A Review of Microsoft Office 365

Is all the hype about Microsoft Office 365 true?

Will it really transform your experience compared to the desktop version of Office?

Well, this article by Andrew Gradwell that was featured in The Guardian in June last year, explores that very question:

imageOffice 365 is a relaunch of Microsoft‘s clumsily named Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS). Bizarrely, it’s also referred to on Microsoft’s own website as Business Productivity Online Softwareand Services – giving the impression that the branding was never quite spot on.

The basic Office 365 package is an upgrade to the 2010 versions of Exchange, SharePoint, Office Communications Online and Live Meeting – the last two of which have become one and are now known as Lync. More interesting though are the additional Office Software Online options that it brings. You can have online web apps at a small extra cost, and for a bit more subscribe to full Microsoft Office.

Despite cynics referring to this as a glorified rebranding exercise, the inclusion of the most commonly used office software in the world certainly adds a massive edge. Furthermore, the increase in options in SharePoint 2010 and Outlook Web access 2010 is considerable.

BPOS customers can relax in the knowledge that their subscription will soon be upgraded, while others who bought traditional SharePoint and Exchange spent a week installing it and setting it up on an expensive server will be on the same old system, eyeing their competition jealously as their productivity increases along with their new software.

Okay, it might not be that dramatic, but when future upgrades happen – and the cost of new servers and server maintenance don’t rear their ugly heads – it will have a big effect on costs and continuity. Old servers can be a dangerous game if not backed up, as massive data loss can be terminal – especially to small businesses.

This approaches another big improvement – the provision to subscribe with fewer than five users, which puts cost-conscious small businesses in a position to pay a fair price and have a system that can grow with them. A subscription to Office, for instance, can save a startup company thousands on initial software expenditure, meaning they can pay as they start to make money rather than at start up.

If you’re new to the cloud, then it is worth pointing out that all of this basically means that you move one or two of the big servers in your office into the bin and access everything instead from Microsoft’s servers. Microsoft Exchange syncs perfectly with your local Outlook and can be accessed anywhere online using Outlook Web App (previously Outlook Web Access – yes, the name changes are endless) which is used to manage email, calendars, contacts and tasks.

A full Personal Information Manager in the cloud is a massive bonus, and the Outlook Web App means you have most of the functions of your desktop Outlook at your fingertips wherever you are, not just when you’re on your own PC. The range of options and features are vast in comparison to the 2007 OWA and gives users a great deal more flexibility in how they manage their email and time.

clip_image001Microsoft Office 365: the Home Page

A common misconception about cloud services is that in order to work you need to be online. I agree that this need for connection is a major drawback, and one that Google Apps Premier has in buckets. (You can’t even change a Google spreadsheet or document if you’re not online. This may change later this year with offline HTML5 versions, but for now it’s a big hassle.)

This is where Microsoft really shines: OWA syncs with your on-premises Outlook. Equally, Office 365 supports the SharePoint Workspace offline tool, meaning you can work on your desktop and then sync with the cloud when you are connected. If you’ve used SharePoint 2010, which is a big improvement on 2007, the online version is virtually the same. The familiar MS Office style means that it is easy for anyone familiar with Microsoft software to learn.

It’s perhaps unfair that Microsoft has the inherent advantage of a familiar user interface, but nevertheless it does – and that’s all there is to it. SharePoint is a great document management tool. It can be made as simple or complex as you like with its greatest advantage being its one size fits all approach (and equally perhaps its greatest drawback). Many users like the basic approached offered by a shared drive, rather than the complexities of document management and so simple document storage facilities can be setup for access by groups of users with as much filing and process as you deem suitable.

SharePoint 2010 in Office 365 can also be used as a public-facing web presence with easy-add features such as maps and PayPal integration. By clicking the website button in a team site, you’re taken straight to an online web page. This isn’t a full solution and is obviously not going to remove the need for a website; however, while designing your site, it can be very useful as a landing page. For companies that don’t spend much time on the web, or much money on IT, it can provide that simple web presence which will allow people to verify your company as essentially “real”. Before or after meetings, everyone invariably checks a company’s website; if there’s nothing there, then it certainly doesn’t look good.

Finally, there’s Lync 2010, combining instant messaging with web conferencing. This can definitely save time and money – we’ve found through BPOS that the OCO (IM) is very well received. It’s a product linking all of a company’s users, and one which definitely saves money and sometimes deals. When sitting in a meeting with your laptop, you essentially have a silent line to those back in your office. You can basically get questions answered by colleagues without clients even knowing that you’ve asked them. (Well, apart from the frantic typing, perhaps.) It’s something that many companies never knew they would benefit from until they have it.

Unfortunately, there’s no telephone integration yet, although it’s something that is coming in one form or another. Still, it’s easy to allow external users and to invite people to video and audio conferences which, especially for a small business, is extremely powerful software feature given the price. You can also effectively present online through desktop sharing – which, if it suits your business model, can save time and money.

clip_image002Microsoft Office 365: the IT Management dashboard

Beyond these functions you have your options on MS Office software. This can be delivered via web apps or via a full blown PC download. The subscription service will take away a large amount of focus on basic software upgrades. The Web Apps have the added features which originally made Google Apps really stand out – such as live, collaborative document editing. Obviously with this tied in with Lync you can create collaborative works with extreme efficiency regardless of locality. You can also use SharePoint Workspace to work with documents when you’re offline, synchronizing with Office 365 when you have a connection.

The integration with Office 365 and your desktop is very simple. OWA can sync with Outlook 2010 at the click of a button and you can sync both your work desktop and your home PC very easily.

Office 365 is the product Microsoft should have released in the first place. The previous name was never up to scratch and the 2007 software, made slimline for the cloud, felt like a kneejerk reaction to Google Apps. No doubt Microsoft had to react, but Office 365 feels more robust.

The financial savings over time will be significant and although its price point is a lot higher than Google Apps, I think the options and familiarity are vastly superior. The desktop software almost moves it away from comparison with Google Apps; perhaps most important of all is the free phone administrator support, which has always been a major advantage (and cost) that even BPOS had over Google Apps.

Office 365 is officially launched on Tuesday 28 June. It has taken a while, but Microsoft may well have put itself back in pole position in the Software as a Service battle.

Andrew Gradwell has experience in all levels of IT, as a user, support engineer and a company director. Heading up Cloud Hypermarket, he is on a mission to bring cloud savings to companies that really need it, rather than those it is most profitable to sell to.

Setting up a Windows 7 HomeGroup

HomeGroup is a rather nifty feature of Windows 7 that allows you to easily share documents, photos and music across your home network.

If you want to learn how to set it up, we found a very useful guide on PCPro by David Fearon. It assumes you have 2 Windows 7 machines on a local network at home. Every machine you want to include in your HomeGroup will have to run on Windows 7.

How to set up a Windows 7 HomeGroup

 

clip_image002Step 01 — Select network type

The first thing to is make sure your network type is set to ‘home’ rather than ‘work’ or ‘public’. Start up the Network and Sharing Center, click your network under the Active Networks heading and then select Home.

 

clip_image004Step 02 — Start HomeGroup

Now type ‘homegroup’ in the Windows 7 start box and hit Enter. You’ll get a dialog telling you there’s no homegroup on the network. Click ‘Create a homegroup’ and choose which types of files you want to share and hit Okay.

clip_image006Step 03 — Copy the password

After a short pause, a window will appear, in which a password will fade elegantly into view. You’ll notice the password is long and random. You can write it down or, preferably, copy and paste it into a new text document.

 

clip_image008Step 04 — Change settings

Hit Finish and you’ll get the option to change the settings of the homegroup you’ve just created. There’s also the option to stream all your media in the old way via Media Player-style sharing – this isn’t actually part of the HomeGroup system though.

 

clip_image010Step 05 — Join your HomeGroup

With the homegroup set up, you can join it from any other Windows 7 PC on the network by clicking the HomeGroup entry in the left-hand pane of Explorer windows. The Join HomeGroup dialog will automatically open.

clip_image012Step 06 — Enter password

Enter the password you wrote down when you created the group, select which of the documents you want to share on this computer and that’s all there is to it. You can leave the group at any time from HomeGroup settings window.

There you go, that’s all there is to it.

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Test Mobile Sites for Free with Adobe Shadow

After reading about Adobe’s latest offering in PCPro, we wanted to share it with you.

Developing mobile sites can be ‘challenging’, especially with regards to the constant need to refresh one or more mobile devices every time you make a change.

But those clever people at Adobe have the solution. Using Adobe Shadow means, once all set up, the contents of your desktop web browser are displayed on the screen of the mobile device, rendering natively. So, when you make a change, all you have to do is hit refresh and it will appear on all connected devices – simple.

Getting started

Adobe Shadow is made up of 3 section:

  • Desktop software – free to download from Adobe Labs (works on both PC and Mac)
  • Shadow Client – download from the Chrome Web Store into Chrome
  • Mobile app – download either Android or iOS from respective app stores

You begin by running the application on your PC or Mac and fire up Chrome. Click the Shadow extension icon on the toolbar and start the app on your mobile device.

Your app will either automatically find your computer, or you’ll need to type its network IP address into the mobile app.

A passcode is then generated, which should be entered into the Chrome extension to pair the devices. This process should be repeated with all mobile devices.

Once done, navigate to the site in Chrome. Your iPad, iPhone etc., should now mirror your desktop, rendering whichever web page you visit using their native browser.

How cool is that?

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Getting a Handle on Your IT

bull by the horns

Everything is going computerised – OK, so that’s not exactly headline news, but you’d be surprised at the number of companies out there still battling with paper records.

To those who don’t use it a lot, technology can seem daunting. There’s that constant fear of pressing the wrong button and losing everything. And what happens when something goes wrong?

The sad fact is that if you don’t get a handle on your IT and drag your business into the 21st century, you’re going to be left behind.

Get your training started

Take a look at these questions:

  • Are you a small company trying to compete in the big world of commerce?
  • Are you fed up with manual cash books, sales books, carbon copy invoices and hand written quotations?
  • Do you own a computer, but are not sure how best to utilise it?
  • Would you like a computer but don’t know where to begin, and have no one to guide you to buy one?
  • Would you like some affordable help?

Go on, be honest, how many times did you say ‘yes’?

It’s time to take the bull by the horns (or computer by the keyboard) and get to grips with technology – it’s really not as difficult as you think.

Contacting your local IT training specialist will help your business compete with the big boys.

Before you know it, you’ll be surfing, word processing and spread-sheeting like a professional.

What are you waiting for? Find your nearest IT training company today and embrace technology.

Computer Security for Businesses on a Budget

padlockSecurity of your IT systems is, or at least should be, paramount.

As a small business, a crash of systems or data loss, could cause untold damage to your business – it could even close you down.

Therefore, regardless of your budget, you must ensure your security measures are adequate.

 

To help you out, here are 5 ways to enhance your security settings.

1. The weakest link

The weakest link in your small business security chain is your staff.

It doesn’t matter how much you spend on fancy security systems, one careless click on a dodgy link, an insecure password or unsecure download could undo all your good intentions.

Staff education is the key. By instructing them in good practice you will minimise the risks of human error leading to a security breech.

2. Don’t waste money

Where is your largest security spend? Make sure the data you are protecting warrants that level of protection.

Not all the data you have will be attractive to potential thieves. Remember one size doesn’t fit all so make sure you look objectively at your systems and allocate the lion’s share of your security budget on the areas it is needed most.

3. Patch

Patches and software updates are generated for a reason, not just to annoy you. They don’t cost you anything other than a bit of time to install them. Make sure you check and install updates regularly to make sure your systems are as secure as possible.

4. Be strong

Make sure you all your staff are aware of the need for strong passwords. Creating a proper password policy within your company will have a dramatic effect on the security of your systems.

5. Lock it

The other points have looked at keeping your software and systems secure but you also have to keep your hardware secure too. It sounds obvious but make sure your building is securely locked after hours because your IT security is only as good as your building’s security.

These simple 5 steps will help you achieve a standard level of security for your systems. IT security should always be at the top of your list – how safe is yours?

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Argh! Paper Jam

jam

Why does your printer always get into muddle when you have a large document to print or you’re in a hurry?

You quickly open the document, hit print, turn round to go and do something else and then you hear it. That horrible, sickening, unmistakable sound of a paper jam.

It’s part of life – sooner or later you are going to encounter a paper jam. So what do you do when it happens?

Scream – shout at the printer – yank at the paper in the vain hope it will slide effortlessly out of the printer – walk away and hope someone else will deal with it?

How to fix a paper jam

When it happens, it’s not the end of the world. It might seem like it, but it isn’t. Keep a calm head and follow these simple instructions.

  • Turn off your printer.
  • Take a look at the tray into which your printed paper ejects. If the stuck paper is visible manually remove it by pulling it carefully with both hands (don’t tear it). If you can’t get to an edge to hold it, manually turn the gears that feed the paper through the printer.
  • Remove all paper trays and any paper that is stuck between the tray and the printer. If visible remove as above.
  • Open the printer door (the one that gives access to ink cartridges or toner) and look for stuck paper. If you can see it, remove it.
  • Switch the printer back on. If the paper error still shows repeat these steps. If it still persists but you can’t see any stuck paper there’s a fair chance your printer might be experiencing hardware problems so it’s best to contact your printer manufacturer for further help.

Of course it’s better if you can avoid paper jams in the first place. They will happen now and again but if you experience this problem a lot here are a few things you can try to prevent them from happening in the future.

  1. Don’t fill your paper tray to its capacity.
  2. Make sure the paper in the tray is aligned properly and the slider (which holds the paper in place) is in the right position.
  3. Use standard paper as folded paper, labels and other speciality papers can cause jams.
  4. Don’t mix the paper you’re using. If you need to change paper of the size of paper, remove any other paper before starting.
  5. Check the printer thoroughly after a paper jam as torn paper and other foreign objects can cause recurring jams.

Next time you get a paper jam don’t panic, follow these simple steps and you’ll soon be up and running again.

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Welcome To The World of Databases–Part 3

Drawbacks of Database Development

database

In this mini series of posts about databases, we’ve already looked at the benefits they offer businesses and the different types of databases that are available.

This time round we’ll look at how they are developed and the possible drawbacks of that development.

Databases will benefit any business that needs to process and manipulate large amounts of data. Because database development tools are designed to make maintaining and managing the structure of data files easier, they impose strict parameters on developers to make sure the data retains its accuracy.

Most modern database development systems use structured query language (SQL) processing. This allows you to analyse large amounts of data and generate reports in a variety of different ways.

As with all systems, SQL will require a certain level of expertise to be used effectively so it is advantageous to obtain the necessary IT training and guidance.

The problems with database development

Relational database management system (RDBMS) technology allows the building of applications that can be tailored to your specific business requirements. But it can be expensive and time-consuming.

Unless you happen to have the specific knowledge it is unlikely you’d be able to develop your own in-house application because you’ll need:

  • An initial consultation
  • Analysis of your requirements
  • System specification
  • Database design
  • Programming
  • Testing
  • Implementation
  • Training
  • On-going maintenance

As you can see that would be a tall order for most businesses to come up with.

You must ensure your database fulfils all your needs for  the daily running of your business. The other option is to utilise an off the shelf solution which gives you the core functions you need and then build your own specific needs into it.

If you do decide to get one developed for you, here are a few questions to ask your potential suppliers:

  • How long have they been an established supplier?
  • What are all the costs involved? (e.g. set up fee, annual renewable licence etc.)
  • How much do they charge for technical support?
  • Is the system scalable?
  • Can they recommend any third-party developers that make use of their RDBMS?
  • Is there an active independent user group?
  • Can they provide references for businesses in your industry using their software?
  • Do they offer training for the RDBMS and what are the associated costs?

As you can see there’s a lot to think about when considering which database solution is right for you. Before you dive in, make sure you know precisely what you need for your business now and in the future. Once you are armed with that information you will be better placed to make sure you get the right system for your business.

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Welcome To The World of Databases–Part 2

Types of database systems

database

Our previous post looked at the various benefits of databases. This time we’ll look at the different types of database systems and how to choose the one that’s right for you.

First things first, let’s look at the different types of database systems that are available.

 

In general they come in one of two basic forms:

  • Single-file or ‘flat file’ databases
  • Multi-file relational or ‘structured’ databases

So how do you decide which is right for you? Well  that will depend on a number of factors, such as:

  • The complexity of the data you want to store (e.g. plain text, sound files, images etc.)
  • How much you want to store and process
  • Whether you need access for more than one person to access and amend the data
  • If the data has to be imported from or exported to other IT systems

The best way to look at it is that if your requirements are simple – for example you just need to monitor names and addresses of a 100 or so customers – a standard office tool such as a spreadsheet would probably suffice.

But if your needs are more complex than that, you should consider something more sophisticated such as Microsoft Access, FileMaker Pro, SQL Server, Oracle, Sybase, Informix or MySQL. These programmes are designed to sort and search large volumes of a variety of data types.

Of course we should also mention specialist database products such as contact management packages like ACT, Maximiser and Chaos which are designed to manage and manipulate contact information. Plus there are also database solutions for specific industries such as manufacturing or insurance.

Therefore finding your ideal product can be tricky.

Finding your perfect match

If you’re a small business you probably won’t need a sophisticated relational database management system (RDBMS) as you may well find you can manage perfectly well with a standard spreadsheet.

But if you are a bigger company with hundreds of customers, product lines and suppliers, a RDBMS is your best option.

The other thing you should take into consideration is how you will use the database. Spreadsheets can be viewed by many people but generally only amended by one person at a time. An RDBMS allows several people to access and amend data simultaneously.

Lots to think about then. The best way to find your perfect match is to work out what you want to get from your database, how much information you have to store (and what type of information it is), and how many people will need access to it. Once you know that, it will be easier for you to find your ideal system.

Next week we’ll look at potential problems.

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Welcome To The World of Databases

The Benefits of Databases

database

Every business gathers information which needs to be organised, easily accessible and secure.

The humble database is a business’s best friend. It’s there to organise, process and manage information in a structured and controlled manner.

This is the first of 3 posts that will look at databases, how to choose the right one for you and potential drawbacks.

What is a database?

Let’s get back to basics. A database is a collection of data that’s been organised so your computer can quickly select desired items. It could be a customer mailing list or stock codes for example.

In the good old days companies relied on manual filing systems which tended to be unreliable, unwieldy to use and very slow. Plus they can be used to cross-reference information held in different files. A relational database management system uses common ‘keys’ to tie related information together (e.g. a customer ID number can be used to identify an individual customer or link a customer to an order for specific goods).

Database benefits

The more you know about your customers, suppliers and competitors the better so if you can store your information in a structured way you’ll gain a great advantage.

Gathering and processing information is time consuming but it’s also the best way to keep track of how your business is performing.

A sophisticated relational database management system will help you with this. By constantly adding data you can gain a historical perspective on how particular products are performing and help you identify trends.

The use of this type of database technology will help you:

  • Reduce time spent managing data
  • Analyse data in a number of ways
  • Promote a disciplined approach to data management
  • Turn disparate information into a valuable resource
  • Improve the quality and consistency of your information

So as you can see databases can really give your business the edge. The next post in this series on databases will look at types of database systems and deciding which one is right for you.

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

How to Avoid Losing Important Server Data

lose

It can happen to the best of us.

Lost data is inconvenient, annoying and can be down right expensive.

So how can you made sure you don’t fall foul of the data gremlins that love to cause chaos?

Well, before we get to that, here are a few sobering statistics to think about:

  • 60% of businesses close down within 6 months of losing their data
  • You could be fined up to £500,000 under the amended Data Protection Act if you’re found to have recklessly lost confidential data
  • 45% of business still have insufficient back-up procedures in place to protect their data

Sounds scary when you look at it like that, doesn’t it?

If you are one of the 45% read on (in fact even if you think you have sufficient procedures in place it would be a good idea to keep reading) because this blog post could save you time, money and your reputation.

9 Ways to reduce the risk of losing your data

1. Back-up system

We’ll start with the most obvious. If you don’t already have one, set up a back-up system both on and off site. You also need to test them regularly and should consider having a disaster recovery package.

By having an off site back-up you’ll help protect yourself from possible disasters such as fire or burglary.

2. Maintain your network

Set yourself up an early warning system. Using anti virus and keeping your patches up to date will help you maintain your network and hardware. This will help show up any devices that could potentially cause problems before they arise.

3. Keep an eye on your data

Understanding what data you store, where it’s stored and who has access to it will help you make sure it’s safe at all times. You should also regularly review your IT risk assessment and IT security policy.

4. Keep it secret

Wireless networks can run the risk of being hacked into because you don’t need a physical connection to access the data. To boost your security use a complicated password or hide the name of the network to stop potential intruders being aware of its existence.

5. USB

It’s a good idea to restrict the usage of USB memory sticks. This will prevent data being copied to unsecure devices and so reduce the risk of malware being introduced to your network.

6. Encrypt

If you have data going off site make sure it’s encrypted. You should also secure remote access to prevent data being stolen from mobile hardware.

7. Training

Make sure all your staff are trained in the importance of IT security (such as the use of passwords) and give them their own space on the service to save their documents.

8. Be up to date

Keep your asset register and user accounts up to date.

9. Keep it clean

Wipe data before disposing of old hardware or make sure recyclers do this for you.

By following these simple steps you will help prevent your company becoming yet another statistic.

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.