Monday, January 27, 2014

Logging out of LogMeIn

Following in the recent footsteps of SugarSyncLogMeIn announced that they were no longer offering the free version of their product and will only provide a premium, paid service. I have been a user and fan of LogMeIn for YEARS, but with the move to only a paid-only service, I have started looking at other alternatives for my remote desktop connectivity needs.

Don't get me wrong, LogMeIn is a great product. It's easy to use and has been pretty reliable over the years. However, my use of remote desktop connectivity is not frequent enough to warrant the price that LogMeIn is charging ($99/year for access on 2 computers). If I had a regular, on-going need for remote desktop connectivity AND the price was reasonable, I wouldn't have any problems paying for the LogMeIn's service. Alternatively, GoToMyPC has a very tempting 6-month trial then $69/year for 3 computers promo offer that I'm considering. That is the danger that companies face when moving from a free model to a paid one. Consumers start to evaluate ALL their options especially when it comes to paying for a service.

This abrupt ending of the free version (customers have a seven day grace period to make a purchasing decision) while not provide ample time to evaluate and migrate to another solution was a bad move. In addition, this recent announcement also feels like deja vu. Many LogMeIn Free customers may remember the out-of-the-blue announcement last year that limited the number of computers a user can access with LogMeIn Free to 10 computers. I also remember them stating that "...LogMeIn Free is and will remain free.."

While LogMeIn is a great product, the fact is there are other options, both free and paid, out there that offer the same remote desktop connection features to users. Even though I am not a big fan, Team Viewer is a decent alternative that offer many of the same features plus some that are not in the free version of LogMeIn (I also have wonder if Team Viewer is rethinking their "free" model as well). Additionally, Chrome Remote Desktop is another option that is available. While it's not packed with a ton of features, it runs in your browser and is easy to setup and use. Users will have play around with the different options to find a service that fits their needs.

Bottom line, LogMeIn is a business and it needs to make a profit. They are hoping to converting loyal users to paid subscribers. This is nothing new. LogMeIn isn't the first and definitely won't be the last to kill off their free services. Remember when Google did the same thing a few years ago with the free version of Google Apps? People were disappointed, but eventually moved on. The abrupt end of any free service or product should serve as a reminder that not all technology services can stay free forever.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

It's Time To Let Windows XP Go

There is not a nice way to say this, but if you are still using Windows XP it's time to move on. Microsoft is ending support for Windows XP on April 8th. What this means is that after that date going forward, Microsoft will not release anymore security patches or provide any new support information as it relates to Windows XP. While Microsoft has not done any type of awareness campaign to remind users (which is strange), they have given plenty of notice (believe it or not, Microsoft was sending out notifications of the April 2014 end date as far back as 2008).

So what happens if you try to hang on to that old Windows XP computer? Well for starters you will run the risk of your computer possibly becoming infecting with some type of malware or other zero-day vulnerability because there are no up-to-date security patches available (a zero-day attack exploits a previously unknown software vulnerability leaving developers no time to address and patch). You also have to consider that you will pretty much be stuck with software and hardware that is only compatible with Windows XP. For example, if your printer dies and you have to buy a new one, chances are it will not be compatible with Windows XP. Same goes with any newer software that you might have to buy.

Yes, I know that there those who can't (or won't) move off of Windows XP for a variety of reasons such as compatibility issues or cost (or even stubbornness in some cases), but the reality is that Windows XP is a nearly 12-year-old operating system. Since Windows XP was released in 2001, there have been four newer versions of Windows: Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1. In addition, the hardware that was available at the time that Windows XP was released has been greatly improved not to mention cheaper. It's time to upgrade.

On the bright side, for those people who want to stick with Windows XP as long as they can, Microsoft will continue to provide updates (anti-malware engine and signatures) to its security products (Microsoft Security Essentials) for those users through July 14, 2015. The reality is that Microsoft is in a difficult situation. They have to stick with their end of support date to get consumers off of Windows XP and onto their latest, more secure products. However, there are still so many Windows XP users out there that leaving them completely vulnerable could cause more harm than good in the long run (you know hackers are just salivating right now waiting to strike).

All things said, Windows XP has had a good run, but like all good things it must come to an end. If you haven't already upgraded to a newer version of Windows, start looking at your alternatives now so you will be ready instead of waiting until April 8th.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Building a Computer for A+ Study Part VII: The Case and Power Supply

Part seven in a series on the basics of building a computer to prepare for the A+ certification exams.

Computer Case

A computer case is the enclosure that contains most of the components of a computer. Computer cases are also referred to as the chassis, system unit, or tower. Computer cases can come in many different sizes, shapes and colors as well as be made from different materials such as aluminum, steel, or plastic. The size and shape of a computer case is usually determined by the form factor of the motherboard.

When buying a computer case, it is important to remember that the motherboard generally determines the overall size of the case as well as which parts you can put into it. The form factor of a motherboard dictates the specifications of the computer case you choose: physical dimensions, type of power supply, and location of mounting holes. It is important to remember that the motherboard also has to properly fit into the computer case that you choose.

Power Supply

A typical power supply unit
Your computer needs power. A lot of computer cases come with a power supply unit but if the one you choose does not, you will have to purchase one separately. Most basic computers are fine with a 250 to 300 watt power supply unit. However, if you plan on adding more demanding graphic cards, multiple hard disks drives or other internal components, you may want to get a more powerful power supply unit. Just make sure that you choose one that not only physically fits in your computer case but one that is also appropriate for the form factor of the motherboard.

A power supply unit, also simply referred to as a PSU, is offered in modular and non-modular models. Modular PSUs include detachable cables, which allow you to use only the ones you need. This means less annoying cable tangles and a much cleaner look inside the computer case. While modular PSUs tend to be more expensive, the payoff is less clutter and better air circulation throughout the case. The more common non-modular PSU has all the cables connected to the power supply.

Power supply units have several different types of connectors that plug into your internal components for power:
  • P1 Power Connector (20- or 24- pin connector for motherboard)
  • CPU Power Connector (8-pin for high-end CPUs)
  • Molex Connector (older hard disk drives & optical disk drives as well as some high-end graphic cards)
  • Mini Connector (floppy disk drives)
  • SATA Connector (newer hard disk drives & optical disk drives)
  • PCI Express Power Connector (8-pin connector for high-end graphic cards)

PSU connectors
When choosing a PSU, don't be cheap. A good PSU will deliver stable and clean power. Look for affordability without sacrificing quality and the potential for future upgrades. Furthermore, when you’re choosing a PSU, look beyond the total output (e.g. 500 watts) and make sure it has a combined +12 Volt continuous current rating of 24 Amps or greater. If you are having trouble deciding what type of PSU you need, there are online power supply calculators that will give you a general idea on what to consider while selecting a power supply for the computer you are building (or upgrading).

What I picked

For the case, I choose the In-Win Z589T Black Steel MicroATX Mini Tower Computer Case. This case comes with a 350 watts power supply unit. The front I/O panel provides access to two USB 2.0 and two audio ports. The case has bays for two external 5.25" drives, an internal 3.5" drive and two external 3.5" bays. More importantly, this particular case has a screwless design for drive bays and expansion slots for convenient, quick installation of components without any type of screwdriver.

Even though the computer case that I chose came with a 350 watts PSU, I decided to swap it out with a Thermaltake TR2430W PSU. The PSU that comes with the case is decent but very basic. I usually prefer purchasing a more robust one than the stock models that come with some cases. The Thermaltake TR2430W not only is 430 watts but also includes industrial-grade power protections such as Over-Voltage Protection, Over Power Protection and Short-Circuit Protection.

How I Maintain My Sanity As An IT Manager

I must say that the past ten months as an IT Support Supervisor have been not only interesting but also a learning experience. Being in a management/leadership role requires a whole different set of skills than those required to for a strictly technical role. I love the challenge. However, there is also another level of stress that can go along with being in such a role. Fortunately, I have a few things that I do that helps better manage my stress levels, which allows me to better analyze situations and avoid making rushed decisions.

1. It's okay to say "no" sometimes
Did you know that "no" is one of the simplest words in the English language? Two letters and one syllable. However, it's the one word that many people in IT management have the most difficulty saying because it's viewed as not good customer service. I've seen many IT managers/leaders take on numerous projects and tasks to please their customers (and look good to the higher ups) without thinking things through as it relates to the workload and availability of their team. Blindly saying "yes" to everything without any forethought is not good. Whenever I am approached to become involved in a project or task, I try to put some space between the request and my answer to that person. This gives me time to learn how much work is involved and what resources are required before committing to something that might be much more than expected.

2. Have a good laugh
Don't take everything so seriously. If you take yourself too seriously, it can be hard to think outside the box and find new solutions to problems. I try to keep things in perspective and understand that many things in life are beyond my control especially the behavior of other people. Attempt to laugh at situations rather than complain about them. Sometimes looking for the humor in a bad situation can help improve your mood and the mood of those around you. Not to mention that laughter also has both physical health benefits (lowers stress hormones, decreases pain, relaxes your muscles) and mental health benefits (eases anxiety and fear, relieves stress, improves mood).

3. Take a break
Some people take smoke breaks, I take sanity breaks. You spend eight hours or more a day working. Take a moment for yourself whenever you can. Try to do it at least twice a day (morning and afternoon). Step away from the computer. Leave your office. Most important, leave your cell phone in your office. Go outside and breathe in some fresh air. Take a few minutes to stretch. I know colleagues who go sit in their cars just to get away for a few moments. I usually use that time to go for a short walk across campus and even recently started taking fifteen minute treadmill breaks.

4. Eat lunch away from the desk/office
All to often, we get caught up working on a project or task and don't want to lose that momentum so we grab something to eat (usually junk food) and continue working. At times, we simply just get our lunch and eat it in our office or at our desk as if we are forced to do so.  Even having lunch in the break room is not good because 1) people can easily find you and 2) people tend to carry on conversations about work while you are trying to eat. That's not good. There is nothing wrong with getting out of your office and getting away from your colleagues to enjoy your lunch privately. I am fortunate enough to be able to go off-site for lunch. When I get away for lunch, I find that I can really enjoy what I am eating without any unnecessary distractions. I also use my lunchtime to catch up on reading books on my Kindle.

5. Leave work at work
When I am at work, I am dedicated and committed to my job BUT when I leave for the day, I leave work in the office. I am a firm believer of keeping work and home separate. Over the years, I have seen supervisors/managers/leaders/directors work late in the office and then go home to work some more (why are you sending me emails at 11:30pm?). That is a classic symptom of a workaholic (which I admit I was many years ago).  For some strange reason, doing work at home AFTER work is viewed as being a good worker who strives for excellence. I view it as not having good time management skills during your workday. When you go home, do something other than work. Use your time at home to focus on you and the things that are important to you (family, friends, hobbies, etc.).