Tech Tip

Internet filters

When choosing an internet filter, think about:

  • Who your users are: Are they doing research or just browsing the net?
  • Are you managing 10 or fewer computers or a large lab?
  • Hardware you are using: Older machines may run slower.
  • Hardware or software filtering: Software can slow your computer down.
  • Do you plan to expand your lab in the future?

Internet filters are great to keep users from accessing sites you don’t want them to access from your computers.  There are many filtering methods out there. I would recommend starting with Microsoft Family Safety. This software is free with Windows 7 thru 10,  but you have to download it.

If,  however,  you’re looking to manage more than 10 computers or you’re trying to save time when it comes to updates, you may want to look at  hardware options.  One hardware option would be a proxy solution, which would require a server or an appliance.  Going with this solution,  you need to remember that software you install on the computer will not automatically see through the proxy.

If I upgrade my device it would be faster?

This is the most considered question when upgrading:  If I upgrade my device, will it be faster?  My professional answer is maybe.  There are many factors to consider when you do upgrade any software/firmware.

If you are upgrading to fix a bug in the system, then there is a chance that doing so will improve your use but if you are upgrading to a new version of an operating system or firmware, your system may become slower.

Most software/firmware will improve on new devices (normally manufactured within the last year) but anything older than that most likely will slow the device down.

Unless there is an annoying bug in the current version of the device or you are instructed to upgrade due to some security reason, I would wait.

Recommendations

  • Make sure the device you are using has been manufactured in the past year.
  • Back up your files.  Some devices require you to restore back to the original state of the system,  from the time when you bought it.
  • Note everything for the first week: speed, bugs, etc.
  • If you have the resources, get the system with the upgrade already in place.

New tech? Do this with your old stuff

‘Tis the season to be festive and prepare for a new year.  During this time of the year,  you may receive new technology equipment:  a computer, a phone, a tablet, or something else electronic.  You may decide at that point to get rid of your old device. Do it properly!

Old technology equipment should be recycled and not placed in a landfill.  Older technology can be used by someone who has never used it before.  Organizations, such as InterConnection, can be a great place to take your old technology where it can be properly recycled or reused.

Get the most from your limited data connection

When you’re on a limited data internet connection, make sure every megabyte  really counts.  Some providers will charge you for going over,  while others will slow your internet down to an unusable rate.

Disable Plugins

Many websites include embedded Flash content, often for videos or advertisements. This Flash content can be fairly large in size. To prevent Flash content from loading, you can turn on the click-to-play plugin feature in your browser. When you access a page containing content that needs plugins – usually Flash or something else – you will see a placeholder. Click the placeholder and the content will download and play.

Disable Images

The image size on most websites today are a lot better than websites in the past but they still do take up a lot of bandwidth.   You should disable image usage from automatically loading.  Understand that some sites you may visit are image heavy, so this will cause the site your browsing to look strange.

Limiting browser updates

While it is recommended to always keep your browser up to date, you don’t want the browser to start updating when you need the data most for something else.  You should disable browser updates, but ensure that you perform the updates manually on a regular basis.

Limit general updates

To ensure that the computer does not download a new update when it’s not convenient to you, set Windows Update to prompt you to download updates and not download them automatically. (Open the Windows Update control panel and click Change Settings.)

Disable or Manual sync, Sky Drive, Google Drive, Drop Box, etc.

You should also look into your other data applications such as Sky Drive, Google Drive, Drop Box, etc.  Disable automatic syncing, but you will need to run syncing when you need that system.

Final thoughts

You can disable many other functions such as your antivirus, but some functions you want to keep active in spite of the data consumption needs.  You can leave the functions you disabled until you have a faster or more data available.  You should at least once every 30 days go to a public site such as the library to allow your system to get all the updates that you missed because everything was disabled.

Text message to the world?

Video applications are great tools to stay in touch with friends and family around the world.  Did you know that with a smart phone you can stay in touch?  You can send text messages to friends and family as if they are right next to you through smart phone messaging applications. Most of the major computer applications have a smartphone version allowing you to chat with friends and family.  These services are normally free to send or receive messages as long as you have Internet access.  If you do not like texting, most of the popular applications support text, phone and video calling.  It’s recommended you use a WIFI connection if you’re going to use the phone or video service.

Popular ones are

BYOD Policy

In today’s technology world there are many reasons why you could allow users to use their own devices for work.  As a technical person, it makes no business sense to have tools that I purchase for myself and my organization that must be used on a separate device.  If you allow users to use their own devices, be  aware of where data is stored. What if that device is lost or stolen? How would this affect you? Do you have a policy applicable to a person using that device?

Areas you should consider when writing up a BYOD policy are:

  • Anti-Virus software: What is your policy for this?
  • Password security: Is there a password to access the device?
  • Backing up data: If anything is stored locally to the device, how is it backed up?
  • Firewalls: Can the device be accessed remotely?
  • Access to your system: Is there a policy for physical device security?
  • Expectation of privacy: Should the user give you permission to access the device?
  • Work related expenses on a BYOD device
  • Special Software: Who owns it? How does it get installed? Who supports it?

Can your computer breathe?

Yes, your technology equipment needs to be able to get fresh air like us humans needing to breathe.  When technology gets too hot, things can just shut off.  It can be a bad thing.  For example, if you’re writing a letter on your computer and the computer shuts down, the letter can become corrupted.  If your device is performing updates and turn offs, this can cause the device to become unusable.

You should not use your laptop in bed. Most laptops have their fans on the bottom or on one of its sides.  Comforters and large blankets can block the fans, making it hard for the laptop to stay cool.

Desktop computers should have an internal cleaning.  Dust can accumulate inside of the computer, causing the ventilation system to not run well.  I recommend opening a computer every year or two, and vacuum the insides out.  Be careful not to unplug or move anything but also note that the inside of a computer should not fall apart if you use a vacuum cleaner hose to clean it.

Most mobile devices do not have a good ventilation system.  You should not run into a problem when charging them, but because they have a tendency to get warm you should not overuse them while they are charging.  Just like a regular computer they have a CPU and power source that gets hot.  Since they don’t have a good ventilation system, they could get hot, causing damage the mobile device.

In-house vs Cloud Server

Deciding if you want an in-house or cloud server can be complicated when deciding which is best for you or your organization.

Cloud servers normally have an advantage when it comes to startup cost or ease of deploying certain technologies on a large scale.  Most cloud providers don’t charge you extra for upgrading the hardware to current models, but if you weigh your cost over the course of a few years,  things can add up.  In most cases, you are responsible for the software and sometimes also the operation.

If you have large amounts of data, don’t need to access files remotely, or have custom applications, it is best to host them locally thru your own in-house server.  There will be a higher startup cost because you have to purchase everything, but you can use the hardware for much longer than recommended, which allows you to save money.  One way to reduce the startup cost is to finance the hardware purchase.

You should identify how your organization will handle:

  • Email or Exchange (email, calendaring, collaboration)
  • File share (storing your data)
  • Printer service (users can print directly if it’s a small organization)
  • Custom Applications (special programs)
  • Internet (with cloud you still need Internet at your organization’s office)
  • Who will manage all of the above?
    • Hardware along with replacements
    • Software along with upgrades and configurations needs

Once you know how your organization will handle the above, you can then evaluate which type of server you like, Cloud or In-House.  The good thing about both technologies is that they are interchangeable. You can even elect to have a hybrid of both worlds.

Purchasing tablets for education

When purchasing a tablet for using at school, it’s a good idea to follow the recommendations of the school you are attending.  If you are taking classes at multiple schools or learning online, there are several things you may want to consider.

I would recommend having at least two USB connections, especially if you are going to be using a separate keyboard. If the tablet does not have a USB connection, you should make sure the keyboard you purchase supports Bluetooth. Most keyboards follow the QWERTY/traditional keyboard format for faster typing, but the layout of keys on assistive devices may differ.

What tablet operating system would best meet my needs?  Derrick’s recommendations:

  1. Android OS:  These are the most common and will give you more choices in relation to price.  They are the most compatible with both Windows and Apple hardware (for syncing with computers, laptops, etc.) and they offer a wide breadth of applications. Using software such as Evernote will allow you to sync your documents between devices.
  2. Apple OS (iPad):  Many schools are using the iPads as they are very simple to use.  You may run into trouble if you plan to do more than browse the Internet and watch videos, as Apple often restricts their service to Apple products.
  3. Windows OS: If Microsoft had more market share when it comes to portable devices I would recommend them as number one due to their market share in the PC environment.
  4. Others, systems can limit your flexibility.

Most tablets only allow you to connect to the internet via a WIFI connection. Watching a video may be okay with most connections; worst case the video will be choppy. If you’re using Skype or any other two way service you must know that you have good Internet connection speeds of 1.5MB or better.

Invest in a good headset (with a microphone if you’re using any two way service), if you’re in a public place you don’t want to disturb everyone and if it’s noisy you want to ensure you can hear.

Most new wireless printers support the ability to print straight from your device. You will have to be on the same network as the printer you’re printing to.  Most printers require you to download their application which can be found at your operating systems app store.

Agree or disagree?  Email Derrick Hall with your comments!

Performing a technology assessment of your nonprofit

When assessing your technology you should think about five major areas:

  • INFRASTRUCTURE

What computer and network style will you use:  normal ones are peer to peer and client server both can be part or all cloud based.  Will your main data be local or in the cloud?  What access to your data does your organization need? Think of storage space, speed of access, and whether multi-location access is needed.  Do you have a technology plan? If so, it should also talk about replacing or upgrading equipment as well.  What are the pros and cons to the hardware needs that you have decided on?

  • Business Software Needs

What enterprise systems will you need, such as office suites or special applications for your organization, how do you access the software? On what platforms can the software be run? Does your infrastructure support these platforms?

  • Organization Issues

Just because you have a great technology does not mean you will get everyone to use it.  Set goals for usage so that everyone knows how serious it is to use of the technology. Develop a policy and procedures for the usage of all of your technology.  A good rule is if you plug it in or it uses batteries then it is technology and you have a plan for it.

  • Website and Social Media

Some people believe that this should be under marketing, which is mostly true, but you still need to think about security along with several other aspects of them both.  Making sure both the website and social media components talk to each other as well as other platforms, can be technical.  Make sure there are roles and responsibilities assigned for every aspect of your online presence.  You should have a training plan and anyone who posts should understand the organization mission.

  • Risk management and security

Most organizations under-invest in this area. You don’t want to be the organization that has to pay millions to fix a data leak or have your reputation tarnished.  Always ensure that you have a malware system installed (Antivirus/Spyware) on each client machine.  People ask which one out there is best. This can vary with your needs but you want a company that is responsive.  Most new viruses are found because something got attacked or infected.  You should have a backup/disaster recovery plan in place. It is not good enough to just have your data in two places. You must know how you would retrieve it in a disaster.  Are you dealing with personal information such as social security numbers or medical records?  Always use complex passwords. For front facing access to your network, such as websites, limit administrative access to them.  Patch and update on a regular basis, this will help you stay secure.

In each of the categories you must always think about the price and budget.  Evaluating your technology plan on a yearly basis helps you to see that it still is in alignment with your organizational needs.