Category Archives: Hardware/Software

Beware of ‘Sneakware’

Have you opened up your internet browser recently only to find that there are two or three new toolbars installed?  Or perhaps there are new icons on your desktop and you have no idea where they came from?  This is Sneakware.

Companies are being paid to sneak their software on to our computers.  These are not small firms just trying to make a few extra bucks when you download a trial version of their game.  Now there are big firms doing the same thing, companies like Java, Adobe, and Yahoo.

Each time you update Java now it will try to load Google Chrome and the Google toolbar.  Installing the Yahoo toolbar brings with it four or five other programs that will interfere with your browser.

To prevent this we must all break a long held habit.  While you are installing software or updates, you have to pay attention to and read the license agreements.  Not every line and detail but enough to make sure you are agreeing to install only the software you want.  Read the text next to any radio buttons or check boxes.  Gone are the days when you could just click past all of these screens to get what you want.

This phenomenon will only get worse.  These companies are being paid for each program they can install on your system.  I am sure it pays well because we are seeing it more and more.  Paying close attention when you are installing a product will save you a lot of frustration in the long run.  Beware of Sneakware!O365 banner2

Office 2013 vs. Office 365

You may know by now that Microsoft is ending its support of Office 2003 as of April of this year.  This news may have many of you looking at the replacement software and getting confused in the process.  Microsoft has changed the marketing of Office so we have more flexibility in our purchase.

Office 2013 is still available in the traditional boxed form.  There are several versions from a Home & Student version with a MSRP of $139 to a full business version called Office Professional 2013 with a MSRP of $399.  As you go up in price you increase the number of products and features available.  All of these versions are licensed to one machine only, and the license follows the machine.

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The new delivery method Microsoft introduced is called Office 365.  This is a subscription.  There are several versions of this available from a home premium version priced at $99 per year to several business versions ranging from $12.50 to $20 per user per month.  As an incentive Microsoft has included definite advantages to Office 365.

It is licensed to the user and can be loaded on up to five devices.  Say you have a salesman in your company who has a pc at work, one at home, a laptop, and he just got a new tablet at Christmas.  Instead of shelling out the cost of 4 copies of Office 2013, the subscription allows him to install Office 365 on each of his devices with the same license.

Office 365 also is available to the licensee in the form of fully functional Web Apps.  If you are a subscriber, the Office suite of products is available to you wherever you find a system with an internet connection.

There are many other advantages to the Office 365 product and Microsoft goes into great detail on their website.  I hope this brief explanation clears up some of your confusion and allows you to make a more informed buying decision.

Upgrading Now Could Save Money and Pain

Every once in a great while, circumstances combine with government to actually help small business.  Right now many of you are faced with upgrading your computer hardware because Microsoft will be eliminating support for Windows XP and Office 2003 in April.  Not only will you need to upgrade your hardware but, possibly the software you use to run your business.  However, there is good news if you act before the end of the year.  It is called the Section 179 deduction.

Earlier this year, as a part of the economic stimulus package, the government adjusted the Section 179 deduction for both the tax years 2012 and 2013.  What this means to you is that you may deduct the entire purchase price of any qualifying equipment placed into service during 2013 up to $500,000.  This includes technology hardware and most software.  This means you don’t have to depreciate the cost of these items over the years.

Of course, you will need to consult your accountant for details on your own, personal tax situation.  But this deduction could take the sting out of having to spend money on the upgrades you need.  The catch is that the items must be put into service during the 2013 fiscal year.  For most of us this coincides with the calendar year, so you have less than two months to act.

The other reason to act quickly is the fact that we can still order systems configured with Windows 7.  We have found that much of the software packages written for specific industries do not support Window 8 as yet.  Even if they do, upgrading straight to Windows 8 may cause some frustration on the part of your staff.  The shifts from Windows 95 through Windows 7 were relatively easy.  Things may have a slightly different name but they were in the same place (e.g. the control panel, or windows explorer).  Windows 8 shifts to a whole new design called the Metro look.  Programs are now called apps, and are in tiles, not lists.  You can place things on a desktop, but the familiar Start button no longer functions the way it did in previous versions.

If you have a staff that may be resistant to change, or is not “tech adaptable”, act quickly and stick with Windows 7.  By making your purchases now, you can save yourself some money in taxes, and save yourself some headaches in the transition.

The Subscription Model for Software: How It Will Soon Affect You.

The subscription model for software has been receiving a lot of buzz in our industry lately.  Yet, this is not really a new thing.  You have probably been using this model without ever realizing it.  Think about the antivirus packages we have all used for years.  You purchase a package, be it Norton, McAfee, Kaspersky, AVG, etc., and you get the antivirus protection and essentially a subscription to any updates to either the program or the virus definitions they develop.  Netflix is another common example.  It has been used from the beginning, anyone remember AOL?  It was a subscription.

Now this model is being deployed for business applications, and not from companies you have never heard of.  Adobe, with their Creative Suite, and Microsoft, with Office 2013, are adding a monthly payment option.  This may help many small businesses with their cash flow.

office2013Let’s consider the example of Office 2013.  You have the option of paying $399.99 (Staples price) for the full version.  This gives you the license to install and use the product on one machine.  Or you could go with the subscription model.  For $15 per user per month, (or $12 per user per month if you pay annually), you get the full package, and license to load it onto five separate devices per user.

I know this is a little confusing, let me try to explain.  You will need a separate license for each user.  Each user can install their license on five devices.  If you have an employee who does some travelling, for instance, they can load the same Office onto their office desktop, their laptop, their home desktop, and their tablet.

There are some advantages for the consumer in this deal.  Any updates are, of course, automatically installed.  So are any version upgrades.  As long as you have the subscription, Microsoft provides the latest version of the software to you.  If they release Office 2015, you are automatically upgraded.  Your company owns the license.  If the employee quits or is fired, you can deactivate their license and you still retain it for the next employee.

The other advantage is in budgeting.  Let’s say you have 10 employees.  To upgrade them all at once would run you $4000 plus tax.  Which is why we see so many offices running two or three versions of the software.  With the subscription, you would pay $150 per month and everyone is instantly on the same version.

Now the advantages for Microsoft are fairly obvious.  You will probably pay more in the long run for the subscription than you would if you bought the package and used it as long as possible.  It will also even out their cash flow.  Right now they get a huge influx at the release of a new product and then sales dwindle until the next full version is ready.  With this model, they will have a steady income every month.

You will probably see this model extend to other products including, if the rumors are true, Windows.  There are rumblings that Microsoft is considering adopting this model for the operating system itself.  We’ll see how it goes.

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Windows 8.1: The Return of the Start button

We are sure you have all heard talk about the new version of Windows 8 that is being released soon.  It is known as Windows 8.1.  The beta version is out now, and the release version will be shipped to manufacturers next month so they can use it for the upcoming holiday season.

You are all probably wondering when and if you should start planning your own upgrades.  While it is never too early to begin planning, we would advise you to wait until the true release version is ready to begin upgrading.  The version available now is still a beta version.  It does not allow itself to be ‘uninstalled’.  The only way to get rid of it is to format your disk and start over with your original operating system.  The other reason is that Microsoft has not included an upgrade path to the full release version.  Once again you will have to format and start over.  If you are a true geek and just can’t wait, we recommend installing the beta on a separate partition, or an external drive.  Reports claim there are great difficulties installing it on a virtual machine.

Windows 8 has been quite an adventure for Microsoft.  The full version was not available for the last holiday season, so they missed that opportunity.  The developers concentrated on getting the RT version ready for their Surface tablet.  The RT version only frustrated serious users because of its limitations.  This is why you have heard so many negative opinions about Windows 8.

It is also a true shift in design for Microsoft.  It represents the greatest change in form since the shift to Windows 95 from 3.1.  (And, yes, we are old enough to remember that happening.)  Everything is different.  The design is geared toward those who are used to using smart phones.  Your programs are now “apps”.  Your media is by default played by the almost useless Xbox media player.  Worst of all, they took away our START button.

And so, less than a year since the release of Windows 8, we have the next version, 8.1, about to be launched.  Microsoft says this is because they want to speed up the life cycle of their products; going a year between versions instead of three or four.  There are many in the industry who feel this upgrade was rushed into production because of lower than projected sales and a large number of complaints.

Windows 8.1 does fix a number of features that received criticism.  The page on which all the apps are displayed is now much easier to organize the way you want it.  The Xbox media player issue has been addressed.  You will now be able to set your system to boot to your desktop view (reminiscent of Windows 7).  And, yes, they are giving us back our start button!!!  (Although it has greatly reduced functionality.)

So, who should consider upgrading?  Well, anyone whose business software will require Windows 8 or higher to run properly.  And all of you who are currently using Windows XP.  As of next April, Microsoft will stop supporting XP.  There will be no more updates, or security patches.

Does this mean that XP will suddenly stop working?   Absolutely not.  What this does mean for XP users is that now is the time to research and plan.  The main reason you will need to look at upgrading those systems involves their function.  Will the software being used on those machines need to be upgraded, and what will be the requirements for the new software?  Do you access secure websites with those systems that will require Internet Explorer 10 or higher?  (Windows 8.1 will be shipped with IE 11, XP cannot upgrade past IE 9.)  Chances are an upgrade to Windows 8.1 ( or to Windows 7 for that matter,) will require a hardware upgrade as well.

We would recommend taking a look at Windows 8 and the infinite number of websites talking about 8.1.  If you don’t want to abandon the familiar at this time, you will need to purchase copies of Windows 7, or new systems loaded with Windows 7 now.  At a time in the near future you will not be able to get your hands on them.

If you are unsure of what to do, contact your IT specialist.  We are sure they would be happy to meet with you and help you evaluate your options.  If they won’t, find one that will.

XP Users: Now is the Time to Plan

Microsoft has announced that in April of 2014 they will stop supporting Windows XP.  This means no more security patches, no more updates, and no help from Microsoft if you have a problem.

April 2014…that’s forever away.  Why should I worry about it now? 

Well, are you ready to dive into Windows 8?  Will your applications run in a Windows 8 environment?  You see, Microsoft is getting ready to introduce Windows 8.1, which means new copies of Windows 7 are going to become scarce very soon.

Now is when you need to find the answers to some questions:

Are you going to need to upgrade? 

The answer to this will be based on the function of your XP machines.  What applications are you running on the XP machines?  Are there newer versions of these applications you are going to have to install?  What are the minimum requirements of the newer software?  Do you use the machine to access secure websites?  How long are you going to be able to access them with Internet Explorer 9?  (Version 10 is out now and version 11 is included with Windows 8.1)

Are you going to need to upgrade the hardware as well as the software?

If you decide that you have to upgrade the operating system, what are the hardware requirements of the new software?  Is your current hardware able to handle Windows 7 or 8?  You obviously don’t want to just be at the minimum requirements.  Software doesn’t seem to run well when you just meet the minimums.

When is the best time to upgrade?

This question is harder to answer than it appears.  You need to know if you are going to upgrade to Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 8.1.  If your decision is to only upgrade to Windows 7, you need to act soon to at least purchase the operating system now.  You won’t find it on the shelves for long.

The other consideration will involve your accountant.  When is it to your advantage to buy from a tax standpoint?  Do you want to make the purchase during this fiscal year, or is it to your advantage to wait until the next fiscal year?

So you can see, the deadline may not be April of next year, it may be much sooner for your particular situation.  Bring your IT person in on your concerns now.  I am sure they would be happy to help you with these decisions.

Right now is a GREAT time to buy new technology

Increase Productivity

     If your PC or laptop is more than 3 or 4 years old you are missing out on a lot of potential time savings.

     Multi-core processors are the norm now and they make boot-up faster, your applications open faster, and those multi-taskers that have 27 apps open at the same time will notice a perkier machine.

    Solid-State hard drives (SSD) are radically different than they’re older counterparts. With no moving parts, they can reduce boot-up and application startup times by up to 50%. They’re a bit more expensive right now but, you’ll make it up by getting more done.

     With the introduction of Windows 7, 64-bit processing has hit full-tilt. Without getting too ‘geeky’, applications utilize and share system resources better and performance gets a big boost. 64-bit systems can handle more RAM, as well, which can cut more time from your work.

Uncle Sam wants YOU – to upgrade!

     The IRS has given businesses several incentives for upgrading their business equipment – including their PCs, laptops and servers.

    Businesses can write off up to $125,000 of qualifying equipment purchases in 2012. This is commonly known as the Section 179 deduction. Under current law the maximum Section 179 deduction will decrease to $25,000 in 2013.

    Businesses that have little or no profit in 2012 can still deduct the cost of new business equipment through bonus depreciation.  Unlike the Section 179 deduction, bonus depreciation can create or add to a business loss. However, bonus depreciation only applies to qualifying property purchased and put in service on or before December 31, 2012.

     Obviously, every business’ situation is different and we highly recommend you check with your accountant to make sure you can utilize these deductions.

Quality will save you money

     Businesses rely heavily on their technology. Downtime, due to equipment failure costs a lot more than the replacement of the hardware. Cheap systems will fail sooner.

    PC Geeks only sells the highest quality equipment. Our PCs and servers carry a full three year, parts and labor warranty, included! We resell only Lenovo brand laptops because they are consistently recognized as the top in quality and reliability in the industry.

    Contact us today so that we can help you get the most out of your technology!