Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Software: Password Management Applications (Updated)

About a year ago I wrote the original article which this one is based on, but I recently decided it was and important subject and it needed to be expanded with more information.

The problems is that most of us are swimming in passwords, and we have a hard time remembering all of them.  To deal with the password overload, people will use different unsecured methods like writing them down store them in obvious places on a post-it note under a keyboards, a phone, a mouse pad, even under or in a desk drawer.  Others write them on notes and leave them on their monitors or computers.

You could created encrypted document of some type (e.g. text, Word, Excel, etc.) to store them.  There are also several password management applications available for you to download, some are free and others cost money.

Although before you pay for anything or try other programs.  Check out a program called KeePass.  This is a multiple platform, open-source password management application.  There are also 3rd party ports of the application that work on popular mobile platforms (e.g. iPhone, Android, etc.).

KeyPass will store your private data in an encrypted file, so even if someone steals it they can't read it unless they know the master password.  Check out the web site for more information.

Note: KeyPass needs its data file to be shared with a file-based sync solution such as Dropbox to be utilized among multiple devices (e.g. PCs, Macs, iDevices, and Android Devices).
If you want something that offers more features then KeyPass, checkout some of the commercial password management solutions like:
  • 1Password
    • Stores your private information (e.g. passwords, credit cards, etc.) in a locally encrypted file and can automatically log you into your favorite website and fill-in web form fields.  See the site for more information.
    • Note: 1Password needs its data file to be shared with a file-based sync solution such as Dropbox to be utilized among multiple devices (e.g. PCs, Macs, iDevices, and Android Devices).
  • LastPass
    • Like 1Password this application stores your private information (e.g. passwords, credit cards, etc.) in an encrypted web service that can automatically log you into your favorite website and fill-in web form information.  
    • There is a free and premium version of the service.  The major difference between the two versions of the services is that the premium subscription includes ability access to your data from a mobile device (several different platforms are supported).  See the site for more information.
    • Note: LastPass is a cloud based solution, which syncs your passwords with its servers.  If the companies servers are down, you will not have access to your passwords.  So you might want to make sure that you have an encrypted local backup of your password data file.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Special Offer: Carbonite Update and $20 Amazon Gift Card for Signing Up

I have talked about the Carbonite cloud based backup service in the past, see the excerpt below from an article that I wrote back in July.  

Recently I found out two new things about the Carbonite service, and I wanted to share it.  First, they extended their service to include protection of your Android based cellphone. They currently offer backup, location, and remote lock and wipe (if your phone is stolen) service.  Apple already offers most of these feature through their iCloud service for the iPhone.  Second, they're also offering a $20 Amazon gift card if you use this link to purchase this service (note: I am not sure how long this offer will last).

Read the pro and cons of "Local Hard Drive Backup vs Cloud Backup" options below and make your own decision that works best for you.

Article Excerpt
Below is a list of some advantages to using a cloud based backup service provider vs. using an external hard drive:
  • All your backups are stored off-site automatically.
  • Some backup solutions offer services that run in the background on your computer that automatically compresses your unbacked up files, encrypts them, then forward them on to the service provider you selected.
  • You almost never have to worry about running out of capacity as long as you have a budget for the storage that you're using.

There are several service providers available that offer some type of cloud based backup services.  Some are free, while others cost money.  The hard part will be finding one that you like, and that has the features that you want.
There are also some disadvantages to using these services, such as: 
  • Depending on how much data you have, these services can initially use a lot of bandwidth to upload all your data.  Depending on your ISP there may be a cap on the amount of data that you can utilize each month.
  • If you have to recover your whole hard drive from your service provider it can be challenging and expensive depending on the solutions that they offer.

Below is a list of features and other considerations when looking for a company to host your backups:

  • Has a good reputation for providing a reliable backup solution.
  • Offers easy to use software that automatically backs up your files and uses strong encryption.
  • Offers affordable pricing for storage and recovery services.
  • Offers storage capacity options that meets your needs and budget

Check out a site called Carbonite, they provide affordable Internet backup solutions for privately owned personal computers and small businesses.  Check out the site to see a current list of features and prices. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hardware: Introduction to RAID Arrays

Did you know if you have multiple drives on your computer, and your hard drive controller supports RAID you can make them appear as one drive? RAID is an acronym for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks. Some motherboard and hard drive controllers support the ability to create a RAID array out of two or more disks.

You might wonder what are some of the advantages to RAID arrays? The first thing you need to know about this technology, there are several different types of RAID, each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. The second thing you need to know, all versions of RAID make multiple hard drives look like one drive to the operating system.

Some types of RAID arrays offer fault protection, for example if a hard drives in the array fails. Other types of RAID arrays offer speed advantages, for example your computer can read and write data to multiple drive at the same time (this is called striping).

Below is a list that explains the different types of RAID arrays that are available:
  • RAID 0 (Stripping): Data is striped across two (or more) drives, this maximizes read and write performance. There is no redundancy in this configuration, if one hard drive fails in the array you will lose all your data.
    • Note: This array configuration requires at least two drives.
  • RAID 1 (Mirroring): When data is written to one drive, it's also written to an identical drive. This process is known as disk mirroring. If one drive fails, the backup drive takes over. When the failed drive has been replaced, the data will be mirrored to the new drive.
    • Note: In this array configuration, you can experience slower writes, and even though you have two drives you only get the storage capacity of one of the drives (the second drive is being used to backup the main drive).
  • RAID 5 (Parity): In this configuration, data is striped across all the drives (like RAID 0), with some additional parity data. The parity data is used to rebuild the data on a new drive that has been replaced after the old one failed. A RAID 5 array can only survive one drive failing at a time, at least until the replacement drive has been rebuilt (note: this process can take several hours depending on the size of the drives).
    • Notes:
      • In this array configuration, you need at least three drives at a minimum. This RAID configuration has read and write performance faster than RAID 1, but can be little slower than RAID 0.
      • In this array configuration, you're going to lose about 25% of your drive space to parity information. For example, if you had four 250GB drives in theory you should be able to make them look like one 1TB (Terabyte = 1000 Gigabytes) drive. Although, after you RAID them you might only have about 750GB storage from all the drives.
  • RAID 10 or RAID 0+1 (Stripping + Mirror): Uses a combination of RAID 0 and 1, it gives you increased performance by striping the volumes, but it also mirrors the volumes. This configuration requires a minimum of four drives.
      • Notes: In this array configuration, you would yield about 500GB of capacity from four 250GB hard drives. This is because two disk are used for stripping and two disks are used for mirroring.
Note: In the RAID 1, 5, 10 array configurations you're only protected against one hard drive failing. These array configurations don't protect you against file damage or lose caused by a virus, user error, or other types failure. So make sure you backup your data on a regular basis.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Article: If Windows 8 baffles you, here's some free training

 CNET Reviews reports: "People new to Windows 8 can get a helping hand via a special course from the online training site Dubbed Windows 8 Essential Training, the four-hour course is available for free to the public until November 23." (read the rest of the article)

Bringing 'Minority Report' touchless gestures to Windows 8

CNET News reports: "Elliptic Labs wants to bring the touchless gesture controls seen in the science-fiction film "Minority Report" to everyday consumer electronic devices, starting with Windows 8." (read the rest of the article)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Windows 8: Windows Key Keyboard Shortcuts

With every new version of it operating system, Microsoft updates the keyboard shortcuts.  Sometimes it changes the functionality of older shortcuts, and it also adds new shortcuts as appropriate.

The Windows Key (WinKey) keyboard shortcuts below are for Windows 8

Key Strokes Description
WinKey Displays the Start screen.
WinKey + Pause/Break Displays System Properties page.
WinKey + D Displays the Desktop from the Start screen.
WinKey + E Displays Windows Explorer.
WinKey + F Displays Search for files and folder.
WinKey + F1 Displays Help and Support Center.
WinKey + L Lock the workstation.
WinKey + M  Minimizes all of the windows on the desktop*.
WinKey + R Displays Run dialog box.
WinKey + Tab  Lists the currently running applications.
WinKey+ PrtScrn
Takes a screenshot and saves it in the Screenshots folder under the Pictures folder. Note: On a Windows 8 tablet to take a screenshot, press the Windows button and the volume-down button simultaneously on the tablet chassis.
WinKey + Q
Displays the Global Search menu.
WinKey + W
Displays the System Settings menu.    
WinKey + , (comma)Makes all windows transparent.
WinKey + . (period)Toggles the current window to the right or left side.
WinKey + XDisplays the Quick Access menu. Note: Similar to right-clicking on the bottom right corner of the screen to view the Quick Access Menu.
WinKey + IDisplays the Settings menu.
WinKey + OLocks the orientation for devices with an accelerometer.

To find more application shortcut keys for Windows, Internet Explorer, Remote Desktop and several more, check out my Application Keyboard Shortcuts page.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Windows 8

Most people already know that Windows 8 has been released, and those that installed it on they're systems are experiencing Microsoft's new "Modern UI".  Personally I like the new OS, it modernizes the Windows user interface which really has not changed since 1995 with the introduction of Windows 95.

The Windows Modern UI incorporates some new user interface metaphors that were designed to allow the OS to be controlled by a touch screen.  Although, the OS still  supports being controlled with a traditional keyboard and mouse gestures, but may take sometime before they become totally natural (or comfortable).

Another new feature of the Windows Modern UI that you will notice right away is the use of "Live Tiles".  These are basically large application icons that can be updated with real-time information by the associated application.

Windows 8 Versions
There are a lot of things that I think Microsoft really did well when they released this OS.  First there are not six different versions of the OS (like Windows 7), now there is only two.  The Windows 8 version for home users and the Windows 8 Professional version for business users.
Note: there are technically two other versions, Windows 8 Enterprise (which is intended for large organizations).  There is also Windows 8 RT which only available pre-installed on tablets and laptop from the manufacture.
Over the next few weeks I plan on covering some basic tips and tricks that will help you to fully utilize the new features of the operating system.

Tip: Using Windows 8 Charms
One of the first things I believe you need to know about Windows 8 is how to use the "Charms" sidebar interface (which includes the Search, Share, Start, Devices and Setting menus).  This is a set of five icons that will pop-up on the right side of the screen from the Start screen or from within any application.

To bring up the Charms sidebar, hover your mouse over the upper or lower right-hand corner of the screen, or press the Windows + C keys on your keyboard, or on a  touchscreens by swiping your finger down from the right edge of the screen toward the center.

Video: The Live Tile Experiment
Below is a video called the "The Live Tile Experiment" by Microsoft.  One of my favorite features of Windows Modern UI are the "Live Tiles".

In the video (which takes place in Germany) they created a real life "live tile" and put it on the street.  When the tile is clicked the wall falls down and something wonderful happens.