Who’s side are you on anyways?

I post many technology ezine (electronic magazine) articles that I think may be of interest to the average user.  Today a customer sent me an e-mail and asked “Who’s side are you on anyways?” after he read one articles that claims “Window 8” will be the greatest thing since sliced bread and another article that pointed out everything that is wrong with the new OS (operating system).  He also mentioned one article that told him everything he wanted to know about the latest iPad and a more recent post that read “16 reasons not to buy the new iPad.”

I take what I post very seriously and I only post articles that are factual not speculative.  I feel it is my responsibility to give you both sides of the argument so you can make an informed decision that best fits your needs.

When I go on a consult to a customer’s houses or businesses to help them pick out their next computer, I take time to find out what their particular needs are.  I ask if they are looking for a stationary desktop computer or for the portability and convenience of a laptop or tablet.

Once I know what their needs and goals are, I look for the best deal for that particular device.  Whether I find it on “ACME’s Discount Computer Emporium” or “Mega Computer’s Inc.” I don’t get any financial compensation from these companies.  My goal is to help the consumer get the computer or software that best fits their needs for the cheapest price possible.

The majority of my customers are 55 and older.  They use their computer to check e-mail, surf the web and view photographs of the grandchildren–so to suggest a $2,000 gaming rig would be irresponsible.  On the other hand, one of my customers does a lot of video editing, so an entry-level computer or a tablet would not suffice for his needs.

Another consideration is their openness to change.  A younger user may be more inclined to switch to a new OS, where others draw the line in the sand and wouldn’t dream of switching sides.  Either way, I have a responsibility to give you the pros and cons of a computing device, software requirement or an OS to help you make an informed decision that best suits your needs.  So to answer the question “Who’s side are you on anyway?” the answer is always “Your side!”

Phishing

Phishing is defined as a way of attempting to acquire information such as user names, passwords, and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.  Communications purporting to be from popular social web sites, auction sites, online payment processors or IT administrators are commonly used to lure the unsuspecting public. Phishing is typically carried out by e-mail spoofing or instant messaging, and it often directs users to enter details at a fake website whose look and feel are almost identical to the legitimate one.

Many experts predict that 2012 will be as the worst year yet for phishing attempts.  Over the past few weeks I have seen first hand the rise of such emails.  Some are obvious and quite adolescent while others are very creative and sophisticated to say the very least.  Even if you have not had any experience with such emails there are some tell-tale signs to look for.  First of all, an e-mail from a legitimate corporation or institution will always have their domain as part of the e-mail address ie  whomever@capitalone.com.  Last week, I received an e-mail that read my American Express card had been compromised and advised me to click on the following link to obtain further information.  This was obviously a phishing attempt because I don’t have an American Express card but it left me wondering what other ways could one tell that an e-mail was not legit.  This prompted me to look at the sender address which turned out to be something like rick349@gmail.com.

A couple of days passed and I received another phishing attempt via e-mail that read my Citizens Bank account was compromised and my card had been suspended in an attempt to protect me.  It too read “Click here for more details”.  Again, I looked at the sender address and it read candygirl189@yahoo.com.  This sparked my curiosity to find out for myself  how a bank or debtor would notify a customer in the event that their account had indeed been compromised.  I decided to make an appointment with the Vice President of a local bank to ask her that very question.  To my surprise, the Vice President told me “If we have your e-mail address on file we will contact you via e-mail that we have suspended your account to avoid further fraud but the e-mail would not contain a link of any kind for you to click on.”  She proceed to tell me “We also send notifications via postal mail to the customer notifying them that their account has been temporarily suspended and a new card would be issued.”  The fact that they would notify a customer via e-mail concerns me.

With that said, I decided to contact the Vice President of my bank to ask them the same question.  She told me “We never alert the customer via e-mail.  We will temporarily suspend the customers account to avoid further damage and then we notify them via postal mail.”  Keeping in mind not everyone is computer savoy, I think all debtors and financial institutions should contact their customers when their account has become compromised via postal mail rather than e-mail.

When I returned to my computer, another example of Phishing was in my inbox, this time disguised as a tax return error in my favor from the IRS.  The e-mail advised me to click the link below to receive the amount of $2400.00 dollars that was awarded to me due to a calculation error.  This email went as far as having an official seal from the state of Massachusetts.  To the unsuspected, this e-mail looked legitimate enough but once again, the senders address was the key ie cashback459@hotmail.com.  If this email were from the IRS, the domain would have been something like whomever@irs.gov.

One of the most intelligent men I have ever had the privilege to work with to date was an astrophysicist.  The best advice  he gave me then, which still holds true today was “Sit on your hands.”  You don’t need to be a genius to tell when something smells Phishy.  The internet is not a safe place, we all know that, think before you act and when in doubt, check it out.

Slow sales of Windows Phone 7

I’m a firm believer of “A wise consumer is everyone’s best customer” so I read a lot about technology.  In fact, I spend the first hour or two of my working day reading about the latest advancements in technology and the latest gizmos that are available or soon to become available to the consumer.  Back in July of 2009 my cell phone stopped working but my wireless contract was not up for renewal until November of 2009 which incidentally was when the newly redesigned Windows Phone 7 was to become available to consumers.   If I was going to stay in business and hold out for the WP7, I need to buy an unlocked phone from Amazon to hold me over.

During those four months I had a lot of time to consider which features I had to have in my next new phone.  Having large fingers, I knew I had to have a slide out keyboard.  With that said, the obvious and only choice at that time was the LG C900.  The phone is a bit heavy but solid and the OS is very fluid and responsive.

Before ordering it, I was fully aware of the short falls it would have when the product hit the shelves but I was willing to ride the storm out until such features as “copy and paste” would become available.  All reports I read predicted that this key feature and a few more would be available to consumers no later than January 2010.  Since copy and paste was not a deal breaker for me and considering that when the iPhone and the Android made their debut they didn’t have this functionality either, I decide that I would take a leap of faith and buy it.

The copy and paste functionality that would arrive with the “NoDo” update slated for January of 2010, didn’t become available to the consumer until March.  This much-needed update also made it possible to send and receive Pop3 e-mails.

During the months of June and July I read about the latest update A.K.A. “Mango” that was to deliver over five hundred new features to the WP7.  Due to testing at AT&T, I did not receive that update until the third week of October.  As much as I felt that the first to buy the device should have been the first to receive the update, “Mango” turned out to be worth the wait.

Just recently I read an article by Jason Hiner of TechRepublic who feels that WP7 may be suffering from the “Windows” branding itself more than any other reason and there may be truth to that but I think there are other reasons that have led to the WP7 only achieving 2% of the smart phone market.

Product Knowledge (or lack thereof): Recently, I sat down with a customer of mine that was in the market for a new cell phone.  I showed him my WP7 and went over all that the device had to offer him.  Armed with all the details he needed to buy one for himself he went to the AT&T store and asked a salesperson to show him to the WP7 phones that they carried.  The salesperson suggested that he buy an Android or iPhone instead.  He said he tried asking questions about some of the features that the WP7 that we had discussed and the salesperson know nothing about the product.

Availability: AT&T only had three different flavors to choose from LG, HTC and Samsung where the Android had more flavors than you can shake a stick at.  To make matters worst, iPhone 4 had just arrived and you could buy the iPhone 3 for $100.00.

Advertising:  Microsoft came out with a clever commercial that proclaimed “It’s time for a phone to save us from our phones” which showed cell phone users constantly looking at their phones while life was passing them by.  This Christmas they came out with a new commercial that shows how Windows 7 and WP7 can quickly and easily interact with each other to deliver digital content in seconds.  There needs to be more advertising that focuses on the ease and usability of the WP7 if the product is going to gain any ground in the future.

Variety:  The first few WP7 products to hit the market were phones were built on Android’s second class hardware.  Nokia introduced the Lumia 710 & 800 model which claims to be the first true WP7 but they lack features like a qwerty keyboard and front facing camera that consumers look for in a phone even if they never use it.

My gut feeling is these are the many reasons that have contributed to the sluggish sales of the WP7.  Recently there has been a change of the guard in the WP7 division named Steve Sinofsky that may bring a breath of life into a well designed device.  It is rumored that Steve Sinofsky wants to take the  Windows Embedded Compact kernel in Windows Phone 7 and replace it with a stripped-down Windows 8 kernel widely known as MinWin.  How that decision will play out is yet to be seen but I for one have no choice but to hang in there at least until November 2012 when it’s time to renew my cell phone contract.

InPrivate Browsing and On-Screen Keyboard

Another layer of security built into every Windows 7 operating system that is often overlooked by new and experienced users alike is Windows Virtual keyboard.

The on-screen keyboard allows you to enter data without touching a single key on your physical keyboard.  To access this feature, type “On-Screen Keyboard ” in the search box and select “Start On-Screen Keyboard” before you begin using InPrivate Browsing.

A few years ago the virtual keyboard would have been viewed as an inconvenience but now that everyone is texting these days, I believe it’s time has come.

With the virtual keyboard, I can do everything that I can do with a physical keyboard using the mouse to select the keys on the virtual keyboard.  This way, if there were a key logger installed on my computer that I didn’t know about, my financial security would not be compromised.

The complaint I typically hear from people who try this feature is “When I access my bank using InPrivate Browsing it always asks me for the answer to my security question and even after I click “This is a computer I use often – remember it” it doesn’t……why is that?”

That is because when you close the InPrivate Browsing window your history is not saved,  hence the “In Private” in InPrivate browsing.

Another complaint I typically hear from people who have tried InPrivate Browsing is “I access my accounts several times a day so InPrivate Browsing is just too inconvenient for me.”  Think about this for a moment “Which is more inconvenient, having to answer your security question every time you log in or trying to recover your life’s savings if your identity was stolen?”

Windows Remote Assistance (Part 2)

In Part 2 of this three part series, I will show you how to shout out for remote assistance by selecting “Use e-mail to send an invitation”.  As with “Save this invitation as a file”, help is just a few clicks away.  Click on the Start button and type Windows Remote Assistance in the search box.  You will be presented with two options…

  • Invite someone you trust to help you
  • Help someone who has invited you

Select “Invite someone you trust to help you ” and you will have three more options to choose from…

  • Save this invitation as a file
  • Use e-mail to send an invitation
  • Use Easy Connect

Select “Use e-mail to send an invitation” and an e-mail will be drafted that reads as follows….

Hi,

I need help with my computer. Would you please use Windows Remote Assistance
to connect to my computer so you can help me? After you connect, you can
view my screen and we can chat online.

To accept this invitation, double-click the file attached to this message.

Thanks.

Note: Do not accept this invitation unless you know and trust the person
who sent it.

As in mentioned in Part 1 of Windows Remote Assistance, for your safety this invitation is only valid for a limited time so I would advise you to call the person that will be assisting you to make the necessary arrangements in advance.

You will receive a message that confirms your invitation was received and they request permission to view your screen.  Once you grant them permission you can either chat via the Remote Assistance window or you can grant them permission to take control of your computer as if they were sitting in front of it.

IE9 and InPrivate Browsing

We’ve all heard the saying “The only way to be safe is not to connect to the internet at all”.  I think in this day and age, you would be hard pressed to find someone who owns a computer that doesn’t access the World Wide Web for one reason or another.  Whether we go online to check our email, look for the best deal on an item we’re interested in or check our balance online, all of us run the risk of identity fraud.

Would you know if you had a key logger installed on your computer?  What can you do to protect yourself when going online besides the usual, firewalls and WPA2 encryption.  There is one more layer of protection that most users overlook or just take for granted.

Today’s modern Web browsers come equipped with some sort of Private Browsing capability. Internet Explorer 9 comes equipped with a feature called InPrivate Browsing.  Microsoft describes InPrivate Browsing in this way…..

InPrivate Browsing enables you to surf the web without leaving a trail. This helps prevent anyone else who might be using your computer from seeing what sites you visited and what you looked at on the web. You can start InPrivate Browsing from the New Tab page or the Safety button.

When you start InPrivate Browsing, Internet Explorer opens a new browser window. The protection that InPrivate Browsing provides is in effect only during the time that you use that window. You can open as many tabs as you want in that window, and they will all be protected by InPrivate Browsing. However, if you open another browser window, that window will not be protected by InPrivate Browsing. To end your InPrivate Browsing session, close the browser window.

While you are surfing the web using InPrivate Browsing, Internet Explorer stores some information—such as cookies and temporary Internet files—so the webpages you visit will work correctly. However, at the end of your InPrivate Browsing session, this information is discarded. The following table describes which information InPrivate Browsing discards when you close the browser and how it is affected during your browsing session:

Information How it is affected by InPrivate Browsing
Cookies Kept in memory so pages work correctly, but cleared when you close the browser.
Temporary Internet Files Stored on disk so pages work correctly, but deleted when you close the browser.
Webpage history This information is not stored.
Form data and passwords This information is not stored.
Anti-phishing cache Temporary information is encrypted and stored so pages work correctly.
Address bar and search AutoComplete This information is not stored.
Automatic Crash Restore (ACR) ACR can restore a tab when it crashes in a session, but if the whole window crashes, data is deleted and the window cannot be restored.
Document Object Model (DOM) storage The DOM storage is a kind of “super cookie” web developers can use to retain information. Like regular cookies, they are not kept after the window is closed.

What InPrivate Browsing doesn’t do
InPrivate Browsing keeps other people who might be using your computer from seeing what you visited on the web, but it doesn’t prevent someone on your network—such as a network administrator or a hacker—from seeing where you went.
InPrivate Browsing does not necessarily provide you with anonymity on the Internet. That means that websites might be able to identify you through your web address, and anything you do or enter on a website can be recorded by that website.
Any favorites or feeds that you add while using InPrivate Browsing won’t be removed when you close your InPrivate Browsing session. Changes to Internet Explorer settings, such as adding a new home page, are also retained after you close your InPrivate Browsing session.

Using toolbars and extensions in InPrivate
InPrivate doesn’t clear any history or information about toolbars or browser extensions that is stored on your computer. To help protect your privacy, Internet Explorer disables all toolbars and extensions by default in an InPrivate Browsing window. If you would prefer, you can do the following:
In Internet Explorer, click Tools, and then click Manage Add-ons.
Click Toolbars and extensions, click the toolbar or extension you want to use, and then click Enable.
Click Close.

Windows Remote Assistance (Part 1)

In Part 1 of this three part series, I will show you how to shout out for remote assistance.  If you have Windows 7, help is just a few clicks away.  Click on the Start button and type Windows Remote Assistance in the search box.  You will be presented with two options…

  • Invite someone you trust to help you
  • Help someone who has invited you

Select “Invite someone you trust to help you ” and you will have three more options to choose from…

  • Save this invitation as a file
  • Use e-mail to send an invitation
  • Use Easy Connect

Select “Save this invitation as a file” and save it to your desktop.  After you saved the file a window will appear that contains a password.  For your safety this invitation is only valid for a limited time so I would advise you to call the person that will be assisting you to make the necessary arrangements in advance.

Next, open your default mail client and select the recipient and attach the invitation file before clicking the send button.  When the recipient receives the attachment they will ask you for the password that Windows Remote Assistance generated.

You will receive a message that confirms your invitation was received and they request permission to view your screen.  Once you grant them permission you can either chat via the Remote Assistance window or you can grant them permission to take control of your computer as if they were sitting in front of it.

Another thing worth mentioning, this feature is available with Windows XP and Windows Vista as well.  With Windows XP, the process of calling out for help is slightly different but if you are seeking help from a knowledgeable assistant they will be able to guide you through it.

Windows Phone 7 greater than 40,000 apps

As of November 16th 2011 Windows Phone Marketplace has now passed the 40,000 app and games submission mark.  Rafe Blanford writes “During the last four weeks, an average of around 165 new content items have been added each day” putting the store on track to reach the 50,000 mark sometime in January.  While that is impressive if fairs in comparison to Apple’s 500,000 apps and Android’s 400,000 apps.  Even though Microsoft’s App Store can’t match competing stores title by title, you will be able to find the most popular titles or the equivalent thereof.  The latest update aka “Mango” has integrated many of the productivity apps that iOS users seek such as Shazam, Facebook and Twitter to mention a few.

After reading the report by Rafe Blanford, I got to thinking about the 40,000 app milestone and decided to do a survey on my own.  I posted the following question to all of my Facebook, Twitter and Google+ followers “How many apps on average do you use on your smartphone on a daily basis?” and the response made me realize something that gave me a renewed faith about smart phones, apps and Windows Phone 7.  After polling 44 people the average app usage on a daily basis was 8.  With that said, is it important that Microsoft doesn’t have the 400,000 plus apps like Android or 500,000 like iOS?  I think not, what I do think is important is that they have the apps that most user want to remain competitive and desirable to existing and future consumers.

Windows Live (Part 2)

In Windows Live (Part 1), I told you how you can access your files using your Windows Live or Hotmail account, but what if the file you need is not one of the files you are syncing?

Using Windows Live Mesh you can log into your Windows Live or Hotmail account and click on “Go to Windows Live Devices”.  Assuming you have already setup the devices you want to access, you simply click on “Connect to this computer” and enter your user name and password.

Once connected, you can add the particular folder that you want for syncing purposes or you can email the file from the remote computer to yourself provided the file is not too large to send via email.

Windows Live (Part 1)

If you are running Windows 7 and you have downloaded Windows Live from Windows Update, then you probably know the benefits of Cloud Storage but if you have not taken advantage of this free service then I recommend that you download and familiarize yourself with it.

After you create a Windows Live account or a Hotmail account, then you can begin using Windows Live Mesh to sync your your laptop computer with your desktop computer or your home computer with your work computer.

Having setup this program when I upgraded my work computer, I was able to log into Windows Live with my Hotmail address and access the files that I forgot to backup to my thumb drive without getting in the car and driving to work.

Windows Live allows you 5.00 GB of storage accessible via any computer with an internet connection.  But what if you maxed out your Windows Live storage and the file you needed is not on the cloud or what if you are not comfortable storing your personal files on the cloud?  Windows Live Mesh can sync your documents from one computer to the other without storing any of your documents on the cloud.

Two things worth mentioning, first you can only take advantage of all that Windows Live Mesh has to offer using Windows Explorer 32 bit edition and second you need to remember with Windows Live Mesh or any cloud storage option, when you delete your account your files are no longer accessible so remember to back up your files before deleting your account.