Tech Tip

Quick tips when using windows 8.1

When using Windows 8, the layout is quite different than what you expect.  Windows 8 was designed to be used with a touch screen following the layout of most Smart Phones today.  To switch back and forth quickly from the new screen to a more familiar  screen, press the windows button:

button

How to find things

In windows 8, if you move your mouse to the bottom right hand corner of the screen, a window with five items will come up. Selecting the search option will allow you to search for anything on your computer.

Free Conference Calling

Free Conference calling has been around for many years as a way for small organizations to get users together that are located in different areas around the US. Most free service providers do not offer a toll free number, because there is an expense with each user that calls into that number. Free conference providers also get a piece of the long distance revenue for the calls made to the service. With new FCC laws and phone providers offering unlimited service, the way that these companies can stay sustainable are changing but I believe that there will continue to be some form of free conference calling that would be available.

For small organizations that want to offer meetings or trainings with remote users, here are a few options for you. Understand that there are many options out there but these are some of the well talked about and supported options along with some pros and cons about them.

Google Hangouts
• Screen sharing for up to 10 users
• Requires a Gmail or google account
• Need internet.

Skype
• Screen sharing for up to 10 users
• Requires a Microsoft account for video, i.e., hotmail.com/live.com/outlook.com
• Can accept landline/cell phone users
Below are conference services that do not require the participants to have an account. The conferences are audio only conferences.

Free Conference
• Easy setup and verification
• Schedule event for up to 150 people
• Random number provided.

Free Conference Calling

• 1,000 Callers
• 6 Hours maximum session
• Can setup one number for access
• Don’t have any fee services, not sure how long they will stay sustainable.

Microsoft’s Family Filter

For most computer labs that serve visitors under the age of 18, or that just want to keep all the adult content from being viewed in your lab, it is best to have some sort of content filtering on the computers. Microsoft offers free content filtering with Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1, which can be used by labs or individuals.

For networks that are peer-to-peer, the software is easy to set up. Before installing the software on a domain, make sure each filtered profile has been created on the computer. The best way of doing this is to log in once with each user name. Then log in as administrator and install the program.

Note that you should use the same log in profile for each computer. You will need a Windows Live, Hotmail, MSN, or some other Microsoft account to install.

Go here for instructions on how to set up Family Safety.

Can I buy the cheapest computer?

If you are purchasing for a computer lab, you should NOT purchase the cheapest computer you can find.  Most computers that are marketed at a discounted price are for home use.  When you find a great deal where the computers are priced unbelievably low, that is because the parts are being phased out or they are substandard parts.  Deep deals are normally great for home users with low usage, but if you use them in a lab you will quickly learn that the deal was not that great.

When purchasing computers for a network:

  • Make sure you get the professional version of the operating system.
  • Make sure the network card is a 10/100/1GB card.
  • Hard drive size does not have to be large, get a network attached drive.

When purchasing computers for a lab:

  • Always buy a computer that has a standard three year warranty.
  • You should get monitors with 19-inch screens or bigger.
  • Expect the equipment to last for at least three years.

With all computer configurations, always have up to date antivirus software running on your computer.  Most purchased computers only come with a trial version and some will stop updating without notifying you.  In a multi-user lab environment it is best to run Deepfreeze to protect the computer as well.

Windows 7 vs Windows 8

With Windows XP coming to an end, you may be wondering operating system is best. Both Windows 7 and 8 will be supported by Microsoft until after 2020, but both operating systems’ user interfaces are  different from each other and from Windows XP.

Windows 7: Having installed this operating system in a computer lab, I have found that it’s easier to administrate, as most of the functions are not hidden.  The layout closely resembles that of Windows XP and it is best for network of computers like a computer lab.

Windows 8: This OS has a tile format like cell phones.  This is helpful if you want to use a touch screen monitor.  Using a touch screen monitor is best use if your plan us to have just a KIOSK type computer lab where users click on web pages or graphics and where there will be no true data entry such as typing.

I would recommend  Windows 7 for your lab, even though it is the older of the two systems.  Most users will be comfortable with the layout and it would be easier for you to manage, even if the user has used other products like Linux or MAC.

In either case, when you choose an operating system for your lab or network, you should choose the “professional” or better version of the operating system.  The home version, which comes with most computers, have limited network networking functionality.  If you plan to have a server in your network, then you must have the professional version.

Computer lab network standards

Every computer lab and network should have standards that administrators must follow. If you’re a small organization with no IT staff or you know  little about your technology, you should make sure that whoever helps you follows some of the basics here.  These recommended basics  are good standards, regardless of the computer lab/network type.

Network Type

Be aware of how your network is configured.  When troubleshooting, it is helpful to know what is on your network and how those devices interact. There are two main types of networks: Peer to Peer (P2P) and Client Server (CS).  If you plan to manage or share more than just files it is best to use the Client Server model below.

Peer to Peer

To configure this, you must have a router to provide network access.  Each computer will be managed on its own.  You can have one of the computers become a file server so you can share data.  Username and passwords are not shared throughout your network causing every device that connects to have to enter their information each time.  If you have a really low budget, this is best, however you will spend more time  managing your computer lab and network.

Client Server

To configure this, you would need a server.  With a server you can allow access from both outside and inside your network.  Things a server can do are  username and password, file sharing, email, resource permissions, and much more for both inside and outside of your network.  You would then need to configure the server to provide network access through it to the Internet, or have a router on the same network that has access.

Printers

Printers can be set up where you print through a network resource or directly.  The advantage of printing through a resource, such as a server, is that it would have administrative rights by default to delete large print ques and it can store the drivers, making it easy to install a new computer.

BACKUP, SECURE, BACKUP!

Regardless of which option you choose, make sure you back up your data.  Each computer or device on your network should have antivirus software running on it.  Please note that most free antivirus software are not legal for labs.  For KIOSK type of workstations, I would recommend you install DeepFreeze on those computers.

User types

Most administrative things should be handled by an administrator account.  Each user should have the rights of the previous user.

Users
Normal or shared users of your network:

  • Have access to the computer
  • User access to application but no install rights, i.e., MS Word
  • Internet access
  • Print & and delete their own print jobs

Staff
It is best to have a different user account that has administrative rights that are used only to make administrative changes.

  • Power user
  • Install access of applications
  • Add printer

Admin
You should not have the administrator account be a normal user.  You want to ensure backdoor access to your network that you are aware of,  in case your primary account is compromised.

  • Full rights to computer

Drive Sharing
In a P2P network you can share a computer so that others can access resources.  You would have to manually map each one of these drives.  In a CS environment you can use active directory to auto configure the directories.  For organizational purposes you create drive maps that make sense for your organization.

Legit Sites

Knowing if a site is legit in order to keep your computer secure is a task that you need to be proactive with, regardless of whether you have anti-malware software installed.  Most malware software is only good after the first few people have gotten infected and reports it. Don’t let that be you.

Ensure that you are spelling the website correctly; going to http://www.gogle.com could send you somewhere else when you’re looking for http://www.google.com, (Google owns gogle.com for those who do make this mistake.) When viewing websites from an email, it is best to go to their web page and find the link from there. This is time consuming, but when you are unsure about the email it is safer.  Most spam that carry malware will send you an email that looks like it’s from a trusted site or have a name that is close to the site you seek.

Windows XP End of Life

It was arguably one of Microsoft best operating systems to date.  But like all good things they must come to an end.  Any support from Microsoft with Windows XP comes to an end April 8th 2014.

It is important to note how the following would affect you:

  • Computer will work, Windows XP will continue to function
  • No new service packs, any new major bugs that are found will not be address
  • No windows updates, drivers and minor bugs will cease to be worked on
  • No 3rd party updates, your favorite programs updates may not support the OS

Some computer labs and users still use Windows XP as their favorite program.  With the current versions of windows there have been a lot of changes so I would recommend that you take the time before the expiring date to get familiar with one and upgrade to it.  While Windows 8 is the most current OS, I would current recommend Windows 7 professional in multi user environments.

Other windows OS life cycles

Desktop Operating System 11/4/2013 Current Service Pack End of extended support
Windows Vista Service Pack 2 April 11, 2017
Windows 7 Service Pack 1 January 14, 2020
Windows 8 N/A January 10, 2023

Source: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/products/lifecycle

Sharing your Teaching Computer with the Class

Did you know that it is possible to share what you see on your pc with your class?  Did you know it is possible to monitor what your students are doing to make sure they stay on track from your desk?

There are software solutions available for lab coordinators that can be installed on your lab PC. There is not a lot of lab sharing or monitoring software out there.  Be aware of the following:

  • Is the software compatible with your computer?
    • Windows X, Mac, Tablet, Cromebook, etc.
    • What type of monitoring can be done thru the software?
      • Monitor from teacher’s desk or mobile tablet?
      • Can you share your video monitor across all monitors in the lab?
        • Large labs can affect video speeds.
        • If you purchase the software, are there any ongoing costs?

Unfortunately there are no free solutions, but the two softwares listed below have trial versions that you can try out along with Education or Nonprofit discounts.

http://www.netsupportmanager.com

http://www.interclass.us

What to Look for in a Computer

Purchasing a new computer can sometimes be daunting.  The sales person at most local computer stores thinks of how to make the biggest commission, not about what would work best for you as a user.  It is better to know what you want before you go into a computer store.

Knowing if you want a laptop or desktop is important; most users today use laptops when they need to type a lot. A tablet or a desktop might be a cheaper option.  There are utilities available that allow you to transfer data on your devices, i.e., “drop box.”  Regardless of the type of system, pay attention to:

  1. RAM: how much?
  2. Hard drive: speed  (higher number than 7200 is better); size is normally not important today.
  3. USB access: most accessories today connect via USB or wireless.

Knowing what type of operating system you want is important. If you have old software, make sure it’s compatible. It may be better to not use the latest and greatest because of the number of bugs that are found. This happened when Microsoft brought out Windows ME and soon after came out with Windows XP.  The newer software was better, but Microsoft came out with Windows 8 only to have the world say Windows 7 is the most stable of the two.

  1. Windows 7 or 8:  (32 or 64 bit)
  2. Home or Professional version: Laptops and shared PC of more than 3 users should use professional.

With Microsoft and Google competing for you to use their free products, you may not need to purchase office applications.  When making the decision to buy software, think about this:

  • Is it more cost effective to just buy the application you need, i.e., Microsoft Word?
  • Most free online applications require Internet access.

Regardless of what you purchase, remember that the technology world is ever changing.  It will be better to spend less on your hardware or software knowing that in two or three years it may be obsolete.