Five Nice Innovations in the Latest Windows Operating System (OS)

Windows Vista never quite caught on the way that Microsoft had hoped. The User Account Control (UAC) feature, which was supposed to enhance security by prompting users before allowing many programs to open, instead proved such an Microsoft Windows 7 Logoannoyance that users simply shut it off – leaving them more vulnerable than when they started. The “simplified” User Interface (UI), with its ribbons and tabs, mystified die-hard devotees of the old drop-down menu system. And the System Tray’s myriad of unused applets that acted, as one reviewer put it, “like belligerent squatters,” only added to the frustration (http://www.pcworld.com/article/172602/windows_7_review.html).

The Windows 7 OS, in contrast, has had a much more favorable public reception. Here are a few key changes that have reviewers cheering:

  1. Faster feel. Users find that applications in Windows 7 open more quickly, and they don’t spend as much time waiting for processes to complete.
  2. Libraries. It’s much easier to find documents in Windows 7. The new Libraries function in Windows Explorer lets you create a virtual location that can aggregate content from several locations at once. You can put network folders, SharePoint documents, and regular folders in your Documents Library, giving you quick access even to documents that are tucked away under several organizational layers.
  3. Easy switching between Wi-Fi networks. Just click on the Wi-Fi adapter in your system tray to bring up a menu of available wireless networks, select the one you want to connect to, and you’re done.
  4. User Account Control (UAC) without annoyances. You can now tweak UAC so that it’s actually helpful. Instead of just an on/off, where your choice is to be forever pestered by repetitive prompts or leave yourself open to the perils of the Internet, you can adjust the level of security you want. Two intermediate levels now exist between the “Always notify” and “Never notify” settings.
  5. A simpler System Tray. The big problem with the System Tray in Vista was that software installers could just dump applets in there without your approval. This led to cluttered System Trays and flurries of word balloons every time you accidentally moused over the area. In Windows 7, applets (except for the clock) don’t go directly into the System Tray; they land in a holding pen and have to be dragged to the System Tray. And they can’t float word balloons unless you permit them.

These are just a few of our favorite features in the new Windows 7.  Which ones do you like best?  Any improvements you hope to see in the next release?

How Do You Know When You Need a Better Process Management System?

Closing the loop. Dropping the ball. Falling through the cracks. Pick your phrase, but it all boils down to the same problem: tracking every process from beginning to end and making sure that somebody is assigned responsibility for every task. This is a particular challenge with IT issues, which are often dealt with on an ad-hoc basis. Is there a way to streamline and manage the way your company deals with computer problems, so that you can quit worrying about computers and start paying more attention to your business? You bet! Disorganized office

If any of these scenarios sound like something you’ve dealt with lately, you need a better tracking system:

  • An employee needs a new laptop, so they send the request to their manager. The manager sends the request to accounting, who says they need to fill out a PO and get executive approval. The approval sits on the executive’s desk for weeks, the manager assumes that the order has gone through, and the employee still doesn’t have a laptop.
  • Your in-house IT resource has a completely full slate of commitments. Then they have a family emergency and have to take a few days off — and that’s when your servers are hit with a denial of service attack.
  • You’re a manager trying to set next year’s budget. In order to find out how your employees have been spending their time, and where you should concentrate your investments going forward, you spend hours sifting through last year’s emails.
  • Your email won’t work, so you can’t send an email to your IT guy to have him fix it. Instead, you shout over to his cubicle and hope for the best.
  • A link is broken on your Website. Somebody mentions this to your IT manager, who mentions it to your outsourced Web guru, who’s too busy setting up your new blog to deal with it. Two weeks later, the link is still broken.
  • Your IT resource is so overwhelmed that you need to hire a second staffer — but first, you need to make the case to your boss. She’s demanding statistics, and all you have are a few anecdotes about how busy your IT guy is.

In all of these situations, the solution is a formalized system for tracking client requests, IT issues, and business processes. A system that keeps all stakeholders informed and closes the loop when the process is complete. A system that lets you see at a glance what each employee is working on. And one that lets you offload IT tasks to a third party when your in-house resource is overwhelmed or unavailable.

Organized office and filesA ticketing system lets you break down processes into discrete tasks that are then assigned to individual employees. It helps you juggle multiple ongoing tasks, ensure accountability at every step of the process, and make sure that tasks are distributed in a sensible and equitable manner. Most issue-based ticketing systems are designed around managing IT problems — but they can be used to handle a lot more than that.


Find out more about how to track and manage business processes at CMIT’s upcoming Webinar on February 25 at noon CST. Sign up here. Click here to register.

When You’re Running Security Updates, Don’t Forget About Software

After years of reminders to run system scans and update your virus and malware definitions, you may finally be performing these tasks with some regularity. However, while you’re busy installing updates to your browser and your security settings, make sure you’re not forgetting to update Adobe Acrobat Reader, Flash, and other popular software products.

McAfee recently predicted that in 2010, Adobe would surpass Microsoft as hackers’ primary target.  Click here to read the full article from McAfee.  Once again, popularity has invited the attention of crooks: Acrobat Reader and Flash are very common programs, which makes them low-hanging fruit for hackers. PDF-based malware, in particular, is on the rise.

The problem is compounded by people’s tendency to ignore or forget the need to update the many different types of software they have installed on their machines. This may be due in part to the mistaken belief that as long as they have their antivirus definitions up to date, they’re protected from intrusion. Add to this the fact that, historically, some hastily issued security patches from makers like Microsoft have caused as many problems as they were supposed to fix. Finish it off with a healthy dose of end-user skepticism about the legitimacy of spontaneous prompts to update your software, and you can see why many people still run outdated — and vulnerable — versions of common programs. To this point, Microsoft is releasing a record number of patches on February 9th, tying October 2009 for the most security bulletins released in a single month. You can read the full announcement  at PCWorld.com.

At CMIT, we carefully review all recommended software patches before rolling them out to our clients’ machines to make sure they function correctly. If you’re not on one of our managed services plans and are installing updates yourself, do some research before you take any action. Is there recent news on any of the tech sites about new vulnerabilities in the program you’re about to update? Does the update that you’re about to download come from a trusted source? Make sure you can answer “yes” to these questions before you proceed.

If you’re ever in doubt about whether to install a security patch or other update to Acrobat Reader, Flash, Internet Explorer, or anything else, go ahead and check with us. Chances are you won’t be the first person who has asked about it!

Is your small business struggling with a mile-long “To-Do” list that lets important tasks fall through the cracks? Do you feel out of the loop and wish you had a simple way to get an overview of your major projects? Have you ever had trouble closing the loop on purchase approvals, client service issues, or business critical tasks? Sign up for our FREE WEBINAR on Thursday, February 25th at 12 pm CST and learn how you can run your office more efficiently by keeping track of tasks and processes. Click here to register.

How Will New Airport Security Procedures Affect Business Travelers?

After the attempted bombing of an airliner headed from the Netherlands to Detroit on Christmas Day, many travelers were left wondering how (or if) heightened security measures would affect future flights. This question is particularly urgent for business travelers, who tend to travel farther and more frequently than anybody else.

Transportation Security Administration logoAccording to the TSA, increased checkpoint security may make lines longer for flights headed into the US from other countries. If hold a passport issued by, or are traveling from or through what the TSA describes as “nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest,” you may have to go through “enhanced screening.” However, the rules around what you can and can’t pack in your carry-on haven’t changed.

If you’re traveling domestically, you really won’t notice much of a difference. One new-ish development could signal easier traveling in the future: the TSA says that you do not have to take your laptop out of its case if it offers a clear and unobstructed view of your computer when it runs through the scanner. Some laptop-only sleeves can do this if they’re packed correctly, but most laptop bags don’t yet meet the standard. However, the TSA has encouraged laptop bag manufacturers to develop “checkpoint friendly” designs. You can read more about the TSA’s “checkpoint friendly” laptop bag procedures here.

Until the day arrives when you can just toss your briefcase onto the scanner and be done with it, here are a few tips for traveling with expensive, easy-to-lose electronics:

1. Make sure you’ve run a full backup before you leave. You might consider keeping all your important documents on your corporate file server instead of on your hard drive, in case your laptop gets lost. If you do opt to keep your files on your hard drive, make sure it’s password-protected and all your files are encrypted.

2. Invest in a biometric USB flash drive that requires an authenticated fingerprint to access files.

3. Remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to ensure that you don’t lose your laptop at the airport is to give yourself plenty of time at the airport and keep an eye on your computer at all times — a recent study showed that people most frequently lose their laptops at security checkpoints and at departure gates.

For more laptop travel tips, click here.

More Password Warnings: RockYou is Latest Victim

“Update your passwords.  Don’t use words.  Throw in numbers and punctuation.

You’ve heard it thousands of times, but I just had a discussion with someone yesterday where we BOTH admittedPassword Icon neglecting updating our passwords frequently or making them complicated enough to keep hackers at bay.

Here’s the latest news of a HUGE user account data theft.  RockYou is just the latest reminder that we’re not paying enough attention to our passwords.  Can you imagine what you could lose if someone had the password to your e-mail account?  Or your business financial records?  Or the information of all your clients?