Tech Tip: Should I Upgrade or Buy a New Computer?

Should I Upgrade or Buy a New Computer?

Well, it depends – mostly on who you’re asking! A department store salesman will always recommend a new one, but when you get down to the nitty gritty with a trained technician, you’ll often discover you have more (and cheaper) options than you thought.

Start by taking stock of what you’ve got. Sometimes an upgrade simply isn’t worth the trouble and it’s painfully obvious. For example, if your car is 30 years old, demands a constant supply of special fuel and you can see the road whizzing by thanks to the ‘custom’ holes in the floor…it’s time to replace the rust-bucket! However, if your car is decently modern and in reasonably good condition but happens to stall at stop signs, a few quick fixes can be just what the mechanic ordered.

If your computer does need to be replaced, chances are you already know this. But if you’re not sure and some days it could go either way, this will help. We’ve put together a walkthrough of the most common upgrades and the impact they’ll have:

Video card upgrade: It might not be your computer that’s getting old. Instead, games are getting more and more demanding. The days of stick-figure animations are gone and lifelike 3D is the new normal. With that improved experience comes a huge strain on your computer’s resources. If you have a gamer in the house, you can often super-power your computer with a single component – a new video card. For hardcore gamers, it’s actually a necessity, as some new games refuse to install if the video requirements aren’t met. Love smooth animations and responsive gameplay? We know all the best games out now (and in the works) and can match you with the right video card.

Hard drive upgrade: New hard drives are a popular option, both in size and speed. Running out of space is less of a problem now, but speed is a major concern. You’ve no doubt sat there twiddling your thumbs and urging a file to hurry up and copy. Many upgrades are to an SSD (Solid State Drive) that has zero moving parts and can find/transfer data in a flash. They even make booting up lightning fast! And you’ll have the choice of keeping your old drive for general storage, complete with all your existing data.

Memory/RAM upgrade: Some cheaper computers are underpowered from day 1. In truth, most of the ones in the department store could use at least an extra 4GB of oomph!  Sometimes though, even a great computer falls behind as new applications come out and need more resources. Adding extra memory can revive your existing computer and set it up for a couple more years of happiness.

Where to draw the line: There are other upgrades such as the CPU, which is basically the brains of the computer; and the motherboard that all the parts plug into…but once you’re in that territory, it really is time to go for a full replacement. You’ll save money by getting a computer that meets your needs and can grow with you.

Is your computer letting you down? Give us a call at 0800 4 VETTA to help you with upgrading or selecting a new computer

Tech Tip: Why Do People Create Viruses?

Why Do People Create Viruses?

You’d be right in thinking it’s hard to program a computer virus that can spread across the world in a flash – we’re talking days of constant desk-jockey nerd-work.  So why do they bother? Well, it generally comes down to 3 reasons: Money, showing off their skill, or to simply being a jerk. While showing off or being a jerk is pretty self-explanatory, the money side is fascinating.

 

Here’s how people are making money with computer viruses:

Bank account theft: Virus creators are more than happy to help themselves to your bank details, sneaking in to grab your login details or credit card info. They can either transfer your funds away or use your credit card details to go on a shopping spree. Sometimes they’ll leave the fun to another person though, and simply sell your details to the highest bidder.

Ransomware: Rather than a financial snatch and grab, sometimes a virus will encrypt your files and demand money for the unlock code. Without a true backup plan in place beforehand, you’re at their mercy. You’ll be given very helpful information on how to pay, plus a firm deadline before your files are destroyed permanently.

Ad swappers: A cheeky technique, this is when they create a virus that either puts annoying ads on websites you visit, or places affiliate codes on pages so that when you buy something legitimately – eg, from Amazon – they get a percentage as a ‘referral fee’. Their kickback doesn’t make your purchase cost more and you may not even know you’re supporting their activities.

Bitcoin mining: You might have heard of digital currencies being used for payment, but did you know you can also earn them with your computer processing power? Unfortunately, ‘renting’ out your computer’s processing power means paying more in running costs than you’d make – unless you were very clever and sneaky, and used a virus to rent out other people’s computers.

Botnets: Certain infected computers can be remotely controlled to do whatever the virus creator wants. In this case, they’ll usually set the infected bot computers to overwhelm a target web server, like an e-commerce store. Sometimes it’s done as revenge, but more often it’s blackmail. The ‘Botmaster’ says “pay me thousands of dollars or I’ll crash your site during the biggest shopping day of the year.”

Account stealing: Subscription accounts like Netflix and Hulu are often hijacked, leaving you to pay the bill for someone else’s entertainment. But sometimes, virus creators go one step further with online gaming accounts. All those digital items that you fought so hard for (special clothing, weapons etc.) can carry real world value and be stolen from your account and sold on a black market. Yes, that’s cheating!

Give us a call at 0800 4 VETTA to make sure your computer is secure and protected.

Tech Tip: Boost Your Email Impact with These Smart Strategies

Boost Your Email Impact with These Smart Strategies

 

Most small businesses rely on email as their preferred form of communication. Either internally or externally to clients, customers and suppliers, email is the go-to format we’d be lost without. Our love affair with it is no surprise – it’s quick, simple and provides a paper trail. But its convenience doesn’t always mean relaxed. In fact, poor email communication can hurt your reputation and cost you customers. Here’s how to be smart with your business email:

Manage your inbox: Your inbox is only for items you still need to access. Once you’re finished with an email, you should delete it or archive it. If you were to imagine your inbox as physical letters, you’d never let it grow to a 6-foot high stack of chaos. Instead, you’d either throw them out or do the filing. It’s not hard to identify which ones to keep for reference, so create inbox folders to sort them accordingly. As emails arrive and are actioned, move them to the relevant folder or the delete bin.

Write professional messages: Stepping across the line from casual to careless is easy if you skip the basic elements of good business writing. Grammar will always be important and the sentence structure of your language hasn’t changed. All email programs include a spell-checker, many of which draw attention to errors immediately, so there’s really no excuse. Typing in all CAPS is seen as yelling, and breaking your text into paragraphs makes your message so much more readable. One last thing before you click send, quickly glance over your email to make sure your tone is appropriate and no mistakes have snuck through.

Embrace the subject line: Many emails are missed because the subject line was empty or meant nothing to the receiver. Writing these attention-grabbing nuggets can be tricky, but if you simply summarize the message, you’ll do fine. Just remember to keep them under 5-8 words so they fit on mobile displays.

Be smart with attachments:  Keep attachments small – under 2MB – as they can clog up the email server. For larger attachments, share the file location as a link using cloud storage.  When you’re sent an attachment you’d like to keep, save the file and then delete the email. And as always, be careful with unexpected attachments, especially from unknown senders. It’s more important than ever to scan all attachments with an antivirus before opening.

Keep your CC/BCC under control: The carbon copy (CC) and blind carbon copy (BCC) let you send the email to additional stakeholders, more as an FYI than anything else. As a rule, use BCC if you’re using an email list or privacy is an issue. But before you add extra people to the email, make sure the email IS relevant to them. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a pointless email chain!

 

Call us at  0800 4 VETTA for help with your business email.


 

Tech Tip: 7 Bonuses for Small Business in Office 365

7 Bonuses for Small Business in Office 365

You’ve seen all the ads for Office 365. They’re popping up on your desktop, your employees are sending you meaningful looks, and clearly, it’s not going away. You’ve probably even jumped online to see what all the fuss is about. But is Office 365 a necessary upgrade for your small business? The answer is yes. It’s more than a refreshed set of tools, it’s an efficiency and productivity powerhouse. Here are 7 spot-on reasons why small business owners should upgrade now.

  1. Data security is built in

Office 365 was created with data security at its core. The built-in compliance and security protocols mean your cloud storage is safe, and you can control access so your valuable data remains exactly where you want it. Storing your data in the 365 cloud keeps it safe in case of emergency, with 1TB of storage per user included at no extra cost.

  1. Ditch the licensing drama

Software version differences can be a real nightmare in a small office. Not every system can do the same things, and half the time, they can’t even open the same files. It quickly becomes a hodge-podge of workarounds and lost time. Office 365 includes site-wide licenses with upgrades at the same time.

  1. Mail storage for real people

Not everyone lives in the land of inbox zero. In fact, most people tend to leave messages in their inbox forever. Occasionally we’ll do a quick clean up, but only when the alert comes in that the mailbox is full. Meanwhile, new emails from customers may be bouncing away with the old ‘mailbox full’ message. Eek! In Office 365, your employees can communicate without worrying about storage space.

  1. Better time management

Every person in your business is juggling meetings, emails and contacts – usually across multiple platforms. Office 365 brings all those elements together, integrating seamlessly for more efficient time management. Contacts updated via mobile while offsite are automatically updated across all connected devices. Meetings scheduled in an email are added instantly to the calendar. You can even access files from any device, edit on the run and then back in the office, simply pick up where you left off.

  1. Predictable costs

Forget about planning (and delaying) those costly upgrades. Office 365 has small business covered. You can choose a plan based on your unique needs and change at any time. You can even add or decrease the number of users as you scale and streamline. It’s so easy to fit Office 365 into your monthly budget while knowing you’ve got the very best and latest in small business software.

  1. Work on the go

The days of fiddling with private network and security settings are over, thanks to Office 365. You don’t even need any special IT skills or extra software. Users can now securely access their files from home, during their commute, or in meetings for on-the-fly impressive presentations. Got an internet connection? That’s all they’ll need to squeeze productivity out of every day.

  1. Stay up and running with no downtime

A whopping 25% of small businesses shut down permanently after flood, fire, crash or cyber-attack. With Office 365, all your data is stored in the cloud with built-in backups for redundancy. No matter what happens, your data will be there, letting you stay up and running – and always ahead of the pack.

If you are ready to take your email to the next level, give us a call on 0800 4 VETTA

Tech Tip: Why is the Computer Running so SLOW?

Why is the Computer Running so SLOW?

Woah, who slammed on the brakes? Your computer used to speed through startup and let you open almost everything at once, but now it’s struggling to crawl along! Everything takes so much longer or crashes without warning. Something isn’t right. If it’s gotten so bad that you’ve found yourself drooling over the idea of a new computer, even though your system isn’t that old, we’ve got some good news:  you can get your whizzy speeds back with a little TLC.

Computers generally start slowing down within 12 months, but it’s not because their parts are broken. And it’s not because they’re faulty. It’s not even because you have so many browser tabs open that you lose count. Slow computers have a number of causes, but the most common ones are easily fixed.

Background programs

Whenever your computer is turned on, it’s running programs in the background. You didn’t start them and they may not be essential to operation, but off they go anyway. You can’t even see some of them, they don’t have windows or anything to look at.  A good example is your antivirus program. You don’t need to see it all the time, but you know it’s running in the background, protecting you. Over time, more and more programs might slip into the background and casually suck up your resources, like iTunes helper, Acrobat updater, Cortana listening, Skype or Spotify.  We can speed up your system by setting these background programs to run only when you need them, or remove them completely.

Application bloat

How do you improve last year’s version of a program? Add more features! The problem with this is the applications become bloated with features you may not need (or even know about), but that keep needing more and more resources. Each time the developers review their programs, they assume you’ve bought the latest and greatest computer and can run whatever they release. This means a slow computer can sneak up after an auto-update. You may not even know the update happened, just that your computer is suddenly making you very unhappy. Eventually, your system grinds to a halt. We can remove unused applications or increase your computer power as required.

Slow hard drives

Your data is stored on a part called the hard drive. It’s usually a mechanical type that works like a record player, with a spinning platter and a ‘needle’ reading it. If your data is spread out across lots of places on the platter, the hard drive head ‘needle’ has to go backwards and forwards thousands of times just to retrieve a single file. Unsurprisingly, that takes more time to bring up your file. We can optimize your data to give the hard drive head a break, but an even better solution is to upgrade to an SSD. That’s a Solid State Drive that stores data in memory chips, like your USB drive, and has no moving parts. Without the physical need to move a hard drive needle, your computer can access data much faster.

Unfortunately, once your computer starts slowing, for whatever reason, the problem only gets worse. The background programs will continue to multiply, the bloat keeps coming, and the hard drive begs for relief.  Rather than buy a whole new system though, it’s completely possible for your current computer to go back to being lightning fast – and for a fraction of the cost.

Would you like us to give your computer a new lease on life? Give us a call at 0800 4 VETTA

Tech Tip: 4 Simple Tips to Keep Your Internet Banking Safe

4 Simple Tips to Keep Your Internet Banking Safe

Online banking has boomed in the past few years to become the new norm. Branches are out and apps are in. Half the time when you visit a branch, you’re steered towards a computer for a DIY transaction – with optional assistance.  But is internet banking really safe? You’re always told to keep your financial details private, but now also to jump on board the online banking train – talk about a push/pull scenario! The good news is you CAN bank safely online with a few simple precautions.

Always type in the website address

Many attackers will attempt to trick you into clicking a fake link to your bank website. Usually sent as a ‘phishing email’, they’ll claim there’s a problem and ask you to click through to your bank and correct it ASAP. The link points to a fake website that looks almost exactly like your real bank site and is recording your private account info. You can avoid scams like this simply by accessing your bank by manually typing in the website or using a bookmark.

Avoid public computers and networks

Jumping onto a PC at the library or mall might seem like a quick and easy way to check your account, but public computers are often targeted by scammers. In just a few moments, they can install keyloggers to record usernames, passwords and other private data, then sit back as all future user details are emailed to them. The same problem applies with free, unsecured Wi-Fi. You’re better off using an ATM or a data-enabled smartphone.

Use a strong password with 2- factor authentication

Create a unique password for your online banking, something you’ve never used anywhere else. Mix up words, numbers and symbols to create a complex password that can’t be guessed easily. Avoid giving attackers a head start with data they can find on Facebook, like kids names, pet names, birthdates, etc and really think outside the box. And of course, never write it down anywhere near your wallet, phone or computer. If remembering is likely to be an issue, you might like to consider a secure password manager app. Many banks will also help boost your security with two-factor authentication, sending random codes to your phone (or a special LCD device they provide) to verify any activity.

Check page security before entering data

Finally, take a micro-second to spot the small padlock icon before you enter any data. You’re looking for a padlock appearing as part of the browser itself, not just an image on the webpage. It will be either in the bottom corner or next to the URL. The address will also start with httpS:// instead of http://. If you don’t see these things, the page is NOT secure and you shouldn’t log in.

Need some help securing your system against scammers? We can help. Call Us at 0800 4 VETTA

Tech Tip: How to Make Your Photos Last A Lifetime (and Beyond)

How to Make Your Photos Last A Lifetime (and Beyond)

 

Digital cameras are great, and thanks to smartphones, we have one with us almost all the time. We’re taking more photos than ever before, and building a lifetime of digital data. But despite the enormous value of these photos and videos, most people don’t have a backup. It’s time to shine a light on this essential task and make it a regular habit before those precious memories are gone forever.

If you asked someone what possession they’d save from a house fire, most would say photos, and they’d make a point of grabbing a frame or album on the way out. But with digital photos, you don’t need a fire to lose everything, they could simply disappear in the blink of an eye with hardware failure or theft. There’s no warning, no smoke alarm, and without a plan already in place, no chance to recover the data. It’s time to get set up with a true backup system.

 

Is one copy enough?

You might think saving your information to an external hard drive or flash drive is enough. You’re right, it’s better than nothing, but since the data is stored in only one place, this isn’t a backup – it’s just storage. That drive could fail at any moment, perhaps from age, malfunction or plain old theft.

Often enough, that drive even becomes lost over the years, put somewhere ‘safe’ and promptly forgotten! And with the way technology is moving, accessing that data in 5 years might even bring up compatibility issues – some newer computers don’t even have CD/DVD drives, yet hundreds of thousands of homes would still have photos stored on a disc.

Two copies?

You might have your extra storage drive as backup and keep a copy on your computer. This is a better solution, and how most people store their data, but it still isn’t enough. While you’re protected against device failure, that house fire is going to take both copies up in flames. Thieves would probably grab the external drive while they’re bundling up your computer too, so again, you’d be left with zero copies. It’s close, but it’s not a true backup system.

The rule of three

We subscribe to the backup rule of three. Just reading this may sound like overkill, but tech is fragile and device failure is a constant risk. We recommend keeping one copy on the computer/device, another on an external drive, and a third copy as last resort tucked safely away in the cloud. The cloud backup can be fully automated so you don’t even need to worry about remembering to do it. If the day comes that you need your data back, it’s ready and waiting in perfect condition. Cloud technology also means your data is far away from any potential fire or flood, it’s secure and with the right provider, guaranteed against loss.

 

There’s a saying in the IT industry: “There are two kinds of people: those who backup, and those who have never lost all their data”. No matter what the cause of your data loss, it always has a deep impact, particularly when it comes to precious data. While re-creating some homework or the family budget might just be inconvenient, there’s no way to recreate photos once they’re gone. It’s a loss that hurts for a long time, but it’s also so very avoidable.

If you value your data, give us a call at 0800 4 VETTA to implement a well-rounded backup system.

Tech Tip: Everything You Need to Know About Facebook Privacy

Everything You Need to Know About Facebook Privacy

Finding the balance between Facebook privacy and Facebook fun can be challenging. It’s a double-edged sword that allows us to connect with friends no matter where they live, but it also publicly shares information that just a few years ago, we’d never dream of putting online. You can search for people based on where they went to school, town they live in, clubs they belong to, who they’re related to…but when is it too much?

Your birthday is the first piece of info collected when you sign up, and it’s great getting birthday wishes from friends and family when it appears in their newsfeed. But while Facebook is sending you balloons and funny memes, your birthday is now public knowledge. It seems harmless, but when you call your bank or other institution, what’s the first question they ask to verify your identity? Your birthday! Some password recovery systems even ask questions like ‘which high school did you go to?’ assuming this is knowledge that only you would know. Except…you’ve just publicly shared it on Facebook. Whoops!

We’ve all heard stories of people who’ve lost their jobs after less-than-wholesome pictures or statements have gone public. If you have a reputation to keep, you definitely don’t want pictures from last weekend’s private party showing up, especially if you really let your hair down. While you can’t control what others do with photos they take of you, you can control whether or not you’re tagged in them.

Fortunately, there are settings in Facebook that allow you to control who sees what information and what happens when you’re tagged. Despite what you may have heard or seen floating around in a Facebook share hoax, you do have complete control over your Facebook privacy, and it’s easy to adjust.

 

How to Check and Adjust Your Facebook Privacy Settings

  1. See what your account looks like to an outsider

From your Facebook homepage, click your name on the blue bar at the top of the page. Click the three dots next to ‘View Activity Log’ and then select ‘View as…’

  1. Run a quick privacy checkup

Click the question mark in the top right corner and choose ‘privacy checkup’.

Think about what you really need to share – do people need to know the YEAR of your birth or just your birthday? Your friends will still get the notification, and you’ll still get the balloons.

  1. Edit advanced privacy

While the checkup covers the most obvious info, you can go much deeper. Click the V-shaped dropdown to the right of the question mark. Go to settings and choose privacy.

  1. Adjust timeline and tagging

In the privacy settings, you can explicitly control who can tag you, who can see or share the tagged content, and what shows up on your newsfeed.

Tightening your Facebook privacy only takes a few minutes, but it can save you a whole lot of trouble in the future. If you need help with this, just give us a call at 0800 4 VETTA.

Tech Tip: When is Your Business Ready to Move to the Cloud?

When is Your Business Ready to Move to the Cloud?

By now you know that the cloud isn’t going away any time soon. In fact, cloud computing has become a natural step in business growth, thanks to the numerous (and continually growing) benefits. More and more applications are coming out in web-based form and staff are exceptionally comfortable with this type of change. So when is the right time to move your business computing to the cloud?

Many businesses are facing this question now that cloud computing has become a mainstream norm. After all, you’ll be able to roll out new apps in days, not weeks, and nobody ever says ‘no thanks’ to increased security and efficiency.  Like any strategic business decision though, timing is everything.  Here’s how to assess your need before you make the switch:

  1. Age of servers and workstations

If your workstations and servers are reaching their end of life and a large capital investment is coming up, you’ll be able to minimize the expense by moving to the cloud. You may even be able to skip certain upgrades completely. Your staff will still need devices to access the cloud data, but you’ll have a lot more flexibility in your choice and they won’t need to be as powerful. This can be a huge cost saving made in just moments.

  1. Need for remote and mobile access

Many businesses are growing while on the move, with a mobile workforce needing to access files from anywhere at any time. This could range from moving around the one location, between offices or even working from home. Forget frustrating connections and lost productivity, cloud computing allows staff to work securely and efficiently from any location with internet access.

  1. Current support setup

If your business currently outsources all your network management, you’re perfectly suited for the move to cloud computing. Network maintenance and monitoring becomes a non-issue, handled 24/7 as part of your cloud service. Network efficiency just keeps rising too, as your cloud provider is always improving their systems. You’ll find problems are fixed before you knew they existed, and server downtime becomes a thing of the past.

  1. Need for predictable IT costs

If it feels like IT costs can spiral out of control at times, challenging your budget and patience, cloud computing will seem like a dream come true. When you make this shift, you’re moving from a capital expense to an operational one – server and system replacements are no longer your concern. You’ll be able to budget for IT costs in advance, knowing no blowouts are hiding around the corner. Monthly costs are known and (usually) capped based on what you use, leaving your cash flow much relieved.

Today’s cloud computing is more advanced, secure and priced more competitively than ever before.  At its core, cloud computing is purely about doing things better, and it can have a massive impact on your profits, productivity and even staff satisfaction rates. If your business requires a robust, always available infrastructure with easy monthly costs, it’s time to take a serious look at your cloud computing options.

 

We offer a variety of cloud services to help your business. Give us a call at 0800 4 VETTA to discuss how we can improve your business IT.

Tech Tip: What is the Cloud? And Where is it?

What is the Cloud? And Where is it?

There has been a ton of talk about the cloud. Cloud this, cloud that. But what actually IS the cloud? It’s okay if you don’t know, most people don’t understand it and even some tech people tend to wave their hands towards the sky when trying to explain it!

Since it actually has nothing to do with the white fluffy things in the sky, let’s lay it all out:

Cloud computing is about storing and retrieving your data (personal or business) within your own piece of the internet. It’s so you can access it from anywhere, just like you do a web page, and it won’t matter if your office is closed and you’re squeezing in a little work on your phone at midnight. Everything will be saved and ready to pick up when you get back to your desk. Colleagues in different locations can even collaborate on documents in real time.

If that all sounds a bit futuristic, think about how an email service like Gmail works. None of your emails are actually being stored on your hard drive or device, they’re stored on the Gmail server and you can access them anytime you like.

Your read/send/receive changes are applied instantly, remembered for next time you log in. This is a form of cloud computing. So is Netflix, where you can stream movies and TV shows on demand. All the video is actually stored on a computer somewhere else in the world and sent to your device in tiny pieces as you watch it. Netflix remembers what you watched, where you got up to, and even if you’re hopping immediately from one device to another, it still has it all ready to go.

Where is ‘cloud’ data stored?

Good question. And it’s why the term ‘cloud’ causes so much confusion. The data absolutely must be physically stored somewhere. Companies who offer cloud storage have huge warehouses dedicated to holding servers whose sole job is to send and receive data all day. And by huge, we mean HUGE.

You could get lost walking the rows of servers, just box after box for what seems like forever. The biggest server farms or ‘cloud campuses’ are still growing, but to give you an idea: they can be upwards of a million square feet (about a hundred thousand square meters). It’s big business, literally.

In terms of location, the US and UK are popular server farm locations, but the company could also have copies of your data stored elsewhere in the world. This is so they can fulfill their redundancy guarantees – if disaster hits one location, the other still has a copy.

Having additional locations and copies also increases the speed of access. With some companies, you can choose your preferred location so that data doesn’t have to travel quite as far across the world, increasing speed even further, which of course, saves time and money. Collaboration, security, redundancy, AND savings? We’d call that a win.

 

Ready to take advantage of cloud computing? Give us a call at 0800 4 VETTA.