Thursday, December 26, 2013

Keeping Your PC Safe (2013 Holiday Edition)

Many people are getting new computers for Christmas, and the concern about antivirus always comes up.  New computers typically come with a trial version of some antivirus or internet security software.  Unfortunately, many times people allow these to expire and never purchase or install something else.

There are lots of good free antivirus programs out there, so no reason not to have one installed.  Please be aware, if you are going to install a free program, you should first uninstall the trial version that came with your computer.

If you are using Windows 7 (or previous) I would suggest Microsoft Security Essentials -- it is a good, lightweight antivirus, and does a decent job of protecting your computer, all for the low cost of $0.

If you are using Windows 8, please be aware that Microsoft Security Essentials has been replaced with the built-in Windows Defender.  It is my opinion that Windows Defender alone is not sufficient for most people.  For Windows 8 users, I would suggest the free AVG Antivirus Free 2014 program.

For all PC users, I would also recommend the following 2 programs to help with computer security.

CCleaner -- is a utility to remove temp files and other unnecessary files.  Lots of malware place themselves in temporary directories, so this program indirectly helps to keep your computer safe by removing them.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware -- is a great anti-spyware program, and does an excellent job of finding and removing files that may compromise the security of your computer.  The free version works just fine, but note that during install it will ask if you want to start a trial of their pay-version (if you don't make sure to select appropriately).

Using MSE or AVG antivirus along with CCleaner and MBAM will help keep your computer safe and clean.  For most people, this combination will suffice.  For people who are using this and still find themselves getting compromised or infected, I then usually recommend Kaspersky (which is a paid product).

Note that you should not use file-sharing programs such as Limewire, Frostwire, or Bittorrent -- many shared files contain malware infections.  (Lots of computer repair jobs I do are caused by this).

Watching Your Movie Files With An Apple TV

If you have an Apple TV, you can use a computer on your home network to stream movie files to your television.

First, you will want to add the movie files to your iTunes library (on the computer you are going to use to share your media).  In the iTunes preferences, go to Advanced Preferences and make sure Copy Files To iTunes Media Folder is unchecked (assuming all of your movies will be on an external hard drive).  Then, click on File - Add Folder To Library and browse to the location of your movies folder.  Depending on how many movies you have, this could take a significant amount of time to process.

Once this process is complete, you will want to enable sharing of your media library.  Back in the iTunes preferences, go to Sharing and make sure Share my library is checked.  You can choose to share only certain things (such as Movies) or everything, and you can also choose to password-protect your shared media.

This method is an older method known as "Music sharing" -- nowadays, using "Home Sharing" is a much simpler method.  Here is a guide on how to configure (it basically just involves turning it on, no complex setup needed).

Once this is done, your computer is now set up to share out your media library to your Apple TV.  Keep in mind that your computer and Apple TV will need to be on the same network, and the computer will need to be powered on whenever you want to stream your media.

All About iTunes and iCloud Accounts

Lots of my friends and family received new iPads and iPhones for Christmas this year, and the question has come up a few times, how to go about sharing iTunes accounts, or what is the best way to handle in a family of multiple people.

First, to differentiate:  there are two types of accounts we will be talking about here- iTunes Store Accounts, and iCloud Accounts.  Both of these are "Apple ID" accounts, but for the sake of clarity, I'll refer to them by these names.

iTunes Store Account -- this is the account you use when making purchases in the iTunes store.  A single iTunes Store account can be used on up to five computers (Mac or PC) at a time.  This is done by authorizing the computers via the iTunes program.  You can actually use the account on up to ten devices (five of which can be computers).

iCloud Account -- this will be the account used for iCloud, iMessage, and FaceTime.  Note that it can also be used as an iTunes Store Account -- and if you are a single person using the accounts on your own, the best method would be to have one account for everything.

If you are trying to share accounts between multiple people (husband and wife, mom and son, or a family of several people) then you would want to do the following.

Set up a single iTunes Store Account -- with a password that everyone will need to know.  This will be the account used for making purchases in the iTunes store (apps, games, music, etc).  That way, if I purchase content, my Wife can also (re)download it (at no additional charge).

Set up a separate iCloud account for each person.  This account will be used for iCloud features, such as photo stream and backing up your contacts and notes to the cloud.  Additionally, it will be used for iMessage and FaceTime.  Each person will need their own individual iCloud Account.

For the most part, iCloud should take care of your backup needs (you can purchase additional online storage if needed, but it gets expensive).  You can also sync and backup to a computer you own (and it is a good idea to do so).

Sharing an iTunes Store Account amongst family members makes sense, and ensures you are not purchasing items multiple times.  Having separate iCloud accounts, however, makes everything much simpler and avoids complications that could arise when sharing services associated with it (such as iMessage).

If you have any questions, please post in the comments and I'll do my best to answer.


The First 9 Things You Should Do When You Get A New iPhone

How To Manage Multiple iOS Devices While Sharing One Apple ID

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Stardock's Start8 -- A Start Menu for Windows 8

For those of you using Windows 8 and not liking the new interface, there is a great app to bring back a start-menu type interface. I started using this and really like it:

I am usually a big advocate of adapting new technologies, and the new tiles on Win8 are pretty nice if you are using a touch interface (such as a tablet or trackpad). Not so much on a traditional desktop computer, or like I use, in remote sessions.

I started using this on my work computer and am very happy with it. There is a 30-day free trial, and if you decide you like it the app is only $3.99

I have read you can use it on Server 2012 too and am really looking forward to trying that out (do you have any idea how hard it is to make the "charms" bar work in a vSphere console on a machine you are accessing via RDP?!?!)  

Sunday, November 17, 2013

What To Do If Your Phone Is Lost Or Stolen

Lets be honest, the contents of the average person's phone nowadays is at least as important as the contents of his or her wallet/ purse.  We live in a digital age, and many of the things on our phones and tablets are very important to our normal lives -- things like photos, email, contacts, just to name a few.

So what happens if all this is gone in a flash?  Its not something I hope you ever have to deal with, but if your phone is lost or stolen, you should already have a plan in place, instead of being in a panic and adding a ton of stress to your life.

One thing I always suggest is to set up an account over at Wallet Garden -- here, you store the info about what is in your wallet (or phone) and what to do if it goes missing.  You don't store things like credit card info here -- only the name of the card, and the phone number for customer service to call.  You should save the info about your phone (service provider, serial number, and customer service number to call) so everything is available in one place.  That way, if your device (or wallet) goes missing, you can borrow a friend's phone to get online, look up your info quickly, and call to get things locked down.

In addition, you should have your phone properly backed up and secured.  With Apple's iPhone you can use the iCloud service to back up your device, or back up locally to a computer you own.  You can also set up "Find my iPhone" which will allow you to locate your device on a map by logging in to the iCloud website.  None of this is good however, unless you set up a passcode lock on your phone.  If your phone is not locked, a thief can simply turn these features off.

The first thing that you should immediately do is to call your mobile service provider, and have your account put on hold.  Even if you have enabled locking/ tracking on your mobile device, a thief can take your SIM card out of your phone, put it into another handset, and rack up lots of charges.  One thing they do is to set up a -900 line that they own, and call it, making a huge bill that is charged back to you.  Do not postpone this step -- if you cannot find your device, or think it was stolen, do this right away -- even if you are fortunate to find your phone, it is a small inconvenience to deal with vs. the possibility of those huge charges that you may end up having to pay.

The next thing you should do is to change your passwords on things like email, bank accounts, and service providers such as Apple iTunes.  Even if you do have your phone locked properly, it is best to take this step to ensure you are protected, and your device can no longer access your accounts.

After you have taken these preliminary steps, you should file a police report if you believe your phone was stolen.  This will assist you in getting the phone recovered (if possible) or filing an insurance claim if applicable.  Note that even if you can track your phone, you should never attempt to recover it yourself -- let the authorities handle it.

With the holidays now in full swing, many people are traveling and spending time visiting with friends and family -- not a good time to deal with a lost or stolen phone!  So make sure to follow these tips, for in case the unfortunate happens, you are protected.

Friday, August 23, 2013

New Computer- Recovery Discs

In the past when you purchased a new computer, you were provided with a set of recovery discs- CDs or DVDs that could be used to restore your machine to its factory condition.  These discs are essential for repairing a computer.  Most of the work I do is either to remove malware, or to replace a failed hard disk.  Without the recovery discs it is often very hard (or impossible) to legally get your computer back to its working condition.

Nowadays, I've seen a trend with newer computers- manufacturers no longer include these recovery discs for you; instead, they want you to burn your own disc sets.

The problem with this is that spending 1-2 hours burning a set of recovery discs is often the last thing on a person's mind when they open up that shiny new computer.  Some of the computers will post alerts, reminding you to burn the discs, but the alerts can be disabled (and often are) - and then it is forgotten about.  That is, forgotten about till the computer is brought in to me for repair.

If you have not burned your recovery discs, not all is lost- if the computer is a recent one, chances are the discs can be ordered directly from the manufacturer.  In fact, if the computer is still under the factory warranty, they will often provide them for free or for a small shipping/ handling fee.

The best thing to do is to go ahead and burn your recovery disc set, and keep it in a safe place.  The process is time consuming, but pretty simple.  Often you have the choice of creating your recovery media on CDs, DVDs, dual-layer DVDs, or on newer systems even on a USB Flash Drive (thumb drive).  Generally, I use regular old DVDs because they are cheap and reliable.

Regardless of the method you choose, you will want to keep your recovery set in a safe location.  Especially since, now some of the manufacturers will only "allow" you to burn a single set of recovery media.  Why would they put this restriction in place?  I honestly don't know, but it really does upset me.  What happens if the owner loses the original recovery disc set?  Or the discs get scratched or cracked?

Because of this, what I've started to do for newer computers is to create an image set of the recovery discs and save it on the C: drive of the computer.  (I create a folder called "Recovery Discs" and save the image files to there).  The really awesome (and free) program ImgBurn is a great tool to do this.  Once I've burned the recovery disc set to DVDs, I then use ImgBurn to create image files (ISOs) of each disc.  That way, if I need to burn an additional set in the future, they are there and waiting for me.

This is, of course, a lot of extra work, but may save someone $30-$40 later on in life (vs. having to purchase a set of recovery discs), and may save the life of a computer that may not have been able to be repaired otherwise.

In conclusion, it is very important to make sure you have a working set of recovery discs for your computer.  It only takes 1-2 hours to do (most of which is waiting) and a few dollars worth of blank discs (or a cheap thumb drive), but could save you lots of money (and peace of mind!) in the future.  Creating recovery discs is part of what I do for new computer setups, which I generally charge $30 for.  So if you are not comfortable doing this, feel free to send some business my way :-)  (in addition to the recovery discs, I do a lot of optimization, install security software, etc).

Thanks for reading!  any questions feel free to post in the comments and I'll do my best to answer.