Windows 8 – and XP Still?

Originally published in The Clarion | April 25, 2012

Outside of all the hype in the media over Apple’s new iPad, there is growing hype concerning the upcoming operating system from Microsoft – Windows 8. Even though I’m not a Microsoft guy, my job requires me to keep pace with the Windows line of operating systems. Nevermind it’s virtually impossible to do my daily tech reading without seeing at least a small handful of articles centered around the offerings from Microsoft. Looking at what Microsoft plans to do with Windows 8 while reflecting on their past, I truthfully can’t describe my feelings for the company. Either way, since a majority of PC users still use their operating systems and software (whether by choice or simply because they’re unaware of the alternatives), Microsoft most definitely has a strong foothold in the world of IT and won’t be going away anytime soon.

Speaking of not going away anytime soon, just a week or so ago Microsoft announced the end-of-life for their Windows XP operating system. Released in October 2001, Windows XP has without a doubt been the longest-running (and arguably most reliable) desktop operating system to come out of Redmond, Washington. The successor to the poor and short-lived Windows Me operating system, somehow Microsoft did something right with XP. This can easily be seen in the simple fact that there are still millions of PC’s around the world that still use it. Surprising to me, Microsoft still plans to offer support for Windows XP for another two years – making its official run a lengthy thirteen years when all is said and done. To be honest, if I had to use a Microsoft operating system on a daily basis, XP would be my choice.

While there has yet to be an official release date for Windows 8 announced, rumors are putting the target date around October of this year. Depending on who you listen to, there will be either three or four versions of Windows 8 available – one specifically for small devices like smartphones and tablets, one for the home desktop user and at least one for business customers. Windows 8 will supposedly have a new user interface, one that is somewhat drastically different from previous versions of the operating system. Whether this is a wise choice is yet to be determined – my experiences with drastic user interface changes have not been pleasant. I can only imagine how non-technical users are going to feel when faced with an entirely new look and feel when they are first introduced to it. A beta version of Windows 8 is available for download, you adventurous ones out there might want to give it a spin. For me, I will only deal with it when that time comes – hopefully a very long time from now.

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Data Preservation

Originally published in The Clarion | April 18, 2012

Document preservation is an area of increasing concern for both businesses and individuals alike. As our society continues down a technology track to destinations unknown, it is fair to say that never before has it been more important to maintain all sorts of documents in a safe and bulletproof manner. Add in the increasing demands from environmentalist groups who, depending on their degree of extremity, are willing to throw their bodies in front of trees ready to be cut and we have just the right mix for the perfect storm. It goes without saying that business documents of all kinds can be the lifeblood of an organization. Without the preservation of certain documents, a business could potentially fold in an instant.

There is an ongoing debate in the IT, business and political fields on how best to preserve data. Historically, documents were in paper form and were typically stored in some sort of filing cabinet in a dark, damp and dusty closet. As time passed, businesspeople wised up and began using fire tolerant storage solutions, even though the containers were still housed in fire-prone buildings. To say there is no simple solution for storing paper documents is quite the understatement. Over time, technology allowed for paper documents to be converted to electronic documents. With this solution, what used to require enormous amounts of storage in cubic feet suddenly could be retained on a disk drive no larger than a person’s hand. As disks became larger in capacity and smaller in physical size, many industries mandated a move to digital or electronic storage of documents. To many, this seemed like the end-all solution. Unfortunately, of course, there were and continue to be ramifications.

As I have mentioned countless times in the past, the storage of any piece of data on a disk, tape or any other sort of digital media should be done with high caution and extensive planning. While the technologies continue to improve, it still only takes an instant for a piece of storage media to become unusable. Many factors including mechanical or electrical failure, fire, water, heat and even static electricity can instantly render a disk drive useless. At a minimum, companies and individuals alike should consider in their digital storage a plan that includes a backup of the backups. While this may sound relatively simple, it really isn’t that easy. Any copy of a file should be stored off-site from the original, preferably across town or beyond to help ensure minimal data loss in an environmental catastrophe. Once the backup solution is implemented and active, all systems involved in the backup process should be regularly monitored to help ensure the system is functioning properly. Finally, an occasional restoration of stored data is highly encouraged as a final safeguard to confirm that the backup data will be recoverable and usable when it is needed the most.

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The Roles of an ISP

Originally published in The Clarion | April 11, 2012

Having worked for an Internet Service Provider for almost thirteen years, it has been interesting to observe customers’ expectations over time. Being an employee of an ISP most likely makes my opinions somewhat biased, but to be fair I am able to recall the good ‘ole days when I too was a typical customer. With a multitude of conversations over the years with both customers and other folks who work in the business, I have found that the expectations of customers and the services provided by ISP’s differ as much as personal opinions on politics. Regardless of who your ISP is, one thing is certain – no two are the same. Some may offer all of the bells and whistles under the sun but provide unreliable-at-best service while others may offer only minimal services but go above and beyond the demands of most customers.

Since the introduction of broadband services from Internet Service Providers, the ISP landscape has changed drastically. Before broadband was available, an extremely small percentage of Internet users had more than one ‘connected’ device in their home. This was simply dictated by the fact that a dial-up modem was required in the ‘connected’ device in order to make things happen. Sure there were Internet Connection Sharing applications that became available, but I know of very few people who had the know-how or even desire to share their Internet connection beyond the primary computing device. Back in the day, services provided by ISP’s were simple. They provided a customer with a username, password and telephone number to dial in to, and typically one or two eMail addresses. It was the customer’s responsibility to have a functional computer with a properly configured dial-up modem and a good, clean phone line in order to connect. The ISP was entirely hands-off in this area.

With the introduction of broadband Internet services, the ISP landscape changed overnight. Most broadband ISP’s not only began providing the modem but required that they come to your home or office and install it properly. Some would provide additional installation of wired and wireless routers while others left those configurations to the customer. During installation, most technicians would configure the customer’s computing device to ensure Web connectivity and eMail applications function as they should. Outside of these installation services, most all ISP’s remained hands-off after the initial installation is complete.

Some of the requests and even demands of customers beyond these services simply amaze me. I have heard stories of customers calling their ISP when their printer, mouse, keyboard or monitor suddenly quit working. Others have called to request the ISP come out to connect a gaming console to their broadband router. I even heard a story of a customer calling their ISP to complain that their microwave oven quit working several days after their Internet services were installed. Sometimes all I can do is shake my head and walk away when I hear of or read such stories, it’s probably the best thing to do.

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The iPad 3 – but I still have my PC!

Originally published in The Clarion | April 04, 2012

Another iPad release has come and gone and finally all the hype and anticipation have been layed to rest. Once again, just like on previous occasions, story upon story were written and reported about how the new master of gadgets would finally be the nail in the coffin for the desktop computer. I’m not sure about you, but I have yet to see curbsides littered with computer towers and monitors that were no longer needed. I know I’ve been on this soapbox before but I am apparently still not accustomed to all the chatter about the death of the PC. Couple that with my non-i-device-fanboy ways and I guess you could say I just have an attitude about it.

One news story I saw on television a few weeks ago showed a business owner in California doing all of his computing tasks on his iPad. I do not recall what business he was in but want to think it was a restaurant, cafe or something along those lines. One must be careful about first impressions but I have to say that my first impression of this business owner was that a tablet device like an iPad would probably be suitable for him. He just didn’t have the look of a businessman who painstakingly sits down and does payroll, inventory, scheduling and other similar business functions on a regular basis. My gut feeling is that he pays someone to do these functions for him, possibly even a hired company outside of his organization. Either way, I both chuckle and cringe when I see, hear or read stories such as this. In the end though, I really wish I understood why the media has such a love for the tablet technologies (and apparent hate for traditional computing devices).

As I mentioned in a previous article, tablet devices do an excellent job of serving specific functions for a specific group of people. On the flip-side, desktop computers do just the same for another specific group of people. I am baffled as to why the subject is even brought up and am quite anxious to see concrete data on just how many desktop comptuers have been sent to an early retirement thanks to tablet devices. Could it simply be a conspiracy where for whatever reason the major media outlets are going to extreme lengths to help boost the sales of the iPad? Possibly, although rational thought doesn’t apply very good in considering such a scenario. Maybe those who produce such reports are as anti-computer as I am anti-tablet. That very well could be it. Either way, the latest and greatest iPad is now out there and I am still overly content pecking away at my traditional keyboard connected to my traditional computer tower with traditional monitor. Maybe the iPad 4 will sway me when it’s released (don’t bet on it!).

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