Thursday, January 4, 2018

My software and services - 2018

Previously, I detailed the hardware that I used in my work:

My gear

In this article I’ll look at the software and services I use most.

To start with, I use Windows 10 Professional with the Fall Creators Update installed on all my desktop machines and Windows Storage Server 2008 on my WD Sentinel DX4000 NAS. I have upgraded all my immediate families machines to Windows 10 Fall Creators Update without any issues as well. I ensure that these machines are kept secure and up to date using Microsoft Operations Management Suite (OMS).

Unsurprisingly, I used Office 365 for things such as a email, OneDrive for Business, Skype, Office desktop software and the like. What maybe somewhat surprising is that, although I have access to a free Office 365 tenant from Microsoft as a partner, I don’t use this in production. I have a completely separate paid tenant for my business.

Why is that, you may ask? The main reason is that I use my Microsoft Office 365 tenant for demonstrations and testing. I don’t want production data appearing when I do demos to customers and prospects. Having to two separate tenants means complete separation of the data.

I am considering upgrading my production tenant in which all my family machines run to Microsoft 365 and connecting all the devices directly to Azure AD. This will provide far more control and functionality for all as well as making it easier for me to manage. I will however need to look at upgrading some Windows 10 Home edition machines to Windows 10 Professional before I undertake this, but I am pretty sure I’ll be moving this way in 2018.

I of course use all the standard Microsoft Office desktop software such as Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc however, the key application from the suite for me is OneNote. OneNote is my go to Swiss Army knife for just about everything digital. I use it to capture all sort of data. I even use it as a diary as I have detailed previous here:

One of the ways I use OneNote

The reason OneNote is key is because:

1. Just about everything I put in there us searchable

2. It is freely available across all platforms.

3. All my information is synced and accessible on all devices.

4. It is available on the web or offline if needed.

Another key service I use everyday along with Office 365 and OneNote is Azure. Typically, I use it for running up virtual machines that I test various things with but I also use it to backup my local data as well as that of other members of my family using Azure Backup.

Azure desktop backup

There is just so much that can be done with Azure. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I could use it for. I see Azure becoming a larger and large part of what I do every day.

One of the changes that I have made in the last year to the way I use Azure is to implement nested virtualisation. This has allowed me to collapse an array of stand alone virtual machines into a single machine saving significant amounts of money as well as providing additional functionality.

I use Lastpass to keep my passwords and private information secure. It allows me to do things like generate and store unique passwords for each website that I sign up for. It is also available across all browsers on my machine (including Microsoft Edge).

For a subset of my local data that I wish to remain secure I use Truecrypt to create encrypted volumes. All my Windows 10 machines run with full disk encryption thanks to Bitlocker, but stuff like financial and customer data I keep inside Truecrypt volumes for that extra layer of security. I understand that Truecrypt is no longer maintained and may have some very minor security flaws, but for how and why I use it, it is more than adequate.

To capture my desktop for my online training academy or my YouTube channel I use Camtasia. I use SnagIt to capture screen shots and add highlights and emphasis to these. Snagit allows me to capture complete screens or specific areas quickly and easily.

To compose and publish blog articles I use Open Live Writer.

To keep track of where I spend my time on my desktops I use RescueTime.

For improved email productivity I use Microsoft FindTime and Boomerang.

For chat and web meetings I use Skype for Business from Office 365. I encourage anyone to connect up to me via my address =admin@ciaops365.com. Chat is generally always faster at resolving things than traditional email.

For protection, apart from the standard Windows 10 tools, I use Malware Bytes but find that Windows Defender provides excellent protection. However, the main weapon is keeping bad guys at bay is ensuring all my systems are up to date. Thanks to Windows 10 and Microsoft OMS I can do this easily.

Inside my browsers I typically have the following plugins:

- Lastpass which provides automated insertion of web site credentials.

- Nosili which provides productivity enhancement thanks to background sounds. My favourite is rain.

- Pushbullet which connects alerts from my Android phone to my dekstop browser and allow me to share information easily between them.

- GetPocket which allows me to save and categorise websites URLs, which I then typically read at a later time. Has its own dedicated mobile that I can use on any device.

- The Great Suspender which puts unused tabs in Chrome to ‘sleep’ to save memory.

- Windows 10 Accounts allows single sign in for Office 365 using Chrome.

I use the automation sites If This Then That and Zapier to automate many different tasks. A good example of one of these is automatically publishing to various social media sites. I am now using Microsoft Flow more and more for automation and I am looking to dive deeper using things like Azure Functions in 2018.

For my Office 365 and Azure email newsletters I use Mailchimp.

My preferred public social networks for business, in order are:

1. Twitter

2. Linkedin

3. Facebook

The Apowersoft software allows me to display both iOS and Android devices on my Windows desktop which is really handy for demonstrations and presentations.

I also use Yammer extensively but for more specialised roles and thus don’t consider it really a ‘public’ social network, more a private one.

YouTube is also something I use daily for business and pleasure. It use for both education and marketing as well as entertainment, thanks largely to the XBox YouTube app. As I have recently added an Xbox One S to my collection I can now use the Amazon Prime Video app to watch The Grand Tour during my downtime.

Another major ‘social’ tool I now use everyday is Microsoft Teams which I use with those inside the CIAOPS Patron program. I have an dedicated Team that is available externally to which all Patrons have access. In there we have separate channels for things like Azure, Microsoft 365 and even cryptocurrency. Thanks to Microsoft Teams there are additional resources back ending this like a SharePoint Team site which provides even greater functionality for CIAOPS Patrons.

I use a lot of other software and services but the above are the main ones I use pretty much everyday that I’m at my desk.

I am always looking for ways to improve my productivity and effectiveness with software and services. If you therefore have something you can recommend to me please don’t hesitate to let me know what it is.