A Quick Look at Google Apps for Business
A few months ago, we took a look at Microsoft’s Office365. Today, we look at their largest competitor for cloud-based business services: Google Apps for Business.
Google Apps for Business includes all of the same features of a individual user’s Google account, like Gmail powered email, Google Drive, and Google Calendar, coupled with more business-intensive applications like Adwords, Analytics, and Checkout.
Like most Google products, each of these applications is designed to be user-friendly and relatively easy on the eyes, but that doesn’t mean that certain elements shouldn’t be left to the experts. Despite what many people might think about the instant usability of many Google products, some parts of this suite of applications are quite complex and robust. It is still recommended to contact professionals when setting up a Google Apps for Business account.
Pricing for Google Apps for Business is definitely reasonable, with two options at $5 and $10 per month, respectively. The $10 per month package includes data retrieval services, as well as Vault, an application for archiving important business data.
Perhaps the most powerful component of Google Apps is Analytics, an application that allows subscribers to embed a small piece code on their personal websites to measure and display a wide range of traffic, click-through, and site usage statistics. Users can also create custom dashboards, custom reporting, and have plenty of options for visualizing usage data. Many companies using other solutions for email, collaboration, content management, etc. still use Google Analytics to keep tabs on traffic and the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns.
Similarly, the Adwords application is used to display advertisements on Google search results and through their advertising channels, and remains widely used by businesses and individuals, whether or not they are using the rest of the Google Apps suite.
There is no doubt that businesses of all types and sizes require these types of solutions for their online business needs, and while there will always be debate over which provider to choose, Google Apps for Business is a formidable contender for the needs of any company.
For more information about Google Apps for Business, visit http://www.google.com/enterprise/apps/business/Read more
Keep Your Computer Strong with Windows Updates
One of the very best ways to keep your computer running smoothly, as well as protected from potential threats, is to make sure you are keeping the operating system software regularly updated.
For Windows users, this means allowing Windows Update to run regularly, and making sure to install the updates as they are available. Depending on the version of Windows you are running, you should be able to easily find the Windows Update in your Start Menu (it may be under Start > Programs > Windows Update). If you are having difficulty finding the program in your Start menu, you can simply type “Update” into your Start Menu’s search box. Users can also use Internet Explorer to visit http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com.
This program will check for available updates to your operating systems, as well as updates to device drivers and security features. Updates can range from small, optional drivers to large Service Packs for your operating system. Optional updates will be labeled as such.
Keeping your system updated means that you are installing the latest patches and software fixes, improving the overall operation and security of your machine. Updates may contain solutions to compatibility issues, bug fixes, new features, or minor changes that go unnoticed by the untrained eye.
It is recommended that you check for system updates at least once per month, though there is no steadfast rule as to how often updates are released. Users can also turn on automatic updating, which enables Windows Update to run in the background and actively check for updates. Automatic updating still requires some action on the part of the user, to approve and install updates as they are downloaded. Automatic Update users will see notifications of new updates in their system tray (at the far right of the task bar).
If you are having trouble receiving or installing updates, Microsoft offers comprehensive support for Windows 8, Windows 7, Vista, and Windows XP. Visit http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/support to see the available support options, as well as detailed instructions for downloading and installing system updates.
Making sure your version of Windows has the latest updates not only improves security and helps ensure performance, it also allows for more accurate troubleshooting if you do encounter a problem.
Maximize the life and performance of your machine by keeping it regularly updated, whether manually or automatically, and avoid problems of all types with software that is completely current!Read more
How to Clean the Dust Out of Your Computer Tower
As we’ve mentioned before, proper computer maintenance involves a combination of both hardware and software related duties. One often-neglected bit of hardware maintenance is cleaning the dust out of your computer tower. For one reason or another, many computer users simply let their towers sit and collect dust beneath desks, in cupboards, or nestled away in entertainment centers.
Dust accumulates in every home and office, even more so with pets, smoke, and heavy foot traffic. This dust gets sucked in through fans and vents, and cakes up around important ports and connections.
To help extend the lifespan of your hardware, Peterson Computer Consulting recommends blowing the dust out of your tower at least every six months. This is not a rule set in stone, of course. Use your best judgment, and check your tower for dust build up from time to time.
For cleaning the dust out of your machine, follow these instructions:
• Before you start, make sure you back up your files completely. It is unlikely that you will cause any damage or encounter any problems, but it’s better to be cautious.
• Shut down the computer and remove all cables, peripheral devices, etc., including power cords, USB adapters, and VGA cables
• Take your completely disconnected tower to a well-ventilated area
• Consult your owners manually for instructions for properly removing your computer’s case – for most designs, the main shell of the case can be removed easily, with only a few screws to manage
• Use a can of compressed air to spray the dust from inside your tower, paying close attention to small corners and crevices – be sure to hold the compressed air can upright while spraying
• For fan cleaning, it is best to remove the fan (if you have the technical ability) and clean with a damp cloth – if you don’t want to remove your fan, use a pencil (or similarly shaped object) to hold the fan blades in place when spraying with compressed air, as failure to do so can damage your fan by spinning it too quickly
• Use compressed air and/or a damp cloth to clean the grills and any intakes on your computer’s case
• When all dust has been removed, reassemble the tower/case, properly tighten all screws, reattach cables and devices, and boot up your clean, ready to use computer!
It should be noted that using a vacuum to clean your dusty computer is NOT recommended. The static from the vacuum could have potentially damaging consequences. For the best results, follow the instructions listed above.Read more
The Importance of The Defrag
Most computer users are familiar with the term “defrag,” but a large portion of them may not understand exactly what the process entails, or why it is so important to computer performance.
A “defrag” is the process of defragmenting the files stored on a computer’s hard drive. Even though we see our files as one complete item – a picture, song, video, etc. – the file is actually broken into many, many pieces, stored in separately on your hard drive, and reassembled when you access the file. This mechanism is to ensure that files are stored with maximum efficiency, and that no space on the drive is wasted.
Over time, however, these tiny pieces of files can become fragmented. That is, the small bits of data that compose a file are separated from one another, requiring the computer to use more resources to pull the data together and open the file. This happens for several reasons, including saving new versions of files, installing new programs, deleting or moving files, and basically any other process that would require a hard drive to “rethink” the structure of its data. Free space is used and reused to execute these types of actions, and this constant rearranging takes it toll on the file structure.
Defragmenting is essentially allowing your hard drive to reorganize itself, putting the fragmented file pieces back in a structure that can be accessed more quickly, using fewer resources. It is this reorganization for more efficient access that actually speeds up your computer’s performance after defragging.
Now, it is possible to defrag your hard drive too often – the process is pretty labor intensive for the hard drive, and if there aren’t many fragmented files to fix, you won’t get much of a performance boost either. At Peterson Computer Consulting, we generally recommend a defrag once a month. Users engaging in more intense computing, like operating database servers or running resource-intensive programs on a regular basis may want to defragment more often.
Beyond part of your scheduled maintenance, defragmentation can also be used to diagnose performance issues or treat symptoms. If your computer is being particularly sluggish, a defrag might be just what it needs.
Before you run a defragmenting program (either third party or standard issue), it’s a good idea to do some file cleanup manually – delete unwanted files, uninstall programs, run disk cleanup utilities and disk scans, make a system backup, and when all of this is in order, run your defragmenter.
No matter how you use your machine, add regular defragmentation to your list of scheduled maintenance to improve performance and keep your files in order.
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The Importance of File Backups
Even with the best and most meticulous maintenance, things can go wrong with your computer. In the event of a catastrophic failure, having a secure backup of your data could save you serious time, money, and stress.
The files stored on your computer are the most important component, despite what you may think. Hardware, monitors, operating systems, and software can all be replaced, but your precious, unique data cannot be. Even if your machine has to be scrapped completely, being able to start on a new machine with all of your data (and even program files) can make all the difference in your productivity, entertainment, or whatever you might be using your computer to accomplish.
There are several ways to backup your files, both manual and automatic. Backups can be made to external drives, to the cloud, or even to writeable CDs – whichever works best for you. Manual backups can be time consuming, but will ensure that you are creating copies of the files you want specifically, and can be done any time you need! Automated backups are also a great method, and there are plenty of software options available to schedule backups at predetermined intervals, to the external drive or cloud-based service of your choice.
Depending on how frequently your files change, you will want to execute your file backups accordingly. It is recommended to back up your most important files weekly, but that will, of course, depend on the sensitivity of the information.
Regardless of how or when you back your files up, know that making it a regular part of your maintenance routine could end up being a lifesaver in the event of a serious problem. Protect your data by backing it up regularly, and keeping that backup secure – either in in the cloud, or on external devices stored in a highly protected location. When worst comes to worst, you will be glad you did.Read more
The Benefits of VoIP
More and more businesses are utilizing Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to meet their telephony leads. In fact, VoIP has become something of a buzzword among small to medium sized businesses – companies who use it sing its praises, and companies who do not are surely curious about the technology’s popularity.
The term VoIP covers a fairly wide range of telephony services – for a more comprehensive overview you can read our Introduction to VoIP. For most cases, though, it simply means a phone system that operates via the internet, instead of traditional phone lines. But why is it so popular?
Here are some of the benefits of VoIP phone systems:
1. Save Money
VoIP services are typically much cheaper than traditional phones lines, especially as landlines become less popular. Both setup and service costs are drastically lower than most traditional telephone companies. Other money savers include lower long-distance charges and only needing a single internet solution, instead of separate internet and telephone networks.
2. Not Tied to A Physical Location
With any broadband internet connection, users are able to connect to their unique VoIP network. This means that travel, working from remote locations, or moving to a new facility are that much easier. If you have your IP device and a broadband connection, your telephony system can be in place anywhere in the world.
3. Scales to Meet Your Needs
While you do need specific devices for a VoIP system, once up and running, scaling to meet your needs is as simple as adding or removing a device – there are no lines to connect or disconnect. Most systems will be managed through a software portal, many of them web-based, that allow users to assign numbers, add and remove voicemail boxes, implement forwarding numbers, and a perform a range of other functions to adjust the telephone network to meet the company’s needs.
As a company is able to save money, scale more easily, and enjoy increased maneuverability through a VoIP telephony system, they will also be able to funnel the saved capital into other portions of the business. Easy scaling helps reduce the woes of hiring new employees, freeing up more resources and manpower. The benefits of this technology can ripple through many aspects of a business, far beyond communication alone.Read more
Protect Your Computer with Regular Virus Scans
Regular maintenance is integral to the longevity of your computer, and just as important for software as it is for hardware. Without proper care, perfectly maintained hardware can fall victim to malicious software.
Here at Peterson Computer Consulting, we recommend performing a thorough virus scan each and every week to ensure that your computer is uninfected and running in top shape. We use Trend Micro, but there are plenty of options available to meet your needs and budget.
Many people assume that if they aren’t noticing performance issues on their machine, that it must be free of harmful software. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. There are plenty of viruses and other pieces of malware that can damage your computer or collect your important information right under your nose. These clever programs can remain undetected by the naked eye, and require virus and malware scanning programs to find and remove them.
Most available anti-virus software is capable of scheduling regular scans, and will only require action if something is detected. Along with regularly scheduled scans, it is very important to make sure that whatever anti-virus solution you’ve chosen to use is up-to-date, or the newest pieces of malicious software may slip by untraced.
Make a point to protect your computer from viruses by scanning often and using trusted, current software to do it. Your operating system will thank you.Read more
How Skype Can Save Your Business Money
Skype is one of the most popular applications for chat, video chat, and web-based telephony on the market today, but can it actually save businesses money?
The answer, in fact, is an emphatic yes!
Not only is Skype a great way for employees to communicate with one another, share files and screens, and establish project-specific communication groups, it also allows for people to remain connected over any distance – remote employees can get to know each other’s faces, even if they are oceans apart. This type of employee connectivity boosts productivity and reduces lapses on communication.
For connecting with customers or clients, Skype can be integrated into existing telephony systems. There are a variety of options available for Skype as a business-wide phone system, and even the most basic allows for calling landlines and mobile phones worldwide for roughly 2 cents per minute. Users can purchase credits, pay by monthly subscription, choose specific countries to include in their plans, send SMS messages, and select from a host of other “a la carte” options to best fit the needs of any size business. Regardless of what options are chosen, Skype is still one of the most cost effective methods for making international calls, even for individual, non-business users.
Calls between accounts are completely free, saving huge costs if clients are also using Skype.
Businesses with Skype integrated into their telephone systems can also receive calls from both traditional phones and other web-based telephone systems, and can even embed “Call Us On Skype” buttons on their websites, effectively increasing visibility and availability to prospects for very little cost.
By opening lines of communication and maintaining extremely competitive pricing, Skype can reduce telephony costs and boost productivity for nearly any small to medium sized business.Read more
Dropbox, Google Drive, and SkyDrive: A Quick Overview of Cloud-Based Storage
In today’s market, the three most prevalent options for cloud-based storage are Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft’s SkyDrive, but how do they stack up against one another?
All three solutions are fairly similar in their implementation, with website-based access, hardware syncing, and mobile applications available, but when you look closely, there are significant differences that make each option unique.
Google Drive, Dropbox, and SkyDrive all feature free and paid versions of their applications. The space available for free accounts is as follows:
Dropbox – 2-3GB
Google Drive – 5GB
SkyDrive – 7GB (new users only, with some users eligible for 25GB free)
Paid accounts for each service vary in price and structure. For an additional 100GB of storage, Dropbox charges an annual fee of $99, compared to $50 for SkyDrive and roughly $60 for Google Drive ($4.99 per month). Upgrades for more than 100GB are available, of course, for increasingly larger fees. Dropbox offers a “Team” account for multiple users as well, which includes a terabyte of storage and scaleable plans as needed. For basic needs, however, Google Drive appears to be the most cost-effective, with 25GB plans for only $2.49 per month.
The largest divider among users of these solutions has to do with preferred platform. Dropbox has the most widespread compatibility, available for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Blackberry, and Android. SkyDrive is also compatible with the most common devices (Windows, Mac, iOS – including iPad, and Android), but remains unavailable to Linux and Blackberry users. Google Drive is also available on all of the major platforms, but remains incompatible with Linux, and has yet to release an app supported by Windows phones.
For most users (other than Linux and Windows Phone users) each option is available for both desktop and mobile devices, with browser-based access available when you’re really in a pinch.
When boiled down to their specific features, there are strengths and weaknesses to each service. Dropbox is certainly the most expensive, but includes robust file history and recovery. Google Drive is particularly secure and has great search features, but can cause some headaches with syncing to folders with the desktop. SkyDrive has great email and social media integration, but lacks selective syncing and file history completely.
At the end of the day, whether you choose SkyDrive, Google Drive, or Dropbox, you will be getting a great product that does exactly what it’s designed to do – making the choice will depend on your platform, budget, and maximum storage needs. As time goes on, each service is bound to expand its options and seek to close the gaps between their services – cloud-based storage is definitely here to stay.Read more
Do software updates and troubleshooting leave you with frazzled nerves?
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About UsPeterson Computer Consulting 1802 N. Division St. Suite 207 Morris, IL 60450 815-416-1470