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Category: IT News.

Augmented reality

 

So 2016 is upon us so what exciting tech stuff do we have to look forward to?
1. IT Wearables for business –

Did you add an Apple Watch or a FitBit to your life in 2015?  Which of these do you think was the most successful product of the year?  Well, contrary to predictions, the Apple Watch was lagging behind FitbBit in terms of market share.

The majority of wearables were seen as accessories for fitness enthusiasts, not as essential devices for mainstream consumers.  Not only that but some early developments in the wearables market had limited capability, not to mention questionable accuracy. That led people to question their value and give up on them after only a few weeks of use.

So where is the ‘wearables’ market going in 2016?  Perhaps their best opportunity lies in the business world. Could they, for instance, replace building security cards with a more secure, biometric form of authentication?  Can you imagine them becoming the means to log into your work devices, secure websites, etc. thereby eliminating the need for resetting passwords and possibly increasing security?

Some U.S. businesses are already starting conversations with health-care organisations to collectively track the activity level and health of their employees in order to offer better insurance rates.  Big Brother implications or huge benefit?
Soon, wearable devices may be able to connect directly to the Internet, without needing to tether to a third-party mobile device. This will help set the stage for embeddable wearables, such as Chaotic Moon’s biometric tattoo, or tech tats, which attach to the skin much like a temporary tattoo.

2. Foldable displays –

One exciting development going on right now is the effort to create foldable or bendable displays and it looks like 2016 will be the year when we start to see the first examples available.  Imagine the possibilities for a moment… a tablet that turns into a smartphone, or vice versa? Tantalising possibilities!

The first versions of foldable displays will likely only be able to fold outward because it’s apparently easier to stretch the materials at the fold than it is to squeeze them together, as you would need to do for an inward-folding display.

3. Self-charging phones –

New technologies are enabling phones to charge through wavelengths. Ossia Inc. and Japanese telecom company KDDI Corp have a product called Cota, that will automatically recharge mobile phones at a distance, similar to how WiFi transmitters deliver data from routers to devices.

This follows existing technologies that take advantage of smartphones’ wireless charging standard, known as Qi. The company Qi Wireless, for example, produces pads that charge phones when placed on them.  Ikea recently began selling tables that wirelessly charge phones when the mobile device is placed on the table top.

Other companies, such as Israeli startup StoreDot, are looking to introduce instant charging and longer-lasting batteries. The company is pledging to introduce a battery next year that would charge a smartphone in 60 seconds or less.

4.  Drone technology –

The technology is being tested by many companies including Google and Amazon. Currently there is no permission from Governments to use this technology commercially, especially in built up areas. But clearly for deliveries – whether it is products from Amazon to fertilising crops will the commercial use of drones take a step forward in 2016?

5. Virtual and augmented reality –

Juniper Research predicts that 2016 will be a “watershed year for Virtual Reality”.  We will see the launch of Facebook’s Oculus Rift, the first consumer-level virtual-reality headset that doesn’t require a smartphone.  HTC Corp. and Valve’s Vive VR headset will also hit the market, after the launch was postponed in December when developers experienced a “very, very big technological breakthrough” that made the initial version obsolete.

In addition to the new hardware, 2016 will also see an increased focus on VR content in gaming and entertainment, as well as the development of consumer-level 360-degree cameras for amateur virtual-reality shooting from the likes of GoPro Inc.

Meanwhile, augmented reality may push its way into the workplace.  We could be seeing real-world applications for augmented-reality headsets, such as enhancing a person’s task on the job by interposing digital images like a map or instructions on top of objects in their surrounding environment.

On the other hand, anyone old enough to remember the TV series Tomorrow’s World knows that not everything predicted comes true. But whatever happens it’s sure to be another exciting year in tech!

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Category: IT News.

women in computingIt seems difficult to imagine now, but women were leaders in computer science for decades – but in 1984 they began to disappear from the field in dramatic numbers. What on earth happened?

Gender stereotyping could well be the answer.

If you’re old enough to remember the very first personal computers, you may recall that they were not much more than toys. Can you remember the marketing too? Almost exclusively aimed at boys and men.

We can’t put ALL the blame on the marketers though, because at around the same time computer geek culture also began to emerge and that led to TV shows, movies, and video games that were, sadly, reaffirming that computers were the domain of the males of our species.

So, it follows that, 1984 saw a generation of students, who could have owned a home computer, entering further education – most of them boys. Researchers had already concluded that parents were much more likely to buy computers for their boys than their girls. Naturally then, many more boys had programming experience to take along to college and university … leaving young women already significantly behind their male peers. Since computers were now pretty much considered the domain of males, young women would often face discouragement from parents, other students, and educational professionals.

This is rather sad since women were very active in the computer science up until this time. Indeed there was a large increase in their numbers between 1970 and 1984 (by which time 37% of computer science degrees were awarded to women). According to the Computing Research Association, that number fell to 12% by 2011.

Listen to “When Women Stopped Coding”, visit http://n.pr/1rOiDB6 a 15 minute podcast that helps us to truly understand what happened during this period. Caitlin Kenney and Steve Henn unravel the mystery of what happened to cause women to drop out of computer science in astounding numbers.

For parents who would like to encourage their Mighty Girls’ interest in technology, early exposure to programming is highly recommended since many children only interact with technology passively. A great way to introduce kids, ages 9 and up, to programming is via new DIY systems that allow you to build real programmable computers on your own such as the “Raspberry Pi Ultimate Set” and “Sparki: The Easy Arduino DIY Robot”

For a wide variety of toys that introduce programming concepts and electronics to kids, check out www.amightygirl.com, particularly: “Wrapped up in Science: Top 40 Science Toys for Mighty Girls”

Little Bits sets are another way to get girls excited about technology — to check out their new “Gizmos and Gadgets Kit,” for ages 10 and up,

To inspire her with many stories of girls and women in technology, visit the amightygirl.com’s “Science & Technology” book section at http://amgrl.co/1Mw9BGB

Included in the selection is a fantastic new picture book about the world’s first computer programmer Ada Lovelace: “Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine,” for ages 5 to 9 at http://www.amightygirl.com/ada-lovelace-thinking-machine

 

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Category: IT News, IT Security, Uncategorised.

Heard of ransomware?  It’s important that you know about it, so read on…

worm
Ransomware is the term given to a type of virus that enters your computer(s) and encrypts all your data in such a way that you can no longer access any of it.  Until you pay a substantial fee (a ransom) to get it back.

There’s a new ransomware virus to be aware of; it’s called Power Worm but unfortunately no amount of ransom can get your data back for you.  Unfortunately, the not-so-clever hackers have made a big coding mistake this time and one variant of their virus destroys keys that could help recover the data it has scrambled – leaving you high and dry even if you are prepared to pay a ransom.

Power Worm infects Microsoft Word and Excel files in the main,  but the latest version goes after many more types of files it finds on your machine.

Malware Researcher Lawrence Abrams makes it clear that anyone hit by Power Worm should not pay the 2 bitcoin (about £500) ransom it asks for because they will not get any data back.  He said “There is unfortunately nothing that can be done for victims of this infection, If you have been affected by this ransomware, your only option is to restore from a back-up.”

The reality is that even when the hackers do have the key they are unlikely to release it even if you pay the ransom so regular reliable backups is the only realistic way to protect your data and your business from these attacks.

Did you know:

  • 34% of companies fail to test their backups, and of those that do, 77% have found back-up failures (Source: Home Office Computing Magazine)
  • 93% of companies that lost their data centre for 10 days or more due to a disaster filed for bankruptcy within one year of the disaster. (Source: National Archives & Records Administration)

It’s worth noting that even if you avoid catching a computer virus, ALL disk drives eventually fail, regardless of brand or type and so backups are arguably the most essential aspect of any IT system.

Backup solutions can vary enormously and it is important to be aware of the consequences of choosing one solution over another. While all of our services provide excellent protection, some cover just data while others cover entire systems. Some enable faster recovery of your systems in the event of a major problem, while others ensure that your systems are safe from physical risks such as fires, floods or theft. We recognise that each business has unique requirements and so we talk to customers to diagnose their potential risks and vulnerabilities, understand what’s important to them and then design a specific BusinessCARE Backup system tailored for their situation.

Call The PC Support Group before it’s too late! You can reach us now on 03300 886116.

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Category: Windows 10, IT News, Software, Uncategorised.

Windows 10 DevicesMicrosoft’s new Windows 10 offers improvements over previous versions, and some great new features. Which of these are significant for you will be determined by how you use your computer and what for. The update mostly went smoothly when it was rolled out, but a few problems have been reported by many users. These include loss of internet access, no printing options, loss of access to e-mails, web browser issues, crashes, incompatibilities etc.

Not everyone has experienced problems, but there are millions of computers out there, running many different apps and programmes, so they’re not all going to react the same way.

Many of the errors have a workaround by now, but they can take time and effort to resolve, and some issues are going to remain until third parties can catch up and deliver new drivers.

Those who ARE experiencing problems are certainly helping the rest of us – as they report such glitches, Microsoft will create “patches” (fixes) for them and push them out to computers where Windows 10 is already installed. Those who update later then, are going to get a version that has many, if not all, of the glitches sorted out.

Waiting a while to update also gives the manufacturers of software drivers the time to prepare. Software drivers are the bits of software that allow your computer to talk to devices you connect to; for example printers. You should ideally search for drivers for these devices before you upgrade to ensure Windows 10 compatible ones are available. Even devices that do have updated drivers, have been causing issues for some people. If a device stops working you will need to uninstall your existing drivers and then locate new compatible drivers.

Do backup all important files before a big upgrade like this so that if anything does go wrong, you can recover the important things.

In summary…

Becoming an early adopter is often not a good idea because even a few weeks can make a difference as Microsoft, and third party driver developers, will have been able to sort out many glitches as users report them.   After all, the free upgrade offer lasts a whole year. Why not wait until Spring?

To get on the latest, fastest operating system does seem appealing and “free” does sound good but it should not be recklessly jumped at as you need to consider if it will work with all your other bits of software. The fact that it can be installed though windows update and retain settings etc does however make it sound like a reasonably hassle free upgrade path.

We’d look to wait until it’s been out for enough time for us all to be confident that Windows 10 will be trouble free, so maybe some 3-6 months after its launch (which was at the end of July).

We would, however, encourage you to register, any time from now, on each computer for the free upgrade. That can be done by clicking on the icon in the system tray of each computer. The beauty of registering is that you’ll then be able to upgrade anytime without having to pay, whereas by not registering the free period expires after 12 months from launch.

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Category: IT News.

Ada Lovelace 2Is Ada Lovelace our first tech visionary? In many ways, she anticipated our Digital Age (in Victorian times!) and is certainly a celebrated role model for women in technology.

In an article published in 1843, she imagined a future in which programmable machines would be essential to scientific progress, and might even be used to create art and music.

Ada, the abandoned daughter of the romantic poet, Lord Byron, was put under a strict regime of moral and mathematical training by her mother who hoped it would counter any dangerous “poetical” tendencies she might have inherited from her notorious father.

In 1833, age 17, Ada was introduced to Charles Babbage and one of his innovative calculating machines, the Difference Engine, at a party in his London drawing room. The introduction was made through their mutual friend Mary Somerville which relationship she used to visit Baggage and the machine as often as she could. At 26, married with three small children, she undertook maths correspondence course.

Ada made Babbage a bold proposal. She offered to work as his assistant – a remarkably bold move, especially given the stifling social conventions of the day. It worked!

By this time Babbage was working on a design for a new machine, which he called the Analytical Engine. Unlike the Difference Engine, which could only add, the Analytical Engine worked much more like a modern computer and could be programmed to carry out almost any sequence of logical steps.

Babbage was impressed by Lovelace’s intellect and analytic skills. He called her The Enchantress of Numbers. He wrote of her: Forget this world and all its troubles and if possible its multitudinous Charlatans—everything in short but the Enchantress of Numbers.

The only published description of the Analytical Engine was a French article which Ada translated for a British journal, and she added add a set of notes, describing more fully how the Engine worked. These Notes (which included some visionary statements about its potential and limitations) ended up twice as long as the original article.

The Notes also included tables setting out the sequence the machine would have to go through to find the solution to an algebra problem (e.g. Bernouilli’s numbers sequence). This is why some writers call Ada the “world’s first programmer” but these tables were not strictly computer programmes.

She does, however, seem to have understood the significance of Babbage’s engines better than he did. So – although not the forerunner of today’s coders and hackers, Ada was probably one of the first visionaries who imagine how future technology might change the world.

It would take another hundred years to recognise the significance of the extra ordinary foresight in her work. Her notes and letters to Babbage make it clear that Ada understood the potential of computers in a way that he, or nobody else ever did.

Ada Lovelace Day is now in its sixth year – it’s an annual celebration of women working the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths.

This year is also the 200th anniversary of Ada’s birth.

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Category: Windows 10, IT News.

Microsoft’s new Windows 10 launched on 29th July – how did you respond to the upgrade?

Windows 10 Devices

The company has listened to the feedback from Windows 8, and returned to us with a much more refined and well-thought out edition – a user-friendly operating system with some nifty productivity features.

Most businesses will have had a mix of Windows 7 and Windows 8 PCs and devices. If that’s you – and you’ve not yet done so – plan this year to capitalise on the free Microsoft upgrade.

There’s a year to upgrade for free so work with your IT Support team or partner to plan your upgrades, schedule them for the least active times and upgrade in phases, starting with your least critical devices.

As with all upgrades there has been (and to some extent still is) the inevitable period of bug fixes when businesses could have faced teething problems like a printer not being recognised or, more critical, a major application not working. For that reason, we advise our customers to hold back on clicking the “Reserve your upgrade” icon and instead review this around six months after the release. This allows time for the initial issues to be resolved – you don’t want your business to be Microsoft’s testing ground!

New features and capabilities coming with this upgrade are set to create better ways of working.

Terry Myserson, Microsoft’s VP of Operating Systems, said: “We designed Windows 10 to run our broadest device family ever, including Windows PCs, Windows tablets, Windows phones, Windows for the Internet of Things, Microsoft Surface Hub, Xbox One and Microsoft HoloLens—all working together to empower you to do great things.”

The hope is that Windows 10 will win hearts and minds, bringing a seamless multi-platform experience as customers swap between fixed and mobile computers and use different software and Cloud services. With a test-base of over four million people, Microsoft are hoping for an operating system that’s more user-friendly and not so reliant as Windows 8 on touchscreen functionality.

Let’s take a look at a few of the improvements…

Cortana … this is Microsoft’s personal digital assistant – a star attraction for Windows 10. Cortana is about enabling businesses to interact in a more “human” way, talking or typing simple phrases to do things like book meetings, find information and set reminders.

Edge … another major new feature – Microsoft’s new web browser. This replaces Internet Explorer and is intended to be faster, more streamlined and more personal, with the ability to write notes on web pages, which you’ll see every time you access it.

Apps … Microsoft are also hoping to win over Developers as well as end users. The new app store is the same store across all devices which means that a Developer can write an app once and put 4 different ‘skins’ on it, making the app compatible for Xbox, desktop, Windows Phone and tablet. A big incentive for Developers to have a go at creating more apps? In addition, with ‘Edge’ the new powerful web developer tools, accessed by pressing F12, look like they can compete with Chrome and Firefox in the developer tools arena. Microsoft say they are focusing more on quality of apps than quantity the concept of the app store on the desktop is really innovative. The security model of the new app store is of huge significance too.

Notifications … The new action centre brings notifications from multiple sources directly to your desktop. It supports notifications from third party applications. Notifications on Windows hadn’t really changed since the Windows XP days but the new notification area means that developers can write an app that can deliver notifications in a balanced way – they don’t need to annoy the user and they won’t get missed

Is this the start of Microsoft reclaiming its stake as a software innovator, driving customers to do things quicker, better, smarter? And will your business be taking the first steps towards that over the next 6 months?

Microsoft’s Windows 7 support ended in January and their policy is to support a product for two years after the release of its successor. Therefore, the expectation is that general support for Windows 8 will end by July 2017 but Microsoft has extended support for Windows 8.1 to 2023.

If you would like help or advice on upgrading to Windows 10 call us now on 03300 886 116

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Category: IT News, IT Support.

Close-up of stethoscope on laptop keyboard

We all know that computers often slow down over time, but why is this and what can you do about it?

  1. Remove unwanted software and stop programs running automatically on start-up

When your new shiny computer first arrives there is usually nothing on it except for the operating system (usually Windows) and consequently it boots up in seconds and runs faster than Usain Bolt.

What you may not realise is that a lot of software you load will automatically add at least some element to the start-up routine of the computer so as soon as you boot the computer up the software starts running. After a while there will be quite a few of these programs vying for attention on start-up and/or continuing to run background services whilst you go about your work, all slowing your computer down.

So check what these are (or get your IT support company to) and remove anything unwanted or unnecessary.

  1. Keep your disk tidy

Files and programs are written to your hard disk in the most efficient way to read them back, which usually means the information is stored together. However, over time your disk becomes full and so the data often gets written in different areas making it slow to read back. This is known as disk fragmentation. Luckily a disk defragmentation program can move these all around and put them back in an efficient structure again.

Disk fragmentation is typically not an issue on modern Windows operating systems as they perform background disk defragmentation during idle time. However, if the disk is very full, defragmentation may never actually finish so you should make sure you have plenty of free disk space and perform a manual defrag every so often (when you’re not using the computer) to ensure it has run properly.

  1. Upgrade your memory

Programs and their data are typically only partially loaded into memory, with the remainder staying in temporary (“swap”) space on the hard disk. The relevant part of the program or data then gets loaded into memory (Random Access Memory – RAM) as it’s required. Not only is this process slow but as your disk get filled up (see 2 above) it gets even slower.

The more RAM you have the less likely your computer will need to swap data from disk space so consider upgrading the size of your RAM; it could make a huge difference for very little investment.

  1. Upgrade your hard drive

Given how your computer uses its hard disk drive (see point 3 above), a slow drive means a slow computer so consider replacing your standard hard drive (that has lots of moving parts and spins like an old fashioned record) with a new Solid State Drive (SSD). SSD’s have no moving parts and so are incredibly fast and don’t wear out like traditional hard drives. They are more expensive than standard hard drives but if you save 30 minutes every day you could make the difference back in efficiency in weeks or even days!

  1. Is your anti-virus checker efficient and up to date?

Some anti-virus software can be very intensive and use quite a bit of your computing power. Unfortunately some users, in an attempt to speed up the computer, remove their antivirus and then get infected with malware. Some malware is stealthy and if you don’t have antivirus installed you may not notice it except as a general slowdown, thus having the exact opposite affect the user wanted.

Check with your IT support provider that you have efficient anti-virus software and that it is configured correctly to give you maximum protection without slowing your computer down. Never remove anti-virus software!

Finally, do remember that computers do actually wear out and become obsolete as the technology around them moves on. Any hardware that is over 3 years old is unlikely to perform at its best.

For example, as the average computer gets faster and web technology advances, browsers and sites become correspondingly more complex and therefore, on the same hardware, slower. Your computer may not be able to run the latest and most efficient versions of software due to incompatibility issues or your graphics card may not be able to handle the wonderful enhanced graphics now used by browsers and software.

If you’ve tried all of the above and your computer is still slow then perhaps it’s time to move on a buy a new one.

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Category: Cloud Computing, IT News, IT Support.

With all the recent chatter around SaaS based deployment for software systems, it’s easy to forget that many small and medium business still haven’t made the transition to the cloud. The recent report from Software Advice, the online resource for IT help desk software, showed this was the case with only 32% of SMEs having moved their service desk software to the cloud. To learn more about why these business haven’t moved to SaaS, I asked some questions of Craig Borowski, the Market Researcher who conducted this survey and wrote the report.

  • What are some of the driving reasons that are keeping this 68% of businesses off of the cloud for their help desk? This is a great question and it’s one we at Software Advice are very familiar with. In our discussions, two broad reasons come up often. The first is simply unfamiliarity with the cloud, either general unfamiliarity or else unfamiliarity with the growing selection of SaaS help desk platforms. The second reason could be described as something like a corporate cultural inertia. These are companies that are just generally resistant to change. They might have been using on-premise help desk systems for so long, the prospect of changing to a new deployment model seems too risky or too foreign.
  • What is the biggest reason people are going to the cloud? It’s tough to single out one biggest reason because they tend to vary by industry and by company size. However, quite often, the reasons boil down to companies wanting to spend more time and effort doing what they do best, their core competencies, and less time and effort doing all that’s necessary to keep an on-premise system running, up-to-date and secure.
  • Did you find a correlation with those more familiar with the cloud being more comfortable with using it? There is certainly a correlation. Companies that have no experience with cloud software are more apt to exhibit a ‘fear of the unknown’ when trying to evaluate cloud versus on-premise systems. They raise concerns about data security, about downtime, about losing control of their platform. Meanwhile, companies that have used other cloud-deployed software very rarely raise these concerns when evaluating cloud help desk software. It’s an interesting dynamic and we plan to look into it in much more detail in an upcoming survey.
  • Do you expect more businesses to shift to the cloud in the coming years? And why or why not? Absolutely. The shift to the cloud has been going on for many years, longer than many companies realize. Moving forward, we can expect that as more companies realize the benefits of cloud deployment— cost reduction, better scalability, flexibility, security etc.— others will continue to follow suit. It’s very difficult to imagine going back to the world where all software is hosted locally.
  • What would you advise a small business thinking about going to the cloud? For small businesses, cloud-based platforms can be an extremely viable choice. An easy way to illustrate this point is by simply turning the question around. Why are you looking for an on-premise system? Are your reasons valid and justifiable? With this line of questioning, it doesn’t take long for the small business to realize that one of the main benefits of cloud software is that it can free them from many of the things that on-premise deployments require.

 

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Category: Data Backup, IT News, IT Security, IT Support.

World-Backup-Day-Logo

What would you do if you lost everything?

That’s the question being posed on World Backup Day 2015; a global movement to emphasise the importance of keeping a second copy of all your important files.

For our customers, every day is World Backup Day – as you would expect when your IT is in the safe hands of an award-winning official Microsoft SME Cloud Partner.

But for those who don’t have this contingency strategy in place, this is a great opportunity to evaluate:

  • Which files are crucial to the successful continuity (and let’s face it – profitability) of your service provision?
  • What are you already doing about backing them up now, and
  • What should you be doing to minimise the irreversible damage that occurs when your hard drive fails?

If your data isn’t backed up, once it’s gone it’s gone, and losing your files is way more common than you’d think. One small accident or failure could destroy all the important information your business and livelihood depends on.

In fact, research has shown that 60% of companies that lose their data will shut down within six months of the disaster whilst 93% of companies that lost their data for 10 days or more due to a disaster filed for bankruptcy within one year of the disaster. (Source: National Archives & Records Administration).

The good news is backing up is straight-forward once you’ve set up the backup process. There are a number of different methods – depending on how you want to backup your data and how safe you want to keep it. It’s just a matter of taking the first step of recognising the value of your data.

For more information download our free leaflet on backup advice or fill in the contact form to find out how we can help you manage your backups.

5 IT Health Checks To Keep Your Systems Secure

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Category: IT News, IT Support.

You may have read the news that Sony’s PlayStation online store was recently compromised.

It’s news that further illustrates just how important it is to protect data given how vulnerable it can be – even for massive corporations like Sony.

The company immediately said the problem had lasted only two hours and there was no sign of any damage, or more worryingly, data theft.

All of the data stored on our computers and electronic devices can be vulnerable if we are not careful, but there are a number of ways we can go about protecting our IT devices and more importantly – the information stored on them. Here are five of them.

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