Computer users are frequently faced with requests from already installed software to allow updates. While the basic update is usually important to the health and security of your computer, there are often additional items packaged with the offer that are unnecessary. These parasites add software to your system or tool bars to your browser that can harm, or slow down, your computer. For example, here’s an update request from Adobe Reader:
In this case, failing to uncheck the box to install the McAfee offer can cause additional virus protection software to be installed on your system. In most cases this will cause problems with your existing virus protection and could cause your system to be unprotected while the competing products argue about who will do the job.
Another frequent offender in this area is the Java update. As can be seen in the screen shot below, Java offers a “FREE Browser Add-on from Ask.” Unless this is a service that you need or will regularly use, it will just take up real-estate on your browser screen and waste resources that could be used for other tasks.
Note that in both of these examples the parasite software is pre-selected and will be installed unless you deliberately uncheck the box before proceeding with the update. There are now many similar offers that come clinging to software from both individual developers and sites that used to provide reliably clean downloads like Mozilla and CNET. Their new procedures require saying “No” to 3 to 5 additional offers anytime you want to download an application.
So, be on the lookout for these parasites! If you miss them initially, you can always go to your control panel and remove them. And in an effort to reverse this trend please email the distributors of these parasites with the request that they appear deselected by default.
If you’ve ever had to create a step-by-step instruction guide for a website or software for your staff, provide feedback on a design, log a bug report, or provide a short software training video, boy do we have a treat for you! Does none of that sound useful? How about a color picker? An on-screen ruler? A jet pack (just kidding).
Normally we’d be talking about several different software tools, some of which could cost $30 or $40 dollars, but this time, we're talking about just one: FastStone Capture. This is our favorite screen capture and general “Swiss Army” software tool. We’ve managed to get several of our Nutmeg Consulting staff members hooked on this great little piece of software and we wanted to spread the word.
What’s a screen capture tool? It is software designed to take a static image (screenshot) of what’s displayed on your computer screen. Sounds simple right? Some of you may even know that you can get a screen capture of your PC by hitting the “Print Screen” button on your keyboard. FastStone Capture, however, offers a rich set of tools and features that will allow you to capture, manipulate and publish that screenshot faster and easier.
First, here’s an overview of the basic capabilities. You can capture your entire window, a section of the desktop or smartly select any program window automatically. You can even take a screenshot of an entire webpage and FastStone Capture will scroll the entire page for you even though it’s taller than the visible area of the browser window!
The most obvious benefit of FastStone Capture appears when you create your first screen capture. The Editor window appears and gives you a choice of the most common functions you’d want when working with an image, you can make selections, crop images, resize, email or print your screenshot.
Here’s an example of an edge effect called “Torn Edges” with a drop shadow applied. Pretty snazzy!
Drawing and Annotation
Once you’ve got your screenshot cropped to the right size and added some edge effects, you can now draw or annotate the screenshot with text and simple shapes and outlines. Just a few of the possibilities are shown in the screenshot below.
Aside from the screen capture specific features, FastStone has a few helpful extras thrown in. Our personal favorite is the ability to record short video demonstrations. Like the screenshot feature, you can select the entire desktop, a specific area or an application window. You can even include a title slide that shows before the video; a great way to hint at the content of a video before watching the full clip.
There are a few other features such as a color picker (which lets you sample any color on the screen and provide its value as a hex or RGB code), a screen magnifier (great for zooming in on a part of the screen during a presentation), and a ruler to measure the distance in pixels between two items on the screen.
We hope you’re impressed with this tiny, but powerful tool. All the features spelled out in this article are available for FREE for a 30-day trial period and then just $19.95 for a lifetime license (which means any new releases or bug fixes are included).
Here’s the link again to download this great tool: http://www.faststone.org/FSCapturerDownload.htm. There’s even a tutorial guide you can download to help teach you about all the different features.
The following article lists three simple tasks that could speed up your computer. Please note that depending on the age/state of your computer and files, this may take anywhere from several minutes to a few hours to complete. We recommend doing it at a time you will not need use of the computer.
1.) Disk Cleanup: This removes files that are just taking up space and slowing down performance like Recycle Bin, Windows temp files and Temp Internet files. Typically, temporary Internet files take the most amount of space because the browser caches each page you visit for faster access later. So this should make some difference.
Click Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools, and then click “Disk Cleanup." If several drives are available, you might be prompted to specify which drive you want to clean. You would choose (C:).
In the Disk Cleanup dialog box, scroll through the content of the list of files to delete. Here you want to uncheck everything except what is safe to delete, otherwise you may have issues later. It’s safe to check Recycle Bin, Temp Internet Files and Web Content/Publisher Temp Files. Click OK. Then it will ask you to confirm, click YES. It will complete the disk cleanup and the dialog box will close.
2.) Disk Defrag: Disk fragmentation will slow you down because the computer has to search the hard disk as a file is opened in order to piece it back together. The response time can be significantly longer. To speed this up, you run a defrag on your system to consolidate fragmented files so they occupy a single space. This speeds up reading & writing to the disk.
For Windows 7: Click Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools, and then click “Disk Defragmenter.” (For Windows XP users: Click Start > My Computer > then right click *Hard Disk Drive C:, then click Properties on the menu that appears. In the next window, click on the Tools Tab, then click Defragment Now.)
In the Disk Defragmenter dialog box, click the drives that you want to defragment (again you will choose (C:) ) and then click the Analyze button. (You click Analyze to get an estimate of how long this will take.) After the disk is analyzed, a dialog box appears, letting you know whether you should defragment the analyzed drives.
To defragment the selected drive or drives, click the Defragment button. (Note to Windows Vista Users: Vista does not have a way to show the progress but your drive is still being defragmented.) After the defragmentation is complete, Disk Defragmenter displays the results. It is then safe to close any open windows.
3.) Repair Disk Errors: This tool checks your files that are stored on the hard disk for errors. These errors can make it slow/impossible to save files.
Make sure you close all windows! For Windows 7 & XP: Click Start > My Computer and then right click on (C:) and go to Properties. In that window, click the Tools Tab. Click CHECK NOW. Then in the Check Disk dialog box, click SCAN FOR AND ATTEMPT RECOVERY OF BAD SECTORS box and then click START. Once done, if bad sectors are found, choose to fix them.
**We would recommend these steps be done by an experienced user or IT professional.
There can be many reasons beyond our control why after we send out an email, it might get bounced back to the sender or refused by the receiver. However, there are a few causes that the sender can easily check and correct. First, your browser’s spell check function does not usually work with the email address. Check the spelling of the whole email address. Look for letters that might actually be numbers like 1’s (ones), l’s (L’s), 0 (Zeros), and O’s (Oh’s). Also look for punctuation that you may have missed, like a period between first and last names (firstname.lastname@example.org). Finally, make sure that you have the address suffix correct. It is easy for our fingers to type .com out of habit when the ending is .biz, .net, etc.
Some other issues that might derail your email are: a) the attachment of a file that is too large, b) the attachment of a file that ends in a suffix considered suspicious by vigilant virus protection software or c) the filters that stand between us and the recipient. Most email systems have a hard upper limit on the total size of the files that can be attached to an email. Also note, the total size of an email includes the text, any images in the signature, the stationary, and any attachments. Check with your email service provider for the size limit on files you can send. Some providers (AT&T’s mail services for example) offer plugins that can be used to attach larger files or send them to an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) server.
While these limits affect the outgoing side of your email, there may also be limits placed on the receiving end that will cause your email to bounce or to arrive with the attachments stripped away. Most email boxes have a size limit for individual pieces of incoming mail. If you are having a problem getting an email with attachments to a particular address, try sending it without the attachment as a test. If the test arrives it is likely that the attachment is causing the problem.
Another issue that can cause an email to bounce is sending it to a large number of recipients. The way to get around this is by sending the email “To:” yourself, but “BCC:” (blind carbon copy) everyone you want to receive the message. Each BCC recipient will get their own copy of the message and spam filters will skip the “too many recipients” check.
Finally, there is also a limit for the total accumulated size of all the email you have sent and received. When you approach the limit there will usually be a warning email sent by the system that indicates how much space you have left in your mailbox. At some point you will get a warning that you cannot send or receive any more mail until you make room by deleting or archiving older mail. If you delete email to make room, make sure you also empty your deleted items folder so that the storage space is actually freed up and made available again.
Using these tips, you can take control of the options available to successfully send and receive your mail.
This article was written by Al Grimm, Sr. Techinical Analyst at Nutmeg Consulting.
So, you want to talk about scary? Think about your personal information traveling through the world wide web for anyone to see, or worse, to use! A recent topic covered with some of our customers touched on the importance of client security and confidentiality. Being in an electronic age, it is even more imperative now to protect vital information and keep it private. This pertains not only to our own information, but to client and customer information as well!
Let’s talk encryption! Encryption is basically the process of converting information into a code and creating a key so that only the person with the key can decode it. There are a lot of tools out there that will help you do this, but we have a favorite pick that we wanted to share and recommend which is called AES Crypt. A few reasons we prefer this tool is because it is open source (free!) and multi-platform. Multi-platform is important to those who may be using a Windows PC but need to send an encrypted file to a Mac OS user. While a lot of free encryption programs cannot do this, you will have no issues doing it with AES.
You can download the software at: http://www.aescrypt.com/download.html. To download, you will need to choose the preferred package for your system from the links listed on the left hand side of the site.
Now, let’s say you have a file that has sensitive identifying information that you want to email to someone else. All you do is RIGHT click on the file/icon. This will bring up a context menu that lists different actions. You will choose (left click) “AES Encrypt.” A new window will pop up asking you to set a password for your encrypted file. Once you set the password, you will see a second copy of your file. The duplicate file will have the extension “.aes”. So for example, if your original file was a .pdf of a report, you may see the following:
The second PDF is the encrypted file that you will want to email as you can see the “.aes” extension on the end of the file name.
Most importantly, when using this type of encryption, you will need to either verbally give the password to the recipient of the file so that they can open it (recommended), or you will need to send the password via a different medium, such as a text. Please keep in mind that Personal Protected Information (PPI) should also be restricted from attachments. Even when taking precaution, there is always a risk that someone with the right knowledge could obtain the information you are trying to protect.
Nutmeg Consulting’s laptop solution of choice is the Lenovo ThinkPad and in honor of the recent 20th Anniversary of this product line, we thought we’d put together a top 5 list of our favorite things about this modern classic of computing.
Spill Drainage under the Keyboard - We’ve all spilled or nearly spilled something on our laptops. With the drainage holes built into the ThinkPad line, it’s no longer a certain disaster as this video shows.
Screen Hinges Built Like a Tank - One of the most common failure points in laptops. The Lenovo series has large, strong metal screen hinges that stand up well over time. We use refurbished laptops for our training room and the hinges are as stable now as when new.
Built Military Grade Tough - Lenovo laptops meets most of the Mil-Spec benchmarks even in a non-ruggedized version, details here.
A Long and Stable History - Originally the ThinkPad was built by IBM in 1992, Lenovo purchased the brand in 2005. Its design was originally based (somewhat surprisingly) on a Japanese Bento box and has not had a significant visual change since it’s creation, sporting the iconic boxy design, all-black finish and high build-quality.
Less Shovelware than Competitors - Most manufacturers install lots of useless programs on their laptops, slowing down the machine and often degrading the user experience. While Lenovo does include a few bits of software it’s developed in-house, it’s much less than it’s competitors. We, however, tend to disable the “ThinkPad access connections” software they provide because we find the Windows networking configuration works more reliably and simply.
These are just a few reasons that the ThinkPad is our laptop of choice at Nutmeg Consulting, and If you decide to make one your next laptop, we’d be happy to help you deploy and maintain these fantastic laptops. You can learn more about our mobile workforce and monitoring and maintenance services at Nutmegit.com.
Here at Nutmeg, we learn lots of great technical tricks of the trade. Today, we’d like to share with you a quick tip on how to easily upload files to Facebook or email without having to save the document to your computer first! Here’s a great 2 minute tutorial video from Senior Systems Analyst, James Buckley.
When everyone wants to be out at the beach or enjoying vacation, it is a lousy time to pick up a summer cold. While we are thinking about our own health it is a good time to consider the health of our computers and networks.
Nutmeg has the opportunity to interact with many antivirus tools as we work to support our customers across the state and beyond. The successful implementation of our new LightSwitch product on 50+ workstations and servers has given us a fresh perspective on this important network resource.
As soon as workstations begin to interact with one another and access content on the internet they are exposed to a dizzying variety of threats. Many vendors provide useful tools to help reduce the danger of infection and the disruption it can cause. With the many connections in and outside our networks it is easier to pass along computer infections than it is to pass on the summer cold.
At Nutmeg, we are always on the lookout for good value products for our customers and in this article we are going to briefly review 2 FREE antivirus / malware tools that we often recommend.
Windows based PC’s are the most commonly used computer in work environments. Microsoft provides a free resource for keeping your computer clean called Microsoft Security Essentials. The licensing from Microsoft prohibits installations on servers or in offices that have more than 10 computers. Microsoft updates the virus definitions for Security Essentials at least daily. It is important to remember that your computer needs to be on to download new definitions and also for the scheduled scan to run. Set your system to do a full scan at least weekly during hours when you will not be using your system but you will remember to leave it on. There are several other free virus protection tools available and PC Mag has recently published articles for both Windows and Apple machines.
Another free tool that we often use is Malwarebytes. Malware is different from a virus in that it often comes packaged with another product that the user intentionally installs on their computer. However, many of the offers we receive via email or advertisements (for software, toolbars, updates, etc.) come bundled with additional baggage that may be installed accidentally. These added items are usually designed to track our internet usage and report it to vendors so they can send offers tailored to our interests. Some people are actually OK with this as a “cost” to using the software they downloaded. The problem with “malware” is not just with privacy but the fact that they are often programmed with hacks and tricks to circumvent the security measures you’ve installed on your computer in order to achieve their goals. When this happens, it makes your system more vulnerable and sometimes the hacks they employ cause your computer to react slowly, lock up, crash applications, etc. Malwarebytes will help to identify and remove these additions that can compromise security and degrade the performance of our computers. PC Mag has a detailed article listing their top picks of anti-malware tools for 2012 here.
One important thing to remember when tackling a virus or malware problem is that the infection is often able to prevent the installation of an antivirus or malware cure. In this case it may be necessary to work with the computer in “safe mode” or to use a tool that runs from outside the system. When faced with these kinds of problems or if you suspect you may have a virus or malware infection, the Nutmeg Help Desk is ready to assist you. Call 866-721-4647 or email us at Help@Nutmegit.com. To prevent other kinds of infection in the office make sure to clean your keyboard, mouse, and phone with a disinfectant wipe on a regular basis and have a healthy and refreshing summer!
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