Suffering with slowPCitis? – Help is here!

Why is my office computer so slow?

For those of us that work in offices there is one constant companion, the office computer. The work PC. It’s part of your landscape, shares your desk with you, greets you every day and waves goodbye at night.

But it can grow to hate you! You might scream – why is my office computer so slow? But inside it’s secretly crying!

(Sad Panda is mad, mad at his office PC!)

It turns out that as well as having feelings our computers need to be cared for. There are many different schools of thought on how best to keep a computer running well. Ours is no secret and is here for you to use!

Cleaning

Cleaning a computer is easy. But you might not have the ability to do it if your computer network has been secured. If it has then you’ll have to ask your IT Department or IT support provider to assist.

Here at Technology Simplified we recommend a good PC clean at least quarterly. We will provide it as part of our managed service.

But for now you just want to clean it don’t you?

We use the following software;

CCleaner
Malwarebytes
ADWCleaner

These three will actually do a little more than clean the PC, they’ll also help you with spyware.

You can go ahead and install and run all three. With CCleaner run it until it’s not able to find any more junk, same with it’s registry cleaner. Once you’ve run them you can remove them!

There are different opinions on cleaning software. This article from How-To-Geek suggests that they’re a scam. But over time the software mentioned above seems to provide an actual improvement so we keep using them.

Disk Clean-up

Another powerful tool is included within Windows. The disk Clean-up wizard. Hold your Windows key and tap the R key. Type in the following “cleanmgr” (no quotes) and hit enter.

You should get a window pop up called “Disk Clean-up : Drive Selection” and you can click on OK assuming it’s showing your C: drive – most PC’s main hard disk is “C”.

Once it’s done it’s scan you will see a list of things that can be cleaned. Tick them if you want them gone. (Authors Note: Avoid Compressing your OS drive – it can hurt not help speed!) For extra clean click the “Clean up system files” button and repeat

It’s worth mentioning at this point that if your hard drive is full – the PC will be REALLY slow. Chances are if that’s the case you might need to invest in a larger drive, or you seriously need to have a spring clean!

Your temporary files folder could be full of junk. If you hold the Windows key and tap R, type in “%temp%” (no quotes) and hitting enter, then deleting all you can from that folder that may give you some space back.

Defragmentation

This might sound like an industrial mining technique but it’s actually another great way to speed up a slow PC. Windows has software built in to do this but we like to replace it with Defraggler.

Not just because the name is cool, but Defraggler actually gives us some additional features that make it just a bit better!

Best advice we can give for this job is to download, install and let it run overnight. If you’ve not defragmented your PC before then the first time will take a while.

If you must know, defragmentation is a process of reorganising the files on your disk into a much cleaner and faster layout. ALL PCs files will become fragmented over time.

IMPORTANT : If you have an SSD hard drive you SHOULD NOT defragment it. The technology is different so defragmentation isn’t needed. If you do it could reduce the lifespan of the drive. Defragger offers SSD owners an option to optimise their drive instead, so use that.

Programs

Get rid of anything you don’t need. Many programs are installed that are hardly ever used it’s possible you could just have a few unwanted items lurking on your PC. Unfortunately many programs that now “offer” extra stuff, our cleaners up there? Even those try to force you to have a copy of Google Chrome if you don’t have it.

(Authors note: I do not have a copy of Google Chrome on my computers – but that is a whole other blog post for another time!)

You can also reduce the number of programs that automatically start with Windows. But that’s not quite as potent as just removing the junk in the first place!

If you want to disable programs from starting with Windows right-click the taskbar and click Task Manager. Then click on the Start-up tab. Anything you see in that list you want to stop starting just right-click and disable.

Desktop

I recently worked on a PC that had 30GB of data on it’s desktop! The owner complained that it was a “bit slow” loading. Your desktop is not your documents! If you can, really try not to stash too much on the desktop. Create folders elsewhere and use shortcuts.

The Nuclear Option

If you have tried all of the above and STILL your PC is slow then you might have to consider upgrading.

If you have an older style hard drive a quick win for increasing speed could be to upgrade your hard drive to an SSD drive. These can give slow PCs a massive boost.

But we’re not talking about that today. I’ll post on how to do that later!


Make IT work better for your business

Would you like some tips on how to make technology work better for your business? Then you’re in the right place!

Information Technology is a massive set of tools and many of these help out our businesses.  Just using them without any real understanding or direction will make them over complicated.

You’ll see elsewhere on this website about how just putting something in place and using it equals it taking over your life!

The key is in understanding – but who’s got time for that?

So this big long list of suggestions for keeping IT simple is not to replace a lack of knowledge. Nor is it telling you what you have to do.

It’s here to give you some starters.

We’ve tried to organise the page in sections.

And, of course, if you’d like to know more about anything here please get in touch

Contents

Email

Network

Server

Equipment

 

 

 

 

 

 





Email

  • Sort your email into folders.
  • Use mail rules.
  • Archive email manually.
  • Use shared mailboxes.
  • Consider a management solution like “inbox zero”.
  • Delete attachments when no longer needed.

 





Network

  • Keep your network really simple.
  • Have as fast equipment as you can justify the cost of.
  • Put IP addresses on everything.
  • If extending/creating new overspec requirements

 





Server

  • Use document redirection on your server
  • Keep folder names short
  • Don’t use too many subfolders on network shares
  • Use as few network shares / folders as possible
  • Don’t be tempted to weaken security

 





Equipment

  • Do you really need that item?
  • Have a long think before leasing a large format printer
  • Budget for replacements yearly
  • More expensive might mean it lasts longer
  • Ugly is not the same as slow
  • USB sticks are deadly to security
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Better productivity – don’t use wireless

I don’t hate wireless.  In the same way in that I don’t hate the cloud.  Or giving “users” administrative rights.  Or not training staff on how to use IT equipment or software.

Wireless is a great technology that can have several really productive uses, but I find putting your absolute faith in a technology sets you up for a larger risk of failure.

I’ve just spent a couple of days using a computer with a wireless keyboard and mouse.  When I started I used new, working, batteries.  The keyboard has been rubbish.

I checked the batteries, they’re good.  Checked the contacts, good connectivity. The keyboard is approximately six inches from the transmitter.  Changed batteries, changed USB slots, dis/reconnected.  Even turned it off and on again.

The problem is that the keyboard just drops out when typing. And if I don’t use for a bit it it’s slow to pick up when I start typing again.

I just moved house, and had to quit with the wireless keyboard and go box-diving to find a keyboard with a “tail”. And now I’m back at full pace.

The problem is the keyboard just isn’t that good, it was a cheap set I got to use with a media PC, it was never great, but it was only used occasionally.  At least the mouse works!

And there’s the productivity issue – yes, it looks neat, no cables littering the desk but the downside is if the thing locks up, is slow to respond, and causes gaps in work well that’s not good.

Multiply that by the number of people who have problems and it’s starting to hurt.

I have a similar issue with wireless networks, if you’re working with large files or lots of online content then using a network cable will just improve the situation so much it’s worth the hassle of the cables.

There’s no disputing the whole reliability and speed of wireless has improved but not to the point where it can be as trustworthy as a good old cable.

We seek productivity in business don’t we?  But do you value neatness or appearance over it? Certainly experience has taught me that staff members that have tech issues that don’t get sorted in short order tend to lean on those issues which in turn means a productivity hit.

I don’t know about you but I like to keep things simple.

THE BEST PASSWORD EVER

There’s a lot of writing online about passwords and a lot of experts will give you differing opinions on what constitutes a good password, in this blog I’m not going to tell you what the best is, but I will share with you some of the worst I’ve seen.

If we’re talking about a traditional Microsoft network there are a number of settings related to passwords that can be adjusted.  How often it’s changed, how complex it needs to be, if you can reuse old passwords, and more.

System administrators are often asked to adjust settings to allow more simple passwords and often they do as they are asked. We should not.  You shouldn’t have it too easy.

People instinctively feel that complex passwords are better and forcing a password change regularly is a smart move.

But is it really?

There is a school of thought that suggests the more complex a password the more difficult it is to remember it.  I’ve seen many crimes against complex passwords, post it notes stuck in obvious places, or scribbles on desk pads. More complex means less likely to be remembered without help.

Century College offers some advice on creating a complex password; Between 8 and 128 characters, Use at least 3 of the following types of characters:  (a) uppercase letters, (b) lowercase letters, (c) numbers, and/or (d) special characters, password must be unique and cannot be re-used.

If you force users to make their passwords too complex they will change their approach to remembering them, take more risks, use more post it notes.

What about regularly changing passwords though, surely that’s a good idea?

Not really.

Studies show that people tend to use something familiar merely changing it a little at a time. Social Engineering experts use this to, very often, correctly guess your updated password if they are able to figure out your pattern.

Don’t use the name of your company. The location of your work. Your dog or kids name. Your birthdate.  The word “password”, or “123456” or “qwerty”, or the absolute worst – NO PASSWORD AT ALL!

(I have personally seen all of those in use at one time or another)

Using the following site http://www.passwordmeter.com/ you can test a potential password. Except I’m ultra cautious, so I’m never going to type an actual password into it, I’ll just test something along the lines I might use and see.

But a good mix of the rules above generate a password that can still be memorable but will be pretty strong and moreover give a password cracking app problems as well.

JUST REMEMBER – if you have a non-network connected device the password cannot be changed other than on that device. Forget that password at your peril.  This is where the advantage of a client/server network helps!

The above is a good illustration of how just cranking up the levels is not always the best deterrent.

GCHQ has issued guidance on how to best protect your systems, they do not recommend overly complex passwords, but that system administrators look at alternative options such as monitoring logins for authenticity.

As part of our Security Simplified service, Technology Simplified employ a 2FA solution. This provides an extra layer of authentication enhances network security.

We insist upon this for ALL client server access but this can also be rolled out to individual users and devices for an even greater level of security.

Whilst not the best password ever it’s a significant improvement over the standard configuration.

If you’d like to discuss your corporate security in more detail or to know more get in touch via email or call on 01726 247257

Windows 7 problems accessing shared folders?

The January 2019 Windows Update rollup (released January 8, 2019 – KB4480970) has left some Windows 7 users frustrated and unable to access shared folders.  The issue is also affecting Windows Server 2008 R2.

If you are currently using Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008R2 then you might find problems with your network shared folders after installing this rollup patch but also suffer issues with RDP and other connectivity.

The issue, which can also be caused by a smaller security patch (KB4480960), can leave users with errors attempting to reach shared folders. The cause appears to be tweaks made to security settings on the host machine.

There are unsupported work-arounds being suggested, but the best option, for now, is to uninstall the two affected patches which _should_ make things work normally again.

In the past this sort of thing would be picked up if you operated a test environment. Sadly, these days, very few people take the time (and £££) to maintain such a thing and the first many of us know if when something breaks.

It is also a good rule of thumb to allow Microsoft patches a little while to mature, just in case this sort of thing happens.  But not too long to leave systems potentially open to abuse.

For now, simply log into the affected machines (you do have a local admin account right?!) and remove KB4480970 and/or KB4480960 before rebooting and you should be aok again.

If you don’t have a local admin account, or you’ve forgotten the details and need some help drop me a line, I have some magic tricks up my sleeve to save the day!

Via email or call on 01726 247257

Hacking the details – Marriot Hotels

On Friday the news broke about the massive “data security incident” that the Marriot Hotels Starwood reservation database suffered.  A database of some 500 million records.

In September an internal security tool detected an attempt to access the database, and after an investigation it was discovered that unauthorised access to that database had been in place since 2014.

Varying amounts of data were contained within the database, but it’s not hard to work out what this data will contain.

In the industry there is a method of storing credit card information called PAN. Primary Account Number is a process for reducing the risk of fraud by truncating the information that is stored – usually limiting the storage to the last four digits of a card number and expiry date.

You can see this in action on many till receipts.

A new bit of information for me, at least, was to learn that hotels routinely keep hold of a customers full credit card details in case they attempt non-payment.

One downside of the Data Security / GDPR rules is a lack of clarity on what is considered an appropriate length of time to retain customers details.

All companies, regardless of size, have to take responsibility for the safe storage of data and in this instance (as well as others of a similar nature) there will, justifiably so, be hefty fines to contend with.

In June 2018 Dixons Carphone reported an incident to the ICO and some news outlets suggested that they might avoid a larger fine (in the region of £17 million) because they would be investigated under the old Data Protection regime which meant a maximum fine capped at £500,000.

New GDPR rules allow a maximum fine of 4% of turnover or 20 million euros, whichever is higher.

In one of the updates on incident the ICO suggested that it was early in the investigation and until the exact dates of the incident were understood no determination had been made if the punishment would be per the 1998 or 2018 version of the act.

A later update revealed that the size of the incident had been confirmed to have affected 10 million records “which is significantly higher than initially stated”.

On revenue of £10.5bn (as in 2017) this would mean a potential maximum of fine of approximately £420 million.

In it’s 17/18 annual report the ICO notes that Dixons Carphone were fined £400,000 for a separate incident that occurred in 2015.

We are, of course, talking about massive numbers here, but the security considerations are similar for all businesses just on a different scale.

Security is a serious concern, and it’s crucial to get it right.  There are many nuances that need to be considered when putting together appropriate security for a company – clearly a good monitoring system is one of significant importance.

Consumers should be protected from fraudulent purchases made on their cards but this is assuming they are aware something is even amiss.

It’s a tactic of fraudsters to not grab thousands of pounds in one hit rather to take small amounts out regularly so as not to arouse suspicion.

You’d like to think we all pay close attention to our outgoings on a regular basis.

But then four years without being aware someone has full access to your database of 500 million records when you’re a 22.894 billion (2017) turnover company what hope is there for the rest of us?!

Our Security Simplified service provides a series of security solutions for SMEs that are based around the concepts of ISO 27001 that aim to protect businesses both internally and externally.  If you have any security concerns or would like to discuss your corporate security in more detail please get in touch.

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A high level of IT literacy

Ben Lobel writes in his piece on the IT skills shortage that private sector employers struggle to hire due to a shortage of skills in the marketplace.

His article speaks about jobs in the Industry but the tech skills shortage is an issue across the board.

Everyone these days has that line (or similar) on their CV/application; “highly IT literate” – but are they?

During the course of my work I see many different people operating IT equipment and many different levels of skills.  Not all as perhaps advertised.

All of us who drive earn our driving licence but that does not automatically make us all good drivers.

In fact the inverse is true.  Just because you have a licence.

The same is very much true of IT equipment.  A little knowledge is dangerous indeed.

Ben’s article goes on to suggest that employers need to do more than just offer a salary, and it’s true, they really do;

Corporate culture, a cool place to work, perks, and training are some of the more popular things that can attract the right people.

In my own research the concept of training comes up time and time again.

Some people are scared of technology, some don’t want to learn it, some simply think they know better.

In nearly all of the cases I’ve been invited to (and some I haven’t – shhhh) the best way to improve these situations has been just to give individuals a little 1 to 1 time focusing on the main issues.

It can often be remarkable a transformation.

The most recent successes has been around the change to Windows 10.

For various reasons I’ve recommended clients remain using Windows 7 until such time Windows 10 had evolved to a point it was useable.

That meant there were many staff members with a lot of “upgrade anxiety” and often half an hour exploring the new software with a few transitional tricks thrown in was enough to smooth over the change.

Isn’t that so much better than just throwing a new computer on a desk and hoping everyone’s IT literacy skills get them through the transition?

Businesses seem be resistant to providing training.  But in many cases just giving a little attention and a few real world “tricks” is enough to give the confidence to crack on and dig in.

No great big training spend or complex days off/seminars, a little attention goes a long way.

(And, of course, Technology Simplified clients can provide their staff with some one to one technology confidence sessions to ease the technology pain!)

Ben’s post – http://smallbusiness.co.uk/it-skills-shortage-continues-to-impede-businesses-2502901/

 

Popup blockers – evil tool of anti-establishmentarianism types or simply better browsing?

I’ve been accused of several things over the years, nothing too serious I think, but enough random oddness to make me chuckle.

One thing I was recently accused of was being disrespectful to companies that have paid for adverts on websites.

Because I use a popup blocker.

I disagree.

I would not buy anything just by seeing it advertised on a website.  I’m a geek.  I research. I ponder. I spend literally hours checking and double checking if, what I’ve decided to buy, is what I really need.

Sometimes I have to actually stop myself taking too long over things.

Fortunately it’s more of an issue for personal purchases, I can reign it in in a business situation a lot more.  And that’s not to say I rush things, but I can condense the process.

Now I accept that companies have paid for adverts in most cases.  And I also accept that by blocking them I am reducing their effectiveness.

But consider it from my perspective.

My duty is partly to make things run smoothly. To try to help staff work easier, better and with less stuff that puts them off.

I’ve attached two screen grabs to this – one is looking at a website with no blockers, and the other is with an ad blocker running.

The difference is obvious.  And since many of the ads include animation or video content it’s equally as awful to load and browse as it is to look at!

My instincts as a technology guy are interfering with my need to be marketed to.

I occasionally get asked about social media access in the office.  Want to know what I usually say?

You sure?  You probably won’t like it.  (It’ll become a blog post at some point no doubt!)

Block it!  Or restrict access to it outside of core hours.

Unless you’re a company that needs to have its staff accessing stuff like that it’s entirely within your remit to prevent access.  Just as we’d prevent access to other types of content.

If you’ve never known a filtered internet connection before you should ask a teacher what their systems are like!

So ads.  Yes.  I accept the fact it’s often paid for.  But looking at those screengrabs you can see how some sites are littered with them.  And those ads are a drain on resources as well as internet bandwidth, far more than you might think.

I have to use multiple browsers as part of my daily work, this is so I can remain logged in to certain accounts, my time would be impacted so much if I had to log out, log in as someone else, log out, someone else, all day long I think I’d go mad!

So trust me when I tell you that using the wrong browser on the wrong website can literally bring even a brand new PC to a standstill.

And so we must block.

A recommendation?  Sure.  Try uBlock Origin.

It’s a fab little product and it’s totally free.  Even the basic install starts to be effective straight away, no configuration needed.

It’s a true killer app.

But now it’s even starting to protect from malicious code. And that just makes it even better.

So I’m sorry if you feel I disrespect companies by blocking their adverts.  But it’d probably be enough to put me off a supplier based upon how hard they market me.

Do you ever look up companies online?  See any reviews?  Does that put you off?

It’s the little things that stick in our brains that influence our choices.  And since we all have the freedom to choose then that’s up to all of us how we operate.

I’ll keep operating with fewer ads.

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More bad reviews or just faulty tech?

We will get to some technology blog posts at some point I promise!

I wanted to talk, again, about Google reviews, partly because they’re pertinent but also because it’s currently something I’m deep down the rabbit hole of since I’m rebranding the company.

I’d quite like some touchscreen phones in the office. Why? What amazing business improving reason do I want them for?

They might look quite nice on new desks!

Now that’s the honest answer, but there is a method in the madness. A properly organise touch screen phone can be a really useful thing, imagine how the majority of mobile phones work these days – also with a properly setup CLID phone book the bright colour screen gives benefits.

I like the Ubiquiti UniFi UVP Touchscreen phones, a bit pricey but they will give the functionality I’d like and they do match my brief of looking good in the office.

Here’s the rub. Check out the Google reviews;

Link to reviews

TLDR: An average of 3.2 out of 5 stars.

On first glance not good is it?

Going back to my previous blog on this subject this is one of those considered purchases I was talking about, unlike comparing takeaways, this is a more expensive purchase and something that needs a little more thought and research.

This one of the things that makes a technology upgrade live or die. If it’s fit for purpose;

I want something that looks good, but I also have reasons beyond aesthetics to why I want a large colour screen phone. So this handset seems to be a perfect fit.

But for that rubbish review.

That rubbish review drops the average score too, it’s painfully destructive.

Until you read it.

“Unusable as a phone” Sounds like there’s a serious problem with the touch screen. And as a rule that’s a hardware issue which really ought to be covered by warranty.

Until you dig a little further;

There are numerous threads on the Ubiquiti Networks forums about calibration issues, and on a device that is almost unusable without it’s touchscreen that’s a problem. But it seems there are buttons on the device that allow you to run certain processes, but it’s not a simple user task.

In one really unfortunate post it’s mentioned that over 90% of these handsets have had this problem causing the poster to lose their job!

Without being 100% certain it does seem as if the company are offering to swap out units, even in some cases when out of warranty, to get them working again.

An expensive strategy. But potentially this is proof there is, or has been, a defect in these units.

They’re still being advertised on the companies website, and due to consumer protections laws we can sometimes eke out longer warranties if necessary but it’s not ideal.

You look on their site and they talk about a disruptive cost for the features. I’d argue there is a risk of a greater disruption if you wind up having to swap several phones out due to this problem.

I’d still buy them, but I wouldn’t recommend them to clients, and that is the very definition of buyer (or reseller) beware in my mind.

Will keep you posted on the handsets, if I feel brave enough!