Waypoint News

4 Linux Myths That Need to Die

09.09.15

The days when there were two and a half operating systems – Mac for creative types, Windows for everyone else and Linux for the weird kids in the corner – are well and truly over. For a start, OSX and Windows both owe a debt to Linux; Microsoft is courting Linux for its Azure cloud service, for instance, too. It’s been awhile since Linux was the sole preserve of bitcoin-waving digital mountain men. It’s coming to business; time to get to grips with it.

Linux Myths
The biggest Linux myth is that it’s too difficult to start using. Unfamiliarity and the sense that there’s a steep learning curve vie with the feeling – based on nothing, usually – that you’ll have to learn a whole new suite of apps and basically, you’d rather just stick with XP, please. But many of these ideas are false. Let’s let some light in on the Linux debate.

Myth: The interface is unfamiliar

Leaving aside for the moment the fact that OSX, Apple’s flagship operating system, is built from the same Unix base as Linux, don’t you jump from OS to OS all the time? Even iOS and OSX are different; throw half-a-dozen Windows variants and a couple of Androids into the mix and you’re an OS jetsetter. What’s one more? And like every modern OS, Linux is based on 60s research into the way children with learning difficulties absorb new information. It’s pretty intuitive.

Myth: Solving Linux issues is too difficult and unintuitive

First, Linux is pretty difficult to break and when it goes wrong (which is rare) it’s easy to fix, thanks to comprehensive log files and a simple troubleshooting system. Compare that to Windows, which breaks all the time, and OSX, which is really hard to fix (see you in the Console?) and it comes out favorably.

Myth: Linux doesn’t support the apps I need

OK. This isn’t Linux’ fault, but it is sometimes kind of true. It’s more to do with software companies shunning cross-platform support, though that ship has now well and truly sailed and three-OS Windows/OSX/Linux support is increasingly the norm. As Linux user numbers creep up, though, app licensing will catch up. Meantime, you probably spend 70% or more of your time in a web browser anyway, right?

Myth: I’ve never installed an OS before

Again,this one is half right… for the wrong reasons. The majority of computer users haven’t done an OS install, because they normally just upgrade when the new Windows comes out by buying a new computer. But that doesn’t mean they can’t do it. And a lot of those upgraded from the ill-fated Windows 8 to Windows 10, so they now know how to install a pretty substantive upgrade, even if it’s not technically a whole new OS. Besides which, installing an OS isn’t hard. Linux in particular is about as easy as installing an app, especially one of the more user-friendly variants like Mint.

Open source, agile, and easy to use: maybe it’s time to give Linux a shot?

Consolidate Your Contacts to Stave Off the Phishing Attacks

08.28.15

Consolidate Your Contacts to Stave Off the Phishing Attacks

Phishing attacks are still largely clumsy. You’ll get a message in your e-mail inbox from someone you’ve never met. If you open the mail, you’ll likely find a link to a strange Web site. Don’t click that link! But if you do visit the site, there will usually be a request for personal information, maybe even your bank information. If you provide this information? You might find your bank account drained. You can protect yourself from phishing with a bit of common sense: Don’t open strange e-mails and never visit the links in them. But Dennis O’Reilly, a writer with CNET, provides one big tip to prevent phishing e-mails from even reaching your inbox.

Consolidate Your Contacts

You might have several e-mail accounts, all of which have their own list of e-mail contacts. Certainly, many of these contacts will be duplicates. O’Reilly’s advice? Consolidate all the contacts you have with different e-mail accounts into one single address book. If you do this, you should leave yourself with one point of access to your e-mail addresses.

The Steps

To do this, O’Reilly suggests that you first export all of your contacts from your Web-based mail services. The steps to doing this vary by your e-mail service. For instance, to export your Gmail address book, first open “contacts” and the click “more>export.” Select the contacts you want to export, select the right format and then click “export.” To do the same thing with Outlook.com, select the “people” app and click “manage>export.” Select the “contacts” tab in the left pane. Click “actions>export all,” enter the captcha code and choose an export format.

Finishing

Next you should delete the contacts from your Web mail services, import your contact list to your ISP mail account and forward messages from your Web mail service to your ISP account. There’s no guarantee that your e-mail inbox won’t again fall victim to a phishing attack. But taking these steps will dramatically reduce the odds.

Sitting All Day? You’re Putting Your Life in Danger

08.21.15

Are you sitting too much at work? Probably. In fact, if you work in an office the odds are good that you spend most of your day sitting at your desk and hunched over your computer. This isn’t good for your health. In fact, it’s downright dangerous. A recent story on Slate by writer Jason Bittel spells out the dangers. According to Bittel’s story, our bodies aren’t designed to sit for 11 hours. And that’s what many of us are doing. Even when we’re not at work, we’re sitting in our cars or slouching on our coaches watching TV.

What to do?

The solution seems obvious: We need to move around more. Of course, exercise — along with a nutritional diet — has always been an important part of living a happy, healthy life. The key, as Bittel writes, is to force yourself away from that computer for short walking breaks. And when you are sitting in front of your computer, try not to slouch. Bittel includes a call at the end of his story for participants in a quick Google Hangout every half hour. The Hangout meeting is designed to get people away from their computers and on their feet.

The right workstation

You can also build an ergonomic workstation to keep yourself from slouching and sitting the day away. CNET writer Sharon Vaknin provides tips on this. The first step is to find your ideal natural posture. For many people, Vaknin writes, this posture is the same one you use while driving a car: Your feet are on the floor in front of you. Your hands are in your lap. And your shoulders relax as you lean back slightly. Memorize this posture, and use it whenever you sit at your desk.

Keyboard and mouse

Next, you need to position your keyboard and mouse in the right place. These devices should be positioned so that your elbows are at your sides and your arms are at or below a 90-degree angle, Vaknin writes. Your keyboard should also be located at a height about 1 to 2 inches above your thighs. This might require you purchase a pull-out keyboard tray.

Managed Service Providers and Your Business

07.23.15

These last posts covered a lot of ground: cyber security, data breaches, email security, cloud computing, and we only scratched the surface of each topic. Based on just this cursory overview, you should be doing the following:

  • Securing your equipment and network
  • Backing up your data.
  • Talking to any service providers you use, such as credit card processors, and finding out what they’re doing to secure your transactions and data.
  • Reviewing (or creating) your policies on
    • Permitted software
    • Passwords
    • Who should access the company’s network and devices
    • Working at remote locations
    • Physically securing company assets
  • Installing a spam filter on your email
  • Encrypting your email
  • Evaluating cloud services you use for security issues
  • Evaluating what you need to do to put your business on the cloud

That’s a lot to do. It can easily take the majority of your time (or even all your time), when you ought to attend to your customers and clients, run your business, find and qualify new prospects, develop new products or services. Things that can actually make you some money.

Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little. – Edmund Burke

If you take nothing else from these posts, if you do nothing else, at least do this: backup your data every day. You’ll be glad you did this.

What more can you do? Well, you can always hire new employees. But that gets expensive: salary, payroll taxes, benefits, etc. You’re rolling the dice that you make the right choice and don’t end up with “Wally from Dilbert”.

Or you can outsource all of this to a firm that specializes in providing all these services and more, leaving you free to do what you do best: bringing your business and taking care of your customers. Think of it this way: you don’t do your own payroll or accounting; you hire a payroll company and the CPA. This is no different.

Who are these firms?

As usual, the IT industry has its own name for these companies (of course they do). They’re known as managed services providers. They offer a range of services such as:

  • Backup and Data Recovery
  • Storage
  • Security
  • 24/7/365 Monitoring
  • Network Management
  • User Management
  • Data Management
  • Software – Production Support and maintenance

You can contract with them for the services you need right now, and add or expand as your business grows and your needs change.

Selecting an managed services vendor

Here are some items to consider as you evaluate services vendors:

  • Does the provider have demonstrated experience in designing innovative IT solutions?
  • What technology competencies does the MSP possess?
  • What engineer certifications do the company’s technicians have?
  • Has the MSP worked with companies similar in size, scope and industry?
  • Is the MSP interested in understanding your unique business issues?
  • Does the MSP offer Service Level Agreements and Opt-Out Clauses?
  • Does the company provide references?
  • Can you visit the company’s site?


The IT experts at Waypoint would love to talk with you about their managed services and perform a free review of your managed IT services needs.  Please click here to sign up for a free, no risk IT assessment.

Charlotte, NC Businesses Need to Take Advantage of Cloud Computing

07.08.15

Overview of the cloud

You hear it everywhere:

  • “The data is stored in the cloud.”
  • “Run our app in the cloud.”
  • “Upload that to the cloud.”

Cloud this, about that, cloud bank (okay, I made up that last one). You have a vague sense of what everyone means by “the cloud”, but you don’t know exactly what it is. Except you think it has something to do with the Internet.

You’re on the right track. In fact, speaking in broad terms, the “cloud” is the Internet. For example, let’s say you upload some data to a “cloud service.” The data moves through the Internet to servers operated by the company running the service.

Or say you run an app by the cloud. You usually run the app after going to a website. It’s not just apps. You can run entire software packages in the cloud. (The tech industry has a name and acronym for this. Of course they do. They call it “SaaS”, or “Software as a Service.”)

You’re Already in the Cloud

You probably already use “cloud services” and/or SAA S. Do you use:

  • Evernote?
  • Flickr?

Or how about:

  • Office 365?
  • Microsoft dynamics CRM?
  • Google docs?
  • QuickBooks on the web?

All of these are cloud services or SaaS. And millions of people and thousands of businesses use them every day.

Growth of the Cloud

According to Gartner, thousands more businesses will use them in the future. SaaS space is projected to reach $160 billion in revenue by 2016. The other “aaS” stacks, “Infrastructure as a Service” and “Platform as a Service”, are projected to show remarkable growth as well.

So in all likelihood, your business will be ”in the cloud” to an extent you couldn’t believe just a couple of years ago. What does this mean for your data?

Putting Your Business in the Cloud

Lots of small and medium sized businesses are taking advantage of the cloud to save on IT hardware and infrastructure, software and licensing, and better security. But there are some things you want to consider before moving to the cloud:

  • Can anyone access my data?
  • Do I have regulatory implications?
  • Where exactly is my data? How do I get it restored if necessary?
  • What happens when my cloud servicers performs upgrades or maintenance? Can my customers and staff access my systems? Will I get advance notification?
  • What happens if I miss a payment? Will I lose all my data?
  • What if I decide to leave the cloud? Do I still own my data, or does the cloud vendor? How do I get my data back?
  • What if the vendor goes out of business?

The IT experts at Waypoint would love to review your business and its readiness for the cloud, as well as all your other IT needs and cyber security vulnerabilities, for free.  Please click here to sign up for a free, no risk IT assessment.

Email Dangers – Best Practices for Spam Email

06.09.15

A Charlotte law firm received a ransom demand. But the ransom wasn’t for the release of a kidnapping victim. The law firm would have to pay for the release of its file server. You see, hackers scrambled the server and encrypted the data. The hackers then demanded the law firm pay for the encryption key.

A different Charlotte law firm transferred $38,000 to a Virginia Beach bank. Cybercriminals intercepted the transfer and eventually routed the funds to a bank in Moscow.

In both cases, you might think, the hackers worked their way through the Internet and kept testing the firms’ security, probing for weaknesses. They then surreptitiously worked to take over the server or intercept the funds.

Nope. The thieves walked right through the virtual front door and into the firms’ networks and servers. using spam email. And the employees let them in without a second thought, simply by opening it up.

” Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to phish and he’ll take over your servers and empty your accounts. “

The cyber criminals used a technique called “spear-phishing”, a variation of “phishing”. A regular phishing attack uses email that appears as if they come from well known, legitimate companies. When opened, they either launch a virus or Trojan horse, or ask for account information to “verify” or unlock an account.

The second type of phishing commonly shows up as an email from a bank, such as Wells Fargo or Bank of America. The email typically says that an account is locked and the recipient needs to click through to a webpage and enter his or her account information, including Social Security number, password, and so on. The web page looks genuine: the logos are correct, there’s an appropriate copyright notice, so the user goes ahead and enters the requested information. Once he hits the “Submit” button, the hacker has everything needed to empty the account.

A “spear-phishing” attack is similar, but is more directly targeted at a firm or person. Typically, the email looks like it was sent from within the company or from a known vendor, and might be followed up by a phone call where the hacker says something like “Hey, this is Bob from Accounting. I really need you to look at that spreadsheet I just sent. The boss is questioning some of your numbers.”

The first law firm received an email from “att.com” which included an attached file. When the recipient opened the attachment, a piece of “ransomware” called Cryptolocker launched, encrypted the file server, and sent the ransom demand.

Now, you might think that phishing couldn’t possibly work. No one would fall for that. But according to Wired.com, 91% of hackers access the target company or system via a phishing attack. Yeah, it does work well!

So how can you protect your company? First, educate your employees. Make sure they know phishing and, more importantly, what they should do if they suspect they’ve received a phishing email.

Second, use a spam filter. Even though filters are not 100% effective, they do give you a fighting chance. Tell your staff not to open any emails or attachments that land in the spam folder.

Third, you should encrypt any emails you send that may contain sensitive information, such as financial account numbers, Social Security numbers, client lists, etc. Even if cybercriminals intercept the email, they won’t be able to access the data.

Finally, and this is a recurring theme in this series, back up your data on a regular basis! Ideally, you back it up daily. If the first law firm had a daily backup, they could have just restored their server. But since the backup was over a week old, they were out of luck.

The IT experts at Waypoint would love to review your email setup and security, as well as your other IT needs and cyber security vulnerabilities, for free.  Please click here to sign up for a free, no risk IT assessment.

 

Could VR Make It This Time Around?

06.05.15

Virtual Reality is the perpetual motion machine of tech: every time you look around, there’s some wild-eyed inventor with a weird contraption and the same claim: ‘this time, it works!’

So we’ve gotten used to pointing VR over to the corner with the deathrays and cold fusion guys. But we could be wrong this time.

From a business viewpoint VR was less than a novelty in the 1990s, but VR or AR (Augmented Reality) apps could explode the way mobile apps did, and modern enterprises that aren’t involved in vending VR devices and services could still provide value to their customers via VR. Imagine what real estate will do with it, for instance!

So VR could work. But why should we dust it off now?

Why it’s (maybe) time to rethink VR

1: The tech is there.

The difference between VR nbow and VR in the way-back-when is the difference between 1982’s Tron and 2010’s Tron: Legacy. In ‘82, the ideas were there – but the tech? Watch the movie and you tell me. VR’s the same.While it meant yards of trailing wires and pixelated landscapes it was never going to go far with consumers – let alone businesses. But now that it means Google Glass, or even Oculus Rift, VR might have a fighting chance.

2: The price is right.
Early attempts at VR were truly wallet-busting, as early computing tended to be. The trade-off between price and performance meant VR was stuck in the same situation as very early mobile devices, where they didn’t really deliver and they cost far more than their performance merited. In some cases, like the presciently-named but ill-fated EyePhone, that could be half a million dollars. Now we’re talking about a price tag between $200 and a little over $1000, there’s a chance for a consumer market to develop.

3: Industry heavyweights want it to succeed

In its first iterations, VR was powered by individuals with dreams, and companies like Sega that were dipping their toes in the water. For the bigger players, it wound up as just another page on ‘10 Tech Flops You’ll Remember if You Lived Through The 90s.’ But this time around, Google is seriously committed to its ‘augmented reality’ Glass project, and has Maps, Hangouts, Drive, Youtube and search all ready to tie into it. Facebook, Sony, and Samsung join the list of those with deep pockets who want to see VR succeed.

4: The hacker’s paradox

As VR has professionalised, it’s also become open to hobbyists and hackers in a way that just wasn’t possible in the 90s. That means tens of thousands of people working on solving VR’s problems, coming up with sometimes-diverse solutions: the Ubuntu, Fedora and Korora of VR.

3 of The Best: Marketing Automation Software

06.03.15

Marketing automation software sets marketing departments free to concentrate on more valuable tasks, by taking over the more repetitive aspects of the job. It can also help by providing clear goals, checklists and processes that everyone from consultants to part-time marketing staff can follow, so marketing is less error-prone as well as more streamlined. From its origins as a method for automating marketing emails, marketing automation has expanded radically and although only 5% of business use it (VentureBeat Insights, 2015), many more should: 80% of companies that use marketing automation saw an increase in leads in 2014 and 77% saw an increase in conversions (VentureBeat 2015).

It’s not always plain sailing with marketing automation though. Many businesses are dissatisfied with their marketing automation software and as many as 20% of marketers in a recent survey were in the process of switching to a new marketing automation tool (Third Door Media, 2015). While the problem is sometimes that implementation is flawed, there is a big difference in the range of tools available. While no brief introduction can cover the variables or the huge range of options, it can offer a list of the best places to start.

1: Eloqua

Eloqua is for the truly committed. It’s features-packed, comprehensive and expensive. One of its major benefits is that the company offers incredible support, basically tutoring individual customers in how to get the best out of the tool on their terms. Offering seriously tight CRM integration and a great marketplace, Eloqua is priced at $2, 000 per month.

2: Constant Contact

On the other end of the scale from Eloqua, Constant Contact is a light, small business-friendly and fast out of the blocks. If you want email marketing automation, and nothing else, right now, this could be the tool for you. It’s very user friendly and simple to use, and compared to some other options on the market it’s very affordable. If you’re planning a more comprehensive automation drive down the line though, Constant Contact won’t be able to follow you there. It’s email-only. Constant Contact is priced at $15 per month.

3: HubSpot

HubSpot is the ‘Jack-of-all-trades’ of marketing automation. It does everything, while specialising in nothing. In some ways that’s a big advantage and HubSpot doesn’t even concentrate on marketing automation, seeking to offer ‘inbound automation’ instead, with its marketing automation just a component of that. For businesses looking for software that functions like a marketing department in a box, this is the nearest you’re going to get, with a proven track record and a reasonable price tag of $200 per month.

5 of the Best Free Online Presentation Tools

05.29.15

Productivity is increasingly moving away from the classic desktop machine. As mobile, BYOD and cloud transfigure the way we work – soon to be further disrupted by Google’s Chromebit,which can transform any screen into a computer for $100 – we need software tools that facilitate productivity in that new environment. our four slides on MS PowerPoint aren’t going to cut it. At the same time, you don’t want to spend a fortune. So what can you do? Choose from these free online presentation tools.

1: HaikuDeck

HaikuDeck lets you create slide decks on a range of devices. It’s been instrumental in showing off the productive powers of tablets and is particularly good for creating simple,yet crystal-clear, presentations. It’s not features-packed but it is reliable and effective. It’s also quite impressively free, in both its web app and iOS incarnations, and according to the company, ‘always will be.’

2: Empressr

Empressr devotes itself to storytelling rather than HaikuDeck’s emphasis on clarity. Here, you get a rich media tool for talking people through processes or narrating systems or stories. Right now you get unlimited presentations on Empressr for free, but it’s currently in beta, so don’t count on it staying that way.

3: Slides

If you work on a laptop, this might be your best choice. Slides is a browser-based presentation creator and editor with free cloud storage so you can easily device-hop. Like HaikuDeck it’s more about appearance than storytelling, so if you need clarity with style it’s a great choice. Slides.com presentations are referred to as ‘desks,’ and Slides.com is free as long as you don’tmind all your desks being public. If you want privacy, though, you have to pay for it, to the tune of between $6 and $12 a month.

4: PowToon

PowToon is a quirky, fun tool that lets you create step-by-step narrative cartoons, narrated by voiceovers. Behind the scenes you build on a series of storyboards, but when the presentation is shown it looks like a short animated film. If you want to stickj with PowToon and get the occasional basic presentation too, PowToon Slides does just that and comes bundled with the core app. The free version features watermarks and outros, so you’ll probably want Pro at $19 a month or Business at $57 a month.

5: SlideDog

SlideDog allows you to build presentations from a range of media and keep it all the right size and shape,with no file type or compatibility problems, so you can build a presentation with multiple different types of media embedded, then share it online or show it conventionally. You can use SlideDog offline, but if your presentation features online content like YouTube videos they won’t work without an internet connection. SlideDog is freemium, with a free plan that offers short trials of premium features.If you like them you’ll need to switch to the $8.33 a month Pro plan.

4 Gmail Hacks For Productivity

05.27.15

Gmail is a handy tool. But if you’ve never changed the setup on yours you could be leaving a lot on the table. Messing with the configuration of basic online tools is up there with people who use massive complex graphics as desktop backgrounds – a symptom of having too much free time, a sign of frivolity. Which is a shame, because there are actually Gmail plugins that can make using it way more productive and convenient. The top four? Read on!

1: Undo

If you’ve ever sent an email you wished you could call back as soon as you clicked ‘send,’ this hack’s for you. You’ll want to go to the Lab section (Settings>Labs), then select Undo Send and click Enable. Now when you send an email, that message lingers on the screen a while, accompanied by an honest-to-goodness Undo button that will recall it. Never send garbled, typo-ridden messages at 4AM again!

2: Schedule

… unless you want people to believe you sent that (highly polished) email at 4AM. In which case, the Boomerang for Gmail plugin lets you schedule outgoing emails. That’s useful if you have clients in different time zones, or people on your list open emails way more at certain times. The free basic Boomerang membership lets you schedule up to 10 emails a month and it’s compatible with Chrome, FireFox and Safari. Heavy users might want to upgrade, paying $5 – $50 a month.

3: Identify

If your inbox is a busy place, you’re likely to lose track of who said what when. Don’t sweat it. There’s an app (well, a plugin) for that. In fact, there are two very popular ones, Rapportive and FullContact. Rapportive works with FireFox and Chrome, while FullContact is Chrome-only, but has an iPhone app. Both do a similar job: they let you know who you’re talking to, opening a sidebar that shows photo, bio and other details whenever you open an email. FullContact has slightly more functionality, though – you can add notes to someone’s profile to remind yourself, and the information it displays comes from a range of sites while rapportive mostly just syncs with LinkedIn.

4: Disguise – and Detect

Email marketers have a vested interest in knowing who opened their emails, so they can AB test subject lines and improve clickthrough. And everyone would like to know if their emails are actually being read. So that’s where MailTrack gets its users from. MailTrack tells an email’s sender if the recipient opened the mail,and if so, when.

Unless that sender has UglyMail, which detects the tracker in a MailTrack mail and warns the recipient that it’s there, by displaying an ‘eye’ icon next to the incoming message. So if you’d like to catch out email recipients who would have you believe they never got the message, or you’d like to make sure you’re not being tracked yourself (or both), there’s a Gmail plugin with your name on it.