Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Update 10/30

As most of you know, either from being in it or reading about it, the East Coast has been battered with Hurricane Sandy over the last 24 hours.  The desctruction caused is not yet know, but early estimates place 750,000 people without power as of last night.

Pointsolve's central office is one of those places without power.  However, our support operations are still able to function at almost 100% capacity, as our technicians are at a variety of locations around the midstate and at the moment, all have power and phone access.

What this means to our customers is that we will still be monitoring the 866 line when you call, we still have access to email, and we still have our technical notes and our remote support tools.  For our CommonFocus subscribers, please note that the CommonFocus server is currently offline, so routine maintenance services will not be running after hours and you may notice the system tray icon observing that CommonFocus cannot contact the server.  This will return to normal once we have power.

As observed yesterday, we are experiencing higher than usual call volume, so if you do not get a technician immediately, please leave a detailed message and the first available technician will return your call.  Please be sure to identify yourself and leave a good contact number for which to call you back.

As always, thank you for working with us, and please stay safe and dry.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Extreme Weather Preparation

As Frankenstorm bears down on the East Coast, and we are starting to get hit with some sideways rain as I type, we would like to take a moment and review best practices for the next few days.  Many of you will likely be losing power and other services, and we're sure you already have your basement stocked with canned food and bottled water, but have you thought about your IT infrastructure?

For those of you with servers in your offices, you very likely have an Uninterruptable Power Supply connected to it.  The purpose of the UPS is to prevent sudden power loss and give the server ample time to complete a proper shutdown (thus preventing any serious damage from a sudden poweroff).  However, these units typically provide 15 minutes to half an hour of runtime, which does not help if you have four days without power.  Double check with your IT provider to determine if your UPS can shut down your server before its battery runs out, and if not, please ensure somebody in the office has the username and password to log in and shut down the server if the power goes out.

For desktop PCs, just shut them down at the end of the day when you leave.  Yes, that may stop you from working from home, but better to avoid a potentially damaging power loss.

For clients of Pointsolve Technology, please note that our support team will be working hard to respond to your calls.  Should you happen to call and one of our technicians did not answer, our message system will activate.  Please leave a voicemail and clearly identify yourself, and leave a good contact number.  A technician will get back to you as soon as possible.  We cannot emphasize enough to please leave a message, even if you do not believe your question is critical: we would rather answer an innocuous question than run the risk of not having answered a potentially serious issue.

Thank you all for your time and patience in this matter, we wish everybody to stay dry, stay warm, and most importantly stay safe!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Windows 8 (2 of 2)

Welcome back!  In part 1, we looked at the new features that you will be seeing in Windows 8.  Today, we'll have a look at how Windows 8 will be available.

Let's start with upgrades.  Microsoft and its resellers are offering upgrade licensing for Windows 8 from as far back as XP.  The idea is that, you can run the upgrade to 'convert' your PC from Windows ___ to Windows 8.  Some of you may remember, they offered this type of upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7.  Those of you may also remember, your PCs ran a little strangely afterwards, and never quite as well as PCs that came native with Windows 7.  That is exactly what we are after here.  While the technical capability exists for varying forms of 'conversion' from one copy of Windows to another, we do not recommend this in almost any situation as the background architecture of Windows 8 is never fully deployed.  It is the rough equivalent of getting new walls, flooring, and finishings in your house: it will look and feel newer, but it still resides on the old frame and is subject to weaknesses from that frame.

So how do we install Windows 8?  The only method we feel comfortable recommending a Windows 8 install in which you are least likely to encounter problems down the road, is from a freshly formatted hard drive using a System Builders License.  Using our house analogy from above, you'll be building everything from the frame up, so the entire structure is brand new and laid out exactly the way it needs to be.

But what will be the best way to get Windows 8, without needing to format your hard drive and install Windows?  Quite simply, purchase a Windows 8 computer, tablet, or notebook.  The companies who build computers have been working with Microsoft for the last year or so to develop computers that are truly designed to run Windows 8 and take full advantage of it.  The prime example of this will be touchscreens, which have largely never been a mainstream Windows thing, as the mouse & keyboard have served for decades as the primary input mechanisms.  Windows 8 was designed to work with touchscreens seamlessly, so it will be worth getting a machine with a touchscreen to take advantage of this.

The reality of Windows 8, however, comes down to a few simple ideas.  First, if you already have Windows 7, there is really no need to get Windows 8.  If you have Windows XP, it is probably time to replace your old PC anyways as it is certainly more than a few years old.  For those of you on Vista, talk to your IT provider for a recommendation.  The bottom line is, it is not worth buying the software itself to upgrade on your existing hardware, and if your existing hardware is ageing then a new PC is in order.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Windows 8 (1 of 2)

Many of you will be seeing Windows 8 launching in the very near future, in a variety of forms.  October 26 is the official launch date, and many vendors are accepting pre-orders.  Here is what you need to know.

The main differences between Windows 8 and Windows 7 are the metro interface, integrated Security Essentials, and a new interface for Windows Explorer, as well as a number of technical details that happen behind the scenes (things your IT provider will need to know, but won't affect you).

The metro interface is a tiles-based interface that will look vastly different than your standard Windows desktop you typically see.  We find it to be a bit 'clunky' and unintuitive when using a traditional mouse and keyboard, but it is designed for ease of use on touchscreen PCs.  To that end, unless you intend to use a touchscreen enabled piece of equipment, the metro interface will likely be worth turning off.

Integrated Security Essentials is the feature that should have been built into Windows years ago, in our opinion.  Instead of having Windows, and then having to install an antivirus program, why not have the antivirus built into Windows?  That's exactly what Microsoft is doing with Windows 8.  This should enhance security by having everything working right out of the box, and one less item for you to worry about when you get your new Windows 8 PC.

The ribbon interface for Winodws Explorer is essentially a modification of how the window looks when you open "My Computer" or "My Documents".  The new interface is modeled after the style that is used for Office 2010 and Office 2007, which can be somewhat of an initial shock but many users have found it to be fairly intuitive.  Be prepared for a learning curve, but it should not take more than a day or two in order to get used to it.

Check back soon for part 2!  We'll address upgrades and new equipment.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"LOL, is this your new profile pic?" Do not click!

A new infection is spreading through popular video service, Skype, exploiting a loophole in the software.  Similar to other ransomware, infected users are locked out of their PCs and presented with a page claiming that illegal content has been found on their PC and requesting a fee to gain access to their data.

GFI Software, makers of Vipre Antivirus, have discovered the infection spreads when a user is presented with the message "Lol, is this your new profile pic?"  Upon click, the user's PC is infected.

As always, we recommend that you maintain an active antivirus subscription and ensure Windows is fully patched - including running those Java and Adobe updates that pop up in the morning.  Additionally, if you are a Skype user and the software offers an update, please run it immediately as Skype is working to close the security loophole and will deploy the new software as soon as it is ready.  Lastly, please remember that government and law enforcement agencies will never lock you out of your PC and request money.  If you have become infected, do not provide any payment information and contact your IT provider immediately.

Read more at CNET: http://news.cnet.com/8301-1009_3-57528353-83/worm-spreading-on-skype-im-installs-ransomware/

FBI Internet Scam

We have recently performed a number of cleanups relating to an "FBI Virus" that PCs have become inflicted with.  The infection uses the FBI logo and presents a very official looking message that pirated content has been detected on the PC and the user should pay a $200 fine in order to avoid going to jail.  Of course, this also locks the computer up and makes it unusable.  This type of infection is known as Reveton, and essentially holds the computer 'ransom' until the user pays the fine.

We have experienced this type of infection getting past every major antivirus vendor on the market, as of early October 2012, and can be delivered simply by visiting an infected web site.  Regardless, we still advise maintaining active antivirus subscriptions and *please* ensure your Windows patches are up to date.  Don't forget to run those Java and Adobe updates that keep popping up!

As always, it is good practice to never provide payment information to a vendor you do not recognize or have prior experience with.  Antivirus companies will never ask for payment to clean up an infection, nor will any government agency 'lock' your computer until you pay a fine.

Should you be presented with this type of infection, call your IT provider immediately for assistance.  Even if you succeed in 'unlocking' your PC, the infection may still be present and working in the background to steal personal information.  Read more here: http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2012/august/new-internet-scam