Streaming Media - are we ready yet?

These new services seem to have been all over the news recently and this has generated a lot of interest.  I have tried quite a few of them recently with mixed results.  I have to say that I am not sure that our broadband services are ready yet, and our home equipment may not be up to the task either! 

So what are these services?  Basically they are video pictures sent to your device over the Internet.  The device can be anything with an Internet connection from a smartphone to a desktop computer or a smartTV.  The most basic of these services has been around for 10 years now – YouTube.  While this is mostly video clips uploaded by all and sundry, the newer services are more specifically targeted.  LightBox for example is TV series from multiple sources,  AppleTV is iTunes music and movies, NetFlix is mostly movies.  New independent services are also coming online – PGA Golf is now only available in NZ through an online service provider who also hosts English Premier League Soccer, both of these events taken over from Sky Broadcasting.

How do you access these?  Well you need a decent Internet connection and your choice of device for viewing.  If you want to view them on your computer that’s pretty straightforward, you usually just go to a web site and log on to the service.  I spend most of my day in front of various computer screens, so I prefer to watch on my TV, in a more comfortable location, with good sound etc. If you already have a smartTV you can usually either bring up the desired service directly or just go to the web site and run things from there.  If you don’t have a smartTV then there a variety of ways to connect these services to your existing TV and this is where the fun starts! 

An AppleTV unit for example plugs in to your TV via and HDMI port and connects to your home network via a cable or wirelessly.  AppleTV is an inexpensive and convenient way to connect to certain online services but it is not a universal solution – it only connects to selected services and does not provide a way to browse the Internet directly.  So you could get your movies through iTunes or now via NetFlix as well, but you could not use LightBox on the unit itself.  To use a web based service like LightBox via your AppleTV you would need to start that on a different Apple device like your iPhone, iPad or Mac computer and then send that stream to your TV via the Apple TV and your home network. 

I have experimented with this method myself and do not it find it very satisfactory – unless your wireless connections are very good the video stream can be choppy and unstable, and this also ties up your device and can use a lot of power on portable devices.  The same applies to a device like Googles’ Chromecast – it plugs into your TVs HDIM port and you can stream content from your device.  A great idea but I did not find it that good in practice.

You can also view Internet content of a TV using your gaming console – xBox, Playstation, Wii are examples of these.  These units also have some limitations on what can be done similar to the AppleTV.

All of these services rely on your Internet connection and can use considerable amounts of your download allocation (data cap) which is why a lot of people are now moving to unlimited data plans.

All of these new services may well be contributing to some performance issues on the Internet in this country in general in recent months.  It would seem that our service providers are not quite ready, and I don’t believe a lot of our home systems, wireless in particular, are ready for the demands yet.  But we can help!

 

So what would you do if disaster strikes?

So what would you do if disaster strikes? If it all went away in a ball of flames.......If you lose your valuable data due to failure or disaster what would you do.....where is it backed up? We ask people all the time "what do you use for backups at the moment?" and here is the answer that often comes bouncing back -

"Oh I just use a USB stick.....I back up then put it in my bag each night.....that's safe right?"

Hmmm... safe, well here is our response to that.

First of all, is it safe to have all of your confidential documents on something that you could literally leave anywhere that you go, in something that you could drop on the street.....not a good idea. Articles like this highlight the risks of this type of portable media and as forgetful as I can be I'm going to lose it at some point, guaranteed.

Secondly the risk of data loss from failure is a real one...you can find ample discussion of the merits of USB drives online and when it comes to my data I would never trust one as the sole source of backup on any system I have.

Thirdly, this method of backup relies very heavily on the diligence of the person doing it......many employees and business owners alike just plain forget to to do the backup at the end of the day or week....and of course you know when the day comes (and it is coming, oh yes) that your computer fails, that will be the day that you were just too busy for the last few weeks to get around to it.....bummer!

So, what to do then? What is the best way to backup your data? The best option is to have a backup that has the following features:

  • Offsite. ( not on the same premises as the data being backed up)
  • Automated. (Take a large part of human error out of the loop)
  • Secure. (Secure at source and securely transmitted)
  • Monitored. (so if any part of the backup fails you are notified from the source)

If you make sure that you cover all of these bases you will be in a much better position to say that you have a truely secure back up solution....

Get it done people, because tomorrow is the day the worst could happen.

 

What is a Solid State Disk drive (SSD)?

Amazing SSD Technology

Amazing SSD Technology

The disk drive, or hard drive, is the main storage unit inside your computer. All of the information used by the computer is stored on it including all of the operating system (Windows, Mac OSX etc), programs (Word, Excel, Chrome and the like) and all of your data (Documents, Pictures etc.).

Ever since they have been around, disk drives (or hard drives as they are sometimes known) have been based on a technology something like a marriage between an old record and tape player. The data is actually stored in magnetically encoded patterns on a rotating disk inside the unit which spins very quickly (between 5000 and 10000 rpm!). While these have been developed into very reliable and large capacity units, they are limited in speed due to their mechanical technologies.

In the past few years, an alternative has become available which has no moving parts, is much faster and should prove even more reliable. You could think of it like a large flash or thumb drive but I would rather you didn’t as these are very slow and unreliable!

Solid State Disk drives are much faster than conventional hard drives and, since all of the major operations on your computer depend mainly on the speed of the disk drive unit, they make pretty much everything you do on the computer happen much more quickly. I have replaced quite a few hard drives with these SSDs and the first thing you notice is that the computer starts up a lot faster!

You may notice that the capacity of these SSDs seems to be less than standard modern hard drives. Its not because the technology is not available, it’s a question of price vs. capacity which has not come down yet – I believe it will as demand increases. A standard install of the operating system takes around 15GB of space, and the minimum SSD size I recommend is 128GB so there is still lots of room available. You can always use an external drive or have another drive installed in the system if you want more storage space.

Which version of Windows should I get?

Windows 7 or Windows 8?      Which should I choose?

Here are a couple of things I hear a lot:

“I have heard a lot of bad things about Windows 8”

“If I choose Windows 7 will I be stuck with it forever?”

Microsoft has acknowledged that Windows 8 has been quite a failure in the consumer marketplace. In my opinion they tried to change too much at once and make a “one size fits all” operating system when they did not need to. Windows 8 is very much aimed toward the touch screen platforms, but not all of us have or want touch screens on our laptop or desktop computers.

Windows 7 is a good, stable operating system, which most people can relate to because it looks and works a lot like the previous versions of Windows operating systems they are already used to.

My recommendation is to stick with Windows 7 if you are already using it or a previous version of Windows. If you are buying a computer for the first time then Windows 8 should be fine and there are a lot of new features and updates to make it worthwhile over time. Microsoft has already told us that the next release of Windows will be released some time in 2015 and there will be an upgrade path available from Windows 7. Apparently it will be called Windows 10 – and nobody knows what happened to Windows 9!

Choosing the right sort of computer

Laptop, desktop, or micro computer – which should I choose?

Here are some of the factors I would consider:

· If you already have a desktop computer (and I include any computer with a separate unit and screen in this, it could be a tower unit on the floor) and you would like to re-use your existing screen and keyboard, then get a replacement desktop unit.

· If you would like something more portable, then consider a laptop. Modern laptop computers have great capacity and speed and good battery life. They can also be used with an external screen, keyboard and mouse so you can actually get the best of both worlds this way.

· The micro computers are a great option for someone who does not need a laptop or does not have space for a desktop unit - offices with limited space are a good example. These micro units can even be fitted to the rear of a screen to give the appearance of an “all-in-one” unit. Personally I think this is better than the pre-built all-in-one units as these can be hard to service and sometimes have issues with overheating. With the separate computer unit these can be upgraded or replaced without affecting the screen.

The Perfect Gift

For the ideal gift for someone who is very hard to buy for, why not give them a Gift Certificate for their very own IT professional to come and help out with any number of issues?

We can provide you with a personalised Gift Certificate to the value of your choosing to present to the recipient for use at their convenience.  This can all be done with one phone call to 0800 683 748 and you can pay over the phone with your credit card as well - how easy is that?

An hour with a technical professional will cost $100 and you can choose to cover this in full on the Gift Certificate or determine any value you wish for the recipient to contribute towards either time or products that we may supply.  This could be the perfect solution for someone who wants to get their new smartphone up and running; who would like all their devices synced; who would like help with their media centre or Internet TV; who wants help with a wireless solution; who needs assistance with sorting out emails; the list goes on and on.  In fact, there are a myriad of problems throughout a home or business that our friendly and professional technicians could help with.

At present we operate throughout the Greater Wellington area up to and including Levin, so if you are looking for a unique gift for someone in our region, simply phone 0800 683 748 NOW!

CRM Software

After much research the first thing I'm going to say is.....there is no perfect solution, short of custom software that is...you will have to use some combination of apps or software for all of the features we discussed....especially there is no stand alone app for android that does not use some cloud based system that is worth looking at ......here is a list of the CRM's I've had a look at...

  • Salesforce 5-unknown/month
  • Base 15/month
  • Nutshell 15/month
  • Capsule 12 /month
  • Insightly 0-9 /month
  • Upvise 0-12 /month
  • Zoho 0-35 /month
  • Sage 39-unknown /month
  • Highrise/Basecamp 24-99 /month
  • Nimble 15 /month
  • Goldmine > 600/year
  • Sugar CRM 35-150 /month
  • Prophet 24-unknown /month

After looking at the options remaining and installing and testing many, I think the best of the bunch is Base.....it has most of the features you identified and will work offline as well as online.....it's syncs online when you establish a connection so it takes care of your backup needs as well....it doesn't have the price list feature you identified but I think that is a much smaller compromise than and of the other options...

The only way to test ask of this is of course to install and try it after all you will never know of it works for you if you don't give it a go...