is way closer than we’re used to when it begins to let you know it’s about to fail, as discussed in this article at MakeUseOf: Can Data Be Recovered From A Failed SSD?

Your Digital World is a complex place, really.

The weekend was interupted by a call from a client who’s computer wasn’t booting. A little bit of over the phone troubleshooting indicated the hard drive was, possibly toast, or maybe just some settings at the basic computer system level had gotten altered. I hoped for the former, but prepared for the latter.

Luckily, the client’s laptop is the same as mine, and can use my restore DVDs. That was the first major hurdle. If the drive was, in fact, non-functional, even the factory restore partition was out of the question. DVDs to the rescue!

Next, I grabbed a utility program that does some heavy lifting for data recovery, so ling as the drive has any ability to be detected by the computer.

A 500GB laptop drive was in the spare parts drawer, matching the size of the potentially dead one.

The “tool box” backpack always has the USB external drive adapter, so it was a matter of grabbing my two working backpacks and heading to the client’s office.

Upon arrival, it quickly became apparent that the hard drive had had a failure that didn’t let it move the read heads into aposition. Because I’ve listened to literally 10s of thousands of drives being tested, I knew wishing it worked and trying over and over to boot, hoping it might come up one more time was a waste of any one’s time.

I pulled the bad rive, put in the spare 500GB and began a factory restore. That went fine, seeing as how I had taken the time to burn a set of restore DVDs. Pretty much every computer comes like that these days, and rarely do I find users who have heeded the nag screen to do it, as they finish the set up on their new system. If you don’t then you’re reasonably certain, if you need your system back today, to have to spend a bit over $100 for a copy of Windows 7 Home Premium. More if you have Professional installed.

After getting through the standard Windows new installation set up, we where now faced with re-installing programs. This is another tough point: Many people can’t remember where their CDs/DVDs are. Also, it’s more common to pay for and download programs right away. If you don’t copy them off your hard disk before such an event, many places limit the time you can return and download the copy at no charge, usually I’ve seen 30 days, unless you pay a fee to have access for a year or more. You need to look around and make sure, especially for the programs you need for your business (QuickBooks, Office, Outlook, etc) and ensure you have the originals and the key codes for them in a safe (and rememberable) place.

The client had the installed programs, so we went right to work restoring those.

Next was data recovery. Having both an online backup system (Digital Life Boat and a 500GB Seagate external drive provided a way to recover most of the data. It was time consuming, just to grab the OutLook mail files, and the basic financial records, but that got the client back to work.

Today I called and we bagan diggin into the files in the cloud and on the backup external drive, which brings me to the title of the post: It really is a detailed thought process you have to go through to make sure you really back up your data. While they had ensured the .pst files for OutLook were on the list, they had a large, large folder of records, dating back far enough to when the computers in use for this client were running Windows 3.1. The file holding a massive amount of word documents, many of which are searched regualry, had been kept at the top level of the heard drive, and never mover into the user document folder area, which began to be a part of digital life with Windows 95. Here’s the bad news: Consumer based backup programs are generally useful for the very basic computer user, and you will see your pictures, videos, music and documents, and usually the items on your desktop all assumed to be what to backup. Things like the OutLook .pst files, profiles for FireFox browsers, and, as in this case, a folder of data sitting outside of the Documents and Settings or User folders not looked at. You must ensure you figure out how the backup system you use will see and backup those files that are important at any level to you. That hadn’t happened.

ensuring your mission critical documents, programs and operating system information is safeguarded against catastrophe is something that is well worth spending some money with an experienced consultant who has had to deal with real world information safety, not just a tech that knows how to install a basic backup program and tell you it’s running. The difference is one will look over your equipment and tell you to back it up, the other will ask what information you use, which programs are crucial to your business and where is the information stored, and also backed up. The answers you give will allow them to provide a coherent and effective answer to help you protect the business you’ve built.

The good news, while not all that good, is many of the most recent files needed are still in the email files as attachments, so the current projects can continue reasonably smoothly.

The bad news is, there isn’t an archive to go dig in to pull old data forward, which, in the client’s industry is a valuable thing.

We can take the almost dead drive to a data recovery service, and I know, without asking for a quote, it will be very expensive. As I told the client, you need to make a business decision as to the approximate value the many Word files are to you, so that can help make the determination to go forward with exactly, laborious data recovery, or if it’s more cost effective to just begin rebuilding from what has been recovered and go from there.

Very much like the cost of insurance: Can you afford a few hours of consulting time more than you can a drive recovery for several thousands?

Concerned you’re not covered? Call your technical business consultant and ask for an assessment to ensure you are, or to make sure you get that way.

Going Mobile – Leaving the Desktop Era Behind

The main workhorse for many still seems to be the desktop in my observations. My question for most people is “Why?”

The landscape of the computer world has massively shifted in the last few years, but even a few years before that, there have been perfectly suitable replacements for your hard working, well loved, big screened desktops.

In other words, why invest in a desktop and a laptop anymore? It’s still a majority case I’m seeing. The real need to take your computing out the door exists, as does the need to have something that doesn’t hurt your eyes to look at for hours on end when you have a big project to work on.

In addition to the long standing discussion I had had with many people, helping them get over having a laptop and a desktop is the entire tablet market that has opened up within the last two years. This is a wrinkle in the discussion, but not really.

Tempted to know what you can do to save money and increase your productivity, and still be mobile?

I knew you were: The laptops of today, at the low end of the price point scale are more powerful than most all the desktops I see in service. So, why not ditch the desktop? I know: “the Screen is too small!” comment is coming next….but it doesn’t have to be.

I found, way back in 1993, I could do just fine with a laptop on my desk at work, equipped with a separate monitor, keyboard, mouse, network card and a modem. In fact I had my shop purchase 17 sets like this, to be handed to the project managers and the senior staff that traveled frequently and needed to keep up with work. We didn’t buy the docking stations (a concept that never really caught on) as it took only about 30 seconds to plug the stuff in when we came back into the office.

You can do the exact same thing now: Get a large LED display (light, and easy on the environment and your power bill, as well as your eyes), and a keyboard and mouse like you had with your desktop (make sure they are USB, as the old devices you may consider using might be the “PS/2” style, and no one installs those in notebooks these days).

Now you have the equipment (and you may be reusing your existing LCD/LED monitor), you’ll find a video out port on the laptop, which you may have used for a projector at a presentation, most likely a VGA port, sometimes a DVI or even HDMI.

With your external monitor plugged in…you may not see a picture, even when you turn it on. This is something the people who do lots of presentations know is the video output port on the laptops have three settings:

  • Laptop screen on only
  • Laptop and external screen
  • External screen only

Which setting is active is controlled (in Windows based systems) via the control panel/a right click on the open desktop, or a function key selection on the keyboard. Note: It’s like a three position switch and it rotates with each key press, and it takes about 2-3 seconds to register and synchronize the hardware.

Anyhow, once you’re by there, you have a choice: One screen or two?

If you don’t want desk clutter, set the laptop off to the side, and configure the system for the two screen to “clone” each other. With a few other settings, you can actually close the laptop lid and it’s just like that old desktop, but smaller, less noisy and less power hungry!

If you have room, welcome to the age of two screens! That alone makes you wonder how you lived on one display surface! I like to use my two screens like this: My main work on my 22″ full HD (1920×1080) display, and then I have Outlook up on the 17″ 1280×1024 screen to the right. If a new email pops in, or the calendar needs to get my attention, the movement over there gets my view quickly. This avoids the different working windows being stacked on top of each other, and you miss something.

Here’s a real benefit of having the laptop replace your desktop: When you unplug it from the office configuration to go mobile, where are all your files? right there with you! Your Word documents for contracts, PowerPoint slides, email, pictures, etc, etc,etc….you won’t have to say anymore: “oh, that’s on my desktop at home/the office!’ in the middle of an important meeting.

Here’s an added benefit: Is it better, when the hurricane is headed our way, that you only have to grab the laptop, stuff it in it’s bag and head out the door?” I’d say so…and if you can’t get back into the affected area for a few days (or weeks), at least you’re functional. With a desktop, that’s not going to happen, with the additional impact of maybe losing all those programs you had installed, in addition to losing data files.

Seriously, with minor exception among my clients, friends and family, the least capable new laptop you can buy is every bit as powerful as you need to work.

In this day and age of tablets, you will still need the desktop like function/desktop replacement. Tablets are cool, can let you get mail, and get to websites, but they don’t have many brains, let alone smarts, and while they can hook to a projector, it’s more cables/apps, etc…For basic functions, my tablet is a netbook, but I still need to haul out the serious laptop for work, but that’s me, with graphics, spreadsheets and larger projects.

Another consideration is that older systems are getting harder to maintain afford ably, and once they start going due to age related problems, it’s a fingers plugging the holes in the dike, hoping you won’t get flooded, but knowing you will.

If you’d like some assistance in making a purchase of the items to effectively allow you to be mobile and comfortably office based, with this flexibility, too, I can help.

I can also help to make sure you bring your data with you to the existing laptop, or to the new one, so you keep doing business with minimal interuption.

‘Tis the season: The lightning and storm season that is, again!

One of the first posts in the blog section was about….you guessed it: Lightning and how it affects your computer equipment. AWESOME Lightning Show! is here to re-read (or read for the first time).

Electronics hate bad power…their reaction to it can be from a flashing screen, to a dead, dead, dead primary computer, with all your data locked inside….

Consider how that just may affect your operations. Seriously, if you’re offline for say, one day, at best, maybe several days to a week or more, while your tech searches for parts to get you running again. Not a pleasant thought, is it? Like mom said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Here’s some “inside baseball” on what can go wrong, and how it affects the time to return you to normal operations:

  • The power supply is dead. Symptoms are: Nada, nothing, no sound, no lights. Easy enough, right? If this is all it is, you’re lucky, mostly. Why mostly? If you have a generic power supply, it’s a matter of getting one locally, and about 20 minutes to pull the bad one, and replace it. Here’s the not so mostly: If you have a small form factor computer, or a really old HP tower, or some other model that has a very specific power supply, it will be a hunt online, and then the time to ship. The cost is also…generally outrageous. (protecting yourself sound better already?)
  • The motherboard is dead. Symptoms range from the same as the power supply ones (and therefore can give you the “oh, this won’t be so bad” feeling too soon….), to you get some fans in the power supply/case operating, but you never hear the drives spin up. If this is the case, it’s costly, moreso if you bought that Dell, Dude!, or Compaq, or HP, because many times, their motherboards are just special enough that you can’t find one when you need one right away. (side note: sometimes a generic built PC, for a little more upfront cost, or sometimes actually less if you need some higher end items inside you box). If the motherboard is a standard “form factor” then the next challenge is the “socket” type. That is the place where the actual central processing unit (CPU) is mounted on the motherboard. If the board is more than say 4-5 years old, it’s more difficult to get one of them off the shelf. If it’s a few years old, the prices are pretty good, and they are generally available. If it’s a very new system, then the boards are still the high end of the pricing spectrum. The dying of the motherboard injects an entirely new dynamic into the equation, too: You have to match it, to allow you to power up the system and get right back to work. While you can get one with the right socket to fit your CPU, the rest of the chips aren’t what Windows saw itself installed with, and it with require you to also re-install windows, your programs and your data. This, along with the availability of parts, will keep you from your work longer, and, just by it’s nature, cost you more. Ouch (psst! Get your battery back ups!!!!)
  • Dead network interface (the wired kind). The computer comes right on, but you cannot get to the internet is your symptom. The fix is to install a network interface card in a free slot. This is about a 20 minute fix, too. If this happens, the only concern is having an extra interface slot open inside the box. It’s generally easy to get one of these anywhere and get back to work. Name brand ones, link LinkSys and 3Com are best, since even Windows XP detects and installs the drivers in most all cases. It’s always best to note the make and model and version of the card, before it’s installed….and get to another computer and get the drivers. If not, and if Windows doesn’t load drivers, you usually have to take the card out and read those items (in fine print) and do it again)
  • The hard drive electronics and/or motor get whacked. On starting up, you get the manufacturer’s screen, and then some message about no bootable disk found. If you see this, you can cry, loud and long. This is bad, sort of….Really if this happens because your data and programs and operating system are toast. The upside is you have a free paper weight suitable for holding down a stack of paperback novels on the back porch is a mild wind storm. The “sort of” side is somewhat mitigated if you have your data backed up…somewhere besides on another partition of that hard drive. Recovery: Drives aren’t that expensive, but what does make it costly is starting from “bare metal” and putting on your operating system, configuring all the hardware again, downloading all the updates (I’ve seen Windows XP take most of an evening), then reinstalling all your programs (you have the disks, right?) and finally placing your data back in the file structure you had it in. What this means if you may have lost everything, and it will cost quite a bit to rebuild it all.

It can also nuke the CPU itself, which looks just like a dead motherboard in symptoms. Note above there are two sets of casualties that look alike to you and the technicians. How to tell the difference? It takes time in the field to know, and have the right methods to diagnose the problems.

Enough about the techs and their work in your crisis: What about you? Is this enough for you to make sure you’ve protected your equipment from massive power surges brought to Florida by the summer storm activity? I hope so. If not, have replacement cost funds (hardware and software) set aside for the worst case. If you can’t have that buffer financially, then reread AWESOME Lightning Show! once more for how to help you help to protect your business again and get you to the nearest store with battery backups!

Questions? I can certainly survey your systems to assess your readiness for storm season. Call me for an appoitnment.