Posts Tagged ‘Computer Support’

Safe computing for the holidays

December 21, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Taking time off to spend with family and friends is such a treat, but alas for many it is hard to stay away from the computer.  If you are going to do some online shopping, play a new game or check your work email, be sure to practice safe computing.  Your home computer may not have the same protection as work, so before you download that file or visit a new site make sure you are protected.

Protecting your computer

1)  Make sure your operating system is updated and all security patches are installed.  If you are using Windows, go to Control Panel Home, then Windows Update. This page will show you if you are up to date or if you need an update.  If you are out of date, follow the instructions and consider turning on automatic updates.  If you have a Mac, the update is similar to Windows so just follow the instructions.  If you have Unix or Linux, you are probably an expert and know how to patch your system.

2)  Browse safely.  Be sure your browser is current and that you are protecting against malware.  Malware are those nasty intruders that we often call viruses, trojans, worms or spyware.  For Windows, you can use Microsoft Security Essentials.  It is a free Microsoft tool that runs in the background and will alert you when a threat is identified.  Remember no protection is 100%, so you have to think before you click and be prepared to remove infections.

3)  Use a firewall. Firewalls can be hardware or software and screen Internet traffic as a first line of defense.

4)  Use spam filters. Most email programs include a spam and junk filter.  Not only can you trash unwanted junk mail, but you can disable email links (recommended) and be warned of malicious content.  There are many malicious emails that look legitimate so be careful when opening emails and never click on attachments or links unless you are certain of the source.

5)  Download safely. Only download from sites that you know are legitimate and reputable. When you download, save the file and be sure that your antivirus software is set up to scan when you open files.  A good rule to follow when opening anything is when in doubt – don’t!

6)  Have a computer expert you can count on.  If you are unfamiliar with computer protection, be sure to have someone who you can consult for advice and help.  It seems complicated, but there are many tools that are easy to configure that run automatically to keep you safe.  Be sure you are protected so that you can enjoy the holiday season with your family and friends rather than fixing your computer.

7)  Be sure you have a current backup.  Just in case the worst happens, you can restore to your latest backup.

Online information and help is abundant, but be cautious that you don’t get fooled by malware that pretends to offer help.  If you get a pop-up that claims it will remove an infection from your computer for a price, stop and call your expert!

If you need help or have comments/suggestions, please feel free to contact me at: mary@lansystems.com.

All of us at LAN Systems wish you a safe and joyous holiday season.

Get In Touch With Your Creative Side Using Microsoft Office

February 23, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Not that long ago, the only way to get high-quality, professional materials was through a graphic designer.  Printing was a complicated, expensive process that was left to the print shops.  Each project required assembling pictures, graphics and content that was camera-ready. 

Today, we have access to everything needed to make agency-quality marketing materials with full-color and amazing graphics. Brochures, mailers and newsletters can be printed on-demand or in the perfect quantity to reducing waste and keep the offering fresh.  To save more and reach the online audience, electronic files are brilliant and easy to distribute.  If you have an idea, a good eye and the right tools, you can make magic. 

Microsoft Office offers the right tools with its Office 2010 Suite of Applications.  Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Publisher provide improved and enhanced features for creating and publishing. Many of the features are cross-platform so you can learn a skill in one application and use it in another.  There are a host of classes for beginner, intermediate and advanced users that can be taken in a classroom environment or online depending on your best learning method.  Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and others offer free, online classes that are perfect for the self-learner.

Word is the standard for creating and formatting documents of all types from simple letters to documents with a table of contents, index and glossary. It makes the task of creating and editing documents easy.  Tools like spell check and thesaurus make us look smart and polished. New and improved photo-editing tools let you transform pictures right in Word 2010 – no extra software needed. Change color saturation, temperature, brightness, and contrast to turn a simple Word document into a work of art.  Turn text into visual effects with enhanced text effects and SmartArt graphics. Change basic bullet-points into compelling visuals and add text effects like shadow, glow, reflection, and 3-D in just a few clicks.  With co-authoring, you can edit at the same time as others, even if you’re working from different locations, and keep versions in sync with version control. This is a great way to eliminate typos (ever used a there for their or your for you’re?) by having others review your work for content and correctness.

PowerPoint is not just for presentations, it also makes a great coordinating tri-fold or handout.  Use the same theme for marketing materials that you can leave with the prospect to reinforce your message and offering. Creating your presentation in PowerPoint allows you to gather all your thoughts and ideas in one tool.  You have many slide choices and can move, cut, paste and organize to create a coherent flow of information without leaving the program.  Adding graphics, diagrams, video and sound is easier than ever. 

Excel graphs, charts and sparklines explain trends and comparisons with strong visuals.  Whenever numbers are involved, visuals are powerful tools to simplify the message and give at-a-glance significance. Use sparklines to graphically display data in a single cell.  You can display data in line, column or win/loss format to highlight trends.

Publisher helps you create eye-catching brochures, newsletters, postcards, greeting cards and email messages.  With the built-in and online templates, you can find a style for any publication. The prebuilt building blocks give an assortment of page parts like sidebars, stories and columns for creating professional newsletters and case studies. Add calendars, borders and advertisement blocks for community or school newsletters. Stunning graphics and images are easily added and use OpenType typography for expert typesetting effects.

Get your creative juices flowing! Experiment with different looks and practice with different styles.  Start with a concept and use Microsoft Office 2010 to create brilliant, flawless materials for your home, school or business.

For more technical notes and information go to: www.lansystems.com/technotes.html

Managing Rows and Columns in Excel

January 27, 2011

Excel[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Guest author David H. Ringstrom, CPA, www.accountingadvisors.com

Users often hide rows or columns in a spreadsheet to conceal private data, or perhaps just to keep a large spreadsheet manageable. This is a helpful feature in Excel, but many users often go about managing rows the hard way:

Excel 2007 or later: In the Cells section of the Home tab choose Format, Hide & Hide, and then make a selection as to what to hide or unhide.

Excel 2003 and earlier: Choose Row or Column and then Hide or Unhide, respectively. 

Hiding rows is fairly straight forward, as you can select the rows or columns, and then carry out the aforementioned menu command. To unhide rows or columns, you must select rows above and below the hidden section, or columns to the left and right of the hidden section, and then carry out the menu command.

Constantly navigating the menus to hide and unhide rows or columns can put unnecessary wear-and-tear on your wrists, but there are some easier alternatives. For instance, these keyboard shortcuts work in all versions of Excel:

  • Press Ctrl-9 to hide a row or , as oppoCtrl-Shift-9 to unhide a row.
  • Press Ctrl-0 (zero) and Ctrl-Shift-0 (zero) to  hide or unhide columns.

In both cases, make sure to use the numbers at the top of your keyboardsed to the number pad at the right of your keyboard.

Many users are particularly bedeviled when they need to unhide selected rows or columns within a hidden area of a worksheet. Typically they unhide all rows and columns in the affected section, and then rehide what they don’t need. Consider this surgical approach in all versions of Excel instead:

  1. Press F5 to display the Go To dialog box.
  2. Enter the address of the cell or cells that you want to unhide, such as A1 if you want to unhide a single row or column, D1:G1 if you want to unhide several columns, or A5:A10 if you want to unhide several rows, and then click OK.
  3. Use the keyboard shortcuts or menu commands I mentioned above to unhide the desired portion of your worksheet.

If you need to frequently hide and unhide sections of a spreadsheet, try the Group and Outline feature instead. First, select one or more rows or columns, and then carry out these steps:

Excel 2007 and later: On the Data tab of the ribbon, choose Group in the Outline section.

Excel 2003 and earlier: Choose Data, Group and Outline, and then Group.

Once you do so, a button with a minus sign will appear outside the worksheet frame. Click this button to collapse (or hide) the rows or columns. The minus sign will change to a plus that allows you to expand that section. Or use the 1 and 2 buttons at the top left-hand corner of the screen to expand or collapse all grouped columns or rows in the spreadsheet. To remove the outlining, select the grouped rows or columns, and then choose the Ungroup command on the aforementioned menus.

David H. Ringstrom, CPA heads up Accounting Advisors, Inc., an Atlanta-based spreadsheet and database consulting and training firm. Contact David at david@accountingadvisors.com or visit www.accountingadvisors.com.

Updating your Microsoft Windows System

January 26, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Protect your system by investing the time to update Windows. It is quick and easy.  In order to prevent attacks, you have to keep your computer updated.  Most infections are preventable and occur because of unpatched security holes.  Don’t let your system fall victim, spend a little quality-time with your computer today! 

Check your update status – Go to Microsoft Update and choose the Express option.   This works for 99% of the systems.  It will evaluate your operating system status and recommend the necessary updates. Microsoft will identify the high-priority updates needed for your system. If you haven’t updated your system recently, there may be several listed.  Be sure to apply all the recommended critical updates.  From this dashboard, you will be able to review your update history and get support. This is a good time to verify your backup or restore point. 

Turn on automatic updates – If your computer is not set to receive notifications when new updates are available, turn the feature on. You will see a screen message to “Help protect your PC” on the right-hand side of the Welcome to Microsoft Updates screen and can turn on the Automatic Update feature by clicking the box  Choose a time to install automatically or choose when you will manually install updates.  Critical updates may require a reboot so choose a time that your computer will be on but will not interrupt your work. You can also complete these actions from Control Panel. Screen shots are Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 look a bit different.

For LAN Systems support customers, these tasks and checks are done for you but it never hurts to double-check your settings.  Updates are essential for your home system.  Most attacks are against home systems because they are more often out-of-date. 

For added protection, use Microsoft Security Essentials. Take a few minutes to update your system and if you have questions or need help, please feel free to contact us at 770 662-0312 or HelpDesk@lansystems.com.

Living on the Edge with Your Data Backup and Recovery Strategy?

January 5, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]One of the biggest risks you can take is not backing up your data.  Sure, you may never experience a disk failure, but if you do it will be a disaster.  Ask anyone who has suffered a data loss and they will tell you about the distress and panic when they realized that the data was gone forever.  Data loss can devastate your operations and cripple your organization.  But for a problem with such disastrous results, it has an easy fix. 

Backing up data is relatively easy and economical on the front side and provides an easy recovery method in case of a disk loss or failure.  Backup costs are a fraction of recovery costs and sometimes no amount of money or effort can recover data from a severely damaged disk.  

Today’s technology provides many cost-effective ways to protect your data.  For a business system, start with a strategy that uses the concept of redundancy to duplicate data, employs a serious backup method and includes disaster recovery.  Your data backup strategy should be proportional to the value of your data.  Don’t cut corners, be sure to include any data that is essential to your business or would be difficult to reconstruct.

So why doesn’t every business have a good backup plan that works?   Either it’s too expensive or too complicated.  Backup doesn’t have to be expensive, but it has to be executed and verified on a regular schedule.  If you manage and verify your backup daily then you can choose less expensive technology.

Backup doesn’t have to be complicated, but automated solutions cost more. If you want a solution that takes most of the guess-work out of backups and gives disaster recovery protection, they are available but will cost considerably more. 

It is important to choose the technology and strategy that works for you.  Always be diligent in performing and storing your backups. Below we discuss some of the most used concepts and technologies.  

Disk Redundancy – Writing to two or more disks at the same time, provides data protection in case of a disk failure.  A redundant array of inexpensive disks (RAID) will divide and replicate data so that a single or minority of disk failure does not cause data loss.  RAID technology is mostly employed on servers and data storage devices.  It can be hardware or software configured.  Although RAID does give a level of protection against data loss, it does not replace backing up your data.

Primary Data Backup – The data storage or repository can be tape, disk-to-disk and/or virtual tape using an external drive (SAN, NAS or USB) used to store the backup. The backup scheme can be full, incremental, differential or continuous.  Each scheme has individual requirements that may include software to create the storage archive. 

Secondary Data Backup – This is usually an offsite disk-to-disk or online backup plan, but can be another method that gives a second copy of the repository. Online backup services are very affordable and keep a near real-time copy of files.  A limitation of online backup is bandwidth.  For large stores of data, the initial upload can take considerable time.  Some services allow you to send a disk with the base files then only changes are uploaded. 

Disaster Recovery – This allows you to build your system from the ground up.  Often a disaster recovery plan includes an image (complete and exact copy of the disk(s) on your system) and a current backup.  Images include the operating system, configuration, licenses, applications and data.  Images are often called a “bare metal” restore because they allow you to overlay the image onto a new system without any prior installation of an operating system or software. 

Protecting User Data – Users should save data to a shared network drive and be included in the backup.  If there are files that are only on a laptop or desktop, they should be backed up individually. This can be done easily with an external drive or online file backup.

 A common data backup and recovery configuration for a server:

  1. Data Redundancy as RAID 10 – Mirrored and striped sets in a 2 disk array.
  2. Primary Data Backup – Network Attached Storage (NAS) using Windows Server 2008 Backup.
  3. Secondary Data Backup – Online backup service backing up all critical files.
  4. Disaster Recovery – Full image stored offsite. 

This is not an exhaustive list of available backup methods.  Data backup has many parts, facets and options.  For a good data backup strategy, start with an overview of your system and decide your level of involvement.  From there, you can build a backup strategy and disaster recovery plan so that in the event of a data loss, you are protected. 

If you have comments or need help formulating a plan, contact me at mary@lansystems.com.

For more technical notes and information go to: www.lansystems.com/technotes.html

Large or dual monitors mean happier, more productive employees

September 26, 2010

[tweetmeme source=”LANSystems” only_single=false]The NEC commissioned University of Utah study shows increased productivity, job satisfaction and an incredible return on investment. It is not surprising that a monitor manufacturer would recommend larger and multiple monitor arrangements, but what do users think? There are two trends. The first is for smaller, lighter, mobile devices for on-the-go professionals and the second is for more screen real estate for the stationary worker.

On-the-go professionals need access from anywhere, anytime so they can stay connected.  The screen sizes of mobile devices are definitely trending up, but in general they are still much, much smaller than desktop monitors.  Most mobile users don’t need multiple windows. They can switch between applications or use tools to work more efficiently. Mobile devices are great for staying connected and having information at your fingertips.  They are not efficient for programming that requires in-depth analysis or complicated tasks.  Many types of IT systems do not allow access or control from a mobile device because of the chance of errors and security concerns.

Stationary users benefit from larger or dual monitors depending on the work they do on the computer.  If a user has two or more applications that they cut-and-paste between, dual monitors are a great for increased productivity and error reduction. You don’t have to stop with a dual arrangement.  Triple and quad monitors are used in many situations, like control monitoring, that give the user needed information at a glance without having to switch between windows.  But size does become a diminishing return and if the monitor is too big it can be a productivity drain.  The NEC report shows single 26 inch and dual 20 inch as the upper limit.

Desk space is important.  With flat panel monitors, desk space is not a problem as with CRTs.  Usually you can comfortably place two monitors or a larger monitor on a desk without obscuring view.  If you want to be accessible to your customers, co-workers and employees, don’t sit with your back to the door or with a monitor hiding your face.

There is a good bit of research on monitors and productivity that you can use. Read the NEC Study or do some Internet research for more suggestions on how to be more productive with your computer monitors.  Make a list of what tasks cause you and your staff the most irritation and solve them first. 

If you have suggestions or comments, please contact me at: mary@lansystems.com.

For more technical notes and information go to: www.lansystems.com/technotes.html

Microsoft Office 2010: The best new features in PowerPoint

September 10, 2010

[tweetmeme source=”LANSystems” only_single=false]For anyone that has ever presented to a group, you know it is essential to be well prepared and have the right props.  For many, PowerPoint is the prop of choice. 

Creating your presentation in PowerPoint allows you to gather all your thoughts and ideas in one tool.  You have many slide choices and can move, cut, paste and organize to create a coherent flow of information without leaving the program.  Adding graphics, diagrams, video and sound is easier than ever. With just a little time investment, PowerPoint will make you look like a presentation guru!

When creating the perfect presentation, be sure not make your slides too busy or add too much glitz.  If you want to use sound and video, make sure to add at a place in your presentation where it will complement your message.  Video can be a great introduction or it can be used to clarify your points.  Don’t use sound or video in parts of your presentation where you need the attention of the audience.  Don’t let text dominate your presentation.  Use pictures and graphics liberally as people remember points made through visuals much better than they remember words.

Create interesting presentations

Use built in video power tools – Create extraordinary presentations by embedding video that was created using tools that give a professional multimedia experience.  You can fade, add formatting effects, bookmark scenes, and trim your videos with ease.  Sharing is easy because the embedded video is part of the PowerPoint presentation. You only have to share one file.

Embedded videos can now become part of your PowerPoint presentation

Picture editing made easy – Use new and improved picture editing tools—including versatile artistic effects and advanced correction, color, and cropping tools—to fine-tune every picture in your presentation to look its absolute best.

Built in graphic effects – You don’t have to be a design expert to create professional-looking graphics. Use dozens of additional SmartArt® layouts to create organization charts, lists, and picture diagrams. Transform words into impressive visuals that better illustrate your ideas. Create diagrams as easily as typing a bulleted list or convert text and images to a diagram in just a few clicks. All the tools you need to create stunning graphics are built into PowerPoint.     

PowerPoint 2010 SmartArt Example

3-D transitions and improved animations -PowerPoint 2010 offers new, dynamic slide transitions and animation effects that look similar to graphics you’d see on TV. Easily access, preview, apply, customize, and replace animations. You can also use the new Animation Painter to easily copy animations from one object to another.

Quick and easy presentation management 

Microsoft Office Backstage view – This is the tool palette you see when you select File. This is where you manage your files and the data about them — creating, saving, inspecting for hidden metadata or personal information, and setting options. In short, it is everything that you do to a file that you don’t do in the file.

Compress video and audio – Select File and then Info to compress video and audio in your presentation.  This reduces the file size and can increase playback performance.  Select the quality option from the drop-down choices.

The option to compress media is one of many new features available from the new Backstage view

Customize the Ribbon – Use customizations to personalize the ribbon the way that you want it. For example, you can create custom tabs and custom groups to contain your frequently used commands.  Note:Ribbon customization is specific to the Microsoft Office program you are working in at the time. Ribbon customization does not apply across the Office programs.

Work together from anywhere

Live broadcast – Broadcast your slide show to people in other locations, whether or not they have PowerPoint installed. Create a video of your presentation—including your transitions, animations, narration, and timings—to share with virtually anyone, any time after your live broadcast.

You can broadcast your slide show to people remotely, whether or not they have PowerPoint installed

Microsoft PowerPoint Web App is an online companion to Microsoft PowerPoint which enables you to extend your PowerPoint experience to the browser. View a high fidelity version of your presentations, make light edits, or view your presentation slide show. Use the familiar PowerPoint interface and some of the same formatting and editing tools, from almost any computer with a Web browser.

Microsoft PowerPoint Mobile 2010 enables you to do light editing for your presentations and is especially designed for easy use on your Windows phone. You can even run your slide show right on your phone.

For more technical notes and information go to: www.lansystems.com/technotes.html 

If you have any questions or need help with the instructions, email me at: mary@lansystems.com.

Fighting Spam

March 31, 2010

[tweetmeme source=lansystems only_single=false]

Over 90% of email is unsolicited and unwanted. Junk emails flood the electronic delivery system with messages that we just don’t want and phishing schemes fool millions each year.  These abuses waste time and resources and are one of the biggest productivity drains that businesses face.

Unfortunately, you can’t get rid of all spam but you can manage the problem and protect your business from incidental damage.  Make sure you have a clear email policy and train users so they don’t fall for spam tricks. 

  1. Use a Spam Filter – although spammers work on beating the filter, this is your best first defense.
  2. Never reply to spam, not even to unsubscribe – often this just confirms your email is valid.
  3. Disable automatic downloading of HTML pictures –  spammers get confirmation that you opened the message if the graphics (pictures) are downloaded.
  4. Don’t participate in chain emails – these often harvest email address and many recipients find them irritating.
  5. Don’t respond to email requests that ask for personal information or money – this is the most common phishing scam.
  6. Use privacy settings on your accounts – especially for social media sites, don’t publically list your email address.
  7. Use care when giving your email – if you list your email on any site (or on your business card) remember it increases your chances of being spammed.
  8. Don’t spam others – if you have a eNewsletter or send email information be sure you follow proper protocol and allow your recipients to easily unsubscribe.
  9. Turn off read and delivery receipts and automatic response to meeting requests – these responses are used to validate your email address.
  10. If you receive spam in your inbox, you can forward it with the proper header to uce@ftc.gov.

More technical notes at www.lansystems.com/technotes.html

Desktop Upgrades

March 20, 2010

[tweetmeme source=lansystems only_single=false]You’ve had your business desktops for a couple of years and they have gotten noticeably slower.  The staff wants new, fast and fancy PCs but you are just not sure if that is a good use of your resources.  You want everyone to be as efficient and productive as possible so it’s time to do a computer ROI analysis.

When discussing desktop upgrades, there are several strategies to use and many ways to mix-n-match them. You can upgrade your existing desktop to extend its life, you can move to a desktop virtualized environment, you can use online software services or you can use a combination of all.  Our overview gives some of the most common choices, but it is not exhaustive. There are many ways to solve this complex issue. 

1)   If you have desktops that the user accesses for programs and files, consider these ideas:

a) Upgrade memory

b) Move local disk storage to a server

c) Use external drives to expand data storage

d) Replace CRT monitors with LCD panels.  Consider dual monitors for users that use many application windows or do considerable cut-and-paste. Most users that use the dual monitor arrangement declare it makes them more productive and less likely to make mistakes.

e) Tune-up the PC.  Scan, clean and remove unneeded programs and files.  Sometimes reinstalling the operating system and applications can fix a host of problems, but it can be time consuming.

f)  If you are looking at upgrading the operating system or application software, consider going to desktop virtualization or purchasing a new desktop.  Often, these choices can be a more cost-effective solution.

g) If the desktop is not worth upgrading, consider donating to a non-profit that can make good use of the equipment. LAN Systems can assist, we have a program with a nominal fee to remove data and verify software licenses.

h) If you have to dispose of computers and electronics, please choose a responsible recycling program. LAN Systems has a free program to recycle.

2)   If you are considering desktop virtualization on your own server, you should know:

a) This strategy can significantly extend the life of the desktop

b) The user will get their desktop and applications from the central server not locally.  Most of the processing is done by the server, so the desktop only uses a small amount of resources.

c) Choosing the right desktop virtualization software is essential.  There are many different offerings with different feature sets.

d) Review application licensing to see what costs will be incurred in going virtual

e) Do a complete cost analysis to make sure you get your ROI

3)   Consider online software services (SAAS):

a) Evaluation costs over your ROI period

b) Consider hosted email, spam and virus protection

c) Look at other hosted software like email marketing, sales, contact management, and accounting to replace in-house software

If used wisely, your computer system can be one of your best competitive advantages.  Often minor changes or upgrades that are quite economical can give you the biggest returns.  For more technical tips, go to:  http://www.lansystems.com

If want to discuss these and other ideas, please email me at mary@lansystems.com.