Friday, December 21, 2012

What about Windows 8?

Microsoft has released the next version of their operating system, Windows 8, and chances are the next PC you purchase will be running it. What does this mean for most users?  There are a few key differences, mostly dealing with the user interface. Let's review a few of the big ones.

The Start Screen
Instead of the traditional list of settings and programs that popped up when the Windows logo in the bottom left corner of the screen was clicked, the Start Menu is now a full-screen experience known as the Start Screen. Microsoft has gone away from a list of programs and created a screen full of "tiles" that scrolls left and right. Each tile can be a link to launch a program or can contain live content like weather, social network updates, or news headlines. This is very similar to the new Windows Phone interface.

The Start Screen can be accessed at any time by pressing the Windows key on your keyboard. If you are already on the Start Screen, the Windows key will take you back to the last app you were in. To view the desktop, Press the Windows + D keys at the same time.

While on the Start screen, you can scroll through all the tiles by using the scroll wheel on your mouse, the scroll area of a touchpad, the arrow keys on the keyboard, or by swiping left and right on a touchscreen. One very nice feature of Windows 8 is the ability to start typing the name of a program. While on the Start Screen, just type the first few letters of the program you want, and a list will display of any matching programs.

Desktop Apps and Modern UI Apps.

Windows 8 comes in versions for PCs, Tablets (Windows RT), and Phones (Windows Phone). All share the Start Screen interface, also known as the Modern UI. The difference comes in what programs can be run. There are now two types of programs, or Apps, for Windows 8.

Modern UI Apps are full-screen and usually are designed to work with touchscreens. These are often comparable to apps on iOS or Android platforms. Many popular apps are available, such as Pandora, Evernote, Netflix, and of course Angry Birds. These apps will run on PCs, tablets, and phones.

Desktop Apps includes traditional programs like QuickBooks, Photoshop, or Autocad. These will only run on the full PC version of Windows. (Note: Some tablets run the full PC Windows 8, and some run Windows 8 RT.)

Some programs have both Modern UI and Desktop versions. For example, the Microsoft Office suite of programs come in both varieties.


Since the traditional Start Menu is gone, how you access PC settings, log on and off, and shutdown your computer is a bit different. For any of these tasks, you will move the mouse to the bottom right corner of the screen (or swipe in from the right on a touchscreen). This will bring up a menu that lets you search, access settings and see connected devices. Once you click Settings, you will be able to connect and disconnect from networks, shutdown or restart your computer, personalize your computer, and access the Control Panel.

To log off or switch users, go to the Start Screen and click on your name in the top right corner. This will give you options to lock or log out of your computer.

The Big Picture

One big question that is floating around is "Do I have to have a touchscreen?". The answer is no. Everything still works just fine with a mouse and keyboard. However the touchscreen interface will seem much more natural to some people, and will likely become a bigger part of how we use computers.

Beyond these interface changes, most of Windows is still similar to the versions that have been around for years. Most desktop app programs will still look and feel exactly the same, and things such as printers and cameras will still work as they always have. Microsoft has made many improvements behind the scenes with performance and stability, making Windows 8 a very robust operating system. Things like anti-virus protection are now built in (though you can still choose to use a third party application).

So go ahead and give Windows 8 a shot, chances are you'll get used to it within a few hours, and find many things easier to use. - Gary Micander

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Smart Meters and Servers

You maybe have received a letter from Nevada Energy informing you that they will be installing a Smart Meter on your premise soon.

During the install of your new Smart Meter, NV Energy will cut your buildings power for up to 15 minutes.

There may be a major problem with a 15 Minute interruption in power.

Most battery backup systems are installed with the intention of surviving a brief (less then 5 Minute) power outage that is typical of weather related phenomena.
Many battery backup systems will not hold your computer system up for the 15 minutes required.

Letting your system go down unexpectedly can mean lost productivity, data corruption, or a major outage costing your business hundreds or thousands of dollars in downtime and repair expenses.

Being prepared is as simple as knowing systems passwords, and how to properly shutdown your business computer systems, and then how to properly turn your network back on. If you have any questions about shutting your systems down please don't hesitate to contact our dispatch team:

( or 322-6455)

If Nevada Energy should show up at your Office and request to install the power meter. Ask them for 20 minutes so that you can properly shutdown your business computer systems.

A General guideline for shutting your systems down is listed below:

1. First, have all users save all data and shutdown their workstations normally. Have users turn off their battery backup systems; this will avoid the incessant beeping generated by these units when they lose power.

2. Next, shutdown your server(s)

3. Finally, turn off printers, scanners and copiers, networking equipment (routers, switches, etc.) and any battery backup units hooked up to your server(s) and networking equipment.

When NV Energy says they are done, power up in the reverse order, waiting at least 2-3 minutes between steps.

1. Start with turning on printers, networking equipment (routers, switches, etc.) and any battery backup units hooked up to your server(s) and networking equipment.

2. Next power on your server.

3. Making sure to wait 2-3 minutes and have users begin by turning their battery backup units on (if so equipped) and finally turn their computers back on.

This procedure may save you time and money.

Let us know if we can help.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Why you need a fast(er) Internet connection.

Everyone is familiar with high-speed internet, or broadband as it’s sometimes called, and almost every business has some form of it. Often, people will say “I have DSL, why would I need anything faster?”, or “Why should I pay $150/month for internet, we don’t need to pay that much just to surf the web.” All high-speed internet connections are not created equal however. A basic DSL connection may be somewhere around the 1.5Mbit download/.75Mbit upload speed, while a VDSL, cable or fiber internet connection can be upwards of 30Mbit download/5Mbit upload. This speed difference can have a huge impact on how long it takes to perform a task online.

Most people would likely say the internet has two main purposes – seeking web content and processing email, but more and more it's used for actual business operation. Plus, there are other things going on in the background that may not be obvious. One of the most critical uses for an internet connection is to receive updates for computer operating systems, software packages, and anti-virus programs.

In today’s computing environment, it is critical to run updated antivirus software and install security updates to the computer operating system and software running on it. These updates are often fairly large files, and can be released frequently. Having a faster internet connection ensures that updates are downloaded and installed in a timely manner.

While web browsing and email may seem like a simple thing, it is important to consider employee productivity. Many businesses use the internet for a large portion of their day to day operations, whether doing research online, ordering product, or simply sending and receiving email. These small tasks can add up to a significant part of an employee’s day.

For example, placing an order for products from an office supply store on a 1.5Mbit connection may take three or four times longer than it would take on a 10Mbit connection just due to waiting for webpages to load. This may only be a savings of 1-2 minutes, but consider all the tasks that are similar to this, and how often they occur.

As more and more companies work with digital copies of documents, architectural drawings, photos, and videos, the size of email attachments and downloaded files have grown drastically. A typical drawing file from a program like AutoCAD can easily run into the dozens or hundreds of megabytes. A 50 megabyte file would take 5 minutes to download on a 1.5Mbit connection, versus 40 seconds on a 10Mbit connection. Imagine downloading dozens of such files every day, and it becomes immediately apparent where time can be saved.

Other reasons to have higher speed internet that I haven’t covered include remote user access, website hosting, email server hosting, streaming video/audio, and many others. In my opinion, no business today should be running on less than a 5Mbit connection. If hosting any sort of server on-premises (email for example), or using streaming media, that number goes up to 20Mbit down/2-3Mbit up.

Often, the cost difference between a basic 1.5Mbit connection and 10Mbit connection is less than $60/month. And since you and your employee's time is your most valuable resource, it's important that you make the most of it. So ask yourself, how much time do you waste waiting for your computer to give you what you want?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Significance of the Samsung Note

Like much in the history of human affairs, technical advancement does not generally happen in smooth progression. It moves in fits and starts, and smart-phone technology has been on a tear for the last few years.

Palm was the first true smart-phone with a library of independent apps, but it was the iPhone that first found broad acceptance of the general public. Apple seems to have a way with tech fashion, even if they aren't always the first to market.  Or the best.

The next major fit of development was the Android family.  Motorola Droid offered the first significant competition to the iPhone.  HTC improved performance and over this last year Samsung has come to lead Android technology with it's large displays, yet light weight.

We now have the Samsung Galaxy Note as it's latest example, but is it a true advancement of technology?  Yep.  I'll compare it to my Droid which is what I know best.  The Samsung Note has:

100% more screen area.
50% taller
67% wider
250% more pixels
255% faster clock
80% more battery
60% more pixels in its camera
Plus a front camera
4G surfing and movies
4 times the RAM
16 times the ROM
Effective pen interface

So what's not to like?  Well, it is 8 grams heavier but that's too small to notice.  The Samsung Note also has no hard keyboard, but surprisingly, the screen is so large, I'm faster (and more accurate) on its soft keyboard than the Droid hard keyboard.  The Samsung Note is better in every way than the standard Droid and even better in most ways than the latest iPhone.  End of story?  No quite.

Surprisingly, the Note's best feature (the screen) is also the critic's biggest complaint, which is what this post is really about.  The Note is being panned as a "phablet" because of it's large screen. The logic is, it's too big to hold up to your face, and yet too small to compete as a tablet.  Here's an example review:

By: Jonathan S. Geller - Feb 13th, 2012 at 03:45PM

"The Galaxy Note essentially has everything you’d want in a smartphone: a great dual-core processor, a solid camera, a beautiful display and good build quality, and it runs on ATT’s new 4G LTE network that delivers incredibly fast downloads speeds. Plus the battery seems actually decent so far, which is a triumph for modern smart-phones.

Throw all of that right out the window.

The phone is too big. You will look stupid talking on it, people will laugh at you, and you’ll be unhappy if you buy it. I really can’t get around this, unfortunately, because Samsung pushed things way too far this time."

And it wasn't just Jonathan.  Here's what Zach at BGR had to say:

Samsung Galaxy Note review: The smartphone that ‘Samsunged’ Samsung
By: Zach Epstein | Feb 22nd, 2012 at 12:01PM

"Holding this beast to your face while on a phone call in public will result in awkward stares. Not “maybe” or “might,” but “will.” It just looks silly."

One more - PC World's review:

"For most, the Note will be too big for a phone, but too small for a tablet. Rather, it’s an awkward in-between device, and will only appeal to a niche consumer base. "

I'm here to tell you, PC World and all the rest are dead WRONG.  The Note will NOT be limited to a niche.  It has hit the sweet spot in size and will become the new standard in smart-phone technology.  Here's how I know.

There's not much to which I can easily lay claim, but I am an original and authentic geek. I'm been interested in computers since the smallest ones filled up a room, which was long before they became personal.  It was much later that the first thing that could be considered personal technology was introduced, and it was a calculator.

If you think the lines are long for gadgets now, you should have been around in 1972 when HP introduced the original HP35 calculator.  It sold for $395 which was over $2000 in today dollars, but you couldn't buy it at any price (no eBay back then).  After placing only two full-page magazine ads, the original HP35 calculator was back-ordered for more than six months!

This backlog was because the HP35 was SUCH a major advancement  in technology, it is hard to imagine even in today's new gadget world.  The closest competition to the HP35 sat on a desk, weighed 25 pounds and cost more than $10,000 (or $50,000 in today dollars).

In contrast, the HP35 was designed to fit into William Hewlett's shirt pocket, which is the key to the issue at hand.

Even though back-ordered from their own distribution, I discovered from a friend at HP that I could buy their calculator at HP headquarters.  This outlet was for employees, but he said they weren't checking IDs.  I immediately flew my plane to Palo Alto, walked up to the front counter and bought two (an extra one for my cousin).

It's been that way my whole life. I watch a given technology then buy the latest and greatest when it's introduced; not because it's a fashion, but because it's significantly better in some technical way. I bought the very first Palm Pilot when it was released. I generally hold off upgrading until there is significant advancement. At their introduction I bought the first color Palm PHONE (also from Samsung), then the Palm Treo and Palm Centro in turn.

Just over two years ago I ended a long-term relationship with Palm and bought the original Droid on the day of it's introduction. I considered the iPhone but the first version wouldn't even copy, cut and paste text which I can't live without.  Android has been amazing though there are still things the old Palm did that the Droid can not yet touch. But that's another blog post.

So why am I leaving the Droid behind so quickly? The usual reasons - significant advancement in technology which are listed above, but most importantly because of the size of the screen.  All of that visual real estate is wonderful.  For years now I've known the  the original HP-35 hit a sweet spot in physical size and weight.  It was as big as possible without being too big to fit in a shirt pocket.

As it turns out the Samsung Note is almost the same size and weight as that original HP-35. I've been carrying the Note in my shirt pocket the last few weeks and it feels just like the HP35 I carried from years back. So according to the reviewers, the only problem is how silly we look if we hold it up to our head, which is my second point - a true geek is like the Honey Badger - he doesn't give a shit.

And that's how I know I'm authentic: I don't understand why it looks weird to hold a Samsung Note up to your head.  Why does it matter?  It's what it DOES that counts.  I for one believe it's the ultimate geek-cred.  And who's says Bill Hewlett wouldn't have looked cool talking on his new calculator, if there had been some cell towers around?

Who wants to bet the next iPhone is not bigger?

And that in three years the Samsung Note will be the standard size for a phone?

And then it will be cool.

Email your wager.

Rod Coleman
General Manager
Sierra Computer Group

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Local Server or Cloud?

Local Server or Cloud?

There is a lot of talk lately about “cloud computing” and moving “Line of Business” applications to the cloud. Simply put this means using a web browser to access your applications hosted on a server somewhere on the Internet. There are several advantages for using cloud computing and many disadvantages. The best analogy I can use is that using cloud services can be like renting a house versus buying one. If you’re in it for the long haul, owning the house might me the way to go. If there is uncertainty about the future, or if a landlord is offering rent cheap – as many cloud providers are – then it might be worth renting for a while. It may make sense to have a hybrid approach. For example use email or spam filtering located in the cloud, but retain accounting and customer data locally.

Advantages of the Cloud

1. No cash up front required to buy a server, applications, and operating system. Only a monthly fee where you “pay for what you use” –often this is per seat (per employee).

2. You and your employees can access the server from any Internet connected location. This can provide a built-in disaster recovery plan because if your office location loses Internet, you can still access the cloud through alternate channels.

3. Software is kept up to date automatically.

4. More predictable IT support costs, no surprise server outages etc.

5. It’s possible to use lower costs dumb terminals locally if no line of business applications that require PCs are needed.

Disadvantages of the Cloud

1. Speed. No matter what the vendor claims, it seems cloud apps are never as fast as local. Possible cost savings will be eaten up by reduced employee productivity that often can’t even be measured.

2. Another big concern involves getting locked into a cloud vendor and having your data held hostage. Moving to another provider might mean significant conversion issues.

3. Spurious shut down. If a monthly bill is overlooked or a clerical error occurs, your entire business can be shut down for days while you straighten it out. This is a particular problem with “big” vendors with automated tech support where it’s hard to reach a human.

4. The reliability of cloud vendors has sometimes been over stated. They often claim 99.9xx % uptime, but in the last two years many high profile companies have had outages including Google and Microsoft.

5. Many people are worried about security and privacy of their data.

6. Cost Savings are often imaginary. What initially seems like a low, low monthly fee really adds up when you multiply it by the number of employees times 36 months. I suggest using 36 to 48 months to make cost comparisons because that’s often quoted as the lifetime of server equipment. For example, if you bought a brand new server with a Windows server OS today, you could expect to use it for the next 3 to 4 years.

7. Free or low cost services often omit critical functionality. The soft cost of having employees not being able to install apps as needed can bleed dollars from the organization.

Advantages of a Local Server

1. You can create order from chaos. By centralizing data on a server, you can better manage business-critical information. Sharing files and other data across PCs becomes much easier, as does migrating data from one PC to another. Older PCs can get new life if their files and data are off-loaded onto a server.

2. You can protect your data by making backups easier. Windows Small Business Server 2011 enables users to protect their data by simplifying backups and the restoration of critical data.

3. You can collaborate better as a business. Not only is data sharing easier with a server-based network, but Windows Small Business Server 2011 comes with Windows SharePoint Services, which is software that enables your employees and other team members to collaborate via the Web. With SharePoint, you get a company intranet with a user-friendly interface to organize and share information.

4. You can accommodate a mobile work force. Servers enable out-of-office workers to have remote access to your network, enabling data sharing among those who travel, telecommute or work off-site.

5. You can share high-speed broadband access. High-speed Internet access across a network from a single ISP account.

6. You can set up new computers, add users and deploy new applications more quickly and easily. Expect to grow? You can better co-ordinate the addition of new PCs amd software. You can also better manage firewalls and monitor threats to your data, and more easily deploy virus protection.

7. You can get more processing power. A server can supercharge your network, storing chunks of data, freeing up memory and enabling PCs to perform better. Small businesses today need that additional processing power to manage Web sites, do e-mail newsletters, and use sophisticated software.

8. You will look more professional — and connect better with your customers. Microsoft Small Business Server enables you to consolidate your e-mail accounts (AOL, Yahoo!, Hotmail, etc.) into a single e-mail account, enhancing your image to customers. A server can make a lot of businesses look bigger than they are.

In conclusion, small start-ups that may need flexibility yet have simple requirements are a good fit for the cloud.  But if have more complex requirements or sensitive customer data or performance needs, keep your server in your closet.