Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Conflicker

Here’s some more media mania about Conflicker. “Defences bolstered ahead of Conflicker April Fools’ offensive”  claims that:

 

The US Department of Homeland Security released a tool on Monday to detect whether a computer is infected by the Conficker worm.

When you go to the
US-Cert site you only find the following “tool” (which isn’t really a tool):

 

Home users can apply a simple test for the presence of a Conficker/Downadup infection on their home computers.  The presence of a Conficker/Downadup infection MAY [my emphasis] be detected if a user is unable to surf to their security solution website or if they are unable to connect to the websites, by downloading detection/removal tools available free from those sites:

http://www.symantec.com/norton/theme.jsp?themeid=conficker_worm&inid=us_ghp_link_conficker_worm

http://www.microsoft.com/protect/computer/viruses/worms/conficker.mspx http://www.mcafee.com

If a user is unable to reach any of these websites, it MAY [my emphasis] indicate a Conficker/Downadup infection.  The most recent variant of Conficker/Downadup interferes with queries for these sites, preventing a user from visiting them.  If a Conficker/Downadup infection is suspected, the system or computer should be removed from the network or unplugged from the Internet - in the case for home users.

 

So if you can, or cannot surf to those web sites you may, or may not have Conflicker. So in other words you still not going to have any idea! As I keep saying, the bad guys are winning.

 

The Symantec site does have a nice video from 60 minutes in the US about Conflicker. It is well worth watching because it again highlights how the bad guys are beating the good guys hands down.

 

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=4901282n

 


Watch CBS Videos Online

In the video you’ll get an understanding of how much information the virus captures about your PC sessions (basically everything – browsing, keystrokes, passwords and so on). You’ll also see how CBS (the makers of 60 Minutes thought they were safe as it turned out they weren’t. Even worse, they still can’t be 100% sure they are clean because Conflicker could simply be lurking somewhere ready to re-infect. Again, bad guys win.

 

Interesting to see what tomorrow does bring.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Media hysteria

The media appears to be prepping us for the next Y2K technology disaster with the Conflicker worm on the first of April. Headlines like “Conficker worm threatens April Fools' chaos” are not designed to be informative simply inflammatory. The media hasn’t been in the business of providing balanced reporting for a long time now. If you actually read the article you’ll find the following:

 

“But researchers who have been tracking Conficker say the date will probably come and go quietly.”

 

which doesn’t make for a very exciting headline does it? That certainly isn’t going to get people reading your paper is it now?

 

If you were a bad guy who controlled a whole swag of machines via the Conflicker worm why the hell would you want anyone to know? Simply put, it would spoil your revenue stream because cybercrime these days is much like any commercial business, it is all about making money!

 

It does however illustrate an interesting issue, where does the average PC user go to get information about keeping their technology secure? The prevalence of Conflicker worm seems to demonstrate that not many understand the need to update their system regularly, given that the patch to prevent Conflicker has been available since October. So where do they turn? The article fails to provide any links or explicit instructions as to what a user can do to even check their systems.

 

This again plays into the hands of the bad guys, more or less ensuring that their infections will continue to spread. I often wonder what sort of drag the effects of cybercrime have on the economy? The cost of lost time and productivity, the cost of cleaning up infections and potential cost of lost or compromised information. Pro-active security is always cheaper than reactive measures yet judging by the number of Conflicker infections that is the minority opinion.

 

Why? Where is the system failing? Why aren’t more people being made aware of the potential threats to their systems? Are people, in fact, choosing to ignore these warnings in the belief that it can never happen to them? Why has it become so difficult to protect even the most basic PC installation? Honestly, I don’t know the reasons but the potential end results of this ignorance are clearer everyday yet it seems the world become less and less secure with every machine that is connected to the Internet.

 

As I have said before, it’s a brave new world and you are the only one responsible for your security, because few out there, media included, are going to provide you with any meaningful or helpful information. Isn’t that nice to know when you’re swimming with the sharks? The only solution I can provide is knowledge. If you don’t understand the threat, learn. If you want to protect yourself and your information, learn. Luckily, that’s is one thing the Internet is good for – information.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Much better Microsoft

At last, finally a decent Microsoft ad! Strangely enough it points out the bleeding obvious (that Mac’s are more expensive than PC’s) but maybe that’s what Microsoft need to do more of.

http://video.msn.com/video.aspx?vid=0bb6a07c-c829-4562-8375-49e6693810c7&ifs=true&fr=msnvideo&mkt=en-US&from=writer

Sure it is controversial, but hey that’s the best way to get people to listen isn’t it?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Digital footprints

I am utterly amazed at how ignorant most people are of the fact that all their wonderful technology can provide excellent information of exactly who you are and what you are doing at any time.

 

In this story “Digital dabs: how Einfeld was tracked with a mobile, credit card and e-tag” it shows how the police used digital evidence like that from electronic tolls, mobile phone and credit cards to prove the guilt of Marcus Einfeld. It goes to show that convenience has a price and that price is usually reduced privacy.

 

In many respects the lust for technology has made the job of tracking individuals much easier than it ever used to be. Stop and think about every email you send, every internet search you do, every login to Facebook, and so on – they’re all trackable. The more you use technology the more ‘digital evidence’ begins to stack up against you. The unfortunate thing about this is that digital evidence is firstly much easier to store and secondly much easier to search.

 

As I have lamented here before, so many people have no concept of the value of their privacy and are surrendering it without a second thought. We happily proclaim the wonders of technology but we seem to remain oblivious to dangers it also brings. Read the story and then stop and think how much information are you giving away about yourself without even thinking?

 

We perhaps wrongly believe that technology has given us greater freedom, mobility and convenience and yet the reality may be that it has enslaved us as never before.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Companyweb regional settings

Because not all SBS2008 installations are completed in the United States it is necessary to change the regional settings on Companyweb, even though you selected them correctly during the SBS2008 installation process.

 

Open the Companyweb site as a SharePoint administrator and select Site Actions | Site Settings like shown below:

 

image_2_0EDE9C2A


Select Regional Settings under Site Administration like so:

 

image_4_0EDE9C2A


Change the Locale setting to what ever is appropriate as shown:

 

image_6_3CCBEEE2

 

Scroll down the page and make any other changes that are necessary and then press the OK button at the bottom to save your changes.

 

image_8_3CCBEEE2

 

If you return to your Companyweb home page by selecting the Home tab you should find your time and date settings have been updated.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

SharePoint databases in action

In a previous blog post about Windows SharePoint Services databases I spoke about what SQL technology was used to hold Windows SharePoint Services content and configuration information. In this post I'll have a look at these databases in action.

 

After creating a SharePoint site the information that is now entered into SharePoint is stored in a SQL database. To locate the name of this database you need to go into the SharePoint Central Administration for your site. You do this on the server on which you installed SharePoint via Start | Administrative Tools | Windows SharePoint 3.0 Central Administration like so:

 

image_2_04C29E45

 

Now select the Application Management tab then the Content Databases from under the SharePoint Web Application Management section. You should now see the name of the database used by SharePoint like that shown below:

 

image_4_32AFF0FD

 

If you click on the database name (in this case ShareWebDb) it will bring up further information about the database. As you can see from the above screen shot it is also possible to add additional databases from this window. Another important fact to remember about SharePoint is that you not only have GUI tools like what is shown here but you also have similar tools that can be run from the command line, allowing for scripting if necessary.

 

In terms of the file system, where exactly is the SharePoint content database stored? It is stored wherever the default data directory is for the SQL instance that you installed on your machine. In this case because we are examining Companyweb on SBS2008, which is using SQL 2005 Embedded Edition you will find those files in C:\windows\sysmsi\ssee\msql.2005\mssql\data like shown below.

 

image_6_32AFF0FD

 

Remember that for each SQL database there are normally two associated files, a .MDF (data) and .LDF (index). Both of these files are important for correct database operations. The actual file size of these database files will grow as the information in your SharePoint site increases, to as large as allowed by your version of SQL server or hardware. In this case, because Companyweb on SBS2008 uses SQL 2005 Embedded Edition it can grow by as much free disk space as there is available on the drive.

 

Note that you can relocate these databases to other locations if required, which is something the SBS 2008 wizards automate for you.

 

Finally, if we take a look in the SQL management tools we can also see the database. Because I am again using SBS 2008 here these GUI tools have been automatically installed since they don't, by default, come with SQL 2005 Embedded Edition even though they are a free download from Microsoft. To launch the GUI tools go Start | All Programs | Microsoft SQL Server 2005 and run SQL Server management Studio Express. To connected to the SQL 2005 Embedded Edition instance you will need to use the following connection string

 

\\.\pipe\mssql$microsoft##ssee\sql\query

 

Once entered you should see something like:

 

image_8_32AFF0FD

 

Now simply locate the database (SharedWebDB) under the databases folder and right mouse click to view the properties.

 

More detailed information about Windows SharePoint Services databases and Windows SharePoint in general is located in my Windows SharePoint Operations Guide.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Does nobody care?

A couple of posts ago I wrote about Facebook follies and the fact that some scammers were using Facebook as way to attract potential victims. Part of this involved a picture of a man standing next to a bright red sports car. In fact it turns out these pictures are taken from someone’s online photo album as detailed in “Facebook scam: Ferrari man’s true identity revealed”.

Now I don’t use Facebook that often but when I logged in recent I saw the following ad:

Now where have I seen that before? (Firstly, I gotta say if you think he’s standing next to a Lamborghini then you deserve everything you get, it’s a Ferrari Enzo). I clicked on the ad and up came the web site:

with a lovely photo of ‘Tom’ and the pitch about how much money I can make if I just sign up now.

It would seem clear by now that this offer is a scam, so why is it still running on Facebook?  As the article says:

“There are numerous reports of people who fell for the scam and were charged hundreds of thousands of dollars after handing over their credit card details.”
So where’s the protection for the Facebook user? It certainly doesn’t appear that there is much. I always used to say that the stock market was the perfect vehicle for transferring wealth from the stupid to the intelligent but now I’m going to have to revise that to being the Internet.


The continuation of these sort of ads again confirm my belief that we are losing the battle against the bad guys. Some may say that what is happening here is not against any law, and that people should always be aware when purchasing ANYTHING from the Internet and I agree. However, the reason that our systems are constantly under threat from viruses and trojans is that most Internet users are totally unaware of how they should be protecting themselves and look at the global problems that has caused. It seems that when it comes to using the Internet, common sense goes right out the window.

Now scams like this are nothing new and they happen on other sites like Ebay and what not but it seems to me that technology is making this easier in so many ways. Every day technology makes it both easier to perpetrate crime and confuse the average user. It amazes me in this so called world of ‘Web 2.0’ interconnectivity that most people are being left to fend for themselves in a pool of sharks. The more connected we think we are the more isolated we become perhaps?

The moral is clearly, every person for themselves and if it seems too good to be true then generally it is.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Yawn

Microsoft has release Internet Explorer 8. Does it really matter anymore? Are many non-techie people actually going to download it? It has some improved features, especially around security but is it really a must have any more? Unless there are some killer features most people are probably going to stick with Internet Explorer 7, until they get a new PC.

 

Microsoft also has a pretty lame set of videos on its Internet Explorer 8 site. These are no where as good as the propaganda that Apple turns out with its ads. The difference to me really goes to heart of the problem at the moment with Microsoft, they just aren’t in tune with the market and the most likely reason is that they are trying to be everything to everyone. I suppose that is part of become a ‘middle-aged’ company. It would be much better if Microsoft stuck to a core range of products but they need to squeeze revenue out so it is easier to do this across multiple markets. So in some sense the strategy makes sense. It would make more sense if they wanted to be more like Apple to get a new advertising company because this latest video and the Seinfeld video haven’t received a very good reception at all, with which I agree.

 

In all honesty I don’t use Internet Explorer all that much these days as Firefox, for me, is just better. In all honestly, I think people simply use the browser that comes with their computer. If is Internet Explorer, they used that. If it was Firefox they’d use that and so on. Most people want to get access to the Internet and don’t really care how that happens. So another version of an Internet browser is going to get a decidedly ‘Yawn’ reception in my books.

SharePoint databases

I’ll be talking about the storage requirements around Windows SharePoint Services v3 (WSS v3) specifically here.

 

One of the core components required for WSS v3 to operate is a place to hold its content and configuration data. It does so in SQL databases. There are quite a range of SQL databases available from Microsoft starting with the Embedded and Express Editions (both free), moving up to Workgroup, Standard and Enterprise. There are also different versions when you consider SQL 2005 vs SQL 2008. The good news is that they can all be used to store WSS v3 content and configuration.

 

Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Feature comparison (Embedded Edition is not listed here)

Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Feature comparison

 

Prior to installing WSS v3 on a machine a SQL Server instance needs to exist. If one is not present then you can select to have WSS v3 install SQL Server 2005 Embedded Edition (SSEE). Now SQL Server 2005 Embedded Edition is a far cry from the old MSDE database although it still does have limitations (as you would expect in a free version). The most important of these are the fact that it doesn’t come with any GUI tools, cannot be version upgraded and cannot be accessed across a network. Another overlooked default is that fact that it installs itself, programs and data, into the C: drive which can lead to space issues later. However, one major plus of the Embedded Edition (unlike the Express Edition) is it does not place a limit on the size of a database (the Express Edition limits databases to 4GB in size).

 

Thus, the Embedded Edition is a great option to get started with WSS v3, especially in the fact that you can work around some of the initial limitations. For example, you can download some free GUI administration tools from Microsoft and you can also relocate the databases to another drive to free up space. This is exactly what the SBS 2008 ‘Move SharePoint databases’ wizard does. I have heard people say that you should use a more upmarket version of SQL (e.g. Workgroup or Standard) because it give better performance. I must admit that I have never been able to prove the fact that SQL Embedded Edition is any slower than SQL Standard for typical WSS v3 sites. Now that may not be the case when you get really large WSS v3 sites ( ie > 4GB) but how many WSS v3 sites have you ever come across that are that large initially? Not many I would think. The only reason I can see you wanting to use a more upmarket version of SQL is if you wanted some of the specific high end SQL tools and abilities, like integrated SQL backup and restore as well as clustering. However, for most WSS v3 sites, at least initially, this is generally not required and because you can easily upgrade to another version of SQL later if required it doesn’t make sense to me to go this expense until absolutely necessary.

 

image_4_34E93C60

 

If you are happy using the SQL Embedded Edition that comes with WSS v3 then you can simply complete a Basic install (although not on SBS 2003 which requires a side by side install to prevent things from breaking). This will install SQL Server 2005 Embedded Edition (SSEE) onto you machine, install WSS v3 and use SQL Embedded Edition automatically to store content and data. Nothing could be simpler. If however you want to use another version of SQL server as your data repository that version needs to be installed prior to installing WSS v3 and then you’ll need to select an Advanced install.

 

The difference between a Basic and Advanced install are quite marked in that a Basic install does everything for you, including setting up the first WSS v3 site. With the Advanced installed you need to do everything manually.

 

In summary then, WSS v3 requires a version of SQL Server to hold its content and configuration databases. You can choose from a wide range of SQL Server version from Microsoft, however the Embedded Edition that comes with WSS v3 is suitable for most initial deployments. If you plan to do much work with WSS v3 then it is beneficial to have a good basic knowledge of SQL Server as well.

 

Detailed information about WSS v3 databases and installing options can be found in my Windows SharePoint Operations Guide along with more information about getting SharePoint up and running in a business.

Peeved

I know that I need to update my anti-virus to stay secure and I understand that it is a critical component of my computer security but I can tell you that it is really pissing me off at the moment.

It seems like every time I turn on my PC and at least once during the day I get this message to update my signatures. By default you don’t usually get these messages as it all happens in the background but because it was happened so often I changed the default to prompt me so I could keep track of what as going on.

So when I booted up this morning I get another update message like so:

As I said initially, I know this is necessary and I’m not picking on any vendor, since I all believe they have the same issues to some extent but it just goes to show how bad things must be out there on the Internet if I’m constantly getting these updates.

Now getting the updates is fine but the way that it bogs down my machine when it applies the updates is infuriating! It isn’t a short period of time while that happens either. It seems to be getting longer and longer. As you can see from the latest update, that’s 2.3MB to be downloaded and installed. What happens to the poor people on slower Internet connections?

It all goes back to my contention that we are losing the battle against the bad guys on the Internet. How many years has it been now and yet it seems that number of vulnerabilities, viruses, trojans, compromises, spam, etc is not only increasing but increasing exponentially. We are building our future on a platform that was never designed to incorporate security, it has simply been ‘tacked on’ later as an after thought. Given that PC’s are now in the hands of people with absolutely no idea about how to stay secure we are increasing our vulnerability everyday. We are creating a larger and large playground for the criminal underworld to flourish.

Articles like “1 in 3 Windows PCs vulnerable to worm attack” and “Downadup worm now infects 1 in 16 PCs says Panda security” further highlight the problems. This doesn’t help either:

The worm exploits a bug in the Windows Server service used in Windows 2000, XP, Vista, Server 2003 and Server 2008.
since it clearly highlights that no matter how much “security” is taken into account with software it is still created by humans (usually under commercial restrains) and can never be perfect. Don’t be under the illusion that vulnerabilities solely exist in Windows, they potentially exist in every piece of software every written. We hear more about their effect on Windows machines because they are most popular. Software developers do create and release patches but not very many people actually apply them, so we have the worst of both worlds.


I must admit that I think it is almost getting to the point where vulnerable machines need to be denied access to the Internet or automatically fixed. That again opens up a whole can or worms in regards to accessing people’s private machine and other software compatibility issues but I think we need to consider what is the greater evil here. If people don’t patch and protect their machines they make the eWorld so much more dangerous and less friendly for everyone.

We live in a strange world where on one hand you need a license to drive a car yet on the other you don’t need one to create another human life. Maybe it is something that is just going to be a fact of life forever now but I can tell you that at the moment it is really pissing me off!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Twitter grade

Here’s another interesting Twitter site that I discovered from one of my new Twitter followers (Scott Bennett – thanks Scott). When you put your Twitter handle into Twittergrader you get something like the following:


What the hell does that mean? I’m not really sure given that I only have 19 followers. There isn’t much obvious info on the site to qualify what the grading is all about and how you go about improving your ranking if you wanted to. There are some nice search tools that help identify top cities, top users and so on but really how is this going to help your business? To do that it needs to have a lot information about how the actual grade is calculated.

I suppose it still early days for these types of sites but I can’t really understand the desire of increasing your grade just for the sake of increasing it. It is sort of like those people on Facebook with a million ‘friends’. It would seem to me that the more ‘friends’ you have on Facebook the less friends you have in the real world.

Technology for technology’s just doesn’t make sense, show me something that makes my life easier and then maybe I’ll pay attention!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Kakrafoon

Anyone who follows this blog knows that I’m still ambivalent about the business benefits of Twitter. I cannot help but be amazed at the sheer number of Twitter applications there are out there. One that I ran across recently, Twittervision, actually shows you a map of the world and overlays tweets like so:

It is a strangely mesmerizing display that provides no real benefit apart from the sheer fascination of watching these tweets display over time. It sort of reminds you of going to a party where the sheer number of people talking creates such a din that you have to speak louder, which conversely increases the din further.

This all kind of sounded familiar to me somehow but I just couldn’t remember where from. That is until I remembered this passage from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams:
“It is worth repeating at this point the theories that Ford had come up with, on his first encounter with human beings, to account for their peculiar habit of continually stating and restating the very, very obvious, as in “It’s a nice day,” or “You’re very tall” or “So this is it, we’re all going to die.”
His first theory was that if human beings didn’t keep exercising their lips, their mouths probably seize up.
After a few months of observation he had come up with a second theory, which was this - “If human beings don’t keep exercising their lips, their brains start working.”
In fact, this second theory is more literally true of the Belcebron people of Kakrafoon.
The Belcebron people used to cause great resentment and insecurity amoungst neighbouring races by being one of the most enlightened, accomplished and above all quiet civilizations in the Galaxy.
As a punishment for this behaviour, which was held to be offensively self righteous and provocative, a Galactic Tribunal inflicted on them that most cruel of all social diseases, telepathy.
Consequently, in order to prevent themselves broadcasting every slightest thought that crossed their minds to anyone within a five miles radius, they now had to talk very loudly and continuously about the weather, their little aches and pains, the match this afternoon and what a noisy place Kakrafoon had suddenly become.”
Maybe in his infinite wisdom and far-sightedness, Douglas Adam foresaw the development of
Twitter as something akin to the punishment inflected on the Belcebron people of Kakrafoon. There must be some reason why people spend so much time broadcasting such inane parts of their lives. So far, I can only conclude that Twitter has been inflicted on mankind by a Galactic Tribunal as punishment for something.

Clearly, I must have missed the court notice in the Galactic Herald so I’ll never know why for sure. Perhaps the only thing to do perhaps to avoid
Twitter-mania is to act like a dolphin and say “So long and thanks for all the fish”!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Smartphone money pit

Back in July 2008 I wrote an article here about the costs of the new IPhone, especially when used to access the Internet. I warned that the costs of using your smartphone like your PC were going to rack up significant costs if you were not extremely careful.

 

The shocking cost of smartphones” in the Sydney Morning Herald today, illustrates how the unwary are being slugged big time. One user mentioned in the article posted to a technology forum seeking advice.

 

In his post entitled:"Virgin shocker bill $2458.67" he said he had accessed the internet while on holiday in Cairns, and hadn't realised his $450 cap plan applied only to voice calls.

Therein lies the trap for the unwary. Telcos treat voice and data as two separate things. Even though you may have a “cap” of $450 per month chances are it only applied to voice not to data. Chances are also that unless you have specified your data requirements up front you are likely to be paying  data charges at the highest rate, as this guy found out with his $2458.67 bill!

 

Wireless Internet is great and there are so many applications that take advantage of it but if you are going to be using your smartphone this way make sure you have setup and understand a data plan. Make sure you know exactly how much you can download each month and what any additional charges are. Also make sure you keep an eye on what applications you load onto your smartphone as they may access the Internet without your direct knowledge. The article also has some handy tips for “avoiding bill shock”.

 

Remember that convenience costs, especially when it comes to wireless Internet.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

BotNet video

Here’s an interesting video from the BBC Click program about BotNets. It shows how BotNets are used to send spam emails as well as Distributed Denial Of Server (DDOS) attacks.

 

Also on Click you’ll find “Cyber crime attack from the east” which gives you an idea of the business behind cyber crime.

 

It is interesting to consider that we are building our ‘new world order’ on technologies that were never designed with security in mind. Likewise, there are so many users out there who have no idea their machines are infected and being controlled by someone else. It is amazing to think that many vulnerabilities used by Botnets exploit bugs that have a patch or update available from the vendor. The problem is too many people are using computers connected to the Internet without understanding the basics. Given the world wide reach of the Internet this causes a huge problem when the power of these infected machines is harnessed into a BotNet.

 

Interestingly, the BBC seems to have gotten itself into some trouble about what actions it took while performing the demonstrations in its show as detailed in “BBC cyber crime probe backfires”. This relates to the fact that the BBC used user’s computers without their knowledge and also made modifications to their systems, even if it was to warn the use that their PC was infected. This again illustrates why cyber criminals are always going to win. When someone like the BBC does a expose on BotNets it runs the risk of running foul of authorities, yet users who haven’t maintained or secured their systems and connect them to the Internet face no ramifications! In many cases the only way that some people will know they are infected with a trojan acting as part of BotNet if is they are told. While we debate the ethics of alerting users, cyber criminals simply go about their business and infect more machines.

 

So, watch the video. Make sure you machine is patched and scanned for viruses and spyware. Then make sure you tell other people to do the same, because knowledge is really the only defence we have against BotNets.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Windows 7 features

I’ve been reading Jeff Alexander’s post about the different versions of Windows 7 that will become available.
 
I gotta admit that I am disappointed that BitLocker to Go is only available in the Enterprise edition. BitLocker is the ability to encrypt your whole hard disk. BitLocker to go allows you to encrypt a USB key. It is my understanding that once you have encrypted a USB key using BitLocker to Go it can be read by other Windows 7 machine but you can’t write back to it.

I know that Microsoft has developed these offerings after consultation with customers but I fear it is more about optimizing returns that anything else. I would think it is simpler to have 2 versions, one for home use, one for business use. I think too many versions simply confuses people and actually retards sales but I understand in this day and age where more and more of our computing is moving to the ‘cloud’ a number of ‘cheaper’ alternatives needs to be offered.

Windows 7 will sell well due to the pent up demand of people holding off going to Vista. Windows 7 has a significant positive buzz around, which hasn’t happened for a long time. It is also much quicker and appears to be less resource hungry. My guess for availability? August, September this year. I reckon we’ll see a release candidate in April and the final version in late August.

So in the meantime get familiar with the version and their contents.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Twitter ecosystem

Although I still have reservations about Twitter becoming an effective business tool I can see that an enormous ecosystem of applications is now growing up around Twitter. Once that starts you know that it is something that can’t be ignored ( Facebook deja vu).

 

If you have doubts then take a look at “Getting things done with Twitter” which details a huge swag of applications that you can use with Twitter to boost your productivity (in theory). Now there are also plenty more that I have found that are not even mentioned here, which just goes to show you how big this Twitter thing is becoming.

 

So, if you haven’t started exploring Twitter and you want to stay “current” then I suggest that you sign up and start looking at what Twitter applications are around and how they can help your business and your professional development. Because like it or lump it, it seems to me that Twitter is fast approaching a tipping point where it will become the next big technology trend.

 

Here’s an opportunity to ‘get on board’ before everyone else does, but hurry there isn’t much time left. Remember, when you are on Twitter don’t forget you can always follow me via www.twitter.com/directorcia.

Return to 2003

Office 2007 has been out for a while now but many people still struggle with the new ribbon menu system. Now I will also admit that when the ribbon first made an appearance on my desktop I too was a little confused at where everything went to. However over time I found that I actually liked the ribbon but I understand it may hinder people who simply want to get things done in Office 2007 like they did in Office 2003.

Personally, I think it was a mistake for Microsoft not to provide some menu migration ability where perhaps the old menuing system could be turned back on for say 60 days to ease the transition. For whatever reason that never happened, so when you started Office 2007 you had no other option but to use the ribbon menu.

For those who still want the old Office 2003 style menuing here’s a potential solution.
 
As you can see from the above picture UBit menu software has a free plug in that allows you to retro fit Office 2003 menus into Office 2007. You sorta have to wonder why Microsoft really didn’t do this? I suppose that’s the benefit of being the dominate provider of desktop software, ‘everyone will change and change on this version’. I really don’t think that helps sell more software given how many people have used office for all those years.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Thanks Dale

Dale Unroe made a comment in a recent blog post about a online video about productivity from Mark Hurst, author of the book Bit Literacy (which is on to read list). If you are interested:

1. Go to http://www.microsoft.com/smallbusiness/summit/
2. Select the topic Productivity & Security
3. Half way down the list you should see a video with a heading Bit Literacy

There is also a web site http://bitliteracy.com which includes a same chapter from the book.


 As I said I have not as yet read this book but have it on my list to read. In the meantime take a look at the video and as always if you need assistance with managing your email productivity go to www.doemailless.com.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Simple inbox advice

It is amazing how complex people have made the control of their inboxes these days. You can’t travel far without hearing people complain about ‘How full their inboxes are’ or ‘How many messages they need to respond to’. In truth, the solution is pretty simple yet remains elusive for most.

 

I found a good piece called “An Empty In-Box, or With Just a Few E-Mail Messages?” over at the NY Times. What it suggest isn’t rocket science it is pretty simple as I have always maintained. The most important thing is to limit the time you spend in email. This means disabling notifications and only dealing with email a few time a day rather. Probably the most liberating step, and the one that most people fail to successfully take, is to clear out you inbox. Your goal should be to keep you inbox as empty as possible.

 

When setting out to empty your inbox, be ruthless. If you don’t need it then delete it, if you do then archive it somewhere else than the inbox. There isn’t a need to create a really complex archiving folder scheme because all modern email programs have sophisticated search, so just archive it to one folder and move on.

 

Once you have a clear inbox then you’ll need to work to maintain it that way which is what most people are afraid of, but let me ask you – did you get employed simply to go through email? When the time for performance reviews arrives are you judged on how much email you have? Of course not! You are are judged on getting results for your company and email is simply a tool for achieving that. Like any tool it needs to be used effectively and that, my friend, comes down to you, no one else.

 

If you lead a life that is dominated by you inbox then I feel sorry for you because there is so much more out there to enjoy in the world. If you want to get back in control of you inbox and avoid information overload then I’d suggest you read the article and maybe see www.doemailless.com for more information about getting any help you need.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Too much Twitter

Seems like we are experiencing a Twitter-explosion of late in the media and perhaps this video from the “The Daily Show” might put some perspective on it.

http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=219519&title=twitter-frenzy

or

However, on a more serious note here’s what Tim Ferris, the author of one of my favourite business books the Four Hour Work Week has to say about using Twitter.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3weqLgnPfQ&hl=en&fs=1
Now I reckon there is a business case for Twitter but certainly not the way most people seem to be using it! No matter what you think I can assure that Twitter is coming to a screen near you real soon. As I always say, technology distractions don’t just occur – THEY SEEK YOU OUT.

Tweet, Tweet.

SharePoint videos

Microsoft has just released a swag of SharePoint videos. Details below.

 

Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 Demo: Use a blog to connect with your coworkers

 

You can use a blog to improve communication in your workplace. The blog authors can post information such as updates on benefits changes, promotions of seminars, and detailed information on policies. Employees can post their questions or comments and see the responses from the blog author.

Office SharePoint Server 2007 Demo: Search for information on a SharePoint site

 

When you use a Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 site, you can use the search feature to help you find information, files, Web sites, and people. In this demo, you will see how an employee at a fictitious company called Adventure Works uses search to locate information on a SharePoint site and complete job-related tasks.

Office SharePoint Server 2007 Demo: Display KPIs in a dashboard

 

A dashboard is a special Web Part Page that displays business data from a variety of different sources in high-level visuals like reports, charts, and key performance indicators (KPIs). The data displayed in dashboards can be filtered automatically or filtered by properties selected by users, enabling comparative data analysis across an organization. Because they pull together important business intelligence data from different sources in an easy-to-understand visual format, dashboards are useful tools that enable managers or decision makers to quickly assess the status of their business. This demo shows you how to create a dashboard page on a Report Center site and how to add a KPI Web Part to the dashboard page to display KPIs. You will also see how to add a KPI Details Web Part to a dashboard to display detailed information about a specific individual indicator.

Office SharePoint Server 2007 Demo: Make better business decisions with reports and dashboards

 

Business intelligence (BI) is the process of aggregating, storing, analyzing, and reporting on business data in order to support informed business decisions. Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 provides tools that can help you extract data from a variety of sources and present that data in ways that facilitate analysis and decision making. In this demo, you'll see how employees at a fictitious company called Adventure Works use a Report Center site to create and manage reports, dashboards, and key performance indicators (KPIs).

 

Office SharePoint Server 2007 Demo: Enterprise Content Management with SharePoint Server

 

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 provides powerful Enterprise Content Management (ECM) features for creating, managing, and storing content across an enterprise. In this demo, you'll learn how a fictitious company called Adventure Works uses SharePoint Server to publish Web pages, archive and audit records, and manage documents. The demo shows how the Technical Documentation team uses a Document Center site as a centralized repository to create, organize, edit, and review all customer-facing external publications, such as user manuals and product specification sheets.

 

Office SharePoint Server 2007 Demo: Streamline business processes with forms and workflows

 

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 can help you integrate and streamline your business processes. You can use the InfoPath Forms Services server technology in Office SharePoint Server 2007 to create browser-based forms and gather data from organizations that do not use Microsoft Office InfoPath 2007. People in those organizations can complete forms in a Web browser or HTML-enabled mobile device. Workflows automatically move documents or items through a sequence of actions or tasks related to a business process. Workflows can streamline the cost of coordinating common business processes, such as project approval or document review, by managing and tracking the tasks involved with those processes.

 

Office SharePoint Server 2007 Demo: Simplify collaboration with a SharePoint team site

 

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 provides organizations with a platform for sharing information and working together in teams. A SharePoint site offers specific kinds of tools and workspaces that you can use to communicate with team members, track projects, coordinate deadlines, and collaboratively create and edit documents. In this demo, you'll see how employees at a fictitious company called Adventure Works use features on a team site such as lists, document libraries, calendars, slide libraries, and blogs to collaborate on documents, track projects, and share information.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Email “free” days don’t work

One of the “solutions” that companies mistakenly believe will solve their email overload problem is the concept of email “free” days. On a nominated day no-one is allowed to send emails to each other, they must find another way to communicate, be that phone, conversation, SMS, whatever.

 

Now this concept is bankrupt as the article “E-mail ruined my life” demonstrates:

 

E-mail is so ingrained in our working lives that Deloitte's experiment was abandoned after only a month. But the company still thinks it was worth it.

 

Bzzzzzt, wrong. Email “free” days don’t work because they don’t CHANGE the bad habits people have. All they do is forcibly prevent them but when that edict is removed everyone returns to their former unproductive behaviour. In short, nothing has changed so how do you suddenly expect behaviour to change? It won’t but it seems even large companies can’t understand that.

 

The secret is providing people with the training necessary to change their habits, to improve they way the use emails. It is only with this change will you see an improvement in productivity.

 

For more information about improving email productivity visit www.doemailless.com.

Facebook follies

Now we all probably know the story of Facebook. If not then I suggest you have a read of “How Facebook is taking over our lives” to give you an idea of the impact that it is having and the speed at which it is growing. What many people don’t seem to appreciate is that we are surrendering our privacy to commercial entities like Facebook at an alarming rate.

 

Many people don’t understand that whatever they post on the Internet is generally searchable and available to anyone. A good example of this is “Facebook scam: Ferrari man’s true identity revealed”. In short a recent Facebook scam featured a man standing next to a Ferrari (as if you would drive an Enzo on the road!) claiming that if you followed his method you’d make enough money to own an Ferrari (an Enzo costs over US$ 1 million by the way). Now the interesting thing, as the article details, is that the picture of the man standing next to the Ferrari is actually someone who uploaded his holiday snaps to the Internet and had no idea they were being used in this way.

 

The moral of the story is that you should never upload content that includes ANY private information about yourself to the Internet. I also reckon that you should also specifically avoid photos of yourself or your family. Problem is, many people don’t see anything wrong with it and continue to do so, not appreciating that once it is up on the Internet you no longer have control over it. Would you offer that information to a stranger on the street? Probably not, so why are you offering on the Internet to billions of strangers?

 

Facebook is a commercial entity. Its sole purpose in life if to make money for shareholders. If it allows you to sign up for free where do you think it makes money? It does that by collected as much information about you and selling that. If you willing provide more information, it will sell that also. Don’t be fooled by claims otherwise, your information is valuable. If you don’t think so then someone else certainly does.

 

Don’t get me wrong, things like Facebook and Twitter have their place but you should stop and consider how much information you are giving away and what you get in return. Once you have given that information away chances are you’ll never get it back. So, at the very least, don’t upload a picture of you standing next to a really expensive car or you could be the face of the next Internet scam!

Email interruption

A while back I did a post on Productivity costs of emails based on the average Australian wage. Since then I’ve come across “The cost of email interruption” which is a short report from researchers at Computer Science Department of Loughborough University located in the United Kingdom. Although the report appears a little dated now some of its observations are still very relevant, like:

 

- It was notable that many of the email messages employees received were not really relevant to for them.This usually resulted from an email sent to all employees.

 

- The common reaction to the arrival of an email is not to delay response to a time that is more convenient to the user but to react within 6 seconds, again almost as quickly as they would  respond to telephone calls.

 

It is amazing when you realize that people actually respond to an email faster than they do the phone. Now multiply that by how emails a day they receive and you get an idea of how bad email interruptions are.

 

Here’s another interesting finding:

 

During the study it was noticeable that none of the employees monitored used message rules within their email application

 

That’s right, none of the employees used message rules to filter their incoming emails! Like most applications we have on our machines these days we have no idea of the true power they provide us. We (and our employers) spend so little time learning how to use the technology tools that we are typically using a screwdriver to hammer in a nail. It does the job sure, just not very efficiently.

 

So what’s the solution according to the report?

 

Introduce training to all staff on how to use email in areas such as, setting email priority, email house keeping with message rules, effective use of the user groups and address books,  constructing better structured emails.

 

and having recognized these issues myself that is exactly the training that I provide. Why? because it is truly amazing how much more productive the whole business (or the individual) becomes when they understand how to use email and their email programs correctly. They are never going to learn this on their own, it something they need guidance with.

 

You can find more information about the email productivity training I provide at www.doemailless.com.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Checklists

If you want a low tech solution to help you be more productive, make less errors and improve the quality of your output then I suggest you read “Checklists offer a cure for many ills”. The article demonstrates how checklist are used to save lives in the airline industry (recent crash into the Hudson River in New York for example) and for surgery.

 

I’m a big fan of checklists too which I learnt from the E-Myth by Michael Gerber. I especially like the following from the book:

 

A business that looks orderly:

•says to your customer that your people know what they're doing.

•says to your people that you know what you're doing.

•says that while the world may not work, some things can.

•says to your customers that they can trust in the result delivered and assures your people that they can trust in their future with you.

•says that structure is in place.

 

How does a business ensure that it is orderly? Checklists. After reading the E-Myth I developed all sorts of lists to ensure consistency in what I did. When I wanted to run up a server I used a checklist. The same applied to something as lowly as a workstation. Once I had the checklist complete I not only had a consistent outcome but I also had a record of the whole process.

 

Now the good old analogue method of pen and paper still works but you can achieve even greater benefits by using electronic checklists. The simplest way I know how to achieve that is via OneNote or SharePoint, of both of which I use. These products allow you a simple and flexible way to not only save and retrieve your checklist but also to share it with others.

 

If you are not using checklists then you aren’t being as effective as you could be. I can assure you that if you start developing and using checklists for things then you are going to get better results and that’s what we all should be aiming for. That doesn’t just apply in your business life but everywhere else.